Allan Fischer hadn’t expected a red carpet welcome upon his return, but he also hadn’t expected this: an unknown man holding open the door to Thomas La Cour’s flat, looking at him quizzically. The polite “yes?” hung in the air between them as Allan mentally scrambled to adjust his world view and wonder where La Cour now lived, if not here. Had he gone back to Holbæk? To Helene?
Beyond the stranger was movement and a voice coming closer. Familiar and long-missed as La Cour said, “Jens? Is someone here?” And as La Cour said “here” he saw past the man blocking the door and stopped and said simply, “Fischer.” No surprise, no dread, no suspicion. The merest statement of fact: Fischer.
For over three years the name he had answered to was “Allan,” unless he pissed someone off and earned an epithet. His given name had been rendered flat and alien in perfect European English. It had become a false sign of camaraderie within his branch of Europol, where everything operated like the gleaming office of a global conglomerate, if one forgot that the business was tracking down smugglers of drugs, weapons, and people. He’d adapted to the name, over time letting it lose any feeling of closeness or intimacy.
And now here he was, back home, back to Rejseholdet, back to La Cour’s statement of fact: Fischer. He dropped the weight of being Allan among strangers and returned to being Fischer among friends.
The unknown man -- La Cour had called him by his given name, Jens -- stepped back and La Cour stood in the doorway, staring at Fischer.
Fischer glanced around the empty hallway at the closed doors of La Cour’s neighbors. “I’m back,” he said and aborted his smile when La Cour didn’t move or stop staring.
In the flat beyond La Cour Jens moved away and Fischer caught sight of the small dining table in front of the window where morning sun streamed through plain white curtains. On the table were glasses of orange juice, coffee cups, small plates. Fischer had had many breakfasts here with Ida exactly like this one.
Far from discouraging him, Fischer pressed on with, “I don’t have a place to stay.”
That roused La Cour from his staring and he stepped aside with an, “Oh,” as invitation. Fischer picked up his gym bag-style suitcase and entered the flat, gaze scanning across the interrupted breakfast and resting on the Ikea sofa that unfolded into a futon. No signs of it having been unfolded or slept on, no clothes or luggage suggesting a house guest. Fischer glanced over to the bedroom door, which was closed, and dropped his suitcase on the sofa.
La Cour’s mobile rang and he walked into the kitchen to answer it. Fischer took a fresh look at Jens, who stood by the dining table and uneasily watched La Cour disappear. He was about La Cour’s age, tall, blond in the way only Viking stereotypes on TV were, and had a rugged, athletic, footballer build. Not bad looking, if you liked that kind of thing. He turned to Fischer and smiled, extending his hand.
“Jens Mouritzen.” They shook hands. “So, you’re Fischer.”
He didn’t quite say it as if to say, “So, you’re the Black Plague,” but there was a sharp look in his eyes Fischer wasn’t happy about. He grinned, showing teeth, and said, “Yep.”
Silence Fischer enjoyed while hoping it was awkward for Jens hung between them until La Cour came out of the kitchen and snapped his phone shut. “That was Ingrid. Wanting to know if I’ve left yet.” He met Fischer’s eyes. “We have a case.”
Fischer was aware that La Cour’s “we” may or may not have included him; he had not officially reported or been ordered back to Rejseholdet yet. As soon as he got the notice that Europol was cutting him loose, he had packed his bag and was on the first flight to Kastrup.
Fischer chose to interpret the “we” as inclusive. Noticing La Cour was taking an overnight bag, Fischer picked up his suitcase and graced Jens with a so-long-and-thanks-for-nothing smile.
In the car, Fischer watched La Cour drive in silence and prompted, “The case?”
La Cour glanced at him and pointedly didn’t reply. Ingrid might not let him back yet, and La Cour knew it. Bastard. Fischer took out a cigarette and lit it, uncomfortably acknowledging that La Cour was doing the right thing. After a few puffs while they lurched through morning rush hour traffic, he changed topic with, “Who’s Jens?”
La Cour took his time answering. “We went to Sorø Akademi together. He just returned to Denmark last week and needed a place to stay.” His gently ironic gaze slid over to Fischer and back.
Fischer took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled, making La Cour wince and roll down the windows. Cold morning air blasted at them. Fischer tapped ash out the window.
“And he’s sleeping with you?” He raised his eyebrows to make the question one of neutral curiosity, though he was pretty sure La Cour wasn’t buying it.
“We’re sharing the bed,” La Cour said. “The futon’s not comfortable.”
“Yet you’re letting me sleep on it.”
La Cour glanced at him again and there, finally, was a spark of humor, of teasing. Fischer had missed that so much he grinned and shook his head, tossing his cigarette out. “Yep,” he said to himself. “Yep.”
When they got out of the city and stayed on the E20 past Køge, Fischer settled in for a long drive. Passing the signs for Sorø he tried to think of something clever to needle La Cour with, something about the academy and Jens, but his mind stalled, imagining the close quarters of boarding school. Interestingly, La Cour had not said they had been friends at school. But they were sharing La Cour’s bed. And had been for a week. Fischer gave La Cour a sidelong look. La Cour kept his eyes on the road. Fischer watched the grey spring landscape whip past.
“Will you at least tell me where we’re going?”
“It’s near Tønder, close to the German border.”
In other words, way the fuck away. “Shit,” Fischer muttered.
They stopped briefly to refuel the car, have a piss, and for Fischer to get a quick smoke in. He stubbed it out as La Cour came out of the service station, snapping his phone closed.
“Did you tell Ingrid I’m coming?”
La Cour got into the driver’s seat. “She didn’t ask.”
Fischer grinned. As they zoomed down the E20 again, he leaned back and nearly dozed off. La Cour’s voice roused him.
“What was it like at Europol?”
There were a lot of answers to that. Fischer watched the road ahead for a while. “I missed speaking Danish. I was the only Dane in the division. It was English all the time.” He didn’t mention the Norwegian prick who always called him ‘Adam,’ either out of ignorance or willfulness, and attempted to converse with him in Norwegian-infused so-called Scandinavian. That most definitely didn’t count.
“You didn’t speak any Dutch?”
