Authors: David Hewson
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Crime
There was a look in her daughter’s eyes Hanna Bublik knew only too well. It wasn’t just fear. It was an angry, uncomprehending bafflement too, one that carried with it a question that would never be answered . . . why?
‘Mummy,’ she said in a small, frightened voice as they waited in the shadows.
‘We’re fine, sweetheart,’ Hanna said. ‘It’s over now. We stay here. Everything will be . . .’
For some reason she couldn’t stop thinking of what Chantal Santos had said. They needed easy money. A better life than this. If it meant getting the name of a Turkish thug tattooed on her shoulder as a start maybe it was a small price to pay.
The sirens were diminishing behind her. Perhaps it was all a nasty, cruel prank. No one was hurt. Amsterdam was the safe if fallen city she’d come to know.
‘Everything will be fine.’
‘Mummy,’ Natalya said again and the fear was still in her voice.
Her mother looked. The girl wasn’t watching her. The arm of her strange pink jacket was extended behind, to somewhere Hanna couldn’t see.
As she turned to look something green came into her vision. The pain followed. Then the blackness as the world revolved and she tumbled down to the hard, cold ground.
There was a procedure for events like this. A set of responses patiently planned and rehearsed over the years. The emergency services were already moving into place, uniformed officers trying to shepherd people away from the vicinity of the blasts.
Vos and Bakker had checked for injuries as best they could while Van der Berg, without a word, had taken off in the direction of the tram stop, the point from which the grenades seemed to originate.
The Kuyper woman was growing ever more frantic. Between yelling for her daughter she shrieked down the phone trying to get hold of her husband.
Bakker tried to console her. Vos said to leave it. Leidseplein was full of people who’d become separated from their family at that moment. They had other priorities: try to keep everyone safe.
Renata Kuyper yelled a flurry of curses and started to march off into the mass ahead, head turning frantically side to side, calling her daughter’s name.
Vos took hold of her arm and stopped her.
‘We’ll find your daughter. It’s best you stay here . . .’
Then her phone rang and she looked at the screen. Hope and fear and puzzlement on her face.
‘You don’t need that,’ the Black Pete said and took the phone from Saskia Kuyper’s fingers just as she pressed the shortcut for her mother.
She blinked and said nothing. This man was a grown-up. He was supposed to know things. All the same he seemed nervous. More than she was maybe.
‘That’s what sets bombs off,’ he added. ‘Phone calls.’
He put the handset in his pocket. His shiny green costume shone in the winter sun.
Shivering in her pink My Little Pony jacket she looked at him and didn’t move. He’d found her beneath the theatre balcony, at the edge of the mayhem, staying clear.
She’d never heard the world this loud. Had no idea where her mother was any more. All she’d done was wander forward, trying to catch sight of Sinterklaas on the balcony. Just managing a glimpse of a man in a red suit with a long white beard before the earth shook beneath her feet.
‘Your daddy wants to see you, Saskia. Your mummy too. I’ll take you there.’
He had a brittle, foreign voice and spoke in English. The tone of it clashed with the black face, the ruby lips, the bright white teeth.
She didn’t move. So he reached into his bag and held out a couple of sweets.
‘Come on,’ he said and she stared at the glittering objects in his white gloved hands.
Daddy hated sweets. He said they were bad for your teeth. They’d rot your guts. Make you smell like the other kids.
Saskia moved to take one. His fingers closed on hers. Not so tight she wanted to scream. Just enough so that she couldn’t let go.
‘I’ll show you where they are,’ he said and pointed towards the bridge over the canal.
Prinsengracht. Her father sometimes went to an office there. She’d gone with him once. Sat in a small room on her own for hours while he did business.
Perhaps . . .
‘Come on,’ he said again and tugged her hand.
She didn’t move an inch. Dug the heels of her black patent-leather shoes hard into the pavement, leaned back to stop him. Then she stole into the jacket pocket of his green costume and snatched back the phone they’d given her for her eighth birthday. A cheap Samsung. Not the iPhone she’d asked for.
Don’t spoil her.
Mummy said that a lot.
‘I can call if I want,’ she told him and put her finger on the screen, held it there again. Just heard the engaged tone before he snatched the handset from her, took hold of her shoulder, dragged her through a baying crowd lost in itself.
