One Step Behind, p.1Henning Mankell
Table of Contents
About the Author
By the Same Author
Part OneChapter One
Part TwoChapter Twenty
ONE STEP BEHIND
Henning Mankell was born in Stockholm in 1948. He is the prize-winning author of the eight novels in the Inspector Wallander series which has been translated into many languages and consistently tops the best-seller lists throughout Europe. His novel Sidetracked won the CWA Gold Dagger in 2001. Mankell has worked as an actor, theatre director and manager in Sweden and in Mozambique, where he is head of Teatro Avenida in Maputo.
Ebba Segerberg teaches English at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
BY HENNING MANKELL
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
The Dancing Master
ONE STEP BEHIND
TRANSLATED FROM THE SWEDISH BY
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Published by Vintage 2004
8 10 9
Copyright © Henning Mankell 1997
English translation © The New Press, 2000
Henning Mankell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published with the title Steget Efter by
Ordfronts Förlag Stockholm 1997
First published in Great Britain in 2002 by The Harvill Press
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
There are always many more disordered than
FROM THE SECOND LAW OF
The Overture to Rigoletto
The rain stopped shortly after 5 p.m. The man crouching beside the thick tree trunk carefully removed his coat. The rain hadn't lasted for more than half an hour, and it hadn't been heavy, but damp had nonetheless seeped through his clothing. He felt a sudden flash of anger. He didn't want to catch a cold. Not now, not in the middle of summer.
He laid the raincoat on the ground and stood up. His legs were stiff. He started swaying back and forth gently to get his circulation going, at the same time looking around for any signs of movement. He knew that the people he was waiting for wouldn't arrive before 8 p.m. That was the plan. But there was a chance, however small, that someone else would come walking down one of the paths that snaked through the nature reserve. That was the only factor that lay beyond his control, the only thing he couldn't be sure of. Even so, he wasn't worried. It was Midsummer's Eve. There weren't any camping or picnic areas in the reserve, and the people had chosen the spot with care. They wanted to be alone.
They had decided on this place two weeks ago. At that point he had been following them closely for several months. He had even come to look at the spot after he learned of their decision. He had taken great pains not to let himself be seen as he wandered through the reserve. At one point an elderly couple came walking along one of the paths and he had hidden himself behind some trees until they passed.
Later, when he found the spot for their Midsummer festivities, he had immediately been struck by how ideal it was. It lay in a hollow with thick undergrowth all around. There were a few trees further up the hill. They couldn't have chosen a better spot – not for their purposes, nor his own.
The rain clouds were dispersing. The sun came out and it immediately became warmer. It had been a chilly June. Everyone had complained about the early summer in Skåne, and he had agreed. He always did. It's the only way to sidestep life's obstacles, he thought, to escape whatever crosses one's path. He had learned the art of agreeing.
He looked up at the sky. There would be no more rain. The spring and early summer had really been quite cold. But now, as evening approached on Midsummer's Eve, the sun came out at last. It will be a beautiful evening, he thought. As well as memorable.
The air smelt of wet grass. He heard the sound of flapping wings somewhere. To the left below the hill was a glimpse of the sea. He stood with his legs apart and spat out the wad of chewing tobacco that had started to dissolve in his mouth, then stamped it into the sand. He never left a single trace. He often thought that he should stop using tobacco. It was a bad habit, something that didn't suit him.
They had decided to meet in Hammar. That was the best place, since two of them were coming from Simrishamn and the others from Ystad. They would drive out to the nature reserve, park their cars, and walk to the spot they had chosen. They had not been able to agree upon anything for a long time. They had discussed various alternatives and sent the proposals back and forth. But when one of them finally suggested this place, the others had quickly assented, perhaps because they had run out of
Everything was ready. There was only one thing that could not have been anticipated. One of them suddenly became ill. It was a young woman, the one who had perhaps been looking forward to the Midsummer's Eve plans most of all. She had met the others less than a year before. When she woke up that morning she had felt nauseated. At first she thought it was because she was nervous. But some hours later, when it was already midday, she had started vomiting and running a temperature. She still hoped it would pass. But when her lift arrived, she stood at the door on trembling legs and said that she was too ill to go.
Consequently, there were only three of them in Hammar shortly before 7.30 p.m on Midsummer's Eve. But they did not allow this to spoil the mood. They were experienced; they knew that these things happened. One could never guard against sudden illness.
They parked outside the nature reserve, took their baskets, and disappeared down one of the paths. One of them thought he heard an accordion in the distance. But otherwise there were just birds and the distant sound of the sea.
When they arrived at the selected spot they knew at once that it had been the right choice. Here they would be undisturbed and free to await the dawn.
The sky was now completely free of clouds. The midsummer night would be clear and beautiful. They had made the plans for Midsummer's Eve at the beginning of February, when they had spoken of their longing for light summer nights. They had drunk large quantities of wine and quarrelled at length about the precise meaning of the word dusk. At what point did this particular moment between light and dark arrive? How could one really describe the landscape of twilight in words? How much could you actually still see when the light passed into this obscure state of transition, defined by a certain length of the shadows? They had not come to an agreement. The question of dusk had remained unsolved. But they had started planning their celebration that evening.
They arrived at the hollow and put down their baskets, then separated and changed behind some thick bushes. They wedged small make-up mirrors in the branches so they could check that their wigs were on straight.
None of them sensed the man who observed their careful preparations from a distance. Getting the wigs to sit straight turned out to be the easiest part. Putting on the corsets, padding and petticoats was more difficult, as was arranging the cravat and the ruffles, not to mention applying the thick layers of powder. They wanted every detail to be perfect. They were playing a game, but the game was in earnest.
At 8 p.m. they came out from behind their bushes and looked at each other. It was a breathtaking moment. Once more they had left their own time for another age. The age of Bellman, the bacchanalian 18th-century poet.
