Authors: David Lagercrantz
She pulled out the names of the other members of Svavelsjö M.C. and sent off her picture of their buddy Andersson looking terrified and bewildered. Having copied the contents of his mobile she wrote:
Then she threw his mobile into Riddarfjärden.
Forsell wanted only to withdraw into his shell, into the shelter of his dreams and memories. But hearing Nima Rita’s name mentioned in such stark relief, and the restrained anger in his wife’s voice, he was brought abruptly back to reality.
“How can he just show up in Sweden, out of the blue? I thought he was dead.”
“Who’s been here to see me?” he said.
He could see that she was irritated by his attempt to change the subject.
“I’ve already told you,” she said.
“The boys, of course, and your mother. She’s looking after them for the moment.”
“How have they taken it all?”
“What can I say, Johannes? What do you expect me to say?”
“Thank you,” she said, and then she tried to compose herself, tried to become good old robust Becka again. But she was only half successful. Forsell glanced at the soldiers out in the corridor, with escape, evasion, threats, choices and risks fluttering like restless birds through his mind.
“I can’t talk about Nima now,” he said.
“Whatever you say.”
She had to force herself to give him a loving smile, and again she smoothed his hair. He shrugged off her caress.
“So what will you talk about?”
“I don’t know.”
“At least you’ve managed to do one thing,” she said.
“Look around you. At all these flowers. We’ve only been able to accept some of them. All that hate has turned to love.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
She held out her mobile. “Go online and you’ll see.”
He waved vaguely, dismissively. “I bet they’ve been busy writing obituaries.”
“No, it’s good stuff—really.”
“Has anyone come from Must?” he said.
“Svante came, and Klas and Sten Siegler, and a few others, so the answer I guess is yes a thousand times over. Why do you ask?”
Why did he ask?
He knew the answer perfectly well, of course they had been to see him, and he saw the suspicion in Becka’s eyes. He remembered the feeling of that hand grabbing his hair deep in the water. And all of a sudden it hit him with unexpected force: He wanted to speak out, but he knew that would not be possible.
Their conversation was bound to be monitored and he thought it through, weighing the arguments for and against once more. He remembered his own desperate will to live as he was sinking through the currents.
“Do you have a pen and paper?” he said.
“What? Yes, I’m sure I have somewhere.”
She dug around in her handbag and took out a ballpoint pen and a small yellow block of Post-it notes and gave them to him.
We have to get out of here,
Rebecka read what he had written and cast a fearful look at the guards through the glass in the door. Luckily they seemed bored and absorbed by their mobiles, and she answered in a nervous scribble:
Now. Disconnect me from the machines and leave your mobile and handbag, we’ll pretend we’re going down to the hospital shop.
Are you crazy?
I want to tell you everything—and I can’t here.
Tell me what?
They had been writing quickly, taking turns with the same pen. Now Johannes hesitated and looked at her with the same sad and bewildered look as before, but it also showed a streak of what she had been missing for so long, his fighting spirit, and that made her feel more than just fear.
She had no intention of running away with him, still less of leaving the hospital with all the guards and soldiers, and the paranoia surrounding him. But it would be wonderful if he really did want to talk, and it would do him good to get some exercise. His pulse was higher than normal but stable, and he was strong. They would surely be able to sneak off and find a corner, somewhere they could talk and not be overheard.
At the same time she knew they would gain nothing if she simply unplugged him from his drip and the hospital equipment and they fled, so instead she wrote:
I’ll call the staff and explain.
She rang the bell and he wrote:
We’ll find a place where no-one will disturb us.
Just stop it.
What are you running from?
The people at Must.
Is it Svante?
He nodded, or at least she thought he nodded. She wanted to shout:
I knew it,
and when she wrote again her hand was shaking. Her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry.
Has he done something?
He neither answered nor nodded. He just looked out of the window towards the motorway, and she took that as a yes. She wrote:
You have to report him.
