White angel black night, Kari
HVIT ENGEL, SVART NATT (White Angel, Black Night)
Crime novel by Jan Mehlum
Translation © Kari Dickson
The beam from the headlamps cut through the dark. A thick blanket of cloud, mist and rain hung heavy over the Vestfold landscape. A guitar riff from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young filled in the Jaguar’s leather interior. Ohio. Hailed as the world’s greatest protest song by Rolling Stone. The shots at Kent State University. Four dead in Ohio. The song may have contributed to the end of the Vietnam War, but did not change the world.
The engine throbbed rhythmically under the shiny bonnet. I had paid to have the car repainted because Jaguars should be red, not a rather conservative blue. As it was raining so hard, the needle on the speedometer hovered around sixty. It was late September, and a Friday night. The clock on the dashboard said 02.15. My newly acquired Apple watch, which my daughter said was final evidence that I was a slave to the giant, showed the same.
The road, which had been dead straight for some time, now curved into a long bend, so I slowed down as I hummed to the music and drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. The flat fields were replaced by trees and scrubby vegetation along the roadside. But still not a house in sight. Deserted. The rain lashed against the windscreen. Autumn was very definitely on its way.
I was alone, in no-man’s land.
A figure appeared out of the dark. Suddenly it was there, right in front of me, in the beam of the headlamps. For a moment I was paralysed, then my instincts kicked in. I turned the steering wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes. The Jaguar veered to the side.
It all happened in slow motion. A small, white figure. A pale face, dark curls, body against metal, the impact on the bonnet, a thud on the windscreen. Your life’s worst nightmare.
The car jerked to a standstill. The engine died. The seatbelts were old and loose. I lurched forwards with my hands locked on the wheel. The silence was deafening. Even Hulda, who had been asleep on the backseat and was thrown against the passenger seat, remained silent.
My hands were shaking as I undid the seatbelt. Without the front lights, the dark was compact.
I had run over a child. Or had I dreamt it? A moment of sleep and the imagination takes over. Perhaps it was a hare, or a fox out hunting, a large bird, whatever. I wasn’t able to think rationally. A small person, out here in the middle of the night, alone?
I gingerly pushed open the door, afraid of what might meet my eyes.
For the first few seconds, I saw nothing.
But then, a few metres behind the car, half hidden under a bush, I spotted something white. I shone the torch on my mobile phone towards the white and jumped so badly that I dropped my phone in the ditch by the side of the road, which was full of water. When I picked it up again, the light was weak and flickering.
A little girl was lying there, tangled in a soaking, white nightdress, splattered in mud and dirt. Her feet were bare and bloody. She was twisted on her side, with one arm under her body. The other hand was clutching a tree trunk as though she had tried to haul herself up. Her thin legs were curled under her nightdress. She looked like an angel lying there in the mud, pale, thin and unmoving.
I stood and looked at the small figure for a few drawn-out seconds before I managed to pull myself together. I bent down over her, gently touched her cheek, stroked her forehead, tried to check her pulse, and put my ear to her mouth to see if I could hear or feel her breathing.
She didn’t move, just lay there in the same position. I felt no breath, no pulse.
I don’t know how long I stood there, my thoughts wild and racing. Then suddenly she moved, lifted her head and opened her eyes for a moment before falling back and lying still again. She wasn’t dead. Not yet, anyway. But I needed help. And my phone wasn’t working.
I stared into the dark. No houses, no lights.
I carefully loosened her grip from the tree, slipped my hands under her light frame and carried her to the car. She weighed nothing. I opened the back door and wrapped her in a blanket. The girl gave a feeble whimper as I lay her down on the back seat. Suddenly she coughed. Some blood trickled out of her mouth and down her neck, leaving a red stripe on the white nightdress.
My next problem was the car. One of the front wheels had skidded off the road and while Jaguars have many good attributes, off-road driving is not one of them. After several attempts, I managed to get it back on the road, switched on the hazard lights and drove as fast as I could towards Tønsberg.
I didn’t meet a single car on the way. It felt as though someone had dropped a neutron bomb over inner Vestfold as I raced through the empty landscape.
When I heard small sobs from the backseat, I stopped the car to check; switched on the ceiling light and leaned back towards the girl who lay curled up and still. Then she opened her eyes and reached her arms up towards me. She moaned a little and collapsed back onto the seat, lay there staring at me with glazed eyes, her breathing uneven and wheezy. I was terrified she was going to die in front of me. I tucked the blanket in around her, grabbed the wheel and forced all the power I could from the old Jag. The temperature gauge on the dashboard was dangerously high as we thundered through the dark. Time stood still.
When I pulled up in front of the hospital in Tønsberg, I was dripping with sweat.
But we were in luck. Two women, nurses or doctors, were coming out through the swing doors as I stormed in. I quickly explained the situation, and from there, everything ran like clockwork. Within minutes, the girl was being looked after by the trauma team, and I had been seated in the reception area with a cup of coffee and strict instructions to wait for the police.
Hulda, my dog, was still in the Jaguar.
Shortly after, an ominous blue flashing light filled the reception.
There were two of them, a man and a woman. They stood at each end of the table, as though to prevent me from running.
I nodded, but said nothing. I had given the doctors my name.
It was the policeman who spoke. He showed me his ID. Chief Inspector Fredrik Lund. ‘Was it you who was driving the car?’
‘Th-th-that’s right,’ I stammered, and stood up.
‘Do you have any identification?’ He held out an enormous hand. The chief inspector would qualify for the heavyweight class.
I gave him my driving licence and business card.
‘Hm.’ He studied the evidence, then looked at me. ‘Lawyer, eh?’
The policewoman took a step forwards and held up her ID. Inspector Cecilie Storm. ‘You’re part of the legal aid rota?’ Her voice was kinder than her colleague’s.
I sent her a grateful look. ‘I’m on the list, yes.’
The muscleman took over. ‘And you ran over the child who was admitted here?’
‘Where did it happen?’
‘On Highway 35,’ I said. ‘North of Revetal, on a deserted stretch of road.’
His scepticism was visible. ‘At this time of night?’
‘But …’ He looked over at his colleague, as though she might have the answer, but got no help. ‘What was the girl doing there?’
‘I have no idea. She just came running out of the dark, straight at me, and there was no way I could stop in time.’
‘Was she alone?’ The woman took over.
‘There was no one else there,’ I said. ‘No one. Not even a house nearby.’
‘That’s very odd.’ It was the hulk again. ‘Where’s your car?’
‘Right outside.’ I pointed to the entrance.
‘The veteran car? We’ll have to have to take it in for investigation.’
‘I understand.’ I suddenly remembered Hulda. ‘There’s a dog in the car.’
I swallowed a sarcastic comment and tried instead to be polite. ‘A St Bernard,’ I said. ‘If you’re going to take the car in, you’ll have to look after the dog.’
The policewoman smiled. ‘Of course.’
‘Have you been drinking, Mr Foyn?’ The policeman clearly had the role of bad cop. ‘Or taken anything else that’s not compatible with driving?’
‘Would you be happy to give a blood test?’
‘It’s standard procedure,’ the woman said. A loose plait of blonde hair hung over her shoulder. She couldn’t be much older than my daughter.
We all traipsed into a treatment room where the necessary tests were taken. Fortunately, on that score, my conscience was clear.
Neither of them said anything while the doctor did his job. But from the chief inspector’s face I realised that he’d made up his mind. It was a case of reckless driving. ‘Are you willing to give a formal statement, Mr Foyn?’
‘Y-y-yes,’ I said, as I tried to keep my nerves in check.
‘Could you take us to the scene first?’
Scene? Reality hit home. ‘Of course.’
When I got out my car keys, he promptly stopped me. ‘You’ll drive with us. Your keys, please.’ He held out his hand, then barked some instructions into his mobile phone.
As we made our way out, one of the doctors who had met us came down the stairs. I stopped him. ‘How is the girl?’ I asked.
‘It’s too early to say. But we’ve managed to stabilise her.’ He hurried on.
The chief inspector stopped by the Jaguar and inspected the front of the car, before turning to me. ‘I can’t see any marks from the accident.’
I bent down. He was right. Other than a few scratches in the paint that were not new, there was no evidence of any impact. The bumper had some dents, but they had probably been there a while too. The windscreen was intact. ‘She was small and light,’ I said. ‘But I definitely felt it when I hit her.’
The chief inspector’s face was expressionless when he looked at me. ‘Then the technicians should be able to find some fibres that match the white nightdress. We’ll deal with that later.’
Two patrol cars with flashing blue lights pulled up in front of the hospital as I got into the car with the chief inspector and his colleague. I assumed that forensics had been summoned as well.
‘Highway 35, you said?’ He turned towards me. ‘Tell us when we’re getting close.’
‘Ok,’ I said. ‘But drive slowly.’
I still wasn’t able to digest what had happened. I had run over a child, who was now fighting for her life. Where were her parents? Why had she run out into the road, almost naked, in the middle of the night, wet, cold and alone? Where did she come from? It was all a horrible dream.
When I closed my eyes, I relived it. A small white figure running out of the dark, the thud on the bonnet, the screeching tyres, the pain in my chest when I was thrown against the steering wheel. And the silence afterwards. That was almost the worst part. I shook my head. I had to pull myself together.
