He got back to the police station at 12.30. There were some phone messages for him, but nothing that couldn't wait. He bumped into Hansson in the corridor.

'Has Svedberg turned up?' Wallander asked.

'Why, isn't he in?'

Wallander didn't elaborate. Eva Hillstrom was supposed to come in shortly after 1 p.m. He knocked on Martinsson's half-open door, but the room was empty. The thin folder from their meeting that day was lying on the desk. Wallander took it and went into his office. He quickly leafed through the few papers there were and stared at the three postcards, but he was having trouble concentrating. He kept thinking about what the doctor had told him.

Finally Ebba called him from the reception desk and told him that Eva Hillstrom had arrived. Wallander walked out to meet her. A group of older, jovial men were on their way out. Wallander guessed they were the retired marine officers who had come for a tour.

Eva Hillstrom was tall and thin. Her expression was guarded. From the first time he met her, Wallander formed the impression that she was the kind of person who always expected the worst. He shook her hand and asked her to follow him to his office. On the way he asked her if she wanted a cup of coffee.

'I don't drink coffee,' she said. 'My stomach can't take it.'

She sat down in the visitor's chair without taking her eyes off him.

She thinks I have news for her, Wallander thought. And she expects the news to be bad.

He sat down at his desk. 'You spoke with my colleague yesterday,' he said. 'You brought by a postcard you received a couple of days earlier, signed by your daughter and sent from Vienna. But you claim it wasn't written by her. Is that correct?'

'Yes.' Her answer was forceful.

'Martinsson said you couldn't explain why you felt this way.'

'That's right, I can't.'

Wallander took out the postcards and laid them in front of her.

'You said that your daughter's handwriting and signature are easy to forge.'

'Try for yourself.'

'I've already done that. And I agree with you; her handwriting isn't very hard to copy.'

'Then why do you have to ask?'

Wallander looked at her for a moment. She was just as tense as Martinsson had described.

'I'm asking these questions in order to confirm certain statements,' he said. 'It's sometimes necessary.'

She nodded impatiently.

'We have no real reason to believe that someone other than Astrid wrote these cards,' Wallander said. 'Can you think of anything else that makes you doubt their authenticity?'

'No, but I know I'm right.'

'Right about what?'

'That she didn't write this card, or any of the others.'

Suddenly, she stood up and started to scream at him. Wallander was completely unprepared for the violence of her reaction. She was leaning over his desk, and she grabbed his arms and shook him, screaming the whole time.

'Why don't you do anything? Something must have happened!'

Wallander freed himself from her grasp with some difficulty and stood up.

'I think you'd better calm down,' he said.

But Eva Hillstrom kept screaming. Wallander wondered what people walking by his door were thinking. He went around his desk, grabbed her firmly by the shoulders, pushed her down in the chair and and held her there. Her outburst stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Wallander slowly loosened his grip and returned to his chair. Eva Hillstrom stared down at the floor. Wallander waited, thoroughly shaken. There was something about her reaction, something about her conviction, that was contagious.

'What is it that you think has happened?' he asked after a little while.

She shook her head. 'I don't know.'

'There is nothing to indicate an accident or anything else.'

She looked at Wallander.

'Astrid and her friends have gone on trips before,' he said. 'Although perhaps not for as long as this one. They had cars, money, passports. My colleagues have gone over this before. What's more, they're of an age when you're inclined to act on impulse without having made prior plans. I have a daughter myself who is a couple of years older than Astrid. I know how it is.'

'I just know,' she said. 'I know I tend to worry. But this time there's something that doesn't feel right.'

'The other parents don't seem quite as worried as you do. What about Martin Boge's and Lena Norman's parents?'

'I don't understand them.'

'We take your concern seriously,' he said. 'That's our job. I promise to review this case one more time.'

His words seemed to reassure her momentarily, but then the anxiety returned. Her face was open and vulnerable. Wallander felt sorry for her.

The conversation was over. She got up, and he followed her out to the reception area.

'I'm sorry I lost control,' she said.

'It's natural to be worried,' Wallander said.

She shook his hand quickly, then disappeared through the glass doors.

Wallander went back to his room. Martinsson stuck his head out the door of his office and looked at him with curiosity.

'What were you doing in there?'

'She's genuinely frightened,' Wallander said. 'We have to acknowledge that; but I don't know what to do about it.' Wallander looked thoughtfully at Martinsson. 'I'd like to do a thorough review of this case tomorrow with everyone who has the time. We have to decide if we should declare them missing or not. Something about this whole thing worries me.'

Martinsson nodded. 'Have you seen Svedberg?' he asked.

'He still hasn't been in touch?'

'No. Just the same old answerphone message.'

Wallander grimaced. 'That's not like him.'

'I'll try him again.'

Wallander continued to his room. He closed the door and called Ebba. 'No calls for the next half hour,' he said. 'Anything from Svedberg, by the way?'

'Should there be?'

'I was just wondering.'

Wallander put his legs up on the desk. He was tired and his mouth was dry. On an impulse, he grabbed his coat and left the room.

'I'm going out,' he told Ebba. 'I'll be back in an hour or two.'

It was still warm and calm. Wallander went down to the central library on Surbrunnsvagen. With some effort he found his way to the medical section. Soon he found what he was looking for: a book about diabetes. He sat down at a table, put his glasses on, and started reading. After an hour and a half he thought he had a better idea of what diabetes entailed. He realised he only had himself to blame. The foods he ate, his lack of exercise, and his on-and-off dieting had all contributed to the disease. He put the book back on the shelf. A sense of failure and disgust came over him. He knew there was no way out. He had to do something about his lifestyle.

It was already 4.20 p.m. when he returned to the police station. There was a note on his desk from Martinsson saying that he still hadn't managed to get in touch with Svedberg.

Once more Wallander read through the summary of events regarding the disappearance of the three young people. He scrutinised the three postcards. The feeling that there was something he was overlooking returned. He still couldn't pin it down. What was there he wasn't seeing?

Вы читаете One Step Behind (1997)
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