Authors: Liza Marklund
‘When will we be able to go public with this decision?’ Thomas asked.
‘After the summer,’ the head of negotiations said. ‘We’ll have to discuss it with the politicians and you’ll start out by setting down the guidelines of our policy. When everything is set, we’ll hold a huge press conference. Anyone in Sweden who has ever had anything to do with this particular issue will find out just who is blazing the trail.’
The head of negotiations proffered his hand. Thomas quickly wiped his own hand on his trousers and shook it. He shook hands with both bosses, sealing the deal.
‘And you’re going to Korea too,’ the section supervisor said, impressed.
‘From the second to the twelfth of September,’ Thomas said, leaning back, a wide smile on his face.
Annika entered the conference room from the back and walked straight into a wall of black-jacketed backs. The door closed behind her. One of the men in front of her stepped on her foot and barely took notice of her feeble protests. She jumped up a few times to see what was going on, to no avail. The wall of men stepped back in unison and she felt panic welling up inside her, the feeling of not having enough air.
Got to get out of here.
Got to breathe.
She heaved herself up on a radiator, got up on the windowsill and stood there.
It wouldn’t be comfortable, that was for sure.
She turned around, leaned her behind against the window, and held on to either side of the window frame.
The conference room was a black sea. It was hot in there already, the lack of oxygen making the air oppressive. An abundance of white flowers blanketed the room with their scent, enveloping everyone in the room, the perfume going to their heads.
Annika perched in the window, trying to survey the scene.
There were three cameras, one at the front, by the stage; one at the entrance on the other side of the room, and one up by the ceiling at the back of the room. Cables snaked their way along walls and underfoot and microphones appeared in the sea of humanity like periscopes. On stage there was a lectern, even more flowers and a large TV monitor up by the ceiling. Technicians, cameramen, and sound and light engineers fought their way through the crowd, talking into invisible mikes and listening through earpieces. Four chairs had been placed on the stage. Apart from that there was nothing to sit on.
The sun in Annika’s eyes made her squint as she tried to see who was present. Almost everyone in the crowd was a familiar face. The people she didn’t know personally were the folks who got their pictures in the paper, the beautiful people, TV celebrities and reporters, actors and artists. They had come for various reasons: hoping for work, out of curiosity, or prompted by a sincere sense of loss. The atmosphere was energetic and heightened but the murmuring of the crowd was kept to a subdued roar. A pamphlet had been handed out. Annika looked down over the shoulders of the men in front of her and saw that it appeared to contain press material and an agenda. A lot of people were fanning themselves with the folder.
Annika looked around, holding on so tight that her knuckles turned white. She noticed that Anne Snapphane wasn’t present.
Highlander was standing at the very front of the room, on the tiny stage. In an effort to seem calm, collected and serious, he was dressed in a black suit and a silver tie, and it looked like he was wearing tan make-up. Karin Bellhorn was seated next to him; their heads were close together as they whispered to each other. The insistent quality of the producer’s hand movements suggested that the network boss didn’t quite understand the task at hand. Maybe he needed instruction. Karin’s black tent of a dress swayed, golden threads in the cloth glistening. Annika noticed that she was heavily made up and her hair was up.
‘One minute to go,’ the floor manager shouted.
Highlander raised a hand in protest and waved in dismissal at the producer. Nervously, he began to shuffle papers around. Then he walked up to the microphone and said: ‘One-two, one-two’, earning a thumbs-up from a sound engineer who was gazing towards the control room.
The cameras started whirring softly, spreading an electronic smog that made your skin prickle. It got relentlessly hotter, Annika wiped her face with her sleeve.
Then she heard Barbara Hanson’s voice, shrill and a tad tipsy: ‘Oh, my God, it’s so hot in here. Do we really have to
the whole time? What kind of an affair
On the other side of the room she caught sight of Carl Wennergren, a frown on his blotchy face, propelling Mariana von Berlitz forward with a firm hand on her elbow.
Stefan Axelsson stood at the very back of the room, his arms folded across his chest, his face white.
