Authors: Per Wahlöö
Born in 1926, Per Wahlöö was a Swedish writer and journalist who, alongside his own novels, collaborated with his partner, Maj Sjöwall, on the bestselling Martin Beck crime series, credited as inspiration for writers as varied as Agatha Christie, Henning Mankell, and Jonathan Franzen. In 1971 the fourth novel in the series,
The Laughing Policeman
, won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Per Wahlöö died in 1975.
Joan Tate was born in 1922 of English and Irish extraction. She traveled widely and worked as a teacher, a rehabilitation worker at a center for injured miners, a broadcaster, a reviewer, and a columnist. She was a prolific writer and translator, well known for translating many leading Swedish-language writers, including Astrid Lindgren, Ingmar Bergman, Kerstin Ekman, P. C. Jersild, Sven Lindqvist, and Agneta Pleijel. She died in 2000.
Also by Per Wahlöö
Murder on the Thirty-first Floor
The Steel Spring
With Maj Sjöwall
The Man Who Went Up in Smoke
The Man on the Balcony
The Laughing Policeman
The Fire Engine that Disappeared
Murder at the Savoy
The Abominable Man
The Locked Room
FIRST VINTAGE CRIME/BLACK LIZARD EDITION, JUNE 2013
Translation copyright © 1968 by Michael Joseph Ltd
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Sweden as
by P. A. Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Stockholm, in 1962. Copyright
1962 by Per Wahlöö. This translation originally published in hardcover in the United States by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Great Britain as
by Michael Joseph Ltd., London, in 1968.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Crime/Black Lizard and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data for this edition has been applied for.
Cover design by Gregg Kulick
Cover photograph © Ruby Porter / Millennium Images, UK
Willi Mohr was arrested on the seventh of October at about two o’clock, in the middle of the siesta.
He was living alone in a derelict two-storey house in Barrio Son Jofre on the southern outskirts, which was also the oldest and highest part of the town.
The man who arrested him was a middle-aged civil guard with a heavy, sleepy face and a stubby grey moustache. He was carrying his carbine on a strap over his shoulder and he had walked all the way from his post quite a way out of town. When the civil guard came to the narrow cobbled alleyway which twisted its way up to Barrio Son Jofre, he stopped and let out a deep breath. He was in no hurry.
Five minutes before he was arrested, Willi Mohr knew that someone was on his way up towards the house. He was lying on his back with his hands clasped behind his head, looking at the ceiling. He was not thinking about anything special. When he heard a quiet, gliding rustle, he turned his head and saw the cat slinking through the hole in the door. It threw a slanting narrow shadow across the rhomboid-shaped patch of sun on the floor. The animal had come straight in from the sun into the shade and its eyes widened swiftly until the pupils were quite circular and had almost eaten their way right through the pale green irises. The cat did not come into the room, but stayed just by the door, cautiously peering out into the alley. Its striped ginger tail was standing straight out, but the tip of it was moving slowly to and fro. The cat was extremely cowardly, cautious and inquisitive.
Willi Mohr lay quite still and looked out through the cat-hole. He listened, but the only things he could hear were a chicken
scratching about in the dried weeds and the newborn puppies whining out in the kitchen.
He thought: I’ll kill them tomorrow; all of them except one. I’ll choose the one with the best markings and keep that one. I’ll kill the others, but I’ll wait until tomorrow.
The cat moved its head, no more than a fraction of an inch, and twitched its ear forward.
But although Willi Mohr was prepared and straining, he did not hear the steps until they were very close and then he saw a man’s leg through the cat-hole, not the whole leg, but just a brown laced boot and green leggings with buckles.
The civil guard knocked on the door, quite lightly, perhaps with a pencil or the stem of his pipe, and Willi Mohr half-rose, his elbow resting on the mattress, and called: ‘I’m coming.’
The cat had retreated about eighteen inches and was crouching on the floor, prepared for flight.
Willi Mohr thrust his hand between the mattress and the stone floor and pulled out his gun and notebook. He went out into the kitchen and reached in under the stone bench, feeling the damp warmth of dog. He hid the pistol and the notebook under the straw, close up against the wall, and before he could withdraw his hand, the bitch had given him a lick, large and wet and trusting.
He straightened up and wiped the dog-saliva off on to his trousers. Then he went out and opened the door.
The civil guard was standing in the sun outside, rocking back and forth on his toes and heels as he gazed thoughtfully at the house. It was certainly in very bad shape.
When the door opened, he made an attempt at a salute and then let it go over into a diffuse gesture, saying: ‘Let’s go, shall we?’
He had in fact got a warrant in his pocket but he was not going to take it out unnecessarily.
Willi Mohr took down his straw hat from the nail on the doorpost and stepped out into the sunlight. Then he locked the door and put the key into his pocket. In the meantime, the civil guard gazed down at his trousers.
As they walked towards the alleyway, Willi Mohr looked without interest down on to the town lying spread out below
them. It wasn’t much to look at, an irregular confusion of flat, brownish roofs at different angles and of different sizes. About three thousand people were lazing beneath those roofs, many of whom would have gladly given up their siesta for work, had there been any work. The only thing to break the monotony of the view was the church tower, but not even that managed to stand out clearly against the scorched, greyish-yellow slopes.
The mountains closed in on the town from all directions and limited the view, except in the east, where a narrow corridor between two prominent ridges opened out towards a glittering sliver of sea. It was exactly thirteen kilometres of poor, twisting, gravelled road there but it was all downhill and the driver of the mail-bus could freewheel all the way from the square in the town to the quay in the fishing settlement, which was thought to be a considerable saving.
Down there, in the village by the sea, there were perhaps still a few tourists left from some late organized holiday. Long-legged English, German and Scandinavian office girls defying the morality laws by sitting under beach umbrellas in two-piece bathing costumes, sucking at Pepsi Colas.
At night they abandonedly whimpered in someone’s bed, the courier’s if the worst came to the worst, and in the mornings they had suck marks on their shoulders and thighs. Thought Willi Mohr.
He hadn’t been down there for a long time.
They walked along Avenida Generalissimo Franco, lying empty and desolate except for a few old crones’ abandoned basket chairs and a few cats sleeping here and there in the shade along the walls of the houses. The street was not straight and not especially wide, but it was level and laid with small, flat, smooth cobblestones. It could well have been laid three hundred years before, but in fact this street was quite new, put down in honour of the Caudillo, who was to have come here once on a tour of inspection. Actually he had not come and several of the Asturian forced labourers who had been working on the project had died of starvation and consumption before the street was finished.
They had not said a word to each other since they had left the house in Barrio Son Jofre. The civil guard who had arrested Willi
Mohr walked on the left of him and always slightly behind him, as if to indicate his relationship with the arrested man without making too much of it.
They walked diagonally across the square. In the shadow of the village pump stood a donkey-cart, laden with the kind of weeds which for lack of anything better were used to feed the pigs. Between the high wheels slept a shrunken old man, his faded and ragged straw hat tipped over his face. The emaciated donkey was dozing, its head hanging down and its sore back covered with glossy horse-flies.
The tables and cane chairs under the permanent awning outside Café Central were vacant and the doors into the bar were only half-open to show that the place was semi-closed.
It struck Willi Mohr that he was thirsty and that the guard might possibly be so also. In addition, the Central was one of the places where he could still get credit. He pointed towards the tables and said in strained Spanish: ‘What about having a glass with me?’
The civil guard shook his forefinger with a parrying gesture, but when he saw that the other man was not going to repeat his offer, he seemed to resign himself, shrugged his shoulders and went and sat down under the awning. He leant his carbine against the table and put his black shiny cap down on the marble table-top. Willi Mohr clapped his hands and only a few seconds later the abuela, a wrinkled little old woman in a shawl and long black widow’s weeds, came out through the rustling jalousies. She threw a confused and questioning look from Willi Mohr to the civil guard, but she said nothing. They were given vermouth and a syphon and Willi Mohr served the drinks, first for the guard and then for himself. They raised their glasses, nodded solemnly and drank, only a gulp each.