Tag Archives: Hanging

Afterword

I’ve written a novel in just over a month and that’s a fact I’m quite shocked by. But I’m proud too and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
The fact that it got done on time is actually quite a miracle. I wrote this story under less than favourable living conditions in Lagos. And both food poisoning, a record high of mosquito bites and some other tropical ailments at times made the process rather irksome. Due to irregular power supplies which also destroyed two laptop chargers, I wasn’t always sure whether the episodes would be done on time.

The next step now, is to edit the episodes. Improve the language, get rid of inconsistencies and strengthen some of the weaker points. And when that’s done, I’m hoping to get this thing published.

A list of thanks are of course in order. First and foremost I need to thank my secretary Elisabeth who invited me to her home in Homborsund where she took me to all the places you’ve read about in the story. Elisabeth also helped with historical facts, proof reading and publishing the episodes when I had no internet access. Thanks too, to my people in Lagos who went to the market to buy new laptop chargers and generally made sure I was fed, hydrated and medicated,making it physically possible to write.

Nellevine, the house ghost in Elisabeth’s hous,in Homborsund for being the inspiration to the story needs thanks, or else, she’ll haunt me forever, in an unpleasant way I’m sure. I have felt her presence too. And I’m not the only one.I sometimes had the feeling she was feeding me the story and helping my circumstances, turning them in my favour.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank my readers around the world for getting hooked on the story and encouraging me to continue when I didn’t have the inspiration.

All the places featuring in the story are real, but I have allowed some artistic freedoms when it comes to eateries and other places in Grimstad and Kristiandsand. The characters as well as the mid-summer drownings are pure figments of my overly active imagination.

Episode 23. Finale. Mid-summer

Mid-summer
June 23rd
“Please, sit down on the wooden chairs,” Amund said as he himself went over to the rocking chair. He didn’t appear to be the least senile.
“My little cottage,” he said and gave a sigh of satisfaction. He had lit a pocket torch and I could see that he too was holding a pistol of the same make as the one Laura’ had. I went over to one of the chairs and Merete obliged too, though she looked extremely uncomfortable. The silence lay over the cabin like a too hot, too thick and too heavy blanket.
“Why?” I asked in the end.
“The oldest motive in the world.” Amund replied. “All the murders happened because of love.”
“Why don’t you tell us about them till Laura comes? You know some entertainment before it’s my turn?” I asked.
“Your turn alone?” Amund asked. “You are both going to die tonight. Merete, you know too much. So I’m afraid you and your precious unborn babies will die tonight too. But I guess that didn’t come as a big surprise.”
Merete shook her head, but said nothing.
“I suppose I can entertain you,” Amund said. He drew in a deep breath and began.
I was ten when I first heard of the case of Franz Fransen’s mistress Helene and her drowning under strange circumstances. We were a few children wanting to go out in the boat to amuse ourselves. Among them was I, and Gerda’s older brother Magnus who is long dead. Gerda’s mother was terribly afraid of the sea and she didn’t want us to go. She told us that there were ghosts out there who drowned people. And then she told us about the drowning of her close childhood friend Helene Hansen which had happened right outside the light house Nellevine. That the ghost of Nellevine, a woman who had once lived in Homborsund, ad still haunted it, punished those who did wrongs that couldn’t be judged in the courtroom. As children, we didn’t believe her of course. And we went out in the boat without anything happening. I even forgot about it for a while.
But two years later, when my best friend Tore drowned, and I was weighed down by grief and anger of something so unfair, I remembered it. Janne Olsen was a silly woman and at the time we went out swimming, she was flirting with one of the local fishermen. That’s a part of the story nobody knows. But I saw her. And perhaps Tore hadn’t drowned had it not been for her flirting and had she been watching us like a good teacher. I knew she enjoyed kayaking and would go every evening possible when the weather was nice… So one day, I went to her house with a drill hidden inside my school bag. If anyone would have seen me enter her garden, they’d assume I’d come to give my dear teacher well wishes for the summer. But I had picked a time when most people would be at work. It didn’t take long to drill small holes in the kayak and cover them up so she couldn’t see them. However, the cover I used, paper, would dissolve as soon as it came into water. I had no idea if my plan would work, but it did. Guess she wasn’t such a good swimmer. Her kayak was even found floating bottom up with the holes very visible.
Years later, I fell in love with Gerda. But she wouldn’t know me. She was the most beautiful girl in all of Homborsund and beyond and she had many suiters. Her younger sister was a beauty too and knew it. Objectively speaking, she was even more beautiful than her sister. And this grieved Gerda a lot. I remember finding her crying one day because her sister had kissed a guy she liked. This was just before she got together with Sven. I found the whole thing scandalous, especially because Pernille was so young. But oh, how mature she was. Looked like a fully grown woman at fourteen. I resolved that day to remove from the world everything that would make Gerda unhappy. And I also resolved that she would be mine.
I asked Pernille to meet me in the magic forest. I had turned her down for the mid-summer dance which had greatly saddened her. So when I suggested this private meeting, she was overjoyed. I strangled her of course. It was quick and easy. And then I hung her up in the tree and left her. I made out to find her, and pretended to be distraught about it. And they pitied me.
Sven was easy to kill. I found out about his little mistress before Gerda did and thought it was best to remove him from this world before he would make her unhappy. Better to lose a loved one in death, than to a rival in life. I asked if he would come crab fishing with me. We weren’t exactly close friends, but I knew he didn’t like putting out the nets, though he enjoyed fresh crab, so I played on that. I knew the weather was going to be bad that day. But Sven, who had no suspicion and said yes, willingly came out with me. I initiated a proper man to man talk while we were in the boat. And I coaxed him into telling me about his mistress. I was made to understand that he intended to leave Gerda for her. The weather was starting to worsen and I knew I’d have to hurry if I wanted to get home in one piece. So I hit Sven over the head with a hammer I’d brought along. And then threw him over board.
I thought perhaps Gerda would come to me after the death of Sven. I comforted her a lot and always helped around. But I guess she saw me more as a brother. And she was soon married to the wife beater Nils. Gerda has never been very independent. And she hated staying single for longer than what was necessary or appropriate after Sven died. After Nils had beaten her especially badly one day, she came to me to seek comfort. And that was when our affair started. I wanted Gerda to myself. But divorce in those days, in a place like this, was hard. So Nils had to go too.
I made same process with him. Although I disposed of the boat afterwards.
“So that’s how you did it,” I said in lack of anything else to say.
“Yes.” Amund looked proud. “And I managed to persuade Gerda it must be Nellevine’s ghost who is behind all the murders. She thinks she’s in touch with the ghost herself. But I think she desperately want to believe that something supernatural is behind them. She knows in her heart of hearts that her own mother killed Helene Hansen. And I think she may at least suspect me.”
The door had opened quietly while Amund spoke and Laura stood in the doorway looking at us.
“Having a good time?” she asked sweetly.
None of us answered.
“I’m telling them about my prowess on the murder scene,” Amund said at last with a tone of pride in his voice. “And I’m not done yet. I’m sure Sandra here would like to know why I killed her father and brother.”
I found out that Sven’s mistress had a son because Gerda wanted so badly to adopt him. She never managed to get pregnant again after we’d had our son Carl Christian. My original plan was to murder the mistress and kidnap the baby, but they disappeared on us. I guess they must have asked for their phone number and address to be withheld from the phone register. I later learned that she’d changed her surname, but the son had the father’s name. So when he started working as a journalist in Grimstad, I decided that it would be far better to punish her by killing her child. And when he started looking into the mid-summer murders and put two and two together, it was time to strike. He called me and asked me for an interview, which I of course granted. Only I garroted him from behind before he even knew I was around.
