Authors: Hakan Ostlundh
Sara heard Peter Klint’s melodic, slightly high-pitched voice far off in the corridor. The door to his office was ajar and she carefully stuck her head in. He waved to her to come in and sit down. The telephone conversation continued; it seemed to be something of a personal nature. Klint laughed and continued an enthusiastic account of a vacation memory.
Would she have to sit here long? Klint smiled apologetically and made a gesture toward the phone, even though he was mostly the one who kept on talking.
The fifty-four-year-old Klint had a fresh haircut and was casually dressed in a striped shirt with rolled-up sleeves. He was going to be a father again. The rumor had been confirmed for a week. Two years earlier he got a divorce and met a woman sixteen years younger. Not necessarily in that order.
Sara wondered whether he knew what he was getting into. Personally she thought it was demanding enough to have a long-distance relationship with a man in Stockholm. And no children. But that was the price a man had to be prepared to pay if he wanted to trade up for a newer model. Sixteen years younger. The same age as Sara.
She sighed, not overly explicit, but loud enough so that it would be noticed.
“Listen, I have a meeting here,” Klint said into the phone. “Of course, let’s do that, bye now. Bye.”
He hung up.
“Okay,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“How are you at inheritance law?”
“Well, so-so. What’s this about?”
Sara briefly described what Henrik Kjellander had told about his half sisters, the letter from his grandmother, and what followed after his mother’s death.
Peter Klint sat awhile and nodded to himself.
“I’ll have to double-check, but I don’t believe that a letter from the grandmother has any great weight in this case. If it had been a regular will it would have been a different story, but without one of course it’s the mother who inherits.”
“I checked with Lantmäteriet,” said Sara.
Peter Klint laced his hands together and leaned back in the chair.
“Four years ago Ernst Vogler transferred most of the property to Elisabet, but nothing to the other daughter, Alma. Alma on the other hand bought a smaller property on Fårö, a single-family house on an ordinary lot, about the same time the farm was signed over to Elisabet.”
“It sounds like Grandmother’s money went to compensate the daughter who didn’t get any share in the farm,” said Klint.
“Yes, that would be my guess anyway.”
“You can think what you want about it, but the mother does as she wants with the inheritance from the grandmother, that’s how it is.”
Klint threw out his hands symbolically and let the money fly away. “The letter is not enough, I would say. An individual may have a number of different thoughts and intentions about what she leaves behind, but it is always possible to maintain that the person in question changed their mind between the time she expressed them and when she actually died.”
“So Henrik Kjellander doesn’t have much of a case?”
“Probably not. But this does not rule out him suing them anyway. If he’s lucky they’ll be frightened enough to give in and propose a settlement.”
It had not sounded as if Elisabet Vogler had any settlement in mind, thought Sara. More likely the contrary.
* * *
Gotland University College was housed in a beautiful old factory building that was attached to a newly constructed part with a glass façade facing toward Cramérgatan. G
AB could still be read at the very top of the façade on the older part. Something that surely had given rise to many tired student jokes.
The sea breeze swept in from Hamnplan and blew sand in the eyes of Fredrik and Sara as they got out of the car. Squinting, they turned toward Almedalen and the library, where the swinging doors let out a group of students who were done for the day. The students stopped briefly on the sidewalk and spoke with large gestures before they separated. Perhaps plans for the evening.
Fredrik and Sara passed through the college’s can-like metal and glass entry and asked at reception for Alma Vogler.
Alma worked at the college computer support department on the second floor in the factory building. She was blond, like Elisabet, but in contrast to her sister, she looked much more like Henrik. Especially the curious, inviting gaze and the kind, almost childish face. She was thirty, according to the census records, two years younger than her sister.
“We can go down and sit in the mezzanine in the restaurant. There probably aren’t too many people there this time of day,” she suggested.
They went one flight down to the restaurant to immediately go one flight up to the balcony that hovered in the middle of the glass wall facing Cramérgatan.
