Who is this that comes from Edom, coming from Bozrah, his garments stained crimson? Who is this, in glorious apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? 'It is I, who announce that right has won the day, it is I,' says the Lord, 'for I am mighty to save.'
August 1991. The Stars.
She was fourteen years old and sure that if she shut her eyes tight and concentrated she could see the stars through the roof.
All around her, women were breathing. Regular, heavy night-time breathing. One was snoring, and that was Auntie Sara whom they had allocated a mattress beneath the open window.
She closed her eyes and tried to breathe like the others. It was difficult to sleep, especially because everything around her was so new and different. The sounds of the night and the forest beyond the window in Ostgard were different. The people she knew from the meetings in the Citadel and the summer camps were somehow not the same. She was not the same, either. The face and body she saw in the mirror this summer were new. And her emotions, these strange hot and cold currents that flowed through her when the boys looked at her. Or when one of them in particular looked at her. Robert. He was different this year, too.
She opened her eyes again and stared. She knew God had the power to do great things, also to allow her to see the stars through the roof. If it was His wish.
It had been a long and eventful day. The dry summer wind had whispered through the corn, and the leaves on the trees danced as if in a fever, causing the light to filter through to the visitors on the field. They had been listening to one of the Salvation Army cadets from the Officer Training School talking about his work as a preacher on the Faeroe Isles. He was good-looking and spoke with great sensitivity and passion. But she was preoccupied with shooing away a bumblebee that kept buzzing around her head, and by the time it moved off the heat had made her dozy. When the cadet finished, all faces were turned to the Territorial Commander, David Eckhoff, who had been observing them with his smiling, young eyes which were over fifty years old. He saluted in the Salvation Army manner, with his right hand raised above his shoulder pointing to the kingdom of heaven, and a resounding shout of 'Hallelujah!' Then he prayed for the cadet's work with the poor and the pariahs to be blessed, and reminded them of the Gospel of Matthew, where it said that Jesus the Redeemer was among them, a stranger on the street, maybe a criminal, without food and without clothing. And that on the Day of Judgement the righteous, those who had helped the weakest, would have eternal life. It had all the makings of a long speech, but then someone whispered something and he said, with a smile, that Youth Hour was next on the programme and today it was the turn of Rikard Nilsen.
She had heard Rikard make his voice deeper than it was to thank the commander. As usual, he had prepared what he was going to say in writing and learned it off by heart. He stood and recited how he was going to devote his life to the fight, to Jesus's fight for the kingdom of God. His voice was nervous, yet monotonous and soporific. His introverted glower rested on her. Her eyes were heavy. His sweaty top lip was moving to form the familiar, secure, tedious phrases. So she didn't react when the hand touched her back. Not until it became fingertips and they wandered down to the small of her back, and lower, and made her freeze beneath her thin summer dress.
She turned and looked into Robert's smiling brown eyes. And she wished her skin were as dark as his so that he would not be able to see her blushes.
'Shh,' Jon had said.
Robert and Jon were brothers. Although Jon was one year older many people had taken them for twins when they were younger. But Robert was seventeen now and while they had retained some facial similarities, the differences were clearer. Robert was happy and carefree, liked to tease and was good at playing the guitar, but was not always punctual for services in the Citadel, and sometimes the teasing had a tendency to go too far, especially if he noticed others were laughing. Then Jon would often step in. Jon was an honest, conscientious boy whom most thought would go to Officer Training School and would – though this was never formulated out loud – find himself a girl in the Army. The latter could not be taken for granted in Robert's case. Jon was two centimetres taller than Robert, but in some strange way Robert seemed taller. From the age of twelve Jon had begun to stoop, as though he were carrying the woes of the world on his back. Both were dark-skinned, good-looking, with regular features, but Robert had something Jon did not have. There was something in his eyes, something black and playful, which she wanted and yet did not want to investigate further.
While Rikard was talking, her eyes were wandering across the sea of assembled familiar faces. One day she would marry a boy from the Salvation Army and perhaps they would both be posted to another town or another part of the country. But they would always return to Ostgard, which the Army had just bought and was to be their summer site from now on.
On the margins of the crowd, sitting on the steps leading to the house, was a boy with blond hair stroking a cat that had settled in his lap. She could tell that he had been watching her, but had looked away just as she noticed. He was the one person here she didn't know, but she did know that his name was Mads Gilstrup, that he was the grandchild of the people who had owned Ostgard before, that he was a couple of years older than her and that the Gilstrup family was wealthy. He was attractive, in fact, but there was something solitary about him. And what was he doing here anyway? He had been there the previous night, walking around with an angry frown on his face, not talking to anyone. She had felt his eyes on her a few times. Everyone looked at her this year. That was new, too.
She was jerked out of these thoughts by Robert taking her hand, putting something in it and saying: 'Come to the barn when the general-in-waiting has finished. I've got something to show you.'
Then he stood up and walked off, and she looked down into her hand and almost screamed. With one hand over her mouth, she dropped it into the grass. It was a bumblebee. It could still move, despite not having legs or wings.
At last Rikard finished, and she sat watching her parents and Robert and Jon's moving towards the tables where the coffee was. They were both what Army people in their respective Oslo congregations called 'strong families', and she knew watchful eyes were on her.
She walked towards the outside toilet. Once she was round the corner where no one could see her, she scurried in the direction of the barn.
'Do you know what this is?' said Robert with the smile in his eyes and the deep voice he had not had the summer before.
He was lying on his back in the hay whittling a tree root with the penknife he always carried in his belt.
Then he held it up and she saw what it was. She had seen drawings. She hoped it was too dark for him to see her blushes again.
'No,' she lied, sitting beside him in the hay.
And he gave her that teasing look of his, as if he knew something about her she didn't even know herself. She returned his gaze and fell back on her elbows.
'This is where it goes,' he said, and in an instant his hand was up her dress. She could feel the hard tree root against the inside of her thigh and before she could close her legs, it was touching her pants. His breath was hot on her neck.
'No, Robert,' she whispered.
'But I made it for you,' he wheezed in return.
'Stop. I don't want to.'
'Are you saying no? To me?'
She caught her breath and was unable either to answer or to scream because at that moment they heard Jon's voice from the barn door: 'Robert! No, Robert!'
She felt him relax, let go and the tree root was left between her clenched thighs as he withdrew his hand.
'Come here!' Jon said, as though talking to a disobedient dog.
With a chuckle Robert got up, winked at her and ran out into the sun to his brother.
She sat up and brushed the hay off her, feeling both relieved and ashamed at the same time. Relieved because Jon had spoilt their crazy game. Ashamed because he seemed to think it was more than that: a game.
Later, during grace before their evening meal, she had looked up straight into Robert's brown eyes and seen his lips form one word. She didn't know what it was, but she had started to giggle. He was mad! And she was… well, what was she? Mad, too. Mad. And in love? Yes, in love, precisely that. And not in the way she had been when she was twelve or thirteen. Now she was fourteen and this was bigger. More important. And more exciting.
She could feel the laughter bubbling up inside her as she lay there trying to stare through the roof.
Auntie Sara grunted and stopped snoring beneath the window. Something screeched. An owl?
She needed to pee.
She didn't feel like going out, but she had to. Had to walk through the dewy grass past the barn, which was dark and quite a different proposition in the middle of the night. She closed her eyes, but it didn't help. She crept out of her sleeping bag, slipped on some sandals and tiptoed over to the door.
A few stars had appeared in the sky, but they would soon go when day broke in the east in an hour's time. The cool air caressed her skin as she scampered along listening to the unidentifiable sounds of the night. Insects that stayed quiet during the day. Animals hunting. Rikard said he had seen foxes in the distant copse. Or perhaps the animals were the same ones that were out during the day, they just made different sounds. They changed. Shed their skins, as it were.
The outside toilet stood alone on a small mound behind the barn. She watched it grow in size as she came closer. The strange, crooked hut had been made with untreated wooden boards that had warped, split and turned grey. No windows, a heart on the door. The worst thing about the toilet was that you never knew if anyone was already in there.
And she had an instinct that someone was already in there.
She coughed so that whoever was there might signal it was engaged.
A magpie took off from a branch on the edge of the wood. Otherwise all was still.
She stepped up onto the flagstone. Grabbed the lump of wood that passed for a door handle. Pulled it. The black room gaped open.
She breathed out. There was a torch beside the toilet seat, but she didn't need to switch it on. She raised the seat lid before closing the door and fastening the door hook. Then she pulled up her nightie, pulled down her knickers and sat down. In the ensuing silence she thought she heard something. Something that was neither animal nor magpie nor insects shedding skin. Something that moved fast through the tall grass behind the toilet. Then the trickle started and the noise was obscured. But her heart had already started pounding.
When she had finished, she quickly pulled up her pants and sat in the dark listening. But all she could hear was a faint ripple in the tops of the trees and her blood throbbing in her ears. She waited for her pulse to slow down, then she unhooked the catch and opened the door. The dark figure filled almost the whole of the doorway. He must have been standing and waiting, silent, outside on the stone step. The next minute she was splayed over the toilet seat and he stood above her. He closed the door behind him.
'You?' she said.
'Me,' he said in an alien, tremulous, husky voice.
Then he was on top of her. His eyes glittered in the dark as he bit her lower lip until he drew blood and one hand found the way under her nightie and tore off her knickers. She lay there crippled with fear beneath the knife blade that stung the skin on her neck while he kept thrusting his groin into her before he had even got his trousers off, like some crazed copulating dog.
'One word from you and I'll cut you into pieces,' he whispered.
And not one word issued from her mouth. Because she was fourteen years old and sure that if she shut her eyes tight and concentrated she would be able to see the stars through the roof. God had the power to do things like that. If it was His wish.
Sunday, 14 December 2003. The Visit.
He studied his reflected features in the train window. Tried to see what it was, where the secret lay. But he saw nothing in particular, apart from the red neckerchief, just an expressionless face and eyes and hair that, approaching the walls of the tunnels between Courcelles and Ternes, was as black as the eternal night of the metro. Le Monde lay in his lap, forecasting snow, but above him the streets of Paris were still cold and deserted beneath impenetrable, low-lying cloud cover. His nostrils flared and drew in the faint but distinct smell of damp cement, human perspiration, hot metal, eau de cologne, tobacco, sodden wool and bile, a smell they never managed to wash out of the train seats, or to ventilate.
The pressure created by an oncoming train made the windows vibrate, and the darkness was temporarily banished by the pale squares of light that flashed past. He pulled up the sleeve of his coat and checked his watch, a Seiko SQ50 which he had received in part payment from a client. There were already scratches on the glass, so he was not sure it was a genuine item. A quarter past seven. It was Sunday evening and the carriage was no more than half full. He looked around him. People slept on the metro; they always did. On weekdays in particular. Switched off, closed their eyes and let the daily journey become a dreamless interval of nothing between the red or the blue lines on the metro map, as a mute connecting line between work and freedom. He had read about a man who had sat like this for a whole day, eyes closed, to and fro, and it was only when they came to clean the carriage at the end of the day that they discovered he was dead. Perhaps he had descended into the catacombs for this very purpose, to draw a blue connecting line between life and the beyond in this pale yellow coffin, knowing he would be undisturbed.
As for himself, he was forming a connecting line in the other direction. Back to life. There was this job tonight and then the one in Oslo. The last job. Then he would be out of the catacombs for good.
A dissonant signal screamed before the doors closed in Ternes. They picked up speed again.
He closed his eyes, trying to imagine the other smell. The smell of urinal blocks and hot, fresh urine. The smell of freedom. But perhaps it was true what his mother, the teacher, had said. That the human brain can reproduce detailed images of everything you have seen or heard, but not even the most basic smell.
Smell. The images began to flash past on the inside of his eyelids. He had been fifteen years old, sitting in the corridor of the hospital in Vukovar, listening to his mother repeat the mumbled prayer to Thomas the Apostle, the patron saint of construction workers, to let God spare her husband. He had heard the rumble of the Serbian artillery firing from the river and the screams of those being operated on in the infants ward, where there were no longer any infants because the women of the town had stopped producing after the siege started. He had worked as an errand boy in the hospital and learned to shut out the noises, the screams and the artillery. But not the smells. And one smell above all others. Surgeons performing an amputation first had to cut through the flesh to the bone, and then, so that patients did not bleed to death, to use something that looked like a soldering iron to cauterise the blood vessels so that they were closed off. The smell of burnt flesh and blood was like nothing else.
A doctor came into the corridor and waved him and his mother in. Approaching the bed, he had not dared to look at his father; he had just concentrated on the big brown hand clutching the mattress and trying, as it seemed, to tear it in two. It could have succeeded, for these were the strongest hands in the town. His father was a steel-bender – he was the person who went on building sites when the bricklayers were finished, put his large hands round the ends of the protruding steel used to reinforce the concrete, and with one quick, practised movement bent the ends of the steel poles and wove them into each other. He had seen his father working; it looked like he was wringing a cloth. No one had invented a machine that did the job better.
He squeezed his eyes shut as he heard his father scream out in pain and anguish: 'Take the lad out!'
'But he asked-'
The doctor's voice: 'The bleeding has stopped. Let's get cracking now!'
Someone grabbed him under the arms and lifted him. He tried to struggle, but he was so small, so light. And that was when he noticed the smell. Burnt flesh and blood.
The last thing he heard was the doctor's voice:
The door slammed behind him and he sank down onto his knees and continued to pray where his mother had left off. Save him. Maim him, but save him. God had the power to do things like that. If it was His wish.
He felt someone watching him, opened his eyes and was back in the metro. On the seat opposite was a woman with taut jaw muscles and a weary, distant gaze that moved away when it met his. The second hand on his wristwatch jerked forward as he repeated the address to himself. He felt his pulse. Normal. His head was light, but not too light. He was neither hot nor cold, felt neither fear nor pleasure, neither satisfaction nor dissatisfaction. The train was slowing down. Charles de Gaulle-Etoile. He sent the woman a final glance. She had been studying him, but if she should ever meet him again, maybe even tonight, she still would not recognise him.
He got to his feet and waited by the doors. The brakes gave a low lament. Urinal blocks and urine. And freedom. As impossible to imagine as a smell. The doors slid open.
Harry stepped onto the platform and stood inhaling the warm underground air as he read the address on the slip of paper. He heard the doors close and felt the draught of air on his back as the train set off again. Then he walked towards the exit. An advertising hoarding over the escalator told him there were ways of avoiding colds. 'Like hell there are,' he coughed, stuffing a hand down the deep pocket of his woollen coat and finding the pack of cigarettes under the hip flask and the tin of throat lozenges.
The cigarette bobbed up and down in his mouth as he walked through the glass exit door, leaving the raw, unnatural heat of Oslo's underground behind him, and ran up the steps to Oslo's ultra-natural December darkness and freezing temperatures. Harry instinctively shrank. Egertorget. This small, open square was an intersection between pedestrian streets in the heart of Oslo, if the city could be said to have a heart at this time of the year. Shops were open this Sunday as it was the penultimate weekend before Christmas, and the square was teeming with people hurrying to and fro in the yellow light that fell from the windows of the surrounding modest three-storey shops. Harry saw the bags of wrapped presents and made a mental note to buy something for Bjarne Moller whose last day it was at Police HQ tomorrow. Harry's boss and chief protector in the police force for all these years was at long last realising his plans to reduce his hours and from next week onwards would take over as a so-called senior special investigator at Bergen police station, which meant in reality that Bjarne Moller could do as he liked until he retired. Cushy number – but Bergen? Rain and dank mountains. Moller didn't even come from Bergen. Harry had always liked – but not always appreciated – Bjarne Moller.
A man dressed head to toe in Puffa jacket and trousers slowly waddled past like an astronaut, grinning and blowing frosted breath from round, pink cheeks. Stooped shoulders and closed winter faces. Harry spotted a pallid-faced woman wearing a thin, black leather jacket with holes in the elbows standing by the jeweller's, hopping from one foot to the other as her eyes searched in hope of finding her supplier soon. A beggar, long-haired and unshaven, but well covered in warm, fashionable, youthful clothing sat in a yoga position, leaning against a lamp post, his head bent forward as if in meditation, with a brown paper cup from a cappuccino bar in front of him. Harry had seen more and more beggars over the last year, and it had struck him that they all looked the same. Even the paper cups were identical, as though it were a secret code. Perhaps they were creatures from outer space quietly taking over his town, his streets. No worries. Feel free.
Harry entered the jeweller's shop.
'Can you fix this?' he said to the young man behind the counter, passing him his grandfather's watch. Harry had been given it when he was a boy in Andalsnes the day they had buried his mother. He had almost been frightened, but his grandad had reassured him that watches were the sort of thing you gave away, and Harry should remember to pass it on. 'Before it's too late.'
Harry had forgotten all about the watch until Oleg visited him in his flat in Sofies gate and had seen the silver watch in a drawer while he was looking for Harry's Game boy. Oleg, who was ten years old, but had long had the measure of Harry at their shared passion – the rather outdated computer game Tetris – was oblivious to the duel he had been looking forward to, and instead sat fiddling with the watch trying to make it go.
'It's broken,' Harry said.
'Ooof,' Oleg answered. 'Everything can be repaired.'
Harry hoped in his heart of hearts that this contention was true, but he had days when he had severe doubts. Nonetheless, he had wondered in a vague way whether he should introduce Oleg to Jokke amp; Valentinerne and their album entitled Everything Can be Repaired. However, on reflection Harry had concluded that Oleg's mother, Rakel, was unlikely to appreciate the connection: her ex-alcoholic lover passing on songs about being an alcoholic, written and sung by a dead junkie.
'Can you repair it?' he asked the young man behind the counter. By way of an answer, nimble, expert hands opened the watch.
'Not worth it.'
'Not worth it?'
'If you go to an antiques shop, they have better working watches and they cost less than it would to have this fixed.'
'Do it anyway,' Harry said.
'OK,' said the young man who had already started examining the internal mechanisms and, in fact, seemed pretty pleased with Harry's decision. 'Come back next Tuesday.'
On leaving the shop Harry heard the frail sound of a single guitar string through an amplifier. It rose when the guitarist, a boy with scraggly facial hair and fingerless gloves, turned one of the tuning keys. It was time for one of the traditional pre-Christmas concerts when well known artistes performed on behalf of the Salvation Army in Egertorget. People had already begun to gather in front of the band as it took up a position behind the Salvation Army's black Christmas kettle, a cooking pot which hung from three poles in the middle of the square.
'Is that you?'
Harry turned. It was the woman with the junkie eyes.
'It's you, isn't it? Have you come instead of Snoopy? I need a fix right away. I've-'
'Sorry,' Harry interrupted. 'It's not me you want.'
She stared at him. Leaning her head to one side, she narrowed her eyes, as though appraising whether he was lying to her. 'Yep, I've seen you somewhere before.'
'I'm a policeman.'
She paused. Harry breathed in. There was a delayed reaction, as if the message had to follow detours around scorched neurons and smashed synapses. Then the dull glow of hatred that Harry had been waiting for lit up in her eyes.
'Thought we had a deal. You were supposed to stay in the square, in Plata,' Harry said, looking past her at the vocalist.
'Huh,' said the woman standing straight in front of Harry. 'You're not in Narco. You're the guy on telly who killed-'
'Crime Squad.' Harry took her by the arm. 'Listen, you can get what you want in Plata. Don't force me to drag you in to the station.'
'Can not.' She tore her arm away.
Harry repented at once and held up both hands. 'Tell me you're not going to do any deals here and I can go. OK?'
She cocked her head. The thin, anaemic lips tightened a fraction. She seemed to see something amusing in the situation. 'Shall I tell you why I can't go to the square?'
'Because my boy's down there.'
He felt his stomach churn.
'I don't want him to see me like this. Do you understand, cop?'
Harry looked into her defiant face as he tried to formulate a sentence.
'Happy Christmas,' he said, turning his back on her.
Harry dropped his cigarette into the packed, brown snow and walked off. He wanted this job off his back. He didn't see the people coming towards him, and, staring down at the blue ice as if they had a bad conscience, they didn't see him either, as if they, citizens of the world's most generous social democracy, were nonetheless ashamed. 'Because my boy's down there.'
In Fredensborgveien, beside Oslo Public Library, Harry stopped outside the number scrawled on the envelope he was carrying. He leaned back and looked up. The facade was grey and black and had recently been repainted. A tagger's wet dream. Christmas decorations were already hanging from some of the windows like silhouettes against the gentle, yellow light in what seemed like warm, secure homes. And perhaps they are indeed that, Harry forced himself to think. 'Forced' because you can't be in the police for twelve years without being infected by the contempt for humanity that comes with the territory. But he did fight against it; you had to give him that.
He found the name by the bell, closed his eyes and tried to find the right words. It didn't help. Her voice was still in the way.
'I don't want him to see me like this…'
Harry gave up. Is there a right way to formulate the impossible?
He pressed his thumb against the cold metal button, and somewhere inside the block it rang.
Captain Jon Karlsen took his finger off the button, put the heavy plastic bags down on the pavement and gazed up at the front of the block. The flats looked as if they had been under siege from light artillery. Big chunks of plaster had fallen off and the windows of a burnt-out flat on the first floor had been boarded up. At first he had walked right past Fredriksen's blue house; the cold seemed to have sucked all the colour out of the buildings and made all the house fronts in Hausmanns gate the same. It was only when he saw 'Vestbredden' – West Bank – scrawled on the wall of a squat that he realised he had walked too far. A crack in the glass of the front door was shaped like a V. V for victory.
Jon shivered in his windcheater and was glad the Salvation Army uniform underneath was made of pure, thick wool. When Jon had gone to be kitted out with his new uniform after Officer Training School, none of the regular sizes had fitted him, so he had been issued some material and sent to a tailor, who blew smoke into his face and said apropos of nothing that he rejected Jesus as his personal redeemer. However, the tailor did a good job and Jon thanked him warmly; he was not used to made-to-measure clothes. That was why he had a stoop, it was said. Those who saw him coming up Hausmanns gate that afternoon might well have thought he was bent over to keep out of the ice-cold December wind sweeping icicles and frozen litter along the pavements as the heavy traffic thundered by. But those who knew him said that Jon Karlsen stooped to take the edge off his height. And to reach down to those smaller than him. As he did now, to drop the twenty-kroner coin in the brown paper cup held by a filthy, trembling hand next to the doorway.
'How's it going?' Jon asked the human bundle sitting cross-legged on a piece of cardboard on the pavement in the swirling snow.
'I'm in the queue for methadone treatment,' the piteous person said in a halting, monotonous voice like an ill-rehearsed psalm, while staring at Jon's black uniformed knees.
'You should go down to our cafe in Urtegata,' Jon said. 'Warm up a bit and get some food and…'
The rest was drowned in the roar of the traffic as the lights behind them changed to green.
'No time,' the bundle replied. 'You wouldn't have a fifty note, would you?' Jon never ceased to be surprised by drug addicts' unwavering focus. He sighed and thrust a hundred-kroner note in the cup.
'See if you can find some warm clothes at Fretex. If not, we've got some new winter jackets at the Lighthouse. You'll freeze to death in that thin denim jacket.'
He was resigned to the fact that he was speaking to someone who already knew the gift would be used to buy dope, but so what? It was the same refrain, yet another of the irresolvable moral dilemmas that filled his days.
Jon pressed the bell once again. He saw his reflection in the dirty shop window beside the doorway. Thea said he was a big man. He wasn't big at all. He was small. A small soldier. But when he was finished the little soldier would sprint down Mollerveien, across the river Akerselva, where East Oslo and Grunerlokka started, over Sofienberg Park to Goteborggata 4, which the Army owned and rented out to its employees, unlock the door to entrance B, say hello to one of the other tenants he hoped would assume he was on his way to his flat on the third floor. However, he would take the lift to the fourth, go through the loft space to the A building, make sure the coast was clear, then head for Thea's door and tap out their prearranged signal. And she would open the door and her arms, into which he could creep and thawout.
Something was trembling.
At first he thought it was the ground, the city, the foundations. He put down the bag and delved into his pocket. His mobile phone was vibrating in his hand. The display showed Ragnhild's number. It was the third time today. He knew he could not put it off any longer; he would have to tell her. That he and Thea were getting engaged. When he had found the right words. He put the phone back in his pocket and avoided looking at his reflection. But he made up his mind. He would stop being a coward. He would be frank. Be a big soldier. For Thea in Goteborggata. For his father in Thailand. For the Lord above.
'Yes,' came the shout from the loudspeaker above the bells.
'Oh, hi. This is Jon.'
'Jon from the Salvation Army.'
'What do you want?' the voice crackled.
'I've got some food for you. I thought you might need-'
'Got any cigarettes?'
Jon swallowed and stamped his boots in the snow. 'No, I only had enough money for food this time.'
It went quiet again.
'Hello?' Jon shouted.
'Yeah, yeah. I'm thinking.'
'If you want, I'll come back later.'
The mechanism buzzed and Jon quickly pushed open the door.
Inside the stairwell there were newspapers, empty bottles and frozen yellow pools of urine. Thanks to the cold weather Jon did not have to inhale the pervasive, bitter-sweet stench that filled the hallway on milder days.
He tried to walk without making much noise, but his footsteps reverberated on the stairs anyway. The woman standing in the doorway and waiting for him was ogling the bags. To avoid looking him in the eye, Jon thought. She had that same bloated, swollen face that came with many years of addiction, was overweight and wore a filthy white T-shirt under her dressing gown. A stale smell emanated from the door.
Jon stopped on the landing and put down the bags. 'Is your husband in, too?'
'Yes, he's in,' she said in mellifluous French.
She was good-looking. High cheekbones and large, almond-shaped eyes. Narrow, bloodless lips. And well dressed. At any rate, the bit of her he could see through the crack in the door was well dressed.
Instinctively, he adjusted his red neckerchief.
The security lock between them was made of solid brass and attached to a heavy oak door without a nameplate. While standing outside the block in avenue Carnot waiting for the concierge to open the door, he had noticed that everything seemed new and expensive, the door furniture, the bells, the cylinder locks. And the fact that the pale yellow facade and the white shutters were covered in an unsightly, dirty layer of black pollution served to emphasise the established and solid nature of this district of Paris even more. Original oil paintings hung in the hallway.
'What do you want?'
The eyes and the intonation were neither friendly nor unfriendly, but contained perhaps a smidgeon of scepticism because of his terrible French pronunciation.
'A message, madame.'
She hesitated. But acted as expected in the end.
'Alright. Could you wait here please, and I'll get him?'
She shut the door and the lock fell into position with a well-oiled click. He stamped his feet. He ought to learn to speak better French. His mother had force-fed him English in the evenings, but she had never sorted out his French. He stared at the door. French knickers. French letter. Good-looking.
He thought about Giorgi. Giorgi of the white smile was one year older than he was, so twenty-eight now. Was he still as good-looking? Blond and small and pretty like a girl? He had been in love with Giorgi, in the unprejudiced, unconditional way that only children can fall in love.
He heard steps coming from inside. A man's steps. Someone fiddling with the lock. A blue connecting line between work and freedom, from here to soap and urine. The snow would come soon. He prepared himself.
The man's face appeared in the doorway.
'What the fuck do you want?'
Jon lifted the plastic bags and ventured a smile. 'Fresh bread. Smells good, doesn't it.'
Fredriksen laid a large brown hand on the woman's shoulder and pushed her away. 'All I can smell is Christian blood…' It was said with clear, sober diction, but the washed-out irises in the bearded face told a different story. The eyes tried to focus on the bags of shopping. He looked like a large, powerful man who had shrunk inside. His skeleton and even his cranium had become smaller inside the skin that drooped, three sizes too big, from the malevolent face. Fredriksen ran a grubby finger over the fresh cuts along the bridge of his nose.
'You're not going to preach now, are you.'
'No, actually I wanted-'
'Oh, come on, soldier. You want something back for this, don't you. My soul, for example.'
Jon shivered in his uniform. 'It's not me who deals with souls, Fredriksen. But I can arrange for food, so-'
'Oh, you can manage a little sermon first.'
'As I said-'
Jon stood looking at Fredriksen.
'Give us a sermon with that wet little cunt-hole of yours!' Fredriksen yelled. 'A sermon so that we can eat with a good conscience, you condescending Christian bastard. Come on, get it over with. What's God's message today?'
Jon opened his mouth and closed it again. Swallowed. Tried again and this time his vocal cords responded. 'The message is that He gave His only son, who died… for our sins.'
'No, I'm afraid I'm not, 'Harry said, observing the terrified face of the man in the doorway in front of him. There was a smell of lunch and a rattle of cutlery in the background. A family man. A father. Until now. The man scratched his forearm and gazed at a spot above Harry's head as if someone were there. The scratching made an unpleasant rasping noise.
The rattle of cutlery had stopped. The shuffle of feet came to a halt behind the man and a small hand was placed on his shoulder. A woman's face with large red eyes peeped out.
'What is it, Birger?'
'This policeman has something to tell us,' Birger said in a monotone.
'What?' the woman said looking at Harry. 'Is it about our son? Is it about Per?'
'Yes, fru Holmen,' Harry said and saw the fear steal into her eyes. He searched for the impossible words. 'We found him two hours ago. Your son is dead.'
He had to look away.
'But he… he… where…?' Her eyes jumped from Harry to the man who kept scratching his arm.
Won't be long before he draws blood, Harry thought, and cleared his throat. 'In a container by the harbour. What we feared. He's been dead for a good while.'
Birger Holmen seemed to lose his balance, staggered backwards into the lit hallway and grabbed a hatstand. The woman stepped forward and Harry saw the man fall to his knees behind her.
Harry breathed in and shoved his hand inside his coat. The metal hip flask was ice-cold against his fingertips. He found what he was looking for and pulled out an envelope. He hadn't written the letter, but knew the contents all too well. The brief official notification of death, stripped of all the verbiage. The bureaucratic act of pronouncing death.
'I'm sorry, but it's my job to give you this.'
'Your job to do what?' said the small, middle-aged man with the exaggerated mondaine French pronunciation uncharacteristic of the upper classes but of those who strive to belong. The visitor studied him. Everything matched the photograph in the envelope, even the mean-spirited tie-knot and the loose red smoking jacket.
He didn't know what this man had done wrong. He doubted it had been physical because despite the irritation in his expression his body language was defensive, almost anxious, even in the door to his own home. Had he been stealing money, embezzling? He could be the type to work with figures. But not the big sums. His attractive wife notwithstanding, he looked more like the kind who helped himself to small change here and there. He might have been unfaithful, might have slept with the wife of the wrong man. No. As a rule, short men with above average assets and wives much more attractive than themselves are more concerned with her infidelity. The man annoyed him. He slipped his hand into his pocket.
'This,' he said, resting the barrel of a Llama Minimax, which he had bought for just three hundred dollars, on the taut brass door chain, 'is my job.'
He pointed the silencer. It was a plain metal tube, made by a gunsmith in Zagreb, and screwed to the barrel. The black gaffer tape lashed round where the two parts met was to make it airtight. Of course, he could have bought a so-called quality silencer for over a hundred euros, but why? No one could silence the sound of a bullet breaking the sound barrier, of the hot gas meeting the cold air and the mechanical metal parts striking each other. Pistols with silencers that sounded like popcorn under a lid were pure Hollywood.
The explosion was like the crack of a whip. He pressed his face against the narrow opening.
The man in the photo was gone; he had fallen backwards without a sound. The hall was dark, but in the wall mirror he saw the sliver of light from the door and his magnified eye framed in gold. The dead man lay on a thick burgundy carpet. Persian? Perhaps he had had money after all?
Now he had a little hole in his forehead.
He looked up and met the eyes of the wife. If it was his wife. She was standing in the doorway of another room. Behind her, a large, yellow oriental lamp. She had her hand in front of her mouth and was staring at him. He gave a brief nod. Then he carefully closed the door, put the gun back in his shoulder holster and began to walk down the stairs. He never used the lift when he was making his getaway. Or rented cars or motorbikes or anything else that could malfunction. And he didn't run. He didn't talk or shout; the voice could be identified.
The getaway was the most critical part of the job, but also the part he loved best. It was like flying, a dreamless nothing.
The concierge, a woman, had come out of her flat on the ground floor and watched him in bewilderment. He whispered an Au revoir, madame, but she glared back in silence. When she was questioned by the police in an hour's time, they would ask her for a description. And she would oblige. A man, normal appearance, medium height. Twenty years old. Or thirty perhaps. Not forty anyway, she thought.
He emerged into the street. The low rumble of Paris, like thunder that never came any closer, but never stopped either. He discarded his Llama Minimax in a skip he had chosen for the purpose beforehand. Two new, unfired guns from the same manufacturer awaited his return in Zagreb. He had been given a bulk-purchase discount.
When the airport bus passed Porte de la Chapelle half an hour later, on the motorway between Paris and Charles de Gaulle, the air was full of snowflakes. They settled on the scattered strands of pale yellow straw pointing stiffly upwards to the grey sky.
After checking in for his flight and going through security control, he went straight to the men's toilets. He stood at the end of the line of white bowls, unbuttoned and sprayed the white urinal blocks at the bottom of the bowl. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sweet smell of paradichlorobenzene and the lemon fragrance enhancer from J amp; J Chemicals. The connecting line to freedom had one stop left. He rolled the name on his tongue. Oslo.
Sunday, 14 December. The Bite.
In the Red Zone on the sixth floor of Police HQ, the concrete and glass colossus with the largest concentration of police in Norway, Harry sat back in his chair in room 605. This was the office that Halvorsen – the young policeman Harry shared the ten square metres with – liked to call the Clearing House. And that Harry, when Halvorsen had to be taken down a peg or two, called In-House Training.
But at this moment Harry was on his own, staring at the wall where the window might have been if the Clearing House had such a thing.
It was Sunday; he had written the report and could go home. So why didn't he? Through the imaginary window he saw the fenced-off harbour in Bjorvika where fresh snow lay like confetti on the green, red and blue containers. The case was solved. Per Holmen, a young heroin addict, had had enough of life and had taken his final shot inside a container. From a gun. No external signs of violence; the gun down by his side. As far as the undercover boys knew, Per Holmen did not owe any money. When dealers execute junkies with debts, they don't usually try to camouflage it as something else. Quite the contrary. A cut-and-dried case of suicide then. So why waste the evening ferreting round a grim, wind-blown container terminal where all he would find was more sorrow and grief?
Harry looked at his woollen coat hanging on the hatstand. The small hip flask in the inside pocket was full. And untouched since he went to the vinmonopol in October, bought a bottle of his worst enemy, Jim Beam, and filled his flask before emptying the rest down the sink. Since then he had carried the poison on him, a bit like the way Nazis kept cyanide pills in the soles of their shoes. Why bother with such a stupid idea? He didn't know. He didn't have to know. It worked.
Harry looked at the clock. Soon be eleven. At home he had a much used espresso machine and a DVD he had put by for just such an evening as this. All About Eve, Mankiewicz's 1950 masterpiece with Bette Davis and George Sanders.
He took an internal reading. And knew it was going to be the harbour.
Harry had turned up the lapels of his coat and stood with his back to the north wind that blew right through the tall fence in front of him and formed snowdrifts around the containers on the inside. The harbour area and the large, empty expanses looked like a desert at night.
The enclosed container terminal was illuminated, but the lamp posts swayed in the gusting wind and the metal boxes piled up in twos or threes cast shadows over the streets. The particular one Harry had his eye on was red and something of a colour clash with the orange police tape. But it was a great refuge on a December night in Oslo, with almost identical measurements and the same level of comfort as the security cells in the custody block at Police HQ.
The report by the Crime Scene Unit – though it was hardly a unit, numbering one detective and one technician – said the container had stood empty for a while. Unlocked. The site watchman had explained that they didn't bother much about locking empty containers as the area was fenced off and, furthermore, under surveillance. Nevertheless a drug addict had got in. Per Holmen, he supposed, had been one of the many who had hung out around Bjorvika, which was a mere stone's throw from the junkies' supermarket in Plata. Perhaps the watchman had turned a blind eye to them using the containers as accommodation? Perhaps he knew that in so doing they had saved the odd life or two?
There was no lock on the container, but there was a big, fat padlock on the gate in the fence. Harry regretted that he hadn't rung from HQ to say he was coming. If there were any guards here, he couldn't see any.
Harry checked his watch. Deliberated and surveyed the top of the fence. He was in good shape. Better than for a long time. He hadn't touched alcohol since the catastrophe last summer, and he had been training on a regular basis in the police gym. More than regular. Before the snow came, he had broken Tom Waaler's old steeplechase record in Okern. A few days later Halvorsen had cautiously asked if all the training had anything to do with Rakel. Because his impression was that they weren't seeing each other any more. Harry had explained to the young officer in a curt yet clear way that they might share an office but not a private life. Halvorsen had shrugged, asked who else Harry talked to and had his assumption confirmed when Harry got up and marched out of room 605.
Three metres. No barbed wire. Easy. Harry caught hold of the fence as high as he could, put his feet against the fence post and straightened up. Right arm up, then left, hung with arms outstretched until his feet got a grip. Caterpillar movements. He swung himself over to the other side.
He raised the bolt and pulled open the door of the container, took out his solid, black army torch, ducked under the police tape and went in.
It was eerily quiet inside; sound seemed to have been frozen, too.
Harry switched on the torch and shone it inside the container. In the cone of light he could see the chalk outline on the floor where they had found Holmen. Beate Lonn, head of Forensics in the new building in Brynsalleen, had shown him the pictures. Holmen had been sitting with his back to the wall with a hole in his right temple and the gun on his right. Very little blood. That was the advantage of shots to the head. The only one. The gun fired ammunition of a modest calibre, so the entry wound was small and there was no exit wound. Forensics would find the bullet in the skull where it would have bounced around like a pinball and pulped what Per Holmen had once thought with, made this decision with, and at the end ordered his forefinger to press the trigger with.
'Incomprehensible,' his colleagues tended to say when they discovered young people who had chosen to take their lives. Harry assumed they said that to protect themselves, to reject the whole idea of it. If not, he didn't understand what they meant by it being incomprehensible.
All the same, that was the word he himself had used this afternoon standing at the entrance and looking down the hallway at Holmen's father on his knees, his back bent, shaking with sobs. And since Harry had had no words of comfort to say about death, God, redemption, life afterwards or the sense of it all, he had just mumbled the same feeble: 'Incomprehensible…'
Harry switched off the torch and put it in his coat pocket; the darkness closed in around him.
He thought of his own father. Olav Hole, the retired teacher and widower living in a house in Oppsal. Of how his eyes lit up when Harry, or Sis, visited him once a month and how the light slowly faded as they drank coffee and talked about things of little import. Anything of meaning had pride of place in a photo on the piano she had once played. Olav Hole did almost nothing now. Read his books. About countries and empires he would never see, and in fact no longer had any desire to see, since she could not join him. 'The greatest loss of all,' he said on the few occasions they talked about her. And what Harry was thinking about now was what Olav Hole would call the day they went to tell him his son was dead.
Harry left the container and walked towards the fence. Grabbed hold of it with his hands. Then there was one of those strange moments of sudden total silence when the wind catches its breath to listen or change its mind and all that is heard is the reassuring rumble of the town in the winter darkness. That, and the sound of wind-borne paper scraping against the tarmac. But the wind had dropped. It wasn't paper, it was steps. Quick, light steps. Lighter than footsteps.
Harry's heart accelerated out of control and, facing the fence, he bent his knees lightning-quick. And straightened up. Only afterwards would it occur to him what had made him so frightened. It was the silence, and the fact that he heard nothing in this silence, no growling, no signs of aggression. As though whatever it was out there in the dark did not want to frighten him. Quite the contrary. It was hunting him. Had Harry known much about dogs, he might have been aware that there was one kind of dog that never growls, neither when it is frightened nor when it attacks: the male of the black Metzner species. Harry stretched his arms upwards and was bending his knees again when he heard the change in rhythm and then silence, and he knew it had launched itself. He pushed upwards.
The claim that you don't feel pain when terror has pumped the blood full of adrenalin is, at best, somewhat less than accurate. Harry let out a yell when the teeth of the large, lean dog gripped the flesh of his right leg and sank further and further in until finally they were pressing on the sensitive tissue membrane around the bone. The wire fence sang, gravity pulled at them both, but in sheer desperation Harry managed to hang on. By normal standards he would have been safe by now. Because any other dog weighing as much as a mature black Metzner would have let go. But a black Metzner has teeth and jaw muscles which can crush bone, hence its alleged reputation as a relative of the bone-devouring speckled hyena. So it hung there, bolted to Harry's leg by two canine teeth set backwards in the upper jaw and one in the lower jaw, which stabilised the bite. It had broken the second canine in the lower jaw on a steel prosthesis when it was just three months old.
Harry managed to put his left elbow over the edge of the fence and tried to drag them both up, but the dog had one paw in the wire. With his right hand he groped for his coat pocket, found it and his hand grabbed the rubber shaft of the torch. He looked down and for the first time saw the animal. The black eyes in the equally black face had a dull sheen. Harry swung the torch. It hit the dog on the head right between its ears and so hard that he heard a crunch. He raised the torch and struck again. Hitting the sensitive snout. Struck out in desperation at the eyes which still had not blinked. He lost hold of the torch and it fell to the ground. The dog was still hanging from his leg. Soon Harry would not have the strength to hold on to the fence. He did not want to think about what might happen then, but was unable to stop himself.
Harry's feeble cry was carried away on the wind that had sprung up again. He changed grip and felt a sudden urge to laugh. Surely it couldn't all end like this? Being found in a container terminal with his throat savaged by a guard dog? Harry took a deep breath. The jagged points from the wire netting were digging into his armpit; his fingers were wilting fast. He was seconds away from letting go. If only he had a weapon. If only he had had a bottle instead of the hip flask, he could have smashed it and used it to stab with.
The hip flask!
Summoning his last strength, Harry reached inside his coat and pulled out the flask. He stuffed the spout into his mouth, sank his teeth in the metal top and twisted. The top loosened and he held it between his teeth as the whisky filled his mouth. A shock ran through his body. Christ. He pressed his face against the fence, forcing his eyes closed, and the distant lights of the Plaza and Opera hotels became white stripes in all the darkness. With his right hand he lowered the flask until it was above the dog's red jaws. Then he spat out the top and the whisky, mumbled 'Skal' and emptied the flask. For two long seconds the black doggy eyes stared up at Harry in total perplexity as the brown liquid gurgled and trickled down Harry's leg into the open jaws. The animal relinquished its hold. Harry heard the smack of living flesh on bare tarmac. Followed by a kind of death rattle and low whimpering, then the scratching sound of paws, and the dog was swallowed up by the dark from which it had emerged.
Harry swung his legs over the fence. He rolled up his trouser leg. Even without the torch he knew the evening was going to be spent in A amp;E and not watching All About Eve.
Jon lay with his head in Thea's lap and his eyes closed, enjoying the regular drone of the TV. It was one of these series she liked so much. King of the Bronx. Or was it The King of Queens?
'Have you asked your brother if he would do your shift in Egertorget?' Thea asked.
She had placed a hand over his eyes. He could smell the sweet fragrance of her skin, which meant that she had just given herself a shot of insulin.
'Which shift?' Jon asked.
She snatched away her hand and stared at him in disbelief.
Jon laughed. 'Relax. I spoke to Robert ages ago. He agreed.'
She gave a groan of resignation. Jon grabbed her hand and put it back over his eyes.
'I didn't say it was your birthday though,' he said. 'If I had, I'm not sure he would have agreed.'
'Because he's crazy about you, and you know it.'
'That's what you say.'
'And you don't like him.'
'That's not true!'
'Why do you always go stiff whenever I mention his name then?'
She laughed out loud. Must have been something in Bronx. Or Queens.
'Did you get a table at the restaurant?' she asked.
She smiled and squeezed his hand. Then she furrowed her brow. 'I've been thinking. Someone might see us there.'
'From the Army? Out of the question.'
'What if they do?'
Jon didn't answer.
'Perhaps it's time we went public,' she said.
'I don't know,' he said. 'Isn't it best to wait until we're absolutely sure that-'
'Aren't you sure, Jon?'
Jon moved her hand and looked up at her in dismay: 'Thea, please. You know very well that I love you above all else. That's not the point.'
'What is the point then?'
Jon sighed and sat up beside her. 'You don't know Robert, Thea.'
She gave a wry smile. 'I've known him since we were tiny, Jon.'
Jon squirmed. 'Yes, but there are things you don't know. You don't know how angry he can get. He takes after Dad. He can be dangerous, Thea.'
She leaned back against the wall and stared into the air.
'I suggest we defer it for a while.' Jon wrung his hands. 'Out of consideration for your brother, too.'
'Rikard?' she said, surprised.
'Yes. What would he say if you, his own sister, announced your engagement to me right now?'
'Ah, I see what you mean. As you're both competing for the head of admin job?'
'You know very well that the High Council sets great store by high-ranking officers having a respectable officer as their spouse. It's obvious that the right thing to do from a tactical point of view would be to announce my marriage to Thea Nilsen, the daughter of Frank Nilsen, the commander's right hand. But would it be morally right?'
Thea chewed her bottom lip. 'Why is this job so important to you and Rikard?'
Jon shrugged. 'The Army has paid our way through Officer Training School and four years for an economics degree at a school of management. I suppose Rikard thinks the way I do. You have a duty to apply for Salvation Army jobs seeking your qualifications.'
'Maybe neither of you will get it. Dad says no one under thirty-five has ever been appointed head of admin.'
'I know.' Jon sighed. 'Don't tell anyone but actually I would be relieved if Rikard gets the job.'
'Relieved?' Thea said. 'You? You've had the responsibility for all the rental property in Oslo for over a year now.'
'That's right, but the head of admin has all of Norway, Iceland and the Faeroes. Did you know that the Army's property company owns over 250 plots, with three hundred buildings in Norway alone?' Jon patted himself on the stomach and stared at the ceiling with a familiar concerned expression. 'I saw my reflection in a shop window today and it struck me how small I am.'
Thea did not seem to have heard. 'Someone told Rikard that whoever gets the job will be the next Territorial Commander.'
Jon laughed out loud. 'I definitely do not want that.'
'Don't mess about, Jon.'
'I'm not messing about, Thea. You and I are much more important. I'm saying I'm not interested in the admin job, so let's announce our engagement. I can do other important work. Lots of the corps need economists, too.'
'No, Jon,' Thea said, horrified. 'You're the best we've got. You have to be employed where we need you most. Rikard is my brother, but he doesn't have… your intelligence. We can wait until the decision has been made to tell them about the engagement.'
Thea looked at the clock. 'You'll have to leave before twelve today. In the lift yesterday Emma said she had been worried about me because she had heard my door open and close in the middle of the night.'
Jon swung his legs onto the floor. 'I don't understand why we bother living here.'
She sent Jon a reproving glance. 'At least we can take care of each other here.'
'Right,' he sighed. 'We take care of each other. Goodnight then.'
She wriggled over to him and slipped her hand up his shirt and, to his surprise, he could feel her hand was sweaty, as if she had been clenching it or squeezing something. She pressed herself against him and her breathing began to quicken.
'Thea,' he said. 'We mustn't…'
She went rigid. Then she sighed and took her hand away.
Jon was amazed. So far Thea had not exactly come on to him, more the opposite, she had seemed anxious about physical contact. And he valued that modesty. She had seemed reassured after their first date when he had quoted the statutes and said, 'The Salvation Army considers abstinence before marriage a Christian ideal.' Even though many thought there was a difference between 'ideal' and the word 'command', which the statutes used when referring to tobacco and alcohol, he saw no reason to break a promise to God because of nuances.
He gave her a hug, stood up and went to the toilet. Locked the door behind him and turned on the tap. Let the water run over his hands as he regarded the smooth surface of molten sand reflecting the face of a person who to all outward appearances ought to be happy. He had to ring Ragnhild. Get it over with. Jon took a deep breath. He was happy. It was just that some days were harder than others.
He dried his face and went back to her.
The waiting room of Oslo's emergency services in Storgata 40 was bathed in harsh, white light. There was the usual human menagerie at this time of day. A trembling drug addict stood up and left twenty minutes after Harry arrived. As a rule they couldn't sit still for longer than ten. Harry could understand that. He still had the taste of whisky in his mouth; it had stirred up his old friends who heaved and tugged at the chains below. His leg hurt like hell. And the trip to the harbour had yielded – like 90 per cent of all police work – nothing. He promised himself he would keep the appointment with Bette Davis next time.
Harry looked up at the man in the white coat in front of him.
'Could you come with me?'
'Thank you, but I think it's her turn,' Harry said, nodding towards a girl with her head in her hands in the row of chairs opposite.
The man leaned forwards. 'It's the second time she's been here this evening. She'll survive.'
Harry limped down the corridor after the doctor's white coat and into a narrow surgery with a desk and a plain bookshelf. He saw no personal items.
'I thought you police had your own medicine men,' the coat said.
'Fat chance. Usually we don't even get priority in the queue. How do you know I'm a policeman?'
'Sorry. I'm Mathias. I was on my way through the waiting room and spotted you.'
The doctor smiled and reached out his hand. He had regular teeth, Harry saw. So regular you could have suspected him of wearing dentures, if the rest of his face had not been as symmetrical, clean and square. The eyes were blue with tiny laughter lines around them, and the handshake firm and dry. Straight out of a doctor novel, Harry thought. A doctor with warm hands.
'Mathias Lund-Helgesen,' the man enlarged, taking stock of Harry.
'I realise you think I should know who you are,' Harry said.
'We've met before. Last summer. At a garden party at Rakel's place.'
Harry went rigid at the sound of her name on someone else's lips.
'Is that right?'
'That was me,' Mathias Lund-Helgesen gabbled in a low voice.
'Mm.' Harry gave a slow nod. 'I'm bleeding.'
'I understand.' Lund-Helgesen's face wrapped itself in grave, sympathetic folds.
Harry rolled up his trouser leg. 'Here.'
'Aha.' Lund-Helgesen assumed a somewhat bemused smile. 'What is it?'
'A dog bite. Can you fix it?'
'Not a lot to fix. The bleeding will stop. I'll clean the wounds and put something on it.' He bent down. 'Three wounds, I can see, judging by the teeth marks. And you'd better have a tetanus jab.'
'It bit right through to the bone.'
'Yes, it often feels like that.'
'No, I mean, its teeth did go…'
Harry paused and exhaled through his nose. He had just realised that Mathias Lund-Helgesen thought he was drunk. And why shouldn't he? A policeman with a torn coat, a dog bite, a bad reputation and alcohol on his breath. Was that what he would say when he told Rakel that her ex had turned to drink again?
'… right through,' Harry finished.
Monday, 15 December. The Departure.
He sat up in bed with a start hearing the echo of his voice between the bare white hotel walls. The telephone on his bedside table rang. He snatched at the receiver.
'This is your wake-up call…'
'Hvala,' he thanked, although he knew it was only a recorded voice.
He was in Zagreb. He was going to Oslo today. To the most important job. The final one.
He closed his eyes. He had been dreaming again. Not about Paris, not about any of the other jobs; he never dreamt about them. It was always about Vukovar, always about the autumn, about the siege.
Last night he had dreamt about running. As usual he had been running in the rain and as usual it had been the same evening they sawed off his father's arm in the infants ward. Four hours later his father had died, even though the doctors had pronounced the operation a success. They said his heart had just stopped beating. And then he had run away from his mother, into the dark and the rain, down to the river with his father's gun in his hand, to the Serbian positions, and they had sent up flares and shot at him and he hadn't cared and he'd heard the smack of the bullets into the ground, which had disappeared beneath his feet and he had fallen into the huge bomb crater. The water had swallowed him up, swallowed all sound, and it was quiet and he had kept running under the water, but he got nowhere. As he'd felt his limbs stiffening and sleep numbing him, he had seen something red moving in all the blackness, like a bird beating its wings in slow motion. When he had come to he was wrapped in a woollen blanket and a naked light bulb was swinging to and fro as Serbian artillery pounded them, and small lumps of earth and plaster had fallen into his eyes and mouth. He spat, and someone had stooped down and told him that Bobo, the captain himself, had saved his life in the water-filled crater. And pointed to a bald man standing by the steps of the bunker. He had been wearing a uniform with a red cloth tied around his neck.
He opened his eyes again and looked at the thermometer he had put on the bedside table. The temperature in the room had not risen above sixteen degrees since November even though in reception they maintained that the heating was on full. He got up. He had to hurry; the airport bus would be outside the hotel in half an hour.
He stared into the mirror over the basin and tried to visualise Bobo's face. But it was like the northern lights; little by little it faded as he stared. The telephone rang again.
After shaving, he dried himself and dressed in haste. He took out one of the two metal boxes he kept in the safe and opened it. A Llama Minimax Sub Compact which could hold seven bullets – six in the magazine plus one in the chamber. He disassembled the weapon, and divided the parts into the four small, purpose-designed hideaways under the reinforced corners of the suitcase. If customs officers stopped him and checked his suitcase, the reinforced metal pieces would hide the gun parts. Before leaving, he checked he had his passport and the envelope with the ticket which she had given him, the photograph of the target and the information he needed for when and where. It was due to happen tomorrow night at seven in a public place. She had told him this job was riskier than the previous one. Nevertheless, he was not afraid. Now and then he wondered whether the ability to be afraid had been lost along with his father's amputated arm that night. Bobo had said you cannot survive for long if you are not frightened.
Outside, Zagreb had just woken up, snow-free, grey with mist, its face drawn and haggard. He stood in front of the hotel entrance thinking that in a few days' time they would be going to the Adriatic, a little place with a little hotel, off-peak prices and a bit of sun. And talking about the new house.
The bus to the airport should have been here by now. He peered into the mist. The way he did that autumn, crouching beside Bobo and trying in vain to see something behind the white smoke. His job had been to run messages they didn't dare send over the radio link, as the Serbs were tuned to the frequency and didn't miss a thing. And as he was so small, he could run through the trenches at full speed without having to duck. He had told Bobo he wanted to kill tanks. Bobo had shaken his head. 'You're a messenger. These messages are important, sonny. I've got men to take care of the tanks.'
'But they're frightened. I'm not frightened.'
Bobo had raised an eyebrow. 'You're only a nipper.'
'If bullets find me here rather than out there, I don't get any older. And you said yourself that if we don't stop the tanks, they'll take the town.'
Bobo had given him a searching look.
'Let me think about it,' he said in the end. So they had sat in silence scanning the white screen without being able to distinguish between autumn mist and smoke from the ruins of the burning town. Then Bobo had cleared his throat: 'Last night I sent Franjo and Mirko to the gap in the embankment where the tanks come out. The mission was to hide and attach mines to the tanks as they rolled past. You know how they got on?'
He had nodded again. He had seen the bodies of Franjo and Mirko through the binoculars.
'If they'd been smaller, they might have been able to hide in the hollows in the ground,' Bobo said.
The boy had wiped away the snot from under his nose with a hand. 'How do I fix the mines to the tanks?'
At the crack of dawn on the following day he had wriggled back to his own lines, shaking with cold and covered in mud. Behind him, on the embankment, lay two destroyed Serbian tanks with smoke belching out of the open hatches. Bobo had dragged him down into the trench and shouted in triumph: 'To us a little redeemer is born!'
And that same day, when Bobo had dictated the message to be radioed to HQ in the town, he was given the code name that would follow him until the Serbs occupied and razed his home town to ashes, killing Bobo, massacring doctors and patients at the hospital, imprisoning and torturing any who offered resistance. It was a bitter paradox of a name. Given to him by the one person he had not been able to save. Mali spasitelj. The little redeemer.
A red bus appeared from the sea of mist.
The meeting room in the red zone on the sixth floor buzzed with low conversations and muted laughter as Harry approached and saw that he had timed his arrival well. Too late to mingle, eat cake and exchange the jokes and jibes with colleagues that men resort to when they have to say goodbye to someone they appreciate. On time for the presents and the speeches laden with too many pompous words men feel emboldened to use when they are in front of an audience and not in private.
Harry took stock of the crowd and found the three faces he could rely on to be friendly. His departing boss Bjarne Moller. Police Officer Halvorsen. And Beate Lonn, the young head of Krimteknisk, the forensics department. He did not make eye contact with anyone and no one tried with him. Harry was under no illusions about his popularity in Crime Squad. Moller had once said there was only one thing people disliked more than a sullen alcoholic, and that was a tall, sullen alcoholic. Harry stood one metre and ninety-two centimetres of sullen alcoholic, and the fact that he was a brilliant detective mildly mitigated in his favour, but no more than that. Everyone knew that had it not been for Bjarne Moller's protective wing, Harry would have been off the force years ago. And now that Moller was going, everyone also knew that top brass were just waiting for him to step out of line. Paradoxically, what was protecting him now was the same thing that stamped him as an eternal outsider: the fact that he had brought down one of their own. The Prince. Tom Waaler, an inspector in Crime Squad, one of the men behind the extensive gun-running operation in Oslo for the last eight years. Tom Waaler had ended his days in a pool of blood in the basement of a residential tower block in Kampen. In a brief ceremony in the canteen three weeks later the Chief Superintendent had, through clenched teeth, acknowledged Harry's contribution to cleaning up their own ranks. And Harry had thanked him.
'Thank you,' he had said, running his eyes across the assembled officers to check if anyone's met his. In fact, he had meant to restrict his speech to these two words, but the sight of averted faces and sardonic smiles had whipped up a sudden fury in him, and he had added: 'I suppose this will make it a bit more difficult for someone to give me the boot now. The press might believe that the person in question is doing it out of fear that I will be after him as well.'
And then they had looked at him. In disbelief. He had continued nevertheless.
'No reason to gawp, guys. Tom Waaler was an inspector with us in Crime Squad and dependent on his position to do what he was doing. He called himself the Prince and, as you know,…' Here Harry had paused while his gaze moved from face to face, stopping at the Chief Superintendent's. 'Where there's a prince, there's usually a king.'
'Hello, old boy. Lost in thought?'
Harry looked up. It was Halvorsen.
'Thinking about kings,' Harry mumbled, taking the cup of coffee that the young detective passed him.
'Well, there's the new guy,' Halvorsen said, pointing.
By the table of presents there was a man in a blue suit talking to the Chief Superintendent and Bjarne Moller.
'Is that Gunnar Hagen?' Harry said with coffee in his mouth. 'The new PAS?'
'They're not a Politiavdelingssjef any more, Harry.'
'POB. Politioverbetjent. They changed the names of the ranks more than four months ago.'
'Is that so? I must have been sick that day. Are you still a police officer?'
The new POB seemed agile, and younger than the fifty-three years it said he was in the memo. More medium-tall than tall, Harry noticed. And lean. The network of defined muscles in his face, around the jaw and down his neck suggested an ascetic lifestyle. His mouth was straight and firm and his chin stuck out in a way you could either designate determined or protruding. The little hair Hagen had was black and formed half a wreath around his pate; however, it was so thick and compact you might be forgiven for thinking the new POB had a rather eccentric choice of hairstyle. At any rate the enormous, demonic eyebrows boded well for the growing conditions of his body hair.
'Straight from the military,' Harry said. 'Perhaps he'll introduce reveille.'
'He was supposed to have been a good copper before switching pastures.'
'Judging from what he wrote about himself in the memo, you mean?'
'Nice to hear you being so positive, Harry.'
'Me? I'm always keen to give new people a fair chance.'
'A being the operative word,' Beate said, joining them. She flicked her short blonde hair to the side. 'I thought I saw you limping as you came in, Harry?'
'Met an overexcited guard dog down at the container terminal last night.'
'What were you doing there?'
Harry studied Beate before answering. The job of head in Brynsalleen had been good for her. And it had been good for Krimteknisk, too. Beate had always been a competent professional, but Harry had to admit he hadn't seen obvious leadership qualities in the self-effacing, shy young girl when she went to the Robberies Unit after Police Training College.
'Wanted to have a look-see at the container where Per Holmen was found. Tell me, how did he get into the area?'
'Cut the lock with wire cutters. They were beside him. And you? How did you get in?'
'What else did you find?'
'Harry, there is no suggestion that this is-'
'I'm not saying there is. What else?'
'What do you think? Tools of the trade, a dose of heroin and a plastic bag containing tobacco. You know, they poke the tobacco out of the dog-ends they pick up. And not one krone, of course.'
'And the Beretta?'
'The serial number has been removed, but the file marks are familiar. A gun from the days of the Prince.'
Harry had noticed that Beate refused to let the name of Tom Waaler pass her lips.
'Mm. Has the result for the blood sample arrived?'
'Yep,' she said. 'Surprisingly clean, hadn't shot up recently anyway. So conscious and capable of killing himself. Why do you ask?'
'I had the pleasure of communicating the news to the parents.'
'Ooooh,' Lonn and Halvorsen said in unison. It was happening more and more often even though they had been together for just two years.
The Chief Superintendent coughed and the gathering turned towards the table of presents and the chatter subsided.
'Bjarne has requested permission to say a word or two,' the Chief Superintendent said, rocking on his heels and pausing for effect. 'And permission was granted.'
Chuckles all round. Harry noticed Bjarne Moller's tentative smile to his superior officer.
'Thank you, Torleif. And thank you and the Chief Constable for my farewell present. And a special thank-you to all of you for the wonderful picture you have given me.'
He pointed to the table.
'Everyone?' Harry whispered to Beate.
'Yes. Skarre and a couple of others collected the money.'
'I didn't hear anything about that.'
'They might have forgotten to ask you.'
'Now I'll distribute a few presents of my own,' Moller said. 'From the deceased's estate, so to speak. First of all, there is this magnifying glass.'
He held it up in front of his face and the others laughed at the ex- PAS's distorted features.
'This goes to a girl who is every bit as good a detective and police officer as her father was. Who never takes the credit for her work, but prefers to let us shine in Crime Squad. As you know, she has been the subject of research by brain specialists as she is blessed with the very rare fusiform gyrus, which allows her to remember every single face she has seen.'
Harry saw Beate blush. She didn't like the attention, least of all concerning this exceptional gift that meant she was still being used to identify grainy images of ex-cons on bank-raid videos.
'I hope,' Moller said, 'that you won't forget this face even though you won't see it for a while. And if you have cause to doubt, you can use this.'
Halvorsen nudged Beate in the back. When Moller gave her a hug as well as the magnifying glass and the audience applauded, even her forehead went a fiery red.
'The next heirloom is my office chair,' Bjarne said. 'You see, I found out that my successor Gunnar Hagen has put in for a new one in black leather with a high back and other features.'
Moller sent a smile to Hagen, who did not return it, but gave a brief nod.
'The chair goes to an officer from Steinkjer who ever since he came here has been banished to an office with the biggest troublemaker in the building. And forced to sit on a defective chair. Junior, I think it's time.'
'Yippee,' Halvorsen said.
Everyone turned and laughed, and Halvorsen laughed in return.
'And, to conclude, a technical aid for someone who is very special to me. He has been my best investigator and my worst nightmare. To the man who always follows his nose, his own agenda and – unhappily for those of us who try to get you to turn up on time for morning meetings – his own watch.' Moller took a wristwatch from his jacket pocket. 'I hope this will make you work in the same time frame as the others do. Anyway, I have more or less set it to Crime Squad clocks. And, well, there was a lot between the lines there, Harry.'
Scattered applause as Harry went forward to receive the watch with a plain black leather strap. The brand was unfamiliar to him.
'Thanks,' Harry said.
The two tall men embraced.
'I put it two minutes fast so that you're in time for what you thought you would miss,' Moller whispered. 'No more warnings. Do what you have to.'
'Thanks,' Harry repeated, thinking Moller was holding him for a bit too long. He reminded himself he had to leave the present he had brought with him from home. Fortunately he had never got round to ripping off the plastic cover of All About Eve.
Monday, 15 December. The Lighthouse.
Jone found Robert in the backyard of Fretex, the Salvation Army shop in Kirkeveien.
He was leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed watching the guys carrying the bin bags from the lorry into the storeroom in the shop. They were blowing white speech bubbles which they filled with swear words in a variety of dialects and languages.
'Good catch?' Jon asked.
Robert shrugged. 'People happily give away their whole summer wardrobe so that they can buy new clothes next year. But it's winter clothes we need now.'
'Your boys use colourful language. Paragraph twelve types – doing social work instead of prison?'
'I counted up yesterday. We've now got twice as many volunteers doing a stretch as we have people who have turned to Jesus.'
Jon smiled. 'Untilled fields for missionaries. Just a question of getting started.'
Robert called one of the boys, who threw him a pack of cigarettes. Robert put a coffin nail between his lips, no filter.
'Take it out,' Jon said. 'Soldier's vows. You could be dismissed.'
'I wasn't thinking of lighting it, bruv. What do you want?'
Jon shrugged. 'A chat.'
Jon chuckled. 'It's quite normal for brothers to have a chat now and then.'
Robert nodded and picked flakes of tobacco off his tongue. 'When you say chat, you usually mean you're going to tell me how to lead my life.'
'What is it then?'
'Nothing! I was wondering how you were.'
Robert took out the cigarette and spat in the snow. Then he peered up into the high, white cloud cover.
'I'm bloody sick of this job. I'm bloody sick of the flat. I'm bloody sick of the shrivelled-up, hypocritical sergeant major running the show here. If she weren't so ugly I would…' Robert grinned, '… fuck the old prune face stupid.'
'I'm freezing,' Jon said. 'Can we go in?'
Robert walked ahead into the tiny office and sat on a chair squeezed between a cluttered desk, a narrow window with a view of the backyard and a red-and-yellow flag with the Salvation Army's motto and emblem 'Fire and Blood'. Jon lifted a heap of papers, some yellowing with age, off a wooden chair he knew Robert had pinched from the Majorstuen Corps' room next door.
'She says you're a malingerer,' Jon said.
'Sergeant Major Rue.' Jon grimaced. 'Prune face.'
'So she rang you. Is that how it is?' Robert poked around in the desk with his pocket knife, then burst out: 'Oh, yes, I forgot. You're the new admin boss, the boss of the whole shebang.'
'No decision has been made yet. It might well be Rikard.'
'Whatever.' Robert carved two semicircles in the desk to form a heart. 'You've said what you came to say. Before you bugger off, can I have the five hundred for your shift tomorrow?'
Jon took the money from his wallet and laid it on the desk in front of his brother. Robert stroked the blade of the knife against his chin. The black bristles rasped. 'And I'll remind you of one more thing.'
Jon knew what was coming and swallowed. 'And what's that?'
Over Robert's shoulder he could see it had begun to snow, but the rising heat from the houses around the backyard made the flimsy white flakes stand still in the air outside the window, as though listening.
Robert placed the point of the knife in the centre of the heart. 'If I find you even once in the vicinity of you know who…' He put his hand around the shaft of the knife and leaned forward. His body weight forced the blade into the dry wood with a crunch. 'I'll destroy you, Jon. I swear I will.'
'Am I disturbing?' came a voice from the door.
'Not at all, fru Rue,' Robert said, as sweet as pie. 'My brother was just about to leave.'
The Chief Superintendent and the new POB, Gunnar Hagen, stopped talking when Bjarne Moller came into his office. Which of course was no longer his.
'Well, do you like the view?' Moller asked in what he hoped was a cheery tone. And added: 'Gunnar.' The name felt strange on his tongue.
'Mm, Oslo is always a sad sight in December,' Gunnar Hagen said. 'But we'll have to see whether we can sort that out, too.'
Moller felt an urge to ask what he meant by 'too', but stopped when he saw the Chief Superintendent give a nod of approval.
'I was giving Gunnar the low-down on the people around here. In all confidence, you understand.'
'Ah, yes, you two know each other from before.'
'Yes indeed,' said the Chief Superintendent. 'Gunnar and I have known each other ever since we were cadets at what used to be called Police School.'
'It said in the memo that you do the Birkebeiner race every year,' Moller said, turning to Gunnar Hagen. 'Did you know that the Chief Superintendent does, too?'
'Oh, yes, indeed.' Hagen looked over at the Chief Superintendent with a smile. 'Sometimes Torleif and I go together. And try to outdo each other in the final spurt.'
'Well, I never,' Moller said, amused. 'So if the Chief had been on the appointment board, he could have been accused of cronyism.'
The Chief Superintendent gave a dry chuckle and Bjarne Moller an admonitory glance.
'I was telling Gunnar about the man you so generously presented with a watch.'
'Yes,' Gunnar Hagen said. 'I know he's the man who killed an inspector in connection with that tedious smuggling business. Tore the man's arm off in a lift, I heard. And now he's also under suspicion of leaking the case to the press. Not good.'
'First of all, the "tedious smuggling business" was a gang of pros, with offshoots in the police, who flooded Oslo with cheap handguns for years,' Bjarne Moller said, trying in vain to keep the irritation out of his voice. 'A case which Hole, despite the resistance here in HQ, solved unaided thanks to many years of painstaking police work. Secondly, he killed Waaler in self-defence and it was the lift that tore off his arm. And, thirdly, we have no evidence whatsoever regarding who leaked what.'
Gunnar Hagen and the Chief Superintendent exchanged glances.
'Be that as it may,' the Chief Superintendent said, 'he's someone you'll have to keep an eye on, Gunnar. From what I gather his girlfriend left him of late. And we know that men with Harry's bad habits are extra susceptible to relapses. Which, of course, we cannot accept, however many cases he's solved in this unit.'
'I'll keep him in line,' Hagen said.
'He's an inspector,' Moller said, closing his eyes. 'Not rank and file. Not very keen on being kept in line, either.'
Gunnar Hagen nodded slowly as his hand went up through his thick wreath of hair.
'When is it you begin in Bergen…' Hagen lowered his hand, 'Bjarne?'
Moller guessed his name sounded just as strange on the other man's tongue.
Harry wandered down Urtegata and could see by the footwear of the people he met that he was getting close to the Lighthouse. The guys in the Narco Unit used to say that no one did more for the identification of addicts than the Army amp; Navy surplus stores. Because sooner or later military footwear ended up on junkies' feet via the Salvation Army. In the summer it was blue trainers; in the winter, like now, the junkie's uniform was black military boots together with a green plastic bag containing a Salvation Army packed lunch.
Harry swung through the door with a nod to the guard wearing the Salvation Army hoody.
'Anything?' the guard asked.
Harry patted his pockets. 'Nothing.'
A sign on the wall said all alcohol had to be handed in at the door and taken away when leaving. Harry knew they had given up on drugs and the equipment. No junkie would hand that in.
Harry entered, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat on the bench by the wall. Fyrlyset, the Lighthouse, was the Army's cafe, the new millennium's version of the soup kitchen where the needy were given free snacks and coffee. A cosy, well-lit room where the only difference between this and the usual cappuccino bar was the clientele. Ninety per cent of drug users were male. They ate slices of white bread with Norwegian brown or white cheese, read the newspapers and had quiet conversations round the tables. It was a free zone, a chance to thaw out and have a breather from the search for the day's fix. Although undercover police dropped by now and again, there was a tacit agreement that no arrests would be made inside.
A man sitting next to Harry had frozen into a deep bow. His head hung down over the table and in front of him black fingers held a cigarette paper. There were a few emptied dog-ends scattered around.
Harry noticed the uniformed back of a mini-woman changing burnt-down candles on a table with four picture frames. Inside three of them were individual photographs; inside the fourth a cross and a name on a white background. Harry stood up and walked over.
'What are they?' he asked.
Perhaps it was the slim neck or the grace of the movement, or the smooth, raven-black, almost unnatural, shiny hair that made Harry think of a cat even before she had turned round. The impression was reinforced by the small face with the disproportionately broad mouth and the pertest of noses possible, like those the characters in Harry's Japanese comics had. But, more than anything else, it was the eyes. He couldn't put his finger on why, but something about them was not right.
'November,' she answered.
She had a calm, deep, gentle alto voice that made Harry wonder if it was natural or a way of speaking she had acquired. He had known women who did that, who changed their voices the way they changed clothes. One voice for home use; one for first impressions and social occasions; and one for night-time intimacies.
'What do you mean?' Harry asked.
'Our November crop of deaths.'
Harry looked at the photos and he realised what she meant.
'Four?' he said in a low voice. In front of the pictures was a letter written with an unsteady hand in pencilled capitals.
'On average one customer dies a week. Four is not out of the ordinary. Our remembrance day is on the first Wednesday of every month. Is there anyone you…?'
Harry shook his head. 'My dearest Geir,' the letter began. No flowers.
'Is there anything I can help you with?' she asked.
It struck Harry that she may not have had any other voices in her repertoire, just this deep, warm tone.
'Per Holmen…' Harry started, not knowing quite how to finish.
'Poor Per, yes. We'll have a remembrance day for him in January.
Harry nodded. 'First Wednesday.'
'That's it. And you're very welcome to come, brother.'
This 'brother' was enunciated with such unforced ease, like an underplayed and hence almost unarticulated appendix to the sentence. For a moment Harry almost believed her.
'I'm a detective,' Harry said.
The difference in height between them was so great that she had to crane her neck to see him clearly.
'I've seen you before, I think, but it must be years ago.'
Harry nodded. 'Maybe. I've been here once or twice, but I haven't seen you.'
'I'm part-time here. Otherwise I'm at the Salvation Army headquarters. And you work in the drugs division?'
Harry shook his head. 'Murder investigations.'
'Murder. But Per wasn't murdered…?'
'Can we sit down for a moment?'
She hesitated and looked round.
'Busy?' Harry asked.
'Not at all, it's unusually quiet. On a normal day we serve 1,800 slices of bread. But today's dole day.'
She called one of the boys behind the counter, who agreed to take over. Harry caught her name at the same time. Martine. The head of the man with the empty cigarette paper had been ratcheted down a few more notches.
'There are a couple of things that don't check out,' Harry said after sitting down. 'What sort of person was he?'
'Hard to say,' she said. Harry's quizzical expression produced a sigh. 'When you've been on drugs for so many years, like Per, the brain is so destroyed that it's hard to see a personality. The urge to get high is all-pervasive.'
'I know that, but I mean… to people who knew him well…'
'Can't help, I'm afraid. You can ask Per's father how much of his son's personality was left. He came down here a couple of times to collect him. In the end, he gave up. He said Per had started to threaten them at home, because they locked away all their valuables when he was around. He asked me to keep an eye on the boy. I said we would do our best, but we couldn't promise miracles. And we didn't of course…'
Harry observed her. Her face expressed nothing more than the usual social worker's resignation.
'It must be hell,' Harry said, scratching his leg.
'Yes, you have to be an addict yourself to understand it.'
'To be a parent, I was thinking.'
Martine didn't answer. A man in a torn quilted jacket had come to the neighbouring table. He opened a transparent plastic bag and emptied out a pile of dry tobacco that must have come from hundreds of fag ends. It covered the cigarette paper and the black fingers of the man sitting there.
'Happy Christmas,' the man mumbled and departed with the junkie's old-man gait.
'What doesn't check out?' Martine asked.
'The blood specimen shows almost no toxins,' Harry said.
Harry looked at the man next to him. He was desperately trying to roll a cigarette, but his fingers would not obey. A tear ran down his brown cheek.
'I know a couple of things about getting high,' Harry said. 'Do you know if he owed money to anyone?'
'No.' Her answer was curt. So much so that Harry already knew the answer to his next question.
'But you could maybe-'
'No,' she interrupted, 'I cannot make enquiries. Listen, these are people no one cares about, and I am here to help them, not to persecute them.'
Harry gave her a searching look. 'You're right. I apologise for asking and it won't happen again.'
'Just one last question?'
'Would you…' Harry hesitated, wondering if he was about to commit a blunder. 'Would you believe me if I said I did care?'
She angled her head and studied Harry. 'Should I?'
'Well, I'm investigating a case everyone thinks is the cut-and-dried suicide of a person no one cared about.'
She didn't answer.
'It's good coffee.' Harry got up.
'You're welcome,' she said. 'And may God bless you.'
'Thank you,' Harry said, feeling, to his surprise, the lobes of his ears flush.
On his way out he stopped in front of the guard and turned, but she had gone. The man in the hoody offered Harry the green plastic bag with the packed lunch, but he turned it down, pulled his coat tighter around him and went out into the streets where he could already see the sun making its blushing retreat into Oslo fjord. He walked towards the Akerselva. In the area known as Eika a man was standing erect in a snowdrift with the sleeve of a quilted jacket rolled up and a needle hanging from his forearm. He smiled as he looked straight through Harry and the frosty mist over Gronland.
Monday, 15 December. Halvorsen.
Pernille Holmen seemed even smaller sitting in her armchair in Fredensborgveien with large, red-rimmed eyes staring at Harry. In her lap she held a glass-framed photograph of her son Per.
'He was nine here,' she said.
Harry had to swallow. Partly because no smiling nine-year-old in a life jacket looks as if they imagined they would end up in a container with a bullet through their head. And partly because the photo reminded him of Oleg, who could forget himself and call Harry 'Pappa'. Harry wondered how long it would take him to call Mathias Lund-Helgesen 'Pappa'.
'Birger, my husband, used to go out in search of Per if he had been missing for a few days,' she said. 'Even though I asked him to stop. I couldn't stand having Per here any longer.'
Harry repressed his thought, Why not?
Birger Holmen was at the undertaker's, she had explained, when Harry called by unannounced.
She sniffled. 'Have you ever shared a house with someone who has an addiction?'
Harry didn't answer.
'He stole everything that came to hand. We accepted it. That is, Birger, accepted it. He's the loving one of us two.' She pulled her face into a grimace, which Harry interpreted as a smile.
'He defended Per in everything. Right up to this autumn. Until Per threatened me.'
'Yes, threatened to kill me.' She looked down at the photo and rubbed the glass as though it had become unclear. 'Per rang the bell one morning and I refused to let him in. I was on my own. He wept and begged, but we had played that game before, so I was hard. I went back into the kitchen and sat down. I don't know how he got in, but all of a sudden there he was – standing in front of me with a gun.'
'The same gun he…'
'Yes. Yes, I think so.'
'He forced me to unlock the cupboard where I kept my jewellery. That is, the little I had left. He had already taken most of it. Then he was off.'
'Me? I had a breakdown. Birger came and took me to hospital.' She sniffled. 'Where they wouldn't even give me any more pills. They said I'd had enough.'
'What kind of pills were they?'
'What do you think? Tranquillisers. Enough! When you have a son who keeps you awake at night because you're frightened he'll return. ..' She paused and pressed a clenched fist against her mouth. Tears were in her eyes. Then she whispered in such a low voice that Harry struggled to catch the words: 'Sometimes you don't want to live any longer…'
Harry cast his eyes down to his notepad. It was blank.
'Thank you,' he said.
'One night, sir. Is that correct?' asked the female receptionist in Scandia Hotel by Oslo Central Station, without looking up from the reservation on the computer screen.
'Yes,' the man before her answered.
She had made a mental note that he was wearing a light brown coat. Camel hair. Or imitation.
Her long, red nails scurried across the keyboard like frightened cockroaches. Imitation camels in wintry Norway. Why not? She had seen pictures of camels in Afghanistan, and her boyfriend had written that it could be just as cold there as here.
'Will you be paying by cash or credit card, sir?'
She pushed the registration form and a pen over the counter to him and asked to see his passport.
'No need,' he answered. 'I'll pay now.'
He spoke English almost like a Brit, but there was something about the way he articulated consonants that made her think of Eastern Europe.
'I still have to see your passport, sir. International regulations.'
He nodded in acknowledgement, passed her a smooth thousand-kroner note and his passport. Republika Hrvatska? Probably one of the new countries in the East. She gave him his change, put the note in the cash box and reminded herself to check it against the light when the hotel guest had gone. She endeavoured to maintain a certain style, although she had to concede that for the moment she was working at one of the city's less sophisticated hotels. And this particular guest did not look like a swindler, more like a… well, what did he look like in fact? She gave him the plastic card and the spiel about floor, lift, breakfast and checkout times.
'Will there be anything else, sir?' she warbled, confident that her English and service attitude were too good for this hotel. Before very long she would move to somewhere better. Or – if that was not possible – trim her approach.
He cleared his throat and asked where the nearest telephone booth was.
She explained that he could ring from his room, but he shook his head.
She had to think. The mobile phone had in practice meant that most phone boxes in Oslo had been removed, but she thought there was still one close by, in Jernbanetorget, the square outside the station. Although it was only a hundred metres away, she took out a little map, marked it and gave him directions. As they did in the Radisson and Choice hotels. Peering up to see whether he had understood, she was confused for a moment, without quite knowing why.
'It's us against the rest of the world, Halvorsen!'
Harry shouted his regular morning greeting as he burst into their shared office.
'Two messages,' Halvorsen said. 'You've got to report to the new POB's office. And a woman rang asking for you. Stunning voice.'
'Oh?' Harry slung his coat in the direction of the hatstand. It landed on the floor.
'Wow,' Halvorsen exclaimed without thinking. 'At last you've got over it, haven't you?'
'I beg your pardon?'
'You're chucking clothes at the hatstand again. And saying, "It's us against the rest of the world!" You haven't done either since Rakel dumped-'
Halvorsen shut up as he saw his colleague's warning expression.
'What did the lady want?'
'To pass on a message. Her name is…' Halvorsen searched through the yellow Post-its in front of him. '… Martine Eckhoff.'
'Don't know her.'
'Works at the Lighthouse.'
'She said she'd been making enquiries. And that no one had heard anything about Per Holmen having any debts.'
'Did she now? Mm. Perhaps I ought to ring and check if there was anything else.'
'Oh? OK. Fine.'
'Alright? Why are you looking so cheated?' Harry bent down for his coat, but instead of hanging it up, he put it on. 'Do you know what, Junior? I have to go out again.'
'But the POB-'
'-will have to wait.'
The gate to the container terminal was open, but there was a sign on the fence prohibiting access and directing vehicles to the car park outside. Harry scratched his bad leg, glanced at the long, open expanse between the containers and drove in. The watchman's office was a low building much like a Moelven workman's shed that had been extended at regular intervals over the last thirty years. Which was not that far from the truth. Harry parked in front of the entrance and covered the remaining metres at a quick walk.
The watchman leaned back in his chair, silent, his hands behind his head, chewing on a matchstick, while Harry explained why he was there. And what had happened the night before.
The matchstick was the only thing moving in the watchman's face, but Harry thought he detected the hint of a grin as he told him about the altercation with the dog.
'Black Metzner,' the watchman said. 'The cousin of the Rhodesian ridgeback. Lucky to get it imported. Great guard dog. And quiet, too.'
The matchstick jumped in amusement. 'The Metzner is a hunter, so it sneaks up. Doesn't want to frighten the prey.'
'Are you saying the animal intended to… er, eat me?'
'Depends what you mean by eat.'
The watchman did not go into any details, just stared at Harry with a blank expression. The interwoven hands framed the whole of his head, and Harry was thinking that either he had unusually big hands or an unusually small head.
'So you didn't see or hear anyone at the time we are assuming Per Holmen was shot?'
'Shot himself. Anything?'
'Guard stays indoors in the winter. And the Metzner is quiet, as I said.'
'Isn't that impractical? That it doesn't raise an alarm, I mean?'
The watchman shrugged. 'It gets the job done. And we don't have to go out.'
'It didn't catch Per Holmen when he slipped in.'
'It's a big area.'
'The body, you mean? Bah. That was frozen, wasn't it? And the Metzner's not so keen on dead things. It likes fresh meat.'
Harry shuddered. 'In the police report it says you'd never seen Holmen down here before.'
'That's right enough.'
'I've just been to see his mother and she lent me this family photo.'
Harry put the picture on the watchman's desk. 'Could you have a look and swear to me that you have never seen this person before?'
The watchman lowered his gaze. Rolled the matchstick to the corner of his mouth to answer, then paused. The hands moved from behind his head and he picked up the photo. Studied it at length.
'I made a mistake. I have seen him. He was here in the summer. It wasn't so easy to recognise the… what was in the container.'
'I can appreciate that.'
When Harry stood in the doorway to leave a few minutes later, he opened the door a crack at first and checked. The watchman grinned.
'It's locked up during the day. And anyway, a Metzner's teeth are narrow. The wound heals fast. I've been thinking about buying a Kentucky terrier. Jagged teeth. Bite chunks out of you. You were lucky, Inspector.'
'Well,' Harry said, 'you'd better warn Fido that a lady is on her way and she'll give him something else to bite.'
'What?' Halvorsen asked, carefully manoeuvring the car past a snowplough.
'Something soft,' Harry said. 'Kind of clay. Afterwards Beate and her team will put the clay in plaster, let it set and, bingo, you've got a model of a dog's jaw.'
'Right. And that's supposed to prove that Per Holmen was murdered?'
'I thought you said-'
'I said that's what I need to prove that it was murder. The missing link in the chain of evidence.'
'I see. And what are the other links?'
'The usual. Motive, murder weapon and opportunity. Turn right here.'
'I don't know. You said your suspicions were based on Holmen using wire cutters to break into the container terminal?'
'I said that was what made me wonder. To be precise, I wondered how a heroin addict so out of his skull that he has to look for refuge in a container would be alert enough to make sure he had wire cutters to get through the gate. Then I had a closer look at the case. You can park here.'
'What I don't understand is how you can claim that you know who the guilty party is.'
'Work it out, Halvorsen. It's not difficult, and you have all the facts.'
'I hate it when you do this.'
'I only want you to be good.'
Halvorsen cast a glance at his older colleague to see if he was joking. They got out of the car.
'Aren't you going to lock up?' Harry asked.
'The lock froze last night. The key broke in it this morning. How long have you known who the guilty person is?'
They crossed the street.
'Knowing who is in most cases the easy bit. It's the obvious candidate. The husband. The best friend. The guy with a record. And never the butler. That's not the problem; the problem is proving what your head and your gut have been telling you for ages.' Harry pressed the bell beside 'Holmen'. 'And that's what we're going to do now. Find the little piece that changes apparently unconnected information into a perfect chain of evidence.'
A voice crackled 'Ja' over the speaker.
'Police here, Harry Hole. Can we…?'
The lock buzzed.
'It's all a question of moving fast,' Harry said. 'Most murder cases are solved in the first twenty-four hours or not at all.'
'Thanks. I've heard that one before,' Halvorsen said.
Birger Holmen stood waiting for them at the top of the stairs.
'Come in,' he said and led them into the living room. A bare Christmas tree stood by the door to the French balcony, waiting to be decorated.
'My wife is sleeping,' he said before Harry could ask.
'We'll whisper,' Harry said.
Birger Holmen gave a sad smile. 'She won't wake up.'
Halvorsen sent Harry a quick glance.
'Mm,' the inspector said. 'Taken a tranquilliser perhaps?'
Birger Holmen nodded. 'The funeral's tomorrow.'
'Yes, of course, that's a strain. Well, thank you for lending me this.' Harry put a photograph on the table. It was of Per Holmen sitting with his mother and father standing on either side. Protected. Or, depending on how you saw it, surrounded. A silence ensued as no one said a word. Birger Holmen scratched his forearm through his shirt. Halvorsen wriggled forward in his chair, then moved back.
'Do you know much about drug addiction, herr Holmen?' Harry asked without looking up.
Birger Holmen frowned. 'My wife has taken one sleeping pill. That doesn't mean-'
'I'm not talking about your wife. You may be able to save her. I'm talking about your son.'
'Depends what you mean by know. He was hooked on heroin. It made him unhappy.' He was going to say something else, but paused. He examined the picture on the table. 'It made us all unhappy.'
'I don't doubt that. But if you had known anything about drug addiction, you would have known that it takes precedence over everything else.'
Birger Holmen's voice at once trembled with indignation. 'Are you saying I don't know that, Inspector? Are you saying… my wife was
… he…' But tears had crept into his voice. '… his own mother…'
'I know,' Harry whispered. 'But drugs come before mothers. Before fathers. Before life.' Harry breathed in. 'And before death.'
'I'm exhausted, Inspector. What do you want?'
'Tests show there were no drugs in his blood when he died. So he was in a bad state. And when heroin addicts are like this, the need for redemption is so strong that you can threaten your own mother with a gun to get it. And redemption is not a shot in the head, but in the arm, the neck, the groin or any other place you can still find a fresh vein. Your son was found with his kit and a bag of heroin in his pocket, herr Holmen. He can't have shot himself. Drugs take precedence, as I said, over everything. Also-'
'Death.' Birger Holmen still had his head in his hands, but his voice was quite distinct. 'So you think my son was killed? Why?'
'I was hoping you could tell us.'
Birger Holmen did not answer.
'Was it because he threatened her?' Harry asked. 'Was it to give your wife peace of mind?'
Holmen raised his head. 'What are you talking about?'
'My guess is you hung around Plata waiting. And when he turned up, you followed him after he had bought his fix. You took him down to the container terminal, as he sometimes went there when he had nowhere else.'
'How am I supposed to know that?! This is outrageous. I-'
'Of course you knew. I showed this photo to the watchman, who recognised the person I was asking about.'
'No, you. You were there this summer asking if you could search the containers for your son.'
Holmen stared at Harry, who went on:
'You had it all planned. Wire cutters to get in and an empty container, which was an appropriate place for a drug addict to end his life, where no one could hear or see you shoot him. With the gun you knew Per's mother could testify was his.'
Halvorsen studied Birger Holmen and held himself in readiness, but Holmen showed no signs of making any kind of move. He breathed heavily through his nose and scratched his forearm while staring into space.
'You can't prove any of this.' He said this in a resigned tone, as if it were a fact he regretted.
Harry made a conciliatory gesture. In the ensuing silence they could hear loud barking from down in the street.
'It won't stop itching, will it,' Harry said.
Holmen stopped scratching at once.
'Can we see what itches so much?'
'We can do it here or down at the station. Your choice, herr Holmen.'
The barking increased in intensity. A dog sled, here, in the middle of the city? Halvorsen had a feeling there was going to be an explosion.
'Fine,' Holmen whispered, unbuttoning the cuff and pushing up his sleeve.
There were two small sores with scabs on. The skin around them was red and inflamed.
'Turn your arm round,' Harry ordered.
Holmen had a matching sore underneath.
'They itch like hell, dog bites, don't they,' Harry said. 'Especially after ten to fourteen days when they begin to heal. A doctor down at A amp;E told me that I had to try and stop scratching. You should have done that too, herr Holmen.'
Holmen gazed at his sores without seeing them. 'Should I?'
'The skin is punctured in three places. We can prove that a particular dog down at the container terminal bit you – we have a model of its jaw. Hope you managed to defend yourself.'
Holmen shook his head. 'I didn't want… I just wanted her to feel free.'
The barking in the street came to a sudden end.
'Are you going to confess?' Harry asked, signalling to Halvorsen, who thrust a hand into his inside pocket. Without finding pen or paper. Harry rolled his eyes and gave him his own notepad.
'He said he was so low,' Holmen said, 'that he couldn't go on. That now he really wanted to give up. So I searched around and found him a room in the Salvation Army Hostel. A bed and three meals a day for twelve hundred kroner a month. And he was promised a place on the methadone project. There was just a couple of months to wait. But then I heard nothing from him, and when I rang the Hostel, they said he had absconded without paying the rent, and… well, then he turned up here again. With the gun.'
'And you decided there and then?'
'He was a goner. I had already lost my son. And I couldn't let him take her with him.'
'How did you find him?'
'Not in Plata. He was down in Eika and I said I would buy the gun off him. He was carrying it and showed it to me. Wanted the money on the spot. But I said I didn't have enough money. He should meet me at the gate at the back of the container terminal the next evening. You know, in fact I'm glad you have… I…'
'How much?' Harry interrupted.
'How much did you have to pay?'
'Fifteen thousand kroner.'
'He came. It turned out he didn't have any ammunition for the weapon. Never did have, he said.'
'But you must have had an inkling that would be the case, and it's a standard calibre, so you bought some?'
'Did you pay him first?'
'You have to understand it wasn't only Pernille and I who suffered.
For Per every day was a prolongation of his suffering. My son was a dead person waiting for… for someone to stop his heart that would not stop beating. A… a…'
'Yes, that's it. A redeemer.'
'But that's not your job, herr Holmen.'
'No, it's God's job.' Holmen bowed his head and mumbled something.
'What?' asked Harry.
Holmen raised his head, but his eyes were staring into empty space. 'If God doesn't do His job, though, someone else has to do it.'
On the street, a brown dusk had descended around the yellow lights. Even in the middle of the Oslo night the darkness was never total when snow had fallen. Noises were wrapped in cotton wool and the creaking of snow underfoot sounded like distant fireworks.
'Why don't we take him with us?' Halvorsen asked.
'He's not going anywhere. He has something to tell his wife. We'll send a car in a couple of hours.'
'Bit of an actor, isn't he?'
'Well, wasn't he sobbing his guts out when you brought him the news of his son's death?'
Harry shook his head in resignation. 'You've got a lot to learn, Junior.'
Annoyed, Halvorsen kicked at the snow. 'Enlighten me, O Wise One.'
'Committing a murder is such an extreme act that many repress it. They can walk around with it like a kind of half-forgotten nightmare. I have seen that several times now. It's when others say it out loud that they realise it is not only something that exists in their head. It did happen.'
'Right. A cold fish, anyway.'
'Didn't you see the man was crushed? Pernille Holmen was probably right when she said that her husband was the loving one.'
'Loving? A murderer?' Halvorsen's voice quivered with indignation.
Harry laid a hand on the detective's shoulder. 'Think about it. Isn't it the ultimate act of love? Sacrificing your only son?'
'I know what you're thinking, Halvorsen. But you'll just have to get used to the idea. This is the type of moral paradox that will fill your days.'
Halvorsen pulled at the unlocked car door, but it was frozen fast. In a sudden bout of fury he heaved and it came away from the rubber with a ripping noise.
They got in, and Harry watched as Halvorsen twisted the ignition key and pinched his forehead hard with the other hand. The engine roared into life.
'Halvorsen…' Harry started.
'Anyway, the case is solved and the POB is bound to be happy,' Halvorsen shouted, pulling out in front of a lorry with its horn blaring. He held up an outstretched finger to the mirror. 'So let's smile and celebrate a bit, shall we?' He lowered his hand and continued to pinch at his forehead.
'What's up?' he barked.
'Park the car.'
Halvorsen pulled into the kerb, let go of the steering wheel and focused ahead through vacant eyes. In the time they had been with Holmen, the ice flowers had crept up the windscreen like a sudden attack of fungus. Halvorsen wheezed as his chest rose and fell.
'Some days this is a shit job,' Harry said. 'Don't let it get to you.'
'No,' Halvorsen said, breathing even harder.
'You are you, and they are them.'
Harry placed a hand on Halvorsen's back and waited. After a while he felt his colleague's breathing calm down.
'Tough guy,' Harry said.
Neither of them spoke as the car crawled its way through the afternoon traffic towards Gronland.
Monday, 15 December. Anonymity.
He stood at the highest point of Oslo's busiest pedestrian street, named after the Swedish-Norwegian king, Karl Johan. He had memorised the map he had been given at the hotel and knew the building he saw in silhouette to the west was the Royal Palace and that Oslo Central Station was at the eastern end.
High up a house wall the sub-zero temperature shone out in red neon, and even the slightest current of air felt like an ice age penetrating his camel-hair coat which, until then, he had been very happy with; he had bought it in London for a song.
The clock beside the temperature gauge showed 19.00. He started walking east. The omens were good. It was dark, there were lots of people about and the only surveillance cameras he saw were outside banks and directed at their respective cash machines. He had already excluded the underground for his getaway because of the combination of too many cameras and too few people. Oslo was smaller than he had imagined.
He went into a clothes shop where he found a blue woollen hat for 49 kroner and a woollen jacket for 200, but changed his mind when he saw a thin raincoat for 120. While he was trying on the raincoat in a changing cubicle he discovered that the urinal blocks from Paris were still in his suit jacket pocket, crushed and ground into the material.
The restaurant was several hundred metres down the pedestrian zone, on the left-hand side. He registered at once that there was no cloakroom attendant. Good, that made things easier. He entered the dining area. Half full. Good sight lines; he could see all the tables from where he stood. A waiter came over and he reserved a window table for six o'clock the following day.
Before leaving, he checked the toilet. There were no windows. So the only other exit was through the kitchen. OK, nowhere was perfect, and it was very improbable that he would need an alternative way out.
He left the restaurant, looked at his watch and started to walk towards the station. People avoided eye contact. A small town, but it still had the cool aloofness of a capital city. Good.
He checked his watch again as he stood on the platform for the express train to the airport. Six minutes from the restaurant. Trains left every ten minutes and took nineteen. In other words, he could be on the train at 19.20 and in the airport by 19.40. The direct flight to Zagreb left at 21.10 and the ticket was in his pocket. Bought on special offer from SAS.
Satisfied, he walked out of the new rail terminal, down a staircase, under a glass roof which had obviously been the old departure hall, but where there were now shops, and out into the open square. Jernbanetorget, as it was called on the map. In the middle there was a tiger twice the size of life, frozen in mid-stride, between tram rails, cars and people. But he couldn't see a phone booth anywhere, as the receptionist had said. At the end of the square, by a shelter, there was a throng of people. He went closer. Several of them had stuck their hoody-clad heads together and were talking. Perhaps they came from the same place, or they were neighbours waiting for the same bus. It reminded him of something else, though. He spotted things changing hands, skinny men hurrying away with their backs bent into the freezing wind. And he knew what the things were. He had seen heroin deals taking place in Zagreb and other European towns, but nowhere as openly as here. Then he remembered what it reminded him of. The gatherings of people he himself had been part of after the Serbians had withdrawn. Refugees.
Then a bus did come. It was white and stopped just short of the shelter. The doors opened, but no one got on. Instead a girl came out, wearing a uniform he recognised at once. The Salvation Army. He slowed down.
The girl went over to one of the women and helped her onto the bus. Two men followed.
He stopped and looked up. A coincidence, he thought. That was all. He turned round. And there, on the wall of a small clock tower, he saw three telephones.
Five minutes later he had called Zagreb and told her everything was looking good.
'The final job,' he had repeated.
And Fred had told him that his blue lions, Dinamo Zagreb, were leading 1-0 against Rijeka at Maksimar stadium at half-time.
The conversation had cost him five kroner. The clocks on the tower showed 19.25. The countdown had started.
The group met in the hall belonging to Vestre Aker church.
The snowdrifts were high on both sides of the gravel path leading to the small brick building on the slope beside the cemetery. Fourteen people were seated in a bare meeting hall with plastic chairs piled up against the walls and a long table in the middle. If you had stumbled into the room, you might have guessed it was a general assembly of some cooperative, but nothing about the faces, age, sex or clothes revealed what kind of community this was. The harsh light was reflected in the windowpanes and the lino floor. There was a low mumbling and fidgeting with paper cups. A bottle of Farris mineral water hissed as it was opened.
At seven o'clock on the dot the chattering stopped as a hand at the end of the table was raised and a little bell rang. Eyes turned to a woman in her mid-thirties. She met them with a direct, fearless gaze. She had narrow, severe lips softened with lipstick, long, thick, blonde hair held in place with a clip and large hands that, at this moment, were resting on the table, exuding calm and confidence. She was elegant, meaning she had attractive features but not the grace that would qualify her for what Norwegians termed sweet. Her body language betokened control and strength, which was underlined by the firm voice that filled the chilly room the next minute.
'Hi, my name is Astrid and I'm an alcoholic.'
'Hi, Astrid!' the gathering answered in unison.
Astrid bent the spine of the book in front of her and began to read.
'The sole requirement for AA membership is the desire to stop drinking alcohol.'
She went on, and round the table the lips of those who knew the Twelve Traditions moved by rote. In the breaks, when she paused for breath, you could hear the church choir practising on the floor above.
'Today the theme is the First Step,' Astrid said, 'which runs thus: We admit we are powerless over alcohol, and that our lives have become unmanageable. I can begin, and I will be brief since I consider myself finished with the First Step.'
She drew breath and gave a laconic smile.
'I've been dry for seven years, and the first thing I do when I wake up is to tell myself I'm an alcoholic. My children don't know this. They think Mummy used to get very drunk and stopped drinking because she got so angry when she drank. My life requires an appropriate measure of truth and an appropriate measure of lies to find its equilibrium. I may be going to pieces, but I take one day at a time, avoid the first drink and at present I'm working on the Eleventh Step. Thank you.'
'Thank you, Astrid,' came the response from the assembled members, followed by clapping as the choir sang its praises from the first floor.
She nodded to her left, to a tall man with cropped blond hair.
'Hi, my name is Harry,' said the man in a gravelly voice. The fine network of red veins on his large nose bore witness to a long life out of the ranks of the sober. 'I am an alcoholic.'
'I'm new here. This is my sixth meeting. Or seventh. And I haven't finished the First Step. In other words, I know I'm an alcoholic, but I think I can contain my alcoholism. So there is a kind of contradiction in my sitting here. But I came here because of a promise I made to a psychologist, a friend, who has my best interests at heart. He claimed that if I could stand all the chat about God and the spiritual stuff for the first weeks, I would find out it works. Well, I don't know if anonymous alcoholics can help themselves, but I am willing to try. Why not?'
He turned to the left to signal that he had finished. But before the clapping could get under way, it was interrupted by Astrid.
'I suppose this must be the first time you've said anything at our meetings, Harry. So that's nice. But perhaps you'd like to tell us a bit more while you're at it.'
Harry looked at her. The others did, too, as pressurising anyone in the group was a clear breach of the method. Her eyes held his. He had felt them on him in the earlier meetings, but had returned her gaze only once. However, then he had given her the full treatment, a searching look from top to toe and back again. Actually, he had liked what he saw, but what he liked best was when he returned to the top and her face was a great deal redder. And at the next meeting he had been invisible.
'No, I wouldn't, thank you,' Harry said.
Harry observed her out of the corner of his eye while his neighbour was talking. After the meeting she asked him where he lived and offered him a lift. Harry hesitated while the choir on the floor above rose in pitch in their eulogy of the Lord.
An hour and a half later they were each smoking a cigarette in silence and watching the smoke add a blue tinge to the bedroom darkness. The damp sheets on Harry's narrow bed were still warm, but the cold in the room had made Astrid pull the thin white duvet right up to her chin.
'That was wonderful,' she said.
Harry didn't answer. He was thinking it probably wasn't a question.
'I came,' she said. 'The first time together. That's not-'
'So your husband's a doctor?' Harry said.
'That's the second time you've asked, and the answer is still yes.'
Harry nodded. 'Can you hear that sound?'
'The ticking. Is it your watch?'
'I haven't got a watch. It must be yours.'
'Digital. Doesn't tick.'
She placed a hand on his hip. Harry slipped out of bed. The freezing cold lino burned the soles of his feet. 'Would you like a glass of water?'
Harry went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror as he ran the water. What was it she had said? She could see loneliness in his eyes? He leaned forward, but all he could see was a blue iris around small pupils and deltas of veins in the whites. When Halvorsen found out he had split up with Rakel, he said Harry should find solace in other women. Or, as he so poetically put it, screw the melancholy out of his soul. However, Harry had neither the energy nor the will. Because he knew that any woman he touched would turn into Rakel. And that was what he needed to forget, to get her out of his blood, not some sexual methadone treatment.
But he might have been wrong and Halvorsen might have been right. Because it had felt good. It had been wonderful. And instead of the empty feeling you got from trying to quench one desire by satisfying another, he felt his batteries recharged. And relaxed at the same time. She had taken what she needed. And he liked the way she had done it. Perhaps it could be as easy as this for him too?
He moved back a step and studied his body in the mirror. He had become leaner in the last year. There was less fat on him, but fewer muscles. He had begun to resemble his father. As one would expect.
He went back to bed with a large half-litre glass, which they shared. Afterwards she snuggled up to him. Her skin was clammy and cold at first, but she soon began to warm him up.
'Now you can tell me,' she said.
'Tell you what?' Harry watched the smoke coil into a letter.
'What's her name? Because it is a she, isn't it?'
The letter dissolved.
'She's the reason you came to us.'
Harry observed the glow eat away at the cigarette as he talked. A little at first. The woman beside him was a stranger, it was dark and the words rose and melted away, and he thought this is what it must be like to sit in a confessional. To unburden yourself. Or to share problems with others, as AA called it. So he continued. He told her about Rakel, who had thrown him out of the house over a year ago because she thought he was obsessed with the hunt for a mole in the police force, the Prince. And about Oleg, her son, who had been snatched from his bedroom and used as a hostage when Harry finally got within shooting distance of the Prince. Oleg had coped well, considering the circumstances of the kidnapping and the fact that he had witnessed Harry killing the kidnapper in a lift in Kampen. It was worse for Rakel. Two weeks later, when she was au fait with all the details, she had told him she could not have him in her life. Or, to be more precise, Oleg's life.
Astrid nodded. 'She left you because of the harm you had done to them?'
Harry shook his head. 'Because of the harm I had not done to them. Yet.'
'I said the case was closed, but she maintained I was obsessed, that it would never be closed as long as they were still out there.' Harry stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray on the bedside table. 'And if it wasn't them, I would find others. Other people who could hurt them. She said she could not take that responsibility.'
'Sounds like she's obsessed.'
'No.' Harry smiled. 'She's right.'
'Really? Would you care to amplify?'
Harry shrugged. 'Submarines…' he started, but was stopped by a violent coughing fit.
'What did you say about submarines?'
'She said that. That I was a submarine. Going down into the cold, murky depths where you can't breathe and coming up to the surface once every second month. She didn't want to keep me company down there. Reasonable enough.'
'Do you still love her?'
Harry was not sure he liked the direction this problem-sharing was taking. He took a deep breath. In his head he was playing the rest of the last conversation he'd had with Rakel.
His own voice, low, as it tends to be when he is angry or frightened: 'Submarine?'
Rakel: 'I know it's not a very good image, but you understand.. .'
Harry holds up his hands: 'Of course. Excellent image. And what is this… doctor? An aircraft carrier?'
She groans: 'He has nothing to do with this, Harry. It's about you and me. And Oleg.'
'Don't hide behind Oleg now.'
'You're using him as a hostage, Rakel.'
'I'M using him as a hostage? Was it me who kidnapped Oleg and put a gun to his temple so that YOU could slake your thirst for revenge?'
The veins on her neck are standing out and she screams so loud her voice becomes ugly, someone else's, she hasn't the vocal cords to support such fury. Harry leaves and closes the door gently, almost without a sound, behind him.
He turned to the woman in his bed. 'Yes, I love her. Do you love your husband, the doctor?'
'So why this?'
'He doesn't love me.'
'Mm. So now you're taking your revenge?'
She looked at him in surprise. 'No. I'm lonely. And I fancy you.
The same reasons as yours, I would think. Did you hope it was more complicated?'
Harry chuckled. 'No. That'll do fine.'
'Why did you kill him?'
'Are there more? The kidnapper, of course.'
'That's not important.'
'Maybe not, but I would like to hear you tell me…' she put her hand between his legs, cuddled up to him and whispered in his ear: '… the details.'
'I don't think so.'
'I think you're mistaken.'
'OK, but I don't like…'
'Oh, come on!' she hissed with irritation and gave his member a good, firm squeeze. Harry looked at her. Her eyes sparkled blue and hard in the dark. She put on a hasty smile and added in a sugary-sweet tone: 'Just for me.'
Outside the bedroom, the temperature continued to fall, making the roofs in Bislett creak and groan while Harry told her the details and felt her stiffen, then take her hand away and in the end whisper she had heard enough.
After she had left, Harry stood listening in his bedroom. To the creaking. And the ticking.
Then he bent over the jacket he had thrown to the floor, with all the other clothes, in their stampede through the front door into the bedroom. He found the source in his pocket. Bjarne Moller's leaving present. The watch glass glinted.
He put it in the bedside-table drawer, but the ticking followed him all the way into dreamland.
He wiped the superfluous oil off the gun parts with one of the hotel's white towels.
The traffic outside reached him as a regular rumble drowning the tiny TV in the corner with its mere three channels, a grainy picture and a language he assumed was Norwegian. The girl in reception had taken his jacket and promised that it would be cleaned by early the following morning. He lined up the parts of the gun on a newspaper. When they had all been dried, he assembled the gun, pointed it at the mirror and pulled the trigger. There was a smooth click and he felt the movement of the steel components travel along his hand and arm. The dry click. The mock execution.
That was how they had tried to crack Bobo.
In November 1991, after three months of non-stop siege and bombardment, Vukovar had finally capitulated. The rain had been pouring down as the Serbs marched into town. Along with the remnants of Bobo's unit, numbering around eighty weary and starving Croatian prisoners of war, he had been commanded to stand in line before the ruins of what had been the town's main street. The Serbs had told them not to move and had withdrawn into their heated tent. The rain had whipped down, making the mud froth. After two hours the first men began to fall. When Bobo's lieutenant left the line to help one of those who had collapsed in the mud, a young Serbian private – just a boy – came out of the tent and shot the lieutenant in the stomach. Thereafter no one stirred; they watched the rain obliterate the mountain ridges around them and hoped the lieutenant would soon stop screaming. He began to cry, but then he heard Bobo's voice behind him. 'Don't cry.' And he stopped.
Morning turned to afternoon and it was dusk when an open jeep arrived. The Serbs in the tent rushed out and saluted. He knew the man in the passenger seat had to be the commanding officer – 'the rock with the gentle voice' as he was called. At the back of the jeep sat a man in civilian clothing with a bowed head. The jeep halted right in front of their unit and since he was in the first row, he heard the commanding officer ask the civilian to look at the prisoners of war. He recognised the civilian at once when he reluctantly raised his head. He was from Vukovar, the father of a boy at his school. The father scanned the lines of men, reached him, but there was no sign of recognition and he moved on. The commander sighed, stood up in the jeep and yelled over the rain, not using the gentle voice: 'Which of you goes under the code name of the little redeemer?'
No one in the unit moved.
'Are you frightened to step forward, mali spasitelj? You who blew up twelve of our tanks and deprived our women of their husbands and made Serbian children fatherless?'
'I thought so. Which of you is Bobo?'
Still no one moved.
The commander looked at the civilian, who pointed a trembling finger at Bobo in the second row.
'Come forward,' the commander shouted.
Bobo walked the few steps to the jeep and the driver, who had got out and was standing beside the vehicle. When Bobo stood to attention and saluted, the driver knocked his cap into the mud.
'We have been given to understand on the radio that the little redeemer is under your command,' the commander said. 'Please point him out to me.'
'I've never heard of any redeemer,' Bobo said.
The commander raised his gun and struck him. A red stream of blood issued from Bobo's nose.
'Quick. I'm getting wet and food is ready.'
'I am Bobo, a captain in the Croatian ar-'
The commander nodded to the driver, who snatched Bobo's hair and turned his face to the rain, washing the blood from his nose and mouth down into the red neckerchief.
'Idiot!' said the commander. 'There is no Croatian army here, just traitors! You can choose to be executed right now or save us time. We'll find him whatever happens.'
'And you'll execute us whatever happens,' Bobo groaned.
The commander went through the motions of loading his gun. Raindrops fell from the gunstock. He placed the barrel against Bobo's temple. 'Because I'm a Serbian officer. And a man has to respect his work. Are you ready to die?'
Bobo shut his eyes; raindrops hung from his eyelashes.
'Where is the little redeemer? I'll count to three, then I'll shoot. One…'
'I am Bobo-'
'-captain in the Croatian army. I-'
Even in the pouring rain the dry click sounded like an explosion.
'Sorry, I must have forgotten to load the magazine,' the commander said.
The driver passed the commander a magazine. He thrust it into the handle, loaded and raised the pistol again.
'Last chance! One!'
'I… my… unit is-'
'-the first infantry battalion in… in-'
Another dry click. The father in the back seat sobbed.
'Goodness me! Empty magazine. Shall we try it with some of those nice shiny bullets in?'
Magazine out, new one in, load.
'Where is the little redeemer? One!'
Bobo mumbled the Lord's Prayer: 'Oce nas…'
The skies opened, the rain beat down with a roar as though in a desperate attempt to stop what they were doing. He couldn't stand it any more, the sight of Bobo; he opened his mouth to scream that he was the little redeemer, he was the one they wanted, not Bobo, just him, they could have his blood. But at that moment Bobo's gaze swept across and past him and he could see the wild, intense prayer in it, saw him shake his head. Then Bobo's body jerked as the bullet cut the connection between body and soul, and he saw his eyes snuff out and life drain away.
'You,' shouted the commander, pointing to one of the men in the first row. 'Your turn. Come here!'
The young Serbian officer who had shot the lieutenant ran over.
'There's some shooting up at the hospital,' he shouted.
The commander swore and waved to the driver. The next moment the engine started with a roar and the jeep vanished in the gloom. But not before he had told them there was no reason for the Serbs to worry. There were no Croats in the hospital in a position to shoot. They didn't have any weapons.
They had left Bobo where he lay, face down in the black mud. And when it was so dark that the Serbs in the tent could no longer see them, he crept forward, bent over the dead captain, loosened the knot and took the red neckerchief.
Tuesday, 16 December. The Mealtime.
It was eight o'clock in the morning, and the day that would go down as the coldest 16 December in Oslo for twenty-four years was still as dark as night. Harry left the police station after signing out the key to Tom Waaler's flat with Gerd. He walked with upturned coat collar, and when he coughed the sound seemed to disappear into cotton wool, as though the cold had made the air heavy and dense.
People in the early-morning rush hurried along the pavements. They couldn't get indoors quickly enough whereas Harry took long, slow steps, bracing his knees in case the rubber soles of his Doc Martens didn't grip the packed ice.
When he let himself into Tom Waaler's centrally positioned bachelor flat the sky behind Ekeberg Ridge was growing lighter. The flat had been sealed off in the weeks following Waaler's death, but the inquiry had not thrown up any leads pointing to other potential arms smugglers. At least that was what the Chief Superintendent had said when he informed them that the case would be given a lower priority because of 'other pressing investigative tasks'.
Harry switched on the light in the living room and once again noticed that dead people's homes had a silence all of their own. On the wall in front of the gleaming, black leather furniture hung an enormous plasma TV with metre-high speakers on each side, part of the surround-sound system in the flat. There were a lot of pictures on the walls with blue cube-like patterns. Rakel called it ruler-and-compass art.
He went into the bedroom. Grey light filtered through the window. The room was tidy. On the desk there was a computer screen, but he couldn't see a tower anywhere. They must have taken it away to check it for evidence. However, he hadn't seen it among the evidence at HQ. Although, of course, he had been denied access to the case. The official explanation was that he was under investigation by SEFO, the independent police investigation authority, for the murder of Waaler. Yet he could not get the idea out of his head that someone was not happy about every stone being turned over.
Harry was about to leave the bedroom when he heard it.
The deceased's flat was no longer quiet.
A sound, a distant ticking made his skin tingle and the hairs stand up on his arm. It came from the wardrobe. He hesitated. Then he opened the wardrobe door. On the floor inside was an open cardboard box and he at once recognised the jacket Waaler had been wearing that night in Kampen. At the top, in the jacket, a wristwatch was ticking. The way it did after Tom Waaler had punched his arm through the window in the lift door, into the lift where they were, and the lift had started moving and had cut off his arm. Afterwards they had sat in the lift with his arm between them, wax-like and lifeless, a severed limb off a mannequin, with the bizarre difference that this one was wearing a watch. A watch that ticked, that refused to stop, but was alive, as in the story Harry's father had told him when he was small, the one where the sound of the dead man's beating heart would not stop and in the end drove the killer insane.
It was a distinct ticking sound, energetic, intense. The kind of sound you remember. It was a Rolex watch. Heavy and in all probability exorbitant.
Harry slammed the wardrobe door. Stamped his way to the front door, creating an echo against the walls. Rattled the keys loudly when he locked up and hummed in frenzied fashion until he was in the street and the blissful traffic noise drowned everything else.
At three o'clock shadows were already falling on Kommandor T. I. Ogrims plass no. 4, and lights had started to come on in the windows of the Salvation Army Headquarters. By five o'clock it was dark, and the mercury had dropped to minus fifteen. A few stray snowflakes fell on the roof of the funny little car Martine Eckhoff sat waiting in.
'Come on, Daddy,' she mumbled as she glanced anxiously at the battery gauge. She was not sure how the electric car – which the Army had been presented with by the royal family – would perform in the cold. She had remembered everything before locking the office: had entered information about upcoming and cancelled meetings of the various corps on the home page, revised the duty rosters for the soup bus and the boiling pot in Egertorget, and checked the letter to the Office of the Prime Minister about the annual Christmas performance at Oslo Concert Hall.
The car door opened, and in came the cold and a man with thick white hair beneath his uniform cap and the brightest blue eyes Martine had seen. At any rate, on anyone over sixty. With some difficulty he arranged his legs in the cramped footwell between seat and dashboard.
'Let's go then,' he said, brushing snow off the flash that told everyone he was the highest-ranking Salvation Army officer in Norway. He spoke with the cheeriness and effortless authority that is natural to people who are used to their commands being obeyed.
'You're late,' she said.
'And you're an angel.' He stroked her cheek with the outside of his hand and his blue eyes were bright with energy and amusement. 'Let's hurry now.'
'One moment.' He rolled down the car window. 'Rikard!'
A young man was standing in front of the entrance to the Citadel, which was beside, and under the same roof as, Headquarters. He was startled and rushed over to them at once, knock-kneed with his arms pressed into his sides. He slipped, almost fell, but flapped his arms and regained balance. On reaching the car, he was already out of breath.
'Call me David, like everyone else, Rikard.'
'But not every sentence, please.'
Rikard's eyes jumped from Commander David Eckhoff to his daughter Martine and back again. He ran two fingers across his perspiring top lip. Martine had often wondered how it was that someone could sweat so much in one particular area regardless of weather and wind conditions, but especially when he sat next to her during a church service, or anywhere else, and whispered something that was supposed to be funny and might have been just that, had it not been for the poorly disguised nervousness, the rather too intense nearness – and, well, the sweaty top lip. Now and then, when Rikard was sitting close to her and all was quiet, she heard a rasping sound as he ran his fingers across his mouth. Because, in addition to producing sweat, Rikard Nilsen also produced stubble, an unusual abundance of stubble. He could arrive at Headquarters in the morning with a face like a baby's bottom, but by lunch his white skin would have taken on a blue shimmer, and she had often noticed that when he came to meetings in the evening he had shaved again.
'I'm teasing you, Rikard,' David Eckhoff smiled.
Martine knew there was no bad intention behind them, these games of her father's, but sometimes he seemed unable to see that he was bullying people.
'Oh, right,' Rikard said, forcing a laugh. He stooped. 'Hello, Martine.'
'Hello, Rikard,' Martine said, pretending to be concentrating on the battery gauge.
'I wonder whether you could do me a favour,' the commander said. 'There is so much ice on the roads now and the tyres on my car don't have studs. I should have changed them, but I have to go to the Lighthouse-'
'I know,' Rikard said with zeal. 'You have a lunch meeting with the Minister for Social Affairs. We're hoping for lots of press coverage. I was talking to the head of PR.'
David Eckhoff sent him a patronising smile. 'Good to hear you keep up, Rikard. The point is that my car is here in the garage and I would have liked to see studded tyres mounted by the time I return. You know-'
'Are the tyres in the boot?'
'Yes. But only if you have nothing more pressing on. I was on the point of ringing Jon. He said he could-'
'No, no,' Rikard said, shaking his head with vigour. 'I'll fix them right away. Trust me, er… David.'
'Are you sure?'
Rikard looked at the commander, bewildered. 'That you can trust me?'
'That you haven't got anything more pressing on?'
'Of course, this is a nice job. I like working on cars and… and…'
Rikard swallowed and nodded as the commander beamed.
As he wound up the window and they turned out of the square, Martine said that she thought it was wrong of him to exploit Rikard's obliging nature.
'Subservience, I suppose you mean,' her father answered. 'Relax, my dear, it's a test, nothing more.'
'A test? Of selflessness or fear of authority?'
'The latter,' the commander said with a chortle. 'I was talking to Rikard's sister, Thea, and she happened to tell me that Rikard is struggling to finish the budget for tomorrow's deadline. If so, he should prioritise that and leave this to Jon.'
'And then? Perhaps Rikard is being kind?'
'Yes, he is kind, and clever. Hard-working and serious. I want to be sure he has the backbone and the courage that an important post in management requires.'
'Everyone says Jon will get the post.'
David Eckhoff looked down at his hands with an imperceptible smile. 'Do they? By the way, I appreciate your standing up for Rikard.'
Martine did not take her eyes off the road, but felt her father's eyes on her as he continued: 'Our families have been friends for many years, you know. They're good people. With a solid foundation in the Army.'
Martine took a deep breath to suppress her irritation.
The job required one bullet.
Nevertheless, he pushed all the cartridges into the magazine. First of all, because the weapon was only in perfect balance when the magazine was full. And because it minimised the chances of a malfunction. Six in the magazine plus one in the chamber.
Then he put on the shoulder holster. He had bought it second-hand, and the leather was soft and smelt salty, acrid, from skin, oil and sweat. The gun lay flat, as it should. He stood in front of the mirror and put on his jacket. It could not be seen. Bigger guns were more accurate, but this was not a case of precision shooting. He put on his raincoat. Then the coat. Shoved the cap in his pocket and groped for the red neckerchief in his inside pocket.
He looked at his watch.
'Backbone,' said Gunnar Hagen. 'And courage. These are the qualities I seek above all else in my inspectors.'
Harry didn't answer. He didn't consider it a question. Instead, he looked around the office where he had sat so often, like now. But apart from the familiar scenario of POB-tells-inspector-what's-what, everything had changed. Gone were Bjarne Moller's piles of paper, the Donald Duck amp; Co. comics squeezed between legal documents and police regulations on the shelf, the big photograph of the family and the even bigger one of a golden retriever the children had been given and long forgotten about, as it had been dead for nine years, but which Bjarne was still grieving over.
What remained was a cleared desk with a monitor and a keyboard, a small silver pedestal with a tiny white bone and Gunnar Hagen's elbows, on which he was leaning at this very moment while eyeballing Harry from under his great thatched eyebrows.
'But there is a third quality I prize even higher, Hole. Can you guess what it is?'
'No,' Harry said in an even monotone.
The POB's division of the word into syllables suggested to Harry that he was in for a lecture on its etymology. However, Hagen stood up and began to strut to and fro with his hands behind his back, a sort of marking out of territory which Harry had always found vaguely risible.
'I'm having this face-to-face conversation with everyone in the section to make it clear what my expectations are.'
'I beg your pardon?'
'We've never been called a section. Even though your rank used to be known as "Section Head", PAS. Just for your information.'
'Thank you for drawing that to my attention, Inspector. Where was I?'
Hagen bored his eyes into Harry, who didn't turn a hair. So the POB resumed his strutting.
'For the last ten years I have been lecturing at the military academy. My area of speciality was the war in Burma. I suppose it may surprise you to hear that it has great relevance for my job here, Hole.'
'Well.' Harry scratched his leg. 'You can read me like an open book, boss.'
Hagen ran his forefinger over the window frame and studied the result with displeasure. 'In 1942, a mere hundred thousand Japanese soldiers conquered Burma. Burma was twice the size of Japan and at that time occupied by British troops who were superior in numbers and firepower.' Hagen raised the grubby forefinger. 'But there was one area where the Japanese were superior and this made it possible for them to beat the British and the Indian mercenaries. Discipline. When the Japanese marched on Rangoon, they walked for forty-five minutes and slept for fifteen. Slept on the road wearing their rucksacks and their feet pointing towards their destination. So that they didn't walk into the ditch or in the wrong direction when they woke up. Direction is important, Hole. Do you understand, Hole?'
Harry had an inkling of what was to come. 'I understand that they made it to Rangoon, boss.'
'They did. All of them. Because they did what they were told. I have just been told that you signed out the keys to Tom Waaler's flat. Is that correct, Hole?'
'I had a peep, boss. For therapeutic reasons.'
'I hope so. That case is buried. Snooping round Waaler's flat is not only wasted time, it also contravenes the orders you were given by the Chief and now by me. I don't think I need to spell out the consequences of refusing to obey orders. I might mention, however, that Japanese officers shot soldiers who drank water outside drinking times. Not out of sadism, but because discipline is about excising the tumours at the outset. Am I making myself clear, Hole?'
'As clear as… well, something which is very clear, boss.'
'That's all for now, Hole.' Hagen sat down on his chair, took a piece of paper from the drawer and started to read with a passion, as though Harry had already left the office. And looked up in surprise when he saw Harry was still sitting in front of him.
'Anything else, Hole?'
'Mm, I was wondering. Didn't the Japanese lose the war?'
Gunnar Hagen sat staring vacantly at the document long after Harry had gone.
The restaurant was half full. As it had been the day before. He was met at the door by a young, good-looking waiter with blue eyes and blond curls. So like Giorgi was he that for a moment he stood there entranced. And, on seeing the smile on the waiter's lips broaden, realised that he had given himself away. He took off his coat and raincoat in the cloakroom and felt the waiter's eyes on him.
'Your name?' the waiter asked. He mumbled his answer.
The waiter ran a long, thin finger down the page of the reservations book. It stopped.
'I've got my finger on you now,' the waiter said, and the blue eyes held his gaze until he felt himself blushing.
It didn't seem to be an exclusive restaurant, but unless his ability to do mental arithmetic had abandoned him, the prices on the menu were beyond belief. He ordered pasta and a glass of water. He was hungry. And his heartbeat was calm and regular. The other people in the restaurant were talking, smiling and laughing as though nothing could happen to them. It had always surprised him that it was not visible, that he did not have a black aura or that a chill – perhaps a stench of decay – did not radiate off him.
Or, to be precise, that no one else noticed.
Outside, the town hall clock chimed its three notes six times.
'Nice place,' Thea said, looking around. The restaurant had uncluttered views and their table gave on to the pedestrian zone outside. From hidden speakers there was the barely audible murmur of meditative New Age music.
'I wanted it to be special,' Jon said, studying the menu. 'What would you like to eat?'
Thea ran a quick eye down the single page. 'First I need something to drink.'
Thea drank a lot of water. Jon knew it was connected with diabetes and her kidneys.
'It's not so easy to choose,' she said. 'Everything looks good, doesn't it?'
'But we can't have everything on the menu.'
Jon swallowed. The words had just come out. He peeked up. Thea obviously hadn't noticed.
All of a sudden she raised her head. 'What did you mean by that?'
'By what?' he asked in a casual manner.
'Everything on the menu. You were trying to say something. I know you, Jon. What's up?'
He shrugged. 'We agreed that before we get engaged, we should tell each other everything, didn't we?'
'Are you sure you've told me everything?'
She sighed, resigned. 'I am sure, Jon. I have not been with anyone. Not… in that way.'
But he could see something in her eyes, something in her expression he had not seen before. A muscle twitching beside her mouth, a darkening of her eyes, like a diaphragm aperture closing. And he could not stop himself. 'Not even with Robert?'
'Robert. I can remember you two flirting the first summer in Ostgard.'
'I was fourteen years old, Jon!'
At first she stared at him in disbelief. Then she seemed to churn inside, she closed up and cut him off. Jon grabbed her hand in both of his, leaned forward and whispered, 'Sorry, sorry, Thea. I don't know what came over me. I… can we forget I asked?'
'Have you made up your minds?'
Both of them looked up at the waiter.
'Fresh asparagus as a starter,' Thea said, passing him the menu. 'Chateaubriand with cep mushrooms for the main course.'
'Good choice. May I recommend a hearty, well-priced red wine we have just got in?'
'You may, but water is fine,' she said with a radiant smile. 'Lots of water.'
Jon looked at her. Admired her ability to hide her emotions.
When the waiter had gone, Thea directed her gaze at Jon. 'If you've finished interrogating me, what about yourself?'
Jon gave a thin smile and shook his head.
'You never did have a girlfriend, did you?' she said. 'Not even at Ostgard.'
'And do you know why?' Jon said, placing his hand on hers.
She shook her head.
'Because I fell in love with one girl that summer,' Jon said and regained her full attention. 'She was fourteen years old. And I have been in love with her ever since.'
He smiled and she smiled, and he could see she had re-emerged from her hiding place, come over to where he was.
'Nice soup,' said the Minister for Social Affairs, turning to Commander David Eckhoff. But loud enough for the assembled press corps to hear.
'Our own recipe,' the commander said. 'We published a cookery book a couple of years ago we thought might be of…'
At a signal from her father, Martine approached the table and placed the book beside the minister's tureen.
'… some use if the minister desired a good, nutritious meal at home.'
The few journalists and photographers to turn up at the Lighthouse cafe chuckled. Otherwise attendance was sparse, a couple of elderly men from the Hostel, a tear-stained lady in a cape, and an injured junkie, who was bleeding from the forehead and trembling like an aspen leaf in dread of going up to the Field Hospital, the treatment room on the first floor. It was not very surprising there were so few people; the Lighthouse was not usually open at this time. However, a morning visit had not fitted into the minister's diary, so he did not see how full it was on most days. The commander explained all of this. And how efficiently it was run and how much it cost. The minister nodded at intervals as, duty-bound, he put a spoonful of soup into his mouth.
Martine checked her watch. A quarter to seven. The minister's secretary had said 19.00. They had to go.
'That was delicious,' the minister said. 'Have we got time to chat to anyone here?'
The secretary nodded.
Playing to the gallery, Martine thought. Of course they have time for a chat, that's why they are here. Not to apportion funds – they could have done that over the phone – but to invite the press and show a Minister for Social Affairs moving among the needy, eating soup, shaking hands with junkies and listening with empathy and commitment.
The press spokesperson signalled to the photographers that they could take photos. Or, to be more precise, that she wanted them to take photos.
The minister got to his feet and buttoned up his jacket as he scanned the room. Martine wondered how he would view his three options: the two elderly men looked like typical occupants of an old folks' home and would not serve the purpose: Minister Meets Drug Addicts, or Prostitutes, or something like that. There was something deranged about the injured junkie, and you can have too much of a good thing. But the woman… she seemed like a normal citizen, someone everyone could identify with and would like to help, especially if they had heard her heart-rending story first.
'Do you appreciate being able to come here?' the minister asked, reaching out with his hand.
The woman looked up at him. The minister said his name.
'Pernille-' the woman began, but was interrupted by the minister.
'Christian name's fine, Pernille. The press is here, you know. They would like a picture. Is that OK with you?'
'Holmen,' the woman said, sniffling into her handkerchief. 'Pernille Holmen.' She pointed to the table where a candle burned in front of one of the photographs. 'I'm here to commemorate my son. Would you mind please leaving me in peace?'
Martine stood at the woman's table while the minister plus retinue swiftly withdrew. She noted that they went for the two old men after all.
'I'm sorry about what happened to Per,' Martine said in a low voice.
The woman peered up with a face swollen from crying. And from pills, Martine guessed.
'Did you know Per?' she whispered.
Martine preferred the truth. Even when it hurt. Not because of her upbringing, but because she had discovered it made life easier in the long run. In the strangled voice, however, she could hear a prayer. A prayer for someone to say that her son was not only a drug-addicted robot, one less burden for society now, but a person someone could say they had known, been friends with, maybe even liked.
'Fru Holmen,' Martine said with a gulp, 'I knew him and he was a fine boy.'
Pernille Holmen blinked twice and said nothing. She was trying to smile, but her attempts turned into grimaces. She just managed to say 'thank you' before the tears began to flow down her cheeks.
Martine saw the commander waving to her from the table. Nevertheless, she sat down.
'They… they took my husband, too,' Pernille Holmen sobbed.
'The police. They say he did it.'
As Martine left Pernille Holmen, she was thinking about the tall, blond policeman. He had seemed so decent when he said he cared. She could feel her anger mounting. Also her confusion. Because she could not understand why she should be so angry at someone she didn't know. She looked at her watch. Five minutes to seven.
Harry had made fish soup. A Findus bag mixed with milk and supplemented with bits of fish pudding. And French stick. All bought at Niazi, the little grocer's that his neighbour from the floor below, Ali, ran with his brother. Beside the soup plate on the sitting-room table was a large glass of water.
Harry put a CD into the machine and turned up the volume. Emptied his head and concentrated on the music and the soup. Sound and taste. That was all.
Halfway into the soup and the third track the telephone rang. He had decided to let it ring. But at the eighth ring he got up and turned down the music.
It was Astrid. 'What are you doing?' She spoke in a low voice, but there was still an echo. He guessed she had locked herself into the bathroom at home.
'Eating and listening to music.'
'I have to go out. Not far from you. Plans for the rest of the evening?'
'And they are?'
'Listening to more music.'
'Hm. You make it sound like you don't want company.'
Pause. She sighed. 'Let me know if you change your mind.'
'It's not you. OK? It's me.'
'You don't need to apologise, Harry. If you're labouring under the illusion that this is vital for either of us, I mean. I just thought it could be nice.'
'Another time perhaps.'
'Like another time.'
'Another time, another life?'
'Something like that.'
'OK. But I'm fond of you, Harry. Don't forget that.'
When he had put down the phone, Harry stood without moving, unable to take in the sudden silence. Because he was so astonished. He had visualised a face when Astrid rang. The astonishment was not because he had seen a face, but the fact that it was not Rakel's. Or Astrid's. He sank into the chair and decided not to spend any more time reflecting. If this meant that the medicine of time had begun to work and that Rakel was on her way out of his system, it was good news. So good that he didn't want to complicate the process.
He turned up the volume on his stereo and emptied his head.
He had paid the bill. He dropped the toothpick in the ashtray and looked at his watch. Three minutes to seven. The shoulder holster rubbed against his pectoral muscle. He took the photograph from his inside pocket and gave it a final glance. It was time.
None of the other customers in the restaurant – not even the couple at the neighbouring table – took any notice of him as he got up and went to the toilet. He locked himself in one of the cubicles, waited for a minute without succumbing to the temptation of checking the gun was loaded. He had learned that from Bobo. If you got used to the luxury of double-checking everything, you would lose your sharpness.
The minute had passed. He went to the cloakroom, put on his raincoat, tied the red neckerchief and pulled the cap down over his ears. Opened the door onto Karl Johans gate.
He strode up to the highest point in the street. Not because he was in a hurry, but because he had noticed that was how people walked here, the tempo that ensured you didn't stand out. He passed the litter bin on the lamp post where he had decided the day before that the gun would be dropped on the way back. In the middle of the busy pedestrian street. The police would find it, but it didn't matter. The point was that they didn't find it on him.
He could hear the music long before he was there.
A few hundred people had gathered in a semicircle in front of the musicians who were finishing a song as he arrived. A bell pealed during the applause and he knew he was on time. Inside the semicircle, on one side and in front of the band, a black cooking pot hung from three wooden sticks, and beside it the man in the photograph. In fact, street lamps and two torches were all the light they had, but there was no doubt. Especially as he was wearing the Salvation Army uniform coat and cap.
The vocalist shouted something into the microphone and people cheered and clapped. A flash went off as they started up again. Their playing was loud. The drummer raised his right hand high in the air every time he hit the snare drum.
He manoeuvred his way through the crowd until he was standing three metres from the Salvation Army man and checked his back was clear. In front of him stood two teenage girls exhaling white chewing-gum-breath into the freezing air. They were smaller than he was. He had no particular thoughts in his head, he didn't hurry, he did what he had come to do, without any ceremony: take out the gun and hold it with a straight arm. It reduced the distance to two metres. He took aim. The man by the cooking pot blurred into two. He relaxed and the two figures merged back into one.
'Skal,' Jon said.
The music oozed out of the speakers like viscous cake mixture.
'Skal,' said Thea, obediently lifting her glass to his.
After drinking, they gazed into each other's eyes and he mouthed the words: I love you.
She lowered her eyes with a blush, but smiled.
'I've got a little present for you,' he said.
'Oh?' The tone was playful, coquettish.
He put his hand in his jacket pocket. Beneath the mobile phone he could feel the hard plastic of the jeweller's box against his fingertips. His heart beat faster. Lord above, how he had looked forward to, yet dreaded, this evening, this moment.
The phone began to vibrate.
'Anything the matter?' Thea asked.
'No, I… sorry. I'll be back in a sec.'
In the toilet he took out the phone and read the display. He sighed and pressed the green button.
'Hi, sweetie. How's it going?'
The voice was jokey, as though she had just heard something funny which had made her think of him and then rung, on an impulse. But his log showed six unanswered calls.
'Weird sound. Are you-?'
'I'm in a toilet. At a restaurant. Thea and I are here for a meal. We'll have to talk another time.'
'A… another time.'
'I should have called you, Ragnhild. There's something I have to tell you. I'm sure you know what.' He breathed in. 'You and I, we can't-'
'Jon, it's almost impossible to hear what you're saying.'
Jon doubted that was true.
'Can I see you tomorrow night at your place?' Ragnhild said. 'Then you can tell me?'
'I'm not free tomorrow night. Or any other-'
'Meet me at the Grand for lunch then. I can text you the room number.'
'I can't hear you. Call me tomorrow, Jon. Oh, no, I'm in meetings all day. I'll call you. Don't switch your mobile off. And have fun, sweetie.'
Jon read the display. She had rung off. He could go outside and ring back. Get it over with. Now that he had started. That would be the proper thing to do. The wise thing to do. Give it the coup de grace, kill it off.
They were standing opposite each other now, but the man in the Salvation Army didn't appear to see him. His breathing was calm, his finger on the trigger, then he slowly increased the pressure. And it flashed through his mind that the soldier showed no surprise, no shock, no terror. On the contrary, the light of understanding seemed to cross his face, as though the sight of the pistol gave him the answer to something he had been wondering about. Then there was a bang.
If the shot had coincided with the bang on the snare drum, the music might have drowned it, but, as it was, the explosion made many turn round and look at the man in the raincoat. At his gun. And they saw the Salvation Army soldier, who now had a hole in the peak right under the A of his cap, fall backwards as his arms swung forwards like a puppet's.
Harry jerked in his chair. He had fallen asleep. The room was still. What had woken him? He listened, but all he could hear was the low, reassuringly even rumble. No, there was another sound there, too. He strained to hear. There it was. The sound was almost inaudible, but now that he had identified it, it rose in magnitude and became clearer. It was a low ticking sound.
Harry remained in his chair with closed eyes.
Then a sudden fury surged through him, and without thinking, he had marched into the bedroom, opened the bedside-table drawer, snatched Moller's wristwatch, opened the window and hurled it into the dark with as much force as he could muster. He heard the watch hit first the wall of the adjacent block and then the icy tarmac in the street. He slammed the window shut, fastened the catches, went back to the sitting room and turned up the volume. So loud that the speaker membranes vibrated in front of his eyes, the treble was wonderfully bright in his ears and the bass filled his mouth.
The crowd had turned away from the band and looked at the man lying in the snow. His cap had rolled away and come to a halt in front of the singer's mike stand while the musicians, who still had not realised what had happened, continued to play.
The two girls standing closest to the man in the snow retreated. One of them started to scream.
The vocalist, who had been singing with her eyes shut, opened them and discovered she no longer had the audience's attention. She turned and caught sight of the man in the snow. Her eyes sought a guard, an organiser, a gig manager, anyone who could deal with the situation, but this was just an ordinary street concert. Everyone was waiting for everyone else and the musicians kept playing.
Then there was a movement in the crowd and people cleared a path for the woman elbowing her way through.
The voice was rough and hoarse. She was pale and wore a thin, black leather jacket with holes in the sleeves. She staggered through to the lifeless body and fell on her knees beside him.
She placed a skinny hand against his throat. Then she turned to the musicians.
'Stop playing, for Christ's sake.'
One after another, the members of the band stopped playing.
'The man's dying. Get hold of a doctor. Quick!'
She put her hand back on his neck. Still no pulse. She had experienced this many times before. Sometimes it was fine. As a rule it wasn't. She was confused. This couldn't be an overdose; a Salvation Army soldier wouldn't be on the needle, would he? It had started to snow and the snowflakes were melting on his cheeks, the closed eyes and the half-open mouth. He was a good-looking young man. And she thought now – with his face relaxed – he looked like her own boy when he was asleep. Then she discovered the single red stripe going down from the tiny black hole in his head, across the forehead and temple and into his ear.
A pair of arms grabbed her and lifted her away while someone else bent over the young man. She caught a last glimpse of his face, then the hole, and it occurred to her with a sudden painful certainty that this fate was awaiting her boy, too.
He walked at a fast pace. Not too fast; he wasn't fleeing. Looked at the backs in front of him, spotted someone hurrying and followed in his wake. No one had tried to stop him. Of course they hadn't. The report of a gun makes people stand back. The sight of it makes them run away. And in this case most had not even absorbed what was going on.
The final job.
He could hear the band was still playing.
It had started to snow. Great. That would make people look down to protect their eyes.
A few hundred metres down the street he saw the yellow station building. He experienced a feeling that he had from time to time, that everything was floating, that nothing could happen to him, that a Serbian T-55 tank was no more than a slow-moving iron monster, blind and deaf, and that his town would be standing when he returned home.
Someone was standing where he was going to drop the gun.
The clothes looked new and fashionable, apart from the blue trainers. But the face was lacerated and scorched, like a blacksmith's. And the man, or the boy, or whatever he was, looked as if he was there to stay. He had stuffed the whole of his right arm in the opening of the green litter bin.
Without slowing down, he checked his watch. Two minutes since he had fired the shot and eleven minutes to the departure of the train. And he still had the weapon on him. He walked past the bin and continued towards the restaurant.
A man came towards him, staring. But didn't turn after they had passed each other.
He headed for the restaurant door and pushed it open.
In the cloakroom area a mother was bent over a boy, fiddling with a zip on a jacket. Neither of them looked at him. The brown camelhair coat was hanging where it should. The suitcase underneath. He took both into the men's toilet, locked himself in one of the two cubicles, took off his raincoat, put the hat in the pocket and put on the camel-hair coat. Even though there were no windows, he could hear the sirens outside. Many sirens. He cast around him. Must get rid of the gun. There wasn't a great deal of choice. He stood on the toilet seat, stretched up to the white ventilation gap in the wall and tried to push the gun in there, but there was a grid inside.
He stepped back down. He was breathing hard now, and getting hot inside his shirt. Eight minutes to the train. He could take a later one, of course; that wasn't critical. What was critical was that five minutes had passed and he still hadn't got rid of the weapon, and she always said that anything over four minutes was an unacceptable risk.
Naturally, he could leave the gun on the floor, but they always worked to the principle that the gun should not be found before he was safe.
He left the cubicle and went to the sink. Washed his hands while his eyes scrutinised the deserted room. Upomoc! And stopped at the soap container over the sink.
Jon and Thea left the restaurant in Torggata with arms entwined.
Thea let out a scream as she slipped on the ice under the treacherous new snow in the pedestrian zone. She almost dragged Jon down with her, but he saved them at the last minute. Her bright laughter pealed in his ears.
'You said yes!' he shouted to the sky and felt the snowflakes melting on his face. 'You said yes!'
A siren rang out in the night. Several sirens. The sounds came from the direction of Karl Johans gate.
'Shall we go and see what the fuss is?' Jon asked, taking her hand.
'No, Jon,' said Thea, with a frown.
'Yes, come on, let's!'
Thea dug her feet into the ground, but the slippery soles couldn't find any purchase. 'No, Jon.'
But Jon just laughed and pulled her after him like a sledge.
'No, I said!'
The sound of her voice was enough to make Jon let go at once. He looked at her in surprise.
She sighed. 'I don't want to see a fire right now. I want to go to bed. With you.'
Jon studied her face. 'I am so happy, Thea. You have made me so happy.'
He couldn't hear what she replied. Her face was buried in his jacket.
Tuesday, 16 December. The Snow.
The snow falling on Egertorget was stained yellow by the floodlights of the Crime Scene Unit.
Harry and Halvorsen stood outside the bar 3 Brodre watching the spectators and the media pushing against the police barriers. Harry took the cigarette out of his mouth and gave a cough, throaty and moist. 'Lots of press,' he said.
'They were here in no time,' Halvorsen said. 'Only a stone's throw from their offices, of course.'
'Juicy number. Murder in the midst of the Christmas scramble in Norway's most famous street. A victim everyone has seen; the guy standing by the Salvation Army pot. While a well-known band is performing. What more can they ask for?'
'An interview with celebrity investigator Harry Hole?'
'We'll stay here for the moment,' Harry said. 'Have you got the time of the murder?'
'A bit after seven.'
Harry looked at his watch. 'That's almost an hour ago. Why didn't anyone ring me before?'
'Dunno. I got a call from the POB a little before half seven. I thought you would be here when I arrived…'
'So you rang me on your own initiative?'
'Well, you're, like, the inspector after all.'
'Like,' Harry mumbled, flicking the cigarette to the ground. It melted its way through the light covering of snow and vanished.
'All the evidence will soon be under half a metre of snow,' Halvorsen said. 'Typical.'
'There won't be any evidence,' Harry said.
Beate was walking towards them with snow in her blonde hair. Holding a small plastic bag between her fingers with an empty casing inside.
'Wrong,' Halvorsen said to Harry with a triumphant smile.
'Nine millimetre,' Beate said, grimacing. 'Most common ammo around. And that's all we've got.'
'Forget what you have or haven't got,' Harry said. 'What was your first impression? Don't think, speak.'
Beate smiled. She knew Harry now. First, intuition, then the facts. Because intuition provides facts too; it's all the information the crime scene gives you, but which the brain cannot articulate straight off.
'Not a great deal. Egertorget is the busiest square in Oslo. Hence we had an extremely contaminated scene even though we arrived twenty minutes after the man was killed. But it seems professional. The doctor is looking at the victim now – it looks like he was hit by one bullet. Right in the forehead. Pro. Yes, that's my instinct.'
'Working by instinct, are we, Inspector?'
All three turned round to the voice behind them. It was Gunnar Hagen. He was wearing a green military jacket and a black woollen cap. The smile was visible only at the corners of his mouth.
'We try anything that works, boss,' Harry said. 'What brings you here?'
'Isn't this where it happens?'
'In a way.'
'Bjarne Moller preferred the office, I gather. For myself, I am of the persuasion that a leader should be in the field. Was more than one shot fired? Halvorsen?'
Halvorsen flinched. 'Not according to the witnesses we've spoken to.'
Hagen stretched the fingers of his gloves. 'Description?'
'A man.' Halvorsen's eyes flitted between the POB and Harry. 'That's all we know so far. People were watching the band and the whole thing happened very quickly.'
Hagen sniffed. 'In a crowd like this someone must have got a good look at the gunman.'
'You would think so,' Halvorsen said. 'But we don't know for certain where the man was standing.'
'I see.' Again the tiny smile.
'He was standing in front of the victim,' Harry said. 'Distance of two metres, maximum.'
'Oh?' Hagen and the other two turned to Harry.
'Our gunman knew that if you want to kill someone with a smallcalibre weapon, you shoot him in the head,' Harry said. 'Since he fired only one shot, he was sure of the result. Ergo, he must have been standing so close that he could see the hole in the forehead so he knew he couldn't have failed. If you examine his clothes, you should be able to find a fine gunshot residue which will prove what I am saying. Maximum two metres.'
'One and a half,' Beate said. 'Most guns eject the shell casing to the right, but not very far. This was found trampled into the snow one metre and forty-six centimetres from the body. And the dead man had singed woollen threads on his coat sleeve.'
Harry studied Beate. It was not primarily her innate ability to distinguish faces he appreciated, but her intelligence, zeal and the idiotic notion they shared: that the job they did was important.
Hagen stamped his feet in the snow. 'Well done, Lonn. But who on earth would shoot a Salvation Army officer?'
'He wasn't an officer,' Halvorsen said. 'Just a normal soldier. Officers are permanent; soldiers are volunteers or work on contracts.' He flipped open his notepad. 'Robert Karlsen. Twenty-nine years old. Single, no children.'
'Not without enemies, it seems,' Hagen said. 'Or what do you say, Lonn?'
Beate didn't look at Hagen, but at Harry, as she answered: 'It might not have been directed at the individual.'
'Oh?' Hagen smiled. 'Who else could it have been directed at?'
'The Salvation Army perhaps.'
'What makes you think that?'
'Controversial views,' Halvorsen said. 'Homosexuality. Women priests. Abortion. Perhaps some fanatic or other…'
'The theory has been noted,' Hagen said. 'Show me the body.'
Both Beate and Halvorsen sent Harry a quizzical look. Harry nodded towards Beate.
'Jeez,' Halvorsen said when Hagen and Beate had gone. 'Is the POB intending to take over the investigation?'
Harry, his eye on the cordon where the media photographers were lighting up the winter darkness with their flashes, rubbed his chin, deep in thought. 'Pro,' he said.
'Beate said the perp was a pro. So let's start there. What's the first thing a pro does after a killing?'
'Makes his escape?'
'Not necessarily. But at any rate he gets rid of anything that can link him to the shooting.'
'Right. I want all repositories, containers, bins and backyards in a five-block radius of Egertorget checked. Now. Request uniformed backup, if necessary.'
'And get all the video cassettes from surveillance cameras in shops in the area from the time before 19.00 to well after.'
'I'll get Skarre to do that.'
'And one more thing. Dagbladet also has a hand in organising the street concerts, and they write articles about them. Check whether their photographer has taken any pictures of the spectators.'
'Of course. I hadn't thought of that.'
'Send the photos to Beate for her to have a look. And I want all the detectives assembled in the meeting room in the red zone at ten tomorrow. Will you contact them?'
'Where are Li and Li?'
'They're questioning witnesses at the station. A couple of girls were standing next to him when he fired.'
'OK. Ask Ola to make a list of family and friends of the victim. That's where we'll start to see if there are any obvious motives.'
'I thought you said this was the work of a pro?'
'We have to keep several balls in the air at once, Halvorsen. And start looking wherever it seems promising. Family and friends are easy to find as a rule. Eight out of ten murders are committed-'
'-by someone who knows the victim,' Halvorsen sighed.
They were interrupted by someone calling Harry Hole. They turned in time to see the press bearing down on them through the snow.
'Show time,' Harry said. 'Point them to Hagen. I'm off down to the station.'
The suitcase had been checked in with the airline and he was walking towards the security channel. He was in high spirits. The final job was done. He was in such a good mood that he decided to run the gauntlet. The woman at security shook her head when he took the blue envelope from his inside pocket to show his ticket.
'Mobile telephone?' she asked.
'No.' He put the envelope on the table between the X-ray machine and the metal detector while taking off his camel-hair coat, discovered he was still wearing his neckerchief, removed it and put it in the pocket, placed the coat in the tray the official gave him and walked through the detector watched by two further pairs of alert eyes. Including the man screening his coat, and the one at the end of the conveyor belt, he counted five security people whose sole job it was to make sure he didn't take anything with him that could be used as a weapon on board the plane. On the other side of the detector, he put on his coat and went back to collect his ticket on the table. No one stopped him, and he walked past the officials. That is how easy it would have been to smuggle a knife blade through in the envelope. He emerged into the large departure hall. The first thing that struck him was the view from the enormous panoramic window. There wasn't one. The snow had drawn a white curtain in front of the scene outside.
Martine sat bent over the steering wheel as the windscreen wipers swished the snow away.
'The minister was positive,' David Eckhoff said with satisfaction. 'Very positive.'
'You already knew that,' Martine said. 'People like that don't come for soup and invite the press if they're going to say no. They want to be re-elected.'
'Yes,' Eckhoff said with a sigh. 'They have to be re-elected.' He looked out of the window. 'Good-looking boy, Rikard, isn't he?'
'You're repeating yourself, Daddy.'
'He just needs a bit of guidance to be a really good man for us.'
Martine drove down to the garage under HQ, pressed the remote control and the steel doors jolted open. They rumbled in and the studded tyres crunched over the concrete floor of the empty car park.
Beneath one of the roof lights, beside the commander's blue Volvo, stood Rikard, wearing overalls and gloves. But it wasn't him she was looking at. It was the tall, blond man standing next to him, and she recognised him instantly.
She parked alongside the Volvo, but sat in the car searching for something in her bag while her father got out. He left the door open and she heard the policeman say:
'Eckhoff?' The sound echoed off the walls.
'That's right. Anything I can help you with, young man?'
The daughter recognised the voice her father had assumed. The friendly but authoritative commander's voice.
'My name is Inspector Harry Hole, Oslo district. It's about one of your employees. Robert…'
Martine could feel the policeman's eyes on her as she got out of the car.
'… Karlsen,' Hole went on, turning back to the commander.
'A brother,' David Eckhoff said.
'I beg your pardon?'
'We like to think of our colleagues as members of a family.'
'I see. In that case, I am afraid I have to announce a death in the family, herr Eckhoff.'
Martine felt her chest constrict. The policeman waited to let it sink in before continuing: 'Robert Karlsen was shot dead in Egertorget at seven o'clock this evening.'
'Good God,' her father exclaimed. 'How?'
'All we know is that an unidentified person in the crowd shot him and fled the scene.'
Her father shook his head in disbelief. 'But… but at seven o'clock, you say? Why… why haven't I been told until now?'
'Because there are routine procedures in cases like these and we inform relatives first. I regret to say we have not been able to get hold of them.'
Martine realised from the detective's factual, patient response that he was accustomed to people reacting to news of bereavement with that kind of irrelevant question.
'I understand,' Eckhoff said, blowing out his cheeks and then releasing the air through his mouth. 'Robert's parents don't live in Norway any more, but you must have contacted his brother, Jon, haven't you?'
'He's not at home, and he isn't answering his mobile phone. I was told he might be here at HQ, working late. However, the only person I've met is this young man.' He nodded towards Rikard, who was standing there with glazed eyes like a dejected gorilla, arms limp, hanging down by his sides and capped off with enormous specialist gloves, sweat gleaming from his blue-black top lip.
'Any idea where I can find the brother?' the policeman asked.
Martine and her father looked at each other and shook their heads.
'Any idea who would want to take Robert Karlsen's life?'
Again, they shook their heads.
'Well, now you know. I need to get going, but we would like to come back to you with more questions tomorrow.'
'Of course, Inspector,' the commander said, straightening up. 'But before you go, might I ask you for more details about what has happened?'
'Try teletext. I have to be off.'
Martine watched her father's face change colour. Then she turned towards the policeman and met his gaze.
'I apologise,' he said. 'Time is an important factor in this phase of the investigation.'
'You… you could try my sister's place. Thea Nilsen.' All three of them turned to Rikard. He gulped. 'She lives in the Army block in Goteborggata.'
The policeman nodded. He was about to go when he turned back to Eckhoff.
'Why don't the parents live in Norway?'
'It's a long story. They lapsed.'
'They abandoned their faith. People brought up in Army ways often find it difficult when they choose a different path.'
Martine observed her father. But not even she – his daughter – could detect the lie in his granite features. The policeman moved off, and she felt the first tears flow. After the sound of his footsteps had faded away, Rikard cleared his throat. 'I put the summer tyres in the boot.'
By the time the announcement finally came over Gardemoen Airport's tannoy system, he had already guessed:
'Due to weather conditions, the airport has been temporarily closed.'
Matter-of-fact, he said to himself. Like an hour before, when the first announcement was made about the delay due to snow.
They had waited while the snow laid thick blankets over the aircraft outside. He had kept an unconscious eye on uniformed personnel. They would be uniformed at an airport, he imagined. And when the woman in blue behind the counter by Gate 42 lifted the microphone, he could see it written over her face. The flight to Zagreb was cancelled. She was apologetic. Said it would depart at 10.40 the following morning. There was a collective but muted groan from the passengers. She twittered on that the airline would cover the cost of the train back to Oslo and a hotel room at the SAS hotel for transit passengers and those travelling on a return ticket.
Matter-of-fact, he thought once more, as the train flew through the blackened night landscape. It stopped just once before Oslo, at an assortment of houses on white terrain. A dog sat shivering under one of the benches on the platform as the snow drifted in cones of light. It looked like Tinto, the playful stray that had run around the neighbourhood in Vukovar when he was small. Giorgi and a couple of the other older boys had given him a leather collar inscribed with: Name: Tinto; Owner: Svi. Everyone. No one wished Tinto any harm. No one. Sometimes that wasn't enough.
Jon had moved to the end of the room that was not visible from Thea's front door while she went to open it. It was Emma, the neighbour: 'I'm so sorry, Thea, but this man needs to get hold of Jon Karlsen as a matter of urgency.'
A man's voice: 'Yes. I've been informed that I might be able to find him at this address with a Thea Nilsen. There were no names downstairs by the bells, but this lady has been very helpful.'
'Jon here? I don't know how-'
'I'm from the police. My name is Harry Hole. It's about Jon's brother.'
Jon stepped towards the door. A man of his height with bright blue eyes looked at him from the doorway. 'Has Robert done something wrong?' he asked, trying to ignore the neighbour standing on tiptoes to see over the policeman's shoulder.
'We don't know,' the man said. 'May I come in?'
'Please do,' Thea said.
The detective stepped inside and closed the door in the neighbour's disappointed face. 'I'm afraid it's bad news. Perhaps you ought to sit down.'
The three of them sat around a coffee table. It was like a punch to the stomach, and Jon's head shot forward in automatic response to what the policeman told him.
'Dead?' he heard Thea whisper. 'Robert?'
The policeman cleared his throat and continued talking. The words seemed like dark, cryptic, barely comprehensible sounds to Jon. All the time he was listening to the detective explaining the circumstances, he was focusing on one point. On Thea's half-open mouth and sparkling lips, moist, red. Her breathing came in short, rapid pants. Jon didn't notice that the policeman had stopped speaking until he heard Thea's voice:
'Jon? He asked you a question.'
'Sorry. I… what did you say?'
'I know this is a difficult time, but I was wondering whether you know of anyone who might have wished to kill your brother.'
'Robert?' Everything around Jon seemed to be happening in slow motion, even the shake of his head.
'Right,' the policeman said, without making a note on the pad he had just produced. 'Is there anything in his job or private life that might have made him enemies?'
Jon heard his own inappropriate laughter. 'Robert's in the Salvation Army,' he said. 'Our enemy is poverty. Material and spiritual. It's rare for any of us to be killed.'
'Mm. That's the job. What about private life?'
'What I said applied to both job and private life.'
The policeman waited.
'Robert was kind,' Jon said and heard his voice starting to disintegrate. 'Loyal. Everyone liked Robert. He…' His voice thickened and stopped.
The policeman looked around the room. He didn't seem comfortable with the situation, but he waited. And waited.
Jon kept swallowing. 'He could be a little wild now and again. A bit… impulsive. Some may have considered him a bit cynical. But that was the way he was. Deep down, Robert was a harmless boy.'
The policeman turned to Thea and looked down at his notes. 'You're Thea Nilsen, sister of Rikard Nilsen, I gather. Does this tally with your impression of Robert Karlsen?'
Thea shrugged. 'I didn't know Robert so well. He…' She had crossed her arms and avoided Jon's gaze. 'He never hurt anyone as far as I am aware.'
'Did Robert ever say anything that might suggest he was in conflict with anyone?'
Jon shook his head hard, as though there were something inside he was trying to get rid of. Robert was dead. Dead.
'Did Robert owe any money?'
'No. Yes. Me. A little.'
'Sure he didn't owe anyone else money?'
'What do you mean?'
'Did Robert take drugs?'
Jon stared at the policeman in horror, then replied: 'No, he did not.'
'How can you know for sure? It's not always-'
'We work with drug addicts. We know the symptoms. And Robert didn't take drugs. OK?'
The policeman nodded and took notes. 'Sorry, but we have to ask these things. Naturally, we cannot exclude the possibility that the man who fired the gun was insane and Robert was an arbitrary victim. Or – since the Salvation Army soldier standing by the Christmas pot is a symbol – that the killing was directed against your organisation. Are you aware of anything that would support the latter theory?'
As though synchronised, the two young people shook their heads.
'Thank you for your help.' The policeman stuffed the notepad in his coat pocket and stood up. 'We haven't been able to find a telephone number or address for your parents…'
'I'll take care of that,' Jon said, staring into empty space. 'Are you quite sure?'
'Sure about what?'
'That it is Robert?'
'Yes, I'm afraid so.'
'But that's all you're sure about,' Thea burst out. 'Otherwise you know nothing.'
The policeman paused in front of the door and considered her comment.
'I think that's a fairly accurate summary of the situation,' he said.
At two o'clock in the morning the snow stopped. The clouds that had been hanging over the town like a heavy, black stage curtain were drawn to one side and a large, yellow moon made its appearance. The temperature beneath the naked sky began to fall again, making house walls creak and groan.
Wednesday, 17 December. The Doubter.
The seventh day beforeChristmas Eve broke with such freezing temperatures that people on the streets of Oslo felt they were being squeezed by a steel glove as they hurried in silence, focused on one thing: to arrive and escape its icy grip.
Harry was sitting in the meeting room in the red zone at Police HQ listening to Beate Lonn's demoralising report while trying to ignore the newspapers in front of him on the table. They all had the murder on the front page; they all had a grainy photo of a winter-dark Egertorget, with references to two or three pages of articles inside the paper. Verdens Gang and Dagbladet had managed to cobble something together which, with a little goodwill, might be termed portraits of Robert Karlsen, based on random, hasty conversations with friends and acquaintances. 'A nice guy.' 'Always willing to lend a hand.' 'Tragic.' Harry had read through them with a fine-tooth comb without being able to find anything of value. No one had contacted the parents and Aftenposten was the only newspaper to run a quotation from Jon: 'Incomprehensible' was the brief caption under a picture of a man with a bewildered expression and tousled hair in front of the Army flats in Goteborggata. The article was written by an old friend, Roger Gjendem.
Harry scratched his thigh through a tear in his jeans thinking he ought to have put on some long johns. On arriving for work at half past seven he had gone to Hagen to ask him who was leading the investigation. Hagen had looked at him and replied that he, together with the Chief Superintendent, had decided that Harry would lead it. Until further notice. Harry had not asked for an elaboration of what 'until further notice' meant; he nodded and left.
From ten o'clock onwards twelve detectives from Crime Squad plus Beate Lonn and Gunnar Hagen, who had wanted to 'come for the ride', had sat in discussion.
And Thea Nilsen's summary from the previous evening was as accurate as before.
First of all, they had no witnesses. None of those who had been in Egertorget had seen anything of value. The CCTV footage was still being checked, but so far nothing had been found. None of the employees they had spoken to in the shops and restaurants in Karl Johans gate had noticed anything unusual, and no other witnesses had come forward. Beate, who had been sent pictures of the spectators by Dagbladet the night before, had reported back that they were either close-ups of smiling girls or panning shots which were too indistinct to get a decent look at facial characteristics. She had magnified sections of the latter, highlighting the audience in front of Robert Karlsen, but she hadn't spotted a weapon or anything else that would identify the person they were searching for.
Secondly, they had no forensic evidence, except that the ballistics expert at Krimteknisk had established that the projectile that had penetrated Robert Karlsen's head in fact matched the empty casing they had found.
And, thirdly, they didn't have a motive.
Beate Lonn finished and Harry handed over to Magnus Skarre.
'This morning I spoke to the boss of the Fretex shop in Kirkeveien where Robert Karlsen worked,' said Skarre, whose surname, with fate's usual impish sense of humour, meant to roll your 'r's, and indeed he did. 'She was devastated and said Robert was a person everyone liked, full of charm and good cheer. She conceded he could be a bit unpredictable, not turning up for work on the odd occasion, but she could not imagine he would have any enemies.'
'Same comments from those I've interviewed,' said Halvorsen.
During the discussion Gunnar Hagen had sat with his hands folded behind his head watching Harry with a tiny expectant smile, as though he were at a magic show waiting for Harry to pull a rabbit out of a hat. But there was nothing. Apart from the usual suspects. The theories.
'Guesses?' Harry said. 'Come on. You're allowed to make asses of yourselves. After this meeting is over, permission is withdrawn.'
'Shot down in full view of everyone, in one of Oslo's busiest areas,' Skarre said. 'There's only one line of business that does this kind of thing. This is a professional hit job to deter others who don't pay their drug debts.'
'Well,' said Harry, 'none of the undercover guys in the Narco Unit has seen or heard of Robert Karlsen. He's clean. No previous, nothing. Has anyone here heard of drug addicts who have never been arrested?'
'Forensics didn't find any illegal substances in the blood samples,' Beate said. 'Nor was there any mention of needle marks or other indications.'
Hagen cleared his throat and the others turned round. 'A Salvation Army soldier would not be involved in that sort of thing. Go on.'
Harry noticed red patches developing on Magnus Skarre's forehead. Skarre was short and stocky, an ex-gymnast, with smooth brown hair and a side parting. He was one of the youngest detectives, an arrogant and ambitious arriviste who in many ways was reminiscent of a young Tom Waaler. But without Waaler's very special intelligence and talent for police work. In the last year, however, Skarre's self-confidence had evaporated somewhat, and Harry had begun to think it was not impossible that they would make a decent policeman out of him after all.
'On the other hand, Robert Karlsen had an experimental bent,' Harry said. 'And we know that addicts can serve their sentences in Fretex shops. Curiosity and accessibility are a bad combination.'
'Exactly,' Skarre said. 'And when I asked the lady in Fretex whether Robert was single, she said she thought so. Even though there had been a foreign girl in a couple of times asking after him, but she seemed too young. She guessed the girl came from somewhere in ex-Yugoslavia. Bet you she's Kosovar-Albanian.'
'Why's that?' Hagen asked.
'Whoa there,' clucked Hagen, rocking back on his chair. 'That sounds like gross prejudice, young man.'
'Right,' Harry said. 'And our prejudices solve cases. Because they are not based on lack of knowledge, but on actual facts and experience. In this room we reserve the right to discriminate against everyone, regardless of race, religion or gender. Our defence is that it is not exclusively the weakest members of society who are discriminated against.'
Halvorsen grinned. He had heard this rule before.
'Homosexuals, active believers and women are, from a statistical point of view, more law-abiding than heterosexual men between eighteen and sixty. But if you are female, lesbian and a Kosovar-Albanian with religious convictions, the chances that you are drug-dealing are nevertheless a lot higher than for a fat, Norwegian-speaking, male chauvinist pig with tattoos all over his forehead. So if we have to choose – and we do – we bring in the Albanian woman for questioning first. Unfair to law-abiding Kosovar-Albanians? Of course. But since we work with probabilities and limited resources, we cannot afford to ignore knowledge wherever we find it. If experience had taught us that an unexpectedly high percentage of those we arrested at customs in Gardemoen Airport were wheelchair users smuggling drugs in their orifices, we would put on rubber gloves, drag them out of their chairs, and finger-fuck every single one of them. We just keep our mouths shut about that sort of thing when we talk to the press.'
'Interesting philosophy, Hole.' Hagen checked around to gauge the reaction among the others, but the closed faces told him nothing. 'Well, back to the case.'
'OK,' Harry said. 'We'll continue where we left off, searching for the murder weapon, but the area will be increased to a radius of six blocks. We'll continue questioning witnesses and take a trip round the shops that were closed last night. We won't waste any more time on CCTV footage. Let's wait until we have something specific to look for. Li and Li, you have the address of Robert Karlsen's flat and the search warrant. Gorbitz gate, isn't it?'
Li and Li nodded.
'Check out his office as well. You may find something of interest there. Bring any correspondence and hard disks here from both places so that we can see who he's been in contact with. I have spoken to Kripos, who have contacted Interpol today to find out if there are similar cases in Europe. Halvorsen, you're coming with me to the Salvation Army HQ later. Beate, I would like a few words with you after the meeting. Off you go!'
Scraping of chairs and shuffling of feet.
'One moment, gentlemen!'
Silence. They looked at Gunnar Hagen.
'I can see that some of you are coming to work in ragged jeans and items of clothing advertising what I assume is Valerengen football club. The previous boss may have approved of that, but I do not. The press will be following us with Argus eyes. From tomorrow I want to see clothing which is whole and intact and does not display advertising slogans. The general public is out there and we want to be seen as neutral public servants. And I would ask all of you with the rank of inspector or above to stay behind.'
As the room emptied, Harry and Beate stayed behind.
'I'm going to draw up a document for all inspectors in the unit instructing them to carry weapons, starting next week,' Hagen said.
Harry and Beate both looked at him with incredulity.
'The war is hotting up out there,' Hagen said, raising his chin. 'We have to get used to the idea that weapons will be a necessity in the police force of the future. And then high-ranking officers will have to set an example and show the way. A weapon must not be an unfamiliar item but a normal tool of the trade like a mobile phone or a computer. OK?'
'Well,' Harry said, 'I don't have a firearms licence.'
'I assume you're joking,' Hagen said.
'I missed the test last autumn and had to hand in my gun.'
'I'll issue a licence. I have the authority to do that. You'll find a requisition order in your pigeonhole and you can pick the weapon up. No one will be excluded. Off you go.'
'He's out of his mind,' Harry said. 'What the hell do we need guns for?'
'Time to patch our jeans and buy a gun belt then, eh?' Beate said with a glint of amusement in her eyes.
'Mm. I wouldn't mind a peep at the pictures Dagbladet took of Egertorget.'
'Help yourself.' She passed him a yellow folder. 'May I ask you something, Harry?'
'Goes without saying.'
'Why did you do that?'
'Why did you defend Magnus Skarre? You know he's a racist and you didn't mean one iota of what you said about discrimination. Is it to irritate the new POB? Or make sure you're really unpopular from day one?'
Harry opened the envelope. 'You'll get the photos back later.'
He stood by the window of the Radisson SAS hotel in Holbergs plass looking out over the white, frozen town at the break of day. The buildings were low and modest; it was strange to think this was the capital of one of the richest countries in the world. The Royal Palace was an anonymous yellow construction, a compromise between a pietistic democracy and a penniless monarchy. Through the branches of the naked trees he glimpsed a large balcony. The King must have addressed his subjects from there. He raised an imaginary rifle to his shoulder, closed one eye and took aim. The balcony blurred into two.
He had dreamt about Giorgi.
The first time he had met Giorgi he had been crouching by a whimpering dog. The dog was Tinto, but who was this boy with blue eyes and blond, curly hair? Working together they had managed to get Tinto into a wooden box and carry him to the town vet who lived in a grey tworoom brick house in an overgrown apple orchard down by the river. The vet had diagnosed dental problems and said he was no dentist. Besides, who would pay for an ageing stray which would soon lose the rest of its teeth? It would be better to put it to sleep now to avoid the pain and a slow death by starvation. But then Giorgi had started crying. High-pitched, heart-rending, almost melodic crying. And when the vet had asked why he was crying, Giorgi had said perhaps the dog was Jesus, because his father had told him that Jesus walked among us, was one of the humblest of us, well, maybe even a poor, pathetic dog that no one would give either shelter or food. With a shake of his head, the vet had rung the dentist. After school he and Giorgi had gone back to see a tail-wagging Tinto, and the vet had shown them the fine, black fillings in his mouth.
Although Giorgi was in the class above him, they had played together a few times after that. But it lasted just a few weeks because the summer holidays had begun. And when school started up again in the autumn, Giorgi seemed to have forgotten him. At any rate, he ignored him as though wanting nothing to do with him.
He had forgotten about Tinto, but he never forgot Giorgi. Several years later, though, during the siege, he had come across an emaciated dog in the ruins at the southern end of the town. It had trotted over to him and licked his face. It had lost its leather collar, and it was only when he saw the black fillings that he had realised it was Tinto.
He checked his watch. The bus to take them to the airport would arrive in ten minutes. He grabbed his suitcase, threw a last glance around the room to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. Paper rustled as he pushed open the door. He looked down the corridor and saw the same newspaper lying outside several of the rooms. The picture of the crime scene on the front page met his eyes. He bent down and picked up the thick newspaper bearing a name in illegible Gothic script.
While he was waiting for the lift, he tried to read, but although some of the words somehow reminded him of German he understood next to nothing. Instead, he flicked through to the pages referred to on the front. At that moment the lift doors opened and he decided to put the large, unwieldy newspaper in the litter bin between the two lifts. But the lift was empty, so he kept it, pressed zero and concentrated on the pictures. His eye was caught by the text beneath one of the pictures. At first he didn't believe what he was reading. But as the lift jolted into action he experienced a sudden realisation with such horrible certainty that he went dizzy for a second and had to support himself on the wall. The newspaper almost fell out of his hand and he didn't see the lift doors opening in front of him.
When, at last, he did look up he was staring into the darkness and he knew he was in the basement and not in reception, which for some strange reason was floor 1 in this country.
He stepped out of the lift and the doors closed behind him. In the dark he sat down and tried to think clearly. Because this upset all his plans. The airport bus left in eight minutes. That was all the time he had to make a decision.
'I'm trying to look at some pictures here,' Harry said in desperation.
Halvorsen peered up from his desk opposite Harry's. 'Be my guest.'
'Stop snapping your fingers then. Why do you do that?'
'This?' Halvorsen looked at his fingers, snapped them and, a little abashed, laughed. 'It's just an old habit.'
'My dad was a fan of Lev Yashin, the Russian goalkeeper in the sixties.'
Harry waited for him to go on.
'My dad wanted me to be the keeper at the Steinkjer club. So when I was small he used to snap his fingers between my eyes. Like this. To harden me, so that I wouldn't be afraid of shots at goal. Apparently, Yashin's father had done the same. If I didn't blink, I got a sugar cube.'
The words were followed by a moment of total silence in the office.
'You're kidding,' Harry said.
'No. Nice brown sugar.'
'I meant the snapping. Is it true?'
'Absolutely. He did it all the time. During mealtimes, when we were watching TV, even when my pals were there. In the end I started doing it to myself. I wrote Yashin on all my school bags and carved his name into my desk. Even now I always use Yashin as my password on computer programs or anything that needs one. Despite knowing that I am being manipulated. Do you understand?'
'No. Did the snapping help?'
'Yes, I'm not afraid of shots coming at me.'
'No. Turned out I had no ball sense.'
Harry pinched his top lip between two fingers.
'Can you see anything in the pictures?' Halvorsen asked.
'Not when you're sitting there snapping your fingers. And talking.'
Halvorsen gave a slow shake of the head. 'Shouldn't we be on our way to the Salvation Army Headquarters?'
'When I've finished. Halvorsen!'
'Do you have to breathe so… weirdly?'
Halvorsen clamped his mouth shut and held his breath. Harry's eyes shot up, and back down again. Halvorsen thought he caught a hint of a smile. But he wouldn't have put money on it. Now the smile was gone, replaced by a deep furrow in the inspector's brow.
'Come and have a look at this, Halvorsen.'
Halvorsen walked round the desks. There were two photographs in front of Harry, both of the crowds in Egertorget.
'Can you see the man with the woollen hat and neckerchief at the side?' Harry pointed to a grainy face. 'He's right in line with Robert Karlsen on the very edge of the band, isn't he?'
'But look at this picture. There. The same hat and the same neckerchief, but now he's in the middle, right in front of the band.'
'Is that so strange? He must have moved to the middle to hear and see better.'
'But what if he did that in reverse order?' Halvorsen didn't answer, so Harry went on. 'You don't change a place at the front for somewhere by the speaker where you can't see the band. Unless you have a good reason.'
'To shoot someone?'
'Cut the flippancy.'
'OK, but you don't know which photo was taken first. I bet he moved to the middle.'
'Done. Look at the light under the lamp post. It's in both photos.' Harry passed Halvorsen a magnifying glass. 'Can you see any difference?'
Halvorsen nodded slowly.
'Snow,' Harry said. 'On the photo with him at the side it's snowing. When it started in the evening, yesterday, it didn't stop until well into the night. So that photo was taken later. We'll have to call that Wedlog guy from Dagbladet. If he was using a digital camera with an internal clock, he may have the precise time the photo was taken.'
Hans Wedlog, from Dagbladet, was one of those who swore by singlelens reflex cameras and rolls of film. Hence, as far as the timing of individual photos was concerned, he had to disappoint the inspector.
'OK,' Hole said. 'Did you cover the concert last night?'
'Yes, Rodberg and I do all the street-music stuff.'
'If you use rolls of film, you must have crowd shots lying around somewhere, haven't you?'
'Yes, I have. And I wouldn't have if I used a digital camera. They would have been deleted already.'
'That's what I was wondering. I was also wondering whether you would do me a favour.'
'Could you check your film from the day before yesterday to see if you can find a guy with a woollen hat and a black raincoat? And a neckerchief. We're poring over one of your photos right now. Halvorsen can scan it in and send it to you if you're near a computer.'
Harry could hear Wedlog had reservations. 'I can send you the photos, no problem, but checking them sounds like police work, and as a press guy I don't want to get any lines crossed here.'
'We're a bit short on time, I'm afraid. Would you like a photo of the police suspect or not?'
'Does that mean you would let us print it?'
Wedlog's voice warmed up. 'I'm in the lab now, so I can check right away. I took loads of pictures of the crowd, so there's hope. Five minutes.'
Halvorsen scanned the photo in and sent it, and Harry sat drumming his fingers while they waited.
'What makes you so sure he was there the evening before?' Halvorsen asked.
'I'm not sure of anything,' Harry said. 'But if Beate is right and he is a pro, he would have done a recce, and preferably at a time when conditions were as similar to those of the planned hit as possible. And there was a street concert the day before.'
The five minutes came and went. Eleven minutes later the phone rang.
'Wedlog here. Sorry, no woolly hats and no black raincoats. And no neckerchief.'
'Fuck,' Harry said, loud and clear.
'Apologies. Shall I send them over so that you can check them for yourself? I had the lights focused on the audience that night. You'll have a better view of the faces.'
Harry hesitated. It was important to prioritise how time was allocated, especially in these critical first twenty-four hours.
'Send them and we'll look at them later,' Harry said, on the point of giving Wedlog his email address. 'By the way, better if you send them to Lonn at Krimteknisk. She's got a thing about faces. Perhaps she can see something.' He gave Wedlog the address. 'And I don't want my name mentioned in the byline, OK?'
'Course not. It'll be an "anonymous source in the police force". Nice to do business with you.'
Harry put down the receiver and nodded to a wide-eyed Halvorsen. 'OK, Junior, let's head for the Salvation Army HQ.'
Halvorsen glanced over at Harry. The inspector was unable to conceal his impatience as he scanned the noticeboard and the announcements about visiting preachers, music rehearsals and duty rosters. At length the uniformed, grey-haired reception lady was finished with incoming phone calls and turned to them with a smile.
Harry told her the purpose of their visit in swift, concise terms. She nodded as though she had been expecting them and gave them directions.
They didn't speak as they waited for the lift, but Halvorsen could see the beads of sweat on the inspector's brow. He knew Harry didn't like lifts. They got out on the fourth floor and Halvorsen followed Harry at a canter through the yellow corridors culminating in an open office door. Harry came to such an abrupt halt that Halvorsen almost crashed into him.
'Hello there,' Harry said.
'Hi,' said a woman's voice. 'Is it you again?'
Harry's sizeable figure filled the doorway and prevented Halvorsen from seeing who was speaking, but he noted the change in Harry's voice. 'Indeed it is. The commander?'
'He's waiting for you. Just go in.'
Halvorsen followed Harry through the small anteroom, with a quick nod to a small girl-woman behind a desk. The walls of the commander's office were decorated with wooden shields, masks and spears. On the well-stacked bookshelves were carved African figures and pictures of what Halvorsen supposed were the commander's family.
'Thank you for seeing us at such short notice, herr Eckhoff,' Harry said. 'This is Police Officer Halvorsen.'
'Tragic business,' said Eckhoff, who had got up from behind his desk and indicated two chairs with his hand. 'The press have been on our backs all day. Let me hear what you have so far.'
Harry and Halvorsen exchanged glances.
'We don't wish to go public with it yet, herr Eckhoff.'
The commander's eyebrows sank menacingly close to his eyes. Halvorsen released a silent sigh and prepared himself for yet another of Harry's cockfights. But then the commander's eyebrows shot back up.
'Forgive me, Inspector Hole. Professional deformation. As the commanding officer here, I sometimes forget that not everyone reports to me. How can I help?'
'In a nutshell, I was wondering whether you could imagine any potential motives for what has happened.'
'Hm. Of course, I have thought about this. It's difficult to see any causes. Robert was a mess, but a nice boy. Quite different from his brother.'
'Jon isn't nice?'
'He's not a mess.'
'What sort of messes was Robert involved in?'
'Involved? You're suggesting things of which I know nothing. I meant that Robert had no direction in his life, unlike his brother. I knew their father well. Josef was one of our best officers. But he lost his faith.'
'You said it was a long story. Would it be possible to have a short version?'
'Good question.' The commander heaved a heavy sigh and gazed out of the window. 'Josef was working in China at the time of floods. Few there had heard about Our Lord, and they were dying like flies. No one, according to Josef 's interpretation of the Bible, would be saved unless they received Jesus; they would burn in hell. He was distributing medicines in the Hunan province. The floodwaters were full of Russell's vipers and many people had been bitten. Even though Josef and his team had taken a whole chest of serum with them, they tended to arrive too late because this snake has a hemotoxic venom which dissolves artery walls and makes victims bleed from the eyes, ears and all other orifices, killing them within one to two hours. I was myself witness to the effects of this venom when I was working as a missionary in Tanzania and saw people bitten by boomslangs. A terrible sight.'
Eckhoff closed his eyes for a moment.
'However. In one of the villages Josef and his nurse were giving penicillin to twins who both had pneumonia. While they were doing this, the father came in. He had just been bitten by a Russell's viper in the water on the rice paddy. Josef Karlsen had one dose of serum left which he asked the nurse to load into a syringe and give to the man. In the meantime Josef went outside to evacuate as he, like many others, had stomach cramps and diarrhoea. While he was crouching in the floodwater he was bitten in the testicles and screamed so loudly that everyone knew what had happened. On returning to the house, the nurse said the Chinese heathen refused to let her inject him because if Josef had also been bitten, he wanted Josef to have the serum. And if Josef was allowed to live, he could save many children's lives, and he was only a farmer who didn't even have a farm any more.'
Eckhoff took a breath.
'Josef said he was so frightened he didn't even consider rejecting the offer, and told the nurse to give him the injection at once. Afterwards he began to cry while the Chinese farmer tried to console him. After he'd finally pulled himself together he asked the nurse to enquire whether the Chinese heathen had heard of Jesus. She didn't even have time to pose the question because the farmer's trousers started to run red with blood. He died within seconds.'
Eckhoff watched them as though waiting for the story to sink in. A trained preacher's pause for effect, thought Harry.
'So the man is burning in hell now?'
'According to Josef 's understanding of the Bible, yes. However, Josef has renounced religion now.'
'So that was the reason he lost his faith and left the country?'
'That was what he told me.'
Harry nodded and spoke to the notepad he had taken out: 'So now Josef Karlsen will burn because he was unable to accept… er, the paradox about faith. Have I understood correctly?'
'You're moving into a difficult area for theologians, Hole. Are you a Christian?'
'No. I'm a detective. I believe in proof.'
Harry sneaked a peep at his watch and hesitated before giving a rapid answer, delivered in flat intonation.
'I have problems with a religion which says that faith in itself is enough for a ticket to heaven. In other words, that the ideal is your ability to manipulate your own common sense to accept something your intellect rejects. It's the same model of intellectual submission that dictatorships have used throughout time, the concept of a higher reasoning without any obligation to discharge the burden of proof.'
The commander nodded. 'A considered objection, Inspector. And of course you are not the first to have made it. Nevertheless, there are a great many far more intelligent people than you or I who believe. Is that not a paradox to you?'
'No,' Harry said. 'I meet a lot of people who are more intelligent than me. Some of them kill for reasons neither you nor I can fathom. Do you think Robert's death may be directed against the Salvation Army?'
The commander's instinctive reaction was to sit bolt upright in his chair.
'If you think this is the action of a politically motivated group, I doubt it. The Salvation Army line has always been to remain neutral in political matters. And we have been pretty consistent in this. Not even during the Second World War did we come out with a public condemnation of the German occupation. We went about our work as before.'
'Congratulations,' Halvorsen commented drily, and received a warning glare from Harry.
'The one invasion we have given our blessing to is that of 1888,' Eckhoff said, undaunted, 'when the Swedish Salvation Army decided to occupy Norway, and we had the first soup station in the poorest working-class district of Oslo. Where your Police HQ is situated now, you know, boys.'
'No one bears a grudge against you for that, I would imagine,' Harry said. 'It seems to me that the Salvation Army is more popular than ever.'
'Well, yes and no,' Eckhoff said. 'We enjoy the trust of the Norwegian people. We can feel that. But recruitment is so-so. This autumn there were only eleven cadets at the Officer Training School in Asker although the hall of residence has room for sixty. And since it is our policy to adhere to a conservative interpretation of the Bible on issues such as homosexuality, it goes without saying that we are not popular in all quarters. We will catch up, we will, we're just a bit slower than our more liberal counterparts. But do you know what? I think in our changing times it doesn't matter so much if some things move a little slower.' He smiled at Halvorsen and Harry in a way that suggested they had expressed agreement. 'Anyway, younger personnel will take over. With a younger view of things, I assume. At the moment we are about to appoint a new chief of administration and some very young candidates have applied.' He placed a hand on his stomach.
'Was Robert one of them?' Harry asked.
The commander shook his head with a smile. 'I can say with confidence he was not. But his brother, Jon, is. The appointee will have control over considerable sums of money, among them all our properties, and Robert was not the type you would give that kind of responsibility. He hadn't been to the Officer Training School, either.'
'Are the properties the ones in Goteborggata?'
'We have many. Our own employees live in Goteborggata while other places, such as in Jacob Aalls gate, are used to house refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and Croatia.'
'Mm.' Harry looked at his notepad, slapped the pen down on the arm of the chair and stood up. 'I think we've taken up enough of your time, herr Eckhoff.'
'Oh, it wasn't so much. After all, this is a matter which concerns us.'
The commander followed them to the door.
'May I ask you a personal question, Hole?' the commander asked. 'Where have I seen you before? I never forget a face, you see.'
'Maybe on the TV or in the paper,' Harry said. 'There was a great deal of fuss about me in connection with the murder of a Norwegian national in Australia.'
'No, I forget those faces. I must have seen you in the flesh.'
'Will you go and get the car?' Harry said to Halvorsen. When Halvorsen had gone, Harry turned to the commander.
'I don't know, but the Army helped me once,' he said. 'Picked me up off the street one winter's day when I was so drunk that I couldn't look after myself. The soldier who found me wanted to ring the police at first, as he thought they could do the job better. However, I explained that I worked for the police and that would mean the sack. So he took me down to the Field Hospital where I was given an injection and allowed to sleep. I owe you all a big debt of gratitude.'
David Eckhoff nodded. 'Well, I thought it was something like that, though I didn't want to say. And, as far as the gratitude is concerned, I think we should forget it for the time being. We will be indebted to you if you find the person who killed Robert. God bless you and your work, Hole.'
Harry nodded and walked into the anteroom where he remained for a moment gazing at Eckhoff's closed door.
'You're very similar,' Harry said.
'Oh?' came the woman's deep voice. 'Was he severe?'
'I mean in the photograph.'
'Nine years old,' said Martine Eckhoff. 'You did well to recognise me.'
Harry shook his head. 'By the way, I meant to get in touch. I wanted to talk to you.'
Harry could hear how that sounded and hastened to add: 'About Per Holmen.'
'Is there anything to talk about?' she replied with an indifferent shrug of her shoulders, although the temperature of her voice had fallen. 'You do your job and I do mine.'
'Maybe. But I… well, I wanted to say it was not quite the way it may have looked.'
'And how did it look?'
'I told you I cared about Per Holmen. And ended up ruining what was left of his family. That's what my job is like sometimes.'
She was going to answer when the telephone rang. She lifted the receiver and listened.
'Vestre Aker church,' she replied. 'Sunday twenty-first, at twelve o'clock. Yes.'
She put down the phone.
'Everyone will be going to the funeral,' she said, flicking through paperwork. 'Politicians, clergy and celebs. Everyone wants a chunk of us in our hour of sorrow. The manager of one of our new singers phoned to say his artiste could sing at the funeral.'
'Well,' Harry said, wondering what he was going to say, 'it's-'
But the telephone rang again so he didn't find out. He knew it was time for a quick exit, nodded and walked towards the door.
'I've put Ole down for Wednesday in Egertorget,' he heard her say behind him. 'Yes, for Robert. So the question is whether you can do the soup bus with me tonight.'
In the lift he cursed under his breath and rubbed his face with his hands. Then he let out a desperate laugh. The way you laugh at terrible clowns.
Robert's office seemed, if possible, even smaller today. And just as chaotic. The Salvation Army flag dominated, next to the icy patterns on the window, and the pocket knife was stuck in the desk beside a pile of papers and unopened envelopes. Jon was sitting at the desk letting his gaze wander across the walls. It stopped at a picture of Robert and himself. When was that taken? In Ostgard, of course, but which summer? Robert was trying to remain serious, but couldn't restrain a smile. His smile seemed unnatural, forced.
He had read the newspapers today. It was unreal although he knew all the details, as if it were all about someone else and not Robert.
The door opened. Outside stood a tall, blonde woman in a military-green pilot's jacket. Her mouth was narrow and bloodless, her eyes hard, neutral, and her features expressionless. Behind her stood a red-haired, squat man with a round, boyish countenance and the type of grin that seems to be etched into some people's faces. They greet all news with it, good or bad.
'Who are you?' asked the woman.
'Jon Karlsen.' When he saw the woman's eyes become even harder he went on. 'I'm Robert's brother.'
'My apologies,' the woman said in a monotone, coming into the room and proffering her hand. 'Toril Li, police officer with Crime Squad.' Her hand was bone hard, but warm. 'This is Police Officer Ola Li.'
The man nodded and Jon returned the nod.
'We're sorry about what happened,' the woman said. 'But since this is a murder case, we have to seal off this room.'
Jon continued nodding while his eyes found their way back to the photo on the wall.
'I'm afraid that means we have to…'
'Oh, yes, of course,' Jon said. 'Sorry, I'm not quite with it.'
'Entirely understandable,' Toril Li replied with a smile. Not a broad, heartfelt smile, but a small, friendly one, appropriate for the situation. Jon was thinking that the police must have experience of this kind of thing, working with murders and so on. Like priests. Like his father.
'Have you touched anything?' she asked.
'Touched? No, why would I do that? I've been sitting in the chair.'
Jon got up and, without knowing why, pulled the knife out of the desk, folded it and put it in his pocket.
'It's all yours,' he said, leaving the room. The door was closed quietly behind him. He had reached the stairs when he realised it was an idiotic thing to do, to walk off with the knife, and he turned to take it back. Outside the closed door, he heard the woman's voice laughing: 'My goodness, what a shock that gave me! He's the spitting image of his brother. At first I thought I was seeing a ghost.'
'They don't look at all similar,' said the man.
'You've only seen a photo…'
A terrible thought struck Jon.
SK-655 to Zagreb took off from Gardemoen Airport, at 10.40 on the dot, banked left over Lake Hurdal and set a course south towards the navigation tower in Aalborg, Denmark. Since it was an unusually cold day the atmospheric layer known as the tropopause had sunk so low that the McDonnell Douglas MD-81 was already climbing through it when they were over central Oslo. And since planes in the tropopause leave vapour trails in the sky, he would have seen – if he had looked up from where he was standing and shivering by the phone boxes in Jernbanetorget – the plane he had a ticket for in the pocket of his camel-hair coat.
He had left his bag in a luggage locker in Oslo Central Station. Now he needed a hotel room. And he had to complete the job. And that meant he had to have a gun. But how to get hold of one in a town where you don't have a single contact?
He listened to the woman in directory enquiries explaining in singsong Scandinavian English that there were seventeen entries in the Oslo telephone book for people under the name of Jon Karlsen and she was afraid that she could not give him all of them. However, yes, she could give him the number for the Salvation Army.
The lady at Salvation Army Headquarters said they had a Jon Karlsen, but he was not at work today. He told her he wanted to send him a Christmas present. Did she have his home address?
'Let me see. Goteborggata 4, post number 0566. Nice that someone is thinking about him, poor thing.'
'Yes, his brother was shot dead yesterday.'
'Yes, in Egertorget. It's in today's paper.'
He thanked her for her help and hung up.
Something touched him on the shoulder and he whirled round.
It was the paper cup that explained what the young man wanted. True, the denim jacket was a little grubby, but he was clean-shaven, had a modern hairstyle, substantial clothes and an open, alert gaze. The young man said something, but when he demonstrated with a shrug that he didn't speak Norwegian, the young man broke into perfect English:
'I'm Kristoffer. I need money for a room tonight. Or else I'll freeze to death.'
It sounded like something he had learned on a marketing course, a brief and concise message plus his name to add an effective emotional immediacy. The request came with a broad smile.
He shook his head and made to go, but the beggar stood in front of him with the cup. 'Come on, mister. Haven't you ever had to sleep rough, frozen, dreading the night?'
'As a matter of fact I have.' For one crazy moment he felt like telling him he had hidden in a water-filled foxhole for four days waiting for a Serbian tank.
'Then you know what I'm talking about, mister.'
He answered with a slow nod. Stuffed his hand in his pocket, took out a note and gave it to Kristoffer without looking. 'You'll sleep rough anyway, won't you?'
Kristoffer pocketed the money, nodded and said with an apologetic smile: 'Have to prioritise my medicine, mister.'
'Where do you usually sleep?'
'Down there.' The junkie pointed and he followed the long, slim forefinger with the trim nail. 'Container terminal. They're going to build an opera house there in the summer.' Kristoffer flashed another broad smile. 'And I love opera.'
'Isn't it a bit cold there now?'
'Tonight it might have to be the Salvation Army. They always have a free bed in the Hostel.'
'Do they?' He studied the boy. He looked well groomed, and his smile revealed a set of shining white, even teeth. Nevertheless he smelt decay. As he listened he thought he could hear the crunching of a thousand jaws, of flesh being consumed from inside.
Wednesday, 17 December. The Croat.
Halvorsen sat patiently behind the steering wheel waiting for a car with a Bergen number plate in front of him. Its wheels spun round on the ice as the driver pressed the accelerator to the floor. Harry was talking to Beate on his mobile phone.
'What do you mean?' Harry shouted to drown the noise of the racing engine.
'It doesn't look like it's the same person in these two pictures,' Beate repeated.
'It's the same woolly hat, same raincoat and same neckerchief. It must be the same person, mustn't it?'
She didn't answer.
'The faces are unclear. There's something strange. I'm not quite sure what. Maybe something to do with the light.'
'Mm. Do you think we're on a wild goose chase?'
'I don't know. His position in front of Karlsen tallies with the technical evidence. What's all that noise?'
'Bambi on ice. See you.'
Harry hung on.
'There's one more thing,' Beate said. 'I looked at the other pictures, from the day before.'
'I can't see any faces that match, but there is one small detail. There's a man wearing a yellowish coat, maybe a camel-hair coat. He's got a scarf…'
'Mm. A neckerchief, you mean?'
'No, it looks like an ordinary woollen scarf, but it's tied in the same way as he – or they – ties the neckerchief. The right-hand side sticks up from the knot. Have you seen it?'
'I've never seen anyone tie a scarf in that way before,' Beate said.
'Email me the pictures and I'll have a look.'
The first thing Harry did on getting back to the office was to print out Beate's pictures.
When he went to the print room to collect them Gunnar Hagen was already there.
Harry nodded, and the two men stood in silence watching the grey machine spitting out sheet after sheet.
'Anything new?' Hagen asked at length.
'Yes and no,' Harry replied.
'The press are on my back. Would be good if we had something to give them.'
'Ah, yes, I almost forgot to say, boss. I tipped them off that we were looking for this man.' Harry took one of the printouts from the pile and pointed to the man with the neckerchief.
'You did what?' Hagen said.
'I tipped off the press. To be exact, Dagbladet.'
'Without going through me?'
'Routine number, boss. We call them constructive leaks. We say the information is from an anonymous source in the police so that the newspaper can pretend they have been doing serious investigative journalism. They like that, so they give it more column space than if we had asked them to publish pictures. Now we can get some help from the general public to identify the man. And everyone is happy.'
'I'm not, Hole.'
'I'm genuinely sorry to hear that then, boss,' Harry said, and underlined the genuineness with a concerned expression.
Hagen glared at him with his upper and lower jaw moving sideways in opposite directions, in a kneading motion that reminded Harry of a ruminant.
'And what is so special about this man?' Hagen said, snatching the printout from Harry.
'We're not quite sure. Maybe there are many of them. Beate Lonn thinks they… well, tie the neckerchief in a particular way.'
'That's a cravat knot.' Hagen took another look. 'What about it?'
'What did you say it was, boss?'
'A cravat knot.'
'Do you mean a tie knot?'
'A Croat knot, man.'
'Isn't this basic history?'
'I'd be grateful if you would enlighten me, boss.'
Hagen placed his hands behind his back. 'What do you know about the Thirty Years War?'
'Not enough, I suppose.'
'During the Thirty Years War, before he marched into Germany, Gustav Adolf, the Swedish King, supplemented his disciplined but small army with what were reckoned to be the best soldiers in Europe. They were the best because they were considered totally fearless. He hired Croat mercenaries. Did you know that the Norwegian word krabat comes from Swedish and its original meaning was Croat, in other words a fearless maniac?'
Harry shook his head.
'Although the Croats were fighting in a foreign country and had to wear King Gustav Adolf 's uniform, they were allowed to retain a marker to distinguish them from the others: the cavalry neckerchief. It was a neckerchief the Croats tied in a special way. The item of clothing was adopted and developed further by the French, but they kept the name, which became cravate.'
'Thank you, boss.' Harry took the last printout of the pictures off the paper tray and studied the man with the scarf Beate had ringed. 'You may just have given us a clue.'
'We don't need to thank each other for doing our jobs, Hole.' Hagen took the rest of the printouts and marched out.
Halvorsen peered up as Harry raced into the office.
'Got a lead,' Harry said. Halvorsen sighed. This phrase tended to mean loads of work and nothing to show for it.
'I'm going to ring Alex in Europol,' Harry said.
Halvorsen knew Europol was Interpol's little sister in The Hague, set up by the EU after the terrorist actions in Madrid in 1998 to focus specifically on international terror and organised crime. What he didn't know was why this Alex was often willing to help Harry when Norway was not in the EU.
'Alex? Harry, from Oslo. Could you check something out for me, please?'
Halvorsen listened to Harry asking Alex in his jerky but effective English to search the database for offences committed by suspected international criminals in Europe over the last ten years. Search words: 'contract killing' and 'Croat'.
'I'll wait,' Harry said, and waited. Then, in surprise, 'That many?' He scratched his chin, then asked Alex to add 'gun' and 'nine millimetre' to the search.
'Twenty-three hits, Alex? Twenty-three murders with a Croat as the suspect? Jesus! Well, I know that wars create professional hit men, but nevertheless. Try "Scandinavia". Nothing? OK, have you got any names, Alex? None? Hang on a sec.'
Harry looked at Halvorsen as though hoping for a few timely words, but Halvorsen just shrugged.
'OK, Alex,' Harry said. 'One last attempt.'
He asked him to add 'red neckerchief ' or 'scarf ' to the search.
Halvorsen could hear Alex laughing on the line.
'Thanks, Alex. Talk to you soon.'
Harry put down the receiver.
'Well?' said Halvorsen. 'Lead gone up in smoke?'
Harry nodded. He had slumped a few notches lower in his chair, but then straightened up with a start. 'We have to think along new lines. What have we got? Nothing? Great, I love blank sheets of paper.'
Halvorsen remembered Harry had once said that what separates a good detective from a mediocre one is the ability to forget. A good detective forgets all the times his gut instinct lets him down, forgets all the leads he has believed in that led nowhere. And pitches in, naive and forgetful again, with undiminished enthusiasm.
The telephone rang. Harry snatched at the receiver. 'Harr-' But the voice at the other end was already in full flow.
Harry got up from behind the desk and Halvorsen could see the knuckles on his hand around the receiver going white.
'Wait, Alex. I'll ask Halvorsen to take notes.'
Harry held his hand over the receiver and called to Halvorsen: 'He tried one last time for fun. Dropped Croat, nine millimetre and the other things, and searched under red scarf. Found Zagreb in 2000 and 2001. Munich in 2002 and Paris in 2003.'
Harry went back to the phone. 'This is our man, Alex. No, I'm not sure, but my gut feeling is. And my head says that two murders in Croatia are not a coincidence. Have you any further details Halvorsen can jot down?'
Halvorsen watched Harry gape in astonishment.
'What do you mean no description? If they remember the scarf, they must have noticed other things. What? Normal height? Is that all?'
Harry shook his head as he listened.
'What's he saying?' Halvorsen whispered.
'Wide discrepancies between statements,' Harry whispered back.
Halvorsen noted down 'discrepancies'.
'Yes, great, email me the details. Well, thanks for now, Alex. If you find anything else, such as a suspected haunt or something like that, give me a buzz, OK? What? Ha ha. Right, I'll send you a copy of me and my wife.'
Harry rang off and noticed Halvorsen's quizzical stare.
'Old joke,' Harry said. 'Alex thinks all Scandinavian couples make private porno films.'
Harry dialled another number, discovered while he was waiting for an answer that Halvorsen was still looking at him and sighed. 'I've never even been married, Halvorsen.'
Magnus Skarre had to shout to be heard over the coffee machine, which appeared to be suffering from a serious lung condition. 'Perhaps there are a number of hit men from a hitherto unknown gang who wear red scarves as a kind of uniform.'
'Rubbish,' drawled Toril Li, taking her place in the coffee queue behind Skarre. She was holding an empty mug with the slogan 'The World's Best Mum'.
Ola Li gave a little chuckle. He took a seat by the table inside the kitchenette which functioned as a canteen for the Crime and Vice Squads.
'Rubbish?' said Skarre. 'It could be terrorism, couldn't it? Holy war against the Christians? Muslims. Then all hell would be let loose. Or perhaps it's los dagos. They wear red scarves, don't they?'
'They prefer to be called Spaniards,' said Toril Li.
'Basques,' said Halvorsen, sitting at the table across from Ola Li.
'Bull running. San Fermin in Pamplona. The Basque country.'
'ETA!' shouted Skarre. 'Shit, why didn't we think of them before?!'
'You should write film scripts, you should,' Toril Li said. Ola Li was laughing out loud now, but said nothing, as usual.
'And you two should stick to bank robbers on Rohypnol,' Skarre mumbled, referring to the fact that Toril Li and Ola Li, who were neither married nor related, had come from the Robberies Unit.
'There's just the little detail that terrorists tend to claim responsibility,' Halvorsen said. 'The four cases we received from Europol were hits, and then it all went quiet afterwards. And the victims have generally been involved in something or other. Both the victims in Zagreb were Serbs who had been acquitted of war crimes, and the one in Munich had been threatening the hegemony of a local baron involved in people smuggling. And the guy in Paris was a paedophile with two previous convictions.'