Fischer smirked. “I couldn’t get fucked in Dutch.”
La Cour scratched his ear and let that slide by without comment. Eventually he said, his voice not quite neutral, “Danish was a phone call away.”
Fischer looked at him. “Yeah.” He watched him for a moment: La Cour in profile, eyes on the road, long, graceful hands gripping the steering wheel. He shifted and stared out the passenger’s side window.
“I was in touch.” He didn’t say it defensively, because he had no defenses. Now, sitting here with La Cour beside him, he had no explanations, no excuses, and absolutely no idea why he had never called. Three fucking years, basically in exile. What the hell was wrong with him?
“The money for Savannah’s kids,” La Cour said with a nod. “Thanks for that. It meant a lot.” He looked at Fischer. Warm, sincere.
Fischer relaxed a little and returned the nod. “How are they?” he asked.
“Good. They’re in boarding school in Kenya. They love school.”
“No one loves school,” Fischer smirked. “They’re playing you.”
La Cour gave a little shrug. “Where they’re living now is luxury compared to where they had been,” he said matter-of-factly. “I think they genuinely love it.”
Fischer caught sight of a road sign. Another hour to Tønder. He shifted in the passenger seat, thinking ahead to Ingrid and the team.
As if reading his thoughts La Cour said, “Gaby’s doing well. Johnny loves being a dad.”
Fischer couldn’t imagine Johnny wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. He was sorry he hadn’t been here to help Gaby. On the other hand, it was his screwed-up case that got Johnny shot; Gaby might not have wanted his support. He plunged into unhappy memories of that last case and dozed off without intending to, waking immediately when the car stopped.
La Cour got out. Fischer paused and took in the sight of the truck. The Rejseholdet mobile operations center in all its understated glory. La Cour was waiting. Fischer followed him inside.
IP saw them first. He raised his eyebrows, started to say something, then slid his gaze over to Ingrid, who was staring at a local map pinned to the board. Gaby looked up from her laptop and after a hesitation smiled broadly.
“Welcome back,” she said.
Fischer breathed a little easier. He had not been certain of Gaby’s welcome.
“Gaby,” he nodded. “IP.” IP shook his head and smiled.
Ingrid turned around. She stared at him for a moment, not smiling. Fischer inwardly squirmed and looked to La Cour for moral support, but La Cour was taking a seat at his desk as if nothing was unusual. Ingrid broke into a grin.
“About time we got you back.”
Fischer let out the breath he’d been holding in a laugh of relief. Three years’ exile in The Hague evaporated in an instant. He sat down at his desk, which was empty of personal items and had no laptop. There was a file folder and a map spread over it.
“Ah.” He sat back and folded his hands over his lap. “You couldn’t replace me,” he said to Ingrid, smug.
“Not for lack of trying,” said IP in a cold-water voice that rinsed the smug right off. Fischer stared at him and IP chuckled softly, smiling.
“You’re harder to replace than we thought,” Ingrid conceded. She turned back to the pinboard. “But unfortunately we can’t throw you a homecoming party just yet.”
Fischer picked up the file folder and read the brief report from the local constabulary. Young male likely in his twenties, multiple stab wounds, body discovered in a country ditch a few kilometers from the German border.
“Who found the body?” asked La Cour.
“Hikers,” said Ingrid. “Two backpackers from Lund. They’re hiking across Europe and this was their last day in Denmark.”
“Are they suspects?” Fischer pictured two sturdy young men with hiking gear, including knives.
“I hope not,” she said with an odd amusement. She tilted her head toward the interrogation room. “They’re waiting in there, in case we have more questions.”
Fischer and La Cour rose simultaneously and went over to the one-way window. Inside were two elderly ladies sipping from paper coffee cups. They were dressed for rainy outdoor weather.
Fischer glanced sidelong at La Cour. La Cour returned the look.
“If they’re hearty enough to hike from Lund to here...” La Cour said.
“All those stab wounds around the neck and shoulders,” countered Fischer. He looked at the Lund ladies and shook his head. “If they did it, I hate to think what prompted it.”
“There’s something else.” Ingrid appeared behind them. “When they came in, they handed us this.” She held out a clear plastic evidence bag bulging with a wad of currency. “Five thousand and eighty euros. They found it in a paper bag next to the body.”
Fischer turned the bag around in his hands. “Euros, not kroner. Is this a German case?”
Ingrid took the bag back and gave him a significant look. “The body’s in Denmark, so it’s our case.”
“No ID on the victim?” La Cour asked.
“We have the local police working on it.”
Fischer went back to his desk, tossing the evidence bag of money to La Cour. He sat back and shook his head. “All that money, the violence of the attack, close to the border... I hate to say it, but could it be bikers again?” His eyes went to Gaby, who frowned at him.
“Heaven’s Gate disbanded when the Estonians moved in,” La Cour said, setting the money aside and tapping on his laptop. “I want to see the crime scene.”
Fischer got up. “I’ll go, too.”
“Ingrid really couldn’t replace me?” he asked in the car.
The corner of La Cour’s mouth quirked. “The best we got was Thomsen from Holstebro. He lasted five months before she got him transferred to the drug squad. He did good work, but Ingrid claimed he ruined her interrogations. IP says it was because he brought in cheap pastries.”
“I never bring pastries,” Fischer pointed out, nevertheless secretly happy to know he wasn’t interchangeable with poor Thomsen from Holstebro.
La Cour simply nodded and Fischer caught a flash of a smile before it vanished. La Cour pulled over and parked. Police tape stretched across an old gate and along a dirt track. They walked carefully up the dirt track, spotting the constable who guarded the crime scene. She was a young woman who looked bored and uninterested in anything other than going home. Fischer ignored her and stepped back to take in the scene.
“Boysen’s report put the time of death some time in the middle of the night,” he said. He looked around at the flat empty land, irrigation ditches, and line of old trees forcing spring green buds onto crooked limbs. He stepped past the constable and saw the large dark patch in the flattened grass. “Definitely happened here. Why would anyone be out here that time of night?”
