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HILMA

Novel by ร“skar Guรฐmundsson English

___ Chapters 1-3, 13-15, 24 & 40


Chapter 1 November 13th, 1989 Monday

It stopped snowing in Reykjavík. At least over on the West side. There was something in the air, almost as if the sky was holding its breath. After about 30 minutes, the heavy snowfall started again. Lucky for those whom inadvertently get their tracks covered. Unlucky for the mutilated boys that’ll soon be covered by snow. And there was nothing to do about that.

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Chapter 2

The moon made itself comfortable on top of the Esja, the modest-looking mountain that still had managed to claim a few lives over the years. Now the mountain just enjoyed the calm evening, wearing its patchy white nightcap and looking wearily at the city in the ice-cold afternoon darkness. The annoyed working class of Iceland slogged homewards in their cars in single file along the ice-laden Hringbraut street. The whine from studded tires buzzed in the ears of people walking by, but at the same time it was like the adjacent Melar district was exempt from the troubles of traffic. The noise couldn’t penetrate past the high walls of the apartment blocks that lined the Hringbraut street, which sheltered the houses behind them. Like security guards forming a human chain at large gatherings, keeping the crowds at bay. Throngs of tree branches would catch whatever sounds would reach them, but even they could not silence the noises from the Fokker plane that was coming in for a landing. The branches were also useless against the scream. Somewhere, in the peaceful district, came this penetrating scream that seemed to ignore all barriers. A sound that crawled along the ground, avoiding capture. It wasn’t very loud, but the tone set it apart from all the other noises. It slipped past everything that would get in its way. The boy heard this yelling noise as he lay motionless in the backyard. He had thrown himself down on the ground 4


because he just couldn’t go any further. His heart was close to breaking out of his body, and it was as if someone was occupying his throat, squeezing the dry larynx with untold might. The boy made a desperate attempt to spit out the taste of blood that he felt was filling his mouth. What had become of them? Had they given up? The four of them had been chasing him, and he knew what would happen if they caught him. They would kill him, no question about it. Kill him. And now he heard that yell again, coming from the darkness. He soon realized that it wasn’t a yell, but a scream. And he heard thumping noises, as if someone was beating a sandbag. The boy slowly stood up and listened. He cautiously walked towards the direction of the sounds, and found a fenced-off garden. He clambered over the fence, slid down as silently as he could through the leafless bushes, and snuck into the garden. It’s at times like these that the brain sends out two kinds of messages to appraise the situation. One of them considers the options, the other the faults. Why don’t I just go home? That’s the other way. What was it that the teacher told me yesterday? That the human being had seven fundamental human needs, wasn’t it? Fundamental needs? Yes. He had listed them all and one of them was curiosity. Should he suppress it, or act on it? The boy peered into the darkness. He thought back on recent events. They were so close, he felt. To catching him just then. He had heard the sounds of the frozen grass straws breaking under their rapid footsteps. He had fallen, twisted his leg. He lay on his stomach as new sounds joined the cacophony around him. The swishing sound of snow jackets brushing against branches, their breaths - the panting. If it hadn’t been for the darkness, they wouldn’t have 5


needed to do anything but follow his tracks in the snow. And then they would be standing over him like hungry, black ravens, and their expressions wordlessly saying one thing: Now you die, shorty. But instead the swishing sounds faded away. So did the panting. He had gotten away. He rolled over on his back and looked up, a break in the treeline above showed a star-filled sky beyond. He wondered what it was like to be beaten to death. To have his life forced out with violence, for it to be pulled out through his mouth and be torn and twisted before being tossed out into the darkness. He knew that had been their plan, if they had caught him. He had seen it in their eyes as they cornered him in the schoolyard. He had been cornered before, lots of times. They had good reason to. He knew that much. He was so hideously ugly and boring, and he deserved everything that had been done to him. Isn’t that right, he thought. Yes. He was always in the way. Not just in in everyone, but in the way of life itself. And there they had cornered him in the schoolyard. But he had never seen their eyes like this before. Faces don’t need to twist and contort because of rage and anger. The eyes tell everything: Now you’ll die, shorty. That was when he had ran away. And now he heard that the screams came from more than one person, and it was ominous how they cut through all the other noises, and the short silences after every thump. He snuck closer. A faint brightness from a door light to a basement apartment that faced out into the yard allowed him to see better. He saw as someone stood and held both hands around a blunt instrument and let it fall again and again on screaming and wailing bodies that lay on the snow-covered ground. Thump after thump after thump – until there were no more sounds. No one was screaming anymore. He saw the silhouette of the person who now looked down upon the bodies. It examined them briefly before raising the blunt instrument 6


again. Thump after thump after thump. Sandbag thumps. The person stopped swinging. A deathly calm settled on the garden, like someone had turned down the volume. The boy couldn’t hear his frantic breath. He could only see the white gusts of air that shot up into the dark as he exhaled. He stood unmoving and felt how the insides of his thighs became warmer as he pissed his pants. He took one sidestep and a twig snapped underneath his foot. He looked up and saw the silhouette with the blunt instrument stand motionless, staring in his direction. He couldn’t see the face, as a shadow from a nearby tree cloaked the upper part of his body. He could see the bloody instrument, however, and how the person threw it on the ground and disappeared into the darkness. The boy crept closer. And suddenly now it was like someone had turned up the volume around him all the way up. Every tiny noise was amplified by his fear. No matter how light he tried to imagine himself being, the snow made almost deafening noises with every step. He stood over four bloody and badly mutilated bodies. They lay motionless with their eyes closed. Except for one who stared wide-eyed at him, like an injured animal waiting for the hunter to pull out his knife and slit its throat. The boy knew him. He knew all of them. Better than he had ever wanted to. How often had he himself dreamt of killing these boys? They had beaten him time and time again. Cut up his clothes. Pissed on him. Shat in his lunchbox. Humiliated him over and over, day in, day out. As he watched them laying in their blood, thinking about how he had deserved all of these things, he couldn’t feel anything at the moment. No pity. Nothing resembling sympathy. It was more like that euphoric feeling that washes over someone whose greatest wish has finally come true. Could it be? Could it be that he was relieved? Whatever it was he was feeling inside, it made him feel good. Sometime, long ago, he had felt like 7


this. Felt some kind of freedom. If that was the case, he was most certainly going to enjoy that feeling now. Wrap his arms around it, something telling him that he would never forget this moment. This white feeling that made him feel so big. No. Not big. Powerful. That was it, yes. He felt the sweet taste of power, as he stood over the motionless boys. Despite being wet from his own piss. The front door of the basement apartment opened, and an old woman staggered up the steps holding a flashlight, and started shining it about in all directions. “Is someone there?” she called out with a weak voice. “What’s all that ruckus?” The boy started running, and felt how the cone of light from the flashlight tried to hunt him down. As he reached the fence he turned around. He peered into the dark garden and saw as someone reached for the bloody murder weapon. Positioned themselves under a large tree and looked towards him. Standing there motionlessly like a bodyless monster. The cone of light from the old woman moved around the yard like air raid searchlights in a war, and for one fleeting moment the light caught the face of the silhouette by the tree. The old woman didn’t notice anything, she muttered something to herself and turned around. She closed the door behind her, and shortly afterwards the light went off above her door. Darkness. Silence. The boy couldn’t see anything but he heard footsteps in the snow. He would have pissed himself again if he could. The feeling was the same, except the bladder was empty. Then it started again. The thumping sandbag noise. Thump after thump after thump. The boy squeezed through the leafless bushes, climbed over the fence and ran across the street. 8


Just then, a taxi came driving down the street and hit the brakes. The studs in the tires hissed like angry cats as they cut through the ice beneath them. If the driver hadn’t been working the whole weekend, his reflexes would probably have been better and he wouldn’t have hit the lamppost as he swerved past the boy, whom had already disappeared into the garden across the street. Later that night, as the boy lay in his bed, he could visualize it. He saw the face for that fleeting moment as the light illuminated the silhouetted person. And that was enough. The boy was unaware of the series of events that would take place twenty-two years later. The sky could no longer hold it in, and the snow started falling again.

9


Chapter 3 November 13th, 2011 Monday

The old men sat side-by-side in the common room of the hospital. One sitting in a chair with crutches that he had propped between his legs. The other in a wheelchair. The news theme started playing on an old TV that sat on a small shelf high up on the wall. Four books were stacked next to it. An odd placement, since there was no way for anyone to reach them. The image on the TV disappeared. Snow. The old man with the crutches slowly got up and hobbled over to The Big Screen, as someone had named the old TV once. He turned a crutch in his hand so that he had a firm grip on it, yet pointing it upwards. The rubbery end of the cruth slammed against the side of the TV and the image became clear again. The books were knocked over by the blow. “You’re getting good at this, Steini,” said the old man in the wheelchair and laughed. “I’d never get a swing like that. I don’t know how I’d survive. Promise you won’t get discharged before I do.” Þorsteinn slowly returned to his seat. Tried to block out the other man. Why did he have to end up in a room with this loud comedian? If only the car crash had robbed him of more than the use of his legs. The car crash that he would talk about from the moment he woke up in the morning until far too late at night when his eyes finally closed. Maybe a bigger crash could have wiped out all the jokes from his mind, 10


Þorsteinn thought. And who had given him permission to call him Steini? Not a single soul. “Wouldn’t you like your blankets?” asked a nurse in a caring voice and handed each of them a wool blanket, that they accepted and used to cover their legs. “Where would I be without you, Svava? What luck, this accident of mine, I have to say.” After the news anchor had recounted the top stories of the news, came the in-depth coverage. “We just heard that Vladas Pavlovic has escaped from police custody. He has been kept in isolation at prison, but just one hour ago, while he was being moved to Reykjavík, he made a daring escape. Hallgrímur is on-site, over to you.” “Thank you Logi, it was here that Pavlovic escaped from the clutches of the police...” An image on-screen shows two cars that had been involved in a serious crash, both of them ending off-road on their sides. The flashing lights from police cars cast a blue light over the cordoned-off scene. “...but it seems that when a prisoner transport vehicle was moving Pavolvic to a court hearing, a second vehicle had crashed into the side of the transport at great speed. Unverified sources claim that masked men had then recovered Pavlovic from the transport vehicle and then driven off with him in a third car. I spoke to witnesses just earlier and received confirmation that the assailants had been armed, but did not use their weapons. One of the witnesses claimed that considering how fast and organized the men acted, that these had not been amateurs. It is unknown how people are faring after this daring ambush, but as you can see 11


behind me, we have three ambulances on the scene. At this time we have no information on the location of the assailants or Pavlovic, but a full-scale manhunt is now in effect, with police setting up roadblocks at various locations in the city.” Hallgrímur paused as the ambulances drove away with their deafening sirens blaring. As soon as the sirens died out in the distance, he turns back to the camera. “The Pavlovic case has been very high profile in the past few weeks, but as previously mentioned a detective is still in the hospital after she was abducted from her home three weeks ago and brutally assaulted. The police SWAT team managed to rescue her in a daring raid, but at the expense of the life of another detective, who died from his injuries earlier this week. Pavlovic and several of his associates were arrested during the raid, but this is without a doubt the most severe blow that the police has ever suffered. Pavlovic seems to have been leading two lives ever since he emigrated here 8 years ago. On the surface he was a respected businessman, but recently we’ve discovered that his primary goal was to establish a criminal organization that dealt in drugs, money laundering, slavery, the works. Numerous arrests have been made in relations to this case, including a few Icelanders...I see the police commissioner there, Logi. I’ll see if I can get a statement from him.” Hallgrímur ran towards Commissioner Guðmann and called out to him as he slipped under the yellow police band and quickly left the crime scene. He gets into a car and drives off. A police officer shoves Hallgrímur away and another grabs the camera. The filming starts to resemble a scene from a surreal dogma film. The audience, in this case two elderly men in a hospital common room, watched as heaven and earth traded places with being filmed. 12


