Либрусек (книги fb2)
Silence of the Grave
Building work in an expanding Reykjavik uncovers a shallow grave. Years before, this part of the city was all open hills, and Erlendur and his team hope this is a typical Icelandic missing person scenario; perhaps someone once lost in the snow, who has lain peacefully buried for decades. Things are never that simple. Whilst Erlendur struggles to hold together the crumbling fragments of his own family, his case unearths many other tales of family pain. The hills have more than one tragic story to tell: tales of failed relationships and heartbreak; of anger, domestic violence and fear; of family loyalty and family shame. Few people are still alive who can tell the story, but even secrets taken to the grave cannot remain hidden forever.
Arnaldur Indriðason Silence of the Grave
The second book in the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries series, 2005
Translated From The Icelandic By Bernard Scudder
He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.
The birthday party had just reached its climax with a deafening noise. The pizza delivery boy came and went and the children gorged themselves on pizza and swigged Coca-Cola, shouting each other down the whole time. Then they jumped up from the table together, as if a signal had been given, and started running around again, some armed with machine guns and pistols, the younger ones clutching cars or plastic dinosaurs. He couldn't figure out what the game involved. For him it was all one maddening din.
The mother of the birthday boy popped some corn in the microwave. She told the man she would try to calm the children down, switch on the television and play a video. If that failed she would throw them out. This was the third time they had celebrated her son's eighth birthday and her nerves were stretched to breaking point. The third birthday party in a row! First all the family went out for a meal at an extortionate hamburger joint that played ear-splitting rock music. Then she gave a party for relatives and friends of the family, which was as grand an occasion as if he were being confirmed. Today, the boy had invited his classmates and friends from the neighbourhood.
She opened the microwave, took out the swollen bag of popcorn, put another in its place and thought to herself that she would keep it simple next year. One party and have done with it. As when she was a little girl.
It did not help matters that the young man sitting on the sofa was totally withdrawn. She had tried chatting to him, but she gave up and felt stressful with him in her sitting room. Conversation was out of the question: the noise and commotion that the boys were making left her nonplussed. He had not offered to help. Just sat there staring into space, saying nothing. Desperately shy, she thought to herself.
She had never seen the man before. He was probably aged around 25 and was the brother of one of her son's friends at the party. Almost 20 years between them. He was thin as a rake and he shook her hand at the door with long fingers, a clammy palm, reticent. He had come to fetch his brother, who refused point blank to leave while the party was still in full swing. They decided that he should step inside for a while. It would soon be over, she said. He explained to her that their parents, who lived in a town house down the road, were abroad and he was looking after his brother; he actually rented a flat in town. He fidgeted uncomfortably in the hallway. His little brother had escaped back into the fray.
Now he was sitting on the sofa watching the birthday boy's one-year-old sister crawling across the floor in front of one of the children's bedrooms. She wore a white frilly dress and a ribbon in her hair, and squealed to herself. He silently cursed his little brother. Being in an unfamiliar household made him uncomfortable. He wondered whether to offer his assistance. The mother told him that the boy's father was working late into the evening. He nodded and tried to smile. Declined the offer of pizza and Coke.
He noticed that the girl was holding some kind of toy which she gnawed at when she sat down, dribbling profusely. Her gums seemed to be irritating her. Probably teething, he thought.
As the baby girl approached him with her toy in her hand he wondered what it could be. She stopped, wriggled herself onto her backside, then sat on the floor with her mouth open, looking at him. A string of saliva dripped onto her chest. She put the toy in her mouth and bit it, then crawled towards him with it clutched in her jaws. When she stretched forward, pulled a face and giggled, the toy fell out of her mouth. With some difficulty she found it again and went right up to him holding it in her hand, then pulled herself up to the arm of the sofa and stood beside him, wobbly but pleased with her achievement.
He took the object from her and examined it. The baby looked at him in confusion, then started screaming for all she was worth. It did not take long for him to realise that he was holding a human bone – a rib, ten centimetres long. It was off white in colour and worn smooth where it had broken so the edges were no longer sharp, and inside the break were brown blotches, like dirt.
He guessed that it was the front of the rib and saw that it was quite old.
When the mother heard the baby crying, she looked into the sitting room and saw her standing at the sofa beside the stranger. She put down the bowl of popcorn, went over to her daughter, picked her up and looked at the man, who seemed oblivious both to her and to the screaming baby.
"What happened?" the mother asked anxiously as she tried to comfort her child. She raised her voice in an effort to shout over the noisy boys.
The man looked up, got slowly to his feet and handed the mother the bone.
"Where did she get this?" he asked.
"What?" she said.
"This bone," he said. "Where did she get this bone?"
"Bone?" the mother said. When the girl saw the bone again she calmed down and made a grab for it, crosseyed with concentration, more drool dangling from her gaping mouth. The baby snatched the bone and examined it in her hands.
"I think that's a bone," the man said.
The baby put it in her mouth and calmed down again.
"The thing she's gnawing," he said. "I think it's a human bone."
The mother looked at her baby chomping on the bone.
"I've never seen it before. What do you mean, a human bone?"
"I think it's part of a human rib," he said. "I'm a medical student," he added by way of explanation, "in my fifth year."
"Rubbish! Did you bring it with you?"
"Me? No. Do you know where it came from?" he asked.
The mother looked at her baby, then jerked the bone out of its mouth and threw it on the floor. Once again, the baby broke into a wail. The man picked up the bone to examine it more closely.
"Her brother might know…"
He looked at the mother, who looked back awkwardly. She looked at her crying daughter. Then at the bone, and then through the sitting-room window at the half-built houses all around, then back at the bone and the stranger, and finally at her son, who came running in from one of the children's bedrooms.
"Tóti!" she called out. The boy ignored her. She waded into the crowd of children, pulled her son out with considerable difficulty and stood him in front of the medical student.
"Is this yours?" he asked the boy, handing him the bone.
"I found it," Tóti said. He didn't want to miss any of his birthday party.
"Where?" his mother asked. She put the baby down on the floor and it stared up at her, uncertain whether to begin howling again.
"Outside," the boy said. "It's a funny stone. I washed it." He was panting for breath. A drop of sweat trickled down his cheek.
"Outside where?" his mother asked. "When? What were you doing?"
The boy looked at his mother. He did not know whether he'd done anything wrong, but the look on her face suggested as much, and he wondered what it could be.
"Yesterday, I think," he said. "In the foundations at the end of the road. What's up?"
His mother and the stranger looked each other in the eye.
"Could you show me exactly where you found it?" she asked.
"Do I have to? It's my birthday party," he said.
"Yes," his mother said. "Show us."
She snatched up her baby from the floor and pushed her son out of the room in the direction of the front door. The man followed close behind. The children fell silent when their host was grounded and they watched his mother push Tóti out of the house with a stern look on her face, holding his little sister on her arm. They looked at each other, then set off after them.
This was in the new estate by the road up to Lake Reynisvatn. The Millennium Quarter. It was built on the slopes of Grafarholt hill, on top of which the monstrous brown-painted geothermal water tanks towered like a citadel over the suburb. Roads had been cleared up the slope on either side of the tanks and a succession of houses was being built along them, the occasional one already sporting a garden, freshly laid turf and saplings that would eventually grow and provide shade for their owners.
The throng set off in hot pursuit behind Tóti along the uppermost street next to the tanks. Newly built town houses stretched out into the grassland, while in the distance to the north and east the old summer chalets owned by people from Reykjavik took over. As in all new estates, the children played in the half-built houses, climbed up the scaffolding, hid in the shadows of solitary walls, or slid down into recently dug foundations to splash in the water that collected there.
