Read an Excerpt
Annika Bengtzon stopped at the entrance to the newsroom, blinking against the sharp white neon lighting. The noise crashed against her, chattering printers, whirring scanners, the faint tapping of trimmed nails against keyboards. People feeding machines with text, images, letters, commands, signals, filling digital stomachs with no hope of ever finishing the job.
She took a few deep breaths and sailed out into the room. Over by the news desk the only activity was of the focused variety that was for the moment entirely silent. Spike, the boss, was reading some pages with his feet crossed on his desk. The temporary head of news was skimming the shimmering computer screen with increasingly red eyes, Reuters and French AFP, Associated Press and TTA and TTB, domestic and foreign, sports and financial, news and telegrams from all over the world, an endless stream. The exultant shouting hadn’t yet started, no noisy enthusiasm or disappointment about stories that had either come off or blown up, excited arguments advocating one particular approach or another.
She slid past them without looking, and without being seen.
Suddenly a noise, a challenge, a voice breaking the electronic silence.
“So you’re off again?”
She started, took an involuntary step to one side. Let her gaze swing toward Spike’s voice, and was blinded by a low-energy lamp.
“I read that you’re flying to Luleå this afternoon.”
The corner of the morning team’s desk hit her in the thigh as she tried to get to her glass box too quickly. She stopped, shut her eyes for a moment, and felt her bag slide down her arm as she turned around.
But the editor had already moved on, leaving her all at sea, caught between people’s stares and digital sighs. She licked her lips, hoisted her bag onto her shoulder again, feeling their skepticism stick to the nylon of her quilted jacket.
Set sail, away, home. The aquarium came ever closer. Relieved, she slid the door open and fled in through the tired curtains. Slid the door shut behind her, resting the back of her head against the cool glass.
At least they had let her keep her room.
Stability was becoming more and more important, she knew that much, both for her personally and for society as a whole. As chaos broke out and the nature of war was changing, it was more important than ever to look back, to learn from history.
She dropped her bag and her coat on the visitors’ couch and switched the computer on. News reporting felt increasingly distant, even though she was sitting in the middle of its pulsing, electronic heart. Things that led the front page today were forgotten tomorrow. She no longer had the energy to keep up with AP’s ENPS, the news beast of the digital age.
She ran her fingers through her hair.
Perhaps she was just tired.
She sat patiently with her chin on her hands as all the programs loaded, then opened up her material. She thought it was looking pretty interesting already, but the suits in charge weren’t so enthusiastic.
She recalled Spike out there, his voice above the waves.
Gathered together her notes and prepared her presentation.
The stairwell was dark. The boy closed the apartment door behind him, listening intently. The loose window on the stairs up to old Andersson was whistling as usual, the old boy’s radio was on, but otherwise it was quiet, completely quiet.
You’re useless, he thought. There’s nothing here. Wimp.
He stood there for a few moments, then set off determinedly for the front door.
A real warrior would never behave like that. He was almost a master; Cruel Devil was about to become a Teslatron God; he knew what mattered—that you must never hesitate in battle.
He pushed the door open, the same plaintive creak. The endless winter snow meant that the door only opened a fraction, seeing as no one had cleared the steps that morning. He forced his way out, squeezing through the gap. His rucksack caught on the door handle, though, and the unexpected jerk almost made him weep with annoyance. He tugged and pulled until one of the seams split, not caring.
He stumbled down the steps, waving his arms madly to keep his balance. At the bottom, he peered through the falling snow above the fence and stopped still.
The whole sky was illuminated by a blue light swirling against the black backdrop, coming and going, coming and going.
They’re here now, he thought, feeling his throat tighten. This is for real.
He set off, but stopped next to a broken lawn mower that was hardly visible under the snow, hearing his heart hammering once more, faster and faster, thud, thud, thud, thud. He screwed his eyes shut.
He didn’t want to see, didn’t dare go up and look.
He stood there, his ears pricking, feeling his hair gel stiffen in the cold. Hard flakes landed on his nose. Every sound was wrapped in the cotton wool of the snow, the sound of the ironworks barely audible.
Then he heard voices. People talking. A car engine, maybe two.
He opened his eyes as wide as he could, looking over the fence toward the soccer field.
Police, he thought. Not dangerous.
He waited until he had calmed down before creeping toward the road and leaning carefully forward.
Two police cars and an ambulance, people with confident postures and broad shoulders, with belts and uniforms.
Weapons, the boy thought. Pistols. Bang, bang, you’re dead.
They were standing there talking, walking about and pointing; one man had a roll of tape that he was unwinding; a girl closed the back doors of the ambulance before getting into the passenger seat.
He waited for the sirens, but they didn’t come.
No point rushing to the hospital.
Because he’s already dead, the boy thought. There’s nothing I could have done.
The sound of a bus accelerating grew louder down the road; he watched the number 1 go past the fence, annoyed that he had missed it. His mom got so angry if he was late.
He ought to hurry. He ought to run.
But he stayed where he was, his legs refusing to move, because he couldn’t go onto the road—there might be cars, gold-colored cars.
