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Janwillem Van De Wetering

Tumbleweed

1

Adjutant-detective Grijpstra felt that this was not the best morning of the year. He sat slouched behind his gray steel desk in the large room in Headquarters that he shared with his assistant, Detective-Sergeant de Gier, and held his heavy square bead between his hands. He was studying the Telex reports of the previous day, printed on cheap pink paper and filed in a worn loose-leaf ledger. His head ached and his throat felt parched and hurt whenever he tried to swallow, which was often.

"Have you noticed," he asked hoarsely, "that nothing ever happens in Amsterdam?"

He was asking himself, and his voice was very low. The heavy early-morning traffic in Marnix Street should have drowned his question but two cars which had collided two blocks down were obstructing all traffic and de Gier had heard him.

"Should be in bed," de Gier thought, and asked, "Hmmf in a loud voice because he didn't want to leave his superior unprotected in his loneliness.

"In Amsterdam," Grijpstra repeated, "nothing ever happens."

"You are ill," de Gier said, "you have flu. Go home and go to bed. Take aspirins and drink tea. lea and brandy, and lemon, in a glass. Nice and hot. After that, sleep. Sleep all day. Tomorrow you can read the paper. Day after tomorrow you can read a book. Day after that another book. Day after that is Saturday. Day after that is Sunday. Go for a walk. Come back on Monday."

"Nothing the matter with me," Grijpstra said in a muffled voice, and lit a cigarette. He coughed a few times, went into a fit of coughing, and nearly choked.

De Gier smiled and continued to think. "No wonder he doesn't want to go home. Two floors in a narrow house at the Lijnbaansgracht isn't much space. And there is already Mrs. Grijpstra to fill that space, and the three little Grijpstras, and the TV."

Grijpstra also thought. His thoughts were negative, irritable, spiteful. "Look at him," Grijpstra thought. "Handsome fellow, isn't he? Lovely suit he is wearing. Dark blue denim, tailor made. Pale blue shirt. And that little scarf. Dandy! And the curly hair! And that nose. Bloody film star. Bah."

But Grijpstra corrected himself. He told himself not to be jealous. He reminded himself that de Gier was his friend. A loyal modest friend. He forced himself to remember the two occasions that de Gier had risked his life for him. He forced himself to forget the three occasions on which he had risked his own life to save de Gier's. "We are in Amsterdam," he told himself. "In Amsterdam the crooks threaten, but they don't kill. It's an easy town. Nothing ever happens in Amsterdam."

He had said it aloud again, and de Gier bent down to read the pink Telex reports.

"What do you mean?" de Gier asked. "Look at this. Plenty happens."

He was standing next to the set of drums which had once, long ago now, miraculously appeared in their room and which Grijpstra had refused to return to whoever might own it. Grijpstra used the drums in his empty moments to revive the dreams of his youth when he had planned to become a jazz musician; and de Gier, at times, accompanied him on a small flute, a relic from de Gier's early days when he played church music at the Dutch Reformed School.

De Gier picked up one of the drumsticks. "Plenty happens. Here. Traffic accidents (bam on the drum), stolen bicycles (bam) car slipped into the canal (bam)." Grijpstra groaned at the bams. "And here! (roll on the drum). Armed robbery. Three men holding up old lady in cigar store. Lady wounded. That's real crime. Attempted manslaughter, that should have been ours."

"Not ours," Grijpstra said. "Sietsema and Geurts are taking care of that."

"Sietsema is a motor cop," de Gier said.

"He was transferred to the crime squad. Fell off his Guzzi once too often, didn't you hear?"

De Gier put down his drumsticks and looked out of the window. The traffic was moving again and growled past Headquarters, farting its fumes into open windows where policemen were getting ready to deal with another day of maintaining lawful order. De Gier once wanted to be a motor cop but had allowed himself to be talked into detection. "You have a good brain, de Gier," the staff officer had told him, "don't waste your good brain, de Gier." He always wondered if the choice had been right. He could have been a sergeant on a motorcycle, same pay, same conditions. A large white shining Guzzi. Motor cops don't have flat feet. Neither had de Gier, but he would one day. Detectives walk too much. They wait at street comers. They climb endless stairs, usually the wrong stairs. Motor cops never climb stairs.

"Maybe Sietsema and Geurts will make a mess of it, and the chief inspector will give the job to us."

"He won't," Grijpstra said, and sneezed.

"Shall I get you a nice cup of coffee?"

"Yes," Grijpstra said.

De Gier went to the door, opened it, and froze.

"Gentlemen," the commissaris said.

The commissaris smiled. The time that noncommissioned officers jumped to attention at the mere sight of a passing commissaris was long past. Soon he wouldn't be even called "sir." But some of the men still remembered the old days and showed their memory. "Sir," some of these men were saying now.

"I was just going out to get some coffee. Can I get you a cup?"

"Please," the commissaris said.

"A cigar, sir?" Grijpstra asked, opening the drawer where he kept the tin of little cigars the commissaris liked.

"Please," the commissaris said.

"Sit down, sir," Grijpstra said, and pointed at the only comfortable chair the room owned.

The commissaris sat down, stroking his left leg, which had kept him awake some of the night. Grijpstra noticed the movement of the hand and wondered how long the little old man would wander around the large Headquarters building. He still had five service years to go but his rheumatism seemed to be getting worse lately. Much worse. Twice Grijpstra had seen the commissaris leaning against a wall, paralyzed with pain, his face a white horrible mask.

De Gier had come back with a plastic tray holding three paper cups. The commissaris took a careful sip, and looked at his two detectives.

"You remember the houseboat on the Schinkel?" the commissaris asked.

"The one the chief inspector asked us to keep an eye on?' Grijpstra asked.

"Right," the commissaris said. "The chief inspector is on holiday now and I don't know how much he has told you. What do you know?"

Grijpstra grinned. "Not much, sir. The chief inspector never tells us very much. All we know is that we should keep an eye open."

"Have you?"

Grijpstra looked at de Gier.

De Gier took his cue. "We pass that boat at least twice a week, sir, and we have reported to the chief inspector. I have been there by myself as well, on my bicycle and once or twice at night, on foot. It's a nice walk from where I live and it's spring now, I like going there. But there isn't much to tell. The houseboat is expensive, and has two stories. There is only one occupant, a thirty-four-year-old woman. Her name is Maria van Buren, born on the island of Curagao. She is a divorcee and is still using her husband's name. He is a director of a textile factory in the North."

"Tell us about the woman," the commissaris said.

"A beautiful woman," de Gier said. "Not altogether white. She drives a white Mercedes sports car, five years old but in good repair. At least three men visit her and stay the night or part of the night. I have the numbers of their cars."

"You know who the men are?"

De Gier nodded. "One man is a Belgian diplomat, stationed in The Hague. Drives a black Citroen. He is forty-five years old, looks like a tennis player. The second man is an American army officer, a colonel, stationed in Germany. The third is Dutch, a tall man going bald, fifty-eight years old. I checked him out and he is a big shot, chairman of several companies. He has a house in town but his family lives on Schiermonnikoog* or rather his wife does for his children are grown up. His name is Dsbrand Drachtsma."

     

 

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