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Authors: Hakan Nesser

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BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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Mikael blew away the grains of sand, and kissed her stomach instead.

‘Do you believe in what you’re doing?’

She raised her head and looked at him in surprise.

‘What do you mean?’

‘What I say, of course. I wonder if you think it really matters. The fact that you manage to achieve some results as a detective inspector. And that I manage to save somebody or something
as a result of my welfare work. Do you think any of that matters when we’re up against the bloody free market and all that bloody hypocrisy and all that bloody cynicism? Look after number
one, and the devil take the hindmost. Do you believe that what you do matters?’

‘I certainly do,’ said Moreno. ‘Of course that’s what I believe. Why the hell do you ask?’

‘Good,’ said Mikael. ‘I was just checking. That’s what I believe as well. I’ll carry on believing that even if it’s the last thing I do.’

She wondered why he had suddenly taken up these serious matters just now, in the roasting afternoon sun on the never-ending beach.

And why they had never discussed this before.

‘It’s not just good that you believe,’ he went on. ‘It’s essential. Leila didn’t believe, that’s why we split up. She started clinging on to all the
irony and cynicism as if we simply had no choice . . . As if solidarity was no more than an outdated concept that collapsed at about the same time as the Wall, and all that was left for us to do
was to look after number one.’

‘I thought she was the one who dumped you?’

He thought for a moment.

‘I gave her the pleasure of thinking that. But the real facts were as I’ve just told you, more or less. She gave up, that’s all there is to it. But by now I’ve forgotten
her surname and what she looked like. Who cares? All that was over two hundred years ago . . . Do you realize that you are the first woman I’ve ever met with whom I’d like to have a
child?’

‘You’re out of your mind,’ said Moreno. ‘You’d better go to an insemination clinic.’

‘I’m well known for being clever.’

‘I’m thirsty.’

‘Stop changing the subject.’

‘What subject?’

‘Children. Us. Love and all that stuff. Oh, my longhaired copper, I love you.’

She lay there in silence for a while.

‘Are you hurt?’ she asked. ‘Because I haven’t answered?’

‘Mortally.’

She raised herself up on an elbow to check that he didn’t look too suicidal. She noticed a little tic at one side of his mouth, but he didn’t actually smile. Or cry. He’s
putting on an act, she thought. Why the hell can’t I trust him? She stood up and started brushing off all the sand.

‘If we go back to your castle and drink a drop or two of water,’ she said, ‘I’ll tell you something. Okay? But I badly need to raise my fluid levels.’

‘Hmm,’ said Mikael, rising to his feet as well. ‘I’m consumed with curiosity.’

‘And desire,’ he added when they had walked over the dunes and could see the roof of Tschandala sticking up over the dwarf pines.

‘Well?’ he said.

Moreno put down her glass.

‘You’re only showing your good sides,’ she said. ‘It’s like going to some sort of an exhibition, dammit! It’s not a foundation to build on. For as long as you
keep your cupboard door shut and don’t let the skeletons out, I’m not going to give you so much as a little finger of my future.’

He leaned back and thought that over.

‘I like football,’ he said. ‘I like to go to at least two top matches per year, and to watch one a week on the telly.’

‘I could put up with that,’ said Moreno. ‘Provided I don’t have to accompany you.’

‘You’re
not allowed
to accompany me. And I want to be left to my own devices sometimes as well. I want to listen to Dylan and Tom Waits and Robert Wyatt without somebody
coming to talk to me or turn down the volume.’

She gave him a non-committal nod.

‘I often take my work home with me as well,’ he said. ‘There are some things I just can’t let go of. It’s a bloody nuisance in fact: I’ve considered signing
up for courses in yoga and meditation in order to get over it. It’s impossible to get a decent night’s sleep when things are nagging at your mind.’

‘We could both go to such courses,’ said Moreno. ‘In fact.’

‘Not if we have children from the word go,’ said Mikael thoughtfully. ‘One of us will have to stay at home and look after them. You can’t take babies with you to yoga
classes. Aren’t you hungry, by the way?’

