Authors: Henning Mankell
There were occasionally rumors in circulation about secret associations and parties in certain police circles. Wallander had never been invited to anything of the sort, however. The nearest he could think of was an occasion a long time ago when Rydberg proposed that they meet once a month for good food and drink in the restaurant at Svaneholm Castle; but nothing had come of it.
Wallander switched off the computer and left the room. Halfway down the hall he turned, went back, and turned off the light. He left the police station the same way he had arrived, through the basement. He collected some dirty towels and shirts from his locker and took them home to wash.
He paused in the parking lot and breathed in the summer night. He was going to live for a long time yet. His will to live was still strong.
· · ·
He drove home, slept, dreamed uneasily about Mona, but woke up refreshed. He got out of bed immediately, eager to make use of the unexpected energy he seemed to be filled with. It was barely eight o’clock by the time he picked up the telephone to try to track down the journalist who had written about the naval officers’ secret meetings over twenty years ago. After several failed attempts via directory assistance, he glanced ruefully at his broken computer and wondered whom to disturb, Linda or Martinsson. He chose the latter. One of the grandchildren answered. Wallander didn’t have much sensible conversation with the little girl before Martinsson took the phone.
“You’ve just been speaking to Astrid,” he said. “She’s three years old, has blazing red hair, and likes nothing better than to pull at the remaining few tufts of hair that I possess.”
“My computer has broken down. Can I ask you to look something up for me, please?”
“I’ll call you back in a couple of minutes.”
Five minutes later the phone rang. It was Martinsson. Wallander gave him the journalist’s name, Torbjörn Setterwall. It didn’t take Martinsson long to trace him.
“Three years too late,” said Martinsson.
“What do you mean by that?”
“That Torbjörn Setterwall has died. In some strange kind of accident in an elevator, it seems. He was fifty-four years old, and left a wife and three children. How can you die in an elevator?”
“Maybe it dropped down to the bottom of the shaft? Or he could have been squashed?”
“I wasn’t able to be of much assistance, I’m afraid.”
“I have another name,” said Wallander. “This one could be more difficult. And there’s a chance she could be dead as well.”
“What’s her name?”
“Hmm. As you say, it could be more difficult. But her name isn’t among the most common, neither Fanny nor Klarström.”
Wallander waited while Martinsson began the search. He could hear him humming a tune as he tapped away at the keyboard. Martinsson was usually on the melancholy side, but he was obviously in a good mood. Let’s hope he stays that way, Wallander thought.
“I’ll get back to you,” Martinsson said. “This is going to take a while.”
In fact it took Martinsson less than twenty minutes. When he called back he was able to inform Wallander that eighty-four-year-old Fanny Klarström lived in Markaryd in Småland. She had an apartment of her own in a retirement home called Lillgården.
“How did you do it?” Wallander asked. “Are you sure it’s the right person?”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I’ve spoken to her,” said Martinsson, to Wallander’s astonishment. “I called her, and she told me she’d been a waitress for nearly fifty years.”
“Amazing. One of these days you must explain what you do that I can’t do.”
Wallander wrote down Fanny Klarström’s address and phone number. According to Martinsson, her voice had sounded old and rough, but she was clear in the head.
After the call he went out. The sun was blazing down from a clear blue sky. Kites were soaring in the upwinds, searching for prey at the edge of the fields. Wallander wondered what he wanted, apart from what he had already. Nothing, he thought. Perhaps to be able to afford to travel south when winter was at its coldest. A little apartment in Spain. But he dismissed that thought immediately. He would never feel comfortable there, surrounded by people he didn’t know speaking a language he would never be able to learn properly. In one way or another, Skåne would be his terminus. He would stay in his house for as long as possible. When he couldn’t manage that anymore, he hoped the end would come quickly. What scared him more than anything else was an old age spent simply waiting to die, a time when nothing of what had been his life was still possible.
