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Authors: Leif Davidsen

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BOOK: The Serbian Dane
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He spotted a sign for the U-bahn, purchased a single ticket and took a westbound train. The Hotel Heidelberg was situated in Knesebechstrasse, off the Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin. It was a small family hotel with a restaurant just inside the main door. The reception desk was situated at the rear of the restaurant. Three sales reps were in the midst of a late breakfast.

At reception Vuk put his rucksack on the floor and presented the young woman behind the desk with the Danish passport.

‘You have a room for Mr Per Larsen,’ he said in English.

She checked on the computer, found his name. She pushed a yellow registration form across the desk, leaving him to fill in the details himself. She did not so much as glance at the passport. He was Danish and hence a member of the EU.

She handed him an old-style key.

‘Number sixty-seven,’ she said.

‘Thanks,’ Vuk said and climbed the stairs. All of a sudden he felt dog-tired. And he could have done with a good hot meal. But the main thing was that now he could safely rest.

The room was quite big, with a double bed. He put down his rucksack and called the number Kravtjov had given him in Bosnia.

‘It’s me,’ Vuk said in English.

‘Welcome to Berlin,’ Kravtjov said. ‘He wants to see you as soon as possible.’

‘I need to get some sleep first,’ Vuk said. The tiredness had suddenly hit him. He had been on the move for three days and had used up all his last reserves of strength and adrenalin. Even during the few hours when he had managed to grab some sleep his body had been on the alert. What rest he had got had been of the most superficial sort.

‘I understand,’ said Kravtjov.

‘I’ll call you in a few hours’ time.’

‘Fine. Where are you?’

‘You’ll find out, all in good time.’

‘Sleep tight,’ Kravtjov said with a chuckle.

Vuk hung the ‘
Nicht Stören
’ sign on the door and locked it. No one knew where he was, but he called reception anyway, from the bedside, and said he did not wish to be disturbed. His teeth needed brushing, but he lay down just for a moment and promptly fell fast asleep. 

L
ooking back on the last few days, Lise Carlsen could well understand why she was tired. What she found harder to comprehend was why she should be so strangely exhilarated. She couldn’t explain how she felt. And she had given up trying to talk to Ole about it. She didn’t know what was the matter with him. He came home late every evening, reeking of booze and the pub, then he would take a beer from the fridge or a bottle from the wine rack and just sit there drinking. She’d been avoiding him; she didn’t like the thought of him touching her. She knew it was wrong, but she couldn’t help it: if he tried to give her a cuddle, if his hand so much as brushed hers at the dinner table she instinctively shrank away. Nonetheless, she endeavoured to keep up the pretence, kissing him hello and goodbye. She hated herself for it, detecting as she did an incipient repugnance inside herself to which she did not dare give full rein.

The nights were still hot. And she dreamed of Per Toftlund. Weird,
never-ending
dreams. In one of these he was riding a motorbike, in another hauling a net out of an ocean. The net was full of silvery fish with little monkey faces, and the muscles of his tanned back bulged as he pulled in the fine-meshed, green net. The fish flopped and floundered, their scales glinting like silver coins in the pale, gold light. On the horizon was a reef beset by masses of birds. They were yellow and big as gulls. She wanted to warn Per, because she was afraid that the yellow birds would eat the dancing silver fish. But she couldn’t make him hear her.

She woke up bathed in sweat. Ole was asleep beside her. He stank of tobacco and alcohol. Lise got up. She was naked, and she shivered in the cool night air. She pulled on her dressing gown, padded through to the kitchen and got herself a glass of milk. It was a few minutes to four. Soon the first light
would appear as a bright band on the horizon. She was tired and yet
wide-awake
: a clear sign of stress. She ought to know that.

Maybe it was because things had been so hectic, after the announcement on the evening news of Sara Santanda’s visit to Denmark.

Tagesen had been furious. Although she wasn’t sure whether he was mad because the word had got out, thus increasing the threat to Sara’s life, or because Danmarks Radio, and not
Politiken
, had been first with the news. She had been given something approaching a bawling out. As if it were her fault. When it was so obvious that the information had been leaked from Christiansborg. Toftlund wanted the visit cancelled or postponed indefinitely, but neither Lise or Tagesen would agree to that. Nor, thank goodness, would Sara Santanda. She remained adamant. She was a brave woman. They might be able to put the visit off for a couple of weeks. Most news stories were soon forgotten, although this one had, of course, made the headlines in all the papers. Lise herself had reported on it for her own paper and written a portrait of the writer. She had also been interviewed on the radio and on both national TV channels. She had appeared on talk shows morning, noon and night: Fax, Stax, Pax – whatever they were called, all those radio programmes. A record and then a chat about some weighty issue. Ole hated that sort of thing. In fact, he loathed all electronic media, so more often than not she watched the television news on her own. All things considered, she might as well have been living alone: they no longer seemed to have anything in common. They couldn’t even be bothered arguing about things anymore. Their differences stretched like a barren desert between them.

Lise got herself another glass of milk. Then there was Per Toftlund: a pain in the neck but a very attractive one. Handsome in a rugged sort of a way. He wasn’t really her type at all. What she looked for in a man was depth. He was bossy too and a right know-it-all, always harping on about the arrangements for Santanda’s visit: the press conference, safe houses, escape routes, security corridors and the easiest ways in and out of the airport, not to mention angles of elevation and the life stories of the best known snipers and contract killers. He had a fund of horrendous stories about the Iranian security service’s liquidation of political rivals. She had learned that its people were more ruthless and every bit as professional as the hit men of the old KGB. She had
also discovered that PET kept detailed files on both Danish citizens and foreign nationals. And although she could see that these were bound to be of great help in this particular situation, she was also shocked. The sheer extent of it!

But Per was also fun to be with.

The other day he had treated her to a hotdog, and they had sat on a bench overlooking the Sound, munching companionably. It was as if he already knew that she loved to eat. The weather was still glorious, the air not quite as close. Sweden was hidden by a heat haze, and she had the sudden urge to go off somewhere. It didn’t matter where. All she wanted was to be on the move. To just get into a car and drive south, head for Spain. To drive and drive, for so long that the car wrapped itself around you and you became a part of it, came to smell of it, and your scent rubbed off on it. To climb out and stretch, feast your eyes on the red soil of Spain and decide to drive inland to where the country was vast and deserted.

‘Hey, where did you go?’ Per Toftlund asked. He was wearing a thin windcheater over a short-sleeved, open-necked shirt. She was slowly getting used to the gun at his belt, but it still made her feel a mite uneasy. She had never spent hours in the company of a man who wore a gun as if it was the most natural thing in the world. She knew nothing about his world.

‘Out travelling.’

‘Sounds good. Where to?’

‘Spain,’ she said and took a bite of her hotdog. ‘Umm…this is so disgustingly delicious.’


España sea muy buena
,’ he said.

She carried on chewing. They seemed to be warming to one another. Sitting on a bench, eating hotdogs and talking with your mouth full: that’s the sort of thing you only do when you feel comfortable with someone, she thought.

‘Where did you learn to speak Spanish?’ she asked.

‘In South America. I spent some time hitchhiking around out there after I left the service – I’d made good money there. And at evening classes. And in Spain.’

Toftlund’s jaws were working too.

‘Macho man,’ she said, with no note of disparagement in her voice. ‘I bet you were in the commandos or something daft like that.’

‘Nearly right. I was a frogman.’

‘Ooh, like the Crown Prince. Not bad.’

‘Hm, well I was there first. What about you? And Spain, I mean.’

‘Where I learned to speak Spanish? In Spain. A long, long time ago.’

‘It’s a great country, isn’t it?’

He got up, turned to face her and did a little sashay. He looked a bit silly, and a couple of passers-by stared at him. A big man doing a really quite elegant imitation of a bullfighter, dodging the bull with a flourish of an imaginary red cape. It would have been very effective, if he hadn’t been clutching a half-eaten hotdog in one hand. He let the bull pass to his right and then to his left, crying out in Spanish as he did so: ‘
Andalucia. Estremadura. Euskadi. Madrid. Valencia. Sol y sombra. Toros. Vino. Señoritas. Olé!
’ He would never have made an actor.

She laughed at his clowning and choked on her hotdog. He plonked himself down on the bench and thumped her gently on the back.

‘Do you go there often?’ she said, once she’d got her breath back.

‘At least once a year. What about you?’

‘Oh, it’s a few years since I was there.’

He had looked at her. He had the kindest blue eyes.

‘Ole’s kind of gone off Spain,’ she had said, a little more dolefully than she had intended. But Per had handled it perfectly. He had pulled a napkin from his jacket pocket, lightly dabbed her lips and then shown her the little red spot.

‘Ketchup,’ he had said, and she had started to laugh again.

She was stressed out. That had to be the explanation, she told herself, standing there by the scrubbed deal kitchen bench. For the fact that she was acting like a giggly schoolgirl.

No wonder she was tired and tense. She hadn’t really been home at all in the past week. Imagine if they’d had kids. If they’d been able to have them. How would she and Ole have fitted
them
into in their busy lives? She supposed that was one positive aspect of their childlessness: they weren’t tied down. As always, though, it hurt to think about it and feel the emptiness inside; the longing, like a hollowness that could never be filled. Maybe a baby would have added a new dimension to their relationship, lent it meaning, forged a bond between them. They had actually talked about this. They had
talked it through and agreed that nature’s perverse logic had simply dictated that she couldn’t get pregnant and they were not going to try to change that by resorting to artificial means of any sort. They didn’t want to adopt. They had each other and that would have to do. That is what they had said, back then. So why did it still hurt?

She sensed rather than heard Ole standing in the doorway of the
open-plan
kitchen. She turned round. He was tousle-headed, and she noticed that the hair on his chest was starting to turn grey. In the morning light he actually looked quite old. She’d never thought of him that way before. She felt a little sorry for him, was struck by a wave of sympathy that promptly turned to
self-loathing
. Why couldn’t she just love him the way she used to do?

He stood in the doorway, leaning against the jamb.

‘Trouble sleeping?’ he said.

‘Looks that way, doesn’t it?’

He said nothing for a moment. Then:

‘Is there someone else, Lise?’ he said.

She ventured a little laugh, but it didn’t ring true.

‘No. For God’s sake, of course there isn’t.’

‘But you’re hardly ever home. Out most of the night.’

‘Read the paper and you’ll see what I’m doing.’

‘Maybe you ought to invest some time in us as well.’

She looked away from him.

‘Well, Lise?’ he said.

‘This isn’t going to go on for ever,’ she said.

‘So how long is it going to go on for?’

She turned to face him again:

‘I’ve promised not to say anything. Per says…’

‘He says a lot of things, this Per.’

‘Oh, do me a favour, Ole.’

‘Get some sleep,’ he muttered.

She knew she ought to, but she sat where she was for a while longer. She could have kicked herself. Ole had reached out a hand to her, so why hadn’t she grasped it? There was no one else, but did she have a sneaking suspicion that there soon would be?

Her black mood had lifted by the time she climbed into Per Toftlund’s BMW later that day. She had merely been suffering from a slightly longer bout of the morning blues than usual. Who could possibly be downhearted when it was another beautiful sunny day, with people strolling along Langelinie eating ice cream, and Japanese tourists frantically filming the unimposing figure of the Little Mermaid? They listened to P3 on the car radio. A nice sentimental ballad. Toftlund sang along with it for a while, but basically he felt the same as she did: it was just nice to have the radio playing. As always he seemed calm and contented. As if the world were still fresh and young and it was wonderful to begin upon a brand new day.

‘Are you always in such a good mood?’ she said.

‘Usually. I’ve got no complaints.’

‘There are those who would interpret that as a sign of stupidity. Life isn’t that great. In fact, it’s pretty awful. Only someone with no imagination can go through life without ever getting depressed.’

‘I’m smarter than most, and I have a job I like,’ he said with not a hint of irony. He didn’t go in much for irony. While she spent her days surrounded by press and TV folk who wore irony like a medieval suit of armour.

She could have made some retort but hadn’t the heart. It was too nice a day.

‘Do you really like your job?’ she asked instead.

‘Yeah, it’s fantastic.’

They weren’t really driving anywhere in particular. They had to look at a couple of apartments she had been offered the loan of. They also had to check out a hotel. Or look it over, as Per said. But he wasn’t very keen on hotels. They were too public, too easy to get in and out of. He was more in favour of a discreet private apartment. But nothing they had looked at had been good enough. There was always some fault to find. Either there was no rear entrance. Or there was a rear entrance, which made the apartment difficult to guard. Either a place wasn’t easy to get to and from. Or the very problem was that it was easy to get to and from. She had given up trying to figure out what he was really looking for.

He drove slowly along the quay, then stopped.

‘Smoke if you want. As long as you roll down the window,’ he said.

‘My, aren’t we tolerant today?’ she said, thankfully lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke out of the open window.

‘What about your work?’ he said.

‘It’s all right.’

‘Poking your nose into people’s business to keep other people entertained.’

She felt rather offended by this remark and could not hide it.

‘I’m an arts journalist!’ The minute the words left her mouth she wished she hadn’t said it. It sounded so pompous, but Per merely said:

‘Even worse. Arrogant asinine artists sucking money out of the state coffers.’

‘Oh, come
on
…’

‘They spend all their time moaning that nobody wants to buy their rotten books or see their lousy films.’

‘I knew you were a reactionary.’ Her dander was really up now. She could not stand that sort of facile comment. She found stupidity and ignorance infuriating and narrow-minded. Denmark was a prosperous country with a fine educational system. There was no excuse for ignorance. For not making the most of all the cultural experiences on offer. As far as she was concerned, art and culture were, by definition, good.

‘Clint Eastwood doesn’t need any bloody grants.’

Lise flung open the car door demonstratively and got out. A soft cool breeze was blowing in from Sweden, and the Sound looked like a picture postcard: the blue water dotted by gaily-coloured sails and sedate ferries. And oh, the glorious scent of sea air and sunshine. She saw a cutter heading out of the harbour. The quarterdeck was packed with people.

BOOK: The Serbian Dane
4.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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