Authors: Quentin Bates
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
‘A shame you met me instead, isn’t it?’
‘What? Logi doesn’t live here any more?’
‘No, he’s gone abroad. That’s probably why you can’t find him. He went to Brazil,’ Logi said, taking the first idea that came to mind.
‘So who sent you?’
There was a stubborn silence.
‘Who sent you?’ Logi repeated, his thumb on the hammer, which clicked as he pulled it back.
‘Alli the Cornershop,’ Stefán said at last.
‘A debt collector, is he?’
‘You don’t know Alli the Cornershop? You do me any damage and he’ll hunt you down and make you squeal.’
Stefán leaned forward in the chair and made to stand up.
‘Then it’s a shame you won’t be here to gloat, isn’t it?’ Logi said as coldly as he could and forced himself to smile. ‘Is that your car outside?’
‘Give me the keys.’
‘They’re in my trousers.’
‘Get them, and keep it slow.’
Stefán leaned forward and put a hand in the pocket of his trousers, which were in a bunch around his calves, slowly withdrawing his hand with the keys nestling in his palm. His momentary half-smile was a mistake. He tossed the keys high in the air, expecting Logi’s eyes to follow them, and launching himself forward at the same moment. Expecting the man to try something, Logi kept his eyes fixed on his face, and as soon as he saw him pull his feet close for a better purchase, he squeezed the trigger.
The report in the little room was deafening and there was a cloud of acrid smoke that hung in the air. Logi saw the big man slump back in the chair in shock.
‘Five more where that came from, fat boy,’ he hissed, backing into the hall and keeping the weapon aimed at Stefán. He wanted to know if the man was hurt or not. Had he killed him?
‘I didn’t think . . .’ Stefán said slowly, putting his right hand to his left arm where the bullet had chewed a hole in the muscle. Logi was relieved when the man’s hand came away sticky with blood. ‘I need to get to a hospital.’ There was a querulous note to his voice.
‘You’ll live,’ Logi told him, reaching for the keys on the floor without taking his eyes off Stefán. He motioned to Stefán to stand up again. ‘Out the door at the back.’
He made him stand outside while he picked up the bag in his free hand and dropped it by the back door.
‘Now round to the front,’ he ordered and Stefán complied sulkily. ‘Get in the car.’
Slumped in the seat and with his face grey, Stefán pleaded. ‘Let me have the keys, man. I need to get to a doctor.’
Logi clicked the fob and lights flashed twice. Still with the revolver in his outstretched arm, he stood by the open door and looked down at Stefán, who gazed back at him with dull eyes.
‘Come on, you’ve had your fun. I’m in trouble here.’
‘Pop the boot.’
‘Open the boot. There’s a catch by the door.’
Stefán had to lean over to lift the catch with his good hand and Logi walked around the car, opening the rear door and looking inside before going round to the boot. He looked quickly to make sure Stefán wasn’t watching him, lifted the carpet and dropped the hammer under it, taking care to touch it only with the sleeve of his fleece between his fingers and the handle. Then he closed the boot, walked around and opened the other rear door before standing in front of the car, the keys in his hand.
He lifted them high so that Stefán could see them in his hand and casually placed them on one of the three knee-high boulders that had been placed in the road to turn it from a busy rat run into a quiet cul-de-sac.
Stefán watched as Logi backed away into the darkness behind the house, only daring to leave the car and scuttle to where the keys waited for him once Logi had disappeared behind the house.
Logi picked up the bag of clothes and hurried through the unlit garden, checking his pockets for the passport and cash as he ran. He heard the first faint siren as he got to the pickup and started the engine. He let it roll down the slope and away, driving slowly along the shore of the lake amongst the summer houses, certain that the police would be coming from the other direction and wondering what they would make of Stefán when they found him.
It was a relief to be back among the lights in town and he wondered what to do with the revolver. It had saved him from a brutal beating, but now it was a liability. He knew that handguns were taken seriously. If he was stopped with it, there would be a long stretch ahead of him, and he had no desire to go to prison.
