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Authors: Hakan Nesser

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BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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‘It was because of this titbit that I wanted to talk to a woman police officer. I hope you didn’t think there was any other explanation? I couldn’t risk sitting face to face
with him . . . With that very policeman. Or with somebody who might possibly feel a sense of solidarity with him . . . A good word, that – solidarity. Even if it has fallen out of regular use
nowadays. Hmm.’

All this was just a dream, thought Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno. But I feel a bit sick for some reason.

Five minutes later she had put both Franz Lampe-Leermann and Lejnice police station behind her.

For today.

Constable Vegesack made the sign of the cross, then knocked on the door.

It wasn’t that he was religious – certainly not, and especially not in the Roman Catholic sense: but on one occasion the sign of the cross had turned out to be useful for him. He had
fallen asleep in his car while keeping watch on a suspect (and as a result the said suspect, an intermediary in a cocaine-smuggling gang, had sneaked out of the building and disappeared). The
following day he had been summoned to Chief Inspector Vrommel’s office for a dressing-down. For want of any better line of defence, he had made the sign of the cross as he stood waiting
outside the door (just as he had seen the Italian goalkeeper do before he saved a penalty in the previous week’s Champion’s League match on the telly), and to his amazement, it seemed
to work. Vrommel had treated him almost like a human being.

Vegesack didn’t bother about the fact that Vrommel’s attitude was presumably due mainly to the arrest of the escapee later on in the night. From that day on, he always made the sign
of the cross whenever he found himself standing outside his boss’s door.

It couldn’t do any harm, in any case, he thought.

Vrommel was standing between two filing cabinets, doing trunk-bending exercises. He did this for at least ten minutes every day in order to keep fit, and it wasn’t something that
necessarily intruded upon his work. Things got done even so, no problem.

‘Sit down,’ he said when Constable Vegesack had closed the door behind him.

Vegesack sat down on the visitor’s chair.

‘Write this down,’ said Vrommel.

The chief of police was known for his parsimony in the use of words, and his bodily contortions made it all the more necessary for him to be even less loquacious than usual.

‘Firstly,’ he said.

‘Firstly?’ said Vegesack.

‘That bastard Lampe-Leermann must be transported to the jail in Emsbaden either this evening or tomorrow. Ring and fix it.’

Vegesack noted this down.

‘Secondly. Inspector Moreno’s recorded interrogation must be typed out so that she can sign it. Do that.’

Vegesack noted it down.

‘Ready by noon tomorrow. There are the cassettes.’

He nodded towards the desk. Vegesack picked up both cassettes and put them in his jacket pocket. The chief of police paused before contorting himself in the opposite direction.

‘Anything else?’ Vegesack asked.

‘I’d have said if there was,’ said Vrommel.

When Vegesack got back to his own office – which he shared with Constables Mojavic and Helme – he wondered if he ought to write down the exchange he’d just had with Vrommel in
his black book. The one he’d started on six months ago, and which would eventually be his revenge, his way of getting his own back on Chief Inspector Victor Vrommel. The only thing that
enabled him to cope.

The true story of the chief of police in Lejnice.

He had already written over fifty pages, and the title he was currently thinking of giving it was:
The Skunk in Uniform
.

Although he had not entirely eliminated the possibility of
The Long Arm of the Bore
, or
A Nero of Our Time
.

Constable Vegesack checked his diary, and established that there were eighteen days still to go to his leave. Then he telephoned Emsbaden and arranged transport for Franz Lampe-Leermann. That
took half an hour. He looked at the clock. A quarter to four. He took out a notepad and a pen, and slotted the first cassette into the player.

With a bit of luck I’ll have finished by midnight, he thought.

When she had more or less finished recounting what had happened, it occurred to her that perhaps she ought to have kept it to herself.

Not just
perhaps
, in fact. The contents of the scumbag Lampe-Leermann’s rant were such that nobody ought to be exposed to them. Or to be bothered by them.

Especially if it was all a bluff.

And it was a bluff, of course. There was no plausible alternative.

So why had she recounted it all for Mikael Bau the moment they’d sat down on the veranda of the harbour cafe? Why?

She couldn’t think of a satisfactory answer, hesitated for a moment, then bit her tongue.

‘Well, well,’ he said. ‘For Gawd’s sake! What do you make of it?’

She shook her head.

‘It’s all made up, of course. What I don’t understand is what he thinks he’s going to get out of it.’

Mikael said nothing, just looked at her as he slowly adjusted his posture.

‘What if it isn’t?’

‘Isn’t what?’

‘Made up.’

‘It
is
made up.’

‘By whom?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Who’s made it up, of course. I wonder if it’s that Lampe-Leermann himself, or if it’s that journalist?’

Moreno thought for a moment.

‘Or somebody else again,’ she said. ‘I mean, we don’t even know if the journalist really exists.’

‘Not until Scumbag comes up with a name, you mean?’

‘Exactly,’ said Moreno. ‘And he won’t do that for free.’

They sat for a while without speaking. Mikael continued to look at her, his eyebrows slightly raised. Moreno pretended not to notice.

‘Hypothetically . . .’ he said.

She didn’t respond. He hesitated for a few more seconds.

‘Hypothetically. Let’s assume that he isn’t bluffing in fact. Then what do we do?’

Moreno glared at him, and clenched her fists. Took a deep breath.

‘Well, then . . . Then we find ourselves in a situation where one of my closest colleagues is a bloody child-fucker.’

‘Don’t speak so loudly,’ said Mikael, looking around furtively. Nobody at any of the neighbouring tables seemed to have noticed anything amiss. Moreno leaned forward and
continued in a somewhat lower voice.

‘We find ourselves in a situation that’s so damned awful that I won’t be able to sleep a wink at night. That’s obvious, isn’t it?’

Mikael nodded.

‘I think so,’ he said. ‘How many are there to choose from? Possible candidates? . . . We’re still being hypothetical, of course.’

Moreno thought that over. Forced herself to think it over.

‘It depends,’ she said. ‘It depends on how many you count as CID officers – several constables double up with different sections, and there are a few borderline cases.
Eight to ten, I’d say . . . Twelve at most.’

‘A dozen?’

‘At most, yes.’

Mikael emptied his cup of cappuccino and wiped the foam away from his mouth.

‘What are you going to do about it?’ he asked.

Moreno didn’t answer.

There wasn’t any appropriate answer.

11

By the time they got back to Port Hagen and Tschandala it was five o’clock, and a red-haired woman was sitting on the veranda, waiting for them.

‘Oh my God,’ muttered Mikael. ‘I’d forgotten about her.’

The woman turned out to be called Gabriella de Haan, a former girlfriend of Mikael’s, and had come in connection with a cat. This was apparently called Montezuma, and was a lazy-looking
ginger-coloured female aged about ten. It seemed to Moreno that there were several striking similarities between the two ladies. Quite a few, she decided after a cursory inspection.

‘Don’t you like cats?’ Mikael wondered when fröken de Haan left after less than five minutes.

‘Oh yes, I certainly do,’ said Moreno. ‘I used to have one a few years ago, but it disappeared in mysterious circumstances. But this one . . . ?’

She nodded in the direction of Montezuma, who was stretched out on her side in the old, faded garden hammock and seemed to have made herself at home.

‘This one, well . . .’ said Mikael, looking appropriately guilty for a brief moment. ‘I thought I’d mentioned her. She’s going to live here for a few weeks while
Gabriella’s in Spain. I couldn’t very well say no – we got her when we were living together, and Gabriella took her when we split up. She could do with a bit of sea air, poor old
Monty. She normally spends all her time cooped up in a flat . . . Anyway, she’s unlikely to disturb us. She’s as good as gold, even if she does occasionally give the impression of being
a bit prickly.’

He bent down and started stroking the cat’s stomach, which seemed to transport her into feline heaven.

Moreno couldn’t help smiling. She closed her eyes and tried to look into the future. In ten years’ time or so . . . How things might be if she made certain decisions and stuck to
them.

Her and Mikael Bau. A couple of children. A big house. A few cats.

The image was no more specific than that, but it somehow appeared quite naturally, and on the whole she found it quite acceptable. To say the least.

I’m falling, she thought. I must build up a bit of strength and some defence mechanisms, otherwise I shall just drift along with the current.

