"You're different," said Ann Lindell.
A tired phrase, a worn-out expression, but there was no other way to put it.
"Is that a good thing?"
Anders Brant was lying with his eyes closed, one hand on his belly, the other behind his neck. She observed him: the dark, sweaty hair by his temples, the trembling eyelids, given a violet-red hue by the first morning light, and the beard stubble — "my scourge," he said, as he always had to shave — which had scratched her.
He was not a powerful man, not much taller than she was, with a boyish body that made him look younger than almost forty-four. From his navel down to his pubic hair a dark, curly strand ran that resembled an exclamation point.
His face was thin and lacked strong lines, although when he smiled it came to life. Maybe it was his casual manner that first aroused her interest. Later, when she got to know him better, the picture got more complicated. He was just different in that way, often carefree and a little roguish, but with an inner fervor that was sometimes seen in his eyes and his gesturing hands. Then he was anything but carefree. As she observed his relaxed facial features, it occurred to her that his attitude reminded her of Sammy Nilsson, the one colleague she could confide in and discuss things other than the trivialities of work.
"I don't know," she said, in a tone more ominous than she intended, now feeling even more banal.
But perhaps he understood: She was in love. Until now neither of them had hinted at anything like that.
And was that good? He was different in every conceivable way from the men she'd been with. There weren't many really, two somewhat longer relationships — Rolf and Edvard — and a few short-lived ones, but the few weeks with Anders Brant had really shaken her up.
For the first time in a very long while she felt desired. He made no secret of his longing for her. He might call her at work and whisper things on the phone that left her speechless, and then when they met he drew her to him; despite his slender body his hands felt powerful. Sometimes she warded him off, afraid that Erik would surprise them, and also afraid of the rush she felt in her body, as if they were doing something forbidden.
"Hugging won't hurt you," he would say. "Relax."
He courted her, and he talked; never had Ann's apartment been filled with so many words. Talk, but never about before and later, always about the present. Unwilling to offer details about his past, not a word about his plans or dreams.
Ann knew absolutely nothing about his family, other than that he was the oldest of four children, and that his mother lived somewhere in south Sweden. His father had left early on; it was unclear whether he was alive. When she asked he simply mumbled something about "the old man was too damn gloomy."
Few things surprised him. He noted her own biographical details without showing any great interest, and did not connect her experiences to scenes from his own life.
He showed the greatest interest and engagement when they were watching the evening news together. Then he sometimes got agitated, or cynically scornful. Journalist colleagues that he thought were not doing their job gave rise to derisive, in some cases spiteful, comments.
Despite this singular apathy with regards to the private sphere, he was present; she never felt bored or overlooked. He glided into her life without a lot of fuss. She liked that. She thought the contrast to her life, so heavily scheduled for so long, would have been too great if he broke out in impassioned declarations of love and constructed romantic castles in the air.
It was as if he took it for granted that they would be together.
Sometimes she noticed a certain restlessness in him. He would fall silent, lose focus, and almost be dismissive, even if he did not verbalize his irritation. On a few occasions he left her on the couch or at the kitchen table and went out on the balcony. Those were the only times she saw him smoke, slender cigarillos that he enjoyed with eyes closed, leaning back in the wicker chair she once got as a present from Edvard. Then he wanted to be alone, she realized that.
After smoking his cigarillo he always brushed his teeth, which she also appreciated.
"I have to leave," he said, abruptly interrupting her thoughts. "I may be gone a week or two."
He got up from the bed, hurriedly dressed, and left.
The place was just as miserable as the dead man's life must have been. An unnecessary place — cold, windy, and hard — without beauty or the slightest finesse. The plants that had worked their way up out of the coarse gravel radiated chlorophyll-deficient impoverishment and misery. It was a place of exile, a Guantánamo for plants.
Ola Haver even thought that the workers who laid the foundations — reinforced, poured, and graveled — forgot they had ever been there. There was no pride over the surroundings.
His father had once expressed such a thought, as they drove past a viaduct and an intersection along a highway. His father put on the brakes for no reason and stopped by the side of the road.
"What a shitty place," he exclaimed, while he inspected the slopes of crushed gravel with a look of disdain.
He explained that many years before he had been involved in building the viaduct, but then totally forgot this non-place. It was the first time Ola Haver heard him say anything negative about a work site. Otherwise he had the habit of proudly pointing out all the buildings and installations he had worked on.
