REVIEWERS: For a copy of FAREWELL TO FREEDOM, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The woman was lying on her back with her arms out to the side and her head tilted to one shoulder. Her throat had been slashed in one long, straight slice, and her blood had soaked into her blonde hair, spreading in a sticky mass over the left side of her torso.
Detective Louise Rick stood back up and took a deep breath. Did anyone ever get used to this? She rather hoped not.
Darkness lay heavily over Copenhagen’s Kødbyen, the compact industrial tract between the train station and the harbor, where Copenhagen’s slaughterhouses and meatpackers had sold their wares for centuries. It was almost two in the morning, and Sunday had already given way to Monday. The damp April air lingered over the Vesterbro district just west of the inner city, although the previous evening’s rain had subsided. The flashing lights and police barricade that had been erected on Skelbækgade were keeping most people away, but a few curious onlookers were chatting as they watched the officers work.
A lone drunk sat on the doorstep of Høker Café, seemingly oblivious to the large police presence. He kept on singing and occasionally yelling whenever someone drove by. The girls who usually worked this street were nowhere in sight. They must have retreated to Sønder Boulevard or around the corner to Ingerslevsgade.
The glare of the crime scene techs’ large spotlights created sharp contrasts of light and dark. The team had already gone over the surface of the body with tape to secure any fibers and loose hairs before daubing for DNA using slightly moistened cotton swabs. Forensic pathologist Flemming Larsen turned to Louise and the chief of the homicide squad, Hans Suhr.
“The incision is approximately twenty centimeters long, leaving a large, gaping wound across the entire throat. It’s a deep cut with clean edges, which means the knife was drawn across the throat quickly, just once.”
He pulled off his rubber gloves and face mask and nodded at the techs to signal that he was done so they could examine the area around the murdered woman.
“There are no other signs of violence, so it happened quickly. And she didn’t see it coming because there are no defensive wounds on her hands or arms. I would bet that it happened within the last three hours,” he said.
“Do you have any clues who she might be?” Louise asked, since they hadn’t found any ID on the woman.
“Well, don’t you think we can assume we’re dealing with a prostitute?” Flemming asked, his eyes resting on the woman’s skimpy cotton skirt and tight top, before adding that he doubted she was Danish given the poor state of her teeth.
“It’s not a bad guess,” Suhr agreed, taking a step back so that the techs could get by. They moved the floodlight Flemming had been working under farther down the street so they could search the entire area for evidence.
Louise squatted down next to the woman again. The wound was high on her throat and went all the way through to her cervical vertebrae. It was difficult for Louise to make out the woman’s facial features in the dark, but she was obviously young—probably about twenty, Louise guessed.
Louise heard footsteps behind her, but before she could stand up her colleague, Michael Stig, came to a stop right behind her and placed both hands on her shoulders for support. He leaned forward to inspect the body.
“Eastern European whore,” was his swift assessment before he removed his hands so Louise could stand up.
“What makes you think so?” she asked, taking a step away from him to disrupt his forced physical intimacy.
“Her makeup. They still do their faces the way Danish women did back in the eighties. The colors are too bright and there’s too much of it. What do we know about her?” Stig asked, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his baggy jeans.
Louise caught the scent of her newly washed hair and fresh deodorant. She had been asleep for less than an hour when Suhr had called, and she had left her Frederiksberg apartment and made it to the murder scene within twenty minutes. After almost five years as a homicide detective, she had a speedy routine for nighttime calls like this one.
“Not a thing,” she replied tersely. “The local precinct received an anonymous tip about a dead body on Kødboderne Street behind the Copenhagen Hospitality College, and then the caller hung up.”
“So the caller must have had pretty thorough knowledge of this less than savory part of Copenhagen,” Stig concluded. “Someone who’s a regular in this part of town.”
Louise raised one eyebrow, before he explained:
“Only people who know Vesterbro fairly well would use the specific street names: Kødboderne, Høkerboderne, and Slagterboderne.”
I wonder why you’re so familiar with the area, Louise thought as she turned to join the others. Her partner, Lars Jørgensen, was off with some of their colleagues from the local precinct knocking on doors in the apartment buildings on Skelbækgade that had windows facing Kødbyen. Another team was dealing with the people on the street, as well as in the buildings immediately surrounding the scene. Even though the call had gone to the local precinct, formerly known as Precinct 1 on Halmtorvet, the case had been quickly routed to the homicide squad at Police Headquarters. Suhr had decided to call some of his own people in so they could be in on the investigation right from the start, but he had spared Toft, who had spent the weekend out in Jutland celebrating his sister’s silver wedding anniversary. The chief figured he ought to let Toft sleep in after all the port and hours of brass band music that an event like that would have required.
“Nobody has anything to tell us,” Jørgensen reported. “Either that or they don’t dare talk. And strangely, it seems like no one has been anywhere near Skelbækgade in the past twenty-four hours. Not even the people Mikkelsen saw here earlier.” He shook his head and yawned.
Mikkelsen was the local officer from the Halmtorvet station who was most knowledgeable about what went on in the area around Istedgade with its prostitutes, drug pushers, and addicts. He was a short, stocky man in his mid-fifties, and he’d spend almost all of his many years on the force working this area, although he did put in one three-year tour with the riot squad before putting in for a transfer back to his old office.
“What about that guy over on the steps?” Louise asked, pointing.
“He said he hasn’t seen anything except for the bottom of the last bottle he downed,” her partner replied, repeating the remark a moment later when the chief came over and asked the same question.
“OK, nobody wants to say anything, so it’s business as usual around here,” Suhr said as he waved for Stig to come over and join them. “There’s nothing more we can do right now. Mikkelsen and his people will continue interviewing passersby, but I doubt we’ll get anybody to talk tonight. If any of the regulars around here saw anything, we know from experience that it will take time for them to talk. So let’s all get some sleep. We’ll pick it up again in the morning.”
“What about Willumsen?” Louise asked as they headed toward their cars. It surprised her that she hadn’t seen the detective superintendent here yet.
“I’ll brief him first thing in the morning,” said the homicide chief, giving her a wry smile. “It’s worth our while to let him get his beauty sleep.”
Louise nodded. They all knew what Willumsen was like when he got up on the wrong side of bed. He had a habit of infecting everyone else with his lousy mood.
When Louise Rick got up after four hours of sleep, she had a sore throat and her whole body felt sluggish. She had woken up several times overnight to the image of the dead woman. Why had she been killed that way? The deep wound in her throat seemed so aggressive, but without time to realize that a killer had come up on her from behind the woman hadn’t even had a chance to fight back. Thoughts drifted through Louise’s mind, coalescing into images from the previous night’s murder scene. Again and again Louise saw the nighttime shadows on the low, white-brick façades of Kødbyen, where butchers and delicatessen wholesalers served their customers, but only by day.
Louise went to the kitchen to put on some water for tea before she climbed into the shower. She stood under the hot spray for so long that the whole bathroom was filled with steam before she felt ready to get out. Afterwards she sank onto a kitchen chair cradling a cup of tea in her hands.
Suhr had announced just before they parted that there would be a briefing on the case at 9:00. Things had finally settled down in their department after the big reorganization had sent powerful shockwaves through Police Headquarters. They had closed down both Division A, which was in charge of homicides, and Division C, which handled burglary investigations. Now everything had been reshuffled, dividing lines had been erased, and some of the most senior detectives had been moved. And there was no longer room for all the assistant detective superintendents who had previously acted as team leaders, which was why Louise had lost Henny Heilmann. Henny had been offered a job as lead detective at HQ and was now up in radio dispatch, stuck directing squad cars. Louise knew it had taken Henny quite a while to see the up side to her transfer.
Louise went into the bedroom and pulled a heavy sweater out of her closet. She was tempted to take the bus from Gammel Kongevej, but at the last minute she mustered the energy to ride her bike.
The traffic on the bike path was heavy, full of morning commuters. Even so, she moved over into the passing lane as she crossed H. C. Ørstedsvej and pedaled hard with her bike helmet pulled down low to shield her eyes from the glaring spring sunshine that had suddenly appeared now that the rain clouds had drifted away.
“Just have the downtown precinct keep doing the interviews in the neighborhood, especially in the red-light areas that the johns frequent. It’s likelier we’ll get something out of a regular john who happened to know the victim than out of any of the hookers. Meanwhile, we’ll focus on identifying the victim and processing the forensic evidence. You’re probably not planning on allocating too many resources to this case, right?” Detective Superintendent Willumsen asked, shooting Suhr an inquisitive look.
The homicide chief deliberately paused before responding. Louise leaned her chair back against the wall. It had been a year since Suhr appointed Willumsen lead detective for Louise’s squad. Willumsen was widely disliked for his arrogance and rudeness; he didn’t give a damn about anything or anyone, and made no distinction between superiors and colleagues. All the same, Louise was actually quite fond of him. Willumsen had taught her to just say “yes,” “no,” or “kiss my ass,” to speak bluntly without a lot of screwing around. His other trademark line was, “Is that understood, is that not understood, or do you not give a shit about what I’m telling you?” He was also the one who had signed Louise up a few years back to attend an FBI training course in hostage negotiations.
Suhr took a step back and propped his arm against the wall, as if gathering the strength to reply.
“You have all the resources you need right now—all four of the detectives in your group: Rick and Jørgensen, Toft and Stig. Plus the assistance we’re already getting from Mikkelsen and his folks at Halmtorvet precinct.” Suhr let his arm drop again after firing off this remark.
Willumsen lowered his eyes to focus on his right thumbnail. He meticulously cleaned it with the tip of his pencil, considering how to make best use of his team. Finally he tossed the pencil aside and decided that Toft and Stig would keep tabs on the forensic techs and keep everyone up-to-date on the latest evidence. They would also attend the victim’s autopsy.
Then Willumsen’s eyes shifted to Louise and her partner.
“I want the two of you to go down to see Mikkelsen and concentrate on the investigation in the neighborhood,” he stated, and with that he wrapped up the meeting.