As I stepped off the path, Denny Hinckley materialised from behind the trees
Icehotel: Episode 33
Imade to go, but he put out an arm, barring my way. I was surprised at the gesture. “You say you’ve been speaking to Marcellus?” There was a hint of menace in lawyer Aaron Vandenberg’s voice. I stepped back. “That’s right.” “May I ask about what?” I was tempted to tell him to mind his own business. “Small-talk, mainly. He told me about his work with the Bibby Foundation. And Wilson’s schools’ programme.”
The man relaxed visibly.
“Why are you so concerned about my conversation with Marcellus, Mr Vandenberg?”
His composure had returned. “I’m not concerned.” He spoke lazily. “If I sounded concerned, it was for Marcellus’s wellbeing. He’s had a nasty shock. He was close to his father.”
“Have you known Marcellus long?”
“Long enough.” He dismissed me with a look of indifference. “Enjoy your walk.”
Interesting. Aaron Vandenberg might be concerned for Marcellus’s welfare, but he was more concerned about the nature of his conversations. What secrets did he think Marcellus was going to spill? Something was rattling the family lawyer.
I trudged down the path between the ice statues, leaving him standing, a statue himself.
I took the path by the chapel and made for the bank. The sun was climbing into the sky and the distant river was a dark scar on a white face.
As I stepped off the path, Denny Hinckley materialised from behind the trees. He parked himself beside the brazier and warmed his hands as though he’d been there for hours.
“Well, hello there,” he said, in mock surprise. I was in no mood for politeness. “Not again, Mr Hinckley.” I took in the thick white snowsuit, the hood up, fur framing his face. “Are you in camouflage so you can lie in wait for people?”
“Look, Maggie, we got off on the wrong foot –” “It’s Maggie now? You seem to be taking a lot for granted.”
“Give me a break, love. I was trying to put you at your ease.” He produced a packet of cigarettes and shook one loose. “All I’m after is some detail of the room. Wilson Bibby’s. Then I’ll leave you alone.”
“Is this the only tune in your repertoire?” I said sadly. He gestured to the Icehotel, its blue colour bleached white in the sunlight. “No one can get in. It’s like Fort bloody Knox.”
“I bet you could if you wanted to,” I said carelessly. “There are no locks to pick. The handles are taped, but it wouldn’t take much to cut through them.”
He sneered, lighting his cigarette. “You think I’d try a caper like that? Have you seen the A-list detective running this case? He’s marked my cards.” “Don’t tell me you tried to interview him.” Denny drew his head back and blew smoke into the air. “We all did. We won’t get much change out of him. He’s issuing press statements but nothing else. And there’s not much there.”
He chewed his lip. “Please, Maggie, you’re my only hope. Give me something. I need a break. My boss has got me by the short and curlies.”
The man was a walking cliché. “You’re wasting your time,” I said. “I don’t know what Wilson’s room looks like.”
“But you were in the one next to his.”
“That doesn’t mean I went in.”
“What about the morning his body was discovered? Was it you who found him dead?”
“It was the girls who bring the drinks.” I felt a twinge of guilt; he’d be pestering Karin and Marita now. He dropped his cigarette and began to scribble furiously. “Go on.”
“There’s nothing more to tell. Harry and I saw a little way into the room, that’s all.”
“That’s Harry Auchinleck?”
I was no longer surprised at the extent of Denny’s knowledge. “I suppose you’ve already pumped him for information.”
“Fat chance, love. We’ve locked horns in the past.” “Locked horns?”
“I’ve seen him in court.”
“Ah, yes. Harry’s been an expert witness many times.”
“That’s as may be, darling, but me and the boys never get anything from him. Zippo. Zippo. Zippo.” I grinned. “Why am I not surprised?”
“These professors are all the same. They think they’re anointed rather than appointed. I’m sure he’s got a funny handshake, if you catch my drift. My paper offered him top whack for a story and he turned us down. You’d think, from the way he dresses, he could use the dough.”
“You may find this hard to believe, but it’s not money that floats Harry’s boat.”
“He can’t be a carbon-based life form, then.” Denny paused. “So what about it, love? I’ll give you an exclusive.”
“Look, Mr Hinckley –” “Denny.”
“Denny, there were loads of people around when Wilson’s body was discovered. Why don’t you go and harangue someone else? And here’s some advice – it might be helpful not to rush in with both guns blazing.”
“I’ve tried everyone. No one can remember a thing,” he said, in disgust. “As soon as I appear, it’s a case of galloping amnesia. And my editor won’t let me offer money.” He added quickly, “You were going to be the exception, of course.”
I laughed. “Well, without money, you’re going to have to rely on that winning personality.”
He stared at the Icehotel. “If this godforsaken place weren’t on the edge of the known world, I might have got here before they’d taped it off.” He scratched his nose. “I suppose I could ask Mr Hoity Toity Detective to send an officer in with me.”
“Forget it, Denny. You’ll spend all your time filling out forms in triplicate.”
“Why? The place isn’t a crime scene.” A gleam came into his eye. “In my line of work, it’s easier to be granted forgiveness than permission. Maybe I should break in after all.”
“Do that, and stuff’s going to happen.” I paused. “You know, I don’t make you as the type to go looking for trouble.”
He spoke with feeling. “Oh, I don’t need to. I know where it is.” His face sagged. “Listen, Maggie, I have to find a big story. I can’t afford to let the grass grow under my feet. There are young guys coming up behind me, if you catch my drift.”
I was starting to feel sorry for him. Something about his look of desolation made me ask: “Do you have family, Denny?” He seemed surprised at the sudden shift in the conversation.
“My ex remarried so we don’t see each other no more. Maybe just as well. I don’t have to continue with the payments. She likes the high life.”
His eyes filmed over with sadness. “I thought we were trying for kids till I discovered she’d been taking the pill. Secretly like, behind my back. So no. No kids.”
I had a sudden desire to help him.
More on Monday.
Icehotel, available on Amazon Kindle, is Hania Allen’s debut novel. Her second book, The Polish Detective (Constable, £8.99), is the first in her new series featuring DS Dania Gorska and is set in Dundee.