Read The Troubled Man Online

Authors: Henning Mankell

The Troubled Man (50 page)

He drove back over the long bridge, paused at the Father’s Hat roadside café, then headed for home.

When he got out of the car, his mind suddenly went blank. He stood there with the keys in his hand, totally confused. The hood was warm. Once again he was panic-stricken.
Where had he been?
Jussi was barking and jumping up and down in his kennel. Wallander stared at the dog and tried hard to remember. He looked at the car keys, then at the car, hoping they would give him a clue. Almost ten horrifying minutes passed before the blockage crumbled and he remembered what he had been doing. He was drenched in sweat. It’s getting worse, he thought. I have to find out what’s happening to me.

He collected the mail and sat down at the garden table. He was still shaken by the attack of forgetfulness.

It was only later, after he had fed Jussi, that he discovered the letter lying among the newspapers he had collected from the mailbox. There was no return address, and he didn’t recognize the handwriting.

When he opened the letter he saw that it was handwritten, and from Håkan von Enke.

35

The letter had been mailed in Norrköping:

There is a man in Berlin by the name of George Talboth. He’s an American, and used to work at their embassy in Stockholm. He speaks fluent Swedish and is regarded as an expert on the relationship between Scandinavia and the Soviet Union and, nowadays, Russia. I got to know him as early as the end of the 1960s when he first came to Stockholm and on several occasions accompanied the then military attaché at various receptions and on various visits, including one to Berga. George and I got along well—both he and his wife played bridge—and we started meeting socially. I eventually realized that he was attached to the CIA, but he never tried to elicit secret information from me that I wasn’t authorized to pass on. In about 1974, a year or two later, his wife, Marilyn, was diagnosed with cancer, and died shortly afterward. That was a catastrophe for George. He and his wife had enjoyed an even closer relationship than Louise and I, if that was possible. He started visiting us more frequently, nearly every Sunday, and often during the week as well. In 1979 he was transferred to the legation in Bonn, and he stayed in Germany after he retired, although he moved to Berlin. It’s possible of course that in his “spare time” he still serves his country, as you might say. But I know nothing about that
.

I spoke to him on the phone as recently as last December. Although he is now seventy-two, he is still lively intellectually. I’m sure he thinks the Cold War is very much alive. When the Russian empire collapsed, a revolution took place that was every bit as shattering as the events of 1917. But according to George it was only a temporary setback. He thinks the current situation confirms that view: Russia is growing stronger and stronger and making ever greater demands on the world around it. I have taken the liberty of writing to him and asking him to
contact you. If there is anybody who might be able to help you in your efforts to find out what happened to Louise, he’s your man. I hope you are not put out by my attempts to make a positive contribution to what I’m sure are your honest efforts to solve this riddle
.

With respectful greetings
,

Håkan von Enke

Wallander put the letter down on the kitchen table. It was good, of course, that von Enke had put Wallander in touch with a potentially useful contact. But even so, he didn’t like the letter. Once again he had the impression that there was something going on he hadn’t detected. He read the letter one more time, slowly, as if he were picking his way gingerly through a minefield.
Letters need to be deciphered
, Rydberg once said. You have to know what you’re doing, especially if the letter might be of significance for a crime investigation. But what was there to decipher? The contents were plain enough.

He measured his blood sugar and this time was less pleased with the result: 184. That was too high. He had forgotten to take his Metformin pills and his insulin. He checked in the refrigerator and saw that within the next few days he would need to replenish his insulin.

Every day he took no fewer than seven different pills, for his diabetes, his blood pressure, and his cholesterol. He didn’t like doing so; it felt like a sort of defeat. Many of his colleagues didn’t take a single pill—or at least, they said they didn’t. In the old days, Rydberg had been scornful of all chemical preparations. He didn’t even take anything for the headaches that plagued him. Every day my body is filled with goodness knows how many chemicals that I don’t really know anything about, Wallander thought. I trust my doctors and the pharmaceutical companies, without questioning the things they prescribe.

He hadn’t even told Linda about all the pills. Nor did she know that he was now injecting himself with insulin. To be on the safe side, he had hidden it behind some jars of mango chutney that he knew she wouldn’t touch.

He read the letter a few more times without discovering anything between the lines. Håkan von Enke was not sending him any hidden messages. He was looking in vain for something that wasn’t there.

That night he dreamed about his father.

