Thursday 4th November 11.42 pm
Thirty nine steps rose from the busy road of Tuborgvej into Mindelunden, with its quiet graves and abiding bitter memories. Lennart Brix, head of the Copenhagen homicide team, felt he’d been walking them most of his life.
Beneath the entrance arch, sheltering from the icy rain, he couldn’t help but recall that first visit almost fifty years before. A five-year-old boy, clutching the hand of his father, barely able to imagine what he was about see.
Death was as distant to a child as a nightmare or a fairy tale. But here, in this solitary park trapped between the traffic and the railway line in Østerbro, it seemed to lie in wait like a hungry phantom, hiding in the shadows behind the gravestones and the statues, whispering the names carved into cold stone memorials lining the walls.
Brix, a tall and serious man, not given to fantasies or delusions, wiped his face with the sleeve of his coat. The familiar ritual of homicide was in motion. Officers in black uniforms tramped up and down the concrete steps carrying lights and equipment like stagehands preparing for a performance. Radios crackled. Men asked predictable questions to which he gave predictable answers with a curt wave of the hand.
A haunting memory, a nagging fear that had stayed with him ever since.
Madsen. A good cop. Not so bright but young and keen.
‘Where is she?’ Brix asked.
‘The worst place. You want…?’
Brix strode upwards, reached the head of the stairs, walked out into the blustery dark night. To his left the long line of commemorative plaques seemed to stretch forever, name after name, one hundred and fifty one, just a few of the partisans murdered during five years of Nazi occupation. There were many more, his father said that sunny day, May the fifth, half a century before, when every house and apartment put candles in their windows to remember those who’d died.
In his head he was back there on that sharp, still morning. Hat in hand walking to the statue of a woman holding her dead son, though the boy Brix could see little but the graves in front, line after line of tidy stone tombs, each with a commemorative vase, all beautifully tended as they would be, his father vowed, forever.
On that far-off day the child that was Lennart Brix had his first encounter with the shadowy creature called mortality, came to understand that its grey, eternal presence would follow him from that moment on. It was still there in the bleak and visionless stone eyes of the woman cradling her lost child. In the names chiselled on the marble plaques. Death lurked like a feral animal, shrinking into the shadows of the little wood beyond the tidy, ordered graves, waiting for the opportunity to escape into the city at large.
Madsen was getting impatient. He had every right. Lennart Brix knew where the worst place was and for all his years in homicide still didn’t want to see it.
‘We’ve got the husband. A squad car stopped him in a car on the bridge to Malmö. Covered in blood. Babbling like a lunatic.’
The Nazis seized Mindelunden when they took control of the neighbouring Ryvangen barracks in 1943 as their grip on Copenhagen tightened. In the army buildings across the railway line they established a command centre. Here, on the flat land once used for parades and exercises, they walked partisan prisoners to the pistol firing range and shot them one by one.
Madsen stamped his feet on the paving stones and blew on his hands.
‘I guess that means half the job’s done.’
Brix just looked at him.
‘The husband,’ the young officer repeated with obvious impatience. ‘He’s covered in blood.’
Two years before, when, half knowingly, they were stumbling towards divorce, Brix had shown his wife round Mindelunden. It was a futile effort to interest her in his native city, to keep her from flying home for good. She came from London which meant she never fully grasped the context of the place. You needed to be Danish, brought here dutifully by a stern-faced parent for that.
The English knew the meaning of war but were naively, dangerously ignorant of the nature of occupation. For them, for the Americans too, conflicts happened in other places, broke out like remote wildfires then were stamped into cinders and ashes that stayed in foreign lands. It was different for the Danes in a way he could never explain. They had fought as best they could when the Germans rolled into Jutland in 1940. Then, for a while, quietly acquiesced in return for a semblance of normality, of sham independence in a Europe torn apart by war, a fresh cruel landscape which the Nazis seemed destined to master.
By the time Jews began to disappear and daring bands of partisans started to prick consciences attitudes were changing. Some fought back, paying the ultimate cost, tortured in cells in the Politigården, the police headquarters where Brix now worked, then driven to Mindelunden, tied to a stake in the ground against a grassy rampart made for targets that were not human, did not breathe.
He could still hear his father describing the scene in May 1945 when liberation came. The Germans had rushed to murder as many captives as they could in those closing months. Broken, rotting corpses lay half-buried in the bare fields, abandoned in the rush.
