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The Midnight Witness
By Sara Blaedel
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A young woman is found strangled in a park, and a male journalist has been killed in the backyard of the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen.
Detective Louise Rick is put on the case of the young girl, but very soon becomes entangled in solving the other homicide too when it turns out her best friend, journalist Camilla Lind, knew the murdered man. Louise tries to keep her friend from getting too involved, but Camilla’s never been one to miss out on an interesting story. And this time, Camilla may have gone too far…
Emotionally riveting and filled with unexpected twists, The Midnight Witness is a tour-de-force from international phenomenon Sara Blaedel.
The cell phone buzzed from the windowsill. She’d set it on silent mode, making the stubborn vibration the only sign that someone wanted to get in touch with her.
Louise Rick opened her eyes. The foam in the bathtub had disappeared, and the water was now closer to cold than lukewarm.
Nine thirty a.m. The bright March sun filled the courtyard. Her thoughts were in another world, one she didn’t want to leave.
For a moment, she thought about emptying the tub, filling it up again with hot water and lots of fragrant bath foam, and sinking back in. But her daydreaming had been interrupted, and she’d never find her way back. Even if she did, it wouldn’t be the same.
Her funny bone rammed into the faucet when she stood up, and instinctively she pulled her elbow into her ribs.
She checked the time. Five hours earlier, she’d crawled into bed, and in just over two hours, she and the rest of her team would gather in the Department A conference room at Police Headquarters. She’d give anything to get out of the briefing. She sent a small prayer skyward that her plea would reach Homicide and Suhr would postpone it until later in the day.
Louise grabbed the dark blue terry cloth towel before stepping out of the tub, then wrapped it around her hair and reached for her bathrobe behind the door. Her body ached and her eyes stung, and she was so exhausted that she felt she could stretch out and fall asleep right there on the floor, no problem. Yet she couldn’t keep from thinking about last night’s conversation.
Her sorrow was still lodged in her gut. Not a personal sorrow, but the type that crops up when you see other people’s lives torn apart. When you find yourself in the middle of disaster and death instead of just reading about it.
Out in the kitchen, she put water on for tea and reached for a large caffe latte glass in the cupboard. She’d begun drinking tea in glasses, which held more than mugs but less than a pot. Perfect for her.
She stared through the window into the courtyard, her mind emptying. Which was how she felt, too. She’d snap out of it, though; like so many times before when in this mood, she thought back to the day she’d been called out to Østerbro, one of Copenhagen’s posh districts.
Two men in their late twenties had been assaulted on the street. One of them, Morten Seiersted-Wichman, was brutally hurled through the plate glass window of a clothing store after being knocked down and kicked in the head six or seven times.
The forensic pathologist said that Morten had been unconscious when the glass severed his carotid artery.
The other victim had been Morten’s brother-in-law, Henrik Winther. A tall, lanky guy. He was luckier. The police guessed that the assailants had taken their anger out on Morten, and presumably, they’d also been unnerved by the blood streaming out from Morten’s neck. Winther escaped with only a broken nose and a bruised rib.
Back then, Louise had been in the Criminal Investigations Department. Morten’s death had left its mark on her, though less from the killing itself than from what happened when she informed his wife of the tragedy.
A half hour after the ambulances had left with the two men, Louise rang the doorbell of the apartment where Morten and the young woman lived. When the door opened, Charlotte Winther looked surprised.
“Oh, hi,” she said, “I thought you were Morten and Henrik. They forgot the keys…”
Louise couldn’t recall the exact words she’d spoken, but Charlotte’s expression etched itself in her memory, the way it shifted from joy to confusion and puzzlement—why was a policewoman standing there in front of her?—and finally to total despair.
Before Louise’s words sank in, Charlotte nodded several times and said she was terribly sorry to hear what had happened, that it was horrible, but it couldn’t be Morten. He’d just stepped out with her brother to pick something up at the 7-Eleven.
She stubbornly maintained that Morten and Henrik couldn’t have been assaulted, that there hadn’t been enough time. And besides, no one gets attacked in broad daylight in Østerbro. No way that happens, she said, over and over, with desperation in her voice. Louise saw it in her dark eyes, though, when the truth began to settle in.
