We no longer allow book requests because many readers have abused the feature.

The Trap: Chapter 10


I’m sitting in my favourite armchair, looking out into the darkness and waiting for the sun to rise. The edge of the woods lies before me. I would love to see an animal in the cool light of the stars, but nothing stirs. Only an indefatigable owl gives a hoot every now and then.

A clear sky arches over the treetops. Who knows how many stars are really up there. Stars only have one means of telling us that they no longer exist: they stop shining. But if a star is a thousand light years away and stopped shining yesterday, then it would, in theory, be a thousand years before we found out on Earth.

Nothing is certain.

I curl up in my armchair and try to nap. An interesting day lies behind me, and a hardworking night. Tomorrow I have an important talk with an expert and want to be prepared.

It’s soon clear to me that I’m not going to sleep. I try to relax in my armchair, to build up a bit of energy even without sleeping. My gaze rests on the meadow behind the house, and the glistening shore of the lake. I sit there like that for a long time. At first I think I’m imagining things when the stars seem to shine paler and the sky begins to change colour. But then I hear the birds twittering through the window; they start up as if an invisible conductor had signalled to them with raised baton. Then I know the sun is rising. To begin with, it is a mere gleaming streak behind the trees, but soon it starts to climb, vast and blazing.

It is a miracle. I remind myself that I am on a tiny planet that is moving at an insane speed through a boundless universe, never tiring of its flight around the sun, and I think to myself: it’s crazy. That we exist at all, that the Earth exists and the sun and the stars, and that I can sit here and see and feel all this. It’s incredible; it’s a miracle. If this is possible, anything’s possible.

The moment passes. A clear morning lies before me. I glance at the time. It will be another few hours before the man arrives to teach me about interrogation techniques.

I get up, make myself tea, fetch my laptop and sit down at the kitchen table. I have another quick look at the article I’d studied the night before. When Bukowski comes lumbering up to me, I let him out and watch him go to meet the day.

When the time comes, the sun has long since passed its zenith. I’m sitting in the kitchen with Charlotte, who’s brought around the week’s shopping.

‘Would you mind taking the dog out again before you knock off?’ I ask.

‘Sure, no problem.’

Charlotte knows I like to be left alone with my experts; she knows that’s the only reason I’m sending her out again with Bukowski. I look out of the window and watch the gardener cutting the grass. He raises a hand in greeting when he sees me. I wave back and close the window in the room where I plan to receive Dr Christensen.

Less than half an hour later, I’m sitting across from him. The blond German-American has icy blue eyes. His handshake is firm and I can only withstand his gaze because I’ve put in a substantial amount of practice over the past weeks. Charlotte has been gone a while; dusk is falling. I arranged this private consultation some weeks ago and had to cough up a great deal of money to get Christensen to come to my house. He is an expert in wringing confessions from criminals. His speciality is the notorious Reid technique, a questioning method not officially permitted in Germany, which employs a range of psychological tools and tricks to make the suspect break down.

Maybe it’s naïve to hope that Lenzen will confess.

But having got so far, I want to be as well prepared as possible. I must somehow get him to talk to me beyond the framework of the interview—ask him questions, get him to tie himself up in contradictions, provoke him if necessary, and somehow pin him down. If there’s anyone who can help me find out how to impose my will on a criminal and talk him into confessing, it’s Dr Arthur Christensen.

And in case Lenzen is a tough nut to crack, I always have something else up my sleeve…

When Christensen realised that I wasn’t interested in his theoretical explanations (which you can easily mug up on in the specialist literature on the subject) but in quite concrete information on how to break a culprit and force him to confess—that is to say, how it works in practice and what it feels like—he seemed peeved. But the large sum of money I was prepared to spend, combined with his realisation that I am not a criminal mastermind but merely a sick, weak woman novelist, persuaded him to demonstrate his skills to me.

So now we’re sitting face-to-face. I’ve done my homework. Christensen has suggested demonstrating his method of interrogation on me: that seemed the most straightforward way of showing me what it feels like to be put through the Reid technique. He began the consultation by asking me to think of something I was particularly ashamed of—something that I never wanted to reveal. Of course, I came up with something, just as anybody would have done, and now Christensen is trying to wheedle the information out of me.

