The Vanished

Lotte Hammer, Søren Hammer

The Vanished

The third book in the Konrad Simonsen series, 2016

Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

To Merete Borre – a wonderful person and a brilliant editor


The date was Wednesday 13 August. In Copenhagen the weather was bleak and windy. For Police HQ last night in the city centre had passed relatively peacefully: there had been a couple of bar brawls, an attempted stabbing resulting in only superficial injuries, a handful of drunks now sleeping it off in detention, a prostitute junkie OD’d and dead, but nothing serious or out of the ordinary. The worst had been a drunk driver tearing through the streets in the early morning in an attempt to shake off two patrol cars in hot pursuit. Eventually, he succeeded: with tyres squealing he had turned off Sydhavnsgade towards Sluseholmen doing about a hundred K, after which he had veered right along Ved Stigbordene, putting his foot down with a triumphant look back in the rear-view before plunging straight into the harbour. Now the divers were out looking for him, but the current was strong there, so the search was going to drag on. Everyone hoped he had managed to get out in time and had got himself back on to dry land, but it didn’t seem likely.

The boy making his way over Polititorvet was seriously overweight. At the pedestrian crossing in front of Police HQ he carefully looked both ways before venturing out into the road, his progress laboured and slow. Reaching the other side, he stopped to wipe his cheeks and brow with the handkerchief he pulled out of his trouser pocket, then continued on his way along Niels Brocks Gade. His feet were hurting and he still had a fair way to go before arriving at school. The odd passer-by looked at him with concern, others sending him fleeting glances of pity before hurrying on. Most ignored him.

The boy’s clothing was as wretched-looking as he himself was. His parents were by no means short of money, but this was his own form of protest. He was wearing white, worn-down trainers, bought on special offer last year in the local supermarket, faded jeans that drooped beneath his stomach, and a fawn-coloured windcheater zipped halfway down, one hand tucked inside as if his arm was broken and the garment was a sling. The jacket made him sweat even more, and with his natural padding he could easily have dispensed with it, the weather wasn’t cold. But he needed it: the hand inside clutched a submachine gun.

It was 8.16 a.m.

If Detective Superintendent Konrad Simonsen had got up from his chair and looked out of the window at the right time, he would have been able to see the boy as he passed by below. But he didn’t. Instead, he stared at the Deputy Commissioner while she talked on the phone. She was known for her abysmal dress sense, and today was no exception. That much was plain, even to Konrad Simonsen. She was wearing a snug-fitting, blue-and-green-checked jacket with striped trousers that were almost, though not quite, in the same colours. Konrad Simonsen found himself thinking that all she needed was a dead animal thrown around her neck – a fox fur, for instance – and the hideous effect would be complete.

It was his first day at work in eight weeks and he had felt oddly on edge clocking in that morning. Now his nerves, at least, were gone. He glanced restlessly at the portrait of the queen that adorned the wall behind the Deputy Commissioner’s seat and tried to stifle his annoyance. After a long while he sent the sovereign a grimace as though she were an ally, then glanced back at the case folder on the desk in front of him. It looked thin.

At long last, the Deputy Commissioner finished her call. She smiled warmly at him in a way that was either meticulously rehearsed or genuine, and began to list all the different people who had been in touch with her during his illness, to see how he was doing.

‘Quite a few even called me at home.’

‘Well, I’m touched, I must say,’ he felt obliged to respond

‘And so you should be. Don’t pretend you’re not bothered, you should be glad you’ve got colleagues here who care about you.’

She was right. He said he was glad. She carried on:

‘I’ve decided not to alter your formal status. You’re still in charge of Homicide, but in practice you’ll leave the day-to-day running to Arne Petersen…’

‘Arne Pedersen. His name’s Pedersen, not Petersen.’

Arne Pedersen was one of Konrad Simonsen’s closest colleagues, a highly competent, quick-thinking man in his early forties. It was more or less understood that he would take over from Simonsen as head of the Homicide Department at some point, when the time came, and quite naturally he had stepped in during the two months Simonsen had been away.

