Authors: Emelie Schepp
“Is Simon at school?” said Henrik when he put his telephone back in his pocket.
“Yes, he is,” said Lasse and sat down on the stool again.
“When does he come home?”
“He's with his mum this week.”
“Was he with you last Sunday?”
“Where were you between five and seven in the evening?”
Lasse rubbed his hands up and down his shins.
“Simon played his videogames.”
“So you were both here, at home?”
He rubbed again.
“No. Only Simon.”
“Where were you then?”
“Er...an early poker evening, you know, just down the block. You've got to join in when your mates ask you. But this was the last time. Absolutely the last time. Because, you see, I don't gamble. Not any longer.”
THE MAN WITH
the scar paced back and forth. He glared at them with a wild look in his eyes, as they stood there in a row, barefoot on the stone floor. The windows were covered but in one or two places a sliver of light shone in between the wall planks.
The girl's lips and cheeks ached from the glue of the silver tape they had slapped across her mouth. She had had difficulty breathing through her nose when they were in the van. Then, later, when they were pushed into the little boat, she had felt sick and been forced to swallow the vomit which had risen in her throat. The woman had ripped the tape off when they finally got to the big room, or hall, or whatever this place was.
The girl looked around without moving her head. Big beams supported the ceiling and she could see many spiders' webs. Was it a stable? No. It was much bigger than that. There were no rugs and no mattress to sleep on. It couldn't be someone's house. At least it didn't look like one, except for the stone floor. The girl had a stone floor at home too. But there the stones were always warm. Here, they were icy cold.
The girl shuddered but immediately straightened up again. She tried to stand up as straight as she could. Danilo, too, had pushed out his chest and raised his chin. But not Ester. She just cried. She held her hands in front of her face and refused to stop.
The man went up to Ester and said something in a loud voice. She didn't understand what he said. Nor did any of the other children. So Ester cried even louder. Then the man raised his hand and hit her so hard that she fell down backward. He waved to the other two grown-ups who stood by the wall. They got hold of Ester's arms and legs and carried her out. That was the last time she saw Ester.
The man walked slowly toward her, stopped, then leaned forward until his face was only a couple of centimeters away from hers. With eyes cold as ice, he said something in Swedish which she later would never forget.
“Don't cry,” he said. “Never cry anymore. Never ever.”
MIA BOLANDER SAT
with the others in the conference room for the last briefing of the day. They were going over a number of question marks in the murder investigation of Hans JuhlÃ©n. The most important surrounded the boy whose picture was now displayed on the large screen.
Gunnar Ãhrn had given high priority to the as-yet unnamed boy. He was either directly connected to the murder, or he was a key witness in the investigation. Regardless, he had to be found. That meant even more door-to-door canvassing to ask if anybody could identify the boy.
Mia was pleased that she had left that sort of drudgery when she was promoted. Questioning neighbors wasn't a challenge in the slightest. Absolutely nothing was exciting about it.
She was the first to help herself to the biggest cinnamon bun on the dish in the middle of the conference table. She was a competitive person, and could thank her elder brothers for that. In her childhood, everything had been about being first. Her brothers, who were five and six years older than she, had fought over who could do the most press-ups, who could race to the corner first and who could stay awake the longest. Mia struggled to impress her brothers, but they never let her win. Not even in something as silly as her memory.
So it had become natural for Mia to compete about virtually everything and this instinct had never waned. Since she had also been gifted with a decidedly volatile temperament, many of her classmates at school let her have her own way. Even in junior secondary school she had on several occasions been sent home for getting into fights with older pupils.
In her fifth year at the school, she had hit a classmate so hard that she drew blood. She could still remember the boy, her own age with a wide nose. He used to tease her and throw gravel at her during the PE lessons. He was also the only pupil who could run the 100 meter dash faster than she. He hadn't gone unpunished. After a lesson one day, Mia had kicked him so hard on his shin, he had to go to the school nurse and then on to the hospital to deal with a crack in his bone. That in turn had almost gotten her suspended, but she claimed it was an accident. The incident was noted on her school record by the headmaster, but Mia couldn't care less. She had run the fastest at the next PE lesson. That was all that mattered.
Mia gobbled up the rest of the bun. The granulated sugar fell onto the table and she scooped it all into a tiny mound, then licked her fingertip and used it to pick up the sugar and put it in her mouth.
Mia had almost no friends during her school years. When she was thirteen, her eldest brother died in a gang fight and she decided to go against the flow. At first she was forced to survive her tough suburban neighborhood where you were supposed to stick out as much as you could. Piercing, dyed hair, partly shaved head, no hair, tattoos, cuts, open woundsânothing was alien. Not even for Mia, who herself had pushed a needle through one eyebrow just to fit in. But what distinguished her from the others was her attitude. She actually wanted to make something of her life. And with the help of her cocky attitude and her competitive spirit, she made it through school. She had decided that she wasn't going to be a loser like her brother.
Mia helped herself to yet another cinnamon bun, then she held the dish out to Henrik, who shook his head no.
By now they had already spent close to an hour discussing how the boy might be involved in the case. Ola showed a frozen image of the boy from the security camera file. He was slightly turned away, crossing the street.
With the help of the keyboard, Ola showed more, image after image. They appeared one by one at a slow pace. The team followed the boy's steps until the last thing to disappear was his hood.
Henrik picked up his cell and compared the images on the screen with that of Lasse Johansson's son, Simon. He remarked that any suspicions against Simon were now dismissed.
“The nephew is shorter, more muscular. The boy on the picture is thinner,” he said.
“Let's see.” Ola stretched to reach Henrik's phone and looked at the digital photo.
“And this Simon has reddish hair. I think our guy is darker. That's what it looks like, anyway,” said Henrik.
“Okay, so we can forget Simon, but that still leaves the questionâwho is the boy? We must get hold of him,” said Gunnar and moved on to the telephone log. Ola, who usually checked all the technical details, had been fully occupied with the security camera film so, to hurry the process along, Gunnar had chosen to check the lists himself. Now he pushed copies of the log into the middle of the table and let each of them take one.
Henrik took a gulp of coffee and looked at the first page.
“Hans JuhlÃ©n's last call was on Sunday at 18:15 to the Miami pizzeria. Ola?”
Ola got up and noted the call on the time line on the wall.
“The phone call has been confirmed by the pizzeria and they also confirmed that he picked up the pizza at 18:40. You can see the other calls on the next page,” he said.
They all turned to page two.
“There weren't many,” said Henrik.
“No, there are only a few. Most of them are to or from his wife. There is an outgoing call to a car service, but nothing remarkable about that,” said Gunnar.
“What about texts?” said Mia.
“Nothing strange there either,” said Gunnar.
Mia folded up the pages and threw them onto the table. “So what do we do now?”
“We must find that boy,” said Gunnar.
“Do we know anything about the half brother?” Anneli wondered aloud.
“Not much. Mia and I just interviewed him. He is single, on welfare, he says, with some kind of shared custody of his child. And he is addicted to gambling,” Henrik answered.
“Does he have a criminal record?” said Mia.
“No,” said Gunnar.
“My instinct is that he isn't involved in the murder,” said Mia.
“What do we think about Hans JuhlÃ©n's wife, then?” said Gunnar.
“I don't think she did it,” said Mia.
“I'm not convinced either,” said Anneli. “We don't have any witnesses or any decent technical evidence.”
“Lasse said something interesting when we saw him. He mentioned that Hans claimed to be broke. He suddenly didn't have enough money to even lend Lasse a few kronor,” said Henrik. “Since we know he had received some threatening letters, we can assume that somebody had a hold on him. Perhaps that's where the money went.”
“Could Hans have had gambling debts too?” said Mia.
“Possibly, that could also explain why he seemed so stressed, at least to his wife, recently. Maybe it wasn't just the criticism his department was getting, but the threatening letters too.”
“Right, we'll use that as a starting point. I want you to check his bank accounts. Ola, that's the first thing you'll do tomorrow morning,” said Gunnar.
“What about the computer?” said Ola.
“The bank statements first, then the computer. Right, that's it,” said Gunnar.
Henrik looked at the clock and swore to himself when he saw it was already half past seven. Overtime again. Emma would have finished dinner and the children would have already gone to sleep. Oh hell!
He sighed and drank the last of the coffee, which was now cold.
* * *
Henrik Levin tried to unlock the front door as silently as he possibly could. He opened it quickly, stepped into the hall and immediately nipped into the bathroom.
When he had finished, he washed his hands, then looked at his face in the mirror. The stubble had grown over the last three days, and it needed trimming more than he had thought. He felt with his right hand on his cheek and around his chin. He didn't want to shave now. A shower perhaps.
Henrik ran his fingers through his brown hair and noted a gray hair on his forehead. He immediately pulled it out and let it fall into the washbasin.
Emma poked her head into the bathroom. Her hair was clumsily done up in a bun on the top of her head. She was wearing a red velour jumpsuit and black socks.
“Hi,” said Henrik.
“I hardly heard when you came in,” said Emma.
“I didn't want to wake the children.”
“How's your day been?”
“Okay. And yours?”
“Fine. I managed to paint the hall drawers.”
“I thought I'd take a shower.”