He hoped the constable, a local, would make him regret his snap judgment by having a brilliant answer ready. Instead she picked at her fingernails. Fischer joined La Cour, who had put on his vinyl gloves and was hunched over the area where the victim had bled to death. Fischer crouched close beside him and nudged him with his elbow.
“What do you think? Lonely area, away from the main roads. A lovers’ trysting place?”
La Cour cast him a dry look. He rested on his heels and said, “If this was the most romantic spot he could find he couldn’t have had much imagination.” He paused and tilted his head, and Fischer, who had been on the verge of presenting his theory of a wild kinky lover who enjoyed fucking in ditches, said nothing and waited.
“I don’t know,” said La Cour. “It feels personal but not intimate.” He seemed about to say something else. Fischer waited but the moment passed and La Cour, frowning in frustration, stood up and walked over to a tree.
Fischer, no stranger to beating his head against a wall, decided to give the constable a last chance.
“What do young people do around here?”
She glared at him. “They leave.”
Fischer raised his eyebrows, pretending not to understand the dire appeal of country life, small towns, and small minds. “It can’t be that bad. There’s the music festival in Tønder every year, right?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “It’s all right, I guess. Nothing fancy, though. No one big ever comes here.” She sighed and looked out across the fields. “Why would they?”
Fischer wondered what this unhappy young woman would consider fancy and big and decided he was better off not knowing. He suddenly felt like an old grandpa around her.
“One young man didn’t leave here soon enough,” he said, “and what he did was get murdered. We want to know who and why. Can you help us?”
She squinted at him. “I saw him. I didn’t recognize him, sorry.” She hesitated, then added, “He looked about my age, or my sister’s. If he was from here, we’d know him. We’d have gone to school with him.”
“Who do you think he was, then? You say the young people leave. Why would one come here?”
To her credit, she thought before answering. “A lot of kids come in for the summer, mostly to work the festival. He might have come then and stayed on.” She anticipated his next question and sighed heavily. “I don’t know why, though. Not a lot of work around here.”
At least she’d focused on the case for a few moments instead of on her own boredom, Fischer thought as he trod carefully over to La Cour. La Cour stood rigidly beside the ditch, staring ahead. Fischer immediately tensed, watching him. He’d seen La Cour in this state before and hoped whatever insights La Cour had could solve the case. But it was still eerie to see him like this, knowing his mind was currently with the victim and the murderer.
Fischer couldn’t tell if La Cour was aware of him, but La Cour spoke. “He knows this person. He came to this spot. He waited here. They’re close. They were close.”
Abruptly La Cour shuddered and shook his head. He staggered for a moment and Fischer grabbed his arm. La Cour patted his hand to indicate he was all right and turned back to the dark patch in the grass.
“He paced here while he was waiting.” La Cour pointed to a pattern of shoe prints in the grass, now obvious once he pointed it out. “He was nervous. Waiting for someone he hadn’t seen for a while.”
Fischer went back to his lovers’ tryst theory, but La Cour continued, “Not a lover. Someone he was close to, hasn’t seen for a while. But they’re not intimate.”
Someone he was close to, hasn’t seen for a while. But they’re not intimate. The words stayed embedded in Fischer’s head. He stared down at the stained patch of grass, the last touch of earth the victim ever felt, and a sudden jarring ache rattled him. He strode away from the crime scene, gulping in deep breaths and heading for the car.
La Cour joined him a few minutes later, long enough for Fischer to enjoy a smoke down to the last drag. They climbed into the car and La Cour turned onto the sleepy little road.
“What was that back there?” he asked quietly.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re the one who has reactions at crime scenes, not me,” Fischer deflected, staring out the side window. La Cour let it drop and drove back in silence.
Back at the mobile unit there was coffee and a bag of fresh pastries courtesy of IP. Fischer dove for an apple tart and around bites said, “Who did you charm these out of? Are you going to leave a broken heart at the bakery? Damn, these are good.”
IP adopted an innocent air and Gaby exchanged grins with Fischer. La Cour reported his impressions of the crime scene to Ingrid. Fischer listened uneasily, remembering his own unexpected reaction.
They were interrupted by the local chief of police, a thin man named Westergård, whose dull face was enlivened by a surprisingly dapper mustache. Fischer pegged Westergård as a man with hidden depths and watched him as he reported to Ingrid, “We have an ID on the victim. His name was Morten Hoff. We found the guest house where he was staying.”
“Guest house?” La Cour asked.
Westergård nodded. “A local artist rents out rooms in her house. Usually just during the summer, but she said she liked Morten and let him stay on.”
Fischer grinned. “She liked him? Did he stay on for perhaps other reasons?”
Westergård blinked at him, then answered, “Oh, no. Not that. She’s gay, a lesbian, that is. And Hoff was young enough to be her son. I think she just liked him, felt sorry for him, maybe.”
Ingrid said slowly, “Let’s not think anything right now. IP, will you go talk to the landlady? You’ll take him to the guest house?” she said to Westergård, who seemed pleased to be useful and didn’t notice she’d effectively dismissed him.
Gaby and La Cour were already on their laptops hunting for information on Morten Hoff. Fischer got up to stretch and wandered over to the interrogation room. “Our Lund ladies escaped?”
Ingrid smiled a little. “They left us their contact information.” She lifted up a piece of paper neatly printed with dates, places, and phone numbers. “Their complete itinerary.”
Fischer glanced at it and tsked. “They’d make perfect drug mules. Who would suspect them as they’re hiking all over Europe?”
“No sign of drugs in their backpacks. We did check.”
“I found a Morten Hoff,” Gaby read from her laptop screen. “He was the next of kin in a missing person case two years ago. He reported his younger brother Lars missing.”
La Cour looked up. “Was his brother found?”
“No.” Gaby kept reading. “The report was filed in Odense. Morten and Lars lived with their grandmother there.” She tapped some keys and reported a moment later, “The grandmother died last year.”
“How old was Lars when he went missing?” Fischer asked.
“Sixteen. Morten was twenty when he filed the report.”
Ingrid stood up and paced to the wall, looking at the map and photos of the victim and crime scene. “Morten’s brother goes missing two years ago. His grandmother dies last year. This year he comes here for the festival and stays on.” She rested her hands on her hips and turned to the room.