He sank to his knees, his hands shaking, and started to cry, wimp, wimp, but he couldn’t stop.
“Mom,” he whispered, “I didn’t want to see anything.”
Anders Schyman, the editor in chief, unfolded the graph of the circulation figures on the conference table in front of him. His hands were twitchy, a bit sweaty. He already knew what the columns showed, but the conclusions and analysis affected him in a way that actually made him blush.
It was really working. It was going to be okay.
He took a deep breath, put his hands facedown on the table, leaned forward, and let the information sink in.
The new direction for the news team was making a clear difference, both to the circulation figures and to the finances. Here it was, in black and white. It was working, the bitterness from the latest round of cutbacks was dying down. The reorganization was complete, people were motivated, working toward a common goal, in spite of the cuts.
He walked around the shiny walnut table, his fingers stroking the wood. It was a beautiful piece of furniture. He had deserved it. His high-handed treatment of the staff had turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.
I wonder if anyone else could have done it, he thought, even though he knew there was no one else. He had finally been able to prove himself.
The deal he had worked out with the printers had cut their print costs by 8 percent. That was saving the owners millions each year. And the recession meant that the cost of paper had gone down, which of course he couldn’t take any credit for, but it all added to the successful development of the business. The recruitment of a new sales manager had helped attract advertisers, and in the last three-quarters they had taken market shares from both the morning papers and the broadcast media.
And who was it who had fired the old fogy who was still selling advertising space like he was working on some small-town local paper?
Schyman smiled to himself.
But the most important thing was probably his continued development of sales on the front page and flyers. He wasn’t counting his chickens, but, fingers crossed, it looked like they were going to catch The Competition during the next financial year, or possibly the one after.
The editor in chief stretched, massaging the small of his back. For the first time since he arrived at the Evening Post he felt a sense of real satisfaction. This was how he had imagined his new job would be.
It was just a bit of a fucker that it had taken almost ten years.
“Can I come in?” Annika Bengtzon asked over the intercom.
He felt his heart sink, the magic fade. He breathed in and out a couple of times before going over to his desk to press the reply button and say “of course.”
He stared out at the Russian embassy as he waited for the reporter’s nervous steps outside the door. The newspaper’s success meant that he had finally started to get some respect out in the newsroom, which was most noticeable in the fact that there was less traffic through his door. This was partly explained by the new way the newsroom was organized. Four all-powerful editors worked shifts, running the various departments, and it was working just as he had planned. Instead of making him weaker, the delegation of power had actually made him mightier and more powerful. He had handed the responsibility down, and instead of having to argue constantly with the whole of the staff, he imposed his authority through his cardinals.
Annika Bengtzon, the former head of the crime team, had been invited to become one of the four. She had declined. They had fallen out badly. Schyman had already revealed his plans for her, seeing her as one of three possible heirs, and wanted to get her involved in a larger program of development. Becoming one of the editors was the first step, but she had turned the offer down.
“I can hardly punish you,” he had said, hearing exactly how that sounded.
“Of course you can,” she had said, her unreadable eyes fluttering across his. “Just get on with it.”
Bengtzon was one of the few who believed they still had open access to him and his office. It annoyed him that he hadn’t done anything about this. In part, her special treatment stemmed from the big media storm last Christmas, when she had been taken hostage in a tunnel by a mad serial killer. That had certainly helped break the paper’s downward spiral; the market research proved that. Readers found their way back to the Evening Post after reading about the night the mother of two had spent with the Bomber. So there was good reason to treat Bengtzon with kid gloves for a while. Her way of dealing with the situation and the attention that followed her release had even impressed the board. Maybe not her as a person, but the fact that she had insisted on the press conference being held in the newsroom of the Post. The chairman of the board, Herman Wennergren, had practically turned cartwheels when he saw the paper’s logo live on CNN. Schyman had more mixed memories of the press conference, partly because he had been standing directly behind Annika in the spotlight during the broadcast, and partly because of the countless repeats that had been shown on every channel.
He had been staring down at the tousled back of her head, noting the tension in her shoulders. On screen Bengtzon had been pale and giddy, answering the questions clearly but curtly in decent school-level English. “No embarrassing emotional outbursts, thank God,” Wennergren had said on his cell phone to one of the owners from Schyman’s office afterward.
He could well remember the fear he had felt at the mouth of the tunnel when the shot rang out. Not a dead reporter, he had thought, anything but a dead reporter, please.
He stopped looking at the bunker of the embassy and sat down on his chair.
“It’ll collapse beneath you one day,” Annika Bengtzon said as she closed the door behind her.
He didn’t bother to smile.
“I can afford a new one. The paper’s on a roll,” he said.
The reporter cast a quick, almost furtive glance at the graphs on the desk. Schyman leaned back, studying her as she carefully sat down on one of the heavy chairs for visitors.
