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Henning Mankell

THE RETURN
OF THE DANCING
MASTER

Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson

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Version 1.0

Epub ISBN 9781407017839

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Published by Vintage 2004

10 9

Copyright © Henning Mankell, 2000 and 2003
English translation copyright © Laurie Thompson, 2003

Henning Mankell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in Great Britain in 2003 by The Harvill Press

First published with the title Danslärarens återkomst by Ordfront Förlag, Stockholm, 2000

Vintage
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 2SA

www.vintage-books.co.uk

Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at: www.randomhouse.co.uk/offices.htm

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 9780099455462

Maps drawn by Reg Piggott

Contents

Cover

About the Author

Also by Henning Mankell

Title

Copyright

Map

Prologue: Germany / December 1945

I Härjedalen / October–November 1999

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

II The man from Buenos Aires / October–November 1999

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

III The woodlice / November 1999

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Epilogue: Inverness / April 2000

Afterword

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm in 1948. He is the prize-winning author of the eight novels in the Inspector Wallander series which has been translated into many languages and consistently tops the best-seller lists throughout Europe. His novel Sidetracked won the CWA Gold Dagger in 2001. Mankell has worked as an actor, theatre director and manager in Sweden and in Mozambique, where he is head of Teatro Avenida in Maputo.

Laurie Thomson was the editor of the influential Swedish Book Review from its founding in 1983 until 2002. He has translated many authors from Swedish including three of the Wallander novels.

ALSO BY HENNING MANKELL

Faceless Killers

The Dogs of Riga

The White Lioness

Sidetracked

The Fifth Woman

One Step Behind

Firewall

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PROLOGUE

Germany / December 1945

 

The plane took off from the aerodrome near London shortly after 2 p.m. It was December 12, 1945. It was drizzling and chilly. Occasional gusts set the wind sock fluttering, then all was calm again. The aircraft was a four-engined Lancaster bomber that had made countless sorties over German airspace since it came into service. It had been hit several times by German fighters and forced to make emergency landings, but they had always managed to patch it up and send it back into the fray. Now it was used for transport jobs, taking essential supplies to British troops stationed in defeated and devastated Germany.

Mike Garbett, the Flight Lieutenant, had been told that he would fly a passenger to somewhere called Bückeburg. The passenger would then be picked up and flown back to England the following evening. Who he was and why he was going to Germany, Perkins, his immediate superior, did not tell him, nor did he ask. Even though the war was over, he sometimes had the impression that it was still going on. Secret missions were not unusual.

After being issued with his flight instructions, he was sitting in one of the messes with officer Peter Foster, and the navigator, Chris Wiffin. They spread out the maps on a table. The airfield was some miles outside the town of Hamelin. Garbett had never been there, but Foster was familiar with it. The approach should not be a problem. The only potential difficulty was fog. Wiffin went off to consult the weather boffins, and came back with the news that clear skies were expected over northern and central Germany all afternoon and evening. They plotted their route, worked out how much fuel they would need, and rolled up the maps.

“We’ll have just the one passenger,” Garbett said. “I’ve no idea who he is.”

Nobody asked any questions, nor did he expect any. He’d been flying with Foster and Wiffin for three months. What united them was that they were survivors. Many RAF crew had fallen in the war, and each of them had lost many friends. Having survived was not only a source of relief: they were also dogged by the sense of having been granted the life denied to their dead comrades.

Shortly before 2 p.m. a closed car drove in through the gate. Foster and Wiffin were already aboard the big Lancaster, going through the final checks before take-off. Garbett was waiting on the cracked concrete apron. He frowned when he saw that their passenger was in civvies. The man who emerged from the back seat was short. In his mouth was an unlit cigar. He took a black suitcase from the boot just as Perkins drove up in his jeep. The man who was to be flown to Germany had his hat pulled down and Garbett could not see his eyes. Something about him made Garbett feel uncomfortable. When Perkins introduced them, the passenger mumbled his name. Garbett didn’t catch what he said.

“Right, you can take off now,” Perkins said.

“No more luggage?” Garbett said.

The man shook his head.

“It’s probably best not to smoke during the flight,” Garbett said. “This is an old crate. There could be leaks. You don’t usually notice aviation fuel fumes until it’s too late.”

The man made no reply. Garbett helped him aboard. There were three uncomfortable metal seats in the plane, which was otherwise empty. The man sat down and placed his suitcase between his legs. Garbett wondered what valuable he was about to fly into Germany.

Once they were in the air Garbett banked to the left until he was able to settle into the course Wiffin had set for him. When they had reached the designated height, Garbett handed over the controls to Foster. He turned to look at the passenger. The man had turned up his overcoat collar and pulled his hat even further down. Garbett wondered if he was asleep, but something told him that the man was wide awake.

