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The Absent One: A Department Q Novel


When she ventured down the pedestrian street called Strøget, she was poised as if on the edge of a knife. With her face half covered by a dirty green shawl, she slipped past well-lit shop windows, alert eyes scanning the street. It was vital to know how to recognize people without being recognized. To be able to live in peace with her demons and leave the rest to those who hurried past her. Leave the rest to the fucking bastards who wanted to harm her, to those whose blank stares shunned her.

Kimmie glanced up at the street lights that threw an icy brightness across Vesterbrogade. She flared her nostrils. The nights would soon grow cold. She had to prepare her winter lair.

She was standing in a crowd by the crossing, among a group of frozen people emerging from Tivoli Gardens, looking towards the central train station, when she noticed the woman beside her in the tweed jacket. The woman squinted at her, wrinkled her nose, and then eased away. It was only a few inches, but more than enough.

Take it easy now, Kimmie, the warning signal flashed in her head as the rage tried to take hold.

Her eyes glided down the woman’s body until they reached her legs. The woman’s stockings gleamed, her ankles taut in high-heeled shoes. Kimmie felt a treacherous smile curling at the corners of her mouth. With a hard kick she could crack those heels. The woman would topple over, and she would learn how even a Christian Lacroix dress gets soiled on a wet pavement. That would teach her to mind her own business.

Kimmie looked directly at the woman’s face. Heavy eyeliner, powdered nose, a meticulous haircut, fashioned one strand at a time. Her expression was rigid and dismissive. Yes, Kimmie knew her type better than most people did. She had once been like her. Arrogant upper-class snobs who were thunderously hollow inside. Back then her so-called women friends had been like that; her stepmother, too.

She loathed them.

So do something, the voices in her head whispered. Don’t let her get away with it. Show her who you are. Do it!

Kimmie stared at a group of dark-skinned boys on the other side of the street. Had it not been for their roving eyes, she would have shoved the woman just as the 47 bus whizzed past. She saw it clearly in her mind’s eye: what a wonderful bloodstain the bus would leave behind. What a shockwave the snooty woman’s crushed body would send through the crowd. What a delicious sense of justice it would give her.

But Kimmie didn’t push the woman. In a swarm of people there was always a watchful eye; plus there was something inside her that held her back. The frightening echo from a time long, long ago.

She raised her sleeve to her face and took a deep breath. It was true what the woman beside her had noticed: her clothes stank terribly.

When the light turned green, she made her way over the crossing, her suitcase knocking along behind her on its crooked wheels. This would be its final trip, because the time had come to toss out the old rags.

It was time to slough her skin.

In the centre of the train station, a placard displayed the day’s newspaper headlines in front of the railway kiosk, making life bitter for both the hurried and the blind. She’d seen the poster several times on her way through the city, and it filled her with disgust.

‘Pig,’ she mumbled when she passed the sign, gazing steadfastly ahead. Still she turned her head and caught a glimpse of the face on Berlingske Tidende’s placard.

The mere sight of the man made her tremble.

Under the PR photo it read: ‘Ditlev Pram buys private hospitals in Poland for 12 billion kroner.’ She spat on the tile floor and paused until her body grew calmer. She hated Ditlev Pram. Him and Torsten and Ulrik. But one day they’d get what they deserved. One day she’d take care of them. She would.

She laughed out loud, making a passer-by smile. Yet another naive idiot who thought he knew what went on inside other people’s heads.

Then she stopped abruptly.

Rat-Tine stood at her usual spot a little further ahead. Crouched over and rocking slightly, with dirty hands, drooping eyelids and a hand outstretched in mind-blown faith that at least one person in the swarming anthill would slip her a ten-krone coin. Only drug addicts could stand like that hour after hour. Miserable wretches.

Kimmie tried to sneak past her, heading directly for the stairwell to Reventlowsgade, but Tine had spotted her.

