THERE ARE SOME THINGS WORSE THAN DYING.
An emaciated young man is found wandering on a train track outside of the city. Thirteen years earlier, he and his sister went missing, presumed to be victims of notorious serial killer Jurek Walter. He is now serving a life sentence in a maximum-security psychiatric hospital.
The only way to save the boy’s sister is to get Jurek to reveal his secrets. Now Detectives Joona Linna and Saga Bauer will have to go deep undercover and beat Jurek at his own game before it’s too late.
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Copyright © 2018 Lars Kepler
It’s the middle of the night, and snow is blowing in from the sea. A young man is walking across a high railroad bridge, toward Stockholm. His face is as pale as misted glass. His jeans are stiff with frozen blood. He is walking between the rails, stepping from tie to tie. Fifty meters beneath him, the ice on the water is just visible, like a strip of cloth. A blanket of snow covers the trees. Snow is swirling in the glow from the container crane far below, and the oil tanks at the harbor are barely visible.
Blood trickles down the man’s lower left arm and drips from his fingertips.
The rails sing as a night train approaches the two-kilometer-long bridge.
The young man sways and sits down on the rail, then gets to his feet again and carries on walking.
The air is turbulent in front of the train, and the view is obscured by the billowing snow. The locomotive has already reached the middle of the bridge when the engineer catches sight of the man on the track. He blows his horn and the figure almost falls. The man takes a long step to the left, onto the other track, and grabs hold of the flimsy railing.
His clothes flap around his body. The bridge shakes violently under his feet. He stands still with his eyes wide open, his hands on the railing.
Everything is swirling snow and enveloping darkness.
His name is Mikael Kohler-Frost. He went missing thirteen years ago and was officially declared dead six years later.
The steel gate closes behind the new doctor with a heavy clang. The sound echoes down the spiral staircase.
Everything suddenly goes quiet, and Anders Rönn feels a shiver run down his spine.
Today is his first day working in the Secure Criminal Psychology Unit at Löwenströmska Hospital.
For the past thirteen years, the strictly isolated bunker has been home to the aging Jurek Walter.
The young doctor doesn’t know much about his patient, except the diagnoses: Schizophrenia, nonspecific. Chaotic thinking. Recurrent acute psychosis, with erratic and extremely violent episodes.
Anders shows his ID at the entrance, removes his cell phone, and hangs the key to the gate in his locker before the guard opens the first steel security door. He goes in and waits for the door to close before walking to the next door. When a signal sounds, the guard opens the second door. Anders walks along the corridor toward the isolation ward’s staffroom.
Chief Physician Roland Brolin is a thickset man in his fifties, with sloping shoulders and cropped hair. He is smoking under the exhaust fan in the kitchen, leafing through an article on the pay gap between men and women in the health-care industry.
“Jurek Walter must never be alone with any member of staff,” he says. “He must never meet other patients. He never has any visitors, and he’s never allowed out into the exercise yard. Nor is he—”
“Never?” Anders asks. “Surely it’s not policy to keep someone . . .”
“No, it isn’t,” Roland says sharply.
“So what’s he actually done?”
“Nothing but nice things,” Roland says, heading toward the corridor.
Even though Jurek Walter has committed the most heinous crimes of any serial killer in Swedish history, he is completely unknown to the public. The proceedings against him in the Central Court House and at the Court of Appeal were held behind closed doors, and all the les are strictly confidential.
Anders and Roland pass through another security door, and a young woman with tattooed arms and pierced cheeks winks at them.
“Come back in one piece,” she says cheerily.
“There’s no need to worry,” Roland says to Anders in a low voice. “Jurek Walter is a quiet elderly man. He doesn’t fight, and he doesn’t raise his voice. Our cardinal rule is that we never go into his cell. But Leffe, who was on the night shift last night, noticed that he had made some sort of knife and hidden it under his mattress, so, obviously, we have to confiscate it.”
“How do we do that?” Anders asks.
“We break the rules.”
“We’re going into Jurek’s cell?”
“You’re going in. To ask nicely for the knife.”
“I’m going in?”
Roland laughs loudly and explains that they’re going to pretend to give the patient his normal injection of risperidone but will actually be giving him an overdose of Zypadhera.
The chief runs his card through yet another reader and taps in a code. There’s a bleep, and the lock of the security door whirrs.
“Wait,” Roland says, holding out a little box of yellow earplugs.
“What are these for?”
Roland looks at his new colleague with weary eyes, and sighs.
“Jurek Walter will talk to you, quite calmly, probably perfectly reasonably,” he says in a grave voice. “He will convince you to do some things you’ll regret. His words will play in your mind over and over again, and later this evening, when you’re driving home, you’ll swerve into oncoming traffic and smash into a semi, or you’ll stop off at the hardware store to buy an ax before you pick the kids up from preschool.”
“Should I be scared now?” Anders smiles and puts a pair of the earplugs in his pocket.
“No, but hopefully you’ll be careful,” Roland says.
Anders doesn’t think of himself as lucky, but when he saw the advertisement in a medical journal for a full-time, long-term position at Löwenströmska Hospital, he had a good feeling. It’s only a twenty- minute drive from home, and it could well lead to a permanent appointment. Since working as an intern at Skaraborg Hospital and in a health center in Huddinge, he has had to get by on temporary positions at the regional clinic of Sankt Sigfrids Hospital. The long drives to Växjö and the irregular hours proved difficult to manage with Petra’s job in the Parks Department and Agnes’s autism.