* * *
A non-place where the woeful, soiled figure at Haver's feet had been killed. He was lying on his stomach with a cracked skull and arms outstretched, as if he had been thrown out of an airplane into the sea of air and immediately, brutally struck the ground. A failed parachute jumper.
That was what Ola Haver saw and thought. Why here? When and how? He read the dead man: the grip of his hands on the gravel; the battered knuckles; the greasy hair, carelessly trimmed at the neck; the heavy boots, sloppily tied with colorful laces; the stained pants; and, not least, the desperation written on the half of his face that was turned upward in a peculiar way. Haver got the idea that the unnatural angle was because at the moment of death the man tried to twist his head to look toward the sky one last time. Was he a believer? That was the policeman's completely irrational thought, and even if it seemed unlikely, he wished that had been the case. He got to see the sky. Because even if the dead man had been an incorrigible sinner, God would show mercy on a man who died in such an ignominious way, Haver was sure of that.
How old was he? About forty-five, at a guess. They had not found a wallet in the man's pockets or any document that might reveal his age or identity.
And why here? Because his life had looked just like this. Perhaps the man lived in the vicinity? A hundred meters away there was a derelict job-site trailer, perhaps that was his home.
When? He suspected it had been a while since the murder occurred, perhaps a full day. In due course there would be papers about that.
Like a dark shadow his father's apparition hovered over the scene. Often, far too often in his opinion, thoughts of his dad and his unexpected death came up. He seldom if ever talked about it, but the realization that he had now lived longer than his father tormented him.
In the background he heard the technicians talking. Morgansson was the one doing all the talking. Johannesson was taciturn as usual. Haver was standing too far away to hear what they were saying.
Allan Fredriksson was poking around in his seemingly aimless way. I guess he's looking for unusual plants, thought Haver, not without bitterness. His colleague's passion for nature showed no limits. Even at the scene of a murder he was assessing, registering, and systematizing, coming out with eccentric comments for the context about plant and animal life. Indoors, in furnished rooms or in public spaces, he looked lost. Fredriksson was in his element outdoors, even if it was at a place condemned by humans. It made no difference for plants and insects. For them there was always something to feed on, and the same was true for the Boy Scout Fredriksson too.
More and more Ola Haver had come to loathe Fredriksson's capacity to brush aside the deeply inhumane aspects of the violent crimes they were there to investigate in favor of quiet observations of nature. It was undignified. Death to Ola Haver was such an awful event that nothing was allowed to disturb his focus. Every time he stood before a lifeless body he thought about his father. Fredriksson on the other hand talked about sprouting life, woodpeckers, strange insects, or whatever caught his eye. Haver was struck by thoughts of meaninglessness, while if anything, Fredriksson became exhilarated.
Maybe I'm just envious, thought Haver, as he observed Fredriksson's forward-leaning figure. His colleague's thin coat was unbuttoned and fluttered around his skinny body when the wind picked up between the concrete pillars.
Was it perhaps a hopeful sign that Fredriksson could perceive life and a future in the most miserable environments? Haver felt a sting of bad conscience. Who am I to have interpretative preference? Fredriksson is neither a worse nor a better policeman than any one of us, so why judge his enthusiasm for nature? Maybe it's his way of processing reality, making it comprehensible and bearable.
In the corner of his eye he noticed Johannesson approaching. The technician, who had only been on the unit for six months, walked slowly, as if he was hesitating. Ola Haver trembled unconsciously, made a vehement motion with his shoulders as if he was shaking off something unpleasant.
"How's it going?" Johannesson asked.
Haver chose to overlook the question.
"What have you found?"
The technician made a vague gesture.
"I think this is the murder scene," he said. "Two blows and that's it. The old guy fell down immediately after the first blow and then took one more on the back of the head. But I guess the doctor will have more to say about that."
The old guy, thought Haver; the murdered man might be younger than him.
"A slip of paper in his back pocket," said Johannesson.
"A slip of paper?"
"That's all we found."
Out with it, thought Haver. In the background Fredriksson coughed. He had complained that morning about feeling lousy.
"A telephone number," said Johannesson at last.
Haver stared at the cars on the road below the place where they had found the murder victim. The traffic was heavier. They don't know a thing, he thought. All these people going to work now, happily unaware of how close death is.
"A telephone number?"
The technician held up a plastic bag with a slip of paper in it.
"I think it's a phone number anyway. Do you want to write it down?"
