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Authors: Hakan Nesser

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BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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‘You’re crying.’

The words came without her thinking about them. Tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them, and she wondered whether Mikael Bau had been right after all when he’d suggested she
should wear an efficient sun hat. Something with a wide brim to provide protection against the sun – the high pressure was a strong as ever today.

The girl looked up at her briefly. Then blew her nose. Moreno sat up, and waited.

‘Yes. I’m having a bit of a cry.’

‘That’s what we need to do sometimes,’ said Moreno.

My God, she thought. What am I doing? I’ve just started to look after a teenager in crisis . . . A young girl with a broken heart running away from her boyfriend. Or from her parents. But
running away in any case . . . I should start reading again and pretend I’d never spoken to her. Just ignore her until we get to Lejnice – haven’t I got enough to worry about with
Lampe-Leermann? Why the hell can’t I hold my tongue?

‘I’m crying because I’m afraid,’ said the girl, looking out of the window at the sun again. ‘I’m on the way to my dad.’

‘Really?’ said Moreno non-committally, scrapping the running-away theory.

‘I’ve never met him.’

Moreno put her book down.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’ve never seen him before.’

‘You’ve never seen your dad? Why?’

‘Because my mum thought that was best.’

Moreno thought that over. Took a deep drink of mineral water. Offered the bottle to the girl. The girl shook her head.

‘Why would it be best for you not to meet him?’

The girl shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Mikaela Lijphart.’

‘How old are you? Sixteen, seventeen . . . ?’

I’m interrogating her, it suddenly struck Moreno. She tried to smooth things over by holding out a pack of chewing gum. Mikaela took a couple of pieces and smiled.

‘Eighteen,’ she said. ‘I had my eighteenth birthday yesterday.’

‘Many happy returns!’ said Moreno. ‘Of yesterday . . .’

‘Please forgive me. I’ve interrupted your reading.’

‘That doesn’t matter,’ said Moreno. ‘I find it hard to concentrate when I’m on a train anyway. I usually read things I’ve read already. If you want to tell me
about your dad, I’ll be happy to listen.’

Mikaela sighed deeply, and looked as if she were discussing that prospect with herself. It took three seconds.

‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘No, I’ve never met him. Not since I was tiny, at least. I didn’t really know who he was until yesterday. His name’s Arnold Maager
– my mum told me that because I’m eighteen now. A nice present, don’t you think? A dad.’

Moreno raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. The train started to slow down noisily as it approached the next station.

‘He’s in a psychiatric hospital. Something happened when I was only two years old. That’s why she kept it secret from me until now, my mum.’

My God, Moreno thought. What on earth is she sitting there telling me? For an awful moment she wondered if she’d come up against a young mythomaniac – a somewhat neurotic teenager
who took pleasure in making herself interesting to total strangers. It was not unusual for young ladies in trouble to indulge in such escapades, she knew that from experience. The years she’d
spent in the police unit with special responsibility for young people had taught her that. Two-and-a-half years, to be precise, that she hadn’t exactly hated, but which she would prefer not
to live through again. Like all the other years she had thrown on the scrapheap in the last few days . . .

But it was hard to believe that Mikaela Lijphart was making it all up. Really hard. She seemed more like an open book, Moreno thought – with those big, bright eyes and straightforward
features. Obviously, she could be mistaken – but she was hardly your blue-eyed innocent.

‘So now you’re on your way to meet him, are you?’ she asked. ‘Your dad. Where does he live?’

‘Lejnice,’ said Mikaela. ‘He’s in a home just outside the town. I’ve rung and spoken to them – they know I’m coming. So they were going to prepare him .
. . Yes, that’s what they said. Prepare him. Ugh, I’m scared stiff. But I know it’s got to be done.’

Moreno tried in all haste to find something consoling to say to her.

‘You have to do what you have to do,’ she said. ‘Is it really the case that you didn’t know you had a dad until yesterday?’

Mikaela smiled briefly again.

‘Yes. Obviously, I know that a virgin birth isn’t all that common nowadays. But I’ve had a stepfather since I was three, and known that he wasn’t my real father since I
was fifteen. And then . . . Well, I had to wait for another three years until my mum told me who my real father was. Arnold Maager . . . I don’t really know if I like that name or not . .
.’

‘But why?’ Moreno couldn’t help herself from asking. ‘I mean, it’s nothing to do with me, but . . .’

‘I don’t know,’ said Mikaela.

‘You don’t know?’

‘No, I don’t know why she couldn’t tell me. Or didn’t want to tell me. She went on and on about responsibility and maturity and all that, my mum did, but . . . No, no
details at all. Something happened when I was very young, that’s all I know.’

Moreno looked out of the window, and saw that they had now come to Boodendijk. Not far to go to Lejnice. A couple more stops, probably. Behind the row of buildings she could already see the sand
dunes. The sky seemed almost hysterically blue.

What the hell can I say to her? she wondered. The poor girl must feel completely abandoned.

‘Did you consider taking somebody with you?’ she said. ‘If you feel worried about it. A friend . . . Or your mum . . .’

‘I wanted to meet him on my own,’ said Mikaela. ‘My mum didn’t want me to go to see him at all – but once you’re eighteen years old, you do what you have to
do.’

‘Quite right,’ said Moreno.

A few seconds passed. The train set off again.

‘I don’t understand why I’m sitting here, telling all this to somebody I’ve never seen before,’ said Mikaela, trying to look a little more cocksure. ‘You must
think I’m a real crackpot . . . Not to mention my mum and dad. A real crackpot family. Maybe we are, but I don’t usually—’

‘It can be a good thing to talk to strangers now and then,’ said Moreno, interrupting her. ‘You can say whatever you like, without having to take other things into
consideration. I often start conversations like this one.’

The girl’s face was consumed by a smile, and Moreno registered that she was even more charming when the all-pervading worry dispersed momentarily.

‘You’re right! That’s exactly what I think about my dad. About meeting him, I mean. We’re strangers, after all. I don’t want to have anybody else present when I
speak to him for the first time. It would be . . . It wouldn’t be right, somehow. Do you see what I mean? It wouldn’t be right as far as he’s concerned.’

Moreno nodded.

‘So you’re getting off at Lejnice, are you?’

‘Yes. Where are you going?’

‘I’m getting off at Lejnice as well. It’ll all turn out okay, trust me! That business with your dad, I mean. I can feel it.’

‘So can I!’ said Mikaela optimistically, sitting up straighter. ‘I think we’re nearly there – I’d better go to the toilet and wipe away my tears. Thank you
for letting me talk to you.’

Moreno suddenly felt that she needed to blink away a few tears as well. She tapped Mikaela’s thigh and cleared her throat.

‘Do that! I’ll wait for you. Then we can go into the station together, okay?’

Mikaela stood up and headed for the toilet at the far end of the carriage. Moreno took a deep breath. Put her book back into her bag and established that you could see the sea through the
window.

Checked her watch and noted that they were due to arrive in three minutes’ time.

She said goodbye to Mikaela Lijphart in the forecourt outside the station building, where Mikaela boarded a yellow bus that would take her to the Sidonis Foundation, a care
home about a kilometre or so north, and a similar distance inland.

Moreno took a taxi, as she wasn’t at all sure where the Lejnice police station was situated.

It turned out to be in a square a couple of hundred yards from the station, and the young driver wondered if she’d like him to take her to the church and back as well, so that he could
have something to register on his taximeter.

Moreno laughed and said she would be needing a cab to take her to Port Hagen in an hour or two’s time, and he gave her his card with a direct telephone number she could ring.

Lejnice police station was a two-storey, rectangular building in dark pommer stone with small, square windows impossible to look in through. Evidently built shortly after the war, and flanked by
a butcher’s shop and a funeral parlour. Above the less than impressive entrance was a tiny balcony with iron railings and an even tinier flag, wafting in the breeze on something that could
well have been a broomstick. Moreno was reminded of a decadent nineteenth-century French colony – or at least a film about such a colony – and when she caught sight of Chief Inspector
Vrommel, she had the distinct impression that he preferred that century to the new one that was about to begin.

He was standing in the entrance: tall and lanky, wearing a sort of loose-fitting khaki uniform that Moreno could also only recall having seen in a film. He was about sixty, she decided, possibly
closer to sixty-five. Reinhart’s guess that he was red-haired might well have been correct – but that would have been ten years or more ago. Now there wasn’t a lot of hair on
Vrommel’s head. In fact, one might say he was bald.

Round spectacles, frameless, a large reddish-brown nose and a moustache that was so thin and skin-coloured that she didn’t notice it until they’d shaken hands.

‘Inspector Moreno, I presume. Pleased to meet you. Did you have a good journey?’

He doesn’t like female police officers, she thought.

‘Excellent, thank you. A bit on the warm side, though.’

He didn’t respond to the invitation to talk about the weather. Cleared his throat and stood up straight instead.

‘Welcome to Lejnice. This is where the powers that be hold sway round here.’ He made a gesture that might possibly – but only possibly – be interpreted as ironic.
‘Shall we go in? That Lampe-bastard is waiting for you.’

He held the door open, and Moreno entered the relatively cool Lejnice police station.

The interrogation room was about six feet square, and looked like an interrogation room ought to look.

Like all interrogation rooms the world over ought to look. A table and two chairs. A ceiling light. No windows. On the table a tape recorder, a jug of water and two white plastic mugs. Bare
walls and an unpainted concrete floor. Two doors, each with a peephole. Franz Lampe-Leermann was already on his chair when Moreno entered through one of the doors. He’d probably been sitting
there for quite a while, she assumed: he looked fed up, and the smile he gave her seemed strained. Large damp patches of sweat had formed under the arms of his yellow shirt, and he had taken off
both his shoes and his socks. He was breathing heavily. The air-conditioning system that served the rest of the building evidently didn’t extend as far as this hellhole.

Or perhaps Vrommel had switched it off.

Thirty-five degrees, Moreno thought. At least. Good.

‘I need a rest and a fag,’ said Lampe-Leermann, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. ‘That heap of shit won’t even let me smoke.’

‘A rest?’ said Moreno. ‘We haven’t even started yet. You can have one half an hour from now at the earliest. Assuming you are cooperative. Is that clear?’

Lampe-Leermann cursed again, and shrugged.

‘Let’s get going then,’ said Moreno, pressing the start button. ‘What do you have to say?’

6

Mikaela Lijphart got off at the crossroads in the village of St Inns, as she’d been instructed. Remained standing with her rucksack on the grass verge until the bus had
disappeared round the long curve to Wallby and Port Hagen.

She looked around. To her left, in a westerly direction, the road ran as straight as an arrow through the dunes to the sea, only a couple of kilometres or less away. She would walk along that
later – in an hour or two – in order to get to the youth hostel where she intended to spend the night. But not yet. Now she would be heading eastwards. Away from the sea, along the
narrow, winding strip of asphalt that seemed to be almost roasting in the heat between high, flower-covered grassy mounds. According to what she’d been told, it was only about a kilometre to
the Sidonis home, but she wished it were even shorter. Or that she’d bought a bottle of water before leaving Lejnice.

Because it was hot. Unbearably hot. It was half past one – no doubt the ideal time for a walk in the sun. If you wanted to catch sunstroke.

That would be all she needed. On top of everything else.

She looked around again. Tried to get an overall picture of the village: it didn’t seem to be more than a dozen or so houses – but something sticking out from one of them looked as
if it might be an advertising placard. Perhaps it was some kind of shop . . . Maybe she’d be able to get a bottle of water at least. She heaved her rucksack up over her shoulders and set off
towards the reddish-brown brick building.

She had better check that she really was on the right road for the home, she thought.

To the home and her father.

Sure enough it was a small grocery shop. She bought a litre of water, an ice cream and a packet of lemon Rijbing biscuits. The plump little lady behind the counter also gave
her directions to the Sidonis Foundation: carry on along this road and turn right at the signpost on the other side of the bridge. Not far at all. The lady wondered if Mikaela had a car – if
not, she could have a lift there in about half an hour: they’d be delivering a selection of goods to the home, like they did most days.

Mikaela smiled and shook her head, saying she liked walking, and it was such nice weather.

‘Lovely weather,’ said the lady, fanning herself with a magazine. ‘Almost too much of a good thing, you might say.’

BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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ads

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