Last week, I shared a snippet of a scene from the world of Nicky O, that Nordic Noir that I swear I’m going to write in 2018 (she says while safely ensconced in the first quarter of 2017). If you missed it, you can check it out here.
As promised, I spent some time this past week finishing the scene not only so I could share it with you, but so I could continue the discovery process with this character. One thing that emerged was that Nick might not completely trust his married lover. Quelle suprise, right? So, without further ado, I give you the conclusion of the Murder Clues vignette.
Pernilla reached into her pocket and pulled out a packet, which she tossed to me. I pulled out a Tyvek cap and booties.
“I don’t need the techs finding your DNA when they come out here.”
I finished adjusting the cap over my hair, then touched her arm. “If you’re going to treat this like a crime scene, what are you waiting for? Why bring me here first?”
I tried to keep my tone light, but something didn’t compute. Maybe Pernilla wanted to see my reaction to the place, to assess whether I’d been here before. Maybe she was still suspicious of me. Maybe the only person in all of Denmark who seemed to have any faith left in me didn’t believe me after all.
“I’m sure this will break your heart, but I want you for your mind. Your weird, hyper-logical, beautiful mind.” She shot me one of those half-grins that made her look like the fifteen-year-old girl who had, in fact, broken my heart into a million thirteen-year-old pieces. “You see things differently. I’m hoping you’ll pick up on something my techs won’t. But don’t touch anything. Not one thing, understand?”
I held my hands up in front of me. “Touch nothing. Got it.”
“And put on your gloves, just in case.”
“Not that you don’t trust me, right?”
She didn’t answer me, and she didn’t wait for me as she tried the door handle, then leaned her shoulder into the rotting wooden door and forced it open on screaming hinges. “It’s a good thing it’s deserted out here.”
“See, I knew you just wanted to get me alone. You do want me for my body, after all.” I mounted the crooked steps to the front porch and followed her into the ramshackle shack. Just inside the door, I stopped short.
Pernilla swept her police-issued flashlight over each corner and up across the ceiling. The interior of the place hadn’t fared much better than the exterior. But despite the thick dust and cobwebs covering the corners and the defunct light fixture in the ceiling, there was a clean spot in the middle of the floor. On that spot was a single table made of a light wood, the assemble-it-yourself kind of thing you could get at an Ikea in the States. Beside it was a narrow white board mounted on wheels.
“This is truly bizarre.” Pernilla took careful steps toward the table. “These are clean. Spotless.”
“You don’t have another of those flashlights, do you?”
She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a smaller model of her large flashlight, which she handed to me. This little one wouldn’t make much of a billy club, but its beam was strong and bright.
I ran the beam along each wall and the floor, then shook my head as I memorized the layout of the room and tried to determine what one could do with one small table and a white board. No chairs. No dry erase markers. I flipped a switch I spotted on the wall beside me. No electricity.
“What’s stranger is what isn’t here.”
Pernilla turned to me and nodded. “Exactly.” She glanced up at the darkened light fixture. “Although I’m sure whoever was here wasn’t sitting in the cold and the dark.”
I moved to the side of the table, my gaze fixed on the white board. “A space heater and a small generator could fix that.”
“If there was a generator…” She glanced out the back window, at the tangle of overgrown brush and weeds dusted over with snow. “If they left in a hurry, maybe they left it behind. I’ll check outside.”
She hustled out the door. I didn’t follow her, nor did I try to stop her, although I knew the generator would be gone. It, as well as the chairs, markers, space heater, and any other equipment the shack’s former occupants had used would have been small enough to fit into a car or small pickup truck. Some vehicle that wouldn’t attract attention. Maybe the table and white board could be broken down far enough to be moved that way, too, but as Pernilla suspected, our industrious friends might have realized their hideout had been exposed, and thus left in a hurry.
I held out little hope that the criminal element with the savvy to pull off a high-tech burglary and low-brow murder and frame me for both had been careless enough to leave evidence for the police to find. As much as I hated to disappoint Pernilla, my beautiful mind – and I hadn’t missed her John Forbes Nash reference – couldn’t see anything that would be of use. Standing in front of the white board, I shone my flashlight on it. There were the tiniest marks in a few spots, but not enough to amount to even a letter of the alphabet, let alone a revelation about what my foes had been doing here.
With my light still focused on the board, I moved to the side of it. My adrenaline surged when I realized this angle revealed more lines and squiggles. Symbols. And numbers. This wasn’t a board for capturing lists and writing out Plans to Destroy Nicholai Olesen. Whoever had used this white board had been writing formulae. Mathematical formulae.
I pulled out my smartphone and stylus and swiped the screen. Nothing happened. Grunting with impatience, I used my teeth to pull off my right glove, useless for its lack of metallic thread, and opened the phone to a notes page. I dropped the glove onto the table and used my mouth to hold the flashlight in place to illuminate the board while I captured what I could of the formula. There were big gaps, half-drawn symbols, and nothing that I recognized. Probably useless. But I felt compelled to capture everything I could, and even to leave gaps to scale as if I thought I’d be able to fill in all the white space like some mathematical savant. As rusty as my math skills were, idiot without the savant was more like it.
The sound of Pernilla’s footsteps on the front stairs made me finish quickly and slide the phone and stylus back into my pocket. I pulled on my glove and turned toward her just as she entered.
“No generator,” she announced, “but there’s an 80 by 40 centimeter rectangle of crushed weeds a few meters from the house, and some lines that could indicate heavy cables.”
“The kinds of marks a generator might leave.”
“Great minds really do think alike.” She swept her flashlight along the walls again. “Anything in here?”
I forced my expression to remain neutral as my mind raced. I should share my discovery of the evidence left on the white board. When the techs showed up with their bright lights and chemical treatments, they’d miss it and likely destroy it. But the way she’d looked at me when we’d arrived, with that hawk-like focus and unreadable expression, left me with too many suspicions. That kind of suspicion had served me well in my life, had kept me out of danger and gotten me out of stupid situations I’d managed to cause more times than I could count. Right now, that instinct to trust no one was screaming in my brain, drowning out saner voices preaching trust and fair play.
“Not a damn thing.” And that’s exactly what she would get from me, at least until I could assure myself that she and I really were on the same team, namely Team Nick.
Well, nothing except my body, if she really, really pushed for it. I might be an idiot, but I’m not stupid.