Thursday morning S?ren woke up far too early. He gave up trying to go back to sleep and got up. He lit a fire in the living room, heated frozen rolls in the oven, and forced himself to enjoy two minutes of home life wherein he wasn’t thinking about the case. At 7:20 a.m. it began to get light. S?ren put on thick socks as he contemplated how cold it was for October. Perhaps it was a sign of a hard winter to come?
S?ren remembered the ice winter of 1987 when Denmark had been landlocked with Sweden for over two months. S?ren had been seventeen years old and Knud had taken him ice-fishing. They had put snow tires on Knud’s Citro?n, set off in severe frost and brilliant sunshine, and driven across the ice to Sweden. A state of enjoyable mayhem had reigned on the ice with cars weaving gingerly in and out between each other, people on foot chatting as they pulled children on sleds, and skaters with scarves flapping in the wind. When they reached Sweden, they headed north. Knud had borrowed a friend’s cabin on an island.
“How can we fish when the lake is frozen solid?” a baffled S?ren had asked as they walked across the ice to the island. Knud winked conspiratorially at him.
They had lazed about all weekend. They played cards or Mastermind and ate chocolate in the cabin. They threw logs on the fire and went for a walk around the island. Knud had brought a dartboard and they played outside until the light faded, wearing gloves so they could hold bottles of beer without getting frostbite on their hands. Knud asked S?ren what was on his mind these days. S?ren’s initial reaction was that it was a weird question, but then he got the urge to confide in his grandfather. Tell him the things he thought about, the people he thought about, who his real friends were and who weren’t, why he had been bored on a school visit to the Royal Theatre for a stage version of Hosekr?mmeren, though he loved the original short story, why he didn’t have time for a girlfriend right now but there were some girls he liked; there was this girl in his class, her name was Vibe, she had completely green eyes.
It was evening now, there were millions of stars over Sweden, and they sat outside gazing at them, even though it was at least minus ten degrees. Knud made hot cocoa and warmed their sleeping bags by the fire and there they sat, like two fat caterpillars, in the darkness, in Sweden. Suddenly S?ren turned to his grandfather and raised a subject they rarely discussed.
“There’s a boy in my year called Gert. He lost his parents when he was ten years old. Car crash. He’s gone completely off the rails. He cuts school, he drinks, and never does his homework. I think he might be expelled. They say he used to live with his aunt. I don’t know him all that well. I think she got fed up with him. So he went into foster care. Two different homes. Finally, he was sent to boarding school. He’s back with his aunt now, but only until he finishes school. If he finishes, that is.”
Knud stared into the darkness. The constellations were clear and the darkness between them endless.
“But I’m not unhappy, Knud,” S?ren said. “I know Peter and Kristine are dead. I know they were my parents, and they loved me. But I’m not sad. Not about that.” He fell silent.
They sat next to each other without speaking for almost five minutes. Then, in a thick voice, Knud said, “Sometimes, when I look at you, I miss them so much I think my heart will break.”
S?ren said nothing, but he took Knud’s hand.
S?ren decided to go to work early rather than try to relax at home. The rising sun made the sky glow flaming red. The heater was on. S?ren switched on his radio but turned it off again. He needed silence to review the last few days. The College of Natural Science simultaneously fascinated him and drove him insane. Practically all its staff were friendly and helpful, and they had answered his questions willingly, yet he still felt as if he had made no progress. As if they weren’t telling him everything.
The forensic evidence turned out to be equally inconclusive. There were prints everywhere in Helland’s office. Anna Bella Nor’s, Johannes Tr?jborg’s, Professor Ewald’s, and Professor J?rgensen’s along with a million others. It made no sense. Nothing significant had been found on Helland, only a micro-layer of soap with a hint of lavender, which merely confirmed Helland had showered before going to work on the day he died. There were no prints, no skin cells, no sweat, and no saliva that wasn’t Helland’s. Everything confirmed if Helland had been murdered, it had technically happened three to four months ago.
The previous day S?ren had been informed that Professor Freeman had checked into Hotel Ascot. He was briefly cheered up by this; but a) Freeman was clearly here for the bird symposium, and b) S?ren didn’t for a moment believe that an ageing ornithologist from Canada had traveled to Denmark four months ago to infect Professor Helland with parasite eggs. Nevertheless, S?ren and Henrik went to pick him up at his hotel, and while in the car, S?ren wondered if his decision to interview Clive Freeman was an act of desperation rather than real investigation work. When you had nothing to go on, you clutched at straws. The interview did indeed prove to be a waste of time, and when he sent the professor home two hours later, the case had progressed no further. It remained bizarrely devoid of clues.
S?ren spent the rest of the day at his desk growing increasingly frustrated. Finally, he decided to turn the spotlight back on Erik Tybjerg, and just after 4 p.m. he returned to the Natural History Museum. This time, his first port of call was the reception, but the receptionist was unable to help him.
“By the way, you’re not the only person looking for him,” the young woman behind the counter added. S?ren was exasperated. What kind of workplace was this where you could just vanish without anyone taking the slightest notice? He asked to speak to the head of the institute. The young woman gave him a skeptical look but picked up the telephone and dialed a number. Ten minutes later a man appeared and introduced himself as Professor Fjeldberg. He was bony and gray, but his eyes sparkled.
“How can I help you?” he said, politely.
“I’m Superintendent Marhauge,” S?ren said, showing him his badge. “I would like to see Dr. Tybjerg’s office. I’ve been looking for him for the last two days in connection with the death of Professor Helland. I would like to stress Dr. Tybjerg isn’t a suspect, but I would very much like to talk to him to establish Professor Helland’s movements up to his death.” S?ren sounded like he was reading from a script, and the older man looked at him for a long time.
“You know very well I can’t let you into Dr. Tybjerg’s office without a warrant.”
S?ren looked resigned. Professor Fjeldberg continued: “But I’ll allow it this once. I, too, have been wondering where he is.”
They followed a different path through the confusing building, and it wasn’t until they reached the windowless corridor that S?ren realized where they were: in the basement facing the University Park. They entered the laboratory in front of Tybjerg’s office, and S?ren had a look around. The room looked unused. The trash cans were empty and the microscopes were shrouded.
“Here you are,” Fjeldberg said when he had unlocked the door to Tybjerg’s office. “How long will you need?”
“Twenty-five minutes,” S?ren said.
Fjeldberg lingered in the doorway. “Is it true about the parasites?” he asked, hesitantly.
S?ren groaned inwardly. “What do you mean?” he said, feigning ignorance.
“Is it true that Helland died because he was riddled with parasites?”
S?ren laughed briefly. “You know I can’t discuss the case with you. But the parasite story is news to me.”
“I knew it couldn’t be true!” Fjeldberg exclaimed triumphantly, and marched down the corridor.
