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THE FIRST BOOK IN EDGAR-NOMINATED ANNE HOLT’S INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLING MYSTERY SERIES FEATURING DETECTIVE HANNE WILHELMSEN, LAST SEEN IN 1222
A small-time drug dealer is found battered to death on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital, Oslo. A young Dutchman, walking aimlessly in central Oslo covered in blood, is taken into custody but refuses to talk. When he is informed that the woman who discovered the body, Karen Borg, is a lawyer, he demands her as his defender, although ...
THE FIRST BOOK IN EDGAR-NOMINATED ANNE HOLT’S INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLING MYSTERY SERIES FEATURING DETECTIVE HANNE WILHELMSEN, LAST SEEN IN 1222
A small-time drug dealer is found battered to death on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital, Oslo. A young Dutchman, walking aimlessly in central Oslo covered in blood, is taken into custody but refuses to talk. When he is informed that the woman who discovered the body, Karen Borg, is a lawyer, he demands her as his defender, although her specialty is civil, not criminal, law. A couple of days later, Hansa Larsen, a lawyer of the shadiest kind, is found shot to death. Soon police officers Håkon Sand and Hanne Wilhelmsen establish a link between the two killings. They also find a coded message hidden in the murdered lawyer’s apartment. Their maverick colleague in the drugs squad, Billy T., reports that a recent rumor in the drug underworld involves drug-dealing lawyers. Now the reason why the young Dutchman insisted on having Karen Borg as a defender slowly dawns on them: since she was the one to find and report the body, she is the only Oslo lawyer that cannot be implicated in the crime. As the officers investigate, they uncover a massive network of corruption leading to the highest levels of government. As their lives are threatened, Hanne and her colleagues must find the killer and, in the process, bring the lies and deception out into the open.
"Anne Holt is the godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction."-Jo Nesbo
“Holt proves a masterful plotter. Unexpected twists hold up to scrutiny, loose ends are tied up and the finale leaves readers wanting more.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer
MONDAY 28 SEPTEMBER, AND EARLIER
Police headquarters in Oslo, Grønlandsleiret, number 44. An address with no historical resonance; not like 19 Møllergata, the old police headquarters, and very different from Victoria Terrasse, with its grand government buildings. Number 44 Grønlandsleiret had a dreary ring to it, grey and modern, with a hint of public service incompetence and internal wranglings. A huge and slightly curved building, as if the winds had been too strong to withstand, it stood framed by a house of God on one side and a prison on the other, with an area of demolished housing on Enerhaugen at the rear, and only a broad expanse of grass fronting it as protection against the city’s most polluted and trafficky streets. The entrance was cheerless and forbidding, rather small in proportion to the two-hundred-metre length of the façade, squashed in obliquely, almost concealed, as if to make approach difficult, and escape impossible.
At half past nine on Monday morning Karen Borg, a lawyer, came walking up the incline of the paved path to this doorway. The distance was just far enough to make your clothes feel clammy. She was sure the hill must have been constructed deliberately so that everyone would enter Oslo police headquarters in a slight sweat.
She pushed against the heavy metal doors and went into the foyer. If she’d had more time, she’d have noticed the invisible barrier across the floor. Norwegians bound for foreign shores were queueing for their red passports on the sunny side of the enormous room. On the north side, packed in beneath the gallery, were the dark-skinned people, apprehensive, hands damp with perspiration after hours of waiting to be told their fate in the Police Immigration Department.
But Karen Borg was late. She cast a glance up to the gallery round the walls: blue doors and linoleum floor on one side, and yellow on the other, southern, side. On the west side two tunnel-like corridors in red and green disappeared into nothingness. The atrium extended seven floors in height. She would observe later how wasteful the design was: the offices themselves were tiny. When she was more familiar with the building she would discover that the important facilities were on the sixth floor: the commissioner’s office and the canteen. And above that, as invisible from the foyer as the Lord in His heaven, was the Special Branch.
“Like a kindergarten,” Karen Borg thought as she became aware of the colour coding. “It’s to make sure everyone finds their way to the right place.”
She was heading for the second floor, blue zone. The three lifts had conspired simultaneously to make her walk up the stairs. Having watched the floor indicators flash up and down for nearly five minutes without illuminating “Ground,” she had allowed herself to be persuaded.
She had the four-figure room number jotted on a slip of paper. The office was easy to find. The blue door was covered in paste marks where attempts had been made to remove things, but Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck had stubbornly resisted and were grinning at her with only half their faces and no legs. It would have looked better if they’d been left alone. Karen Borg knocked. A voice responded and she went in.
Håkon Sand didn’t appear to be in a good mood. There was an aroma of aftershave, and a damp towel lay over the only chair in the room apart from the one occupied by Sand himself. She could see his hair was wet.
He picked up the towel, threw it into a corner, and invited her to sit down. The chair was damp. She sat anyway.
Håkon Sand and Karen Borg were old friends who never saw each other. They always exchanged the customary pleasantries, like How are you, it’s been a long time, we must have dinner one day. A regular routine whenever they happened to meet, in the street or at the homes of mutual friends who were better at keeping in touch.
“I’m glad you came. Very pleased, in fact,” he said suddenly. It didn’t look like it. His smile of welcome was strained and tired after twenty-four hours on duty.
“The guy’s refusing to say anything at all. He just keeps repeating that he wants you as his lawyer.”
Karen Borg lit a cigarette. She defied all the warnings and smoked Prince Originals. The “Now I’m smoking Prince too” type, with maximum tar and nicotine and a frightening scarlet warning label from the Department of Health. No one cadged a smoke from Karen Borg.
“It ought to be easy enough to make him see that’s impossible. For one thing, I’m a witness in the case, since I was the one who found the body, and second, I’m not proficient in criminal law. I haven’t handled criminal cases since my exams. And that was seven years ago.”
