Chapter no 13

Anxious People

The coPee cup is thrown in anger. Right across the two desks, but the unfathomable ways of centrifugal force mean that it retains most of its contents until it shatters against the henceforth cappuccino-colored wall.

The two policemen stare at each other, one embarrassed, the other concerned. The older policeman’s name is Jim. The younger officer, his son, is Jack. This police station is too small for these two men to be able to avoid each other, so as usual they’ve ended up on either side of their desks, only half hidden behind their respective computer screens, because these days police work consists of one-tenth actual police work, with the rest of the time devoted to making notes about exactly what you did during the course of that police work.

Jim was born in a generation that regarded computers as magic, Jack in one that has always taken them for granted. When Jim was young, children used to be punished by being sent to their rooms, but these days you have to force children to come out of them. One generation got told oP for not being able to sit still, the next gets told oP for never moving. So when Jim writes a report he hits every key all the way down very deliberately, then checks the screen at once to make sure it hasn’t tricked him, and only then does he press the next key. Because Jim isn’t the sort of man who lets himself be tricked. Jack, in turn, types the way young men who’ve never lived in a world without the Internet do, he can do it blindfolded, stroking the keys so gently that even a forensics expert wouldn’t be able to prove that he’d touched them.

The two men drive each other crazy, of course, about the smallest things. When the son is looking for something on the Internet, he calls it “googling,” but when his dad does the same thing he says: “I’ll look that up on Google.” When they disagree about something, the father says: “Well, it must be right,

because I read it on Google!” and the son exclaims: “You don’t actually read things on Google, Dad, you seavch for them there…”

It isn’t really the fact that his dad doesn’t understand how to use technology that drives his son mad, but the fact that he almost understands. For instance, Jim still doesn’t know how to take a screenshot, so when he wants to take a picture of something on his computer screen, he takes a photograph of the screen with his mobile phone. When he wants to take a picture of something on his mobile, he uses the photocopier. The last really big row between Jim and Jack was when some boss’s boss decided that the town’s police force should become “more accessible on social media” (because in Stockholm the police are evidently massively accessible the whole damn time), and asked them to take pictures of each other in the course of an ordinary day at work. So Jim took a photograph of Jack in the police car. While Jack was driving. With a Aash.

Now they’re seated opposite each other, typing, constantly out of sync with each other. Jim is slow, Jack efficient. Jim tells a story; Jack simply gives a report. Jim deletes and edits and starts again, Jack just types and types as if there were nothing on the planet that could be described in more than one way. In his youth Jim had dreams of becoming a writer. In fact he was still dreaming about that until long into Jack’s childhood. Then he started to dream that Jack might become a writer instead. That’s an impossible thing for sons to grasp, and a source of shame for fathers to have to admit: that we don’t want our children to pursue their own dreams or walk in our footsteps. We want to walk in theiv footsteps while they pursue ouv dreams.

They have pictures of the same woman on their desks. The mother of one of them, the wife of the other. Jim’s desk also has a photograph of a young woman, seven years older than Jack, but they don’t often talk about her, and she only gets in touch when she needs money. At the start of each winter Jim says hopefully: “Maybe your sister will come home for Christmas,” and Jack replies: “Sure, Dad, we’ll see.” The son never tells his dad he’s being naive. It’s an act of love. His dad’s shoulders are weighed down with invisible boulders when he says, late each Christmas Eve: “It’s not her fault, Jack, she’s…,” and Jack always replies: “She’s ill. I know, Dad. Do you want another beer?”

There are so many things that stand between the older policeman and the younger one now, regardless of how close they live to each other. Because Jack eventually stopped running after his sister—that’s the main diPerence between the brother and the father.

When his daughter was a teenager, Jim used to think that children were like kites, so he held on to the string as tightly as he could, but eventually the wind carried her oP anyway. She pulled free and Aew oP into the sky. It’s hard to tell exactly when a person’s substance abuse begins, which is why everyone is lying when they say: “I’ve got it under control.” Drugs are a sort of dusk that grant us the illusion that we’re the ones who decide when the light goes out, but that power never belongs to us. The darkness takes us whenever it likes.

