Jo Nesbo




The squeals were calling her. Like acoustic spears they pierced all the other noises of the night in Oslo city centre: the regular drone of cars outside the window, the distant siren that rose and fell, and the church bells that had begun to chime nearby. She went on the hunt for food. She ran her nose over the filthy linoleum on the kitchen floor. Registering and sorting the sounds as quick as lightning into three categories: edible, threatening or irrelevant for survival. The pungent smell of grey cigarette ash. The sugary sweet aroma of blood on a piece of cotton wool. The bitter odour of beer on the inside of a bottle cap, Ringnes lager. The gas molecules of sulphur, saltpetre and carbon dioxide filtered up from an empty metal cartridge case designed for a lead bullet of nine by eighteen millimetres, also called a Makarov after the gun to which the calibre was originally adapted. Smoke from a still- smouldering cigarette with a yellow filter and black paper, bearing the Russian imperial eagle. The tobacco was edible. And there: a stench of alcohol, leather, grease and tarmac. A shoe. She sniffed it. And decided it was not as easy to eat as the jacket in the wardrobe, the one that smelt of petrol and the rotten animal from which it was made. Then the rat brain concentrated on how to force its way through what lay in front of her. She had tried from both sides, tried to squeeze past, but, despite the fact that she was only twenty-five centimetres long and weighed well under half a kilo, she couldn’t. The obstacle lay on its side with its back to the wall blocking the entrance to the nest, and her eight newly born, blind, hairless babies were screaming ever louder for her milk. The mountain of flesh smelt of salt, sweat and blood. It was a human body. A living human being; her sensitive ears could detect the faint heartbeats between her babies’ hungry squeals.

She was frightened, but she had no choice. Feeding her young took precedence over all dangers, all exertions, all her other instincts. Then she stood with her nose in the air waiting for the solution to come to her.

The church bells were ringing in time with the human heart now. One beat, two. Three, four…

She bared her rat teeth.

July. Shit. You should not die in July. Is that really church bells I can hear, or were there hallucinogens in the bloody bullets? OK, so it stops here. And what sodding difference does it make? Here or there. Now or later. But did I really deserve to die in July? With the birds singing, bottles clinking, laughter from down by the Akerselva and fricking summer merriment right outside your window? Did I deserve to be lying on the floor of an infected junkie pit with an extra orifice in my body, from which it all runs out: life, seconds and flashbacks of everything that led me here? Everything, big and small, the whole bundle of fortuitous and semi-determined events; is that me, is that everything, is that my life? I had plans, didn’t I? And now it is no more than a bag of dust, a joke without a punchline, so short that I could have told it before that insane bell stopped ringing. Fires of hell! No one told me it would hurt so much to die. Are you there now, Dad? Don’t go, not now. Listen, the joke goes like this: my name’s Gusto. I lived to the age of nineteen. You were a bad guy who porked a bad woman and nine months later I popped out and was shipped to a foster family before I could say ‘Dad’! And there I caused as much trouble as I could. They just wrapped the suffocating care blanket around even tighter and asked me what I wanted to calm me down. A fricking ice cream? They had no bloody idea that people like you and me would end up shot at some point, eradicated like a pest, that we spread contagion and decay and would multiply like rats if we got the chance. They have only themselves to blame. But they also want things. Everyone wants something. I was thirteen the first time I saw in my foster-mother’s eyes what she wanted.

‘You’re so handsome, Gusto,’ she said. She had entered the bathroom — I had left the door open, and refrained from turning on the shower so that the sound wouldn’t warn her. She stood there for exactly a second too long before going out. And I laughed, because now I knew. That is my talent, Dad: I can see what people want. Have I taken after you? Were you like that as well? After she had gone out I looked at myself in the large mirror. She wasn’t the first to say it: that I was handsome. I had developed earlier than the other boys. Tall, slim, already broad-shouldered and muscular. Hair so black it gleamed, as if all light bounced off it. High cheekbones. Square chin. A big, greedy mouth, but with lips as full as a girl’s. Smooth, tanned skin. Brown, almost black eyes. ‘The brown rat’, one of the boys in the class had called me. Didrik, think that was his name. He was going to be a concert pianist. I had turned fifteen, and he said it out loud in the classroom. ‘That brown rat can’t even read properly.’

I just laughed and, of course, I knew why he had said it. Knew what he wanted. Kamilla. He was secretly in love with her; she was not quite so secretly in love with me. At the class party I had had a grope to feel what she had under her jumper. Which was not a great deal. I had mentioned it to a couple of the boys and I suppose Didrik must have picked up on it, and decided to shut me out. Not that I was so bloody concerned about being ‘in’, but bullying is bullying. So I went to Tutu at the MC club, the bikers. I had already done a bit of hash dealing for them at school, and said that I needed some respect if I was going to do a decent job. Tutu said he would take care of Didrik. Later Didrik refused to explain to anyone how he had got two fingers caught under the top hinge of the boys’ toilet door, but he never called me ‘brown rat’ again. And — right — he never became a concert pianist, either. Shit, this hurts so much! No, I don’t need any consoling, Dad, I need a fix. One last shot and then I’ll leave this world without any bother, I promise. There, the church bell has rung again. Dad?


It was almost midnight at Gardermoen, Oslo’s principal airport, as SK-459 from Bangkok taxied into its allocated spot by Gate 46. Captain Tord Schultz braked and brought the Airbus 340 to a complete halt; then he quickly switched off the fuel supply. The metallic whine from the jet engines sank through the frequencies to a good-natured growl before dying. Tord Schultz automatically noted the time, three minutes and forty seconds since touchdown, twelve minutes before the scheduled time. He and the first officer started the checklist for shutdown and parking as the plane was to remain there overnight. With the goods. He flicked through the briefcase containing the log. September 2011. In Bangkok it was still the rainy season and had been steaming hot as usual, and he had longed for home and the first cool autumn evenings. Oslo in September. There was no better place on earth. He filled in the form for the remaining fuel. The fuel bill. He had had to find a way of accounting for it. After flights from Amsterdam or Madrid he had flown faster than was economically reasonable, burning off thousands of kroner worth of fuel to make it. In the end, his boss had carpeted him.

‘To make what?’ he had yelled. ‘You didn’t have any passengers with connecting flights!’

‘The world’s most punctual airline,’ Tord Schultz had mumbled, quoting the advertising slogan.

‘The world’s most economically fucked-up airline! Is that the best explanation you can come up with?’

Tord Schultz had shrugged. After all, he couldn’t say the reason, that he had opened the fuel nozzles because there was something he himself had to make. The flight he had been put on, the one to Bergen, Trondheim or Stavanger. It was extremely important that he did the trip and not one of the other pilots.

He was too old for them to do anything else to him but rant and rave. He had avoided making serious errors, the organisation took care of him, and there were only a few years left before he reached the two fives, fifty-five, and would be retired whatever happened. Tord Schultz sighed. A few years to fix things, to avert ending up as the world’s most economically fucked-up pilot.

He signed the log, got up and left the cockpit to flash his row of pearly-white pilot teeth set in his tanned pilot face to the passengers. The smile that would tell them that he was Mr Confidence in person. Pilot. The professional title that had once made him something in other people’s eyes. He had seen it, how people, men and women, young and old, once the magic word ‘pilot’ had been enunciated, had looked at him and discovered not only the charisma,

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