Authors: Erik Boman
by Erik Boman
Published November 2014
Amazon Kindle Edition
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This eBook uses some actual locations and family names, however all events are fictionalized and all persons appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people, living, dead or lost in Hell, is entirely coincidental.
Cover image montage by Erik Boman
Copyright © 2014 Erik Boman
Stockholm, western suburbs
First John hears the scream.
He is standing next to his car, plastic shopping bags in one hand, car keys in the other. Snowflakes melt on his cheeks while he frowns at Molly’s window, three storeys up in the block of flats. He knows it was Molly who screamed; her voice was muted and distant, but it touched him on a level no other sound could.
Then he hears the bang.
A small crack of thunder from inside her flat. Her two windows flash white, shudder, and grow still.
John runs towards the front door. The air is already cold enough to freeze spit in minutes, but a worse chill reaches inside his clothes and in under his skin. People around him stop and stare as he skids on the ice-coated pavement. He ignores them. All that matters is reaching the flat to make sure he is wrong.
A shout, a bang, and a burst of light. It could be an accident, a TV, maybe fireworks. Never a gun. That was impossible. Not here, at this time.
Friday, afternoon, almost dark: The mundane tail end of a routine week. Snow on the windowsills, cars crawling along white roads, purple-blue sky. Trees covered in frost and icicles waiting to drop. Everything in order. Until now.
He is less than twenty metres from the door when it bangs open. A man stumbles out and runs in the other direction. Dark hair, dark shoes, blue track pants, a backpack in faded red. The man’s rapid footsteps creak in the snow as he disappears around a corner. The door swings shut. John is still moving. Five metres left.
Panting hard, he reaches the door and struggles to control his shaking hands while he fumbles with his keys. He should let go of the shopping bags, but he holds on, as if their triviality is a lifeline, a ward against this brutal intrusion.
He gets the key in, turns it and shoves the door open. Stumbling, he runs up the stairs, past thick doormats and wet orange plastic sleds, past rows of boots and pots of wilted flowers. By the time he reaches the third floor, he is wheezing. A cramp stabs at his left side.
Molly’s front door is wide open. Two more steps and he is inside, shouting her name. He turns to the bedroom and stops.
Molly lies on her back across the bed. Her head hangs off the mattress, but while she is facing him, she is not looking at him or something behind him; her eyes are flat like porcelain and perfectly still. Blood runs freely from Molly’s ruined neck; visions of creatures mauled by lions on hot savannahs come to John’s mind quicker than he can push the images away. Red stains cover the far wall: part of Molly ripped away and stored as a grotesque snapshot of the moment of her death.
Minutes pass while John stands still and watches the blood spread out from the bedroom and into the hall. Silence fills him, muting cars and distant voices. His pulse is a remote drum in his head. With rapid and shallow breaths, he pulls the reek of gunpowder into his lungs.
Lying around him are the contents of his dropped shopping bags, bloodied and inert. A bottle of red wine
(same as last weekend and a bit expensive but she loves it)
, a box of organic milk chocolate
(breaking off uneven pieces and watching them disappear between her lips)
, his toothbrush
(hoping he will be able to leave it at her place again)
His eyes sweep around the apartment, drifting from detail to detail. A dress flung over a wardrobe door. Mismatched china on the table. Two wine glasses backlit by a candle and waiting to be filled. A slow drip from the tap in the kitchen. Her blue slippers outside the bathroom. Neon-lit dust swirling in the living room. The mahogany clock in the hall, ticking away seconds as blank as his thoughts.
He knows he should look at the body on the bed; the bedroom is an open coffin lid, and he must inscribe the sight on his mind.
And still, he cannot move. Denial ties him to the linoleum floor while the blood pools around his feet. His attention keeps sliding off the bed in search of a crack, an opening back to normality, an escape to life ten minutes earlier.
Then he hears a new chorus of screams rising and falling, growing in strength. Sirens, coming closer. The sound cements the reality of the horror before him, and finally, he opens himself to the pain and recognition.
But it is too much.
The hurt is a wave, vast and smothering, and it overwhelms him, making him first buckle, then yield. The anguish that follows thins to a sliver and slices through him, guillotining denial from acceptance.
“Molly,” he whispers, and is torn apart.
Part of John stays behind, rooted to the floor.