The blue lights behind us illuminated the inside of the car and added to the tension. Things were not made any better when the driver, for some unknown reason, switched on the siren. I couldn’t bring myself to protest, and instead tried to concentrate on the road. We were driving too fast.
The policewoman must have had the same thought, as she turned to me. ‘Do you recognise anything?’ Her voice was sympathetic, as though she could imagine my hell. The girl has to live. I had her tiny body in my arms again. Why had she run over the cold, empty fields towards me, alone? Did she want to die?
The perfunctory messages on the police radio forced me back to reality. More people were on their way. A police investigation was unfolding.
I tapped the driver on the shoulder. ‘How far have we driven?’
‘We’ve passed Revetal,’ he grunted, and dropped the speed.
I rolled down the window. It was raining more now. But still just as dark. In the sharp beam from the headlamps, I recognised the long bend. ‘Go slowly now. Do you have any searchlights?’ Patrol cars often did.
We continued at a snail’s pace, then suddenly we were there. ‘Stop,’ I shouted. ‘It was here, I remember the substation.’ I had noticed it when I was looking for the girl.
We rolled on a few metres more. There were now three cars behind us, all with blue lights. They moved quickly and professionally. Warning signs were set up, and powerful lamps lit up the road and surrounding fields as they set about securing the area for a search in the rain.
I stood passively by the edge of the road. The only thing I could think about was the girl.
The chief inspector turned to me. ‘Can you explain exactly what happened, Mr Foyn?’
‘I came round the bend over there.’ I pointed north. ‘I was driving at fifty, maybe sixty kilometres an hour. It was pouring with rain, so visibility wasn’t great, and I remember I slowed down as I went into the bend.’
‘But you didn’t see anyone on the road?’
I shook my head. ‘No, it was pitch black and totally deserted.’
‘And what happened next?’
‘Suddenly, without warning, she came running out onto the road, right in front of me.’
‘So she came from your right?’
I nodded. ‘She appeared from between those bushes over there.’ I pointed. ‘It was impossible to see her before she was in the headlights.’
‘And how far away do you think she was when you saw her?’
‘It’s hard to say, maybe thirty-forty metres, possibly less.’ I couldn’t be certain.
‘And you didn’t have time to brake or swing the other way?’
‘I tried. But everything happened so fast.’ The tarmac was wet and slick. I couldn’t see any brake marks. For a moment I hesitated, wondered if I’d make a mistake. But it was here, I was sure of it. ‘The girl just bolted out of the dark. It was the last thing I expected. I got the fright of my life.’
‘And there was no other traffic?’ He didn’t seem to believe me.
He shook his head. ‘All very odd. Do you really expect us to believe that a little girl was up here in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, half-dressed and alone?’
‘Believe what you like,’ I said. ‘It’s the truth. I don’t understand it either.’
The chief inspector walked over to an officer who was studying the ground by the verge. I followed. ‘So she came running out from here?’ He pointed towards a kind of path through the bushes and undergrowth.
‘Yes, that’s what it looked like.’
He bent down and studied the vegetation, with the help of a bright torch. I watched with interest.
‘No sign of any footsteps here,’ he said.
‘She was small and light,’ I said. ‘And barefoot. Her feet were cut and grazed.’ I’d actually given this some thought. She must have run a long way. ‘Perhaps the doctors can tell us more.’
We walked through the undergrowth to more open ground, which was now floodlit, without finding any tracks. The chief inspector conferred to the two others who were on their hands and knees examining the ground, before he turned back to me. ‘The dog unit’s on its way. We’ll wait for them.’
Finally a sensible decision. ‘The girl must have come from a house,’ I said. ‘In which case she’d come some distance, as there are no buildings around here.’
‘Yes, we’ve noted that, Mr Foyn. And it’s a cause for concern.’
I decided to ignore his tone. ‘She may well have been running for a while before I saw her,’ I said.
‘And why would she have done that?’
‘Well, maybe she was frightened of something or someone. Maybe she wanted help.’
‘We’ll look into that, Mr Foyn.’ Again, this scepticism. But in a way, I understood him.
More messages and instructions were exchanged over the radio. Two patrol cars started up and drove slowly in opposite directions. I presumed they had been sent to look for the nearest houses. Someone must miss the girl. A numbing exhaustion was about to get the better of me.
Following a discussion with someone who was clearly his superior, the chief inspector turned and said: ‘You can wait in the car, Mr Foyn.’
It was still bucketing down. I felt like I was on a film set as I sat in the police car and watched the blue lights flashing, and the torch beams and shadowy figures moving around.
From what one of the police officers had said, I understood there had been a cloudburst in the area after I’d taken the child to hospital. There were small rivers running down the sides of the road.
It was nearly four in the morning by the time the dog unit arrived. The darkness was no longer so dense. The dog handler had been smart enough to take with him the blanket that I’d wrapped around the girl. The big Alsatian stood with its nose in the blanket before sniffing back and forth through the undergrowth, between the trees, and then appeared again some way off to the north. I got out of the car but was told to stay where I was.
A private car driven by a man, with a woman in front, slowed down as it approached, but was waved on and parked at a distance. The local paper, Tønsbergs Blad, had clearly dispatched a journalist and a photographer. Normally, most of their material was based on cheap news from the Norwegian News Agency. But when TV2 turned up, I realised there would be a lot of interest in the case. An unidentified girl alone in the middle of nowhere, run over in the middle of the night.
Someone had made a phone call. The pay was low, the temptations many and the vultures ever ready to swoop.
Half an hour later, the dog unit came back with my two friends. ‘How did you get on?’ I asked the chief inspector. ‘Did you find anything?’
‘The dog struggled to pick up a scent. Are you certain we’re in right place, Foyn?’
‘Yes, I’m certain,’ I said. ‘But might the rain have washed away any evidence?’
‘Possibly. There are also lots of foxes in the area, which may have confused the dog.’ He studied me. ‘But it did pick up something up by the road, slightly further north, and you claim you were driving from that direction.’
Claim? I stared into the dark. ‘Have you spoken to anyone in the neighbourhood?’
‘Neighbourhood? There aren’t many houses here, Foyn. But, yes, we have checked with everyone within a two-kilometre radius. There weren’t many. And no one could tell us anything.’
‘Ah well,’ I said, with resignation. The mystery was growing. ‘So what are you going to do now?’
‘Continue our search. It’ll be light in an hour. But we need to go back to the station first.’
I obediently followed them back to the car. It was only the three of us again.
As we approached Tønsberg, I tapped the driver on the shoulder.
‘Can you go via the hospital?’
Amazingly, he did as I asked, without even a question. He was probably curious as well.
We got hold of one of the doctors on duty, who came down to meet us in the reception area, but we had to wait a while. The chief inspector took charge. ‘Can you tell us anything about the little girl’s condition?’
‘It’s still difficult to know. But we have reason to believe that she’ll pull through.’
A stone was lifted from my heart. ‘What sort of injuries does she have?’
‘Concussion. She’s taken quite a knocking. But we don’t think there’s any internal damage. We’ll find out tomorrow.’ He looked over the rims of his spectacles. ‘Do we have any family?’
The doctor’s pager started to peep, and he ran towards the stairs.
‘Well, our turn now then, Mr Foyn.’ The policewoman put her hand on my shoulder. ‘That’s good news. We’ll take you in for questioning now then, if that’s ok with you.’
‘Fine by me.’ All tiredness was gone. The girl was not going to die.
At the station, I was taken to an interview room on the first floor, where they set up a recorder and went through the formalities. ‘Now, let’s go through the events in chronological order, Mr Foyn.’ Inspector Storm had been given responsibility for the interview, once I’d made sure that Hulda was alright. ‘So, what time was it when you saw the girl on the road?’ she asked.
‘I’ve already told you, it was exactly 02.15,’ I said.
And so it continued. I had nothing to add. There had been absolutely no one in the vicinity, no one had appeared later, and I had not seen any other cars. In other words, I knew nothing.
‘You said that you were driving at around fifty or sixty kilometres an hour when the accident happened.’ Her eyes were blue, and right now, they were icy blue. ‘Would you say that was a responsible speed?’
‘At the time, I thought it was a suitable speed,’ I said.
‘But could you have misjudged it?’
‘I couldn’t have avoided running into her, whatever the case,’ I said. ‘She ran straight at me.’
‘But what about brake marks? We haven’t found any.’
‘There’s been a cloud burst,’ I said. ‘The road was more or less river. The skid marks were no doubt washed away.’
‘So, your car does actually have brakes?’ The chief inspector couldn’t resist.
‘It’s passed its MOT,’ I said. ‘But I didn’t have time to brake properly.’
‘And you didn’t take us to the wrong place?’ he continued.
‘No,’ I said. But it had been dark.
They looked at each other. ‘There’s no damage to your car. And we haven’t found any evidence at the spot you pointed out. And the dog didn’t pick up a scent.’ The policewoman’s voice was no longer as friendly and understanding. ‘Is it possible that you haven’t told us everything?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘We can’t get the pieces to fit, Mr Foyn. Maybe you can help us?’
I struggled to control myself. That was nearly the final straw. ‘I don’t think so.’
There was silence in the room. ‘Where had you been when you were driving south on Highway 35, Mr Foyn?’ the chief inspector eventually asked.
‘That’s got nothing to do with the case,’ I said.
‘We’ll decide that.’
‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘But I can tell you that I’d been there in a professional capacity. That’s all I’m going to say.’
‘Professional capacity?’ He shook his head. ‘A client? In the middle of the night?’
‘Your words,’ I said. Thus far I hadn’t actually lied.
‘Given your situation, it would definitely be of help if you told us everything.’
My situation. ‘Are you charging me?’
‘Not yet.’ He gave me a hard look. ‘You claim to have run over a child, Mr Foyn. But there is no logical explanation as to why she was there at that time of night. And there is no evidence of any accident.’
‘That’s not true,’ I said.
‘What do you mean?’ There was obviously a poor correlation between body mass and intelligence.
‘The girl’s injuries,’ I said. ‘That’s evidence enough.’
‘Where had you been, Mr Foyn?’ he growled.
‘That’s confidential information,’ I said. ‘And in any case, where I had been is of no relevance to the accident. It would have happened regardless. And it could have been anyone. I just happened to be there at that moment, pure chance.’
‘How do you explain the fact that she was alone?’
‘I can’t explain it,’ I said. ‘Isn’t that your job?’
‘It’s in your own interest to give us any relevant information, Mr Foyn. We don’t need information about your client, we just want you to answer a very simple question. Where had you been?’ Inspector Storm found it hard to hide her scepticism now as well, which was understandable. But I couldn’t answer the question.
I shook my head and stood up. ‘Well, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get any further. I really do hope that you manage to solve the mystery. And not least, that the girl is ok. Are we done here?’
‘For the moment, Mr Foyn.’ The chief inspector gave me cynical look. ‘And you’re still certain that you saw no other cars on the road before the accident?’
‘I saw no cars,’ I said. ‘Do you think she got there by car?’
‘We don’t think. We analyse and draw conclusions based on facts.’
Once again, I managed to swallow an ironic comment. We don’t think. It would be cheap satisfaction. I was impressed with myself.
‘I’d like you to come in at midday tomorrow, to sign your statement.’ The woman’s voice was now cooler than I appreciated. ‘You will perhaps have remembered more by then.’
‘I doubt it,’ I said, and moved towards the door. It was almost seven in the morning. I needed to sleep. Hulda, on the other hand, seemed to be alarmingly awake when I collected her from a dog-friendly duty officer.
‘No walk for you,’ I said firmly. ‘We’re going straight home.’
The epicentre of the earthquake in which I found myself had to measure at least eight on the Richter scale, and the crack that opened under my feet was bottomless as I fell down into the dark. I woke with a start, and realised that the noise was actually someone hammering on my door.
I slowly got up, and looked the radio clock. 10.30. Far too early.
Everything came flooding back. Suddenly I was wide awake. I had run over a child.
I pulled on my jeans and went to the door, where the noise showed no sign of abating.
The man standing in front of me looked annoyingly fresh. ‘What have you been up to now?’
‘You better come in,’ I sighed. ‘How much do you know?’
‘Enough.’ Wilhelm Mørk settled by the kitchen table and pointed at my newly-acquired, expensive coffee machine. ‘I’ll have a double espresso if you can work that wonder.’
My response was mechanical. The image of the little, white angel-like figure wouldn’t leave me.
‘You’re top story in the online papers.’ Mørk lit a cigarette. Against all odds, he looked healthy, untouched by age, and leaner than ever. He was in enviably good shape to be over fifty. Like any other day, he was immaculately dress, albeit not in an Italian suit. I had noticed a tendency to be less formal now that he was no longer in the police. He wore exclusive casual clothes instead. Where he got the money was a mystery.
‘As someone who knows everything,’ I said, ‘you perhaps have an update on the girl’s condition?’
Strictly speaking, Mørk should have been in prison. He had escaped an erroneous custodial sentence and fled to Buenos Aires, where he stayed in hiding for a long time, before returning to Norway of his own free will. But because the media had hailed him as a hero when he helped to solve the spectacular murder of the speaker at the constitution day celebrations in Tønsberg, the authorities found it hard to deal with him as they’d intended. Consequently, he was quietly dismissed and had now established himself as a private investigator, with good contacts in the police. And as he was registered lawyer, he occasionally took on criminal cases as well.
‘She’s come round and will live.’
The devil riding my back let go. ‘There is a god after all.’
‘Don’t take that as proof, my friend.’ He finished his coffee. ‘There’s something you don’t know.’
‘There’s a lot I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Almost everything, in fact.’
I wasn’t going to let him steal my relief.
‘The girl, you really have no idea who she is?’
‘I know nothing,’ I said. ‘Probably even less than you.’
‘She’s not talking.’
‘Not talking? But she’s conscious?’
‘Yes. But she’s not saying a word.’
‘What do you mean?’ I stared at Mørk, bewildered. ‘Is she so badly injured?’