We hear words being exchanged. “Hey! What’s the fuckin...” The program director clearly thought that now would be a good time to cut back to the news studio, as the news anchor suddenly appears on-screen. “ Yes...thank you, Hallgrímur. Right, as previously stated, Vladas Pavlovic has been living here for several years.” Video footage is played, showing Pavlovic in various places shaking hands with known businessmen and politicians. “In 2006 he was a high-profile businessman, the first immigrant to receive a special commendation for promiting business relations with the Baltic countries. In light of recent events, and especially tonight’s events, we cannot stress enough that he is considered extremely dangerous, and anyone who can give any information about his whereabouts are...” “Isn’t Vladas the guy who kidnapped...what’s her name again? The poor girl at No. 5?” asked the comedian. No response. “Hilma! That’s her name, isn’t it? My Lord, that explains all the commotion around here. Don’t you think so, Steini?” he said as he looked to his side. Þorsteinn was gone. 30 minutes ago four police officers, fully armed, had appeared in the hospital ward. Two of them stood guard by the entrance to the ward, and the other two outside a door marked “5”. * * * Someone was trying to put out fires in her face. She felt how the skin on her forehead was sizzling. She knew that her hair was scorching because she heard the sound. The fine 13


crackling sound as the hair burned down to the root. Like thousands of needles being thrust down into the scalp. She felt the pungent stench. She squeezed her eyes shut. Not because of the pain, but because of the feeling that if she didn’t close them, she’d let the fire inside. Burn her eyes. She didn’t want to lose her eyes. Her sight. What had started this fire? All she knew was that if left unchecked, it would destroy everything in its path. A hissing, screaming omnivore. It was raining, wasn’t it? She thought. This was that comfortable sound below the window that she heard when thousands of raindrops fell. And she was relieved. Then my fire will go out faster. Am I sure that it’s raining? Yes, it had to be raining. She clearly heard the raindrops as they fell into puddles and starting making tones. Rain playing on puddles. It played on everything in its path. Roofs, cars, asphalt, the grass. It was best when it played on the tent. That feeling hasn’t left her, even though it was twenty years ago. When she was thirteen, woke up, and listened with her eyes closed as the rain played on her tent. Like bongo drums being played with just the fingertips. She even recalled that she was smiling. Smiling in her sleeping bag. Maybe she remembered it so well because it was the last camping trip she had with her parents. She opened her eyes. “Guðmann?” The faint illumination from a wall light only lit up part of his face in the otherwise gloomy room. “What are you doing here?” “They called. The nurses. Said that you were awake.” he said and regarded her lonely face. He wondered what he was doing by her bedside. Under all normal circumstances it should be someone else. A family member, a close friend. A fiancé. Maybe it was only now that he fully realized it as he looked at her. Her loneliness. And the fact that she only had her overweight and weary boss, who was now sitting by her – she looked all battered and torn. 14


“Awake? I’m barely there yet,” she said and closed her eyes. Wasn’t she? She pulled out her right arm from underneath the covers, and her gauze-wrapped shoulder ached, along with her breasts. She ran the hand over her head. The sticky patch of hair. She felt the wrappings that reached all the to the back of her head. A bald spot. “I was dreaming,” she said and looked at Guðmann with still-groggy eyes. “I was on fire. This dream seems to be on repeat these days.” “Just stay calm, Hilma. It’s all over now,” said Guðmann. “Now it’s time for you to heal. I know you’ll be back on your feet before you know it.” He wrung the washcloth over the basin. Hilma tried to read Guðmann’s face for sincerity. He seemed to mean it. Anyway, she accepted that reading. She had no idea about her condition, physical or mental. She had no sense of time. Her memory was spotty. That is, she remembered everything except for the last few days...or months...they simply weren’t there. She wasn’t sure. Probably just days. It was like they’d been torn out like pages from a book. She had recovered slivers here and there, but they were meaningless. They didn’t fit anywhere and contradicted each other. It would take quite some time to piece everything together. “How long do you think I need to be here?” she asked and pointed to a glass of water with a straw that stood on the nightstand. Guðmann put the washcloth on the edge of the basin, took the glass and put the straw to her lips. She sipped and her throat ached as she swallowed. “Or first things first... how long have I been here?” “Six days,” he said after he checked his wristwatch. Not that the answer could have been found there. He knew that. He only looked at it because the question was time-related. A habit. “Six days,” she said to herself and took a deep breath. “But 15


Númi. How’s Númi doing?” Guðmann hesitated. He didn’t have it in him to tell her the truth. Let alone telling her that Pavlovic was on the loose. Not now, anyway. He saw no reason to lie either. He was kinda half-glad when she changed the subject. But only for a moment. “Hand me a mirror,” she asked. “You don’t need a mirror, Hilma...” She grabbed his hand that had been resting by her shoulder and squeezed it to emphasize her words. A feeble effort of a squeeze, as her body was so weak. “Please get me a mirror, Guðmann,” she said gently but with a hint of authority in her voice. He stood up and walked over to the sink in the corner, where a mirror was placed on the wall above it. “This is the only mirror here. And it’s screwed into the wall. I’ll bring a mirror to you tomorrow. There’s no rush,” he said, still turning his back to Hilma. “Unscrew it, Guðmann. Take it off the wall.” He wanted to remind her who was in charge here. He was her superior and not used to being bossed around. He wanted to point out the sillyness of it. But now was not the time. These circumstances were beyond his control, so he focused on the mirror. Four chromed buttons in each corner of the mirror. He managed to remove one of them, and behind it was a screw. “It’s stuck pretty tight, Hilma.” He turned on a small light above the mirror. “I can’t...” It was like someone had struck him a heavy blow. His heart jumped and blood ran to his face as he saw Hilma’s face over his shoulder in the mirror. She had gotten up and walked over to him without him noticing. He turned around, stepped aside and grabbed her arms, because she was clearly about to lose her balance. 16


Hilma gestured to Guðmann to let go of her, and she supported herself with both hands on the sink. She looked in the mirror and gasped loudly, then started laughing. Short and soft laughs. Barely a laughter. Johnny Depp, she thought. Edward Scissorhands. He had more hair on his head, though. She shuddered and almost fell over. Guðmann managed to grab her, but Hilma shook his hands off of her. She wanted to be alone. Guðmann sensed this and walked over to the bed. Standing by on the sideline. He stared at this petite but broad-shouldered, powerful girl who stood there topless in white hospital pants. Barefoot. He stared at her back which was covered with lots of little cuts. Gleaming cuts. Probably covered with some clear material to prevent infections. Her arms were bruised. Black and blue spots. The colorless reflection showed her something unfamiliar. Not the girl with the thick, shoulder-length auburn hair and nine freckles on her nose. Not the determined, vibrant and bright blue – no, light blue eyes that her grandmother had said sometime that resembled those of the poet Einar Ben. She didn’t see any of that now. The eyes were dark, the face grey and it was like her face was covered with a yellowish-black paint. One eyelid was swollen and purple. Small, shallow crimson cuts could be seen here and there on her face, that seemed to be healing. Then there was one long and deep cut. It must have been pretty deep as it was held together with surgical tape in four different places. Two on the forehead and two on her cheek. Something had cut her flesh. Probably a knife. Yes, it must have been a knife. She could see it now. Vaguely. A hunting knife. How it’s razor-sharp blade quickly cut her forehead on the right, flew over her eye and continued carving up her skin as the blade landed on the left cheek. She traced the cut with her index finger. The memory of tasting blood rushed to her tongue. Her mouth. She remembered 17


something else. The moment and feeling when the skin on her face relaxed as it was being cut in two. She picked at the gauze on her shoulder, and then peeled it downwards. “Hilma...” said Guðmann, but couldn’t find more to say. When the gauze came off she saw a cut that formed an X over a small tattoo of a crucified angel on her upper arm. She continued pulling at the gauze which covered both of her breasts. After having torn it all the way down, she saw that they were covered with little cuts. She stared in the mirror. Looked away and down to the floor. The unlocked window sang as the cold wind from outside tried to force its way into the room. “I need to get away,” she said softly. Guðmann jumped at those words. “I don’t know if you can...” “Now, Guðmann!” she said with a firm tone, then turned to look at him. An order. “I have to wash myself.” She turned back to the mirror. Wash this monster, she thought.

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Chapter 13 [15 days later. Hilma has effectively discharged herself from the hospital, and wants something to do. Her superior agrees to give her a suicide case that leads to unexpected places.]

A shocked construction worker had called the Emergency

Services and reported that a man had committed suicide in a building he was working on up in Grafarholt – a new neighborhood being built north of Reynisvatn lake. Hilma and Oddgeir arrived thirty minutes later along with the Forensics squad and an ambulance. Two police officers had been first at the scene and had sealed off the front of the house by the doors. A black Range Rover jeep belonging to the deceased and a small decrepit van belonging to the construction worker were parked in front of the house. One of the police officers briefed Hilma on the situation. When he and his partner arrived the construction worker sat by the front door, rocking back and forth and staring into space. They’d tried to talk to him with little result, except he said his name was Kristjån. He was covered in blood which turned out to be not his own. His answers were incoherent and he seemed to be in shock. The officers then had no choice but to arrest him after he tried to leave the crime scene, he was now sitting in the police car. 19


Hilma looked at the house. By her best knowledge and the house’s appearance, it was in the internal construction phase, better known as being windproof. She entered a large entrance hall and from there into a gaping open space – walls far apart with a high ceiling. About four meters high, she guessed. Even in its unfinished state it was obvious that this was to be a luxurious estate. Where Hilma estimated there would be a living room with an open kitchen were four wide wooden beams in the ceiling, evenly spaced about three meters up. From one of the beams hung a portly man. His head looked into the chest and Hilma could see the white stripe where the man parted his hair. He was wearing a black suit with a black tie and a light blue chequered shirt. Well-polished black and pointy shoes. To Hilma it seemed as if the man had hanged himself by stepping on a small wooden three-legged stool, attached a thin steel wire to the beam, wrapped one end around his neck and then stepped off the stool. Hilma slowly approached him, as if she didn’t want to wake him. She examined him as she walked around him. He was impeccable in appearance save for a trickle of blood that had leaked under the collar and made the shirt translucent. Naked, furry flesh could be seen underneath the shirt where the blood had leaked down to the pants and down along his thigh. The stream of blood ended at the tip of the man’s shiny pointy shoe, and a few drops had finally reached the empty concrete floor and left dusty crimson stars. After the Forensics team had photographed the deceased he was pulled down and put on a stretcher. A coroner examined the body and confirmed him to be dead. Everything done by the book. “He’s still warm,” said Halldór, one of the most senior Forensics members. “I’d say with good conscience that it 20


wasn’t long ago that he died. Rigor mortis has barely set in.” “Then why all the blood on his collar?” “We’ve yet to do a thorough examination, but it looks like the thin steel wire cut into his neck,” he said and showed Hilma the wire. It was about 3-4 millimeters in width and made up of tiny, intertwined steel threads. “This man is clearly between 120-130 kilos in weight, I’m surprised that the wire kept the man hanging at all. If the wire had been thinner this would have a much more ghastly sight. This was in his pockets,” he said as he handed Hilma a sealed plastic bag. Hilma took the bag and examined the contents. A key chain, car keys, breath mints, some coins and a wallet. “Was that all?” asked Hilma, to which Halldór nodded yes. Hilma put on a pair of latex gloves and pulled out the wallet. It contained some credit cards, 23.000 krónur in cash, business cards, various receipts and other things. An amateurish photo of the deceased was on a laminated employee ID card with a magnetic stripe. Probably a security or access card to his workplace, which according to the card was a wholesale retailer in Reykjavík that Hilma was familiar with. His name was Tryggvi Magnússon, born May 22nd 1974, making him 37 years old. A much better photo of Tryggvi was on his business card, which billed him as a managing director. She quickly leafed through the various papers in his wallet. “When will you take a look at him?” asked Hilma. “Tomorrow I reckon. Is this important?” asked Halldór without looking away from the body, he was examining it with his hands now, and handling it like an antique that could crumble into dust at any moment. “Maybe not. But let me know the minute you find anything interesting. What about a cellphone? Didn’t he have a phone?” “Not on his person, no. Maybe it’s in his car.” 21