The landing at Bückeburg went smoothly, despite the fact that it was dark and the lighting dim. A car guided the aircraft to the edge of the long operations building. Several military vehicles were already standing by. Garbett prepared to help the passenger off the plane, but when he reached for the suitcase the man insisted on taking it himself. He got into one of the cars and the convoy drove off immediately. Wiffin and Foster had clambered to the ground and watched the rear lights fade away. It was cold, and they were shivering.

“Makes you wonder what’s going on,” Wiffin said.

“Best not to ask,” Garbett said.

He pointed to a jeep approaching the aircraft. “We’re putting up at a base near here,” he said. “I assume that’s our car.”

After they’d been allocated their quarters and had their evening meal, some of the mechanics suggested they go into town for a beer in one of the bars that had survived the bombing. Wiffin and Foster agreed at once, but Garbett felt tired and stayed in camp. He had trouble getting to sleep, and lay awake wondering who their passenger was. What was in that suitcase he hadn’t let anybody else touch? The passenger must be on some secret mission. All Garbett had to do was to fly him back home the following day. The rest was not his concern. He looked at his watch. Midnight already. He adjusted his pillow and when Wiffin and Foster got back at around 1 a.m., he was fast asleep.

Donald Davenport left the British prison for German war criminals soon after 11 p.m. He had a room in a hotel that served as a base for British officers stationed in Hamelin. He needed some sleep if he were going to carry out his duties efficiently the following day. He was a little uneasy about officer MacManaman, his nominated assistant. Davenport disliked working with people unused to the job. All manner of things could go wrong, especially when the assignment was as big as the one in store.

He declined the offer of a cup of tea and went straight to his room. He sat at the desk and sorted the notes he’d made during the meeting that had begun half an hour after his arrival. The first paper he addressed, however, was the typewritten document he’d received from a young major by the name of Stuckford, who was in charge of the operation.

He smoothed out the paper, adjusted the desk lamp and read the names. Kramer, Lehmann, Heider, Volkenrath, Grese … Twelve in all, three women, nine men. He studied the data on their weight and height, and made a few more notes. It was a slow process. His professional pride required him to be absolutely meticulous. It was 1.30 by the time he put down his pen. Now he had it all sorted. He’d made his calculations and double-checked them. He had overlooked nothing. He checked again, just to be certain. He got up from the desk, sat on his bed and opened his suitcase. Although he never forgot anything, he checked to make sure everything was in place. He took out a clean shirt, closed the case, then washed in the cold water that was all the hotel had to offer.

He never had any difficulty in dropping off to sleep.

When they knocked at his door just after 5 a.m., he was already up and dressed. They had a light breakfast and then drove through the dark, drab town to the prison. MacManaman was waiting for them. He was deathly pale, and Davenport wondered again whether he would be up to the job. Stuckford seemed to sense Davenport’s misgivings, took him on one side and told him that although MacManaman might look shattered, he wouldn’t let anybody down.

By 11 a.m. everything was ready. Davenport had chosen to start with the women. Their cells were in the corridor closest to the gallows and they could not have avoided hearing the trapdoor open. He wanted to spare them that. Davenport paid no mind to the crimes of the individual prisoners. It was his own sense of decency that made him start with the women.

All those required to be present had taken up their positions. Davenport nodded to Stuckford, who signalled to one of the warders. Orders were barked, keys were rattled, a cell door opened. Davenport waited.

The first to appear was Irma Grese. A fleeting sensation of surprise disturbed Davenport’s icy calm. How could this slight, blonde 22-year-old possibly have whipped prisoners to death at the Belsen concentration camp? She was hardly more than a child. But when her sentence had been passed, no-one had been in any doubt. She looked him in the eye, then glanced up at the gallows. The warders led her up the steps. Davenport adjusted her feet so that they were immediately above the trapdoor, and placed the noose round her neck while checking to make sure MacManaman made no mistake with the leather strap he was fastening around her legs. Just before Davenport pulled the hood over her head he heard her utter one scarcely audible word: “Schnell!

MacManaman took a step back and Davenport reached for the handle that operated the trapdoor. She fell down straight, and Davenport knew he’d calculated the length of the rope correctly. Long enough to break her neck, not so long that her head would be wrenched from her body. He and MacManaman went down under the scaffold on which the gallows were standing and, once the British Medical Officer had listened for her heartbeat and confirmed death, he released the body. The corpse was put onto a stretcher and carried away. Davenport knew that graves had been dug in the prison yard. He went back up onto the scaffold and checked in his papers the length of rope he should allow for the next woman. When he was ready he nodded to Stuckford again and before long Elisabeth Volkenrath was standing in the doorway, her hands tied behind her back. She was dressed exactly as Irma Grese, in a grey smock that reached down below her knees.

Three minutes later she too was dead.

The executions took two hours and seven minutes. Davenport had reckoned on two and a quarter hours. MacManaman had done everything expected of him. All had gone according to plan. Twelve German war criminals had been put to death. Davenport packed the rope and the leather straps into his suitcase, and said goodbye to officer MacManaman.