A cold shoots through his mind as his pulse slows down. The throbbing in his ears gives way to a soft, subdued calm. When his focus is back under his control, he turns to the bed and meets Molly’s unmoving eyes. This time he does not blink. A single ambition rises from the core of his being and lodges itself in his mind. Alternatives and possibilities fall into place, cementing his route.
Careful not to touch the blood, John leans down and unties his shoes. The sirens outside grow sharper, more eager, but he does not rush. One action needs to follow another. One mistake will break his planned chain of events that stretches into the future all the way to the conclusion.
Once his shoelaces are untied, he steps out of his shoes, away from the blood, and into the small, white-tiled bathroom. He takes a green plastic bag from under the sink, opens one of the bathroom cabinets, and rakes the contents on the shelves into the bag: Molly’s razors and lotions, toothpaste, two old toothbrushes, deodorant, tweezers, nail cutters, perfumed tissue.
He goes to the bedroom and switches on the light. Again stepping over the blood, he opens the narrow, built-in wardrobe and takes out a black canvas bag. Inside are a towel and a thick yoga mat covered with stiff rubber spikes.
John shoves the half-filled green plastic bag into the larger black bag, followed by a woollen blanket, a scarf and a compact sleeping bag. He unclips from his belt two rings, each the diameter of a finger and holding dozens of keys. He tucks the key rings deep into the bag.
The sirens are close when he walks into the kitchen. There is just enough space left in the bag for a two-litre plastic bottle that he fills from the tap. He turns to the fridge and opens it. A box of milk, a jar of green olives, salad, carrots and mustard, three jars of hummus, a large bowl of nuts. A steel bowl with soy steaks soaked in marinade. A near-empty bottle of vinegar. Enough food to last him a few days, but too cumbersome to carry.
He closes the fridge and looks out through the kitchen window. The sun has almost set. Past the curtain of snow are sidewalks lined with cars, most parked so close their bumpers almost touch each other. Most of the windows in the three-storey block of flats across the street are dark. Two children are building a snowman while their mother waits nearby, rocking her pram and stamping her feet to keep warm. Below the window, a man in a wheelchair negotiates the entrance of the corner shop. He looks at the shop’s entrance and registers details that never before have mattered.
The sirens fill the air. Children turn and point down the street; the police are almost here. John sees blue flashing lights reflected in the windows. He hefts the bag and walks out of the kitchen, pausing in the doorway to take a set of knives from a rack next to the stove. He slips the knives into the bag, zips the bag shut, steps over the blood, and looks out through the open door into the stairwell.
From below come faint echoes of dropped cutlery and the mumble of news shows pierced by a loud coughing. A power box in the ceiling hums and clicks. The stairwell is dark; no one has pressed the timed light switch in the last five minutes.
He waits for his eyes to adapt to the gloom and then walks down the stairs. Wearing only socks on his feet, his footsteps are almost soundless as he pads down the cool steps, past voices in foreign languages whispering from behind closed doors. He reaches the front door, a thick pane of glass framed in pale wood, and peers out.
The police car accelerates down the street as fast as it can through the snow, its horn blasting as other cars struggle to swerve out of the way. Blue lights flood the street and brush the façades of the buildings. People stop and stare, mesmerised by the spectacle. No one is looking at John.
John opens the door, steps out into the whirling snow, and runs south.
But not all of John leaves through the door.
As his grief scythes through him, a shard of him escapes and falls away, back from the terror, while the world fades like a postcard sinking in tar.
John’s loss wraps itself around him like a web and drags him down faster, pulling him ever deeper, until the fall breaks all his thoughts apart.
Only one sensation remains: an unspeakable, bitter coldness.
Before long, he is only an ember floating down a chasm, the last light of the world lost far above. Oblivion winds itself tighter around him until, at last, he is entirely gone from this world, his soul swallowed by a horror he could not endure.
Or so he would have thought.
“It’s not much,” the officer says to Lena, “but it’s what we have so far. Do you want to hear it now or wait until I’ve sorted the notes? I’m afraid they’re a mess.”
Staring out the kitchen window at the crime scene, Lena Franke does not hear the junior officer’s question. She checks the small clock on the wall. Half past three. Fifty minutes since the first police car arrived on the scene. Outside, the slow sunset is bleeding into dark gray. Soon the sky will deepen into the black of winter nights.
Although she has been on the scene less than twenty minutes, it feels like hours. The deep bass from a nearby party rumbles in the building like a subterranean thunder. Tiredness makes her eyes water. She wants to lean against a kitchen wall, but the forensic team in the bedroom would tell her off; as far as they are concerned, the officers’ presence is bad enough. The sidewalk outside is closed off, but as usual, the blue-and-white plastic tape is a magnet to bystanders trying to look diffident while they hope for a fragment of drama.
