43

Bausen produced two beers from his briefcase, and opened them.

“We mustn’t forget the other sightings,” he said. “There are seven or eight other people who are convinced they saw her in quite different places. She might have had time to do some thing else as well. The witnesses who saw her here at the station said it was between half past and a quarter to, isn’t that right?”

Van Veeteren didn’t answer. He lit a cigarette and adjusted the pieces.

“Kropke had stuck in more than a hundred drawing pins by the time he went home,” said Bausen. “He’s almost run out of red ones. That seems to be giving him a bit of a headache, in fact. Anyway, what do you think?”

Van Veeteren shrugged.

“Let’s say she did in fact come here,” he said. “For simplic ity’s sake, if nothing else. OK, Mr. Chief of Police, your turn to start. The Sicilian, I assume?”

“Of course,” said Bausen with a smile, moving his e-pawn.

“All right, she came here. But what the hell did she do?”

“I don’t know,” said Van Veeteren, “but I intend to find out.”

“Really?” said Bausen. “How? Her office didn’t produce much in the way of leads.”

Van Veeteren shrugged.

“I’ll grant you that,” he said. “Your move. If I win, I’ll take the lead. I hope you’re aware of that.”

“Of course,” said Bausen. “Have you invented some home made defense against the Sicilian as well? It could be useful to know.”

“You’ll soon find out,” said Van Veeteren, and allowed him self what might have been meant as a smile, but which in fact made Bausen wonder if he had a toothache.

Ah, well, life isn’t a game of chess after all, he thought, gaz ing out of the window. A game of chess involves so very many more possibilities.

It was dark and deserted out there in the square. A few min utes past eleven; they had agreed to play a sixty-minute game, but you never knew… The chess clock was at home in the bookcase, and if they got themselves into a fascinating posi tion, neither of them was likely to want to have to ruin it be cause of time pressure. On the contrary. There were some positions that should never be taken any further. They had dis cussed this before and reached agreement on the matter:

Games should be deep-frozen after the thirty-fifth or fiftieth move and never completed. (Such as Linkowski versus Queller in Paris, 1907. After the forty-second. Or Mikoyan versus

Andersson, 1980-in Brest, if he remembered rightly? After the thirty-fifth, or the thirty-seventh, at any rate.) Games in which the beauty of the situation was so great that any further move was bound to ruin it.

It was like life, when you wished that time would call a halt, at least for a while, he thought. Although there was nothing to suggest that this game would turn out to be one of those spe cial ones. Nothing at all.

Three days? In three days he would leave this office, and never set foot in it again…

It felt odd, to say the least, and he wondered how those three days would turn out. When he observed Van Veeteren on the other side of his desk, one hand hovering over the board, there were voices inside him that told him this detective chief inspector would in fact fulfill his promise and put the

Axman behind bars before Friday. How he would go about it was not easy to judge, but his colleague was showing signs that he couldn’t fail to notice: increasing introversion, a tendency to irritation that had not been present earlier, a certain secretive ness-or whatever you call it-all of which must surely indi cate that he was onto something. Getting him to talk about it seemed to be an impossibility; Munster had also started to notice the signs, and had explained that they were not unusual.

Familiar indications, rather, for anybody who had seen them before-clear pointers that something was brewing and that

DCI Van Veeteren was in top gear mentally. That the situation was precisely as Bausen had suspected, in other words. It could well be that the thaw was imminent, and this somber police officer was on the brink of assembling all the pieces of this complicated jigsaw puzzle.

Ah, well, thought Bausen. But three days? Would that really be enough?

When it came to the crunch, of course, it wasn’t just a mat ter of these three days; he was the piece who’d be removed from the board on Friday. Nevertheless, over this last week he had steadily formed an impression that the whole business was a race against time. The murderer would have to be caught before October 1. That’s what they’d said, and the first was on Friday.

On Friday he would retire. Exit Bausen. A free man with every right to fill his time with whatever he fancied. Who didn’t need to give a damn who the Axman was, and could do whatever he liked.

Or might he not be too happy about that freedom? Would this case cast a shadow over his hard-earned future? That was not impossible. He thought about his wine cellar and its valu able contents.

Three days?

He eyed Van Veeteren’s weighty figure on the other side of his desk, and concluded that he had no idea where he would have placed his bet if he’d needed to do so.

“Your move,” said Van Veeteren again, raising his bottle to his lips.

“What’s your name?” said Kropke, starting the tape recorder.

The well-built man opposite sighed.

“You know perfectly well what my damn name is. We were in the same class at school for eight years, for God’s sake.”

“This is an official interview,” said Kropke. “We have to stick to the formalities. So?”

“Erwin Lange,” said the well-built man. “Born 1951. Owner of the photographer’s shop Blitz in Hoistraat. I’m due to open twenty minutes from now, so I’d be obliged if you could get a move on. Married with five children-is that enough?”

“Yes,” said Kropke. “Would you mind telling me what you saw last Friday evening?”

Erwin Lange cleared his throat.

“I saw Inspector Moerk leave this police station at ten min utes to seven.”

“Six-fifty, in other words. Are you sure about the time?”

“One hundred percent certain.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I was due to meet my daughter in the square at a quarter to. I checked my watch and saw that I was five minutes late.”

“And you’re sure that the person you saw was Inspector

Moerk?”

“Certain.”

“You had met her before?”

“Yes.”

“How close to her were you?”

“Six feet.”

“I see,” said Kropke. “Did you notice anything else?”

“Such as?”

“Er, her clothes, for instance.”

“Tracksuit… red. Gym shoes.”

“Was she carrying anything?”

“No.”

“OK. Many thanks,” said Kropke, switching off the tape recorder. “I hope you’re not intending to leave Kaalbringen during the next few days?”

“Why on earth do you want to know that?”

Kropke shrugged.

“We might need to ask you some more questions… you never know.”

“No,” said Erwin Lange, rising to his feet. “That’s the prob lem with you guys. You never know.”

“Ten to seven?” muttered Bausen. “Shit, that means she could well have fitted in something else as well. Or what do you think?”

Kropke nodded.

“It takes fifteen minutes max from here to the smoke house,” he said. “So there’s a gap of at least fifteen minutes.”

“What’s the situation on the drawing pin front?” asked

Munster.

“A hundred and twelve,” said Kropke. “But there are no more conglomerations. No pattern, if you like-and nothing more from the beach.”

“She might have sat in her car for a while before driving off,” said Bausen. “Down by the sea, perhaps. Or outside the station. That seems the most likely.”

“Not necessarily,” said Van Veeteren. “She must have attracted his attention somehow. Or do you think he already knew about her jogging plans?”

Nobody spoke for a few seconds. Mooser suppressed a yawn. Where’s the coffee? thought Munster.

“Ah well,” said Bausen. “I’m damned if I know, but it’s important, obviously.”

“Extremely important,” said Van Veeteren. “When was the earliest sighting at the smokehouse?”

“Ten or eleven minutes past, or thereabouts,” said Kropke.

Van Veeteren nodded, and contemplated his thumbnail.

“Ah, well,” he muttered. “I suppose every move has to be considered in its context. There’s always another island.”

“Excuse me?” said Kropke.

He’s going senile, thought Munster. No doubt about it.

Contents