Every morning he takes his daughters to school, or, in the summer holidays, to their tennis lesson. It is usually the only time he sees them during the day, since he arrives home late, long after they are asleep. So he has promised to take them to school in the morning or to their tennis lesson. It is a promise he has kept so far.
Their school is on his way to work anyway. The Dansk Tennisklub involves a detour. To drive there takes twenty minutes at least. The traffic is quite heavy at that time in the morning. He talks to them, his daughters, Tine and Vikki, while he drives—about television and pop music and famous people mostly. Tine is eleven. Vikki is eight. They like to talk about television stars. Pop stars. He knows quite a lot about that, even though it is no longer his area of particular expertise, as it once was.
They arrive at the tennisklub at about ten to nine, and the girls spill out with their stuff, their water and tennis equipment, and wave perfunctorily as he turns in his seat to see them off. When they are inside, he pulls away and puts the radio on. Usually he does not put the radio on until he has dropped them off, though sometimes they listen to music together as they drive, and sometimes they sing along to songs they know.
On his own, he listens to the news. The sport it usually is at that time, five to nine, as he drives past Søerne, the lakes.
The Audi is quite new and he still enjoys driving it. He has had it less than a year. An A4, silver, with black leather seats. An unobtrusive executive saloon. Anonymous, almost. When he was deciding what sort of car to get he found a Web site that said of this model that it was “coldly, rationally competent in just about every department.” He immediately liked the sound of it.
From the tennisklub, it takes another ten minutes or so, depending on the traffic, to get to his office in town.
Sometimes he is a few minutes late for the morning meeting and slips in to take the seat nearest the door while Elin is already talking.
THIS MORNING THERE IS a special meeting. Elin phoned him very late and said she had just spoken to Jeppe, the news editor. He’d told her about a story he had. It was about the defense minister, Edvard Dahlin, and an affair he was supposedly having with a married woman.
“Has Jeppe spoken to you about this?” Elin asked him.
“No,” Kristian said.
Jeppe had told her he was sure the story was true because he had access to phone data that left no doubt—highly suggestive metadata, and also, more significantly, the actual words of text messages. Elin wanted to know how Jeppe had got his hands on that information, whether anything illegal had been done. He told her that if it had, no one on the paper’s payroll was directly involved.
After telling all that to Kristian, she asked him what he thought.
He said he would need to see the information first.
This morning they’re meeting to discuss it.
When he arrives, Kristian finds Jeppe and his deputy, David Jespersen, waiting outside the meeting room. Jeppe, obese, is sitting on the only seat, a plastic cup of water in his hand.
“Elin here yet?” Kristian asks.
“She’s in there with Morten,” Jeppe says. He must be nearly sixty now. He has been on the paper, has been news editor, since Kristian first started working there as an intern.
“Talking to him about your dodgy phone data?” Kristian asks.
Jeppe shrugs. There is something monstrous about his lack of neck. His white hair is cut in a precise pudding bowl.
“What have you got exactly?” Kristian asks him.
He knows that Jeppe keeps things from him, has a direct line to Elin, and tries to go over his head whenever he can. Jeppe wanted the deputy editor position when it opened up two years ago—instead it went to Kristian, who was then editor of the showbiz and television pages and is twenty years younger than him. There’s not been much warmth between them since then.
Jeppe says, looking into his plastic cup, “I’ll tell you in there. I don’t want to say it all twice.”
“Fair enough.” Kristian turns to David Jespersen. “Morning, David.”
“You joining us, too?”
“Very exciting,” Kristian says.
When they are summoned in, they find Elin with Morten, the in-house lawyer. He doesn’t look like a lawyer. He’s wearing a tracksuit.
They all say good morning to each other and take seats at the long table. There are bottles of mineral water. There is a view of Peblinge Lake. It is a hot, still August morning.
Elin says to Jeppe, “Okay, tell us what you have.”
“David,” Jeppe says.
