|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||1st U.S. Edition|
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'I really must see about that one day quite soon.' Peoplesay this a lot, don't they. Everyone does, I suppose.
'I'll give you a ring to let you know, tomorrow absolutelydefinitely.' What you do know then is that he won't andprobably never will.
There's of course a good English phrase to cover it, andthat's 'Jam yesterday, and jam tomorrow.' And it never is'Jam today'. Telephone to the doctor's office, or perhaps itshould be the lawyer first, and say 'It's urgent'. Suppose thenhe were to say 'Come round straightaway; I can fit you in'?I'm trying to say that there has to come an end to this screwingoneself up.
Or a judge. I have a collection (I'll tell you more aboutthis) of the old Penguin 'green jackets'. You know, the detectivestories. Those were in the days when they used to handout death penalties.
So that I know about the judge who used to put on a blackcap and say 'You will be taken to the place from which youcame, and from there ' He left it open, didn't say 'OnTuesday fortnight' because there were bureaucratic formalities,have to get things organized, write a letter to the hangman,Albert Pierrepoint, lived up in Yorkshire. And to besure there was an appeal for clemency to the HomeSecretary, nasty job he had.
So you said 'Tuesday fortnight, that's never.' But the onlything that's certain is that Tuesday fortnight always comes.
Perhaps, even then, the judge didn't like it. Had nochoice, clear his throat, say 'I pass the only sentence the lawallows'. Jam tomorrow, and this timeit's for sure. Count onit. No death penalty in Holland, hasn't been for quite a time.We still have a lot of deaths, though. Everyone lives to be ahundred, thinks they'll live for ever. Tomorrow though, orTuesday fortnight.
Make a start. I, Hubertus van Bijl, born the 20th April1930 at Haarlem, Netherlands. Being of sound mind, isn'tthat what one's supposed to say? Or is it 'in full possessionof my faculties' which isn't true either. Stilted rubbish. Weused to have a schoolboy joke, that there was only oneHaarlemse Wood but a great many Wooden Haarlemmers.We're a stiff formal people and our language is preposterous.
I've thought of a way to make this better. Put it in thethird person; don't say 'I', say 'Bertus' and the narrative willbe less stiff, less pompous. Less self-conscious? Morehuman.
I'm not too sure I like it. Isn't that a way of saying 'Itwasn't me; it was this other fellow.' Isn't that what they alldo? Saying no, I never, it was the shadow, the Doppelgänger,the Other. The real I, the real Bertus, is a respectable, aresponsible oh this is hopeless, start again. It's all so banaland flat and dull and stupid.
Thought of something else: I'm going to do it in English.So often, even always, slightly astonished but invariablypleased 'Bert, how come you speak English so well?' Butwe all do, though few as well as myself. Nothing weird aboutit, a Dutch businessman doesn't even think about it. Outsideour own peculiar enclave nobody speaks Dutch, nobody'dwant to try, it's an awkward language in the mouth andclumsy on paper, we've a great many talents but the 'taal'isn't one of them. Indeed it's widely agreed, overcoming thisobstacle is a factor in our success. We're good at business, atthe international dealing and handling. This, and being asmall folk in this little corner jammed up between Germanyand France and England. Julius Caesar remarked upon it:Batavii are awkward bastards to deal with.
Listen to the Queen 'onze Trix' we're proud of her. Shespeaks (to us) a lovely Dutch, elegant, musical. And in publicas in private the easiest, natural English, or French, orGerman. A shade of accent which gives a pretty colouring,but no stumble, fumble, or mumble.
I can't compare with that. Only in English. In our business,England was a speciality. I was always good at it, livedthere many years, worked hard at it. I'm fairly bright. 'OurTrix' is quite a girl. Intelligent, educated, sophisticated, andso she should be. Considerable cow too on occasion but that'sa Dutch remark. Born to the job and properly trained law,economics, political science. The House of Orange hasn't alwaysbeen conspicuous for grey matter, but she has it, and tospare. And rich, god-help-us. It was in Forbes. We alwaysthought of the English Crown as rich. And the Oranges areten times richer, dear-god. And she has considerable artistictalent too. I'm considerably royalist and our House was evenmore so.