“What about my baby brother?” I asked.
“That one was easy. He did have a weak heart and was in hospital overnight for some checkups. I came to the hospital one day and simply went into the section where he lay; put a pillow over his face and voilà! Your mum was downstairs getting something to eat. I observed that before I went there. My friend worked as a doctor there, so when anybody asked why I was there, I just said I was there to talk over a matter with him.”
I was starting to hate this man more and more. I was trembling with anger and indignation at how he talked about his crimes so easily, so proudly.
“We have to go soon,” Laura interrupted.
“Oh but let them have the last few answers before they die.”
“Make it quick,” Laura said and leaned against the door. An impatient expression on her face.
“We often visited our son in Stockholm. But he didn’t know that he was ours until he was eighteen. Until then, he assumed that we were his aunt and uncle. But when he learned of the circumstances around the adoption, he wanted to move to Norway to spend more time with us. However, we asked him to be very careful as it would look a little bit strange that a supposedly dead baby had come to life so many years later. My son was more like me than I could have hoped. And one day, I entrusted him my secret about the mid-summer murders, and why and how I’d carried them out. In fact, he was there when your father was killed Sandra. And he took a lot of pleasure in watching. Your father was killed because he knew too much, and he asked why I didn’t dispose of your mother too at the time. But your mother had you and went to London. We only knew about London later when you came back for summer holidays. In fact, I did try to kill her once, but she got away. It’s was purely a stroke of luck. On her side that is. I was planning to Garett her like I had your father, but just as I was about to do it, an old friend of hers passed. I didn’t have many other chances, because she stayed away from Homborsund. My son was the one by the way who spread all those false rumours about her having an affair etc. I thought that was very stupid as she might have stayed a little bit closer had he not done so.
Carl Christian, or Christian as we mainly called him, was doing well as a freelancer and asked to be posted to London for some national newspaper. While there he met your mum. It was not by co-incidence and he tried finding out how much she knew, but she’d never let on if she did know anything. He couldn’t of course kill her straight away, so he courted and married her. He liked her very much. But his sense of duty and protection of me was much stronger. And so when he heard the two of you discussing the test drive, he went and tampered with the breaks. The accident was supposed to kill both of you, but alas, you survived.
“Why did you wait twenty years?” I asked. I could see Laura shifting from one foot to another. She was really getting impatient now.
“Some of it was just how it naturally happened, but we also wanted most people to forget the other murders and disappearances so that too many questions wouldn’t be asked. And we wanted her to relax and think herself and you safe”
“And how about Laura? Where does she come in?”
“Laura came to Rune and Mona in May 1999. She became a huge favourite of mine after I discovered that she too had a dark side to her. By that time, I was getting a little weaker and I couldn’t kill like in the old days. I had intentions of doing away with you too. Better a whole family be gone. But I needed Laura’s help. You two were roughly the same age, and she could pretend to befriend you. However, two things went wrong. Laura was too eager to help me and your grandma saved you unknowingly. Also, not long after, Laura was taken into a home.
We wanted to wait a while after the London accident to try and get you once and for all. But you had to be in a state of total calm and no suspicion. We knew that the easiest way to get you to Homborsund was for Christian to call and scare you. And it worked a treat. I asked Gerda to tell you about the mid-summer murders and she did, not of course knowing anything of our plans. But it got you digging. And when your lover boy called Merete to help you, for she was looking into them as well, just out of pure interest, Laura decided to pose as her and befriend you. She was there when Merete got the phone call. She is a photographer, and has worked closely with Merete for a while. And you didn’t know Merete, so you didn’t know what she looked like. Of course, she was Clairvoyant Clara too, but you know that already. Genious Laura. She revealed herself to you so many times, but you were none the wiser. Proves that the best way to hide something is to do it in the open.”
“And I didn’t know she was a psycho who would lock me up and drug me down for three weeks,” Merete said through clenched teeth. “What if I had given birth?”
But Laura only stared at her. “I would have killed your babies,” she said.
“One last thing. I was desperate now. It was 1 o’clock and if I could keep him talking for a little bit longer, I didn’t know what I would do, but my head was working over time trying to find a way we could possibly escape. Time was of the essence.
“Why did Christian die? And did he really assault you Laura?”
“Ys he did. But Amund would never believe me.” She stared at him with hard, cold eyes. So I garroted and hung him up in the same three as Gerda’s sister.
“And for that Laura, I’m not sure if I can forgive you.” Amund said.
“Oh shut up. Let’s take care of our personal business later. We are going to kill these two first.”
Amund got up. “We have to go now. “He said abruptly.
“Are you going to shoot us?” Merete asked in a small voice.
“No. We have something else in stall for you. We want it to look like a Nellevine drowning. So we can’t shoot you.”
“No!” I shouted and spun on my heel to see Laura who had moved quietly from the door towards me extend a noose made from a thin steel wire over my head. A few seconds later, and I would have been dead. I hit her on the arm, and managed to grab it and bend it backwards. She fought against me and at one point the wire hit my hand with a stinging sensation.
“Help! Help” Merete screamed.
“Quiet, all of you. I think I need an explanation.”
The voice had come from the door which had opened quietly without anybody noticing it. Rune stood in the doorway and he was looking confused.
“Dad?” he asked. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, again.”
Amund, who had not been prepared for the surprise of seeing his adopted son took a few seconds to put his vacant expression on, but he hadn’t fooled Rune.
“Put down the pistol and sit down for goodness sake,” he said.
He went over to his father and took the pistol out of his hands. Laura and I had stopped moving, and slowly he walked over and dragged Laura away from me.