David Jespersen, with some eagerness, sits forward. He is the same age as Kristian—exactly the same age; they were at school together in Sundbyøster. David went to university, entered journalism that way. Kristian didn’t, and for some time David was the senior of the two of them. He is lean, handsome, slightly yellow, as if he has liver trouble. He sits forward. He says, “Okay. What have we got. We have hard evidence,” he says, speaking primarily to Elin, “that Edvard Dahlin is having an affair with a married woman. It’s been going on for a few years. We’ve been working on this for some time now actually. The woman’s called Natasha Ohmsen. She’s married to Søren Ohmsen . . . ”
Elin interrupts. “Dahlin’s not married?”
“No. Divorced,” David says. “Ohmsen’s married.”
“Yeah, it’s been going on for a few years,” David says. “Now it seems like it might be ending. She’s ending it. Dahlin’s not happy about that.”
“He’s heartbroken,” Jeppe mutters.
“And you know all this because you have access to phone data?” Elin says. “What actually do you have? How did you get it?”
David looks at Jeppe—nervously, Kristian thinks, watching him.
“Someone in the phone company,” Jeppe says. “Like I told you, they have access to Dahlin’s phone records, this person. Who he calls. When. His voice mails. Text messages.”
“And you have that information?”
“How?” Elin asks.
“We were approached.”
“I assume some form of payment was involved.”
“Yeah,” Jeppe says again, looking down at the table.
Jeppe looks up. “Are you sure you want to know?”
Elin looks at Morten, who shakes his head.
“So what do you have, exactly?” she asks.
David hands her a flash memory stick, half standing to lean across the table. “All the texts are on there,” he says. “And a summary of the main points.”
“It’s the texts are important,” Jeppe points out.
“Texts from him to her?”
“And from her to him,” David says. “It’s all there.”
She plugs the memory stick into a laptop and opens a file. For a minute or so she looks at it, while the others look at the wall, or at the lake out the window, the low skyline of Copenhagen—the houses on the other side of the lake look like expensive toys.
“You’re sure,” she says suddenly, “these are kosher? Not some kind of hoax?”
“One hundred percent sure,” Jeppe says.
“We tested the source.”
“Sent some texts ourselves,” Jeppe says, “to Dahlin’s number. They’re in there. Exact times, everything.”
Elin seems satisfied with this, even impressed, and David, in particular, looks pleased with himself.
Elin says, “Only problem is we can’t print any of this. The messages.”
“No,” Jeppe tells her. “That would expose our source. And what he’s done, it’s not strictly speaking legal, is it. I mean, I don’t know. He’d be opening himself to prosecution, possibly.”
“Okay.” Elin turns to Morten, who is looking at the messages on the laptop screen, standing at her shoulder. “So we can’t do it?” she asks, twisting in her seat to look up at him.
“No,” Morten says. “If Dahlin sues, and you can’t use this material in court, you’ve got nothing else. So no.”
“So where does that leave us? Jeppe?”
David Jespersen, looking worried, sets his jaw and directs his eyes to the windows. He models himself, to some extent, on David Beckham. The sharply tailored jacket. The 1930s haircut. The groomed blond stubble.
Jeppe starts to talk about the national-security implications of the story.
Elin interrupts him.
“Yeah, whatever,” she says impatiently. “If he sues, we have no defense. That’s the point. What do you think?” she asks Kristian, who has said nothing so far.
He, too, has left his seat and is looking through the texts on the laptop screen. There are hundreds of them. It’s embarrassing, in a way, to see them. The language of them. I want you. You’re breaking my heart. All that sort of stuff.
He straightens himself up—he was leaning over to look at them. “It’s a major story,” he says. “He’s a senior minister. It’s got to be a major story.”
“So you think we should do it?” Elin asks him.
“I think we’ve got to.”
“He’ll sue and you’ll probably lose,” Morten says, taking a seat again in his tracksuit, knees spread. “It’ll be very expensive if you do. I have to tell you that.”
Elin is still looking at Kristian. He has a very serene energy, Kristian. A soft, slightly pudgy face. In his narrow-lapelled suit, his thin blue tie, he might be an unusually elegant accountant, or even a young undertaker. It’s easy to imagine him dealing tactfully with the family of the deceased, knowing what to say, and how to say it. “Sure,” he says to Morten. “I understand. We just need something more. Another source.”
“Like who?” Elin asks.
“How about Edvard himself? What if he admits it?”
“Why would he do that?” Jeppe says.