“Come and have a glass of brandy. You did a good job.”

“They deserved all they got,” MacManaman said. “I don’t need any brandy.”

Davenport left the prison with Stuckford. He wondered whether it might be possible to go back to England earlier than planned – he was the one who recommended the return flight be in the evening, in case anything went wrong. Not even Davenport, England’s most experienced hangman, was in the habit of executing twelve people in one day. But in the end he decided to stick with the arrangements.

Stuckford took him to the hotel dining room and ordered lunch. They had a side room to themselves. Stuckford had a wound that caused him still to limp with his left foot. Davenport approved of him, not least because he asked no unnecessary questions. There was nothing Davenport disliked more than people asking him what it had been like, hanging this or that criminal who’d become notorious after being written about in the newspapers. They exchanged pleasantries as they ate, about the weather, and if the English would be awarded extra rations of tea or tobacco for Christmas, not far away now.

Only over a cup of tea, afterwards, did Stuckford refer to what had happened that morning.

“There’s one thing that worries me,” he said. “People forget it could just as easily have been the other way round.”

Davenport wasn’t sure what Stuckford meant, but he had no need to ask. Stuckford provided an explanation himself. “A German hangman flying to England to execute English war criminals. Young English women beating people to death in a concentration camp. We could just as easily have been overwhelmed by evil as the Germans were, in the form of Hitler and Nazism.”

Davenport didn’t respond. He was waiting for what came next.

“No people is inherently evil. On this occasion the Nazis happened to be Germans, but nobody is going to convince me that it couldn’t have happened just as easily in England. Or France. Or the USA, come to that.”

“I understand your line of thought,” Davenport said. “I don’t know whether or not you’re right, though.”

Stuckford refilled their cups.

“We execute the worst of the criminals,” Stuckford went on. “The really monstrous war criminals. But we also know that lots of them are getting away with it. Like Josef Lehmann’s brother.”

Lehmann was the last to be hanged that morning. A little man who’d met his death placidly, almost nonchalantly.

“He had an exceptionally brutal brother,” Stuckford said. “But that brother succeeded in making himself invisible. Maybe he’s slipped away through one of the Nazis’ escape routes. He could be in Argentina or South Africa, and we’ll never track him down there.”

They sat in silence. Outside the window rain was now falling.

“Waldemar Lehmann was an incredibly sadistic man,” Stuckford said. “It wasn’t just that he was ruthless with the prisoners, he also took a devilish delight in teaching his subordinates the art of torturing people. We should have hanged him, as we did his brother. But we haven’t caught him. Not yet, anyway.”

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Davenport returned to the aerodrome at 5 p.m. He was cold, even though he was wearing his thick winter overcoat. The pilot was standing by the plane, waiting for him. Davenport wondered what he was thinking. He took his seat in the chilly fuselage and turned up his coat collar to shield him from the roar of the engines.

Garbett settled in the cockpit, the Lancaster gathered speed and flew into the clouds.

Davenport had completed his assignment. He had justified his reputation as England’s most accomplished hangman.

The aircraft tossed and shuddered its way through some air pockets. Davenport reflected on what Stuckford had said about the ones who had got away. And he thought about Lehmann deriving pleasure from teaching people the most horrific forms of torture. He pulled his overcoat more tightly around him. The air pockets were behind them now. The Lancaster was on its way back home to England. The day had gone without a hitch. None of the prisoners had struggled on being led to the scaffold. Nobody’s neck had been severed. Davenport was content. He could look forward to three days’ holiday. His next job would be hanging a murderer in Manchester.

He dozed off in the uncomfortable seat, despite the roar of the engines, and Mike Garbett was still wondering about the identity of his passenger.

PART I

Härjedalen / October–November 1999

CHAPTER 1

He woke in the night, besieged by shadows. It had started when he was 22. Fifty-four years of sleepless nights, constantly besieged by shadows. He’d only managed to sleep after taking heavy doses of sleeping pills. He knew the shadows had been there when he woke, even if he’d been unaware of them.

This night, now drawing to its close, was no exception. Nor did he have to wait for the shadows – or the visitors, as he sometimes called them – to put in an appearance. They generally turned up a few hours after darkness fell. Were there without warning, by his side, with silent white faces. He’d got used to their presence after all the years, but he knew he couldn’t trust them. One of these days they’d be bound to break loose. He didn’t know what would happen then. Would they attack him, or would they betray him? There had been times when he’d shouted at them, hit out in all directions to drive them off. He’d kept them at bay for a while. Then they’d be back and stay until dawn. He’d sleep in the end, but usually for only a few hours because he needed to get up and go to work.

He’d been tired all of his adult life. He had no idea how he’d got by. Looking back, he could recognise only an endless string of days that he’d somehow or other muddled through. He had hardly any memories unconnected with his tiredness. In photographs taken of him he always looked haggard. The shadows had also taken their revenge on him during his two marriages: his wives had been frustrated by his constant state of unease, and the fact that when he wasn’t working, he was always half asleep. They’d lost patience with finding him up for most of the night, and he’d never been able to explain why he couldn’t sleep like a normal person. In the end they’d left him, and he’d been alone again.

