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Authors: Hakan Nesser

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BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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And if she hadn’t thought that as he stood there on the doorstep, she’d have done so shortly afterwards in any case. Once they’d started bumping into each other.

In the laundry room. In the street. In the shops.

Or when she was sitting on her balcony on warm summer evenings, trying to rock Mikaela to sleep, with him standing on his own balcony, leaning on the rail that separated them, smoking his pipe
and gazing out into what remained of the sunset in the vast western sky over the polders.

Next-door neighbours. The thought came into her mind.

A godlike figure, solid and secure, holding out a hand of stone towards where she was drifting around in a floundering boat on a turbulent sea of emotions.

To her and Mikaela. Yes, that is in fact what the situation had been like: looking back, she could sometimes smile at the thought, sometimes not.

Anyway, that was fifteen years ago. Mikaela was three. Now she was eighteen. She celebrated her eighteenth birthday this summer.

Mark my words, he had declared from behind his newspaper. As I told you, this won’t make her any happier.

Why hadn’t she listened to him? She asked herself that over and over again. During these days of worry and despair. When she tried to get a grip on herself and look back over the links in
the chain. To think back and try to find reasons for doing what she had done . . . Or simply to let her thoughts wander freely; she didn’t have much strength to speak of just now. These
hellish summer days.

But she’d done the right thing, as she saw it. All I’ve done is what is right and proper. I haven’t betrayed the decision I made all those years ago, then let it lie. In a way
that’s another stone – a murky boulder sunk down at the muddy bottom of the well of memory, but one that she’d promised herself she would fish up again when the time was
right.

Carefully and respectfully, of course, but bring it up into the light of day even so. So that Mikaela could see it. No matter how you looked at it, that was necessary. Something that had
remained in abeyance for many years, but now needed to happen to put things into perspective.

Her eighteenth birthday. Even if they hadn’t discussed it, Helmut had known about it as well. Been aware of the situation all the time, but had preferred not to confront it . . . The day
would have to dawn when Mikaela was told the truth, one had no right to deny a child knowledge of its origins. One couldn’t hide away her roots under mundane everyday happenings and the
detritus of time. One couldn’t send her out into life on false pretences.

Right? Life? Truth?
Afterwards, she couldn’t understand how she had been able to fit such grandiose concepts into her thoughts. Wasn’t it this very pretentiousness that was
hitting back and turning upon her? Wasn’t that what was happening?

Who was she to go on about right and wrong? Who was she to make such hasty judgements and shake off Helmut’s morose objections without giving them more than three-quarters of a
second’s consideration?

Until later. When it seemed to be too late. These days and nights when everything seemed to lose every ounce of significance and value, when she had become a robot and didn’t so much as
glance at these old thoughts which were drifting past her consciousness like tattered remnants of cloud over the blue-grey night sky of death. She simply let them sail past, on their disconsolate
journey from horizon to horizon.

From oblivion to oblivion. Night to night and darkness to darkness.

From stone thou art.

From your gaping wounds your silent fury seethes up to a dead sky.

The pain of stone. Harder than anything else.

And madness, insanity itself was lying in wait round the corner.

Her eighteenth birthday. A Friday. In July, as hot as hell.

‘I’ll tell her when she comes back from the gym,’ she had said. ‘So you don’t need to be present. Then we can have dinner afterwards in peace and quiet.
She’ll take it well, I can feel it in my bones.’

At first merely a sullen silence.

‘If it’s really necessary,’ he’d said eventually. When she was already at the sink, washing the cups. ‘It’s your responsibility, not mine.’

‘I have to,’ she said. ‘Remember that I promised her this when she was fifteen. Remember that it’s a gap that needs to be filled. She’s expecting it.’

‘She’s never said a word about it,’ he said. From the side of his mouth. With his back to her.

That was true. She had to grant him that as well.

‘Daft, but do whatever you like. What’s the point?’

That’s all. Nothing more. Then he left.

Daft?

Am I doing it for her sake, or for mine? she asked herself.

Reasons? Motives?

As blurred as the borderline between dreams and consciousness.

Unfathomable as stone itself.

Nonsense. Verbal sticking plaster. She probably knows anyway.

3

9 July 1999

When Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno stopped outside the door of Chief Inspector Reinhart’s office, it was a quarter past three in the afternoon and she was longing
for a cold beer.

If she had been born into a different social class, or blessed with more imagination, she might have been longing for a glass of cold champagne instead (or why not three or four?); but today any
possibility of thinking straight, any ability to think at all had been sweated away in the early hours of the morning. It was over thirty degrees, and had been about that all day. Both in town and
inside the police station. A forgotten manic flat-iron seemed to be pressing down from above, overheating everyone and everything, and apart from chilled drinks, there seemed to be only two
possibilities of surviving: the beach and the shade.

There was a noticeable absence of the former in the Maardam police station.

But there were Venetian blinds. And corridors where the sun was certain not to be shining. She stood there with her hand on the door handle, struggling with an impulse (that in itself was
sluggish as a bluebottle high on Coca-Cola, so that the outcome could go either way) not to turn it. To retreat discreetly.

Instead of entering and finding out why he wanted to talk to her. There were good reasons for not going in. Or one, at least: in less than two hours’ time she would be going on leave.

Two hours. One hundred and twenty suffocating minutes. If nothing unexpected happened, that is.

Moreno’s intuition told her that he probably hadn’t asked her to come in order to wish her all the best for her holiday. It hadn’t sounded like that, and in any case, to do so
wouldn’t be Reinhart’s style.

If nothing unexpected happened
. . .
?

In a strange way, the unexpected didn’t seem to be all that unexpected. If she’d been offered decent odds, she might well have bet on it. That’s the way it was when you were in
the lacklustre police business, and it wouldn’t be the first time . . .

So, to beat a retreat, or not to beat a retreat: that was the question. She could always explain that something had turned up. That she hadn’t had time to call in, as he’d put
it.

Call in?
That sounded a bit dodgy, surely?

Call in at my office some time after lunch. It won’t take long
. . .

Bugger bugger, she thought. It sounded as potentially deadly as a hungry cobra.

After a brief internal struggle, the drugged-up bluebottle drowned, and her Lutheran-Calvinistic copper’s conscience won the day. She sighed, turned the handle and went
in. Flopped down on the visitor’s chair with her misgivings dancing around in her head like butterflies greeting the arrival of summer. And in her stomach.

‘You wanted to see me,’ she said.

Reinhart was standing by the window, smoking, and looking ominous. She noticed that he was wearing flip-flops. Light blue.


Salve
,’ he said. ‘Would you like something to drink?’

‘What do you have to offer?’ Moreno asked, and that cold beer floated into her mind’s eye again.

‘Water. With or without bubbles.’

‘I think I’ll pass,’ said Moreno. ‘If you don’t mind. Well?’

Reinhart scratched at his stubble and put his pipe down on the window ledge beside the flowerpot.

‘We’ve found Lampe-Leermann,’ he said.

‘Lampe-Leermann?’ said Moreno.

‘Yes,’ said Reinhart.

‘We?’ said Moreno.

‘Some colleagues of ours. Out at Lejnice. In Behrensee, to be precise, but they took him to Lejnice. That was the nearest station.’

‘Excellent. And about time, too. Any problems?’

‘Just the one,’ said Reinhart.

‘Really?’ said Moreno.

He flopped down on his desk chair, opposite her, and gave her a look that was presumably meant to express innocence. Moreno had seen it before, and sent a prayer flying out through the window.
‘Not again, please!’ was its essence.

‘Just the one problem,’ said Reinhart again.

‘Shoot,’ said Moreno.

‘He’s not really prepared to cooperate.’

Moreno said nothing. Reinhart fiddled with the papers on his desk and seemed uncertain of how to continue.

‘Or rather, he is prepared to cooperate – but only if he can talk to you.’

‘What?’ said Moreno.

‘Only if he can talk to—’

‘I heard what you said,’ interrupted Moreno ‘But why on earth does he want to talk to me?’

‘God knows,’ said Reinhart. ‘But that’s the way it seems to be – don’t blame me. Lampe-Leermann is prepared to make a full confession, but only if he can lay
it at your feet. Nobody else’s. He doesn’t like policemen, he says. Odd, don’t you think?’