The Deputy Commissioner replied:

‘Indeed, my apologies. Anyway, he’ll continue in charge as de facto head until I deem you sufficiently recovered to take over. And to begin with, you’ll stick to three hours a day, four at most. Am I understood?’

He nodded and repeated her words slowly out loud: three hours a day, four at most. After which she informed him that everyone in his vicinity was under strict orders to report to her in the event that he failed to observe her instruction.

‘And if you feel tired, you don’t come in. Remember, the cemetery’s full of people who couldn’t be done without.’

‘Of course. Do I have any say in when I’ll be in, or do you decide that, too?’

The sarcasm was lost on her. She answered him in earnest:

‘You can start by deciding for yourself and we’ll see how it goes.’

‘Thanks. Do I get my new case now?’

She ignored this.

‘We’ve had your office refurbished while you’ve been away. There’s an extra little room for you now, with a sofa in it for whenever you need a lie-down.’

It was obvious she’d been looking forward to telling him that. He thanked her again, awkwardly, feeling ancient. And then at long last she opened the case folder in front of her. Her eyes avoided his as she spoke.

‘This isn’t a case as such. It’s more me wanting something closed in an orderly manner.’

She slapped a hand down on the folder before running through its contents for his benefit. He listened with increasing dismay and realised she was serious: it wasn’t a case at all. He enquired indignantly:

‘You mean the vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee went straight to you in person, interfering in police matters? I’ve never heard the like.’

‘It’s not exactly by the book, Simon, I know. But can’t you interview some witnesses and… well, just put yourself in the picture? Write a report I can…’

She hesitated; he finished the sentence on her behalf.

‘… show the vice-chairman and make her happy?’

The Deputy Commissioner nodded.

‘You’re free to delegate, and I won’t poke my nose in as to how you go about it, only to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself. I just thought it might be a good place for you to start. To get you going again.’

Konrad Simonsen pulled the folder towards him, feeling disgruntled.

‘But it’s not a case.’

And then suddenly he heard music. Indistinct tones, like those that had drifted into his ears when he woke up in the hospital eight weeks before. He was momentarily gripped by panic, paralysed by it as he had been many times since the operation.

‘Is something the matter? Aren’t you feeling well?’ asked his boss, immediately concerned.

He summoned the energy to reply:

‘Can you hear music, too?’

She laughed heartily, and for a couple of near-endless seconds he had no idea if she was hearing the same thing or just indulging him in his delusions. But then she got to her feet, stepped up to the plasterboard wall and thumped her fist against it a couple of times. The music stopped.

‘It’s resonance, that’s all. We’ve got a new intern in the secretariat and she’s got one of those squashed-up little tape recorders with earphones… iPods, I believe they’re called. Anyway, when she leans her head back against the wall, her skull and the partition work together like a loudspeaker.’

He sighed with relief and at once felt exhausted. It was the familiar pattern: first fear of dying, then fatigue.

‘Why don’t you ban her from using it?’

‘I have, but it seems her relationship to authority is… how should I put it?… strained. I was thinking…’

But Konrad Simonsen had stopped listening.

The boy with the submachine gun had reached his destination. The school was on Marmorgade, a short street that lay tucked between H. C. Andersens Boulevard and Vester Voldgade, and comprised a three-winged red-brick building of four storeys, dating back to the early 1900s. The playground faced out on to the street, separated from the pavement only by a chain-link fence. The main entrance was at the rear of the building, imposing steps of granite leading up to an oversized pair of double doors that were painted green and seemed oddly out of place in this setting. The boy headed slowly towards them.

Through a window in the north wing his class teacher spotted him. She had already resolved to speak to the boy about his habitual lateness: it had been dire before the summer holiday, and the new school year had kicked off quite as badly. Moreover, s ...

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