They didn’t die easily and nor did the experience of occupation. That mixture of rage and grief and a secret sense of shame still lingered. As a child, shivering in front of those three stakes, preserved as memorials before the grassy ramp of the firing range, Lennart Brix had wondered: would he have had such courage? Or turned away and lived instead?
It was the question everyone who followed was bound to ask. But rarely out loud.
The bark of a dog broke his reverie. Brix looked at the forensic officers, white bunny suits, mob hats, marching grim-faced down the rows of graves, towards the space in the little wood where the rest of the team was gathering.
Perhaps, he thought, that moment fifty years before had marked him out as a detective. Someone who looked for reasons when none seemed easily available.
Madsen’s face was full of the prurient enthusiasm he expected of his men. They had to have the hunger, the need for the chase. Detectives were hunters, all of them. Some better than others, though the best he’d ever encountered was now wasting away her life and her talents inside a border guard’s uniform in a God-forsaken corner of Zealand.
Brix didn’t answer. He strode ahead, knowing this had to be faced.
A flat rectangle of grass muddy from the tramping of police boots, banks raised on three sides, tallest at the narrow end.
The floodlights were so bright it seemed a full moon had come to hover above them. Beyond their reach more men were starting to search patiently through the surrounding area, torches high in their hands.
Three gnarled stakes, replicas now, with the originals in the Frihedsmuseet. A woman was tied to the centre pole, hands behind her back, bound with heavy rope round her torso. Blonde hair soaked with rain and worse, head down, chin on chest, crouched awkwardly on her knees.
A gaping wound at her neck like a sick second smile. She wore a blue dressing gown slashed in places all the way to the waist, flesh and skin visible where the frenzied blade had stabbed at her. Her face was bruised and dirty. Blood poured from her nostrils, had dried down each side of her mouth, like makeup on a tragic clown.
‘Fifteen to twenty wounds on her chest and neck,’ Madsen said. ‘She wasn’t killed here. The husband called in to say he came home and found the place covered in blood. No sign of her. Then he took off in his car.’
He stepped forward for a closer look.
‘So that’s what a crime of passion looks like.’
The dog was getting frantic.
‘Can someone get that animal to shut up?’ Brix said.
‘Take the husband in for questioning. Let’s see what he’s got to say.’
Madsen shuffled on his feet.
‘You don’t seem so sure.’
‘She’s a lawyer. So is he. Is that right?’
Brix gazed at the torn and mangled body at the stake.
‘Here?’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Of all places? It doesn’t make sense.’
‘Killing people doesn’t make sense, does it?’
But it does, Brix thought. Sometimes. That was a detective’s job. To winnow the logic from the blood and bone.
He couldn’t stop thinking of the officer he’d lost, Sarah Lund, and how she was frittering away her life in Gedser. Brix wondered what she’d make of a scene like this. The questions she might ask, the places she would look. Something he’d encountered here fifty years before was supposed to give him that dread gift too, and had, a little. But it wasn’t a talent like Lund’s. He could speak to the dead, try to imagine their answers.
The tall, severe chief of Copenhagen homicide wanted to be out of this place so much. It affected his judgement, his precious reason.
In some way he would never comprehend Lund could hear them speak.
‘What do you want me to do?’ Madsen asked again.
‘What I just said. Bring him in.’
He went back along the narrow muddy path, through the field of gravestones, past the names on the wall, the statue of the mother clutching her murdered son, the memorial plaque with the patriotic verses of an awkward priest named Kai Munk, slaughtered by the Gestapo one dark January night near Silkeborg in Jutland a lifetime ago.
Walked down the concrete steps, carefully, the way he had as a five-year-old child leaving this place feeling sick and giddy, aware that the world was not the safe and happy realm he thought, and that a shadow waited for him, as it did for everyone some day.
At the foot of the steps Lennart Brix looked right, looked left, made sure no one saw him. Strode over to the undergrowth next to the busy road, and did what he did all those decades before: vomited into the grubby bushes, strewn with trash, discarded bottles and cigarettes.
Then sat mute and miserable in his unmarked car, beneath the revolving blue light, listening to the sirens and the chatter on the police networks, wishing he possessed the faith to pray that Madsen was right. That this was a curiously violent domestic interlude to be swiftly and cleanly concluded.
A crime of passion, nothing more.
Excerpted from The Killing II by David Hewson. Copyright © 2013 by David Hewson.
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