Sunday afternoon, I went to visit Gerda in hospital after having driven Arlette home. The BBQ had been nice. Markus had shown up and Daniel too. He was tall and handsome with blond air and friendly grey eyes. He hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Emma all night and whenever they’d got the chance, they’d gone inside together to carry things in or out.
Arlette had really enjoyed herself. She spoke to everybody and told the funniest jokes at the table. She had immediately taken a shine to Markus and Daniel, who had immediately taken a shine to her too.
Mica though, had been the real star of the evening. He basked in the constant attention he got. And Anita couldn’t believe he was the same dog who had just been moping around the week before. We had moved the party in when it got too chilly to sit outside. And the guests hadn’t gone until 1AM in the morning. Markus and Daniel had shared a taxi to Grimstad together. Without saying so, we all thought it was best like that. We had both just started dating. And having our dates over at the same time as Arlette was there was a little awkward even if both Emma and I were grown women.
We had made a bed for Arlette in another small spare room downstairs so that she wouldn’t have to bother with the stairs. The only person I wished had been there was Merete. Both Markus and I had called to invite her. But she hadn’t answered her phone to Markus, and to me she’d come with some excuse that she was tired and anyway had to work on the mid-summer murder installment for tomorrow. I thought she’d sounded rather snappy, but I had accepted her excuse, not dwelling on it any further.
What I hate most about hospitals, believe it or not, is the smell. It seemed to linger everywhere. Even in the reception area which somebody had tried to make look half decent with some flower pots and posters of famous paintings on the walls. It’s hard to describe the hospital smell. It’s not as if it’s strong or pungent, but it sneaks up into your nostrils and has a sort of depressing effect. Slightly sweet and clinical are the most adequate words I can use to describe it.
“I’m here to see Gerda Andersen,” I said to the man behind the reception desk. Even from where I was standing I could see he had the computer opened on his Facebook page. Meeting my eyes, he immediately minimized the browser and went into what I assumed was the patient database or register.
“She’s on the third floor in room 307, heart section.”
I thanked him and went over to the lift. I hoped nobody else was there. Either Sunday afternoon was the perfect family visit to the hospital day, or it was the day the family wanted to chill at home, feeling great, or not so great for having checked in earlier in the week.
I didn’t meet anybody as I entered the heart section. The nurse’s room was empty too. I found room 307 and knocked before opening the door.
It was a single room. Gerda lay on her right aside with her back towards me. I didn’t know if she was sleeping, so I went over and sat down on the chair beside the bed. I had brought a small pot of blue and white flowers which I put down on her bedside table next to a vase containing a few roses.
”“”Hi Gerda,” I said leaning over her.
At first she didn’t stir, but after what seemed like an eternity, she slowly turned her head and looked at me.
“I’m old,” she sighed. “I’m very old. I am tired.”
“You’re in great shape,” I said stroking her hand which was lying on top of the white duvet.
“You’re still a beautiful woman and Amund loves you.”
I don’t know where all the compliments came from. Perhaps it was seeing the old lady lying there, alone and vulnerable looking. Murderer or not.
“He didn’t die you know,” Gerda said and slowly turned around so that she could face me.
“Who didn’t die?” I asked.
“My baby. He didn’t die. But he was Amund’s baby and I was married to Nils. When he was a few months old, Nils started suspecting that something was wrong. That the baby wasn’t his, which of course it wasn’t. But Nils was very handsome, but he was violent. He used to beat me. Once, he beat one of his own children out of me. Amund and I, he had been in love with me since we were school children. But I hadn’t been interested. Not then. The lighthouse keeper’s son. But one day, one day we talked and the talking lead to more. And nine months later, I had a baby. I was afraid of what Nils would do when he found out. I knew it was Amund’s child. Amund knew too. I’d told him. We had carried on our affair.”
“But how did you fake you baby’s death?”
“Oh, it was easy. So easy.” Her eyes were looking at me and they were glittering in the white hospital light.