He’s getting closer. Over an hour ago he understood that it’s something to do with my family. His questions are getting more penetrating and I am getting thinner-skinned. To begin with, I felt indifference towards Christensen, maybe even sympathy. I have come to detest him: for his questions, for his persistence, for the fact that he won’t leave me in peace. He instructs me to sit down again when I want to go to the loo. Reprimands me every time I want to drink anything. I’m not allowed to drink until I’ve confessed. When he saw me wrap my arms around myself because I was shivering, he opened all the windows in the room.

Christensen has the habit of constantly clearing his throat. I didn’t notice at first, but when I did I dismissed it as an endearing mannerism. Now it’s driving me crazy, and every time he does it I want to jump up and yell at him to bloody well stop it. Stress brings out the worst in me—my irritability, my quick temper. Everyone has triggers. Mine are mainly acoustic: throat-clearing, sniffing, or that noise when someone chews gum and keeps popping the bubbles. Anna was always doing that, often only because she knew it annoyed me—I could have killed her!

The thought has hardly taken shape in my mind before I’m ashamed of myself. How could I think such a thing? Christensen is tenderising me; I’m starting to yield. I’m tired, I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty. Following Christensen’s instructions, I didn’t sleep last night and have hardly eaten all day. If I were in custody under his supervision, says Christensen, he’d have made damn sure that I went hungry and got as little sleep as possible.

‘It’s astonishing how quickly we start to crack up when we’re deprived of the mainstays of our physical wellbeing,’ Christensen had explained to me on the phone.

I am not, it is true, going to be in a position to deprive my sister’s murderer of food or sleep, but I am at least learning to cope better in situations of tremendous stress. Who knows whether I’ll sleep at all in the nights before the interview with Lenzen—or manage to eat.

Christensen’s questions go on and on. I’m sick of them. I’m tired. Above all, I’m emotionally exhausted. I’d really like to tell him everything, to get it over and done with. And why not—it’s only an exercise, after all.

But I realise this is a dangerous way of thinking. Just the kind of self-justification that might trigger my capitulation. I notice that I’m sweating, in spite of the cold.

When Christensen finally leaves, I feel as if I’ve been through a mincer. Physically and mentally drained. Burnt out. Empty.

‘Everyone has a breaking point,’ he’d said to me towards the end of the consultation. ‘Some people reach theirs sooner, others later. It all depends on how much a secret is worth protecting, or what far-reaching consequences a confession might have.’

I open the front door to see him out. It’s late. He lays a genial hand on my shoulder and I try my hardest not to flinch at the contact.

‘You’ve done a good job today,’ he says. ‘You’re a tough nut.’

I wonder whether I’d feel better if I’d given in—more relieved. Part of me wanted to share my secret. I wonder whether people like Victor Lenzen feel the same. I wanted to confess.

But I didn’t reveal my secret. I didn’t reach my breaking point.

I try to recover my equilibrium. I close the windows and warm myself. I eat and drink. I have a shower and wash away the cold sweat. Only sleep will have to wait. I divide my day up strictly. I write early in the morning, then I do research and work out, and after that I return to my desk, often working far on into the night. I’m so exhausted I’d love to take tonight off, but there’s still so much to be done if I’m to meet the deadline—and I have to meet the deadline.

I sit down at my desk and open my laptop. If I’m going to proceed in sequence, I must now write something difficult about grief and feelings of guilt. I stare at the empty screen. I can’t, not now. I want to write something nice today, after such a strenuous day—one nice chapter in this horrific story.

I sit and think. I remember what I was like twelve years ago—what I felt, what it felt like to be me. Another life. I think back to a particular night in my old flat and notice a wry smile creep across my face. I had forgotten what it’s like to have a happy memory. I take a deep breath and begin to write, immersing myself in my old life. I see everything in all its colours, hear a familiar voice, breathe in the smell of my old home—relive everything. It feels lovely—almost real. I don’t want to return to the present when I get to the end of the chapter, but I have no choice. It is deep into the night when I look up from the laptop. I am hungry and thirsty. I press save and close the file. But I can’t resist opening it again, rereading and warming myself at the memory of life as it once was.

