Extract: The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup
From the creator of hit TV show The Killing comes The Chestnut Man, a nail-biting thriller which follows the race to find a serial killer terrorizing Copenhagen.
The police make a terrible discovery in a suburb of Copenhagen. A young woman has been killed and dumped at a playground. One of her hands has been cut off, and above her hangs a small doll made of chestnuts.
Young detective Naia Thulin is assigned the case. Her partner is Mark Hess, a burned-out investigator who’s just been kicked out of Europol. They soon discover a mysterious piece of evidence on the chestnut man – evidence connecting it to a girl who went missing a year earlier and is presumed dead, the daughter of politician Rosa Hartung. A man confessed to her murder, and the case is long since solved.
Soon afterwards, another woman is found murdered, along with another chestnut man. Thulin and Hess suspect that there’s a connection between the Hartung case, the murdered women and a killer who is spreading fear throughout the country. But what is it?
Thulin and Hess are racing against the clock, because it’s clear that the murderer is on a mission that is far from over…
Read on for an extract from The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup!
The Chestnut Man
Tuesday 31 October 1989
Red and yellow leaves drift down through the sunlight onto the wet asphalt, which cuts through the woods like a dark and glassy river. As the white squad car tears past, they’re spun briefly in the air before coming to rest in sticky clumps along the edge of the road. Marius Larsen takes his foot off the accelerator and eases up for the bend, making a mental note to tell the council they need to come out here with the sweeper. If the leaves are left too long they’ll make the surface slippery, and that sort of thing can cost lives. Marius has seen it many times before. He’s been on the force forty-one years, senior officer at the station for the last seventeen, and he has to prod them about it every single autumn. But not today – today he has to focus on the conversation.
Marius fiddles irritably with the frequency on the car radio, but he can’t find what he’s looking for. Only news about Gorbachev and Reagan, and speculation about the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s imminent, they’re saying. A whole new era may be on its way.
He’s known for a while that the conversation has to happen, yet he’s never been able to screw up his courage. Now there’s only a week until his wife thinks he’s retiring, so the time has come to tell her the truth. That he can’t cope without his job. That he’s dealt with the practical side of things and put off the decision. That he isn’t ready yet to settle on the corner sofa and watch Wheel of Fortune, to rake leaves in the garden or play Old Maid with the grandkids.
It sounds easy when he runs through the conversation in his head, but Marius knows full well she’ll be upset. She’ll feel let down. She’ll get up from the table and start scouring the hob in the kitchen, and tell him with her back turned that she understands. But she won’t. So when the report came over the radio ten minutes ago he told the station he’d handle it himself, postponing the conversation a little longer. Normally he’d be annoyed about having to drive all the way out to Ørum’s Farm through fields and forest merely to tell them they need to keep a better eye on their animals. Several times now, pigs or cows have broken through the fence and gone roaming the neighbour’s fields until Marius or one of his men made Ørum sort it out. But today he isn’t annoyed. He asked them to call first, of course, ringing Ørum’s house and the ferry terminal, where he has a part-time job, but when nobody picked up at either place he turned off the main road and headed for the farm.
Marius finds a channel playing old Danish music. ‘The Bright Red Rubber Dinghy’ fills the old Ford Escort, and Marius turns up the volume. He’s enjoying the autumn and the drive. The woods, their yellow, red and brown leaves mixing with the evergreens. The anticipation of hunting season, which is just beginning. He rolls down the window, the sunlight casting its dappled light onto the road through the treetops, and for a moment Marius forgets his age.
There’s silence at the farm. Marius gets out and slams the car door, and as he does so it strikes him that it’s been ages since he was last here. The wide yard looks dilapidated. There are holes in the windows of the stable, the plaster on the walls of the house is peeling off in strips, and the empty swing set on the overgrown lawn is nearly swallowed up by the tall chestnut trees encircling the property. Littered across the gravel yard are leaves and fallen chestnuts, which squelch beneath his feet as he walks up to the front door and knocks.
After Marius has knocked three times and called out Ørum’s name, he realises nobody will answer. Seeing no sign of life, he takes out a pad, writes a note and slips it through the letter box, while a few crows flit across the yard and vanish behind the Ferguson tractor parked in front of the barn. Marius has driven all the way out here on a fool’s errand, and now he’ll have to stop by the ferry terminal to get hold of Ørum. But he’s not annoyed for long: on the way back to the car an idea pops into his head. That never usually happens to Marius, so it must be a stroke of luck that he drove out here instead of heading straight home to the conversation. Like a plaster on a cut, he’ll offer his wife a trip to Berlin. They could nip down there for a week – well, at least a weekend, say, as soon as he can take time off. Do the drive themselves, witness history in the making – that new era – eat dumplings and sauerkraut like they did before in Harzen, on that camping trip with the kids far too long ago. Only when he’s almost reached the car does he see why the crows are settling behind the tractor. They’re hopping around on something pallid and formless, and not until he gets closer does he realise it’s a pig. Its eyes are dead, but its body jerks and shivers as though trying to frighten off the crows, which are feeding from the gunshot wound at the back of its head.
Marius opens the front door. The hallway is dim, and he notices the scent of damp and mould, and something else he can’t quite put his finger on.
‘Ørum, it’s the police.’
There’s no reply, but he can hear water running somewhere in the house, so he steps into the kitchen. The girl is a teenager. Maybe sixteen, seventeen. Her body is still sitting in the chair by the table, and what’s left of her ruined face is floating in her bowl of porridge. On the linoleum on the other side of the table is another lifeless figure. He’s a teenager too, a little older, with a gaping bullet wound in his chest and the back of his head tilted awkwardly against the stove. Marius goes rigid. He’s seen dead people before, of course, but never anything like this, and for a brief moment he’s paralysed, until he takes his service pistol out of the holster on his belt.
Marius proceeds further into the house as he calls Ørum’s name, this time with his pistol raised. Still no reply. Marius finds the next corpse in the bathroom, and this time he has to clap his hand to his mouth so he doesn’t throw up. The water is running from the tap into the bathtub, which has long since filled to the brim. It’s spilling onto the terrazzo flooring and down the drain, intermingled with the blood. The naked woman – she must be the teenagers’ mother – is lying tangled on the floor. One arm and one leg have been separated from the torso. In the subsequent autopsy report, it will emerge that she has been struck repeatedly with an axe. First as she lay in the bathtub and then as she tried to escape by crawling onto the floor. It will also be established that she tried to defend herself with her hands and feet, which is why they have split open. Her face is unrecognisable, because the axe was used to cave in her skull.
Marius would have frozen at the sight if he hadn’t glimpsed a faint movement out of the corner of his eye. Half hidden beneath a shower curtain dumped in the corner, he can make out a figure. Cautiously, Marius pulls back the curtain a little. It’s a boy. Dishevelled hair, about ten or eleven. He’s lying lifeless in the blood, but a corner of the curtain is still covering the boy’s mouth and it vibrates weakly, haltingly. Marius swiftly leans over the boy and removes the curtain, picking up his limp arm and trying to find a pulse. The boy has cuts and scratches on his arms and legs, he wears a bloody T shirt and underwear, and an axe has been dropped near his head. Finding a pulse, Marius leaps to his feet.
In the living room he grabs feverishly at the telephone beside the full ashtray, sending it tumbling to the floor, but by the time he gets hold of the station his head is clear enough to deliver a coherent message. Ambulance. Officers. Asap. No trace of Ørum. Get going. Now! When he hangs up his first thought is to hurry back to the boy, but then abruptly he remembers that there must be another child: the boy has a twin sister.
Marius heads back towards the front hall and the staircase up to the first floor. As he passes the kitchen and the open basement door, he stops short. There was a sound. A footfall or a scrape, but now there’s silence. Marius draws his pistol again. Opening the door wide, he shuffles gingerly down the narrow steps until his feet find the concrete floor. It takes his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, and then he sees the open basement door at the end of the corridor. His body hesitates, telling him he ought to stop here, wait for the ambulance and his colleagues; but Marius thinks of the girl. As he approaches the door he can see it’s been forced open. The lock and bolt are discarded on the ground, and Marius enters the room, which is lit only dimly by the grime-smeared windows above. Yet he can still make out a small shape hidden well back beneath a table in the corner. Hurrying over, Marius lowers his gun, bends down and peers underneath it.
‘It’s okay. It’s over now.’
He can’t see the girl’s face, only that she’s shaking and huddled into the corner without looking at him.
‘My name is Marius. I’m from the police, and I’m here to help you.’
The girl stays timidly where she is, as though she can’t even hear him, and suddenly Marius becomes aware of the room. Glancing around, he realises what it was used for. He’s disgusted. Then he catches a glimpse of the crooked wooden shelves through the door to the adjoining room. The sight makes him forget the girl, and he walks across to the threshold. Marius can’t see how many there are, but there are more than he can count with the naked eye. Chestnut dolls, male and female. Animals, too. Big and small, some childish, others eerie. Many of them unfinished and malformed. Marius stares at them, their number and variety, and the small dolls on the shelves fill him with disquiet, as the boy steps through the door behind him.
In a split second Marius realises he should remember to ask Forensics whether the basement door was broken down from the inside or the outside. In a split second he realises something monstrous may have escaped, like the animals from their pens, but when he turns towards the boy his thoughts swim away like tiny, puzzled clouds across the heavens. Then the axe strikes his jaw, and everything goes black.
Monday 5 October. The present day.
The voice is everywhere in the darkness. It whispers softly and mocks her – it picks her up when she falls and it whirls her around in the wind. Laura Kjær can’t see any more. She can’t hear the whistling of the leaves in the trees, or feel the cold grass beneath her feet. All that is left is the voice, which keeps whispering between the blows. If she stops resisting, she thinks, the voice might go quiet, but it doesn’t. It keeps going, and so do the blows, until at last she can’t move. Too late she feels the sharp, serrated tool bite hard around one of her wrists, and before she loses consciousness she hears the mechanical noise of the sawblade and her own bones being severed.
Afterwards she doesn’t know how long she’s been gone. The darkness is still there. So is the voice, and it’s as though it has been waiting for her return.
‘Are you okay, Laura?’
Its tone is soft and affectionate and much too close to her ear. But the voice doesn’t wait for an answer. For a moment it removes the thing that was stuck over her mouth, and Laura hears herself begging and pleading. She doesn’t understand anything. She’ll do anything. Why her – what has she done? The voice says she knows that perfectly well. It bends down very close and whispers into her ear, and she can tell it has been looking forward to exactly this moment. She has to concentrate to hear the words. She understands what the voice is saying, but she can’t believe it. The pain is greater than all her other injuries. It can’t be that. It mustn’t be that. She pushes the words away, as though they’re part of the madness that engulfs her in the blackness. She wants to stand up and keep fighting, but her body gives in, and she sobs hysterically. She’s known it for a while, yet somehow not – and only now, as the voice whispers it to her, does she understand that it’s true. She wants to scream as loudly as she can, but her guts are already halfway up her throat, and when she feels the instrument stroke her cheek she flings herself headlong with all her strength and staggers deeper into the gloom.
Tuesday 6 October. The present day.
It’s beginning to grow light outside, but as Naia Thulin reaches down and guides him into her, he’s only gradually emerging from sleep. She feels him inside and begins sliding backwards and forwards. She takes hold of his shoulders and his hands awaken, but slowly and fumblingly.
He’s still drowsy, but Naia doesn’t wait. This is what she wanted when she opened her eyes, and she moves more insistently, sliding backwards with greater intensity, putting one hand against the wall. She is aware he’s lying awkwardly, that his head is banging against the headboard, and she’s aware of the sound of the headboard banging against the wall, but she doesn’t care. She continues, feeling him give in, and as she comes she digs her nails into his chest and senses his pain and pleasure as they both stiffen.
A moment later she’s lying there breathlessly, listening to the garbage truck in the courtyard behind her building. Then she rolls away and gets out of bed before his hands are finished stroking her back.
‘It’s best you go before she wakes up.’
‘Why? She likes it when I’m here.’
‘Come on. Get up.’
‘Only if you two move in with me.’
She chucks his shirt at his head and vanishes into the bathroom, while he falls back onto the pillow with a smile.
It’s the first Tuesday in October. Autumn came late, but today the sky above the city is a low ceiling of dark grey clouds, and it’s pouring with rain as Naia Thulin dashes out of the car and through the street traffic. She can hear her mobile ringing, but she doesn’t reach into her coat pocket for it. She has her hand on her daughter’s back so she can hurry her through the small gaps in the rush-hour jam. The morning has been busy. Le was mostly interested in talking about the League of Legends computer game, which she’s much too little to know anything about yet still knows all about, and she named a Korean professional gamer called Park Su as her big hero.
‘You’ve got your wellies, in case you’re going to the park. And remember Grandad’s picking you up, but you’ve got to cross the road yourself. You look left, right, then –’
‘Then left again, and I’ve got to remember to put my jacket on, so they can see the reflective bits.’
‘Stand still so I can tie your shoelaces.’
They’ve reached the front of the school, standing underneath the roof of the bike shed, and Thulin bends down as Le tries to stand still with her boots in the puddles.
‘When are we moving in with Sebastian?’
‘I haven’t said we’re moving in with Sebastian.’
‘Why isn’t he there in the morning when he’s there in the evening?’
‘Grown-ups are busy in the morning, and Sebastian has to rush off to work.’
‘Ramazan’s had a little brother and now he’s got fifteen pictures on the family tree, and I’ve only got three.’
Thulin glances curtly up at her daughter and curses the sweet little posters of the family trees, which the teacher decorated with autumn leaves and displayed on the classroom wall so that parents and children can stop and examine them. On the other hand she’s always grateful when Le automatically counts Grandad as part of the family, even though technically speaking he isn’t her grandfather.
‘It’s not about that. And you have five pictures on the family tree, if you count the budgie and the hamster.’
‘The others don’t have animals on their trees.’
‘No, the other children aren’t that lucky.’
Le doesn’t answer, and Thulin stands up.
‘I know there’s not a lot of us, but we’re doing alright, and that’s the important thing. Okay?’
‘Can I get another budgie, then?’
Thulin gazes at her, wondering how this conversation started and whether her daughter might be sharper than she thinks.
‘We’ll discuss that another time. Just wait a bit.’
Her mobile has begun to ring again, and she knows she has to answer it this time.
‘I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.’
‘No rush,’ says the voice on the other end of the line, and she recognises it as one of Nylander’s secretaries. ‘Nylander can’t make your meeting this morning, so it’ll be Tuesday next week instead. But I’m supposed to tell you he wants you to take the new guy with you today, so he’ll be good for something while he’s here.’
‘Mum, I’m going in with Ramazan!’
Thulin watches her daughter scamper over to the boy called Ramazan. She falls in quite naturally with the rest of the Syrian family, a woman and a man, the man with a newborn in his arms, and two other children. To Thulin they look like they’ve just stepped out of a women’s magazine article about a model family.
‘But that’s the second time Nylander’s cancelled, and it’ll only take five minutes. Where is he right now?’
‘I’m afraid he’s on his way to the budget meeting. And he’d like to know what your chat is going to be about?’
For a moment Thulin considers telling her that it’s going to be about how her nine months at the Major Crimes Division, known as the murder squad, have been about as exciting as a visit to the police museum. That the assignments are tedious, the standards of technology at the department barely more impressive than a Commodore 64, and that she’s desperately looking forward to moving on.
