Read Hell Fire Online

Authors: Karin Fossum

Hell Fire

BOOK: Hell Fire
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First U.S. edition

 

Copyright © 2014 by Cappelen Damm AS

English translation copyright © 2016 by Kari Dickson

 

All rights reserved

 

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to
[email protected]
or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

 

www.hmhco.com

 

First published with the title
Helvetesilden
in Norway by Cappelen Damm in 2014

 

First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Harvill Secker

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Fossum, Karin, date, author. | Dickson, Kari, translator.

Title: Hell fire / Karin Fossum ; Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson.

Other titles: Helvetesilden. English

Description: First U.S. edition | Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. | Series: Inspector Sejer mysteries ; 12

Identifiers:
LCCN
2016020542 (print) |
LCCN
2016024497 (ebook) |
ISBN
9780544633377 (hardback) |
ISBN
9780544944398 (trade paper) |
ISBN
9780544636460 (ebook)

Subjects:
LCSH:
Murder—Investigation—Norway—Fiction. | Police—Norway—Fiction. |
BISAC: FICTION
/ Mystery & Detective / Police Procedural. |
GSAFD:
Detective and mystery stories.
Classification:
LCC PT
8951.16.
O
735
H
4513 2016 (print) |
LCC PT
8951.16.
O
735 (ebook) |
DDC
839.823/74—dc23

LC record available at
https://lccn.loc.gov/2016020542

 

Cover design: Michaela Sullivan

Cover photograph © Captureworx/Millennium Images, UK

 

v1.0816

 

My darling Finn. Thank you.

1
July 6, 2005

WOMEN AND CHILDREN
sweated in the heat, but the men knew better and stayed in the shade with the peaks of their caps pulled down over their eyes. In a hollow in the fields up by Skarven, an old Fendt trailer stood in a cluster of dark pines. A torn curtain hung in one rusty window—a fine net of nylon threads and white lace where insects had gotten caught and trapped. A child was lying just inside the door, a child of around four or five. And on the narrow sofa under the window, a woman. She had a large gash in the corner of her mouth and the blood had run down her neck. The inspector stood in the doorway, his heart hammering.

The trailer was dilapidated; surely they hadn't lived here, the mother and child? No, he thought, they couldn't have. Maybe they were just here for fun. They had gone for a walk over the fields in the lovely weather, perhaps, and had seen the rusty little house standing there. Let's sleep in the trailer tonight!

Geirastadir lay to the west and Haugane to the east, but here, in the dark cluster of trees, lay the mother and child. Sejer climbed into the trailer. The adrenaline made his mouth dry. He stepped over the child, careful to avoid the blood. Then he spotted a knife lying on the floor over by the sofa. A knife with a riveted wood handle and a long, thin blade—the kind of knife used to fillet meat or fish. There were streaks of blood on the shiny blade—it had clearly run thick and fast—and the air smelled raw. On the countertop, he found a handbag with a wallet in it; it was red, with several compartments. He noticed a backpack and a half-eaten pizza and some clothes on the shelves. A thousand kroner in cash in the wallet. In other words, this was not a robbery, but then he had never thought it was. There was always some kind of relationship, he believed: a reason, a motive. A seed from way back. The person who had killed the mother and child knew who they were. And where they were. He had tracked them down, pursued them over the fields, and found their hiding place. If it was a hiding place. It was certainly a dismal place to be found, full of stains and damp and that foul smell. Rain leaking through the roof, dead insects. The child was wearing a tracksuit in red, white, and blue: the Norwegian colors. It wasn't possible to tell if it was a boy or a girl. Lying on its back with its arms outstretched, as though it had been pushed back by something at the door. Some fair curls caked to its brow. The head twisted back at the neck, showing a thin white throat.

Sejer opened the wallet again and took out the driver's license. Bonnie Hayden. So that was the mother's name. But for the moment, the child's remained unknown.

“Not yet,” he said to the others who wanted to come in.

“Don't touch anything. It's not long since this happened; it's still wet. Call Snorrason in forensics and ask him to come immediately.”

He had to go out to get some fresh air; he stood for a while on the grass and breathed in deeply. He registered that some things were crystal clear. The birds were still singing, a light wind played with the black needles on the branches, a thrush pulled and tugged at a worm it had found in the field. A huge area had been sealed off already and the plastic tape fluttered in the breeze like colorful bunting.

The men followed the dusty path up toward Geirastadir. Their conversation was limited to short hushed comments. He had presumably walked this way, trodden this path after doing the deed. “One of them must have seen the other die,” Sejer said, turning to his younger colleague. He didn't know which was worse: if the child had witnessed the mother's death, or if the mother had witnessed the child's death. The most horrific thing possible had happened to them both. Evil incarnate had snuck across the fields and stabbed them with a knife. There was something methodical about the murders, something determined—he couldn't see it any other way.

I only hope to God it was quick, he thought.

He exchanged a few words with Randen, the farmer who had found the bodies. Robert Randen stood frightened, at a respectable distance, unable to move forward or backward. He didn't want to leave, but he didn't want to stay. He owned the trailer, which hadn't been used for a few years; it had stood there empty and rusting among the pine trees.

