The quiet girl, p.1
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       The Quiet Girl, p.1

           Peter Høeg
The Quiet Girl

  The Quiet Girl

  Peter Høeg

  Farrar, Straus and Giroux

  19 Union Square West, New York 10003

  Copyright © 2006 by Peter Høeg

  Translation copyright © 2007 by Nadia Christensen

  All rights reserved

  Distributed in Canada by Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.

  Printed in the United States of America

  Originally published in 2006 by Rosinante, Denmark, as Den stille pige

  Published in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

  First American edition, 2007

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Høeg, Peter, 1957-

  [Stille pige. English]

  The quiet girl / by Peter Høeg ; translated by Nadia Christensen.

  -- 1 st American ed.

  p. cm.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-374-26369-0 (hardcover : alk. paper)

  ISBN-10: 0-374-26369-8 (hardcover : alk paper)

  I. Christensen, Nadia. II. Title.

  PT8176.18.O335S7513 2007



  Designed by Jonathan D. Lippincott

  123456789 10


  Thank you to Jes Bertelsen, Erik Høeg, Karen Høeg, Nelly Jane,

  Jakob Mailing Lambert, and Otto Moltke-Leth.



  SheAlmighty had tuned each person in a musical key, and Kasper could hear it. Best in the brief, unguarded moments when people were nearby but didn't yet know he was listening. So he waited by the window, as he was doing now.

  It was cold. The way it could be only in Denmark, and only in April. When, in mad enthusiasm for the spring light, people turned off the central heating, brought their fur coats to the furrier, dispensed with their long underwear, and went outside. And only when it was too late, discovered that the temperature was at freezing, the relative humidity 90 percent, and the wind was from the north and went straight through clothing and skin, deep into the body, where it wrapped itself around the heart and filled it with Siberian sadness. The rain was colder than snow, a heavy, fine rain that fell like a gray silk curtain. From behind that curtain a long black Volvo with tinted windows appeared. A man, a woman, and a child got out of the car, and at first it looked promising.

  The man was tall, broad-shouldered, used to getting his own way--and capable of having a powerful impact on those around him if he didn't. The woman was blond as a glacier and looked like a million bucks; she also looked smart enough to have earned it herself. The little girl had dignity and wore expensive clothes. It was like a tableau of a holy, wealthy family.

  They reached the center of the courtyard, and Kasper got his first sense of their musical key. It was D-minor, at its worst. As in Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor. Great fateful pillars of music. Then he recognized the little girl. At that precise moment the silence occurred.

  It was very brief, perhaps a second, perhaps not at all. But while it lasted, it obliterated reality. It took away the courtyard, the rehearsal ring, Daffy's office, the window. The bad weather, the April month. Denmark. The present time.

  Then it was over. Vanished, as if it had never existed.

  He clutched the door frame. There had to be a natural explanation. He'd suffered an attack of indisposition. A blackout. A temporary blood clot. No one survives with impunity two nights in a row, from eleven to eight in the morning, at the card table. Or it had been another tremor. The first big ones had been felt way out here.

  He cautiously looked behind him. Daffy sat at the desk as if nothing had happened. Out in the courtyard the three figures struggled forward against the wind. It hadn't been a tremor. It had been something else.

  The true mark of talent is the ability to recognize when to give things up. He'd had twenty-five years of experience in rightly choosing to part with things. He need only say the word, and Daffy would deny him a home.

  He opened the door and extended his hand.

  "Avanti," he said. "I'm Kasper Krone. Welcome."

  As the woman shook his hand, he met the little girl's eyes. With a slight motion, evident only to him and her, she shook her head.

  * * *

  He took them into the practice room; they stood there looking around. Their sunglasses gave them a blank air, but their tone was intense. They had expected more finesse. Something in the style of the main stage at the Royal Theater, where the Royal Danish Ballet rehearses. Something like the reception rooms at Amalienborg Palace. With merbau and soft colors and gilded panels.

  "Her name is KlaraMaria," said the woman. "She's a nervous child. She gets very tense. You were recommended to us by people at Bispebjerg Hospital. In the children's psychiatric ward."

  A lie causes a delicate jarring to the system, even in a trained liar. So too in this woman. The little girl's eyes focused on the floor.

  "The fee is ten thousand kroner per session," he said. That was to get things moving. When they protested, it would initiate a dialogue. He would get a chance to listen to their systems more deeply.

  They didn't protest. The man took out his wallet. It opened like the bellows of an accordion. Kasper had seen wallets like that among the horse dealers when he was still performing at fairs. This one could have contained a small horse, a Falabella. From it emerged ten crisp, newly minted one-thousand-kroner bills.

  "I must ask you to pay for two sessions in advance," he said. "My accountant insists on it."

  Ten more bills saw the light of day.

  He dug out his fountain pen and one of his old letterpress cards.

  "I had a cancellation today," he said, "so as it happens, I can just manage to squeeze her in. I'll start by examining muscle tone and awareness of body rhythm. It will take less than twenty minutes."

  "Not today," said the woman, "but soon."

  He wrote his telephone number on the card.

  "I must be in the room," she said.

  He shook his head.

  "I'm sorry. Not when one is working with children on a deep level."

  Something happened in the room--the temperature plummeted, all oscillatory frequencies fell, everything congealed.

  He closed his eyes. When he opened them again, fifteen seconds later, the bills were still lying there. He put them in his pocket, before it was too late.

  The three visitors turned around. Walked out through the office. Daffy held the outer door for them. They crossed the courtyard without looking back. Seated themselves in the Volvo. The car drove off, disappearing into the rain.

  He leaned his forehead against the cold glass of the window. He wanted to put his fountain pen back in his pocket, into the warmth of the money. The money was gone.

  There was a sound from the desk. A riffling sound. Like when you shuffle brand-new cards for one of Piaget's games. On the desk in front of Daffy lay the small mahogany-colored stack of new bills.

  "In your outer right-hand pocket," said the watchman, "there are two hundred kroner. For a shave. And a hot meal. There's also a message."

  The message was a playing card, the two of spades. On the back, written with his own fountain pen, were the words "Rigshospital. Staircase 52.03. Ask for Vivian.--Daffy."

  * * *

  That night he slept in the stables.

  There were about twenty animals left, horses and a camel, most of them old or worthless. All the others were still in winter season with circuses in France and southern Germany.

  He had his violin with him. He spread out his sheet and duvet in the stall with Roselil, half Berber, half Arabian. She was left behind because she didn't obey anyone except her rider. And not even him.

  He played the Partita in A-Minor. A single
lightbulb in the ceiling cast a soft golden glow on the listening creatures. He had read in Martin Buber that the most spiritual people are those who are closest to animals. Also in Eckehart. In his sermon "The Kingdom of God Is at Hand." One should seek God among the animals. He thought about the little girl.

  When he was about nineteen, and had started to make a name for himself, he had discovered that there was money in his ability to access people's acoustic essence, especially children's. He began to cash in on it at once. After a couple of years he'd had ten private students per day, like Bach in Leipzig.

  There had been thousands of children. Spontaneous children, spoiled children, marvelous children, catastrophic children.

  Finally, there had been the little girl.

  He put the violin into its case and held it in his arms, like a mother nursing her child. It was a Cremonese, a Guarneri, the last thing that remained from the good years.

  He said his bedtime prayer. The closeness of the animals had calmed most of his anxiety. He listened to the weariness; it converged from all sides simultaneously. Just as he was about to determine its key, it crystallized into sleep.


  He awoke unreasonably early the next morning. The animals were restless. The lightbulb in the ceiling still burned. But now it was bleached by the dawn. Outside the stall stood a cardinal and his acolyte. In long black coats.

  "I'm Moerk," said the older man. "From the Ministry of Justice. Can we give you a lift?"

  * * *

  It was as if they were driving him back to Moscow. In the early 1980s he had spent three winter seasons with the Moscow State Circus. He had lived in the Circus House on the corner of Tverskaya and Gnezdnikovski. The prerevolutionary elegance of that building was also evident in the mansion housing the Copenhagen Tax Authority on Kampmann Street. It was the third time in six months he had come here. But it was the first time they had sent a car to get him.

  The building was dark and locked. But the cardinal had a key. It also worked for the blocked floors uppermost on the elevator control panel. Kierkegaard wrote somewhere that every person has a multistory house, but no one goes up to the bel étage. He should have been along this morning--they rode all the way to the top.

  The lobby downstairs had been decorated with marble and bronze sconces. That was just a prelude. The elevator opened to a staircase landing flooded with morning light from large dormer windows; it was big enough to hold a billiard tournament. Between the elevator and the staircase sat a young man in a glass booth. White shirt and tie, handsome as Little Jack Horner. But his tone was like a goose-step march. An electric lock hummed, the door in front of them opened.

  A broad white corridor stretched ahead of them. It had a parquet floor, attractive lights, and a row of tall double doors leading to large smoke-free offices where people labored as if they were doing piecework. It was a pleasure to see the taxpayers getting something for their money; the place hummed like a circus ground when tents were being set up. What made Kasper uneasy was the time of day. He had seen the clock at Nørrebro Station as they passed. It showed a quarter to six in the morning.

  One of the last doors was closed. Moerk opened it and let Kasper enter first.

  In a front office with acoustics like a church vestibule sat two broad-shouldered monks in suits, the younger one with a full beard and ponytail. They nodded to Moerk and stood up.

  Beyond them was an open door. They all went in. The temperature in the corridor had been comfortable; in here it was cold. The open window faced Saint Jørgens Lake; the wind that hit them was from Outer Mongolia. The woman behind the desk looked like a Cossack: muscular, beautiful, expressionless.

  "Why is he here?" she asked.

  Everyone sat down in a semicircle of chairs facing her desk. The woman had three dossiers in front of her. On her lapel was a small pin. One worn by the happy few who have been knighted by Her Majesty the Queen. On the wall behind her was a shelf with a display of silver trophies engraved with figures of horses. Kasper put his glasses on. The trophies were for contemporary pentathlons. At least one of them was a Nordic championship.

  She had been looking forward to a quick victory. All that lovely blond hair was pulled tightly onto the top of her head in a samurai's coiffure. Now confusion had crept into her sound system.

  Moerk nodded toward the monks.

  "He's applied to regain his Danish citizenship. The police department's Immigration Service is examining his case for the Naturalization Office."

  The first time Kasper had been called in, a month after his arrival in Copenhagen, they had assigned him to an ordinary bailiff. The next time it had been the head of the department, Asta Borello. At their first meeting he and she had met alone in a little conference room several stories below. He had known that wasn't where she belonged. Now she was home. Beside her, an alert young man in a suit with blond curly hair sat at a word processor ready to take down a report. The office was brightly lit, and large enough to stage a stuntcycling performance. Her bicycle leaned against the wall, a gray brushed light-alloy racing bike. Farther along the wall were low tables and couches for voluntary informal conversations. Also chairs placed at right angles and two studio tape recorders for depositions provided in the presence of witnesses.

  "We got the U.S. figures," she said. "From the commissioner of internal revenue. With reference to the double taxation convention from May of '48. The figures go back to 71, the first year he was assessed for an independent income. They document honoraria of at least twenty million kroner. Of which less than seven hundred thousand is listed on his income tax returns."

  "His current property?"

  It was the older monk who asked.

  "None. Since '91 we're entitled--under the tax compliance law--to freeze remaining assets abroad as well. When we contacted Spain we were turned down at first. They say that variety-show performers and flamenco dancers enjoy a form of illegal diplomatic immunity. But we went back with an international judicial ruling. It turns out that he liquidated what little real estate he still owned. The bank accounts that remain, a few million kroner in all, we now control."

  "Might he have money somewhere else?"

  "It's possible. In Switzerland, tax evasion isn't a crime. There, it's a religious act. But he'll never get money into this country. The National Bank will never permit him to make transactions. He'll never get another bank account. He'll never get so much as a gas card."

  She folded her hands and leaned back.

  "Paragraph Thirteen of the tax compliance law authorizes fines--as a rule, two hundred percent of the tax evasion--and imprisonment if the fraud is deliberate or grossly negligent. In this case it will be one full year in prison, and a combined fine and reimbursement of not less than forty million kroner. Since October we've been asking that he be taken into custody. Our request has been denied. We believe that decision can no longer be upheld."

  The room became quiet. She had finished.

  Moerk leaned forward. The atmosphere in the office changed. It began to take on the feel of A-minor. At its best. Insistent and serious. In contrast to the woman, the official spoke directly to Kasper.

  "We've been to London and, along with folks from Interpol, we spoke with the De Groewe law firm, which is examining your contracts. A year ago, in one twenty-four-hour period, you canceled all your signed contracts, using a medical certificate that WVVF did not approve. They have quietly barred you from all larger international stages while they prepare the lawsuit. The trial will be held in Spain. At the same time as the Spanish tax case. Our experts say both cases are very clear. The reimbursement claim will be at least two hundred and fifty million. And there will be an additional penalty for drunk driving. You have two previous judgments against you; the latter resulted in suspension of your driver's license. You will get a minimum of five years' imprisonment without parole. You will serve your sentence in Alhaurin el Grande. They say it hasn't changed since the Inquisition."

  The woman tried not
to show her shock. She didn't succeed. "Tax evasion is plain theft," she said. "From the state! He's our case! He must be tried here!"

  Emotion expanded her being. Kasper could hear her. She had some lovely aspects. Very Danish. Christian. Social Democrat. Hated economic turmoil. Excesses. Overconsumption. She had probably completed her master's degree in political science without going into debt. She already was saving for retirement. Bicycled to work. Knighted before the age of forty. It was very moving. He sympathized with her 100 percent; she had impeccable character. He wished he could live up to such standards himself.

  Moerk ignored her. He was concentrating on Kasper.

  "Jansson here has an order for your arrest in his pocket," he said. "They can take you to the airport right away. Just a quick trip home and a look around the hayloft. Get your toothbrush and your passport. Then off you go."

  The tones of everyone else in the room faded. The young men and the functionaries had been purely ornamental. The woman had played the cadences. But the whole time Moerk had held the score.

  "We may have another possibility," he said. "They say you're a person people keep coming back to. You once had a young student named KlaraMaria. We wondered if maybe she had come back again."

  The room whirled around before Rasper's eyes. Like when you straighten up after a triple forward somersault. No chance to orient yourself in the forward bends.

  "Children and adults," he said, "return to me in hordes. But the individual names . . ."

  He leaned back in his chair, back into a feeling of no escape. The pressure in the room was enormous. Soon something would burst. He hoped it would not be him. He noticed the prayer begin by itself.

  It was the woman who stumbled.

  "Seventeen thousand kroner!" she burst out. "For a suit! When you owe all this?"

  His prayer had been heard. It was a minimal blunder. But it would suffice.

  His fingers closed around the arms of his jacket. Tailor-made jackets button at the wrist. Ready-to-wear suits have decorative buttons.

  "Thirty-five thousand," he said mildly. "The seventeen thousand was for the material. It's a Casero. It cost seventeen thousand just to have it sewn."

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