November, Soervig Beach, Denmark
Molly unlaced her boots, kicked them off, removed her socks and stood up. The sand was cold under her feet as she approached the water. Waves rolled onto the beach in angry, hissing bursts, and she stopped just short of their reach. Wisps of spume came at her, and the wind tore at her dress.She stood on her toes, trying to see further than the surf, but the breaking waves were too high. Then she looked over her shoulder, holding back the mass of fair curls blowing into her eyes. The beach was wide and flat with islands of Lyme grass close to the tall sand dunes. It was only three o’clock in the afternoon, but low-hanging clouds stole most of the daylight.
Except for herself the beach was deserted. But behind the sand dunes and the thorn buck bushes were her friends and relations in window lit little houses, watching tv, making tea or maybe already wrapping presents. Tomorrow, twenty-two smiling aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbours would be celebrating her fourteen-year birthday. There was no way out of it. Except for the surf.
Molly stepped forward and gasped as the water washed over her toes. The hem of her dress soaked through. She resisted an urge to lift it up, took another step and yet another until the waves splashed against her thighs and made the dress cling to her legs. She held her arms high. This is much colder than I’d thought it would be.
Then get out of the water. Go back. Molly shook her head and clenched her hands. For close to four years, she’d stood all the pitying smiles telling her what a poor girl she was, and the brave ones telling her that she was handling “it” just fine. Mom’s smile was the worst of them all. Her neck strained, her chin set and the tiny lift of the corners of her mouth didn’t even come close to softening the pain in her eyes. It was never going to change. Molly moved further out. I’m coming to where you are, Dad.
A gigantic wave washed over her. She lost her footing, and another wave tore her down. Her face and arms dragged over the stony bottom, and she breathed in water and sand. She pushed herself up, got her head above, coughed, but another wave broke over her, sending her back to the bottom. The current pulled her outward. God no. She tried to get up to the surface, but her dress clung to her legs like a twisted dishcloth. Her fingers searched desperately for something to hold on to. Another wave pushed her further down, and even with her eyes closed, she felt how everything around her darkened. She got her legs free enough to swim, but after a few strokes, it felt even darker. Am I swimming downward? She opened her eyes. The blackness was so close it pressed against her face as if it wanted to invade her. She closed her eyes again. Oh God, I don’t want this. Help me. Something soft touched her foot and made her curl up in panic. She couldn’t hold her breath much longer. Open your eyes. Find out which way is up.
Open your eyes. She opened her eyes to the penetrating blackness again and fought hard not to breathe in. She looked under her, to the sides and up, but there was no difference in the darkness. Just swim. Now. She kicked her legs and took a powerful stroke, but the darkness didn’t change. Her lungs were burning in her chest, telling her to open her mouth, but she pressed her lips tighter. Where are you, Dad? Why aren’t you here?
Her eyes caught sight of something in the water ahead of her. A thin shadow of something darker. She swam for it with everything she had. It looked like long fingers, reaching for her. She reached out too. Dad? She took one last strong stroke and felt her hands breaking through the surface. She got her face up too, gasping and heaving in air in big gulps.
Molly was too exhausted to swim, so she leaned back in the water and worked herself into a float. Her whole body trembled. If it hadn’t been for those fingers… Was it Dad leading me to the surface? Tears trailed from the corners of her eyes and into the water.
Something soft brushed against the back of her head and made her turn. She frowned and picked it out of the water. A flower? The branch had long green leaves and five white flowers like bells on a string. Molly had seen a flower like that in a bouquet not too long ago. She couldn’t remember where. She put it back in the water and saw how it spread out like a giant hand with long fingers. A flower saved me? She smiled and dried away the tears. Gently she picked it up again. Her teeth clattered. It wouldn’t be long before she was too cold to swim.
Judging from the shape of the dunes, she’d been swept a few hundred meters north along the beach. She began to swim toward it but noticed something pink floating in the water. She reached for it. A pink rose? There was a red flower too. She stretched her neck, searching for more. Why are there flowers in the water? Her teeth clattered again. And then she realised where she’d seen this bouquet. It had been on the dinner table last night. It was such a cheerful bouquet of red, pink, orange, yellow. And white. She let go of all the flowers except the one that had saved her.
Molly’s arms felt as lead as she swam toward the beach, and her vision kept blurring with tears. She saw Mom standing at the water’s edge in the early morning hours throwing the flowers, one by one, into the water.
Molly crawled onto the beach and collapsed on the wet sand, gasping. She couldn’t stop shaking as she buried her hands in the sand and cried. The memory of Dad was still so clear to her, as he sat in the boat in his black rain pants and woolen sweater. His coarse chestnut hair stood on end, and his eyes were full of laughter. “You and I look like night and day, but in here…” he tapped his chest, “we’re the same.” God, I miss you, Dad. But Dad was gone. It wasn’t till now that she really understood. He’s not in the water, Mom. He’s just gone.
She rolled to her back and took in a few deep breaths. Some heavy raindrops fell on her forehead, and she heard a far-away rumble.
Come, get up off the sand.
She shook her head.
Come. She pushed herself to her elbows and then further up to sitting. Then she looked down herself. My birthday-dress is ruined. Mom will know. She’ll cry. Molly groaned. There’s no way I can go back.
You’ll have to.
She picked up a handful of sand, weighing her options. But she’d been through them before she even set foot on the beach. There was only the surf or the party. She’d already tried the surf. Her eyes caught sight of the soggy white flower next to her. She let the sand fall and picked up the flower instead. It really wasn’t soggy, quite the opposite, it looked strong and vibrant. She twirled it between her fingers, let her eyes get lost in its delicate white petals, in the way they laced together, in the core of tiny golden stalks they hid. She bit her lip. Thank goodness it hadn’t been lost out there in all that darkness. She inhaled, then inhaled deeper till her lungs felt full. Carefully she touched a petal. You’ll have to help me through tomorrow too, little flower. Can you do that? Her chin quivered. And what about the day after? What about the next year and the rest of my life?
Lightening lit up the sky, and rain started to pour. Molly pressed her lips tight to keep her chin from quivering. She dried her cheeks, placed the flower behind her ear and got to her feet. You’d better last a lifetime, little flower.
She turned her back on the sea and started the climb over the sand dune, lifting her skirt in her arms.
Fifteen years later
January 26, Frederikshavn, Denmark
“Take it through the kitchen, please,” Molly said and blocked the door to the hall with her arm. She took a step back to let Jannie change direction and roll the coffeemaker through the anteroom toward the kitchen. Then she surveyed the morning-room. Twenty round tables stood bare. The tablecloths, the cups, plates and even the small tealights had already been moved to the Bar and Grill along with the cold buffet, the cereals and the fruit stand. All that remained of the morning serving, was the hot buffet, and Hans would take care of that. Molly avoided the eyes of detective sergeant Lundergaard. It was almost fifteen minutes since he’d arrived and told her to “take her time.” He stood by the door in his dockside Portland’s, shifting his weight regularly between his heals and the balls of his feet.
Jannie came back, bright-eyed and hot-cheeked. “We’ll handle it now, I think.”
Molly nodded and caught the detective’s eyes. “I’m ready. I just need to address the guests.”
She touched the doorhandle. Outside a diesel motor started. Then came the slow crunch of heavy wheels on gravel. She looked over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of the yellow ambulance as it passed the window. The breaks squealed at the intersection. Then it sped up and was lost in the noise of general traffic. Molly turned back to the door.For her inner eye, she saw Mr. Braggs crossing the hall, his eyes brightening and his lips parting in a smile as he caught sight of her. The hand still touching the handle trembled and refused to press it down. I can’t do this. All the panic and guilt she’d controlled for the past twenty minutes was released, making her throat tighten with nausea. She swallowed.
Detective sergeant Lundergaard shifted his weight again. Molly knotted her hands till the trembling stopped. Then she reached back and corrected her hair clip, touching the rust-red chrysanthemum fastened in it. She inhaled, pressed down the handle and entered the hall. The string of guests gathered there turned and stared; most of them curious, a few of them demanding. Molly forced a grave smile upon her lips. “I’m sorry for the delay, and any inconvenience you might have experienced.” Her voice was steady and soothing. She nodded her head to underline just how much she understood their troubles. “There’s been an accident in the morning room. If you’ll bear with us another five minutes, please, breakfast will be served across the hall at the Peacock Bar and Grill.” She caught Mr. Petersen’s questioning eyes and shook her head slightly. His eyes trailed down to her left hand. Molly looked down too. Her sleeve had been pushed up a bit, exposing a smear of dried blood on her wrist. She pulled the sleeve down and passed the guests, heading for the back room behind reception. She beckoned to the detective. “We can talk in here.”
As she closed the door behind him, black spots formed in front of her eyes, closing in till all she could see was the doorhandle. Her knees sagged. Good God, not now. She reached out for the wall but got a hold of Lundergaard’s arm instead. “Sorry.” Her voice sounded alien. “I’m okay. Don’t worry.”
He held her arm firmly and guided her toward a chair. “It’s completely normal what you’re experiencing. A reaction to the shock you’ve had.” His voice was deep and expressed all the calm of a man in his fifties who’ve witnessed people’s worst moments many times before.
Molly nodded and clutched his shirtsleeve. “I know. I just need to breathe deeper.” She sat down on the swirl chair and lowered the seat till her feet were planted firmly on the ground.
The detective’s hand patted her shoulder gently. “Just breathe deeply and slowly.”
Molly nodded. She’d just said that. She let her head fall between her knees. “I think I need some water.”
When she looked up, Lundergaard stood in front of her with a glass in his hand. “You should drink lots of water for the remainder of the day. But you seem to know this?” His eyes narrowed.
She took the glass and instead of answering, gulped down the water. It eased the nausea a little.
Lundergaard sat down on the chair opposite her, pushed his glasses up on the brink of his nose, found a notebook and a little recorder. “Are you okay for an interview?”
Molly nodded and straightened her back. “Absolutely.”
He pushed a green button on the recorder. “This is interview one with the main witness, Molly Jensen, in connection to case number: CA-64-241. Molly, you’re the manager of this hotel?”
“Tell me what you know about the man.”
Molly looked around the small room with its bulletin boards and old-fashioned pigeonholes full of papers. She knew what was on every single sheet, but right now she couldn’t remember why she’d ever felt they were important. Her eyes rested on the 1920’s French Pin-up-girl over her desk. She’d bought it on a holiday five years ago. “Vous vivrez bien a Juan-Le-Pin,” it said, but someone had crossed out Juan-Le-Pin and written The Peacock Hotel. It had made her smile so many nights when her feet were aching and her head buzzing after yet another busy wedding or office-party. Yes, you’ll live well at the Peacock Hotel. She rubbed her shoulders. The play of words gave her goose bumps now.
“Are you okay?” Lundergaard leaned over the table.
“Yes,” She cleared her throat. “Sorry. He’s been coming to the hotel for years. But after today, I’m not sure I’ve ever really known him. I wouldn’t have dreamed…” She saw him lying on the floor, saw him reach for her. I’m so happy I found you. I’ve looked everywhere… Molly closed her eyes, refusing to remember his words.
“You’re referring to the drugs?” Asked Lundergaard.
She nodded. That too.
“Do you know his name?”
“His full name.”
“Oh, I’ll check the computer.” She got up from the table, went to her desk where she looked for Mr. Braggs’ booking information till she remembered. “I don’t have anything on him. He asked me to delete his booking information yesterday.”
Molly nodded. “He was having one of his fits.”
Lundergaard looked up from his notes. “Please tell me about everything that happened yesterday.”
“Well, it was Monday morning…”
Monday mornings were usually quiet at the Peacock Hotel. Most weekenders had left Sunday, and new guests didn’t arrive till late afternoon. Mondays were for checking stock, placing orders, finishing the weekly report, and having long coffee breaks with the staff. Molly loved lazy Mondays as much as she loved the busy weekends. Except for this Monday. Her boss had made one of his surprise visits. Steen Greve, owner of the Peacock, was a small, thin man whose black-framed glasses dominated his appearance just as the hotel’s economy dominated his mind. He’d demanded a tour of the rooms at ten o’clock when the maids wouldn’t usually have started. Then he’d asked for the daily reports from the last week and the weekly report for the last three weeks. But Molly hadn’t worried. She’d had a sense he might show up. So she’d made sure the maids had finished one floor before nine, and she’d finished her weekly report yesterday. She printed out the last of the reports for him, allowed herself a satisfied smile and remarked, “Anything else you’d like to see?”
Steen was shaking his head when the elevator door opened and out came Mr. Braggs. Molly’s smile froze. Please let him pass. He looked around with a frown till he caught sight of Molly, then he smiled and headed unsteadily but still dead-on target for the reception desk. For crying out loud. Molly reached back and corrected her hairclip.
Mr. Braggs was a regular, coming twice a year, but he was very different from the other regulars. For one thing he was neither a pensioner nor a travels salesman. He was in his late fifties and had gray, frizzy hair that he kept swooping back over his head with a gesture of a man much younger. Everything about his style was of a man much younger: The tight black jeans, the loose T-shirt and worn-out sneakers. His faded leather jacket looked as if it had been with him since he’d actually been young.
“Mr. Braggs, how may I help you?” Molly smiled back.
Steen was right behind her, peering over her shoulder. He really didn’t like Mr. Braggs. Mr. Braggs was bad for business with his boisterous and slightly disheveled appearance.
But Mr. Braggs didn’t notice Steen. His eyes fixed on Molly as he lifted one eyebrow and lowered the other. “Something fishy is going on.”
“Something fishy is always going on, isn’t it?” Molly’s smile deepened. She couldn’t help it.
“Yeah, but this is different. Delete everything you have on me on that thing.” He pointed toward the computer then leaned his elbow on the desk as if it was a bar desk. “I almost ended up paying someone else’s hotel bill a couple of days ago, and I won’t stand for it again.”
“I know,” Molly nodded, “You told me yesterday. And as I said yesterday, I can’t cancel your information as long as you haven’t paid for your stay. You’re staying for a few more nights, right?”
“Is he drunk?” Steen whispered, his discomfort radiating like heat from his body.
She shrugged. He usually is.
Mr. Braggs found an old wallet in his back pocket and drew out a stack of thousand kroner bills. “This will cover it.”
Steen took a step forward and picked up the money. He counted the bills silently. “20,000 kroner is much too much, I’m sure.” He looked at Molly who nodded. About twice the price for the week Mr. Braggs had booked.
Mr. Braggs looked at Steen, narrowed his eyes and smiled with the left corner of his mouth. “Keep the change, buddy.”
Steen nodded, still looking at the money. “Do as the man say, Molly. I better take care of this and look through the reports.”
Molly heard the backroom door close behind her. “You’re sure you want me to cancel everything? If I delete you from the system, it’ll be much more difficult the next time you come.”
“I’ll take bother over being swindled, thank you. I was billed for a suite, 15.000 kr. for one night. And you know who’d stayed there? That Rock star guy, Johnson. Must have been one hell of a party to work up a bill like that.” Mr. Braggs continued, “Not that I’m a stranger to a good party. Or to that particular suite. I’ll pay for it gladly…”
“…But only when you’ve slept in it,” Molly finished his sentence and smiled again. This conversation was a close repetition to the one they’d had yesterday, and honestly, not that different from every other conversation they’d had. People were always out to get Mr. Braggs. The only thing that changed was the method.
He nodded, searched through the pockets in his faded leather jacket and drew out a crumpled-up packet of cigarettes, but one look from Molly made him put the pack back in his pocket with a grin. He stayed on the topic of slobby and much too young receptionists being the willing tools for swindlers. Some guy he’d met at the bar last night had lost more than 25.000 kr. because of it. “You can’t trust people anymore.” He shook his head, his pale eyes shining in drunken fierceness. “It’s not like the olden days.” He rubbed his chin. “Have I ever told you about the time I set up World Rock Vision in Paris? 1987. Man, back then there wasn’t a rock band I didn’t know.”
“Really?” Molly pressed “Enter” and Mr. Braggs’ account disappeared. She glanced at a stack of letters yet to be opened.
“Ratot was there too. Ever heard of M. Pierre Ratot? What a nose for talent. I’m going to see him in Paris come Friday. It’ll be just like the old days.”
Molly nodded and opened the top letter. “Paris, that sounds nice.” Just the bill from the florist. She put it in a small stack of daily bills and took another envelope.
“We were quite a team, Ratot and me, with the ladies, too.” He winked. “Hey, I was as blond as you then, would you believe it? Not as smoking, of course, but what can a bloke do?”
The phone rang and Molly picked it up. “Peacock Hotel, how may I help you?”
Mr. Braggs narrowed his eyes with the smile still on his lips. “It’s true, though. Blonds really do have more fun, right?” He laughed, making tar from every cigarette he’d smoked for the past forty years rattle up and down in his lungs.
Molly put a finger to her lips to make him lower his voice.
He covered his mouth, still laughing, as if they were teenagers doing a prank call. She stared at him. He reminds me of someone. Was it his posture? Or something he’d said? She could see him as a young man, laughing just like that.
“Hello?” The voice on the phone held enough irritation to catch her attention.
“One moment, please,” Molly said, then she whispered to Mr. Braggs, “Sorry, I’ll have to take this in the backroom.”
He grabbed her upper arm. The drunken shine in his eyes became less vivid. There was something else in them. Insistence. Molly frowned. Insistence and anxiety? That’s odd. God, I hope he’s not trying to make a pass.
“We should talk,” he wetted his lips. “For real, I mean. Over a beer or a bite to eat. Like I said, something’s going on…”
“Mr. Braggs, I’m busy.” She patted the hand holding her back and smiled her most firm smile till he released her. He looked away, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean to…”
Molly nodded. “I know. Let’s talk tomorrow, okay?”
Detective Lundergaard cleared his throat. “What did he want to talk about?”
Molly shook her head, “I presumed it to be one of his conspiracy theories, or stories from the old days, but I never found out.”
“I see.” Lundergaard tilted his head a little. “Who did he remind you of?”
Molly shrugged. “Nobody. I’ve gone through every person I can think of, but no one I know looks like Mr. Braggs. I was just tired, I think.”
“Hm.” Lundergaard wrote something down, but his writing was too intelligible to read upside down. “So you left him at reception?”
Molly nodded. “He was heading for the Bar and Grill when I turned to close the door.”
“Did you see him again yesterday?”
“Not yesterday. Not till this morning…”
“I want to finish your day yesterday before we move on to this morning. You left Mr. Braggs and came into this room where your boss was? Did anything unusual happened between the two of you?”
“Unusual?” Molly frowned in recollection.
Steen slipped his phone into his pocket as Molly closed the door behind her.
“What a horrible guy,” he said and placed both hands on his hips, thumbs forward.
She shrugged, “Mr. Braggs’ a bit of a fool, yes. But he has been here at least twice a year for the past five years, always leaving twenty thousand kroner and that’s not counting tips.”
Steen rubbed his nose and glanced toward his suitcase. Twenty thousand twice a year wasn’t something to discard without good reason. “You’ll have to make sure he doesn’t bother the other guests, though.”
“As long as I listen to him once in a while, he doesn’t bother anyone.” Molly took out her hairclip and checked the yellow gerbera. It looked tired. She stroked a petal then put the clip back in, firmer this time. “Completely harmless. Mr. Braggs, I mean.”
“If you say so. Papers look fine, Molly, everything’s up to date. I’d better be on my way.” Steen patted both pockets in his jeans and fished his car keys from the left one. “Till next time.”
Molly shook her head at the detective. “It was just the usual stuff.”
Lundergaard nodded without lifting his eyes. “And what did you do for the rest of the day?”
“Well, I worked here.” Molly frowned.
“In reception or in the back room?”
“Both. And for about an hour I helped Jannie set the evening tables.”
“What time did you leave the hotel?”
“At about five-thirty.”
“And how did you spend your evening?”
Molly moved uneasily in her seat. “Sorry, am I under suspicion for something?”
Lundergaard shook his head. “It’s a matter of regulation to ask witnesses to account for the past twenty-four hours before an incident like this. Besides, with the current focus on citizen responsibility, I’m bound to investigate whether this incident could have been prevented through due diligence.”
Molly opened her eyes wider. “Due diligence?”
“Don’t worry. But please, take me through your evening.”
She nodded and dried her palms in her skirt. “Well, I drove home.”
In January, the drive between Frederikshavn and Hjørring was dark at four thirty in the afternoon. Taillights wound up and down invisible hills in front of Molly like a red thread leading her home. Soon the road stretched out, as the hills were replaced by flat farmland of meagre sandy fields, good for nothing but growing potatoes. A right turn brought her north and closer to the sea.
Molly let her thoughts wander back to the day’s work, especially to Mr. Braggs. It was strange that he’d grabbed her arm. He’d never done anything like it before. Why, only the heavens knew, but she’d always had a soft spot for him, poor guy. Once he’d been something big in the music business, and he hadn’t handled it well when he wasn’t any more. Hans, caretaker and night watch at the hotel, had once told her, with just a hint of malicious pleasure, that Mr. Braggs used to belong to the rich and famous who flooded the seaside town of Skagen every August. About ten years ago, they had found him in the washroom at Ruth’s Hotel overdosing. Hans described the state of the washroom after Mr. Braggs’ body had tried to rid itself of the poison. Since then he’d been persona non grata in Skagen, and about five years ago, he started frequenting the Peacock instead. There had never been that sort of trouble with him as long as Molly had known him. He just drank a little too much.
Her ears caught the beginning notes of A Heart Full of Holes. She turned up the volume, hit the accelerator and overtook the car in front of her, humming along,“Now all that’s left to give you, is a heart full of holes, a heart full of holes…”
Edward Johnson, the “rock star” who’d billed Mr. Braggs for his room. Molly shook her head. Where did he get these ideas from? He’d been more paranoid than usually this time.
Molly reached Soervig, a village one kilometer from the sea and barely a dot even on a regional map. But except for the few years she’d studied abroad, it had always been her home. She’d been saving up to buy an apartment in Aalborg some years back when she was with Henrik. Then she’d found out about him, and, well, it was all history. She pulled into the driveway of her little yellow house.
In the scullery, she took out her hairclip, removed the flower, cut its stem, and placed it in a shot glass of water. Drink up, hon, you deserve it. Her fingers ran over its soft petals. Mom loved gerberas. In five days, it would be a year since her mom had passed.Molly took off her coat and boots and continued to the kitchen. She might as well get started on supper.
Later, while the pots soaked in the sink, she put on her boots and her coat and went outside. It was a couple of degrees below zero and the air felt new and fresh. It was quiet, and the darkness intensified as she turned right and left behind the streetlights to follow a winding path between buckthorn bushes. The darkness didn’t bother her; her feet knew every knobby root, and she lowered her head and moved her shoulder before the snagging branches.
The frost had hardened the wet sand and made it easier for her to climb the last sand dune. As she reached the top, she took in the view of the sea. There was hardly any wind which was unusual in January. It left the waves long and lazy. Above her the sky was littered with stars but no moon.
Molly went down and walked across the beach till she reached the water’s edge. She breathed in the scents of sea and soaked sand and counted the lights of twelve tankers blinking in the horizon. As she followed the shoreline, her eyes searched the surf. It was a mechanical action, for almost twenty years she’d done it without expecting to find anyone.
Before she turned inland to find a different path back, she halted and looked out over the water one last time. Carefully, she took a step forward into the water, feeling the pressure of the liquid around her ankles in her rubber boots. She took another step. There was less than a centimeter of rubber boot left above the water. A smile played on her lips as she took another tiny step, and she gasped as the ice-cold water ran into her boots, soaked her socks, and chilled her toes. She stepped back up on the beach, emptied her boots and cursed the fact that she’d be walking all the way back with wet feet. Then she chuckled silently and put the boots back on. Why do I keep doing this? She climbed the dunes and found her way home.
When she stepped back inside her scullery and threw the keys on the steel table, she breathed in, refreshed. What she needed now – after a change of socks – was a hot cup of tea, fire blazing in the stove and a good mystery. Molly had found an old gem by George Simenon; one she hadn’t read before. She slumped back on the couch, pulled up her feet, drew a blanket over her legs and with the steaming cup warming her hands, she opened on page one.
Looking up again, she realized she’d been following big, heavy Commissaire Maigret with the pipe in his mouth up and down the streets of Paris for two hours. She yawned and climbed the stairs to her bedroom, her mind still caught in the novel. As so often before, she played with the idea of visiting the places from the novel: to eat at La Coupole like Radek and Mr. Crosby, or at La Dauphine, the cafe which always delivered beer and sandwiches for Maigret’s interrogations. If Mr. Braggs could just fly off to Paris, why not her?
“I went home, cooked, went for a walk, read a book and went to bed,” Molly said.
“Did you meet anyone on your walk?” asked detective Lundergaard.
“No. I never do.” God, it sounds sad. She crossed her arms. It was just a fact that people rarely went to the beach in January after dark.
“And when you came back home?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t speak to anyone all night.”
“I see.” He wrote down two words in his notebook. It didn’t take a genius to guess those words: No alibi.
Molly moved in her chair. The nausea was back again.
“Mr. Braggs didn’t contact you?”
“Of course not. He didn’t have my number. He’s just a guest at the hotel I manage.” Right?
“Hm,” The detective scribbled some more. “So you had no idea of what was going to happen when you came to work this morning?”
Molly shook her head. “None whatsoever.”
Lundergaard looked up. He smiled reassuringly. “Do you need more water before we go through what happened this morning?”
Molly nodded and got up from her chair. “I’ll get it myself. I need the washroom, too.”
“Take your time.”
Scuttling down the hall, she swallowed again to keep the nausea down. She dried her sweaty palms in her skirt. I don’t get why I’m reacting like this.
His words. What did they mean?
Nothing. It was hallucinations. She kneeled in front of the toilet and threw up. At the sink, she washed her mouth and her face in ice cold water, then rubbed her face hard in a towel. Hallucinations. Sniffling, she took out the chrysanthemum from her hairclip and held its stem under the running water till her fingers were cold. She put the flower back in her clip and looked in the mirror. She kept on starring till her eyes had lost their shine of desperation and the redness of her skin had settled. Then she went back to the interview room and told the inspector about her morning.
January 26, Frederikshavn, Denmark
“And now the local news. An AMT at the corner of Jernbanegade and Danmarksgade has been the center of a giant scam…” Molly turned up the volume and pulled into the Peacock’s parking lot. “…It’s a problem on the rise, the police say…”
She shook her head and turned off the radio. There was something to Mr. Braggs’ words, you really couldn’t trust people anymore. Getting out of the car, she noticed salt crunching under her boots. Hans, caretaker and night watch at the Peacock, had spread it liberally although it was three degrees above freezing and the forecast promised rain. He was one for belt and braces, old Hans.
“Good morning, Molly. Am I glad to see you,” Hans greeted her as she came through the door at 6:35 am. “I didn’t think you’d be here until seven.” He put down the phone he’d been holding. There was a worried wrinkle between his eyes that meant something was proving to be a little more than he could handle.
“What’s up, Hans?” Molly caught a couple of curls that had escaped from the hairclip as she ran across the parking lot.
“The gentleman from room 225 came down a few minutes ago. He said he’d heard noises next door. I just checked. It’s Mr. Bragg’s room.”
“What kind of noises?”
“He said it sounded as if something heavy fell over. I didn’t know what to do. I was just about to call the boss.”
Molly had come in the nick of time then. This wasn’t the sort of thing you bothered Steen with, especially not if it concerned Mr. Braggs. She took the master key. “Why don’t we check it out first?”
Hans didn’t seem convinced, but he followed her when she headed for the elevator. Molly slowed her pace. Hans was only seventy-five, but his hip operation last spring hadn’t gone well, and he still had a bit of a limp.
The light didn’t switch on automatically as they stepped onto the 2nd floor. Molly pushed the button next to the elevator, but the hallway stayed dark. Even though she couldn’t see it, she was certain the wrinkle between Hans’ eyes had deepened.
“It worked last night.”
She put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s just a fuse, Hans. When they pop, they pop.”
“You wait here, Molly. I’ll go change it right away.” He stepped back into the elevator and rode down.
Alone in the dark corridor, Molly tapped her foot. It was going to take at least ten minutes for him to get back. She found her phone and turned on its flashlight. At room 223, she let the beam shine up and down the corridor. No one was there. Goosebumps rose all the way up her spine as a cold draft blew against her neck. She turned around and squinted against the darkness. Then she went to the far end of the hall and found a small window open. Molly frowned. She leaned out to catch the handle. Who would open a window in a hallway at this time of day? That window was only opened when the maids cleaned. She looked down into the alley. There was a faint burnt smell. Burnt plastic. She leaned further out. The black garbage bags looked intact. As far as she could see, nothing was smoking or smoldering. She leaned back and closed the window, shaking her head. Probably someone throwing out a cigarette. Molly rubbed her arms trying to make the goosebumps go away as she went back to Mr. Braggs’ room. Carefully she leaned her ear against his door and held her breath, listening.
Nothing but silence.
If Mr. Braggs was calling for help, she should be able to hear. She knocked and called out, “Mr. Braggs, are you okay?” Again, she pressed her ear against the door.
Still silence. He might be injured, poor guy. She knocked louder. “Mr. Braggs, I’m coming in unless you say you’re okay.” She let 30 seconds pass before opening the door and directing the beam inside.
The room looked like an earthquake area. Clothes, bottles and junk were scattered on all surfaces, but the worst part was the smell; definitely burnt plastic, but it also smelled of urine, stale beer, old socks and something sweet she couldn’t quite place. What had he been up to? He was nowhere to be seen, not in bed, nor in the lounge chair, and those were about the only places he could be. Except for the bathroom, of course. “Mr. Braggs, are you using the bathroom?”
The door was open and the ventilator on, but not the light. Molly sighed again. Being the manager of a small-town hotel meant that she was used to a workday with many different and often surprising challenges, but if she was about to find Mr. Braggs airing his willie, too drunk to care to answer, it would take the prize. She approached the bathroom door but stumbled over something on the floor. She bent to pick it up and realized it was his leather jacket. In the five years she’d known Mr. Braggs, she’d never seen him without it. Carefully she put the jacket on his bed and looked through the doorway.
He was sitting on the floor with his back to her in a faded black T-shirt, his head resting on the seat of the toilet. “Mr. Braggs, what on earth happened?” When she turned on the lights, she saw that the back of his head was covered in a red substance. He almost looked… Oh God, he’s dead. She put a hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Braggs?” Her hand jolted back as a sudden movement stirred his otherwise lifeless body. “Jeez, you scared me.”
“Ah Ally?” His words were slow as if he was half asleep. He started to turn but his upper body slid off the seat and the back of his head hit the bathroom tiles. It gave the most awful clunk and yet he didn’t make a sound, only blinked at the sharp light.
Molly held her breath and her pulse skyrocketed. Something’s dead wrong. She got down on her knees, crawled behind him and lifted his head into her lap. Her hands were sticky from blood when she fumbled for her phone to call 112.
“Ally, es et really u?” He lifted his head slowly from her lap. His speech was difficult to understand as if something bit off the hard consonants.
“It’s Molly, Mr. Braggs. Don’t worry, I’m calling for help.”
“No,” His eyes grew big. “No, get out of ‘ere. E ‘ight ‘ome back.”
“Who might come back?” Molly looked around. A chill shook her shoulders. She hadn’t locked the door.
A dispatcher responded to her call.
“Peacock Hotel, I have a guest with a head injury. He seems very confused in a drugged sort of way.” Her eyes scanned the bathroom floor “Oh, just now I notice a syringe.” Shit, Mr. Braggs. Molly stared into his scarily contracted pupils. “…Able to breathe?” Molly held the phone between her cheek and shoulder. “Are you having trouble breathing, Mr. Braggs?”
He closed his eyes and grinned, exposing two toothless gums. “I’ve een aving ouble breathing for irty years, ove.”
“Where are your teeth?”Molly scanned the bathroom floor again. No dentures in sight.
He frowned. “e ogg ‘em.”
“E ogg ‘em.” He pointed vaguely in the direction of the toilet.
Molly swallowed at the sight of the white toilet bowl streaked with something yellowish. She hoped he hadn’t flushed.
Mr. Braggs lifted his head again, then rolled to his side and with effort got up on unsteady legs. “Ally, you need ‘o leave…” His eyes started to close but he forced them back up and took a step forward.
“Mr. Braggs.” Molly got up too, still with the phone to her ear. His legs sagged, but Molly caught him by the elbow. “Let’s get you to your bed.” She half carried him into the bedroom and got him to sit on bed, but he refused to lie down. “‘E ‘ight ‘ome back.”
“Who? Mr. Braggs? Who’s coming back?”
He looked at her, fear shining clean in the too opened eyes. “ ‘E man ’om ’e bar.” Again, his eyes started to close, and his chin lowered toward his chest.
Molly grabbed his hand. “Someone did this to you?”
He lifted his head, got up from the bed and staggered toward the door. “E need ‘o ed out.” He was in the hallway, supporting himself against the wall, heading for the elevator, but when he reached it, it was coming up from the basement. Mr. Braggs groaned and pulled his hair. “E’s ‘oming.”
“It’s Hans, Mr. Braggs. He’s been changing a fuse.”
The stairs were next to the elevator, he stumbled down the first two steps and reached out for the wall. Molly ran forward as he took another uncoordinated step, “Wait, Mr. Braggs. For goodness’s sake, you’ll f…”
He fell headfirst and then round and round in somersaults. Molly stopped at the top of the stairs, holding her breath, her eyes almost as wide as Mr. Braggs’ had been as she followed his body rolling down with increasing speed. The stairs had a rounded 45-degree turn, so she couldn’t see the bottom of them. She ran halfway down without taking a breath.
His legs were sprawled on the bottom two steps and the rest of his body was on the floor. His mouth was open and his eyes too. “Jesus,” she said into the phone. “I don’t think he survived.” She ran down the last steps, put the phone on the floor and touched his neck and wrists. “There’s a pulse,” she said to the phone. She found the timer on her phone and tried to count the beats. “It’s incredibly slow.” Her eyes caught sight of old pinpoint-sized scars all the way up and down his arms. Oh, you poor old guy.
“He’s overdosing. You need to keep him conscious,” said the dispatcher.
Molly patted his cheeks. “Mr. Braggs?” She patted them harder.
Again, she heard the dispatcher: “Rouse him, ask him questions, talk about things that interest him.”
She got up on her knees and shook Mr. Braggs by the shoulders. “This is important, Mr. Braggs. Concentrate. Your friend, that guy Ratot, wants to know when you’re coming to Paris.”
Mr. Braggs’ eyes opened wide, and he grabbed her hand, trying to get up. His speech was even more unintelligible than before. He groaned. “Ell M. atot ‘o get ‘e hell out o’ there, someone’s coming for ‘im.”
Molly stroked his hair, relieved that he was conscious again. “Who’s coming for M. Ratot? Tell me.”
“e guy, om e bar.” His lower lip quivered, and his eyes turned red-rimmed. “’E did tis. ‘E ‘ant’s everything.”
“A guy from the bar made you do drugs?” Molly swallowed. Was he telling the truth or hallucinating?
Mr. Braggs’ body relaxed more, and Molly patted his cheek again. “Who is this guy? Tell me about him.”
He shuttered and shook his head. “A ‘on’t ‘now. He ad a lon wite beard.”
“A long white beard?”
“Yes, an a ed oat.”
Molly sighed. “A long white beard and a red coat? Mr. Braggs, are you describing Santa?”
He nodded, smiled and hummed “Jingle Bells.” Then he stopped and shook his head. His brow furrowed in despair, and he mumbled and gesticulating with his hands. All Molly understood was steal everything and burn. He groaned and rolled to his side.
“No, lie still, Mr. Braggs. You might have serious injuries.”
He got up on his knees, then to his feet and shook his head slowly, as if he was under water. “I need caffein.” He turned around till he saw the glass doors to the morning room. “Coffee.”
“No,” Molly grabbed his upper arm and tried to hold him back. “Stay here. I’ll get you coffee.” For a staggering and stumbling man, he was incredibly strong. He steadily continued toward the glass doors and tore them open. Molly was right behind him. She swallowed and prayed silently that no one was taking their breakfast early.
All the tables were ready for the morning serving. The white tablecloths had sharp creases, and the silver-wear shone in the glow from little tealights. The morning buffet was at the tables furthest away.
A small cough sounded to their left.
Molly closed her eyes. Of course. Of all people. It was Mr. and Mrs. Petersen, an elderly couple, ‘decent people,’ as Hans would have said. They were always up at six o’clock and out for a morning walk before they had their breakfast. Petersen was reading a newspaper, but his wife looked op with inquisitive eyes. Mr. Braggs staggered for the buffet. He stumbled into a table and upset the coffee cups and the sugar bowl. He pushed away and gave out a loud burp, then he leaned over another table and threw up all over the tealights.
“Mr. Braggs!” Molly heard the outrage in her own voice. He’s overdosing. Stop worrying about the tablecloths. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that Mr. Petersen had put down his newspaper. Molly turned toward them. “I’m afraid Mr. Braggs is feeling unwell, if you’d please step outside…”
Mr. Braggs staggered backward into a third table and tried to lean against it, but the round table couldn’t support his weight and the whole thing turned over with a crash of porcelain and silver. “Jesus.” Molly got down next to him, got his head out of the tablecloth, and picked a few pieces of porcelain off his face.
Jannie, the waitress, came running. “What’s going on?”
Mr. and Mrs. Petersen came too, looking down at Mr. Braggs with excited horror in their eyes. “That man,” said Mrs. Petersen, “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s got a head injury. An ambulance is on the way.” The Petersen’s indignation instantly changed to concern, but Molly still bent over Mr. Braggs to shield him from their stare. His face was different now, ashen, almost blueish. For the first time, she was really frightened that he wouldn’t make it. “We need to keep him alive till the paramedics arrive.” Her voice was resolute. They nodded in unison. Mr. Petersen lifted his chest and straightened his checkered blue shirt. “What can we do?”
Molly swallowed. “Bring coffee. And someone should go outside for the ambulance.” Mrs. Petersen herself trotted for the coffee while Mr. Petersen ran outside. Molly took the cup and poured a few drops down Mr. Braggs’ throat, but they rolled out the corner of his mouth. His eyes were slightly opened, staring unseeingly.
Jannie took Mrs. Petersen by the arm, pulling her gently backward. “Come, join your husband.”
Molly grabbed both Mr. Braggs’ shoulders. “Can you hear me?”
He inhaled deeply as if he’d held his breath for a long time. “’E’ll ake everythin,” he exhaled and blinked.
Molly stroked his soft frizzy hair, sighing herself in relief. “Don’t worry, no one is taking anything.”
Mr. Braggs squeezed her hand. “I’m so ‘appy I ‘aund you, Ally. I ‘ooked for you every‘ere.”
She frowned. “You looked for me?”
“Ma littl’ girl.”
Little girl? Both the words and his soft broken voice touched a soft spot inside her that hadn’t been touched since she was a child – a little girl. Molly clenched her teeth and hardened her stomach. With a steady voice, she asked,“Who are you talking about?”
His eyes still had that distant glare as if he wasn’t really seeing her. “I wanted ‘o ‘ell you.”
The knot in her stomach tightened till she almost couldn’t breathe. “Mr. Braggs, I don’t understand.”
He shuddered, tears rising in his eyes again. “Pese, ol me, am scared.”
Molly drew him closer and held him tightly. “Don’t be scared. I’m right here, and I’m not letting go.”
Sitting on the floor, rocking Mr. Braggs back and forth, her mind went back nineteen years. She was on the boat, holding on to Dad. Just holding on. She saw snowflakes dance in the water again, saw her own yellow hands below the surface. Even the pain in her shoulders and knees started pulsating. She gasped and closed her eyes tightly. This is different. It isn’t Dad. And he’ll make it. Again, she felt for Mr. Braggs’ pulse and was reassured when she felt the tiny beat.
Sounds came through from the world around them. The rattling of porcelain being swept up, the scraping of table-legs on the rug as someone put the table upright, the rustling of tablecloths being carried away, and then the crisp sound of a new tablecloth being spread over a table and swept into place. Molly didn’t lift her eyes or let her attention stray from the cold thin wrist she was holding while counting heartbeats. That was why she felt the last beat. A weak little beat like the rest of them. And then nothing. Oh God, no. Molly got up on her knees, placed a finger against his neck, then slapped his cheek. “Mr. Braggs, wake up.” She pressed both hands on his chest. “Mr. Braggs, wake up this minute.” Don’t do this. Don’t. “Jannie, get the defibrillator in the hallway. Quickly.” She heard Jannie’s running feet as she started pumping his chest. The doors to the morning-room opened. Three paramedics rushed in. “He’s not dead. You can still save him,” she said. It’s not Dad, it’s not happening all over. Calm yourself. But it felt as if her chest would implode under the pressure. “I can’t find his pulse. It was there a second ago, I swear.”
Two paramedics kneeled next to Mr. Braggs while the third helped Molly to stand. “You need to save him. You have to.”
The paramedic steered her firmly through the door to the anteroom, asking her what had happened and what she knew of the patient. A loud succession of beeps came from the morning room, and she recognized them as the defibrillator charging. “Clear,” someone said. Silence. Then the beeps of the charger again. Five times they tried before one of the other paramedics swung open the anteroom-door and said: “He didn’t make it. We’ve called the police.”
Molly staggered backward and bumped against the wine-fridge. She let herself slide down till she sat on the floor, winching at an old pain in her chest that she hadn’t felt since she was… a little girl. With it came the nauseating taste of guilt. She closed her eyes and tried not to gag.
The paramedic sat down beside her and took her wrist. “Are you alright?”
She nodded. “I’m fine.” She struggled back to her feet.
Jannie burst through the door. “Oh my God, Molly, what are we going to do? People are gathering in the hall, and that guy’s body is still in the morning room.”
Molly cleared her throat without getting rid of the horrifying taste. “We’ll have to move the morning serving to the Bar and Grill.” She inhaled and found Jannie’s eyes. “I’ll set the tables. You find Hans and tell him to move the hot buffet, then get started on the cold one. Run, now.”
Rain beat against the window in a steady soothing drum. Molly turned her face toward the sound. The rain they promised in this morning’s forecast. The back room had a small north-faced window that only on high summer days allowed for enough natural light to work by. Now, at the end of January, two stationary lamps were always burning. It made the outside look darker and removed. Seeing the rain trickling down the glass made Molly think about people outside, moving about their daily business, dreading the cold heavy drops from the sky. Mr. Braggs wouldn’t feel that again, the rain soaking his hair, his jacket, the thighs on his pants…
“So you have no information about the deceased? Not even his full name? An address maybe?” Lundergaard pushed his glasses further up his nasal spine and lifted a brow.
Molly shook her head. “I never had his full name, only initials. He was registered as Mr. DJ. Braggs, and I have a feeling Braggs is a nick name or an artist name.” She closed her eyes remembering the information she’d seen on the screen yesterday. “I know he paid by VISA, but I can’t remember which bank.” She opened her eyes again. “And as far as I know, Mr. Braggs didn’t have a permanent residence. He went from hotel to hotel all over the world. He was British, I believe.”
Lundergaard sighed and put down his pen. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” She stood up, unable to sit still anymore. “I don’t know from where, exactly. I’m ashamed to say it, but I didn’t always pay much attention to what he said.” God, I wish I had.
“If he isn’t from Denmark it can take weeks, months to trace his background. Britain is the worst. Ever heard of Anglo-Saxon bureaucracy?”
Molly shook her head. She saw Mr. Braggs in a freezer in the basement of the hospital in Aalborg. Forgotten by everyone. She shook her shoulders. “Didn’t you find his passport?”
Lundergaard shrugged. “It looks as if he has burned it along with some credit cards in the bathtub. Nothing but tiny stumps and ashes remain.”
Molly frowned and remembered the draft on her neck in the early morning hours. “There might be something in the back alley.”
Detective Lundergaard nodded, “I’ll take a look before I leave. All we’ve found so far is a wallet full of Euros and an old photo.”
Molly straightened and stepped toward him. “A photo? Can I see?”
Lundergaard found a pair of gloves and retrieved a plastic bag from a large case. He opened the bag, took out the wallet and opened it to expose a photo of six men standing close together, holding a golden gramophone between them. Molly leaned on the table. At first all she noticed was their clothes. One of the guys with dark spiky hair wore an oversized pink suit jacket, another wore a denim jacket with roomy sleeves and jeans so tight his crotch was outlined. Their hair-do was a story of its own. Molly leaned closer. Her eyes opened wide. She pointed to the guy furthest to the left. “That’s Mr. Braggs.”
“How do you know?”
Molly stared at the photo. His hair was a helmet of small blond curls. She focused on his rounded chin, his straight nose, his full sensitive lips. The whole room swayed again. She sat back down and took a sip of water. “He told me he was blond when he was young.” She pointed to the photo. “And that’s his leather jacket. At least it looks just like it.”
Lundergaard looked at the photo too. He looked up at her, his eyes narrowing. Molly swallowed. You see it too?
“Recognise any of the others?” He asked. “Or know why the photo was taken?”
So you don’t see it. It’s just me then. She shook her head without taking her eyes from the blond man. “I guess it’s a band from the eighties or nineties. He was something in the music industry back then.” Molly frowned. “Are you sure he died from an overdose? He was very frightened. And there’s that man from the bar he kept talking about.”
The officer lifted his eyes. “Did he mention a name?”
Molly shook her head. “Only what I already told you. That he had a long white beard and a red coat.”
Lundergaard sighed again. “Paranoia. Sometimes heroin overdoses can have that effect.” He leaned over the table, choosing his words. “We’ll need a medical examination before we can say for sure. But looking at the scene, and the old scars on his arms, I’m confident it was a straightforward overdose.”
She’d seen the scars too. She just couldn’t believe it. “Did you find his teeth?”
“No, he must have flushed them.” Lundergaard scratched his neck. “You can’t help me with anything? His occupation, his age, something?”
Molly shook her head. What could she say? Mr. Braggs was just a poor guy drifting. She told Lundergaard that Mr. Braggs had retired about ten years ago. “I don’t know exactly what he did, only that it was something to do with music. You might google “World Rock Vision.” Or get in touch with his friend, M. Pierre Ratot. He might know more.”
The officer jotted it down, then looked at his watch. “Mind if I check out the alley before I go?”
“It’s down the hall, out the backdoor and to the left.” Molly waited till she heard the door close before she found her phone and took a picture of the photo in Mr. Braggs’ wallet.
When Lundergaard came back, he was shaking his head. “You were right. He did throw some pieces out the window, but it won’t help us much.” He showed her the charred pieces of paper he’d found and a wine-red piece of a passport. “It looks like you were right about him being British, too. See?” He pointed to a golden pattern. “Looks like a piece of unicorn, doesn’t it? Guess there’s no way around the bureaucracy.” They talked for another fifteen minutes, but nothing new surfaced. “I’ll need your address in case we need to ask more questions,” he said and found his notebook again.
“I’m from Soervig…”
He looked up. “Molly Jensen from Soervig?”
“Oh.” Lundergaard looked at her hair and focused on the rust-red chrysanthemum in her hairclip. In his eyes registered understanding.
“Do we know each other?”
“No, it’s just…” he looked down at his notebook, “I know of you.”
“What do you mean?”
“My mother lives in Soervig. She often talks about you when I visit her. ‘Poor Molly,’ she says, ‘Such a tragedy.’”
“Still?” Molly burst out. “They still think of me as ‘poor Molly’? It’s been nineteen years.” She tore both hands through her hair, then exhaled. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s me. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.” He fished a card from his inner pocket. “Look, I need to be moving. Call me if you think of something.” He stepped into reception and almost collided with Steen, who’d just arrived.
“By the way,” Lundergaard turned toward Molly again. “Would you mind if I had a technician take a look at your computer? Reconstructing your booking information might be the quickest way to identifying Mr. Braggs.”
“Of course, we’d mind,” Steen broke in. “We have information on hundreds of people.” He switched on the fluorescent ceiling light. “I can’t let you access that without a warrant.” Although a head shorter than Lundergaard, Steen managed to look down his nose at him. Lundergaard shook his head and turned without another word.
Steen looked at Molly with annoyance but as his eyes trailed down her body, his looked changed. His mouth opened, his eyes widened; he was the perfect embodiment of horror. Molly looked down herself. She still hadn’t washed off the dried blood on her wrist. There was blood on her skirt too. It hadn’t showed in the soft morning light because the skirt was wine-red. But here in the merciless fluorescent glare, the rust-red blood stood out clearly. When she looked up again, Steen was still staring at it. His lips were pressed to a tight white line. “You’d better get cleaned up.”
Thank you for asking Steen, I’m okay, though it’s been a bit tough. Without a word, she found her extra uniform in the cloakroom and headed for the stairs to the basement.
“Good to see you got yourself sorted out.” Steen looked up when she returned. A compressed smile was chiseled on his face.
Molly had spent twenty minutes under the pouring water in an effort to wash away what had happened, but Mr. Braggs kept showing up. “Please hold me, I’m scared.” She shivered.
“Horrible what happened,” Steen said.
She nodded, hugging herself. Just horrible.
“I don’t dare think what the consequences will be for the hotel.”
The hotel? Molly frowned.
“Nothing could be worse for the turnover.”
“Sorry, but what does Mr. Braggs’ death have to do with the turnover?”
“You wait and see. Mr. and Mrs. Petersen are already talking to whoever will listen. As soon as this hits the news, people will be cancelling on us like we had the plague.” Steen lifted his hand and pointed in the direction of the rooms. “Who’d want to stay in a hotel with heroin addicts?”
“Mr. Braggs wasn’t an addict.”
“No, so you said.” Steen looked at the table between them. “I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. Your judgement is usually better, Molly.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“He should never have been here in the first place. Have you seen his room? And he caused havoc in the morning room, too.”
Molly straightened her back. “He broke two cups and spoiled a tablecloth. The rest was put straight before he even drew his last breath.” She crossed her arms. “And as to his room, nothing’s broken. It’s messy and it’s smelly, but we’ve handled worse. I can assure you that I’ll take care of it.”
Steen shook his head, his eyes still exploring the table. It was plain birchwood and fairly new. No marks or scratches, nothing to hold anyone’s attention. Still, he seemed to find it deeply arresting. “Maybe you should take some sick leave. You know, just till you’re back on your feet.”
“Steen, you can’t seriously think I’m responsible for this? For Mr. Braggs’ death?”
He shook his head again and rubbed a forefinger on the table as if to remove a spot that wasn’t there. “I’m only thinking about your wellbeing – and of course of the hotel. We all need to move on as quickly as possible.” He threw her a look so fast she couldn’t catch it let alone hold it. “You can leave whenever you’re ready. Or stay. Whatever you need.”
“I can stay. At least till we find someone to fill in for me.”
“I’ve already called Christine. She’ll be here in five minutes. She can take over for a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks? You’re suggesting I take sick leave for a couple of weeks?”
“Let’s start there and see how it goes.”
“Yes, let’s.” Molly turned and walked out the door. She passed reception where the phone was ringing, but no one was around to answer. Typical. Well, she wasn’t going to do it. Steen could just try and run this circus himself. Molly continued to the cloakroom to get her things.
As she passed reception again, the phone was still ringing. It was probably just a booking. It couldn’t be the police calling about Mr. Braggs, right? Maybe they’ve already found out who he was. She reached over the desk and lifted the receiver.
“Peacock Hotel, Molly speaking. How may I help you?”
“Madame Molly? Je suis monsieur Leon, de Le Dokhan, Paris…”
Molly had to concentrate to speak French, it had been a while.
“How may I help you, M. Leon?”
“I have been trying to reach a M. Braggs. Is he currently staying at Le Peacock?”
Molly frowned. “May I ask what this is about?”
“M. Braggs has booked an Executive Room for January 28th, but he has enough points for an upgrade. Alors, I would like to offer M. Braggs a suite instead.”
Molly was about to explain that Mr. Braggs wouldn’t be needing his room when a question escaped her mouth: “When did he book this room, M. Leon?”
“Half an hour ago. I’ve been trying to reach him ever since.”
Molly stopped breathing. Mr. Braggs had booked a room an hour after his death?
“Are you still there, Mme Molly?”
“Yes.” Molly made a quick decision. “Book the suite for Mr. Braggs, please. You can fax the confirmation to me.”