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Authors: Elsebeth Egholm

Life and Limb

BOOK: Life and Limb
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LIFE AND LIMB

Elsebeth Egholm is an author and journalist who lives in Jutland, Denmark. She is the author of ten novels and first introduced Danish readers to journalist Dicte Svendsen in 2002 with
Hidden Errors. Life and Limb
, which also features Dicte, was first published in English in 2011.

T
here is no beauty in death, but there can be mitigating circumstances.

Such as now, with the sun shining on the funeral and a blackbird singing from the top of a birch tree.

Dicte Svendsen listened to the bird above them and to the leaves rustling in the wind. Then she heard the sound of soil hitting Dorothea Svensson's mahogany coffin with its polished brass handles, and she missed Bo. She could deal with a funeral on her own, of course; after all, it wasn't
her
mother lying in the box. Nevertheless, something was missing – an arm around her shoulder, a hand stroking the back of her neck. She didn't need much more, but he had a good excuse not to be there: it was the last match of the season at Aarhus Stadium and AGF Aarhus were playing HIK Copenhagen in front of more than 17,000 spectators. That was something, and it was more important than funerals – at least if you were a freelance photographer and in need of a weekend top-up fee.

Dicte scanned the circle of people around the open grave, where the priest now stood with his hands folded.

‘Our Father, who art in heaven…'

Ida Marie's eyes were red and swollen – swimming in tears – even though Dorothea had been anything but a model mother. In one hand Ida Marie was holding four-year-old Martin and in the other a couple of long-stemmed red roses. Her husband, John Wagner, stood with an arm around her waist.

Dicte speculated briefly on how the investigation into the murder of an eighteen-year-old Hadsten girl was going; the crime had made the headlines in today's newspapers and one of the articles had been hers. But the policeman was here in a private capacity and she would refrain from asking him; she would wait and ring him at work.

Wagner's son, fourteen-year-old Alexander, stood at his side, his teenage eyes distant. Anne and Anders were there too, having just returned from Greenland with their son, Jacob. This family stood huddled together as well, and that was how it was: they all seemed to be standing in clusters, as though that could protect them from the death down below in the coffin. Everyone except her. Around her there was space; she was in an invisible but familiar bubble.

Dicte heard steps behind her but didn't manage to turn before he was there, filling the vacuum.

‘Something's happened at the stadium,' Bo whispered in her ear.

The priest intoned, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us.'

‘Just in time for the absolution,' Bo said under his breath.

The priest looked up and sent him a sharp glare.

‘The stadium,' she whispered back, too low for the priest's hearing. ‘You've just come from there, haven't you?'

‘Don't think this has anything to do with the match,' Bo mumbled into her hair.

Then the Lord's Prayer was over and it was time for the family to step forward, toss their flowers and say their final farewells. She and Bo stood back to let the relatives through. He put an arm around her and she suddenly remembered it had been a long time since they had been together, in bed or otherwise. It wasn't for lack of affection; it was just that work had them in its grip, as it did with so many others, and her new job as chief crime editor was taking its toll.

‘They were on the radio pissing themselves with excitement. A body has been found in the car park out by Aarhus Stadium. I heard that only a couple of minutes ago.'

Bo liked listening into the police frequency.

‘Perhaps it's a druggie,' Dicte suggested.

They both knew that occasionally the bodies of drug addicts turned up in public places such as toilets and underground car parks. It was sad but not generally something that made the headlines – unless it was known that particularly dangerous drugs were hitting the streets.

‘Not with all that fuss,' said Bo. ‘You'd think someone had found our Social Democrat mayor dead in the Conservative leader's car sporting high heels and handcuffs.'

Bo didn't have a lot of time for politicians. Or, for that matter, anyone in public office – especially the police.

Something beeped. Everyone looked up. Ida Marie had just thrown her rose, and Martin was standing with his flower in his hand, concentrating, but he clearly couldn't bring himself to let go.

John Wagner took out his pager and stepped aside. While the family was paying its last respects to Dorothea Svensson, Dicte could see Wagner tapping in a number on his mobile phone. Bo angled his head towards Ida Marie's detective husband.

‘I'll eat my Stetson if he hasn't been called to the stadium.'

‘He's here for his mother-in-law's funeral.'

‘Makes no difference. He'll be off any minute. Perhaps we should hop it, too?'

‘We're eating at Varna Palace afterwards.'

‘Just half an hour,' Bo wheedled. ‘No one'll notice.'

While Bo was talking she could see Wagner's face becoming very serious as he listened to the phone. Dicte was ashamed to admit that her curiosity was aroused, but Bo's information and Wagner's pager had sent her pulse racing in a way that Dorothea Svensson's funeral had failed to do.

Wagner concluded his conversation and took Ida Marie aside. His body language conveyed his concern for her as he told her something that at first evoked bewilderment and then a brave nod. Dicte caught his eye before he turned and went to the parking lot, but his look was neutral and signalled nothing more than friendly distance. That was what made up her mind.

The groups began to dissolve and trickle away from the cemetery. Dicte went over to give Ida Marie a hug but Anne and Anders had beaten her to it, and soon there was a queue. She glanced at Bo.

‘Okay,' she said and motioned towards the car park. ‘Half an hour. No more.'

‘No one'll notice,' Bo promised her again as he now beamed broadly. ‘We'll be in Varna before you can count to a hundred.'

‘And I'm the Queen of Sheba,' she said, following him to the car.

It was chaos at the stadium – also known as NRGI Park – with fans dressed in blue and white still streaming out after another humiliating defeat for the home team. There should have been a goal-fest to celebrate their promotion to the Super League but, as Bo explained, the players' minds were on their holidays, and the match had ended in a 1–3 defeat to HIK. There was therefore a certain irony in the trendiest T-shirt of the day bearing the Aarhusian legend: ‘Shut yer gobs, we're back.' The T-shirt sellers must have been cooling their feet for a whole year before they were able to send this slogan onto the streets and signal that their quarantine in the so-called first division was over. Today the words must have felt bittersweet.

Apart from the community-support police drafted in to direct the many thousands of spectators from the car parks, there were other uniformed officers. The local constabulary was there; three patrol cars with flashing lights, and the morgue van. An old, superannuated ambulance was also there, like a vulture in the middle of an African savannah ready to pick at a carcass. Next to the other vehicles, left of the entrance to the red building, was Wagner's black Passat. Dicte and Bo could only watch. Red-and-white striped tape already cordoned off the area, and they had to park on the other side of the stadium and walk over, waving their press ID cards like there was no tomorrow. For all the good that did: they didn't get past the tape.

‘Are you from
Aarhus Stiftstidende
? Do you want to know what happened?'

A small group of swaying football fans sporting blue-and-white scarves and T-shirts supporting ‘The Whites' – and in what seemed to be a blissfully inebriated state tinged with disappointment at the day's result – approached them.

‘Can you tell us anything?' Dicte asked, again flashing the magical press card, which may not have worked on the police by the cordon but could still be used to impress drunken AGF fans.

‘Carsten's wife and his daughter found her,' gasped a young man in his twenties with a beer gut, brandishing a green can.

‘Who's Carsten?'

‘Carsten Jensen. There he is!' the man shouted, using his head to indicate someone in the crowd. ‘They've bloody kept the wife. She's gonna be questioned.'

‘What did Carsten's wife find?' Bo asked.

Red eyes focused with difficulty on Bo.

‘The body, of course, man, what else? In the car park.'

Somehow Dicte and Bo identified Carsten and his daughter, a girl of around eleven, standing together with a cluster of other young fans, talking and gesticulating. They crossed through the crowd. Dicte noticed that, for the moment, they were the only people to have turned up from the press. That would make things a bit easier – perhaps.

They introduced themselves, and the girl looked at the camera hanging from a strap around Bo's neck with evident envy.

‘Wow, that's cool. I want to be a photographer, too,' she said. ‘But I have to pay for my own camera.' She pouted.

‘I suppose you've got a mobile phone,' Bo said, indulging her. ‘One that can take good pictures. Can't you practise with that?'

The girl nodded. Bo coaxed her away from the others and let her hold his camera, showing her some photos of the football match. Dicte could see where he was heading.

‘Did you use your phone in the car park? So that your friends could see what you found?'

The girl stared at her. Then she nodded to Bo, who always had a way with women.

‘If you're going to be a photographer you need to practise,' he said. ‘Why don't you show us the photos? You might be able to earn a bit towards a camera.'

The girl looked over to her father, who was caught up in a conversation. She hesitated.

‘They aren't photos,' she said. ‘It's a film. I thought I might win a competition with it.'

‘So you haven't told the police?' Dicte enquired.

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

‘They didn't ask. They wanted to talk to my mum. We left before the final whistle because they were playing so badly, and I needed to go to the toilet.'

Bo rummaged through his pocket, but he had no change and raised an eybrow at Dicte. She took out a 200-kroner note from her purse and looked at the girl. No one would take such a young girl seriously, especially not if her mother was present and she could be questioned about the same incident.

‘Okay, let's see what you've got.'

The girl clicked on the film icon.

‘We've got a competition at school. We have to make a film on our mobiles during summer holidays, and it can only last a minute.'

At last the film began to run. The girl gave a running commentary, like a voiceover to a documentary.

‘It was so disgusting. She lay there like one of those rag dolls, and she didn't have any eyes.'

An earlier generation of teenagers might have gone into shock and needed counselling, Dicte thought. But kids nowadays were so thick skinned.

Bo used his hand to shield the display from the sun so that they could see the film. Indeed there was a body: it was a young woman with hair cascading down to her shoulders. She was wearing jeans and a pink T-shirt with ‘I Love U' written on it in what looked like sequins over a glittering silver heart. She sat propped up next to a car, and the words ‘rag doll' fit perfectly. The girl seemed to be held together by skin and hair alone, as if someone had removed the skeleton that was supposed to take her weight and keep her upright. Even on the tiny screen they could see the eye sockets staring back at them – dark, bottomless holes. On the left of the camera there were two denim legs that must have belonged to the mother.

‘What's that?' Bo asked.

‘What?'

‘Is it a shadow? A tree?'

Bo pointed. He gently took the phone off the girl and played the film again. Dicte screwed up her eyes.

‘There!'

At first she couldn't see what he meant. Then all of a sudden she did: it was a shadow, and it moved in the sunlight across the vehicle and the body and the car park.

‘It must be the last car in the row,' Dicte said. ‘Behind there's just the woods. Trees.'

‘But is it a tree?' Bo asked, playing the sequence again.

Dicte shook her head. Even with the best will in the world it could not have been a tree – unless it was one of the livelier varieties, the ones that could walk.

Bo froze the frame and Dicte's eyes followed the shadow between the trees.

‘Boots,' Bo muttered. ‘Fucking boots.'

He was right. The shadow between the trees stopped, and they could just make out a pair of heavy black boots. The rest of the man was hidden in the shadow.

‘He's been caught napping,' said Dicte with a sudden realisation, and her body reacted with a shudder. ‘He didn't expect anyone to come before the match was over. He was watching the whole thing.'

She said this because while Bo replayed the film it became more and more obvious that the shadow that fell over the last parked car and the woman without eyes was that of a man at the edge of the woods.

BOOK: Life and Limb
6.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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