“I want to do a new series of articles,” she said, looking at her notes. “Next week is the anniversary of the attack on the F21 air base in Luleå, so it would make sense to start there. I think it’s time for a proper summary of what happened, all the known facts. There aren’t many of those, to be honest, but I could do some digging. It’s over thirty years ago, but some of the employees from those days will still be in the Air Force. Maybe it’s time for someone to talk. You don’t get any answers if you don’t ask the questions . . .”
Schyman nodded, folding his hands on his stomach. Once all the fuss had died down last Christmas, she had spent three months at home. A sabbatical, they had agreed to call it. When she got back to work at the start of April she had insisted on being an independent investigative reporter. Since then she herself had chosen to focus on terrorism, its history and consequences. Nothing remarkable, no revelations, routine reports from Ground Zero and 9/11, a few follow-up pieces about the bombing of that shopping center in Finland, and interviews with survivors of the Bali bombings.
The fact was that she hadn’t really done much lately. Now she wanted to go even deeper in her retrospectives of past acts of terrorism. The question was just how relevant this really was, and if it made sense to embark on that battle right now?
“Okay,” he said slowly, “that could be good. Dusting off our old national traumas, the hijack at Bulltofta, the siege of the West German embassy, the hostage crisis on Norrmalmstorg . . .”
“. . . and the Palme murder, I know. And out of all of them, the attack on F21 is the least written about.”
She dropped her notes in her lap and leaned forward.
“The Defense Department has kept the lid on this, applying a whole arsenal of secrecy legislation. There were no media-trained PR people on the defense staff in those days, so the poor bastard in charge of the base up there had to stand there in person shouting at reporters that they had to respect the security of the nation.”
Let her run with it a bit longer, he thought.
“So what do we know?” he said. “Really?”
She looked dutifully down at her notes, but he got the distinct impression that she knew all the facts by heart.
“On the night of November 17–18, 1969, a Draken fighter plane exploded in the middle of the F21 base at Kallax Heath outside Luleå,” she said quickly. “One man was burned so badly that he died of his wounds.”
“A conscript, wasn’t it?”
“That only came out later, yes. He was transferred by air ambulance to the University Hospital in Uppsala, and hovered between life and death for a week before he died. The family was gagged and kicked up a real stink a few years later because they never got any compensation from the Air Force.”
“And no one was ever arrested?”
“The police interrogated a thousand people or so, the security police probably even more. Every single left-wing group in Norrbotten was pulled in, down to their least significant members, but nothing was ever found. It wasn’t as simple as all that, though. The real left had managed to stay pretty tight knit. No one knew all their names, and the whole lot of them used code names.”
Schyman smiled nostalgically; he himself had gone under the name of “Per” for a short period.
“You can never keep stuff like that secret, though.”
“Not completely, of course not, they all had close friends in the groups, after all, but as far as I know, there are still people in Luleå who only recognize each other by the code names they used in left-wing groups at the end of the sixties.”
She could hardly have been born then, he thought.
“So who did it?”
“Who blew up the plane?”
“The Russians, probably. That’s the conclusion the armed forces came to, anyway. The situation was completely different then, of course, we’re talking about the height of the arms race, the deepest freeze of the cold war.”
He closed his eyes for a moment, conjuring up images and the spirit of the time.
“There was a huge, great debate about the level of security at military bases,” he suddenly remembered.
“Exactly. Suddenly the public, or rather the media, demanded that every single base in Sweden had to be guarded better than the iron curtain itself. Which was completely unrealistic, of course; it would have taken the whole of the military budget to do it. But security was certainly stepped up for a while, and eventually secure zones were established within the bases. Dirty great fences with video cameras and alarms and what have you around all the hangars and so on.”
“And that’s where you want to go? Which one of the editors have you spoken to?”
She glanced at the time.
“Jansson. Look, I’ve got an open plane ticket for this afternoon. I want to meet a journalist on the Norrland News up there, a bloke who’s found out some new information, and he’s going off to Southeast Asia on Friday, away until Christmas, so I’m in a bit of a hurry. I just need you to give the okay.”
Schyman felt the irritation rising again, maybe because she was excusing herself so breathlessly.
“Couldn’t Jansson do that?”
Her cheeks started to go red.
“In principle,” Annika said, meeting his gaze. “But you know what it’s been like. He just wants to know that you’re not against it.”
She closed the door carefully behind her. He stared at the space she had left, understanding exactly what she meant. She works without boundaries, he thought. I’ve always known that. She hasn’t got any instinct for self-preservation. She gets herself into all sorts of situations, things normal people would never dream of doing, because there’s something missing there. Something got lost long ago, yanked out, roots and all, the scar fading over the years, leaving her exposed to the world, and to herself. All she’s got left is her sense of justice: the truth like a beacon in a brain full of darkness. She can’t do anything else.
This could get really messy.
The editorial team’s euphoria over the sales figures for the Christmas holiday had come to an abrupt halt when it emerged that Bengtzon had got an exclusive interview with the murderer while she was being held captive. It had been typed on the murdered Olympic delegate’s computer—Schyman had read it—it was sensational. The problem was that Annika, like a real pest, had refused to let the paper publish it.