“Damn, damn, damn,” S?ren muttered to himself as Fjeldberg’s footsteps faded away. The parasite rumor was spreading like wildfire. He entered Tybjerg’s office. It was small and full to bursting without being messy. There were bookcases on two walls, a display cabinet against the third, and a desk against the fourth. No old mugs or glasses, no journals lying around. Tybjerg had around fifteen classical music CDs lined up next to his computer, but otherwise very few personal possessions were in evidence.
S?ren studied the room for a long time. It looked like something out of an IKEA catalogue rather than the office of a real human being. He read the book spines and discovered that Dr. Tybjerg’s own publications took up almost two shelves. They were mostly journals with Post-it notes attached to the pages where his articles appeared, but there were also a dozen books with his name on the title page. His most recent work was a reference book on birds that had been published earlier that year, S?ren read on the title page. An A to Z of Modern Dinosaurs, it was called.
Hey, what was this? He pulled out a thick volume and discovered a beaker with a toothbrush and a disposable razor behind it. He removed more books and his eyes widened. Shaving cream, shampoo, a bottle of aftershave, a cheap plastic comb, stacks of clean underwear, socks rolled up in pairs, three pairs of jeans folded double. When he searched the other shelves, he found personal items behind every book. More clothes, more toiletries, four novels, a stamp collection, a blanket, a torch, an old-fashioned Walkman, and a bag of audio books, including Lord of the Rings.
When S?ren had checked everything, he replaced the books and once again the office became bland and impersonal. Behind the door he discovered a fold-out bed, without its mattress. Weird. S?ren looked inside the bin, but it was empty. Then he caught sight of a card sticking out between two books. He pulled it out. It was a colorful postcard from Malaysia, the handwriting was sloped and childish. Malaysia is great, but the food very spicy. Will be home soon. Cheers, Asger. A postcard from a friend. He glanced at his watch, then he scribbled down his telephone number on a piece of paper and put it on Dr. Tybjerg’s keyboard. He left the office with one clear goal: to find Tybjerg. He heard Fjeldberg’s footsteps in the corridor.
On their way back to civilization, S?ren tried to quiz Professor Fjeldberg about Dr. Tybjerg, but it proved to be difficult.
“He’s good,” Fjeldberg kept stressing. “Very good. Plenty of publications, a visionary. But not terribly well liked.”
“He’s rather eccentric,” Fjeldberg said, bluntly. “But then again, who isn’t around here?”
“Can you be more specific?” S?ren pressed him. Fjeldberg thought about it.
“Erik Tybjerg has been as**sociated with this museum since he was fourteen years old. I first heard about him through a friend who worked with his foster father, and I contacted him at the beginning of the 1980s. Tybjerg has a photographic memory and he knows everything there is to know about birds. I tasked him with reviewing the collection, and he organized and arranged the whole thing and has been maintaining it ever since. He knows every bone fragment and every feather in every drawer. He graduated as a biologist, but though he has been a fixture in this place for the last twenty-five years, I don’t really know him. We’ve worked together on several occasions, most recently in connection with a feather exhibition currently on public display upstairs. You must have experienced this yourself: some people you just can’t get close to. Dr. Tybjerg is one such person. He always talks about his subject in an odd, rather chanting manner, and he works nonstop. My wife will tell you I work far too much, you have to in this business. The competition is very stiff. But I’m a slacker compared to Dr. Tybjerg. He’s always here. In the Vertebrate Collection, in the corridor outside the collection, in his basement office, or in the cafeteria. Always. Last year, I even ran into him on Christmas Eve.” Fjeldberg looked at S?ren and added. “I had left my wife’s Christmas present behind in my office, and I stopped by around 3 p.m. to pick it up. All the lights were off, and I could have sworn I was alone. Suddenly I heard footsteps. I turned around, thinking it must be the security guard, but it was Tybjerg. He was carrying a bag of shopping and seemed to be in a good mood. We wished each other a Merry Christmas and as he was about to leave, I casually said, ‘Aren’t you going home for Christmas?’ He muttered something, but when I asked him to repeat it, he gave a different answer. He said he was an atheist. Like I said, he didn’t seem sad at all, or I would have invited him to spend Christmas with us—I mean, if he had no family to go to. But he seemed fine. Scientific work clearly is his whole life.”
S?ren looked at Fjeldberg. They were back at the main entrance, where he had been met less than an hour ago.
“There’s something I don’t understand,” S?ren said. “Dr. Tybjerg’s relatively young, he’s talented, he publishes prolifically, he’s dedicated and hard working, but according to your administrator with whom I spoke yesterday, he has never been offered tenure. Why on earth not?”
Professor Fjeldberg sighed, and S?ren’s seismograph reacted.
“Personally, I’m not surprised—it’s a rare thing. We have to be selective, and there are many high-quality candidates out there.” Fjeldberg looked straight at S?ren. “What does puzzle me is how Tybjerg manages to work here as though he had tenure. He must have found a way, I can see that, but where does he find the money to fund his research? Of course, he has worked with Helland on several of his projects, but that . . . that’ll come to an end now. I imagine he will be forced to apply for jobs abroad, and I think that would be a good thing. This is a very small pond, if you catch my drift. Dr. Tybjerg is hugely overqualified, scientifically speaking, but his social skills are poor. The University of Copenhagen is completely the wrong place for someone like him. Too many sharp elbows, too much professional jealousy, and meager prospects for an oddball like Tybjerg who can’t teach, nor should he; he should be allowed to get on with his specialized research. That would be the ideal solution: Enough money to invest in scientists with social and educational skills and also in experts who research exclusively within a narrow field. But we don’t have the money, it’s as simple as that. So we only hire people with sound subject knowledge and teaching qualifications, i.e., people who can get along with others and teach them something.”
“And Dr. Tybjerg isn’t one of those?”
“No,” Fjeldberg as**serted with a forceful smile. “He isn’t.”
“Do you know Anna Bella Nor from Helland’s department?”
“Yes. Well, that’s to say, I know she’s his postgraduate student.”
S?ren nodded. “And Tybjerg’s. According to Anna Bella, he’s her external supervisor, so he must have some teaching skills?”
Fjeldberg looked genuinely surprised. “Tybjerg? That sounds like a rather suspect arrangement between Helland and Tybjerg. According to university rules you cannot supervise a postgraduate student unless you have tenure. But you know . . .” he suddenly looked reflective. “There has been a lot of belt-tightening here these last few years. The government has cut our grants to the point where it’s beyond a joke. At times we are forced to bend the rules to keep the wheels turning. Don’t quote me on that,” he added quickly.
“You don’t know how things are done here,” Fjeldberg sighed. “And I don’t want to make waves. In three years I’ll become an emeritus professor, and I’ve got my retirement all planned. A cottage, some grandchildren, a happy old age.”
“Okay,” S?ren said. “Off the record. You have my word.”