And there, of course, was Sebastian Follin. He had some business up by the stage, and was whispering something to Highlander.
‘Thirty seconds to go.’
Karin Bellhorn retired to the right of the stage. Bambi Rosenberg had parked herself right in front of Highlander’s lectern and was already crying so hard that her shoulders were shaking. Gunnar Antonsson had stationed himself right next to the door, he looked vaguely confused and seemed ready to pick up and run at any moment.
Everyone was here, Annika reckoned, except for John Essex, the little Nazi girl and Anne.
The journalists and the press photographers huddled by the stage. She spotted Bertil Strand and Sjölander. When she caught sight of the delegation from their competitor, she became more attentive. But Bosse wasn’t there. She swallowed her disappointment.
‘Fifteen seconds to go.’
Annika’s left leg started to shake; the windowsill was too narrow. She looked for somewhere else to stand, couldn’t find anything, and braced herself against the radiator. Looking up at the large TV screen to the left of Highlander, she tried to shift her weight to the other foot.
‘Seven, six, five, four . . .’
The floor manager illustrated the last three counts with his fingers.
Intro music began to play. A bombastic piece in a minor key spilled out of the loudspeakers at ceiling level, making the walls and windows vibrate. Annika was overwhelmed by emotion. Her chest constricted and she had to breathe with her mouth open, in shallow gasps, to hold back the tears. Bambi’s sobs up by the stage grew progressively louder, a jarring sound in stark contrast to the sweeping melody.
As the music faded, Highlander walked out into the spotlights focused on the lectern.
‘Dear friends,’ he began in a serious voice, ‘colleagues and . . . well, friends. On behalf of TV Plus I would like to welcome you to this ceremony dedicated to the memory of our dear friend and esteemed associate, Michelle Carlsson, and I will also inform you all about how the TV Plus network plans to commemorate Michelle’s memory.’
Annika swallowed. The sentimental atmosphere created by the music had been compromised, and irritation took its place.
‘We will continue to carry on in Michelle’s spirit,’ Highlander continued from the screen on high, ‘and follow a route we know she would have appreciated. We are also proud to present a new associate: Sebastian Follin, Michelle Carlsson’s best friend and colleague will be working full time for this network to commemorate Michelle’s memory.’
The manager stepped forward, lit from within by an inner fire, and flung out his arms as if he was expecting a cheering crowd. A smattering of applause made him blush.
‘This is why we have decided to air Michelle’s final production in its entirety,’ Highlander continued. ‘The first show of the series titled
Summer Frolic at the Castle
will be aired on Saturday, as originally planned.’
Annika surveyed the audience, trying to interpret their reaction.
They were neutral. Expectant. A bit moved.
Sebastian Follin continued to stand next to Highlander at the edge of the stage, the beams of the spotlights reflected in his glasses.
, Annika thought.
He’s turned this into a victory.
‘The shows will be aired in the order in which they were taped, just as originally planned. We will be seeing Michelle Carlsson in the way she would prefer it, as a professional taking part in a production that she was committed to.’
The silence grew more intense. The audience was waiting, the cameras were whirring. Highlander cleared his throat.
‘I would like to point out,’ he said, ‘that this decision has been carefully considered. The network management has discussed the issues very carefully with the production staff and, above all, with Sebastian Follin. Our decision is a unanimous and wholehearted one. Michelle Carlsson was one of the driving forces behind this series: she had asked for a chance to increase her repertoire here at TV Plus, and we welcomed her proposal with open arms.’
A reporter by the door left the room, distracting Highlander momentarily.
‘We are very proud of this series,’ he went on, speaking now in a louder voice, trying to reach even the people who didn’t want to listen. ‘It is our absolute conviction that this is what Michelle would have wanted. She wouldn’t have wanted to see her final production tossed in the waste-paper basket, all that work for nothing. So we made this decision for Michelle’s sake.’
‘And I’m the King of Denmark,’ one of the men below Annika quipped in a hushed voice.
‘There is some truth in it, though,’ another man said. ‘I do think Michelle would have wanted the shows to be aired.’
