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Black Ice: Chapter 33

The search is on for the dangerous Oscar Murphy, who has returned to Iceland from the USA.

To read earlier chapters of Colin Dunne’s brilliant Cold War novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/
Kids are the urban vultures. Wherever they cluster, you'll find the action — even if it's only a comical drunk or a domestic punch-up. This time they were gathering for a kill.

Kids are the urban vultures. Wherever they cluster, you'll find the action — even if it's only a comical drunk or a domestic punch-up. This time they were gathering for a kill.

The search is on for the dangerous Oscar Murphy, who has returned to Iceland from the USA.

To read earlier chapters of Colin Dunne’s brilliant Cold War novel please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/
Kids are the urban vultures. Wherever they cluster, you'll find the action — even if it's only a comical drunk or a domestic punch-up. This time they were gathering for a kill.

At Breidholt, the uniformed cop in the entrance to Palli's block of flats whispered urgent threats and curses and even took a swipe at them, but it didn't make any difference. On bikes and on foot, they circled the doorway, yelping and giggling and firing their finger-guns at each other. Don't ask me how they knew. Don't ask me how everyone knew. Outside the square was too empty and the windows all around were too full of faces.

Petursson exchanged words with the cop, who then started talking to his crackling radio.

'Palli's in,' Petursson said to me. 'With one or two friends, according to neighbours.'

Neither of us mentioned the name. We were both thinking he had to be up there- Oscar Murphy. On Palli's floor, we waited a few minutes until two more uniformed policemen arrived. They whispered and one of them handed Petursson a gun. It looked like a .38 police special. He checked it like a man who knew his way around guns.

'One thing,' I said, also whispering. 'I didn't notice-was the bike outside?'

He spoke to the uniformed men, then turned back to me. 'No. It hasn't been there all day. Why do you ask?'

I shrugged. I wasn't absolutely sure myself. Even so, I would've been happier if it had been there.

'Very well, gentlemen,' he said, more loudly. He dropped the gun into his pocket. 'I do not suppose we shall be needing that, not for one moment. Shall we go?'

The uniformed men ran into prearranged positions. One beyond the flat door, one almost opposite, and one at
Petursson's shoulder just in front of me. Palli's door was open.

At a nod from the fulltrui, I called out: 'Hello Palli, are you there? It's Sam. Sam Craven.'

We listened to the restrained rasp of our own breathing.

'Can I come in, Palli?' I shouted this time. Then, at another nod from Petursson: 'I'm coming in now.'

But it was Petursson who slipped in front of me and began to move down the narrow dark corridor into the familiar warm scent of soiled bodies. When he was one step from the open room, Palli's voice bellowed: 'See ya, you sonofabitch!'

I dropped to the floor. Petursson tried to flatten his bulk against the wall and I saw the .38 in his hand and heard the oiled click of the safety. Maybe he wasn't going to need it but he wasn't taking too many chances.

Then I heard Palli's laugh, bright with glee and malice: 'Come on in, Sam, and bring your spooky pals with you. We're having a friendly game of cards, is all.'

So they were. On the floor around an upturned cardboard box sat Palli and two younger men. He held his hand of cards up as proof. 'I just said I'd see these guys and, you know what, they'd only got a lousy pair between them.'

Chuckling, he began to scoop up the few notes from the box.
I had to give it to Petursson. No officer of the law above the rank of ink monitor likes being mocked, and he'd just been made to look foolish by a bunch of street-corner comedians. But he wasn't your average cop: he kept cool and his big face stayed as expressionless as a paving stone.

He split the three of them up between the rooms in the flat, the corridor and a police Volvo outside. The other two were only a pair of trainee vandals. In no time at all their triumphant sneers had turned to shrill protests.

Wisely, he didn't try to pressure Palli at all. No cops had anything that would frighten him. He'd been places and seen things that put him a long way out of reach.

We stayed in the living-room. The baby clothes were back on the radiators again, so that a fine skin of moisture put a sheen on the furniture. Again, it was hothouse damp.

It was all very matter of fact. The girl-mother came out of the
bedroom and dumped the baby in a plastic chair. It slumped forward asleep, and she slumped beside it in one of the mutilated chairs, watching us through half-closed eyes.

