“Good morning, my name is Ann Lindell, I’m with the Violent Crimes Division at the Uppsala Police. I’m sorry for disturbing you so early.”
She put the phone in her right hand and slipped the cold left hand in her pocket.
“I see, and what is this about?”
Manfred Olsson’s voice was guarded.
“Routine inquiries,” she started, in an unusually passive way.
“Is it about the car?”
“No, why, have you . . .”
“My car was stolen fourteen days ago. Have you found it?”
“It’s not about the car.”
Ann Lindell leaned against the wall. The rising sun warmed her frozen body. She had felt groggy when she woke up and it had not helped to be called out to a blustery front yard on a cold morning at the end of October.
The maple leaves glowed in shades of yellow-red, marred by tiny, black fungal spores, which, woven together, presented an impression both of the unending richness of the plant kingdom, but also of sadness and transience. Scoops of snow were evidence of winter having arrived early this year.
Ola Haver came out of the house, spotted her leaning against the wall, and nodded. He looked tired. He had mentioned something about both kids and his wife, Rebecka, having colds.
Or else it was because he had a hard time enduring the sight of a dead body. Lindell sensed it had to do with the fact that as a teenager Haver had seen his own father collapse at the dinner table—stung in the throat by a bee—and he had died within a few minutes.
“Do you know a Petrus Blomgren?” Lindell continued.
“No, I don’t think so,” Manfred Olsson said. “Should I?”
She heard voices in the background. It sounded as if a TV was on.
“What kind of work do you do?”
“Burglar alarms,” Olsson said curtly. “Why?”
“We found a note with your number on it at the residence of Petrus Blomgren. He must have gotten it somehow.”
Manfred Olsson did not reply.
“You have no explanation?”
“No, as I’ve already said.”
“Are you acquainted with the Jumkil area?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that. I know roughly where it is. What is this all about? I have to get going soon.”
“Where do you work?”
“I work for myself. I’m going to . . . I guess it doesn’t matter.”
No, Lindell thought and smiled in the midst of the misery, it doesn’t matter. Not now and maybe not later.
“Have you been to Jumkil recently?”
“I was there for a wedding once. That was maybe ten years ago.”
“You install alarms, isn’t that right? Have you had any requests for alarms in Jumkil in the last while?”
“No, not that I can remember.”
“Thank you,” Lindell said. “We may be in touch later and have you look at a photograph.”
“He’s dead, isn’t he? That Blomgren man.”
The conversation came to an end. A sudden gust of wind made the leaves dance at her feet.
“Nothing,” Lindell said to Haver, who had come up to her. “He didn’t know a thing, not about Jumkil and not about Blomgren.”
“We’ve found a letter,” Haver said. “A farewell letter.”
“What? That Blomgren wrote?”
“It appears so.”
Lindell sighed heavily.
“Do you mean he was planning to kill himself and someone beat him to it?”
Haver suddenly started to laugh. Lindell looked at him. One of their colleagues from Patrol looked up. Haver stopped just as quickly.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but sometimes it’s just too much. You’ve got red on your back. You shouldn’t lean up against walls.”
He started to brush off her light-colored jacket.
“It’s new, isn’t it?”
Lindell nodded. She felt his forceful strokes across her shoulders and back. It was not unpleasant. It warmed her. She had an impulse to punch him playfully but restrained herself.
“There we go,” he said, “that’s a little better.”
Lindell looked out at the surroundings. Here they were out in the field again. Yards, stairwells, basements, apartments, houses. Police tape, spotlights, screens, measuring tape, camera flashes, chalk marks on wooden floors, parquet floors, concrete floors, and asphalt. Voices from colleagues and crackling radio receivers. Footsteps in the darkness, in sunlight, in fall gloom and spring warmth. Objects that had been brought out, hung up, for decoration and joy, memories. Letters, diaries, calendars, notes, and grocery lists. Voices from the past, on videotape and answering machines.
Haver was talking about the letter but he stopped when he noticed her expression.
“Are you listening?”
“I’m sorry,” Lindell said, “my thoughts were elsewhere.”
“Yes, among other things, the view.”
That was the first thing that had struck her. The view.
“He lived in a beautiful place,” she said. “But tell me about the letter.”
“It’s short. A few lines. Somewhat oddly phrased.”
“And Blomgren is the one who wrote it?”
“That remains to be seen,” Haver said, “but I think so.”
“If the murder was supposed to look like suicide it was an extremely sloppy job.”
“Not with blunt trauma to the back of the head,” Haver said and looked in the direction of the shed where Petrus Blomgren had been struck down.
“Fury,” he said. “He is in very bad shape.”
“Maybe it’s Ottosson? Doesn’t he have a summer cabin in this area?”
“Should we take a look?” Haver said and walked toward the hall.
They glanced at the building where the forensic team was working. One of Petrus Blomgren’s legs could be seen through the door opening.
Lindell had already been in the house but had gone outside again to call the number they had found on a piece of paper. Petrus Blomgren had been a man of order, that much was clear. Maybe it’s the number of Eldercare Assistance, Lindell thought, as she and Haver again went into the kitchen. Everything was in its place. No dirty dishes. A coffee cup and saucer, a serrated knife, a bowl, and several serving dishes neatly placed in the drying rack.
There was a saltcellar and a newspaper on the table. The waxed tablecloth was wiped down. A couple of potted plants in the window and a vase with the last flowers of the season, several twigs of goldenrod and orpine.
“Was he signed up to receive Eldercare?” Lindell asked.
“Maybe. It’s nice and tidy, you mean.”
“Yes, for an old man on his own. It normally looks a little different than this.”
“Here’s the letter,” Haver said and pointed to an area of the counter next to the stove.
Lindell was surprised that she hadn’t spotted the white envelope earlier. It was placed next to the coffeemaker, but partly blocked by the bread box.
She leaned forward and read: “It’s fall again. The first snow. The decision is mine. That’s how it’s always been. I have had to make all of my decisions alone. You arrive at a certain point. I am sorry that perhaps I haven’t always handled things as I should have. A final request: I beg you not to chop down the old maple tree. Not yet. Let it stand there until it falls. My grandfather was the one who planted it. It’s not a pretty sight to hang oneself but I don’t see any other choice. It’s over.”
The letter was signed “Petrus Blomgren.”
“Why did he put the letter here and not on the table?” Haver wondered.
“Have you seen the leaf caught in the window?” Lindell asked and pointed. “It’s like a greeting from the maple.”
A yellow leaf had wedged itself into the woodwork of the window. The dark nerves were shaped like an outstretched hand. It wiggled a little in the wind, silently dashed a couple of times against the glass only to peel off and join the thousands of fall tokens whirling around the yard.
Haver looked at her.
“He wanted to die, but for the tree to live,” she said. “That’s strange.”
“Could he have sensed that the killer was waiting for him?”
Lindell shook her head.
“But then he wouldn’t have written like this.”
“The neighbor who called said that Blomgren lived alone, had always done so.”
“Where is she now?”
“At home,” Haver said and indicated a house that could be seen some hundred meters up the road. “Bea is talking to her again.”
“Did she see anything?”
“No, she reacted to the fact that the gate to the road was open. He was apparently very careful to keep it closed. She realized at once that something wasn’t right.”
“A creature of habit.”
“A man of order,” Haver said.
“Who couldn’t get his life in order,” Lindell said and walked over to the window. “How old is the tree?”
“At least a hundred years,” Haver said, a bit impatient with Lindell’s reflective mood, but well aware of the fact that there was no sense in hurrying her. It wouldn’t make any difference to Blomgren anyway.
“Do you think it’s a robbery-homicide?” Lindell asked suddenly. “Was he one of those old men with his dresser drawer full of cash?”
“In that case the thief knew where to look,” Haver said. “The technicians say that nothing appears to be disturbed.”
“Did he know that Blomgren was on his way to the barn? That’s a barn, isn’t it?”
“Or was he hiding in there and taken by surprise when the old man walked in with a rope in his hand?”
“We’ll have to check with the neighbor,” Haver said. “She seems to be the kind who keeps tabs.”
They both knew that Beatrice Andersson was the most suited to handle the questioning of the neighbor. If there was anything Bea excelled at, it was talking to older women.
“Who stands to inherit?”
Sammy Nilsson’s question broke the silence that had settled in the kitchen. He had come creeping in without either Haver or Lindell noticing.
Haver didn’t say anything but gave him a look that was difficult to interpret.
“Am I interrupting?” Sammy asked.
“Not at all,” Lindell said.
“Let’s hope for a dead broke, desperate nephew,” Sammy continued. Lindell tried to smile.
“Look over by the bread box,” she said.
Sammy walked over to the kitchen counter and read the good-bye letter in a low mumble.
“I’ll be damned,” he said.
A gust of wind underscored his words. Their gazes turned to the window. Outside a rain of leaves whirled from the tree to the ground. Lindell had the impression that the maple tree had decided to shake off all its leaves on this day.
“Makes you think, doesn’t it?” Sammy Nilsson said.
“I wonder how his thought process went last night,” Haver said.
“We’ll never know,” Sammy said and read the letter one more time.
Lindell slipped away, entering the small room off the kitchen. If she had been forced to guess what it would look like she would have scored a nine out of ten. There was an old sleeper couch with dingy red upholstery, most likely from the thirties, and an armchair of the same color, a TV on a table with a marble top, a couple of chairs surrounding a small pillar table, and a bookcase. On the small sofa in front of the TV there was nothing except the remote control.
It was a very personal room in spite of its predictability. It gave Lindell the feeling of intimacy, perhaps because she sensed that Petrus Blomgren spent his evenings here alone. He must have favored the armchair; it was extremely worn and had threads coming out of the armrests.
She walked over to the bookcase, which was filled mainly with older books. She recognized a few of the titles from her parents’ house. They had a coating of dust. No one had touched these books in a long time.
The left part of the bookshelf had a small cabinet. The key was in the keyhole. She pulled the door open with a pen and on the two shelves inside she saw what she thought was a photo album and a book entitled The Uppland Horse Breeder’s Association.
Everything looked untouched. If this was a burglary-assault the perpetrator had been exceedingly careful.
“Allan will have to take a look at this,” she said, and turned in the direction of the kitchen. She got up and looked around but could not spot anything out of the ordinary.
“He’ll be here soon,” Sammy Nilsson said.
Haver had left the kitchen. Nilsson was staring out of the window. Lindell looked at him from her position diagonally behind him and discovered that he was starting to go bald on the back of the head. He looked unusually thoughtful. Half of his face was illuminated by the soft morning light and Lindell wished she had had a camera. She was gripped by a sudden feeling of tenderness for her colleague.
“What do you think about the new guy, Morgansson?”
“He seems all right,” Lindell said.
Charles Morgansson had been working in Forensics for a couple of weeks. He had joined them from Umeå, where he had been for the past few years. Eskil Ryde, the head of the Forensics Department, had installed Morgansson in the empty cubicle in their division and the northener had made a comment about it being like a row of boxes in the stables and had said little else since then. His reticence had irritated some, aroused the curiosity of others, but all in all the new recruit had acclimated well. This was his first homicide case in Uppsala.
“Have you heard anything of Ryde’s plans?”
“No,” Lindell said, who as recently as the other day had talked to Ryde about his plans of quitting the force and taking early retirement, but this was nothing she wanted to discuss with Sammy Nilsson.
“Anita thought his buns were cute,” Nilsson said.
“Forget about his buns a while,” Lindell said flatly, “we have an investigation under way.”
“I was just trying to . . .”
“Forget it. Can you take the upstairs? I want to take a look around out there. Tell Allan to go over the TV room.”
Copyright © 2007 by Kjell Eriksson. Translation © 2007 by Ebba Segerberg. All rights reserved.