After I’ve read it through, I tell myself that it’s too private, that this book isn’t about me. I’m writing it for Anna, not for myself, and nice chapters have no business to be there. I close the file, about to drag it to Trash, when I change my mind; I create a new folder called ‘Nina Simone’ and put it in there. I open a new Word document and psych myself up to write what has to be written next.

Not tomorrow, but now.

9

JONAS

On the short flight of steps up to his house, someone was sitting, smoking. It had been dark for some time but, as Jonas rounded the corner, he could see the figure from a distance. As he got nearer, he realised that it was a woman. She took a drag on her cigarette and her face lit up in the glow. It was the witness he’d met the other day. Jonas’s heart began to beat faster. What was she doing here?

He felt uneasy about encountering her like this. He was drenched in sweat from head to foot. Mia was out with her girlfriends, so he’d finally taken the time to go for a long jog in the nearby woods and mull things over. He’d pondered on how swiftly things had changed between him and Mia—and unprovoked. No lies, no affairs, not even the usual rows about having children or buying a house. No major scenes of any kind. They still liked one another a lot. But they no longer loved one another.

The realisation had hit him harder than the disclosure of an affair. Presumably he was to blame because, even leaving aside what had been going on in their relationship, he’d been feeling odd lately, kind of cut off from life, as if in a diving bell. It wasn’t Mia’s fault; the feeling had been dogging him for ages, a vague phantom pain that made him afraid he’d never be able to understand anyone, or be understood. He felt it at work. He felt it when he was talking to his friends. He’d felt it at the theatre.

Sometimes he wondered whether this diving-bell feeling was normal, whether this was what it felt like to enter a midlife crisis. But, then, it was a bit early for that. He’d only recently turned thirty.

Jonas brushed the thought away, took a deep breath and approached the woman with the cigarette.

‘Good evening,’ she said.

‘Good evening,’ Jonas replied. ‘What are you doing here, Frau…’

‘Please, call me Sophie.’

Jonas knew that he should send her away; it was impertinent of her to come and waylay him in private like this. He should send her away, go inside, have a shower and forget all about this curious encounter.

Instead he sat down.

‘All right then: Sophie. What are you doing here?’

She seemed to reflect for a moment.

‘I’d like to know what happens next,’ she said.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘You asked me what I’m doing here. I’m here to ask you what happens next. In the…’ She faltered. ‘In the case.’

Jonas contemplated the young woman beside him, shrouded in cigarette smoke, her long legs bent like a wounded grasshopper’s, one arm flung around her body, as if she felt cold in spite of the summer heat.

‘Shouldn’t we discuss this in my office tomorrow?’ he asked, knowing he was going to have to take a firmer line if he really wanted to get rid of her.

Then why don’t I? he wondered.

‘Now that I’m here, we might as well talk.’

‘I don’t know what to say.’ Jonas said with a sigh. ‘We’ll continue to gather all the evidence we can. We’ll take a very close look at what forensics say. We’ll talk to a great many people—we’ll do what we can. That’s our job.’

‘You’ll find the murderer,’ Sophie said. It was not a question.

Jonas grimaced. What had he gone and promised her? He should have got a grip on himself. The scene of the crime was a forensic nightmare. Only a few nights before her death, Britta Peters, the murder victim, had hosted a birthday party in her flat for a friend—a party that had been attended by almost sixty people. Almost sixty people who’d left enormous quantities of fingerprints and traces of DNA all over the flat. If the identikit picture didn’t yield anything and the victim’s acquaintances couldn’t come up with any relevant evidence, it was going to be tricky.

‘We’ll do our best,’ said Jonas.

Sophie nodded. She took a drag on her cigarette.

‘Something wasn’t right in Britta’s flat,’ she said. ‘I can’t work out what it was.’

Jonas knew that feeling—like a low note that you hear not with your ears but with your belly.

‘Can I have one too?’ he asked. ‘A cigarette, I mean.’

‘This is my last. But you can have a drag.’

Jonas took the lit cigarette that Sophie held out to him. Her fingertips brushed his. He took a deep drag and returned the cigarette. Sophie raised it to her mouth.

‘I think Britta was an accidental victim,’ she said.

‘May I ask why you think that?’

‘No one who knew her could have done a thing like that,’ Sophie said. ‘No one.’

Jonas was silent. Again he accepted the cigarette that Sophie held out to him, took a drag, gave it back. Sophie stubbed it out in silence. She sat there beside him, staring into the darkness.

‘Can I tell you about Britta?’ she asked eventually.

Jonas didn’t have the heart to say no. He nodded. Sophie was silent again, for a while, as if wondering where to begin.

‘Once, when Britta was five or six, we went up to town with our parents,’ she began at length. ‘We were walking along the street with ice-cream cones in our hands—it was summer; I remember it like yesterday. Sitting on the pavement was this homeless man, dressed in rags caked with dirt, a mangy dog beside him, and bottles in a shopping trolley. We’d never seen a homeless person. I was appalled, because he smelt so bad and looked so ill and because I was scared of his dog. But Britta was curious; she said something to him—“Hello, mister” or something—the kind of thing children say to strangers sometimes. The man grinned at her and said, “Hello, young lady.” My parents hurried us past him, but somehow Britta couldn’t get the man out of her head. She went on pestering my parents with her questions for hours afterwards. What was the matter with the man and why did he look so funny and why had he talked so funny and smelt so funny? My parents told her that the man was probably ill and didn’t have a home. From then on, whenever we went up to town with my parents, Britta would pack some food to take with her, and always looked out for him.’

‘Did she find him?’

‘No. But it wasn’t just that man, you know. I can’t begin to tell you how many injured animals Britta brought home for our parents to help nurse back to health. When Britta was twelve she started work as a volunteer in an animal refuge. Since moving into town she’s worked in a soup kitchen for the homeless. She never forgot that man, you see?’

Jonas nodded. He tried to imagine her alive, the delicate blonde woman now lying in forensics, tried to imagine her running around, going about her everyday life, talking to her sister, laughing. But he couldn’t. He’d always found it impossible to imagine murder victims alive. He never got to know them in life, only ever in death, and with his weak powers of imagination he was unable to envisage anything else.

‘It’s so easy to ridicule,’ Sophie said. ‘It’s so easy to belittle people like Britta—to call them do-gooders. But Britta really was that way: not a do-gooder, but someone who actually did good.’

Jonas looked at her, trying to picture her together with her sister. The two women were so unalike—the delicate, elfin Britta, with her long hair and who, in all the photos he’d seen of her, emanated shyness and fragility; and Sophie, with her short hair and boyish appearance, who seemed so tough in spite of all she was going through.

‘Stabbed seven times,’ Sophie said, and Jonas started. ‘I saw it in the paper. Can you imagine what it did to my parents, reading that?’ she asked.

Jonas nodded his head automatically—and then shook it. He couldn’t, not really.

‘You have to find him,’ Sophie said.

Jonas looked at her. The light, which had been triggered by the motion detector when he’d approached the house, went out. Sophie’s eyes gleamed in the dark. For a second, Jonas felt himself sinking into them. Sophie returned his gaze. Then the moment passed.

‘I’d better be going,’ she said abruptly, and stood up.

Jonas stood too. He picked up her leather bag from the steps and handed it to her.

‘God, it’s heavy. What have you got in there? Weights?’

‘Books,’ Sophie replied, swinging the bag over her shoulder. ‘I find it comforting always having something to read with me.’

‘I can understand that,’

‘Really? Do you like reading too?’

‘Well, to be honest, I don’t know when I last picked up a book,’ Jonas said. ‘I don’t have the patience for novels. I used to be obsessed with poetry. Verlaine, Rimbaud, Keats—anything in that line.’

‘Oh God,’ Sophie groaned. ‘Right from being at school I couldn’t stand poetry. If I’d had to recite Rilke’s “The Panther” one more time in Year Nine, I think I’d have gone crazy. “Its gaze, from pacing by the passing bars / Is so worn out that it can hold no more…”’

She shuddered in mock horror.

Jonas had to grin.

‘You’re unfair to good old Rilke,’ he said. ‘Who knows, maybe one day I’ll try to convince you to give poetry another chance. You might like Whitman, or Thoreau.’ Even as he said the words, he cursed himself. What was he doing?

‘I’d like that,’ said Sophie.

She turned to leave.

‘Thank you for your time. And sorry for bothering you.’

She disappeared into the night. Jonas watched her go for a moment. Then he turned back and climbed the steps to the front door.

He paused in amazement.

The diving-bell feeling had vanished.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset