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The Assignment

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When she woke in the morning she thought he had gone. Her head was still heavy and aching, and the medication she had taken had sent her into a deep and prolonged sleep. Rolling over on the mattress, she squinted at the familiar room and rubbed her eyes. His bed was empty, the cottage silent. Outside, the sun was already high in the sky, its golden rays pouring in through the windows.

Linda got to her feet and shuffled to the kitchen. No sign of Stefan. She rubbed her eyes again, and made herself some coffee. When it was brewed, she took the mug to the door and stood looking at the outside world.

It was a beautiful morning. The world looked fresh and clean, new snow gleaming on the dunes and the birds calling to each other among the trees. Linda wished she could enjoy it more, but it was hard to ignore the feeling of foreboding that had been gnawing at her for what seemed like years now. She grabbed a discarded blanket to wrap around herself and wandered outside, towards the dunes, and sat on an upturned boat, drinking the rest of her coffee.

In the distance she saw him.

Stefan was walking, far along the beach, head bowed against the wind. He seemed to be in a world of his own, carrying a great weight on his shoulders. Linda sighed. How can I help you, Stefan, if you won't you tell me what's wrong?

As if he had become aware of her gaze, he suddenly stopped walking and looked back towards her. Linda finished her coffee, put the mug down and hopped off the boat, pulling the blanket tighter round her body as she walked out onto the sand.

Stefan stood motionless and stared out to sea. As she reached him he avoided looking her in the eye, fixing his gaze instead on the horizon, as if he expected the answer to his problems to come sailing over the Baltic to him.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, just terrific." He dragged his attention away from the sea and looked at her at last. He looked slightly more rested than he had done the previous night, but he needed a shave and a hot shower, she thought. "How's your head?"

"Well, it still works..." She was unsure whether to make light of the situation. "How's yours? That was quite a lot of vodka that you put away."

"So?"

"So... I'm just saying, I'd be surprised if you didn't have a bit of a headache as well." She took a step backwards. Stefan shook his head and pushed his rather windblown hair out of his face.

"I'm all right," he said. "Just tired."

"Have a rest, then," said Linda.

 


 

Dark, then light. Deep shade, then blinding sun.

The road was a long one, wandering as it did, in and out of the low sunlight among the woods of northern Skåne. Time and again Stefan found himself submerged in the shadows amongst the trees, only to emerge again into the light. As he drove, he felt his vision clearing, began to understand the road lying ahead of him. He was only just beginning to believe he had the strength to do what he knew had to be done.

I've been lost in this forest for so longIt took so many years for me to make sense of what happened to me and even now, I still don't think I can really handle the reality of what was done to me, but perhaps I'm on the right road now.  Maybe there's light on the other side after all.

Linda had persuaded him to stay at home an extra day.  He showered and slept, lay on the couch and read through the file she had brought him.  In the evening they had gone out to a small restaurant by Stortorget, just two friends having a quiet meal together.  It almost felt normal, as if the monster had retreated to its cave for a while.  Then he had crashed out at Linda’s place and slept ten hours on her couch, waking to find her absent-mindedly tidying the lounge, casting an occasional bemused smile at him.

Linda.  Somehow, he would have to tell her what this was about.  He hardly knew how he was going to find the words, but he felt she needed to know, finally, what was happening in his head.  He needed her on his side, no matter what the fallout would be.  He needed allies to help him pick his way through this mire.  To guide him out from the midst of the forest.

A deer ran out from among the trees.  Stefan jerked back to reality and stamped on the brake, forced to concentrate again on the real forest that surrounded him.

The sun began to sink in the sky.  Stefan stopped and ate a small meal in a cafe in Kristianstad, all the time planning how he would explain the situation to Ahlqvist, what their plan of attack should be.  Linda had promised to raise the matter of Rolf Liljegren with Kurt and the rest of the team, but the Växjö CID now also needed to be aware of him, and all other names on Linda’s list.  He sighed at the thought of all the work this would generate.  Still, better busy than idle.

He’d tell his colleagues what they had to know, but it would still be only part of the truth.  Nobody but Stefan knew the whole truth.

