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Authors: Janwillem Van De Wetering

The Rattle-Rat

BOOK: The Rattle-Rat
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The                 

Rattle-Rat

Also by Janwillem van de Wetering

FICTION

The Grijpstra-de Gier series:

Outsider in Amsterdam

Tumbleweed

The Corpse on the Dike

Death of a Hawker

The Japanese Corpse

The Blond Baboon

The Maine Massacre

The Mind-Murders

The Streetbird

Hard Rain

Just a Corpse at Twilight

The Hollow-Eyed Angel

The Perfidious Parrot

OTHER

Inspector Saito's Small Safari

The Butterfly Hunter

Bliss and Bluster

Murder by Remote Control

Seesaw Millions

NONFICTION

The Empty Mirror

A Glimpse of Nothingness

CHILDREN'S BOOKS

Hugh Pine

Hugh Pine and the Good Place

Hugh Pine and Something Else

Little Owl

The                 

Rattle-Rat

Janwillem van de Watering

Copyright © 1985 by Janwillem van de Wetering

All rights reserved.

Published by

Soho Press, Inc.

853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publishing Data

Van de Wetering, Janwillem, 1931-

The rattle-rat / Janwillem van de Wetering.

p. cm.

ISBN 1-56947-103-7

1. Grijpstra, Hank (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. DeGier, Rinus (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 3. Police—Netherlands—Amsterdam— Fiction. 4. Amsterdam (Netherlands)—Fiction.

I. Title.

PS3572.A4292R37 1997

813'.54—dc21                                                                                                              97-20267

                                                                                                              
CIP

1098765432

PREFACE

The Netherlands is known as a small country, but what foreigners usually don't know is that even this little speck on the map is divided into eleven provinces. Ten of these parts of a greater whole have been interdependent for centuries, but the eleventh province, Friesland, in the northwest, has liked to keep free of interference. It refused blind obedience to the government in The Hague to the south—and, as this tale will show, it is somewhat on its own today, still stubborn, separate, and in spirit proudly free.

Friesland has its own language, not a dialect, with grammar, verb conjugations, spellings, and sounds different from the Dutch language, which is spoken across its eastern frontier and south of the Great Dike that now connects Friesland with the province of North Holland and its capital, Amsterdam. Friesland's other frontier is the sea. The color of the sea reflects in Frisian eyes, the clear blue of valiant Vikings.

When Roman, Spanish, French, and German armies in turn overran the Netherlands, Frisian guerrillas fought them fairly, one hand clasping the Bible, the other a deadly weapon. Foreign tax collectors never had a good time in Friesland. Seafaring, cattle-farming (the raising of the famous black-and-white cows), superior toolmaking, and the growing of high-quality vegetables are profitable occupations. Why share the gain with useless hangers-on from abroad?

The world is becoming smaller; in time even Frisians
had
to give in to their neighbors, a little. Differences, however, are still obvious. If the Netherlands is clean, Friesland is cleaner. If the Netherlands has good dikes, Friesland has better dikes. If the Netherlands has few murders, Friesland has almost none.

Now what would happen if a Frisian was foully killed in wicked Amsterdam?

The Amsterdam Murder Brigade, led by its old commissaris, would go after the killer, with
a
vengeance, for the commissaris was bom in Friesland.

A commissaris is a high-ranking officer; there's only one higher rank in the Municipal Police—chief constable. Under
a
commissaris work chief inspectors, inspectors, noncommissioned officers such as adjutants and sergeants, and constables first-class or second-class. The Netherlands outside the cities is policed by the State Troopers, with military ranks; then, to complicate matters a little further, there's the Military Police, sometimes known as the Marechaussee, which guards frontiers, protects the Queen, and disciplines the fighting forces. In case of a crisis—and a murder is
a
Dutch crisis—all policemen work together and their territories overlap.

