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It seemed that other people always thought that the great challenges and pains of a divorce were their business too. Everyone wanted to share their experiences, tell you what had happened to them and how they had got through it.
Jan Nyman always found these situations stressful: he couldn't simply say he wasn't interested (though he categorically wasn't interested), he didn't think there was anything particular for him to 'get over', and he didn't have a bad word to say about his ex-wife, Tuula. Quite the opposite. But his boss had now decided to stick his oar in, and given that he'd invited Nyman into his office, and sounded agitated and officious on the telephone – Come straight to my office, do not pass the cafeteria, do not go to your desk – all Nyman could do was grin and bear it.
'Maiju and I went on a week's therapy retreat once,' said Muurla after explaining that he too – naturally – had experience of divorce. 'To try and get our relationship working again. There were six other couples there too – people on the brink of divorce; people who should have taken a hint, run as fast as they could in different directions and never tried to do anything together ever again; people who shouldn't even wait for the bus together, let alone drive out into the middle of nowhere to open up old wounds. We arrive at this farmhouse after an infernal drive – four hundred and twelve kilometres of non-stop argy-bargy – and as soon as we get there the women start going nineteen to the dozen over the welcome drinks – chaga tea, or whatever they call it; tastes like earwax, smells like your granny's armpit – regaling us with all the gory details of their sex lives, so by this point we all know that Jari can't get a hard-on and his wife has started sleeping around, and I liked it, she says, and the blokes are just sitting right there listening, their ears red with embarrassment, the floorboards creaking, and by now the chaga tea is stone cold. The camp was run by some softly spoken lad who didn't join the rest of the men in the sauna. I thought it must have been a status thing, like he wants to keep at a distance from his clients while all the time he's watching us, staring at us, looking as though he's about to lose hope with us: his face red, his lips pursed tight, a twitch in his temple. He didn't like it when the rest of the men decided to have a game of volleyball, didn't like it one bit. He stood further off in the bushes, wouldn't come near the court. Then on the fourth day it was my turn to heat the sauna, and I'm walking to the sauna with an armful of good dry logs when I hear this moaning and grunting from the changing room, and I look inside and there's one of these husbands – not flaccid Jari but some city-slicker type – lying on his stomach on the bench while the softly spoken instructor guy is doing him up the backside so hard his cheeks are shaking. Shirt still on, top button done up, the lot. I put the logs back on the pile, go back to Maiju, give her a kiss on the cheek and say let's just file the sodding papers and be done with it. The drive home was relaxed and we're still good friends to this day. It's a pretty ordinary story, really.'
Muurla seemed to be gathering his thoughts. Nyman thought it best not to comment on the story in any way, not even with a yes or a right. He glanced outside.
The Vantaa offices of the National Bureau of Investigation were on a plot of their own, and the southwest wall, on the third floor of which was Muurla's office, looked across the street into an undeveloped greenfield site the size of a football pitch. It was so green, so grassy, so neatly edged with small birch trees that Nyman thought of his summer holiday. He still hadn't taken it. That said, by looking at him you might say his holiday was well under way: new white trainers, relaxed, baggy jeans, a flannel shirt in red and grey, a few day's stubble accentuating the dimples in his cheeks, his dark, longish hair still wet and tangled from the shower. This was what he normally looked like – according to Tuula, he was a cross between a country singer and a long-distance runner. He was neither. He was the best detective the Undercover Unit had, and he imagined that might be the reason he was sitting here now. He looked up at his boss, who seemed to have returned to the here and now.
'There's the case file in its entirety,' said Muurla, clasping his fingers together and placing his hands on the table as though in prayer. 'It's online too, so you can read it there. Here's the short version: a body turns up in a small town. Local investigation, no results. Regional investigation team in and out, no results. The case is a mystery.'
Nyman looked at the man sitting behind the desk. His face resembled a broad antique sofa, its leather worn and lumpy. Muurla had been his boss ever since he had joined the undercover team after years in the Violent Crimes Unit of the Helsinki police. He didn't know anything about Muurla's background, he didn't even know how old his boss was; true to its name, the Undercover Unit operated on a strictly need-to-know basis. He must have been closing in on sixty. Nyman liked working for Muurla: he was only interested in results, he wasn't cocky and he didn't offer advice or guidance. Of course, that might have been because he had very little to offer in that department. Nyman preferred not to think about that option.
'There must be something else to it, if they want us to investigate,' said Nyman. It was a question.
'They think it was a professional job,' said Muurla. 'At least, they should think so. There's still a lot we don't know, but it looks like this: there's a man in the house, either invited or uninvited, some other people arrive, either invited or uninvited, they all either know one another or they don't, and their actions are either premeditated or spontaneous, but the long and the short of it is that one of them ends up with a broken neck. Your regular Joe Blogs couldn't do something like that, and certainly not the owner of the property – a woman who might be involved in this, but then again might not. She's been interviewed on numerous occasions since and she's stuck to the story she told the police the first time: she arrived home to find the house trashed, and on the floor was a man she'd never seen before. We can't confirm any of her story, except that she was elsewhere at the time of the incident. But whether or not she knew about what was going on in the house is a different matter, and if she did know, how was she involved?'
'And the modus operandi suggests a professional hit?'
'Yes,' Muurla nodded. 'As you'll see from the case file, the victim was badly beaten first, then killed in an exceptional and very physical manner that would require great skill. According to the coroner, this kind of job requires two people who know what they're doing. This isn't something an amateur could pull off. The victim has to be in exactly the right position. This requires knowledge of anatomy, timing, cooperation, maybe even a familiarity with martial arts – and we're not talking about yellow belts here. Black ones, for sure. And there's something else: nothing was taken from the property. They turned up, did the job, and left before the owner returned. So everything else might be a distraction – the property might have been trashed afterwards for show. And there's one more factor to complicate matters ...'
Nyman waited. Muurla leaned against his desk and edged his elbows forwards one at a time, cautiously moving closer to Nyman.
'There was some confusion when everything kicked off,' he said, his grey eyes boring ever deeper into Nyman. He was used to this by now: this was the way Muurla looked at someone who was about to be sent out of the office door and asked to do something utterly impossible. 'After hearing the original call to the emergency services, the police assumed the situation in the property was still ongoing. So a squad barged inside and shook the guy who'd broken his neck, naturally thinking he was just another local nutcase who had taken a cocktail of modified drugs, thrown some rocks around, smashed a few windows, broken in, messed the place up and passed out. Everyday stuff. Anyway, in doing so this group of boy scouts really messed up the crime scene. What's more, there's some renovation work going on in the property at the moment, so you can imagine it's been like Central Station in there. And so, to put it politely, the forensic investigation has been, shall we say, challenging, and the criminal investigation has been conducted manually, old school, as my son would say. Talking of offspring, it's probably a good thing you two don't have any children, what with the divorce and everything ...'
'Who am I?' asked Nyman before Muurla could go any further. Nyman felt he must have heard at least four hundred different divorce-related anecdotes over the last month, some pretty tenuous and far-fetched, and none of which remotely resembled his own situation.
'Your name is Jan Kaunisto,' said Muurla and tapped a plastic folder on the desk. On top of the pile of documents was a brand-new Finnish passport. 'A maths teacher. On summer holiday.'
'Excellent,' said Nyman, and he could hear as he spoke quite how dry and laconic the word sounded. His tone of voice notwithstanding, he was pleased that this time he was able to keep his own first name. It helped when getting used to his new identity.
'There's a month's wages and holiday pay in your account,' said Muurla, opening the plastic folder enough to show the documents beneath the passport. 'And here's a debit card. You can sort yourself out with whatever else you need – telephone, that sort of thing. Any questions?'
'Plenty, but the case file will probably answer most of them.'
Muurla slid the folder across the table to Nyman. They looked at each other. 'Do you want to hear my theory?' Nyman remained silent. Muurla took that as an ardent yes.
'This woman has recently met a man,' he began, folding his arms across his chest in a way that made him look closer to retirement than Nyman had previously thought. 'But this man turns out to be something quite different from what he appears. She realises he's not going to leave in a hurry. She knows people around town, so she hires a couple of bruisers to take care of things. These guys do what they've been paid to do, then they stage – or try to stage – the scene to make it look like a break-in or a fight.'
'Then what?' asked Nyman.
'What do you mean?'
'If the woman hired some professionals, as you suggest, they'll be back. These kind of people never go away, they take you for every penny you've got. They always come back, and when they can't use you anymore, they make sure no one else can either.'
Muurla thought about this for a moment.
'It's just as well you're going to be there, then,' he said. After a further moment of contemplation, he nodded again, not at Nyman but seemingly at something only he could see. 'Mark my words, the woman's pulling all the strings.'CHAPTER 2
Olivia Koski was walking round the house with a man in a baseball cap. The man was rotund and spoke like a gushing water fountain. Olivia thought it best to stay alert, though, as at some point in the man's stream of consciousness he might say something relevant. A moment earlier the man had introduced himself as Esa. It was like the moment a stylus touches a record and begins to play. Now the record was in full swing, and so was Esa. The brand-new yellow-and-brown van he'd arrived in bore the words KUURAINEN AND COMPANY – PLUMBING SOLUTIONS, so Esa must have been either Kuurainen or Company.
At the southern wall of the house Esa stopped and turned to face Olivia. His arms dangled at his sides; he raised his eyes slightly to look at her and had to squint into the bright midday sunshine. He looked like a little boy carrying out an important task.
'This is where I'd run it,' he said. 'The main water pipe, that is. Hot and cold. How long have you been having trouble with the water?'
Olivia thought of her father, her father's father, and his father before him. Sincere, wise, good men, whose fingers and thumbs had belonged to some of the most impractical hands in the history of humanity.
'Since the tens.'
'Not the 2010s, the 1910s,' Olivia explained.
Esa's chuckles came to an abrupt end. He looked at the ground and returned to talking endlessly.
'I'd dig here, lay the pipe along here, renew the lot, inside and out. What's the water like at the moment?'
Olivia didn't have to think long about the pressure or quality of the water, all she had to do was think back to her shower that morning: the shampoo that she couldn't rinse from her hair, the wriggling around, the eventual chattering of her teeth.
'Freezing cold,' she said. 'And I can almost count the number of droplets.'
'It's on its last legs alright,' Esa nodded, and Olivia could tell the contractor could barely hide his enthusiasm. 'This needs sorted urgently.'
'Hard to say. The plumbing could conk out next week or the next time you flush the toilet. And seeing as there's little to no pressure – and saying you deposit something bigger than normal – there's no telling whether it'll go down or not. Not that I'm suggesting you would, Mrs Koski – you cut a slender figure, so maybe you wouldn't – but say you have a buffet lunch one day or you're having a bit of trouble downstairs, then —'
'It's Miss Koski,' said Olivia. 'People called Mrs are generally married, though given my age ...'
Olivia tried not to show quite how exhausted she was. The last two weeks had been even tougher than the weeks and months before that, which, with all the funeral arrangements, were rough enough to start with. Had she bitten off more than she could chew? It wasn't the first time she'd thought this. Here I am, she thought, standing in my garden, listening as a perfect stranger waxes lyrical about my bowel movements.
'Water,' said Olivia. 'I want running water in my house. That's why I called you.'
'Exactly,' said Esa. 'We have to decide whether to go for a full pipe refit or whether to concentrate on this area here.'
'A full refit?'
'We'd be talking seventy grand.'
This was nothing particularly new. Olivia had never built or renovated a house, but she'd had plenty to do with builders and decorators. It was one of those areas of life in which you could suggest, agree and promise absolutely anything to absolutely anyone, and nothing ever had to be factually correct – it never had to arrive on time, never had to work or reach completion. Not to mention whether the sum of money Esa had pulled out of a hat had anything to do with the scope of the job at hand – or whether it would be enough.
'Let's concentrate on this area,' said Olivia.
At this, Esa clearly tried hard not to look disappointed. But his disappointment lasted only about a second and a half. Like most men in his trade, after the initial setback he started fishing for money from a different angle and didn't seem to worry himself unduly over how abstract or generally impractical his suggestions were.
'You'll appreciate, even that is quite a big job. This is an old house, with old structures; it's a challenging project. Sourcing materials, renting machinery ...'
Esa folded his arms and looked as though he was adding it all up. Olivia couldn't say what went through men's heads at moments like this, but it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the value of the work or materials. The final results always proved otherwise.
Esa stared at her, again looking like he was weighing it up in his head, and nodded. 'Euros.'
Olivia paused. 'Why is it a sum like that sounds as though half of it is made of Scotch mist? The kind of sum a professional tradesman plucks out of thin air and throws at a woman who lives by herself and who knows little about the ins and outs of drainage, plumbing and ventilation, in the stereotypical and all-too-predictable hope that because she's a woman she won't understand anything of this most manly of manly subjects?'
Esa said nothing. Either the sunlight had struck his cheeks and brightened them or the redness was radiating from inside. He looked baffled, perhaps even a little agitated. The wind rustled in the trees.
'Stereo-what ...?' he began quietly.
'That's right,' said Olivia. 'The question is, why?' Esa looked askance at Olivia, his face tilted slightly to one side.
'Why? Why indeed,' he said. 'It's not Scotch mist. Ten thousand. That's my final offer.'
Olivia waited for a moment, then gave a nod. She wasn't planning on telling him that this figure was almost precisely ten thousand more than she currently had in her bank account.
'I'll email you a written quote,' he said. 'Once it's been accepted and the down payment received, we'll get to work. But you realise this is unprofitable work for us, we almost have to pay the clients to let us dig up their gardens ...'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Palm Beach Finland"
Copyright © 2017 Antti Tuomainen.
Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE DREAMS,
TWO WEEKS LATER: 1,
PART TWO IMPLEMENTATION,
PART THREE RESULTS,
FIVE WEEKS LATER,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR,