Vengeance is mine
– Let me remind you of the word of the Lord, my Son.
– “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath”
– With all due respect, Father, they’re not really his words. That’s more an opinion others claim He has.
– These are his words. And they continue like this: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”
– He will repay?
– So it is written, my Son. Do you understand?
– I understand, Father, but I won’t accept it.
– Because this vengeance is mine.
Milo Cavalli opened the trunk of the anonymous rental car and pulled out the waterproof bag and oxygen tank. While the tank made a hollow sound when it hit the ground, the bag landed with a metallic click. The sound of a gun against asphalt. He let his eyes sweep over the empty parking lot. It was too late in the evening for dog walkers. Too cold for romantics on a walk.
He opened the large bag with the diving gear and started to undress. He put the clothes in the trunk and pulled on the wet suit. Before he zipped it closed, he took out the necklace.
He must not forget that.
He stood there for a few seconds, staring at the small wooden piece, and let his fingers run across the letters burned into it.
There was nothing more fitting. Today, he wasn’t a police investigator.
He was the accuser, the judge and the executioner. In one.
Tonight, he was the avenger.
Milo put the necklace over his head. The wooden piece with the Norse inscription hung between the muscles of his chest, sculpted by months of intense training. Then he fastened the oxygen tank on his diving vest and checked the pressure. 200 bars. That should do fine to get him to the little island and back.
He put on the lead belt, closed the trunk and locked the doors. The car gave a double warning flash. He had wanted a car that didn’t attract attention, a car that would be hard to trace back to him. The dark Volkswagen Passat, which he had rented with a false ID, was perfect.
On the pier, he lay on his stomach and rinsed his goggles in the water, icy cold against his skin. He felt his heart beat a notch stronger, yet he didn’t feel nervous. Rather determined. A couple of thousand kilometers away, the job of securing him the perfect alibi had started. He could concentrate fully on the task ahead.
He got to his feet and took out the Beretta from the waterproof bag. It felt heavy in his hand. For the last time he checked the magazine. 17 bullets. If everything went as planned, he would only need three of them:
Two in the chest. One in the head.
Milo focused on what was about to happen and pushed away thoughts of what had happened.
The investigation. The murder. The funeral. The grief. The hate.
The months of darkness.
He saw Sunniva’s beaten face in a split second and felt the aftermath of the rage that had filled him to the brim. His thoughts moved to Theresa. Would she wait for him?
He inhaled, deep down into his stomach.
He put on the vest and tank and pulled the hood of his wetsuit over his hair, no longer dark and curly, but blond and short. A detail – one of many – that formed his alibi.
He sat at the edge of the pier to put on his fins, goggles and gloves. Flipping himself round with his palms on the wooden ledge he quietly lowered himself backwards into the freezing water. He immediately felt how it tried to penetrate his suit. The air in the vest kept him afloat. He put in the mouthpiece and registered how the oxygen found its way from the tank into his lungs. The air in the vest kept him afloat and he turned to see the lights from the estate on the island.
With his right hand he emptied the vest of air and could feel the lead belt pulling him gently towards the bottom.
And suddenly, how he was engulfed in darkness.
Two months earlier
Milo Cavalli passed the corner of Apotekgata and pulled the collar of his coat tighter around his neck. He tried to adjust his scarf, to prevent the wind from finding its way inside. But the moist air was like a string of reptiles crawling in between his scarf and collar, and further down his back. He cursed.
The passersby didn’t notice the outburst. They were too busy staring down at the wet asphalt to avoid the largest puddles made by the melting snow.
Ten crisp degrees below zero in Oslo in the wintertime is a dream.
Zero degrees and wet, on the other hand, is a nightmare.
Milo passed the stairs to the courthouse, where two newlyweds tried hopelessly to keep their teeth from clattering. The photographer was working equally hard to keep the camera still.
Who the hell gets married in Oslo in February? Milo thought, while meeting the glance from the bride.
He was often asked why he spent winter in Norway when he could have stayed in Italy. The truth was that February in Italy wasn’t any better. The difference between Norway and Italy is that the houses in northern countries are built to tackle the freezing temperatures. The colder the climate, the warmer the houses. Italian houses, on the other hand, are built to keep the warmth out. He might as well be in Norway.
In any case, winter is all about making time pass. Counting the days until spring.
He didn’t even have time to settle in the office, before Isaksen – Head of Securities Team at the Financial Crimes Unit – knocked on the door.
“Milo. I hope you’re not busy. Can you be in the large meeting room in five minutes?”
“Yeah, but I’ve got this report from the stock exchange that I need to…”
He didn’t bother to finish the sentence. Isaksen was already striding down the corridor. Milo heard him call out to Temoor – the department’s one-man-digital battalion – who despite his anarchistic youth had settled in the heart of police bureaucracy.
“Large meeting room. Five minutes.”
Milo exited his office in time to see Isaksen disappear around the corner. He responded to Temoor’s inquisitive look with a how-the-hell-should-I-know hoist of his shoulders and arms.
He hated being disturbed when he was working a case. Isaksen would no doubt dump more work onto their laps, long before the current case was finished. Rolf Isaksen was the kind of middle manager whose attention was focused on the hierarchy above him. He never had a controversial point of view, and always waited to see what direction the wind was blowing before making up his mind. He was never the first to speak his mind, waiting until his superiors had shown their hands.
He was destined to have a great career in the police force.
Milo headed for the coffee machine.
He usually overlooked Isaksen’s orders and admonitions when he felt he had more important things to do. Just let him speak, and then go about as before.
Omission of an order, not refusal.
However, Milo couldn’t ignore a direct order to attend a meeting. A few minutes later he entered the room. Four other people were already there, but he was struck by the silence.
Temoor was Milo’s opposite, which was probably the main reason for them getting along. The three others were Isaksen, Hamdahl who was Head of the Liaison Team and Talgbjørnrud, the Head of the Financial Crimes Unit.
Milo understood straight away that this meeting was not about yet another of Isaksen’s whims. Talgbjørnrud’s presence and gloomy eyes signaled that a larger case was in the making.
“Great, Milo. Everyone’s here then”.
It was Talgbjørnrud who spoke.
“Thanks all for meeting at such short notice. We have an acute situation on our hands, which is why I have asked particularly for each of you to be here. I need your skills and speed.”
Flattery was never amiss when you were about to force more overtime on your employees. Talgbjørnrud’s eyes swept over the small group of people in front of him.
“Less than three hours ago the investor Harald Halvorsen was found dead at a former retirement home here in Oslo. Or more correctly, tortured and executed. Does the name ring a bell?”
Everyone turned to look at Milo
Milo maneuvered the car out of the garage. He stepped on the pedal to get ahead of a Toyota insisting on staying below the speed limit. He was thinking about the Halvorsen family when his car entered the Vaterland tunnel. Milo had felt an almost physical reaction, like a jolt, when he heard the name of the victim. He didn’t know Harald Halvorsen personally, but he knew his family well.
According to the theory of six degrees of separation a person is at most six connections away from any other human being on earth. Six connections between a mechanic in the small village of Stryn in Norway and a Hollywood film star. And from the same star only six connections to a beggar in Mumbai, India.
There were only two connections between Milo Cavalli and Harald Halvorsen.
His son, Einar, was part of Milo’s extended circle of friends in the posh part of Oslo. They were the same age and could have formed a close friendship if it hadn’t been for Einar leaving Norway to start at a boarding school when he turned 14. Sending your kids to high school abroad was not a typical thing to do in Oslo. Then again, the Halvorsens were not your typical Oslo family.
