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Authors: Gunnar Staalesen

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BOOK: Cold Hearts
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‘What did he die of?’

‘Frankie? He fell down the stairs at home and broke his neck. Inebriated, of course.’

‘There wasn’t an investigation?’

‘Regarding the cause of death? No. He had drunk himself senseless and in fact was in a coma when he fell.’

‘OK. Back to the family situation then. I have made a note telling me that social services were alerted around 1978.’

‘Yes, and that was when we decided to stick our oar in, those of us who had known Frankie since he was a boy. There’s a saying we have here: Once a Minde boy, always a Minde boy.’

‘Right …’

‘More coffee, Veum?’

‘Yes, please.’

He poured, and I took another coconut macaroon.

‘I would like to stress one thing though. What we did was for purely idealistic reasons. It was to help the children. It was to support the family. After all, family is the nucleus that the entire society is built around. Isn’t it?’

‘Many believe that.’

‘Family, school, church. You might think it strange that I say this, seeing as I live alone.’

I shrugged. ‘I live alone as well, by and large.’

‘Indeed?’ For a moment he looked at me with interest, then he was back to his story. ‘Well, this is life’s destiny, not something over which you have any control. I never met the right one. Such was my life.’

‘Not even at the Ritz?’

He gave a sudden smile. ‘No, Veum. Not even there. And I can tell you … I know of at least two marriages that had their beginnings there. Erm … It was the health visitor at Fridalen who first voiced her concerns. Social services paid them a visit and action was mooted. To move them away from home.’

‘Was there any particular reason given?’

‘In Margrethe’s case, and she was the one who prompted the health visitor’s concern, there was talk of malnutrition, ADHD and generally poor adjustment to school and her surroundings. As for Karl Gunnar, that was primarily ADHD and perhaps inappropriate nutrition. There was nothing wrong with Siv. So there was a choice: leave Siv at home but move the others out. Split up the children! Can you imagine anything more painful?’

‘It’s a problem, of course, but on occasion it can in fact be necessary.’

‘On occasion, yes. Well, perhaps. But we – those of us on the committee – decided to take a hand, as I said. We went to social services and said we were willing to look after the family. Said that with God’s help and the parish’s support and joint commitment we would look after them. Help them with the children, in every way possible. Ensure they received enough food, got up in the morning, did their homework and offer them a range of leisure activities. For as long as was necessary. Our main intention, of course, was to be what Nils and Henny had been for Frankie and Else when they were newly-weds, a support network for every day. And we got the support. Perhaps not at the lower levels of the social services, but we had management on our side, and we agreed to give it a go at any rate.’

‘And how did it go?’

‘It went well, didn’t it?’ As I didn’t answer, he added: ‘For quite a while anyway.’

‘Tell me how it worked.’

‘It worked as I said. We shared tasks. Someone always checked that they got up and were given breakfast. Alf and Wenche were living in the house anyway, and Wenche taught at Fridalen School. They often accompanied her to school. We others helped in any way we could. Lill dropped by every so often and helped with cooking. She didn’t go out to work. Furthermore, Carsten and Lill had a cabin in Gulen where they took the children walking. Carsten, Alf and I tried to get Frankie to join us in other contexts. Carsten and Alf were hunters. They took him hunting many times, but Frankie’s physique was nothing to boast about, so it was never a great success. It’s hard work, as you know. The hunt itself is one thing, but later they transport the animals to the cars, skin them and cut them up. They have each got a freezer in the cellar where they keep all the venison in different shapes and sizes for meals throughout the year. I don’t go in for hunting myself, but we had a man’s group in the parish, a discussion group. I invited Frankie along a few times.’

‘No success there, either?’

‘Well, no, now you say so … he had a difficult temperament, Frankie did. You could see it in his eyes. Forever wandering. He could never look you straight in the eye. As though there were something he didn’t want to tell you, something that was a source of embarrassment. And perhaps that was not so strange. He was ashamed of his whole life, I suppose. Of needing help for something as simple as taking care of his own children.’

‘It’s not always that simple.’

‘No, no, perhaps it isn’t.’

‘But perhaps you and the committee didn’t score such a great success, either, in light of the results?’

His eyes flashed. ‘You can gloat, Veum! You as so many others. I know that people were talking behind our backs. Telling one another: this will never work. And when it didn’t … Oh, yes, here in this region where Jante Law has never gone out of fashion: Don’t think you’re anyone special, don’t think you’re better than us … There was a lot of
Schadenfreude
when suddenly … when the catastrophe struck.’

‘And by the catastrophe you mean …?’

He raised the coffee cup with a trembling hand to his mouth and took a hefty swig. He was searching for the words. ‘I … it … you know.’

‘Are you thinking about what happened at Gimle?’

He nodded and set his cup down so hard the plate rattled. ‘Yes, Veum. I am thinking of Gimle.’

MARKUS RØDBERG COLLECTED HIMSELF
. He took a coconut macaroon, leaned back in the chair and sighed. ‘It was a tragedy. I can remember the moment I was told … I could scarcely believe my ears.’

‘Do you know anything about the background to it?’

He slowly shook his head. ‘The background? This and that. We were pretty pleased with results as far as Karl Gunnar was concerned. We had got him through middle school and he stayed on after sixteen, both schools in Gimle. But then this situation arose. This supply teacher.’

‘It was a supply teacher?’

‘Yes, for PE. Someone who had barely left school himself. Had done his military service and then enrolled at the school to do supply. But he was one of … them.’

‘One of … them?’

He blushed. ‘Yes. I don’t know what you call them. A paedo, a homo, a … molester. It came out during the trial. There was no doubt that it happened in … self-defence. Karl Gunnar was groped, and he hit back. But alas he was holding a heavy object when he struck. A much too heavy object.’

‘A dumbbell, I was told.’

‘A … yes, that sort of thing … a weight. The kind you do muscle training with.’

I nodded.

‘But this was a bolt from the blue, Veum. This had nothing
to do with what home he came from or the work the committee had done. This was a terrible personal tragedy.’

‘How did he take it himself? Karl Gunnar, I mean.’

‘He battened down the hatches. Completely. Wouldn’t talk to anyone. Not about that. The detectives had to drag it out of him, and I think it was that – his not wanting to speak – that led to him getting the sentence he did. If he had opened up about what had happened he would have been given a lighter sentence.’

‘He’s on his way out again now.’

‘At last! After how many years?’

‘Was on his way out, I should say. He didn’t return from his last weekend leave. He hasn’t contacted you in recent days, has he?’

‘Me, no. Why would he?’

‘Well … did you stay in touch with him afterwards?’

He nodded. ‘We visited him, Carsten, Alf and I, in prison. But he wasn’t very forthcoming, and gradually it got to a point where we stopped visiting him. Now it must be three or four years since I last went.’

‘How did his parents take this?’

‘With apathy, as good as. They were shocked, that goes without saying. As shocked as we all were. I remember Frankie’s outburst in the courtroom. He shouted at the prosecutor: I would have killed the bastard myself if I’d have got hold of him! I would’ve killed him … He was so angry it took two officers to quieten him down. Else, as always, said nothing. I can hardly remember her doing anything more than mumble something or other. Thanks for the help, that sort of thing. Very distant, Veum. Very distant.’

‘Perhaps this was what the social services had noticed during
the home visit. That she was not a motivating mother, she didn’t give her children either resistance or … the opposite.’

‘Are you blaming us?’ he said accusingly. ‘Us? Who supported the family. But I’ve told you … How could we have checked what was going on in school? We couldn’t at Gimle. It was a different matter at Fridalen. We had Wenche and
frøken
Vefring there. I tried several times to get him to join a youth club I was running, but it was no use. It obviously wasn’t what he wanted.’

‘Did what actually happened between Karl Gunnar and this supply teacher ever come out?’

‘No more than they managed to force out of him at the end. But … he was examined by a doctor. There had been nothing … physical. It must have been an approach that produced this catastrophic result. Catastrophic for all sides. For the young man, for Karl Gunnar … and for the whole family.’

I nodded and sat flicking through my notes. ‘The other children. How did they fare?’

‘Everything went fine with Siv. Always. She completed her education, got a job with an insurance company and they trained her.’

‘But she had managed well … even before social services made their report.’

‘Yes, I … We don’t take sole credit for her turning out so well. She had a good base. One year with Nils and Henny around her. She was a clever girl, Siv was. Never any problems with her. She matured early.’

