Black Lies, Red Blood

Kjell Eriksson

Black Lies, Red Blood

The fifth book in the Ann Lindell series, 2014

Translated from the Swedish by Paul Norlen

One

“You’re different,” said Ann Lindell.

A tired phrase, a worn-out expression, but there was no other way to put it.

“Is that a good thing?”

Anders Brant was lying with his eyes closed, one hand on his belly, the other behind his neck. She observed him: the dark, sweaty hair by his temples, the trembling eyelids, given a violet-red hue by the first morning light, and the beard stubble-“my scourge,” he said, as he always had to shave-which had scratched her.

He was not a powerful man, not much taller than she was, with a boyish body that made him look younger than almost forty-four. From his navel down to his pubic hair a dark, curly strand ran that resembled an exclamation point.

His face was thin and lacked strong lines, although when he smiled it came to life. Maybe it was his casual manner that first aroused her interest. Later, when she got to know him better, the picture got more complicated. He was just different in that way, often carefree and a little roguish, but with an inner fervor that was sometimes seen in his eyes and his gesturing hands. Then he was anything but carefree. As she observed his relaxed facial features, it occurred to her that his attitude reminded her of Sammy Nilsson, the one colleague she could confide in and discuss things other than the trivialities of work.

“I don’t know,” she said, in a tone more ominous than she intended, now feeling even more banal.

But perhaps he understood: She was in love. Until now neither of them had hinted at anything like that.

And was that good? He was different in every conceivable way from the men she’d been with. There weren’t many really, two somewhat longer relationships-Rolf and Edvard-and a few short-lived ones, but the few weeks with Anders Brant had really shaken her up.

For the first time in a very long while she felt desired. He made no secret of his longing for her. He might call her at work and whisper things on the phone that left her speechless, and then when they met he drew her to him; despite his slender body his hands felt powerful. Sometimes she warded him off, afraid that Erik would surprise them, and also afraid of the rush she felt in her body, as if they were doing something forbidden.

“Hugging won’t hurt you,” he would say. “Relax.”

He courted her, and he talked; never had Ann’s apartment been filled with so many words. Talk, but never about before and later, always about the present. Unwilling to offer details about his past, not a word about his plans or dreams.

Ann knew absolutely nothing about his family, other than that he was the oldest of four children, and that his mother lived somewhere in south Sweden. His father had left early on; it was unclear whether he was alive. When she asked he simply mumbled something about “the old man was too damn gloomy.”

Few things surprised him. He noted her own biographical details without showing any great interest, and did not connect her experiences to scenes from his own life.

He showed the greatest interest and engagement when they were watching the evening news together. Then he sometimes got agitated, or cynically scornful. Journalist colleagues that he thought were not doing their job gave rise to derisive, in some cases spiteful, comments.

Despite this singular apathy with regards to the private sphere, he was present; she never felt bored or overlooked. He glided into her life without a lot of fuss. She liked that. She thought the contrast to her life, so heavily scheduled for so long, would have been too great if he broke out in impassioned declarations of love and constructed romantic castles in the air.

It was as if he took it for granted that they would be together.

Sometimes she noticed a certain restlessness in him. He would fall silent, lose focus, and almost be dismissive, even if he did not verbalize his irritation. On a few occasions he left her on the couch or at the kitchen table and went out on the balcony. Those were the only times she saw him smoke, slender cigarillos that he enjoyed with eyes closed, leaning back in the wicker chair she once got as a present from Edvard. Then he wanted to be alone, she realized that.

After smoking his cigarillo he always brushed his teeth, which she also appreciated.

“I have to leave,” he said, abruptly interrupting her thoughts. “I may be gone a week or two.”

He got up from the bed, hurriedly dressed, and left.

Two

The place was just as miserable as the dead man’s life must have been. An unnecessary place-cold, windy, and hard-without beauty or the slightest finesse. The plants that had worked their way up out of the coarse gravel radiated chlorophyll-deficient impoverishment and misery. It was a place of exile, a Guantánamo for plants.

Ola Haver even thought that the workers who laid the foundations-reinforced, poured, and graveled-forgot they had ever been there. There was no pride over the surroundings.

His father had once expressed such a thought, as they drove past a viaduct and an intersection along a highway. His father put on the brakes for no reason and stopped by the side of the road.

“What a shitty place,” he exclaimed, while he inspected the slopes of crushed gravel with a look of disdain.

He explained that many years before he had been involved in building the viaduct, but then totally forgot this non-place. It was the first time Ola Haver heard him say anything negative about a work site. Otherwise he had the habit of proudly pointing out all the buildings and installations he had worked on.

***

A non-place where the woeful, soiled figure at Haver’s feet had been killed. He was lying on his stomach with a cracked skull and arms outstretched, as if he had been thrown out of an airplane into the sea of air and immediately, brutally struck the ground. A failed parachute jumper.

That was what Ola Haver saw and thought. Why here? When and how? He read the dead man: the grip of his hands on the gravel; the battered knuckles; the greasy hair, carelessly trimmed at the neck; the heavy boots, sloppily tied with colorful laces; the stained pants; and, not least, the desperation written on the half of his face that was turned upward in a peculiar way. Haver got the idea that the unnatural angle was because at the moment of death the man tried to twist his head to look toward the sky one last time. Was he a believer? That was the policeman’s completely irrational thought, and even if it seemed unlikely, he wished that had been the case. He got to see the sky. Because even if the dead man had been an incorrigible sinner, God would show mercy on a man who died in such an ignominious way, Haver was sure of that.

How old was he? About forty-five, at a guess. They had not found a wallet in the man’s pockets or any document that might reveal his age or identity.

And why here? Because his life had looked just like this. Perhaps the man lived in the vicinity? A hundred meters away there was a derelict job-site trailer, perhaps that was his home.

When? He suspected it had been a while since the murder occurred, perhaps a full day. In due course there would be papers about that.

Like a dark shadow his father’s apparition hovered over the scene. Often, far too often in his opinion, thoughts of his dad and his unexpected death came up. He seldom if ever talked about it, but the realization that he had now lived longer than his father tormented him.

In the background he heard the technicians talking. Morgansson was the one doing all the talking. Johannesson was taciturn as usual. Haver was standing too far away to hear what they were saying.

Allan Fredriksson was poking around in his seemingly aimless way. I guess he’s looking for unusual plants, thought Haver, not without bitterness. His colleague’s passion for nature showed no limits. Even at the scene of a murder he was assessing, registering, and systematizing, coming out with eccentric comments for the context about plant and animal life. Indoors, in furnished rooms or in public spaces, he looked lost. Fredriksson was in his element outdoors, even if it was at a place condemned by humans. It made no difference for plants and insects. For them there was always something to feed on, and the same was true for the Boy Scout Fredriksson too.

More and more Ola Haver had come to loathe Fredriksson’s capacity to brush aside the deeply inhumane aspects of the violent crimes they were there to investigate in favor of quiet observations of nature. It was undignified. Death to Ola Haver was such an awful event that nothing was allowed to disturb his focus. Every time he stood before a lifeless body he thought about his father. Fredriksson on the other hand talked about sprouting life, woodpeckers, strange insects, or whatever caught his eye. Haver was struck by thoughts of meaninglessness, while if anything, Fredriksson became exhilarated.

Maybe I’m just envious, thought Haver, as he observed Fredriksson’s forward-leaning figure. His colleague’s thin coat was unbuttoned and fluttered around his skinny body when the wind picked up between the concrete pillars.

Was i ...

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