Moreno contemplated the picture hanging above Reinhart’s head. It depicted a pig in a suit standing in a pulpit and throwing television sets to a congregation of ecstatic sheep. Or
possibly judges wearing wigs, it was difficult to say which. She knew the chief of police had asked him several times to take it down, but it was still there. Rooth had suggested that it was
symbolic of the freedom of thought and level of understanding within the police force, and Moreno had a vague suspicion that it could well be an accurate interpretation. Although she had never
asked Reinhart himself. Nor the chief of police, come to that.

‘My leave begins two hours from now,’ she said, trying to give him a friendly smile.

‘They’re holding him out at Lejnice,’ said Reinhart, unmoved. ‘A nice spot. It would take just one day. Two at most. Hmm.’

Moreno stood up and walked over to the window.

‘Mind you, if you would prefer to have him brought here, that wouldn’t be a problem,’ said Reinhart from behind her back.

She gazed out over the town and the ridge of high pressure. It was a few days old, but it seemed to be here to stay. That’s what fru Bachman on the ground floor had said, and the
meteorologists on the television as well. She decided not to respond. Not without a solicitor present, or a more detailed instruction. Ten seconds passed, and the only sound was from the bustle of
the town down below, and the soft tip-tap from Reinhart’s flip-fops as he shuffled about.

Flip-flops? she thought. Surely he could get himself a pair of sandals at least. A chief inspector in light-blue flip-flops?

Perhaps he’d been to the swimming baths at lunchtime and forgotten to change? Or maybe he’d been to see the chief of police and put them on as a sort of irreverent protest? It was
hard to say as far as Reinhart was concerned: he liked to make a point.

He gave up in the end.

‘For Christ’s sake,’ he said. ‘Get a grip, Inspector. We’ve been after this bloody prat for several months now, and at last Vrommel has caught up with him . .
.’

‘Vrommel? Who’s Vrommel?’

‘The chief of police in Lejnice.’

Reluctantly, Moreno began to consider the possibility. Remained standing with her back turned to Reinhart as the image of Lampe-Leermann appeared in her mind’s eye . . . Not much of a name
in the underworld, quite small fry in fact: but it was true that they had been on his tail for quite a while. He was strongly suspected of being involved in a few armed robberies in March and
April, but that wasn’t the point. Or at least, not the main point.

The big thing is that he mixed with certain other gentlemen who were much bigger heavyweights than he was. Leading lights in so-called Organized Crime, to use a term that was heard all too often
nowadays. There was no doubt about his links, and Lampe-Leermann had a reputation for grassing. A reputation for being more concerned – in certain difficult circumstances at least –
about his own skin than that of others, and willing to inform the police authorities of what he knew. If doing so would serve his own ends, and could be treated with appropriate discretion.

And it could be in this case. At least, there was good reason for thinking so. Reinhart was inclined to think so, and Moreno tended to agree with him. In principle, at least. That was why they
had made a bigger effort than usual when it came to tracking down Lampe-Leermann. That was why they had found him. Today of all days.

But the news that he was only prepared to unburden his mind to Inspector Moreno had come as a bit of a surprise, no question. That was something they hadn’t reckoned with. Neither her nor
anybody else. Just some malevolent little gremlin, no doubt . . . Damn and blast, you can never . . .

‘He likes you,’ said Reinhart, interrupting her train of thought. ‘That’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think he remembers when we were playing a game of good-cop bad-cop
with him a few years ago. Anyway, that’s the way it is. He wants to talk to you, and nobody else. But there’s the minor matter of your leave, of course . . .’

‘Exactly,’ said Moreno, returning to her chair.

‘It’s not so far up to Lejnice,’ said Reinhart. ‘A hundred and twenty kilometres or thereabouts, I should think . . .’

Moreno said nothing. Closed her eyes instead and fanned herself with yesterday’s
Gazett
that she had picked up from the pile of newspapers on the desk.

‘Then I came to think of that house you’re going to – didn’t you say it was in Port Hagen?’

BOOK: The Weeping Girl
10.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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