“Was there any­thing un­usual about him? Any­thing that might iden­tify him? Think hard, Miss Ste­wart

The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition) - - SERIAL - by Ha­nia Allen

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.

Panic

“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.

Life-sav­ing

“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.

More to­mor­row. 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.

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