Authors: Henning Mankell
It was still there when he woke up at dawn. He had a headache, his tongue seemed to be glued to his palate, and he made up his mind on the spot to escape as quickly as possible from the room, and from Isabel, who was still fast asleep by his side. He dressed as quietly as he could; he realized that he wasn’t fit to drive, but he couldn’t entertain the possibility of staying put. He took his suitcase and went down to reception, where a young man was lying fast asleep on a bunk underneath the old-fashioned key rack. He woke up when Wallander shouted for service, presented the bill, and handed over the change. Wallander put the keys on the counter alongside a ten-euro note.
“There’s a woman asleep in my room. I assume that this will cover her as well?”
,” said the young man, and yawned.
Wallander hurried to his car and set off for Berlin. But he drove only as far as the first rest stop. He pulled in and moved to the backseat to sleep. He regretted the previous night very much. He tried to convince himself that it was no big deal. After all, she hadn’t asked him for money. She couldn’t have found him totally repulsive.
He woke up at nine o’clock and continued his journey to Berlin. He stopped at a motel just off the highway and called George Talboth, who had a road atlas handy and soon worked out where Wallander was.
“I’ll be there in an hour or so,” he said. “Sit out and enjoy the lovely weather.”
“How will you get here? I thought you said you didn’t have a driver’s license.”
“We’ll get around that.”
Wallander bought a coffee served in a cardboard cup and sat down in the shade outside the motel’s restaurant. He wondered if Isabel had woken up yet and asked herself where Wallander had disappeared to. He could recall next to nothing of their awkward and uninspired lovemaking. Had it really happened? He could only remember vague fragments, which just embarrassed him.
He topped up his cup of coffee, and bought a pre-made sandwich. It feels like chewing a sponge, he thought. After having forced half of it down, he threw the rest to some pigeons pecking at the ground not far from where he was sitting.
Time passed, but still nobody appeared looking for a Swedish detective. After another fifteen minutes, a black Mercedes pulled up to the motel. It had diplomatic plates. George Talboth had arrived. A man in a white suit wearing sunglasses stepped out of the car, looked around and homed in on Wallander. He came over and removed his sunglasses.
George Talboth was over six feet tall, powerfully built, and his handshake would have throttled Wallander if it had been applied to his neck.
“Sorry I’m late. The traffic was worse than expected.”
“I did as you suggested and made the most of the good weather. I haven’t even looked at my watch.”
Talboth raised his hand and signaled to the Mercedes with the invisible chauffeur. It drove off.
“Shall we go?”
They sat in Wallander’s Peugeot. Talboth turned out to be a living GPS and guided Wallander confidently through the increasingly busy traffic. After not much more than an hour they came to an attractive apartment building in the Schöneberg district. It occurred to Wallander that this must be one of the few buildings that had survived World War II, when Hitler shot himself in his bunker and the Red Army fought its way through the city, street by street. Talboth lived on the top floor, in an apartment with six rooms. The bedroom he gave to Wallander was large, with a view over a little park.
“I’ll have to leave you to your own devices for an hour or two,” Talboth said. “I have a few things to deal with.”
“When I get back we’ll have all the time in the world. There’s an Italian restaurant just down the road that serves excellent food, where we can have a leisurely conversation. How long are you planning to stay?”
“Not all that long. I thought I’d go home tomorrow, in fact.”
Talboth shook his head vigorously.
“Out of the question. You can’t possibly do justice to Berlin in such a short time. It would be an insult to this city, which has been at the center of so much of the world’s tragic history.”
“We can discuss that later,” said Wallander. “But as I’m sure you understand, old men also have jobs to do.”
Talboth accepted that response, showed Wallander the bathroom, kitchen, and extensive balcony, then left. Wallander watched through a window as Talboth once again clambered into the black Mercedes. He took a bottle of beer from the refrigerator and swigged it back while standing on the balcony. As far as he was concerned, that was a way of saying good-bye to the woman from the previous evening. She no longer existed, except perhaps as a persistent memory in his dreams. That was the way it usually was. He never dreamed about the women he had really been in love with. But the ones with whom he had engaged in more or less unpleasant experiences frequently turned up.