“That’s just what the bastard wanted,” she had said. “And because I’ve got copyright I can say no.”
She had won. If they had published without her consent, she had promised to sue them. Even if she might have lost the case, he wasn’t prepared to challenge her, considering the amount of good publicity the story had already got them.
She’s not stupid, Anders Schyman thought, but she might have lost her bite.
He stood up, went over to the graphs again.
Well, there would be further cutbacks in the future.
The sunset was spreading a fiery glow in the cabin of the plane, even though it was only two o’clock in the afternoon. Annika looked for any gaps in the whipped-cream clouds beneath her but found none. The fat man next to her drove his elbow into her ribs as he spread out his copy of the Norrland News with a sigh.
She closed her eyes, shutting herself off. Pulled the shutter down against the hiss of the plane’s air-conditioning, the pain in her ribs, the captain’s reports on the temperature outside the cabin and the weather in Luleå. Let herself be carried at a thousand kilometers an hour, concentrating on the pressure of her clothes against her body. She felt dizzy, shaky. Loud noises had begun to startle her in a way she had never experienced before. Open spaces had become impossibly large; cramped spaces made her feel suffocated. Her sense of spatial awareness was warped, so that she had difficulty judging distances; she was always covered in bruises from where she had walked into things, furniture and walls, cars and the edge of pavements. Sometimes the air seemed to vanish around her. The people her vicinity used it all up, leaving nothing for her.
But it wasn’t dangerous, she knew that. She just had to wait until it went over and the sounds came back and colors became normal again; it wasn’t dangerous, wasn’t dangerous.
She suppressed the thought, letting herself float away, feeling her chin drop, and suddenly the angels were there.
Hair like rain, they sang, beings of light and summer breeze, danger-free and cherry trees . . .
Fear made her sit bolt upright in her seat, she hit the folding table, spilling orange juice against the wall of the cabin. The racing of her heart filled her head, shutting out all other sound. The fat man was saying something to her, but she couldn’t make out what.
Nothing scared her as much as the song the angels sang.
She didn’t mind as long as they kept to her dreams. The voices sang to her at night, chanting, comforting, meaningless words with an indefinable beauty. Nowadays they sometimes carried on after she was awake, which made her mad with anxiety.
She shook her head, cleared her throat, rubbed her eyes.
Checked that she hadn’t got orange juice on her laptop.
As the steel tube broke through the clouds on its final approach it was surrounded by swirling ice. Through the snowstorm she caught a glimpse of the half-frozen gray of the Gulf of Bothnia, interrupted by dark gray islands.
The landing was uncomfortably rough, the wind tugging at the plane.
She was last out of the plane, restlessly shuffling her feet as the fat man heaved himself out of his seat, got his luggage from the overhead compartment, and struggled to pull his coat on. She ran past him on the way out and noted with some satisfaction that he ended up behind her in the queue for rental cars.
Key in hand, she hurried past the crowd of taxi drivers by the exit, a cluster of dark uniforms that laughed and made shameless evaluating judgments.
The cold shocked her as she walked out of the terminal building. She gasped carefully for air, tugging her bag higher on her shoulder. The lines of dark blue taxis sparked a memory of a previous visit here with Anne Snapphane, on the way to Piteå. That must be almost ten years ago, she thought. God, time flies.
The parking lot was down to the right, beyond the bus stops. The gloveless hand holding the laptop was soon ice cold. The sound her feet made reminded her of broken glass, making her cautious. Her forward motion left doubt and fear behind it; she was on her way, she had a purpose; there was a reason for her being here.
The car was at the end of the row, she had to clear the snow from the license plate to make sure.
Dusk was falling incredibly slowly, taking over from a daylight that had never really arrived. The snowfall was blurring the outlines of the stunted pines that edged the parking lot; she leaned forward, peering through the windscreen.
Luleå, Luleå, which way was Luleå?
In the middle of a long bridge heading into town the snow suddenly eased, giving her a sense of the river beneath her, frozen and white. The structure of the bridge rose and sank around her in soft waves as the car rolled onward. The town gradually crept out of the snowstorm, and off to the right dark industrial skeletons rose toward the sky.
The steelworks and ore harbor, she thought.
Her reaction as the buildings enclosed her was immediate and violent, a déjà vu from childhood. Luleå was like an arctic version of Katrineholm, colder, grayer, lonelier. The buildings were low, in varying colors, built of cement blocks, steel-and-brick panels. The streets wide, the traffic thin.
The City Hotel was easy to find, on the main street, next to the Town Hall. There were free parking spaces outside the entrance, she noted with surprise.
Her room had a view of the Norrbotten Theatre and Stadsviken, a strangely colorless picture in which the leaden gray water of the river swallowed all light. She turned her back on the window, and rested the laptop against the bathroom door, putting her toothbrush and extra clothes on the bed so she didn’t have to carry them with her in her bag.
Then she sat down at the desk and used the hotel phone to call the Norrbotten News. It took almost two minutes before anyone answered. She was about to hang up when a sullen female voice answered.