That evening they walked to Wincklers, the restaurant furthest out on the promontory at the northern end of the beach with a reputation for good food. They began with fish soup
and mineral water, then lemon sorbet with fresh raspberries, and all the time managed to avoid talking about Franz Lampe-Leermann.

Until they were on the way back home and stopped in front of a pile of jellyfish that somebody had fished out of the sea and placed in a hollow in the sand.

‘Scumbag,’ said Mikael. ‘Is this what he looks like?’

Moreno looked down into the hollow with revulsion.

‘Ugh,’ she said. ‘Yes, more or less. But who cares what he looks like. I just wish he hadn’t come out with that last accusation.’

‘Hmm. I thought the detective inspector had something nasty at the back of her mind while we were eating the dessert.’

Moreno sighed.

‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘But let’s face it, how could I avoid thinking about it? Tell me how if you can. No matter how you look at it, it’s an accusation . . . an
absolutely horrific accusation about one of my colleagues. Somebody I’ve been working with and respected and thought I knew and could rely on. If it should turn out that . . . No, for
Christ’s sake, it’s just a bluff of course – but the thought is still there, nagging away. Ugh! Can you understand that?’

Mikael said he could. They turned their backs on the nasty heap and started walking again. In silence to start with, but then he took the opportunity of telling her about the day nursery in
Leufshejm called The Happy Panda. A rumour started to circulate to the effect that there was a paedophile among the staff . . . There was a comprehensive investigation which concluded with a
hundred-and-ten per cent certainty that the rumour was false and all the staff were as clean as the driven snow: but nevertheless The Happy Panda was forced to close down after a few months because
no parent was prepared to send their child there.

And because all the nine female staff stood shoulder to shoulder with their three male colleagues. That was another way of putting it.

One of the three men was an old childhood friend of Mikael’s. The nursery had been closed for four years now, but his friend’s wife had left him and he was retraining as an engine
driver.

‘Nice,’ said Moreno.

‘Very nice,’ agreed Mikael. ‘At least he’s moved on after his suicidal phase. But I think we’re getting away from the point.’

Moreno said nothing for a while.

‘Are you suggesting that it’s sufficient for Lampe-Leermann to have sown the seed of doubt in my mind? That I won’t be able to forget it, no matter what?’

‘Something like that,’ said Mikael. ‘It’s basic psychology. It’s so damned easy to cause irreparable damage . . . When even you can’t fend off an accusation
like this, how do you think the general public would react if they got to know about it? No smoke without fire and all that. Bloody hell!’

Moreno didn’t respond.

‘Although I wonder what you think, deep down,’ he said after a little pause. ‘Seriously. It would be easier to talk about it if you didn’t feel you needed to protect your
colleagues. Could there be any truth in it? Is there any possibility – any possibility at all – that it’s any more than a malicious lie?’

Moreno continued walking, and gazed out to sea in the rapidly descending darkness. It was no longer possible to make out the horizon, but a series of lights from the fishing boats that had just
gone out for the night seemed to indicate where it was.

‘I can’t believe it,’ she said. ‘I simply can’t. I’d prefer to approach it from a different angle. Try to understand the motive . . . Lampe-Leermann’s
motive, that is. How could he benefit from it?’

‘Do you think he’s lying?’

‘Very probably. I want to believe that. Although it could also be that journalist who lied to Lampe-Leermann.’

‘Why would he do that?’

Moreno shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea. I don’t see the point of saying something like that to somebody like Lampe-Leermann. Unless it happened in a fit of drunkenness . . . Which is a
distinct possibility, of course. One shouldn’t overestimate the logic and the ability to follow a plan that’s characteristic of those circles. That’s something I’m beginning
to realize.’

‘Coincidence?’ said Mikael. ‘An unguarded word?’

‘Could be,’ said Moreno. ‘There’s a sort of grey zone. The chief inspector – the one I was telling you about,
the Chief Inspector
– he always used to
say that everything that happens is an unholy brew made up of the expected and the unexpected. The hard part is deciding the proportion in a given case: sometimes it’s 8:2, sometimes 1:9 . .
. That might sound a bit speculative, but it makes a hell of a difference.’

BOOK: The Weeping Girl
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