- Title: Murder on the the Thirty-first Floor (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
- Author: Per Wahloo
- Released: 2013-02-26
- Pages: 224
- ISBN: 0307744450
- ISBN13: 978-0307744456
- ASIN: 0307744450
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Chapter 1
The alarm was raised at exactly 13.02. The chief of police phoned the order through personally to the Sixteenth police District and ninety seconds later the alarm bell sounded in the oper-ational rooms and administrative offices on the ground floor. It was still ringing when Inspector Jensen got down from his room. Jensen was a middle-aged police officer of normal build, with an unlined and expressionless face. On the bottom step of the spiral staircase he stopped and let his eyes scan the reception area. He adjusted his tie and went out to his car.
The midday traffic was heavy, a mass of gleaming sheet metal, and the buildings of the city, a maze of glass and concrete pillars, rose from the stream of cars. In this world of hard surfaces, the people on the pavements looked homeless and dissatisfied. They were well dressed but strangely identical, and all of them were in a hurry. They swarmed on their way in jerky queues, clotting at red lights and fast-food outlets of shiny chrome. They looked constantly about them and fiddled with their briefcases and handbags.
Sirens wailing, the police cars bored through the crush.
Inspector Jensen was travelling in the first vehicle, a dark blue, standard-issue, PVC-panelled police car; it was followed by a van with grey bodywork, bars at the windows of the rear doors and a flashing light on the roof.
The police chief came through via the radio control room.
‘Where are you?’
‘In front of the Trades Union Palace . . .’
‘Have you got the sirens on?’
‘Turn them off as soon as you’re through the square.’
‘The traffic’s really bad.’
‘It can’t be helped. You’ve got to avoid attracting attention.’
‘The reporters are tuned in to us all the time, anyway.’
‘You needn’t worry about them. I’m thinking about the public. The man in the street.’
‘Are you in uniform?’
‘Good. What manpower have you got with you?’
‘One, plus four from the plainclothes patrol. And then the police van, with an additional nine constables. In uniform.’
‘Only those in plain clothes are to show themselves inside or in the immediate vicinity of the building. Have the van set down half the men three hundred metres before you get there. Then it can drive straight past and park higher up, at a safe distance.’
‘Close off the main street and the side roads leading into it.’
‘If anyone asks, the closure’s for emergency roadworks. Something like . . .’
He tailed off.
‘A burst pipe in the district heating system?’
There was a crackle on the line.
‘You’ll remember about the titles business?’
‘The titles business?’
‘I thought everybody knew. You mustn’t refer to any of them as Director.’
‘They’re very sensitive on that point.’
‘I’m sure I don’t need to re-emphasise the delicate nature of the operation?’
A mechanical rushing sound. Something that could have been a sigh, deep and metallic.
‘Where are you now?’
‘The south side of the square. In front of the workers’ monument.’
‘Turn off the sirens.’
‘Space the vehicles out more.’
‘I’m sending all available radio patrol cars as backup. They’ll come up to the parking area. Hold them in reserve.’
‘Where are you?’
‘The highway on the north side of the square. I can see the building.’
The road was broad and straight, with six lanes and a narrow, white-painted traffic island along the middle. Behind a tall, wire-mesh fence running along the western side there was an embankment, and at the bottom a vast long-distance lorry depot with hundreds of warehouses and white and red trucks queuing at the loading platforms. A number of people were moving about down there, mainly packers and drivers in white boiler suits and red caps.
The road ran uphill, cutting through a ridge of solid rock that had been blasted away. Its eastern side was a wall of granite, its irregularities smoothed over with concrete. It was pale blue, with rusty vertical stripes caused by the reinforcement bars, and just visible above it were the tops of a few leafless trees. From down below you couldn’t see the buildings beyond the trees, but Jensen knew they were there, and what they looked like. One of them was a mental hospital.
At its highest point, the road came level with the top of the ridge and curved slightly to the right. And that was where the Skyscraper stood; it was one of the tallest buildings in the country, its elevated position making it visible from all over the city. You could always see it there above you, and whatever direction you were coming from, it seemed to be the point towards which your approach road was leading.
The Skyscraper had a square layout and thirty floors. Each of its façades had four hundred and fifty windows and a white clock with red hands. Its exterior was of glass, the panels dark blue at ground level, fading gradually to lighter shades on the higher floors.
To Jensen, peering through the windscreen, the Skyscraper seemed to shoot up out of the ground and grow into the cold, cloudless spring sky.
Still with the radio telephone pressed to his ear, he leaned forward. The Skyscraper enlarged to fill his entire field of vision.
‘I’m relying on you. It’s your job now to make an assessment of the situation.’
There was a brief, crackling pause. Then the police chief gave a hesitant:
‘Over and out.’
The rooms on the eighteenth floor were carpeted in pale blue. There were two large model ships in display cases and a reception area with easy chairs and kidney-shaped tables.
In a room with glass walls sat three unoccupied young women. One of them glanced in the visitor’s direction and said:
‘Can I help you?’
‘My name’s Jensen. It’s urgent.’
She rose lazily, crossed the floor with light, practised nonchalance and opened a door: ‘There’s someone called Jensen here.’
Her legs were shapely and her waist slim. Her clothes displayed no taste.
Another woman appeared in the doorway. She looked a little older, though not much, and had blonde hair, distinct features and a generally antiseptic appearance.
She looked past her assistant and said:
‘Come in. You’re expected.’
The corner room had six windows and the city lay spread below them, as unreal and lifeless as a model on a topographical map. In spite of the dazzling sun, the view and visibility were superb, the daylight clear and cold. The colours in the room were clean and hard and the walls very light, as were the floor covering and the tubular steel furniture.
There was a glass-fronted cabinet between the windows, containing silver coloured cups, engraved with wreaths of oak leaves and borne aloft by bases of black wood. Most of the cups were crowned with naked archers or eagles with outspread wings.
On the desk stood an intercom, a very large stainless steel ashtray and an ivory coloured cobra.
On top of the glass-fronted cabinet was a red-and-white flag on a chrome stand, designed for tabletop use, and under the desk there were a pair of pale yellow sandals and an empty aluminium waste-paper bin.
In the middle of the desk lay a letter, marked special delivery.
There were two men in the room.
One of them was standing at one end of the desk, his fingertips resting on the polished surface. He was wearing a well-pressed dark suit, hand-stitched black shoes, a white shirt and a silver-grey silk tie. His face was smooth and servile, his hair neatly combed and his eyes almost canine behind thick, horn-rimmed glasses. Jensen had often seen faces like that, particularly on television.
The other man, who looked somewhat younger, was wearing yellow-and-white-striped socks, light brown trousers and a loose white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck. He was kneeling on a chair over by one of the windows with his chin in his hand and his elbows resting on the white marble sill. He was blond and blue-eyed and had no shoes on.
Jensen showed his ID and took a step towards the desk.
‘Are you in charge here, sir?
The man in the silk tie shook his head deprecatingly and backed away from the desk with slight bowing movements and vague but eager gestures towards the window. His smile defied analysis.
The blond man slid from the chair and came padding across the floor. He gave Jensen a short, hearty shake of the hand. Then he indicated the desk.
‘There,’ he said.
The envelope was white, and very ordinary. It had three stamps on it and, in the bottom left hand corner, the red special delivery sticker. Inside the envelope was a sheet of paper, folded in four. Both the address and the message itself were composed of individual letters of the alphabet, obviously cut out of a newspaper or magazine. The paper seemed to be of extremely good quality and the size looked rather unusual. Jensen held the sheet between th... pdf