Read an Excerpt
NOBODY SAW HIM FALL through the dense November darkness.
With a dull, heavy thud he hit the rain-wet pavement. Even though it was still rush hour, there were few people on the street. The pedestrians huddled beneath umbrellas turned inside out and scrunched their chins into turned-up collars for a little protection from the icy, whipping rain. Everyone who could was driving a car or jammed into the steaming warmth aboard a bus or streetcar.
An elderly woman pulling a stubborn, soaking-wet dachshund on a leash stood closest. The howls that she and the dog uttered announced to those people in the vicinity that something serious had happened.
Hurrying pedestrians slowed their pace. Curiosity got the upper hand, and they were drawn toward the site of the accident.
A white Mercedes was carelessly parked by the curb. A man in a light-colored overcoat had just rushed around the car and opened the door on the passenger’s side when the lady with the dachshund started to scream. The man turned quickly, squinted through the rain, and caught sight of the heap thirty meters away. He kept his grip on the open car door, slowly tilted his head back, and looked up at the top floor of the imposing apartment building. A faint moaning sound rose from his throat, but he remained catatonically still.
Without putting on her coat, the small woman in the passenger’s seat jumped nimbly out of the car and ran over to the motionless figure on the ground. Her slenderness was emphasized by the stylish
Chanel dress she was wearing. She had mastered to perfection the art of running in high heels. She elbowed her way through the crowd frenetically and reached the inner circle.
THE PATROL CAR WAS the first to arrive on the scene. The ambulance came a scant five minutes later. As far as the ambulance medics could tell, there wasn’t much for them to do. The two police officers attempted to hold back the sensation-hungry spectators who suddenly were stoic enough to defy both wind and rain. One of the officers got into the car and called for backup.
“Send the crime scene team to the corner of Aschebergsgatan and
Molinsgatan. A guy jumped from the fifth floor. Looks like it’s that bigtime businessman, Knäck-something-or-other. His wife and son are here, in shock. We need another ambulance for them. Oh, I see . . .
DE T E C T I V E SUPERINTENDENT Sven Andersson had just reached his old Volvo 240 and was putting his key in the lock when he heard a familiar female voice shouting, “Sven, wait! Case in progress!”
Annoyed, he turned to her and sighed. “What is it now?”
The detective inspector’s voice revealed a slight hint of titillation when she said, “Richard von Knecht jumped off his balcony!”
“Richard von Knecht! The Richard von Knecht?”
“Yes. It sounds unbelievable. Was there a stock market crash or something?”
“Hop in the car. Did you get an address?”
THE RAIN was pouring down, and the superintendent had to put his windshield wipers on high to be able to see out. Göteborg was really living up to its nickname of “Soaking-borg.” The week before there had been total winter chaos with half a meter of snow; the whole city had been paralyzed for several days. The result would undoubtedly be a high birth rate the next August. Now it was a few degrees above freezing with not a snowflake to be seen.
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Detective Inspector Irene Huss phoned her teenage daughters and told them that she’d be late. They were used to it by now, after her many years with the Crime Police. They promised to take the dog for a walk and feed him, and to let their father know. Krister was no doubt used to it, too. As was usual, he would make a good dinner for his daughters.
Everything had been organized to run smoothly in the family, even without her help.
She must have sighed audibly, because Superintendent Andersson turned to her and asked, “Is something bothering you?”
“No, nothing. It’s depressing weather. Depressing, with scattered suicides.
The superintendent nodded in agreement and stared gloomily at the black rain being flung against the windshield by the gusty wind. He broke the silence and asked, “How could Dispatch be so sure that it was really Richard von Knecht who jumped?”
“According to the officer on duty, the wife and son were down on the street. Apparently, it was the son who called the police.”
“Do you know what floor he fell from?”
“No, but it seems it was high enough.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. At last the superintendent cleared his throat and asked, “Do you know anything about Richard von Knecht?”
“What most people know. Aristocratic family, and wealthy.
Talented businessman, stock market speculator, and one of Göteborg’s biggest celebrities. According to Aftonbladet’s financial section he’s a business genius, but my husband says he’s just had incredible luck.”
“Is Krister an expert on business and the stock market now, too?”
“No. Although he does own twenty shares of Trygg Hansa, which he received as a bonus when they reorganized a few years back. He’s still the chef at Glady’s Corner.”
“That’s supposed to be a great place. Very trendy, I hear.”
Through the slapping of the windshield wipers they could now see the flashing blue lights of the emergency vehicles. The crime team was there and had blocked off a large area. The site of the body’s impact was illuminated by a soft light streaming from the glass in the front entrance of an exclusive menswear store. The door was set into the corner of the building’s granite foundation. Superintendent Andersson had a vague memory that there had been a pharmacy on this spot when he was a boy. But he wasn’t quite sure, since he had grown up in
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Masthugget, the neighborhood that was torn down during “urban renewal” in the sixties.
Above the door the corner extended into an oriel. There was an oriel on the corner of each floor, whose bay windows faced in three directions,
except for the top floor, which sported a balcony crowned by a turreted roof. It was from there that Richard von Knecht had plunged to the street. Superintendent Andersson let his glance pass over the remains, but he quickly looked away. Inspector Huss also shuddered when she saw what von Knecht looked like. It was not a pretty way to die, she thought. One of the crime scene team came over to them.
“The medical examiner will be here any minute.”
“Do you know which one is coming?” asked the superintendent.
A shrug was the reply. With Inspector Huss in his wake, Superintendent
Andersson walked over to the parked patrol car. He bent down to the officer in the driver’s seat.
“Hi, Superintendent Sven Andersson from Homicide.”
“Hans Stefansson from PO-One. So they’ve already called in you guys?”
“Yes, it’s unusually quick. We were contacted barely fifteen minutes afterward, which would mean that he jumped at five forty-five P.M. Is that right?”
“No, we were the first on the scene, at five thirty-five on the dot.
He must have floated on down max five minutes earlier. My partner and I were on Korsvägen when the call came in. I would think the correct time of impact would be five-thirty.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Medical
Examiner Yvonne Stridner. She was a professor of forensic medicine and undeniably one of the country’s most talented pathologists. But
Superintendent Andersson had a hard time working with her because
Professor Stridner was a woman who demonstrated her expertise gladly and saw no reason to hide her light under a bushel. Inspector Huss herself had been involved in several cases in which the hypotheses of the police were turned completely upside down by Yvonne Stridner’s definite forensic opinions. And so far she had always been right. But that wasn’t it as much as the fact that she was authoritarian and pedantic that made it difficult for Superintendent Andersson to accept her. Huss had a strong hunch that, deep down, the superintendent did not regard forensic medicine as a proper job for a woman.
The white Ford Escort with MEDICAL EXAMINER painted on both front doors had been parked at the outer perimeter of the blocked-off area.
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Out sailed the professor of forensic medicine. Even those who had no idea of her profession stood aside in deference to her commanding presence.
Her flaming red hair was exquisitely set off by her soft mustardcolored woolen coat. She strode up to the body, took off her coat, and asked an officer to hold it. Underneath she was wearing a clean white lab coat. She opened the little bag she was carrying, pulled on a pair of latex gloves, and squatted down next to von Knecht’s remains. The crime scene technicians had just rigged up a floodlight, giving her a better view. She hadn’t cast a single glance around her. Professor
Stridner was wearing a pair of plastic protectors over her expensive leather shoes. There was a good deal of blood around the body, mixed with a lot of other material and diluted with rainwater. Slushy.
In order to feel that she was being of some use, Inspector Huss decided to start questioning the police officers present. The commander of the unit, Håkan Lund, she knew well. Fifteen years earlier they had both been rookies in what was then the third precinct, today Polisområde
1, Göteborg’s downtown area. Lund wasn’t much taller than she was—
five-nine at most. But his waistline would soon be approaching his height if he didn’t watch out.
The crime team had received their instructions. Håkan Lund turned to Irene Huss and said easily, “At your service, Huss! Is Violent Crimes already on site?”
“Hi, how are you doing? Yes, we were called in early this time. When did you get here?”
“We got the call from Dispatch just after five-thirty. We were inside the station but left right away. ‘Top priority! Richard von Knecht is lying dead at the corner of Molinsgatan and Aschebergsgatan!’”
“How did it look here?”
“Chaos! The vultures had gathered. We almost couldn’t get through the crowd. But we pushed and shoved and got them driven back and set up barriers. We cordoned off a large area, as you can see. A few people did try to get under the crime scene tape, but I yelled right in their faces. Literally!”
Inspector Huss could imagine the scene vividly. Quickly she went on to ask, “Who identified Richard von Knecht?”
“His wife and son. When we got through the crowd a woman covered in blood was standing here wailing. Some guy was trying to prop her up. That was Fru von Knecht and her son. From what I understood,
they happened to be right here on the street when he fell,” said Lund sympathetically.
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“Where are they now?”
“The ambulance took them off to Sahlgren Hospital. But you won’t be able to talk to her for a couple of days, and the son was chalk white in the face. He even threw up before they got into the ambulance.”
Lund looked serious, but suddenly brightened up and exclaimed,
“Hey, I know someone you’ll be interested in meeting. Come on!”
Irene followed him over toward the crime team’s van. With a histrionic gesture he opened up one of the side doors and said, “This is Fru
Eva Karlsson. Fru Karlsson, this is Detective Inspector Irene Huss.”
He turned to the little old woman in the light-gray trench coat, who nodded mutely in greeting. On her knees sat a brown dachshund. It clearly did not suffer from muteness. Over the dog’s frantic yapping Irene could hear Lund saying, “This is the closest witness we have. She was standing about seven meters from the point of impact.”
Irene turned to the woman. A trembling, thin white hand was held out toward her. Cautiously, she took the fragile, ice-cold hand in hers.
In a soothing tone of voice she began, “Fru Karlsson, I’d like to hear a little about the tragic event you were witness to this evening—”
“Frightful! I’m almost seventy-seven years old, and this is the most appalling thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life! To watch a human being smashed right at my feet! He almost fell right on top of Snoopy!”
A thin white finger pointed accusingly at the remains of Richard von Knecht. Irene gave up at once. It would be best to drive the old lady home and try to interview her later.
Over by the body, Stridner had begun packing up her things. With a practiced motion the professor tore off the rubber gloves, took off her lab coat, and stuffed all of it into her bag. She had already removed the plastic protectors from her feet. Without looking at him, Stridner made a queenly gesture with her arm to the young police sergeant, who had been patiently holding her coat for more than a quarter of an hour.
She seemed only now to notice all the people standing around her. She called out, “Is there anyone from Violent Crimes here?”
Superintendent Andersson slumped, sighed, and shambled over to her.
“All right, Andersson. Come and look. Don’t step in the blood,” said the pathologist.
Inspector Huss stole after her superintendent. Stridner had taken a pen from the outside pocket of her bag. She pulled briskly on one end and produced a meter-long lecture pointer. It was perfectly in character for Yvonne Stridner to go around with a pointer in her bag. She
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said urgently, “Look there at the top of the right hand. I’ve turned his hand forward so that the light falls on it. Look!”
She gestured with her slender pointer. The two detectives looked.
Running across the entire back of the hand was a deep groove. It wasn’t as incised as a knife wound, but it had clearly been caused by something relatively sharp.
Andersson ventured to ask, “Couldn’t he have gotten that from the fall?”
“No. Too distinct. The wound was inflicted by an instrument or weapon. Since I happen to know . . . knew . . . von Knecht, this death affects me personally. I’m actually supposed to be teaching graduate students all morning tomorrow, but I’ll see to the autopsy myself. I’ll start by eight at the latest and will let you know after eleven.”
“Isn’t there a chance you could take a look at him tonight?” Superintendent
Andersson gazed at the professor without much hope. She fluffed her red tresses with her fingertips. Her hairdo had been thoroughly soaked while she was doing her preliminary investigation. “Not necessary, Andersson,” she replied curtly. “It’s almost certain that this is a homicide.”
Irene Huss stared incredulously at the pathologist. Rage began to rise inside her: being condescended to stimulates the release of adrenaline in most people. She interrupted the conversation acerbically.
“Wait just a minute! What are you basing this on? And how did you know von Knecht?”
The pathologist gave her a surprised look, as if only now noticing that another person was present. Sven Andersson muttered Irene Huss’s name and title in explanation. Before Professor Stridner managed to reply, some ambulance men came over and asked whether it was all right to take the body to Pathology. The ME nodded. She gestured toward the main entry.
“We’ll wait over there so we won’t be in the way. And we can get out of the rain.”
In a troop they walked over to the building entrance, a solid door with beautiful incised glass in the top half. There was no list of names of the people who lived in the building, only a coded intercom system.
You had to know the proper code to get hold of any of the residents.
Yvonne Stridner came straight to the point.
“We weren’t close friends, von Knecht and I. He did some sailing with my husband. My ex-husband, to be more precise. My present husband doesn’t know the von Knecht family at all.”
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So the frosty medical examiner was married, and for a second time.
Irene’s ire was replaced by astonishment.
Oblivious to the inspector’s surprise, the professor continued.
“It must be fifteen years since I last saw them. But I’m convinced that Richard never ever would jump from a balcony twenty-five meters up! Even if he wanted to commit suicide. He was terrified of heights,
you see. When he was out sailing, if a sheet or shroud starting getting tangled on the mast, he never wanted to climb up and fix it.”
“How did your ex-husband know Richard von Knecht?”
Again it was Irene Huss who asked. Yvonne Stridner gave her a sharp look but nodded in comprehension of the reason the question had been asked.
“They belonged to the same crowd during their high school days.
They stuck together through thick and thin over the years. Over time,
various girlfriends and wives joined the group. We were invited to the spring bonfire celebration and the New Year’s party held every year.
Otherwise we girls stayed pretty much on the sidelines. It was like a men’s club, or a fraternal lodge.”
“How many years did you socialize with the von Knechts?”
“Tore and I were married barely four years. I met them probably ten times. As I said, this was fifteen years ago. After our divorce I lost contact with the von Knecht circle.”
Irene could see that the professor was beginning to glance at her elegant wristwatch and knew that she had to hurry and get to the last important question. Quickly she asked, “Who was included in this men’s club?”
Now Yvonne Stridner looked annoyed. Maybe she thought she had been too communicative.
“They were men who are quite prominent today,” she said brusquely.
Then she thought for a moment and her expression brightened. “Let’s do this. I’ll make a list of all the men in the group. You’ll have it tomorrow with the preliminary autopsy report.”
She hurried off toward the white Ford Escort. Irene watched her go and said, “She’s actually quite human.”
Andersson snorted. “Human, her? She’s got the emotional life of a backhoe!”
Inspector Huss smiled, concluding once again that the superintendent didn’t forgive or forget easily.
“How are we going to get into the building then? This is a real Fort
Knox if you don’t have the code or the keys,” she noted.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS 9
Superintendent Andersson didn’t seem to be listening; for a long while he stood, lost in thought. Finally he took a deep breath and said,
“It’s going to take some time before the superintendent at headquarters gets hold of the prosecutor and gets his permission for a search warrant.
In the meantime I’ll just have to stay here and wait for the warrant and a locksmith. HQ will also have to track down the phone number of someone in this building who can let us in. Maybe you could drive up to Sahlgren Hospital and check on how the wife and son are doing.
My first thought was to borrow the key from the wife so we don’t have to damage their lovely front door.”
A weary and bitter undertone revealed that Andersson was more affected by the events than he would admit.
“Okay, I’ll run up to emergency. The car keys, please,” she said.
Irene reached out her hand and took the keys, still warm from his pocket. She walked off toward the old Volvo.
AS USUAL, finding a parking place was hopeless, even though evening visiting hours at the hospital were almost over. Huss showed her police ID to the guard and was allowed to drive in. That didn’t always happen when the police showed up in plainclothes and didn’t have someone in the car who needed patching up.
Since it was a normal Tuesday evening and still relatively early, it was quiet in the big emergency room. Irene went up to the nurses’
counter and saw a blond male nurse sitting there, talking on the telephone.
They had met several times before in the line of duty. He waved cheerfully in acknowledgment and signaled that he’d be off the phone soon.
Irene looked around. Right outside the counter was an elderly man on a gurney. His face was a horrible shade of gray; she could hardly see his lips in that pale face. He lay there with his eyes closed and didn’t seem to be conscious of his surroundings. On a chair next to him sat a short, plump woman patting his arm unceasingly. She was sniffling quietly but didn’t speak to him. Over by the waiting room a youth sat with a wad of bloody paper towels wrapped around his hand. An older gentleman whom Irene recognized from the “A-team” bench in
Brunnsparken lay snoring loudly on a gurney. He didn’t seem to be in such bad shape because the blood around the gash on his forehead had already started to congeal. A young woman sat stiffly on her chair staring into space. Except for the old man’s snoring it was almost peaceful in the ER.
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Nurse Roland finished his phone call and waved Huss over from the corridor with a blithe “Hi there, Irene! Long time no see! I bet I can guess why you’re here.”
“Hi! Have you seen Fru von Knecht and her son?”
“I sure have. The medics came in and brought me out to the ambulance.
They had a feeling that it was probably best to take her straight to Psych. And in the condition she was in, I agreed with them.”
“How did the son look?”
“He just sat there staring into space. Of course he’s had a great shock too. Would you like a quick cup of coffee before you dash off?”
Roland gestured invitingly toward the employees’ lounge. Irene could feel her body longing for a cup of coffee but declined. Time was passing.
She started to walk toward the exit as an odd figure came through the double doors. He was tall and incredibly skinny. His rat-colored hair was thin and straggled down the back of his leather jacket. On his feet he wore a pair of indescribably dirty and ragged jogging shoes,
and only his jeans could compete with them in filthiness. His thighlength leather jacket was of a sixties design and had probably been bought at the Salvation Army or picked out of a Dumpster after someone had cleaned out an attic. But it wasn’t his slovenly clothing, which had seen a few too many winters, that made Irene gape.
His skin was so yellow that it was almost greenish. The guy had jaundice of the most fulminating kind. Without a word the yellow-skinned man ripped off his jacket. The front of his T-shirt was drenched with blood. His stony pupils, surrounded by the sulfur-yellow whites of his eyes, stared straight at the inspector. He grabbed hold of the bottom of his T-shirt and pulled it up.
Then Irene yelled, “Roland! Hurry! Roland!”
Nurse Roland stuck his head out the door of the nurses’ station. After more than ten years on the job in the ER, he had no problem evaluating the situation instantly.
“Damn, that’s a loop of intestine hanging out his belly!”
He dashed back into the station. Irene heard him yell on the intercom,
“. . . abdomen slashed open. He’s a walking case of HIV and hepatitis!”
He bolted like a shot out the door. On the way he swept on a yellow protective coat, plastic gloves, and a pair of safety glasses. Just as he reached the stabbing victim, the man’s eyes turned upward and rolled into his skull as he collapsed onto the floor.
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Down the corridor quick steps were heard approaching. The emergency personnel walked as fast as they could while trying to pull on some protective gear.
With a careful evasive maneuver the inspector slunk out into the black November damp. Now it felt good to be outside in the cold. The wind had let up and the rain hung like an icy fog in the air. She went over to her car and drove through the hospital grounds.