Authors: Anne Holt
he black government car drew gently to a halt at the entrance to the royal residence in Asker, half an hour’s drive from central Oslo. A tall slim man in a dark suit opened the right-hand rear door before the vehicle was properly at a standstill, and alighted. Shrugging his coat more snugly around himself, he strode toward the entrance. Halfway, he staggered slightly, but only momentarily, and moved a foot to one side to recover his balance.
A uniformed man opened the door and led the Foreign Minister straight into a room resembling a library. In a subdued voice, the man asked the minister to wait. He had raised his eyebrows in surprise when the minister had dismissively waved away his outstretched hand, ready to take his outer garment. Now the tall, dark, ungainly Foreign Minister was sitting in an uncomfortable baroque chair, feeling that there was not enough room for him on it. He pulled his coat even more tightly around his frame, even though he didn’t feel cold.
The King was standing in the doorway, wearing everyday clothes: gray trousers and an open-necked shirt. He looked even more concerned than usual, and his eyes glinted restlessly behind the heavy eyelids that revealed only the lower part of the iris. He was unsmiling, and the Foreign Minister rose to his feet abruptly, holding out his hand.
“Unfortunately, I have extremely grave news, Your Majesty,” he said softly, coughing with his left hand clenched in front of his mouth.
The Queen had followed her husband, and stood a couple of meters inside the room, holding a glass containing something with ice cubes. There was a homely clinking sound as she entered, like an invitation to a pleasant evening. She was wearing denim jeans designed specially for older women, and a colorful sweater adorned with black and red cows. The professional expression on her face did not succeed in concealing a certain curiosity about the visit.
The Foreign Minister felt unwell. The royal couple seemed to be enjoying a rare evening of peace and quiet at home. On the other hand, other people too were having their evening spoiled.
He nodded toward the Queen before looking into the King’s eyes again as he continued. “Prime Minister Volter is dead, Your Majesty. She was shot earlier tonight.”
The royal couple exchanged glances, and the King rubbed his nose slowly. Both remained quiet for some time.
“I think the Foreign Minister should take a seat,” the King said eventually, pointing toward the chair the minister had just vacated. “Sit down and let us hear more. Perhaps I can take your coat?”
The Foreign Minister looked down at himself with an air that suggested he was not even aware he was wearing a coat. Clumsily, he extricated himself from it, but felt it was too much to hand it over to the King, so instead he hung it over the back of his chair before sitting down again.
The Queen’s hand touched his shoulder as she passed to sit in a chair several meters away; a comforting gesture from a woman who had discerned a hint of tears behind the Foreign Minister’s extremely thick glasses.
“Would you like a drink?” she asked softly, but the minister shook his head, almost imperceptibly, and cleared his throat once more, this time at length and with obvious difficulty.
“No, I don’t think so. This is going to be an exceptionally long night.”
OLE BRUMMS VEI
y sincere condolences,” the Bishop of Oslo said as he attempted to make eye contact with the man facing him.
It was impossible. Roy Hansen had been Birgitte Volter’s sweetheart for thirty-four years, and married to her for thirty-three of them. They had both been a mere eighteen when the wedding took place, and despite turbulent patches, they had weathered all storms and stayed together even while everyone around them was trying to prove that lifelong marriage couldn’t survive such an urbane, hectic environment. Birgitte was not only an important part of his life, in many ways she
his life, something he had regarded as a natural consequence of their joint decision to prioritize her career. Now he sat on the settee, staring at some non-existent place.
The Labor Party Secretary stood at the verandah door, appearing very uncomfortable in the Bishop’s presence. She had protested at his being there. “
the one who knows them,” she had said. “For God’s sake, Birgitte wasn’t even a member of the Church!”
But protocol required it, and protocol had to be followed. Especially now. When everything was crazy and upside down and the way nobody ever thought it could be, the dust was brushed off
the Crisis Management Handbook. Suddenly it became something new and different rather than simply a book lying in a drawer for when the thing that was never going to happen actually happened.
“I’d like you to leave,” whispered the man on the settee.
