Medusa

Torkil Damhaug

Medusa

The first book in the Oslo Crime Files series, 2015

English translation © 2015 Robert Ferguson

To M

TODAY I BECAME a thief. I’ve stolen before, but today I became a thief. People who know about such things say it’s the autumnal equinox today so that’s probably a good day on which to become a thief. Everything hangs in the balance before the darkness begins to take over. It wasn’t planned. I only plan the most necessary things. The rest just has to take care of itself. I was passing a shop and a Dictaphone caught my eye. I stopped and went back and entered the shop. The boy behind the counter seemed dull and uninterested. I got him to go looking for something I didn’t need. Then opened the box and stuffed the Dictaphone into my pocket. Not until I was back out on the street did I know what I would be using it for. And when you hear this, you’ll know too. Because one day you’ll hear exactly what I’m saying now. I don’t know yet how it’ll happen but I can see you in my mind’s eye lying there, listening to my voice, completely unable to turn away. You can throw letters away, or burn them. You can forget about me and tell yourself I’m dead even though you know I’m alive somewhere out there. But you will hear my voice and then you’ll remember everything you’ve said to me, and everything I’ve said to you.

Once you told me about those twins. You read so much and knew so much and wanted to share everything with me who hardly ever read. Was one of them named Castor? We were sitting in the classroom before the others came in when you told me about them. Castor and Pollux, that was their names. They were inseparable. And instead of going to heaven, one of them chose instead to go to hell, where the other one had ended up. To be with him. You’ve forgotten that you told me this but I don’t forget.

This is a good Dictaphone. You can delete and change things and insert individual words anywhere you like just by pressing a few buttons. But I don’t use them. I’m saying this to you, and you shall hear it exactly as it is, with no polishing and no frills. It’s the thought of this that makes me feel calm and excited at the same time. That you will know what you have done.

PART I

1

Monday 24 September

THE WOMAN SAT motionless with her back to the window. Her arms hung straight down. Her pale grey face seemed frozen. She was dressed in green trousers and blouse, with a jacket the same colour loose over her shoulders. Her cheekbones were high and prominent and her eyes still greeny blue, but now the iris was narrowing inside a milky white rim. Outside, the wind lifted a bare birch branch behind her head.

Suddenly she glided her tongue over her teeth before opening her mouth and fixing her gaze on her visitor.

– I’ve been waiting all day, she said. – About time someone from the police could be bothered to turn up.

She stood up, tottered across the floor on her high-heeled sandals and checked that the door was closed behind him, came tripping back and sat down in the other chair, the one next to the writing desk. In flashes she still had that energetic way of moving, and she brushed a lock of her perm from her forehead with a gesture he knew well.

– The reason I have asked you to come… She interrupted herself, again went across the floor, opened the door and peered into the corridor outside.

– I don’t trust anyone in this place, she declared, closing it with a bang that was perhaps intended to underline what she said. Back in the brown leather chair, she smoothed her trousers over her knees.

– I’ve been waiting all day, she said again, now in a despairing voice. – I’ve got a missing person to report. The police must do something soon.

Her visitor was a man in his forties. He was wearing a hand-made suit, with a pale grey shirt underneath it. It was open at the neck, not that this made him look any the less well dressed.

– I came as quickly as I could, he said, and cast a glance at the clock.

– It’s about my husband, the woman went on. – He didn’t come home last night.

– I see, the visitor answered, and sat on the side of the bed, directly opposite her.

– He’s very particular always to let me know. But I haven’t heard a thing from him. Now I think something terrible has happened.

She moistened her dry upper lip with her tongue and smiled bravely.

– Do you know what the worst thing is?

The visitor passed his hand across her shortish hair, obviously recently cut. He knew what was coming.

– The worst thing is… The woman groaned as she opened her eyes wide, as though afraid.

– Have you had enough to drink today? the visitor interjected with what seemed like genuine concern. – I think you’re thirsty.

She didn’t seem to hear what he said.

– The Gestapo, she whispered as her eyes filled with tears. – I don’t think my husband will come back again ever.

The visitor remained sitting with his mother for almost three quarters of an hour. He poured her orange juice from a carton on the bedside table and she emptied two glasses. Having expressed her fear, she was finished with it this time around and opened a copy of Allers. It had been there on the table the last time he’d visited, a week earlier, and all the weeks before that. She didn’t say another word, as though she was completely engrossed by this single page she happened to have opened the magazine at. Now and then she looked over in his direction, her gaze diffuse, a slight smile playing about her mouth; she seemed to have descended once again into that remote calm that spread through her more deeply with every passing week, killing off everything else. He’d remembered to buy Dagbladet on the way and now leafed through it. When there was a knock on the door and the nurse came in with her medication – a man with greying hair, possibly a Tamil – he quickly got to his feet and gave his mother a hug.

– I’ll come back again soon, he promised.

– Judas, she hissed, her eyes transformed into glowing embers.

He swallowed his surprise, struggled not to laugh. She raised the half-full glass of juice, looked as though she were about to throw it in his direction.

– No, Astrid, the nurse scolded and took the glass from her.

She stood up and shook her fist.

– Brede is evil, she shouted. – It wasn’t the Gestapo, it was Brede who shot.

The nurse got her down in her chair again. She continued to gesture with her arms.

– Twins, that’s one too many kids, that is. But you wouldn’t have a clue what I’m taking about, a Negro like you.

The visitor glanced at the nurse and shook his head apologetically. The nurse opened the dosage box.

– Negroes are from Africa, he said with a broad smile and handed her the juice glass.

She swallowed one of the tablets.

– Because you are Brede, aren’t you? she said, peering in confusion at the visitor.

– No, Mother, I’m not Brede. I’m Axel.

He knocked on the charge nurse’s door and entered the office. When she saw that it was him, she swung her chair round from the computer desk and gestured with her hand towards the sofa.

– Sit yourself down a moment.

She was in her thirties, tall and athletic, with a face that he found attractive.

– Mother seems much more disturbed these days.

The charge nurse gave a quick nod.

– She’s been talking a lot about the war recently. Of course everyone here knows who Torstein Glenne was, but is there anything in all this about the Gestapo?

Axel pointed to the plastic plate of Maryland cookies on the table.

– Mind awfully if I take one? I missed lunch today.

He said no thanks to offers of coffee and blackcurrant juice, and was amused by the nurse’s further attempts to make up for her initial lack of hospitality.

– It is true that the Gestapo were after my father, he confirmed as he munched away. – He managed to cross the border into Sweden at the last moment. But Mother knew nothing about it at the time. It was fourteen years before she met him. She was four years old.

The charge nurse struggled to fasten her smooth hair at the neck in a hair band.

– It’s tremendously useful to know things like that. She’s always very uneasy whenever there’s anything about war on the TV. Recently we’ve had to switch off when the news comes on. By the way, who is Brede?

Axel Glenne brushed the biscuit crumbs from his lapels.

– Brede?

– Yes. Suddenly Astrid has started saying lots of things about this Brede. That he isn’t to come here, that she doesn’t want to see him any more and God knows what else. She actually gets quite worked up about it. When she’s really in a state we have to give her a Murelax. Of course we don’t know if this Brede really exists, so it isn’t easy for the nurses to know what to say.

– Brede was her son.

The charge nurse’s eyebrows shot up under her fringe.

– You have a brother? I had no idea. There’s never been anyone else but you come to visit. And sometimes your wife, and the children.

– It’s been more than twenty-five years since Mother last saw him, said Axel.

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