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Black Ice: Chapter 22

...'Now!' Petursson suddenly snapped. To my amazement, Magnus spun me by the shoulder and with a merry smile on his face swung a useful left hook at my jaw. As I went reeling back, he did his level best to stick his right arm up to the elbow in my stomach...

Things begin to get really unpleasant for reluctant spy Sam Craven.

Colin Dunne continues his brilliant Cold War spy novel which is set in Iceland. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

As afternoons go, that one didn't. It lasted about a month.

Back at the hotel, Ivan lay on his bed with his arms folded across his chest like a crusader on his tomb. I hardly liked to speak to him in case his brimming brown eyes overflowed and embarrassed both of us. He was an old softie.

I tried to raise Christopher but he was still out on his rounds, and even a couple of hefty drinks did nothing to shift the lead weight in my gut. At first it had all seemed a bit of a lark: not any more, it didn't.

When Magnus marched in with three uniformed officers, we were both glad to see him. Separately we gave our statements, and that helped to eat up more of the dragging time. I had a stroll outside the hotel - conscious all the time of the uniformed cop eyeing me from his car - and watched the flags of all nations stand out as stiff as boards in the streaming wind.

When Petursson arrived, I waited in a downstairs side-room in the hotel while he read the statements and then interviewed Ivan.

'Well, Mr Craven,' he said, as he came through to me, 'a pretty pan offish we have here, have we not?'

'Kettle - not that it matters.'

'Of course, kettle. I am out of practice. A pretty kettle offish, to be sure.'

Together we went over my statement in detail. I was watching him with interest. If the scalping that was how I'd started to think of it had affected him, it was only to make him more steady and painstaking than before.

When we'd finished that, I left him sitting at a green card table with copies of the statements in front of him, and wandered over to the window.

That was when his assistant Magnus jumped me.

'Now!' Petursson suddenly snapped. To my amazement, Magnus spun me by the shoulder and with a merry smile on his face swung a useful left hook at my jaw. As I went reeling back, he did his level best to stick his right arm up to the elbow in my stomach.

Luckily for me, he'd telegraphed them fairly well; at least I was able to lean back so that the first punch only glanced my jaw, but the second one went in deep, and hurt.

'I hope you are all right,' the senior man said, as he reached down with one hand to help me up from the carpet.

'Is this what they mean by helping the police with their inquiries?' I gasped.

'You see,' he said, talking straight past me. 'You were wrong. He is untrained.'

'Untrained?' I looked from one to the other but they weren't very interested.

'Yes, Sir,' said the blond. 'No self-defence, and I gave him every chance.'

'Look pal, next time you give me notice and we'll soon see . . .'

Well, I was annoyed. I've been in my share of saloon-bar bust-ups and I've still got all my own teeth. They're not all in my mouth, but at least I've got them.

Patting me on the shoulder as you might a fretful child, Petursson led me to a chair and sat me down. 'Do not take it personally. After our last conversation, Magnus was of the opinion that you were a ... professional gentleman in these matters. I was not so sure. So we devised this little test for you.'

'Great. Have I passed?'

I held my head between my hands. By now the pain from my jaw had linked up neatly with the pain from the top of my head.

'What do you think?' Petursson looked at Magnus, who shrugged and moved over to the door. Then he turned to me again: 'You are a puzzle for us, you see.'

'Well, I'm sorry about that.'

He turned his impassive face towards me. His eyes like a lot of Icelanders' were so deep they must've been riveted into place.

'You went to see Solrun what happened to her? You went to see her mother what happened to her?'

He had a point there. Even I could see that. He didn't much care for the rest of my activities either, and he didn't seem to have missed much. He didn't like the way I'd bandied his name about the Hagstofa.

'And you have been keeping bad company,' he went on. 'Palli.'

"I thought he was a fine example of your country's youth.'

That brought some warmth into his voice. 'He's no Ice-lander. He is the dregs of the American military and even they don't want him any more.' Sitting back, he lit another of his small cigars. This time he held it between his middle fingers to cut down nicotine stain. 'Magnus knows all about Palli.'

Magnus stayed on guard at the door and spoke in an official-report voice. 'Palli Olafsson? His parents were both Icelanders. They divorced when he was three years of age and his mother married an American from the base. They moved to Chicago, her new husband's home, in the northern part of the United States. He grew up as an American . . .'

His boss cut in: 'See, his environment and his upbringing were all American. Carry on.'

'He served with the American marines. Later he was many times in police troubles and had to receive psychiatric treatment.'

He stopped. Petursson said: 'He's a bum.' He looked round the room for an ashtray and then crossed and tapped his cigar ash into a potted plant on the window-sill.
'How did he end up here?'

'What was that television programme they had in America? Roots. It was that sort of thing. He wanted to come here to try to be an Icelander. Crazy idea. He is a crazy man. Sometimes he can be very dangerous. His head is full of wild things. He should be in the kleppur.'

An alarming thought suddenly came to me. 'You don't think he had anything to do with Solrun's mother?'

He sat there, shaking his head. 'No, not Palli. We blame him for many things but not this.'

'So, who do you blame?'

Magnus coughed and spread his feet. Petursson began to straighten up the papers in front of him. The cigar smoke was a blue mist in the beams of sunlight from the window.

'Did you see a lady who was sweeping her pavement when you called? She tells us that she saw a man in a corduroy suit with a swarthy complexion call at the house. She says he was with a tall skinny man who walked like a woman.'

Neither Ivan nor I could quarrel with those descriptions. 'Go on.'

'Very well. Before you two went in, she saw three men go to the house. She believes two of them were wearing dark uniforms. They were inside the house when you called the first time, but left, apparently in a hurry, before you returned.'

'They were inside with . . . with Solrun's mother?'

'Yes. Torturing her.'

I remembered the whimpering noise we'd heard that Ivan insisted was a puppy. That must've been her. I swallowed hard on the thought.

'Were they looking for Solrun too?'

He nodded. 'That is my belief.' He beat me to the next question. 'She had been there. She arrived and left at night but the woman across the road saw her. You know what those women are like.'

'What exactly did they do to her, Petursson?'

In a matter-of-fact voice, he recited it, as he packed his papers into a soft leather briefcase. They had been professionals. The torture was graded so that she would be systematically weakened. Each time they gripped one lock of hair - he demonstrated how they wrapped it round a finger and ripped it out. She must have been very brave. They had torn out almost all her hair, but she had told them nothing. The ordeal brought on a heart attack, and then I had disturbed them.

There wasn't much I could say to that. I followed the two of them out to the door and just as they were going I remembered about the man in the photograph. It made a handy banana skin to slip under his foot as he was going.

'Perhaps,' I said, 'that nice Mr Kirillina will be able to help you find Solrun.'

He stopped, and slowly his big shoulders turned so that he faced me again. He was clearly surprised that I'd picked up his name.

'Why do you think that?' he asked.

'Well, he was a leading member of her fan-club.'

He weighed that for a moment, and then, with considerable caution, he added: "I think Mr Kirillina would be very pleased to find her himself.'

That didn't seem to advance the sum of human knowledge very far, or not the section of it that I was supervising. I had one last try as he waited for the lift.

'If it's not top secret, I'd like to hear the detailed description of her attackers from Solrun's mother. Will she be able to talk by tomorrow, do you think?'

The doors opened and he and Magnus stepped inside. 'Didn't I say? There won't be any descriptions, I'm afraid. She died at sixteen-twenty.'

He balanced his wide hat on top of his creamed head, and the doors met.

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