So much that no one noticed an eight-year-old girl shrieking and fighting as a figure in green pulled Saskia Kuyper out of the chaos of Leidseplein into the empty streets beyond.
Just across the square, frantic in the milling crowd, her mother was still looking at the screen of her phone. Reluctant to answer the familiar ring she’d set up for him.
But really she had no choice.
‘Henk,’ she said before he could speak. ‘We’re in Leidseplein. I need you here.’
A pause then. He’d blame her for this. She could see the sour judgemental stare already.
She had to say it anyway.
‘Saskia’s gone. I don’t know where.’
Two minutes after the first explosion Frank de Groot, commissaris in Marnixstraat, called Vos and asked if he and his team were OK.
‘As far I can see,’ Vos told him. ‘What about casualties?’
‘Looks like they were fireworks,’ De Groot said. ‘From the monitors anyway. All the same . . .’
‘You’ve been watching?’
There was a pause on the line then, ‘What do you think?’
‘Can you see who threw them?’
‘Someone in a Black Pete outfit. He was wearing green. Near the tram stop.’
Exactly where Van der Berg had said.
‘Dirk’s on it,’ Vos said. ‘We’ll catch up with him. We had a woman saying she was followed by someone like that from the Herenmarkt. You might want to check the cameras. And send me a few more people—’
‘Wait, wait, wait,’ De Groot cut in. ‘This looks beyond us. Terrorism—’
‘Do terrorists throw fireworks?’ Vos wondered.
The Kuyper woman was still arguing on the phone. There were tears in her eyes. Bakker was with her. This wasn’t the bomb outrage he first thought. No blood. Just lots of shocked and frightened people.
Before De Groot could answer Vos added, ‘I’ve got parents here who can’t find their kids. You need to fix an assembly point.’
‘Yes, yes. But I don’t want you chasing anyone. AIVD are on it.’
Vos wondered for a moment if he’d heard that correctly. AIVD were national intelligence and security. Not police. And the timing . . .
‘Already?’ he asked. ‘We’re three minutes in. Were they waiting or something?’
‘You did read the bulletin before you went out?’ De Groot asked. ‘They upped the terrorism threat to substantial. It’s all to do with that preacher they’ve got in custody. It said—’
‘I was thinking about Sinterklaas,’ Vos admitted. ‘Not terrorists.’
‘Yes. Well . . .’ De Groot was rarely hesitant by nature.
‘What do you want me to do, Frank?’
‘AIVD have got a couple of their senior people in Leidseplein.’
‘So they knew this might happen?’ Vos asked again.
‘One step at a time,’ De Groot answered testily. ‘The boss woman’s called Mirjam Fransen. If . . .’
‘What do you want me to do?’
A long pause. Then De Groot said, ‘Whatever they ask. You really think we got lucky? No one’s hurt?’
Vos looked round. The place was calming down. No more screaming. Just people trying to find their bearings. And their loved ones.
‘Seems that way. We need to clear this entire area.’ He remembered stories about past bomb blasts. Sometimes there was a false start to lure people somewhere more dangerous. ‘Who knows what else there could be around?’
That long delay on the line again.
‘I said that,’ De Groot told him. ‘The AIVD woman overruled me. They don’t want a stampede. Everyone’s to leave steadily. Then they can get their people in there.’
Vos nodded and found himself saying, almost to himself, ‘Does that feel right to you?’
‘Stay where you are. Do what you can. Wait to hear from me,’ De Groot told him and was gone.
A tall man was walking towards them. Renata Kuyper stared at him, both grateful and wary. The two stood and looked at each other. He was thin in an expensive-looking winter coat. Business garb. Odd for Sunday. Early thirties, dark-rimmed glasses, dark hair, expressionless face.
Vos went over. Bakker was trying to help.
‘Mr Kuyper?’ she asked.
‘We’ll find your daughter,’ she added.
He glanced sharply at his wife.
Van der Berg phoned from the far side of the square and said, ‘I thought I had him, Pieter.’
‘We’ve got AIVD here.’ There was an edge to his voice. No one much liked these people getting in the way. ‘They seem to think this is theirs.’
Vos asked where exactly he was. Then got Bakker, told the Kuypers to stay with the uniform people. After that he thought for a second and called Van der Berg back.
