The Girl in the Ice aka A Price for Everything

Lotte Hammer, Søren Hammer

The Girl in the Ice aka A Price for Everything

The second book in the Konrad Simonsen series, 2015

Translated from the Danish by Paul Norlen


There is a price to be paid for everything.

And perhaps the price for centuries of ruthless exploitation of nature was being paid in Disko Bay in Greenland-or a small down payment anyway before the really big instalments fell due, thought the German Chancellor as she stared out over the fjord.

Denmark’s Minister for the Environment involuntarily followed the direction of the chancellor’s gaze. The journalist who was interviewing them did the same. The view was breathtaking. Ice floes of all sizes rocked sluggishly in the chill blue water. The glacier above formed a rugged white wall that reflected the summer sun and made the observers squint. Occasionally an iceberg calved, with a deep rumbling sound that carried through the clear air and echoed around the bay.

After a while the journalist cleared his throat. He wanted an answer to his last question and was discreetly trying to resume the conversation, but as the chancellor kept silent he addressed the Danish minister, this time in English.

“Why is it necessary to go all the way to Greenland to understand global warming? What can the world’s decision-makers learn here that they can’t just as well learn at home?”

The minister smiled obligingly while she polished her answer. It was clear that the world’s decision-makers did not include her but rather her guest, which was reasonable but also made the topic sensitive. She was used to hearing this argument. After she’d given a guided tour to a handful of American senators a few months ago, the Danish opposition had accused her of climate-change tourism. In a way the journalist was right. The chancellor did not need to go almost four thousand kilometres from Berlin to Ilulissat in order to realise that the polar ice was melting. Anyone comparing satellite photos of the North Pole today and ten years ago would understand that immediately. The South Pole too for that matter. The important thing was what could be done to reverse the process-or, more realistically, limit the damage-and neither the glacier nor the satellite had an answer to that.

The chancellor turned her head and observed them with a teasing smile, apparently just as eager for the minister’s reply as the journalist was. The minister indulged herself in a moment’s paranoia, wondering if the two Germans were trying to stitch her up. Feeling hot and flustered, she unzipped her fleece-lined jacket. She hated being put on the spot like this. Besides leading a nation of eighty-three million people, her guest had a PhD in quantum chemistry.

The zipper stuck, which gave her a few extra seconds to consider her response. Then she said honestly, “Nothing.”

“Then why are we here?”

She briefly considered telling the journalist about the roughly four thousand Greenlandic whalers whose ancient livelihood was now ruined by temperature rises twice as high as in the rest of the world. But that would be a mistake. Her climate conference was meant to be dealing with the problem on a global basis; she must steer clear of suggesting that she put Greenland’s interests first. Instead she diverted the question, saying only, “Because politicians are people too, and no one forgets this scenery, right?”

The journalist seemed to agree with this and the chancellor smiled broadly, both of them apparently satisfied with the answer. The minister thought this lightening of the mood might be her way in. They were walking back towards the waiting helicopter. This would probably be her last chance to discuss the politics of climate change with the chancellor. If she could be persuaded to back them at next year’s conference in Copenhagen it would be a major coup. But until now the German leader had concentrated purely on their experience of climate change and left politics off the agenda. The person she had talked with most was the glaciologist accompanying them.

The minister’s hopes were dashed when in the helicopter too the chancellor sought out the scientist. She made sure that he sat next to her as they flew over the ice cap, and soon the two of them were deeply immersed in a scientific conversation, which the minister with her limited German had a hard time following. She felt her eyelids grow heavy and had to pinch her arm to stop herself from falling asleep. The scene glimpsed through the helicopter’s windows was a uniform white, and the official by her side was already napping. From time to time he let out little grunts. She considered nudging him but fished a magazine out of her bag instead and started reading it listlessly, only to succumb to sleep herself after a short time.

The minister was jolted awake an hour later. The glaciologist was shouting and gesturing wildly. The chancellor had stood up in her seat and was gesturing out of the window, commanding the helicopter to fly back. After a while the pilot turned back.


Konrad Simonsen, chief inspector in Copenhagen’s Homicide Division, squinted up at the polar sun, hanging low over the long line of the horizon. Where sky met ice, clear pastel greens and blues hinted at more hospitable locations than this one, far, far away. What a place to be killed, it was plain wrong, he told himself, before dismissing the thought. As if it made any difference to the victim.

For a while he observed his own shadow in front of him, holding up one arm and letting its unnaturally extended counterpart reach impossible distances towards cracks in the ice. Eventually he grew tired of this game and glanced again towards the hazy sun, which seemed to radiate cold instead of heat. He found it disconcerting. The sun ought to rise and fall, not drag itself monotonously around the firmament, making day and night one and the same.

In a vain attempt to chase tiredness away, he closed his eyes and turned his face to the wind. He had not slept more than three hours in the past twenty-four, and it seemed unreal to him that a new day had begun. He rubbed his face with the palms of his hands and enjoyed the momentary darkness. He wondered if, in her last moments, the dead girl had thought about spring flowers, warm, sandy beaches or maybe a Midsummer bonfire? Probably not. All the same there was something terrible about the fact that she had had to die out here in this vast unfamiliar place where human beings did not belong. In a sense it was a double violation.

He glanced at his watch and noticed that the Danish time was seven-thirty. What that was in Greenland he could not immediately work out. He smothered a yawn, and realised he was more than usually exhausted. This morning he had forgotten to take his pills, or more correctly-there was no reason to lie to himself-he had forgotten again to take his pills, and now he was suffering the consequences. Desire for a forbidden cigarette gnawed at him cruelly. Just one or maybe even a half, a few restorative puffs to keep him on his feet a while longer. He tapped the chest of his padded jacket to reassure himself that his cigarettes were in the inside pocket. A year ago-or was it two?-he had been diagnosed with diabetes. The illness and the concern it had caused others had forced him to re-examine some of his bad habits. Or at least try to.

An unfamiliar feeling of anxiety made him consult his watch again. As before it meant nothing to him here. He turned to the man standing next to him and asked, “Do you know what time it is?”

The Greenlandic detective constable took a quick glance at the sun and answered curtly, “Almost three.”

He was a man who said no more than was strictly necessary, which had not made the wait any easier. He was called Trond Egede, and that was about all Konrad Simonsen knew about him. He considered returning to the light aircraft that had brought them here and trying to get a little sleep while the crime-scene technicians finished up. The hard, uncomfortable seat that he had cursed on the trip over from Nuuk seemed tempting to him now. A little sleep was better than none at all and there was no sense in standing alongside a mute colleague staring at four people, who worked neither faster nor slower because they were being watched. But it might offend his taciturn partner if Simonsen abandoned him, and establishing good relations with the Nuuk police was essential if they were to crack this case together. Or he could always say to hell with procedure and join the technicians in their search. It was unlikely he could do much here to contaminate the scene of the crime. On the other hand he risked being turned away, which would be humiliating for him as well as making him appear unprofessional, so the conclusion he reached was as clear as it was depressing-he must remain where he was.

For want of anything better to do he tried to start a conversation.

“How can you know exactly what time it is just by looking at the sun? I mean, you don’t have any landmark to work from here, just flat ice all around.”

With difficulty the other man took off one glove and rolled back the sleeve of his polar jacket over his wristwatch. After he had laboriously put his glove back on, he said, “The time is thirteen minutes past three.”

“So you were right.”


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