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Authors: Anne Holt

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What Never Happens

BOOK: What Never Happens
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2004 by Anne Holt

English translation copyright © 2008 by Kari Dickson

Originally published in Norwegian in 2004 as
Det som aldri skjer.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Grand Central Publishing

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

First eBook Edition: February 2008

Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-446-51139-1

Contents

Also by Anne Holt

Dedication

Preface

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Thursday, June 4, 2004

Postscript

About the Author

Also by Anne Holt

What Is Mine

“For people today, only one radical shock remains—and it is always the same: death.”
—Walter Benjamin,
Central Park

She no longer knew how many people she had killed. It didn’t really matter anyway. Quality was more important than quantity in most professions. And that was true of her business too, although the pleasure she once gained from an innovative twist had dwindled over the years. More than once, she’d considered what else she might do. Life was full of opportunities for people like her, she thought to herself every now and then. Bullshit. She was too old; she felt tired. This was the only thing she could really do. And it was a lucrative business. Her hourly rate was sky-high now, naturally, but so it should be. It took a while to recover afterwards.

The only thing she really enjoyed was doing nothing. And where she was now, there was nothing to do. But she still wasn’t happy.

Perhaps it was a good thing that the others hadn’t come, after all. She wasn’t sure.

The wine was certainly overrated. It was expensive and left a sour taste in her mouth.

One

T
o the east of Oslo, where the hills flatten out down toward Lørenskog, a station town by the Nita River, cars had frozen solid overnight. People on foot pulled their hats down over their ears and wrapped their scarves tighter around their necks as they trudged the few punishing miles to the bus stop on the main road. The houses in the small cul-de-sac fended off the frost with drawn curtains and snowdrifts that blocked the driveways. Huge icicles hung from the eaves of an old wooden villa at the end of the road down by the woods, disasters in waiting.

The house was white.

Inside the front door with its leaded glass and molded brass handle, at the end of the unusually spacious hall to the left, in a study that was dominated by minimalist art and lavish furniture, sitting behind an imposing desk between boxes of unopened letters, was a dead woman. Her head had fallen back, and her hands rested on the arms of her chair. A trickle of dried blood ran from her lower lip, down her bared neck, split around her breasts, and then joined again on her impressively flat stomach. Her nose was also bloody. In the light from the ceiling fixture, it looked like an arrow pointing to the dark hole that had once been a mouth. Only a stump remained of her tongue, which had obviously been carefully removed. The cut was clean and sharp.

It was warm in the room, almost too hot.

Detective Inspector Sigmund Berli from the Norwegian National Criminal Investigation Service, the NCIS, finally closed his cell phone and looked over at a digital thermometer just inside the southeast-facing panorama window. Outside, it was seventeen degrees.

“Amazing that the windows don’t break,” he said, carefully tapping the windowpanes. “Nearly fifty-five degrees difference between inside and outside. Incredible.”

No one seemed to pay him any attention.

Under her silk robe with its golden collar, the dead woman was naked. The belt lay on the floor. A youngish policeman from the Romerike police took a step back when he saw the yellow coil.

“Shit,” he gasped, then ran his fingers through his hair in embarrassment. “I thought it was a snake or something.”

The woman’s missing body part lay beautifully wrapped in paper on the blotter on the desk in front of her, only the tip protruding from the middle of all the red. A plump, exotic plant; pale flesh with even paler taste buds and purple red-wine stains in the folds and cracks. A half-empty glass of wine was balanced on a pile of papers near the edge of the desk. The bottle was nowhere to be seen.

The detective sergeant cleared his throat. “Can’t we at least cover her breasts? It just seems cruel that she has to . . .”

“We’ll have to wait,” Sigmund Berli replied as he put his phone back into his breast pocket. “I’m going to keep trying.”

He went down on one knee to get a closer look at the dead woman.

“Adam would be interested in this,” he muttered. “So would his wife, for that matter.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Do we know anything about the timing yet?”

Berli stifled a sneeze. The silence in the room made his ears ring. He got up and needlessly brushed dust from his pants with stiff movements. A uniformed policeman was standing by the door to the hall. He had his hands behind his back and was shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he stared out the window, away from the body. Some Christmas lights still hung in one of the spruce trees. Here and there, you could see the bulbs glowing dimly under the branches and tightly packed snow, where it was dark.

“Does nobody know anything here?” Berli barked in irritation. “Don’t you even have an estimated time of death?”

“Yesterday evening,” the other man eventually replied. “But it’s too early—”

“To say,” Sigmund Berli finished his sentence. “Yesterday evening. Pretty vague, in other words. Where’s—”

“They’re away every Tuesday. The family, that is. Husband and daughter, who’s six. If that’s what you . . .” The sergeant smiled uncertainly.

“Yes,” Berli said and walked halfway around the desk.

“The tongue,” he started and peered at the package on the desk. “Was it cut off while she was still alive?”

“Don’t know,” the sergeant answered. “I’ve got all the papers for you here. As we’ve finished examining everything and everyone’s back at the station, you might—”

“Yes,” Berli said, but the sergeant wasn’t sure what he was agreeing with. “Who discovered the body if the family was away?”

