Death of the Demon: A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel (22 page)

BOOK: Death of the Demon: A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel
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“No, no,” the man protested obligingly, withdrawing his arm. “It’ll only take a moment.”

It was true. The next minute he was leaving the building with ten more thousand-kroner notes and a piercing pain underneath his breastbone.

Now he sat drinking. The thirteenth beer bottle was empty, and he moved the bottles around in a new pattern: an angular shape, or a flight of geese heading south, or a gigantic arrowhead. The bottle at the front was pointing directly at him.

“Bang,” he said softly. “You’re dead.”

He opened the fourteenth. Could he not knock over a bottle soon?!

Agnes had found out. That is to say, she had asked him if by any chance he had seen her checkbook. Straight out, just like that, without any kind of undertone whatsoever. Something that simply convinced him she suspected him. Of course he had denied it, and of course she had known. She informed him she had asked the bank to investigate whether the checkbook had been utilized and would receive a response the following day.

Bloody hell. He had been so certain no one knew about their relationship. He had never written to her, quite simply because he never wrote anything other than contracts.

How long would it take until the police discovered those checks?

He abruptly rose to his feet, knocking over two bottles. One fell onto the floor but did not break.

Now he might attempt to get some sleep. Staggering into the bedroom, he collapsed onto the bed fully clothed. It took some time before he finally dozed off.

The checkbook was still lying on the table surrounded by thirteen empty bottles and one that had toppled over.

9

T
his was the first truly beautiful day in ages. Although there was still a nip in the air and the temperature did not climb above zero degrees Celsius, there was a certain promise wafting in the breeze, indicating spring was not so terribly far away. The large grassy areas around Tøyen’s swimming pool had begun to lose their covering of snow, and the occasional tuft of grass had tentatively peeped above the soil, though the coltsfoot flowers still had the good sense to keep their heads down. The azure of the sky was intense, and although the sun had only just struggled above the horizon, Hanne Wilhelmsen regretted not bringing her sunglasses.

On the little hill between a huge, hefty statue of pale stone and Finnmarksgata, in the shelter of some bushes and raised high enough above the road that motorists were not paying particular attention to what was afoot, several colleagues from the Traffic Section had positioned themselves and were setting up a speed trap. Malicious, Hanne thought, smiling. There were two lanes of traffic in both directions with a substantial barrier between, almost resembling a little motorway. Every reasonably experienced motorist automatically assumed the speed limit was at least sixty kilometers per hour. Therefore, they drove at seventy. What they had failed to notice was there were no signs in the area, and so they were driving in a normal fifty-kilometers limit, as with everywhere else in a built-up area. Finnmarksgata was one of the state’s most reliable sources of income.

Loitering in order to watch them hauling in the first two sinners, she then strode on, shaking her head. She crossed Åkebergveien at twenty past seven, and half a minute later she was standing in the elevator at the police station. The superintendent happened to be there at the same time. A big man, he was firm and muscular, but above all extremely masculine. His clothing was unfashionably tight, something that definitely seemed tacky, but the strength of the broad face beneath his bald head nevertheless characterized him as attractive, an impression intensified by his unusually calm and pleasant disposition. Usually. At this moment he did not even spare her a glance.

“The early bird catches the worm,” he muttered to his reflection in the mirror.

“Yes, lots to do,” Chief Inspector Wilhelmsen replied, tidying her hair at the same mirror.

“Pop into my office, would you?” the superintendent asked imperiously, glancing at his watch.

The elevator tinkled as its doors opened, and they both stepped out onto the gallery encircling the enormous foyer.

“Right away?”

“Yes. Bring me a coffee too.”

She felt clammy, anticipating something unpleasant, when she called in at her own office to fetch the cup decorated with her star sign. In the reception area, no one had yet managed to activate the coffee machine, and she leisurely filled the tank with water and measured the requisite eight level spoonfuls. The receptionist appeared on the scene as the machine began to gurgle.

“Thank you sooo much, Hanne.” She panted with such a display of gratitude Hanne thought she detected a touch of irony. So many jugs of coffee were made in that reception area that Hanne sometimes wondered whether this was the reason they never kept pace with all the things they should actually be undertaking.

Having poured out coffee for herself and a paper cup for her
boss, she knocked on the door immediately adjacent to the reception. When she heard no response, she knocked once again, and when there was still no reaction forthcoming, though she was sure he was there, she ventured to open the door cautiously. A difficult task with a cup in each hand, resulting in her dropping the paper cup on the floor. The coffee splashed up her legs, scalding her even through her thick denim jeans.

The superintendent laughed heartily.

“Now you can see what happens when you don’t mind your manners,” he said, putting down the telephone receiver. “Astrid! ASTRID!”

The receptionist popped her head around the door.

“Pick that up and wipe up the mess, please.”

“But I can do—” Hanne began but was interrupted.

“Sit yourself down.”

She glanced apologetically at the secretary who, with rigidly pressed lips, squandered half a roll of paper towels wiping up the coffee with angry little movements before closing the door on the two police officers. Neither of them had uttered a word while she was cleaning. Hanne felt extremely uncomfortable.

“How are you enjoying being a chief inspector, Hanne?” he asked, now making eye contact with her.

She shrugged her shoulders slightly, unsure where this conversation was heading.

“All right. Sometimes very well, sometimes not so well. Isn’t that the way it goes?”

She smiled gingerly, but he did not return the compliment.

He tasted the fresh cup of coffee Astrid had grumpily set before him, so emphatically that some of it spilled. Noticing a light brown circle outlined on the blotter, his podgy forefinger extended it into a face resembling Mickey Mouse.

“You were an outstanding detective, Hanne. You know that, as do I and most others here at the station.”

A colossal
but
hovered, quivering, in the air between them.

“But,” he said eventually, “you must remember it’s different being a chief inspector. You have to lead. You have to coordinate. And you must
rely
on your subordinates. That’s the whole point. When Billy T. is appointed lead investigator in the foster home murder case, then he’s the one who has to do the investigating. It’s all fine and commendable that you’re interested and want to chase things up, but take care not to undermine your people.”

“He certainly doesn’t feel undermined,” Hanne objected, knowing he had a point.

“Of course he doesn’t,” the superintendent remarked, surprisingly tired and resigned, taking the hour of day into consideration. “You two are friends. He loves working with you. My God, the man would never have applied for a post away from the drug intervention unit if it hadn’t been for you. But you have other detectives working with you as well. Smart people, even though they’re young and inexperienced.”

“Have they complained?”

Hanne realized she could easily be perceived as feeling hard done by and hoped he understood that was not the case.

“No, they haven’t. But I sense there is something. And I notice you hobnob too much. For one thing, you’re difficult to get hold of. Out and about far too often.”

He yawned interminably, scratching his ear with a Bic pen.

“I supported you for this job, Hanne. There aren’t many officers your age who get chief inspector posts. The only reason there hasn’t been more grumbling is that everybody knows how clever you are. Don’t give that grousing a reason to flare up again, will you? I still think, in fact I
know,
that you can become just as good a chief inspector as you were a detective. But you really must give the job a chance. Don’t dash around like a chief inspector light or an officer deluxe, okay?”

They could hear loud chatter and laughter from the reception
area beyond. The police headquarters was filling up, with people who would accept Hanne Wilhelmsen’s job on the spot. A job she, right at this moment, would like most of all to jettison out the window. She felt downhearted, not so much because she hated being reprimanded as because she knew in her heart of hearts he was correct. She should never have agreed to apply for it. It was that
idiot
Håkon Sand who had persuaded her. Suddenly and unexpectedly, she missed him intensely. Billy T. was a great guy and they were well matched. They understood each other, often before either of them had said a word.

