Authors: Karin Fossum
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery Fiction, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Sejer; Konrad (Fictitious character), #Police - Norway
Karin Fossum made her literary debut in Norway in 1974. The author of poetry, short stories and several novels, her Inspector Sejer series has been published in twenty-six countries.
ALSO BY KARIN FOSSUM
Don't Look Back
When the Devil Holds the Candle
Calling Out For You
TRANSLATED FROM THE NORWEGIAN BY
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Published by Vintage 2004
4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3
Copyright © J. W. Cappelens Forlag, A.S.
English translation copyright © Felicity David 2003 Karin Fossum has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
Originally published with the title
Den som frykter ulven
By J. W. Cappelens Forlag, A.S., Oslo, 1997
First published in Great Britain in 2003 by
The Harvill Press
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
I hate people for the simple reason that they exist and envy them intensely when I see them moving around in their own country. Inside my block of ice I sit, the lunatic, taking meticulous notes on all the hostile deeds that people direct specifically at me. And from inside the dark space of revenge emerges a master of the world.
A dazzling ray of light slanted in through the trees.
The shock brought him up short. He wasn't ready. He had got out of bed, made his way one foot in front of the other through the dark house, still half-asleep, and come out on to the front steps. And there he encountered the sun.
It struck his eyes like an awl. He raised his hands to his eyes, but the light kept coming, penetrating cartilage and bone, all the way into the dark of his skull. Everything turned blindingly white inside. His thoughts fled in all directions, shattered into atoms. He wanted to scream, but he never screamed because to do so was beneath his dignity. Instead he clenched his teeth and stood as still as he could on the steps. Something was happening. The skin on his head began to tighten; a tingling sensation that was getting stronger. Trembling, he stood with his hands on his face. He felt his eyes being pulled apart as his nostrils flared, growing as big as keyholes. He whimpered faintly and tried to resist, but he couldn't stop the violent force. Bit by bit his features were erased. All that remained was a naked skull covered with translucent, white skin.
He struggled, frantic, moaning as he tried to feel his face, to be sure it was still there. His nose had turned soft and disgusting. He took his hand away – he had ruined what little was left, could feel it sliding off, losing its shape like a rotten plum.
And then it released him. Anxiously he took a breath, and felt his face slip back into place. He blinked several times, and opened and shut his mouth. But as he was about to move forwards he felt a deep pain in his chest, the sharp claws of an invisible monster. He doubled over, wrapping his arms around his torso to restrain the force that was yanking the skin of his breast tighter and tighter. His nipples vanished into his armpits. The skin on his bare chest grew thinner, the veins stood out like knotty cables, pulsing with black blood. He was bent nearly double, and knew that he was no longer able to resist it.
Suddenly he split open like a troll in the sunlight. His guts and intestines poured out. He tried to keep everything in by seizing hold of the edges of the wound and pulling them together, but it seeped out and ran through his fingers, collecting at his feet like the entrails of a slaughtered animal. His heart was still beating, trapped behind his ribs, terrified, pounding. He stood like that for a long time, bent double and gasping. He opened one eye and cast an anxious glance down his body. His abdominal cavity was empty. The outpour had stopped. He began clumsily to gather up what had come out, stuffing it back in any old how with one hand while he held on to his skin with the other, to prevent it from sliding out again. Nothing was in the right place; there were strange bulges everywhere, but if he could get the wound closed, no-one would know. He wasn't made like other people, though this wasn't plain to see. He held on to the skin with his left hand, continuing to shove with his right. At last he got most of it inside again. Only a small spattering of blood was left on the steps. He pressed hard on the wound and felt it starting to close up, breathing cautiously so it would not open again. The sun was still shining through the trees, its white beams as sharp as swords. But he was whole again. Everything had happened too fast. He shouldn't have gone straight from bed out into the sunlight. He had always moved in a different space, seeing the world through a murky veil that took the sting out of the light and the sounds coming from outside. He held the veil in place by concentrating hard. A moment ago he had slipped up, had run out into the new day without taking stock, like a child.
His punishment seemed unreasonably harsh. Because as he slept on the dark bed, he had dreamed about something that made him sit bolt upright and then rush outside without thinking. He closed his eyes and recalled some images. He was looking at his mother at the bottom of the stairs. Out of her mouth gushed warm red blood. Fat and round, wearing a white apron with big flowers, she reminded him of a toppled jug, emptying red gravy. He remembered her voice, always accompanied by a dark velvety tone.
Then he went back inside the house.
This is a story about Errki.
