About the Author
Liza Marklund is an author, journalist, and goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Her crime novels, featuring the relentless reporter Annika Bengtzon, instantly became international hits and have sold millions of copies in thirty languages worldwide. Visit her website at LizaMarklund.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Lifetime THURSDAY, JUNE 3
The call went out at 0321. It was sent from the regional communication center to all patrol cars in the center of Stockholm and was short and lacking in detail:
“Control to all units, report of shots fired on Bondegatan.”
Nothing more. No house number, no information about casualties or who made the call.
Even so, Nina felt her stomach clench in a way she didn’t quite understand.
Bondegatan’s a long street, there must be a thousand people living there.
She saw Andersson in the passenger seat reach for the radio, and she quickly grabbed the mouthpiece of the S80 system and pressed the transmit button on its left-hand side while at the same time turning up onto Renstiernas gata.
“Patrol 1617 here,” she answered. “We’re one block away. Have you got a house number?”
Andersson let out a theatrical sigh and looked demonstratively out of the side window of the police car. Nina glanced at him as the car rolled toward Bondegatan. Okay, sulk if you want to.
“Control to 1617,” the operator said over the radio. “You’re the closest unit. Is that you, Hoffman? Over.”
The number of the patrol car was linked to the number on her police badge. One of the routines before each shift started was to feed the car’s registration number and your badge number into the Central Operations Planning System, handily abbreviated to COPS. This meant that the operator in the communication center could always see who was in which vehicle.
“Affirmative,” she said. “Turning in to Bondegatan now . . .”
“How does it look? Over.”
She stopped the car and looked up at the heavy stone buildings on either side of the street. The dawn light hadn’t reached between the buildings yet, and she squinted as she tried to make out shapes in the gloom. There were lights on in one top-floor flat on the right-hand side, but otherwise everything was dark. It was evidently a street-cleaning night, no parking allowed, which made the street look particularly empty and abandoned. One rusty Peugeot stood alone, a parking ticket on its windscreen, halfway down toward Nytorgsgatan.
“No visible activity, as far as I can tell. What number was it, over?”
The operator gave her the address and she went completely cold. That’s Julia’s number, that’s where Julia and David live.
“And he’s got a flat on Söder, Nina! God, it’ll be nice to get away from this corridor!”
“Don’t just take him because of his flat, Julia . . .”
“Take a look, 1617, approach with caution . . .”
She wound down all the car’s windows to make it easier to hear any sounds from the street, put the car in gear, turned off the headlights, and drove slowly down the familiar street. Andersson had perked up and was leaning forward intently.
“Do you reckon it’s anything, then?” he asked.
I hope to God it isn’t anything!
She stopped outside the door and switched off the engine, then leaned forward to peer up at the gray cement façade. There was a light on in a window on the second floor.
“We’ll have to assume the situation is dangerous,” she said tersely and grabbed the radio again. “Patrol 1617 here. We’re in position, and it looks like there are people awake in the building. Should we wait for 9070, over?”
“Patrol 9070 is still in Djursholm,” the operator said, referring to the operational command vehicle.
“The Nobel murderer?” Andersson wondered, and Nina gestured to him to be quiet.
“Are there any other cars in the area? Or the armed response unit? Over,” she asked over the radio.
“We’re switching frequency,” the operator said. “All concerned, switching to zero-six.”
“That whole Nobel business was quite a story,” Andersson said. “Did you hear they’ve caught the bastard?”
Silence spread through the car, and Nina could feel her bulletproof vest rubbing at the base of her spine. Andersson squirmed restlessly in his seat and peered up at the building.
“This could very easily be a false alarm,” he said.
Oh, dear God, let it be a false alarm!
The radio crackled, now on the designated frequency.
“Okay, has everyone switched? Come in, 1617.”
She pressed the transmit button again, feeling her tongue stick to the roof of her dry mouth as she clung desperately, anxiously, to the procedures and routines.
“Zero-six, we’re here. Over.”
The others responded as well, two patrols from the city center and one from the county force.
“The armed response unit isn’t available,” the operator said. “Patrol 9070 is on its way. Hoffman, you have operational command until the command unit gets there. We need a considered response, hold some units back. We’ll form a ring around the location, get cars in place. All units to approach in silence.”
At that moment a patrol car swung into Bondegatan from the other direction. It stopped one block away, the headlights going out as the engine was switched off.
