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By CAMILLA LÄCKBERG, Steven T. Murray
Pegasus Books LLCCopyright © 2013 Camilla Läckberg
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What he remembered most was her perfume. The one she kept in the bathroom. That shiny lavender bottle with the sweet, heavy fragrance. As an adult he had searched in a perfume shop until he found the exact same one. He had chuckled when he saw the name: "Poison."
She used to spray it on her wrists and then rub it on her throat and, if she was wearing a skirt, on her ankles too.
He thought that was so beautiful. Her fragile, delicate wrists gracefully rubbing against each other. The scent spread through the space around her, and he always longed for the moment when it came really close, when she leaned over and kissed him. Always on the mouth. Always so lightly that sometimes he wondered if the kiss was real or if he was just dreaming.
Take care of your sister," she always said before she left, seeming to float rather than walk out the door.
Afterward he could never remember if he had answered out loud or only nodded.
* * *
The springtime sun shone in through the windows at the Tanumshede police station, mercilessly exposing the dirt on the windowpanes. The winter grime lay like a film over the glass, and Patrik felt as though the same film were covering him. It had been a hard winter. Life with a child in the house was infinitely more fun but also infinitely more work than he ever could have imagined. And even though things were going much more smoothly with Maja than they had in the beginning, Erica was still not used to the life of a stay-at-home mum. This knowledge tormented Patrik every second and every minute he spent at work. And everything that had happened with Anna had placed an extra burden on their shoulders.
A knock on the doorjamb interrupted his gloomy thoughts.
"Patrik? We just got a call about a traffic accident. A single car on the road to Sannäs."
"Okay," said Patrik, getting up. "By the way, isn't this the day that Ernst's replacement is arriving?"
"Yes," said Annika. "But it's not quite eight yet."
"Then I'll take Martin with me. Otherwise I thought I'd have her ride with me for a while until she gets the hang of things."
"Well, I do feel a bit sorry for the poor woman," said Annika.
"Because she has to ride with me?" said Patrik, pretending to take offense.
"Naturally. I know the way you drive.... But, seriously, it's not going to be easy for her with Mellberg."
"After reading her CV I'd say that if anyone can handle him, it would be Hanna Kruse. Seems to be a tough cookie, judging by her service record and the great references."
"The only thing that seems fishy to me is why she would want to apply to Tanumshede."
"Yes, you may have a point there," said Patrik, pulling on his jacket. "I'll have to ask her why she wants to sink so low as to work in this career blind alley with us law-enforcement amateurs." He winked at Annika, who slapped him lightly on the shoulder.
"You know that wasn't what I meant."
"Sure, I was just giving you a hard time. By the way, have you got any more information about the accident site? Any injuries? Fatalities?"
"According to the person who called it in, there seems to be only one person in the car. Dead."
"Damn. I'll get Martin and we'll ride out there to have a look. We'll be back soon. You can show Hanna around in the meantime, can't you?"
At that moment they heard a woman's voice from the reception area. "Hello?"
"That must be her now," said Annika, hurrying off toward the door. Curious about the new female addition to the force, Patrik followed her.
He was surprised when he saw the woman standing in reception waiting for them. He wasn't sure just what he'd expected, but someone ... larger, perhaps. And not quite so good-looking ... and blonde.
She held out her hand first to Patrik and then to Annika and said, "Hello, I'm Hanna Kruse. I'm starting here today."
Her voice more than lived up to his expectations. Rather deep, with a resolute tone to it.
Her handshake testified to many hours in the gym, and Patrik again revised his first impression.
"Patrik Hedström. And this is Annika Jansson, the backbone of the station."
Hanna smiled. "The sole female outpost in the land of males here, I understand. Till now, at least."
Annika laughed. "Yes, I have to admit it feels good to have a counterbalance to all the testosterone inside these walls."
Patrik interrupted their banter. "You girls can get acquainted with each other later. Hanna, we have a call about a single-car accident with a fatality. I thought you should come along with me right now, if that's okay with you. Get a jump start on your first day here."
"Works for me," said Hanna. "Can I just leave my bag somewhere?"
"I'll put it in your office," said Annika. "We can do the tour later."
"Thanks," said Hanna, hurrying after Patrik, who was already heading out the main door.
"So, how does it feel?" Patrik asked after they'd got in the police car and headed off in the direction of Sannäs.
"Fine, thanks. It's always a little nerve-racking to start a new job."
"You've already managed to move around quite a bit, judging by your CV."
"Yes, I wanted to pick up as much experience as possible," Hanna said as she gazed out of the window with curiosity. "Different parts of Sweden, different-sized service areas, you name it. Anything that can broaden my experience as a police officer."
"But why? What's your ultimate goal, so to speak?"
