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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henning Mankell is the prize-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the Inspector Wallander Mysteries, now dominating bestseller lists throughout Europe. He devotes much of his time to working with Aids charities in Africa, where he is also director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo.

Laurie Thompson is the translator into English of six other books by Henning Mankell, as well as novels by Åke Edwardson, Hakan Nesser and Mikael Niemi.

www.vintage-books.co.uk

CHAPTER 1

The catastrophe happened in the autumn. She had no idea what was coming, no warning. No shadow was cast; it struck without a sound.

It was like being waylaid in a dark alley. But the fact was that it forced her away from her ruins, into a reality that she had never really concerned herself with. She was hurled with immense force into a world where the excavation of Greek Bronze Age graves was irrelevant.

She had been living deep down in her dusty trenches, or hunched over shattered vases that she was trying to piece together. She had loved her ruins, and failed to notice that the world around her was starting to collapse. She was an archaeologist forced to leave the past and stand next to a grave she had never imagined possible.

There were no portents. The tragedy had been robbed of its voice. It was unable to shout out a warning to her.

The evening before Louise Cantor travelled to Sweden to take part in a conference on current archaeological excavations of Bronze Age graves, she stood on a ceramic fragment in the bathroom and suffered a deep wound in her left foot. It bled copiously over the floor, making her feel sick. The shard dated from the fifth century BC.

She was in Argolis on Peloponnisos, 137 kilometres outside Athens, it was September and the year’s excavations were coming to a close. She could already feel a chill in the wind that presaged the coming winter. The dry heat with its scent of rosemary and thyme was beginning to fade.

She stemmed the flow of blood and applied a plaster. A memory came storming into her mind.

A rusty nail that had gone right through her foot – not the one she had cut now, but the other one, her right foot. She must have been five or six years old. The brown nail had penetrated her heel, forced its way through skin and flesh and impaled her as if on a pole. She had howled with pain, and thought that she was undergoing the same kind of torture experienced by the man crucified on the cross at the front of the church where she sometimes played her lonely horror games.

We are pierced over and over again by these barbs, she thought as she wiped the blood off the cracked floor tiles. A woman spends all her life in the proximity of these sharp edges out to penetrate what she is trying to protect.

She limped to the part of the house that doubled as her workplace and bedroom. In one corner was a creaky rocking chair and a CD player. She had been given the CD player by old Leandros, the caretaker. Leandros had been around as a poverty-stricken but curious child when the Swedish excavations at Argolis began in the 1930s. Nowadays he spent his nights fast asleep while on caretaking duty at the Mastos hill. But everybody on the project supported him. Leandros was an essential cog in the wheel. Without him, all future grants to enable the continuation of the excavations would be under threat. Exercising the prerogative of old age, Leandros had become a toothless and often noticeably filthy guardian angel.

Louise Cantor sat down on the rocking chair and examined her wounded foot. She smiled at the thought of Leandros. Most Swedish archaeologists she knew were aggressively impious, and refused to accept various authorities as anything other than obstacles in the way of the continued dig. A few gods who had lost all significance a very long time ago could hardly affect the distant Swedish authorities when it came to approving or rejecting expenditure on archaeological ventures. Swedish bureaucracy was a sort of tunnel world with entrances and exits, but nothing in between; and the decisions that eventually found their way to the sweltering Greek burial vaults were often extremely difficult to understand.

An archaeologist always needs to be doubly blessed, she thought. We never know if we are going to find what we are looking for, or if we are looking for what we want to find. If we get it right, we are greatly blessed. But at the same time we never know if we are going to be given permission and sufficient money to dig deeper into the marvellous ruined worlds, or if the milch cow’s udders will suddenly dry up. This was Louise’s contribution to archaeological jargon: to describe the funding authorities as milch cows with capricious udders.

She looked at the clock. It was a quarter past eight, an hour earlier in Sweden. She reached for the telephone and dialled the number of her son in Stockholm.

She could hear the ringing, but nobody answered. When the answering machine cut in, she listened to his voice with her eyes closed.

It was a voice that calmed her down. ‘Det här är en telefonsvarare och du vet vad du ska göra. I’ll repeat that in English. This is an answering machine and you know what to do. Henrik.’

She left her message. ‘Don’t forget that I’m coming home. I shall be in Visby for two days, discussing the Bronze Age. Then I’ll go to Stockholm. I love you. See you soon. I might ring you later. If not, I’ll be in touch from Visby.’

She fetched the ceramic fragment that had injured her foot. One of her closest colleagues, a very keen female student from Lund, had found it. It was a shard like millions of others, a piece of Attic pottery that she guessed came from a pot or jar made just before the colour red started to dominate.

She enjoyed piecing together ceramic fragments, imagining the original object that she would probably be unable to reconstruct. She would give this one to Henrik as a present. She put it on top of her packed suitcase that was waiting for the lid to be closed.

