Authors: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Carl raised his eyebrows. He really needed to read through the damn case documents himself.
‘Did the police find the letter, Assad?’
He shook his head.
Carl turned back to their host. ‘Does this Helle Andersen live near by?’
‘No, in Holtug on the other side of Gjorslev. But she’ll actually be here in ten minutes.’
‘Yes, my husband is ill.’ He looked down at the floor. ‘Very ill. So she comes over to help out.’
Fortune smiles on the clueless, thought Carl, and then asked if they might have a tour of the house.
It turned out to be an odyssey in quirky furniture and huge gilded frames. The obligatory amassing of things from a life spent working in an auction house. But the kitchen had been completely remodelled; all the walls painted and the floors refinished. If there was anything left from when Merete Lynggaard lived in the house, it could only be the silverfish skittering about on the dark floor of the bathroom.
‘That Uffe, he was so sweet.’ A stocky face with dark circles under her eyes and ruddy, plump cheeks were Helle Andersen’s trademarks. The rest of her was covered by a light blue smock in a size that was unlikely to be found in the local clothes shop. ‘It was crazy to think that he would do anything to hurt his sister, and that’s what I told the police. That they couldn’t have been more wrong.’
‘But witnesses saw him hit his sister,’ said Carl.
‘He could get a bit wild at times. But he didn’t mean anything by it.’
‘But he’s a big, strong man. Maybe he happened to push her into the water by accident.’
Helle Andersen rolled her eyes. ‘Impossible. Uffe was the epitome of gentleness. Sometimes he’d get so upset about something that it would make me upset too, but not very often.’
‘You cooked for him?’
‘I took care of all sorts of things. So that everything would be nice and neat when Merete came home.’
‘And you didn’t see her very often?’
‘Once in a while.’
‘But not on any of the days right before she died?’
‘Oh yes. There was one evening when I took care of Uffe. But then he got so upset, like I said before, that I called Merete to say she had to come home. And she did. He was really in a bad way that time.’
‘Did anything out of the ordinary happen that evening?’
‘Only the fact that Merete didn’t come home at six o’clock like she usually did. Uffe didn’t like that. He couldn’t understand it was something we’d already talked about and arranged.’
‘But she was a member of parliament. Surely this must have been a frequent occurrence?’
‘No, not really. Only once in a while, if she had to take a trip. And then it was only for a night or two.’
‘So she’d been out travelling on that evening?’
At that point Assad shook his head. It was damned annoying, how much he knew.
‘No, she’d gone out to eat,’ said Helle.
‘I see. Who did she eat with? Do you know?’
‘No, nobody knows.’
‘Is that also in the report, Assad?’
He nodded. ‘Søs Norup, the new secretary, saw Merete write down the name of the restaurant in her diary. And someone inside the restaurant remembered that he saw her there. Just not with who.’
There was clearly a lot that Carl needed to study in that report.
‘What was the name of the restaurant, Assad?’
‘I think it was called Café Bankeråt. Could that be right?’
Carl turned back to the home help. ‘Do you know if Merete was on a date? Was she out with a boyfriend?’
A dimple an inch deep appeared in the woman’s cheek. ‘She might have been. But she didn’t say anything about it to me.’
‘And she didn’t mention anything when she came home? After you called her, I mean?’
‘No, I left. Uffe was so upset.’
They heard a clattering sound, and the present owner of the house came into the room wearing an expression of pathos, as if the tea tray he was carrying contained all the secrets of gastronomy. ‘Homemade,’ was his only remark as he placed several small pudding-like cakes on silver plates in front of them.
They stirred memories from a lost childhood. Not good memories, but memories all the same.
Their host handed out the cakes, and Assad demonstrated immediately that he appreciated the offering.
‘Helle, it says in the report that someone gave you a letter the day before Merete Lynggaard disappeared. Can you describe it in more detail?’ Her statement was undoubtedly included in the report, but she was just going to have to repeat what she’d already said.
‘It was a yellow envelope, and the paper was almost like parchment.’
‘How big was it?’
She showed them with her hands. Apparently an A5.
‘Was anything on the envelope? A stamp or a name?’