·   ·   ·

He had just woken up, shortly after seven, when the phone rang. He assumed it was Linda at this hour, especially since she knew he was on vacation. He picked up the receiver.

“Is that Knut Wallander?”

It was a man’s voice. His Swedish was perfect, although Wallander could hear a slight foreign accent.

“I take it I’m talking to Mr. Talboth,” he said. “I’ve been expecting to hear from you.”

“Call me George. I’ll call you Knut.”

“Not Knut. Kurt.”

“Kurt. Kurt Wallander. I’m always getting names wrong. When are you coming to visit?”

Wallander was surprised by the question. What had Håkan von Enke written to Talboth?

“I wasn’t planning on going to Berlin. I didn’t even know you existed until I received a letter yesterday.”

“Håkan wrote in a letter to me that you would definitely want to come here and talk to me.”

“Why can’t you come to Skåne?”

“I don’t have a driver’s license. And I hate traveling by train or flying.”

An American without a driver’s license, Wallander thought. He must be an extremely unusual person.

“Maybe I can help you,” Talboth said. “I used to know Louise. Just as well as I knew Håkan. And she was a good friend of my wife, Marilyn. They often used to go out together for tea. Afterward, Marilyn would tell me what they had been talking about.”

“And what was that?”

“Louise nearly always talked politics. Marilyn wasn’t as interested, but she listened politely.”

Wallander frowned. Wasn’t that the opposite of what Hans had said? That his mother never talked about politics, apart from a few brief comments in conversations with her husband?

He was suddenly attracted by the thought of visiting George Talboth in Berlin. He hadn’t been there since the collapse of East Germany. He had been to East Berlin twice in the mid-1980s with Linda, when she had been obsessed by the theater and had insisted on seeing performances by the Berliner Ensemble. He could still recall his annoyance when the East German border police burst into their sleeping car in the middle of the night
and demanded to see his passport. On both occasions they had stayed in a hotel at Alexanderplatz. Wallander had felt uneasy the whole time.

“I might be able to come see you,” he said. “I could take my car.”

“You can stay at my place,” said Talboth. “I have an apartment in Schöneberg. When should I expect you?”

“When would it suit you?”

“I’m a widower. You’re welcome whenever is good for you.”

“The day after tomorrow?”

“I’ll give you my phone number. Call me when you’re approaching Berlin, and I’ll guide you through the city. Do you eat fish or meat?”

“Both.”

“Wine?”

“Red.”

“That’s all I need to know. Do you have a pencil handy?”

Wallander wrote down the number in the margin of von Enke’s letter.

“I look forward to meeting you,” said Talboth. “If I understand correctly, your daughter is married to young Hans von Enke?”

“Not quite. They have a daughter, Klara. But they’re not married yet.”

“Please bring a photo of your granddaughter.”

Wallander ended the call. He had pictures of Klara pinned up all over the house. He took down two photos from the kitchen wall and put them on the table next to his passport. He ate his breakfast while studying a road atlas to establish how far it was to Berlin from the ferry terminal at Sassnitz. A phone call to the ferry company in Trelleborg provided him with the timetable. He noted down the times and found himself looking forward to the impending journey. I will remember this summer for all the car trips I’ve taken, he thought. It reminds me of when Linda was a little girl and we used to go to Denmark on vacation, sometimes to Gotland, and once even as far as Hammarfest in the north of Norway.

On July 23 he drove along the coast road to Trelleborg to catch a ferry to the Continent. He had told Linda that he planned to spend a few days in Berlin. She hadn’t asked any suspicious questions, merely said that she envied him. He saw on the television that high temperatures in Berlin and central Europe were breaking records.

He decided not to try to do the driving nonstop. He would leave the highway at some point and stay overnight in a little hotel. He wasn’t in a hurry.

He had a meal on board the ferry, sharing a table with a talkative truck
driver who told Wallander he was on the way to Dresden with several tons of dog food.

“Why would German dogs want to eat food from Sweden?” Wallander wondered.

“A good question. But isn’t that what they call the free market?”

Wallander went out on deck. He could understand why a lot of people chose to work on board a ship. Like Håkan von Enke, even if he had spent long periods of his life underwater. Why would anyone want to become a submarine captain? he asked himself. But then again, there are doubtless lots of people who wonder why anyone would want to become a police officer. My own father did.