Fjeldberg looked relieved. “I think Helland helped Tybjerg on the quiet. He probably had his reasons, but that’s none of my business. Personally, I would never have picked someone like Tybjerg for my successor; I would have chosen a candidate likely to have a future with the university. Dr. Tybjerg will never get tenure here,” Fjeldberg said again, and then he laughed. “He might be an expert, but he’s also a misfit and since our system barely tolerates experts, it certainly won’t accommodate experts who are misfits. Impossible.”
He looked at his watch. “I’m afraid I’ll have to end our meeting. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
S?ren shook his head.
“I’ll call you if there is. Thanks for your help so far.”
“Don’t mention it.” Professor Fjeldberg rose and unlocked the door to the museum with a key attached to a snap hook in his trousers. S?ren remembered something.
“Excuse me, Professor Fjeldberg!”
The old man turned around.
“What did you think he said to you, back then?” S?ren asked.
Fjeldberg looked momentarily thrown.
“Dr. Tybjerg,” S?ren explained. “What was it you thought you heard him say when you bumped into him that Christmas?”
Fjeldberg’s face lit up. “Ah . . . well, I’m almost certain that he said, ‘This is my home.’” Fjeldberg looked wistful and shrugged. Then he was gone.
When S?ren parked his car under Bellah?j police station twenty minutes later than his usual arrival time, the sun had risen fully and the sky retained only a faint hint of pink. Linda was already there, and he could smell coffee.
“There are pastries, if you want some,” she said, pointing to a plate on her desk.
“Any news regarding Johannes Tr?jborg?” S?ren asked, prodding one of the pastries.
“No,” Linda replied. “I called him several times, yesterday and this morning.” She showed him a list. “But it goes straight to voice mail.”
S?ren pursed his lips and said: “Please would you get Henrik for me? If he’s not busy, we’ll go to Johannes Tr?jborg’s home in half an hour. I’ve got to speak to him.”
“And Dr. Tybjerg?” S?ren asked, feeling weary now.
“No luck there either,” Linda said. “Answering machine at the university, no reply to e-mails, and when I tried his cell I got a recorded message telling me the number was no longer in service.”
“Oh,” S?ren said, raising his eyebrows. “Didn’t it go to voice mail when you called it the other day?”
“Yes, it did,” Linda confirmed, “and when I called the telephone company, they informed me that Dr. Tybjerg’s cell had been disconnected because he hadn’t paid his bills. They had sent three reminders.”
S?ren nodded and turned to enter his office.
“I nearly had an argument with them,” Linda added. “Imagine, they cut off his cell because he owed them 209 kroner. Petty, don’t you think?”
“Rules are rules,” S?ren said.
“Yes, but even so. Such a tiny amount. I think that’s mean.”
“Just as well you work for the police and not for the telephone company, then. Your generosity would soon bankrupt them.” He had an idea and looked at Linda. “Tell me, did we ever check his address with the National Register of Persons?”
“You mean: did I ever check it?” She sent him a teasing look. “I did. It’s twenty-six M?gevej, second floor apartment in northwest Copenhagen.”
“Thank you,” S?ren said and went into his office. A moment later he stuck his head around the door.
“I think I’ll take a rain check on the pastries,” he said. He was starting to see parasites everywhere.
Less than thirty minutes later there was a knock on his door and Sten appeared.
“Am I interrupting you?”
“No, come in.”
Sten closed the door behind him. “I’ve finally ploughed through Johannes Tr?jborg’s e-mails. There was a lot of them.” Sten took a seat opposite S?ren’s desk.
“We already knew he was fighting with Helland from Helland’s computer, but . . .” Sten flicked through a pile of papers. “Yeah, here it is. It would appear that Lars Helland wasn’t the only person at the Department of Cell Biology and Comparative Zoology to receive mysterious e-mails.”
S?ren leaned forward, intrigued now.
“Someone calling himself YourGuy sent three e-mails to Johannes in the last four weeks.” Sten read aloud from a sheet:
“I want to see you again. Don’t you get it? Call me! And the next one: I’m crazy about you. I’m beside myself with desire because of what you let me do to you. Call me!” S?ren and Sten exchanged knowing glances. Sten read on:
“Hi, Jo. I crossed a line the other day. Sorry. I lost the plot because you’re so gorgeous. I’ve tried getting hold of you all week, but you won’t come to the door or take my calls. I respect you don’t want to, but can we talk, please?” Sten lowered the sheet.
S?ren drummed his fingers on the table and looked out of the window.
“What can I say,” he said eventually. “Some kind of gay fling?”
“Take a look at this,” Sten said as if he hadn’t heard S?ren and handed him a printout of a photograph. It showed an androgynous person, which S?ren took to be a man due to the flatness of the chest underneath the corset. The hair was scraped back in oily furrows, the clothes were tight-fitting black leather, and he wore fishnet stockings. The lips were painted scarlet and the lipstick was smeared on one side, as if the lips were bleeding or had just been kissed. The eye makeup was theatrical. Thick lines of kohl and a decorative spider’s web spread its silvery threads toward the left temple.
“Who’s that?” S?ren asked.
“I’m convinced it’s Johannes,” Sten replied. And now S?ren could see it too. In a flash, Johannes’s features grew visible behind the make-up. S?ren gasped.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he said.
“Johannes is a goth,” Sten explained.
“A goth?” S?ren frowned.
“It’s a subculture. I read about it on the Internet. Men and women worshiping the darkness and dressing up as everything from Count Dracula to dominatrixes in leather corsets. They love black-and-white makeup, and they have tons of piercings. The photo is from the Red Mask, which appears to be the most active goth club in Copenhagen. The club is open the first Friday of every month, and as far as I can see, its fame extends beyond Denmark. Photos are always published on the club’s website. The caption below the photo simply says ‘3rd September 2007.’ That’s why I thought it had to be him.” Sten smiled wryly before he continued: “Elsewhere on the website he calls himself Orlando, but his alias doesn’t appear to be an attempt to disguise his identity, more like a part of the game that goths appear to be playing. Seriously!” he added, when he saw the skeptical expression on S?ren’s face. “They act out Count Dracula parties. It seems rather appealing. A club that practices tolerance, acceptance, and community. The goth scene, as far as I’ve been able to establish, appears to be a reaction to 1980s punk. Punks must have a particular look and share the same views. The goths have no time for that. No code, no core, no truth. That’s their slogan. The unique, personal expression is everything.”
“Is it a gay club?” S?ren asked.
“No. Like I said: no code, no rules,” Sten said. “Gays are welcome as are straight people. Many people show up in normal clothes and never reveal which team they play for.”
“No sex?” S?ren asked.
“No, no sex. That’s probably why nobody bothers to disguise their identity. Johannes isn’t the only one whose name is published. All that’s kept secret is where events take place. If you want to take part, you sign up to a text message list. You get a text informing you when the next event is taking place, a few hours before doors open. The venue changes every time. Probably to avoid interfering neo-Nazis and other troublemakers.” Sten shrugged.
“I don’t get the impression that anything shady happens there,” he went on. “We’re talking about a group of adults with a penchant for horror, thrills, and darkness; who like to dress up. However, there are many overlappers on the goth scene.”
