Episode 8. Dinner by the sea

Dinner by the sea
June 8th
I was due to meet Merete down by the harbor at 3pm. Since I wasn’t sure how long it would take to cycle to Grimstad, I left home at 2 after a morning trip in the kayak and a shower. I arrived with a few minutes to spare, so I rested on a bench while watching more and more people coming from work and down to the pier to enjoy the sunny summer weather. Markus had told me Merete was short with light brown hair and that she was visibly pregnant. I didn’t see anyone fitting that description when 3 o’clock came, but 15 minutes later, I saw someone that must be her come running towards where I was sitting. Her face was red and flushed from the running and her hair was messy, but otherwise she looked nice in a cute sort of way in her maternal summer dress. To say that she was visibly pregnant was an understatement. She looked like she was about to pop there and then.
“You must be Sandra,” she said and held out her hand. “I’m sorry I’m late. I was in a meeting that took much longer than anticipated.”
“That’s fine,” I smiled and got up. “You’re here now. And as for me, I have the whole afternoon and evening at my disposal.”
She led the way to a small café that was situated towards the far end of the pier. “My friend owns this place,” she said. “The food here is amazing.” We sat down at an outside table, and soon afterwards, a girl who looked to be in her teens came out and placed menus on our table. I decided to go for a Greek salad with additional chicken and garlic bread and Merete went for the Caesar Salad.
She took down our orders shyly before disappearing back inside.
“So, my mid-summer murder series will start a week before mid-summer and run every day up till then,” Merete began.
“What made you want to write about it?” I asked.
“My mother comes from Homborsund and she mentioned the mid-summer murders once It must have been about two years ago. We were watching this documentary about The Flying Dutchman. How some people have seen this long disappeared ship in a certain place, or even disappeared and there disappearances had been linked with the Flying Dutchman. Mum told me then about the drownings outside Nellevine the lighthouse. I’ve always been a sucker for ghost stories and I wanted to write about it. But it took this long before it’s finally going to happen. You know, other work getting in the way. And the research of course.”
Merete bent down as far as her belly would allow and picked up her shoulder bag. She took out a silver iPad and a notebook.
“I’m going to split it all into several topics,” she began. “First, it’s the obvious who were the victims? The second one is what did they have in common? That’s a particularly interesting one. Considering there were two women and two men who died over a forty-five year time period. It seems very random, yet I’m thinking they must have something more in common than their way of death.
Following on from that question, we have to think of motives. The murders have been attributed to a ghost in the lighthouse. But of course that can’t be the case. I mean do you believe in ghosts?”
The question was rhetorical, so I didn’t answer. Only shrugged my shoulders slightly. I didn’t exactly believe in ghosts. But I somehow believed that the dead lived on. I could swear that when I was facing a difficult situation, or was at my wit’s end in some way, I got telepathic guidance from my mum. But I thought there was no point in mentioning that. I didn’t believe ghosts could commit such systematic drownings though. That would be impossible.
“Only in one out of the four cases was there bad weather the day that a victim drowned. Another clear indication that this is done with human intervention.
The fourth topic will be speculating in whether all of them were murders, and how many of them, if they all are, could have been committed by one and the same person. For instance, the first one could have been some kind of accident which was then ceased on by whoever then wanted to kill somebody else later.
Finally, there is the conclusion piece. What do we know so far? Can we guess who’s maybe done it? How did they get away? Is this truly the end of the mid-summer murders?
I’m not expecting a real conclusion to the story. Most people who were alive around the time of the first murders are long dead or have disappeared from both Homborsund and the people’s register. So this whole thing is more like an entertainment piece containing facts. And if you have any more ideas for a couple more topics, please tell me. I’d ideally like to have seven, but don’t want to overkill the story.”
Our food came. And the smell of garlic and roasted chicken made me realize how ravenous I was.
“I like the idea,” I said. “The whole factual entertainment thing. And who knows? Maybe people will come forward with tips once they start reading the articles. Maybe somebody’s old relative told them something or maybe some of the elderly people still alive can add pieces to the puzzle.”
“I’m thinking the same. Although I’m not really gambling on it,” Merete replied and sipped her sparkling water.
“What do the police reports say? Have you had any access to them?”
She nodded. “They are all questioning the possibility of murder, but there is just no proof to back it up. So although people have been detained and questioned, the police had to let them go in the end.”
We sat eating for a while before she added.
“I only wish I could speak to Gerda Henriksen. After all, she lost two husbands.”
“And she lost her sister,” I said.
“What? Really?”
“You don’t know?” I asked surprised. Merete shook her head. “But I suppose you can tell me all about it now.”
I told her the tragic story Gerda had told me about her young sister Pernille who, lost in unrequited love had ended her promising life in the magic forest.
“It also happened at mid-summer” I concluded. Enjoying seeing how she abandoned her food to scribble franticly in her notebook.
“This is awesome,” she said resuming her eating. “I will definitely include this in the article. I’ll even give it its own topic and relate it back to the other murders. I mean, although it’s a suicide, it’s interesting that she chose to do it exactly at mid-summer’s eve.”
“Unless,” I sipped my own sparkling water thoughtfully. “Unless this too is a murder masked as a suicide.”
“What makes you think that?” Merete asked.
“It’s just a gut feeling I have,” I said. “Mainly it is the mid-summer thing. It seems to co-incidental. And then there is the fact of the hanging. I too have been a rejected teenager. I know what it feels like. You want to die, but you don’t actually want to die. Unless of course you’re mentally ill, or suffer from depression. I guess they didn’t have that diagnosis back then. I don’t know. But assuming she was a mentally healthy sixteen-year-old, hanging yourself when a boy doesn’t want you is a little on the extreme side.
But it’s not only those two things. It’s also the fact that it happened where there is a lighthouse torch. The other deaths are also lighthouse related. Maybe the murderer was indirectly trying to shift this too on Nellevine?”
“I see where you’re coming from,” Merete said slowly and scribbled something in her notebook. “I’ll do some research on Pernille too. But as I said, I can’t get an interview with Gerda. She refuses point blank to talk to me.”
“That’s strange,” I said. “She seems happy to talk to me.”
“In that case, can you ask her a few questions from me?”
“Sure. Write them down, and I’ll slip them in to a casual neighbourly chat.”
“Great. Thanks a lot. I will find out who the lighthouse keeper at the time was and that way, find out who the son was who Pernille was in love with and who also found her.”
We waved the teenage waitress over to ask for the bill and while we waited, we exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers. I promised to write up everything Gerda had told me so far and Merete promised to give me any new information she came across.
“It’s nice to have someone else on board,” she said. “I nodded.
“I am so happy we meet too. This is very much a family drama for me. And I want to try and get to the bottom of this if I possibly can. Without your help, I’d probably have a harder time finding information.”
“I could say the same,” she said as we got up and walked towards where I’d locked my bike.
I’d told her about why this was so interesting to me while we’d enjoyed a coffee, after the meal.
“May I ask when you’re popping?”
She laughed.
“It’s about six weeks away according to my due date. But I’m huge because I’m having twins. So who knows?”
As I freed my bike, I felt as if somebody was watching me. Merete had continued walking as she lived within walking distance of the harbor, so I was alone. I turned, certain it was my overly active imagination. The old lady I thought I’d seen in the garden two days earlier was standing there looking right at me. She was wearing a long black silk dress and a black hat that seemed more appropriate for an autumn day. The brim of the hat was large and I couldn’t see her face properly. But her eyes, deep blue and intense, were looking straight into mine.

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