He stopped at a petrol station and was surprised to find that his hands weren’t shaking. He had expected himself to be in shock, but instead it was a relief to be in control. Inside, he munched a sandwich and swallowed some coffee, looking at the phone he’d left on the car seat while he’d been in the house. There were half a dozen missed calls from numbers he didn’t recognize and a couple of text messages, all of which he ignored as he listened to Danni’s phone ring.
‘Hey, Logi! You’re alive? That gorilla didn’t find you, did he?’
‘No, I’m all right, so far. Listen, Danni, I don’t have time to fuck about. I need a favour.’
‘Go on, my man.’
‘Rafn. Where do I reach him?’
There was silence for a moment.
‘I’ll give him a call.’
‘Get him to call me, right away.’
Logi watched the evening traffic rush past as he finished his sandwich and got himself another paper cupful of gritty coffee. There was still half of it left when his phone buzzed.
The voice was smooth and curious.
. The other day you said if I needed a favour I should call you?’
‘I did? Yes,’ Rafn corrected himself. ‘I did.’
‘Well, I need one now.’
There was another silence, although Logi could hear the sound of music, chatter and clinking glasses in the background.
‘What sort of favour are we talking about here?’
‘I need an alibi.’
He heard Rafn chuckle.
‘You know the Emperor?’
‘Yeah, I know it.’
‘Be here in ten minutes. Anyone asks, there’s plenty of us will swear blind you’ve been here all evening. I’ll even buy you a beer.’
He was awake soon after sunrise. It had been dark when he’d arrived and the sight of the farmhouse was a welcome one. It was a huge relief to be out of the city, and if he could stay up here for a week or more, then the heat would at least have died down by the time he had to go back to Reykjavík.
Logi put water on the primus stove to boil and washed in the freezing brook that chattered down the hillside to the river below. He sat in the pickup with the door open and his legs stretched out to drink his coffee and eat the buns he had picked up at Borgarnes on the way. There was only steam radio up here, old fashioned, but it was news he was listening for, so it didn’t matter which station he tuned into.
‘The police special unit attended an incident at a house near Ellidavatn lake yesterday evening after reports of gunshots in the vicinity. No arrests have been made and a police spokesman commented this morning that the inquiry is being pursued,’ he heard and frowned to himself. There was no mention of an arrest or anyone being treated for a gunshot wound. Had Stefán managed to get clear before the police arrived? Sooner or later there could be questions, but the alibi Rafn had promised him was solid enough to rule him out of the incident, he felt, at least as far as the police might be concerned. The gorilla and his friends could well be another matter.
The only drawback was that it had been plainly hinted that one favour would call for another in return, and that could be asked for sooner rather than later. He had a good enough idea of what it would be, and although it hadn’t been mentioned, Logi knew it would be unhealthy to decline.
He shook himself out of his reverie. It was nearly time for the boys to arrive, and he would have to talk seriously to Tadeusz.
Ívar Laxdal had called the briefing and his glance flashed across the room like a basilisk’s, daring anyone to look less than wide awake.
‘Miss Cruz? Would you?’
The forensic pathologist stood up and distributed a sheaf of photographs. She spoke in English and everyone present listened intently.
‘White male, we have positive identification so we know he’s Axel Rútur Karlsson, twenty-eight years old, one metre ninety-three in height, one hundred and forty kilogrammes, in good general health. Cause of death is without doubt a single blow to the centre of the forehead inflicting significant trauma, and death was probably instantaneous.’
She looked at Ívar Laxdal over her heavy-rimmed glasses and swept hair away from her face.
‘There is also a significant injury to the right foot, with several bones fractured across the instep, and my feeling is that the same implement was used.’
‘A hammer,’ Ívar Laxdal said.
‘Exactly, a hammer seems the most likely implement,’ Miss Cruz agreed. ‘That’s all. If you want details, there’ll be a report, but you have the main points.’
‘Thank you, Miss Cruz,’ Ívar Laxdal leaned back in his chair, thumbs hooked into his belt.
‘There was an incident last night that you’ve probably heard about on the news already. There was a report of a gunshot near Ellidavatn lake last night and the special unit attended but there was nothing to be found, so one would imagine it’s a false alarm, an old car backfiring or something like that.’
