Rain lashed the windowpane, streaming down the glass like rivers, the wind so strong it had the bare branches of the poplars clawing at the walls of the cafe. William Wisting sat at a window table, watching as wet autumn leaves were torn from the pavement and tossed around.
Wisting liked rain without understanding exactly why, but it seemed to help him take things easier, to relax and slow down a little. Cool jazz, mingling with the downpour, helped too. He turned towards the counter and the flickering shadows cast along the walls by the candles. Smiling at him, Suzanne Bjerke turned the music down another notch.
Three teenagers were huddled round a table at the end of the counter; otherwise they were alone. Suzanne’s intimate, sophisticated café had become a favourite haunt of students from the newly established Police College campus.
He turned towards the window again, where the words The Golden Peace were emblazoned in a curve of reversed frosted letters: Gallery and Coffee Bar. He did not know how long Suzanne had nursed her dream, but one winter evening she had put down her book to tell him the story of the Hudson River ferryman who, all his life, had sailed between New York and Jersey, back and forth, forth and back. Day after day, year after year he sailed until, one day, he made his big decision to turn the boat round and set out, full speed, for the great ocean he had dreamed about all his life. The very next day, she took the plunge and bought the café premises.
When she asked him what his own dream was, he had to say that he didn’t know. He liked his life just as it was. A policeman at heart, he had no wish to be anything else. His work as a detective gave him a sense of purpose and brought meaning to his life. He drew the Sunday newspaper towards him and again peered into the night.
Usually he sat further inside the café, where fewer people would notice him, but in this weather he felt he could sit undisturbed at a window table without passers-by recognising him and coming inside to engage him in conversation. Since he had reluctantly taken part in a television talk show, this was happening more frequently.
One of the boys glanced in his direction. Wisting remembered him. At the beginning of term, he had been invited to deliver a lecture about ethics and morality and the boy had been sitting in the front row.
The front page of the paper was devoted to slimming advice, warnings of more rain and intrigues on a TV reality programme. Only seldom did the Sundays contain fresh news. Canned goods were what his journalist daughter, Line, called the material lying in the editorial office for days, sometimes weeks, before being published. She had been a journalist on Verdens Gang for almost five years, had worked in various departments, but was currently on the crime desk, meaning that her editorial team occasionally covered cases he was working on.
Wisting managed his double role of detective and father without too much difficulty. What he disliked was the thought of Line in close proximity to the grisly side of society. He had been a police officer for thirty-one years, and his work had given him insight into most kinds of brutality and barbarism, but also many sleepless nights, something he hoped his daughter would be spared.
He leafed through the pages, skimming the news coverage, not expecting to find anything Line had written since he knew she was on leave.
Increasingly, he valued their discussions of current news stories. Though it had not been easy for him to admit, she had altered his views on his role as a police officer. Her outsider’s perspective had more than once made him reassess his fairly stale opinions of himself. As recently as his lecture to the students, when he had talked about how important it was for people’s security and confidence that police officers behaved with integrity, decency and propriety, he had realised that Line’s points of view had given him valuable ballast. He had tried to explain to his future colleagues the importance of these fundamental values in the role of the police within society, that it demanded impartiality and objectivity, honesty and sincerity, and an endless search for truth.
When he reached the television schedules on the back pages, the students were at the door fastening their coats. The tallest made eye contact with Wisting, who smiled and responded with a nod of recognition.
‘Day off?’ the lad enquired.
‘That’s one of the advantages when you’ve been on the force as long as I have,’ Wisting replied. ‘Working from eight till four and free every weekend.’
‘Thanks for a great lecture, by the way.’
‘Nice of you to say so.’
The student wanted to say something more, but was interrupted by Wisting’s phone. It was Line. ‘Hello, Dad. Has anyone from the newspaper phoned you?’
‘No,’ Wisting replied, nodding to the three students as they left. ‘Why? Has something happened?’
‘I’m in the editorial office now,’ she explained.
‘Aren’t you off duty?’
‘Yes, but I was at the gym and thought I would call in briefly.’ Wisting recognised much of himself in his daughter, especially her curiosity and desire always to be at the centre of events. ‘There’s going to be a piece about you in tomorrow’s newspaper,’ Line said, pausing before she continued, ‘but this time you’re the one they’re after. You’re the one they’re out to get.’
In the following silence Line moved the cursor over the screen where the story, set and ready for print, her father’s face prominently displayed, was splashed on the front page. ‘It’s about the Cecilia case,’ she clarified.
‘The Cecilia case?
It was one of the cases her father never discussed, one of the difficult and painful ones. ‘Cecilia Linde,’ she elaborated, though she knew her father needed no reminder. It had been one of the most sensational murders of that decade.
‘What about it?’
Line glanced up from the screen as the chief editor moved away from the news desk and stepped towards the stairs and the floor above. It was time for the evening meeting, when the final threads of the next day’s paper would be drawn together and a decision taken about what would make the front page. The Cecilia Linde story filled two pages, and would provide an obvious headline. Her murder would still sell newspapers, even after seventeen years.
‘Haglund’s lawyer has sent a petition to the Criminal Cases Review Commission,’ she explained, once the chief editor had passed. The news editor shuffled a stack of papers and followed. Line skim-read the report one more time, feeling that it actually posed more questions than it answered, but appreciating that this story would run to a series, and not only in her own newspaper. ‘A private detective has been working on the case.’
