Либрусек (книги fb2)
Two children are found dead in a basement. Four years later their murderer escapes from prison. The police know if he is not found quickly, he will kill again. But when their worst fears come true and another child is murdered in the nearby town of Strengnas, the situation spirals out of control. In an atmosphere of hysteria whipped up by the media, Fredrik Steffansson, the father of the murdered child, decides he must take revenge. His actions will have devastating consequences. As anger spreads across the whole country, the two detectives assigned to the case – Ewert Grens and Sven Sunkist – find themselves caught up in a situation of escalating violence. A powerful and at times profoundly shocking novel, The Beast has been likened to both Hitchcock and le Carre. It is also an important and timely exploration of what can happen when we take the law into our own hands. It has been shortlisted for Glasnyckeln 2005 (The Glass Key 2005) for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.
Anders Roslund, Börge Hellström The Beast
A book in the Ewert Grens series, 2005
Translation copyright © Anna Paterson
All characters in this publication, other than those
clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any
resemblance to real persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
He shouldn't have.
They're coming now. There they are.
Walking down the slope, past the climbing frame. Twenty metres away now, maybe thirty. They've reached the plants with red flowers. They're like the ones at Säter secure unit, near the front door. He guessed they were roses. Or whatever.
He shouldn't have.
It doesn't feel the same afterwards. Not so strong, it's like the sensation's gone.
There now. Two of them, walking along, their heads close together, talking. They're friends, it's easy to spot. Friends talk in a special way, using their hands as well.
It seems the dark-haired girl is in charge. She's a live wire, wants to get everything said in one go. The blonde one is mostly listening. Maybe she's tired? Maybe she's a quiet one, who never talks much. Quiet ones don't need their own space to feel sure they're alive. Maybe one is dominant and the other one dominated. Isn't that always the way?
He shouldn't have wanked.
Still, that was then, this morning, twelve hours ago. It mightn't matter now. The effect might've gone.
He'd known it first thing, as soon as he woke up, known that everything would work out tonight. It's Thursday today, and it was Thursday the last time.
It's sunny and dry today, and it was sunny and dry the last time.
They're wearing the same kind of jacket. White, thin material, like nylon, a hood dangling at the back. He's seen lots since Monday. Both have small rucksacks hooked over one shoulder. They all carry rucksacks, all their stuff's in a mess inside, they've just thrown it in. What's the point? Weird.
They're close, so close he can hear them talking and laughing. They're laughing together now, the one with dark hair laughs the loudest, the blonde is more cautious, not anxious or anything, she just doesn't need the space.
He had dressed with care. Jeans, T-shirt, baseball cap worn back-to-front, that's something he has noticed, he's been watching the kids in the park every day. They wear caps like that, with the visors round the back.
They're startled and stop. It's suddenly very quiet, the kind of silence you get when an ordinary noise ceases and your ears are forced to listen out. Maybe he should've done an accent, like he was from down south. He's good at accents and some of them pay more attention. It sounds important somehow. Three days he spent collecting local voices. People here don't have a southern accent. Or a northern one; folk are into proper Swedish in this place. No drawly vowel sounds, nothing like that, not much slang either. A bit boring, actually. He fiddles with his cap. Turns it right round, pushes it down more firmly over the back of his neck, still back- to-front.
'Hi there, kids. You allowed out this late?'
They look at him, then at each other. Ready to move off. He tries to relax, leaning lightly against the back of the bench. What's it to be? An animal? A squirrel, or a rabbit?
Or a car? Or even sweeties? He shouldn't have wanked. He should've prepared himself better.
'We're going home, if you must know. And we are allowed to be out this late.'
She knows she mustn't talk to him. She has been told not to talk to grown-ups who're strangers.
She knows it.
But he's not a grown-up, not really. He doesn't look like one. Not like most of them, anyway. He's got a cap on. And he doesn't sit like a grown-up, they don't sit like that.
Her name is Maria Stanczyk, the surname is Polish. She's from Poland, or rather, her mum and dad are. She's from Mariefred.
She's got two sisters, Diana and Izabella. They are both older than she is, practically married. They don't live at home any longer. She misses them, it used to be good having two sisters around. She's alone with Mum and Dad now, it's like they've only got her to worry about, and they keep asking where she's off to and who she's seeing and when she'll be back home.
They shouldn't fuss so. She is nine, after all.
The brunette speaks for them both. Her long hair is tied back with a pink ribbon. She sounds quite bossy, foreign too. She's got attitude. She's looking down her nose at the blonde, who's a bit tubby. The brunette makes the decisions, he realises that, feels it.
'I don't believe it. You're too young. What's so important you've got to be out at this time?'
He likes the slightly plump blonde best. Her eyes have a sneaky look. Eyes with a look he's seen before. By now she dares, she steals a glance at her dark-haired friend, then at him.
'Actually, we've been training.'
Maria keeps talking, always. She fancies herself. She's the one who says what they think.
But it's her turn now. She wants to say something too.
This guy isn't dangerous. Not angry or rough or anything. His cap's nice, just like Marwin's.
Marwin is her big brother. She's called Ida. She knows why, it's because Marwin was so keen on that book about Emil and Ida. So her mum and dad figured her name should be Ida. It's ugly. She thinks it's horrid. Sandra is nicer. Or Isidora. Imagine being called Ida. It's like, you're the one they play silly tricks on, perching you on top of a flagpole. Stuff like that.
She's hungry, it's ages since she had something to eat. The food was yucky today. Stew, with meat in it. Training always makes her hungry. Usually they're in a hurry to get home to supper, not like now, Maria has to talk and talk and the guy with the cap keeps asking her things.
No animal. No car. No sweeties. No need for any of that. They're talking to him and that means everything is fixed. When they talk, it's fixed. He looks at the slightly plump blonde. She, who dared to speak, and he hadn't thought she would. She, who's naked.
He smiles. They like it. If you smile, they trust you. When you smile, they smile back.
Only the blonde. Only her.
'You're kidding. Have you been training? Training for what? I'm just curious.'
The slightly plump blonde smiles. He knew it. She's looking at him. He grabs hold of his cap, twists it round half a turn until the visor is in front. Then he bows to her, pulls the cap off, raises it, holds it in the air above her head.
'Hey, do you like it?'
She raises her eyebrows, glancing upwards without moving her head. As if fearing that she might hit her head against an invisible ceiling. She pulls herself in, makes herself small.
'It's great. Marwin's got one like that.'
'My big brother. He's twelve.'
He lowers the cap. That invisible ceiling, he's pushed through it. He strokes her pale hair quickly. It's quite smooth, soft. He places the cap on her head. On that smooth softness. The cap's colours, red and green, suit her.
'It's good on you. You look great.'
She doesn't say anything. The brunette is just about to speak, so he'd better be quick.
'Yes, if you want it. You look pretty with it on.'
She looks away, gets hold of the brunette's hand. She wants to pull them both away from the park bench, away from the man who had been wearing the red and green cap.
'Don't you like it?'
She stops, lets go of her friend's hand.
'Yes, I do.'
'You can keep it.'
That's rare these days. Girls did things like that in the past, but not now. Everybody is equal these days, meant to be anyway, so no curtseys to anyone. Nobody bows properly either.
The brunette has been silent for much longer than she's used to. Now she grabs hold of the slightly plump blonde's hand, hard. She tugs at it and both of them stumble.
'Come on, let's go now. He's just a crappy cap-man.'
The slightly plump blonde turns to the brunette and then to him, looks back at her friend; obviously she's feeling stroppy.
'Hang on. We'll go soon.'
The brunette speaks more loudly.
'No, now. Right away.'
Then she turns to him, pulling at her long ponytail.
'And that cap's ugly. Like, it's the ugliest ever.'
She points at the cap, then jabs it with her finger.
An animal. A cat. A dead cat? They're nine, at most ten years old. A cat should be fine.
'You never said what you were training at.'
The brunette looks accusingly at him with her hands on her hips, she's like an old woman in a bad mood. He faced one once, in Säter secure that first time; she was a nosy bitch hammering on about Reform. Change. He can't change. He doesn't want to change. He is who he is.
'Gymnastics. We've been training gym. We do it lots, all the time. We're off now.'
They walk away, the dark-haired girl in the lead, the slightly plump blonde one following, less confidently. He watches their backs, sees their backs naked, bums naked, feet naked.
He goes after them quickly, passes them and stops, holding up his hands.
'What are you doing, crappy cap-man?'
'Where do you train?'
Two elderly women are strolling down the slope, getting close to the flowers that may or may not be roses. He glances at the women, looks at the ground and counts to ten quickly before looking up again. They're still there, but about to turn off down the other path, the one that leads to the fountain.
'What are you doing, crappy cap-man? Praying?'
'Where do you train?'
The slightly plump blonde is staring angrily at her friend. Maria is speaking for both of them again. And she doesn't agree. There's no need to be rotten.
'We train in the Skarpholm Centre. You know. It's over there, kind of.'
The blonde points in the direction of the hill they have just come walking down.
The cat. The dead cat. Bugger that. Bugger all animals.
'Is it any good?'
'It's yuckier than you.'
Not even the brunette could keep her mouth shut for long. Both are biting on the bait now.
He's still standing in front of them, but lowers his arms. One of his hands slips across his black moustache, pats it a little.
'I know where they got a new leisure centre, a brand- new one. Not far from here. Look over there, near the big block of flats, there's a white house next to it. See it? I know the guy who owns it. I hang out there a lot myself. Would you prefer training there? All of your mates, the whole gym club, I mean.'
He's pointing eagerly, they look in the direction of his arm, the slightly plump blonde curiously, the dark whore with that attitude of hers.
'There's no leisure centre in that house. You're a crappy cap-man. It's not true.'
'Have you been there?'
'So what do you know? It's there, brand new, that's for sure. It's not nasty at all.'
'That's what you say. You're fibbing.'
'You're telling fibs.'
Maria just talks. Talks and talks, all the time. She shouldn't do that. Not for her. And she shouldn't be so beastly. She's just cross because she didn't get his cap. He gave Ida his red and green cap and she trusts him. He knows the man who owns that new gym. She doesn't like the Skarpholm Centre, not one bit, it's smelly and old, the mats smell like vomit.
'I believe you. Marwin said there's a new centre once. It's got to be better to train there.'
Ida believes there's a new centre over there. She believes such a lot. Anyway, it's just because he gave her that horrid cap.
Maria knows what a new leisure centre should look like. She saw one once in Warsaw when she went there with her mum and dad.
'I know there isn't a new gym there, silly cap-man. It's a lie. I know that. And if there's no new centre there I'll tell on you to my mum and dad.'
It's a nice day in June, sunny and warm. A Thursday. Two little whores are walking ahead of him on the path through the park. The brunette is everyone's whore. The slightly plump blonde is his own whore, nobody else's. Whores whores whores. Long hair, thin jackets, tight trousers. He shouldn't have wanked.
The slightly plump blonde whore turns to look at him.
'We've got to go home soon. It's time to eat. Mum and Marwin and me. I'm really hungry, I get that hungry after training, every time.'
He smiles. It's what they like. He reaches for the cap on her head, pulls gently at the visor.
'Listen, it will be super-quick. I promised, didn't I? We're practically there. Then you can check it out, see if you like it. If you want to do your training there. It smells new, know what I mean? You know what new places smell like, don't you?'
They step inside. He's slept there the last three nights. Breaking in was no trouble, he did the lock easily. A shared basement with storage pens, one for each flat. Lousy pickings, though. Cardboard boxes full of household kit and books, that sort of crap. Prams, IKEA shelving, a standard lamp or two. Fuck all. Except for the kid's bike, black with five gears, in Flat 33's pen at the far end. He'd flogged it but only got Z50 smackers. A whole block, and no goods except a fucking kid's bike.
He grabs hold of their arms as soon as they are in the basement corridor, one girl in each hand. He grips hard and they scream the way they all scream, so he tightens his hold. He's in charge, makes the decisions. Whores scream. After sleeping in this dump for three nights running he knows that not a fucking soul comes down there after dark. Twice he's heard someone in the morning, moving along the basement corridor and shuffling about in one of the storage pens. Afterwards, silence. The little slags might as well scream. Whores should scream.
She's thinking of Marwin. She's thinking of Marwin. She's thinking of Marwin. Marwin's room. Is he there now? She hopes he's there, in his room. At home. With Mum. She thinks of him lying on top of his bed, reading. That's what he likes doing in the evenings. Mostly Donald Duck, the small pocket books, they're still his favourites. He read a bit of Lord of the Rings once, but it's the pocket Donald Ducks he likes best. She feels sure that's what Marwin is doing.
Horrid crappy cap-man. Horrid crappy cap-man. Horrid crappy cap-man.
She mustn't speak to men like him. Mum and Dad keep nagging about it, go on and on at her and she swears she never speaks to them. And she doesn't. Or anyway, only to tell them off. Ida doesn't dare do that. But she dares. Mum and Dad will be furious if they hear that she's talked to one of them. She doesn't want them to hear that, they mustn't be angry with her.
Number 33 is best. That's where he nicked the bike. And where he slept.
They've stopped screaming. The fat little blonde whore is crying, red-eyed, snot running from her nose. The dark slag looks obstinate, staring at him, challenging him, hating. He ties their hands to one of the pipes running along the cement-grey wall. It's hot, must be a hot water pipe. It will burn their arms. They both kick, trying to hit him. Every time, he kicks them back. They get the message soon enough and don't try kicking any more.
They're sitting still now. Whores should sit still. Whores wait for what's coming to them. He calls the shots. He takes his clothes off. T-shirt, jeans, underpants, shoes, socks. In that order. He undresses in front of them. If they don't look at him, he kicks them until they do. Whores should look. He stands naked in front of them. He's handsome. He knows that he's handsome. Trained body. Muscular legs. Firm buttocks. No belly. Handsome.
'What do you think?'
The dark slag is crying now.
'Horrid horrid cap-man.'
She's crying, she took her time, but she's just like all the whores.
'What do you think? Handsome or what?'
'Horrid horrid cap-man. I want to go home.'
His cock is hard. He calls the shots. He comes up close, pushes his penis at their faces.
'Looks good, eh?'
He shouldn't have wanked. He did it twice this morning. He can only manage two more times, probably. He does it in front of them, his breathing quickens. He kicks the fat blonde when she looks away for a moment, empties himself in their faces, on their hair, it gets messy when they shake their heads.
They're crying. Whores always cry, all the fucking time.
He undresses them. Their tops have to be cut first, now that their hands are tied to the hot pipe. They're younger than he'd thought, no sign of tits.
He pulls everything off except their shoes. Not the shoes. Not yet. The fat blonde slag has got pink shoes, shiny, like patent leather. The brunette is wearing white trainers, like for playing tennis in.
He bends over the fat blonde whore. He kisses her pink shoes on top, near the toes. He licks both of them, starting at the toe, all along the shoe, the heel too. He takes them off. Her little whore's feet are gorgeous. He lifts one of her feet, she almost tips over backwards. He licks her ankle, her toes, sucks a little on each one. He glances up at her face, she's crying quietly.
He feels an urgent desire.
She always wakes when the newspaper arrives. Every single morning. It falls on the wooden floor with a sodding awful thump. Then there're two more thumps, next door, and then the next one along. She has tried to catch him, tell him to stop, but has been too late every time. She caught sight of his back quite a few times. He's young, with his hair in a ponytail. If she gets hold of him she'll explain how people feel at five o'clock on Sunday mornings.
She can't go back to sleep now. She twists and turns, she's sweating. Must go back to sleep, should sleep, but no, it can't be done. She never used to have this problem, it's different now, her thoughts attack her at once and by six o'clock she's really tense, to hell with the paperboy and his ponytail.
The Sunday version of Dagens Nyheter feels as weighty as the Bible. She starts reading part of it in bed, looking at the words and then more words; there are too many. Nothing makes sense to her. Lots of in-depth reports about interesting people, she ought to read them but feels too tired to get her mind round it all. She makes a careful pile, she'll tackle it later. She never does.
She is restless. All these hours. Read DN, then coffee, do teeth, breakfast, make bed, wash up, teeth again. It's not even half past seven yet, a Sunday morning in June with beams of sun piercing the Venetian blinds. She turns her head away, can't face the light yet, too much summer out there, too many people holding other people's hands, too many people sleeping close to other people, too many who're laughing, making love. She can't face any of them, not just now.
She walks down the steps to the basement, to the store. It's dark down there, lonely and untidy. She knows she's got at least two hours of work ahead, sorting and packing. It'll take her to half past nine. Not so bad.
The first thing she notices is that the padlock has been forced. And the padlocks on either side as well, on both 32 and 34. She'd better find out who owns them; after seven years in the house she wouldn't even recognise her neighbours. But now they've got forced padlocks in common. Now they can talk to each other.
The next thing she notices is the bike. Or rather, that the bike isn't there. Jonathan's expensive five-geared black mountain bike. And to think that she was going to sell it; it should have been worth at least 500 kronor. Now she's got to phone him, he's with his father, but better tell him now so he'll have time to calm down before he comes to stay with her.
Afterwards she cannot explain why she didn't see them. Why she was worrying about the owners of pens 32 and 34, about Jonathan's bike. As if she did not want to see, was unable to see. When the police asked what she had noticed first on entering the pen, wanting her crucial first impressions, she started laughing hysterically. She laughed for a while, started to cough and then explained, with tears flowing down her cheeks. Her first reaction had been that Jonathan would be upset, because his black mountain bike was gone and he wouldn't be able to spend the money he'd get from-selling it on the PlayStation game he wanted. It cost at least 500 kronor.
Of course, she had never seen death before, never come across anyone so still, looking at her without breathing.
That's what they did. They looked at her. They were lying on the cement floor with their heads propped up on upturned flowerpots, like rigid pillows. Two little girls, younger than Jonathan, no more than ten years old. One blonde, one dark. There was blood all over them, on their faces, chests, thighs, between their legs. Dried blood everywhere, except their feet; their feet were so clean, almost as if they had been washed.
She had never seen them before. Well, maybe. They lived nearby, after all. Sure, she might have seen them. In the shop, maybe, or in the park. Always so many children in the park.
They'd been on the floor in her storage pen for three days and two nights, that's what the police doctor said. Semen had been sprayed all over them, in vagina and anus, on chest and hair. Vagina and anus had received what the doctor called sharp trauma. A pointed object, probably made of metal, had been repeatedly forced inside, causing severe internal haemorrhaging.
They might have been in the same school as Jonathan. Crowds of girls there, all looking alike, girls do, alike as a thousand sisters.
They were naked. Their clothes had been arranged in front of them, just inside the door of the pen. One piece of clothing after another, lined up like exhibits. Jackets folded, trousers rolled up, T-shirts, panties, tights, shoes, a hair- ribbon, everything was very neatly and precisely placed with about two centimetres between each item. Just about exactly two centimetres apart.
The girls had been looking at her. But they had not been breathing.
Putting on a mask always made him feel very silly. A grown man hiding behind a kid's mask ought to feel silly. But he had watched other men doing it, playing at being Winnie the Pooh or Uncle Scrooge McDuck with some kind of dignity, as if the mask didn't bother them. I'll never get the hang of this, he thought, never get used to it. Won't ever turn into the kind of father I wanted for myself once, the kind I was determined to be one day.
He kept touching the thin, garishly coloured plastic membrane that covered his face. It was held on by a rubber band that fitted tightly round the back of his head and had become tangled in his hair. It was hard to breathe, each breath smelled of saliva and sweat.
'You must run, Daddy! You're not running! You're standing still! Big Bad Wolf's always running!'
She had stopped in front of him, looking at him with her head tilted back, bits of grass and earth scattered in her long blonde curls. She was trying to look cross, but angry children don't smile and she did; she was smiling with the beaming face of a child who has been chased by the Big Bad Wolf, round and round a house in the small town. Chased until her dad couldn't stand it any more, wanted very much to be somebody else, someone who didn't wear a mask with a wolf's plastic tongue and teeth.
'Marie, I can't hack it any more. Big Bad Wolf has to sit down and rest for a bit. The Big Bad Wolf wants to become small and kind.'
She shook her head.
'One more time, Daddy! Just one more.'
'That's what you said last time.'
'This is the last time.'
You've said that before too.'
'It's the last time. For sure.'
I love her, he thought. She's my daughter. It didn't happen immediately, I didn't understand at first, but now I do. I love her.
Suddenly he caught sight of the moving shadow. Just behind him. It was slow, crept along. He'd thought the other one was somewhere ahead of him, over by the trees, instead of right behind him, but there he was, moving stealthily at first, then speeding up, just at the moment when the girl with the mucky hair attacked from in front. They pushed him at the same time from opposite directions. He staggered, fell and hit the ground. Now they could both jump on top of him. They stayed as they were, then the girl with mucky hair raised her hand, palm outwards, and the dark- haired boy, the same age as her, raised his hand. Their palms slapped together. High five!
'David, look! He's given in!'
'The Pigs are the best!'
'The Pigs are always the best!'
Attacked by two five-year-olds from opposite directions, the Big Bad Wolf hadn't got a hope. As always. He knew what he must do, and rolled over, the two creatures on top of him following the roll. Lying on his back, he raised his hands to the plastic mask and pulled it off his face, blinking in the strong sunlight. He laughed out loud.
'Isn't it funny? I lose every time. Never win. Have I ever won, just once? Can anyone explain what's going on?'
Waste of breath. The two creatures didn't listen. They had won the prize, the plastic mask. They would try it on first, then celebrate by wearing it for a run-around. Afterwards they would go inside, upstairs to Marie's room on the first floor, to add the mask to their other trophies. They would stand in front of the pile for a moment, a Ducksburg monument to the glory of two five-year-old friends.
As the children wandered away, his eyes followed them. He looked at the boy from next door, then at his daughter. So much life inside them, so many years held in their hands, with months slipping between their fingers. I envy them, he thought. I envy their endless time, their sense that an hour is long, that winter will last for ever.
They disappeared through the door and he turned his face towards the sky. Lying on his back, he searched for different shades of blue, something he had done when he was little and now did again. Any kind of sky held different blues. He'd had a good time back then, when he was just a small boy. His father was a career army officer, a captain, and that meant something. You were in a regiment. Your future promotion was embroidered on the shoulders of your uniform, or so you hoped, at least. His mother was a housewife, at home when he and his brother left for school, and still there when they returned. He'd never understood what she found to do, alone in four rooms on the third floor of a block of flats. How did she endure the sameness of her days?
On his twelfth birthday everything changed. Or, to be exact, on the day after. It seemed that Frans had waited until his birthday celebrations were over, as if he had not wanted to ruin them. As if he knew that for his little brother a birthday was something more than when you were born; it was all your longing concentrated into one day.
Fredrik Steffansson got up and brushed the grass from his shirt and shorts. He often thought about Frans, remembered missing him, more now than he'd used to. From the day after his birthday his brother simply wasn't there. His empty bed stayed made for ever. Their talking together silenced. It was so sudden. In the morning Frans had hugged him for a long time, longer than any time Fredrik could recall. Frans had hugged him, said goodbye and walked off to Strängnäs station in time for the fast train to Stockholm. Next, no more than an hour later, in the metro station, he had bought another single ticket and caught a green line train going south, towards Farsta. At Medborgar Square, he got off, then jumped from the platform on to the track and started walking slowly between the rails into the tunnel towards Skanstull. Six minutes later a train driver caught sight of a human shape in the light of the bright headlamps and threw himself at the brakes, screaming in anguish and terror as the front carriage hit a fifteen-year-old body.
Ever since, they had left Frans's bed untouched, the bedspread pulled tight, the folded red blanket at the foot- end. He never understood why. Still didn't. Maybe to look welcoming if Frans returned. For years he had kept hoping that one day his brother would simply be there, that it had all been a mistake. After all, such mistakes are not unheard of. They can happen.
It was as if the whole family had died that day, on the track in a tunnel between Medborgar Square and Skanstull. His mother no longer spent her days waiting around in the flat. She never told anyone where she went but, regardless of season, she was always back at dusk. His father collapsed in every way. The straight-backed captain looked crumpled and bent, and while he'd been taciturn before, he now became practically mute. He stopped chastising his son. At least, after Frans had died, Fredrik couldn't remember ever being beaten again.
They were back, standing in the doorway. Marie and David. One as tall as the other, five-year-olds' height; he'd forgotten how many centimetres, it had said on the note from the nursery that stated Marie's height and weight, but both kids were presumably as tall as they ought to be; he didn't much care for notes with statistics. Marie's long blonde curls were still full of grass and stuff, and David's short dark hair was sticking to his forehead and temples, which meant that he'd put the mask on while they were inside. Fredrik observed them knowingly and laughed.
'Look at you, so neat and tidy. Not. Just like me. We all need a bath. Do pigs take baths?'
He didn't wait for a reply. Putting one hand on each of their thin bony shoulders, he pushed them gently back into the house, through the hall, past Marie's room, past his bedroom, and into the big bathroom. He filled the old bathtub with water, a high-sided old tub on feet and with two seats inside. He'd found it at an auction of stuff from some grand house. Every night he would sit in the bath, allowing the sauna-like conditions to relax him and thinking, doing nothing for half an hour or so, except planning what he'd write the following day. The next chapter, the next word.
Now he worried about getting the water right for them. Not too hot, not too cold. He squeezed foam from a green Mr Men bottle. It looked soft and inviting. To his surprise they stepped into the bath without any fuss and settled side by side on one seat. He undressed quickly and sat on the seat opposite them.
Five-year-olds are so small. You don't realise quite how small until they're naked. Soft skin, slender bodies, forever hopeful faces. He looked at Marie, her forehead covered in white bubbles that trickled down her nose. He looked at
David, who was holding the empty Mr Men bottle upside down, making more bubbles. He felt he lacked a picture of himself at the age of five, and tried placing his own head on Marie's shoulders. People said that they were strikingly alike, they enjoyed pointing it out. This baffled him and embarrassed Marie. His five-year-old face on her body. He ought to recall something, have a recognition of the way he'd felt then, but all he remembered was the beatings. He and Dad in the drawing room, that fucking awful big hand hitting his bottom, this he did remember, and he remembered too Frans pressing his face against the pane of glass in the drawing room door.
'The foam's finished.'
David held out the bottle to show him, shook it with the spout touching the water.
'I noticed. Now, could that be because you've poured it all out?'
'Wasn't I meant to?'
'Oh, sure. Of course.'
'You must buy another one.'
He had used to do it too, watch through the pane when Frans was beaten. Dad never noticed either of them, how they'd be observing what happened through the glazed panel in the door. Frans was older. He got hit more times, the beating took longer, at least that was how it felt from a couple of metres away. Fredrik had not remembered any of this until he was an adult. The beatings hadn't happened for over fifteen years and then, suddenly, it all came back, the big hand and the pane of glass. He was almost thirty by that stage and ever since then he'd had to haul his thoughts away from the memory, away from the drawing room. Not that he felt angry, oddly enough not even vengeful; instead he grieved, or at least, the nearest thing to what he felt was grief.
'Dad. We've got more.'
He stared vacantly at Marie. She chased that hollow feeling away.
'We've got more Mr Men bath foam.'
'On the bottom shelf. Two more. We bought three, you see.'
Frans had felt a greater grief. He was older, more time had passed, more beatings. Frans used to cry behind the pane of glass. He cried only when he was watching. Only then. He lived with his grief, hid it, carried it with him, until it became all he was, savagely threatening his self. Its last, conclusive blow struck him that morning, backed by a thirty- ton carriage.
'Here it is.'
Marie had clambered out of the tub and padded over to the bathroom cabinet.
'Look. Two more. I knew that. 'Cause we bought three.'
She pointed proudly.
The floor was awash, foam and water had been pouring off her body but she didn't notice, of course, just climbed back into the tub clutching the Mr Men figure. She got the top off with less trouble than he'd expected. David grabbed the bottle and instantly, unhesitatingly turned it upside down, shouting something that sounded like 'Yippee!' And they did their high-five handclap again.
He hated nonces. Everyone did. Still, he was a professional. A job was a job. He kept telling himself that. A job a job a job.
Åke Andersson had transported criminals to and from assorted care institutions for thirty-two years. He was fifty- nine now, but his greying hair was still thick, well looked after. He carried a kilogram or two more than he should, but he was tall, taller than all his colleagues, and any villain he'd driven. He admitted to 199 centimetres. Actually 202 was nearer the mark, but if you were over two metres tall, folk took you for a freak, one of nature's misfits, and he was fed up with that.
He hated nonces. Perverts who used force to get pussy. Most of all he hated the beasts who forced kids. His feelings were strong and therefore forbidden, but his hatred grew in intensity with each nonce job, the only times in his daily round when he responded emotionally. The aggression he felt frightened him. He had to control his urge to stop, shut down the engine, take a long stride between the front seats and fix the bastard by pushing him against the rear window.
He showed nothing.
No question, he'd had worse scum in the van, or, at least, scum with heavier sentences. He'd seen it all, put handcuffs on every fucking hard man in the headlines, walked them to the bus and driven them, staring vacantly into the mirror. Many of them were complete cretins. Loonies. Only a few had got their heads round the idea that there's a cost. If you buy, you've got to pay, it's that simple. Never mind the suckers outside, with their sermons about care and concern and rehabilitation. You buy and you pay. That's all.
He could spot the perverts, pick them out every single time. There was something about them, which meant he didn't need to know the charge. No paperwork required. He saw and hated. Now and then he had tried to explain it over a beer in the pub, tried to convince people that it was possible to spot them and that he knew how. Trouble was, when his mates asked for details he couldn't say and they reckoned he was prejudiced, possibly homophobic or even anti-everybody. Now he kept his mouth shut: it was too much hassle and not worth the effort. Still, he knew who was who, and the scumbags sensed it, looking away shiftily when his eyes sought theirs.
This nonce in the back had done the rounds. Åke had driven him at least six times. Back in '91, a couple of round- trips between trial court and the cells, then again in '97, after he'd done a runner and been caught once more. Another trip in '99, from Säter secure to wherever it was. Now he was off to the Southern General Hospital, in the middle of the night. He looked at the face in the mirror and the beast looked back, it was like some pointless competition about who could keep staring the longest. As ever, he seemed normal enough. At least, he would've, to most people. A bit shortish, 175 centimetres, say, medium build, close-cropped hair. Calm. Normal. Except, he was a repeat child rapist.
Red lights at the start of the uphill run along Ring Street. Not much traffic at this time of night. Blue lamps materialised behind him. An ambulance, its sirens blaring. He stayed where he was to let it overtake.
'That's it, Lund. You've got thirty seconds now, then out. We phoned ahead, a doctor is seeing you straight away.'
Åke didn't talk with nonces. Never did. His colleague knew that. Ulrik Berntfors felt very much the same way, it was just that he didn't hate.
'This way we don't have to wait for our breakfast. And you don't have to sit in the waiting room with all that kit on.'
Ulrik gestured at Lund, at the chain across his stomach. It was part of a transfer waist-restraint, complete with leg- irons. He had never had to use one before. Body-belts, yes. Still, it was an order. Oscarsson had phoned up about it, made a special point. Told to undress, Lund had smiled and waggled his hips. He was fitted out with a metal belt round his waist, joined to the leg-irons with four chains running down his legs and to the handcuffs with two chains along his torso and arms. Ulrik had seen these things on TV and once for real, during a study visit to India. Never in Sweden. Here, the main idea was to control offenders by outnumbering them. More guards than villains. Sometimes handcuffs, of course, but not chains inside shirt and trousers.
'How caring. Thanks a lot. You're great guys.'
Lund was speaking quietly. He was barely audible. Ulrik had no idea if what he said was meant to be ironic. Then Lund shifted position, chains clanking against each other, until he was leaning forward with his head resting on the frame of the glazed hatch separating the front seats from the back of the van.
'Listen, you two. This is no good. I've got chains up my arse. Get me out of this fucking tin body-belt and I give you my word I won't run.'
Åke stared at him in the mirror. He speeded up suddenly, shot along the slope up to the Casualty entrance and then stood on the brakes.
Lund's chin crashed against the sharp edge of the hatch.
'Fucking screws! What the fuck's that for? You cunts!'
Usually Lund spoke calmly and sounded quite educated. Until he felt got at. Then he swore. Åke knew that. It wasn't just that they all looked alike. They were alike.
Ulrik was laughing, but only inside. That bugger Andersson, he wasn't quite right in the head. He kept doing stuff like this, but refused to say a word.
'Too bad,' he said. 'Nothing doing, it's Oscarsson's orders. You see, Lund, you're classed as dangerous. A danger to society. So you'd better lump it.'
Ulrik found it difficult to utter all this. The words seemed to have a will of their own, pushing their way out of his mouth despite his straining facial muscles, tensed to hold back the rumbling laughter inside. If it slipped out and was heard, it would provoke their passenger even more. He spoke, but afterwards, following Andersson's example, stared silently straight ahead.
'If we take the tinsel off you, we'd be ignoring Oscarsson's express order. And that's against the regulations. You know that.'
The ambulance that had overtaken them was parked next to the ramp outside Casualty. Two male paramedics were running up the stairs to the entrance, two steps at a time, carrying a stretcher. Ulrik caught a glimpse of a woman; the blood in her long hair made it stick to the leg of one of the paramedics. Orange and red don't go together, he thought, wondering why they wore orange, they must get blood on their uniforms pretty often. Being upset always made his mind wander.
'Oscarsson's an arsehole! He's fucking lost it. Why won't that motherfucker believe me? I said I won't run! I told him at Aspsås!'
Lund was shouting through the hatch, then backed away only to throw himself against the windowless wall. The chains of his restraint thumped against the metal side of the van, making Åke momentarily think he'd hit something, turn to look for another vehicle that wasn't there.
'I fucking told him, you bastards! So you didn't know? OK, here's another deal. If you don't get this lot of chain- mail off me, I'll be away. Get that, cunts? I'll walk. Understood?'
Åke tried to meet his eyes. He adjusted the mirror to find Lund. He sensed the hatred welling up; he had to hit him, that scum had gone too far, had just said 'cunt' once too often.
Thirty-two years. A job a job a job. But he couldn't hack it any more. Not today. And sooner or later it would all go to hell, whatever.
He ripped off the seatbelt, opened the door. Ulrik realised what was up, but didn't have time to act. Åke was going to beat the shit out of the nonce. Lund would get it harder than any of them ever had. Not that Ulrik minded. He stayed where he was, smiling to himself.
The town was never more silent than a few minutes past four in the morning. After the last customers had left Hörnans Bar to make their way noisily from the harbour along the Promenade towards the old bridge to Toster Island, there was this quiet space, until the newspaper boys delivering the Strängrtäs Gazette fanned out to sprint along Stor Street, opening porch doors and letterboxes.
Fredrik Steffansson knew it all, he hadn't slept through the night for ages. He kept the window open, so he could lie in bed and listen to the little town falling asleep and waking again, to the movements of people he mostly knew, or at least recognised. That's how it is when your world is small-scale. Everything crowds in on you. He had lived here almost all his life. Sure, he had read a lot of books by the right people and gone off to live in Stockholm's South End, studying comparative religion at the university. Then he had worked in a kibbutz in northern Israel, a few miles from the Lebanese border. But once all that was over and done with, he returned to Strängnäs and the people he knew, or at least recognised. He'd never truly got away, never left growing up here behind him. His memories and his lasting sadness at the loss of Frans tied him to this town. It was here he had met Agnes. He had fallen madly in love with her, she was so sophisticated, exclusively dressed in black, always searching for something. They started living together, but had been about to part when Marie arrived and made them rediscover each other, so that, for almost a year, the three of them were a family. Then Fredrik and Agnes separated for ever, not as enemies, but they spoke only when Marie was to be delivered or collected. She had to travel from one city to another, because Agnes had moved to Stockholm, living among her beautiful friends, where she really belonged.
Someone was walking down there in the street. He checked the time. Quarter to five. Bloody nights. If only he could think of something that made sense, his next piece of writing, just the next two pages, but no, it seemed impossible. He couldn't think at all, the empty time passed as he listened to what seeped in through the window, taking note of when doors closed and cars started. Meaningless accountancy. He had hardly any energy left for writing. When he had delivered Marie to nursery school and settled down at his computer with the day stretching ahead of him, the hours without sleep attacked, tiredness engulfed him. Three chapters in two months was simply disastrous, his powerful publisher wouldn't put up with it and was already sending out feelers to find out what was up.
A truck. That sounded like that truck. But it usually didn't run before half past five.
Such a thin partition to Marie's room. He could hear her. She was snoring. How come little children snore like fat old men? Fragile five-year-olds with piping voices, as cute as anything? He used to think it was just Marie, but whenever David slept over they made twice as much noise, filling the silences between each other's breaths.
It wasn't a truck. A bus, that was it.
He turned away from the window. Micaela slept in the nude, blanket and sheet bundled up at her feet as always.
She was just twenty-four, so young. She made him feel loved, often randy, and, at times, so old. It would hit him suddenly, often when they were talking about music or books or films. One of them would make a remark about a composition, or someone's writing, or a play, and it would become obvious that she was young and he was middle-aged. Sixteen years is a long time in the life of guitar solos and film dialogue; they age and fade away and get replaced.
She was lying on her stomach, her face turned towards him. He caressed her cheek, planted a light kiss on a buttock. He liked her very much. Was he in love? He couldn't bear the effort of working it out. He liked that she was there, next to him, that she agreed to share his hours, for he detested being lonely, it was pointless, like suffocating; surely solitude was a kind of death. He moved his hand from her cheek to stroke her back. She stirred. Why did she lie there, next to an older man with a child, a man who wasn't that good-looking, not ugly but certainly not handsome, and not well off, and, arguably, not even fun to be with? Why had she chosen to spend her nights with him, she who was so beautiful, so young and had so many more hours left to live? He kissed her again, this time on her hip.
'Are you still awake?'
'I'm sorry. Did I wake you?'
'I don't know. What about you, haven't you been asleep?'
'You know what I'm like.'
She pulled him close, her naked body against his, sleepily warm, awake but not quite.
'You must sleep, my old darling.' 'Old?'
'You can't cope if you don't sleep. You know that. Come on. Sleep.'
She looked at him, kissed him, held him.
'I was thinking about Frans.'
'Fredrik, not now.'
'I do think about him. I want to think about him, I'm listening to Marie next door and I'm thinking about how Frans too was a child when he was beaten, when he watched me being beaten. When he caught the train to Stockholm.'
'Close your eyes.'
'Why should anyone beat a child?'
'If you keep your eyes closed for long enough you go to sleep. That's how it works.'
'Why should anyone beat a child, who will grow up and learn to understand and judge the person who's been beating it? At least, judge the rights and wrongs of that beaten child.'
She pushed at him to turn him on his side with his back towards her, then moved in close behind him, twisting into him until they were like two boughs of a tree.
'Why keep hitting a child, who will construe the beatings as Daddy's duty and look to its own failings for the reason. I'm not good enough, not tough enough. The child will tell itself that it's his or her own fault, partly at least. Christ almighty, I was into that kind of crap myself. I forced myself to believe it, not to feel violated and abandoned.'
Micaela slept. Her breathing was slow and regular against the back of his neck, so close that the skin became damp. Through the window came the sounds of another bus. It stopped outside, reversed, stopped again, reversed. Perhaps the same one as yesterday, a large coach.
Lennart Oscarsson carried a secret. He wasn't alone in this, but felt as if he were. The pain of it rode him, curled up on his right shoulder, slept inside his chest, occupied all the space inside his stomach. Every evening he decided to let it out the following morning. Once he had set it free, he could sit back quietly, contemplating days without a secret for company stretching out ahead.
He didn't have the strength, couldn't do it. He was screaming, but nobody listened. Maybe to scream properly you actually had to open your mouth?
He did the same things every morning. Sat in the kitchen at their round pine table, spooning yoghurt into his face. Karin was always there at his side. She was his life, this beautiful woman, whom he had loved beyond reason ever since he'd met her for the first time, sixteen years ago. She drank her usual coffee with hot milk, ate rye bread and butter, read the arts pages in the morning paper.
He should tell her now. Then it would have been said. She had every right to know. Others didn't, but she did. It was so simple. A couple of minutes, a few sentences, that was all. They could finish their breakfasts, leave for their daily work. He would return home that night freed from having to hide it. He put the spoon down, drank the last of the yoghurt straight from the container.
Lennart took pride in his work at Aspsås prison. He held a senior post, chief officer in charge of a unit, and had ambitions to advance further. He took every opportunity for study leave, joined every course, reckoned you had to show willing, and he did, in the knowledge that somewhere, someone was taking notes.
Seven years ago he had taken over the running of one of Aspsås's two units for sex offenders. His working life had become focused on people locked up for violating those whom they had been charged to protect. These men had broken the strongest taboo left in society, they were outcasts; he was responsible for them and for the staff who were employed to care as well as to punish. Punishing and trying to understand, this was what they were meant to do, care and punish and remain aware of the difference. His views were his own, he felt what he felt, but he did show willing, and someone, somewhere, kept notes on his progress.
At the same time his bloody awful secret had started growing. How he wished he could tell. The outcome couldn't be any worse than now, when the betrayal lived inside his marriage and made every word he and Karin exchanged suspect, filthy.
He got up, picked up the dirty dishes and stacked the dishwasher. Wiped the table, rinsed the cloth.
He wore a blue uniform. Officers' uniforms looked the same throughout the Swedish prison service, rather like a cab driver's outfit. He dressed for work in the kitchen: trousers, tie, shirt. Meanwhile he hoped that Karin and he would exchange a few words, about anything as long as it stopped him feeling so bloody hypocritical.
'Look at the weather, Lennart. It's windy outside. They say it'll stay like this all day. You need your gloves.'
Karin came close to him and stroked his cheek. He pressed his face against her hand, rubbed against it, needing the contact. She was so beautiful. He wished she knew.
'It's not cold yet. And I've only got a few hundred metres to go.'
'You know that's not the point. You'll regret it afterwards, when your joints start hurting.'
She held out his leather gloves. He put them on. Kissed her, first her lips, then her shoulder. Put on his jacket and stepped outside, looked across to Aspsås. It was only two minutes' stroll away. Its grey concrete wall dominated the village.
When Åke Andersson climbed out of the driver's seat, he was propelled by an emotion different from anything he had felt before. His rage, his damned hatred, had overwhelmed him.
He had taken a lot of crap from prisoners for thirty years, hated them but stayed in control, silently driven them from police cells to courts, from hospitals to prisons. He had ferried the lowlife but left the talking to his mates, just kept his eyes on the road and minded his own business. But that fucking beast was too bloody fucking much.
Åke had nearly lost it last time he had had to transfer that animal, knowing that he was holed up in the back of the van, knowing about the tortures he'd carried out, what the girls had looked like when he'd finished with them. Afterwards, his sneering grin and utter callousness haunted Åke's dreams, the crimes were replayed over and over again, throughout the nights; one bad morning he didn't get to the loo in time and threw up in the hall, as if his enforced control had congealed and swelled his stomach until there was no more room.
It was that third 'cunt' coming through the hatch that tore it. Åke lost his grip, had no idea what he should do next, no sense of duty left. He couldn't answer for the consequences now; his mind was filling with images of the little girls, their cut-up genitals, they'd been tortured with a pointed metal object. His big body hurled itself towards the back door of the van.
Ulrik Berntfors had driven Lund once before, that was all, on the second day of the girls-in-the-basement trial. He'd been new to the job and the trial was the biggest he'd been involved in, lots of journalists and photographers crowding the reserved seats. Two nine-year-old girls; it pulled at the heartstrings and sold newspapers. He was ashamed of his reaction at the time, he hadn't really thought about the girls, not understood, had been too inexperienced. He had simply felt special, almost proud, as he walked along at Lund's side. But afterwards his own daughter asked him why Lund had killed the two girls, why he'd wanted to destroy them. She was only a year older than the victims and had read every piece of news carefully, formulating questions for her dad, who knew the man who had done it and had walked next to him, as seen on TV, lots of times. Of course he couldn't answer her, but understanding was dawning on him. His daughter's fears and her questions had taught him more about his job than any course he had attended.
Åke hated, Ulrik knew that. Not that they'd ever talked about it, but it hadn't been hard to work out. And maybe one day Ulrik would too, when scum like Lund had screamed 'cunt' at him once too often. He had done the person-to- person contacts, so far. Someone had to. Driving these people was a job. But when Lund shouted 'cunts' for the third time, he realised that this was it. He knew, from the moment Andersson got up.
Maybe if he kept observing the steps leading up to the Casualty door, he wouldn't have to see whatever was going on. If it came to an inquiry, he didn't want to have to lie.
The area in front of Casualty was quiet, no parked cars, no people. That's what Åke said afterwards, adding that even if it hadn't been so deserted, even if other people had been about and able to watch what he did, he probably wouldn't have noticed. Running to the back of the bus, rage and hatred blinkered him.
He pulled the door open. The handle was small. His hand was made on the same scale as the rest of him and it was hard to push it in between metal and metal.
Then everything went horribly wrong.
Bernt Lund was screaming 'cunt, cunt' over and over, in a high falsetto voice. He hit out with the chains gripped in one hand, the long chains that ran under his clothing, linking handcuffs, leg-irons and belt. Åke didn't have time to see, to take in what was happening, as the heavy iron links tore into his face and ripped it open. He fell to the ground and Lund leapt out of the van, swinging the chains against the fallen man's head and face until his victim passed out. Then he used his boots, kicking belly, kidneys, crotch, kicking and kicking until the tall guard lay quite still.
Ulrik had kept staring straight ahead. Åke was taking his time beating the hell out of the nonce. Lund was still screaming 'cunt'; he could obviously take a lot. Then Ulrik began to feel bad about it. Åke had been at it for too long, enough now for Christ's sake, or things might go seriously wrong. When he opened the door to climb out and stop him from causing some kind of emergency, Lund moved in. Using a long chain he broke the window, hit Ulrik in the face, pulled him outside and kept hitting. All Ulrik remembered afterwards was the hellish screeching voice and the moment Lund pulled his trousers down to hit his exposed penis with the chain, screaming that he would have buggered them if they hadn't been such big bastards. Too big for him, only little whores would take him inside, only small arses were good enough.
The distance between his front door and the steel gate leading to his place of work was 180 paces. Lennart Oscarsson counted them almost every time. Once he'd done the distance in 161 paces, his record. It was a few years ago, when he was really fit. Until the assault he used to train with the inmates in the gym. Then, early one morning, someone beat a sex offender to pulp with dumbbells and barbells. The medic had said the marks were clear and easy to identify. No one had known the first thing about the incident, of course. Not one single fucking soul had noticed that a human being was being clubbed, presumably screaming his head off, unseen and unheard, until the final darkness fell. The weight-training area was awash with blood afterwards, yet apparently no one had the faintest idea why. For a long time afterwards he didn't go there. Not because he was frightened; nobody was quite cretinous enough to risk a new round of sentencing just to get even with a boss. It wasn't fear, it was disgust, he couldn't bear being in a room where one of the men in his charge had been robbed of his right to a life.
He rang the bell, waited for a sense of being watched in the small camera above his head and a voice coming through the loudspeaker. Turning round, he looked at his home, at the sitting room and bedroom windows. All dark, roller blinds halfway down. No face to be glimpsed, no body moving about.
He stepped inside, blinked, inside an enclosed world now. The other one of his two worlds. Standing in front of the next door, he knocked on the windowpane of the guardroom and waved to Bergh, who was taking his time. Stupid bugger, what made Bergh tick was a mystery. At last he waved back and pressed a button. The door buzzed open; the long corridor behind it smelled of disinfectant and something else, something unmistakable.
A boring day ahead. Unit meeting, communication. The staff were well on their way to losing themselves in a labyrinthine schedule of meetings that they had imposed on themselves. Each meeting made endless pointless decisions about pointless routine matters that landed everyone within an ever more rigid framework. Actual problem-solving needed a different approach, needed sharp minds and driving energy. The meetings fed a sense of security, but created nothing.
And the coffee machine was fucked up as well. He kicked it. Then he fed coins into the soft-drinks machine. Coke apparently contained caffeine too.
Nils Roth, senior wing officer. He and Oscarsson had come to Aspsås at the same time and advanced in the service side by side. Together they had experienced the anxiety of the novice change into the weary calm of the veteran. They walked into the meeting room together. The room with its long table, overhead projector, whiteboard could have belonged to any management outfit.
Everybody greeted each other; all eight senior wing officers were there, and the prison governor, Arne Bertolsson. Quite a few were drinking coffee. Lennart looked hard at the mugs and turned to the new man, what was his name, Månsson.
'Where did you get that?'
'It's out of order.'
'Not when I tried it. Only minutes ago.'
Arne Bertolsson called them to order, sounding irritable. He had been fiddling with the overhead projector. It made a noise, but that was all. The screen stayed blank.