As usual, she was feeling restless before leaving. She was finding it hard to curb her increasing impatience, and decided to change her plans for the evening. Until she had cut her foot, she had intended to spend a few hours on the paper she was writing about Attic pottery. Instead, she turned off her desk lamp, switched on the CD player and sank back in the rocking chair.

As usual when she was listening to music, the dogs started barking in the darkness outside. They belonged to her nearest neighbour, Mitsos, who was part-owner of an excavator. He was also the owner of the little house she rented. Most of her colleagues lived in Argolis, but she had preferred to stay close to the dig.

She had almost dozed off when she sat up with a start. It had struck her that she did not want to spend the night on her own. She turned down the volume and phoned Vassilis. He had promised to take her to the airport in Athens the next morning. As the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt left very early, they would need to set off at five o’clock. She’d rather have company when she knew she would not be able to sleep soundly anyway.

She looked at the clock and realised that Vassilis was probably still at the office. One of their rare quarrels had concerned his job. She thought she had been a bit insensitive in saying that the accounting profession must be the most combustible in existence. She could still recall her exact words, which sounded much nastier than she had intended.

‘The most combustible profession there is. So dry and lifeless that it could burst into flames at any minute.’

He had been surprised, perhaps saddened, but most of all angry. At that moment it dawned on her there was more to their relationship than just sex. She enjoyed his company despite the fact – or because of it – that he had no interest whatsoever in archaeology. She had been afraid that he would be so offended that he would break off their affair on the spot. But she had managed to convince him that she was only joking.

‘The world is driven by cash books,’ she had said. ‘Cash books are the liturgy of our time, and accountants are our high priests.’

Louise dialled the number. Engaged. She rocked gently back and forth in the chair. She had met Vassilis by chance. But aren’t all important meetings in this life chance happenings?

Her first love, the ginger-haired man who hunted bears, built houses and could sink into long periods of depression, had once given her a lift when she’d been to visit a friend in Hede and missed the train back to Sveg. Emil had stopped his old lorry for her. She was seventeen at the time and still not worldly wise. He drove her home. That was in the late autumn of 1967. They were together for six months before she could summon up the strength to escape from his bear-like embrace. She then moved from Sveg to Östersund, started at college and one day decided to become an archaeologist. There were other men at university in Uppsala, and she simply happened to bump into them in various circumstances. Aron, the man she married and the father of Henrik, the reason why she changed her name from Lindblom to Cantor, was somebody she happened to sit next to on a flight between London and Edinburgh. She had received a scholarship from Uppsala University to attend a conference on classical archaeology, Aron was on his way to Scotland to go fishing, and up in the air, high above the clouds, they had fallen into conversation.

She forced herself not to think about Aron, not wanting to grow angry, and rang the number again. Still engaged.

She always used to compare the men she met after her divorce – it was not a conscious process, but she had a ranking scale deep down in her mind on which Aron was registered as the norm, and everybody else she went with was too short or too tall, too boring, too untalented. In other words, Aron always won. She still had not met anybody who could match his memory. That could make her both disconsolate and furious; it seemed that he still dictated the course of her life even though it was nothing to do with him any more. He had betrayed her, he had deceived her, and when the truth started to come out he simply disappeared – just as a spy about to be exposed flees to his controller. It had come as a terrible shock to her: she had no idea that he had been seeing other women. To make matters worse, one of them was a close friend of hers, a fellow archaeologist who had devoted her life to excavations on Thassos, in search of a Dionysus temple. Henrik was still very young at the time. She had taken a temporary post as a university lecturer while trying to survive what had happened and patching together her wrecked life.

Aron had shattered her like a sudden volcanic eruption can shatter a settlement, a person or a vase. When she sat with her ceramic fragments, trying to envisage the whole that she would never be able to reconstruct, she often thought of her own predicament. Aron had not only smashed her to pieces, he had also hidden some of the fragments in order to make it more difficult for her to recreate her identity, as a human being, a woman and an archaeologist.

Following Aron’s disappearance she had found a letter a mere three or four lines long, carelessly written, announcing that their marriage was at an end, he simply couldn’t go on any longer, he begged her pardon and he hoped that she wouldn’t turn their son against him.

Then she heard nothing more from him for seven months. In the end she received a letter posted in Venice. She could tell from his handwriting that he had been drunk at the time, one of the staggering Aron benders he not infrequently indulged in, a constant state of intoxication dotted with peaks and troughs that could last for over a week. At last he had written to her, his tone was maudlin and oozing with self-pity, and he wondered if she could consider having him back. It was only then, as she sat there with the wine-stained letter in her hand, that it dawned on her that her marriage was over. She both wanted and didn’t want to have him back, but she didn’t dare risk it because she knew that he could well destroy her life again. A human being can be wrecked and then resurrected and restored once in this life, she thought – but not twice. That would be too much. So she replied and informed Aron that their marriage was finished. Henrik existed and lived with his mother, it was up to him and his father to work out what sort of a relationship they wanted to have: she would not intervene.