\\\\\\\ 1 ///////

D
OEKE ALGRA, BORN IN MENALDUM, FRIESLAND, TWENTY-eightyears ago, was experiencing feelings of extreme happiness. He had been uplifted by such euphoria before, when, on his father's lap, he was watching doggies. There were never any doggies, but their mysterious absence was part of the happiness. Doeke Algra, Sr., at that time filled with the strength of his young adult life, had to work hard for a living and liked to relax after dinner, and little Doeke preferred to jump and wriggle. He could sit still but only if there was a Purpose. "The doggies will be coming by the window in a minute," father Algra would say and cuddle his offspring, and together they kept looking through the narrow window of a lowly laborer's cottage set between gnarled willow trees, and enjoyed each other's warmth while the doggies didn't come.

Protective warmth—that had returned for a few moments while Constable First-Class Algra looked over the water of Amsterdam's Inner Harbor from Prince Henry Quay. Policeman Algra, detailed with the uniformed section of the Red District Station, wasn't on active duty at that moment, somewhere between 2:00 A.M. and five minutes later—or perhaps he was, for a cop serves the community twenty-four hours a day, and Doeke was therefore equipped with his gun and identification, although he wasn't dressed in uniform. He wore a leather windbreaker and tight jeans. The pistol was hidden under his armpit. The plastic ID, adorned diagonally with the red, white, and blue of the Dutch flag, stating clearly that the bearer was official, hid in the breast pocket of the windbreaker. His ever-ready social conscience hid in a haze of Frisian jenever, a herbal variety of Dutch gin, the vaporous remnants of a fair number of drinks poured till half an hour ago in Jelle Troelstra's bar. Troelstra was Doeke's guardian and the owner of a brown hole-in-the-wall at the Old Side Alley. Whenever Doeke was stricken by homesickness, he visited Jelle.

"Jûn,"
Jelle would say then, meaning "evening" in Frisian and nothing at all in Dutch. After that they would converse in their very own lingo, a remedy against the pains of having to
live
elsewhere. Jelle was the listener, sharing Doeke's lament in silence. Doeke would complain, about Amsterdam's vicious vice, about the coarseness of its public women and the violent greed of the quarter's black pimps. While Jelle listened he made the earthenware jar ofjenever gurgle: first and last glass on the
Ms.
At times Jelle, the comforting provider of liquid solace, sweated, for he still suffered from swamp fever; and sometimes he would rub his thigh where an old gunshot wound hurt him. He had contracted the fever in the tropical hell of New Guinea, and the shot was fired by a mounted Cossack. Both Jelle and Doeke were martial Frisians, but Jelle no longer discussed his violent quest, for he had fought on the wrong side—which was the right side a long time ago, as he had honestly believed during those far-gone days. He had been a sergeant in the Netherlands SS Legion during World War II, and had defended the flanks of a German transport against irregular Russian troops, galloping on the snow. Jelle had once fought for Greater Europe and was rewarded with hard labor, building a road through the jungle of a useless colony. Doeke was still fighting for peace in Amsterdam's inner city and wasn't rewarded at all. All human bravery leads nowhere; Jelle had known that truth for a while; Doeke still cherished ideals. Doeke didn't know that Jelle had been a well-meaning traitor. He didn't know either that Jelle had been born in Hallum, a village close to Doeke's own Menaldum. When asked, Jelle would place his origins in Anjum, a small town well away from the truth. The farther the better. Doeke knew no one in Anjum.

The exiled Jelle comforted Doeke, who served humanity abroad. The barkeeper's silence soothed the younger man.

Jelle's patient quietness and the jenever's glow now wanned Doeke's soul from a hot point in his stomach; ambling about, he had reached the Inner Harbor, where nothing was in view except an expanse of gray, swelling water. The gray movement reminded him of shreds of fog that had caressed the windows of his parents' little house, in the dreamtime when he was secure in his father's embrace.

There he stood, legs apart, hands on his back, staring peacefully across the low, slow waves.

Something should happen now, Doeke thought, something pleasant. Perhaps he expected a glorious vision. Alcohol releases brakes, liberates happy insights that will flame from the soul and burn away the daily pain.

When exactly did he see the floating fire? Doeke couldn't remember later on, when he had to admit, somewhat sillily, while being interrogated by detectives, that his perception had been rather foggy, due to his abuse of herb-flavored liquor.

