Authors: Quentin Bates
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
escaped suburbia as a teenager and spent a decade in Iceland, before returning to his English roots with an Icelandic family and eventually turning to writing for a living.
Also by Quentin Bates
Chilled to the Bone
An Icelandic mystery featuring Officer Gunnhildur
Constable • Robinson
First published in Great Britain in 2015 by Constable
Copyright Quentin Bates, 2015
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
ISBN: 978-1-47212-118-9 (ebook)
is an imprint of
Constable & Robinson Ltd
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DY
An Hachette UK Company
Logi sneezed dust and wiped his nose. He had been working in the old house miles up country for three weeks and was already sick of it. There was no mobile signal and the nearest shop was a thirty-minute drive. The guys on the job were all right, although only Pétur the contractor who was running the job was Icelandic. That meant he had to struggle in English with the Polish boys and that weird Arab who stopped to pray a couple of times a day.
The house had once been a farmhouse, a solid concrete box that Pétur said had been built before the war, although he didn’t say which war that had been. The place hadn’t been a farm for years and nobody had lived there for a good long time, he guessed, not that anyone would want to live so far from WiFi, or at least a decent mobile network.
He checked his phone, spat into the dust as he did so, and saw with disgust that there were no bars on the screen.
Logi could hear the others banging away at a wall that needed to come down on the floor below. The new owner of the place, some musician from Reykjavík, planned to convert it into a retreat, with an apartment upstairs and a recording studio on the ground floor. Logi approved, but he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to move away from the city, unless maybe to go to a bigger city abroad.
He wrenched up another floorboard and placed his booted feet carefully on the exposed rafters as he slung the board out through the window and heard it clatter on the pile outside that would become a bonfire. With half of the floorboards of what had once been a bedroom up, he decided to start on the far side, so as to leave himself a walkway between the door and the window.
In the dim far corner of the room, he hammered the jemmy between two boards and felt the wood splinter as he levered the end up, hauling it free from the nails that had held it in place for sixty years. He stuck the jemmy under the next board, a short piece that spanned only two rafters close to the wall, and was surprised as it came up without needing to be forced. Bending down to lift it and looking closer, he saw a package in the dust, resting on the ceiling of the kitchen below.
Logi grinned at the thought of hidden valuables. It was what everyone working on these old buildings hoped to find, preferably some long-dead widow’s stash of inflation-proof gold coins. But he reflected that, knowing his lousy luck, it was more likely to be a pile of useless hidden love letters or some such junk.
He opened the thick paper bag and pulled out a leather case, the dark brown sheen of it still retaining a little of the shine it had been given a long time ago. Frowning to himself, Logi unfastened the buckle and his jaw dropped as the smooth brown wood of the pistol’s handle found its way into his hand as if it had sought him out. He felt the weight of it in his palm, delved back into the bag and found a heavy cardboard box, which he opened at one end to reveal rows of shiny bullets ready to be used.
A shout from outside snatched him from his reverie over the pistol and he quickly packed it back in its bag under the floorboards.
The shout from outside was soon repeated. ‘Hey! Logi!’
Logi looked out of what had been a window until the frame had been stripped out and added to the growing bonfire outside. ‘What’s up?’
‘Staying here all night are you? Some of us want to get home.’
Logi looked at his watch and realized it was later than he’d thought. He glanced at the corner of the room where his find was hidden beneath the boards.
‘Coming,’ he called out of the window.
Logi had hardly closed the vehicle door before the crazy Pole slipped the clutch and the van set off down the slope, spitting gravel behind it. Normally he tried not to be last as nobody wanted to sit in front while Tadeusz drove. He winced as the wheels fought to grip the road and the back of the van fishtailed wildly, the three of them in the back laughing and calling for Tadeusz to slow down.
When the van eventually hit the main road with its occasional police patrols, he slowed down to a comfortable speed, just over the limit but not enough to trigger a speed camera, while the pungent smell of grass wafted from the back and Logi cracked open the window. After a few minutes there was a tap on his shoulder and a joint was passed forward. Logi took a deep toke and made to pass it back, but Tadeusz whooped.
‘Logi, no! Pass it this way, man!’
Unwillingly, Logi passed it over. Tadeusz dragged deep on the joint without taking his eyes off the road and Logi felt himself relax at last as the scenery unrolled and he wondered what to do about his find under the floorboards. He knew that handguns were outlawed completely. The police had a few pistols, and one or two collectors had been able to acquire handguns, but those that he had occasionally seen flashed by men who wanted to be taken seriously were the illegal weapons that could get a man a long stretch behind bars without a shot having been fired.
Craning his neck over his shoulder, Logi saw that the three of them in the back were stretched out between the toolboxes.
‘Hey, Tadeusz. Were you in the army back in Polskiland?’
‘Yeah, two years,’ Tadeusz said proudly, ferreting in his pocket for a cigarette.
‘What did you do? Drive a tank or something?’
‘Hell, no. I was cook. Soup, soup and more soup, and potatoes, and cabbage. Same every day.’
‘But you must have fired a gun, though?’
‘Yes . . .’ Tadeusz began, as Logi’s phone started to buzz and he recognized a name he would have preferred not to see on the screen.
