- Published: 13 December 2018
- ISBN: 9781405938068
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 432
- RRP: $19.99
The Katharina Code
You loved Wallander, now meet Wisting.
The three cardboard boxes were stored at the bottom of the wardrobe. Wisting lifted out the largest. One corner had started to tear, so he had to be careful as he carried it into the living room.
He opened the lid and removed the top ring binder – black, with a faded label on the spine: Katharina Haugen. Laying it aside, he took out a red binder marked Witnesses I and two others of the same colour tagged Witnesses II and Witnesses III. Soon he found what he was looking for – the ring binder labelled Kleiverveien.
These cardboard boxes contained everything written and undertaken in the Katharina case. Strictly speaking, he should not have brought the case documents home, but he felt they did not deserve to be locked away in an archive room. Sitting there at the bottom of his wardrobe, they reminded him of the case every time he took out a shirt.
He picked up his reading glasses and sat down with the ring binder on his lap. One whole year had passed since he had last looked through it.
Kleiverveien was where Katharina had lived. The unpretentious detached house, surrounded by forest, had been photographed from various angles. In the background of one of the images it was just possible to make out the shimmering waters of Kleiver Lake. The house itself was situated on a small plateau, about a hundred metres from the road. It was brown, trimmed in white, with a green door and empty window boxes on the ledges.
Browsing through the folder of photographs was like walking through a ghost house. Katharina was gone, but her shoes were left on the floor in the porch. A pair of grey trainers, some brown leather boots and a pair of clogs, beside her husband’s clumpy sandals and work boots. Three jackets hung from the row of pegs. On the chest of drawers in the hallway lay a ballpoint pen and a shopping list, an unopened letter, a newspaper and a few unaddressed flyers. A halfwithered bouquet of roses lay beside an ornament. A few little memos were stuck to the mirror above the chest – one with a date and time, another with a name and phone number, and a third with three initials and a sum of money. AML 125 kr.
Her suitcase lay open on the bed, full of clothes, as if she had intended to be away for some time: ten pairs of socks, ten pairs of briefs, ten T- shirts, five pairs of trousers, five sweaters, five blouses and a tracksuit. There was something about the contents he had never managed to make sense of, though he could not quite put his finger on why. The selection seemed so rigid and formal, as if it had been packed by someone else, or for someone else.
He continued to peruse the photos. Five books taken from the bookcase lay on the coffee table. Wisting had read some of them himself: Mengele Zoo, The Alchemist and White Niggers. Beside them was a photograph of Katharina with Martin Haugen, taken at a scenic viewpoint – they were standing with their arms around each other, smiling at whoever had taken the picture. The picture had been framed but had been removed from its frame and lay beside the glass.
The photographs of the kitchen were the ones that caused the greatest puzzlement. A plate with a slice of bread and butter and a glass of milk were left on the kitchen counter. The chair she usually sat in had been pushed out from the table, and on the table lay a ballpoint pen and what subsequently became known as ‘The Katharina Code’.
Wisting squinted at the photocopy of it, which comprised a series of numbers arranged along three vertical lines. So far, no one had succeeded in deciphering its meaning.
In addition to the police’s own experts, they had involved cryptologists from the military’s security centre in the examination of the mysterious message, without arriving any closer to a solution. The code had also been sent to experts abroad but, to them, the paper had also seemed to hold a senseless combination of numbers.
Wisting turned the copy this way and that, as if something might change on this occasion to allow him to grasp its significance.
All of a sudden he looked up. Line had come in, but he had failed to catch what his daughter had said. He had not even registered that she had entered the room.
‘Eh?’ he asked, as he removed his reading glasses, leaving them hanging from a cord around his neck.
Line sat down with her daughter on her knee and began to take off the toddler’s jacket and shoes, all the while peering over at the cardboard box Wisting had brought out.
‘I’d forgotten tomorrow is 10 October,’ she repeated.
As Wisting put down the ring binder, he held out his arms to his granddaughter and lifted her on to his lap. She was no longer a baby. The helpless little creature he had held in his arms for the very first time fourteen months earlier had now developed a personality of her own. He pressed his lips to her round cheek and gave her a loud kiss. Amalie burst out laughing and tried to catch hold of his glasses with her chubby hands. Unhitching them, he laid them well out of her reach.
‘Do you think there’s anything in there you haven’t read before?’ Line asked, gesturing at the ring binder on the table.
She seemed annoyed and out of sorts.
‘Is something wrong?’ Wisting queried.
With a sigh, Line thrust her hand into her bag and quickly dug out a yellow plastic strip. A lipstick, a ballpoint pen, a packet of chewing gum and other bits and pieces spilled out of her bag at the same time.
‘I got a parking ticket,’ she explained, tossing it on the table before stuffing the rest of the contents back into her bag. ‘Seven hundred kroner.’
Wisting glanced at it. ‘Parking in contravention of sign 372,’ he read out. ‘What is sign 372?’
With a broad smile, Wisting bent down and rubbed his nose on his granddaughter’s cheek.
‘Mummy got a fine,’ he said, in an affected voice.
Line rose to her feet. ‘I can’t fathom why you still keep going through these papers,’ she said, heading for the kitchen. ‘After all these years.’
‘Are you going to complain?’ Wisting asked. ‘About the parking fine?’
‘There’s nothing to complain about,’ Line answered. ‘I didn’t see the sign. I’ll just have to pay the money.’
Returning with a teaspoon, she produced a yogurt from the changing bag and hoisted Amalie on to her lap.
‘Have you found any more of her relatives?’ Wisting asked.
Line tore off the lid of the yogurt pot. ‘A few fourth and fifth cousins in Bergen,’ she replied, flashing him a smile.
‘How do you get to be a fifth cousin?’ Wisting quizzed her.
‘When you have four-times-great-grandparents in common,’ Line explained as she fed Amalie.
‘And what four-times-great-grandfather are we talking about?’
‘Arthur Thorsen,’ Line specified. ‘He was Mum’s great-great-grandfather.’
‘Never heard of him,’ Wisting admitted.
‘Born on Askøy in 1870,’ Line told him.
With a shake of the head, Wisting picked up the report he had been reading. ‘And you think I’m messing about with old papers?’ he said jokingly.
‘But what you’re looking for isn’t there,’ Line said. ‘You’ve kept this up for twenty-five years, but the answer’s certainly not in those papers.’
‘Twenty-four,’ Wisting corrected her, and stood up. He knew the answer probably wasn’t to be found in any of the boxes in his wardrobe, but at the same time he was convinced that at least one of the 763 names that had cropped up in the investigation material belonged to someone who knew what had happened on that October day almost twenty-four years ago.
He picked up one of the red ring binders and riffled through to a random document. A witness statement. The paper it was written on was tattered and the text faded. Wisting read the beginning of a haphazard sentence in the middle of the page and knew how it ended without having to read to the conclusion. A routine interview, it contained nothing of significance, no interesting details, but every time he read it, or any other document for that matter, he had the same idea that this time he would discover a detail he had previously overlooked, or spot a connection he had not made before.
‘Are you?’ Line asked, shaking him out of his thoughts.
He closed the ring binder, aware once again of missing what she had said.
‘Are you tagging along with him on another trip to his cabin?’ she asked.
‘Who’s that?’ Wisting asked, even though he knew what she meant.
‘Him,’ Line replied, with a long-suffering look at the heaps of case documents.
‘I don’t think so,’ Wisting answered.
‘But you do intend to visit him tomorrow?’
Wisting nodded. It had become a habit, visiting Martin Haugen every year on 10 October. ‘Sorry,’ he said, putting down the ring binder.
He knew his behaviour changed as the anniversary approached. The old case filled his mind, pushing everything else to one side.
‘What are you doing this evening?’ he asked, walking towards the window. It was dark outside, and raindrops speckled the glass.
Line gave her daughter the last spoonful of yogurt. ‘I’m going to the gym,’ she replied, lowering Amalie to the floor. ‘I was hoping you could babysit. She doesn’t like the crèche very much.’
Little Amalie stood on the floor, wobbling.
‘You’re welcome to leave her here,’ Wisting said happily, clapping his hands to entice his granddaughter towards him. She toddled across and laughed loudly when Wisting caught her and lifted her up in the air.
‘Careful, now,’ Line warned him. ‘She’s just eaten.’
Putting her back down again, Wisting headed into an adjacent room to fetch a box of toys. He poured the contents on the floor and sat down beside her.
Amalie grabbed a red wooden block and said something that Wisting could not make out.
‘Thanks, Dad,’ Line said as she stood up. ‘I’ll be back in a couple of hours.’
She waved to them both, but Amalie was far too busy to notice her mother leave. They sat together on the floor for ten minutes or so, but after a while Wisting’s grandchild grew more interested in playing on her own.
His knee joints creaked as he got to his feet. He made for the cardboard box, took out a notepad and sat down again in the chair. As he flipped through the pages, he reached for his glasses and put them on once more.
All the information from the cases he was working on ended up in his thick blue notebook. First, the crucial facts of the case, then details, witness statements, documentation and lab results. The notebook was the case’s anchor, a compendium of every single interview he had conducted and every single scrap of evidence collected. It always formed the basis for deciding the next move.
He could not understand why Line was so averse to his continued interest in this old case. Usually she was attracted to unsolved mysteries and unanswered questions. The same thirst for knowledge that had made him into a detective had turned her into a journalist. After Amalie was born she had taken up genealogical research. She was mostly keen to provide her daughter with a big family, since Amalie’s father was more or less out of the picture. However, her deep-seated curiosity was another reason. He could well understand the satisfaction in uncovering new family connections and gradually creating a family tree. It was not so different from a police investigation.
The search for answers lay at the heart of everything Line had done as a journalist. As far as Line was concerned, it was not simply a matter of reporting on a news event. She wanted to know what lay behind it. This was a quality the editorial team at the VG newspaper regarded highly. They were eager to keep her and had extended her maternity leave in the hope that she would return to her post.
He had no desire for her to involve herself in the Katharina case, but could not understand why she was so uninterested.
Maybe it was because the case had always been there. Line had been six years of age when Katharina Haugen had disappeared. She had grown accustomed to him taking out the old documents from time to time and immersing himself in them. Or perhaps it was because she, like so many others, had accepted the explanation most people had become reconciled to – that Katharina Haugen had chosen to take her own life one dark October night twenty-four years ago.
But if that were true, what had become of the body?
An alternative theory was that there had been an accident. That she had gone for a walk, fallen and been left lying unconscious. However, that simply raised more questions than answers.
Regardless of the circumstances of her disappearance, there were also other unsolved aspects to the case. These were what made Wisting take out the case files again, year after year. Such as the mysterious code on the kitchen table, the peculiar neighbour, and the business of her unidentified father. And then there were the flowers: fourteen red roses.
Amalie had scrambled to her feet and was now standing in a world of her own, clutching an armrest and chewing a brightly coloured plastic rattle.
Wisting beamed at her before locating the interview with one of the last people to see Katharina Haugen alive, a friend of hers called Mina Ruud. She and Katharina sang in the same choir and had known each other for five years. For the last few weeks Katharina had not attended choir practice. In a phone call, she had explained to her friend that she was not feeling well, that she had no energy. So, two days before Katharina vanished, Mina had paid her a visit. True enough, her friend had looked tired and pale. Something was obviously bothering her, Mina thought, but Katharina had brushed off any questions and explained that she had started a course of vitamin tablets in the hope of feeling better. During the interview, Mina had explained that she had seen a huge change in Katharina in the course of the past year. She was usually what Mina would call a vivacious person, always happy. Bubbly was the word she used. But then something must have happened to change her personality. She stayed at home, seldom went out and hardly ever mixed with her friends. She became reclusive, depressed and quiet.
One paragraph in Mina Ruud’s statement in particular had drawn Wisting’s attention. She believed Katharina was hiding a dark secret that she was reluctant to reveal to anyone.
Several people described Katharina Haugen as depressed before she went missing, both friends and work colleagues. A widespread perception attributed this to missing her family and friends in Austria.
Wisting skipped forward slightly and read a few other extracts from Mina Ruud’s statement. He stopped abruptly at a sentence he had not lingered on before. Mina Ruud had been trying to put a date on a conversation with Katharina during which her friend told her that she had met an Austrian man two days earlier. It had been a chance encounter in a café, when he had asked her if the chair at her table was free, and Katharina had noticed his accent and asked him if he came from Austria. It had been pleasant for her to meet someone from her own country.
The investigators had committed endless resources trying to locate this man. Because of this, it had been crucial to discover when exactly the encounter had taken place. As far as Mina recalled, it had been one afternoon in the middle of August.
He read the sentence one more time: it was afternoon in the middle of August.
I ’m not afraid of flying. The chances of dying in a plane crash for the average frequent flyer are one in eleven million.
So heavy and unrelenting was the sense of lethargy weighing her down that she felt as if she’d been drugged.
Red and yellow leaves drift down through the sunlight on to the wet asphalt, which cuts through the woods like a dark and glassy river.
On Christmas Day 1996 a man was driving across the mountains on his way home from Oslo.