‘Yes, some say she assumed the mother’s responsibilities towards her siblings.’

‘That may be right. She was a grand support for us on the committee at any rate, not least with regard to everyday
organisation. As she grew up, that is. She was only ten when the committee was set up, you have to remember.’

‘And Margrethe?’

He moistened his lips. With saddened intonation he said: ‘Little Margrethe …’ It was as if he had to choose his words judiciously before he continued, and the first ones were hesitant. ‘In many ways my impression of her … was that she was the most … difficult of them all. At least there was some go in Karl Gunnar. He could put up a fight … er …’ He sent me a mortified look. ‘By that I wasn’t referring to … I was talking about him as a boy. He was perhaps the one who was most like his father, when Frankie was a boy. But Margrethe … perhaps she had inherited her mother’s genes. She was a bit lacking in energy, right from birth.’

‘Yes, malnutrition was diagnosed.’

‘Indeed, but I think it was because she lacked a scrap of initiative. I think she’s one of those who could die in front of the bread bin. She was passive, unmotivated, in fact, well, a lot like her mother.’

‘And how did she get on at school?’

‘Not too well, I’m afraid. Neither Wenche nor
frøken
Vefring could do much there. She simply didn’t have any talent in that direction.’

‘So what talents did she have?’

‘Well … after school we tried to shunt her towards something practical. Perhaps an apprenticeship as a hairdresser. No. Care assistant. Nothing at all. She couldn’t even sit by the till in a supermarket. The cash desk was too complicated for her. She was a loser, Veum, I’m afraid. I have to tell it as it is. I have to be honest.’

‘You know where she ended up, don’t you?’

He looked at me glumly. ‘Yes.’ Made a vague gesture with his small, well-manicured hand. ‘She’s out there – in Nordnes, isn’t she?’

I nodded without saying a word.

We sat for a while like this. I didn’t know if I had any more questions. Then I said: ‘Carsten Mobekk was found dead yesterday, killed by an unknown person. Karl Gunnar is on the loose. Is it conceivable … that Karl Gunnar may have a score to settle with Carsten Mobekk?’

‘What could it be? Carsten, like all of us, did only what he could to help him and his sisters. No, Veum, that is too far-fetched!’

‘The others on the committee … Wenche Torvaldsen is dead. What about
frøken
Vefring?’

He gave a weary smile. ‘She’s alive. But she must be over eighty now. She was the oldest of us at the time the committee formed. At least twenty years older than many of us. Sometimes she behaved as if she were our mother!’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, she wanted to be in charge and have the final say and did not always agree with everything we did.’

‘Such as when?’

‘Well, I can’t give you any examples. But in general terms. If you ask me she was a bit gaga at the end.’

‘You aren’t in touch any more?’

‘No. Not since the committee was wound up.’

‘When was that in fact?’

‘Well, five, six, perhaps seven years ago. In a way, our job had been done.’

‘With varying degrees of success.’

‘That’s for others to judge.’

‘Have you ever wondered how things would have been if social services had got their way that time, in 1978? Whether Karl Gunnar and Margrethe might have been better off?’

His eyes darkened. ‘What use is it crying over spilt milk? What’s done is done, as they say.’

‘Well …’ I got to my feet. ‘I’ll say my farewells. Thank you for the coffee and biscuits.’ At the door I turned. ‘Have you got a car, Rødberg?’

He studied me with surprise. ‘Certainly not! I don’t even have a licence.’

‘Right. What about Mobekk and Torvaldsen?’

‘Yes, of course. They both have cars.’

‘Has either of them got a black car?’

‘A black …? I have no idea. I know nothing at all about cars.’

‘Not even colours?’

‘They change cars so often it’s impossible to keep up. Why on earth are you interested?’

‘Well,’ I shrugged, and smiled. ‘I was only wondering.’

A couple of minutes later I was in my car and starting up; I didn’t have far to go. Past the old tram turnaround, up to the crossing by Wergeland and thence to Bendixens vei. Passing Falsens vei, I noticed that uniformed police officers were performing what looked remarkably like a door-to-door search. I could, of course, have offered them my assistance, but I held back. I had the feeling my offer would not have been received with warmth.

BOOK: Cold Hearts
10.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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