‘Yeah?’ he said uncertainly. ‘Danni, what can I do for you?’
‘What can you do for me?’ A throaty voice asked in return. ‘I like that. I like that a lot. Listen, Logi, my boy, I’ve a proposition for you. Where the hell are you?’
‘Er, somewhere near the tunnel. Doing a job out of town at the minute. Why?’
‘Like I told you. I’ve a proposition for you. It means cash in your pocket, tax free.’
Logi’s heart sank. Tax-free money would be a godsend, but the idea of working for Danni was no great temptation.
‘You haven’t paid me for that last job yet,’ he said, meaning it to sting, but Danni laughed.
‘Logi, man. Listen, give me a buzz when you’re in town. I’ll buy you a beer, pay you for the garage roof
give you a down payment on the new job. How does that sound?’
Logi rolled his eyes and looked at the ceiling. His former brother-in-law’s promises had always been an unknown quantity. Sometimes there would be cash on the nail and at other times it could take months to extract even a fraction of a job’s worth from him. On top of that was the nagging uncertainty that Danni might whisper to his sister that Logi was in funds, which would precipitate an instant, strident demand for some of the long backlog of unpaid maintenance he owed her.
‘Yeah, all right,’ he agreed. ‘Usual place around eight? I can’t stay out too late. Some of us have work to do,’ he added, to remind Danni that not everyone was able to spend his mornings asleep and his nights brokering dubious deals that rarely came to much.
‘More work?’ Tadeusz asked as Logi put his phone away. The lanky Polish boy understood more Icelandic than he’d imagined.
‘Maybe. My useless ex-brother-in-law wants a job done, which means he probably wants it done on the cheap. So I’m not going to hold my breath. Anyway, you were saying? About the army?’
‘Yeah, I was cook. Two years.’
‘You must have fired a gun a few times?’
‘Ach, not much. Basic training and then the cookhouse.’
‘So what guns did you get to fire? Rifles and things like that?’
‘AK-47,’ Tadeusz said, frowning. ‘And gun that fires up. I don’t know what it’s called in English. It fires a bomb up so it comes down on the bad guys. Very quick. Ten, twenty bombs in a minute. Hard work. Dangerous,’ he said with a downward twist of his mouth, as if suppressing a bad memory.
‘I know what you mean,’ Logi said. ‘How about pistols? You ever fire those?’
‘No. Never. That’s for officers, not for uniform slaves.’
‘Fair enough,’ Logi said and decided to let the matter drop.
Tadeusz was silent and Logi closed his eyes, feeling the long-awaited summer sunshine play over his face as the van hummed towards Reykjavík.
‘You want to get a gun?’ Tadeusz asked, breaking the silence.
‘Me? Hell, no.’ Logi laughed.
Tadeusz looked at him sideways. ‘You have a gun, maybe? I know people—’
‘No, not me. I was just being curious. That’s all.’
‘You let me know. You want a gun or sell one, I know who to go to,’ Tadeusz said, and winked. He looked over his shoulder into the back of the van. ‘You don’t say anything to the guys.’
Tadeusz put out a hand, palm down, and moved it side to side with short movements.
‘Don’t trust them all. Bad friends.’
‘And your friends are good guys?’ Logi laughed again.
‘My friends can keep quiet. You ask me,’ Tadeusz said quietly as a yawn and a resounding fart was heard from the back. ‘Almost home,’ he said as he slowed down for the first of the roundabouts approaching the city limits, and gave Logi a conspiratorial wink that made him shiver. ‘Same time tomorrow?’
Logi was early and nursed a beer as he waited, knowing that Danni would be late anyway. It was a relief to relax for half an hour after a long day at the old farmhouse. It was harder work than he preferred to do these days, but hell, the money was good and he needed it, what with Sandra calling and texting that the kids needed this or that. He sipped his beer and watched with amusement, as a group of young women clustered around a table outside squawked and screeched as they got steadily drunker.
He was sick of being broke, of never having anything in the bank to fall back on, of constantly scraping a living from one just-in-time job to the next. As a competent carpenter with an apprenticeship behind him, he should be writing his own cheques, but a series of indiscretions and a failed business a few years ago had put people off taking him on for big jobs, and he knew that his sharp temper had been his undoing more than once.
His thoughts turned again to what he had found that morning and he wondered what to do with it. The thought of handing it in didn’t even occur to him, and he wondered how it could most easily be turned into cash. As a city boy, he had never had the easy familiarity with shotguns that his country cousins displayed on the rare cold, wet and largely boring expeditions they’d dragged him on as a boy to shoot geese and ptarmigan. Although he knew what was under the farmhouse’s floor was a pistol of some kind, his knowledge went no further than that.
He heard Danni before he saw him. His braying laugh and some off-colour joke had set the barman laughing while the woman behind the bar shook her head and pretended not to be offended as Danni laughed and made his way across to the window where Logi was watching the teenage group outside becoming steadily more raucous.
‘The brunette, I reckon,’ Danni said, sitting down and admiring the view. ‘And that skinny one for after.’
‘No chance. The redhead, I reckon,’ Logi replied, draining his glass. ‘You did get me a refill, didn’t you?’