“Eight,” he corrected her. “It’s eight years since we took our exams. You came third in our year, out of a hundred and fourteen candidates. I was fifth from the bottom. Of course you’re proficient in criminal law if you want to be.”
He was annoyed, and it was contagious. She was suddenly aware of the atmosphere that used to come between them when they were students. Her consistently glowing results were in stark contrast to his own stumbling progress towards the final degree exam that he would never even have scraped a pass in without her. She had pushed and coaxed and threatened him through it all, as if her own success would be easier to bear with this burden on her shoulders. For some reason which they could never fathom, perhaps because they’d never talked about it, they both felt she was the one who had the debt of gratitude to him, and not the other way round. It had irritated her ever since, this feeling of owing him something. Why they had been so inseparable throughout their student years was something nobody understood. They had never been lovers, never so much as a little necking when drunk, but a mismatched pair of friends, quarrelsome yet bound by a mutual concern that gave them an invulnerability to many of the vicissitudes of student life.
“And as for you being a witness, I don’t give a shit about that right now. What’s more important is to get the man to start talking. It’s obvious he won’t cooperate until he gets you as his defence counsel. We can think again about the witness stuff when we have to. That’ll be a good while yet.”
“The witness stuff.” His legal terminology had never been particularly precise, but even so Karen Borg found this grated on her. Håkon Sand was a police attorney, and his job was to uphold the law. Karen Borg wanted to go on believing the police took the law seriously.
“Can’t you talk to him anyway?”
“On one condition. You give me a credible explanation of how he knows who I am.”
“That was actually my fault.”
Håkon smiled with the same feeling of relief he’d had whenever she’d explained something he’d read ten times before without comprehending. He fetched two cups of coffee from the anteroom.
Then he told her the story of the young Dutch national whose only contact with working life—according to reports so far—had been drug trafficking in Europe. How this Dutchman, now sitting as tight-lipped as a clam waiting for Karen Borg in one of the toughest billets in Norway, the custody cells in Oslo police headquarters, knew exactly who Karen Borg was—a thirty-five-year-old very successful commercial lawyer totally unknown to the general public.
“Bravo Two-Zero calling Zero-One!”
“Zero-One to Bravo Two-Zero, go ahead.”
The police officer spoke in hushed tones, as if he were expecting a confidential secret. Far from it. He was on duty in the operations room. It was a large open space with a shelved floor in which raised voices were taboo, decisiveness a virtue, and economy of expression vital. The duty shift of uniformed officers sat perched above the theatre floor, with an enormous map on the opposite wall to chart the scene of the main action, the city of Oslo itself. The room was as centrally positioned in the police headquarters building as it could be, with not a single window looking out onto the restless Saturday evening. The city night made its presence felt in other ways: by radio contact with the patrol cars and a supportive 002 number for the assistance of the public of Oslo in their moments of greater or lesser need.
“There’s a man sitting in the road on Bogstadsveien. We can’t get anything out of him, his clothes are covered in blood, but he doesn’t look injured. No ID. He’s not putting up any resistance, but he’s obstructing the traffic. We’re bringing him in.”
“Okay, Bravo Two-Zero. Report when you’re back on patrol. Received Zero-One. Over and out.”
Half an hour later the suspect was standing at the reception desk. His clothes were certainly bloody: Bravo Two-Zero had been right about that. A young rookie was searching him. With his unmarked blue epaulettes lacking even a single stripe as insurance against all the vilest jobs, he was terrified of so much possibly HIV-infected blood. Protected by rubber gloves, he pulled the open leather jacket off the arrested man. Only then did he see that his T-shirt had originally been white. His denim jeans were covered in blood too, and he had a general air of self-neglect.
“Name and address,” said the duty officer, glancing up wearily over the counter.
The suspect didn’t reply. He just stared longingly at the packet of cigarettes the young officer was shoving into a brown paper bag together with a gold ring and a bunch of keys tied with a nylon cord. The desire for a smoke was the only sign that could be read in his face, and even that disappeared when his eyes shifted away from the paper bag to the duty officer. He was standing nearly a metre away from the policeman, behind a strong metal barrier that came up to his hips. The barrier was shaped like a horseshoe, with both ends fixed into the concrete floor, half a metre from the high wooden counter, quite wide in itself, over which projected the nose and thinning grey hair of the police officer.
“Personal details, please! Name! Date of birth?”
The anonymous man smiled, but not in the least derisively. It was more an expression of gentle sympathy with the exhausted policeman, as if he wanted to indicate that it was nothing personal. He had no intention of saying anything at all, so why not just put him in a cell and have done with it? The smile was almost friendly, and he held it unwaveringly, in silence. The duty officer misunderstood. Needless to say.
“Put the bugger in a cell. Number four’s empty. I’ve had enough of his insolent attitude.”
The man made no protest, but went along willingly to cell number four. There were pairs of shoes in the corridor outside every cell. Well-worn shoes of all sizes, like door nameplates announcing the occupants. He must have automatically assumed the regulation would also apply to him, because he kicked off his trainers and stood them neatly outside the door without being asked.
The cell was about three metres by two, bleak and dreary. Floor and walls were a dull yellow, with a noticeable absence of graffiti. The only slight advantage he was immediately aware of in these surroundings, so far removed from the comforts of a hotel, was that his hosts were obviously not sparing with the electricity. The light was dazzling, and the temperature in the little room must have been at least twenty-five degrees Celsius.
Just inside the door there was a sort of latrine; it could hardly be called a lavatory. It was a construction of low walls with a hole in the middle. The moment he saw it, he felt his bowels knotting up in constipation.
The lack of any inscriptions on the walls by previous guests didn’t mean there were no traces of frequent habitation. Even though he was far from freshly showered himself, he felt quite queasy when the unpleasant odour hit him. A mixture of piss and excrement, sweat and anxiety, fear and anger: it permeated the walls, evidently impossible to eradicate. Because apart from the structure designed to receive urine and faeces, which was beyond all hope of cleansing, the room was actually clean. It was probably swilled out every day.
