The National Commissioner of Police smiled.
He usually reserved his smile, boyish and charming, for the press and television and only seldom bestowed it on such members of the inner circle as Superintendent Stig Malm, of the National Police Administration, Eric Möller, chief of Security Police, and Martin Beck, chief of the National Homicide Squad.
Only one of the three men smiled back. Stig Malm had beautiful white teeth and liked smiling to show them off. Over the years he had quite unconsciously acquired a whole register of smiles. The one he was using now could only be described as ingratiating and fawning.
The chief of the Security Police suppressed yawn and Martin Beck blew his nose. It was only half-past seven in the morning, the National Commissioner’s favorite time for calling sudden meetings, which in no way meant that he was in the habit of arriving at the station at that time. He often did not appear until late in the morning and even then he was usually inaccessible even to his closest colleagues. "My office is my castle" might well have been inscribed on the door, and indeed it was an impenetrable fortress, guarded by a well-groomed secretary, quite rightly called "The Dragon."
This morning he was showing his breezy and benign side. He had even had a Thermos of coffee and real china cups brought in, instead of the usual plastic mugs.
Stig Malm got up and poured out the coffee.
Martin Beck knew that before he sat down again he would first pinch the crease in his trousers and then carefully run his hand across his well-cut wavy hair.
Stig Malm was his immediate superior and Martin Beck had no respect for him whatsoever. His self-satisfied coquettishness and insinuating officiousness toward senior potentates were characteristics that Martin Beck had ceased to be annoyed by and nowadays found simply foolish. What did irritate him, on the other hand, and often constituted an obstacle to his work, was the man's rigidity and lack of self-criticism, a lack just as total and destructive as his ignorance of everything to do with practical police work. That he had risen to such a high position was due to ambition, political opportunism and a certain amount of administrative ability.
The chief of the Security Police put four lumps of sugar into his coffee, stirred it with a spoon and slurped as he drank.
Maim drank his without sugar, careful as he was of his trim figure.
Martin Beck was not feeling well and did not want coffee this early in the morning.
The National Commissioner took both sugar and cream and crooked his little finger as he raised his cup. He emptied it in one gulp and pushed it away from him, simultaneously pulling toward him a green file that had been lying on the corner of the polished conference table.
"There," he said, smiling again. "Coffee first and then on with the day's work."
Martin Beck looked gloomily at his untouched cup of coffee and longed for a glass of cold milk.
"How are you feeling, Martin?" said the Commissioner, with feigned sympathy in his voice. "You don't look well. You're not planning to be ill again, are you? You know we can't afford to be without you."
Martin was not planning to be ill. He already was ill. He had been drinking wine with his twenty-two-year-old daughter and her boy friend until half-past three in the morning and knew that he looked awful as a result. But he had no desire to discuss his self-inflicted indisposition with his superior, and moreover he didn't think that the "again" was really fair. He had been away from work with the flu and a high temperature for three days at the beginning of March and it was now the seventh of May.
"No," he said. "I'm fine. A bit of a cold, that's all."
"You really don't look good," said Stig Malm. There was not even feigned sympathy in his voice, only reproach. "You really don't."
He looked piercingly at Martin Beck, who feeling his irritation rising said, "Thanks for your concern, but I'm fine. I assume we're not here to discuss my appearance or the state of my health."
"Quite right," said the Commissioner. "Let's get down to business." He opened the green file. Judging by the contents—three or four sheets of paper at the most—there was some hope that today's meeting would not drag on for too long.
On top lay a typed letter with the mark of a large green rubber stamp beneath the scrawled signature and a letterhead that Martin Beck could not make out from where he was sitting.
"As you will remember, we have discussed our to some extent imperfect experience when it comes to the security measures to be taken during state visits and in similar delicate situations—occasions when one can expect demonstrations of a particularly aggressive nature and well-and less-well-planned attempts at assassination," the Commissioner began, falling automatically into the pompous style that usually characterized his public appearances.
Stig Malm mumbled in agreement, Martin Beck said nothing, but Eric Möller objected. "Well, we're not that inexperienced, are we? Khrushchev's visit went off fine, except maybe for that red-painted pig someone let loose in front of Logård steps. So did Kosygin's, organizationally as well as security-wise. And the Environmental Conference, to take a maybe slightly different example."
"Yes, of course, but this time we're faced with a more difficult problem. What I'm referring to is the visit by this senator from the United States at the end of November. It could turn out to be a hot potato, if I may use that expression. We've never been confronted with the problem of VIPs from the States before, but now we are. The date's been set and I've already received certain instructions. Our preparations must be made well ahead of time and be extremely thorough. We have to be prepared for anything."
The National Commissioner was no longer smiling. "We'll probably have to be prepared for something more violent than egg-throwing this time," he added grimly. "You should bear that in mind, Eric."
"We can take preventive measures," said Möller.
The Commissioner shrugged. "To some extent, yes," he said. "But we can't eliminate and lock up and intern everyone who might make trouble. You know that as well as I do. I've got my orders to go by and you'll be getting yours."
And I've got mine, thought Martin Beck gloomily. He was still trying to read the letterhead on the letter in the green file. He thought he could discern the word "police" or possibly "policia." His eyes ached and his tongue felt as rough and dry as sandpaper. Reluctantly he sipped at the bitter coffee.
"But all that will come later," said the Commissioner. "What I want to discuss today is this letter." He tapped the paper in the open file with his forefinger. "It is in every way relevant to the problem at hand," he said. He gave the letter to Stig Malm, to pass around the table before he continued.