Looking pleased with himself, Palli sat cross-legged on the floor playing Chinese patience now that his poker school had broken up. He whistled between his teeth, breaking off to swear cheerfully when he pulled the wrong card, and swigging Polar beer from the neck. He offered me a drink from the same bottle, and winked when I declined. I knew why he did it: to show the friendship between us was still there.

After looking at the choice of resting places, Petursson put his hat on his knees and kept it there. And he sat upright to keep contact with the Olafsson home — if it was his — to a minimum.

'Your bike was stolen this morning, was it, Palli?'

'Now that's what I call a fine bit of detective work,' Palli replied to him. He whistled his admiration as he faked amazement. 'How about that, Sam? Only had the bike stolen this morning and here's Mr Petursson knows all about it. Don't suppose you happen to know where it is, do you?'

Without lifting her sleepy head, the girl said: 'He has been here all day. I will tell you. Those two men, they will also tell . . .'

Petursson silenced her with a movement of his hand. He'd been outside talking to the other two. He knew what they were all going to say. Nothing.

'They're telling the truth?' I asked.

'Yes. No doubt. Those others cannot lie for long. They are what Palli's countrymen call chicken-shit.'

'Beer?' Palli held the bottle up.

'No, thank you.'

'Now that's a shame. Makes me feel I ain't offering you real Icelandic hospitality. Hey, good news. Red nine on black ten, here comes the eight, dammit.'

'Where is Oscar Murphy?' Petursson kept his voice level and emotionless. He wasn't allowing himself to be drawn by Palli's minor dramatics.

Once again, he mimed wide-eyed surprise. 'My old buddy Oscar? He's back home in the States. You security people know all about that.'

'Why did he come back?' I took that one. It was less painful for me to look a fool than it was for Petursson.

'Has that old rascal come back here and not told me? Well, I'll be damned. You tell him, you hear, you tell him to come and see his old pal. There's the eight, knew it was hiding in there somewhere.' He glanced up grinning. 'Just like old Oscar.'

'When did he move his stuff?' I pointed over to the bedroom where I'd found his camp.

'What stuff?'

'Clothes, money, booze, cigarettes.'

He went on playing cards.

'Colt .45.'

He flicked through the next few cards. 'That's cheating, but I know you two won't tell,' he said. Then, looking down at the cards again: 'I don't recall Sam here going in that room on his previous visit — his only visit, do you, sugar?'

'No.' The girl's lips moved in a patient smile.

'So you're just guessing.'

He went on turning the cards.

I tried again. I don't know why. 'Who told you about the other Oscar Murphy? Someone from the Soviet Embassy?'

'Now we've got two Oscar Murphys. Are you sure you fellers aren't getting just a little confused here?'

We were getting nowhere. Petursson pulled himself to his feet and I could see where the weight of the gun creased his well-pressed jacket. He moved towards the door.

'That will be all for now, Palli.'

He looked up from beneath his colourless brows. 'Hope I've been some help to you guys.'

'We will, of course, find Murphy and when we have spoken to him we shall be back to see you. Then you will have to talk.'

'Why, I'd be glad to.' Palli was milking it for every ounce of pleasure he could get.

'The only thing that surprised me was the old lady,' Pete went on, in the same quiet tone.

'An old lady now, would you believe. Was she called Oscar Murphy, too?'

'I didn't think you would do that. Torture her by pulling out her hair, then letting her die. No, I didn't think . . .'

'I was surprised, but I don't know why. It was the crime of a vicious animal, wasn't it? Are you coming, Sam?'

The girl had opened her eyes and was staring at Palli. 'An old lady?'

'Shut up, dummie.' He took another slug from the bottle of beer. 'You tell him that ain't true, Sam.'

'How do I know what's true?'

He got up and jabbed a finger at Petursson. 'You wanna know about that you go ask those bums on the Russian trawler down in the harbour, okay? Just don't tie my name on it.'

He followed us down the corridor. 'Another thing, Sam.' He was back to his chuckling triumph again. 'You got your nationality as mixed up as me. There I was thinking you were a true Brit and the guy down the corridor here reckons you're a German.'

His voice echoed after us down the corridor. 'Auf Wieder-sehen, buddy. Auf Wiedersehen.'

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