-a WICUS FOSTER novel –
I wanted to take the oar and smack her head off. I really did. I mean she murdered my Amala – my Grandma, just because Amala was awesomely smart. I was super mad but also super scared. Way too much was happening, way too fast in my life. The last three days had been totally insane.
I tried to slow down my breathing.
One-two. One two, with deep breaths. Long exhale, long inhale.
I looked away from Sadie, the spooky chick I wanted to nail with the oar, away from her upside down triangle tattoo, and looked out at the flowing Yellowstone River and in my mind ticked off the craziness that swept up my family ever since the freaky kid delivered the crate to our old farmhouse at Wild Wind Farm in Maine.
3 days ago a skinny kid with a fat head dropped off a crate at our farmhouse in Maine
Mom opened the crate with magic buzzel honey from her home Universe – Lux
The crate held three, kind of four, things: Lumen grass, a flute, and agates
The Lumen grass had a grasshopper in it
The flute was made of bone and stopped time when I played it
The agates were blue and round and floated and are like invisibiluy connected
A crazy lightening storm hit the house that night
We were attacked by Fetches – creepoid, monsters from Lux
We ran away to Gramp and Grams house.
Our house burned down.
Oh-yeah! I shot a fetch in the back with a cannon!! I rock sometimes!
We left the next morning for NYC to see Chuck at the Museum
We left Lucy with Gram and Gramp so Ed wouldn’t puke on her.
We ate bucket loads of fish tacos
At the museum we learned from Chuck that Lucy actually wasn’t with Gram and Gram
We were attacked again by Fetches
I was chased by one trying to kill my butt so I ran to the Hudson River.
When I was hiding my sister Lucy was also hiding. Totally weird!
We swam to a boat and his in a cargo crate from the fetch.
A smart-o Viking Norwegian old dude helped us
The fetch tried to kill Lucy and me in the crate so I played the flute
When I played the flute we fell into some worm-hole time travel trap door thing and ended up on the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana.
Sadie, the way too spooky murderer found us and probably want to kill us both. Oh-joy!
Ingrid Landvik’s heart raced.
She ran down the apartment building’s narrow hallway, stepping over broken beer bottles, shattered light bulbs and random syringe needles.
He would be back at any moment.
She ripped open the heavy staircase door, racing down the concrete steps.
It was four flights of stairs to the main floor, then she would fly out the door onto the street and disappear into the dark night.
Blood from the gashes on her bare feet stained the concrete steps.
She hurried down another flight.
The back of her ripped black dress flapped with each hurried step. Her face and chest were peppered with blood. Her blonde hair, with streaks of gray was a tangled and matted mess.
She should have never gotten in the car to close the deal.
That was three—four hours ago.
He almost killed her.
He would when he returned.
What a goddamn sadist.
Now I know!
Her left foot, slammed into her right heel rounding the corner, slamming her down onto the steps, splitting her forehead, as her hands were still bound behind her. Like a wild animal, she leapt back up and kept running, blood trickling down her forehead, her cheeks, her mouth.
One more flight.
She thought of the package. How absurd it was to mail it, but desperate times, demands desperate measures.
The stairs ended and she turned left, bursting through the Exit door with her shoulder, out into the cold, Oslo night.
Her feet tracked streaks of pink blood over the thin, crusted snow. She raced away from the streetlights, towards the darkness.
Minutes later, out of breath, Ingrid leaned against a chain link fence surrounding a vacant lot. In the distance, occasional headlights zoomed by in the early morning blackness.
Her feet were feeling the cold, the pain. She needed to keep moving.
Then her soul froze a moment and she screamed.
His hand yanked her to the snow by her hair.
He pressed his knee into her stomach, still holding the back of her head by the hair.
She stared at his face, still shocked that it was him, and watched in dismay as he grinned.
“No, no, noooo!” she wept, closing her eyes.
Twenty minutes late, back in Apartment 418C, Ingrid was bound and gaged again, her eyelids taped open with Scotch tape.
He had brought a black back. W hat he brought out of it was evil.
Ingrid’s eyes were open but she couldn’t see a thing except her son, the son they took from her, the son she was trying to save.
Henry Black stood in the back of the crowded church staring down the aisle at Ingrid Landvik’s shiny wooden coffin. He pictured her eyes shut peacefully, her hands folded tenderly over her abdomen, her blonde hair with subtle streaks of grey covering her shoulders. He imagined it being light inside the coffin but he knew better. It was dark and she would never be exposed to light again.
Darkness would cover her severed torso, cut in half with a wire, just above her waist. Darkness would fill the hole where her belly-button once was, cut out and removed like cutting a hole in the ice to fish or so he imagined. Darkness would hide the small holes left behind from the nipple piercing after she went missing. He imagined the funeral director having long skinny fingers and placing Ingrid’s upper torso in the casket first, followed by her lower torso and pulling and pushing the two parts as close together as possible. But there still must have been a gap between top Ingrid and lower Ingrid. And she must have been wearing a dress. That would help cover the gap. Even in the darkness he was glad her hair covered her ears or where her ears should have been before they were melted with a blowtorch. A head with no ears is monster-like and even though Ingrid was a bitch, Henry’s mom was no monster. Monsters don’t get voted Miss Norway when they are young.
It was difficult to see the front row in the church. In the left pew was a tall man with blond hair, probably Ingrid’s twin brother, Anders. Henry had no memories of him beyond a few old pictures. Chances are he held Henry as a baby. The woman next to him Henry assumed was his wife and the older couple next to her must be Ingrid’s parents, Solvig and Bjarne. Henry’s grandparents never held him. They wanted him to go away and he eventually did. A bastard child was not part of their grand plan for beautiful Ingrid.
Beyond Anders, Solvig and Bjarne Henry was at a complete loss. Anyone in the ballpark of his age could be his cousins. Ingrid had two older sisters, Anna and Astrid. Maybe they were in the pew on the right, which he couldn’t see.
The Lutheran Priest was young and seemed nervous even though Hnery couldn’t understand a word he was saying. The sweat on his large forehead glistened in the Church’s overhead lights. He had small dark eyes that darted between the bible in front of him and Solvig and Bjarne. The coffin dwarfed his small frame.
Few people in the church took notice of Henry. Some wandering eyes came his way but not in a suspicious manner, just curious to see who strolled in to Ingrid Peterson’s funeral ten minutes late. Henry was sure none of them knew he was Ingrid’s bastard son from Montana.
Five days before the funeral Henry was having late morning coffee in Missoula, Montana at Bernice’s Bakery with his buddy, Nick, hearing about his exaggerated backcountry ski exploits over the weekend. They both kept staring out the window at Higgins Street, watching the snow pile high. Nick was talking about killer ski lines when Henry noticed Megan, one of his employees at Igloo Sports, dart across the window and burst in Bernice’s.
“Henry! A Norwegian dude is at the shop. Needs to see you ASAP. It’s some serious shit.”
Hurrying two blocks to the shop with the snow spitting in their faces, Megan continued. “The guy has a royal stick up his Nordic ass. I could blow the guy and I bet he wouldn’t crack a smile.” Megan laughed. “Joachim is his name. Ya’ know him?”
“Don’t think so,” Henry said, as his mind spit out images of his mother over the years. Maybe this was her way of announcing a visit. Joachim could be a messenger. That’s what she did the last time they’d met. Three years ago in Jackson Hole, a guy, Arne, tracks him down in a bar to inform him he can see his mother the following day for breakfast. If he wanted to of course.
Maybe Joachim, will extend a lunch invitation to me. I wonder what the hell she’s doing in Missoula – it’s no Jackson Hole and she’s never dropped in before? The mountainous run-down town is beneath her stomping ground criteria. Swanky-trendy Whitefish or Bozeman, maybe, but not Missoula, home of the Ph.D., pawn shop workers and more second hand stores and coffee shops than gas stations. “Hopefully he wants to buy some of our stuff,” Henry’s says to Megan but he knows damn well his visit is about Ingrid.
“No way. The guy’s a jelly-donut. Smoking has to be the most active thing the guy does.” She pointed through the snow. “There’s the fat ass now.”
Henry saw the silhouette of a short fat man pacing in the snowstorm outside his shop.
Megan shot back into the store.
“Hey, I’m Henry—Henry Black. Megan said you’re looking for me.” Henry held out his hand.
Snowflakes lined Joachim’s bushy strawberry blond eyebrows. He was balding with thick tufts of hair matted to the side of his head above his ears and seemed not to have a neck. He wore a long black wool coat that made him look like a ball of wet yarn. His eyes were like a toad’s. He flicked his cigarette into the snowstorm. “Joachim—Petter—Steinvold, from Norvay.”
