The Cruel Stars of the Night

Kjell Eriksson

The Cruel Stars of the Night

The second book in the Ann Lindell series, 2007

Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg

Police Headquarters, Uppsala, September 2003

Has your father shown any signs of depression lately?”

Detective Sergeant Åsa Lantz-Andersson dropped her gaze as soon as she uttered the question. The woman sitting across from her had such a fierce expression on her face that it was hard to look at her. It was as if Laura Hindersten’s eyes nailed her to the wall, saying, I don’t think you will find my father and for this reason: you are a bunch of incompetent bunglers dressed up in uniform.

“No,” she said with determination.

Åsa Lantz-Andersson unconsciously let out a deep sigh. The desk in front of her was overrun with folders and files.

“No signs of anxiety?”

“No, as I said, he was like he always was.”

“And how is that?”

Laura Hindersten gave a short laugh. It was a quick, dry salvo that reminded the officer of a teacher she had had in elementary school, someone who had poisoned the children’s existence. She had emanated pride mixed with embittered exasperation at having to put up with such thickheaded pupils.

“My father is a professor and researcher and devotes all his time to his life’s work.”

“Which is?”

“It would take us too far off track to explain it in detail, but I can summarize it by saying that he is one of the nation’s leading experts on Petrarch.”

Åsa Lantz-Andersson nodded.

“I see,” she said.

Another dry cackle.

“So he left the house on Friday. Had he said anything about his plans for the day?”

“Nothing. As I said, when I came home from work he was gone. No note on the kitchen table, nothing in his calendar. I’ve checked.”

“Are there signs that he has packed, brought things with him?”

“No, not that I can see.”

“His passport?”

“Still there in his desk drawer.”

“Your father is seventy years old. Is he showing any signs of confusion, that he…?”

“If you’re asking if he is senile or crazy, you’re wrong. His intellect is completely intact.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Åsa Lantz-Andersson said. “Is he in the habit of taking walks, and if so, where? The City Forest isn’t so far from your house.”

“He never takes walks.”

“Was there any conflict in the family? Had you had a fight?”

Laura Hindersten sat completely silent, lowered her gaze for a moment, and Åsa Lantz-Andersson thought she muttered something before looking up again. Her voice was ice-cold, free of any attempt to sound agreeable.

“We had a very good relationship, if you can imagine such a thing.”

“And why wouldn’t I be able to do that?”

“Your work can hardly be very inspiring.”

“No, you’re right about that,” Åsa Lantz-Andersson said with a smile. “It’s depressing, banal work, but of course we will do everything we can to locate your father.”

She gathered up her notes, but paused for a moment before getting to her feet.

“Thank you,” she said and held out her hand.

Laura Hindersten remained seated.

“Aren’t you going to…”

“Thank you,” Lantz-Andersson repeated. “As I said, we’ll do everything we can.”

“He may be dead, murdered.”

“What makes you think that?”

Laura Hindersten stood up. Her thin body didn’t appear to want to hold her up. She teetered momentarily and Lantz-Andersson put out a hand to steady her.

It’s a front, that haughtiness, she thought, and was suddenly gripped by a pang of conscience and pity.

Laura Hindersten was thirty-five, only a couple of years older than Lantz-Andersson, but she looked older. Maybe it was the clothes she wore, a gray skirt and an old-fashioned hip-length beige coat that gave that impression, for her face was the face of a young woman. There was no gray in the full, dark hair gathered into a ponytail-quite the opposite, in fact. Lantz-Andersson noted with a twinge of envy how shiny her hair was.

Her thin face was pale. The somewhat too-large front teeth led to thoughts of a rabbit especially when she laughed, but many would probably have said that Laura, with her mixture of forceful dark and delicate light, was an attractive woman. The eyes under the strong, dark eyebrows were light blue, and the small ears set close against her head had a classically rounded shape, like little shells.

On the desk, the photograph of her father taken a few years ago showed that Laura had inherited several of her features from him.

“One last question: was there any woman in your father’s life?”

Laura shook her head and left the room without a word. Lantz-Andersson did not think they would find her father alive. Three days had gone by. After the first twenty-four hours you could still be optimistic, after two days the chances were fifty-fifty, but after three days at the end of September, experience told her that all hope was lost.

Lantz-Andersson tried to think past conventional explanations, but gave up. All rational explanations had been tested. Already on Saturday they had gone door-to-door in the neighborhood. A search party had combed the nearby City Forest, without results. The only thing they found, hidden under a spruce, were the stolen goods from a theft on Svea Street.

It was as if Professor Ulrik Hindersten had been swallowed up by the earth. No one had seen him, not his neighbors nor anyone in the few kiosks and shops in the area.

At the literature department, where Hindersten had earlier been an active member but of late had only visited once or twice a month, no one showed any concern over the disappearance. Lantz-Andersson had talked to a former colleague who made no bones about his intense dislike of the retired professor.

“He was a pain,” was how the man summarized his opinion.

The impression from the door-to-door questioning in the area yielded the same weak results. No one actually expressed any regret at the old man’s disappearance.

“The old man must have gotten lost in his own garden,” the nearest neighbor said flippantly.

The latter was a professor of some subject Lantz-Andersson had never heard of, but she gathered it was something to do with physics.

She read through her notes. Ulrik Hindersten had been a widower for about twenty years and had lived alone with his only child during that time. Neither Ulrik nor Laura appeared in the police register nor did they appear to have any debts.

As far as she could tell the household was in good shape financially. Ulrik had a fairly generous pension and Laura’s work yielded a monthly income of more than thirty thousand kronor. The mortgage had been paid off long ago.

There were three possibilities, according to Lantz-Andersson. Either Ulrik Hindersten had committed suicide, had lost his way and collapsed due to exhaustion or illness, or he had been murdered, perhaps during an attempted mugging.

If she were going to put money on one of these alternatives she would have to go with the second as the most probable. She shut the folder with the feeling that she would have to wait before finding out whether she had guessed correctly.

One

“Manfred Olsson.”

“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 roughl ...

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