‘Do you mean we’re going to eat today as well?’

Mikael nodded.

‘There’s pie and salad. And wine.’

‘I hate wine,’ said Moreno. ‘Besides, I’ve got to work tomorrow.’

‘Hmm,’ said Mikael with a smile. ‘Come to think of it, I think there’s some asparagus in the pie. I read somewhere that asparagus is the only food that it’s
impossible to match with a suitable wine.’

‘Excellent,’ said Moreno. ‘Long live asparagus.’

They fell asleep quite soon, having only indulged in a little sexual play, nothing serious. But after only a couple of hours she woke up, and couldn’t get to sleep again.
She lay there in the king-size double bed, watching the shadows fluttering around over the walls and the well-honed body lying by her side. It didn’t really seem real. Not real at all, to be
honest: the moon aimed a shaft of light through the open window and the thin curtains, and it felt very much as if both she and her lover (boyfriend? partner? bloke?) were floating around in some
kind of surrealistic film developing tank, waiting to be developed.

Developed to make what?

I am a free woman, she thought. I belong to the first generation of free women in the history of the world. My life is in my own hands.

Nobody to be responsible for. No pressing social considerations. No obligations.

I’m a woman who can do whatever she wants.

Right now. Here. Today and tomorrow.

They had talked about this as well. This very thing. Both this evening, and earlier as well. How had he put it?

If you love your freedom too much, you’ll end up hugging a cold stone for the rest of your life. Tighter and tighter, colder and colder.

She thought about that for a while.

Bullshit, she concluded. He’s read that on the label of a video film, or on a carton of milk. Too many words. Tomorrow it’s time for that scumbag Lampe-Leermann.

But she knew – before the sun had risen to greet a new day, and before she’d managed to fall asleep again for the second time that night – she knew that she would have to make
up her mind.

Presumably she had four weeks in which to think things over. Two together with him. Two on her own. She didn’t think he was prepared to give her any longer than that.

She stroked her hand gently over his handsome back, and wondered if she knew the answer already.

Then she fell asleep.

9

The youth hostel was completely full. After some desperate negotiations, however, she was allowed to share a room with two young Danish Inter-railing girls and a middle-aged
nurse who had been unable to find a double room to share with her husband.

She met the nurse – thoroughly roasted after a long day on the beach – in the shower; the Danish girls were lying on their beds, writing picture postcards. They were both listening
to music on their Walkman cassette players, and both nodded to her without removing their earphones.

She suppressed an urge to burst into tears. Packed her belongings into the locker, made up the rickety extra bed, and went to the canteen for something to eat. When she had eaten three
sandwiches, drunk a large Coca-Cola and munched an apple, she felt a bit better. She took out her little blue notebook and read through what she had written. She thought for a while about where it
would be best to begin, and having made up her mind went to reception to ask for a little help. It was only a quarter to six, and she thought that with a bit of luck she might be able to make one
of her intended visits that same evening.

Things went even better than she had hoped. The two girls behind the counter spent quite a lot of time helping her, and when she got to the bus stop she found that the bus had just arrived, and
was waiting for her.

She flopped down on the seat immediately behind the driver and continued to think over how best to approach the meeting. She took out her notebook, then put it away again once she had memorized
the main points. The bus set off, and she started to think back over her walk through the care-home grounds instead. And the letters she had been given by her father, and read with ever-increasing
surprise. The feeling of unreality took hold of her like a sudden nightmare.

Arnold Maager. Her dad.

Dad
. She tasted the familiar word with its new meaning, and at the same time tried to conjure up his lean figure in her mind’s eye.

His somewhat hunched figure. That heavy, oblong-shaped head on its narrow neck. His similarity to a bird. His hands thrust deep down into his trouser pockets, and his shoulders hunched as if he
were feeling cold as he trundled along through the heat of summer. And the distance . . . The distance between himself and his daughter he was keen to maintain all the time, as if bodily contact
were something dangerous and forbidden.

They had wandered back and forth through the grounds in this fashion for over an hour – side by side, half a metre apart. At least half a metre. Walked and walked and walked. It was quite
a while before it dawned on her that she had no need to keep nagging at him.