‘I’ll grant you that,’ the first man said. ‘But not two weeks before her funeral. You should be able to expect some decency, even from a TV network, shouldn’t you?’
‘We are presently faced,’ Highlander said on stage, ‘with the problem of finding a worthy successor to Michelle Carlsson, someone who can take over the helm at
The Women’s Sofa
and carry on in her spirit. This task is painful, but we know that Michelle would not have wanted to see her creation go off the air, a show that she made into a smash hit for that particular demographic’
‘Oh, please,’ a third man at Annika’s feet protested.
A split second later, Annika caught sight of Q over by the door. She stopped breathing, wanting to call out to him and almost falling.
The police officer made his way over to the stage, murmuring excuses to the wall of backs that made room for him in surprise. Three cops in uniform trailed after him, rigid and silent. The atmosphere in the room changed. Unease prevailed, and the dominant sound was of people murmuring and shuffling their feet.
‘Now,’ Highlander continued, unaware of the turbulence in the room, ‘I would like to stand down in favour of Michelle’s closest friend and associate, Sebastian Follin.’
Anne Snapphane stared at the monitor and saw Sebastian step up to the lectern. The spotlights had made his forehead all shiny. The camera zoomed in on his face, catching the slight twitching of his mouth, the expectancy, the apprehension. The way he held his head signalled that he was affected by the seriousness of the occasion, while the fire in his eyes was that of the true believer. The man cleared his throat, unfolded a piece of paper, adjusted his glasses better, and was leaning closer to the mike when suddenly the image on the TV screen began flickering. Sebastian Follin looked up and scanned the audience, his gaze darting.
‘Dear friends . . .’ he began. But the camera had already moved away from his face and now swept the room.
Live broadcasts were produced from the control room next to Anne’s editing cubicle. The technical director, a consultant, cued another camera, producing a change of perspective. Anne caught sight of Annika, perched in a window, hanging on to the window frame for dear life. The room next door got noisier – people were upset and distracted. What was going on?
A tape stopped at Anne’s feet, she heard the sound but decided to ignore it.
Camera three took over, an overview shot of the entire conference room. The crowd, a dark mass with bobbing heads where one particular face popped out at her.
It was Q.
He was here.
Anne leaned closer to the monitor. The warm sensation radiating from her stomach spread waves of relief throughout her body.
Q was here. It would be over soon.
She looked attentively at the screen. Stefan was at the back, there were Mariana and Carl Wennergren, and Karin Bellhorn was over by the stage, to the right.
The director cut back to camera one, the shot with the stage and the lectern, right when Sebastian Follin stepped out of range.
Anne gritted her teeth, ashamed even though she had done nothing. What a messy and shoddy job.
‘Well . . .’ someone whose mike was switched on, probably Highlander, said. ‘What do we do now?’
Camera three was cued, and the shot of the whole room was back. Q was on his way over to Karin Bellhorn, three policemen in tow. He said something to her and the producer’s reaction was immediate and aggressive. She held out her hands and Anne could hear what she was saying in spite of the static and the noise in the room.
‘Why? For what reason?’
Q said something she couldn’t make out and Karin Bellhorn took a step backwards.
‘No way!’ she shouted. ‘I most certainly will not!’
The woman turned around, away from the policemen, and ran.
Annika Snapphane stared at the screen, her cheeks blazing.
Camera two zoomed in on the back of Karin Bellhorn’s head. The plastic comb that held her hair up was bobbing towards the exit. Wide-eyed members of the audience moved to let her pass, blinking in confusion at her, at the police and into the camera.
One of the uniformed policemen caught up with the producer, grabbed her upper arm and said something to her. The woman turned around and slugged the policeman who tumbled into the camera while the crowd drew back . . .
‘Take it easy!’ Anne heard Q say from somewhere behind camera two, his voice hard and steady.
‘Take it easy?’ Karin Bellhorn screamed into the camera, the mike picking up every last breath. ‘You’re accusing me of murder, and I’m supposed to take it easy?’
Anne could hear the crowd gasp. There was more light by the producer now and people were backing away.