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.
Ebba Segerberg teaches English at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.
Faceless Killers
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Man Who Smiled
The Fifth Woman
The Return of the Dancing Master
Before the Frost
Chronicler of the Winds
Kennedy’s Brain
The Eye of the Leopard
I Die, but the Memory Lives on
Young Adult Fiction
A Bridge to the Stars
Shadows in the Twilight
When the Snow Fell
On Wednesday, 7 August 1996, Kurt Wallander came close to being killed in a traffic accident just east of Ystad. It happened early in the morning, shortly after 6 a.m. He had just driven through Nybrostrand on his way out to österlen. Suddenly he had seen a truck looming in front of his Peugeot. He heard the truck’s horn blaring as he wrenched the steering wheel to one side.
Afterwards he had pulled off the road. That was when the fear set in. His heart pounded in his chest. He felt nauseated and dizzy, and he thought he was about to faint. He kept his hands tightly clenched on the wheel. As he calmed down he realised what had happened. He had fallen asleep at the wheel. Nodded off just long enough for his old car to begin to drift into the opposite lane. One second longer and he would have been dead, crushed by the heavy truck.
The realisation made him feel suddenly empty. The only thing he could think of was the time, a few years earlier, when he had almost hit an elk outside Tingsryd. But then it had been dark and foggy. This time he had nodded off at the wheel.
The fatigue. He didn’t understand it. It had come over him without warning, shortly before the start of his holiday at the beginning of June. This year he had taken his holiday early, but the whole holiday had been lost to rain. It was only when he returned to work shortly after Midsummer that the warm and sunny weather had come to Skåne. The tiredness had been there all along. He fell asleep whenever he sat down. Even after a long night’s undisturbed sleep, he had to force himself out of bed. Often when he was in the car he found himself needing to pull over to take a short nap.
His daughter Linda had asked him about his lack of energy during the week that they had spent sightseeing together in Gotland. It was on one of the last days, when they had stayed in an inn in Burgsvik. They had spent the day exploring the southern tip of Gotland, and had eaten dinner at a pizzeria before returning to the inn. The evening was particularly beautiful.
She had asked him point-blank about the fatigue. He had studied her face in the glow of the kerosene lamp and realised that her question had been thought out in advance, but he shrugged it off. There was nothing wrong with him. Surely the fact that he used part of his holiday to catch up on lost sleep was to be expected. Linda didn’t ask any more questions. But he knew that she hadn’t believed him.
Now he realised that he couldn’t ignore it any longer. The fatigue wasn’t natural. Something was wrong. He tried to think if he had other symptoms that could signal an illness. But apart from the fact that he sometimes woke in the middle of the night with leg cramps, he hadn’t been able to think of anything. He knew how close to death he had been. He couldn’t put it off any longer. He would make an appointment with the doctor that day.
He started the engine, rolling down the windows as he drove on. Although it was already August, the heat of summer showed no sign of easing. Wallander was on his way to his father’s house in Löderup. No matter how many times he went down this road, he still found it hard to adjust to the fact that his father wouldn’t be sitting there in his studio, wreathed in the ever-present smell of turpentine, before the easel on which he painted pictures with a recurring and unchanging subject: a landscape, with or without a grouse in the foreground, the sun hanging from invisible threads above the trees.
It had been close to two years now since Gertrud had called him at the police station in Ystad to tell him that his father was lying dead on the studio floor. He could still recall with photographic clarity his drive out to Löderup, unable to believe it could be true. But when he had seen Gertrud in the yard, he had known he could not deny it any longer. He had known what awaited him.
The two years had gone by quickly. As often as he could, but not often enough, he visited Gertrud, who still lived in his father’s house. A year went by before they began to clean up the studio in earnest. They found a total of 32 finished paintings. One night in December of 1995, they sat down at Gertrud’s kitchen table and made a list of the people who would receive these last paintings. Wallander kept two for himself, one with a grouse, the other without. Linda would get one, as would Mona, his ex-wife. Surprisingly, and to Wallander’s disappointment, his sister Kristina hadn’t wanted one. Gertrud already had several, and so they had 28 paintings to give away. After some hesitation, Wallander sent one to a detective in Kristianstad with whom he had sporadic contact. But after giving away 23 paintings, including one to each of Gertrud’s relatives, there were five paintings remaining.
Wallander wondered what he should do with them. He knew that he would never be able to make himself burn them. Technically they belonged to Gertrud, but she had said that he and Kristina should have them. She had come into their father’s life so late.
Wallander passed the turn-off to Kåseberga. He would be there soon. He thought about the task that lay before him. One evening in May, he and Gertrud had taken a long walk along the tractor paths that wound their way along the edges of the linseed fields. She had told him that she no longer wanted to live there. It was starting to get too lonely.
