Authors: Henning Mankell
When Wallander arrived in Djursholm, Håkan von Enke went out of his way to make him welcome. He seemed genuinely pleased to see Wallander, who was placed at the head table, between Linda and the widow of a rear admiral. The widow, whose name was Hök, was in her eighties, used a hearing aid, and eagerly refilled her wineglass at every opportunity. Even before they had finished the soup course she had started telling slightly smutty jokes. Wallander found her interesting, especially when he discovered that one of her six children was an expert in forensic medicine in Lund—Wallander had met him on several occasions and had a good impression of him. Many speeches were delivered, but they were all blessedly short. Good military discipline, Wallander thought. The toastmaster was a Commander Tobiasson, who made a series of witty remarks that Wallander found highly amusing. When the admiral’s wife fell silent for a little while due to the malfunctioning of her hearing aid, Wallander wondered what he could expect when he celebrated his own seventy-fifth birthday. Who would come to the party, assuming he had one? Linda had told him that it had been Håkan von Enke’s own idea to rent the party rooms. If Wallander understood the situation correctly, his wife, Louise, had been surprised. Usually her husband was dismissive of his birthdays, but he had suddenly changed his mind and set up this lavish spread.
Coffee was served in an adjacent room with comfortable easy chairs. When everyone had finished eating, Wallander went out into a conservatory to stretch his legs. The restaurant was surrounded by spacious grounds—the estate had previously been the home of one of Sweden’s first and richest industrialists.
He gave a start when Håkan von Enke appeared by his side out of nowhere, clutching something as un-PC as an old-fashioned pipe and a pack of tobacco. Wallander recognized the brand: Hamilton’s Blend. For a short period in his late teens he had been a pipe smoker himself, and used the same tobacco.
“Winter,” said von Enke. “And we’re in for a snowstorm, according to the forecast.”
Von Enke paused for a moment and gazed out at the dark sky.
“When you’re on board a submarine at a sufficient depth, the climate and weather conditions are totally irrelevant. Everything is calm; you’re in a sort of ocean basement. In the Baltic Sea, twenty-five meters is deep enough if there isn’t too much wind. It’s more difficult in the North Sea. I remember once leaving Scotland in stormy conditions. We were listing fifteen degrees at a depth of thirty meters. It wasn’t exactly pleasant.”
He lit his pipe and eyed Wallander keenly.
“Is that too poetic a thought for a police officer?”
“No, but a submarine is a different world as far as I’m concerned. A scary one, I should add.”
The commander sucked eagerly at his pipe.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “This party is boring both of us stiff. Everybody knows that I arranged it. I did it because a lot of my friends wanted me to. But now we can hide ourselves away in one of the little side rooms. Sooner or later my wife will come looking for me, but we can talk in peace until then.”
“But you’re the star of this show,” said Wallander.
“It’s like in a good play,” said von Enke. “In order to increase the excitement, the main character doesn’t need to be onstage all the time. It can be advantageous if some of the most important parts of the plot take place in the wings.”
He fell silent. Too abruptly, far too abruptly, Wallander thought. Von Enke was staring at something behind Wallander’s back. Wallander turned around. He could see the garden, and beyond it one of the minor roads that eventually joined the main Djursholm–Stockholm highway. Wallander caught a glimpse of a man on the other side of the fence, standing under a lamppost. Next to him was a parked car, with the engine running. The exhaust fumes rose and slowly dispersed in the yellow light. Wallander could tell that von Enke was worried.
“Let’s get our coffee and then shut ourselves away,” he said.
Before leaving the conservatory, Wallander turned around again; the car had vanished, and so had the man by the lamppost. Perhaps it was someone von Enke had forgotten to invite to the party, Wallander thought. It couldn’t have been anyone looking for me, surely—some journalist wanting to talk to me about the gun I left in the restaurant.
After they picked up their coffee, von Enke led Wallander into a little room with brown wooden paneling and leather easy chairs. Wallander noticed that the room had no windows. Von Enke had been watching him.
“There’s a reason for this room being a sort of bunker,” he said. “In the 1930s the house was owned for a few years by a man who owned a lot of Stockholm nightclubs, most of them illegal. Every night his armed couriers would drive around and collect all the takings, which were brought back here. In those days this room contained a big safe. His accountants would sit here, adding up the cash, doing the books, and then stash the money away in the safe. When the owner was arrested for his shady dealings, the safe was cut up. The man was called Göransson, if I remember correctly. He was given a long sentence that he couldn’t handle. He hanged himself in his cell at Långholmen Prison.”
He fell silent, took a sip of coffee, and sucked at his pipe, which had gone out. And that was the moment, in that insulated little room where the only sound was a faint hum from the party guests outside, that Wallander realized Håkan von Enke was scared. He had seen this many times before in his life: a person frightened of something, real or imagined. He was certain he wasn’t mistaken.
The conversation started awkwardly, with von Enke reminiscing about the years when he was still on active duty as a naval officer.
“The fall of 1980,” he said. “That’s a long time ago now, a generation back, twenty-eight long years. What were you doing then?”
“I was working as a police officer in Ystad. Linda was very young. I’d decided to move there in order to be closer to my elderly father. I also thought it would be a better environment for Linda to grow up in. Or at least, that was one of the reasons why we left Malmö. What happened next is a different story altogether.”
Von Enke didn’t seem to be listening to what Wallander said. He continued along his own line.
“I was working at the east coast naval base that fall. Two years before I had stepped down as officer in charge of one of our best submarines, one of the Water Snake class. We submariners always called it simply the Snake. My
posting at the marine base was only temporary. I wanted to go back to sea, but the powers that be wanted me to become part of the operations command of the whole Swedish naval defense forces. In September the Warsaw Pact countries were conducting an exercise along the East German coast. MILOBALT, they called it. I can still remember that. It was nothing remarkable; they generally had their fall exercises at about the same time as we had ours. But an unusually large number of vessels were involved, since they were practicing landings and submarine recovery. We had succeeded in finding out the details without too much effort. We heard from the National Defense Radio Center that there was an awful lot of radio communication traffic between Russian vessels and their home base near Leningrad, but everything seemed to be routine; we kept an eye on what they were doing and made a note of anything we thought important in our logbooks. But then came that Thursday—it was September 18, a date that will be the very last thing I forget. We had a call from the duty officer on one of the fleet’s tugs, HMS
, saying that they had just discovered a foreign submarine in Swedish territorial waters. I was in one of the map rooms at the naval base, looking for a more detailed chart of the East German coast, when an agitated national serviceman burst into the room. He never managed to explain exactly what had happened, but I went back to the command center and spoke to the duty officer on the
. He said he’d been scanning the sea with his telescope and suddenly noticed the submarine’s aerials some three hundred yards away. Fifteen seconds later the submarine surfaced. The officer was on the ball, and figured out that the submarine had probably been at periscope depth but had then started to dive when they saw the tug. The
was just south of Huvudskär when the incident happened, and the submarine was heading southwest, which meant that she was parallel with the border of Swedish waters but definitely on the Swedish side of the line. It didn’t take long for me to find out if there were any Swedish submarines in the area: there were not. I requested radio contact with the
again, and asked the duty officer if he could describe the conning tower or the periscope he had seen. From what he said I realized immediately that it was one of the submarines of the class NATO called Whiskey. And at the time they were used only by the Russians and the Poles. I’m sure you’ll understand that my heart started beating faster when I established that. But I had two other questions.”
Von Enke paused, as if he expected Wallander to ask what the two questions were. Some peals of laughter could be heard on the other side of the door, but they soon faded away.
“I suppose you wanted to know if the submarine was in Swedish territorial
waters by mistake,” said Wallander. “As was claimed when that other Russian submarine ran aground off Karlskrona?”
“I had already answered that question. There is no naval vessel as meticulous with its navigation as a submarine. That goes without saying. The submarine the
had come across intended to be where it was. The question was what exactly it was up to. Why was it reconnoitering and surfacing, apparently not expecting to be discovered? It could have been a sign that the crew was being careless. But of course, there was also another possibility.”
“That the submarine wanted to be discovered?”
Von Enke nodded, and made another attempt to light his reluctant pipe.
“In that case,” he said, “to encounter a tugboat would be ideal. A vessel like that probably wouldn’t even have a catapult to attack you with. Nor would the crew be trained for confrontation. Since I was in charge at the base, I contacted the supreme commander, and he agreed with me that we should immediately send in a helicopter equipped for tracking down submarines. It made sonar contact with a moving object we decided was a submarine. For the first time in my life I gave an order to open fire in circumstances other than training exercises. The helicopter fired a depth charge to warn the submarine. Then it vanished, and we lost contact.”
“How could it simply disappear?”
“Submarines have many ways of making themselves invisible. They can descend into deep troughs, hugging the cliff walls, and thus confuse anybody trying to trace them with echo sounders. We sent out several helicopters, but we never found any further trace of it.”
“But couldn’t it have been damaged?”
“That’s not the way it goes. According to international law, the first depth charge must be a warning. It’s only later that you can force a submarine up to the surface for identification.”
“What happened next?”
“Nothing, really. There was an inquiry, and they decided that I’d done the right thing. Maybe this was the overture for what was to follow a couple of years later, when Swedish territorial waters were crawling with foreign submarines, mainly in the Stockholm archipelago. I suppose the most important result was that we had confirmation of the fact that Russian interest in our navigational channels was as great as ever. This happened at a time when nobody thought the Berlin Wall would fall or the Soviet Union collapse. It’s easy to forget that. The Cold War wasn’t over. After that incident, the Swedish navy was granted a big increase in funding. But that was all.”
Von Enke drained the rest of his coffee. Wallander was about to stand up when his host started speaking again.
“I’m not done yet. Two years later, off we went again. By then I’d been promoted to the very top of the Swedish naval defense staff. Our HQ was in Berga, and there was a combat command on duty around the clock. On October 1 we had an alarm call that we could never have imagined, even in our wildest dreams. There were indications that a submarine, or even several, were in the Hårsfjärden channel, very close to our base on Muskö. So it was no longer just a case of trespassing in Swedish territorial waters; there were foreign submarines in a restricted area. No doubt you remember all the fuss?”
“The newspapers were full of it, and television reporters were clambering around on slippery rocks.”
“I don’t know what you could compare it to. Perhaps a foreign helicopter landing in a courtyard at the heart of the royal palace. That’s what it felt like, having submarines close to our top secret military installations.”
“That was when I’d just received confirmation that I could start working in Ystad.”
Suddenly the door opened. Von Enke gave a start. Wallander noted that his right hand was on its way to the breast pocket of his jacket. Then he let it fall back onto his knee again. The door had been opened by a semi-inebriated woman who was looking for a bathroom. She withdrew, and they were alone again.
“It was in October,” von Enke resumed once the door had closed. “It sometimes felt as if the whole Swedish coast was under siege by unidentified foreign submarines. I was glad I wasn’t the one responsible for talking to all the journalists who had gathered out at Berga. We had to convert a few barrack rooms into press rooms. I was extremely busy all the time, trying to find one of those submarines. We’d lose all our credibility if we couldn’t manage to force a single one to the surface. And then, at last, came the evening when we had trapped a submarine in the Hårsfjärden channel. There was no doubt about it; the command team was convinced this was it. I was the one responsible for giving the order to open fire. During those hectic hours I spoke several times to the supreme commander and the new minister of defense. His name was Andersson, if you recall—a man from Borlänge.”
“I have a vague memory of him being called ‘Red Börje.’ ”
“That’s right. But he wasn’t up to the job. He no doubt thought the submarines were pure hell. He went back home to Dalarna and we got Anders Thunborg as minister of defense. One of Palme’s blue-eyed boys. A lot of my colleagues didn’t trust him, but the contact I had with him was good. He didn’t interfere; he asked questions. If he got an answer, he was satisfied. But once when he called me I had the distinct impression that Palme was in the
room with him, standing by his side. I don’t know if that was true. But the feeling was very strong.”