them thought he heard an accordion in the distance. But otherwise there were just birds and the distant sound of the sea.

When they arrived at the selected spot they knew at once that it had been the right choice. Here they would be undisturbed and free to await the dawn.

The sky was now completely free of clouds. The midsummer night would be clear and beautiful. They had made the plans for Midsummer's Eve at the beginning of February, when they had spoken of their longing for light summer nights. They had drunk large quantities of wine and quarrelled at length about the precise meaning of the word dusk. At what point did this particular moment between light and dark arrive? How could one really describe the landscape of twilight in words? How much could you actually still see when the light passed into this obscure state of transition, defined by a certain length of the shadows? They had not come to an agreement. The question of dusk had remained unsolved. But they had started planning their celebration that evening.

They arrived at the hollow and put down their baskets, then separated and changed behind some thick bushes. They wedged small make-up mirrors in the branches so they could check that their wigs were on straight.

None of them sensed the man who observed their careful preparations from a distance. Getting the wigs to sit straight turned out to be the easiest part. Putting on the corsets, padding and petticoats was more difficult, as was arranging the cravat and the ruffles, not to mention applying the thick layers of powder. They wanted every detail to be perfect. They were playing a game, but the game was in earnest.

At 8 p.m. they came out from behind their bushes and looked at each other. It was a breathtaking moment. Once more they had left their own time for another age. The age of Bellman, the bacchanalian 18th-century poet.

They drew closer and burst into laughter. But then they regained their composure. They spread out a large tablecloth, unpacked their baskets and put on a tape with several renditions of the most famous songs from Bellman's work, Fredman's Epistles. Then the celebration began.

When winter comes, they said to each other, we will think back on this evening. They were creating yet another secret for themselves.

At midnight he had still not made up his mind. He knew he had plenty of time. They would be staying until dawn. Perhaps they would even stay and sleep all morning. He knew their plans down to the last detail. It gave him a feeling of unlimited power. Only he who had the upper hand would escape.

Just after 11 p.m., when he could tell that they were tipsy, he had carefully changed his position. He had picked out the starting point for his actions on his first visit. It was a dense thicket a bit higher up the hill. Here he had a full view of everything that was happening on the light-blue tablecloth. And he could approach them without being seen. From time to time they left the tablecloth in order to relieve themselves. He could see everything they did.

It was past midnight. Still he waited. He waited because he was hesitating. Something was wrong. There should have been four of them. One of them had not come. In his head he went through the possible reasons. There was no reason. Something unexpected must have happened. Had the girl changed her mind? Was she sick?

He listened to the music and the laughter. From time to time he imagined that he too sat down there on the light-blue tablecloth, a wineglass in his hand. Afterwards he would try on one of the wigs. Perhaps some of the clothes, too? There was so much he could do. There were no limits. He could not have had more power over them if he had been invisible.

He continued to wait. The laughter rose and fell. Somewhere above his head a night bird swooped by.

It was 3.10 a.m. He couldn't wait any longer. The moment was at hand, the hour he alone had appointed. He could barely remember the last time he had worn a watch. The hours and minutes ticked continuously within him. He had an inner clock that was always on time.

Down by the light-blue tablecloth everything was still. They lay with their arms wrapped around one another, listening to the music. He didn't know if they were sleeping, but they were lost in the moment, and did not sense that he was right behind them.

He picked up the revolver with the silencer that had been lying on his raincoat. He looked around quickly, then made his way stealthily to the tree located directly behind the group, and paused for a few seconds. No one had noticed anything. He looked around one last time. But there was no one else there. They were alone.

He stepped out and shot each of them once in the head. He couldn't help it that blood splattered onto the white wigs. It was over so quickly that he barely had time to register what he was doing. But now they lay dead at his feet, still wrapped around each other, just like a few seconds before.

He turned off the tape recorder that had been playing and listened. The birds were chirping. Once again he looked around. Of course there was no one there. He put his gun away and spread a napkin out on the cloth. He never left a trace.

He sat down on the napkin and looked at those who had recently been laughing and who now were dead. The idyll hasn't been affected, he thought. The only difference is that we are now four. As the plan had been all along.

He poured himself a glass of red wine. He didn't really drink, but now he simply couldn't resist. Then he tried on one of the wigs. He ate a little of the food. He wasn't particularly hungry.

At 3.30 a.m. he got up. He still had much to do. The nature reserve was frequented by early risers. In the unlikely event that someone left the path and found their way into the hollow, they must not find any traces. At least not yet.

The last thing he did before he left the spot was look through their bags and clothes. He found what he was looking for. All three had been carrying their passports. Now he put them into his coat pocket. Later that day he would burn them.

He looked around one last time. He took a little camera out of his pocket and took a picture.

Only one. It was like looking at a painting of a picnic from the 18th century, except that someone had spilled blood on this painting.

It was the morning after Midsummer's Eve. Saturday, June 22. It was going to be a beautiful day. Summer had come to Skane at last.

Part One


On Wednesday, 7 August 1996, Kurt Wallander came close to being killed in a traffic accident just east of Ystad. It happened early in the morning, shortly after 6 a.m. He had just driven through Nybrostrand on his way out to Osterlen. Suddenly he had seen a truck looming in front of his Peugeot. He heard the truck's horn blaring as he wrenched the steering wheel to one side.

Afterwards he had pulled off the road. That was when the fear set in. His heart pounded in his chest. He felt nauseated and dizzy, and he thought he was about to faint. He kept his hands tightly clenched on the wheel. As he calmed down he realised what had happened. He had fallen asleep at the wheel. Nodded off just long enough for his old car to begin to drift into the opposite lane. One second longer and he would have been dead, crushed by the heavy truck.

The realisation made him feel suddenly empty. The only thing he could think of was the time, a few years earlier, when he had almost hit an elk outside Tingsryd. But then it had been dark and foggy. This time he had nodded off at the wheel.

The fatigue. He didn't understand it. It had come over him without warning, shortly before the start of his holiday at the beginning of June. This year he had taken his holiday early, but the whole holiday had been lost to rain. It was only when he returned to work shortly after Midsummer that the warm and sunny weather had come to Skane. The tiredness had been there all along. He fell asleep whenever he sat down. Even after a long night's undisturbed sleep, he had to force himself out of bed. Often when he was in the car he found himself needing to pull over to take a short nap.

His daughter Linda had asked him about his lack of energy during the week that they had spent sightseeing

Вы читаете One Step Behind (1997)
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