Kristian ignores him. “He doesn’t know this is all we’ve got,” he says to Elin. “He doesn’t know what we know, or how we know it.” Now he looks at Jeppe. “Does he?”
Jeppe just stares at him with open hostility until he looks at Elin again.
“We make him think we’re going to do the story anyway,” Kristian says, “and say we’re offering him a chance to have his say, to put his side of it . . . ”
“What if he just denies it?” Jeppe asks.
“Then he denies it,” Kristian says. “I don’t think he will.” He says, to Elin again now, “I know him quite well.”
She says, quietly, “You do, don’t you.”
He shrugs modestly.
“I mean that’s the other thing,” Elin says. “We like Dahlin, don’t we?”
“We can’t ignore the story just because of that,” Jeppe says.
“We can’t ignore the story for all sorts of reasons,” Kristian says. “It does mean we should talk to him first. He’d expect that. We want to handle it as sympathetically as possible. That’s what we tell him. If he thinks we’re going to do it anyway, it just wouldn’t make sense for him to deny it then.”
“You should talk to him,” Elin says to Kristian.
Jeppe sighs petulantly.
“Has anybody else got this?” Elin asks him.
Jeppe says, “No. I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?”
“No,” he says. “They don’t.”
“Still, we should move quickly with it,” Kristian suggests. “We don’t want anyone else stumbling on it. And we want to do it before she dumps him, if she does. I’ll talk to Edvard today?”
Elin says, “Okay, talk to him. Let’s see what he has to say for himself. And well done you two,” she says to the others. “Okay, that’s it.”
As they start to leave, she asks Kristian to stay.
Hanging back, Morten says to her, “If you want to do this, I advise you not to name the woman. She’s a private citizen. She’d have some sort of case against you for invasion of privacy, even if your story is a hundred percent true and not otherwise actionable.”
“Okay,” Elin says. “I’ll think about it. Thanks, Morten.”
When they are alone, she asks Kristian to set up the meeting with Dahlin and he phones Ulrik Larssen, the defense minister’s media advisor. Kristian knows Ulrik fairly well. They talk, typically, several times a week.
“Ulrik,” he says. “Kristian.”
A few pleasantries, then he says, “Listen, Ulrik, I need a meeting with Edvard. Face to face. Oh.” He looks at Elin. “He’s in Spain, is he?” he says, for her to hear. “Well can I meet him down there? I can fly out this morning. It is important,” he says. “It’s very important. He’ll want to hear what I have to tell him. No, I can’t tell him over the phone. Okay, let me know what he says. Thanks, Ulrik.”
He hangs up, and says, “He’s in Spain for a few days.”
“No, he’s on holiday.”
While they wait for Ulrik to call back, Elin says to him, “There’s going to be a fairly major shake-up around here, Kristian. Our new proprietor—he wants to take out a lot of costs. He needs to. We need to. You know that.”
He nods at her, smiles.
She says, “We’re going to have to lose some people. Quite a few people.”
“I know,” he says.
They have taken adjacent seats at the long table. His phone is on the table in front of them, waiting for Ulrik.
“You’re always so smartly dressed,” she says, smiling at him admiringly.
“I try my best.”
“Jeppe’s a slob,” she says.
He says nothing, just aligns his phone with the edge of the table.
“What do you think of him?”
“You thinking of losing him?” he asks, his eyes still on his phone.
“He’s hanging by a thread,” she admits.
“This might help. If it comes off.”
“I’m sure David did all the work.”
“I’m sure,” he agrees.
“Can you see David doing Jeppe’s job?” she asks.
She is looking at him, in that way of hers—as if he is the only thing in the world that interests her. It’s very flattering. “I’m not sure,” he says.
“I can’t,” she says. “If I’m honest.”
“Maybe he’d grow into it,” Kristian suggests.
“We don’t have the space to experiment.”
“No,” he agrees.
“You get quite a lot of stories from Dahlin, don’t you?” she asks.
“A fair few. He’s a decent source. We have a relationship.”
“Won’t this damage that?”
Kristian knits his soft white hands and frowns thoughtfully. “No,” he says finally. “That’s about self-interest, on both sides. That won’t change. And if it does,” he says, “it’s worth it. I think.”