"So you were aware that BoronsM was in Amsterdam. Did you meet him at the hospital?"
"No. Marian told me about his visit."
"Did you meet with him here?"
"Briefly, on the Brewerscanal. I ran into him; he stays at Hotel Oberon. When I met him, I couldn't speak. The man has ruined my life. That vacation to South America was the worst hell I've ever lived through. We were invited to a cocktail party at the embassy and Marian fell for the bastard immediately. I thought it was a little flirtation, but she went home with him. She checked out of the hotel. We had a terrible scene; everything was said, everything that has ever been bad between us. I thought it would be the ultimate farewell, but she came back to me. She probably still loves him."
Hyme hid his face in his hands. Grijpstra sucked patiently on his cigar. De Crier studied a stain on the wall.
"Would you like some coffee?"
De Gier poured the coffee. The cup rattled on its saucer when Hyme took it.
"Did you see Boronski at his hotel, Mr. Hyme?"
"No. If I had, I would have killed him. I'm not a violent man, but I must have changed. I keep on thinking of ways to destroy that devil. I thought of having him kidnapped, locking him up in some dungeon, torturing him, but what can I do? The days a man could take revenge are over. I'm not too courageous anyway, that's why Marian got bored with me. I'm a slave, chained to my desk. My only act of bravery is pissing off bridges and I can only do that when I'm drunk."
"Yes," Grijpstra said softly.
"With a paper hat on. I'm the knight of the paper hat and the wooden sword, riding a rocking horse."
"Ah," the commissaris said. "What sort of a car do you have, Mr. Hyme."
"What sort of a car do you drive?"
"With the wheel on the right side?"
"How do you know?"
Hyme drank his coffee. The room was quiet. Grijpstra got up and left The telephone on the commissaris's desk rang.
"It's me, sir, Grijpstra. Can I have a word with you in the corridor?"
"Yes?" the commissaris asked when he had closed the door behind him.
"We might as well arrest him, don't you think, sir? The car checks out, he had the opportunity and the motive. He must have paid the employees of the Oberon to play tricks on Boronski."
"You can arrest him, adjutant."
Grijpstra reached for the door handle, but the small almost transparent hand of the commissaris rested lightly on his sleeve.
"I wouldn't advise you to do that, however. Harassment is difficult to prove and hardly punishable. You'll find yourself wasting endless time in a court case where the lawyers will have a field day. Besides, Hyme is not your man."
Grijpstra stepped away from the door. "He isn't?"
"No. I admit that the suspect's nerves are in a bad state and that he may be at the lowest point of his life. But you mustn't forget that he is a director of a large and successful firm. Mr. Hyme is no fool. He's not a genius either. Only a genius would have confirmed, in the way he just did, that his dearest wish is to do away with Boronski, and tried to prove his innocence in such a perverse way."
"Shall we tell him that Boronski is dead, sir?"
"We can do that now."
"Dead?" whispered Hyme. "When?"
"Yesterday. Jim Boronski bled to death internally. A severe duodenal ulcer. Some would-be muggers saw him staggering about on the Gentleman's Market just after midnight on Saturday and, for some reason, dumped him in the trunk of a car. He must have died shortly afterward."
"My God," Hyme said. "But he was still a young man."
"Young men die too, Mr. Hyme. Your enemy must have labored under heavy stress. He suffered, but didn't go to a doctor. His complaint worsened, circumstances were against him, and…" The commissaris gestured.
"Dead," Hyme said.
"Where were you last night, sir?"
"I ate in a restaurant, visited Marian at the hospital, went home, and watched TV."
"And the night before, Sunday evening."
"You weren't at Cafe Beelema last night?"
"And the night before?"
"No. I was there Saturday and met with your assistants."
Grijpstra raised a hand. "Have you met with Mr. Fortune recently?"
"Yes, yesterday. We arranged for the take-over of his firm. He came to my office. I was glad to hear that his wife turned up after all."
"Did Mr. Fortune tell you about Boronski's death?"
"Frits Fortune? No. Why should he? He doesn't even know Boronski."
"Did Borry Beelema know Boronski?" de Gier asked.
"Yes. I pointed him out to Beelema. Hotel Oberon is just across the street from Beelema's."
"When was that?"
"Last week some time."
"Did you confide in Beelema about your troubles with Boronski?"
Hyme nodded. "Yes. Beelema is a friend. Fve known him for years, ever since he bought the cafe. Before that I was his client at the hair salon, I still go there every fortnight and at the cafe I see him several times a week. He's my best friend." He smiled. "He's more than a friend, he's an incarnate angel. A lot of people call him the other son of God."
"Did you," de Gier asked, "by any chance, some time last week, lend your…"
The commissaris jumped up with such force that his chair hit the wall.
"That'll be all, Mr. Hyme. Thank you for coming here. I hope your wife's condition will soon improve. Adjutant, please escort Mr. Hyme out of the building."
"This is the best time of the day," Beelema said.
"They've all just got home and there'll be dinner in a minute. The town is quiet. The town is so much more beautiful when there's no bustle, don't you think? Like one of those old prints or glass paintings-they only show the buildings and the water, maybe a boat moored to a tree. People are a nuisance."
"Indeed," the commissaris said. He was leaning over the railing watching a duck. The duck's head was submerged, and it was waving its bright orange feet. A litle farther down a swan floated, asleep, its feathers precisely arranged. It bobbed almost imperceptibly on the slow ripple of the canal's weak current.
"It was good of you to come to see me. You're not here professionally, I understand?"
"Oh yes," the commissaris said, "I'm here professionally but not officially. You've committed a crime, but I won't arrest you if that's what you're getting at. My curiosity has brought me; I would like to know the details of what you managed to bring about."
Beelema undipped a gold toothpick off the chain that spanned his ample stomach and pressed it slowly between his teeth. He took it out and spat. The duck retrieved its head, quacked, and paddled away; the swan looked up sleepily and reinserted its beak between its backfeathers. "But perhaps you could arrest me. Some of my deeds could be proved, I suppose; you might get some sort of case together."
"No. The law we uphold is primitive. I would have to prove intent to kill. Did you intend to kill Boronski?"
Beelema fumbled with the toothpick. Its clip was small and he had to bring out his spectacles to finish the operation. "No, not really, but he died."
"You see, there goes one charge. Yet you killed the man as surely as if you had fired a bullet through his head. Death caused by guilt would be the better charge, but you would have to confess and I would have to produce witnesses who heard you state your intention to bother Boronski."
Beelema's fluffy white curls danced as he shook his head. "I wouldn't confess, and I told nobody, not even Hyme. The favor was a secret."