“Could I talk to Benny Ekland please,” Annika said, looking out of the window. It was completely dark now. She listened to the mute hum of the line for several seconds.
“Hello?” she said. “Benny Ekland, is he there? Hello?”
“Hello?” the woman said quietly.
“I’m meeting him this week, my name’s Annika Bengtzon,” Annika said, getting up and hunting through her bag for a pen.
“So you haven’t heard?” the woman said.
“What?” Annika said, taking out her notes.
“We don’t even really know what happened,” the woman gulped. “Only that there was some sort of accident. Everyone on the paper’s just shocked.”
Annika stood there, her notes in one hand, the phone and pen in the other, staring at her own reflection in the window; for a moment she was floating through air.
“Hello?” the woman said. “Would you like to talk to anyone else?”
I . . . I’m sorry,” Annika said, swallowing. “How did he die?”
“I don’t know,” the woman said, now almost in tears. “I have to take another call now, then I’m done for the day. It’s been a terrible day, a terrible day . . .”
Silence on the line again. She hung up, sat down on the bed and fought a sudden feeling of nausea. Saw that there was a local telephone directory under one of the bedside tables. She pulled it out, found the number for the police, dialed, and ended up talking to the station.
“Ah, the journalist,” the duty officer said when she asked what had happened to Benny Ekland. “It was out in Svartöstaden somewhere. You can talk to Suup in crime.”
She waited, one hand over her eyes, as he transferred her, listening to the organic noises of the hotel: water rattling through a pipe in the wall, a rumbling ventilator outside, sexual groans from pay TV in the neighboring room.
Inspector Suup in the criminal investigation department sounded like he had reached the age and experience where very few things actually shook him.
“A bad business,” he said with a deep sigh. “I must have spoken to Ekland every day for the past twenty years. He was always on the phone, like a dog with a bone. There was always something he wanted to know more about, something he had to check but which we really couldn’t tell him, and of course he knew that. ‘Listen, Suup,’ he used to say, ‘I can’t make sense of this, what about this, or that, what the hell do you lot spend your time doing, unless you’ve got your thumbs rammed up your backsides . . .’”
Inspector Suup gave a quiet, sad little laugh. Annika stroked her forehead, hearing the German porn stars faking a noisy orgasm on the other side of the wall, and waited for the man to go on.
“It’ll be empty without him,” Suup eventually said.
“I was supposed to be seeing him,” Annika said. “We’d arranged to meet up and compare notes. How did he die?”
“The postmortem isn’t done yet, so I don’t want to speculate about the cause of death.”
The policeman’s measured note of caution unsettled her.
“But what happened? Was he shot? Beaten to death? Stabbed?”
The inspector sighed once more.
“Oh well,” he said. “It’ll get out anyway. We think he was run over.”
“A car accident? Run over?”
“Hit at high speed by a vehicle, probably a large-engined car. We found a stolen Volvo down in the ore harbor with some damage to the bodywork, so that might be the one.”
She took a few steps, reaching for her bag, and pulled out her notebook.
“When will you know for sure?”
“We brought it in yesterday afternoon. The experts are checking it now. Tomorrow or Thursday.”
Annika sat down on the bed with the notebook in her lap; it bent and slid away from her when she tried to write in it.
“Do you know what time it happened?”
“Sometime during Sunday night or early Monday morning. He was seen in the pub on Sunday and seems to have caught the bus home.”
“Did he live in . . .”
“Svartöstaden, I think he may even have grown up there.”
Her pen wouldn’t work, she drew big heavy circles on the paper until it started again.
“Where was he found, and who by?”
“By the fence down by Malmvallen, opposite the ironworks. He must have been thrown quite some distance. A bloke finishing his shift called early yesterday morning.”
“And there’s no trace of the culprit?”
“The car was stolen in Bergnäset on Saturday, and of course we found a few things at the scene . . .”
Inspector Suup fell silent; Annika listened to the silence for a while. The man next door had switched the channel to MTV.
“What do you think happened?” she eventually asked quietly.
“Junkies,” the policeman went on in the same tone. “Don’t quote me, but they were high as kites. It was icy, they hit him and drove off. Death by dangerous driving. We’ll get them. No question.”
Annika could hear voices in the background, people working in the police station demanding the inspector’s attention.
“One more thing,” she said. “Were you working in Luleå in November 1969?”
The man gave a short laugh.
“Well, I’m old enough,” he said, “so I could have been. No, I missed the explosion at F21 by a few months. I was in Stockholm at the time, didn’t start up here until May 1970.”
* * *
Once she had pulled her jacket on and found her gloves in her bag, her cell phone rang. The display said “number withheld,” which meant one of three things: the paper, Thomas, or Anne Snapphane.
She hesitated for a moment, then took the call and closed her eyes.
“I’m sitting on my Operativ office chair from IKEA,” Anne said, “and I’m about to put my feet up on my Prioritet desk. Where are you?”
Annika felt her shoulders relax in relief, no guilt, no demands.
“In Luleå. Do you mean to say that you’re actually in your new office?”