Almost a year passed before he was in touch again. This time it was by means of a dodgy telephone connection from Newfoundland, where he and several like-minded computer experts had assembled to form a network that was reminiscent of a sect. He explained somewhat vaguely that they were investigating the future of archives, now that all human experience could be reduced to a combination of ones and zeros. Microfilm and underground libraries were no longer of significance for the recording of human experience. Now it was computers that would guarantee that mankind living at a specific time would not leave behind a vacuum. But was there any guarantee that in the magical demiworld in which he was living, computers would not be able to create their own experiences and record them as well? The line was poor and she couldn’t understand a lot of what he said: but at least he was not drunk and self-pitying.

He wanted her to send him a lithograph of a hawk pouncing on a dove, a picture they had bought shortly after they were married, when they happened to visit an art gallery. A week or so later, she sent him the picture. It was about then she realised that he had started to contact his son again, albeit secretly.

Aron continued to appear on the horizon. She sometimes wondered if she would ever be able to erase his features and discard the assessment table she used to measure other men with – and which sooner or later led to their being condemned, rejected.

She phoned Henrik again. Every time the old wounds from her relationship with Aron were opened up, she needed to hear Henrik’s voice in order to avoid being overwhelmed by bitterness. But once again her only response was the answering machine, and she left a message to the effect that she wouldn’t phone again until she arrived in Visby.

Every time he failed to answer, she felt a twinge of childish unrest. For a second or two she imagined accidents, fires, illnesses. Then she calmed down again. Henrik was very careful, never took unnecessary risks, even if he did a lot of travelling and liked to probe the unknown.

She went outside the back door to smoke a cigarette. She could hear the sound of laughter from Mitsos’s house. The man laughing was Panayiotis, Mitsos’s elder brother. To the mortification of his family Panayiotis had won a fortune on the lottery and hence created the financial foundation for a life of idleness. Louise smiled at the thought, inhaled deeply and made a mental note that she would give up smoking on her sixtieth birthday.

She was alone in the darkness. The sky was full of stars, the evening warm, and there were no chilly breezes. So this is where I’ve ended up, she thought. From the melancholy northern wastelands of Sveg and Härjedalen to Greece and Bronze Age graves. From snow and ice to the warm, dry olive groves.

She stubbed out her cigarette and went back indoors. Her foot was hurting. She paused, uncertain of what to do next. Then she phoned Vassilis’s number again. It was no longer engaged, but nobody answered.

At that moment Vassilis’s face merged in her mind with that of Aron.

Vassilis was cheating her, he was treating her as a part of his life he could do without.

Feeling jealous, she phoned his mobile. No reply. A Greek female voice asked her to leave a message. She gritted her teeth and said nothing.

Then she closed her suitcase and made up her mind at the same moment to put an end to her relationship with Vassilis. She would wind up the cash book, close it down, just as she had closed her suitcase.

She lay down on her bed and stared up at the stationary ceiling fan. How on earth could she have entered into a relationship with Vassilis? It suddenly seemed incomprehensible, she felt that the whole business was distasteful. Not so much from his point of view, but from hers.

The fan was motionless, her jealousy had faded away, and the dogs out there in the darkness were no longer barking. As usual when faced with an important decision, she addressed herself in the third person.

Louise Cantor here, autumn 2004. This is where she leads her life, black on white – or rather, red on black, which is the usual colour combination on the fragments of urns we dig up from the Greek earth. Louise Cantor is fifty-four years old, she is not scared when she looks at her face or her body in a mirror. She is still attractive, not yet old; men notice her even if they don’t turn round to look at her. What about her? Who does she turn round to look at? Or does she only look back in time to see the faces and traces of the past? Louise Cantor has just closed a book entitled Vassilis. She will never open it again. He will not even be allowed to drive Louise Cantor to the airport in Athens tomorrow morning.

She got up from the bed and looked up the number of a local taxi firm. The woman she spoke to was hard of hearing, but she managed to shout loud enough to make herself understood. She could only hope that the taxi she had ordered really would turn up on time. As Vassilis had arranged to pick her up at five, she ordered a taxi for half past four.

She sat down at her desk and wrote a letter to Vassilis. This is it, it’s all over. All good things come to an end. I can feel that I’m on my way to somewhere else. I’m sorry that you came to pick me up in vain. I did try to ring you. Louise.

She read through the letter. Did she have second thoughts? She often did – she had written so many farewell letters in her life that had never been sent. But not this one. She put the letter into an envelope, sealed it, and braved the darkness to fasten it to the letter box by her gate with a clothes peg.

