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Black Ice: Chapter 44

A body has been dragged from a lake. And a local reporter informs Sam Craven a journalist engaged on a spying mission in Iceland 'Everyone knows him around town. He was a bit of a hoodlum, as the Americans say. In a small way. They recognised him as soon as they saw the tattoos on his arms.'


Colin Dunne's exciting Cold War novel moves towards a relentless climax.

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/


All that was left at the lakeside was a wet patch on the pavement where they'd dragged the body out. But there were still some loitering spectators around, and still with that slightly festive air that sudden death often inspires in people.

I was just thinking we were too late when I spotted a lanky youth from the local morning paper. Luckily, he was familiar with the pass-it-on principle that governs most media work.

'Found by a workman early this morning,' he said, flipping through the pages of a notebook the size of a gravestone. 'Police called. Ambulance. Body recovered and identified. Are you the journalist from London?'

'That's right. Identified, did you say?'

'Any chance of me getting a job there?'

'Not a chance.'

'Why not?'

'You look honest, intelligent and you can probably spell. Who was the drowned bloke?'

'Everyone knows him around town. He was a bit of a hoodlum, as the Americans say. In a small way. They recognised him as soon as they saw the tattoos on his arms.'

'Palli? It was Palli?'

'Yes, Palli Olafsson.' He was surprised I knew him. 'He was a friend?'

'In a way, I think he was.'

'And was he drowned?' It was Christopher who asked that question. Either it was a very silly question, when a body has just been heaved out of several thousand gallons of water, or an unusually clever one. By the look on this chap's face, it wasn't so foolish.

'I heard them talking,' he said. 'They are not so sure.' He pointed across town, past where the Hallgrimskirkja's new tower soared to the skies. 'They've taken him to the mortuary.'

I set off back to the jeep when he grabbed my arm. 'Don't say I told you,' he said out of the side of his mouth, like real reporters do, 'but his fingers - ugh, they were a horrible mess.'

Much against his wishes, I dropped Christopher at his hotel. I was beginning to think he couldn't be Batty's man, or he would surely have identified himself to me by now. And if he wasn't, then whose man was he?

I drove straight round to the state hospital which also doubles as the medical school and the mortuary. Standing in the doorway was Petursson. As he saw me, he shook hands with a white-coated elderly doctor and walked across.

'I would have let you know but it was something of a rush,' he said, bending his head down to see through the Daihatsu's side window. He was looking grave and thoughtful.

'Palli?'

'Yes. Your friend.'

Well, he didn't have a lot of friends and if they wanted to put my name in, they could. He never did get around to going back to America. Now he was in a cool steel drawer in there. At least that was as much American as it was Scandinavian: all stainless steel and controlled temperatures. It never seemed quite right to me in Britain. I always thought our morgues ought to have them dressed in cardigans and sitting up in rocking-chairs holding the Radio Times.

'A violent man, a violent end,' he added.

'Not drowning?'

'No, not drowning.' He paused and moved his head to look around. Mid-morning. The lawns were quiet and peaceful. The sun lit up the white buildings. He seemed to take in some of that tranquillity before he began to explain.

'His fingers were smashed. The finger-ends, I mean.' He rubbed his own together to show what he meant. 'The nails were broken, the flesh was torn and lacerated. They looked like . . . stubbed-out cigars.'

'Nasty. But you don't die of biting your finger-nails.'

'No, and he didn't drown. At first we thought he did. People who drown generally go a strange pink colour, but in Palli's case, the pinkness - a sort of dusky discoloration - was limited to the knees, the elbows and the hips. We cannot confirm this until a full post-mortem, but there doesn't seem to be any froth in the air passages and lungs either.'

'Which means?'

'Which means he didn't drown.' He stood up and leaned back so he could still see me. 'Palli was frozen to death . . .'

Then I did remember what Palli had said.

'Hop in,' I said. 'I think you're going to like this.'

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