Authors: Åsa Larsson
“Extended wound left temple. Do you think that was the first blow?”
“Yes. So we can assume he’s right-handed.”
“Yes. But the murderer carried her a fair way. From the river to the church.”
“How do we know he carried her? Maybe he put her in a wheelbarrow or something.”
“Well, there’s knowing and knowing, you know what Pohjanen’s like. But he pointed out which way her blood had flowed. First of all it flowed downward toward her back.”
“So she was lying on the ground on her back.”
“Yes. The technicians found the spot in the end. Just a little way from the shore where she kept her boat. She took the boat across sometimes. She lived on the other side. In Poikkijärvi. Her shoes were on the shore too, just by the boat.”
“What else? About the bleeding, I mean.”
“Then there are lesser bleeds from the injuries to her face and head, running down toward the crown of the head.”
“Okay,” said Anna-Maria. “The murderer carried her over his shoulder with her head hanging down.”
“That could explain it. And it isn’t exactly gymnastics for housewives.”
“I could carry her,” said Anna-Maria. “And hang her from the organ. She was quite small, after all.”
Especially if I was kind of… beside myself with rage, she thought.
Sven-Erik went on:
“The final signs of bleeding run toward the feet.”
“When she was hung up.”
“So she wasn’t dead at that point?”
“Not quite. It’s in the notes.”
Anna-Maria skimmed through the notes. There was a small bleed in the skin where the neck injuries were. According to Pohjanen, the medical examiner, this indicated a dying person. Which meant that she was almost dead when she was hung up. Presumably not conscious.
“These socks in her mouth…” Anna-Maria began.
“Her own,” said Sven-Erik. “Her shoes were still down by the river, and she was barefoot when she was hung up.”
“I’ve seen that before,” said the prosecutor. “Often when somebody is killed in that particular way. The victim jerks and makes rattling noises. It’s most unpleasant. And to stop the rattling…”
He broke off. He was thinking of a domestic abuse case that had ended with the wife being murdered. Half the bedroom curtains down her throat.
Anna-Maria looked at some of the photographs. The battered face. The mouth gaping open, black, no front teeth.
What about the hands, though? she thought. The side of the hand where the little finger is? The arms?
“No sign of self-defense,” she said.
The prosecutor and Sven-Erik shook their heads.
“And no complete fingerprints?” asked Anna-Maria.
“No. We’ve got a partial print on one sock.”
Gustav had now moved on to pulling every leaf he could reach off a large rubber plant that was in a pot on the floor topped with gravel. When Anna-Maria pulled him away he let out a howl of rage.
“No, and I mean no,” said Anna-Maria when he tried to fight his way out of her arms to get back to the rubber plant.
The prosecutor attempted to say something, but Gustav was wailing like a siren. Anna-Maria tried to bribe him with her car keys and cell phone, but everything was sent crashing to the floor. He’d started stripping the rubber plant and he wanted to finish the job. Anna-Maria tucked him under her arm and stood up. The meeting was definitely over.
“I’m putting in an advert,” she said through clenched teeth. “Free to good home. Or ‘wanted: lawnmower in exchange for thriving boy aged eighteen months, anything considered.’ ”
* * *
Sven-Erik walked out to the car with Anna-Maria. Still the same old scruffy Ford Escort, he noticed. Gustav forgot his woes when she put him down so that he could walk by himself. First of all he wobbled recklessly toward a pigeon that was pecking at some scraps by a waste bin. The pigeon flew tiredly away, and Gustav turned his attention to the bin. Something pink had run over the edge; it looked like dried vomit from the previous Saturday. Anna-Maria grabbed Gustav just before he got there. He started to sob as if his life was over. She shoved him into his car seat and slammed the door. His muted sobs could be heard from inside.
She turned to Sven-Erik with a wry smile.
“I think I’ll leave him there and walk home,” she said.
“No wonder he’s making a fuss when you’ve done him out of a snack,” said Sven-Erik, nodding toward the disgusting bin.
Anna-Maria pretended to shrug her shoulders. There was a silence between them for a few seconds.
“So,” said Sven-Erik with a grin, “I suppose I’ll have to put up with you again.”
“Poor you,” she said. “That’s the end of your peace and quiet.”
Then she became serious.
“It said in the papers that she was a bluestocking, arranged courses in self-defense, that sort of thing. And yet there were no marks to indicate that she’d struggled!”