“So Gerda is innocent then?” Emma asked. We were having dinner out at the seafood place Markus had taken me to on our first date. And our dates were there too.
“Seems like it. She knew Amund was hiding something of course and that he was pretending to be senile at times so as not to be suspected. He fooled his son though. But I’m not sure to what extent she knew about everything.
“It’s a pity we can never ask her,” Emma said putting down her fork and leaning back in her chair.
At around noon, we had gotten the news that Gerda had died in her sleep at the hospital.
“Do you wanna go on to somewhere else?” Asked Daniel and put an arm around Emma.
“Let’s go on one of the boats for a drink,” she replied.” “I just wanna go home,” I said to Markus. It had been a long day. Rune had tied Laura to one of the chairs with my help so she wouldn’t be able to run off and we had called the police. Amund, though mentally in tip top shape, wasn’t able to run, so he hadn’t bothered with him. The police had come half an hour later. And then there had been interrogations and explanations. Amund and Laura had both confessed to murdering. In Laura’s case one, and in Amund’s 7 people.
Markus summoned a waiter after having paid the bill; we went out and found a taxi.
“This story is more crazy than a book,” he said when we were sitting down in the back seat. I nodded and put my head on his shoulder.
“Will you be going back to London soon,” he asked. I shook my head.
“I’m taking a sabbatical from work. I have a book to write and a man, a grandma, a dog and a girlfriend to get to know better.”
“Is that so?” he asked and kissed me long and tender on the lips. “That’s a lucky man then.”
We asked the taxi to stop a little away from the house so we could enjoy the evening air and smells of BBQs and the sight of some probably illegal mid-summer fires.
“What do you think is going to happen to Amund and Laura?” I asked.
“I guess they’ll both end up in a mental institution. Laura is still young, so she could end up being released, or put in normal prison. But Amund is so old they’ll probably leave him be there till he passes.”
“And I hope Merete will be fine. I can’t wait to get to know the real one.”
Markus laughed. “She said all was fine when she went for a check-up today. Did you know her twins are going to be identical?”
We had reached the house and I was fishing for my keys in my bag. I was looking forward to my bed and perhaps some of that dessert we never got around to trying a few days ago. I found the keys and unlocked the door. Markus got in first and I followed. But just as I was about to close the door and lock it, I happened to glance out into the garden. And I could swear that by the hedge, stood a lady dressed in a long black coat and an elaborate hat.
“Markus look,” I exclaimed in alarm. But when he turned to where I was pointing, she was gone.

