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Black Ice: Chapter 9

After the disappearance of the Icelandic beauty Solrun reluctant spy Sam Craven is arrested and subjected to some hard questioning.

To read earlier chapters of Colin Dunne’s brilliant novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

At Kopavogur I had two hours to sit and contemplate what the descendants of the Vikings might consider a suitable punishment for someone who'd misplaced one of their women. None of the possibilities sounded much fun, so I sat on a plastic scoop in a long empty corridor hoping that Christopher Bell would get my message.

I didn't understand any of it. I didn't understand why I'd been brought to a brown three-storey box of a building in what looked like an industrial estate. The police headquarters I knew was down in the middle of the town.

I'd asked the cops who brought me in, but they treated me as though I was Jack the Ripper after an intensive training course with Black September. Nervous wasn't the word. They may have looked dashingly ornamental in their black-belted uniforms with white-topped caps, but they never took their eyes off me, even when I left the message for Christopher at his hotel reception.

At Kopavogur, they emptied my pockets in plastic sacks, and then an English-speaking officer took a lengthy statement, without all the usual come-off-it-sonny stuff. He took it, and went.

Then a door down the corridor opened and a meaty young face under a thick thatch of white-blond hair beckoned me in.
Cop-shops all over the world retain mementoes of their trade in scarred woodwork or messages of goodwill on the walls. But this place, with its concealed strip lights, pale beige walls, polished wood-block floors, and laundered air, was more like the VIP lounge at an airport. Only I wasn't a VIP.

Looking back on it now, I'm sorry I took the attitude I did to Blondie. But when I'm bullied I get skittish, and this some¬times comes across as impudence.

As if I'd be impudent to a bobby . . .

He nodded me into another scoop by the door and ignored me while I had a good look round.

It was a rectangular room. The far end, to my right, was mostly window. Through it I could see the distant mountains black against the bright sky.

An older man -I could tell that by his thin creamed hair and his seamed neck — faced out of the window. He was making notes. He didn't turn when I came in.

Blondie was opposite me, a couple of yards away, behind a small metal desk. He was frowning as he read through a typescript.

Lots of people make the mistake of thinking that in relatively crime-free countries the police are not much more than an extension of the boy scouts. Don't you believe it. True, Scandinavia isn't like one of those Soviet countries where they chuck you in the loony-bin, step up the largactyl and mark your mail Unknown At This Address, or those equatorial places where they give you a spin in a cement-mixer before river-bathing. But up there, they half-expect you to laugh at them, so they have more to prove: they're intelligent, and they can be exactly as tough as you like.

Without glancing up, Blondie began talking.

'Correct any factual errors. Name, Samuel Craven. Age, thirty-eight. Marital status, divorced. Height, five foot ten
inches. Weight, twelve stone. Black hair, brown eyes, distinguishing mark, slight scar on left temple, result of car accident.'

He lifted his eyes to check that last item. He needn't have bothered. It only showed against a sun-tan.

'Father unknown, abandoned by mother, childhood in a Dr Barnardo's home in Norfolk, England.'

'Little Orphan Sammy,' I said, as I usually did when that bloodless recitation came up. He didn't acknowledge it. Perhaps he didn't like musicals.

'Next of kin, daughter Sally, aged nine.'

He glanced up again, then added: 'No known security affiliations.'

He put the file down and folded his heavy, tanned hands on it.

'Is that correct? No known security affiliations?'

'I'd say so.'

'What does that mean?'

'Well, if they were known you wouldn't be asking me, and if I have any unknown security affiliations I wouldn't be telling you about them, would I?'

Not traceable, Batty had said. I was beginning to see what he meant.

At the other end of the room, the older man cleared his throat. Blondie leaned forward on beefy forearms and looked at me as though he'd like to see me taken home in a bucket.

'You claim to be a journalist? Can you prove it?'

'I've got a liver and an overdraft, both enlarged.'

I don't think he picked up on all the full humorous implications of that, but he caught the tone. He gave a tough, tired smile and cracked his knuckles. He wasn't impressed with me. He wouldn't have been impressed with three of me.

'You claim in your statement that you met Solrun Jonsdottir at Thingvellir . . . why?'

'Because it's romantic'

'Romantic?' He gave a laugh that was dangerously over¬loaded with scorn. 'You meet this . . . girl, you go to bed with her, you say this is romantic?'

