Read The Final Word Online

Authors: Liza Marklund

The Final Word

About the Author

Annika Bengtzon has spent her career telling stories that need to be heard.

As a journalist, she’s always been at the front line of criminal reporting, alongside the investigating officers. And now a court case that she’s been reporting on – the savage murder of a homeless man – has begun to attract a lot of attention. With the stakes rising by the day, Annika is once again flung to the heart of a complex case.

But nagging at the back of her mind is her sister’s mysterious absence. After a series of anxious text messages, she’s not heard another word. In the midst of a tense public situation, Annika’s own complicated past looks set to rear its head.

Some voices refuse to be silenced.

Liza Marklund
Translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith

This was the last body.

It was a powerful feeling, a sort of farewell. The setting was beautiful, in its barren, unassuming way, and over the course of time it had become almost sacred: the rough moraine, the shimmering trunks of the dry pines, the birch with its mouse-ear leaves.

Already eight had ended up here, and this was the ninth. He remembered them all, not so much their faces as their tones, their frequencies, the vibration that had been their lifeline. No more now.

He looked down at the last body. Jeans and trainers, a shirt, belt, brown jacket. A perfect example of
Homo sapiens
. He’d had the chance to get to know this one: they’d spent some time together. Nice clothes. Every now and then he felt sad that he’d had to eliminate them, all their lovely belongings, given that he had been brought up to be thrifty, to look after the Earth’s resources in a humble and responsible way.

He glanced up at the sky. It was so low here, near
to the Arctic Circle, the clouds skimming just above people’s heads, combing their eyebrows. Soon the sun wouldn’t be going down, not until autumn when the cold bit the leaves off the trees and the Russian winter rolled in from the east.

He missed his brother. All their lives they had been mirror images of each other, sharing thoughts and feelings, but now he sensed the abyss. He kept himself updated about developments in the high-security courtroom, but the loneliness tormented him, and he was no good at dealing with pain.

He wiped the slaughter mask on the moss.

He would have to share the pain.

‘You had a breakdown,’ the psychologist said. ‘That’s what happened, isn’t it?’

Annika Bengtzon squirmed in the armchair. She felt too skinny and sharp for the clumsy piece of furniture. She was holding on to its arms to stop herself drowning, could feel that her palms were sticky. How many others had sat there in a cold sweat, leaving their angst-ridden excretions in the rough fabric? She snatched her hands away from the armrests and clasped them tightly in her lap. ‘I’ve been to the health centre, and occupational health,’ she said, ‘and they examined me all over. There’s nothing physically wrong with me, so . . . Jimmy, my partner, suggested I come here.’

‘It wasn’t your decision?’

Annika glanced at the woman on the other side of the wooden table, her face as neutral as her voice and haircut. What was she really thinking? That Annika was ridiculous for making an appointment to see her? That she was using up time that could have been spent with
someone who really needed it? Or was she just interested in the fee?

Annika reached for the glass of water on the table between them and drank some. There was a box of tissues beside it. Was she supposed to cry? ‘I’ve got to do something because I frighten the children. Or I did, that one time.’

‘When they found you having a panic attack?’

Annika shifted in the chair again. She couldn’t find a comfortable position, so she gave up and tried to relax.

‘Can you tell me what happened?’

The ceiling light reflected off the psychologist’s glasses. This was just an ordinary day at work for her – maybe she’d have lasagne for lunch, go for a walk and pick up her dry-cleaning.

‘I . . . It was in the hall. I collapsed, couldn’t breathe. Everything went black . . . It was just as Serena and Jacob got home from school – they’re Jimmy’s children. They called an ambulance.’ She drank some more water. ‘When it arrived I sent it away again.’

‘You knew what had happened to you?’

The darkness, shadows swirling, snatching the air . . . Her hands were burning, her eyes stung, her legs had given way and the oxygen had run out. Then the darkness had swallowed her. But she hadn’t died. She cleared her throat. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.’

‘Do you know what panic disorder is?’

Oh, yes. She’d googled it secretly. Normal, healthy
people weren’t tormented by darkness and ghosts. ‘My life’s all sorted now. I don’t feel bad. I’m not depressed, really not.’

‘People can be depressed without being aware of it,’ the psychologist said. ‘A lot of people who have a panic attack think it’s their heart and end up in A and E.’

‘But why has it got worse?’ Annika looked out of the window. It had been raining all morning, and water was still trickling down the pane. ‘My life has never been so good. Jimmy and I have a great relationship, we have the kids, I’m happy at work, my ex-husband is behaving himself. I’ve even become friendly with Sophia, the woman he had an affair with . . .’

‘So what do you think is going on?’

Anger flared. Was she supposed to come up with all the answers? What was she paying the woman for? Her jaw tensed.

‘Your father died when you were a teenager,’ the psychologist went on, leafing through her notes. ‘Were you close to him?’

Annika rubbed her hands on her jeans. ‘That was such a long time ago, more than twenty years now.’

The room fell silent. The traffic in the street outside roared. The tissue sticking out of the box trembled in an almost imperceptible draught. The cover of the armchair was scratching her back.

‘But your mother’s still alive? How is your relationship with her?’

Annika looked at her watch. ‘When can I leave?’

The psychologist leaned back in her chair. ‘We can stop now, if you like.’

Annika stayed where she was. Was she being thrown out? Even though she was paying eleven hundred kronor for an hour? ‘Do you want me to go?’

The psychologist glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘We still have some time. It’s up to you whether you choose to stay or leave.’

The room shrank.

The woman smiled at her. ‘I’d like you to stay.’

The sound of the traffic faded.

Annika steeled herself. ‘She . . . my mother doesn’t like me.’

‘Why do you think that?’

‘She and my father had to get married because of me. She couldn’t go to art school and she’s never forgiven me.’

The psychologist looked at her for a few moments, then at her notes. ‘You have a sister – Birgitta? Do you get on well?’

Annika tried to smile. ‘When she gave birth, I found out about it on Facebook. I didn’t even know she was pregnant.’

‘Has it always been like that?’

‘We shared a room when we were growing up, but now I don’t even know where she lives.’

The psychologist jotted something on her little pad. ‘When you filled in the form, under “Additional Information” you wrote that you were convicted of a criminal
offence fifteen years ago. Do you want to say any more about that?’

The room shrank even further.

‘Causing another person’s death. Two years’ probation. My boyfriend, Sven. It was . . . well, it was an accident, you could say.’

The words bounced around the little room.

The psychologist didn’t react. ‘How does it make you feel when you talk about it?’

A siren went off inside Annika’s head, a loud, persistent sound. ‘Nothing much. Fifteen years is a long time.’

If she could only switch off the noise she’d be able to speak. If she could make her inner self more compact than the darkness outside, she’d be able to breathe.

Evening Post
’s main newsroom was bathed in its usual bluish light. Annika could see Berit Hamrin sitting at her computer, and the tension evaporated, leaving her with just a trace of a headache. She had spent most of her waking hours over the past fifteen years in this room, on an endless hunt for what had happened or might happen, and for most of that time her colleague Berit had occupied the chair next to hers.

She dropped her bag next to the desk she and Berit shared, pulled off her jacket and tossed it over the arm of her chair. Berit was older, had grown-up children and lived on a farm in the country with her husband.

‘How’s the Twitter row going?’ Annika asked.

Berit let out a deep sigh. ‘The TV woman has apologized
for her attack on the soap star in the latest tweet, and the soap star has accepted the apology in a new post on Facebook.’

The psychologist’s room slid away and dissolved. The darkness around her, the darkness that swallowed and suffocated her, withdrew to the corners. In the newsroom it almost always stayed in its place. Here, her world was clear and comprehensible. She was part of the life of the newspaper, a functioning, integrated part. The early edition, the first deadline, the first run, which was printed by contractors all around the country or distributed by plane at dawn, the second deadline, the updated suburban edition that was taken around the Mälar Valley by road, and then the final deadline, the inner-city edition that was only printed in times of crisis or when a princess got engaged: reality, structured and made manageable. And then there was the preliminary edition, which Annika loathed. It existed only on the newspaper’s internal network.

Annika unpacked her laptop and fetched some coffee while the programs loaded. She sat down, cup in hand, and steeled herself. The preliminary edition contained what Patrik Nilsson, the head of news, thought the following day’s paper should contain: the future as it ought to be, with headlines and often pictures. All the reporters had to do was to make reality fit his vision.

Tomorrow’s hypothetical paper was topped by Berit’s story: the TV pundit, a leader writer from a provincial paper who guested on breakfast television every third
Wednesday, had posted a bitchy tweet about a former soap star who had put on weight. Patrik Nilsson liked to sift out the most pointless squabbles on the internet and recast them as massive rows in the paper. This time he had excelled himself:


ran the suggested headline. There was a picture of a painfully thin blonde, with the caption: ‘Rosa: deeply upset that her weight has been criticized’.

‘Sadly the planned storm of outrage on social media has failed to materialize,’ Berit said.

The paper had been planning to base its coverage on the furore, but there was virtually nothing. A few ‘Why must people judge women on how they look?’ comments would have helped, but there weren’t even many of those. Rosa’s story would end up on the mass-media scrapheap.

‘I reckon she could do with putting
a few kilos,’ Berit said. ‘I’m sure it would make her feel better. What are you doing today?’

‘Josefin’s murder,’ Annika said.

Berit took off her glasses. ‘That summer when Sweden was a banana republic? Hot as a furnace, inflation through the roof, and we were brilliant at football?’

‘Fifteen years ago,’ Annika said. ‘My first by-line.’

Berit returned to Rosa while Annika got out her background material.

During the spring the paper’s readers had been invited
to vote on which historical crimes they wanted to read more about (it was called
, the watchword of the new age). Annika had produced articles and videos about several of the most popular criminal cases, and most had received an impressive number of hits online. The Sunday supplements had also sold well. She was surprised by the popularity of old stories, which seemed to be everywhere in all manner of guises. Television kept showing reconstructions of and documentaries on crime scenes, all the papers were producing supplements, and established authors were writing about historical cases.

She looked through the summary of the case entitled ‘The Sex Killing in the Cemetery’. Nineteen-year-old Josefin Liljeberg had been found dead behind a headstone one boiling-hot Saturday morning, naked and strangled. The murder remained unsolved. She clicked to bring up the girl’s photograph, taken at her high-school graduation, with a white cap on her blonde hair, her eyes radiant. She had worked as a stripper at Studio Six. Annika thought she knew who had killed her: her boyfriend, Joachim, who owned the club. The club was long since gone, but Joachim was out there somewhere, presumably still in the shadowy world where he belonged.

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