Authors: Henning Mankell
“Anyway, what happened?”
Von Enke’s face twitched, as if he was annoyed by Wallander interrupting him. But when he continued there was no sign of that.
“We had cornered the submarine in such a way that it couldn’t move without our permission. I spoke to the supreme commander and told him that we were about to fire depth charges and force the sub up to the surface. We needed another hour to prepare for the operation, and then we would be able to reveal to the world the identity of this submarine that had invaded Swedish territorial waters. Half an hour passed. The hands on the wall clock seemed to be moving unbearably slowly. The whole time, I was in touch with the helicopters and the surface vessels surrounding the submarine. Forty-five minutes passed. And then it happened.”
Von Enke broke off abruptly, then stood up and left the room. Wallander wondered if he had been taken ill. But after a few moments the commander returned, carrying two glasses of cognac.
“It’s a chilly winter evening,” he said. “We need something to warm us up. Nobody seems to have missed us, so we can carry on chatting in this bunker.”
Wallander waited for the rest of the story. Even if it wasn’t perhaps totally engrossing, listening to old stories about submarines, he preferred von Enke’s company to having to talk to people he didn’t know.
“That’s when it happened,” repeated von Enke. “Four minutes before the attack was due to take place, the phone rang—the direct line to Defense Command Sweden. As far as I know it was one of the few lines guaranteed to be safe from bugging, and it was also fitted with an automatic scrambler. I was given an order that I would never have expected in a thousand years. Can you guess what it was?”
Wallander shook his head, and wrapped his hand around his glass to warm up the brandy.
“We were ordered to abort the depth charge attack. Naturally, I was dumbstruck and demanded an explanation. But I didn’t receive one—not then, at least. Just the specific order that on no account should any depth charges be fired. Obviously, I had no choice but to obey. There were only two minutes left when the helicopters were informed of the decision. None of us at Berga could understand what was going on. It was exactly ten minutes before we received our next order. If possible, it was even more incomprehensible. Our superiors seemed to have taken leave of their senses. We were ordered to back off.”
Wallander was becoming more interested.
“So you were told to let the submarine get away?”
“Nobody actually said that, of course. Not in so many words, at least. We were ordered to concentrate our attention on a different part of the Hårsfjärden channel, at its very edge, south of the Danzig straits. A helicopter had made contact with another submarine. Why was that one more important than the one we had encircled and were just about to force up to the surface? My colleagues and I were at a loss. I asked to speak to the supreme commander in person, but he was busy and couldn’t be interrupted. Which was very odd, because he was the one who had authorized the operation not long before. I even tried to speak to the minister of defense or his private secretary, but everyone seemed to have vanished, unplugged their phones, or been instructed to say nothing. The supreme commander and the minister of defense instructed to say nothing? By whom? The government could have done it, of course, or the prime minister. I had agonizing stomach pains for several hours. I didn’t understand the orders I’d been given. Aborting the operation went against my experience and instincts. I came very close to refusing to obey. That would have been the end of my military career. But I still had a grain of common sense left. And so we moved all our helicopters and two surface vessels to the Danzig straits. I asked for permission to keep at least one helicopter hovering over the place where we knew the submarine was hiding, but that was not granted. We should leave the area, and do so immediately. Which we did. With the expected result.”
“Needless to say, we didn’t find a submarine near the Danzig straits. We continued searching for the rest of the night. I still wonder how many thousand liters of fuel the helicopters used up.”
“What happened to the submarine you had encircled?”
“It disappeared. Without a trace.”
Wallander thought over what he had heard. Once, in the far distant past, he had completed his national military service with a tank regiment in Skövde. He had unpleasant memories of that period of his life. On being called up he had tried to join the navy, but he had been sent to Västergötland. He had never had any trouble accepting discipline, but he did find it difficult to understand a lot of the orders they were given. It often seemed that chaos ruled, despite the fact that they were supposed to imagine themselves in a potentially lethal confrontation with an enemy.
Von Enke emptied his cognac glass.
