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Authors: Martin Holmén

Clinch

BOOK: Clinch
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For my daughter

 

 

There is nothing here but hatred.

When I check my pocket watch, it’s already gone twenty past seven. I’m standing in the rain outside Zetterberg’s house, where the city’s most fashionable street confronts the back lanes. Here, in the blocks around St Clara’s church, the moneychangers, petty thieves, pimps and whores rule the night. Swindlers lie in wait among the hostels, betting shops and drinking dens for country folk arriving at Central Station, water-combed and in their Sunday best. Within an hour or two they’ve been plucked clean as dead geese.

The rain doesn’t freshen up the air, a stew of latrines, petrol and coal. Where streetlight falls on water, the tram tracks gleam like long knives in the middle of Kungsgatan. A few degrees colder and it would be snowing instead. Hoar frost has lain heavy on the telephone wires for some weeks already. I’m wearing my summer shoes with perforated uppers. My feet are already wet.

‘You can always tell a poor man by his shoes,’ I hear myself muttering, my voice hoarse from cigars and tots of schnapps in my afternoon coffee. Gently I stamp my feet on the paving stones to get some life into my toes. If Zetterberg is at home and my evening assignment goes to plan, I’ll buy myself a pair of proper winter boots. No hobnail boots of box calf leather or any other crap from the shoe co-op. I’ll have nothing less than first-class kid.

The caretaker has not yet locked the front entrance of Zetterberg’s building. Inside, the foyer has a clean-scrubbed white marble floor. A red carpet flows down the stairs like a nosebleed. I get out the letter from the inside pocket of my overcoat and angle it to catch some of the light in the street. My job this evening is about a default on a payment for a second-hand motor. This Zetterberg fellow has swindled a certain Elofsson in Ovanåker out of the full payment for his old Opel. If I can collect the outstanding two thousand one hundred kronor and send off the money within five days, I get to keep fifteen per cent. My advertisement in
Landsbygdens Folk
has paid for itself again. More often than not, the jobs that come in from the country are about some runaway farmer’s daughter or other. Usually I sniff the girls out in one of the cheap hotels, renting rooms by the hour in Norra Smedjegatan or a brothel in Old Town, and then I put them on a train back home. Other forms of debt settlement are almost as common. From time to time a person wants someone beaten up, and I have no qualms about that if the payment is right. A country girl is worth more than a bicycle, but less than a car or a thrashing.

I check the nameplate in the gloom. Zetterberg is at the top. I go back out and peer up at the grey-painted façade. Unless I’m mistaken, the bird has flown. Either that, or the damned bird is sleeping.

I go back in again. The elevator grille rattles forlornly. Someone has crushed a cigarette against the sixth-floor button.

The red carpet doesn’t go all the way up. I take off my fat, boldly patterned tie and carefully fold it, then put it in my overcoat pocket. Zetterberg has a double-fronted door. I bang one side of it until the frosted glass rattles. No answer. After inspecting the lock I know it wouldn’t present me with much of a problem, but if I’m waiting inside when Zetterberg comes back he’ll have
a natural escape route. I thump the door again, this time much harder.

There’s a squeal of hinges behind me, then a whiff of root mash and pork sausages. I turn round. A small, thin bloke is examining me through a monocle. A few beads of sweat gleam below his receding hairline. He clears his throat.

‘May I help you?’ His voice is even whinier than the door.

‘I have a delivery for this Zetterberg here. I don’t suppose you know when he’s coming home, do you?’

‘Not so easy to say. Sometimes he’s late. Some evenings he doesn’t come at all. Usually you hear him.’

The little man taps his ear, as if to indicate that his hearing is still in good order. I stifle a groan. More than likely I’m looking at another late night in the rain.

‘Is he noisy?’

‘I never suggested that!’

‘But it’s not unheard of?’

‘Sometimes he has company. There’s a bit of running round. And I hear his gramophone.’

‘Maybe I can get hold of him where he works?’

‘He’s a driver.’

‘A cab driver?’

‘I never saw him in a uniform.’

The man scrutinises me and opens the door a little wider. He’s obviously the well-intentioned sort, eager for company. Concerned that he might offer to let me wait in his flat, I cut the conversation short. On the way down in the elevator I put my tie back on.

The portico opposite Zetterberg’s building is a perfect vantage point. Finely dressed people under the cover of umbrellas are beginning to assemble on the other side of Vasagatan outside
the Oscar theatre and the Palladium cinema for the early evening shows. Some of the men hold their top hats in place with a hand on the brim. A slim blonde in a full-length fur scolds an errand boy. Maybe he made a hash of it when he queued for her tickets.

A drain at the junction is blocked. Horse manure is dissolving in the puddle, and gusts of wind disperse the sweetish smell of shit between the buildings. Somewhere, a weathervane or shop sign is creaking. The streetlight outside Zetterberg’s place is out of order, and the merchants on Kungsgatan haven’t managed to get their Christmas lights up as yet. The vertical neon sign running up the façade of the Carlton Hotel in the near distance only partly makes up for the gloom.

I get out a six-öre Meteor from my pocket and bite off the end. I shake my box of matches. They used to hold fifty matchsticks, but the number has been considerably reduced in the last few years. Shares once held by Kreuger, the Match King, are being flogged in bulk in the classifieds. I open the matchbox.

‘Not enough phosphorus for an abortion, but it’ll do for Kvisten,’ I mutter and puff some life into the cigar.

Opposite the Vetekatten café, a short distance into Klara, a stray dog howls as a man in a fur-trimmed overcoat and spats gives it a going over with his walking stick. The cur is a long-haired, brown-spotted sort, with legs that seem too short for its body. The man’s got it hemmed in against the wall.

‘Sit, you devil! Sit, I said!’

The man lashes out again, bringing the stick down over its back. The despairing yells of the dog bounce between the walls.

‘Hey, you fucker!’ I roar through the rain and take a few steps onto Kungsgatan.

The decorous gentlemen stops for a moment, his walking stick held over his head, and gives me a good stare. The mutt slips off
across the junction with its tail between its legs and avoids by a hair’s breadth being run over by an old A-model Ford. The man with the stick hurries off along Klara Norra.

I go back to my doorway. There’s really no reason to beat a dog half to death like that. It’s this damned autumn. The cold and the dark get under people’s skin, cause them inner damage.

With my Meteor in my mouth, I do a bit of half-hearted shadowboxing to work up some body heat. I should have put on an extra jumper; I should have brought a crossword. I wonder what sort of bloke Zetterberg is, if he’ll put up any resistance.

A black two-seater Mercedes-Benz, a sports model, glides past slowly, almost soundlessly, with the hood down. The wet street reflects the headlights, enveloping the black car in a glowing cocoon. The youth at the wheel is only just old enough to have a driving licence. Our eyes meet and he gives me a smile of recognition, as if we’re involved in some sort of conspiracy.

I stop my ineffectual efforts to keep warm and keep my eyes on the car for a long time. The engine growls as it turns and disappears towards Norra Bantorget. I don’t notice the woman slinking into the doorway behind me until she speaks in a ringing Dalecarlian accent.

‘Lovely Lucia weather we’re having!’

There’s a heavy smell of perfume and Madeira about her. I turn around. She’s probably not even twenty. Drops of water are clinging to her woolly, bell-shaped hat, like the transparent seedcase of a thistle. The grainy, dark liner around her slanted brown eyes is close to dissolving. Her coat of black serge has been worn to shining here and there. Beneath, one senses, is a more or less full-figured woman with a well-developed bust. Exactly my type. I’m not interested. Women have always thrown themselves at me, a scarred old boxer. Somehow I think they
can sense who I am, and the woman who can resist a challenge hasn’t yet been born.

She smiles and goes on: ‘What are you doing out in the rain?’

‘Waiting for a friend.’

A loud group of boys, gang types, cross Kungsgatan. Their high-pitched voices are already coarsened by tobacco and loud curses. A couple of them slow their steps when they catch sight of me. I flick my cigar butt towards them and stick out my chest.

‘Bloody nob!’ One of the smaller boys among them has drummed up some courage. An uneven oat-blond fringe sticks out from beneath his cap. He’s wearing shorts and long woollen socks. One of his boot soles is secured with a dirty shoelace.

When I leave Sibirien, it’s not unknown for some cheeky brat like this to call me names. Full-grown men don’t dare, nor do women. They get out of my way. They respect me as one respects a dog that bites. In my home haunts on Roslagsgatan it’s a different kettle of fish, of course. Lots of people say hello, some even smile. Last month I was invited to the street harvest party in number 41. I didn’t have time to go.

‘’Cos Harry Kvist was a hell of a bloke,’ sings one of the other boys, who’s obviously recognised me. Involuntarily I clench my fist, and the vein on my forehead starts throbbing against my hat.

Yelling curses and empty threats, the boys are jostled away by their friends towards easier pickings in the adjoining lanes. Spoilt kids. At their age, I was lugging hundred-kilo sacks of salt or sugar in unknown harbours, or shovelling tonnes of coal through the night shift. I light a fresh Meteor.

‘What are you up to, then, you and your friend?’ The girl, again. ‘I suppose you’re off to some do for Lucia?’

‘No.’

An elderly man with a grey goatee and a bowler hat, clutching onto both an umbrella and a walking stick, stops outside the entrance to Zetterberg’s building. He opens the door and goes inside. Could that be him?

‘My name’s Sonja,’ says the girl and holds out her hand. Her nails are dirty.

‘Kvist.’ Hastily I shake her hand.

An Ardennes mare with a cart of empty beer crates passes by, its iron-clad, shaggy hooves clattering against the paving stones. Its body heat radiates like mist. The driver sits stiff as a statue, a dying cigarette in his mouth and the reins in one hand. His other hand is tucked into his coat, like Napoleon.

The light in Zetterberg’s apartment doesn’t come on. The rainwater splashes in the gutter ahead of us. Sonja is wearing snakeskin heels, about as practical in this weather as my perforated uppers. I take a deep drag and blow out a plume of smoke from the corner of my mouth.

‘I work as a dishwasher in a café on Drottninggatan. Or, actually, on Teknologgatan, you could say.’

‘Looks like it’s stopping,’ I say, holding out my hand from the doorway.

‘And I rent a room at Pension Comforte, it’s not far from here. At first I was sharing with a girlfriend but now I have it all to myself.’

I nod without interest. Sonja rummages in her handbag and finds a butt she’s saved, a filter-tip Bridge. While she’s rooting about she starts talking about some blockhead who’s stolen from her and tricked her. I’m not listening. On the other side of the street, a figure walks with agile steps towards the door of Zetterberg’s building. This bloke is early middle-aged, wearing
an elegant three-piece suit, an overcoat with broad lapels and a Borsalino. He’s an athletic type but a few classes lighter than me: welter, or possibly middleweight. During the summer months I can usually guess a man’s weight to the exact kilo, but in autumn and winter it’s more difficult. The man goes inside and, before long, the top-floor light comes on.

Zetterberg has come home.

‘Match?’

I’m startled. ‘Excuse me?’

‘I was asking for a match.’

I nod and give her my matchbox while keeping my eyes on Zetterberg’s place. Something about this whole job feels out of kilter, but I shake off the feeling. The stump of my cigar takes off in the gutter like a bark boat. I loosen up my neck with a few side movements, and unbutton both my overcoat and jacket to create more freedom of movement.

Without saying goodbye to Sonja, I adjust my leather gloves and cross the street. The joyrider in the black sports car glides past again. A sopping-wet man driving an open jig reins in his horse and calls out to me in the rain. I ignore him. I’m looking forward to my little meeting with Zetterberg. If I’m lucky he may even put up a bit of resistance.

I could do with that.

 

The elevator is on its way down. As I’d prefer not to run into anyone, I take the stairs. By the time I’ve huffed and puffed my way up to the fourth floor, my cough has caught up with me. It tugs and rips at the inside of my chest. I lean forwards, my hands on my knees, and spit a viscous ball of phlegm at the red carpet. I stay there until my breathing has calmed itself. I remove and
fold my tie again, tucking it into my overcoat pocket, and resume my climb to Zetterberg’s flat.

This time I use the doorbell.

I hear footsteps. The frosted glass in the door rattles when the lock jams before the door opens. The man standing there has one brown eye and one green. His hair is slicked back, compressed by the Borsalino, which is now sitting on the hat shelf to his right. Judging by his scent, he uses the same pomade as me, Fandango – ‘The hair that stays put all day’. His braces are trailing below his thighs and his shirt’s unbuttoned. He smiles. The first upper molar on the right has been replaced with gold.

‘Yes?’

I peer over his shoulder. An elongated, dimly lit hall leads into the apartment. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else there.

‘I have a message for a Zetterberg.’

‘That would be me.’

I give him such a hard shove that he topples over backwards. He pulls a chair with him as he goes down.

BOOK: Clinch
12.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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