‘Don’t start an argument without me,’ he said. ‘One minute and I’m there.’
Down the back lane Hanna Bublik came to, head hurting, and found herself scrambling in the dirt. Her arm brushed her forehead. Pain there but no blood.
She looked round anxiously. Nobody else in the little alley. No pink jacket. No quiet, worried young voice.
As she stumbled to her feet the winter light from the street vanished and a shadow fell on her. Shiny green and a face blacked up, large wig, red lips, no smile. She remembered going down as Natalya started screaming . . .
Got ready to fight.
But then his hands were up and she realized: this Black Pete seemed different somehow. Deferential. There was something in his fingers. A police ID card and a name on it: Koeman.
‘Are you OK?’ he asked. ‘I’m a police officer.’ Then he stepped back, let the light fall on her. ‘What happened?’
‘Natalya . . .’
She strode past him, walked into the square. Packed with people, more orderly than she remembered. The loudspeaker system Sinterklaas had used was urging everyone to leave the area slowly by whichever route looked easiest.
‘Someone hit me. Someone took my girl.’
‘Where are you from?’ he asked.
It seemed a stupid, pointless question.
‘Does that matter? Can you understand me?’
‘Are . . . you . . . OK?’
‘Yes!’ she yelled, and added a few curses he’d never understand. ‘Where’s my daughter? Someone took her!’
‘We’ve got a million parents looking for their kids,’ the cop called Koeman snapped. ‘Some idiot let off some smoke bombs or something. Give me a name for her.’
He wiped his cheek with the sleeve of his green costume. The make-up started to come off. She could see a pale face emerge from underneath. He seemed tired. Confused. Angry.
‘Even better,’ Koeman said, ‘give me some ID.’
Reluctantly, knowing this was going from bad to worse, she reached into her bag and handed over her passport. He stared at it.
‘I live here. My daughter’s Natalya Bublik. She’s eight. When are you going to start looking for her?’
He gave the passport back.
‘Got a job?’
‘Does that matter?’
He looked her up and down. She knew that expression.
‘So you said,’ he interrupted, then pulled a notepad out of his green trousers and scribbled something on it. ‘I’ll pass on the name.’ He handed her the pad and pen. ‘Stay on the edge of the square. Keep listening to the announcements. There’ll be an assembly point for missing children . . .’
She lost it then.
‘Some bastard hit me. Took my daughter.’ She jabbed the green jacket. ‘He was dressed like this. What are you . . . ?’
‘Or maybe she ran,’ the cop said. ‘Got scared.’ A shrug. ‘Lots of scared people today. Thousands of them. We’re dealing with it. Hanna . . .’
The way he said her name she got the message. This man had priorities. And a suspect Georgian woman who’d lost her daughter wasn’t one of them.
So she threw a few curses in his direction and went to look for Natalya herself.
Van der Berg was by the tram stop getting angry. The crowds were dispersing. The medical teams were doing their job, which was a lot less than they’d expected.
When Vos and Bakker turned up he was arguing with a sharp-faced woman in her mid-thirties with jet-black hair and a smart raincoat. Her immobile face had a tan that must have come from a salon’s lights.
‘He went down there,’ the detective insisted, jabbing a finger at Lijnbaansgracht, a narrow side street leading back towards the Melkweg arts centre.
‘We know,’ the woman said then held up a smart phone.
Vos came up, introduced himself and Bakker. It was the Fransen woman from AIVD, the one De Groot had talked about. Somehow she already possessed combined footage from the cameras in the square. They watched as a Black Pete figure in a green costume extended his arm above the crowd and threw the first grenade. A puff of smoke from somewhere. Then two more.
‘Your job’s to keep order here,’ Mirjam Fransen told them. ‘Get people out of the square safely. See if you can match up some of these missing kids with their parents.’
‘If you need any help . . .’ Vos said.
The giant phone rang. She took the call on an earpiece. It was short. Seemed to make her happy.
‘We don’t,’ the woman told him then marched straight into the crowd behind them, on towards Lijnbaansgracht.
He was never good at that, even before he changed his name.
Sticky inside the green costume, aware his black make-up was starting to drip with sweat, he’d torn off the hot, uncomfortable wig then careered down the narrow street, back towards the place he’d picked up the hidden gear.