ALSO BY JAMES THOMPSON
For my son, Christopher.
And, as always, for Annukka.
With special thanks to neurologist Dr. Jukka Turkka,
specialist in post-trauma neurological recovery and cognition,
without whom this book would not have been possible.
It’s May second, a sunny Sunday, a chilly spring evening. I walk around downtown, check out the main drags. The outdoor bars are packed, everyone drunk and happy. Yesterday was Vappu—May Day, the heaviest drinking holiday of the year—and most of these people have been drunk non-stop, morning to night, since they got off from work on Friday. Morning drinking delays hangovers. Eventually, the price has to be paid, but they can be sick at work tomorrow, on the company dime.
Raucous laughter emanates from everywhere. I stop under the clock in front of the main doors of Stockmann Department Store, the biggest and best in the city. I sometimes shop here because they almost always have what I want, and specialize in quality merchandise, even though the prices they charge for convenience and quality are highway robbery.
The clock is a traditional meeting place, central to everything downtown. It’s become a habit. People just say, “Meet you under the clock,” and nothing more need be discussed. Lovers especially are drawn to the spot. I’m waiting on Jyri Ivalo, the national chief of police. We’re far from being lovers. I would describe our relationship as mutual enmity combined with respect. I trust him implicitly, however, because he fears me. The clock says five minutes of four. I’m right on time.
I’m a policeman and hold the rank of inspector. Because of the dime novel versions of some high-profile investigations as related by the media, my name, Kari Vaara, is synonymous with hero cop. Jyri is my boss. Ours is an unusual arrangement. There is no customary chain of command. I work directly under him with no intermediary authorities. The work I do is covert.
In a safe-deposit box, I have a video of him engaged in a fetishistic sex act involving a dildo up his ass a short time before a woman was murdered, at the murder scene, with the victim. Even though it was key evidence in the Filippov murder, I suppressed the video, which is both humiliating, and if you can manage to forget the horrific way his sexual partner was maimed and killed just after the filming, hilarious as well. The video would destroy his life.
A Romanian beggar prostrates herself on the sidewalk. Knees tucked under her. Head to ground, face hidden. Withered brown hands outstretched in an unspoken plea, a rosary interlaced between her fingers. A tough way to earn a living.
When Romania joined the European Union, and citizens from other member nations gained the right to come into the country and stay for ninety days without a visa, some resourceful Romanian entrepreneurs got the brilliant idea of hiring the most wretched souls they could find, bus them to other countries, and organize begging into a lucrative business venture.
The good citizens of Helsinki were outraged. The beggars were eyesores. The Gypsies set up a makeshift camp, and as winter drew near, city officials feared they would freeze to death and bought them plane tickets back to Romania. The good citizens of Helsinki were outraged because they had to pay the airfare. The weather is improving, the Roma are drifting back. The good citizens of Helsinki are outraged once again. Something must be done.
Like the rest of the Nordic countries, Finland is going through an ugly extreme right-wing phase with strong anti-foreigner sentiments. I used to think Finns hate in silence. No longer. After my brain surgery, I wasn’t allowed to drive for a month and often relied on public transportation. One day, I took the tram. Two elderly women, one on a walker, asked the driver, a black immigrant, a question about where to get off to reach their destination. He answered in accented but understandable Finnish. The two grannies sat in front of me and spoke in loud voices, to make certain he could hear, and discussed how fucking niggers ought to learn to speak the goddamned language.
The grannies garnered guffaws. This sparked wit and inspired a teenager to tell a joke. “What do you get when you cross a nigger and a Gypsy? A thief who’s too lazy to steal.” Hee-haws all round. The driver had the right to kick them all out of the tram, but he didn’t respond. He was used to it.
A gang of pretty young girls surrounds me, laughing, licking ice cream cones, swaying to and fro to the rhythm of a boom box blaring techno. The girls ignore the Rom beggar, shimmy around her, lick their ice cream. Despite the cool temperature, they’re dressed pre-summer hopeful, exposing a bit of flesh. I decide the adage is true: sunlight makes breasts grow. They check me out with sidelong glances. It’s because of the cane I carry. It’s made of ash and cudgel thick. The handle is a massive, solid gold lion’s head, weighs about eight ounces. One eye is a ruby, the other an emerald. The mouth is wide open, and I hold it with my left index finger curled behind its razor-sharp sparkling steel fangs.
The light changes. I take a last glance at the girls before moving. Looking down the street, I remember that I once shot and killed a man only a stone’s throw from here. The sidewalks were crowded, like today, but it was summer, warm and sunny. There was a time when the thought would have depressed me. Now I couldn’t care less.
I see Jyri coming toward me, on the other side of the street, at the junction of Mannerheimintie and