They drew closer and burst into laughter. But then they regained their composure. They spread out a large tablecloth, unpacked their baskets and put on a tape with several renditions of the most famous songs from Bellman's work, Fredman's Epistles. Then the celebration began.
When winter comes, they said to each other, we will think back on this evening. They were creating yet another secret for themselves.
At midnight he had still not made up his mind. He knew he had plenty of time. They would be staying until dawn. Perhaps they would even stay and sleep all morning. He knew their plans down to the last detail. It gave him a feeling of unlimited power. Only he who had the upper hand would escape.
Just after 11 p.m., when he could tell that they were tipsy, he had carefully changed his position. He had picked out the starting point for his actions on his first visit. It was a dense thicket a bit higher up the hill. Here he had a full view of everything that was happening on the light-blue tablecloth. And he could approach them without being seen. From time to time they left the tablecloth in order to relieve themselves. He could see everything they did.
It was past midnight. Still he waited. He waited because he was hesitating. Something was wrong. There should have been four of them. One of them had not come. In his head he went through the possible reasons. There was no reason. Something unexpected must have happened. Had the girl changed her mind? Was she sick?
He listened to the music and the laughter. From time to time he imagined that he too sat down there on the light-blue tablecloth, a wineglass in his hand. Afterwards he would try on one of the wigs. Perhaps some of the clothes, too? There was so much he could do. There were no limits. He could not have had more power over them if he had been invisible.
He continued to wait. The laughter rose and fell. Somewhere above his head a night bird swooped by.
It was 3.10 a.m. He couldn't wait any longer. The moment was at hand, the hour he alone had appointed. He could barely remember the last time he had worn a watch. The hours and minutes ticked continuously within him. He had an inner clock that was always on time.
Down by the light-blue tablecloth everything was still. They lay with their arms wrapped around one another, listening to the music. He didn't know if they were sleeping, but they were lost in the moment, and did not sense that he was right behind them.
He picked up the revolver with the silencer that had been lying on his raincoat. He looked around quickly, then made his way stealthily to the tree located directly behind the group, and paused for a few seconds. No one had noticed anything. He looked around one last time. But there was no one else there. They were alone.
He stepped out and shot each of them once in the head. He couldn't help it that blood splattered onto the white wigs. It was over so quickly that he barely had time to register what he was doing. But now they lay dead at his feet, still wrapped around each other, just like a few seconds before.
He turned off the tape recorder that had been playing and listened. The birds were chirping. Once again he looked around. Of course there was no one there. He put his gun away and spread a napkin out on the cloth. He never left a trace.
He sat down on the napkin and looked at those who had recently been laughing and who now were dead. The idyll hasn't been affected, he thought. The only difference is that we are now four. As the plan had been all along.
He poured himself a glass of red wine. He didn't really drink, but now he simply couldn't resist. Then he tried on one of the wigs. He ate a little of the food. He wasn't particularly hungry.
At 3.30 a.m. he got up. He still had much to do. The nature reserve was frequented by early risers. In the unlikely event that someone left the path and found their way into the hollow, they must not find any traces. At least not yet.
The last thing he did before he left the spot was look through their bags and clothes. He found what he was looking for. All three had been carrying their passports. Now he put them into his coat pocket. Later that day he would burn them.
He looked around one last time. He took a little camera out of his pocket and took a picture.
Only one. It was like looking at a painting of a picnic from the 18th century, except that someone had spilled blood on this painting.
It was the morning after Midsummer's Eve. Saturday, June 22. It was going to be a beautiful day. Summer had come to Skåne at last.
On Wednesday, 7 August 1996, Kurt Wallander came close to being killed in a traffic accident just east of Ystad. It happened early in the morning, shortly after 6 a.m. He had just driven through Nybrostrand on his way out to Österlen. Suddenly he had seen a truck looming in front of his Peugeot. He heard the truck's horn blaring as he wrenched the steering wheel to one side.
Afterwards he had pulled off the road. That was when the fear set in. His heart pounded in his chest. He felt nauseated and dizzy, and he thought he was about to faint. He kept his han
The realisation made him feel suddenly empty. The only thing he could think of was the time, a few years earlier, when he had almost hit an elk outside Tingsryd. But then it had been dark and foggy. This time he had nodded off at the wheel.
The fatigue. He didn't understand it. It had come over him without warning, shortly before the start of his holiday at the beginning of June. This year he had taken his holiday early, but the whole holiday had been lost to rain. It was only when he returned to work shortly after Midsummer that the warm and sunny weather had come to Skåne. The tiredness had been there all along. He fell asleep whenever he sat down. Even after a long night's undisturbed sleep, he had to force himself out of bed. Often when he was in the car he found himself needing to pull over to take a short nap.
His daughter Linda had asked him about his lack of energy during the week that they had spent sightseeing together in Gotland. It was on one of the last days, when they had stayed in an inn in Burgsvik. They had spent the day exploring the southern tip of Gotland, and had eaten dinner at a pizzeria before returning to the inn. The evening was particularly beautiful.
She had asked him point-blank about the fatigue. He had studied her face in the glow of the kerosene lamp and realised that her question had been thought out in advance, but he shrugged it off. There was nothing wrong with him. Surely the fact that he used part of his holiday to catch up on lost sleep was to be expected. Linda didn't ask any more questions. But he knew that she hadn't believed him.
Now he realised that he couldn't ignore it any longer. The fatigue wasn't natural. Something was wrong. He tried to think if he had other symptoms that could signal an illness. But apart from the fact that he sometimes woke in the middle of the night with leg cramps, he hadn't been able to think of anything. He knew how close to death he had been. He couldn't put it off any longer. He would make an appointment with the doctor that day.
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