“I know,” said Sven-Erik.
He twitched his moustache with a thoughtful expression.
“Maybe she wasn’t expecting to be hit,” he said. “Maybe she knew him.”
“Or her!” he added.
Anna-Maria nodded pensively. Behind her Sven-Erik could see the wind farm on Peuravaara. It was one of their favorite things to squabble about. He thought it was beautiful. She thought it was ugly as sin.
“Maybe,” she said.
“He might have had a dog,” said Sven-Erik. “The technicians found two dog hairs on her clothes, and she didn’t have one.”
“What sort of dog?”
“Don’t know. According to Helene in Hörby they’ve been trying to develop the technique. You can’t tell what breed it is, but if you find a suspect with a dog, you can check whether the hairs came from that particular dog.”
The screaming in the car increased in volume. Anna-Maria got in and started the engine. There must have been a hole in the exhaust pipe, because it sounded like a chainsaw in pain when she revved up. She set off with a jerk and scorched out on to Hjalmar Lundbohmvägen.
“I see your bloody driving hasn’t got any better!” he yelled after her through the cloud of oily exhaust fumes.
Through the back window he saw her hand raised in a wave.
ebecka Martinsson was sitting in the rented Saab on the way down to Jukkasjärvi. Torsten Karlsson was in the passenger seat with his head tilted back, eyes closed, relaxing before the meeting with the parish priests. From time to time he glanced out through the window.
“Tell me if we pass something worth looking at,” he said to Rebecka.
Rebecka smiled wryly.
Everything, she thought. Everything’s worth looking at. The evening sun between the pine trees. The damned flies buzzing over the fireweed at the side of the road. The places where the asphalt’s split because of the frost. Dead things, squashed on the road.
The meeting with the church leaders in Kiruna wasn’t due to take place until the following morning. But the parish priest in Kiruna had phoned Torsten.
“If you arrive on Tuesday evening, let me know,” he’d said. “I can show you two of Sweden’s most beautiful churches. Kiruna and Jukkasjärvi.”
“We’ll go on Tuesday, then!” Torsten had decided. “It’s really important that he’s on our side before Wednesday. Wear something nice.”
“Wear something nice yourself!” Rebecka had replied.
On the plane they’d ended up next to a woman who immediately got into conversation with Torsten. She was tall, wearing a loose fitting linen jacket and a huge pendant from the Kalevala around her neck. When Torsten told her it was his first visit to Kiruna, she’d clapped her hands with delight. Then she’d given him tips on everything he just had to see.
“I’ve got my own guide with me,” Torsten had said, nodding toward Rebecka.
The woman had smiled at Rebecka.
“Oh, so you’ve been here before?”
“I was born here.”
The woman had looked her quickly up and down. A hint of disbelief in her eyes.
Rebecka had turned away to look out of the window, leaving the conversation to Torsten. It had upset her that she looked like a stranger. Neatly done up in her gray suit and Bruno Magli shoes.
This is my town, she’d thought, feeling defiant.
Just then the plane had turned. And the town lay below her. That clump of buildings that had attached itself to the mountain full of iron, and clung on tight. All around nothing but mountains and bogs, low growing forests and streams. She took a deep breath.
At the airport she’d felt like a stranger too. On the way out to the hire car she and Torsten had met a flock of tourists on their way home. They’d smelled of mosquito repellent and sweat. The mountain winds and the September sun had nipped at their skin. Brown faces with white crow’s feet from screwing their eyes up.
Rebecka knew how they’d felt. Sore feet and aching muscles after a week in the mountains, contented and just a bit flat. They were wearing brightly colored anoraks and practical khaki colored trousers. She was wearing a coat and scarf.
Torsten straightened up and looked curiously at some people fly-fishing as they crossed the river.
“We’ll just have to hope we can carry this off,” he said.
“Of course you will,” said Rebecka. “They’re going to love you.”
“Do you think so? It’s not good that I’ve never been here before. I’ve never been further north than bloody Gävle.”
“No, no, but you’re incredibly pleased to be here. You’ve always wanted to come up here to see the magnificent mountains and visit the mine. Next time you come up on business you’re thinking of taking some holiday to see the sights.”
“And none of this ‘how the hell do you cope with the long dark winter when the sun doesn’t even rise’ crap.”
“Of course not.”
“Even if they joke about it themselves.”
Rebecka parked the car beside the bell tower. No priest. They strolled along the path toward the vicarage. Red wooden panels and white eaves. The river flowed along below the vicarage. The water was September-low. Torsten was doing the blackfly dance. No one opened when they rang the bell. They rang again and waited. In the end they turned to go.
A man was walking up toward the vicarage through the opening in the fence. He waved to them and shouted. When he got closer they could see he was wearing a clerical shirt.
“Hi there,” he said when he got to them. “You must be from Meijer & Ditzinger.”
He held his hand out to Torsten Karlsson first. Rebecka took up the secretary’s position, half a pace behind Torsten.
“Stefan Wikström,” said the clergyman.
Rebecka introduced herself without mentioning her job. He could believe whatever made him comfortable. She looked at the priest. He was in his forties. Jeans, tennis shoes, clerical shirt and white dog collar. He hadn’t been conducting his official duties, then. Still had the shirt on, though.
One of those 24/7 priests, thought Rebecka.
“You’d arranged to meet Bertil Stensson, our parish priest,” the clergyman continued. “Unfortunately he’s been held up this evening, so he asked me to meet you and show you the church.”
Rebecka and Torsten made polite noises and went up to the little red wooden church with him. There was a smell of tar from the wooden roof. Rebecka followed in the wake of the two men. The clergyman addressed himself almost exclusively to Torsten when he spoke. Torsten slipped smoothly into the game and didn’t pay any attention to Rebecka either.
Of course it could be that the priest has actually been held up, thought Rebecka. But it could also mean that he’s decided to oppose the firm’s proposal.
It was gloomy inside the church. The air was still. Torsten was scratching twenty fresh blackfly bites.
Stefan Wikström told them about the eighteenth-century church. Rebecka allowed her thoughts to wander. She knew the story of the beautiful altarpiece and the dead resting beneath the floor. Then she realized they’d embarked on a new topic of conversation, and pricked up her ears.
“There. In front of the organ,” said Stefan Wikström, pointing.
Torsten looked up at the shiny organ pipes and the Sami sun symbol in the center of the organ.
“It must have been a terrible shock for all of you.”
“What must?” asked Rebecka.
The clergyman looked at her.
“This is where she was hanging,” he said. “My colleague who was murdered in the summer.”
Rebecka looked blankly at him.
“Murdered in the summer?” she repeated.
There was a confused pause.
“Yes, in the summer,” ventured Stefan Wikström.
Torsten Karlsson was staring at Rebecka.
“Oh, come on,” he said.
Rebecka looked at him and shook her head almost imperceptibly.
“A woman priest was murdered in Kiruna in the summer. In here. Didn’t you know about it?”
He looked at her anxiously.
“You must be the only person in the whole of Sweden who… I assumed you knew. It was all over the papers. On every news broadcast…”
Stefan Wikström was following their conversation like a table tennis match.
“I haven’t ready any papers all summer,” said Rebecka. “And I haven’t watched any television.”
Torsten raised his hands, palms upward, in a helpless gesture.
“I really thought…” he began. “But obviously, nobody bloody…”
He broke off, glanced sheepishly at the clergyman, received a smile as an indication that his sin was forgiven, and went on:
“… nobody had the nerve to speak to you about it. Maybe you’d like to wait outside? Or would you like a glass of water?”
Rebecka was on the verge of smiling. Then she changed her mind, couldn’t decide which expression to adopt.
“It’s fine. But I would like to wait outside.”
She left the men inside the church and went out. Stopped on the steps.
I ought to feel something, of course, she thought. Maybe I ought to faint.
The afternoon sun was warming the walls of the bell tower. She had the urge to lean against it, but didn’t because of her clothes. The smell of warm asphalt mingled with the smell of the newly tarred roof.
She wondered if Torsten was telling Stefan Wikström that she was the one who’d shot Viktor Strandgård’s murderer. Maybe he was making something up. No doubt he’d do whatever he thought was best for business. At the moment she was in the social goody bag. Among the salted anecdotes and the sweet gossip. If Stefan Wikström had been a lawyer, Torsten would have told him how things were. Taken out the bag and offered him a Rebecka Martinsson. But maybe the clergy weren’t quite so keen on gossip as the legal profession.