He gave her a pitying look which said,
You don’t understand.
Or go to the media. Mikael Blomkvist just called. He’s on your side.
“My side,” he muttered, and pulled a face. He reached for the pen and scribbled a couple of illegible lines on the pad. She stared at the words.
she wrote, even though she probably could, so he clarified:
Not sure that’s a good side to be on.
That triggered a new urge for self-preservation, as if Johannes were distancing himself from her with those words. As if they were no longer an obvious couple, a
but two people who no longer necessarily belonged together. She wondered if she should not be running from him instead.
She glanced at the guards outside the room and tried to come up with a plan. But just then she heard steps in the corridor and the doctor, the one with the red beard, came in and asked what they wanted. She said—it was all she could think of—that Johannes was feeling a little better now, and was strong enough to take a walk.
“We’re going down to the shop to buy a newspaper and a book,” she said in a voice which did not sound like her own, but which carried a surprising note of authority.
It was half past seven in the evening and Bublanski should have gone home long ago. But he was still in his office, staring into a young face brimming with a kind of angry idealism. He could see some people might find it irritating, but he actually liked the attitude, and maybe he had been the same at that age; had perhaps felt that the older generation was not taking life as seriously as it deserved to be taken. He gave the young woman a warm smile.
She smiled stiffly in return, and he suspected that humour was not her strongest suit, but that her fervour would certainly stand the world in good stead. She was twenty-five years old and her name was Else Sandberg. Her hair was cut in a bob and she wore round spectacles, and worked as a medical intern at St. Göran’s hospital.
“Thanks for taking the time.”
“Don’t mention it,” she said.
It was Modig who had found the woman, after getting a tip-off that the Sherpa had put up papers at the Södra station bus stop. She had then assigned colleagues to talk to pretty much everyone who regularly caught their bus from there.
“I understand you don’t remember much, but every single thing you do recall would be valuable to us,” he said.
“It was hard to read. There was very little space between the lines and basically it looked like paranoid delusion.”
“The signs are that it was just that,” he said. “But I’d be grateful if you could try to remember.”
“It was very guilt-ridden.”
Dear, sweet child, please don’t try to interpret it for me,
“What did it say?”
“That he went up a mountain. ‘One more time,’ he wrote. But that he couldn’t see. There was a snowstorm and he was in pain and freezing. He thought he was lost. But he heard cries that guided him.”
“What sort of cries?”
“Cries of the dead, I think.”
“What was that supposed to mean?”
“It was hard to understand, but he wrote that there were spirits accompanying him all the time, two spirits I think, one good and one evil, a little…”
She giggled, and Bublanski was delighted that Else Sandberg had suddenly revealed a human side.
“Like Captain Haddock in the Tintin books, you know? He has a devil and an angel hovering above his shoulders when he’s longing for a drink.”
“Exactly,” he said. “That’s a great metaphor.”
“It didn’t seem like a metaphor to me. I got the impression that for him it was real.”
“I only meant to say that it sounded familiar. Good and evil voices whispering to me when I’m tempted by something.” He looked embarrassed. “What did the evil spirit say?” he said.
“That he should leave her up there.”
“Yes, I think that’s what he wrote. It was a she, a madam, or a mam-something who’d been left on the mountain. But then there was something about the valley of rainbows, Rainbow Valley, where the dead hold out their hands and beg for food. It really was all very strange. Then it clearly said that Johannes Forsell appeared. Very weird. That’s as far as I got, to be honest. The bus came, and there was some bloke arguing with the driver, and I had my mind on other things. In any case I’d already guessed by then that the man was a paranoid schizophrenic. He wrote that he never stopped hearing those cries in his head.”
“You probably don’t need to be a schizophrenic to feel like that.”
“What do you mean?”
What was he trying to say now?
“I mean…” he said. “That I recognize that too. There are certain things you never get rid of. They gnaw and clamour inside you, year after year.”
“Yes,” she said, more hesitant now. “That’s true.”
“Can you hang on a moment while I do a quick search?”
Else Sandberg nodded and Bublanski logged onto his computer and put three words into Google. He turned the screen to face her.
“Do you see this?”
“That’s awful,” she said.
“Isn’t it? It’s Rainbow Valley on Mount Everest. I never knew anything about this world before. But I’ve been reading up on it these last few days, and I recognized it as soon as you mentioned it. Rainbow Valley’s just a bit of slang of course. But it does come up quite a lot, and it’s easy to see why. Have a look.”
He pointed at the screen and wondered if he was being unnecessarily brutal. But he wanted her to understand how serious this was. Image after image showed dead climbers in the snow above twenty-six thousand feet, and even though many had been lying up there for years, maybe even decades, they still looked muscular and strong. They were frozen in time, and all were dressed in brightly coloured clothes—reds, greens, yellows and blues—and strewn around them were oxygen cylinders, remains of tents or Buddhist prayer flags, also in brilliant hues. It really did look like a rainbow landscape, a macabre testimony to human folly.
“You see,” he said. “The man who wrote the screed was once a porter and guide on Mount Everest.”
“So he really was?”
“He was a Sherpa, and probably he shouldn’t have called it that. Rainbow Valley is a Western invention, a stupid piece of gallows humour. But it seems to have stuck all the same, and it became mixed up with his religious representations of spirits and gods. By now, more than four thousand people have climbed the mountain, and three hundred and thirty of them have died up there. It’s been impossible to bring all the bodies down, and I can really understand it if this man, who had climbed the mountain eleven times, felt that the dead were speaking to him.”
“But—” she began.
“There’s more,” he interrupted her. “Life up there is dreadful. The risks are significant. You can get HACE, for example, High-Altitude Cerebral Edema.”
“The brain swells up. I know.”
“It does, exactly,” he said. “You’ll know more about this than I do. The brain does swell up, and rational thought and speech become a problem. You’re liable to make terrible mistakes, and often you have hallucinations and lose contact with reality. Many perfectly sensible people, like you or me—well, certainly fitter and more reckless than me—have seen spirits or felt a mysterious presence up there. This man, he always climbed without oxygen, and that eats up your strength, both mentally and physically. During this dramatic event he was trying to describe, he had worked incredibly hard and gone up and down the mountain and saved many people. He must have been completely worn out, exhausted beyond imagination, and it’s not at all surprising that he saw angels and demons, like Captain Haddock, not in the least bit strange.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful,” Else Sandberg said, apologetic now.
“You weren’t, and I’m sure you’re right,” Bublanski said. “The man was very sick, quite simply a schizophrenic. But he may still have had something important to tell us, so I’m asking you one last time: Is there anything else you remember?”
“Nothing really, I’m sorry.”
“Anything more about what he wrote about Forsell?”
“You said that the man rescued people, didn’t you? I think he wrote that Forsell didn’t want to be rescued.”
“What could that have meant?”
“I don’t know, and it’s only just occurred to me. But I’m not totally sure about it either. The bus came, and the next day the papers were gone.”
Afterwards, when the woman had left, Bublanski stayed in his office with a strange feeling that he was having to interpret a dream. He spent a long time staring at the pictures of Klara Engelman’s body, which the jet stream had torn from Viktor Grankin higher up on the mountain, and which an American expedition had photographed a year later. Klara was lying on her back with her arms frozen in a beseeching gesture, as if she were still reaching out for Grankin, or perhaps, he thought, like a child wanting to be picked up by its mother.
What had happened up there? Probably only what had already been described a hundred times. But one could not know for sure. New layers in the story were constantly coming to light. It would now seem, for example, that there was some military connection to the Sherpa, which the doctors at the South Wing were forbidden to talk about, and Bublanski had been trying to get hold of Klas Berg at Must all afternoon and evening, hoping to follow that up.