Shortly after driving out of Sassnitz he pulled into a rest stop, changed his shirt, and put on shorts and sandals. Just for a moment he enjoyed the thought of being able to go wherever he wanted, spend the night wherever he wanted, eat wherever he wanted. That’s what freedom looks like, he thought, and smiled at how pathetic the observation was. An elderly policeman on the run, having escaped from himself.

He drove as far as Oranienburg, on the outskirts of Berlin, before deciding to stop for the night. He spent some time looking for a suitable hotel and eventually chose the Kronhof.

He was given a corner room on the third floor. It was big, with too much heavy, dreary-looking furniture. But Wallander was satisfied. He was on the top floor, so nobody would be walking around over his head during the night. He put on a pair of pants, then strolled around town for a couple of hours, had a coffee, browsed in an antiques shop, and went back to the Kronhof. It was five o’clock. He was hungry, but he decided to eat later. He lay down on the bed with a crossword puzzle. After solving a few clues he fell asleep. It was seven-thirty when he woke up. He went down to the restaurant and took a seat at a corner table. It was still early, and there weren’t many diners. He was given a menu by a waitress who reminded him of Fanny Klarström. He chose Wiener schnitzel and ordered a glass of wine. The restaurant began to fill up; most of the guests seemed to know one another. He had chocolate pudding for dessert, despite knowing that he shouldn’t eat anything that sweet. He drank another glass of wine and noticed that he was beginning to feel tipsy. But Martinsson wouldn’t be coming here to tell him off.

He asked for the bill at nine o’clock, went up to his room, undressed, and got in bed. But he couldn’t sleep. He suddenly felt restless, harassed. The good
feeling he’d enjoyed during his solitary meal had gone. In the end he gave up, dressed again, and went back down to the restaurant, which had a separate bar. He went there and ordered a glass of wine. A group of elderly men were standing, drinking beer. All the tables were empty, apart from one almost next to him. A woman in her forties was sitting there, drinking a glass of white wine and keying a text into her cell phone. She smiled at Wallander. He smiled back. They raised their glasses and drank to each other. She continued texting. Wallander ordered another glass of wine, and offered one to the woman. She thanked him with a smile, put her phone away, and moved over to his table. He explained in bad English that he was a Swede, on his way to Berlin. He was uncertain about how to pronounce
Kurt
in English, so he told her his name was James.

“Is that a Swedish name?” she asked.

“My mother came from Ireland,” he told her.

He smiled at his lie, and asked her name. Isabel, she told him. She explained that within the next few years Oranienburg would be swallowed up by Berlin. Wallander was studying her face, which was excessively made up. She gave the impression of being ravaged, worn out. He wondered if she was a woman on the prowl, using this bar as her hunting grounds. But she wasn’t provocatively dressed, he thought. Besides, I’m not looking for a prostitute.

Who was this Isabel he was now sitting with? She said she was a florist, single, with grown-up children who had flown the nest. She lived in an apartment—
sehr schön
, she insisted it was—in a building overlooking a park that she tried to describe the way to. But Wallander wasn’t interested in a park or ways to get there; he had become entranced by her, could already picture her naked in his hotel room, and that was where he intended to lure her. He could see that she was drunk, and he felt he shouldn’t have anything more to drink either. It was almost midnight, and the barman announced last call. Wallander asked for the bill, and offered her a glass of wine in his room—that was the first time he’d mentioned that he was staying at the hotel. She didn’t seem surprised; perhaps she knew already. Could there be some kind of communications link between reception and the bar? But he didn’t worry about that. He paid the bill, adding far too big a tip, and ushered her past the unattended reception desk and up to his room. It was only after he had closed the door that he admitted the sad truth: he had no drinks to offer her. There was no minibar—the hotel didn’t have luxuries like that—nor was there any room service. But she knew what was expected of her and suddenly embraced him. He was overcome by a desire that he couldn’t control, and they ended up in his bed. He couldn’t remember the
last time he had slept with a woman, and he tried to imagine that Isabel’s body belonged to Baiba or Mona, or to other women he had forgotten about long ago. It all happened very quickly, and she was already asleep when Wallander felt desire welling up inside him once more. It was impossible to wake her. Making love to a woman fast asleep was something he couldn’t bring himself to contemplate. He had no option but to go to sleep himself, which he duly did, with one hand between her sweaty thighs.

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