Something was wrong.
At first the female passport official had beamed: ‘How are ya, mate?’
‘I’m fine,’ Harry Hole had lied. It was more than thirty hours since he had taken off from Oslo via London, and after the change of planes in Bahrain he had sat in the same bloody seat by the emergency exit. For security reasons it could only be tipped back a little, and his lumbar region had almost crumbled by the time they reached Singapore.
And now the woman behind the counter was no longer smiling.
She had scrutinised his passport with conspicuous interest. Whether it was the photograph or his name that had initially put her in such a cheery mood was hard to say.
Harry Hole had a suspicion that passport officials in most places in the world would have added a ‘sir’, but he had read that this type of formal pleasantry wasn’t especially widespread in Australia. It didn’t really matter; Harry wasn’t particularly accustomed to foreign travel or snobbish – all he wanted was a hotel room and a bed as quickly as possible.
‘Yes,’ he had replied, drumming his fingers on the counter.
And that was when her lips had pursed, turned ugly and articulated, with a pointed tone: ‘Why isn’t there a visa in your passport, sir?’
His heart sank, as it invariably did when there was a hint of a catastrophe in the offing. Perhaps ‘sir’ was used only when situations became critical?
‘Sorry, I forgot,’ Harry mumbled, searching feverishly through his inside pockets. Why had they not been able to pin a special visa in his passport as they do with standard visas? Behind him in the queue he heard the faint drone of a Walkman and realised it was his travelling companion from the plane. He had been playing the same cassette the whole flight. Why the hell could he never remember which pocket he put things in? It was hot as well, even though it was getting on for ten o’clock at night. Harry could feel his scalp beginning to itch.
At last he found the document and placed it on the counter, to his great relief.
‘Police officer, are you?’
The passport official looked up from the special visa and studied him, but the pursed mouth was gone.
‘I hope no Norwegian blondes have been murdered?’
She chuckled and smacked the stamp down hard on the special visa.
‘Well, just the one,’ Harry Hole answered.
The arrivals hall was crowded with travel reps and limousine drivers, holding up signs with names on, but not a Hole in sight. He was on the point of grabbing a taxi when a black man wearing light blue jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, and with an unusually broad nose and dark, curly hair ploughed a furrow between the signs and came striding towards him.
‘Mr Holy, I presume!’ he declared triumphantly.
Harry Hole considered his options. He had decided to spend the first days in Australia correcting the pronunciation of his surname so that he wouldn’t be confused with apertures or orifices. Mr Holy however, was infinitely preferable.
‘Andrew Kensington. How are ya?’ the man grinned and stuck out an enormous fist.
It was nothing less than a juice extractor.
‘Welcome to Sydney. Hope you enjoyed the flight,’ the stranger said with evident sincerity, like an echo of the air hostess’s announcement twenty minutes earlier. He took Harry’s battered suitcase and began to walk towards the exit without a backward glance. Harry kept close to him.
‘Do you work for Sydney police?’ he initiated.
‘Sure do, mate. Watch out!’
The swing door hit Harry in the face, right on the hooter, and made his eyes water. A bad slapstick sketch could not have started worse. He rubbed his nose and swore in Norwegian. Kensington sent him a sympathetic look.
‘Bloody doors, eh?’ he said.
Harry didn’t answer. He didn’t know how to answer that sort of comment down under.
In the car park Kensington unlocked the boot of a small, well-used Toyota and shoved in the suitcase. ‘Do you wanna drive, mate?’ he asked in surprise.
Harry realised he was sitting in the driver’s seat. Of course, they drove on the bloody left in Australia. However, the passenger seat was so full of papers, cassettes and general rubbish that Harry squeezed into the back.
‘You must be an Aboriginal,’ he said as they turned onto the motorway.
‘Guess there’s no fooling you, Officer,’ Kensington answered, glancing in the mirror.
‘In Norway we call you Australian Negroes.’
Kensington kept his eyes trained on the mirror. ‘Really?’
Harry began to feel ill at ease. ‘Er, by that I just mean that your forefathers obviously didn’t belong to the convicts sent here from England two hundred years ago.’ He wanted to show he had at least a modicum of knowledge about the country’s history.
‘That’s right, Holy. My forefathers were here a bit before them. Forty thousand years, to be precise.’
Kensington grinned into the mirror. Harry vowed to keep his mouth shut for a while.
‘I see. Call me Harry.’
‘OK, Harry. I’m Andrew.’
Andrew ran the conversation for the rest of the ride. He drove Harry to King’s Cross, holding forth the whole way: this area was Sydney’s red-light district and the centre for the drugs trade and to a large extent all the other shady dealings in town. Every second scandal seemed to have a connection with some hotel or strip joint inside this square kilometre.
‘Here we are,’ Andrew said suddenly. He pulled into the kerb, jumped out and took Harry’s suitcase from the boot.
‘See you tomorrow,’ Andrew said, and with that he and the car were gone. With a stiff back and jet lag beginning to announce its presence, Harry and his suitcase were now alone on a pavement in a town boasting a population roughly equivalent to the whole of Norway, outside the splendid Crescent Hotel. The name was printed on the door next to three stars. Oslo’s Chief Constable was not known for largesse with regards to accommodation for her employees. But perhaps this one was not going to be too bad after all. There must have been a civil service discount and it was probably the hotel’s smallest room, Harry reflected.
And it was.