'You had a job and a reason to get up every morning. I had seen pictures of you in the papers where you were smiling.'

'But I wasn't dressed up. I wasn't even wearing my uniform that day.'

Larstam's answer came as a surprise. 'I was planning to give you one.'

'Give me what?'

'A costume, a disguise. I was planning to put my wig on you and try to make your face look like Louise. I didn't need her any more. She could die. I had decided to make myself into another woman.'

Larstam looked him right in the eye and Wallander returned his gaze. He was never sure afterwards what it was he had seen there. But he knew he would never forget it.

There came a time when he had no more questions. Wallander arrived at an understanding of a man who was crazy, who never fitted in anywhere, and who finally exploded in uncontrollable violence. The psychological examination corroborated this picture. Larstam had been constantly threatened and intimidated as a child and had concentrated on mastering the ability to hide and get away. He had lacked the resources to deal with his termination from the engineering firm and had come to believe that all smiling people were evil.

It occurred to Wallander that there was a frightening social dimension to all of this. More and more people were being judged useless and were being flung to the margins of society, where they were destined to look back enviously at the few who still had reasons to be happy. He was reminded of a conversation he and Hoglund had once begun but never had the chance to finish. They were debating whether or not the decline of Swedish society was more advanced than people generally admitted. Irrational violence was almost an accepted part of daily life these days. It gave him the feeling that they were already one step behind, and for the very first time in his life Wallander wondered if a complete collapse of the Swedish state was a real possibility. Bosnia had always seemed so far away, he thought. But maybe it was closer than they realised. Thoughts like these kept returning to him during the long sessions with Larstam, who maybe wasn't as much of a riddle as he should have been. Maybe Larstam's breakdown could be tied to the breakdown of society itself. There was nothing more to say. Wallander declared himself finished; Larstam was taken away and that was that.

A few days later, Eva Hillstrom committed suicide. Hoglund was the one who told Wallander. He listened to the news in silence, left the station, bought a bottle of whisky, and drank himself into a stupor. He never spoke about it afterwards, but he always thought of her as Larstam's ninth victim.

He turned into the roadside restaurant outside Vastervik around 2 p.m. He knew it was closed in the winter, but he still hoped she would be there. That autumn there had been many times when he wanted to call her, but he never had. He didn't know what he wanted to say to her. He got out of the car. The blustery weather seemed to have followed him from Skane. Autumn leaves clung damply to the ground. The building looked deserted. He walked around the back to the room where he had slept on his return from Barnso. It had been only a few months ago but it already felt unreal.

The sight of the deserted building made him feel uneasy. He returned to his car and continued his journey. In Valdemarsvik he stopped and bought a bottle of whisky, then had a cup of coffee and some sandwiches in a cafe. He told them not to butter the bread.

It was 5 p.m. and already dark when he started down the winding road along the Valdemarsvik bay towards Gryt and Fyrudden. Lennart Westin had called him out of the blue one afternoon at the beginning of September, after the Larstam case had ended. Wallander had been interviewing a young man who had assaulted his father. It was slow going and Wallander wasn't getting anywhere with him. Finally he gave up and handed the matter over to Hansson.

When he got back to his office, the phone rang. It was Westin. He asked him when Wallander was planning to come to see him. Wallander had forgotten all about the standing invitation and an earlier phone call when he had actually agreed to visit, thinking nothing would ever come of it. They decided on a date in October, Westin had called him a few weeks later to confirm it, and now here he was on his way.

They agreed to meet in Fyrudden at 6 p.m. Westin would pick him up in his boat. Wallander was going to stay until Sunday. Wallander was grateful for the invitation, of course, but it also made him nervous. He almost never socialised with people he didn't know. The autumn had been marred by health concerns. He constantly worried about having a stroke, although Dr Goransson tried to reassure him. His blood-sugar levels had stabilised and he was losing weight and had adopted a healthy diet. But Wallander felt it was already too late. Although he hadn't even turned 50 yet, he felt like he was living on borrowed time.

When he swung down towards Fyrudden harbour it was raining harder than before. He parked the car in the same spot he had used that summer, turned off the engine and heard the waves smack against the pier. Shortly before 6 p.m. he saw the lights from an approaching boat. It was Westin.

Wallander got out of his car, grabbed his bag, and headed over. Westin popped his head out of the wheelhouse. He smiled.

'Welcome!' Westin yelled, trying to make himself heard above the wind. 'I'm taking you back right away. Dinner's ready.'

He took Wallander's bag while Wallander climbed aboard unsteadily. He was freezing. It was rapidly getting much colder.

'So you finally made it up here,' Westin said when Wallander entered the wheelhouse.

At that moment Wallander no longer felt hesitant. He was glad to be there. Westin swung the boat around and Wallander grabbed at the side to keep his balance. When they made their way out of the harbour, he felt the hold of the waves on the boat getting stronger.

'Do you get seasick or nervous in this kind of weather?' Westin asked.

He asked the question in a light-hearted manner but there was real concern in his voice.

'Probably,' Wallander said.

Westin increased his speed and they sped out onto open water. Wallander suddenly realised he was enjoying himself. No one knew where he was, no one could reach him. For the first time in a long while, he could relax.

Вы читаете One Step Behind (1997)
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