“I don’t want to live there so long that he starts to haunt me,” she had said.
Instinctively, he knew what she meant. He would probably have reacted the same way. They walked between the fields and she asked for his help in selling the house. There was no hurry; it could wait until the summer’s end, but she wanted to move out before the autumn. Her sister was recently widowed and lived outside the town of Rynge, and she wanted to move there.
Now the time had come. Wallander had taken the day off. At 9 a.m. an estate agent would come out from Ystad, and together they would settle on a reasonable selling price. Before that, Wallander and Gertrud would go through the last few boxes of his father’s belongings. They had finished packing the week before. Martinsson, one of his colleagues, came out with a trailer and they made several trips to the dump outside Hedeskoga. Wallander experienced a growing sense of unease. It seemed to him that the remnants of a person’s life inevitably ended up at the nearest dump.
All that was left of his father now – aside from the memories – were some photographs, five paintings, and a few boxes of old letters and papers. Nothing more. His life was over and completely accounted for.
Wallander turned down the road leading to his father’s house. He caught a glimpse of Gertrud waiting in the yard. To his surprise he saw that she was wearing the same dress she had worn at their wedding. He immediately felt a lump in his throat. For Gertrud, this was a moment of solemnity. She was leaving her home.
They drank coffee in the kitchen, where the doors to the cupboards stood ajar, revealing empty shelves. Gertrud’s sister was coming to collect her today. Wallander would keep one key and give the other to the estate agent. Together they leafed through the contents of the two boxes. Among the old letters Wallander was surprised to find a pair of children’s shoes that he seemed to remember from his childhood. Had his father saved them all these years?
He carried the boxes out to the car. When he closed the car door, he saw Gertrud on the steps. She smiled.
“There are five paintings left. You haven’t forgotten about them, have you?”
Wallander shook his head. He walked towards his father’s studio. The door was open. Although they had cleaned it, the smell of turpentine remained. The pot that his father had used for making his endless cups of coffee stood on the stove.
This may be the last time I am here, he thought. But unlike Gertrud, I haven’t dressed up. I’m in my baggy old clothes. And if I hadn’t been lucky I could be dead, like my father. Linda would have had to drive to the dump with what was left after me. And among my stuff she would find two paintings, one with a grouse painted in the foreground.
The place scared him. His father was still in there in the dark studio. The paintings were leaning against one wall. He carried them to the car. Then he laid them in the boot and spread a blanket over them. Gertrud remained on the steps.
“Is there anything else?” she asked.
Wallander shook his head. “There’s nothing else,” he answered. “Nothing.”
At 9 a.m. the estate agent’s car swung into the yard, and a man got out from behind the wheel. To his surprise, Wallander realised that he recognised him. His name was Robert åkerblom. A few years earlier his wife had been brutally murdered and her body dumped in an old well. It had been one of the most difficult and grisly murder investigations that Wallander had ever been involved in.
He frowned. He had decided to contact a large estate agent with offices all over Sweden. åkerblom’s business did not belong to them, if it even still existed. Wallander thought he had heard that it had shut down shortly after Louise åkerblom’s murder.
He went out onto the steps. Robert åkerblom looked exactly as Wallander remembered him. At their first meeting in Wallander’s office he had wept. The man’s worry and grief for his wife had been genuine. Wallander recalled that they had been active in a non-Lutheran church. He thought they were Methodists.
They shook hands. “We meet again,” Robert åkerblom said.
His voice sounded familiar. For a second Wallander felt confused. What was the right thing to say? But Robert åkerblom beat him to it.
“I grieve for her as much now as I did then,” he said slowly. “But it’s even harder for the girls.”
Wallander remembered the two girls. They had been so young then. They had been unable to fully understand what had happened.
“It must be hard,” Wallander said. For a moment he was afraid that the events of the last meeting would repeat themselves; that Robert åkerblom would start crying. But that didn’t happen.
“I tried to keep the business going,” åkerblom said, “but I didn’t have the energy. When I got the offer to join the firm of a competitor, I took it. I’ve never regretted it. I don’t have the long nights of going over the books any more. I’ve been able to spend more time with the girls.”
Gertrud joined them and they went through the house together. åkerblom made notes and took some photographs. Afterwards they had a cup of coffee in the kitchen. The price that åkerblom came up with seemed low to Wallander at first, but then he realised that it was three times what his father had paid for the place.
åkerblom left a little after 11 a.m. Wallander thought he should stay until Gertrud’s sister came to get her, but she seemed to sense his thoughts and told him she didn’t mind being left alone.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she said. “Summer has come at last, even though it’s almost over. I’ll sit in the garden.”
“I’ll stay if you like. I’m off work today.”