Tóti led the stranger, his mother and the whole flock down into one such foundation and pointed out where he had found the strange white stone that was so light and smooth that he put it in his pocket and decided to keep it. The boy remembered the precise location, jumped down into the foundation ahead of them and went straight over to where it had lain in the dry earth. His mother ordered him to keep away, and with the young man's help she clambered down into the foundation. Tóti took the bone from her and placed it in the soil.
"It was lying like this," he said, still imagining the bone to be an interesting stone.
It was a Friday afternoon and no one was working in the foundation. Timber had been put in place on two sides to prepare for concreting, but the earth was exposed where there were still no walls. The young man went up to the wall of dirt and scrutinised the place above where the boy had found the bone. He scraped at the dirt with his fingers and was horrified to see what looked like the bone of an upper arm buried deep in the ground.
The boy's mother watched the young man staring at the wall of dirt and followed his gaze until she too saw the bone. Moving closer, she thought she could make out a jawbone and one or two teeth.
She gave a start, looked back at the young man and then at her daughter, and instinctively started wiping the baby's mouth.
She hardly realised what had happened until she felt the pain in her temple. Out of the blue, he had struck her head with his clenched fist, so fast that she did not see it coming. Or perhaps she did not believe he had hit her. This was the first punch, and in the years that followed she would wonder if her life could have been different had she walked out on him there and then.
If he had allowed her to.
She looked at him in astonishment, at a loss as to why he suddenly struck her. No one had ever hit her before. It was three months after their wedding.
"Did you punch me?" she said, putting her hand to her temple.
"Do you think I didn't see the way you were looking at him?" he hissed.
"Him? What…? Do you mean Snorri? Looking at Snorri?"
"Don't you think I didn't notice? How you acted like you were on heat?"
She had never seen this side to him before. Never heard him use that expression. On heat. What was he talking about? She had exchanged a few quick words with Snorri at the basement door, to thank him for returning something she forgot to take from the house where she had been working as a maid; she did not want to invite him in because her husband, who had been peevish all day, said he did not want to see him. Snorri made a joke about the merchant she used to worked for, they laughed and said goodbye.
"It was only Snorri,'' she said. "Don't act like that. Why have you been in such a foul mood all day?"
"Are you contradicting me?" he asked, approaching her again. "I saw you through the window. Saw you dancing round him. Like a slut!"
"No, you can't…"
He hit her in the face again with his clenched fist, sending her flying into the crockery cupboard in the kitchen. It happened so quickly that she did not have time to shield her head with her hands.
"Don't go lying to me!" he shouted. "I saw the way you were looking at him. I saw you flirting with him! Saw it with my own eyes! You filthy cunt!"
Another expression she heard him use for the first time.
"My God," she said. Blood trickled into her mouth from her split upper lip. The taste mingled with the salty tears running down her face. "Why did you do that? What have I done?"
He stood over her, poised to attack. His red face burned with wrath. He gnashed his teeth and stamped his foot, then swung round and strode out of the basement. She was left standing there, unable to fathom what had happened.
Later she often thought back to that moment and whether anything would have changed if she had tried to answer his violence immediately by leaving him, walking out on him for good, instead of just finding reasons for self-accusation. She must have done something to produce such a reaction. Something that she might be unaware of, but which he saw, and she could talk to him about it when he came back, promise to make amends and everything would return to normal.
She had never seen him behave like that, neither with her nor anyone else. He was a quiet person with a serious side. A brooder, even. That was one thing she liked about him when they were getting to know each other. He worked in Kjós for the brother of the merchant who employed her, and he delivered goods to him. That was how they met almost a year and a half ago. They were roughly the same age and he talked about giving up labouring and maybe going to sea. There was money to be had from fishing. And he wanted his own house. Be his own master. Labouring was repressive, old-fashioned and ill-paid.
She told him she was bored in service for the merchant. The man was a miser who was always groping at the three girls he employed; his wife was an old hag and a slave-driver. She had no particular plans about what to do. Had never thought about the future. Toil was all she had ever known since her earliest childhood. Her life was not much more than that.
He kept finding excuses for visiting the merchant and frequently called on her in the kitchen. One thing led to another and she soon told him about her child. He said he knew she was a mother. He had asked people about her. This was the first time he revealed an interest in getting to know her better. The girl would soon be three years old, she told him, and fetched her from the backyard where she was playing with the merchant's children.
He asked how many men there were in her life when she came back with her daughter, smiling as if it was an innocent joke. Later he mercilessly used her alleged promiscuity to break her down. He never called the daughter by her name, only nicknames: called her a bastard and a cripple.
She had never had many men in her life. She told him about the father of her child, a fisherman who had drowned in Kollafjördur. He was only 22 when the crew of four perished in a storm at sea. Around the time she found out that she was pregnant. They were not married, so she could hardly be described as a widow. They had planned to marry, but he died and left her with a child born out of wedlock.
While he sat in the kitchen listening, she noticed that the girl did not want to be with him. Normally she was not shy, but she clutched her mother's skirt and did not dare let go when he called her over. He took a boiled sweet out of his pocket and handed it to her, but she just buried her face deeper against her mother's skirt and started to cry, she wanted to go back out with the other children. Boiled sweets were her favourite treat.
Two months later he asked her to marry him. There was none of the romance to it that she had read about. They had met several times in the evening and walked around town or gone to a Chaplin film. Laughing heartily at the little tramp, she looked at her escort. He did not even smile. One evening after they left the cinema and she was waiting with him for the lift he had arranged back to Kjós, he asked her out of the blue whether they shouldn't get married. He pulled her towards him.
"I want us to get married," he said.
In spite of everything, she was so surprised that she did not remember until much later, really when it was all over, that this was not a marriage proposal, not a question about what she wanted.
"I want us to get married."
She had considered the possibility that he would propose. Their relationship had effectively reached that stage. She needed a home for her little girl and wanted a place of her own. Have more children. Few other men had shown an interest in her. Maybe because of her child. Maybe she was not a particularly exciting option, short and quite plump, with angular features, slightly buck teeth, and small but dexterous fingers that never seemed to stop moving. Maybe she would never receive a better proposal.
"What do you say about it?" he asked.
She nodded. He kissed her and they hugged. Soon afterwards they were married in the church at Mosfell. It was a small ceremony, attended by hardly anyone other than the bride and groom, his friends from Kjós and two of her friends from Reykjavik. The minister invited them for coffee after the ceremony. She had asked about his people, his family, but he was taciturn about them. He told her he was an only child, he was still an infant when his father died and his mother, who could not afford to keep him, sent him away to foster parents. Before becoming a farmhand in Kjós he had worked on a number of farms. He did not seem curious about her people. Did not seem to have much interest in the past. She told him their circumstances were quite similar: she did not know who her real parents were. She was adopted and had been brought up in various situations in a succession of homes in Reykjavik, until she ended up in service for the merchant. He nodded.
"We'll make a clean start," he said. "Forget the past."
They rented a small basement flat on Lindargata which was little more than a living room and kitchen. There was an outdoor toilet in the yard. She stopped working for the merchant. He said she no longer needed to earn herself a living. He got a job at the harbour until he could join a fishing boat. Dreamed about going to sea.
She stood by the kitchen table, holding her stomach. Although she had not yet told him, she was certain she was pregnant. It could have been expected. They had discussed having children, but she was not sure how he felt about it, he could be so mysterious. If the baby was a boy, she had already chosen his name. She wanted a boy. He would be called Simon.
She had heard about men who beat their wives. Heard of women who had to put up with violence from their husbands. Heard stories. She could not believe that he was one of them. Did not think him capable of it. It must have been an isolated incident, she told herself. He thought I was flirting with Snorri, she thought. I must be careful not to let that happen again.
She wiped her face and snuffled. What aggression. Although he had walked out he would surely come back home soon and apologise to her. He could not treat her like that. Simply could not. Must not. Perplexed, she went into the bedroom to take a look at her daughter. The girl's name was Mikkelína. She had woken up with a temperature that morning, then slept for most of the day and was still asleep. The mother picked her up and noticed that she was boiling hot. She sat down holding the girl in her arms and started singing a lullaby, still shocked and distracted from the attack.
They stand up on the box,
The girl was panting for breath. Her little chest rose and fell and a vague whistle came from her nose. Her face looked ablaze. Mikkelína's mother tried to wake her, but she did not stir.
The girl was seriously ill.
Elínborg took the call about the bones found in the Millennium Quarter. She was alone in the office and on her way out when the telephone rang. After hesitating for a moment she looked at the clock, then back at the telephone. She was planning a dinner party that evening and had spent all day imagining chickens smeared with tandoori. She sighed and picked up the phone.
Elínborg was of an indeterminate age, forty-something, well built without being fat, and she loved food. She was divorced and had four children, including a foster child who had now moved away from home. She had remarried, a car mechanic who loved cooking, and she lived with him and their three children in a small town house in Grafarvogur. She had taken a degree in geology long before, but had never worked in that field. She started working for the Reykjavik police as a summer job and ended up joining the force. She was one of the few female detectives.
Sigurdur Óli was in the throes of wild sex with his partner, Bergthóra, when his beeper went off. It was attached to the belt of his trousers, which were lying on the kitchen floor and beeping intolerably. He knew that it would not stop until he got out of bed. He had left work early. Bergthóra had already been home and had greeted him with a deep, passionate kiss. Things took their natural course and he left his trousers in the kitchen, unplugged the telephone and switched off his mobile. He forgot his beeper.
With a deep sigh Sigurdur Óli looked up at Bergthóra straddling him. He was sweating and red in the face. From her expression he could tell that she was not prepared to let him go just yet. She squeezed her eyes shut, lay down upon him and pumped her hips gently and rhythmically until her orgasm ebbed away and every muscle in her body could relax again.
Himself, he would have to wait for a more suitable occasion. In his life the beeper took priority.
He slipped out from beneath Bergthóra, who lay with her head on the pillow as if knocked out cold.
Erlendur was sitting in Skúlakaffi eating salted meat. He sometimes ate there because it was the only restaurant in Reykjavik that offered Icelandic home cooking the way he would prepare it himself if he could be bothered to cook. The interior design appealed to him as well: brown and shabby veneer, old kitchen chairs, some with the sponge poking up through the plastic upholstery, and the linoleum on the floor worn thin from the trampling boots of lorry drivers, taxi drivers and crane operators, tradesmen and navvies. Erlendur sat alone at a table in one corner, his head bowed over meat, boiled potatoes, peas and turnips drenched with a sugary flour sauce.
The lunchtime rush was long over but he persuaded the cook to serve him some salted meat. He carved himself a large lump, piled potato and turnip on top of it and plastered creamy sauce over the whole trophy with his knife before it all vanished into his gaping mouth.
Erlendur arranged another such banquet on his fork and had just opened his mouth when his mobile phone started to ring where he had left it on the table beside his plate. He stopped the fork in mid-air, glanced at the phone for an instant, looked at the crammed fork and back at the phone, then finally put the fork down with an air of regret.
"Why don't I ever get any peace?" he said before Sigurdur Óli could say a word.
"Some bones found in the Millennium Quarter," Sigurdur Óli said. "I'm heading out there and so is Elínborg."
"What kind of bones?"
"I don't know. Elínborg phoned and I'm on my way over there. I've alerted forensics."
"I'm eating," Erlendur said slowly.
Sigurdur Óli almost blurted out what he had been doing, but managed to stop himself in time.
"See you up there," he said. "It's on the way to Lake Reynisvatn, on the north side beneath the hot water tanks. Not far from the road out of town."
"What's a Millennium Quarter?" Erlendur asked.
"Eh?" Sigurdur Óli said, still irritated about being interrupted with Bergthóra.
"Is it a quarter of a millennium? Two hundred and fifty years? What does it mean?"
"Christ," Sigurdur Óli groaned and rang off.
Shortly afterwards Erlendur pulled up in his battered old car and stopped in the street in Grafarholt beside the foundation of the house. The police had arrived on the scene and sealed off the area with yellow tape, which Erlendur slipped underneath. Elínborg and Sigurdur Óli were down in the foundation, standing by a wall of earth. The medical student who had reported the bones was with them. The mother who was hosting the birthday party had rounded up the boys and sent them back indoors. The Reykjavik district medical officer, a chubby man aged about 50, clambered down one of the three ladders that had been propped up in the foundation. Erlendur followed him.
The media took quite an interest in the bones. Reporters gathered at the scene and the neighbours lined up around it. Some had already moved into the estate while others, who were working on their roofless houses, stood with hammers and crowbars in their hands, puzzled by all the fuss. This was at the end of April in mild and beautiful spring weather.
The forensic team was at work, carefully scraping samples from the wall of earth. They let the soil drop onto little trowels which they emptied into plastic bags. Part of the upper skeleton could be seen inside the wall. An arm was visible, a section of the ribcage and the lower jawbone.
"Is that the Millennium Man?" Erlendur asked, walking up to the wall of earth.
Elínborg cast a questioning glance at Sigurdur Óli, who stood behind Erlendur, pointing his index finger at his head and twirling it around.
"I phoned the National Museum," Sigurdur Óli said, and started scratching his head when Erlendur turned suddenly to look at him. "There's an archaeologist on his way here. Maybe he can tell us what it is."
"Don't we need a geologist too then?" Elínborg asked. "To find out about the soil. The position of the bones relative to it. To date the strata."
"Can't you help us with that?" Sigurdur Óli asked. "Didn't you study that?"
"I can't remember a word of it," Elínborg said. "I know that the brown stuff is called dirt, though."
"He's not six feet under," Erlendur said. "He's a metre down, one and a half at the most. Bundled away there in a hurry. As far as I can see this is the remains of a body. He hasn't been here long. This is no Viking."
"Why do you think it's a him?" the district medical officer asked.
"Him?" Erlendur said.
"I mean," the doctor said, "it could just as easily be a her. Why do you feel sure it's a man?"
"Or a woman then," Erlendur said. "I don't care." He shrugged. "Can you tell us anything about these bones?"
"I can't really see anything of them," the doctor said. "Best to say as little as possible until they pick them out of the ground."
"Male or female? Age?"
"Impossible to tell."
A man wearing jeans and a traditional Icelandic woollen sweater, tall, with a scruffy, greying beard and two yellow dogteeth fangs that protruded out of it through his big mouth, came over to them and introduced himself as the archaeologist. He watched the forensic team at work and asked them for pity's sake to stop that nonsense. The two men with trowels hesitated. They wore white overalls, rubber gloves and protective glasses. To Erlendur they could have been straight out of a nuclear power station. They looked at him, awaiting instructions.
"We need to dig down to him, for God's sake," said Fang, waving his arms. "Are you going to pick him out with those trowels? Who's in charge here anyway?"
Erlendur owned up.
"This isn't an archaeological find," Fang said, shaking his hand. "The name's Skarphédinn, hello, but it's best to treat it as such. You understand?"
"I don't have a clue what you're talking about," said Erlendur.
"The bones haven't been in the ground for any great length of time. No more than 60 or 70 years, I'd say. Maybe even less. The clothes are still on them."
"Yes, here," Skarphédinn said, pointing with a fat finger. "And in more places, I'm certain."
"I though that was flesh," Erlendur said sheepishly.
"The most sensible thing to do in this situation, to keep the evidence intact, would be to let my team excavate it using our methods. The forensic squad can help us. We need to rope off the area up here and dig down to the skeleton, and stop chipping away at the soil here. We don't make a habit of losing evidence. Just the way the bones lie could tell us a hell of a lot. What we find around them could provide clues."
"What do you think happened?" Erlendur asked.
"I don't know," Skarphédinn said. "Far too early to speculate. We need to excavate it, hopefully something useful will emerge then."
"Is it someone who's frozen to death and been covered by the earth?"
"No one sinks this deep into the ground."
"So it's a grave."
"It would appear so," Skarphédinn said pompously. "Everything points to that. Shall we say that we'll dig down to it?"
Skarphédinn strode over to the ladder and climbed up out of the foundation. Erlendur followed close behind. As they stood above the skeleton the archaeologist explained the best way to organise the excavation. Erlendur was impressed by him and everything he said, and soon Skarphédinn was on his mobile phone, calling out his team. He had taken part in several of the main archaeological discoveries in recent decades and knew what he was talking about. Erlendur put his faith in him.
The head of the forensic squad disagreed. He ranted about transferring the excavation to an archaeologist who didn't have the faintest idea about criminal investigations. The quickest way was to chip the skeleton free from the wall to give them scope to examine both its position and the clues – if there were any – about whether an act of violence had been committed. Erlendur listened to this speech for a while and then declared that Skarphédinn and his team would be allowed to dig their way down to the skeleton even if it took much longer than anticipated.
"The bones have been lying here for half a century, a couple of days either way won't make any difference," he said, and the matter was settled.
Erlendur looked around at the new houses under construction. He looked up at the brown geothermal water tanks and to where he knew Lake Reynisvatn lay, then turned and looked east over the grassland that took over where the new quarter ended.
Four bushes caught his attention, standing up out of the brush about 30 metres away. He walked over to them and thought he could tell that they were redcurrant bushes. They were bunched together in a straight line to the east of the foundation and he wondered, stroking his hands over the knobbly, bare branches, who would have planted them there in this no man's land.
The archaeologists arrived in their fleece jackets and thermal suits, armed with spoons and shovels, and roped off a fairly large area around the skeleton, and by dinner time they had started cautiously digging up the grassy ground. It was still broad daylight, the sun would not set until after 9 p.m. The team comprised four men and two women who worked calmly and methodically, carefully examining each trowelful they took. There was no sign of the soil having been disturbed by the gravedigger. Time and the work on the house foundation had seen to that.
Elínborg located a geologist at the university who was more than willing to assist the police, dropped everything and turned up at the foundation just half an hour after they had spoken. He was middle-aged, black-haired and slim with an exceptionally deep voice, and had a doctorate from Paris. Elínborg led him over to the wall of earth. The police had put a tent over the wall to obscure it from passers-by, and she gestured to the geologist to go in under the flap.
The tent was illuminated by a large fluorescent light, which cast gloomy shadows over to where the skeleton lay. The geologist did not rush anything. He examined the soil, took a handful from the wall and clenched his fist to crumble it. He compared the strata beside the skeleton with those above and below it, and examined the density of the soil around the bones. Proudly he told her how he had once been called in to help with an investigation, to analyse a clump of earth found at the scene of a crime, which made a useful contribution. Then he went on to discuss academic works on criminology and the earth sciences, a kind of forensic geology, if Elínborg understood him correctly.
She listened to him rambling away until she lost her patience.
"How long has he been in there?" she asked.
"Difficult to say," the geologist said in his deep voice, assuming an academic pose. "It needn't be long."
"How long is that, geologically speaking?" Elínborg asked. "A thousand years? Ten?"
The geologist looked at her.
"Difficult to say," he repeated.
"How accurate an answer can you give?" Elínborg asked. "Measured in years."
"Difficult to say."
"In other words, it's difficult to say anything?"
The geologist looked at Elínborg and smiled.
"Sorry, I was thinking. What do you want to know?"
"He's been lying here," Elínborg groaned.
"I'd guess somewhere between 50 and 70 years. I still have to do some more detailed tests, but that's what I'd imagine. From the density of the soil, it's out of the question that it's a Viking or a heathen burial mound."
"We know that," Elínborg said, "there are shreds of clothing…"
"This green line here," the geologist said and pointed to a stratum in the lowest part of the wall. "This is ice-age clay. These lines at regular intervals here," he continued, pointing further up, "these are volcanic tuff. The uppermost one is from the end of the fifteenth century. It's the thickest layer of tuff in the Reykjavik area since the country was settled. These are older layers from eruptions in Hekla and Katla. Now we're thousands of years back in time. It's not far down to the bedrock as you can see here," he pointed to a large layer in the foundation. "This is the Reykjavík dolerite that covers the whole area around the city."
He looked at Elínborg.
"Relative to all that history, the grave was only dug a millionth of a second ago."
The archaeologists stopped work around 9.30 and Skarphédinn told Erlendur they would be back early the next morning. They had not found anything of note in the soil and had barely started stripping the vegetation above it. Erlendur asked whether they could not speed up the work a little, but Skarphédinn looked at him disdainfully and asked him if he wanted to destroy the evidence. They agreed that there was still no rush to dig down to the skeleton.
The fluorescent light in the tent was switched off. All the reporters had left. The discovery of the skeleton was the main story on the evening news. There were pictures of Erlendur and his team down in the foundation and one station showed its reporter trying to interview Erlendur, who waved his hands in his face and walked away.
Calm had descended upon the estate once more. The banging hammers had fallen silent. Everyone who had been working on their half-built houses had left. Those who had already moved in were going to bed. No children could be heard shouting any more. Two policeman in a patrol car were appointed to watch over the area during the night. Elínborg and Sigurdur Óli had gone home. The forensic squad, who had been helping the archaeologist, had gone home as well by now. Erlendur had spoken to Tóti and his mother about the bone that the boy found. Tóti was elated by all the attention he received. "What a turn up for the books," his mother sighed. Her son finding a human skeleton just lying around. "This is the best birthday I've had," Tóti told Erlendur. "Ever."
The medical student had gone back home, taking his little brother with him. Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli had spoken briefly to him. He described how he had been watching the baby without noticing at first the bone it was gnawing. When he examined it more closely it turned out to be a human rib.
"How could you tell at once that it was a human rib?" Erlendur asked. "It could have been from a sheep, for instance."
"Yes, wasn't it more likely to have been from a sheep?" asked Sigurdur Óli, a city boy who knew nothing about Icelandic farm animals.
"There was no mistaking it," the student said. "I've done autopsy work and there was no question."
"Can you tell us how long you'd estimate that the bones have been buried there?" Erlendur asked. He knew he would eventually be given the findings of the geologist Elínborg had called out, the archaeologist and the forensic pathologist, but he did not mind hearing the student's opinion.
"I took a look at the soil and, based on the rate of decay, we're maybe talking about 70 years. Not much more than that. But I'm no expert."
"No, quite," Erlendur said. "The archaeologist thought the same and he's no expert either."
He turned to Sigurdur Óli.
"We need to check out the records of people who went missing from that time, around 1930 or 1940. Maybe even earlier. See what we can find."
