Hans Koppel is a pseudonym for an established

Swedish author who was born in 1964 and lives

in Stockholm.


She’d written that she liked walks in the forest and cosy nights in and was looking for a man with a twinkle in his eye. It was almost a joke, like a parody of the blandest person in the world. She’d also sprinkled her post with smileys. Not a row without a yellow face.

They’d spoken on the phone the night before and agreed to meet at Gondolen.

Anders thought she sounded older than thirty-two. He made a joke about it, said she’d maybe posted a photo that had been taken a few years ago, when she was a few kilos lighter. That was when she sent the most recent one, taken just before going to bed, holding her mobile at arm’s length.

Anders looked at it and thought to himself that she could be a hundred and thick as a plank, he couldn’t care less.

A drink was best. It usually took about half a minute to decide whether it was worth the effort or not. Dinner was digging your own grave. Sitting there suffering for hours, with a fixed smile. No, anyone with any experience met for a drink. If things went well, you could always go on.

It was half past six on the dot and Anders looked out through the dark to the lights on Skeppsholmen and Djurgarden.

What was the flaw, he wondered. It couldn’t be the dumb blonde act. Not with that body. Maybe a hideous laugh that pierced your eardrums. Breath like an old dog. Was she frigid?

No, no, keep calm, he persuaded himself.

His mobile started to vibrate. He answered it.

‘Hi,’ she said. ‘It’s me. Sorry that I didn’t call earlier. I’ve been sitting in A&E all afternoon.’

‘A&E? Are you okay?’

Anders Egerbladh was impressed by his own apparent concern. Now that’s what he called being on the ball. A natural enough question to ask, but it would also let him know if whatever had happened would affect his chances of getting into her knickers.

‘Fell down the stairs and sprained my foot. I thought I’d broken it, as I could hardly stand on it.’

‘Oh, you poor thing …’

Anders took a sneaky sip of beer and swallowed it silently so he wouldn’t come across as disinterested.

‘It’s not that bad, really,’ she said. ‘I’ve got crutches and a support bandage. But it might be a bit difficult to hobble down to Gondolen, so I thought maybe you could come to my place instead? I’ve got a bottle of white in the fridge.’

‘Sounds perfect,’ Anders said. ‘I’d love to. If it’s not too much trouble, that is … We could always meet another time, if you don’t feel up to it.’

Jesus, what a genius he was.

‘It’s no trouble at all,’ she assured him. ‘I could do with a bit of cheering up after five hours in A&E.’

‘Have you had anything to eat?’ Anders asked. ‘I can pick something up on the way.’

Albert bloody Einstein.

‘That’s sweet of you, but there’s no need. My fridge is full.’

She gave him the address and a few quick directions. Anders memorised them and decided to pop down and buy some flowers from the stall. He didn’t understand why, but it always worked. Flowers and bubbles.

The rest could wait until next time.

He bought something colourful with long stems and a box of children’s plasters from a newsagent. A bit of fun. He thought it would be a smart trick.

With a light step, he headed up to Katarinavagen, turned into Fjallgatan, just like she’d said, walked down the street on the right-hand side until he got to Sista Styverns Trapp, a flight of wooden steps that linked Fjallgatan with Stigbergsgatan above.

Probably named after some drunken docker, Anders mused, who’d spent all his wages before going home to his toothless wife and their fourteen kids who were pulling at her skirt. He didn’t pay any attention to the car that was parked by the pavement. He wasn’t to know that the woman behind the wheel was the same woman he’d just spoken to on the phone and she was now phoning her husband to say that it was time.

Anders started up the steps between the reverentially renovated old buildings. He imagined himself examining the woman’s swollen foot with sensitive hands, his head cocked in sympathy, how he would massage her tight shoulders, be understanding, agree and nod. Had she really had to wait for five hours? The Swedish healthcare system was truly appalling.

Anders didn’t know that the photographs he’d seen had been copied from the Internet and were in fact of a single mother from Holland who kept a blog. Nor was he to know that the man he met on the steps had a hammer stuffed up the sleeve of his coat.

They reached the step by the park bench at the same time, each from a different direction. The man stopped.

‘Anders?’ he said.

Anders looked at him.

‘Don’t you recognise me?’ the man asked. ‘Annika’s dad. You remember Annika, don’t you?’

Suddenly, Anders had a very dry throat. His face, which had been relaxed and full of expectation only moments before, was now wary and stiff.

‘After all, it wasn’t yesterday,’ the man continued, smoothly.

Anders pointed up the steps with his empty hand.

‘I’m in a bit of a hurry.’

The man smiled as if he understood and indicated the flowers.

‘Meeting someone special?’

Anders nodded.

‘And I’m late,’ he said, trying to make it sound natural. ‘Otherwise I’d love to stop and chat.’

‘I understand,’ the man said.

He smiled, but made no sign of moving. Anders turned, uncertain, and put his foot on the next step.

‘I spoke to Morgan,’ the man said as he let the hammer slip down into his glove.

Anders stopped on the step with his back to the man. He didn’t move.

‘Or rather, it was him who talked to me,’ said the man. ‘He had a lot to say that he wanted to get off his chest. In the eleventh hour, but still. He was just skin and bones when I saw him. It must have been the morphine that made him get so hung up on the details. He just wouldn’t stop talking.’

Anders turned slowly around. On the periphery of his vision he saw something hurtling towards him, but it was too late to duck or raise his arms in defence. The hammer struck his head and broke his skull just above the temple. He was unconscious before he hit the ground.

The man stood over Anders and raised the hammer again. The second and third blows were probably what

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