Requiem: New Excerpt
By Geir Tangen
Requiem by Geir Tangen is a debut novel and the first in the thrilling Gudmundsson and Skeisvoll series.
Journalist Viljar Gudmundsson is no stranger to chilling stories. So when he receives an anonymous e-mail in which the writer proclaims their intention to execute a woman for her unpunished crimes, he thinks the whole thing is a bad joke. Such things happen only in bad crime novels, after all.
But the next day, the body of a woman is found, and Viljar receives a second email with another verdict from this self-proclaimed judge, jury, and executioner. Viljar joins forces with Investigator Lotte Skeisvoll, who quickly realizes that the murderer is playing a deadly game with them. The clues are all pointing in the same direction, and the murders are strangely familiar.
Friday morning, August 27, 2010
On the morning four days before the light went out, the journalist Viljar Ravn Gudmundsson stood proudly in the conference room, enjoying the atmosphere around him. Big smiles, hungry eyes, and arrogant laughter filled the room. This was how things should be.
“My God, Viljar! I don’t know what you’re giving your sources, but I want some of it. We’re talking the Minister of Transport here. Pinned bare-assed to the wall with a nail gun. I’d gladly give half my liver to get my name on a story like that.”
Although the arts reporter Henrik Thomsen was three heads taller than his colleague, his height did not noticeably add to his intelligence. Viljar looked up at him and could see remnants of caked sugar in his ample mustache.
“Believe me, Thomsen, you wouldn’t have survived. There’s a reason that you review concerts while I hunt predators in the corridors of power.”
Viljar moved away from the burly man and stood at the outer edge of the room. Let the light shine on him. He deserved it. This was his hour. The moment when everyone’s eyes were directed at him in respect and admiration. What he had done was unique in the 115-year history of the newspaper. To the other journalists and editors, the article represented months of ambitious investigative journalism. If that wasn’t the whole truth, Viljar didn’t care. This was his specialty. If the article came after a hundred hours of overtime or fell into his hands like a feather from the sky, it was all the same to him. He was sitting on a scoop, and he had the power of words.
What he wrote was the truth. That was how it was in Haugesund. Again and again, he had knocked the abusers of power down from their pedestals. As far as Haugesund News was concerned, a granite obelisk dedicated to Viljar Ravn Gudmundsson could be raised on the site of the paper’s new office building, currently under construction.
The story he had presented to the news editors that morning had all the necessary elements for nationwide saturation coverage. That condition arises when all the major news organizations cover the same dramatic event at the same time, and the coverage is so extensive that it overshadows everything else in the media. Politics, abuse of power, celebrities, crime, and sex. All this in one and the same story, and it was little Haugesund News that was sitting on it. They had Viljar Ravn Gudmundsson, which gave them enough credibility to be heard in the national press.
At the age of thirty-seven, Viljar had long since acquired a reputation as one of the country’s most trustworthy voices in the media. Job offers from the major media houses landed regularly in his in-box, but he ignored them. He was a weekend dad, and couldn’t bear the thought of commuting to Oslo during the week. His twelve-year-old son, Alexander, lived here in Haugesund, and no job in the world could make him sacrifice the times they had together. Besides, there was no escaping the fact that Viljar liked to be comfortable. At the regional newspaper, he had freedom. He came and went as he pleased. He wrote the stories that suited him best, and said no to assignments he considered pointless. He played by his own rules, a free soul in a free landscape. He dictated the agenda. He was the house anarchist, following his own impulses to the great despair, and delight, of Editor-in-chief Johan Øveraas.
When the story about Hermann Eliassen, the Minister of Transport and Communications, showed up a few days earlier, Viljar had long been telling his superiors that he was working on a gigantic story of unbelievable dimensions. Nonsense, of course. In reality he’d spent most of his workdays planning a weekend in London with Alexander. Fortunately, the departure had worked out to be on the very day he’d been able to present the Minister of Transport’s head on a platter for the editors.
“People … Listen to me for just a moment!”
Editor-in-chief Johan Øveraas guided Viljar firmly up to a corner of the room where the other journalists could gather around. Then he took firm hold on his own hips, and Viljar observed with fascination that the editor’s hands actually disappeared into his love handles.
“This story will hit the media elite in Oslo like a pint of Guinness in a bubbling champagne party. This story will be a damned wet blanket on Hermann Eliassen’s chorus of admirers. We in the local press who know the guy have waited a long time to see him dangling. Bloody well done, Viljar.”
The applause rang out in the small space, and Viljar Ravn Gudmundsson took plenty of time to enjoy the moment.
This was his story. He was invincible in this power play. The truth was his steadfast squire, and no one could poke holes in this story.
Outside, the wind was rustling the old oak trees next to Lillesund School. Exhausted leaves clung tightly to the sap of summer a little while longer. Unlike the journalists inside, the trees knew that everything comes to an end. The wind will strip the trees bare in violent gusts, spitting out the withered jewelry at a final resting place.
Seventeen-year-old Jonas and his lover were on a farmyard a dozen kilometers farther south. Without knowing it, through their impassioned looks and caresses, they had sealed not only their own fate, but Viljar Ravn Gudmundsson’s too, the man who at that very moment was receiving a final pat on the back from his editor.
“Incredibly well done, Viljar. Go to London. Turn off your cell phone. Have a good time with your son. You deserve this. We’ll take the story from here. In four days you’ll be back. I can promise you a strong tailwind on the return trip, because here it will be very windy.”
Viljar smiled slyly as he packed the most important things into his duffel bag. He looked through the photo material that would be used in the story on Eliassen one last time, and sent it on to the desk. The editor was still standing beside him when he was finished.
Viljar looked up at Øveraas with the customary mischievous gleam in his eye. “Windy? Isn’t it always windy here in Haugesund?”
Four days later
Tuesday evening, August 31, 2010
Threatening clouds swept across the sky. Like a dark omen, they demanded their place in the blue hour between day and night. One moment the waters of Eivindsvatnet were bathed in a magical shimmer, and the next they were wrapped in a black, suffocating carpet of sulfurous air, accompanied by thunderclaps and violent downpours.
Jonas Ferkingstad was standing out on a small bridge known as Stemmen, built in 1907 over the dams at the entry to the recreation area around Eivindsvatnet. The spindly figure peered searchingly out over the edge.
His shoulder-length blond hair was plastered to his forehead, and ice-blue eyes were focused on an imaginary point out in space. In small flashes of light, when the clouds occasionally parted, he could see down over the stream on the lower side of the dams. From the bridge where he was standing down to the bottom of the rock-covered slope was perhaps ten meters. A thin, soaking-wet, burgundy-red cotton shirt was glued to his chest. His body was shaking. He cast quick glances up the hill, toward the walking path under Skjoldavegen, but mostly he looked out into emptiness.
Jonas straightened up when he noticed the person who came walking toward him. It was impossible to see the figure clearly, but Jonas knew who it was. For the longest time he’d had a slight hope that he could avoid having this reckoning. No denial or lying was possible here. No treachery and betrayal. Two people who both knew the truth, meeting alone. Neither of them needed to hide behind façades and masquerades.
For a long time they stood observing each other from a distance. The autumn wind whipped up crests of foam on the water, and another bolt of lightning slashed the sky. In the quick flash of cold light they saw each other. Naked. Unprotected. Alone. The next moment the darkness returned, and the thunderclap made the concrete bridge vibrate. Jonas stood waiting with slumped shoulders. He looked up at the person before him. Jonas longed to creep into that other person’s arms. Just be there in that secure embrace and act as if nothing had happened. That it all was just a fata morgana. Unreal. Something that would disappear if you just blinked a few times. But it wasn’t like that. Nothing could be made undone.
They stood like that for a short time while the water ran off them. Mutual powerlessness was reflected in their faces. Nothing was said, but after a while the other person reached out toward Jonas, who gasped for breath as he let himself be embraced. No words could describe the heartfelt sensation he felt then and there. Not happiness. Not relief, but something else. Something deep inside him that made him let go. All the pent-up feelings exploded like a geyser. Jonas could hear himself bawling against the chest of the person who was holding him, but he barely noticed it. Now it had to come out, all the pain.
Over the other person’s shoulder Jonas sensed a shadow moving by the little boathouse. Two red kayaks that were lying along the wall of the boathouse clung to each other against the wind. He had seen them out on the water the past few days, but could not quite understand why anyone would want to be out in such weather.
The brief distraction made him inattentive. The embrace had become noticeably tighter, as if the other person was trying to squeeze the air out of him. Jonas tried to tear himself loose from the iron grip, but he didn’t want to escape completely yet. Small sobs were still felt in his belly. Desperate, small whimpers that testified to what he had done. Jonas knew it was his fault. His and his alone.
The force in the arms holding Jonas was primal. Inhuman. His arms remained hanging limply down, only the strength of the other person kept his legs from folding up under him. Jonas was empty. He was a thin, fragile shell incapable of putting up resistance. He realized that this was a battle. A battle of life and death. It now occurred to him that the other person had not embraced him to give him comfort and support. Jonas gathered his last energy and tore himself loose from the paralyzing grip. He stared at his opponent with new eyes. He braced himself, but could feel how weak his body was.
Suddenly the scene on the bridge changed. A new flash of light. Another thunderclap. The larger of the two figures opened its mouth to scream, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper.
With calm movements one person took a powerful hold of the other, and in one quick motion a body was raised up from the ground and tipped over the railing of the bridge. The scream that followed cut into the ravine as the body fell down into the abyss. Then came silence. Even the raindrops fell soundlessly when it was all over.
Copyright © 2018 Geir Tangen.