Milo remembered his own mother and father discussing whether boarding school would suit him as well, but he had refused. No way he would spend time at a cold, drafty stone building in an English village, isolated from the rest of the world, together with hundreds of other teenage boys high on hormones. Years later, he understood why his parents had suggested it; to have time and space to sort out their marriage and pull the family secrets out into the light. Would things have been different had he moved? Would Maria Cavalli and Endre Torkildsen have been able to fix their chaos? Would his mother have escaped the depression that took control of her, and be alive today? Milo ended that train of thought.
Not now, he mumbled.
Einar Halvorsen didn’t just survive his boarding school years, he enjoyed them immensely. Today, he lived in London, had his own investment fund and would most likely never move back to Oslo. Milo had met him at a Christmas party a few months earlier. As usual, he was struck by a feeling of a friendship lost.
Milo’s relationship with the sister on the other hand, had been more than a friendship. Elisabeth Halvorsen was two years older than Einar and Milo. The unwritten rule was never to get too close to a younger sister, but it said nothing about an older sister.
Milo turned onto the E6 highway and recalled a memory from a midsummer party at the Halvorsen summer estate outside Tønsberg. The large house was on a small island, and it was packed with teenagers that night. Milo and Einar were 16, while Elisabeth had just turned 18. Both the brother and sister had invited their friends, and at the beginning the island was divided in two: Einar’s friends drinking their way through his dad’s liquor cabinet and Elisabeth’s friends longing for adulthood over glasses of white wine.
With the increased consumption of alcohol, the two groups had slowly merged. At midnight everything was a chaos of dancing, making out, vomiting, sleeping and world-problem-solving conversations. Covered by the darkness, Elisabeth had led Milo towards the beach. They ended up at the boat house. Maybe she had just wanted to tease him. Or test him. But he had taken her seriously.
A few years later they bumped into each other at a night club in Oslo. They repeated what they had done that midsummer night, though they didn’t see each other again. Milo couldn’t be certain but believed that Einar never knew about him and Elisabeth.
It suddenly struck him that neither of them knew yet about their father’s murder.
He pushed the gas pedal and the Alfa Romeo reacted instantly. As usual, the stereo was turned off. Instead, he enjoyed the sound of the 260 horsepower at his disposal.
It was a given that he was the one who left the office. The bosses were stuck on a carousel of meetings and it was impossible to drag Temoor away. He was at his most useful behind the keyboard in the large computer room. So long as the deliveries of Red Bull, coffee and chips didn’t stop, he could keep at it for days.
Milo had informed the others that he knew the son and daughter of the victim, but without going into specifics. His superiors saw no problem with it, rather as a positive. The job was to be a liaison between the Financial Crimes Unit and the Oslo Police Force.
This wasn’t the first time he was asked to support the Oslo Police. So, when Isaksen told him the person heading the investigation was an old acquaintance and Milo understood that he spoke about chief investigator Sørensen, he couldn’t stop himself from smiling.
He had missed the waddling grouch. The old left-wing radical with his strong opinions and his shiny, hairless pate. Isaksen had registered Milo’s satisfied look and made a point that this was not to going be fieldwork.
“Of course. Only support. Desk work. No problem,” Milo responded.
Like he didn’t really buy it.
Milo parked outside a concrete block of a structure and got out of the car. It had public institution written all over it. If someone had told Milo that the building had been used by the Norwegian state many years ago to perform forced sterilization of gypsies, he wouldn’t be surprised.
It was that kind of hospitality the building exuded.
The whole area had an impoverished, Soviet-ish aura. The low hanging clouds, depositing wet snowflakes on the asphalt, did nothing to improve the atmosphere.
A single uniform was standing in front of the main entrance. Police tape ran from a trash can to the corner of the building.
Somewhere inside lay the executed body of Harald Halvorsen, thought Milo.
He pulled out his badge and showed it to the policeman.
“Financial Crime Unit? Seriously? Why don’t you…”
“It’s OK. He’s with me.”
Exiting the building was chief investigator Sørensen. He wore a too small coat over a too large suit. To compensate for the cold weather, he had tried to garnish a scarf – which once had been black but now was as washed out as the winter sky – several times around his neck.
Sørensen was the best the Oslo Police Force had to offer, but he was frowned upon by many. He looked like a guy who had found the key card to his life but was still missing the pin code. He had a lighter and a pack of cigarettes in his left hand and offered Milo the right.
“So. You couldn’t stay away, could ya?”
He lit a cigarette, inhaled and blew a puff of smoke past Milo.
“Only desk work this time,” Milo answered.
Sørensen answered with a snort and looked behind Milo.
“All right. Where’s the desk? Hardly room for collapsible camping chair in the ride you’ve got there.”
“Well, I’ve got room to give you a ride afterwards if you get your act together.”
“Fair enough. I’m just kidding. Good to see you again, Milo.”
He inhaled quickly a few more times, until the cigarette was half done. Then he sent it flying towards something that once must have been a flower bed, but now framed a porridge of sand, soil and snow.
“I hope you didn’t eat too much for breakfast. You wanna come inside and have a look?” he asked.
And started walking without waiting for an answer.
There is something depressing about retirement homes.
No matter how nice the nurses are, no matter how much they strain themselves, it’s still public care within strict budgets. Milo remembered how glad he was that nonno e nonna – grandmother and grandfather – were able to live as long as possible with the family in Milan. He recalled how his mother and siblings refused to “outsource caring like you do in Norway”.
However, if a retirement home in operation is depressing, it doesn’t come close to one that is closed down.
They went through what was once the reception area and took the stairs to the next floor. The only source of illumination was the dull winter light seeping through the dirty windows. They passed a few abandoned wheelchairs and a walker. On a glass door was a faded child’s drawing, which, as if by a miracle, was still taped to it. It signaled that they were about to enter Ward 4.
They came into a corridor. Linoleum floor and worn wallpaper. On the left-hand side were rooms for the patients. On the right-hand side the closets that once contained shelves of towels and XL-sized diapers.
Their shoes made a sticky sound when the soles let go of the linoleum. None of them spoke. At the end of the corridor Sørensen halted. He nodded towards a door, while he put a pouch of snuff tobacco under his upper lip.
“He’s in there. It looks bloody awful. Just so you’re prepared,” he said.
Milo automatically squinted, as if to reduce the visual impression, and stepped into the room.
Harald Halvorsen lay on a bed without mattress. He wore dark pants, black shoes and a belt made of alligator skin. He had a blue shirt, but unlike the pants, it was ripped open, exposing his chest.
Milo instinctively lifted his hand to his mouth and blocked the sensation of having to vomit. As a financial crime investigator, you don’t see many corpses, but he noticed that even the experienced Sørensen was breathing noticeably. They went closer and Milo let his eyes wander from laceration to laceration. It wasn’t the result of stabbing. These were incisions of different lengths in Halvorsen’s skin. Someone had taken the time to let a knife run over his shoulders and arms. Coagulated blood had crusted the wounds. However, the cause of death was apparent: a bullet through the forehead, which had also destroyed part of the back of the head.
“Yup. Pretty brutal,” said Sørensen.
During his years at the Financial Crimes Unit, Milo had encountered a couple of shady investors with broken kneecaps and fingers. This was something completely different.
If the mutilation had been performed before Halvorsen was dead, this was a case of torture. If on the other hand, the cuts had been applied after he was dead, they were confronted with a symbolic act of brutality. Some sort of ritual.
Milo stepped closer and noticed that there were letters on the exposed chest:
W I T H O U T H O N O R.
The dark tattoo ink was in stark contrast to the white skin. The letters were written in a hurried way. Not aligned or the same size. But it was never meant to look perfect. The message was the most important:
Here lay a man without honor.
The last time Milo had seen Halvorsen was at Theatercafeen. He had looked immaculate in his dark suit, white shirt and silk tie. Seated around him were other suits, laughing at his jokes. Money has that effect: you have a favorable audience.