Only two weeks ago, Anders and Petra had been sitting at the kitchen table trying to work out what on earth they were going to do.
“We can’t go on like this,” Anders had said.
“But what alternative do we have?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” Anders replied, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
Agnes’s teaching assistant at her preschool had told them that Agnes had had a difficult day. She had refused to let go of her milk glass, and the other children had laughed. She hadn’t been able to accept that break time was over, because Anders hadn’t come to pick her up as he usually did. He had driven straight back from Växjö but hadn’t reached the preschool until six o’clock. Agnes was still sitting in the dining room with her hands around the glass when he arrived.
When they got home, Agnes had stood in her room, staring at the wall beside the dollhouse, clapping her hands in that introverted way she had. They don’t know what she can see there, but she says that gray sticks keep appearing, and she has to count them, and stop them. She does that when she’s feeling particularly anxious. Sometimes ten minutes is enough, but that evening she stood there for more than four hours before they could get her into bed.
The last security door closes, and they head down the corridor to the isolation cells. The fluorescent light in the ceiling reflects off the linoleum floor. The textured wallpaper has a groove worn into it from the rail on the food cart.
Roland puts his pass card away and lets Anders walk ahead of him toward the heavy metal door.
Through the reinforced glass, Anders can see a thin man sitting on a plastic chair. He is dressed in blue jeans and a denim shirt. The man is clean-shaven, and his eyes seem remarkably calm. The many wrinkles covering his pale face look like the cracked clay at the bottom of a dried-up riverbed.
Jurek Walter was found guilty of only two murders and one attempted murder, but there’s compelling evidence linking him to nineteen others.
Thirteen years ago, he was caught red-handed in Lill-Jan’s Forest, on Djurgården, in Stockholm, forcing a fifty-year-old woman back into a coffin in the ground. She had been kept in the coffin for almost two years, but was still alive. The woman had sustained terrible injuries, she was malnourished, her muscles had withered away, she had appalling pressure sores and frostbite, and she had suffered severe brain damage. If the police hadn’t followed and arrested Jurek Walter beside the coffin, he might never have been stopped.
Now Roland takes out three small glass bottles containing yellow powder, puts some saline into each of the bottles, shakes them carefully, then draws the contents into a syringe.
He puts his earplugs in and opens the small hatch in the door. There’s a clatter of metal, and a heavy smell of concrete and dust hits them.
In a dispassionate voice, Roland tells Jurek that it’s time for his injection.
The man lifts his chin and gets up softly from the chair, turns to look at the hatch in the door, and unbuttons his shirt as he approaches.
“Stop and take your shirt off,” Roland says.
Jurek steps slowly forward and Roland quickly closes the hatch. Jurek stops, undoes the last buttons, and lets his shirt fall to the floor.
His body looks as if it had once been in good shape, but now his muscles are loose and his wrinkled skin is sagging.
Roland opens the hatch again. Jurek approaches and holds out his sinewy arm.
Anders washes his upper arm with rubbing alcohol. Roland pushes the syringe into the soft muscle and injects the liquid too quickly. Jurek’s hand jerks in surprise, but he doesn’t pull his arm back until he’s been given permission. Roland hurriedly bolts the hatch, removes his earplugs, smiles nervously to himself, and then looks inside.
Jurek is stumbling toward the bed, where he stops and sits down.
Suddenly he twists to look at the door, and Roland drops the syringe.
He tries to catch it, but it rolls away across the floor.
Anders steps forward and picks up the syringe, and when they both stand and turn back toward the cell, they see that the inside of the reinforced glass is misted. Jurek Walter has breathed on the glass and written “Joona” with his finger.
“What does it say?” Anders asks weakly.
“He’s written ‘Joona.’”
“What the hell does that mean?”
When the condensation clears, they see that Jurek Walter is sitting as if he hasn’t moved. He looks at the arm where he got the injection, massages the muscle, then looks at them through the glass.
“It didn’t say anything else?” Anders asks.
There’s a bestial roar from the other side of the heavy door. Jurek has slid off the bed and is on his knees, screaming. The sinews in his neck are taut, his veins swollen.
“How much did you actually give him?” Anders asks.
Jurek’s eyes roll back and turn white. He reaches out a hand to support himself and stretches one leg but topples over backward. He hits his head on the bedside table. Then he screams, and his body jerks spasmodically.
“Jesus Christ,” Anders whispers.
Jurek slips onto the floor, his legs kicking uncontrollably. He bites his tongue, and blood sprays out over his chest. He lies there on his back, gasping.
“What do we do if he dies?”
“Cremate him,” Roland says.
Jurek is cramping again, his whole body shaking, and his hands flail in every direction, until they suddenly stop.
Roland looks at his watch. Sweat is running down his cheeks.
Jurek Walter whimpers, rolls onto his side and tries to get up, but fails.
“You can go inside in a couple of minutes,” Roland says.
“Am I really going in there?”
“He’ll soon be completely harmless.”
Jurek is crawling on all fours, bloody slime drooling from his mouth. He sways and slows down until he finally slumps to the floor and lies still.