“Did he stay here because Lars was here? Did he find his brother?” La Cour theorized.
Fischer leaned over and tapped the evidence bag on La Cour’s desk. “I want to know about this. Over five thousand euros left with Hoff’s body.” He shook his head and sat back. “It can’t be good.”
Gaby checked her laptop screen. “He didn’t have a criminal record.”
La Cour started typing. “We need to find Lars,” he said definitively, and Fischer knew the certainty came from La Cour’s eerie sixth sense.
IP returned and reported that the landlady seemed upset about Hoff’s death and couldn’t imagine who would want him dead. She also admitted that Hoff hadn’t paid for his room in several months.
“And she let him stay for free?” Fischer said in disbelief.
“She’s the artistic type,” IP said with a small smile. He had plenty of experience with artistic women. “I doubt the money means that much to her.” He poured himself a coffee and sat down. “Westergård and I looked through Hoff’s room. Not much there. Some clothes, shoes, an MP3 player, and this.” He held up an evidence bag containing a small worn notebook.
“Can I see that?” La Cour asked.
IP handed it to him. “It’s been dusted for prints. I looked through it but couldn’t make anything out of it. A diary of some sort?”
La Cour leafed through it. Fischer moved to stand behind him and leaned over to look over his shoulder. The handwriting wasn’t neat but it was legible. Each page started with a date followed by lists of numbers or, sometimes, nothing at all.
“Money? Payments?” Fischer guessed. “Was Morten a blackmailer?”
La Cour pointed to some of the numbers. “On this page, there’s ten here, seventeen hundred here. If it’s money, is it ten kroner? What kind of blackmailer only asks for ten kroner?”
Fischer stood up straight. “Doesn’t look like scores, either. Or times. There it says thirty-three.”
“Could it be a code?” suggested Gaby.
La Cour wanted to focus on deciphering the notebook. Gaby brought up all the files about Lars Hoff.
“How was Morten paying for his room earlier? Where did he work?” Ingrid asked.
“The landlady said he did odd jobs for people. Yard work, repairs, that kind of thing. He painted her fence for her.”
Fischer made a skeptical noise through his teeth. “Hard to make a living on odd jobs.”
“Unless some of them are the kind that get you killed,” Ingrid added.
Fischer rose, taking the last pastry from the bag. “I’ll work on finding out what Hoff’s odd jobs were.”
It was easier said than done. IP drove him to the guest house, a huge old country house with a yard filled with ugly metal sculptures. “That’s her art,” IP murmured to him as they passed one particularly ugly blob.
The landlady was the artistic type IP had said she was, exuding passion and drama and a curious lack of real world awareness. Fischer wanted to suspect her but it was hard to see her killing anyone. He didn’t rule her out completely, but felt his time was better spent pursuing other leads.
Not that there were many of those. While IP tried to get useful information out of the landlady Fischer canvassed her neighborhood and found one person who remembered the victim. Hoff had mowed the lawn a few times for an elderly man who lived down the lane. The neighbor was a man of few words. He and Hoff hadn’t chatted; he didn’t know anything.
IP drove him back to town and they split up. Fischer had a few ideas for where a young man might earn money under the table. Every town had its wrong side of the tracks.
By evening, Fischer was running out of ideas. He still had a few avenues to explore but he was tired and needed a break from asking the same questions and getting the same useless answers. He walked back to the mobile unit and bumped into Gaby and Ingrid heading out.
“We’re going for dinner. Want to come?” Gaby invited.
Fischer spotted La Cour sitting alone at desk, still leafing through that damned notebook. “Nah, you go ahead.”
They left and he went to sit on the edge of La Cour’s desk. He watched La Cour scanning pages. “You’ll go blind reading that. It’s been hours.”
La Cour put the notebook down. “No. I went back to the crime scene.”
“No.” La Cour nodded at the notebook. “I came back and thought that would help, but it hasn’t. If it’s a code, it’s a good one. Ingrid had it copied out and sent to a cipher specialist at HQ.”
Fischer picked up the notebook and flipped through a few pages. “I don’t think it’s a code.” He set the notebook on the desk and looked at La Cour, who was just as tired and frustrated by dead-end leads as he was.
La Cour gave a little shrug. “I was going to get a pizza later.”
“Let’s knock off for tonight. Get rest and real food. And a beer.”
La Cour smiled. “All right.”
They were staying at a bland charmless hotel in the town center. There was a restaurant with a bar on the ground floor but Fischer had no hopes for it. He was pleasantly surprised by the good food and even better beer.
“Here’s what’s bothering me,” he said as their plates were cleared. “Hoff’s a young guy, not bad looking. Ordinary, maybe. How has he been living here for months and no one knows him? No friends. No girlfriends, no boyfriends. His landlady spent the most time with him and didn’t even know about his missing brother. She’s so wrapped up in her art and in herself, though, he could have told her about it and she wouldn’t remember. But how can someone move into a town and be invisible?”
La Cour scratched his ear. “Some people stay in the background, where they’re comfortable. But he wasn’t invisible, was he? Someone saw him and killed him.” He took a drink of beer. “I think he was here because of Lars. If he stayed because he’d met someone, a lover, where are they? Maybe I’m wrong to focus so much on Lars.” He frowned doubtfully.
“Lars is our best lead.” Fischer drained his beer. “But right now I couldn’t trip over a lead, I’m so tired.”
Their rooms were next to each other in the same narrow dingy hallway. They were small and ugly but Fischer welcomed the bed and was asleep as soon as he got into it.
His watch read 03:12 when he opened his eyes, bleary and resistant. There were sounds from the next room. La Cour was awake and moving around.
Fischer woke up immediately and got out of bed. He grabbed a pair of sweatpants from his suitcase and hopped into them as he opened the door, just in time to see La Cour retreating down the hallway, dressed and wearing his coat.
“La Cour,” he called, trying not to shout and wake the whole hotel. La Cour didn’t hear him.
“Damn it.” Fischer shrugged his jacket on over his undershirt, put on his shoes and hurried after La Cour.