Hilma walked outside and asked the police officers to enlarge the sealed-off area to cover the entire front of the house, as there were several tire tracks and other markings visible. Next she instructed that people used a set path when walking around to avoid contaminating the crime scene with shoe prints and such. No cellphone was found in Tryggvi’s car, which Hilma found rather strange. Possibly he’d left it at home or at work. Maybe he’d lost it. She’d lost her phone a couple of times. Most people became helpless when such a vital tool went missing. For some it was as if the Earth stood still and wouldn’t spin again until the phone was recovered. Hilda decided to hold off inspecting the interior crime scene while Forensics were still working there, so she got in the front seat of the police car. In the back was the construction worker that had found the body. Hilma measured him up. He was in his twenties with a slight muscular build and looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days – on purpose, because it suited him pretty well. His face reminded her of a teddy bear, a sad teddy bear who stared into the ground while its left knee rhythmically bounced up and down as if with a mind of its own. She examined his face for a while, then turned to face forward and saw two paramedics that had given up on trying to push the heavy stretchers towards the ambulance, and had asked for help in get it through the snow, slush and gravel. Eventually they carried the stretcher between themselves like a coffin. Oddgeir stood in the door of the house, holding a small item between his hands. He looks up and waves it towards Hilma as if he was saying look what I found. Hilma gestures back to him to wait there, she was going to have a talk with Winnie the Pooh in the back. There were two rear-view mirrors in the car, and she adjusted the closer one so she could see his face. 22


“Your name is Kristján, right?” she said and his shoulders twitched slightly, as if he was uncomfortable with Hilma’s voice having broken the silence so suddenly. “Yes,” he answered. It surprised Hilma how such a fit man could have such a soft voice. She had expected a deeper tone. “Can you tell me what happened?” There was a long silence. Hilma calmly waited, didn’t want to pressure Kristján. His feelings seemed genuine to her. “I don’t know what happened,” he finally said. “I was just coming into work and...” he fell silent and his shoulders trembled. He started crying. Hilma had learned a long time ago that body physique had nothing to do with how strong one’s heart and bravery was. It was clear that this man had a very small heart. She calmly waited. “...and I came in there and I saw the man,” he continued after a few heavy breaths. “What happened?” Hilma asked as she turned to face him directly. “What happened between you two?” “What do you mean? Nothing happened between us. I’ve never seen this man before,” he said and looked right back at Hilma. His left foot, which had taken a short break, resumed its fast rhythmic bounce. Up and down, up and down. “Something must have happened, your clothes are all bloody. It couldn’t have happened by itself,” she calmly explained. “He was just hanging there, and the sound he was making...” Kristján briefly paused. “The sound that he made was indescribable. And horrendous. Kinda like a pig...a mad pig.” “Are you saying that he was alive when you found him?” “Yes. He must have just done it because he was swinging in the noose.” “And?” asked Hilma, wanting to keep him talking. “I don’t really remember what happened next. It’s all kind of blurry. I came in and the first thing I saw was him. I think 23


I just ran up to him. I propped up a stool that lay underneath him, stepped on it and tried to lift the man.” It was like the pieces were slowly coming together in Kristján’s mind as he stared straight ahead, seemingly lost in thought. Then he looked Hilma right in the eye. “I swear to you, I tried to lift him but he was so heavy. Once I managed to lift him high enough that I was sure that he could pull the wire from his neck, but he was so fat that he couldn’t get the fingers through the noose.” He fell silent. “Go on.” “Yes, I managed to lift him and I saw that he tried to clutch the wire that was around his neck, but it must have cut into him because it started bleeding so much.” Considering his short, hurried breaths and bodily expression, Hilma realized that Kristján was close to having a nervous breakdown. She was about to stop and take a break, but he continued: “He managed to say: Help me. Help me, about two or three times but then he started convulsing and made a gurgling sound. I tried as I could to keep myself up on the stool, but I must have slipped because he fell to the side and I fell to the floor. And I must have instinctively grabbed on to him because I heard a snap or something and then...” He looked away and put his forehead against the cold window. “And then all fell silent.” Hilma knew that this was all she’d get from him. Kristján was struggling with himself now. He couldn’t control his emotions and his bodily functions were pulling at him from all directions. Hilma was about to get out of the car when Kristján spoke again. “Who hangs himself but then calls for help? That’s not normal, is it?” he said while he stared at Hilma with confused, red eyes. She knew the answer. Many that attempt suicide are 24


actually calling for help. The plan is not to succeed at it. Whether that was the case here, she couldn’t tell. Hilma got out of the car and ask a paramedic to attend to Kristján. Further questions and even a formal interrogation would have to wait. Just then a white station wagon pulls up to the house and a middle-aged man steps out, wearing an overall that was once blue and a utility belt containing a hammer, various screwdrivers and other tools. The hair was ragged and cement gray, and his face the same color. The years have not been kind to Bob the Builder, Hilma thought as she intercepted the man as he was about to barge past the police banner and showed no signs of letting a female stop him. It wasn’t until Hilma tightly gripped his upper arm and yanked on it, that the man realized his mistake. For a moment he looked as if he was going to yell from the pain, but he kept quiet. As puffed-up as he was at the start, he now looked as if someone had popped him with a needle. He was left speechless, he probably hadn’t expected such a powerful grip from a woman. “Where’s Kristján?” he finally asked with as much attitude as he could muster. “He’s in good hands,” answered Hilma calmly as she led the man back to his car and kindly asked him to sit in the back. Hilma sat in the front and quickly established that this was the owner of the house. He’d gotten a call from his handyman, Kristján, where he sounded very upset. “I just couldn’t understand what he was talking about, poor boy. He was crying and blabbering about someone hanging. I thought he meant that someone was hanging around refusing to work,” he said and started laughing, but quickly stopped when he saw that Hilma didn’t even crack a smile. “But when he started talking about a dead guy then I obviously realized that this was serious and got over here as fast as possible,” he said with a fake tone and expression of sympathy which lasted 25


for all of three seconds. “Is there really someone dead around here?” he said and pulled himself up by grabbing the back of the seat. He glanced around, seeming very excited. Hilma asked him more about Kristján and the house. Kristján had worked for him for a few years, he himself was a building engineer that had bought the house at an auction. He got it for a good price due to massive flaws in its structure. He said that the reason for those flaws were the untrained foreign workers that built the house. “Not that I’m racist or anything,” he added, “but those Icelandic crooks that imported these migrant workers here, kept bringing in useless garbage and calling them learned tradesmen in various fields. Waving hard-to-read papers and incomprehensible degrees that might as well have been written by the Mafia. The truth was that these poor souls didn’t know which end of the hammer to strike with.” Hilma was dying to ask him about his fingernails, of which many were bruised and black, but restrained herself. “It’s clear that whomever built this house had never heard of a tilt meter, let alone a measuring tape. It’s all crooked and twisted in there. The angles are off, the roof leaks, not enough iron bindings used and so on. Every conceivable standard was ignored,” he said as his temper started rising. “It’s worse than the leaning tower of Pisa!” He deserved praise for his exaggerations, Hilma thought. “Have you noticed any people around here lately? Remember anything unusual?” she asked. “Unusual...no, this is the second time I come here since I bought the house a month ago. I’ve been busy with other projects. Today was when me and Kristján were finally gonna get our hands dirty. I was here right before the auction, estimating its value. Taking measurements and such. And just as I’m about to finish a job in another house over in Keflavík I get this hysterical phone call from Kristján during lunch and 26


I haul ass over here. And this is what’s waiting for me!” he says as he throws out his arms. “This wasn’t part of the deal,” and clearly was expecting Hilma to laugh at his joke. “Do you plan to live alone in this empty part of town?” said Hilma without looking at him and paged through a notebook that she’d been writing in. “I wasn’t planning on living here myself. I buy, renovate and re-sell houses. That was the plan with this one here,” he said and nodded towards the house. “I’ll sell it...eventually. Things will eventually get better, won’t they?” Hilma didn’t reply and guessed that the man didn’t expect that she would. She took down his personal information and said that he would probably be contacted later. “What about the house? When can I get back to work?” “Not today. We’ll be busy here most of the day and probably tomorrow as well. We’ll let you know.” “That won’t do. Can’t I just work elsewhere in the house while you run around with your magnifying glasses? Unlike other people I ain’t got time to hang around all day.” Now came the drop that Hilma had hoped wouldn’t come, because the man’s ever-increasing selfishness was really starting to annoy her. She’d hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. The last drop. She decided that the man should be taken downtown for further questioning. That would take most of the day. “What kind of bullshit is this? What for? Am I a suspect now?” he blurted out, his face turning so red that the small purple veins in his swollen cheeks were clearly visible. “Everyone’s a suspect,” she calmly said. “Even the deceased.” She got out of the car and slammed the door. Hard. Hilma looked at the house. By her best knowledge and the house’s appearance, it was in the internal construction phase, better known as being windproof. She entered a large 27


entrance hall and from there into a gaping open space – walls far apart with a high ceiling. About four meters high, she guessed. Even in its unfinished state it was obvious that this was to be a luxurious estate. Where Hilma estimated there would be a living room with an open kitchen were four wide wooden beams in the ceiling, evenly spaced about three meters up. From one of the beams hung a portly man. His head looked into the chest and Hilma could see the white stripe where the man parted his hair. He was wearing a black suit with a black tie and a light blue chequered shirt. Well-polished black and pointy shoes. To Hilma it seemed as if the man had hanged himself by stepping on a small wooden three-legged stool, attached a thin steel wire to the beam, wrapped one end around his neck and then stepped off the stool. Hilma slowly approached him, as if she didn’t want to wake him. She examined him as she walked around him. He was impeccable in appearance save for a trickle of blood that had leaked under the collar and made the shirt translucent. Naked, furry flesh could be seen underneath the shirt where the blood had leaked down to the pants and down along his thigh. The stream of blood ended at the tip of the man’s shiny pointy shoe, and a few drops had finally reached the empty concrete floor and left dusty crimson stars. After the Forensics team had photographed the deceased he was pulled down and put on a stretcher. A coroner examined the body and confirmed him to be dead. Everything done by the book. “He’s still warm,” said Halldór, one of the most senior Forensics members. “I’d say with good conscience that it wasn’t long ago that he died. Rigor mortis has barely set in.” “Then why all the blood on his collar?” “We’ve yet to do a thorough examination, but it looks like 28


the thin steel wire cut into his neck,” he said and showed Hilma the wire. It was about 3-4 millimeters in width and made up of tiny, intertwined steel threads. “This man is clearly between 120-130 kilos in weight, I’m surprised that the wire kept the man hanging at all. If the wire had been thinner this would have a much more ghastly sight. This was in his pockets,” he said as he handed Hilma a sealed plastic bag. Hilma took the bag and examined the contents. A key chain, car keys, breath mints, some coins and a wallet. “Was that all?” asked Hilma, to which Halldór nodded yes. Hilma put on a pair of latex gloves and pulled out the wallet. It contained some credit cards, 23.000 krónur in cash, business cards, various receipts and other things. An amateurish photo of the deceased was on a laminated employee ID card with a magnetic stripe. Probably a security or access card to his workplace, which according to the card was a wholesale retailer in Reykjavík that Hilma was familiar with. His name was Tryggvi Magnússon, born May 22nd 1974, making him 37 years old. A much better photo of Tryggvi was on his business card, which billed him as a managing director. She quickly leafed through the various papers in his wallet. “When will you take a look at him?” asked Hilma. “Tomorrow I reckon. Is this important?” asked Halldór without looking away from the body, he was examining it with his hands now, and handling it like an antique that could crumble into dust at any moment. “Maybe not. But let me know the minute you find anything interesting. What about a cellphone? Didn’t he have a phone?” “Not on his person, no. Maybe it’s in his car.” Hilma walked outside and asked the police officers to enlarge the sealed-off area to cover the entire front of the house, as there were several tire tracks and other markings visible. 29


