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Mari Jungstedt

The killer's art

PROLOGUE

Two seconds. That was all it took to destroy him. To tear his life apart. Two pitiful seconds.

The malevolent thoughts that raced back and forth in his head at night refused to let go. For weeks they’d been keeping him awake. Not until the borderland between night and day did he finally slip into a liberating slumber. He could escape his thoughts for a few hours. Then he woke again to the hell that had been forced upon him. A lonely, private inferno that raged beneath his controlled exterior. Sharing it with anyone else was impossible.

It was during those two seconds that he had fallen headfirst into the blackest abyss. Never would he have imagined that the truth could be so merciless.

It took a while before he understood what he had to do. Slowly and irrevocably the realization had crept in. He would have to set to work on his own. There was no going back, no back door that he could slip through and pretend to the world and himself that nothing had happened.

It all started one day when he suddenly discovered a secret, and he didn’t know what to do about it. He went around carrying the knowledge inside him for a while. It itched, chafed and irritated him like a sore that had split open and refused to heal.

Eventually he might have put it out of his mind. Convinced himself that it was best to leave it be. If only he had done.

If only curiosity hadn’t prompted him to investigate further, so he couldn’t forget, so he had to find out more. Even if it hurt.

The fateful day arrived, although he didn’t know it at the time, not at first. Not in his mind, at least. Maybe his body had sensed the danger instinctively. Maybe not.

He was home alone. For a large part of the night he had lain awake, thinking about the thing that had preoccupied him for the past few weeks. With an effort he got out of bed when he heard the day coming awake outside the window.

He had no appetite, and he barely managed to get down a cup of tea. He merely sat at the kitchen table staring at the overcast sky and the high-rise building opposite; he had no idea how long he sat there. Frustration finally drove him out of his flat.

The morning was well under way, but as always in November, it never got truly light. The snow on the pavement was a dirty brown, and people were hurrying through the slush without looking anyone else in the eye. The cold was raw and damp, not conducive to indolent strolling.

He decided to go back to that place, without having any real reason to do so. He was just obeying an impulse. If he had known what was going to happen, he wouldn’t have gone. But it was as if the whole thing were pre-destined.

When he turned down the street, the man was just locking the door. He followed the man at a distance as he walked to the bus stop. The bus arrived almost at once. It was packed with people, and he practically rubbed shoulders with the man as they stood crowded together in the centre aisle.

The man got off at the NK department store and with determined steps pushed his way through the hordes of Saturday shoppers. He walked briskly towards the city centre in his elegant woollen coat with a scarf nonchalantly flung over his shoulder, smoking a cigarette. Abruptly he turned off on to a side street.

The man had never taken this route before. His pursuer’s pulse quickened but he kept back at a safe distance. Just to be sure, he walked along the opposite side of the street, but he still had a good view.

Suddenly he lost his quarry. He crossed the street and found a metal door that was so unobtrusive it merged with the shabby facade of the building. He cast a surreptitious glance in both directions. The man must have disappeared through the door, and he decided to follow. He didn’t know how devastating the consequences would be as he pressed down the door handle.

Inside, a faint red light on the ceiling provided scant illumination. The walls were painted black. A steep staircase, its steps marked by tiny lights, led straight down to a basement flat. Not a sound was audible. Hesitantly he descended the stairs and ended up in a long, empty corridor. It was dimly lit, and he could only sense that people were moving about in the dark up ahead.

It was the middle of the day, but that wasn’t evident in the basement. The world outside didn’t exist. In here other codes prevailed. He understood that after only a few moments.

Seemingly endless corridors wound their way in a complicated labyrinth. Shadowy figures came and went, and he couldn’t distinguish the face of the man he’d been following. He strained not to take in what he was seeing, wanting to protect himself. Impressions tugged at his attention, tried to get under his skin.

He got lost and ended up next to a door. That cursed door. If only he hadn’t opened it.

Two seconds it took him to register what was happening inside, to comprehend what he was seeing.

That sight would ruin his life.

1

At dawn there was already a tension in the air.

Egon Wallin had slept badly, tossing and turning all night. The terraced house where he lived stood at the shoreline, just outside Visby’s ring wall. For hours he had lain awake, staring into the dark as he listened to the sea outside.

The cause of his insomnia was not the stormy weather. After this weekend his well-ordered life would be turned totally upside-down, and he was the only one who knew what lay ahead. The plans had been formulated over the past six months, and now there was no going back. His twenty-year marriage would be over when Monday arrived.

It was no surprise that he’d had trouble sleeping. His wife Monika lay wrapped up in the covers with her back to him. Neither his restlessness nor the awful weather seemed to trouble her in the least. She slept soundly, taking long, deep breaths.

When the digital clock showed 4:45, he gave up and got out of bed. He slipped out of the bedroom and pulled the door shut behind him. The face he saw in the bathroom mirror was unshaven and bags were clearly visible under his eyes, in spite of the dimmed light. For a long time he let the shower water run over his body.

In the kitchen he made coffee. The hiss of the espresso machine blended with the howling of the wind whipping around the corner of the house. The storm seemed to match his emotional state, which was just as agitated and chaotic. After twenty-five years as an art dealer and owner of Visby’s foremost gallery, with a stable marriage, two grown children and a relatively humdrum existence, his life had taken a drastic turn. He had no idea what the future would bring.

This irrevocable decision had been a long time coming. The change he had undergone during the past year was both amazing and dramatic. He no longer recognized himself; at the same time he was closer to his real self than ever before. Emotions surged inside his body as if he were a teenager, as if he had awakened from a torpor that had gone on for decades. The new aspects of himself that he’d discovered both enticed and frightened him.

Outwardly he behaved as usual, trying to appear impassive. Monika knew nothing of his plans, which were bound to come as a shock to her. Not that he cared. Their marriage had died long ago. He knew what he wanted, and nothing else mattered.

His resolve calmed him enough that he was able to sit down on one of the bar stools at the modern kitchen island and enjoy his double macchiato. He opened the newspaper, looked for page seven, and studied the advertisement with satisfaction. It was positioned at the top right of the page, and it looked good. A lot of people

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