‘Hi, Kimmie. Hey, wait up, damn it,’ she managed in a sniffling moment of lucidity, but Kimmie didn’t respond. Rat-Tine wasn’t good in open spaces. Only when she sat on her bench did her brain function reasonably.

She was, however, the only person Kimmie could tolerate.

The wind whipping through the streets that day was inexplicably cold, so people wanted to get home quickly. For that reason, five black Mercedes idled in the taxi queue by the train station’s Istedgade entrance. She thought there’d be at least one remaining when she needed it. That was all she wanted to know.

She dragged the suitcase across the street to the basement Thai shop and left it next to the window. Only once before had a suitcase been stolen when she’d put it there. She felt certain it wouldn’t happen in this weather, when even thieves stayed indoors. It didn’t matter anyway. There was nothing of any value in the suitcase.

She waited only about ten minutes at the main entrance to the station before she got a bite. A fabulously beautiful woman in a mink coat, with a lithe body not much larger than a size 8, was leaving a taxi with a suitcase on hard rubber wheels. In the past Kimmie had always looked for women who wore a size 10, but that was many years ago. Living on the street didn’t make anyone fat.

While the woman concentrated on the ticket machine in the front entrance, Kimmie stole the suitcase. Then she made off towards the back exit and in no time was down among the taxis on Reventlowsgade.

Practice makes perfect.

There she loaded her stolen suitcase into the boot of the first taxi in the queue and asked the driver to take her for a short ride.

From her coat pocket she pulled out a fat bundle of hundred-krone bills. ‘I’ll give you a few hundred more if you do as I say,’ she told him, ignoring his suspicious glance and quivering nostrils.

In about an hour they would return and pick up her old suitcase. By then she would be wearing new clothes and another woman’s scent.

No doubt the taxi driver’s nostrils would quiver for an entirely different reason then.



Ditlev Pram was a handsome man, and he knew it. When flying business class, there were any number of women who had no objections to hearing about his Lamborghini and how fast it could drive to his domicile in the fashionable suburb of Rungsted.

This time he’d set his sights on a woman with soft hair gathered at the nape of her neck and glasses with heavy black frames that made her look unapproachable.

It aroused him.

He’d tried speaking to her, with no luck. Offered her his copy of The Economist, the cover of which featured a backlit nuclear reactor, only to be met with a dismissive wave. He ordered her a drink that she didn’t touch.

By the time the plane from Stettin landed on the dot at Kastrup Airport, the entire ninety valuable minutes had been wasted.

It was the kind of thing that made him aggressive.

He headed down the glass corridors in Terminal 3 and upon reaching the moving walkway he saw his victim. A man with a bad gait, headed determinedly in the same direction.

Ditlev picked up his pace and arrived just as the old man put one leg on the walkway. Ditlev could imagine it clearly: a carefully placed foot would make the bony figure trip hard against the Plexiglas, so that his face—glasses askew—would slide along the side as the old man desperately tried to regain his feet.

He would have gladly carried out this fantasy in reality. That was the kind of person he was. He and the others in the gang had all been raised that way. It was neither invigorating nor shameful. If he’d actually done it, in a way it would have been that bitch’s fault. She could have just gone home with him. Within an hour they could have been in bed.

It was her bloody fault.

His mobile rang as the Strandmølle Inn appeared in the rear-view mirror and the sea rose once again, blindingly, in front of him. ‘Yes,’ he said, glancing at the display. It was Ulrik.

‘I know someone who saw her a few days ago,’ he said. ‘At the pedestrian crossing outside the central train station on Bernstoffsgade.’

Ditlev turned off his MP3 Player. ‘OK. When exactly?’

‘Last Monday. The 10th of September. Around 9 p.m.’

‘What have you done about it?’

‘Torsten and I had a look around. We didn’t find her.’

‘Torsten was with you?’

‘Yes. But you know how he is. He wasn’t any help.’

‘Who did you give the assignment to?’


‘Good. How did she look?’

