Read an Excerpt
Freedom tasted good. To Long Ómar Magnússon freedom tasted of hot dogs with ketchup and onions and washed down with a cold can of malt. He thrust out long legs beneath the café’s plastic table and belched luxuriously. A woman with a brood of children at the next table turned her head and frowned, but he met her stare and she thought better of saying anything.
“Where are we going now, Ommi?” asked the tubby girl at his side.
“Town. Your place.”
“We can’t go there,” she wailed. “Mum’ll go mad if she sees you. She knows you’re not out for another year.”
“Good behaviour, Selma. Tell her I’ve been a good boy and now I need some fun.”
He drained the can of malt and stood up, shaking his legs.
“Come on. There’s stuff to do.”
Selma hauled herself to her feet and trotted towards the door with Ommi towering beside her. As she squealed in surprise,
the woman with the brood of children again turned her head in irritation, in time to see a broad hand stretched down to cup a buttock, half under Selma’s short skirt. The woman opened her mouth to speak, but before she had decided what to say, the pair had gone, with Selma’s squeaks receding into the distance.
“Laufey!”Gunna called for the second time.
“Laufey Oddbjörg Ragnarsdóttir! School!”
She brushed her teeth hurriedly and examined herself critically in the mirror. Time for a haircut, she thought. Good teeth, strong nose, thick eyebrows . . . Cupping a hand to lift a mouthful of water, she swirled and spat as Laufey appeared in the mirror behind her.
“Finished, sweetheart. All yours.”
Laufey nodded blearily and said nothing.
Gunna switched on the radio and waited for the kettle to boil while Channel 2’s morning talk show chattered in the background. Laufey shambled back to her room and shut the door behind her.
“If she’s gone back to bed. . .” Gunna muttered.
The kettle steamed itself to a climax and clicked off as
Gunna poured cereal into a bowl.
“Laufey!” she called again. The bedroom door opened and
Laufey appeared, dressed and holding her school bag. “You’ll have to be a bit smarter getting up if you’re going to college in
Keflavík next year.”
“Reykjanesbær, Mum. You shouldn’t call it Keflavík any more.”
“Keflagrad they call it at the station, there’s so many foreigners there now.”
“Mum, that’s a bit racist, isn’t it?”
Gunna sighed. “Maybe, but it’s too early in the morning to argue about it. D’you want some breakfast? There’s cereal or skyr.”
Suddenly the radio caught her attention and she turned the volume up quickly.
“A prisoner who absconded recently from Kvíabryggja open prison is still at large and is reported to have been seen in the
Reykjavík area. Police have issued a description of Ómar Magnússon,
thirty-six years old. He’s one-ninety-nine in height,
heavily built, with medium-length brown hair. He has heavily tattooed forearms and was last seen dressed in jeans and a dark jacket. People are warned not to approach him, but to report any sighting to the police on . . .”
Gunna spun the volume dial down to zero.
“Friend of yours, Mum?” Laufey asked slyly.
“Yup, most definitely one of mine right now. Actually, he’s from here.”
“A criminal from Hvalvík? Really?”
“He left Hvalvík before we moved here. Come on, I’ve got to go in ten minutes if you want a lift.”
Laufey yawned. “It’s all right. I’ll walk.”
“It’s raining,” Gunna warned.
“S’all right. I’m meeting Finnur and we’ll walk together.”
“Fair enough. I should be back at five, unless something crops up. I’ll let you know.”
“I might not go to college in Keflavík,” Laufey said suddenly.
“What?” Gunna said, startled.
“I might go to Hafnarfjördur instead. Their psychology department is better. If you’re driving every day now, you could give me a lift in the mornings, couldn’t you?”
Gunna thought for a moment of how early they would need to leave every morning to take Laufey to Hafnarfjördur and still get herself to work on time.
“Psychology? I thought you wanted to do business studies?”
Laufey frowned. “Business studies is so 2007, just not cool any more.”
“We’ll see, sweetheart. We can talk it over tonight. See you later,” Gunna said, sweeping up car keys and her mobile phone.
“Yah, Diddi. Remember this face, do you?”
A look of alarm spread rapidly across the young man’s heavy features. “Hey, Ommi. Good to see you,” he said, his voice hollow. “Didn’t know you were out yet.”
“I’m not. Not officially,” Ommi leered, dropping a long arm heavily across Diddi’s shoulders and sauntering with him along the deserted street.
“What? Did a runner? So it’s you they’re looking for, is it?
“Yeah. Where d’you live now, Diddi?”
“Just round there. Not far.”
“Yeah, Diddi, but where?”
Diddi quailed and blanched. “Just up the road.”
Ommi used the hand draped across Diddi’s shoulders to haul him round in a half-circle, slamming him face-first against a raw grey concrete wall, a fist planted squarely over his kidneys.
Diddi wanted to yell for help, but knowing that nothing would be forthcoming in a neighbourhood where people avoided involving themselves in other folk’s problems, he steeled himself to stay quiet.