“People who are part of the goth culture and also active on the fetish scene, and let me tell you something. The goth scene may be open, but the fetish scene is hermetically sealed, like a frightened oyster. That club is called Inkognito. The same people are behind the monthly club events, but strict rules govern fetish arrangements. There’s a total ban on pictures. Fetishists are usually older than people from the goth scene and typically more established with families and senior executive jobs, so consequently they’re more protective of their privacy. The fundamental difference between the goth and fetish scenes is obviously sex. Fetish events take place in dark rooms where people can enjoy themselves anonymously. The sexual activities are fairly hard-core. You can be spanked, have clamps attached to your nipp**les, be suspended from the wall by pulleys and weights, there’s Japanese bondage and things I had—obviously—never heard of until I read about it on the net late last night.” Sten grinned at S?ren. “But anyway, everyone’s anonymous, even when they’re hav**ing se**x. You find a partner and do your thing. Johannes received several e-mails announcing fetish events, so I believe there’s a good chance he was active on both scenes. I imagine Orlando met YourGuy at an event in one of the two clubs and has now gone missing because he’s hiding from YourGuy. He sounds creepy to me,” Sten added, snapping his fingers against the printouts.
S?ren pondered this. “And you don’t think YourGuy is just suffering from a regular crush and his tone is a bit rough because people on that scene talk to each other like that?”
Sten nodded. “You may be right, but what really got me thinking is that YourGuy’s address is anonymous, or fictitious. He lists it as ‘Donald Duck, 2200 Ducktown.’ You can do that with free e-mail accounts. You can create an anonymous address, just like the person who e-mailed threats to Helland, and you can call yourself anything, Donald Duck or Bill Clinton, and if you also use an Internet café, well, then you’re completely untraceable. The account was created on the eighth of September this year, and only three e-mails were ever sent from it: on the twelfth and the sixteenth of September, and four days ago, on the seventh of October. Of course I’ve spoken to the owner of the Internet café, whose server I’ve traced the e-mails to, but he just laughed when he heard my request. The café has twenty computers spread across three small rooms and has approximately two hundred users per day. They’ve no idea who comes and goes, so anyone could have written those e-mails. All we can be sure about is that he definitely didn’t want to be identified, but why be secretive if it’s just a regular crush?”
S?ren nodded slowly.
“Why do you think that Johannes is gay? You’ve suggested this a couple of times.” Sten wanted to know.
“It hasn’t been confirmed yet. I think he might be, but Anna Bella Nor says he isn’t. Why?”
Sten looked pensive. “I googled Orlando. It’s the name of the central character in a novel by Virginia Woolf, written in 1928. Orlando is a young man who lives for four hundred years and is transformed into a woman along the way . . .”
“And?” S?ren looked at Sten.
“I don’t think Johannes is gay at all,” Sten replied. “Members post comments after parties on the homepage of the Red Mask. Johannes is clearly a big hit among the women, and he flirts so much the temperature rises in cyberspace. I think he’s experimenting with his feminine sides, and we’re sufficiently ignorant to confuse it with homosexuality.”
There was a knock on the door. Sten rose and Henrik entered.
“I think we’re done, anyway,” Sten said and nodded to Henrik. He stopped on his way out.
“Good luck with your shiny new clue,” he said, shaking his head as he left.
S?ren banged his forehead against the desk.
“Er, what’s going on?” Henrik asked him. He stood with his arms folded across his chest, looking like a tough guy.
“I’ve lost my touch,” S?ren groaned into his blotting pad.
They left the station and S?ren drove down Frederikssundvej.
“Why didn’t you take Borups Allé? I thought we were going to Vesterbro?”
“There’s something we need to check out first,” S?ren replied. “Johannes Tr?jborg isn’t our only missing person. Dr. Tybjerg hasn’t responded to telephone calls, to e-mails, or even the friendly note I left on his desk. He lives on M?gevej, so I thought we might drop in on the way.” They drove on in silence.
S?ren and Henrik had been buddies since the police academy. During the short drive from Bellah?j to M?gevej, it struck S?ren that they might have drifted apart. Henrik usually sat in the passenger seat, ranting about his family. He would tell anecdotes about his motorbike and trips he had taken on it. Or he would moan about women or football, or how he was thinking of taking English lessons because his kids were so good at English now they took the piss out of his pronunciation. When S?ren turned into M?gevej and found an empty parking space in front of number twenty-six, he was acutely aware of how long it was since Henrik’s tirades had stopped.
S?ren let the key dangle in the ignition. He had never told Henrik about Maja. What if Henrik wanted to know more? S?ren couldn’t bear to talk about it, so he hadn’t said anything. He had not told a living soul. He was alone with his grief, and now it had become encapsulated like a glass splinter.
“Fuck, my head hurts,” Henrik exclaimed. He flexed one foot impatiently.
“Did you go out last night?” S?ren asked.
“Yes, I met someone . . .” he began, but then he stopped, as if he had already said too much. “We had a few beers, you know.”
“What, you and Lau?” S?ren asked. Lau Madsen was a mutual friend and colleague.
Henrik grinned sheepishly.
“No, it . . . oh, f**k it. I’ve screwed up. I’ll tell you about it some other time.”
S?ren stayed put, his hands on the steering wheel.
“So how about it?” Henrik snapped. “I thought we were looking for that Tybjerg guy, or what?”
S?ren wasn’t listening. “I know why you’ve become so secretive,” he said. “And I’m sorry.”
“What are you talking about?” Henrik asked.
S?ren’s voice thickened and he stared at his hands. “I’m apologizing to you. I know you can’t be friends with someone who never gives you anything back.” He didn’t know what else to say.
Henrik watched him. S?ren could feel his eyes boring into him.
“Why don’t we do this some other time?” Henrik said. “I’ve had enough. And that’s putting it mildly. Let’s go.”
Henrik got out of the car and went to the front door to read the names of the residents. S?ren observed him through the windscreen. An uncomfortable feeling of anxiety fluttered inside his chest.
“His name’s not here,” Henrik stated when S?ren joined him. “There’s no Erik Tybjerg on the list. Are you sure it’s number twenty-six?”
S?ren stood next to Henrik and they noticed it at the same time. Someone had stuck a white label on top of the original name for the second floor apartment. It read K. Lindberg. S?ren peeled away a corner and, as expected, the name underneath read: Tybjerg.
Before S?ren had time to think, Henrik had rung the doorbell. They both straightened up and waited for someone to answer.
“He’s bound to be at work,” Henrik said, checking his watch. At that moment, a man came walking down the street with two heavy shopping bags. Henrik and S?ren were both thinking the same thing—that this must be the tenant—when the man stopped and faced them.
“You looking for me? Are you debt collectors?”
“Is your name Lindberg?”
“It is. Karsten Lindberg. Something wrong?”
“We’re police officers,” Henrik said, showing him his badge.
