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Redbreastby Jo Nesbo
Toll Barrier at Alnabru.
1 November 1999.
A grey bird glided in and out of Harrys field of vision. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Slow time. Somebody had been talking about ‘slow time on TV yesterday. This was slow time. Like on Christmas Eve before Father Christmas came. Or sitting in the electric chair before the current was turned on.
He drummed harder.
They were parked in the open area behind the ticket booths at the toll gate. Ellen turned up the radio a notch. The commentator spoke with reverence and solemnity.
‘The plane landed fifty minutes ago, and at exactly 6.38 a.m. the President set foot on Norwegian soil. He was welcomed by the Mayor of Ullensaker. It is a wonderful autumn day here in Oslo: a splendid Norwegian backdrop to this summit meeting. Let us hear again what the President said at the press conference half an hour ago.
It was the third time. Again Harry saw the screaming press corps thronging against the barrier. The men in grey suits on the other side, who made only a halfhearted attempt not to look like Secret Service agents, hunched their shoulders and then relaxed them as they scanned the crowd, checked for the twelfth time that their earpieces were correctly positioned, scanned the crowd, dwelled for a few seconds on a photographer whose telephoto lens was a little too long, continued scanning, checked for the thirteenth time that their earpieces were in position. Someone welcomed the President in English, everything went quiet. Then a scratching noise in a microphone.
‘First, let me say Im delighted to be here . . . the President said for the fourth time in husky, broad American-English.
‘I read that a well-known American psychologist thinks the President has an MPD, Ellen said.
‘Multiple Personality Disorder. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The psychologist thought his normal personality was not aware that the other one, the sex beast, was having relations with all these women. And that was why a Court of Impeachment couldnt accuse him of having lied under oath about it.
‘Jesus, Harry said, looking up at the helicopter hovering high above them.
On the radio, someone speaking with a Norwegian accent asked, ‘Mr President, this is the fourth visit to Norway by a sitting US President. How does it feel?
‘Its really nice to be back here. And I see it as even more important that the leaders of the state of Israel and of the Palestinian people can meet here. The key to —
‘Can you remember anything from your previous visit to Norway, Mr President?
‘Yes, of course. In todays talks I hope that we can —
‘What significance have Oslo and Norway had for world peace, Mr President?
‘Norway has played an important role.
A voice without a Norwegian accent: ‘What concrete results does the President consider to be realistic?
The recording was cut and someone from the studio took over.
‘We heard there the President saying that Norway has had a crucial role in . . . er, the Middle Eastern peace process. Right now the President is on his way to —
Harry groaned and switched off the radio. ‘What is it with this country, Ellen?
She shrugged her shoulders.
‘Passed Post 27, the walkie-talkie on the dashboard crackled.
He looked at her.
‘Everyone ready at their posts? he asked. She nodded.
‘Here we go, he said. She rolled her eyes. It was the fifth time he had said that since the procession set off from Gardemoen Airport. From where they were parked they could see the empty motorway stretch out from the toll barrier up towards Trosterud and Furuset. The blue light on the roof rotated sluggishly. Harry rolled down the car window to stick out his hand and remove a withered yellow leaf caught under the windscreen wiper.
‘A robin redbreast, Ellen said, pointing. ‘Rare to see one so late in autumn.
‘There. On the roof of the toll booth.
Harry lowered his head and peered through the windscreen.
‘Oh yes. So thats a robin redbreast?
‘Yep. But you probably cant tell the difference between that and a redwing, I imagine?
‘Right. Harry shaded his eyes. Was he becoming short-sighted?
‘Its a rare bird, the redbreast, Ellen said, screwing the top back on the thermos.
‘Is that a fact? Harry said.
‘Ninety per cent of them migrate south. A few take the risk, as it were, and stay here.
‘As it were?
Another crackle on the radio: ‘Post 62 to HQ. Theres an unmarked car parked by the road two hundred metres before the turn-off for Lørenskog.
A deep voice with a Bergen accent answered from HQ: ‘One moment, 62. Well look into it.
‘Did you check the toilets? Harry asked, nodding towards the Esso station.
‘Yes, the petrol station has been cleared of all customers and employees. Everyone except the boss. Weve locked him in his office.
‘Toll booths as well?
‘Done. Relax, Harry, all the checks have been done. Yes, the ones that stay do so in the hope that it will be a mild winter, right? That may be OK, but if theyre wrong, they die. So why not head south, just in case, you might be wondering. Are they just lazy, the birds that stay?
Harry looked in the mirror and saw the guards on either side of the railway bridge. Dressed in black with helmets and MP5 machine guns hanging around their necks. Even from where he was he could see the tension in their body language.
‘The point is that if its a mild winter, they can choose the best nesting places before the others return, Ellen said, while trying to stuff the thermos into the already full glove compartment. ‘Its a calculated risk, you see. Youre either laughing all over your face or youre in deep, deep shit. Whether to take the risk or not. If you take the gamble, you may fall off the twig frozen stiff one night and not thaw out till spring. Bottle it and you might not have anywhere to nest when you return. These are, as it were, the eternal dilemmas youre confronted with.
‘Youve got body armour on, havent you? Harry twisted round to check. ‘Have you or havent you?
She tapped her chest with her knuckles by way of reply.
‘For fucks sake, Ellen! I gave the order for ballistic vests to be worn. Not those Mickey Mouse vests.
‘Do you know what the Secret Service guys use?
‘Let me guess. Lightweight vests?
‘Do you know what I dont give a shit about?
‘Let me guess. The Secret Service?
She laughed. Harry managed a smile too. There was a crackle from the radio.
‘HQ to post 62. The Secret Service say its their car parked on the turn-off to Lørenskog.
‘Post 62. Message received.
‘You see, Harry said, banging the steering wheel in irritation, ‘no communication. The Secret Service people do their own thing. Whats that car doing up there without our knowledge? Eh?
‘Checking that were doing our job, Ellen said.
‘According to the instructions they gave us.
‘Youll be allowed to make some decisions, so stop grumbling, she said. ‘And stop that drumming on the wheel.
Harrys hands obediently leapt into his lap. She smiled. He let out one long stream of air: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.
His fingers found the butt of his service revolver, a .38 calibre Smith & Wesson, six shots. In his belt he had two additional magazines, each holding six shots. He patted the revolver, knowing that, strictly speaking, he wasnt actually authorised to carry a weapon. Perhaps he really was becoming short-sighted; after the forty-hour course last winter he had failed the shooting test. Although that was not so unusual, it was the first time it had happened to Harry and he didnt like it at all. All he had to do was take the test again — many had to take it four or five times — but for one reason or another Harry continued to put it off.
More crackling noises: ‘Passed point 28.
‘One more point to go in the Romerike police district, Harry said. ‘The next one is Karihaugen and then its us.
‘Why cant they do it how we used to? Just say where the motorcade is instead of all these stupid numbers, Ellen asked in a grumbling tone.
They answered in unison: ‘The Secret Service! And laughed.
‘Passed point 29.
He looked at his watch.
‘OK, theyll be here in three minutes. Ill change the frequency on the walkie-talkie to Oslo police district. Run the final checks.
Ellen closed her eyes to concentrate on the positive checks that came back one after the other. She put the microphone back into position. ‘Everything in place and ready.
‘Thanks. Put your helmet on.
‘Eh? Honestly, Harry.
‘You heard what I said.
‘Put your helmet on yourself !
‘Mines too small.
A new voice. ‘Passed point 1.
‘Oh shit, sometimes youre just so . . . unprofessional. Ellen pulled the helmet over her head, fastened the chin strap and made faces in the driving mirror.
‘Love you too, said Harry, studying the road in front of them through binoculars. ‘I can see them.
At the top of the incline leading to Karihaugen the sun glinted off metal. For the moment Harry could only see the first car in the motorcade, but he knew the order: six motorcycles from the Norwegian police escort department, two Norwegian police escort cars, a Secret Service car, then two identical Cadillac Fleetwoods (special Secret Service cars flown in from the US) and the President sitting in one of them. Which one was kept secret. Or perhaps he was sitting in both, Harry thought. One for Jekyll and one for Hyde. Then came the bigger vehicles: ambulance, communications car and several Secret Service cars.
‘Everything seems quiet enough, Harry said. His binoculars moved slowly from right to left. The air quivered above the tarmac even though it was a cool November morning.
Ellen could see the outline of the first car. In thirty seconds they would have passed the toll gates and half the job would be over. And in two days time, when the same cars had passed the toll going in the opposite direction, she and Harry could go back to their usual work. She preferred dealing with dead people in the Serious Crime Unit to getting up at three in the morning to sit in a cold Volvo with an irritable Harry, who was clearly burdened by the responsibility he had been given.
Apart from Harrys regular breathing, there was total quiet in the car. She checked that the light indicators on both radios were green. The motorcade was almost at the bottom of the hill. She decided she would go to Tørst and get drunk after the job. There was a guy there she had exchanged looks with; he had black curls and brown, slightly dangerous eyes. Lean. Looked a bit bohemian, intellectual. Perhaps . . .
‘What the —
Harry had already grabbed the microphone. ‘Theres someone in the third booth from the left. Can anyone identify this individual?
The radio answered with a crackling silence as Ellens gaze raced from one booth to the next in the row. There! She saw a mans back behind the brown glass of the box — only forty or fifty metres away. The silhouette of the figure was clear in the light from behind, as was the short barrel with the sights protruding over his shoulder.
‘Weapon! she shouted. ‘Hes got a machine gun.
‘Fuck! Harry kicked open the car door, took hold of the frame and swung out. Ellen stared at the motorcade. It couldnt be more than a few hundred metres off. Harry stuck his head inside the car.
‘Hes not one of ours, but he could be Secret Service, he said. ‘Call HQ. He already had the revolver in his hand.
‘Harry . . .
‘Now! And give a blast on the horn if HQ say its one of theirs.
Harry started to run towards the toll booth and the back of the man dressed in a suit. From the barrel, Harry guessed the gun was an Uzi. The raw early morning air smarted in his lungs.
‘Police! he shouted in Norwegian, then in English.
No reaction. The thick glass of the box was manufactured to deaden the traffic noise outside. The man had turned his head towards the motorcade now and Harry could see his dark Ray-Bans. Secret Service. Or someone who wanted to give that impression.
Twenty metres now.
How did he get inside a locked booth if he wasnt one of theirs? Damn! Harry could already hear the motorcycles. He wouldnt make it to the box.
He released the safety catch and took aim, praying that the car horn would shatter the stillness of this strange morning on a closed motorway he had never wanted at any time to be anywhere near. The instructions were clear, but he was unable to shut out his thoughts: Thin vest. No communication. Shoot, it is not your fault. Has he got a family?
The motorcade was coming from directly behind the toll booth, and it was coming fast. In a couple of seconds the Cadillacs would be level with the booths. From the corner of his left eye he noticed a movement, a little bird taking off from the roof.
Whether to take the risk or not . . . the eternal dilemma.
He thought about the low neck on the vest, lowered the revolver half an inch. The roar of the motorcycles was deafening.
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