A metallic clatter sounds from the bedroom, where the forensic team hovers over the body. In the kitchen, the stench of gunpowder is giving in to the fragrance of incense, spices and tea leaves. The room and its decorations look disconnected, unrelated to the dead woman in the adjacent room. Lena never gets used to the contrast. The cutlery and the teacups, the metal sieve, the bottle of soy sauce and the kitchen towels. All in suspense, ready to be used.
Half an hour ago, Lena had been in her car, cursing the snow along with thousands of other drivers while she was heading towards the city headquarters to wrap up the week. She had pictured a weekend of silence and serenity, hours in the calmness of the basement gym and uninterrupted lines of thought. Perhaps, if she was lucky, even some solid sleep. Then the reports of a shot had come over the radio.
Unthinking, she had flicked the siren on, cut through the traffic, and cursed her way to the suburb. Sleep had to wait. She was in the area and on duty. For some reason, this alert had jolted her badly; she had been looking at the radio when it beeped. In hindsight, it was as if she had been expecting the call.
On her way, she called to make sure no trains stop at the nearby underground station, then roped in three local patrols to search for suspects. They need all the luck they can find; the western suburb is peppered with dark parks and alleys, and hundreds of people have passed the street below since the shot was fired. This search will be a nightmare. Her hope for a good lead rests with the forensic team and the patrols.
Lena glances at Agnes, who stands next to her with a thick notepad in her hands. She has known the younger woman just over two months. A fresh cadet, keen and analytic. Perfect superintendent material. Physically, they are almost diametrically opposite, as if they had been paired to balance each other. Agnes is slim and lithe, Lena a head taller and heavier. While Agnes keeps her blonde hair tied back, Lena’s dark curls escape every attempt to keep them out of her face. Their faces mark the greatest difference: Agnes is pale and freckled, whereas Lena is darker, an echo from her distant Bulgarian lineage.
“Lena?” Agnes asks. “The notes? Like I said, they’re not in order, but we can go over them now if you want.”
“Right.” Lena blinks, stifles a sigh, and straightens up. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Agnes leafs through the papers. “The flat owner’s driver’s license matches the victim,” she says, “so for now, the forensics believe that the victim is the owner of the flat. They’ll know for certain soon.”
“Go on,” Lena says.
“The victim’s name is Molly Marianne Berglund. Maiden name Linden, born in Uppsala in 1978. She moved to Stockholm seventeen years ago, both parents deceased. Unmarried, no siblings or children. She worked at Brunnen Natural Health. She has no criminal record, no debts, no signs of abuse or illegal activities. That I’ve seen, I mean,” she adds.
“I see.” Lena uses her empty polystyrene coffee cup to cover a yawn. “What else?”
“Bad night’s sleep again?” Agnes asks.
“I’m fine.” Lena stops herself from wincing. “And I want to hear the rest. All of it. Have the forensics come up with a statement yet?” she asks. “It’s obvious what killed her, but I need details.”
She knows why Agnes is uncomfortable; they should not be here yet, in the way of the forensics, but Lena wants to form an idea of what happened. For that she needs context. She has to see the backdrop. Agnes would never protest, but she cannot help fidgeting.
Lena is pleased to see a chink in Agnes’s armour of efficiency, but the joy is quickly weighed down by guilt.
You’re a senior officer,
Lena tells herself
Act like one.
The younger officer shifts her papers. “A single gunshot to the jugular,” she reads. “They’re still trying to get the bullet out of the wall. They think it’s heavy calibre. It hit the arterial vein on the right side of the victim’s neck, ricocheted off a bedpost, and struck her bedside clock.”
“It bounced off a bedpost?” Lena asks.
“The bed’s made of cast iron.” Agnes pauses. “What do you make of the shoes?” she asks. “His feet must be frozen solid by now.”
Lena glances at the black shoes in the middle of the small hall. Men’s size, neatly aligned, surrounded by blood. Neatly arranged in the mess, they stand out as if they were signposted.
“He must’ve been afraid he’d leave tracks in the snow.” She nods at the window and the streets below. “A panicked, stupid idea, and one that could help us; being shoeless in this weather might draw attention and make him easier to track. He’s given us plenty of DNA samples, too.”
She turns back to Agnes. “I want the coroner’s full report as soon as it’s ready. Not that it’ll change much at this point.” She pauses. “What’s your own preliminary?”
The younger officer pauses and clears her throat. “Jealousy,” she says. “Her boyfriend caught her in bed with someone else and snapped. Maybe the shot was meant for the other man. Or woman. As far as we can tell, only one shot was fired, but there might have been a fight.”
“Maybe,” Lena agrees.
When Lena arrived at the flat, she took a long look at the body before escaping to the kitchen. Now she thinks about the dead woman again. Sprawled on the bed, on her back, thrown halfway down onto the floor by the impact of the bullet. Her still, questioning face framed by blonde hair. Lena glimpsed purple lingerie under the woman’s black bathrobe. Not expensive, but pretty. Not the kind you wear for work.
Lena looks at the burning candle on the table. The flame dances in a slow draft from the window. She reaches out to snuff it, then pauses and pulls her hand back. The candle had probably been lit by the victim. A tiny, transient legacy.
A voice comes from the bedroom. “Detective?”
“What?” Lena says, still looking at the candle.
One of the forensics, a young man with freckles and a large silver ring in his ear, stands in the kitchen door.
“We have secured two sets of fingerprints,” he says. “One by a woman, another by a man. The woman’s prints are everywhere, so we reckon they belong to the victim. Those left by the man are in many places, too. They’re definitely by someone who comes here often.”
“Any sign of the weapon?” Lena asks.
He shakes his head. “We haven’t had time to search the flat thoroughly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the shooter still has it. There aren’t that many places in here where it can be hidden, at least not quickly.”
Lena nods, and the forensic leaves for the bedroom.
“Tell me about the suspect,” Lena says to Agnes. “I know even less than the patrols.” She glances at her phone. No missed calls. No messages.
Before the night grows much older, that will change; while she listens to the forensic, a handful of officers at the central police headquarters are putting together details and circumstances for the coordination brief later. She loathes those meetings. Everyone available, including her, should be on the scene or the streets, looking, thinking, asking questions.
“Here we are.” Agnes slips out a paper from the back of the pile. “This is from Ola Larsson, a neighbour. His door’s opposite the one to this flat.”
“What did he say?”
“He saw a man standing in the hall a few minutes after he heard the shot. He was looking in the peephole, but moved away when he saw someone there.”
“Sensible man,” Lena murmurs. “So the front door to this flat was open all the time?”
“According to the witness, yes,” Agnes says.
“Did Ola see the man’s face?”
Agnes browses the handwritten statement and shakes her head. “I’m afraid not.”
“So how does Ola know it was a man?”
“He remembers the jacket. Dark blue with white print on the back. He didn’t know what the print reads or the man’s name, but he said a man wearing this jacket has been seeing Molly since a few months back.”
Lena nods. “Go on.”
“Ola also said he’d met the same man several times in the stairwell. One morning he helped the man in question get the snow off his car.”
“Imagine that,” Lena says. She pokes with her pen at a pile of Post-it notes and postcards on the windowsill. The forensic team would scream if they saw her, but clues like to hide everywhere. Especially in the open.
Agnes frowns at Lena. “Imagine getting snow off a car?”
“I meant imagine we’re lucky,” Lena replies. “At least someone has seen him. But Ola didn’t see the man’s face tonight, right?” she asks. “Only the jacket?”
The officer nods. “I’m afraid so. But he’s sure it is the same person.”
“I see. What does he look like?”
“According to Ola, he’s in his late thirties or early forties. Short dark hair. A bit chubby, no glasses, usually stubble. Not shabby, he said, but a little worn. About five foot six. Friendly. Smiles a lot, apparently.”
Lena nods, lost in thought. Chatting with the neighbours, not skulking. That makes the man her boyfriend. “Did Ola mention other men coming here?”
“He hasn’t seen any. I asked.”
“I thought as much,” Lena said. “Although if she were cheating, her lover would’ve kept a low profile.” She pauses. “Did Molly own a car?”
“She had a license, but there’s no car registered in her name.”
Lena pushes a crumpled sheet from the pile of papers over to Agnes, who looks at it and then back at Lena.
“A car mechanic receipt?” Agnes asks.
“Two weeks old,” Lena says. “It’s got the license plate details. I bet it belongs to the man we’re looking for.” She takes the note and walks towards the front door. “Call in and check the number plates.”
“Where are you going?”
“Down to the street. If it’s his car, it might still be here.”