Louise heard her partner coming up the steps behind her. She wanted to lead Charlotte farther inside, into the living room, where they could sit down. But suddenly she froze, terrified at the sight of the young woman. She literally couldn’t move.
Then something in her chest loosened, giving way to a wave of anguish. Her throat tightened; she’d barely been able to breathe.
* * *
Louise stood in the kitchen holding her tea glass, with echoes of the wretched taste in her mouth back then after throwing up on the neighbor’s doormat. She felt again her humiliation, from the tears streaming down her cheeks and how she reeked of vomit.
Her male colleague had been watching her. He closed the apartment door to block off all view of the hallway. Before she could speak, another wave of nausea rocked her. Yellow bile rose up in her throat, through her mouth. She wiped her lips on her sleeve; she was shaking all over.
What was happening to her? She should be comforting that poor woman, but she couldn’t even take care of herself. It felt as if she’d left her body and entered Charlotte Winther. She wanted to open the door and slip in beside the young woman and cry along with her.
But her disgusted colleague led her up a few steps and shook her angrily. “What the fucking hell do you think you’re doing?” He kept his voice low enough that Charlotte couldn’t hear from the apartment. “If you’re sick, go home. If you can’t handle this, get back in the car, do your crying there. The last thing we need here is someone who can’t be professional.”
She’d felt so small. Small and insecure, and still paralyzed when she got to the car. Trembling, as if she were the one who’d been given the horrible news. Later she’d thought some new age type could explain how she’d suddenly taken on Charlotte Winther’s emotions—something like an out-of-body experience.
Louise added sugar and milk to her tea, something she did only when she was tired or hungover.
She walked into her bedroom, threw off her robe, and climbed into bed. Just to be safe, she set her alarm. Forty-five minutes. She grabbed the paper she’d laid on her night table when she came home.
Her experience in Østerbro had cost her a week in bed and a session with Jakobsen, Department A’s crisis counselor at the National Hospital. She’d also had to deal with the realization that she might not be as hard-core as she’d thought.
Jakobsen explained that there was nothing mysterious about what had happened. It was an emotional breakdown, brought on by the intense feelings connected with this part of her job. He described how she had abandoned her role of messenger and identified emotionally with the receiver, which wasn’t at all professional. No one in the department needed to say it; police officers had to distance themselves when working on savage cases involving murder, violence, and child abuse.
There was both good and bad in what had happened, Jakobsen said; of course, you must maintain your professionalism in stressful situations, but it’s healthy to be able to sense what another person is going through.
It took a year before Louise stopped worrying about literally bursting into tears when notifying family members of a death, but her anxiety about badly handling those situations never disappeared.
Louise put down the newspaper; the letters and words were a jumble to her. The moment the paper slid onto the floor, her phone began buzzing again out in the bathroom. She felt like ignoring it, but after a few moments she swung her legs out of bed. It might be Suhr. He might have heard her prayer and delayed the briefing.
“Have you seen the papers?”
Camilla sounded upset.
Louise thought about saying she was on her way out the door, but Camilla had been her best friend since second grade. She couldn’t just brush her off.
While in journalism school, Camilla Lind had declared her intention to be the first female journalist to win at least two Cavling Prizes. She’d dreamed about becoming a famous war correspondent, had seen herself as a counterpart to Åsne Seierstad, the Norwegian journalist who as a young, blond-haired woman had reported from the front lines in Afghanistan and Baghdad. But something always seemed to sidetrack Camilla, and she had yet to reach any of the world’s hot spots. On the other hand, several editors and many readers appreciated her human-interest stories, and she might have gained recognition for that if she hadn’t switched horses in midstream and decided to cover crime. In a straight and serious manner, as she put it.
“What are you doing?” Camilla asked, reproach in her voice. “I’ve been calling Police Headquarters every five minutes, your cell phone, too.”
“The paper’s right here, but I haven’t read it. And I didn’t answer because I was in the tub when you called. I guessed it was you anyway.”
“Lounging around in the bathtub never stopped you from talking with me before,” Camilla shot back.
“I’ve been sitting all night with a father and mother in crisis,” Louise said.
“Karoline Wissinge? I heard about that on the morning news.”
