Read The House That Jack Built Online

Authors: Jakob Melander

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery

The House That Jack Built

The
House
That
Jack
Built

A Lars Winkler Novel

Jakob Melander

Translated by Paul Russell Garrett

Copyright © 2014 Jakob Melander and Rosinante & Co., Copenhagen, Denmark.

Translation copyright © 2014 Paul Russell Garrett

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Distribution of this electronic edition via the Internet or any other means
without the permission of the publisher is illegal. Please do not participate in electronic
piracy of copyrighted material; purchase only authorized electronic editions. We appreciate
your support of the author's rights.

First published in Denmark as
Øjesten
in 2013 by Rosinante & Co.

Published by agreement with Gyldendal Group Agency

This edition published in 2014 by
House of Anansi Press Inc.
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801
Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4
Tel. 416-363-4343
Fax 416-363-1017
www.houseofanansi.com

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Melander, Jakob, 1965–
[Øjesten.  English]
          The house that Jack built / Jakob Melander ; translated by
Paul Russell Garrett.

Translation of: Øjesten.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-77089-439-6 (pbk.). — ISBN 978-1-77089-440-2 (html)

I. Title.  II. Title: Øjesten.  English.

PT8177.23.E53O5413 2014         839.81'38         C2013-907029-X
C2013-907030-3

Jacket design: UNO Advertising Agency, Munich

We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program
the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada
through the Canada Book Fund.

The
House
That
Jack
Built

May 1953

T
he wind tears
through Øresund, whipping the waves into foam. The sun hangs low and red, with streaks of purple cloud on the horizon over the island of Amager. A flock of herring gulls squawks in the updraft. They circle above a carcass floating in the water, rising and falling in time with the sea. The first gull alights, tearing a chunk of white flesh from the body's swollen stomach; a second quickly follows suit.

On the chilly spring evening, a troop of Scouts scales the earthworks surrounding Charlottenlund Fort, marching single file up the grassy slopes. The young boys' knees are knocking, blue with cold. They walk bent forward, bracing themselves against the chill, and disappear behind the cannon batteries only to re-emerge farther ahead, halfway across the embankment, heading toward Strandvejen and the forest surrounding Charlottenlund Castle.

A tall, bony boy brings up the rear, scrambling after the others. He gasps for air in the strong wind. The distance between him and the other boys is growing.

They're singing up ahead. The wind breaks up the voices, throwing snatches back in his face.

Fatty and skinny went for a run

They'd only just begun when Fatty's zipper sprung

Skinny took a whirl — and kissed every girl

In the end he got so out of hand

He kissed Popeye the Sailor Man

Skinny, skinny, run for your life —

Here comes Fatty with a butcher's knife

Skinny, skinny, run for your life —

Here comes Fatty with a butcher's knife

The boys cross Strandvejen in a coiling line, then vanish between the trees on the other side. The lone straggler has to wait for a northbound convertible to pass. A blonde girl in the passenger seat smiles at him. Then she's gone and he can cross.

The echo of the boys' voices still resonates among the trees.

Skinny, Skinny, run for your life —

When he's in the forest, he starts walking faster, almost jogging. His rucksack bounces up and down, the cold metal frame banging into his kidneys. Soon, the only sounds are the wind singing in the treetops and his hoarse breathing. His heart pumps double beats. The trees spin before his eyes. A tree root stretches out, grabs his foot, and sends him plunging down to the forest floor. The gnarled branches reach out, catch him. His mouth is full of soil and rotting leaves; he cannot scream. Instead, he extends his arms in a silent cry for help.

Suddenly it's over. He's lying on the forest floor, gasping for air, moaning and spitting dirt and leaves. Alone in the twilight. Then the treetops begin to sing steadily louder. He sits up, wraps his hands around his legs, and buries his face in between his knees. His small shoulders tremble.

Then the voices reach him.

They ride the wind, howling with its every twist and turn, rising and falling in a slowly turning cadence as night overtakes the gentle twilight. He doesn't know how long it continues, the furious onslaught of voices. All he knows is that he has to succumb, allow the growing chorus to wash over him, and flounder in darkness and terror.

He's lying on his back, half-submerged in a pool of water, saliva around his mouth, his face completely covered in dirt. There is a wild look in his eyes when they find him, the men with their dogs and flashlights. They've been searching for him for hours. Didn't he hear them calling?

His grandfather takes him into his arms. Yes, he sobs into the neck of the large man with the familiar scent. The voices. He heard the voices.

One of the men walks around the clearing with his flashlight, roots around in the dirt with his foot. Say, he says, isn't this where the HIPOs caught that pilot —?

But Grandfather silences him with a gesture and a look. Grandfather's in charge, Grandfather always knows best.

And then they set off toward the house where Mother is waiting. His mother, who never speaks.

Saturday
June 14

Chapter 1

“G
unnar, come have
a look at this.”

There was excitement in Johannes's voice, and his small body trembled with anticipation. The boy was crouched down near the water, pointing at some dry residue hanging from a plant stem. It swayed in the gentle breeze.

The algae-filled water gurgled quietly at the edge of the sandy, overgrown bank. A light breeze sang through the treetops and branches overhanging the water. From the lake, a single gull followed the strange proceedings.

“Very good, Johannes. Come over here everyone, come see what Johannes has found.” Gunnar smiled to himself. Getting the job as park ranger at Amager Fælled had been his dream ever since he'd come here as a boy scout. Of course, getting up ridiculously early in the morning and leaving his girlfriend home in bed wasn't much fun. But this — this made it all worthwhile. The kids were spread out behind him, squatting down, completely absorbed.

Gunnar waited until the children had all gathered around him before continuing. “This is a nymph skin from a large, brown dragonfly, one of our largest insects. A dragonfly's transformation is incomplete. Meaning, they don't have a cocoon stage.” He looked around the circle to make sure everyone was following. The children were hanging on his every word. “They live as dragonfly nymphs in streams and ponds for up to three years. Then when they're old enough, starting here in May, June, and July, they crawl onto land and emerge from their nymph skins. Do you see those white fibres there? That's the nymph's respiratory system, which opens up in their final stage of development so that the dragonfly can emerge. They're called tracheoles —”

“But how do they move?” someone wanted to know.

“Well, they do have legs.” Gunnar laughed. The next part was always a big hit. “But when they really need to get moving in the water, they let out a gigantic fart and then shoot off. Their intestinal system works exactly like a jet engine.” He used his hand to show how quickly a dragonfly nymph could shoot across the water. The kids were about to fall over laughing. A couple of the girls pulled faces and whispered to each other.

Behind him, Ishmael pulled at his parka.

“Just a minute, Ishmael. I'm . . .”

The boy tugged at him again. “Gunnar, look. What is that?”

“Where?” He turned around.

“There.” The boy pointed further down the bank. Partly hidden behind a couple of bushes, right at the water's edge, something large and yellow was half-submerged in the dark, still water.

It was getting hot. He should take his parka off.

“I don't know, Ishmael. Let's take a look.”

With Gunnar in the lead, the children started walking down the bank. After a couple of steps, he stopped. Above them, a plane drew a white line across the blue sky.

“You'd better wait here, kids.”

She was lying on her back, naked, halfway up the bank, the lower half of her parted legs in the water. Her skin was waxy, yellow. Dry and lifeless wisps of black hair covered her face.

He hesitated, then stepped closer. A fly flew out of the dark hollow below her eyebrows, buzzed across the still water.

Behind him, one of the children started to cry.

Chapter 2

J
ohn Paul Jones's
falling bass line provided a gloomy backdrop for Jimmy Page's spine-tingling guitar work. The Fender bass and Telecaster guitar resounded in his head in that indescribably fantastic way that made music better than drugs and almost as good as sex. Led Zeppelin's entire first album was stored on the internal hard drive of his mind; it was only a matter of switching it on and off whenever he saw fit. The lyrics to “Dazed and Confused” had never felt more true than today. The soul of one woman, at least, really was created below.

“Hey, are you listening?” On the other side of the large, dark desk, Ulrik Sommer, Chief Inspector of the Copenhagen Police's Violent Crime Unit, was silhouetted against the enormous panoramic window. His face was one black surface — apart from the eyes. They were gleaming.

“Yes.” Detective Sergeant Lars Winkler rocked his almost 6'6", forty-four-year-old body back and forth on the balls of his feet, closed his eyes. The office smelled of linoleum, dust, and stale sweat.

Lars opened his eyes. Looking beyond the silhouette of his old friend, he gazed down Edvard Falcks Gade and over the treetops of Tivoli Gardens at the Star Flyer's towering spire and the Ferris wheel's gondolas. Beyond was the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel and to the right, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket museum's small oasis of a garden. It had rained overnight, leaving the city fresh and clean.

Ulrik had had this view for many years, and there was no reason it shouldn't remain so. But inside, in the room, everything had changed. Somewhere along the line he and Ulrik had passed a turning point.

But Ulrik didn't seem to understand that.

“Hm.” The chief inspector of Copenhagen's Violent Crime Unit rubbed his forehead, looked at his desk pad, and fiddled with the top button of his uniform. Then he cleared his throat. “Where did you go?”

Lars looked away, coughed. “I got on a plane to Athens, rented a car, and drove until I couldn't go any farther.”

“I see. And where was that?”

“Does it really matter?”

“Well, as a matter of fact . . .” Ulrik sighed. “I am your friend.”

“You wouldn't know it.” Lars looked away. He had to get out. Now. “All right. Kato Vasiliki. A little seaside resort for Greeks. Nothing to do. A hole.”

Ulrik appeared to be thinking. He was good at that. Appearing to be thinking. It was that ability more than anything else that had given him the extra star on his epaulettes. Then he smiled. It spread over his entire face.

“So everything's fine then.” Ulrik folded his hands on top of the desk. “I'm glad you had a nice vacation. If anyone around here deserved one, it was you.” He paused. “I'm prepared to let things continue as they were. I hope that . . . ”

Ulrik didn't look him in the eye when he spoke. Lars wasn't listening. It was strange, really; he hadn't realized before how much Ulrik looked like a weasel. The animal's mouth opened and closed, but no sound emerged. Lars tried to feel something, tried to find his anger. But it was gone. There was only a vast, empty hole.

The weasel's mouth moved, formed sounds, words.

“. . . and to show you that I'm serious, I've kept this for you: lead inspector on a murder investigation. It was called in to HQ half an hour ago. Out on Amager Commons.” The weasel passed a thin case file across the desk. Lars reached out to accept it. They brushed hands. Both looked away.

Ulrik got up, ran a hand down his uniform. “Welcome home. It's good to have you back.” He hesitated. Then he held out his hand. Lars moved the case file to his other hand, then shook Ulrik's outstretched hand.

“Hold on,” Ulrik said. “There's a girl from Kolding joining us. They say she's very bright. She's here to see how we do things in the big city. I thought you could keep an eye on her? You know, help her out a bit?” Ulrik looked at a piece of paper on his desk. “Bissen — Sanne Bissen.”

Lars scrunched up his eyes and sighed. Just what he needed. “I'll go down and get a car.”

Ulrik smiled. Probably out of relief.

Lars swung his jacket over his shoulder, opened the door, and turned around again. “The chief of homicide, is he in?”

Ulrik was just about to sit down again, but fell back into his chair, taken completely by surprise. “I think . . . isn't he off today?”

Lars left without answering, the door cutting off the rest of Ulrik's sentence.

He stood by the reception desk for a few seconds before pulling the envelope out of his jacket's inside pocket. Then he nodded at Ulrik's secretary who was in the middle of a long phone call and went over to the row of mail slots and placed it in the chief of homicide's slot.

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