Authors: Quentin Bates
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Her face fell. ‘What? See him dead?’
Logi’s phone buzzed on the seat next to him and he took his eyes off the road for a moment to check the number before answering. He was disappointed and angry with himself after leaving Brynja’s apartment without a word. It was the work of a coward to walk out without saying anything, without giving a reason, but he felt he couldn’t do it. He had entertained hopes of moving in and living with Brynja, even of finding somewhere bigger where they could live together, with space for her children to grow up and him to play the part of stepfather.
It was the wildness in her he couldn’t face. For thirty days a month Brynja was a hard-working, sensible single mother who put food on the table, wiped away tears and kissed skinned knees. But on that one weekend a month that the boys went to their father, it was as if a party animal inside her was unleashed with a desperate need to suck her social life dry in one mad night followed by a miserable day-long hangover.
A couple of times he had tried to steer her in another direction and taken her out for a meal and a movie, even the theatre once. But the lure of flashing lights and pounding music was always too strong, and they would end up in a club as the night owl inside her emerged, ready to boogie and down glasses of whatever came her way.
‘Yeah?’ he said, answering the phone at last.
‘Hey, Logi? Where are you?’ Danni asked.
‘In the truck. Why?’
‘I can’t hear you properly. Call me back when you stop, will you?’
‘Will do,’ Logi said and dropped the phone back on the seat.
He tried to push Brynja from his mind as he drove out of the city and through Hafnarfjördur. He imagined Danni on the other end of the phone and wondered why he’d called. It wasn’t like his former brother-in-law to call without a good reason and normally that was a good reason of his own.
He brooded for the half hour it took to reach Keflavík and when he got there he saw that the indicator light was showing red, so he pulled into a filling station and pumped the tank full, paid in cash and went out to shift the pickup to a parking space. He poured himself an ink-black coffee, ordered a burger and a bag of chips and sat on a stool in the window to flip through the paper while he waited for his food, regretting already the leg of lamb that was defrosting in Brynja’s kitchen ready for that evening. Maybe it wasn’t too late, or was it?
‘Fifty-one,’ the teenager behind the counter called. Logi glanced at his ticket and collected his food and a cold drink. The burger was fresh from the microwave, so he munched a few chips and picked up his phone while it cooled.
‘Danni, what’s going on?
‘Thank fuck. Where the fuck are you, man?’
Logi held the phone away from his ear for a moment as Danni swore some more.
‘Hey, calm down, will you? What’s your problem?’
‘What’s my problem? You’re my problem right now, and so’s the fucking gorilla who was here just now looking for you.’
Logi’s blood ran cold.
‘Like I said, there’s a guy looking for you, said he wants to skin you alive.’
‘Logi, I don’t have a fucking clue. I was just glad to get rid of him and swore blind you were working on a job in Akureyri.’
That was a good idea, Logi thought, and mentally thanked Danni for his quick thinking.
‘This isn’t Sandra, is it?’
‘Come on, Logi, my sister may be a prize bitch when she wants to be, but I don’t think even she would drop an enforcer on you, surely? Why? How much do you owe her?’
Logi stuffed another handful of chips in his mouth and chewed them to a mush. ‘A bit. And I reckon I know her better than you do after living with her for twelve years.’
Danni grunted. ‘Whatever. Anyway, just so you know, there’s a big bastard who’s after your blood.’
‘Does he know where I live?’
‘If Cornershop Alli sent him, then you can be sure he’s been to your place already.’
Hell, Logi swore silently.
‘Does this guy have a name or a phone number? And what does he look like?’
Danni laughed mirthlessly. ‘You can’t miss him. He’s about the size of a small building, with a bald head and tattoos up both arms, and he’s anxious to meet you.’
Aníta Sól was put in an interview room to wait for the lawyer she had requested while Gunna quickly briefed Ívar Laxdal.
‘You reckon her boyfriend’s best friend did it?’
‘It looks suspiciously like that. That’s the line to pursue, and push her hard to get her to drop something. I’m not convinced that she’s involved, but it wouldn’t be a surprise.’
‘Helgi doesn’t think so.’
‘And Helgi may well be right, but we need to strike while the iron’s hot here.’
‘How are we off for bodies?’
‘Staff, you mean? Thin on the ground right now. We had to cancel all leave for the bank holiday weekend and people are making up for it now.’
‘So it’s just me and Helgi on this?’
‘Unless you want to recall Eiríkur?’
‘I’m not sure I can. I think he’s gone somewhere in the east. Not to worry, if we get bogged down, I’ll come to you. What’s the situation at the scene?’
‘The victim’s on a slab at the National Hospital and Miss Cruz, who is fortunately back with us, is examining him. The car’s still at the scene and it’ll be removed in the next hour or so.’
‘All right, any findings? Anything you can tell me to be getting on with?’
Ívar Laxdal looked as smug as his craggy features would allow.
‘I think I was right. Cause of death was almost certainly a blow to the forehead with a hammer, or something similar. The car’s very clean, looks like it was someone who was pretty house-proud, or car-proud if you like. But there’s sawdust in the driver’s seat, which doesn’t fit with the state of the rest of the car.’
‘Someone dumped it at the bus station, and it certainly wasn’t Axel Rútur Karlsson. So who drove it there? Stefán?’
‘If he hadn’t run for it, you could have asked him.’
‘Precisely. Doing a runner doesn’t exactly convince me he has nothing to hide beyond screwing his dead best friend’s girlfriend.’
The house in Keflavík looked just as it had when he was growing up, only smarter and cleaner than it had been in the old days. He didn’t bother to knock, but pushed open the back door, kicked off his boots and called out.
‘Hello? Does anyone live here?’
‘Logi, why haven’t we seen you for so long? Maggi’s not here, won’t be back from sea until tonight.’
Logi’s elder brother lived in the house they had grown up in and ran the boat that their father had built. Maggi was the sensible one, he reflected, who had married his childhood sweetheart, produced a litter of smiling children and never put a foot wrong.
He sat down and watched his sister-in-law stirring a pot of jam on the stove.
‘The rest of the rhubarb,’ she said. ‘I’ll give you a couple of jars to take with you. How’s Sandra?’
‘Ásta, Sandra and I haven’t been on speaking terms for a year. Shouting terms, maybe. But we don’t talk to each other any more.’
. That’s such a shame. She’s such a lovely girl,’ Ásta twittered. ‘I’m sure you could make it up. There’s coffee in the flask,’ she added, but Logi had already poured himself a mug without even thinking to ask, and lifted his feet to rest them on the other chair as he sat himself down.
‘How are the boys?’
‘Doing fine. Simmi’s starting his last year at college and Nonni’s . . .’ Ásta paused. ‘Nonni’s making progress.’
‘He’s living here again, is he?’
‘He was. But he’s moved back to Reykjavík now.’ Ásta shook her head. ‘I try to understand and I can’t. Maggi doesn’t even try to understand what made him go that way. A bit like you and Maggi, I suppose,’ she said, looking up, her eyes shining. ‘Chalk and cheese.’
‘It’s not as if it’s a lifestyle choice, Ásta. Either you’re that way inclined or you aren’t, and Nonni is.’
‘I suppose so. Such a nice young man, his—’ she gulped. ‘His boyfriend.’
‘How did Maggi take it when he met him?’
‘He didn’t,’ Ásta said, switching off the heat under the pot while she continued to stir for a moment. ‘He made sure he was at sea the day they came here together, even though it was foul weather.’
‘He’ll come round.’
‘I’d like to think so,’ Ásta said with another shake of her head. ‘Get off your feet and give me a hand, would you?’
A row of jars had been lined up on the worktop and Logi held the funnel while Ásta deftly spooned hot jam into each one until the pan was empty.
‘That’ll do,’ she said with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Logi dropped the funnel in the sink. ‘I was going to have a quick look in the garage, if that’s all right?’
‘Sure. What are you looking for?’
‘There’s some camping stuff in there, isn’t there?’
‘I think so. It’s Nonni’s, but he’s never going to use it, and I don’t suppose he’ll mind. Not going to the Westmann Islands, are you?’
‘Hardly,’ Logi said with a laugh. ‘The festival was three weeks ago. I’m working up in Borgarfjördur next week, so I thought I’d save myself the drive back and forth and sleep on site for a few nights.’
‘Good idea. You’re staying for dinner, are you?’
Helgi was armed with photographs and a copy of Signý’s retracted statement. Crashes and bangs came from the other room, where her ten-year-old was absorbed in a computer game, while in the kitchen she looked ready to panic.
The two photographs stared up at her from where Helgi had put them on the table.