Hanna smiled. Her smile was friendly but at the same time staunchly determined. "A position as chief, of course. In one of the larger police districts. So I've been taking all sorts of courses, learning as much as possible and working as hard as I can."
"Sounds like a recipe for success," said Patrik with a smile, but the enormous sense of ambition radiating toward him also made him feel uncomfortable. It wasn't something he was used to.
"I hope so," said Hanna, still watching the countryside passing by. "And what about you? How long have you worked in Tanumshede?"
To his chagrin Patrik heard himself sounding a bit ashamed when he replied, "Oh ... ever since police academy actually."
"Ooh, I never could have managed that. I mean, you must really enjoy it. That's a good omen for my time here." She laughed and turned to look at him.
"Well, I suppose you could think of it that way. But a lot of it has to do with habit and my comfort zone too. I grew up here, and I know the area like the back of my hand. Although I actually don't live in Tanumshede anymore. Now I live in Fjällbacka."
"That's right, I heard you were married to Erica Falck! I love her books! Well, the ones about murders, that is; I haven't read the biographies, I have to admit."
"You don't have to be ashamed about that. Half of Sweden has read the latest crime novel, judging by the sales figures, but most people don't even know that she published five biographies of Swedish women writers. The one that sold best was about Karin Boye, and I think it got up to around two thousand copies. Anyway, we aren't married yet—but we will be soon. We're getting married on Whitsun Eve!"
"Oh, congratulations! How lovely to have a Whitsuntide wedding."
"Well, we hope so. Although to be honest, at this point I'd rather fly off to Las Vegas and get away from all the hullabaloo. I had no idea it was such an undertaking to plan a wedding."
Hanna gave a hearty laugh. "Yes, I can imagine."
"But you're married too, I saw in your file. Didn't you have a big church wedding?"
A dark shadow passed over Hanna's face. She turned away and mumbled so faintly he could barely hear her: "We had a civil wedding. But that's a story for some other time. It looks like we're here."
Up ahead they saw a wrecked car in the ditch. Two firemen were busy cutting through the roof, but they were in no hurry. After a look in the front seat Patrik understood why.
It was not by chance that the town council was meeting in his own home rather than the community center. After months of intense remodeling, at a cost of two million kronor, the house was ready to be inspected and admired. It was one of the oldest and largest houses in Grebbestad, and it had taken a good deal of persuasion to get the previous owners to sell. Their protests about how it "belonged in the family" had soon subsided when he raised the offer. It never even occurred to them that he had offered considerably less than he would have been willing to pay.
"As you can see, we took great pains to respect the integrity of the place. In fact, the photographer sent by Residence said he'd never seen such a tasteful renovation. If anyone missed last month's issue, we have a few extra copies—do help yourself on the way out, then you can leaf through it at your leisure."
Ushering his guests into the dining room, Erling W. Larson pointed to the large dining-room table that was set for coffee. "Let's get down to business, shall we." His wife had made all the arrangements while he was showing the house, and now she stood silently by the table waiting for them to sit down. Erling gave her an appreciative nod. She was worth her weight in gold, that Viveca; a bit quiet perhaps, but better a woman who knew when to keep her mouth shut than a chatterbox.
"Well, you know where I stand," said Uno Brorsson, dropping four sugar cubes into his cup. Erling regarded him with distaste. He didn't understand men who neglected their health. For his part he jogged ten kilometers every morning and had also had some discreet work done. But only Viveca knew about that.
"We certainly do," said Erling, a hint more sharply than he'd intended. "But there's no point debating the matter now that an agreement has been reached. The TV team will be arriving shortly, so lets be reasonable and make the best of things, eh? Just look at the boost Åmål got from the seasons they filmed there, and that was nothing compared with the publicity generated by F*ing Töreboda. Over the coming weeks, the whole country will be sitting down to watch F*ing Tanum. What a unique opportunity for us to show off our little corner of Sweden from its best side!"
"Best side?" Uno snorted. "Boozing and sex and dumb reality-show bimbos—is that how we want to depict Tanumshede?"
"Well, I for one think it's bound to be terribly exciting!" said Gunilla Kjellin in her strident voice, her eyes sparkling at Erling. Though she would never admit it, she had a massive crush on him. Which suited Erling, so long as it guaranteed him her vote.
"Yes, listen to Gunilla. This is the spirit in which we should be welcoming the upcoming project. It's an exciting adventure we're embarking on, and an opportunity we should embrace wholeheartedly!" Erling was using the persuasive tone he'd employed with such success over the years as director of a huge insurance firm. Every once in a while he grew nostalgic for those halcyon days. It hadn't been easy, taking early retirement after his heart attack, but it had proved to be the best decision he'd ever made. And he'd got out in the nick of time. Right before the press, scenting blood, began ripping his former colleagues to pieces.
