The White Lioness, p.1Henning Mankell
Table of Contents
The White Lioness
Also by Henning Mankell
The Woman from Ystad
The Man from Transkei
A Flock of Sheep in the Fog
The White Lioness
Countdown to a Vacuum
The White Lioness
Also by Henning Mankell
In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island, where he had been a political prisoner for almost thirty years.
While the world rejoiced, many Afrikaners regarded the release of Nelson Mandela as an unspoken but signed and sealed declaration of war. President de Klerk became a hated traitor.
At the time of Mandela’s release, a group of men met in absolute secrecy to take upon themselves responsibility for the future of the Afrikaners. They were ruthless men. At the same time, however, they regarded themselves as having a divine mission. They would never submit.
They met in secret and reached a decision. They would spark off a civil war which could end only one way: in a devastating bloodbath.
The Woman from Ystad
Louise Åkerblom, a real estate agent, left the Savings Bank in Skurup shortly after three o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, April 24. She paused for a moment on the sidewalk and sucked the fresh air into her lungs, figuring out what to do next. What she wanted most of all was to leave work right now and drive home to Ystad. She had promised a widow who called her that morning to stop by at a house the woman wanted to sell.
She tried to figure out how long it would take. An hour, maybe; hardly more. And she had to buy some bread. Her husband Robert usually baked all the bread they needed, but he hadn’t managed to that week. She crossed over the square and turned off to the left where the bakery was. An old-fashioned bell tinkled as she opened the door. She was the only customer; later, the lady behind the counter would remember that Louise Åkerblom seemed to be in a good mood, and chatted about how nice it was that spring had arrived at last.
She bought some rye bread, and decided to surprise the family with napoleons for dessert. Then she returned to the bank, where her car was parked out back. On the way she met the young couple from Malmö to whom she had just sold a house. They had been at the bank tying up loose ends, paying the seller his money, signing the contract and the loan agreement. She was delighted for them, their joy at owning their own home. At the same time, she felt uneasy. Would they manage the mortgage and interest payments? Times were hard, and hardly anybody could feel secure in their work any more. What would happen if he lost his job? She had run a careful check on their finances. Unlike many other young people, they had not thoughtlessly run up credit card debts, and the young housewife seemed to be the thrifty type. They would no doubt cope with buying their house. If not, she would see it advertised again soon enough. Maybe she or Robert would be the one to sell it. It wasn’t unusual nowadays for her to sell the same house two or three times in the course of just a few years.
She unlocked the car and dialed the number of the Ystad office on the car phone. Robert had already gone home. She heard his voice on the answering machine informing callers that Åkerblom’s Real Estate was closed for the weekend, but would reopen Monday morning at eight o’ clock.
At first she was surprised to hear Robert had left so early. Then she remembered he was due to meet their accountant that afternoon. She left a message on the answering machine: “Hi there! I’m just going to take a look at a house at Krageholm. Then I’ll be off to Ystad. It’s a quarter after three. I’ll be home by five.” She replaced the car phone in its holder. Robert might go back to the office after his meeting with the accountant.
She pulled over a plastic folder lying on the seat, and took out the map she had drawn from the widow’s description. The house was on a side road between Krageholm and Vollsjö. It would take her just over an hour to get there, look at the house and grounds, then drive back to Ystad.
Then she hesitated. It can wait, she thought. I’ll take the coast road home and stop for a while and look at the sea instead. I’ve already sold one house today: that’ll have to be enough.
She began humming a hymn, started the engine, and drove out of Skurup. When she came to the Trelleborg exit, though, she changed her mind once more. She wouldn’t have time to look at the widow’s house Monday or Tuesday. The lady might be disappointed, and turn to some other agency. They couldn’t afford to let that happen. Times were hard enough as it was. The competition was getting stiffer and stiffer. Nobody could afford to pass up anything that came their way, unless it was completely impossible.
She sighed and turned off in the other direction. The coast road and the sea would have to wait. She kept glancing at the map. Next week she would buy a map holder so she didn’t have to keep turning her head to check that she was on the right road. The widow’s house shouldn’t be all that hard to find even if she had never been on the road the lady described. She knew the district inside out. She and Robert would have been running the real estate agency for ten years come next year.
That thought surprised her. Ten years already. Time had passed so quickly, all too quickly. During those ten years she had given birth to two children and worked diligently with Robert to establish the firm. When they started up, times were good; she could see that. Now, they would never have managed to break into the market. She ought to feel pleased. God had been good to her and her family. She would talk to Robert again and suggest they could afford to increase their contributions to Save the Children. He would be doubtful, of course; he worried about money more than she did. No doubt she could talk him into it, though. She usually did.
She suddenly realized she was on the wrong road, and braked. Thinking about the family and the past ten years had made her miss the first exit. She laughed to herself, shook her head, and looked around carefully before making a U-turn and retracing her steps.
Skåne is a beautiful place, she thought to herself. Pretty and open. Yet secretive as well. What seemed at first sight to be so flat could suddenly change and reveal deep hollows with houses and farms like isolated islands. She never ceased to be amazed by the changing nature of the landscape when she drove around to look at houses or show them to prospective buyers.
She pulled onto the shoulder after Erikslund to check the directions the widow had given. She was right. She took a left and could see the road to Krageholm ahead of her; it was beautiful. The terrain was hilly, and the road wriggled its w
After some seven kilometers she started looking for the final turnoff. The widow had described it as a dirt road, ungraveled but easily negotiable. She slowed down when she saw it and turned right; according to the map, the house would be on the left-hand side in about a kilometer.
After three kilometers the road suddenly petered out, and she realized she must be wrong after all.
Just for a moment she was tempted to forget about the house and drive straight home instead. But she resisted the thought and went back to the Krageholm road. About five hundred meters further north she turned right again. There were no houses answering to the description here, either. She sighed, turned around, and decided to stop and ask the way. Shortly before, she had passed a house half hidden behind a clump of trees.
She stopped, switched off the engine and got out of the car. There was a fresh smell from the trees. She started walking towards the house, a white-painted, half-timbered, U-shaped building, the kind Skåne is full of. Only one of the wings was still standing, however. In the middle of the front yard was a well with a black-painted pump.
She hesitated, and stopped. The house seemed completely deserted. Maybe it was best to go home after all, and hope the widow wouldn’t be upset.
I can always knock, she thought. That doesn’t cost anything.
Before she came to the house, she passed a large, red-painted barn. She couldn’t resist the temptation to peek in through the high, half-open doors.
She was surprised by what she saw. There were two cars in there. She was not well-versed in cars, but she couldn’t help noticing that one was an extremely expensive Mercedes, and the other an equally valuable BMW.
There must be somebody in, then, she thought, and continued toward the whitewashed house. Somebody who’s not short of cash.
She knocked at the door, but nothing happened. She knocked again, harder this time; still no answer. She tried to peek in through a window next to the door, but the drapes were drawn. She knocked a third time, before going to see if there was a back door.
Behind the house was an overgrown orchard. The apple trees had certainly not been pruned for twenty or thirty years. Some half-rotten garden furniture was standing under a pear tree. A magpie flapped its wings loudly and flew away. She couldn’t find a door, and returned to the front of the house.
I’ll knock just one more time, she thought. If nobody answers, I’ll go back to Ystad. There’ll be time to stop by the sea for a while before I need to start making dinner.
She hammered on the door.
Still no answer.
She could feel rather than hear that someone had come up behind her from the courtyard. She turned abruptly.
The man was about a meter away from her. He was motionless, looking straight at her. She saw he had a scar on his forehead.
She suddenly felt uneasy.
Where had he come from? Why hadn’t she heard him? The courtyard was graveled. Had he crept up on her?
She took a step toward him and tried to sound normal.
“I hope I’m not intruding,” she said. “I’m a real estate agent, and I’m lost. I just wanted to ask my way.”
The man did not answer.
Maybe he’s not Swedish, she thought. Maybe he couldn’t understand what she was saying. There was something strange about his appearance that made her think he could be a foreigner.
She suddenly knew she had to get away. The motionless man and his cold eyes were scaring her.
“I won’t disturb you any longer,” she said. “Sorry to intrude.”
She started to walk away but stopped in mid-stride. The motionless man had suddenly come to life. He took something out of his jacket pocket. At first she couldn’t see what it was. Then she realized it was a pistol.
Slowly, he raised the gun and pointed it at her head.
Good God, she managed to think.
Good God, please help me. He’s going to kill me.
