‘Not now, Oda,’ I said without stopping. ‘I’ll be away for three-quarters of an hour. Don’t take any messages.’


‘They’ll ring back if it’s important.’

Nice-looking girl, but she still had a bit to learn, Oda did. Or was it Ida?


THE TANGY SALINE taste of exhaust fumes in the autumn air evoked associations of sea, oil extraction and gross national product. Dazzling sunlight slanted on the glass of the office buildings, casting sharp, rectangular shadows over what had once been an industrial estate. Now it was a kind of urban quarter with overpriced shops, overpriced apartments and overpriced offices for overpriced consultants. I could see three fitness centres from where I stood, all of them fully booked from morning till evening. A young guy in a Corneliani suit and geek-chic glasses greeted me deferentially as we passed and I reciprocated with a gracious nod. I had no idea who he was, could only assume he would have to be from another recruitment agency. Edward W. Kelley perhaps? No one else but a headhunter would greet another headhunter with deference. Or to be precise: no one else greets me; they don’t know who I am. Firstly, I have a limited social circle when not with my wife, Diana. Secondly, I work for a company which – in common with Kelley’s – belongs to an elite, one which avoids the media spotlight, one which you believe you have never heard of until you qualify for one of the country’s top jobs, whereupon you receive a call from us and the name rings a bell: Alfa, where have you heard that before? Was it at a group management meeting in connection with the appointment of a new regional director? So you have heard of us after all. But you know nothing. For discretion is our greatest virtue. The only one we have. Of course, the majority of our work from beginning to end is lies, of the most contemptible kind, such as when you hear me rounding off the second interview with my standard mantra: ‘You’re the man I want for this job. A job for which I not only think but know you are perfect. And that means the job is perfect for you. Believe me.’

Well, OK, don’t believe me.

Yes, I reckoned it was Kelley. Or Amrop. With that suit he was definitely not from one of the large, uncool, un- exclusive agencies like Manpower or Adecco. Nor was he from one of the micro, cool ones like Hopeland, otherwise I would have known him. Although he could have been from one of the large, medium-cool ones like Mercuri Urval or Delphi, of course, or the small, uncool anonymous ones that recruit middle management and only on rare occasions are given the opportunity to compete with us, the big boys. And then lose and go back to scouting for shop managers and financial directors. And greet the likes of me with respect in the hope that one day we will remember them and offer them a job.

There is no official ranking list for headhunters, no status research as in the broker industry, nor are there award ceremonies for the gurus of the year, as in TV and advertising. But we know. We know who the king of the heap is, who the challengers are, who is heading for a fall. Triumphs take place in silence, funerals in deadly silence. But the guy who just greeted me knew I was Roger Brown, the headhunter who has never nominated a candidate for a job he did not get, who if necessary manipulates, forces, levers and rams the candidate in, who has clients who trust his judgement implicitly, who without a moment’s hesitation place their company’s fate in his – and only his – hands. To put it another way, it was not Oslo Port Authority who appointed their new traffic director last year, it was not Avis who appointed their Scandinavian director and it was quite definitely not the local authority who appointed the director of the power station in Sirdal. It was me.

I decided to make a mental note of the guy. Good suit. Knows how to show respect to the right people.

I rang Ove from a telephone box next to the Narvesen kiosk while checking my mobile phone. Eight messages. I deleted them.

‘We have a candidate,’ I said when Ove answered. ‘Jeremias Lander, Monolittveien.’

‘Shall I check if we have him?’

‘No, I know you’ve got him. He’s been selected for a second interview tomorrow. Twelve till two. Twelve hundred hours. Give me one hour. Got that?

‘Yep. Anything else?’

‘Keys. Sushi &Coffee in twenty minutes?’


I strolled down the cobbled street towards Sushi &Coffee. The reason they have chosen a road surface that makes more noise, pollutes more and in addition costs more than normal tarmac is presumably because of the need for an idyll, the desire for something traditional, lasting and authentic. More authentic than this anyway, this mock-up of a neighbourhood where once things were created by the sweat of workers’ brows, where products were crafted with a fiery hiss and the ring of hammer blows. Echoed now by the drone of the espresso machine and the clanging of iron against iron in the fitness centre. For this is the service industry’s triumph over the industrial worker, the triumph of design over the housing shortage, the triumph of fiction over reality. And I like it.

I peered at the diamond earrings that had caught my eye in the jeweller’s window opposite Sushi &Coffee. They would grace Diana’s ears to perfection. And they would spell disaster for my finances. I rejected the idea, crossed the street and entered the doorway to the place that nominally prepares sushi, but in fact just serves dead fish. However, there was nothing you could say against their coffee. Inside, it was half full. Slim platinum blondes fresh from training, still in their workout gear, because it would not occur to them to shower at a fitness centre in full view of others. Strange in a way, since they had spent a fortune on these bodies, which celebrated the triumph of fiction. They belonged to the service sector, to be more precise, the serving staff who tended to their wealthy husbands’ needs. Had these women been lacking in intelligence, that would be one thing, but they had studied law, information technology and art history as a part of their beauty treatment, they had let Norwegian taxpayers finance years at university just so that they could end up as overqualified, stay-at-home playthings and sit here exchanging confidences about how to keep their sugar daddies suitably happy, suitably jealous and suitably on their toes. Until they finally chained him down with children. And, of course, after children everything is changed, the balance of power has been turned upside down, the man castrated and held in check. Children…

‘Double cortado,’ I said, perching on one of the bar stools.

I watched the women in the mirror with satisfaction. I was a lucky man. Diana was so different from these smart, empty-brained parasites. She had everything I lacked. A caring nature. Empathy. Loyalty. Height. To sum up, she was a beautiful soul in a beautiful body. Her beauty, though, was not of the perfect kind, her proportions were too special for that. Diana had been drawn in manga-style, like those doll-like Japanese cartoon figures. She had a small face with a tiny, narrow mouth, a small nose and large eyes filled with wonderment, which had a tendency to bulge when she was tired. But in my view it was precisely these deviations from the norm that made her beauty stand out, made it striking. So what had made her choose me? A chauffeur’s son, a slightly above-average student of economics with slightly below-average prospects and well under medium height. Fifty years ago one metre sixty-eight would not have elicited the term ‘short’, at least not in most parts of Europe. And any anthropometric history would tell you that only a hundred years ago one sixty-eight was indeed the average height in Norway. However, events had taken an unfortunate turn for me.

That she had chosen me in a moment of insanity was one thing, but it was quite another, and beyond my understanding, how a woman like Diana – who could have had absolutely anyone she wanted – should wake up every morning and want me for another day. What sort of mysterious blindness was it that made her incapable of seeing my contemptibility, my treacherous nature, my weakness when I encountered adversity, my mindless wickedness when I encountered mindless wickedness? Didn’t she want to see? Or was it just guile and skill on my part that had allowed the real me to end up in this love-blessed blind spot. And then of course there was the child that I had so far denied her. What power was it I had over this angel in human form? According to Diana, the very first time we met I had bewitched her with my contradictory mixture of arrogance and self-deprecating irony. It had been during a Scandinavian student evening in London, and my first impression of Diana had been that she was just like the women sitting here: a blonde Nordic beauty from Oslo studying art history in an international metropolis, who did the odd modelling job, was against war and poverty and enjoyed partying and all things fun. It had taken three hours and half a dozen pints of Guinness before I realised that I had been wrong. First of all, she was

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