1327 words (5 minute read)

3

‘What happened?’

Fernando Ruiz slowly shook his head. ‘Another suicide, apparently.’

Hansen got into his sporty Gore-Tex coat. Deep inside he was relieved to put the presentation aside. ‘Who and how?’

‘An official fell from the thirteenth floor ... we don’t know the exact circumstances yet.’

A bizarre grin appeared on Ludwig’s face. ‘Right into the middle of a Chinese tourist group.’

‘It could have been an accident,’ Hansen remarked as they walked to the lifts.

‘At this stage we’re assuming suicide.’ Fernando Ruiz seemed convinced. Hansen frowned and glanced at De Bruyn, who narrowed his eyes and shrugged. The bulk of the thirteenth floor was occupied by the offices of the commissioners and the vice president. He didn’t push the matter.

‘We’ll have a look at the scene,’ Ruiz instructed them in the lift. ‘I’ve already sent Mary and Leonora to start questioning the victim’s co-workers. We’ll join them once we’re done. And before you ask – no, he’s not one of the commissioners. They’re all away today.’

‘Duh,’ Ludwig grinned.

Fernando Ruiz gave him a cold look of disapproval before he continued. ‘The victim was a special adviser, an AD-15. He worked for Vice President Kostakipoulos.’

Ludwig De Bruyn still had something to say. ‘AD-15, you say? With a salary like that, suicide would be the last thing you’d be thinking about.’

For some it’s not just about the money, Hansen wanted to say. He bit his tongue. Actually, there was a good point hidden in Ludwig’s cynical remark. Unless the victim was a heavy gambler or insanely bad with money, a common reason for suicide could already be ruled out: financial difficulties. Even top eMadsrs at the Commission were far from rich, but an annual salary of almost 200 thousand euros would still be a minor fortune. ‘What do we know about him, anyway?’

‘Not much at this stage,’ replied Fernando Ruiz. ‘As far as I know, he was more of a legal expert than a politician or administrator.’

The lift came to a halt, and a shabby-looking, middle-aged woman stepped inside. The three investigators greeted her reluctantly, slightly annoyed at the delay. They had no time to waste. Their impatience grew when the lift stopped again on the next floor down to let her out.

‘She should have taken the stairs,” said Ludwig between his teeth. ‘Some exercise would have done her good.’

Hansen had something else on his mind. ‘Fernando,’ he asked his boss. ‘Do I really have to take part in this? I thought this presentation for the HR bosses would be my last job here.’

‘No,’ came the laconic reply.

‘My contract expires on Sunday. Technically on Friday in fact.’

‘That means that until Friday you’re still with us.’

Ludwig grinned at Hansen with true schadenfreude. ‘See? That’s why sensible people take holidays in their last week.’

At last the lift reached the ground floor.

Fernando Ruiz indicated the direction. ‘Right side entrance.’

They rushed through the security gates. Security personnel had locked the revolving bullet-proof glass doors. The spacious lobby of the Berlaymont was crowded with journalists arriving from a press conference, and the more astute ones were already sensing that something newsworthy was happening. The crowd grew quickly as the ten lifts delivered more and more officials on their way home, and the lobby began to look like an airport on Christmas Eve where all flights had been cancelled. On the yellow walls, huge TV screens showed the ongoing session of the nearby European Parliament with the sound turned down. Looking at the empty rows, Hansen envied the MEPs who were already on their way home after a day’s work.

The Berlaymont security guards, all dressed in badly tailored black suits with the logo of their company on their chests, waved them through the crowd.

Cold rain fell on their bare heads as they left the building. The body was lying a dozen metres or so from the Berlaymont, between the Robert Schuman memorial and a long, low structure that everyone used as a bench. It was actually designed to break up an angry crowd that might be about to storm the building, in the same way as a rock would break the flow of a wave. To Hansen, the conical, grey memorial of the European Union’s founding father always resembled a gravestone.

Cordoning off a body was not something the Berlaymont’s security personnel were trained for on a regular basis. Yet Hansen had to admit that the relevant protocol had been followed flawlessly. The crowd was ushered to the exit at the other side of the huge pillar supporting the northern wing, from which the death scene could not be observed. The body itself was already covered with a blanket and cordoned off with the stretch-ribbons usually used for keeping the crowds of visitors in line. To his relief, Hansen saw no reporters.

The guards only kept the Chinese tourists at the scene. Hansen saw one of them arguing with the guards in Chinese, his arms outstretched, begging them to let the group go. A woman wearing glasses and a tieless suit – probably a psychologist from the medical service – was trying to calm a girl down who seemed to be in shock, and who was grasping a red umbrella as if her life depended on it.

Hansen was about to step over to the body when Fernando Ruiz grabbed his arm. He showed him an access badge. ‘That’s why we’re still counting on you, Mads.’

The badge was soiled with a bloody fingerprint, apparently from a hand wearing rubber gloves, but the photograph and name were still visible.

‘I see,’ Hansen nodded. Ruiz signalled him to keep it with him.

Hansen glanced once again at the badge, seeing an intelligent face giving him a friendly smile. He read out the cardholder’s name again and sighed.

Good God, he thought. A fellow Dane. What happened to you?

But Viggo Rasmussen, a high-ranking Danish special adviser to the vice president could no longer answer. The investigator approached and lifted the rain-soaked grey blanket to let the body tell its own story. There was very little to say. The immediate cause of death was more than clear.

Mads Hansen had seen his share of dead bodies. The sight of blood, gore and broken bones did not turn his stomach. On the other hand, the way death could force a human body into the most unnatural poses never ceased to amaze him. He heard Fernando Ruiz cough behind him.

‘Shouldn’t we wait for the Belgian police?’ he asked his boss.

‘Between the Berlaymont and the crowd breakers, it’s our turf,’ the Spaniard replied.

Hansen nodded. ‘I know the drill. Unless we find evidence of murder or manslaughter, it’s our job to investigate.’

‘Precisely.’

‘Still, we’ll need forensics,’ Hansen said.

‘I know, right?’ replied Ruiz bluntly. Hansen knew he had touched a nerve. Fernando Ruiz had always wanted to turn the Directorate of Security into a real investigative authority. Its own forensics, its own investigators – real investigators, not just investigating bureaucrats like him and his colleagues, no matter what their background, which could range from Danish military intelligence to Britain’s MI5. It would have been reasonable. With the Commission, though, common sense was always the underdog in the fight with regulations and local politics, which rarely yielded more than a stillborn compromise with all the stakeholders involved.

‘If the Belgians show up, don’t argue. Leave them to De Bruyn.’

Let’s get down to business, thought Mads Hansen. He leaned closer to the body and patted down the pockets of the bloodied suit.

Next Chapter: 4