‘Is this something for us to check?’
‘It could be. The officers at the scene did a house to house and didn’t turn up a lot, except that someone noticed a blue Megane going very fast and noted the number. It’s registered to a lady called Magnhildur Helgadóttir. It was a busy night last night and there was plenty going on downtown, so can you check it out today?’
Gunna looked at Helgi. ‘Could you . . . ?’
‘While you’re here, was there anything definite on Axel Rútur’s car?’
‘No, no fingerprints that aren’t either his or Aníta Sól’s, but it appears that the wheel, gearstick, door handles and interior had been wiped down carefully. The car’s clean, there’s just sawdust in the back of the driver’s seat, which seems out of place.’
‘So we’re looking for a carpenter?’
‘Or a cleaner, or a farmer, or someone who keeps chickens.’
‘Which certainly wasn’t Axel Rútur.’
The scruffy man with the bald head didn’t look like the kind to buy anything worth much commission, but you could never tell these days, Benni reflected. Millionaires went around like tramps and people without two pennies to rub together wore designer suits and never had a hair out of place. It never occurred to him that the combination of his own designer suit, fashionable haircut and job description were enough to place him firmly in the latter bracket, and if it had occurred to him, any hint of irony would have gone straight over his head.
He decided to stand up and see if the scruff could be reeled in to part with at least something, maybe for one of the barely legal old wrecks at the back that they kept for people who were too broke to afford anything better – or on a tight budget, as he preferred to word it in conversation.
‘G’day,’ he offered from a distance. The scruff had his hands in his pockets and casually chewed a toothpick as he strolled between the lined-up cars. Benni laughed inside as the scruff actually kicked a tyre. This would be like shooting rats in a barrel, he told himself. Nothing big, but a sale is a sale.
‘See anything you like?’
‘Yep, a few good-looking ones there.’
Benni grinned back at the scruff’s mischievous smile. ‘What’s caught your eye?’
‘The Land Cruiser? I’m afraid that one isn’t for sale. What sort of price range are we talking about? I can see what else we have on our books.’
‘You’re sure?’ The scruff’s smile broadened. ‘Everything’s for sale, my friend. It’s just a question of price.’
‘But not that one,’ Benni said firmly, and a voice deep inside whispered to him that there was something vaguely menacing behind this scruffy character’s amiable smile.
‘Why’s that? Has Stebbi decided not to sell it after all?’
Benni froze. ‘I’m sorry, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘No worries. What I’m really looking for is a four-year-old Renault Megane, powder blue, owned by Magnhildur Helgadóttir,’ the man said, and reeled off the registration number, making Benni feel suddenly sick. He watched as the scruff opened his wallet and waved it at him. ‘Helgi Svavarsson, CID. You and I need to have a quiet chat, don’t you think?’
The first weeks at the farmhouse had driven Logi to distraction because he was out of signal range and the lack of texts and phone calls made him feel as if he were in the middle of a distant desert where the rest of the world had forgotten him. Now the lack of communication was what he liked best about being there.
He had to drive a couple of kilometres towards the main road, clear of the mountains around the valley, to get even a poor mobile signal, and most of the way back to Borgarnes to get anything much better. He had switched off his mobile as he left the Emperor. The SIM card was tucked in his wallet and had been replaced by a pay-as-you-go SIM bought at a filling station, with the number texted to the half a dozen people who might need to get in touch with him, including Danni and Rafn. They definitely did not include his ex-wife, although he reckoned that Sandra would be able to browbeat his new number out of Danni if she really wanted to.
Logi made the journey to Borgarnes to stock up on a few essentials, as he wasn’t planning to be back that way for a few days. He even bought a few books to read, not that he had ever been a big reader, as well as a wind-up torch for the few hours of darkness. The working days looked like being long ones. The farmhouse’s musician owner wanted the job done before winter, as did Pétur the contractor. He had already told Logi that a decent fall of early snow could make the place virtually inaccessible and that the musician had to be mad to be sinking money into a place this remote.