He looked at his watch. 4.15 a.m. He went to the kitchen and poured himself coffee from the thermos he’d made before going to bed. The thermometer outside the window showed minus two. If he didn’t remember to change the screws holding it in place, before long it would fall. He moved the curtain, and the dog started barking out there in the darkness. Shaka was the only security he had. He’d found the name he’d given his Norwegian elkhound in a book – he couldn’t remember the title. It had something to do with a powerful Zulu chieftain, and he’d thought it a suitable name for a guard dog. Short and easy to shout. He took his coffee into the living room. The thick curtains were securely drawn. He knew that already, but felt compelled to keep checking. He checked the windows.

Then he sat at the table again and contemplated the jigsaw pieces spread out before him. It was a good puzzle. It had lots of pieces and demanded imagination and perseverance to solve it. Whenever he finished a puzzle, he would burn it and immediately start on a new one. He made sure he always had a store of puzzles. It was a bit like a smoker and his cigarettes. For years he’d been a member of a world-wide club devoted to the culture of jigsaw puzzles. It was based in Rome, and every month he’d get a newsletter with information about puzzle-makers who had ceased trading and others who had entered the field. As early as the mid-’70s it had struck him how hard it was to find really good puzzles – that is, hand-sawn ones. He didn’t think much of the mechanically produced ones. There was no logic in the way the pieces were cut, and they didn’t fit in with the patterns. That might make them hard to solve, but the difficulties were mechanically contrived. Just now he was working on a puzzle based on Rembrandt’s The Conspiracy of the Bathavians under Claudius Civilis. It had 3,000 pieces and had been made by a specialist in Rouen. He’d once driven down to visit the man. They’d talked about how the best puzzles were the ones with the most subtle nuances of light. And how Rembrandt’s colour schemes made the greatest demands.

He sat holding a piece that obviously belonged in the background of the painting. It took him nearly ten minutes to find where. He checked his watch again: 4.30. Hours to go before dawn, before the shadows would withdraw and he could get some sleep.

It seemed to him that on the whole everything had become much simpler since he’d turned 65 and retired. He didn’t need to be anxious about feeling tired all day. Didn’t need to be frightened of nodding off at work. But the shadows ought to have left him in peace ages ago. He had served his time. They had no need now to keep their eye on him. His life had been ruined.

He went to the bookcase where he kept his CD player. He’d bought it a few months ago, on one of his rare visits to Östersund. He put the disc in the machine back on – he’d been surprised to find it among the pop music in the shop where he’d bought the player. It was a tango, a genuine Argentinian tango. He turned up the sound. The elkhound out there in the dark had good ears and responded to the music with a bark, then was quiet again. He went back to the table and walked round it, studying the puzzle as he listened to the music. There was plenty yet to do. It would keep him going for three more nights at least before he burnt it. He had several more, still in their boxes. Then he would drive to the post office in Sveg and collect another batch sent by the old master in Rouen.

He sat on the sofa to enjoy the music. It had been one of his life’s ambitions to visit Argentina. To spend a few months in Buenos Aires, dancing the tango every night. But it had never happened; something always cropped up to make him draw back at the last minute. When he’d left Västergötland eleven years ago and moved north to the forests of Härjedalen, he’d meant to take a trip every year. He lived frugally, and although his pension wasn’t a big one, he could afford it. In fact, all he’d done was once or twice to drive round Europe looking for new jigsaw puzzles.

He would never go to Argentina. He would never dance the tango in Buenos Aires. But there’s nothing to stop me dancing here, he thought. I have the music and I have my partner.

He stood up. It was 5 a.m. Dawn was a long way off. It was time for a dance. He went to the bedroom and took his dark suit from the wardrobe. He examined it carefully before putting it on. A stain on the jacket lapel annoyed him. He wet a handkerchief and wiped it clean. Then he changed. This morning he chose a rust-brown tie to go with his white shirt. Most important of all were the shoes. He had several pairs of Italian dancing shoes, all expensive. For the serious dancer, the shoes had to be perfect.

When he was ready, he studied his appearance in the mirror on the wardrobe door. His hair was grey and cropped short. He was thin; he told himself he should eat more. But he looked considerably younger than his 76 years.

He knocked at the spare bedroom door. He imagined hearing somebody bidding him enter. He opened the door and switched on the light. His dancing partner was lying in the bed. He was always surprised by how real she looked, even though she was only a doll. He pulled back the duvet and lifted her up. She was wearing a white blouse and a black skirt. He’d given her the name of Esmeralda. There were some bottles of scent on the bedside table. He sat her down, and selected a discreet Dior which he sprayed gently onto her neck. When he closed his eyes it seemed to him that there was no difference between the doll and a living human being.