The Bishop looked disbelieving for a brief moment, but only for a second; he caught himself and recovered his ecclesiastical dignity.
“This is a very difficult time,” he continued in his east-Norwegian accent. “I have the greatest respect for your wish to be alone. Maybe there is someone else? Family, perhaps?”
Roy Hansen continued to stare at something the others could not see. He did not sob, his breathing was even and easy, but a silent stream of tears ran down from his pale blue eyes, a tiny rivulet he had long since given up wiping away.
“She can stay,” he said, without looking at the Party Secretary.
“Then I’ll withdraw,” the Bishop said, though he remained seated. “I shall pray for you and your family. And by all means phone if there’s anything I or anyone else can do for you.”
He still did not get to his feet. The Party Secretary stood at the door, keen to open it and hasten the man’s departure, but there was something about the situation that made her stand absolutely still. The minutes passed, and all that could be heard was the ticking of the oak-cased mantel clock. Suddenly it struck nine: ponderous, strained, hesitant strokes, as though it did not wish the evening to progress.
“Aha, then,” said the Bishop, with a heavy sigh. “I’ll be off.”
When at long last he had gone, and the Party Secretary had locked the door behind him, she returned to the living room. Roy Hansen looked at her for the first time; a bewildered look that turned into a grimace as he finally burst into tears in earnest. The Party Secretary sat down beside him, and he rested his head on her lap as he struggled to catch his breath.
“Someone will have to speak to Per,” he wept. “I don’t have the strength to tell Per.”
he liver was top quality. He held it up underneath his nose, letting his tongue just touch the pale slice of meat. The slaughterhouse at Torshov was the only one he could truly rely on as far as calf’s liver was concerned, and although it was situated out of his way, the detour was worth the trouble.
He had bought the truffles in France three days earlier. Normally he contented himself with canned ones, but when the opportunity presented itself – something that happened relatively often – there was nothing to compare with the fresh variety.
He had to do something about that doorbell. The sound was discordant and atonal, and startled him every time it rang.
He glanced at his wristwatch, and it crossed his mind that he was not expecting anyone. This was Friday, and the party was not until tomorrow.
En route to the front door, he suddenly stopped, remaining still for a split second, before walking resolutely across to the heavy oak coffee table and taking hold of the object lying there. Without further thought, he opened one of the sideboard doors decorated with grapes, and placed the item behind the table linen, underneath a tablecloth his great-great-grandmother had woven in the 1840s. He closed the door again and brushed his hands on his flannel trousers before striding out to see who was ringing the doorbell.
It was the woman who asked. She was in her forties, had three stripes on her shoulders and looked as though she enjoyed being
in uniform; it fitted well and suited the matronly bust he could discern underneath her buttoned jacket. However, it appeared that she was far from happy about the business in hand. Avoiding his gaze, she instead stared at a point ten centimeters above his head. At her side stood a somewhat younger man with glasses and a bushy, well-kept beard.
“Yes,” answered Benjamin Grinde, stepping aside as he held the door open in invitation to the two police officers.
They exchanged fleeting glances before deciding to follow the Supreme Court judge as he headed toward the living room.
“I expect you’ll tell me what this is about,” he said, using his palms to indicate the settee.
He himself sat down in a deep winged armchair. The police officers remained on their feet: the man stood behind the settee and fiddled in embarrassment with a seam in the leather, without raising his eyes.
“We would like you to accompany us to the police station,” the woman said, clearing her throat, obviously feeling increasingly ill at ease. “We, that is to say the attorneys at headquarters, would really appreciate it if you could come down for a … a chat, you might say.”
The voice emanated from the beard; the man straightened up now as he continued. “We would like to interview you.”
“Interview me? About what?”
“You’ll find that out when we get there. To the police station, I mean.”
Supreme Court Judge Benjamin Grinde gazed first at the woman and then at the man, before bursting into laughter. Muted, pleasant laughter. The situation seemed to amuse him enormously.
“I expect you know that I’m familiar with the rules here,” he chortled. “Strictly speaking, I don’t need to come with you at all. Of course I’m happy to be of service, but I do need to know what this is about.”
