The Hanging

Lotte Hammer, Søren Hammer

The Hanging

The first book in the Konrad Simonsen series, 2013

Copyright © 2012 by Lotte Hammer Jakobsen and Søren Hammer Jacobsen

Translation © 2013 by Ebba Segerberg

Prologue

The man in the field tossed the last couple of logs into place. Then he straightened up, pressed the backs of his hands above his tailbone, and stretched a couple of times to counter the surprising tenderness he felt. He was accustomed to physical labor, so he didn’t count the few hours he had spent filling the pit as anything special, and compared to what he had accomplished over the course of the day, a little soreness was immaterial. It merely surprised him.

Moving with some discomfort, he took the last of the gas cans and poured the contents out over the logs, the uppermost layer of which was level with the ground. There were approximately fifteen cubic meters of seasoned beech wood, mixed with a little elm, chestnut, and birch, as well as a young plum tree with reddish brown bark on the sunny side and greenish on the shadow side, as he had noticed with an expert’s gaze. There were also thirty-one bags of coal, an amount that he had meticulously memorized before he started and then tallied sack for sack as he carried them into place, so that the work would feel less monotonous. He glanced at his watch and noted that its face was covered with dried blood and that neither hand was visible. Just as when he had checked it last. He tore off the watch and tossed it into the fire, then looked up at the sky, which was beginning to grow dark. To the west, a low band of clouds was illuminated by the scarlet rays of the setting sun, and the lake below the field lay gray and hazy. A storm was brewing.

From his backpack he took out a clean set of clothes as well as a plastic bag with moist towelettes. He bared his sinewy upper body, and although he was shivering the wipes felt good against his skin as he methodically began to wash up. He was particularly thorough with his head and hands, where the coal dust had left tracks and would attract attention, which made him think about the fact that he ought to have brought a mirror along. He smiled into the dusk. He didn’t normally care much about his reflection but today was special. Perhaps it was even possible for him on this day in this godforsaken field in Sjelland to feel a smidgen of pride; yes, perhaps even shed his stupid nickname. Everyone called him the Climber. Only a few-almost no one-knew his real name, the name he had once had back when someone cared about him and he cared for someone. Until… it wasn’t like that anymore.

This thought of childhood did not go unpunished: the pain in his lumbar region spread down across his buttocks and thighs with a ferocious sting. He ignored it and concentrated on changing his clothes, tossing the old ones on the pile. When he was done, he felt the sweetness of revenge rush through him. Apart from one unforeseen situation that he had kept to himself and would have to solve later, he had followed his instructions down to the last letter. Now it was up to the others in the group.

He took out a lighter, bent down, and lit the bonfire. The gasoline caught fire at the first spark and the flames blossomed up toward him so vigorously that he shrank back a step with alarm. For a short while he stayed to warm himself but his deep discomfort with fire quickly won out.

A bolt of lightning rent the dusk and he turned calmly to look at the sky. The storm was approaching faster than he had expected. In the gully to his left, where the forest sloped down to the lake, a couple of black storm clouds were advancing on him, as if the earth had opened up and let loose the dark powers of the underworld. Another lightning bolt, and a third dark cloud charged up the gorge. Then came the rain. Large, aggressive drops, thousands of sharp arrows that ricocheted from the ground and dislodged pieces of earth on the stubby fields. Powerful, cleansing, just.

For a moment he gazed at the pyre with concern but the water wouldn’t extinguish the fire. At worst it would hold the flames at bay. He turned and walked purposefully toward the woods without glancing back. Soon he was completely engulfed by the dark.

Chapter 1

Monday morning fog rolled in over the land in white woolly waves. The two children could hardly see a meter ahead of them as they crossed onto the school grounds. They had to find their way from memory and soon their steps became hesitant and searching. The boy was slightly behind the girl, his school bag in his arms. All of a sudden he stopped.

“Don’t go on without me.”

The girl stopped as well. The fog particles condensed in her hair, and she wiped the droplets from her brow as she patiently waited for her little brother, who was struggling to wrench his bag onto his back. He had spoken Turkish, which he rarely did, and never to her; now he was occupied with the straps and pulling harder on them, but it didn’t help. When he was finally done, he grabbed her hand. She looked around to see if she could spy the other end of the field through the mist.

She said, “Now see what you’ve done.”

“What have I done?”

He tightened his grip and sounded small.

“Nothing. You don’t understand.”

She picked a direction at random and took a few blind steps before she stopped short again. The boy pressed up against her.

“Have we gone astray?”

“Idiot.”

“It was light at Mother’s.”

“In a little while it’ll be light here too.”

“What does it mean, astray?

She didn’t answer him, and tried to convince herself that there was nothing to be afraid of, that the school grounds weren’t particularly large, that they should just keep going.

“We aren’t allowed to go off with strangers. No matter what, we can’t go off with strangers. Isn’t that right?”

She could hear that he was on the verge of tears and she pulled him along behind her in a series of uncertain steps, until she suddenly saw a slight glow diagonally in front of her and steered toward it.

Shortly afterward they were in the corridor in front of the gymnasium. The girl was sitting on a bench, reading, and her brother came running with a ball in his arms.

“Do you want to play ball with me? You’re so good at it.”

“Have you hung your clothes up properly and set your bag down in its place?”

He nodded, wide-eyed, the embodiment of sincerity.

“Come on, go and do it.”

He lumbered off without objection, but was soon back and repeated his desire to play.

“I have something I have to read first. You start and I’ll be there in a bit.”

He glanced skeptically at her book. It was thick.

“Promise you’ll come soon?”

“As soon as I’ve finished this chapter. Go in and play on your own. It won’t be long.”

He ran into the gym and soon she heard the sounds of a bouncing ball. She kept reading. From time to time she closed her eyes and imagined she was a part of the story.

The boy interrupted her.

“There isn’t room to play,” he called out.

“Why not?”

“Because some men are hanging up in here.”

“So go around them.”

Suddenly he was in front of her. She hadn’t heard him approach.

“I don’t like the men.”

The girl sniffed the air a couple of times.

“Have you farted?”

“No, but I don’t like the dead men. They’ve been cut up.”

She got up angrily and walked over to the doorway to the gymnasium, her brother at her heels.

Five people were hanging from the ceiling, each suspended by a single rope. They were naked and facing toward her.

“Aren’t they gross?”

“Yes,” she said and closed the door.

She put her arm around the boy.

“Can we play ball now?”

“No, we can’t. We have to find an adult.”

Chapter 2

Detective Inspector Konrad Simonsen was enjoying a vacation. He was sitting in a room with a view in the top story of a summer house and was busy having his fourth smoke of the morning and a cup of coffee. He stared out through the oversize windows at a couple of drifting stratus clouds, not thinking of anything in particular.

The athletic young woman who appeared-just back from her morning run-had removed her socks and shoes so he did not hear her steps as she entered the room, and he gave a start when she spoke. Moreover, he was used to being alone.

“For heaven’s sake, Dad. The least you could do is crack a window.”

Her outburst was directed at the cigarette smoke that hung heavy in the air; she opened the french doors all the way so that a fresh sea breeze rushed through the room and tossed her blond curls around, until she decided that the worst of the smell was gone and latched the doors. Then she flopped into one of the armchairs across from him without showing any concern for the fact that she thereby crushed the newspaper tucked into her sweatpants.

He said, “Good morning, have you been all the way to Blokhus? That must have been quite a run.”

“Morning-it’s almost afternoon, sleepyhead. Yes, I’ve been down to Blokhus, and it’s actually not that far.”

He pointed to the newspaper.

“Is that for me?”

She answered with irony, but without an edge, “And thank you, my lovely ...

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