I'm Son to Bijl en Zoon. Planten & Bloemen Handel. I'vemade my mind up, I'm talking about Bert. Bert was thejunior, then the senior, and now the retired, 'Im Ruhestand'partner in and owner of a smallish but solid, respected housein the trade. And flowers, plants, this is as essentially Dutchas the Oranges are, and just as old and just as proud.
The original Hubertus van Bijl was this one's grandfather.Hubértus, the accent comes on the second syllable (in English,the first). Bijl, pronounce it Bile, subject of many anEnglish joke. The 'van' is the hard bit, it's neither 'vann' nor'von' nor 'vahn' exactly the sort of thing which makes thislanguage impossible.
But notice the over-meticulous fuss about exactitude. Bertis a banal and a boring type. Not though the priggish andconstipated little accountant who is always the subject ofcrime stories.
Crime! That's a word like 'Love', so vague and loose innature one can spend a lifetime trying to define it. My bookshelvesof Penguin-crimes don't have much to do with thereal thing. The newspapers are full of true-crimes right enoughbut they skip to something else, leave off just as itbegins to be interesting. The public is thought, and taught,to have a short attention-span. There are the sensationalmovies and television series, filled with the most extremeviolence, with all that in the human being is base, vile, evil.That is our entertainment industry.
We get, I suppose in consequence, a lot of talk aboutcrime. It has to do with love, right enough, and when someonegets hauled into a law court, to answer for a criminalaction, there will certainly be a cry set up about love withheldand love denied. True, and this becomes a whine of self-pity.
Just as much to do with too much love. Mostly a love ofthings, which is base, which we call greed. But short andsimple words are out of fashion nowadays.
Responsibility is a longer word. We aren't taught, today, toanswer for what we say and do. Self-control is thought to bebullshit. We give way, instead, to our 'pulsions'; all of whichare base.
Bert attempts to be responsible. To answer. That's what allthis is about. It's an answer. He isn't, I hope, quite as prissyas he appears. He was brought up at least to believe in honestyin his dealings. To be honest with oneself seems to mean essential part of this. The realities are a little harsher buta little less trite and glib than the explanations.
The old Hubertus was just a gardener, with green fingersand of course a shrewd Dutch peasant sense of business. Hisson Jan was still a good gardener but that much more of abusinessman.
Bert, the third generation, was good enough at the businessangle. Trained by Jan, who had rough-and-ready rules,but pretty good ones such as always to answer a query, or fillan order the same day. Never tomorrow, never a day too late.This made of him a hard, honest, independent, successfuland even wealthy businessman. Work all day, if necessary farinto the evening. He came home then, dirty and smelling ofsweat, and before sitting down to a meal he washed fromhead to foot. Backbone, you see? One stooped all day in theplant houses. It was always humid there. Rheumatisms andlumbago were occupational hazards. The back, and the napeof the neck, had to be solid.
The green-fingers gene is still little understood. Yes, Bertwent to the University to study biology. The ADN work wasthen in infancy but he knows a bit about genetics. The mostunexpected men and women have the gift. It's quite commonand it's quite often inherited but you can't breed to it. Likefaith-healing or second-sight, or even water-divining. Heredityor not, Bert didn't have it. I'd almost think the seeds of thedecline were sown there.
What everyone does know, and it's not just genetics, is therise and fall of the bourgeois class. They climb the socialpyramid, and often in the third generation they slip backagain. In the Trade everyone knew this much too about genetics,long before Mr Crick and his spiral you can breedfor the decorative but you lose robustness. Roses are thesimple example. The flashy, colourful hybrids are the oneswho go and die on you. Word of common sense to any ofyou who happen to be suburban gardeners. Buy the old varieties,with as much as may be of the sturdy old stock inthem. You can breed for colour, for shape, for the number ofpetals. For scent, for a longer stem, for less thorns, for resistanceto disease or parasites. These will win prizes in shows.Sell well, make lots of money. Set a limit to your desire. Thatthorny old bugger in somebody's hedge which is always thickwith buds and nobody knows what-the-hell it is take a cuttingfrom that. Holds good for everything, right down tovines. When I'm in France I like to talk to the vigneron whohas understood that less means more, and traditional oldmethods and no bloody chemicals give him the goodjuice.
I beg your pardon for the heated parenthesis. This rambling,Jan would have said and did, is a bad sign.
Jan felt himself a coarse and ignorant man. So Bert had tobe educated, go to the lycée, the Gymnasium in Haarlem, gethis baccalaureate, go on to the University in Amsterdam(from us, a thirty-minute tram ride and fifteen more on thebus). A goodish degree, languages (whose genetics have alwaysfascinated me) and Botany, Horticultural Sciences. Bertcan defend himself in German and in French, has a goodsmattering of Spanish and Italian (South America is importantto us growers). Dictionaries remain one of his foremostinterests, won't say 'hobby'. Grandfather, whom he can recall,thought the boy not very bright. Useful in London,where he spent many years of his youth, as our agent on thespot, to buy and sell and exchange and learn. And then backin Holland ...
We are three generations (before that it becomes vague) ofZandvoorters. Haarlem is close to the sea. Along and behindthe coastline, protecting us from the storms and the hightides which used to invade us, lies a broad stretch of sanddunes. Behind this again, between Haarlem and Leiden, is astreak, quite short and narrow, of (for us, in the Trade) themost famous land in the world, whose geology of soil andsand and shell and turf but you can read about this in anyguidebook to the tulip-land. It is a great tourist attraction. Onthe coast are a few villages. Zandvoort is one, not quite at thecentre of the world but for us who live there as near asmakes no matter.
Willy came in. She wouldn't, while I am in here, unlessshe had a good reason or one she's sure I'll listen to.
'Huub.' I do so wish she wouldn't call me that. She reallydoesn't want to irritate me, while knowing perfectly that Idetest it. 'There are some policemen asking to see you, so Ithought I'd better ...' True that one is always curious even ifit's the bicycle licence. As well always to be polite to them.Please-dosit-down. Ho, something speedier than the localconstabulary.
'Sergeant Bout from the Serious Crimes Bureau and thisis Detective Dycksma.' Thinnish, smallish, ears which stickout, quick little greeny-snot eyes.
'We're making a house-to-house enquiry on account of agirl missing, I dare say you heard, she lived close by, I'msorry to say we've found her, dead, and the findings point tohomicide.' Willy, if one were suddenly to jump out at her,might utter a squawk. Not now. Looks disapproving.
'With your permission ' (or without, no doubt) 'I ask afew questions, brief, and Mr Dee here takes it down.' (Bigsmile, shorthand pad.) 'Routine, asking everyone in the streetsame thing. Not to be in the least bothered, apologize fordisturbing you, and for any personal nature questioningmight seem to have.' A practised patter. 'Is that clear? Doyou have any objection?
'Very well then, need only say if you we should be solucky turn-out-possess information relevant then Mr Deetypes that up, comes round show-it-you, statement, you signif you agree it's accurate, okay still so far?
'Right then, here's a photo supplied by her family, quiterecent, name of Carla Zomerlust, lived along the road here,twenty years old, student at the university, d'you know her atall?'
'The face I think is familiar but I don't know her.'
'Lovely, perfect answer, short and lucid, easier for myfriend here. Let's just check, de Heer van Bijl, given nameHubertus age? Profession? Retirement, good, that, observantwitnesses now familiar how?' Snapshooting, he'll begood at that.
'Couldn't say. Like any neighbour I suppose, seen her inthe street, shops maybe.'
'Caught your eye, like? How, would you suppose? Prettygirl?'
'Yes, perhaps, I don't recall in particular.'
'Appearance, manner? Attractive.'
'I doubt it. There are lots of young girls and they all lookthe same. You know jeans, long hair.'
'Never spoke to her?'
'I don't think so ... Did she have a dog?'
'Very good. That's her, took it out often.'
'Bouncy sort of woolly dog. I think I noticed that betterthan the girl.'
'Know the family at all mother, father, little brother?'
'Means nothing I'm afraid. Should I?'
'Not particular, couldn't say when you-saw-her-last?'Blank. 'How about Wednesday evening?' Still blank.
'What else happened on Wednesday evening?' I wondered.
'It was raining.' Dutch giggles all round. 'Not hard, bit of adrizzle.'
'Quite right. I went out, I walk every day, rain doesn'tbother me unless there's a lot of wind. Which hereaboutthere often is.'
'Great. So did she go out? point is, she didn't come back.Did you perhaps see her then?'
'Not that I'd notice or remember.'
'Give me a rough idea of where you went, can you? Oreven not so rough.'
'Much as usual, a routine with me. Round the outside ofthe village, Brederodestraat, along the dunes there '
'Go into the dunes, at all?'
'No, skirting along, up to the Zuiderbad corner and backalong the seafront.'
'Nobody walking a dog?'
'I wonder. There often is a young woman with a dog, thereby the car-park, but I couldn't be sure.'
'Good because we've seen that young woman and she remembersyou, sees you often.'
'I didn't know she found me memorable.'
'Point is, girl went out without the dog. Where'd she gothen?'
'There, I'm afraid, I might have crossed her if that was herpath, but it's left no memory.'
'Observant, ordinarily? In your own estimation? We feelpretty sure she did take that path.'
'Yes, I think. But I can be absent-minded too.'
'Would you have noticed, d'you think, if she'd been withsomebody?'
'You mean, because she was usually alone? Maybe. A couple,it doesn't leave an impression, much.'
Suddenly aiming the eye at Willy 'What about you,Mevrouw?'
'I think much the same,' timidly. 'As my man, I mean. Iknow her vaguely from the street. In the check-out at thesupermarket? One gives a nod and a smile but I don't thinkwe ever exchanged a word. I've a fair memory, for faces.'
'Right, right,' rather as though this confirmed somethingknown or suspected. Typical police manner, thought Bert.'Ever notice her in the company of other boyfriend or no?The point' (he was fond of this phrase) 'is that she was ashy, withdrawn sort. No known, ticketed '
'Was she raped?' asked Willy. 'I don't recollect the papersaying.'
'Didn't say, didn't know. I'll tell you the truth. Doctor saysno; intacta. Now I say, what's tacta? She'd been what thepaper calls interfered with.'
'You're sensible people. She was strangled, from the backand couldn't fight much. Clothing disarranged, as the papercalls it, what you or I call knickers pulled down. Next question,no, not menstruating.' Being brutal deliberately. 'Dirtiedherself. What does that convey to you? Meneer?'
'I'd imagine a stranger accosted her.'
'What would she be doing in the dunes? Mevrouw?'
'I don't picture, I prefer not to think.'
'Quite so. Well that's it for now.'
'Now?' asked Bert mildly.
'We've only just begun. Other things may come to light,more to ask. For now, I've a hundred households, five minutesfor each and makes a long day. Think of anything,here's the number to ring.'
* * *
These things happen. Even, no, also, in Zandvoort. I feelupset, as who wouldn't? The police don't perturb me; onlydoing their job. The citizen has to co-operate. A great manydon't and won't. Here still most will. We share shock, andpain. For a family a tragic loss, and so brutal. For ourselves.The fabric of our being. Not much left of that, in a town. Butin my village, virtually in our street, something like this tearsthe fabric. I feel shame and sorrow for that. I'm sorry for thegirl too, of course. Along my route too. Since I take this pathvery often. For all I know, within my hours. Seems theyfound her only a day later, combing out the dunes.
Doesn't sound very competent? No, come on, they checkthe normal explanations first, and then accidents, and thenan enormous number of these youngsters run away. Not forlong maybe: while their money holds out. Start thinkingabout a crime next day, at best.
And then, I know how tricky that terrain is. Easy to loseand hard to find. Every sand dune looks just like the next.Take some time to mobilize a troop, to search. From whatone hears she was some way inside. I don't know how sorryone should be for these girls. Shy and withdrawn? Brazensluts most of them, ask for trouble. One presumes this iswhy they look near home. Someone she knew. Wouldn't talkto strangers. Well, I dare say I'm not adding anything topolice thinking, suggesting that the close circle is likeliest.Family, friends, neighbours. She must have been confident.On a drizzly evening you don't take a walk in the dunes withjust anyone.
That woman with the dog saw me, knows me. I wouldn'tknow where she lived, let alone her name. Zandvoort irritaringplace and to anyone who's seen a bit of the worlddoubly, Dutchly so. Narrow, provincial parochial and puffedwith imagined importance. But I love it. Known and loved itall my life. Mine, me. I'm one of the few, the real natives, asWilly for instance isn't and couldn't be. A lot have left and alot have died. In a township of ten thousand how many wereborn here? In the thirties one 'knew everybody'. One didn'tof course but there were no big blocks then, and no creepingsuburb. In winter the place was small, and highly self-contained.We still talk about 'the dorp' but it really was avillage then.
Bert lives in one of the earliest apartment blocks builthere. Back in the fifties, would have been. There was onlythe building along the seafront, and that only in the centre,where the north and south boulevards join, and what anarchitectural disaster that had been. This was a step inland,on an island site where three roads meet. Draughty it wasthought, nobody wanted them. Got a good buy. Well built,solid, proper walls and insulation. Generously drawn, withplenty of space, roomy even to the balconies and one is neverconscious of the neighbours. They don't build like that now!Plumbing which seems old-fashioned but was installed byreal craftsmen and has never given trouble. Comfort. Boughton good, easy terms and long paid-for (think of mortgagesnow ...) No regrets, none whatever. The 'quarter' is all small,family houses still: noise and traffic have never been problems.Along the street is the water-tower. Bert remembersthe old one, dynamited like all the buildings here along, bythe Germans in the war. This was part of their 'Westwall'.Emptied of all occupants and fortified. As though theAmericans and the English would have crossed the NorthSea, to invade. Such a pity. Our beautiful seafront, alldestroyed.
A good-sized flat. Bert has a workroom, a 'den' Willy callsit. Used to be one of the girls' rooms. The other is now aspare, a guest-room which Willy keeps impeccable. 'Netjes' isthe Dutch word. Net like a net price, clean, clear of all encumbrance.The girls are long grown up and gone. Here inhis personal fortress Bert allows no more than Willy'svacuum cleaner and her endless complaining while pushingthe thing. No tidying allowed. Here, also, Bert has (underglass) his collection of old green 'crime' Penguins.
Under glass, that's a trade word. Flowers are under, booksare behind glass. Not often I make a mistake in English. Onehas to keep them carefully. Even so the cheap paper theywere printed on goes the colour of a cheap cigar. Still a vivid,a living reminder of good days in England, in the fifties,thought of now with a warm, a happy feel. Prehistoric, whenone was young and energy unbounded. Defunct now,Vaughns, big name then in the London flower markets,Ralph still the managing director and very much so. Goodjoke on the peculiarities, the Englishness, writing it so andsaying 'Rafe Vawn', he'd thought he knew how to speak thislanguage and had had to learn fast, keep your wits aboutyou, a packer or a van-man speaking Cockney, that was likeanother and special 'trade' language. Ralph grinning and saying'You're picking up the accent, you mustn't do that.'
Offices in Covent Garden. What they called the Shop outin Croxley Green and 'the Glass' in Rickmansworth.Boarding with Mrs Davis. The old brown 'Metropolitan'train, so flavourfully Sherlock-Holmes and not just because itran in to 'Baker Street' (yes and went on to Aldgate; evennow he could remember the names of all the stops and did itas a memory exercise, Finchley Road and Queens Park,Harrow-on-the-Hill and Neasden ...)
The first months, lonely yes and homesick, it was thenhe'd started, 'Trents Last Case' and 'The Cask'. FreemanWills Crofts, marvellously English (say the name now andwould anyone know what you were talking about?).
Excerpted from Some Day Tomorrow by Nicolas Freeling. Copyright © 2000 by Nicolas Freeling. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Dutch police question retired flower grower septuagenarian Hubertus ¿Bert¿ van Bijl of the crime. Bert tells the police a rambling tale about his current life and much of the major events in his previous seven decades on the planet. Through his meandering confession, Bert proves that he recently has become more and more isolated from his family and friends. Even his wife who Bert in some distant way cares about seems just out of reach for the elderly man. His efforts to connect with anyone, including wives of former associates, and family members only leave him further segregated from society. However, segregating one¿s self is not a crime, but is his babbling confession ultimately going to lead to his admitting that he murdered the young woman or is it just the inane chatter of a lonely old man? SOME DAY TOMORROW is a different type of police procedural. The story line focuses inside the mind of the prime suspect, a senior citizen, who may have killed a younger woman. Readers obtain an incredible psychological and emotional look from the inside at an intelligent, educated individual who has been forced into retirement before he is ready to do so. Nicolas Freeling¿s novel is not action-packed, but packs quite a wallop through its ingenious `autobiographical¿ psychological character study. Harriet Klausner