Henning prised the wood panel out of its frame and set it to one side. He licked his dry lips as he reached into the now revealed recess. His hand closed around the bottle.
Well, one of them, there were six in the void behind the wall.
He had not had to use the hiding holes since Hanne had left to go back to work at The Company, but before that,
the secret caches of vodka hidden in several places around the farm had helped Henning create the lie that he was now dry, off the sauce. Teetotal.
Anyway, when he was told Silja was to return, part of his housecleaning was hiding the bottles again. But Silja was not coming. Worse, Hanne was in the hospital, someone had shot her.
It was a bad day. Henning's wiry fingers twisted the cap off the bottle and the clear liquid splashed into the glass, filling the tumbler to within a centimetre off the top. He licked his lips.
Bad day, he needed this. Just a drop, then he must head to Hope Springs to see how his daughter was recovering.
Henning sank himself into his big old armchair. Poor Hanne, she was a good girl, clever. Imagine, a daughter of his building up her own company! Henning sipped the homemade vodka.
Always serious, though, as a child. Never seemed to bring any friends around for tea. A loner. Come to think of it, she didn't seem overly upset when her mother died.
Mind you, he couldn't remember much about that day either. They had been out for a walk, a few bars, a few drinks. Hanne was at school. One moment they were walking along the harbour in Halifax.
Nova Scotia. Next, Ursula was gone. Missed her footing and fell. Henning had walked a good hundred metres before he realised, by then it was too late.
Henning sighed and took another sip. Refilling the glass, Henning smiled. Ursula had been fun to be with. OK, not anywhere as good looking as Silja's mother but much, much more fun.
Henning sighed. Why couldn't his two daughters get along? It would be so nice, all three of them under one roof, on the farm. Little Silja, all grown up now.
Henning took another long sip of vodka before refilling the glass. Silja had always reminded him so much of his first wife, more so now she was.... Sixteen...
? Nineteen? Henning's fuzzy mind dwelt for a moment. Bjork had been that age when he first met her....
Henning paused; he was having trouble with his internal timeline. Silja was his first, right? But Hanne looked much older? Strange. But, best get going, Hanne was in the hospital.
He drained his glass in one.
Arthur Crabbe had his squad lined up. He was berating them. The girl had been free now for twelve hours.
"Twelve hours and not a scrap of information?" Crabbe yelled and scanned the three constables. "Dybbol?"
"Mr Spivey took the girl to his home and sat with her for two hours, then I was relieved." Dybbol's report was succinct.
"Kojarsky." Crabbe's angry eyes dropped onto the next man, who shuffled his feet uncomfortably.
"Four hours, plain clothes, Bunker Bar. Gathering... umm... intel.. umm. No one would talk to me."
"Stood in the rain getting soaked waiting return of one Dwight Frye. Sir!" Kopkage barked back. "He was out of town all day."
Breathing heavily through his nose, Crabbe paced up and down behind the line of coppers.
"Right! Today will be much better. Won't it!"
"Dybbol, keep watch on the girl. Soon as she steps out of line, jaywalks or drops a ciggy butt. She's back here. Got it?"
"Kopkage. Keep a tab on Spivey."
Kopkage raised an eyebrow involuntarily, which dropped as soon as Crabbe glared at him. Kop kept his peace but still wondered why The Boss was seemingly about to bite the hand that fed him.
"And Kojarsky..." Crabbe paused. Kojarsky was a liability on a good day. "Kojarsky, just... Keep out of my way! Dismissed!"
The line of officers filed out of the squad room. Crabbe stayed one of them.
"Keep your head down and eyes open, 'kay?"
The ancient timbers of Kaibab reach many metres up into the forest canopy. Mighty branches reach out from sturdy trunks, which are in turn anchored deep into the soil by extensive root systems.
Kaibab's trees are solid, implacable, unmoving. Even from the impact of a fast-moving car.
And the fauna. Opportunistic bears eager to steal a meal, even from inside a twisted metal box. By quiet roads, the cycle of life, feeding and death turns and turns as it has forever.
Twisted cars rust anonymously by the roadside, their occupants long gone.
They used to say if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, no one will ever know. So it was that Henning Mortensson ended his days.
And no one ever knew.
Joe turned the car around and headed slowly south...
and then eventually turned east and Finny found herself back in the familiar tiny streets where every window had eyes,
and you didn't walk close to walls where a hand could suddenly appear and pull you into the shadows.
These were the streets Finny grew up in before a Union raid had deposited her in the orphanage. Her heart began to beat faster in her chest. She hadn't been back this way in a long time.
The slums of New Flagstaff, The Borough, had their own society. They had their own way of policing, because it was a brave NFPD officer who set foot in these streets, even in daylight.
The Union only ever came in mob-handed to break skulls when crime became endemic in the rest of the city. Instead, breaking the rules in these streets was met with swift and violent retribution.
The slums had their own banking system too. You could borrow money or pawn goods just like in the rest of the city, it was just that late payments here were dealt with by big fists and no mercy.
There were shops too. Grocer's, bakers, butchers. All kinds of shops as long as you didn't look too closely at what was on offer.
It was outside one of these establishments where Joe stopped the car.
With her recently developed reading skills, Finny was well able to read the name chalked on the wall next to the stout door of the half derelict tenement house. It read: 'FINGAL AGIN: TAILOR.'
Cars in this part of town were not common. But Joe's battered van was known to all. Shops needed supplies, and Joe was a supplier. Consequently, his car would not be touched...
Unless he left it overnight of course.
Joe and Finny got out of the car and approached the door indicated by the chalk epitaph.
Even as they waited for Joe's knock to be answered, both of them knew that news of their arrival would now be spreading throughout The Borough and to the interested ears of Molly Gold.
Eventually, the front door juddered open and an old, very thin woman beckoned them into the gloom and the smells of cooking meat.
Joe seemed to know the way and Finny followed closely behind, so close in fact that Joe's footfalls didn't have time to cool before Finny's boots stepped onto them. Joe turned right.
The walls and ceiling of the room were perfectly black with age and dirt.
There was a deal table before the fire: upon which were a candle, stuck in a ginger-beer bottle, two or three pewter pots, a loaf and butter, and a plate.
In a frying-pan, which was on the fire, and which was secured to the mantel-shelf by a string, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand,
was a very old shriveled man, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair.
He was dressed in a greasy flannel dressing-gown, with his throat bare; and seemed to be dividing his attention between the frying-pan and a clothes-horse,
over which a great number of strange garments were hanging.
Joe stopped in the doorway. Finny resisted the temptation to seek out his hand. Instead, she made do with gripping the hem of his duster and hoping he wouldn't notice.
Eventually, the old man seemed to realise that he had a visitor.
"Joseph, my dear. How are you? So long since you came to see me."
Joe nodded once in greeting.
"Fingal. Still on the sausage diet, I see." He paused and looked into the rheumy eyes of the old tailor. "I need a suit for a, er, bit of nocturnal pannie work."
Fingal leaned sideways to try and see who it was hiding behind his supplier of both materials for his work and sausages for his belly.
"Not for you though I'm guessing?"
Joe reached behind him and dragged a reluctant Finny into view. Finny stood definitely glaring up at the repulsive geriatric in the dressing gown with her arms folded and her bottom lip set.
Inside, though, fear and anger elbowed each other to be noticed.
Fingal smiled down at the child's petulant face. He bowed with an exaggerated flourish of his arm.
"So glad to make your acquaintance, my dear. Fingal Agin at your most humble service."
The man's actions and most of all, his lisping, cloying words made Finny's skin crawl. It was all she could do not to step backwards away from the creepiness of his presence.
She felt Joe's hand on her shoulder and took strength from the reassuring squeeze of his fingers. Then Finny noticed a sudden change in the old man's whole demeanour.
The disturbing smile with which he was staring at her, slid from his face like sick down a wall and his withered, dirty skin turned several shades paler.
Behind her, Joe's voice was a lance of deathly calm monotone.
"The only service this girl needs from you is for you to make her a suit by sunset. So, forget whatever is crawling through your imagination and make the suit."
The ensuing dangerous silence was broken by a pop and a sizzle from the frying pan.
"Your sausages are burning."