Next she instructed that people used a set path when walking around to avoid contaminating the crime scene with shoe prints and such. No cellphone was found in Tryggvi’s car, which Hilma found rather strange. Possibly he’d left it at home or at work. Maybe he’d lost it. She’d lost her phone a couple of times. Most people became helpless when such a vital tool went missing. For some it was as if the Earth stood still and wouldn’t spin again until the phone was recovered. Hilda decided to hold off inspecting the interior crime scene while Forensics were still working there, so she got in the front seat of the police car. In the back was the construction worker that had found the body. Hilma measured him up. He was in his twenties with a slight muscular build and looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days – on purpose, because it suited him pretty well. His face reminded her of a teddy bear, a sad teddy bear who stared into the ground while its left knee rhythmically bounced up and down as if with a mind of its own. She examined his face for a while, then turned to face forward and saw two paramedics that had given up on trying to push the heavy stretchers towards the ambulance, and had asked for help in get it through the snow, slush and gravel. Eventually they carried the stretcher between themselves like a coffin. Oddgeir stood in the door of the house, holding a small item between his hands. He looks up and waves it towards Hilma as if he was saying look what I found. Hilma gestures back to him to wait there, she was going to have a talk with Winnie the Pooh in the back. There were two rear-view mirrors in the car, and she adjusted the closer one so she could see his face. “Your name is Kristján, right?” she said and his shoulders twitched slightly, as if he was uncomfortable with Hilma’s voice having broken the silence so suddenly. 30


“Yes,” he answered. It surprised Hilma how such a fit man could have such a soft voice. She had expected a deeper tone. “Can you tell me what happened?” There was a long silence. Hilma calmly waited, didn’t want to pressure Kristján. His feelings seemed genuine to her. “I don’t know what happened,” he finally said. “I was just coming into work and...” he fell silent and his shoulders trembled. He started crying. Hilma had learned a long time ago that body physique had nothing to do with how strong one’s heart and bravery was. It was clear that this man had a very small heart. She calmly waited. “...and I came in there and I saw the man,” he continued after a few heavy breaths. “What happened?” Hilma asked as she turned to face him directly. “What happened between you two?” “What do you mean? Nothing happened between us. I’ve never seen this man before,” he said and looked right back at Hilma. His left foot, which had taken a short break, resumed its fast rhythmic bounce. Up and down, up and down. “Something must have happened, your clothes are all bloody. It couldn’t have happened by itself,” she calmly explained. “He was just hanging there, and the sound he was making...” Kristján briefly paused. “The sound that he made was indescribable. And horrendous. Kinda like a pig...a mad pig.” “Are you saying that he was alive when you found him?” “Yes. He must have just done it because he was swinging in the noose.” “And?” asked Hilma, wanting to keep him talking. “I don’t really remember what happened next. It’s all kind of blurry. I came in and the first thing I saw was him. I think I just ran up to him. I propped up a stool that lay underneath him, stepped on it and tried to lift the man.” It was like the pieces were slowly coming together in Kristján’s mind as 31


he stared straight ahead, seemingly lost in thought. Then he looked Hilma right in the eye. “I swear to you, I tried to lift him but he was so heavy. Once I managed to lift him high enough that I was sure that he could pull the wire from his neck, but he was so fat that he couldn’t get the fingers through the noose.” He fell silent. “Go on.” “Yes, I managed to lift him and I saw that he tried to clutch the wire that was around his neck, but it must have cut into him because it started bleeding so much.” Considering his short, hurried breaths and bodily expression, Hilma realized that Kristján was close to having a nervous breakdown. She was about to stop and take a break, but he continued: “He managed to say: Help me. Help me, about two or three times but then he started convulsing and made a gurgling sound. I tried as I could to keep myself up on the stool, but I must have slipped because he fell to the side and I fell to the floor. And I must have instinctively grabbed on to him because I heard a snap or something and then...” He looked away and put his forehead against the cold window. “And then all fell silent.” Hilma knew that this was all she’d get from him. Kristján was struggling with himself now. He couldn’t control his emotions and his bodily functions were pulling at him from all directions. Hilma was about to get out of the car when Kristján spoke again. “Who hangs himself but then calls for help? That’s not normal, is it?” he said while he stared at Hilma with confused, red eyes. She knew the answer. Many that attempt suicide are actually calling for help. The plan is not to succeed at it. Whether that was the case here, she couldn’t tell. Hilma got out of the car and ask a paramedic to attend 32


to Kristján. Further questions and even a formal interrogation would have to wait. Just then a white station wagon pulls up to the house and a middle-aged man steps out, wearing an overall that was once blue and a utility belt containing a hammer, various screwdrivers and other tools. The hair was ragged and cement gray, and his face the same color. The years have not been kind to Bob the Builder, Hilma thought as she intercepted the man as he was about to barge past the police banner and showed no signs of letting a female stop him. It wasn’t until Hilma tightly gripped his upper arm and yanked on it, that the man realized his mistake. For a moment he looked as if he was going to yell from the pain, but he kept quiet. As puffed-up as he was at the start, he now looked as if someone had popped him with a needle. He was left speechless, he probably hadn’t expected such a powerful grip from a woman. “Where’s Kristján?” he finally asked with as much attitude as he could muster. “He’s in good hands,” answered Hilma calmly as she led the man back to his car and kindly asked him to sit in the back. Hilma sat in the front and quickly established that this was the owner of the house. He’d gotten a call from his handyman, Kristján, where he sounded very upset. “I just couldn’t understand what he was talking about, poor boy. He was crying and blabbering about someone hanging. I thought he meant that someone was hanging around refusing to work,” he said and started laughing, but quickly stopped when he saw that Hilma didn’t even crack a smile. “But when he started talking about a dead guy then I obviously realized that this was serious and got over here as fast as possible,” he said with a fake tone and expression of sympathy which lasted for all of three seconds. “Is there really someone dead around here?” he said and pulled himself up by grabbing the back of the seat. He glanced around, seeming very excited. 33


Hilma asked him more about Kristján and the house. Kristján had worked for him for a few years, he himself was a building engineer that had bought the house at an auction. He got it for a good price due to massive flaws in its structure. He said that the reason for those flaws were the untrained foreign workers that built the house. “Not that I’m racist or anything,” he added, “but those Icelandic crooks that imported these migrant workers here, kept bringing in useless garbage and calling them learned tradesmen in various fields. Waving hard-to-read papers and incomprehensible degrees that might as well have been written by the Mafia. The truth was that these poor souls didn’t know which end of the hammer to strike with.” Hilma was dying to ask him about his fingernails, of which many were bruised and black, but restrained herself. “It’s clear that whomever built this house had never heard of a tilt meter, let alone a measuring tape. It’s all crooked and twisted in there. The angles are off, the roof leaks, not enough iron bindings used and so on. Every conceivable standard was ignored,” he said as his temper started rising. “It’s worse than the leaning tower of Pisa!” He deserved praise for his exaggerations, Hilma thought. “Have you noticed any people around here lately? Remember anything unusual?” she asked. “Unusual...no, this is the second time I come here since I bought the house a month ago. I’ve been busy with other projects. Today was when me and Kristján were finally gonna get our hands dirty. I was here right before the auction, estimating its value. Taking measurements and such. And just as I’m about to finish a job in another house over in Keflavík I get this hysterical phone call from Kristján during lunch and I haul ass over here. And this is what’s waiting for me!” he says as he throws out his arms. “This wasn’t part of the deal,” and clearly was expecting Hilma to laugh at his joke. 34


“Do you plan to live alone in this empty part of town?” said Hilma without looking at him and paged through a notebook that she’d been writing in. “I wasn’t planning on living here myself. I buy, renovate and re-sell houses. That was the plan with this one here,” he said and nodded towards the house. “I’ll sell it...eventually. Things will eventually get better, won’t they?” Hilma didn’t reply and guessed that the man didn’t expect that she would. She took down his personal information and said that he would probably be contacted later. “What about the house? When can I get back to work?” “Not today. We’ll be busy here most of the day and probably tomorrow as well. We’ll let you know.” “That won’t do. Can’t I just work elsewhere in the house while you run around with your magnifying glasses? Unlike other people I ain’t got time to hang around all day.” Now came the drop that Hilma had hoped wouldn’t come, because the man’s ever-increasing selfishness was really starting to annoy her. She’d hoped that it wouldn’t come to this. The last drop. She decided that the man should be taken downtown for further questioning. That would take most of the day. “What kind of bullshit is this? What for? Am I a suspect now?” he blurted out, his face turning so red that the small purple veins in his swollen cheeks were clearly visible. “Everyone’s a suspect,” she calmly said. “Even the deceased.” She got out of the car and slammed the door. Hard.

35


Chapter 14

“Nice of you to put some gloves on,” she said with just the right amount of coyness. She hadn’t intended, nor expected, that Oddgeir would lift a finger at the crime scene. “And what have you got there?” “I found it in the corner right here by the entrance,” said Oddgeir and opened up his palm. Hilma looked at the items that Oddgeir had put into a little plastic bag that was lying in his hand. Two small, broken pieces of plastic. One black, one clear. “So, what is it?” “I think they’re part of a cellphone. The black one is probably from the back cover, look here,” he says and pointed to the black fragment. “This curve probably ran around the lens of the camera phone, but the clear one is probably part of the phone’s monitor.” “He had to have had a cellphone with him, but they found nothing inside,” said Hilma and left off saying: Nice job, Oddgeir, but she still felt like he had heard that thought. She was pleased with him, despite him having forced himself into her investigation. “Maybe he threw it out into the yard somewhere,” he said and nodded his head towards the snow bank on the left side of the house. “That’s possible, yes. Maybe over there,” said Hilma and nodded towards the snow bank on the right side of the house. 36


“It could be anywhere in the snow. Or maybe not at all. Why don’t you look around and who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky. Good luck,” she said with a smile and went inside. She saw that the Forensics team was still at work and walked back outside. She couldn’t help but smile when she saw Oddgeir walking in the snow in his dress shoes that sank into the snow. After every slow step he made – as if he was standing in a minefield, he’d look around and pull up his pant sleeves to save them from the snow. After having watched his bizarre phone search technique, Hilma decided to circle around the house. A wooden ladder had been propped up in the back. Hilma climbed up and stepped onto the flat roof. She looked at the neighborhood around her, or what little there was of it. Even though the clock was almost noon there was still one hour until the sun reached its apex. Lampposts had been put down and lit up streets that had barely been laid down and paved. Even road signs stood to attention at otherwise empty crossroads, as a reminder that they should be obeyed, even in an empty neighborhood. Among the few houses that were actually built, or in the process of being built, were many vacant lots but here and there one could see where someone had dug for the foundation. She counted eight houses in total and all of them looked to be luxury houses of the future. Or memorabilia of the past, she thought. And somehow she felt as if the same architect had been involved. Cold boxes with large windows on the front. Some of them had tiny windows on the sides. Possibly the architect’s trademark, because Hilma couldn’t fathom the use of such small windows. A lone hammer could be heard hammering away in the distance somewhere. A circular saw was eating through some wood elsewhere. She saw that only a few houses had people working in them. Spotlights had been put up in some houses, while others simply used naked bulbs. Most of the houses were not lit up at all and looked quite 37


miserable. When they had been driving into this neighborhood, Hilma had seen a worn and faded sign at the turn-off. It was an promotional poster and map of a wondrous vision of how this neighborhood would look in the future. Hilma pictured the designer that must have had a dreamy look in his eyes when he drew up the warm-looking neighborhood, where a large group of kids were playing at the common playground. Other children were playing in a man-made pond, while neighbors were chatting with one another over the fences of their gardens, swapping stories about happiness. There was some text at the bottom of the poster but it was mostly unreadable because someone had blasted the sign with a shotgun. From up here she could see over into the next neighborhood, a future ghetto where tons of apartment blocks were being built. They looked like skyscrapers – no, not skyscrapers. There was no building in Iceland worthy of that word, she thought. Not even that mirror-clad erection down in Borgartún. But anyway – these were long boxes, all alike. And the same silence seemed to reign there as it did over here. Where there used to be dozens of building cranes everywhere, there were only a handful scattered about now, drooping sadly against the eastern sky. They had given up on the people. And the people given up on them. A chill crept down Hilma’s back. She pulled her shoulders up, buttoned up her leather jacket and slipped her cold hands into her pockets. She felt Tryggvi’s wallet in there, pulled it out and opened it. She pulled out a few business cards and examined them closer. They were all just standard business cards with titles ranging from salesmen to directors and everything in-between. Some of them had photos, others not. Some were Icelandic, others foreign. One card caught Hilma’s attention. The card belonged to a man named Ingvar 38