She dozed for a few hours on top of her bed, drank a glass of wine and stared at a pack of sleeping pills without being able to make up her mind.

The taxi turned up a few minutes early, and it was pitch black. She was waiting for it, by the gate. Mitsos’s dogs were barking. She slumped down into the back seat and closed her eyes. She couldn’t sleep until her journey had started.

It was dawn when she arrived at the airport.

CHAPTER 2

When she had checked in her suitcase with one of Lufthansa’s half-asleep staff and was on her way to the security barrier, something happened that made a very deep impression on her.

Looking back, she would think that she ought to have taken it as an omen, a warning. But she didn’t. All she saw was a solitary woman sitting on the stone floor with her bundles and ancient suitcases held together by the string tied round them. The woman was crying. She was totally immobile, completely self-absorbed. She was old, her sunken cheeks indicating that many teeth were missing. Louise thought she might well be from Albania. There were a lot of Albanian women looking for work in Greece, they are prepared to do anything at all since a little is better than nothing, and Albania is a desperately poor country. She had a scarf round her head, the scarf of a decent elderly lady, she was not a Muslim; but she was sitting on the floor, crying. The woman was on her own, it looked as if she had been washed ashore in this airport, surrounded by her bundles, her life in tatters, and all she had left was this heap of worthless flotsam.

Louise paused, people in a hurry barged into her, but she stood firm as if bracing herself against a strong wind. The woman on the floor surrounded by the bundles had a brown, furrowed face, her skin was like a petrified lava landscape. There is a special sort of beauty in the faces of old women, where everything has been reduced to a thin film stretched over bare bones, where all the events of her life are registered. Two parched furrows had been excavated from her eyes down towards her cheeks, and they were now filled with the woman’s tears.

She is watering a pain I know nothing about, Louise thought. But something inside her is also inside me.

The woman suddenly raised her head, her eyes met Louise’s briefly, and she slowly shook her head. Louise took it as an indication that her assistance, whatever that might have involved, was not needed. She hurried on towards the security check, elbowing her way through the teeming crowd, through a haze smelling of garlic and olives. When she turned round to look, it was as if a human curtain had closed and the woman was no longer visible.

Louise had kept a diary since she was very young in which she used to record incidents that she thought she would never forget. This was one of them. She thought about what she would write as she placed her handbag on the moving belt, her mobile phone in a small blue plastic box, and passed through the magic barrier that separated bad from good.

She bought a bottle of Tullamore Dew for herself and two bottles of retsina for Henrik. Then she sat down outside the exit and found to her annoyance that she had left her diary behind in Argolis. She could see it in her mind’s eye, on the table next to the green lamp. She took the conference programme from her bag and wrote down on the back of it: ‘Old woman weeping at Athens airport. A face of human ruin, dug up after thousands of years by a curious and intrusive archaeologist. Why was she crying? That universal question. Why does a person cry?

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine what must have been inside those bundles and the battered suitcases.

Emptiness, she decided. Empty suitcases, or perhaps filled with ash from fires long since extinguished.

When it was announced that her flight was boarding, she woke up with a start. She went to her aisle seat and sat down next to a man who gave the impression of being terrified of flying. She decided to sleep as far as Frankfurt, and to delay breakfast until the flight from Frankfurt to Stockholm.

When she got to Arlanda and had retrieved her suitcase, she still felt tired. She always looked forward to a trip, but not the journey itself. She suspected that one of these days she would suffer a panic attack in mid-flight. So for many years now, she had always taken with her a pack of tranquillisers, in readiness for when the attack took place.

Louise made her way to the domestic terminal, handed over her suitcase to a woman who was rather more awake than the one in Athens, and sat down to wait. A door opened and she was hit by a blast of Swedish autumn wind. She shuddered, and made a mental note to buy a jumper knitted from the local Gotland wool while she was in Visby. Gotland and Greece have sheep in common, she thought. If Gotland had olive groves, there would not be much difference between the places.

She wondered if she ought to ring Henrik. But he might be asleep: his day was often the night, and he preferred to work by starlight rather than sunshine. Instead she dialled the number of her father up in Ulvkälla, just outside Sveg, on the southern side of the River Ljusnan. He never slept, she could phone him at any time of day or night. She had never managed to catch him asleep, no matter when she rang. That’s how she remembered him from her childhood as well. She had a father who had banished the Sandman, a giant of a man whose eyes were always open, who was always alert, always ready to protect his daughter.

She dialled the number, but hung up the moment she heard it ringing. She had nothing to say to him just now. She put the phone into her suitcase and thought of Vassilis. He had not left a message on her mobile. But why should he? She felt a pang of disappointment. She suppressed it immediately, regret was not on the agenda. Louise Cantor came from a family that did not reflect on a decision once it had been made, even if it had been totally wrong. The rule was to grin and bear it, no matter what.

A cold wind was blowing in from the sea as the aeroplane thudded down onto the runway at Visby. The wind played havoc with her overcoat as she crouched down and hurried into the terminal. A man was holding up a card with her name on it. As they drove to the town centre, she watched the trees; the wind was so strong, they would lose most of their leaves. There’s a battle going on between the seasons, she thought. A battle whose outcome is a foregone conclusion, from the very start.

She was staying at the Strand hotel, which was on the hill running down to the harbour. Her room did not have a view of the square, and she begged the receptionist to give her one that did. She was in luck. The new room was smaller, but it faced in the right direction and the first thing she did when she entered her room was to look out of the window. What can I see? she thought. What am I hoping is going to happen out there?

She had an incantation that kept running through her mind. I’m fifty-four years old. I’m here now, where am I heading for, when will I get there?

She watched an old lady struggling with her dog on the windswept hill. She felt more in sympathy with the dog than with the lady in the lurid red coat.

Shortly before four that afternoon she went to the college, which was situated on the water’s edge. It was not far, and she had time to stroll round the deserted harbour. Water was being hurled at the stone quays. The colour was different from the Aegean surrounding the Greek mainland and islands. It’s wilder here, she thought. More primitive, a young tearaway sea that launches an attack on the first vessel or quay that it comes across.

The wind was still strong, but perhaps more squally now. A ferry was on its way out from the harbour to the open sea. Louise was a punctual person. As far as she was concerned it was just as important not to arrive too early as it was not to arrive late. A friendly man with a scar where his hare lip had been operated on welcomed her at the entrance. He was one of the organisers, introduced himself, and said that they had met once before, many years ago; but she could not remember him. Recalling other people is one of the most difficult of social skills, she knew that. Faces change, and often become unrecognisable. But she smiled at him and said she remembered him, remembered him very well.

All twenty-two of them assembled in an impersonal conference room. They pinned on their name tags, drank coffee and tea, then listened to a Dr Stefanis from Latvia who started proceedings in faltering English with a paper on recent discoveries of Minoan ceramics that presented classification difficulties. She could not understand what was so difficult to classify: Minoan ceramics were Minoan ceramics, full stop.

She soon realised that she was not listening. In spirit she was still in Argolis, breathing in the smell of thyme and rosemary. She studied the other people sitting round the oval-shaped table. Which of them were listening, which of them were like her, transported of their own volition into another reality? She knew none of the others round the table, apart from the man who claimed he had met her on some occasion in the past. They were all from the Nordic and Baltic countries, some of them field archaeologists like herself.

Dr Stefanis stopped abruptly, as if he could no longer cope with his bad English. After the polite applause came a brief and decidedly subdued discussion. Some announcements regarding practical arrangements for the next day were made, and the opening session of the conference came to an end. On her way out of the building she was asked to wait behind for a moment, because a photographer from a local newspaper wanted to take a picture of as many of the archaeologists attending the conference as he could fit in. He noted her name, and afterwards she surrendered herself to the tender mercies of the stormy wind.

Louise fell asleep on her bed, and when she woke up was not at all sure where she was. Her mobile was on the table. She ought to phone Henrik, but decided to wait until she’d eaten. She went to the square, took pot luck and ended up in a basement restaurant that had few diners but served good food. She drank several glasses of wine, again regretted that she had broken off her relationship with Vassilis, but tried to concentrate on the lecture she would deliver the following day. She drank another glass of wine and ran through in her mind what she was going to say. She had it written down, but as she had given it before, she could almost remember it off by heart.

I shall talk about the colours red and black in the clay. The reddish colour of the clay is caused by ferric oxide: during the firing process, the iron in the ferric oxide is separated from the oxygen and the clay turns black. As the pottery cools, the iron and the oxygen bond again if oxygen is present in the kiln, and the clay regains its red hues. If no oxygen is present, the clay remains black. So although the finished pot might be either red or black, the colours originate from the same raw material.

The wine was taking effect, her body felt warm, her head was filled with waves flowing back and forth. She paid her bill, emerged into the gusting wind and told herself that she was already longing for tomorrow to come.

She phoned the flat in Stockholm. Still the answering machine. Sometimes Henrik would make a special recording just for her if something important had happened, a private message she shared with the whole world. She said that she was in Visby, that she was on her way. Then she rang his mobile. No answer.

She felt uneasy, a feeling so slight that she was barely aware of it.

She slept that night with the window open. She woke up once, around midnight. Some young drunks were shouting about a girl who was an easy lay, but evidently she wouldn’t have them.

At ten o’clock the next morning she delivered her paper on Attic clay and its consistency. She talked about the high iron content and contrasted the red colour of the ferric oxide with the lime-rich clay from Corinth that produced white or even green ceramics. After a hesitant start – several of her audience had evidently had a long and late dinner the previous evening, washed down with copious amounts of wine – she managed to capture their interest. She spoke for exactly forty-five minutes, and received an enthusiastic round of applause when she finished. During the subsequent discussion she did not have to field any awkward questions, and when they broke up for coffee, she felt she had justified her coming here.