Episode 20. The Lighthouse keeper’s son

The lighthouse keeper’s son
June 20th.

I was determined to find out what the mid-summer victims had in common. Apart from committing acts that could not be judged by a court. I needed to find the personal connection between the victims and those who had killed them. I had gone to Grimstad with Emma in the morning so I could buyby a cork board to hang up on the wall over the desk in my room. I had also bought a block of post-it paper and some drawing pins. Now I was back home and I’d just managed to fasten the cork board.
The first thing I did was write all the victims’ names as well as year of death on post it notes.
Helene Hansen 1925, Janne Olsen 1935,
Sven Mikkelsen 1955, Nils Matsen 1960.
I stared at the four names and after a while added
Pernille (Gerdasgerdas sister) 1945. I did not know her surname. And Eline Martinsen 2005.
I hadn’t really thought of my mum as being one of the mid-summer murder victims, both because it happened in London, and thirty years after the last murder by the Nellevine torch. But with all the new evidence that had come to light recently about my now deceaseddiseased stepdad and his likely blood relation to Amund and his family as well as the fact that it had happened at mid-summer, something I hadn’t really thought of, made me do it.

On the row underneath, I wrote the few facts I had about each person as well as questions I needed to find the answer too.
Mistress of painter who lived in Lillesand. Newly married with baby on the way. I wrote underneath Helene Hansen’s name. I had first assumed that Gerda meant painter, as in someone painting houses when she talked about the painter Helene Hansen was allegedly dating. But I also wanted to check out if she’d perhaps meant a painter as in an artist.
Accused of killing pupil Toretore. I wrote below Janne Olsen’s name. She had died in 1935. Had anybody been alive then, who was alive now, that might have known her? Or even been a friend of the deceaseddiseased boy. Grandma Arlette had been three years oldyear-sold in 1935, so she wasn’t likely to have known anyone. Gerda would have been ten at the time. So it was likely. And Amund too, but he would probably not be able to give me any valuable information. His daughter-in-law had eventually found Amund with the help of some other neighbour, a man whom I always saw outside working on his boat, two hours later. He had wanderedwondered off to Nellevine and he had let them walk him home without putting up any resistance. They had taken him with them in to Grimstad to stay with them until they knew what the situation would be with Gerda.

Dead by hanging herself. I wrote under Pernille’s name. I put a question mark on purpose since I really struggled to believe that a girl in the spring of life would do such a thing. Merete had mentioned something about the lighthouse keeper being a Petrus Henriksen. Were any of these children alive? Or perhaps grand-children? It was a well-known enough story that descendants of Henriksen and his son should know about it. If not from their own parents and grandparents, then most certainly from others. Homborsund wasn’t the biggest place in the world and rumours probably spread fast. (Trace Henriksen’s descendants,= I wrote.

Death by drowning, on way to see mistressMistress Arlette Johnsen. I put under Sven Mikkelsen’s name. But apparently the weather had been bad that day, so couldn’t that have been an accident? I decided to call Arlette to ask if the weather really had been so bad that day.
Accused of killing baby. I wrote next to Nils Matsen’s name. That was in 1960 which was… I gasped, but laughed as soon as the thought entered my head. If the baby had been alive, it would have been fiftyfive years old today. Could it be that Christian Home, Karl Lund had been their baby? He had been a few years younger than mum. But then, why did he looks so much like Amund? I don’t even know where the thought came from, but it refused to let go, so I wrote it down with three question marks after.
I didn’t know what to write underneath mum’s name, because to understand why she died, I had to understand the previous murders and who had committed them. I was getting more and more sure however, that she had been killed and that her murderer had been her husband. But exactly why, I couldn’t really put the finger on. He had seemed like a perfect gentleman in the beginning before he started turning strange. But then, he wasn’t the first man who had tried to kill his wife seemingly out of the blue. I’d once seen an interview with the wife of an ex-army officer. Her husband had tried to murder her and her children by putting explosives in the car. But they had survived with major injuries. She never really talked about why he’d done it.
And then, there was his own death only two days previously. Who had done that? And why?
I wrote Christian Holm 2015. No (no mid-summer victim, and pinned it up with the note Why? underneathUnderneath.
I also wrote Sven Mikkelsen Jr. and Crib death? With a question mark underneath.
Finally I wrote, frank Mikkelsen 1986 and disappeared underneath.

I sat on the floor staring up at what I had written. How many murderers was I looking for? And would they somehow be related? One was clear already. I got up, and but a red X next to Christian Holm’s name. But he was dead as well as being a murderer. The question was, if I was looking at someone related to him. I paced up and down the room, until I decided to start from another angle. The victims. Maybe that would give me a better idea.
I decided to start with the newest murder and work backwards. I’d be stuck if I tried to find out who murdered a woman 90 years ago since that person likely would not be alive today. My mother was a clear one already. I looked further down at the other deaths that had two things in common. They could not have proven to be murders and in the case of my father, there was no actual proof that he was dead. There was one more thing too. The deaths were of my immediate blood relatives. It almost seemed as if somebody was trying to wipe out my entire family. Could Christian Home have killed both my father and somehow my baby brother? And was I supposed to have been killed too in that car accident? And what about the time I had met Laura Nilsen and she’d pushed me under? She definitely had a clear connection with both Gerda and Amund.
The two men, my grand-father Sven Mikkelsen and Nils Matsen had both been married to Gerda and there was a remote possibility that Tore had been in her class. But what abouto the first murder? I gave a loud, frustrated sigh and got up. Gerda seemed undeniably guilty of at least two of the murders. And she could have committed two more. She could have hung her sister and she could also have killed my baby brother. If she had somehow been around to see him as a baby. This wasn’t unlikely as I’m sure mum would have come over with him to grandma and grandpa. My grandpa had been a lot older than grandma and had died before I was born. Heart attack, completely unexpected, but definitely not murder. Gerda was after all, known for having a screw or five loose. Maybe she had killed my father too? It wasn’t impossible.

I went down to the kitchen where Emma, who had just arrived back, was unpacking the today’s food shopping.
“You’re looking serious,” she said.
I went over to the fridge and poured myself a glass of ice tea I’d made the night before. I drank slowly, enjoying the sweetness and mixed fruit flavour of the drink.
“I’m just trying to make sense of it all,” I said and poured myself a second glass. “But the first murder happened when my suspect was a baby.”
Emma shook her head.
“I was thinking we could have a little BBQ today. Why don’t you see if Markus is free? I will invite Anita and Lars and Daniel.” She blushed a little at the last name.
“Oooh, so it’s Daniel,” I said. “Please invite him. How did your date go the other day?”
“I’m a bad liar aren’t I”+ Emma sighed.
”Yeah work late my foot,” I said.
“I really like him,” she replied and smiled from ear to ear. “Please can you go outside and hang the seat cushions for the garden chairs up to dry? And then, I really want your help with the food.”
The sun was shining as I entered the garden. I wondered when it had stopped raining. We had stupidly forgotten to take in the cushionss for the chairs the night before, so there were wet. But if this weather persisted, they’d be fine by this evening.
Rune, Gerda’s son was doing something near the hedge and I called over to him.
“How’s Gerda?” I asked. “
“She’s in a stable condition, but not ready to be discharged just yet,” he said. “I’m here to water some flowers. She asked mee.
“Can she take visitors?” I asked tentatively.
“I’m sure she would be happy to see you. I sent your regards. But she’s still weak, so I guess it’s best to keep it short.”
I nodded.
“Sure. I smiled my most dazzling smile and went inside. I wondered if he was mixed up in all of this. I hoped not. He seemed like a decent man.

After chopping salad and marinating meat, I went upstairs to call Arlette. She was over joyed to hear from me.
“It’s so lovely to have someone asking for me after so many years,” she said.
I asked if she wanted to come to our BBQ later. Emma said she’d lend me the car so I could pick her up. “You can stay the night if you want. Too.”
“That would be lovely” she said. Her enthusiasm moved me almost to tears. I wasn’t somebody who had tons of friends, but the few I had were good and steady. And I couldn’t imagine what life without them would be like.
Ok. I’ll be there in an hour or so,” I said.
“Just one thing. Do you know if Henriksen, the lighthouse keeper back in the 1940s have any children or grand-children?”
“Henriksen?” Arlette asked in alarm.
“Yes. That was the lighthouse keeper, wasn’t it?”
“Oh good heavens no. Henriksen was a local greengrocergreen grocer who had a shop in Grimstad. I was friends with his youngest daughter. No. The lighthouse keeper back then was Olav Andersen. He’s the father of Amund Andersen.”
“Did he have any other sons?” I asked.
“Yes. Oscar. But he was my age. And a daughter, Irene”
“And do you know anything about an artist who lived in Lillesand in the 1920s?”
“Arlette was quiet for a while before she said.
“There could have been two. One of them is Atle Johansen. He later moved to Italy where he enjoyed great success. The second one was a guy called Frans Fransen. He was Gerda’s father.”

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.

Episode 7. Death by hanging

Death by hanging
June 7th
When I woke up the next morning, I went on Facebook to find my wall full of well wishes for my birthday. I liked all of them, added a comment to the slightly more original ones and went to look at my private messages. There was only one from Melissa. I had messaged her Friday night to try and relay some of what had been going down here.
“Hi Sandra,
I really really miss you, but I’m glad you are doing well. I think you really needed a break and perhaps this was for the best, even if I know you got scared. Gosh, I thought He was dead too.
How was your birthday? We’ll have a huge celebration when you come back to London.
That family stuff and the mid-summer drownings sounds very crazy and almost made-up, but it’s really giving me the chills. Is all this in any way related to that poor girl who hanged herself in the magic forest? I still remember your grandma sharing that story one dark and stormy evening that last summer she was alive and I came to stay for two weeks.
Have to go. Got a mid-wife appointment, but please keep me posted. And that Markus guy sounds cute. *wink wink*
Mel Xxx”
I sat for a while trying to recollect the story but I couldn’t remember all the details. Something about a teenage girl who had experience a great loss in love and who had ended up hanging herself. I made a mental note to ask Gerda along with all the other stuff I wanted to ask her. I hoped she was home.
I went down and Emma and I made and ate a good Sunday breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh bread, yoghurt, fruit salad, fresh juice and coffee. We decided not to go anywhere, or do anything today. It was Sunday and it was sunny. We wanted to sunbathe.
We had been reading and sunbathing for nearly two hours when I saw Gerda in her garden. I excused myself, and said that I wanted to ask a few questions, put on my sarong and got up. Emma was looking unimpressed, but didn’t say anything. “Off you go then Nancy Drew. I’ll prepare some refreshments for when you’re back.”
Gerda saw me coming towards her garden and she waved and smiled. “Sandra,” she said. “Fancy you visiting a boring old lady on a Sunday like this.”
She beckoned me towards her veranda where her senile husband Amund sat reading a paper. If reading was an accurate way to describe how he seemed to be just staring at the pages with a blank look on his face.
“What can I get you. Coffee, birthday cake?”
“Birthday cake?” I asked and wondered for a moment if she’d somehow found out it had been my birthday yesterday.
“It’s my birthday today,” she said. “Of course I need birthday cake. Don’t you think?”
“Sure, Happy birthday” I said, sounding very unsure to my own ears and wishing I’d brought some flowers. “I’m getting some birthday cake,” she said and marched into the house. “It was my birthday too,” I said when she reappeared with a very plain-looking cake. “Oh, then you must have a big piece.” She cut a huge slice and put it on a plate in front of me. “Old-fashioned marble cake,” she said. I picked it up and took a careful bite out of it. Amund was eating cake and crumbing it all over his newspaper. To my surprise, the cake didn’t taste that bad. I wondered why it was called marble cake, but then a lot of foods had strange names, like the English toad in a hole.
“I am 90 today.” Gerda said as she reappeared with coffee and a jug of water on a tray. “Wow, you look good” I said and meant it. I had assumed she was in her seventies. “Thank you Sandra.” She sat down across from me and rubbed her temples as if she had a headache, or was tired.
“I was quite a beauty in my youth you know. Wasn’t I darling?” She turned to Amund who was now eating cake crumbs from his newspapers. “Don’t do that dear,” she said and took the paper from him to shake the crumbs off. “Beauty.” He said in a very clear voice. “That’s right. I could pick and choose from all the men around Homborsund, Grimstad and Lillesand.” Her eyes were sparkling as she recalled old memories. “My darling Amund proposed to me a number of times, but it took me two husbands to say yes. Isn’t that right?” She stroked his cheek affectionately. “Yes, say yes.” He stared out in front of him with a distant look in his eyes.
“My poor Amud,” Gerda said turning to me. “Still in good physical shape. But mentally…. He used to be so sharp and witty. I miss him. But I still love him the way he is now.”
“That’s lovely,” I said feeling moved. “I’m sure he loves you too,” I added.
“He does, when he remembers who I am.” Gerda made to pour me some coffee, but I shook my head. “I’m too hot for coffee,” I said.
I let a minute or so pass before I asked “There are a few things I was wondering whether you could shed some light over.” “And what’s that dear?” Gerda asked stirring sugar and cream into her coffee. “I know this may be painful for you, but your husband Sven’s mistress.” I stopped, unsure of how best to proceed, but then decided to jump right in. “Is she alive? Arlette Johnsen?”
“She is.” Gerda said slowly. “But where she is, I’m not sure.”
“Then, how do you know she is alive?” I asked.
“When you get to a certain age, you start reading every single obituary. Because the people dying could be, and in some cases are, your friends, estranged relatives and people you’ve known. I was heartbroken when I found out that my Sven had had an affair with Arlette Johnsen. Murder was admittedly on my mind, but I decided that enough people had died and to be the bigger woman. I wasn’t the one who’d had a child out of wedlock after all. So I got over it, though I’ve been looking for her obituary in the local and national papers for the past, I don’t know how many years. Arlette moved to Grimstad with her little bastard son. Sorry dear, I know he was your father. But you must understand I wasn’t a big fan of hers… Not that I have a problem with your father of course. Nobody chooses their parents.”
“And what about the girl who hanged herself I the magic forest?” I asked, helping myself to a glass of water from the jug.
“That is a tragic story I don’t like to think of.”
“I’m sorry,” “I said. I’m sure I can ask…”
“No,” Gerda cut me off. “I should be the one telling you this story. The girl in question was my little sister.
Pernille was a beauty just like me. She also had a lovely singing voice. When she was 16 and I twenty-one, it was decided that she was going to move to Oslo to study music there. The Second World War had just ended and life was slowly resuming back to normal. She was happy. She wanted to perform on world stages and travel. She found this little place too small for someone like her. Yes, she was very proud. But that summer before she was supposed to travel, she also fell in love for the first time ever in her life. The guy was the handsome son of the lighthouse keeper. She did everything she could to get his attention. She serenaded outside his window, making a complete fool of herself, wrote him a love ballad an even had the nerve to ask him to the mid-summer dance. Of course he said no. He was in love with someone else. Namely me. I didn’t have eyes for him. I was engaged to be married to Sven. Still, he told her so that she would leave him alone. She was found dead on mid-summer eve, hanging from a three near the lighthouse torch Ramshaug. She must have been crazier in love than we thought. The lighthouse keeper’s son was the one who found her, because his father had asked him to attend to Ramshaug. He had nightmares ever since and claimed that her ghost was haunting him for decades to come.”
“That’s tragic. And it too happened at mid-summer.” I said. Gerda nodded solemnly. “There is something about mid-summer,” she said. “Something very disconcerting.” She got up, gathering the empty cake plates and I took it as a cue to leave. “Thanks for the chat, and the cake,” I said and descended the steps to the garden.
“Anytime Sandra. Anytime. Please come again.”
I felt someone watching me as I walked towards the separating hedge and turned around. Amund was sitting alone on the veranda. But whereas before his expression had been vacant, it was now crystal clear. He met my eyes and held my glance. I was surprised to see a look of pure hatred and contempt in his face. As if he wanted to kill me right there and then.