Halvorsen had waved Milo over to the table and introduced him to the others as “the richest and most honest cop in the country.” They spoke a few words, mostly about Einar, who did so well in London. None of them mentioned Elisabeth.
Milo recalled that he had reacted to how distant Halvorsen sounded and looked when speaking about his son. As if the divorce from their mother also resulted in some sort of separation from the offspring. Milo knew he had a new child with his new girlfriend and assumed it hadn’t exactly improved relations with the first set of children. But with the attention from the admirers around the table, Halvorsen didn’t seem particularly worried about family issues. He was at the height of his career.
Now, he lay before Milo, devoid of dignity.
The nausea was gone. Horror had given way to curiosity. He automatically bent down to have a look under the bed.
“Almost no blood at all. Has the killer cleaned the floor?”
“No. He was placed here after he was killed. Come with me,” answered Sørensen.
They left that room and walked into a larger one. Once it had been a combined kitchen, living room and tv-room. Apart from the run-down sofa, the room was stripped. In another day and age, patients had assembled here and eaten supper together. That is, those that managed to get out of their beds and out of their rooms. It had been some sort of waiting room where season 78, 79 and 80 of the tv-show “This is your life” was screened – with ever less intensity and ever more space between the highlights.
In that sense, these walls were used to death. But not murder.
Sørensen caught the eyes of one of the forensic people, who answered silently by pointing along the floor.
“We’ve made a path for you right there. Stick to it, but put on these plastic overshoes,” he said.
They did as they were told and followed the path to an empty chair in the middle of the room. Beneath it, on the floor, they saw a large, dark stain of blood. Almost like a small puddle, except for the fact that the liquid had congealed. Behind the chair and on part of the wall, the blood stains were more scattered. The largest drops closest to the chair. Those further away much smaller.
Blood spatter from the shot to the head, Milo thought.
Sørensen pointed to the chair.
“He was seated here. Probably with his hands tied behind his back.
“How do we know?” asked Milo.
“The red marks on his wrists.”
The forensic guy approached them and raised his arm towards the chair. Thumb pointing upwards, forefinger straight ahead. Like a gun.
“He was shot point blank,” he said.
“What about the blood underneath the chair? There’s hardly a gush of blood from a bullet wound like that?” asked Milo.
“The shot finished him off, but some of the wounds are made prior to it. Hence, the pool of blood,” answered the man.
“We believe that some of the blood has been used for that”, said Sørensen and pointed towards the wall.
Milo could see a painted symbol. Roughly 20×20 centimeter, applied with a fine brush.
Below what resembled a sunrise, the image was divided in two. On the left-hand side was a drawing of an open book and on the right-hand side was something that looked like a well.
“What’s the first thing that comes to mind, Milo?” asked Sørensen.
“Some sort of coat of arms. But I don’t know.”
The chief investigator nodded and put another pouch of snuff under his upper lip.
“We have to check if the Halvorsens had their own coat of arms,” he said.
“I doubt it. I don’t think any Norwegians have one. Not really in our genes, is it?” Milo said skeptically.
“The Halvorsen family is made of old money, isn’t it?”
Milo nodded his head pensively. Although he disliked the spitefulness in Sørensen’s tone, he understood where he was coming from. The Halvorsen’s wealth had been accumulated over three generations. So far.
“Milo, what do you really know about this guy?”
“I know his son. And daughter. From way back. And I can’t remember ever having seen a coat of arms at their house.
Sørensen stared at him. Milo continued, explaining one part of the connection. That he and Einar were the same age.
“I see. I guess that’s all right. Norway is a nation of acquaintances. Kamilla is going to see them later today.”
“Yeah. New on the team.”
“I know her”.
Sørensen squinted his eyes.
“How well?” he asked.
“Professionally,” Milo reassured him.
Sørensen nodded. First to Milo and then towards the room where Halvorsen lay mutilated.
“Back to that guy. What do you know about him?”
“Well, he wasn’t one of those nouveau riche, flashy investors. He invested through a family owned company and sat on the board of directors in a number of companies.”
“OK. Go on.”
Milo went through what he knew about Harald Halvorsen. It had been his father – Eugene Halvorsen – who really made the family money grow and accumulate, through a number of successful investments in several industrial companies in the 1920s. This fortune was long ago turned into profitable real estate and stocks.
The money bin had become so vast that Harald Halvorsen had moved to Switzerland to avoid taxation. Einar, on the other hand, was living in London, running his own investment fund.
“I see. Tax refugees,” said Sørensen.
His tone of voice left no doubt as to his opinion and this was probably not the best time for a debate about taxes.
“I guess they feel that the money already has been taxed as either income or profit in the companies that they own, and they want to avoid yet another taxation,” said Milo.
“Yeah, yeah, poor rich people,” Sørensen shot back.
He sighed loudly.
“OK, you guys just dig up everything you can about him.”
“We’re on it. We’ll have a preliminary report tonight,” Milo answered.
His eyes wandered around the room once more.
“But I can’t understand what he did to deserve this.”
“You figure he deserved it? That he’s not just a random victim?”
“The perpetrator has gone to incredible lengths to either lure Halvorsen here or abduct him. Then he’s tortured him, killed him and tattooed his chest. Before moving the corpse,” said Milo.
“And in the middle of it all, he takes the time to use the victim’s blood to paint a symbol on the wall,” Sørensen added.
They stood silent, taking it in. The Chief investigator stroked his hand across his shiny head:
“Someone craved this.”
The forensic team was done and had packed all their equipment in black plastic suitcases.
“We’re leaving. Someone will be here to pick up the corpse in half an hour.”
“OK, Kjell. Thanks,” answered Sørensen.
Milo went over to one of the windows and looked outside. The row on one side of the room was facing an industrial area. The other row, a busy road.
“There’s not a soul who could have seen anything through the windows. We’re too high up,” Sørensen said from behind him.
“I know. And no one could have heard anything either. But why here? In a closed down nursing home?”
“That’s exactly what you’re going to help me find out,” Sørensen answered.
He’d picked up his mobile and was pressing it against his ear. When someone answered, he turned around and stepped away from Milo.
“Kamilla!” he barked into the phone.
While Sørensen was busy giving orders, Milo went back to the room where Halvorsen lay dead. It was getting darker outside. He turned on the lights. The fluorescent lamp started blinking, as if it was fighting its way back to life after years of hibernation. He stood there watching Harald Halvorsen and thought about Einar and Elisabeth. How would they react to the fact that their father had been tortured before someone sent a bullet through his head?
He turned towards the door and caught sight of a piece of paper attached to the wall with a thumbtack.
“This month’s activities” was the heading.
In April 2009 the residents were able to enjoy needlework on Tuesdays, choir practice on Thursdays and bingo on Fridays.
His looked at Harald Halvorsen once more.
“Sorry mac. No more bingo for you.”
They drove towards the Oslo city center. Sørensen was staring out the window. Every now and then his face took on a hue of red or green. Lit up by neon signs. It made him appear even more pensive.
“What now?” asked Milo.
“I’ll get the group together down at The House.”
Milo nodded as he switched lanes and accelerated past a couple of long-haul trucks.
“Kamilla met with Halvorsen’s girlfriend. Apparently, they still have an apartment in town, even though they live in Switzerland. Let’s see if she came up with anything. Afterwards the two of you will visit his ex-wife and kids.”
It was odd calling Einar and Elisabeth kids. Both had passed 30.
“Me? I’m Ok with that, but I believe my instruction was to only do desk work”
“I won’t tell my boss if you don’t tell yours. Anyways, it’s part of your supporting us, which is what we requested. Neither Kamilla nor I are very good at communicating with the upper classes. But you are.”
Milo threw a glance at Sørensen.
“I’ll take that as a compliment even though it wasn’t meant as one,” he replied.
“There you go. Two minutes and I’ve already insulted a member of the elite,” Sørensen shot back.
He started laughing, but it turned into a cough and ended with him having to lower the window and spit onto the highway. Milo couldn’t prevent himself from smiling. He turned the heater up a few notches to counter the February cold that Sørensen had let into the car.
“By the way, who’s your superior? In case I need to clarify your role.”
“Rolf Isaksen,” said Milo.
Sørensen laughed again. Scornfully, but not without compassion.
“My, oh my. Isaksen. The fastest rat in the hamster wheel of self-righteousness. Lucky you.”
Fifteen minutes later, Milo parked outside the entrance to the police headquarters – The House – and switched off the engine. He would have liked to join the task force meeting, but knew he had another job to do.
“When will you have the report ready?” asked Sørensen.
“Tomorrow morning at the latest. Probably tonight.”
Sørensen got out of the car but popped his head back in again.
“I gotta run, but it was good seeing you, Milo. I appreciate any information you can dig up. And you joining Kamilla. I told the family you’ll be there in an hour.”
Milo was struck by a thought. Before he managed to think it through, he asked Sørensen:
“I’ll probably get the first draft of the report from Temoor tonight. And then I’ll go through a couple of data bases. What if you stop by my place when you’re done for the night? I’ll make us something to eat and we’ll go through the material we have.”
He knew he had crossed a line. Sørensen’s facial expression confirmed it. You don’t mix work and personal life. It happens in most other countries, but not Norway.
You have friends – then there are colleagues.
Admittedly, Milo and Sørensen had developed some sort of friendship. But dinner? He could tell that Sørensen instinctively wanted to turn down the invitation, but then his expression changed. The wrinkles on his forehead disappeared. Maybe he thought the same as Milo: that a meal together could actually be nice.
“Well. Why not,” he said, and shut the door.
Milo saw him disappear into the building and it struck him that “well, why not” probably was the most enthusiastic phrase in Sørensen’s vocabulary.
The gardens become bigger and the villas whiter the further west you go in Oslo.
Along the sidewalk in Holmenkollveien they could see two Filipino women carrying three pairs of alpine skis each. They were struggling to keep the skis and poles together.
“Ah, the service staff has been put to work,” said Kamilla.
“Au pairs,” Milo corrected.
“That’s what I said. Service staff.”
She was chewing loudly on a piece of gum. Milo felt the sound became more distinct the further west they came. As if loud chewing was her little protest.
“You know, Milo, there are two kinds of people: Those who think that having au pairs is totally fine and those that don’t.”
Kamilla loved putting people in boxes. It was either-or. Black-white.
The first time Milo met Kamilla was a year ago, when everyone was at the pub having a payday beer. Usually, cops only hang out with colleagues from their own department, but that evening Milo ended up next to Kamilla because they both knew Sørensen. Later that evening, Milo’s kid sister Sunniva and his stockbroker friend Frikk turned up. It wasn’t a success. They had both tried to chat up Kamilla. Neither succeeded.
“The thing is, I already have a boyfriend. Not only that, we live together,” she confided in Milo.
“Anyone I know?” Milo had asked.
“I’m pretty sure you don’t.”
She had finished her beer and gave him a blurred look.
“When it comes to men, my expectations are quite low. And he fulfills them.”
After that she had lifted the veil a bit more. She talked about her manic-depressive brother, who went in and out of treatment facilities.
“I guess mental illness really isn’t your thing, Milo, but it can be quite stressful.”
“How is he?”
“OK, given the circumstances. He just finished a three-month manic period where he thought he was Jesus. Apparently, it was quite fun, but very tiresome carrying all of that responsibility.”
They had both laughed out loud.
Kamilla peered through the window.
“Jeez, they’ve even got a subway in this part of town,” she said when the passed Besserud.
“Yeah, but it’s above ground. Not underneath, like on the East side,” Milo said dryly.
“Of course. Silly me,” she murmured.
The roads became smaller and the apple trees larger. They parked in front of an enormous villa with a wrought iron gate and a double garage. A Porsche Cayenne was parked outside, and the open garage door revealed a polished, dark blue Tesla.
You’d have needed a trained eye to recognize that Einar Halvorsen wasn’t immaculately dressed.
The handkerchief was missing from the breast pocket of his tailor-made jacket and his white shirt was slightly wrinkled. His trousers had lost their sharp press, and one of his shoes had a spot, which the former boarding school pupil would probably have longed to get wiped away.
The dark shadows beneath his eyes brought sorrow to mind. Milo thought, however, that it may as well be a lack of sleep. Sixteen hours a day in the office tend to leave a mark on a person.
Nevertheless, his friend looked like a million dollars.
“Milo, how nice to see a familiar face,” Einar said gravely, before extending his hand also to Kamilla.
He led them into a large hallway, or éntre, as he called it. Kamilla managed to take off her shoes and reveal a hole in one of her socks, before she was told to “just leave your shoes on”. Einar led them to the living room, where perfume still lingered. Other than that, there wasn’t a sign of another person.
“Mother just went upstairs to rest, and Elisabeth has gone for a walk,” he explained.
He pointed towards the couch and waited for his guests to sit down before he did.
“Can I offer you any refreshments?”
Milo was struck by how old-fashioned Einar sounded. Like a man from the past. At the same time, he didn’t know anyone like him who was more up to date on new technology and innovation. Milo could never quite decide if Einar Halvorsen was ahead of, or after, his own time.
“Don’t worry about it, Einar,” answered Milo.
Kamilla coughed slightly, as if she struggled to start her questioning. Usually she went straight to the point, but it was as if the wide sofa, the well-dressed man and the drive taking her far away from her apartment at Manglerud, made her uncertain and uncomfortable.
Like a squirrel on a floating mattress.
That Kamilla was crap at small talk was no exaggeration. So her opening sentence took Milo by surprise:
“I believe we have a few people in common, Halvorsen.”
Einar and Milo looked astounded. The distance from the jeans in the sofa to the suit in the chair seemed enormous.
“My grandfather worked at the aluminum factory in Årdal. He was foreman while your grandfather was chairman of the board,” she said.
Not without pride.
“Oh,” Einar Halvorsen answered indifferently, with a hint of bother.
As if his grandfather’s cooperation with union reps was something you didn’t speak about in the large Holmenkollen villa. Kamilla jotted down something on her notepad. It looked like it was just one word. Milo was willing to bet that it was either “dickhead” or “asshole”.
Milo looked at Einar.
“My condolences. I wish we had met under different circumstances.
“Thank you, Milo. Thank you.”
“Just to make it clear: I’m here in an official capacity. I’m supporting the team investigating the homicide. Are you up for answering a few questions?”
He answered quickly, as if there had to be more than an executed father to keep Einar Halvorsen from doing his duty.
“Do you have any idea who might have wanted to see your father dead?” asked Milo.
“Well, that might be a few people,” Einar answered thoughtfully.
“Who wanted to kill him?” interrupted Kamilla.
She was writing on her notepad and was staring at Einar Halvorsen with astonishment.
“No. Not kill him. Milo asked who might have wanted to see him dead. And I believe there are quite a few people who won’t shed a tear over him. Still, I doubt they have it in them to kill,” he answered.
He turned to Milo:
“You know what I mean, right? There’s no secret that my dad made enemies on his way up. I realize it’s not what I’m supposed to say on a day like this, but I figure it’s important to be honest. Many people disliked my father and I bet they wanted to get back at him. But it’s a long leap from that to actually killing someone.”
Einar leaned back. He seemed to disappear into thought, staring at the floor, resting his chin on his folded hands. But he didn’t resemble someone praying, rather someone mulling over something.
“I don’t know how much you and your father kept in touch or when you saw him last, but did you notice whether anything might have been weighing on him lately?”
Einar shook his head. He hadn’t seen his father in over a month, only spoken briefly on the phone. A text message now and then. He described a relationship with a remoteness to it, caused by living two separate lives in two separate cities. Milo and Kamilla continued to ask their questions, but the answers didn’t call for digging any deeper.
“Have you been there, Milo? Did you see him?” asked Einar.
“I have. I did.”
“How was it? I mean, how…”
He didn’t manage to finish the question.
“I don’t want to go into detail, Einar, but it seems it was done by someone who really disliked him. Hated him. Which is why we’re asking if you’ve noticed any odd behavior or if you think he felt threatened.”
“I understand. When can we see him?” Einar asked.
“We’ll let you know.
Milo could tell that Einar was trying to picture what had happened to his father, but he had no intention of nurturing those thoughts by providing more details.
They were about to wrap it up, when he heard the entrance door open. Shortly after, a young woman entered the living room. Her blond hair was tucked behind her pearl earring-covered ears, and Milo immediately recognized her. Both he and Einar got up, while Kamilla remained seated.
“Elisabeth, maybe you remember Milo?”
“Of course. Hi, Milo.”
She shook his hand before giving him a small hug. Her cheek winter cold against his. She had this fresh outdoorsy smell to her, but her eyes were red and shiny blank.
“Milo is a police officer now. In the financial crime’s unit,” Einar continued.
Elisabeth Halvorsen took a step back and eyed him.
“So I heard. At first, I thought it was a joke.”
“It’s not,” Milo answered.
“Good for you, Milo. You’ve always gone your own way.”
Things unsaid hung in the air between them. Last time they had seen each other was one morning several years ago. They had woken, stared at each other, slightly hungover and shocked, and then laughed. They stayed in bed for another hour. He had left her apartment certain that they would see each other again. But neither he nor she had taken the initiative, so they hadn’t spoken since.
Until now, when he stood in front of her, condoling her on the loss of her father. Elisabeth swallowed twice and murmured “thank you”. Kamilla got up and introduced herself. The two women couldn’t be further apart. It was pearl earrings versus tattoos. Blouse versus leather jacket. She asked Elisabeth the same questions they had asked Einar. Her answers gave them nothing. The only difference was that she was a lot less critical towards her father than Einar had been.
“I honestly can’t understand who would hurt him,” she said.
After a short while Milo and Kamilla thanked them. As they headed for the door, Einar’s cell phone rang. He excused himself, saying he “just had to answer this one”.
“No problem. We’ll speak later,” Milo answered.
Elisabeth followed them to the door. Kamilla left for the car without shaking her hand. Milo remained.
“So, how are you, Milo?” asked Elisabeth.
She kept her façade even in the middle of a tragedy, asking polite questions and making conversation.
“I’m good,” has answered.
“And do you have a…”
She bit her lip and tried to blink away the blankness in her eyes.
Finally, she had asked the question she had wanted all along.
“Actually, I’ve gotten a sister.”
“Or half-sister. I’ve had her for a while, but I didn’t know about her until last year,” he explained.
“But no wife or kids,” he continued.
“I’m sure you have a girlfriend.”
“Yeah, I do. But not in Oslo. How about you?”
He had noticed the enormous diamond on her finger and knew the answer.
“Married for two years. And a daughter. 18 months.”
“Congratulations. How is it?”
She shook her head slightly.
“Honestly? A bit lonely. My husband is travelling a lot. Works in cyber security. And my daughter…my daughter is lovely. Really. But…”
She stared at him.
“Was I this boring when we…when you and I…?”
“You were anything but boring, Elisabeth.”
She smiled sadly at him.
He took a step forward and hugged her. She let him hold her and he could feel her breath towards his neck.
“We will find whoever did this,” he said and stroked her back.
“I know you will,” she answered.
He let her go and took a step back.
“We’ll speak soon,” he said.
“What if I need to get in touch with you?” she asked, somewhat desperately. “In case I remember anything.”
He pulled a business card from his pocket and gave it to her. She looked at it and stood there holding it with both her hands.
As if her life depended on it.
Sørensen stared with skepticism at the wine glass offered by Milo. The content was peachy and bubbly. Winter darkness had long ago settled over the city. Sometimes the light from the streetlamps was reflected in the snow, creating an illusion of a brighter evening. But when the snow melted, and left the asphalt wet and black, the darkness was intensified.
“Can I have a beer instead?” he asked.
“After this one.”
Sørensen took the glass, reluctantly, and sniffed it.
“And this is…?”
The chief investigator took a sip and tilted his head from one side to the other, like a judge just about to make a ruling.
“Hm. I guess this is OK. Sparkling wine and…?”
“Peach juice. Prosecco and peach juice. Invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice.
“Ha! Invented! You make it sound so…”
He took another sip.
“…fancy. Some people mixed some stuff, gave it a name, and suddenly they’ve invented something?”
“It’s named after the renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini and…”
He was interrupted by Sørensen’s snort turning into laughter.
“Give me a break, Milo. Imagine if we had to name all the things we mix together in this country!”
He grabbed a measuring cup and held it towards Milo.
“I call this “Munch”, after the great painter. Some moonshine, some coffee and a wee bit of turpentine.
While Sørensen finished laughing, Milo stirred the sauce and salted the pasta water.
“What are you making?”
“Spaghetti alla puttanesca.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Spaghetti inspired by prostitutes,” Milo explained.
“Apparently, this sauce has the same colors as the clothes used by the prostitutes in Naples. To attract clients.
“That’s one way of saying it,” answered Milo.
The Chief Investigator was scanning the apartment.
“Some place you’ve got,” he said.
“Have a look around.”
“You’ve got two floors?”
“Yeah. Kitchen, living rooms and bathroom on this floor and bedroom, bathroom and office upstairs.
Sørensen waddled into the living room. Milo watched him moving along the bookcase. Every now and then he stopped, pulled out a book and peeked into it. For a long while he stood just staring at a photo of Milo, his mother, grandmother and grandfather at the Vatican. It was taken just as the Pope was bending down to shake hands with the three-year-old, and very serious looking, Milo. His mother was beaming with pride and affection.
“Here’s your beer,” Milo said and handed him a bottle.
“Nastro Azzurro. I gotta say: you do this Italian thing one hundred percent.”
“Salute!” answered Milo.
“Cheers,” the Chief Investigator said and took a solid mouthful.
He let himself almost fall backwards into one of the comfortable armchairs. From the table he picked up the report that Milo and Temoor had finished less than an hour earlier.
The short report about Harald Halvorsen began by listing up the basic facts:
Born 3 August 1951, in Oslo.
Son of Eugene Halvorsen and Ingeborg Halvorsen (born Danielsen).
Both parents dead.
One younger brother, Dag.
First marriage – Cathrine Boverholdt.
Second marriage – Torill Halvorsen (born Wilhelmsen).
Two children, Elisabeth (born 1985) and Einar (1987).
Lives with Anja Wikborg, in Geneva.
There is something contradictory in trying to squeeze a human life into four pages, thought Milo.
At the same time, he knew that Sørensen only needed the most essential pieces of information. Meaning it had to be short and without emotion. Still, the report was not without some temperature. It became warmer and warmer after listing his high school diploma from Oslo Handelsgym, civil service in the special infantry forces and his master’s degree from the Norwegian Business School.
Sørensen cleared his throat and got out his snuffbox. Without taking his eyes away from the memo, he placed a pouch of tobacco under his upper lip. A movement he had performed thousands of times. Milo watched how his eyes ran sideways across the pieces of paper. His gaze jumped back and forth in the text that listed up all of Halvorsen’s work experience. Norsk Aluminumsindustri A/S from 1974 to 1980. Ten years in the investment bank Finanscentrum. Until he quit, to manage his own personal investments.
“What do you mean by him being a bellwether?” asked Sørensen and stared at Milo.
“He’s the kind of investor other, smaller investors are copying. The sheep with the bell that the others follow. If he invested in a company, so did they.”
Sørensen grunted and kept on reading, about Halvorsen’s investments in several tech companies, such as Agari Tech and Remedium Research & Technology. His eyes scanned the text until they fixed on a sentence. He coughed faintly and changed position on the couch. Once again, he looked up at Milo, but this time without uttering a word. He didn’t have to. Milo knew exactly where the chief investigator had stopped reading: the paragraph describing the origin of the Halvorsen family fortune.
The story hadn’t really been told by the Norwegian media, but straight after the war there had been some criticism. The family had always claimed that their wealth stemmed from the 1920s, when Eugene Halvorsen was Chief Technical Officer in Norsk Aluminiumsindustri. He had convinced his father, a tradesman from Grimstad, to invest in the company. The return on investment had been enormous and made Eugene Halvorsen a wealthy man, with ever more influence on Norwegian business.
The investigation done by Temoor and Milo, however, revealed that the biggest part of the profits came in the 1940s – not the 1920s. Eugene Halvorsen was a key player in establishing the administrative council, which governed civil society in Norway during the German occupation from 1940 to 1945. The council was set up on advice from the Supreme Court, but without the approval of the King. This happened only days after the German invasion, while the King was still on the run and hadn’t yet left occupied Norway for Great Britain.
Sørensen lowered his gaze and read on.
The most important role Eugene Halvorsen had during the war, was as one of the directors in Norsk Aluminiumindustri A/S. The company was important to Germany, as a supplier to the aviation industry. The main argument for collaborating was to “keep the wheels turning” and prevent unemployment. The management and shareholders also were afraid that the Germans would take over the company if they didn’t cooperate.
Years later, these arguments were denounced. Actually, Germans didn’t take over the running of companies where Norwegians refused to work with the occupiers. They didn’t have the technical skills or local knowhow.
Also, Norsk Aluminiumsindustri’s ambitious growth plans stood in stark contrast to only keeping “the wheels turning”. During the war, the company increased capacity from 25,000 to 135,000 tons. The management, including Eugene Halvorsen, was crucial in this, recommending ways to expand and help execute the plans.
A few years ago, new documents had been released from the Traitor Archive. These told of several business leaders and how they had collaborated with Nazi-Germany. Eugene Halvorsen had been indicted but acquitted in 1948.
After the war, the Norwegian state confiscated Germany’s shares in Norsk Aluminiumsindustri. At the same time, the members of the so-called consortium of directors were allowed to keep their shares. The industrial sector was crucial to rebuilding Norway, and many of these men were viewed as having unique insight and competence. Halvorsen was one of them. Economic growth in the 1950s and 60s lead to a multiplying of his investments.
This was the foundation for the wealth that his son, Harald Halvorsen, had managed these past decades.
Sørensen put the memo back on the table.
“So. A traitor,” he said.
They dined in the kitchen. The conversation fueled by a bottle of red wine. Milo still hadn’t digested all the information they had collected. Growing up, there was only talk about the Halvorsen wealth stemming from investments in industry, real estate and the stock market. If war profiteering was the basis for Harald Halvorsen’s financial success, that also meant Einar’s investment fund in London was founded on the same.
“Eugene Halvorsen was never convicted, though,” said Milo.
As if he felt a need to defend Einar’s family.
“Economic and industrial traitors weren’t convicted, Milo. Norway only punished the political traitors. It was enough to be a member of the Nasjonal Samling party. A couple of nazi-millions in your bank account, however, was OK.”
Sørensen had brought the memo into the kitchen and glanced at it wolfing down his pasta.
“The legal prosecution of traitors probably wasn’t our proudest moment, but I really hoped we had buried that fucking war by now,” he said.
“You think that’s the motive?” asked Milo.
“Fuck knows. But we have to dig into it.”
He finished every morsel on the plate and the wine in the glass and leaned back. Stroking his stomach.
“Ah. Even poor people get full,” he said and sighed.
His skin was dark beneath his eyes, and he yawned loudly and for a long while.
Like a silent scream for coffee.
Milo cleared the table, while Sørensen got up.
“I’ll just have a fag out on the balcony.”
After finishing the cigarette, the Chief Investigator sat down on the sofa. Milo took the chair and they continued discussing the memo.
“Charming guy, this Halvorsen dude. Wives and kids, one after the other,” said Sørensen.
“You don’t necessarily advance that much by using charm,” answered Milo.
Sørensen looked surprised:
“No? I’ve climbed pretty high on the police ladder.”
“Not entirely because of your charm, though?”
The Chief Investigator pretended to ponder.
“Maybe not entirely. Even though I have heaps of it.”
The statement was followed by a “Ha!”. But immediately after, the thoughtfulness was back.
“Seriously, Milo, what are you thinking? What kind of person was he?”
He leaned forward, but didn’t wait for Milo to respond:
“Kamilla told me she got bad vibes from this Einar guy.”
“I don’t doubt it. You told me yourself she has a problem talking to the upper class.”
Sørensen didn’t even smile.
“Kamilla isn’t stupid. She got the feeling Einar Halvorsen didn’t tell you everything he knew. That he came across as quite cold.”
Milo didn’t answer. He had started contemplating it in the car on the way back and continued while doing the cooking and waiting for Sørensen. He had scanned his memory as systematically as possible. The trips, the parties, the dinners. Not once could he remember Einar speaking with affection about his father. There was more talk about Harald Halvorsen’s disappointment over his son not being smarter and sharper. He hadn’t been satisfied with his son’s grades at boarding school, as if he hadn’t gotten value for his money. But that didn’t prevent Einar starting his career in London.
“We have to check out Einar Halvorsen’s financial situation. If there were bad relations between father and son, and for example if Einar is struggling financially, we need to find out sooner rather than later,” Sørensen said.
Milo knew he was right. But it was crucial not to get stuck in just one track.
“What strikes me is that Halvorsen accumulated plenty of enemies. You don’t get that far without running over some people.”
“Exactly,” responded Sørensen. “The question is who could have been so damaged and vengeful tha they’d want to get rid of the guy in such a brutal way?”
Sørensen had almost slid into a horizontal position. He emptied his glass in one go and got up. For a moment he stood there swaying before he regained his balance.
“Thanks for the excellent food. And getting the report done so quickly.”
Milo also got up and they went through the kitchen to the hallway. Sørensen leaned against the wall while putting on his shoes.
“It’s really some bachelor’s crib you’ve got here.”
Milo laughed but thought of Theresa. Once again, the impatience was there. A disturbing feeling created in the friction between distance and proximity.
Physical distance, mental proximity.
After a few years on and off, they were definitely on. The certainty came a couple of months earlier. That grey Monday morning, when he climbed the stairs to Theresa’s flat in Rome, let the bag hit the floor and Theresa put her arms around his neck. How he was struck by a sensation of being home. That “home” actually could be a person more than a place. He’d never felt bad about seeing other women. He had been open about it, and it wasn’t as if Theresa just sat waiting, hands in her lap. But her frustration had grown, and he knew he had to make a choice.
There and then, he knew that everything had changed. Later that evening their conversation also had an element of something different, something new. More curiosity. As if both were scouts running around in the woods and had to check the area:
Childhood memories from Sardinia, of a boiling hot car, with seats that threatened to burn your skin unless you sat on your t-shirt or towel.
The smell of oil, gasoline and exhaust from Milo’s grandfather’s old Ducati, which he never drove, but only started the engine, and with closed eyes listened to it roar and inhale the fumes. As if the motorcycle was a time machine.
What it was like getting a little sister – or half-sister – as an adult.
That family was much simpler growing up.
The thought of having kids of your own.
“Not really sure I can call myself a bachelor any longer,” Milo told Sørensen.
The chief investigator straightened up and tried, without success, to put in his scarf in a proper way.
“Are we talking ring on the finger?” he asked.
“The thought has crossed my mind.”
It was the first time he had ever said it out loud and it surprised him how good it felt. He hadn’t even discussed it with Theresa. But he knew she would like to be his fidanzata – fiancée.
Sørensen’s face cracked open into a smile. He patted Milo jovially on the back.
“That’s great. Congrats!”
“So you’d recommend marriage?”
“Hmmfff. I’m probably not the right person to do that. I divorced nine years ago.”
He put on his coat and got out a cap from the pocket. His chest heaved in and out, as if dressing for the Norwegian winter was as strenuous as a 110-meter hurdle run.
“To me, marriage was a journey into feelings. Most of all those of my own inadequacy,” Sørensen continued.
Milo had to smile. So did Sørensen. He gave a sound that was part snort, part hiccough.
“We got divorced. I thought it would be better to be the ex-husband she gets along with instead of the husband she hates.”
“How’d that work out?”
“Not that well. I became the ex-husband she hates.”
The execution (chapter 12)
He seemed confused more than scared.
Milo stared at the screen. The video lasted 17 minutes, but it took only a few seconds before he felt discomforted, a sudden wave of nausea.
Halvorsen was seated on a chair, hands tied behind his back. He was gagged and groggy. His gaze flickered around the room. Milo immediately recognized the nursing home. He remembered the empty chair, the blood beneath it. On the screen however, the chair wasn’t empty. Halvorsen was seated on it, tied. There was no blood on the floor. Yet.
Through the frail loudspeaker on the phone, Milo could hear the investor grunt behind the gag. Desperate sounds in an empty room.
When the camera zoomed out, the whole room became visible. He could see a lectern vis á vis Halvorsen. To the right was a large chair. Some sort of throne. A blanket made from the skin of an animal lay over it.
What the fuck? Thought Milo.
The room was like a scene. The furniture like props. He turned the volume to max and concentrated on the details. None of the furniture – neither the lectern nor the throne – had been there when he was at the crime scene the day before. Had someone actually carried the furniture inside and then removed it? In that case, that someone had prepared well.
It felt like he was watching a performance.
The chronicle of an execution foretold.
Harald Halvorsen’s gaze still flickered on the video. Until it stopped by the camera.
As if he was looking into the barrel of a gun.
The angle of the camera changed, and a door was opened behind Halvorsen. A man emerged. He closed the door and walked quickly over to Halvorsen. He wore a white robe with black embroideries. In his hands was a stack of paper. Parts of his face – the eyes and nose – were hidden behind a mask.
The man put down the papers on the lectern, opposite Halvorsen. He then took out a knife and moved over to the terrified investor. Halvorsen tried frenetically to move and his grunts became louder. He tried to push himself backwards by planting his feet on the floor, but without success. The man with the knife grabbed him by the hair and held the knife to his face. In a quick movement he slid the knife between the cheek and the piece of cloth used to gag Halvorsen. He pulled the knife towards him and the gag was removed.
Harald Halvorsen was panting and tried to control the panic. The man with the white robe was already on his way back to the lectern. Halvorsen shouted:
“What the hell his happening?! Where am I?”
The other person was studying his papers and then stared at him coldly.
“You are at a Ting. Or a court room, if you’d like.”
The voice sounded muffled behind the mask.
“The Just Ting Honoring Váli.”
Halvorsen was interrupted by the door in the back being opened once again and another person appeared. Like another actor about to be introduced. Male, in his 50s, short and grey hair. He walked over to the chair resembling a throne. He too was wearing a robe, but his was decorated with ornaments of gold.
The scene became obvious: the man behind the lectern was the prosecutor. Meaning the grey-haired man to the right had to be…
“I hereby declare this Ting to be opened.”
His deep voice filled the room.
“What the hell is happening? Who are you?
“I am your judge,” answered the grey-haired.
“Judge?! What kind of crap is this? What is…”
“Everything will be explained,” interrupted the judge and looked at the prosecutor:
“You may begin.”
The man behind the lectern positioned his papers, cleared his throat and began speaking.
“For generations the Halvorsen family has become richer and richer at the expense of others.”
The prosecutor listed up how Eugene Halvorsen had started accumulating assets from the 1920s and onwards, and how he became an important ally for the German war machine.
“From the summer of 1943 until the end of the war in June 1945, 15 workers at Norsk Aluminiumsindustri A/S were executed for their resistance. In the same period, the company increased its production from 25.000 to 135.000 tons. Resulting in an almost tripling of the value of Eugene Halvorsen’s assets.”
The prosecutor looked at the judge first and then the accused:
“It’s one thing that the Halvorsen fortune is built on betrayal, while other, honest Norwegians sacrificed their lives. But equally important is the fact that this contributed to prolonging the war.”
Harald Halvorsen tried to protest, but the judge waived a finger as a warning. The prosecutor went through the different phases of the second world war, and especially the strength of the German armed forces. The Nazi regime invested heavily into building planes, tanks and other weapons. To succeed in this, they needed access to raw material, such as aluminum. Norsk Aluminiumsindustri A/S had willingly made this available, albeit at a high price.
“Eugene Halvorsen was a facilitator. Through his actions he not only enabled the German armament, but contributed to its persistence. Norwegian aluminum was in the planes bombing London, the U-boats which torpedoed tankers on their way to Iceland bringing fuel to the allied forces, and the tanks moving through France and winning the battle of Ardenne,” the prosecutor said, with rage in his voice.
He took a sip of water and looked at his papers. He put some of them aside and picked up a new one. He wasn’t done.
“But there is more. Maybe the biggest injustice was done against the Betelsteins, who owned Oslo’s largest clothing business, with stores in Bergen and Trondheim too. Eugene Halvorsen acquired the business when the family was deported to Germany. The only one of them to return after the war, was the youngest daughter.”
This time Halvorsen wouldn’t be silent.
“My father bought that business from them!”
The prosecutor smiled scornfully.
“No, he didn’t buy it from them. He bought it from the Germans, after they had confiscated the Betelstein assets. And a few years after the war, he sold it. Thereby, increasing the pool of blood money.”
Sitting in the cold car, Milo could almost hear Sørensen barking his orders to Kamilla at the House, where they probably were watching the video together: “Get me the names of the 15 workers that were executed and the relatives of the Betelsteins!”
The Chief Investigator was probably on his third cigarette.
In the video, Harald Halvorsen was shaking his head. But in a way that was tired more than protesting.
“And we now arrive at the point in time where the accused plays his role, having continued the family tradition,” the prosecutor continued.
The occurrence he spoke about dated back to 1986. Work was ongoing to return to Jewish families assets that had been confiscated during the war, and Ruth Betelstein had collected all the documentation she could come across. She first appealed to Harald Halvorsen’s sense of decency, but that was a dead end. Next step was therefore to start a legal process.
“But she had no chance against the army of lawyers hired by Halvorsen. Not only did they make sure the trial was held behind closed doors, but Betelstein also ended up having to pay all legal expenses.”
“Ruth Betelstein died in this nursing home in 2007,” the prosecutor said.
He stared at Halvorsen before continuing:
“Punishment is therefore in order. Since the judicial system failed, The Just Ting Honoring Váli, must take responsibility.”
Halvorsen looked even more confused. The judge looked at him:
“It is now your turn to defend yourself.”
Milo could see how the father of his childhood friend swallowed a few times and then coughed.
“Could you please loosen the zip tie on my hands and give me a glass of water?”
The judge nodded to the prosecutor, who walked over to Halvorsen with a bottle of water. He held it to his mouth and Halvorsen drank greedily.
“Thank you,” he said.
The prosecutor returned to the position behind the lectern. Halvorsen looked confused.
“What about untying my hands?”
The judge shook his head and Halvorsen didn’t protest. His gaze was no longer confused. When he spoke, it was as if he had dug into his memory and had found the narrative the family has used all these years. He spoke as calmly and convincingly as possible.
Milo was wondering what went through his head, sitting there with his hands tied behind his back. Was he already planning how to pay his way out of the situation? Milo knew that a man like Halvorsen believed that money could solve everything. It was just a matter of finding the right price. And he had enough money to pay. He’d probably transferred large funds to shell companies on tiny islands that specialize in not asking questions.
Halvorsen explained that the investigation done by Ruth Betelstein was limited, that she put forward claims more than documentation. The court case had lasted for three weeks and the verdict was crystal clear.
“We invested heavily in the Betelstein company, which led to it growing and becoming a national chain of stores. When we bought it, they only had a few shops,” said Halvorsen.
He paused and sighed.
“Regarding my father. I find it absolutely horrendous to call him a war profiteer. To call it blood money. Father found himself in an impossible situation but nevertheless helped several of the workers working for the resistance to flee the Germans. This was concluded with certainty after the war, and his contribution to rebuilding Norway is indisputable.”
Harald Halvorsen had become calmer and spoke ever more confidently. When he finished, the judge looked at him.
“Do you have anything else to add?”
Halvorsen shook his head.
The judge nodded and then leaned forward towards a laptop. He spoke to the screen:
“Honored jury, you have now listened to the arguments of both sides and I ask you to put forward your verdict.”
Halvorsen’s forehead was one big wrinkle. It took only ten seconds before they could hear a voice over a loudspeaker connected to the laptop:
“The question of guilt is not just about the law and paragraphs. It is also about decency. An act may well be within the law but can still be unethical. This court puts more weight on ethics. We hereby declare Harald Halvorsen guilty.”
The conclusion was put forward coldly and calmly. Halvorsen on the other hand, was becoming more and more uneasy.
“I mean, this is absolutely…”
“Harald Halvorsen, you have been found guilty as charged by The Just Ting Honoring Váli,” the judge interrupted.
“Now for the punishment. Both parties will argue what they think is reasonable.”
“What do you mean?” asked Halvorsen.
“You will suggest the punishment you feel is suitable,” explained the judge.
The investor’s eyes lit up. As if he finally saw an opening to get out of the situation. Or rather pay his way out. He started speaking. Explaining that he felt the court – or Ting – had misunderstood, but that he nevertheless was prepared to pay what it would take.
“I suggest a fine of three million Norwegian kroner,” he concluded.
The judge nodded once more and looked at the prosecutor.
“What says the prosecution?”
“Death by execution.”
Halvorsen jolted in his chair.
Nobody took notice of him. The judge continued:
“Harald Halvorsen, there are two alternatives for punishment. Either a fine of three million kroner or the death penalty. It is now up to me to choose which one. I do not have the authority to choose another punishment. It must be one of the two alternatives, and I have to choose the one closest to what I feel is most suitable for the crime committed.”
He paused for a couple of seconds. Inhaled distinctly.
“I hereby sentence you to death.”
Milo could see Halvorsen swallowing. His body almost deflated. Unable to say a word.
For the third time, the door at the back of the room opened. They could see a person in the dim light from the corridor outside. The steps were heavier than those of the prosecutor and the judge. This person swayed more from side to side, as if it took more energy to move the large body with visible muscles.
As he came closer, you could see that he didn’t have a robe like the two others. Instead he had a black hood over his head.
And there were two holes for his eyes to stare through.
Milo’s confession number one (chapter 14)
“Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It has been five months since my last confession.”
“God have mercy on you so you can repent your sins and believe in His mercy.”
“I thought it was about time I came.”
“I hope you attend mass more often than you go to confession.”
“Of course. Every week.”
“Very well. What is on you mind, son?”
“I’m not sure where to start….(pause)…Father, do you believe in righteous revenge?”
“It depends on what you mean by it.”
“I’m talking about people taking the law into their own hands. Punishing those they believe deserve it.”
“Are you planning on punishing anyone?”
“Me? No. But you’ve probably heard about the Norwegian businessman that was killed? Some people think he deserved it.”
“I’ve seen that there was a video, yes. They elevate themselves to both accuser and judge.”
“Many people are supporting it. That someone punishes the elite.”
“Violence often has an ethical dimension to it.”
“What do you mean, father?”
“We tend to say that people like that are without morality. But many of the most brutal people or groups of people are motivated by ethical norms. Their own ethical norms.”
“Some sort of violent ethics?”
“Immanuel Kant called it a categorical imperative. Or a moral imperative. That a person is obligated to follow a certain principle or morality. You see it in wars too. The belief that you are fighting the good cause. You see it for example in honor killings.”
“Or our own church throughout history.”
“Absolutely, my son. And when ethics change, so does our view on such acts. What was earlier seen as just, is now seen as unacceptable.”
“Do we have a duty to act? I remember reading something about civil disobedience in the catechism.”
“You’re probably thinking about the quote from the work of the apostles. “We must obey God rather than men.”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
“In certain situations you may find that your conscience forces you to not follow the rules in society if you feel they go against ethics, human rights or the teachings of the church. For instance, if you live under a dictatorship. However, in this case, when a vigilante group has executed a citizen, we are far from what you call righteous revenge. In the end God will make his final judgement over this person.”
“Apparently, these people don’t believe in our God.”
“Too bad for them. Nevertheless, His judgment will be the most just and toughest of them all.”
“But people won’t see that. At least not in this life.”
“Ah, everyone is so preoccupied with this earthly life. What about the eternal life? Our time on earth is only a microscopical leg, which lays the foundation for our lives in heaven.”
“But what if we as individuals have a duty to punish, when the system fails?”
“Are you in possession of all the facts, my son?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, then you should be very careful passing judgement.”
“Was this what you wanted to talk about, son? Or is there anything else on your mind?”
“There’s more. Something personal.”
“I used to worry about having to make an important decision. Now, I fear the consequences of that decision.”
“What kind of decision?”
“I was with a girl…woman. Then I met someone else.”
“Ah, I see.”
“I don’t want to go into all the details about the past”
“Let’s focus on the present.”
“Theresa and I had sort of a long-distance relationship. She wanted more than that, more than I wanted, and then I met someone else. Someone I was very attracted to. I had to choose.”
“I postponed the decision. For a period, I was with both of them.”
“And now you regret it?”
“Not really. It probably should bother me more that I don’t feel bad about it at all. But I was honest about it. With both of them. Quite honest.”
“What is the problem, then?”
“I made a decision. I chose one of them. By doing so, things fell into place. It’s going to be the two of us. I can feel I’m ready for a whole new commitment.”
“That’s good, is it not?”
“Yes. But somewhat frightening, also. I haven’t always…..I haven’t always been that considerate when it comes to the feelings of other people. I have experienced how unfaithful people can be.”
“And now you worry this can happen in this new relationship?”
“Yes. I’ve seen marriages destroyed. And those that aren’t, sometimes have huge cracks in them. Beneath the surface.”
“My son, a marriage is based on a choice as much as on a feeling. And that choice is something you make over and over again.”
“I’m quite good at standing by my decisions, father.”
“Good. Then you have nothing to fear.