“Name on the door, everything. This is my first call on my new Doro telephone. What’s my number?”
“Withheld,” Annika said, letting her coat and gloves drop to the floor again. “What did the doctor say?”
Her friend gave a deep sigh.
“He seemed even more tired than me,” she said, “but perhaps that’s understandable. I’ve been seeing him for almost ten years, after all. That would wear anyone out. But at least I’m tuned in to my health: I know I’m a hypochondriac.”
“Yes, but even hypochondriacs can get brain tumors,” Annika said.
The silence on the line solidified into fear.
“Shit,” Anne Snapphane said. “I’ve never thought about it like that.”
Annika laughed, full of a warmth that only Anne could give her.
“What the hell am I supposed to do, then?” Anne said. “How do I get less stressed? The press conference is tomorrow and I’ve got to do the whole ownership profile, all the technical crap about permits and stuff.”
“Why?” Annika said. “You’re head of programming. Let the managing director sort that out.”
“He’s in New York. What do you think of this? ‘TV Scandinavia is owned by a consortium of American investors who all have many years experience owning and running television channels. We will be broadcasting across the terrestrial digital network in Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, with our headquarters and studios here in Stockholm. The proprietors believe that the Scandinavian countries and Finland, with a combined audience equivalent to a tenth of that of the U.S.A., represent an unexploited television market. In the ministry of culture’s proposal in January, Minister of Culture Karina Björnlund will indicate that the terrestrial digital market should obey the same competition rules as the rest of the market, so the Post and Television Committee will be awarding licenses to companies that fulfill the broadcast requirements. . . .’ What do you think?”
“I lost it at ‘consortium,’” Annika said. “Can’t you liven it up a bit?”
Anne gave a deep sigh.
“If you knew the fuss this is going to cause,” she said. “We’re challenging the established broadcasters in an entirely new way, because we’ll be using the terrestrial network to reach every household in the Nordic region. Everyone’s going to hate us.”
“So don’t tell them, then,” Annika said, looking at the time. “Tell them about your kids’ programs and how you’re going to prioritize educational broadcasting and culture, serious news, and home-produced documentaries about people in the Third World.”
“Ha ha,” Anne said sourly. “Very funny.”
“I have to go,” Annika said.
“And I have to get a grip,” Anne retorted.
The main office of the Norrland News was in a three-story office block between the Town Hall and the County Governor’s Residence. Annika looked up at the yellow brick façade, estimating that it had been built in the mid-1950s.
It struck her that it could have been the Katrineholm Post, it looked just the same. That impression only grew stronger when she leaned against the glass door, shielding her eyes from the lamp above with her hands to get a look at the reception area. Gloomy and deserted, just an illuminated emergency exit sign casting a dull light on green newspaper racks and chairs.
The speaker above the doorbell crackled.
“My name’s Annika Bengtzon, I’m on the Evening Post. I was supposed to be seeing Benny Ekland this evening, but I’ve just found out that he’s dead.”
The silence radiated out into the winter darkness, accompanied by some crackles of static. She looked up at the sky, the clouds had cleared and the stars were out. The temperature was falling rapidly now; she rubbed her gloved hands together.
“Oh?” the voice from the newsroom said, its suspicion clearly audible over the poor connection.
“I was going to give Benny some material; there were a few things we were going to discuss.”
This time the reply came immediately.
“In return for what?”
“Let me in and we can talk about it,” she said.
Three seconds of static hesitation later the lock clicked and Annika opened the door. Warm air smelling of paper dust enveloped her. She let the door click shut behind her as she blinked to get used to the low green light.
The stairs up to the newsroom were to the left of the door, worn gray linoleum with rubber edges.
A large man in a white shirt that was hanging out at the waist met her by the photocopier. His face was flushed, his eyes painfully red.
“I’m really very sorry,” Annika said, holding out her hand. “Benny Ekland was a legend even down in Stockholm.”
The man took her hand and nodded, and said he was Pekkari, the night manager.
“He could have gotten a job at any of the Stockholm papers whenever he wanted; he turned them down often enough, preferred to stay up here.”
Annika tried to smile to compensate for her white lie.
“So I gather,” she said.
“Do you want coffee?”
She followed Pekkari to the staff room, a tiny windowless room between the Saturday supplement and the letters desk, containing a small kitchen unit.
“You’re the one from the tunnel, aren’t you?” he asked, sounding confident of his facts.
Annika nodded quickly, taking off her coat as he poured thick tarlike liquid into two badly washed mugs.
“So what were you two going to talk about?” Pekkari asked, handing her the sugar.
She waved it away.
“I’ve written quite a bit about terrorism recently. Last week I spoke to Benny about the attack on F21, and he said he was on the track of something new. Something big, a description of what actually happened.”
The editor put the sugar bowl on the table, digging among the lumps with nicotine-stained fingers.
“We ran that last Friday,” he said.
She was shocked, not having heard anything about new revelations in any of the media.
Pekkari dropped three lumps in his mug.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “But you’re on one of the biggies—you don’t know what it’s like for locals. The agencies only care about Stockholm. As far as they’re concerned, our scoops are worth less than cats’ piss.”
Not true, she thought to herself; it depends on the quality of the material.
Suppressed the thought; looked down at her lap.
“I started out on the Katrineholm Post,” she said, “so I know just what it’s like.”
The man stared at her, eyes wide open.
“Then you must know Macke?”
“On sports? Of course I do. He’s an institution.”
Out of control and alcoholic even when I was there, Annika thought, smiling at Pekkari.
“What did you have for Ekland?” the man said, slurping his coffee.
“A few historical summaries,” she replied quickly. “Mostly archive material from the seventies, pictures and text.”
“Must be on the net,” Pekkari said.
“So you weren’t trying to get his story?”
The man’s eyes stared fixedly at her over the edge of the mug, and she calmly met his gaze.
“I have many good qualities,” she said, “but mind-reading isn’t one of them. Benny called me. How else would I know what he was up to?”
The editor took another lump of sugar, sucking on it thoughtfully as he drank his coffee.
“You’re right,” he said, once he had swallowed with an audible gulp. “What do you need?”
“Help to get access to Benny’s articles on terrorism.”
“Go down to the archive and talk to Hasse.”
Every newspaper archive in the whole of Sweden looks like this, she thought, and Hans Blomberg looks like archivists have always looked. A dusty little man in a gray cardigan, glasses, and a comb-over. Even his bulletin board contained the anticipated prerequisites: a child’s drawing of a yellow dinosaur, a noisy “Why aren’t I RICH instead of BEAUTIFUL?” sign, and a calendar counting down to an unspecified goal with the words “NEARLY THERE!”
“Benny was a stubborn bastard,” the archivist said, sitting down heavily behind his computer. “Worse than a mule, never gave up. Wrote more than anyone else I’ve come across, sometimes at the expense of quality. You know the type?”
He looked at Annika over the rim of his glasses, and she couldn’t help smiling.
“Not to speak ill of the dead,” the man said, conducting a slow waltz on the keyboard with his index finger, “but we might as well be honest.”
He blinked cheekily at her.
“His death seems to have affected people here badly,” Annika said tentatively.
Hans Blomberg sighed.
“He was the star reporter, the darling of the management team, the union’s hate figure, you know, the boy who dances into the newsroom after one job and cries: get me a picture byline, because tonight I’m immortal.”
Annika burst out laughing; she had actually seen someone do precisely that.
“Well then, young lady, what exactly are you looking for?”
“Benny’s series about terrorism, especially the article on F21 that was published the other day.”
The archivist looked up, his eyes twinkling.
“Aha,” he said, “so a nice young girl like you is interested in dangerous things?”
“Dear Uncle Blomberg,” Annika said, “I’m married and I’ve got two children.”
“Yes, yes,” he said. “Feminists . . . Printouts or cuttings?”
“Copies, preferably, if it isn’t too much bother,” Annika said.
The man groaned and got up again.
“This business with computers,” he said, “everything was going to get so much easier, but it hasn’t. Twice the work, that’s what computers have meant.”
He disappeared in among the cabinets, muttering “T, T, terrorism . . . ,” opening drawers and huffing and puffing.
“Here you are,” he said a few moments later, triumphantly holding out a brown envelope. His hair had slid backward to reveal his bald scalp. “Terrorism à la Ekland. You can sit over there. I’m here till six o’clock.”
Annika took the envelope, opening it with sweaty fingers as she went over to the desk he had indicated. Cuttings were infinitely superior to computer printouts. On screen all the headings were the same size, all articles the same size, every picture just as small. On the page the articles could live and breathe beneath noisy or subtle headlines: the typeface alone could tell her a lot about what the editors were hoping to achieve, what signals they wanted to send. The number of pictures, their layout and technical quality told her even more: how important the item was deemed to be, but also how important this picture or article was in the general torrent of news that day. The skills of an entire profession of editors had been wiped out by the electronic archive.
But she had serious stuff to study here.
The clips were arranged in date order, oldest at the front. The first text had been published at the end of April and provided tasty details from the history of Swedish terrorism, including the story of the inventor, Dr. Martin Ekenberg from Töreboda, who really only succeeded with one invention: the letter bomb. She paused when she recognized several phrases she herself had used in articles on the same subject published just weeks before. She concluded drily that Ekland had evidently allowed his colleagues to inspire him in a very direct way.
She leafed through the pile of cuttings, a lot of it was old padding, but some of it was new to her. She read with growing interest about the fuss in Norrbotten archipelago in the spring of 1987 when the military spent days searching for submarines and Spetsnaz brigades that had been landed on the islets. A stubborn fifteen-year-old rumor had it that a Russian frogman had been shot in the leg by a Swedish officer. The officer’s dog picked up a scent and started barking; the officer shot into some bushes, where bloody tracks were later found, leading to the water. Benny Ekland had been more interested in retelling the rumor as entertainingly as possible than in getting to the bottom of what had really happened. There was a brief quote from military command in Boden, to the effect that the atmosphere was completely different in the late eighties, that everyone misjudges things sometimes, even the Swedish military, and that it had never been ascertained that there had ever been any submarine encroachment in northern Swedish waters.
