Authors: Henning Mankell
“Do I have Alzheimer’s?” Wallander asked as the interview drew to a close.
Margareta Bengtsson smiled, not condescendingly but in a straightforward and friendly way.
“No,” she said. “I don’t think so. But obviously, nobody knows what’s lurking around the next corner.”
Around the next corner, Wallander thought as he walked back to his car through the bitterly cold wind. When he got there he found a parking ticket tucked under a windshield wiper. He flung it into the car without even looking to see how much he had been fined and drove home.
A car he didn’t recognize was waiting outside his front door. When Wallander got out of his own car, he saw Martinsson standing by the dog kennel, stroking Jussi through the bars.
“I was just going to leave,” said Martinsson. “I left a note on the door.”
“Have they sent you to deliver a message?”
“Not at all—I came entirely of my own accord to see how you were.”
They went into the house. Martinsson took a look at Wallander’s library, which had become extensive over the years. Then they sat at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. Wallander said nothing about his trip to Malmö and the appointment with the doctor. Martinsson nodded at his plastered hand.
“The cast will come off next week,” said Wallander. “What does the gossip have to say?”
“About your hand?”
“About me. The gun at the restaurant.”
“Lennart Mattson is an unusually taciturn man. I know nothing about what’s going on. But you can count on our support.”
“That’s not true. You no doubt support me. But the leak must have come from somewhere. There are a lot of people at the police station who don’t like me.”
“That’s life. There’s nothing you can do about it. Who likes me?”
They talked about everything under the sun. It struck Wallander that Martinsson was now the only one left of the colleagues who were at the police station when he first moved to Ystad.
Martinsson seemed depressed as he sat there at the table. Wallander wondered if he was ill.
“No, I’m not ill,” said Martinsson. “But I’m resigned to the fact that it’s all over now. My career as a police officer, that is.”
“Did you also leave your gun in a restaurant?”
“I just can’t take it anymore.”
To Wallander’s astonishment, Martinsson started crying. He sat there like a helpless child, his hands wrapped around his coffee cup as the tears ran down his cheeks. Wallander had no idea what to do. He had occasionally noticed that Martinsson was depressed over the years, but he had never broken down like this before. He decided simply to wait it out. When the phone rang he unplugged it.
Martinsson pulled himself together and dried his face.
“What a thing to do!” he said. “I apologize.”
“Apologize for what? In my opinion anyone who can cry in front of another man displays great courage. Courage I don’t have, I’m afraid.”
Martinsson explained that he felt he had lost his way. He found himself questioning more and more the value of his work as a police officer. He wasn’t dissatisfied with the work he did, but he worried about the role of the police in the Sweden of today. The gap between what the general public expected and what the police could actually do seemed to be growing wider all the time. Now he had reached a point where every night was a virtually sleepless wait for a day he knew would bring more torture.
“I’m packing it in this summer,” he said. “There’s a firm in Malmö I’ve been in contact with. They provide security consultants for small businesses and private properties. They have a job for me. At a salary significantly higher than what I’m getting now, incidentally.”
Wallander recalled another time many years ago when Martinsson had made up his mind to resign. On that occasion Wallander had managed to persuade him to soldier on. That must have been at least fifteen years ago. He could see that this time, it was impossible to talk his colleague out of it. It wasn’t as if his own situation made his future in the police force particularly attractive.
“I think I understand what you mean,” he said. “And I think you’re doing the right thing. Change course while you’re still young enough to do it.”
“I’ll be fifty in a few years’ time,” he said. “You call that young?”
“I’m sixty,” said Wallander. “By then you’re definitely on a one-way street to old age.”
Martinsson stayed a bit longer, talking about the work he would be doing in Malmö. Wallander realized the man was trying to show him that despite everything, he still had something to look forward to, that he hadn’t lost all his enthusiasm.
Wallander walked him to his car.
“Have you heard anything from Mattson?” Martinsson asked tentatively.