'This thing's bloody useless.'
Bertolsson crouched down to examine whatever buttons he might push next. Lennart looked at him, then at the line-up of men at the table. Eight of them, his immediate colleagues, people in whose company he spent hours and hours, day after day, but had never got close to. Apart from Nils, that is. As for the rest, he hadn't been to their homes and none of them had visited his. A beer in town, the odd football match, but never at home. What did that make them? Not friends, anyway. But they were all of about the same age, and looked alike too. A room full of middle-aged taxi drivers.
Bertolsson gave up.
'Sod this. And the agenda too. Who wants to start?'
Nobody, it seemed. Månsson drank a mouthful of his coffee. Nils scribbled on a notepad. No one spoke. The routine of these meetings had broken down and everyone felt at a loss.
Lennart cleared his throat.
The others breathed sighs of relief; something was on the agenda at least.
'I've been on about this before, but the fact is, I know what I'm talking about. I suppose no one has forgotten the fatality in the gym? No? Exactly. But has it made any flaming difference whatsoever? The men from the normal units are shuttling in and out of the gym at the same time as my lot. There was another incident yesterday. It might've turned nasty if Brandt and Persson hadn't stepped in promptly.'
Not a peep from the bench of the accused. But he bloody well wouldn't back down. He had seen what the weights could do to a human body.
Having watched everyone in turn as he spoke, Lennart's eyes lingered on the only woman in the room. Eva Barnard and he had clashed more than once before. He couldn't relate to her in any way, she only knew the textbook stuff and not the traditions, the unspoken rules, which drew their power from simply having been there, always.
Bertolsson had picked up the accusation in Lennart's eyes, but wanted to avoid trouble. Not another row, not again. He interrupted.
'More coordination between wings, is that what you want?'
'Yes, it is. Coordination outside the walls is a different matter. This is a jail. It's an unreal place, the exception is the rule inside. Everyone here knows it. At least, ought to know it.'
Lennart kept his eyes fixed on Eva. Bertolsson hated conflicts, but that was too bad. No way would he be allowed to hide this problem out of sight.
'If the wrong type from a normal unit comes across one of my lot, that's it. End of story. Everything goes straight to hell, that's well known. If a nonce gets killed, it's applause all round.'
He pointed at Eva.
'The old lag who stirred it yesterday was a case in point. He's from your unit.'
Now they were both angry. Eva never took the coward's way out, he had to admit that. She didn't scare easily and now she was staring back at him. Ugly and stupid, but brave.
'If you mean 0243 Lindgren, why not say it straight out?'
'I mean Lindgren all right.'
'Lindgren can be a bastard when he's in the mood. The rest of the time he's a model prisoner, calm and quiet. Does zilch in fact. Lies in his cell smoking handrolls, lets the hours pass, doesn't read or watch the telly. He has served forty- two different sentences, and done a total of twenty-seven years inside. Look, he's one of the few who still can speak the old prison lingo. He only stirs up trouble when somebody new turns up. Has to show who's done most time, who knows the score. It's all about hierarchy. Hierarchy and respect.'
'Come off it. Yesterday he wasn't trying to impress a newcomer. He would have killed my man if he hadn't been spotted in time.'
The other officers were becoming restive. What was happening to the proper agenda? Bertolsson let this confrontation run on without comment. Maybe he found it interesting. Maybe he was too fed up to bother.
'Let me finish,' Eva went on. 'Sex offenders are different, Lindgren goes wild at the sight of them. It's something stronger than disgust. I've been through his file and found some reasons why he tries to kill them. For one thing, he was abused himself as a child. Many times.'
Lennart drained the last drop of sweet bubbly muck from the can. Caffeine. He knew perfectly well who Stig 'Dickybird' Lindgren was, no need to lecture him. Dickybird had been a dealer, mostly smalltime, in whatever came his way. By now he was so institutionalised that he was terrified every time he was released. He'd piss against the prison wall hoping that the gate staff would see him. If that didn't do the trick he'd beat up the driver of the first likely bus into town, like the last time out. One way or another he'd be back inside within a few weeks, back to the only place where he felt at home, the only place where people cared enough to know his name.
Lennart told himself that he must stop eyeballing that silly frump. Look at Nils instead. But Nils kept his eyes down, scribbling away, no, he was doodling. How did he take this? Did he feel uneasy? Ashamed? Lennart knew that Nils didn't care for the way he challenged Eva and had said so, asking him to leave it. Fuelling the general dislike of her just meant that they would never take any notice of the good work she often did. Admittedly.
Lennart knew that he wanted to talk to Nils about that bloody awful secret, their secret. And he waited to see if Nils would look up, just for a moment. I need your help now, Nils, look at me, what the fuck do we do next? I must tell Karin.
'Did I hear you mention something about a prison language? You said Stig Lindgren could speak it.'
Månsson, the new recruit from Malmö, sounded interested. What was the man's first name? Now he wanted to know more.
'Could you explain?'
Eva was pleased that the exchange with Lennart was over, and that she had the upper hand now. She was in charge. As she turned to Månsson, she smiled in the self-satisfied way she had, which fuelled the general dislike.
'I suppose it's natural that you wouldn't know.'
This Månsson boy was new, but he had just learned something useful. Which was not to mess with her.
'Sorry. Forget it.'
'No, no. No problem. This prison-speak was used by the inmates all the time. It was a special communication, for cons only. By now it's practically extinct. Only old lags like Lindgren know it. Men who've led their lives more inside than outside the walls.'
She felt good. Lennart had jumped on her, suggesting that she was ignorant of prison life. She'd shown everyone that she knew all right. What a loser, he'd been so stupid he reckoned he could muzzle her. Must have forgotten that she got the last word every time he tried it on.
Bertolsson had managed to start the overhead and an image showed on the screen. The agenda. He looked as relieved as he felt. This meeting had been about to run off the rails, but now he was back in control. He acknowledged the ironic applause from his colleagues.
Then a phone rang. It wasn't his mobile. He had switched it off, as everyone should have done. The governor, already fed up, was close to blowing a fuse.
Lennart got up.
'Sorry. It's mine. Christ, I forgot all about it.'
A second ring. He didn't recognise the number. A third. He shouldn't answer. A fourth. He gave in.
Eight people were listening in. Not that it bothered him.
'And?' He sat down. 'What the fuck are you saying?'
His voice had changed. It sounded screechy. Upset.
Nils, who knew him well, was instantly convinced that this was serious. He couldn't remember Lennart ever sounding so alarmed.
'Not him!' A cry, in that high-pitched voice. 'Not him! It can't be! You heard me, it can't be.'
His colleagues were very still. Lennart seemed close to a breakdown. He, who was always cool and collected. And now he was shaking.
'Bloody fucking hell!'
Lennart ended the call. His face was flushed, he was breathing through his mouth. His dignity had gone. The room waited.
Lennart got up, took one step back, as if to take in the whole scene.
'It was the man on the gate, that idiot Bergh. Told me we've got a runner. One of mine, on transfer to Southern General Hospital. Bernt Lund. He beat up both guards and went off in the van.'
Siw Malmqvist's winsome voice was flooding the police station at Berg Street in Stockholm. At least, the corridor at the far end of the ground floor was awash, as it was every morning. The earlier it was, the louder the voice. It came from a huge, ancient cassette player, as big as any ghetto-blaster. The old plastic hulk had run the same tapes for thirty years, three popular compilations with Siw's voice singing her songs in different combinations. This morning it was 'My Mummy is Like Her Mummy' followed by 'No Place is as Good as Good Old Skåne', A- and B-sides of the same 1968 Metronome single, with a black-and-white shot of Siw at a microphone stand, holding a broom and wearing a mini version of a cleaner's overall.
Ewert Glens had been given his music machine for his twenty-fifth birthday and brought it to the office, putting it on the bookshelf. As time went by he changed office now and then, but always carried it to its new home, cradling it in his arms. He was Detective Chief Inspector now, still always the first in and never later than half past five in the morning; that meant he had two or three hours without any prats bothering him, invading his space in person or on the phone. Round about half past seven he would lower the volume; it caused a lot of bloody moaning from the useless crew pottering about outside. Still, he would always make them whinge for a while. They fucking well wouldn't catch him turning the sound down unless someone asked first.
Grens was a large man, heavy and tired. His hair had receded to a grey, bushy ring. He moved in short, brisk bursts, due to his odd gait, a kind of limp. His stiff neck was due to a near-garrotting, a memento of leading a raid on the premises of a Lithuanian hitman. They kept Grens in hospital for quite a while afterwards.
He had been a good policeman, but didn't know if he still was. At least, he wasn't sure if he felt up to it for much longer. Did he hang on to his job because he couldn't think of anything better to do? Had he inflated the importance of policing, made too much of it to drop everything when the time came? After a few years, not one of the buggers round here would remember him. They'd recruit replacement DCIs, new lads without a history, lacking a sense of what had mattered before, who had had power back then, informally of course, and why that was.
He often thought that everyone should be taught how to debrief, from the word go, whatever job you were training for. Novices should learn that the professional ins-and-outs they came to value were worthless in the end, and that you were around in your job only for a short while. It was a small part of your life that was at stake; you were there one moment, gone the next. Look at himself. There'd been others ahead of him and did he care about them? Hell, no. He didn't.
Someone knocked on the door. Some saddo who had come to plead with him to turn down the music. Sodding bunnies.
But it was Sven, the only one in the house with some steel in him.
That got to him. He raised his eyebrows and put down the paper he held.
'Bernt Lund? What's with him?'
'The fuck he has!'
Sven Sundkvist liked his old colleague and didn't get fazed by the old boy's sarcasm. He knew that Ewert's bitterness, his fears, came from being too close to the day when he'd be forced to stop working, the day when he would be told that thirty-five years in service amounted to no more or less than precisely thirty-five years.
At least Ewert wanted something. He believed in what he did, unlike most of the others. So, never mind his surliness, his fits of bad temper, his oddities.
'Come on, Sven. Get on with it.'
Sven gave an account of Lund's hospital transport, the whole trip from Aspsås to Southern General's casualty entrance. He described how he had used his elaborate body- belt chains to batter the two officers. Afterwards he had made off with the van. Now he was at liberty out there, probably stalking girls, children, little kids who'd just started school.
Ewert got up during this and limped restlessly about the room, waddling round his desk, manoeuvring his big body between the chair and the stand with potted plants. He stopped in front of the wastepaper bin, aimed with his good foot and kicked it hard.
'How fucking stupid can you get, letting Lund out with only two escorts? What was Oscarsson thinking about? If he only could've been arsed to call us, we'd have sent a car and then that fucking freak wouldn't have been at large!'
The kick had sent the bin flying, spewing banana peel and empty snuffboxes and torn envelopes all over the floor. Sven had seen it all before, and waited for the next instalment.
'Åke Andersson and Ulrik Berntfors,' he said. 'Two good men. Andersson is the tall one, well over one hundred and ninety-something. Your age.'
'I know who Andersson is.'
'Tell you in a while. Can't think now.'
Sven felt tired. It came over him suddenly. He wanted to go home. Home to Anita, to Jonas. He had finished for the day and couldn't bear thinking about what had happened, that a child might be violated any moment now, or anything else to do with Bernt Lund. After all, he'd swapped to get the morning shift, because they'd planned to celebrate. He had some bottles of wine and a posh gateau in his car. They were meant to be drinking his birthday toast, soon.
Ewert noticed Sven's tired eyes, his straying thoughts. Damn, he shouldn't have kicked that effing bin. Sven disapproved of that kind of thing. Better say something. Be calm, cool.
'Sven, you look tired. How are things?'
'Oh, all right. I was about to leave. Go home. It's my birthday today.'
'Is it? Congratulations! How many years?'
Ewert whistled, then made a bow.
'Well I never. Shake hands!'
He held out his hand, Sven grabbed it firmly and they shook for quite a long time. Then Ewert spoke.
'But, young man. Regrettably, forty or not forty, you're going nowhere now.'
Ewert had bad breath. Normally they never got that close.
'Let me tell you something.'
Ewert pointed at his visitor's chair. He was impatient, jabbing towards it with his index finger. Sven pulled his hand away and went to perch on the edge of the chair, still ready to leave any minute now.
'I was in it up to my neck, the last time.'
'The girls in the basement.'
'Two girls, both nine years old. He had tied them up, jerked off all over them, raped them, cut them. Just like the time before. They were lying on this bare cement floor, staring at us. The medic confirmed that they'd been alive when Lund cut them, stuck a metal object into them, into the vagina, the anus. I don't believe it, because I can't bear to believe it. Have you thought about that, eh, Sven? That you can believe whatever you like, if you put your mind to it?'
Ewert Grens scared quite a few people. He didn't stay put where you left him. His body was restless inside his creased shirt, his too-short trousers. Sven understood why people kept away from him, he had avoided the man himself. But he always felt that it was wrong to set out planning to humiliate someone. Simple enough rule. Anyway, he'd kept himself to himself until it seemed Ewert had accepted him. Even selected him, not that Sven understood why. The old boy must have needed someone and it happened to be him. Now Ewert didn't seem dangerous any more. Big and grey and intense, but not dangerous.
He was sad, grieving over the two girls. He didn't cry, not tears yet.
'I did the questioning. I kept trying to look Lund in the eye: No way. No fucking way. He stared above me, past me, through me. I interrupted the session several times to demand that he look straight at me.'
Grens, you don't get it.
I thought you were one of the guys who'd get it.
I don't get the hots for all kids.
You've no reason to say that.
I only go for some of them, the ones who're a bit… bigger.
Like that blonde, plump one.
You know the kind.
That's important, Grens.
Little slags with small feet.
Who think about cock.
They fucking well shouldn't do that, you know.
Fucking little slags with tight cunts, they shouldn't be thinking about cock all the time.
Human beings looked at each other when they talked. But no, not him. No way.
He looked at Sven. Sven looked at him. They were human.
'I understand. And I don't. If he's one of those who don't look at you, then why wasn't he locked up in a special psycho institution? Like Säters secure? Or Karsudden? Or Sidsjön?'
Ewert bent to pick up the bin. He pulled out the tobacco from under his upper lip.
'That's what used to happen. His first time inside he got three years in Säter. But last time he was caught his mental disorder was diagnosed as minor. And then it's off to the jug like everyone else. These days. Sex offenders' unit, not a secure madhouse.'
Ewert swallowed whatever it was. Not quite tears.
Then, back to normality.
He changed the tape. More of Siw's singing, of course. 'Jazz Bacillus, 1959'. He stood in front of the loudspeaker for a moment with his eyes closed. He turned the volume up, crouched to pick up the rubbish, returning it to the bin. Then he straightened, took three steps back to get maximum impact, aimed and kicked the bin again. This time it went further, hitting the wall by the window.
He started speaking again.
'Sven, get this fucking message. -Understand it if you can. Minor mental disorder, that's what this man has. He gets his kicks from torturing and killing two little girls. He carves them up. So he's suffering from a minor mental disorder, is he? Are you hearing me, Sven? Tell me then, what the fuck is a major mental disorder?'
It was still morning, but already hot, twenty-four degrees in the sun. Another summer's day that would maybe reach thirty degrees in the afternoon, for the third week in a row. 'Augustin'. Time: 2.08. The Swedish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest 1959.
He caught him in his arms. Held him close. They were of the same height and it was easy to reach him, to caress his shoulders, the back of his neck, his cheeks. To kiss him. His lips were soft.
'I do need you.'
'I'm here for you.'
Lennart Oscarsson kissed him again, out of lust and out of habit. He was so glad that they were together this morning, trusting each other, this fucking awful morning.
'Nils. Did you close the door?'
He looked at Nils, at his colleague who was his lover and his appalling secret, the man he could not look at without being reminded of Karin, his wife who was his lover and his whole life.
Nils sat down in the senior-status leather armchair and tugged at Lennart to make him sit down in his lap. They hugged.
'Come on. Take your clothes off.'
'I want to. Believe me, my whole body wants to, but it's not on. Not now. I can't, I must be at that press conference, ready to answer their questions. I've no choice. Fact.'
'There's time enough.'
'I love you, Nils. And I want you. But there isn't time, not now.'
Nils gave up, but Lennart knew, he saw his lover's disappointment. It was harder for Nils, he thought, who didn't have someone at home waiting for him, somebody to lie close to in bed, to make gentle love with. Nils dreamed with Lennart in mind, only him. No secrets to mull over, only a future when it was simply Nils and Lennart, nothing and nobody else.
Lennart stroked his cheek, kissed his forehead. Nils was so beautiful, proud-looking somehow. Two years older, there were some grey streaks in his dark hair.
'I must be off.'
'Any chance of meeting up later today?'
'Afterwards I've got to see Bertolsson. He's asked me out to lunch. Maybe it's to be nice to me, but on the other hand – maybe not. It might be a threat. When I come back, what about a walk to the water-tower?'
'I'll wait for you there.'
Lennart held him for longer than he should. Let him free, slowly. Stood up.
The grey concrete wall was seven metres high. It loomed at the edge of the forest and then snaked along for one and a half kilometres, enclosing five low brick buildings.
Some people were kept inside. Others stayed outside.
Aspsås was one of Sweden's twelve Category-B prisons, a medium security rating. The lifers, murderers and heavy drug-traders were locked up in Cat-A's. Small-time traders hid inside Aspsås, where there were no long-term men, only fixed-termers coming and going with sentences between two and four years. One hundred and sixty men, in eight of the ten units in the wings. Most were repeat offenders with drug-habits, who would do a house-job to land some dosh, get fixed, do a job for more dosh, more fixes, do a job, get nicked and twenty-six months inside, then release, a job, some dosh, fixes, a job, dosh, fix, the pigs and thirty-four in the jug, release, a job.
Here, just as everywhere. Me against you, you against the screws. Only two rules, don't grass and don't fuck mates who don't want to.
The other two units housed sex offenders. Hated, always under threat. Nonces fuck people who don't want to.
It was as if the prisoners' joint shame and self-disgust had to find an outlet, as if being despised by society outside the wall was so hard to take that the only thing that could make up for it was to humiliate someone else. We, the straights, will breathe more easily if we fall in with the ancient prison compact everywhere that these sex freaks are nastier, more damaged, more excluded and that I, the murderer, rank more highly than you, the rapist, and that I, having robbed someone of the right to live, have more dignity than you, who fucked some sad cunt senseless. Though I've violated, it's not the way you did it and, surely, you're worse than me.
Maybe in Aspsås hatred was greater than in many other prisons because it was a mixed institution, where a couple of wings had one unit for normal prisoners and one for sex offenders. Because every Aspsås prisoner was suspect, a placement there was a potential death sentence for a man doing time for something straight, like eighteen months for grievous bodily harm. Transfer from Aspsås to another prison was bad news and could mean a serious beating unless you had papers to prove you were clean. Without your sentence up front to show anything different, every incomer was convicted of sex crimes until proven innocent.
H Unit was one of the eight normal units, which housed the ordinary lot of small-time crooks and street drug-dealers, assorted robbers, quite a few with GBH convictions, and the odd fraudster. These men were either on their way up in the criminal hierarchy and could expect longer sentences next time round, or had settled for doing the same pathetic stuff over and over, but were unsuitable for mixing with drunk drivers and minor first offenders in Category-C prisons. The unit looked like every other unit in any Swedish middling-grade prison. A locked, armoured door to the stairwell. A corridor with a linoleum floor in institutional yellow. Along it, ten cells on each side, their doors half-open. A small kitchen. Next door, a few tables to eat at and a TV corner and the green baize of the snooker table. Men slowly shuffling about, going away and coming back again, wandering off to somewhere to kill time, trying not to think of the hours that had passed and the hours that remained, only the present. Longing for zero hour is longing away your life. Staying alive and passing the time is all that is left when the prison gate is locked behind you.
Stig Lindgren had settled in the TV corner. The set was on, some channel or other, the sound was turned down and a deck of cards was on the table in front of him. He was about to deal to the five other players waiting for their hands.
Stig collected his cards. Grinned. His gold-crowned front tooth gleamed.
'No shit. All aces to me. Again. You're playing like right tossers.'
The others said nothing. Checked their cards. Flicked them about.
'Fuck's sake. Don't show me your cards.'
He was forty-nine, but looked older, lined and worn. Thirty-five years of drug abuse had lodged amphetamine twitches in his face, spasms pulling his cheek towards his eye, the eye blinking out of sync. His dark hair thinning. A thick gold chain round his neck. He weighed eighty kilograms now, well muscled after nineteen months at Aspsås.
Once he was outside again and back on speed he'd soon be down to sixty.
He got up suddenly and flapped about, looking for the remote control among the cards and newspapers on the table.
'Where's the fucker?'
'Are you playing fucking cards or what?'
'Shut it. Where's the thing? The remote. Go get it, Hilding. Dump the cards. Gotta find it!'
Hilding Oldéus quickly put his cards down and started pulling nervously at the same newspapers that Dickybird had just been over. Thin and short, with a high-pitched, edgy voice, ten trips in eleven years. When he was on heroin, he had started scratching an itch near his right nostril and somehow couldn't stop. Now it was a chronically infected sore.
The remote wasn't on the table. Hilding ran around, searching at random on tables and windowsills. Dickybird pushed the coffee table out of the way, stepped forward between the irritated but silent card-players and turned the volume up.
'Quiet, girls! Hitler is on now.'
In the TV corner, in the kitchen, in the corridor, everywhere, people stopped doing whatever it was. Hurrying to the TV, they lined up behind Dickybird. The midday news programme. Somebody whistled appreciatively when the next item was announced.
'You heard. Shut up.'
Lennart Oscarsson. Someone held out a microphone. Behind him, Aspsås prison.
Oscarsson looked stressed. He was unused to TV cameras, unused to having to explain why something he was responsible for had been utterly buggered up.
… how was Lund able to escape…
… as I was trying to say…
… this prison is allegedly secure but…
… it didn't happen here…
… what do you mean, 'not here'…
… a hospital visit, to the Southern General, under
… under guard…
… two of our most experienced warders… only two…
… two of our most experienced warders and a waist restraint…
… on whose recommendation…… he beat them both down and… who considered two guards enough… and escaped in the prison transport van… Oscarsson's face was shown in close-up. He was sweating, his moist, nervous face held on screen for a long time, the camera enjoying his nakedness, picking out the drops of sweat on his forehead.
Television is all surface and immediacy. Oscarsson had been on leadership training courses and been filmed in media practice sessions, but this was for real. He was gripped by a deep-seated, churning anxiety; he was very tense and kept swallowing, his eyes had an uncertain, shifty look. He took too long to think up answers, stumbled over his words too often and forgot to come out with his prepared statements, despite knowing that you must have something definite to say and keep repeating it, regardless of what you're asked. The situation was so in-your-face, fear had flooded his mind and drowned the lessons he had learned; what with the camera and the microphone and the insistent reporter, he was exposed with his trousers down to every backwoods citizen watching the news. He tried to produce sensible answers, but his mind was taken up by images of Nils, or of Karin, watching him on screen. Would he embarrass them? Did they understand what it was like? He longed to feel close to one of them, longed to feel hands touching his face, his neck, stroking his chest, his hips.
'What a fucking loser!'
Dickybird had issued a command. Hilding heard it and cut the silence in the room.
'Hitler's coming across like a fucking retard.'
Dickybird moved and landed his fist hard on the back of Hilding's head.
'Shut the fuck up! Got that? I'm listening!'
Hilding twisted nervously in his chair, picked at the sore on his nose and said nothing.
He had learned his lesson the first time inside, only seventeen years old and on an eight-month stretch for robbery; he had done a central Seven-Eleven shop, as high as a kite but would need to buy more horse soon, he knew, and was close to panic. He threatened the shop assistant, a young woman, with a kitchen knife and robbed the till, didn't get much, just two 500-kronor notes. Still, it was enough for a deal with the trader round the corner; he was negotiating when the police arrived on the scene. Back then prison had seemed strange and very frightening. He quickly tired of looking out for himself and adjusted to the fact that there would always be at least one man who ran the show and protected a faithful arselicker. He had been brown-nosing Dickybird in other prisons, once in '98 and then again in '99, and he was no worse than the other unit bosses.
The TV image switched to a different setting. Oscarsson's pained face was still there, but further away, with the Aspsås wall in the background. The camera panned slowly from the top of the wall to the sky and back again, a visual cliché in the quickly produced news item. A voiceover, factual to the point of dreariness, reiterated some points. Bernt Lund had been given permission to visit hospital and had escaped from a secure transport that morning; he had been found guilty of several brutal rapes of underage girls, a series that had culminated in the so-called basement murders, when his victims had been two nine-year-olds; he had served four years of his sentence in solitary confinement at Kumla, but had recently been moved to one of the special units for sexual offenders at Aspsås, and since he was classified as very dangerous, it was in the public interest to show a picture of him.
A black-and-white still came on screen; it showed Bernt Lund dressed in a white shirt and dark pants, and smiling at the camera.
Dickybird stepped closer to the set.
'See that bastard from hell? That's the beast I kicked the shit out of in the gym yesterday. That fucking arsehole!'
Dickybird was screaming and those standing closest to him jumped and moved away a bit. They had been around at other times when he had freaked out about the nonces.
'What are the bastards fucking well coming here for? Why here?'
As he screamed, he shoved the memories into the back of his mind. He did that every time. Home in the Svedmyra house, that sodding awful image of his uncle at his dad's funeral. He was five. Per's hand suddenly stroking his back and then slipping down to his bum.
'I'll cut their cocks off!'
Memories, crowding his head, he was forced to think about them, see them in his mind's eye, relive them. Per said they should pop into Dad's workshop, put his hand on top of the little boy's best trousers, right in front, then pulled the trousers down, and the underpants. And pulled down his own trousers. Held him close, pushed at his bum with his knob.
'Hilding, it's got to be done. Cut it all off. Balls, the lot!'
He cleared his throat thoroughly and collected plenty of juice, spat it at Bernt Lund's smiling black-and-white face on the TV screen, then stared at the splattered face, watching as the saliva trickled down across that cold smile behind the glass screen and dripped on to the floor.
The group scattered. Some retreated to their cells, some ambled off down the corridor, some stayed and picked up the cards again. Dickybird sat back in his old chair, but shook his head when Hilding gave him his hand of cards. The images in his head were refusing to go; somehow they resisted, however hard he tried to concentrate, calling out and slapping his thighs hard. Still an out-of-control mechanism projected one image after another. Per in their small holiday house in Blekinge; his big hands had been doing the same things, the boy was bleeding heavily and he hid his underpants so Mum wouldn't see them. She never looked in the old cupboard in the shed.
'Shit, Dickybird, come on, let's play.'
'Forget it. Not me. You carry on.'
'Bugger Hitler. Come on, let's start.'
'Bugger yourself. Leave me alone or you'll get it where it hurts. Again.'
Images. Now he was thirteen and stoned out of his mind, he had mixed beer and preludin. He got Larren to come along, Larren who was a big boy and quite fearless. They hitchhiked to Blekinge, walked to the house, stepped inside, passed Laila, who was washing up, and found Per in the sitting room. No one realised what was happening, not until Larren grabbed hold of Per and he himself started stabbing at Per's balls with an ice-pick.
'What the fuck?'
'Eights and sixes.'
'That's no fucking house.'
'It fucking well is. Dickybird, explain to that shithead.'
'You heard me. I'm not interested. Play with yourselves.'
Keys were rattling. Two screws coming through the main door.
Dickybird checked them out. They'd brought somebody new. Meant to replace Bojo, he guessed. This morning Bojo's cell had been empty, he'd been transferred to Hall in a hurry. The lads had got it in for him, but someone had alerted the screws and the wing boss responded instantly. No blood on the floor in this unit, at least not for a bit.
The new guy was a big bugger. Shaved head, shit-coloured skin, one of them tanning-shop poofs. Dickybird sighed as he watched the group of men step inside, the screws keeping an eye. They walked past the TV corner and the card-players took note now. The new guy stared straight ahead, dead to the world. He was taken to Bojo's cell, went inside but left the door open.
'Who's that fucker?'
Dickybird pointed. Hilding drew a deep breath, tried to remember.
'Don't know. Never saw him before. Has anybody?'
Dragan shook his head. Skåne shrugged. Bekir picked up two cards from the table.
'Fucking leave it. Let's play, I've got a good hand.'
Dickybird focused on the open cell door and waited. That was what he usually did, waited until they came out. Then he told them the score.
One hour passed. One hour and twenty minutes. Then he came out.
'Oy, you! Over here.'
Dickybird waved, it was a command. The new inmate heard him, but kept his eyes ahead, ignored the hectoring voice. He walked almost demonstrably slowly into the kitchen and drank water straight from the tap. The large shiny head glistened with scattered drops.
'Hey! Over here!'
This was irritating, it was Dickybird's unit and he decided who did what. That skinhead had no fucking rights.
Dickybird pointed at the floor in front of his chair, waited. The new man didn't shift.
He didn't get it, that shaved moron didn't fucking get it.
Hilding could sense the silence and glanced nervously at Dickybird, grabbed the deck of cards, sticking a finger up to show the others that they should hold it. But Dragan and Skåne and Bekir had caught on long ago; it was time to teach the skinhead a lesson. Not that the beating was their problem, they just had a grandstand view! They too could sense the silence; it looked like a fight, quite a few good rounds coming up.
They squared up to each other. The new guy was walking towards Dickybird and stopped when there was only a hand's breadth separating them.
Dickybird had never been faced down before and had no intention of letting it happen now. The skinhead was taller than he was, probably one hundred and eighty-five, and had this fucking big scar running from his left ear down to the corner of his mouth. It was clean, could've been a knife but more likely a razor. He had seen razor scars before, they looked like that.
'I'm Lindgren, Dickybird Lindgren.'
'We usually say who we are, round here.'
The images started up in his mind, Per and Larren, Per's balls bleeding something fucking awful, Auntie Laila over by the sink screaming her head off, Dickybird himself running about with the ice-pick lifted shouting that if anyone wanted a taste he'd stick it in, Per wailing; he had jabbed with the ice-pick at his eyes when Larren suddenly let his uncle go. Not eyes, that was Larren's bottom line.
Dickybird was trembling. He tried to hide it but everyone noticed; he shook and hesitated and spat, this time on the floor.
'Where are you from?'
The new guy yawned. Twice.
'So fucking what, of course it's the cells, don't mess with me. Do you have your papers?'
'Listen, Icky-dicky. That's you, isn't it? You must know I'm not allowed to bring my sentence in here.'
Dickybird shifted his weight from left to right leg. Per was dead long ago, a corpse with not much left of its balls. The ice-pick had been kept as evidence, shown over and over to the authorities, on the long way from Blekinge to the young offenders' institution.
'Fuck your sentence, I'm not interested. What I want to know is what's the score. Like, I don't want no sodding nonces or faggots in this place.'
Weird how a room can suddenly shrink, how sounds become words that turn into spoken messages that bounce off the walls and take up space, suck up energy until there is no more, only intakes of breath in the silence, and piled- up expectations.
The new guy shouldn't have been able to get any closer but somehow he did. He was hissing, sending a shower of saliva into the air between them.
'You asking for special treatment then? Is that it?'
One of them must give way, look down or away, but they stayed facing each other.
'There's just one thing you've got to fucking remember, Dickybird. No one, and I mean no one, calls me a faggot or a nonce. And if it comes from some shot-up, junk-crazed old wanker, then there'll be bad, bad trouble.'
The skinhead poked at Dickybird's chest with his index finger, several times, hard. Still hissing, he mumbled something incomprehensible.
'Hotikar di rotepa, burobengf
Then he poked Dickybird's chest once more, turned and walked back to the cell with the wide-open door.
Dickybird stood quite still.
His unseeing eyes followed the newcomer until he had disappeared. Then he focused, first on Hilding and then on the rest of them, and shouted down the empty corridor.
'What the fuck. What the fuck.'
No one showed. Nothing but an open door.
That finger poking at his chest. Dickybird shouted again.
'You fucking listen. Racklar di romani, tjavon?'
Lennart saw him, waiting by the tower on the east side of the wall. It was their usual meeting place, at lunchtime or in the afternoon, when the shifts had changed over. Nils looked young, in shirtsleeves with his jacket thrown over one shoulder. A mere boy, waiting for his sweetheart.
Only a few seconds left to watch him unnoticed. Lennart slowed down. Nils was facing the other way, the way Lennart normally took; today was different because he had gone out for lunch at the old inn on the village square, he and Bertolsson had feasted on steak and fresh garden peas. Bertolsson had dropped him off halfway to the prison, because Lennart had said that he wanted to walk, needed time to think over what had happened, to try to get his mind round the note-scribbling and the microphones and the camera being shoved into his face. Strange to think that for a few minutes of midday news he had been inside all those homes, with his ready-made statements about how criminals ought to be managed.
It was still windy, a change after weather dominated by high pressure for the best part of a month. It had been an eternity of stagnant heat, sweating and irritation, always something itching, always something troubling around the corner.
Nils smiled. He had caught sight of Lennart and couldn't wait. He started strolling towards his lover, came close, held him and wouldn't let go, kissed his forehead and then his cheek.
'Did you see it?'
They walked across the grassy slope, keeping a space between them. Seventy metres to go before they were safely into the wood. Behind the first fir tree they reached out and found each other's hand. They walked on, holding hands tightly.
'We've done all we could. At all levels of the service.'
'Environmental adjustment training. Pills. Group therapy. Person-to-person stuff.'
'It wasn't about that, I mean, not about what you or the service had done or not done. It was television, for Christ's sake, a reality entertainment show. Point the camera at the culprit, strip him naked, make him sweat and lose his cool and jabber. Make him look shifty. Then the editorial people think it's a red-hot show and your average couch-potato enjoys every minute, because it lets him forget his own bloody awful life. He can laugh at the bureaucrat who's looking sad and stupid and dead ignorant. Screw them all. It's not about content and meaning, it's about scoring points, making people look weird.'
'Nils, you don't see what I'm after. We did try, we threw everything we've got at Lund. What happened? He grabs the first chance he gets, makes mincemeat of two guards and runs off. Now he's on the loose some damned place. All he's after is getting to toss off on dead little girls.'
They were out of the wind now, following a path that wound its way through the dense, untidy forest of fir and spruce to the water-tower on the hill. It was a two-and-a- half-kilometre round-trip. Walking briskly, they'd have half an hour to themselves behind a shed near the tower; now and then they made love there. Few walkers came that way and were easily spotted because the path was the only possible route. Everywhere else the forest formed an impenetrable wall.
Nils clutched Lennart's hand harder, pulling him towards the shed.
'Listen, I can't. I'm really sorry. I said different, I know, but I can't now. I needed to talk, quite simply. Freely, away from the damned camera. That's all. Talk to you, Nils. You're so sane. Please help me. Explain things to me.'
Nils stroked his temples, then his hair.
Lennart closed his eyes, feeling Nils's breath as he spoke.
'Listen, it's over now, done. Finished. No one can hope to understand people like Bernt Lund and that's what makes him so dangerous. To us, but also a danger to himself too. Sometimes it's impossible to defend oneself against another human being. They are there. Man is the only species of mammal capable of such acts against itself, of cold-blooded killings, to the point of extinction. We're worse than animals, more like demons, uniquely prepared to self-destruct. It's incomprehensible, but true.'
They held each other.
Someone was walking along the path, and was about to pass the shed without noticing them, tricked as usual by the wall of spiky conifers. Lennart clung to Nils, who hugged him tight, and was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of longing, of desire for Karin, of wanting her body. He could see her thighs, her breasts. He felt for her, and missed her.
They both wanted to tug at the foil wrapping, their probing fingers colliding, fumbling.
Inside the foil was a square piece of blackish-brown, glassy resin. They had ordered top-class pressed kif. It gave best sucks, each single drag kicked like a fucking horse.
It had been hard putting up with waiting for it, and once they knew it was there, they had longed to telescope the empty spaces of Aspsås, the hours of waiting.
They had ordered from the Greek, pooling enough dough to pay for half the order, which meant owing more than was really healthy. They should've kept their heads down and stuck to ordinary compressed Moroccan or even green mix, but Hilding had been eager, nagged and pleaded and brown-nosed until Dickybird caved in. When the pure hashish order had been placed all they could do was sit around waiting for three days.
The Greek had delivered. Glowing with satisfaction, they held the piece of hash close to the shower-room lamp and admired the shiny fragments.
'Hey! Spot the glass?'
'Course I fucking spotted it.'
'Looks like good shit.'
Hilding produced a lighter and handed it to Dickybird, who used the flame to heat the foil from underneath. About one minute usually did the trick. The flat brown lump softened enough to be kneaded and shaped with his fingertips. Hilding had brought tobacco. Three-quarters baccy to one Turkish worked just fine.
'Fucking well does.'
Hilding made himself tall, stood on tiptoes and pushed on one of the ceiling tiles, the one nearest the lamp. It gave easily and he pulled out a corn-pipe. He handed it to Dickybird, who scraped the bowl, packed it, lit the mix and dragged to heat it through. Then he had another drag before handing the pipe to Hilding, who put it in his mouth in a hurry.
Every round they had two drags each, handing the pipe over in silence. The only sounds came from a couple of dripping taps. One of the lamps kept blinking. Drip blink drip blink drip blink. It was great stuff, better than last time.
'Fuck it, Wildboy Hilding. Fuck it.'
Dickybird inhaled a couple more times, then held out the pipe and giggled.
'D'you know, Wildboy? We're in this fucking shower- room and smoking great pot and don't think about this place. Like that it's the best place for doing the nonces.'
Dickybird kept giggling. Baffled, Hilding looked at him.
'What are you on about?'
'We didn't ever check it out.'
'The fucking shower-room, is that what you're on about? So what? Fuck's sake, we've whipped any number of nonces and rapists and faggots in here. They say that in the States the cons set on each other in the shit-houses, right there between the crappers. What's so special?'
Dickybird couldn't stop giggling. That was what usually happened once he got started on good pot, he felt kind of childish and then as randy as hell, though in the end the images would come back and start scaring him; he'd be back with all that shit about Per and his cock and getting hold of that ice-pick and Per's screaming and his bleeding balls.
He drew deeply on the pipe, holding on to it to tease Hilding, patting the lad's head with his other hand.
'Wildboy, you don't get it, do you? Poor sap. You see, this ain't about whipping, it's about something else.'
Hilding reached out for the pipe, but Dickybird held on to it stubbornly.
'Listen. Next time we get one of these beasts on the unit we'll lie in wait for the bastard, hang on until he's in the shower. When he's in there, water going all over him, then you start a racket outside in the yard, so all the duty screws go pounding off to deal with it.'
Hilding wasn't in the mood for this stuff. He tried to get at the pipe again.
'Fuck it, Dickybird, it's my turn.'
Dickybird had another fit of the giggles, threw the pipe in the air, caught it and handed it to Hilding, who dragged deeply, twice.
'I told you to listen. So, the nonce is in the shower. I go in first, or Skåne, anyway, someone kicks the freak in the balls to get him down and we start giving it to him. Then we cut his throat. And then we butcher the stiff, carve him into small, small pieces. Break any fucking leftover bits of bone and unscrew the crapper and push all the bits down the pipe. And then we fix the seat on again and pull the chain. Flush the bits down. Use the shower to wash the blood away!'
By now Hilding had forgotten about smoking, though he still held on to the pipe. He looked uneasy. His face was usually empty, uncertain, almost mask-like, but now it expressed something that was disgust mixed with pleasure. He sensed Dickybird's hate, it was like a drug trip and it was exciting to hate along with him. It was just that somehow Dickybird had slipped too close to the edge. Hilding remembered when the last perv had got his comeuppance in the gym, fucking dead meat, he'd been beaten over and over with bells and discs until he stopped twitching.
'Fuck it, Dickybird, you're kidding.'
Dickybird grabbed the pipe, drew happily.
'No kidding. Why the fuck should I? I'd like to try it. Test it on the first beast who turns up. I want to have a go, feel what it's like to jab with the ice-pick and get it in and twist it.'
Lennart Oscarsson was in a hurry. He had spent far too long behind the shed by the water-tower. It had been hard to leave, Nils hadn't wanted to let go of him and he had not wanted to leave his lover either. He swept past the guard, bloody Bergh again, didn't they have anyone else?
Lennart was on his way to A Unit, which housed twenty sex offenders, all sentenced for gross acts of violation, men who couldn't be placed with normal prisoners. This was the type of inmate that is always found on the lowest rung of the prison hierarchy, the type that breeds hatred, lust to inflict pain. If I torment one of them, I don't have to torment myself.
Bergh waved. Then he did a thumbs-up, possibly an attempt at irony. Or maybe he was too much of an idiot to work out that for a few minutes of that news programme, Lennart had been stripped naked on camera. He couldn't be bothered to do or say anything in response.
Hurrying along the first corridor, he decided to turn right, walk upstairs to H Unit. By taking a short cut through H he'd gain quite a bit of distance and a few extra minutes. He took two steps at a time, thinking about Karin and the lie he'd have ready for her at breakfast tomorrow, and about Nils, who had begged him to break free from his marriage, Nils, who did that every time they made love, saying that he would become Lennart's new family, and then about Åke Andersson and Ulrik Berntfors, two men he had worked with for many years and who, for some reason, must have opened the rear door of the van and allowed out one of the most dangerous people in the country, Bernt Lund, now at liberty to go where he liked, full of obscure desires, looking for little girls. Then facing the media came back into his mind, the press conference he had spent several years preparing himself for, but which had turned into a rape.
Not, of course, that anyone had touched him, but the humiliation inflicted by the camera and the mike just felt so bad. had turned up believing that he was to be a participant, not stripped and shown off. It took a while before it dawned on him that he was simply being used.
Only a few waking hours had passed of this day. How bloody complicated life could be.
Sometimes he felt too weary to carry on. He was losing the race against time, middle age was catching up and soon old age would. He had found no way to slow down and reflect quietly, he seemed unable to calm down, to tell himself his task was completed, he was done, somebody else could take over. But no, it was forever must do this in order to get on with that, and then it was the next thing. He wanted to close his eyes and wait for it all to stop, he wanted to do just what he did when he was little, close his eyes and withdraw until whatever it was had been decided and done because Mum and Dad were at home and had fixed everything.
He unlocked the door to H Unit, knowing perfectly well that everyone, colleagues and inmates alike, disapproved of what he was doing, too much bloody pointless running about, but he felt he had to use the short cut this time. He saw a couple of colleagues, couldn't recall their names but said hello vaguely, nodded at some of the lads who were playing cards in the TV corner.
He passed the shower-room door and just outside it almost ran into Dickybird Lindgren and his seedy little sidekick. Stoned out of their heads, both of them. Blankly staring eyes, fluttering movements, there was even hash in the air, wafting out from the showers.
The sidekick mumbled Hi, Hitler. Dickybird Lindgren was giggling uncontrollably, wanted to shake, offered congratulations, fancy being on the telly. Lennart ignored the hand held out towards him. Lindgren had beaten one of his charges to death in the gym, no question; he was certain who had done it, and so were his colleagues. Sadly, no one had seen or heard anything at all, and even in prison, you get nowhere without evidence.
He hurried on, one more locked door, then across the yard to the next building, up two flights. He was in his own territory, the sex offender reserve.
They were waiting for him, lined up in the meeting room.
'I'm sorry I'm late. Far too late. It's been one of those days.'
They all smiled, sympathetically he supposed. The television set in the lobby had been on when he passed through, so they had presumably watched him. Five new trainees with their pens and notebooks, due to start work tomorrow among the paedophiles and rapists in the special units, waiting for the induction talk seated at the standard-issue meeting-room table.
The first day of their new life.
This was the word he always began with, writing it on the shiny whiteboard with a solvent-smelling green pen.
Silence. All five fiddled with their pens, trying to decide the pro and cons: do I write that down? Is note-taking seen as a good thing? Or would I make an ass of myself? The beginners were feeling lost and he didn't help them. He continued with his talk, now and then turning to the board to note down a key word, or a few figures.
'Nonces, beasts, are kept in two units here. They stay for two to ten years, roughly, depending on how bad the act was. How sick they are.'
Silence. This time it lasted longer than usual.
'In this sad little country of ours there were fifty-five thousand criminal convictions last year. I don't know how people fit it all in. Of that lot, five hundred and forty-seven were for sexual offences. The courts handed out a prison sentence in less than half of these cases.'
Some of them were happily taking notes. Figures were easier to deal with. Statistics don't require judgement.
'Since we're all aware that Swedish prisons accommodate about five thousand inmates at any one time, the current lot of two hundred and twelve sex offenders shouldn't cause any strain on the system. It is only in the order of four per cent, if you think about it, or one in every twenty-five. But these men do create trouble. Each and every one is a problem, because each one is hated, and a target for acts of aggression. That's why they're put in separate units. Here at Aspsås, for instance. But there's a but. Now and then we don't have a free place and then any new customers must be hidden in one of the normal units. And if, or when, the rest of the so-called straight villains get to know that there's a nonce around in the unit for some reason – yes, it has happened here – then we're all in deep trouble. They'll keep beating him up until we move in and take him away.'
A man in his forties, presumably retrained from some other job, put his hand up like a schoolboy.
'Now, that word, beast. You wrote it on the board, you use it, and other words of that kind.'
'Is it important?'
'I couldn't say. But we use these words here. In a day or two, you will too. We know what it is about. Bestial acts.'
Lennart paused. He knew what would come next and wondered who'd start. Maybe the young woman sitting near him, she looked the part. The younger they were, the longer they had ahead of them, so they were the most hopeful for ways to bring about change. They had yet to contend with time, which saps energy and strength but, by way of compensation, builds up experience and adaptability.
But no, it was the re-trainee again.
'Do you think you've got the right to be that cynical?' He was upset. 'I don't get it. So far, my training has reinforced what I knew already, which is that people are individuals, and must not be objectified. It alarms me that you, my prospective boss, should express such views.'
Lennart sighed. He had played his role in these performances many times before. If he met them later on in their careers, a few years older and in a new job, they'd joke about it and agree that it was perfectly reasonable for a beginner to have such unfulfilled ambitions.
'Look, your views are your own,' he said. 'Call me cynical if you get off on that, but first tell me just one thing: did you come here, to the sex unit at Aspsås, because you want to work with nonces and deobjectify them, because it's your dream to make them better people?'
The man, due to start in A Unit tomorrow, quietly put his hand down.
'Did you say something?'
'So, the reason you came here was…?'
'I had to.'
Lennart tried to hide his satisfaction. His was the leading part in this piece of theatre and he knew how the play would end. He looked at his pupils one at a time. Everyone had reacted somehow, sulked or tried to find new numbers to write down or shifted uneasily in their seats.
'All of you, then. Who has applied to work in the sex units at Aspsås? Of your own free will, that is. Honestly now.'
He knew the answer. After seventeen years he had yet to meet one single colleague who had dreamed of a successful career among the paedophiles in A and B Units. You were told to do time here, and you applied elsewhere immediately to get away from here. Lennart had agreed to the head warder's post, attracted by the hitch in salary and the hope of using his seniority to bounce into a boss position somewhere else. He walked slowly behind his five trainees, intending to leave the question and the possible answers for them to think about. Once they were sure, they might accept their placement during the coming months.
He stopped by the window, turning his back to the meeting room. The sun was high in the sky and it hadn't rained for a long time. Clouds of dust rose from the exercise yard, where the inmates were walking or jogging alongside the barbed-wire fence or playing football. In a far corner he spotted two men strolling very slowly, with oddly jerky movements. It was Lindgren and his henchman, obviously still too high to walk normally.
Micaela had left early. He must have been asleep. Night after night he performed the same ritual of listening to the sounds coming through the window until the town slowly started to wake up, the noises made by the first newspaper boys, the first lorries. Then, at about half past five, he fell asleep. His body gave in at last, exhausted by the restless hours when his mind had been crowded with thoughts. Suspended in empty space, he dreamed on until late in the morning.
Vague mental images of the morning; Micaela lying naked on him and him not responding, her whispering you boring old thing, kissing his cheek, leaving him for the shower; Marie's room on the other side of the bathroom wall, the hissing of water through the pipes awakening her and David; Micaela making them all breakfast while he stayed put, his legs refusing to get him out of bed, then slowly slipping back into that isolated space and dreaming again.
At eleven o'clock he was woken by the shrieks and yells of the creatures in one of Marie's videos and finally got up.
He must start sleeping at night. He couldn't carry on like this.
He no longer did any work, and he didn't engage with the people close to him. The morning used to be his best time for writing, either at home or in his writer's den on Arnö Island. Not any more. Marie had learned to amuse herself in the mornings. Thank God, Micaela worked in Marie's nursery school and had persuaded her colleagues that it was fine for the child not to turn up until after lunch, day after day.