Henry shook his small, soft, hand.
“I verk for Ingrid Peterson. Vee must talk in private.”
“Yeah, I figured as much.” Henry looked at his watch. It was 10:45. “Follow me.” I walked north a block then waited for the light to cross Higgins. Joachim had already managed to light another cigarette in the storm, probably lots of practice in Norway. “Ingrid knows I always say yes to lunch, diner, breakfast. Whatever the occasion. I just can’t believe she’s in Missoula.”
Joachim stared into the storm. “Ingrid izz not in Mizzoula.” He dropped his cigarette into the snow.
The light changed.
Across the street I held the door at Chuck’s Bar for Joachim. We walked to the back of the bar across the old wooden floor and sat down at a dark table with a glass top. I sat sideways and leaned against the wall. Four drunks were perched at the bar. I smiled as Carol approached.
“You’re here early, Henry.”
“Business.” I smiled and glanced at Joachim. “Gotta pay the bills.”
“Don’t I know it,” Carol returned the smile. She was in her mid 50’s and had dated Dad once a long time ago. Still cute and always happy. “What can I get you two?”
“A Cold Smoke for me.” I looked across the table. “Joachim – beer, whisky, coffee?”
He looked up at Carol. “Kaffee.”
“A Cold Smoke on tap and a coffee. Sugar, cream?”
“All right then – be right back.”
Carol sauntered back to the bar.
“Is this private enough?” I asked.
“It’s okay.” He pulled out his pack of cigarettes.
“No smoking in here, Joachim. Sorry, dude.”
“Ja, I know. It’s the shitz here. Can’t smoke anywhere except in snowstorms.”
Carol brought us our drinks.
“Of course.” She winked and returned to the bar.
I sipped my Cold Smoke – a nice thick Scotch Ale. “So what’s up, Joachim? I haven’t heard from Ingrid since October I think. What’s the occasion?”
Joachim cupped his coffee in both hands, staring at me through its steam. “I’m her advokat – her lawyer. One of them anyvays. Ingrid went missing on March fifth.”
“Went missing? She went missing from me since I was six weeks old.” I took a big sip of Cold Smoke.
“She vas last seen alive eleven dayz ago shopping in Oslo.” Joachim sipped his coffee. “On March 11th, her sister Astrid received a ransom demand. On March 13th the family paid the ransom request but Ingrid vas never released. Two dayz ago a confidential source from inside the Oslo Police Agency contacted me. They found Ingrid’s body.” Joachim stared at me.
I set down my beer, feeling dizzy. “She’s dead?”
“Ja. I’m confident she iz. It’s not official but my source iz very reliable. The press will be onto it any hour now.” I felt him looking at me. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t fucking be. You don’t know me and Ingrid sure as hell didn’t.” I felt sick.
Joachim drank more coffee. “Vell, I vill say this. It’s in your interest to come to Norvay. Come to her funeral vhenever it may be. Probably in a veek or so. There vill be important paper verk you need to attend to and it vill be easier if you are in Norvay than if you are in Montana.” He looked at me across the table. “You also should be careful. Maybe you are in danger, too.”
I forced a sip of beer. “What the hell are you talking about? Paper work? Funeral? Danger? I don’t know you and I didn’t know Ingrid.”
“As her advokat I know much what others do not, especially her family.” He pointed his finger at me. “Henry Black, you are sole heir to Ingrid Peterson’s estate. It iz worth your time to come to Norvay, no matter how you feel about Ingrid Peterson. Soon others vill know you’re heir to her small fortune and it vill not be so easy to hide – even in Montana snowstorms.”
I watched Carol in the distance pouring a shot of tequila for old Cub at the bar, the spring snow outside the small bar window was a sheet of white blur. “Who kidnapped her?”
“At this time Oslo doesn’t think it was a kidnapping. Maybe a random abduction by two heroin addicts who later discovered they had someone worth money. I know few details. As soon as the media catches vind of it, I’ll find out more.”
“How was she was killed?”
Joachim looked around the room, before fixing his gaze at the snowstorm outside the window. Steam rose from his coffee. “It is believed she was tortured for some time.” He paused staring at the snow, his eyes squinting. “Her body was cut in half, her ears melted. Her death was horrific.”
I closed my eyes, rubbing my head. I couldn’t hear what else Joachim was saying. I managed to stand up and stumble toward the door. Somehow I noticed Old Cub was staring at me. I walked outside and headed into the storm, the snow pelting me in the face.
I spent the rest of the day at my house on Jackson Street, drinking coffee, searching the internet for news of Ingrid, checking in with Megan on my cell phone and by 3:30 I had purchased a round trip ticket to Oslo for $3,800.00, departing from Missoula in thirty hours.
Intermittently I found myself looking through the red metal toolbox I kept in my bedroom closet. It contained all the connections I had ever had with Ingrid Bitte Peterson over the thirty-one years of my life. From my Norwegian birth certificate to clippings of Miss Norway to the nineteen letters I had received over the years. There were pictures Dad had given me from when they met in Nepal and when he visited her for two months in Drammen. There were three pictures of her holding me as a newborn when she was twenty-two, looking scared shitless. There were seven hard copies I printed of emails between us when I had a yahoo account and seventeen when I had a gmail account. For the last three years I used a Protonmail account and she had corresponded with me twenty-one times. I stayed logged on for the day and kept re-reading her last email to me from January 27th.
I know I shouldn’t email anyone after I have been
drinking but I email you anyways. I’m stuck in
zurich after purchasing a painting. For you. Yes, you,
Henry. I wish so much you would be a royal ass to me
someday but you continue to disappoint. Can you
imagine a worse Mor? In my wildest dreams I can
not. You are so nice and so handsome, like a prince to me who has been nothing but kruel and vile to you. We are who we are for the reasons. That is not so much an excuse but an explanation. Had I really been your
Mor you would be a wicked beast by now banished
to a desert island surrounded by blood thirsty sharks as I am now wanting to eat me alive before I complete more damage to my demons in this fairy tale called life.
Sometime after 4 Megan called.
“Fat Joachim wants to come to your house. Said he needs to talk before he flies back to Norway. He’s hanging out in the store, scaring customers away. No shit. Looks like a creepy pedophile lurking around. He said he knows your address on Jackson Street but wants to –”
“It’s fine. Send him over.”
“You okay, Henry?”
“It’s all good, just send him over.”
“Copy. I’ll get him a taxi.”
“Thanks, Megan. I gotto go.”
Joachim arrived twenty minutes later. He stomped the snow off his shoes on the porch. I opened the door and he scooted inside, took off his jacket and made his way into the living room, sitting down on the sofa. “Aftenposten is breaking the story. It’s just after mid-night in Norvay. In seven, eight hours, Norvay will know Ingrid Peterson went missing for eleven days and was found cut in two, three days ago in Oslo. Has anyone contacted you yet about Ingrid?”
I leaned against my bookcase, shaking my head. “No, not yet. You think someone will?”
“Ja. It might be a day or so but it’s no secret you’re her son, just forgotten until now. If Ingrid died in a car accident no one would give a shitz about you but with a grisly murder the press playz detective.”
“So I tell them I haven’t seen her for eight months and yeah, I’m her son. I don’t see how that’s a big deal.”
Joachim looked around the room. “Whisky now vould be nice.”
He nodded. “Ja. Ice.”
I went into the kitchen and returned with his drink.
“Takk.” He leaned back into the sofa.
“I found you on-line today. You’re with a small firm in Oslo. Five partners. Wills, trusts, estate planning, taxes. Exciting stuff.”
He sipped his drink. “It can be.”
“Kristensen, Jensen, and Steinvold have a number of international clients – at least that’s what you advertise.”
Joachim nodded his fat, round head. “Mmmm.” He had settled into the sofa enough now with his drink to start looking around the living room. “Two suspects my source says are in custody for Ingrid’s murder.”
“The heroin guys?”
“Ja. Very evil men.”
“Did Ingrid do that shit – heroin?”
“Not heroin. Hashish maybe when she traveled. The police still think she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“And that’s what you think?”
“Ja, ja. Ingrid didn’t run in those crowds.” He shook his head.
“What crowds did she run in?” I asked.
“Ingrid? You know Ingrid.”
