Voices

FIRST DAY

1

Elínborg was waiting for them at the hotel.

A large Christmas tree stood in the lobby and there were decorations, fir branches and glittering baubles all around. 'Silent night, holy night', over an invisible sound system. A large shuttle coach stood in front of the hotel and a group approached the reception desk. Tourists who were planning to spend Christmas and the New Year in Iceland because it seemed to them like an adventurous and exciting country. Although they had only just landed, many had apparently already bought traditional Icelandic sweaters, and they checked into the exotic land of winter. Erlendur brushed the sleet off his raincoat. Sigurdur Óli looked around the lobby and caught sight of Elínborg by the lifts. He tugged at Erlendur and they walked over to her. She had examined the scene. The first police officers to arrive there had made sure that it would remain untouched.

The hotel manager had asked them not to cause a fracas. Used that phrase when he rang. This was a hotel and hotels thrive on their reputations, and he asked them to take that into account. So there were no sirens outside, nor uniformed policemen bursting in through the lobby. The manager said that at all costs they should avoid arousing fear among the guests.

Iceland mustn't be too exciting, too much of an adventure.

Now he was standing next to Elínborg and greeted Erlendur and Sigurdur Óli with a handshake. He was so fat that his suit hardly encompassed his body. His jacket was done up across the stomach by one button that was on the verge of giving up. The top of his trousers was hidden beneath a huge paunch that bulged out of his jacket and the man sweated so furiously that he could never put away the large white handkerchief with which he mopped his forehead and the back of his neck at regular intervals. The white collar of his shirt was soaked in perspiration. Erlendur shook his clammy hand.

'Thank you,' the hotel manager said, puffing like a grampus. In his twenty years of managing the hotel he had never encountered anything like this.

'In the middle of the Christmas rush,' he groaned. 'I can't understand how this could happen! How could it happen?' he repeated, leaving them in no doubt as to how totally perplexed he was.

'Is he up or down?' Erlendur asked.

'Up or down?' the fat manager puffed. 'Do you mean whether he's gone to heaven?'

'Yes,' Erlendur said. 'That's exactly what we need to know...'

'Shall we take the lift upstairs?' Sigurdur Óli asked.

'No,' the manager said, casting an irritated look at Erlendur. 'He's down here in the basement. He's got a little room there. We didn't want to chuck him out. And then you get this for your troubles.'

'Why would you have wanted to chuck him out?' Erlendur asked.

The hotel manager looked at him but did not reply.

They walked slowly down the stairs beside the lift. The manager went first. Going down the stairs was a strain for him and Erlendur wondered how he would get back up.

Apart from Erlendur, they had agreed to show a certain amount of consideration, to try to approach the hotel as discreetly as possible. Three police cars were parked at the back, with an ambulance. Police officers and paramedics had gone in through the back door. The district medical officer was on his way. He would certify the death and call out a van to transport the body.

They walked down a long corridor with the panting manager leading the way. Plain-clothes policemen greeted them. The corridor grew darker the further they walked,