‘From what I’ve heard, the doctors don’t think it’s anything to do with her injuries.’
‘Is she dumb?’ I asked with some hesitation.
‘Yep. And no family has come forwards.’
‘And the police still don’t know who she is?’
‘They’re fumbling in the dark.’
I tried to think. ‘How old can she be?’
‘The doctors think she’s about six.’
I had guessed five. ‘She was so small,’ I said. ‘Do they think she’s Norwegian?’
‘Impossible to say.’ Mørk let the smoke settle over the table. ‘What the hell were you doing up there in the bush at that time of night? There’s a few interesting theories in the media.’
‘They’re not true,’ I said.
‘How can you be so sure of that? You’re barely out of bed.’
‘I just know,’ I said.
‘So, what were you doing there?’
‘You don’t need to know. The fewer who know, the better.’
‘You’re asking for trouble, my friend.’
‘I know. But it’s irrelevant.’
‘So you say, yes.’ Mørk shook his head in exasperation. ‘What happens now?’
‘I to go down to the station to sign my statement. Nothing more.’
‘Believe that if you like. But check the internet first.’ He stood up and stubbed out his revolting French cigarette in the coffee cup. ‘And let’s talk again later.’
Mørk was right; the accident on Highway 35 was the main story in all the online papers. The content only served to underline something I already knew: that journalists did not lack in imagination. Especially when they had no facts. Mute girl: a victim of trafficking? Was she part of a paedophile network? Where is her family? Well-known Tønsberg lawyer in late night mystery, etc.
VG had a supply line straight from the police. And would no doubt publish some names soon.
I wasn’t looking forward to meeting my two friends at the police station, as I locked the door. I’d checked outside before I left my flat and turned my phone to silent. It was full of unanswered calls.
It was exactly midday when I turned the corner to the police station.
And they were expecting me.
There were flashes going off all around me before I was able to open the door. Mr Foyn, can you confirm that the girl had been sexually abused? The reporter, who thrust the microphone in my face, was almost dribbling in anticipation. Do you have any connection to the girl? Is it true she’s a refugee? Did your car have a technical fault? How fast were you driving, Mr Foyn? Why were you there?
I managed to keep my mouth shut as I forced my way through the throng. Muscleman was high on my list of potential police sources. Steroids are expensive.
I was met in reception by Inspector Storm, who, to my surprise, apologised. ‘I’m sorry about all that, Mr Foyn. It’s hard keep the press away.’
‘I’m sure,’ was my measured response. ‘Because no one here would leak anything to the press, would they?’
She looked at the floor. ‘Not that I know of.’
I had already established that Chief Inspector Lund was not on my side. He was sitting at a table with a woman, who was also in uniform. I recognised her as the police prosecutor, Eva Høye.
I’d heard from my sources in the police that she had recently been transferred to the public order unit.
‘This is an extraordinary case.’ Prosecutor Høye opened the meeting. ‘Don’t you agree?’
I couldn’t decide if she was smiling or if the tautness around her mouth was permanent.
‘Yes,’ I said, warily. ‘Do you know anymore?’
‘We need your help, Foyn.’ She put a document down in front of me. ‘From your statement I see that you don’t want to tell us what you were doing in the area. Is that correct?’
‘That’s correct. I have nothing to tell. The accident is a mystery to me.’
‘Well, I have to agree that it’s mysterious, Mr Foyn,’ she said, more restrained now, as she fiddled with the paper. ‘But that’s precisely why we need all the information that you and anyone else can give. Can you tell us what happened last night?’ Another attempt at a disarming smile. ‘Yes, I know that you have already given a statement, but I would like to hear it directly from you. In detail,’ she added, with apparent goodwill. ‘Because there is so much here that we don’t understand.’ I could almost feel the claws behind her friendly manner. She was known to be a tough nut.
I shrugged, picked up the piece of paper she pushed towards me and skimmed through what was written there. It was no surprise to me that Chief Inspector Lund lacked the most rudimentary skills when it came to precise formulation, in writing as well as speech. But there were no actual mistakes. ‘I have nothing to add,’ I said, and then couldn’t stop myself. ‘Unless of course we’re talking about acceptable standards of spelling and precision.’ The hulk gave me a look that read death and destruction. ‘I saw nothing, I heard nothing and I know nothing. I was just a random driver.’
Høye stared at me. ‘There isn’t much that’s random in cases like this, Mr Foyn,’ she said, with an ominous calm.
Cases like this? So they thought there might be abuse involved. The prosecutor hadn’t been working in the unit for long, but long enough, no doubt, to have seen things we should all be spared. ‘Do you have any leads?’ I asked. ‘Since you’re here?’
‘What do you think, Mr Foyn?’
‘I don’t think,’ I said. ‘I stick to the facts.’
I was pleased with the formulation. There was no reaction from the chief inspector. He didn’t appear to have registered my plagiarism. ‘And you still haven’t managed to find her parents or any family?’
‘The investigation is still at a very early stage.’ Høye leaned over the table and looked at me with gimlet eyes. ‘If you know anything more about this case, I would advise you to tell us now, Mr Foyn.’ The two others watched in silence, obviously pleased with the development. ‘Before you make things very difficult for yourself.’
I tried to ignore the insinuation. ‘How is the girl?’
‘Fortunately, given the circumstances, it looks like she’s doing well,’ Høye said in a cool voice.
‘Is she still mute?’
The prosecutor looked at me long and hard before answering. ‘She is still not talking, no.’
Suddenly I remembered more. ‘She whispered something to me in the car.’
‘What? Why didn’t you say so before?’
‘I guess I was in shock. I thought she was about to die.’
‘What did she say?’
‘I couldn’t catch it,’ I said. ‘It was just a few mumbled words. But that means she’s not completely dumb, that it’s psychological.’
‘Yes, that’s what the doctors believe.’
‘Is there any indication of what she might have been through?’
‘And what might that be?’ she retorted.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘That’s why I’m asking.’
‘We’re keeping things open at the moment, Mr Foyn.’
‘And you still don’t know who she is?’
I was now finding it hard to hide my irritation. ‘Everything that I know is in the statement.’ I pointed at the sheet on the table. ‘Can I go now?’
She ignored my question. ‘Where had you been, Foyn?’
‘Forget it,’ I said, and stood up. Now that I knew the girl wouldn’t die, the situation was different. ‘If you’re going to charge me in relation to the accident, please say so. Otherwise, we’re done here.’
‘There is evidence of sexual assault, Foyn.’
I sat down again. ‘Shit.
‘The girl is six, at the very most.’
‘What kind of assault are we talking about?’ I asked in a feeble voice.
‘I’m not going to discuss that.’ Her tone was resolute.
There was silence in the cramped interview room. The air was stuffy and the atmosphere was grim. As was the smell. When I closed my eyes, I saw the scene again. Had she been trying to kill herself when she ran at the car? Was it possible that a six-year-old might do something like that?
‘But you have no leads, no evidence? She didn’t come from nowhere.’
‘Someone has sexually abused the girl, Foyn.’ Høye’s face was no longer pretty, but hard. ‘And as we do not know her identity, as yet, you are our only lead. And as you just said, she didn’t come from nowhere. We’ve spoken to everyone in the area where you said she appeared, and no one admits to knowing anything about her. We think that you’re not telling us something. And the question is why?’
‘You’re wrong,’ I said. ‘As far as the girl is concerned, I’ve got nothing to hide.’
‘And otherwise?’ She was brazen now.
‘Otherwise, I’m sure I could keep you entertained with many a story,’ I said, ‘but don’t you have better things to do?’
She stood up abruptly and glared at me. ‘Is that your last word, Mr Foyn?’ I had managed to rattle her. ‘You can wait here,’ she said, tersely, as she headed for the door. My two friends made no sign of moving. Perhaps they were there to keep me company.
‘Make up your mind,’ I said. ‘Can or must?’
She turned back towards me. ‘You clearly do not understand the gravity of the situation, Mr Foyn.’ Either she was entirely lacking in humour, or she was just in a bad mood.
I looked at my watch. ‘I normally charge three thousand kroner an hour.’
I was worried, even though they couldn’t possibly have anything on me. What the hell had happened to the girl?
The small room was creaking with tension. The two police officers didn’t look particularly comfortable either. Even Muscleman was twitching on his chair, which was far too small for his bulk. I didn’t make things any better when I got out my mobile phone and started looking through the day’s papers.
‘You can’t use that in here,’ he snarled.
I looked up. ‘As far as I’m aware, I’m still allowed to communicate with the outside world. Or do you know something I don’t?’
The veins on his temple looked like they were about to burst. But before there was any violence, the door opened and the police prosecutor came back in. ‘You can go now,’ she said brusquely, with an emphasis on now. ‘Please get in touch when you change your mind.’ When? She wasn’t even trying to disguise the threat. I realised what they were thinking. They suspected me, not necessarily of sexual assault, but of safeguarding the interests of a client. Sometimes it’s impossible to prove one’s innocence, even when, according to law, it should not be necessary. It is up to the prosecution to prove guilt. And if they couldn’t find the evidence to solve the mystery, they could make life very uncomfortable for me.
The vultures outside had not given up. I pushed my way forwards, saying: ‘No comment.’
The office was my haven. But the man from VG proved to be persistent. As I opened the outside door, he was still breathing down my neck. And in that moment, I made a rather surprising decision. I turned towards him and pointed to the stairs. ‘Come up and we can talk.’
I let him go first. The man disproved any preconceptions I may have had about the fitness and potential longevity of journalists. He tripped up the stairs in front of me, light as butterfly. I reckoned the Birkenbeiner ski race would be an easy match for him.
‘Sit yourself down,’ I said, when I’d caught my breath. ‘Don’t worry about the beast.’ Hulda growled quietly, but clearly accepted the situation. She slid down from the sofa with a thud and lay still on the floor, but gave me an accusing look. It didn’t help.
‘Let me introduce myself.’ He held out his hand before he sat down. ‘Tom Nome, VG. You can call me Tommy. This isn’t the first time you’ve been on my list.’ He was a tall, thin man with a nice, clean-shaven face and intelligent eyes. His handshake was dry and firm. ‘What is it about this town, Foyn?’
I knew him. Not personally, but he had covered several of the cases I’d worked on. ‘Tønsberg is a very ordinary town,’ I said. ‘A cross-section of the Norwegian population, if you really want to know.’
‘You think so?’ His smile revealed a row of well-maintained teeth. ‘And yet anonymous little girls come running out of the dark. What next?’
‘Don’t ask me,’ I said. ‘I thought you knew a psychic?’ Nome had once spoken to the media about his personal experiences. Like the then minister of health, he believed his life had improved after a healing session over the phone. ‘Do you know anything about the girl?’
‘What do you know, Foyn?’ He looked at me slyly. Journalists are the modern horse traders.
‘Nothing, in fact. Except what I’ve told the police. And I’m guessing that you already know that.’
‘Oh, did I hit a nerve? Remember, we’re the fourth estate.’
‘Listen, Foyn.’ The smile had disappeared. ‘That’s how it works. We exchange information. Everything has a price. And make no attempt at bigamy.’
‘Fine by me.’ My hands were hidden by the desk.
‘According to one of the specialists at the hospital, they think she’s from the Middle East.’
‘I thought as much. Anything else?’
‘Pure guesswork at the moment. She could be as Norwegian as you and me. They think her nightdress was bought in H&M.’
‘They’ve got shops everywhere.’
‘That’s right.’ He paused for effect. ‘The scratches and wounds on her feet would indicate that she’d run quite a distance before she was knocked down.’
‘They looked new to me, yes.’
‘So you had time to look?’ He sounded suspicious.
‘I could hardly avoid noticing,’ I said. ‘What about the sexual abuse?’
‘Yes, what about it?’ His face gave nothing away as he pulled a cigarette out of a crumpled packet in his breast pocket. ‘Is it alright if I smoke?’ He didn’t wait for an answer, just used his serious storm lighter. ‘It smells like a tobacco factory in here already,’ he said, disarmingly. ‘Do you have children yourself, Foyn?’
‘A daughter. But she’d slap me if she heard me calling her a child.’
‘I’ve got six, Foyn. With two women.’
I looked at him more closely. ‘You don’t look particularly tired.’
‘Small children,’ he said, ignoring me. ‘There’s a limit to how much you can take.’ He gave a deep sigh. ‘The girl has scars that indicate abuse, but they’re not new.’
‘And the fact that she’s not speaking may have something to do with what she’s experienced?’ I suggested.
‘The doctors aren’t sure. They don’t know.’ He shook his head. ‘That’s what’s so extraordinary about this case: the child doesn’t seem to be attached to anyone. Everyone in the area has been asked. No one knows anything, no children are missing, either there or in other parts of the country.’
‘What about the rest of Europe?’
‘Or the rest of the world?’ Nome shrugged. ‘According to official statistics, eighty thousand children disappear in India every year. And there are plenty who disappear in our part of the world too.
‘I’m sure.’ I didn’t really like to think about it, but couldn’t help it all the same. ‘The police mentioned that she might have been dumped from a car. Do you know anything about that?’
‘As far as I know, they’ve checked all the toll stations in the county, but found nothing of interest.’ He leaned forwards and looked me straight in the eyes. ‘Why were you there, Foyn?’
My thoughts raced. ‘Where I had been has nothing to do with the girl.’
‘I see.’ Nome was a smart bugger. ‘So perhaps there’s a jealous husband somewhere in the wings?’
‘What you don’t know,’ I said.
‘You’re talking to an expert, Foyn.’
‘Think what you like,’ I said, glad that I didn’t need to lie.
‘We’ll let it rest. For the moment,’ he said. He didn’t believe me. ‘But whatever you know about the case, I want to know too.’ Nome stood up. Hulda watched him from the floor as she prepared to retake the sofa. ‘Call me.’ He dropped a card on the desk.
‘Deal,’ I said.