“What’s happened?” the man asked. He put down his shopping and looked frightened.
“Nothing,” S?ren replied gently. “It’s got nothing to do with you or any members of your family.”
Karsten Lindberg let out a sigh of relief. “Right, so what can I do for you?”
“You live here?”
“Yes, second floor apartment to the right. I’m renting it until next summer.”
“Dr. Tybjerg sublet it to you?”
“Yes,” the man replied, surprised.
“Do you know where Dr. Tybjerg lives while you rent his apartment?”
“Yes, I think so,” he said without delay. “More or less. Los Angeles. He’s a paleontologist or something like that, his subject is birds. He’s teaching at UCLA for two semesters.”
S?ren tried his utmost to hide his astonishment. “How did you make contact with Dr. Tybjerg?”
“He put up an ad at the H. C. ?rsted Institute. I’m a biochemist. I was looking for a place to stay, and I happened to see his ad on the bulletin board. What’s this about?”
“We’re looking for Dr. Tybjerg,” S?ren said. “Was it an unfurnished sublet?”
“No, it’s partly furnished. He removed all his personal belongings, but most of his furniture is still there. Suits me fine. It’s just a pit stop for me.”
“Do you have his address in California?”
“No, I have his e-mail address, but it’s a Danish university address. In fact, he was causing me a fair amount of hassle a few months ago. I started getting a lot of final demands addressed to him, and the electricity and the landline were cut off. I tried to get hold of Erik for two weeks, but no luck. In the end, I was really angry with him. At long last he got back to me. He said he had been away on a dig. The whole thing was stupid. We had agreed I would pay money into his account and he would pay the utilities, but once he had left, I didn’t hear from him. I presumed he had dealt with it. I certainly didn’t think he would just stop paying the bills. I got him to transfer the bills into my name, temporarily. It was much easier for both of us. He was free to look after his bones and excavations, and I could get the light back on in my fridge and my telephone working again. He asked me to put all the letters aside, and I have. To be honest, some of them look very serious, and I’ve e-mailed him about it but he hasn’t responded. What more can I do? I’m his tenant, not his mother. He had another letter from a debt collector recently,” he said and immediately looked shamefaced.
“I don’t really feel comfortable telling you all this. It’s his private business. But there you have it. Do you want his mail or not?”
“Yes, please,” S?ren said quickly. What Karsten Lindberg was offering was technically illegal, but it would save S?ren a lot of paperwork.
S?ren went upstairs with him to get the letters. He carried one of Lindberg’s grocery bags.
“What a nice cop you are,” Lindberg said and smiled.
Tybjerg’s apartment was small and impersonal. Two rooms and a stall shower in the kitchen. The kitchen cabinets were worn, and the windows needed cleaning. S?ren picked up fifteen letters from debt-collecting agencies and said good-bye. When he got back to the car, Henrik was reading a garden catalogue.
“I’m thinking I might get myself a tiller,” he said. “What do you think? Are you still a real man if you don’t have a tiller?”
“I don’t know about you,” S?ren said. “But I’m doing fine without one.”
“Your garden looks like shit,” Henrik sparred. They drove for a while in silence, then he added. “There’s no way Tybjerg is in LA.”
“No,” S?ren said. “But that’s what he told his tenant. I wonder why?”
They drove down Falkoner Allé in the direction of Vesterbro. Several times S?ren prepared to say something, but Henrik leaned back against the headrest and looked as if he was snoozing. S?ren drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and maneuvered the car effortlessly through the traffic. He felt totally isolated. They parked in Kongsh?jgade and Henrik let S?ren enter Johannes Tr?jborg’s stairwell first. The stairs were worn in the middle; it had to be at least thirty years since they were last renovated. On each landing lay scrunched-up juice cartons, sweet wrappers, cans, and in one place a rubber strap that had once been pulled tightly around an addict’s arm. The light worked on the first floor, but from then up all the bulbs were out, and the two men could barely see where they were going. It stank of urine.
“Jesus Christ,” Henrik commented softly.
“Yes, lovely place, isn’t it.”
At last they reached Johannes’s front door. It was quiet. Suddenly S?ren’s stomach lurched. Henrik stuck out his hand to ring the bell, but S?ren grabbed his arm.
“Look,” he said, pointing. The door was closed, but not completely. A faint crack, almost invisible in the dark stairwell, had caught S?ren’s eye.
“I’ve a bad feeling about this,” he said, taking a pencil from his bre**ast pocket and pushing the door. It swung open. The silence was deadly.
“We’re going in,” S?ren announced.
The apartment was, if possible, even darker than the stairwell. S?ren and Henrik stopped inside a small hallway with a kitchen to the left and a living room to the right. They could see a window, closed curtains, a cast-iron sofa with deep cushions and fabric draped across it; in front of the window was a dining table with four chairs. Henrik went into the kitchen and turned on the light. The kitchen was cluttered and filthy. Empty soft drinks bottles, stale food in opened containers, and a greasy grill, which had been removed from the oven but had never made it to the sink. It stank, and Henrik opened the door under the sink, which brought an over-filled trash can into view. S?ren took two pairs of rubber gloves and two pairs of shoe protectors from his inside pocket and handed one set to Henrik. He could see where this was going; he had been a police officer for far too long.
They checked the apartment carefully and discovered Johannes in the bedroom. It was a grotesque scene. In an abstract painting of blood, Johannes was lying in his bed, his comforter carefully tucked in, looking like he was asleep. The blood had come from a dark hole to the back of his head.
“Shit, Johannes,” S?ren exclaimed. The two men were silent for a moment. The bedroom smelled stuffy.
“The time is ten eighteen,” Henrik said laconically, took his cell and called for backup. Soon they heard the sound of approaching sirens. S?ren watched the body and, for once, he found it hard to suppress his feelings.
“Johannes is my best friend,” Anna had said.
The rest of the morning was pure routine. B?je, the Deputy Medical Examiner, and the team from Forensics arrived simultaneously. B?je quickly established that Johannes had been dead somewhere between twelve and twenty-four hours, which instantly filled S?ren with guilt because it meant Johannes had been alive while they were looking for him. Why the hell hadn’t he just answered his cell! The bloody trail on the floor proved Johannes had been killed in the living room, and B?je asked the crime scene technicians to look for the murder weapon, a hard, pointy object. It took the chief technician three minutes to locate it.
“Right there,” he said, waving his colleagues closer. They focused on one of the four decorative orbs on the corners of the cast-iron sofa.
“Blood, brain tissue, and hair,” the technician informed S?ren, who was watching from the hallway to avoid trampling on potential evidence.
B?je glanced at the finial from where he was in the bedroom doorway and announced, “Looks about right,” before resuming his work.
