Episode 19. Gone

Ambulance sirens woke me around noon the next day. Last night had been long and exhausting. The police came half an hour after we called them. They had told us to stay put where we were. We had only gone a short distance away so the hanging corps wouldn’t insult our eyes for more than what was necessary. They had driven us both back to Emma’s. Emma, who had been home, had been surprised to see Markus and me coming back with two police officers, and even more so when I told her why. But she’d calmed down pretty quickly and made us all hot drinks while the police were questioning first Markus, which didn’t take long, and then me which took long. Especially after I told them that the man we’d found was my ex stepfather
They had been very interested to hear about how he had disappeared after my mother’s accident in London ten years previously and how he had just disappeared, only to come back and threaten me ten years later. After three hours, they were done.
I was exhausted when they had left, but too wired to fall asleep. Emma, who took me aside to tell me that she really liked Markus, offered him to stay the night, which he accepted. But he had of course left at the same time as her in the morning to get to work. I had noticed him getting up and even kissing me on the forehead before he left, but I was too tired to remember if we had exchanged any words.
I got up and stretched. I was curious to see what was going on. I drew the curtains aside and looked out of the window. My window faced Emma’s garden and I could also look straight into Gerda and Amund’s garden. When one of them, usually Gerda, was out, I was able to see what she was doing. But I wasn’t seeing anything there, so I put on a dressing gown and went downstairs. I opened the front door.
Four men dressed in white, were carrying a stretcher between them. I wasn’t able to see who lay on it until they turned to put it inside the ambulance.
Gerda was pale and lay completely still with her eyes closed. I was wondering if she could be dead. But then I noticed one of the men bending down to say something to her. – So she must at least be alive, I thought. A middle aged man with silver hair came out of the house with something that looked like a rug sack or an overnight bag over his shoulder. He put it in the ambulance next to the stretcher and stroked Gerda’s hair. Her adopted son, I guessed.
The stretcher was now strapped in place and the ambulance doors closed. The man did not come in the ambulance.
Feeling a bit like a young version of that old snooping woman you always find in crime novels, I retreated inside to get dressed. I wanted to try and catch a word with her son before he left. I gathered he’d go in his own car to the hospital.
Five minutes later, I came out just as he was unlocking the door to his car.
“Excuse me, but may I ask what’s happened to Gerda?”
He turned at the sound of my voice and looked me up and down.
“Who are you? He asked.
“My name is Sandra. I am visiting my aunt who lives here,” I pointed to Emma’s house, “and I’ve spent some time with Gerda.”
I knew I was exaggerating how well I knew Gerda, but I wasn’t doing anything unethical and immoral.
“Yes. She had a nasty fall this morning when she climbed out of her bath tub. I’ve told her countless times to get a shower, but will she listen? Anyway. It was lucky I was coming today to help with something around the house. She appeared to have broken one leg and has a mild concussion. But she’s ninety, so you know, it’s serious.”
I nodded.
“Send her my regards,” I said. “Maybe I’ll come visit her.”
“I will,” he said and entered his car.
“Who is taking care of Amund?” I asked.
“”My wife is on her way,” he said. “But if you don’t mind, can you keep an eye on the house just so he doesn’t disappear before she gets here?”
“No problem. I’ll do that.”
“Thanks very much.” He held out his hand. “I’m Rune by the way.” Then he got into his car, started the engine and drove off.
I felt my stomach rumbling, and went inside to make breakfast. I kept looking out of the kitchen window to see if Amund would try to make a run for it. But so far, he was behaving himself. I couldn’t see him, but I assumed he was inside doing whatever he usually did, which I didn’t know what was. I wondered what it was like being senile, or dement or anything like it. I wondered what their internal world looked like and if they made sense of the outside world at all.
My phone rang and I went upstairs where I just managed to answer it before it went to voicemail. It was DI Tina Karlsen, the female police officer who had interrogated me the night before.
“I hope you’re fine after the shock yesterday,” she said.
“I’m ok. I even managed to sleep a little last night.”
“That’s good. I just called to check if you’re ok really and if you’re at home. I have done a little research on your ex stepfather and I’ve got a few questions for you.”
The doorbell was ringing as I hung up. I had descended the stairs during the conversation and I was on my way into the kitchen to check on Amund again. But the ringing was incessant so I went to open the front door. An elegant lady in a navy blue skirt suit stood outside.
“Are you Sandra?” she asked.
“I am. How may I help?”
“I am Mona, married to Rune.”
I knew what she was going to say before she said it and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“Amund has disappeared.”
My first instinct was to apologize. I had promised Rune to watch the house after all and I had been careless for about a minute. It was typical how things always happened when you weren’t watching for them. Like when takeaway delivery people came at the exact moment you’d gone to the toilet. Although this was of course a lot more serious.
“I watched the house all the time, except when I went upstairs to get my ringing phone.”
Mona stood thinking for a bit, before she said “Well, it’s not your fault. He can’t have gone far and this is not the first time he runs away, so I’ll look for him. Don’t you worry?”
I found it strange how he’d taken the opportunity to disappear in that small gap of time when I wasn’t watching. As if he had been watching me and found the right opportunity to escape. Which again made me wonder if he’d maybe had a clear moment when it happened.
DI Tina Karlsen arrived fifteen minutes later. Shook her head at an offer of coffee, but thanked yes to a glass of water. She had a file with her, not unlike the one Merete used for her work, only this was much bigger.
“Let’s just cut to the chase,” she said and put her glass down on the kitchen table.
“What did you stepdad do in London?” “He was a freelance writer. He was working as a stringer, in this instance meaning London reporter for a couple of National papers. He was also writing for niche magazines in both Norway and the UK. Finance was his area of expertise.”
“Did he often travel to Norway when he lived with you and your mum?”
“Yes, fairly often, perhaps once a month.”
“I see,” DI Karlsen replied slowly. “I know this is a very private and sensitive question, but I really need to know this. Did he ever assault you in any way?”
“No, what do you mean?”
“Sexually.” She looked away for a brief second before fixing her eyes on me.
“Not at all. He was a good stepdad while I was living at home.”
“Ok.” Said Tina. “You see, he was reported to have raped a young woman around your age in 2005. But the case never got solved due to lack of evidence.”
“Really?” I was genuinely surprised.
One thing I have learned to do is to read upside down. Not for any other reason than it being cool. At least I’d thought so as a child. But it had come in handy sometimes. Like now.
“Can you tell me the name of the girl?” I asked, pretty sure she couldn’t as it would be against her professional code of conduct. She shook her head just as I predicted.
“Not at this stage I’m an afraid,” she said.
I had already seen the name though and it sends chills down my spine. The girl had been Laura Nilsen.

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