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Frozen Assets: An Officer Gunnhildur Mysteryby Quentin Bates
Tuesday, 26 August
Water gurgled between the piles of the dock and the car’s tyres
juddered over the heavy timbers. Somewhere a generator puttered on
board one of the longliners tied up at the quay.
The driver turned off the engine and killed the lights before
stepping out of the car and taking a deep breath of fragrant summer
air, still and laden with the tang of seaweed. He looked about him
carefully and walked along the quay, watching the boats for any sign
Satisfied, he opened the passenger door. He lifted the passenger’s
legs out and then stooped to drape an arm over his shoulders.
Grunting with exertion, he hauled the passenger to his feet.
‘Waas goin’ on?’ the passenger slurred as the driver steadied himself,
planting his feet wide. He half supported, half dragged the passenger
the few metres towards the gangplank of the nearest boat.
‘Come on. Almost there.’
The passenger staggered against the driver. ‘W-w-where’s this?’
‘Nearly there,’ the driver muttered to himself as much as to his
He braced one booted foot on the heavy timber parapet running
the length of the quay, and quickly straightened his back as he
tipped the passenger headlong into the blackness below. The splash
competed for a second with the muttering generator on board a
nearby boat and the driver stood still, listening intently. Hearing
nothing from below, he nodded to himself and padded back to the
A moment later the engine whispered into life and the car vanished
into the night.
The phone buzzed angrily. Gunna fumbled for the handset in the dark
and barked into it.
‘Good morning. Sorry to wake you up. I did wake you up, didn’t
I?’ asked a familiar voice as she cast about for the face that went with it.
‘You did,’ she yawned. ‘Who is this?’
Gunna stretched a hand to the curtain and twitched it aside to let
in a glare of early morning sunlight.
‘And what can I do for you at this ungodly hour?’ she asked,
knowing that Albert Jónasson was not a man to trouble a police officer
without good reason, especially one who had arrested him only a few
‘Thought you’d be the best person to talk to. There’s a bloke down
by the quay.’
‘You woke me up to tell me there’s a stranger by the dock?’ Gunna
‘Yeah. A stranger who’s dead.’
She snapped awake and swung her feet on to the cold floor.
‘On the beach by the pontoons. Saw something in the waves and
went to have a look.’
‘Right. Stay where you are. I’ll be right there.’
Gunna drove past the half-dozen longline boats tied up at the quay
and slowed down as the car rumbled on to the black gravel that made
up the track leading to the small boat dock. She could make out a
solitary figure standing next to the only boat there, a bearded bear of
a man in orange oilskin trousers pacing the pontoon dock next to a
spotless fishing boat that puttered with its engine idling.
She parked at the top of the dock among the fishermen’s pickup
trucks and Albert Jónasson strode to meet her, pointing at a bundle
lying among the waves lapping on the black sand of the beach a few
‘Down there,’ he said grimly, following behind as Gunna trod
gingerly, wary of disturbing anything.
‘Have you been down here, Albert?’ she called over her shoulder.
‘No fear. Leave well alone, I thought.’
‘You haven’t had a look? How did you know it was a body?’
‘I got here a bit late. All the others were away before daybreak. I was
just starting up and saw something floating, so I had a look with the
binoculars and saw what it was. So I thought I’d better give you a call.’
Gunna ripped a pair of surgical gloves from the pouch on her tool
belt and snapped them on before she squatted by the bundle and
gently smoothed matted red hair back from a face that looked peaceful
but lost. She pressed the button on her Tetra communicator and spoke
into the tiny microphone on her collar.
‘Nine eight four one, nine five five zero. Are you there, Haddi?’
She retreated and pulled her phone from her pocket.
‘Albert, are you going to sea today?’ she asked as the dialling tone
‘I was going to.’
‘All right. Ah, Haddi, that took a while,’ she said, switching her
attention to the phone. ‘Look, shelve everything, we have an
unidentified body floating in the small boat dock. You’d better get the
Albert watched Gunna nodding as she paced back and forth,
admiring her solid frame inside the uniform that didn’t do it justice.
‘No,’ she continued. ‘Ambulance and the technical division,
discreetly if that’s at all possible. Get Bjössi over from CID in Keflavík
if he’s not too busy with the Baltic mafia. OK?’
She ended the call and looked over to where Albert was waiting
patiently for her.
‘Am I all right to go to sea today, then?’
‘When will you be back?’
‘Three. Four, maybe.’
‘Go on then. But I’ll need you to make a statement when you’ve
finished landing your fish.’
‘No problem,’ Albert said gratefully, already making his way along
the pontoon and throwing off the boat’s mooring ropes in the process.
‘See you later, Gunna,’ he called out as the boat surged from the quay.
And I’ll stay here and wait for the professionals to turn up, Gunna
thought, opening the squad car’s boot to get out a roll of tape to
cordon off the area. She wondered if the tape had ever been used
before in Hvalvík, a village where a speeding ticket or an uncooperative
drunk were the most serious crimes she or Haddi normally
had to deal with.
You can’t keep a good blog down!
So, we’re back and once again the Icelandic scandal blog has a
brand-new home! We’ve been tarred and feathered and run out of
town on a rail one more time, so this time we’re back stronger than
ever in a delightful part of the world where they respect the power of
Mr Visa to overrule the pathetic attempts of those-who-run-things to
silence free speech. Hurrah for the Tiger economies! Free speech is
there for those willing to pay for it!
Making friends and influencing people!
But anyway, folks, and we mean that most sincerely, our favourites
are still up to their old tricks. Gunni Benedikts at the trade ministry, no
doubt after a looong lunch with his old chum Óli at agriculture, has just
decided to block imports of New Zealand lamb to our fair country.
Now, some of you may find this a bit hard to stomach, what with all the
claptrap these guys have been spouting over the years about free
market economics, going for the most competitive bid, and all that
shit. But let’s remember which party holds trade? And agriculture? Of
course, it’s our old friends the Progressives, and we can’t go upsetting
the farmers, or at least the half-dozen who are still in business and
who vote for them, just by letting them be undercut by cheap foreign
imports. That wouldn’t be fair, would it?
(Private) Power to (a few of) the People!
As for everyone’s favourite minister . . . ! Bjarni Jón, now just who
are your new friends? And we don’t mean the guys at InterAlu, it’s
their friends from further east we’re interested in this time. From what
a little bird whispers in our ear, these are oil people. Energy people.
Money people. Powerful people. Watch your back, BJB, and when
you’ve shaken hands with them, you’d better count your fingers, just
to make sure.
We’ve heard the rumours circulating around environment and trade,
and the PM’s office, and we’re not going to believe it, as we know what
a great guy you really are. We’re absolutely certain that you’d never
sideline the National Power Authority by inviting a foreign company to
build and run a private power station to sell electricity to InterAlu. So,
please, BJB, tell us it ain’t true?
Watch this space, there’ll be more tomorrow!
Haddi firmly believed that a whirlwind of unwarranted attention had
descended on Hvalvík and its tiny police station. By mid-morning the
station’s older, but junior, police officer would have preferred to be
making his accustomed tour of the village in the station’s better Volvo,
taking in coffee, gossip and a doughnut or three with the lads at the
net loft or maybe with one of his cousins in the saltfish plant’s canteen.
Instead he found himself fending off a flood of questions through the
phone and from the huddle of newspaper and television people
Outside on the grass verge a serious young woman in a thick parka
over a smart city suit presented take after take with the little harbour
and Hvalvík’s pastel-painted houses in the background, as if to make
sure that Reykjavík viewers understood this was a report from outside
their city limits.
Teams from Morgunbladid, DV, Fréttabladid, state TV and radio,
Channel 2, Channel 3, and a few more that Haddi had never heard of
had all demanded information, been told there was no statement yet
and they’d just have to wait. Haddi was putting the phone down from
telling the local paper the same thing when a young man with a mess of
gelled fair hair that appeared to defy both gravity and the breeze outside
pushed his way through the door into the station’s reception area.
‘Yes?’ Haddi asked brusquely, arms folded on the counter.
‘Er. Hi. I’m Skúli Snædal from Dagurinn.’
