Chapter no 21

Anxious People

It wasn’t a bomb.


It was a box of Christmas lights that one of the neighbors had strung up on his balcony. He had actually been thinking of leaving them up over New Year’s Day, but then he had a row with his wife, because she thought “there are far too many lights, don’t you think? And why can’t we have ordinary white lights like everyone else? Do we have to have Aashing lights, all diPerent colors, so it looks like we’ve opened a brothel?” He had muttered back: “What sort of brothels have you been to, if they have Aashing lights?” and then she had raised her eyebrows and suddenly demanded to know “what sort of brothels have you been to, seeing as you know exactly what they look like…?” and the row had ended with him going out onto the balcony and pulling the damn lights down. But he couldn’t be bothered to carry the box down to the storeroom in the basement, so he left them on the landing outside the door to their apartment. Then he and his wife went oP to her parents’ to celebrate the New Year and argue about brothels. The box was left outside the door, on the Aoor below the apartment that ended up being the location for a hostage drama. When the postman at the start of this story came up the stairs and suddenly caught sight of the armed bank robber going into the apartment that was open for viewing, obviously he couldn’t get downstairs fast enough and stumbled over the box, accidentally dislodging the wires from the top of it.

It didn’t look like a bomb, it really didn’t, it looked like an overturned box of Christmas lights. From a brothel. But in Jim’s defense perhaps it looked like it could have been a bomb, especially if you’d mostly only heard about bombs but

never actually seen one. Or a brothel. Rather like if you’re really frightened of snakes and are sitting on the toilet and feel a slight draft on your backside, and you automatically think, Snabe! Obviously that’s neither logical nor plausible, but if phobias were logical and plausible they wouldn’t be called phobias. Jim was considerably more frightened of bombs than he was of Christmas lights, and at times like that your brain and eyes can have a bit of a falling-out. That’s the point here.

So, the two police officers had been standing down in the street. Jim had looked for advice on Google, and Jack had phoned the owner of the apartment where the hostages were to 1nd out roughly how many people might be in there. The owner turned out to be a mother with a young family in a diPerent town altogether. She said the apartment had been passed down to her and that she hadn’t been there in person for a very long time. She didn’t have anything to say about the viewing. “The real estate agent’s in charge of all that,” she said. Then Jack called the police station and spoke to the woman at the café who was married to the postman who 1rst raised the alarm about the bank robber. Unfortunately Jack didn’t 1nd out very much more, except for the fact that the bank robber was “masked and fairly small. Not really small, but normally small! Maybe more normal than small! But what’s normal?”

Jack tried to come up with a plan based on this scant information, but didn’t get very far because his boss called and—when Jack couldn’t immediately present him with a plan—the boss called the boss’s boss, and the boss’s boss’s boss, and all the bosses naturally agreed, predictably enough, that it would probably be best if they called Stockholm at once. All of them apart from Jack, of course, who wanted to deal with something himself for once in his life. He suggested that the bosses should let him and Jim go into the stairwell and up to the apartment to see if they could make contact with the bank robber. The bosses agreed to this, despite their doubts, because Jack was basically the sort of police officer that other police officers trusted. But Jim was standing beside him, and heard as one of the bosses shouted down the line that they should “take it really damn carefully, and make sure there are no explosives or other crap in the stairwell, because it might not be about the hostages, it could be a terrorist incident! Have you seen anyone carrying any suspicious packages? Anyone with

a beard?” Jack wasn’t bothered by any of that, because he was young. But Jim was seriously bothered, because he was someone’s father.

The elevator was out of order, so he and Jack took the stairs, and on the way up they knocked on all the doors to see if any of the neighbors were still in the building. No one was home, because the day before New Year’s Eve anyone who had to work was at work, and anyone who didn’t have to work had better things to do, and anyone who didn’t must have heard the sirens and seen the reporters and police officers from their balconies and gone outside to see what was going on. (Some of them were actually afraid that there was a snake loose in the building, because there’d recently been rumors on the Internet that a snake had been found in a toilet in a block of apartments in the neighboring town, so that was pretty much the level of probability for hostage dramas in those parts.)

When Jack and Jim reached the Aoor with the box and the wires, Jim started so hard with fear that he hurt his back (here it should be noted that Jim had recently hurt his back in the same place when he happened to sneeze unexpectedly, but still.) He yanked Jack back and hissed: “BOMB!”

Jack rolled his eyes the way only sons can and said: “That isn’t a bomb.” “How do you know that?” Jim wondered.

“Bombs don’t look like that,” Jack said.

“Maybe that’s what whoever made the bomb wants you to think.” “Dad, pull yourself together, that isn’t…”

If it had been any other colleague, Jim would probably have let him carry on up the stairs. Maybe that’s why some people think it’s a bad idea for fathers and sons to work together. Because Jim said instead: “No, I’m going to call Stockholm.”

Jack never forgave him for that.