“Fuck,” he spat out when he reached the street, watching La Cour drive off. He glared after him, willing him to come back. When that failed he looked across the empty town center to the train station. A lone taxi dutifully sat at the ramp, even in a town like this, even at three-thirty in the morning. Fischer jogged over, flashed his identification, and took a guess where La Cour was going. The taxi driver, a local with an accent a mile wide, drove him out there, expressing his doubts that it could be where Fischer truly wanted to go.
Fischer half-expected to see the same bored young constable on guard, but the only person there as he carefully followed the crime scene tape was La Cour, flashlight in hand, standing on the exact spot where Morten Hoff had died.
“Fuck, La Cour. What the hell are you doing?”
La Cour looked at him mildly, as if it were the middle of the day and it was the most ordinary, expected thing that Fischer was walking up to him.
“I woke up.” La Cour turned around, casting the beam of light over the ground. “I wanted to see what it was like out here when Morten was killed.” He flicked the flashlight off and they plunged into darkness. Fischer waited, taking a deep breath to slow his racing pulse.
“If there was no light, the killer might not have seen the money. Might not have known about it.” La Cour switched the flashlight on. “Morten brought money he’d been saving up. He was going to give it to someone and never got the chance.”
“To get Lars back? A ransom. Or information.”
La Cour shook his head, lost in thought for a moment. Then he directed the light at Fischer. “What are you wearing?”
Fischer, in his suit jacket, undershirt, sweatpants, and work shoes, snarled, “I followed some idiot out of the hotel in a hurry.”
La Cour smiled and stepped past him, so close his coat brushed against Fischer’s arm. As they walked back to La Cour’s car, Fischer said, “It wasn’t a wasted journey, at least. I know what the numbers in the notebook are. Fares.”
La Cour slowed and looked at him. “The largest number is seventeen hundred. That’s quite a fare.”
“I asked my taxi driver and he said it sounded like a negotiated rate for someone who wanted to get to Copenhagen in a hurry.”
La Cour resumed walking. “He kept a tally because he was saving up. But the numbers don’t add up to five thousand and eighty euros or the kroner equivalent. I tried that earlier.”
“Subtract rent, for when he was still paying it. And he had to give some money to the taxi service to keep his job. The driver didn’t want to, but he admitted that his boss sometimes employs drivers off the books during the festival. I’m going to have a talk with the boss later.”
La Cour opened the car door for him. “If you want to earn money as a driver, much easier in a big city.”
Fischer, though proud of his flash of insight during the taxi ride earlier, was bothered by this, too. “I know. It doesn’t add up, does it? He couldn’t have earned that much around here. But it explains the tens and twenties. Lots of small fares, taking old ladies to the supermarket, stuff like that. But it might not just be fares. It could be whatever he was paid for the odd jobs he did.”
“We’re back to why he stayed here,” La Cour said. He swept the flashlight around the empty road and countryside. “It’s Lars, isn’t it?”
“If it’s not, what else is it?”
Back at the hotel Fischer almost followed La Cour into his room to make sure he stayed put, but he slouched into his own room and fell into bed, not waking until after eight. La Cour was at the breakfast buffet, taking the last piece of toast. Fischer had coffee and supplemented it by tearing off a corner of La Cour’s toast.
When they reached the mobile unit together, Fischer was glad to see another bag of pastries. He took one and held the bag for La Cour, who selected a viennese cream pastry and sat down at his laptop.
“The notebook’s not in code,” he said to Ingrid. “Fischer figured out the numbers are fares or payments for odd jobs.” He glanced at Fischer with a soft look of approval that made the back of Fischer’s neck flush warm.
Fischer gulped down a cup of coffee. “I’m going to check on Hoff’s jobs.”
Ingrid followed him outside, putting on her coat. “I have to get back to Copenhagen,” she said. “Fischer.”
Fischer stopped and looked at her. “Yeah?”
Ingrid met his eyes. “Van Yperen sent me reports on your work for Europol.” She paused. “I know they offered you a permanent position, a promotion. They wanted you to stay.”
Fischer’s gaze flicked to the truck. “Does anyone else know?”
“No. I didn’t tell anyone.”
Fischer untensed and cocked his head. “The beer’s shite over there. I couldn’t take it any longer.”
Ingrid smiled crookedly. “Fischer.”
“Maybe I fell in love with you.” He grinned widely. “Maybe I couldn’t stay away.”
“Maybe,” she said skeptically, getting into her car.
Fischer found the taxi garage easily enough and struck up a casual conversation with Møller, the owner, before showing his identification and asking about Morten Hoff.
“Damn,” Møller muttered. “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that kid. He seemed so nice. Reliable. He turned me in?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Fischer watched him carefully.
Møller rubbed his chin. “That explains the car.”
“What about the car?”
“He took it out the other night but it was parked outside when I got here yesterday morning. Early. Usually he doesn’t bring it back until after breakfast. I tried calling him but he’s not answering.” Møller sighed and adjusted his glasses. “I guess he got cold feet.”
“You called him at the guest house?”
“Guest house? Is that where he’s staying? No. I called his mobile.”
They hadn’t found a mobile phone with the body or among Hoff’s things.
“I need that phone number. And we’re going to impound the car he drove.”
Møller looked alarmed. “What? Why? It’s just a tax dodge. I can’t owe that much.”
Fischer weighed breaking the news to the man who was now a suspect; there were advantages if the murderer didn’t know how much you knew. But in a town this size the news was going to spread, anyway. It was a miracle Møller hadn’t heard it already.
“Morten Hoff was killed the night before last.”
Møller’s mouth went slack and he blinked a few times. “Killed? But...” His eyes moved past Fischer to the open garage door and the street outside. “Then how did the car get back here?”
“That’s why we need to impound it.”
Fischer stood by the car parked outside while he called Ingrid. She would send a forensics team to examine it in meticulous detail but agreed that he should look it over now as long as he was careful. Møller stayed by the garage door, staring at the car as if it carried dengue fever. He swore he hadn’t touched or moved it since finding it the morning before.
Fischer got inside and checked the visors, compartments, and under and between the seats. There were small dark spots on the driver’s seat that could be dried blood but other than that, it was clean inside. Not spotless, but no murder weapon, no lost identification card, no signed confession. It could never be that easy.