‘She was dressed all right, from what I’m told. Thinner than she used to be. But she reeked.’

‘She reeked?’

‘Right. Of sweat and piss.’

Ditlev nodded. That was the worst thing about Kimmie. Not only could she

disappear for months or years, but you never really knew who she was. Invisible, and then suddenly alarmingly visible. She was the most dangerous element in their lives. The only one who could truly threaten them.

‘We’ve got to get her this time, do you hear me, Ulrik?’

‘Why the hell do you think I phoned?’



Not until he stood outside Department Q’s darkened offices in the basement of police headquarters did Carl Mørck fully realize his holiday and summer were definitively over. He snapped on the light, letting his gaze fall on his desk, the top of which was covered in swollen stacks of case files; the urge to close the door and get the hell out of there was powerful. It didn’t help that, in the midst of all this, Assad had planted a bunch of gladioli big enough to obstruct a medium-sized street.

‘Welcome back, boss!’ said a voice behind him.

He turned and looked directly into Assad’s lively, shiny, brown eyes. His thin, black hair flared in all directions in a sort of welcoming way. Assad was ready for another round at the police station’s altar, worst luck for him.

‘Well, now!’ Assad said, seeing his boss’s blank look. ‘A person would never know you’ve just returned from your holiday, Carl.’

Carl shook his head. ‘Have I?’

Up on the third floor they’d rearranged everything again. Bloody police reform. Carl would soon need a GPS to find his way to the homicide chief’s office. He had been away for only three lousy weeks, and yet there were at least five new faces glaring at him as if he were an alien.

Who the hell were they?

‘I’ve got good news for you, Carl,’ Homicide Chief Marcus Jacobsen said as Carl’s eyes skated over the walls of his new office. The pale green surfaces reminded him of a cross between an operating room and a crisis-control centre in a Len Deighton thriller. From every angle, corpses with sallow, lost eyes stared down at him. Maps, diagrams and personnel schedules were arranged in a multicoloured confusion. It all seemed depressively efficient.

‘Good news, you say. That doesn’t sound good,’ Carl replied, dropping into a seat opposite his boss.

‘Well, Carl, you’ll have visitors from Norway soon.’

Carl gazed up at him from under heavy eyelids.

‘I’m told a five-person delegation is coming from Oslo’s police directorate to have a peek at Department Q. Next Friday at 10 a.m. You remember, right?’ Marcus smiled, blinking. ‘I’ve been asked to tell you how much they’re looking forward to meeting you.’

That sure as hell made them the only ones.

‘With this visit in mind I’ve reinforced your team. Her name is Rose.’

At this Carl straightened up a little in his seat.

Afterwards he stood outside the homicide chief’s door trying to lower his arched brow. It’s said that bad news comes in clusters. Bloody right it does. At work for only five minutes and he’d already been informed that he’d have to serve as mentor for a new employee. Not to mention act as some kind of hand-holding guide for a herd of mountain apes, which he’d happily forgotten all about.

‘Where is this new girl who’s supposed to be joining me?’ he asked Mrs Sørensen, who sat behind the front desk.

The hag didn’t glance up from her keyboard.

He knocked lightly on the desk. As if that would help.

Then he felt a tap on his shoulder.

‘Here he is in the flesh, Rose,’ someone said behind him. ‘May I introduce you to Carl Mørck.’

Turning, he saw two surprisingly similar faces. Whoever invented black dye hadn’t lived in vain, he thought. They both had tousled, coal-black and ultra-short hair, with jet-black eyes and sombre, dark clothes. The resemblance was damned uncanny.

‘Blimey! What happened to you, Lis?’

The department’s most competent secretary slid a hand through her previously elegant blonde hair and flashed him a smile. ‘I know. Isn’t it pretty?’

He nodded slowly.

Carl shifted his attention to the other woman, who stood on mile-high heels. She gave him a smile that could have taken anyone down a peg. Once again he glanced at Lis, noting the striking likeness between the two women, and wondered whose image had inspired whom.