Håkon Sand, the police attorney she had worked with for so long, among other cases on a couple of dramatic and sensational murders, was a half-wit who stumbled his way forward through life one step or five behind everyone else. But he was wise. He listened. She let him down time after time, but he remained just as good-natured, just as obliging. The previous week, he had phoned and invited her to dinner and to have a look at his son, now barely three months old. The boy was even called after her, or almost, at least; his name was Hans Wilhelm. Håkon had asked her to be his godmother, an offer she had to turn down, although flattered, as she could not tell lies in a church. However, she had attended the christening four weeks earlier, though she had needed to leave early. Though disappointed, Håkon had smiled and encouraged her to phone him sometime soon. She had completely forgotten, until he, as happy as ever, had phoned again last week. However, she could not manage any of the days he had suggested.

She missed him. She would phone him today.

But first she had to devise something to say to her not very pleased boss. She had no idea how to begin.

“I’ll make a real effort,” she started. “Once this case is solved, I’ll really make an effort.”

“And how long is that going to take, Hanne?”

She stood up, but noticing an irritated gleam in his eye, sat down again.

“The best-case scenario, a day and a half. The worst-case scenario, one week.”

“What?”

Now she had impressed him and felt her mood lift a couple of notches.

“If I get a nibble on a little hook I’ve cast out, then most of it will be concluded by the weekend.”

Now the superintendent treated her to a real smile.

“Yes, yes, okay then,” he said. “Then at least you’ll have proved what we already know. You’re good at
investigating
 !”

He indicated that she could go, and Hanne offered up a silent prayer as she closed the door carefully behind her.

I just hope I haven’t been
too
much of a bigmouth saying that
 . . .

 • • • 

An hour later, Agnes Vestavik’s surviving marriage partner arrived in the police station at Grønlandsleiret 44 at nine o’clock on the dot. He was just as formally dressed as on his previous visit, but the past demanding week had cost him a couple of kilos in weight. This time Billy T. had more sympathy for the man, something he admitted to himself with a certain irritation.

However, the figure facing him would have forced the most hardened cynic to display a touch of sympathy. The man’s hands were trembling, and his eyes had taken on a permanent red tinge, from the soft skin surrounding them all the way into the whites of his eyeballs. His skin was pale and clammy, and Billy T. persuaded himself the pores on his face had not been as prominent at their first meeting.

“How’s it going, Vestavik?” he asked in such a friendly tone that the man stared at him in surprise. “Are things terribly difficult?”

“Yes. It’s worst at night. During the day, there’s such a lot to do. The boys are at home again; the eldest has taken a couple
of weeks off from folk high school to help out with Amanda. Although my mother-in-law’s fantastic, it’s not really so easy . . . You know, mothers-in-law . . .”

Billy T. had never in his life needed to relate to a mother-in-law but nevertheless nodded in agreement. They were probably hardly any better than their daughters when things went awry.

“So now you’d prefer her to leave, is that it?”

The man nodded, grateful for all this unexpected understanding.

“Well,” Billy T. said, “that can be quickly achieved.”

Leaning to the left, he pulled open a drawer and fished out a large transparent plastic bag. Inside was a kitchen knife with a wooden handle that he placed before Odd Vestavik, who instinctively recoiled in his chair.

“It’s been washed. There’s no blood on it,” Billy T. reassured him.

The other man stretched a slim hand toward the bag, but stopped in midmovement, looking quizzically at Billy T.

“It’s okay,” the police officer nodded. “Just have a closer look at it.”

The man scrutinized the object for a long time. Quite an unnecessarily long time. Billy T. shuddered. Here sat this poor man having to examine a knife that had been stabbed right into his wife’s back. And that also had perhaps chopped up countless slices of meat for school sandwiches prior to that, at home in a cozy kitchen at the heart of a friendly nuclear family.

“Is it yours?”

“I can’t swear that this one is ours,” the man said quietly without taking his eye off the knife. “But we had one exactly like it. Absolutely identical, as far as I remember.”

“Try to find some particular mark,” Billy T. encouraged him. “On the handle, for instance. It’s made of wood and might have some special characteristic. There are a couple of nicks there.”

BOOK: Death of the Demon: A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel
9.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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