Authors: Quentin Bates
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Crime Fiction, #Noir
escaped suburbia as a teenager and spent a decade in Iceland, before returning to his English roots with an Icelandic family and turning to writing for a living.
is his fourth full-length novel featuring Sergeant Gunnhildur, who emerged from an intimate knowledge of Iceland, as well as a deep affection for and fascination with the country and its people.
Also by Quentin Bates
Chilled to the Bone
Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP
First published by C&R Crime,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2014
Copyright © Quentin Bates, 2014
The right of Quentin Bates to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication data is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-1-47211-544-7 (ebook)
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Printed and bound in the UK
Cover copyright © Constable & Robinson
For Sacha and Cathy
with grateful thanks for the essential maintenance
Many thanks to those good people who cheerfully answer awkward and obscure questions. You all know who you are.
Soft feet made no sound on the track leading through the trees. The two men said nothing to each other, communicating instead with pointing fingers, lifted eyebrows and nods. The taller one of the two went ahead, spying out the route and watching their objective while the stockier man came behind and watched the other’s back, looking into the distance to see if they had been observed and occasionally looking behind to check for anyone following.
Summer was still a few months away and most of the chalets were empty, boarded up and mothballed for winter. Beneath the bare branches of the trees that surrounded it a warm light illuminated the windows of one chalet and tendrils of woodsmoke drifted upwards, twisting and disappearing in the evening breeze while their smell carried downwind to where two figures in dark clothing left their car tucked away out of sight of the road.
They stopped in front of the chalet as darkness fell, and listened before moving closer and crouching on the veranda each side of the door. The stocky man looked questioningly at the other, who nodded back. Gradually, the tall man lifted his head to peer through the glass of the door, quickly dropping back down and grinning. He pulled at his woollen hat, rolling it down over his face to leave only eyes and mouth visible in the firelight flickering inside, and pointed at the window with a wink.
The stocky man covered his face with a scarf and stood up next to the window. He leaned cautiously to bring one eye in line with the glass and looked inside. He stepped back out of sight and the tall man could see the laughter in his eyes. He pointed to the door questioningly and the shorter man nodded.
He took a hammer from the pack on his back, a sledgehammer with the handle cut off short to make it easily portable. He lifted it, feeling its weight. The tall man took a pistol from the pocket of his camouflage jacket, and although he had checked it only a few minutes earlier, he checked it again.
They took up stations each side of the door, the gunman on the handle side, his broad-shouldered companion opposite him with the hammer ready for a two-handed grip to smash the door inwards in case it should turn out to be locked. The tall man held up four fingers and they counted silently together.
Four, three, two, one, and the gunman pushed the door handle down and stepped into the doorway with the pistol raised, knees bent and feet spread in a fighting stance. His colleague dropped the hammer there had been no need for and stepped inside the room behind him, a pistol now in his hand as the two of them took in the scene in front of them.
The brightness of the girl’s white socks, the only thing she was wearing other than a gold chain, stood out against her tanned skin. She stared at them first in confusion, then anger and finally in terror as she screeched at the sight of the weapons trained on them. She scrambled to her feet, trying to cover herself with her hands while the man she had until a moment before been enthusiastically straddling looked dazed, his hands straying instinctively to his wilting erection.
‘Who . . . ? Who the hell are you?’
The stocky man took two rapid steps and grabbed a handful of the girl’s abundant black hair close to her scalp, pulling her head to one side and forcing her down.
‘Quiet,’ he ordered, and she whimpered as he pushed her to her knees, holding her head still where she could not avoid watching.
The man on the floor did his best to scuttle backwards across the thick rug. ‘What do you want?’ His voice quavered thin and high. ‘Look, I have money. How much do you want?’
The taller of the pair took two rapid steps forward, aimed and fired a single shot that caught his target squarely in the throat. A second shot punched a neat hole in the man’s forehead and he dropped back to the floor, his head against the base of the iron stove, and the smell of singed hair immediately began to fill the room. It had all taken no more than a few seconds.
The tall man stepped forward and kicked his victim’s head clear of the stove, noticing that the sparse hair had already been burned off where it had landed against the metal. He looked at his colleague, who nodded in approval, still holding the girl who was staring at the corpse in shock, hands limp by her sides as she no longer tried to cover herself. He let go of her hair and she dropped to the floor. The stocky man jerked his head towards her questioningly and the tall man shook his head, eyes narrowed in disapproval.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Leave no traces. Just a witness.’
He leaned down and grabbed the girl’s wrist, pulling her back to her feet while his colleague whistled his admiration at the slim hips, long legs and supermodel breasts.
‘Please don’t hurt me. I’ve seen nothing,’ she said, her voice choking.
‘Little girl, you’ve seen everything,’ the stocky man said.
‘I won’t say anything. Believe me, I won’t say a word.’
‘Don’t you get it?’ Lines formed around the tall man’s eyes as his face crinkled into a grin behind the scarf. ‘You don’t understand, darling. You can tell them whatever you like.’
Gunna stretched her hands high above her head, arching her back as the yawn threatened to lock her jaw in position and Steini took the opportunity to shoot an arm under her back and squeeze as she relaxed into the sofa.
‘Have I missed anything?’
‘An American comedy with canned laughter and no jokes, and a British cookery programme in which the chef didn’t even manage to fillet a haddock properly, so the answer to your question is no.’
The credits on the TV rolled and this time Steini yawned.
‘It must be catching. Where are the kids?’
‘Laufey went to see Drífa and promised to be back before ten, and as the news is just about to start, I’d say that’s a promise about to be broken.’
The titles of the late evening news began as the outside door banged.
Gunna lifted her feet onto the sofa and leaned against Steini’s shoulder. ‘I’d say that promise may well have been kept, this time, and only just,’ she said as the grey-haired newsreader appeared on screen looking more serious than usual as the opening sequence showed a view through trees swaying in the wind.
‘Suspicious death in Borgarfjördur, police are at the scene,’ the newsreader intoned as the picture flashed to a light aircraft soaring into the sky. ‘Reykjavík city council faces uproar over airport plans. Questions continue to be raised regarding IceLine’s bankruptcy as eighty jobs are lost in Iceland, London and Singapore,’ the newsreader said in a flat voice as a street scene from somewhere in Asia appeared.
The door burst open and Laufey appeared, puffing with exertion. ‘I’m not late, am I? I said I’d be back by ten.’
‘Shhh,’ Gunna said, sitting up and with her attention on the screen as it returned to the story with footage of a secluded summer house clearly taken from some distance away and with blue flashing lights casting shadows between the trees.
‘A forty-year-old man was found dead at a summer chalet earlier today,’ the newsreader said in a suitably sombre tone. ‘Police have not identified the deceased and have issued no details beyond stating that they are seeking the driver and passenger of a grey Audi A5.’
The camera cut away to a bearded police officer under an umbrella that raindrops dripped from as he spoke. Gunna could see a familiar barrel-chested figure in the background, a phone at his ear.
‘Know anything about this, Mum?’ Laufey asked.
‘Nope. I’ve been on leave for a week, and I haven’t heard anything. If it was anything to do with me, I guess Ívar Laxdal would have called by now,’ she said and looked at Steini with pursed lips as her phone began to buzz. ‘Speak of the devil,’ she added.
With her fingers encased in mittens encrusted with clinging snow, making them more clumsy than usual, Gunna fumbled with the rifle in her hands. It was an old-fashioned bolt-action weapon and although she had never fired one before, she instinctively knew what to do. There were only three cartridges. One was in the rifle’s breech and the safety catch was off. Another was in her hand, safely inside the mitten to be sure of not losing it, the last one tucked away inside layers of clothing. They were precious and she knew that every one would be needed.
The house was an old one. It looked forlorn and abandoned from her position on the bank above it. The door hung half open and broken, the interior of the old place in deep darkness. Sharp grains of snow carried by the wind stung Gunna’s face as she watched intently, her attention fixed on the door. The snow around it had been churned up, streaked with black and red, raked with prints.
Gradually her attention on the door relaxed as she felt she herself was being watched. There was no sound other than the whisper of wind that tugged at the ripped curtain hanging on the smashed door. She looked around and then quickly back at the door, waiting for movement, not knowing if it would come from inside or out.
When it came, it took her by surprise, and from behind. A rushing sound and a sharp animal smell made her look over her shoulder in alarm and she rolled over to aim the rifle, hoping to be fast enough. The animal seemed on top of her, a vast dirty-white presence that appeared in front of her face, and she knew already that she was too late to bring the rifle to bear. She could see the calmness in its eyes as it grunted and felt the animal’s raw power as a paw as big as her head and set with claws swung towards her.
Gunna sat bolt upright, her eyes wide open with the vision of the bear in front of her until it faded. The room was dark, with only a narrow strip of weak light coming under the door. She breathed deeply, the dream still vivid, and pushed hair damp with sweat from her face.
‘What’s the matter?’ Steini mumbled, stretching out a hand from under the duvet to rest it on her thigh. ‘You all right?’
‘Yeah. Bad dream, that’s all.’
‘Reckon you can get back to sleep?’
‘Hope so,’ Gunna said, lying back on the pillow as she tried to convince herself that the dream, in utterly convincing technicolour, even down to the animal’s piercing reek, had been nothing but her imagination playing tricks. She knew it would be hopeless trying to get back to sleep and she could feel her heart still racing while Steini’s steady breathing told her that he was having no such problems.
Gunna swung her legs out of bed, eased open the door and slipped into the kitchen.