‘This is Rose. She’s been here for a few weeks, cheering us secretaries up with her infectious humour. Now I’ll entrust her to you. Take care of her, Carl.’

Carl stormed into Marcus’s office with his arguments at the ready, but after twenty minutes he realized he was fighting a losing battle. He managed to win a week’s reprieve and then he would have to welcome the girl down in Department Q. Right beside Carl’s office was the utility closet that housed lengths of traffic spikes and equipment they used to cordon off crime scenes. Marcus Jacobsen explained how it had already been cleaned and furnished. Rose Knudsen was his new colleague in Department Q, and that was final.

Whatever the homicide chief’s motives were, Carl didn’t like them.

‘She received top marks at the police academy, but she failed the driver’s test, and that means you’re done for, no matter how talented you are,’ Jacobsen said, spinning his swollen cigarette pack around for the fifteenth time. ‘Maybe she was also a little too thin-skinned to work in the field, but she was determined to join the police, so she learned how to be a secretary. And she’s been at Station City for the past year. Then the last few weeks she’s been Mrs Sørensen’s substitute, who of course is back now.’

‘Why didn’t you send her back to City, if I may ask?’

‘Why? Well, there was some internal hullabaloo. Nothing that relates to us.’

‘OK.’ The word ‘hullabaloo’ sounded ominous.

‘At any rate, Carl, you now have a secretary. And she’s a good one.’

He said that pretty much about everyone.

‘She seemed very, really nice, I think,’ said Assad under the fluorescent lights in Department Q, trying to make Carl feel better.

‘She started a hullabaloo down at City, I’ll have you know. That’s not so nice.’

‘Hulla . . .? You’ll have to say that one more time, Carl.’

‘Forget it, Assad.’

His assistant nodded. Then he gulped a substance smelling of mint tea that he’d poured into his cup. ‘Listen to this, Carl. The case you put me on top of while you were away, I couldn’t get very far with. I looked here and there and all impossible places, but the case files have all gone missing during the moving mess upstairs.’

Carl looked up. Gone missing? No shit? But all right—something good had happened today, after all.

‘Yes, completely gone. But then I looked a little through the piles of folders and found this one. It’s very interesting.’

Assad handed him a pale green case file and stood as still as a pillar of salt, an expectant expression on his face.

‘Are you planning on standing there while I read?’

‘Yes, thanks,’ he said, setting his cup down on Carl’s desk.

As he opened the file, Carl puffed his cheeks with air and slowly exhaled.

The case was quite old. From the summer of 1987, to be exact. The year he and a mate had taken the train to the Copenhagen Carnival and a redheaded girl who couldn’t get the rhythm out of her loins had taught him how to samba—which, when they ended the evening on a blanket behind a bush in Rosenborg Castle Gardens, was heavenly. He had been twenty-odd years old then, and nothing was virgin territory after that.

It had been a good summer, 1987. The summer he was transferred from Vejle to the Antonigade Police Station.

The murders had to have been committed eight or ten weeks after the carnival, at roughly the same time as the redhead decided to throw her samba body across the next country bumpkin. Yes, it was precisely the period when Carl was making his first nightly rounds in Copenhagen’s narrow streets. Actually, it was odd that he didn’t recall anything about the case; it was certainly bizarre enough.

Two siblings, a girl and a boy aged seventeen and eighteen respectively, were found beaten to a pulp in a summer cottage not far from Dybesø, near Rørvig. The girl’s body was badly bruised and she had suffered terribly during the beating, as evidenced by the defensive wounds.

He scanned the text. No sexual assault, nothing stolen.

Then he read the autopsy report once more and riffled through the newspaper clippings. There were only a few, but the headlines were as large as they could get.

‘Beaten to death,’ wrote Berlingske Tidende, providing a description of the bodies that was unusually detailed for this old, highbrow newspaper.

