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Authors: Hakan Nesser

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BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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‘You think you know what’s best for me, but you don’t at all!’

He didn’t move a muscle, but she could hear him breathing in his armchair. Deeply, and with his mouth open as if he had adenoid problems. She decided to ignore him for a while. Deflate the
tension, or try to at least. She looked out of the window. Summer and sunshine were making their presence felt in the grounds. The dog had stopped barking. It was lying down in the shade instead
with its tongue rolled out onto the ground in front of it – you could see that from above, where she was. She had a good view over the surrounding countryside as well: she could see the road
she had walked along on the way here, and the village where she’d got off the bus, St Inns. And beyond there was the sea – more of a hint than a reality, and she wondered how life here
might feel so terribly enclosed by all those extensive views. All that summer, all that sunshine, all that endless sky . . .

‘How old are you, Mikaela?’ he asked out of the blue.

‘Eighteen,’ she said, without turning to look at him. ‘It was my birthday yesterday.’

Then she remembered that she’d brought something for him. She went over to her rucksack and dug out the parcel. Hesitated for a moment, then put it down on the table, next to the
letters.

‘It’s nothing special,’ she said. ‘But it’s for you. I did it at school when I was ten years old. I want you to have it.’

He felt hesitantly at the thin packet, but made no effort to open it.

‘You shouldn’t—’ he began.

‘If I give you something will you be kind enough to accept it,’ she interrupted angrily. ‘I’ll accept your letters, so you’ll accept my story –
okay?’

It was indeed a story. An illustrated story about an unfortunate bird she’d spent almost a whole term writing when she was in class four. Writing and drawing and painting. She’d
thought of giving it to her mum or to Helmut as a Christmas present, but for whatever reason she hadn’t done so.

She couldn’t remember now if it was because they’d fallen out, or if there was some other reason. But when she’d remembered the story last night, it had felt like a symbolic
gesture.

Giving her dad a story that she’d written. A sad story with a happy ending.

And about a bird as well, it now occurred to her – that fitted in with her first impression of him.

She stood by the window again and waited. Made up her mind not to say a word nor to leave the room until he had made some kind of a move. Just stand there and refuse to budge – just like
her mum had done, and just as he was doing. Refuse to budge. For as long as it took. So there.

After a few minutes he cleared his throat and stood up. Paced hesitantly back and forth for a while, then stood by the door.

‘I want to go out,’ he said. ‘I usually go out for a walk in the grounds at about this time.’

‘I’ll come with you,’ said Mikaela. ‘And I want you to tell me what happened. I’ve no intention of leaving here until you’ve done that. Is that
clear?’

Her dad went out of the door without responding.

8

10–11 July 1999

‘So, you have to go back and continue the interrogation on Monday?’ said Mikael Bau. ‘Is that what you’re saying?’

Moreno nodded, and took another sip of wine. She felt that she was starting to feel a bit drunk – but what the hell? she thought. It was the first evening of her four-week-long holiday
after all, and she couldn’t remember when she’d last allowed herself to drink away her inhibitions. It must have been years ago. What inhibitions, incidentally?

She could sleep in tomorrow. Take a towel, saunter down to the beach. Lie down and lap up the sun all day. Have a good rest and let Mikael look after her, just as he’d said he would
do.

And an hour or two’s work the day after tomorrow wasn’t all that much of a problem, surely? In the afternoon – so it wouldn’t affect her lie-in.

‘That’s right,’ she said. ‘Just a couple of hours. He wasn’t as cooperative as he said he was going to be, that scumbag Lampe-Leermann.’

‘Scumbag?’ said Mikael with a frown. ‘I take it the inspector is talking off the record.’

Off the record? she thought as she shuffled around and tried to make herself comfortable on the sagging plush sofa. I suppose so – but for God’s sake, I’m on holiday after all!
Mikael was lolling back at the other end of the outsize piece of furniture, and they had just about as much bodily contact as was compatible with a comfortable digestion process. He’d found a
suitable fish, needless to say, just as he’d promised to do. Not just any old fish either: a sole that he’d cooked à la meunière with a divine white wine sauce and
crayfish tails. It was such a luxurious delight that she’d found it quite difficult to really enjoy it. The problem was striking a balance between gorging herself and doing justice to his
culinary skills. Something to do with her ability to really let herself go, presumably . . . But why should that be a problem?

When she admitted as much, he’d simply burst out laughing and shrugged.

‘Just eat,’ he said. ‘You don’t need to talk blank verse.’

She drank another slug of wine. Leaned her head back on the cushion and realized that she had a sort of idiot smile on her lips. It didn’t seem willing to go away.

‘Franz Lampe-Leermann is a scumbag,’ she declared. ‘Off or on the record, it makes no difference.’

Mikael looked mildly sceptical.

‘But why does it have to be you, and nobody else? Surely anybody can interrogate a scumbag?’

‘Presumably for the same reason that I’m lolling back here,’ said Moreno. ‘He likes me. Or rather, he likes women more than he likes men.’

‘Really? And so he can dictate how he’s going to be treated, can he? Is this the police force’s new softly-softly approach?’

‘I suppose you could say that. In any case, he prefers me to the local chief of police, and I have to say that I understand him. Vrommel isn’t exactly a breath of fresh air . .
.’

‘Vrommel?’

‘That’s his name. A stiff sixty-year-old, stiff-collared, stiff-necked pain in the neck and everywhere else you can think of . . .’

She hesitated, surprised at how easily the words flowed over her lips. It must be that sauce, she thought. Summer, sun and Sauvignon blanc . . .

‘I know who he is,’ said Mikael.

‘Who?’

‘Vrommel, of course.’

‘You do? How can you know who Vrommel is?’

Mikael flung out his arm and spilled a little wine.

‘The house,’ he explained. ‘This one. Don’t forget that I’ve lived here in the summer for the whole of my life. I know Port Hagen better than the back of my hand.
Lejnice as well . . . That’s the Big City in these parts.’

Moreno thought for a moment.

‘I see. But the chief of police? I assume this means that you are involved in criminal activities . . . You and your family, that is.’

Mikael growled cryptically.

‘Hmm,’ he said, ‘Not exactly. I happen to remember Vrommel because he came here once. It must have been at the beginning of the eighties, when I was about fifteen or sixteen.
One of my sisters had a friend who was mixed up in something. I can’t remember what . . . Or didn’t know, to be more precise. Anyway, he came to interview Louise . . . Or perhaps he
interrogated her? Tall and red-haired, this Vrommel, right? A bit of a rough diamond.’

‘Bald as a coot nowadays,’ said Moreno. ‘But he’s certainly a rough diamond . . . But why the hell are we lying here nattering on about bald policemen?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ said Mikael. ‘It seems daft when there are hairy cops at much closer quarters.’

He took hold of her bare feet and started massaging them.

Hairy cops? Moreno thought.

Then she burst out laughing.

‘I think I need a walk along the beach,’ she said. ‘I’ve drunk too much. And gobbled too much sauce.’

‘Same here,’ said Mikael. ‘Shall we take a blanket? The moon’s shining.’

‘We can’t possibly manage without a blanket,’ said Moreno.

They got back from the beach shortly before dawn, and on Sunday she slept in until noon.

So did Mikael, and after breakfast, which consisted mainly of juice and coffee, they went out and lay back in a couple of deckchairs in the garden with more juice and mineral water within easy
reach. Now that she’d had time to think about it, Moreno began to realize what a marvellous house she had come to stay in. A big and somewhat ramshackle wooden building with a veranda all the
way round it and balconies on the upper floor. Creaking staircases and lopsided nooks and passages that were bound to make an indelible impression on any young child’s mind. Bay windows with
dried flowers, old-fashioned scratchy window panes, and furniture from four or five generations and in ten times as many styles.

How the Bau family had come to own a place like this – its name was Tschandala, for some unknown reason – was hidden in the mists of time: nobody in the family had ever been known to
have more money than was needed to buy their daily bread, Mikael insisted; but according to the most persistent theory of how the house had been acquired, it had been won by a certain Sinister Bau
at a strange and notorious poker party at the beginning of the 1920s. It was also rumoured that the same evening he had lost his young fiancée to a Ukrainian gypsy king, so the family
reckoned that honours were even and they had every right to own Tschandala.

Mikael Bau told her all this and more besides while they lay back naked in their deckchairs. The thicket of scraggy dwarf pine trees and Aviolis bushes was rampant and formed an effective screen
so that they couldn’t be overlooked. Moreno kept asking herself if he were just making it all up on the spur of the moment.

But then, perhaps the whole situation was some kind of illusion? The house and the weather and the naked man who had just stretched out his hand and placed it over her left breast – surely
it couldn’t all be real? It was more likely to be something she had dreamt up at home while lying in bed and waiting for the alarm clock to announce the arrival of yet another rainy Tuesday
in November – that seemed to be far more likely, dammit.

She eventually decided that it didn’t matter in any case. She recalled that
the Chief Inspector
– Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, that is, who had weighed anchor and left the
police station some years ago, and now spent his days in Krantze’s antiquarian bookshop in Kupinskis Gränd – had once talked about that very thing. The fact that it didn’t
matter two hoots if everything turned out to be no more than a film or a book. Or if it was real. The conditions were the same – even if it was by no means clear what they were, they were the
same anyway.

So she stretched out her hand and let it stay where it ended up.

At about four they went down to the beach for a swim. There were lots of people around, of course. Summer, sunny and Sunday; mums, dads, children and dogs; frisbees, fluttering
kites, dripping ice creams and bouncing balls. For a few black seconds while they were towelling themselves down after their dip, she felt a sudden rush of envy as she watched all these family
clusters. These extrovert, happy people, enjoying themselves in these simple, healthy and natural surroundings.

But it passed. She shook her head at the thought of such a naive, tuppenny-ha’penny analysis, and contemplated Mikael Bau, stretched out on his back in the sand.

If she really wanted to find herself in that kind of company, there was nothing to stop her, she thought. Nothing to prevent her from taking that step.

Superficially nothing, that is. Only herself. He had said that he loved her, after all. Several times. She lay down close to him. Closed her eyes and began thinking about her own family.

About her mother and father, to whom she spoke once a month on the telephone. And met once a year.

Her bisexual brother in Rome.

Her lost sister.

Maud. Lost in the backyards of Europe. In the red-light districts of large cities, and in the filthy hopelessness of junkie apartments. In pimps’ beds. Sliding further and further down a
long, sleazy spiral. She no longer knew where Maud was.

There were no more postcards. No address, no sign of life. Perhaps her sister was no longer in the land of the living?

A family? she thought. Can you really start living in a family when you’re over thirty and have never had one? Or did all families resemble her own, more or less, when you started to
investigate them more closely?

Good questions, as they say. She had asked them lots of times before.

Asked and asked, but always refrained from answering. It was so easy to blame everything on her parents as well. To polish the chip on her shoulder. Much too easy.

‘What did you say his name was?’

Mikael stroked his hand over her stomach.

‘Who?’

‘The scumbag.’

How clever of him to drag her back into the real world.

‘Lampe-Leermann. Franz Lampe-Leermann. Why do you ask?’

He began slowly filling her navel with sand. A thin trickle of warm, white sand tumbling down from his clenched fist.

‘I don’t really know. Jealousy, I suppose. You go to meet him every other day. Is that why he doesn’t come out with everything at one go? So that he has the opportunity of
spending more and more time with the most beautiful copper in Europe?’

Moreno thought that over.

‘Presumably,’ she said. ‘But there’ll only be one more meeting. I intend to explain to him that there’ll be no more, no matter what happens. I’ll try to be a
bit nicer to him as well, in compensation. Make him a few promises . . .’

‘Bloody hell!’ said Mikael. ‘Don’t say things like that. What’s he done, by the way?’

‘Practically everything,’ said Moreno. ‘He’s fifty-five years old, and has been in jail for at least twenty of them. But he has a reputation. Child pornography. Drug
barons. Weapons. Maybe even people-smuggling. It’s a bit of a tangled mess, but we should be able to sort out some of it at least . . . with Lampe-Leermann’s help. I have no choice but
to go through with this. It’s my job to open up this scumbag. But I’m only going to give up one more day to the task, I promise you that.’

BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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