ONCE IN, NEVER OUT
Monday, March 2nd Reykjavík, Iceland
It was a small bedroom, spartanly furnished.
Despite the night chill, there was no wind and the apartment's windows
were open. A light was on in the hallway and the bedroom door was open.
Lying in bed, sleeping naked with their arms wrapped around each other,
the couple could be mistaken for middle-aged Nordic gods.
In a country where people grow tall, Thor
Eríkson was taller than most, so tall that his feet hung over the
end of the bed. He appeared to be trim and fit rather than muscle-bound
and his face looked more rugged than handsome. His hair was short and
blond, but graying at the temples.
Frieda Helgadottír looked like she
belonged with this man, always. She was the muscle-bound one,
wide-shouldered and also tall, although at least a head shorter than Thor.
Except for her full, well-rounded breasts, she had the body of a very fit
teenage tomboy. Her hair was long and also blonde, but there was nothing
rugged about her face. There was not one feature that detracted from her
appearance, except maybe for the age lines just beginning to appear at the
corners of her eyes. She was pretty without being beautiful and she
smiled as she slept.
The bedside phone rang at 2:30 AM, waking
both Thor and Frieda. Thor turned on the light, got out of bed, and
stretched as he watched the phone, willing it to stop ringing. It didn't,
so he took a pad and pencil from the nightstand.
"Don't answer it," Frieda implored
as he put his hand on the phone. "You're on vacation."
He was used to doing what Frieda wanted, but
this time he couldn't. "There's been a murder."
"A murder? How do you know?"
"I just do." The phone stopped
ringing. No matter, Thor thought. The chief will call again.
"Thor, please come back to bed,"
"Sorry, I can't. I'm going to get
ready. When the phone rings, answer it and get the information."
Frieda accepted Thor's decision without
further comment. No matter what she said, Thor would always do his job
because that was the way he was. Although she rarely thought about it, it
was one of the many things she loved about Thor and she was intensely
proud of him.
He went into the bathroom, closing the door
behind him. She heard him turn on the shower and knew he wouldn't be
long. Thor showered in the same way he did everything, quickly and
efficiently. She got up, closed the windows so that he wouldn't be
chilled when he came out, then sat down on the bed with the pad and pen in
her hand, waiting and thinking.
Thor's job had many drawbacks, but Frieda
enjoyed being married to Iceland's only homicide detective. She
especially liked the fact that he was famous and well-respected, so famous
that she herself was recognized wherever she went. True, there had been
only four murders in the twelve years since Thor had been promoted to
detective, but he had solved them all.
Murders weren't the part of Thor's job that
Frieda minded. They occurred so infrequently in Iceland that in one
period of eight years not a single murder had been committed in the entire
It was the training that bothered her.
Thor was frequently abroad, leaving her alone while he attended this
seminar or that national police academy. He trained constantly for his
job, and when he wasn't traveling, he was studying textbooks on the
subject of murder.
Or he was playing handball, Iceland's
national sport and another thing she loved about Thor. He excelled at
everything he tried, excelled so well that in 1980 and again in 1982 he
had been recognized as the national champion. That didn't hurt his fame,
either, and also added to her stature.
The phone rang again.
I hope this one is in Reykjavík, she
thought as she picked up the receiver. If not, Thor would be leaving her
to work his case in another of Iceland's far-flung coastal communities.
"Hello, Frieda. It's Janus. Is Thor
"Yes, but he's in the shower," she
told the chief. "Has there been a murder?"
"Unfortunately, there's been two. The
British foreign secretary and his wife have been killed at the Saga
Two murders? That's never happened before,
Frieda thought. Worse, important people like the British foreign
secretary and his wife? "How?"
"They were killed by bombs."
Bombs? In Iceland? Something else that's
never happened before. Many other questions popped into her mind, but she
kept them to herself. "I'll tell Thor. Don't worry, Janus. He'll
be there soon."
"No, have him wait there. It's very
complicated and very delicate, so Erík is on his way over to talk
"Erík? The minister of
fisheries is coming here now?"