They were found in the living room, by the fireplace, the girl in a bikini and her brother naked, a half-bottle of cognac gripped in his hand. He had been killed by a single blow to the back of his head, with a blunt object later identified as the claw hammer discovered in a tuft of heather somewhere between Flyndersø and Dybesø.

The motive was unknown, but suspicion quickly fell on a group of young boarding-school pupils who were staying at one of their parents’ lavish summer residence near Flyndersø. On numerous occasions they had been involved in skirmishes at the local nightclub, The Round, where a few locals got seriously hurt.

‘Have you caught up to where it says who the suspects were?’

From beneath his eyebrows, Carl glanced up at Assad. That ought to be enough of an answer, but Assad wouldn’t give up.

‘Yes, of course you have. And the report also suggests that their fathers were all the kind who earned lots of money. Didn’t many do that in the gold-eighties, or whatever it was called?’

Carl nodded. He’d now reached that part of the report.

Yes, Assad had it right. Their fathers were all well known, even today.

He skimmed the group’s names a few times. It was enough to produce beads of sweat on his brow, because it wasn’t just their fathers who’d earned enormous sums and become well-known figures. Years later some of their offspring had become famous, too. Born with a silver spoon in their mouth, they now held the golden spoon. They were Ditlev Pram, founder of numerous exclusive private hospitals, Torsten Florin, internationally recognized designer, and stock market analyst Ulrik Dybbøl Jensen. All stood on the top rung of Denmark’s ladder of success, as had the now deceased shipping magnate Kristian Wolf. The final two members of the gang stood out from the rest. Kirsten-Marie Lassen had also been a part of the jet set, but no one knew where she was today. Bjarne Thøgersen, the one who’d pleaded guilty to killing the siblings and now sat in prison, came from more modest means.

When Carl was done reading, he tossed the file on the table.

‘Right. So I don’t understand how this case got down to us,’ Assad said. Normally he would have smiled at this point, but he didn’t.

Carl shook his head. ‘I don’t, either. A man is in prison for the crime. He confessed, got a life sentence and is now behind bars. As a matter of fact, he turned himself in, so why the doubts? Case closed!’ He clapped the file shut.

‘Except . . .’ Assad bit his lip. ‘He didn’t turn himself in until nine years later.’

‘So what? He did turn himself in. When he committed the murders he was only eighteen years old. Maybe he realized, as he grew older, that a

bad conscience never fades.’


Carl sighed. ‘Yes, fades. Withers, dies. A bad conscience doesn’t go away with time, Assad. On the contrary.’

Assad was clearly puzzled about something. ‘The Nykøbing Sjælland and Holbæk police worked on the case together. And the Mobile Investigation Unit, too. But, who sent it to us, I can’t tell. Can you?’

Carl lowered his eyes to the file’s cover. ‘No, it doesn’t say anywhere. Very peculiar.’ If one of those three units hadn’t sent them the file, who had? And if the case had ended in a conviction, why bother reopening it at all?

‘Could it have something to do with this?’ Assad asked. He riffled through the file until he found a document from Revenue and Customs, and handed it to Carl. ‘Annual Report’, it said at the top. It was addressed to Bjarne Thøgersen, residing in Albertslund County in Vridløselille State Prison. The man who had killed the two youths.

‘Look!’ Assad was pointing at the gigantic figure in the stock revenue line. ‘What do you think?’

‘I think he comes from a wealthy family, and now he’s got enough time to play with his money. Apparently he’s done pretty well with it. Where are you going with this?’

‘I’ll have you know, Carl, that he doesn’t come from a wealthy family. He was the only member of the boarding-school gang who attended on a scholarship. You can see that he was quite different from the others. Take a look.’ He turned the pages back.

Carl propped up his head with one hand.

That was the thing about holidays.

They came to an end.

The Absent One: A Department Q Novel
by by Jussi Adler-Olsen