“The housekeeper. A Filipino man who comes every Wednesday morning at six. He starts down here, he said, so he doesn’t wake anyone too early, and then works his way up. The bedrooms are upstairs, on the second floor.”

“Yes,” Berli repeated with no interest. “Away every Tuesday?”

“That’s what she said,” the sergeant answered. “In all the interviews and such. She sends her husband and daughter out every Tuesday. Then she goes through all her letters herself. It’s a matter of principle—”

“Right,” mumbled Berli cynically as he stuck a pen into one of the boxes of letters. “I can believe that. It’d be impossible for one person to go through all of this.”

He pointed at the dead woman again. “
Sic transit gloria mundi,
” he said and peered into her mouth. “Her celebrity status isn’t much good to her now.”

“We’ve already gathered lots of clips and press cuttings, and everything is ready—”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Berli waved him away. The silence was overwhelming. No people could be heard on the street, no clocks ticked, the computer was turned off. The red cyclops eye of a radio stared at him mutely from the glass cabinet by the door. There was a Canada goose on the mantelpiece, frozen in flight. Its feet were faded, and it had hardly any feathers left in its tail. The ice-cold daylight painted a colorless rectangle on the carpet under the south-facing window. Sigmund Berli could hear his blood pounding in his ears. The uncomfortable feeling of being in a mausoleum made him run his finger down his nose. He couldn’t decide whether he was irritated or at a loss. The woman still sat in the chair with her legs open, bare breasts and a tongueless, gaping hole. It was as if the horrendous crime had robbed her not only of an important body part but also of her humanity.

“You guys always get pissed off if you’re called in too late,” the sergeant said eventually, “so we just left everything as it was, even though we’re done with most things—”

“We will never be done,” Berli said. “But thank you. Smart thinking. Especially with this lady. Does the press—”

“Not yet. We hauled in the Filipino, and we’ll hold him for questioning for as long as we can. We’ve been as careful as possible outside. Securing the evidence is important though, especially in snow like this, so I’m sure the neighbors are wondering what’s going on. But no one could have tipped off the press yet. And in any case, they’re all too busy with the new princess right now.”

A fleeting smile became serious.

“But then again, obviously . . . Fiona from
On the Move with Fiona
murdered. In her own home and in this way, well—”

“In this way,” Berli nodded. “Strangled?”

“The doctor thinks so. No stab wounds, no bullets. Marks on her throat, you can see—”

“Mmmm. But take a look at this!”

Berli studied the tongue on the desk. The paper was elaborately folded, like a low vase with an opening for the tip of the tongue and elegant, symmetrical wings.

“Almost looks like a petal,” the younger policeman said as he wrinkled his nose. “With something horrible in the middle. Quite—”

“Striking,” Berli muttered. “Whoever did it must have made this beforehand. I can’t imagine you’d kill someone like this and then take time to do some origami.”

“I don’t think there’s any suspicion of sexual abuse.”

“Origami,” Sigmund Berli repeated. “The Japanese art of paper folding. But . . .”

“What?”

Berli bent down even closer to the severed organ. The sergeant did the same. The two policemen stood like this for a while, forehead to forehead, breathing in time with each other.

“It’s not just been cut off,” Berli said finally and straightened his back. “The tongue has been split. Someone has split the tip in two.”

For the first time since Sigmund Berli arrived at the scene of the crime, the uniformed policeman at the door turned toward them. He looked like a teenager, with an open face and acne. He ran his tongue over his lips again and again while his Adam’s apple jumped up and down above his tight collar.

“Can I go now?” he whimpered. “Can I go?”

“Throneowning,” the young girl said and smiled.

The half-dressed man drew the razor slowly down his throat before rinsing it and turning around. The child was sitting on the floor, pulling her hair through the holes in an old swimming cap.

“You can’t go like that, honey,” he said. “Come on, let’s take it off. We can find the hat you got for Christmas instead. You want to look beautiful when you meet your sister for the first time, don’t you?”

“Throneowning,” Kristiane repeated and pulled the swimming cap on even further. “Hairgrowing. Throne hair.”

“Do you mean heir to the throne?” asked Adam Stubo, rinsing off what was left of the shaving cream on his face. “That’s someone who’s going to be a king or queen in the future.”

“My sister’s going to be a queen,” Kristiane replied. “You’re the biggest man in the world, really.”

“You think so?”

He lifted the girl up and held her on his hip. Her eyes roamed uncertainly, as if eye contact and touch at the same time would be too much. She was nearly ten and small for her age.

“Heir to the throne,” Kristiane said to the ceiling.

“That’s right. We’re not the only ones who had a little girl today. So did—”

“Princess Mette-Marit is so pretty,” the child interrupted and clapped her hands. “She is on TV. We had cheese on toast for breakfast. Leonard’s mommy said a princess had been born. My sister!”

“Yes,” Adam said and put her down again before carefully trying to remove the swimming cap without pulling her hair too much. “Our baby is a beautiful princess. But she’s not heir to the throne. What do you think we should name her?”

BOOK: What Never Happens
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