Authors: Camilla Läckberg
Martin gestured again and raised his eyebrows. ‘So what did he find that didn’t jibe with an accident?’
‘Yes, she didn’t have seawater in her lungs. It was bathwater. Or rather
bathwater, I should say. In any case, Pedersen found residue of both soap and shampoo in the water, which indicates that it’s bathwater.’
‘So she drowned in a bathtub?’ said Martin, sounding skeptical. They had been so convinced that it was a tragic yet normal drowning accident that he was having a hard time adjusting to this new theory.
‘Yes, that’s what it looks like. It also explains the bruises that Pedersen found on the body.’
‘I thought you said there were no injuries to the body?’
‘Well, not at first glance. But when they lifted the hair on the back of her neck and checked more thoroughly, they could clearly see bruises that match the imprint of a hand. The hand of someone who held her head under the surface by force.’
‘Jesus Christ.’ Martin looked like he was going to be sick. Patrik had felt the same way when he first heard the news from the M.E.
‘So we’re dealing with a homicide,’ said Martin, as if trying to make himself face the fact.
‘Yes, and we’ve already lost two days. We have to start knocking on doors, interviewing the family and friends, and finding out all we can about the girl and those who knew her.’
Martin grimaced, and Patrik understood his reaction. This wasn’t going to be fun. The family was already devastated, and now the police would have to go in and stir everything up again. All too often, children were murdered by someone closest to them. So Patrik and Martin couldn’t even display the sympathy that would normally be expected when meeting with a family that had lost a child.
‘Have you been in to see Mellberg yet?’
‘No,’ Patrik sighed. ‘But I’m going there now. Since we were the ones who took the call the other day, I thought I’d ask you to join me in conducting the investigation. Do you have any objections?’ He knew that the question was merely rhetorical. Neither of them wanted to see their colleagues Ernst Lundgren or Gösta Flygare be put in charge of anything more challenging than bicycle thefts.
Martin nodded curtly in reply.
‘Okay,’ said Patrik, ‘then we might as well get it over with.’
Superintendent Mellberg looked at the letter as if it were a poisonous snake. This was one of the worst things that could have happened to him. Even that mortifying incident with Irina last summer paled in comparison.
Tiny beads of sweat had formed on his brow, although the temperature in his office was rather cool. Mellberg wiped off the sweat distractedly and managed to dislodge the few strands left of his hair, which he had carefully wound in a nest atop his bald head. Annoyed, he was trying to put everything back in place when there was a knock on the door. He gave his hair one last pat and called out a surly ‘Come in!’
Hedström seemed unperturbed by Mellberg’s tone of voice, but he had an uncommonly serious look on his face, not his usual good cheer. In Mellberg’s opinion, Patrik too often displayed a distasteful lack of decorum. He preferred working with men like Ernst Lundgren, who always treated their superiors with the respect they deserved. With Hedström, he always had the feeling that the detective might stick his tongue out as soon as he turned his back. But time would separate the wheat from the chaff, Mellberg thought sternly. With his long experience in police work, he knew that the guys who were too soft and the ones who joked around always broke first.
For a second he had managed to forget the contents of the letter, but when Hedström sat down in the chair across his desk Mellberg remembered that it was lying there in full view. He quickly slipped the letter into his top drawer. He would have to deal with that matter soon enough.
‘So, what’s going on?’ Mellberg could hear his voice quavering a bit from the shock of the letter, before he could bring it under control. Never show weakness—that was his motto. If he exposed his throat to his subordinates, they would soon sink their teeth into it.
‘A homicide,’ Patrik said tensely.
‘What now?’ Mellberg sighed. ‘Has one of our old iron-fisted acquaintances managed to hit his wife in the head a little too hard?’
Hedström’s face was still unusually resolute. ‘No,’ he said, ‘it’s about the drowning accident the other day. It turns out that it wasn’t an accident after all. The girl was murdered.’