'It isn't the way you tell it.'

He gave me the laugh again: three sneers for Craven. 'Well,
well, that is something very new for us. We did not realise that our famous Solrun was romantic.'

'No? Well, I don't suppose you get much time for that sort of thing down at the Hitler Youth.'

The muscles moved in his neck and tightened up his face. That was all. Very softly, he said: 'You are her boyfriend?'

'I would be honoured to be called that.'

'It is not such an honour,' he said, with fastidious malice. 'The lovers of Solrun do not make such an exclusive club. They are men like you. Nobodies. Pick-ups. Drunks. Party scrapings. One night stands.' He added the last word in Icelandic -'Utlendingar' — with more contempt than all the others. 'Foreigners,' he added, for my benefit.

He switched to a grave, impartial manner. 'It is a shame, of course. Sadly, she represents our country. But I think she will only bring us shame.'

Now, you don't get many puritans in Iceland. That inter¬ested me. So I asked him if having a wide and varied social life was illegal these days.

'Not illegal,' he said, in the same tone of controlled menace. 'But it is dangerous. When it is with scum.'

He picked up the documents again, pretended to look at them, and then threw them down with evident disgust. 'Your whole story is a fabrication. It is obvious.'

As he spoke, he pushed himself up on his finger-tips and walked slowly, heavily, around his desk until he was behind me.

'I can see your problem.' I stared at his empty chair, waiting for the blow.

'I don't have a problem. You have a problem. We are not the logga [even I knew the friendly slang word for police] and you should understand this. We are talking about national security. Perhaps you think it is funny that a little island like this should worry about national security? Does that amuse you?'

He didn't wait for an answer. 'It is just as important to us as your Buckingham Palace and Tower of London. Remember that. Remember that before you tell us any more stupid lies. Who are you? Why are you here? Where is Solrun?'

He fired the last three questions into my left ear, so I couldn't
help but jump. His face was so close to the side of mine that I had to lean back to get him in focus.

'I've told you. And I don't know where she's gone.'

A pistol shot cracked in my ears and my heart hit the back of my throat. I hung on to the seat of the chair to prevent myself hitting the ceiling. When I opened my screwed-up eyes, he was holding a wide, black plastic ruler he'd slapped on the desk for the sound effect.

'Tell . . . me,' he said, spacing the words a second apart, 'tell . . . me . . . what . . . she . . . said.'

'Nothing.' By now, my nerves were hopping like fleas. 'I mean, she said all sorts of things but nothing you'd want to know.'

'Everything. I want to know everything. Did she say goodbye? Did she mention any friends? Did she say anything about an American? What were her last words? Tell me the last thing she said to you.'

'It wouldn't help.'

'Tell me! Now! Tell me the last words she said.'

'To me?'

'Of course to you. What did she say?'

Well. He had insisted. I did warn him. So I told him. And if they weren't the very last words she said, at least they were the ones I remembered best.

'She said ... "I don't think I'll ever get my toes uncurled again." I think that was it, more or less word for word.'

His face, open-mouthed, hung in front of me. Slowly, like creeping pain, I watched the understanding rise into his eyes.

'You did ask,' I said, with a winning smile.

Sometimes I do overcook things a bit. Listening to the hot breath whistle through his teeth and seeing the red rage in his face, I thought this could be one of those occasions.

With elaborate care, he raised the black plastic ruler in his bunched fist and brought it down so it tapped me on the shoulder. Once. Twice. He could've been knighting me. I didn't move. Hell, I didn't even breathe. He raised it a third time and held it there above the side of my face. It was only a ruler. In his hand it might as well have been an axe.

The click of a cigarette lighter snapped the tension.

'That will do for now, Magnus. Would you bring some coffee in for myself and Mr Craven. He must be ready for one, and I certainly am. Milk and sugar?'

It was the older man, standing out of sight, just behind me.

'No sugar,' I said. 'Got to watch the old weight. Don't want to die of a fatty heart.'

'I should be very surprised if you live to have the opport¬unity, Craven,' said the same man, in an even, pleasant voice. 'Two coffees, white, no sugar, please.'

My breath escaped from my body in a flood as the big blond man moved away and placed the ruler carefully on the desk.

'That's better,' I said. 'I don't like talking to the dummy when the ventriloquist is in the room.'

Quite unexpectedly, a neat smile of admiration touched his features and he bowed his head to me in some sort of salute.

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