Good God, help me.
It was a quarter to four in the afternoon of April 24, 1992.
When Detective Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander arrived at the police station in Ystad on Monday morning, April 27, The was furious. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in such a bad mood. His anger had even left its traces on his face, a band-aid on one cheek where he cut himself shaving.
He muttered a reply to colleagues who said good morning. When he got to his office, he slammed the door behind him, took the phone off its hook, and sat staring out the window.
Kurt Wallander was forty-four years old. He was considered a proficient cop, persistent and occasionally astute. That morning, though, he felt only anger and an increasingly bad temper. Sunday had been one of those days he would have preferred to forget all about.
One of the causes was his father, who lived alone in a house on the plain just outside Loderup. His relationship with his father had always been complicated. Things had gotten no better over the years as Kurt Wallander realized, with a growing feeling of annoyance, that he was becoming more and more like him. He tried to imagine himself at the same stage as his father, but this made him feel ill at ease. Would he also end up a sullen and unpredictable old man, capable of suddenly doing something absolutely crazy?
On Sunday afternoon Kurt Wallander had visited his father as usual. They played cards and drank coffee out on the veranda in the warm spring sunshine. Out of the blue his father announced his intention of getting married. Kurt Wallander thought at first he had misheard him.
“No,” he said, “I’m not going to get married.”
“I’m not talking about you,” his father responded, “I’m talking about me.”
Kurt Wallander stared at him in disbelief.
“You’re almost eighty,” he said. “You aren’t getting married.”
“I’m not dead yet,” interrupted his father. “I’ll do whatever I like. You’d be better off asking me who.”
Kurt Wallander did as he was told.
“You ought to be able to work it out for yourself,” said his father. “I thought cops were paid to draw conclusions?”
“But you don’t know anybody your age, do you? You keep pretty much to yourself.”
“I know one,” said his father. “And anyway, who says you have to marry somebody your own age?”
Kurt Wallander suddenly realized there was only one possibility: Gertrud Anderson, the fifty-year-old woman who came to do the cleaning and wash his father’s feet three times a week.
“Are you going to marry Gertrud?” he asked. “Have you thought of asking her if she wants to? There’s thirty years between you. How do you think you’re going to be able to live with another person? You’ve never been able to. Not even with my mother.”
“I’ve grown better-tempered in my old age,” replied his father mildly.
Kurt Wallander couldn’t believe his ears. His father was going to get married? Better-tempered in his old age? Now, when he was more impossible than he’d ever been?
Then they had quarreled. It ended up with his father throwing his coffee cup into the tulip bed and locking himself in the shed where he used to paint his pictures with the same motif, repeated over and over again: sunset in an autumnal landscape, with or without a wood grouse in the foreground, depending on the taste of whoever commissioned it.
Kurt Wallander drove home much too fast. He had to put a stop to this crazy business. How on earth could Gertrud Anderson work for his father for a year and not see it was impossible to live with him?
He parked the car on Mariagatan in central Ystad where he lived, and made up his mind to call his sister Kristina in Stockholm right away. He would ask her to come to Skane. Nobody could change his father’s mind. But perhaps Gertrud Anderson could be made to see sense.
He never got around to calling his sister. When
He was kept waiting for ages before Martinson eventually came to the phone. Wallander guessed he’d been having coffee and chatting to some of the cops who were taking a rest from the big traffic operation they were mounting that weekend.
“Martinson here. How can I help you?”
“It’s Wallander. You’d better get your ass over here.”
“Where? To your office? I thought you were off today?”
“I’m at home. Get out here.”
Martinson evidently realized it must be serious. He asked no more questions.
“OK,” he said. “I’m on my way ”
The rest of Sunday was spent doing a technical investigation of the apartment and writing a case report. Martinson, one of the younger cops Wallander worked with, was sometimes careless and impulsive. All the same, Wallander liked working with him, not least because he often proved to be surprisingly perceptive. When Martinson and the police technician had left, Wallander did a very provisional repair job on the door.
He spent most of the night lying awake, thinking about how he’d beat the shit out of the thieves if he ever laid hands on them. When he could no longer bear to torture himself thinking about the loss of all his discs, he lay there worrying about what to do with his father, feeling more and more resigned to it all.
The White Lioness by Henning Mankell / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes