Hostage

Kristina Ohlsson

Hostage

The fourth book in the Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht series, 2014

English translation copyright © Marlaine Delargy

WASHINGTON, DC, USA

It is early evening as Flight 573 heads towards the USA. An endless network of runways stretches into the distance beyond the control tower where Bruce Johnson is waiting for news. The room is silent, and he scarcely notices that he is holding his breath. They still don’t know if the plane will be given permission to land.

Bruce can see police cars and other emergency vehicles lined up next to one of the runways. A whole fleet of ambulances and fire engines. No one knows how this drama will end. Whether the whole thing will go disastrously wrong. He can’t see the men from the armed-response unit, dressed all in black, but Bruce knows they are waiting in the darkness with their guns at the ready. A thought passes through his mind:

We shoot the hostage. That’s rule number one.

He doesn’t know where that thought just came from. Shooting the hostage has never been a rule. No one in the FBI would ever think or act according to such a counter-productive principle. Rule number one is that we never, under any circumstances, negotiate with terrorists.

And that applies right here and now. Their refusal to compromise has guided their actions ever since the plane took off from Arlanda airport just outside Stockholm, a city that Bruce has wanted to visit for a long time. But he doesn’t really believe he will ever get there. Why would someone like him ever travel to Sweden?

The plane is a 1989 jumbo jet. It is carrying over four hundred passengers. Now it has run out of fuel, and the pilot is begging for permission to land.

Bruce isn’t sure what is going to happen next. He is still waiting for instructions from his boss. In Sweden, it must be almost eleven thirty at night. Bruce knows what a lack of sleep can do to a person, and he is keeping that in mind. No doubt his colleagues in Stockholm are thinking along the same lines, but they have been left with no choice. During all the hours that have passed, he has been in touch with the same group of people in Sweden; it has been too intense to bring in replacements. Someone mentioned something about the light in Sweden, the fact that the sun is up for such a long time in the summer, and therefore, the Swedes sleep less, even when it is autumn, as it is now. Perhaps that’s true.

No other planes are using the airspace above the airport. All incoming flights have been diverted to other cities, and all outgoing fights have had to delay their departure times. The media have been banned from the complex, but Bruce knows that they will be on-site: far away, beyond the perimeter fence, using telephoto lenses that enable them to see all the way to China, snapping one blurred image after another.

The sound of the telephone ringing makes him jump. It’s his boss.

‘They’ve made a decision. It’s bad news.’

Bruce puts down the phone and reaches for another handset. He sits there, holding it in his hand for a few moments, before keying in the number he now knows by heart, then waits for Eden to pick up.

The sentence has been passed – the plane will not reach its destination.

They have opted for the rule that did not exist.

The hostage will die.

One day earlier

MONDAY, 10 OCTOBER 2011

1 STOCKHOLM, 12:27

Once innocence was lost, it could never be regained.

He had thought this on countless occasions. As far as Sweden was concerned, it had begun with the assassination attempt on Drottninggatan right in the middle of the Christmas-shopping rush in Stockholm. Sweden had its first suicide bomber, and the shock waves spread throughout the whole country. What next? Would Sweden become one of those countries whose citizens dared not venture out for fear of terrorist attacks?

No one had been more worried than the Prime Minister.

‘How do we learn to live with this?’ he had asked over a glass of cognac late one night in Rosenbad, the government offices in the city centre.

There was no clear answer to that.

The consequences had been devastating. Not from a material point of view – physical things could be repaired. However, many emotional and moral values had been shattered. As the newly appointed Minister for Justice, he had been astonished to see the shaken individuals demanding new laws in order to make society safer, and had treated them with caution. The government party that opposed immigration capitalised on the situation and made one statement after another.

‘We have to take a firm approach on the issue of terrorism,’ the Foreign Secretary had said when the government met for the first time after the attack.

As if she was the only one who realised this.

They had all looked hopefully at the new Minister for Justice, who had taken up his post only weeks after the terrorist attack in Stockholm.

Muhammed Haddad.

Sometimes he wondered if they had known what was to come, and had handpicked him for the post. As an alibi. As the only person who could take necessary action without anyone being able to call him a racist. Sweden’s first Muslim Minister for Justice. A newcomer to the party who had never met any opposition during his short career. Sometimes it sickened him. He knew that he was given preferential treatment because of his ethnic and religious background. Not that he didn’t deserve his success. He had been a brilliant lawyer, and had realised at an early stage that he wanted to devote himself to criminal law. His clients had dubbed him the miracle worker. He wasn’t satisfied with winning; he also demanded redress. He had been fifteen years old when he came to Sweden; now he was forty-five and knew that he would never return to his homeland, the Lebanon.

His secretary knocked and stuck her head around the door.

‘Säpo called. They’ll be here in half an hour.’

He had been expecting the call. The Security Service, known as Säpo, wanted to discuss a high-security matter, and Muhammed had made it clear that he wished to take the meeting in person, even though this was not common practice.

‘How many of them are coming?’

‘Three.’

‘And Eden Lundell?’

‘She’s coming too.’

Muhammed felt calmer. ‘Show them into the large conference room. Tell the others we’ll meet there five minutes beforehand.’

2 12:32

‘I need to go soon. There’s a meeting I have to attend.’

Fredrika Bergman looked at her watch, then at her former boss, who was sitting opposite her.

Alex Recht shrugged.

‘No problem, we’ll have a longer catch-up some other time.’

She smiled at him warmly.

‘I’d really like that.’

One of the disadvantages of no longer working at Police HQ in Kungsholmen was the lack of decent places for lunch. At the moment, they were in a mediocre Asian restaurant on Drottninggatan. Alex’s choice, not hers.

‘Next time, you can decide where we meet,’ Alex said, as if he could read her mind.

Which he could. Fredrika was rarely good at hiding her feelings.

‘There aren’t that many places to choose from.’

She pushed away her plate. The meeting was due to begin in half an hour, and she ought to be back fifteen minutes beforehand. She tried to interpret the silence that had descended over their table. Perhaps they had already dealt with everything there was to say – straightforward matters that couldn’t possibly lead to unnecessarily painful discussions. They had talked about Alex’s new job with the National Bureau of Investigation. About how much Fredrika was enjoying her temporary post with the Justice Department. About her year on maternity leave in New York with her second child, Isak; Spencer, her husband, had been given a research post there.

‘You should have told us you were getting married – we would have come along,’ Alex said for the second or third time.

Fredrika shifted uncomfortably on her chair.

‘We got married in secret. Even my parents weren’t there.’

Her mother still hadn’t forgiven her.

‘They didn’t try to recruit you in the USA?’ Alex said with a wry smile.

‘Who? NYPD?’

He nodded.

‘No, unfortunately. That really would have been a challenge.’

‘I was there on a course once. The Yanks are like everybody else. Good at some things, bad at others.’

Fredrika couldn’t comment on that point. She hadn’t worked for one single hour during her time in New York. Her entire existence had revolved around the two children, and on the task of getting Spencer back on his feet. Nothing had been the same since a student had accused him of rape two years ago. When they discovered that Fredrika was expecting their second child, they had initially agreed that a termination was the only way out.

‘We can’t cope with another child,’ Spencer had said.

‘It’s not the right time,’ Fredrika had agreed.

Then they had gazed at one another for a long time.

‘We’re keeping it,’ Spencer said.

‘That’s exactly how I feel,’ Fredrika said.

Alex put down his coffee cup with a clatter.

‘I thought you’d come b ...

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