Authors: Torquil MacLeod
The fourth Inspector Anita Sundström mystery
Copyright © Torquil MacLeod
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Published by Torquil MacLeod Books Ltd
eBook edition: 2015
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I owe thanks to the following people: Susan for her patient and sympathetic editing; Nick of The Roundhouse for the latest cover design and enjoyable lunches; Göran for running a Swedish eye over the manuscript and not getting me into trouble with a handball star; Doctors Bill & Justine Foster for medical advice; Alastair, Lesley, Charlotte and Isla for being generous hosts and giving me some useful insights into Switzerland; Fraser and Paula for putting up with me during research trips and taking me to the Kallbadhus; and, finally, to Karin for her usual input, even if I’ve played fast and loose with Swedish policing yet again.
And I would like to thank Calum, Sarah and other family and friends for their support, and all those kind readers who have been in contact over the last year – your correspondence is much appreciated.
To the BWs
Were all Russians so greedy? I’d never seen anything like it. Certainly not in my time at the Savoy Hotel. It was as though they hadn’t eaten for weeks. I had to admit that many of them didn’t look well fed. They were certainly making short work of the beautifully prepared smorgasbord that we’d laid out on the long table a short while before their arrival. They called it zakuski. They were a motley collection of individuals – men, women, and a couple of young boys. Maybe it was the fault of the war. I’d read awful things in the newspapers. Germans fighting the English and French. Russians fighting Austrians and Germans. Terrible death and destruction, so the local newspapers had reported over the last three years. Not that we’d been immune to the effects of the war. Our trade had been seriously harmed, and national rationing was introduced later that year after a poor harvest. Yet the patrons of our hotel wouldn’t have known that supplies were short when they sat down to dine. Money always has a way of overcoming such difficulties. By then, our guests were mainly Swedes, as foreign visitors had rarely appeared since the outbreak of the war.
Despite the ravenous wolves devouring all that was put in front of them, one of their number remained aloof. He didn’t touch a morsel. He was in deep conversation with herr Fürstenberg, the Polish gentleman who’d organized the meal. The kitchen staff had been on high alert for three days. But during that time, there had been no sign of them. All we knew was that a special party of Russians was coming by ferryboat into Trelleborg. Augustsson, our head waiter, had told us that they were coming from Sassnitz. I couldn’t believe this at the time, as we all knew that Russia and Germany were at each other’s throats.
But this man who talked so earnestly with herr Fürstenberg was different from the others. Where herr Fürstenberg was elegantly dressed with a flower in his buttonhole, this fellow was unprepossessing at first glance, yet I found it difficult to keep my eyes off him as I served the other guests. Short, wiry and stooped, his clothes were baggy and crumpled. A thin strip of red hair encircled his bald crown. His beard was short and pointed, and he had penetratingly dark eyes. His features were almost Asiatic. I heard someone refer to him as herr Ulyanov. I’d no inkling who he was, or what he was doing in Malmö. We’d read that Russia was in turmoil and that the Tsar was no longer ruling. Such a thing seemed impossible, yet the world beyond our borders had gone mad. All I knew was that herr Ulyanov and his party were not staying at the hotel, but were leaving by the midnight train to Stockholm from the Central Station opposite, on the other side of the canal. I was pleased that they were going, as I didn’t relish the prospect of serving these boorish people again over breakfast.
As I swiftly moved down the corridor outside, my hands full of dirty plates, I heard a loud thudding on the wooden floor behind me. I turned round. Herr Ulyanov was there. The source of the noise was his studded mountain boots, which seemed strange footwear for a train journey. He raised a hand to catch my attention and said something. I thought it was in French. He saw that I didn’t understand. So, he spoke in English; a language I’d learned to use when dealing with our American and British guests before the war. ‘I am trying to find a bathroom,’ he said. His eyes engaged mine as he spoke. I remembered how hypnotic they were as they narrowed in amusement.
I was about to direct him when another figure appeared at the end of the corridor and, after a moment’s hesitation, made his way towards us. The man was short with a heavy coat, and he wore a wide-brimmed hat which virtually covered his eyes.
‘Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov?’ he asked.
Herr Ulyanov nodded.
The man in the hat reached inside his coat. I suddenly realized that he was pulling out a pistol.
Rivulets of sweat were now trickling down her face from the bunched blonde hair under her baseball cap. She was really pushing herself, pumping those legs. Those much-admired legs. It was important that she was in good physical shape; hence her pacey jogging. Yet she wasn’t exactly sure why she was driving herself so hard round Pildammsparken this late on a summer’s evening. Was it to expunge the last few hours? Was it self-loathing? That was silly.
She rounded the lake. The lights from the hospital buildings on the other side twinkled and danced in the half-dark. Though it still wasn’t dusk, the heavy cloud cover was taking its toll on the available light. She strode on. There were few people about at this time. She virtually had the park to herself. She liked that. She liked being anonymous. That was the beauty of cities, yet she could never live in one now. Maybe it was her upbringing in a small, rural town. She remembered how her father used to bring her to Malmö as a youngster. It had seemed magical then, especially around Christmas when the shops were lit up and the electric holiday candles gleamed from every office and apartment window. He had brought her here to the park, taken her to the cinema, and usually rounded off their day with a meal at a nice restaurant in somewhere like Lilla Torg. Later, Malmö had lost its charm, but that wasn’t the fault of the city. And her poor father? The thought spurred her on. That and the horrid shock she had had earlier in the day. She had seen
. It had upset her badly. It had brought back all the old fear, dread and revulsion.
She sprinted down the bank, over the road that cut through Pildammsparken, and across into the trees. She would finish with a circuit of the “Plate” before heading back to the apartment. Now she was alone in the tall trees, the moon flitting through the branches as it dodged one cloud before being swallowed up by another. It would soon disappear altogether, as the forecast had predicted heavy overnight rain. She would get back to the apartment before that started.
With the end of her run in sight, her practical mind took over, and she slowed her pace. She would make final arrangements after she had showered. There would be an early start in the morning for her next appointment. But at the weekend, she would have that well-deserved break she had promised herself. A bit of “me” time.
As she ran on, she became aware of someone close behind her. Another jogger. How annoying! She was enjoying the park’s emptiness. Someone was invading her privacy. She upped her tempo so she could pull away from this unwanted presence. Yet the other jogger seemed to be gaining on her. She slowed down so that he or she could pass, and then she could return to her own pace.
She didn’t turn round, but she could hear the controlled, rhythmic breathing of the runner, now almost next to her. It was an unpleasant feeling; her space being occupied. She had reduced her speed to a trot when she felt a sharp pain in her back, like a gigantic pinprick. Then she stumbled. Something had been stuck into her. The momentum propelled her forward, making it impossible to turn round to see her assailant. She tried to twist so that she could reach behind her with her hand, but she lost her balance and collapsed to her knees. Her jogging top felt sodden. She realized that it must be blood. Then the object was forcibly removed and, a second later, driven back in. And now the searing pain. Her attempted scream of terror came out as a grunt as myriad images swirled around her brain then sank into an abyss. Her last coherent thought was why was this happening?
Anita Sundström hoped she wasn’t making a ghastly mistake. A decision made in haste to be repented at leisure. Well, over the next two weeks. She stood nervously on the single platform of the small station in Simrishamn. The end of the line from Malmö. The day had turned out bright and warm after the previous night’s heavy rain, though she found herself shivering slightly as she looked down the deserted track while she waited for his train. She knew he was on it as he had texted ahead. She glanced across to the red-brick police station. Windows were open to let in much-needed air. Police life would be going on as usual. It reminded her that it was good to be on holiday. Her month-long summer leave had begun three days ago. When the weather was like this, it was good to get out of the city and escape to the countryside and coast of her beloved Österlen.