Book of the Festival
"The Vilnius Alibi" by Eeva Park
Translated from the Estonian by Jayde Will
In the night, driving through the rain, I hadn’t understood at all that the house was located in such a beautiful place, but now, as the sky retreated ever further as the darkness thinned, I saw a black and blue sea in the distance straight down from the high shore.
That was at least a 5-million crown view, maybe even a few million more, because going to the Old Town of Tallinn from here it’s probably 25 minutes, but I don’t have rush hour in mind, during traffic time everyone clogs the roads surrounding the town and they stretch out from here towards Tallinn with their Hummers and Lexuses like snails.
When I build a house like this for myself, like this one here, then I will buy a helicopter, because there’s still room to move above in the air, at least for the time being.
I shivered, but I breathed in deeply that unmistakable cuttingly cold air of the spring night that had cleared up. On top of the hot dance sweat, smoke and thick mix of all different kinds of more suspicious party odors, I felt at once that I didn’t want to go back inside.
The ruckus only increased, and more people had come from the city, but I started to get sober. Actually this time I drank very little, because at the very beginning the others were a small step ahead of me, they were already in fine form when they called me at work and moving from one club to another, and finally here, ending up at someone’s birthday party, I hadn’t gotten into the right mood.
“Horribly cold morning…just a few months ago I went somewhere in this area together with my mother along the sea ice-skating and now grey water is splashing there….Strange”, spoke the girl, who had probably already been sitting on the ground along the wall near the balcony door for awhile.
I turned and threw her a nonchalant glance, because these kinds of drunk chicks are at such parties – especially when they sulk somewhere in the corner alone, using the first possibility to blabber on annoyingly or be silently aggressive, and also honestly I didn't feel like talking with absolutely anyone anymore in the early hours of the morning.
On top of that, the girl was clearly too young for this party, too drunk and hiding very little in her rose-embroidered see-through blouse. When she clumsily pulled herself upright and teetered towards me, kneeling down in the meanwhile, but then gaining a footing with her hands on the floor and walls, you could see in the first sparse light the little dark nipples of her breasts, and as she sank next to the damp cold edge of the balcony, she sobbed so deeply that I instinctively pushed away this stranger’s self-pity.
Well, now I'm going to get a bucketful of tears, I thought, hoping that I could leave the balcony before this chick cornered me and started to talk, whining about her unhappy loves. However the girl had pulled herself together surprising quick, and now stood very straight, and held the edge of the balcony firmly with her fingers, with only her husky breathing gave away that she wasn’t exactly ok.
We became quiet and looked at the sea together, and for some reason this made leaving her alone much more difficult than her stupid chatter might have made it. Our silence lingered.
In the newly-built house behind us there were such good walls with isolation and windows that although this completely lit-up building reminded you of a party boat drifting in the night, all of the voices came like they were from the other shore of the bay far away.
“You have a cool mother if you can go ice-skating with her on the sea", I finally said with a mere thankfulness that she hadn't started crying, but the girl continued her own quietness.
Maybe it was because of this that I looked at her with an even bigger interest than I otherwise would have done, and the girl, perceiving this interest, turned her head and looked straight at me.
Anyway, she was probably eighteen, not fifteen like I had thought at the beginning, in any case she was at least seven years younger than me and she was very beautiful. But the mascara had run under her eyes, her hair hanging loosely from the dampness of the night and stuck to the sides of her pale white cheeks, and in her eyes there was a funny, fixed glance just like she hadn't even seen me, but rather looking at the mirror, because she began to preen her hair, ran her spread-apart fingers through her brown streams of hair and then, employing her blouse sleeve moistened with saliva, rubbed the blackened bags under her eyes.
“My mother died”, she mumbled while doing it “she hung herself two weeks ago".
“What?” I asked, thinking that I had certainly heard wrong.
This text, these words didn’t fit to this balcony with this five-million view, and the chick’s way too see-through blouse was already making me shiver merely thinking about it.
The girl jerked her sleeve again, sucked fixatedly on her cuff-end and had finally almost cleaned the cheek under one eye. But now her appearance was even worse, almost funny in how it generated an uneasiness.
“My mother died. She hung herself”, the girl repeated not just loudly, but this time very clearly pronouncing her words and entirely without emotion. Or at least it seemed to me.
“Terrible story”, I said, wishing that I would have been able to be quiet and go back right away to that same room and mix in the other crowd.
They had started to dance again, and someone, probably my Tanel, had put on an Irish dance CD, I recognised the flute playing of Lord of the Dance and the windy noise that went faster with the addition of the instruments and drums going faster, and swelled more wildly and finally grew into something that even all the windows fitting Euro requirements didn't manage to deaden quietly anymore. Everyone in the room jumped with their hands pressed against their bodies and made strange leg movements that were too complicated. Not entirely unsuccessfully, they took Tanel into the mix, who normally doesn't dance at all, and he was in the middle of them, and turned out be more adroit than the others, at least looking through the glass. He was almost like the real thing. His face, suntanned on the skiing slopes of Austria, was serious, fixed and he didn’t seem to have noticed at all that I had been standing outside for a long time on the balcony and that I was following the party through the glass that covered the entire wall.
“But she really was a cool mother…that’s true,” the girl unexpectedly opened her mouth again, "At the last beer festival in Tallinn she bungee-jumped like crazy and this summer she really wanted to learn to sail, because dad had supposedly dreamed how he one time would take a yacht on a trip around the world and take us along…My father had ideas like that…Mom said that as long as we are alive, dad is also....
“Listen, I’m sorry, I’m terribly cold, and I am starting to get even colder from your story,” I said, because I have always been a bad person for finding consoling words.
