Jussi Adler-Olsen has sold more than 15 million books worldwide
A teenaged boy on the run propels Detective Carl Mørck into Department Q’s most sinister case yet
Fifteen-year-old Marco Jameson longs to become a Danish citizen and go to school like a normal teenager. Unfortunately, his Uncle Zola forces the children of their former gypsy clan to beg and steal for his personal gain. When Marco discovers a dead body that proves the true extent of Zola’s criminal activities, he goes on the run. But it turns out his family members aren’t the only ones who want to keep Marco silent forever.
Detective Carl Mørck wants to save the boy, but Marco’s trail leads him to a case that extends from Denmark to Africa, from embezzlers to child soldiers, from seemingly petty crime rings to the very darkest of cover-ups.
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Jussi Adler-Olsen lives in Denmark.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 Jussi Adler-Olsen
Louis Fon’s last morning was as soft as a whisper.
He sat up on the cot with sleep in his eyes and his mind still a muddle, patted the little one who had stroked his cheek, wiped the snot from the tip of her brown nose, and stuck his feet into his flip-flops on the stamped clay of the floor.
He stretched, squinting at the light as the cackle of hens and the distant cries of boys as they cut bananas from the palms drifted into the sunbaked room.
How peaceful it seemed as he took in the sharp aromas of the village. Only the songs of the Baka people when they gathered around their fires on the other side of the river could delight him more. As always, it felt good to return to the Dja region, and to the remote Bantu village of Somolomo.
Behind the hut, children were at play, whirling up the dust from the red earth, shrill voices prompting congregations of weaver birds to burst from the surrounding treetops.
He got to his feet and went toward the light that flooded in from the window, placing his elbows on the sill and beaming a smile at the girl’s mother who stood by the hut opposite and was about to sever the head of the day’s chicken.
It was the last time Louis would ever smile.
Some two hundred meters away a sinewy man and his escort appeared from the path by the palm grove, an ominous sign right from the start. He recognized Mbomo’s muscular frame from Yaoundé, but he had never seen the Caucasian with the chalk-white hair.
“Why is Mbomo here and who’s that with him?” he called out to the girl’s mother.
She gave a shrug. Tourists were not an unusual sight on the edge of the rain forest, so why should she be concerned? Four or five days’ trekking with the Baka in the dense chaos of the Dja jungle, wasn’t that what it was all about? At least for a European with plenty of money?
But Louis sensed something more. He could tell by the gravity of the two men and the attitude between them. Something wasn’t right. The white man was no tourist, and Mbomo had no business here in the district without first having informed Louis. After all, Louis was in charge of the Danish development project and Mbomo was merely an errand boy for the government officials in Yaoundé. Such were the roles.
Were the two men up to something he wasn’t to know about? The idea was by no means unlikely. Strange things went on all the time in the course of the project. Processes were slow, the flow of information had all but dried up, payments were continually delayed or else never transpired. Not exactly what he’d been promised when they hired him for the job.
Louis shook his head. He was a Bantu himself, from the opposite corner of Cameroon, hundreds of kilometers northwest of the village here in the borderland close to Congo. Where he came from, a suspicious nature was something you were born with and perhaps the single most important reason Louis had devoted his life to working for the gentle Baka, the pygmy people of the Dja jungle, whose origins traced back to the time when the forests were virgin. People in whose language malicious words such as “suspicion” did not even exist.
For Louis, these amiable souls were a human oasis of good feeling in an otherwise loathsome world. The close relationships he had established with the Baka and their homeland were Louis’s elixir and solace. And yet this suspicion of malice was now upon him.
Could he never be truly free of it?
He found Mbomo’s 4x4 parked behind the third row of huts, its driver fast asleep behind the wheel in a sweat-drenched soccer jersey.
“Is Mbomo looking for me, Silou?” he asked the stocky black man, who stretched his limbs and struggled to get his bearings.
The man shook his head. Apparently he had no idea what Louis was talking about.
“Who is the white man Mbomo has with him? Do you know him?” Louis persisted.
The driver yawned.
“Is he a Frenchman?”
“No,” came the reply, Silou shrugging his shoulders. “He speaks some
French, but I think he is from the north.”
“OK.” Louis felt the unease in his stomach. “Could he be a Dane?”
The driver pointed an index finger at him.
That was it. And Louis didn’t like it one bit.
When Louis wasn’t fighting for the future of the Baka, he was fighting for the animals of the forest. Every village surrounding the Baka’s jungle fostered young Bantus armed with rifles, and every day scores of mandrill and antelope fell prey to their bullets.
Though relations were tense between Louis and the poachers, he remained pragmatic enough not to turn down a lift through the bush on the back of one of their motorcycles. Three kilometers along narrow paths to the Baka village in just six minutes. Who could say no when time was of the essence?
Even as the mud-built huts appeared in front of them Louis knew what had happened, for only the smallest of the children and hungry dogs came running out to greet him.
Louis found the village chief lying flat out on a bed of palm leaves, a cloud of alcohol fumes lingering in the air above. Strewn on the ground around the semiconscious Mulungo were empty whisky bottles like the ones they thrust into your face on the other side of the river. There was no doubt the binge had gone on through the night and, judging by the silence that prevailed, it seemed equally plain that just about all the villagers had taken part.
He poked his head inside the overpopulated huts of mud and bowed palm branches, finding only a few adults capable of acknowledging his presence with a sluggish nod in his direction.
This is how they make the natives toe the line and keep their mouths shut, he thought. Just give them alcohol and drugs and they’d be in the palm of your hand.
That was it exactly.
He went back to the musty hut and kicked the chief hard in the side, causing Mulungo’s wiry body to give a start. A sheepish smile revealed a set of needle-sharp teeth, but Louis wasn’t about to be appeased.
He gestured toward the litter of bottles.
“What did you do for the money, Mulungo?” he asked.
The Baka chief lifted his head and gave a shrug. “Reason” was a concept not much used in the bush.
“Mbomo gave you the money, didn’t he? How much did he give you?”
“Ten thousand francs!” came the reply. Exact sums, especially of this order, were by contrast a matter in which the Baka took considerable interest.
Louis nodded. That bastard Mbomo. Why had he done it?
“Ten thousand,” he said. “And how often does Mbomo do this?”
Mulungo shrugged again. Time was a relative concept.
“I see you people haven’t planted the new crops as you were supposed to. Why not?”
“The money has not arrived, Louis. You know that, surely?”
“Not arrived, Mulungo? I’ve seen the transfer documents myself. The money was sent more than a month ago.”
What had happened? This was the third time reality had failed to match up with the paperwork.
Louis raised his head. Beyond the sibilant song of the cicadas, an alien sound became audible. As far as he could make out, it was a small motorcycle.
Mbomo was already on his way, Louis would bet on it. Perhaps he came to offer a plausible explanation. Louis hoped so.
He looked around. Something was certainly not right here, to say the least, but that would soon change. For although Mbomo was a head taller than Louis and had arms as strong as a gorilla’s, Louis was not afraid of him.
If the Baka were unable to answer his questions, the big man could do so himself: Why had he come? Where was the money? Why had they not begun to plant? And who was the white man Mbomo had been with?
That’s what he wanted to know.
So he stood on the open ground in the middle of the village and waited as the cloud of dust that rose up above the steaming bush slowly approached.
Even before Mbomo dismounted, Louis would go to meet him, throw his arms wide and confront him. He would threaten him with brimstone and fire and exposure to the authorities. He would tell him to his face that if he had been embezzling funds intended to help secure the Baka’s existence here in the forest, the next thing Mbomo would lay his itchy fingers on would be the bars of a cell in the Kondengui prison.
The mere mention of the place would frighten the wits out of anyone.
And then the cicadas’ song was drowned out by the noise of the small
As the motorcycle came out of the bush and entered the open ground, its tinny horn sounding, Louis noticed the heavy box on the Kawasaki’s pannier rack, and then the village came alive. Sleepy heads popped out from door openings and the more alert of the men emerged as though the subdued sloshing that issued from the box were an omen from the gods of the coming of the deluge.
Mbomo first handed out whisky bags to the many outstretched hands, then stared threateningly at Louis.
Louis knew the score at once. The machete slung over Mbomo’s shoulder was warning enough. If he didn’t retreat, it would be used against him. And with the state the pygmies were in, he would be unable to count on their help.
“There’s more where this comes from,” Mbomo declared, dumping the rest of the alcohol bags from the box onto the ground and at the same moment turning to face Louis.
As Louis instinctively began to run he heard the excited cries of the Baka behind him. If Mbomo catches me I’m done for, he thought, his eyes seeking out openings in the bush or tools the Baka might have left on the ground. Anything at all that might be used against the man who now pursued him.
Louis was lithe, much more agile than Mbomo, who had lived all his life in Douala and Yaoundé and had not learned to be wary of the undergrowth’s treacherous fabric of twisted roots, mounds, and hollows. For that reason he felt reassured as the sound of heavy footsteps behind him faded and the unfathomable network of tributary paths leading to the river opened out before him.
Now all he had to do was find one of the dugout canoes before Mbomo caught up with him. As soon as Louis crossed the river he would be safe. The people of Somolomo would protect him.
A pungent, damp smell wafted like a breeze through the green-brown bush, and an experienced guide such as Louis knew the signs. Another hundred meters and the river would be there, but the next second he was stumbling out into a swamp that sucked him down to his knees.
For a moment his arms flailed. If he didn’t find a sturdy plant to grab hold of, the mud would swallow him up in no time. And if he was too slow to extract himself, Mbomo would be on top of him. Even now the sound of his tramping feet seemed too close for comfort.
He filled his lungs with air, pressed his mouth shut, and stretched his upper body as far as he could until his joints creaked. Thin branches came away in his hand, leaves fell into his wide-open eyes. It only took fifteen seconds for him to get a hold and pull himself up, but it was two seconds too many. There was a rustling in the undergrowth and then the sudden blow of the machete from behind, lodging itself deep into Louis’s shoulder blade. The pain came swift and searing.
Instinctively Louis concentrated on remaining upright. And for that reason alone he was able to come free of the mire and get away, as Mbomo’s curses sounded through the trees.
He too had fallen foul of the swamp.
Only when Louis reached the river did he become aware of the full intensity of the pain and feel how his shirt was clinging to his back.
Drained of all energy, he sank to his knees at the water’s edge. And at that moment Louis Fon realized he was about to die.
As his body toppled forward and the fine gravel of the shore mingled with his hair, he managed to pull his phone from the side pocket of his pants and tap the Messages icon.
Every key press was accompanied by a frenzied beat of his heart as it pumped blood out of his body, and when the message was written and he tapped “Send,” he faintly registered that there was no signal.
The last thing Louis Fon sensed was the pounding of heavy footsteps on the ground next to him. And then, finally, the phone being prized from his hand.
Mbomo Ziem was satisfied. The lunging of the 4x4 over the potholes of the dark red track through the jungle toward the junction and the main road to Yaoundé would soon cease and the man beside him had thankfully refrained from passing comment on events. Everything was as it should be. He had shoved Louis Fon’s body into the river. The current and the crocodiles would take care of the rest.
All in all, things had gone well. The only person who could have posed a threat to their activities had been eliminated, and the future was once again bright.
Mission accomplished, as they said.
Mbomo looked down at the mobile phone he had snatched from the dying man’s hand. A few francs spent on a new SIM card and his son’s birthday present would be taken care of.
And as he pictured the gleeful smile on the boy’s face, the display lit up in his hand to indicate the signal had returned.
Then a few seconds passed before a discreet little beep confirmed that a text message had been sent.
René E. Eriksen had never been a cautious man. It was perhaps why he had gone from success to failure and back again in an endless chain of unpredictable events, which in the greater perspective nonetheless gave rise to a certain degree of satisfaction with his life. At the end of the day he put it all down to some kind of innate luck.
Yet in spite of this, René was by nature a pensive soul. When faced by the big questions and confrontations of childhood, he had often sought refuge behind his mother’s skirts. Accordingly, in adult life he instinctively made sure always to have a reasonably foolproof exit strategy on hand when casting himself into uncharted depths.
For that reason he had taken time to think things through when his good friend and former schoolmate Teis Snap, now managing director of Karrebæk Bank, had called him up that afternoon at his office in the ministry and put forward a proposal a man in René’s elevated public position under normal circumstances would have considered highly inappropriate.
The bank crises had yet to begin wreaking havoc, but these were days in which the greed of speculators and the irresponsibility of government financial policy were becoming plain to anyone who earned a living lending money.
That was why Teis Snap called.
“I’m afraid to say that Karrebæk Bank will go bust within two months unless we can get our hands on extra capital,” he’d said.
“What about my shares?” René blurted out with a frown, his heart already pounding at the thought of the first-class retirement under Mediterranean palms he had been promised now collapsing like a house of cards.
“What can I say? If we don’t come up with something drastic right away, we’re going to lose everything we own. That’s the reality of the matter, I’m afraid,” Snap replied.
The silence that ensued was a pause between friends. The kind of interlude that left no room for protest or more abstract comment.
René allowed his head to drop for a moment and inhaled so deeply it hurt. So this was the situation, and swift action was imperative. He felt his stomach knot, perspiration cold on his brow, but as head of office in the ...
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Book Description Plume, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 014218196X