Authors: Janwillem Van De Wetering
Also by janwillem van de Wetering
The Grijpstra-de Gier series:
Inspector.Saito's Small Satori
The Butterfly Hunter
Bliss and Bluster
Murder by Remote Control
The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery
A Glimpse of Nothingness: Experiences in an American
Robert van Gulik: His Life, His Work
Hugh Pine and the Good Place
Hugh Pine and Something Else
van de Wetering
Copyright © 1979 by Janwillem van de Wetering
All rights reserved.
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Van de Wetering, Janwillem, 1931-
The Maine massacre / Janwillem van de Wetering.
1. DeGier, Rinus (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
2. Grijpstra, Henk (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
3. Dutch—Travel—Maine—Fiction. 4. Police—Maine—Fiction.
10 9 8 7 6 5
To J.O. Jeppson, with love
HE TELEPHONE CALL INTERRUPTED A PLEASANT CONVERsation that hadn't been leading anywhere apart from stressing the point that the three men, gathered for the ceremony of ten o'clock coffee in the commissaris' stately room on the second floor of Amsterdam police headquarters, weren't alone that morning but could face the bleakest time of the early December year together.
The telephone's irritating jangle cut through the sergeant's lengthy explanation as to how a begonia can be made to flower in the midst of winter. The commissaris
was interested, and the adjutant, from the depth of a comfortable armchair upholstered in velvet, had been polite enough not to yawn, or cough, or suck noisily on his soggy cigar stub while the sergeant held form. But now there was the telephone and the two detectives listened to the commissaris' side of the conversation with some interest. It could be business, but it was unlikely. There hadn't been any business for weeks, apart from traffic accidents and family fights and the usual bits and pieces that were far outside die scope of the "murder brigade" or the criminal investigation department in which they had served for longer than they cared to remember. The heavy continuous rain, occasionally changing into an icy downpour of sleet, kept tempers down in the city. The citizens were spending their days at work and their nights at home. Public order couldn't be more orderly. Nothing to do but read files and drive the gray Volkswagen, unmarked, dented, and disreputable, through wet streets. Nothing to do but stare at the cold, bored faces of pedestrians. The pedestrians would stare back. The pedestrians only saw a car, and they wouldn't notice it until it happened to be in their way. And even if it were in their way, they wouldn't notice its details or occupants. The faces behind the Volkswagen's restless and squeaky windshield wipers would be gray blobs to them. But the faces belonged to live beings, to large, quiet adjutant Grijpstra, accepting the world with some mild misgivings from under his gray bristle of unbrushed metal-like hair, and to lithe Sergeant de Gier, whose soft, large brown eyes observed whatever was going on, or not going on, over high cheekbones shadowed by carefully combed locks and thick curls. His hairstyle was a little too elaborate perhaps. A pedestrian who bumped into the car and cursed its driver, and bent down to have a closer look at the subject of his rage, might mistake the sergeant for a woman—provided, of course, that the sergeant would be blowing his nose. The sergeant's wide, upswept mustache clearly proclaimed him to be male. And so he was; an athletic adventurer with a reputation of antagonism, not so much to the world of crime as to the various systems of authority that interfered with his individualistic routines. But the sergeant was also a reasonable man and allowed his unfortunate inclination to go his own way to be checked by the adjutant's mellow mannerisms and the sly but gentle admonitions of the commissaris.
The sergeant's eyes rested on the commissaris' thin, blue-veined hand that had begun to play with a pencil on the polished desktop.
"Yes, Suzanne," the commissaris said softly. "I am very sorry to hear the bad news. When did it happen?"
A vague murmur came from the telephone. There were words and sobs. Then there was a moist whisper that could also be a fit of crying.
"Friday? But that's four days ago! Why didn't you let me know earlier? I might have been able to come out for the funeral?
"You kept on having bad connections? Poor dear."
The commissaris put his hand over the telephone and looked at the adjutant. "My sister, she lives in America. Her husband died." The commissaris' notebook was on the table and he flipped through the pages. "Yes, dear, I have your address. Of course I will come. Soon. Yes. Tomorrow perhaps, or the day after. I'll telephone you. Can you meet the plane, do you think?"
The murmuring voice stopped, sobbed, and spoke again.
"I see. Never mind, dear. I can find a taxi. Yes. Warm clothes? I'll see what I have in the cupboard. Thirty below? Yes, I'll keep it in mind. Rheumatism? No, no, Suzanne, I am quite healthy. I'll be there. I'll cable you the flight number so that you know when to expect me."
He put the phone down.
'Thirty below," the sergeant said. 'That's very cold, sir. Where does your sister live?"
"On the American east coast, sergeant, close to Canada but still in the United States. She asked me many times to spend a holiday out there but I never went, a pity. She must have lived there some ten years now, ever since her husband retired. He used to work for one of our banks in New York and he got himself a vacation house on the coast, quite a lovely place, I believe. She sent some photographs once. But I don't imagine my sister liked the house, or that part of the country, and I don't think she was happy when her husband decided that they would live there all year round. Maybe that's why I never went; her letters weren't too enthusiastic. And then the cold, of course. And in summer we are always kept busy here."
"How did her husband die, sir?"
"An accident. He slipped on the ice. Tried to cut a tree down and lost his footing and went all the way down. They live right on the shore and he fell on the rocks. Now she wants to live here again, but the estate will have to be liquidated. She isn't a very practical woman, rather dreamy. And gloomy. And she never had any children. She must feel very lonely now." The commissaris smiled. "I hardly know her, although we differ only a few years in age. She was always in her room." He imitated a little boy's voice. "'Where is Suzanne, mother?'" "'In her room, Jan. 'What is she doing there, mother?'" "'She is crying, Jan.'"
