Unwanted

Kristina Ohlsson

Unwanted

The first book in the Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht series, 2011

English translation copyright © Sarah Death

For Thelma

PART I: Signs of Deception

MONDAY

Whenever he let his mind wander, for some reason he always came back to the case notes. It usually happened at night.

He lay motionless on his bed and looked up at a fly on the ceiling. He had never found darkness and rest easy to cope with. It was as though his defences were stripped away the moment the sun disappeared and fatigue and darkness crept up to enfold him. He hated feeling defenceless. A large part of his life had revolved around being on his guard, being prepared. Despite years of training, he found it incredibly hard to be prepared when he was resting. To be ready, he had to be awake. And he was used to not giving way to the fatigue that lingered in his body when he denied it sleep.

It was a long time since he had been woken at night by his own tears. It was a long time since the memories had hurt him and made him weak. In that respect, he had come a long way in his attempt to find peace.

And yet.

If he shut his eyes really tight, and if it was totally quiet all round him, he could see her in front of him. Her bulky form loomed out of the dark shadows and came lumbering towards him. Slowly, slowly, the way she always moved.

The memory of her scent still made him feel sick. Musty, sweet and powdery. Impossible to breathe in. Like the smell of the books in her library. And he could hear her voice:

You stubborn wretch,’ she hissed. ‘You worthless freak.’

And then she would grab him and grip him hard.

Her words were always followed by the pain and the punishment. By the fire. The memory of the fire was still there on parts of his body. He liked running his finger over the scars, knowing that he had survived.

When he was really small, he had assumed he was punished because he always did everything wrong. So, following his child’s logic, he tried to do everything right. Desperately, tenaciously. And still it all turned out wrong.

When he was older he understood better. There was simply nothing that was right. It wasn’t just his actions that were wrong and needed to be punished; it was his whole essence and existence. He was being punished for existing. If he had not existed, She would never have died.

‘You should never have existed!’ she howled into his face. ‘You’re evil, evil, evil!’

The crying that followed, after the fire, had to be in silence. Silent, always silent, so she wouldn’t hear. Because if she did, she would come back. Every time.

He remembered how her accusations had caused him intense anxiety for a long time. How could he ever come to terms with what she said he was guilty of? How could he ever pay for what he had done, or compensate for his sin?

The case notes.

He went to the hospital where She had been a patient and read Her notes. Primarily to get some concept of the full extent of his crime. He was of age by then. Of age, but eternally in debt as a result of his evil deeds. What he found in the notes, however, turned him quite unexpectedly from a debtor into a free man. With this liberation came strength and recovery. He found a new life, and new and important questions to answer. The question was no longer how he could compensate someone else. The question then was how he was to be compensated.

Lying there in the dark, he smiled faintly and cast a glance at the new doll he had chosen. He thought – he could never be sure – but he thought this one would last longer than the others. She didn’t need to deal with her past, as he himself had done. All she needed was a firm hand, his firm hand.

And plenty of love. His own special, guiding love.

He caressed her back gently. By mistake, or perhaps because he genuinely could not see the injuries he had inflicted on her, his hand passed right over one of the freshest bruises. It adorned one of her shoulder blades like a small dark pool. She awoke with a start and turned towards him. Her eyes shone with fear; she never knew what awaited her when darkness fell.

‘It’s time, Doll. We can begin.’

Her delicate face broke into a pretty, drowsy smile.

‘We’ll begin tomorrow,’ he whispered.

Then he rolled onto his back again and fixed his gaze on the fly once more. Wide awake and ready to begin. There could be no rest.

TUESDAY

It was in the middle of that summer of endless rain that the first child went missing. It all started on a Tuesday; an odd sort of a day that could have passed by like any other, but ended up being a day that profoundly changed the lives of a number of people. Henry Lindgren was one of them.

It was the third Tuesday in July, and Henry was doing an extra shift on the X2000 express train from Gothenburg to Stockholm. Henry had worked as a conductor for Swedish National Railways for more years than he cared to remember, and he couldn’t really imagine what would become of him on the day they forced him to retire. What would he do with all his free time, all alone?

Perhaps it was Henry Lindgren’s eye for detail that meant he could later recall so well the young woman who was to lose her child on that journey. The young woman with light auburn hair, in a green linen blouse and open-toed sandals that revealed toenails painted blue. If Henry and his wife had had a daughter, she would presumably have looked just like that, because his wife had been the reddest of redheads.

The auburn-haired woman’s little girl, however, was not in the least like her mother, Henry noted, as he clipped their tickets just after they pulled out of the station in Gothenburg. The girl’s hair was a dark, chestnut brown and fell in such soft waves that it looked almost unreal. It landed lightly on her shoulders and then somehow came forward to frame her little face. Her skin was darker than her mother’s, but her eyes were big and blue. There were tiny little clusters of freckles on the bridge of her nose, making her face look less doll-like. Henry smiled at her as he went past. She smiled back shyly. Henry thought the girl looked tired. She turned her head away and looked out of the window. Her head was resting against the back of the seat.

‘Lilian, take your shoes off if you’re going to put your feet up on the seat,’ Henry heard the woman say to the child just as he turned to clip the next passenger’s ticket.

When he turned back towards them, the child had kicked off her mauve sandals and tucked her feet up under her. The sandals were still there on the floor after she disappeared.

It was rather a rowdy journey from Gothenburg to Stockholm. Many of the passengers had travelled down to Sweden’s second city to see a world-class star in concert at the Ullevi Stadium. They were now returning on the morning train on which Henry was conductor.

First, Henry had problems in coach five where two young men had vomited on their seats. They were hung over from the previous night’s partying at Ullevi, and Henry had to dash off for cleaning fluid and a damp cloth. At about the same time, two younger girls got into a fight in coach three. A blonde girl accused a brunette of trying to steal her boyfriend. Henry tried to mediate, but to no avail, and the train did not really settle down until they were past Skövde. Then all the troublemakers finally dozed off, and Henry had a cup of coffee with Nellie, who worked in the buffet car. On his way back, Henry noticed that the auburn-haired woman and her daughter Lilian were asleep, too.

From then on it was a fairly uneventful journey until they were nearing Stockholm. It was the deputy conductor Arvid Melin who made the announcement just before they got to Flemingsberg, twenty kilometres or so short of the capital. The driver had been notified of a signalling problem on the final stretch to Stockholm Central, and there would therefore be a delay of five or possibly ten minutes to their journey.

While they were waiting at Flemingsberg, Henry noticed the auburn-haired woman quickly get off the train, alone. He watched her surreptitiously from the window of the tiny compartment in coach six that was reserved for the train crew. He saw her take a few determined steps across the platform, over to the other side where it was less crowded. She took something out of her handbag; could it be a mobile phone? He assumed the child must still be asleep in her seat. She certainly had been a little while ago, as the train thundered through Katrineholm. Henry sighed at himself. What on earth was he thinking of, spying on attractive women?

Henry looked away and started on the crossword in his magazine. He was to wonder time and again what would have happened if he had kept his eye on the woman on the platform. It made no difference how many people tried to persuade him that he couldn’t possibly have known, that he mustn’t reproach himself. Henry was, and forever would be, convinced that his eagerness to solve a crossword had destroyed a young mother’s life. T ...

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