"Sorry, Frieda. I hope it's not too
inconvenient, but he insisted."
It certainly was inconvenient, but Frieda
didn't say a word. When she didn't answer, Janus added, "Relax,
Frieda. It's not as if Vigdís was coming over."
That didn't help Frieda's state of mind at
all. Although Vigdís Finnbogadottír had been president
since 1980 and enjoyed some status as the world's first elected female
head of state, her post was largely ceremonial. Frieda knew that the real
power in Iceland lay with the minister of fisheries and it was Erík
who was coming. "When will he get here?" she asked.
"He just left. I'd say about fifteen
minutes, if he takes his time."
"Fifteen minutes? Good God!
Good-bye, Janus." Frieda hung up the phone and ran into the
bathroom, panic-stricken as she screamed the news to Thor.
* * *
By the time the doorbell rang, Frieda was
dressed and ready, with her hair combed, her makeup on, and coffee
perking. Thor went to the door and Frieda was surprised to hear him greet
the minister of fisheries as casually as if he were a neighbor dropping by
to borrow a cup of sugar. When Thor brought him into the living room she
got another surprise.
Although she had seen Erík on TV many
times, he was not what she expected. He had always appeared to be very
much the man in charge, radiating confidence with facts and figures at his
fingertips, ready for any question. This Erík was different; he
appeared haggard and worried.
Nonetheless, he still had manners.
"So good to finally meet you, Frieda. I know Thor's on vacation and
I'm terribly sorry to bother you at this hour, but we're in something of a
national emergency," he said as he shook her hand. Then Erík
handed her the bag he was carrying. "Sorry, but that's all I could
come up with at this hour. Croissants from the Saga's bakery."
"Very nice of you, Erík.
"That would be wonderful."
Frieda went into the kitchen and Erík
settled into the couch. Thor sat in the armchair opposite him.
"I guess you're wondering why I'm
here," Erík said.
"I am. I'm also wondering if this
visit means that I'm working for you," Thor replied.
"No, you're not. I'm not going to get
involved in your investigation. However, you'll need to know some things
that only I can tell you right now, things that aren't for public
dissemination at the moment."
"Why come here instead of waiting for
me at the hotel? You hiding from the press?"
"Let's say I'm avoiding the press.
The foreign secretary's visit was a secret I didn't let them in
"Yes. They'll want to know what the
foreign secretary was doing here and what we talked about. And, of
course, they'll want to know the reason for the secrecy."
"Something to do with Rockall?"
"Then you'll have to talk to them,
sooner or later. Even before this bombing, Rockall was already big
"I realize that, and I'll tell them
everything, eventually. Unfortunately, because of the agreement I reached
with the foreign secretary, I can't do it now."
"Because news of the agreement has to
come from London," Eric said.
"Then I guess the British were the
losers in your negotiations?"
"Basically, yes. To save face, it was
to have been announced in London tomorrow afternoon by Smythe-Douglass.
I don't know when they'll do it now, but it still falls to me to keep our
end of the bargain."
"Will the Brits still go along with
"Their ambassador here, Roger Chatwick,
took part in the discussions and he's assured me that it will still be
"Can you tell me the reason for all the
secrecy?" Thor asked.
"It was Smythe-Douglass's idea.
According to him, the Irish government is going to claim Rockall as Irish
territory and he felt that would complicate our dispute."
"Why would the Irish do that? They
don't have much of a fishing fleet."
"Just to piss the Brits off, I guess.
Smythe-Douglass did some research and was afraid the Irish might have a
valid claim. Rockall is closer to Ireland than it is to either Iceland or
Great Britain, and the medieval Irish monks were a seafaring lot. Since
they were the first ones to arrive in Iceland, he felt it was possible
they had also discovered Rockall."
"But they have no documentation of such
a visit, do they?" Thor asked.
"Not as far as he knew, but he was
afraid the World Court might side with them."
"I see. So he sneaks in here to take
care of things with us before taking on the Irish."
"I'm sure that's what he had in mind,
but that's not the way it worked out. If Rockall must be owned by any
nation, it should be us. I was able to convince him of that and we
arrived at an accommodation over ownership."
"Do you think the IRA planted the
"Nobody's claimed credit for it, yet,
but Irish national interests are involved. I'm assuming it's their work,
but I don't see how it's possible."
"Because of the secrecy of the
visit?" Thor asked.
"Yes, that and the fact that it was so
hastily arranged. The IRA simply wouldn't have had the time to formulate
a plan and then get a bomb into the Saga."
"Exactly who knew the foreign secretary
was in town?"
"Chatwick's trying to find out who knew
on their end, but here the list is very small. Should I give you the
"Chatwick went to see Vigdís
yesterday morning to arrange the meeting. Since it was Sunday, she didn't
even tell her secretary about it. She knew what he wanted to talk about,
so she called me and said that she'd bring them over to my place after
dinner with her. I told no one about it, and that's just the way it
"Not exactly, or they'd still be alive.
Were they noticed by anyone at the airport?"
"Chatwick says no, says they didn't
attract any attention at all. They were traveling on diplomatic
passports, so immigration and customs were no problem for them. They were
out of the airport in five minutes."
"And what then? Straight to
"No, that's where it got complicated.
Chatwick had reserved the presidential suite for them and they went to the
hotel first to change before dinner. Got there about four, stayed less
than an hour, and were at Vigdís's house by five. After dinner
they came to my house."
"No, just the Brits. Got there at
seven and left at ten forty-five. They got back to the hotel at eleven
and Chatwick stayed there until midnight. The bombs went off at seven
minutes after one."
"Yeah, two of them. Thorough bastards,
whoever did this. Put one in the master bedroom and another in the
"And they went off at exactly the same
"Yep. Got the foreign secretary in the
servant's room and his wife in the master bedroom."
"The British foreign secretary was
sleeping in the servant's room?" Thor asked.
"Yeah, but let's keep that off the
record as long as we can. I asked their ambassador about it and all he
said was that they didn't appear to be getting on exceptionally well last
"What was your take on them?" Thor
"They seemed fine to me. A very
cordial couple. Penelope Smythe-Douglass was apparently a woman of some
breeding and it seemed that we all
enjoyed her company."
Frieda came in carrying the coffee and the
heated croissants on a tray. Conversation stopped while Frieda added the
cream and sugar for Erík and Thor. "Am I interrupting?"
"Of course not," Thor said.
"Have a seat."
Frieda looked pleased as she settled next to
Erík on the sofa. She kept her eyes on Thor as she sipped her
coffee, waiting for the conversation to resume. He knew Frieda's
curiosity and was sure she had been listening from the kitchen, but she
managed to appear very nonchalant.
"Did Chatwick drive them from place to
place?" Thor asked.
"Yes, in his own car."
"Make any other stops?"
"He says no."
"Did we provide any security?"
"Yes. I called Janus at nine and asked
him to provide a man at the Saga, basically just to keep the press away in
case they found out about the visit."
"Who did he send?"
"You know a constable named Haarold
"Yes, a very good choice. One of our
sharpest and toughest. Did Janus send Brandy to check out the
"Our bomb dog. She's trained to sniff
out most types of explosives."
"No, he didn't. I asked him about the
bomb dog and he said there hadn't been enough time. Her handler went to
Akureyi yesterday for the weekend and she's with him."
"That's too bad," Thor commented.
"We have the first bombing in our history and our only bomb-sniffing
dog is two hundred and thirty kilometers away."
"Bad luck," Erík
"What time did Haarold get to the
"Ten o'clock. He met them all in the
hotel lobby when they arrived, then stood guard outside the room.
Handled himself very well when the bombs went off."
"Was he injured?" Frieda asked,
concerned. She knew both Haarold and his wife and was one of the few
people who liked the taciturn and easily-irritated constable.
