Two hundred thirty-five kilometres north-east of New Flagstaff. Henning Mortensson fussed at the decorations in 'Silja's room'.
Ever since Hanne had called him the previous night, he had been in a high state of excitement after she had told him of Silja's decision to come home at last.
He had hardly slept and he rose early to begin preparations. Hanne had not told him why Silja had changed her mind, but it didn't matter, he didn't care. His 'litil prinsessa' was coming home!
All day he had cleaned, such was his happiness. OK, he had maybe needed a few nips of the hard stuff 'just to steady his nerves' of course.
His heart leapt as he heard the car pull up outside. Then sank. Only Dwight Frye had got out. Where was his little girl?
Henning opened the door before Dwight had a chance to knock. Henning peered past Dwight, looking for his daughter. Dwight put his hand on Henning's shoulder.
Dwight guided Henning to his chair, gently setting him into it."
"She's not coming," he said gently, for a giant.
The old man sat, open-mouthed, bewildered. "Not... coming...?" The old eyes were misty, wide. Dwight shook his head.
"There is more." Dwight took a deep breath, summoning compassion from somewhere deep. "It's Hanne. She's been shot."
Dwight looked down, the old man's mouth opened and closed fish-like.
"She'll be fine!" Dwight hastily added, leaving accuracy about Hanne's condition to one side for a while. "She's in Hope Springs Clinic, it's the best!" he added with faux enthusiasm,
Sad, helpless eyes looked back from grey brows, Mouth still open.
"I'll take you there. Umm, my car is here. Outside." Dwight added.
Henning slowly shook his head, his reply came just as slow, with glacial Icelandic accent "No, I follow, I haff... some things to be doing.. I follow.. you go, see Hanne, and Seelja.
Hoper Spreengs you say?"
Dwight nodded, Henning stood and guided Dwight back to the door with wiry fingers "Are you sure?"
"Yess I am shoore. I come soon as I haff getting readied. You go, See Hanne, tell Seelja. Seelja will be upsetted. I come, soon... yes. No worry."
Dwight bit his tongue, the fact Silja was the culprit was maybe better kept from the old man for now.
Dwight felt embarrassed and was actually a little relieved to have an excuse to return to Flagstaff alone. He headed for his car.
"Thangg kyu.. fo' coming Mester Frye." Henning waved from the door, he would in fact follow as soon as possible, of course... just as soon as he. Tidied? Yes.
But maybe just a glass or two before? Yes. Just a glass or two.
At Chez-Spivey. Anneka was overjoyed. Silja was back. She leapt and hung herself around Silja's neck tightly. Silja hugged back.
Kirsten was coming down the stairs, she also was smiling, but the smile flashed a questioning glance at Joe that Silja did not miss. Behind Silja, Joe shrugged.
"She's back, ain't she?"
Kirsten drew breath to ask how but something in Joe's glance stopped the words. (For once, thought Joe.) Kirsten's glance came back to Silja, and Silja read it perfectly.
The next few hours were going to be very uncomfortable indeed.
"Silja. My study. Please."
Dejectedly, Silja followed Joe into his study.
Joe Spivey was born into and grew up in poverty. He was schooled in crime and accepted the casual violence all around him as just the way things were.
Only when he joined the army did the young Joe get to see that there was maybe something other than that life.
During a three-month stint working in the Officers' Mess, Joe saw how some people lived in quiet, comfortable opulence.
Surrounded by all the good things in life and where whatever they wanted was only a snap of the fingers away. Joe's study was his personal homage to that lifestyle.
Not that he needed it or even sought it, the comfortable home he lived in was Kirsten. His study was simply a nod to his earlier self.
Silja only rarely came in here, usually to retrieve a wandering Anneka.
She found the wood panelling, the leather, the books and Joe's over ornate desk both intimidating on the one hand and just a little ridiculous on the other.
Right now, though, 'intimidating' was definitely winning. Automatically she went to stand in front of Joe's desk, partly because the room demanded it.
So, she was a little bit discombobulated when Joe veered off to where two small chesterfield sofas faced each other in the heavily curtained alcove of the big bay window.
"Sit down Silja"
The red leather of the deep buttoned and nail-head trimmed chesterfield sighed softly as Silja sat,
huddled up against the low arm with both hands holding onto it as if the arm of the sofa were some kind of comforter. She was nervous.
Joe poured two large whisky glasses of brandy and held one out to Silja. She was about to refuse, but Joe curtailed that as soon as he saw Silja's lips start to move.
"Take it and drink it."
Silja took the glass and lifted it to her lips as Joe turned and sat directly opposite her on the twin of the sofa she was sitting on.
She pre-grimaced ready for the expected rush of burning alcohol but was pleasantly surprised as a gentle heat filled her mouth, and aromatic vapours wafted her palate.
She swallowed automatically and her throat was embraced in velvet warmth. Silja blinked and looked at the glass in her hand.
The unexpected pleasure of top-class brandy eased the tension of the hours since her arrest and Silja relaxed just a little.
Joe used the moment.
"It's a shock, being arrested. Suddenly you have no control in your life. Somebody else controls what you do. Where you are, even when you eat, sleep and shit.
I know because I've been there and it's frightening. But you already know that because you've been there before too.
" Joe leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees with his own glass nested in his big hands. "But now you're home. You're safe."
Joe's words allowed Silja to drop the defences she had raised the moment the policemen had crashed through her bedroom door.
Defences she had not used in many years, not since the day they had come for her and Momma.
Joe wasn't good with crying and sat quietly while the tears fell.
The only time he moved was to fetch a box of tissues he kept on his desk to wipe Annie's sticky fingers clean during her occasional 'escapes' to his study.
This time it wasn't jam but salty tears that threatened his furniture, and he silently handed the box to the sobbing teenager.
Both of their glasses had been refilled by the time Silja's tear ducts stopped producing. The last of the expensive tissues was used to catch the fallout of a very unladylike nasal explosion.
Joe still waited until Silja's red-rimmed eyes finally sought his own.
"How do you feel?"
Silja's face clouded over like looming thunder.
Joe's lips twitched. The teenage girl that Joe knew and tolerated was back, at least the sulky version was.
Silja took a breath.
"It wasn't my fault!" She was about to expand on that, at length. But the look in Joe's eyes acted like a gag.
It reminded her there was still a chance that, by the time she left this room, she might not have a job. She stared at Joe.
Joe sat back again, watching Silja in turn.
"Two very simple questions to start with, Silja." He was rewarded with seeing Silja also sit back against the low back of the chesterfield and assume listening mode.
"Now, you can lie to me if you want, and I'll take you at your word. But. If I find out that you have lied to me, then bad things will happen. Understand?"
Across the carpet, Silja acknowledged with the slowest of nods.
Joe used this tactic often. It gave whoever he was talking to a clear choice, and it reminded them that there could be consequences for making the wrong one.
Joe was never specific about what the 'bad things' might be, much better to let them come up with their own personal nightmare.
But there were plenty of rumours around about what happened to people who crossed Joe. Hell, Joe even started some of the stories himself.
"Okay, then. First off, did you shoot Hanne Berg?"
Joe lifted a hand.
"Good. Glad to hear it. Not that she might not deserve a bullet in the brain, but I'm relieved that it wasn't our nanny." Joe smiled and got a flicker of a response from Silja. "Secondly, then.
Do you know who did?"
Silja hesitated for a tiny fraction of a second.
"Yes. Well..." Silja watched Joe's eyebrows rise like two hairy caterpillars arching their backs. "Maybe Dwight? He's like Hanne's head minion or something. He's... Unstable. Though..."
"Dwight Frye? 'Unstable' doesn't cover half of it. But if Dwight was the shooter, then Hanne would be dead and disposed of." Joe's eyebrows resumed their slumber.
"Besides, shooting isn't his thing. An axe maybe, or a hammer. Maybe a drill, probably a whole toolbox." He noticed the mounting horror on Silja's face. "Besides," he finished hurriedly.
"I think he dotes on her so I don't see him being our man."
The pair of them fell silent. Silja could feel the brandy having its effect. She put the still quarter full glass down. Joe noticed, and Silja wasn't a drinker.
A glass and a half of brandy was more than enough.
"So, what were you and Hanne arguing about?"