Gertrud shook her head. “Come and see me in Rynge,” she said. “But wait a couple of weeks. I have to get settled in.”
Wallander got in his car and drove back to Ystad. He was going straight home to make an appointment with his doctor. Then he would sign up to use the laundry and clean his flat. Since he wasn’t in a hurry, he chose the longer way home. He liked driving, just looking at the landscape and letting his mind wander. He had just passed Valleberga when the phone rang. It was Martinsson. Wallander pulled over.
“I’ve been trying to get hold of you,” Martinsson said. “Of course no one mentioned that you were off work today. And do you know that your answerphone is broken?”
Wallander knew the machine sometimes jammed. He also immediately knew that something had happened. Although he had been a policeman for a long time, the feeling was always the same. His stomach tensed up. He held his breath.
“I’m calling you from Hansson’s office,” Martinsson said. “Astrid Hillström’s mother is here to see me.”
“Astrid Hillström. One of the missing young people. Her mother.”
Now Wallander knew who he meant.
“What does she want?”
“She’s very upset. Her daughter sent her a postcard from Vienna.”
Wallander frowned. “Isn’t it good news that she’s finally written?”
“She claims her daughter didn’t write the postcard. She’s upset that we’re not doing anything.”
“How can we do anything when a crime doesn’t seem to have been committed, when all the evidence indicates that they left of their own accord?”
Martinsson paused for a moment before answering. “I don’t know what it is,” he said. “But I have a feeling that there’s something to what she’s saying. Maybe.”
Wallander immediately grew more attentive. Over the years he had learned to take Martinsson’s hunches seriously. More often than not, they were proved right.
“Do you want me to come in?”
“No, but I think you, me, and Svedberg should talk this over tomorrow morning.”
“What time?”
“How about 8 a.m.? I’ll tell Svedberg.”
Wallander sat for a moment when the conversation was over, watching a tractor out on a field. He thought about what Martinsson had said. He had also met Astrid Hillström’s mother on several occasions. He went over the events again in his mind. A few days after Midsummer’s Eve some young people were reported missing. It happened right after he had returned from his rainy holiday. He had reviewed the case together with a couple of his colleagues. From the outset he had doubted that a crime had been committed and, as it turned out, a postcard arrived from Hamburg three days later, with a picture of the central railway station on the front. Wallander could recall its message word for word. We are travelling around Europe. We may be gone until the middle of August.
Today it was Wednesday, 7 August. They would be home soon. Now another postcard written by Astrid Hillström came from Vienna. The first card was signed by all three of them. Their parents recognised the signatures. Astrid Hillström’s mother hesitated, but she allowed herself to be convinced by the others.
Wallander glanced in his rear-view mirror and drove out onto the main road. Perhaps Martinsson was right about his misgivings.
Wallander parked on Mariagatan and carried the boxes and five paintings up to his flat. Then he sat down by the phone. At his regular doctor’s office he only reached an answerphone message telling him that the doctor wouldn’t be back from holiday until August 12th. Wallander wondered if he should wait until then, but he couldn’t shake the thought of how close to death he had come that morning. He called another doctor and made an appointment for 11 a.m. the following morning. He signed up to do his laundry, then started cleaning his flat. He was already completely exhausted after doing the bedroom. He ran the vacuum cleaner back and forth a few times over the living room floor, then put it away. He carried the boxes and paintings into the room that Linda used on her sporadic visits. He drank three glasses of water in the kitchen, wondering about his thirst and the fatigue. What was causing them?
It was already midday, and he realised he was hungry. A quick look in the refrigerator told him there wasn’t much there. He put on his coat and went out. It was a nice day. As he walked to the centre of town, he looked at the properties for sale in the windows of three separate real estate offices, and realised that the price Robert åkerblom had suggested was fair. They could hardly get more than 300,000 kronor for the house in Löderup.
He stopped at a takeaway restaurant, ate a hamburger and drank two bottles of mineral water. Then he went into a shoe shop where he knew the owner, and used the lavatory. When he came back out onto the street, he felt unsure of what to do next. He should have used his day off to do his shopping. He had no food in the house, but he didn’t have the energy to go back for the car and drive to a supermarket.
Just past Hamngatan, he crossed the train tracks and turned down Spanienfararegatan. When he arrived down at the waterfront, he strolled along the pier and looked at the sailing boats, wondering what it would be like to sail. It was something he had never experienced. He realised he needed to pee again, and used the lavatories at the harbour café, drank another bottle of mineral water, and sat down on a bench outside the red coast guard building.