But he felt so ashamed, like an alcoholic who's promised eternal sobriety in the evening and wakes up with a hangover the morning after. And his head ached.
Tomorrow would be different.
His lovely little daughter. He lifted her up.
'Hello, sweetheart. Am I getting a morning kiss?'
Marie pressed her moist lips against his cheek.
'David's gone now.'
'His daddy came to pick him up.'
But they know I'm a responsible person, he thought, they know me. Oh, never mind. He shrugged and put Marie down.
'Have you had anything to eat?'
'Micaela gave us things.'
'But that was hours ago. Aren't you hungry?'
'I want to eat in school.'
How long did they keep the food for the children? It was quarter past one now. Ten minutes to get dressed, five minutes to get there if they took the car.
'So you shall. Let's get dressed.'
Fredrik pulled on a pair of jeans and a white shirt. A bit warm for a hot day, but he felt he looked silly in shorts, his legs were so pale. Marie came running to show him a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
'Fine, that's nice. And which shoes?'
'The red ones.'
He put them on her feet and fastened the metal buckles with some kind of buttons underneath.
Ready to go.
The phone rang.
'Daddy. The phone!'
'Leave it. We must go.'
Marie ran to pick up the phone in the kitchen, standing on tiptoe in her shiny red shoes to reach. Her face lit up when she heard who it was.
'Daddy, it's Mummy!'
He nodded, and listened while Marie told a long story about the Big Bad Wolf and how it chased the pigs but they won anyway, and how they'd run out of bath foam except they hadn't, because she knew where there was another bottle, two bottles, on the bottom shelf in the cupboard. She was laughing most of the time. Then she gave the receiver a smacking kiss and handed it to him.
'It's for you. Mummy wants to talk.'
His mind was still too drowsy to separate the woman's voice he heard now from his body's memory of the naked Micaela. The voice belonged to Agnes, a woman he had once desired more than anyone else and who had asked him to leave her; her voice and the sensation of Micaela's young body drifted together and merged, and he felt slightly dizzy and breathless. Then he had a strong erection and turned away, Marie mustn't see it.
'When are you turning up?'
'What do you mean?'
'Marie is with me today.'
'No she isn't. It's not until Monday. We swapped, remember?'
'We did nothing of the sort.'
He was too tired. Not now. Not today.
'Agnes, this is too much. I'm tired and in a hurry. I won't argue, Marie is just next to me.'
He handed the receiver to Marie, at the same time twirling his hands in the air. It was their special sign for being in a hurry.
'Mummy, I can't. I'm late for school.'
Agnes was too good a mother to show Marie how irritated she was. She always put Marie's interests first and he loved her for it.
'Bye, Mummy. Must go now.'
She didn't quite manage to put the receiver back and it crashed against the top of the microwave oven. He caught hold of it.
'There, sweetheart. Let's go!'
He caught sight of the kitchen clock. They could still be there by half past one and they would let her stay until quarter past five. It meant she would get her lunch, though a bit late, and then she could play outside for a bit in the afternoon. It would feel almost like a whole day and she'd be pleased when he picked her up.
Half past one. Sven stared at the green alarm clock on Ewert's desk. Technically, he had been off duty for two hours. The bottles of wine and the gateau were waiting for him in the car. He was ready to go home, he wanted to be with Anita and Jonas, have a nice meal with them. It was his fortieth, after all.
Sven felt that working for the Metropolitan Police was much less important now than he used to think. Once, not that long ago, he wouldn't have hesitated to work on his wedding night, even to divorce, rather than compromise about taking on the late shifts.
He had begun to confide in Ewert how he felt now, especially during the last year, when they had become closer. Sven had tried to explain his totally out-of-order indifference about which moron had carried out which moronic offence, and whether it was that one or some other useless bugger who was arrested for it. Tough. Shit happens. He was a man in his middle age but ready for retirement, he was bored with the detecting and the caring. All he wanted to do was things like relaxing over breakfast in the garden, taking long walks on the beach and being there for Jonas when he came running home from school with his young life in his backpack.
Twenty years of work done, twenty-five more to go. It practically made him hyperventilate, just thinking of that unbearable passage of time inside dull police stations, among the files of incomplete bloody awful investigations. When he was finally allowed to retire, Jonas would be thirty-two. Fuck's sake! What would they say to each other then?
Ewert understood, even though he had no family and his time in uniform, for him, was his entire life. He ate, drank, breathed police work. Even so, he too had felt that it was meaningless, but, worse luck for him, having made policing part of his being meant he would cease to exist when it ended. He understood all right, but couldn't be bothered with his insights.
'I want to go home.'
Ewert had gone down on his knees, collecting the scattered rubbish from his second go at the wastepaper basket. Mushy pieces of banana peel had left stains on the pale brownish carpet.
'I know you do. And so you will. As soon as we've got Lund.'
His head popped up over the edge of the desk, looking at the alarm clock.
'It's been six and a half hours now and we still know bugger all. Nil. Looks like you'll have to wait for your birthday cake.'
'Care For My Heart', originally called 'Pick Up the Pieces', with choir and orchestra, recorded in Sweden, 1963. Siw Malmqvist, her third mixed tape. On the box, an out- of-focus photograph of Siw, beaming at the admiring camera.
'I took that picture, did you know that? In the Kristianstad Palais, back in 1972,.'
He bowed to Sven, made a sweeping gesture with one arm.
'Would you like to dance?'
Then he turned round and began a solo dance. Strange to behold, the tough old policeman with his limp, weaving round his desk to the tune of early sixties folk pop.
They used Sven's car. The box with the gateau and the carrier bag with the bottles were pushed away on the rear window shelf. The heatwave had emptied the centre of the capital, anyone who could, got away, longing for parks, beaches, open water, a breeze. The hot dark tarmac was unresponsive, everything bounced off it, even breath.
They were heading for the E18 route north-westwards out of town. Sven drove fast, past two lights on amber, then two on red, and the few cars waiting for green hooted angrily every time he ignored the signals. A national alert was on, two dozen constables from the City Police were at their beck and call, but still they hadn't learned one single new thing.
'He licks their feet, you know.'
Ewert, staring straight ahead, had broken the silence in the car. Sven shivered, almost slipping out of the overtaking lane and into a bus.
'Never seen anything like it. I've seen raped children, murdered children, even children tortured with sharp metal objects, but this… never. Lying there on the concrete floor, looking as if they'd been thrown there, covered in muck and blood, but with perfectly clean feet. The medic confirmed that their feet were coated in saliva, lots of it. He had been licking them for minutes on end, probably before and after killing them.'
Sven drove faster. The bottle bag slipped about on its shelf, rattling insistently.
'The shoes too. Their clothes were in neat piles, a few centimetres apart, shoes last. A pair of pink leather shoes and a pair of white trainers. The clothes were as dirty as the girls. Gravel, dust, blood. Not the shoes. They shone. Plenty of saliva, more than their feet. He must have been at it for even longer with the shoes.'
The summer lull affected even the traffic on the E18. Sven stayed in the fast lane, overtaking all other cars at speed. He could not bear talking, didn't want to ask questions about Lund, didn't want to learn more about him. Not just now. He almost missed the junction with the much smaller road to Aspsås, stamped on the brakes and wrenched the car across three lanes.
Lennart Oscarsson was waiting in the parking lot, ready to greet them. He looked haunted and nervous. He knew what Grens thought about his decision to leave two guards with the responsibility of transporting Lund across the city at night.
Ewert didn't hold out his hand at once; he hung back for a few seconds because it amused him to shame one of the many idiots that cluttered up his life.
'Hello there,' he said finally.
They shook hands quickly, Sven was introduced and the three of them started walking together towards the main entrance. Bergh was in the guard's post and nodded at Ewert, a familiar face. Sven was different.
'Where do you think you're going?'
Lennart turned back.
'Come on, Bergh. He's with me. City Police,' he said irritably.
'I've no notification.'
'They're investigating Lund's escape.'
'None of my business. Unlike who gets in here, which is. So why no notification, then?'
Sven intervened, just in time to stop Oscarsson from shouting something he'd regret later.
'Look, here's my ID. OK?'
Bergh studied the mug shot and entered Sven's ID number in the database.
'Hey, it's your birthday today. What are you doing here, mate?'
'Never mind. Are you letting me in?'
Bergh waved him through and they filed into the corridor. Ewert laughed.
'What a tosser! Why do you keep such an idiot around? He makes it harder to get in than out of this place.'
His mood changed as they walked along the regulation passageways with their regulation murals. Some showed a bit more talent than others; all were would-be therapeutic projects led by hired consultants. He sighed. Always blue background, always the obvious symbolism of open gates and birds flying free and more liberation shit of that sort. Organised graffiti for grown-ups, signed Benke Lelle Hinken Zoran Jari The Goat 1987.
Lennart opened a metal door. Inside, a noisy gang of inmates were being escorted to the gym by two officers in front and two behind. Ewert sighed again. He knew quite a few of the villains, had interrogated them or testified against them. There were even a couple of ancient lags that he had run in during his days on the beat.
'Hi there, Grensie. On the chase, are you?'
It was Stig Lindgren, one of the inhabitants of the World of Outcasts. He was a permanent fixture behind the walls and would never survive anywhere else. Lock him up and throw the key away, the old fucker had no other options. Ewert had grown fed up with his type.
'Shut your gob, Lindgren, or I'll tell your useless mates why you're called Dickybird.'
Then upstairs to A Unit, sex offenders only.
Lennart walked ahead, Ewert and Sven followed, looking about. Regulation stuff again: television corner, snooker table, kitchen, cells. But the crimes were different in that they aroused as much hatred in the World of Outcasts as among ordinary citizens.
They reached cell number eleven. Alone among the others in the corridor this door was bare. The temporary occupants of the rooms behind all the other doors had decorated them laboriously with posters and newspaper cuttings and photos.
Ewert had time to think that he should have been here six months ago. He should have stepped inside the door to Lund's cell. At the time he had been investigating a child pornography ring, which had given him his first real insight into the closed society of new-style paedophiles, structured round internet connections and databases and secret mail addresses. He had seen their images of naked or partly undressed children, penetrated and humiliated children, tortured children, lonely children. Initially, he and his colleagues had thought that this pornography exchange was part of a foreign network of dark vice and profit and inscrutable agreements, but it turned out differently, more discreet, smarter and more challenging.
Just seven men, a select society of serious, recidivist sex offenders. One locked up, most of them just released from prison.
They had created their own virtual display cabinet. Their contributions to the show were downloaded on the net and run on their computers at set times, as if following a performance schedule. Once a week, same time, Saturday, at eight o'clock. They sat in front of their screens, waiting for that week's images, and every week their demands escalated. Next time must somehow offer more than last time; naked children had been enough but not any more, children sitting still had to start moving and touching each other. Then touching wasn't enough; the children had to be raped, then raped more viciously. The next set of photographs must score more highly than the previous lot, at any cost. Seven paedophiles, a closed circle, showing off their own crimes in their own neatly scanned and formatted pictures.
They had been at it for almost a year before they were caught.
All the time they had been competing with each other, running qualifying heats in child pornography.
Bernt Lund had been one of the seven. He was the only one in prison, the only one who could solely contribute photos that had been taken in the past, but his crimes meant that his high status was beyond dispute, as was his right to join the ring.
When the ring was broken, three of the others were convicted and sent off to serve fairly long prison sentences. A fourth, a man called Håkan Axelsson, was being tried, but the remaining two had not been charged because the evidence was so patchy. Everyone knew about them but that was neither here nor there; the 'not proven' classification was sufficient to free them. And so they were free to recruit new child porn contacts in the shadowy marketplace that had grown up around the investigation.
There were lots of them out there. For each one down, there was one ready to go.
Ewert was cursing himself. He should have inspected Lund's cell then. But the police had been constantly pushed for time, always under media pressure, invariably targets for public outrage. He had felt too harassed to visit Aspsås himself and had sent two junior colleagues to interrogate Lund, whose cell had been stacked to the ceiling with his illegal handiwork. Mostly CDs with thousands of pictures showing tormented children. It was all very bad, and conclusive enough, but if he had gone himself he would have picked up more about the man. Maybe he wouldn't have been at such a loss now that Lund had got ahead of them.
Lennart unlocked the door.
'There. All yours. Tidy is one word for it.'
Ewert and Sven stepped inside and then stopped. Despite its standardised ordinariness – about eight square metres, one window, the usual furnishings – the room was very odd indeed. Full of objects, all lined up, as if for an exhibition. Candlesticks, stones, pieces of wood, pens, bits of string, items of clothing, folders, batteries, books, notebooks, all were arranged in lines stretching along the floor, across the bedspread, the windowsill, the shelves. Each object was separated from the next by what looked like exactly two centimetres. It made Ewert think of an unending row of dominoes, upright until one piece is moved out of place and it's all over.
Ewert's diary had a small ruler marked along its edge. He aligned it with a row of stones. Two centimetres, twenty millimetres exactly, between the stones. The pens on the windowsill were twenty millimetres apart. On the shelves, the books were twenty millimetres apart too, and the same went for the bits of string on the floor and between the battery and the notebook and the packet of cigarettes. Everywhere, twenty millimetres.
'Does it always look like this?'
'Yes, it does. Before taking off the bedspread at night he puts the stones on the floor, one by one, measuring the distances as he goes along. In the morning he goes through the whole performance in reverse after he's made the bed and put the bedspread back on.'
Sven moved some of the pens. Dead ordinary biros. The stones were ordinary stones, one more pointless than the next. Plain, empty folders and notebooks.
'This is too much. I don't get it.'
'Nothing to it. What is it you don't get?'
'I don't know. Something. Why? Why does he lick children's feet, for instance?'
'Why do you think it matters to know why?'
'It matters who this guy is, inside. Where he's going, what it's for. But the bottom line is, I want to find the motherfucker so I can go home and eat some cake and drink a glass. Or three.'
'You'll never know what he's like inside. Not a hope, I'm sorry. There's nothing like a reason in any of all this. He doesn't know himself why he licks the feet of his victims, dead or alive. I'm convinced he doesn't have a clue why he lines things up two centimetres apart either.'
Ewert was holding up his diary at face level. He put his thumb as a marker at the two-centimetre mark, forcing them all to look.
'Control. That's all. They're like that, all of them. They enjoy rape, because when they do it they call the shots. Power and control. Though this one is extreme, he's actually just like the rest. His rows of stones and so forth are all about order, structure, being in charge.'
He lowered the diary, placed it at the end of the row of stones and swept the lot down on to the floor.
'But we know that. And we know he's a sadist. We know what power does to men like Lund. His cock goes hard, that's how it works. He controls someone, that person is powerless. Only he decides how to hurt them and how much. It's what gives him his kicks, makes him come in front of tied-up, broken nine-year-olds.'
He did his trick with the diary to the biros on the windowsill. One by one they hit the floor.
'Come to think of it, the pictures. The computer ones. Did he sort them too?'
Lennart fixed his gaze on the piled-up biros on the floor. No sign of order now. Then he met Ewert's eyes, looking surprised, as if the question was new to him.
'Sorted? How do you mean?'
'Well, how did he do it? I can't fucking remember. Faces, eyes, yes. How bloody abandoned they all looked. But not distances, how the images were related to each other.'
'I don't know. I should, maybe, but I don't. Didn't even think about it. But I will find out, if you think it's important.'
'Yes it is. It's important.' Lennart sat down on the bed. 'Tomorrow, will that do?' 'Not really.'
'OK, later. When we're done here. The file is in my room.'
They turned the cell inside out. They inspected every corner of what had been Bernt Lund's home for four years, touched everything, sniffed around.
There was no information to be had. He had not had a plan.
He had not known that he was going somewhere.
Fredrik opened the car door. He had driven far too fast, stayed in seventy on the Tosterö Bridge with its thirty- kilometre limit, but he had promised Marie they would be in school by one thirty so there was nothing else for it.
And it was good that she went to school, because Daddy was working today. Actually, it was a lie. It had been a lie yesterday. She went to nursery school because it was important for her to keep the place, and because having a daddy who worked was part of the scene. Even better, a daddy who worked hard at writing and needed to be alone when he was thinking complicated thoughts. He hadn't had even a single thought worth thinking for months, and he hadn't written a word for weeks. He was in the grip of writer's block and had no idea how to wrench free.
That was why Frans haunted him at night. That was why he could not make love to the beautiful, naked young woman lying close to him, instead constantly comparing her with someone who filled his thoughts but who didn't want him, with Agnes. For a long time working, writing, had kept memory and reflection at bay. And perhaps that was what he had always done, avoided emotion through work work work, his mind turning over like an engine racing. Only by moving forward could he be sure to leave the past behind.
Fredrik had pulled in right in front of the school and parked on a double yellow line despite having been caught once already. It was worth it, rather than driving about aimlessly, looking. He helped Marie out of her seat in the back. On the way up the path to the school door she skipped and jumped in front of him. It was a lovely warm day, what a remarkable summer it had been, and she looked so happy; she hopped on both feet, then her right foot, then both, then her left foot. Micaela and David and all the others were waiting inside, twenty-five children whose names he'd never learned. He should have.
Just outside the gate a man was sitting on the park bench; must be somebody's dad, because he'd surely seen that face before. He nodded at the man while he tried fruitlessly to match him with one of the little faces in the crowd inside the school.
Micaela was standing next to the coat-hangers in the hall. She kissed him, asked if he was properly awake now, and had he missed her? He said yes, he'd missed her. Had he? At night when he couldn't sleep and sought out her soft body, then he would've missed her if she hadn't been there; he needed her so much and felt less frightened when he could stay close to her and borrow her warmth. Daytime was different. Looking at her, he saw how young she was, too young and too lovely. He didn't deserve her. Surely her lover should match her youth and beauty? Or did he actually believe all that crap?
These were things he mulled over all the time. These and, deep inside, the beatings.
The first time he had sought her out was after the divorce. She greeted the children when he brought Marie to school, and she was there morning after morning. Then, one day, they walked together for a while, long enough for him to tell her about the pain and loss of separation. She listened. They took more walks together, he kept confessing and she kept listening. Then the day came when they went to his house and made love all afternoon, while Marie and David ran around playing on the other side of the closed bedroom door.
He helped Marie to change into her indoor shoes, white fabric slip-ons. He took off the red shoes with the shiny buckles and put them on her shelf. Her sign was an elephant. The others had chosen bright red fire engines and football stars and Disney figures, but she had wanted an elephant and that was that.
She grabbed his arm.
'Daddy, you mustn't go.'
'But… you wanted to come, didn't you? Micaela is here. And David.'
'Please stay. Please, nice kind Daddy.'
He held her in his arms, lifted her up.
'My little sweetheart. But… Daddy must work. You know that.'
Her eyes met his, her forehead wrinkled. Her whole face pleaded with him.
'Right you are, I will stay. But just a tiny little while.'
Marie stayed close to him while she gave her elephant a kiss and followed the contours of its body with her finger: its legs, along its back and all the way down its trunk. Fredrik made a what-can-I-do gesture to Micaela. This was how it had been ever since Marie had started at the nursery almost four years ago, after Agnes had moved away. Every time he had hoped that this would be the day he could leave easily, just say goodbye and go without having a bad conscience about it.
'And how long are you staying today?'
This was the only thing they really disagreed about. Micaela wanted him to go, to establish that even if he did, he would still be back in the afternoon to pick Marie up. Never mind a few tears, the crying would pass. He always
told her that since she didn't have children herself she couldn't possibly know what he felt like.
'Quarter of an hour. At most.'
Marie heard him and tightened her grip on his arm.
'Daddy must stay. Stay with me.'
Then David came along, running, his face covered in warpaint stripes in garish poster paints. He ran past Marie, but called to her to come along. She let go of Fredrik's arm and followed him.
'Look how easy it is! It's the best I've seen. She's forgotten about you already.'
She stepped closer, very close.
'But I haven't.'
A light kiss on his cheek. Then she turned and went away too.
Fredrik was at a loss. He watched her go, then went into the play-room. Marie and David and three other kids were piled up together, painting each other's faces, shouting about Sioux Indians or something. He waved at Marie, she waved back. When he left, their war cries followed him to the door.
The sun hit his face. What about a coffee in the shade? After picking up a paper from the newsagent at the main square? But he made up his mind to go to his writer's den on Arnö Island, just, to sit there and wait. He'd start the computer, read his notes, probably write nothing but at least be prepared.
He opened the gate, nodded again to the father on the bench, who must be waiting for someone, and went to get his car.
He liked this nursery. It had looked just the same four years ago. The little gate, white-painted wooden walls and blue shutters.
He had been sitting on this seat for four hours. There must be at least twenty kids in there. He had watched as the children came and went, always with a mother or a father, no kids on their own. A pity, it was easier then.
Three of the girls had gym shoes on. Two had weird sandals with long straps tied round their legs. Some were barefoot. So the heat was fucking unbearable, but he didn't like this going barefoot thing. One of them had worn red leather shoes, shiny, with metal buckles. They were the best, really beautiful. She had turned up late, her dad had brought her. A blonde little whore. Her hair had natural curls, she tossed them about while she was speaking to her dad. Not much on, just shorts and a plain T-shirt, she must've dressed herself. She seemed happy. Whores were always happy. This one had hopped and jumped all the way to the front door and her dad had nodded to him, a kind of greeting, and he had returned it, it was only polite. The dad had taken longer to come back out than the rest of them, and when he passed, he had nodded again. What a weirdo.
He tried to spot the blonde whore through the window. Lots of heads came past but not the blonde with curls. She'd come looking for cock; whores like plenty of hard cock. She was hidden in there, only shorts and T-shirt on, and her red shoes with metal buckles, bare legs. Good. Whores should show skin.
Dickybird was holed up in the TV corner. He felt knackered, like he always felt after he had smoked pot, and the classier the shit was the more dog-tired he got. Pure kif had the biggest effect and this lot had been the fucking best ever. The Greek, who flogged it, had spoken nothing but the truth when he said he'd never sold better, no argument with that, it was good shit and Dickybird knew what he was talking about, he had been through some in his day.
He looked at Hilding in the chair opposite. Wildboy Hilding wasn't so wild now, that was for sure; he looked shagged, with that spaced-out look on his face, and he didn't even scratch that fucking awful sore of his, his hand that was usually somewhere at nose height was resting on his knee. Dickybird bent over and tapped his mate on the shoulder, Hilding's eyes opened and Dickybird signed, one thumb up and index finger pointing towards the showers. Good stuff, and more in there, behind the tile next to the strip-light. Enough for at least two more goes. Hilding got the message, his thumb went up and he smiled, before sinking deeper into his armchair.
Plenty of tramping about in the unit today, no peace for the wicked. First the new one, the skinhead who didn't have a fucking clue about what went and what didn't round here, seemed to fancy that he could just hang out doing his own fucking thing. Name of Jochum Lang, apparently, what kind of piss-awful name was that? But that was what the nice new young screw had said when he asked. One of them hitmen, seemingly, a bloody bailiff, long list of GBH and manslaughter, but a shortish sentence because of all the sad tossers out there who didn't dare to witness against him. Still, he had to learn, no messing about in this unit, he'd have to get used to it.
And then Hitler, who had been pissing himself on the telly, but was thick enough to show his face on the unit afterwards, sneaking a short cut to his sex hellhole. Pissed his pants on-screen, knew he should keep his head down, so he had said fuck all when he ran into them; they had been zonked then and Hitler must've smelled the hash fumes but kept going, trotting along to his bunch of perverts. They should be terminated, the whole lot of them.
To top it all, Grensie. What next? Marched through the unit by Hitler, limping as always; the old copper was a fucking cripple and had been around for longer than was good for him, so maybe he got a hard-on thinking about the old times, but he should be dead by now. He had been one of the Stockholm cops sent down to Blekinge in 1967, he had seen Per's bleeding goolies and escorted the bawling thirteen-year-old to a young offenders' prison.
Bekir shuffled the cards, cut and dealt. Dragan put two matches in the pot and picked up his hand. Skåne did the same. Hilding pushed his cards into a heap and went to the john. Dickybird picked up his cards one by one. Crap cards. Bekir dealt like an old maid. They picked new cards, he swapped all except one, king of clubs, useless but he never gave up all his cards, on principle. The four new ones were crap too. No points. He put out king of clubs, two of hearts, and four and seven of spades. Last trick. Dragan played queen of clubs, and since the ace and the king had both gone he slapped the table in triumph. The matches were his, worth a hundred quid each. He reached out to grab them, but Dickybird raised his hand.
'Hi you! What do you fucking think you're doing?'
'The pool's mine.'
'No way. I haven't shown.'
'The queen is high.'
'No? What the fuck?'
He put his last card down. King of clubs.
Dragan started waving his hands about.
'What the fuck! The king went before.'
'Too bad. Here goes another one.'
'You can't have two fucking kings of clubs.'
'Can't I? Seems I can.'
Dickybird pushed Dragan's hands away.
'That's my lot now. Goes to the top card. You owe me, girls.'
He laughed out loud and banged on the table. The screws in the guards' box, three guys who passed most of their working time chatting, turned round to place the source of the noise. They watched as Dickybird threw a pile of matches high in the air and tried to catch them in his mouth. They shrugged, turned away.
Hilding walked along the corridor from the toilet. He moved slowly, but seemed more alert than before. He was holding a sheet of paper.
'Hi there, Wildboy, listen to this, who do you think scooped the whole fucking pot? Who's sitting here with thousands of smackers owing to him, eh?'
Hilding wasn't listening; instead he showed Dickybird the paper.
'Look at this, you should read it, Dickybird. It's a letter. Milan got it today. He showed it to me in the crapper. Thought I'd better tell you. It's from Branco.'
Dickybird collected the matches, put them into a matchbox.
'Oh fuck off, sweetie. I can't be arsed reading letters that aren't to me.'
'I think you should. And Branco thinks you should.'
Dickybird stared at the sheet of paper in his hand, turned it over, tried to give it back.
'OK, just read the last bit. From there.'
Hilding pointed and Dickybird looked.
'Errr… I…' He cleared his throat. '"I hold… hope…" My eyes aren't right today, they're aching something awful. Hilding, you read this shit.'
He carried on rubbing energetically while Hilding read the last few lines.
'It says, "I hope there are no misunderstandings about where Jochum Lang fits in. He is my friend. Here is a piece of good advice for you. You treat him nicely. Signed Branco Miodrag." And I recognise the handwriting.'
Dickybird had been listening in silence, standing very still. Now he held out his hand, took the letter and made his eyes follow the ink pattern of the signature. A Serb or some other fucking wog. He threw the letter on the floor, then the matchbox, and stamped on the lot. He looked up and towards the cell doors in the corridor, then met the eyes of the men around him. Hilding slowly shook his head. Skåne did the same, and so did Dragan and Bekir. Dickybird was bending to pick up the paper with the black imprint of the sole of his shoe when he heard a cell door open at the far end of the corridor.
It was like the guy had been hanging around inside, just waiting for the right moment. Jochum walked towards the still half-kneeling Dickybird.
'Fuck's sake, Jochum, no need for any papers. You don't need to show me nothing. We thought we'd just fool around a bit.'
Jochum kept walking past him, not looking his way, but just as he passed he whispered something, and it sounded like a shout in the silence.
'You had a letter then, tjavon? '
The nursery school was called The Dove. It had always been called The Dove, but the reason why was unclear. There were no living birds anywhere near. Was it Dove as in Love or as in Peace? No one knew, not even a redoubtable lady from the local council who had been around for ever, or at least ever since The Dove had opened, the first modern day- nursery school in town.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon, normally the time for outdoor play, but the school had shut itself off from the onslaught of the heat and the children were allowed to stay inside. It had become obvious a while ago that their small bodies couldn't cope in the open playground. With thirty degrees in the shade, it must have been fifteen more in the full sun.
Most of the twenty-six children didn't want to go outside, but Marie did. She was bored with playing Indians and having her face painted, because none of the others were any good at painting; they did lines and picked colours like brown or blue. She thought red rings were great, but nobody else liked them, they just didn't want to do rings at all. She almost kicked David when he said no, he didn't want to, but then she remembered he was her best friend and you weren't meant to kick your best friend, not for little things anyway. So she changed into her outdoor shoes and went outside to play because the pedal-car was free. It was bright yellow.
She drove for quite a long time, twice round the house, and three times round the play-shed, and up and down the long path, and then she tried it inside the sandpit but the silly car wouldn't do it, so she kicked it like she'd wanted to kick David and said nasty things to it. But it didn't move. And then a dad came, the one who'd been waiting on the bench all day. Her daddy had nodded to him, like saying hello. The dad seemed nice. He asked if it was OK to lift the car, and she said yes please and then he did. She said thank you and he smiled, but then he looked sad and said did she want to look, there was a tiny dead baby rabbit next to the seat and it was such a shame.
Officer in charge of the interrogation Sven Sundkvist (SS):
David Rundgren (DR): Hello,
SS: My name is Sven. What's yours? DR: I… (inaudible)
SS: Did you say David?
SS: That's a nice name. I've got a son who's almost your age. Two years older. His name is Jonas.
DR: I know someone called that too.
SS: Do you like him?
DR: He's one of my friends,
SS: Do you have lots of friends?
DR: Yes. Quite a lot.
SS: That's very good. Brilliant. Is one of your friends called Marie?
SS: Did you know that I wanted to talk to you about Marie especially?
DD: Yes I did. We're to talk about Marie.
SS: Brilliant. Do you know what I want to do first? I'd like you to tell me how school went today.
SS: Nothing unusual happened?
SS: Was everything like it always is?
DD: Yes. Like always.
SS: Everybody played with different things?
DD: Yes. Mostly we all played Indians,
SS: Everybody played Indians?
DD: Yes. Everybody. I had blue lines,
SS: Did you? Blue lines… and everybody played, all the time?
DD: Well, almost. Almost all the time.
SS: Marie too? Did she play all the time?
DD: Yes, at first. But not later on.
SS: Not later on? Please tell me why she didn't play any more.
DD: She didn't like (inaudible) lines. I did. Then she went outside. She was cross because she wanted rings. Nobody else wanted rings 'cause everybody liked lines better. Lines like my (inaudible). And then I said to her that you must have lines too and she said no, I want rings, but nobody wanted to paint rings. And then she went outside. Nobody else wanted to go outside. It was too hot. We were allowed to stay in and we did. And we played Indians,
SS: Did you see when Marie went outside?
SS: Not at all?
DD: She just went. She was cross, I think,
SS: Did you see Marie later?
DD: Yes. Through the window.
SS: What did you see through the window?
DD: Marie and the pedal-car. She's almost never had it. And she got stuck.
SS: How do you mean, stuck?
DD: Stuck in the sandpit.
SS: She was in the pedal-car and it was stuck in the sandpit.
So what did Marie do next?
DD: She kicked it. The car.
SS: She kicked the car. Did she do anything else?
DD: And she said something,
SS: What did she say?
DD: I didn't hear.
SS: And what happened afterwards, after she had kicked the car and said something?
DD: The man came,
SS: What man?
DD: The man who came.
SS: Where were you?
DD: Inside. Looking out through the window.
SS: Was it far… were they far away?
SS: Ten what?
DD: Ten metres.
SS: Marie and the man were ten metres away?
SS: Do you know how far away ten metres is?
DD: It's quite far.
SS: But you're not quite sure exactly how far?
SS: Tell you what, David. Come over here to this window.
Look at the car over there. OK?
SS: Is that car as far away as Marie and the man?
SS: Really truly?
DD: Yes, that's how far it was.
SS: And when the man had come along, what happened?
DD: He helped Marie lift the pedal-car. He was quite strong.
SS: Did anybody else see the man lifting the car?
DD: No. It was only me there. In the hall.
SS: No teacher?
DD: No. Only me.
SS: What did the man do afterwards?
DD: He said things to Marie.
SS: What did Marie do?
DD: She said things to him. They talked.
SS: What clothes did Marie have on?
DD: The same ones.
SS: The same as when?
DD: The same that she had on when she came to school.
SS: Can you remember what Marie had on? Colours and so on?
DD: She had a green T-shirt. Humpie has got one just like that.
DD: Her red shoes. Her best. With metal things,
SS: Metal things?
DD: For closing them. So they stay on.
SS: Trousers? Skirt?
DD: I can't remember,
SS: Maybe a skirt?
DD: Maybe. Not proper trousers, it was too hot.
SS: What about the man? What was he like?
DD: Big. And strong, he could lift the pedal-car out of the sandpit.
SS: Can you remember what he was wearing?
DD: Trousers. And a top. I think. And a baseball cap.
SS: What kind?
DD: The kind you have on your head.
SS: Can you remember anything about the cap?
DD: Yes. It was like the ones they sell in Statoil garages.
SS: What did Marie and the man do next?
DD: They walked away.
SS: Where did they go?
DD: To the gate. And the man fixed the thing.
SS: What did he fix?
DD: The lock-thing on the gate.
SS: The hook on top that you've got to lift straight up to open the gate?
DD: Yes. He did that,
SS: Then what did they do? DD: They went outside in the street. SS: Do you remember which way they walked?
DD: Just out. I couldn't see.
SS: Why did they leave?
DD: Don't know. We're not allowed. To go out, I mean. It's not allowed.
SS: How did they look? What mood were they in?
DD: Not angry.
SS: No? Not angry, but instead…?
DD: They were pleased, a bit.
SS: Did they look pleased when they left?
DD: Not angry, anyway.
SS: How long could you keep watching them?
DD: Not long. Not after the gate,
SS: So they disappeared?
SS: Is there anything else you want to tell me?
SS: Never mind. You've been very, very helpful, David. You're very good at remembering things. Would it be all right if I left you here for just a little while? I'd like to speak to some other men.
DD: I'm all right.
SS: Afterwards I'll go and get your mummy and daddy. They're waiting for you downstairs.
Fredrik caught the two o'clock ferry. The ferries, in their moss-green and sun-yellow livery, set out every hour on the hour. Crossing the strait between Okö and Arnö took only four or five minutes, but marked the divide between mainland and island. For him, it symbolised a shift from time that raced to time that lingered. He had bought an old cottage on the island a month or so before Marie was born, when writing at home had looked like becoming impossible. The cottage had been half ruined, and surrounded by a jungle, but it was only fifteen minutes away by car. During the first couple of summers Agnes had helped him recreate a house and a garden from this ruin in the wilderness. Eventually a novel trilogy had emerged from it, books that had sold rather well and were now being translated into German, which really pleased his publishers, only too aware that the market for foreign publication rights was tough.
Fredrik knew he wouldn't be able to write anything today, but had made up his mind to pretend to himself he might. He went through the routine, settled down in front of the little square screen with his pile of untidy notes at hand. Quarter of an hour passed, half an hour, three quarters of an hour. He turned on the television in the room next door, it was companionable to have it mumbling away at low volume. It joined the commercial radio station that was playing worn pop tunes, too familiar to attract any attention.
After a while he decided to take a short walk. He went down to the water's edge and observed people messing about in boats, a simple but pleasing show that was always on.
Still nothing written, not a word. He must stay until he had one phrase that looked worth keeping on paper.
The telephone rang.
These days it was always Agnes. Everybody else had stopped trying. Knowing what a rude bastard he was when someone disturbed him in mid-sentence, it was amazing that he hadn't realised sooner that people had been scared off. It was only when the writer's block had tightened its grip and the screen stayed forever blank that he discovered how emptiness had crept up on him. He didn't know what to think about it, his isolation seemed both beautiful and ugly.
'No need to sound so cross.'
'What are you writing?'
'Well. It's a bit slow at the moment.'
'That'd mean nothing, then.'
It was no good lying to Agnes. They had seen each other naked too often.
'Yes, roughly. I'm sorry. What do you want?'
'We've got a daughter, remember? I'd like to know how she is. We do phone each other at times and it's always about her, you know that. I tried earlier, but you made Marie put the phone down so I didn't get to hear anything. Now I want some answers.'
'Marie is fine. Really, she is, all the time. For one thing, she's one of those rare people who don't suffer when it's as hot as it is now. She gets that from you.'
He had a vision of Agnes' tanned body, imagined what she looked like now, curled up in her office chair, wearing a thin dress. He had longed for her every morning, every day, every night until he learned to control it by shutting her image away, learned to be brisk and no-nonsense and free.
'What about school? What happens when you leave her there now?'
Aha, Micaela, you want to know about Micaela. Good! Agnes must be troubled by his relationship with a woman much younger than either of them. Never mind that it wouldn't make Agnes come back to him, she wouldn't crawl just because he loved someone who was as beautiful as that, but he felt good about it. Childish maybe, but enjoyable.
'It's much better now. This morning it took maybe ten minutes and then she was off, playing Indians with David.'
'Yes, that's what they're up to now.'
He started to wander about holding the phone, left the small kitchen with the table where he worked and went into the even smaller sitting room to sit down in an armchair. Her timing had been perfect, he couldn't have endured staring at the blank computer screen for much longer.
He was just about to ask her about her life in Stockholm, how she was getting on, although this was something he hardly ever did because he feared what she might say, maybe that she loved her new life and had found somebody special to share it with, but then his mind suddenly fixed on an image on the mumbling television set in the middle of the room.
'Agnes, wait. Hold it.'
The black-and-white still showed a smiling man with short darkish hair. Fredrik recognised the face. He had seen it recently. He had seen it today: it was the man on the seat by the school gate, the father waiting outside The Dove. They had nodded to each other. Now a new image, still of the father, but this time in colour. The photo had been taken inside a prison; there was a wall behind the man and he was flanked by two prison guards. He was waving to the camera, or at least that was what it looked like.
Fredrik turned the sound up. The excitable voice of a reporter came on; they were all taught to sound like that, to rattle off words with the same emphasis on every one, neutral voices without personality.
The voice said that the father on the bench, the man in the pictures, was Bernt Lund, a thirty-six-year-old who had been convicted in 1991 of several violent rapes of underage girls, then convicted again in 1997 for more rapes of children, and finally found guilty of the so-called Skarpholm cellar murders, two nine-year-old girls who had been sadistically abused and killed. He had been held in one of the secure units for sex offenders at Aspsås prison, but today, in the early hours, he had escaped from a hospital transport.
Fredrik sat there, silently. He couldn't hear, raised the volume but still couldn't hear.
That man in the picture. Fredrik had nodded to him.
A man from the prison had a microphone shoved in his face; he was sweating profusely and stammered when he spoke.
An older, grim-faced policeman said he had no comment and added a plea for the public to communicate any information about sightings.
He had nodded to that man, twice. The man had been sitting there all the time; Fredrik had nodded on the way into the school, and again on the way out.
Fredrik had turned rigid, but now he could hear Agnes shouting in the phone; her sharp voice hurt his ears. Let her jabber.
He shouldn't have nodded. Shouldn't have.
'Agnes,' he finally said into the receiver. 'I can't talk any more. I must phone somewhere. I'll put the phone down now.'
He pushed the button and waited for a signal. She was still there.
'Agnes! Fuck's sake! Get off the line!' He threw the phone on the floor, ran into the kitchen, grabbed his mobile and rang Micaela, rang the school.
Lars Ågestam scanned the courtroom. What a drab, disappointing lot.
The magistrates, political appointees to a man and woman, watched the proceedings with bored, ignorant eyes. Judge von Balvas had begun the trial with a totally unprofessional statement to the effect that she was prejudiced against any person charged with sexual crimes. Håkan Axelsson, the accused paedophile, had given up and was unable even to pretend an understanding of what his acts might have done to the children. The guards behind the accused tried to stare neutrally into mid-distance, while the seven journalists, who seemed agitated and were taking notes furiously, would make mistakes about the most straightforward events in their facts boxes. At least two faces in the public gallery belonged to familiars, women who turned up to enjoy the performance and justified it by chattering about their civic rights. And there was the group of law students, seated at the back as he himself had once been, busily making over the despair of violated children into a piece of useful coursework, hoping for a good z:i at least.
He felt like insisting that the court should be cleared, or screaming at the lot of them to keep a very, very low profile, or else. He didn't, of course. Lars Ågestam was a nicely brought-up young man, a newly appointed prosecutor ambitious for better cases; he wanted to go up in the world, up up up, and was smart enough to keep his opinions to himself, to stick to his last and prepare his prosecutions so carefully that he knew more than anyone else around. Only an outstandingly good lawyer for the defence would have a chance of getting the better of him.
Kristina Björnsson was an outstandingly good lawyer, bloody well excellent.
She was the only one in the room who did not fit in with the overwhelming mediocrity. She was experienced, even wise. So far he had never come across anyone else from the defence side who still believed that even the worst, most moronic of clients was more worthwhile than the size of their fee. Consequently, she was also one of the few who had the clients' full confidence.
Kristina Björnsson had figured in one of the first anecdotes he had been told when he started attending trials as a student. She was a well-known coin collector and her collection, allegedly one of the best in private hands, had been stolen ten-odd years ago. The news started off an almighty fuss inside all the prisons in the land. An unprecedented, strictly underground search order went out and within the week two heavies with long ponytails turned up at Björnsson's front door with her collection, accompanied by an apologetic letter and a bouquet of flowers. Every single coin was in place. The letter had been laboriously scripted by three pros in the art and antiques racket, who wanted Kristina to know they were truly sorry. They wouldn't have traded for the collection if they had known whose it was, and should she ever fail to acquire a coin legally, she need only ask and they would see what could be done.
Lars Ågestam reflected that if he ever needed a lawyer, Björnsson would be his choice. She was good this time too. Håkan Axelsson was yet another unfeeling swine, who deserved nothing better than a very long spell inside, and the prosecutor should have had a cast-iron case, given that his primary evidence was a stack of CDs containing digitised images of humiliation and violence. There were corroborating statements too; some members of Axelsson's paedophile ring had talked. But still it looked as if this particular sicko would escape with a couple of years, because Kristina Björnsson had patiently countered every point the prosecutor made, arguing grave psychological disturbance and hence her client's need for care in a secure psychiatric unit. She wouldn't get her care order, of course, but somehow she had persuaded the magistrates of what had seemed impossible at first: namely that there were other options, compromise solutions. The magistrates approved, that much was obvious, and one of them seemed to feel that the exploitation thing had been pushed too hard, since in his view one of the children had been provocatively dressed.
Lars Ågestam raged inwardly. That local council jobsworth, straight from some political backwater, had been droning on about children's clothes nowadays, mixing in stuff about human encounters and shared responsibilities; he was asking for a bloodied nose. Ågestam was very close to telling him and all his moronic colleagues to go to hell. His career plans would have gone the same way, of course, ruined in one unsmart move.
He had followed the trials of other porn ring members; so far three out of the seven had been convicted and sentenced to appropriately long terms in prison. Axelsson was just as guilty, but Björnsson and her tame band of old fools had reached some unholy agreement, so if Bernt Lund hadn't done a runner that very morning they might even have doled out a suspended sentence, a serious loss of face for any aspiring prosecutor. The fact that Lund was on the loose had got the journalists all excited and they showed more interest in Axelsson than they had so far, knowing that by now whatever they wrote would shift from page 11 to page 7 or better. Any link between Axelsson and Sweden's most wanted, most hated man would turn into many column inches. If only to avoid a nasty public row, Axelsson would surely get at least one year in prison.
Once this was over, Ågestam did not want any more sex crimes. Not for a long while.
These cases sapped your strength somehow, no matter if the criminal and the victim were no more than names on pieces of paper, because he still invariably lost his professional detachment, his calm bureaucrat's distance. Trouble was, emotional involvement in a prosecutor was worse than useless.
So with any luck, he'd get bank robberies, murder, maybe a little fraud. Please. Less exciting crimes, less opinionated chatter from everyone. He had tried hard to understand the child porn fanatics, read all there was to read, attended a professional course, but nothing fundamental had changed. He wanted no more of this. Above all, he did not want anything to do with putting Bernt Lund back inside. Too much emotion, crimes too appalling to think and write about.
When they caught Lund he would keep his head well down.
He ran out to the car, leaving the front door unlocked, no time to find his keys.
He was crying. Tore open the car door. There were his keys, on the same ring as the ignition key. He reversed the car at speed through the narrow gate.
She had not been in the school.
Micaela had listened to his urgent flood of questions and statements, put the receiver down and gone off to look for Marie. First inside, then outside. The girl was nowhere. He had screamed. Micaela had asked him to please speak more calmly; he had pulled himself together, then lost control of his voice so that it rose to a shout again. He always came back to the father on the seat outside and the TV news and the father who was in the photo taken in front of a prison wall. Then he put the receiver down and ran for his car.
He drove along the winding country roads in a panic, crying and screaming.
The father waiting outside the school was the man in the photos, he was sure of it. He let go of the wheel with one hand to phone the emergency number, stating his message at screaming pitch. Within a minute he was connected to the duty officer. He explained that he had seen Lund outside a nursery school in Strängnäs, his daughter's school, and that she had disappeared.
Three kilometres from the house to the ferry station. He drove on, past the charming square and the thirteenth- century church, past the cemetery where people were tending graves in the still heat of late afternoon, but for all his urgency he missed the ferry. He checked the time, barely four minutes late, pushed the car horn, blinked with his headlights, all pointless of course. Then he phoned the ferry. It was quieter than usual and the ferryman heard it ring. Fredrik managed to explain enough and was promised that they would come straight back for him.
Why had he taken Marie to that fucking school?
Why hadn't they simply stayed at home? It had been half past one already.
Fredrik watched as the ferry reached the other side of the narrow straits, looked at the time that kept moving on unbearably. Marie had not been there, not inside the school and not outside either, and he thought of his little daughter, who had grown into a human being while he had been with her; maybe she'd grown too fast. Once Agnes had left, it was Marie who received all his deepest love; he offered up all the old feeling for Agnes, for everyone, to Marie and she alone had to cope with that concentrated love, and she stored it and also somehow returned it. More than once he'd thought it wasn't fair; no one should be made to represent other people and forced to hold more love than there was room for; a five-year-old is not very big after all.
He phoned Micaela again. No reply. And the same again. Her telephone must be switched off. The signals rang out and then a tinny voice asked him to leave a message.
He hadn't cried for a long time, not even when Agnes moved out. There had been times he'd actually tried but it was impossible; it was as if his reservoir of tears had dried up. Thinking back he realised that as an adult he had never wept; the flow had been turned off. Until now.
Perhaps that was why he still hadn't quite taken in what was happening to him, the gut-wrenching fear that wouldn't let go and the damnable tears streaming down his cheeks. He had imagined that weeping might be a relief, but it was not, only something that poured out uncontrollably, leaving a huge empty space inside him.
The yellow-and-green ferry came chugging back empty, making a thumping noise as it hit the two rusty steel cables which served as mobile rails in the water. The closer it came, the louder the noise. He waved towards the cabin, he always greeted the ferryman, and drove on board. The water spread out all around him as the ferry moved placidly along its set route.
The images kept passing through in his mind. Lund in black and white, a kind of smile on his face. Then Lund standing in front of the prison wall, between the guards; he had been waving. That smiling, waving creature raped children. Fredrik remembered enough about the girls-in-the- cellar case. Lund had mutilated, torn and beaten his victims until they were like worn-out, rejected dolls. Fredrik, like the rest of the public, had been outraged and at the same time unable to cope with what he read about the case, and somehow it was still as if all that could not have happened, as if the news story could not be true. The media had been watching every move in the trial for weeks, but he still didn't fucking well understand.
The ferryman was the older of the two, a semi-retired stand-in for the younger one. He had seen enough to grasp Fredrik's desperation and wisely kept off the usual chit-chat to pass the time. Fredrik would thank him one day, much later, for his understanding.
They reached the other side, where the ferryman's dog had been tied up. The dog barked with pleasure at seeing his master again. Fredrik raced off the ferry the moment it hit land.
He was so intensely afraid. Terrified.
She would never go away without telling someone. She knew Micaela was there and she knew she must not go anywhere outside the fence without letting her know.
That man. Cap on his head, quite short and quite thin. He had nodded to him.
Across Arnö Island, nine kilometres of winding gravel. Then Road 55, eight kilometres of accident-prone tarmac. Not many cars around at this time of day. He increased his speed.
Face to face. It was him. He knew it was him.
Now, five cars ahead, driving slowly, a small red car hauling an enormous caravan that tilted dangerously on the bends and made the next car keep a respectful distance. Fredrik kept trying to overtake, but was forced back by the curves in the road.
A slip-road, a right turn, then the bridge and central Strängnäs.
He spotted the crowd from far away.
People were clustering at the gate, in the playground and in the street outside The Dove. Five nursery school teachers, two catering assistants from the kitchen, four policemen with dogs, some parents he recognised and some he didn't.
One of them, carrying a small child, was pointing towards the wood. A policeman with a dog went off in that direction, then two more followed.
Fredrik stopped outside the gate and stayed in the car for a while.
