Eleven years is a long time. When I wake up at night and stare at my bedroom ceiling, I sometimes wonder whether I’ve dreamt the world out there. Maybe this world isn’t really my world; maybe it’s the only one there is. Maybe I should only believe in the things I can see and touch. Maybe I made up all the rest. After all, I’ve always made up stories. I remember doing it.
I imagine that this is all there is—my house, the world. I imagine that there is nowhere else for me to go; that I will grow old and die here. That I will somehow have children here, children who are born into my world and know nothing but the ground floor and the first floor, the attic and the cellar, the balconies and the terraces. I imagine myself telling them fairy tales, in which marvellous things happen, tales teeming with wonders and fabulous beings.
‘There is a country,’ I will say, ‘where there are enormous great trees.’ ‘What are trees?’ they will ask, and I’ll tell them that trees are magical things that grow up, up, up out of the ground, when you bury tiny seeds in the earth—wondrous things that look different in every season, and change as if by magic, putting out blossoms, or green or coloured leaves. ‘And there aren’t just trees in this country; there are feathered creatures too, big ones and little ones, that sit in the trees and sing songs in a foreign language. And there are enormous creatures, the size of our house, that live under the water and spew fountains as high as a steeple. And there are mountains and fields and deserts and meadows.’
‘What are meadows, Mummy?’ my children will ask.
‘Meadows are great tracts of land, very green and very soft, and covered all over with grass—cheeky stalks that tickle children’s legs as they skip across them. They are so big that you can run until you’re quite out of breath without getting anywhere near the edge.’
‘But they can’t be that big, Mummy,’ one of my children will say. ‘No, Mummy, they can’t be that big. Nothing’s as big as that.’
When I think of the world out there, I am overwhelmed by infinite longing. It is a feeling I know well; I have felt it while writing, on the running machine and in my dreams—even when talking to Lenzen.
I want to stand on a market square in a small town, and I want to look up into the summer sky, shade my eyes from the sun and watch the breakneck manoeuvres of the swifts as they race around the church tower. I want the smell of wood and resin on a forest ramble. I want the distinctive movement of a butterfly—that blithe aimlessness. I want the cool feeling you get on your sun-warmed skin, when a small cloud thrusts itself in front of the summer sun. I want the slimy feeling of waterweed tickling your calves when you’re swimming in a lake. And I think: I can have those things again.
Yes, I am afraid. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the past weeks and months, it’s that fear is no reason for inaction. On the contrary.
I have to return to the real world. I’m going to be free.
Then I’ll deal with Lenzen.
Superintendent Jonas Weber stood at his office window watching the last of the swifts as they played in the sky. It wouldn’t be long until they too left for the south.
He’d had to get a grip after receiving Sophie’s text. He had stepped on the accelerator, sped through town and arrived even before his colleagues in the patrol car, whom he’d alerted on his way. He’d run the last few metres to Sophie’s flat and leant on the bell, forcing himself to keep calm when no one opened up. He’d rung the neighbours’ bells until a furious old lady let him into the block—it’s okay, it’s the police—and he’d run up the stairs, pounded at the door and been on the point of forcing an entry, when it had swung open.
Jonas tried not to think of that terrible moment when he hadn’t been sure whether he’d got there in time.
Sophie had opened the door to him, white as a sheet, but calm. With relief, he had registered that she was unhurt. Then he’d seen the man lying dead or injured on the floor. He had felt for his pulse and established that he was still alive, then called an ambulance. His colleagues had arrived, the ambulance had come, and everyone had set to work. It had turned out all right, after all.
Jonas moved away from the window and sat down at his desk. He wondered what Sophie was doing now. For days, he had been resisting the temptation to give her a call. She would get over the shock, he was sure of that; she’d soon be her old self again. People like Sophie always landed on their feet. But he was struggling with himself; he felt like hearing her voice. He took his phone, entered her number, hesitated—and gave a start when Antonia Bug stormed into his office.
‘Dead man in a wood,’ she said. ‘Are you coming?’
Jonas nodded. ‘Be right with you.’
‘What’s the matter?’ Bug asked. ‘You’ve got a face like a wet week.’
Jonas didn’t answer.
‘Are you still thinking about our young friend?’ she asked.
It annoyed Jonas that Bug should speak so matter-of-factly about the murderer. After all, the man had gone on to kill another woman after Britta Peters. But they all talked like that.
‘We should have got him,’ Jonas replied. ‘He shouldn’t have been given the opportunity to strike a second time. When Zimmer found out that Britta Peters had complained about her landlord letting himself into her flat, we should have pursued it.’
‘We did pursue it.’
‘But we shouldn’t have just accepted the old man’s denial. If we’d been more persistent, we might have realised that it wasn’t him who’d let himself into the flat; it was his son.’
‘You’re right,’ said Bug. ‘Maybe things would have turned out differently. But what use is it now?’
She shrugged. She had dismissed the entire case astonishingly quickly.
Jonas, however, was still coming to terms with the murderer’s coldness. He hadn’t borne any kind of grudge against Britta Peters; he hadn’t really known her at all. He’d simply seen her one day on a visit to his father, and she’d happened to be his type; she’d triggered something in him. So pure, so innocent. He had killed her ‘because he wanted her and because he could’. There had been no other motive. He had thought the white roses in the victims’ flats ‘a nice touch’, something ‘original’—‘like in the movies’.
Jonas Weber was going to be plagued by thoughts of this man, whose trial was soon to begin, for a long time to come.
‘Are you coming?’ Antonia repeated.
Jonas nodded again and put his mobile away. It was for the best. Sophie had got what she wanted; her sister’s murder had been solved. That was what it had been about—that and nothing else.