Alma had guessed right. A few students were sitting at the tables on the ground level, but the balcony was empty.
“What we mainly want to know is where you were on Saturday,” said Sara as soon as they sat down.
“Yes, I heard that you’ve been at my sister’s, but I don’t really understand why you’re asking.”
It was clear, Elisabet had presumably run to the phone as soon as they left. They looked at Alma, waiting for her answer.
“Excuse me, I should answer the question. I was out shopping right before lunch, otherwise I was at home all day. You can ask my husband.”
“So do you mean you shopped on Fårö?” asked Sara.
“Yes, at Nyström’s.”
“Were you alone or did you have anyone with you?”
“I went alone; it usually goes quicker that way. Nisse and Marta were at home with Krister.”
“Krister is your husband?”
“Can you estimate how long you were gone?”
“Oh, this is getting precise. It sounds like I’ve murdered someone at the very least,” Alma said with a smile.
“No, it isn’t that serious,” said Sara. “We just want to check some information.”
“Okay, well, it took about an hour in all. You can ask at Nyström’s. I’m sure they’ll remember that I was there.”
“Yes,” said Sara, making note of the most important items.
Alma was the exact opposite of her sister. Happy, open. Did not seem to have anything to hide, at least.
“Have you lived your whole life on Fårö?” asked Sara.
“Yes, except for two years when I was studying on the mainland.”
“But there can’t be many jobs for someone with your education here on the island?”
“One is enough,” she said.
“Yes, of course.”
“No, I understand what you mean,” said Alma. “It’s not really that easy to find challenges here. The work at the college is actually a little below my level, but I think it’s worth it.”
“To be able to live on Fårö?”
“Yes. I’ve sometimes thought about moving to the mainland for a while, but right now I’m content with my job and my house on Fårö. We’ll have to see.”
“Your sister owns a good deal of land, but not you,” said Fredrik. “Did she buy you out?”
Alma made a slight grimace, smiled quickly toward Sara, and then looked out the window. Two young men were unlocking their bikes at one of the many bike stands on the sidewalk just below. One of them was wearing a hat that made him look like he had escaped from another era.
She turned back toward Fredrik and Sara with a distant look in her eyes.
“I have no great desire to talk about this,” she said, fingering a button on her shirt.
“I see,” said Sara cautiously. “Is there a conflict behind it?”
Alma responded with a tired smile.
“I guess that’s why I don’t want to talk about it.”
Sara nodded that she understood.
“What did you think about your half brother Henrik Kjellander moving to Fårö?”
Alma lowered her eyebrows and wrinkled her nose slightly. She seemed to take the question seriously and had no ready answer like Elisabet.
“I guess I was mostly surprised,” she said.
“I didn’t think…”
She fell silent, thought awhile longer.
“If I were him I probably never would have set foot here again. Really. Especially not after Grandmother died. I would probably just want to escape it all. I don’t understand how he has the energy to mess with this.”
“You’re thinking about the lawsuit?” said Sara.
Alma sighed, produced another tired smile, but no reply.
“Is that also part of what you don’t want to talk about?”
“You bought a house on Fårö four years ago,” said Fredrik. “How did you finance that purchase?”
Alma turned toward Fredrik, but did not answer.
“Well,” said Sara at last. “We can’t take the right to remain silent away from you.”
Then Alma sighed. Deeply and heavily.
“It was Dad’s idea to sign over the property to Elisabet. He wanted the farm to stay in the family, and that was his way of resolving that. He saw an estate distribution as a threat. That we would sell, or be forced to sell because neither of us would have the money to buy out the other.”
“But you got no compensation?” said Fredrik.
“Yes, we got help for our house,” she said reluctantly.
“But not the corresponding value on the land?”
“I don’t know. I love Fårö, but I’m not interested in running a farm.”
“How is your relationship with your father and Elisabet?”