He heard the bolt slam in the door behind him. Through the bars he could hear the man in the next cell continuing where the duty officer had given up.
“Hey, you, I’m Robert. What’s your name? Why’ve the pigs got you?”
Robert had no luck either. Eventually he had to admit defeat too, just as frustrated as the duty officer.
“Bastard,” he muttered after several minutes of trying, loud enough for the message to get through to its intended recipient.
There was a platform built into the end of the room. With a certain amount of goodwill it might perhaps be described as a bed. There was no mattress, and no blanket lying around anywhere. Well, that was okay, he was already sweating profusely in the heat. The nameless man folded up his leather jacket to make a pillow, lay with his bloody side downwards, and went to sleep.
When Police Attorney Håkon Sand came on duty at five past ten on Sunday morning, the unknown prisoner was still asleep. Håkon didn’t know that. He had a hangover, which he shouldn’t have had. Feelings of remorse were making his uniform shirt stick to his body. He was already running his finger under his collar as he came through the CID area towards the police lawyers’ office. Uniforms were crap. At the beginning, all the legal specialists in the prosecution service were fascinated by them—they would stand in front of the mirror at home admiring themselves, stroking the insignia of rank on the epaulettes: one stripe, one crown, and one star for inspector, a star that might become two or even three depending on whether you stuck it out long enough to become a chief inspector or superintendent. They would smile at the mirror, straighten their shoulders involuntarily, note that their hair needed cutting, and feel clean and tidy. But after an hour or two at work they would realise that the acrylic made them smell and their shirt collars were much too stiff and made sore red weals round their necks.
The chief inspector’s duty was the worst of the lot. But everyone wanted it. The job was usually boring, and intolerably tiring. Sleep was forbidden; a rule most of them broke with a foul, unwashed woollen blanket pulled up over their uniforms. But night duty was well paid. Every legally qualified officer with one year’s service got roughly one duty a month, which put an extra fifty thousand kroner a year in their pay-packets. It was worth it. The big drawback was that the shift began at three o’clock in the afternoon after a full working day, and as soon as it was over at eight the next morning you had to start on a normal working day again. At weekends the duties were divided up into twenty-four-hour shifts, which made them even more lucrative.
Sand’s predecessor was impatient. Even though the shift, according to the rules, should change at nine, there was an unspoken agreement that the Sunday duty officer could come in an hour later. The person being relieved would always be drumming their heels. As indeed was the blonde female inspector today.
“Everything you need to know is in the log,” she said. “There’s a copy of the murder case from Friday night on the desk. There’s always a lot to do on this duty. I’ve completed fourteen reports already, and two Clause Eleven decisions.”
The devil she had. With the best will in the world Håkon Sand couldn’t see that he was any more competent to make decisions about care proceedings than the child care authorities’ own staff. Yet the police always had to sort things out when a juvenile caused bureaucratic inconvenience by needing help outside normal office hours. Two on Saturday, which meant statistically none on Sunday. He could but hope.
“And it’s full out the back; you’d better make your round as soon as you can,” she added.
He took the keys, fumbling as he attached them to his belt. The cashbox contained what it should. The number of passport forms was also correct. The log was up to date.
Formalities completed, he decided to go and collect some fines straight away, now that Sunday morning had laid its cold but calming hand on last night’s revellers. Before going, he flipped through the papers on the desk. He’d heard about the murder on the radio news bulletin. A badly mutilated body had been discovered down by the River Aker. The police had no leads. Empty words, he’d thought. The police always have some leads, it’s just that they’re all too often very scanty.
The photo file from the scene-of-crime people hadn’t been added yet, of course. But there were a few Polaroids lying loose in the green folder. They were grotesque enough. Håkon never got used to photographs of the dead. He’d seen plenty of them in his five years in the force, the last three attached to Homicide, A.2.11. All suspicious deaths were reported to the police, and entered on the computer under the code “susp.” Suspicious death was a broad concept. He’d seen bodies that were burnt, deaths from exhaust fumes, stab wounds, bullets, drowning, or torture. Even the tragic elderly folk who were only victims of the crime of neglect, found when a neighbour in the flat below noticed an unpleasant odour in the dining room, looked up and saw a damp patch on the ceiling, and rang the police in indignation at the damage—even those poor devils were input as “susp” and had the dubious honour of having their final photographs taken postmortem. Håkon had seen green corpses, blue corpses, red, yellow, and multicoloured corpses, and the pretty pink carbon monoxide bodies whose souls had been able to endure no more of this world’s vale of tears.
The Polaroids were stronger stuff than most of what he’d seen before, though. He threw them down abruptly. As if to forget them as soon as he could, he grabbed the report of the findings. He carried it over to the uncomfortable “Stressless” posture chair, a cheap imitation-leather version of the flagship model from Ekornes, much too curved in the back, lacking support where the lumbar region needed it most.
The bare facts had been typed up in a style that could hardly have been more unhelpful. Håkon furrowed his brow in annoyance. They said the admission criteria for the Police Training College were getting steadily higher. Ability in written presentation was obviously not one of them.
He came to a halt near the end of the page.
“Present at the scene of the crime was witness Karen Borg. She found the deceased while walking her dog. There was vomit on the body. Witness Borg said it was hers.”
Borg’s address and occupation confirmed that it was Karen. He ran his fingers through his hair, regretting not having washed it that morning. He decided to phone Karen during the week. With pictures as gruesome as that, the body must have been an awful sight. He absolutely must ring her.
He replaced the file on the desk and closed it. His eyes dwelt for a moment on the name label at the top left: Sand/Kaldbakken/Wilhelmsen. The case was his, as prosecuting attorney. Kaldbakken was the chief inspector responsible, and Hanne Wilhelmsen the investigating detective.
It was time to sort out the fines.
There was a thick bundle of arrest sheets in the little wooden box. A full house. He skimmed quickly through the forms. Mainly drunks. One wife abuser, one obvious mental case who would have to be transferred to Ullevål Hospital later in the day, and a known and wanted criminal. The last three could stay where they were. He would take the drunks in turn. The point of fining them was admittedly rather unclear to him. The majority of the tickets ended up in the nearest litter bin. The few that were paid were charged to the Social Services. A merry-go-round of public money that made a contribution to employment of some sort, but could hardly be regarded as particularly rational.
One set of arrest forms remained. It had no name on it.
He turned to the custody officer, an overweight man in his fifties who would never achieve more than the three stripes he had on his shoulders, stripes no one could deny him: they were awarded for age rather than merit. Håkon had realised long ago that the man was a dimwit.
“A nutter. He was in here when I came on duty. Bastard. Refused to give his name and address.”
“What’s he done?”
“Nothing. Found sitting in the road somewhere or other. Covered in blood. You can fine the sod for not giving his name. And for breach of the peace. And for being a scumbag.”
After five years in the force Sand had learnt to count to ten. He counted to twenty this time. He didn’t want to have a row just because of an imbecile in uniform who couldn’t see that taking a person’s liberty involved a certain responsibility.
Cell number four. He took a warder with him. The man with no name was awake. He stared at them with a despondent face, and was obviously in some doubt about their intentions. He sat up on the bed stiffly and spoke his first words in police custody.
“Could I have a drink?”
The language he spoke was Norwegian and yet at the same time not Norwegian. Håkon couldn’t put his finger on it; it sounded accurate, but there was something not quite right. Could he be a Swede trying to speak Norwegian?
He was given a drink, of course. Cola, bought by Håkon Sand with his own money. He even got a shower. And a clean T-shirt and trousers. From Sand’s own cupboard in the office. The custody officer’s grumbling at the special treatment grew louder with every item. But Håkon Sand ordered the bloodstained clothes to be put in a bag, explaining as he locked the heavy metal doors behind him:
“These articles could be important evidence!”
The young man was certainly taciturn. A searing thirst after many hours in an overheated cell may have loosened his tongue, but it soon became clear that his need to communicate was extremely temporary. Having quenched his thirst, he reverted to silence.
He was sitting on a hard spindleback chair. Strictly speaking there was only space for two chairs in the eight-square-metre room, which also housed a solid and rather stately double filing cabinet, three rows of ugly painted-steel bookshelves full of ring-binders arranged by colour, and a desk. This was fixed to the wall with metal brackets, so that the desktop was on a slant. That’s how it had been ever since the medical officer had had the idea of subjecting the staff to an ergonomics therapist. Sloping work desks were supposed to be good for the back. No one understood why, and most of them had found that their spinal problems were exacerbated by all the groping around on the floor for the things that slid off the desk. With an extra chair in the room it was hardly possible to move about without shifting the furniture.
The office belonged to Hanne Wilhelmsen. She was strikingly attractive, and newly promoted to Inspector. After coming out top of her year from police college, she had spent ten years at Oslo police headquarters marking herself out as a policewoman perfectly designed for an advertising campaign. Everyone spoke well of Hanne Wilhelmsen, a unique achievement in a workplace where ten percent of the day was spent running down your colleagues. She deferred to superiors without being branded an arse-licker, yet was not afraid to voice her opinions. She was loyal to the system, but would put forward suggestions for improvement that were usually sound enough to be implemented. Hanne Wilhelmsen had the intuition that only one in a hundred police officers has, the fingertip sensitivity that tells you when to coax and trick a suspect, and when to threaten and thump the table.
She was respected and admired, and well deserved it. But even so there was no one in that big grey building who really knew her. She always went to the annual departmental Christmas parties, to the summer party, and to birthday celebrations, was a fantastic dancer, would talk about the job and smile sweetly at everyone, and would go home ten minutes after the first person had left, neither too early nor too late. She never got drunk, and so never made a fool of herself. And no one ever got any closer to knowing her.
Hanne Wilhelmsen was at ease with herself and the world, but had dug a deep moat between her professional life and her private life. She didn’t have a single friend in the police force. She loved another woman, a defect in this otherwise perfect human being, the public admission of which she was convinced would destroy everything she had spent so many years building up. A swing of her long dark-brown hair was enough to deflect any questions about the slim wedding ring that was the only jewellery she wore. She had been given the ring by her partner when they first moved in together at the age of nineteen. There were rumours, as there always are. But she was so pretty. So womanly. And the female doctor that a friend of someone’s friend vaguely knew, and that others had seen Hanne with several times, was also very beautiful. They were really feminine women. So there couldn’t be any truth in it. Anyway Hanne always wore a skirt the few times she had to dress in uniform, and hardly anyone did that, since trousers were so much more practical. The rumours were just malicious nonsense.
Thus she lived her life, in the knowledge that what is not confirmed is never regarded as actually true; but this made it even more important for Hanne to perform well in her job than for anyone else in the building. Perfection was her shield. Which was how she wanted it, and since she had absolutely no ambition to elbow her way to the top, but was only interested in doing a good job, there was no jealousy or envy to threaten her defences.
She smiled now at Håkon, who had seated himself in the extra chair.
“Don’t you trust me to ask the right questions?”
“Relax. No worries on that score. But I have a feeling we’re on to something bigger here. As I said, if you don’t mind too much, I’d rather like just to sit in on the interview.
“It’s not against the rules,” he added quickly.
He knew she insisted on following the statutory procedures whenever possible, and he respected her for it. It was unusual for a police attorney to attend the questioning of a suspect, but it wasn‘t precluded. He’d done the same before on occasion. Usually to study the technique, but sometimes because he was particularly involved in a case. Normally the police officers didn’t object to the presence of the prosecution staff. On the contrary, provided he kept a low profile and didn’t interfere in the interrogation, most of them seemed quite pleased.
As if at a given signal, they both turned towards the prisoner. Hanne Wilhelmsen put her right arm on the desk and let her long lacquered nails play on the keys of an old electric typewriter. It was an IBM golf ball machine, very advanced in its time. Now it lacked the e, which was so worn that it produced only a smudged black mark from the ribbon when you hit the key. It didn’t really matter, since it was quite obvious what the smudge should be.
“It’ll be a long day if you’re just going to sit there and say nothing.”
Her voice was gentle, almost indulgent.
“I get paid for this. Chief Inspector Sand gets paid. You on the other hand will just carry on being held here. Sooner or later we might let you go. Wouldn’t you like to make it sooner?”
For the first time the young man seemed less confident.
“My name is Han van der Kerch,” he said, after a few minutes’ further silence. “I’m Dutch, but I’m residing in the country legally. I’m a student.”
Now Håkon Sand had his explanation for the perfect yet not fully idiomatic Norwegian. He remembered his boyhood hero Ard Schenk, remembered himself as a thirteen-year-old thinking that the man spoke an unbelievably good Norwegian for a foreigner. And he remembered reading Gabriel Scott’s Dutchman Jonas, a book he had loved as a child and which had contributed to his later unwavering support for the orange shirts in international football championships.
“That’s all I’m prepared to say.”
Once again there was silence. Håkon waited for Hanne Wilhelmsen’s next move. Whatever it might be.
“Well, that’s okay by me. It’s your choice, and your right. But we’ll be sitting here for some time in that case.”
She had inserted a sheet of paper in the typewriter, as if she already knew that she would get something to take down.
“You might as well hear a theory we have.”
The chair leg scraped on the linoleum as she pushed it back. She offered the Dutchman a cigarette, and lit one herself. The young man seemed grateful. Håkon was less pleased, and leaning back in his chair pushed the door ajar to create a through-draught. The window was already slightly open.
“We found a body on Friday evening,” said Hanne Wilhelmsen in a soft voice. “It was a bit of a mess. He obviously hadn’t wanted to die. At least not in such a horrible way. There must have been a lot of blood around. You were pretty well covered in it when we found you. We can be a bit slow here in the police sometimes. But we’re still capable of putting two and two together. As a rule we get four, and we think we’ve got four now.”
She stretched behind her for an ashtray on the bookshelf. It was a tasteless souvenir from southern climes made of brown bottle glass, featuring a faun in the centre wearing an evil grin and sporting an enormous erect phallus. Not exactly Hanne Wilhelmsen’s style, thought Sand.
“I’ll happily be more explicit.”
Her voice was sharper now.
“We’ll have a preliminary analysis of the blood on your clothes tomorrow. Which—if it matches the blood of our faceless friend—will be more than enough to justify keeping you in custody. We can have you in for interrogation whenever we like. Over and over again. A week might pass before you hear from us, then we’ll suddenly turn up again, perhaps after you’ve gone to sleep. We’ll question you for an hour or two, you’ll refuse to say anything, we’ll take you back, and then fetch you out again. It can be rather wearing. For us too, of course, but we can take it in turns. It’s worse for you.”
Håkon began to doubt whether Hanne deserved her reputation as a stickler for the rules. The method of interrogation she’d outlined was definitely not in the book. He was even more in doubt about the legality of threatening it.
“You have the right to a solicitor; the State will pay,” he reminded him, as if to compensate for any possible illegality.
“I don’t want a solicitor!” he exploded.
He took one last puff on his cigarette before stubbing it out emphatically and saying it again, “I don’t want a solicitor. I’ll be better off without one.”
He threw a questioning, half-imploring look across at the pack of cigarettes on the table. Hanne Wilhelmsen nodded, and handed him both the cigarettes and the matches.
“So, you think it was me. Well, you may be right.”
That was that. The man’s basic needs had been satisfied at last: a shower, some breakfast, a drink, and a couple of cigarettes. Showing all the signs of having talked as much as he was going to, he slid forward in the chair and slumped back with a distant look in his eyes.
“Okay, then.” Detective Inspector Wilhelmsen seemed fully in command of the situation. “Perhaps I should continue,” she said, starting to turn over the pages of the rather slim file of papers beside the typewriter.
“So we found this repulsive-looking corpse. He had no documents on him, and his face had gone before him, so to speak, wherever it was he was going. But our man in the patrol car was fairly well acquainted with the drugs scene here in the city. The clothes, body, and hair were sufficient. Revenge killing, he thought. A not unreasonable assumption, it seems to me.”
She linked her fingers and put her hands behind her head. She massaged her neck with her thumbs as she looked the Dutchman straight in the eyes.
“I think you killed the guy. We’ll know better tomorrow, when the results come back from Forensics. But lab technicians can’t tell me why. That’s where I need your assistance.”
The appeal seemed to be in vain. The man didn’t move a muscle, he just retained his remote, slightly mocking smile, as if he had the upper hand. There he was mistaken.
“To be frank, I think it would be more sensible of you to give me that assistance,” the Inspector went on. “Maybe you did it on your own. Maybe it was to order. Perhaps you were even forced into it. And that might have a decisive impact on what happens to you.”
She paused in her steady stream of words, lit a new cigarette, and stared him in the face. He went on sitting there displaying absolutely no intention of talking. Hanne heaved a sigh and switched off the typewriter.
“It’s not up to me to determine your sentence. If you’re guilty, that is. But it could definitely be to your advantage if I was able to say something positive about your willingness to cooperate and so on when I have to testify in court.”
Håkon recognised the feeling from when he was a child and had been allowed to watch a detective story on television. He would be dying to go to the loo, but didn’t dare say so for fear of missing something exciting.
“Where did you find him?”
The Dutchman’s question took Håkon completely by surprise, and he noticed for the first time a hint of uncertainty in the Inspector’s face.
“Where you killed him,” she replied, with exaggerated slowness.
“Answer me. Where did you find the guy?”
Both police officers hesitated.
“By the River Aker at Hundremanns Bridge. As you well know,” Hanne said, holding him steadily in her gaze so as not to miss even a flicker of reaction in his expression.
“Who found the body? Who reported it to the police?”
This time Hanne Wilhelmsen’s hesitation created a vacuum that Sand was sucked into.
“It was someone out for a walk. A lawyer, a friend of mine in fact. Must have been a dreadful experience.”
Hanne was livid, but Håkon realised it too late. He hadn’t picked up on her warning gesture as he started to speak. He flushed deeply at her fierce look of reproof.
Van der Kerch stood up.
“I would like a lawyer after all,” he declared. “I want that woman. If you get her here, I’ll think about talking, at any rate. If I can’t have her, I’d rather have ten lonely years in prison at Ullersmo.”
He went across to the door unbidden, stepping over Håkon Sand’s legs, and waited politely to be taken back to his cell. Hanne Wilhelmsen escorted him, without a backward glance at her red-faced colleague.
The coffee had been drunk. It hadn’t been particularly good, even though it was freshly made. Decaffeinated, Håkon Sand explained. There were six cigarette stubs in a tawdry brown and orange ashtray.
“She was bloody mad at me afterwards. Understandably so. It’ll be some time before I’ll be allowed to be present at an interrogation again. But the man won’t be budged. It’s you or no one.”
He seemed no less exhausted now than when Karen Borg had arrived. He was massaging his temples and running his fingers through his hair, which was now quite dry.
“I asked Hanne to give him all the counterarguments. She says he remains adamant. I’ve kept well out of it. It’ll smooth things over a bit if I can get you to help us.”
Karen Borg sighed. For six years of her life she’d done little else but favours for Håkon Sand. She knew she wouldn’t be able to refuse this time either. But she would play hard to get.
“I’m only agreeing to have a talk with him. I’m not promising anything,” she said curtly, and stood up.
They went out the door, she first, he following. Just like the old days.
The young Dutchman had insisted on speaking to Karen Borg, with a vague intimation that he would open up to her. But that seemed to have been forgotten now. He looked full of bile. Karen Borg had moved over to Håkon Sand’s chair, and Håkon had discreetly withdrawn. The lawyers’ room in the custody suite was a miserable place, so in justified apprehension that she might renege on her promise to talk to the young Dutchman, he’d put his own office at her disposal.
Their suspect should have been handsome, yet was somehow unprepossessing. An athletic body, fair hair that looked as if it might have been expensively styled a month or so back. His hands were delicate, almost feminine. Did he play the piano? A lover’s hands, Karen thought, with no idea of how she was going to deal with the situation. She was used to boardrooms, meeting rooms with heavy oak furniture, airy offices with curtains costing five hundred kroner per metre. She could tackle men in suits with fashionable or garish ties, and women with briefcases and Shalimar perfume. She knew all about the laws relating to shares and the formation of companies, and only three weeks ago had earned herself a nice 150,000 kroner fee for checking over a comprehensive contract for one of her biggest clients. It hadn’t involved much more than reading five hundred pages of contractual agreements, ensuring they contained what they purported to, and writing “OK” on the cover. That worked out to 75,000 kroner per letter.
The prisoner’s words were obviously just as valuable.
“You asked to speak to me,” Karen Borg began. “I don’t know why. Perhaps we could take that as our starting point?”
He measured her up with his eyes, but maintained his silence. He kept tilting his chair backwards and forwards; up and down, up and down. That sort of thing put Karen Borg on edge.
“I have to say I’m not the right kind of lawyer for you. I know a few suitable people, and I can make some phone calls and get you a top lawyer in a matter of moments.”
The front legs of the chair hit the floor with a crash. He leant forward, looked directly at her for the first time, and said it again.
“No. I want you. Don’t make any phone calls.”
Suddenly it occurred to her that she was alone with a man who was presumably a murderer. The faceless corpse had been haunting her ever since she’d found it on Friday evening. Then she pulled herself together. No lawyer had ever been killed by a client here in Norway. Certainly not in a police station. She repeated this reassurance to herself three times and felt more relaxed. The cigarette helped too.
“Answer me then! What do you want from me?”
Still no response.
“You’ll be up in front of the judge this afternoon for remand in custody. I’ll have to refuse to meet you there unless I have some idea of what you’re going to say.”
Threats didn’t have any effect either. Nevertheless she thought she could detect a glimmer of concern in his eyes. She made one last attempt.
“Besides, I’m running out of time now.”
She glanced quickly at her Rolex. Her fear was giving way to irritation. Which was increasing. He evidently noticed it. He was rocking back and forth in the chair again.
The legs of the chair banged down on the floor a second time. She’d won a modest victory.
“I’m not necessarily asking for the complete truth.” Her voice was calmer now. “I just want to know what you’re going to say in court. And I have to know that right now.”
Karen Borg’s experience of criminals without white collars and silk ties was entirely limited to having yelled after a bicycle thief who was making off down Markveien with her new fifteen-gear bike. But—she had seen this on TV. Defence Counsel Matlock had said: “I don’t want to know the truth, I want to know what you’re going to say in court.” Somehow it didn’t sound quite as convincing coming from her own lips. More hesitant, perhaps. But it might be a way of eliciting something.
Several minutes passed. The suspect had stopped rocking the chair, but was scraping it on the linoleum instead. The noise was getting on her nerves.
“It was me that killed the man you found.”
Karen was more relieved than surprised. She’d known it was him. He’s telling the truth, she thought, and offered him a throat pastille. He’d acquired the habit of smoking with a pastille in his mouth, just as she had. She’d started many years ago in the vague belief that it prevented the smell of smoke on the breath. By the time she’d realised it didn’t, she’d already become hooked.
“I was the one who killed the guy.”
It was as if he wanted to convince someone. It wasn’t necessary.
“I don’t know who he is. Was, I mean. That is, I know his name, and what he looks like. Looked like. But I didn’t know him. Do you know any defence lawyers?”
“Yes, of course,” she said, with a smile of relief. He didn’t smile back. “Well, it depends what you mean by know. I’m not a personal friend of any, if that’s what you mean, but it’ll be easy to find a good defence counsel for you. I’m glad you realise what you need.”
“I’m not asking you to get me another lawyer. I’m just asking you whether you know any. Personally.”
“No. Well, a few of my fellow students went on to specialise in that field, but none of them is in the top league. Yet.”
“Do you often see them?”
“No, only when I meet them by chance.”
That was true. And a sore point. Karen Borg didn’t have many friends now. They had slipped out of her life one after another, or she out of theirs, on paths that had become overgrown, only crossing now and again as polite exchanges over a beer in a pavement café in the spring, or emerging from a cinema late on an autumn evening.
“Good. Then I want to have you. They can charge me with the murder, and I’ll be remanded in custody. But you must get the police to guarantee me one thing: to let me stay here in police headquarters. Anything to keep away from that bloody prison.”
The man was certainly full of surprises.
The disgraceful conditions in the cells at police headquarters had hit the headlines from time to time in the newspapers, and with reason. The cells were intended for twenty-four-hour remand. They were scarcely even adequate for that. Yet they were where this prisoner wanted to stay. For weeks.
The young man bent forward confidentially. She could smell his breath, now rancid after several days without a toothbrush, and leant back in her own chair.
“I can’t trust anyone. I have to think. We can talk again when I’ve worked some things out. You will come back?”
He was intense, verging on desperation, and for the first time she almost felt sorry for him.
She rang the number Håkon had written on a piece of paper.
“We’ve finished. You can come and fetch us.”
Karen Borg didn’t have to go to court, to her great relief. She had only once attended a court hearing. It was while she was still a student, and convinced she would use her law degree to help the needy. She had sat herself on the public benches in Room 17, behind a barrier which seemed to be there to protect innocent observers from the brutal reality in the room. People were being imprisoned at half-hourly intervals, and only one out of eleven had been able to persuade the judge that he couldn’t possibly be guilty. On that occasion she had found it difficult to see who was defending and who was prosecuting counsel, so matey were they, laughing and handing one another cigarettes and telling crass courtroom jokes, until the wretched accused had been put in the dock and they went off to their respective corners to begin the contest. The police won ten rounds. It was swift, effective, and merciless. Despite her youthful urge to defend all the accused, she had to confess that she didn’t particularly react against the judge’s verdicts. Those charged had seemed to her to be dangerous, unkempt, unsympathetic, and too aggressive in their assertions of innocence and their resentment of the law, some in tears and many cursing and swearing. Nevertheless she had felt indignant at the convivial atmosphere that returned to the room immediately after a prisoner was led away shaking his head, a policeman gripping each arm, down to the holding cells in the basement. Not only did the two opponents, who only moments before had been impugning each other’s honour, continue with their half-finished anecdotes, but even the judge craned forward to listen, smiled, nodded his head, and threw in an amusing comment, until the next poor devil was ready in the dock. Karen thought judges should remain aloof, and friendships be kept out of the courtroom. Even now she still had the same idealistic opinion. So she was glad that during her eight years in a law office she had never set foot in a courtroom, always managing to resolve matters before they got that far.
The custodial decision in respect of Han van der Kerch was a pure formality. He signed his written agreement to eight weeks, with a ban on visits and letters. The police had in some bewilderment granted his request to remain in the police headquarters cells. He was certainly an oddball.
So Karen Borg hadn’t been required in court, and was back in her office. The fifteen commercial lawyers had their offices in the modern development at Aker Brygge on the waterfront, with an equal number of secretaries and ten clerks. The exclusive men’s fashion boutique on the lower ground floor had gone bankrupt three times, and was eventually replaced by the larger fashion chain, Hennes & Mauritz, which was prospering. The cosy, expensive lunch bar had given way to a McDonald’s. On the whole the premises hadn’t lived up to their expectations at the time of purchase, but to sell now would involve a catastrophic loss. And it was a central location, after all.
Greverud & Co. was inscribed on the glass door, after old Greverud, who still, at the age of eighty-two, appeared in the office every Friday. He had established the firm just after the War, having built up an impressive reputation in the trials of collaborators. By 1963 there were five lawyers, but Greverud, Risbakk, Helgesen, Farmøy & Nilsen eventually became too much of a mouthful for the switchboard operator. In the mid-eighties they bought themselves into what everyone thought would become the mecca of capitalism in Oslo, and were among the few who had survived there.
In her third year as a student, Karen Borg had obtained her final summer job with this rock-solid firm. Hard work and an incisive mind were greatly esteemed at Greverud & Co. She was only the fourth woman ever to have had the opportunity, and the first to succeed. When she passed her exams a year later, she was offered a permanent position, interesting clients, and an immorally high salary. She fell for the temptation.
She’d never actually regretted it. She’d been sucked into the exciting world of capitalism, and was involved in the real-life game of Monopoly during its most thrilling decade. She was so talented that she was offered a partnership after a record three years. It was impossible to say no. She was flattered, pleased, and felt she deserved it. Now she earned one and a half million kroner a year, and had almost forgotten her reasons, all those years ago, for actually embarking on the study of law. Sigrun Berg ponchos had given way to elegant suits purchased for a fortune on Bogstadsveien.
The telephone rang. It was her secretary. Karen Borg pressed the loudspeaker button. This was uncomfortable for the person phoning, because her voice was surrounded by an echo that made it indistinct. She felt it gave her an advantage.
“There’s a lawyer called Peter Strup on the line. Are you in, at a meeting, or have you left for the day?”
“Peter Strup? What can he want with me?”
It was impossible to hide her astonishment. Peter Strup was—besides much else—the chairman of the Defence Group, the special union of defence lawyers who regarded themselves as either too good or too bad simply to be members of the Norwegian Lawyers’ Association like everyone else. A year or so previously he had been voted Norway’s most eligible man, and was well known as one of the most frequent media pundits on just about any subject. He was in his sixties, but looked forty, and his time for the Birkebeiner Ski Race was up among the best. He was also said to be a friend of the Royal Family, though he would never confirm this in the presence of journalists.