With my arms folded I watched him sip his whisky. “What the hell are you talking about? I know, Ingrid. I’ve got a hand full of letters from her in my life. I’ve seen her about once every two years. I don’t know jack-shit about Ingrid except she had more important shit to do with her life than deal with me. And I’m not playing the sympathy card. I have a great fucking life—it just happens to be a life without a mother. Dad has been great, my grandparents are awesome. My Aunt and Uncle have been rocks for me. I’m not one to wallow in pity. I get the big picture. Dad screwed a young, hot Norwegian he met in Nepal while on a K2 expedition. Nine months later I enter the world. Ingrid is twenty-one, Dad is thirty-one. Ingrid’s family hates Dad and hates me. Dad gets full custody and I have a great life in Montana. Big fuck’n deal. But Christ, I have a heart. You waltz into my life this morning to tell me Ingrid was goddamn sawed in half and all the other physco-shit you talked about. Now I’m flying to Norway to attend to affairs of Ingrid who I never knew other than she gave birth to me. So no, Joachim, I don’t know who the fuck Ingrid is and I sure as shit don’t know who you are!”
Joachim sipped his whisky, looking at the snow fall outside the window. “Ja. Ingrid is, umm, vas not such an easy voman to understand. I knew her fourteen years.” He looked at me. “Her heart vas big but her mind vas complicated. Vee vill have much to discuss when you are in Norvay.” He shifted his weight on the sofa. “How long vill you stay?”
“Two weeks. I arrive in Oslo on Friday.”
“Ja. Okay. That should be fine. You have accommodations? Oslo is expensive. I can help—“
“I’m good, thanks. I know how to travel.”
“Ja, of course.” He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and fished a card out of it. “Call me as soon as you’d like. Earlier would be better. I also have your email and mobile number from Ingrid. I vill also be in communication.”
“Sure, that’s fine.”
Joachim looked back out the window. “And just be careful. As I told you the police believe they have the murderers in custody but maybe the police are wrong.” He stared back at me.
“Are you telling me you think the police have the wrong suspects?”
“I’m saying the police could be wrong is all. You are not the only person in the world upset with Ingrid. She made many people happy and she made many people mad.” He finished his drink. “But let’s hope the police are correct.” He stood and headed toward the door. “I vill see you soon in Oslo, ja?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“Vell, then. My taxi is still here. I vill go. Safe travels.”
I watched Joachim trudge back out into the snowstorm and climb into the back seat of his taxi.
About six that evening I went back to the shop to tie up loose ends before my unexpected two-week exodus. Dad started the shop when I was a kid and for about ten years it lurched along with fits and starts. Good weeks, bad weeks, good months, bad months, good years, bad years. But the last decade it came into its own. Somehow Dad scraped up enough money to buy the building he originally leased. I remember the day Dad paid off the mortgage I was seventeen. He had a party upstairs in the office, complete with beer, wine, bourbon and weed. All night people came and went, reminiscing of old climbing times or ski adventures and just damn crazy adventures. I knew most everyone. Half of them helped raise me, when Dad was off bagging peaks with clients or shredding lines with friends. Dad burned the mortgage, using flames from the burning paper to light a fatty. I usually didn’t smoke with Dad, but I did that night. It was all good.
About three that morning, there were still some stragglers and Dad was feeling good. His short speech was filled with bourbon breath and smoke. “As you all I know, the banks no longer own me – I’m a free man.” Everyone hollered and clapped. “But I couldn’t have done it without all of you and without my best buddy in the fucking universe – Henry.” He grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me in for a bear hug. Then he started to cry.
“This handsome as hell kid, now a young man, has been my anchor in life. I know I haven’t been a role model for him, but I thank my lucky fuck’n stars he sure as hell has been a role model for me.” I remember he gave me another hug before his next announcement. “And that’s why tomorrow Henry and I are heading to Chile where my boy is going to teach his old man how to board.”
I tried hard to look cool. “Sweet, Dad. Chile?”
“Si, amigo.” His smile filled the room, while every one hooted and hollered, his big hand resting on my shoulder.
My phone buzzed, bringing me back from the past.
“Hey,” I said. “Igloo Sports.” My watch read 10:08 PM. Strange, I thought.
“Henry Black?” It was a woman’s voice.
“Yeah, I’m Henry.”
“My name is Astrid Årud with the Aftenposten, a newspaper from Oslo, Norway. I’m sorry about the death of your mother, Ingrid Petterson. May I ask you a few questions?”
I hesitated, then clicked my phone off.
I walked over to my desk and sat down in front of my laptop. In a few clicks I was reading an English translation of the Aftenposten. Ingrid Petterson, Former Miss Norway, Brutally Murdered.” It was the front page story. There was a thirty-three year old picture of Ingrid with a silver tiara on her head, in a black gown next to a contemporary picture of her. I thought she looked prettier in the newer picture. I read the article.
Shit, I thought, running my hands through my hair. I read it again.
Ingrid’s severed body was discovered on March 29th in an abandoned warehouse by a realtor while showing the building to a group of prospective buyers. It took authorities four days to notify family before releasing a press release identifying the corpse. The article identified Helmut Krauhn of Germany as Ingrid’s partner for twelve years. That was the first I had heard of Helmut.
The police had apprehended two heroin dealer suspects in the grisly murder: Fadeh Assari, a twenty-three year old Norwegian citizen and Anak Fontessi, a forty-one year old Turkish immigrant. The end of the article surprised me when I read, “Ingrid Petterson is survived by her partner for twelve years Helmut Krauhn of Germany, her son Henry Petterson Black of the USA, her daughter, Kristin Hodne of London, her parents Bjarne and Solveig Petterson of Drammen, a brother Anders Petterson of Trondhiem, sisters Astrid Jensen of Gjerdrum and Anna Haagvard of Molde, and three nieces and four nephews. I had never heard of Helmut Krauhn nor did I know of Ingrid’s sister Astrid Jensen but Christ, how the hell didn’t I know I had a sister!
In the second pew behind Solvig and Barnje, I noticed two women, wondering if one was Kristin, my damn sister. They both looked young, somewhere in their late twenties, early thirties. One had short blonde hair, the other had long brown hair. The blonde had a slight build while the brunette was bigger boned. Although seated next to one another, their body language provided the impression they did not know one another. The blonde had her head tilted, looking at the preacher. The brunette gazed back and forth between Solveg and Bjarne. Their shoulders did not graze against one another’s, nor did they exchange looks, or squeeze one another’s forearms in a reassuring way, as is common practice at funerals. They both were pretty, nice complexions, and poised. Neither, however, struck me as an Ingrid carbon copy.
Suddenly the tall man standing next to me lowered his head and whispered something to me in Norwegian. I stared straight ahead, ignoring him, not wanting to be identified as an American. The man repeated himself. Like an idiot, I glanced up him, nodded my head, then stared back at the preacher. Whatever the hell he said, my nod satisfied him. He gave my shoulder a pat before folding his hand in front of him. Presumably he was also staring straight ahead but I dared not look, worried he’d speak to me again.
I scanned the Church, searching for Joachim. The Church was big and it was full, three hundred people or so. I had no luck finding him as his short frame was no doubt lost in a sea of taller people. As I was searching I noticed a woman about my age, dressed in grey, staring at me. Her hair was a busy shock of black. She squeezed the shoulder of the man next to her and together they both stared at me. Then the organ started playing and everyone stirred as a hymn started and people began standing. I lost sight of the couple staring at me and took that as a good sign to exit my mother’s funeral.
A few minutes later I was walking into a biting wind down a street lined with cars feeling damned alone in the world and cold and wondering what it would have been like to grow up with a mother, someone to wave at during a school concert, and whisper to my friend, “there’s my, mom,” and smile when she waved back at me.
At the end of a string of parked cars I turned to cross a quiet street when I noticed a woman twenty yards behind me. As I waited for a car to drive by I saw it was the woman from the church with the black hair. She was walking fast. I gave her an awkward smile as she approached.
She stood next to me as the car passed, pulling out an index card from her pocket. In black marker it read, Henry Black your lives are in Danger. Joachim is my friend. Follow me. You are not safe.
“What the hell?” I asked staring at her.
She held her finger up to her lips. “Sssshhhh.” She flipped the index card over. Listening and tracking devise is on you
“Christ,” I muttered before crossing the street. She walked with me. On the other side of the street she hurried ahead of me, five yards, motioning with her arm for me to follow.
I stopped on the sidewalk, rubbing my head, figuring what the hell to do. I pulled out my phone to call Joachim.
She walked back to me, shaking her head, mouthing, nooo. She pointed ahead toward a small car approaching on the street and gave me the thumbs up and smiled.
The black car pulled over. An older man was driving. The car was a Puegot. She opened the back door. “Pleeeease,” she mouthed. She held up the index card again, thrusting it in my face. Henry Black your lives are in Danger. Joachim is my friend. Follow me. You are not safe
“Shit,” I said and got in the car.
She scooted in next to me, shut the door and the old man took off, turning left, avoiding heading back towards the church.
The man handed back a brown folder to me.
I took it and opened it. There were maybe twenty pages inside. On top was a hand written letter.
This is Joachim. I will meet you in a few days. Stay with Britta always. So much danger is around you. More than I could have thought when we met first. Inside you will find pictures from peoples following you and other important papers. Do whatever Britta says. She is top good. You must remove everything now and Britta will show how you tracked by the peoples. This is complex and bad. Stay good. Welcome to Norge.
Britta anxiously watched me. I went through the papers. There were a number of photo copied pictures. The first four were of me taken from Gardemoen Airport in Oslo. One was of me buying coffee. Another going through customs. The third and fourth of me waiting for a taxi. Then there were two of me from my layover at Reagan International. One I was sitting, sleeping. The other reading a paper. The pictures were good, not blurry at all.
“Shit,” I said looking at the next pictures. The first was of me walking outside of my shop in Missoula. I was with Kevin Neece, a guy on the City Council. It was taken a week before Joachim marched into my life. Another picture was of me loading my Subaru with skis in front of my house. Another picture was me leaving the Good Food Store, baguettes and wine in hand.
I felt sick.
The next paper was a copy of my recent First Interstate Bank bank statement. The next two papers were copies of my electronic Visa and American Express bills. The last number of papers were copies of my gmail account, my sent messages and inbox messages printed out. The last page were my texts from my iPhone, the most recent a text from me to Megan from the airport. I looked at Britta.
She held up another index card. You are not who you think you are. Peoples want to kill you because THEY KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Shit. I shrugged, staring at her.
She scribbled again on an index card. Remove alls your cloths, kwickly. The tracking devis. She stared at me, snapping her fingers.
The old man studied me in the rear view mirror.
Britta gestured with her hands for me to hurry the fuck up.
I took off my wool coat, handing it to her. She brushed it with a small metal wand.
She examined the left shoulder and extracted a small metallic devise no bigger than a small button. It was stuck to my coat with some adhesive substance.
The tall man in the church, I thought. Shit.
Next I removed my sweater and unbuttoned my shirt, handing Britta both. She was through with them in a few minutes. Nothing.
She pointed to my t-shirt. I pulled it over my head. She scanned it and through it into a leather rusk sack. She handed me a new white t-shirt and a black wool pull over sport shirt.
She pointed to my pants.
The old man was checking his mirrors, clearly making sure he wasn’t being followed. The car took another sharp turn.
First I handed over my shoes, then socks.
I removed my wallet. “Jesus,” I said as I unbuckled my pants. I awkwardly squirmed out of them and handed them in a ball to Britta.
She was thorough with the pants and belt.
She then moved the wand over my briefs and had me arch my back so she could wand my damn ass.
She handed me a pair of jeans and socks from a duffel bag next to her.
I put them on. The pants actually fit.
She pointed to the wallet.
It was a large wallet, oversized for foreign travel. It held travel information, my passport, credit cards, medical information, my Montana license.
I held it out for the wand.
She stared at me.
I handed her the wallet.
She began removing items individually and scanning them. My license, my credit cards.
She looked up at me.
I shrugged again. What the hell?
Slowly she examined each page.
She stopped at my entry stamp, examining it closely.
She leaned forward, whispering something to the old man.
He removed a pair of reading glasses hanging around his neck and handed them back.
She put them on and held the stamp closer to her face. She nodded her head.
She then gave me the glasses and handed back the passport.
I put on the glasses and stared at the stamp.
The entry stamp was raised slightly on the page, a blue, red, and black circular stamp with the date and some Norwegian type. It had a sheen to it that the rest of the page did not. I held it closer to my nose and could discern what appeared to be five strands of hair-thin wire embedded in the stamp.
What the hell is going on?
I handed back the passport.
Britta fished around the duffel bag, pulling out a small pen knife. She placed the open page against the back of my wallet, using it for a firm surface and cut out the page from my passport.
She placed the cut out page in her lap and scanned it. It beeped.
She then scanned the passport.
She placed the loose page in the rusk sack and then scanned the remaining contents of my wallet.
Everything else was clean.
She handed me a wool hat, sun glasses and boots from the duffel bag and tapped the old man on his shoulder, whispering to him.
She pointed to my boots, urging me to put them on in a hurry.
She changed coats, put on a hat and traded her boots for shoes.
Two minutes later, at an intersection, Britta and I exited the Pugeout and the old man sped off with the duffel bag and rusk sack.
I followed Britta across a busy street and entered a parking garage.
While walking through the garage Britta took off her hat, turned it inside out so it changed from black to white and handed it to me. She yanked my red hat off my head as we walked. She pulled at her hair, yanking off a black wig. Her shock of black hair was now in her hands. She released her hair from a bun, draping long blonde hair over her shoulders. She stopped and removed leather boots from her paper bag and shoes for me.
Without stopping we walked by a small dumpster and Britta tossed our extra clothes into it including her jacket.
“Coat,” she demanded.
I took it off as we hurried through the garage and gave it to her.
Immediately she unzipped the sleeves and turned it inside out, changing it from black coat to a green wool vest. She put it on.
We jogged through the dark garage and up two flights of stairs, then headed toward a lit exit. She stopped at the door.
“We are now lovers. I speak German. You say nothing. Look happy.”
We exited the garage, side-by-side onto a busy sidewalk. Most people had their heads down into the wind. Her left arm wrapped around my waist, her hand, deep into my left front pocket. She nudged me, so I wrapped my right arm around her waist, my hand pulling her waist closer to me. Occasionally, when people were close, she’d prattle to me in German. I smiled and nodded.
After ten minutes of walking we entered a small grocery store. Britta bought a bottle of red wine and artisan bread. We didn’t speak. Back out on the sidewalk we walked again, side-by-side, holding hands. I carried the wine, Britta the bread, talking to me in German.
We stopped at a large gray, concrete building and entered a small courtyard. From the courtyard we turned left, and climbed five flights of metal stairs. At the top of the stairs Britta entered a number on an electronic keypad and we entered a wide hallway. We walked past doors numbered 512-517. At room 518, Britta entered another code on a keypad, then used two keys for two dead bolts.
She closed the door, locking both dead blots. Inside the apartment was dark.
We walked through a small kitchen, into a living room. She turned on a floor lamp. She held her finger to her mouth, and then motioned for me to stay put. She left checking a bathroom and two other rooms. She returned and clicked on the television with a remote to a Norwegian news station and then an IPod with music. She took the wine from my hand and walked to the kitchen. I watched as she uncorked it, pouring two generous glasses. She returned, handing me a glass.
“You want this, yes?”
I took a sip, then sat down. “What the hell is going on?”
She sat down across from me on the couch and sighed. “Yes, Henry. There is lots to talk about.”
I sipped my wine, studying her. She looked like a healthy, forty-something Norwegian. Blue eyes, fair skin, blonde hair, fit, about one-hundred thirty pounds.
“Yeah, well before I talk too much tell me who the hell you are?”
She nodded. “Yes. Of course. As I said earlier you can call me Britta. I—”
“Is Britta your name or just what you want me to call you?”
She smiled. “Call me, Britta.” She sipped her own wine. “Your life is in danger and I work for a person who wants you to be safe, so I try to make you safe.”
“Who do I work for?”
“Yeah, the person?”
“I cannot say. Not yet.”
“Christ.” I drank more wine, then sighed. “So why is my life in danger and why the hell should I trust you?”
“People know you are Ingrid Petterson’s son and because of that they want to kill you or perhaps kidnap you.”
“Do they know I hardly knew the woman?”
“They know that.”
“But still, my life is in danger?”
Someone was unlocking the door.
“It’s okay,” assured Britta. She looked at her watch. “He’s on time.”
The door opened. In walked the old man driving the car. He quietly shut the door, locking both dead bolts.
“Hallo,” he said softly, waving before walking towards us, wearing a black hat and a gray trench coat. He looked around sixty. He looked at me under his bushy eye-brows, extending his hand. “Hello, Henry Black. Welcome to Oslo.” I stood, holding my wine in left hand, shaking with my right. His hand was warm and strong. “I’m Anders Petterson,” he smiled. “Ingrid’s older brother.”
“Yes.” He nodded.
“My Uncle Anders?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. Not much of one, I know.” He studied me. “You look much like Ingrid.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
He could tell I wasn’t in the mood for bullshit banter.
“Sit, please.” He looked at Britta, then back at me. “We have some explaining to do.”
“Yeah, ‘ya do.”
“Britta and I work for an art collector who lives outside of Norway,” said Anders.
“Art collector?” I asked.
Anders nodded. “Yes. The individual, shall we say, has very eclectic taste and—”
Britta shouted in Norwegian as two masked men emerged from one of the back rooms.
“Shit!” I said.
The first man aimed a pistol at Britta. He spoke softly. Her eyes, darted from Anders to the man with the gun.
He stopped mid-way between Anders and Britta, still pointing the gun at her.
The second man walked around him and approached Britta from her back. The man with the pistol continued speaking. In minutes Britta was lying on her stomach, gagged, her wrists bound with zip-ties, facing away from Anders and I.
The man who tied up Britta next walked toward Anders. As he walked between Anders and the man with the gun Anders sprung forward, tackling him into the gunman.
In seconds, however, the gunman kicked a bent over Anders in the face. Anders thrust back and fell to the floor, onto his stomach. The unarmed man, then jumped to Anders back, pinning him to the tiled floor.
The gunman spoke with faster cadence but still low and soft, the pistol pointing at Anders, then at me, then back to Anders.
Britta had twisted herself around, facing the men.
The gunman quickly bent down behind Anders, placing the pistol’s barrel with a silencer behind Anders head. He spoke for a few seconds, then laughed. He turned and faced me, still holding the gun to Anders head. He smiled and then shot Anders twice.
“Jesus!” I yelled.
The gunman swung the pistol around, aiming it my face. He spoke softly, apparently giving orders to the other man. They forced me to stand and walk into the kitchen, where they sat me in a wooden kitchen chair with arms. With two large zip-ties on each wrist, they bound me to the chair. I kept gazing over at Anders where dark blood continued pouring out of the hole in his head.
The unarmed man disappeared into the back room, returning with a leather computer shoulder bag. He removed a long piece of cloth, and gagged me with it. Then he removed another cloth from a plastic bag. It was moist and he smothered my nose with it, pressing the back of my head into it. I don’t know what the hell it was but I thought of formaldehyde. He held it over my nose for a few minutes until I started losing consciousness. My head felt like it was being pulled down by lead bricks. I tried fighting it, staring at all the blood but soon the lead bricks began pulling on my eyelids as well.
Something was happening to my arm. A piece of rubber. A needle. I was surprised I didn’t feel any pain. I saw vials of blood and thought they were scooping up Anders blood from the floor with the vials. Then I made the connection they were taking blood from me. I wanted to tell them to stop but my mouth was full of cloth. I tried to groan but I wasn’t sure if I did.
Then they ripped the gag off and I coughed.
Someone forced my mouth open while someone else kept sticking cotton swabs in my mouth. Then they made me spit or rather drool in some vials. I began to black out again. My hand was holding something metallic and my body moved out of the chair.
There was that sound again.
Pffffffff-Pfffffff- Pffffffff-Pfffffff- Pffffffff.
I’m shooting Anders again. In the neck. Then I was pushed down onto him and I rolled off into a pool of blood and I was glad the blood was warm and not cold because maybe that meant Anders could still be alive and I didn’t want my face to be in the blood but it was warm and not cold so it wasn’t so bad and I wanted to pour the blood back into Anders head but it felt like a pallet of bricks was being lowered onto me, pressing me into the blood and I imagined splashing the blood into Ander’s hole but my fingers only twitched before blackness covered me more than tacky blood.
I passed out.
My head pounded. I was thirsty as hell.
I heard water running. I heard the faint sound of women talking. I wanted to open my eyes but they wouldn’t open.
Fucking Norway, I remembered. I’m in goddamn Norway. I remembered Anders and his dark blood and someone taking blood from me and I remembered the smell of the freshly fired gun and the black hole in his head.
I passed out.
The room was tiny and aqua blue and made of concrete blocks. Incense filled the air. My entire body was achy and heavy.
I stared at a woman reading four feet from me. She was sitting in an armchair. Her back very straight. She was of Middle Eastern or Indian descent. She wore a bright orange robe. The cot squeaked when I moved.
She looked up from her book. Startled by my movement. Her eyes narrowed. “Henry? Can you hear me?” Her voice was soft, with a British accent.
I studied her a few moments, then nodded. “Yeah.” My throat, my mouth was dry as hell.
I nodded. “Please.”
“One moment, Henry.”
She hurried out of the room, carrying her book.
In the adjacent room I heard water running. “Britta. He’s awake. Come, come.”
She returned with a small green glass full of water, handing it to me. “Are you okay?”
I heard footsteps. Britta entered the room. The two stood, side-by-side, staring at me. Britta wore jeans and a black t-shirt.
“Henry,” said Britta. “You’re alive?”
I drank some water. Paused. Then drank more. It hurt to swallow. “I’m alive but Anders sure as hell isn’t. What the hell happened?” I could see Britta had been crying.
She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She looked hard at me. “Maybe the same people who murdered Ingrid – I don’t know.”
“I thought they were in jail.”
“That’s what you’re supposed to think. That’s what the country is supposed to think but these things are not so simple.”
My head throbbed. “Aspirin or Ibuprofen or something.”
“Yes, yes. Of course.” The other woman hurried out of the room again.
“Where the hell am I?”
Britta looked out the doorway then back at me. “At a friend’s. Outside of Oslo.”
“I hope so.”
The woman returned with a small bottle of Ibuprofen. “How many?”
I reached out my hand. “Four is good.”
I swallowed them all with one sip of water.
“Henry, this is Nina,” said Britta.
I waved. “Thanks, Nina.”
She smiled and nodded. “You’re welcome, Henry.” She paused. “I’ll be just out there,” she pointed to the doorway. “Let me know if you need anything.” Then she looked at Britta, saying something in Norwegian before leaving the small room.
“Why am I hiding here and not in a hospital talking to the police?”
Britta looked out the doorway, then back at me. “You know vhat, Henry?” She waved toward the door. “You can do that if you vant. You’re not tied up. Anders and I did not kidnap you. We did not hold a gun to your head to come vith us. If you vant to go to the police, then go. If you vant to go to a hospital, then go.” She waved her hand again toward the doorway. “I know more than you do but I don’t have all the answers. Maybe the Oslo police are part of the problem, maybe not but Anders and I think they are bad for you because they were bad for Ingrid.” She shrugged.
“You know the police might help you and protect you. But they also may arrest you for the murder of Anders Petterson and they may not be happy that you have no passport, no I.D. and they may not like that Anders was a friend of Ingrid’s and she was murdered and now he is murdered and your finger prints are on the gun. Things are not so simple, Henry.”
I finished the water. “What happened after I passed out?”
“The two men left. You were on the floor in Anders blood after they put the gun in your hand and forced the remaining bullets into Anders back. I’m sure they called the police by the time they left the apartment complex. I phoned people I could trust. I washed you up the best I could. Put into some of Ander’s clothes and wiped our prints from Ander’s apartment. My friends carried you out, pretending you were drunk but only an old man saw us and he was crazy with age. We drove away when sirens were approaching. I disposed of your bloody clothes in a trash container behind a restaurant. If we had been another few minutes and you would be with the police right now.”
I stared at the ceiling which was also aqua blue, rubbing my throat. “And that’s all true?”
Britta laughed. “Remember this, Henry. No matter vhat happens you can alvays go for help vith the police or anyone you vant.” She stared at me. “Anders died trying to save you. I’m not eager to do the same.”
I rubbed my head. “You cut my hair.”
“Nina cut your hair.”
I kept rubbing it. “What time is it?”
She looked at her watch. “Half past three in the morning – Thursday morning.”
“I’ve been out of it for ten hours?”
“Where’s the bathroom?”
Britta pointed out the doorway. “Past the kitchen, to the left.”
I sat on the edge of the bed, feeling dizzy.
“You need help?”
“No, thanks.” I rubbed my face, then saw the bruises on my right arm. I looked at Britta. “They took blood from me?”
“Yes, Henry. They did.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it the last few hours and I don’t know.”
“How much blood?”
“Yeah, how many vials?”
“At least four I think. Maybe more.”
I took a deep breath. “And they did something to my mouth.”
“Yes, what do you call, the spitting?”
“Yeah—saliva. I remember the cotton in my mouth.” I stared at my arm again. “Maybe they injected something in me? It’s possible.”
“Maybe but I didn’t have the best view.”
I looked up at Britta. “How did you get free?”
“It was not difficult. I stood up, and stepped back through my arms, then cut myself free with a knife from the kitchen. Two minutes at the most.”
“Limber? I don’t understand.”
I demonstrated with my hands. “Flexible. You can bend easy.”
“Yes,” she replied. “I am lim-ber.”
She looked tired and weary.
I slowly stood up. “Bathroom.”
She stepped aside as I walked into the kitchen.
It too, was small, painted yellow. Very clean, with vinyl floor. Nina was not there. I saw a door to the left.
Inside the small bathroom I saw myself in the mirror.
Not only was my haircut short, it was bleached blond as were my eyebrows. I said aloud, “Henry, what the fuck is happening?”
When I got back from the bathroom Britta told me to get some sleep. She said we’d be on the run again around 5:30 AM. I drank more water, then shut the light off. The kitchen light spilled into my room through the doorframe.
My face was clammy. My head still throbbed. I was at an ‘effing loss. Trapped in a foreign country with no passport or any I.D. I saw a guy’s head get blown apart, before I was drugged and forced to shoot the already dead guy. Some asshole stole my blood. Then I passed out in Ander’s blood. I’m trusting two women with my life. One I met twelve hours earlier, the other I met for two minutes before she disappeared. I don’t know their last names and doubt their first names are their real names. I don’t know where I am other than, ‘outside Oslo.’ The only damn Norwegian I know is Ja and Nei and øl. Norway is damn expensive and I have no cash, no wallet and I may be suspect in Anders’ murder. About the time Ingrid, who was in two pieces, was getting buried in the damn rain I was probably shooting Anders in the back or laying in his blood. Joachim keeps popping into my head. I better see that little fat fuck soon.
Leaving Nina’s was uneventful. Henry ate a hard boiled egg, and two pieces of artisan bread with jam and drank two cups of black tea before exiting the flat with Britta. Wherever they were outside of Oslo, the area had seen better days. There were a lot of concrete buildings, with dull, white lights.
It was dreary and frigid.
The small car’s clock reads 5:17. The highway outside the city was starting to buzz with morning life. It was still pitch black outside. The windshield wipers were on intermittent, wiping the drizzle from the windshield. Nina turned on the radio. She listened to the news while Henry listened to foreign sounds in a monotone delivery.
“What did you know about Ingrid and her art collection?” asked Britta.
Henry keeps starring out the dark window.
“Henry—what did you know about Ingrid and her art collection?”
Henry rubs his face hard with both hands, clearing my head. “You know what, Britta? I’m going to ask questions now because, I like need to know—just what the fuck is going on, okay?”
Her face tightened. “Yes, Henry. Sure.”
Henry cleared his throat. “For a guy that likes to ski and mountain bike and rock climb and snowboard and float rivers and have a simple, healthy, goddamn honest life, I’m pretty fucked right now and last I checked I’ve never stolen shit, never hurt anyone, and lying and running from the authorities isn’t my thing.”
He breathed deeply.
“So first off, who the hell are you and then I want to know who the hell Anders was?” He shut the radio off. “And no bullshit.”
Britta remained silent.
And so did Henry.
It rained harder.
Britta switched the windshield wipers to a steady two-second cadence. She gazed at Henry, then back out the windshield.
“For now I vill only say my name is, Britta. But, yes, you need more information. I understand.”
She turned the radio back on, but not loud.
“I grew up in a smaller city than Oslo and my—”
Britta smiled. “A smaller one.”
Henry shook his head.
“My family traveled to many places and I spent much time in museums, especially art museums. I have artists in my family so at a young age I developed a passion for art and art history.”
“Are you an artist?”
She hesitated. “No, no. I paint when I can but I’m not so good but it provides me peace when I do.”
“Hhhhm. So how about the cloak and dagger aspect of your life? It’s an odd fit with old paintings hanging in quiet museums.”
“It is and it is not.” She glanced over at Henry. “For some, both artist and art consumers, art is a commodity, a product while for others it is an experience. In a world now where multi-millionaires, pale in comparison to multi-billionaires, some paintings sell at public auctions for hundreds of millions of dollars and there are many high-end sales the public is never aware of.”
“Hundreds of millions?”
“Yes. Paul Cézanne’s, The Card Player, sold between $250 and $300 million dollars as did Gauguin’s, Nafea Faa Ipoipo.”
“Who pays that?”
“The 21st century royalty—the rich. Wall Street, High Tech, Russian Oil, Drug Cartel Kingpins, sometimes countries. The Middle Eastern oil states have a big thirst for art. Even Norway, now. China, but they are discreet, and typically acquire through private sales. Maybe an occasional Dictator, sometimes royalty. Wayward heirs and heiresses.”
Britta watched a car pass her on the left. “And then there are the shadow thieves.”
Henry looked at her. “Shadow thieves?”
“Shadow thieves steal the stolen. From one thief, to another. The original thief can’t report it and can’t file an insurance claim, so perhaps under the right circumstances it may be less risky then a high profile heist might be.”
Henry turned off the radio. “What’s the wrong circumstances?”
“When the individual, or family, or state that holds the original stolen art, discovers the shadow thief and takes matter into their own hands as they do not want to be revealed, they want their art back, and they know one can never trust a thief.”
“So it can get bad?”
“I believe so, yes.”
“Is that what you are—a shadow thief?”
Britta laughed. “No. I help acquire stolen art but I do not steal it.”
“You buy it back then?”
“It depends on the circumstances. There is always room for creativity. Each situation is different. Sometimes we use blackmail to get the art back in the public domain. Sometimes we are able to force a work to be donated to a museum.” She scratched the back of her neck. “It always seems to be different.”
“How long have you done this?”
“Almost ten years.”
Henry studied her face in the dark car. “How old are you?”
“Older than you.”
“You know my age?”
“I saw your passport, remember?” Britta looked in her rear view mirror before turning the car sharply to the left and exiting the highway. She gazed in the mirror again.
Henry looked back. No car was behind them. “Where to?”
Crown Prince Vadim, an Honarary Member of Norway’s Minister of Culture, stepped back, admiring the recently acquired Immendorff piece, ‘Society of Deficiency’ for the new National Museum. He was pleased with the acquisition from a private collector in Russia. Not only did he adore the work, the acquisition was extra satisfying, as it seemed a few months back the Swedes had the inside track on the abstract painting. Vadim always liked to win, no matter who or what the competition, but it was always extra special to beat the damn Swedes.
The Crown Prince, like much of Norway’s art world, was well grounded in their perspective on their place in the greater art world. The global art community knew Oslo was no Paris or Venice or Geneva or New York or begrudgingly not even Stockholm but the country’s art elite, were trying to change that.
For some on the Minister of Culture, Vadim was a welcome addition for his stature, knowledge and appreciation of art coupled with his uncanny ability to procure valuable pieces the world over at often bargain basement cost. But to others Vadim was an inoperable metastasizing cancer in the Ministry. At the very least he came with considerable baggage.
Even Vadim’s worse critics, and that was likely most of Norway, recognized that for a life of ostensible privilege the Crown Prince had suffered many tragedies growing up in the Royal Palace. The string of mishaps began at birth when the country learned the eagerly awaited new-born Crown Prince, was born with but one blue eye. At age twelve, Vadim’s mother, Queen Rakel, drowned in a sailing accident off the Stavanger coast. Shortly after the Queen’s death, young Vadim made few public appearances over the next fifteen years, and when he did it was to the public’s dismay. At fourteen his white blond hair had been cropped into a dyed Mohawk. At nineteen he wore a pony-tail. At twenty one, his head was shaved and there were murmors he had a drug addiction. At twenty-three during the Mai 17 celebration, Vadim allegedly sexually assaulted a University Student, outside the Palace but the case was eventually dropped after two years of high profile publicity. But at twenty-seven the Crown Prince, finally shocked the nation to their delight with a captivating and articulate speech to the nation on the fifteenth anniversary of his mother’s death. He addressed his past mistakes, apologized to all the citizen of Norway who had done nothing but support him over the years, even when he was not worthy of it. “You know more about me than I do any of you, and for certain what you know likely gives you pause regarding my temperament, my sense of justice, and my love for this country. It is easy for me to stand before you and give a speech. But what I owe you is more than rhetoric, I owe you my unconditional devotion to Norway and in that, I need to earn your trust and respect, not talk about it. You deserve nothing less, my mother’s legacy deserves nothing less. I’m sorry about my past but I look forward in earning your trust tomorrow and everyday forward that I am alive.”
At age nineteen, the Crown Prince lost his little brother, Prince Espen, in a mountaineering accident in Nepal.
The coffee here is shitty. Black and bitter and served in small cups and expensive. Free healthcare but not free refills. Free refills have not been embraced by the Viking culture. All the shit that has happened over the last ten weeks and I’m longing for my old life because of a damned cup of coffee. I want to be sitting outside of Bernice’s with Nick and Ellen with my second cup of Bernice’s Organic Blend planning our annual float on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, wearing flip-flops and enjoying Missoula’s morning sunshine, bull-shitting with friends and neighbors and strangers as they wander in and out of Bernice’s with fresh baked croissants and steaming cups of joe.
Instead, I’m in a small café in Oslo, downing my third cup of coffee, each cup setting me back fifty kroner which is about five bucks a cup, staring outside at Storgaten, the trendy street in Oslo where everyone shops, winding it’s bricked surface through the city up to the Royal Family’s peach colored castle. It’s drizzling outside and I’m in no hurry to leave my perch in the café but I’ve recently learned to welcome the Oslo rain, as it provides nice cover.
My friends would still recognize me now but only after a look discerning study of me. My hair is now cut in a short stylish European coif. High and tight on the sides, with a big comb over on the top complete with hair wax. And my sandy blond hair has given way to dyed black, even my eyebrows. My clothes are now stylish. Designer jeans, leather loafers, tight tailored shirts. Sometimes I wear cologne. I have a number of different styles of non-prescription glasses and sun glasses. Norwegians are not into hats but a wool hat every now and then isn’t out of place. Anything I can do to blend in, I do and then some.
I tried being on the run but that proved too hard and too risky. It wasn’t rocket science. In smaller cities I simply stood out more. Oslo is Norway’s biggest city with around 600,000 people. So I’d rather hide among 600,000 busy souls compared to 5,000 nosey ones. I leased a modest flat not far from the city center for a shit load of money but that’s life in Norway. Food, housing, booze, even pizza is damn costly. I’ve stashed the money from Joachim in a few different locations not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket only to see that one basket stolen some day. It’s enough money to keep me afloat for years and that’s was another reason to stay put for a while. It’s hard hiding money when you’re homeless and on the move.
My routine is not to have a routine and that’s harder than it sounds. I grocery shop at different places, usually during the busiest times so I can just be part of the crowd. I make sure to shop and eat like a Norwegian not an American with the exception of today when I’m indulging with coffee. I come and go from my flat at all hours. I walk, I bike, I take buses. The few times I’ve been asked about my job I reply that I conduct market research for a few corporations that are attempting to increase their respective market shares in Scandinavia and I brush off specific questions with the line that I work under a non-disclosure agreement and so far people just nod as if that makes perfect sense.
I have immersed myself in the language, forcing myself to watch only Norwegian television and movies. I’m not pleased with my progress but out of necessity I know I’ll pick it up. It’s taxing, always red-lining my focus on every spoken word. It would be nice to speak the damn language on occasion but my opportunities are few and far between, especially as I’m trying to blend in, not stand out.
Along with the money, Joachim managed to get me a new identity – Thomas Larsen. He picked the name, saying it wouldn’t be a red flag in Norway or the U.S. I had a dual citizenship passport, Norwegian driving license and apparently a residence in St, Paul, Minnesota, and two credit cards, a Visa and a Mastercard that he told me I should use sparingly. He also set me up with a Sparebanken bank account, complete with debit card. He assured me the passport was good but I was in no mood to give it a test drive yet.
Joachim knew a lot but not everything about me. I told him I was going to disappear for a while, somewhere far away. He didn’t know I was still in Norway, let alone Oslo. I also got lucky and bullshitted my way into my flat under the name of Kim Dahl. Thomas Larsen, was on hold, something to use in an emergency, an identity to use if I had the confidence it was safe to do so.
And it’s safe to say I live like a paranoid freak. Whenever it’s practical I wipe my prints most places I go. Like the coffee cup in front of me. Before I go, I’ll wipe it down with my napkin. I’m good at it now – can do it and not make it look like I’m wiping my prints off. For now I’m unplugged from the world. No phone, no laptop – no digital foot prints anywhere. Just me, newspapers, magazines and books. It’s amazing how people ignore you if you just keep quiet with your nose stuck in a book or a newspaper. People are more interested connecting with someone through their phone, not someone next to them with a beating heart.
I would have left Norway and certainly Oslo if it hadn’t been for Joachim’s last bit of the secret he shared with me, that connected many of the mysterious dots in my life that had surfaced over the last two months.
It was strange enough to learn my dad, wasn’t my dad, not in the biological sense, that I had grown to believe. And shocking to learn he was an art thief. And disturbing as hell to learn of Ingrid’s horrific last days and perplexing to learn of her work in the international intelligence community.
But when Joachim informed who my father was, or rather is, I was fucking blown away and I’m still trying to get a handle on it.
Outside the café I walk up Storgaten in the Oslo rain, my head stuck under my umbrella. The typically busy street is quiet. I avoid puddles as I walk. The raindrops pelt the nylon umbrella.
I think of family and what the hell that means and what it doesn’t mean and that it’s not so much the shared blood as it is the shared narrative and even if the narrative is bullshit it doesn’t matter one bit unless the cover gets blown and in my case the cover got fucking annihilated and I guess that just underscores the obvious. That being the narrative is never finished, it’s always being revised or redacted or edited or dropped in the mud or dried by the fire or frozen in a snow bank but if one looks hard enough and gives a shit it can be found and the damn thing is malleable and that’s one of the gifts in life that the narrative is malleable but the bitch is it often takes a ten pound sledge to even dent the damn thing but sometimes swinging the sledge is all we got so why not swing it instead of walking away to a sleep away the yard stick called consciousness.
I find myself at the end of Storgaten, approaching the big peach colored castle and it makes me think again about blood being pumped by our hearts and that’s what killed Ingrid – her blood had mixed with another and the result was an affront to royal etiquette and tradition and behind they smoke the world is not a world of laws but of might and might at ti mes is fair and at times it is bloody and Ingrid’s fate was the latter.
Juli 29, 1981
Ingrid sat at the end of the long dock, her legs dangling over the surf, fifteen feet below. She leaned back, propped upright by her arms locked at the elbows. She wore a sky blue bikini. Her tan stomach taut, her long legs and arms, golden brown from the Norwegian summer, of sailing and reading.
“Hi, hi,” said ‘Peps’, sitting down next to her, also leaning back, dangling his legs, and locking his elbows. He too, was tan, and his body fit from care and privilege. He leaned left, his shoulder, touching hers. “Vastly beautiful, yes?” His eyes locked with hers, before waving his right arm out towards the open sea, following eyes, trailing his arm. “Much like you.”
Ingrid smiled, ignoring Peps’ latter statement. “Yes, it is, so, so beautiful.” She leaned harder into his strong shoulder.
Peps stared out at the North Sea as he spoke, the warm, salty breeze brushing his face. “I have learned a secret about you this past summer.”
“Mmm, I know a secret or two about you, myself.”
Peps inched sideways across the dock, as Ingrid leaned in, with her back pressed against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her waist, the palm of his hands pressing gently down on each of her thighs. “I know you are even prettier inside, than outside,” he whispered. “And that is quite an accomplishment.” He bent his head down, kissing her salty neck.
She turned upwards, towards him, towards the big blue sky, towards the summer sun, towards endless summer days, towards young love and long, deep princely kisses.
• Have an action scene during Mai 17
The Eccentric Art Collecting Couple
The small schooner sliced through the black water. The surface was calm, the waxing moon bright. The yacht, Endelig, was two and half miles out at sea. Henry and Britta were bundled in down parkas, slickers and life jackets.
Britta skippered the small boat. Henry sat next to her, crouched low, staying out of the wind. He had never been so far from land. He didn’t like it.
“A few more minutes!” shouted Britta, checking her GPS unit.
Henry nodded, holding his hood down.
Britta kept shouting. “There it is!”
Henry looked up at the distant light.
The boat headed straight for it.
In a few minutes Henry made out the outline of the Yacht. He was disappointed, as it wasn’t nearly as big as he had imagined. He was thinking, more cruise ship size and was surprised how small the yacht looked against the black vastness of the open sea but at least in comparison to the tin can he was in with Britta, it did seem mammoth.
Two people on the upper deck, hurried along the upper deck, then disappeared. Moments later, they were at the aft of the boat, standing on a running board.
Britta maneuvered the boat so that she was parallel with the running board. One of the men reached out, grabbing the side of the boat, bringing it toward him. Britta killed the engine.
“Hei, hei, Britta!” said the man.
Britta waved. “Hei.”
“Hello,” said Henry.
“Hallo!” The man patted Henry on the back as he stepped out of the boat.
“Takk, ser deg snart,” said Britta to the man. She looked at Henry. “They’ll take care of the boat. Let’s go.”
Britta opened a small, short door behind the running boards. Inside was a small, lit room, with neatly hung life jackets, coiled yellow and white nylon braided rope, and a small cushioned bench.