"No. It wasn't much of a blast because
the folks at the front desk didn't even hear it. He got soaked, but he
"The sprinkler system?" Thor
"Yes. Haarold heard the blast, but he
didn't have the code key to get into the suite. So he put a few shots
into the lock and then kicked the door in. The lights were blown out in
the master bedroom and the sprinkler system was dousing the place, but he
used his flashlight and saw the wife's body on the bed. She was dead, so
he looked around. Found the foreign secretary in the servant's
"Burn damage to the bodies?"
"I don't know. Haarold wouldn't let
anybody into the suite except Janus. Not the medical examiner, not the
British ambassador, not even me. The fire alarm had gone off, but Haarold
wouldn't even let in the firemen. Said he didn't want us destroying the
"I guess Janus backed him up."
"Yes, and that was that. Without the
medical examiner, those bodies aren't even officially dead yet."
"Who turned the sprinklers off?"
"Nobody. They're pretty sophisticated
and they went off by themselves while Haarold was still inside."
Thor silently sipped his coffee for a few
minutes as he contemplated the disaster he had just been assigned.
Haarold was the one bright spot in the affair and his presence outside the
room meant a few things. One was that the bombs had been placed before
Haarold's assignment to the post because the astute and singularly
unfriendly constable would never fall for any kind of ruse and would let
no unauthorized person into the presidential suite. Because of Haarold,
he knew he would be dealing with as pure a crime scene as possible under
the circumstances, unmuddled by the firemen.
Still, Thor recognized that there was quite
a task in front of him. He had known that Iceland would eventually fall
victim to the terrorist madness gripping the rest of the world and he had
tried to train himself through reading, seminars, and courses. Besides
being the homicide investigator, he was also recognized as the nation's
best crime scene technician and its only bomb expert. But he had never
handled a bombing and he would be under intense scrutiny. "Is the
press at the Saga now?"
"A few reporters were arriving as I
left, but they didn't see me."
"Who else is there?"
"Janus and the British
"Who's going to giving the press a
"I'm going to be making myself
unavailable until the British make their announcement, so it'll be you or
So the police are elected to be the liars,
Thor thought. We're to emphasize the investigation and dummy-up when
reporters ask us the reasons for the British visit. Not a good position
for us. "I don't like it," Thor said.
"But you'll do it?"
"I can't speak for Janus, but I'll do
it if I have to. Reluctantly do it."
It was what Erík wanted to hear.
"Good," he said and stood up. The visit was over, but Frieda's
curiosity wasn't satisfied. "How did you manage to convince the
British that Rockall is ours?"
Thor was surprised to see that Erík
appeared pleased by the inquiry.
"Simple. Geography and history,"
Erík said proudly. "Unlike England and Ireland, both Iceland
and Rockall were formed by volcanic activity. From a geographic
standpoint, Rockall can't possibly be considered part of the British Isles
and shouldn't belong to either Ireland or the United Kingdom. Then
there's a story in one of the sagas. Rockall was discovered by an
Icelander named Sigmar in 1001. His ship was wrecked on a small, rocky
island in the North Atlantic. From the description in the saga, it had to
be Rockall. He and some of his men survived the shipwreck and were
rescued a few days later. He eventually died in Iceland, so he's
officially one of ours."
Sort of a tenuous claim to Rockall, but
better than the claims of either the United Kingdom or Ireland to the
island, Thor thought. "Where is this saga kept?"
"That's the best part. It's in the
Norwegian National Museum in Oslo, a neutral country not party to the
dispute. After I showed Smythe-Douglass an English translation of the
saga, I made him an offer and he went for it."
"Joint fishing rights?" Frieda
"Something like that. Rockall is our
territory, but the fishing rights are to be jointly shared by Iceland and
Great Britain for ten years. We set the limits on the catch and the
British are entitled to fish half the limit. We also agreed that our
joint sovereignty over the island is to be enforced by the Royal Navy for
the next ten years."
"Meaning they'll exclude fishing fleets
from everywhere else?" Thor asked.
"Exactly. What do you think?"
"Good deal. Looks like the British
Navy becomes our coast guard again."