Emma leaned her head against the doorpost. A strand of hair fell onto her brow and she pulled it back behind her ear.
“What's the matter?” said Henrik.
“It looks as if you want to say something.”
“Are you sure?”
“There's a good film on TV, I'm going to watch it in the bedroom.”
“I'll come soon, just going to shower.”
“Yes, I'll shave.”
Emma smiled and closed the door behind her.
Oh well, Henrik thought, and dug out his razor from the drawer. He'd be having a shave after all.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Henrik came into the bedroom with the towel wrapped around his hips. Emma seemed lost in some magnificent drama that had won more than one Oscar. Henrik feared he would be forced to watch the end of the tearful film. Fortunately there was no five-year-old in the bed.
“Felix?” he said.
“Asleep in his room. He has made a ghost drawing for you.”
“Yes,” Emma answered without taking her eyes off the huge TV on the wall.
Henrik sat down on the edge of the bed and glanced at the couple entwined around each other on the TV. Felix was in his own bed. Now perhaps there might be a chance to...
He put the towel aside, slipped in under the warm duvet and snuggled up close to Emma. He put his hand on her naked tummy, but her eyes stayed glued to the film. He leaned his head against her shoulder and slowly stroked her thighs. He felt her hand on top of his, and they played with each other's fingers under the duvet.
“Emma,” he said.
“There's something I wanted to ask you.”
Emma didn't answer. She studied the couple on the screen who were now united in a long, intense kiss.
“I've been thinking a little and you know that I'd like to start back at the gym. So I thought...if it's okay, that I...that I might go twice a week. After work.”
Emma gave a start and for the first time took her eyes off the film. She gave him a disappointed look.
Henrik supported himself on one elbow.
Emma raised her eyebrows. Then she demonstratively lifted Henrik's hand off her tummy.
“No,” she answered briefly and returned to the end of the romantic story.
Henrik was still leaning on his elbow. Then he moved over onto his back with his head on the pillow and cursed himself. He knew better. He should have phrased his request in such a way that she couldn't say no. He stared up at the ceiling, then he puffed up the pillow and turned his back to Emma. Sighed. No sex today either. And it was his own damned fault.
* * *
It had just started snowing when Jana Berzelius and Per Ã
strÃ¶m decided to leave the local restaurant, The Colander. Per had suggested a restaurant dinner out to celebrate their judicial successes in a dirty divorce case, and Jana had finally given in. Making food alone was not exactly her favorite pastime, nor was it Per's.
“Thanks for this evening,” said Jana and got up from the table.
“Happy to do it again soon. If you'd like to,” said Per and smiled.
“No, I wouldn't,” said Jana and refused to return his smile.
“That was a dishonest statement.”
“Not at all, dear Mr. Prosecutor.”
“May I remind you that you appreciate my company?”
“Not one bit.”
“A drink before we go?”
“I don't think so.”
“I fancy something with gin. It'll have to be the usual. You?”
“No, thank you.”
“Then I'll get two.”
Jana sighed as Per vanished off to the bar. She reluctantly sat down and saw through the window how the snowflakes were slowly falling to the ground. She put her elbows on the table, leaned her chin against her clasped hands and looked across toward Per who was talking to the barman.
She caught his eye and he waved from the bar the way small children often do, by opening and closing his hand. She shook her head at him and then looked toward the window again.
The first time she met Per, she had just arrived at her new office at the prosecution department. Her boss, Torsten Granath, had introduced them to each other and Per had amicably told her about routine procedures at the office. He had given her some tips about good restaurants too. Also about music. And asked her questions about everything else that wasn't work-related. Jana had answered briefly. Some questions she hadn't answered at all. Per wasn't satisfied with the answer in the form of her sultry silence, and continued to ask various unnecessary questions. To Jana, Per's curiosity felt like a sort of interrogation and she had told him to stop. Then she briefly informed him that she did not like small talk. He had simply grinned at her, in a dreadfully stupid way, and from that day on their friendly relationship developed.
The restaurant was fully booked. The dining room felt rather squashed with all the winter coats, and the brown checkered floor was wet from the snow tracked in on the guests' shoes. The buzz of voices was loud and the clinking of glasses quiet. There were a few lamps and a lot of candles.
Jana's eyes left the window and were again drawn to the bar, past Per and on to the mirror shelf behind the barman. She looked at the selection on offer and recognized the labels like Glenmorangie, Laphroaig and Ardberg. She knew they were among the classics and were all distilled in Scotland. Her father was keenly interested in whisky and insisted on sipping a smoky sort at every family dinner. Jana's interest was limited, but she had been brought up not to say no to a glass when it was offered. She preferred a glass of white, from a well-chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc.