The Disappeared aka Guardian Angels
The third book in the Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht series, 2013
English translation copyright © Marlaine Delargy
When the film begins she has no idea what she is about to see. Nor does she realise what devastating consequences this film and the decisions she then makes will have on the rest of her life.
She has placed the projector on the coffee table, and the film is showing on a screen which she hastily dug out of the storeroom and set up in the middle of the floor. To get the angle right, she has propped the projector up on a book: Ira Levin’s
The sound of the projector as it feeds the film through sounds like hail tapping against a window pane. The room is in darkness and she is alone in the house. She can’t explain why she was curious about the film right from the start. Perhaps it’s because she can’t remember having seen it before. Or because she feels there is a reason why it has been kept hidden from her.
The first frame shows a room; she is sure it looks familiar. The picture is gloomy, the focus slightly blurred. Someone has covered all the windows with sheets, but the daylight still finds its way in. There are a lot of windows; they seem to go all the way up to the ceiling. The film continues, the picture grows sharper. A door opens and a young woman appears. She hesitates in the doorway; she seems to be saying something. She looks towards the camera with a tentative smile. The picture bobs up and down and it becomes obvious that the camera is not fixed to a tripod; someone is holding it.
The woman walks into the room and closes the door behind her.
When she sees the door closing she realises where the film was made: in the summerhouse in her parents’ garden. Without knowing why, she suddenly feels afraid. She wants to switch off the projector, but cannot bring herself to do it.
The door of the summerhouse opens once more and a masked man walks in. He has an axe in his hand. When the young woman sees him, she cries out and begins to back away. She bumps into one of the sheets and the man grabs hold of her to stop her from falling through the window and into the garden. He pulls her towards the middle of the room; the camera is shaking slightly.
The scenes which follow are difficult to comprehend. The man swings his axe at the woman’s chest. Once, twice. Then at her head. He switches to a knife and –
She is incapable of doing anything. She gazes blankly at the screen. What has she just seen? Eventually, she switches off the projector with stiff fingers. Rewinds the film. Runs it again. And again.
She isn’t certain that it’s real, but that doesn’t actually matter. The content is disgusting, and the second time she watches the film she recognises the man in the mask. When was it made? Who is the young woman? And where were her parents when someone took over their summerhouse, covered all the windows and made a violent film inside it?
It is evening before she decides what to do. There are still more questions than answers, but that doesn’t affect her ability to act. By the time he puts his key in the door and calls out ‘Hi darling!’ she has already made up her mind.
She will never be anyone’s darling again.
And her child will never have a father.
QUOTATION FROM INTERVIEW WITH ALEX RECHT, 01-05-2009
‘I have worked as a police officer for more than half my life. This is without doubt the most revolting case I have ever encountered. It is a nightmare, an inferno of evil. A tale with absolutely no chance of a happy ending.’
The sun had been up for less than an hour when Jörgen saw a dead person for the first time. The frequent snowfalls of the winter followed by the spring rain had softened the ground and made the water levels rise. The combined forces of wind and weather had worked through layer after layer of the earth covering the body, and eventually a huge crater had opened up in the ground between the rocks and the trees.
However, the dead woman still wasn’t fully visible. It was the dog that dug her up. Jörgen was standing among the trees, somewhat at a loss.
‘Come on now, Svante.’
He had always found it difficult to make his voice heard, to gain the respect of others. His boss had pointed this out in countless appraisal interviews, and his wife had left him for that very reason.
‘You take up so little room that you’re practically bloody invisible,’ she had said on the night she moved out.
And now here he was, standing in an unfamiliar forest with a dog that didn’t even belong to him. His sister had insisted that he move into their house while he was looking after Svante. It was only for a week, after all, and surely it didn’t make any difference to Jörgen where he lived for such a short time?
She was wrong; Jörgen could feel it in every fibre of his body. It made a huge difference where a person lived. Neither he nor Svante were particularly happy with this arrangement.
Weak rays of sunshine filtered down through the trees, making the glade glow softly in a golden light. Silent and peaceful. The only disturbing element was Svante’s constant scrabbling in the pile of earth, his front paws thumping out a drumbeat on the ground. Soil was flying in all directions.
‘Svante, come here,’ Jörgen ventured, with a little more authority this time. But the dog was deaf to his plea and started to whimper with excitement and frustration. Jörgen sighed. He walked wearily over to the dog and clumsily patted his back.
‘Listen, it’s time we went home. I mean, we were here yesterday too. We can come back tomorrow.’
He could hear the way he sounded: as if he were talking to a small child. But Svante was not a child. He was a German Shepherd who weighed something in the region of thirty kilos, and he had picked up the scent of something that was a lot more interesting than his owner’s weary brother, standing there on a mossy mound banging his feet up and down.
‘You need to show him who’s boss,’ Jörgen’s sister had said. ‘Give clear commands.’
A burst of birdsong made Jörgen glance around anxiously. He was overcome by a sudden fear that someone else was nearby.
With one click he attached Svante’s lead, and was about to embark on the final battle to get the dog home when he saw the plastic sack that had been exposed by Svante’s efforts. The dog’s jaws were locked, his teeth biting through the plastic; he tore away a large piece of the sack.
A dead person buried in the ground?
‘Svante, come away!’ Jörgen roared.
The dog froze in mid-movement and backed away. For the first and only time he obeyed his temporary master.
INTERVIEW WITH FREDRIKA BERGMAN, 02-05-2009, 13.15 (tape recording)
Present: Urban S, Roger M (interrogators one and two). Fredrika Bergman (witness).
Urban: Could you tell us about the events which took place out on the island of Storholmen on April 30th, late in the afternoon?
(The witness looks annoyed.)
Urban: No? OK, why not?
Fredrika: I wasn’t there.
Roger: But you should be able to tell us about the background.
Urban: It’s an offence if you don’t co-operate with us in this situation, Fredrika.
Roger: After all, we already know everything. At least we think we do.
Fredrika: So why do you need me?
Urban: Well, the thing is, thinking we know something isn’t really what police work is all about. And Peder Rydh is a colleague of all three of us. If there are any mitigating circumstances, we would really like to hear about them. Right now.
(The witness looks tired.)
Roger: You’ve had a pretty rough time over the last few weeks, we’re well aware of that. Your husband has been held in custody and your daughter…
Fredrika: We’re not married.
Fredrika: Spencer and I are not married.
Urban: That’s irrelevant; this case has been incredibly difficult and…
Fredrika: You’re out of your bloody minds. Mitigating circumstances… how many do you need? Jimmy, his own brother, is dead. Dead. Do you get that?
Roger: We know that Peder’s brother is dead. We know that Peder was in a dangerous situation. But back-up was on the way, and there is nothing to indicate that he didn’t have the situation under control. So why did he fire his gun?
(The witness is crying.)
Roger: Can’t you just tell us the whole story, from start to ...