Nina opened the car door and stepped out, her heavy boots echoing in the street. She pressed her earpiece tightly into her left ear as she opened the boot of the car.
“Shield and baton,” she said to Andersson, as she tuned in to frequency zero-six on the handheld radio.
She saw two policemen get out of the patrol car over at the next block.
“Is that you over there, 1980?” she said quietly into the speaker microphone on her right shoulder.
“Affirmative,” one of the officers replied, raising his hand.
“You’re coming in with us,” she said.
She ordered the other patrols to take up positions at opposite corners of a square to ensure they had all lines of sight covered, one at the corner of Skånegatan and Södermannagatan, the other over on Östgötagatan.
Andersson was rummaging around among the bandages, fire extinguishers, shovels, flares, lamp, antiseptic gel, cordon tape, warning triangles, files full of forms, and all the other clutter that was stuffed into the boot of the car.
“Patrol 1617 to Control,” she said over the radio. “Do you have a name for the person who called in? Over.”
A short silence.
“Erlandsson, Gunnar, second floor.”
She looked up at the façade of the 1960s block, with its square picture windows, and noted a light on in a kitchen on the second floor, behind a red-and-white-checkered curtain.
“He’s still up. We’re going in.”
The other officers came over and introduced themselves as Sundström and Landén. She nodded curtly and tapped in the entry code on the keypad beside the door. None of the others reacted to the fact that she knew what it was. She stepped through the door, turning the volume on the radio down to barely audible. Her colleagues filed in silently behind her. Andersson, who was bringing up the rear, wedged the door open wide so that they could retreat to the street quickly if need be.
The stairwell was dark, deserted. The only source of light came from the lift, seeping through the oblong glass window in the metal door.
“Is there a courtyard?” Landén asked quietly.
“Behind the lift,” Nina whispered. “The door on the right leads to the cellar.”
Landén and Sundström each checked a door. Both were locked.
“Open the lift door,” she said to Andersson.
The officer wedged the door open so no one would be able to use the lift, then stopped by the stairs and awaited her order.
She could feel panic thudding at the back of her head and took refuge in the rulebook to conquer it.
Make an initial evaluation of the position. Secure the stairwell. Speak to the man who made the call and find out where the suspected shooting occurred.
“Okay, let’s take a look!” she said, heading quickly and carefully up the stairs, floor by floor. Andersson followed her, keeping one flight of stairs below her the whole time.
The stairwell was gloomy. Her movements were making her clothes rustle in the silence. There was a smell of cleaning fluid. Behind the closed doors she could sense the presence of other people without actually hearing them, a bed creaking, a tap running.
There’s nothing here, no danger, everything’s fine.
Finally, slightly out of breath, she reached the flats on the top floor. It was different from the others, with a marble floor and specially designed security doors. She knew that the housing association had renovated the attic space as luxury apartments in the late 1980s, just in time for the crash in property prices. The flats had stood empty for several years, almost bankrupting the housing association. Today, of course, they were hysterically expensive, but David was still angry at the poor judgment shown by the previous committee.
Andersson came up behind her, panting heavily. Nina could sense her colleague’s irritated disappointment as he wiped his forehead.
“Looks like a false alarm,” he declared.
“Let’s see what the man who called in has to say,” Nina replied, going back downstairs.
Sundström and Landén were waiting on the second floor, beside a door marked ERLANDSSON, G & A.
Nina stepped up to the door and knocked quietly.
Andersson shifted his feet impatiently behind her.
She knocked again, considerably louder.
A man in a blue-and-white-striped toweling dressing gown appeared through the crack behind a heavy safety chain.
“Gunnar Erlandsson? Police,” Nina said, holding up her badge. “You called about some suspicious noises? Can we come in?”
The man closed the door, fumbled with the chain for a couple of seconds. Then the door swung open.
“Come in,” he whispered. “Would you like some coffee? And there’s some of my wife’s swiss roll, with homemade rhubarb marmalade. She’s dozing at the moment, she has trouble getting to sleep and took a pill . . .”
Nina stepped into the hall. The layout of the flat was exactly like David and Julia’s, but this one was considerably tidier.
“Please, don’t go to any trouble for us,” Nina said.
She noted that Gunnar Erlandsson had been addressing Landén, the largest of the men. Now he was looking anxiously from one to the other, uncertain of where to look.
“Gunnar,” Nina said, gently taking hold of his upper arm, “can we sit down and go through what you heard?”