‘What does that have to do with me?’ From her father’s tone she realised he understood the seriousness of what was happening. As a young detective, he had led the investigation and had, since then, become a high-profile policeman, a well-known face who could be held responsible and used to set the news agenda.
‘They think the evidence was fabricated,’ Line explained.
‘What kind of evidence?’
‘The DNA. They believe it was planted by the police.’
‘On what grounds?’
‘The lawyer has had the samples re-analysed. He believes the cigarette butt on which the DNA was found had been planted.’
‘That was alleged at the time.’
‘The lawyer thinks they can prove it now, and says that the documentation has been transferred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.’
‘I don’t understand how he can prove anything.’
‘They have a new witness as well,’ Line continued. ‘One who can provide Haglund with an alibi.’
‘Why didn’t this witness come forward at the time?’
‘He says he did,’ Line said, swallowing. ‘He says he phoned in and spoke to you, but he heard nothing further.’ Her father made no sound. ‘It’s the evening meeting here now,’ she said, ‘but they’ll soon contact you for comment. You ought to prepare whatever you’re going to say.’
Wisting’s face took up most of the space on the screen. They had used a press photograph from the talk show almost a year earlier. The studio setting was easy to recognise and acted as a kind of subtle emphasis that this was a well-known detective who was now being accused of breaking the law: a man with slightly rumpled, thick, dark hair, a strained smile, the wrinkles on his face betraying a lifetime of experience, his dark eyes gazing steadily into the camera lens.
On television he had emerged not only as the upright, skilled policeman he actually was, but also as a caring and considerate investigator with a powerful sense of social justice. Tomorrow’s caption would present him in a different light. His eyes would be perceived as cold, and the strained smile would seem false.
‘It’s not true. None of what they’re saying is true.’
‘I know that, Dad. You don’t need to tell me, but all the same it’s going to appear in print tomorrow.’
Evening silence had fallen over the editorial offices. Pictures from foreign news channels drifted across soundless television screens, accompanied by the tapping of practised fingers racing across keyboards and occasional hushed telephone conversations.
Line was about to log off when the chief editor returned, Joakim Frost, who was only ever known as ‘Frost’. They said he got the post of chief editor because he was incapable of understanding the human tragedies behind the headlines. His lack of empathy was the perfect qualification.
Frost scanned the room with a chilly expression, looking right through her. ‘Apologies,’ he said, taking for granted that she had seen the story. ‘I was going to phone to let you know, but now you’re here anyway.’
Line nodded. She knew Frost would be the driving force behind the spread but knew him too well to enter into discussion. She had no desire to listen to his usual lecture about an independent, free press and, besides, he was hardly interested in counter arguments. Frost had been in the newspaper game for almost forty years and, in his eyes, she was still an insignificant rookie.
‘This is a story we can’t afford to ditch,’ he said. ‘Have you spoken to your father?’
‘What’s he saying?’
‘He can tell you himself.’
Frost accepted this. ‘He has the right of reply, of course.’
Line indulged in a wry smile. It was a waste of time furnishing a defence against accusations splashed across the front page. What’s more, it was a hopeless task, responding to a story produced by the entire editorial team through a telephone enquiry made immediately before the newspaper went to press.
‘Listen, Line,’ Frost said. ‘This story engages a great deal more than just our feelings. It is of general and national interest. I appreciate this is difficult for you but it’s not easy for me either.’
Line stood up. Frost’s sanctimonious arguments were window-dressing for what actually was of importance to him: circulation figures. The newspaper’s integrity could be preserved without placing her father at the centre of sensational headlines, nor did the story need to be personalised. Criticism could just as easily be directed towards the police as an organisation, but that would not sell so many newspapers.
‘If you need to take some time, you can have a few days off,’ he said. ‘You can come back when this is over.’
‘I think it could have turned even uglier if we let others get hold of it.’
Line looked away. Spare me this,’ she said. The thought of her father’s face plastered across the front of next day’s newspaper made her feel sick.
‘Line!’ The shout came from the news editor, who was standing beside one of the evening reporters. Ripping a sheet from her notepad, he headed across to them. ‘I know you’re off duty and it’s probably not convenient, but can you pick up on this?’
Line replied automatically: ‘What is it?’
‘Murder in the Old Town in Fredrikstad. Not confirmed by the police yet, but we’ve received a tip-off from someone standing beside a blood-soaked corpse.’
Line felt the news fill her with vitality and yet, at the same time, deplete her energy. This was the kind of story she loved, and at which she excelled. She was expert at finding sources and exploited them to the maximum, analysing them thoroughly so that she knew what could and could not be trusted.
Frost’s face broadened into a grin. ‘He’s phoning from the crime scene?’
‘First the police, then us,’ said the news editor.
‘Wrong order, but we can live with that. Who can take photographs?’
‘We’ll have a freelancer there in ten minutes, but need a reporter.’
Joakim Frost turned to face Line. ‘One way or another I think you should head off,’ he said.
Line observed his retreating back, realising it would be much more comfortable for him and the others if she were to spend the next few days in Østfold County instead of here in the office.
The news editor handed her the sheet of paper with the name and phone number of the informant. ‘There might be something in that,’ he said, dropping his voice as he continued: ‘We won’t be setting the front page for another four hours.’