Hairy Mary could hardly remember her real name. She came into the world in the back of a truck in January 1945. Her mother was a sixteen-year-old orphan. Nine months earlier, she had sold herself to a German soldier for two packs of cigarettes and a bar of chocolate. Now she was on her way to Tromsø. Finnmark was ablaze. They had left in below-zero temperatures, the baby swaddled in a moth-eaten blanket and then turned over to a married couple from Kirkenes. They were walking along the road holding a five-year-old child by the hand and barely had a chance to gather their wits before the truck with the sixteen-year-old was gone. The baby girl, two hours old, got no more from her biological mother than her name. Mary.
Incredibly enough, the family from Kirkenes managed to keep the infant alive. They held on to her for eighteen months. Before Mary was ten years old, she had put four new foster families behind her. She was quick-witted, remarkably lacking in the beauty stakes, and, what’s more, had sustained an injury to one leg during her birth. She walked with a limp. Her body twisted halfway around every time she set down her right foot, as if scared that someone might be following her. If she had problems moving about, she was all the faster at shooting her mouth off. After two combative years at a children’s home in Fredrikstad, Mary headed for Oslo to take care of herself. She was then twelve years old.
Hairy Mary certainly did take care of herself.
Now she was the oldest street hooker in Oslo.
She was an exceptional woman in more ways than one. Maybe it was an obstinate gene that had helped her survive almost half a century in the trade. It might just as easily have been downright defiance. For the first fifteen years, alcohol had kept her going. In 1972 she
became addicted to heroin. Since Hairy Mary was so old, she was one of the very first people in Norway to be offered methadone.
“It’s too late,” Hairy Mary said, and limped off.
At the start of the seventies, she had her first and last dealings with the social welfare office. She needed money for food after starving for sixteen days. Only a few kroner; she was fainting all the time. It wasn’t good for business. A humiliating ordeal of being sent from one social worker to another, which ended up with an offer of three days’ detox, ensured that she never set foot in a social welfare office again. Even when she was granted disability benefits in 1992, everything was organized through the doctor. The physician was a decent guy, the same age as she was, and had never let a single unkind word fall from his lips when she came to him with swollen knees and chilblains. There had also been the odd sexually transmitted disease down through the years without his smile growing any less sincere each time she limped into his warm office on Schous plass. The disability benefit managed to cover rent, electricity, and cable television. The money from street work went for drugs. Hairy Mary had never had a budget for food. When things became chaotic, she forgot about the bills. The debt collectors came to the door. She was never at home and never protested. Then the door was sealed and her belongings removed. Finding a new place to live could be difficult. Then it was a hostel for one or two winters.
She was worn out now, completely worn out. The night was bitterly cold. Hairy Mary was wearing a thigh-length pink skirt, fishnet stockings riddled with runs, and a long silver lamé jacket. She tried to wrap her clothes more snugly around herself, but that wasn’t much help. She had to get inside somewhere. The City Mission’s night shelter would be the best option after all. Admittedly, admission was refused to anyone under the influence, but Hairy Mary had been high on drugs for so many years that no one could tell whether she was clean or not.
She took a right turn beside police headquarters.
The park surrounding the curved building at Grønlandsleiret 44 was Hairy Mary’s place of refuge. Conventional citizens gave it a wide berth. An occasional dark-skinned immigrant with a wife and countless children sometimes sat there in the afternoons while the kids kicked a ball about and sniggered in terror at Hairy Mary’s approach. The winos were the trustworthy sort. The cops didn’t bother her either; it was ages since they had stopped harassing an honest whore.
On this particular night, the park was deserted. Hairy Mary shuffled out from the beam of light shed by the lamp above the entrance gate to Oslo Prison. That night’s honestly earned fix was in her pocket. She just had to find somewhere to shoot up. Her steps were on the north side of the police headquarters building. They were not illuminated and never used.
“Fuck! Goddamn it.”
Someone had taken the steps.
That was where she planned to shoot up her fix. That was where she was going to sit and wait until the heroin had reached a proper balance in her body. The steps around the back of police headquarters, a short stone’s throw from the prison wall—those were her steps. Someone had taken them.
The man made no sign that he had heard her. She tottered closer. Her high heels ground into rotten leaves and dog shit. The man slept like a log.
The guy might be good-looking. It was difficult to say, even when she leaned over him. It was too dark. A huge knife was sticking out of his chest.
Hairy Mary was a practical creature. She stepped over the man, sat down on the top step, and fished out her syringe. The pleasant, warming feeling she craved hit her before she had gotten as far as withdrawing the needle.
The man was dead. Probably murdered. Hairy Mary had seen murder victims before, even if they had never been as expensively dressed as this one. Attacked, probably. Or maybe the guy was a faggot who had taken too great a liberty with one of those young boys who sold themselves for five times the price of a blow job from Hairy Mary.
She stood up stiffly, swaying slightly. For a moment she studied the corpse. The man had a glove in his hand. Its partner lay to one side. Without any appreciable hesitation, Hairy Mary crouched down and appropriated the gloves for herself. They were too big, but were real leather with a wool lining. The guy had no more use for them. She pulled them on and began walking to catch the last bus to the night shelter. A scarf lay on the ground a few feet from the body. Hairy Mary had hit the jackpot tonight. She wound the scarf around her neck. Whether it was the new clothing or the heroin that helped, she had no
idea. In any case, she did not feel quite so cold. Maybe she should even splash out on a taxi. And maybe she should call the police to let them know they had a dead body in their back garden.
All the same, the most important thing was to find herself a bed for the night. She didn’t know what day it was, and she needed to sleep.