Haddi rolled his eyes ceilingwards. ‘Look, son, I’ve told all of you
that there’ll be a statement this afternoon. Yes, we have found an
unidentified person. No, I can’t tell you where. No, I can’t tell you
any more than that.’
‘Sorry. That’s all I can say right now.’
‘But that’s not what I’m here for. I’ve come to see Gunnhildur. I’m
shadowing her for a while. For Dagurinn,’ he added.
Haddi took a deep breath ‘So you’re not here because of the body?’
‘No. What body?’
‘Never you mind. The chief’s not here right now, and I don’t
suppose she’ll be back for an hour or two.’
‘Couldn’t you call her up? I’m expected.’
Haddi pulled his glasses down from among his curls and peered over
‘If it was something important, then I could call her up,’ he agreed.
‘But on a day like today, then it would have to be something more
than usually important.’
Skúli tried again. ‘It’s all arranged. I can call the press representative
at police headquarters and confirm with them again.’
‘Sorry. Not now. Look, we have a very serious incident to deal
with, so I’d appreciate it if you’d call Reykjavík and sort it out with
them. We’re a bit busy right now. Hm?’
Haddi’s frown and raised eyebrows made it plain that this was not
a matter for discussion and the young man appeared to concede defeat.
‘All right then. But do you know when she’s going to be back?’
‘Normally, about now. Today . . .’ Haddi shrugged his shoulders.
The young man nodded glumly and made for the door. The look
of disappointment on his face aroused a sudden pang in Haddi’s heart
and he called across as the young man had the door half open.
‘Not from round here, are you?’
‘D’you know Hafnarkaffi?’
‘It’s the shop down by the dock. It’s getting on for lunchtime and odds
are that’swhere the chief’ll be. But you didn’t hear that fromme, all right?’
The young man grinned in delight. ‘Thanks. That would be great.
How do I recognize her?’
‘Gunna? Can’t miss her. She’s a big fat lass with a face that frightens
Hafnarkaffi stands between the fishmeal plant and Jói Ben’s engineering
shop. Originally a shed used for storing tarred longlines through
the summer, Hafnarkaffi has grown gradually since it was turned into
a drive-in kiosk thirty years ago, then expanded into a shop and had
an extension built to add a small café for harbour workers and
fishermen. The final addition was the petrol pumps outside, but by
now hardly anything of the original corrugated iron shed is to be seen
and the place has become an enduring nightmare for council planners
who have visions of it spreading across the road.
Skúli looked through the steamed-up glass panels of the door and
made out figures sitting at tables. Pushing it open, he ventured in,
thought for a moment and decided that he really was hungry anyway.
At the end of the long counter he collected a tray and pushed it in
front of him, picking up bottled water on the way and stopping before
the row of steaming steel bins.
‘Fish or meat?’ a grey-faced woman behind the counter asked.
‘Er – what do you have?’
‘Fish or meat.’
‘What sort are they?’
‘It’s Tuesday. Salted fish or salted meat.’
Skúli’s heart sank and he began towish he hadn’t botheredwith a tray.
‘Saltfish, please,’ he decided, knowing that he would regret it.
The woman ladled fish and potatoes on to a plate. ‘Fat?’
‘D’you want fat on it?’
‘Oh, er, no. Thanks.’
She dropped the spoon back into the dish of liquefied fat and
pointed to a pot. ‘Soup?’
‘Oh, no thanks.’
‘No, thanks anyway.’
‘Up to you. It’s there if you change your mind. Coffee’s included
as well. That’s eight hundred. Receipt?’
Skúli handed over a note and received change and receipt. He
scanned the room and quickly located a bulky figure in uniform at the
far side, hunched over a table. At a distance it wasn’t easy to see if the
figure was man or a woman, but Skúli hoped he had found the right
person. He edged between tables, forcing a row of blue-overalled
workmen to haul in their bellies and chairs for him to pass, before
planting his tray on the table.
‘May I sit here?’
The figure looked up and Skúli saw that, in spite of the broad
shoulders, the solid woman with the short fair hair was not the bruiser
Haddi had given him to expect. Although she would never be a
beauty, she had an angular, handsome face that radiated authority. He
wondered briefly if this was natural, or the product of a police career.