It began like this: at 3 a.m. he left the asylum. We don't refer to it as the asylum, Errki, and even though you surely have the right to call it whatever you like in private, you ought to take other people into consideration and give it a different name. It's a matter of courtesy. Or tact, if you will. Have you ever heard of that?
She was so eloquent, God help her, that her words seemed to seep out of her like oil. After the words came her sound, a shrill electric organ.
"It's called the Beacon," he said, and gave an acid smile. "Those of us here in the Beacon are all one big family. The telephone rings, may I speak to the Beacon please? Could someone get the mail for the Beacon?"
"Precisely. It's all a matter of habit. Everyone has to show a little consideration."
"Not me," he replied in a sullen voice. "I was committed against my will, per paragraph five. Dangerous to myself and possibly to others."
He leaned forward and whispered in her ear.
"Thanks to me you can swan around on pay grade 27."
The night nurse shivered. This was the time of day when she felt most vulnerable. This no-man's-land between night and morning, a grey void when the birds stopped singing and you couldn't be sure that they'd ever sing again. When anything might have happened and she didn't yet know about it. She slumped a little, feeling faint. She didn't have the strength to see his pain, to remember who he was, that he was her charge. She just found him repulsive, self-absorbed and nasty.
"I realise that," she snapped. "But you've been here for four months now, and as far as I can tell, you seem to like it well enough."
As she said this her lips pursed like the beak of a hen. The organ struck a strident chord.
And so he left. It wasn't hard. The night was warm, and the window was ajar with a gap of 15 centimetres. It was locked with a steel bar, but he managed to remove the whole bar, using his belt buckle. The building was more than a hundred years old, and the screws came smoothly out of the rotting wood. His room was on the first floor. He jumped from the window as light as a bird and landed on the lawn.
He didn't cross the car park, but instead headed through the woods towards the small lake, which they called the Well. It didn't matter which route he took. The point was that he didn't want to stay in the Beacon any more.
The lake was beautiful. It didn't put on airs, just lay there without a ripple, resting in the landscape, open and still. Didn't push him away, didn't lure him forward. Didn't touch him. Was simply there. The asylum was only a stone's throw away, but invisible because of the trees. Nestor asked him to stop for a moment, and he did. He stared down into the black Well, and thought of Tormod, who was found floating face down in the water, wearing rubber gloves, as always, with his blond hair waving in the greenish-black water. He didn't look very good, but then he never had. He was fat and sluggish with colourless eyes, and besides he was stupid. A disgusting, pudding-like fellow who went around asking people to excuse him, afraid of infecting them or of being in the way, afraid that someone would notice his contaminated breath. Now the poor man was with God. Maybe he was sloshing around on a cloud, freed at last from his clammy gloves. Maybe he'd met Errki's mother up there, maybe she was floating on the cloud next to his. Errki loved his mother. The thought of Tormod's fluttering eyes with the blond eyelashes made him swallow hard. He gave a couple of irritated shrugs of his thin shoulders and kept walking.
His dark figure was quite visible against all that light-green foliage, but no-one saw him. The others were asleep. After his suicide Tormod was reduced to a practical phenomenon for which they had need: an empty bed. An astonishing transformation. Tormod was no longer Tormod, he was an empty bed. And he too would become an empty bed, with the sheets tucked in tight. He listened to the voice and gave a brisk nod. Then he walked on, sauntering through the dense woods. By the time the night nurse arrived to peek into his room, he had been walking for more than two hours. She didn't dare repeat their conversation. "No, I didn't notice anything unusual, he was as he always is." The sun had come up and shone in her face through the window of the staffroom where they held their morning meetings. The words burned her throat like acid.
He passed the riding centre. Heard the big dark animals restlessly scraping their hooves. One of them saw him and gave a loud snort. He looked at them out of the corner of his eye and felt a deep longing to stay with them, to be like them. No-one would go up to a horse and ask: who are you? A horse had to bear whatever burden it was given, and afterwards it was allowed to rest. And the horse that was incapable of doing anything got a bullet in its forehead. One day at a time. Walk around the enclosure with a child on its back. Take a drink from the old bathtub. Sleep standing up with its head drooping. Shake off a few insects. Until the end of its days.
Now he was walking on the road. People would soon be crawling out from under sheets and quilts. Tumbling out of holes and anthills. He could feel it approaching, like a vibration in the air. Before long the traffic would be on the move. Errki picked up his pace. It would be better to go back into the woods. Occasionally he raised his head. He liked the quivering trees, the light shimmering through the leaves, and the smell of grass in his nostrils. The sound of twigs and heather crunching under his feet. Trees, grey and dry, that stood there, anchored in the earth. He snatched at a fern and pulled it up, roots and all, held it to his eyes and muttered, "Root, stem and leaf. Root, stem and leaf."