“It’s good, but we don’t see each other as much since Mom died.”
“And Henrik? Do you have any contact with him?”
“Not at all?”
“No, I’ve only met him one time. It was at Mom’s funeral.”
“You’ve never been curious? He is your half brother, after all.”
“He was never mentioned at home. I was pretty grown up before I even found out that he existed. And why they did what they did with him, that’s perhaps—”
She paused and searched for words.
“You’ll have to ask my dad about that. I wasn’t even born. I’ve decided to let that be.”
Alma clearly pushed away from herself with both hands.
“I just want to live my life. Can I do that?”
Fredrik looked at Alma and saw a young woman who had made a decision, very deliberate and perhaps also wise. But he also saw something that resisted that decision inside.
“Be my guest,” he said, making a gesture with his hand toward the stairs.
Alma hesitated a few moments, as if it could not be that easy, then she got up and left with a quick good-bye that almost sounded disappointed.
“But we may be in touch again,” Fredrik called out after her.
She gave him a glance, but then continued down the stairs without answering.
Malin made a quick trip to Nyström’s. She was out of garlic. And she needed to get milk.
The little store with yellow paneling was a lifeline. If it didn’t exist she would not have been able to live on Fårö. True, the assortment was limited, and true, she had to drive to Visby anyway at least once a week to get everything she needed. But to have to take the ferry even to shop for simple things like milk and flour would have been much too claustrophobic. She could not have handled that. At Nyström’s you could also mail letters and order from the state liquor store and the pharmacy. Which also made existence on the island a bit simpler.
Malin was at the back of the store searching in the corner with organic products when she heard it.
A hiss behind her back. She turned completely cold, stood stock-still with a package of crushed linseed in her hand. Had she really heard right? Go home?
She recovered her ability to act, put the package of linseed back on the shelf, and rounded the store shelves behind her just in time to see the outside door to the shop shutting with a firm swoosh.
She set her shopping basket right down on the floor and rushed toward the exit, grazed a stand with paperback books, which swayed worrisomely, and had to squeeze past a sportily dressed tourist who was poking among the foreign coins in the palm of her hand.
The doors refused to open. She had been too quick, was forced to back up a few feet and slowly go forward again. This time they slid open and she was outside.
Malin stopped outside the entry. Not a soul. But a little over a hundred yards away on the road south a car was leaving. She could hear the driver putting it in higher gear. It was too far away for her to see either the license plate number or what model it was. Even so, she tore her cell phone out of her pocket and took a picture. It was only an idiotic spot on the display.
She remained standing on the concrete landing outside the doors. Looked around again, a little more thoroughly this time. But no one was visible. Was it really possible to make it outside, start the car, and get that far away in the time it had taken her to get out of the store? The more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that the driver of the car could not be the same person who whispered to her. Whoever it was, she, or he, had gone in a different direction. Malin thought the voice had sounded like a woman’s, but she was not completely sure.
Could the person who ran out be hiding around the corner or crouched down in one of the cars in the parking lot, and was now just waiting for Malin to leave?
Was it even a whisper she had heard? Was it perhaps only the hissing of the door as it closed?
Did it sound like that?
Malin went back into the store and found her basket. Berit, at the checkout counter, looked at her inquisitively.
“You were really in a hurry.”
She could, of course, ask Berit who had just gone out the door. But wouldn’t that sound strange?
“Excuse me,” she said. “I thought I saw someone I knew, but I guess I was mistaken.”
She thought that Berit was about to say something, but seemed to purse her lips at the last moment. Or was that just her imagination, too?
Fredrik rolled onto the grass-covered farmyard in front of his family’s stone house at five thirty. After several years of renovations and puttering they had got it into really good condition, even if the work, of course, was never ending. Many times he had cursed the idea of buying an old Gotland farmhouse that needed renovation. On the other hand, he had felt grateful just as many times that the house was no more than a hundred and fifty years old.