He crossed the street, away from Møller’s earshot, and called La Cour to tell him about the taxi. “Ask Gaby to check on Henrik Møller, the owner. He’s antsy. Could just be the under-the-table employment.”
“Why would the murderer bring the car back,” La Cour mused. “Say the car’s at the crime scene. Morten drove it there. Did he drive the murderer there?”
“But he was waiting there. The prints in the grass.” Fischer paced a small circle on the sidewalk, keeping an eye on Møller. “Unless the murderer was the one waiting.”
“It was Morten,” La Cour said with certainty. “Morten borrows the taxi, drives there, waits. Murderer comes, kills him, drives the taxi. To get away? But why drive it back to the garage? Why not drive it far away?”
Fischer stopped pacing and stared at Møller. “If it’s his car...”
La Cour made a noise of agreement, then said, “The unforeseen element in this murder was the hikers from Lund. If they hadn’t stumbled across the body, how long before Morten was found? No one is looking for him.”
Fischer viewed the crime scene with his mind’s eye. “It could have been days. Weeks. Not exactly a high traffic zone.” He nodded. “Right. And if both Morten and the car he drove are missing, what happens? The owner of the car will look for it. Think it’s stolen. Get the police involved.”
“The murderer returned the car to buy more time,” La Cour concluded. “The owner’s not looking for his car, won’t be looking for Morten for a day or two, given the arbitrary nature of his employment.”
“Møller might not have looked for Hoff at all,” Fischer said. “He assumed Hoff had turned him in when I told him I was from Rejseholdet.”
“No crime too small.” Amusement tinged La Cour’s voice.
Fischer leaned against the wall and watched Møller, apparently bored now, go back inside the garage. “I’m stuck here until the forensics unit shows up. Bring me a coffee, will you?”
“Asshole,” Fischer grinned. He hung up and patted a cigarette out of the pack in his pocket.
He was on his second smoke when La Cour walked up, carrying a small paper bag. He handed the bag to Fischer and went over to look at the car.
“Ingrid said to be careful,” Fischer called over to him. La Cour waved him off.
Inside the bag was a coffee and a sandwich. Fischer ate while watching La Cour open the passenger door and sit in the car for a long time.
“Anything?” he asked as La Cour crossed over to him.
La Cour shook his head. He stood beside Fischer and stared at the car for a moment, then sighed. “No. By the way, Henrik Møller was arrested in Kolding six years ago. He stabbed a guy in a fight. Nothing major. Both were drunk at the time.”
“Still. A stabbing.”
“Do you think he did it?”
“Maybe,” Fischer said, slicking his hair back. “He’s a good suspect. It’s his car.”
The forensics unit arrived, escorted by the young constable Fischer had met at the crime scene. While La Cour went to ask Møller to come with them to answer questions, Fischer greeted the constable.
“This better than standing in a field?”
She shrugged, moving out of the way as the forensics team laid out their equipment. “I get to stand here and direct traffic away from the vehicle,” she said with irony, spreading her arms out in the middle of the street. Not a single vehicle had driven by the entire time Fischer had been here.
“If someone’s looking for fun, a big night out, where do you go? Up to Kolding?”
“Sometimes Kolding, but Flensburg’s closer. And bigger.”
“Flensburg’s in Germany.”
She nodded. “Yeah. Lots of Danes there, though. There’s even a club with a Danish DJ.”
“You been there? Is it good?”
“No, never been. My sister went once. She didn’t like it.”
“Why?” asked Fischer, interested.
“Said it was full of stinking Germans.”
Unable to argue with that, Fischer shook his head and joined La Cour and Møller.
At the mobile unit La Cour showed Møller into the interrogation room. Fischer brought him a cup of water. He and La Cour took off their jackets and sat down, casual.
“Thank you for coming here,” Fischer said. “We’re trying to figure out what happened to Morten Hoff.”
Møller sat up and nodded. “Oh, yes. Anything. He’s a good kid. Was a good kid.”
La Cour had a notebook open on the table. He rolled a pencil between his fingers. “What do you mean by that, exactly? ‘A good kid.’ We don’t know much about him.”
“Morten?” Møller took a drink of water and frowned. “Well, I don’t know. He was nice. Easy to talk to. He was from Odense. He showed up at the garage one day during last year’s music festival. It’s popular, you know.”
Fischer smiled and nodded encouragingly. “We’ve heard, yes. Why did Morten come to your garage?”
Møller took another sip of water. “Oh. Ah. He was looking for work.” He glanced to the side then met Fischer’s gaze. “I had him wash my cars, and he did a good job. Then I asked if he could drive. Well, you know about that. He helped me out. My back’s not up for it anymore,” he added defensively. “Can’t sit in a car for more than a few minutes now.”
La Cour pretended to be taking notes. Without looking up he said, “How did you split his fares? Fifty-fifty? Sixty-forty?”
Møller said slowly, reluctantly, “No, it was more... I took about seventy-five per cent. It’s my car, you see. I have to keep it running, ready to go.”
La Cour looked up. “Oh, so you paid for all the petrol?”
“Well, no. Morten kept the tank filled.” Møller licked his lips nervously. “But I let him borrow the car whenever he wanted. For his own use. As long as the tank was full, it was all right with me. I wanted to help him.”
“Help him with what?” Fischer asked.
Møller shook his head. “He never told me. But I knew there was something he was worried about. Look here, he’s a kid from Odense and he stays in this place? Why else would he be here unless there was some reason?”
Møller wasn’t wrong, since that was the same question they had all been asking themselves.
La Cour waited a moment. “Did he take the car out on his own a lot?”
“Not really. More often recently, but only once a week. Maybe twice.”
“How about the other night?” Fischer watched Møller closely. “Was that for his own use?”
“Yes.” Møller finished his cup of water. “He asked if he could borrow it overnight. He always asked first. Nice kid.”
They took a break, ostensibly to get more water for Møller. On the other side of the observation window, Fischer asked IP, “Well?”
