Darkness and the temperature had fallen, and a pale moon was shining in through the window of Stian Barelli’s room when he heard his mother’s voice from the living room downstairs.
“It’s for you, Stian!”
He had heard their landline ringing and hoped it wasn’t for him. He put down the Wii controller. He was twelve under par with three holes left to play and thus very well on the way to qualifying for the Masters. He was playing Rick Fowler, as he was the only golfer in the Tiger Woods Masters who was cool and anywhere close to his own age, twenty-one. And they both liked Eminem and Rise Against and wearing orange. Of course Rick Fowler could afford his own flat whereas Stian still lived at home. But it was only temporary, until he got a scholarship to go to university in Alaska. All semi-decent downhill skiers went there if they got good results in the Nordic Junior Ski Championship and so on. Of course, no one became a better skier from going there, but so what? Women, wine and skis. What could be better. Perhaps the odd exam if there was time. The qualification could lead to an OK job. Money for his own flat. A life that was better than this, sleeping in the slightly too short bed under posters of Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal, eating Mum’s rissoles and obeying Dad’s rules, training mouthy brats who according to their snow-blind parents had the talent to be a Kjetil André Aamodt or a Lasse Kjus. Operating the ski lifts in Tryvannskleiva for a wage they wouldn’t bloody dare give child workers in India. And that was how Stian knew it was the chairman of the Ski Club on the phone now. He was the only person Stian knew who avoided ringing people on their mobiles because it was a bit more expensive, and who preferred to force them to run downstairs in prehistoric houses that still had landlines.
Stian took the receiver his mother held out for him.
“Hi, Stian, Bakken here.” Bakken meant slope, and it really was his name. “I’ve been told the Kleiva lift’s running.”
“Now?” Stian said, looking at his watch. 11:15 at night. Closing time was at nine.
“Could you nip up and see what’s going on?”
“Unless you’re extremely busy, of course.”
Stian ignored the sarcasm in the chairman’s intonation. He knew he’d had two disappointing seasons and that the chairman didn’t think it was down to lack of talent but to the large amounts of time Stian did his best to fill with general idleness.
“I haven’t got a car,” Stian said.
“You can use mine,” his mother chipped in. She hadn’t gone away;
she was standing next to him with her arms crossed.
“Sorry, Stian, but I heard that,” the chairman commented laconically. “The Heming skateboarders must have broken in. I suppose they think it’s funny.”
It took Stian ten minutes to drive the winding road up to Tryvann Tower. The TV mast was a 118-metre-long javelin drilled into the ground at the top of Oslo’s north-western mountains.
He came to a halt in the snow-covered car park and noted that the only other vehicle there was a red Golf. He took his skis from the roof box, put them on and skated past the main building and up to where the main chairlift, Tryvann Ekspress, marked the top of the skiing facilities. From there he could see down to the lake and the smaller Kleiva lift with T-bars. Even though there was light from the moon it was too dark to check whether the bars were moving, but he could hear it. The hum of the machinery down below.
And as he set off, skiing in long, lazy curves, it struck him how strangely still it was up here at night. It was as if the first hour after they closed was still filled with the echoes of screams of pleasure, girls’ exaggerated whines of terror, boys’ testosterone-filled cries for attention, steel edges cutting into hard-packed snow and ice. Even when they switched off the floodlights the light seemed to hang in the air for a while. But then, gradually, it became quieter. And darker. And even quieter. Until the silence filled all the hollows in the terrain, and the darkness crept out from the forest. And it was as though Tryvann became a different place, a place which even for Stian, who knew it like the back of his hand, was so unfamiliar it might as well have been another planet. A cold, dark and uninhabited planet.
The lack of light meant he had to ski by feeling and try to predict how the snow and the ground would roll and pitch beneath the skis. But that was his special talent, which meant he always did best when there was bad visibility, heavy snow, mist, flat light: he could feel what he couldn’t see, he had that kind of clairvoyance some skiers just have and others—most of them—don’t. He caressed the snow, moving slowly to prolong the enjoyment. Then he was down and pulled up in front of the ski-lift hut.
The door had been smashed in.
There were splinters in the snow, and the door gaped wide open. It was only then that Stian realised he was alone. That it was the middle of the night, that at this moment he was in a deserted area where a crime had just been committed. Probably only a prank, but nevertheless. He could not be entirely sure. Sure it was only a prank. Sure he was on his own.