S?ren and Henrik left the apartment and watched from the landing while the technicians identified evidence on the floor, the walls, and on fabric. Flashlight exploded from their cameras, and S?ren scratched his head. His job now was to canvas the immediate neighborhood with door-to-door interviews. The coroner’s as**sistant arrived with a body bag and removed Johannes’s body; Johannes’s bed sheets and his mattress were sealed and taken away. B?je said good-bye and disappeared down the stairs. Just after 3 p.m. everything had been measured, photographed, and all the evidence collected. They had to wait for the autopsy, and it would be hours before they got any information. S?ren would be none the wiser until tomorrow. He instructed five teams of two officers each to ring doorbells. When the apartment had been sealed, he plodded down the stairs. It was snowing lightly, but even so, a crowd had gathered outside the house, staring nosily at the stairwell and the red-and-white police tape flapping in the wind. Another four officers arrived—S?ren waved them over and briefed them in the shelter of the stairwell. When they had been given their orders, Henrik joined S?ren. S?ren was freezing and couldn’t feel his wool socks, in fact, he couldn’t even feel his feet.
“We had better tell his parents,” S?ren sighed.
“I’ve taken care of that,” Henrik said, patting his shoulder. “I sent Mads and ?zlem.”
S?ren was grateful, and he listened to Henrik while he tried to memorize the faces of the spectators. The group was starting to break up, he thought, people were getting cold. Two elderly ladies, with granny trolleys and berets, were shifting from foot to foot next to three young men in neon pink quilted jackets and backpacks and a young woman with a child in a stroller. A younger guy was talking into his mobile, his cheeks were flushed and, to the far left, were a couple of women in their forties with two teenage children.
At the far end of the group was Anna.
She had put up her hood and her body language told S?ren she had just joined the onlookers and was trying to push her way to the front. Henrik was about to say something, but he made no sound, and he tried to catch S?ren’s eye. A frightened Anna looked at the building, the police cars, and the cordon and, for a fraction of a second, she looked straight at S?ren. Then she turned around. S?ren set off after her. Brusquely, he pushed Henrik aside, skidded across the pavement, got caught up in the tape, pushed the young guys out of the way, finally got free of the crowd, and ran out into the road. The street corner was 150 feet from the stairwell, and Anna had already turned it and was long gone. He was certain it had been her. Her eyes, her mouth, the hood covering her hair. He turned into Enghavevej. Traffic was heavy and slow, and he stopped. A bus started to pull out, the driver beeping his horn at the cars who refused to let him out. S?ren ran to the bus and tried peering inside, but the windows were steamed up. He banged on the side while he ran alongside it. He punched the tires, which began rolling, hammered on the door, and finally made eye contact with the driver.
“Get lost,” mouthed the driver. “Catch the next one.”
S?ren fumbled for his badge, but the traffic eased and the bus accelerated, leaving S?ren behind, cold and troubled.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Henrik shouted, when S?ren returned to Kongsh?jgade. He sent S?ren a furious look.
“I thought I saw someone,” S?ren said, avoiding Henrik’s eyes.
“Doesn’t matter. It wasn’t . . . him.”
Henrik narrowed his eyes. “Since when do you chase suspects on your own?”
“Since today,” S?ren said, wearily. “I’m sorry. I can’t make head nor tail of this case.”
Henrik was visibly annoyed.
“S?ren,” he said. “Every police officer has to accept that not every case will be closed. So far, you have solved every case you’ve ever been given. You may have to accept this could be your first unsolved case. It won’t kill you, nor will you be demoted to pounding the pavement, will you? Besides, it’s not over yet. We’ve only just started! You and I will wait like good little boys for B?je’s report and then we’ll come up with a battle plan, okay? Let’s call it a day. I’ll wrap things up here and catch a ride back with Mads. You go home. I’ll write the preliminary report.”
S?ren nodded and got into his car. He sat there for a while, trying to calm down.
S?ren drove down Falkoner Allé toward N?rrebro with a renewed sense of purpose. After crossing ?gade, he turned right and parked behind Anna’s block. He walked around to the front door and rang the bell. For a long time. No reply. He rang the next-door neighbor. Time passed, then he heard an elderly voice.
“Mrs. Snedker?” S?ren said, reading the name next to the bell. “I’m a police officer. Please will you let me in?”
He heard a noise and thought she was opening the door, but she appeared to have had second thoughts because she replied: “And why would I believe you?”
S?ren was taken aback. “Er, no why would you?” he said. Now what? The intercom hissed again.
“If you’re the chap who has been waiting for Anna,” the old voice snapped, “then I suggest you run back home to your mommy. We’re not interested in whatever garbage you’re peddling, or whatever it is you want. Be off with you.” She hung up and S?ren was left standing there. He took a few steps back and looked up at the building. On the fourth floor, opposite where Anna’s apartment had to be located, he saw an old lady in the window. She was watching him and when he looked back at her, she waved. He pressed the bell again.
“I’ve never seen you before,” the old lady said when she answered. “And don’t think I’m stupid enough to let in a stranger just because he claims to be a police officer.”
“Mrs. Snedker,” S?ren said with all the authority he could muster, “I’m going to give you a telephone number and you’ll call directory enquiries and find out whose it is. You’ll be told that it’s the duty officer at Bellah?j police station. Then you wait two minutes before you call the duty officer and ask him if he thinks it’s a good idea to let in a man who calls himself S?ren Marhauge who claims to be a policeman, and if he says yes, you let me in, all right? I’ll call them right now and give them my location. Do you follow?”
“Do you think I was born yesterday?” she said cheekily. “I promise you, sir, that I wasn’t. I was born long before you were even a twinkle in your mother’s eye.”
S?ren smiled. “Right, we have a deal, then.”
She hung up. S?ren called the duty officer and four minutes later, he had a call back to say his identity had been confirmed. A Maggie Snedker, born February 26, 1919, had just called. She had been highly suspicious, but they had reached an agreement in the end. The duty officer sounded amused. The intercom crackled and S?ren was buzzed into the stairwell.
Mrs. Snedker was waiting on the landing. Her arms were folded across her chest and she looked fierce, but S?ren detected an element of teasing in the corner of her eyes.
“You’re a long way up, Mrs. Snedker,” he panted, holding out his badge.
“You’re right. The air up here is too thin for weaklings like you.” She scrutinized his badge. “What do you want?”
“I urgently need to get ahold of your neighbor, Anna Bella Nor, and she won’t open her door or answer her telephone.”
“Now why wouldn’t Anna open her door to a nice cop such as yourself?” the old lady asked. She was elegantly dressed and had long red nails. He couldn’t believe she was over eighty. Her hair was thick, curly, and very soft, and S?ren wondered if it might be a wig. Elvira’s hair had turned silky and fine when she reached her early sixties, and she had had it cut quite short.
“What’s this about?” Mrs. Snedker asked. “That poor girl has suffered enough. First there’s that cad who abandons her and the baby. I’ve no time for him. Lily hadn’t even turned one. What a charlatan. Anna’s a good girl, she really is. But she’s unhappy. And when you’re very sad, you put on a brave face. She doesn’t fool me, though. So, what do you want?” The old lady’s eyes were as piercing as a nail gun.