“We'll need to take a statement from you later,” Konrad Sejer said. “But for now, have you noticed anyone in the area in recent days? Anyone who doesn't belong?”

“No,” he replied. “I haven't seen a soul. I've got some Polish workers on the farm,” he added, “and they knew that the boy and his mother were staying in the trailer. But it was only one night; they came yesterday. I refuse to believe that any of my men are involved. And if that is the case, it'll break me. They're my people.”

“There's a knife on the floor inside,” Sejer continued. “Did you see it?”

The farmer caught his breath. Almost imperceptibly.

“I want you to take a closer look at it. See if you've seen it before.”

“Do I have to go in again?” He was reluctant.

“Yes.”

He climbed the two steps and peered in. “It's not our knife. Can I go now?”

“Yes, we'll follow up with you later. Don't talk to the press.” Sejer was about to go back inside the trailer when something in the grass caught his eye. It was an overturned cake plate by the narrow door. The cake had slid off the edge and was now lying on the ground, untouched. The discovery puzzled him, and he made sure that it was photographed. The fat crows would undoubtedly dive in and finish it off in no time if they didn't take it with them. The technicians took their pictures, bent over in the cramped trailer, hunkered down. There were several bloody prints on the linoleum floor, including the sole of a big shoe. Most were faint or incomplete, but one was clear. Sejer moved carefully between the dead bodies. The pungent smell of meat and blood tore at his nose. But his brain was clear. Through the window, he saw a thicket of ripe raspberries.

2
December 2004

THE SNOW FINALLY CAME
just before Christmas.

“Do you really have to go out?” Eddie asked. “There's a storm blowing.”

They had said on the radio that it was icy and driving conditions were bad. They advised people to stay indoors because visibility was virtually zero.

Mass put her hand on his arm; her voice was calm and decisive. “Eddie,” she said kindly, “I've got winter tires. And I'll drive like a snail, I promise. I want to come home to you in one piece. But I have to go to the store; we need food. Or do you want to try going without?”

Eddie shook his heavy head at the thought of having no dinner.

“You stay at home with Shiba,” she said. “What do you want from the store? I'm sure you're hungry.”

Eddie Malthe wiped his nose with the back of his hand. He was the shape of a giant pear, with thin, spindly legs. He was wearing the same heavy boots that he always wore, which were narrow at the heel and broadened out toward the toes. He had the feet of a big goose. His hands were huge and white, with short, stubby fingers.

“Cinnamon rolls,” he said without hesitation.

“Cinnamon rolls it is,” his mother replied. “I'll be off, then. And be nice to Shiba; don't pull her tail. I know that's what you do when you're here on your own.”

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Eddie said, as he planned with glee to do just that. When he pulled her tail, Shiba always started to whine and scratched the floor with her long claws as though she was trying to escape.

“Remember your seat belt,” he said with authority. His mother pulled on her coat.

“And don't forget your cell phone. If you run off the road, you must call the emergency services. That is, if you're not unconscious.”

“Eddie, stop it. Now go and sit down on the sofa and I'll be back in three-quarters of an hour, no more.”

Eddie looked at his mother long and hard. “When you go out, it'll get cold in the house,” he complained. “You know what it's like. Don't forget the cinnamon rolls. If they haven't got them, get some cookies. Lemon creams.”

 

He stared out of the window. The glass was shiny and clean—his mother kept things neat and tidy. His eyes felt sore. He watched the car reverse out of the garage and turn onto the main road. The snow was coming down and swirling around in the wind, ending in great drifts on the roadside. He said a quiet prayer that everything would be all right. That his mother would come back unharmed with the shopping. The dog was sleeping in front of the heater with her head on her paws. He went straight over to her and pulled her tail hard, as he always did. Shiba scrambled to her feet, whining, and ran into the kitchen.

Eddie sat down on the sofa and picked up the newspaper. He turned to the second-to-last page, where the crossword was. He normally managed to solve it. It wasn't that he was stupid. He found a pencil and started to read. Across, possessive, seven letters
.
He wrote the word
jealous
in the seven squares.

The heater was roaring, and the dog had settled down on the floor in the corner of the kitchen. She was an overweight, eight-year-old Labrador, and his mother had said she didn't have long to live. Her body was full of lumps; he could feel them under her golden fur. She wasn't insured, so they couldn't afford to take her to the vet.

“We'll just have to let life run its course,” his mother would say. “Nothing lasts forever, you know.”

“I know,” Eddie would answer. Then he'd think about his mother's death because it was going to happen one day. And even though she was only fifty-six and he was twenty-one, it still terrified him to think about her demise and he got all hot and bothered. He often had to put his hand on his heart to calm it down.
Romany,
he read, and he got the fourth letter, “s,” from
jealous
. He wrote the word
gypsy
in the five squares. He always did the easy ones first. Then he looked at the clock on the wall and watched the seconds tick by. His mother would be back with the cinnamon rolls in twenty minutes. He could already taste them in his mouth. He really, really hoped they had some! And that they were good and fresh! Direction, five letters. Could be north. Or south. Either way, he had the next word for
circle
, five letters. It must be
round
. Then he got onto the more difficult clues and decided to take a break.

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