When he got out, Micaela came towards him. She hadn't been outside, but had been waiting for him inside the school.
His coffee was black. No messing about with effing milk, especially no latte or cappuccino or any of that fashionable crap, just no-frills, real Swedish black coffee, filtered to get rid of the dregs. Ewert Grens contemplated the coffee machine; he wouldn't pay a penny extra to get a dollop of evil-tasting emulsified muck in his mug, but Sven had to have his dose of the glop, he was prepared to pay good money to get this pale-brown chemical-flavoured stuff in his cup. Ewert kept the plastic cups well apart in case Sven's was toxic and limped gingerly back along the shiny corridor floor to his room. Sven was slumped in the visitor's chair. He looked exhausted.
'Your poison. Here.'
Sven roused himself enough to take his cup.
Ewert stopped in front of him; there was something new in Sven's eyes.
'What's up with you? It can't be that fucking bad to work on your fortieth.'
'So what's wrong?'
'Jonas called me. While you were struggling with the coffee machine.'
'He asked why I hadn't come home. I'd told him I would. He said grown-ups lie all the time.'
'What did he mean, lie?'
'It seems he saw the TV news about Lund. So he asked why grown-ups lie, like they tell a child they'll show it a dead squirrel or a nice doll, but all the grown-up wants is to do bad things to the child with his willy and then hit the child. That's word for word what Jonas said to me.'
Sven sank back in his chair and sipped his coffee in silence. Absently, he started swivelling the chair, left, then right, back again. Ewert was rooting among his tapes.
'So how do you reply? Daddy lies, all grown-ups lie, some of them lie and poke at you with their willy and hit you. I can't stand this, Ewert. It's too bloody awful.'
Siw was singing now. ' Seven Great Guys', with Harry Arnold's Radio Band, 1959.
They listened. My first friend was slender, built like an arrow, My second was blonde and I loved him so much
The song was bland and silly, but offered a kind of escape because it was so pointless. Ewert closed his eyes, wagging his head to the beat. For a few minutes he was in another, more peaceful time.
There was a knock on the door.
They exchanged glances. Ewert shook his head irritably, but there was another, firmer knock.
It was Ågestam. Ewert recognised the neatly combed fringe and the ingratiating face in the doorway; he had no time for busy little boys and especially none for the busy boys who pretended to be public prosecutors but couldn't wait to get on and up in the world.
'What are you after?'
Ågestam was visibly taken aback, though it wasn't clear what bothered him most, Ewert's bad temper or the room resounding with Siw's voice.
'It's about Lund.'
Ewert put his coffee cup to the side.
'What about him?'
'He has turned up.'
Ågestam explained that the duty officer had just concluded a telephone conversation with someone who'd reported a sighting outside a nursery school in Strängnäs, just a few hours ago. The father of one of the children had called on his mobile; he had sounded sane and articulate, but very frightened, after realising that he had recognised the man wearing a baseball cap who had been sitting on a bench outside the school gate. He had seen this man when he delivered his daughter to the school, and now the girl had disappeared.
Ewert scrunched up the plastic mug, threw it in the bin.
'Christ bloody fucking almighty.'
Those interrogations came back to him. The worst ever, the ugliest.
The man in front of him, there was something about him that wasn't human. Those eyes that evaded his own.
Grens, you must fucking listen to me.
Lund, I want you to look at me.
Grensie, they're sluts, you should know that.
I'm interrogating you, Lund. And I want you to look at me.
Sluts. Little ones, really small horny sluts, needing it.
Look at me now. Or else I'll suspend the interrogation immediately.
You want to know this. About their tight tiny cunts. I knew you would.
Why not look at me? Don't you dare?
The cunts want cock inside. Hard cock.
Good. Now we're looking at each other.
Small, very small cunts. They want plenty of seeing to.
How do you feel now, when you're looking me in the eye?
And you've got to teach them, you know. They mustn't think of fucking all the time.
You can't stand it much longer now. Your eyes look shifty. Cowardly.
The smallest cunts are the worst, they're the horniest. That's why you've got to be firm, teach them a lesson.
You want me to switch the tape recorder off and have a go at you. You want me to lose control.
Grens, have you ever tasted cunt on a nine-year-old?
He turned the music off. Removed the cassette gently, put it away in the proper plastic box.
'So he's allowed himself to be seen before he's got hold of a kid. If he's that desperate the risk is that all his inhibitions have gone west.'
He took his jacket from its hook by the door.
'I was in charge of interrogating Lund. I know how his mind works. And I've read the forensic psychiatrist's report. It just confirmed what I knew already. Lund has got pronounced sadistic tendencies.'
Actually, he had not only read the psych report, he had gone through it word by word because he was determined to understand any fucking ghastly thing there was to be understood. Nobody and nothing had affected him like the sessions with Lund; during the interrogations and afterwards, the man evoked hatred and fear and more.
Ewert would willingly admit that his years in the police had made him rather cold, even hard and difficult; allowing himself to have feelings would have made most days pretty hellish. But Lund's crimes and total alienation had made him want to give up, crawl away, sensing for the first time that his job might be of no use. He had talked to the psychiatrist who wrote the report, discussed Lund and his sadistic rapes and the anger that drove his sexuality, fusing lust with inflicting pain, pleasure with forcing submission. Ewert had asked if Lund had some kind of insight into what he was doing; did he have any understanding of the feelings and reactions of the child and its parents and others who got involved? Cautiously, the psychiatrist had shaken his head and gone on to speak about Lund's childhood, how he'd been abused from an early age and how, in order to stand it, he had shut out other people.
Still holding the jacket, Ewert turned and pointed at Sven, then at Ågestam.
'But what was the final conclusion? Minor psychological disorder. Do you get that? He rapes little girls, but the diagnosis is minor psychological disorder.'
'I remember, I was a law student at the time.' Ågestam sighed. 'We were amazed and furious.'
Ewert pulled on his jacket and commanded Sven to get the car.
'Off we go. Strängnäs. And keep your foot down.'
Ågestam had stayed where he was, obstructing the doorway.
'I'll join you.'
Ewert disapproved of the young prosecutor; he had shown it before and did so again.
'What's your angle exactly? Chief interrogator?'
'Of course not.'
'Then you'd better move over.'
The sun was sinking slowly, but it was still as hot as ever. The strong light stung their eyes as they drove south-westwards along the E4. They left the centre behind, then the inner suburbs, then the commuter towns. At last, the E20 to Strängnäs. Sven relaxed a little and breathed more easily. Ewert stopped urging him to go faster and moaning about the sun-visors. The quieter road and change of direction, away from the sun, meant that Sven could increase his speed.
They didn't talk much. There wasn't much to say, apart from the fact that Lund had been seen outside a nursery school and that a five-year-old girl was missing. In their minds, they mulled over what was known and what events might have followed, every scenario ending with the hope that the child had been found in a forgotten play-room and that the father who raised the alarm had allowed his terror to fuel his imagination, as so often was the case.
They made it in record time. The moment they were within sight of the school it became obvious that nothing had sorted itself out. It had not been a false alarm. Something had happened, and it could be the worst. People were milling around; some must be teachers and nursery nurses, some parents of the children who were running, jumping, playing everywhere. There were uniformed men and impatient dogs standing near two patrol cars, and seen from a distance everything about the people round the playground fence told them of confusion, of questions and fears and perhaps, because of all this, a sense of community.
Sven stopped the car a little way away, to give Ewert and himself another minute, a moment of stillness before pandemonium broke loose, a little silence before the bombardment of questions started up. From inside their metal shell, he observed the restless crowd. Worried people keep on the move. He watched them; they kept tramping about and, framed by the car window, they looked like extras in a play. He glanced at Ewert, realising that he too was watching and analysing, trying to become part of the talk out there without having to leave the car.
'What do you think has happened?'
'What I can see has happened.'
'What's that, then?'
'Things couldn't be worse. Up shit creek.'
They got out and two of the policemen immediately came towards them to shake hands. First was a large young man with crew-cut dark hair. Like others of his age, maybe just over thirty, his bearing had a self-aware confidence, a kind of brittle invulnerability.
'Hi. Leo Lauritzen. From Eskilstuna, the nearest station. We got here twenty minutes ago.'
'I see. Sven Sundkvist. And this is Ewert Grens.'
Lauritzen smiled, surprised, and held Ewert's hand a fraction too long.
'Great! I've heard of you.'
'Is that so?'
'It's like, you know, meeting a celebrity. But you're shorter than I imagined. No offence.'
'People imagine too much. Have you got anything sensible on your mind as well? What's the situation here, for instance? Or are you as thick as you look?'
Lauritzen's colleague, who'd been hanging back a little, now took a few steps forward. She didn't bother with any greetings. Her blonde hair was glued to her temples; she was sweating copiously after working hard in the oppressive heat.
'We got the first message about an hour ago. The Stockholm duty officer rang to say that one of the kids in this nursery had gone missing. A few minutes later more info came through. Bernt Lund had been seen in connection with the school and at the time of the disappearance. That was enough for us; a major alert went out. We mobilised members from the local Working Dog Owners' club to search the woodland between the school and Enköping. Two helicopter crews are scanning the Lake Mälaren beaches near here. A team is lined up for a detailed area search. They'll get going soon, but we're holding off for the moment. The dogs need to check out the scents, before half Strängnäs starts combing the place.'
She apologised and went off to speak to the dog owners next, a group set apart by having the club emblem sewn on to their anoraks.
Sven and Ewert looked at each other; both held back from starting work, both reluctant to enter into the waiting darkness. Then Ewert cleared his throat and turned to Lauritzen.
'The parents of the missing child. Where are they?'
Lauritzen pointed at a man wearing a brown corduroy suit and with his long hair gathered in a ponytail, who was seated near the end of a bench by the school gate. He rested his elbows on his knees and leaned his head in his hands, staring at the gate or maybe at a shrub just behind it. A woman was sitting next to him, her arm round his shoulders, now and then stroking his cheek.
'That's the girl's father, the man who phoned to say he'd seen Lund. Seen him twice, in fact, with some fifteen to twenty minutes between the sightings. Lund sat on that seat, in full view.'
'His name is?'
'Fredrik Steffansson. Divorced. Agnes Steffansson, the girl's mother, lives in Stockholm. She's got a flat in Vasastan, I believe.'
'And who's the woman?'
'Micaela Zwarts. She works here in the school, and lives with Mr Steffansson. The missing girl, Marie, sometimes stays with one parent, sometimes with the other, officially half-and-half, but during the last year or so she has apparently preferred to have her main home here in Strängnäs, with Zwarts and Steffansson. She goes to her mother over most weekends. The parents have agreed to this, the girl's welfare matters most to them. I must say I wish there was more of that attitude about. I mean, I'm divorced myself and…'
Ewert was not interested.
'Leave it. I'll have a word with Steffansson.'
The man on the bench was still leaning forward, his empty eyes gazing blindly ahead. He looked drained, as if the wound inside him had allowed all his strength to leach away and any residual joy of living drip into the grass, creating an ugly stain.
Ewert Grens did not have any children and had never wanted any. He realised that he would never understand fully what the man in front of him was feeling. But he didn't need to understand, not now.
What his eyes told him was enough.
Rune Lantz would be sixty-six on his next birthday. His first year in retirement had almost passed. In July, a year ago, late one afternoon, he had emptied the big container of the apple juice mixer for the last time. He had done the usual, turned the switch to off, washed the drum out, waited for the night shift and for the mixer guy to put on earmuffs and hairnet. The hard bit of the job was adding the right amount of sugar. 'Right' depended on where the juice was going. The least sweetened juice went to Germany, a sweeter mix to Great Britain, an unbelievably sweet one to Italy and an undrinkably sticky concoction to Greece.
By now he had had the time to discover that his workmates of thirty-four years' standing were nothing but tea-break friends, bad-mouthing-the-boss friends, doing-the- pools-in-the-lunch-break friends. None of them had been in touch since he had left, but then he hadn't sought them out either, and he wasn't sure that he missed any of them. It's odd, he reflected, how you can pass a lifetime in the company of folk you care so little for and need no more than you need the sitting-room telly on. They're around because they're around, become habit. Being with them is almost like a ritual, it covers up emptiness and silence. It reassures you that you exist for them, but they really mean sweet FA. And vice versa, of course. You leave, but nothing changes; they carry on mixing juice and doing the pools and chaffing away over their tea-mugs.
He held her hand harder.
He saw her much more clearly now.
His Margareta was still at work in the factory on the site next to his. She had two years left before retirement, two more years of leaving the house every weekday. He had never realised until now how much he needed her; their time together meant life and the courage to grow old.
Walking close together and never too far away from home, they followed more or less the same route over the bridge and into the woodland and then back; it was their daily stroll late in the afternoon after she had come home from work. He would wait for her with his outdoor clothes on; the last hour alone was the worst because he longed for her so very much, longed to walk together, stepping out a little and breathing in a shared rhythm. During the dark months of the year they'd follow one of the set tracks marked by little posts with coloured signs, but between late spring and early autumn, when the evenings were light, they strayed, walking on mats of blueberry plants between the tall spruce trees. Life was fading for them both, but it was still fun to try and find new ways on your own.
They had done just that this afternoon. Holding hands, they left the proper path and set out across the bone-dry, rustling forest floor. The summer had been too hot, for too long. This year would be terribly poor for mushrooming.
They didn't talk much, there was no need to after forty- three years of marriage. But they watched. A roe deer. A couple of hares. Birds, one looked like a hawk of some kind. One of them would point, both stopped and waited until the animal moved on. They weren't in a hurry. Then the ground changed, became hillier, and they breathed more vigorously, enjoying the sense of oxygen-rich blood flowing faster in their veins. They were scrambling up a hillside cluttered with large scree when the air filled with noise.
It was a helicopter, staying low and circling among the tops of the trees. Then another one. Both carried police markings.
Rune and Margareta watched, staring without knowing why they did, nor why both of them felt a surge of unease and anxiety. It had something to do with the machines' intrusiveness and intense engine noise. The police were after something in a hurry, looking for it right here.
Margareta stood very still, her eyes following the helicopters until they disappeared from the sky above them.
'I don't like them,' she said.
'Neither do I.'
'Let's not walk on.'
'Not until they're well and truly gone.'
'Not even then.'
She had held her husband's hand but now she pulled at his arm until it was round her waist; that was where she wanted it to be. He kissed her cheek lightly. The two of them stood together against the world with its helicopters and uniforms and noise. But she wanted to leave at once, and in her anxiety she needed him to hold her close. He looked at her full of concern, because she was never usually afraid. She was the more courageous of the two of them, he thought.
Then, far away where the trees were thinning, he saw them, a policeman and his dog. They were moving slowly, the dog was looking for something, leading the man westwards, in the same direction as the helicopters had flown.
'Goodness. One of those as well.'
'It mightn't be about the same thing.'
'Come on, it's got to be.'
Now they were convinced that something had happened, here in their wood, during their private break from the outside world.
They hurried down the slope and through the dense shrubs at its base, their measured pace and breathing rhythm broken; all that was gone now. They wanted to get out of the way of someone else's hunt, someone else's misery.
It was Margareta who saw it first.
A bright red thing.
A small shoe. A little girl's.
A red, shiny leather shoe, with an eye-catching metal buckle.
They had been walking as fast as they could. She ignored the shooting pains in her knee joints, and when Rune asked if she was all right, she just shook her head, pointing ahead to the fastest short cut, never mind if the going was harder. Better than having time to think about the gathering darkness around them, better than dealing with Rune's worries about her. They had covered almost a kilometre. Not far to the metalled lane and the houses now.
To pass a huge fir they let go of each other, walking round the tree on opposite sides.
She spotted something under the fir's sweeping branches and thought at first that it was a toadstool, prodded it with her foot, lifted it up. Twisting it round in her hands, she understood what it meant and looked around: where is she? Is she still here? The girl?
She didn't scream, only called out; it was no surprise to her after all. She held the red shoe gently and handed it to Rune when he came up to her.
One more morning with the lie lurking in the back of his mind. He had been lying close to her, his hand touching her breasts, belly, thighs, he had kissed the back of her neck, whispered good morning into her ear, all the time doing his best to avoid having to face his betrayal.
Now Lennart Oscarsson was in his office, watching through the window as the prison woke to a new day. Another lovely sunny day, as hot as yesterday, as every day last week. He sighed.
Ever since he had fallen in love with Karin he had been haunted by fantasies about the day when she would ask him to accept that she'd met someone else, and that she was leaving him. Instead it was he whose love of another would break up their shared life. Who'd have believed it? She was beautiful, his looks were quite ordinary. She was outgoing, he was withdrawn. Her personality glittered, his never would. And yet it was he who had put their closeness at risk.
He had to go down to Lund's unit. On the way he nodded to two faces from the groups of trainees, people who wished they'd been placed anywhere but in a sex offender unit for their half-year of learning on the job. They despised their charges, not that he didn't feel the same; they all did, the staff spat at the perverts all the time.
The unit was silent and empty, an abandoned corridor, closed doors. The inmates were in the workshop; all were on work assignments, which is to say they did wood-turning, rings and building bricks to make educational toys, for a couple of kronor per hour. And whatever else was wrong with sex offenders, you had to admit that they trotted off to produce whatever rubbish was demanded of them without a murmur, no pissing about on the whole, unlike the so-called normals, drug-crazed would-be lifers, guys inside for robbery and violence and fraud, non-stop trouble the lot of them, either going on strike or doing a sickie.
He stopped outside cell 11, Bernt Lund's empty cell, let himself in. Lund was still on the loose, halfway through day two. They mostly couldn't cope for long; it took concentration to keep out of sight, always stay watchful, do without sleep, and it also required strength and money. Chased by dozens of policemen, trailed by the public on the alert, the hiding places grew fewer with every breath.
The room with its orderly rows of objects looked the same, except for the pile on the floor. He remembered how Grens, the old maniac, had knocked a lot of stuff off with his diary. The thin bloke, whose fortieth birthday had been ruined, had looked nervously at his colleague and then sighed when Grens aimed and did it again.
The bedspread with its blotchy stripes was already ruffled and Lennart sat down on the bed, then lay down to see what Lund had seen, night after night. What had it been like for him? Had he been wanking with closed eyes, fantasising about little girls? Or had he thought up plans, how to rule and control a child, destroying its naivety the moment he set to work on it? Had he ever tried to empathise with the child's fear and humiliation? What had it been like, living with his guilt in an eight-metre-square cell, alone with it evening, night, morning; it must have threatened to suffocate him until all he could do was run from it, beating two screws senseless to get away.
Someone knocked. Who? The door opened and Bertolsson, the governor, stepped inside.
'Lennart? What on earth are you up to?'
He sat up, tried to smooth his unruly hair.
'I can't really tell. I came here and… I wanted to know what it was like.'
'Nothing. None the wiser.'
Bertolsson looked around the cell.
'Christ. What a complete nutter.'
'I think that's it. My new insight. Lund didn't understand a thing. No remorse. He's incapable of seeing any point of view other than his own.'
Bertolsson kicked the piled-up objects on the floor. It didn't fit. Chaos on the floor, total conformity and order everywhere else. Lennart couldn't be bothered explaining.
'Too bad. I've been looking for you because I need to talk to you about another madman. One of Lund's colleagues, as it were. One of the seven in the child porn ring.'
'Name of Axelsson. Håkan. Couple of minor past convictions. Sentenced tomorrow in the child pornography case. He'll have to do time, but probably won't get as long a spell as he deserves. Enough to miss out on both Christmas and Easter, though.'
'Where do I come in?'
'He's at Kronoberg now, which means transfer to here, but you haven't got any vacancies.'
Lennart yawned, a big, long yawn, thought for a minute and lay down again.
'I'm sorry. These characters make me tired.'
Bertolsson ignored him.
'That is to say, this cell is empty, but won't be for long. Lund should be back pronto.'
'There you are. Sex crime is quite the fashion. Perverts are queuing up.'
Bertolsson straightened the slats in the blind to let in the bright sunlight. A day was happening out there. It was easy to forget. Inside the institution, specific days did not stand out, one from the other; instead everything congealed into lumps of months, years, into waiting.
'We'll have to place him in one of our normal units. Just for a couple of days, a week at most. Until we find a cell somewhere more appropriate.'
Lennart started to sit up, got halfway, leaned on his elbow and turned towards his boss.
'Arne, what are you saying now?'
'He's not allowed to bring the indictment into the unit anyway.'
'It doesn't fucking well matter. The others will find out and you know what will happen next.'
'Just a few days. No more. Then he'll be transferred.'
Lennart sat up straight.
'Hold it. I know you know. If he is finally transferred anywhere from a normal unit, it will be in an ambulance. No other option.'
It wouldn't smell; he had been here before and he knew that. It didn't help to know. Already on the stairs, his nose, his brain instinctively registered the stench of death.
Sven, as a detective inspector based in Stockholm, had of course visited the Institute of Forensic Medicine more times than he could remember, it was part of his job. He knew he had to turn up, but he also knew that he would never, ever stop hating it, that he would never, ever learn to watch the dead man or woman, human beings who had been breathing, talking and laughing not long before, being opened up and sawn into chunks by a man – almost always a man – in a white coat. The stranger's hands would root around inside the corpse, examine the torn-out innards under bright lights, throw the whole lot back inside the carcass and roughly stitch it together. To cover up what they had done, the corpse on its trolley would be decorously draped, so as not to offend the bereaved who came to inspect it and declare that this was indeed the person they had been living next to, when they had all been full of hope.
Ewert was standing next to him while they waited for someone to open the security lock from the inside. Sven thought of how differently his colleague reacted to the dead the mortuary. Ewert didn't seem to sense the presence of death. To him, the dead were just things. Before leaving, he would often lift the cloth, pinch some accessible body part and say something vaguely funny, as if to prove it beyond insult.
The medic had arrived at the other side of the glass door and was looking for his key-card. It was Ludvig Errfors, one of the most experienced guys here. Sven had time to tell himself that he was pleased that Errfors had been picked, because after all an autopsy on a child must be the hardest to do; they'd be less used to dissecting children. If any one of them was likely to have come across enough little bodies for the procedure to become routine, then this was the man.
Errfors found his card and the lock clicked open.
After the greetings, the pathologist asked about Lund. They told him there was no news. He shook his head and started speaking about the autopsies of the two dead girls in the Skarpholm cellar. It had been his case and he kept commenting on it, while he briskly led the way downstairs.
He was saying that he had never before seen such extreme violence towards children.
Then he stopped in mid-step, turning a very serious face up at them.
'That is, not until today.'
'I recognise the type of violence. Lund's trademark.'
Bottom of the stairs, then a short corridor, first room on the right. That was where Errfors usually worked.
The dreaded trolley was there, right in the middle of the room. And now there was a smell, though not strong. The ventilation system hummed, steadily shifting volumes of air. If it hadn't been a mortuary, Sven would not have known that the smell came from a dead body.
They didn't have to put on sterile green gowns; Errfors was too experienced not to know when rules could be broken. He switched off all the lamps apart from the one over the trolley, its bright cone of light illuminating the stage in the darkened space.
'This is how I prefer it. No reflections from shiny surfaces to disturb the examination.'
They saw a child's face, looking peaceful, as if asleep; recognised Marie from her parents' photos.
Errfors was rummaging in a plastic case. He produced a pair of big black-rimmed glasses with magnifying lenses, and a couple of A4 sheets of paper.
'Now. She is less serene-looking under the cover.'
The room was silent, well sound-insulated; the rustling of bits of paper invaded their aural space.
'Traces of semen were found in her vagina and anus, and on her body. The perpetrator ejaculated over the body, before and also after death.'
He lifted the cover. Sven turned his face away. He could not bear to look.
'A hard object with a sharp point has been forcibly introduced into her vagina and caused severe internal haemorrhaging.'
As he listened carefully, Ewert observed the exposed body of the little girl. He sighed.
'He did exactly that last time.'
'The acts were more brutal then, but yes, you're right. The MO was the same.'
'Seems he used a curtain rail then.'
'Could be, but I haven't been able to identify the object. Only that it was hard and pointed.'
The pathologist produced the next sheet of paper.
'I have established the cause of death. A powerful blow, probably the edge of the criminal's hand, directed against the larynx.'
Ewert noted the big bruise across her throat. He turned to Sven, who was still looking away.
'Hold on, you.'
'I can't stand it.'
'No need. I'm doing the looking.'
'Still, you should note that we've got him.'
'We've got fuck all.'
'Not once we pick him up. He has ejaculated all over her. Just like last time, there's semen all over the place. And we've kept samples from last time. One DNA test will do the trick.'
She had been lying in the wood. In his mind, Sven saw Margareta and Rune Lantz, an elderly couple still in love, sitting together and holding hands while the tears trickled from their eyes, right through the interrogation. Hers had been worst, a silent flow every time she was forced to describe what she had seen.
Let's sit down here. This stone.
I want to ask you questions here, with the place in view. Can you cope with that?
I want to know what happened, right from the start.
May Rune stay with me?
I don't know…
I mean, I don't know if I can do this.
Try, for the sake of the little girl.
We take a walk, every evening. If it doesn't rain too much.
Always the same way?
Often a little different. The way. To make a change.
What about this way?
It was the first time, I think. Isn't that right, Rune?
Let's keep this between the two of us now. Just you and me.
Well, I didn't remember it from before.
And why did you walk just here?
It happened because we heard the helicopter.
What about the helicopter?
I didn't like it. Unpleasant, it was. And then that policeman with his dog. We started to hurry and it seemed like a short cut.
What happened when you got here?
Do you have a paper tissue? Or a hanky?
I'm sorry. No.
Forgive me for bothering you.
Please, don't apologise.
We had been walking hand in hand. Then, by that fir tree, we let go.
It was big, blocking our way. We had to walk round it, on opposite sides.
What happened next?
I thought it was a toadstool. A bright red thing. I kicked it, not hard.
What was it?
A shoe. I realised once I'd kicked it that it was a shoe.
What did you do?
I waited until Rune came along. I just knew something was wrong.
How do you mean that you just knew?
Sometimes you feel things. This time everything was upsetting. The helicopters, the policeman and the dog. And then a shoe.
Tell me what you did. Exactly.
I took the shoe and showed it to Rune. I wanted him to see.
Then she was lying there.
On the ground. Under the tree. And I could see that she was destroyed.
That she wasn't whole. I saw it and Rune did too. She had been destroyed.
She was lying on the ground, you say. Did you touch her?
Why should we? She was dead.
I have to ask you these things.
I can't cope any more now.
Just a few more questions.
Did you see anyone here?
The girl. She was lying there, looking at me. All destroyed.
I meant someone else. Someone except you and Rune?
No. We had seen that policeman. And his dog.
No one else?
I can't any more. Rune, tell him I can't.
The pathologist was looking in his plastic folder for a third sheet of paper, but couldn't find it. He left the trolley to search for it on a shelf.
'Here,' he said. 'I've got something else for you that links this case with the past.'
He came back, pulled the cover into place and Sven could look again.
'We noted straight away that the soles of her feet were perfectly clean. The rest of her body was torn and bloody and dirty. We investigated and found traces of-'
'Of saliva? Am I right?'
'Yes, you are. Saliva, just like last time.'
Ewert looked at her face. She wasn't there. Her body was, but she wasn't.
'That's Lund's idea of foreplay. Licking their feet. And their shoes.'
'Not this time.'
'But you just said…'
'Not foreplay, that is. He licked the soles of this girl's feet after death.'
He hadn't seen her for months. They had talked practically every day, but on the phone and only about Marie, things like what time she got up that morning, what she had for breakfast and what new words she had used. Had she played something different, had she cried, laughed, lived? Every moment of her growth was stolen from the parent Marie wasn't with and they compensated as best they could by talking about her. Marie, and only Marie, brought them together without bitterness or accusations or regret about love lost.
Agnes' beautiful face, he knew it, and he also knew what it looked like when she cried; it swelled until her features blurred. He put his hand on her cheek; she smiled, held him more tightly.
A policeman came to the door to let them in. It was one of the senior ones who had come to The Dove, an older man with a slight limp.
'How do you do? I'm Detective Chief Inspector Ewert Grens. We met yesterday.'
'Hello. Fredrik Steffansson. I recognise you. This is Agnes Steffansson, Marie's mother.'
They went down a flight of stairs and along a short hospital-type corridor. The other policeman, the one who'd led the interrogations yesterday, was waiting in a doorway, and behind him, a white-coated doctor with tired eyes.
'Good afternoon. We didn't get introduced yesterday. I'm Sven Sundkvist, Detective Inspector. And this is Dr Ludvig Errfors from the Forensic Science Service. He is responsible for Marie's autopsy. '
The phrase was a howled obscenity. It cut to the quick, was hateful, final.
The last twenty-four hours ached inside them, hours of hell hope hell hope hell. Yesterday, sometime after midday, Fredrik had said goodbye to the human being that they both lived and breathed for. Now, in a sterile forensic mortuary, they were to look at her destroyed body and admit it was hers. They clung to each other.
Sometimes people cling to each other until they break.
Summer was at a standstill.
The stagnant air was too heavy to breathe, but Sven didn't notice.
He was crying.
He had concentrated on hanging on; soon it would be over, soon air, soon life, soon soon soon, he mustn't break down now as the two people in front of him had done, two parents who had held on tightly to each other as they stood by the mortuary trolley, nodding confirmation when they were shown her face. The father had kissed his little girl's cheek and the mother had leaned over the child's body and collapsed, her head resting on the cover, then they had both wailed, screams that were unlike anything he had ever heard; these two had died in front of his eyes. He had tried to fix his gaze somewhere else, on the wall somewhere; soon he'd get away from here, from the trolley and this whole fucking awful place, soon he'd be running upstairs towards air that was not heavy with death.
They had been clutching each other when they left.
He had been running, corridor, stairs, door, crying as if he would never stop.
Ewert left too. Walking past Sven, he patted the younger man's shoulder.
'I'll be in the car. Take your time, take all the time you need.'
How much time had passed? Ten minutes? Twenty? He had no idea. He had wept until he felt empty, until no more tears came. He wept with them and for them, as if they did not have enough room for the grief, as if their sadness had to be shared out.
When he climbed into the car Ewert touched his cheek lightly.
'I've been sitting here listening to the piss-poor radio. News on every fucking channel and they're pumping out stuff about Bernt Lund and the murder of Marie. They've got what they needed, a summer murder, and from now on they'll be snapping at our heels all day long.'
Sven had put his hands on the steering wheel. Now he gestured at it, then at Ewert.
'What about you driving?'
'Only just now, for a while. I don't feel up to it.'
'I'll wait until you're ready to start the engine. We're in no more hurry than that.'
Sven sat back. A minute or two passed. The radio changed from one pop hit that sounded identical to all the rest of them, and started on another one just the same.
Sven turned to look at the rear window shelf.
'Do you fancy some cake?'
He reached for his bags, first the birthday gateau, then the wine, and put the would-be feast in his lap.
'Princess Gateau. Jonas said it was his favourite. Two roses on top, one for me and one for him.'
He opened the box and sniffed tentatively.
'Christ, it's off. Twenty-four hours in this heat. It's far gone.'
Ewert shuddered at the sudden wave of rancid smell, made a disgusted face and pushed the whole carton as far away as possible. Then he started fiddling with the radio dial. The mantra was the same, in newscast after newscast.
Little Girl Murdered. Escaped Sex Killer. Bernt Lund. Aspsås Prison. Police Hunt. The Grief. The Fear.
'I can't bear listening to this shit any more. Can't stand having it shoved down my throat. Turn it off, please, Ewert.'
Sven checked the label on one of the bottles, nodded and unscrewed the top.
'I reckon I need some.'
He swallowed a mouthful. Another one. And another.
'Ewert, listen. Yesterday was my fortieth birthday. Celebration time. So I drive to Strängnäs to interview an elderly lady who's found the body of a murdered little girl under a tree. Then, as a follow-up, I come here to look at the girl and to be told that she's got semen in her anus and a sharp object jammed into her vagina. I watch her parents go to pieces as they see their daughter for the last time. Now I can't get my mind round this. Not any of it. I want to go home.'
'Time to get going.'
Ewert took the bottle, then reached out for the top. Sven handed it to him and he screwed it on.
'Sven, you're not the only one. We all feel it. Frustration, alienation. But what's the point of that? We've got to get him. That's what we're meant to do. Get him, before he strikes again.'
Sven started the engine and reversed gingerly out of the parking lot. The forensic building was next to Karolinska, the main Stockholm hospital, and everyone had parked capital- city-style, cramming the cars as tightly as they would go.
'I know what he's like,' Ewert went on. 'I've interrogated him. I've read his stash of reports. Every single fucking line that the forensic psychos have penned. He'll do it again; the only question is when. And where. He's beyond any kind of control. He'll go on until we get him or he kills himself.'
Dickybird was looking for shade. There were no trees in the exercise yard, no walls or fences, nothing to hide behind to get the sun off his back; sweat was pouring off him. The large expanse of gravel had become a huge dust cloud contained within the grey stone of the perimeter wall. They had tried a game of football, five-a-side, with five thousand in the pot, but had to stop, their shoulders red and burning, every breath hurting. The two teams had collapsed on the ground behind the goals. Reps from each team had met in the centre circle to negotiate, both arguing the same case, saying that their boys were ready for more, but it was obvious that the opposition was dead beat, so the bet was off for now, surely?
Skåne had been their rep. When he returned, he sat down between Dickybird and Hilding.
'They came round. They're clapped out. The Russian couldn't fucking breathe.'
'We'll go for it on Monday, play the second half. And I raised the stake. Double. That lot can't kick a fucking ball. No way.'
Hilding stirred, looking anxiously at Dickybird, scratching the sore near his nostril. Bekir was silent, Dragan was silent.
Dickybird spat into the gravel.
'Did you so? Doubled the stake. And who pays if we screw up?'
'Shit, Dickybird, we won't screw up. Fuck's sake, they haven't even got a proper goalie.'
Dickybird lifted his head to examine the other team; everyone was still lying down as if the sun had sapped their collective strength.
'Skåne, you're full of shit. Your brain's stoned senseless. Like, haven't you seen the boys play? Have you been here at all? We've had crap luck, that's a fact. But fine, fine. OK, shithead. OK. We'll go for it, double the fucking pot. But your dosh is on the line if we lose. You'll pay up, I'll see to that. And if we win, we share and share alike. That's fair. Two grand each.'
Skåne shook his head, he didn't give a monkey's. He moved a few metres away, went down on his belly in the dust and started doing press-ups. He counted aloud to let them hear, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred and fifty, two hundred and fifty. His shaved skull and thick neck were gleaming with sweat, it dripped on the ground; he groaned and pushed, emptying himself of frustration and summer and having four years to go.
Dickybird closed his eyes. He stared wide-eyed at the sun for as long as he could stand it, letting in the blinding rays. When he lowered his eyelids there were patterns of rhythmic light, dots and colours and wavy bands; this was a trick he'd played since childhood, closing your eyes made you vanish.
'What news about the big boy? The hitman?'
Hilding realised what he was after, but didn't want to know.
'How do you mean, what news?'
'Like, where is he? I haven't seen him today.'
'How should I fucking know?'
'Make it your fucking job, that's how. Jochum Lang and Håkan Axelsson, the new guys, it's up to you to keep tabs. And let 'em know what's fucking what.'
'Like you did with Jochum?'
A breeze was blowing, the first wind for days. It started suddenly, fanning their faces gently so that they forgot about arguing for a while. Dickybird sat up to suck strength from what was no longer unyielding heat. Turning his head towards the wall he saw the man on the running path circling the endless concrete. He had reddish-blond hair and a beard, one of the two new guys; this was the one who had arrived in the morning. Dickybird's eyes followed him, step by step, while he pulled a half-smoked fag out of his packet, one of the many fag-ends inside it. He became agitated and started waving his arms about, his eyes still glued to the stranger.
'Look, there he goes. Axelsson. Not a fucking peep about who he is. He says he's in for GBH. Fuck's sake, the prissy cunt isn't up to pissing against the wind. He's a beast, I can smell it. I fucking sniff these perverts out.'
The cooler air had alerted Hilding. He sat up to watch Axelsson's slow progress.
'I listened to the screws earlier on, and they were on about him, that bugger over there. Like, this place is full up. Every single cell set aside for beasts has someone in it. And that's why he's here, because there was no room anywhere else.'
Dickybird kicked irritably at the gravel and a white cloud of dust rose against the blue sky. He threw the fag-end at the whiteness and it glowed for a while before going out.
'You've got a mission.'
'What fucking mission?'
'You've got a six-hour leave coming up. Right?'
'No supervision?' 'Right.'
'You know what you've got to do, then. Like, check out Axelsson's sentence.'
'That's not on. I've got business to see to. Like, I've got a bird, and only six shitty hours.'
'Forget the bird. Shitheads who double the pool after a drawn first half shouldn't push their luck.'
He pointed at them, first Skåne, then Hilding, then Skåne again.
'Wildboy, you get Axelsson's ID number somehow and tell Skåne. He'll clutch it in his shaky junkie hands and use his leave tomorrow to get the boys at Stockholm registry office to hand over the beast's indictment. And then we'll fucking see. Oh, yeah.'
Hilding scratched his sore until he bled. Then he cleared his throat, for too long. Dickybird interrupted before his lackey could speak.
'Don't even think of arguing. Just do it.'
Lennart Oscarsson stood by the window in his room. It looked out over the exercise yard and football pitch. He observed grown men, offenders who had threatened, beaten up and killed other men, lying on the ground behind the goals, gasping for air. He watched Dickybird and his harem, noted that they stared and pointed at Axelsson, who was walking along the jogging track. It made him gulp with anxiety; he had warned Bertolsson that to place someone with a child porn sentence among the normals could only end one way. In bloodshed. He had seen it before, and only someone unfamiliar with his strange reality could imagine anything different.
He was dying. Another small death with every moment that passed.
His two lives did not mean that he lived more, but that he lived less. Somehow his separate worlds cancelled each other out, consumed each other, so that loving two people, being embraced by two lovers, did not make him feel richer, but as if he'd lost out twice over.
Now Nils was sitting opposite him. They had been holding each other, had agreed that they needed each other. And then Nils had stated his ultimatum.
Lennart understood why. It wasn't that he did not see how living alone, just being somebody's second best, someone who didn't really exist for those who knew them both, would lead up to a point, like now, when they faced each other with an ugly either-or dividing them.
He turned back toward the window, scanning the row of uniform villas just beyond the wall. He lived in one of them. His whole life was in one of those houses, and his wife, whom he had always loved.
The man who stood close behind him now offered him a new life. He could grow old with Nils.
He did not have the strength to keep carrying the lie.
He knew that.
Tomorrow must be the day when he stopped lying.
The whore had been screaming when he pulled off her red shoes. He'd pushed her down then, into the grass, little whores should scream, that was part of it, but there were too many outdoor types about, joggers and strolling OAPs. She hadn't liked it when he kissed the shiny red leather and the metal buckles, she'd screamed a lot, louder than the rest, true, but put it this way, she'd screamed real beautiful. He had to kiss her feet afterwards, maybe he was a bit rough then, more than he needed to be, he had pushed her face into the dry ground for a bit too long. It's hard to handle the little whores, if you're nice to them they just want more cock. This one was just the same.
She'd had lovely feet. Pale pale skin, tiny toes. He had almost forgotten how it was to be with little whores. Four years it had been, how he'd longed for it, wanking wanking wanking, but now there was no need, he'd got at them again.
They acted bad later on. When they had got what they wanted, cock, a hard seeing-to. And when they were silent.
He had hidden this one. A big fir tree, its bottom branches reached the ground and she fitted in underneath. She'd been too mucky, shame to push her down so hard, but he had licked her feet clean. They had tasted of earth.
He had been sitting here for three hours. A useful seat this, not too near but with a good view of everybody who was going in and out. This seemed a proper nursery, he had checked it out before and the children always looked happy.
True, there were the guards. Ordinary baby cops, but always in the way. He'd have to work round them. Same types, in pairs, parked outside every place he'd tried in Strängnäs. But this was Enköping, thirty kilometres down the road, still, here they fucking well were.
Little tiny whores.
He had seen lots already.
Lots with white-blonde hair, that's what he liked best, the pale ones because they were always so soft, their soft pale skin had blood vessels showing through and when he pressed hard with his fingers it left kind of reddish spots.
It was a beautiful church. White, proud and imposing, it dominated the small town, towering so demandingly over it that Fredrik often asked himself if it could ever have been suited to the congregation, or if it was a standard model in the long-ago days when Christianity was law and human beings walked taller.
He liked it very much, regardless of his having left the Swedish Church long ago, because nothing that he couldn't see with his own eyes truly existed for him, and one of the things he could never see was whatever existence was supposed to follow death. Just this church, and just this cemetery, was important to him. It stood for life, for his childhood. Summer after summer, Fredrik had tagged along with his grandad, the church warden, admiring everything he did: digging deep graves, endlessly mowing the grass, arranging the golden numbers on the black board to tell people which hymns to sing. He liked to help. Grandad had allowed him to press the button that started the church bells tolling and, after the service, collect up the bibles on a little trolley with rusty wheels. The tall white altar candles in their heavy brass candlesticks were special and he had to look carefully to make sure that they were properly lined up.
Maybe this was pure, overdecorated nostalgia, but never mind. What mattered was that he'd been very happy, so happy that his grandad had replaced George Best as his idol. He still loved the old man, now a silver-haired ninety-four- year-old, pottering around on his sore legs, sipping black coffee at all times of the day. Fredrik sometimes felt that this part of his past was his only future.
He looked across to Agnes. She was wearing something light-coloured, as they had agreed. She looked worn. In her forties, she had still appeared to be in her early twenties. Now, after three days, the years had caught up with her. As they do. He wanted to hold her, wanted her to hold him. They needed each other now for a little while longer. They would die together. Then without Marie there would be nothing left for them to share.
It was a very quiet funeral, unadvertised. No mourners apart from Fredrik, Agnes and Micaela. No one else, except the two detectives in charge of the investigation, who had asked to be present for technical reasons. After some hesitation he had said yes, they could do what they liked, as long as they kept a low profile and sat at the back.
He walked alone across the grass between the graves. Some were visited and had flower tributes, some were not; stones covered in moss and lichen that made the inscriptions unreadable. When he was a child he had walked here, peering at all the names and dates, calculated the ages of the dead and wondered at lives that were sometimes so short while others could be so long, at babies who never learned to walk, and at grown-ups who had been given a chance to choose what lives to lead.
Soon his daughter would be buried under this lawn. She was only five years old.
She stood behind him, cautiously touching his shoulder. He wheeled round.
'I didn't hear you.'
She smiled a little.
'How are you? Forget that, I'd never understand. But I want you to know that I've thought of you every second since I heard.'
She was one of the good people. He had known her for as long as he could remember; Grandad had liked her, despite his reservations about female ministers. He was an elderly man by then, but he had supported her from the start, done everything to help the young woman in a world of men. Later on, Fredrik had realised that she had been very young back then, although he had seen her as a grown-up among all the others. Now that they were adults together, he felt they were contemporaries.
'Rebecca,' he said. 'I'm so glad it's you.'
'I've been in this job for thirty years now. This is my worst fucking awful day ever.'
Fredrik was taken aback. Her swear word hit him, hit the gravestones, her faith. He had always seen her as security personified, but when he looked up her face was no longer gentle and calm; it had turned tense and brittle, it seemed fractured.
Fredrik stared at the coffin in front of him. Wooden boards, flowers. He held on to Agnes, she to him. They were standing in the front pew. Every movement set up an echo in the empty church.
There was a child in that coffin. His child. He could not grasp the fact, he felt it was just a very short time since she had been there and they had talked and laughed and hugged. Agnes shook with weeping. He held her tighter still. He seemed to have no tears left. The grief had invaded him, stolen everything. All that was left was that gaping wound inside him.
She is no more.
She is no more.
She is no more.
Maybe he should have sung along. The organist had played something.
They left the echoing space together. Rebecca had cast some earth on the coffin and uttered the old words. Afterwards she hugged them, but seemed unable to think of anything comforting to say. Her own mixed feelings, grief and anger and vulnerability, made her pull away abruptly, look at them, hug them once more and then walk away.
They stood in silence on the gravel path in the sunshine. Again the past came back to him; it was like the long summers when he had walked here with Grandad.
Now she was in a hole in the ground, like everybody else.
'Please accept our condolences.'
The two policemen had come up behind them. Both were in black suits; maybe it was police etiquette, maybe their own sense of decorum.
'I have no children, but I have lost people close to me. I can at least try to understand how you feel.'
The older, limping policeman, Grens, had sounded awkward, almost harsh, but Fredrik realised that it was seriously meant and had taken an effort.
They reached out, shook hands. Sundkvist said something inaudible to Agnes.
'I don't know if it makes any difference to you,' Grens said. 'Still, I'd like you to know that we'll have him locked up soon. A big team is chasing him.'
'True, you don't know if it matters to us. It doesn't. It won't bring our daughter back.'
'I can see that, and I'm sure I would've felt the same. But it's our job to find him, bring him to justice so he can be punished and, above all, stopped from committing more of these crimes.'
Fredrik had just taken Agnes' hand, half turning round to walk away. He wanted to be alone with her, share his grief with her. But these words made him look back at the policemen.
'What do you mean?'
'Well, since Tuesday we have kept every nursery and primary school under surveillance.'
'Is that the kind of place where you expect to catch him?'
Fredrik let go of Agnes' hand, examined her face. She seemed passive, waiting. She would have to wait a little longer.
'What schools, how many?'
'In this town, and around it. Lots of places, it's a large area.'
'And you watch out in this way because you think there's a chance he'll do it again?'
'More than a chance. We're quite certain he'll strike again.'
'How can you be certain?'
'His past history. And the very clear psychiatric profile. Every specialist in the country has examined him; he has probably been probed and prodded more than any other prisoner in the land. The message is the same every time. He'll do it again, and again. His only other option is to kill himself.'
'And you believe this to be true?'
'Well, take just the fact that he let you see him before… before this happened. It is significant. Our psycho-experts think so, anyway. It means that he has thrown off the last restraints and now there is nothing else left in him except lust to destroy, and self-hatred.'
He took her hand again.
The churchyard seemed very large. He was alone. She was alone.
They would carry on living, he perhaps with Micaela, Agnes with someone, not him. But they would always be alone.
He drove Micaela home first, to their home together, and held her for a long time. Then he and Agnes went out for a meal, just the two of them.
They found a place where they could sit outside, it was a cramped backyard, but it meant that they were on their own. A light breeze was blowing, which helped against the heat. Afterwards he drove Agnes to the train, but just as she was about to buy her ticket he offered to take her to Stockholm and she accepted. It meant that they didn't have to say goodbye there and then. Instead they could sit together for another hour. They needed the space, even if it was just to drive a hundred-odd kilometres on busy roads; it would at least afford them the time to try to understand and accept that, by losing their child, they had also lost their relationship with each other, that they were two grown-ups with nothing but their grief in common.
They said little, because there was nothing much to say. She didn't want to go straight back to her empty flat and said she preferred to be dropped off outside a shop. They hugged, she kissed his cheek lightly and he stayed watching until she had disappeared round a corner.
Afterwards he drove aimlessly round central Stockholm, which was strangely empty apart from stray tourists, maps in hand, now that the heat had made most of the people leave. He stopped twice, once to eat an ice-cream on a bench, once to buy mineral water from a bored cafe owner, and drifted on through the gathering dusk as the city went through its evening routines. The night never became properly dark, it was a Nordic summer's night, and anyway the artificial big-city lights shattered the darkness. In the end he parked in a leafy lane on Djurgården Island and fell asleep, still in the driver's seat, his head leaning against the side window.
His clothes were sticking to him, his light suit crumpled. He had woken early, unwashed and sore after five hours' sleep. Outside, the clucking of bright-eyed ducks mingled with shouting from drunken teenagers going home after an all- night session somewhere.
He started the car and drove unhesitatingly to the Television Centre.
It was three years since he had last seen Vincent Carlsson. He had just moved from newspaper journalism to the national newsdesk of the Rapport and Aktuellt programmes when Fredrik had come to see him. Vincent's place had been at the back of a huge room, where he spent most of his time distributing e-mails and short news items to the buzzing hive of reporters. About a year ago, he had moved to the morning news. As he described it, his new job consisted of carving up events and make news soup from the pieces. He had been made a functional unit in the big news factory, and what with having acquired a wife and children, the regular routine suited him just fine.
After a stroppy porter had made Fredrik wait for the statutory ten minutes, Vincent came down to meet him.