“What’s the matter, Ommi?” he warbled.
Ommi leaned close. “Diddi, you let us down. You owe.”
“Wha-what’s that, Ommi?”
With one hand Ommi gripped a handful of greasy hair,
swinging with the other to land a smack to the side of Diddi’s head that raised a whimper and left his victim in a daze. Ommi loved the satisfying smack of fist on flesh, the rush of adrenalin,
the flush of power. He’d missed this in prison.
“You know,” he repeated. “You owe. Soon you’ll have to pay up. All debts will be honoured in full. Understood?”
Diddi nodded. Blood was starting to seep from his right ear on to the shoulder of his denim jacket, and his head was buzzing. “Yeah, I get it, whatever.”
“Hope so. You haven’t seen me. Don’t know where I am.”
“I didn’t do it, Ommi.”
“That’s what you say,” Ommi hissed, delivering a punch to the kidneys that left Diddi unable to stand on his own feet.
The whole thing had taken no longer than a minute, and already Ommi was nowhere to be seen. Cross-eyed with pain,
Diddi wondered if Long Ómar Magnússon had really appeared and beaten him up in the broad light of morning. The ringing in his ears and the taste of bile convinced him that it had been all too real, as he threw up messily across the pavement. Across the street, an overcoated gentleman in a peaked cap kept his eyes to the front and his chin high, making sure that he saw nothing.
The address was only a few hundred metres from the police station at Hverfisgata and Gunna decided to go on foot.
She strode through the encroaching darkness of the windy afternoon with Helgi loping at her side. There was already a patrol car and an ambulance outside with lights flashing as they arrived at the stairwell of the block of modern flats and found a young officer fending off interested people claiming to live there.
“Crime scene. No admittance,” he announced as they pushed through.
“Serious Crime Unit,” Gunna growled, watching the young man take a step back.
“Straight up. Fourth floor. The lift’s not working,” he said.
Helgi eyed the stairs. “Four flights?”
The young man nodded.
Helgi set off up the steps with Gunna taking them two at a time behind him. As they reached the open door of the flat, he was breathing hard.
“This must be it?” he gasped, battling to keep the fight for air under control.
“You want to pack in smoking, Helgi,” Gunna admonished,
stepping past him.
Another young officer stood at the door, this time one who recognized Gunna and stood aside to let them in.
“It’s not a pleasant sight,” he said dourly as Gunna snapped on surgical gloves and handed a pair to Helgi. She bent to pull covers over her shoes and again handed a second pair to Helgi as he fiddled with the gloves.
In the corridor, a young woman in police uniform, her face pale as the apartment’s ivory walls, stepped back from the kitchen door to let Gunna and Helgi through to where a paramedic hunched low with his back to them. Gunna went carefully around him and Helgi stayed in the doorway.
“Are you all right, sweetheart?” he muttered to the young policewoman, who merely nodded back, eyes fixed on the paramedic.
“Dead, I suppose?” Gunna asked, crouching next to the man in his green overalls as she surveyed the scene.
“Well there’s not much reason for us to be here, if that’s what you mean,” he replied shortly.
The body of a woman lay on the chequered tiles, arms splayed in front and legs crossed awkwardly. A mass of fair hair spread around her and a pool of dark blood had seeped over the floor.
“Touched anything?” Gunna asked the paramedic.
“Checked for pulse, that’s it. Nothing’s been moved.”
“Good man. Not a chance that she fell and banged her head, I suppose?”
“Not a hope,” the paramedic volunteered cheerfully. “Blunt instrument, this one.”
Gunna looked up at the faces in the doorway. “Helgi,
would you get everyone out and bring the technical boys in here right away? This one definitely needs to be sealed up and gone over before we do any snooping ourselves. Do we have any identification?”
Helgi and the paramedic both stared back at her.
“You mean you don’t recognize her?” the paramedic asked.
Gunna took in the woman’s long, ample figure, dressed only in tracksuit bottoms and a white singlet. The taut skin emerging from the sleeveless top was tanned to the point she would have described as being crispy.
“Something about her rings a bell, but I couldn’t say,” she admitted finally.
“That’s Svana Geirs, that is. Was,” the paramedic said with a mournful shake of his head.
“Ah, in that case you’d better make sure we don’t get any intrusion from the gentlemen of the press. And not a word, all right?”
The paramedic stood up and stretched. Gunna looked at the woman’s face, half obscured by waves of hair. The skin at the corners of the wide-open green eyes looked stretched,
parchment-like, in a way Gunna felt would have been more usual in someone past retirement age. The abundant blonde hair was coarse and thick, and she wondered if its natural colour had been seen in the last twenty years. She tried to estimate Svana Geirs’ age and put it at around thirty-five.
“We’d better get ourselves out and leave the place to the technical team. Are you off?” she asked the yawning paramedic.
“As soon as the doc gets here to declare mortality,” he replied, stepping back and carefully not touching walls or worktops. “So, is this your first celebrity?”