The bosses and the bosses’ bosses and whoever was above them in the hierarchy who issued orders immediately issued an order that the two officers should go back down to the street and wait for backup. Obviously it wasn’t easy to 1nd backup, even in the big cities, because who the hell robs a bank the day before

New Year’s Eve? And who the hell takes people hostage at an apartment viewing? “And who the hell has an apartment viewing the day before…?” as one of the bosses wondered, and they carried on like that for a good while over the radio. Then a specialist negotiator, from Stockholm, called Jack’s phone to say that he was going to be taking charge of the entire operation. He was currently in a car, several hours away, but Jack needed to understand very clearly that he was expected merely to “contain the situation” until the negotiator arrived. The negotiator spoke with an accent that de1nitely wasn’t from Stockholm, but that didn’t matter, because if you asked Jim and Jack, being a Stockholmer was more a state of mind than a description of geographic origin. “Not all idiots are Stockholmers, but all Stockholmers are idiots,” as people often said at the police station. Which was obviously extremely unfair. Because it’s possible to stop being an idiot, but you can’t stop being a Stockholmer.

After talking to the negotiator Jack was even angrier than he’d been the last time he’d had to speak to a customer service representative at his Internet provider. Jim in turn felt the weight of responsibility for the fact that his son wasn’t now going to get the chance to show that he could apprehend the bank robber on his own. All their decisions for the remainder of the day would come to be governed by those feelings.

“Sorry, son, I didn’t mean…,” Jim began sheepishly, without knowing how he was going to 1nish the sentence without admitting that if Jack had been any other man’s son, Jim would most likely have agreed that it wasn’t a bomb. But you don’t take any risks if the son is your own son.

“Not now, Dad!” Jack replied sullenly, because he was talking to their boss’s boss on the phone again.

“What do you want me to do?” Jim asked, because he needed to be needed. “You can start by trying to get hold of people living in the neighboring

apartments, the ones we never reached because of you and your ‘bomb,’ so we know that the rest of the building is empty!” Jack snapped.

Jim nodded, crushed. He looked up the phone numbers on Google. First the owner of the apartment on the Aoor where Jim had seen the bomb. A man replied, said he and his wife were away, and when his wife snapped: “Who’s that?” irritably in the background, the man snapped back: “It’s the brothel!” Jim

didn’t know what that was supposed to mean, so he asked instead if there was anyone in their apartment. When the man said there wasn’t, Jim didn’t want to worry him by talking about the bomb, and there was no way the man could possibly have known at that point that if he had just said: “By the way, that box on the landing contains Christmas lights,” then this whole story would have changed instantly, so the man merely asked instead: “Was there anything else?” and Jim said: “No, no, I think that’s everything,” then thanked him and hung up.

Then he called the owners of the apartment at the top of the building, the one on the same Aoor as the apartment where the hostage drama was going on. The owners of that one turned out to be a young couple in their early twenties, they were in the middle of splitting up and had both moved out. “So the apartment’s empty?” Jim asked, relieved. It was, but in two separate conversations Jim still had to listen as two twentysomethings took it for granted that Jim would want to know why they had split up. It turned out that one of them couldn’t live with the fact that the other one had such ugly shoes, and the other was turned oP by the fact that the 1rst dribbled when he brushed his teeth, and that both of them would rather have a partner who wasn’t quite so short. One said that the relationship was doomed because the other liked coriander, so Jim said: “And you don’t?” only to receive the reply: “I do, but not as much as her!” The other one said they’d started to hate each other after an argument that, as far as Jim could understand, started when they were unable to 1nd a juicer in a color that reAected them both as individuals but also as a couple. That was when they realized that they couldn’t live together another minute longer, and now they hated each other. It struck Jim that today’s youngsters had far too much choice, that was the whole problem—if all those modern dating apps had existed when Jim’s wife 1rst met him, she would never have ended up becoming his wife. If you’re constantly presented with alternatives, you can never make up your mind, Jim thought. How could anyone live with the stress of knowing that while their partner was in the bathroom, they could be swiping right or left and 1nding their soul mate? A whole generation would end up getting urinary tract infections because they had to keep waiting to pee until the charge on their

partner’s phone ran out. But obviously Jim said none of this, merely asked one last time: “So the apartment’s empty?”

They each con1rmed that it was. All that was left in there was a juicer in the wrong color. The apartment was going to be put up for sale in the new year, with an estate agency whose name one of them couldn’t remember, only that it was “really corny, kind of dad-joke corny!” The other one con1rmed this: “Whoever named that estate agency has a worse sense of humor than hairdressers! Did you know there’s one here called ‘The Upper Cut’? I mean, like, what?”

Jim hung up then. He thought it was a shame that they’d split up, those two, because they deserved each other.

He went over to Jack and tried to tell him about it, but Jack just said: “Not now, Dad! Did you get hold of the neighbors?”

Jim nodded.

“Is anyone home?” Jack asked.

Jim shook his head. “I just wanted to say that…,” he began, but Jack shook his head and resumed his conversation with his boss.

“Not now, Dad!”

So Jim didn’t say anything more.


What then? Well, then everything slid out of control, little by little. The whole hostage drama took several hours, but the negotiator got caught up in traffic and ended up stuck behind the worst multi-vehicle pileup of the year on the motorway (“Bound to be Stockholmers who set out without proper studded tires,” Jim declared con1dently), so he never arrived. Jim and Jack were left to deal with the situation themselves, which wasn’t without its complications seeing as it took them a long time before they even managed to establish contact with the bank robber (culminating in Jack getting a large bump on his head, which itself is quite a long story). But eventually they managed to get a phone inside the apartment (which is an even longer story), and once the bank robber

had released all the hostages and the negotiator made a call to that phone, that was when the pistol shot was heard from inside the apartment.

Several hours later Jack and Jim were still sitting in the police station, interviewing all the witnesses. That didn’t help at all, of course, because at least one of them wasn’t telling the truth.

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