The last time he had been here it had been winter, the night Baiba left. It was already dark as he drove her to Sturup Airport, and the wind made whirls of snow dance in the headlights. They hadn’t said a word. After he had watched her disappear past the checkpoint, he had returned to Ystad and sat on this bench. The wind had been very cold and he was freezing, but he sat here and realised that everything was over. He wouldn’t see Baiba again. Their breakup was final.
She came to Ystad in December of 1994. His father had recently died and he had just finished one of the most challenging investigations of his career. But that autumn he had also, for the first time in many years, been making plans for the future. He decided to leave Mariagatan, move to the country, and get a dog. He had even visited a kennel and looked at Labrador puppies. He was going to make a fresh start. And above all, he wanted Baiba to come and live with him. She visited him over Christmas and Wallander could tell that she and Linda got along well. Then, on New Year’s Eve 1995, the last few days before she was due to return to Riga, they talked seriously about the future. Maybe she would move to Sweden permanently as early as next summer. They looked at houses together. They looked at a house on a subdivision of an old farm outside Svenstorp several times. But then, one evening in March, when Wallander was already in bed, she called from Riga and told him she was having doubts. She didn’t want to get married, didn’t want to move to Sweden – at least not yet. He thought he would be able to get her to change her mind, but the conversation ended with an unpleasant quarrel, their first, after which they didn’t speak for more than a month. Finally, Wallander called her and they decided he would go to Riga that summer. They spent two weeks by the sea in a run-down old house that she had borrowed from one of her colleagues at the university.
They took long walks on the beach and Wallander made a point of waiting for her to broach the question of the future. But when she finally did, she was vague and noncommittal. Not now, not yet. Why couldn’t things stay as they were?
When Wallander returned to Sweden, he felt dejected and unsure of where things stood. The autumn went by without another meeting. They had talked about it, made plans, and considered various alternatives, but nothing had eventuated. Wallander became jealous. Was there another man in Riga? Someone he didn’t know anything about? On several occasions he called her in the middle of the night and although she insisted that she was alone, he had the distinct feeling that there was someone with her.
Baiba had come to Ystad for Christmas that year. Linda had been with them on Christmas Eve before leaving for Scotland with friends. And it was then, a couple of days into the new year, that Baiba had told him she could never move to Sweden. She had gone back and forth in her mind for a long time. But now she knew. She didn’t want to lose her position at the university. What could she do in Sweden, especially in Ystad? She could perhaps become an interpreter, but what else? Wallander tried in vain to persuade her to change her mind. Without saying so explicitly, they knew it was over. After four years there was no longer any road leading into the future. Wallander spent the rest of that winter evening on the frozen bench, feeling more abandoned than ever before. But then another feeling had crept over him. Relief. At least he now knew where things stood.
A motorboat sped out of the harbour. Wallander got up. He needed to find a lavatory again.
They called each other from time to time, but gradually that had stopped too. Now they hadn’t been in touch for over six months. One day when he and Linda were walking around Visby she had asked if things with Baiba were finally over.
“Yes,” he replied. “It’s over.”
She had waited for him to continue.
“I don’t think either of us really wanted to break it off,” he had told her. “But it was inevitable.”
When he got home, he lay down on the sofa to read the paper but fell asleep almost immediately. An hour later he woke up with a start in the middle of a dream. He had been in Rome with his father. Rydberg had also been with them, and some small, dwarf-like creatures who insisted on pinching their legs.
I’m dreaming about the dead, he thought. What does that mean? I dream about my father almost every night and he’s dead. So is Rydberg, my old colleague and friend, the one who taught me everything I can claim to know. And he’s been gone for almost five years.
He went out to the balcony. It was still warm and calm. Clouds were starting to pile up on the horizon. Suddenly it struck him how terribly lonely he was. Apart from Linda, who lived in Stockholm and whom he saw only occasionally, he had almost no friends. The people he spent time with were people from work. And he never saw them socially.
He went into the bathroom and washed his face. He looked in the mirror and saw that he had a tan, but the tiredness still shone through. His left eye was bloodshot. His hairline had receded further. He stepped on the scales, and noted that he weighed a couple of kilos less than he had at the start of the summer, but it was still too much.
The phone rang. It was Gertrud.
“I just wanted to let you know that I made it safely to Rynge. Everything went well.”
“I’ve been thinking about you,” Wallander told her. “I should have stayed there with you.”
“I think I needed to be alone with all my memories. But things will be fine here. My sister and I get along well. We always have.”
“I’ll be out to see you in a week or so.”
After he had hung up the phone rang again immediately. This time it was his colleague Ann-Britt Höglund.
“I just wanted to hear how it went,” she said.
“How what went?”
“Weren’t you supposed to meet with an estate agent today to discuss selling your father’s house?”
Wallander recalled that he had mentioned it to her the day before.
“It went pretty well,” he said. “You can buy it for 300,000 kronor if you like.”