Through the glass window into the corridor Fredrik could see that his old friend hadn't changed; he was tall and dark and kind, with a personal charisma that made him the type of man that women smiled at. They had been to journalism college together, often gone out for drinks in the evening, at which point Vincent would eye up the most delicious bird around and announce that he had to have her. He always got his way; he'd go up to her, chat and smile and laugh and touch her arm and her shoulders and then they'd suddenly leave together. He was like that; it was easy to become fond of him and impossible to tell him to go jump even when he deserved it.
Vincent made the porter open up.
'Fredrik, what are you doing here? Do you know what time it is?'
'Quarter past, actually.'
They were walking along a corridor without an end in sight. Blue lino, chalk-white walls.
'I'd thought I'd get in touch,' Vincent went on. 'Not as a journalist, of course. But I was afraid to… disturb you. I couldn't think what I could say, without it sounding… wrong.'
'We buried Marie yesterday.'
Fredrik realised that he wasn't making it any easier for his old friend, that he was helpless in the face of something he would never grasp.
'Listen, you don't have to say anything. I know you've thought about it and I appreciate that. But honestly, just give it a miss. It's not what I need now.'
The endless corridor became another corridor.
'What do you need then? You know I'm always happy to see you, whatever the reason, but you're looking so fucking grim. And why just now, early in the morning the day after Marie's funeral?'
They went upstairs, then past the big newsroom.
'I need your help with something. You can do it, I know. And it's the only help I need now.'
Vincent led the way into a room with desks in three of its corners.
'The newsroom is no good. You'd hate it. We broadcast stuff about Lund and you and Marie and policemen all day long. They'd get frantically interested to see you walk in. This is better and nobody comes here before eight o'clock.'
He wandered off to get them both a mug of coffee.
'Here. Drink this, you look like you need it.'
They drank some coffee in silence; a minute or so passed while they avoided each other's eyes.
'Listen, we've plenty of time. I've asked the other editor to take over my bit for a while. She is terrific, much better than me. All the viewer will notice is a clear programming improvement.'
Fredrik reached out to pull a cigarette from a packet on another desk.
'All right if I take a fag?'
'I thought you stopped smoking ages ago.'
'I've just started again.' He extracted a cigarette, no filter, a foreign brand that he didn't recognise.
For a moment they sat in a white mist of smoke.
'Vincent, do you remember the last time you helped me out?'
'Sure do. You were worried about Agnes.'
'I thought she was shagging that bloody awful economist. I was wrong. But it was thanks to you that I got to know what kind of bloke he was.'
'So, what next?' Vincent waved a little irritably at the tobacco-smelling cloud and Fredrik stubbed his cigarette out in his coffee mug.
'More of the same, please.'
'Personal data. Absolutely anything you can find.'
'And who am I supposed to check?'
Fredrik pulled out a note from the inside pocket of his jacket.
'Really? And who's that?'
'It's Bernt Lund's ID number.'
They had argued afterwards. Their voices rose, the arguments crossed each other, but it was a confrontation in which compassion won out. Now they were close to an agreement.
'It's not that I'm breaking the law, because strictly speaking I'm not. But I am trampling on what I believed our friendship to be, breaking its rules.'
'Not at all.'
'How can you say that? If I help you find personal data on the man who killed your child, then I'm doing the one thing for you that I shouldn't.'
'Only this. It's all I need.'
'You're on a slippery slope, very much so.'
'Stop debating issues, for Christ's sake. Just help me.'
Vincent stood for a moment, to signal what he'd prefer to do. Then he sat down again and switched on the nearest computer.
'What's the fucking data you want?'
'I want everything. Everything you can find.'
Incoming e-mails were stacking on the screen, on top of the morning schedules. Vincent moved the lot, found the right dialogue box, keyed in a name and a password, and the database homepage flickered into life. A list of links to other databases. Company Register, Trade and Trade Associations Register, Swedish Business Information Service, Automobile Register, Address Register, Property Register.
'The number. You had it, his ID number.'
The screen flickered. It was a hit.
'Let's go. You want to know where he has stayed?'
The morning sun had reached the glazed wall of the office. The still air grew warm.
'Is it OK to open the window? It's getting hard to breathe.'
Fredrik rose and opened two of the windows wide. He hadn't realised how the light-coloured suit had made him sweat. He breathed in deeply, once, twice. Vincent's arm went up in the air.
'Bernt Asmodeus Lund. The last entry is a care-of address.'
'Care of Håkan Axelsson, Skeppar Street 12. Somewhere in Östermalm. But it's from quite a few years ago; presumably Lund has been kept locked up since then. Otherwise, nothing. Skeppar Street is the last on record.'
Fredrik stood behind Vincent now, his back still aching from sleeping jammed into the car. The fresh air felt good, though.
'What about earlier addresses?'
'There are two. First, going back in time, Kung Street 3, in Enköping, and before that, Nelson Lane, Piteå.'
'Is that all?'
'Everything that's recorded here. If you want older addresses still, you've got to contact the tax office in Piteå.'
'Fine, that's enough for now. But there must be more facts. I want all the facts.'
Fredrik kept his place behind Vincent for nearly an hour, making notes on the flimsy in-house stationery. He had found a pad on the desk with the packet of cigarettes.
Bernt Lund had been registered as the owner of a property in Vetlanda, a block of flats in a remarkably high taxation band at an address in the outskirts of the small town.
The business transaction data included a long list of unpaid debts. His Inland Revenue account was in the red and he had failed to pay his state education loans. Several attempts to recover his assets had been made and failed.
His driving licence had been suspended.
He was a partner in two sleeping limited companies trading in trust holdings.
He had held four posts on sports clubs' steering committees.
On the whole, Lund's life outside was hard to follow, because he had moved around a lot, always trailing financial complications. Now and then he had obviously attempted to organise relationships with others. As Fredrik took notes, he sought to understand what it was he needed, tried to read the reality he could not reach.
Vincent turned and looked at his old friend.
'I wish you'd skip this.'
Fredrik didn't answer, just clenched his jaw tight and stared back.
'Fine. Glare away. It doesn't change what I think.'
Vincent rose, took the two mugs and wandered off to the machine in the corridor outside. Fredrik looked at his disappearing back for a moment. Then he picked up one of the two phones and dialled her number.
'Hi. It's me.'
He had woken her.
'Not now. I took a sleeping tablet, I'm still too weary.'
'Just one thing, a question. When we cleared your dad's flat there were two sacks full of stuff. Where did they go?'
' What's this about? '
'I simply want to know.'
'I don't have them. The sacks were left in the attic, back in Strängnäs.'
Vincent came back carrying the refilled mugs. Fredrik put the receiver down.
'Agnes – it wasn't easy.'
'How is she?'
Vincent nodded, handed Fredrik a mug, drank some coffee himself.
'Let's do whatever has to be done; it's hotting up out there. A plane has come down near Moscow.'
He started searching the Trade Register, essentially listings of small and medium-sized businesses. Again the ID number was the magic key opening all locks to a stranger's life.
'B. Lund Taxis.'
'What?' Fredrik had heard, but asked anyway.
'It's a cab firm, registered as B. Lund Taxis. It hasn't been deregistered.'
Fredrik came over to read for himself.
'Look. It was set up in 1994.'
Fredrik laughed, just a short bark.
'You're laughing at fucking nothing, are you? Remember who I am?'
'Absolutely nothing.' Fredrik laughed again.
'Come off it. You turn up here, just twenty-four hours after you buried your daughter, still wearing your funeral suit, and you stand around having a giggle. At nothing. Excuse me for asking. And shut up.'
'Calm down? That's so fucking great. Fantastic. Now what do you want? Business data?'
'Collaterals? Registration numbers?'
'Nothing more. It's fine.'
It was raining.
The last three weeks had been dry, but now, suddenly, he felt drops hit his forehead. He took shelter in the car and started the windscreen wipers, but after a little while the shower was over. Getting out of town was easy this early on a Saturday morning and he drove quickly across the Liljeholm Bridge and on towards Strängnäs.
He had put his notes on the dashboard and kept stealing cautious glances at them as he drove. A provincial block of flats. An address in the far north, then in Enköping, which was near Strängnäs, then in central Stockholm. All that seemed irrelevant. But B. Lund Taxis, that was something else, a company of several years' standing.
Stockholm's dull outskirts made him want to listen to music, and he started rooting around in the box under the driver's seat. He would put on Creedence and 'Proud Mary'. He would sing aloud and forget that his grief was refusing to join in.
When he arrived in Strängnäs it was pouring with rain. The water was washing off a dull membrane that had grown to cover buildings and people and all other life-forms. Everyone seemed to feel released and joyous. Despite the downpour he had seen no umbrellas anywhere in the town and no one running for shelter. Now, after parking the car, he observed the man just in front of him and the woman walking a bit further away, saw both slowing their pace and letting their clothes get soaked through as they turned their smiling faces upwards. His own wet suit came away from his body and he stepped out lightly, breathing in the damp, oxygen-rich air. He walked slowly towards his house, wanting the rain to wash away three weeks of heat and dust.
When he opened the front door, she was there, waiting for him in the hall, holding a couple of masks, one with the grin of the Big Bad Wolf, the other one with a Little Pig's snout. She called to him, Daddy! Come and play, hurry, please, Daddy, eager as all five-year-olds are.
He went to the fridge, took a carton of orange juice and sat down on a kitchen chair, drank three large glasses, listening to the silence of the house. It seemed to demand something of him.
He moved the chair to get closer to the phone. Micaela would be back soon, so he had to get on with it. Just two calls, that was all.
First the number. It was in the Yellow Pages; he recognised the big company logo from calls he had made before. A woman answered.
'Hello. My name is Sven Sundkvist. Could you please put me through to your personnel department?'
Fredrik waited. A woman introduced herself as Liv Steen.
'Good afternoon. I am Sven Sundkvist, detective inspector with the Stockholm City Police, violent crime squad.'
'What can I do for you?'
'I'm looking for information about one of the local firms you sometimes use. The owner is a Mr Bernt Lund, ID 640517-0350. His company is called B. Lund Taxis.'
'I still don't quite understand what you want.'
'I need information quickly. Specifically, which routes did you have him booked for?'
'Look, this was several years ago.'
'Very well. Could you just check any bookings to primary schools or day nurseries?'
'I see… well. Look, we usually don't provide this kind of information just for the asking.'
Fredrik hesitated. This woman was doing the right thing. He was unused to lying and didn't like it; it was so complicated to work out where the limit went and if he had passed it.
'Ms Steen, this is a murder case.'
'Is that supposed to make a difference?'
'It has been covered in the media recently. A sex crime, the victim was a little girl.'
It was very hard to say. He couldn't stand much more of this. The woman hesitated.
'Detective Inspector… Sundkvist, is that right?'
'Is it OK for me to phone you back?'
'Of course. If it makes you feel better.'
A long pause.
'I don't want to cause any trouble. I'll deal with it now.'
He heard her looking through files, heard the clicking sounds as metal ring-bindings opened and snapped shut. His wet suit was sticking to him again and he had started to sweat.
'Sorry to keep you waiting. Here we are. Eight bookings to day nurseries, four in Strängnäs, and four in Enköping.'
'And the addresses, please.'
She turned more pages in her files, then read them out to him.
He recognised all four in Strängnäs; one of them was The Dove. Lund knew it well after driving there for almost a year. After escaping he had returned to a familiar place, where he knew how the children came and went, where the exits and entrances were.
Fredrik thanked Liv Steen for her help. Now his second call.
'Agnes, it's me again.'
'I don't feel any better now.'
'I know. Don't worry. Just one thing. The key to that attic. Do you know where it is?'
'There is no key because there's no lock. I never bothered.
Somehow it was Dad's things and had nothing to do with me.'
He wanted the call to end there, now that he knew all he needed to know.
'Why do you ask?'
'He had some things of Marie's. Things she made at school and gave him. I want to take care of them.'
'I just do. Must I argue the case for everything?'
He was thirsty and drank most of a second carton of juice. Then he wrote a note, just a few lines to explain he'd be away for a while but would come back home as soon as he could. He stuck it on the fridge with a magnet shaped like a ladybird.
It was still raining, but less hard.
He walked across the street to the block of flats opposite and took the lift to the attic floor.
He got up from the seat.
It was hard, made from thick wooden planks covered in graffiti. He had been sitting there all morning, for four hours by now, and he felt uncomfortable, stiff all over.
He had watched the little sluts come and go, knew how they moved, what they looked like when they chatted. Good-looking whores, like that other one; they didn't have any tits to speak about, but long, slender legs and knowing eyes that had seen cock before.
He liked the two blondes best. Always happy, they were. He knew their names, they spoke so loudly, and he had a few photos. He had looked so long at their images that he felt he knew the girls well.
They were quite grown up, in a way.
Both were the kind of whore who knows what she wants. When their parents brought them to school, they hardly waved goodbye. He had often thought of little bitches like that, who felt they were in charge, thought of what he would say to them and what he would do to them.
He felt lonely now. Having watched and waited for so long, it was time they got together, the three of them. The parents would be late, their sort always were.
He checked the time. Five past eleven. Almost six hours to go.
In the afternoon. Like with the other one.
Whores like to be outside in the afternoon. It had been too hot earlier, but now after the rain they would be out in the grounds for a long time, that's what they liked to do. It would be crowded, what with all the kids around, and the local fuzz wouldn't notice a thing. He knew just what he would do.
It was dark. Fredrik had been in the attic only once before, when he and Agnes had come here to store what little was worth keeping from Birger's flat. Agnes' father had simply stopped living, between one breath and the next, apparently having made an instant change-over from being alive to being dead. They had found him naked in bed, propped up to read a magazine, Boating News, which he was still holding; the reading lamp was lit and on the bedside table his diary lay open at the day's date, with a completed note about the midday temperature and extent of rainfall, as well as recording his trip to the corner grocer's to hand in his pools coupon at the tobacco counter and then get something for his supper. Below this entry he had added a few lines about feeling oddly tired and the beginnings of a headache, for no reason he could think of, and that he had taken a couple of aspirin.
Fredrik had never got to know him. Birger had been hard to reach, a big, burly, aggressive man, who was so completely unlike his daughter in every way that it was just about impossible to believe them to be related at all.
He went into the storage pen that belonged to Birger's old flat. Vaguely familiar things were stacked against the walls, boxes of clothes, a standard lamp, two armchairs, four fishing rods, a bicycle trailer. Getting ready to squeeze between the chairs, he heard the attic door open and held still in mid-movement.
He listened and waited in the murky light. At least two of them; they were whispering.
Then a high young voice, a boy's.
Silence, then more whispering.
'Hello there, we're all coming in! Lots of us.'
He recognised the voice, smiled, and was just about to call out when the other one, so far silent, spoke up, sounding a little older and tougher.
'See? It works every time, I know that.'
Two boys, who slowly found their way down the central aisle, on the look-out. He could hear their tense breathing, and spotted them when they were just a few pens away. He didn't want to scare them.
Too late. The sudden voice had obviously alarmed them.
'Look over here, it's me. Fredrik.'
Now they were looking the right way and made him out where he stood among the boxes and chairs.
The dark-haired, shorter one was David, but his mate was a new face, red hair and freckled skin. He was taller, more strongly built than David. The boys looked at each other with the disappointment ghost-busters feel when the awful spectral being they have been chasing turns out to be somebody's dad in the wrong place.
David pointed at Fredrik.
'Hey, that's just Marie's dad.'
David had been Marie's best friend, they had been there for each other since way back, since their first efforts to walk. They had gone off to the same playground and the same nursery school, had supper and stayed the night in each other's homes, woken together in the morning before everybody else, making up for the brothers and sisters neither had.
David fell silent again immediately. He felt very bad about saying Marie's name like that, because it must upset Fredrik now that Marie had become dead and would never come back, or so he had been told. He turned away, pulling at his mate's arm to make him come along.
'Don't go. You stay, boys.'
David looked back. He was crying now.
'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I forgot.'
While Fredrik manoeuvred himself to get out from the store, he wondered how young children might construe death. Could they grasp that the dead were not with them and never would be, that dead people don't breathe, or see, or hear or come out to play ever again? He didn't think they could, and neither could he, not really.
'David, come here. You too. What's your name?'
'OK. You too, Lukas.'
Fredrik sat down on the dusty floor of reddish-brown pitted bricks, pointing to show that he wanted the boys to come and sit next to him, one on either side.
'Sit here, and I'll tell you something.'
They did as he asked. He put his arms round their shoulders.
'Do you remember what we played in our house the last time you came?'
'You were the Big Bad Wolf,' David said and smiled. 'We were the Little Pigs. We won. We always won!'
'Sure, you won, as usual. Was it fun, do you think?'
'Yes it was! It was great fun. Marie is good at playing.'
She was standing in front of him. She was smiling, insisting that they must play now, just one more time. He sighed, the way he always did; she laughed and they played again.
'She was good at playing. Great fun to play with. And she laughed a lot. You know all that, don't you, David?'
'Oh yes. I know that.'
'Good. So it's important to know too that you mustn't ever feel worried about saying Marie's name. It's fine, with me and with everybody.'
David looked fixedly at the brick floor for a while. He was trying to understand. Then he spoke, first to Lukas, then to Fredrik.
'Marie is fun to play with and I'm friends with her. But she has become dead.'
'Yes, she has.'
'But you won't get sad if I say her name?'
'No, I promise I won't.'
They stayed there for a good half-hour, while Fredrik told them about Marie being dead. He described her funeral, how the vicar had put spoonfuls of earth on her coffin before it was lowered into a hole in the ground. David and Lukas kept asking questions. Why do people have blood in their stomachs? How come a child can die before the grown-ups? How can it be that you talk to somebody one day and the next day you can't ever again?
He hugged them both before they left, realising that this was the first time he had articulated the fact of Marie's death. The boys had made him. They had listened to his explanations and asked more questions when they weren't satisfied, forcing him to try harder. He had even spoken of his grief, admitting that he had not cried once. This shocked them and they wanted to know why. He said truthfully that he didn't know the answer, but it must have to do with the way sadness could build up inside a person who somehow couldn't let it out.
Then the attic door closed behind them and he was left alone in total silence. He pulled himself together, pushed his way back in among the objects in the store, where he found the two sacks tucked away behind everything else. He turned them upside down. Lots of stuff inside, books, clothes, crockery. He found what he was looking for in the second sack.
The rifle was so large it stuck in the rough weave.
It was a first-class hunting rifle, he had Birger's word for that. Hunting anything, elk, deer, hare, had become an absorbing pastime of his later years. He had been proud of his rifle and cared for it meticulously. One of the images Fredrik retained was of the old man seated at the kitchen table, laboriously taking the gun apart, cleaning every piece and then putting it together again. Afterwards he would sit there pointing it at anybody or anything that came to mind.
Fredrik wrapped the rifle in one of the sacks and left with the package under his arm.
Siw's voice was booming, loud enough to make the walls tremble. 'You've Just Been Playing With Me', originally called 'Foolin' Around' in 1961. As the sound bounced around the room, it amplified itself, became louder still and more insistent.
You've just been playing with me, so Here's your ring back and off you go Ewert Grens had snubbed his visitors, told them that as far as he was concerned three was a crowd, but that they could hang around if they stayed put and shut up. This was the third track from the tape he had picked, turning the volume up a little for each new tune. Sven Sundkvist and Lars Ågestam looked at each other. Ågestam was baffled. Sven shrugged dismissively: nothing doing, this is how it goes. All they could do was wait until Siw had sung her way through the programme. Ewert had produced the special photo of her that he had snapped himself in the Kristianstad Palais back in 1972 and was singing along. He knew every word and become louder each time the refrain came round.
At one point the singing stopped, the crunching sound of the needle on the long-playing record took over, and Ågestam was just opening his mouth to speak when the intro to the next item started up. Ewert waved irritably in his general direction, shut your face, and turned the volume up a bit more.
It's clear you're going to leave me, all they say about you is true
Ågestam had heard enough of Siw. He was in a hurry and, besides, he was in charge.
He was fed up to the teeth with sex maniacs, rapists, flashers, paedophiles. Not another pervert, he wanted something else, something better, to advance advance advance.
And then they handed him this brief. A sex crime. But also his ticket to advancement.
He had found it hard to stop himself from laughing wildly when he learned that he was to be the head of the pre-trial investigation of Bernt Lund, while the chase was still on. Every newscast, every front page was devoted to it, the whole country had ground to a halt; the murder of a five-year-old girl by an escaped convict, a known sex killer, this demanded every ounce of spare media capacity. So, this was his big chance. His breakthrough. For the duration, the nation's interest was focused on his case and, therefore, on him.
I'm in love with you but it cannot be
You won't get a single thing more from me
That's it. No more crap like this, not one more daft line.
He rose, walked over to the bookshelf, had a look at the awkward tape recorder, found the off button and pressed it.
The room was totally silent. Sven stared at the floor. Ewert was trembling with rage and his face had gone bright red.
Ågestam knew he had just broken the oldest unwritten rule in the building. Actually, he didn't give a shit.
'Grens, I'm sorry, but I've had enough. No more pathetic rhymes for today.'
'Fuck off then!' Ewert shouted. 'Out of my room, you little arselicking creep!'
Ågestam had made up his mind.
'You sit here listening to folk-pop from the nineteenth century instead of doing your job. Of course I had to shut off this bloody tosh!'
Ewert rose, still shouting at the top of his voice.
'I've listened to this music and worked harder than anyone else while you were still filling your nappies. Now fuck off before I do something I shouldn't!'
Defiantly, Ågestam returned to his chair and sat down.
'No. I want to know where we're at. And when you've told me what you know, I'll let you have a clue that I think you don't know about. If I'm right, I stay. If not, I'll leave. Deal?'
Ewert had just made up his mind to manhandle the little prat, throw him out bodily. He despised the prosecutors, the whole fucking lot of them were academics, career boys, who had never been out there getting hurt. This one would crawl away from here if he had anything to do with it. He was on his way when Sven got up.
'Ewert, cool down. Think. Give him a chance. If he's got a clue he must tell us. If we know about it already he'll go away.'
Ewert hesitated and Ågestam grabbed the opportunity, turning quickly to Sven.
'Fine. Now, where have we got with this case?'
Sven cleared his throat.
'Ah. Well, we've investigated all Lund's past addresses. Nothing so far, but we're keeping an eye on them. And we've checked up on all his paedophile pals. Again, they're under observation.'
'Any hints from the public?'
'Flooding in, we're up to our necks already. What with the news, broadcast and press, people know what's happened and think they see things. Lund has been observed everywhere in the country by now. We're sifting through the tip- offs, checking everything, but so far there's been nothing worth while.'
'What about Lund's possible targets?'
'We're keeping watch on as many as possible. Which also means that we're in regular communication with all nursery and primary schools within a fifty-kilometre radius of his last one.'
'Not really, no.'
'In other words, you're stuck?'
Ågestam waited. Ewert slapped his diary against the desk.
'Get on with it, you little prat,' he said angrily. 'And then leave.'
The young prosecutor got up, walked slowly round the room, from wall to wall.
'I've got a lot of experience of the taxi trade,' he began. 'Driving taxis was how I financed my five years at university. I drove people all over the area. Good money. It was in the days before deregulation. It's different now, with a taxi lurking at every street corner.'
'So bloody what?' Ewert raged.
Ågestam ignored the aggression, the hatred.
'I learned a lot about how the trade works, so much so that I had enough material for a webpage called Taxilnfo. You know the kind of thing, stuff not normally put together, like telephone numbers, business structures, price comparisons. The lot. As a matter of fact, I made myself into some kind of expert. People turned to me, like tourist agencies and so on. The press.'
Ewert was stirring again; it was hard to work out whether he had actually taken in one single thing, he kept thumping on the desk and breathing noisily. Sven had seen him in bad moods before, barking at people or whingeing, but never quite like this, beyond any dignity or control.
'You stuck-up twit, now what?'
'Bernt Lund has been a taxi driver, isn't that so?'
'Even set up his own business, B. Lund Taxis or something?'
He had turned to Ewert now, and was waiting quietly for a reply.
Four minutes passed.
That is a long time to wait when a room is out of kilter and thoughts, feeling, bodies all seem out of sync with each other.
'He did,' Ewert hissed. 'A long time ago. We've been all over it, turned that fucking bankruptcy nest inside out.'
Ågestam no longer walked from one wall to the next; he had set his thin legs free and was almost running about, as if in a hurry or a state of jittery nerves. His light- coloured, slightly too long hair flopped, his large glasses misted over and his whole being reverted to a kind of boyishness; he became a rebellious, determined schoolboy once more.
'I understand, you've checked the firm's economic base, found out how it was set up and how big it was. Good. But did you look at what he actually did?'
'He drove a car. Taxied the locals from A to B and trousered the fare.'
'Whom did he drive?'
'There are no fucking records.'
'No, not of individuals, but bookings are recorded if they are made by named organisations, local councils for instance.'
He stopped and stood still between Ewert, seated at his desk, and Sven, in the visitor's chair, continuing to talk and carefully including both of them, turning this way and that to show that they were both being addressed.
'It is problematic for small outfits in the taxi business to manage on occasional fares, from pick-ups and so on. Most of them like to have fixed runs on their books, we call them school runs. Fixed bookings pay less well but you can count on the income. Typically, actual school runs involve young children, who are ferried to nursery or primary school. If you've been in the trade for as long as Lund had, the odds are that you've got several runs of this kind. And, of course, it's especially likely with somebody as sick as he is. In other words, I suggest you trace his regular bookings record. My prediction is that you'll find some for little kids to be taken to places which he'll have got to know well. And fantasised about, and maybe wants to return to.'
Ågestam pulled a comb from a trouser pocket and tidied his short-back-and-sides. His appearance mattered, it was correct, white shirt and discreet tie, grey suit; he liked feeling proper, complete, prepared.
'Will you investigate this?'
Ewert stared ahead in silence, bursting with anger; he had to give vent to it or let it die a death. He had rarely been so provoked. This was his room, his music, his way of working. You either respected it or you could stay outside in the corridor with the rest of the goons. He couldn't fathom the origin of his accumulated rage, or why it had grown so overwhelming, but never mind, that's how he felt, and now when all that time had passed and he had aged in his job, he could just be himself, without having to explain why he was this way or that. True, some people used the word bitterness to describe his mindset. No matter, he wasn't interested in their fucking choice of words and had no urge to be liked by all and sundry. He knew who he was and had learned to put up with it.
He realised that the young prosecutor had pointed out something that should be one of their next tasks, but it went against the grain to admit it.
Sven reacted differently. He sat up straight and looked appreciative.
'This sounds like a good lead. It could well be just as you say, and if so, our catchment area, as it were, could be significantly reduced. We've gone all out on this case, tried to find time and resources, but we're short of both. That's a fact. If you turn out to be right, we'll gain time and we can focus on resource use. And it should bring us closer to him. I'll start checking this at once.'
He left. They heard his swift footsteps disappear down the corridor, but stayed were they were, without speaking. Ewert had no more energy left for shouting and Ågestam realised how drained he felt, and how tense he had been.
An interlude. Stillness, silence. Then Ågestam moved away from the centre of the room, walking past Ewert and over to the bookshelf. He started the tape recorder. 'Throw It Away', originally called 'Lucky Lips' in 1966.
I've heard what they say, you have been aroun'
Squiring pretty girls all about town
Scratchy. Too jolly. Desperate rhymes.
Ågestam went away and closed the door behind him.
It had stopped raining. The last drops were splashing on the ground when he came out on the front steps. The air was clear and easy to breathe. The clouds had thinned, letting the sun through, and soon it would be hot, dry, dusty again.
Fredrik crossed the street quickly, carrying the sack. He put it on the back seat of his car. He was preoccupied; inside his head he was talking to two small boys about death. David and Lukas had been sitting close to him on the hard brick floor, listening to him and understanding, but always throwing his answers back at him, batting new questions his way; at five and seven years of age they were grappling with their wonder about body and soul and the dark that no one can see.
Marie came back to him. He had thought of her every single moment since Tuesday; the image of her still, withdrawn face had blocked every attempt to see anything else. Now he actively tried to recall her as she had been before she died, the little being for whom he lived. What had she thought about death? They had never talked about death and dying, never had a reason to.
Had she understood?
Had she been frightened?
Had she closed her eyes? Fought?
Had she realised, in any sense, that death could happen, just like that, and death meant eternal solitude, inside a flower-decked white coffin underneath a freshly mowed lawn?
He set out to drive through the narrow streets of his hometown. There were four addresses on his list here, and four in Enköping. He was certain of being right. Lund would be sitting outside one of these schools, waiting, as he had done outside The Dove. Fredrik remembered the old policeman and what he had said when they met in the cemetery, how utterly convinced he had been that Lund would violate again and again, until someone stopped him.
First call, The Dove. It was on the list and Lund might as well have returned there as gone elsewhere, like an animal returning to a place where it has once fed. Fredrik had driven this route for almost four years now, and knew every house, every street sign. He hated it. The appearance of safe, contented habit held within it a suffocating grief. He was at home, but it would never be home again.
He parked a few hundred metres away. A Securitas van with truncheon-carrying guards had drawn up near the gate, and a little further away was a police patrol car with two uniformed officers. How strange to sit here again, as he had done six days earlier, when he had left his daughter at the school for a few short hours. Why? They had been so late that day. But Marie had nagged and he had felt guilty because he had stayed in bed all morning. If only he had said no and taken her hand to go for a walk, maybe into town to buy an ice-cream at the harbour, as they often did. If only he had told her that she mustn't go outside in the afternoon heat, but stay in with the other children.
He sat in the car for a little longer and then went into the woodland that began near the gate. He looked everywhere, checking all the surrounding area until he was convinced that Lund wasn't anywhere around, watching the school. Next he went on to The Wood, a nursery school a few kilometres away and closer to the centre of town, listening to the radio news as he drove. The top item was the aeroplane accident near Moscow, one hundred and sixteen fatalities probably due to a technical malfunction in a poorly maintained Russian plane.
After that, most of the time was spent on Marie and the murder hunt. There was an interview with the prosecutor who was leading the investigation, but he had nothing much to add. The older of the two policemen from the cemetery told the reporter rather loudly to get lost. The last part was an interview with a forensic psychiatrist, who had examined Lund several times in the past. He warned of what he called Lund's obsessional need to repeat his behaviours; the man was under constant internal pressure, which could only be relieved by acting out violent fantasies.
Fredrik pulled up near The Wood. Checked, and drove on to The Park and The Stream.
Everywhere, security guards and police cars.
Bernt Lund wasn't at any of these schools. Probably hadn't gone back to any of them.
Fredrik left Strängnäs on Road 55 to Enköping, driving quickly. Four addresses to go.
He glanced at the sack in the back seat.
He felt no hesitation.
Right was right.
At a stroke the treeless exercise yard became bearable. The rain had come sweeping in over Aspsås and for a few hours dozens of the half-naked inmates, wearing only the regulation blue shorts, ran up and down, roaring with joy at not having to narrow their eyes against harsh sunlight, cough in dust-laden air, sweat heavily even with the slightest move.
The second half of the interrupted football match had got under way, stake doubled, ten thousand big ones in the pot. Now it was full time and still a draw. The teams were stretched out behind the goals, now as then, but this time it rained and they turned their faces towards the sky and the coolness.
Dickybird was lying between Hilding and Skåne. Then he got up to lie further away and the others followed him.
'Look, Skåne, you sad fucker, how could you be such a moron? Why go and fucking double, when the team doesn't have the faintest? I mean, right from the start?'
Skåne shifted about, looked at Hilding for support but didn't get any.
'We haven't lost, it's a fucking draw. What's your problem?'
'We haven't lost! You thick cunt! What have we got to show? Zero, that's what. Who's touched the ball this time round?' Dickybird looked at his mates. 'Nobody. True or false, eh? Has any of us done one fucking thing except chasing after the other lot? What's it now? Fucking extra time! Right? So we can carry on chasing and they can carry on kicking the ball between them. You useless motherfucking loser!'
Hilding stared upwards at the falling rain. It was difficult to stay still, to keep his finger off his sore. He was restless because he was miles away; who cared about a shitty football match with a few thousand at stake, he was worrying about worse things. Now and again he glanced at Skåne and tried to catch his attention. So far they were the only ones who knew and also knew Dickybird well enough to believe that he would murder that peddo.
Skåne had been off on his home leave, six hours starting at seven o'clock in the morning. Out in town alone, no screws. First move, off to borrow his brother's car. Next, drive to Täby, and the two-bedroom flat of his own queen of hearts. They had a coffee first and then undressed each other, feeling almost shy after all this time. Afterwards, when he was lying close to her naked body, she had caressed his cheek and told him that she had waited for him, fantasised about him and longed for him, and realised that, the way she felt, she would put up with waiting for another four years. He had stayed with her longer than he had time for and then driven back to the centre much faster than he should have. He'd hit maddening queues where the main route to town joined the inner city streets, so he had parked the car near a hamburger stall and run to catch the bus to Fleming Street, then run again into the court building. The fucking scribbler behind the counter had taken his time, but he had got the indictment and shot away, run all the way to the car, and driven like crazy to Aspsås, where he rang the bell with seventeen minutes to spare.
Of course the indictment contained exactly what he had feared. When he turned up in the unit just before the football was due to start, he promised Dickybird he'd give an account of what he'd found out as soon as the final whistle had blown. Their premonitions were right: Axelsson had been convicted of possession of child pornography and had been one of the seven men in that weird paedophile network.
He had got hold of Hilding for a brief moment during the match and let him know the worst; he had got the drift all right and started scratching his fucking nose. If Dickybird got to know before they had got Axelsson out of the way there would be an execution and neither of them had the stomach for that; anyway, bloody murder was pointless, the only outcome was heightened security, endless hours of bang-up, constant visitations. The screws would be all over the place, turning cells upside down until they finally took on board that nobody would tell them one single useful thing.
Hilding got up and shook off the gravel sticking to his wet skin, irritating Dickybird.
'Fuck's sake, what's your problem? There's a game on.'
'Off to the crappers. No play for a bit yet. I can't fucking well dump out here.'
He walked towards the open door on one gable of the grey lump of a building, then ran to Axelsson's cell. Empty. He checked the toilets, the showers, the kitchen. All empty. He kept scratching, his nose was bleeding now, and ran to the gym. Outside he hung back for a few seconds, glanced around, then went inside and looked first in the weight- training corner.
There he was, on his back on a bench with hands round a barbell raised above his chest. He was doing bench-presses and had just let the bar with eighty kilograms of discs down. Now he started pushing up again. Hilding watched. Axelsson breathed out and lowered the bar. In a few long strides Hilding was there before the bar went up again. He grabbed hold of it and, leaning on it with his whole weight, squashed it down across Axelsson's throat.
'Are you listening? I'm not doing this because I like you.'
Axelsson went red in the face, tried to kick him, but had a hard time drawing breath.
'What are you fucking on about?'
Hilding screamed with anger and pushed the bar downwards.
'Shut the fuck up, creep!'
Axelsson stopped trying to kick or resist, and Hilding reduced the pressure a little.
'I've just heard from Skåne, he's got your indictment! You filthy beast, you fuck little kids!'
Now Axelsson was really frightened. He couldn't speak, but his eyes, Christ, he knew.
'You're a beast, but you're in luck, because I don't want no murders in the unit. Not worth it. Here's your chance. I'll wait for ten minutes before I tell Dickybird. When he gets to know, you'll be bloody lucky if you leave this place in an ambulance.'
Axelsson's red face went paler, almost white, and he was kicking wildly, trying to wrench free.
'Why are you telling me?'
'Pay attention. I don't give a monkey's for you. Just that, I don't want a killing.'
'What can I fucking do? I'm stuck where I am.'
Hilding pushed down again, just once more, and Axelsson coughed, fought for air.
'Now listen. If you want to survive today, listen fucking hard.'
'When I've left, you take your sick peddo body off to the screws' office. Tell them that you want a transfer to segregation wing. Get that? Voluntary stay in seg. Say we've got your indictment and then they won't argue. And not a fucking peep about who warned you. Is that clear?'
Axelsson nodded, this time eagerly. Hilding stood over him, pushing down on the bar. He laughed suddenly, twisted his face while he sucked saliva into his mouth, then moved until his lips were over Axelsson's face so he could let the blob of spit fall straight down.
Ewert Grens didn't want to go home. Ever since learning that Lund had escaped, he hadn't left his office until late. He always stayed on when something out of the ordinary had happened.
But he felt tired now; the years were catching up with him, that was for sure. Soon he would be sixty, an ageing, greying man. Running for the bus was harder, his body moved less easily, his arms didn't strike as hard, but still that bloody awful compulsion lurked inside him; if anything it was getting stronger, propelling him forward regardless how many fucking months of life it deprived him of. He had to find answers that made sense, were coherent and meaningful. The answer usually meant that some crazed bastard got locked away.
Still a driven pro, but he caught himself speculating now and then about how he would cope with being pensioned off. The odds were that he would die. He was his job. Being respected as Detective Chief Inspector Grens was satisfying, but poor compensation compared to the threatening loneliness soon to come, chiefly self-imposed but all the more ugly because of it. He was nobody's father, or grandad, or even son, not any more.
Instead of going home that evening, he wandered the corridors, played some of Siw's songs and, towards midnight, fell asleep in one of the visitor's chairs. After four or five hours of fitful sleep, the light woke him. He felt fine, ready to push hard again. First, while the air was fresh, he'd go for a short walk in the small park nearby, the park with no name.
He was setting out when someone called his name. Sven came hurrying along, his thin face flushed with tension.
'You look stressed.'
'I am stressed. Something else has turned up.'
Ewert pointed in the general direction of the exit.
'I'm off for a walk, need some fresh air. Come along if you want to tell me something.'
Ewert walked as slowly as usual and Sven impatiently shortened his stride, while he was thinking about the right way to begin his story.
'So there's a problem?'
'Look, I did what we agreed I'd do,' Sven said, hesitating before starting up again. 'I followed up Ågestam's taxi idea. I phoned round and got the answers we need from a company called Enköping Taxis.'
Ewert breathed in deeply. Rarely had city centre air felt so good.
'I'll be buggered. Tell me more.'
'Here's the snag. The woman I spoke to was on the ball, knew everything about the company and so on. Then she said she didn't understand why I'd called again about the same thing. After all, she had replied to my questions that morning.'
They had reached the tiny park round the corner, just a lawn, a few trees and a playground, but tempting with shade and greenery.
'What's this? Had you called?'
'Listen. Ågestam was right. The Enköping woman confirms that Lund had eight school bookings. She gave me the addresses, four in Enköping and four in Strängnäs. The Dove was one of them.'
'I've been in touch with Securitas and the local stations, and told them to intensify the surveillance at the eight addresses.'
'Anyway, now we know. The sick bastard won't be able to stop himself. He'll be there.'
Ewert started walking again, then stopped in mid-step.
'So what's this about you phoning twice?'
'I didn't. Apparently someone calling himself Sven Sundkvist did call and asked the same questions about Lund's school bookings. Someone who'd worked out the connection and wants to get Lund, but not to hand him over to the lawyers. Presumably.'
They walked on in silence for a bit. Sven was obviously still full of things to tell him, but Ewert wanted his bit of peace first and kept whistling ' Girls in the Back of the Car' loudly and out of tune. He sensed the elements of the case were jelling; Lund must be getting desperate and time was passing and that weakened hunted men, he knew. He had lived with these sick bastards for so long, had met them, known them. He knew so much.
They sat down on the bench by the playground sandpit, where three toddlers were playing.
'OK, Sven. Give me the full story.'
'The media have focused on Ewert Grens. You've done the interviews. I haven't been part of the picture for most people outside the force. A few officials or technicians have met me, but apart from people like that, only Marie Steffansson's friends and relatives fit the bill and they're the only ones with a motive. I started by checking out the father, and stopped with him.'
Ewert nodded and waved his hand impatiently.
'I've spoken to Fredrik Steffansson's partner, Micaela
Zwarts. She hasn't seen Fredrik since the funeral. Naturally she's worried, she knows that he has been in very bad shape and isn't likely to get any better because he hasn't allowed himself to mourn. Just kept himself to himself. She feels no one can reach him. He came home yesterday morning and left a note for her, basically saying "Back soon". That was all.'
He caught his breath. Ewert flapped his hand again.
'Right. OK. Next I phoned Marie's mother, Agnes Steffansson. The call was switched to her mobile, because she was in Strängnäs to collect Marie's things from The Dove. She is distracted with grief, but sensible and quick on the uptake. She confirmed everything Zwarts said. Apparently Fredrik phoned her a couple of times and she thought it was just about trying to stay in touch. My call got her worried. Then she suddenly broke off, saying she had to check something and would call me back. Twenty minutes later she did. She explained that she'd driven across town to her deceased father's old flat. Fredrik had asked her about some of her father's possessions, which had been left bundled up in the attic.'
Sven cleared his throat, he was upset and had a hard time organising what he had to say.
'Her father's hunting rifle had been kept there. It's a biggie – a 30-06 Carl Gustav, powerful enough for elk hunting, good optics, with long-range laser sight. People will keep dangerous weapons in a fucking unlocked storeroom!'
Ewert waited. Sven delayed, as if his silence might stop bad things from happening.
'By then she was very frightened, crying. The rifle had gone.'
Lars Ågestam felt sick. He had left his desk at the Crown Prosecution Service to go and lean over a basin in the toilet. Everything had looked so straightforward, so good. He had got the brief of his dreams. To top it all, his knowledge of the taxi business would help to catch Lund, and at the same time he had scored against that bitter old has-been of a policeman.
One call from Sven Sundkvist had ruined everything. Suddenly he was landed with a case of a father out to avenge the murder of his daughter.
It was only too easy to see what would happen next. For the media, and the public at large, the Marie story was about right versus wrong. The sexual violation and murder of a five-year-old girl had no shades of grey, no areas of doubt. But now there was this new player, a father distracted with grief and equipped with a gun good enough to hit a reasonably still human target at three hundred metres. The image of the mourning parent, that was something else. Ågestam knew that if he ended up prosecuting Marie's father, he'd be regarded as spitting in the face of goodness itself. He would embody the nightmarish state executioner who acts regardless of the ordinary citizen. His big brief had become a noose round his own neck.
The thought made his need to vomit acute. He stuck his fingers down his throat to get it over with. He must be able to think clearly, as he usually did.
He had been sitting in the car watching for half an hour by now. It was getting close to five o'clock. Another hour to go before the nursery school called Freja would close.
Freja's location was pretty, in a valley with low hills rising on every side. When he arrived Fredrik had parked his car in a meadow near the top of the highest hill, which gave him a clear view of the whole site. Just as at the other schools, he began by going off to search the grounds, circling the building systematically.
It was when he returned to his hillside vantage point and was about to open the car door that he had seen him, quite close, crouching down.
They had picked the same sight-line, but he had settled on a slight rise a little further down the slope, some two hundred metres from the two white school buildings. Wearing a green tracksuit and sheltering behind low bushes, with his back protected by the roots of a fallen tree, he was well hidden. He was sitting there motionless, holding a pair of binoculars trained on the school playground, observing the children playing inside the fence. Fredrik had looked him over through his own binoculars. There was no question in his mind. This was the man he had nodded to six days ago, this was Lund.
Everything fitted: his face, his build, something about his posture.
That man had killed his child, taken her away for ever. There he was. Fredrik had tried to stop feeling, to chase the pain into hiding.
Down there, two fed-up police officers were counting the endless dull hours of watching a locked gate. Their patrol car must be blisteringly hot and stuffy. In the last half an hour alone, both officers had got out twice. The smoke of their cigarettes hung in the still air.
Only the odd snatch of birdsong and the distant rumbling from the motorway ruffled the drowsy calm on the hillside. Fredrik got out, paced round the car and kneeled in different places, pretending to aim and checking where he could rest his elbows. His light suit, already crumpled and stained, got greenish patches at the knees. In the end he found a comfortable position.
He was breathing deeply, easily. His body was flexible and willing. He felt alert.
Next, he pulled the heavy rifle from the boot. He hadn't used it for many years, not since he had gone hunting with Birger. That was well before Marie was born, maybe seven or eight years ago. He and his father-in-law had tried hard to find something they could share other than their love of Agnes. Hunting was just about the only thing they could at least pretend to enjoy together.
Fredrik balanced the gun in his hand, rocking it up and down. Then he returned to the place he had located, kneeled and lifted the rifle, his hands steadied by leaning on the hood of the car. He got Lund in his sights and centred the cross hairs on his back.
He waited. He wanted to hit him from in front.
Another quarter of an hour passed and then Lund rose. The roots of the tree and the bushes no longer protected him as he stretched to exercise his stiffened joints.
The laser beam searched him out, moved tremblingly over the breathing body. Fredrik held it for a moment on the target's crotch. Then upwards.
Suddenly Lund discovered the red dot and swatted at it as if at a wasp, pointlessly flapping his arms about.
Fredrik released the trigger. The first shot shattered the silence.
For a moment nothing else existed.
The flapping arms disappeared. Lund had been thrown violently backwards and crashed heavily to the ground.
He tried to get up, slowly.
Fredrik moved the bright dot to the man's forehead, let it rest there for a second.
The sight of an exploding head was somehow unexpected.
Then the silence closed in again.
Fredrik put the gun on the car hood, sagged until he reached the ground, then lay down holding his head, twisting until he was curled up like a foetus.
For the first time since Marie had gone his tears came. It hurt; the bloody unbearable grief had grown inside him, out of sight. Now it was pushing its way out and he screamed the way you do when you are about to lose your life.
Chief interrogator Sven Sundkvist (SS): This way, please. Kristina Björnsson, barrister (KB): Right. Thank you.
SS: The interrogation of Fredrik Steffansson is taking place in Kronoberg prison. The time is twenty fifteen. Present with Steffansson are the chief interrogator Sven Sundkvist and Steffansson's legal representative, Kristina Björnsson, solicitor.
Fredrik Steffansson (FS): (inaudible)
SS: Sorry? What did you say?
FS: Please, I'd like some water.
SS: It's just in front of you. Help yourself.
FS: Thank you.
SS: Fredrik, could you please tell us what has happened.
SS: Speak up.
FS: Bear with me.
KB: Are you all right?
KB: Can you carry on?
SS: Let's start again. Please describe what has happened.
FS: You know already.
SS: Describe the events in your own words.
FS: A previously convicted sex killer murdered my daughter.
SS: I would like you to concentrate on what happened in
Enköping today, outside the nursery school Freja. FS: I shot my daughter's murderer and killed him.
KB: Sorry, Fredrik, hold it there.
FS: What now?
KB: I'd better have a few words with you.
KB: Are you sure you should describe today's events in those terms?
FS: I don't see what you're driving at.
KB: I get the impression that you're about to describe the events in a particular way.
FS: I simply intend to answer the questions.
KB: You must be aware that a premeditated murder is punishable by a lifetime prison sentence. 'Life' means between sixteen and twenty-five years.
FS: Right you are.
KB: I'm advising you to be careful about how you express things. At least until you and I have had a long talk, face-to-face.
FS: I haven't done anything wrong.
KB: It's your choice.
FS: So it is.
SS: Have you finished?
SS: OK, let's start again. Fredrik, what happened today?
FS: It was you who gave me the crucial information.
SS: What information?
FS: After the funeral, in the churchyard. You were there and the other policeman, the one with a limp.
SS: DCI Grens?
FS: That's the one.
SS: And what happened in the churchyard?
FS: One of you two, the guy with the limp I think, said that the risk that Lund would do it again was very great. That's when I made up my mind. No more acts like that. Not another child, not another loss. All right if I get up, move about?
FS: I'm assuming that you understand what I'm trying to say. Look, that man was locked up. He escapes. You can't catch him. He tortures and kills Marie. He is still on the run, police chase or no police chase. You know that he'll do it again, to some other child. You know. And you know you can't stop him, you've demonstrated that.
Lars Ågestam (LÅ): May I join you?
SS: Please have a seat.
LÅ: I put it to you that your intention was to take revenge.
FS: If society cannot protect its citizens, they have to do it themselves.
LÅ: You wanted to avenge Marie's death by killing Bernt Lund.
FS: I've saved the life of at least one child. Of that I'm convinced. That's what I did it for. That was my real motive.
LÅ: Do you believe that the death penalty is just, Fredrik?
LÅ: This action of yours suggests that you do.
FS: I believe that taking a life sometimes saves lives.
LÅ: And you're the judge of whose life should be taken and who should be saved?
FS: A child playing outside its school? Or an escaped sex killer, who's planning to violate and then slaughter that very child? And their lives are supposed to be worth the same?
SS: I would like you to say why you weren't prepared to let the police go after him.
FS: I did consider it. But I decided against it.
SS: All you had to do was approach the officers stationed by the school gate, isn't that so?
FS: Lund succeeded in escaping from the prison. Before that, he escaped from a secure mental hospital. If I'd left it to the police, at best he would've been captured and sent to a prison or a mental hospital. What if he had escaped again?