“It’s almost unbearable. She was twenty-three, and last year her little brother died in a traffic accident. Four young guys drove into a tree out on Amager Landevej. But you know that; you wrote about it,” Louise added. Sometimes she forgot that Camilla had left Roskilde Dagblad, a small paper, for the crime desk at Morgenavisen.
“I remember. Was that her little brother?” Camilla sounded interested. “My God, parents should never have to go through something like this.”
Louise could hear her friend was shaken up. She’d also had to pull herself together when the parents told her they’d lost their son only a year ago. The mother had wept softly as the father spoke about the accident. The news had come the same way, completely out of the blue.
Sunday afternoon, someone walking a dog had found the body of a young woman in Østre Anlæg, a hilly Copenhagen park. The rain had been pouring down all day long, and the park was nearly deserted, which is why the man had let the dog run around unleashed. At first, he thought nothing of it when the dog began barking loudly, but when it ignored his calls, he went over to see what was wrong. He spotted the body in the bushes behind one of the park benches. It looked as if someone had tried to hide her, though the leafless bushes were barely dense enough to shield her from the sight of people strolling by. But those in the park braving the weather had presumably focused on the gravel path to avoid the worst puddles, so it wasn’t strange she hadn’t been seen earlier.
“What actually happened?” Camilla asked.
“She was strangled.”
“Stop asking! You know I can’t talk to you about it.”
“So, one of the four was her brother?” Camilla said, referring to the accident.
“Yeah, Mikkel Wissinge. He wasn’t the driver; he was only seventeen.”
Louise could almost hear Camilla trying to conjure up the images of the four boys.
“I think I remember him,” Camilla said. “Blond hair, very good-looking kid from the photo we had of him.”
“That sounds right. He was in the back seat. He died from his injuries the next day.”
“It’s a good story. You think anyone has a line on it?”
“No, and no one will if I have anything to say about it,” Louise snapped. She swore to herself for even mentioning the connection. “When am I going to learn to keep my big mouth shut? I keep forgetting you’re one of them. Promise me you’ll leave this one alone, really. The parents can’t take any more. Karoline was living with her boyfriend, and he’s in shock. They have more than enough on their plate right now; they can’t deal with their son’s death again.”
Camilla grunted something.
Louise could hear herself pleading. Too much so for her taste. Hopefully her friend would do what she asked of her; she didn’t want to get into journalism ethics. Yet she knew that if Camilla didn’t write the story, someone else would.
That didn’t stop her from getting mad, though, when working on a case Camilla was covering. Louise felt that journalists turned her work into entertainment, that they showcased victims’ families during their sorrow. It annoyed her to no end, and seeing Camilla’s name on such an article’s byline provoked her even more. It happened often, too. At the same time, having a reliable contact in the press was to Louise’s advantage. It worked both ways, of course.
She glanced at the clock; time to get going. “What was it you wanted me to see in the paper?”
“Remember Frank Sørensen, from back when I started at the Roskilde Dagblad? Curly hair, wrote a lot about the bikers taking over the town back then. He left a few months after I got there, got a job as a crime reporter here in town.”
“What about him?” In her mind, Louise saw a face that had seen better days. A boyish smile, though. Strong lines around his mouth, deep crow’s-feet shooting out from his eyes, a large mane of dark curls. She’d met him one day when she picked Camilla up at the paper in Roskilde. He and several others had gone with them to a bar, Bryggerhesten, and drank beer until they closed.
“He’s dead,” Camilla said. “He was found in the bike shed of the parking lot behind the SAS hotel by Vesterport Station.”
“The Royal Hotel?”
“Yeah, in the courtyard behind Hertz. The paper mentions it, but without his name. They told me when I came in this morning. It’s so strange.”
A few moments went by; Louise sensed her friend was close to tears, and she felt a bit rattled, too. Even though she hadn’t known Frank Sørensen well, it was always sad when someone you knew suddenly died. It was totally different from a death in connection with her work. She could deal with that, despite being moved by the sorrow of those left behind.
“How did it happen?” She spoke a bit matter-of-factly to keep Camilla from crying.
“Actually, I don’t know yet. That’s why I’ve been calling you. To ask if you knew something.”