“I never even got to see it,” she replied.
“It feels quite strange,” he told her. “The house is so empty now. Getrud has moved and someone else will buy it. It’ll probably be used as a summer house. Other people will live in it and not know anything about my father.”
“All houses have ghosts,” she said. “Except the newest ones.”
“The smell of turpentine will linger for a while,” Wallander said. “But when that’s gone there will be nothing left of the people who once lived there.”
“That’s so sad.”
“It’s just the way it is. I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks for calling.”
Wallander went to the kitchen and drank some water. Ann-Britt was a very thoughtful person. She remembered things. He would never have thought to do the same if the situation had been reversed.
It was already 7 p.m. He fried some Falu sausage and potatoes and ate in front of the TV. He flipped through the channels, but nothing seemed interesting. Afterwards he took his cup of coffee and went out onto the balcony. As soon as the sun went down, it grew cooler, and he went back in again.
He spent the rest of the evening going through the things he had brought back from Löderup earlier that day. At the bottom of one of the boxes there was a brown envelope. When he opened it he found a couple of old, faded photographs. He couldn’t recall ever having seen them before. He was in one of them, aged four or five, perched on the hood of a big American car. His father was standing beside him so he wouldn’t fall off.
Wallander took the photograph into the kitchen and got a magnifying glass from one of the kitchen drawers.
We’re smiling, he thought. I’m looking straight into the camera and beaming with pride. I’ve been allowed to sit on one of the art dealer’s cars, one of the men who used to buy my father’s paintings for outrageous prices. My father is also smiling, but he’s looking at me.
Wallander sat with the snapshot for a long time. It spoke to him from a distant and unreachable past. Once upon a time he and his father had been very close, but all that had changed when he decided to become a policeman. In the last few years of his father’s life, they had slowly been retracing their steps back to the closeness that had been lost.
But we never made it this far, Wallander thought. Not all the way back to the smile I had as I sat on the hood of this gleaming Buick. We almost got there in Rome, but it still wasn’t like this.
Wallander tacked the photo to his kitchen door. Then he went back out onto the balcony. The clouds had come closer. He sat down in front of the TV and watched the end of an old movie.
At midnight he went to bed. He had a meeting with Svedberg and Martinsson the next day, and he had to go to the doctor. He lay awake in the darkness for a long time. Two years ago he had thought about moving from the flat on Mariagatan. He had dreamed of getting a dog, of living with Baiba. But nothing had come of it. No Baiba, no house, no dog. Everything had stayed the same.
Something’s got to happen, he thought. Something that makes it possible for me to start thinking about the future again.
It was almost 3 a.m. before he finally fell asleep.
The clouds started clearing during the early hours of the morning. Wallander was already awake at 6 a.m. He had been dreaming about his father again. Fragmented and unconnected images had flickered through his subconscious. In the dream he had been both a child and an adult. There had been no coherent story. Recalling the dream was like trying to follow a ship into fog.
He got up, showered, and drank some coffee. When he walked out onto the street he noticed that the warmth of summer still lingered and that it was unusually calm. He drove to the police station. It was not yet 7 a.m., and the corridors were empty. He got another cup of coffee and went into his office. For once his desk was virtually free of folders and he wondered when he’d last had so little to do. During the past few years Wallander had seen his workload increase in proportion to the diminishing resources of the police force. Investigations were rushed or ignored altogether. Often a preliminary report resulted in a suspected crime going uninvestigated. Wallander knew that this would not be the case if only they had more time, if only there were more of them.
Did crime pay? That age-old question was still open to debate. Even those who felt that crime now had the upper hand were hard-pressed to pinpoint the moment when the tables had turned. Wallander was convinced that the criminal element had a stronger hold in Sweden than ever before. Criminals engaged in sophisticated financial dealings seemed to live in a safe haven, and the judicial system seemed to have capitulated completely.
Wallander often discussed these problems with his colleagues. He noticed that civilian fears at these developments were growing. Gertrud talked about it. The neighbours he ran into in the laundry talked about it. Wallander knew their fears were justified. But he didn’t see any signs of preventive measures being taken. On the contrary, the reduction of numbers within the police force and judicial personnel continued. He took off his coat, opened the window, and looked out at the old water tower.
During the last few years, vigilante groups had been on the rise in Sweden, groups like The Civilian Guard. Wallander had long feared this development. When the justice system started to break down, the lynching mentality of the mob took over. Taking justice into one’s own hands came to seem normal.
As he stood there at the window, he wondered how many illegal weapons were floating around Sweden. And he wondered what the figures would be in a couple of years.