"What are we doing about the risk of damage? I heard that Töreboda had a lot of that while they were filming there. Will the TV company cover it?"
Erling snorted impatiently. Erik Bohlin, the town's young financial officer, was forever fussing about trivialities instead of looking at the big picture. What the hell did he know about finance anyway? He was barely thirty, and in his whole life he'd probably never dealt with as much money as Erling used to spend in a single day.
Fixing Bohlin with a withering stare, he said dismissively: "Compared to the increased tourist influx we're expecting, a few broken windows are nothing to worry about. Besides, I'm sure the police will do their utmost to earn their salaries and keep on top of the situation."
He let his gaze rest for a few seconds on each of the council members. One by one their eyes fell as they abandoned any notion of protest.
"It'll be fine," said Jörn Schuster.
For the life of him, Erling couldn't understand why Jörn had chosen to remain on the council. Ignominiously voted out after fifteen years as town commissioner, he ought to have crept off with his tail between his legs. But if Jörn wanted to wallow in his humiliation, fine. There were certain benefits in having the old fox present, even though he was now both exhausted and toothless, figuratively speaking. He had his faithful supporters, and they would keep quiet as long as they saw that Jörn was still actively involved.
"So, now it's a matter of showing our enthusiasm. I'm going to welcome the team in person at one o'clock, and of course you're all welcome to attend. Otherwise we'll see one another at the regular meeting on Thursday." He stood up to indicate that the meeting was adjourned.
Uno was still muttering when he left, but Erling reckoned he'd done a pretty good job in mustering the troops. This venture reeked of success, he was sure of it.
Pleased, he went out onto the veranda and lit a victory cigar. In the dining room Viveca silently cleared the table.
"Da da da da." Maja sat in her high chair prattling as she evaded with great skill the spoon that her mother was trying to stick in her mouth. After taking aim for a moment Erica finally managed to get a spoonful of porridge in, but her joy was short-lived when Maja chose that instant to demonstrate that she could make a noise like a car. "Brrrrr," she said with such feeling that the porridge sprayed all over her mother's face.
"Damn brat," said Erica, exhausted, but she regretted her choice of words at once.
"Brrrrr," Maja said happily, managing to eject the remains of the porridge onto the table.
"Amn brat," said Adrian, and his big sister, Emma, chided him at once.
"You mustn't swear, Adrian!"
"But Ica just did."
"You still shouldn't swear, isn't that so, Aunt Erica?" Emma planted her hands firmly on her hips and gave Erica an insistent look.
"You're absolutely right. It was very naughty of me to swear, Adrian."
Pleased with this answer, Emma went back to eating her kefir. Erica gave her a loving but worried glance. The girl had been forced to grow up so fast. Sometimes she behaved more like a mother than a big sister to Adrian. Anna didn't seem to notice, but Erica saw it all too well. She knew all too well what it was like to shoulder that role at such a young age.
And now she was doing it again. Mother to her sister. At the same time she was mother to Maja and a sort of substitute mother to Emma and Adrian, while she waited for Anna to snap out of her lethargy. Erica cast a glance at the ceiling as she began clearing the mess off the table. But there was no sound from upstairs. Anna seldom woke up before eleven, and Erica let her sleep. She didn't know what else to do.
"I don't want to go to kindergarten today," Adrian announced, putting on an expression that clearly said, "And try to make me if you can."
"Of course you're going to kindergarten, Adrian," said Emma, again propping her hands on her hips. Erica intervened before the bickering erupted, at the same time as she tried to clean up her eight-month-old daughter as best she could.
"Emma, go and put on your coat and boots. Adrian, I don't have time for this discussion today. You're going to kindergarten with Emma, and that's nonnegotiable."
Adrian opened his mouth to protest, but something in his aunt's face told him that on this particular morning he should probably obey her. Displaying uncharacteristic obedience he went out to the hall.
"Okay, now try putting on your shoes." Erica set out Adrian's sneakers, but he just shook his head.
"I can't, you have to help me."
"You can so. You put your shoes on at kindergarten."
"No, I can't. I'm little," he added for emphasis.
Erica sighed and put Maja down. The baby began crawling off even before her hands and knees touched the floor. She had started to crawl very early and was now a master in that event.
"Maja, stay here, sweetie," said Erica as she tried to put Adrian's shoes on him. But Maja chose to ignore the urgent plea and set off happily on a voyage of discovery. Erica could feel the sweat beginning to run down her back and under her arms.
Excerpted from THE STRANGER by CAMILLA LÄCKBERG, Steven T. Murray. Copyright © 2013 Camilla Läckberg. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
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