IP shook his head a little. “What’s his motive? Gaby looked into his finances and if Morten was keeping fares from him, it would hardly be a drop in the bucket. He’s making a good living.”
“Too lucrative?” suggested La Cour.
IP raised his eyebrows, thinking it over. “Doesn’t appear to be, but worth digging into.”
Fischer brought a new cup of water and they returned to Møller. They had just sat down when IP buzzed the room. Fischer rose and opened the door. IP jerked his head toward Gaby’s desk and whispered, “You need to see this.”
Fischer nodded at La Cour, who excused himself. They left Møller in the interrogation room and closed the door, joining IP at Gaby’s desk.
“This is CCTV from the border,” Gaby said, angling her laptop so they could all see the video. The time stamp on it was from that morning.
A young man wandered unsteadily on the berm. Cars sped past. He tripped, nearly falling, and crossed a small parking lot. He stopped and looked all around and when he looked up the CCTV captured his face. He looked distraught. His shirt was stained dark.
La Cour sucked in a small breath. “Lars Hoff.”
Gaby paused the video.
“Where did this come from?” IP asked.
“There’s a border museum. They have CCTV in their parking lot.”
“What happened next?” Fischer pointed to the face frozen in video. “Where is he?”
“Coming here,” Gaby said, as if she couldn’t believe it herself. “I sent the missing person information about Lars Hoff all around the area. The local office got the report about a man wandering on the road and sent an officer to investigate. Lars was still there. Someone at the museum found him sitting in front of the door and took him inside. They thought he was hurt. The officer recognized him from the missing person photo and is bringing him here.”
“I’ll call Ingrid,” IP said, going over to his desk.
Fischer looked at La Cour. “Let Møller go?”
“We don’t know it was Lars.”
Fischer clicked his tongue. “Guy’s covered in blood.”
He went to the interrogation room and thanked Møller for his help, told him to stay in town in case they needed him again, and let him leave. La Cour watched and said nothing. While they waited for Lars, Fischer poured coffees and brought one to La Cour.
Gaby reviewed the video frame-by-frame. “Why would he kill the brother who’s been looking for him for two years?”
“Maybe he didn’t want to be found,” La Cour said.
Westergård brought Lars in and again seemed pleased to be useful. He handed a plastic bag containing Lars’s bloodstained shirt to IP. Lars wore a faded blue sweatshirt Fischer suspected belonged to Westergård.
Lars sat down in the interrogation room. La Cour brought him a water. Fischer left IP to deal with Westergård and went to the observation window.
Lars held the paper cup in both hands and stared at it. La Cour watched him. The silence stretched for minutes and Fischer knew in his bones this was their murderer. He heard IP finally get Westergård out of their hair.
“Anything?” IP asked at his shoulder.
“Not a word yet.” Fischer left IP to observe, picked up a notebook for show, and entered the room. He turned on the recorder, stated the time and details, and turned to Lars.
“Yep,” he said, friendly. “Your brother Morten was found yesterday morning.”
Lars looked up at him. Pale, bleak. Fragile. Hardly seemed capable of such a violent attack and for a moment Fischer had doubts.
“Our mother committed suicide, you know,” Lars said conversationally. “Everyone said it was an accident. Drowning. But we knew. She was never the same after Father left. Morten was older. He could handle it better, I guess. Not me.” He shook his head slowly.
“Was that why you ran away?” La Cour asked. “You did, didn’t you? Run away.”
Lars nodded and took a gulp of water. His hands shook. “I met some people and I just wanted to get away. We went to Sweden for a while. That was fun. Then down to Germany. Ended up in Flensburg.”
He met La Cour’s eyes. “It’s been hard.”
La Cour nodded understanding.
“Were you here for the festival last summer?” Fischer asked, careful not to intrude too much. Not yet.
Lars sat up and nodded. “Yeah. I thought, music festival. We could sell some pills.” He smiled ruefully. “It’s a folk scene. Not good for pills. But we stuck around.”
“Did Morten know you were here and follow you?” Fischer had caught the ‘we’ and would circle back to that later. Right now it was better to get the events in sequence, as far as they could go before Lars decided to stop talking.
“No. I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Lars shook his head. “He was here, I was here. What are the odds? I saw him first, I thought. I hid and thought he hadn’t seen me. I was ready to get away, but Lotte.” He sighed with heavy disgust. “Lotte wanted to stay. She’d scored some weed and hash and was making money off the folksies. Not enough, it was never going to be enough, but she stayed. I thought I was careful. I tried not to visit too much. But he saw me.”
“Lotte stayed after the festival,” La Cour said, and Lars nodded. “In the guest house?” Lars nodded again.
“I didn’t know he was there, too. Not until it was too late. After she’d already told him about the money. Oh God, she was all happy when she came to me and said he was going to help us. She thought it was the greatest thing, we were going to be reunited. A happy family again. I thought she’d lost her mind.”
Fischer’s spine chilled as he wondered where Lotte was now, what had happened to her.
“Tell us about the other night,” he said, keeping his voice even and inviting. “You went to meet Morten?”
Lars shifted in the chair and took another gulp of water. “He came to Flensburg looking for me one night and left a message that he’d be waiting for me there. The big reconciliation. I thought I better go. Say good-bye.” He picked at the edge of the table, looking down at his fingers. “If only he hadn’t tried to get me to go back. He wouldn’t listen. He didn’t believe I’d run away, kept saying my friends had kidnapped me, forced me to go with them. I tried to make him understand. I couldn’t go back. That awful flat. All that silence. All that madness. My father left and my mother killed herself. We’re cursed. Morten didn’t see that.”
“Why meet at that particular spot?” La Cour asked.
Lars shook his head. “His idea. I knew where it was. Lotte and I camped there for a while last summer. It’s quiet.”
“You argued? You had a knife?” Fischer leaned forward slightly as they zeroed in on the confession.
“I always have a knife.” Lars shrugged. “Protection, just in case.” He looked at Fischer. “We didn’t argue. He just didn’t understand. I couldn’t make him understand.”
This wasn’t what they needed. Fischer glanced at the closed file folder in front of La Cour. He was about to reach for it and take out the photo of Morten’s corpse, when La Cour said, calm but no-nonsense, “We found eighteen stab wounds on Morten. Any of the eight on his throat would have killed him.” His gaze locked on Lars.