He made a decision. He would drive to Markaryd and pay a visit to the waitress. He didn’t know what good a conversation might do, but he couldn’t shake off the curiosity that had been aroused by that newspaper article. He took out his old school atlas. Markaryd was only a few hours’ drive away.
He set off the next day, after speaking to Linda on the phone. She listened carefully to what he had to say. When he finished, she announced that she would like to go with him. He was annoyed and asked how she thought Klara would be able to cope with a car journey on what seemed set to become one of the summer’s hottest days.
“Hans is at home today,” she said. “He can look after his daughter. But you don’t want me to come. I can hear it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The fact that it’s true.”
true. Wallander had been looking forward to a drive all on his own, heading north toward the Småland forests. It was one of his simple pleasures, going for drives without company. He liked the freedom it gave him, being alone in the car, without the radio on, and with the possibility of stopping whenever it suited him.
He accepted that Linda had seen through him.
“Are we still on speaking terms?” he asked.
“Of course we are,” she said. “But sometimes you’re a bit weird for my taste.”
“You don’t choose your parents. If I’m weird, it’s because I inherited it from your grandfather, who really was a strange person.”
“Good luck. Let me know how it went. I must say, in all honesty, that you never give up.”
She laughed softly.
“Never. I don’t even know how to spell those words.”
It was eleven o’clock when Wallander set off. By one he had gotten as far as Älmhult, where he had lunch in a crowded Ikea restaurant. The long line at the counter made him nervous and irritated. He ate far too quickly, and afterward took a wrong turn, so that he reached Markaryd an hour later than planned. The attendant at a gas station explained the best route to the sheltered accommodation at Lillgården. When he got out of the car, he was struck by how similar it looked to Niklasgården. The thought made him wonder if the man who had claimed to be Signe’s uncle had made another visit. He would find out about that as soon as he had time.
An elderly man in blue overalls was crouching over a lawn mower that had been turned upside down. He was poking at it with a stick, removing large chunks of compressed grass from the blades. Wallander asked about Fanny Klarström. The man stood up and stretched his back. He spoke with a broad Småland accent that Wallander found difficult to understand.
“Her apartment is right at the far end, on the ground floor.”
“How is she?”
The man looked at Wallander with an expression that was both searching and suspicious.
“Fanny is old and tired. Who are you?”
Wallander produced his police ID, and regretted it immediately. Why should he risk exposing Fanny to gossip about a policeman coming to visit
her? But it was too late now. The man in the blue overalls studied the ID card carefully.
“You’re from Skåne, I can hear that. Ystad?”
“As you can see.”
“And you’ve come all the way here, to Markaryd?”
“I’m not actually on police business,” Wallander explained in as friendly a tone as he could muster. “It’s more of a personal visit.”
“That’s good for Fanny. She hardly ever has any visitors.”
Wallander nodded at the lawn mower.
“You should wear earplugs.”
“I don’t hear a thing. My ears were ruined when I worked as a miner as a young man.”
Wallander entered the building and set off along the hallway to the left. An old man was standing by a window, staring out at the back of a tumbledown building. Wallander shuddered. He stopped outside a door with a nameplate, beautifully painted with flowers in pastel shades.
Just for a moment he considered turning on his heel and leaving. Then he rang the bell.
When Fanny Klarström opened the door—immediately, as if she had been standing there for a thousand years, waiting for him—she gave him a broad smile. He was the longed-for visitor, he just had time to think before she ushered him into her room and closed the door.
Wallander felt as if he were entering a lost world.
Fanny Klarström smelled as if somebody had just lit a fire of alder wood right next to him. It was a smell Wallander remembered from the short time he had spent as a Boy Scout. His troop had gone for a hike. They had set up camp on the shore of a lake, probably Krageholm Lake, where Wallander had experienced several depressing happenings later in life, and lit a campfire made from newly sawn alder. But then, do alders really grow by lakes in Skåne? Wallander thought that was a question to answer later.
Fanny Klarström had wavy blue hair, and was tastefully made up—perhaps she was always ready to receive an unexpected visitor. When she smiled she displayed a beautiful set of teeth that made Wallander jealous. His
own teeth had begun to need filling when he was twelve, and since then he had been fighting a constant battle with dental hygiene and dentists who seemed always to be tearing a strip off him. He still had most of his own teeth, but his dentist had warned him that they would soon start to fall out if he didn’t brush them more often and more efficiently. At the age of eighty-four, Fanny Klarström had all her teeth, and they shone brightly as if she were still a teenager. She didn’t ask who he was or what he wanted, but invited him in to her little living room, where the walls were covered in framed photographs. Well-tended potted plants and climbers stood on windowsills and shelves. There’s not a single grain of dust in this apartment, Wallander thought. He sat down on the sofa she had gestured toward, and said he would be delighted to accept a cup of coffee.
While she was in the little kitchen he wandered around the room, examining all the photographs. There was a wedding photo dated 1942: Fanny with a man with slicked-down hair in a formal suit. Wallander thought he recognized the same man in another photo, this time in overalls and standing on a ship, the picture being taken from the quay. He deduced from other photos that Fanny had only one child. When he heard the clinking of china approaching, he sat down on the sofa again.
Fanny served coffee with a steady hand; she retained the skill she had acquired during many years as a waitress and didn’t spill a drop. She sat down opposite him in a rather worn armchair. A speckled gray cat appeared from nowhere and settled on her knee. She raised her cup, and Wallander did the same before tasting the coffee, which was very strong. It went down the wrong way and made him cough so violently that tears came to his eyes. When he recovered, she handed him a napkin. He dried his eyes and noticed that “Billingen Hotel” was embroidered on it.
“Perhaps I should begin by telling you why I’m here,” he said.
“Friendly people are always welcome,” said Fanny Klarström.
She spoke with an unmistakable Stockholm accent. Wallander wondered why she had chosen to grow old in a place as far off the beaten track as Markaryd.
Wallander placed a printout of the newspaper article on the embroidered cloth that covered the table. She didn’t bother to read it, merely glanced at the two pictures. But she seemed to remember even so. Wallander didn’t want to jump in at the deep end, and began by expressing a polite interest in all the photos hanging on the walls. She had no hesitation in telling him about them, and in doing so summarized her whole life in a few words.
In 1941, Fanny—whose surname then was Andersson—met a young sailor by the name of Arne Klarström.
“We were madly in love,” she said. “We met on one of the Djurgården ferries, on the way back from the Gröna Lund amusement park. As I was going ashore at Slussen, I stumbled and fell. He helped me up. What would have happened if I hadn’t fallen? Anyway, you could say that I literally stumbled into the love of my life. Which lasted for exactly two years. We got married, I became pregnant, and Arne dithered and dallied and wondered if he dared to continue working on the convoy traffic, given the circumstances. It’s easy to forget how many Swedish sailors died when their ships were mined during those years, even though we were not directly involved in the war. But Arne no doubt felt he was invulnerable, and I could never imagine that anything would happen to him. Our son, Gunnar, was born in January 1943—the twelfth, at six-thirty in the morning. Arne was on shore leave at the time, and so he saw his son just the once. Nine days later his ship was blown up by a mine in the North Sea. Nothing was ever found—no wreckage of the ship and no bodies of those on board.”
She paused, and looked at the photographs on the wall.
“Anyway,” she began again after a while, “there I was on my own, with a son to look after and the love of my life gone forever. I suppose I tried to find another man to live with. I was still young. But nobody could compare with Arne. He was my true love, my husband, no matter whether he was alive or dead. Nobody could ever replace him.”
She suddenly started crying, almost silently. Wallander felt a lump in his throat. He slid the napkin she had just given him toward her.
“I sometimes long to have somebody to share my sorrow with,” she said, still with tears in her eyes. “Maybe that’s why loneliness can feel so oppressive. Just think, having to invite a total stranger into your house so that you have somebody to cry with.”
“What about your son?” Wallander asked tentatively.