 

 


 

Wallander looked out of his window at the street below.

“You’ve been talking to Stefan?” he said into the phone.

“Yeah.  I hope you’re not going to be mad.  There were some things he needed to know.”

“But this investigation has nothing to do with Stefan!”  Wallander rubbed an itchy spot above his left eyebrow and scowled down at the row of cars parked outside, as if Linda and Stefan were both there, grinning nonchalantly up at him.  “What were you thinking, Linda?”

“Actually, I think it might have something to do with him.  The smuggling case he’s been working on seems to have turned into something more sinister.”

“Sinister?  What do you mean?”  Wallander turned away from the window, picked up his glass of Scotch and drained it.  Feeling the sudden need to sit down, he collapsed into an armchair.

“He won’t tell me everything, but it looks like they’ve uncovered some links to a possible paedophile ring.  It might be the same group that’s been hinted at to us.  He thinks he has a definite lead, which might tie in to the names we’ve been given.  And, I don’t know.  There’s something else, I think...”

“Something else?”

“We’d better have a talk tomorrow.”

“Yes, I think we’d better.  I wish you’d told me about this before, Linda.”

“I should have, but I didn’t know...” Linda’s voiced trailed off and there was silence on the line for a few moments.

“No, I suppose not.  There’s a lot we don’t see coming until it hits us head on.  Anyway, one way or another, we’ve got to get on top of this before it gets any worse.”

“I know.  I can’t stand thinking about those creeps.”

“Try not to think about it any more tonight.  We’ll talk in the morning, yes?”

“Yep.  Night, Dad.”

Wallander put the phone down and shifted uneasily over to the stereo.  He needed to relax, and the Scotch alone just wasn’t doing it.  He put a CD in the drive and lay down on the sofa as a quiet piano melody filled the room.

No police officer likes dealing with potential cases of abuse, and during his many years in the job Wallander had seen enough abuse cases to know that he thoroughly detested them.  He dreaded what they might find in this instance.

And there was also Stefan.  He had sent Stefan away to give the younger man a chance to clear his head.  A nice, inconsequential smuggling case, with enough downtime to let him rest a little.  So he wanted to know how the hell Stefan had suddenly been thrown back into an investigation like this.

He wondered how the hell Stefan would cope.

  


 

Stefan dropped his bag on the floor and hung up his jacket on the back of the door before collapsing onto the bed.  Nothing in the room had changed in his absence, except that Housekeeping had made the bed and changed the towels in the bathroom.  A faint smell of soap permeated the air.  The room was calm, orderly and completely unhomelike.

Stefan’s phone rang, breaking the silence.  He started, picked it up and put it to his ear.

“Stefan?” Ahlqvist’s voice rang in his ear.  “I’ve been trying to get hold of you for ages!  Where have you been?”

“I’ve been driving.  Sorry Peter, I know I missed our meeting, but I had to stay in Ystad a bit longer.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that!”  Ahlqvist’s voice had a tone of excitement that made Stefan sit up.

“What’s happened?”

“We’ve got a witness, Stefan.  At long last we’ve got a witness!  Not only can he tell us about the smuggling ring, but he also knows all about what Matsson’s been up to.”

Stefan sat bolt upright.

“Who?  Who is it?”

“Does the name Ingvar Gunnarsson mean anything to you?”

“Vaguely.  Didn’t I see his name in the smuggling investigation files?”

“Yes you did.  He was the poor fool we were watching who got beaten senseless last year.  It seems to have persuaded him to keep his mouth shut.  However, we found it hasn’t had the quite same effect on his younger brother.”

“And the brother’s willing to talk?”

“It seems so.  Look, can you come round to my place?  I can explain it all properly to you then.”

“You bet.”

Grabbing a pen and paper from the desk, Stefan scribbled down the directions Ahlqvist gave him, then put his jacket back on and made once more for the car, his heart racing and his mouth dry.

One step closer, he thought.  One step closer to Matsson and, by extension, to Roffe.  The photograph was still burning a hole in his pocket.