Then he stood up, and as if to emphasize his nonchalance, left them and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned immediately, carrying his cognac glass, and raised his glass to them with an elegant movement, as though he had already embarked on his birthday celebrations.
“I expect you probably don’t drink while on duty.” He smiled, sitting down slowly in his chair again after picking up a newspaper from the floor.
The female officer sneezed.
,” mumbled Benjamin Grinde, fumbling with the financial newspaper,
, in his hand. Oddly, its pink paper matched the room’s furnishings.
“I think you ought to come with us,” the woman said, clearing her throat again, this time with more assurance. “We have a warrant for your arrest, just in case.”
An arrest warrant?
For what, if I may be so bold?”
The newspaper was now back on the floor, and Grinde leaned forward in his seat.
“Honestly,” the female officer said, moving round to the front of the settee in order to sit down, “wouldn’t it be better if you just came with us? You said so yourself: you know how things work, and it will be such a shambles if we arrest you. The press, for example. Much better to come with us.”
“Let me see that warrant.”
His voice was cold, hard and incontestable.
The younger man fiddled with his jacket zipper and eventually withdrew a blue sheet from his inside pocket. Hesitant, he remained where he was as he glanced at his older colleague to find
out what he should do. She nodded faintly, and Benjamin Grinde was handed the form. He unfolded it, laid it on his knee and stroked the paper several times.
To top it all, they had used his full title: “Doctor of Law, Bachelor of Medicine, Supreme Court Judge Benjamin Grinde. Charged with violation of penal code section 233, c.f. penal code section 232, for the …”
When he read the basis and essential elements of the offense, he grew pale; his complexion turned completely gray behind the slight suntan, and as if by magic, a sheen of moisture covered his face.
“Is she dead?” he whispered to no one in particular. “Is Birgitte dead?”
The two police officers exchanged swift glances, knowing that they were both thinking exactly the same thing: either this man had no idea about what had taken place, or he ought to add “Actor by Royal Appointment” to his already incredibly impressive title.
“Yes. She is dead.”
It was the woman who replied, and for a moment she was afraid that Benjamin Grinde would faint. The color of his complexion was frightening, and if it had not been for his seemingly excellent health, she would have feared for his heart.
Benjamin Grinde was on his feet now, but his body seemed slumped. His shoulders were stooped, as on a bottle, and he had banged the cognac glass down on the table; the golden liquid sloshed around, twinkling in the light from the chandelier prisms above the dining table.
“We can’t tell you that, as you well know,” the woman responded, though her voice had softened, to the irritation of her colleague, who interrupted brusquely.
“Are you coming with us now, then?”
Without uttering a word in reply, Benjamin Grinde folded the blue sheet carefully and precisely before unhesitatingly placing it in his own pocket.
“Of course I’ll come with you,” he muttered. “There’s no need for any kind of arrest.”
Five patrol vehicles were parked outside the venerable old apartment block in Frogner. As he slipped into the rear seat of one of them, he spotted two police officers heading off up to his flat.
They were probably going to guard his apartment, he thought. Perhaps they were awaiting a search warrant. Then he fastened his seatbelt.
That was when he noticed that his hands were shaking, quite violently.
he phone had been ringing continually, and in the end she had pulled out the plug. It was Friday night, and she wanted some time off. Real time off. Honestly. She shuttled to and fro between her office and the Parliament Building every day, and wasn’t about to have a hard-earned Friday evening spoiled as well. Both her children were out, and though they were almost grown up, she hardly spoke to them at all. Right at this moment, that didn’t matter. She was exhausted and felt a bit under the weather, and had deliberately left her pager tucked away inside a clothes closet, even though, strictly speaking, she was meant to be contactable at all times. Half an hour ago, she had heard something come in on the fax machine in her bedroom, but she didn’t have the stamina to go and see what it was. Instead, she mixed herself a Campari with a little tonic and lots of ice cubes, propped her feet up on the coffee table and was on the point of searching for some kind of detective program among the
plethora of channels with which she had never managed to become entirely familiar.