The White Lioness

Henning Mankell


I n 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

Chapter One

Louise Akerblom, 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 Akerblom 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 Malmo 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 Akerblom’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 Vollsjo. 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.

Skane 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 way through the Krageholm forest where the lake lay glittering away beyond the deciduous woods to the left. She had often driven along that road, and never tired of it.

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 Skane 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

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