‘So who brought it over? Did you know the person?’
‘No, I didn’t. The doorbell rang, and a man was standing outside. He handed me the envelope.’
‘That’s a bit strange, don’t you think? Normally letters come with the post.’
She gave him a little, confidential nudge. ‘We do have a postman. But this was later in the day. It was actually right in the middle of the news on the radio.’
She nodded. ‘He just handed me the envelope, and then he left.’
‘Didn’t he say anything?’
‘Yes, he said that it was for Merete Lynggaard. That was all.’
‘Why didn’t he put it in the letter box?’
‘I think it was urgent. Maybe he was afraid that she wouldn’t see it as soon as she came home.’
‘But Merete must have known who brought the letter. What did she say about it?’
‘I don’t know. I had left by the time she came home.’
Assad nodded again. So that too was in the report.
Carl gave his assistant a professional look, which meant: It’s standard procedure to ask these types of questions multiple times. Let him chew on that for a while.
‘I thought that Uffe couldn’t be left at home alone,’ he then interjected.
‘Oh yes, he could,’ she replied, her eyes shining. ‘Just not late at night.’
At that point Carl wished he was back at his desk in the basement. He’d spent years having to drag information out of people, and by now his arms were feeling very tired. A couple more questions and then they had to be on their way. The Lynggaard case was obviously hopeless. She’d fallen overboard. Things like that happened.
‘And it might have been too late if I hadn’t put the envelope where she’d find it,’ said the woman.
He saw how her eyes shifted away for a moment. Not towards the little pudding cakes. Away. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, she died the next day, didn’t she?’
‘That wasn’t what you were just thinking about, was it?’
Seated next to Carl, Assad put his cake down on the table. Strangely enough, he’d also noticed her evasive manoeuvre.
‘You were thinking about something else. I can tell. What did you mean, that it might have been too late?’
‘Just what I said. That she died the next day.’
He looked up at the cake-happy host. ‘Would you mind if I spoke to Helle Andersen in private?’
The man didn’t look pleased, and Helle Andersen didn’t either. She smoothed out her smock, but the damage was done.
‘Tell me, Helle,’ Carl said, leaning towards her after the antique dealer had left the room. ‘If you know anything at all that you’ve been keeping to yourself, now is the time to tell me. Do you understand?’
‘There wasn’t anything else.’
‘Do you have children?’
The corners of her mouth drooped. What did that have to do with the case?
‘OK. You opened the envelope, didn’t you?’
She jerked her head back in alarm. ‘Of course I didn’t.’
‘This is perjury, Helle Andersen. Your children are going to have to do without you for a while.’
For a stout country girl, she reacted with extraordinary speed. Her hands flew up to her mouth, her feet shot under the sofa, her entire abdomen was sucked in as she tried to create a safe distance between herself and the dangerous police animal. ‘I didn’t open it.’ The words flew out of her mouth. ‘I just held it up to the light.’
‘What did the letter say?’
Her eyebrows practically overlapped. ‘All it said was: “Have a nice trip to Berlin.” ’
‘Do you know what she was going to do in Berlin?’
‘It was just a fun trip with Uffe. They’d done it a couple of times before.’
‘Why was it so important to wish her a nice trip?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Who would have known about the trip, Helle? Merete lived a very private life with Uffe, as I understand it.’
She shrugged. ‘Maybe somebody at the Folketing. I don’t know.’
‘Wouldn’t they just send her an email?’
‘I really don’t know.’ She was obviously feeling pinned down. Maybe she was lying. Maybe she was just sensitive to pressure. ‘It might have been something from the council,’ she ventured. It was another blind alley.
‘So the letter said: “Have a nice trip to Berlin.” Anything else?’
‘Nothing else. Just that. Really.’
‘No. That was all.’
‘And the messenger, what did he look like?’
She hid her face in her hands for a moment. ‘All I noticed was that he was wearing a really nice overcoat,’ she said in a subdued voice.
‘You didn’t see anything else? That can’t be right.’
‘It’s true. He was taller than me, even though he was standing down on the step. And he was wearing a scarf. It was green. And it covered the lower half of his face. It was raining, so that was probably why. He also had a slight cold, or at least that’s how he sounded.’
‘Did he sneeze?’
‘No, he just sounded like he had a cold. Sniffled a bit, you know.’
‘What about his eyes? Blue or brown?’
‘I’m pretty sure they were blue. At least I think so. Maybe they were grey. But I’d recognize them, if I saw them again.’
‘How old was he?’
‘About my age, I think.’
As if that piece of information would help.
‘And how old are you?’
She gave Carl a slightly indignant look. ‘Not quite thirty-five,’ she replied, looking down at the floor.
‘What kind of car was he driving?’
‘He didn’t come by car, as far as I could tell. At least there wasn’t any car parked outside.’
‘You don’t think he
the whole way out here, do you?’
‘No, probably not.’
‘But you didn’t watch him leave?’
‘No. I needed to give Uffe something to eat. He always had lunch while I listened to the news programme on the radio.’
They talked about the letter as they drove. Assad didn’t know anything more about it. The police investigation had come to a dead end as far as it was concerned.
‘But why the hell was it so important to deliver such an unimportant message? What did it really mean? I could understand it if the message were from a woman friend and the letter was perfumed and came in a little envelope with flowers on it. But not in such an anonymous envelope and with no signature.’
‘I think that Helle, she does not know very much,’ Assad replied as they turned on to Bjælkerupvej, which was where Social Services for Stevns municipality was located.
Carl looked over at the buildings. It would have been nice to have a court order in his back pocket before going inside.
‘Stay here,’ he said to Assad, whose face virtually glowed with satisfaction.
Carl located the director’s office after making a few inquiries.
‘Yes, that’s right. Uffe Lynggaard received care from the Home Nursing Group,’ she said as Carl put his police badge back in his pocket. ‘But we’re a bit disorganized at the moment when it comes to archiving former cases. Municipal reforms, you know.’
So the woman seated opposite him knew nothing about the case. He’d have to talk to somebody else. Surely someone in the place had to remember Uffe Lynggaard and his sister. Just a tiny scrap of information could turn out to be valuable. Maybe someone had been to their house numerous times and had noticed something that might give him a lead.
‘Could I speak to the person who was responsible for his care back then?’
‘I’m afraid she’s retired now.’
‘Could you give me her name?’
‘No, I’m sorry. Only those of us who work here at City Hall can discuss former cases.’
‘But none of the employees know anything about Uffe Lynggaard, is that correct?’
‘Oh, I’m sure someone does. But, like I said, we’re not at liberty to discuss the case.’
‘I realize that it’s a matter of confidentiality, and I know that Uffe Lynggaard is not under state guardianship. But I didn’t drive all the way out here to go back home empty-handed. Could you let me see his case file?’
‘You know very well that I can’t let you do that. If you’d like to speak with our attorney, you’re welcome to do so. The files aren’t accessible right now, anyway. And Uffe Lynggaard no longer lives in this district.’
‘So the documents have been transferred to Frederikssund?’
‘I’m not at liberty to say.’
What a patronizing bitch.
Carl left her office and paused outside in the hallway for a moment, looking around. ‘Excuse me,’ he said to a woman who came walking towards him, seemingly too tired to put up much of a fight. He pulled out his police badge and introduced himself. ‘Could you possibly help me find out the name of the person who handled cases in Magleby ten years ago?’
‘Ask in there,’ said the woman, pointing to the office he had just exited.
So it was going to take a court order, paperwork, phone calls, waiting time, and more phone calls. He just didn’t have the energy for all that.
‘I’ll remember this the next time you need my help,’ he said to the woman, giving her a slight bow.
The last stop on their expedition was the Clinic for Spinal Cord Injuries in Hornbæk. ‘I’ll drive myself up there, Assad. Can you take the train home? I’ll drop you off in Køge. There’s an express train to the Central Station.’ Assad nodded, not looking terribly enthusiastic. Carl had no idea where the man lived. He’d have to ask him sometime.
He glanced at his odd companion. ‘We’ll start working on a different case tomorrow, Assad. This one is going nowhere.’ Not even that promise set off any fireworks in Assad’s face.