“I started asking questions about what had happened. I shouldn’t have. I soon noticed that it was not a particularly popular thing to do. Even some of
my colleagues whom I had regarded as my best friends objected to my curiosity. But all I wanted to know was why these counter-orders had been issued. I’m convinced that we were closer than we’d ever been before, or have been since, to finally making a submarine surface and identify itself. Two minutes away, no more than that. At first I wasn’t the only one to be upset about the situation. Another commander, Arosenius, and an analyst from Defense Command Sweden were part of the top-level team that day. But after a few weeks they both started keeping me at arm’s length. They didn’t want to be associated with the way I was stirring things up and asking questions. And eventually I gave up as well.”
Von Enke put his glass down on the table and leaned forward toward Wallander.
“But I haven’t forgotten it, of course. I still keep trying to understand what happened—not just on that day when we allowed a submarine to give us the slip. I keep rehashing everything that happened during those years. And I think that now, at long last, I’m beginning to get some idea of what was really going on.”
“You mean, why you weren’t allowed to force that submarine to surface?”
He nodded slowly, lit his pipe again, but said nothing. Wallander wondered if the story he had heard was destined to remain unfinished.
“I’m curious, of course. What was the explanation?”
Von Enke made a dismissive gesture.
“It’s too early for me to say anything about it. I still haven’t come to the end of the road. So right now I have nothing more to say. Perhaps we’d better go and join the other guests.”
They stood up and left the room. Wallander went back to the conservatory, and bumped into the woman who had disturbed them. Only now did he reflect on the way von Enke had moved his right hand when she had burst into the room—at first very decisively, but then slowing down and eventually dropping it back onto his knee.
Even if it seemed almost inconceivable, Wallander could think of only one explanation. Von Enke was carrying a gun. Was that really possible? he thought as he stared out through the window at the deserted garden. A retired naval commander carrying a gun at his seventy-fifth birthday party?
Wallander simply couldn’t believe it. He dismissed the thought. He must have been imagining things. One bewildering experience must have led to another. First the idea that von Enke was scared, and then that he was carrying a gun. Wallander wondered if his intuition was fading, just as he was beginning to grow more forgetful.
Linda came into the conservatory.
“I thought you must have left.”
“Not yet. But soon.”
“I’m sure both Håkan and Louise are glad you came.”
“He’s been telling me about the submarines.”
Linda raised an eyebrow.
“Really? That surprises me.”
“I’ve tried to get him to tell me about that lots of times. But he always refuses, says he doesn’t want to. He seems to get annoyed.”
Hans shouted for her, and Linda left. Wallander thought about what she had said. Why had Håkan von Enke chosen to tell him his story?
Later, when Wallander had returned to Skåne and thought about the evening, there was another thing that intrigued him. Obviously there was a lot in what von Enke had said that was unclear, vague, difficult for Wallander to understand. But with regard to the way in which it had been served up, as Wallander put it, there was something he couldn’t figure out. Had von Enke planned to tell him all that during the short time he knew that the father of his son’s girlfriend was going to attend the party? Or had it happened at much shorter notice, sparked by the man under the lamppost on the other side of the fence? And who was that man?
Three months later—on April 11, to be more precise—something happened that forced Wallander to think back yet again to that evening in January.
It happened without warning and was totally unexpected by everyone involved. Håkan von Enke disappeared without a trace from his home in the Östermalm district of Stockholm. Every morning, von Enke went for a long walk, regardless of the weather. On that particular day, it was drizzling all over Stockholm. He got up early, as usual, and shortly after six was enjoying his breakfast. At seven o’clock he knocked on the bedroom door in order to wake up his wife, and announced that he was going out for his usual walk. It generally lasted about two hours, except when it was very cold; then he would shorten it to one hour, since he used to be a heavy smoker, and his
lungs had never recovered. He always took the same route. From his home in Grevgatan he would walk to Valhallavägen and from there turn off into the Lill-Jansskogen woods, following an intricate sequence of paths that eventually took him back to Valhallavägen, then southward along Sturegatan before turning left into Karlavägen and back home again. He would walk fast, using various walking sticks he had inherited from his father, and was always sweaty by the time he arrived back home and tumbled into a hot bath.
This particular morning had been like all the others, apart from one thing: Håkan von Enke never came home. Louise was very familiar with his route—she used to accompany him sometimes, but she stopped when she could no longer keep up with his pace. When he didn’t turn up, she started to worry. He was in good shape, no doubt about that; but nevertheless he was an old man and something might have happened to him. A heart attack, or a burst blood vessel perhaps? She went out to look for him, having first established that he hadn’t taken his cell phone, in spite of their agreement that he always would. It was lying on his desk. She came back at one o’clock, having retraced his footsteps. The whole time, she was half expecting to find him lying dead by the side of the road. But there was no sign of him. He had vanished. She called two, maybe three friends he might conceivably have visited, but nobody had seen him. Now she was sure that something had happened. It was about two when she called Hans at his office in Copenhagen. Although she was very worried and wanted to report Håkan’s absence to the police, Hans tried to calm her down. Louise reluctantly agreed to wait a few more hours.
But Hans called Linda immediately, and from her Wallander heard what had happened. He was trying to teach Jussi to sit still while he cleaned his paws—he had been taught what to do by a dog trainer he knew in Sturup. He was just about to give up on the grounds that Jussi had no ability whatsoever to learn new habits when the phone rang. Linda told him about Louise’s worries and asked for his advice.
“You’re a police officer yourself,” Wallander said. “You know the routine. Wait and see. Most of them come back.”
“But this is the first time he’s deviated from his routine in many years. I understand why Louise is worried. She’s not the hysterical type.”
“Wait until tonight,” said Wallander. “He’ll come back; you’ll see.”
Wallander was convinced that Håkan von Enke would turn up and that there would be a perfectly logical explanation for his absence. He was more curious than worried, and wondered what the explanation would be. But von Enke never did return, not that evening or the next one. Late in the evening of April 11 Louise reported her husband missing. She was then
driven around the narrow labyrinthine roads in the Lill-Jansskogen woods in a police car, but they failed to find him. The following day her son traveled up from Copenhagen. It was then that Wallander began to realize something serious must have happened.
At that point he had still not returned to work. The internal investigation had dragged on and on. And to make matters worse, in the beginning of February he had fallen badly on the icy road outside his house and broken his left wrist. He had tripped over Jussi’s leash because the dog still hadn’t learned to stop pulling and dragging, or to walk on the correct side. His wrist was put in a cast and Wallander was given sick leave. It had been a period of short temper and frequent outbursts of anger, aimed at himself and Jussi and also at Linda. As a result, Linda had avoided seeing him any more than was necessary. She thought he had become like his father—surly, irritable, impatient. Reluctantly, he accepted that she was right. He didn’t want to turn into his father; he could cope with anything else, but not that. He didn’t want to be a bitter old man who kept repeating himself, both in his paintings and in his opinions about a world that grew increasingly incomprehensible to him. It was a time when Wallander strode around and around his house like a bear in a cage, no longer able to ignore the fact that he was now sixty years old and hence inexorably on his way into old age. He might live for another ten or twenty years, but he would never be able to experience anything but growing older and older. Youth was a distant memory, and now middle age was behind him. He was standing in the wings, waiting for his cue to go onstage to begin the third and final act, in which everything would be explained, the heroes placed in the spotlight while the villains died. He was fighting as hard as he could to avoid being forced to play the tragic role. He would prefer to leave the stage with a laugh.
What worried him most was his forgetfulness. He would write a list when he drove to Simrishamn or Ystad to do some shopping, but when he entered the shops he would realize he had forgotten it. Had he in fact ever written one? He couldn’t remember. One day, when he was more worried than usual about his memory, he made an appointment with a doctor in Malmö who advertised herself as a specialist in “the problems of old age.” The doctor, whose name was Margareta Bengtsson, received him in an old house in the center of Malmö. In Wallander’s prejudiced view she was too young to be capable of understanding the miseries of old age. He was tempted to turn around and leave, but he controlled himself, sat down in a leather armchair and began talking about his bad memory that was getting worse all the time.