Sverrisson and according to his card he worked at a software company in Reykjavík as a specialist in client-side solutions. Hilma raised an eyebrow, she understood what that meant. The card didn’t have a photo but Tryggvi had drawn a head on it. Hilma was unsure about whether Tryggvi lacked any artistic skills or whether it was deformed on purpose. Though the face was too wide and there was no size relations in regards to facial features, it somehow managed to portray a recognizable image. A doodle that someone would draw on a nearby piece of paper while talking on the phone. The eyes were tiny, the mouth almost lip-less and the ears seemed three sizes too big. Some kind of head-wear was drawn on top of the head, probably a cap. Then he’d added two fangs that jutted from the upper lip and horns on the man’s forehead. Beneath Ingvar’s name and title was written Dumbo the devil. Hilma snapped a photo of the card with her phone camera and put it back in the wallet. “We’re wrapping up here,” called Halldór in a half-muffled voice. He wore a surgical mask on his face and was covered in a white over-all with a hood, and was pulling the latex gloves off of his fingers. Hilma nodded to him and walked towards the ladder. She saw where Oddgeir was still searching in the snow. He’d given up on saving his pant sleeves, but still took the slow and easy steps through the snow – his steps were more crooked and he was using his hands now to search the snow. Forensics were packing up their gear, so Hilma was safe to step inside and have a look around. The house was filled with that cold cement smell. Maybe she imagined it, but she felt like the fine cement dust got in her nostrils when she breathed in. She went through the house and though she couldn’t guess what every room’s purpose was, some of them were pretty obvious: A large and spacious kitchen that was open 39


into three adjacent living room spaces on three platforms. six large rooms, three bathrooms, a large washing room with an entrance into a double-sized garage. In one corner of the garage was a circular opening where a wooden ladder led into the basement. A police officer’s face popped up from the opening. He informed Hilma that there was nothing notable down there except construction gear, dust and a whole lot of darkness. Hilma slowly climbed down the ladder. The police officer hadn’t been lying. The basement was dark except right by the stairs when some light fell down from above, only to be immediately swallowed up by the surrounding darkness. Hilma pulled out a small flashlight that cast out a narrow cone of light as if from a projector, and large specks of dust could be seen dancing in the light. She swung the light around her, but there was little to see except two small boarded-up windows and a backdoor that was sealed off by a wooden raft that had clearly been assembled from surplus timber, it didn’t even quite fit the door frame. Hilma pushed the raft which should have opened outwards, but it only budged slightly. Some kind of obstruction down at ground level outside blocked the raft from opening. Probably frozen dirt and ice, she thought. She turned back towards the dark space and saw a pile of junk in one corner that almost filled a dug-down pit in the ground. Probably supposed to be for a hot tub, and the basement planned as a recreational room, she thought. Hilma approached the pit and slowly let the narrow beam of light shine over the pile of surplus construction material. Timber used for molding cement, various plastics, tubes and other similar stuff had all been left here. Something caught her eye way back at the pile. After having cleared away some rubble she could step down into the waist-deep hole. With difficulty she reached in and pulled 40


out a thin steel wire and pulled it towards her from underneath the junk on top of it. She shone her light at the wire, and at first glance it seemed to be the exact same wire found around Tryggvi’s neck. She cast her light again over the junk pile, and inside of it. She lifted up a heavy plank of wood and shone under it. “Hilma!” was called from the opening. It was Halldór. She let the plank fall into place and stepped back, because now she could barely see anything for the thick cement dust that now swirled around her and filled up her senses. She coughed heavily as she made her way out of the pit. She turned back towards the pit, crouched down and snapped a photo on her phone. The light from the camera flash lit up the pit for a fraction of a second, as if it had been struck by lightning, before casting everything back into darkness. “Hilma?” Halldór called again. “Yeah, what?” she called back, annoyed. She couldn’t see anything as the flash had temporarily blinded her. “You should come up here. We found something.” Hilma handed Halldór the piece of wire from the basement and asked him to check if it was the same type that Tryggvi had used. She wasn’t sure if it meant anything, but experience had taught her that the smallest, most insignificant details could prove to be the most important ones at the end of the day. Halldór handed her a clear plastic bag, containing a broken and dirty cellphone. “Against all odds, your partner...he...” Halldór turned to Oddgeir who stood nearby with his feet wet. “Oddgeir,” Oddgeir said, a little sad that Halldór didn’t remember his name, but pleased with the compliment. Against all odds. That was a compliment, right? “Yes, Oddgeir found it out back, deep in the snow. Are you turning gray with age, Hilma?” 41


“Huh?” she asked, not getting the context. “No, it’s just...your hair...” Hilma ran her fingers through her unkempt hair and fine cement dust fell out of it. She quickly tried to dust her own hair and smiled. They all smiled. “Anyway,” Halldór continued. “I’m not certain but it looks like Tryggvi stomped on it and threw it where we found it. The plastic fragments that Oddgeir found earlier are a match.” “Or someone else. Maybe someone else crushed the phone,” she said, mostly to herself. “If this is Tryggvi’s phone to begin with.” “Huh?” was Halldór’s reply regarding the former theory. “Yes, of course. It shouldn’t take long to find out. The SIMcard is still in it, but it all seems rather banged-up to me,” he said in regards to the latter half of her theory. There was something else that had bothered Hilma down there in the basement. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was, though. There was nothing at this crime scene that suggested anything darker than the cloud that hung over Tryggvi’s head, whom chose to end his life in this way. But she was unsure. “Let me know as soon as you’ve examined Tryggvi,” she said to Halldór as she walked out. Oddgeir followed her. “You got lucky there, Oddgeir,” she said and lit a cigarette. “I don’t know. At least it wasn’t luck. It hadn’t snowed for the past 24 hours and I found a hole. Something had landed in the snow there and that’s where the phone was. As simple as that.” It was fortunate that it hadn’t snowed recently. They approached the car and Oddgeir got in behind the driver’s seat. Hilma was about to get in, but stopped. She called to Halldór who was standing outside. Hadn’t she seen something familiar when she looked through the wallet? Like something had crept into her sub-conscious and 42


floated there, gently tugging at her brain. She asked Halldór to hand her Tryggvi’s wallet which she’d turned over to him a little earlier. She opened it up and took out a bunch of papers, various receipts and such. She went through it like a deck of cards. And there it was, right in the middle. That little black cross that she’d seen for a fraction of a second as she’d leafed through the pile earlier. She pulled out three small and neatly-folded papers that had been torn from a newspaper. Unfolding them was as if the optic nerve was connected straight to the heart, because it beat heavily as she read out the names on the obituaries. Those little obits that appeared every day in most of the newspapers. One of them announced the death of Þorfinnur, the next the death of Ásmundur and the last one the death of Guðmundur. Hilma thought back to Eyþór and his very far-fetched theory about the three men. Guess it wasn’t that far-fetched after all. After having snapped photos of the obits she called Eyþór. “Hi, do you have anything on those guys...the lawyer and the others?” “Yes, I’ve found some more interesting connections. I think it’s all too connected to be some kind of coincidence. I’ve made a diagram and...” “We need to meet,” interrupted Hilma. “I’ve got one more here that I’d like you to check up on. Maybe he fits into that diagram of yours.” She took two puffs from the cigarette, then tossed it in the slush and exhaled the gray-blue smoke. “But I hope he doesn’t,” she said and hung up.

43


Chapter 15

The person lay motionless in the dark. Its body ached like it had been deflated by force. It felt like it would die from thirst, the saliva long dried out and the throat like a rusted pipe. The skin squeezed every muscle and every bone. Vacuum-packed. It had no idea how long it had lain there, but an in-built sense of time said it was about 5-6 hours. No, more. Hard to tell. The person hadn’t tried to reach for its cellphone to check the time. Too risky. The silence was deafening but it decided to stay there longer. Just in case. Since it had hastily hidden there that morning, there had been constant traffic in the house. It heard vague conversations between people and someone came down the ladder, walked around and shone a flashlight over its hiding spot, from which it could peek out through a tiny gap in the junk pile. The dilated pupils had grown accustomed to the dark and the person could see that the flashlight’s owner was a police officer. As soon as he’d gone back up someone else had come down. The person could see the body’s shape. Breasts. It was scared that its frantic heartbeat would give up its hiding place when the shorthaired one came into the pit and pushed the junk towards it as it lay cowering under the junk. The person closed its eyes. It had done that countless time in its youth. Closed its eyes and became invisible. It didn’t 44


believe it would work then, but it believed that it would now. Just close the eyes and lock the mind in a state of invisibility, and it was like feeling how the body dissolved into nothingness. No one could see, no one could hear. To become an empty void, out of everyone’s reach. Maybe that was why there was no pain when it felt a sharp object tear through its pants and skin as the short-haired one pushed the junk pile around. That one opening that it could see through was now closed, but others had opened instead. The person thought it was all over when the short-haired one raised a wooden plank that exposed it. A few centimeters lower and the beam of light would have shone on its face, deep in the junk pile. Had their eyes met? Just then someone had called from above. The plank fell back in place and dust was kicked up. A plume of dust lay itself across the person’s face and stopped all flow of air, the person barely managed to squeeze its palm tightly against its face. Knowing that the slightest sound or motion would spell the end. It felt like its eyes were gonna pop out of their sockets as it held in the cough, refusing to breathe. It saw the short-haired one crawl out of the pit, but before she left she turned around and crouched down. The person wasn’t ready when a strong light came from front of the short-haired one, and it couldn’t close its eyes in time before the painful flash of light slammed against its retinas. For one moment the person felt it was blind. The short-haired one had taken a photo. When the person finally opened its eyes everything was much darker than before. It would take some time to get accustomed to the dark again, but it heard when the short-haired one climbed up the ladder. She had left the basement. The person opened its mouth and let in the long-awaited air. Even though it had desired nothing more than to scream away the cough, it managed to let it out only as a low-rasping noise. The person couldn’t stop thinking about 45


how the short-haired one would have reacted, had it found a person in the pit. Imagined for a moment how it would have pulled out the taser, pushed it tightly against her neck and watch her pass out in a heartbeat. A fraction of a second would have been enough. Afterwards everything would boil down to luck, which so far had been on the person’s side. Or until this morning. First it was that moron. That boy had come at the worst possible moment. And then the backdoor in the basement didn’t open. The person had planned everything, even for surprises. It seemed perfect. The person had watched the house for a long time, checked its surroundings and when it believed it was safe to do so, entered the house and looked around. If something unexpected came up, the backdoor would make a perfect escape route. But the door had to jam at the worst possible time. Something outside was blocking it, probably ice. It had tried to force it open, but without causing too much noise. That’s when it remembered the junk pile in the pit, and slowly inched through the darkness and crawled inside. Squeezed itself underneath the junk pile. Rotten luck, it thought. Maybe it was just the numbers, the odds. Luck, luck, luck, bad luck. And then it would start over. Luck, luck, luck, bad luck. This morning had started out lucky, though. Tryggvi hadn’t been pleased with the person calling him that morning. There was always the chance that he wouldn’t have come. Then again, the threats against him were very clear. Threatened to go public with everything if he didn’t come. Of course he’d come. And that was when time decided to slow to a crawl. The waiting. Literally nail-biting, floor-pacing waiting. And swallowing the bitten nails, no lousy DNA would be its undoing. They can do that now, can’t they? The police? Read from everything. Find nail bitings and read not only the owner, but 46