“Amund’s sister’s baby had died from crib death and Amund saw a chance for our son to get a good life and be safe for as long as it took me to get a divorce from Nils. So he went to his sister who, at first was upset by the request of taking in our son while I buried her baby as the son of Nils and me. But she did accept on the condition that she could adopt him. I was unwilling, but at the time, it was the best thing that could have happened. Nobody else apart from Irene’s own husband, a Swede who soon took her and our son to live in Stockholm, Irene, Amund and I knew about the swap. Because Amund had gotten the news on the same day. So the swap was easy. I cried and cried. I missed my son terribly and I’d had so many miscarriages before getting him. . And my tears were real. Nils told me to shut up and beat me until I cried some more. He said he was happy to get rid of the bastard who could impossibly have been his child. Then, Nils drowned. He didn’t kill my baby, but he would have done. And Nellevine knew.”
“How about Sven?” I asked.
“I loved him for a long time. He was my teenage sweetheart in fact. But then I found out about his affair. I was very shocked to find out about his affair. I thought nothing could separate us. And then he drowned of course. I knew Nellevine had it in for him. Dishonest man he turned out to be. It was after that, I got the mad reputation. But I don’t care really.”
“Who told you about Nellevine’s revenge?” I asked.
“My mother. Because the first one to drown was my father, the artist. After that, we moved back to Homborsund where my mum comes from.”
“I need to ask you this Gerda. Did you ever help Nellevine carry out her revenge?”
I decided that was the best way to ask. Did you kill them? Sounded a tad too forward and rude. I didn’t believe that the ghost was behind it but maybe it I played it like that, she’d tell me.
“Because if you did, I wouldn’t blame you.”
Another thing to say to make her talk. I felt a bit like a bad cop in an American detective thriller drama though, but so be it.
“It’s good to talk about those things you know. And you can tell me.”
Gerda shook her head.
“Nellevine doesn’t need help to carry out her revenge. Besides, why would I kill Sven? Arlette would be the one I’d wanna get rid of.”
At that moment a nurse came in.
“Time to take your medicine and get some rest Gerda,” she said. And turning to me, “I think it’s perhaps best you leave now. Gerda is weak and tired.”
“So your former step-dad was Gerda’s son?” I was sitting next to Markus on the sofa in his apartment. It was a nice bachelor pad which was kept clean and tidy.
“It seems that way.”
“So all the murders are pointing to Gerda except the first one. Of the ones committed here I mean.”
“They do,” I said slowly. Although she made a very good point. Why would she kill her husband whom she loved deeply and not his mistress?”
“She could be lying to you,” Markus said and got up. “Tea?” I nodded.
“I don’t think she was somehow. I can’t really say for sure, but I think Amund may be behind a few of those murders. Think about it. Her father’s mistress was the first one who got killed.” “So what of this Nellevine business? Do you think she is protecting someone?”
“Sure. Who wants to call out their mother as a murderer? But I guess she believes in it in a way too.”
I sipped my tea and sat in thought for a while.
“Amund has bigger motives too to have committed those murders,” I said finally. “In the case of Nils for instance, he had everything to gain. Gerda and he were having an affair; her loveless and abusive marriage to Nils wasn’t something she could get out of easily. I’m guessing he would have made problems for her if she filed for a divorce. And I am not sure a divorce would have been looked upon with friendly eyes back then either.”
“What about the teacher whoWO had killed the child? And what about the other murders,” said Markus. I see your point by the way about Amund.” He added and put an arm around my shoulders.
“The child could have been a friend of Amund’s. I’m not sure. As for other murders, I have a suspicion. But I need some time to prove it. Amund must have an accomplish. Someone who works with him. Because otherwise, how would his son have been hanged? It doesn’t matter how fit he is. I doubt he’d be strong enough to kill someone that much younger and stronger than him alone.””
He pulled me close and kissed me. “I know you will.” He said. “But it’s Sunday night. Let’s think of something else for a while.