A few years ago Jim found out that Jack had withdrawn all his savings, which he was planning to use to buy an apartment, and used them to pay for his sister’s treatment in an exclusive private clinic. Jack drove his sister there. She checked herself out two weeks later, too late for him to get his money back. She didn’t get in touch for six months, when she suddenly phoned in the middle of the night as if nothing had happened, and asked if Jack could lend her “a few thousand.” For a plane ticket home, she said. Jack sent the money, she never came. Her dad is still running about on the ground, trying not to lose sight of the kite way up in the sky, that’s the diPerence between the father and the brother. Next Christmas one of them will say: “She’s…,” and the other will whisper: “I know, Dad,” then get him another beer.


Obviously they 1nd ways to argue about beer, too. Jack is one of those young men who is curious about beers that taste of grapefruit and gingerbread and sweets and all sorts of other crap. Jim wants beer that tastes of beer. Sometimes he calls the complicated version “Stockholm beer,” but not too often, naturally, because then his son gets so angry that Jim has to buy his own damn beer for several weeks. He sometimes thinks it’s impossible to know if children end up completely diPerent despite the fact that they grew up together, or precisely because of that. He glances over the top of the computer screens and watches his

son’s 1ngertips on the keyboard. The little police station in their not especially large town is a fairly quiet place. Not much happens there, they’re not used to hostage dramas, or any sort of drama at all, really. So Jim knows that this is Jack’s big chance to show the bosses what he can do, what sort of police officer he can be. Before the experts from Stockholm show up.

Jack’s frustration is dragging his eyebrows down and restlessness is blowing a gale inside him. He’s been teetering on the verge of a furious outburst ever since he was the 1rst officer into the apartment. He’s been keeping a lid on it, but after the last interview he marched into the staProom and exploded: “One of these witnesses bnoms what happened! Someone knows and is lying to our faces! Don’t they understand that a man could be lying hidden somewhere, bleeding to death right now? How the hell can anyone lie to the police while someone’s dying?”

Jim didn’t say a word when Jack sat down at his computer after his outburst. But when the coPee cup hit the wall, it wasn’t Jack who threw it. Because even if his son was furious about not being able to save the perpetrator’s life, and hated the fact that a group of damn Stockholmers were about to show up and take the investigation away from him, that came nowhere close to the frustration his father felt at not being able to help him.

A long silence follows. First they glare at each other, then down at their keyboards. Eventually Jim manages to say: “Sorry. I’ll clean it up. I just… I can understand that this is driving you crazy. I just want you to know that it’s driving me crazy… too.”

He and Jack have both studied every last inch of the plan of the apartment. There are no hiding places in there, nowhere to go. Jack looks at his dad, then at the remains of the coPee cup behind him, and says quietly: “He must have had help. We’re missing something here.”

Jim stares at the notes from the interviews with the witnesses. “We can only do our best, son.”

It’s easier to talk about work when you haven’t quite got the words to talk about the other things in life, but obviously those words apply to both things at the same time. Jack has been thinking about the bridge ever since the hostage drama started, because during his best nights he still dreams that the man didn’t

jump, that Jack managed to save him. Jim thinks about the same bridge all the time, because during his worst nights he dreams that it was Jack who jumped instead.

“Either one of the witnesses is lying, or they all are. Someone must know where this man is hiding,” Jack repeats mechanically.

Jim sneaks a glance at Jack’s two index 1ngers, tapping the desktop the same way as his mother after a heavy night at the hospital or prison. Too much time has passed for the father to ask his son how he’s doing, too much time for the son to be able to explain. The distance between them is too great now.

But when Jim slowly gets up from his chair with the full symphony of a middle-aged man’s groans, to wipe the wall and pick up the pieces of the cup he threw, Jack gets quickly to his feet and walks to the staProom. He comes back with two more cups. Not that Jack drinks coPee, but he understands that it occasionally means something to his father not to have to drink alone.

“I shouldn’t have got involved in your interview, son,” Jim says in a low voice. “It’s okay, Dad,” Jack replies.

Neither of them means it. We lie to those we love. They hunch over their keyboards again and type up the 1nal transcripts of all the interviews with the witnesses, reading them through one more time in search of clues.


They’re right, both of them. The witnesses aren’t telling the truth, not all of it. Not all of them.

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