‘Nothing major. Thanks.’
She hangs up and waves at her daughter, who is running into the school. She can feel the rain beginning to seep through her coat, and as she heads towards the road she realises she can’t wait until Tuesday for the meeting. She dodges through the traffic, but as she reaches the car and opens the door, she gets the sudden sensation that she’s being watched. On the other side of the crossing, through the endless rows of cars and trucks, she glimpses the outline of a figure – but by the time the queue has passed the figure is gone. Shaking off the feeling, Thulin gets into her car.
The spacious corridors of the police station echo with the steps of the two men as they pass a couple of detectives going in the opposite direction. Nylander, head of Homicide, loathes conversations like this one, but he knows it will probably be the only chance he’ll get all day, so he swallows his pride and keeps pace with the deputy commissioner as one dull sentence follows another.
‘Nylander, we need to tighten our belts. It’s the same with all our departments.’
‘I was given to think I’d have more officers –’
‘It’s a question of timing. Right now the Ministry of Justice is prioritising departments other than yours. They’ve got ambitions for NC3 to become the best cyber crime unit in Europe, so they’re cutting back on resources elsewhere.’
‘That doesn’t mean my department should suffer. We’ve needed twice the manpower these last –’
‘I’ve not given up, but you have just had some of the pressure taken off, you know.’
‘I haven’t had any pressure taken off. A single investigator who’ll be here a few days because Europol have chucked him out on his arse doesn’t really count.’
‘He’ll probably hang around a bit longer, depending on the situation. But the ministry could actually have cut the number of staff, you know, so right now it’s about making the best of a bad job. Alright?’
The deputy commissioner pauses, turning towards Nylander to emphasise his words, and Nylander is about to answer that no, it bloody well isn’t alright. He needs more manpower like he was promised, but instead he’s been passed over in favour of the twats at NC3, to use the fancy-pants abbreviation for the National Cyber Crime Centre. On top of that it’s a monumental bureaucratic slap in the face that he has to make do with some washed-up detective who’s fallen out of favour at the Hague.
‘Do you have a moment?’ Thulin has appeared in the background, and the deputy commissioner uses the interruption to slip through the meeting-room door and shut it behind him. Nylander stares briefly after him before starting to head back the way he came.
‘Not now, and nor do you. Check with the duty officer about the report that’s come in from Husum. I want you to take that Europol chap and get cracking.’
‘But it’s about –’
‘I don’t have time for this conversation right now. I’m not blind to your abilities, but you’re the youngest detective ever to set foot in this department, so I don’t want you setting your sights on becoming team leader or whatever it is you’re itching to meet about.’
‘I don’t want to be team leader. I need a recommendation for NC3.’
Nylander judders to a halt.
‘NC3. The department for cyber crime –’
‘Yeah, I know what department it is. Why?’
‘Because I think the assignments at NC3 are interesting.’
‘As opposed to?’
‘As opposed to nothing. I’d just like to –’
‘You’ve basically only just started. NC3 doesn’t take people who apply on the off chance, so there’s no point trying.’
‘They’ve specifically asked me to apply.’
Nylander tries to conceal his surprise, but he knows instantly she’s telling the truth. He looks at the slight woman standing before him. How old is she? Twenty-nine, thirty, thereabouts? An odd little thing, not much to look at. He clearly remembers underestimating her – before he knew better. In his staff assessment he recently split his detectives into an A and a B team, and Thulin, despite her age, was one of the first names he put onto the A team alongside seasoned investigators like Jansen and Ricks, whom the department was supposed to consolidate around. And Nylander did actually consider her for team leader. He isn’t over-fond of female investigators, and her general air of aloofness rubs him the wrong way, but she’s highly intelligent and has breezed through her cases at a pace that made more experienced detectives look like they were standing still. Thulin probably thinks the level of technology at the department is out of the Stone Age, and it’s because he shares her opinion that he knows how much he needs tech geeks like her. The department has to keep up with the times. Hence why he’s used a few of their conversations to remind her that she’s still wet behind the ears: he’s trying to make sure she doesn’t do a runner.
‘Who asked you?’
‘The boss, what’s-his-name. Isak Wenger.’
Nylander feels his face darken.
‘I’ve been happy here, but I’d like to send off my application by the end of the week at the latest.’
‘I’ll think it over.’
‘Can we say Friday?’
Nylander has already stalked off. For a moment he senses her eyes on the back of his neck, and knows she’ll be after him on Friday to get that recommendation. So it’s come to this. His department has become a seed bed for the elite, for the ministry’s new darling, NC3. When he goes into the budget meeting in a few minutes’ time, that priority will be brought home to him once again in the form of figures and hard caps. Christmas will mark three years since Nylander accepted the top job in Homicide, but now things have come to a grinding halt, and if something doesn’t change, the promotion won’t be the career opportunity he once imagined.
The windscreen wipers chuck the streaming water aside. When the traffic light changes to green the police car swings out of the queue – away from the bus-side adverts for private hospitals offering new breasts, Botox and liposuction – and sets off for the suburbs. The radio is on. The hosts, chatting and playing the latest pop songs about sex, arse and lust, are briefly interrupted by the news, and the newsreader announces that today is the first Tuesday in October: the opening of parliament. The top story, unsurprisingly, is about Rosa Hartung, Minister for Social Affairs, returning to her post after the tragic episode involving her daughter nearly one year earlier, which everybody across the nation followed with bated breath. But before the newsreader can finish, the stranger beside Thulin turns down the sound.
‘Do you have a pair of scissors or anything?’
‘No, I don’t have any scissors.’
For a moment Thulin lets her eyes flit from the traffic and towards the man sitting beside her, who is struggling to open the packaging on a new mobile phone. He was standing smoking a cigarette not far from the car when she arrived at the garage opposite the station. Tall, upright, yet somehow a little down at heel. Unkempt, rain-soaked hair, worn and sopping Nike shoes, thin, baggy trousers, and a short black quilted jacket that also looked like it had taken a ducking. The man isn’t dressed for the weather. He must have come straight from the Hague, thinks Thulin. The small, battered hold-all at his side lends weight to that impression. Thulin knows he arrived at the station less than forty-eight hours ago, because she overheard colleagues gossiping about him as she fetched her morning coffee from the canteen. A ‘liaison officer’ stationed at Europol’s headquarters in the Hague, he’d been suddenly relieved of duty and ordered to Copenhagen as penance for some blunder or other. It prompted a few derisive remarks from her colleagues. The relationship between the Danish police and Europol had been strained ever since the Danes refused to relinquish one of their opt outs from the EU in a referendum some years before.
When Thulin bumped into him in the parking garage he was lost in thought, and when she introduced herself he simply shook her hand and said, ‘Hess’. Not especially chatty. Normally neither is she, but the conversation with Nylander went as planned. She feels certain her days at the department are coming to an end, so it can’t hurt to show a bit of friendliness towards an embattled colleague. After they got into the car she rattled through everything she knows about the assignment, but the man simply nodded with a minimum of interest. She puts him somewhere between thirty-seven and forty-one, and his shabby street-urchin look reminds her of an actor, but she can’t think whom. He wears a ring on his finger, possibly a wedding band, but her instinct tells her the man is long divorced – or at least in the process thereof. Meeting him felt like kicking a ball against a concrete wall, but it hasn’t spoiled her good mood, and her interest in transnational police cooperation is genuine.
‘So how long are you home?’
‘Probably just a few days. They’re figuring it out.’
‘Do you like being at Europol?’
‘Yeah, it’s fine. Weather’s better.’
‘Am I right in saying their cyber crime unit has begun recruiting hackers they themselves have tracked down?’
‘No idea, not my department. You mind if I slip off for a minute after we’re done at the scene?’
‘Just for an hour. I need to pick up the keys to my apartment.’
‘But you’re usually based at the Hague?’
‘Yeah, or wherever they need me.’
‘Where might that be?’
‘It varies. Marseille, Geneva, Amsterdam, Lisbon…’
The man is concentrating on his mobile phone packaging again, but Thulin guesses he could have kept listing cities for a while. There’s something cosmopolitan about him. A kind of traveller without baggage, although the sheen of the big city and distant skies has long since rubbed off. If it was ever there.
‘How long have you been gone?’
‘Nearly five years. I’m just going to borrow that.’
Hess snatches a ballpoint pen from the cup holder between the seats and begins to lever open the packaging.
Thulin is surprised. Most liaison officers she’s heard of are contracted for two years at a stretch. A few extend it to four, but she’s never heard of a liaison officer being away for five.
‘The time goes quickly.’
‘So it was because of the police reform.’
‘That you left. I heard lots of people left the department because they weren’t happy with –’
‘No, that wasn’t why.’
‘Because I just did.’
She looks at him. He glances fleetingly back, and for the first time she notices his eyes. The left is green, the right blue. He didn’t say it in an unfriendly way, but it’s a line in the sand, and he doesn’t comment further. Thulin indicates, turning off into a residential area. If he wants to play the macho agent with a mysterious past, so be it. There are enough guys like that at the station to form their own football team.
The house is a white, modernist home with its own garage. It’s situated in the middle of a family neighbourhood in Husum, among privet hedges and trim rows of letter boxes facing the road. This is where middle-income earners move once they’ve made the nuclear family a reality, and if their means stretch that far. A safe neighbourhood, where sleeping policemen ensure nobody exceeds the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit. Trampolines in the gardens and traces of chalk on the wet asphalt. A few schoolchildren wearing helmets and reflective jackets go cycling past in the rain as Thulin pulls up next to the patrol car and Forensics vehicles. A few scattered residents stand murmuring under umbrellas a little way behind a barrier.
‘I’ve just got to answer this.’ Less than two minutes ago Hess stuffed a SIM card into his mobile and sent a text, and it’s already buzzing.
‘That’s fine, take your time.’
Thulin gets out into the rain while Hess remains sitting in the car and begins a conversation in French. As she jogs down the little garden path over its traditional concrete paving stones, it occurs to her that she might have found another reason to look forward to leaving the department.
The voices of the two morning TV hosts echo through the large, fashionable villa in Outer Østerbro as they prepare for another conversation over coffee on the studio’s comfy corner sofa.
‘So today parliament opens, and we’re kicking off a new year. It’s always a very special day, but this time it’s especially special for a certain politician, and by that I mean Minister for Social Affairs Rosa Hartung, who lost her twelve-year-old daughter on 18 October last year. Rosa Hartung has been on leave since her daughter was –’
Steen Hartung reaches out and switches off the flatscreen, which hangs on the wall beside the fridge. He picks up his architectural drawings and writing implements from the wooden floor in the spacious French-inspired country kitchen where he’s just dropped them.
‘Come on, get ready. We’re setting off as soon as your mother’s left.’
His son is still sitting at the large table, scribbling in his maths book, surrounded by the leftovers from breakfast. Every Tuesday Gustav appears five minutes before they have to leave for school, and every Tuesday Steen has to tell him it’s the wrong time to be doing homework.
‘But why can’t I go on my bike?’
‘It’s Tuesday, you’ve got tennis after school, so I’m picking you up. Have you packed your clothes?’
‘I have it.’
The petite Filipina au pair comes into the room and puts down a sports bag, and Steen watches her gratefully as she starts clearing up.
‘Thanks Alice. Come on, Gustav.’
‘All the other kids cycle.’
Through the window Steen sees the big black car roll up the driveway and park in the puddles outside.
‘Dad, just for today?’
‘No, we’ll do the usual. The car’s here. Where’s your mum?’
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