SS: So you decided to be both judge and executioner? FS: I had no choice. It was my only option. My one single thought was how to kill him so that he wouldn't be able to do again what he did to Marie. Under any circumstances whatsoever.
LÅ: Have you finished?
LÅ: That's all, then. Fredrik, please listen carefully.
LÅ: I must put this to you formally.
FS: Go ahead.
LÅ: Fredrik Steffansson, I have to tell you that you are charged with murder and will be tried in court.
The village was called Tallbacka. Village? Actually, it was quite a sizeable community, with roughly two thousand six hundred inhabitants. There was a small supermarket, a kiosk, a branch office of the Co-op savings bank, a rather plain licensed restaurant, open both at lunchtime and in the evenings, a closed railway station, one large, recently restored church, which was forever empty, and two more popular free churches.
You took the day as it came, that was the kind of place it was.
It was a here-and-now for the people there, lives which had started in this place.
It was good enough for them, thank you; only stuck-ups wanted to get away. A day was a day, no more and no less, no matter that the town had been tarted up with two new slip-roads from the dual carriageway.
Despite being that kind of community, or maybe because of it, over the following months Tallbacka was to become the most clear-cut example, among many others, of what was a new legal phenomenon. It was here that people demonstrated the vacuum separating legally correct court proceedings and the public's interpretation of exactly what they signified.
This was a remarkable summer, one nobody would want to remember.
Göran was known locally as Flasher-Göran. He was forty- four years old, a trained teacher, who had never worked since his practitioner's term at a nearby school twenty years ago.
Twenty years was nearly half his lifetime, but he still hadn't been able to work out why he did it.
One afternoon, his duties done for the day, he had stopped in the schoolyard and undressed. He took off one piece of clothing after another. Standing stark naked, just a few metres away from the patch of ground set aside for smokers, he sang the national anthem, both verses, loudly but badly. Then he dressed again, wandered off home, prepared the lessons for the following day and went to bed.
They had allowed him to finish his training and sit the examination, which he passed. During the few years that followed, he applied for every teaching post that came up within a radius of a hundred or so kilometres of Tallbacka. Despite endless labour at hot copiers, producing more pages of his ever more polished curriculum vitae, he never even got an offer of an interview. There was no need to copy his sentence, which always floated up on top of his applications somehow, obscuring the rest of the documentation. He had paid a fine, but it had not helped to mitigate the never-to- be-forgotten shame of having exposed himself in front of under-age school children, in the schoolyard and during school hours.
Many times he had considered leaving and going somewhere far away, where he could apply for jobs untainted by rumours and speculation. Like many others in Tallbacka, he was too gutless, too muddled, too local.
The day was very warm. True, it had felt even hotter yesterday, when he'd been away buying roof tiles, but anyway, he was sweating and couldn't be bothered changing from shorts to trousers. The three hundred metres to the shop seemed a long way.
He heard them when he crossed the road. He had known several of them since they were toddlers, but now they were big boys of fifteen or sixteen, with voices like grown males.
'Show your knob then!'
'Fucking peddo! Come on, flash!'
They emptied any Coke left and threw away the cans, to start a performance of shouting and rubbing their crotches rhythmically with both hands.
'Flash cock. Flash cock. Peddo, peddo, peddo.'
He didn't look their way. He was determined not to look, whatever. They shouted louder and louder. Someone threw a can at him.
'Fucking peddo show-off! Go home. Get it out and wank!'
He walked on, just a short stretch to go now, for once he was round the corner of the old post office they wouldn't be able to see him anymore and the shop wouldn't be far away. It was the only shop left, now that it had seen off its two rivals. It stood there alone, displaying red sale price tags and today's special bargains.
He was tired, just as he had been every day this long, hot summer. After his hurried walk, breathing heavily, he sat down on the seat outside the shop, to watch the passers- by with their carrier bags. They were all people he knew at least by name. On the next seat along sat two girls of about twelve or thirteen; one was his neighbour's daughter, the other her friend. They were giggling the way girls do, laughing too hard to stop. They had never shouted at him, they simply didn't see him except as 'him next-door', the man who came round to cut the grass sometimes.
Christ, there was the Volvo. On the road going past the shop.
He always got a tummy ache when he spotted it. It meant trouble. Someone would have a go at him.
The driver slammed on the brakes and the car shuddered to a halt. Bengt Söderlund climbed out. He was a large, powerfully built man of about forty-five, who wore denims with a pocket for a measuring rod, hammer and Stanley knife, and a cap with the text Söderlund Contractor. He walked up to the girls and spoke loudly to them, and to Flasher-Göran and to Tallbacka at large.
'You two, come on! Get into the car. Now!'
He grabbed each girl by the nearest shoulder. They crouched a little, sensing anger, twisted to get away, gave up, ran off towards the car.
Söderlund went up to Flasher-Göran, gripped his collar to pull him upright and shook him hard. It hurt, the shirt collar burned against his neck.
'Caught you at it this time. Now I've seen for myself what you're up to. Swine!'
The girls in the car stared, too baffled even to attempt understanding.
'I don't fucking believe it. That's my daughter. Like to show it to her? Is that it?'
By now the gang of teenage boys had turned up. They had heard the noises of a car braking and a man shouting. It was a laugh to watch Söderlund set on Flasher-Göran, it made their day. They ran the last bit to get close.
'Hey! Kill the peddo!'
Hands to crotches, wanking.
Söderlund didn't look their way, only gave his victim a last shake before dumping him on the seat. Walking back to his car he delivered his final words at the top of his voice.
'Get your fucking head round this. You've got two weeks. If you haven't buggered off by then we'll kill you. You filthy swine! Two weeks, that's it!'
The car drove off with a roar.
The boys were still hanging about, but they had stopped their act, stopped shouting abuse.
They had taken in what Söderlund had said and grasped that his words were for real.
The evening was beautiful, very still and twenty-four degrees in the shade. Bengt Söderlund went outside. He turned towards his neighbour's house and spat. He had come to detest the sight of it.
Bengt was a Tallbacka man born and bred, and had worked in the family building firm until he finally took over the running of it. Both his parents had died within a few weeks of each other; their fading away gained speed until they simply weren't there any more. He had never considered death before. Not his problem, put it that way. Now death invaded his life. After burying his father and his mother he was left alone, facing his past, the time that had made him. His daily round, his safe nest and the venue for his parties and adventures too.
He and Elisabeth had been in the same class at school and started going out when they were both sixteen. They had three children, two who were old enough now to have moved away, and one late baby, who was growing up too, but still sheltering in the space between the worlds of a child and an adolescent.
This was his place. He knew what it smelt like, what passing cars sounded like. Time had a special quality here, it was unhurried, and seemed to last for longer.
At noon the homespun restaurant next to the shop filled with local bachelors spending their luncheon vouchers and chatting; they were working men who had never learned to cook. By late afternoon the cafe transformed into a plain, smoke-filled and rather crummy pub. It was a safe, neutral hang-out for couples who weren't churchy and had nowhere else to go; it offered a discounted Beer of the Week, with peanuts to go and two gaming machines in a corner.
Bengt had called round, asking everyone to meet up in the pub that night. He was furious and alarmed and ready to chuck any notion of compromise. Elisabeth didn't want to join them, they were too worked up for her taste, but Ola Gunnarsson did, and so did Klas Rilke and Ove Sandell and Helena, his wife. Bengt had known these people since their schooldays. The men had all played football for Tallbacka FC, season after season, and got drunk together at parties in the community hall. They were really children, who had stayed on to try out adulthood.
They had talked about that freak Göran many times.
In every process there is a stage where either it is halted, or it starts on a new, more or less unstoppable course. That was where they were at with their local pervert. The future was waiting for their decision.
Bengt bought his mates a pint of Special each and double portions of peanuts. He was eager to share what occupied his mind, the way Flasher-Göran had been lurking outside the shop and the girls sitting so close and how he had felt and what he had done. Then he paused, looked around and drank deeply. White flecks of foam covered his lips.
He unfolded a piece of paper he had brought and showed it to the others.
'Look! I got his sentence from the magistrates' court today. I've had it with that bastard, that's for sure. I was so fucking furious. After I'd given him a piece of my mind I got into the car and headed for town. Drove like a bloody maniac. I got there just when they were shutting up shop. Christ, the time it took; they rooted around in their files and whatever. No computerised records in this day and age, would you believe it?'
Everyone leaned forward to see, trying to read the text, upside-down if necessary.
'Look at it! Here it is, in black and white. Swinging his dick in front of the kids. Fuck's sake, there's nothing between him and the beast that got shot in Enköping.'
Bengt let his packet of cigarettes do the round, lit one himself.
'Ove, remember? Your little sisters were among the kids, you know.'
He fixed his eyes on Ove Sandell, knowing that he felt the same way.
'That's right. He showed off his cock, right in front of them. Filthy. If I'd been there I would've killed him. Blasted him there and then. No problem.'
They drank to that. A group of boys came in, the lads from outside the shop, the mock-wankers. The gang drifted over to the gaming machines, hung around watching the players, applauded when anyone won anything. One or two tried it on, went to the counter to order a beer. No go. Nobody even tried to get change for the machines, that line cut no ice. The limit was eighteen for drink and gambling, and that was that, even in Tallbacka.
Helena, Ove's wife, was impatient. She knocked on the tabletop to catch their attention and then looked at each one of them, in the end addressing her husband.
'Ove, we've got girls of our own now.'
'So we do.'
'So is it their turn soon?'
'They should've cut his balls off back then, after the sentence.'
Bengt nodded, then rose and pointed in the direction of his house.
'I don't get it, there are two thousand decent people in this place. Who's my neighbour? A filthy paedophile! What can I do? Will someone kindly tell me what I'm meant to do!'
The gang of wankers were getting fed up with peering over the shoulders of the gamers. Instead they got hold of the remote control and switched the telly on. The sound was too loud and Bengt waved irritably at them until the volume was low enough.
'You don't answer. What am I supposed to do? Fuck's sake, we can't keep someone like that here. No way.'
Helena suddenly shouted, so loudly that her voice cracked.
'Away with him. He's got to go. Ove! Do you hear me?'
Bengt chewed a handful of peanuts. Slowly swallowed.
'Right. We must get him out of here. If he won't, we'll shove. What I'm saying is, if he isn't gone in two weeks' time I'll do him in.'
Another round, Bengt paid again and kept the receipt. He was going to write it off against the firm's expenses. Meals, he called it.
They started drinking from the large cool glasses, but were stopped short when Ove suddenly wolf-whistled. The piercing sound cleaved through the smoke-laden air. Instant silence. Ove pointed at the telly and shouted in the direction of the boy with the remote.
'Hey, turn it up!'
'Fucking make up your mind.'
'We want to hear this. Turn up the telly or I'll clock you one.'
The camera had been following Fredrik Steffansson, being escorted slowly along one of the corridors in the Kronoberg remand prison. He had pulled his jacket over his head.
'It's that father, the one who shot the paedophile. Killed the beast.'
Stillness had fallen over the pub, as most people stared at the screen. Fredrik Steffansson waved dismissively at the camera, shook his head and then stepped outside the image. A woman came along, then stood in front of him. The camera moved to close-up and a microphone materialised in front of her mouth. It was Kristina Björnsson, the defence lawyer.
'You're quite right. My client does not deny the actual event. He did shoot Bernt Lund. It was a deliberate killing, planned several days ahead.'
The camera panned in even closer. A reporter tried to get a question in, but she raised her voice and continued.
'This was not murder, however, but something quite different. It was reasonable force, used in extreme circumstances.'
Bengt was amazed and delighted. He slapped the table.
'Did you hear that!'
As he looked around, the others nodded slowly. They followed every camera-move keenly, took in every new argument by Steffansson's lawyer.
'It was only a matter of time before Bernt Lund would attempt another crime. We are all agreed that this is the case, after studying his personality profile. My client is convinced that by taking Lund's life he saved the life of at least one child.'
'Too fucking true!'
Ove smiled, leaned over to plant a kiss on his wife's cheek.
The eager reporter tried again, the question that she hadn't been allowed to put earlier.
'How does your client feel?'
'As well as can be expected in the circumstances. I don't need to remind you that he has lost his little daughter in the most distressing way possible. Also, as a citizen, he is deeply disappointed that society failed to protect not only his child, but also other potential victims. Instead he himself is locked up and will stand trial. He is taking the consequences of ineffective law enforcement.'
Helena stroked her husband's cheek. Then she took his hand and pulled him up, as she rose from the table.
'He did the right thing.'
She lifted her glass in a toast, turning first to Bengt, then to Ola and Klas and, finally, to her husband.
'Do you know what he is, that Fredrik Steffansson? Do you? He's a hero, a real old-fashioned hero. Here's a toast to Fredrik Steffansson!'
They all followed her lead, silently raised their glasses and emptied them.
They stayed in the pub for longer than they usually would. Jointly they arrived at a decision, not the means of bringing it about, but that it would happen. They had passed the critical stage and the process would continue.
It was their Tallbacka, their community, the very stuff of how they lived day after day.
Lars Ågestam was bewildered, even though there weren't that many people about, but then he never had been any good at big stores. Six floors, escalators, free offers and tastings, rumbling messages over the loudspeaker system, credit card machines, queuing numbers. All the time, the pressure to buy buy buy. The queuing customers were daunting, too many; someone smelled strongly of sweat, someone's kids made a noise, some people acted as lost as he felt, a woman dropped the clothes she had picked to try on, a bloke kept searching for something in sportswear, and everything everything everything had been transported from elsewhere to end up here, neatly packaged and priced.
Simply being inside this living hell floored him, but he couldn't think of another place to go. He never bought music, mainly because he had no time to listen, except to the car radio. The music department fazed him completely, shelf after shelf of recordings by alleged celebrities he'd never heard of. He spotted a young woman at an information counter. She was probably very pretty, though it was hard to tell behind the make-up and a hair-do that covered her eyes.
'Siw Malmqvist, have you got anything by her?'
She smiled. Was it a friendly smile or a sneer? How do young women smile?
'I think so, somewhere in the Swedish section. I'll have a look.'
She stepped outside her enclosure and waved to him to follow. He watched her back and blushed. Her clothes were, well… revealing.
She held out a CD. The cover photo showed a woman, young back then, long ago.
'Siw's Classics. Will this do?'
Surely this was the right thing. He said he'd take it.
By now she was smiling very broadly. He blushed again, but felt cross. Was she laughing at him?
'What's the joke?'
'I get the impression you're finding this funny.'
'Not at all.'
'Yes you do.'
'It's just that you don't look right. I mean, like the type of person who buys Siw's songs.'
Now he was smiling too.
'What do they look like then? Older than me?'
'I… yeah, not such… a suit.'
Safely outside in the street, he bought an ice-cream and decided to walk to Kung Island, then past the Crime Prosecution Service building, his place of work, and on to Scheele Street and the Violent Crime Squad offices.
He felt quite tense, hung back a little and then almost forgot to knock. The familiar irritable voice.
Ewert Grens was sitting behind his desk, but had swung the chair sideways and was leaning forward with his elbows resting on his thighs. His glaring eyes told his visitor to get lost, he wasn't welcome. No one was.
'I've got something for you. Here.' Lars put the CD down on the desk. 'I'm sorry I was so rude about the music last time.'
Grens said nothing.
'I hope you haven't got all the songs in this collection.'
Still no response.
'I'd like to talk to you for a while. I'll be straight with you, just as I was on Monday. I think you're bloody difficult, and a real bastard at times. But I need you. I haven't got anyone else to turn to in this case, no one who'll offer me the resistance I must learn to deal with. No one who will ask the right questions.'
He gestured vaguely towards the visitor's chair. Was it all right to sit down? Ewert, still not uttering, waved distractedly as some kind of invitation.
'I've got to tell you this. I actually threw up yesterday. Breakfast, lunch, the lot. Sheer funk. Instead of being handed my most important case on a plate, I've ended up having to prosecute a grief-stricken father for shooting at and killing a proven sex murderer. It can only go one way. That is, straight to hell. You don't have to be a genius to work that out.'
Ewert shook his head, cackled briefly with laughter and spoke for the first time.
'Serves you right.'
Ågestam counted the seconds, his old trick in situations like this. Thirteen seconds. That mean old bastard must surely see that he was on top now, was being deferred to.
'I'm going to push for a life sentence.'
He really stuck his neck out and it worked.
'Say that again?'
'You heard me. I'm not going to stand for anybody appointing himself judge and jury.'
'Why tell me? What's the fucking point you're making?'
'No special reason. Well, I wanted to find someone to tell my ideas to. To test them.'
Ewert cackled again.
'Still scrabbling to get up the greasy pole, eh? Life, was that what you said?'
'You know, half the punters who end up in prison have committed one or more violent acts. Fucking idiots to a man, but still human beings. And victims as well; almost all of them have been abused one way or the other, usually by their parents. Even I can see where that might lead.'
'Book learning. You should be out there, seeing for yourself.'
Ågestam leafed through his notebook.
'Steffansson freely admitted that he planned the murder over the course of four days. He had time to reconsider, but didn't. Not just judge and jury, he had to be the executioner as well.'
'Planned, yes. But plans fail. He couldn't be sure he'd find Lund.'
'When he did, he still had a choice. He could've alerted the police. Christ, your officers were on the spot. But that would've meant giving up the shooting he had been looking forward to.'
'Sure, sure, he has committed murder. No fucking question about it. But life? No way. Unlike you, I've seen real action, forty years of it, and that has meant sometimes standing by as worse nutters than Steffansson got off with lesser sentences than that. And I've watched hordes of fancy little prosecutors trying to pass themselves off as hard men.'
Ågestam breathed in deeply and checked his notebook again. He was determined to keep his cool and ignore the man's clumsy sarcasm. Then it came to him that what was happening was exactly what he wanted. The sour old bugger was cross-examining him. This would work as a kind of pre-trial trial. He smiled, still turning the pages, but without taking in his notes. He could polish his arguments now, muster his evidence. Great, he liked it, just like an exam oral.
The pause, maybe his smile, had irritated Ewert.
'What's your fucking problem now? Can't find what to say next from your shitty little book? For your information, this is a case of murder with extenuating circumstances. If pleading life gives you a hard-on, go right ahead. But be ready to settle for eight or ten years. You and I are both part of this society, you'd better put that in your notes, because it's a society that failed to protect Marie Steffansson. And other kids.'
'I grasp the point you're making, of course. But does this failure by society justify the summary execution of a presumed sex killer? Consider the possibility that the victim was innocent, at least in this particular case. You know sod all about it, and – more to the point – Steffansson knows sod all about what the man he was shooting at was up to. Think again. Do you really think it is right to kill Lund because he is seen near the site of the crime? Is that the society you'd like to police? Where people take the law into their own hands, DIY executions and all? It will certainly make a change. The laws I learned about don't include anything about a death penalty. We are responsible, Grens. We must demonstrate that in our kind of society, anyone who acts like Steffansson will be locked up. For life. Grieving dad or not.'
Silence. Then the murmur of a Mediterranean-style ceiling fan stopped and the silence became so profound that for the first time Ågestam actually noticed the fan's existence.
He looked at it and then at the elderly man behind the desk. His lined face spoke of a bitterness, a deep-seated fear, that drove both his withdrawal from other people and his aggression towards them. What was the cause? Why was Grens so ready to reject, so prone to swear and accuse and insult? DCI Grens was well known nationally. Already at university Lars had heard the stories about him, the policeman who walked alone, but was better at his job than most. Now, having met the man, he was no longer convinced.
All he saw was a pathetic old sod who had painted himself into a corner socially and had to put up with the consequences, isolated and angry.
I don't want to become like Grens, it's a grim state of mind, he thought, almost as grim as being totally solitary.
Ewert turned over the CD, a flimsy piece of plastic holding twenty-seven tracks. His fingers left greasy marks on the shiny surface.
'Is that it? Are you done?'
'I think so.'
'Fine. When you leave, take this with you. I haven't got the right kit for playing it.'
Ågestam shook his head.
'It's a gift. It's yours now. If you have no use for it, throw it away.'
The elderly man put down the silent piece of plastic.
Today was the Wednesday of the second week since Lund's escape. Two guards had been badly beaten up.
A little girl had died. Her killer had died.
Her father was in custody awaiting trial. He would get prison for life if that poncy little prosecutor got his way.
Sometimes Grens didn't want to be around anymore. He almost longed for when it would all be over.
Dead bodies are worse in hot weather. Sven was reminded of the kind of nature films that he had come to detest. Overbearing voiceovers guide the viewers though sun-baked African landscapes, flies buzz round the microphone and, sooner or later, some kind of furry predator starts running after its prey, jumps and bites its throat, rips the flesh off its bones, gulping down anything edible until sated and ready to amble into the long grass to sleep, leaving the bloody, rotting carcass behind for the flies and the heat to consume it until nothing is left.
Every time he had to attend an autopsy such images haunted him with an inevitability he dreaded. In this place, barely a week ago, he and Ewert had observed the meaninglessly peaceful face of a little girl whose body had been ripped apart. He had not had to watch the damage done to her, he had been allowed to look away in an attempt not to face the lack of meaning all over again.
Perhaps that was why she had seemed so unreal. Far too young to die, still promising so much life. He couldn't help remembering her tiny feet, their sadistic cleanliness.
Ewert's concerned voice, without a trace of sarcasm, brought him back to the present.
'Hey, Sven. How are things?'
'This place gives me the creeps. I can't help it. Errfors seems a perfectly nice, normal bloke, so why did he pick this hellhole for his place of work? How does he stand it? Rooting around in cadavers. What kind of a life is that?'
They were walking through the central archive, past sliding metal shelving packed with files, folders, boxes. It was a vast catalogue of death. The dead had become lines on paper, arrayed in alphabetical order. Sven had been here once before, he and a young medic who had helped him in a search. He hoped he'd never have to do it again, these data searches made him think uneasily about interfering with graves.
Ludvig Errfors was waiting for them in the same autopsy room as before. He was in civvies, no sterile wraps, and as jolly and easy-going as ever.
'It's quite spooky, you know. I dealt with the victims in the Skarpholm case, then with the Steffansson girl, and here I am doing the PM on their killer.'
Ewert slapped the dead man's leg lightly.
'This monster was bound to end up here. But you feel sure he did it this time?'
'As I said last week, the MO was as good as identical with the Skarpholm case. Gross violation. I've been doing this job for longer than they advise anyone should, and I must say, I haven't seen anything like it. Not towards a child.'
'But you'll get your conclusive proof,' he went on, pointing at the body. 'In time for the trial we'll have checked the DNA in a semen sample and compared it with samples taken from the victims' bodies. You and the judges and so forth will get the data, in black and white.'
'The prosecutor lad is going for life. For Steffansson.' Ewert paused, looked at the surprised faces. 'Oh, yes. Trying to grow into his posh suit.'
Errfors pushed the trolley into the circle of strong light, then remembered about Sven.
'I believe you took it a bit badly last time,' he said with a kind smile. 'This body is rather mauled, so maybe you'd better look away for a moment.'
After registering a quick nod from Ewert, Sven turned away.
'Obviously, the face is well and truly gone,' Errfors was saying. 'One of Steffansson's bullets hit the forehead, with explosive effect. The teeth were reasonably intact, so we could identify him from his dental record.'
He adjusted the light to illuminate the lower torso.
'The other bullet hit his hip. It seems to have been the first shot. The pelvic bone is partly shattered. The bullet went straight through the body, here. The two impact wounds fit with what the witnesses said about having heard two bangs. That's it. We've finished now.'
Sven turned back to the shrouded body. He remembered Lund's face. What was the point of being Lund, of living with such sickness? If you must destroy your own species, do you still have the right to be counted as a human being? In this building, prompted by the presence of all the lifeless bodies, Sven felt unable to escape these apparently unanswerable questions.
They got ready to leave.
'Before you go, I think you'd want to see these. I kept them for you. Here. I found them on Lund's body when I undressed it.'
A handgun. A knife. Two photographs. A hand-written note.
'The gun, you'll be able to check it out, was in a holster strapped to his lower leg. The knife was also in a strap-on holster, on his forearm this time. By the way, this type of knife is new to me. The edge is exceptionally sharp.'
Ewert took charge of the plastic bags with the weapons. So Lund had been armed, prepared to defend himself.
'Fancy that young idiot going for life. Banging up someone who rid the land of an armed crazy, out hunting little girls.'
Sven took the bags with the photos and piece of paper. He looked at them under the light and was still staring at the amateurish images when he started to speak.
'New photos, these. Little girls, same ones on both pics. Photographed outside the nursery school where Lund was lurking when he got shot. Seems that the girls went to that school. We'll confirm it of course, but it's likely.'
Ewert wanted to see.
'Christ, look at this. Lund must've made a note of their names. It looks like he wanted two victims this time too.'
He looked at the photographs once more. Two little girls, about the same age as Marie Steffansson, blonde hair bleached by the summer sun, sitting on the edge of a sandpit, smiling towards life. He cackled, as he had when speaking to Ågestam earlier that day.
'What have we got here? Proof that Steffansson saved the lives of two children by killing Lund. It's thanks to the accused that two sweet six-year-olds can still smile today.'
Then he did the weird thing that Sven had observed before, slapped the body on the trolley, pinched it and shook it a bit, mumbling inaudibly with his head turned away.
Bengt Söderlund and his family were spending the summer holidays at home for the fifth year running. Once they'd tried Gotland, the lovely island everyone talked about, but never again. Hiring the cottage was expensive, it rained all the time, there was nothing to do and the week they had paid for seemed endless. The following year they hired a cottage in Ystad on the south coast instead, but the whole place was windy and dead flat. They travelled around a bit but Osterlen looked just the same, so that was that, no need to go back for more. Two years in a caravan, but what with gridlocked roads and kids who wouldn't go to sleep that was a wash-out, and then, to cap it all, that stay on Rhodes in a nightmare heatwave lasting the entire fortnight, well, thanks, but no thanks. They had figured a city break in Stockholm might be a good idea, but even that was a disappointment; the place was packed with crazed townies, the types who walk up escalators.
They had agreed that enough was enough. Staying at home meant Bengt could keep an eye on the business. It was good for family life too. They could take the kids swimming in the lake, go for walks in peace, even get some sex in peace when the girls were away on sleepovers with their friends. And they could see more of their own friends, drink coffee in the garden, have folks round for supper once in a while.
Bengt and Elisabeth were drinking morning coffee when Ove and Helena came strolling past their open kitchen window. They waved. Come in! Time for elevenses, coffee and cinnamon rolls, two each. Ove and Helena were easy to get on with. Almost ten years ago now, things had become tense for a while, just a silly episode at a party when Ove and Elisabeth had ended up doing rather more than holding hands. The coolness between the couples lasted until it dawned on everyone that Tallbacka was too small to hide in. They had a shouting match, it cleared the air and afterwards they tacitly agreed to bury the whole affair. Both Ove and Elisabeth had had a bit too much to drink, but it had been a harmless fling; neither had had the slightest intention of ruining their marriages.
Ove had brought a morning paper and over the coffee and buns the four of them started talking about the case that dominated that national news. Now that the Russian plane accident had been sorted, the headlines were all about the paedophile who had killed a little girl, and the dad who then shot his daughter's killer. They could all engage with this; the girl and the dad were part of every family in the land.
In fact, since the first reports of the crime, they had talked about this story whenever they'd met. All, that is, except Elisabeth. She fell silent every time, and when they asked her why, she said they were getting far too excited and far too angry and it was no good. They tried to persuade her, but when she still would have none of it, they carried on regardless. Getting excited was no crime, and if she wasn't interested, too bad.
Now it was all cosy and familiar.
Bengt poured the coffee, dark-roast, its scent filling the kitchen. There was real cream with it, and the buns of course, saved since yesterday to give them the dry, crispy crust that made them especially nice to dunk in coffee.
Then he pointed at the passport photo of Fredrik Steffansson that the papers had used since his arrest.
'That guy. I'd have done the same. Wouldn't have thought twice.'
Ove soaked a piece of bun in his mug.
'Me too. You know, if you've girls in the house that's it, you've to think like he did.'
Bengt examined the page in the paper closely.
'But I wouldn't have done it just because of what he said, you know, because he was thinking of other kids. I would've done it for me. To get my own back.'
He looked at the people round the table to gauge their reactions. Both Ove and Helena nodded. Elisabeth stuck her tongue out.
'Are you crazy? What's that for?'
'I'm fed up with you lot. All you ever do is jabber on and on, morning, noon and night. Flasher-Göran, paedophiles, always the same stuff. Every time we meet. Hate, hate, hate.'
'Bugger off then. You don't have to stay.'
'I mean, listen to you! It's just crap. Revenge for what? All Göran ever did was stand naked next to the flagpole. He didn't touch anyone. What's the harm in that?' Elisabeth breathed out in a sob, and after clearing her throat to steady her voice, her eyes were still shining with tears. 'I don't seem to know you any more. You sit in my kitchen pretending to care, but you're just spoiling for a fight. I've had enough! You're pathetic!'
Helena put her mug down and grasped Elisabeth's hand.
'Hey, Elisabeth. Calm down.'
Defiantly, Elisabeth pulled her hand away.
'Let her piss off if that's what she wants. She must like them, the paedophiles. Eh? Is that it?' Bengt raised his voice and turned to his wife. 'I've worked my whole life, slaved like a fucking dog. And the society I live in locks up someone who's saved children's lives! But I don't deserve any better. Is that how you see it?'
He turned to the window and spat. And heard a door open.
He knew just which door.
'Fuck's sake. That's him, that sodding pervert. He's going out.'
Flasher-Göran was locking his front door. Bengt looked round at Elisabeth.
'Pathetic? Wasn't that what you said?'
Then he stuck his head out through the window.
'You deaf or something?' he roared. 'I don't want to see you. Stay inside. Filthy swine!'
Göran looked towards the familiar voice, and continued walking down the gravel path to the gate. Bengt snapped his fingers, twice.
His Rottweiler came padding along obediently.
The dog ran up to the window to stand by his master. Bengt grabbed its collar, held it, then let go with a sudden command.
'Baxter! Go! Get him!'
The big dog leapt out through the window, ran across the lawn and jumped the fence to the garden next door, barking loudly as it went. Göran heard it and realised what was happening. His heart started thumping with fear. He ran. The garden shed was the nearest safe place. His stomach was out of order, he couldn't control it, he shat himself, ran the last bit with faeces trickling down his legs, grabbed the door handle, got inside, pulled the door shut. The dog threw itself against the door, barking excitedly.
Bengt was watching from the window, Helena and Ove at his side. He was almost hysterical, applauding his dog and shouting to it.
'Good dog! Well done, Baxter! The peddo is where he belongs. Baxter! Watch!'
The dog stopped barking, sat down and fixed its eyes on the door handle.
Bengt, laughing now, clapped his hands for a little longer. Then he turned away from the window and caught the look in Elisabeth's eyes, saw how much she despised him. She shook her head slightly at him.
He suddenly realised that she was ugly, old and ugly, with her sneering face and flabby tits.
She could never make him want her, long for her again, not any more.
The cool release brought by the rain seemed a distant memory now. The heat was back. It was more obvious in the prison, where the high perimeter wall trapped the air over the flat expanse of the gravel yard. Hilding had gone out for a walk, wearing a pair of shorts and nothing on the bony upper half of his body. No one else was around. He was worried. Dickybird would soon discover it, he'd know who'd done it, and that it was his closest friend and ally would mean zilch. Hilding would be worked over. He expected it. If you nick from your mate you get hammered, simple as that. And he had nicked something important.
He had got Axelsson out of harm's way. The peddo had got the message, crawled off to the screws and licked arse. They saw his point right enough and tucked the fucking nonce away in seg wing. Sure enough, Dickybird had lost it when he heard; he figured the beast had been warned off, but couldn't be sure. Above all, he couldn't be sure who'd done it. He went berserk, screaming and kicking at the wall. Still, he had calmed down afterwards. He even agreed to a couple of games and magically got two tens of diamonds in one of the rounds.
Hilding scratched his sore and kept walking, from one pair of goal posts to the other. He counted each round. Sixty-seven so far. Thirty-three left.
He shouldn't have gone and smoked all the shit. But what the fuck, the Axelsson business had taken it out of him, he'd had it by then. He had earned just a small one, like a prize, kind of. Alone in the shower-room, he got the resin out and rolled himself one. It had been as fucking bloody marvellous as last time, his body felt all relaxed, he smoked another small one and then, somehow, the rest went the same way. It felt brilliant. But that night he suddenly realised that this time he was really asking for it. Afterwards he stayed awake, waiting for the morning and the beating that would come. Except it didn't.
Two days ago that was. Soon he'd attack. Hilding waited and scratched.
One more round. The hundredth.
Sweat was pouring off him. Maybe he should do another hundred. It was almost like getting high, this steady walking in the hot sun. His thoughts flowed slowly and easily. He decided to keep going until someone else came outside.
After one hundred and fifty-seven goes, the Russian turned up with a ball under his arm. Hilding went to take a cold shower; the water burned in his sore. Then he put on clean kit, pants, socks and shorts, and started walking in the corridor, driven by his anxiety. Three hundred times he passed the cells, reached the pool table and turned back. Everything was quiet, apart from the telly. It was on, as usual. The news was about the murder of the little girl and then about Lund. He forced himself to listen to distract himself from his growing fear.
He hadn't been in such a state for years, ever since he came under Dickybird's protection. But now he was the one who'd screwed up. He had to do something different, blow his mind. Must.
He knocked on the door to Jochum's cell, first once, then again when there was no reply. Jochum opened up. He had been asleep, it showed.
'What the fuck?'
'So what? Beat it.'
'Just wondered if you were thirsty.'
He had made up his mind. He had to do it, anything to get rid of that piss-awful ache inside him. So it meant more stealing. It would help if Jochum came along. Dickybird had too much respect to mess with him.
Jochum came outside.
'Where is it?'
'Come. I'll show you.'
Jochum went back inside his cell, then came out again wearing a pair of slippers. He closed the cell door behind him.
That sod never left the door open. No one ever caught as much as a glimpse inside his cell. Hilding led the way along the route he had just walked three hundred times, past the kitchen, the shower-room, the pool corner.
Fixed to the corridor wall was a fire-fighting contraption, a pipe made of red-painted metal attached to a black hose. The instructions for use ran into too many words to take in, especially with flames raging around you. Hilding looked around. No screws. He produced a toothbrush mug from the pocket of his shorts and unscrewed the stopper on the pipe.
'Try this. Plain fucking water, a loaf and some apples.' He filled the mug. The brew smelled bad; he almost retched. 'This stuff is rotgut. Tastes like shit! But what the fuck!' He swallowed the murky fluid. 'It kicks. Just don't fucking taste it!'
He filled the mug again and handed it to Jochum.
'It's been settling for almost four weeks. It's clearing. And must be ten per cent, easily.'
Jochum swallowed, gagged, held out the mug.
They got through five mugs each. Warmth began to spread through their bodies, and calm; the alcohol was reaching their souls.
They used to brew in the bucket at the back of the cleaners' cupboard, but doing it in the emptied fire-gadget was better, it was a closed container and easier to get at. The loaf was for alcohol, and the fruit helped the taste a bit.
Skåne had been on the alert this time, warning everyone. It was rare for them to turn up in the unit so suddenly. Hilding put the stopper in place and they wandered off; they met a screw on the way, he looked hard at them but didn't stop them.
Hilding and Jochum, nicely pissed now, went along to sit on the sofa, united for a while by booze; no one says no to a drink with a mate.
The TV news was still chewing over the Lund murder; the whole unit had followed the hunt and by now most people had had enough. The kid's dad had blown the head off the fucking nonce, showing the beasts what the score was. Hilding and Jochum took no notice of the flow of words and images, just sat back feeling relaxed.
'Where's that tinker mate of yours anyway? I haven't seen him for days.'
'Yeah. The Diddler.'
Jochum grinned. Hilding grinned. Fucking good that, the Diddler.
'Holing up in his cell, he can't hack all that. The shit on the telly.'
'He can't stand the fucking telly?'
'It's like… I don't know. The stuff about the girl and the nonce. It spooks Dicky. Or something. Like, he knows he could've done Lund in himself. Before he scarpered.'
'So what? It's been done.'
'But the kid wouldn't have been… you know.'
Hilding looked around, noted the screw on his way out and lowered his voice.
'Dicky has a daughter too. That's why.'
'He's got to think like that.'
'Why just him? Lots do. Don't you?'
'Sure. But his daughter lives near where it happened. Strängnäs. Well, Dicky thinks so, anyway.'
'Thinks? Doesn't he know?'
'Never even clapped eyes on her in his life.'
Jochum slid his hand across his shaved scalp, turned away from the TV for a moment to look at Hilding.
'I don't get this. It wasn't his kid who was done, right?'
'No. But it could've been. That matters for Dicky.'
'That's how he thinks. He's got this photo of her. He had it blown up and put it up on the wall, it's like a fucking big poster.'
Jochum threw his head back and laughed, a drunk's wild laugh.
'The tink has fucking lost it, no question. There he is, head stuffed fit to burst with what might've happened but didn't and can't any more 'cause the nonce is a goner, he's been shot to bits. The guy is dreaming, must be in worse shape than I thought. He needs a shot of your brew, more than anyone.'
Hilding stiffened, scared again.
'Fuck's sake! Don't tell him!'
'About us having a drink.'
'Scared of the Diddler, are you?'
'Just take it easy. Don't tell him.'
Jochum laughed again and gave Hilding the finger. Then he turned back to the set.
More reports about the nonce killing.
The prosecutor, a dead correct-looking bugger with a blond fringe; they had squeezed him up against a wall in the court stairwell and stuck a microphone in his face.
Just the type, a climber, no experience. He needed shaking up a bit.
Lars Ågestam did not quite grasp the full implications of it all until he had seen Fredrik Steffansson in the interrogation room.
At first the case had seemed a gift from the good fairy. Then the fairy shape-changed into an evil witch, the case came to involve a grieving parent and his just anger, and Ågestam had thrown up in the CPS office toilet from utter dread.
But once Steffansson was arrested, the prosecutor had ceased to be simply someone about to become a has-been, as far as his legal career went.
Now his situation was far worse.
Worse because of his constant fear, a fear that meant he could not cross the street without looking over his shoulder. A fear of death.
In court, he entered a plea that Steffansson should be kept in custody until his trial, on the basis that he was someone 'on sufficient grounds suspected of murder'. For the defence Kristina Björnsson, his opponent in the Axelsson case, argued that custody was not required, since her plea was that Steffansson had acted with 'reasonable force'. Expanding on this, she claimed that if freed, Steffansson would not represent any danger to the public, nor act so as to complicate the investigation, nor defect prior to the trial. Björnsson's conclusion was that her client should be ordered to report daily to the police in Eskilstuna.
Van Balvas, the sitting judge, took only a minute or two to decide that Fredrik Steffansson was indeed suspected of murder on sufficient grounds and should therefore remain in custody until tried. The date of the trial would be determined presently.
She rapped the desk with her gavel. Then all hell broke loose.
First, the crowd inside, near the front door. They wielded microphones and pushed him up against the wall of the stairwell.
Steffansson has become a popular hero.
He saved the lives of two little girls.
So far, we have no proof of this.
Bernt Lund had their photos.
Steffansson is accused of having murdered somebody.
Lund knew the girls' names. He kept watch on their nursery school.
Allegedly, Steffansson has committed murder. If that is so, his act must be my chief concern.
In your opinion, should someone who has prevented the death of innocent citizens be rewarded by a long prison sentence?
No comment. Your question is out of order.
In your opinion, did Steffansson do the right thing?
Bringing about someone's death can never be the right thing.
If it is proven that we have a case of premeditated murder, there is no option in law.
Is that so?
Premeditated murder must be judged for what it is.
A lifetime prison sentence, then?
The most severe punishment available in law must be considered.
You would prefer that the two little girls had been violated and killed, would you?
What I'm saying is that there is no exemption for grieving dads who commit murder.
Do you have any children?
Afterwards, he confronted the rest of them. The public. People had watched, listened, read. Now they shouted at him, threatened him, phoned him to say vile things. Every time he put the receiver down the phone rang again, demanded more of him.
You're a shit. Establishment lackey.
I'm only doing my job.
Fucking tin soldier. Paragraph-crazy bureaucrat.
If someone is suspected of breaking the law, it is my duty to prosecute that person.
You're a dead man if you go for that dad.
What you just said is intimidation and against the law.
Intimidation is a punishable offence.
We'll kill your family, one by one.
He was frightened. All this was for real. The menacing callers were mad, of course, but also representative of a wider public hatred. And they meant what they said. This was serious.
He went off in search of Ewert Grens.
Their last talk, when he had exposed his worries about the prosecution, should have changed things, opened doors to a new understanding. Or so he had hoped. Not at all; the old boy was just as difficult, just as unapproachable. In fact, he received the news that Ågestam was scared by threats to himself and his family with a broad grin. The young prosecutor was close to tears, he didn't want to be, not here of all fucking places, but Grens pretended he hadn't noticed. Instead he said that threats were par for the course, something a tough prosecutor had to expect, and when there was something more concrete than voices on the phone to report, he was welcome back.
Lars slammed the door behind him when he left.
A slow walk back through the hot, stale city air. He had been passing concentrated, dark-yellow urine for days; he supposed it was because the heat and humidity made him sweat so much. Stopping at a newsagent's for a bottle of mineral water and a copy of the big morning paper, he saw that his picture was on the front page, under the headline Prosecutor insists: life for popular hero.
Everyone stared at him, even the tourists; he met droves of them, dripping with cameras and camcorders and whatever.
He walked as fast as he could, quick march all the way to the CPS office.
He stepped into his room and the phone rang.
He just looked at it. It rang eight more times.
He focused on the police investigation documents, read and reread, until the ringing stopped.
Bengt Söderlund went over the story about Baxter again, how the dog had been nailed to the spot all day, all evening and through the night until the following morning, when he obeyed his master's command to leave. They had heard all this twice before, Elisabeth who didn't want to hear at all, Ove and Helena, who had seen it from the beginning, Ola Gunnarsson and Klas Rilke, who laughed louder every time. The same thing had happened in school, when someone had found out something new about a teacher, maybe a smart nickname, and they kept having hysterics about it all through upper school; or in the men's locker room at the Tallbacka Sports Club, when they fixed boot-studs and put on embrocation for aching muscles, going over and over the time the opponents' fat, useless goalie had been kicked in the balls.
This evening they had spent some time playing the gaming machines in the bar and then wandered off to sit at their usual table, before they lost too much of their hard-earned money. Everyone had a beer, enjoyed being there and toasted Baxter, who had made them laugh.
They were only halfway through the first pint; a warm- up, there was more to come, at least another three or four.
The discussion would take off, alcohol stimulated the flow of words.
Bengt drank more slowly than usual. He had made up his mind during the week and prepared himself properly by reading a lot of deadly dull law handbooks. He had the evening all worked out in his head.
He raised his glass to his companions.
'Drink up, boys and girls. I've got something to say afterwards.'
They drank. Bengt signalled to the barman to bring another round, and then he began.
'I've been thinking. Drawn up a plan of action, you might say. We had better get some law and order round here.'
The others moved closer, stopped drinking and sat still. Elisabeth clenched her jaw and stared down at the tabletop. Her face was flushed.
'Remember last time we were here? Remember what Helena said?'
He smiled at Helena.
'Right at the end, before closing time, she stood up and asked us to listen. The late-night news was all about the killing of the paedophile, the father who shot that sex maniac. Afterwards Helena said something that stayed with me. She said, that man is a hero. A hero of our time. He wasn't going to let a fucking pervert get away with murder. He didn't hang about waiting for the police. They had messed up before, so he took it in his own hands to act.'
'I meant what I said. That man is a hero. Good-looking, too.'
She pushed playfully at her Ove, smiled at him. Bengt nodded impatiently. He had more on his mind.
'The trial will start soon. It will take five days and the sentence will come at some point during the last couple of days. We'll be around when it is.'
He looked around triumphantly.
'The defence is pushing for something called "reasonable force", and so are ordinary folk all over the country; they'll fucking riot if the court comes out in favour of locking him up. I bet it won't take the risk. The set-up will be the usual, only the judge has law training and the rest are magistrates, not trained in the law so they won't stick to paragraphs. See what I'm saying? He might well go free, and that's when we strike. Then it's our turn.'
The rest of the group round the pub table still didn't see the point, but figured Bengt had checked things out, as he usually did.
'Yeah? If the girl's dad is let off, that's it. The moment we hear, we have a licence to act, to deal with that perv once and for all. I, for one, won't put up with having a paedophile around this place. Not as a neighbour, not any- fucking-where in this community. We'll let him have it and then claim that we acted with reasonable force.'
The overweight barman, ex-owner of one of the defunct grocer's shops, brought them another round, carrying three glasses in each hand. They got stuck in, feeling good, but then Elisabeth spoke up.
'Bengt, listen. You're going over the top.'
'Christ, we've been over this before. Go home if you don't like it.'
'How can you think it's right to kill someone just to solve a problem? That dad is not a hero at all. He's setting a bad example.'
Bengt slammed his glass down on the table.
'So what does madam think he should've done then?'
'Well… talked to the man who did it.'
'You can always get somewhere by talking.'
'Now I've fucking heard it all!'
Helena turned to face Elisabeth, her eyes narrowing with dislike.
'I must say I don't understand you, Elisabeth. Do you have a problem with seeing things the way they really are or what? Exactly what are you supposed to talk about with a crazy sex killer who's just murdered your own child? Maybe his tragic childhood? Maybe he had the wrong kind of toys? Lousy potty training? You must tell us.'
Ove rose and put his hand on his wife's shoulder.
'Fuck's sake, what do you think he was there for, outside that school? Well, I can tell you one thing, it wasn't the time and place for some kind of psycho session about what-a- very-sad-upbringing-blah-blah.'
Helena had put her hand over Ove's and started to speak when her husband stopped to draw breath.
'You can say the dad had no right to shoot that paedophile. But he would have been even more wrong not to kill him. That's obvious to me, anyway. OK, life is precious, I agree with that, but circumstances alter cases. If I'd been where he was and had a gun I could handle, I would've done just the same. What is it you don't understand about that, Elisabeth?'
She made up her mind as she left the restaurant. This was the end for her and Bengt, she had given up on her husband for good.
She walked straight back home and told her daughter, the one child she was responsible for, to pack just what she could carry. Then she filled two suitcases with their clothes and put everything in the car; she had to take that.
The summer evening was darkening, turning into night, when she left Tallbacka for ever.
The cell was one hundred and seventy centimetres wide, two hundred and fifty centimetres long, and contained a narrow bed, a small bedside table and a washbasin handy for pissing at night and washing in the morning. He was wearing a greyish, sagging suit, with the prison initials stamped on the sleeves and trouser-legs. Full restrictions applied, which meant no newspapers, no TV or radio and no visitors, except the chief interrogator, the prosecutor, the defence lawyer, the prison chaplain and prison officers. Fresh air was permitted for one hour daily; it amounted to a supervised stroll in a steel cage on the roof. Just now the heat up there was suffocating and he had asked to be let off the last half-hour every day so far.
He was lying on the bed. There was not a thought in his head. He had tried to eat and given up after a few mouthfuls. It tasted like shit, all of it. The tray with the plate and the glass of orange juice stood on the floor. He hadn't eaten since Enköping. Anything he tried had come back up, as if his stomach wanted to be left in peace.
The walls around him were grey, empty. His eyes had nothing to look at and nothing to look away from. The harsh light from the fluorescent tube in the ceiling somehow got behind his closed lids, coating his eyeballs with a bright membrane.
The observation panel on the door squeaked; someone was looking in at him.
'Steffansson, you wanted to see the chaplain, right?'
Fredrik met the staring eyes.
'Call me Fredrik. I don't like being a surname.'
'OK, start again. Fredrik, do you want to see the chaplain?'
'Anyone, as long as he or she doesn't wear a uniform.'
The officer sighed.
'Make up your mind. Yes or no. She's right here, next to me.'
'That's news. I'm stuck in here to isolate me from everybody else, some motherfucker's decided that I'm a danger to society, isn't that so? Or is everybody else a danger to me? Tricky. Do you know who I am, anyway?'
He sat up on the edge of the bed abruptly. Then he kicked the tray. Bright yellow orange juice spread all over the floor.
The officer sighed, he had seen this so often. The prisoners who broke down started by being aggressive, irrational, threatening, then they collapsed and pissed their pants. Steffansson was cracking up, obviously.
Fredrik splashed the liquid around with his foot and went on talking.
'You haven't got a clue, have you? That my crime is deliberate execution of a foul child-killer. A maniac who might've come round to fuck your baby to death. And now it's your job to keep tabs on me. Enjoying yourself, are you? Feeling socially useful?'