Karen Borg had neither met him nor spoken to him. She had often read about him, of course.
“Put him through,” she said, after some slight hesitation, and picked up the receiver in an unconsciously respectful gesture.
“Karen Borg,” she said, in a flat and expressionless voice.
“Good afternoon, this is Peter Strup. I won’t take up much of your time. I hear you’ve been appointed defence counsel for a Dutchman charged with last Friday’s murder by the River Aker. Is that right?”
“Yes, that’s correct as far as it goes.”
“As far as it goes?”
“Well, I mean, it’s true that I’ve been appointed, but I haven’t talked to him very much yet.”
She riffled involuntarily through the papers in front of her, the defence counsel’s copies of the murder case. She heard Strup laugh, a charming laugh.
“Since when have you been working for four hundred and ninety-five kroner an hour? I didn’t think legal aid rates would even cover the rent on Aker Brygge! Have things got so bad that you’re having to poach on our territory?”
She didn’t take offence at this. Her hourly rate was often well in excess of two thousand kroner, partly depending on who the client was. Even she had to laugh a little.
“We get by. It’s purely a matter of chance that I’m helping this chap.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought. I’ve got enough to do, but I’ve been approached by a friend of his enquiring whether I can help the boy. An old client of mine, this friend, and we defence lawyers have to look after our clients, as you know!”
He laughed again.
“In other words, I don’t mind taking the case on, and I can imagine you’re not particularly keen on it.”
Karen wasn’t quite sure what to say. The chance to put the whole matter in the hands of the best defence counsel in the country was very tempting. Peter Strup would undoubtedly do it better than she could.
“Thanks, that’s kind of you. But he’s insisted on having me, and in a way I’ve promised him I’ll continue. Of course I’ll pass on the offer to him, and I’ll ring you back if he wants to take it up.”
“Okay, we’ll leave it at that, then. But you obviously appreciate I’ll need to know soon. I’d have to familiarise myself with the case, and see if there’s anything that can be done.”
Their conversation drew to a close.
She felt a little perplexed. Even though she knew it was far more common among criminal lawyers to steal clients, or make strategic changes of lawyer, as it was more likely to be described, she was very surprised that Peter Strup had to have recourse to such measures. She’d seen his name recently in a newspaper report as one of three examples of the way cases were being delayed for months or even years because the most well-known lawyers had such long waiting lists. On the other hand, it was nice that he wanted to help, especially when the approach came at the instigation of one of Van der Kerch’s friends. She could see the attraction of this caring attitude, though she herself kept all her clients at arm’s length.
She closed the file in front of her, noticed that it was four o’clock, and decided to stop work, changing the board above the reception desk to indicate that she was the first of the lawyers to leave. She still couldn’t avoid a slight prick of conscience every time there weren’t at least ten names before hers under the “In tomorrow” sign. But today she managed to dismiss it easily, and walked out into the rain and caught an overcrowded tram home.
“I’ve taken on a criminal case,” she mumbled between two mouthfuls of Frionor fish.
Karen Borg was from Bergen. She didn’t eat fresh fish in Oslo. Fresh fish shouldn’t have been dead for more than ten hours. Forty-eight-hour-old fish in the capital tasted like rubber, and the properly frozen output of a mass production line was actually better.
“Though it would be more accurate to say it was foisted upon me,” she added as she finished chewing.
“Will you be able to cope with it? You often complain you’ve forgotten everything you learnt except what you’ve been doing for the last eight years,” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, an annoying habit that Karen had been trying to eradicate for all of the six years they’d been living together, partly by drawing his attention to it, partly by pointedly laying large napkins by his plate. The napkin lay untouched, and he repeated the offence.
“Well, depends what you mean,” she muttered, surprised at herself for feeling hurt, especially since she had had exactly the same thoughts earlier in the day. “Obviously I can, I’ll just have to brush up a little.” She resisted the temptation to add that she’d got a pretty good mark for her finals paper on criminal law.
She told him the whole story. For some reason she omitted the telephone call from Strup. She didn’t know why. Perhaps it was because she felt uncomfortable about it. Ever since she was a child she had been reticent in matters that seemed complex. Anything dubious she kept to herself. Not even Nils really understood her. The only one who had ever come close to breaking through her defences was Håkon Sand. After he disappeared from her life, she became expert at sorting things out for herself in silence, and sorting things out for others for a living.
They’d eaten their meal by the time she’d finished talking. Nils began clearing the table, without seeming uninterested in her story. Karen sat down in an armchair, reclined the seat, and heard him loading the dishwasher. Eventually the rattling was accompanied by the gurgle of the coffee percolator.
“He’s clearly scared to death,” he shouted from the kitchen, then looked into the living room and reiterated it, “I think he’s bloody scared of someone.”
Brilliant. As if it wasn’t obvious. Typical of Nils, he had an ability to come out with self-evident comments that for many years she’d found appealing, almost as if he were being deliberately sardonic. But lately she’d come to realise that he actually thought he could perceive what others couldn’t.
“Of course he’s scared,” she murmured to herself, “but what is it he’s scared of?” Nils came in with two cups of coffee.
“Well, he’s clearly not afraid of the police,” she said as she took the cup. “He wanted to be arrested. Just sat right down in a busy street and waited for them to arrive. But why wouldn’t he say anything, why wouldn’t he admit he’d killed the man by the River Aker? Why is he afraid of prison if he’s not afraid of the police? And why of all things should he insist on having me as his lawyer?”
Nils shrugged his shoulders and picked up a newspaper.
“You’ll find out eventually,” he said, becoming engrossed in the comic strips.
Karen shut her eyes.
“I’ll find out eventually,” she repeated to herself, and yawned as she stroked the dog behind the ear.
Posted March 2, 2013
I read this book after receiving it from a friend. It was very interesting and the characters compelling. Recommend it.
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Posted August 13, 2012
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