Haver nodded and produced paper and pen. Six digits, three of which were fours. Always something, he thought, three fours, that beats two pairs. Who called you? Who were you going to call?
Fredriksson approached. Johannesson smiled at him unexpectedly.
"I'm going up to the trailer," said Haver and pointed.
From the road the bellowing honk of a truck was heard. Johannesson twisted his head and studied the intense stream of vehicles, and if he intended to say anything, he quickly changed his mind and went back to the dead man with an expressionless face.
Haver set off before Fredriksson reached him.
You died in a place with a view, thought Haver, looking out over the scene of a crime that in the tabloids would surely be described as the "homeless murder" or something like that.
The trailer had flat tires, but was otherwise in reasonable shape. The hitch looked new. It was a yellow, smaller-model Valla trailer, with sitting room for four, Haver guessed. It was squeezed in between a pair of sizeable spruce trees, representatives of what not that long ago could be characterized as countryside, or perhaps the borderland between city and country. Now the expanding city had eaten its way in, chewed up and spit out the former forest and replaced it with roads and interchanges.
The door was closed. Haver pulled on a thin glove and pushed down the handle with one finger; the door opened easily on its own. To the left was what had once been a changing room but all the lockers were now removed. Against the one wall stood a camp bed without sheets, with a gray blanket in a pile at the foot. On the opposite side were several large plastic crates with covers and an enormous toolbox. A helmet was hanging on a nail. He could have used that, thought Haver.
He pulled on his shoe protectors and stepped just inside the door to get an overview. This was soon done, with a floor surface of perhaps ten square meters.
The trailer had probably been the dead man's home. If not, there was a connection here. It was a homeless person's temporary refuge.
In the space to the right was a table attached to the floor and four chairs. The tabletop was covered with various pieces of trash, a roll of steel wire, a packet of hard tack, a pile of used paper plates, but no bottles or beer cans, Haver noted with some surprise.
He left the trailer and went back to the technicians.
"You can look at the trailer too."
Fredriksson was still strolling around, but when he saw that Haver had come back, he came closer.
Haver looked at the dead man one last time, turned on his heels, and went toward his car. He was seething with bitterness. No one, especially not Fredriksson, was allowed to say anything! Then he might get furious and blurt out things that he would always regret. It was bad enough that he left his colleague in the lurch.
Before him his father, the burly construction laborer, dropped down without a word, his hand fumbling over his throat, choking to death from a wasp sting.
By leaving he was protecting his father, who was murdered by an insect. He was protecting himself, clenched one hand around his heart, to prevent an inner explosion.
Once at the car he changed his mind, but turned the key in the ignition anyway, put it in gear, and drove off. Fredriksson could do what he wanted, he can ride back with the technicians, he thought shamelessly.
She suddenly remembered the sting. Did he spank her? Shamelessly she had thrust up her buttocks. It was as if his hands were still resting heavily around her hips.
She drew in air, deeply, and breathed out, lowered her gaze and let it rest, carefully turned her head, and sniffed. He had licked her armpit. To start with it felt strange, bordering on unpleasant, but suddenly well-being took over. That was how it started, with his tongue.
"... two blows to the head ... the injuries ..."
Allan Fredriksson's voice in the background broke through her hazy thoughts for a moment and she raised her head and observed her colleague on the other side of the table. He met her eyes and the flow of words ceased for a moment before he continued.
"... the place where the discovery was made is probably identical with the scene of the murder."
Ottosson sniffled and took out a gigantic handkerchief. The violent nose-blowing made Fredriksson look up from his notes.
"Try echinacea," he said.
Ottosson shook his head while he carefully folded up the handkerchief.
"Rövballar." Why had he used that dialect word? Was he from Skåne? Probably not. She seemed to recall him saying disparaging things about people from Skåne, that they were provincial and lethargic, which no one could accuse Anders Brant of.
Anders was smart. She realized that right away, and he quickly understood connections. But now it was his penis she was thinking about. Smart or not, he was the most all-around best lover she had encountered. He made her feel beautiful and desirable. He saw lines in her body like no one before. I'm over forty, she protested, but he just smiled, and caressed her across her back and down over the rounding of her rear. "Dead man's curve," he said, letting his hand continue toward her womb and she had lightheartedly parted her legs, but his hand made its way across her thigh toward the hollow of her knee.
He was slow but sometimes heated as well, and he sometimes talked about Tantric sex, which she'd never heard of. Always attentive to her mood and desires, he was, in short, a "keeper" as Görel would put it.