“There are four possible options,” Wallander told him. “A ‘constructive reprimand,’ for instance. They can’t do that to me. That would make a
laughingstock of the whole police force. A sixty-year-old officer sitting before some police commissioner like a naughty schoolboy, told to mend his ways.”
“Surely they aren’t seriously considering that? They must be out of their minds!”
“They could give me an official warning,” Wallander went on. “Or they could give me a fine. As a last resort, they could give me the boot. My guess is I’ll get a fine.”
They shook hands when they came to the car. Martinsson vanished into a cloud of snow. Wallander went back into the house, leafed through his calendar, and established that three months had now passed since that unfortunate evening when he forgot his service pistol.
He remained on sick leave even after the cast had been removed. On April 10 an orthopedic specialist at Ystad Hospital discovered that a bone in Wallander’s hand had not healed as it should have. For a brief, horrific moment Wallander thought they were going to break his wrist again, but the doctor assured him that there were other measures they could take. But it was important that Wallander not use his hand, so he couldn’t go back to work.
After leaving the hospital, Wallander stayed in town. There was a play by a modern American dramatist on at the Ystad theater, and Wallander had been given a ticket by Linda, who had a bad cold and couldn’t go herself. As a teenager she had thought briefly about becoming an actress, but that ambition passed quickly. Now she was relieved she had realized early on that she didn’t have enough talent to go on the stage.
After only ten minutes, Wallander started checking his watch. The play was boring him. Moderately talented actors were wandering around in a room and reciting their lines from various places—a stool, a table, a window seat. The play was about a family in the process of breaking up as a result of internal pressures, unresolved conflicts, lies, thwarted dreams; it completely failed to engage his interest. When the first intermission came at last, Wallander grabbed his jacket and left the theater. He had been looking forward to the production, and he felt frustrated. Was it his fault, or was the play really as boring as he found it?
He had parked his car at the train station. He crossed over the tracks and followed a well-trodden path toward the rear of the station building. He suddenly felt a blow in the small of his back and fell over. Two young men, eighteen or nineteen, were standing over him. One of them was wearing a hooded sweater, the other a leather jacket. The one with the hood was carrying a knife. A kitchen knife, Wallander noted before being punched in the
face by the one in the leather jacket. His upper lip split and started bleeding. Another punch, this time on the forehead. The boy was strong and was hitting hard, as if he was in a rage. Then he started tugging at Wallander’s clothes, hissing that he wanted his wallet and cell phone. Wallander raised an arm to protect himself. The whole time, he was keeping an eye on the knife. It then dawned on him that the kids were more scared than he was, and that he didn’t need to worry about that trembling hand holding the weapon. Wallander braced himself, then aimed a kick at the kid with the knife. He missed, but grabbed ahold of his hand and gave it a violent twist. The knife flew away. At the same time, he felt a heavy blow to the back of his neck, and he fell down again. This time the blow had been so hard that he couldn’t stand up. He managed to raise himself onto his knees, and he felt the chill from the wet ground through his pant legs. He expected to be stabbed at any moment. But nothing happened. When he looked up, the kids had disappeared. He rubbed the back of his head, which felt sticky. He slowly got to his feet, realized that he was in danger of fainting, and grabbed hold of the fence surrounding the tracks. He took a few deep breaths, then made his way gingerly to the car. The back of his neck was bleeding, but he could take care of that when he got home. He didn’t seem to have any signs of a concussion.
He sat behind the wheel for a while without turning the ignition key. From one world to another, he thought. First I’m sitting in a theater but don’t feel a part of what’s happening. So I leave and then find myself in a world I often come across from the outside; but this time I am the one lying there, injured, under threat.
He thought about the knife. Once, at the very beginning of his career, as a young police officer in Malmö, he had been stabbed in Pildamm Park by a madman run amok. If the knife had entered his body only an inch to one side it would have hit his heart. In that case he would never have spent all those years in Ystad, or seen Linda grow up. His life would have come to an end before it had started in earnest.
He remembered thinking at the time:
There’s a time to live, and a time to die
It was cold in the car. He started the engine and switched on the heat. He relived the attack over and over again in his mind. He was still in shock, but he could feel the anger boiling up inside him.
He gave a start when somebody knocked on the window, afraid that the young men had come back. But the face peering in through the glass was that of a white-haired elderly lady in a beret. He opened the door a little.
“Don’t you know it’s forbidden to leave your engine running for as long as you have?” she said. “I’m out walking my dog, but I’ve been checking my
watch and know how long you’ve been standing here with the engine on.”
Wallander made no reply, simply nodded and drove off. That night he lay in bed without being able to sleep. The last time he looked at the clock it was 5:00
. The following day Håkan von Enke disappeared. And Wallander never reported the attack he had suffered. He told no one, not even Linda.
When von Enke failed to turn up after two days, Wallander’s future son-in-law called and asked him to go to Stockholm. Since he was still out sick, he agreed. Wallander realized that it was in fact Louise who had asked for help. He made it clear that he didn’t want to meddle in police business; his colleagues in Stockholm were dealing with the case. Police officers who interfered in other forces’ work and poked their noses where they shouldn’t were never popular.
The evening before Wallander left for Stockholm, one of those pleasant evenings in early spring when it was growing noticeably lighter, he paid a visit to Linda. As usual, Hans was not at home; he always worked late on what Wallander referred to wryly as “financial speculations.” That had led to the first and so far only argument between him and his prospective son-in-law. Hans had protested that he and his colleagues were not involved in anything as simple as that. But when Wallander asked what they did do, he had the impression that the answer referred in fact to speculations in foreign exchange and shares, derivatives and hedge funds (things that Wallander freely admitted he didn’t understand). Linda had intervened and explained that her father had no idea about mysterious and hence frightening modern financial goings-on. There had been a time when Wallander would have been upset by what she said, but now he noticed the warmth in her voice and simply flung his arms out wide as a sign that he submitted to her judgment.
But now he was sitting in the house shared by his daughter and her partner. The baby, who still hadn’t been given a name, was lying on a mat by Linda’s feet. Wallander observed her, and it occurred to him, perhaps for the first time, that his own daughter would never sit on his knee again. When one’s own child has a child, some things are gone forever.
“What do you think happened to Håkan?” Wallander asked. “What’s your view, both as a police officer and as Hans’s partner?”
Linda replied immediately—she had clearly been prepared for the question.
“I’m sure something serious has happened. I’m even afraid he might be dead. Håkan isn’t the type of person who just vanishes. He would never
commit suicide without leaving a note. Mind you, he would never commit suicide, period; but that’s another matter. If he had done something wrong, he would never slink off without taking his punishment. I simply don’t believe that he disappeared of his own free will.”
“Can you explain?”
“Do I need to? Surely you understand what I mean.”
“Yes, but I want to hear it in your own words.”
Wallander noted yet again that she had prepared herself meticulously. Linda was not merely somebody talking about a relative; she was also a shrewd young police officer setting out her view of the case.
“When you talk about something not happening of the victim’s own free will, there are two possibilities. One is an accident—he fell through thin ice or was run over by a car, for instance. The other is that he was subjected to premeditated violence, abducted or killed. The accident explanation no longer seems feasible. There are no reports of him in the hospital. So that possibility can be ruled out. That leaves only the other possibility.”
Wallander raised his hand and interrupted her.
“Let’s make an assumption,” he said. “You and I know this happens much more often than you might think. Especially where older men are concerned.”
“You mean that he might have run off with some woman?”
“Something along those lines, yes.”
She shook her head firmly.
“I’ve spoken to Hans about that. He says there are definitely no skeletons in the closet. Håkan has been faithful to Louise throughout their marriage.”