“I’m afraid I can’t go into details, but it’s nothing very serious,” he as**sured her. “You wouldn’t have a spare key?” he tried.
“Of course I have, but I’m certainly not giving it to you.” Mrs. Snedker gave him a stern look; she measured him from head to foot, and he had a strong suspicion she was checking him out.
“Why don’t you join me for a drop of something?” she offered, looking at her watch. “It’s four o’clock and Anna is probably picking up her little munchkin from nursery school, such a cute girl. Can you believe it? Imagine deserting a little thing like that? Anna may not be the easiest woman in the world to live with, but then again, no one ever said living together was meant to be easy, eh? And what about the child? It’s been nearly two years since she last saw her father.” Mrs. Snedker leaned forward as she whispered the last sentence. S?ren picked up the scent of a dusty, heavy perfume. Mrs. Snedker turned resolutely on her heel and disappeared inside her apartment.
“Er . . .” S?ren began, but she ignored him. He followed her into a dark, rustic-style hallway and into her living room, the likes of which he had never seen. The floor was covered with thick-piled rugs, and there was no space left on the walls. Pictures in heavy gilded frames, plates and photographs, and on the end wall, broken only by the balcony door, there were books from floor to ceiling. A gramophone, which had to be at least fifty years old, sat in between the books. Mrs. Snedker was standing by a low drinks table, pouring a rust-colored liquid into two glasses.
“Ah, there you are.” She sounded delighted.
“I don’t drink while I’m on duty,” S?ren said, not very convincingly.
“Nonsense,” she said.
S?ren studied an old gun mounted on the wall. The metal was freshly polished and the woodwork was in good condition, but the weapon looked hundreds of years old.
“It used to belong to Count Griffenfeld,” Mrs. Snedker explained. She had followed his eyes. “Stunning example, isn’t it? Right, down the hatch.” She handed him a glass, knocked back her drink and frowned when S?ren swallowed only half of his. She went to the window and looked out.
“Oh, look, there they are,” she said, triumphantly. S?ren joined her. She was right. A figure, holding a small child by the hand, had just stepped out of a low, black wooden building Mrs. Snedker informed him was Lily’s nursery school. Anna was dragging the child, who was wearing a snowsuit.
“Just time for a little more Dutch courage, my friend. Now what’s that about?” She looked outraged at S?ren’s half-full glass. He put it down on the table.
“Listen,” he said. “What did you mean when you said someone had been waiting for Anna?”
“Of course,” Mrs. Snedker said. “I wouldn’t want to force you.” She emptied S?ren’s glass. “Well, you see. Twice this week, a man waited for Anna on the landing. Someone she doesn’t know. Or, at any rate, she can’t figure out who it might have been.”
“When exactly was he waiting for her?”
“When? When?” she snapped. “A couple of days ago. I no longer keep track of insignificant events. Two long days ago.” She refilled their glasses, and S?ren seriously considered whether alcohol might not be good for you after all. The old lady appeared strong and fearless.
“Please try to remember,” S?ren asked. “Was it yesterday? Was it last week?”
“Sorry,” Mrs. Snedker said. “My memory is still on summer time.” She pursed her lips. “Talking about summer time . . . would you mind terribly changing the clock on my video recorder to winter time? While we wait for Anna to drag the little piglet up four flights of stairs? Look, I’ve found the instructions, but that’s where my technical expertise ends.”
S?ren plodded obediently after Mrs. Snedker. She handed him a torch and a yellowing booklet. The VCR was from 1981. S?ren went down on all fours and started pressing various buttons until the clock was correct.
As he got up, Mrs. Snedker said, “How funny, my memory seems to have returned. I remember it vividly. The first time the man waited was Monday afternoon and the second time was Wednesday evening.” She beamed.
“No, May, ten years ago,” she teased him. “Of course it was last night! Yesterday, tenth of October.”
“Where was Anna, since he had to wait?”
“How would I know? Up to no good, I expect.”
“And Anna has no idea who he might have been?”
“No, she was convinced it was Johannes, a fellow she shares an office with at the university. Mainly because of his hair color. The man was wearing a hat, but I think some auburn hair stuck out from under it, and I told Anna that, which made her think it was Johannes. But I’m not so sure. I was busy closing my door. It could have been him, but how would I know?” Mrs. Snedker suddenly sounded hurt. “I’m not hired help here, am I?”
“What’s keeping them?” S?ren said, suddenly impatient. Even with a toddler in tow they should have been home by now.
“Perhaps it wasn’t them after all?” Mrs. Snedker shrugged.
S?ren gave her weary look. “Of course it was,” he said. “They must have gone somewhere else.”
“The supermarket in Falkoner Allé is probably your best bet. Another glass while you wait?”
“I’ll come back and talk to you later,” he said.
Mrs. Snedker pretended to be terribly flattered. “Perhaps you would be kind enough to buy me a small white loaf?” she called out after him.
S?ren spotted Anna and her daughter almost immediately. They were plodding along very slowly and had only just passed the spot where S?ren had parked his car. He followed them at a distance and when they crossed ?gade and walked down Falkoner Allé, he crossed to the other side and followed them on the pavement. He couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but he observed their body language. The child was walking at a snail’s pace. She kept stopping to look at things, and several times she sat down on someone’s doorstep. In one hand she held a soft toy, which she dragged along the muddy pavement. Anna seemed lethargic. Her body language told S?ren she needed every ounce of her strength to stay calm. One hundred feet from the supermarket, Lily sat down in the middle of the pavement. Anna pulled her arm. The situation boiled over and Anna stomped off after yelling at Lily so loudly that S?ren could almost make out the words. When Anna had almost reached the entrance, she stopped and buried her face in her hands. Lily was still sitting on the pavement, sobbing her little heart out and several passersby threw anxious looks at the toddler. Anna went back and picked Lily up. At first, the child kicked her legs in anger, but Anna whispered something in her ear and the crisis passed. For the time being, at least. Anna carried her daughter inside the supermarket, and S?ren crossed the road and entered as well. He waited at the entrance where some sad-looking flowers were hoping to find a buyer and watched Anna put a coin in a shopping cart, remove Lily’s snowsuit, and ease her into the child seat. Their first stop was the bakery at the front, where they bought a snail-shaped pastry for Lily. Anna took off her jacket and beanie and briefly looked up. S?ren took a step backward and when he looked out again, Anna and her cart had gone down an aisle. Her face was grimy and her hair flattened and greasy from the wool beanie.
Once they were out of sight, S?ren found a basket and started doing his own shopping. He trailed them around the store, keeping a suitable distance. He could hear snippets of their conversation. Lily wanted to get down from the cart. As soon as Anna lifted her down, she ran off. Anna caught her, and Lily laughed out loud. Anna wasn’t laughing. Anna grabbed her firmly to put her back in the child seat. Lily went rigid. The two of them struggled. S?ren watched them and felt an urge to pick up the child. The girl was the same size as Maja would have been, S?ren imagined. Not that he knew anything about children. Lily looked huge in Anna’s arms, like a wild animal Anna couldn’t control, but S?ren knew the child would be tiny in his arms. She would curl up like a mouse and fit perfectly inside his shirt pocket. Together, they could smell funny cheeses in the delicatessen or find a bicycle with training wheels and colored streamers on the handlebars while Mommy did the shopping.
