'I'll stay if you like. I'm off work today.'

Gertrud shook her head. 'Come and see me in Rynge,' she said. 'But wait a couple of weeks. I have to get settled in.'

Wallander got in his car and drove back to Ystad. He was going straight home to make an appointment with his doctor. Then he would sign up to use the laundry and clean his flat. Since he wasn't in a hurry, he chose the longer way home. He liked driving, just looking at the landscape and letting his mind wander. He had just passed Valleberga when the phone rang. It was Martinsson. Wallander pulled over.

'I've been trying to get hold of you,' Martinsson said. 'Of course no one mentioned that you were off work today. And do you know that your answerphone is broken?'

Wallander knew the machine sometimes jammed. He also immediately knew that something had happened. Although he had been a policeman for a long time, the feeling was always the same. His stomach tensed up. He held his breath.

'I'm calling you from Hansson's office,' Martinsson said. 'Astrid Hillstrom's mother is here to see me.'


'Astrid Hillstrom. One of the missing young people. Her mother.'

Now Wallander knew who he meant.

'What does she want?'

'She's very upset. Her daughter sent her a postcard from Vienna.'

Wallander frowned. 'Isn't it good news that she's finally written?'

'She claims her daughter didn't write the postcard. She's upset that we're not doing anything.'

'How can we do anything when a crime doesn't seem to have been committed, when all the evidence indicates that they left of their own accord?'

Martinsson paused for a moment before answering. 'I don't know what it is,' he said. 'But I have a feeling that there's something to what she's saying. Maybe.'

Wallander immediately grew more attentive. Over the years he had learned to take Martinsson's hunches seriously. More often than not, they were proved right.

'Do you want me to come in?'

'No, but I think you, me, and Svedberg should talk this over tomorrow morning.'

'What time?'

'How about 8 a.m.? I'll tell Svedberg.'

Wallander sat for a moment when the conversation was over, watching a tractor out on a field. He thought about what Martinsson had said. He had also met Astrid Hillstrom's mother on several occasions. He went over the events again in his mind. A few days after Midsummer's Eve some young people were reported missing. It happened right after he had returned from his rainy holiday. He had reviewed the case together with a couple of his colleagues. From the outset he had doubted that a crime had been committed and, as it turned out, a postcard arrived from Hamburg three days later, with a picture of the central railway station on the front. Wallander could recall its message word for word. We are travelling around Europe. We may be gone until the middle of August.

Today it was Wednesday, 7 August. They would be home soon. Now another postcard written by Astrid Hillstrom came from Vienna. The first card was signed by all three of them. Their parents recognised the signatures. Astrid Hillstrom's mother hesitated, but she allowed herself to be convinced by the others.

Wallander glanced in his rear-view mirror and drove out onto the main road. Perhaps Martinsson was right about his misgivings.

Wallander parked on Mariagatan and carried the boxes and five paintings up to his flat. Then he sat down by the phone. At his regular doctor's office he only reached an answerphone message telling him that the doctor wouldn't be back from holiday until August 12th. Wallander wondered if he should wait until then, but he couldn't shake the thought of how close to death he had come that morning. He called another doctor and made an appointment for 11 a.m. the following morning. He signed up to do his laundry, then started cleaning his flat. He was already completely exhausted after doing the bedroom. He ran the vacuum cleaner back and forth a few times over the living room floor, then put it away. He carried the boxes and paintings into the room that Linda used on her sporadic visits. He drank three glasses of water in the kitchen, wondering about his thirst and the fatigue. What was causing them?

It was already midday, and he realised he was hungry. A quick look in the refrigerator told him there wasn't much there. He put on his coat and went out. It was a nice day. As he walked to the centre of town, he looked at the properties for sale in the windows of three separate real estate offices, and realised that the price Robert Akerblom had suggested was fair. They could hardly get more than 300,000 kronor for the house in Loderup.

He stopped at a takeaway restaurant, ate a hamburger and drank two bottles of mineral water. Then he went into a shoe shop where he knew the owner, and used the lavatory. When he came back out onto the street, he felt unsure of what to do next. He should have used his day off to do his shopping. He had no food in the house, but he didn't have the energy to go back for the car and drive to a supermarket.

Just past Hamngatan, he crossed the train tracks and turned down Spanienfararegatan. When he arrived down at the waterfront, he strolled along the pier and looked at the sailing boats, wondering what it would be like to sail. It was something he had never experienced. He realised he needed to pee again, and used the lavatories at the harbour cafe, drank another bottle of mineral water, and sat down on a bench outside the red coast guard building.

The last time he had been here it had been winter, the night Baiba left. It was already dark as he drove her to Sturup Airport, and the wind made whirls of snow dance in the headlights. They hadn't said a word. After he had watched her disappear past the checkpoint, he had returned to Ystad and sat on this bench. The wind had been very cold and he was freezing, but he sat here and realised that everything was over. He wouldn't see Baiba again. Their breakup was final.

She came to Ystad in December of 1994. His father had recently died and he had just finished one of the most challenging investigations of his career. But that autumn he had also, for the first time in many years, been making plans for the future. He decided to leave Mariagatan, move to the country, and get a dog. He had even visited a kennel and looked at Labrador puppies. He was going to make a fresh start. And above all, he wanted Baiba to come and live with him. She visited him over Christmas and Wallander could tell that she and Linda got along well. Then, on New Year's Eve 1995, the last few days before she was due to return to Riga, they talked seriously about the future. Maybe she would move to Sweden permanently as early as next summer. They looked at houses together. They looked at a house on a subdivision of an old farm outside Svenstorp several times. But then, one evening in March, when Wallander was already in bed, she called from Riga and told him she was having doubts. She didn't want to get married, didn't want to move to Sweden - at least not yet. He thought he would be able to get her to change her mind, but the conversation ended with an unpleasant quarrel, their first, after which they didn't speak for more than a month. Finally, Wallander called her and they decided he would go to Riga that summer. They spent two weeks by the sea in a run-down old house that she had borrowed from one of her colleagues at the university.

They took long walks on the beach and Wallander made a point of waiting for her to broach the question of the future. But when she finally did, she was vague and noncommittal. Not now, not yet. Why couldn't things stay as they were?

When Wallander returned to Sweden, he felt dejected and unsure of where things stood. The autumn went by without another meeting. They had talked about it, made plans, and considered various alternatives, but nothing had eventuated. Wallander became jealous. Was there another man in Riga? Someone he didn't know anything about? On several occasions he called her in the middle of the night and although she insisted that she was alone, he had the distinct feeling that there was someone with her.

Baiba had come to Ystad for Christmas that year. Linda had been with them on Christmas Eve before leaving for Scotland with friends. And it was then, a couple of days into the new year, that Baiba had told him she could never move to Sweden. She had gone back and forth in her mind for a long time. But now she knew. She didn't want to lose her position at the university. What could she do in Sweden, especially in Ystad? She could perhaps become an interpreter, but what else? Wallander tried in vain to persuade her to change her mind. Without saying so explicitly, they knew it was over. After four years there was no longer any road leading into the future. Wallander

Вы читаете One Step Behind (1997)
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