The wind had eased off. She took her coffee into the courtyard and balanced it on her knee when she sat down on a bench. Her mobile rang. She was sure it would be Henrik, but the call came from Greece and was from Vassilis. She hesitated, and decided not to answer. Soon enough she would return to Argolis and go to see him then.

She put her mobile back in her handbag, drank her coffee, then decided that she had had enough. The speakers scheduled for the rest of the day would no doubt have very interesting things to say, but she did not want to hang around any longer. She returned her coffee cup and went to see the man with the hare lip. She told him that a friend had unexpectedly fallen ill – it wasn’t life-threatening, but serious enough for her to feel that she ought to return home immediately.

She would regret those words. They would return to haunt her. She had cried wolf, and the wolf had come.

But just then Visby was bathed in autumn sunshine. She went back to her hotel, was helped by the receptionist to change her air ticket and was lucky enough to find a seat on a flight leaving at three o’clock. That gave her time to take a walk round the city walls, and she called in at two shops to try on knitted jumpers made from local wool but failed to find one that fitted her. She had lunch at a Chinese restaurant and decided not to phone Henrik, but to surprise him. She had a key to his flat, and he had told her that she could go in at any time – he had no secrets from her.

She arrived at the airport in good time, and saw the photograph taken the previous day in a local newspaper. She tore the page out and put it in her handbag. Then came an announcement that the aircraft she was due to fly on had developed a technical fault, and she would have to wait for a replacement plane that was already on its way from Stockholm.

She was not annoyed, but could feel her impatience growing. As there was no alternative flight, she sat in the sun outside the terminal building and smoked a cigarette. She was sorry now that she hadn’t spoken to Vassilis: it would have been as well to get it over with and weather the furious outburst of a man whose vanity had been wounded and who could not accept a no for what it was.

But she did not phone him. Her flight eventually left after a two-hour delay, and it was nearly six by the time she was back in Stockholm. She took a taxi to Henrik’s flat on Söder. They were caught in a traffic jam caused by a road accident – it was as if invisible forces were combining to hold her back, to spare her what was in store. But she knew nothing of that, of course, and merely felt her impatience increasing. It seemed that in many ways Sweden had started to become more like Greece, with gridlocked traffic and constant delays.

Henrik lived in Tavastgatan, a quiet street set back from the busiest roads on Söder. She tried the entry code, hoping it had not been changed. It was easy to remember: the Battle of Hastings, 1066. The door opened. Henrik lived on the top floor, with a view over rooftops and church towers. He had also told her, to her horror, that if he stood on the narrow railing outside one of his windows, he could just glimpse the water at Strömmen.

She rang the bell twice, then unlocked the door. She noticed immediately that the air in the flat smelled stale.

She suddenly felt scared. Something was wrong. She held her breath and listened. She could see into the kitchen from the entrance hall. There’s nobody here, she thought. She shouted that she had arrived, but there was no reply. She felt better. She hung up her coat and kicked off her shoes. There was no post or junk mail on the doormat. So Henrik was not away, at least. She went into the kitchen. No dirty crockery in the sink. The living room was unusually tidy, the desk empty. She opened the bedroom door.

Henrik was under the covers. His head lay heavily on the pillow. He was lying on his back, one hand hanging down towards the floor, the other open over his chest.

She realised immediately that he was dead. In a desperate attempt to banish the thought, she screamed out loud, but he did not move, he just lay in his bed but was no longer there.

It was Friday, 17 September. Louise Cantor fell into an abyss.

Then she ran out of the flat, still screaming. Those who heard her said afterwards that she sounded like an animal howling in pain.

CHAPTER 3

A single tangible thought emerged from the chaos. Aron. Where was he? Did he still exist? Why was he not here by her side? Henrik was their joint creation, and that was not something he could run away from. But needless to say, Aron did not appear, he was absent just as he had always been absent, like a thin column of smoke that she could neither grasp hold of nor lean on for support.

Afterwards, she had no clear memory of the next few hours: all she knew was what others had told her. A neighbour had opened his door and found her lying on the stairs. In due course a constant stream of people turned up, police officers and ambulance men. She had been taken back to the flat, despite her resistance. She had no desire to go back in there, she had not seen what she had seen, Henrik had just slipped out, he would soon be home again. A woman police officer with a childlike face had patted her arm, like a friendly old aunt trying to console a little girl who had fallen and grazed her knee.