‘This one’s dead, and this one’s on the run,’ he said. ‘Signý, I know you were intimidated into backing out of pressing charges, but we need to stop these headcases.’
She chewed her lip in a way that Helgi thought made her look sexier than ever and he ruthlessly made himself stop examining her figure.
‘I don’t want any part of this,’ she said. ‘It’s all behind me, finished and over. I can’t go back to this and I’m certainly not prepared to go to court.’
Helgi scowled and sat down without being invited while Signý paced the kitchen floor back and forth, stopping at every turn to stare at the two faces looking out of the driving licence photos.
‘This one’, Helgi tapped Axel Rútur’s photo, ‘is dead. He was murdered with a hammer. He’s not going to come after you. It may well be that this guy’, he placed a finger on Stefán’s picture, ‘was the one who did it, quite possibly with the other guy’s girlfriend’s connivance. Neither of these two boneheads will be coming after you.’
‘I don’t know . . .’
‘Look, I’ll make absolutely sure your name’s kept out of any evidence. There’ll be no trail leading back to you.’
Signý stopped and stared out of the window at the quiet street three floors below.
‘I was going to go away this weekend and I wish I had now.’
‘I’ve written nothing down. Taken no notes. I won’t include your name in any report.’
Signý sighed. ‘You don’t understand. I’m frightened. Not just for me, but for him as well,’ she said, jerking a thumb in the direction of the next room, where the crashes were accompanied by whoops of triumph.
‘Not a word. Between you and me.’
‘His name’s Alli,’ Signý said suddenly. ‘I don’t know his real name. Someone where I used to work put me in touch with him. It was back before these pay-day loans you can get now, otherwise I’d have taken out one of those. At least they only take your home away if you can’t pay up, instead of breaking your arms.’
‘An old guy, skinny?’
‘Yes. That’s right.’
‘Where did you meet him?’
‘At the Hlemmur bus terminal. Cash in a shopping bag.’
‘He was alone?’
Signý smiled bitterly. ‘No. He pretended to be.’ She put a finger on Axel Rútur’s photo. ‘But this guy was there in the background.’
Logi knocked at the door of the upstairs flat, and as the door opened the exotic aroma of some Polish dish came flooding out.
‘Is Tadeusz here?’
‘Yes. Yes. Come in.’
In the little living room four excited men and two bored-looking women were grouped around the television with the motor-racing commentary at full blast.
‘Hey, Logi!’ Tadeusz greeted him, jumping to his feet and opening his arms in welcome. ‘You want a beer?’
‘Not today, thanks.’ Logi grinned.
‘You stay to eat with us?’
‘Thanks, but my brother’s wife already invited me for dinner,’ he replied. It wasn’t a lie, but he had no intention of staying in Keflavík longer than he had to. ‘I just wanted to check you’re all right for tomorrow?’
‘Yes, yes. Pick you up in the morning?’
‘No, not me. You take the van and pick up Hassan and the other two, all right? Can you be there at eight?’
‘No problem. Start early.’ Tadeusz looked suspicious. ‘You not on the same job?’
‘Yes, I’m on the job. But I’m going up there tonight.’ He nodded his head towards the door and Tadeusz followed him out into the passage outside that doubled as a balcony. ‘I’m being looked for by someone I really don’t want to meet,’ he said quietly.
‘Something to do with . . . ?’
‘I think so. I’m going to keep my head down and stay out of sight.’
‘Stay out of Reykjavík. Good idea.’
Logi hesitated. ‘Listen, Tadeusz. What’s the score with working in your country? Could I get some work and a place to stay there?’
Tadeusz stared at him. ‘You sure? You must be in some serious trouble.’
‘For a few months. That’s all.’
‘You go to Norway, Logi. Plenty work there for people from Iceland.’
‘No. I don’t want to go to Norway. Too many people from Iceland there.’
Tadeusz nodded, eyes wide as the gravity of Logi’s situation sank in.
‘I’ll make some calls. Ask a few questions.’
Logi slapped his shoulder. Thanks, Tadeusz. You’re a real friend.’
There was no choice but to leave Aníta Sól at the station in the custody of an officer given the thankless task of taking her statement.
Gunna clicked her communicator as she got in the car-pool Polo and made for the gate.
‘Zero-two-sixty, ninety-five-fifty,’ she called and wanted to grind her teeth as Helgi failed to reply. She stopped the car in the entrance and waited. She was scrolling through to find his number on her phone when he replied.