29

“I think I need a walk,” said Van Veeteren as they left the sports hall. “Can you take my bag back to the hotel?”

“Of course,” said Munster. “What do you think of the Mel nik report?”

“Nothing until I’ve read it,” said Van Veeteren. “If you buy me a beer in the bar tonight, we can talk about it then-a nightcap at about eleven, is that a deal?”

“Maybe,” said Munster.

“A warm wind,” said Van Veeteren, sniffing the air. “Even though it’s coming from the north. Unusual… nature’s out of joint somewhere. I think I’ll stroll along the beach.”

“See you later,” said Munster, scrambling into the car.

In the foyer he bumped into Cruickshank, who was on his way to the bar with a few evening papers under his arm. The other reporters had disappeared some days ago; only Cruickshank was still around, for some reason.

“Good evening. Anything new?”

Munster shook his head.

“Why do they keep you here day after day?” he asked. “I don’t suppose you’ve written anything for a week now.”

“It’s at my own request,” said Cruickshank. “Things are a bit nasty on the home front.”

“Really?” said Munster.

“My wife won’t have me in the house. Can’t say I blame her either, although it’s not very stimulating hanging around this dump day in, day out. I’m trying to write a series of articles about refugees, but that’s mainly to prevent me from going up the wall.”

“Oh, dear,” said Munster.

“What about you?” asked Cruickshank. “I don’t suppose you’re having a fun time either?”

Munster thought for a moment before replying.

“No. I wouldn’t say fun was the word.”

Cruickshank sighed and shrugged.

“I thought I’d sit in the bar for a while. You’re welcome to join me.”

“Thanks,” said Munster. “I have some reading to do first, later on perhaps.”

Cruickshank slapped him on the back and headed for the bar. There was a distinct whiff of brandy, Munster noticed as he walked past. A necessity for survival, no doubt. He went to reception and collected his key.

“Just a minute,” said the girl, reaching down behind the counter. “There’s a message for you as well.”

She handed him a white envelope that he slipped into his pocket. When he got to his room, he slit it open with a pen and read the contents:

Hi!

I’ve just been reading through the Aarlach report.

Something struck me.

Pretty bizarre, but I need to check it out.

I’ll be at home when I’ve finished jogging at about eight. Ring me then.

Love, B.

He checked his watch. Twenty past seven. Could there really be something in the report? he wondered, fingering the pile of pages on his bedside table. That would be a blessing worth praying for.

I’d better get reading, in any case. But first a call to Synn.

Van Veeteren continued along the Esplanade and past the west pier before going down to the sands. Twilight had started to fall, but there was probably another hour of light left; growing weaker, it was true, but good enough for him to keep his bear ings, he thought. The warm wind was even more noticeable down on the beach, and he considered for a moment taking his shoes off and strolling barefoot through the sand-the warm sand next to the wall. But he decided against it. The sea seemed apathetic, as it had done during the weeks he’d spent in the cottage; the waves were choppy but uninterested, devoid of life…

We’ve had enough of each other, the sea and I, he thought, and he became conscious of a mood he recognized from his childhood summers. When he longed to be back at home, longed to be inland, as he used to put it in those days. When he dreamed of eternity shrinking, so that he could overview it.

He wanted to put a frame around everything that was timeless and infinite and seemed to grow and grow under the skies along the coast…

Was that what he was feeling now as well?

Was the bottom line that it was more difficult to handle things by the sea? Did this endless gray mirror make every thing incomprehensible and impossible to master? Make this case so totally hopeless? Reinhart claimed that it was in this very place-where land, sea and sky come together-that everything acquired its true weight and significance.

Its name and attributes.

Hard to say. Perhaps it was just the opposite. In any case, he was aware that thoughts and ideas drifted and became blurred.

When he gazed straight ahead along the slightly curved coast line, which eventually melted into a darkening haze way beyond the west pier, it seemed more difficult than ever to con centrate and focus on something specific. As if everything were being sucked up, vanishing into eternity and the timeless darkness. Yes, Reinhart was wrong, no doubt about it. It was a hindrance, this damn sea.

On the other hand, it did increase one’s sensitiveness, it had to be admitted. The process was open in both directions… no deadlocks to check either impulses or conclusions. Input and output. It was a matter of retaining perceptions and impres sions long enough for him to be able to register them, at least for a moment.

What about the case? The Axman? What were the percep tions that had blown in with the warm winds?

The wind was back to front. Something was wrong. He’d had that feeling for quite a while, and it was even more notice able out here on the silent, firm sand. When he thought back, he realized that something had come up during his conversa tion with Beatrice Linckx. He couldn’t quite remember what it was, hadn’t known at the time either-an expression she’d used, something she’d said in passing, possibly the inherent relationship between the words themselves. An unusual com bination. That had been enough, and he had sensed some thing.

Something that Bausen had said during their latest game of chess as well-the chief of police had moved a pawn and cre ated an advantage for himself, despite the fact that it was pre cisely the move that Van Veeteren had foreseen and wanted him to make.

He’d lit his pipe and said something.

That was unclear as well. Highly unclear-a sudden whiff of something that had dispersed and disappeared just as quickly as it had come, but had nevertheless left a trace in his memory.

Good grief! he thought, and spat out a chewed-up tooth pick. What kind of garbled thinking was this? What precision!

This must be how it feels when Alzheimer’s disease becomes full-blown.

But on the other hand-he was now building lightning-fast bridges between the extremes-the most significant sign of senile dementia was not that you lost your memory. On the contrary! The portals of memory were open wide and allowed everything to enter. No filtering. Everything.

Like the sea. Like the waves. And so it was a matter of choosing. Everything or nothing.

Who was it, then? Who was the Axman? How much longer would he have to hang around this godforsaken place before he could finally put the handcuffs on this damn games player.

What was the combination of words that Beatrice Linckx had let slip? What had Bausen said?

And Laurids Reisin? Sitting at home somewhere weighing the assurance his wife had passed on from the police. Was that anything to rely on? What had he promised? Six to eight days?

When was that? Had he already overstepped that limit, in fact?

No doubt. Van Veeteren sighed.

A jogger, a woman in a red tracksuit, suddenly jumped down from the Esplanade about twenty yards ahead of him.

Her dark hair was tied up with a ribbon the same shade as her jacket. She continued to the water’s edge, to the firm sand, then turned westward, and after only a few seconds, the dis tance between them had doubled. There was something very familiar about her, and it took him a few moments to work out who it was.

Inspector Moerk, of course!

What had Bausen said about her that first day, at the police station?

Beauty and intuition? Something like that; in any case, whatever it was, he agreed with it wholeheartedly.

He sighed and put his hands in his pockets. Felt the pack of cigarettes, and argued with himself for a while. Oh, all right, he decided, and by the time he had lit a cigarette, Beate Moerk had vanished into the darkness.

Swallowed up.

Darkness, he thought, and took a deep drag. The only thing big enough to enclose an ocean.

Not a bad idea. He must remember to take it up with Rein hart one of these days.

But maybe the ocean is bigger after all, he realized almost immediately. No doubt it’s morning on another shore. There’s always another shore.

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