He picked up the juice glass and threw it at the open panel. It shut just in time, before the glass hit and splintered into fragments.
The next moment the panel pulled back and the eyes stared at him again.
'I should call in support; what you just did is enough for
a spell in restraints. But you asked a question and I'm going to answer it.'
The officer paused and swallowed; the words wouldn't come at first. Fredrik waited.
'And the answer is no, I don't think what I'm doing to you is any use. Fact is, I don't think you should be here. And I think you did the right thing, shooting that bastard. But that's neither here nor there. You're inside and that's that. Now, do you want the chaplain?'
A locked door. He is on one side, everyone else on the other.
Images floating in the empty space inside his head, closed doors, himself on one side, everyone else on the other, how he had hated it, no panel in that door but panes to look through, three blurry sheets of glass, like in toilet windows, but you could see things if you pushed your face close, what Dad and Frans did in there, in the sitting room, the TV was on loud but he could hear Dad shout that Frans should undress, take it all off, then Dad hit the naked body again and again, he watched the hand moving, the glass distorted everything, making it look absurd, and Frans never uttered a sound. It was their mum who had snitched, she had told Dad why Frans must be punished, and then she just left them to it, went to sit in the kitchen, drinking tea and smoking her endless Camel cigs, while Dad hit and hit and hit until Frans shouted defiantly that he wasn't strong enough, he didn't feel it, hit harder. Dad often stopped altogether then.
A locked door. Someone staring.
'For the last time, mate. Yes or no?'
Fredrik closed his eyes to make the door disappear.
'Let the duty-saint in then.'
The door opened, he opened his eyes to look, at first unable to take in what he saw.
'Hello, Fredrik. I've worked here before, you know, but this time I asked. I wanted to be here for you, since you won't be allowed to see anyone else you know. Do you mind?'
'Please come in.'
He felt so ashamed. Ashamed of being in this bleak cell awash with spilt juice, of wearing sack-like prisoner's kit, of throwing a tantrum in front of her, of having urinated in the washbasin not very long ago. The joy of seeing her brought tears to his eyes, and that too shamed him.
But she hugged him and stroked his hair, telling him that she understood and that she'd seen locked-up men and women behave much worse.
He looked at her, tried to smile.
'Do you think I did wrong?'
'Yes, I do,' she replied after a pause. 'You had no right to decide about life and death.'
Fredrik nodded. He had expected her to say that.
'Despite saving two children, or more, from Lund?'
Once more, she took her time. She meant a lot to this man and had known him for so long. Her responsibility to him weighed heavily.
'That is such a difficult question, Fredrik. I…'
She was silenced because Fredrik had started to hyperventilate. She put her hand on his chest, and he sank down on the bed, his whole body trembling.
'I'm sorry, I can't help myself. It's all so meaningless.'
Marie's funeral. The cemetery. The cold floor and the organ filling the church with sound. The little coffin, so very small. Rebecca had stood next to it and spoken. Marie was inside the coffin. The lid was on but he knew they had made her look pretty.
He steadied his breathing and started to speak.
'Marie is no longer. Everything that was her is gone, her senses, her thoughts. Gone, absolutely. For ever. Do you understand what I am trying to express?'
'I hear you and I understand, but you know I don't believe that.'
The noise of the panel sliding back. The eyes.
'Seems to be plenty going on in there. Everything all right?'
'Yes, it's all right,' Rebecca called back.
'Fine. Just give us a shout in case.'
Fredrik had stopped trembling, but was still stretched out on the bed, taking deep breaths.
'It was when I knew that Lund would do it all again that I made up my mind to kill. Get there first. Eliminate him.' He searched for the right words. 'You all thought it was a revenge killing, but it wasn't. It wasn't personal. You see, I died with Marie. I only came alive to kill him.'
He sat up and slapped his hand on the table, then bent forward and started hitting his forehead against the edge of it until he bled.
'I killed him. What am I meant to live for now?'
The door opened and this time there were two officers. They wore the same uniforms and identical expressions on their faces.
Marching past Rebecca, they grabbed Fredrik and pinned him to the bed, holding him down until he stopped pushing his head forward into the empty air.
It rained on the first day of the trial, only the second time during that long, hot summer. It was a quiet, persistent rain of the kind that is there before sunrise and keeps being there until dark.
Rain or no rain, it was the most sensational trial in Sweden for years and the queue outside the Stockholm Old Court building had already grown long early that morning. Proceedings were scheduled for the high-security courtroom and attendance was limited to four rows of numbered seats. Only the bigger media companies had been allowed to reserve places and a scrum of journalists led the crowd in the stone-flagged entrance hall.
The security was extensive. Uniformed and plainclothes police were everywhere, reinforced by staff from private firms. Over the weeks that had passed since Lund's escape, a looming sense of threat had been taking the shape of a faceless citizen, frustrated, aggressive, fuelled by a generalised hatred of paedophiles. This figure embodied a collective engagement by people who did not usually do much more than follow the news and comment from a safe distance, but who were now waiting and watching and preparing for action.
Micaela had got there early, just after seven. It had been chilly and raining a little harder then. She hadn't seen Fredrik since Marie's funeral. Now she knew that he had been hunting Lund and then kept in custody with no privileges.
More than anything else she felt frightened. This was her first experience of a court case and she knew she would have to stay still while the man she loved sat alone, just a few metres away from her, charged with murder and interrogated by a prosecutor out to get a lifetime sentence.
Once, not long ago, she had been part of a family. She had slept by Fredrik at night and learnt to hold on to him. Marie had become almost her own child, she had cared for her, fed and clothed and taught her. All gone now, in a few weeks.
She tried to smile at the guard who was checking her handbag, but he didn't smile back. The electronic checker wouldn't let her through, she tried three times and it howled every time, until she realised that she still had one of Marie's bicycle keys in her pocket. Her seat was good though, in row three, just behind the radio and TV reporters. She actually recognised some of them. Instead of speaking to camera from some dramatic location, they were busy taking notes. She peeped; everybody seemed to write in a personal scrawl, very short sentences, but always with a note of the time for each entry. Two artists were sitting right in front, their pencils moving with fleeting ease over their white sheets of paper as they sketched in the background features of the courtroom.
There was Agnes, in the last row, across the aisle. Micaela had turned to look for a fraction too long and had been seen. They nodded politely at each other. It was strange, the way they had kept themselves to themselves. She had answered the phone a couple of times when Agnes called Marie, but all that meant was a brisk exchange of This is Agnes, I'd like to speak to Marie please and One moment,
I'll get her, the sum total of knowing each other for three years.
Then she spotted the two policemen who had asked questions of everybody in and around the school that day. The older one with the limp was the boss. The younger one was nice and patient, he might be religious, free church probably. They had seen her and nodded, so she nodded back.
The room was almost full and she could hear protesting shouts from people outside, who realised they wouldn't get in. Someone was booing at the guards, someone else was calling them 'Fascist pigs'.
There was a door at the back of the dais, which she hadn't noticed until it suddenly opened and the officials of the court filed in. The judge came first, a woman called van Balvas, followed by the magistrates, who all looked rather elderly, local politicians mostly, on their way out of active life. She had read about these people in the paper. There had been quite a lot about the prosecutor too, and she had seen him on the telly, such a puffed-up young man, somehow sounding like a precocious kid. He was maybe a couple of years older than herself, which made her feel very young. The defence lawyer was different, her manner as calm and in control as it had been when they had talked in her office.
Then Fredrik, last of all, flanked by two court officers.
They had made him wear a suit and tie, not like his usual style at all. How pale he was. He looked so frightened. He felt like she did. His eyes stayed fixed to the floor, avoiding the crowd in front of him.
Van Balvas (VB): Your full name, please.
Fredrik Steffansson (FS): Nils Fredrik Steffansson. VB: And your address?
FS: Hamngatan 28, Strängnäs.
VB: Are you aware of the reason why we are here today?
FS: What a weird question.
VB: I will ask you again. Do you understand why we are here today?
She smoked three cigarettes during the break in a sad- looking lobby with sombre oak-panelled walls and worn seating. One of the journalists spoke to her, he wanted to know how Fredrik was feeling and she explained that she had not been allowed to see him because she was only his partner. The journalist had offered her cigarettes of that strong kind without filters that people in southern Europe smoke. Just one ciggie made her feel dizzy. Fredrik detested her smoking and she hadn't touched a cigarette for months.
Agnes had been standing alone a bit away, sipping mineral water. They both avoided eye contact; what was the point of seeking each other out? They had so little in common. They did not even share points of reference, except this, an experience complete in itself.
A young journalist with thinning hair and earphones was sitting on one of the wooden benches taking notes from a tape-recording. Next to him, an older reporter. One of the court artists was showing him a drawing of a moment she recognised from the hearing. There was Fredrik, making a gesture with his hand as the prosecutor held up a photo of the nursery school in Enköping, taken from the place where Fredrik had been when he shot that man.
Lars Ågestam (LÅ): Mr Steffansson, there is something I don't understand. Why did you not inform the police officers, who were only a few hundred metres away, exactly in your line of sight?
FS: There was no time.
LÅ: No time?
FS: I knew that two guards couldn't control Lund when he was a prisoner in chains. What chances had two policemen, half asleep anyway, against an unrestrained, armed Lund?
LÅ: So you didn't even try to contact them?
FS: I couldn't run the risk of him getting away. And maybe taking another girl with him. LÅ: But I still don't understand. FS: Don't you?
LÅ: Why did you have to murder Bernt Lund?
FS: What's so fucking difficult about that?
VB: Mr Steffansson, sit down. And please refrain from swearing.
FS: Do you have a problem hearing what I say? The massed forces of law and order couldn't treat Lund out of his madness or keep him safely locked up or catch him after he had murdered Marie. I don't have to explain myself any more, surely?
VB: For the second time, Mr Steffansson, sit down. Perhaps your lawyer can help?
Kristina Björnsson (KB): Fredrik, calm down. If you want to state your case, you must be allowed to stay in here. FS: Could someone get rid of these two?
KB: If you remain seated and calm, the officers will sit down too.
Once only did their eyes meet. It was during the prosecutor's first interrogation, which had started after the opening statements. Fredrik had become very angry, but they had made him sit down again and then he turned round, looking for her and Agnes, and he had tried to smile a little, she was sure he did. She had lifted her fingers to her lips to throw him a kiss. Her sense of loss seemed to solidify in her belly; she missed him so much and it was horrible to see him there in his suit and tie, white-faced, ready to be taken away.
LÅ: Mr Steffansson, I must remind you that Sweden, like very many other countries, has outlawed the death penalty.
FS: If the police had managed to catch him in the end the likely sentence would've been closed psychiatric care. It's even easier to escape from institutions like that.
LÅ: Where does that take your argument?
FS: Obviously, putting Bernt Lund away inside, anywhere, means nothing more than delaying the inevitable. Sooner or later he is back on the run, ready to kill more children.
LÅ: And so it follows that you have the right to act as police, prosecutor, judge and executioner?
FS: You deliberately pretend not to understand me. You twist what I say.
LÅ: Not at all.
FS: I can only repeat what I've said before. I didn't kill Lund because I personally wanted to punish him or get anything else out of it. I killed him because, for as long as he was alive, he was dangerous. It was like what people do with a mad dog.
LÅ: A mad dog?
FS: The reason for killing a rabid dog is that it is a risk to others. Bernt Lund was a rabid dog. I did what anyone might've done.
After every stage in the court proceedings she spent a long time waiting around, hoping that he would be escorted past her. She wanted to see him. They might even exchange a word or two. She tried different exits and entrances in turn, but saw neither him nor his guards.
After the first day, he stopped shaving and bothering with a tie. She felt that he cared less and less, that he was about to give up. Now and then they exchanged glances and she tried to look very calm and reassuring, as if she knew it would turn out all right in the end.
Agnes no longer came along.
A few journalists had dropped out, but one of the two policemen on the case was there every day. She spoke a little to Sundkvist and liked his mild-mannered style; he was much easier to relate to than most police.
Every day she drove back to Strängnäs and the home that belonged to them both. She had trouble sleeping at night.
He got out at his familiar metro station and strolled slowly home through the quiet suburban streets, humming a little to himself. It was that kind of evening, mild and warm and somehow long, as if the next day was far away.
The moment Lars Ågestam turned into his own street, he saw it. The car was eye-catching, the black lettering distinct against its shiny red surface.
The letters were bounding along, attacking him.
You fuck kids.
Who's the psychopath?
The words had been painted on both doors. And on the roof. And on the bonnet. Whoever it was had announced his hatred with spray paint and destruction. If something could be broken, it had been. All the car windows were reduced to splinters, the headlamps had been ruined and the mirrors were simply gone.
He remembered vomiting with fear in the CPS toilet when he learned what kind of case he was landed with. Somehow he had foreseen all this.
And then here was his house. It was a solid bungalow from the forties with a finish of yellow render. A bevy of relatives had come to help him put on a coat of fresh yellow paint that summer. Now the black letters screamed at him from the bright background, running all the way across the façade, starting at the kitchen window, over the door and on to the sitting room window. The black spray paint looked the same as on the car, and the writing did too.
That alien hand had written one sentence.
You will die soon, arselicker.
Marina, his wife, was in the front garden, just metres away from the huge, angular letters, swinging in the hammock they had bought in a sale just a week ago.
Her eyes were closed and she seemed utterly detached.
He went up to her, but she said nothing, only coughed nervously. He hugged her.
The trial had been going on for three days. What had to happen finally did. Public awareness of the father who had shot his daughter's killer and killed him, risking a lifetime in prison, had permeated everything.
That threatening being, the faceless citizen, acted accordingly.
He couldn't bear to stay in a house with letters sprayed all over it. He had got out of bed to empty his bladder and couldn't get back to sleep, just lay there, his nakedness uncovered to let Marina have the duvet, searching the shadowy ceiling for answers.
He thought about his battered car. The spray-painted text, telling him what he was.
He was an arsehole. A psychopath. He loved paedophiles. He fucked children.
Marina's red and swollen eyes had avoided meeting his. She kept looking away. When he asked if she had been frightened, she shook her head, and when he wanted to know if she had been hurt or abused in any way, she shook her head, and when he held her tight, she turned away. In bed she lay facing the wall, leaving him alone with his psychopathy and his ruined car. After a while his breathing deepened, she noticed, but she kept staring at the wall until he had whispered her name again and again and she yielded, slipping into his arms and asking him to forgive her. Their skin, their nakedness touched and they made love for longer than they normally did; afterwards they held each other for a while before she turned back to face the wall again.
He had to get up.
Wandering naked round the house, he checked the time. Half past three. He made himself a mug of coffee, poured a glass of milk and another of orange juice, got out bread and cheese. He started reading yesterday's papers, looking for what all the media called the paedophilia trial and marvelling at the space allocated to it, page after page of text and pictures.
But it didn't work; his fears, his restlessness, his anger were whirling inside him and he couldn't just sit there drinking coffee.
He went back into the bedroom, dressed and picked up his briefcase, then kissed Marina's shoulder, and when she twitched and opened her eyes he explained where he was going, that he wanted to think in peace while the city woke. She murmured something he couldn't catch. When he left, her back was almost up against the wall.
He walked slowly, wanting to be alone with his thoughts in the sleeping city. But before he set out, after walking the seven paces along the path of concrete slabs set into the lawn, he turned round to take it all in.
You will die soon, arselicker.
The early-morning light seemed to magnify the letters and make their blackness more prominent. The writing was crude and had an awkward stiffness that made the whole thing look unreal. Surely it would all fade and vanish, dribble off the wall into sticky puddles among the roses in the border?
Then he passed his car, new a year ago. He had borrowed to cover the cost. It was vandalised beyond all hope, wrecked like the cars he'd seen in the far-flung suburbs of Latin American cities. It would be taken away. Would the intrusive words go away?
It took him two hours to walk from the western suburbs to the city centre, carrying his jacket over his shoulder and the briefcase in his hand. His black shoes didn't fit him too well and pinched here and there, but he had time to think, to try to understand.
What was all this about? He had wanted to be a prosecutor and that was what he did. He had been looking for a big case, and that was what he'd got. End of story. He wasn't up to it, he was too young, not mature enough. Not good enough.
An important brief meant getting lots of attention. Threats, as well as praise, were a consequence of being in the spotlight. Sure, he knew that. He had seen it affect older colleagues. Why did some vulgar graffiti scare him?
He knew, but couldn't tell why it should be so, that their lovemaking in the midst of Marina's silence meant that he was alienated from who he had been. He had lost a dream and would age abruptly as he carried this trial to its conclusion, pushing for the maximum sentence. Afterwards? A desert. Nothing was self-evident any more. But, seemingly, he was on his own.
He got to Scheele Street just after six o'clock. The Old Court was silent and still. A couple of gulls were rifling through the bins. Thanks to a helpful nightwatchman he had spent so many nights and early mornings here that in the end the magistrates had relented and, uniquely, allowed him his own set of keys. The young prosecutor had spent a significant part of his life in the old stone building.
He climbed the massive staircase all the way to the secure courtroom, went to sit in the place he occupied during the trial and opened his folder, spreading out the documents first on the tabletop and then, when he ran out of room, on the floor.
He had been working for forty-five minutes when the door opened.
The rough voice was only too familiar. It was actually hateful. He kept his eyes on his work.
'Look, your wife told me that I could find you here. I'm sorry, I think I woke her.'
Grens didn't ask if he was welcome. He limped inside. His shoes had hard leather soles and his right footfall echoed round the room. Passing behind Ågestam, he glanced quickly at the pile of papers and went to sit in the judge's seat.
'That's what I do. Start early, when it's quiet. No fucking idiots around to annoy me.'
Ågestam carried on as he was, checking points of law, memorising questions, arranging observations.
'Can't you stop doing whatever it is when I'm talking to you?'
Ågestam turned, furious, facing the intruder.
'Why should I? You have no fucking time for me. It's mutual.'
'That's why I'm here.' Grens fiddled with the judge's gavel and cleared his throat. 'I've made… an error of judgement.'
Ågestam became still, in mid-movement, his eyes fixed on the older man, whose face was strained as he searched for words.
'When I've made an error I admit it.'
'And I was wrong this time. I should've taken your ramblings seriously.'
The large, worn courtroom was as silent as the quiet streets outside, this early morning on a warm summer's day.
'You should've had police protection. You'll get it. We have a patrol car in place outside your home already. There's a car downstairs as well. The officer is on his way here to see you.'
Ågestam went to the window. Just then a policeman shut the door to his car and turned to walk towards the front steps of the court building.
The young prosecutor sighed. He felt suddenly very tired, as if the sleep he had missed that night was claiming him now.
'It's rather late in the day,' he said.
'That's a fact.'
'Yes, yes. Too true.'
Grens was still holding the gavel. He swung it, made a sharp noise that bounced off the walls.
He had said what he had come to say, but still gave no sign of leaving and didn't speak either. Ågestam felt tense. The crippled old bugger simply sat there. What was he waiting for?
'Are you done? I'm here to work.'
Grens didn't answer, only smacked his lips irritatingly.
'Is that a signal? The all-clear?'
'One other thing. I've bought one of those CD players. I put it in my room, next to the tape recorder. I can play that disc of yours now.'
He stayed there, sitting quietly in the judge's seat. Ågestam got on with his work, trying to muster the arguments that would persuade the media-conscious magistrates that a premeditated murder was simply that, and hence must be judged accordingly, regardless of any other circumstances. He wrote, scribbled out, reformulated. Grens, leaning back and staring at the ceiling, seemed half asleep, only making his presence felt now and then by that maddening noise with his lips.
By half past eight, voices from outside reached them. People were shouting, loudly enough for the sound to get through the double windowpanes.
They both went over to have a look and opened a window, letting in a gust of warm, gentle air. The open place in front of the court was no longer empty. They both started counting; roughly two hundred people had come along. They were facing the main entrance. The crowd was in perpetual motion; it looked like a collection of charged particles with waves of movement going through it, pulsating as people advanced towards the entrance and were pushed back by a line of policemen carrying plastic shields.
People were shouting and waving placards. It was a loud demonstration against the judicial process that was about to start up again in half an hour's time. These people wanted to show their anger and scorn against a society that couldn't protect them and yet was prepared to convict a lone citizen who had tried to act in their defence.
Grens and Ågestam exchanged a glance, and Grens shook his head.
'What do they think they're doing? As if that bloody racket would make a difference. They're off their fucking heads. Our boys won't let them in, threatening behaviour or not.'
A stone flew through the air and hit a policeman at the end of the line. Ågestam shuddered instinctively, suddenly reminded of his house and his car, and of Marina, who perhaps was awake by now. She would see the patrol car, it would surely comfort her. He met Grens' eyes again and felt he had to explain.
'They're scared, nothing more or less. Scared of sex offenders to the point of blind hatred. If a father kills one of them, he'll naturally become a popular hero. He was the one who did what they'd like to but don't dare to do.'
'You know what? I've got no time for mobs. All my life I've gone for them, broken them up. But not all mobs are the same. That man was a hero, they didn't make him one. He did what we couldn't. He eliminated a public menace.'
Reinforcements were arriving. The dozen police in front of the court were backed up by another twelve, arriving in two mini-buses. The buses came to a sudden halt when two of the demonstrators walked towards them and the men in full riot gear rushed out to join their colleagues. The wall of men and shields grew more solid.
Slowly the crowd calmed down. It stayed watchful, but the shouting grew less strident and the anger less obvious.
Ågestam closed the window and the room was silent again. He had barely been able to stop himself from jabbing Grens with his elbow. There was something overbearing in the man's tone of voice, something that irritated him like hell. Why was he always like that? Instead he started to review aloud the arguments he would soon use to the court.
'I don't understand this, Grens. How do you mean, a hero who has eliminated a menace?'
'Steffansson made people feel safer.'
'He's a murderer. Lund was a murderer. Two of a kind. The people down there seem to think he shouldn't be tried at all. Are we meant to regard personal courage as a mitigating circumstance? I don't think so.'
'I can only repeat that his action meant protection. Nobody else had given them that.'
It seemed all ordinary people agreed that he had screwed up the case. He ought to think like them.
He did. And he did not.
'And I repeat that no one has a right to kill, no one. You don't know me, Grens, and so you can't work out if, really, at heart, I don't agree that blowing the head off a sex maniac is a good idea. As it is, I'll insist that anything short of a lengthy spell in the jug would be a mistake. Society must not send out signals saying anything other than when you kill, you must pay.'
Ågestam went away to order his papers, to clear the floor and the desktop. Grens lingered by the window, watching as the crowd began to disperse. Then he went on to his usual seat at the back of the room, from where he had watched the trial since day one.
The door opened and a porter entered. After him, the journalists streamed in, followed by the members of public who had managed to be at the head of the queue and got past the strict security checkpoint.
The trial of Fredrik Steffansson was on its fifth and last day.
Bengt Söderlund woke early. Two weeks of holiday left. The days were precious now. He had only slept for a few hours every night during the previous week. Only when he kept busy did he have a chance to forget that Elisabeth and the girl had gone and that he didn't even know where they were. At first he had hardly been off the phone, trying her parents and friends and mates from her old job, but no one had seen her. Once that was clear, he didn't bother with telling them why he asked. He wouldn't have any of these buggers laughing at him, no way.
They had agreed to meet at half past nine. He snapped his fingers and Baxter came running to his side. Only a few minutes to go, so he checked at the sitting-room window and there they were, Ove and Helena, Ola and Klas.
They said hello, shook hands, that's how they'd been greeting each other since they were quite young. That's how you did it in Tallbacka.
His garden shed was large and easily seen from Flasher-Göran's windows, so he would see them go inside, and wonder what they were up to. He could stick his wondering up his arse. In the shed Bengt had lined up, end to end, his two tried and trusted sawing-horses, made of long, sturdy planks supported by angled legs. Ove and Klas brought a large plastic sack each, filled with empty glass bottles, in total forty, about half of them for wine, three quarters of a litre capacity, and half for mineral water, 33cc capacity.
They lined up the bottles on the sawing horses and Ove got the lid off the oil drum in the corner behind the lawn mower. It was full to the brim with petrol. He lowered a can under the surface to fill it, watching the bubbles rise. Dribbling petrol as he went, he walked over to the row of bottles, where Helena was waiting with a large plastic funnel in her hand. Ola filled the first bottle to the halfway mark. They moved on to the next bottle; she held the funnel in place, he poured in petrol until the bottle was half full. They carried on like that until all the bottles were done and they had used up over twenty litres of petrol.
Meanwhile, Bengt had spread out an old sheet over the wood basket and used his knife to cut it systematically into forty strips, roughly thirty by thirty centimetres. He pushed a rolled-up strip into the top of each bottle, so that only a small head of cloth protruded.
Then they all set to, placing the filled and stoppered bottles tidily into a big box and making sure that they fitted in securely. A small box with ten cigarette lighters, two each in case one went bust, was put next to the big one.
It hadn't taken them that long. There was still an hour or two to go before noon.
Fredrik was sitting in the centre of the court. His eyes were closed. He wanted to look around but he
Lars Ågestam (LÅ): Steffansson murdered Bernt Lund without a trace of compassion and concern about the other man's life. There are, to my mind, no mitigating circumstances. I will therefore plead that the court recognises his responsibility for this act by sentencing him to a lifetime prison term.
couldn't find the strength to. This was the fifth and last day, and he wanted to be back in the cell and
Kristina Björnsson (KB): Fredrik Steffansson was watching outside the nursery school. He knew that if he did not shoot Bernt Lund, two more little girls would have been sexually violated and killed. We even know who they were.
piss in the washbasin, just as usual, that was all there was. This room was packed with people, all around him, making him feel so bloody lonely.
He remembered how he had felt the first Christmas after Agnes had left him, a few weeks before he met Micaela for the first time. He had not kept track of the passing days, just kept doing the things one must do, so that Christmas Eve turned up unexpectedly. He had tried to get rid of it but failed, so by five o'clock in the afternoon, when it was totally dark outside, he had gone out and tried to have a drink in one of the few Stockholm pubs that were still open. He'd never forget the people holed up in there, isolated in their communal solitude. The atmosphere was so bitter and dull that he found it hard to breathe and staying on was almost unbearable until the programme called Jonsson's Christmas started up on the telly over the bar and became a focal point, which they could gather round for half an hour. The programme was about them somehow, so they had laughed and warmth had enveloped them all for a while, until the evening had suddenly passed, one more for the road and a last cigarette, and then everyone had gone home to his or her scruffy, fusty digs.
He could look around the court now. Now, as then, he was surrounded by strangers, all sucked into a system they didn't truly understand, but which made them feel cheated of their future. Take the prosecutor,
LÅ: According to the criminal law, third chapter, paragraph 1, whoever takes the life of another shall be convicted of murder and sentenced to a prison term, which must exceed ten years and may extend to a life term.
who demanded a life sentence, or the defence lawyer,
KB: According to the criminal law, twenty-fourth chapter, paragraph 1 , an act which is in self-defence or in defence of others and uses reasonable force is a crime only if, in view of the nature of the attack, the intent and significance of what is attacked and other relevant circumstances, it is self-evidently indefensible.
who pleaded reasonable force, or the magistrates, who seemed not to be listening most of the time, or of course the journalists and court recorders, who sat behind him, writing away and drawing and memorising, all stuff which he wasn't allowed to see; he would not learn who they were or what kind of reality they represented. Furthest back was the public, the audience he supposed, there to satisfy their collective curiosity, something he detested them for, their hunger for thrills; they were rubbing their hands with glee at having got close enough, actually being free in real life to stare at the dad-whose-little-girl-was-murdered-so-he- shot-the-murderer.
LÅ: Mr Steffansson planned the murder of Bernt Lund over a period of four days. In other words, it was a premeditated act and he did have sufficient time to reconsider. According to his own statement, Steffansson regarded the killing of Lund as equivalent to eliminating a mad dog.
He didn't want to see them and avoided turning round, they ate him, tore the flesh of his face and burrowed inside his mind. Micaela was there and he wanted to show her something, say something, so he had turned a few times to look for her,
KB: Reasonable force is defined as that used when facing threats with regard to life, health, property or other judicially understood interests, in self-defence or in defence of others. We believe it self-evident that the lives of two little girls were endangered and that Fredrik Steffansson, by acting as he did, saved two young lives
but he feared the eyes fastened on him and the noses sniffing for his scent and so he avoided reminding them and her that he was somebody with something to say.
Hours passed as he sat there, facing forward, eyes closed, refusing to listen. He had seen Marie stuck in a bag on a trolley in the forensic place. Her face had been beautiful, her chest taped together, and her genitals pierced and cut to pieces, and her feet were much too clean, and bore traces of saliva. He, who spoke against, and she, who talked for, had both asked him questions and he had replied, but it was unreal, meaningless.
Only the little girl in the body bag meant anything to him.
The summer was dying slowly. The heat that had ruled for so many weeks was dissolving and being replaced by cooler air, until it seemed only a distant memory. People started complaining when the showers merged into days of rain, claimed that they felt the cold, something that recently had been simply unthinkable. As the damp infiltrated the layers of sweaters and thick trousers, the newspapers gave up on the dad who shot the paedophile and ran headlines about how elderly Germans, who could read fish entrails and foretell the weather, had insisted that conditions this autumn and winter would be dire.
Charlotte van Balvas breathed in the chilly, damp air with pleasure. She had longed for this time of year, when she could walk the streets without sweating and look around without narrowing her eyes against the light. Her skin went angrily red in sunlight and she used to hide in the courtroom, hanging back, and then hurry off to libraries and restaurants, waiting until her time came to join the others, the happily adjusted ones, in the streets again. Soon pale skin would look normal.
She was forty-six years old. As of this moment, she was frightened.
She had seen what they'd done to the prosecutor. They had threatened him and vandalised his home because he did what he had to do for the society he represented. To plead a life term in prison for a proven, premeditated murder was quite in order. As the judge, she had to cope with that troupe of clowns, the magistrates, although their sole reason for being there was that they had served their political masters faithfully. She would have to face them soon, at a meeting out of court, and somehow convince them that according to the law they all recognised, Fredrik Steffansson really deserved a long prison sentence.
She had no choice, she too represented a society that had outlawed lynch mobs and their rough justice.
She was almost there now. Around her, people walked hunchbacked under their umbrellas and she wondered about them. What did they think, would they have fired that gun? Did they believe some human beings had a better claim to live than others?
Did they recognise her?
After all, her picture had been in all the papers, she and the magistrates too.
They determine the outcome in the paedophile trial.
Is killing right? They decide.
The court that might make the death penalty part of Swedish law.
She thought about the man at the centre of the case, whom she had watched for the last five days. His face was so fragile, somehow, and so wounded. He had been trying to avoid looking at the hyenas in the back rows, staring straight ahead without a break. She had liked what she had seen of Steffansson, and had even spent her evenings reading one of his books. She did not doubt him when he said that he had wanted to stop Lund from violating other children, and so force other parents to descend into his own hell. His reasons were utterly believable.
Christ, there were moments when she wanted to caress his wounded face. She could have undressed in front of him, he wouldn't have hurt her. He wasn't frightening. It was unbelievable that he should have scoured the countryside dreaming of revenge.
One of the magistrates had asked her how she would have argued, if it was one of her own children who had been saved. What if she had lived in the catchment area of that particular nursery school in Enköping?
She had no children, but she wasn't as insensitive as all that. Of course she would've felt differently.
As it was, she didn't answer the question.
She was almost there now. The rain was heavier. The large drops collected in growing puddles and there was thunder in the air.
She stopped, stood still, soaked to the skin.
The water pouring over her cheeks, down her neck calmed her, made her feel more courageous.
She started off again, having found the strength to walk into the magistrates' meeting, where she would try to persuade them that the grieving father should have a unanimous custodial life sentence.
It was raining outside. He was standing by the window, peering out between the bars in an attempt to find the cause of the rapping sound which had irritated him for too long now. It was a loose piece of metal guttering. He watched the dull-coloured, jagged strip of metal, watched the raindrops hitting it, registering each tap as pain, winced with each grinding noise as the wind tugged at it.
He went to lie down on the bed, staring up into the grimy ceiling and at the bare walls and the locked door, with its locked observation panel. Maybe he could escape by closing his eyes. But he had spent too much time asleep these last few weeks, and he could no longer immerse himself in unconsciousness.
It had been three weeks since they put him here.
The warders laughed when he said he thought it was a long time. Sweden, they told him, kept people in remand prison for longer than most other countries. Fuck's sake, he was lucky to have his case in court so soon. Some people waited for months, even years.
You see, they told him more than once, he was that lucky because he had shot the nation's top-ranking paedophile and the media were chasing the story night and day. You don't have a clue, they added, about the time others had to endure, a strange waiting time without an end anywhere in sight, a time for suicide after evening bang-up.
He heard steps approaching.
Someone was coming to see him.
He made a quick calculation; lunch was still at least an hour away.
He glanced at the door. There was someone there. Eyes looking in through the opened flap.
'Visitors for you.'
He sat up in bed, drew his fingers through his hair. This was the first time for days that he had given a thought to his hair.
The door opened. In stepped the chaplain and his lawyer. Rebecca and Kristina. And they were beaming at him.
'Hi there. Ghastly weather, it's raining.'
He couldn't be bothered saying anything. These two were people he liked and he should open up, speak to them, but he didn't have the strength. Conversation was misplaced in here, where even the source of light was ugly and lifeless.
'What do you want?'
'It's a good day!'
'What? I'm tired. It's that bloody tapping noise.' He pointed vaguely towards the window. 'Listen. Can't you hear it?'
They did listen. Then they both nodded, yes, what an annoying sound that was. Rebecca fiddled with her dog-collar for a moment and then she put her hand on his shoulder.
'Fredrik, it's your turn to listen. Please. Kristina is bringing you good news.'
She turned to the lawyer, who went to sit on the bed next to him. A comforting presence, a plump body and a calm voice.
'And this is what I've got to tell you. Fredrik, you're a free man.'
He heard what she said, but did not speak.
'Do you understand what I'm saying? You are no longer in detention. The magistrates didn't agree, but a majority came down in favour of "an act of reasonable force". That's final.'
So that was what she was on about. So what?
'Fredrik, listen. You can walk out of this cell. You can take off the bin-bags they've dressed you in. And tonight, only you decide if a door is to be locked or not.'
He got up and went over to the window. The noise was louder than ever. It was raining heavily now; there might be a thunderstorm during the night.
'Oh, I don't know.'
'What do you mean? What don't you know?'
'I don't know if this means anything. What's the point? I might as well stay here.'
His time as a National Service conscript came back to him. How he had hated soldiering, counting every minute until they'd let him go home, and then, one day, when he finally stepped outside the barrack door and left through the open gate, what should've been a dream-come-true only made him feel deflated and empty. It was like that again.
'I don't think you understand at all. You see, I'm finished.'
The two women glanced at each other. They didn't grasp what he felt and they deserved an explanation.
'I am… I don't exist. I don't have anything that I value. I did have a child. She does not exist. She suffered at the hands of someone who'd made others suffer, and now he doesn't exist either. I thought life was inviolable. And then I went and shot someone to death. If you lose who you are and what you have… I'm at a loss. I don't fucking know.'
They stayed. Eventually he changed into his own clothes, readied himself to change into another world.
He was not banged up any more.
Walking away from his cell, he nodded to the officer, the guy with the eyes. He bought a coffee from the squeaky machine in the corridor.
Then he marched straight past the twenty-odd journalists who were perched on the stairs, wanting to get at him, at his face. He said nothing. He knew nothing.
Rebecca and Kristina had ordered a taxi for him. He hugged them and left.
Bengt Söderlund ran as fast as he could through Tallbacka. He had been running all the way from home, a taste of blood in his mouth, his hip hurting like when he was a schoolboy running the cross-country competition and winning, not because he was the strongest or the best trained or anything like that, but because he was the most determined.
He was running as if he couldn't get ahead fast enough, as if every second was precious. He could see from a distance that the lights were on in Ove and Helena's house, and their car was there. He kept running, waving a piece of paper as he went, up the steps, through the door and into the sitting room.
'Now we'll fucking go for it!' he shouted.
Helena looked up, startled. She had been reading a book, curled up naked in an armchair.
He had never seen her naked before. If he had, he would have realised that she was beautiful, but he couldn't stop for a proper look now, he was walking round her, holding up his paper, casting eager glances through the window. Was Ove in the garden? Where was he?
'Bengt, what's the matter? What's up? Ove is in the basement bathroom, showering.'
'I'll fetch him.'
'Hang on. He'll be here soon.' 'I'll go.'
He went down the basement steps clumsily, hurriedly. No problem about finding the way; he and Elisabeth had been using that shower during the time when he was rebuilding their bathroom. She had wanted a larger one, and he had pulled all the stops out, ruined a cupboard, but she got her effing bathroom.
He pulled back the shower-curtain, big birds against a blue background. Ove turned round so quickly he almost fell, crouching, until he took in who it was.
'Here! See this! Now we'll fucking go for it!'
Ove dried himself quickly, wrapped the towel round his hips and followed Bengt back upstairs. Bengt was still waving his paper, his trophy held up for the admiration of the audience. Back in the sitting room, Helena was waiting for them. She had put on a dressing gown.
'You have no idea! This is it!'
He spread out the paper on the table and they bent forward to read.
'I pulled it from the TV site on the web, the news page. Just twenty minutes ago. Actually, nineteen minutes. Look at the time, eleven a.m.'
While they read, Bengt paced about impatiently.
'Are you done? Do you get it? They let him out. On grounds of reasonable force! He shot that monster and saved the lives of two little girls. And the verdict was "reasonable force"! He'll be back home tonight knocking back a drink, I'd say! Four votes against one, you know, only the judge didn't go along with it, but the other lot didn't hesitate!'
Ove started reading the whole thing again from the beginning. Helena relaxed back in her armchair, holding her hands in the air in a gesture of amazement.
Bengt leaned over her and hugged her. Then he slapped Ove on the back.
'Now's the time! We'll do him now! It's our fucking right. Now we'll get him! Reasonable force, of course! No more, no less! Reasonable force!'
They waited until darkness had fallen. All five of them spent the afternoon in Bengt's house, sitting around, chatting at times and drinking cups of coffee. Darkness, when it came around half past ten, was not pitch-black, just dark enough to make people faceless.
They went out into the garden to acclimatise their eyes to the blurred outlines. It was very quiet. Tallbacka was always quiet at that time of night and many windows had already gone dark, because it was a place where the day began and ended early. Bengt went inside for a moment, snapped his fingers and felt Baxter's tongue licking his hand.
Then they went together to the shed, unlocked the padlock, lifted out the boxes, first the heavy one with the petrol-filled bottles, then the small box with the cigarette lighters. Ove and Klas minded the bottle-box. Ola distributed the lighters, two each.
They walked far enough to be able to see into the house next door. All the lights were on, and from were they stood they could follow him wandering about, from the kitchen to the sitting room and then towards the bathroom. When the bathroom light went on, Bengt ordered Baxter to sit and walked the few steps to a telephone pole. He climbed up far enough to reach the wire. He was surprisingly agile and got there quickly. From one of the many pockets in his jeans, he produced a pair of pliers and cut the wire.
The bathroom lamp still glowed when Bengt slid down and moved to the next pole, which had a locked box halfway up. He opened it with the key to his own, identical box and located the mains switch.
The house next door went dark.
They waited. It took longer than they had expected.
But Flasher-Göran finally got a couple of candles going.
Then he found the torch. They watched the light flickering across the walls.
A few more seconds, as the torchlight lit up the hall. It was moving towards the front door.
Bengt had a grip on Baxter's collar. The dog knew what he was meant to do, soon. Attack. When his master ordered.
'Baxter. Get him.'
The torchlight behind the glass panel in the door, and the door opening.
Bengt let Baxter go at the same moment as Flasher-Göran stepped outside. Baxter ran, barking loudly.
The man in the doorway realised the danger and managed to slam the door shut just as the dog got near enough to jump at him.
The dog settled down in front of the door, ready to spring.
Bengt tried to follow the shadow of the man as he ran through the house and decided that Flasher-Göran must have gone into the kitchen. He shouted in that general direction.
'Was that scary, Göran? All dark and cold for you? Help's coming. You'll get heat and light soon enough, Göran.'
He pointed at Ove, Ola and Klas, who quickly went back into the shed and hauled the heavy petrol container out on to the lawn. From there they rolled it across to Flasher- Göran's house. When they were close enough, they unscrewed the top before rolling it right round the house, letting the petrol soak into gravel paths and flower borders.
Meanwhile Helena had completed her job. She had placed the petrol-filled bottles in five equal groups.
They all lit the rags in their bottles, one by one, holding each one still just long enough for the flame to take, and then began fire-bombing the house in front of them.
Five explosions at roughly the same time, but all in different parts of the house.
And five more, and again and again. Eight times. Always new small fires, slowly growing and meeting.
Bengt produced a piece of paper from one of his pockets. In a loud voice, to be heard above the roaring of the fire, he read out the court's judgement on Fredrik Steffansson, the man who shot to kill, but who went free because he had killed the paedophile who had violated his daughter.
Just as he had finished, the kitchen window opened. Flasher-Göran leapt out, screaming. He fell heavily to the ground.
Bengt had time to think that if only Elisabeth had been here to watch, she would have understood what it was all about.
Flasher-Göran was moving where he lay, and Bengt called Baxter away from his watch at the front door. The dog ran towards the man, who was trying to get up, jumped on him, sank his teeth into the arm with which the man tried to protect himself, and started tearing it apart.
The whole of Tallbacka flared up the day the trial was concluded. The attack against the man who had exposed himself in the schoolyard twenty years before and been sentenced to a fine was the first of nine acts of violence against alleged paedophiles. The spate of criminal violence was in each case claimed to be an exertion of reasonable force.
Three of the mob attacks, all of which involved grievous bodily harm, led to the death of the victims.
The chief investigator (CI): I will start the interrogation now. Bengt Söderlund (BS): Fire ahead.
CI: The questions concern the events that followed the throwing of the petrol bombs. BS: Aha.
CI: I'm unhappy about your attitude.
BS: What would seem to be the trouble? CI: You appear sarcastic.
BS: If you don't fancy my answers I wouldn't half mind leaving now.
CI: We'll both stay here. I'm prepared to carry on for as long as it takes. This session will be finished faster if you reply to my questions properly. BS: So you say.
CI: What happened after the last bottle was thrown?
BS: The house caught fire.
CI: What did you do?
BS: I read aloud.
CI: What did you read?
BS: A court indictment.
CI: Pull yourself together, man!
BS: I read out a court's judgement.
CI: What judgement would that be?
BS: About the father from Strängnäs. He shot a paedophile who'd killed his daughter. It was what the court said about him.
CI: Why did you read that?
BS: Because society thought he did the right thing when he shot the paedophile. Get it? These perverts must be eliminated.
CI: After you'd read this, what did you do?
BS: I noticed that Flasher-Göran had jumped out. From the kitchen window.
CI: Then what did you do? BS: Set Baxter on him.
CI: You set your dog on him?
CI: And what did your dog do?
BS: Bit the fucker.
BS: Bit his arm, thighs. Had a couple of good goes at his face.
CI: For how long?
BS: Until I called Baxter off.
CI: Yes, yes. For how long?
BS: Two minutes, maybe three.
CI: Make up your mind.
BS: More like three. Yeah, three.
CI: And then what did you do? BS: We left.
CI: You left. Where did you go?
BS: Home. And we phoned for the fire brigade. That place was going like a bomb and we didn't want it to spread. It was fucking well next door, you know.
Göran from Tallbacka did not survive his injuries, notably a bite across his throat. The fatalities also included a man in Umeå, who had two previous convictions for sex offences. Passing by a playground on the edge of the town, he was set upon by four teenage boys wielding pieces of iron piping, and beaten to death.
The chief investigator (CI): I will start the tape recorder now. Ilrian Raistrovic (IR): Cool.
CI: Are you feeling better now?
IR: Yeah. I just needed, like, a break.
CI: We'll carry on then.
IR: Yeah, sure. No fucking problem.
CI: Did you hit more often than the rest of the gang?
CI: That's what the others said.
IR: Must be OK then.
CI: Why did you hit him?
IR: Fucking peddo, he was asking for it.
IR: Like he'd been at two small chicks, touched their tits, stuff like that. He had kids himself. They were his kid's pals, right?
CI: How did you hit him?
IR: Like, I hit. At him.
CI: How many times?
CI: Try to guess.
IR: Like twenty. Maybe thirty.
CI: Until he died. IR: Yeah, I guess.
In Stockholm, two days later, a particularly gross act of violence was perpetrated against a drunk, who was surrounded by a group of shouting young men equipped with baseball bats.
The chief investigator (CI): Where were you sitting? Roger Karlsson (RK): On the other bench.
CI: What were you doing there?
RK: I was watching him. I know that guy. He's at it all the time. CI: At what?
RK: Doing it to females. Little ones, CI: What did he do?
RK: He screamed at them, there were three coming along. Calling them names. Whores.
CI: He shouted at them that they were whores? RK: He tried to grab their arses when they passed.
CI: Did he do it?
RK: He was too fucking slow. But he did try.
CI: What did you do?
RK: They ran away. He scared them. He always scares females.
CI: But what did you do?
RK: Let him have it. The bat. In his belly.
CI: Were you alone?
RK: Fuck, no. The others came along.
CI: What others?
RK: There were, like, some of us. Waiting, see?
CI: Did everyone bring a weapon?
RK: We all had bats.
CI: What did he do when you first hit him?
RK: He shouted something like, what's that you're doin'?
CI: What did you do?
RK: I shouted back. Told him he was a perv.
CI: And then what happened?
RK: Then we made mincemeat of him. All of us. It didn't take long.
CI: When did he die?
RK: I'd brought a sledgehammer too. When I hit him with that he was a goner.
CI: When did you use the hammer?
RK: Later. To make sure, see? CI: Make sure he was really dead?
RK: That's it. You're allowed to kill mad dogs. That's what they said in court.
The man was practically unidentifiable when the gang had finished with him, but two local police constables assumed, on the basis of what he was wearing, that he was a man called Gurra B, something of an established feature in the park. For the last thirty-odd years, he had sat around shouting and using foul language within the hearing of passing women.
They had taken their clothes off as soon as the front door closed behind them and made love as if they would never stop, holding on to each other, hot and sweaty, their bodies slippery, sticky, not letting go of the other for the rest of that day and the night that followed. Both behaved as if they feared that somebody would step into the room to take their nearness away and then they would die, as if feeling the other's bare skin on your own was not simply comforting but the only way to survive. Fredrik had never taken a woman in this needy way; he had to have her and stay close to her, she was a human being he must unite with absolutely. He inhaled her smells, caressed her, bored into her with his penis, but nothing satisfied him, she wasn't enough. He tried everything to get closer to her, bit her a few times, her buttock, thigh, shoulder. She laughed, but he was serious about wanting all of her, in him.
Fredrik stayed in the house that week, while the journalists were waiting outside with their eager smiles and cameras and questions. He was determined to hide until they'd gone away. Twice Micaela went out to shop for food and they stayed glued to her side all the way to town and back. They followed her into the supermarket, pursuing her up and down the aisles and asking her questions about how he felt. Micaela kept her promise to say nothing. When she got home and closed the door behind her, loud voices were calling her name.
He avoided Marie's room. Yes, she was there. Though she wasn't, not for real. The room kept demanding his attention, he couldn't put it out of his mind, even though he didn't want to think about it. They must move, sooner or later; if there was any life worth living it must be somewhere else, not here, among the remains of the past.
He was free, but still captive. He didn't read the papers or watch TV, it was all too much. A girl had been killed and a father had killed the killer; surely that was all there was to it. He could not see why the public interest should demand yet more publicity.
He had had a life once, but not any more. And they were trying to rob him of the tiny existence he claimed by making it public.
He had clung to Micaela as fiercely on the second day as on the first. They made love many times, mingling energy and grief and comfort and guilt and fear with their love- making. The last few times the act had become almost mechanical intercourse; they were pressing and squeezing in ways which they had learned would please the other and bring on an orgasm quickly. Too tired to look at or truly feel each other, the whole thing had become tense and nervous. In the end they both felt like crying as they looked together at his penis entering her, powerless to change what they were doing and too exhausted to do it again, although they knew that the driving, suffocating anxiety would still be there when they lay back, drained.
On the third day he started to drink. He felt like dying, the way he always imagined he would feel when his body had weakened and death came close. Surely dying is easier if your body has given in? He tried to keep such thoughts away and the alcohol did its job, paralysing his will and separating him from the day, his hovering fears and his damned loneliness.