Erlendur stood beside the foundation, in the evening sun, and looked north towards the town of Mosfellsbaer, to Kollafjördur and Mount Esja, and he could see the houses across the bay on Kjalarnes. He could see the cars on the West Road skirt the foot of Úlfarsfell on their way to Reykjavík. He heard a car drive up to the foundation and a man stepped out of it, about the same age as Erlendur, fat, wearing a blue windcheater and a peaked cap. He slammed the door and looked at Erlendur and the police car, the disturbed ground by the foundation and the tent covering the skeleton.
"Are you from the taxman?" he asked brashly, walking over to Erlendur.
"Taxman?" Erlendur said.
"Never a bloody moment's peace from you," the man said. "Have you got a writ or…?"
"Is this your land?" Erlendur asked.
"Who are you? What's this tent? What's going on here?"
Erlendur explained to the man, who said his name was Jon, what had happened. It turned out that he was a building contractor and owned the building plot; he was on the verge of bankruptcy and plagued by debt collectors. No work had been done on the foundation for some time, but he said he came regularly to check whether the formwork had been vandalised; those bloody kids in these new suburbs who play silly buggers in the houses. He had not heard about the discovery of the skeleton and looked down into the foundation in disbelief while Erlendur explained to him what the police and archaeologists were doing.
"I didn't know about it, and the carpenters certainly wouldn't have seen those bones. Is it an ancient grave then?" Jon asked.
"We don't know yet," Erlendur said, unwilling to give any further information. "Do you know anything about that land over there to the east?" he asked, pointing towards the redcurrant bushes.
"All I know is that it's good building land," Jon said. "I didn't think I'd live to see the day that Reykjavik would spread all the way out here."
"Maybe the city's grown out of all proportion," Erlendur said. "Do redcurrants grow wild in Iceland, would you happen to know?"
"Redcurrants? No idea. Never heard of it."
They talked briefly before Jon drove away again. Erlendur gained the impression that his creditors were about to expropriate the land, but that there was a glimpse of hope if he could manage to squeeze out yet another loan.
Erlendur intended to go home himself. The evening sun shed a beautiful red glow on the western sky, spreading in from the sea and across the land. It was beginning to cool down.
He scrutinised the dark swathe. He kicked at the soil and strolled around, unsure why he was dithering. There was nothing waiting for him at home, he thought, swinging his foot at the dirt. No family to welcome him, no wife to tell him what her day had been like. No children to tell him how they were doing at school. Only his clapped out television, an armchair, a worn carpet, wrappers from takeaway meals in the kitchen and whole walls of books that he read in his solitude. Many of them were about missing persons in Iceland, the tribulations of travellers in the wilds in days of old, and deaths on mountain roads.
Suddenly he felt something hard against his foot. It was like a little pebble standing up out of the dirt. He nudged at it a few times with his toe, but it stood firm. He bent down and began carefully to claw the soil away from it. Skarphédinn had told him not to move anything while the archaeologists were away. Erlendur pulled at the pebble half-heartedly but could not manage to free it.
He dug deeper, and his hands were filthy by the time he finally reached a similar pebble, then a third and fourth and fifth. Erlendur got down on his knees, scooping up dirt around him in all directions. The object came gradually into view and soon Erlendur stared at what, as far as he could make out, was a hand. Five bony fingers and the bone of a palm, standing up out of the earth. He rose slowly to his feet.
The five fingers were spread apart as if the person down there had stretched out a hand to clutch at something or defend himself, or perhaps to beg for mercy. Erlendur stood there, thunderstruck. The bones stretched up towards him out of the ground like a plea for clemency, and a shiver passed through him in the evening breeze.
Alive, Erlendur thought. He looked in the direction of the redcurrant bushes.
"Were you alive?" he said to himself.
At that very moment his mobile rang. Standing in the calm of evening, engrossed in his thoughts, he took a while to realise the phone was ringing. He took it out of his coat pocket and answered it. At first all he could hear was rumbling.
"Help me," said a voice that he recognised immediately. "Please."
Then the call was cut off.
He could not tell where the call came from. His mobile's screen display said "Unknown". It was the voice of his daughter, Eva Lind. He winced as he stared at the phone, like a splinter that had pierced his hand, but it did not ring again. He could not call back. Eva Lind had his number and he remembered that the last time they spoke was when she called him to say she never wanted to see him again. He stood transfixed, dumbfounded, waiting for a second call that never came.
Then he leaped into his car.
He had not been in touch with Eva Lind for two months. In itself there was nothing unusual about that. His daughter had been living her life without giving him much chance to interfere in it. She was in her twenties. A drug addict. Their last meeting had ended with yet another furious argument. It was in the block of flats where he lived and she stormed out, saying that he was repulsive.
Erlendur also had a son, Sindri Snaer, who had little contact with his father. He and Eva Lind were infants when Erlendur walked out and left them with their mother. Erlendur's wife never forgave him after their divorce and did not allow him to see the children. He increasingly regretted having let her decide. They sought him out themselves when they were old enough.
The calm spring dusk was descending over Reykjavik when Erlendur sped out of the Millennium Quarter, onto the main road and into the city. He checked that his mobile was switched on and put it on the front seat. Erlendur did not know much about his daughter's personal life and had no idea where to start looking for her until he remembered a basement flat in the Vogar district where Eva Lind had been living about a year before.
First he checked whether she had gone to his flat, but Eva Lind was nowhere to be seen. He ran around the block where he lived and up the other staircases. Eva had a key to his flat. He called out to her inside the flat, but she wasn't there. He wondered about telephoning her mother, but couldn't bring himself to do so. They had hardly spoken for 20 years. He picked up the phone and called his son. He knew that his children kept in contact with each other, albeit intermittently. He found out Sindri's mobile number from directory enquiries. It turned out that Sindri was working out of town and had no idea of his sister's whereabouts.
"Bugger it," he groaned.
He picked up the phone again and asked for his ex-wife's number.
"Erlendur here," he said when she answered. "I think Eva Lind's in trouble. Do you know where she could be?"
"She called me asking for help but was cut off and I don't know where she is. I think something's wrong."
Still no reply.
"Are you calling me after 20 years?"
He felt the cold hatred still in her voice after all that time and realised that he'd made a mistake.
"Eva Lind needs help, but I don't know where she is."
"I think there's something wrong."
"Is that my fault?"
"Your fault? No. It's not…"
"Don't you think I didn't need help? Alone with two kids. You weren't helping me."
"And now your kids have gone off the rails. Both of them! Are you beginning to realise what you've done? What you've done to us? What you've done to me and to your children?"
"You refused to let me see…"
"Don't you suppose I haven't needed to sort her out a million times? Don't you think I've never needed to be there for her? Where were you then?"
"You bastard," she snarled.
She slammed down the phone on him. Erlendur cursed himself for having called. He got into his car, drove to the Vogar district and stopped outside a dilapidated building with basement flats half-submerged in the ground. At one of them he pressed the bell which hung loose from the doorframe, but couldn't hear it ring inside, so he knocked on the door. He waited impatiently for the sound of someone coming to answer it, but nothing happened. He took hold of the handle. The door was not locked and Erlendur stepped cautiously inside. As he entered the cramped hallway he could hear a child's faint crying from somewhere within. A stench of urine and faeces confronted him as he approached the living room.
A baby girl, about a year old, sat on the living-room floor, exhausted from crying. She shivered with heavy sobs, naked apart from a vest. The floor was covered with empty beer cans, vodka bottles, fast-food wrappers and dairy products that had gone mouldy, and the acrid stench mingled with the stink from the baby. There was little else in the living room apart from a battered sofa on which a woman was lying, naked, with her back to Erlendur. The baby paid no attention to him as he moved towards the sofa. He took the woman by the wrist and felt her pulse. There were needle marks on her arm.
A kitchen went off the living room and in a small room beside that Erlendur found a blanket, which he draped over the woman on the sofa. Inside the room was another door, leading to a little bathroom with a shower. Erlendur picked up the baby from the floor, carried her into the bathroom, carefully washed her with warm water and wrapped her in a towel. The baby stopped crying. Between her legs her skin was raw with a rash from urine. He presumed that the baby must be starving, but could not find anything edible to give her apart from a little bar of chocolate which he happened to have in his pocket. He broke off a lump and gave it to the baby while talking to her in a soothing voice. When he noticed the marks on her arms and back, he grimaced.
He found a cot, tossed away the beer can and hamburger wrapper that were inside it, and gently laid the baby down. Seething with rage, he went back into the living room. He didn't know whether the heap on the sofa was the baby girl's mother. Nor did he care. He snatched the woman up and carried her into the bathroom, laid her on the floor of the shower and sprayed ice-cold water over her. She twitched, gasped for breath and screamed as she tried to protect herself from it.
Erlendur kept spraying the woman for a good while before he turned off the water, threw the blanket in to her, led her back into the living room and made her sit down on the sofa. She was awake but dazed and looked at Erlendur with slothful eyes. Looked all around as if something was missing. Suddenly she remembered what it was.
"Where's Perla?" she asked, shivering beneath the blanket.
"Perla?" Erlendur said angrily. "That's the kind of name you give to a puppy!"
"Where's my girl?" the woman repeated. She looked 30 or so, with hair cut short, wearing make-up that had run under the shower and was now smeared all over her face. Her upper lip was swollen, she had a bump on her forehead and her right eye was bruised and blue.
"You've no right even to ask about her," Erlendur said.
"Stubbing out cigarettes on your baby?"
"What? No! Who…? Who are you?"
"Or is it the brute who beats you up who does that too?"
"Beats me up? What? Who are you?"
"I'm going to take Perla away from you," Erlendur said. "I'm going to catch the man who does that to her. So you need to tell me two things."
"Take her away from me?"
"A girl used to live here a few months back, maybe a year ago, do you know anything about her? Her name's Eva Lind. Slim, black hair…"
"Perla's a pest. Cries. All the time."
"It drives him crazy."
"Let's start with Eva Lind. Do you know her?"
"Don't take her away from me. Please."
"Do you know where Eva Lind is?"
"Eva moved out months ago."
"Do you know where to?"
"No. She was with Baddi."
"He's a bouncer. I'll tell the papers if you take her away. What about that? I'll tell the papers."
"Where is he a bouncer?"
She told him. Erlendur stood up and called an ambulance and the emergency shift at the Child Welfare Council, giving a brief account of the circumstances.
"Then there's the second thing," Erlendur said as he waited for the ambulance. "Where's that bastard who beats you up?"
"Leave him out of this," she said.
"So he can keep doing it? Is that what you want?"
"So where is he?"
"Yes, what? What's just…"
"If you're going to take him…"
"If you're going to take him, make sure you kill him. If you don't, he'll kill me," she said with a cold smile at Erlendur.
Baddi was muscular with an unusually small head, and he worked as a bouncer at a strip club called Count Rosso in the centre of Reykjavik. He hadn't been on the door when Erlendur arrived, but another bouncer of a similar build had told Erlendur where he could find him.
"He's taking care of the privates," the bouncer had said, and Erlendur didn't understand him immediately.
"The private dancing," the bouncer explained. "Private shows." Then he rolled his eyes in resignation.
Erlendur walked inside the club which was lit up with dull red lights. There was one bar in the room, a few tables and chairs and a couple of men watching a young girl sliding up against a metal pole on a raised dance floor to the monotonous beat of a pop tune. She looked at Erlendur, started dancing in front of him as if he were a likely customer, and slipped off her tiny bra. Erlendur gave her a look of such profound pity that she became flustered and lost her footing, then regained her balance and wriggled away from him before dropping her bra casually to the floor in an attempt to preserve some dignity.
Trying to work out where the private shows might be held, he saw a long corridor directly opposite the dance floor and walked over to it. The corridor was painted black with stairs at the end leading down to the basement. Erlendur could not see very well, but he inched his way down the stairs until he reached another black corridor. A lonely red light bulb hung down from the ceiling and at the end of the corridor stood a huge beefy bouncer with his stout arms crossed over his chest, and he glared at Erlendur. In the corridor between them were six doors, three on either side. He could hear the sound of a violin playing melancholy music in one of the rooms.
The muscular bouncer walked up to Erlendur.
"Are you Baddi?" Erlendur asked him.
"Where's your girl?" the bouncer demanded, his little head protruding like a wart on top of his fat neck.
"I was about to ask you that," Erlendur said in surprise.
"Me? No, I don't set up the girls. You have to go upstairs and get one and then bring her down here."
"Oh, I see," Erlendur said, realising the misunderstanding. "I'm looking for Eva Lind."
"Eva? She quit ages ago. Were you with her?"
Erlendur stared at him.
"Quit ages ago? What do you mean?"
"She was here sometimes. How do you know her?"
A door opened along the corridor and a young man walked out, zipping up his flies. Erlendur could see a naked girl bending down to pick up some clothes from the floor in the room. The young man squeezed past them, patted Baddi on the shoulder and disappeared up the stairs. The girl in the room looked Erlendur in the face, then slammed the door.
"Do you mean down here?" Erlendur said in astonishment. "Eva Lind was down here?"
"Long time ago. There's one who looks just like her in this room," Baddi said with all the enthusiasm of a used-car salesman, and pointed to a door. "She's a medical student from Lithuania. And that girl playing the violin. Did you hear her? She's in some famous school in Poland. They come over here. Make some money. Then go on studying."
"Do you know where I can find Eva Lind?"
"We never say where the girls live," Baddi said with a peculiarly beatific expression.
"I don't want to know where the girls live," Erlendur said wearily. He took care not to lose his temper, knew he had to be cautious, had to obtain the information diplomatically, even though he felt most of all like wringing the man's neck. "I think Eva Lind's in trouble and she asked me to help her," he said as calmly as he could possibly manage.
"And who are you, her dad?" Baddi said sarcastically, with a giggle.
Erlendur looked at him, wondering how he could get a hold on that little bald head. The grin froze on Baddi's face when he realised that he had scored a bull's-eye. By accident as usual. He slowly took one step backwards.
"Are you the cop?" he asked.
"This is a completely legitimate establishment."
"That's none of my business. Do you know about Eva Lind?"
"Is she lost?"
"I don't know," Erlendur said. "She's lost to me. She spoke to me earlier and asked me to help her, but I don't know where she is. I was told you knew her."
"I was with her for a while, did she tell you that?"
Erlendur shook his head.
"She's hopeless to be with. A real nutter."
"Can you tell me where she is?"
"It's a long time since I've seen her. She hates you. Did you know that?"
"When you were going out with her, who got her stuff for her?"
"You mean her dealer?"
"Her dealer, yes."
"Are you going to lock him up?"
"I'm not going to lock anyone up. I've got to find Eva Lind. Can you help me or not?"
Baddi weighed up his options. He didn't need to help this man at all, or Eva Lind. She could go to hell for all he cared. But there was an expression on the detective's face that told him it would be better to have him on his side rather than against him.
"I don't know anything about Eva," he said. "Talk to Alli."
"And don't tell him I sent you."
Erlendur drove into the oldest part of town, down by the harbour, thinking about Eva Lind and thinking about Reykjavik. He had been born elsewhere and considered himself an outsider even though he had lived in the city for most of his life and had seen it spread across the bays and hills as the rural communities depopulated. A modern city swollen with people who did not want to live in the countryside or fishing villages any more, or could not live there, and came to the city to build new lives for themselves, but lost their roots and were left with no past and an uncertain future. He had never felt comfortable in the city.
Felt like a stranger.
Alli was about 20, scrawny, gingery and freckled; his front teeth were missing, his face was drawn and wan and he had a nasty cough. He was where Baddi had said he would be, sitting inside Kaffi Austurstraeti, alone at a table with an empty beer glass in front of him. He looked asleep, his head drooping and his arms folded over his chest. He wore a dirty green parka with a fur collar. Baddi had given a good description of him. Erlendur sat down at his table.
"Are you Alli?" he asked, but received no reply. He looked around the bar. It was dark inside and only a handful of people sat at the occasional table. A miserable country singer performed a melancholy song about lost love over a loudspeaker above them. A middle-aged barman sat on a stool behind the bar, reading a dogeared paperback.
Erlendur repeated the question and at length prodded the man's shoulder. He woke up and looked at Erlendur with gormless eyes.
"Another beer?" Erlendur asked, trying his best to smile. A grimace moved across his face.
"Who are you?" Alli asked, his eyes glazed. He made no attempt to conceal his idiotic expression.
"I'm looking for Eva Lind. I'm her father and I'm in a hurry. She phoned me and asked for help."
"Are you the cop?" Alli asked.
"Yes, I'm the cop," Erlendur said.
Alli sat up in his seat and looked around furtively.
"Why are you asking me?"
"I know that you know Eva Lind."
"Do you know where she is?"
"You gonna buy me a beer?"
Erlendur looked at him and wondered for an instant whether he was using the right approach, but carried on anyway, he was running out of time. He stood up and walked quickly to the bar. The barman looked up reluctantly from his paperback, put it down with an air of regret and got up from his stool. Erlendur asked for a large beer. He was fumbling for his wallet when he noticed that Alli was gone. He took a quick look around and saw the door closing. Leaving the barman holding the glass of beer, he ran out and saw Alli making for the old houses in Grjótathorp.
Alli did not run very fast and did not last long either. He looked round, saw Erlendur in pursuit and tried to speed up, but had no stamina. Erlendur soon caught up with him and sent him moaning to the ground with a shove. Two bottles of pills rolled out of his pockets and Erlendur picked them up. They looked like Ecstasy. He tore Alli's coat off and heard more bottles rattling. When he had emptied the coat pockets Erlendur was left holding enough to fill an sizeable medicine cabinet.
"They'll… kill… me," Alli panted as he clambered to his feet. There were few people around. An elderly couple on the other side of the street, who had watched the action, hurried away when they saw Erlendur picking up one bottle of pills after another.
"I don't care," Erlendur said.
"Don't take that from me. You don't know how they…"
Alli huddled up against the wall of a house and started to cry.
"It's my last chance," he said, snot running from his nose.
"I don't give a shit what chance it is. When was the last time you saw Eva Lind?"
Alli snuffled, suddenly glared at Erlendur, as if eying a way out.
"If I tell you about Eva, will you give those back to me?" he asked.
Erlendur thought it over.
"If you know about Eva I'll let you have it. If you're lying I'll come back and use you as a trampoline."
"Okay, okay. Eva came to see me today. If you see her, she owes me a bunch of money. I refused to give her any more. I don't deal to pregnant chicks."
"No," Erlendur said. "A man of principle, I suppose."
"She came round with her belly stuck out in the air and whined at me and started getting heavy when I wouldn't give her anything, then she left."
"Do you know where she went?"
"Where does she live?"
"A chick with no money. I need money, see. Or they'll kill me."
"Do you know where she lives?"
"Lives? Nowhere. She just crashes where she can. Scrounges. Reckons she can get it for nothing." Alli snorted disdainfully. "Like you could just give it away. Like it's just for free."
The gap where his teeth were missing gave his speech a soft lisp and he suddenly looked like a big child in his dirty parka, trying to put on a brave act.
Snot started dripping from his nose again.
"Where could she have gone?" Erlendur asked.
Alli looked at him and sniffed.
"Will you let me have that back?"
"Where is she?"
"Do I get it back if I tell you?"
"If you're not lying. Where is she?"
"There was a girl with her."
"Who? What's her name?"
"I know where she lives."
Erlendur took a step closer.
"You'll get it all back," he said. "Who was this girl?"
"Ragga. She lives just round the corner. On Tryggva-gata. At the top of the big building overlooking the dock." Alli hesitantly stretched out his hand. "Okay? You promised. Give it back to me. You promised."
"There's no way I could give it back to you, you idiot," Erlendur said. "If I had the time I'd take you down to the station and throw you in a cell. So you've come off the better for it."
"No, they'll kill me! Don't! Let me have it, please. Let me have it!"
Ignoring him, Erlendur left Alli snivelling up against the building, where he cursed himself and banged his head against the wall in feeble rage. Erlendur could hear the curses a long way off, but to his surprise Alli directed them not at him, but at himself.
"Fucking jerk, you're a fucking jerk…"
He looked round and saw Alli slapping himself in the face.
A little boy, possibly four years old, wearing pyjama bottoms, barefoot, his hair filthy, opened the door and looked up at Erlendur, who stooped down to him. When Erlendur put out his hand to stroke the boy's cheek he jerked his head back. Erlendur asked if his mother was home, but the boy just gave him a questioning look and made no reply.
"Is Eva Lind with you, sonny?" he asked.
Erlendur had the feeling time was running out. It was two hours since Eva Lind had phoned. He tried to dispel the thought that he was already too late to help her. Tried to imagine what kind of quandary she was in, but soon stopped torturing himself that way and concentrated on finding her. Now he knew who she was with when she left Alli that evening. He could sense he was getting closer to her.
Without answering, the boy darted back into the flat and disappeared. Erlendur followed, but could not see where he went. The flat was pitch dark and Erlendur fumbled to find a light switch on the walls. After trying several that did not work, he groped his way into a small room. At last a solitary light bulb, hanging from the ceiling, flickered on. There was nothing on the floor, only cold concrete. Dirty mattresses were spread all around the flat and on one of them lay a girl, slightly younger than Eva Lind, in tattered jeans and a red T-shirt. A metal box containing two hypodermic needles was open beside her. A thin plastic tube lay curled on the floor. Two men were sleeping on mattresses on either side of her.
Erlendur knelt down by the girl and prodded her, but got no response. He lifted her head, sat her up and patted her cheek. She mumbled. He stood up, lifted her to her feet and tried to make her walk around, and soon she seemed to come to her senses. She opened her eyes. Erlendur noticed a kitchen chair in the darkness and made her sit down. She looked at him and her head slumped to her chest. He slapped her face lightly and she came to again.
"Where's Eva Lind?" Erlendur asked.
"Eva," the girl mumbled.
"You were with her today. Where did she go?"
Her head slumped again. Erlendur saw the little boy standing in the doorway. He was holding a doll in one hand and in the other he had an empty feeding bottle which he held out towards Erlendur. Then he put the bottle in his mouth and Erlendur heard him sucking in the air. He watched the boy and gnashed his teeth before taking out his mobile to call for help.
A doctor arrived with the ambulance, as Erlendur had insisted.
"I have to ask you to give her a shot," Erlendur said.
"A shot?" said the doctor.
"I think it's heroin. Have you got any naloxone or narcanti? In your bag?"
"I have to talk to her. Immediately. My daughter's in danger. This girl knows where she is."
The doctor looked at the girl, then back at Erlendur. He nodded.