Mellberg gave a low whistle. ‘You don’t say, you don’t say,’ he murmured, doing rapid calculations in his head. Crimes against children always upset him, but he was also trying to work out how this unexpected development would affect him in his capacity as police chief of Tanumshede. There were two ways to look at it: either as a damned lot of extra work and administration, or as a means of advancing his career that might get him back to the excitement of the big city, Göteborg. It was true that so far, the successful conclusion of the two homicide investigations he had been involved with had not yielded the desired effect. But sooner or later something would convince his superiors that he belonged back at the main station. Perhaps this was just the ticket.
He realized that Hedström was waiting for some response from him, so he hastily added, ‘You mean someone murdered a child? Well, that pervert isn’t going to get away with it.’ Mellberg clenched his fist to stress the gravity of his words, but that only made Patrik look worried.
‘Don’t you want to know the cause of death?’ Hedström asked, as if wanting to lend him a helping hand. Mellberg found his tone of voice extremely irritating.
‘Of course, I was just getting to that. So, what did the M.E. say?’
‘She drowned, but not in the sea. They found only fresh water in her lungs, and since they also found residue of soap and such things, Pedersen assumes it was probably bathwater. So the girl, Sara, was drowned indoors in a bathtub and then carried down to the sea and thrown in. It was an attempt to make it look like an accident.’
The image that Hedström’s account conjured up in Mellberg’s mind made the chief shiver, and for a moment he forgot all about his own chances of promotion. He assumed he’d seen just about everything during his years on the force. He was proud of being able to maintain a sense of objectivity, but there was something about the murder of children that made it impossible to remain unmoved. It crossed the boundaries of all decency to attack a little girl. The indignation was unfamiliar but, he actually had to admit, quite pleasant.
‘No obvious perpetrator?’ he asked.
Hedström shook his head. ‘No, we don’t know of any problems in the family, and there have been no other reported attacks on children in Fjällbacka. Nothing like this. So we should probably start by interviewing the family, don’t you agree?’ asked Patrik helpfully.
Mellberg understood at once what he was getting at. He had no objections. It had worked fine in the past to let Hedström do the legwork, and then he could step into the spotlight when the case was resolved. Not that it was anything to be ashamed of. After all, knowing how to delegate responsibilities was the key to successful leadership.
‘It sounds as though you’d like to head up this investigation.’
‘Yes, I’m actually already on the case because Martin and I responded to the call when it came in, and we’ve met with the girl’s family.’
‘Well, that sounds like a good idea, then,’ Mellberg said, nodding in agreement. ‘Just see that you keep me informed.’
‘All right,’ said Hedström with a nod, ‘then Martin and I will get going on it.’
‘Martin?’ snapped Mellberg ominously. He was still irritated at the lack of respect in Patrik’s voice and now saw a chance to put him in his place. Sometimes Hedström acted as if he was the chief of this station. He needed to remind him who made the decisions around here.
‘No, I don’t think I can spare Martin at the moment. I assigned him to investigate a series of car thefts yesterday, possibly a Baltic gang operating in the area, so he’s got plenty to do. But …’ he paused for dramatic effect, enjoying the distressed look on Hedström’s face, ‘Ernst doesn’t have that much work right now, so it would probably be good if you two worked on this case together.’ Now Patrik had started squirming as if in agony, and Mellberg knew that he’d hit him in a vulnerable spot. But even though Ernst Lundgren was a more pleasant colleague to deal with, Mellberg was smart enough to realize that the guy had certain limitations. It would be stupid to shoot himself in the foot … He decided to assuage Hedström’s agony a bit. ‘But I’m putting you in charge of the investigation, so Lundgren will report directly to you.’
As soon as the door closed behind Hedström, Mellberg took out the letter again and read it for at least the tenth time.
Morgan did a few stretching exercises with his fingers and shoulders before he sat down in front of the computer. He knew that sometimes he could disappear so deeply into the world before him that he might not move for hours. He checked carefully that he had everything he needed, so that he wouldn’t have to get up unless it was absolutely necessary. A big bottle of Coke, a big Heath bar, and a big Snickers. That would keep him going for a while.
The binder from Fredrik was lying heavily in his lap. It contained everything he needed to know. The whole fantasy world he himself was unable to create was gathered there inside the binder’s stiff covers and would soon be converted into ones and zeros. That was something he had mastered, while emotions, imagination, dreams, and fairy tales had by a caprice of nature never found space in his brain. Instead he was a wizard at the logical, the elegantly predictable in ones and zeros, the tiny electrical impulses in the computer that were converted into something visible on the screen.
Sometimes he wondered how it would feel to do what Fredrik was able to do. Plucking other worlds out of his brain, summoning up other people’s feelings and entering into their lives. Most often Morgan dismissed such skills as unimportant. But during the deep depressions that sometimes struck him, he occasionally felt the full weight of his handicap and despaired that he was so different from everyone else.
Still, it was a consolation to know that he was not alone. He often visited the Web sites of people who were like him, and he had exchanged e-mails with others. On one occasion he had even gone to meet one of them in Göteborg, but he wouldn’t be doing that again. The fact that they were so essentially different from other people made it hard for people like him to relate even to each other, and the meeting had been a failure from beginning to end.
But it had still been great to find out that there were others. That knowledge was enough. He actually felt no longing for the sense of community that seemed to be so important for ordinary people. He did best when he was all alone in the little cabin with only his computers to keep him company. Sometimes he tolerated his parents’ company, but they were the only ones. It was safe to spend time with them. He’d had many years to learn to read them, to interpret all their complex nonverbal communications, the facial expressions and body language and thousands of other tiny signals that his brain simply didn’t seem designed to handle. They had also learned to adapt themselves to him, to speak in a way that he could understand well enough.
The screen before him was blank and waiting. This was the moment he liked best. Ordinary people might say that they ‘loved’ such a moment, but he wasn’t really sure what ‘to love’ involved. But maybe it was what he felt right now. That inner feeling of satisfaction, of belonging, of being normal.
Morgan began to type, his fingers racing over the keyboard. Once in a while he glanced down at the binder on his lap, but most often his gaze was fixed on the screen. It always amazed him that his coordination problems miraculously disappeared whenever he was working. Suddenly he was just as dexterous and sure of his hands as he always should have been. They called it ‘deficient motor skills,’ his inability to make his fingers move properly when he had to tie his shoes or button his shirt. He knew that was part of the diagnosis. He understood precisely what made him different from the others, but he couldn’t do anything to change the situation. For that matter, he thought it was wrong to call the others ‘normal’ while people like him were dubbed ‘abnormal.’ Actually it was only societal preconceptions that landed him in the wrong group. He was just—different. His thought processes simply moved in other directions. They weren’t necessarily worse, but different.
He paused to take a swig of Coca-Cola straight out of the bottle, then his fingers moved rapidly over the keys again.
Morgan was content.
Anders lay on the bed with his hands clasped behind his head, staring at the ceiling. It was already late, and as always the weight of the long day’s work lay heavy in his limbs. But this evening he couldn’t relax. The thoughts buzzing in his head made him feel like he was trying to sleep amid a swarm of flies.
The meeting about the memorial stone had gone well, which was a relief. He knew the job would be a challenge, and as he lay there he ran through the different approaches, trying to decide on the best way to proceed. He already knew where he would get the stone. In the southwest corner of the quarry there was a sizeable cliff that was as yet untouched, and he estimated it would give him a large, fine piece of granite, without the defects that cause cracks.
But the other thing he couldn’t stop thinking about, as hard as he tried, was the girl with the dark hair and blue eyes. He knew girls like that were not for someone like him, but he couldn’t help it. When she offered him her little hand, he’d had to force himself to release it at once, because with each second that her skin touched his, he felt it more difficult to let go. The whole meeting, her presence had tormented him. The hands on the wall clock had crept along, and every minute he’d had to restrain himself from turning round to look at her as she sat so quietly in the corner.
He’d never seen anything so beautiful. None of the girls he had known could even be mentioned in the same breath. This girl belonged to a whole other world. He sighed and turned on his side, trying to force himself to sleep. The new work-day would begin at five o’clock, just like every other day, and it didn’t care whether he had lain awake all night or not.