I feel uneasy when I have to say to someone that I feel for them and so on. I don’t have the experience that such things would simply just tumble out of my mouth and now I really was cold and this seemed to come not from the chilly spring night but rather from this girl and her words
“You don’t want to talk with me?” the girl asked, "I understand – I wouldn’t want someone saying such things to me out of the blue either...and I am quite drunk, because normally I don't sa…
“No, no” I lied, ”of course I want to talk with you, but let's leave and go inside and drink something warm. Listen, my teeth are already chattering...there's coffee down in the kitchen, want some?" I offered, hoping to mix her in with the others, more easily excusing myself.
I wasn’t ready to listen to this story about the hanging.
"I don't drink coffee, but tea, hot tea, hot green tea, I definitely want some...I’m really thirsty and my throat hurts too. I'm probably getting sick. It’s really stupid, because in a few days I have to sign some papers and..." she said, then I understood, that I was compelled to go to the big kitchen of this big house and put water on to boil for tea.
She drank the first full cup of tea very quickly, her lips left unburned, and then sat, pressing the empty warm glass against her thin neck, and followed how I drank my own drink with an attentive eye. I felt that she was waiting tensely that after my last sip of coffee I would ask her something, regardless of what it was.
My hope that someone other than us would be bustling about turned out to be in vain. This big room, designed by interior decorators with a shining silver refrigerator, was surprisingly and lifelessly in order despite the commotion of the party, undisturbed by the general mass, and we sat at the kitchen table made out of thick reddish wood, in the middle of which was a glistening black ceramic heating surface.
“What’s your name?” I asked, giving up in front of her intent glance.
“Nice name,” I said, thinking at once, why this generally little-heard name combination seemed so familiar to me, but in Tallinn, in all of Estonia everyone knows everyone else, and must be connected somehow, which is how I tried not to become entangled in this string of thoughts.
"I don’t know...It was exactly that one that they liked….It’s horribly strange to pick a name for someone for their whole life – you’re like God then: “YOU’RE HELE-RIIN!” boomed her voice more menacingly, giggling idiotically:
“…and you know, now since they’re not here anymore - I mean my mother and my father - I have a feeling that they really were gods...Nooo, don't look at me like that - I haven't gone crazy, all that religion stuff doesn't get me off, but my grandmother is religious. That means, she allowed herself and all of us to get baptized in party fashion when the new times came/ You see – we had a family get-together, all the relatives got together – but my mom said that it all was a dumb thing in fashion for people from the former USSR and there supposedly wasn’t any religion in it..." she fell silent with the sentence unfinished and shook her head:
"But why am I speaking about this...”
“If you want I'll make you another cup of tea, I’ll find honey to put in it and you can go to a room somewhere and fall to sleep. I see you’re really tired and me to, really really quite soon," I tried to talk in a very normal tone, because you could see that Hele-Riin's tiredness was reaching some sort of point of collapse.
"I’m really tired, but I can’t sleep."
“If you don’t lie down, of course you can’t then…” I said to her like explaining something to a child, but she continued:
“Being up or lying down – it doesn’t matter, although during the day, I doze off on the chair then like some ancient grandma...being in school is totally impossible, I fall asleep right away, but lying down at home and again in the night, then I start dreaming and then it's better to sit and be awake.."
She pressed the green cup against one side and then the other side of her Hepburn-like long neck, then while moving her spoon she started automatically licking the honey that I had found in the refrigerator and set in front of her on the table. She looked very child-like and even younger that she appeared to me at the beginning.
"I thought,” she explained, flashing a small, sheepish grin, "that you drink in order to make a party or forget, but in my case that definitely doesn't work, I've drank all sorts of horrible things, also everything from home I could get and it is still more and more in my mind again...Her face was horrible..."
“Maybe some sleeping pills would help, or some sedatives? Didn’they send you to a doctor? There are help-lines available and…” I said, thinking that maybe I could help her by giving her my mom's telephone number, because though I don’t have the foggiest idea how good of a psychologist my mom is, she knows at least much better than me how to listen to people and she can write out a prescription for sedatives.
“You know, I’ve had problems forever since I was small with pills and shots. If it wouldn’t have been like that, I would already be an addic.... No, I'm not going to the doctor and besides that - I'm fine. I haven't gone crazy, have I? Just my throat hurts a little and I probably have a fever, but other than that I’m just fine."
Hele-Riin smiled and I saw that she had a similar wide gap between her two front teeth like I had. I asked:
“What happened to your father?” I understand that he also…”
“He went down with the Estonia."
“Did your mother kill herself because of that…Didn't she get over it...." I inquired, because the girl's short answers influenced you in such a way that you simply had to say something after them."
“She definitely did… Probably…I don’t know...In any case she got married again, but it was all so strange..."
“What do you mean “strange”?”
All of a sudden I had the feeling that now I wanted to hear more than she felt like saying.
"Well, maybe because that she got together with Gunnar at the support group that was organized for the loved ones of those that when down with the Estonia…You see – Gunni’s wife and my father went together under together and those two got together and started living together six months later. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were mad as hell, they came to our place from Pärnu and said that mom and Gunnar didn’t have any right to live off the money of my father’s business, travel around and buy a new car...it was once again an eternal squabble and they even got cross at me that I didn't want to come live with them in Pärnu.”
“Did they live off your dad's money then? Your mother and that Gunnar, I mean. What kind of company did he have?" I asked in the way of a very true inquisitive person.
Tanel came to the door, stood there, looked at us and said he was going with the boys to the sauna and the pool.
Hele-Riin, who followed her spoon in her squeezed fingers with one eye, scraped the hardened, light yellow honey from the jar and then glanced over it with deep disgust on her face. It was warm in the kitchen, the coffee machine percolated, spewing out streams of smoke for a moment, but I didn’t feel like getting up and shutting it off. The music, the buzz of the crowd, and sounds of laughter could still be heard upstairs, and someone was trying to sing karaoke.
“You know, it’s such a crazy story and when I think about it, it gets even more confusing. Look,” Hele-Riin, whose fingers torn away from the spoon now touching all available things as if without her knowledge, fiddling with them, turned on the stove and bright red rings appeared between us glowing from the heat.
“…a really interesting stove, and right in the middle of the table…My father didn’t have any firm at all. He was...the director", Hele-Riin, who now like a child playing absorbedly turned the stove plates on one time and another time off, raised a glance, as if checking if I understood her.
“The “director”? Really?” I said, looking as she was with fascination as the spots became even more fire-colored, the two bigger rings and two smaller ones on the glowing black stove top, which darkened and then glowed faintly again as the ceramic stove top switches were turned on and off.
“Of course not the kind that directs movies or something
“I know what “director” means in this case.”
“Do you? I don’t really know exactly, but anyway my father supposedly was the head of the company in name only, he had some joint stock company and ninety percent voting rights, and though there was only a little bit of starting capital in this company – mom explained everything to me exactly, but I didn’t feel like listening to her then – he dealt with real estate on top of everything else, so that when dad went down with the Estonia and drowned, it raised a lot of problems for someone, because mother and I were dad’s heirs and mom told me that if she would have wanted to, she could have grabbed everything for herself, because the real estate of the joint stock company was located in the middle of the city in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius as well. I could be a millionaire and the buy up the whole lot – it isn’t so funny, is it,” Hele-Riin became silent, and declared while touching the glowing red top next to the black stove top that the hotplate part wasn’t hot at all.
“Try it,” she commanded and wasn’t satisfied until I placed my fingertips next to the red ring. I did as she wished and said, stressing each word this time:
“It definitely doesn’t work so easily, believe me, it pays to be very careful with such things,” I said and all of my drowsiness had disappeared and been replaced with a peaked interest.
“Don’t get all excited, my mom only told me those stories and besides, someone immediately made her a proposal to take over dad’s position, because it was the most…well, how should I say…”
“lawfully organizable…” I said, helping her.
“You’re probably right, that’s how it was. Mom became the head of this company herself where dad had been earlier and she got a pretty decent chunk for that, because we really traveled, went by bus to Paris a few times and one time to London…but then Gunnar died…”
“What do you mean died – him too?” I actually cried out from surprise, because Hele-Riin looked at me now with her big shining eyes on her thin face, and nodded her head up and down like a mechanical doll.
“Listen honey, let’s go, it’s almost morning and…” Tanel had appeared at the door, his hair was wet and sticking up, he had been swimming with the boys in the pool built with a glass roof next to the house and he wasn’t planning this time to react to my signs waving him away. “It’s damn late. If we head straight home now I could still sleep a couple hours before going to work…what are you talking about so long together anyway?”
“Just because, it’s a girl thing,” I said to him, and then I asked him:” Let’s go in fifteen minutes, alright?”
“Are you having a consultation?” asked Eero popping up behind Tanel’s back, and then immediately all of Tanel’s other friends were there, who filled up the entire kitchen with noise looking for pizza boxes and opened the refrigerators until I asked them to scoot and look at other girls for just a little longer.
“We haven’t been looking at other girls,” grumbled Eero retreatingly, “they all have their own…Let’s go see if we can find something edible upstairs,” and they rumbled back up the stairs.
“What happened with Gunnar then?” I asked, going around the table and turning off the hotplates, because they made the room hotter and me more nervous, because a year ago at a barbeque the wind took the flames to cut grass nearby and after that seeing any kind of fire makes everything inside me churn, and now the reddish faint glow was already reminding me too much of an open flame.
“He burned – together with our summer cottage…” Hele-Riin said, seemingly almost against her wishes, and then at once asked me surprisingly soberly: “What kind of consultation was this guy talking about?”
“I work in a law firm.” I said after a short hesitation.
“You? Ahhaah,” she giggled with a broken and high-pitched girl’s laugh: “ I thought that we were the same age…” Hele-Riin reasoned while examining me, but then she sunk back into her nonchalantness once again and mumbled:
“...but then again I don’t know either…”
“Say, isn’t Nigol your surname?” I asked, but she shook her head with the same mechanical movement like she had nodded with before, and I breathed easier when she then after a long pause of breathing in that Nigol was Gunnar’s name just like her mom’s, but she still had her father’s surname – Saugas.
“Hele-Riin Saugas” I said and walked out.
I should have wanted to go back to that cold balcony and put myself at ease by breathing in the ice-cold sea air again, because now my head glowed like the ceramic stove rings that were turned on. The boys waited downstairs in the big grey hallway extending through the second floor, where the briskly-selling paintings of Kokamägi hung on the walls, they met me with loud cries and from them I somehow made it very quickly to the car and we were already hurtling along in the early light of the morning with the lights turning pale towards the city.
“Are you angry at me for some reason?” Tanel asked when we climbed out of the car and I turned my bag upside down looking for the keys to the outside door.
I hadn’t said anything the whole way and apparently hadn’t answered his questions either, because Tanel now looked straight at me and waited for me to finally say something.
The asphalt road full of holes in front of the old large, ugly building where we had a small, but decently remodeled flat, glistened in the dampness. The trees standing across the road had gotten leaves with just that one night, and I felt their fresh green smell so clearly, just as if I had crushed the leaves of the tree in my hand.
“It was you who didn’t want to go straight home from Hollywood but go there to that damn birthday party, and when you started going around alone and got into blabbering with some unhappy chick in the kitchen, then it’s not my fault that you had a boring night,” Tanel said so indignantly that I had to calm him down:
“Honey, relax. I am not angry, just tired. You know, there’s so much work and it’s killing me and I have one particularly terrible thing weighing me down, but I can’t even talk about it with you,” I tried explaining to him, but Tanel grabbed the keys from my hand, opened the door, marched in first, stepped into the shower first, and already was quietly snoring, face in the pillow, when I climbed into bed next to him.
Though I thought I didn’t want to sleep at all, I apparently fell asleep immediately, and I had a dream, a horrible and lucid nightmare, where I was on deck of a ship and wanted someone who had hidden themselves in a cabin to step out. I don’t know why it seemed so horrible, but that waiting was so terrifying that I woke up, covered all over with cold sweat and sunk again into peaceful dreams still holding Tanel tight, my face pressed against his warm back. Drowning, hanging, and the glowing of a fire, all of this danced before my eyes.
Of course we both overslept in the morning.
It was already nine when we crawled out of bed, and at the sink we brushed our teeth nudging each other, and we left in a rush, without our regular morning coffee.
Luckily my first arranged consultation was just at eleven. I managed to put the papers in order and as the clients arrived I felt that I needed just these very people so I wouldn't think about last night’s nightmare and Hele-Riin. I involved myself in totally different problems for at least an hour and a half, but then I ended up alone, opened up a folder of printed-out documents, opened the file on the computer, and looked for Hele-Riin Saugas’s name.
It’s strange that during the night I hadn’t recognized the name, I thought now, looking at the property transfer documents of the joint stock company belonging to Maruta Nigol.
But actually, when I think about it, there was nothing exceptional in that, because Hele-Riin’s name appears in my notes just a single, solitary time.
Maruta – I should have remembered that name myself on the balcony that night, but the girl never once mentioned that exact name. She spoke about Gunnar, her step-father, but her mother was only a mother to her, and suddenly a story of my mother came to mind for no reason, but annoying clear, how in public places, in the store, on the street, or in a café, she always looked around and was ready to storm to the spot if someone’s child screamed “mom” somewhere. She explained that at least half of the women in the shop would react to that word – regardless of whether they had their kids with them or not.
“Mother, “ I said, trying to imagine Hele-Riin’s mother Maruta for the first time and thinking about the feeling I would have if my mother would do something similar to herself.
And just then I understood, finally and clearly, that if the Estonia went under just as the official reports had claimed, then Maruta’s death, her suicide, that she hung herself at that time while her child was sleeping in the next room, was totally unexplainable and extremely doubtful.
Women who reacted to the cries of “mom”, who hurry to the spot leaving their shopping, don’t just hang themselves for no reason under “unexplained circumstances”. Now, after speaking with Hele-Riin, I didn’t believe the official version of Maruta’s death anymore, because it just didn’t go together with what I had heard about her that night:
“We went ice-skating together…” said Hele-Riin, “…she wanted to learn to sail with a yacht this summer…go on a trip around the world…she was a great mom…”
With uneasiness I looked at the documents connected with Maruta Nigol and read her list of the joint stock company’s real estate, which in reality belonged to Andreas Kettel. The last purchase which the joint stock company performed was especially glorious - now in addition to a quarter of the Tallinn port, a rather sizeable part of the Vilnius center also, on paper, belonged to her and her joint stock company.
Agatha Christie came to mind and that in the case of doubt about a crime, one must always look for a motive, and the motive is almost always money. Although Maruta didn’t have any noteworthy property of her own (flipping through the papers it became clear that she had a flat in the Mustamägi district and a summer cottage in Vääna), the joint stock company, which she was the fictitious owner of, had property worth almost 100 million crowns. Did Maruta suddenly get tired of her own modest role and demand millions from Kettel following a rise in the price of real estate? Maybe Maruta changed the heir of the drowned “director” into a troubling character for the factual owner? Maybe it’s hard to escape when you constantly hear how plots in the center of the city are jumping in price and when you see those kinds of sums moving on the documents where you put your signature.
I thought about Andreas Kettel and his hands with long fingers like a piano player, his friendly smiling mouth and the cold blue glance of his cool grey eyes when he showed the papers to me, on basis of which no one had doubted who the real owner of the real estate was.
Now suddenly what interested me above all was if Maruta’s husband Gunnar went to the Vääna summer cottage before or after that happy winter day when Maruta went skating together with her daughter on the ice. The widow, brooding with thoughts of suicide after her husband’s death, wouldn’t go ice-skating with her daughter – or would she?
I started flipping through the papers because if it was so that Gunnar just burned in the summer cottage after sledding on the ice, I could still figure out Maruta’s suicide and not think anymore of such dangerous cockamany ideas.
To lose a man you love a second time – it must in any case feel like a horrible fate, and then it’s no wonder if you kill yourself, I reasoned with myself, looking for Gunnar’s name in the notes, his date of death, because although it wasn’t mentioned directly in the documents, I always made thorough notes while talking with Kettel.
I tried to remember when we got together last time on the wishes of Andreas Kettel, and I remembered that we were in Bonapart.
The back part was totally empty at the time, a hall with dark joists, and all the tourists who had lunch in this otherwise expensive restaurant, had gathered in the Raekoja Square to take in the first sun of the spring without lunch, and although I didn’t like the fancy food so much, it was the salmon with blue-cheese and the very tasty dessert crème brulee there which would have made me go back there with Tanel.
“It’s already late. Don’t you want to go to lunch today?” Raimo asked, pressing his big curly head through the door that was ajar, “and don’t tell me that someone is taking you to a luxurious place to feast on good and better things. When I get clients like that myself then I can….”
He was my classmate, with whom I now, in one workplace, have teamed up with in some way. “…then you’ll burst to pieces,” I finished his sentence, flipping through the final papers, and added: “I can’t go anywhere, I really have a lot of work.”
“All women are extremely hard workers, but I bet I’ll be a shareholder here before you.”
“Of course you will, but go along happily now. I don’t have either the time or the desire today and above all – to see your gorging every day isn’t some sort of pleasure.”
I knew that I could only get away from him when I made him angry and he pulled the door shut with a bang behind him. He had hoped to dig up some internal info or a little good free advice, so leaving without it meant his lunch wasn’t so tasty anymore. But I forgot him immediately because I found the name I was looking for on the back of one paper.
Gunnar Nigol had driven to the Vääna summer cottage last year in the fall, in September, at least half a year before the ice-skating day.
And that Andreas, Mr. Kettel, mentioned this fire accident and death during our meeting, it came out that he had given a loan of 300,000 crowns in cash because of the fire, like he said. I had marked the sum of the loan, as well as the day of the month when the loan actually took place, and now thinking intensively about our conversation at the time, I remembered that while finishing the talk of money matters Kettel said that all of this was supposed to have been a terrible blow many times over to Maruta, because according to her knowledge Gunnar was in Tartu on the day of the fire, at the funeral of a friend killed in an car accident, but not in Vaana on the empty autumn beach.
The fact that Gunnar lied and what’s more, referring to the funeral, that he used precisely Maruta’s summer cottage for meeting someone was more painful, in Maruta’s opinion, than the fact that he probably cheated on her with another woman, according to Kettel.
Interesting – had anyone begun to rebuild that summer cottage yet?
Maybe Maruta planned on buying a yacht with that money from the loan, to go sailing with Hele-Riin, to a more friendly sea and from there, with a secure distance, make money from the property of the joint stock company?
My thoughts became even wilder – all of them seemed possible all at one time.
The thought of Maruta’s wish to sail didn’t leave me at peace. A woman, who wanted to go to the Tallinn bay in the spring to learn sailing doesn’t hang a rope from the ceiling lamp fitting.
There’s definitely a problem, someone is lying, but who?
And then I remembered that just when I ate the much-praised crème brulee with the crusty crust, baked brown with a layer of sugar, Mr. Kettel talked about Gunnar mentioning something else, which I at the time considered an unimportant reply while eating my dessert.
Andreas Kettel said that after the sinking of the Estonia, Gunnar never went with a ship again, that he hated the sea and claimed on that account that, for example going across the bay to Helsinki, there were airplane tickets for Maruta as well as him paid by the joint stock company.
“He began to imagine that he was married to a millionaire and constantly poked his nose into mine and Maruta’s common affairs.” said Kettel waving to the waiter.
Millions, with a lot of round zeros behind the numbers, have the power to change into a dream, in the name of which we can gamble our whole life, and also lose it, my mom says, when she has the desire to take her nose out of her book and toss some words of wisdom my way.
Maruta had just a little bit more than the average Estonian income, an ordinary three-room flat in a Mustamägi panel house and the summer cottage built by her last husband and now burned down – but, like Kettel said, it was just precisely that land that was steadily rising real estate, not the summer cottage, and considering this he took precisely this land for his own loan deposit.
Interesting, I thought suddenly, where is this land located? Is it near the sea, or across the road in the bush, in a gardening cooperative? How valuable really is this land? And why did Gunnar, who according to all the stories hated the sea, go to a meeting near the sea? Did he really cheat on his wife, and party with his lover in the summer cottage Hele-Riin’s father built? Or did they really find only one dead body?
I dialed information and allowed myself to be connected with Maruta Nigol's telephone on Ehitajate street. The inviting tones echoed for a long time, and just when I had decided that Hele-Riin wasn't at home, someone picked up. I knew right away that it must be her, because the silence which answered to my hello right away, was just the style of this girl. She listened as I reminded her of me, and she wasn’t surprised at all, when I proposed to her to go to Vääna.
"We have to talk,” I said to her, "and really, this isn’t just ignorant curiosity. I have to ask you a few things."
“I’ll put some clothes on,” she answered. "Is it warm outside?"
I threw a glance out the window for the first time during the whole day and promised her that it was nice outside, the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky.
Then I took my mobile and called Tanel. When I went downstairs just 10 minutes later, he had driven to the parking lot, he gave the keys to me on the run and hopped into the car that stopped next to us, the wheels whistling. Eero waved behind the steering wheel and they were gone.
Hurtling towards Vääna, I tried to concentrate on the drive. Hele-Riin sat next to me in exactly the same blouse that she had on the last day and in the middle of the day, this clothing looked less suitable to her than at the party that night. Obviously she hadn’t looked at all at what she had thrown on.
“Have you been alone all those days?” I asked, and she affirmed yawning, and explained that her grandmother was supposedly sick and for that reason didn’t come to Tallinn from Pärnu.
“They invited me there, but I am not going, they shouldn’t give their hopes up. They think I’m just a kid,” she said, instructing me to turn at the next turn-off, down towards the sea and I thought, driving down this road and exceeding the allowed speed by at least double, that I hadn’t done something so stupid for years. But then we reached the place, to an empty plot next to the sea, and getting out of the car I understood that I still could have been right.
“Was this your summer cottage?” I asked, glancing over the blackened beams and the base of a chimney between the beach pines.
Hele-Riin just waved with her hand in the direction of the ruins, stepped over the light white clean beach sand, still untouched since the spring, and sat on the end of a log washed up from the sea. I followed her, and again we were side by side, like on the balcony that night, only now the spring sun started to suntan our faces,
“What did this Gunnar do here anyway?” And what did the police think of it – did they investigate that at all?”
“What do you mean “investigated”?” Hele-Riin asked answering me, “They came and informed us. Mother had no idea that Gunnar was there, but it wasn’t some miracle. Mother didn’t know the half of it…”
“But why did he come here?” I repeated my own question, though I already knew that Hele-Riin didn’t know the answer. “Maybe he showed it to someone who wanted to buy the summer cottage?” I offered, but Hele-Riin shook her head and said that her mother would have never sold the summer cottage to anyone.
“Grandma said all the time that dad built it with money he got from them and that mom had no right to sell it to anyone. Grandma got very angry when they talked about it…”
“Does she know that the plot is now collateral for a very big loan?” I asked and thought that Andreas Kettel, who doesn’t officially own anything, knows how to change everything to his profit, so one isolated death doesn’t do any harm, and that I did my best helping him, because it was exactly me who had thought out the possibility how Maruta Nigol’s inheritance wouldn’t go through his adolescent daughter to the care of the man’s parents.
I had almost already solved the unexpected property problem that arose with Maruta’s death, and next week the owner’s meeting that was in session, which now on top of the tense transaction and the registered letters sent to the deceased Maruta, which according to commercial law had the right to make a decision, had to transfer the firm’s property to another company, and the total value of this transaction in essence exceeded 100 million crowns.
And that was a sum that one truly would certainly kill for, I thought and I started to get that same cold on that beach, in the hot sunshine, like I had sitting on the balcony that night
The mobile rang and opening it I heard Tane’s voice:
“Where are you?”
“Today is Friday if you didn’t remember. We were supposed to drive to Parnu.”
“Is Eero with you?” I asked, and told Tanel to hand the phone to him. When I heard Eero’s loud hellos, I got up from near Hele-Riin, walked past the border of the water further away and asked Eero if he could meet me in half an hour.
“What for?” He wanted to know, but I said that I was about to start driving and I asked him to tell Tanel that I definitely wouldn’t manage to go to Parnu tonight.
“Never say never” he started to explain, but I hung up and went back to Hele-Riin who was sitting on the edge of some driftwood.
“One of my friends graduated from the police academy last year, perhaps he can look for what they have in their files about Gunnar and your mother….you know, I don’t like it at all when someone uses me in their dirty business. Let’s go,” I said but she looked up at me and asked:
“Can’t I stay here?” I’m getting tanned so nicely, I’m warm for the first time in a long time….”
“No, we have to leave right away and on top of that, that blouse doesn’t suit you at all. We’ll look at something more normal to put on.”
“It’s my mother’s,” Hele-Riin said, but anyway she came obediently to the car. The sand whirled from under the tires as I took off and drove back to the highway.
“Do you know Andreas Kettel? Have you seen him?” I asked.
“No,” she said this time shortly instead of shaking her head,” But I know who he is.”
“Enlighten me as well,” I asked pressing the gas pedal down, almost to the bottom and passing two cars.
“Why do you want to know? I promised my mom that I wouldn’t talk about those things with strangers.”
“That’s smart of you, but I’m not asking just because, or out of curiosity. On top of that, I know Kettel.”
“Why are you asking then?” She was at once very cute.
“I am more connected with all of this than I would like to be and now I’m worried not only about you, but myself as well. I have a feeling that we are both a part of this and that Maruta, your mother didn’t kill herself,” I said and hurtled down Tabasalu bend. Hele-Riin crunched up in the seat just like she doubted my knowledge of taking care of the car on the road. Now the city could be seen though the traffic had turned so dense that I had to slow down my tempo whether I wanted to or not and for that reason Eero was already waiting for us when I turned off to Vabaduse Square. He could be seen from far away, his shoulders big and wide, and he wasn’t alone, but with Tanel. I parked the car in the only free spot in front of the door of St. John’s church and we waited for them.
“Well, let’s get started,” Eero said, with the car springs crunching together as he sank into the backseat. I turned myself around on the driver’s seat and said to him, without looking at Tanel, what I wanted from him. Eero sniffled, like always when he doesn’t like something, Tanel was silent and Hele-Riin was slouched in her own seat and tried to cover her blouse by crossing her arms.
“Okay,” Eero said briefly,” Yes, I am on vacation, but I’ll see what I can do. Where do you want to go from here?”
“I’m taking Hele-Riin home. She has to eat, sleep, change her clothes…”
“Okay,” Eero repeated, climbed out of the car, stepped to his car without looking back at us and drove off.
“If you don’t come to Pärnu, then take me back to work,” said Tanel, but I opened the driver’s door, stepped around the car and pleaded:
“Leave us off at Mustamägi…I almost got into an accident at least twice on the highway today,” I explained so shakily that Tanel looked straight at me and pulled me closer to him has he was getting out of the car.
“Don’t get excited,” he said quietly,” and don’t do anything stupid.”
When Eero called me, Hele-Riin had gone to the bathroom and judging from the sound of running water she had decided to wash herself. I sat in the shabby armchair, a grey-striped cat angrily moving his tail up and down, rubbed himself against my leg and under his glittering greenish gaze I listened to what Eero told me.
The investigation of the circumstances of death of Gunnar Nigol, as well as Maruta Nigol had finished very quickly, in both cases no questions of any note has been raised, although they had not managed to clear up the reason for the summer cottage catching fire.
“The man was so burned, that it was only made certain who he was by the teeth, and the rest was unable to be found out,” Eero explained without added emotion, and added then a bit more lively:” but I talked with my boss who handled the death of this girl’s mom, and he said that there still was one small additional factor to the case. Namely, the woman, before putting her head through the noose, had taken a moderate dose of pills and there was also alcohol in her blood. It’s a miracle that she was able to move at all….and the girl was the one who found her….horrible thing.”
“Do you want to say that she had taken a handful of sedatives?” I asked, and he answered me affirmatively, spelling out the names of the things that were found in Maruta’s body.
“But didn’t it raise any suspicions then?” I asked and Eero answered that the investigation of this suicide was not quite ended officially and then he again wanted to know if we were driving to Pärnu that night or not.
As my glance moved further from the angry cat and stopped on the family photos sitting on the shelf, I answered Eero suddenly that perhaps we were still going, and getting up from the armchair I stepped closer to the photos.
A young woman, man, and a girl about three years old, who held a play monkey in her hand pressed to the photo by the photographer, were frozen in the studio photo, and it wasn’t so interesting, the family picture of a baptism party that occurred a little while later, which now was becoming clear, was in an extremely well-kept garden
I took the photo placed in a gilded frame and observed it closer.
Hele-Riin was already more recognizable in this photo. A woman similar to her daughter held the child’s hand and on the other side of the table covered with white linen where some large dark book had been placed, sat Hele-Riin’s father looking straight at the photographer, and next to him a stocky older man along with a middle-aged woman with a powerful jaw and narrow fish mouth. I studied them as Hele-Riin came back to the room and I asked:
“Was this picture made in Pärnu?”
“And these are your father’s parents?”