“Yes.” Lars’s voice was barely audible.
“Lars,” said Fischer, “we need you to say it, all right?”
Lars cleared his throat. “I did it. I had the knife, and... I didn’t mean to. But he wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t go back. I escaped. He couldn’t see that. I had the knife and I stabbed him. I didn’t know what I was doing. Then I stopped, and...” He dropped his head and covered his face with his hands.
There. Got him. Fischer exchanged a look with La Cour and glanced back at the mirror behind them. They waited until Lars looked up, rubbed his face, and took a drink of water. He looked even more fragile than before.
“You’re doing great,” Fischer told him. “We have a couple more questions, that’s all. Do you want a break?”
“No,” Lars said. He chewed on his lower lip. “I’m good.”
“That’s fine.” Fischer forced an encouraging smile.
“We’d like to know about the money,” La Cour said, sounding like it was a minor detail of passing interest.
“The money?” Lars frowned briefly. “Oh. Lotte and I took some cash from this guy we knew in Lübeck. Wrong guy to borrow from. We need about thirty-seven thousand kroner to get him to back off. Five thousand euros.”
La Cour waited a moment then said quietly, “Morten had over five thousand euros in cash on him. Did you know that?”
Lars stared at him. “He had... Morten. Damn it. Why did he...? He didn’t tell me. Oh, fuck. Morten.”
He was crumbling before their eyes. Before they lost him completely, Fischer leaned closer. “We’d like to speak with Lotte. Can we do that? Can you tell us where Lotte is?”
“Huh? Oh, sure. I can give you her mobile number. She’s in Flensburg.”
Fischer ripped a sheet of paper from the notebook and pushed it across to Lars, who wrote out a phone number. He got up and opened the door a crack, passing the paper to Gaby. IP gave him a nod. The case was wrapped up.
As Fischer sat back down, La Cour asked, “Why did you drive the taxi back to the garage?”
“I didn’t want Morten to get into trouble,” Lars replied as if the answer were obvious.
“Morten was dead. He couldn’t get in trouble.”
Lars was crumbling again. “I know, but I didn’t want his boss to think he stole the car. Morten wouldn’t do that. He was good. He could handle it. Not me.”
Fischer stopped the recording and formally arrested Lars Hoff for the murder of his brother, Morten Hoff. Westergård arrived with officers to place Lars in custody. IP prepared statements for the press. They filled out paperwork, Fischer borrowing IP’s laptop while IP was handling things with Westergård. The forensics team brought in their preliminary evidence reports from the taxi, more paperwork. It was early evening by the time things were ready to be packed up.
Fischer, La Cour, and Gaby went to the hotel together, making straight for the bar. IP promised to meet them there as soon as he could. Fischer unwound in the warm atmosphere of a case solved, surrounded by colleagues. Gaby opened her phone and showed him a photo of her daughter Jette. A beautiful little girl whose bright smile made Fischer ache a little, thinking of Victor.
Gaby nudged Fischer and nodded to La Cour. “He carries a picture of Marie in his wallet. Old-fashioned.”
“It will last longer than a phone,” La Cour said easily.
Gaby took a drink of beer. “Do you have her this weekend? Jette’s been asking to see her.”
“Next weekend. Helene took her to her grandparents this week.”
Fischer finished off his beer, pushing memories of Victor aside, and called for another round, just in time for IP to show up.
Fischer and La Cour left Gaby and IP still going strong a few hours later, after they’d shared another unexpectedly delicious dinner. Fischer paused in the hallway when La Cour opened his room door and followed him inside.
La Cour turned around as the door closed behind him. He raised his eyebrows but didn’t seem surprised.
Fischer met his eyes. “I should have called. I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me over there.”
“Ah,” La Cour said noncommittally.
Fischer looked into his eyes, looked into him. A long silent moment elapsed. “I have something to ask you about Jens.”
La Cour’s expression changed from assumed neutrality to complete understanding. There was a smile in his eyes, something sharp and wicked that made Fischer’s blood rush. He closed the distance between them but before he could make the next move, La Cour’s hand was on his shoulder, moving to the back of his neck, fingers in his hair. Holding him as La Cour kissed him with a rough jolt of passion.
Fischer didn’t need to be told twice. He grabbed La Cour’s shoulders and continued the kiss, shoving him a little to get him onto the bed. La Cour pulled him down and the heat between them, intensified by their clothes, forced Fischer to calm his impatience. La Cour drew him into a slow deep kiss, then looked at him lazily.
“What would you have to ask me about Jens?”
Fischer smiled crookedly. “When’s he leaving?” It was, now, the only question he needed answered.
La Cour matched his smile. “I called him yesterday and told him the flat’s too small for three. I asked him to move into a hotel.”
Yesterday. The word took root in Fischer. He touched his lips to La Cour’s and sighed, “Yesterday.”
Much later, a long time after they had heard Gaby and IP laughing and going their separate ways and getting into their rooms, Fischer shifted in the tangle of clothes and bedcovers and watched La Cour’s profile, resisting the urge to flick at the curve at the end of his nose. La Cour’s eyes were closed, but he was not asleep.
“We can make this work,” Fischer said, not wanting it to be a question.
“Our personal histories suggest not,” La Cour smiled.
Fischer shifted again, getting more comfortable. “Yeah. We’re both shit with relationships.”
La Cour opened his eyes. “Not all relationships.” He gave Fischer a sidelong look.
Fischer gave in to temptation and tapped the tip of La Cour’s nose. “Here’s to ‘not all relationships.’” He mimed raising a glass in a toast and gave La Cour a quick kiss.
La Cour tipped his head forward. “And here’s to paying the rent.”
“Rent? You’re going to charge me rent?”
“I’m a divorced father now. I have expenses. Marie.”
“I have expenses, too. Victor.”
La Cour slid his fingers through Fischer’s hair. “Yes, but you’re irresponsible.”
“You’re a bastard.” Fischer closed his eyes, warm and at peace. La Cour pressed a kiss to his forehead.
- The End -