his location. The dirt underneath the nails tells he came from the West side. The person smiled at the absurdity of it. But what did it know? The guys in the white overalls could do all kinds of magic on TV and in the movies. You couldn’t fart without them having it in a test tube. It’s all nonsense. Most of it. Yes, most of it, but they could still do things. That they could, and the person wasn’t taking any chances with that. Did the thin sponge glued to the shoes leave any traceable footprints in the dust on the floor? No. And the person continued pacing the floors and biting its fingernails. It took off the cap and fixed the nylon hood it has made to cover up its hair. Fuck, he’s not coming. Wait. Yes, he’s coming. And then he came. Through a slit in the plastic-covered window, the person saw as a black Range Rover jeep came speeding towards the house and screeched its brakes hard outside. Tryggvi stormed inside, red with anger and planning some kind of rant. He walked up to the person with a raised and pointed index finger towards its face. Tryggvi didn’t say much when 200.000 volts from the person’s taser coursed through his nervous system. The person stared into his wideopen eyes, which probably weren’t seeing anything right now and he probably couldn’t think about what had happened either. The fearsome powers of the taser tightened and cramped his body together. Even the straight and accusing index finger bent down so that it resembled a hook. Then his muscle system relaxed, practically shut down and Tryggvi silently fell down at the feet of the person, which was too slow to react. It had intended to grab him to cushion the fall, but it happened all so fast. He was also so heavy. He just fell down like a log. The back of his head hit the rough floor. A wound down by root of his hair. The person had read about the perfect murder. Perfect murders were deemed so because of three reasons. The first 47


was that a mistake was made during the investigation or the trial. The second reason was because the murderer didn’t leave any evidence behind that could convict him. The third and best reason was that there was nothing to even suggest a murder had taken place, that the cause of death was thought to be something else. And that was precisely what the person was planning now. But it also knew that in ninety-nine point lots-of-nines percent of the time the murderer left something behind – clues that led to him. Those accidental, invisible minor deviations from the plan. And when that happened, it was a fifty/fifty shot whether they’d be spotted. And a fifty/fifty shot of getting caught, the person thought. Fifteen minutes later Tryggvi was standing on a wooden stool, crying. Firstly because his muscled ached, but slowly because he realized the circumstances he was in. He vaguely remembered three things: He had entered a house still under construction. Him lying on the floor. And now he felt there was something around his neck. And now he was standing on a little stool. He felt how something cold tightened against his neck. He realized that he mustn’t fall off the stool for any reason. It was like a few pulses of shock were left in his head, whizzing about like eels in a jar. His nostrils burned and the bitter iron taste in his mouth made him sick. He felt like his tongue was too big for his mouth. Dry like sandpaper. And now he was begging for mercy. Family, kids, he whined. “I’ve got money. Please, please,” he shrieked. Is this like how I experienced it back then, the person thought. When life was bidding farewell? When the soul left the body and was about to float away. Is that what Tryggvi is feeling right now? How the brain is close to bursting from too many thoughts, but mostly because the answer was always the same: You only had a few minutes left to live. If that much at all. Ten – nine – eight. 48


All hope of rescue sucked away, all cracks of escape tightly sealed up and the end was inevitably near. Seven – six. The only difference was that I survived. That was something Tryggvi wouldn’t feel. Five – four – three. Funny, Tryggvi isn’t about to feel what it’s like to survive. And that was also the last thing Tryggvi saw. When the person walked out of his field of view and moved behind him. He felt the touch behind his back. Just like when a child on a snow sled is pushed down a slope. Two - one. That’s how the person pushed Tryggvi. A soft but firm push that sent him off the stool. Zero. And that was when the damn moron pulled up out front. And the person was planning on watching. Savor the moment. A car door was slammed. The person quickly looked around. Grabbed two things off the floor: The pliers and the rest of the wire that it had brought along, and just managed to run down a long hallway and duck behind a corner when the sounds of someone entering the house could be heard. The person had a narrow view from where it stood, but enough to see both Tryggvi and whomever just entered. It was a construction worker. A young boy, by the look of things. The person did get to enjoy the panic that struck the boy and the heroic, but lost effort to save Tryggvi’s life. Compensation, and then some. Looking back, that sight was one of the most powerful visions it had ever seen in its life. At first it was uncertain whether the boy would fail. He showed tremendous strength when he stood up on the uneven stool and lifted the big and hefty Tryggvi so that the taut wire could be loosened. But soon his strength faded. He lost his balance and fell to the floor. 49


The panicked screams and the gurgling wails soon fell silent. It was over. The person watched as the boy crawled on all fours towards the front door. It heard him talking on the phone with someone. It was impossible to make out his words. Quietly the person climbed down the wooden ladder into the dark basement. Now the person thought that the coast was clear and crawled from out of its lair. Slowly it pushed the junk pile off of itself and climbed out of the pit with great effort. The skin wasn’t letting go of the bones just yet. It wasn’t until the person had shaken itself up a bit and walked around the floor that the joints slowly started acting normally. It slowly climbed up the wooden stairs and peeked over the edge of the hole, walked down the darkened hallway and now stood where Tryggvi had been hanging from the beam. Now there was nothing there. Fascinating, it thought. Just like it had never happened. It was pitch dark and calm outside. The stars in the sky were like a million watchful eyes. All the half-built houses were pitch black. Deathly silence. It was if the light posts were slumped with fatigue and afraid of the dark. Didn’t dare but to sleep by their own lights at night. The person looked around, then walked out.

50


Chapter 24 [2 days later. Hilma and her assistant Oddgeir go out in the country to visit a farm where they want to interview a young man; Ingvar (the man drawn on the business card). They suspect that he may be involved with the deaths of a few people.]

A short while later they were back at that godforsaken

place. Hilma hesitated as she got out of the car. She was unsure whether to head for the stables where she had seen Sverrir head to when they left, or go straight inside and get her phone. She glanced around, hoping that an answer would be just lying around nearby. It was getting dark. She chose the latter option. They dog lazily looked up to her, beat its tail once into the dirt and then lay its head back on the rubber boots. What an accomplishment, thought Hilma. She slowly opened the front door and quietly walked towards the open kitchen door. What if Sverrir was inside? She thought she heard a noise. She reached the kitchen – there was no one there. Her phone was where she left it, she grabbed it and the charger and put it in her pocket. For a moment she stood in the middle of the room and weighed her options. She slowly walked over to the living room. The door was halfopen, just as she’d remembered it. She carefully pushed it open and peered into the dark room. A thick and sour smell greeted her...or more like dead and sour. Hilma reached along the interior wall of the living, found a lightswitch and turned it on. Clothes lay strewn about. Sweaters, t-shirts, pants spread 51


across an unmade bed and the back of a chair. Countless socks and underwear on the floor. A commode by the wall close to the door had been occupied by lighters, empty cigarette packs and crumpled credit card receipts. Hilma checked briefly back into the kitchen before she entered the living room and approached the commode. She took a receipt and straightened it out. It was from a grocery store in Reykjavík, dated two days ago. She took another receipt and straightened that out as well, it was from a gas station from Kirkjubæjarklaustur, dated yesterday. Hilma laid the receipts side-by-side, pulled out her phone and took photos of the receipts, then re-crumpled them, placed them back where they were and hurried out. He’s good at lying, she said softly to herself as she thought of Sverrir. As she walked through the kitchen and towards the entrance hall, she heard a noise coming from the hallway. She stood still and peered down the lightless hallway. Listening. Another noise. Her heart jumped and she tensed up, preparing to face the unknown. She slowly walked down the hallway, taking care how she put her feet down. The bathroom door wasn’t fully closed, a pale yellow light seeped out into the hallway. She looked. Listened. She recalled the bull and its curiosity. What had Sverrir said? He comes to the windows when he sees movement. She stared at the crack in the door and saw a shadow dart past. She felt how the hairs at the back of her hair rose. She carefully approached the door and stood in front of it. She listened and put out her hand. She felt like her heartbeat could be heard through the crack in the door. Her hand was right up against the door, but she felt like she was frozen, unable to push it. There was someone in there and she wondered if she should say something. Her palm touched the door. She had barely started to push open the door when the door behind her was torn open and a black silhouette charged her. The 52


silhouette shoved Hilma forwards onto the bathroom door and into the bathroom. She fell down on the hard ceramic tiles and her head hit the bathtub. She gripped her head in pain and looked out into the hallway. No one there, only the opened door to the room that the silhouette had come from. In that room she saw an open crossbeamed window. He had tried to get out through the window, she thought as she got to her feet. Probably been interrupted by the bull. She felt the back of her head and found warm blood. What was that anyway? She felt like she had seen the face of the person that ran out. Her brain must be playing tricks on her, she thought, as that short glimpse she caught of the face running past her was unlike anything she’d ever seen. She heard someone running outside. Heavy, but rapid footsteps that flattened snow in every step. Hilma climbed up on the toilet and peeked out through the small window above it. Son of a bitch is running away. Hilma ran out and called to Oddgeir, who was still in the car. He would have heard her and rushed to her aid if it wasn’t for two things that had seized all his attention: The text message from his ex full of threats aimed at him if he would keep on ignoring her, and the music of KK that filled his ears with songs of broken hearts and a man who’d drown if it wouldn’t stop raining. Hilma ran round the back where, to her amazement, she sees the dog standing by a fence. Hilma climbed over the fence, running after the person in front of her, heading for a building about 200 meters away. The dog barked once as she passed him, and she made use of the calf-deep footprints left by her attacker. The person and whatever building that was, kept shaking up and down in front of Hilma’s eyes, but the only thing she heard was her own heavy breathing. She reached for her phone and tried to 53


dial Oddgeir’s number. She drops it. She pulls it out of the snow, but the back cover and battery had fallen off. She rummages through the snow and finds the wet battery. As she was now standing still, she realized that she wasn’t the only one panting. She turned around and looked back towards the farm, and saw the bull as it wasn’t only panting, but snorting as it came running towards her. Terrific! She starts running and sees as the person disappears into the building. Must be where they keep the sheep, she thinks. When she reached the building she stopped to catch her breath. Her thighs were burning after having used the 420 footprints left in the snow by her attacker. What endurance this man must have, she thought and spit into the snow, feeling the metallic taste of blood in her mouth. Her lungs burned as she breathed in the ice-old air. Maybe I’ll stop smoking. That’s when she remembers the bull and quickly glances back. To her delight, the bull stands still in the distance. Maybe he needed to catch his breath as well. Maybe he’d just given up. Or maybe he remembered that it’s much more exciting when someone is pursuing him. She stood by the side of the building and slowly walked towards the corner, where she spotted the entrance. The person’s footprints lay into the darkness that awaited inside. “Ingvar,” she called, “is that you?” She moved closer and stood right next to the entrance. She put her head out and peeked inside. Saw nothing. She leaned up against the wall and looked up at the orange sky as the sun was heading off to sleep. “Ingvar!” she called again. “You must answer me. It’s no use hiding here. You don’t have to be afraid, I only want to talk to you.” In a deft motion she jumped across the entrance and 54


leaned up against the wall on the other side. She peeked inside again, but it was impossible to see anything as the fading daylight was suffocated by the darkness inside. She heard faint thuds from her heart as it was trying to slow down. No. That wasn’t her heard. What was that? She looked round the other corner of the building and out onto the white field. That’s when she saw it and realized that this is the second time today that her hearing had deceived her. The faint thuds were the steps of the person running far out on the field. Hilma saw another building, about 100 meters away. “Bloody idiot,” she screamed and took off. Now she had to make the effort of crushing the snow beneath her feet, and she stopped once to catch her breath and fallen down twice. Almost three times. The faint sunlight touched on the sharp and pointy peaks of the distant mountain, drawing a red line in the sky. Much like the line on a heart monitor, connected to Hilma’s heart. She knew that it would be pitch dark soon. The person’s footprints led into the building. “Ingvar. I know it’s you and you have to come out. Now!” she called with a strict tone. Like a tired mother, annoyed by her ill-behaved child. She walked inside and stood still. Waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Slowly the darkness relented. Feeding pens were on both sides of the hard and wet dirt floor. Some of the pens had hay in them. She walked as quietly as possible along the dirt floor, then stopped. She held in her breath. She heard a noise and frantic breathing nearby. She turned towards the noise and could make out three sheep. She saw their yellow glittering eyes at knee height, huddled in a pen, staring at her. Despite her own eyes being much more receptive to light in the dark, it was only a fraction of what those yellow glowing eyes could see. Right now she would have been grateful 55