“Hello!” Stian shouted above the hum of the engine and rattle of the T-bars coming and going on the buzzing wire above him. And regretted it at once. The echo returned from the mountainside with the sound of his own fear. He was afraid. Because the brain had not stopped churning at “alone” and “crime,” it had carried on. Back to the old story. It wasn’t something he thought about during the day, but now and then when he was on the evening shift and there was hardly anyone on the slopes occasionally the story did creep out of the forest with the darkness. It had been late one night, a mild snowless December. The girl must have been drugged somewhere in the city centre and been driven up here. Handcuffs and hood. She had been transported from the car park to where the door had been smashed in and she was raped inside. Stian had heard that the fifteen-year-old girl was so small and slim that if she had been unconscious the rapist or rapists could easily have carried her from the car park. You could only hope she had been unconscious throughout. But Stian had also heard that the girl had been attached to the wall by two big nails, one under each collarbone, so that he or they could rape her standing up with minimal physical contact with the walls, floor or girl. That was why the police hadn’t found any DNA, fingerprints or clothing fibres. But perhaps that wasn’t true. What he knew was true was that they had found the girl in three places. At the bottom of Lake Tryvann they had found the torso and head. In the forest down from the Wyller slalom course half of her lower body. On the banks of Lake Aurtje
the other half. And it was because the two last parts were found so far apart and so far from where she had been raped that the police had speculated that there might have been two rapists. But that was all they had, speculation. The men—if they were men; there was no sperm to prove it—were never found. But the chairman and other jokers liked to tell younger club members doing their first evening shift that on still nights people said they had heard sounds from the hut. Screams. Nails being hammered into the wall.
Stian released his boots from the bindings and walked to the door. Bent his knees and tensed his calves, trying to ignore his racing pulse.
Jesus, what was he expecting to see? Blood and guts? Ghosts?
He reached inside the door, found the switch with his hand and twisted.
Stared into the lit room.
On the unpainted pine wall, hanging from a nail, was a girl. She was almost naked, only a yellow bikini covering the so-called strategic parts of her suntanned body. The month was December, and the calendar was last year’s. One very quiet evening, a few weeks before, in fact, Stian had masturbated in front of that picture. She was sexy enough, but what had excited him most was the girls passing outside the window. Him sitting there, stiffy in hand, only a metre from them. Especially the girls who took the T-bar on their own, who with an experienced hand placed the erect pole between their thighs and squeezed them together. The T-bar lifting their buttocks. Their backs arched as the extended spring attached to the pole and the wire contracted and jerked them away from him, out of sight, along the aerial tramway.
Stian entered the cabin. There was no doubt someone had been there. The power control was broken. The plastic knob lay in two sections on the floor, leaving the metal spindle sticking up from the console. He held the cold spindle between thumb and forefinger and tried to turn it, but it just slipped between his fingers. He walked over to the little fuse cupboard in the corner. The metal door was locked, and the key that used to hang from the string on the adjacent wall was gone. Strange. He went back to the console. Tried to pull the plastic covers off the controls for the floodlights and the music so he could swap one over, but realised he would destroy them as well; they were either glued or moulded. He needed something he could tighten round the spindle, a monkey wrench or something similar. As Stian pulled out a drawer from the table in front of the window he had a premonition. The same one he had when he was skiing blind.
He could feel what he couldn’t see. Someone was standing outside in the darkness watching him.
He looked up.
And into a face staring at him with large, wide-open eyes.
His own face, his own terrified eyes in the reflection in the windowpane, a double exposure.
Stian breathed out with relief. Shit, he was so easily frightened.
But then, as his heart began to beat again and he shifted his attention back to the drawer, it was as if his eye caught a movement outside, a face detaching itself from the reflection and vanishing to the right and out of sight. He looked up quickly again. There was still a reflection of himself. A double exposure as before. Or was it?
He’d always had an overactive imagination. That was what Marius and Kjella had told him when he said thinking about the raped girl turned him on. Not her being raped and killed of course. Or rather, yes, the rape was . . . something he thought about, he had added. But mostly, that she was very nice, nice and pretty, kind of. And that she had been in the cabin, naked, with a dick in her slit, that . . . yes, that was a thought that could turn him on. Marius had said he was sick and Kjella, the bastard, had of course blabbed, and when Stian heard the story again Stian was supposed to have said he would have liked to have joined in the rape. That’s pals for you, Stian thought, rummaging through the drawer. Lift passes, stamp, stamp pad, pens, tape, scissors, sheath knife, invoice pad, screws, nuts. Bloody hell! He went on to the next drawer. No wrench, no keys. And then he realised he could just look for the emergency stop pole they usually kept rammed in the snow outside the cabin so that anyone could stop the lift by hitting the red button on top of the pole if something happened. And something was always happening: children banging their heads on the T-bar and beginners falling off backwards as the lift jerked into action, hanging on and being dragged up onto the cable. Or idiots who wanted to show off and wrapped a knee round the bar while leaning over the side to piss into the edge of the forest as they went past.
He ransacked the cupboards. The pole should be easy enough to find, about a metre long, made of metal and shaped like a crowbar with a pointed end so that it could stick into packed snow and ice. Stian pushed aside forgotten mittens, hats and goggles. Next cupboard, firefighting equipment. A bucket and cloths. First-aid kit. A torch. But no pole.
Of course they might have forgotten it when they locked up for the night.
He grabbed the torch and went outside, did a circuit round the cabin.
No pole there, either. Christ, had they stolen it or what? And left the lift passes? Stian thought he heard something and turned to the forest. Shone the torch on the trees.
A bird? A squirrel? Elk did sometimes come down here, but they didn’t make much of an effort to hide. If he could only switch off the bloody lift, he would be able to hear better.
Stian went back into the cabin and noticed that he felt more at ease inside. Picked up the two pieces of the plastic knob from the floor, tried placing them around the spindle and turning, but it was no use.
He looked at his watch. Soon be midnight. He wanted to finish the round of golf in Augusta before going to bed. Wondered whether to phone the chairman. All he had to do was give this spindle a half-turn!
His head shot up instinctively and his heart stopped beating.
It had happened so quickly he was unsure whether he had seen it or not. Whatever it was, it was not an elk. Stian keyed in the name of the chairman, but his fingers were trembling so much he made several mistakes before getting it right.
“The emergency pole’s gone. I can’t turn the lift off.” “The fuse cupboard . . .”
“Locked and the key’s gone.”
He heard the chairman cursing under his breath. Then a sigh of resignation. “Stay there. I’m on my way.”
“Bring a wrench or something.”
“Wrench or something,” the chairman repeated, making no attempt to conceal his contempt.
Stian had long known the chairman’s respect was measured in terms of your ranking in skiing championships. He put his mobile in his pocket. Stared out into the darkness. And it struck him that everyone could see him with the light on and he couldn’t see anyone. He got up, closed what was left of the door and switched off the light. Waited. The empty T-bars coming down from the slopes above his head seemed to accelerate as they swung round the end of the lift before starting the ascent again.
Why hadn’t he thought of that before?
He turned all the knobs on the console. And as the floodlights came on over the slope Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” rang out
from the loudspeakers and filled the valley. That’s the way, now it was a bit more homely.
He drummed his fingers and looked at the spindle again. There was a hole at the top. He got up, grabbed the string from beside the fuse cupboard, doubled it and threaded it through the hole. Wrapped it round the spindle once and pulled carefully. This could actually work. He pulled a little harder. The string was holding. Even harder. The spindle moved. He yanked it.
The sound of the lift machinery died with a long-drawn-out groan culminating in a squeal.
“Take that, you motherfucker!” Stian shouted.
He leaned over the phone to ring the chairman and inform him the job was done. Remembered the chairman would hardly approve of rap being played at full blast over the speakers at night and switched it off.
Listened to the phone ringing. That was all he could hear now; suddenly it was ver y quiet. Come on, answer! A nd then there it was again. The feeling. The feeling that someone was there. Someone was watching him.
Stian Barelli slowly raised his head.
And felt the chill spread from an area at the back of his head, as though he were turning to stone, as though it were Medusa’s face he was staring at. But it wasn’t hers. It was a man dressed in a long, black leather coat. He had a lunatic’s staring eyes and a vampire’s open mouth with blood dripping from both corners. And he seemed to be floating above the ground.
“Yes? Hello? Stian? Are you there? Stian?”
But Stian didn’t answer. He had stood up, knocked the chair over, edged backwards and clung to the wall, tearing Miss December off the nail and sending her to the floor.
He had found the emergency stop pole. It was protruding from the mouth of the man attached to one of the T-bars.
“Then he was sent round and round on the ski lift?” Gunnar Hagen asked, angling his head and studying the body hanging in front of them. There was something wrong about the shape, like a wax figure melting and being stretched out towards the ground.
“That’s what the young man told us,” said Beate Lønn, stamping her feet on the snow and looking up the illuminated tramway where her white-clad colleague had almost merged with the snow.
“Found anything?” Hagen asked in a tone that suggested he already knew the answer.