“If it’s not a homicide, I wouldn’t hear anything about it.” Louise was out of bed now, rummaging around in her closet for a pair of jeans and a sweater. “Who found him?”
Mentally she was already on her way to the briefing. She decided to take the bus to Central Station and walk down to Police Headquarters. She didn’t feel like biking.
“One of the hotel’s waiters going to work, parking his bike. Or so I heard. Terkel drove by on his way here. You know, Terkel Høyer, our managing editor. Part of the courtyard is blocked off; your people are there. They wouldn’t do that if he’d just keeled over, would they?” Camilla said she’d called the dispatcher at Station City, who would only confirm that a dead man had been found at that address.
“Take it easy,” Louise said. “You know very well it doesn’t necessarily mean a crime has been committed, just because the officer confirms a death.”
Of course, the techs had been sent in, she thought, but there could be many reasons for that. She tried to sound chipper. “Listen, Ms. Crime Beat Reporter! There’s always a report to be filled out when someone dies on the street. You know that. Look, I’ve got to get going.”
“I don’t understand it,” Camilla said, ignoring Louise. “A man in his mid-forties doesn’t just fall down and die. At least not very often. Would you do me a big favor and ask around? Discreetly, of course. I promise not to do a thing without your permission. I’d just like to know what the hell happened.”
“Okay. Privately, for you, and don’t open your big mouth about it at the paper. I really don’t know how much I can find out.” Louise glanced at her watch. The briefing would start in less than a half hour, and she had to pick up some of her papers. “Camilla, gotta run. I have to grab a taxi to get to work on time. But I’ll ask around. Okay, bye.”
Camilla sensed someone watching her when she hung up. In the second it took to whirl around in her chair, she flashed through what she’d told Louise, what the person behind her might have heard.
“Hi, Terkel, I didn’t know you were standing there.” She tried to keep her voice light.
“Did she know anything?” he asked, not even trying to hide his eavesdropping.
She almost flared up at him, but then she noticed how gray and hollowed-out he looked. Suddenly she feared he was going to start sobbing.
“No,” she said. “But she promised to see what she could find out. I just don’t know when; they’re working twenty-four seven on the case with the young girl found yesterday.”
Høyer obviously wasn’t listening. He walked over to her desk and slumped down in the chair, as if someone had pulled the plug on him.
Camilla went out for two cups of coffee. How should she tackle her boss falling apart in her office? She didn’t really know him all that well.
She set the coffee down in front of him. “You use cream, sugar?”
He shook his head.
She sat down and looked at him expectantly, but he simply stared at the photos on her desk. “How old is he?” he said, pointing at the photo of Markus.
“He’ll be six this summer.”
He seemed lost in thought while gazing at her son. Finally, he said, “Frank’s the one who called and told me about you when he heard Laugesen was quitting. He said it was obvious from day one at Roskilde that you’d make a name for yourself.”
Camilla didn’t know what to say.
“How long did you two actually work together?” he said.
“A few months.”
“What did you think of him?”
“I wasn’t around him much. He focused on the biker stories. One time he asked me if I’d go with him to talk to an ex-biker who’d gone underground. The guy agreed to tell his story if we kept his name out of it.”
“He always got so involved in whatever he was covering,” her managing editor said. He straightened his glasses. “One time the police offered him an anonymous address, but he wouldn’t take it. If someone had a bone to pick with him, they were welcome to stop by.”
“It seemed to me he was always working,” Camilla said. “Did he even have a life?”
“He got married three years ago. Helle was the first girlfriend he had that I know of, and I’ve known him since journalism school. Liam was born two years ago.”
He reached for his coffee and then slumped back again. “We were going to get together this evening, but when I called to hear when, Helle answered. She was crying. Yesterday morning two police officers came by and told her Frank was dead. He’d been found early Sunday morning.”
Camilla nodded and noticed a cuticle she was scratching had begun bleeding. She dabbed some spit on her index finger and wiped off the blood. “That’s damn strange, too. Louise says she’ll call when she’s had time to ask around. But surely they told his wife something?”
“Not much. She went in yesterday evening to identify him, but that’s just a formality. He had his driver’s license and press card on him; they had his name and photo.”
Høyer stood up to leave. Before he reached the door, she promised to let him know as soon as she heard from Louise.
“I’ll keep checking with the dispatcher, too,” she said. “And with Department A.”
He turned at the doorway. His expression had changed. “We also need to find out about that girl they found in Østre Anlæg yesterday evening. Did your friend know anything about that?”
So much for Mr. Sensitive, she thought. “No, not really. But the officer said the Homicide chief is sending out a press release this afternoon.”
After he left, she had the feeling he’d been standing in the doorway long enough to hear her talking to Louise about the girl’s brother.
Louise Rick handed her debit card to the taxi driver and waited for a receipt to sign. The briefing started in ten minutes, and she still had to pick up her files.
After signing the receipt, she crumpled it up and threw it in her bag along with her billfold. Then she jumped out of the taxi, hurried over to the broad entryway, and took the steps two at a time. She was winded by the time she tossed her bag and coat on the chair in her office.
The files were on her desk. She forced herself to slow down; she didn’t want to show up at the conference room down the hallway all out of breath and stressed out. No one was going to get on her case for galloping in at the last second. Everybody had been hard at it since being called in yesterday, after the girl’s body was found.
Louise ducked into the kitchen for a cup of coffee before sitting down at the oval table. She still felt cold.
“Hi, Louise, how’d it go with the parents?” Henny Heilmann sat with her papers neatly piled in front of her, a bottle of water beside her.
“It went fine, but it got late. It hasn’t soaked in for them yet. They were with their daughter and her boyfriend Saturday afternoon, and a day later she’s dead. I’m driving over again when I’m finished with the report, so they can sign it.”
Heilmann nodded. Normally people associated with a case were questioned at Police Headquarters, but when the immediate family was involved, it wasn’t uncommon to go to them.
Louise smiled. She’d quickly realized that her boss’s stony, insensitive front had nothing to do with her. She liked Heilmann, who was in her mid-fifties and had been detective chief inspector for several years. The way Louise understood it, she had no ambition of moving up the ladder, because she liked heading up Investigation Team 2. The police chiefs and detectives were very welcome to duke it out at the top.
The briefing started at ten past twelve, even though one officer hadn’t shown up yet.
Besides Louise, the members of the team were Thomas Toft, Michael Stig, and Søren Velin. Velin was Louise’s partner, but he’d been sent on leave for two and a half months. Lars Jørgensen, a new man at Homicide, had been filling in; he was the one missing. Together with Forensic Services and the Criminal Investigations Department at Station City, they would be investigating the murder of Karoline Wissinge. The head of Homicide, Hans Suhr, wasn’t at the morning briefing, either.
“We’re starting one short,” Heilmann said, explaining that Willumsen had nabbed Jørgensen for a few days to work on a new homicide. No one said anything, but they were all annoyed. Detective Superintendent Willumsen headed up an investigation team when a vacation or leave of absence required it. And he always got what he wanted. When he needed an extra body, he took it, and when anyone else was lacking an investigator, he never gave one up. But no one called him on it.
“All right, let’s go through what we have,” Heilmann said. She grabbed the top sheet of paper from the pile in front of her. “At four ten p.m. on Sunday, a dog walker discovered the body of a twenty-three-year-old woman under some bushes in Østre Anlæg. Initially we couldn’t identify her. She had no bag, no identification on her. She was taken to Forensic Medicine, and at that time a Martin Dahl reported his twenty-three-year-old girlfriend missing. The woman in the park matched the description he gave. Later, around nine p.m., he showed up and identified her as Karoline Wissinge.”
Louise was having trouble concentrating on what her boss was saying. A monotonous clicking sound distracted her; as usual, it came from Michael Stig. He’d tipped his chair against the wall and stuck his feet up against the table. The ballpoint pen was hidden by his arms, which hung between his bent knees.
“At present we know Karoline was in town with two friends Saturday evening,” Heilmann continued. “According to them she left the café they were in, a place called Baren, with a man…” She grabbed another sheet of paper. “Lasse Møller, around one. No one saw her after that.”
- On Sale
- Oct 23, 2018
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Grand Central Publishing