The man stiffened.
“Of course,” he said. “Yes, of course.”
He led them into a pedantically neat living room with brown leather sofas and a thick rug on the floor. Out of habit he settled into an armchair facing the television, and Nina sat down on the coffee table in front of him.
“Tell me what happened, Gunnar.”
The man swallowed and his eyes were still flitting between the officers.
“I woke up,” he said. “A noise woke me up, a bang. It sounded like a shot.”
“What made you think it was a shot?” Nina asked.
“I was lying in bed, and at first I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming, but then I heard it again.”
The man pulled out a pair of glasses and started polishing them nervously.
“Do you hunt?” Nina asked.
Gunnar Erlandsson stared at her in horror.
“Good grief, no,” he said. “Murdering innocent animals, no, that seems utterly medieval to me.”
“If you’re not familiar with firearms,” Nina said, “what made you think that you heard a shot, precisely? Could it have been a car backfiring, or some other sudden noise out in the street?”
He blinked several times and looked beseechingly up at Landén.
“It didn’t come from outside,” he said, pointing at the ceiling. “It came from the Lindholms’. I’d swear that’s where it came from.”
Nina felt the room lurch and stood up quickly, clenching her teeth to stop herself screaming.
“Thank you,” she said. “We’ll be back later to take a formal statement.”
The man said something else about coffee, but she went out into the stairwell and up the stairs to the floor above, taking the steps two at a time, to David and Julia’s door.
David and Julia Lindholm.
I don’t know if I can go on, Nina.
You haven’t gone and done anything silly, have you, Julia?
She turned and gestured to Sundström and Landén that they should cover the stairs in both directions and that Andersson should approach the door with her. They took up position on either side of the door, leaving any line of fire clear.
Nina felt the door gently. Locked. She knew it closed automatically if it wasn’t held open. She fumbled for the ASP baton in her belt, then opened it with a light flick of the wrist. She pushed it gently through the letterbox and peered in cautiously.
There was a light on in the hall. The air smelled of newsprint and cooking. She could see the morning paper on the mat. She quickly moved her baton, laying it horizontally so that it held the letterbox open. Then she pulled out her pistol and made sure there was a bullet in the chamber, gesturing to the others to be on the alert. She nodded toward the doorbell so that Andersson realized she was about to make their presence known.
Pointing her weapon at the floor, she pressed the doorbell and heard it ring inside the flat.
“Police!” she called. “Open up!”
She listened intently to any sound from the letterbox.
“Julia!” she called in a slightly quieter voice. “Julia, it’s me, Nina. Open up. David?”
Her vest was tight across her chest, making it hard to breathe. She could feel the sweat breaking out on her forehead.
“Is that . . . Lindholm?” Andersson said. “David Lindholm? You know his wife?”
Nina holstered her gun and pulled out her personal mobile from the inside pocket of her jacket, and dialed the familiar number to the flat.
Andersson took a step closer to her.
“Listen,” he said, standing far too close to her. She resisted the impulse to back away. “If you have a personal connection to anyone in there, then you shouldn’t . . .”
Nina stared blankly at Andersson as the phone started to ring on the other side of the door, long, lonely rings that seeped out through the letterbox.
Andersson took a step back. The ringing stopped abruptly and the answer machine clicked in. Nina ended the call and dialed another number. A cheerful tune started to play on the floor just inside the door. Julia’s mobile must be on the hall floor, probably in her handbag.
She’s home, Nina thought. She never goes out without her bag.
“Julia,” she said once more as the mobile’s voicemail clicked in. “Julia, are you there?”
The silence was echoing. Nina took several steps back, pressed the transmitter on her radio, and spoke quietly into it.
“This is 1617. We’ve spoken to the informant, and according to him he heard what he thought were shots, probably from the flat above. We’ve made our presence known but there’s been no response from inside the flat. What do you advise? Over.”
There was a short pause before the answer reached her earpiece.
“The armed response unit it still unavailable. Your call. Over and out.”
She let go of the radio.
“Okay,” she said quietly, looking at Andersson and the other two officers on the stairs. “We’ll force the door. Have we got a crowbar in 1617?”
“We’ve got one in our car,” Landén said. Nina nodded toward the stairs and the officer hurried off.
“Do you think it’s appropriate for you to be leading the operation if . . .” Andersson began.
“What’s the alternative?” Nin...
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