Since then he had stayed in bed most of the time, though sleep was not to be even thought of. When she was there he held her. Sex was beyond him; he was too fatigued even to go and get a bottle, even to eat. Micaela wanted to call a doctor, but could not persuade him however hard she tried. Fredrik had said no to bereavement counselling and a session with a psychologist, and he wouldn't see a doctor either.
Maybe that was why he hardly reacted when Kristina Björnsson phoned at half past eleven in the evening. They had exchanged a glance saying 'journalists' when the phone rang, but in the end Micaela had answered.
Once she had understood what Kristina was saying she began arguing hysterically. The lawyer seemed to be reassuring, in a legal way, but as Fredrik listened he felt unresponsive, dulled. He could not take an interest in all this emotion. Nothing was and nothing mattered.
The main message from Kristina was that the prosecution had appealed and the case would be tried again in a higher court. One consequence was that he would be arrested again the next day and put in a remand prison cell. He took this in, with a sudden sense of relief.
So they would take his daily existence away from him.
They would take his days and nights, hour by hour, turning time into a process that bypassed him and therefore lacked reality for him. Of course, he would still be forced to participate. It would help him to avoid seeing what was really going on here, at home. Afterwards was another matter.
When the call ended, he went back to bed. He kissed Micaela intensely, and knew he would try to make love to her again.
It was a black car. Their cars were always black, and had double rear-view mirrors and tinted glass that you couldn't see through from the outside. Three plainclothes policemen had picked him up early in the morning. He recognised two of them, the older one with the limp and his younger, polite companion. The third one was a big young man, who drove the car.
The police didn't harass him and waited quietly while he held Micaela until he finally felt he could bear to let go of her. No one spoke as the car travelled at speed towards Stockholm with an officer on a motorbike in front and another black car following them.
After a while Grens told the driver to lower the radio volume and play a CD he'd brought. Sundkvist asked if that was really necessary and Grens mumbled irritably. He carried on grousing until the driver said oh, hand over the fucking disc.
Grens had closed his eyes and was rocking slowly to and fro.
Siw Malmkvist. Frederik was sure of it.
For all your cheating talk about cars and stuff,
I might as well walk and leave you in a huff…
Fredrik shuddered. The text was so stupid, and Siw's jolly-hockeysticks voice belonged to the past, the '50s and early '60s, to a less knowing, more naive Sweden with high hopes for the future. Or maybe that lost innocence was just a growing myth. For him at least those years had meant his father and the beatings and his mother smoking her eternal Camels, while she looked the other way. No Siw then, to help sing the sorrows away, and she was no good now either; her world was all lies and escapism. It was on his tongue to ask the old Siw fan next to him what he was escaping from, and what stone had he been living under all this time.
Siw sang all the way, all the fifty minutes it took to get to Kronoberg remand prison. Grens didn't open his eyes once. The other two were staring into the distance, obviously lost in their own thoughts.
Then the car turned into Berg Street and they saw the crowd.
Many more demonstrators this time. If it had been about two hundred then, outside the Old Court, it was more like five hundred now.
They were facing the prison, shouting in unison, waving placards and hitting out with them, screaming abuse, spitting, throwing stones towards the gate from time to time. It only took a few seconds for someone to spot the outrider and the two black cars, and a few seconds more for an advance guard to start running in their direction. The first arrivals grabbed each other's hands and lay down on the ground in an uninterrupted ring round the three vehicles, preventing them from driving anywhere.
The large young driver looked around for a moment and grabbed the radio.
'Urgent assistance required! Repeat, urgent! More units to Berg Street.'
A voice came back almost immediately.
'Hundreds! Demonstrators, outside Kronoberg prison.'
'Units on their way. With you any moment now.'
'Risk of prisoner escape!'
'Drive on! Drive on!'
Fredrik stared at the people outside the car windows, heard their shouting and read their placards. What was all this in aid of? He didn't understand. He didn't know these people. What did they want with his name and his story? It was none of their business what he had done, it had been his battle, and his very own hell. Lots of these people were lying on the ground, risking life and limb. For what? Did they really know? Did they think he was grateful? He hadn't asked for this.
There was no difference between the demonstrators and the journalists camping outside his gate. They extracted life from the lives of others; now they were using him for their own purposes, it was his turn. Why this need? It wasn't as if they had all lost their only child, or aimed a gun at another human being and shot to kill. He wished he had the courage to wind the window down, ask them about these things and force them to meet his eyes.
But the four of them inside the car sat as if paralysed, under siege. The big young man at the wheel was obviously stressed, breathing heavily and making meaningless gestures, alternately releasing the handbrake and shifting through the gears. Grens and Sundkvist seemed utterly calm and still, just waiting patiently.
Then the voice came over the radio.
'Alert all cars. Assistance required! Go to Kronoberg prison, Berg Street entrance. Demonstrators, about five hundred. Stone-throwing. Please disperse. Nothing else. And take your personal opinions home with you.'
Fredrik realised that Grens was observing him, watching for his reaction. Nothing doing. Fredrik had heard what they'd all heard; he was astonished, but showed nothing and said nothing.
The young driver changed gear to reverse. Raced the engine. Released the brake and let the car move back ten- odd centimetres, as if to test the courage of the demonstrators.
They stayed put. And they screamed.
He shifted to first gear and let the car crawl forward for a metre, no more, again racing the engine. They stayed, and instead of screaming they shouted out their contempt in sing-song voices. Fucking cops. Filthy pigs.
Suddenly some of them got up and walked towards the car. One had a stone. He threw it at the rear window. The glass broke and the stone bounced against the seat between Fredrik and Ewert. It fell to the floor after hitting the driver's seat. Fredrik felt splinters of glass cutting the back of his neck. It hurt. He looked at Grens and saw blood flowing down his cheek.
The driver shouted what the fuck what the fuck, pulled out his handgun and wound down the window. Directing it skywards, he fired a warning shot. The people close to the car threw themselves to the ground. He kept the gun in place for a little longer and then something struck his arm, making him lose his grip on it. It fell, and a young man, maybe twenty, not much older, picked it up, held it with both hands and pointed it towards the driver's face.
'Drive! Fuck's sake! Drive!' Ewert howled.
The driver had a gun held to his head. In front of him were people lying on the ground.
The bullet passed close to his left ear and went through the windscreen in front of him. Now he heard nothing any more. He focused on a tree at the end of the street and put his foot down. Voices cried out and the car bumped as he drove it over human bodies. He left Berg Street at the same moment as the police buses arrived.
The demonstrators got up and ran towards the new vehicles, packed with policemen in full riot control gear, who found themselves locked in, surrounded. The buses shook as the crowd threw themselves against them, rocked them a couple of times and then pushed them over on their sides.
The men outside lined up, some with their trousers down. When the flak-jacketed police officers crawled out, they were pissed on.
He wasn't put in the same cell. This one was on another floor, and higher up. Apart from that, it looked identical: the same size, the same furnishings, a bed, a table and a washbasin. He had changed into the sack-like prison uniform. The same restrictions applied: no papers, no radio, no TV and no visitors.
He didn't mind at all.
There was no way this kind of thing would break him. This was how it was. He didn't want to read the papers anyway, or meet anybody. He didn't want to long for anything.
When they escorted him to his cell, another prisoner had spoken to him. Fredrik recognised him by sight; he was one of the nation's pet criminals. An engaging character, who charmed the public but seemed unable to stop himself from committing some simple-minded new crime every time he was released from prison. Maybe he was trying to avoid the other society, the one outside the walls. This prison pro looked startled and then walked straight up to Fredrik, slapped his back and said that as far as he was concerned Fredrik was a hero. 'You mustn't let the bastards get to you,' he said, adding, 'If the screws don't treat you right, just let us know and we'll have it fixed so you're looked after properly.'
The screws did treat him right. It might have been their own decision or there might have been forces pushing them, but there was definitely less of the staring through the bloody observation panel, and he got mugs of coffee more often than he should've, and when he was taken to the wire cage on the roof for his exercise session he got more than his allotted hour; he knew that and the screw knew that. Some days he actually got a double ration, two hours spent behind a fence with razor wire on top, but with the sky above.
Every second day Kristina Björnsson visited him, speaking about documentation and strategy. Actually there was nothing more to present now than there had been the first time round, and the arguments in the Court of Appeal would be no different from those she had presented previously. Her reason for coming along was to keep Fredrik's courage up, give him greetings and messages from Micaela and try to persuade him that there was a future for him.
He appreciated it. She was just as able and as kind as he had been told she would be.
Still, he saw through her efforts to cheer him up. This time it would not be like the magistrates' court, where the one reservation about freeing him had come from the only person with legal training, the judge. This time everyone with any influence on his sentence would be lawyers, men and women who evaluated reality in terms of the written law. What mattered this time was paragraphs and praxis. He was resigned to a heavy sentence.
He told Kristina that, which upset her very much. She told him that this in itself would condemn him, because the court could sense when the accused expected a conviction. It had the same effect as a confession. And the reverse was true too. There were several examples, many of which he recognised. She had defended clients who had committed the most imbecile crimes, but who went free because they felt they should, and what they felt became shared by everyone in the courtroom.
The duty officer knocked on his door. He had brought a tray of food, meat and two veg, a glass of juice. Fredrik shook his head, he simply wasn't interested. Yes, it looked very tasty, but no, he wasn't hungry. He felt eating was somehow disgusting, and a betrayal, as if to eat was to pretend that nothing had really changed. If he didn't eat, he didn't join in. This was not his life. He had had no choice in the matter.
When the trial began, he was transported every morning to a new high-security court, also located in Berg Street. The threat from demonstrators had been noted and acted on. This time the interrogations in court were shorter and the questioning stricter. Some witness statements were replaced by tape recordings. He sat in the same place as before and gave in principle the same answers. He felt they were all in a play and that the last time round had been a rehearsal. Now it was time for the premiere and their performances would get expert reviews. He tried his best to sit straight, keep calm and look convinced of his right to be freed in the end. The last bit was hard, because he didn't care. He wasn't at all sure that he wanted to go back home. Could they read that? It must show.
The trial took only three days.
He was done with longing. Every night he lay on the bed in his cell, trying to trace something worth living for in the piss-coloured ceiling.
He didn't have many friends, not now and not ever, really. The ones he remembered lived far away now, in other towns, and didn't share his daily life. If he did time in prison, it would not change his relationship with them that much.
His parents were gone. He had no brothers or sisters.
He had Micaela. He loved her, surely he did? But she was still young and it wasn't right for her to have to be with someone in endless mourning for his lost child.
Micaela said that she wanted to be with him, always. Of course he believed her when she said that, but it could so easily change in the future. One day she would have to go on, to leave him behind. No one could bear having a violated five-year-old pushed down her throat every day.
That ceiling really was just the same colour as urine.
He had been running all his life, trying to pack every minute with significance, fearful of facing emptiness and of not existing any more.
He had kept his days fully booked, from restlessness and fear of being alone.
Back then, when he depended on people near him, and sought them out.
Then it all changed. He had no need for the fucking here and now. He had what he needed here. That piss-yellow ceiling. Time on his hands. His thoughts. He was powerless to influence or change anything and it made him calm, calmer than he had ever been, like someone dead.
The court took almost a week to arrive at his sentence. It was postponed twice; every note mattered and every word was charged with meaning. This was a judgement that would be exposed to media scrutiny from the word go. The broadsheets would print the statement in full and legal experts with screen savvy would analyse it on TV. The case of the dad who shot the murderer of his five-year-old daughter would be followed by people who shared his grief over the loss of a child by people who thought murder was murder, never mind who was killed by people who celebrated his courage, which removed a threat from society which its forces of law and order had been unable to cope with by people who saw his act as an indefensible vengeance and felt only a long prison sentence would be sufficient warning against private militias by people who had tormented and killed presumed sex offenders, on the basis of the sentence reached in the first instance.
On the Saturday, at fourteen minutes past nine in the morning, the court's deliberations were complete. Copies of the sentence in its entirety were available from the porters' room outside the secure courtroom in Stockholm Old Court.
The journalists were queuing early, mobile phones at the ready to contact the editors and with photographers in tow to record images of the bundles of paper from every angle. The prosecutor was there, and the defence lawyer, and a handful of curious onlookers.
Fredrik was told through the observation panel he hated so much. The officer who had favoured him with extra coffee and exercise time opened the flap and whispered loudly to him that it was a fucking disgrace, there would be a riot, that was for sure. A ten-year stretch.
The Court of Appeal had sentenced him to ten years in prison.
Dickybird felt depressed about beating up Hilding like that; the guy was dead meat now. Why had Hilding been such a stupid bastard? It was fucking idiotic, doing all that stuff. He'd had it coming to him. Nicking all the kif, for a start, then hanging out with that bloody hard man and getting rat-arsed on the brew from the fire extinguisher. Hilding must've known he'd get a working over, had to. Fuck's sake, what would the lads say if Hilding got away with the lot and kept farting about as usual, without being taught a lesson? No way. No way! But he shouldn't have smashed the little shit up, not like that. Hilding had looked a right misery. They'll stitch him back together again, that's for sure, but he won't come back here. He'll transfer to Tidaholm, maybe. Or to Hall. That's how they always handled it.
And that fucking peddo Axelsson got away when he was warned off. He's hiding in seg now.
Not many of the gang left. Hilding off to the sick wing. Bekir on release. Skåne is still around, and Dragan, but that's no fucking company. Then there's the Russian and all the other useless sods.
He felt bad about it. He shouldn't have kept hitting the poor guy, just stopped when he'd got a bit hurt.
He looked out though the window.
Still pissing out there. No change for weeks. The weather's gone from bad to worse, first weeks and weeks when it's so hot your dick sags, and then more weeks of raining too hard to stick your nose outside. Bloody awful.
The rain was pouring off the tall wall and the goalposts were cracking.
Two men were out in the yard, trudging round the track. He couldn't make out who they were, in their raincoats with hoods pulled down over their foreheads.
In here four of the lads were playing pool. The Russian wandered about, grunting from time to time, chalking his cue and sinking some balls. Then Janoz, more grunting; he sank the black and lost.
Dickybird had never liked pool, strictly for the birds, all that poking about with a long stick on a green tablecloth. Cards now, that was different. But not today. Didn't feel like it. Besides, Jochum was at the table playing poker with Skåne and Dragan, dealing and bluffing. It wasn't the same when Hilding wasn't around.
Nothing else to do, he had to get out, some fresh air, never mind the fucking rain.
When he reached the exit, he slowed down to check out the three prison officers, who were chatting inside their cubicle, the lazy bastards, sitting on their arses all day and getting their dough monthly, what an easy life.
He couldn't see them, but their voices were loud, excited. The sound was muffled and hard to make sense of, but now and then words and phrases were clear enough.
One word got to him. Sex offender. That came again several times, and then there was more. Long sentence… with Oscarsson… pervs' unit.
Fuck's sake. What were they on about? Not another one, hadn't the screws got the point when Axelsson ran, because they'd traced his ID and got hold of his indictment and would've killed the bastard if he hadn't got the wind up?
Usually the screws went about like zombies, rattling with their fucking keys and saying fuck all, but now they were pissing themselves, nobody shut up for a second. Hero. Murdered. Sex offender.
Dickybird could hardly stand still. One more mother- fucking peddo. Here!
His face had become flushed and angry, rage filled his whole body.
Then he heard a chair being pulled back and moved quickly away from his listening point, but he was still close enough to hear their last sentences as they came out, waving their hands about, clearly very agitated. One of them asked, why send the hero here? Someone agreed; he didn't get it either, cons with sentences that long didn't usually come to Aspsås. First one said that anyway the guy had done his thing, he wouldn't attack anyone else.
They turned to enter the unit, and the Russian shouted, 'Screws!'
Dickybird went to pick up a raincoat and a pair of welly boots and went off into the streaming rain. Rage was bubbling up from deep inside him; it felt as if he was suffocating. He was shaking.
Now they'll fucking see! That's final! Trying to push another peddo into his unit, no way, they'd better think again; if that kidfucker came here he wouldn't leave alive.
Fredrik decided to pee in the basin, rather than asking the guard out there to take him to the toilet. He'd just have to deal with their questions about his sentence.
He couldn't get his mind round it. Kristina had visited him yesterday afternoon, wanting to go through the sentence, explain the motivations and persuade him that they should appeal again, take his case to the Supreme Court. She wanted to test the limits of the plea of 'reasonable force' and set up a precedent. He had refused, said he simply wasn't interested. He had had enough. Chewing over past events was meaningless to him. Prison, no prison, what the hell, it didn't bother him.
Ten years from now he'd be almost fifty.
He washed his hands and went to stand in the middle of his cell.
His little girl had been fouled, torn to pieces by a sadistic killer, who would have done what he wanted with other little girls if Fredrik hadn't killed him. The consequence for him was ten years of solitude, isolated from the world. He had to laugh.
He kicked the bed, laughing until his chest hurt.
The prison officer, still the man who had made Fredrik his favourite, pulled back the flap in the door.
'Hey! What's going on here?'
'You're making a fucking din.'
'Is laughing forbidden?'
'Laugh away. I just don't want you to do something stupid.'
'Leave me alone. I won't do anything I shouldn't.'
'It's that sentence of yours. Hearing they've got a long stretch can make people do all sorts. Wrong things.'
'I'm fine, honestly. Just laughing.'
'Good. Anyway, I'll be back soon. Time to pack.'
'How do you mean, pack?'
'Your placement has come through.'
He sat down on the edge of the bed and looked around. Ceiling, walls, floor, all grimy and familiar. Now he had to leave.
Pack what? His soap, toothbrush and toothpaste went into a plastic bag. There, done.
The officer knocked and opened the door. He was young, about twenty-five, with hair like a shaving brush and a ring in one nostril. He was a musician, or, at least, a wannabe. He spoke about this quite a lot, to show that guards weren't just official bodies, but real human beings with dreams of their own. He was just hanging on in here, he'd explain, while he and his mates in the group were plotting to get a recording contract. He'd keep waiting, at least until he was thirty. Then he'd be too old.
Now he put his hand on Fredrik's shoulder.
'Listen. I'm sorry. You know what I think.'
'Yes, yes. But I'm not really that interested.'
'It's a crazy world, but locking you up is the worst.'
'Never mind.' 'We all agree, you know. And I mean all. Officer or prisoner, it makes no difference. I don't think we've agreed on anything before.'
'Look, I've packed,' Fredrik said and held out the plastic bag.
'True, it can't be much comfort to you that we're all rooting for you.'
'I'm ready to leave.'
'You should've been freed.'
'You'll see, there are quite a few people out and about. Lining the roads to where you're going.'
'I don't know where that is.'
'There's enough of us who do, don't you fear. Word gets about. There'll be protests, loud and clear.'
'You know, all this is no comfort. You were right about that.'
Then he was handed back his own clothes and left alone again. He changed into what he would wear for a couple of hours at most. Then his things would be locked into a cupboard for ten years and he would be given the other kind of gear, the prison suit that hung loosely on him.
The door opened; no one knocked this time. Two uniformed police, two prison officers, and behind them Grens and Sundkvist.
'What's this? Why?'
Grens looked blank, pretending not to understand.
'Why the crowd?'
Sven, who wasn't into pretending, told him.
'We can't take any risks. We're escorting you to Aspsås prison. There might be some trouble on the way.'
'Aspsås?' Fredrik was startled. 'Isn't that where… he was there, wasn't he?'
'Yes, but you'll go to another unit, a normal one. Lund was kept in a special unit for sex offenders.'
Fredrik took a step towards Sven and the two policemen moved forward, grabbing his arms. Fredrik backed into the cell, shaking his arms until they let go.
'You mentioned risks? Do you think I'm going to try to escape?'
'Your transport will have a police escort. That's all I can tell you at present.'
It was still early in the morning. It was raining, the drops tapping insistently on the loose piece of guttering. That sound had accompanied his thoughts for several days now.
He might even miss it.
It rained so hard that Fredrik got practically soaked walking the short distance to the prison transfer van that was waiting with its engine running outside the Kronoberg gate. He took longer to get there because his leg-irons cut him when he tried to lengthen his stride.
He was considered unlikely to repeat his crime or to try to escape, but nonetheless his transfer had been classified as a maximum security operation. Two police cars with rotating blue lamps drove ahead of the prison van and behind were two uniformed officers on motorbikes. The violent demonstration outside Kronoberg had taken place only a few weeks ago and was remembered vividly and fearfully. Police guns in the wrong hands, demonstrators being run over, overturned buses, humiliated police. It was too much, no more of that.
Fredrik sat in the back seat, flanked by Sundkvist and Grens. He had begun to feel close to these two men, who knew so much about him. They had turned up at The Dove and interrogated people there, stood by Marie's body in the forensic mortuary and attended her funeral, decently dressed in black. They had collected him for his retrial, played Siw for an hour and delivered him back to remand prison. And now again on this journey, the last one. Afterwards they'd be finished with him.
He ought to make contact with them. Say something, anything.
But it was too hard.
There was no need.
But they might have felt something similar, because Sundkvist, always the more forthcoming, started speaking.
'I'm forty years old. My birthday was on the day your daughter was murdered. I had wine and a cake in the car, but I still haven't celebrated.'
This baffled Fredrik. Was this man pulling his leg? Did he want to be pitied? He couldn't think of anything to say.
But Sundkvist didn't seem interested in starting a dialogue.
'I've been in the force for twenty years, that is, for my entire adult life. It's a weird job, but it's all I know. All I'm trained to do.'
They had a fifty-kilometre drive ahead, maybe thirty-five or forty minutes of sitting side by side, but Fredrik had had enough. No more talk. He wanted to close his eyes and start counting the hours. Ten years to go.
Sundkvist was on a roll. He sat turned towards Fredrik. His face so close, his breath was almost palpable.
'I used to believe I was doing something useful. Even good. The right thing. And maybe I have, on the whole. But this is different. You'll understand, of course you do. I'm ashamed that I'm sitting here, pretending to guard you so we can take you off to an institution and lock you up. It's a bloody miscarriage of justice! I don't swear, not normally, but this… Steffansson, it's a fucking disaster.'
Ah, he was being sympathetic. Fredrik didn't give a fig for sympathy.
Sundkvist leaned forward, grabbing Fredrik's damp shirt.
'Lund sat right here, not long ago. Now it's you, on a straightforward murder charge. And I'm on duty. But
Steffansson, regardless, I want you to know I'm sorry. Truly sorry.'
Grens had been silent throughout all this, but now he cleared his throat.
'Sven, look. You've said enough.'
The transport continued in silence. It was still raining and the wipers beat regularly, sloshing the water away from the windscreen.
The small convoy left the dual carriageway via a roundabout, passed a couple of garages and then went on to a smaller road through a built-up area. Here they saw the first rows of demonstrators. They formed an unbroken chain, kilometre after kilometre. Some sang, some had brought placards, some shouted in unison when the transport drove past.
Fredrik felt as ill at ease as he had outside Kronoberg. More people who made use of his name and his fate, unknown people who had nothing to do with him. What right did they have? What they did they did for themselves and not for him. It was their outlet, for their fears and their hatred.
The crowds grew the closer they came to Aspsås and especially along the last bit, a gravelled road leading up to the prison gate. Fredrik kept looking down at his lap. The waiting demonstrators were calmer than last time and the atmosphere was less threatening and less aggressive. Even so, he could not bear to look at them. A strong aversion filled him, as if he detested them all.
The van had to stop before it reached the big gate. It simply could not get any closer. Grens estimated quickly that the crowd was a couple of thousand strong. The demonstrators simply stood there, blocking the way.
Grens took charge.
'Sit still. Wait. This isn't like last time. They're here to make a point. Don't provoke them. We'll shift them soon enough.'
Fredrik kept looking away. He felt tired and wanted to go to sleep. Get away from the people out there, leave the van and put on the shapeless prison kit. Lie down on a narrow prison bed and stare at the ceiling in his cell, its light fitting. Let the hours pass, one at a time.
They were surrounded by demonstrators, who didn't sing or shout, just stood shoulder to shoulder, forming a solid human wall. Twenty minutes later, the riot squad arrived, sixty policemen carrying sidearms and shields. But since the crowd stayed passive and unthreatening, the police set about shifting the inert bodies methodically, heaving them aside one by one. Everyone stayed put where he or she had been placed. When a large enough gap had been created, the van inched forward. Straight-backed, the demonstrators watched as the bus finally reached the prison gate and drove inside the walled compound.
Fredrik was marched to the reception entrance, with Sundkvist and Grens holding him by the arms. They handed him over to the guard, nodded briefly and walked away. They had completed their task. From now on the prison system was responsible for Fredrik's care.
Fredrik saw them go, his last link with the world outside.
Two prison officers took him into the reception for registration. He undressed in front of them and, after donning rubber gloves, they felt around his mouth and parted his buttocks to probe his anal canal. His clothes were packed in plastic bags and he was handed his droopy suit, told to dress and then wait in a small, cell-like room with a barred window. They told him that he would have to stay there until someone came to fetch him. Then they locked the door.
He had changed, become a prisoner, one of them inside.
He had been sitting on the hard chair in the locked cell for an hour. Sometimes he watched between the bars as the rain splashed into the puddles on the lawn and streamed down the tall wall.
He had tried to think about Marie, but she wouldn't materialise in his thoughts. She had become elusive, her face blurred and her voice somehow inaudible; he couldn't hear her.
A knock on the door. Keys rattling. The door opened and another prison officer stepped inside. He seemed familiar. Fredrik felt that he knew him, that he had at least seen him somewhere.
Then the officer made for the door again.
'Sorry,' he said. 'I was looking for someone else.'
Fredrik was ransacking his mind. Who was this?
'Hello. What did you want?'
The officer turned round.
'Nothing. I said so. A mistake.'
'I recognise you. Can you think of any reason why I should?'
The man hesitated. He had tried to cope with his sense of guilt for months and now it got its claws into him again.
'My name is Lennart Oscarsson. I'm in charge of one of the units here. For the pervs, as they say. One of the two units housing sex offenders.'
Of course, the TV interviews. Fredrik had placed him now.
'It was your fault.'
'Lund was my responsibility. I authorised his transport and he escaped.'
'It was your fault, all of it.'
Lennart looked at his accuser. Not much time had passed since Lund's escape and since this father had lost his daughter. Back then Lennart had already been burdened with guilt, because by trying to love two people and betraying them both, he had cheated on Karin and failed to acknowledge his feelings for Nils. The whole thing had become utterly unbearable. When Lund did a runner, and then when his little victim was found in a wood, coping with the guilt was no longer possible. All these people haunted his dreams at night and perched on his shoulder in the daytime. For a while he had simply gone into hiding, staying in bed all the time.
'I've spoken about you often, with a colleague of mine, someone I trust. Well, now he's my partner as well. I take everything he says seriously, we agree on this anyway, and it's something you should know. When Lund was here, we did everything possible to treat him, to cure him, if you like. We tried every kind of therapeutic intervention in the book.'
He half turned to go, but stayed in the doorway. His forehead glistened with sweat, which made his fringe damp.
'I'm sorry,' he went on. 'I could not regret more what happened.'
'It was your fault.'
Oscarsson held out his hand.
'I'm sorry. And I wish you well.'
Fredrik looked at the hand in front of him.
'You can put that somewhere else. I will never shake hands with you.'
His words landed like a blow. Oscarsson sagged, his breathing became laboured and he kept looking at Fredrik in mute appeal. His hand stayed extended. It was trembling.
Fredrik looked away.
Oscarsson waited for a while, gave in, put his hand briefly on Fredrik's shoulder and then left the cell, locking the door behind him.
By early afternoon the tapping sound of drops on the pane ceased abruptly. It had been the only sound in the cell for what felt like hours, and after several days of nonstop rain the silence seemed odd, empty. Peering out, Fredrik saw that the cloud cover was breaking up.
Later that afternoon the door was unlocked. He had waited for six hours by then. Two bulky prison officers, truncheons at their belts, marched in with heavy steps. New prisoners were the order of the day for them and they were all set to show who was in charge round here. Respect was due, and proper conduct. One of them, he wore spectacles with blue frames, leafed through a document he had brought.
'Steffansson, that's you, right?'
'Right. You'll come with us now. We'll take you to your unit.'
Fredrik staying where he was.
'Listen, I've been sitting here for a long time. Getting on for seven hours now.'
'No whys about it.'
'Are you trying to get a message to me?'
'Is there some reason for making me wait?'
'No reason, pal. You wait till you're told to go. That's all.'
Fredrik sighed and got up.
'Where am I going?'
'I said. To your unit.'
'What kind of unit is it?'
'Sure. But what kind of people are kept there?'
The officers stared at him, trying to stay calm. Then blue specs looked around the bare cell.
'You're a one for asking questions.'
'I want to know.'
'What can I tell you? It's a normal unit. The lads are doing time for every kind of offending. Except sex. That kind we house separately, in specialist units.' He shrugged. 'You'll have to accept this, Steffansson. The unit is your home now. And the lads are company.'
They walked Fredrik along a smelly basement corridor, slowly enough to let him take in the colourful daubs on the walls, presumably meant to be prisoner therapy, but otherwise meaningless images. He counted the steps and calculated that the corridor was at least four hundred metres long.
Every time they passed through doors the routine was the same: a glance towards the camera, a clicking sound as the guard flicked the switch in his cubicle and a nod to the camera, a kind of thanks.
Now and then they met other prisoners being escorted somewhere. They nodded to him and he nodded back.
In the last section of the corridor they turned into a stairway with a sign saying Unit H. His unit, he assumed. Inside the smell of food was the first thing he noticed. Frying something, fish maybe.
'They've just finished supper,' one of the officers said. 'You'll get yours later.'
Another ugly, bleak corridor. Off it he could see a TV room, where a group of prisoners were sitting about, some on chairs and sofas, others playing cards at a table. Ahead, the corridor narrowed and there were cell doors along both its sides. Most of the doors were open. At the far end was another room with a table-tennis table.
'You're in cell fourteen, that's over there, almost at the end.'
The card-players looked up when he walked past. One of them, who had dark hair and wore a gold chain round his neck, had been speaking loudly. Now he fell silent and fixed his eyes on Fredrik. The others consisted of one big one, with muscles like a body-builder and long hair tied at the back of his neck; opposite him a foreigner of some kind, short and dark-skinned and moustachioed, maybe a Turk or a Greek; and the fourth man was one of those emaciated types who had junkie written all over them.
His cell door was open. Apart from being slightly larger, it looked exactly like the one he had left in the remand prison. Same bare furnishings, same barred window, same gloomy colours, dirty pale green and diluted piss yellow. The bed wasn't made. At one end a rolled-up blanket, one sheet and a pillow without a pillowcase.
He reacted as he had this morning, slapped his hand against the wall and started to laugh. The pain went away for a moment.
The officer fingered his blue specs.
'You're laughing. What's up?'
'Nothing's up. Is laughing forbidden?'
'I thought you were having a breakdown or whatever.'
Fredrik started making the bed. He wanted to close the door, lie down, rest, stare at the ceiling.
'Hey. You were right before, you know.'
Fredrik looked at the officer.
'You were kept waiting in reception for quite a long time. Now, do you want to shower? I'll get you a towel if you do.'
'Why not? OK, yes.'
'Hang on then. I'll be back.'
Fredrik held out a hand.
'Wait. Is it safe?'
'I mean, safe to shower. Or will somebody have a go? You know.'
The officer grinned.
'Take it easy, Steffansson. No fear. No poofs or pervs in straight Swedish prisons. Nobody will try to fuck you in the shower.'
Fredrik stopped making the bed, sat down on it to wait, counting the lines in a long row that someone had drawn with red biro on the skirting board. He had got as far as one hundred and sixteen when the officer came back with a towel and a pair of plastic flip-flops.
Outside his cell two men shook hands with him and said they lived next door. From the card table voices were raised in an argument. The junkie was nagging about how there was one king too many in the deck and the man with the gold chain told him to shut it. Then he noticed Fredrik standing there and stared at him; his eyes were looking mad. He hated, and Fredrik could not work out why he should.
Then he was alone in a large tiled room with four showers. He closed the door to shut out all sounds and turned on the water, which would help him to absent himself for a while.
Dickybird checked out the new one. He remembered what the screws had been saying, how excited they had been. When the perv came out with his towel, he suddenly put his hand down in mid-game.
'Got to go to the john. Fucking nuisance. Hey, Skåne!'
'You play, but don't miss a trick.'
He gave Skåne his cards and went off towards the toilets. A quick glance to make sure the players were staying put, the coast was clear, then he went on to the shower-room. He stayed there for a minute maybe, not much longer.
It had sounded like a blow against the door. At least that was how the first prison officer on the scene described it afterwards. As if someone had struck the closed door to be heard, to be let out. When he saw Fredrik come out, or rather fall out, the first thing he noticed was that the prisoner was holding his hand pressed against his lower stomach area. That was where the knife had cut most deeply, where the heaviest flow of blood was coming from. The officer rang the alarm and ran towards the injured man, who was lying on the floor trying to say something, with blood being expelled rhythmically from his mouth. When words would not form, he had looked towards Dickybird Lindgren with fear in his eyes. That was how the officer described it; he called the look in the dying man's eyes fearful, or frightened. Two colleagues had turned up on the run and together they had stopped the bleeding. Then someone felt for his pulse.
They pulled him up from the floor, all agreeing that they were lifting a dead body.
The cards were in untidy piles on the table. The game ended immediately when the new prisoner fell to the floor bleeding. They knew enough about what the blade of a sharp knife could do to a man's insides, realised this one was a goner and that there'd be trouble.
Jochum hovered at the far end of the corridor. He was sweating. His shaven skull was glistening. He had just welcomed the new inmate, shaken the guy's hand and said that he had followed the whole thing on TV, felt bad about it and would willingly help with whatever. And now there was the brave dad, dead on the floor.
He walked quickly past the officers and across to the card-players. With his face centimetres away from Dickybird's he hissed out the words.
'What was that in aid of?'
Dickybird licked his lips.
'Mind your own fucking business.'
'You stupid bastard… do you know who that was? The guy you did in?' Jochum had raised his voice.
Dickybird was smiling now, and turned to face the other man.
'Course I fucking know. Another peddo. A beast. But now he won't fuck about with little kids no more.'
The unit door was pulled open. Fifteen officers in full riot gear. Helmets with visors down, shields, black overalls. The emergency squad almost encircled the unit inmates.
'You all know the score!'
Jochum pushed Dickybird to the side and looked at the screw, who was shouting at the top of his voice and banging on the table with his truncheon.
'We want no hassle! You know what to do. Bugger off into your cells! One at a time!'
The prisoners in the furthest cells filed away first, followed by two officers. Each cell door was locked. Next, two men who had been in the kitchen were sent off. Everyone left quietly. The whole unit was silent.
The officer in charge pointed to one of the card-players on the sofa.
Skåne rose, glaring at the screws. He hated them, always, and gave them the finger before he moved off.
It was Dickybird's turn.
He stayed where he was.
Dickybird stood up, but instead of walking towards the cell corridor he bent over, grabbed the table and tipped it so that it fell against the line-up of guards, showering their black-booted feet with cards. Then he turned, leapt over the back of the sofa and, in a few strides, got to a large aquarium along the wall.
'Fucking fascist pigs! No peace for a game of cards! Now you're gonna get it!'
As he howled this he placed his hands on either side of the aquarium and pushed. The panes of glass gave. The entire glass box disintegrated and four hundred litres of water gushed towards the emergency squad.
As the helmeted men ran to get him, he had already managed to grab one of the pool cues and waved it about crazily, hitting out and striking the first officer to get near him hard on his neck. Then he made a dash to the duty guards' cubicle, locked the door and set about wrecking it. Everything was kicked and beaten to pieces, the TV set, the communication mikes, the fridge. Lamp, flowerpot, mirror. When they managed to break the door open, his long weapon forced them to attack behind raised shields. They formed a circle, walling him in.
The senior officer had stayed in the corridor.
'Bag him there. Off to solitary,' he commanded.
The four prisoners who had not been marched off to their cells were watching Dickybird's attack of manic rage and its inevitable end. Jochum checked out the situation wearily, the unbreakable glass cubicle walls, the scattered screws. He mumbled something in Dragan's ear.
Dragan got the message and suddenly ran towards one of the officers outside the cubicle and kicked him hard between the legs. The man fell with a scream and his nearby colleagues turned to see. The momentary confusion was all Jochum needed. He crashed his fist into the temple of a man blocking his way, broke through the ring outside the cubicle and strode in to stand by Dickybird's side.
'Now, Jochum, tjavon ! We'll make the pigs work! Let's beat the hell out of them!'
Dickybird felt strong again with the big man at his side, and started waving the cue towards the hated uniforms. He didn't notice Jochum's arm moving, only felt the fist that struck his face, then his midriff.
'What the fuck…?' He was bending over, whimpering.
Jochum grabbed the crouching body next to him and ran it into the wall, head first. By the time the officers got to him, Dickybird was unconscious.
Ewert Grens slammed the car door shut and turned to Sven.
'No end to it. All fucking summer, and they're still at it.'
Sven stared at the ground. A stone. He wanted to kick it.
'I told Jonas my case was over. Done with. The dad had been locked up. Do you know what Jonas said? He said it was brill. Totally brill that the dad was in prison, because it was only fair. But it was fair that he would get out sometime soon, too. His girl had been murdered first, after all. Now I don't know what I tell him. Not that he doesn't know; the telly news people won't stop broadcasting this.'
They had reached the small door next to the main gate. Ewert rang the bell.
'Grens and Sundkvist. City police.'
'I recognise you by now.'
They crossed the parking lot for Aspsås staff; Bergh just waved them on.
They stopped in the large entrance hall. The door to the visitors' room they had booked stood open. It wasn't exactly welcoming. Ewert gestured vaguely towards the plastic-covered mattress on the bed and the roll of kitchen paper. He was sickened by being in the place where the inmates were allowed to entertain their women once a month, shagging until some of their wretchedness was forgotten for a while.
They shifted the table to the centre of the room, put two chairs along one side and went out to fetch a third chair, then set up the tape recorder and two microphones.
He was escorted by two officers. Ewert greeted them, and then turned to the escort. 'Wait outside, please.'
A man wearing a pair of odd, blue-framed spectacles objected noisily to the order. 'We should stay in here.'
'No. If we need you we'll let you know. This interrogation is no spectator sport.'
Ewert Grens (EG): I'm turning on the recorder now.
Jochum Lang (JL): Fine.
EG: Please state your full name.
JL: Jochum Hans Lang.
EG: Good. And do you know why we are here?
Ewert glanced at Sven, feeling tired already. He would need help, and soon. This bugger didn't want to cooperate. He knew, but didn't want to.
EG: You must answer the questions. For instance, tell us why Fredrik Steffansson fell forward when he managed to open the shower-room door. And next, why Steffansson was alive one minute and dead the next.
For a minute or so the room was silent. Ewert's eyes were fixed on Jochum, and the big man's were on the barred window.
EG: Enjoying the view?
EG: Fuck's sake, Jochum! We know Dickybird knifed Steffansson.
JL: Good for you.
EG: It's not news. We know.
JL: I said, good for you. Why question me?
EG: Because, for your own sweet reasons, you beat Dickybird senseless. I want to know why.
Ewert waited for the reply. His adversary looked a hard man all right. Heavy build, broad shoulders, big shaven head and calm eyes. He'd have made dead meat of quite a few men outside.
JL: He owed me money. EG: Come off it!
JL: Quite a lot.
EG: Crap! Dragan tricked some of the officers. You knocked Dickybird out cold. You wanted to make him pay for knifing Steffansson.
Grens stood up, red in the face. Bending over Jochum, he lowered his voice.
EG: Pull yourself together, man. For once, we're on the same side. If you simply confirm that Dickybird did it, I promise I won't let on it was you who said. Get this: if no one in the unit tells us what happened, Steffansson's murderer will go free.
JL: I didn't see what happened.
EG: Give me a break.
JL: I didn't see a thing.
EG: Screw that.
JL: You can switch your machine off now.
Ewert turned to Sven, shrugged. Sven nodded. After fumbling for a bit, Ewert switched the tape recorder off.
Jochum checked that the tape had really stopped running, and then looked up. His face was tense.
'Grens, you know what gives here. Rule number one is don't grass. You're finished if you do, never mind what's up. So listen hard now. Yes, Grens, we know who used the blade on Steffansson. That bastard will be on his way out of here soon enough. Feet first. Think about it. And now the goons outside can take me back.'
He got up and walked to the door. No one tried to stop him.
Jochum Lang's interrogation had lasted less than half an hour. It was still only quarter past eight. Ewert sighed. Not that he had expected anything other than silence. No one in prison ever told a cop anything. Fucking cons' honour. Cutting someone, no problem, but grassing – never. Honour my arse! He slapped his hand on the table. Sven jumped. 'What do you think, mate? What do we do now?' 'We haven't much choice.'
Ewert started the tape, ran it back to the beginning and listened to the interview again to check it. Jochum's voice, slow and indifferent. His own, angry and pressurised. It always surprised him to hear how loud and aggressive he sounded.
Sven listened too, looking at a distant point on the floor. He turned to Ewert.
'I think we should leave him alone for tonight. All we'll get is this kind of thing. He won't say any more than Jochum did. Let's just drop in, chat informally, that kind of thing. Harmless.'
Arne Bertolsson, the governor of Aspsås, decided that evening to isolate Unit H in its entirety, which meant keeping all the prisoners locked up in their cells.
Banged up, they ate, shat and counted the hours alone.
Meanwhile Ewert and Sven strolled along the empty corridor, inspecting the place where a man they had learned to respect, even like, had just been killed.
They looked over the broken furnishings that littered the cubicle where Jochum had silenced Dickybird by slamming his head against the wall. Torn wallpaper and traces of blood marked the spot. Mirror glass, bits of electronics crunched against the soles of their shoes. The sitting room was a mess of broken glass, water, sodden cards and dead fish, their shiny scales fading. The plastic flooring was slippery. Leaving damp footprints, they passed the cell doors.
There was a large puddle of blood at the end of the corridor. That was where Fredrik had fallen. They shook their heads at each other and followed the trail of blood into the shower-room. He must have been cut several times just after stepping inside. The white tiles glowed red near the washbasin.
They found Dickybird in bed in his cell. He was wearing only a pair of tracksuit bottoms. His face was badly cut, one eye had disappeared in swollen tissue. The gold chain gleamed on his chest. He grinned broadly at his visitors.
'Grensie himself. And his sidekick. Fuck's sake! Why the honour?'
The cell interested them. This prisoner had been around for some time, regarded this as his home and had made the bare room positively cosy. A small TV set, a coffee-maker, a couple of flowerpots. Even curtains, red and white checked cotton. One wall was covered in posters, and on the other was just one, hugely magnified photograph.
He noticed them noticing.
'My daughter. And here too.'
Dickybird pointed to a framed photo on the bedside table. A smiling little girl, her blonde hair in plaits, finished with neatly tied ribbons.
'Would you like a cuppa? Tea or coffee?'
'No thanks,' Ewert said. 'We've had some already. When we interviewed Jochum Lang.'
Dickybird appeared not to have heard the last bit.
'OK. I'll have some myself.' He busied himself with topping up the water in the kettle, tipping spoonfuls of tea leaves into a pot. 'Sit you down. Try the bed.'
They sat down. The cell was very tidy and smelled clean. He even had a room-scenter.
'Nicely fixed-up place you've got,' Ewert said, making a sweeping gesture.
'I've got a fair stretch and not that fucking much of a home outside.'
'Fancy that, curtains. And pot-plants.'
'Just like your home, innit, Grensie?'
Ewert clenched his jaw and the thought passed through Sven's head that he had no idea whether Ewert had plants and curtains at home. He had never visited his old colleague, strangely enough. Ewert had come for supper with himself and Anita several times, but had never asked them back.
Dickybird sipped the hot tea. Ewert waited until he had put the mug down.
'We've seen a lot of each other, Stig. Over the years.'
'That's a fair comment.'
'I remember you when you were in your teens. Picked you up in Blekinge that time you'd jammed an ice-pick into your uncle's balls.'
The images crowded back into Dickybird's mind. Per was there, bleeding. How he'd wanted that, cut the old bastard's balls off and laugh.
'You know you're under suspicion for having carved somebody again. Or don't you? You see, we think you might have cut Steffansson a couple of hours ago. Well and truly killed him, as it happens.'
Dickybird sighed and rolled his eyes heavenwards, acting out mock-innocence.
'Oh, don't I know it. I'm under suspicion. Like the rest of the lads in the unit.'
'I'm talking to you.'
'Give over, it's not as bad as that. All I'll tell you is that the peddo got what was coming to him.' Dickybird had turned serious. 'Fucking beast.'
Ewert heard, but didn't understand.
'Stig, are we on the same wavelength? I mean, you might call Fredrik Steffansson many things, but not a peddo. The reverse, rather. If anything.'
Dickybird had just lifted the mug of tea to his lips. Now he put it down, staring at the two policemen. When he spoke, his voice was rough, angry.
'What the fuck are you saying?'
Ewert registered the man's surprise and his mood change. This was no theatre.
'You heard me. Don't you ever watch the TV news?'
'Happens. So what?'
'You must have followed the reports about the dad who shot his little daughter's killer?'
'Followed, well, I wouldn't say that. I don't like stuff like that. You know, what with this little one and all.' He looked briefly at the blonde girl in the photo. 'I didn't watch a lot. Enough to get the message. That dad was a regular fucking hero. No question. Pervs like that should be shot, all of them. Beasts. What's all that got to do with anything?'
Ewert and Sven exchanged a glance. They both thought the same thing and neither spoke.
'Grensie, out with it! What's all this got to do with that dead fucker?'
'The name of that dad, your hero, was Fredrik Steffansson.'
Dickybird shot upright, his face twitching.
'Give over! Fuck's sake! Stop sitting here talking fucking crap like that!'
'Stig, I wish it was crap.' Ewert turned to Sven. 'Let's have a look at the papers.'
Sven rummaged in his briefcase until he had found copies of the two main evening papers, dated the day Fredrik Steffansson had been arrested for shooting at and killing Bernt Lund. Ewert lined them up for Dickybird to see.
'Here. If you don't trust me, just have a look.'
The headlines, the type as large and the ink as black on both front pages, screamed the same message.
He Shot His Daughter's Killer. Saved Two Girls' Lives.
The photographs too were the same in both papers. The ones Errfors had found in Lund's pockets. The pictures showed his intended victims. They sat side by side, in the playground of their Enköping nursery. Both were smiling. One of them had her blonde hair in neat plaits.
Dickybird stared. At the text. At the pictures. And then at the photo in the frame and the magnified one on the wall.
As if it were she. His little daughter, on the front pages of the papers.
He was still standing.
Writing a novel sometimes struck us as a very strange thing to do. You rule the world by tapping on your keyboard, sending out instructions about how it should look. We used our power to create prisons and woodland and roads that no one will ever see. We have moved nursery school locations and described nonexistent rooms in some of the official buildings in Stockholm.
We have also written about things which we wished were pure invention, exaggerations, in order to sell our book on its dramatic plot.
Destructive people who spit on their own humanity and end by exterminating themselves exist in real life. Men like Bernt Lund, with his sadistic obsessions and inability to engage emotionally with others, walk the streets. So do men like Dickybird, abused as a child until he wants to cut down anyone who reminds him of it. The two Steffanssons, Fredrik and Agnes, are the kind who can lose everything and still search for a way to survive. There are quite a few Lennart Oscarssons, who despise the paedophiles they are meant care for. Hilding Oldéus, who has packed away emotion and keeps the lid on with drugs, who is always afraid and who turns himself into an arselicker for protection by someone less fearful; he exists in reality. Flasher-Göran, condemned for life because his one mistake is never forgotten, and Bengt Söderlund, out to defend his precious property and his precious children by taking the law into his own hands if necessary; they exist too.
All these characters, absurd as they may seem, walk among us.
Our thanks to the many who helped us. Thanks to Rolle, for sharing your thoughts about being inside. To our publisher Sofia Brattselius Thunfors, for being both generous and demanding, for keeping our feet on the ground without stopping occasional flights of fancy. To Fia, reader of our virgin manuscript, for forcing us to rewrite, and to Ewa, who opened her door to us when we needed it. To Dick, for giving us the courage to try. And to those of you who have read it all and put up with us from beginning to end.
Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström
STOCKHOLM, MARCH 2004
Anders Roslund is the founder and former head of Kulturnyheterna (Culture News) on Sveriges Television, and for many years worked as the head of news at Aktuellt (Channel 1) and as a prize-winning investigative reporter at Rapport (Channel 2), the Swedish equivalents of CNN and the BBC.
Börge Hellström is an ex-criminal who helps to rehabilitate young offenders and drug addicts. He is also one of the founders of KRIS (Criminals’ Return into Society) – a nonprofit association that assists released prisoners during their first period of freedom.