Erlendur had laid the girl back on the mattress and it took her a while to come round. The paramedics stood over her, holding the stretcher between them. The little boy was hiding in the room. The two men lay knocked out on their mattresses.
Erlendur crouched by the girl, who was slowly regaining consciousness. She looked at Erlendur and up to the doctor and the paramedics.
"What's going on?" she asked in a low voice, as if talking to herself.
"Do you know about Eva Lind?" Erlendur asked.
"She was with you tonight. I think she might be in danger. Do you know where she went?"
"Isn't Eva okay?" she asked, then looked around. "Where's Kiddi?"
"There's a little boy in the room over there," Erlendur said. "He's waiting for you. Tell me where I can find Eva Lind."
"Who are you?"
"She can't stand you."
"I know. Do you know where she is?"
"She started getting pains. I told her to go to the hospital. She was going to walk there."
"Her gut was killing her."
"Where did she set off from? From here?"
"We were at the bus station."
"The bus station?"
"She was going to the National Hospital. Isn't she there?"
Erlendur stood up and the doctor told him the hospital switchboard number. He phoned, only to hear that no one by the name of Eva Lind had been admitted in the past few hours. No woman of her age had been there. He was put through to the maternity ward and tried to describe his daughter as well as he could, but the duty midwife didn't think she'd seen her.
He ran out of the flat, got into his car and raced to the bus station. There was not a soul around. The bus station closed at midnight. He left his car and hurried along Snorrabraut, broke into a run up the street past the houses in Nordurmýri and scanned the gardens for his daughter. He started calling her name as he drew closer to the hospital, but no one answered.
At last he found her lying in a pool of blood on a lawn sheltered by trees, about 50 metres from the old maternity home. But he was too late. The grass beneath her was stained with blood and so were her jeans.
Erlendur knelt beside his daughter, looked up at the maternity home and saw himself going through the door with Halldóra all those years ago when Eva Lind herself was born. Was she going to die at the very same place?
Erlendur stroked Eva's forehead, unsure about whether he dared moved her.
He thought she was seven months pregnant.
She had tried running away from him, but had given up long ago.
She had left him twice. Both times while they were still living in the basement flat on Lindargata. A whole year elapsed from the first time he beat her up until he lost control of himself again. That was what he called it. When he still talked about the violence he had inflicted on her. She never regarded it as losing control of himself. To her it seemed he never had more self-control than when he was beating the living daylights out of her and showering her with abuse. Even at the height of his frenzy he was cold and collected and sure of what he was doing. Always.
Over time she realised that she too would need to cultivate that quality to be able to triumph over him.
Her first attempt to flee was doomed to failure. She did not prepare herself, did not know the options available, had no idea where to turn and was suddenly standing outside in the chill breeze one February evening with her two children, holding Símon by the hand and carrying Mikkelína on her back, but she had no idea where to go. All she knew was that she had to get away from the basement.
She had seen the vicar who told her that a good wife does not leave her husband. Marriage was sacred in the eyes of God and people had to put up with much in order to keep it together.
"Think about your children," the vicar said.
"I am thinking about the children," she replied, and the vicar gave a kindly smile.
She did not try to approach the police. Her neighbours had twice called them when he attacked her, and the officers had gone to the basement to break up a domestic quarrel and then left. When she stood in front of the policemen with a swollen eye and split lip, they told the couple to take things easy. Said they were disturbing the peace. The second time, two years later, the policemen took him outside for a talk. She had screamed about him attacking her and threatening to kill her, and that this was not the first time. They asked if she had been drinking. The question did not register with her. Drinking, they repeated. No, she said. She never drank. They said something to him outside, by the front door. Shook his hand and left.
When they were gone he stroked her cheek with his razor.
That same evening, when he was fast asleep, she put Mikkelína on her back and quietly pushed Simon out of the flat in front of her and up the basement steps. She had made a pushchair for Mikkelína from the carriage of an old pram she found on the rubbish dump, but he had smashed it up in a fit of rage, as if sensing that she was going to leave him and thinking this would restrain her.
Her escape was completely unplanned. In the end she went to the Salvation Army and was given a place to sleep for the night. She had no relatives, neither in Reykjavik nor anywhere else, and the moment that he woke up the next morning and saw that they were gone he ran out to search for them. Roaming the city in his shirt sleeves in the cold, he saw them leaving the Salvation Army. The first she knew of him was when he snatched the boy away from her, picked up her daughter and set off for home without saying a word. The children were too terrified to put up a struggle, but she saw Mikkelína stretch out her arms towards her and break into silent tears.
What was she thinking?
Then she hurried after them.
After the second attempt he threatened to kill her children, and she did not try to run away after that. That time she was better prepared. She imagined that she could start a new life. Move north with the children to a fishing town, rent a room or small flat, work in a fish factory and make sure that they wanted for nothing. On the second attempt she took time to plan everything. She decided to move to Siglufjördur to begin with. There were plenty of jobs to be had now that the worst years of the depression were over, outsiders flocked there to work and she could keep a low profile alone with two children. She could spend a while in the workers' dormitory before finding a room of her own.
The bus journey for her and the children did not come cheap and her husband kept a tight hold on every penny he earned at the harbour. Over a long time she had managed to scrape together a few coins until she had enough for the fare. She took all the children's clothes that she could fit into a small suitcase, a handful of personal belongings and the pushchair, which could still carry Mikkelína after she mended it. She hurried down to the bus station, looking everywhere in terror as if she expected to meet him on the next street corner.
He went home at lunchtime as usual and immediately realised that she had left him. She knew she was supposed to have lunch ready when he came home and had never allowed herself not to. He saw that the pushchair was missing. The wardrobe was open. Remembering her previous attempt, he marched straight to the Salvation Army and made a scene when he was told she was not there. He didn't believe them, and ran all over the building, into the rooms and the basement, and when he could not find them he attacked the Salvation Army captain who ran the shelter, knocked him to the ground and threatened to kill him if he did not say where they were.
When eventually he realised that she had not gone to the Salvation Army after all, he prowled the town without catching sight of her. He stormed into shops and restaurants, but she was nowhere to be seen. His rage and desperation intensified as the day wore on and he went home out of his mind with fury. He turned the basement flat upside down in search of hints as to where she might have gone, then ran to two of her old friends from the time she worked for the merchant, barged his way in and called out to her and the children, then ran back out without a word and disappeared.
She arrived in Siglufjördur at two o'clock in the morning after travelling almost non-stop all day. The coach had made three stops to allow the passengers to stretch their legs, eat their packed lunches or buy a meal. She had taken sandwiches and bottles of milk, but they were hungry again when the bus drew into Haganesvík in Fljót, where a boat was waiting to ferry the passengers to Siglufjördur, in the cold of night. After she found the workers' dormitory, the foreman showed her into a little room with a single bed and lent her a mattress to spread on the floor, with two blankets, and they spent their first night of freedom there. The children fell asleep the moment they touched the mattress, but she lay in bed staring out into the darkness and, unable to control the trembling that passed through her whole body, she broke down and wept.
He found her a few days later. One possibility that occurred to him was that she had left the city, perhaps by bus, so he went down to the station, asked around and found out that his wife and children had taken the northbound bus to Siglufjördur. He spoke to the driver who remembered the woman and children clearly, especially the disabled girl. He caught the next coach north and was in Siglufjördur just after midnight. Threading his way from one dormitory to the next, he eventually found her asleep in her little room, shown the way by a foreman he had woken up. He explained matters to the foreman. She had gone to the village ahead of him, he said, but they probably would not be staying very long.
He crept into the room. A dull glow entered from the street through a small window and he stepped over the children on the mattress, bent over her until their face