He escorted her to the living room. He’d often thought he should take away all the furniture, fix some dimmed lights in the ceiling and place a burning cigar in an ashtray. Then he’d have his own Argentinian dance hall. But he’d never got around to it. There was just the empty stretch of floor between the table and the bookcase with the CD player. He slid his shoes into the loops attached to the bottom of Esmeralda’s feet.

Then he started dancing. As he twirled Esmeralda round the floor, he felt he had succeeded in sweeping all the shadows out of the room. He was very light on his feet. He had learnt a lot of dances over the years, but it was the tango that suited him best. And there was nobody he danced with as well as Esmeralda. Once there’d been a woman in Borås, Rosemarie, who had a milliner’s shop. He used to dance the tango with her, and none of his previous partners had followed him as well as she did. One day, when he was getting ready to drive to Göteborg where he’d arranged to meet her at a dance club, he had a call to say she’d been killed in a road accident. He danced with lots of other women after that, but it wasn’t until he created Esmeralda that he got the same feeling as he’d had with Rosemarie.

He had the idea many years ago. He had tuned in to a musical on the television: he’d been awake all night as usual. In the film a man – Gene Kelly, perhaps – had danced with a doll. He’d been fascinated, and decided there and then that he would make one himself.

The hardest part was the filling. He’d tried all sorts of things, but it wasn’t until he’d filled her with foam rubber that it felt as if he were holding a real person in his arms. He had chosen to give her large breasts and a big backside. Both his wives had been slim. Now he’d provided himself with a woman who had something he could get his hands round. When he danced with her and smelled her perfume, he was sometimes aroused; but that hadn’t often happened over the last five or six years. His erotic desires had started to fade.

He danced for more than an hour. When finally he carried Esmeralda back to the spare room and put her to bed, he’d been sweating. He undressed, hung the suit in the wardrobe and took a shower. It would soon be light, and he’d be able to go to bed and sleep. He’d survived another night.

He put on his dressing gown and made himself some coffee. The thermometer outside the window was still showing minus two degrees. He touched the curtains, and Shaka barked briefly out there in the darkness. He thought about the forest surrounding him on all sides. This was what he’d dreamt of. A remote cottage, modern in every way, but no neighbours. And it was also a house at the very end of a road. It was a roomy house, well built and with a big living room that satisfied his need for a dance floor. The vendor was a forestry official who had retired and moved to Spain.

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He sat at the kitchen table with his coffee. Dawn was approaching. Soon he’d be able to get some sleep. The shadows would leave him in peace.

A single bark from Shaka. He sat up straight. Another bark. Then all was quiet. It must have been an animal. Probably a hare. Shaka could move around freely in his large pen. The dog kept watch over him.

He washed up his cup and put it next to the cooker. He’d use it again seven hours from now. He didn’t like changing cups unnecessarily. He could use the same one for weeks on end. Then he went into the bedroom, took off his dressing gown and snuggled into bed. It was still dark, but usually he lay in bed as he waited for dawn to break, listening to the radio. When he noticed the first faint signs of light outside the house he would turn off the radio, switch off the light and lie comfortably, ready for sleep.

Shaka started barking again. Then stopped. He frowned, listening intently, and counted up to 30. No sound from Shaka. Whatever animal it had been, it had gone now. He turned on the radio and listened absent-mindedly to the music.

Another bark from Shaka. But it was different now. He sat up in bed. Shaka was barking away frantically. That could only mean that there was an elk in the vicinity. Or a bear. Bears were shot every year in this area. He’d never seen one himself. Shaka was still barking just as frenziedly. He got out of bed and put on his dressing gown. Shaka fell silent. He waited, but nothing. He took off his dressing gown again and got back into bed. He always slept naked. The lamp by the radio was on.

Suddenly he sat up again. Something odd was going on, something to do with the dog. He held his breath and listened. Silence. He was uneasy. It was as if the shadows all around him had started to change. He got out of bed. There was something odd about Shaka’s last barks. They hadn’t stopped in a natural way, they seemed to have been cut off. He went into the living room and opened one of the curtains in the window looking directly out onto the dog pen. Shaka didn’t bark, and he felt his heart beating faster. He went back into the bedroom and pulled on a pair of trousers and a jumper. He took out the gun he always kept under his bed, a shotgun with room for six cartridges in the magazine. He went into the hall and stuck his feet into a pair of boots, listening all the time. Not a sound from Shaka. He was imagining things, no doubt, everything was as it should be. It would be light soon. It was the shadows making him uneasy, that was it. He unlocked the three locks on the front door and slowly opened it. Still no reaction from Shaka. Now he knew for certain that something was wrong. He picked up a torch from a shelf and shone it into the darkness. There was no sign of Shaka in the pen. He shouted for Shaka and shone the torch along the edge of the woods. Still no reaction. He quickly shut the door. Sweat was pouring off him. He cocked the gun and opened the door again. Cautiously he stepped out onto the porch. No sound. He walked over to the dog pen, then stopped in his tracks. Shaka was lying on the ground. His eyes were staring and his greyish-white fur bloodstained. He turned on his heel and ran back to the house, slamming the door behind him. Something was going on, but he had no idea what. Somebody had killed Shaka, though. He switched on every light in the house and sat down on his bed. He was shaking.

The shadows had fooled him. He hadn’t caught on to the danger in time. He’d always supposed the shadows would change, that they would be his attackers. But he’d been fooled: the threat came from outside. The shadows had persuaded him to look in the wrong place. He’d been misled for 54 years. He thought he’d got away with it, but he had been wrong. Images from that awful year of 1945 came welling up inside him. He hadn’t got away with it after all.

He shook his head and resolved not to give himself up without a fight. He didn’t know who was out there in the darkness, the person who had killed his dog. Shaka had succeeded in warning him even so. He wasn’t going to surrender. He kicked off his boots, put on a pair of socks and took his trainers out from under the bed. His ears were alert all the time. What had happened to the dawn? If only daylight would set in, they’d have no chance. He dried his sweaty palms on the duvet. The shotgun gave him some sense of security. He was a good shot. He wouldn’t allow himself to be taken by surprise.

And then the house collapsed. That’s what it felt like, at least. At the explosion he flung himself to the floor. He’d had his finger on the trigger and his gun went off, shattering the mirror on the wardrobe. He crawled to the door and looked into the living room. Then he saw what had happened. Somebody had fired a shot or maybe thrown a grenade through the big window facing south. The room was a sea of splintered glass.

He had no time to think any further as the window facing north was demolished by another shot. He pressed himself against the floor. They’re coming from all directions, he thought. The house is surrounded and they’re shooting out the windows before coming in. He searched desperately for a way out.

Dawn, he thought. That’s what can save me. If only this accursed night would come to an end.

Then the kitchen window was shot out. He lay on his stomach, pressing down against the floor with his hands over his head. Then the next crash, the bathroom window. He could feel the cold air gushing in.

There was a whistling noise, then a thud right next to him. He raised his head and saw it was a tear gas canister. He turned his head away, but it was too late. The gas was in his eyes and his lungs. Without being able to see anything, he could hear more canisters landing through the other windows. The pain in his eyes was so bad that he could stand it no longer. He still had his shotgun in his hands. He had no choice but to leave the house. Maybe the darkness would save him after all, not the dawn. He scrambled to the front door. The pain in his eyes was unbearable, and his coughing threatened to tear his lungs apart. He flung the door open and rushed out, shooting at the same time. He knew it was about 30 metres to the trees. Although he couldn’t see a thing, he ran as fast as he could. All the time he was expecting a fatal bullet to hit him. It was only a short run to the forest, but far enough for him to think that he was going to be killed; but he didn’t know by whom. He knew why, but not who. That thought was as painful as his eyes.

He barged into a tree trunk and almost fell. Still blinded by the tear gas, he staggered through the trees. Branches made deep wounds in his face, but he knew he must not stop. Whoever it was was somewhere behind him. Maybe several of them. They’d catch him if he didn’t get far enough away into the forest.

He stumbled over a rock and fell. He was about to get up when he felt something on the back of his neck. A boot on his head. The game was up. The shadows had defeated him.

He wanted to see who it was that was going to kill him. He tried to turn his head, but the boot prevented him. Then somebody pulled him to his feet. He still could see nothing. He was blinded. For a moment he felt the breath of the person placing the blindfold over his eyes and tying the knot at the back of his head. He tried to say something. But when he opened his mouth, no words came out, just a new attack of coughing.

Then a pair of hands wrapped themselves round his throat. He tried to resist, but he didn’t have the strength. He could feel his life ebbing away.

It would be nearly two hours before he finally died. As if in a border-land of horror between the nagging pain and the hopeless will to live, he was taken back in time, to the occasion when he gave rise to the fate that had now caught up with him. He was thrown to the ground. Somebody pulled off his trousers and jumper. He could feel the cold earth against his skin before the whiplashes hit him and transformed everything into an inferno. He didn’t know how many were the lashes. Whenever he passed out, he was dragged back up to the surface by cold water thrown over him. Then the blows continued to rain down. He could hear himself screaming, but there was nobody there to help him. Least of all Shaka, lying dead in his pen.

The last thing he felt was being dragged over the ground, into the house, and then being beaten on the soles of his feet. Everything went black. He was dead.

He couldn’t know that the last thing that happened to him was being dragged naked to the edge of the forest and left with his face pressed into the cold earth.

By then it was dawn.

That was October 19, 1999. A few hours later it started raining, rain that barely perceptibly turned to wet snow.

CHAPTER 2

Stefan Lindman was a police officer. Once every year at least he had found himself in a situation where he experienced considerable fear. On one occasion he’d been attacked by a psychopath weighing over 100 kilos. He’d been on the floor with the man astride him, and in rising desperation had fought to prevent his head being torn off by the madman’s gigantic hands. If one of his colleagues hadn’t succeeded in stunning the man with a blow to the head, he would certainly have succumbed. Another time he’d been shot at approaching a house to deal with domestic violence. The shot was from a Mauser and narrowly missed one of his legs. But he had never been as frightened as he felt now, on the morning of October 25, 1999, as he lay in bed staring up at the ceiling.

He had barely slept. He had dozed off now and again only to be woken with a start by nightmares the moment he lost consciousness. In desperation he’d finally got out of bed and sat in front of the television, zapping the channels until he found a pornographic film. But after a short while he’d switched off in disgust and gone back to bed.

It was 7 a.m. when he got up. He’d devised a plan during the night. A plan that was also an invocation. He wouldn’t go directly up the hill to the hospital. He would make sure he had enough time not only to take a roundabout route, but also to circle the hospital twice. He would all the time search for signs that the news he was going to receive from the doctor would be positive. To give himself an extra dose of energy, he’d have a coffee in the hospital cafeteria, and force himself to calm down by reading the local paper.

Without having thought about it in advance, he put on his best suit. Generally, when he wasn’t in uniform or other working clothes, he would be in jeans and a T-shirt. Today, though, he felt his best suit was called for. As he knotted his tie he contemplated his face in the bathroom mirror. It was obvious he hadn’t been sleeping or eating properly for weeks. His cheeks were hollow. And he could do with getting his hair cut. He didn’t like the way it was sticking out over his ears.

He didn’t at all like what he saw in the mirror this morning. It was an unusual feeling. He was a vain man, and often checked his appearance in the mirror. Normally he liked what he saw. His reflection would generally raise his spirits, but this morning everything was different.

When he’d finished dressing he made coffee. He prepared some open sandwiches, but didn’t feel like eating anything. His appointment with the doctor was for 8.45. It was 7.27. So he had exactly one hour and 18 minutes for his walk to the hospital.

When he came onto the street it had started drizzling.

Lindman lived in the centre of Borås, in Allégatan. Three years ago he lived in Sjömarken outside the town, but then he’d happened to hear about this three-roomed flat and hadn’t hesitated to sign a contract for it. Directly across the street was the Vävaren Hotel. He was within walking distance of the police station, and could even walk to the Ryavallen stadium when Elfsborg were playing at home. Football was his biggest interest, apart from his work. Although he didn’t tell anybody, he still collected pictures and press cuttings about his local team in a file. He had daydreams about being a professional footballer in Italy, instead of a police officer in Sweden. These dreams embarrassed him, but he couldn’t put them behind him.

He walked up the steps taking him to Stengärdsgatan and kept on towards the City Theatre and the grammar school. A police car drove past. Whoever was in it didn’t notice him. His fear stabbed into him. It was as if he’d gone already, was already dead. He pulled his jacket more tightly around him. There was no real reason why he should be expecting a negative verdict. He increased his pace. His mind was buzzing. The raindrops falling into his face were reminders of a life, his life, that was ebbing away.

He was 37. He’d worked in Borås ever since leaving Police College. It was where he wanted to be posted. He was born in Kinna and grew up in a family with three children; his father was a second-hand car salesman and his mother worked in a bakery. Stefan was the youngest. His two sisters were seven and nine years older than he was – you could almost say he was an afterthought.

When Lindman thought back to his childhood, it sometimes seemed strangely uneventful and boring. Life had been secure and routine. His parents disliked travelling. The furthest they could bring themselves to go was Borås or Varberg. Even Göteborg was too big, too far and too scary. His sisters had rebelled against this life and moved away early, one to Stockholm and the other to Helsinki. His parents had taken that as a failure on their part, and Lindman had realised he was almost bound to stay in Kinna, or at least to go back there when he’d decided what to do with his life. He’d been restless as a teenager, and had no idea what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Then, purely by chance, he’d got to know a young man devoted to motocross. He’d become this man’s assistant and spent a few years travelling around race-tracks the length and breadth of central Sweden. But he tired of that eventually and returned to Kinna, where his parents welcomed him with open arms, the return of the prodigal son. He still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, but then he happened to meet a policeman from Malmö who was visiting some mutual friends in Kinna. And the thought struck Lindman: maybe I ought to become a police officer? He thought it over for a few days, and made up his mind to give it a try at least.

His parents received his decision with a degree of unease, but Lindman pointed out that there were police officers in Kinna – he wouldn’t need to move away.

He set out immediately to turn his decision into reality. The first thing he did was to go back to school and collect some A-levels. As he was so keen, it had been easier than he’d expected. He occasionally worked as a relief school caretaker in order to earn his keep.

To his surprise he’d been accepted by Police College at his first attempt. The training hadn’t caused him any problems. He hadn’t been outstanding in any way, but had been among the better ones in his year. One day he’d come back home to Kinna in uniform and announced that he would be working in Borås, just 40 kilometres down the road.

For the first few years he’d commuted from Kinna, but when he fell in love with one of the girls at the police station, he moved into Borås. They lived together for three years. Then one day, out of the blue, she announced that she’d met a man from Trondheim and she was moving there. Lindman had taken the development in his stride. He’d realised that their relationship was beginning to bore him. It was a bit like going back to his childhood. What intrigued him, though, was how she could have met another man and started an affair without Lindman noticing.

By now he’d reached the age of 30, almost without noticing it. Then his father had a heart attack and died, and a few months later his mother died as well. The day after her funeral he’d inserted a lonely hearts advert in the local paper. He had four replies, and met the women one after the other. One of them was a Pole who had lived in Borås for many years. She had two grown-up children, and worked as a dinner lady at the grammar school. She was nearly ten years older than him, but they’d never really noticed the difference. He couldn’t understand at first what there was that had attracted him to her straightaway, made him fall in love with her. Then it dawned on him: she was completely ordinary. She took life seriously, but didn’t fuss about anything unnecessarily. They’d started a relationship, and for the first time in his life Lindman had discovered that he could feel something for a woman that was more than lust. Her name was Elena and she lived in Norrby. He used to spend the night there several times a week. It was there, one day, that he was in the bathroom and discovered he had a strange lump on his tongue.

He interrupted his train of thought. He was in front of the hospital. It was still drizzling. It was 7.56 by his watch. He walked past the hospital and quickened his pace. He’d made up his mind to walk round it twice, and that was what he was going to do.

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It was 8.30 by the time he sat down in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and the local paper. But he didn’t read a word in the paper, and never touched his coffee.

He was scared stiff by the time he got as far as the doctor’s door. He knocked and went in. It was a woman doctor. He tried to work out from her face what he could expect: a death sentence, or a reprieve? She gave him a smile, but that only confused him. Did it denote uncertainty, sympathy or relief at not needing to tell somebody they had cancer?

He sat down. She organised some papers on the desk.

“I’m afraid I have to tell you that the lump you have on your tongue is a malignant tumour.”

He swallowed. He’d known all along, ever since that morning in Elena’s flat in Norrby. He had cancer.

“We can’t see any sign of it spreading. As we’ve found it in the early stages, we can start treating it straightaway.”

“What does that mean? Will you cut my tongue out?”

“No, it will be radiotherapy to start with. And then an operation.”

“Will I die of it?”

This wasn’t a question he’d prepared in advance. It burst out without him being able to stop it.

“Cancer is always serious,” the doctor said, “but nowadays we can take measures. It’s been a long time since diagnosing cancer meant passing a death sentence.”

He sat with the doctor for more than an hour. When he left her office he was soaked in sweat. In the pit of his stomach was a spot as cold as ice. A pain that didn’t burn, but it felt like the hands of that psychopath on his throat. He forced himself to be calm. He would go for a coffee now and read the paper. Then he’d make up his mind whether or not he was dying.

But the paper was no longer there. He picked up one of the previous day’s national papers instead. That ice-cold knot was still there. He drank his coffee and thumbed through the paper. He’d forgotten all about the words and the pictures the moment he turned over a page. Something caught his attention. A photograph. A headline about a brutal murder. He stared at the photograph and the caption. Herbert Molin, age 76. Former police officer.

He pushed the paper aside and went for another cup of coffee. He knew it cost two kronor, but he didn’t bother paying. He had cancer and was entitled to take certain liberties. A man who had shuffled quickly up to the counter was pouring himself a cup of coffee. His hands shook so badly that hardly any of it arrived in the cup. Lindman helped him. The man gave him a grateful look.

He picked up the paper again, and read what it said without any of it really sinking in.

When he’d first arrived in Borås as a probationer, he’d been introduced to the oldest and most experienced detective on the staff, Herbert Molin. They had worked together in the serious crimes division for some years until Molin retired. Lindman had often thought about him afterwards. The way in which he was always looking for links and clues. A lot of people spoke ill of him behind his back, but he’d always been a rich source of learning as far as Lindman was concerned. One of Molin’s main lines was that intuition was the most important and most underestimated resource for a true detective. The more experience Lindman accrued, the more he realised that Molin was right.

Molin had been a recluse. Nobody Lindman knew had ever been to Molin’s house opposite the district courthouse in Brämhultsvägen. Some years after he’d retired, Lindman heard quite by chance that Molin had left town, but nobody could say where he had moved to.

Lindman put the newspaper down.

So Herbert Molin had moved to Härjedalen. According to the paper, he had been living in a remote house in the middle of the forest. That is where he had been murdered. There was apparently no discernible motive, nor any clues as to who the killer might have been. The murder had been committed several days ago, but Lindman’s nervousness about his hospital appointment had meant that he shied away from the outside world and the news had only got through to him via this much-thumbed evening paper.