He sat down at his desk. His door was slightly ajar and he heard voices out in the corridor, and a woman’s laugh. Wallander smiled. That was their chief of police, Lisa Holgersson. She had replaced Björk a few years ago. Many of Wallander’s colleagues had resisted the idea of a woman in such a high position, but Wallander gained respect for her early on.
The phone rang. It was Ebba, the receptionist.
“Did it go well?” she asked.
Wallander realised she meant yesterday. “The house isn’t sold yet, of course,” he said. “But I’m sure it will go well.”
“I’m calling to see if you have time to talk to some visitors at 10.30 this morning.”
“Visitors at this time of year?”
“It’s a group of retired marine officers who meet in Skåne every August. They have some sort of society. I think they call themselves ‘The Sea Bears’.”
Wallander thought about his doctor’s appointment. “I think you’ll have to ask someone else this time,” he answered. “I’m going to be out between 10.30 and midday.”
“Then I’ll ask Ann-Britt. These old sea captains might enjoy talking to a woman police officer.”
“Or else they’ll think just the opposite,” Wallander said.
By 8 a.m. Wallander had not managed to do anything more than rock back and forth in his chair and look out the window. Tiredness gnawed at his body, and he was worried about what the doctor would find. Were the fatigue and cramps signs of a serious illness?
He got up out of his chair and walked to one of the conference rooms. Martinsson was already there, looking clean-cut and tanned. Wallander thought about the time, two years earlier, when Martinsson had come very close to giving up his career. His daughter had been attacked in the playground because her father was a policeman. But he had stuck it out. To Wallander he would always be the young man who had just joined the force, despite the fact that he had worked in Ystad longer than most of them.
They sat down and talked about the weather. After five minutes Martinsson said, “Where the hell is Svedberg?”
His question was justified, since Svedberg was known for his punctuality.
“Did you talk to him?”
“He had already gone when I tried to reach him. But I left a message on his answerphone.”
Wallander nodded in the direction of the telephone that stood on the table.
“You should probably give him another call.”
Martinsson dialled the number.
“Where are you?” he asked. “We’re waiting for you.”
He put the receiver down. “I’m just getting the machine.”
“He must be on his way,” Wallander said. “Let’s start without him.”
Martinsson leafed through a stack of papers. Then he pushed a postcard over to Wallander. It was an aerial shot of central Vienna.
“This is the card that the Hillström family found in their letter box on Tuesday, 6 August. As you can see, Astrid Hillström says that they’re thinking of staying a little longer than they had originally planned. But everything is fine and they all send their regards. She asks her mother to call around and tell everyone that they’re well.”
Wallander read the card. The handwriting reminded him of Linda’s. It was the same round lettering. He put it back.
“Eva Hillström came here, you said.”
“She literally burst into my office. We knew she was the nervous type, but this was something else. She’s clearly terrified and convinced that she’s right.”
“What’s she so sure of?”
“That something’s happened to them. That her daughter didn’t write that postcard.”
Wallander thought for a moment. “Is it the handwriting? The signature?”
“It resembles Astrid Hillström’s writing. But her mother claims it’s a very easy style to copy, as is her signature. She’s right about that.”
Wallander pulled over a notebook and a pen. In less than a minute he had perfected Astrid Hillström’s handwriting and signature.
“Eva Hillström is anxious about her daughter’s welfare and turns to the police. That’s understandable. But if it isn’t the handwriting or the signature that’s worrying her, then what is it?”
“She couldn’t say.”
“But you did ask her.”
“I asked her about everything. Was there something about the choice of words? Or was there something in the way she put it? She didn’t know. But she was certain that her daughter hadn’t written the card.”
Wallander made a face and shook his head. “It must have been something.”
They looked at each other.
“Do you remember what you said to me yesterday?” Wallander asked. “That you were starting to get worried yourself?”
Martinsson nodded. “Something doesn’t add up,” he said. “I just can’t put my finger on it.”
“Let’s put the question another way,” Wallander said. “If they haven’t left on this unplanned holiday, then what’s happened? And who’s writing these cards? We know that their cars and their passports are missing.”
“I’m obviously mistaken,” Martinsson answered. “I was probably influenced by Eva Hillström’s anxiety.”
“Parents always worry about their children,” Wallander said. “If you only knew how many times I’ve wondered what Linda was up to. Especially when you get postcards from strange places all around the world.”
“So what do we do?” Martinsson asked.
“We continue to keep the situation under surveillance,” Wallander said. “But let’s go over the facts from the beginning, just to make sure we haven’t missed anything.”
Martinsson summarised the events in his unfailingly clear fashion. Ann-Britt Höglund had once asked Wallander if he realised that Martinsson had learned how to make presentations by observing him. Wallander had scoffed at this, but Höglund had stood her ground. Wallander still didn’t know if it was true.