He moved his coffee cup to the edge of the tabletop and the sergeant jumped up, ran to a corner of the room, and came back with a silver pot. The adjutant brought a tray with a milk jug and a sugar bowl. "Thank you. And now she is crying again. But she has a reason this time. Must have been a sad experience. There are other houses nearby. She may not have been alone when she found the corpse and tried to bring it back into the house." He got up and briskly rubbed his hands. "Well, gentlemen, it seems I'll be traveling. I'd better see the chief constable and apply for some extra leave. Bring back the damsel in distress and set her up properly. I hope my brother-in-law had a good pension and proper life insurance. Life in Amsterdam is expensive these days and I'll have to find Suzanne a good apartment."
"Sir," the sergeant said.
"Do you think you should go, sir? Your health..."
"Is bad," the commissaris said. "A fact I have been aware of."
The adjutant cleared his throat. "Thirty degrees below, sir, that's cold. You suffer from rheumatism. Doesn't that disease become worse..."
"When it is cold? Yes. But I can wear warm clothes. And the house will be heated, no doubt. She lives in America, adjutant, not on the North Pole. America is a wealthy country, rilled with comforts. I am sure I'll be quite all right."
"Your brother, sir..." the sergeant said.
The commissaris sat down again and rubbed his small wizened face with both hands. They pushed up his spectacles and his faded green eyes looked at the sergrant. "Yes, my brother, but he lives in Austria now, a very quiet life in the mountains. I don't think he wants to be bothered." The spectacles slipped back on the straight little nose and the commissaris got up. "No, after all, she telephoned
didn't she? So I am dutybound to go. A sister is a very close relative, and it won't be all that much trouble. An airplane will cross the ocean in a matter of hours. I should be able to have breakfast here and dinner in America. And what is there to do? Comfort her, make her feel that there are still people around who care... sort through some papers, make a few telephone calls, write a letter or two, sell her house, help her pack, and fly her back to her home country. Should be nothing to it." He was on his way to the door.
The commissaris stopped and turned. "Sergeant?"
"Can I go with you, sir? You were ill last week, sir. I am sure your wife doesn't want you to travel alone. I have some leave due and I'd like to go to America."
It wasn't the right thing to say. The commissaris frowned. "My wife? I tell you, sergeant, my wife
fuss, you know. If she had her way I would never leave my bed or my bath. And you know what that will do to me?" The commissaris' forefinger pointed at the sergeant's stylish denim jacket. "It will kill me. Anything will kill me. Nonactivity will and activity will too. Whatever way I go I am faced by disaster."
Adjutant Grijpstra raised his bulk from the low chair and ambled over until he stood opposite the commissaris' frail figure. "But perhaps you shouldn't go alone, sir." The adjutant's deep voice was polite, soft, reassuring. "I would like to go too, but my English is bad. The sergeant speaks the language well. He could do the legwork while you sort out the job."
The commissaris stepped back until his back touched the wall. "Yes?"
"No," the commissaris said. "No, no. Not at all. The sergeant should spend his leave in the sun somewhere. This is private business, and unpleasant too. A wailing old lady and a blizzard around the house. And what about the money? The trip'll cost a few thousand per person, a waste of good money if there are two of us. No, adjutant. It's a kind thought and I appreciate it."
The door closed. The sergeant hadn't moved from the straightbacked chair opposite the commissaris' desk. Grijpstra sighed and looked out the window. A streetcar splashed through a puddle on the other side of the street. Two cyclists, huddled in plastic yellow coats, caught its wave of muddy water and nearly capsized.
"Look at that," Grijpstra said. "I would rather see snow. Snow is nice and white, all I have seen for the last few weeks is gray water and brown mud. Maybe you should go all the same. He can't stop you, you know. It'll be a private trip. My young cousin spent his holidays in America. He said he had a good time, and it wasn't all that expensive either, but he got some sort of discount, a student's ticket. You may have to pay full fare. Do you have any money?"
"No," de Gier said and studied his new suede boots. "I could get a bank loan."
"It might not be enough. They won't lend much against your salary. I don't have any cash either. Hmm."
There was some cheerfulness in the "hmm" and de Gier looked up. "Hmm what?"
"An idea," Grijpstra said. "A good idea. I'll see the chief constable."
"That high," Grijpstra said as he left the room. "The top. It's hard to go higher than the top."
De Gier left too and wandered through the building. He stopped at the canteen, where a sergeant from the garage showed him how to obtain a free cup of coffee by pressing certain buttons in a certain combination on a recently installed machine, and at the typists' room, where his presence evoked some smiles and at least one wistful sigh. He reached his own office an hour later and found Grijpstra sitting on his desk. The adjutant beamed.
"Yes?" de Gier asked suspiciously.
"On your way." The adjutant's smile was triumphant.
"On my way where?"
'To the American consulate. They're waiting for you. I have a name. Ask for the name and you will be shown straight through and your passport will be stamped right-away. There is no fee."
"Yes. The chief constable was most impressed."
The adjutant's smile was now both triumphant and mysterious, and de Gier sat down on the visitor's chair, stretched his long legs, and put his feet on the desk. 'Tell me," he said patiently. "I won't go anywhere if you don't tell me."
"What is there to tell? You are going to America. I saw the address of the commissaris' sister in his notebook. The town of Jameson in the county of Woodcock in the state of Maine, USA. We've been friendly with the American police ever since the junkies began to arrive here. Only last week I had to show a New York police lieutenant around, remember? Took me two days."
"Yes. You took him to the restaurants."
"That's where he wanted to go. I do as I am told. But it works both ways. We can go over there—there's a fund in The Hague
somewhere and there's money in the fund, American money and Dutch money. When they come over here their expenses are paid by the fund, and if we go over there our expenses are paid by the fund, only we never go over there."