I'm Traveling Alone, page 1
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Copyright © 2013 by Samuel Bjørk
Translation copyright © 2015 by Charlotte Barslud
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Originally published in Norwegian under the title Der henger en engel alene i skogen by Vigmostad & Bjørke AS, Bergen.
First published in English in Great Britain by Doubleday, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK.
eBook ISBN 978-0-698-19380-2
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
I Chapter 1
II Chapter 13
III Chapter 32
IV Chapter 47
V Chapter 60
VI Chapter 72
VII Chapter 85
On August 28, 2006, a girl was born in the maternity unit of Ringerike Hospital in Hønefoss. The baby’s mother, a twenty-five-year-old nursery-school teacher named Katarina Olsen, was a hemophiliac and died during the birth. The midwife and some of the nurses who had been present later described the little girl as exceptionally beautiful. She was quiet and remarkably alert, with a gaze that caused everyone who worked in the ward to develop a very special bond with her. On her admission to the hospital, Katarina Olsen had registered the father as “Unknown.” In the days that followed, the management of Ringerike Hospital, working in collaboration with Ringerike Social Services, tried to track down the child’s maternal grandmother, who lived in Bergen. Unaware that her daughter had been pregnant, she arrived at the hospital only to discover that the newborn baby had disappeared from the maternity ward. Ringerike Police Department immediately initiated a major hunt for the child, but without result. Two months later a Swedish nurse named Joachim Wicklund was found dead in his studio apartment in the center of Hønefoss. He had hanged himself. A typed note was found on the floor below Wicklund’s body, reading only “I’m sorry.”
The baby girl was never found.
Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home.
Your house is on fire and your children are gone.
Walter Henriksen took a seat at the kitchen table and made a desperate attempt to force down a little of the breakfast his wife had prepared for him. Bacon and eggs. Herring, salami, and freshly baked bread. A cup of tea brewed with herbs from their very own garden, the one she had always dreamed of having and which was the reason they had bought this house so far from the center of Oslo, with a forest as their nearest neighbor. Here they could pursue healthy interests. Go for walks in the woods. Grow their own vegetables. Pick wild berries and mushrooms and, not least, offer more freedom to their dog, a cocker spaniel that Walter Henriksen could not stand the sight of, but he loved his wife, which explained why he had agreed to all of the above.
He swallowed a bit of bread with herring and fought to keep the food down. He took a large swig of orange juice and tried to look happy, even though his head was throbbing as if someone had clobbered him with a hammer. Last night’s office party had not gone according to plan; yet again he had failed to stay off the booze.
The news droned along in the background while Walter tried to read his wife’s face. Her mood. If she had secretly been awake when he’d collapsed into bed in the early hours. What time that was he did not know, but it had been late, far too late; he did remember taking off his clothes, a vague memory of his wife being asleep—Thank Christ, he’d thought before he passed out on the too-hard mattress she had insisted they buy because she’d started having back problems.
Walter coughed lightly, wiped his mouth with the napkin, and patted his stomach to pretend he had enjoyed the meal and was now full.
“I thought I might take Lady for a walk,” he said with what he hoped resembled a smile.
“Oh, all right, then.” His wife nodded, somewhat surprised at his offer, because although they rarely discussed it, she was perfectly aware that he cared little for the three-year-old bitch. “Perhaps you could go a bit farther than just walk her around the house this time?”
He searched for the subtly passive-aggressive tone she often adopted when she was displeased with him. But she seemed content, unaware that anything was amiss. Phew, he’d gotten away with it again. And he promised himself that it was the last time. Healthy living for him from now o
“I was thinking of taking her up to Maridalen, perhaps follow the path down to Lake Dau.”
“That sounds perfect,” his wife agreed.
She stroked the dog’s head, kissed its forehead, and scratched it behind the ear.
“You and your daddy are going to have a lovely time, yes you are, aren’t you, Lady, my lovely little doggy.”
• • •
On the walk up to Maridalen, he followed his usual route on the rare occasion he took the dog out. Walter Henriksen had never liked dogs, knew nothing about dogs; had it been up to him, the world could do without them. He sensed a growing irritation toward the stupid bitch that was straining on the leash, wanting him to walk more quickly. Or stop. Or go in any other direction than the one Walter wanted to.
At last he reached the path that took them down to Lake Dau, where he could finally let the dog off the leash. He squatted on his haunches and attempted to pat the dog’s head, show it some kindness as he undid the leash.
“There, have yourself a bit of a run.”
The dog stared at him with dumb eyes and stuck out its tongue. Walter lit a cigarette and briefly felt something almost resembling love toward the little bitch. After all, it wasn’t the dog’s fault. She was all right. His headache was starting to lift; the fresh air did him good. He was going to like the dog from now on. Nice doggy. And strolling around the forest . . . well, life could be worse. They were almost friends, he and the dog, and would you just look how well behaved she was now, good doggy. She was no longer on the leash and yet she walked nicely by his side.
And it was at that very moment that the cocker spaniel decided to take off, abandon the path, and run wild through the forest. Damn!
Walter Henriksen stayed on the path and spent some time calling the dog, but to no avail. Then, muttering curses under his breath, he threw down his cigarette and started scrambling up the hill. Soon he stopped in his tracks. The dog was lying very calmly in a small clearing. And that was when he saw the little girl hanging from the tree. Dangling above the ground. With a satchel on her back. And a note around her neck:
I’m traveling alone.
Walter Henriksen fell to his knees and did something he had wanted to do since the moment he first woke up.
He threw up all over himself and burst into tears.
The screeching seagulls woke Mia Krüger.
By now she really should have grown used to them; after all, it had been four months since she’d bought this house near the mouth of the fjord, but Oslo refused to release its hold on her. Back in her apartment in Vogtsgate, there had always been noise, buses, trams, police sirens, ambulances, and none of them had ever disturbed her—if anything, they had calmed her down—but she was unable to ignore this cacophony of seagulls. Perhaps it was because everything else around here was so quiet.
She reached out for the alarm clock on the bedside table but could not read the time. The hands appeared to be missing; lost in a fog somewhere, a quarter past two or twenty-five minutes to nothing. The pills she had taken last night were still working. Calming, sedating, sensory-depriving. “Do not take with alcohol”—yeah, right. After all, she was going to be dead in twelve days. She had ticked off the days on the calendar in the kitchen, twelve blank squares left.
Twelve days. April 18.
She sat up in bed, pulled on her Icelandic sweater, and shuffled downstairs to the living room.
A colleague had prescribed her the pills. A mandatory “friend,” someone whose job it was to help her forget, process events, move on. A police psychologist, or was he a psychiatrist? She guessed he had to be the latter, so he could issue prescriptions. Whatever, she had access to anything she wanted. Even in this far-flung corner of the world and even though it required considerable effort. She had to get dressed. Start the outboard motor on the boat. Freeze for the fifteen minutes it took her to sail to Hitra, the main island. Start the car. Stay on the road for forty minutes until she reached Fillan, the nearest town around here—not that it was much of a town, but there the pharmacy could be found, and then a visit to the liquor store. The prescriptions would be ready and waiting for her, as they had been telephoned through from Oslo. Xanax, Valium, Lamictal, Celexa. Some from the psychiatrist along with some from her GP. They were all so helpful, so kind—Now, don’t take too many, please be careful—but Mia Krüger had absolutely no intention of being careful. She had not moved out here to get better. She had come here to seek oblivion.
Twelve days left. April 18.
Mia Krüger took a bottle of mineral water from the fridge, got dressed, and walked down to the sea. She sat on a rock, pulled her jacket more tightly around her, and got ready to take the first of today’s pills. She shoved a hand into her pants pocket. A spectrum of colors. Her head still felt groggy, and she could not remember which ones she was supposed to be taking today, but it didn’t matter. She washed them down with a gulp from the bottle and dangled her feet over the water. She stared at her boots. It made no sense; it was as if they were not her feet but someone else’s, and they seemed far, far away. She shifted her gaze to the sea instead. That made no sense either, but she forced herself to stick with it and looked across the sea, toward the distant horizon, at the small island out there, a place whose name she did not know.
She had chosen this location at random. Hitra. A little island in Trøndelag, off the west-central coast of Norway. It could have been anywhere as long as she was left alone. She had let the real-estate agent decide. Sell my apartment and find me something else. He had looked at her and cocked his head as if she were a lunatic or simpleminded, but he wanted his commission, so what did he care? The friendly white smile that had said yes, of course he could, did she want a quick sale? Did she have something specific in mind? Professional courtesy, but she had seen his true nature. She felt nauseous just thinking about it. Fake, revolting eyes. She had always been able to see straight through anyone she came near. On that occasion it had been the agent, a slippery eel in a suit and tie, and she had not liked what she saw.
You have to use this talent you have been given. Don’t you see? You need to use it for something. And this is what you’re meant to use it for.
No, she bloody wouldn’t. Not anymore. Never again. The thought made her feel strangely calm.
Mia Krüger got up from the rock and followed the path back to the house. It was time for the first drink of the day. She did not know what time it was, but it was definitely due now. She had bought expensive alcohol, ordered it especially. It was possibly a contradiction in terms, but why not enjoy something luxurious, given how little time she had left? Why this? Why that? She had stopped sweating the small stuff long ago. She opened a bottle of Armagnac Domaine de Pantagnan 1965 Labeyrie and filled the teacup, which was sitting unwashed on the kitchen counter, three-quarters full. An eight-hundred-kroner Armagnac in a filthy teacup. Look how little it bothers me. Do you think I care? She smiled faintly to herself, found some more pills in her pocket, and walked back down to the rocks.
If she had to live somewhere, it might as well be here. Fresh air, a sea view, the tranquillity beneath the white clouds. She had no links to Trøndelag, but she had liked this island from the moment she first saw it. They had deer here. Countless herds of them, and it had intrigued her—deer belonged elsewhere, in Alaska, in the movies. These beautiful animals that people insisted on hunting. Mia Krüger had learned to shoot at the police academy, but she had never liked guns. Guns were not for fun; guns were something you used only when you had no other choice, and not even then. The deer season on Hitra lasted from September to November. One day on her way to the pharmacy, she had passed a group of young people busy tying a dead deer to the bed of their truck. It had been February, outside the hunting season, and for a moment she had contemplated pulling over, taking down their names, and reporting the
Once a police officer, always a police officer?
Not anymore. No way.
Twelve days to go. April 18.
She drank the last of her Armagnac, rested her head against the rock, and closed her eyes.
Holger Munch was sweating as he waited in the arrivals terminal at Værnes Airport to pick up a rental car. As usual, the plane had been late due to fog at Gardermoen Airport, and once again Holger was reminded of Jan Fredrik Wiborg, the civil engineer who had supposedly killed himself in Copenhagen after criticizing the expansion plans for Oslo’s main airport, citing unfavorable weather conditions. Even now, eighteen years later, Munch was unable to forget that the body of a fully grown man had been found beneath a hotel-room window too small for him to have gotten through, just before the Airport Bill was due to be debated in Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament. And why had the Danish and the Norwegian police been reluctant to investigate his death properly?
Holger Munch abandoned his train of thought as a blond girl behind the Europcar counter cleared her throat to let him know it was his turn to be served.
“Munch,” he said curtly. “I believe a car has been booked for me.”
“Right, so you’re the guy who is getting a new museum in Oslo?” The girl in the green uniform winked at him.
Munch did not get the joke immediately.
“Or maybe you’re not the artist?” The girl smiled as she cheerfully bashed the keyboard in front of her.
“Eh? No, not the artist, no,” Munch said drily. “Not even related.”
Or I wouldn’t be standing here, not if I had that inheritance, Munch thought as the girl handed him a form to sign.
Holger Munch hated flying, which explained his bad mood. Not because he feared that the plane might crash. Holger Munch was an amateur mathematician and knew that the risk of a crash was less than that of being struck by lightning twice in the same day. No, Holger Munch hated planes because he could barely fit into the seat.