The chain of events was simple enough. Three people, all between the ages of 20 and 23, decided to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve together. One of them, Martin Boge, lived in Simrishamn, while the other two, Lena Norman and Astrid Hillström, came from the western part of Ystad. They were old friends and spent a lot of time together. Their parents were all wealthy. Lena Norman was studying at Lund University while the other two had temporary jobs. None of them had ever had any problems with the law or with drugs. Astrid Hillström and Martin Boge still lived at home; Lena Norman lived in halls of residence in Lund. They didn’t tell anyone where they were planning to hold their Midsummer’s Eve party. Their parents had talked to one another and to their friends but no one seemed to know anything. This was not unusual, since they were often secretive and never divulged their plans to outsiders. At the time of their disappearance, they had two cars at their disposal: a Volvo and a Toyota. These cars disappeared at the same time as their owners, on the afternoon of 21 June. After that no one had seen them again. The first postcard was sent on 26 June from Hamburg, stating their intention to travel through Europe. A couple of weeks later, Astrid Hillström had sent a second postcard from Paris in which she explained that they were on their way south. And now she had apparently sent a third postcard.
Martinsson stopped talking.
Wallander reflected on what he had said. “What could possibly have gone wrong?” he asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Is there any indication of anything out of the ordinary in relation to their disappearance?”
“Not really.”
Wallander leaned back in his chair. “The only thing we have is Eva Hillström’s anxiety,” he said. “A worried mother.”
“She claims her daughter didn’t write the cards.”
Wallander nodded. “Does she want us to file a missing persons report?”
“No. She wanted us to do something. That was how she put it: ‘You have to do something.’”
“What can we really do other than file the report? We’ve alerted Customs.”
They fell silent. It was already 8.45 a.m. Wallander looked questioningly at Martinsson.
Martinsson picked up the receiver and dialled Svedberg’s number, then hung up.
“The answerphone again.”
Wallander pushed the postcard back across the table to Martinsson. “I don’t think we’re going to get much further,” he said. “But I think I’ll have a talk with Eva Hillström. Then we’ll evaluate what action to take from here. But we have no grounds for declaring this a missing persons case, at least not yet.”
Martinsson wrote her number on a piece of paper. “She’s an accountant.”
“And the father?”
“They’re divorced. I think he called once, just after Midsummer.”
Wallander got up while Martinsson collected the papers. They left the conference room together.
“Maybe Svedberg did the same thing I did and took a day off without us being told about it.”
“He’s already been on holiday,” Martinsson said emphatically. “He hasn’t got any holidays left.”
Wallander looked at him with surprise. “How do you know that?”
“I asked him if he could switch one of his weeks with me. But he couldn’t because for once he wanted an unbroken chunk of time.”
“I don’t think he’s ever done that before,” Wallander said.
They parted outside Martinsson’s office and Wallander went to his office. He sat down at his desk and dialled the first phone number Martinsson had given him. Eva Hillström answered the phone. They agreed that she should come by the police station later that afternoon.
“Has anything happened?” she asked.
“No,” Wallander answered. “I just think I should talk to you as well.”
He hung up and was about to go and get a cup of coffee when Höglund appeared at his door. Although she had just returned from a holiday, she was as pale as ever. Wallander thought her pallor came from within. She still hadn’t recovered from a serious gunshot wound of two years earlier. She was healed physically, but Wallander doubted how well she was emotionally. Sometimes he felt that she was still afraid. It didn’t surprise him. Almost every day, he thought about the time that he had been stabbed. And that had happened more than 20 years ago.
“Is this a good time?”
Wallander gestured to the chair opposite his desk, and she sat down.
“Have you seen Svedberg?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“He was supposed to come to a meeting with me and Martinsson, but he didn’t show up.”
“He’s not one to miss a meeting.”
“You’re right. But he did today.”
“Have you called him at home? Is he sick?”
“Martinsson left several messages on his answerphone. And besides, Svedberg is never sick.”
They contemplated Svedberg’s absence for a while.
“What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” Wallander asked finally.
“Do you remember those Baltic car smugglers?”
“How could I forget? I worked on that miserable case for two years before we got them. At least the ones in Sweden.”
“Well, it seems as though it’s started up again.”
“Even with the leaders in jail?”
“It looks like others have stepped in to fill their shoes. Only this time they aren’t working out of Gothenburg. Their tracks point towards Lycksele, among other places.”
Wallander was surprised. “Lapland?”
“With today’s technology you can operate from virtually anywhere.”
Wallander shook his head, but he knew that Höglund was right. Organised criminals always made use of the latest technology.
“I don’t have the energy to start again,” he said. “No more car smuggling for me.”
“I’ll take it on. Lisa asked me to. I think she realises how tired you are of stolen cars. But I’d like you to outline the situation for me, as well as give me a couple of pointers.”
Wallander nodded. They set a time for the next day, then went and got some coffee and sat down by an open window in the canteen.
“How was your holiday?” he asked.
Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Wallander went to say something but she stopped him with a gesture.
“It wasn’t so great,” she said when she had regained her composure. “But I don’t want to talk about it.”
She picked up her cup of coffee and got up quickly. Wallander watched her leave. He remained seated, thinking about her reaction.
We don’t know very much, he thought. They don’t know much about me and I don’t know much about them. We work together, maybe over the course of an entire career, and what do we learn about each other? Nothing.
He looked down at his watch. He had plenty of time, but he decided to set off walking down to Kapellgatan, where the doctor’s office was. He was filled with dread.
The doctor was young. He was called Göransson and came from somewhere up north. Wallander told him about his symptoms: the fatigue, the thirst, the increased urination. He also mentioned his leg cramps.
The doctor’s diagnosis was swift, and surprised him.
“It sounds like too much sugar,” he said.
For a split second Wallander was paralysed. The thought had never occurred to him.
“You look like you weigh a little too much,” the doctor said. “We’ll find out if that’s the case. But I want to start off by listening to your heart. Do you know if you have high blood pressure?”
Wallander shook his head. Then he took off his shirt and lay down on the table.
His pulse was normal, but his blood pressure was too high. 170 over 105. He got on the scale: 92 kilos. The doctor sent him for a urinalysis and a blood test. The nurse smiled at him. Wallander thought she looked like his sister Kristina. After she had finished, he went back in to see the doctor.
“Normally you should have a blood-sugar level of between 2.5 and 6.4,” Göransson said. “Yours is 15.3. That’s much too high.”
Wallander started to feel sick.
“This explains your fatigue,” Göransson continued. “It explains your thirst and the leg cramps. It also explains why you need to urinate so often.”
“Is there medication for this?” Wallander asked.
“First we’ll try to control it by changing your diet,” Göransson said. “We also have to reduce your blood pressure. Do you exercise frequently?”
“Then you’ll have to start right away. Diet and exercise. If that doesn’t help we’ll have to go a step further. With this blood-sugar level you’re wearing down your whole system.”
I’m diabetic, Wallander thought. At that moment it struck him as something shameful.
Göransson seemed to sense his dismay. “This is something we can control,” he said. “You won’t die from it. At least not yet.”
They took more blood tests, and Wallander was given dietary guidelines, and was told to come back on Monday morning.
He left the surgery at 11.30 a.m. He walked over to the cemetery and sat down on a bench. He still couldn’t grasp what the doctor had told him. He found his glasses and started reading the meal plans.
He got back to the police station at 12.30. There were some phone messages for him, but nothing that couldn’t wait. He bumped into Hansson in the corridor.
“Has Svedberg turned up?” Wallander asked.
“Why, isn’t he in?”
Wallander didn’t elaborate. Eva Hillström was supposed to come in shortly after 1 p.m. He knocked on Martinsson’s half-open door, but the room was empty. The thin folder from their meeting that day was lying on the desk. Wallander took it and went into his office. He quickly leafed through the few papers there were and stared at the three postcards, but he was having trouble concentrating. He kept thinking about what the doctor had told him.
Finally Ebba called him from the reception desk and told him that Eva Hillström had arrived. Wallander walked out to meet her. A group of older, jovial men were on their way out. Wallander guessed they were the retired marine officers who had come for a tour.
Eva Hillström was tall and thin. Her expression was guarded. From the first time he met her, Wallander formed the impression that she was the kind of person who always expected the worst. He shook her hand and asked her to follow him to his office. On the way he asked her if she wanted a cup of coffee.
“I don’t drink coffee,” she said. “My stomach can’t take it.”
She sat down in the visitor’s chair without taking her eyes off him.
She thinks I have news for her, Wallander thought. And she expects the news to be bad.
He sat down at his desk. “You spoke with my colleague yesterday,” he said. “You brought by a postcard you received a couple of days earlier, signed by your daughter and sent from Vienna. But you claim it wasn’t written by her. Is that correct?”
“Yes.” Her answer was forceful.
“Martinsson said you couldn’t explain why you felt this way.”
“That’s right, I can’t.”
Wallander took out the postcards and laid them in front of her.
“You said that your daughter’s handwriting and signature are easy to forge.”
“Try for yourself.”
“I’ve already done that. And I agree with you; her handwriting isn’t very hard to copy.”
“Then why do you have to ask?”
Wallander looked at her for a moment. She was just as tense as Martinsson had described.
“I’m asking these questions in order to confirm certain statements,” he said. “It’s sometimes necessary.”
She nodded impatiently.