He thought about remembering what he would prefer to forget, and forgetting what he should remember. There was something fundamentally wrong with his way of life. He didn’t know if it was the same for everyone. What did Linda dream about? What did Martinsson dream about? What did his interfering boss, Lennart Mattson, dream about?
He drank another beer, started to feel tipsy, and ran a bath. After a good soak, he felt much better.
George Talboth came back a couple of hours later. They sat out on the balcony and started talking.
That was when Wallander noticed a little stone on the balcony table. A stone he was certain he recognized.
There was a question nagging at Wallander during the time he spent with George Talboth. Did he realize that Wallander had noticed the stone? Or didn’t he? Wallander still wasn’t sure when he left for home the following day. But he had no doubt that Talboth was a sharp-eyed man. Things happen at top speed behind those eyes of his, Wallander thought. He has a brain that doesn’t leak, or decline. He may seem uninterested or even apathetic at times, but he is always wide awake.
The only thing Wallander could be sure about was the fact that the stone that had disappeared from Håkan von Enke’s desk was now on a table on the balcony of George Talboth’s apartment. Either that, or an exact copy of it.
The idea of a copy also applied to the man himself. Even at the motel, Wallander had been struck by the feeling that Talboth was very much like somebody else, that he had a doppelgänger. Not necessarily somebody Wallander knew personally, rather somebody he had seen before, but he couldn’t remember who.
It wasn’t until the evening that the penny dropped. Talboth looked exactly like the film actor Humphrey Bogart. He was taller, and didn’t have the cigarette constantly glued to his lips; but it wasn’t only his appearance, there was something about his voice that Wallander seemed to recognize from films like
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The African Queen
. He wondered if Talboth was aware of the similarity, and assumed that he was.
Before they sat down that afternoon Talboth also demonstrated that he had surprises up his sleeve. He opened one of the doors in his apartment that had been kept closed and revealed an enormous aquarium with a whole shoal of red and blue fish swimming silently behind the thick glass. The room was filled with glass tanks and plastic piping, but what astounded Wallander most was that the bottom of the aquarium was criss-crossed by cleverly constructed tunnels through which miniature electric trains were racing around and around. The tunnels were completely transparent, apparently made of glass, and not a drop of water seeped through into them. The fish seemed to be unaware of this railway line at the bottom of their artificially made seabed.
“The tunnels are almost an exact copy of the one between Dover and Calais,” said Talboth. “I used the original plans and certain constructional details when I made this model.”
Wallander thought of Håkan von Enke sitting in the remote hunting lodge with his ship in a bottle. There’s some kind of affinity between them, in addition to their friendship, he thought. But what that implies, I can’t say.
“I enjoy working with my hands,” Talboth went on. “Using only your brain isn’t good for you. Do you find that too?”
“Hardly. My father was pretty handy, but I inherited none of that.”
“What did your father do?”
“He produced paintings.”
“You mean he was an artist? Why did you use the word ‘produced’?”
“My father really only painted one motif throughout his life,” Wallander said. “It’s not much to talk about.”
Talboth noted Wallander’s unwillingness to elaborate, and he asked no more questions. They watched the fish swimming slowly to and fro, and the trains rushing through their tunnels. Wallander noticed that they didn’t pass at exactly the same point every time; there was a delay that was hardly
noticeable at first. He also noted that at one part of the circuit they used the same stretch of line. He hesitated but eventually asked about what he had observed. Talboth nodded.
“You’re right,” he said. “I’ve built a short delay into the system.”
He reached up to a shelf and took down an hourglass that Wallander hadn’t registered when he entered the room.
“This contains sand from West Africa,” said Talboth. “To be more precise, from the beaches of the islands in the little archipelago called Buback. It’s just off the coast of Guinea-Bissau, a country most people have never heard of. It was an old English admiral who decided that this was the perfect sand for the English navy in the days when hourglasses were used for telling the time. If I’d turned the glass at the same moment as I switched on the trains, you’d have discovered that one of the trains catches up with the other one after exactly fifty-nine minutes. I make that happen now and then, to check that the sand in the hourglass isn’t running more slowly, or that the transformer doesn’t need adjusting.”
As a child Wallander had always dreamed of owning a model train set, but his father was never able to afford it. Trains like the ones in front of him now still seemed an unattainable luxury.
They sat down on the balcony. It was a hot summer’s day. Talboth had brought out a jug of ice water and two glasses. Wallander decided that there was no reason to beat around the bush. His first question formulated itself.
“What did you think when you heard that Louise had disappeared?”
Talboth’s bright eyes were firmly fixed on Wallander.
“I suppose I wasn’t all that surprised,” he said.
“I don’t need to tell you what you already know. Håkan’s increasingly intolerable suspicions—I suppose we can call it a certainty now—that he was married to a traitor. Is that what you say? My Swedish isn’t always perfect.”
“That’s correct,” said Wallander. “If you’re a spy, you are usually a traitor. Unless you deal in more specific things, such as industrial espionage.”
“Håkan ran away because he couldn’t put up with it anymore,” Talboth said. “He needed time to think. Before Louise disappeared he had more or less made a decision. He was going to hand over the proof he had to the military intelligence services. Everything would be done according to the rule book. He didn’t intend to spare himself or his own reputation. He realized that Hans would also be affected, but that couldn’t be helped. It boiled down
to a question of honor. When she disappeared, he was dumbfounded. He became increasingly scared. I began to worry after some of the phone conversations I had with him. He almost seemed to be suffering from paranoia. The only explanation he could think of for Louise’s disappearance was that she had managed to read his thoughts. He was afraid she would find out where he was. If not her, one of her employers in the Russian intelligence service. Håkan was convinced that Louise had been and still was so important that they wouldn’t hesitate to kill her in order to prevent any revelations. Even if she was too old now to be an active spy, it was important that she not be unmasked. Naturally, the Russians didn’t want to reveal what they knew. Or didn’t know.”
“What did you think when you heard that she had committed suicide?”
“I never believed that. I thought it was obvious she had been murdered.”
“Let me answer by asking a question. Why would she commit suicide?”
“Perhaps she was overwhelmed by guilt. Perhaps she realized the torture she had inflicted on her husband. There are lots of possible reasons. In my police work I’ve come across a lot of people who committed suicide for much less serious reasons.”
Talboth considered what Wallander had said.
“You may be right. But I haven’t told you my overall impression of Louise. I knew her well. Even though she concealed large parts of her identity, I got to know her intimately. She wasn’t the kind of person who commits suicide.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Certain people simply don’t commit suicide. It’s as straightforward as that.”
Wallander shook his head.
“That’s not my experience,” he said. “My feeling is that, under unfortunate circumstances, anybody at all can take their own life.”
“I’m not going to start arguing with you. You can interpret my view however you like. I’m convinced that your experience as a police officer is important. But you shouldn’t just shrug off the experience I have from working for many years in the American security services.”
“We know now that she was in fact murdered. And we also know that there was incriminating evidence in her purse.”
Talboth had raised his glass of water. He frowned and put it down again without having drunk. Wallander thought he detected a different kind of alertness in him.
“I didn’t know that. I had no idea they’d confiscated secret material.”
“You’re not supposed to know. I shouldn’t have told you. But I did so for Håkan’s sake. I trust it will go no further.”
“I won’t say anything to anybody. You learn how to do that when you work in the intelligence service. The day you resign, nothing is left in your head. You clear out your memory just as other employees clear out their lockers or desks.”