“Loads,” Beate said. “The trail of blood carries on four hundred metres to the top of the lift and four hundred metres back again.”
“I meant anything apart from the obvious.”
“Footprints in the snow from the car park, down the short cut and straight here,” Beate said. “The pattern matches the victim’s shoes.”
“He came here in shoes?”
“Yes. And he came alone. There were no prints other than his. There’s a red Golf in the car park. We’re checking now to find the owner.”
“No signs of the perpetrator?”
“What do you reckon, Bjørn?” Beate asked, turning to Holm, who at that moment was walking towards them with a roll of police tape in his hand.
“Not so far,” he panted. “No other footprints. But loads of ski tracks, of course. No visible fingerprints, hair or fabric so far. Perhaps we’ll find some on the toothpick.” Bjørn Holm nodded towards the pole sticking out of the dead man’s mouth. “Otherwise all we can do is hope Pathology might find something.”
Gunnar Hagen shivered in his coat. “You make it sound as if you already know you won’t find much.”
“Well,” Beate Lønn said, a “well” Hagen recognised; it was the word Harry Hole used to introduce bad news. “There was no DNA. There weren’t any fingerprints to be found at the other crime scene either.”
Hagen wondered whether it was the temperature, the fact that he had come straight from his bed or what his Krimteknisk leader had said that made him shiver.
“What do you mean?” he asked, steeling himself.
“I mean I know who it is,” Beate said.
“I thought you said you didn’t find any ID on him.”
“That’s correct. And it took me a while to recognise him.”
“You? I thought you never forgot a face?”
“The fusiform gyrus gets confused when both cheeks have been smashed in. But that’s Bertil Nilsen.”
“That’s why I rang you. He’s . . .” Beate Lønn took a deep breath. Don’t say it, Hagen thought.
“A policeman,” Bjørn Holm said.
“Worked at the police station in Nedre Eiker,” Beate said. “We
had a murder just before you came to Crime Squad. Nilsen contacted Kripos thinking the case bore similarities to a rape case he’d worked on in Krokstadelva, and offered to come to Oslo to give a hand.”
“Dead duck. He came, but basically just delayed the proceedings. The man or men were never caught.”
Hagen nodded. “Where . . . ?”
“Here,” Beate said. “Raped in the ski-lift hut and carved up. Part of the body was found in the lake here, another a kilometre south and a third seven kilometres in the opposite direction, by Lake Aurtjern. That was the reason it was thought there was more than one person involved.”
“And the date . . . ?”
“. . . is the same, to the day.” “How long . . . ?”
“Nine years ago.”
A walkie-talkie crackled. Hagen watched Bjørn Holm lift it to his ear and speak softly. Put it back down. “The Golf in the car park is registered in the name of a Mira Nilsen. Same address as Bertil Nilsen. Must be his wife.”
Hagen released his breath with a groan, and it hung out of his mouth like a white flag. “I’ll have to report this to the Chief,” he said. “Don’t mention the murdered girl for now.”
“The press’ll find out.”
“I know. But I’m going to advise the Chief to let the press speculate for the time being.”
“Wise move,” Beate said.
Hagen sent her a quick smile, as thanks for very much needed encouragement. Glanced up the mountainside to the car park and the march ahead of him. Looked up at the body. Shivered again. “Do you know who I think of when I see a tall, thin man like that?”
“Yes,” Beate Lønn said.
“I wish he was here now.”
“He wasn’t tall and thin,” said Bjørn Holm.
The two others turned to him. “Harry wasn’t . . . ?”
“I mean this guy,” Holm said, nodding towards the body on the wire.
“Nilsen. He got tall overnight. If you feel his body it’s like jelly. I’ve seen the same happen to people who’ve fallen a long way and crushed all the bones in their body. With the skeleton broken the body hasn’t got a frame, and the flesh says follow gravity until rigor mortis sets in. Funny, isn’t it?”
They regarded the body in silence. Until Hagen turned on his heel and left.
“Too much information?” Bjørn Holm asked.
“A trifle superfluous perhaps,” Beate said. “And I also wish he was here.”
“Do you think he’ll ever come back?” Bjørn Holm asked.
Beate shook her head. Bjørn Holm didn’t know if it was in response to his question or the whole situation. He turned and his eye caught a spruce branch swaying on the edge of the forest. A chilling bird cry filled the silence.
JO NESBØ is a musician, songwriter, economist, and author. He has won the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel. His other Harry Hole novels include The Redeemer, The Snowman, The Leopard, and Phantom, and he is also the author of Headhunters and several children's books.