“Sort of. I had a city councillor once. Heart attack jogging on the beach at Nautholtsv’k. Stone dead by the time we got there. Shame about Svana, though,” he sighed. “I used to have a poster of her on my wall when I was a student.”
Gunna and Helgi left the technical team swarming over the flat and met on the first-floor landing to compare notes. As many uniformed officers as could be found had already been dispatched to scour the area for anything that could be a murder weapon, and to start the long process of knocking on doors.
“Tell me about Svana Geirs, then,” she demanded. “The name’s familiar, but that’s it.”
“Well we’ll have to do a bit of digging. I suppose she was one of those people who are famous for being famous, if you know what I mean.”
“You mean she didn’t actually do anything?”
“She was on telly for a while with a fitness show on Channel
2. My first missus used to watch it, so that has to be five years ago at least, doing these daft exercises in front of the box.
Never did her any good. The show was less about keeping fit than Svana’s tits bouncing up and down in a tight top. That’s about it. She sort of disappeared from view after that, but she still pops up in the gossip mags.”
“All right. So who wants to knock off a failed TV presenter?
There was some real force behind it, and that was a single blow as far as I could see,” Gunna said. She would dearly have liked a cigarette, but a promise is a promise, and Laufey would know the second she walked in that Mum had been cheating.
“Time of death?” Helgi asked.
“Don’t know. Miss Cruz will give us an accurate idea later.
It’s getting on for six now, so I reckon this afternoon sometime.
She was still warm when we got here.”
The police’s only forensic pathologist was on long-term leave and the post had been covered by a series of replacements recruited from overseas. The latest was a woman from Spain with a double-barrelled surname who had replaced a tall
Irishman and had instantly been christened Miss Cruz by her new colleagues.
“Who raised the alarm?” Gunna continued.
“The cleaner. Found the lift wasn’t working, climbed the stairs and saw the front door was open.”
“Open? So whoever did this was out pretty quick without waiting to cover their tracks,” Gunna said. “Did you check the lift?”
“Jammed between the third and fourth floors. Been like that for a week, the maintenance man says.”
“Top flat. Nobody comes up here without a reason. What about next door?”
“Nobody home. No sign of life.” Helgi frowned and rolled his shoulders as if they ached. “Well, whoever lives there is going to get a bit of a shock when he comes home from work.
How do you want to organize this, Gunna?”
For a moment she wondered why he was asking her. Being in charge of a new investigation unit was a change that would take some getting used to after the years running the police station in rural Hvalvík, where weeks could pass with nothing more serious than a stolen bicycle. The offer of promotion and the shift to the Reykjavík city force had come as a surprise, and working as part of a larger set-up was already taking some getting used to. Although she had lived there in the past and knew the city intimately, Gunna felt vaguely uncomfortable in
Reykjavík. Much had changed during the years she had taken it easy in her coastal backwater. The city’s pace of life had accelerated steadily for years until the crisis that saw the banks nationalized and the country plunged into a recession stopped progress dead in its tracks.
She had moved into the Serious Crime Unit’s new office as the protests outside Parliament were becoming steadily angrier,
watching her uniformed colleagues disconcerted at the public fury they were on the receiving end of at demonstrations every weekend, while many of them felt a secret sympathy with the protesters and their impotent rage.
Gunna had flatly refused to move house from Hvalvík, and the forty-minute drive was proving a challenge in the mornings,
but the journey home had become an oasis of valuable thinking time.
“Gunna?” Helgi asked again.
“Æi, sorry. Thinking hard for a moment. If you try and figure out what the lady’s movements were over the last couple of days, I’ll tackle the next of kin.”
“Fine by me. I’m still looking for Long Ommi as a priority as well, you know?”
“Fair enough. Eiríkur should be here in half an hour and you’d better fill him in on all this so he can collect everything that comes in from the knocking on doors. I’m sure the lad will have some kind of theory he read in a book that’ll boil down to ordinary common sense. Pathology will tell us what they can, but I reckon we’ve seen it already. Blunt instrument to the head, single blow aimed to kill.”
“Any ideas?” Helgi asked hopefully.
“I was about to ask you that,” Gunna sighed. “On the surface,
it looks straightforward enough. When someone’s killed like this, it’s either a junkie who doesn’t know what he’s doing,
or it’s money or anger. Svana Geirs must have pissed someone off, or else she’d ripped someone off.”
“Certainly a possibility. You’d better find out who she was shagging, in that case. I can’t imagine she lived like a nun. It’d be handy to know what she did for a living. I doubt somehow that a flat like this comes cheap.”
“I’ll see what I can dig out by the morning. Be in early, will you?” Helgi asked.
“Nope. Bjössi in Keflavík asked me to stop by the hospital there and look in on someone in the morning, a friend of your chum Long Ommi, as it happens.”
“All right. Give him my regards, will you? Bjössi, that is, not anyone who might be a friend of Long Ommi’s.”