for that membrane that’s in most animal eyes. A membrane that reflected the light, almost like a mirror, so what little light the eyes could receive would be twice as useful. Hilma walked onwards on the thin dirt floor. The glittering eyes scattered as she walked past them, but then stopped again. She let her eyes wander into the darkness that were now wide open, taking in all the available light. At the end of the hallway, in a corner, was something hanging. As she got closer, she could see that they were three flayed sheep torsos, hanging by their hind legs. Beneath them were dirty patches of wool. On a nearby table were knifes and other things she couldn’t make out in the dark. Wait, now she could. Bones. Big and small. She tried to look for a light source. She saw an old light hanging from the ceiling, but she couldn’t find a switch. “Ingvar. Come out where I can seeyou. I only want to talk to you. You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” she said and tried to sound as fearless as possible. Her strained vocal cords couldn’t quite hide her fears, however. In the right corner she saw a door. She walked to it and opened it. She felt the cold gust lick her face. Snow and total silence. Had he run out again? She peered down into the snow, but there were no tracks there. In the distance she heard a motor. Probably from the highway, she thought. It sounded like a motorbike. Which felt wrong, considering the time of year. She turned her attention back inside and spotted a ladder. She looked up and froze. Someone was sitting at the top of the ladder. She could see the outlines of a person who was huddling, as if they were trying to be invisible. Hilma’s eyes could show her anything more. She didn’t know how long she’d been staring when she saw slow movement. No, it only looked slow. Something 56


came towards her at great speed. The darkness led to the brain not receiving the message in time and she got a heavy blow to the front of her head. She fell down to the floor, but her only thought was not to lose sight of the ladder and the figure that was now climbing down it. A large shadow approached her with a blunt instrument in one hand. The shadow raised its hand like a executioner and struck. Hilma managed to roll aside just before the blow struck the ground, causing the floor to shudder under her head. Hilma swept her leg aside and she connected with the shadow’s ankle, whom fell over and landed beside her. She drove her elbow into the shadow’s chest with all her might, and heard the rushed breath as the wind was knocked out. Like a plug pulled out of an inflatable ball. Hilma was about to stand up, but was struck by the blunt instrument on both of her breasts, so she yelled in pain. The person stood up behind Hilma as she lay curled up, put the instrument over her head, around her neck and pulled. “Leave me alone,” said the person with a coarse and panting voice, and then raised her up so that her legs were left dangling. Hilma grabbed the person’s hands and pulled with all her might to try to be able to breathe. She felt the pressure in her head and behind her eyes. She quickly realized that she was no match for the person’s strength. She tore and pulled at its hair, tried to jab with her elbows, kick its shins, but nothing seemed to have any effect, and she felt as her strength was fading away. The thought of surrender first reached her brain, then her nervous system, but it had yet to reach her muscles. If she could just make her brain work for a moment, and her nerves for a fraction of a second, she might be able to get the two to join forces in her last struggles, where she’d need her muscles at their strongest. 57


She reached her left arm towards the table that was beside her, randomly reaching for something to use. She felt bones, gripped something slimy and then she found what she was looking for as it cut into her palm. She released her grip of the knife’s blade and gripped its shaft. The lack of oxygen to the brain was starting to affect her judgment and she wasn’t sure how to count in her head before making the stab. Should she count to three, or count down from ten? What was she thinking? It was just a matter of stabbing. Where? Should she drive it up behind her, aiming for the side, or go for the face and hope to hit an eye? Or both? Her vision was starting to waver. Fade and distort. She gripped the shaft tighter and raised her hand. She decided to stab it into the side, followed by as many stabs to the arm it would take to break free. Otherwise she’d never feel life pulsing through her veins. Life that was slowing fading out. She raised the knife and just as her arms were about to unleash their energy, she heard a voice behind her. The pressure in her head had made it hard for her to clearly hear the voice. Like it was coming from a can. She did realize that this was not the same coarse voice as before, which was grunting right behind her ear. This voice came from farther away. “That’s enough Ingvar. Let the girl go.” Hilma felt the grip around her neck loosen, but not fully. She managed to turn her head and see something in the corner of her eye. The person holding her turned towards the doorway and that was when she saw the silhouette of the man standing in the doorway, as well as the outline of a gun in his hand. What a strange gun, she thought. “I’m in deep shit, ain’t I?” said Ingvar and loosened his grip of her neck. Hilma felt it would be wisest to remain still. No sudden movements. 58


“You’re always in deep shit, and always have been,” said Sverrir and raised his gun as he slowly approached them. He pointed the gun forwards and the little pin that jutted outwards from the barrel now touched Ingvar’s forehead. “Release the girl or I’ll fire.” “Don’t do anything stupid, Sverrir,” said Hilma with a weak voice and slowly slipped out from Ingvar’s grasp, who remained motionless, as if he was holding a ghost by its next. Hilma carefully removed the blunt instrument from his hand, his fingers surrendered like thick rubber. A beam of light was now cast into the building from outside. “Hilma!” said the panicked and panting voice of Oddgeir, who was holding a flashlight and illuminating three people whom were all standing there, each burdened by their own pains. “Are you alright?” The beam of light stopped at Ingvar’s face. Which made sense, thought Hilma, because it was only now that she could see the face. And Eyþór had been right. Tryggvi’s drawing on the name card hadn’t been that far from the truth.

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Chapter 40 [3 days later. Here Hilma has flown to Oslo to pursue two Icelanders – Auður and Sverrir – that Hilma has been pursuing. Hilma suspects that they’re going to find Elli, the leader of bullies in the first two chapters – in 1989. Elli now lives in Oslo (OlavKyrres Gade) where he runs his own business. Hilma catches the second flight to Gardemoen, and is therefore only a few hours behind when they reaches Elli’s place.]

Morgan glanced over to Hilma. He sighed and shook his head as they stood in the hallway. She smiled, as if to calm him. It hadn’t gone past her that he objected to this. Her stubbornness and the certainty, that he quietly called obsession, that they were still in the building. Let alone sending the on-site police officers away. One in the squad car, the other in Morgan’s car. They were to stand by at the top of the street, out of sight from the building. Silently he admitted that it was a damn good idea. “If they’re here, which they are,” she had whispered as she grabbed Morgan’s coat, “they must hear that cars are driving away from here. They must think that we...that the police is gone.” “This is madness, Hilma. They could be anywhere else. Probably calmly cutting down this Elli guy as we speak.” “Easy there,” said Hilma and let slip a smile. “You’re much more experienced at this than I am. Don’t mix the movies into this. Trust me Morgan, they’ll take the cars and we sneak back up and wait. I know they’re hiding here somewhere and this is the only way to draw them out from their den.” 60


And now she sat on the floor outside the top-floor bathroom and waited. She examined the woodwork. She was still holding the poker she had used to strike the kindling in Elli’s workshop. Black iron, forged with a carved wooden handle, a rather pointy end and a hook just a little further back, reminding her of a harpoon. That’s when Moby Dick popped up in her head. But she tossed that thought away because now was not the time for daydreaming. Morgan leaned up against a wall further inside the entrance hall. He crouched there and was handling a crumpled, folded piece of paper that he had found in his pants pocket. A note with illegible information that had accidentally gone in the washing machine. He wondered just how important the paper was. He’d told his wife more than once to empty all pockets before putting clothes into the wash. Hilma still felt his impatience and negativity, where he was crouched and reading that piece of paper that crumbled as he tried to straighten it out. She pulled out her cellphone that she had set to silent. Eyþór had still not gotten back to her. Why wasn’t he calling? The phone clock said 19:22, they’d been sitting there for almost twenty minutes. What was it that she was going to tell him? Yes, she was going to ask him for Elli’s phone number but she’d got it via other channels. Oh yes, she’d also wanted to hear his voice. Despite her best efforts, that denial pushed itself at the front of her mind and stood there, defiant. Hilma tried to push that thought further back, but it always moved back to the front – this insufferable intruder. She was dying to hear his voice. She looked over to Morgan. Froze. Slowly put her phone back in her pocket, as if it more fragile than an egg. She’d heard something, hadn’t she? A creaking noise, like hinges. She slowly stood up and gestured over to Morgan who was still looking at his paper. He saw the gesture from the corner 61


of his eye, reacted and slowly rose up, visibly excited. Hilma peeked into the bathroom through the slit between the door and the door frame. She saw where a hatch slowly opened on the paneled far wall. A hatch that would have been impossible to find and see if it was closed. She quickly looked over to Morgan who stood still, as if he’d been frozen on the middle of the floor. She gestured to him to come over to her. Easily – she ordered with a different gesture. She peeked back through the slit. She stared at the hatch that been opened half-way. A tuft of hair and a nose appeared. Fingers gripped the hatch that opened a little more. Hilma moved away from the slit. She didn’t want to be seen at all. Nothing could go wrong here. Not now. She heard Morgan sneaking behind her and knew that the slightest creak in the floorboards would give them away. She put out her hand and he froze – again. The hatch creaked again and other sounds were heard. Someone was walking on the floor. First one, then another. They were coming out. Hilma knew that the element of surprise was vital. A fast sequence of events would be important. She counted in her mind. One – two – three. Aborted. She peeked again through the slit. In the mirror she saw three people. The one in the back held something glistening up against the middle person’s neck. Looked over at Morgan, counted again in her head, one – two – three and then nodded to Morgan. Hilma took one step from the bathroom door and then kicked it hard so that it swung inwards and hit Sverrir on the head and knocked him down. She barged in and stood over him and was now facing Auður and Elli and didn’t need to look back. She knew the sounds behind her. Knew that Morgan was cuffing the man. 62


“If you come any closer he dies,” said Auður and pushed the scissors to Elli’s neck. Hilma tried to assess the situation. The threat. Whether it was real or not. She tried to read into the sincerity of her words. She probably had to take them seriously. It was obvious that Elli’s neck was bleeding. But they seemed to be shallow cuts and the blood that had leaked down the side of the neck had already stopped flowing. But the speed of events was so high that Hilma knew she had to slow it down. For everyone’s sake. She put out her hand as if she was going to pet time on the head to calm it down. “Let’s just stay calm, Auður,” she said with a calm and soft voice. “You can be calm for all I care but you don’t come any closer. One step and I kill him,” she said and peeked out from behind Elli’s ear, whom for some reason was sticking by his former decision: Don’t make any sudden moves, and don’t say a word. “Auður, let’s end this now,” Hilma heard someone say behind her. Hilma turned her head to look at the man. “Sverrir,” she said in surprise. “I didn’t recognize you without the beard,” and instantly realized. Of course he’d shave his beard. Less chance of him being spotted going through airport security. Despite the beardless face showing a truer image of his true age, Sverrir still appeared old. There was just something about him that did that. Maybe the constant disappointments in his life – and himself. Hilma turned back to Auður. “Now you put the scissors down and come with us before you do something that you’ll regret,” she said with a fair amount of firmness. Auður pushed the scissors closer to Elli’s neck so that the 63


tips were right up against his skin. He let out a yelp of pain, followed by a sound like his teeth had bit into ice. “Out. Get out,” she screamed and pushed Elli towards Hilma. “No problem Auður. We’ll go out,” said Hilma and gestured to Morgan that they should step outside. They backed away from Auður into the hallway and stopped by the stairs leading down. The one exit out of the building. Auður stood close to the top step and contemplated her next move. It would be hard to back down all those steps with Elli above her. She could push him forward and on top of Hilma and Morgan, but that would probably not give her a big enough head start and they’d catch her on the floor below. She thought that the best course of action would be to stab Elli and run downstairs. She’d pull Elli after her so that he’d fall down the stairs, making it harder for them to follow her. And they must attend to him, and those valuable seconds gained would give her a head start. “Stop now,” Sverrir said with a gentle voice. “This is far enough.” Auður jumped and stared at Sverrir. Her face suggested that she wasn’t believing his words. And she didn’t. He had abandoned her. Given up. That’s why she had a hard time taking her eyes off of him. Unconsciously she’d relaxed the hand that was tightened around Elli’s neck, so the scissors were not pressed so hard against him. Elli probably felt that, because he jerked his hand at the same moment that she was going to push the scissors back against his neck, so that the scissors jumped out of her hand and dropped to the floor. For one second everyone’s eyes were on the scissors that were lying in front of them. That one second that was special because it felt so longer than it was. Much longer. And they all looked up at the same time and in that moment they realized that everything had changed. The threat 64