She didn’t need to question him and press him to explain things. He had already made up his mind to talk to her.

To talk to her and explain in his own good time. In his own words. With pauses and repetitions and names she didn’t recognize. He had become more and more tense the further they had
progressed – but of course, that wasn’t so surprising.

Because the story he had to put into words for his daughter was not a pleasant one.

Not pleasant at all.

But he told her it all the same.

The bells in the low whitewashed church struck a quarter to seven just as she was getting off the bus in the square in Lejnice. Three muffled chimes that made a flock of
pigeons in front of her feet take off, then land again.

She walked round the dried-out fountain, and asked for directions at the newspaper kiosk. She had found the address in the telephone directory at the youth hostel: it turned out to be a mere
stone’s throw away, according to the lady behind the counter, glowing with summery sweat as she pointed down towards the harbour. Dead easy to find.

She thanked her, and set off in the direction indicated. Down Denckerstraat towards the sea – a narrow street lined with old wooden houses leaning inwards and making the street seem even
narrower. Then left into Goopsweg for about fifty metres. The house before the pharmacy.

Two things happened as she walked those fifty metres.

The first was that a black cat emerged from behind a fence and strolled across the street directly in front of her.

The second was that for some unknown reason a tile fell off one of the roofs and crashed to the ground three metres behind her. It happened only a couple of seconds after the cat had disappeared
behind another fence; a woman she had just passed was even closer to the spot where the tile landed, and gave a scream that frightened her even more than the tile had done. At first, at least.

She remained standing for quite a while outside number 26, wondering what to do next. She smelled a whiff of the sea drifting up on the slight breeze blowing in from the shore. And the scent of
cooking oil and oregano from the pizzeria on the corner. The house – the house in question – was a small block of flats, three storeys high with only two entrance doors. Typical 1970s
style with tiny built-in balconies facing the street, and perhaps also on the other side, facing the courtyard.

I’m not superstitious, she thought. Never have been, never will be. I don’t believe in that sort of silly thinking that’s a remnant from a less enlightened age . . . Those were
words she must have borrowed from Kim Wenderbout, she realized, her gigantic social studies teacher with whom at least half the girls in her class were secretly in love. So was she.

Silly remnants? A less enlightened age? Rubbish, she thought.

But she remained standing there nevertheless. The bells in the square started to strike seven.

The cat and the tile, she thought. Perfectly natural. She counted the chimes. And made it eight.

She turned on her heel and returned the same way that she had come.

Odd, she thought when she was sitting in the bus again on the Sunday morning. Why did I do that?

A cat runs across the street and a roof tile falls down onto the road. What’s so special about that?

She had slept like a log for nearly twelve hours. She’d gone to bed the moment she had returned to the youth hostel, and only woke up when one of the Danish girls dropped a dish on the
floor at half past nine.

She had a shower, then checked out and just caught the bus that left at twenty past ten. Breakfast: a pear and a pear soda. Plenty of variation there . . .

But it had been odd, her behaviour the previous evening. Very odd. Not like her at all, that was even more obvious now in the cold light of day. Not like Mikaela Lijphart, the sensible,
clear-thinking Mikaela Lijphart. Quite a few of her classmates had fallen for various forms of new-age, turn-of-the-century mysticism and that kind of dodgy stuff, but not her. Not the clever,
reliable Mikaela. So there really was something remarkable about it, that business with the cat and the roof tile. And her reaction to it.

What if new omens were to confront her today? How would she react now?

Don’t be silly, she thought. Yesterday was yesterday. I was tired. Tired out and overwrought. Who wouldn’t have been? The day had been full of tortures. Full to overflowing.

As she walked towards Goopsweg it struck her that she hadn’t rung home since leaving yesterday morning.

She hadn’t promised to do so, in fact, but she always used to get in touch even so. She noticed a phone box in the little lane just past the pizzeria, and remembered that she had a new
telephone card in her handbag. She slowed down and began arguing with herself.

BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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