“Yeh. They gave that picture with that ugly frame. Mom normally kept it in the drawer and only put it on the shelf when she knew that they were coming to see me,” said Hele-Riin taking the photo, pulling the cabinet door open and throwing the picture quickly in the drawer.
“Why so?” I asked already out of habit of questioning, and she answered:
“Because of the frame – it was so depressingly tasteless and altogether….Every time they invited me to live with them and it really drove my mom awfully nuts.”
When I left her place she had eaten one yogurt container empty under my watchful glance and promised to go to the balcony on the sixth floor where the afternoon sun was shining, and throwing herself on the rubber mattress to sleep. I went, pulling the snapper lock behind me shut quickly, not waiting for the lift, down the stairs. The corridor smelled of frying patties. Somewhere a door slammed, a dog barked hearing my steps going by.
I sat on the stairs and dialed the number. Like always Andreas Kettel answered almost immediately, just like he would go around perpetually with his phone in his hand. He was surprised by my wish, but then he said that if it was really needed he could meet me exactly an hour later, but then only for ten minutes.
He was late, I had already sat for awhile on a bench in Pirita next to the sea, when he with roller skates hurtling approached and so dexterously, almost as skillfully as Tanel, braked right in front of me suddenly making a turn.
“What’s the problem?” he said panting slightly, “Not about the meeting that happened on Monday, I hope? Shouldn’t everything be clear with that?”
“Yes, everything is clear with that. I have arranged all that. It’s not that…or rather it’s precisely that..” I listened to myself as well, how awfully, how helpless my voice sounded, and I tried to hide this with coughing. Opposite us over the wide river delta, a long line of yachts attached to the wharf see-sawed in the waves, bigger ones and smaller ones, and now I was really truly frightened for my job, and all of my future, because if he really was an accomplice in their deaths on some level, then I was almost an accomplice, but if I accused him without reason, then it would go rather bad for me.
“I am in a hurry, I am leaving today still and altogether….I have a Vilnius deal left unfinished and I don’t understand why I couldn’t have discussed this thing over the telephone with you.”
Kettel sat on the bench, stretching out his legs with the skates. An old man a few steps further from us soaked his fishhook along the river.
“Doesn’t the plane to Vilnius go at 8:45 in the morning?” I asked.
“And what does that matter?”
“Actually it doesn’t really matter…but I got to know Maruta Nigol’s daughter – honestly, entirely by accidentally – and now….Didn’t those two deaths – of Gunnar and then Maruta – seem strange to you?”
“What do you mean strange?” He asked me now, pulling his cold, fixed glance into focus. “I really didn’t expect that of Maruta, like you know very well, she put me in a damn bad situation, because that old woman, her daughter’s grandmother insisted flatly that she didn’t know anything about some contract between us, that her son already was the owner of the company and that they were stealing from her grandchildren…But you had all the facts to know, so I don’t understand, you had always been a business-like girl, even too….”
“Yes, really probably too….business-like…because now I would really like to know where you were for example last fall on September fourth and this year on the twelfth of April,” I asked and immediately, when I had already said those words, I turned calmer.
The angling old man pulled the hook out of the water and too a new, still wriggling worm from the jar, and one couple involved in each other walked straight past in front of us.
“Last year in September? Why should I remember a time six months ago and why the devil should I tell you where I was? What are you trying to get at?” Andreas Kettel asked bewilderingly at the beginning, but then angrily already.
“I have a feeling that I have earned an answer,” I said surprising even myself how sure my voice sounded.
He looked at me with such a face that I almost started to believe that he didn’t understand at all what I was talking about, but then he started to laugh a low, deep growl-like tone and asked deridingly:
“Are you playing the self-appointed detective? That is a very very dangerous profession, and for a green lawyer like you, even more, but…I like you, you are bright and if someone doesn’t put a leg behind you you’ll reach even farther, so if it really vitally interests you, at least about April I could present the plane ticket to you right away. I was in Vilnius. Look at the company documents and you’ll see that just the same day that Maruta hung herself, she became main owner of a three-story house on Gediminas Avenue. It’s quite sure that the value would double in six months – it actually is worth investing more in Vilnius than Tallinn, because the prices here are already through the roof, so if you want to make money in the real estate market, then take that as free advice and place your free capital in a proper interest to grow.”
“I don’t have free capital,” I mumbled, feeling terribly ashamed of myself, because I should have seen the date of the Vilnius deal while going through the papers in the morning already.
Andreas Kettel leaned his hand on the back of the bench, got up, and now staggering a little on his skates, looked down on me from high above, and though I now wanted that he would leave as fast as possible, he stayed put and said:
“It’s not so nice if you are suspected in murders. What did this girl – was Hele-Riin her name maybe– say to you that was so special that you got involved in this crap?”
I told him as briefly as possible of the balcony that night, as well as all of my own conclusions and he looked at me thoughtfully, and stated:
“I liked Maruta….I’ll think this all over, and if it really ends up that it really is like you think, then it will be going very bad for the murderer. If I were you I would concentrate on the girl’s grandmother…One thing is sure, she hated Maruta.”
With that he turned, hurtled along the road next to the river and I remembered, that he had once mentioned that he planned to journey during the summer a thousand kilometers on his inline skates.
The yachts were rocking up and down in the harbor, and just by looking at them intently one could get seasick. I looked for the telephone in my bag and called Tanel:
“If you want, then let’s really go to Pärnu. We’ll drive past Mustamägi and take Hele-riin along. It isn’t good to leave her alone and she has relatives there, a grandmother and grandfather,” I said and when Tanel along with Eero reached Pirita, it became clear that Raimo had also managed to worm his way into going along with them. The car got cramped and hot.
This time Hele-Riin exited the house with an ordinary black t-shirt and light blue jeans through a door that was covered with sheet metal. You could see that she had slept in the meantime, because she didn’t walk anymore like a zombie, but moved at a totally normal pace to the car.
Raimo whistled, and maybe just through such admiration I saw how beautiful she really was, how frail and big-eyed. She smiled at all of us a little dismayed and sat between me and Raimo in the backseat. The whole way Raimo made some really dumb retorts though he finally got tired, and when we drove across the river bridge in Pärnu, we were all already at least for half an hour in total silence, and we were able to think our own thoughts.
“Tell me where I have to turn from here” Tanel uttered throwing a glance from the mirror in our direction, and Hele-Riin raised her head and gave out directions in a clear, quiet voice to him. Soon we were driving on an avenue running parallel to the coast and then we stopped in front of a Jugend-style villa built in the 1930s. It was one of those houses in Pärnu from one of those times that while walking by you always wished that you could also live once in such a place, and now I opened the white metal gate and walked together with Hele-Riin past reddish stone plates towards the steps of the house. The door opened as if they were already waiting for us, and an old woman, who on the photo taken 10 years before still appeared rather young next to her son, stretched out her hand and Hele-Riin ran quickly to her arms, taking two steps at a time.
I stood and watched them, and I didn’t understand anything anymore.
I had imagined that woman setting fire to the summer cottage built by her son and drugging her daughter-in-law with tablets. I had been sure that the woman with the powerful face on this photo hadn’t changed at all, but the glowing and wrinkled little old lady with the silver hair and the old man in the wheelchair behind her, were definitely very odd suspects.
Eero, Tanel, and Raimo had come through the gates and Hele-Riin waved to us standing on the highest step to us and said to her grandmother:
“These are my friends, they took me to Pärnu…we’re going to a party, but I’ll come back and stay at least a week here.”
“Look after her please and bring her back home at a decent hour,” the old woman said looking in our direction, but Hele-Riin hopped down the stairs already and guffawing a smile came our way. Raimo smiled widely to her, but Tanel and Eero looked at me over her head and I didn’t know anything else to do other than to shrug my shoulders.
First we went to a pizza restaurant. Hele-Riin ordered herself a big portion filling the entire huge plate like the boys, and she also ate it down to the last piece. Then she wanted to go dancing, and she knew of a new place which none of us had heard about, some club from the capital that moved to Pärnu for the summer and she knew the security guard standing there, who let us in immediately, pushing the others to the side. And then she danced, leaped almost to the empty hall floor and hopped together with Raimo in a self-forgetting rhythm.
We looked at them in silence, for a long time almost not exchanging a word.
“That girl isn’t so crushed by worry as you said,” Eero said bowing my way through the rumble of the music.
“She’s still just a kid,” I answered following Hele-Riin’s dance steps and listening how the boys explained, laughing about what they thought of this argument.
“In any case, she has Raimo tied around her little finger and that will certainly last her a short time….that little chick is a man-eater, certainly a beginner but very talented,” Eero said with such certainty that I thought that I hadn’t noticed something that had either happened in the restaurant or on the road.
Again the balcony that night came to mind, her black see-through blouse and how she was talking about Gunnar’s death, looking at the glowing fire-colored stove rings.
“Did I tell you,” Eero said through the noise bowing in my direction, “that Gunnar didn’t drink or smoke, so that his death was in any case suspect considering the results of the investigation – usually only drunks burn up, falling asleep with a burning cigarette…It’s very possible that his wife knew what really happened with her husband….maybe she set it on fire herself and then later, regretting it, began looking for a rope?”
“Anything is possible...anything,” I said taking the glass held out by the barman.
“Stop this crap and let’s talk about something else,” Tanel ordered annoyingly, but I just shrugged my shoulders, took a long thirsty gulp from my glass and said:
“Eero, you know what I was thinking about – children are sexually abused almost always by their family members – uncles, older brothers, especially stepfathers and very often the mothers don’t want to hear anything about it, they live there and stay in the dark….”
“Listen, you’re already treading on thin ice here,” Eero said with caution, but said to Tanel, who tipped his glass high excitedly: “but you know, that’s how it goes,” and turned then with a new interest towards me.
“But maybe it was simply that the daughter never forgave Maruta that she forgot her father almost immediately and being so close to the money, supposedly a million being within reach, despite the fact she lived in a miserable flat in Mustamägi and, still happy, went skating on the ice….You understand – I don’t know anything, but I’m planning to ask Hele-Riin right when she’s done dancing.”
“And what do you think she will answer you? You’re such a foo…” Tanel laughed, but Eero looked sullenly towards the dancers and toward me. It appeared that I had awakened the policeman instinct in him.
I shrugged my shoulders and thought that I simply feared that the whole reason might be terribly easy and logical – millions within reach, which Hele-Riin hoped to inherit, and precisely because of that I went into the middle of the crowd of dancers and pulled her by the hand along with me. The only place quieter to go was the restroom and there we finally stood, together in the strange blue-looking light that was supposed to make vein injection impossible.
I told her that I know everything, but she only giggled, opened the door of the stall and I also heard a long flush. Then finally it ended, she opened the door and stepped past me very calmly to wash her hands.
“You’re almost right,” she said, examining her face in the mirror, ”almost…when I told my mother that I was with Gunnar in the summer cottage, that I burned it down, then she went crazy, but before…you know, I was about to go crazy then……If she hadn’t been so happy there on the ice, tried figure-skating and constantly teaching me to skate backwards and…..honestly – I probably wouldn’t have told her anything….”
Hele-Riin pursed her lips, sucked on them with her tongue damply until they shined, pushed the door of the restroom quickly open, and though I ran after her, I lost sight of her right away.
People were continuously coming, and looking at the crowd of dancers the girl with the black t-shirt wasn’t anywhere to be seen anymore, the boys near the bar counter also hadn’t seen her and then I started to squeeze through the party mass where the “EXIT” written with fire-colored letters was.
© Eeva Park. All Rights Reserved 2005.
Eeva Park began as the author of mood poems depicting nature, mixing feeling and thought in her poetry...
2005. Nordic Council of Ministers Office in Lithuania. All rights reserved e-solution: gaumina