In time he grew tired. In the distance he saw a crag and beneath it a dark shadow. When he reached it he curled up in the grass, listening all the while to the voice. It hummed inside him, steady and peaceful, like a power station. In his pocket he had a little pill box with a screw-on lid. Sleep is Death's brother, he thought, and closed his eyes.
He was at the edge of a plain.
Only Errki could walk like that, his tread heavy, limping like a crow with clipped wings, but moving fast. Everything hung from him, his long hair, his open jacket, and the baggy trousers that he hadn't taken off in a long time – old polyester trousers with a rank smell of sweat and urine. His head was tilted, as if a tendon were pulling his neck. He seldom looked up; instead he kept his gaze mostly fixed on the ground, so that what he chiefly saw was his feet trudging along. They moved by themselves. He didn't need a destination, he could keep going for hours without getting tired. He walked as tenaciously as a wind-up toy with a key in its back.
He was a man of 24 with narrow shoulders but surprisingly wide hips. He had inherited bad hip joints, and had to swing his hips in a special way to make his legs cooperate. An annoying swing, as if he had something hideous on his back that he wanted to shake off. It made people think that he walked like a woman. His neck was also thinner and longer than usual for a man, almost too thin to bear the weight of his head. Not that his head was particularly large, but the contents were much heavier than was common.
He weighed only 60 kilos and ate little. It was hard to decide what he wanted to eat. Bread or cornflakes? Sausage or a hamburger? An apple or a banana? How did people actually go about making all the choices that life required?
How did they know if they'd made the right choice?
In his pocket was his pill box with a screw-on top which contained all he needed to arrange his thoughts in acceptable order, and to make his legs obey him, up and down the corridors of the Beacon, on the bus, on the train, or wandering along the road.
When he wasn't on the move he would lie still and rest. His hair was long and black and wiry. It hung over his face like a filthy tassel. His skin was scarred with acne. The pimples had appeared in his thirteenth year, fermenting like tiny volcanoes. He stopped washing. They looked much worse if he rubbed them with soap and water. They weren't quite so noticeable with dirt and grease caked on his skin in a thick layer. Beneath the wiry hair a long, narrow face could be glimpsed, with sharp cheekbones and narrow black brows. His eyes were deep-set and strange, most often downcast, avoiding anyone's glance. But if someone did make contact, they shone with a pale light. Because of his long hair and all the clothes he wore, his skin was white even in the summer. His trousers rode low on his hips, held in place by a leather belt. The buckle was a brass eagle with outspread wings and a crooked beak. It had tiny enamel eyes that stared down at an invisible prey, perhaps at Errki's modest genitals within the filthy trousers. His penis was small for a man his age, and it had never been inside a woman. No-one knew this, and even he ignored the fact, focusing on more important matters. Besides, the eagle was impressive enough as it swayed in time with the rotation of Errki's hips. Maybe it fooled people into thinking that the equipment below might actually be a beast of prey.
It was quiet and hot along the road, and there were yellow fields on both sides for as far as the eye could see. A girl with a pram was approaching. She saw the dark, lumbering figure from far off and realised that she would have to pass him. He looked odd, and as he got closer she could feel her body tense, and her steps grew stiffer. The figure was jolting and twisting along; there was something both timid and aggressive about him, and it occurred to her that she should not look into his eyes, but move quickly past, with an indifferent and superior look on her face. She must not show that she was afraid because she had the feeling that if he smelled her fear, he would attack, just like an untrustworthy dog.
The girl was as fair and pretty as Errki was dark and ugly. Even through the veil her approach was like a sharp light. She was clutching the handle of the pram, pushing it brusquely ahead of her like a shield, as if she were willing to sacrifice whatever it contained to save her own skin. Or so Errki thought. He had been walking for a long time, lost in thought. Now he was aware of the figure mincing towards him on the periphery of his vision. It looked insignificant, like a piece of fluttering white paper. He did not raise his head. He had long ago registered the contours that were approaching. Of all the things in Errki's world of perceptions, a girl with a pram was the most pitiful. That producing a child should give a woman that stupid expression of bliss was something he couldn't understand. In spite of the billions of wailing inhabitants on earth, having a child changed their whole view of life. It was beyond his comprehension. Yet he did cast a glance at her and asked the question: evil intentions or none at all? He had no experience of good intentions. But he never let himself be fooled. It was impossible to recognise an enemy by outward superficial appearances. Under the baby blanket she might have hidden a knife. He imagined something with a barbed point and jagged edge. One never knew.