Icehotel: Episode 57
Was there anything unusual about him? Anything that might identify him? Think hard, Miss Stewart
Hallengren was watching me. “So how did you and this mystery man get inside the Icehotel? The front door was sealed, and the seal has not been broken.” This was not the time to be smug. “The side door from the washroom was untaped,” I said quietly. He muttered in Swedish. Someone’s head was going to roll. I wondered whether the culprit was Engqvist.
“So you entered from the Locker Room,” he said. I nodded.
“And then?” He was writing.
“I followed the person. He went into Wilson Bibby’s room.”
Hallengren frowned, but said nothing.
“I saw flashes of light coming from under the curtain.”
“Someone taking photographs?”
“It seems the only explanation.”
He would realise it was one of the reporters, and make his own investigations. And he’d see the photographs in the day’s papers. There was no need to shop Denny.
“Continue, Miss Stewart.”
“He left by the back. At least, that’s what I assumed. He went into the corridor that leads there.”
Hallengren glanced up. “So why did you also leave by the back? And why were you running?”
“Because someone was chasing me,” I said, keeping my voice steady.
“With so much traffic in the Icehotel, I do not suppose you managed to see his face either.”
“I didn’t see his face, but he had an ice axe.” That got his attention. Hallengren stopped writing in mid-sentence. He looked up sharply.
“I stayed in my room until I thought the mystery man had left the Icehotel. But someone else came in. It was pitch black, but he was there. I heard him.”
I stopped as the memory returned. A knot formed in the pit of my stomach.
“Go on,” Hallengren said softly.
“I ran out and hid in the next room, the one with the statue of Pan. I don’t know why, I just panicked. But he followed me in.”
“That room has a ceiling window. Did you see his face?”
“He wore a ski mask. He was huge.” I shuddered, remembering how he’d swung the ice axe casually, his fingers under the blade.
“Was there anything unusual about him? Anything that might identify him? Think hard, Miss Stewart.”
“His snowsuit was black.” I glanced at the suit on the floor. “Like yours. But that’s not going to help.” “Had you seen anyone follow you to the Icehotel?” I shook my head.
“And did this man see you?”
“He saw me when I slipped out from behind the statue. I ran out and somehow found the back door. I heard him running after me. He called out before I fell into the water.” I closed my eyes, trying to control my breathing. “He was right behind me...”
Hallengren hesitated. “It may not have been him calling out. One of the people watching the aurora shouted to you to stop. He saw you running past the blocks of ice and tried to warn you.”
My eyes flew open. “Then he must have seen this man.”
“Everyone we questioned said they only saw you running past the Ice Theatre. They saw no one else.”
“Then maybe he ran away when he saw the crowd,” I said helplessly. “Or even joined them.”
“It is possible.” Hallengren didn’t sound convinced. I sat up, ignoring the bed sheet. “Look, why else would I be running out of the Icehotel like a person demented?”
He said nothing.
“I’m not making this up, Inspector.”
“No, I do not think you are.” He sounded tired, and spoke more slowly than usual. “You’ve had a lucky escape, Miss Stewart. You were wearing a thick snowsuit. It saved your life. At these temperatures, without adequate insulation, immersion can be fatal. And your legs became entangled in weeds. If there had not been people nearby, you would have drowned.”
I searched his face. “Someone was in the Icehotel with me, Inspector. Do you believe me?”
If he told me he believed me, then somehow everything would be all right.
“I believe you.” He opened the notebook again. ‘Now, shall we go through it once more, and in some detail?”
He listened, not interrupting. After I’d finished, he leant back and looked at me.
“Is this your first visit to Sweden, Miss Stewart?” he said, after a while.
I was surprised by the change of subject. “Yes, my first.”
“Where do you normally take your vacation?” “I usually head south to the sun. Coming here broke a long tradition. Why do you ask?”
“Just curious.” His gaze drifted to my hair. “What sorts of things do you like to do on holiday?”
I shrugged. “I’m a city girl. I love poking around old Europe. You know, cathedrals, tram rides, coffee and cake. Nothing too energetic, though. I’m unbelievably lazy.”
The corners of his mouth lifted.
“I’m guessing you’re the opposite, Inspector. You mentioned cross-country skiing.” I glanced at his body. “I’d say you’re into hard sports. I see you as an ice climber.”
His smile widened. “Perceptive, Miss Stewart.” His expression softened. “So I take it that this location was not your idea?”
“It was Harry’s. He suggested skiing, then Liz found this place in the winter catalogue.”
Hallengren nodded. He seemed in no hurry to leave.
“Tell me something, Inspector. You’re surrounded by snow. Don’t you ever get sick of it?”
“Never. It is in my blood.” He raised an eyebrow. “But I have been known to lie on a beach.”
“That’s the kind of holiday Harry usually goes for. To think, if we’d done that, he’d be alive now.”
A look of sadness passed across Hallengren’s face. “You know the worst thing about losing someone?” “The grief,” I said, without having to think. “Not grief.” He refused to meet my gaze. “Guilt. You do not feel that?”
“You’ve lost someone, haven’t you?” I said softly. “My parents died when I was a boy. I feel guilty that I no longer remember them.” After a pause, he said, “I am afraid, Miss Stewart, that your grief will eventually turn to guilt.” He got to his feet. “But enough talk. You need to rest.”
He came over to the bed, and pushed a strand of damp hair from my face, brushing my cheek with his finger. “Your hair is still wet, Miss Stewart.” He turned away slowly.