I'm delighted today to offer something a little special... thanks to Karen at Orenda Books I have the first chapter of Ragnar Jónasson's new Dark Iceland novel, Rupture, and a chance to win some goodies... a signed, limited edition hardback copy of the book, a bookmark and some Icelandic
To enter, retweet the pinned Tweet on @bluebookballoon advertising this post before 12 noon on Saturday 4 February. I'll choose a winner at random after that.
It had been an evening like any other, spent stretched out on the sofa.
They lived in a little apartment on the ground floor of an old house at the western end of Reykjavík, on Ljósvallagata. It was positioned in the middle of an old-fashioned terrace of three houses, built back in the 1930s. Róbert sat up, rubbed his eyes and looked out of the window at the little front garden. It was getting dark. It was March, when weather of any description could be expected; right now it was raining. There was something comforting about the patter of raindrops against the window while he was safely ensconced indoors.
His studies weren’t going badly. A mature student at twenty eight, he was in the first year of an engineering degree. Numbers had always been one of his pleasures. His parents were accountants, living uptown in Árbær, and while his relationship with them had always been difficult, it was now almost non-existent; his lifestyle seemed to have no place in their formula for success. They had done what they could to steer him towards bookkeeping, which was fair enough, but he had struck out on his own.
Now he was at university, at last, and he hadn’t even bothered to let the old folks know. Instead, he tried to focus on his studies, although these days his mind tended to wander to the Westfjords. He owned a small boat there, together with a couple of friends, and he was already looking forward to summer. It was so easy to forget everything – good and bad – when he was out at sea. The rocking of the boat was a tonic for any stress and his spirit soared when he was enveloped by the complete peace. At the end of the month he’d be heading west to get the boat ready. For his friends, the trip to the fjords was a good excuse to go on a drinking binge. But not for Róbert. He had been dry now for two years – an abstinence that had become necessary after the period of serious drinking that began with the events that had unfolded on that fateful day eight years earlier.
It was a beautiful day. There was scarcely a breath of wind on the pitch, it was warm in the summer sun and there was a respectable crowd. They were on their way to a convincing win against an unconvincing opposition. Ahead of him lay training with the national youth team, and later that summer the possibility of a trial with a top Norwegian side. His agent had even mentioned interest from some of the teams lower down in the English leagues. The old man was as proud as hell of him. He had been a decent football player himself but never had the chance to play professionally. Now times had changed, there were more opportunities out there.
Five minutes were remaining when Róbert was passed the ball. He pushed past the defenders, and saw the goal and the fear on the goalkeeper’s face. This was becoming a familiar experience; a five–nil victory loomed.
He didn’t see the tackle coming, just heard the crack as his leg broke in three places and felt the shattering pain. He looked down, paralysed by the searing agony, and saw the open fracture.
It was a sight that was etched into his memory. The days spent in hospital passed in a fog, although he wouldn’t forget the doctor telling him that his chances of playing football again – at a professional level, at any rate – were slim. So he gave it all up, and sought solace in the bottle; each drink quickly followed by another. The worst part was that, while he made a better recovery than the doctor expected, by the time he was fit, it was too late to turn the clock back on his football career.
Now, though, things were better. He had Sunna, and little Kjartan had a place in his heart as well. But despite this, his heart harboured some dark memories, which he hoped he could keep hidden in the shadows.
It was well into the evening when Sunna came home, tapping at the window to let him know that she had forgotten her keys. She was as beautiful as ever, in black jeans and a grey roll-neck sweater. Raven hair, long and glossy, framed her strong face. To begin with, it had been her eyes that had enchanted him, closely followed by her magnificent figure. She was a dancer, and sometimes it was as if she danced rather than walked around their little apartment, a confident grace imbuing every movement.
He knew he had been lucky with this one. He had first chatted to her at a friend’s birthday party, and they’d clicked instantly. They’d been together for six months now, and three months ago they had moved in together.
Sunna turned up the heating as she came in; she felt the cold more than he did.
‘Cold outside,’ she said. Indeed, the chill was creeping into the room. The big living-room window wasn’t as airtight as it could have been, and there was no getting used to the constant draughts.
Life wasn’t easy for them, even though their relationship was becoming stronger. She had a child, little Kjartan, from a previous relationship and was engaged in a bitter custody battle with Breki, the boy’s father. To begin with, Breki and Sunna had agreed on joint custody, and at the moment Kjartan was spending some time with his father.
Now, though, Sunna had engaged a lawyer and was pressing for full custody. She was also exploring the possibility of continuing her dance studies in Britain, although this was not something that she and Róbert had discussed in depth. But it was also a piece of news that Breki would be unlikely to accept without a fight, so it looked as if the whole matter would end up in court. Sunna believed she had a strong enough case, though, and that they would finally see Kjartan returned to her full time.
‘Sit down, sweetheart,’ Róbert said. ‘There’s pasta.’
‘Mmm, great,’ she said, curling up on the sofa.
Róbert fetched the food from the kitchen, bringing plates and glasses and a jug of water.
‘I hope it tastes good,’ he said. ‘I’m still finding my way.’
‘I’m so hungry it won’t matter what it tastes like.’
He put on some relaxing music and sat down next to her.
She told him about her day – the rehearsals and the pressure she was under. Sunna was set on perfection, and hated to get anything wrong.
Róbert was satisfied that his pasta had been a success; nothing outstanding, but good enough.
Sunna got to her feet and took his hand. ‘Stand up, my love,’ she said. ‘Time to dance.’
He stood up and wrapped his arms around her and they moved in time to a languid South American ballad. He slid a hand under her sweater and his fingertips stroked her back, unclipping her bra strap in one seamless movement. He was an expert at this.
‘Hey, young man,’ she said with mock sharpness, her eyes warm. ‘What do you think you’re up to?’
‘Making the most of Kjartan being with his dad,’ Róbert answered, and they moved into a long, deep kiss. The temperature between them was rising, as was the temperature in the room, and before long they were making their way to the bedroom.
Out of habit, Róbert pushed the door to and drew the curtains across the bedroom window overlooking the garden. However, none of these precautions stopped the sounds of their lovemaking carrying across to the apartment next door.
When everything was quiet again, he heard the indistinct slamming of a door, muffled by the hammering rain. His first thought was that it was the back door to the porch behind the old house.
Sunna sat up in alarm and glanced at him, disquiet in her eyes. He tried to stifle his own fear behind a show of bravado and, getting to his feet, ventured naked into the living room. It was empty.
But the back door was open, banging to and fro in the wind. He glanced quickly into the porch, just long enough to say that he had taken a look, and hurriedly pulled the door closed. A whole regiment of men could have been out there for all he knew, but he could make out nothing in the darkness.
He then went from one room to another, his heart beating harder and faster, but there were no unwelcome guests to be seen. It was just as well that Kjartan was not at home.
And then he noticed something that would keep him awake for the rest of the night.
He hurried through the living room, frightened for Sunna, terrified that something had happened to her. Holding his breath, he made his way to the bedroom to find her seated on the edge of the bed, pulling on a shirt. She smiled weakly, unable to hide her concern.
‘It was nothing, sweetheart,’ he said, hoping she would not notice the tremor in his voice. ‘I forgot to lock the door after I took the rubbish out; didn’t shut it properly behind me,’ he lied. ‘You know what tricks the wind plays out back. Stay there and I’ll get you a drink.’
He stepped quickly out of the bedroom and rapidly removed what he had seen.
He hoped it was the right thing to do – not to tell Sunna about the water on the floor, the wet footprints left by the uninvited guest who had come in out of the rain. The worst part was that they hadn’t stopped just inside the back door. The trail had led all the way to the bedroom.