Something was burning, the sharp flames cutting through the fog, and the something was moving along with the slow swell of the waves. Doeke had been raised religiously, and remembered that the Dear Lord, in early times, was known to walk on water; there had also been a burning bush of brambles, and angels were about, carrying burning swords. It was therefore quite believable that Doeke associated the happening of that night with heavenly instruction, and that he hadn't immediately thought of an ordinary fire. A fire on a ship? No—he was focusing now—on a small boat.

Why would a dory be on fire?

Doeke sobered a little and attempted logical thought. He remembered that he was still a constable first-class, even now, early on a day off, dressed in civilian clothes and unfortunately rather drunk. Whatever was happening there could not be in order and he would have to make a report. Where was a phone?

At the Central Railway Station. Doeke ran, with long elastic jumps. The burning dory was still visible from the Inner Harbor Quay. Doeke swayed, but he kept running, and the alcohol diluted in his tall, muscular body. He dialed the local alarm number in the station's telephone booth and reported, succinctly and to the point, mentioning his name and rank and the booth's telephone number. The sergeant in charge of the radio room at headquarters, at the Moose Canal, only had to press a button. The State Water Police answered at once and the sergeant over there pressed another button. A patrol boat crewman grunted in reply. Doeke's telephone rang within three minutes.

"Yes?" Doeke asked.

"That's understood," Doeke said. He was running again, still swaying a little. Ten minutes later he jumped down from the bridge at the Harbor Building, overlooking Admiral's Quay, and almost missed the flat gray patrol boat, because he was still far from sober. The sailor policemen steadied their colleague. The engine of their craft murmured with quiet energy.

"Inner Harbor," Doeke said.

The boat cut through the murky water, underneath the bridges of the Open Harbor and the Front. The sailor policemen had greeted Doeke with a slight display of helpful friendliness, but weren't too hopeful, for they expected a false alarm. A fire on the water? Noticed by a drunken constable of the shore? They would see what they wouldn't see.

"Now where is the disturbance located?"

Doeke's finger slid vaguely across the chart. "Well, here, maybe? I was on Prince Henry Quay—here, I would say. A dory, I thought, with flames spouting up, some black smoke too—quite a cloud."

They looked about in vain, some thirty minutes. Doeke was taken back to the shore, on the Singel, where he lived in an attic. "Pleasant duty," Doeke said formally, and the sailor cops said good night.

What could the disturbance have been? Lightning? There had been a thunderstorm earlier in the day. Some soft thunder, in the outskirts of the city. Warm summer weather— didn't that sometimes lead to sudden electricity bursting from low clouds? The sailor policemen didn't think so, this time. Destructive youth? Boys like to light matches. A floating box stuffed with burning paper? Or maybe a vision, after all? Doeke had been fairly active and had slept little for a few days. Extra hours of duty, long hours of study for his upcoming sergeant's exam. Add a few hours of serious drinking, the hurt of a recently broken engagement, a visit to a most attractive and most unhelpful whore—tensions not broken by proper relaxation—so what do you see? Fire on water?

The sailor cops wrote the unsubstantiated phenomenon in their report and a note was filed in the radio room of Municipal Headquarters. The night changed once again into day.

Waling Wiarda was up early and out for a walk—not on his own time, for Waling was working. A chief of the Department of Public Parks goes for walks in his line of duty, to check the growth of the city's living greenery. While walking, Waling recited a poem. In the cracks of rocks that form the quay walls were supposed to
(oh, wild and wondrous glory...
of flowers, splendid...)
grow some extraordinarily tall mountain-ash berries, which were weakening the mortar. City official Wiarda, dressed in khaki municipal corduroy, tried to remember the rest of the Flemish poet's wordplay, but the lines wouldn't come to mind and he hummed musically instead, visualizing the flowers' glory. The waterworks engineers shouldn't complain so much, Chief Wiarda thought. So the mountain-ash bushes were six feet tall, and their roots were unsettling the rocks, so what? The quays had been around for hundreds of years, they would last a while longer.
His
duty was to make sure there was still some natural life in this godforsaken town. More wildflowers, more fre'sh leaves,
pom-pom
(he was humming again),
the wild and won'
drous glory.
Flowers would raise the spirits of the citizens. By encouraging the city's greenery he was doing good work. The chief stooped to admire a large cluster of golden dandelions, not of the common variety. Strong stems, shiny leaves. Very nice, right? But just look at that mess floating in the harbor. Ah, another report to be drawn up, bristling with understated sarcasm. Stinking garbage, torn plastic, all in the wrong colors, unmentionables glued together, cubic yards of disease breeding filth, and—well, why not?—a burned-out dory. A dented aluminum wreck, eight feet long, pushing its prow stupidly against the smooth rocks, damaging the blooming bushes with its inane destructive bashing. Wiarda lowered himself carefully, finding support by holding on to the ashes' branches. Maybe he was a provincial, talked down to by the city slickers, but in Friesland, his home, such degeneration would not be allowed, and thanks to him, the country bumpkin, prepared to work for the country's worst part, it wasn't as bad here as it would certainly be without him. He would never give up fighting against filth. This very day he would type out his umpteenth report and deliver it personally to City Sanitation.

"Sanitation," snarled Wiarda. That department was the sloppiest of them all; he wouldn't be surprised if they had dumped this rubbish themselves.

"Himel,"
groaned the chief, invoking heaven in his own language. Wiarda was a devout Christian. What could he have done that heaven punished him now by providing a glimpse of the awful contents of hell? The punishment was still going on. Wiarda, frightened out of his surface calm, felt his feet slip, and saw his well-polished boots dip into the dirty slime that surrounded the dead dory. He clawed bis way up and staggered about on Prince Henry Quay.

A motorcycle cop came by and stopped to see why Wiarda was waving. The policeman lifted his orange helmet and held a hand behind an ear. "What's that?"

"Corpse," babbled Wiarda. "Blackened, down below."

They looked together, brother officials, attached to safety by the wild mountain-ash and their own clasped hands.

"I'll pass it on," the cop whispered.

The Water Police patrol arrived again, in another vessel, manned by other sailor cops, the Municipal Murder Brigade showed up in an old model Volkswagen, and marked police cars spewed constables who placed striped fences to hold traffic off. A black limo arrived too, filled with well-dressed gentlemen who had brought equipment to document the event on film and videotape.

What did they all see? Human remains in a blackened aluminum rowboat. The dory was lifted on a pickup truck and taken to Headquarters. Doeke Algra was awakened by detectives, and wrote his report, sitting next to Waling Wiarda, supervised by Adjutant Grijpstra of the Murder Brigade and supplied with coffee by his assistant, Sergeant de Gier.

"It doesn't have to be murder," the adjutant said.

'They do meet with accidents, you know," the sergeant explained. "There's no telling what people will get themselves into. A fisherman, maybe? An open can of gasoline? A cigar lit with a careless match?"

Doeke and Waling didn't think so, Doeke because of the floating fire that reminded him of the fears of his holy early youth, and Waling because he couldn't forget the hollow eye sockets of the partly burned skull that had stared at him in terror from the semiliquid filth of this damned city's waterways.

"No?" Grgpstra asked, rubbing the almost white stubble that covered his heavy head. "What a coincidence that both of you are Frisians. I am too, you know. My parents came from the port of Harlingen."

"Three compatriots in full agreement," Sergeant de Gier said, adjusting the ends of his full cavalry-style mustache. "I would like to join you, but I was born in Rotterdam."

Why he had to state his origins, de Gier didn't know; perhaps he wanted to defend himself against a sudden trinity of those who think differently.

Doeke Algra, Waling Wiarda, and Henk Grijpstra looked at de Gier with mutual contempt.

"It Heitelûn"
Wiarda said solemnly. Doeke bowed his young head. Grijpstra smiled benevolently. Constable First* Class Algra and Chief Wiarda were allowed to leave.

"Murder?" Grijpstra asked, lowering his bulk, neatly covered by a three-piece suit, dark blue offset by thin white stripes, on a rickety chair. "Is that what they were saying?" De Gier shrugged his wide shoulders. "You don't speak Frisian?"

BOOK: The Rattle-Rat
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