was no longer present. Elli was going to turn around and grab hold of Auður with his hands, but she was already heading downstairs. And she carried out one part of her plan. She pulled him down with her. As she jumped down the steps she heard how he fell down with heavy thuds and noises. Yells. Then she heard nothing as she kept running. She heard nothing when she opened the front door and ran out into the cold that had been waiting outside like an impatient monster. It wasn’t until she was standing in the street that her ears opened up again and she looked at a small dog across the street that barked at her – once – because the owner yanked on its leash. And just then did Auður hear commotion behind her in the house. She was going to run up the street but stopped when she realized that at the top, about eighty meters away, stood two police officers leaning casually against the side of a police car. They hadn’t seen her. From the gestures one of them was making he had a story to tell, and the bodily posture of the other one told her that he found the story funny. She turned around and looked down the dead end street. There she saw the small bridge across the ravine. Morgan appeared in the front door and Auður started running. She hadn’t run twenty steps before she realized that he’d catch her in the next ten. But she had to reach the bridge. And she did. When she reached the middle of the bridge, she climbed over the man-high chicken fence that lay along both sides of the bridge. “If you come any closer I’ll jump!” said Auður who now stood on a tiny wooden ledge, and the fence rattled like clinking change when she leaned back, away from the bridge. Morgan stopped about three meters from Auður, on the bridge. Trying to read the situation. Wanted to guess if she’d hurt herself if she fell down. He stood on his toes to get a better look of what was below. Yes, he thought. A double row 65


of railroad tracks ran down the ravine that lay through the middle of this residential area. The unkempt surroundings of the ravine, the garbage and gray-brown tracks suggested to him that it must have been a long time since a train last passed through there. Somehow he felt like the top layer of the tracks should be glistening with oil, but they were opaque. Maybe these tracks were decommissioned. He looked up further along the ravine and saw the tracks disappear round a bend about 300 meters away. It was obvious that Auður would come to harm if she fell those 8-10 meters down. And of course a chance that she’d simply die. Even though Morgan doesn’t speak Icelandic, he understood Auður’s words. Well, mostly. “I won’t come closer, Auður. Please don’t do anything stupid. It’s over,” he says in English. “Tell them to stop!” yelled Auður. Morgan looked behind him and saw the two policeman from up the street were now running towards them. Morgan yelled to them and ordered them to stop. He gestured in some directions and they immediately understood him. They walked back and started keeping curious neighbors away, of which some had come out of their homes and were gathering in the street. Morgan saw where one of the police officers suddenly ran towards Elli’s front door and inside. Hilma probably managed to call out to him, because shortly later she came out and limped quickly towards Morgan. She was blinded for a moment as a photographer standing near the bridge took a photo of her. Hilma wondered how the hell a journalist had gotten here so quickly. Standing there fat and greedy with a massive camera that he pointed in all directions – like a starving hyena. “Where’s Sverrir?” Auður yelled. “No closer!” she suddenly added when she felt that Hilma had gotten much too close. 66


“Sverrir is fine, Auður,” she said as gently as she could. “Bullshit. Where is he? I want to talk to him.” “That won’t do, Auður. Come on over and you can go see him.” Hilma knew that the only thing that mattered now was to get her on the right side of the fence. That would never happen if she told her what had happened. Everything had literally gone backwards once Elli fell down the steps. Hilma had tried to grab him but been dragged down with him and fallen herself. Morgan jumped after them but hadn’t realized that he was pushing Sverrir ahead of himself – which had been alright if he hadn’t had his hands cuffed behind his back. To expect anyone in such a position to maintain his balance is optimistic, at best. Sverrir fell like a tree cut down at the roots. It didn’t look professional at all and that’s why both of them – Hilma and Morgan – had silently decided that this detail would never appear in the police report. As they all lay there in the stairwell Morgan had seen that Hilma had hurt her knee and Elli lay there whining – but the worst part was that Sverrir lay completely still. Hilma ordered Morgan to go after Auður and he took off. She managed to clamber down the stairs and when she reached the front door she called for a police officer whom ran down the street and asked him to tend to Elli and Sverrir. As she gestured to the police officer where they were located in the building, Hilma realized that she was no longer holding the poker. And that’s when that ice-cold feeling sank in – that something terrible had happened when Sverrir fell down the steps. The circumstances had become too big for them to handle by themselves. It didn’t help that more and more curious residents were appearing, especially on the other side of the bridge, which seemed to be a completely different kind of neighborhood. The ill-maintained look of the blocks there, along with the graffiti, suggested that this little ravine 67


separated the rich from the poor. Morgan crossed over to the other side of the bridge, towards a group of people that had gathered there. And like shepherds do, he got the group – many of whom had their camera phones up – to back away from the bridge. Many of them were probably itching to get back home to upload someone else’s personal tragedy on their social media websites. One of them even got so bold as to run out onto the bridge itself to snap photos. Hilma turned to look when she heard the commotion as a police officer jumped in and literally dragged the hyena off the bridge. “I’ll jump if I don’t get to see him,” said Auður in a shrill voice. “I won’t hesitate.” “You’re not about to jump, Auður. Sverrir fell on the steps and hit his head. They’re tending to him inside. He’s in good hands. I can’t bring him out right now.” She decided to tell almost the whole truth, hoping to gain Auður’s trust. That was how strong her hunch was – that Sverrir was everything but fine. “If you come back here, you’ll get to see him. That’s a promise.” And she planned to keep that promise. Would let her see him. But only for a brief moment before she had her taken away. “It’s over, isn’t it?” said Auður and looked up at the sky that was quickly getting dark, and the brightest stars had already come out. “Nothing’s over Auður. You can always start again. Come on...” “I was going to tell him that I’d forgiven him,” said Auður and looked at Hilma. “Forgiven whom?” “Elli. I was about to forgive him for what he did. That was the only thing I was gonna do. That’s why we came here.” “You’ll have to explain that a little better. I don’t follow you.” Stepped half a step closer. “Hilma. Half a step more and you’ll watch me fly down.” 68


She stopped and nodded. “What happened, Auður?” she said and looked at Auður as she gripped the fence even tighter with both hands, and pressed her forehead up against it. She looked downwards and was silent for a while. “He’s made a fool out of you through this whole case, Hilma. And you didn’t see a thing.” They stared into each others eyes. Hilma tried to realize what Auður had said. “But you can comfort yourself with the fact that he fooled us all. He made a fool out of all of us,” she said and Hilma thought for a moment that Auður had laughed, but she hadn’t. She was crying. Hilma started thinking about how bad she feels about watching other people cry. And the older they were, the worse it was. It was more painful. The older the person was, the further down they had to reach for those tears. She’d experienced that from her parents many times. Hilma opened her mouth. She was about to ask Auður what she meant when she felt the earth shudder beneath her. She looked around but saw nothing that could cause this soft tremor. It felt more like a vibrating pillow than an earthquake. It wasn’t until she turned back to Auður that she saw, past her shoulder and up the ravine, what the source was. She saw a bright light. Heard a screeching noise. “Climb over, Auður. Let’s talk. I don’t want you to...” “I’m so tired,” said Auður after having looked back and seen the slow-moving passenger train that was approaching the bridge. “Climb over, I’ll help you,” she said and came closer. She examined the chicken fence. It was too tightly woven for there to be any chance to grab hold of Auður through it – if she decided to let go. And time wasn’t on her side now that the train had shown up. “Hilma!” called Morgan as he still stood on the opposite 69


side of the bridge with the many on-lookers from the other neighborhood behind him. He pointed towards the train. Out of the corner of her eye she saw his gesture. She slowly nodded and turned back towards Auður. Sent him a mental message: “Do you think I’m blind, Morgan?” “I don’t think you can help me Hilma. Not after this. I’m so tired – so very tired.” “That’s not right Auður. Let me help you,” Hilma said and she meant it. That gave her a pain in her chest. She felt Auður’s pain and wanted her over here. Not just to get the whole truth. She wanted to help her. This girl didn’t deserve to kill herself now. “You’re a good woman, Hilma,” Auður said as she looked her in the eye and smiled. “I know you are, it’s clear to see, but I think that deep down you know that there’s nothing that you can do to save me.” Hilma was silent. And had to accept that. Of course she was right. She couldn’t help this girl. The only thing she could do was convince her to climb over this fence that right now marked the difference between life and death. And maybe she knew that it was hopeless. She wouldn’t get Auður across. That was why she calmly walked right up to the fence and softly touched her fingers. Almost gently. Auður twitched and they stared each other in the eye. Deep down they knew that time was running out. “Did you two kill those people, Auður? Did you kill Guðmundur, Ásmundur, Þorfinnur and Tryggvi?” The vibration kept getting stronger. Hilma looked up along the ravine. Forty meters. “I loved him with all my heart. I always did.” “You can see him now,” said Hilma. “No. You must deliver this to him. Next time you see him. Will you promise me that, Hilma?” 70


Hilma looked and called over to Morgan, whom came running. She asked him to have Sverrir brought here. Now she ordered after Morgan had put up the face that indicated that that might be pretty hard to do. Morgan gave a policeman an order who ran towards Elli’s house. Morgan returned to where he had stood on the other side of the bridge. “They’re going to get Sverrir. You’ll see him now.” “I don’t have to see him. I want you to take this to Ingvar.” Thirty meters. “Ingvar? But...” “My Lord in Heaven... “Stop it,” said Hilma sharply. “Tell me Auður. Did you kill those men?” she called, because the noises from the train were drowning out almost every other sound. “...hallowed be thy kingdom...” “Goddammit!” said Hilma out loud and started to climb the chicken fence, which was so tight that she couldn’t get a foothold. Twenty meters. “...forgive us our debts...” Hilma put all of her strength into pulling herself up, and managed to bend herself over the chicken fence, so that the top spokes were pressing into her stomach. She knew that if she would slip or lose her balance the skin would break and she’d be impaled. The bridge was now shaking more than ever, but Hilma managed to swing one foot over and get a better foothold – and balance. The pain in her stomach became more bearable when she managed to get her leather jacket to cover her exposed stomach. Instead the spokes now stuck into her thigh. “Auður,” she yelled over the noise and reached down her hand. “Give me your hand!” Morgan and two police officers came running onto the bridge from both directions, towards Hilma. 71


Ten meters. Hilma reached down with her hand and tried to grab hold of Auður’s shoulder, but the nylon material in her jacket was so damn slippery. She only managed to claw at it like a dog scavenging for a bone. If she moved her center of balance over to Auður’s half, she’d get a good grip. But she’d also be declaring war against gravity and fall down. “In Jesus’s name, Amen,” said Auður and looked up to Hilma. She looked into her eyes the moment she straightened her fingers and let herself fall down. Hilma watches as Auður’s face moved further away. Surprisingly expressionless. Almost peaceful. With her hands out to her sides, she fell so softly and gently. Like a snowflake that had gone from steam to water and then finally crystallized in the atmosphere before falling back down. Auður hit the front of the train just as it lazily passed under the bridge. Suddenly Hilma felt like she was going the same way as Auður. And that was no lie, she was falling down. Just as Auður had let herself go, Hilma had reached past those few centimeters that caused her balance to change and gravity to triumph over her. She fell over the fence and had not heard her own scream at all. Thought it was someone else’s scream. Maybe even the train’s scream as it made this deafening noise as the emergency brakes slammed on the wheels. But then it was as if time stood still. Like someone had hit the Pause button and everything stopped moving around her. She looked down and everything below her stood motionless, except for the train carts that lazily moved underneath her until the last one disappeared. And then everything became quiet all of a sudden. Then she was torn down from the fence and before she knew it she was sitting on the bridge. Morgan and the two police officers had grabbed hold of her before she fell off the bridge. Now they were crouched 72


around her, cramping her space, as if she was enclosed in a wooden box. She batted her arms out. Angrily. She sat there with her knees pulled up against her forehead. Buried her face in her palms. It was now that she really wanted to cry and scream all this darkness out of her.

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Profile for Óskar Guðmundsson

Hilma - Eight Chapters - English  

Hilma - Eight Chapters - English  

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