"It is, as you see, an invitation, in response to our request to be allowed to send an observer during an impending state visit. As the visiting president is not particularly popular in the host country, they will be taking all possible measures to protect him. As in many other Latin American countries, they have had to deal with a number of assassination attempts—of both native and foreign politicians. Consequently, they have considerable experience, and I would think that their police force and security services are the best qualified in that area. I'm convinced that we could learn much by studying their methods and procedures."
Martin Beck glanced through the letter, which was written in English in very formal and courteous terms. The president's visit was to take place on the fifth of June, hardly a month away, and the representative of the Swedish police was welcome to arrive two weeks earlier, so that he could study the most important phases of the preparatory work. The signature was elegant and totally illegible, but elucidated in typescript. The name was Spanish, long, and appeared in some way to be noble and distinguished.
When the letter had been returned to the green file, the Commissioner said, "The problem is, who shall we send?"
Stig Malm thoughtfully raised his eyes to the ceiling, but said nothing.
Martin Beck feared that he himself might be suggested. Five years earlier, before he had broken out of his unhappy marriage, he would have been delighted to undertake an assignment that would take him away from home for a while. But now, the last thing he wanted to do was to go abroad, and he hastened to say, "This is more of a Security Service job, isn't it?"
"I can't go," said Möller. "In the first place, I can't be absent from the department—we've got some reorganizational problems in Section A that will take some time to clear up. In the second place, we're already experts on these matters and it would be more useful if someone went who was unfamiliar with security questions. Someone from the Criminal Investigation Bureau, or maybe someone from the Regular Police. Whoever goes will pass on what he learns to the rest of us when he gets back, so everyone will benefit anyway."
The Commissioner nodded. "Yes, there's something in what you say, Eric," he said. "And, as you point out, we can't spare you at the moment. Nor you, Martin."
Martin Beck inwardly sighed with relief.
"In addition, I cannot speak Spanish," said the chief of Security Police.
"Who the hell can?" said Malm, smiling. He was aware of the fact that the Commissioner did not master the Castilian language, either.
"I know someone who can," said Martin Beck.
Malm raised his eyebrows. "Who? Someone in Criminal Investigation?"
"Yes. Gunvald Larsson."
Malm raised his eyebrows yet another millimeter, then smiled incredulously and said, "But we can't send him, can we now?"
"Why not?" said Martin Beck. "I think he'd be a good man to send."
He noticed that he sounded slightly angry. He did not usually speak up for Gunvald Larsson, but Malm's tone of voice had annoyed him and he was so used to disagreeing with Malm that he opposed him almost automatically.
"He's a bungler and totally unrepresentative of the force," said Malm.
"Does he really speak Spanish?" asked the Commissioner doubtfully. "Where did he learn it?"
"He was in a lot of Spanish-speaking countries when he was a sailor," said Martin Beck. "The city we're talking about is a large port, so he's almost certainly been there before. He speaks English, French and German, too, all fluently. And a little Russian. Look in his file and you'll see."
"He's a bungler all the same," insisted Stig Malm.
The Commissioner looked thoughtful. "I'll look at his qualifications," he said. "I thought of him myself, as a matter of fact. It's true he has a tendency to behave somewhat boorishly, and he's much too undisciplined. But he's undeniably one of our best inspectors, even if he does find it difficult to obey orders and stick to regulations."
He turned to the chief of the Security Police. "What do you say, Eric? Do you think he'd be suitable?"
"Well, I don't like him much, but generally speaking I've no objections."
Malm looked unhappy. "I think it would be extremely inappropriate to send him," he said. "He would disgrace the Swedish force. He behaves like a boor and uses language more suited to a longshoreman than a former ship's officer."
"Perhaps not when he's speaking Spanish," said Martin Beck. "Anyway, even if he does express himself a little crudely sometimes, at least he chooses his moments."
That was not strictly true. Martin Beck had recently heard Gunvald Larsson call MaIm "that magnificent asshole" in the man's presence, but fortunately Maim had not realized that the epithet was intended for him.
The Commissioner did not seem to take much notice of Malm's objections. "It's perhaps not a bad idea," he said thoughtfully. "I don't think his tendency to uncivilized behavior will be much of a problem in this case. He can behave well if he wants to. He has a better background than most. He comes from a wealthy and cultured family, he's had the best possible education and an upbringing that has taught him how to behave correctly in all possible circumstances. That shows, even if he does his best to conceal it."
"You can say that again," mumbled Malm.
Martin Beck sensed that Stig Malm would very much have liked the assignment and that he was annoyed at not even being asked. He also thought it would be good to be rid of Gunvald Larsson for a while, as he was not much liked by his colleagues and had an unusual capacity for causing rows and complications.
The Commissioner did not seem wholly convinced even by his own reasoning, and Martin Beck said encouragingly, "I think we should send Gunvald. He has all the qualifications needed for the job."
"I've noticed that he's careful of his appearance," said the Commissioner. "His way of dressing shows good taste and a feeling for quality. That undoubtedly makes an impression."
"Exactly," said Martin Beck. "It's an important detail." He was conscious of the fact that his own clothing could hardly be called tasteful. His trousers were unpressed and baggy, the collar of his polo sweater was wide and limp from many washings, his tweed jacket was worn and missing a button.
"The Violence Division is well-staffed and ought to be able to manage without Larsson for a few weeks," said the Commissioner. "Or does anyone have any other suggestion?"
They all shook their heads. Even Malm appeared to have perceived the advantage of having Gunvald Larsson at a safe distance for a while, and Eric Möller yawned again, apparently pleased that the meeting was drawing to a close.
The National Commissioner rose to his feet and closed the file. "Good," he said. "Then we are agreed. I shall personally inform Larsson of our decision."
From the Trade Paperback edition.