‘Help yourself,’ she said, between spoonfuls of colourless soup.
‘You must be Gunnhildur?’
She nodded, scraping the bottom of the soup plate. ‘Known to
every man and his dog as Gunna the Cop,’ she corrected. ‘And you
must be the lad from Dagurinn. I suppose Haddi told you I’d be here,
Skúli picked at the saltfish on the plate in front of him. This kind
of traditional food had never been on the menu at home and he wasn’t
ready for the overpowering salt flavour of the first forkful.
‘So. Now that you’re here, what is it you’re after?’
‘Nothing special, really. The idea is a series of feature articles in the
Saturday magazine about the work of rural police. I’m not looking for
anything out of the ordinary – just the opposite, actually.’
‘Not because of what’s been going on this morning?’
‘No . . .’ Skúli said slowly.
‘So you don’t know,’ she said with slow satisfaction and a broad
smile that lit up her face. ‘Well, you must be the only reporter in
Iceland who hasn’t heard that an unidentified corpse was found just
round the corner this morning. You must be the only one, because
practically every other hack in the country has either turned up here
or else phoned the station to demand a statement. Poor old Haddi’s
been going spare.’
‘Oh. I see.’
Skúli dropped his cutlery and dived into his coat pocket to bring
out a mobile phone. He switched it on and within seconds it was
buzzing angrily with a series of voice and text messages.
‘Shit. I forgot to switch it on when I left this morning, and I didn’t
even have the radio on in the car,’ he admitted. ‘Sorry, I didn’t know
‘Anyway, now that you’re here, I suppose you’d better have a story
to take back with you.’
‘That would be . . . great.’
‘You mean it would save your sorry arse from being fried?’
‘Er, yes, probably.’
‘There’ll be a statement this afternoon, so you can have it half an
hour before it comes out officially. I don’t suppose that’ll do any harm.’
‘Thank you. That’s brilliant.’
‘Right. But you’ll owe me a favour there straight away. How old
‘What are you on this paper, then, a junior reporter, or what?’
‘No. I’m the crime editor.’
‘What? There’s a whopping story here and you didn’t even know
about it, Mr Crime Editor?’ Gunna asked with a second sly smile.
Skúli shuffled fish about on his plate. ‘Actually I’ve only been the
crime editor for a week. And that was because someone put the
by-line as a joke on something I wrote about a woman who had been
caught shoplifting from the shopping centre at Kringlan. It stayed in
by mistake, so I’m the new crime editor.’
‘How long have you been working for Dagurinn?’
Skúli was starting to resent Gunna’s quickfire questions, reminding
himself that he should be the one asking. ‘A couple of months.
Dagurinn only started up in January.’
‘What were you doing before that?’
‘I finished my master’s last year and then I was at Jyllands Posten as
an intern for a few months until I came home.’
‘In Århus. How long have you been in the police?’ he asked, trying
to wrench the conversation around so that he could ask the questions.
‘Far too long. And who are your people?’
‘The Snædal family.’
‘Oh. Top people, I see.’
‘My uncle was in the government years ago.’
‘I know. I might even have voted for him.’
‘That’s nice to know. I’ll tell him.’
‘I’m not quite that old,’ Gunna replied coldly. ‘Now, get that down
you and we’ll make a start. I have masses of things to do and if you’re
going to tag along you’ll have to keep up and preferably keep quiet.
‘That’s fine,’ Skúli replied, laying down his knife and fork with a
premonition of failure. He realized that, for a reporter, he had asked
no questions and found out almost nothing about the person he was
supposed to be profiling, while she had found out practically
everything about him. ‘We can go, if you want. I don’t really like
saltfish,’ he admitted.
‘Then you won’t grow up to have curly hair. Come on then,’ she
said with a grin, rising to her feet and pulling a phone from her jacket
pocket as it began to chirrup.
‘Hi, sweetheart, just a moment,’ she answered it in a gentle tone.
‘You’d better take your tray back to the counter, and you can take
mine while you’re at it. I’ll see you outside in a minute,’ she instructed
Skúli, marching towards the door with the phone at her ear. Skúli
wondered who she could be addressing as sweetheart.
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