Tuesday: Week One


Johann Brix had analysed human remains in the aftermath of airplane crashes, factory explosions and exhumations. He had identified bodies from bone and tissue fragments. He’d spent time at the famous Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee, studying how bodies decompose at different rates in different settings. He was the author of several research papers on tissue and bone rot in dry and damp conditions. But he had never examined human remains from the Iron Age. When he took delivery of the mummified foot and the bones and artefacts found in the bog, he felt a rising sense of excitement.  

He began with an inventory of the bones. By one o’clock in the morning he had assembled a near complete skeleton. He began work again at eight o’clock. When Tobias and Harry Norsk arrived at his laboratory on Tuesday afternoon, he was using a ruler to measure the distance between the hip bones.  

“Male,” he pronounced. “Female hips are wider. I thought he’d turn out to be male because of the height. I measured the skeleton at 1.61 metres. If I add 10 or 11 centimetres to account for the missing tissue and muscle that makes him 1.71 or 1.72 metres tall. Not especially tall by modern standards, but tall in Roman times.”

“Age at death?” asked Tobias. 

“Probably between eighteen and twenty-eight. See where the clavicle, the collarbone, is joined to the sternum, the breast bone?”

Harry and Tobias leaned forward to look. 

“You can see it’s not yet completely fused.”

Tobias couldn’t see but he was prepared to take the professor’s word for it. Harry was peering at the collarbone, nodding and muttering, “Yes, yes.” 

“It begins to fuse around age 20 in young males,” said the professor. “Complete fusion occurs between age 26 and 30. This is nearly half-way there, wouldn’t you say?” 

Harry nodded agreement.

“So he died in his early twenties,” said Tobias.

“He was killed,” said Harry. “Am I right?”

“Yes,” said Professor Brix. He took the skull into his hands and turned it so that Tobias and Harry could see the cleft at the back. “He was hit on the head with something like a rock or an axe.” Brix replaced the skull and pointed to the rib cage. “See the fractures?” He picked up the right upper arm bone. “See the break?” He laid his hand gently on the right hand of the skeleton. “I took a long time putting this hand together. There were so many small bones fractured.” He sighed. “The poor fellow was almost certainly beaten to death. Wouldn’t you agree, Harry?”

“I’d say he was turning away from the blows,” said Harry. “The injuries are all on the right side. The skull fracture is right side as well. When he fell, the murderer probably stamped on his hand.”  

The three of them stood in silence for a moment. 

“Was he killed in the bog, or somewhere else?” asked Tobias.

“It’s impossible to tell,” said Brix. “Your guess that he was dumped in the pond, and that the water level subsequently dropped, is almost certainly correct. From the order and position in which the bones were found, I’d say he was lying on his left side with his left arm under him and his right arm extended. He was probably rolled into the water, near where it’s fed by a small stream. The microenvironment around the stream is alkaline and preserved the bones. The ground near the feet is acid. It rotted the bones of the left foot but preserved the skin.” 

The professor’s mobile rang. He held it to his ear. His face fell. 

“One of my graduate students has managed to reconstitute the remnants of gauzy material found in the grave.” He paused. “Polyethylene Terephthalate. Otherwise known as Polyester.” He smiled ruefully. “I’d been hoping to hear they were from an Iron Age or Roman woven garment.” Another pause. “The metal fragments are parts of a zip fastener.” 

His expression reminded Tobias of a child whose toy had been taken away. 

“She’s sent me some images.” Brix moved to a desk a few feet from the stainless steel table on which the skeleton lay. He tapped the keys of an open laptop. “Take a look.” 

A pair of trousers that seemed to be made of gossamer appeared on the screen.

“The rest of his clothing must have been mostly wool or cotton,” said Brix. “The synthetic fibres haven’t decomposed. What you’re seeing is the ghost of a pair of trousers.”

Tobias thought of his daughter, Agnes, and her passion for the environment. She would love the symbolism of the phantom trousers. He found himself smiling as he imagined telling her about them. 

“Polyester has been around since the 1940s,” said Brix. “But it wasn’t used in clothing until the 1950s. It was used on its own at first. Then it became more popular in a blend.”

“Presumably at least one of the buttons found is from the trousers.” Tobias was already calculating that the death occurred within the prosecutor’s time frame. He felt a rush of adrenaline.  

Brix clicked on another image. Four buttons. He zoomed in. Four copper buttons with a laurel leaf design. Tobias moved his face closer to the screen. 

“These are Levi buttons,” he said. “My father had a vintage Levi jacket with buttons like this. He told me Levi Strauss made them during the war.” 

“So the victim was wearing a vintage denim jacket. But not denim trousers,” said Harry. 

“A cotton denim jacket. Probably a cotton vest or T-shirt as well. Polyester trousers. They probably had a belt,” said Brix. “But it must have decomposed. All we have is the buckle.” 

“The ghost of a pair of trousers, four buttons, a zip fastener and a belt buckle. At least we know he was clothed when he died,” said Tobias. 

“But barefoot,” said Harry. “We didn’t find a boot or shoe for the left foot. Would the bog not have preserved that as well?”

“You’re right.” Brix scratched his head. “The body crossed at least two microenvironments. One foot is skeletal. The other is mummified. Yes, I’d expect the shoe on it to be preserved as well.” 

“He must have been barefoot,” said Tobias. Why had he taken his shoes off? Was it summer?

“It’s going to be difficult to date the bones,” said Brix. “There’s no bone rot. Normally I’d expect bone rot to set in around twelve years post mortem. Fifteen years if the body has been buried deeply. But in this case..” His voice trailed off. He shook his head. “Even a Cat scan won’t tell us much. All I can confidently say is that whenever this poor soul was killed, it was more than twelve years ago and after polyester cotton blends were used in clothing.” 

Tobias said, “What about the other things forensics turned up?”

“Birgitte, my graduate student, is working on them. She’s very thorough.”

He ushered them across a corridor to a smaller laboratory where a young woman with tight curly blonde hair tied back like a lamb’s tail was perched on a stool at a desk, one eye closed and the other peering through a microscope. 

“Hi, Birgitte. Meet Chief Inspector Lange and Inspector Norsk.”  

Birgitte waved unseeingly at them with a gloved hand. 

“Nice to meet you,” she called out. “The trousers, the zip fastener, the buckle and the buttons are on the table at the back. I did them first. I was going to do the bracelet or the medal next, but some stuff came in an hour ago that looked more promising. Especially this. I’ve put everything else to one side to work on it.” She took her eye off the microscope. “I have more cleaning to do, but it’s definitely a watch. A Seiko watch.” She glanced at the label on the plastic bag beside her elbow. “It was found within a metre of the skull so it almost certainly belonged to the victim.”

“That’s lucky,” said the professor. “I’ve identified a body by a Seiko watch. A train crash victim in Russia.” He shook his head. “That was a terrible business. I still have the notes. As I recall, there should be a serial number on the back of the timepiece.”

Birgitte slid the watch from under the microscope. The metal bracelet was broken in three places, but the timepiece and its glass case were miraculously intact. She picked up a tiny paintbrush and with careful, slow strokes removed specks of dirt from the back of the watch before slipping it under the microscope again.

“I can read the number,” she said. “Six-eight-six-four-seven-three-five.” She pulled a notebook towards her, scribbled down the numbers and passed them to Brix. “There are words engraved as well. Love from Famor and Mormor.”

“Maternal grandparents,” said Tobias. “A birthday present? Pity there’s no date. That would help us identify him.” 

“As I recall, the first number is the number in the decade,” said Brix. “Six? It can’t be 2006. The body is older than that. It could be 1996, or 1986. Earlier than that, I’d definitely expect to see bone rot. The second number is the month. Eight,” he paused to count. 

“August,” said Tobias. “So the watch was manufactured in August 1996, or August 1986?”

Brix nodded. “I can probably pin it down. But it will take me a day or two.”

“We know the body was put in the bog at least twelve years ago,” said Harry.

“So we’re looking for a young man who went missing sometime between 1986 and 1999,” said Tobias. 

“That’s about it,” said Brix.


Tobias drove directly from Brix’s laboratory at the university to the restaurant at Risskov where he was meeting his stepmother, Inge, and Norbert Fisker. If he went back to his flat to change, he’d be late.

“We’re making it easy for you,” Inge had said on the telephone. “If we invite you to the house, you’ll be detained at work, it will take you an hour to get here and we’ll be lucky to eat before midnight. This way, we can have a nice relaxed dinner on the coast.”

Tobias arrived to find her already seated at the table.

“Norbert has gone to chat to some friends.” She waved vaguely in the direction of an alcove. “His daughter is with them. We didn’t know she was going to be here.” Inge fiddled with her bracelet. She sounded irritated. “I heard him on the telephone to her this morning. I’m sure he told her we were coming here for dinner.”

“Maybe she didn’t know she would be dining here,” said Tobias. 

“She doesn’t like me,” said Inge. “She makes it clear she doesn’t like me. It’s making Norbert unhappy.” 

 “You have to give her time,” said Tobias. “Put yourself in her position.”

“She’s young. She has plenty of men in her life. She doesn’t want anyone else in Norbert’s life. She just wants her father to herself.” 

“She was probably close to her mother. It’s hard for her to see you in her mother’s place.”

“I’m not taking her mother’s place. I’m just marrying her father. It’s not as though she sees that much of him.” 

Tobias thought for a moment. “I don’t think that affects how you feel about someone. You don’t see that much of Margrethe.”

“She’s in England,” said Inge. “If she was here, I’d see more of her and my grandchildren.” 

“Supposing Margrethe died, God forbid it, and Peter remarried less than two years later. How would you feel?”

“Your mother died and you accepted me, Tobias.”

“I was seventeen years old, Inge. Mama died when I was ten. I had seven years of grieving.”

“Sofie wouldn’t like me whether it was seven years or twenty-seven years. She’s the possessive type.”

“Give her time. She’ll see how happy Norbert is.”

Inge shrugged. “She can do what she likes. I don’t care.” She brightened. Tobias followed her gaze and saw Norbert weaving through the tables towards them, smiling broadly. He shook hands enthusiastically with Tobias. 

“Sorry I wasn’t here to welcome you. I didn’t know Sofie was going to be here. She’s with Kurt Malling and the Thomsens. They’re talking business.” Norbert sat down and picked up a menu. “Malling’s latest venture is a wind farm in Jutland. Sofie is doing the PR. The green brigades don’t like it. God only knows why.”

Tobias didn’t feel like explaining. He felt like putting his head in his hands. He imagined Agnes in the wind and rain, hugging a tree. Worse. Hugging that bearded Tarzan with five – five! – gold studs. Two in each ear and one in his nose. He had opened his mouth only once that time he was briefly introduced, if you could call it an introduction. He just nodded and shook hands. At least it was a firm handshake. He’d yawned while Tobias was talking to Agnes. There was a gold stud in his tongue as well! Don’t even think about it. And that motorbike. He hated the idea of Agnes on the back of a motorbike. Was there a father in the world who didn’t worry about his child or children? He wondered if he had spoken the thought out loud because Norbert was talking about somebody’s daughter leaving home after an argument. 

“Sorry, Norbert. My mind was on something else. What were you saying?”

“I was talking about Thomsen’s wife, poor woman. My late wife knew her. They played bridge together. Her daughter left home around the time she got married to Marcus. They haven’t heard from her since. Not a word. Apparently she went to Lapland with her boyfriend. She didn’t like Marcus. Maybe she was jealous of him. Wanted her mother to herself. Who knows? I can’t say I know Marcus well. But he’s a good lawyer with sound commercial instincts. They had some kind of row. Marcus and the daughter, I mean. I never learned the details. I heard about it from my wife at the time. Maybe they’ll all be reconciled in time. I hope so. It’s a terrible thing when parents and children fall out.”

Sofie came by their table before leaving the restaurant. “I’m stopping just to say hello,” she said.

Norbert’s dead wife must have been a beauty, thought Tobias. Sofie didn’t get those dark blue eyes, those fine bones, from her father. 

Inge greeted her with every appearance of warmth. She waved to Kurt Malling, half a dozen paces behind Sofie and grinning like a cat following a bowl of cream. He looked a bit drunk.  

“Hello, Hello. Still hanging out with the police, Norbert?”

Tobias wondered if Malling was sleeping with Sofie. Surely not. He must be sixty. And he dyed his hair. But you never knew. He was rich. Some women were drawn to money. Malling was talking about shooting clay pigeons. He was hosting some kind of charity picnic with a shooting competition.

“Sofie is coming. You’re coming, aren’t you, Sofie? Your father and Inge must come as well. Do you shoot?” He was talking to Tobias now.

“Only criminals,” said Tobias.

Sofie laughed. Then Malling laughed.

“So you must come to my charity golf day instead.” He was all joviality. “The Commissioner will be there.”

There was nothing more likely to make Tobias turn down the invitation, except perhaps the dreaded words black tie. 

“Golf in the afternoon, dinner and prize giving in the evening,” said Malling.

Sofie was smiling at him. “I need a partner to make up a fourball.” She had a glorious smile.

 “Black tie for dinner,” said Malling. “My wife likes to do things in style.”

“Thanks for including me,” said Tobias. 


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