Harry Hole wandered in with a mug in his hand. Skarre, Li and Li filled their cups and instead of sitting down, ambled off. Halvorsen had noticed that Harry had that effect on colleagues. The inspector sat down, and Halvorsen saw the troubled furrow in his brow.
'Soon be twenty-four hours,' Halvorsen said.
'Yes,' said Harry, staring into his still empty mug.
'Is anything the matter?'
Harry paused. 'I don't know. I called Bjarne Moller in Bergen. To get some constructive ideas.'
'What did he say?'
'Not a great deal. He sounded…' Harry searched for the word. 'Lonely.'
'Isn't his family with him?'
'They were supposed to follow.'
'Don't know. I don't know anything.'
'What's bothering you then?'
'He was drunk.'
Halvorsen knocked his mug of coffee and spilt it. 'Moller? Drunk at work? You're kidding?'
Harry didn't answer.
'Perhaps he wasn't well or something like that?' Halvorsen added.
'I know what a drunken man sounds like, Halvorsen. I have to go to Bergen.'
'Now? You're leading a murder investigation, Harry.'
'I'll be there and back in a day. You hold the fort in the meantime.'
Halvorsen smiled. 'Are you getting old, Harry?'
'Old? What do you mean?'
'Old and human. That's the first time I've heard you prioritise the living over the dead.'
The instant Halvorsen saw Harry's face he was filled with regret. 'I didn't mean…'
'That's fine,' Harry said, standing up. 'I want you to get hold of the passenger lists of all flights to and from Croatia over the last few days. Ask the police at Gardemoen Airport whether you need a police lawyer to make an application. Should you need a court ruling, nip over to the court and get it on the spot. When you have the lists, ring Alex in Europol and ask him to check the names for us. Say it's for me.'
'And you're sure he can help?'
Harry nodded. 'In the meantime Beate and I will go and have a chat with Jon Karlsen.'
'So far, all we've heard about Robert Karlsen is pure Disney. I think there's more.'
'Why aren't you taking me along?'
'Because Beate, unlike you, knows when people are lying.'
He breathed in before tackling the steps up to the restaurant called Biscuit.
The difference from the previous evening was that there were almost no people around. But the same waiter was leaning against the door to the dining room. The one with the Giorgi curls and the blue eyes.
'Hello there,' said the waiter. 'I didn't recognise you.'
He blinked twice, caught on the hop by the fact that it meant he had been recognised.
'But I recognised the coat,' the waiter said. 'Very tasteful. Is it camel hair?'
'I hope so,' he stammered with a smile.
The waiter laughed and placed a hand on his arm. He didn't see a trace of fear in the man's eyes and concluded the waiter was without suspicions. And hoped that meant the police had not been here and therefore had not found the gun.
'I don't want to eat,' he said. 'I just want to use the toilet.'
'The toilet?' repeated the waiter, and he saw the blue eyes scanning his. 'You came here to use the toilet? Really?'
'A quick visit,' he said, swallowing. The waiter's presence made him uneasy.
'A quick visit,' repeated the waiter. 'I see.'
The Gents was empty and smelt of soap. But not freedom.
The smell of soap was even stronger when he flipped up the lid of the soap container over the basin. He rolled up his sleeve and thrust his hand down in the cold green mush. For an instant a thought shot through his mind: that they had changed soap dispensers. But then he felt it. Slowly, he fished it out and the soap dripped long, green fingers on the white porcelain basin. After a wash and a bit of oil the gun would be fine. And he still had six bullets in the magazine. He hurriedly rinsed the gun and was about to put it in his coat pocket when the door opened.
'Hello again,' the waiter whispered with a big smile. But the smile went rigid when he caught sight of the gun.
He slipped it into his pocket, mumbled a goodbye and forced his way past the waiter in the narrow doorway. He felt rapid breathing against his face and the other man's erection on his thigh.
It was only when he was out in the cold again that he became aware of his heart. It was pounding. As though he had been frightened. The blood streamed through his body, making him feel warm and light.
Jon Karlsen was on his way out as Harry arrived in Goteborggata.
'Is it that late?' Jon asked with a glance at his watch, confused.
'I'm a bit early,' Harry said. 'My colleague will be along in a moment.'
'Have I got time to buy some milk?' He was wearing a thin jacket and his hair was combed.
'By all means.'
The corner shop was on the other side of the street and while Jon was rummaging for the change to buy a litre of semi-skimmed milk Harry studied the lavish selection of Christmas decorations between the toilet paper and the cornflakes packets. Neither of them commented on the newspaper stand by the cash desk on which the Egertorget murder screamed out at them in bold capitals. The front page of Dagbladet carried a blurred, grainy crop of Wedlog's picture of the crowd with a red circle around the head of the person with the scarf and the headline: POLICE SEEK THIS MAN.
They went out and Jon stopped in front of a beggar with red hair and a seventies goatee. He searched long and hard in his pocket until he found something he could drop in the brown paper cup.
'I haven't got much to offer you,' Jon said to Harry. 'And, to tell the truth, the coffee has been standing in the percolator for a while. Probably tastes of tar.'
'Great, that's just how I like it.'
'You too?' Jon Karlsen gave a pale smile. 'Ow!' Jon held his head and turned to the beggar. 'Are you throwing money at me?' he asked in astonishment.
The beggar snorted into his whiskers in annoyance and shouted in a clear voice: 'Legal tender only, thank you!'
Jon Karlsen's flat was identical to Thea Nilsen's. It was clean and tidy, but the interior still bore the unmistakable signs of bachelorhood. Harry drew three quick assumptions: that the old but well-lookedafter furniture came from the same place as his, namely Elevator, the second-hand shop in Ullevalsveien; that Jon had not been to the art exhibition the solitary poster on the sitting-room wall was advertising; and that more meals were taken bent over the low table in front of the TV than in the place provided in the kitchenette. On the almost empty bookshelf there was a photograph of a man in a Salvation Army uniform looking out into space with an authoritative air.
'Your father?' Harry asked.
'Yes,' Jon answered, taking two mugs from the kitchen cupboard and pouring from a brown, stained coffee jug.
'You look very similar.'
'Thank you,' said Jon. 'I hope that's true.' He brought the mugs in and deposited them on the coffee table next to the fresh carton of milk, among the collection of rings in the varnish, showing where he usually ate his meals. Harry was going to ask how his parents had taken the news of Robert's death, but changed tack.
'Let's begin with the hypothesis,' Harry said, 'that your brother was killed because he had done something to someone. Tricked them, borrowed money off them, insulted them, threatened them, hurt them or whatever. Your brother was a good guy; everyone says that. And that's what we tend to hear in murder cases. People like to emphasise the good sides. Most of us have dark sides though. Don't we?'
Jon nodded, although Harry was unable to decide whether this was a sign of agreement or not.
'What we need is some light shed on Robert's dark sides.'
Jon stared, uncomprehending.
Harry cleared his throat. 'Let's start with money. Did Robert have any financial problems?'
Jon shrugged. 'No. And yes. He didn't exactly live in style so I can't imagine he had incurred huge debts, if that's what you mean. By and large he borrowed from me, if he needed money, I think. By borrowing I mean…' Jon's smile was wistful.
'What sort of sums are we talking about?'
'Not big ones. Apart from this autumn.'
'Er… thirty thousand.'
'For what purpose?'
Jon scratched his head. 'He had a project, but wouldn't expand on it. Just said he would need to travel abroad. I would find out, he said. Yes, I thought it was quite a lot of money, but I live cheaply and I don't have a car. And for once he seemed so enthusiastic. I was curious about what it was, but then… well, then this happened.'
Harry took notes. 'Mm. What about Robert's darker sides, as a person?'
He waited. Studied the coffee table and let Jon sit and think while the vacuum of silence took effect, the vacuum that sooner or later always elicited something: a lie, a despairing digression or, in the best-case scenario, the truth.
'When Robert was young he was…' Jon ventured, then stopped.
Harry, motionless, said nothing.
'He lacked… inhibition.'
Harry nodded, without looking up. Gave encouragement, without disturbing the vacuum.
'I used to dread what he might get up to. He was so violent. There seemed to be two people inside him. One was the cold, controlled investigative type who was curious about… what shall I say? Reactions. Feelings. Suffering, too, perhaps. That sort of thing.'
'Can you give me any examples?' Harry asked.
Jon swallowed. 'Once when I came home he said he had something to show me in the laundry room in the cellar. He had put our cat in a small empty aquarium, where Dad had kept guppies, and stuffed the hosepipe in under a wooden lid on the top. Then he turned the tap on full. Things moved so fast that the aquarium was almost full before I managed to remove the lid and rescue the cat. Robert said he wanted to see how the cat would react, but now and then I have wondered whether it was in fact me he was observing.'
'Mm. If he was like that it's strange no one mentioned it.'
'Not many people knew that side of Robert. I suppose it was partly my own fault. From the time we were small I had to promise Dad I would keep an eye on Robert so that he didn't get into any real trouble. I did what I could. Robert's behaviour was, as I said, not out of control. He could be hot and cold at the same time, if you understand. So only those closest to him had a sense of Robert's… other sides. Well, and the odd frog.' Jon smiled. 'He launched them into the air in helium balloons. When Dad caught him, Robert said it was so sad to be a frog and never be able to get a bird's-eye view. And I…' Jon stared into space and Harry could see his eyes becoming moist. 'I started to laugh. Dad was furious, but I couldn't help myself. Robert could make me laugh like that.'
'Mm. Did he grow out of this?'
Jon shrugged. 'To be honest, I don't know everything Robert has been doing in recent years. Since Mum and Dad moved to Thailand Robert and I have not been so close.'
'That sort of thing often happens between brothers. There doesn't have to be any reason.'
Harry didn't answer, just waited. A door slammed in the hallway.
'There were a few incidents with girls,' Jon said.
The distant sound of ambulance sirens. A lift with a metallic hum. Jon breathed out with a sigh. 'Young girls.'
'I don't know. Unless Robert was lying, they must have been very young.'
'Why would he lie?'
'As I said, I think he liked to see how I would react.'
Harry stood up and went over to the window. A man was ambling across Sofienberg Park along a track that looked like an uneven brown line drawn by a child on a white piece of paper. To the north of the church was a small enclosed cemetery for the Mosaic community. Stale Aune, the psychologist, had once told him that hundreds of years ago the whole of the park had been a cemetery.
'Was he violent to any of these girls?' Harry asked.
'No!' Jon's exclamation echoed between the bare walls. Harry said nothing. The man had left the park and was crossing Helgesens gate towards their building.
'Not as far as I know,' Jon said. 'And if he had told me he had been, I wouldn't have believed him.'
'Do you know any of the girls he met?'
'No. He never stayed with them for long. As a matter of fact there was just one girl I know he was serious about.'
'Thea Nilsen. He was obsessed with her when we were young boys.'
Jon gazed thoughtfully into his coffee cup. 'You would think I could keep away from the one girl my brother had made his mind up he would have, wouldn't you? And God knows I have wondered why.'
'All I know is that Thea is the most fantastic person I've ever met.'
The hum of the lift came to a sudden stop.
'Did your brother know about you and Thea?'
'He found out that we had met a couple of times. He had his suspicions, but Thea and I have been trying to keep it a secret.'
There was a knock at the door.
'That'll be Beate, my colleague,' Harry said. 'I'll get it.'
He turned over his notepad, placed his pen parallel to it and walked the few steps to the front door. He struggled for a few seconds until he realised it opened inwards. The face he met was as surprised as his own, and for a moment they stood looking at each other. Harry noticed a sweet, perfumed smell, as if the other person used a strong aromatic deodorant.
'Jon?' the man asked tentatively.
'Of course,' Harry said. 'Sorry, we were expecting someone else. One moment.'
Harry went back to the sofa. 'It's for you.'
The instant he flopped down into the soft cushion, it struck Harry that something had happened, right now in the last few seconds. He checked his pen was still parallel with the pad. Untouched. But there was something, his brain had detected something he couldn't place.
'Good evening?' he heard Jon say behind him. Polite, reserved form of address. Rising intonation. The way you greet someone you don't know. Or when you don't know what they want. There it was again. Something happened, something grated. There was something about him. He had used Jon's first name when he asked after him, but it was obvious Jon didn't know him.
'What message?' Jon said.
Then it clicked into place. The neck. The man was wearing something around his neck. A neckerchief. The cravat knot. Harry put both hands on the coffee table to lever himself up, and the cups went flying as he screamed: 'Shut the door!'
But Jon stood staring through the doorway, as if hypnotised. He stooped to listen.
Harry stepped back one pace, jumped over the sofa and sprinted for the door.
'Don't-' Jon said.
Harry aimed and launched himself. Then everything seemed to stop. Harry had experienced it before, when the adrenalin kicks in and changes your perception of time. It was like moving in water. And he knew it was too late. His right shoulder hit the door, his left Jon's hip and his eardrum received the sound waves of the exploding gunpowder and a bullet leaving a gun.
Then came the bang. The bullet. The door slamming into the frame and locking. Jon hitting the cupboard and the kitchen unit. Harry swivelled onto his side and looked up. The door handle was being pressed down.
'Fuck,' Harry whispered, getting to his knees.
The door was shaken hard, twice.
Harry grabbed Jon's belt and dragged him, lifeless, over the parquet floor to the bedroom.
There was a scratching sound outside the door. Then another bang. Splinters flew from the middle of the door, one of the cushions on the sofa jerked, a column of greyish-black down rose to the ceiling and the carton of semi-skimmed milk began to gurgle. A jet of milk described a weak, white arc onto the table.
The damage a nine-millimetre projectile can do is underrated, thought Harry, turning Jon onto his back. One drop of blood ran from a hole in his forehead.
Another bang. The tinkle of glass.
Harry flipped his mobile out of his pocket and punched in Beate's number.
'OK, OK, don't hassle me, I'm coming,' Beate answered after the first ring. 'I'm outsi-'
'Listen,' Harry interrupted. 'Radio all patrol cars to get here now. With their sirens blaring. Someone is outside the flat peppering us with lead. And you keep away. Received?'
'Received. Stay on the line.'
Harry put the mobile on the floor in front of him. Scraping sound against the wall. Could he hear them? Harry sat motionless. The scraping came nearer. What kind of walls were they? A bullet that could go through an insulated front door would have no problems with a stud wall of plasterboard and fibreglass. Even nearer. It stopped. Harry held his breath. And that was when he heard. Jon was breathing.
Then a sound rose from the general rumble of city noise and it was music to Harry's ears. A police siren. Two police sirens.
Harry listened for scraping. Nothing. Make a run for it, he prayed. Beat it. And was heard. The sound of footsteps down the corridor and the stairs.
Harry lay back on the cold parquet floor and stared at the ceiling. There was a draught coming from under the door. He closed his eyes. Nineteen years. Christ. Nineteen years until he could go into retirement.
Wednesday, 17 December. Hospital and Ashes.
In the shop window he saw the reflection of a police car pulling up in the street behind him. He kept walking, forcing himself not to run. As he had done a few minutes ago when he raced down the stairs from Jon Karlsen's flat, came out onto the pavement and almost knocked over a young woman with a mobile phone in her hand, sprinted across the park, westwards, to the busy streets where he was now.
The police car was moving at the same speed as he was. He saw a door, opened it and had the impression he had stepped into a film. An American film with Cadillacs, bootlace ties and young Elvises. The music on the speakers sounded like an old hillbilly record at three times the speed and the bartender's suit looked like it had been lifted from the LP cover.
He was looking around the surprisingly full but tiny bar area when he noticed the bartender had been talking to him.
'A drink, sir?'
'Why not? What have you got?'
'Well, a Slow Comfortable Screw, maybe. Though, you look as if you could do with a whisky from the Orkneys.'
A police siren rose and fell. The heat in the bar was causing the sweat to stream out of his pores now. He tore off his neckerchief and stuffed it in his coat pocket. He was glad of the tobacco smoke, which camouflaged the smell of the gun in his coat pocket.
He was given a drink and found a seat by the wall facing the window.
Who had the other person in the room been? A friend of Jon Karlsen? A relative? Or someone Karlsen shared the flat with? He took a sip of the whisky. It tasted of hospital and ashes. And why did he ask himself such stupid questions? Only a policeman could have reacted in the way he did. Only a policeman could have called for help with such speed. And now they knew who his target was. That would make his job much harder. He would have to consider retreat. He took another sip.
The policeman had seen his camel-hair coat.
He went to the toilet, moved the gun, neckerchief and passport into his jacket pockets and shoved the coat into the rubbish bin beneath the sink. On the pavement outside, rubbing his hands and shivering, he surveyed the street in both directions.
The final job. The most important. Everything depended on it.
Easy does it, he said to himself. They don't know who you are. Go back to the beginning. Think constructively.
Nevertheless, he couldn't repress the thought running through his mind: who was the man in the flat?
'We don't know,' Harry said. 'All we know is that he might have been the same man who killed Robert.'
He tucked in his legs so that the nurse could roll the empty bed past them down the narrow corridor.
'M-might have been?' Thea Nilsen stuttered. 'Are there several of them?' She sat slightly forward, holding the wooden seat of the chair tight as though afraid of falling off.
Beate Lonn leaned over and placed a comforting hand on Thea's knee. 'We don't know. The most important thing is that it went well. The doctor says he has concussion, that's all.'
'Which I gave him,' Harry said. 'Along with the edge of the kitchen unit, which made a small hole in his forehead. The bullet missed. We found it in the wall. The second bullet came to rest in the milk carton. Just imagine. Inside the milk carton. And the third in the kitchen cupboard between the currants and-'
Beate sent Harry a glance which he guessed was supposed to say that right now Thea would hardly be interested in ballistic idiosyncrasies.
'Anyway. Jon is fine, but he was out cold for a bit, so the doctors are keeping him under observation for the time being.'
'Alright. Can I go in and see him now?'
'Of course,' Beate said. 'We would like you to have a look at these pictures first though. And tell us if you have seen any of these men before.'
She took three photos out of a folder and gave them to Thea. The photos of Egertorget had been blown up so much that the faces seemed like mosaics of black-and-white dots.
Thea shook her head. 'That was difficult. I couldn't even see any differences between them.'
'Nor me,' Harry said. 'But Beate is a specialist in facial recognition, and she says they're two different people.'
'I think they are,' Beate corrected. 'In addition, I was almost knocked flying by him as he came running out of the block in Goteborggata. And to me he didn't look like either of these people in the pictures.'
Harry was taken aback. He had never heard Beate express doubt in this field before.
'Good God,' Thea whispered. 'How many do you think there really are?'
'Don't worry,' Harry said. 'We have a guard outside Jon's room.'
'What?' Thea stared at him wide-eyed, and Harry realised it had not even occurred to her that Jon could be in danger at Ulleval Hospital. Until now. Fantastic.
'Come on. Let's go and see how he is,' Beate suggested in a friendly tone.
Yes, thought Harry. And leave this idiot to sit and ponder the concept of 'people managment'.
He turned at the sound of running footsteps from the other end of the corridor.
It was Halvorsen slaloming between patients, visitors and nurses in clattering clogs. Breathless, he pulled up in front of Harry and handed him a sheet of paper with pale black writing on it and that shiny quality that told Harry it was from Crime Squad's fax machine.
'A page from the passenger lists. I tried to ring you-'
'Mobiles have to be switched off here,' Harry said. 'Anything interesting?'
'I got the passenger lists, no problem. And mailed them to Alex, who got on to them right away. A couple of the passengers have small blemishes on their records, but nothing that would raise suspicion. But there was one thing that was a bit odd…'
'One of the passengers came to Oslo two days ago and had a return flight that should have left yesterday, but was postponed until today. Christo Stankic. He never showed up. That's odd because he had a cheap ticket and it isn't valid for other flights. On the list he is given as a Croatian national so I asked Alex to check the national register in Croatia. Now Croatia isn't a member of the EU either, but as they're dead keen to join, they're very cooperative as far as-'
'Come to the point, Halvorsen.'
'Christo Stankic doesn't exist.'
'Interesting.' Harry scratched his chin. 'Although Stankic may not have anything to do with our case.'
Harry studied the name on the list. Christo Stankic. It was just a name. But a name that would have to be in the passport the airline would ask to see at check-in, as the name was on the passenger list. The same passport that hotels would ask to see.
'I want all the hotel guest lists in all of Oslo checked,' Harry said. 'Let's see if any of them have put up Christo Stankic over the last two days.'
'I'll be on to it right away.'
Harry straightened up and sent Halvorsen a nod he hoped contained what he wanted to say. That he was pleased with him.
'I'm off to my psychologist,' Harry said.
The psychologist, Stale Aune, had his office in the part of the street called Sporveisgata where there was no sporvei, tramline, but its pavements did showcase an interesting selection of walks: the confident, bouncy walk of the keep-fit housewives at the SATS fitness studio, the cautious walk of the guide-dog owners from the Institute for the Blind and the careless gait of the down-at-heel but undeterred clientele from the hospice for drug users.
'So this Robert Karlsen liked girls under the age of consent,' Aune said, having hung his tweed jacket over the back of the chair and forced his double chin down towards his bow tie. 'That can be caused by many things, of course, but I gather he grew up in a pietistic Salvation Army milieu. Is that correct?'
'Yes,' said Harry, looking up at the well-stocked but chaotic bookshelves of his personal professional adviser. 'But isn't it a myth that you become perverted from growing up in closed, strict, religious communities?'
'No,' Aune said. 'Christian sects are over-represented as far as the sexual assault you mention is concerned.'
Aune pressed his fingertips together and smacked his lips with glee. 'If one is punished or humiliated in one's childhood or adolescence by, for example, one's parents for exhibiting a natural sexuality, what happens is that one represses this part of one's personality. Normal sexual maturation comes to a grinding halt, and sexual preferences find a deviant outlet, so to speak. At an adult age many try to return to a period in their lives when they were allowed to be natural, to find a release for their sexuality.'
'Like wearing nappies.'
'Yes. Or playing with excrement. I remember a case in California about a senator who-'
'Or, at an adult age, they go back to what is known as a core-event,' Aune continued. 'Which is often the last time they were successful in their sexual endeavours, that is, the last time sex worked for them. And it might be a teenage infatuation, or sexual contact of some kind, that went undiscovered or unpunished.'
'Or a sexual assault?'
'Correct. A situation when they were in control and hence felt powerful, the very opposite of humiliation. And so they spend the rest of their lives seeking to recreate that situation.'
'It can't be that easy being a sexual molester then.'
'Indeed not. Many were beaten black and blue for being found with a pornographic magazine in their teens and showing a quite normal, healthy sexuality. But if you wish to maximise the chances of a person becoming a sexual abuser, give him a violent father, an invasive or sexually importunate mother and a milieu in which the truth is suppressed and the lusts of the flesh are rewarded with hellfire.'
Harry's mobile bleeped. He pulled it out and read the text from Halvorsen. A Christo Stankic had stayed at Scandia Hotel by Oslo Central Station the night before the murder.
'What's AA like?' Aune asked. 'Is it helping you to abstain?'
'Well,' Harry said, getting up, 'yes and no.'
A scream jolted him back into reality.
He turned and looked into a pair of saucer eyes and a black hole of an open mouth a few centimetres from his face. The child pressed its nose against the glass partition in Burger King's playroom before falling backwards onto the carpet of red, yellow and blue plastic balls with a whine of glee.
He wiped the remains of ketchup from his mouth, emptied his tray into the bin and rushed out into Karl Johans gate. Tried to huddle up into the thin suit jacket, but the cold was merciless. He decided to buy a new coat as soon as he had got himself a decent room in Scandia Hotel.
Six minutes later he walked through the doors of the hotel lobby and queued up behind a couple who were obviously checking in. The female receptionist cast a fleeting glance at him without any sign of recognition. Then she bent over the new guests' papers while speaking in Norwegian. The woman turned to him. A blonde. Attractive, he noticed. Even if in a plain kind of way. He smiled back. That was as much as he managed. Because he had seen her before. Just a few hours ago. Outside the building in Goteborggata.
Without moving from the spot he inclined his head and put his hands in his jacket pockets. The grip on the gun was firm and reassuring. Taking great care, he raised his head, spotted the mirror behind the receptionist and stared. But the image blurred, became double. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and opened them again. The tall man gradually came into focus. The shorn skull, the pale skin with the red nose, the hard, pronounced features that were at variance with the sensitive mouth. It was him. The second man in the flat. The policeman. He took stock of the reception area. They were the only people around. And, as though to remove the last shadow of doubt, he heard two familiar words amid all the Norwegian. Christo Stankic. He forced himself to remain calm. How they had managed to trace him he had no idea, but the consequences were beginning to dawn on him.
The blonde woman was given a key by the receptionist, grabbed what looked like a tool case and walked towards the lift. The tall man said something to the receptionist and she made a note. Then the policeman turned round and their eyes met for an instant before he headed for the exit.
The receptionist smiled, articulated a rehearsed, friendly Norwegian phrase and sent him an enquiring look. He asked her if she had a nonsmoking room on the top floor.
'Let me see, sir.' She tapped away on the keyboard.
'Excuse me. The man you were talking with, wasn't he the policeman whose photo has been in the newspapers?'
'I don't know.' She smiled.
'Think it was, he's famous, what's his name again…?'
She glanced down at her notebook. 'Harry Hole. Is he famous?'
'Wrong name. I must have made a mistake.'
'I have one free room. If you want it, you'll have to fill in this card and show your passport. How would you like to pay?'
'How much is it?'
She checked the price.
'Sorry,' he smiled. 'Too expensive.'
He left the hotel and went into the railway station, headed for the toilet and locked himself in a cubicle. There he sat, trying to organise his thoughts. They had the name. So he had to find some accommodation where he would not have to show his passport. And Christo Stankic could forget about booking a plane, boat, train or even crossing a national border. What was he going to do? He would have to ring Zagreb and talk to her.
He strolled into the square outside the station. A numbing wind swept the open area as, with chattering teeth, he kept an eye on the public telephones. A man was leaning against the white hot-dog vehicle in the middle. He was wearing a quilted down jacket and trousers and resembled an astronaut. Was he imagining it or was the man keeping the phones under surveillance? Could they have traced his calls and were they waiting for him to return? No, impossible. He hesitated. If they were tapping the phones, there was a chance he might give her away. He made up his mind. The call could wait. What he needed now was a room with a bed and a heater. They would want cash at the kind of place he was looking for now, and he had spent his last money on the hamburger.
Inside the high concourse, between the shops and the platforms, he found a cash machine. He took out his Visa card, read the English instructions telling him to keep the magnetic strip to the right, and went to put the card in the slot. His hand stopped. The card was made out in the name of Christo Stankic, too. It would be registered and somewhere an alarm would go off. He hesitated. Then he returned the card to his wallet. He sauntered through the concourse. The shops were closing. He didn't even have enough money to buy a warm jacket. A security guard was giving him the once-over. He stumbled into Jernbanetorget again. A northerly wind was sweeping through the square. The man by the hotdog stand was gone. But there was another by the tiger sculpture.
'I need some money for a place to sleep tonight.'
He didn't need to know any Norwegian to understand what the man was asking him for. It was the same young junkie he had given money to earlier in the day. Money he was in dire need of now. He shook his head and cast a glance at the shivering collection of junkies by what he had at first taken to be a bus stop. The white bus had arrived.
Harry's chest and lungs ached. The good ache. His thighs burned. The good burn.
When he was stuck on a case he sometimes did what he was doing now – he went down to the basement fitness room at Police HQ and cycled. Not because it made him think better, but because it made him stop thinking.
'They said you were here.' Gunnar Hagen mounted the ergometer bike beside him. The tight yellow T-shirt and the cycling shorts emphasised rather than covered the muscles in the POB's lean, almost ravaged body. 'What program are you on?'
'Number nine,' Harry panted.
Hagen regulated the height of the saddle while standing on the pedals and then punched in the necessary settings on the cycle computer. 'I gather you've had quite a dramatic day today.'
'I'll understand if you want to apply for sick leave,' Hagen said. 'After all, this is peacetime.'
'Thank you, but I'm feeling pretty fresh, boss.'
'Good. I've just spoken to Torleif.'
'The Chief Super?'
'We need to know how the case is going. There have been phone calls. The Salvation Army is popular, and influential people in town would like to know whether we'll clear the case up before Christmas. Peace and Yuletide goodwill and all that stuff.'
'The politicians coped fine with six fatal OD cases in their Yuletide last year.'
'I was asking for an update on the case, Hole.'
Harry could feel the sweat stinging his nipples.
'Well, no witnesses have come forward despite the photos in Dagbladet today. And Beate Lonn says that the photos suggest we are not dealing with one killer, but at least two. And I share her opinion. The man at Jon Karlsen's flat was wearing a camel-hair coat and a neckerchief, and the clothes match those of the man in Egertorget the evening before the murder.'
'Only the clothes?'
'I couldn't see his face very well. And Jon Karlsen can't remember a great deal. One of the residents has admitted she let an Englishman in to leave a Christmas present outside Jon Karlsen's door.'
'Right,' said Hagen. 'But we'll keep the theory about several killers to ourselves. Go on.'
'There's not much more to say.'
Harry checked the speedometer as with calm determination he stepped up the pace to thirty-five kilometres an hour.
'Well, we have a false passport belonging to a Croat, a Christo Stankic, who was not on the Zagreb plane today and should have been. We found out he had been staying at Scandia Hotel. Lonn examined his room for DNA. They don't have so many guests staying so we hoped the receptionist would recognise the man from our photos.'
'What is our basis for thinking this is our man then?'
'The false passport,' Harry said, stealing a glimpse at Hagen's speedometer. Forty kilometres an hour.
'And how will you find him?'
'Well, names leave traces in the information age and we have alerted all our standard contacts. If anyone bearing the name of Christo Stankic sets foot in a hotel, buys a plane ticket or uses a credit card, we will know at once. According to the receptionist he had enquired after a telephone booth, and she directed him to Jernbanetorget. Telenor is going to send us a list of outgoing calls over the last two days from the public phones there.'
'So all you have is a Croat with a false passport who didn't turn up for his flight,' Hagen said. 'You're stuck, aren't you.'
Harry didn't answer.
'Try thinking laterally,' Hagen said.
'Right, boss,' Harry drawled.
'There are always alternatives,' Hagen said. 'Have I told you about the Japanese platoon and the cholera outbreak?'
'Don't think I've had the pleasure, boss.'
'They were in the jungle north of Rangoon and kept bringing up everything they ate and drank. They were dehydrating, but the leader refused to lie down and die, so he ordered them to empty their morphine syringes and use them to inject themselves with the water from their canteens.'
Hagen increased his tempo and Harry listened in vain for any signs of breathlessness.
'It worked. But after a few days the only water they had left was a barrel teeming with mosquito larvae. Then the second in command suggested sticking the syringes in the flesh of the fruit growing around them and injecting it into the bloodstream. In theory, fruit juice is 90 per cent water anyway, and what did they have to lose? It saved the platoon, Hole. Imagination and courage.'
'Imagination and courage,' wheezed Hole. 'Thanks, boss.'
He pedalled for all he was worth and could hear the crackle of his own breathing, like fire through an open stove door. The speedometer showed 42. He glanced over at the POB's. 47. Breathing? Even.
Harry was reminded of a sentence from a thousand-year-old book he had been given by a bank robber, The Art of War. 'Choose your battles.' And he knew this was one battle he should withdraw from. Because he would lose, whatever he did.
Harry slowed down. The speedometer showed 35. To his surprise, he didn't feel frustration, just weary resignation. Perhaps he was growing up, perhaps he was finished with being the idiot who lowered his horns and attacked anyone waving a red rag? Harry snatched a sidelong glance. Hagen's legs were going like pistons now, and the smooth layer of sweat on his face glistened in the white light from the lamp.
Harry dried his sweat. Took two deep breaths. Then went for it again. The wonderful pain returned in seconds.
Wednesday, 17 December. The Ticking.
Every so often Martine thought that the square in Plata had to be the basement staircase to hell. Nevertheless, she was terrified by rumours going around that in spring the town hall's welfare committee was going to abandon the scheme for the open trading of drugs. The overt argument put forward by opponents of Plata was that the area attracted young people to drugs. Martine's opinion was that anyone who thought that the life you saw played out in Plata could be attractive either had to be crazy or had never set foot there.
The covert argument was that this terrain, delimited by a white line in the tarmac next to Jernbanetorget, like a border, disfigured the image of the city. And was it not a glaring admission of failure in the world's most successful – or at least richest – social democracy to allow drugs and money to exchange hands openly in the very heart of the capital?
Martine agreed with that. That there had been a failure. The battle for the drug-free society was lost. On the other hand, if you wanted to prevent drugs from gaining further ground it was better for the drug dealing to take place under the ever-watchful eyes of surveillance cameras than under bridges along the Akerselva and in dark backyards along Radhusgata and the southern side of Akershus Fortress. And Martine knew that most people whose work was in some way connected with Narco-Oslo – the police, social workers, street preachers and prostitutes – all thought the same: that Plata was better than the alternatives. But it was not a pretty sight.
'Langemann!' she shouted to the man standing in the darkness outside their bus. 'Don't you want any soup tonight?'
But Langemann sidled away. He had probably bought his fix and was off to inject the medicine.
She concentrated on ladling soup for a Mediterranean type in a blue jacket when she heard chattering teeth beside her and saw a man dressed in a thin suit jacket awaiting his turn. 'Here you are,' she said, pouring out his soup.
'Hello, sweetie,' came a rasping voice.
'Come over and thaw out a poor wretch,' said the ageing prostitute with a hearty laugh, and embraced Martine. The smell of the damp skin and body that undulated against the tight-fitting leopard-pattern dress was overwhelming. But there was another smell, one she recognised, a smell that had been there before Wenche's broadside of fragrances had overpowered everything else.
They sat down at one of the empty tables.
Although some of the foreign working girls who had flooded the area in the last year also used drugs, it was not as widespread as among their home-grown rivals. Wenche was one of the few Norwegians who did not indulge. Furthermore, in her words, she had begun to work more from home with a fixed clientele, so the intervals between meeting Martine had lengthened.
'I'm here to look for a girlfriend's son,' Wenche said. 'Kristoffer. I'm told he's on shit.'
'Kristoffer? Don't know him.'
'Aaah!' She dismissed it. 'Forget it. You've got other things on your mind, I can see.'
'Don't fib. I can see when a girl's in love. Is it him?'
Wenche nodded towards the man in the Salvation Army uniform with a Bible in one hand who had just sat down next to the man in the thin suit jacket.
Martine puffed out her cheeks. 'Rikard? No, thank you.'
'Sure? His eyes have been trailing you ever since I arrived.'
'Rikard is alright,' she sighed. 'At any rate he volunteered for this shift at short notice. The person who should have been here is dead.'
'Did you know him?'
Wenche answered with a heavy-hearted nod, then brightened up again. 'But forget the dead and tell Mummy who you're in love with. It's not before time, by the way.'
Martine smiled. 'I didn't even know I was in love.'
'No, this is too silly. I-'
'Martine,' said another voice.
She peered up and saw Rikard's imploring eyes.
'The man sitting there says he has no clothes, no money and nowhere to stay. Do you know if the Hostel has any free places?'
'Call them and ask,' Martine said. 'They do have some winter clothes.'
'Right.' Rikard didn't move, even though Martine was facing Wenche. She didn't need to look up to know that his top lip was sweaty.
Then he mumbled a 'thanks' and went back to the man in the suit jacket.
'Tell me then,' Wenche urged in a whisper.
Outside, the northerly wind had lined up its small-calibre artillery.
Harry walked along with his sports bag over his shoulder, narrowing his eyes against the wind, which was making the sharp, almost invisible snowflakes imbed small pinpricks in the cornea. As he passed Blitz, the squatters' property in Pilestredet, his mobile rang. It was Halvorsen.
'There have been two calls to Zagreb in the last two days from the phones in Jernbanetorget. Same number both times. I rang the number and got through to a hotel receptionist. Hotel International. They couldn't tell me who had rung from Oslo or who this person was trying to contact. Nor had they heard of anyone called Christo Stankic.'
'Shall I follow up?'
'No,' Harry sighed. 'We'll let it go until something tells us this Stankic might be interesting. Switch off the light before you go and we'll talk tomorrow.'
'I'm not going anywhere.'
'There's more. The uniformed boys have received a call from a waiter at Biscuit. He said he was in the toilet this morning and bumped into one of the customers.'
'What was he doing there?'
'I'll come to that. You see, the customer had something in his hand-'
'I mean the waiter. Restaurant employees always have their own toilets.'
'I didn't ask,' Halvorsen said, becoming impatient. 'Listen. This customer was holding something green and dripping.'
'Sounds like he should see a doctor.'
'Very funny. The waiter swore it was a gun covered in soap. The lid of the container was off.'
'Biscuit,' Harry repeated as the information sank in. 'That's on Karl Johan.'
'Two hundred metres from the crime scene. I bet a crate of beer that's our gun. Er… sorry, I bet-'
'By the way, you still owe me two hundred kroner. Give me the rest of the story.'
'Here comes the best bit. I asked for a description. He couldn't give me one.'
'Sounds like the refrain in this case.'
'Except that he recognised the guy by his coat. A very ugly camelhair coat.'
'Yes!' Harry shouted. 'The guy with the scarf in the photo of Egertorget the night before Karlsen was shot.'
'Incidentally, the waiter reckoned it was imitation. And he sounded like he knew about that sort of thing.'
'What do you mean?'
'You know. The way they speak.'
'Who are they?'
'Hello! Poofs. Whatever. The man with the gun was through the door and gone. That's all I have for the moment. I'm on my way to Biscuit to show the waiter the photos now.'
'Good,' said Harry.
'What are you wondering?'
'I'm getting to know your ways, Harry.'
'Mm. I was wondering why the waiter didn't phone the police straight away this morning. Ask him, alright?'
'In fact, I was intending to do just that, Harry.'
'Of course you were. Sorry.'
Harry hung up, but five minutes later his mobile rang again.
'What did you forget?' Harry asked.
'Oh, it's you, Beate. Well?'
'Good news. I've finished at Scandia Hotel.'
'Did you find any DNA?'
'Don't know yet. I've got a couple of hairs which might belong to the cleaners or a previous guest. But I did get the ballistics results half an hour ago. The bullet in the milk carton at Jon Karlsen's place comes from the same weapon as the bullet we found in Egertorget.'
'Mm. That means the theory about several gunmen is weakened.'
'Yes. And there's more. The receptionist at Scandia Hotel remembered something after you left. This Christo Stankic had a particularly ugly piece of clothing. She reckoned it was a kind of imitation-'
'Let me guess. Camel-hair coat?'
'That's what she said.'
'We're in business, 'Harry yelled, so loud that the graffiti-covered wall of Blitz sent an echo around the deserted city-centre street.
Harry rang off and called Halvorsen back.
'Christo Stankic is our man. Give the description of the camel-hair coat to the uniforms and the ops room and ask them to alert all patrol cars.' Harry smiled at an old lady tripping and scraping along with spiked cleats attached to the bottom of her fashionable ankle boots. 'And I want twenty-four-hour surveillance of telecommunications so we know if anyone calls Hotel International in Zagreb from Oslo. And which number they call from. Talk to Klaus Torkildsen in the Telenor Business Centre, Oslo region.'
'That's wiretapping. We need a warrant for that and it can take days.'
'It's not wiretapping. We just need the address of the incoming call.'
'I'm afraid Telenor won't be able to tell the difference.'
'Tell Torkildsen you've spoken to me. OK?'
'May I ask why he would be willing to risk his job for you?'
'Old story. I saved him from being beaten to pulp in the remand centre a few years back. Tom Waaler and his pals. You know what it's like when flashers and the like are brought in.'
'So he's a flasher?'
'Now retired. Happy to exchange services for silence.'
Harry rang off. They were on the move now, and he no longer felt the northerly wind or the onslaught of snow needles. Now and then the job gave him moments of unalloyed pleasure. He turned and walked back to Police HQ.
In the private room at Ulleval Hospital Jon felt the phone vibrate against the sheet and grabbed it at once. 'Yes?'
'Oh, hi,' he said, without quite managing to conceal his disappointment.
'You sound as if you were hoping it was someone else,' Ragnhild said in the rather too cheerful tone that betrays a wounded woman.
'I can't say much,' Jon said, glancing at the door.
'I wanted to say how awful the news about Robert is,' Ragnhild said. 'And I feel for you.'
'It must be painful. Where are you actually? I tried to call you at home.'
Jon didn't answer.
'Mads is working late, so if you want I can walk over to yours.'
'No, thanks, Ragnhild, I'll manage.'
'I was thinking about you. It's so dark and cold. I'm afraid.'
'You're never afraid, Ragnhild.'
'Sometimes I am.' She put on her sulky voice. 'There are so many rooms here and there is no one about.'
'Move to a smaller house then. I have to ring off now. We're not allowed to use mobiles here.'
'Wait! Where are you, Jon?'
'I've got slight concussion. I'm in hospital.'
'Which hospital? Which department?'
Jon was taken aback. 'Most people would have asked how I got the concussion.'
'You know I hate not knowing where you are.'
Jon visualised Ragnhild marching in with a large bunch of roses during visiting time next day. And Thea's questioning looks, first at her and then at him.
'I can hear the sister coming,' he whispered. 'I'll have to ring off.'
He pressed the OFF button and stared at the ceiling until the phone had played its fanfare and the display was extinguished. She was right. It was dark. But he was the one who was afraid.
Ragnhild Gilstrup stood by the window with her eyes closed. Then she looked at her watch. Mads had said he had work to do for the board meeting and would be late. He had started saying things like that in recent weeks. Before, he had always given her a time and arrived on the dot, sometimes he was a little early. Not that she wanted him home earlier, but it was somewhat odd. Somewhat odd, that was all. Just as it was odd that all the calls had been itemised on the last landline bill. And she had not requested any such thing. But there it was: five pages with much too much information. She should have stopped ringing Jon, but she couldn't. Because he had that look. That Johannes look. It wasn't kind or clever or gentle or anything like that. But it was a look that could read whatever she thought before she had got as far as thinking it herself. That saw her as she was. And still liked her.
She opened her eyes again and surveyed the six-thousand-square-metre site of unsullied nature. The view reminded her of boarding school in Switzerland. The reflection off the snow shone into the large bedroom and covered the ceiling and walls in a bluish-white light.
She was the one who had insisted on building here, high above the city, well, in the forest in fact. It would make her feel less enclosed and restricted, she had said. And her husband, Mads Gilstrup, who had imagined the city was the restriction she was referring to, had gladly spent some of the money he possessed on the construction. The extravagance had cost him twenty million kroner. When they moved in, Ragnhild felt as though she were moving from a cell to a prison yard. Sun, air and room. Yet still confined. Like at boarding school.
At times – like this evening – she wondered how she had ended up here. Her external circumstances could be summed up as follows: Mads Gilstrup was heir to one of Oslo's great fortunes. She had met him during her degree outside Chicago, Illinois, where they had both studied business administration at a middling university that bestowed greater prestige than competent seats of learning in Norway, and anyway they were a lot more fun. Both came from wealthy families, but his was wealthier. While his family consisted of five generations of shipowners with old money, her family was peasant stock and their money still bore the whiff of printer's ink and farmed fish. They had lived in the interstices between agricultural subsidies and wounded pride until her father and uncle had sold their tractors and gambled their capital on a small fish farm in the fjord outside their sitting-room window on the southernmost, wind-blown coastline of Vest-Agder. The timing had been perfect, competition minimal, kilo price astronomical and in the course of four lucrative years they became multimillionaires. The house on the crag was demolished and replaced by a gateau of a house, bigger than the barn and boasting eight bay windows and a double garage.
Ragnhild had just turned sixteen when her mother sent her from one crag to another crag: Aron Schuster's private school for girls nine hundred metres above sea level in a town with a station, six churches and a Bierstube in Switzerland. The official reason was that Ragnhild was to learn French, German and art history, subjects that were considered useful as the kilo price of farmed fish was still hitting record levels.
The real reason for her exile, however, was of course her boyfriend, Johannes. Johannes of the warm hands, Johannes of the gentle voice and the look that could read whatever she thought before she had got as far as thinking it. Johannes, the country clod, who was going nowhere. Everything changed after Johannes. She changed after Johannes.
At Aron Schuster's private school she was freed from the nightmares, the guilt and the smell of fish, and learned all that young girls need to acquire a husband of their own or higher status. And with the inherited survival instinct that had enabled her to survive on the crag in Norway, she had slowly but surely buried the Ragnhild whose mind Johannes had read so well and become the Ragnhild who was going places, who did her own thing and would not be held back by anyone, least of all by upper-class French girls or spoilt Danish brats who sniggered in corners at the futile attempts of girls like Ragnhild to be anything but provincial or vulgar.
Her little revenge was to seduce Herr Brehme, the young German teacher with whom they were all infatuated. The teachers lived in a building facing the pupils' block and she simply crossed the cobbled square and knocked on the door of his little room. She visited him four times. And four nights she click-clacked her way back across the cobble stones, her heels echoing off the walls of both buildings.
Rumours started up, and she did little or nothing to stop them. When the news broke that Herr Brehme had resigned and hastily taken up a teaching post in Zurich, Ragnhild had beamed a smile of triumph to all the grief-stricken faces of the young girls in her class.
After the final year of school in Switzerland, Ragnhild returned home. Home at last, she thought. But then Johannes's eyes were there again. In the silver fjord, in the shadows of the verdigris forest, behind the shiny black windows of the chapel or in the cars that flashed past, leaving a cloud of dust that made your teeth crunch and was bitter to the taste. When the letter from Chicago arrived, with the offer of a place to study business administration – four years for a BA, five for an MA – she went to Daddy to ask him to transfer the study funds without delay.
It was a relief to go. A relief to be the new Ragnhild once again. She was looking forward to forgetting, but to do that she needed a project, a goal. In Chicago she found that goal. Mads Gilstrup.
She anticipated that it would be simple. After all, she had the theoretical and practical grounding to seduce upper-class boys. And she was good-looking. Johannes and several others had said that. Above all, it was her eyes. She had been blessed with her mother's light blue irises surrounded by unusually white sclera, which science had proven attracted the opposite sex as it signalled robust health and hearty genes. For that reason Ragnhild was seldom seen wearing sunglasses. Unless she had planned the effect it created by taking them off at a particularly favourable moment.
Some said she looked like Nicole Kidman. She understood what they meant. Beautiful in a stiff, severe way. Perhaps that was the reason. The severity. Because when she had tried to engineer some contact with Mads Gilstrup in the corridors or the campus canteen, he had behaved like a frightened wild horse, averted his eyes, tossed his fringe in the air and trotted off to a safe area.
In the end she staked everything on one card.
The evening before one of the many silly annual and, apparently, traditional parties, Ragnhild had given her room-mate money for a new pair of shoes and a hotel room in town and spent three hours in front of the mirror. For once she arrived early at the party. Because she knew Mads Gilstrup went to all parties early in order to pre-empt potential rivals.
He stuttered and stammered, barely daring to look into her eyes – light blue irises and clear sclera notwithstanding – and even less down the plunging neckline she had arranged with such care. She had come to the conclusion – contrary to her previous opinion – that confidence did not necessarily come with money. Later she was to conclude that the reason for Mads's bad self-image lay at the door of his brilliant, demanding, weakness-hating father who was unable to grasp why he had not been granted a son more in his own mould.
But she did not give up and dangled herself like bait in front of Mads Gilstrup. It was so obvious she was making herself accessible that she noticed the girls she called friends, and vice versa, were standing with their heads together in a huddle. When it came down to it, they were all herd animals. Then – after six American lagers and a growing suspicion that Mads Gilstrup was homosexual – the wild horse ventured out into open terrain and two lagers later they left the party.
She let him mount her, but in her best friend's bed. After all, it had cost her an expensive pair of shoes. And when, three minutes later, Ragnhild wiped him off with her room-mate's home-made crocheted bedspread, she knew she had lassoed him. Harness and saddle would follow in good time.
After their studies they travelled home as an engaged couple. Mads Gilstrup to administer his portion of the family fortune in the secure knowledge that he would never have to be tested in any rat race. His job consisted of finding the right advisers.
Ragnhild applied for and got a job with a trust manager, who had never heard of the mediocre university, but had heard of Chicago, and liked what he heard. And saw. He was not so brilliant, but he was demanding and found a soulmate in Ragnhild. Thus, after quite a short spell, she was removed from the intellectually somewhat over-demanding work as a share analyst and put behind a screen and telephone on one of the tables in the 'kitchen', as they called the traders' room. This was where Ragnhild Gilstrup (she had changed her name to Gilstrup as soon as they were engaged because it was 'more practical') came into her own. If it was not enough to advise brokerages' own and, one presumed, professional, investors to buy Opticum, she could purr, flirt, hiss, manipulate, lie and cry. Ragnhild Gilstrup could caress her way up a man's legs – and, if pushed, a woman's – in a way that shifted shares with far greater efficacy than any of her analyses had done. Her greatest quality, however, was her supreme understanding of the most important motivation of the equity market: greed.
Then one day she became pregnant. And, to her surprise, she found herself considering an abortion. Until then she had really believed she wanted children, or one anyway. Eight months later she gave birth to Amalie. She was filled with such happiness that she repressed the memory of her thoughts of abortion. Two weeks later Amalie was taken to hospital with a high temperature. Ragnhild could see that the doctors were uneasy, but they couldn't tell her what was wrong with her child. One night Ragnhild had considered praying to God, but then dismissed the idea. The next night, at eleven o'clock, little Amalie died of pneumonia. Ragnhild locked herself indoors and cried for four successive days.
'Cystic fibrosis,' the doctor had told her in private. 'It's genetic and means that either you or your husband is a carrier of the disease. Do you know if anyone has had it in your family or his? It may manifest itself in frequent asthma attacks or something similar.'
'No,' Ragnhild had answered. 'And I assume you're aware of client confidentiality.'
The period of grieving was managed with professional help. After a couple of months she was able to talk to people again. When summer came they went to Gilstrup's chalet on the west coast of Sweden and tried for another child. But one evening Mads found his wife crying in front of the bedroom mirror. She said this was her punishment because she had wanted an abortion. He comforted her, but when his tender caresses became bolder she pushed him away and said that would be the last time for a good while. Mads thought she meant having children and agreed right away. He was therefore disappointed, disconsolate, to find that she meant she wanted a break from the act itself. Mads Gilstrup had acquired a taste for mating and particularly appreciated the self-esteem he felt when giving her what he interpreted as small but distinct orgasms. Nevertheless, he accepted her explanation as the reactions to grieving and hormonal changes after childbirth. Ragnhild didn't think she could tell him that from her side the last two years had been a duty, or that the last remnants of pleasure she had been able to work up for him had disappeared in the delivery room when she had peered up into his stupid, gawping, terror-stricken face. And when he had cried with happiness and dropped the scissors just as he was supposed to cut the victory tape for all new fathers, she had felt like walloping him. Nor did she think she could tell him that, as far as the mating department was concerned, for the last year she and her less than brilliant boss had been meeting each other's demanding needs.
Ragnhild was the only stockbroker in Oslo to have been offered a full partnership as she left for maternity leave. To everyone's surprise, however, she resigned. She had been offered another job. Managing Mads Gilstrup's family fortune.
She explained to her boss on the farewell night that she thought it was time that brokers schmoozed with her, and not vice versa. She didn't breathe a word about the real reason: that, sad to say, Mads Gilstrup had been unable to manage the sole task he had been entrusted with, that of finding good advisers, and that the family fortune had shrunk at such an alarmingly rapid rate that Ragnhild and her father-in-law, Albert Gilstrup, had both intervened. That was the last time she met her boss. A few months later she heard he had taken sick leave after years of affliction with asthma.
Ragnhild didn't like Mads's social circle and she noticed that Mads didn't, either. But they still went to the parties they were invited to, since the alternative – ending up outside the clique of people who meant or owned anything – was even worse. It was one thing to spend time with pompous, complacent men who deep in their hearts felt that their money gave them the right to be so; however, their wives, or the 'bitches', as Ragnhild labelled them in secret, were quite another. The chattering, shopaholic, health-freak housewives with tits that looked so genuine, not to mention the tan, although that was genuine, since they and their children had just returned from two weeks in St Tropez 'relaxing' away from au pairs and noisy workmen who never finished swimming pools and new kitchens. They talked with unfeigned concern about how bad the shopping had been in Europe over the last year, but otherwise their horizons didn't stretch further than skiing in Slemdal or swimming in Bogstad, both near Oslo, and at a pinch, Kragero, in the south. Clothes, facelifts and exercise apparatuses were the wives' topics of conversation as that was the means to holding onto their rich, pompous husbands, which of course was their sole real mission here on earth.
When Ragnhild thought like that she could surprise herself. Were they so different from her? Maybe the difference was that she had a job. Was that why she couldn't stand their smug faces at the morning restaurant in Vinderen when they complained about all the welfare abuse and tax evasion in what they, with a slight sneer, called 'society'? Or was there another reason? Because something had happened. A revolution. She had begun to care for someone other than herself. She hadn't felt that since Amalie. Or Johannes.
The whole thing had started with a plan. Share values had continued to tumble thanks to Mads's unfortunate investments, and something drastic had to be done. It wasn't just a question of shifting assets to funds with a lower risk; debts had accumulated that had to be covered. In short, they needed to make a financial coup. Her father-in-law had launched the idea. And it really did smack of a coup, or to be more precise, a robbery. Not a robbery of a well-guarded bank but of old ladies. The lady in question was the Salvation Army. Ragnhild had gone through their property portfolio, which was nothing short of impressive. That is, the properties were not in very good condition, but their potential and location were excellent. Above all those in central Oslo, and especially those in Majorstuen. The accounts of the Salvation Army had demonstrated at least two things to her: they needed money and the properties were hugely undervalued. In all probability they were not aware of the assets they were sitting on; she very much doubted the decision-makers in the organisation were the sharpest knives in the drawer. In addition, it was perhaps the perfect time to buy as the property market had fallen at the same time as share prices, and other leading indicators had begun to point upwards again.
One telephone call later she had arranged a meeting.
It was a wonderful spring day as she drove up to the Salvation Army Headquarters.
Commander David Eckhoff received her and within three seconds she had seen through the joviality. Behind it she saw a domineering leader of the herd, the kind she was so talented at manoeuvring and she thought to herself: this could go well. He led her into a meeting room with waffles, sensationally bad coffee and one older and two younger colleagues. The older one was the chief administrator, a lieutenant colonel who was on the point of retiring. The first of the two younger ones was Rikard Nilsen, a timid young man similar at first glance to Mads Gilstrup. But that recognition was nothing compared with the shock she received when greeting the other young man. He shook hands with a tentative smile and introduced himself as Jon Karlsen. It wasn't the tall, stooped figure, nor the open boyish face, nor the warm voice, but the eyes. He looked straight at her. Inside her. The way he had done. They were Johannes's eyes.
For the first part of the meeting, while the chief administrator accounted for the turnover of the Norwegian Salvation Army, amounting to just under a billion kroner, of which a significant contribution was rental income from the 230 plots the Army owned, she sat in a trancelike state trying to stop herself staring at the young man. At his hair, at his hands resting on the table in total serenity. At his shoulders that didn't quite fill the black uniform, a uniform which Ragnhild had, from her childhood, associated with old men and women who, despite not believing in life before death, sang to three-chord songs with a smile. She must have thought – without really thinking – that the Salvation Army was for those who couldn't gain a foothold anywhere else, the simple ones, the lacklustre and the lackwits no one else wanted to play with but who knew that in the Army there was a community where even they could meet the requirements: singing second voice.
When the chief administrator was finished, Ragnhild thanked him, opened the folder she had brought with her and passed a single A4 sheet over the table to the commander.
'This is our offer,' she said. 'It will become clear which properties we're interested in.'
'Thank you,' said the commander, studying the document.
Ragnhild tried to read the expression on his face. But knew it didn't mean much. A pair of reading glasses lay untouched on the table in front of him.
'Our specialist will have to do the calculations and make a recommendation,' the commander said with a smile, and passed the document on. To Jon Karlsen. Ragnhild noticed the twitch in Rikard Nilsen's face.
She pushed a business card across the table to Jon Karlsen.
'If anything is unclear, just give me a ring,' she said, and felt his eyes on her like a physical caress.
'Thank you for talking to us, fru Gilstrup,' Commander Eckhoff said, clapping his hands. 'We promise to give you an answer in the course of… Jon?'
'Not too long.'
The commander gave a jovial smile. 'Not too long.'
All four of them accompanied her to the lift. No one said anything while they waited.
As the lift doors slid open she half leaned towards Jon and said in a low voice: 'Any time at all. Use my mobile number.'
She had tried to catch his eye to feel it again, but had failed. On the way down in the lift, alone, Ragnhild Gilstrup had felt her blood pumping in sudden, painful bursts and she had started to tremble uncontrollably.
Three days passed before he rang to say no. They had assessed the offer and concluded they didn't want to sell. Ragnhild had made an impassioned defence of the price and pointed out that the Salvation Army's position in the property market was vulnerable, the properties were not being run in a professional manner, that they were losing money with the low rents and that the Army should diversify their investments. Jon Karlsen listened without interrupting.
'Thank you,' he said when she was finished, 'for examining the case with such thoroughness, fru Gilstrup. And, as an economist, I don't disagree with what you say. But-'
'But what? The calculations are unambiguous…' She had heard the breathy excitement in her voice.
'But there is a human dimension.'
'The tenants. Human beings. Old people who have lived there all their lives, retired Army soldiers, refugees, human beings who need security. They are my human dimension. You'll throw them out to do up the flats and rent or sell at a profit. The calculations are – as you yourself said – unambiguous. That's your all-consuming economic dimension and I accept it. Do you accept mine?'
She caught her breath.
'I…' she started.
'I would be very happy to take you to meet some of these people,' he said. 'Then you might understand better.'
She sat shaking her head. 'I would like to clear up a few misunderstandings as far as our intentions are concerned,' she said. 'Are you busy Thursday evening?'
'Let's meet at Feinschmecker at eight.'
'What is Feinschmecker?'
She had to smile. 'A restaurant in Frogner. Let me put it this way: the taxi driver will know where it is.'
'If it's in Frogner, I'll cycle.'
'Fine. See you.'
She called a meeting with Mads and her father-in-law and reported back on the outcome.
'Sounds like the key is this adviser of theirs,' said the father-in-law, Albert Gilstrup. 'If we can get him on our side, the properties are ours.'
'But I'm telling you he's not interested in any price we would pay.'
'Oh yes, he is,' said the father-in-law.
'No, he isn't!'
'Not to the Salvation Army, he isn't. He can wave his moral flag there as much as he likes. We have to appeal to his personal greed.'
Ragnhild shook her head. 'Not to this person's. He… he's not the kind to do that.'
'Everyone has their price,' Albert Gilstrup said with a sad smile, wagging his forefinger from side to side, like a metronome, in front of her face. 'The Salvation Army grew out of pietism, and pietism was the practical person's approach to religion. That's why pietism was such a hit in the unproductive north: bread first, then a prayer. I propose two million.'
'Two million?' Mads Gilstrup gasped. 'For… recommending them to sell?'
'Providing that there's a sale, of course. No cure, no pay.'
'That's still an insane sum of money,' the son protested.
The father-in-law answered without a glance: 'The only thing that's insane is that we have managed to decimate a family fortune at a time when everything else has gone up.'
Mads Gilstrup opened his mouth like an aquarium fish, but nothing came out.
'This adviser of theirs won't have the stomach to negotiate the price if he thinks the first offer is too low,' the father-in-law said. 'We have to knock him out with the first punch. Two million. What do you say, Ragnhild?'
Ragnhild nodded slowly, concentrating on something outside the window because she couldn't bring herself to look at her husband, who sat with bowed head in the shadow beyond the reading lamp.
Jon Karlsen was already at the table waiting when she arrived. He seemed smaller than she remembered, but perhaps that was because he had swapped his uniform for a sack of a suit she assumed had been bought in Fretex. Or he looked as though he felt lost in the fashionable restaurant. He knocked over the flower vase as he stood up to greet her. They rescued the flowers in a joint operation and laughed. Afterwards they talked about a variety of things. When he asked her if she had any children, she just shook her head.
Did he have any children? No. Right, but maybe he had…? No, not that either.
The conversation moved over to the properties owned by the Salvation Army, but she noticed he was arguing without the usual spark. He wore a polite smile and sipped his wine. She increased the offer by 10 per cent. He shook his head, still smiling, and complimented her on the necklace she knew contrasted well with her skin.
'A present from my mother,' she lied without effort. Thinking it was her eyes he was admiring. The light blue irises with the clear sclera.
Between main course and dessert she threw in the offer of a personal emolument of two million. She was spared looking into his eyes because he was studying his wine glass, silent, suddenly white-faced.
At length, he asked, in a whisper: 'Was this your idea?'
'Mine and my father-in-law's.' She noticed she was short of breath.
'Yes. Apart from us two and my husband no one will ever know about this. We would have as much to lose if this came out as… er, as you.'
'Is it something I've said or done?'
'I beg your pardon?'
'What made you and your father-in-law think I would agree to a handful of silver?'
He looked up at her and Ragnhild could feel the blush spreading across her face. She couldn't remember blushing since her adolescence.
'Shall we drop the dessert?' He took the serviette from his lap and put it on the table beside the dinner plate.
'Take your time and think before you answer, Jon,' she stammered. 'For your own good. This can give you the chance to realise some dreams.'
The words grated and jarred even in her ears. Jon signalled to the waiter for the bill. 'And what dreams are they? The dream of being a corrupt servant, a miserable deserter? Driving around in a fine car while everything you're trying to achieve as a person lies in ruins around you?' The fury in his voice was making it quiver. 'Is that the kind of dream you have, Ragnhild Gilstrup?'
She was unable to answer.
'I must be blind,' he said. 'Because do you know what? When I met you I thought I saw… an altogether different person.'
'You saw me,' she whispered, sensing the onset of trembling, the same as she had experienced in the lift.
She cleared her voice. 'You saw me. And now I've offended you. I am so sorry.'
In the ensuing silence she felt herself sinking through hot and cold layers of water.
'Let's put all this behind us,' she said as the waiter approached and took the card she had held up in one hand. 'It's not important. Not for either of us. Would you like to walk with me in Frogner Park?'
He looked at her in astonishment.
Or did he?
How could those eyes – that saw everything – be astonished?
Ragnhild Gilstrup looked down from her window in Holmenkollen at a dark square below. Frogner Park. That was where the insanity had all started.
It was past midnight, the soup bus was parked in the garage and Martine felt pleasantly exhausted, but also blessed. She was standing on the pavement in front of the Hostel in the dark, narrow street of Heimdalsgata, waiting for Rikard, who had gone to fetch the car, when she heard the snow crunch behind her.
She turned and felt her heart stop as she saw the silhouette of a tall figure towering up under the solitary street light.
'Don't you recognise me?'
One heartbeat. Two. Then three and four. She had recognised the voice.
'What are you doing here?' she asked, hoping her voice would not reveal how frightened she had been.
'I found out you were working on the bus this evening and that it was parked here at midnight. There has been a development in the case, as they say. I've been doing a bit of thinking.' He stepped forward and the light fell on his face. It was harder, older than she remembered. Strange how much you can forget in twenty-four hours. 'And I have a couple of questions.'
'Which couldn't wait?' she asked with a smile, and saw that her smile had made the policeman's face soften.
'Are you waiting for someone?' Harry asked.
'Yes, Rikard is going to drive me home.'
She looked at the bag the policeman was carrying over his shoulder. It had JETTE written on one side, but looked too old and worn to be the fashionable retro model.
'You should get yourself a couple of new insoles for the trainers you've got in there,' she said, pointing.
He eyed her in astonishment.
'You don't need to be Jean-Baptiste Grenouille to recognise the smell,' she said.
'Patrick Suskind,' he said. 'Perfume.'
'A policeman who reads,' she said.
'A Salvation Army soldier who reads about murder,' he said. 'Which leads us back to the reason for my being here, I'm afraid.'
A Saab 900 drove up and stopped. The window was lowered without a sound.
'Shall we be off, Martine?'
'Just a moment, Rikard.' She turned to Harry. 'Where are you going?'
'Bislett. But I prefer-'
'Rikard, is it alright if Harry joins us as far as Bislett? You live there, too, don't you?'
Rikard stared out into the dark before replying with a drawled 'Of course'.
'Come on,' Martine said, passing a hand to Harry.
Harry sent her a look of surprise.
'Slippery shoes,' she whispered, grabbing his hand. She could feel his hand was warm and dry, and it automatically squeezed hers as if he was afraid she would fall that instant.
Rikard drove with care, his eyes jumping from mirror to mirror as though expecting an ambush from behind.
'Well?' said Martine from the front seat.
Harry cleared his throat. 'Someone tried to shoot Jon Karlsen today.'
'What?' cried Martine.
Harry met Rikard's eyes in the mirror.
'Had you already heard?' Harry asked.
'No,' Rikard said.
'Who…?' Martine started.
'We don't know,' Harry said.
'But… both Robert and Jon. Has this got something to do with the Karlsen family?'
'I think they were only after one of them,' Harry said.
'What do you mean?'
'The gunman postponed his trip home. He must have discovered he had shot the wrong man. Robert wasn't the intended target.'
'That's why I had to talk to you. I think you can tell me whether my theory is right or not.'
'That Robert died because he was unlucky enough to take Jon's shift in Egertorget.'
Martine swivelled round and looked in alarm at Harry.
'You have the duty roster,' Harry said. 'When I first went to see you, I noticed the roster hanging from the board in reception. Where everyone could see who was on duty that night in Egertorget. It was Jon Karlsen.'
'I popped in after going to the hospital and checked. Jon's name was there. But Robert and Jon swapped shifts after the list was typed up, didn't they.'
Rikard turned up Stensberggata towards Bislett.
Martine chewed her lower lip. 'Shifts are changed all the time, and if people arrange switches I don't always find out.'
Rikard drove down Sofies gate. Martine's eyes widened.
'Ah, now I remember! Robert rang to tell me they had swapped, so I didn't need to do anything. That must be why I didn't think of it. But
… but that means that…'
'Jon and Robert are very similar,' Harry said. 'And in uniform.. .'
'And it was dark and snowing…' Martine said in a hushed voice, as though to herself.
'What I wanted to know is if anyone had rung you to ask about the roster. And about that evening in particular.'
'Not as far as I can remember,' Martine said.
'Can you have a think? I'll call you tomorrow.'
'OK,' said Martine.
Harry held her eyes and in the light from the street lamp again he noticed the irregularities in her pupils.
Rikard pulled into the kerb.
'How did you know?' Harry asked.
'Know what?' Martine asked with alacrity.
'I was asking the driver,' Harry said. 'How did you know I live here?'
'You said,' Rikard answered. 'I know my way around. As Martine said, I live in Bislett too.'
Harry stood on the pavement watching the car drive away.
It was obvious the boy was besotted. He had driven here first so that he could be alone with Martine for a few minutes. To talk to her. To have the requisite peace and quiet when you have something to say, to make it clear who you are, to unburden your soul, to find out about yourself and all the stuff that is part of being young, and with which, he was happy to say, he had finished. All for a kind word, a hug and the hope of a kiss before she went. To beg for love the way that infatuated idiots do. Of all ages.
Harry ambled towards the front door as his hand instinctively searched for the keys in his trouser pocket, and his mind searched for something that was repelled every time he came close. And his eyes sought something he struggled to hear. It was a tiny sound, but at this late hour Sofies gate was quiet. Harry looked down at the piles of snow left by the ploughs today. It sounded like a cracking noise. Melting. Impossible; it was eighteen degrees below.
Harry put the key in the lock.
And he could hear it was not a melting sound. It was ticking.
He turned slowly and scrutinised the snowdrifts. A glint. Glass.
Harry walked back, bent down and picked up the watch. The glass on Moller's present was as shiny as the surface of water. Not a scratch. And the time was accurate to the second. Two minutes ahead of his watch. What was it Moller had said? So that he would be in time for what he thought he would miss.
The Night of Wednesday, 17 December. The Darkness.
The electric radiator in the recreation room of the Hostel banged as though someone were throwing pebbles at it. The hot air quivered above the brown burn marks on the burlap wallpaper which sweated nicotine, glue and the greasy smell of those who had lived here and moved on. The sofa material scratched him through his trousers.
Despite the dry, crackling heat from the radiator, he was trembling as he watched the news on the TV set attached to the wall bracket. He recognised the pictures of the square, but understood nothing of what they were saying. In the other corner an old man was sitting in an armchair smoking thin roll-ups. When there was so little left that they were burning his black fingertips he quickly produced two matchsticks from a box, trapped the cigarette end between them and inhaled until he burned his lips. A decorated lopped-off top end of a spruce tree stood on a table in the corner, attempting to glitter.
He thought about the Christmas dinner in Dalj.
It was two years after the end of the war and the Serbs had withdrawn from what once had been Vukovar. The Croatian authorities had packed them into Hotel International in Zagreb. He had asked lots of people if they knew where Giorgi's family had ended up, and one day he had met another refugee who knew that Giorgi's mother had died during the siege and that he and his father had moved to Dalj, a small border town not far from Vukovar. On 26 December he caught the train to Osijek and then from there to Dalj. He talked to the conductor who confirmed that the train would go on to Borovo, the terminal, and would be back in Dalj by half past six. It was two o'clock when he alighted in Dalj. He asked for directions to the address, which was a low block of flats as grey as the town. He went into the hallway, found the door and before ringing said a silent prayer that they would be at home. His heart was pounding fast as he heard light footsteps inside.
Giorgi opened. He hadn't changed much. Paler, but the same blond curls, blue eyes and heart-shaped mouth that had always made him think of a young god. The smile in his eyes was gone, however, like a broken light bulb.
'Don't you recognise me, Giorgi?' he asked after a while. 'We lived in the same town; we went to the same school.'
Giorgi furrowed his brow. 'Did we? Wait. The voice. You must be Serg Dolac. Of course, you were the fast runner. Jesus, how you've changed. But it's great to see people we knew in Vukovar. They've all gone.'
'No, not you, Serg.'
Giorgi embraced him and held him for such a long time that he could feel the heat beginning to tremble through his frozen body. Then he led him into the flat.
It was dark in the sparsely furnished sitting room as they sat talking about all the things that had happened, and all the people they had known in Vukovar and where they were now. When he asked whether Giorgi remembered Tinto the dog, Giorgi put on a rather perplexed smile.
Giorgi said his father would be home soon. Did Serg want to stay and eat?
He looked at his watch. The train would be at the station in three hours.
The father was very surprised to meet a visitor from Vukovar.
'This is Serg,' Giorgi said. 'Serg Dolac.'
'Serg Dolac?' the father asked, scrutinising him. 'Yes, there's something familiar about you. Hm. Didn't I know your father? No?'
Darkness fell and after taking their places at the table, the father gave them large, white serviettes and loosened his red neckerchief and tied the serviette round his neck. The father said grace, made the sign of the cross and inclined his head to the only picture in the room, a framed photo of a woman.
As Giorgi and his father took their cutlery, he bowed and intoned: 'Who is this that comes from Edom, coming from Bozrah, his garments stained crimson? Who is this, in glorious apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? "It is I, who announce that right has won the day, it is I," says the Lord, "for I am mighty to save."'
The father eyed him in astonishment. Then he passed him the dish with the large, pale pieces of meat.
The meal continued in silence. The wind made the thin windows groan.
After the meat, there was dessert. Palacinka, thin pancakes filled with jam and chocolate spread over the top. He hadn't tasted palacinka since he was a child in Vukovar.
'Take another, dear Serg,' the father said. 'It's Christmas.'
He checked his watch. The train would leave in half an hour. It was time. He cleared his throat, put down the serviette and stood up: 'Giorgi and I have been talking about all the people we remember from Vukovar, but there is one person we haven't spoken about yet.'
'I see,' the father said, mystified, and smiled. 'Who is that, Serg?' The father had turned his head a little and viewed him with one eye, as though trying to identify something he could not put his finger on.
'His name was Bobo.'
He could see in Giorgi's father's eyes that now he knew. He might have been waiting for this moment. He heard his voice resound between the bare walls. 'You were sitting in the jeep and pointed him out to the Serbian commanding officer.' He swallowed. 'Bobo died.'
The room went still. The father put down his cutlery. 'It was war, Serg. We all have to die.' He said this with composure. Almost resignation.
The father and Giorgi were motionless as he took the gun from the waistband of his trousers, pointed it across the table and fired. The explosion was brief and dry, and the father's body jerked as the chair legs scraped against the floor. The father lowered his head and stared at the hole in the serviette hanging in front of his chest. Then it was sucked into his chest as the blood spread like a red flower over the white cloth.
'Look at me,' he ordered, and the father automatically raised his head.
The second shot made a tiny black hole in his forehead, which fell forward hitting the plate of palacinka with a soft thud.
He turned to Giorgi who was staring open-mouthed, a red line running down his cheek. It took him a second to realise that this was jam from his father's palacinka. He stuffed the pistol into the waistband of his trousers.
'You'll have to shoot me, too, Serg.'
'I don't have any scores to settle with you.' He walked out of the sitting room and took the jacket hanging by the door.
Giorgi followed. 'I'll get even with you! I'll find you and kill you, if you don't kill me!'
'And how will you find me, Giorgi?'
'You cannot hide. I know who you are.'
'Do you? You think I'm Serg. But Serg Dolac had red hair and was taller than me. And I'm not a fast runner, Giorgi. But let's just be happy you don't recognise me, Giorgi. It means I can spare your life.'
Then he leaned forward, kissed Giorgi hard on the mouth, opened the door and left.
The newspapers had written about the murder, but the police had never looked for anyone. And three months later, one Sunday, his mother told him about a Croat who had visited her to ask for help. The man had been unable to pay much, but he had collected some money from the family. A Serbian who had tortured his brother during the war had been found living nearby. And someone had mentioned something about the one they called the little redeemer.
The old man burned his fingertips on the thin roll-up and swore aloud.
He stood up and went to reception. Behind the boy on the other side of the glass partition was the red flag of the Salvation Army.
'Could I use the phone, please?'
The boy scowled at him. 'If it's a local call, yes.'
The boy pointed to a narrow office behind him, and he entered. Sat down at the desk and contemplated the telephone. He thought of his mother's voice. How concerned and frightened it could be, and gentle and warm at the same time. It was like an embrace. He stood up, closed the door to reception and punched in the number of Hotel International. She wasn't there. He didn't leave a message. The door opened.
'You're not allowed to close the door,' the boy said. 'OK?'
'OK. Sorry. Have you got a telephone directory?'
The boy rolled his eyes, pointed to a thick book beside the phone and left.
He found Jon Karlsen and Goteborggata 4, and dialled the number.
Thea Nilsen contemplated the ringing telephone.
She had locked herself in Jon's flat with the key he had given her.
They said there was a bullet hole somewhere. She had searched and found it in the cupboard door.
The man had tried to shoot Jon. To kill him. The thought made her strangely agitated. Not frightened at all. At times she thought she would never be frightened again, not like that, not about that, not about dying.
The police had been here, but they hadn't spent much time looking. No clues apart from the bullets, they had said.
In the hospital she had listened to Jon breathing in and out as he gazed at her. He had looked so helpless there in the large hospital bed.
As though all she had to do was place a pillow over his face and he would be dead. And she had liked that, seeing him weak. Perhaps the schoolteacher in Hamsun's Victoria was right: for some women their need to feel sympathy made them hate their strong, healthy men and in secret they wished their husbands were cripples and dependent on their kindness.
But now she was alone in his flat and the telephone was ringing. She looked at her watch. It was the middle of the night. No one would ring now. No one with honest intentions. Thea was not afraid to die. But she was afraid of this. Was it her, the woman Jon thought she knew nothing about?
She took two paces towards the phone. Paused. The fourth ring. It would stop after five. She hesitated. Another ring. She surged forward and picked up the receiver.
It was quiet for a moment at the other end. Then a man spoke in English. 'Sorry for calling so late. My name is Edom. Is Jon there?'
'No,' she said with relief. 'He's in hospital.'
'Ah, yes, I heard about what happened today. I'm an old friend and would like to visit him. Which hospital is he in?'
'Yes. I don't know what the department is called in English – it's Neurokirurgisk in Norwegian. But there's a policeman sitting outside the room and he won't let you in. Do you understand what I'm saying?'
'My English… it's not very…'
'I understand perfectly. Thank you very much.'
She put down the receiver and stood rapt in thought for a long time.
Then she resumed her search. They had said there were several bullet holes.
He told the boy in reception at the Hostel that he was going for a walk and handed him the room key.
The boy glanced at the clock on the wall showing a quarter past twelve and told him to keep the key. He explained that he was going to lock up and go to bed soon, but the room key also opened the front door.
The cold assaulted him as soon as he was outside, biting and scratching. He lowered his head and began to stride out with purpose. This was risky. Definitely risky. But he had to do it.
Ola Henmo, the works manager at Hafslund Energi, sat in the control room at the load dispatch centre in Montebello, Oslo, thinking how great it would be to smoke while keeping an eye on the forty screens scattered around the room. During the day there were twelve people in here, but at night just three. They usually sat at their own workstations, but tonight the cold outside seemed to have driven them around one desk in the middle of the room.
Geir and Ebbe were arguing about horses, as always, and the V75 racing results. For eight years they had been doing that, and it had never occurred to them to place separate bets.
Ola was more concerned about the substation in Kirkeveien between Ullevalsveien and Sognsveien.
'Thirty-six per cent overload on T1. Twenty-nine per cent on T2 to T4,' he said.
'Christ, the way people are stoking up out there,' Geir said. 'Are they frightened of freezing to death? It's night-time. Why don't they snuggle up under the duvet? Sweet Revenge for the third? Are you out of your mind?'
'Folks don't turn down the heating because of that,' Ebbe said. 'Not in this country. They chuck money out the window.'
'It's going to end in tears,' Ola said.
'No, it won't,' Ebbe said. 'We'll just pump up more oil.'
'I'm thinking about T1,' Ola said, pointing to the screen. 'It's on six hundred and eighty amps now. Full capacity is five hundred nominal load.'
'Relax,' Ebbe managed to get in a second before the alarm went off.
'Oh shit,' Ola said. 'There she blows. Check the list and ring the guys on duty.'
'See,' Geir said. 'T2's down too. And T3 just went.'
'Bingo!' shouted Ebba. 'Shall we have a bet on whether T4-'
'Too late. She just blew,' Geir said.
Ola ran his eye over the small-scale map. 'OK,' he sighed. 'Power's gone in lower Sogn, Fagerborg and Bislett.'
'Bet you I know what's happened!' Ebbe said. 'A thousand on cable sleeving.'
Geir screwed up one eye: 'Meter transformer. And five hundred's enough.'
'Cut that out now,' Ola growled. 'Ebbe, ring the fire station. I bet there's a fire up there.'
'Agreed,' Ebbe said. 'Two hundred?'
When the light went out in the hospital room the darkness was so total that Jon's first thought was that he had gone blind. The optic nerve must have been damaged in the collision and the effect was only apparent now. But then he heard shouting from the corridor, made out the outline of the window and realised that the electricity was down.
He heard the chair scrape outside and the door swung open.
'Hello, are you there?' a voice said.
'Yes,' Jon answered at a higher pitch than he had intended.
'I'll just walk around and see what has happened. Don't go anywhere, OK?'
'Haven't they got an emergency generator?'
'I think they're for operating theatres and surveillance cameras.'
Jon listened to the policeman's footsteps fading away as he stared at the green illuminated exit sign over the door. The sign reminded him of Ragnhild again. That had also started in the dark. After eating they had gone for a walk in pitch-black Frogner Park and stood in the deserted square by the monolith looking eastwards to the city centre. And he had told her the story about how Gustav Vigeland, the singular artist from Mandal, had made it a condition of his decorating the park with sculptures that the park should be extended so that the monolith would be symmetrical in relation to the surrounding churches, and the main gate directly facing Uranienborg church. When the town council representative had explained that they could not move the park, Vigeland had demanded that the churches should be moved.
She had just looked at him with a serious expression while he was talking, and it had run through his mind that this woman was so strong and intelligent that she frightened him.
'I'm frozen,' she had said, shivering under her coat.
'Perhaps we should go back…' he had started, but then she had placed her hand behind his head and turned her face up to his. She had the most unusual eyes he had ever seen. Light blue, almost turquoise, surrounded by a whiteness that made her wan skin take on colour. And he had done what he always did; he stooped and bent down. Then her tongue was in his mouth, hot and wet, an insistent muscle, a mysterious anaconda that wound its way around his tongue and searched for a grip. He had felt the heat through the thick woollen material of the suit trousers from Fretex when her hand came to rest with impressive accuracy.
'Come on,' she had whispered in his ear, putting one foot on the fence, and he had looked down and caught a glimpse of white skin where the stockings finished before tearing himself away.
'I can't,' he had said.
'Why not?' she had groaned.
'I've made a vow. To God.'
And she had scrutinised him, puzzled at first. Then her eyes had filled with water, and she had begun to cry quietly and rested her head against his chest, saying she never thought she would ever find him again. He had not understood what she meant, but had stroked her hair and that was how it all started. They always met in his flat and always after she had taken the initiative. At first she made a few half-hearted attempts to make him break his chastity vows, but then she seemed to be happy for them to lie next to each other on the bed and just caress and be caressed. Now and then, for reasons he did not understand, she could become desperate and say he must never leave her. They didn't speak much, but he had a feeling that their abstinence bound her closer to him. Their meetings had come to a sudden end when he met Thea. Not so much because he didn't want to meet her, but because Thea had wanted to exchange spare keys with Jon. She had said it was a question of trust, and he hadn't been able to come up with a riposte.
Jon turned in bed and shut his eyes. He wanted to dream now. Dream and forget. If that was possible. Sleep was on its way when he felt a draught in the room. As an instinctive reaction, he opened his eyes and rolled over. In the pale green light from the exit sign he saw the door was closed. He peered into the shadows as he held his breath and listened.
Martine stood in the darkened window of her flat in Sorgenfrigata, which had also been blacked out by the power cut. Nevertheless, she could still make out the car down below. It looked like Rikard's.
Rikard had not tried to kiss her when she got out of the car. He had just looked at her with puppy eyes and said he was going to be the new chief administrator. There had been signals. Positive signals. It would be him. There had been a strange stiffness in his expression when he had asked her if she thought so, too.
She had said he would make a good chief administrator and went to open the door handle while waiting for his touch. But it hadn't come. And then she was out.
Martine sighed, picked up the mobile phone and dialled the number she had been given.
'Speak.' Harry Hole's voice sounded quite different on the phone. Or perhaps it was because he was at home; maybe this was his home voice.
'It's Martine,' she said.
'Hi.' It was impossible to hear if he was pleased or not.
'You asked me to have a think,' she said. 'About whether I could remember anyone ringing or asking about the duty roster. About Jon's shift.'
'I've had a think.'
'Did you ring to tell me that?' His voice was warm and rough. As though he had been asleep.
'Yes. Shouldn't I have done?'
'Yes, yes, of course. Thank you very much for your help.'
'Not at all.'
She closed her eyes and waited until she heard his voice again.
'Did you… get home alright?'
'Mm. There's a power cut here.'
'Here too,' he said. 'It'll be back soon.'
'What if it isn't?'
'What do you mean?'
'Will we be cast into chaos?'
'Do you think about that sort of thing a lot?'
'From time to time. I think civilisation's infrastructure is much more fragile than we like to believe. What do you think?'
He paused for a long time before answering. 'Well, I think all the systems we rely on can short-circuit and hurl us into deepest night, where laws and regulations no longer protect us, where the cold and beasts of prey rule, and everyone has to try to save their own skin.'
'That,' she said, when no more was forthcoming, 'was not very suitable for helping little girls get off to sleep. I think you're a real dystopian, Harry.'
'Of course. I'm a policeman. Goodnight.'
He had put down the receiver before she had a chance to formulate an answer.
Harry crept back under the duvet and gazed at the wall.
The temperature had plummeted in his flat.
Harry thought about the sky outside. About Andalsnes. About his grandfather. And his mother. The funeral. And the prayer she had whispered at night in her gentle, gentle, voice. 'A mighty fortress is our God.' But in the weightless moment before sleeping he thought of Martine and her voice which was still in his head.
The TV in the sitting room came to life with a groan and began to hiss. The light bulb in the corridor came back on and cast light through the open bedroom door and onto Harry's face. But by then he was already asleep.
Twenty minutes later Harry's telephone rang. He thrust open his eyes and swore. Shuffled, shivering, into the hallway and lifted the receiver.
'Just about. What's up, Halvorsen?'
'Something, or a lot?'
Early Hours, Thursday, 18 December. The Raid.
Sail stood shivering on the path beside the Akerselva. To hell with the Albanian bastard! Despite the cold, the river was icefree and black and reinforced the darkness under the plain iron bridge. Sail was sixteen years old and had come from Somalia with his mother when he was twelve. He had started selling hash when he was fourteen, and heroin last spring. Now Hux had let him down again, and he couldn't risk standing here all night with his goods and no trade. Ten fixes. If he had been eighteen he could always have gone down to Plata and sold them there. But the cops hauled in underage dealers at Plata. Their territory was here, along the river. Most of them were young boys from Somalia selling to customers who were either underage, too, or had other reasons not to be seen at Plata. Sod Hux, he needed the cash desperately!
A man came walking down the footpath. It wasn't Hux, that was for sure; he was still limping after the B gang had beaten him up for selling diluted amphetamines. As if there were anything else. And he didn't look like an undercover man, either. Or a junkie, even though he was wearing the type of blue coat he had seen many junkies wear. Sail looked around. They were alone.
When the man was close enough Sail stepped out of the shadow of the bridge. 'Wanna fix?'
The man gave a brief smile, shook his head and made to walk on. However, Sail had positioned himself in the middle of the path. He was big for his age. For any age. And his knife was, too. A Rambo: First Blood with a hollow handle containing a compass and fishing line. It cost around a thousand kroner at the Army Shop but he had got it for three hundred from a pal.
'Do you want to buy or just pay up?' Sail asked, holding the knife so that the grooved blade reflected the pale light from the street lamp.
Foreignerspeak. Not Sail's strongest suit.
'Money.' Sail heard his voice rising. He always got so angry when he robbed people; he didn't know why. 'Now.'
The foreigner nodded and held up his left hand in defence while calmly moving his right inside his jacket. Then he withdrew his hand with lightning speed. Sail did not have time to react; he whispered a 'shit' as he realised he was staring down the muzzle of a gun. He wanted to run, but the black metal eye seemed to have frozen his feet to the ground.
'I…' he began.
'Run,' said the man. 'Now.'
And Sail ran. Ran with the cold, damp air from the river burning in his lungs and the lights from the Plaza Hotel and the Post House jumping up and down on his retina, ran until the river flowed out into the fjord and he could run no further, and he screamed at the fences around the container terminal that one day he would kill them all.
A quarter of an hour had passed since Harry had been awoken by Halvorsen's call. The police car pulled up by the kerb of Sofies gate and Harry slid onto the back seat beside his colleague. He mumbled an 'Evening' to the uniformed policemen at the front.
The driver, a hefty fellow with a closed police face, drove off quietly.
'Put your foot down,' said the pale, young, pimply policeman in the passenger seat.
'How many are there of us?' Harry peered at his watch.
'Two cars plus this one,' Halvorsen said.
'So six plus us two. I don't want any blue lights. We'll try and do this in a calm manner. You, me, a uniform and a gun will perform the arrest. The other five will cover potential escape routes. Are you carrying a weapon?'
Halvorsen slapped his chest pocket.
'That's good because I'm not,' Harry said.
'Haven't you got the firearms licence sorted yet?'
Harry leaned forward between the front seats.
'Which of you would most like to join us in arresting a professional hit man?'
'Me!' was the instant response from the young man in the passenger seat.
'Then it's you,' Harry said to the driver, nodding slowly to the mirror.
Six minutes later they had parked at the bottom of Heimdalsgata in Gronland and were studying the front door where Harry had been standing earlier in the evening.
'So our man in Telenor was sure?' Harry asked.
'Yep,' Halvorsen said. 'Torkildsen says an internal number in the Hostel tried to call Hotel International about fifty minutes ago.'
'Can't be a coincidence,' Harry said, opening the car door. 'This is Salvation Army territory. I'll have a recce. Be back in a minute.'
When Harry returned the driver was sitting with a machine gun in his lap, an MP5, which recent regulations allowed patrol cars to carry locked in the boot.
'You haven't got anything more discreet?' Harry asked.
The man shook his head. Harry turned to Halvorsen. 'And you?'
'Just a sweet little Smith amp; Wesson. 38.'
'You can borrow mine,' said the young policeman in the passenger seat with gusto. 'Jericho 941. Real power. Same as the police in Israel use to blow off the heads of the Arab scum.'
'Jericho?' Harry echoed. Halvorsen could see his eyes had narrowed. 'I'm not going to ask where you got hold of that gun. But I think I should inform you that in all probability it comes from a gang of gun smugglers. Led by your former colleague Tom Waaler.'
The policeman in the passenger seat turned round. His blue eyes vied with his fiery pimples for brightness. 'I remember Tom Waaler. And do you know what, Inspector? Most of us think he was a good guy.'
Harry swallowed and looked out of the window.
'Most of you are wrong,' Halvorsen said.
'Give me the radio,' Harry said.
He passed on quick, efficient instructions to the other drivers. Said where he wanted each car without mentioning street names or buildings that could be identified by the regular radio audience: crime correspondents, crooks and nosy parkers who picked up the frequency and doubtless already knew that something was brewing.
'Let's get going,' Harry decided, turning to the passenger seat. 'You stay here and stay in contact with the Ops Room. Call us on your colleague's walkie-talkie if there is anything. OK?'
The young man shrugged.
Only after Harry had rung three times at the front door of the Hostel did a young boy come shuffling out. He opened the door a little and peered at them through sleepy eyes.
'Police,' Harry said, rummaging in his pocket. 'Shit. Looks like I've left my ID at home. Show him yours, Halvorsen.'
'You can't come in here,' the boy said. 'You know that.'
'This is murder, not drugs.'
The boy was looking with big eyes over Harry's shoulder at the policeman who had raised his MP5. Then he opened the door and stepped back without even noticing Halvorsen's ID.
'Have you got a Christo Stankic here?' Harry asked.
The boy shook his head.
'A foreigner with a camel-hair coat perhaps?' Halvorsen asked as Harry slipped behind the reception desk and opened the guest register.
'The only foreigner we have here is one they brought from the soup bus,' the boy stuttered. 'But he didn't have a camel-hair coat. Just a suit jacket. Rikard Nilsen gave him a winter jacket from the storehouse.'
'Did he ring from here?' Harry called from behind the desk.
'He used the phone in the office behind you.'
'Approx half past eleven.'
'Matches the call to Zagreb,' Halvorsen murmured.
'Is he in?' Harry asked.
'Don't know. He took the key with him and I've been asleep.'
'Have you got a master key?'
The boy nodded, unhooked a key from the bunch he had attached to his belt and put it in Harry's outstretched hand.
'Twenty-six. Up the stairs. At the end of the corridor.'
Harry had already set off. The uniformed policeman followed close behind with both hands on the machine gun.
'Stay in your room until this is over,' Halvorsen said to the boy as he pulled out his Smith amp; Wesson revolver, winked and patted him on the shoulder.
He unlocked the door and noted that reception was unmanned. Natural enough. As natural as a police car occupied by a policeman parked further up the street. After all, he had just discovered first-hand that this was a criminal area.
He trudged up the stairs, and as he rounded the corner of the corridor he heard a crackle he recognised from the bunkers in Vukovar – a walkie-talkie.
He glanced up. At the end of the corridor, by the door to his room, stood two men in plain clothes and one uniformed policeman holding a machine gun. Straight away he recognised one of the plain-clothes men with his hand on the door handle. The uniformed policeman raised the walkie-talkie and spoke quietly into it.
The other two were facing him. It was too late to retreat.
He nodded to them, stopped in front of room 22 and shook his head as if to show his despair at the increasing criminality in the neighbourhood while pretending to rummage through his pockets for his room key. From the corner of his eye he watched the policeman from the reception queue at Scandia Hotel push open the door to the room without a sound, closely followed by the other two.
As soon as they were out of sight he went back down the way he had come. Took the stairs in two strides. He had noted all the exits – as he always did – when he arrived in the white bus earlier in the evening. For an instant he wondered about the back door leading into the garden, but it was too obvious. Unless he was very much mistaken, they would have placed a policeman there. His best chance was the main entrance. He walked out and turned left, straight towards the police car. On that route there was only one of them. If he managed to slip past he could go down to the river and the darkness.
'Fuck, fuck, fuck!' Harry shouted, on finding the room empty.
'Perhaps he's gone out for a walk,' Halvorsen said.
They both turned to the driver. He hadn't said anything, but the walkie-talkie on his chest was speaking. 'It's the same guy I saw going in a moment ago. Now he's coming out again. He's coming towards me.'
Harry breathed in the air. There was a particular perfumed smell in the room which he vaguely recognised.
'That's him,' Harry said. 'He tricked us.'
'That's him,' the driver said into the microphone, running after Harry who was already out of the door.
'Fantastic. I've got him,' the radio crackled. 'Out.'
'No!' Harry shouted as they stormed down the corridor. 'Don't try to stop him. Wait for us!'
The driver repeated the order into the mike, but received a wordless hiss in response.
He saw the door of the police car open and a young uniformed officer step out under the street light with a gun.
'Halt!' shouted the man, standing with legs apart and the gun pointed at him. Inexperienced, he thought. There was almost fifty metres of darkened street between them, and unlike the young mugger under the bridge this policeman was not canny enough to wait until the victim's escape routes were cut off. For the second time that night he took out his Llama Minimax. And instead of making off he began to run straight towards the policeman.
'Halt!' repeated the police officer.
The distance had shrunk to thirty metres. Twenty metres.
He raised his gun and shot.
People tend to overestimate the chances of hitting another person at distances over ten metres. On the other hand, they often underestimate the psychological effect of the sound, of the explosion combined with the pinging of lead against something close by. When the bullet hit the car windscreen, which went white then collapsed, the same thing happened to the policeman. He went white and sank to his knees as his fingers tried to cling to the rather too heavy Jericho 941.
Harry and Halvorsen arrived in Heimdalsgata at the same time.
'There,' Halvorsen said.
The young policeman was still on his knees beside the car with his gun pointing to the sky. But further up the street they caught sight of the back of the blue coat they had seen in the corridor.
'He's running towards Eika,' Halvorsen said.
Harry turned to the driver who had joined them.
'Give me the MP5.'
The officer passed Harry the weapon. 'It isn't…'
But Harry had already started running. He heard Halvorsen behind him, but the rubber soles of his Doc Martens gave him a better purchase on the blue ice. The man in front of him had a long lead; he had already rounded the corner to Vahls gate, which skirted the park. Harry held the machine gun in one hand and concentrated on breathing while trying to run with a light efficiency of movement. He slowed down and got the gun into a shooting position before arriving at the corner. Tried not to think too much as he stuck out his head and looked to the right.
There was no one waiting for him.
No one to be seen in the street, either.
But a man like Stankic would hardly have been stupid enough to run into any of the backyards, which were rat traps with their locked gates. Harry peered into the park where the large white surface of snow reflected the lights of the surrounding buildings. Wasn't something moving over there? Sixty, seventy metres away, a figure making slow headway through the snow. Blue jacket. Harry sprinted across the road, took off and sailed over the snowdrift and plunged into it, sinking up to his waist in fresh snow.
He had dropped the machine gun. The figure ahead of him turned, then struggled forward. Harry's hand searched for the gun as he watched Stankic feverishly fighting his way through the loose snow, which wouldn't allow him to gain a foothold. His fingers met something hard. There. Harry pulled out the weapon and heaved himself up. Got one leg out, stretched it as far as he could, rolled over, pulled the other leg, stretched it out. After thirty metres the lactic acid was burning in his thigh muscles, but the distance had shrunk. The other man was almost on the footpath and out of the mass of snow. Harry gritted his teeth and managed to speed up. He put the distance at fifteen metres. Close enough. Harry dropped onto his stomach in the snow and set up the weapon. Blew the snow off the sights, released the safety catch, selected the lever for single-fire mode and waited until the man had reached the cone of light from the street lamp by the footpath.
'Police!' Harry didn't appreciate the comical side of the word until he had shouted it: 'Freeze!'
The man ahead continued to plough his way through. Harry squeezed the trigger.
'Halt or I'll shoot!'
The man was only five metres from the path now.
'I'm aiming at your head,' Harry shouted. 'And I won't miss.'
Stankic dived forward, grabbed the lamp post with both hands and pulled himself out of the snow. Harry had the blue jacket in his sights. Held his breath and did what he had been taught, to overrule the impulse in the cerebellum which, with the logic of evolution, says you should not kill anyone of your kind; he concentrated on technique, on not pushing or jerking the trigger. Harry felt the spring mechanism give and heard a metallic click, but there was no recoil against his shoulder. A malfunction? Harry fired again. Another click.
The man stood up with a flurry of snow around him, stepped onto the path and stamped his feet. He turned and watched Harry. Harry didn't move. The man stood with his arms hanging down by his sides. Like a sleepwalker, thought Harry. Stankic raised his hand. Harry saw the gun and knew he was helpless where he lay. Stankic's hand continued up to his forehead in an ironic salute. Then he pivoted and set off at a run up the path.
Harry closed his eyes and felt his heart pounding against the inside of his ribs.
By the time Harry had fought his way through to the path, the man had long been swallowed up by the darkness. Harry slid out the magazine of the MP5 and checked. As he thought. In a sudden bout of fury he hurled the weapon in the air and it rose like an ugly black bird in front of the Plaza Hotel before falling and landing with a gentle splash in the black water beneath him.
When Halvorsen arrived Harry was sitting in the snow with a cigarette between his lips.
Halvorsen was bent double, holding his knees, his chest heaving. 'Christ, you can run,' he wheezed. 'Gone?'
'Vanished,' Harry said. 'Let's go back.'
'Where's the MP5?'
'Didn't you just ask me that?'
Halvorsen looked at Harry and decided not to dig any further.
Two police cars stood in front of the Hostel with blue lights flashing. A crowd of shivering men with long lenses protruding from their chests were thronging outside the front door, which was obviously locked. Harry and Halvorsen walked down Heimdalsgata. Halvorsen was finishing a conversation on his mobile.
'Why do I always think of the queue for a porn film when I see that?' Harry said.
'Journalists,' Halvorsen said. 'How did they get wind of this?'
'Ask the whelp on the walkie-talkie,' Harry said. 'My guess is he let the cat out of the bag. What did they say in the Ops Room?'
'They're sending all available patrol cars to the river at once. Uniformed Division is sending a dozen foot soldiers. What do you think?'
'He's good. They'll never find him. Call Beate and ask her to come.'
One of the journalists had spotted them and came over.
'You're up late, Gjendem.'
'What's going on?'
'Not a great deal.'
'Oh? I see someone has shot out the windscreen of one of your police cars.'
'Who says someone didn't hit it with a stick?' Harry said, with the journalist still trotting after him.
'The officer sitting in there. He says he was shot at.'
'Christ, I'd better have a word with him,' Harry said. 'Excuse me, gentlemen!'
The throng moved aside with grudging reluctance and Harry knocked on the front door. There was a clicking and buzzing of cameras and flashes.
'Is there any connection between this and the murder in Egertorget?' one of the journalists shouted. 'Is the Salvation Army involved?'
The door opened a crack and the driver's face came into view. He stepped back, and Harry and Halvorsen pushed through. They walked through reception where the young policeman was sitting in a chair staring into space with vacant eyes while a colleague crouched in front of him, speaking in a low voice.
On the floor above, the door to room 26 was still open.
'Touch as little as possible,' Harry said to the driver. 'Beate Lonn's sure to want fingerprints and DNA.'
They cast around, opened cupboard doors and peeked under the bed.
'Jeez,' Halvorsen said. 'Not a single thing. The guy had only what he was standing up in.'
'He must have had a suitcase or something to bring the gun into the country,' Harry said. 'He may have got rid of it of course. Or put it somewhere for safekeeping.'
'There aren't that many left-luggage places in Oslo any more.'
'Right. The luggage room in one of the hotels where he was staying. The lockers in Oslo Central Station of course.'
'Follow the line of thought.'
'He's out there now and has a bag somewhere.'
'He might need it now, yes. I'll ring Ops and get someone sent to Scandia and the station and… what was the other hotel that had Stankic on their lists?'
'Radisson SAS in Holbergs plass.'
Harry turned to the driver and asked if he wanted to go out and have a smoke. They went down and out of the back door. On the snow-covered handkerchief of a garden in the quiet backyard an old man was standing and smoking while contemplating the dirty yellow sky, oblivious of their presence.
'How's your colleague?' Harry asked, lighting both of their cigarettes.
'He'll survive. Sorry about the reporters.'
'It's not your fault.'
'Yes, it is. When he called me on the radio he said someone had entered the Hostel. I should have drilled things like that into him.'
'There were a couple of other things you should have drilled more.'
The driver's eyes shot up. And blinked twice, in quick succession. 'I apologise. I tried to warn you, but you ran off.'
'OK. But why?'
The glow of the cigarette lit up, red and reproachful, as the driver sucked hard. 'Most criminals give up the second they have an MP5 pointing at them.'
'That wasn't what I asked.'
The muscles in his jaw tensed and relaxed. 'It's an old story.'
'Mm.' Harry regarded the policeman. 'We've all got old stories to tell. That doesn't mean we can put colleagues' lives at risk with empty magazines.'
'You're right.' The man dropped the half-smoked cigarette and it disappeared into the fresh snow with a hiss. He took a deep breath. 'And you won't get into any trouble about it, Hole. I'll confirm your report.'
Harry shifted weight. Studied his cigarette. He put the policeman's age at about fifty. There weren't so many of them left in patrol cars. 'The old story, is it one I would like to hear?'
'You've heard it before.'
'Mm. Young lad?'
'Twenty-two, no previous.'
'Paralysed from the chest down. I hit him in the stomach, but the bullet went right through.'
The old man coughed. Harry looked across. He was holding the cigarette between two matches.
In reception the young officer was still sitting on the chair being comforted. Harry motioned with his head for the sympathetic colleague to withdraw and sank down onto his haunches.
'Trauma counselling doesn't help,' Harry said to the wan young man. 'Sort yourself out.'
'You're frightened because you think you were a shot away from dying. You weren't. He wasn't aiming at you. He aimed at the car.'
'Eh?' the whelp repeated in the same monotone.
'This guy's a pro. He knows that if he had shot a policeman he wouldn't have had a hope of getting away. He fired to frighten you.'
'How do you know…?'
'He didn't fire at me, either. You tell yourself that and you'll be able to sleep. And don't go to a psychologist; there are other people who need them.' Harry's knees gave a nasty crack as he stood up. 'And remember that higher ranked officers are by definition cleverer than you. So, next time, follow orders, OK?'
His heart was beating like a hunted animal's. A gust of wind caught the lamps hanging from the thin wires above the street and his shadow danced across the pavement. He wished he could take longer strides, but because of the ice's slippery surface he had to keep his legs beneath him as far as possible.
It must have been the telephone call to Zagreb from the office that had led the police to the Hostel. And it had happened at such speed! As a result he would not be able to call her. He heard a car coming from behind and had to force himself not to turn round. Instead he listened. It hadn't braked so far. It passed by, followed by a rush of air and a flurry of powdery snow that settled on the tiny strip of neck not covered by the blue jacket, the jacket that the policeman had seen him wearing and meant he was no longer invisible. He had considered discarding the jacket, but a man in a shirt would not only look suspicious but would also freeze to death. He glanced at his watch. There were quite a few hours before the town came to life, before cafes and shops opened where he could find refuge. He had to find somewhere before then. A bolt-hole, a place where he could keep warm and rest until day broke.
He walked by a dirty yellow house front covered with graffiti. His eye was caught by one word painted there. 'Vestbredden'. The West Bank? A bit further up the street a man was standing bent double in front of an entrance. From a distance it looked like he was resting his head against a door. As he came closer he saw that the man was holding his finger on a bell.
He stopped and waited. This might be his salvation.
A voice crackled from the speaker above the bell and the stooped figure straightened up, swayed and started yelling furiously by way of answer. His reddened, booze-battered skin hung off his face like the folds of a Shar Pei dog. The man stopped and the echoes between the houses died away in the night-still town. There was a low electric buzz and, with some difficulty, he shifted his centre of gravity forwards, pushed open the door and staggered in.
The door began to close and his reactions were lightning fast. Too fast. His sole slipped on the blue ice and he just managed to slap down the palms of his hands on the burning cold surface before the rest of his body hit the pavement. He scrambled up again, saw that the door was on the point of snapping shut, charged forward, stuck out his foot and felt the weight of the door trap his ankle. He sneaked inside and stood listening. Shuffling feet. Which seemed to stop before being painfully resumed. Knocking. A door opened and a woman's voice screamed something in this weird sing-song language of theirs. Then it came to an abrupt end, as though someone had cut her throat. After a few seconds of silence he heard a low whine, the noise children make when they are getting over the shock of hurting themselves. Then the door upstairs banged again and it was quiet.
He let the door close behind him. Among the rubbish under the stairs were a couple of newspapers. In Vukovar they had put paper in their shoes as it insulated and absorbed moisture. His frosty breath was still visible, but for the time being he was safe.
Harry sat in the office behind the reception desk of the Hostel waiting with the receiver against his ear as he tried to visualise the flat he was ringing. He saw photos of friends stuck to the mirror above the telephone. Smiling, in party mood, maybe on a trip abroad. Girlfriends in the main. He saw a flat with simple furnishings but cosy. Words of wisdom on the fridge door. Che Guevara poster in the toilet. Did people still do that?
'Hello?' said a sleepy voice.
'It's me again.'
Daddy? Intake of breath and Harry felt himself blush. 'The policeman.'
'Ah yes.' Stifled laughter. Bright and deep at the same time.
'Sorry to wake you, but we-'
'That doesn't matter.'
There was one of those pauses Harry had wanted to avoid.
'I'm at the Hostel,' he said. 'We've been trying to arrest a suspect. The receptionist says you and Rikard Nilsen brought him here earlier this evening.'
'The poor man without any outdoor clothes?'
'What's he done?'
'We suspect he killed Robert Karlsen.'
Harry noticed she pronounced these two words with equal stress.
'If it's alright by you, I'll send an officer over to talk to you. In the meantime perhaps you might try to remember what he said.'
'OK, but can't it…?'
'Hello?' Harry said.
'He said nothing,' she said. 'Just like war refugees. You can see it in the way they move. Like sleepwalkers. As if they're on autopilot. As if they're already dead.'
'Mm. Did Rikard talk to him?'
'Maybe. Do you want his number?'
She was gone. She was right. Harry thought about the man getting up from the snow. How it had fallen off him, the limp arms and the blank face, like the zombies rising from graves in Night of the Living Dead.
Harry heard a cough and spun round in his chair. In the office doorway stood Gunnar Hagen and David Eckhoff.
'Are we disturbing?' Hagen asked.
'Come in,' Harry said.
The two men came in and sat down on the other side of the desk.
'We'd like a report,' Hagen said.
Before Harry could ask who he meant by 'we', Martine's voice was back with the number. Harry jotted it down.
'Thank you,' he said. 'Goodnight.'
'I was wondering-'
'I've got to go,' Harry said.
He put down the receiver.
'We came as fast as we could,' Martine's father said. 'This is awful. What happened?'
Harry looked at Hagen.
'Tell us,' Hagen said.
Harry gave them the bare bones of the failed arrest, described the bullet hitting the car and the chase through the park.
'But if you were so close and had an MP5 with you, why didn't you shoot him?' Hagen asked.
Harry cleared his throat, but waited. He observed Eckhoff.
'Well?' Hagen said with incipient irritation in his voice.
'It was too dark,' Harry said.
Hagen contemplated his inspector before responding. 'So he was out walking at the time you were entering his room. Any idea why a gunman would be outdoors when it's twenty degrees below and the middle of the night?' The POB lowered his voice. 'I assume you have round-theclock protection for Jon Karlsen.'
'Jon?' said David Eckhoff. 'But he's at Ulleval Hospital.'
'I have an officer posted outside his room,' Harry said, hoping his voice gave an impression of the kind of control he wished he had. 'I was about to check everything was alright.'
The first four notes of 'London Calling' by the Clash reverberated around the bare walls of the corridor in the neurosurgical ward of Ulleval Hospital. A man with flat hair and a dressing gown, walking with a drip on a stand, sent the police guard a reproachful glance as he passed. He was answering his mobile phone, contrary to hospital regulations.
'Hole here. Anything to report?'
'Not much. There's an insomniac wandering the corridors. Dodgylooking, but seems harmless enough.'
The man with the drip continued on his rounds with a sniff.
'Anything earlier this evening?'
'Yep. Spurs got trounced by Arsenal at White Hart Lane. And there was a power cut.'
'And the patient?'
'Not a peep.'
'Have you checked everything is OK?'
'Apart from haemorrhoids, everything seemed fine.'
Stranden listened to the ominous silence. 'Just a joke. I'll go and check right away. Stay on the line.'
The room smelt of something sugary. Sweets, he assumed. The light from the corridor swept across the room and went as the door closed behind him, but he could make out a face on the pillow. He went closer. It was quiet in here. Too quiet. As though sound was missing. One sound.
Stranden coughed and repeated the name a bit louder. 'Karlsen.'
It was so quiet that Harry's voice on the phone rang out loud and clear. 'What's up?'
Stranden put the phone to his ear. 'He's sleeping like a baby.'
Stranden observed the face on the pillow. And realised that was what was bothering him. Karlsen was sleeping like a baby. Grown men tend to make more noise. He leaned over the face to listen to his breathing.
'Hello!' Harry Hole's shout on the mobile phone sounded distant. 'Hello!'
Thursday, 18 December. The Refugee.
The sun warmed him and the slight breeze across the sand dunes made the grass ripple and nod in appreciation. He must have been swimming because the towel beneath him was wet. 'Look,' said his mother, pointing. He shaded his eyes and scanned the gleaming, unbelievably blue Adriatic Sea. And there he saw a man wading towards land with a big smile. It was his father. Behind him, Bobo. And Giorgi. A small dog was swimming beside him with its tiny tail upright like a mast. While he was watching them many more rose from the sea. Some he knew very well. Like Giorgi's father. Others were familiar. A face in a doorway in Paris. The features were distorted beyond recognition, into grotesque masks grimacing at him. The sun disappeared behind a cloud and the temperature plummeted. The masks started shouting.
He woke to a searing pain in his side and opened his eyes. He was in Oslo. On the floor under the stairs in an entrance hall. A figure stood over him, mouth open wide, shouting something. He recognised one word which was almost the same as in his own language. Narkoman.
Then the figure, a man in a short leather jacket, took a step back and lifted his foot. The kick hit him on his sore side and he rolled over in pain. There was another man behind the one wearing the jacket, laughing and holding his nose. The leather jacket pointed to the door.
He eyed the two of them. Put his hand on his jacket pocket and felt it was wet. And that he still had the gun. There were two bullets left in the magazine. But if he threatened them with the gun there was a chance they would alert the police.
The leather jacket yelled and raised his hand.
He held his arm over his head in defence and staggered to his feet. The man holding his nose opened the door with a grin and kicked his backside on the way out.
The door snapped shut behind him and he heard the two men stomping up the stairs. He looked at his watch. Four o'clock in the morning. It was still dark and he was frozen to the marrow. And wet. He could feel with his hand that the back of his jacket was saturated and his trouser legs soaked. He stank of piss. Had he pissed himself? No, he must have been lying in it. A pool. On the floor. Frozen piss that he had thawed with his body heat.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and began to jog down the road. The cars passing by didn't bother him any more.
The patient mumbled a 'thank you', and Mathias Lund-Helgesen closed the door after him and flopped down into his office chair. Yawned and looked at the clock. Six. An hour to go before the morning shift took over. Before he could go home. A few hours' sleep and then up to Rakel's. She would be lying under the duvet in the large timber-clad house in Holmenkollen at this moment. He still hadn't found the right tone with the boy, but it would come. It usually did for Mathias Lund- Helgesen. It wasn't that Oleg disliked him; it was more that the boy had formed too strong a link with the predecessor. The policeman. Odd how a child could elevate an obviously disturbed alcoholic into a father figure and role model without demur.
He had been thinking of mentioning this to Rakel for a while, but had let the matter drop. It would only make him look like a helpless idiot. Or even make her wonder if he was the right man for them.
And that was what he wanted. To be the right man. He was willing to be whoever he had to be to keep her. And to know who that was, he had to ask of course. So he had done. What it was about that policeman. And she had answered it wasn't anything in particular. Except that she had loved him. And if she hadn't formulated it like that perhaps he wouldn't have mused on why she had never used that word about him.
Mathias Lund-Helgesen dismissed these idle thoughts, checked the name of the next patient on the computer and walked down the central aisle where the nurses first received them. But at this time of night it was deserted, so he went on to the waiting room.
Five people looked at him, eyes begging for it to be their turn. Apart from a man in the far corner, sleeping with his mouth open and his head on the wall. Had to be a drug addict. The blue jacket and the stench of stale urine coming in waves were sure signs. Just as sure as he would complain of pains and ask for pills.
Mathias went over to him and wrinkled his nose. Shook him hard and took a hasty step back. Quite a few addicts, after years of being robbed of drugs and money when they were out of it, had an automatic response if they were woken: thrashing out or stabbing with a knife.
The man blinked and regarded Mathias with surprisingly clear eyes.
'How can I help?' Mathias asked. Standard procedure, of course, was that you only asked a patient this question when you had privacy, but Mathias was exhausted and sick to death of junkies and drunks who took time and resources away from other patients.
The man pulled the jacket around him more tightly and said nothing.
'Hello! I'm afraid you have to tell me why you're here.'
The man shook his head and pointed to one of the others as if explaining it wasn't his turn.
'This is not a lounge,' Mathias said. 'You're not allowed to sleep here. Scram. Now.'
'I don't understand,' the man said.
'Leave,' Mathias said. 'Or I'll call the police.'
To his astonishment, Mathias could feel he had to control himself not to drag this stinking junkie out of the chair. The others had turned to watch.
The man nodded and staggered to his feet. Mathias stood watching him after the glass door had slid to.
'It's good you chuck their kind out,' a voice behind him said.
Mathias gave an absent-minded nod. Perhaps he hadn't told her enough times. That he loved her. Perhaps that was it.
It was half past seven and still dark outside the neurosurgical ward and room 19 where Police Officer Stranden was looking down at the neat yet unoccupied bed where Jon Karlsen had been lying. Soon another patient would be there. That was a strange thought. But now he needed to find a bed to lie in himself. For a long time. He yawned and checked he hadn't left anything on the bedside table, took the newspaper from the chair and turned to leave.
A man was standing in the doorway. It was the inspector. Hole.
'Where is he?'
'Gone,' Stranden said. 'They came for him a quarter of an hour ago. Drove him away.'
'Oh? Who authorised that?'
'The consultant. They didn't want him here any more.'
'I meant who authorised the transport. And where to.'
'That was your new boss in Crime Squad. He rang.'
'Hagen? In person?'
'Yep. And they took Karlsen to his brother's flat.'
Hole shook his head slowly. Then he left.
Dawn was breaking in the east as Harry trudged up the stairs of the reddish-brown brick-built block in Gorbitz gate, a short stretch of tarmac full of potholes between Kirkeveien and Fagerborggata. He stopped on the first floor as instructed via the door intercom. Embossed in white on a pale blue strip of plastic on the door that had been left ajar was a name: ROBERT KARLSEN.
Harry entered and gave the flat a once-over. It was a tiny, messy studio that confirmed the impression one gained of Robert from seeing his office. Although the possibility could not be ruled out that Li and Li might have contributed to the mess while searching for letters and any other paperwork that could help them. A colour print of Jesus dominated one wall, and it struck Harry that if the crown of thorns was exchanged for a beret, you would have Che Guevara.
'So Gunnar Hagen decided you should be brought here?' Harry addressed the back of the person sitting at the desk by the window.
'Yes,' said Jon Karlsen, turning round. 'Since the gunman knows the address of my flat, he said I would be safer here.'
'Mm,' Harrry said, looking around. 'Sleep well?'
'Not particularly.' Jon Karlsen wore an embarrassed smile. 'I lay listening for sounds that weren't there. And when in the end I did fall asleep, Stranden, the guard, came and scared the living daylights out of me.'
Harry moved a pile of comics off a chair and flopped down. 'I can understand you being afraid, Jon. Have you thought any more about who would want to take your life?'
Jon sighed. 'I haven't thought about anything else since last night. But the answer is the same: I really don't have a clue.'
'Have you ever been to Zagreb?' Harry asked. 'Or Croatia?'
Jon shook his head. 'The furthest I've been from Norway is Sweden and Denmark. And then I was just a boy.'
'Do you know any Croats?'
'Only the refugees we give lodging to.'
'Mm. Did the police say why they brought you here of all places?'
Jon shrugged. 'I said I had a key to the flat. And it's empty of course, so…'
Harry ran a hand across his face.
'There used to be a computer here,' Jon said, pointing to the desk.
'We picked it up,' Harry said, standing up again.
'Do you have to go already?'
'I have to catch a flight to Bergen.'
'Oh,' Jon said with a blank stare.
Harry felt an inclination to lay a hand on the ungainly boy's narrow shoulders.
The airport express was late. It was the third time in a row. 'Because of a delay,' came the brief and vague justification. Oystein Eikeland, Harry's taxi-driving and only pal from his boyhood, had explained to Harry that a train's electromotor was one of the simplest things in existence. His little sister could make it work, and if the technical staff of SAS and the Norwegian Railways were to swap places for a day, all the trains would run on time and all the planes would still be on the ground. Harry preferred the situation as it was.
He rang Gunnar Hagen's direct line after they emerged from the tunnel before Lillestrom.
'I can hear.'
'I've authorised round-the-clock surveillance for Jon Karlsen. And I didn't authorise his removal from Ulleval Hospital.'
'The hospital determines the latter,' Hagen said. 'And I determine the former.'
Harry counted three houses in the white landscape before answering. 'You put me in charge of this investigation, Hagen.'
'Yes, but not of overtime expenses. Which as you ought to know went over-budget ages ago.'
'The boy's scared out of his wits,' Harry said. 'So you put him in the flat belonging to the killer's previous victim, his own brother. To save the few hundred kroner a day a hotel room would have cost.'
The loudspeakers announced the next stop.
'Lillestrom?' Hagen sounded surprised. 'Are you on the airport express?'
Harry mouthed a silent curse. 'Quick trip to Bergen.'
'Is that so?'
Harry gulped. 'I'll be back this afternoon.'
'Are you out of your mind, man? We're under the spotlight here. The media-'
'A tunnel's coming,' Harry said, pressing the red button.
Ragnhild Gilstrup awoke slowly from a dream. It was dark in the room. She knew it was morning, but she didn't know what the sound was. It was like a large, mechanical clock. But they didn't have any clocks like that in the bedroom. She rolled over and recoiled. In the gloom she saw a naked figure standing by the foot of the bed watching her.
'Good morning, darling,' he said.
'Mads! You frightened me.'
He had just had a shower. Behind him the door to the bathroom was open and the ticking sound came from the soft, resonant drips of water from his body onto the parquet floor.
'Have you been standing like that for long?' she asked, pulling the duvet round her more tightly.
'How do you mean?'
She shrugged, but was taken aback. There was something about the way he said it. Cheery, almost teasing. And the tiny smile. He never used to be like that. She stretched and yawned – a sham, she acknowledged to herself.
'When did you get home last night?' she asked. 'I didn't wake up.'
'You must have been enjoying the sleep of the innocent.' Again that little smile.
She studied him. Over recent months he had indeed changed. He had always been slim, but now he looked stronger and fitter. And there was something about his stance; he seemed to have become more erect. Of course she had wondered if he had a lover, but that had not bothered her overmuch. Or so she thought.
'Where were you?' she asked.
'Meal with Jan Petter Sissener.'
'Yes. He thinks the market prospects are good. Also for property.'
'Isn't it my job to talk to him?' she asked.
'Just like to keep myself up to date.'
'You don't think I keep you up to date, dear?'
He looked at her. Held her gaze until she felt something that never happened when she was speaking to Mads: blood suffusing her face.
'I'm sure you tell me what I need to know, darling.' He went into the bathroom where she heard him turn on the tap.
'I've been examining a couple of interesting property ideas,' she shouted, mostly to say something, to break the strange silence that had followed the last thing he said.
'Me too,' Mads shouted. 'I went to have a look at an apartment building in Goteborggata yesterday. The one the Salvation Army owns, you know.'
She froze. Jon's flat.
'Fine property. But do you know what? There was police tape over the door to one of the flats. A resident told me there had been a shooting there. Can you imagine?'
'Well I never,' she shouted. 'What was the police tape for?'
'That's what the police do, secure the premises while they turn the flat upside down for fingerprints and DNA to find out who's been there. Anyway, the Salvation Army may be willing to lower the price if there's been a shooting in the building, don't you think?'
'They don't want to sell. I've told you.'
'They didn't want to sell, darling.'
A thought struck her. 'Why would the police search the flat if the shooting came from the corridor outside?'
She heard Mads turn off the tap and looked up. He was standing in the doorway, with a yellow smile in the white shaving foam and a razor in his hand. And soon he would sprinkle on the expensive aftershave she could not bear.
'What are you talking about?' he said. 'I didn't say anything about corridors. And why so pale, darling?'
The day had risen late and there was still a layer of transparent icy mist hanging over Sofienberg Park as Ragnhild hurried up Helgesens gate breathing into her beige Bottega Veneta scarf. Even wool bought in Milan for nine thousand kroner could not keep the cold out, but at least it covered her face.
Fingerprints. DNA. To find out who had been there. That must not happen; the consequences would be disastrous.
She rounded the corner to Goteborggata. There weren't any police cars outside anyway.
The key slid into the lock of the main entrance, and she scuttled in towards the lift. It was a long time since she had been here, and the first time she was arriving unannounced, of course.
Her heart was pounding as the lift was going up and she was thinking of her hair in his shower cabinet, clothing fibres in the carpet, fingerprints everywhere.
The corridor was empty. The orange tape across the door showed that no one was at home, but she knocked anyway and waited. Then she took out the key and tried it. It didn't fit. She tried again, but could only get the tip into the cylinder. Christ, had Jon changed the lock? She took a deep breath, turned the key round and said a silent prayer.
The key slipped in and the lock gave a gentle click as it opened.
She inhaled the smell of the flat that she knew so well and made for the wardrobe where she knew he kept the vacuum cleaner. It was a black Siemens VS08G2040, the same model as they had at home, 2000 watts, the most powerful on the market. Jon liked things to be clean. The vacuum cleaner gave a hoarse roar as she plugged it in at the wall. It was ten o'clock. She should be able to clean all the floors and wipe all the walls and surfaces within an hour. She regarded the closed bedroom door and wondered whether to start there. Where the memories, and the evidence, were strongest. No. She placed the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner against her forearm. It felt like a bite. She pulled it away and saw that blood had already gathered.
She had been cleaning for a few minutes when she remembered. The letters! God, she had almost forgotten they might find the letters she had written. The first ones in which she had written about her innermost dreams and desires, and the last ones, the desperate, naked ones where she had implored him to get in touch. She left the vacuum cleaner on, draped the hose over a chair and ran over to Jon's desk and began to pull out the drawers. The first contained pens, tape and a hole punch. The second telephone directories. The third was locked. Of course.
She grabbed the letter opener from the bureau, forced it in above the lock and leaned with all her strength against the shaft. The old, dry wood creaked. And while she was thinking the letter opener would break, the front of the drawer split along its length. She pulled out the drawer with a jerk, brushed away the wooden splinters and looked down at the envelopes. The piles of them. Her fingers flipped through them. Hafslund Energi. Den norske Bank. Intelligent Finance. The Salvation Army. A blank envelope. She opened it. 'Dear Son,' it said at the top. She continued to flick through the pile. There! The envelope bore the investment fund's name – Gilstrup Invest – in a discreet pale blue, down in the right-hand corner.
Relieved, she took out the letter.
When she had finished reading she laid the letter aside and felt the tears streaming down her cheeks. It was as though her eyes had been opened again, as though she had been blind and now she could see and everything was as it had been. As though everything she had believed in and had once rejected was true again. The letter had been brief, yet, after reading it, everything was changed.
The vacuum cleaner groaned without remorse and drowned everything except the simple, unambiguous sentences on the writing paper, their absurd and at the same time self-evident logic. She didn't hear the traffic from the street, the creaking of the door or the person standing right behind her chair. It wasn't until she caught his aroma that the hairs on her neck stood up.
The SAS plane landed at Flesland Airport buffeted by westerly gales. In the taxi to Bergen the windscreen wipers hissed and the studded winter tyres crunched on wet, black tarmac as they cut their way between cliff faces with comb-overs of wet grassy tufts and bare trees. Winter in western Norway.
When they arrived in Fyllingsdalen, Skarre rang.
'We've found something.'
'Out with it then.'
'We've been through Robert Karlsen's hard drive. The only thing of doubtful character was cookies to a couple of porn sites on the Net.'
'We would have found that on your computer too, Skarre. Get to the point.'
'We didn't find any persons of doubtful character in the papers or letters, either.'
'Skarre…' Harry warned.
'On the other hand, we did find an interesting ticket stub,' he said. 'Guess where to.'
'I'll clobber you.'
'To Zagreb,' Skarre hurried to add. And then when Harry didn't answer: 'In Croatia.'
'Thank you. When was he there?'
'In October. Departure 12 October, returning the same evening.'
'Mm. Just the one October day in Zagreb. Doesn't sound like a holiday.'
'I checked with his boss at Fretex in Kirkeveien, and she says that Robert didn't do any jobs abroad for them.'
Harry rang off wondering why he hadn't told Skarre he was pleased with his work. He could have done that, no problem. Was he becoming mean in his old age? No, he thought, as he took the four kroner change from the taxi driver; he had always been mean.
Harry stepped out into a sad, gonorrhoeal discharge of a Bergen squall which, according to myth, starts one afternoon in September and finishes one afternoon in March. He walked the few paces to the front door of Bors Kafe and stood inside scanning the room and wondering what the imminent smoking law would do to places like this. Harry had been to Bors twice before and it was a place where he instinctively felt at home, yet an outsider at the same time. The waiters bustled around wearing red jackets and expressions that said they were working at a high-class establishment while serving half-litres and bone-dry witticisms to local crabbers, retired fishermen, hardy wartime seamen and others whose lives had capsized. The first time Harry went there a washed-up celeb had been dancing the tango with a fisherman between the tables while an older lady dressed to the nines had sung German ballads to accordion accompaniment and reeled off rhythmic obscenities with heavily rolled 'r's during the instrumental breaks.
Harry's eyes found what they were looking for, and he headed for the table where a tall, thin man towered over one empty and one almost empty beer glass.
The man's head bobbed up at the sound of Harry's voice. His eyes followed after a slight delay. Behind the mist of intoxication his pupils were contracting.
'Harry.' To his surprise, the voice was clear and distinct.
Harry pulled over a free chair from a neighbouring table.
'Travelling through?' asked Bjarne Moller.
'How did you find me?'
Harry didn't answer. He had been prepared, but still he could hardly believe what he was seeing.
'So they're gossiping at the station, are they? Well, well.' Moller took another deep draught from the glass. 'Strange change of roles, isn't it. It used to be me who found you like this. Beer?'
Harry leaned over the table. 'What's happened, boss?'
'What's usually happened when a grown man drinks during working hours, Harry?'
'He's either been given the sack or his wife's left him.'
'I haven't been given the boot yet. As far as I know.' Moller laughed. His shoulders shook, but no sound came out.
'Has Kari…?' Harry stopped, not knowing quite how to formulate the words.
'She and the kids didn't come with me. That's OK. That was decided in advance.'
'I miss the boys, of course I do. I'm managing though. This is just… what do they call it?… a passing phase… but there's a more elegant word… trans… no.' Bjarne Moller's head had sunk down over his glass.
'Let's go for a walk,' Harry said, waving his hand for the bill.
Twenty-five minutes later Harry and Bjarne Moller were standing in the same rain cloud by a railing on Floien mountain, looking down on what might have been Bergen. A cable car sliced diagonally like a piece of cake and pulled by thick steel wires had transported them up from the town centre.
'Was that why you came here?' Harry asked. 'Because you and Kari were going to split up.'
'It rains here as much as they say,' Moller said.
Harry sighed. 'Drinking doesn't help, boss. Things get worse.'
'That's my line, Harry. How are you getting on with Gunnar Hagen?'
'OK. Good lecturer.'
'Don't make the mistake of underestimating him, Harry. He's more than a lecturer. Gunnar Hagen was in FSK for seven years.'
'Special Forces?' Harry asked in surprise.
'Indeed. I was told that by the Chief Superintendent. Hagen was redeployed in FSK in 1981 when the force was set up to protect our oil rigs in the North Sea. As it's secret service, it's never been on any CV.'
'FSK,' Harry said, conscious that the ice-cold rain was seeping through his jacket onto his shoulders. 'I've heard the loyalty there is uncommonly fierce.'
'It's like a brotherhood,' Moller said. 'Impenetrable.'
'Do you know anyone else who's been in it?'
Moller shook his head. He already looked sober. 'Anything new in the investigation? I've been given some insider information.'
'We don't even have a motive.'
'The motive's money,' Moller said, clearing his throat. 'Greed, the illusion that things will change if you have money. That you can change.'
'Money.' Harry looked at Moller. 'Maybe,' he demurred.
Moller spat with disgust into the grey soup in front of them. 'Find the money. Find the money and follow it. It will always lead you to the answer.'
Harry had never heard him talk like that before, not with this bitter certainty, as though he had an insight he would have preferred not to possess.
Harry breathed in and took the plunge. 'Boss, you know I don't like to beat about the bush, so here it is. You and I are the types of people who don't have many friends. And even though you may not regard me as a friend I am at any rate something of the kind.'
Harry watched Moller, but there was no response.
'I came here to find out whether there was anything I could do. Anything you wanted to talk about or…'
Still no response.
'Well, I'm buggered if I know why I came, boss. But I'm here now anyway.'
Moller leaned his head back to face the sky. 'Did you know that Bergensians call what's behind us mountains? And in fact they are. Real mountains. Six minutes on the cable car from the centre of the second biggest town in Norway there are people who get lost and die. Funny, isn't it.'
Moller sighed. 'The rain's not going to stop. Let's take the tin can back down.'
At the bottom they walked to the taxi rank.
'It'll take twenty minutes to Flesland Airport now, before the rush hour,' Moller said.
Harry nodded and waited before he got in. His jacket was drenched.
'Follow the money,' Moller said, putting a hand on Harry's shoulder. 'Do whatever you have to do.'
'You too, boss.'
Moller raised a hand in the air and began to walk, but turned when Harry got into the taxi and shouted something that was drowned by the traffic. Harry switched on his mobile phone as they roared across Danmarks plass. A text message was waiting from Halvorsen telling him to ring back. Harry dialled the number.
'We've got Stankic's credit card,' Halvorsen said. 'The cash machine in Youngstorget ate it last night around twelve.'
'So that's where he was coming from when we raided the Hostel', Harry said.
'Youngstorget is a good distance from there,' Harry said. 'He must have gone there because he was frightened we would trace the card to somewhere near the Hostel. And it suggests he's in desperate need of money.'
'But it gets better,' Halvorsen said. 'The cash machine's under a surveillance camera of course.'
Halvorsen paused for effect.
'Come on,' Harry said. 'He doesn't hide his face, is that it?'
'He smiled straight into the camera like a film star,' Halvorsen said.
'Has Beate got the recording?'
'She's sitting in the House of Pain going through it now.'
Ragnhild Gilstrup thought about Johannes. About how different everything could have been. If only she had followed her heart, which had always been wiser than her head. It was strange that she had never been that unhappy and yet she had never wanted to live as much as right now.
To live a bit longer.
Because she knew everything now.
She stared into a black muzzle and she knew what she saw.
And what would happen.
Her scream was drowned by the roar of a very simple motor of a Siemens VS08G2040. A chair fell to the floor. The muzzle with the powerful suction approached her eye. She tried to squeeze her eyelids shut, but they were held open by strong fingers that wanted her to see. And she saw. And knew, knew what was going to happen.
17 Thursday, 18 December. The Face.
THE WALL CLOCK OVER THE COUNTER IN THE BIG CHEMIST'S shop showed half past nine. People sat around the room coughing, closed sleepy eyes or alternated glances between the red digital figure on the wall and their queue number as though it were their lottery ticket for life and every ping a new draw.
He had not taken a number from the machine; he wanted to sit by the heaters in the shop, but he had a feeling the blue jacket was attracting unwanted attention because the staff were beginning to send him looks. He gazed out of the window. Behind the mist he could make out the contours of a feeble, impotent sun. A police car passed by. They had security cameras in here. He had to move on, but where to? Without any money he would be thrown out of cafes and bars. Now he didn't even have the credit card any more. Last night he had decided he would withdraw money even though he knew there was a risk the card would be traced. He had searched on his evening walk from the Hostel, and in the end found an ATM some distance away. But the machine had just eaten his card without giving him anything, except for confirmation of what he already knew: they were encircling him; he was under siege again.
The semi-deserted Biscuit restaurant was immersed in pan-pipe music. It was the quiet period after lunch and before evening meals, so Tore Bjorgen had positioned himself by the window and was staring dreamily out at Karl Johans gate. Not because the view was so appealing, but because the radiators were under the windows and he couldn't seem to get warm. He was in a bad mood. He had to pick up the plane ticket to Cape Town within the next two days and he had just concluded what he had known for a long time: he didn't have enough money. Even though he had worked hard, it wasn't there. There was the rococo mirror he had bought for the flat in the autumn, of course, but there had been too much champagne, cocaine and other expensive jollities. Not that he had lost his grip on things, but to be honest it was time he escaped from the vicious circle of coke for parties, pills to sleep and coke to give him the energy to do enough overtime to finance his bad habits. And right now he didn't have a bean in his account. For the last five years he had celebrated Christmas and New Year in Cape Town instead of going home to the village of Vegardshei, to religious narrow-mindedness, his parents' silent accusations and his uncles' and his nephews' thinly disguised revulsion. He exchanged three weeks of unbearable freezing temperatures, dismal darkness and tedium for sun, beautiful people and pulsating nightlife. And games. Dangerous games. In December and January Cape Town was invaded by European advertising agencies, film crews and models, female and male. And this was where he found like-minded individuals. The game he liked best was blind date. In a place like Cape Town there was always a certain risk involved, but to meet a man amid the shacks in Cape Flats you were risking your life. And yet that was what he did. He didn't always know why he did these idiotic things; all he knew was that he needed danger to feel he was alive. The game had to have a potential penalty to be interesting.
Tore Bjorgen sniffed. His daydreams had been disturbed by a smell he hoped did not come from the kitchen. He turned.
'Hello again,' the man standing behind him said.
If Bjorgen had been a less professional waiter his face would have assumed a disapproving expression. The man in front of him was not only wearing the unbecoming blue jacket that was in fashion among the drug addicts on Karl Johans gate, he was also unshaven, red-eyed and stank like a urinal.
'Remember me?' the man said. 'In the men's room?'
At first Bjorgen thought he was referring to the nightclub of the same name before realising that the guy meant the toilet. It was only then that he recognised him. That is, he recognised the voice, while thinking that it was incredible what less than twenty-four hours without civilised necessities like a razor, a shower and a full night's sleep could do to a man's appearance.
It might have been the interrupted intense daydream that accounted for Bjorgen's two distinctly different reactions coming in the order they did: first of all the sweet sting of desire. The man's reason for coming back was obvious after the flirtation and the fleeting but intimate physical contact they had had. Then the shock as the image of the man with the soapy gun appeared on his retina. Plus the fact that the policeman who had been here had connected it with the murder of the poor Salvation Army soldier.
'I need somewhere to live,' said the man.
Bjorgen blinked hard twice. He could not believe his ears. Here he was, standing opposite a man who might be a murderer, a man under suspicion of killing someone in cold blood. So why hadn't he already dropped everything and run out screaming for the police? The policeman had even said there was a reward for information leading to the man's arrest. Bjorgen glanced towards the end of the room where the head waiter was standing leafing through the reservations book. Why was it that instead he felt this strange tingle of pleasure in his solar plexus which spread through his body and made him shudder and shiver as he searched for something sensible to say?
'It's just for one night,' the man said.
'I'm working today.'
'I can wait.'
Bjorgen eyed the man. It's insane, he thought, while his brain slowly and inexorably connected his love of risk with a potential solution to a problem. He swallowed and shifted weight from one foot to the other.
Harry jogged from the airport express in Oslo Central Station across Gronland to Police HQ, took the lift up to the Robberies Unit and loped down the corridors to the House of Pain, the video room.
It was dark, warm and stuffy in the cramped windowless room. He heard quick fingers scurrying across the computer keyboard.
'What can you see?' he asked the silhouette outlined against the flickering pictures on the wall screen.
'Something very interesting,' Beate Lonn said without turning, but Harry knew her eyes were red-rimmed. He had seen Beate working before. Seen her staring at the screen for hours while she wound forward, stopped, focused, magnified, saved. Without knowing what she was looking for. Or what she could see. This was her territory.
'And maybe an explanation,' she added.
'I'm all ears.' Harry groped his way forward in the dark, hit his leg and sat down cursing.
'OK. Meet Christo Stankic.'
On the screen a man stepped forward to an ATM.
'Are you sure?' Harry asked.
'Don't you recognise him?'
'I recognise the blue jacket, but…' Harry said, hearing the confusion in his own voice.
'Wait,' Beate said.
The man put a card in the machine and stood waiting. Then he turned his face to the camera and grimaced. A pretend smile, the kind that meant the opposite.
'He's found out he can't withdraw any money,' Beate said.
The man on camera kept pressing buttons and in the end he smacked the keypad with his hand.
'And now he's found out he won't get his card back,' Harry said.
The man stood staring at the display on the machine for a long time.
Then he pulled back his sleeve, checked his wristwatch, turned and was gone.
'What make was the watch?' Harry asked.
'The glass was reflecting,' Beate said. 'But I magnified the negative. It says Seiko SQ50 on the dial.'
'Clever girl. But I didn't see an explanation.'
'This is the explanation.'
Beate typed and two pictures of the man they had just seen appeared on the screen. One while he was taking out his card; the other while he was looking at his watch.
'I've chosen these two pictures because his face is in roughly the same position and this way it's easy to see. They've been taken with an interval of a little over a hundred seconds. Can you see that?'
'No,' Harry said truthfully. 'I can tell I'm no good at this. I can't even see if it's the same person in the two pictures. Or if he's the man I saw in Toyen Park.'
'Good. Then you've seen it.'
'Here's the picture of him off the credit card,' Beate said and clicked. A picture of a man with short hair and a tie appeared.
'And here are the ones Dagbladet took of him in Egertorget.'
Two further pictures.
'Can you tell if this is the same person?' Beate asked.
'Nor can I.'
'You can't? If you can't it means it's not the same person.'
'No,' Beate said. 'It means here we have a case of what is known as hyperelasticity. Called visage du pantomime by professionals.'
'What on earth are you talking about?'
'A person who can change their appearance without any need for make-up, disguise or plastic surgery.'
Harry was waiting for all the investigative team to sit down in the red zone's meeting room before he spoke. 'We know now that we're after one man and only one man. For the time being let's call him Christo Stankic. Beate?'
Beate switched on the projector and an image of a face with closed eyes and a mask of something like red spaghetti appeared on the screen.
'What you see here is an illustration of our facial musculature,' she began. 'Muscles we use to form expressions and thereby change our appearance. The most important are located in the forehead, around the eyes and around the mouth. For example, this is the musculus frontalis, which, along with the musculus corrugator supercilii, is used to raise and furrow the eyebrows. The orbicularis oculi is used to close the eyelids or create folds in the part of the face around the eyes. And so on.'
Beate pressed the remote control. The image was replaced by one of a clown with large inflated cheeks.
'We have hundreds of muscles like these in our faces and even those whose job it is to pull faces use just a tiny percentage of the options available. Actors and entertainers train facial muscles to achieve maximum movement which we others lose as a rule at a young age. However, even actors and mime artists tend to use the face for imitative movements to express certain emotions. And, important as they are, they are quite universal and few in number. Anger, happiness, being in love, surprise, a chuckle, a roar of laughter and so on. Nature, though, has given us this mask of muscles to make several million, indeed, an almost unlimited number of facial expressions. Concert pianists have trained the link between brain and finger musculature to such an extent that they can perform ten different simultaneous operations, independently of each other. And we don't even have many muscles in our fingers. So what is the face not capable of?'
Beate moved on to the clip of Christo Stankic outside the ATM.
'Well, we are capable of this for example.'
The film advanced in slow motion.
'The changes are almost imperceptible. Tiny muscles are being tensed and slackened. The result of the small muscle movements is a changed expression. Does the face change that much? No, but the part of the brain that recognises faces – the fusiform gyrus – is very, very sensitive to even minor changes, since its function is to distinguish between thousands of physiologically similar faces. Via the facial muscles' gradual adjustments we end up with what seems to be a different person. Viz., this.'
The recording froze as it reached the last frame.
'Hello! This is Earth calling Mars.'
Harry recognised the voice of Magnus Skarre. Someone laughed, and Beate blushed.
'Sorry,' Skarre said, looking round him with a self-satisfied chuckle. 'That's still the Stankic dago. Science fiction is entertaining but guys who tense a bit here and slacken a bit there and become unrecognisable, that's a trifle far-fetched, if you ask me.'
Harry was on the point of breaking in, but changed his mind. Instead he observed Beate with interest. Two years ago a comment like that would have crushed her on the spot and he would have had to sweep up the pieces.
'As far as I know, no one was asking you,' Beate said, her cheeks still bright red. But since you feel that way let me give you an example I am sure you will understand.'
'Whoa,' exclaimed Skarre, holding his hands up in defence. 'That wasn't meant personally, Lonn.'
'When people die something called rigor mortis sets in.' Beate continued undeterred, but Harry could see her nostrils were flared. 'The muscles in the body, and in the face too, stiffen. It's the same as tensing muscles. And what is the typical reaction when the next of kin has to identify the corpse?'
In the ensuing silence all that could be heard was the hum of the projector fan. Harry was already smiling.
'They don't recognise them,' said a loud, clear voice. Harry had not heard Gunnar Hagen enter the room. 'Not an unusual problem in war when soldiers have to be identified. Of course, they're in uniform, but sometimes even comrades in their own unit have to check the dog tags to be sure.'
'Thank you,' Beate said. 'Did that help the grey matter, Skarre?'
Skarre shrugged, and Harry heard someone laugh out loud. Beate switched off the projector.
'The plasticity or mobility of the face is a very personal thing. To some extent it may be achieved through practice and to some extent, one has to assume, it's genetic. Some people cannot differentiate between the left and right sides of their face; others, with practice, can operate all the muscles independently of each other. Like a concert pianist. And that's called hyperelasticity or visage du pantomime. Known cases would suggest there is a strong genetic element. The ability was learned young or as a child and those who have an extreme degree of hyperelasticity often suffer from personality disorders – or have experienced terrible traumas while growing up.'
'So what you're saying is that we're dealing with a crazy man here?' Gunnar Hagen said.
'My area of expertise is faces, not psychology,' Beate said. 'But at any rate it cannot be excluded. Harry?'
'Thank you, Beate.' Harry got to his feet. 'So now you know what we're up against, guys. Questions? Yes, Li?'
'How do we catch a creature like this?'
Harry and Beate exchanged glances. Hagen coughed.
'I have no idea,' Harry said. 'All I know is that this will not be over until he has done his job. Or we have done ours.'
There was a message from Rakel when Harry returned to his office. He rang her straight away to be spared the brooding.
'How's it going?' she asked.
'Right to the Supreme Court,' Harry said. It was an expression Rakel's father had used. An insider joke among Norwegian soldiers back from the Eastern Front after the war and facing trial. Rakel laughed. The gentle ripple for which he once would have been willing to sacrifice everything to hear every day. It still worked.
'Are you alone?' she asked.
'No. Halvorsen is sitting here listening as always.'
Halvorsen raised his head from the Egertorget witnesses' statements and pulled a grimace.
'Oleg needs someone to talk to,' Rakel said.
'Pssh, that was clumsy. Not someone. He needs to talk to you.'
'Another correction. He said he wants to talk to you.'
'And asked you to ring?'
'No. No, he would never have done that.'
'No.' Harry smiled at the thought.
'So… Would you have time one evening, do you think?'
'Great. You could come and eat with us.'
'Oleg and me.'
'I know you've met Mathias-'
'Yes,' Harry said quickly. 'Seems a nice guy.'
Harry didn't know how to interpret her intonation.
'Are you still there?'
'I'm here,' Harry said. 'Look, we've got a murder case on our hands and things are hotting up here. Could I have a think and ring you later with a day?'
'Yes, that would be fine. How are things otherwise?'
The question was so out of place that for a moment Harry wondered whether it was meant as irony.
'The days pass,' Harry said.
'Nothing new happened in your life since we last spoke?' Harry breathed in. 'I have to be off, Rakel. I'll ring you when I've found a day. Say hello to Oleg from me. OK?'
Harry put down the receiver.
'Well?' Halvorsen said. 'A convenient day?'
'It's a meal. Something to do with Oleg. What would Robert be doing in Zagreb?'
Halvorsen was about to say something when there was a soft knock at the door. They both turned. Skarre was standing in the doorway.
'Zagreb police have just rung,' he informed them. 'The credit card was issued on the basis of a false passport.'
'Mmm,' Harry hummed, leaning back in the chair and putting his hands behind his head. 'What would Robert be doing in Zagreb, Skarre?'
'You know what I think.'
'Dope,' Halvorsen said.
'Didn't you mention a girl asking for Robert in the Fretex in Kirkeveien, Skarre? In the shop they thought she was from Yugoslavia, didn't they?'
'Yes. It was the shop manager. She-'
'Call Fretex, Halvorsen.'
The office was quiet as Halvorsen flicked through the Yellow Pages and dialled a number. Harry started to drum his fingers on the table wondering how to phrase it: he was pleased with Skarre. He cleared his throat once. But then Halvorsen passed him the telephone.
Sergeant Major Rue listened, spoke and acted. An efficient woman, Harry was able to confirm two minutes later when he rang off and coughed again.
'That was one of her para 12 boys, a Serbian, who remembered the girl. He thinks her name is Sofia, but is not sure. He was certain she was from Vukovar.'
Harry found Jon in bed in Robert's flat with an open Bible on his stomach. He looked anxious, as if he hadn't slept. Harry lit a cigarette, sat down on the fragile kitchen chair and asked Jon what he thought Robert had been doing in Zagreb.
'No idea. He said nothing to me. Perhaps it was something to do with the secret project I'd lent him money for.'
'OK. Do you know anything about a girlfriend – a young Croatian girl by the name of Sofia?'
'Sofia Miholjec? You're kidding!'
''Fraid not. Does that mean you know who she is?'
'Sofia lives in one of our buildings in Jacob Aalls gate. Her family was among the Croatian refugees in Vukovar the commander brought here. But Sofia… Sofia is fifteen.'
'Maybe she was just in love with Robert? Young girl. Good-looking, grown lad. It's not exactly unusual, you know.'
Jon was about to answer, but stopped himself.
'You said Robert liked young girls,' Harry said.
Jon studied the floor. 'I can give you the address of the family so you can ask her.'
'OK.' Harry glanced at his watch. 'Anything you need?'
Jon looked around. 'I should go round to my flat. Pick up some clothes and toiletries.'
'Fine. I'll take you. Grab your coat and hat. It's got even colder.'
The drive took twenty minutes. They passed the dilapidated old Bislett stadium that was due to be demolished, and Schroder restaurant, outside which stood a man in a thick woollen coat and hat whom Harry recognised. Harry parked illegally in front of the entrance to Goteborggata 4, they entered and waited in front of the lift. Harry saw from the red number over the door that the lift was on the third floor, Jon's. Before they had time to press the button they heard the lift start to move and could see from the numbers that it was on its way down. Harry rubbed his palms against his thighs.
'You don't like lifts,' Jon said.
Harry eyed him in surprise. 'Is it obvious?'
Jon smiled. 'My father doesn't, either. Come on. Let's take the stairs.'
They set off and some way up Harry heard the lift door open beneath them.
They let themselves into the flat and Harry stood by the door while Jon went to the bathroom and fetched a toilet bag.
'Strange,' Jon said with a frown. 'It's as if someone has been here.'
Jon slipped into the bedroom and returned with a bag.
'It smells funny,' he said.
Harry had a look around. There were two glasses on the sink, but no milk or other visible signs of liquid on the rims that would reveal anything. No wet marks left by melted snow on the floor, just a few splinters of light wood in front of the desk which must have come from one of the drawers. One drawer front looked as if it had split.
'Let's get moving,' Harry said.
'Why's my vac there?' Jon asked, pointing. 'Have your people been using it?'
Harry knew SOC procedures and none of them involved using the vacuum cleaner at the scene of the crime.
'Does anyone else have a key to this flat?' Harry asked.
Jon hesitated. 'Thea, my girlfriend. But she would never have used the vac here of her own accord.'
Harry studied the splinters of wood in front of the desk which would have been the first thing a vacuum cleaner would have swallowed. Then he went over to the machine. The attachment had been removed from the plastic shaft attached to the end of the hose. Cold shivers ran down his spine. He lifted the hose and peered down it. Ran a finger around the circular black edge and looked at his fingertip.
'What's that?' Jon asked.
'Blood,' Harry said. 'Check the door's locked.'
Harry already knew. He was standing on the threshold to the room he hated and yet still never managed to keep away from. He removed the plastic lid in the middle of the machine. Loosened the yellow dust bag and lifted it out while thinking that this was in fact the house of pain. The place where he was always forced to use his ability to empathise with evil. An ability which more and more often he thought he had overdeveloped.
'What are you doing?' Jon asked.
The bag was so full it bulged. Harry grabbed the soft, thick paper and ripped it open. The bag split and a fine cloud of black dust rose like a spirit from a lamp. It ascended weightlessly towards the ceiling as Jon and Harry examined the contents on the parquet floor.
'Mercy,' Jon whispered.
Thursday, 18 December. The Chute.
'My God,' Jon groaned, groping for a chair. 'What's happened here? That's an… that's an…'
'Yes,' Harry said, crouching beside the vacuum cleaner and concentrating on maintaining even breathing. 'It's an eye.'
The eyeball looked like a blood-streaked, stranded jellyfish. Dust was stuck to the white surface. On the blood-soaked reverse Harry could make out the base of muscles and the thicker, wormlike peg that was the optical nerve. 'What I'm wondering is how it got through the filter unscathed and into the bag. If it was sucked in that is.'
'I took out the filter,' Jon said in a tremulous voice. 'It sucks better.'
Harry produced a pen from his jacket pocket and used it to turn the eye with great care. The consistency felt soft, but there was a hard centre. He shifted position so that the light from the lamp in the ceiling fell on the pupil, which was large, black, with blurred edges now that the eye muscles no longer kept it round. The light, almost turquoise iris encircling the pupil shone like the centre of a matt marble. Harry heard Jon's quick breaths behind him.
'Unusually light blue iris,' Harry said. 'Anyone you know?'
'No, I… I don't know.'
'Listen, Jon,' Harry said, without turning round. 'I don't know how much practice you've had at lying, but you're not very good at it. I can't force you to tell me spicy details about your brother, but with this…' Harry pointed to the bloodstained eyeball. '… I can force you to tell me who it is.'
He swung round. Jon was sitting on one of the two kitchen chairs with his head bowed.
'I… she…' His voice was thick with emotion.
'A she then,' Harry helped.
Jon gave a firm nod of his bowed head. 'Her name's Ragnhild Gilstrup. No one else has eyes like her.'
'And how did her eye end up here?'
'I have no idea. She… we… used to meet here. She had a key. What have I done, Harry? Why has this happened?'
'I don't know, Jon. But I have a job to do here, and we have to find you a place to go first.'
'I can go back to Gorbitz gate.'
'No!' Harry shouted. 'Have you got keys to Thea's flat?'
'OK, go there. Keep the door locked and don't open up for anyone except me.'
Jon walked towards the front door, then paused. 'Harry?'
'Does it have to come out, about Ragnhild and me? I stopped meeting her when Thea and I got together.'
'Then it's not a problem.'
'You don't understand,' Jon said. 'Ragnhild Gilstrup was married.'
Harry inclined his head in acknowledgement. 'The eighth commandment?'
'The tenth,' Jon said.
'I can't keep that under wraps, Jon.'
Jon regarded Harry with surprise in his eyes. Then he slowly shook his head from side to side.
'What is it?'
'I can't believe I just said that,' Jon said. 'Ragnhild's dead and all I can think about is saving my own skin.'
There were tears in Jon's eyes. And for one vulnerable moment Harry felt nothing but sympathy. Not the sympathy he could feel for the victim or for the next of kin, but for the person who for one heart-rending moment sees his own pathetic humanity.
There were times when Sverre Hasvold regretted giving up his life as a merchant seaman to be a caretaker in the brand-new block of flats at Goteborggata 4. Especially on freezing cold days like this one when they rang to complain that the refuse chute was blocked again. On average it happened once a month and the reason was obvious: the openings on every floor were the same circumference as the shaft itself. The old blocks of flats were better. Even in the thirties, when the first refuse chutes appeared, the architects had had enough sense to make the diameter of the openings narrower so that people would not force in things which would get stuck further down the shaft. Nowadays all they had on their minds was style and lighting.
Hasvold opened the chute door on the second floor, put his head in and switched on his torch. The light reflected off the white plastic bags and he established that, as usual, the problem lay between the ground floor and the first floor, where the shaft narrowed.
He unlocked the refuse room in the basement and switched on the light. The cold was so raw that his glasses misted up. He shivered and grabbed the almost three-metre-long iron rod he kept along the wall for exactly this purpose. There was even a plastic ball on the end so that he wouldn't puncture the bags when he prodded it up the chute. Drops were falling from the opening with a drip, drip, on to the plastic bags in the refuse container. The house rules made it very clear that the chute was to be used for dry matter inside sealed bags, but no one – not even the so-called Christians living in the building – took any notice of that kind of thing.
The eggshells and milk cartons crunched under his feet in the container as he moved towards the round opening in the ceiling. He peered up the hole but all he could see was blackness. He poked the rod up. Waited until he hit the usual soft bulk of bags, but instead the rod met something solid. He poked harder. It wouldn't budge; something was wedged good and proper.
He took the torch hanging from his belt and shone the light up the shaft. A drop fell on his glasses. Blinded and cursing, he tore off his glasses and wiped the lenses on his blue coat while holding the torch under his arm. He shifted to the side and took a short-sighted squint up. He was alarmed. Pointed the torch upwards, his imagination beginning to work overtime. His heart was slowing as he stared. In disbelief, he put his glasses back on. Then his heart stopped beating.
The iron rod slid and scraped down the wall until it hit the floor with a clang. Sverre Hasvold found himself sitting in the refuse container. The torch must have slipped down between the bags somewhere. Another drop dripped onto the plastic bag between his thighs. He jerked backwards as though it were caustic acid. Then he got to his feet and sprinted out.
He had to have fresh air. He had seen things at sea, but nothing like this. This was… not normal. It had to be sick. He pushed open the front door and staggered out onto the pavement without noticing the two tall men standing there or the cold air that met him. Dizzy and breathless, he leaned against the wall and took out his mobile phone. Stared at it, helpless. They had changed the emergency numbers some years ago, made them easier to remember, but the old ones were the ones that occurred to him, of course. He caught sight of the two men. One of them was talking on his mobile; the other he recognised as one of the residents.
'Sorry, but do you know how to ring the police?' Hasvold asked and could hear that he had become hoarse as though from a long bout of screaming.
The resident glanced at the man beside him, who studied the caretaker for a moment before saying: 'Hang on, we may not need Ivan and the tracker dogs after all.' The man lowered his mobile and turned to Sverre Hasvold. 'I'm Inspector Hole, Oslo Police. Let me guess.. .'
In a flat by Vestkanttorget Tore Bjorgen was looking down through the bedroom window onto the yard. It was as quiet outside as inside; no children running around screaming or playing in the snow. It must have been too cold and dark. And it was several years since he had seen children playing outside in the winter anyway. From the living room he could hear the TV newsreader warning about record low temperatures. The Social Services Secretary was going to implement special measures to take the homeless off the streets and to encourage the elderly living on their own to turn up the heating in their flats. The police were looking for a Croatian national by the name of Christo Stankic. There was a reward for any tip-offs leading to his arrest. The presenter didn't mention an amount, but Bjorgen assumed it would be more than enough for a return plane ticket to Cape Town and three weeks' food and accommodation.
Bjorgen dried his nostrils and rubbed the rest of the cocaine into his gums. It took away the last of the pizza taste.
He had told the manager of Biscuit that he had a headache and had gone home early. Christo – or Mike as he had said his name was – was waiting for him on a bench in Vestkanttorget as they had arranged. Christo had obviously enjoyed his ready-made Grandiosa pizza and had wolfed it down without noticing the fifteen milligrams of Stesolid in chopped-up pill form.
Bjorgen surveyed the sleeping Christo, who was lying naked and face down on his bed. Despite the ball gag, Christo's breathing was regular and deep. He hadn't shown any signs of waking while Tore was making his little arrangement. Tore had bought the sedatives off a frenetic junkie in the street right outside Biscuit for fifteen kroner a pill. The rest had not cost much, either. The handcuffs, ankle cuffs, the ball gag with head harness and the string of shiny anal beads had followed in a so-called beginners' pack that he had bought off a website for only 599 kroner.
The duvet was on the floor and Christo's skin glowed in the light from the flickering flames of the candles Tore had placed around the room. His body formed a Y shape against the white sheet; his hands were tied to the head of Tore's solid brass bed while his feet were attached to opposing rails at the end. Tore had managed to squeeze a cushion under Christo's stomach to raise his backside.
Tore removed the lid of the Vaseline tin, scooped a lump with his index finger and separated Christo's buttocks with the other hand. And the thought went through his mind again. This was rape. It would be difficult to call it anything else. And the thought, just the word 'rape', made him feel horny.
In fact, he was not sure whether Christo would have had any objection to being played with. The signals had been mixed. Nevertheless, it was dangerous to play with a murderer. Wonderfully dangerous. But not brainless. After all, the man beneath him would be locked up for the rest of his life.
He looked down at his erection. Then he took the anal beads from the box and pulled both ends of the thin but sturdy nylon string running through the beads like through a pearl necklace: the first beads were small but increased in volume, the largest the size of a golf ball. According to the instructions, the beads were to be inserted in the anal passage and then pulled out at leisure to achieve maximum stimulation of the nerves in and around the sensitive entrance to the anus. There was a variety of colours and if you didn't know what anal beads were you could be excused for imagining they were something else. Tore smiled at his distorted reflection in the largest of the beads. Dad might be a bit taken aback when he opened Tore's Yuletide present with a greeting from Cape Town and his fervent hope that it would look nice on the Christmas tree. However, no one in the family from Vegardshei would have the slightest idea what kind of beads were glinting in front of them as they jigged round the tree singing and dutifully holding hands. Or where they had been.
Harry led Beate and her two assistants down the stairs to the basement where the caretaker unlocked the door to the refuse room. One of the assistants was new, a girl whose name Harry retained for no more than three seconds.
'Up there,' Harry said. The other three, wearing something that looked like a white beekeeper's outfit, stepped forward with care to stand beneath the chute opening, and the beams from their head lamps disappeared up into the dark. Harry studied the new assistant, waited for the reaction on her face. When it came it reminded Harry of the coral life that instantly retracts when touched by divers' fingers. Beate gave an imperceptible nod of the head, like a plumber's dispassionate assessment of moderate to severe frost damage.
'Enucleation,' she said. Her voice resounded in the chute. 'Have you got that, Margaret?'
The female assistant was breathing hard as she groped for a pen and notebook inside the beekeeper costume.
'I beg your pardon,' Harry said.
'The left eyeball has been removed. Margaret?'
'Got it,' the assistant said, taking notes.
'The woman's hanging down head first. Stuck in the chute, I suppose. There's a little blood dripping from the eye socket and inside I can see some areas of white which must be the inner cranium showing through the tissue. Dark red blood, so it's a while since it coagulated. The pathologist will check temperature and rigidity when he comes. Too quick?'
'No, that's fine,' Margaret said.
'We've found traces of blood by the chute door on the third floor, the same floor where the eye was found, so I assume the body was pushed in there. It's a tight opening and from here it looks as if the right shoulder has been dislocated. That may have happened when she was forced in or when her fall was broken. It's hard to know from this angle, but I think I can see bruising on the neck, which would suggest that she was strangled. The pathologist will check the shoulder and determine the cause of death. Otherwise there's not a lot we can do here. It's all yours, Gilberg.'
Beate stepped aside and the male assistant took several flash shots of the chute.
'What's the yellowish-white stuff in the eye socket?' he asked.
'Fat,' Beate said. 'Clear the container and look for things that may be from the victim or the killer. Afterwards you'll get some help from the officers outside to pull her down. Margaret, you come with me.'
They went into the corridor and Margaret went to the lift door and pressed the button.
'We're taking the stairs,' Beate said in a light tone. Margaret regarded her with surprise and then followed her two older colleagues.
'Three more of my people will be here soon,' Beate said in answer to Harry's unspoken question. Although Harry with his long legs was taking two steps at a time, the small woman kept up with ease. 'Witnesses?'
'None so far,' Harry said. 'But we're doing the rounds. Three officers are ringing all the flats in the block. And after that the neighbouring blocks.'
'Have they got a photo of Stankic?'
Harry sent her a glance to see whether she was being ironic. It was difficult to say.
'What was your first impression?' Harry asked.
'A man,' Beate said.
'Because whoever it was must have been strong to push her through the chute opening?'
'Harry, are we in any doubt as to who this was?' she sighed.
'Yes, Beate, we are. As a matter of principle we profess doubt until we know.'
Harry turned to Margaret, who was already out of breath from following them. 'And your first impression?'
They turned into the corridor on the third floor. A corpulent man in a tweed suit under an open tweed coat was standing in front of the door to Jon Karlsen's flat. He had obviously been waiting for them.
'I was wondering what you felt when you entered the building,' Harry said. 'And looked up into the chute.'
'Felt?' Margaret asked with a puzzled smile.
'Yes, felt!' Stale Aune bellowed, proffering a hand which Harry shook without hesitation. 'Come along and learn, folks, for this is the famous gospel according to Hole. Before entering a crime scene empty your mind of all thoughts, become a newly born child, without language, open yourself to the sacred first impression, the vital first seconds which are your great, and only, chance to behold what happened without an ounce of a fact. It almost sounds like exorcism, doesn't it? Smart suit, Beate. And who is your charming colleague?'
'This is Margaret Svendsen.'
'Stale Aune,' the man said, seizing Margaret's begloved hand and kissing it. 'Goodness me, you taste of rubber, my dear.'
'Aune is a psychologist,' Beate said. 'He often helps us.'
'He often tries to help you,' Aune said. 'Psychology is, I'm afraid to say, a science that is still in its rompers and should not be accorded too much value for another fifty to a hundred years. And what is your response to Detective Inspector Hole's question, my dear?'
Margaret looked to Beate for help.
'I… don't know,' she said. 'The eye was a bit off-putting, of course.'
Harry unlocked the door.
'You know I can't stand the sight of blood,' Aune warned.
'Think of it as a glass eye,' Harry said, opening the door and stepping to the side. 'Walk on the plastic and don't touch anything.'
Aune trod with care on the path of black plastic traversing the floor. He crouched down beside the eye, which still lay in the pile of dust next to the vacuum cleaner but which now had a grey film over it.
'Apparently it's called enucleation,' Harry said.
Aune raised one eyebrow. 'Performed with a vacuum cleaner to the eye?'
'You can't suck an eye out of the head with just a vacuum cleaner,' Harry said. 'The perp must have sucked it out far enough for him to get a couple of fingers inside. Muscles and optic nerves are solid matter.'
'What you don't know, Harry.'
'I once arrested a woman who had drowned her child in the bath. While she was in custody she tore out one of her eyes. The doctor acquainted me with the technique.'
They heard a sharp intake of breath from Margaret behind them.
'Removing an eye does not have to be fatal,' Harry said. 'Beate thinks the woman may have been strangled. What's your first thought?'
'It goes without saying that this act has been committed by a person in a state of emotional or rational disequilibrium,' Aune said. 'The mutilation suggests uncontrolled anger. There may of course be practical reasons for the perpetrator to choose to dispatch the body down the chute…'
'Unlikely,' Harry said. 'If the intention was that the body should not be found for a while, it would have been smarter to leave it in the empty flat.'
'In that case to some extent this kind of thing tends to be a conscious symbolic act.'
'Hm. Remove an eye and treat the rest as rubbish?'
Harry looked at Beate. 'It doesn't sound like the work of a professional killer.'
Aune shrugged. 'It could well be an angry professional killer.'
'In general pros have a method they rely on. Christo Stankic's method so far has been to shoot his victims.'
'He may have a wider repertoire,' Beate said. 'Or perhaps the victim surprised him while he was in the flat.'
'Perhaps he didn't want to shoot because it would have alerted the neighbours,' Margaret said.
The other three faced her.
She flashed an intimidated smile. 'I mean… perhaps he needed time and peace and quiet. Perhaps he was searching for something.'
Harry noticed that all of a sudden Beate had begun to breathe hard through her nose and was even paler than usual.
'How does that sound?' he asked, addressing Aune.
'Like psychology,' Aune said. 'A mass of questions. And hypotheses by way of a response.'
Outside again, Harry asked Beate if something was the matter.
'Just a bit of nausea,' she said.
'Oh? You're refused permission to be sick right now. Understood?'
She answered him with a cryptic smile.
He woke up, opened his eyes and saw lights roaming across the white ceiling above him. His body and head ached, and he was frozen. There was something in his mouth. And when he tried to move he could feel that his hands and feet had been shackled. He raised his head. In the mirror at the end of the bed, in the light from the burning candles, he could see he was naked. And there was something on his head, something black like a horse's harness. One of the straps went across his face, over his mouth, which was obstructed by a black ball. His hands were held by metal handcuffs, his feet by something black like bondage restraints. He stared into the mirror. On the sheet between his legs lay the end of a string that disappeared up between his buttocks. And there was something white on his stomach. It looked like semen. He sank back on the pillow and shut his eyes. He wanted to scream, but knew that the ball would effectively prevent any attempt.
He heard a voice from the living room.
Politi? Polizei? Police?
He thrashed around on the bed, jerking his arms down and moaning with pain as the handcuffs cut into the back of his thumb, taking off the skin. He twisted his hands so that his fingers could get hold of the chain between the cuffs. Handcuffs. Steel bars. His father had taught him that building materials were almost always made to withstand pressure in one direction and that the art of bending steel was about knowing where and which way it would offer the least resistance. The chain between the handcuffs was made to prevent them being pulled apart.
He heard the man speaking briefly on the living-room telephone, then all went quiet.
He pressed the point where the final link in the chain met one cuff against the bar of the bed head, but instead of pulling he twisted. After a quarter-turn the link locked against the bar. He tried to twist further, but it wouldn't budge. He tried again, but his hands slipped.
'Hello?' came the voice from the living room.
He took a deep breath. Closed his eyes and saw his father with enormous forearms in a short-sleeved shirt before the line of steel rods on the building site. He whispered to the boy: 'Banish all doubt. There's only room for willpower. The steel has no willpower and that's why it always loses.'
Tore Bjorgen drummed his fingers with impatience on the rococo mirror with the pearl-grey clam adornments. The owner of the antiques shop had told him that 'rococo' was often used in a derogatory sense, to mean the style was over the top, almost grotesque. Tore had realised afterwards that that was what had tipped the balance, when he had made up his mind to take out a loan to be able to lay out the twelve thousand kroner which the mirror had cost.
The switchboard at Police HQ had tried to put him through to Crime Squad, but no one had picked up and now they were trying the uniformed police.
He heard sounds from the bedroom. The rattle of chains against the bed. Perhaps Stesolid had not been the most effective sedative after all.
'Duty officer.' The deep, calm voice startled Tore.
'Um, this is… it's about the reward. For… erm, that guy who shot the guy from the Salvation Army.'
'Who's speaking? And where are you ringing from?'
'Tore. From Oslo.'
'Could you be a bit more precise, please?'
Tore gulped. He had – for several good reasons – exercised his right not to disclose his telephone number when phoning and he knew that now 'unknown number'would be flashing on whatever display the duty officer had.
'I can help you.' Tore's voice had gone up a register.
'First of all I need to know-'
'I've got him here. Chained to the bed.'
'You've chained someone up, you say?'
'He's a killer, isn't he? He's dangerous. I saw him with a gun at the restaurant. His name's Christo Stankic. I saw the name in the paper.'
The other end went quiet for a moment. Then the voice was back, but a little less unruffled. 'Calm down now. Tell me who you are and where you are, then we'll come at once.'
'And what about the reward?'
'If this leads to the arrest of the correct person I will confirm that you helped us.'
'And I'll be given the reward straight away?'
Tore thought. About Cape Town. About Father Christmas in the baking sun. The telephone creaked. He breathed in ready to answer and looked into the twelve thousand kroner rococo mirror. At that moment Tore realised three things. The creaking sound had not come from the telephone. You don't get top-quality mail-order handcuffs in a beginners' pack for 599 kroner. And in all probability he had celebrated his last Christmas.
'Hello?' said the voice on the telephone.
Tore Bjorgen would have liked to answer, but a thin nylon string of shiny beads, looking every inch like a Christmas decoration, was blocking the airway essential for the production of sound from vocal cords.
Thursday, 18 December. The Container.
Four people were in the car driving through the darkness and the snow between the high drifts.
'Ostgard is up here to the left,' Jon said from the back seat where he had his arm around Thea's cowed figure.
Halvorsen turned off the main road. Harry observed the scattered farmhouses, lit up and flashing like lighthouses at the tops of hills or among clumps of trees.
As Harry had said that Robert's flat was no longer a safe hideout, Jon had himself suggested Ostgard. And insisted on Thea joining him.
Halvorsen swung onto the drive between a white farmhouse and a red barn.
'We'll have to ring the neighbour and ask him to clear away some snow with his tractor,' Jon said as they waded through the fresh snow towards the farmhouse.
'Nothing doing,' Harry said. 'No one must know you're here. Not even the police.'
Jon walked over to the house wall beside the steps, counted five boards and plunged his hand in the snow and under the boarding.
'Here,' he said, holding up a key.
It felt even colder indoors than outside, and the painted wooden walls seemed to have frozen into ice blocks, rendering their voices harsh. They stamped the snow off their footwear and entered a large kitchen with a solid table, kitchen cabinet, storage bench and Jotul woodburning stove in the corner.
'I'll get the fire going.' Jon's breath was icy and he rubbed his hands for warmth. 'There's probably some firewood inside the bench, but we'll need more from the woodshed.'
'I can get it,' Halvorsen said.
'You'll have to dig a pathway. There are two spades in the porch.'
'I'll join you,' Thea mumbled.
It had stopped snowing and the weather was clearing. Harry stood by the window smoking and watching Halvorsen and Thea shovelling the light, fresh snow in the white moonlight. The stove was crackling and Jon was on his haunches staring into the flames.
'How did your girlfriend take the Ragnhild Gilstrup business?' Harry asked.
'She's forgiven me,' he said. 'As I said, it was before her time.'
Harry watched his cigarette glow. 'Still no ideas about what she might have been doing in your flat?'
Jon shook his head.
'I don't know whether you noticed,' Harry said, 'but it looked as though the bottom drawer of your desk had been broken into. What did you keep there?'
Jon shrugged. 'Personal things. Letters for the most part.'
'Love letters? From Ragnhild, for example?'
Jon blushed. 'I… don't remember. I threw away most of them, but I may have kept the odd couple. I kept the drawer locked.'
'So that Thea wouldn't find them if she was alone in the flat?'
Jon gave a slow nod.
Harry went out to the steps overlooking the farmyard, took a few final drags on his cigarette, threw it into the snow and took out his mobile phone. Gunnar Hagen answered on the third ring.
'I've moved Jon Karlsen,' Harry said.
'He's safer now than he was. Halvorsen will stay here tonight.'
Listening to the silence on the phone, Harry had an inkling of what was coming. Then Hagen's voice came through loud and clear.
'Hole, your commanding officer has just asked you a specific question. Refusing to answer is regarded as insubordination. Am I making myself clear?'
Harry often wished he had been wired in a different way and that he possessed a bit more of the social survival instinct most people have. But he didn't, and he never had done.
'Why is it important for you to know, Hagen?'
Hagen's voice shook with fury. 'I'll tell you when you can ask me questions, Hole. Have you got that?'
Harry waited. And waited. And then, hearing Hagen take a deep breath he said: 'Skansen Farm.'
'What did you say?'
'It's east of Strommen. The police training ground in Loren Forest.'
'I see,' Hagen said at length.
Harry rang off and punched in another number while watching Thea, who, illuminated by the moon, was standing and staring in the direction of the outside toilet. She had stopped shovelling snow and her body was frozen in a strange pose.
'Harry. Anything new?'
'But people are ringing in?'
'Christ, yes, they've twigged there's a reward on offer. Bad idea, if you ask me. Loads of extra work for us.'
'What do they say?'
'What don't they say! They describe faces they've seen that are similar. The funniest one was a guy who rang the duty officer claiming he had chained Stankic to his bed at home and asked if he was entitled to the reward.'
Harry waited until Skarre's peal of laughter died away. 'How did they establish that he hadn't?'
'They didn't need to. He put down the phone. Obviously confused. He claimed he had seen Stankic before. With a gun in the restaurant. What are you up to?'
'We- What did you say?'
'I asked if-'
'No, the bit about seeing Stankic with a gun.'
'Ha ha, people have got fertile imaginations, haven't they.'
'Put me through to the duty officer you spoke to.'
Harry was put through, spoke to the officer in charge and after three sentences asked him to stay on the line.
'Halvorsen!' Harry's shout rang around the farmyard.
'Yes?' Halvorsen appeared in the moonlight in front of the barn.
'What's the name of that waiter who saw a guy in the toilet with a gun covered in soap?'
'How am I supposed to remember that?'
'I don't care how, just do it.'
In the night stillness the echoes rang out between the walls of the house and the barn.
'Tore something or other. Maybe.'
'Bullseye! Tore's the name he gave on the phone. Good man. And now the surname, please.'
'Er… Bjorg? No. Bjorang? No…'
'Come on, Lev Yashin!'
'Bjorgen. That was it. Bjorgen.'
'Drop the spade. You have permission to drive like a maniac.'
A police car stood waiting for them as twenty-eight minutes later Halvorsen and Harry drove past Vestkanttorget and turned into Schives gate to Tore Bjorgen's address, which the duty officer had been given by the head waiter at Biscuit.
Halvorsen came to a halt next to the police car and rolled down the window.
'Second floor,' the policewoman in the driver's seat said, pointing up to an illuminated window in the grey-brick facade.
Harry leaned across Halvorsen. 'Halvorsen and I'll go up. One of you stay here in contact with the station, and one of you come with us to the backyard and keep an eye on the kitchen stairs. Have you got a gun in the boot I can borrow?'
'Yep,' the woman said.
Her male colleague bent forward. 'You're Harry Hole, aren't you?'
'That's right, Officer.'
'Someone at the station said you don't have a gun licence.'
'Didn't have, Officer.'
Harry smiled. 'Overslept the first shooting test in the autumn. But you will be pleased to know that in the second I was the third best in the whole force. OK?'
The two officers exchanged glances.
'OK,' the man mumbled.
Harry jerked open the car door and the frozen rubber seal groaned. 'OK, let's check if there's anything in this tip-off.'
For the second time in two days Harry had an MP5 in his hands as he buzzed the intercom of someone called Sejerstedt and explained to a nervous lady's voice that they were from the police. She could go to the window and see the police car before she opened up. She did as he suggested. The female officer went into the backyard and took up position while Halvorsen and Harry went up the staircase.
The name Tore Bjorgen was written in black on a brass plate above a doorbell. Harry thought of Bjarne Moller, who the first time they had gone into action together had taught Harry the simplest and still the most effective method of finding out whether someone was at home. He pressed his ear against the glass in the door. There wasn't a sound from inside.
'Loaded and safety catch off?' Harry whispered.
Halvorsen had taken out his service revolver and was standing against the wall on the left of the door.
Holding his breath, he listened.
Then he rang a second time.
'To break in or not to break in,' Harry whispered, 'that is the question.'
'In that case we should have phoned the public prosecutor first for a search-'
Halvorsen was interrupted by the tinkle of glass as Harry's MP5 struck the door. Harry thrust his hand in and opened up.
They slipped into the hall and Harry pointed to the doors Halvorsen should check. He went into the living room. Empty. But he noticed at once that the mirror over the telephone table had been hit by something hard. A round piece of glass in the middle had fallen out and, as though from a black sun, black lines radiated out to the gilt ornamental frame. Harry concentrated on the door at the end of the room that stood ajar.
'No one in the kitchen or bathroom,' Halvorsen whispered behind him.
'OK. Brace yourself.'
Harry moved towards the door. He could sense it now. If there was anything here they would find it inside. A defective exhaust silencer went off outside. The brakes of a tram squealed in the distance. Harry noticed that he had hunched up as if by instinct. To make himself the smallest target possible.
He pushed open the door with the muzzle of the machine gun and neatly stepped in and to the side so as not to be silhouetted. Hugged the wall keeping his finger on the trigger and waited for his eyes to get used to the dark.
In the light that came through the doorway he saw a large bed with brass rails. A pair of naked legs protruded from under the duvet. He strode forward, took the duvet by the end and whipped it off.
'Wow!' Halvorsen exclaimed. He was standing in the doorway and slowly lowered his revolver as he stared at the bed in amazement.
He took stock of the fence. Then he began his run-up and launched himself, using the worm-like movements on his way up that Bobo had taught him. The gun in his pocket hit him in the stomach as he swung himself over. In the light of the street lamp, on the ice-covered tarmac on the other side, he saw that there was a big tear in his blue jacket. White material billowed out.
A sound made him move away from the light, into the shadow of the containers that were lined up on top of each other in the huge port area. He listened and watched. The wind whistled through the broken windows of a dark, derelict wooden hut.
He didn't know why, but he felt he was being observed. No, not observed, he had been discovered, caught. Someone knew he was there, but they may not have seen him. His eyes searched the illuminated fence for possible alarms. Nothing.
He walked along two lines of containers before finding one that was open. Entered the impenetrable darkness and instantly knew this was no good; he would freeze to death if he slept here. Closing the door behind him, he felt the air move, as though he was standing in a block of something that was being transported.
There was a rustling sound as he stepped onto sheets of newspaper. He had to get warm.
Outside, he again had the feeling he was being observed. He went over to the hut, grabbed hold of one of the boards and pulled. It came away with a bang. He thought he glimpsed something move and whirled round. But all he could see was the glimmer of lights from inviting-looking hotels around Oslo Central Station and the darkness in the doorway of his lodging for the night. After wrestling off two further boards, he walked back to the container. There were prints where the snow had drifted. Of paws. Big paws. A guard dog. Had they been there before? He broke chunks off the boards which he placed against the steel wall inside the entrance to the container. He left the door ajar in the hope that some of the smoke would filter out. The box of matches from the room in the Hostel was in the same pocket as his gun. He lit the newspaper, put it under the wood and held his hands over the heat. Small flames licked up the rustred wall.
He thought about the waiter's terror-stricken eyes looking down the barrel of the gun as he had ransacked his pockets for change. That was all he had, he had explained. It had been enough for a burger and an underground ticket. Not enough for a place to hide, keep warm or sleep. Then the waiter had been stupid enough to say the police had been alerted and were on their way. And he had done what he had to do.
The flames lit up the snow outside. He noticed more paw-prints outside the door. Odd that he hadn't seen them when he first went to the container. He listened to his own breathing and its echo in the iron box where he was sitting, as though there were two of them inside, while following the prints with his eyes. He stiffened. His prints crossed the animal's. And in the middle of his shoe print he saw a paw mark.
He yanked the door to and the flames went out in the muffled thud. Only the edges of the newspaper glowed in the pitch dark. His breathing was heavy now. There was something out there, hunting him, it could smell him and recognise his smell. He held his breath. And that was when he knew: that the something hunting him was not outside. That it was not an echo of his breathing he could hear. It was inside. As he made a lunge for his gun in his pocket he caught himself thinking it was strange it hadn't growled, hadn't made a sound. Until now. And even that was no more than the soft scraping of claws on an iron floor as it launched itself. He just managed to raise his arm before the jaws snapped around his hand and the pain caused his mind to explode in a shower of fragments.
Harry scrutinised the bed and what he assumed was Tore Bjorgen.
Halvorsen came over and stood beside him: 'Sweet Jesus,' he whispered. 'What is going on here?'
Without answering him, Harry unzipped the black face mask the man in front of him was wearing and pulled the flap to one side. The painted red lips and make-up around the eyes reminded him of Robert Smith, the singer with The Cure.
'Is this the waiter you talked to in Biscuit?' Harry asked, looking round the room.
'I think so. What on earth is this get-up?'
'Latex,' Harry said, running the tips of his fingers over some metal shavings on the sheet. Then he picked up something beside a half-full glass of water on the bedside table. It was a pill. He studied it.
Halvorsen groaned. 'This is just sick.'
'A kind of fetishism,' Harry said. 'And actually no sicker than you enjoying the sight of women in miniskirts and suspenders or whatever gets you going.'
'Uniforms,' Halvorsen said. 'All kinds. Nurses, parking wardens. ..'
'Thank you,' Harry said.
'What do you think?' Halvorsen asked. 'Suicide pills?'
'Better ask him,' Harry said, picking up the glass of water and emptying the contents over the face below. Halvorsen stared at the inspector open-mouthed.
'If you hadn't been so full of prejudice you would have heard him breathing,' Harry said. 'This is Stesolid. Not much worse than Valium.'
The man on the bed was gasping for air. Then the face contracted and was seized with a fit of coughing.
Harry sat on the edge and waited for a pair of terrified, though still tiny, pupils to succeed in focusing on him.
'We're policemen, Bjorgen. Apologies for bursting in like this, but we were led to believe you had something we wanted. Which you no longer have, it seems.'
The eyes in front of him blinked twice. 'What are you talking about?' a thick voice said. 'How did you get in?'
'Door,' Harry said. 'You had another visitor earlier this evening.'
The man shook his head.
'That's what you told the police,' Harry said.
'No one has been here. And I have not rung the police. My number is ex-directory. You can't trace it.'
'Yes, we can. And I didn't say anything about you ringing. You said on the phone you had chained someone to the bed and I can see bits of metal from the bed rails here on the sheet. Looks like the mirror out there has had a pasting, too. Did he get away, Bjorgen?'
The man gawked from Harry to Halvorsen and back.
'Did he threaten you?' Harry spoke in the same low monotone. 'Did he say he would be back if you said a word to us? Is that it? You're frightened?'
The man's mouth opened. Perhaps it was the leather mask that made Harry think of a pilot who had strayed off course. Robert Smith adrift.
'That's what they usually say,' Harry said. 'But do you know what? If he'd meant it, you'd be dead already.'
The man stared at Harry.
'Do you know where he went, Bjorgen? Did he take anything with him? Money? Clothes?'
'Come on. This is important. He's hunting a person here in Oslo he wants to kill.'
'I have no idea what you're talking about,' whispered Tore Bjorgen without taking his eyes off Harry. 'Would you please go now?'
'Of course. But I ought to point out that you risk being charged for giving refuge to a murderer on the run. Which the court may, in a worst-case scenario, regard as being an accessory to murder.'
'Based on what evidence? Alright, maybe I did ring. I was kidding. Wanted a bit of a laugh. So what?'
Harry got up from the bed. 'As you like. We're going now. Pack a few clothes. I'll send a couple of guys to pick you up, Bjorgen.'
'Pick me up?'
'As in arrest.' Harry motioned to Halvorsen that they were going.
'Arrest me?' Bjorgen's voice was thick no longer. 'Why? You haven't got a bloody thing on me.'
Harry showed what he was holding between his thumb and first finger. 'Stesolid is a prescription drug like amphetamine and cocaine, Bjorgen. So unless you produce a prescription I'm afraid we'll have to arrest you for possession. Two years' custodial sentence.'
'You're joking.' Bjorgen hauled himself up in bed and made a grab for the duvet on the floor. Only now did he seem to be aware of the outfit he was wearing.
Harry walked to the door. 'I quite agree with you, Bjorgen. In my personal opinion, Norwegian legislation is much too harsh on soft drugs. For that reason, under different circumstances, I might have turned a blind eye. Goodnight.'
Harry stopped. And waited.
'His b-b-brothers…' Bjorgen stammered.
'He said he would send his brothers after me if anything happened to him in Oslo. If he was arrested or killed, however it happened, they would come for me. He said his brothers like to use acid.'
'Hasn't got any brothers,' Harry said.
Bjorgen raised his head, looked up at the policeman and asked with genuine surprise in his voice: 'Hasn't he?'
Harry shook his head.
Bjorgen wrung his hands. 'I… I took those pills because I was so upset. That's what they're for. Isn't it?'
'Where did he go?'
'He didn't say.'
'Did he take any money?'
'Some change I had on me. Then he cleared off. And I… I just sat here and was so frightened…' A sudden sob interrupted the flow and he huddled under the duvet. 'I am so frightened.'
Harry eyed the weeping man. 'If you like, you can sleep down at Police HQ tonight.'
'I'll stay here,' Bjorgen sniffled.
'OK. One of us will be round early tomorrow to have a further chat.'
'Alright. Hang on! If you catch him…'
'That reward's still on, isn't it?'
He had the fire going well now. The flames glinted in a triangular piece of glass he had used from the broken window in the hut. He had collected more wood and felt his body beginning to thaw. It would be worse in the night but he was alive. He had cut strips off his shirt with the piece of glass and wound them round his bleeding fingers. The animal's jaws had closed around his hand holding the gun. And the gun.
The shadow of a black Metzner hanging between roof and floor flickered on the container wall. The jaws were open and the body stretched out and frozen in one last silent attack. The rear legs were tied with wire which was threaded through a gap in one of the iron grooves in the roof. The blood trickling out of the mouth and the opening behind the ear where the bullet had exited dripped onto the floor with clock-like regularity. He would never know whether it was his forearm muscles or the dog's bite that squeezed the finger on the trigger, but he had the impression he could still feel the walls vibrating after the shot. The sixth since he had arrived in this accursed city. And now he had one bullet left in the gun.
One was enough, but how would he find Jon Karlsen now? He needed someone to lead him in the right direction. The policeman came to mind. Harry Hole. It didn't sound like a common name. Perhaps he wouldn't be so difficult to find.
Thursday, 18 December. The Citadel.
The neon sign outside Vika Atrium showed minus eighteen and the clock inside 9 p. m. as Harry and Halvorsen stood in the glass lift watching the tropical plants becoming smaller and smaller beneath them.
Halvorsen pursed his lips, then changed his mind. Pursed them again.
'Glass lifts are fine,' Harry interrupted. 'No problem with heights.'
'I want you to do the introductions and ask the questions. I'll join in after a while. OK?'
They had just sat down in the car after the visit to Tore Bjorgen when Gunnar Hagen had called and asked them to go down to Vika Atrium where Albert and Mads Gilstrup, father and son, were waiting for them in order to make a statement. Harry had pointed out that it was not normal practice to ring the police to make a statement and he had asked that Skarre deal with the matter.
'Albert is an old acquaintance of the Chief 's,' Hagen had explained. 'He phoned to say they had decided they didn't want to make a statement to anyone except the officer leading the inquiry. On the positive side, there won't be a solicitor present.'
'Great. I appreciate that.'
So, no command this time.
A little man in a blue blazer was waiting for them outside the lift.
'Albert Gilstrup,' he said with minimal movement from a lipless mouth as he proffered a fleeting but firm handshake. Gilstrup had white hair and a furrowed, weather-beaten face but young, alert eyes, which studied Harry as he led him towards a door with a sign declaring that this was where Gilstrup Invest was housed.
'I would like you to be aware that my son has been hit hard by this,' Albert Gilstrup said. 'The body was in a terrible state, and I am afraid to say Mads has a somewhat sensitive nature.'
Harry concluded from the way Albert Gilstrup expressed himself that he was either a practical man who knew there was little to be done for the dead, or that his daughter-in-law had not occupied a special place in his heart.
In the small but exclusively furnished reception area hung wellknown Norwegian pictures with national-romantic motifs that Harry had seen countless times before. A man with a cat in the farmyard. Soria Maria Palace. The difference was that this time Harry was not so sure he was looking at reproductions.
Mads Gilstrup was sitting and staring through the glass wall facing the atrium as they came into the meeting room. The father coughed and the son slowly turned as if he had been disturbed in the middle of a dream he didn't want to relinquish. The first thing that struck Harry was that the son did not look like his father. His face was narrow, but the round, gentle features and the curly hair made Mads Gilstrup look younger than the thirty-something years Harry assumed he must have been. Or perhaps it was his expression, the childlike helplessness in those brown eyes that finally focused on them when he stood up.
'I'm grateful that you were able to come,' Mads Gilstrup whispered in a thick voice, squeezing Harry's hand with an intensity that made Harry wonder whether the son might have thought the priest had arrived and not the police.
'Not at all,' Harry said. 'We had wanted to talk to you anyway.'
Albert Gilstrup coughed and his mouth barely opened, like a crack in a wooden face. 'Mads means that he is grateful for your coming here at our request. We thought you might prefer the police station.'
'And I thought you might have preferred to meet us at home as it's so late,' Harry said, addressing the son.
Mads looked at his father, irresolute, and on receiving a faint nod, answered: 'I can't bear to be there now. It's so… empty. I'll sleep at home tonight.'
'With us,' the father added by way of explanation and sent him a look that Harry thought should have been sympathy. But it resembled contempt.
They sat down and father and son pushed their business cards across the table to Harry and Halvorsen. Halvorsen responded with two of his own. Gilstrup senior looked at Harry in anticipation.
'Mine haven't been printed yet,' Harry said. Which was true, as far as it went, and always had been. 'But Halvorsen and I work as a team, so all you have to do is ring him.'
Halvorsen cleared his throat. 'We have a few questions.'
Halvorsen's questions sought to establish Ragnhild's movements earlier that day, what she was doing in Jon Karlsen's flat and possible enemies. Each one was met with a shake of the head.
Harry searched for milk for his coffee. He had started taking it. Probably a sign that he was getting old. Some weeks ago he had put on the Beatles' indisputable masterpiece Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band and was disappointed. It had got old, too.
Halvorsen was reading questions from his notepad and jotting down notes without making eye contact. He asked Mads Gilstrup to account for where he had been between nine and ten o'clock this morning, which was the doctor's estimate of the time of death.
'He was here,' Albert Gilstrup said. 'We've been working here all day, both of us. We're trying to turn around the firm.' He addressed Harry. 'We expected you to ask that question. I've read that the husband is always the first person the police suspect in murder inquiries.'
'With good reason,' Harry said. 'From a statistical point of view.'
'Fine,' Albert Gilstrup nodded. 'But this isn't statistics, my dear man. This is reality.'
Harry met Albert Gilstrup's flashing blue eyes. Halvorsen glanced across at Harry as though in dread of something.
'So let's stick to reality,' Harry said. 'And shake our heads less and say more. Mads?'
Mads Gilstrup's head shot up as if he had dozed off. Harry waited until they had eye contact. 'What did you know about Jon Karlsen and your wife?'
'Stop!' Albert's wooden-doll mouth snapped. 'That kind of impudence may be acceptable with the clientele that you deal with on a day-to-day basis, but not here.'
Harry sighed. 'If it is your wish, your father may stay here, Mads. However, if I have to, I will throw him out.'
Albert Gilstrup laughed. It was the seasoned victor's laugh from someone who has at last found a worthy opponent. 'Tell me, Inspector, am I going to be obliged to ring my friend the Chief Superintendent and tell him how his men treat someone who has just lost his wife?'
Harry was about to answer, but was interrupted by Mads who raised his hand in a slow, strangely graceful movement. 'We have to find him, Father. We have to help each other.'
They waited, but Mads's gaze had returned to the glass wall and said nothing further.
'All right,' Albert said in English with pukka pronunciation. 'We'll talk on one condition: that we do this face to face, Hole. Your assistant can wait outside.'
'We don't work like that,' Harry said.
'We're trying to cooperate here, Hole, but this demand is not up for discussion. The alternative is to talk to us through our solicitor. Have you understood?'
Harry waited for the anger to rise. And when it still didn't come, he was no longer in any doubt: he was indeed getting old. He nodded to Halvorsen, who looked surprised but got to his feet. Albert Gilstrup waited until the officer had closed the door behind him.
'Yes, we have met Jon Karlsen. Mads, Ragnhild and I met him in his role as financial adviser for the Salvation Army. We made him an offer that would have been very advantageous and he rejected it. A person of high morals and integrity without any doubt. But, of course, he might have been courting Ragnhild anyway; he wouldn't have been the first. I am aware extramarital affairs are not front-page news any more. What makes your intimations impossible, however, is Ragnhild herself. Believe me, I have known the woman for a long time. She is not only a much-loved member of the family; she is also a person with character.'
'And if I tell you she had keys to Jon Karlsen's flat?'
'I don't want to hear any more about the case!' Albert snapped.
Harry glanced at the glass wall and caught the reflection of Mads Gilstrup's face as his father continued.
'Let me get to the point of why we want a face-to-face meeting with you, Hole. You're leading the investigation, and we thought of offering a prize if you catch the person guilty of the murder of Ragnhild. To be precise, two hundred thousand kroner. Absolute discretion.'
'I beg your pardon?' Harry said.
'All right,' Gilstrup said. 'The sum can be discussed. The vital thing for us is that this case is given top priority by the police.'
'Tell me, are you trying to bribe me?'
Albert Gilstrup put on an acid smile. 'That was very dramatic, Hole. Allow it to sink in. We won't quibble if you give the money to the fund for police widows.'
Harry didn't answer. Albert Gilstrup smacked his hand down on the table.
'I think the meeting is over. Let's keep channels open, Inspector.'
Halvorsen yawned as the glass lift fell to the ground, gentle, soundless, the way he imagined angels in Christmas carols descended to earth.
'Why didn't you throw out the father straight away?' he asked.
'Because he's interesting,' Harry said.
'What did he say while I was outside?'
'That Ragnhild was a lovely person who could not have had a relationship with Jon Karlsen.'
'Do they believe that themselves?'
'Anything else they talked about?'
Harry hesitated. 'No,' he said, peering down at the green oasis with the fountain in the marble desert.
'What are you thinking about?' Halvorsen asked.
'I'm not sure. I saw Mads Gilstrup smile.'
'I saw his reflection in the glass. Did you notice that Albert Gilstrup looks like a wooden doll? The sort ventriloquists use.'
Halvorsen shook his head.
They walked down Munkedamsveien towards Oslo Concert Hall where fully laden Christmas shoppers were hurrying along the pavements.
'Fresh,' said Harry, shivering. 'Shame the cold makes exhaust fumes hug the ground. The whole town suffocates.'
'Better that than the foul stench of aftershave in the meeting room, though,' Halvorsen said.
At the staff entrance to the concert hall hung a poster for the Salvation Army's Christmas concert. On the pavement beneath it sat a boy with an outstretched hand and an empty paper cup.
'You lied to Bjorgen,' Halvorsen said.
'A two-year custodial sentence for one Stesolid? And for all you know Stankic may have nine vindictive brothers.'
Harry shrugged and consulted his watch. He was too late for the AA meeting. He decided it was time he listened to God's words.
'But when Jesus comes back to Earth who will be able to recognise him?' David Eckhoff shouted, and the flame in front of him flickered. 'Maybe the Redeemer is among us now, in this town?'
A mumble passed through the crowd in the large, white, simply furnished auditorium. The Citadel had neither an altarpiece nor a communion rail but an 'anxious bench' between the gathering and the podium where you could kneel and confess your sins.
The commander looked down on those assembled and paused for effect before continuing. 'For even though Matthew writes that the Redeemer shall come in all his glory, with all the angels, it is also written, "I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."'
David Eckhoff breathed in, turned the page and raised his eyes to the congregation. And continued without looking down at the scriptures.
'"Then they will answer: Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you? But he will reply: I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the humblest, you did not do for me. And they will be given eternal punishment, but the righteous will be given eternal life."' The commander pounded the lectern. 'What Matthew is saying here is a call to war, a declaration of war against selfishness and inhumanity!' he cried. 'And we Salvationists believe there will be a universal judgement on the Last Day, that the righteous will receive eternal life and that the ungodly will receive eternal punishment.'
When the commander's sermon was over, the floor was open for personal testimonies. An elderly man talked about the battle of Oslo Cathedral square, which they had won with God's words spoken through Jesus and with open-hearted sincerity. Then a younger man stepped forward saying they should bring the evening to a close by playing hymn no. 617 in the book. He stood in front of the uniformed band of eight wind musicians and Rikard Nilsen on the big bass drum and started counting. They played the introduction, then the conductor turned to the audience and they joined in. The hymn sounded powerful in the room. 'Let the flag of redemption wave, onwards now to holy war!'
When the hymn was finished David Eckhoff approached the lectern again. 'Dear friends, let me conclude this evening's meeting by informing you that the Prime Minister's Office has today confirmed that the Prime Minister will be attending the annual Christmas concert in Oslo Concert Hall.'
The news was met with spontaneous applause. The congregation stood up and made its unhurried way to the exit as the room buzzed with lively conversation. Only Martine Eckhoff seemed to be in a hurry. Harry was sitting on the furthest bench to the back watching her come down the central aisle. She was wearing a woollen skirt, black stockings, Doc Martens like himself and a white knitted cap. She looked straight at him without any sign of recognition. Then her face lit up. Harry got to his feet.
'Hi,' she said, tilting her head and smiling. 'Work or spiritual thirst?'
'Well, your father is quite a speaker.'
'He would have been an international star of Pentecostalism.'
Harry thought he caught a glimpse of Rikard in the crowd behind her. 'Listen, I have a couple of questions. If you feel like walking in the cold I can accompany you home.'
Martine looked doubtful.
'If that's where you want to go,' Harry hastened to add.
Martine looked around before answering. 'I can walk you home. Your place is on the way.'
The air outside was raw, thick, and smelt of fat and salty car exhaust. 'I'll get straight to the point,' Harry said. 'You know both Robert and Jon. Is it possible that Robert might have wanted to kill his brother?'
'What did you say?'
'Think a little before you answer.'
They took tiny steps on the thick ice, past the revue theatre Edderkoppen, through the deserted streets. The Christmas dinner season was coming to an end, but taxis were still shuttling passengers with festive clothes and aquavit eyes up and down Pilestredet.
'Robert was a bit wild,' Martine said. 'But kill?' She shook her head with vigour.
'He may have got someone else to do it?'
Martine shrugged. 'I didn't have much to do with Jon and Robert.'
'Why not? You grew up together, so to speak.'
'Yes, but I didn't have much to do with anyone really. I liked my own company best. As you do.'
'Me?' came the surprised response from Harry.
'One lone wolf recognises another, you know.'
Harry glanced to his side and met teasing eyes.
'You must have been the type of boy who went his own way. Exciting and unapproachable.'
Harry smiled and shook his head. They passed the oil drums in front of the derelict though colourful facade of Blitz. He pointed.
'Do you remember when they occupied the property here in 1982 and there were punk gigs with Kjott, The Aller V?rste and all the other bands?'
Martine laughed. 'No. I had just started school then. And Blitz wasn't exactly the sort of place we in the Salvation Army would frequent.'
Harry grinned. 'No, well, I went there from time to time. At the beginning, at least, when I thought it might be somewhere for people like me, outsiders. But I didn't fit in there, either. Because when it came down to it Blitz was about uniformity and thinking alike. The demagogues had a field day there, like…'
Harry paused, but Martine completed the sentence for him. 'Like my father in the Citadel this evening?'
Harry thrust his hands deeper into his pockets. 'My point is that you soon become lonely if you want to use your own brain to find answers.'
'And what answer has your lonely brain come up with so far then?' Martine put her hand under his arm.
'It seems to me that both Jon and Robert have a number of amours behind them. What's so special about Thea since they both have their eyes on her?'
'Was Robert interested in Thea? That wasn't my impression.'
'Jon says so.'
'Well, as I said, I haven't had a lot to do with them. But I remember that Thea was popular with the boys during the summers we spent at Ostgard. Competition starts early, you know.'
'Yes, boys who want to become officers have to find themselves a girl within the Army.'
'Do they?' asked Harry in surprise.
'Didn't you know that? If you marry outside you lose your job in the Army straight away. The whole command chain is based on married officers living and working together. They have a joint calling.'
'We're a military organisation.' Martine said this without a hint of irony.
'And the boys knew that Thea wanted to be an officer? Even though she's a girl.'
Martine smiled and shook her head. 'I can see you don't know much about the Salvation Army. Two-thirds of the officers are women.'
'But the commander is a man? And the chief administrator?'
Martine nodded. 'Our founder William Booth said his best men were women. Nevertheless, we are like the rest of society. Stupid, self-assured men ruling over smart women with a fear of heights.'
'So the boys fought every summer to be the one who ruled over Thea?'
'For a while. But Thea stopped going to Ostgard all of a sudden, so the problem was solved.'
'Why did she stop?'
Martine shrugged. 'Perhaps she didn't want to go. Or her parents didn't want her to go. So many boys around day and night at that age. .. you know.'
Harry nodded. But he didn't know. He had never even been to a confirmation camp. They walked up Stensberggata.
'I was born here,' Martine said, pointing to the wall that used to run around Rikshospitalet before it was pulled down. Before long the new residential project Pilestredet Park would be there.
'They've kept the building with the maternity ward and converted it into flats,' Harry said.