But Louise had not grazed her knee, she had been shattered by the realisation that her son was dead. The woman police officer kept repeating her name – Emma. Emma was an old-fashioned name that had recently become popular again, she thought confusedly. Everything came back eventually, even her own name which in the old days had been used mainly by the rich and high-born: now it had slipped down through the joists of the class system and become available to all. Her father, Artur, had been responsible for choosing the name, and she had been teased at school. At the time there was a Queen Louise in Sweden, an ancient old crone looking like a withered tree trunk. She had hated the name all the time she was growing up, until the end of her relationship with Emil when she had wriggled free of his bear hug and been able to move away. Then the name of Louise suddenly became a significant advantage.

Such thoughts whirled around inside her head as Emma sat patting her arm, as if beating time to the tragedy, or as if it were time itself ticking by.

One thing she could remember, one of the few things she did not need to be reminded of or to have explained to her: time was like a ship sailing into the distance. She was standing on the quay and the clocks of life were ticking away more and more slowly. She had been left behind, she was no longer involved in the course of events. It was not Henrik who was dead, it was her.

She occasionally tried to run away, to drag herself away from the policewoman sympathetically patting her arm. They said later that Louise’s screams had been heartrending; eventually somebody had forced a tablet down her throat, making her even more confused and sleepy. She recalled how all the people crammed into the little flat had started to move at snail’s pace, as if in a slow-motion film.

As she fell into the abyss she had also had confused thoughts about God. She had never conducted a real conversation with God before, or at least not since her teens when she had gone through a phase of persistent religious brooding. One snowy morning in early December, shortly before the traditional processions to celebrate St Lucia, one of her classmates had been run over and killed by a snow-plough on her way to school. It was the first time death had affected her personally. It was a death smelling of wet wool, a death enveloped by wintry cold and heavy snow. Her teacher had wept – that in itself had been a ghastly attack on her childhood idyll, seeing her strict class teacher burst into tears like a terrified and abandoned child. A candle was burning on the desk where the dead child used to sit. It happened to be the desk next to her own, and now her friend had gone away: that is what death meant, going away, no more than that. What was so frightening, and eventually horrific, was the realisation that death struck at random. She started to wonder how that could be, and it suddenly dawned on her that the question may well have been addressed to what was known as God.

But He did not reply. She tried every trick she could think of to attract His attention, she made a little altar in a corner of the woodshed, but no inner voice answered her questions. God was an absent adult who only spoke to a child when it suited Him. She eventually discovered that she did not really believe in God: perhaps at most she had fallen in love with Him, a secret passion, rather like one for an inaccessible boy several years older than herself.

From then on there had never been a God in her life, not until now; but He did not speak to her on this occasion either. She was alone. There was only herself plus the policewoman patting her arm and all the other people speaking in low voices, moving slowly and apparently looking for something that had been lost.

There was a sudden stillness, like when a recorded tape snaps. The voices all around her were no longer there. Instead she could hear whispers inside her head, saying over and over again that it wasn’t true. Henrik was merely asleep, he was not dead. He could not possibly be dead. After all, she had come to visit him.

A police officer, in plain clothes, with tired eyes, asked her gently to go to the kitchen with him. She realised afterwards it was so that she did not have to watch Henrik being taken away. They sat down at the kitchen table, and she could feel the breadcrumbs against the palm of her hand.

Henrik couldn’t possibly be dead, the breadcrumbs were still there!

The policeman had to repeat his name before she caught on. Göran Wrath. I shall feel boundless anger if what I refuse to believe eventually turns out to be true, she thought.

She answered his questions with questions of her own, which he replied to in turn. It was as if they were circling round each other.

The only certainty was that Henrik had died. Göran Wrath said there was nothing to suggest foul play. Had he been ill? She said he had never been seriously ill, the usual childhood ailments had come and gone without leaving any trace, and he had never been prone to infections. Wrath wrote down her replies in a little notebook. She looked at his chubby fingers and wondered if they were sensitive enough to seek out the truth.

‘Somebody must have killed him,’ she said.

‘There are no signs of his having been assaulted.’

She wanted to protest, but lacked the strength. They were still sitting in the kitchen. Wrath asked if there was anybody she would like to phone. He gave her a mobile, and she rang her father. If Aron no longer existed and was unable to accept his responsibilities, her father would have to step in. She could hear the phone ringing, but there was no reply. Perhaps he was out in the forest, making his wood sculptures? Somewhere where there was no signal. But if she shouted loudly enough, would he hear her then? At that moment, he answered.

She started crying the moment she heard his voice. It was as if she had flown backwards through time and returned to the helpless creature she had once been.

‘Henrik is dead.’

She could hear him breathing. To fill his enormous lungs required vast amounts of oxygen.

‘Henrik is dead,’ she said again.

She heard him spit something out, perhaps he said ‘Good God’, or maybe he swore.

‘What’s happened?’

‘I’m sitting in his kitchen. I came here. He was asleep in bed. But he was dead.’

She was lost for words and handed the mobile to Wrath, who stood up, as if to demonstrate his sympathy. It was when she heard him tell her father that it hit her: Henrik really was dead. It was not just words and imagination, a macabre game involving visual impressions and her own horror. He really was dead.

Wrath hung up.

‘He said he’d been drinking and was unable to drive. But he would take a taxi. Where does he live?’

‘In Härjedalen.’

‘What? A taxi from Härjedalen?! That’s three hundred miles!’

‘He’ll take a taxi. He loved Henrik.’

She was driven to a hotel where somebody had booked a room for her. While she waited for Artur to arrive, she was never left alone. Most of her companions were in uniform. She was given some more tranquillisers, she may have slept – she was not sure about that afterwards. Henrik’s death was shrouded in mist for those first few hours.

The only thought she could recall from that evening when she was waiting for Artur’s taxi to arrive was that Henrik had once constructed a mechanical hell. Why she recalled that very thing, she had no idea. It was as if all the shelves containing memories inside her brain had collapsed, and all the contents had ended up in the wrong place. No matter what thought or memory she tried to summon up, what actually came to mind was something unexpected.

Henrik had been fifteen or sixteen at the time. She had just been putting the finishing touches to her doctoral thesis on the difference between Attic Bronze Age graves and burial customs in northern Greece. It had been a time of worry – would her dissertation stand up to intense scrutiny? – and sleepless nights. Henrik had been restless and irritable, the rebellious feelings he would normally have directed at his father had been channelled towards her instead, and she was afraid that he was drifting into company where drugs and antisocial feelings were the norm. But everything had blown over, and one day he had shown her a picture of a mechanical hell that was displayed in a Copenhagen museum. He said he would like to see it, and it was obvious that he could not be put off. So she suggested they should go there together. It was early spring, and she was due to be examined for her doctorate in May – she needed a few days of relaxation.

The trip brought them closer together. For the first time they outgrew the mummy-child relationship. He was on the verge of manhood, and wanted her to treat him like an adult. He started asking questions about Aron, and she had finally told him in all seriousness about their intense mutual passion, the only positive outcome of which was Henrik’s conception. She tried to avoid talking ill of Aron, she did not want to reveal her husband’s lies and his constant efforts to avoid responsibility for the child she was expecting. Henrik listened attentively, and it was clear from his questions that they had been prepared well in advance.

They spent two windy days in Copenhagen, sliding around on the slushy pavements, but they duly found the mechanical hell, and it seemed to be the triumphal climax of their expedition. The hell had been created by an unknown master (or perhaps rather a lunatic) in the early eighteenth century, and was no bigger than a puppet theatre. You could wind up springs and then watch devils made out of tinplate gobbling up desperate human beings who fell down from a rod at the top level of hell. Flames had been cut out of yellow-coloured metal, and there was a chief devil with a long tail who moved rhythmically until the power generated by the clockwork mechanisms wore out. They managed to persuade one of the museum staff to wind up the springs again even though it was not officially permitted: the mechanical hell was very fragile and extremely valuable. There was nothing else like it in the world.

It was then that Henrik made up his mind to create a hell of his own. She did not believe he was serious. And in addition, she doubted if he had sufficient technical skill to construct the necessary mechanisms. But three months later he invited her into his room and showed her an almost exact copy of the hell in Copenhagen. She had been most surprised, and felt very bitter towards Aron who was not interested in what his son was capable of achieving.

Why did she think of that now, as she sat with her police companions, waiting for Artur? Perhaps because on that occasion she had felt great satisfaction deep down for the fact that Henrik gave her life a meaning far beyond any satisfaction she could derive from doctoral dissertations or archaeological digs. If there is a meaning in life it must be centred upon a person, she thought, nothing else. It had to be a person.

Now he was dead. And she was dead as well. She cried in waves; tears came like showers that squeezed out their contents then vanished again. Time had ceased to be of any significance at all. She had no idea how long she waited. Shortly before Artur arrived the thought struck her that Henrik would never deliberately expose her to the slightest pain, no matter how much difficulty life was causing him. She was the guarantee that he would never take his own life.

What was the alternative? Somebody must have killed him. She tried to tell that to the policewoman guarding her. Soon afterwards Göran Wrath came into her hotel room. He flopped down onto a chair in front of her and asked her why. Why what?

‘What makes you think that he was murdered?’

‘There is no other explanation.’

‘Did he have any enemies? Had something happened?’

‘I don’t know. But why else should he die? He’s twenty-five years old.’

‘We don’t know. There’s no sign of any assault.’

‘He must have been murdered.’

‘There’s no indication of that.’

She continued to insist. Somebody must have killed her son. It was a crude, brutal murder. Göran Wrath listened, notebook in hand. But he wrote nothing down, and that annoyed her.

‘Why aren’t you writing anything?’ she suddenly yelled in frustration. ‘I’m telling you, something must have happened!’

He opened his notebook, but still wrote nothing down.