Henry followed Britta’s lead, removing his life jacket and jackets.
They ducked low to pass through another entrance. The small room had a generator and two small built in stainless steel fridges. Britta and Henry made a right angle turn, climbing four steep stairs. They stepped into a large room, with blue and peach colored cushioned lawn furniture. A small row of rectangular windows looked out at the night.
A voice shouted behind them.
“Velcome to the Endelig!” The man was tall with dark hair and fit looking in his late 50’s early 60’s. He wore stylish jeans and a tight fitting black wool sweater.
“Hei, hei,” said Britta. The two shared a friendly hug.
The man struck his hand out toward, Henry. “Hello, Henry. Welcome aboard. Geir Skjeggestad.”
“Henry Black.” Geir’s hand was large and strong.
“A long two days, yes, Henry?”
“Yeah. Long enough.”
“Vell, I apologize Norvay has not been such a good host since you landed but perhaps a drink is long overdo?”
Henry smiled. “I think so.”
“Please, make yourself comfortable upstairs.” Geir waved his hand toward another small staircase to the left. “Drina and I will be right up. Help yourself to the snacks.” Geir smiled, before turning around and heading back from where he came.
Upstairs the room was of modest size but warm with candles burning on a small table adorned with food. Slices of various cheeses, meats, and pate’s were on small silver trays. Artisan bread was sliced in a bread basket, lined with a blue cloth. There were various jams and jellies. A short stack of Norwegian waffles sat piled on a silver plate. A silver bowl of meatballs steamed into the air. Purple grapes were heaped in a bowl. A pitcher of water, a carafe of coffee and a yellow ceramic teapot.
Henry grabbed a handful of grapes, eyeing the table. “I didn’t know I was so damn hungry.”
“Me, too.” Britta placed a waffle on her plate.
“Waffles at night?”
Britta smiled. “Very Norwegian. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Ve alvays find reasons to eat vaffles. I like mine with goat cheese.”
“Hhhmm, the meatballs come first.” Henry dumped a pile on his plate, grabbed some bread and more grapes. He sat next to Britta on a bench along the table.
They ate a number of minutes in silence.
Henry poured coffee. “You want any?”
Henry placed a waffle on his empty plate.
“This is the goat cheese?” He held up a thinly sliced, brown piece of cheese.
“Yes. Gjetost. Just put it on the waffle.”
Henry took a bite. He chewed it slowly, sipped some coffee. Took another bite. He gazed at Britta. “Not exactly dessert, but not bad, especially when you’re starving to death.”
“Norway is offended.”
“Don’t go there.” Henry sipped more coffee, looking around the birth.
Someone knocked on the door to the right, before opening it.
Geir entered the room, followed by a slight woman, with sharp features, and black short cropped hair and high cheekbones. She wore a white sweater and large silver loop earrings. She walked directly to Henry.
“Hallo, Henry Black. Drina Skjeggestad. It’s my pleasure.”
Henry stood to shake her hand but Drina dove right in for a big hug. “I’m so sorry about what has happened to you the last few days.” She squeezed him hard. “So sorry.”
“Thanks.” He stepped back. It’s certainly hasn’t been the life I’m used to.”
“Nei, I can only imagine. Please let’s sit if you’re done with the food.”
“Sure. I was just finishing my first Norwegian waffle.”
“We don’t want to stop you from that,” laughed Drina.
“Oh, I’m done but it was good.”
“It won’t be your last, then?”
Henry shook his head. “No, but next time I may skip the goat cheese.”
“A smart man,” said Geir, handing Henry a tumbler topped with ice. “Scotch, with a little Scotch. That’s okay?”
Henry and Drina, sat on a small blue sofa. Britta sat across from Drina, Geir across from Henry in white chairs, with a wooden coffee table in the middle. Henry and Drina sipped Scotch, Britta red wine, and Geir, Absinthe.
“Do you know why we like to meet on the boat?” asked Geir.
Henry shrugged. “Because you’re Vikings?”
Geir laughed. “Good. That’s one reason, maybe. The other is we like a captive audience, not so many distractions and depending on what you tell us, it provides us options.”
“Maybe after we talk it may be safer for you to go to Sweden or Denmark or Germany or the Netherlands or Belgium or France or even the U.K.”
“On this boat?”
“Yes, on this ship if we need to.”
Henry looked around. “How many people on board?”
“Seven,” answered Drina. “The Captain, Arne, two crew who helped you with the boat and us.”
“You think it may not be safe to go back to Norway?”
Drina laughed. “It hasn’t been safe yet for you, Henry.”
“Britta told you about Geir and me?”
“She said you were wealthy art collectors who employed Ingrid Landvick as well as herself, helping acquire art around the world.”
Drina sipped her drink, crossed her legs, and looked over at Henry.
“We’ve known Ingrid for eighteen years. The first work she brought to us was a Theo Constanté piece which we acquired for a small Bergen gallery.” Drina smiled. “She would not let us pay her for her efforts. She would not. The painting had been locked in the basement of a Russian oil, oligarch. I can picture her now, I freed the painting, Drina, from the shadows of darkness, to an existence of light and culture! One cannot get paid for such an act?” Drina paused. “And then we were—what do you say—hooked?”
“We soon became friends, best of friends, and for so long now she was family to us.” Drina looked at Henry. “I’ don’t want empathy, I don’t. I know all that Ingrid wasn’t to you. You must be angry or bitter about her. I don’t blame you. But in telling you about her, I can’t help but describe what a warm, curious, person she was and it was her curiosity that often got her into trouble. It was just hard for her to say no.”
“Mmmm.” Henry sipped his Scotch. “Okay. She was great to you, horrible to me. I’m over it and have been for a long time. But right now all I want to do is go back home and get back to my life. Joachim XXXX showed up at my store five days ago, telling me about Ingrid and paper work I needed to attend to and I haven’t seen any paper work and I sure as hell haven’t seen Joachim.”
Henry saw Geir give a look to Drina, then to Britta. He set down his absinthe on the coffee table. “Yes, Henry. Joachim, is one of the reasons we want to speak with you.” Geir cleared hi throat. “Yesterday, we received word from Joachim that he won’t be able to meet with you for some time to sign the papers .”
“Something has come up, he said.”
“Jesus, then he can bring me the papers back home. I don’t have time for anymore of this shit.”
Britta looked at Henry. “You can’t just leave Henry. You have no passport and as soon as you anyone recognizes you, you’ll be arrested for Anders’ murder.”
“Fine. I’ll just tell the police the damn truth. I didn’t do it and you know it.”
Geir shook his head. “Is that really a chance you want to take?” He shrugged. “Someone it seems wants you framed but not dead. At least not yet.
Vadim Calling Ab
The cottage sat twenty meters back from the forested shore. It was the last cottage along the northern shore. The siding was vertical faded wood, with sky blue trim, small and tidy with expansive windows. The yard leading down to the dark lake was scattered with towering pines. A large stone chimney exited the center of the clay-shingled roof. A short distance from the cottage and further from the lake was an outbuilding – a small red barn with white trim, also with vertical siding. It too had a stone chimney exiting the roof. An earthern, grassy ramp lead op to a large barn door. Rows of firewood were stacked neatly, running lengthwise between the barn and cottage. A small black car was parked in the gravel driveway.
My eyes kept returning to the smoke rising from the cottage chimney, wondering about Tuá inside, puttering around the cottage, hoping the black car parked outside was hers.
Then something stabbed me in the back.
“Aaaaagh!” I screamed, arching my back, pain radiating from my flank.
“Hvem er du?” said a woman’s voice quietly, pressing the primitive looking spear harder into my flank.
“Shit!” I said. “Stop!”
“Hhhm. You speak English.”
“Answer my questions or I will thrust this through your liver.” The woman’s voice remained quiet and calm. She pressed the spear downward.
“Shit, shit!” I cried.
“Who are you?”
“Henry Black, from Montana.”
“Hhhhmm. Why do you spy on my house?”
“You have a painting for me from Ingrid Peterson.”
The woman laughed. “Tell me about Ingrid.”
“You knew her, more than I do. I
Smoking hash oil……..
“I don’t blame you that you grew up American but now that you are a man, I blame you for being American.”
Henry laughed. “Seriously?”
Tuá set the glass pipe on the table. “Of course.”
“And that’s bad? To be an American?”
“I think so. Very bad.”
Henry looked out at the lake. “Why am I bad?”
“Like most Americans, you look the other way and listen to all the lies.”
Henry stared at Tuá. “I run a small outdoor shop and think politics is bullshit.”