“Now stop it, just stop it, Lily,” Anna screamed. “Do you understand? Or there will be no ice cream for a week, no, a whole month!”
Lily howled and Anna plunked her hard into the body of the cart and stormed off. They stopped at the vegetable section and Anna patted Lily’s cheek to make up. Lily sniffled. Anna hugged her.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “All we need now are some potatoes and we’ll be done.”
“Me do it,” Lily yelled.
“No, darling,” Anna said, exhausted. S?ren was very close to them now. Anna and Lily both looked dreadful. Tired, red-eyed, and run down, mother and child both. Lily got ready to throw another tantrum, so Anna lifted her out of the cart.
“Okay.” She gave in. “I’ll hold the bag and you put in the potatoes.”
“Lily help Mommy,” Lily insisted.
“Yes, darling, that’s right,” Anna said.
Lily picked up potatoes with both hands and dropped them into the bag.
“Gently,” Anna said.
“Gently,” Lily echoed.
“Gently, I said,” Anna repeated. Lily carried on. There were now ten potatoes in the bag. Lily picked up a large potato with both hands and hurled it into the bag.
“Right, that’s enough,” Anna said, and at that very moment the bag split and the potatoes rolled off in every direction.
“Oh, no,” Anna gasped. Her hands hung limply by her sides. It was all too much. “Now look what you’ve done.”
Lily started crying again.
“Come on, allow me,” S?ren said. He put down his basket, which contained a strange mix of groceries. “Let me help you, please?”
Anna straightened up and gave S?ren a look of disbelief. “What are you doing here?”
“Shopping,” S?ren said, innocently.
Anna started picking up the potatoes. “I’m not talking to you,” she snarled, keeping her eyes on the floor. “I’m not interested in anything you have to say. I don’t want to hear it.” She looked up at S?ren and her eyes glowed yellow.
“I’m going to pick up your potatoes,” S?ren said. “And then I’m going to carry your groceries and your kid home.”
“Oh no, you’re not,” Anna snarled.
“You bet I am,” S?ren said.
“Over my dead body,” Anna said, theatrically.
“Sure, if that’s how you want to do it,” S?ren replied, unperturbed.
Anna glared at him, but S?ren held his ground. She looked like shit. Scrawny and spotty, and Lily, in the cart, looked neglected, with tears down her cheeks, snot across her mouth, and a filthy teddy in her arms. Anna hadn’t even noticed the other shoppers staring at her and shaking their heads. A socially disadvantaged, impoverished single parent was precisely what she looked like. All that was missing were some beers and chips in her cart. But S?ren was bowled over. It was madness—he didn’t even like her. Contrary and stuckup, as she was. And he had only known her four days, during which time she had grown increasingly hostile to him. But he was completely smitten.
Lily refused to walk. Anna told her she had to, but Lily had made up her mind and was sitting down on the steps of a store that was closed. “No,” she declared and stuck out her lower lip in defiance. “You have to walk,” Anna repeated. S?ren was about to say something, but Anna turned to him when she sensed his lips moving.
“She has to walk. If she doesn’t, we can’t get home. I can’t carry all those bags, my books, and a child. I’m not strong enough.” She was on the brink of tears. S?ren emptied his groceries into Anna’s least full bag, tied the two remaining ones together, and hung them over his shoulders like a yoke. Without asking for permission, he lifted Lily and put her on his shoulders.
“Keep your feet still, or you’ll break the eggs,” he told her.
“Okay,” Lily said, proudly.
S?ren started walking and he soon heard Anna’s footsteps behind them. A gleeful Lily called out from her vantage point, “I can see all the cars in the whole world, I can see all the houses and all the boys and girls.”
Anna didn’t utter a word the whole way back, but when they reached the stairwell, she said, “Thanks for your help, I’ll take it from here.”
“Anna,” S?ren said, as he let Lily down. “I’m coming upstairs with you.” He was in no mood for an argument.
Lily, now rested, started to climb the stairs. Anna faced S?ren, her eyes brimming with tears.
“I know what you’ve come to tell me, and I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear it!”
“Anna,” he said gently, “it’s not going to go away just because I don’t tell you, and I have to talk to you. What the hell were you doing outside Johannes’s apartment? And why did you run?”
“Mooom,” Lily called out from the first floor landing. “I’m having a pee-pee in my snowsuit.”
“Shit,” Anna exclaimed. She raced up the stairs and tried running all the way to the top with Lily. Lily laughed. S?ren followed with the bags.
Mrs. Snedker was waiting for them on the fourth floor.
“Hi, Maggie,” S?ren heard Anna say. “Emergency. Lily needs the bathroom.”
“Aha,” Maggie said. “Is that nice cop with you?”
S?ren arrived in time to see Anna give Mrs. Snedker a baffled look, then she unlocked her front door and disappeared into the flat with Lily.
“Did you remember my bread?” Maggie asked him sternly.
“Yes, of course,” S?ren replied. He untied the knots on the shopping bags and handed her a paper bag from the bakery. Anna appeared in the doorway.
“Maggie, why don’t you go back to your own apartment? I’ll come and see you later, okay?”
The old lady nodded, disappointed, and left.
“Why did you give her your bread?” Anna asked while she unpacked her shopping.
“I bought it for her.”
Anna raised her eyebrows.
“I was waiting for you. In her apartment. We saw you from the window and when you didn’t come back, Mrs. Snedker thought you must have gone shopping, so I followed you,” he confessed.
“And she asked you to get her some bread?”
“And you did?”
S?ren nodded again. A tenth of a second later S?ren heard Anna laugh for the first time. It didn’t last long, but it suited her.
“We’ll have dinner first,” Anna said. “Then Lily needs to have a bath, and at seven o’clock I put her to bed. You’ll have to wait. I don’t want Lily seeing me when. . . . You can wait in the living room.”
S?ren watched her briefly. Could you do that? Postpone dealing with terrible news until a more convenient time cropped up? He went into the living room and sat down in a chair. Wasn’t that precisely what he had done, when he put the four baby pictures of Maja in a box in the basement? Pressed on as though nothing had happened? Lily peeked at him from the doorway, and he smiled at her. Anna came into the living room to fetch a bowl and glanced at him quickly.
“Do you have children?” she asked.
“I called you yesterday. Twice. Why didn’t you answer?” S?ren said, ignoring her question.
“I was . . . out,” Anna replied swiftly and headed back to the kitchen with the bowl.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that.”
S?ren sighed, then he wrinkled his nose.
It was the second time today he had been given the brushoff.