At the bottom of the pile was the article she was interested in, containing information that was entirely new to her.
Benny Ekland wrote that during the late sixties the old Lansen planes of the Norrbotten air defenses were being switched for more modern Drakens for search and reconnaissance purposes. The air base was subjected to numerous acts of sabotage against the new planes, mostly in the form of matches being inserted in the planes’ pitot tubes. These tubes sat like small spears at the front of the planes, and were used to measure airspeed, pressure, and so on.
It was thought fairly obvious that left-wing groups from Luleå, probably Maoist groups, were responsible for the sabotage. No damage was ever done, and none of the match wielders was ever caught, but the article cited anonymous sources in F21 claiming that these acts were the basis of the more serious attack that followed. The Maoists were believed to have discovered something that had catastrophic consequences.
After each flight, when the plane was on the tarmac, absorbent material had to be spread on the ground, or a stainless-steel container placed behind the plane. Not all of the fuel in the engine was burned off, and had to be drained after the engine had stopped.
On the evening of the attack, the night of November 18, 1969, the whole base had been involved in a large night exercise. Afterward the planes remained on the tarmac, and that was when the terrorists struck.
Instead of sticking the match in the pitot tube as usual, they lit it and tossed it into the container of surplus fuel behind the plane. The explosion was instant, and massive.
Ekland wrote that considering the air group’s lamentable history, it was easy to conclude that it was the local leftists who were behind this act of sabotage as well, even if it did have fatal consequences this time.
He writes like an idiot, Annika thought, but the theory was very interesting.
“Can I have a copy of this one?” she asked, holding up the article.
The archivist didn’t look up from the screen, not wanting to interrupt his fingers’ slow waltz over the keys.
“So you found it readable, then?”
“Of course,” Annika said, “I haven’t seen this information before. Might be worth looking into.”
“The photocopier’s out by the stairs. If you give it a knock it might work.”
The man glided soundlessly through black streets. The pain was under control; his body vibrated with energy. His thoughts echoed between the frozen walls, giving answers that were alien to him.
Luleå had shrunk over the years.
He remembered the town as big and brash, full of self-confidence, rolling in glitter and commercialism.
Tonight the self-confidence was gone, way out of sight—it had probably never really existed. The place felt impotent. The main street had been closed to traffic and turned into a long, windswept playground, lined with sad little birch trees. This was where people were supposed to make their living; this was where they were meant to consume their way out of depression.
The curse of freedom, he thought. The bastard Renaissance man who woke up one morning in twelfth-century Florence and invented capitalism, sitting up in bed and realizing the possibilities for his own ego, realizing that the state was an organism that could be controlled and manipulated.
He sat down on a bench outside the library to let the worst of the morphine rush leave his body. Knew it wasn’t good to sit still in this sort of cold but didn’t care.
He wanted to sit here and look at his cathedral, the building where he had founded his dynasty. The ugly extension on the corner of Namnlösa gatan, “nameless street,” was one of his old haunts. The lights were still on, there were probably meetings going on right now, just as they had all those years ago.
None of them like ours, though, he thought; there’ll never be any like ours.
Two young women were on their way out; he saw them stop in the lobby and read the notices of cultural events on the board.
Maybe it’s unlocked, he thought vaguely. Maybe I can get in.
The girls glanced at him as they passed each other a few meters from the door, the sort of unfocused glance that you only get in small, narrow-minded places: we don’t know him, we’ll ignore him. In larger towns no one noticed anyone at all. That suited him much better.
The library was still open. He stopped in the middle of the lobby to let the memories come, and they rushed in, overwhelmed him and took his breath away. The years were erased; he was twenty again; it was summer, hot; his girl was beside him, his beloved Red Wolf who was to succeed better than anyone ever dared imagine. He held her to him and smelled the henna in her copper-colored hair, couldn’t help sniffing a few times.
A sudden draft hit his legs and pulled him back to the present.
“Are you all right? Do you need help?”
An old man was looking amiably at him.
The standard phrase, he thought, shaking his head and swallowing his French reply.
The hall came back into pretentious focus again; the old man went into the warmth and left him alone with the notices on the board: a storyteller session, a carol service, a concert by Håkan Hagegård, and a festival of feminism.
He waited until his breathing had calmed down, ran his hands over his hair. Took a cautious step toward the internal door, checking discreetly behind the glass. Then he quickly crossed the hall and went down the back stairs.
Good grief, he thought, I’m here, I’m actually here.
He looked at the closed doors, one after the other, conjuring up the images behind them, he knew all of them. The cheap oak-colored plywood panels, the stone steps, the folding tables, the bad lighting—he smiled at his shadow—the young man who booked rooms in the name of the Fly Fishing Association, then held Maoist meetings until long into the night.
He was right to have come.
© 2003 Liza Marklund