Chapter no 46

Anxious People

All professions have their technical aspects that outsiders don’t understand, tools and implements and complicated terminology. Perhaps the police force has more than most, its language is constantly changing, older officers lose track of it at the same rate that younger officers invent it. So Jim didn’t know what the damn thing was called, the telephone thingy. He just knew that there was something special about it that meant you could make calls even though there was hardly any signal, and that Jack was delighted that the station had been given one. Jack was perhaps capable of being more delighted by telephone thingies than Jim thought was strictly reasonable, but it was this phone they had sent in to the bank robber at the end of the hostage drama, so it turned out to be fairly useful after all. It was actually Jim who came up with the idea, which he was not a little proud of. Just after the hostages had been released, the negotiator had called the bank robber on that phone in an attempt to negotiate a peaceful surrender. That was when they heard the shot.

Naturally, Jack has explained the technology in the phone to Jim in great detail, so obviously Jim still calls it “that special telephone thingy which gets a bloody signal where there isn’t a bloody signal.” When they were about to send it in to the bank robber, obviously Jack told Jim to make sure the ringtone was set properly. Which of course it wasn’t.


Jack is looking around the apartment.

“Dad, did you make sure the ringtone on that phone was switched on when we sent it in?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes, of course,” Jim replies.

“So… no, then?”

“I might have forgotten that. Maybe.”

Jack rubs his whole face with his palms in frustration. “Could it have been on vibrate?”

“It could have been, yes.”

Jack reaches out and touches the little table where the phone had been lying when they stormed the apartment. It’s barely standing up on three legs, a de1nite challenge to gravity. He looks at the place on the Aoor where they found the pistol. Then he follows something invisible with his gaze and goes over to the green curtain. The bullet is in the wall.

“The perpetrator didn’t shoot himself,” Jack says in a low voice.

Then it dawns on him that the perpetrator wasn’t even in the apartment when the shot was 1red.

“I don’t get it,” Jim says behind him, not angrily like some dads would, but proudly, like only a few dads can. Jim likes hearing his son explain the reasoning behind his conclusions, but there’s no satisfaction in Jack’s voice when he does so now. “The phone was on that wobbly table, Dad. The pistol must have been lying next to it. When we called the phone after all the hostages had been released, it started to vibrate, the table shook, and the pistol fell to the Aoor and 1red. We thought the perpetrator shot himself, but he wasn’t even here. He was already gone. The blood… the stage blood or whatever the hell it is… must have been poured out in advance.”

Jim looks at his son for a long time. Then scratches his stubble.

“Do you know something? On the one hand this seems like the smartest crime in the world…”

Jack nods, stroking the large lump on his forehead, and 1nishes his dad’s thought for him: “… but on the other, it seems to have been carried out by a complete idiot.”

At least one of them is right.


Jack sinks down onto the sofa, and Jim collapses on it as if he’s been pushed. Jack picks up his bag, takes out all the notes from the witness interviews, and spreads them out around him without explaining what he’s doing. He reads through everything one more time. When he puts the last page down, he bites his way methodically along his tongue, because that’s where Jack’s stress lives.

“I’m an idiot,” he says. “Why?” Jim wonders.

“Bloody hell! Bloody, bloody… I’m an idiot! How many people were in the apartment, Dad?”

“You mean how many prospective buyers?”

“No, I mean in total, how many people were there in total in the apartment?” Jim starts waAing, in the hope that it will make him sound like he understands anything of all this: “Let’s see… seven prospective buyers. Or, well… there were really only those two, Ro and Jules, and Roger and Anna-Lena, and

Estelle, who wasn’t really interested in buying the apartment…” “That’s 1ve,” Jack nods impatiently.

“Five, yes. That’s it, yes. And then there’s Zara, we don’t really know why she was there. And then there’s Lennart, who was there because Anna-Lena had hired him. So that makes… one, two, three, four, 1ve…”

“Seven people in total!” Jack nods. “Plus the perpetrator,” Jim adds.

“Exactly. But also… plus the real estate agent.”

“Plus the real estate agent, yes, so that makes nine, then!” Jim says, immediately cheered by his own mathematical prowess.

“Are you sure, Dad?” Jack sighs.

He looks at his dad for a long time, waiting for him to realize, but gets no response. Absolutely none at all. Just two eyes staring at him the way they did many years ago after they’d watched a 1lm together, and Jack had to explain at the end: “But, Dad, the bald guy was dead, that’s why only the little kid could see him!” And his dad exclaimed: “What? Was he a ghost? No, he couldn’t have been, because we could see him!”

She laughed at that, Jim’s wife and Jack’s mom, God, how she laughed. God, how they miss her. She’s still the one who makes them more understanding

toward each other, even though she’s no longer here.


Jim aged badly after she died, became a lesser man, never quite able to breathe back in all the air that had gone out of him. When he sat in the hospital that night, life felt like an icy crevice, and when he lost his grip on the edge and slipped down into the darkness inside him, he whispered angrily to Jack: “I’ve tried talking to God, I really have tried, but what sort of God makes a priest this sick? She’s never done anything but good for other people, so what sort of God gives an illness like this to hev?!”

Jack had no answer then, and he has no answer now. He just sat quietly in the waiting room and held his dad until it was impossible to tell whose tears were running down his neck. The following morning they were angry at the sun for rising, and couldn’t forgive the world for living on without her.

But when it was time, Jack got to his feet, grown-up and straight-backed, walked through a series of doors, and stopped outside her room. He was a proud young man, certain in his beliefs, he wasn’t religious and his mom had never said a single stern word to him about that. She was the sort of priest who got shouted at by everyone, by religious people for not being religious enough, and by everyone else because she was religious at all. She had been to sea with sailors, in the desert with soldiers, in prison with inmates, and in hospitals with sinners and atheists. She liked a drink and could tell dirty jokes, no matter who she was with. If anyone even asked what God would think about that, she always replied: “I don’t think we agree about everything, but I have a feeling He knows I’m doing the best I can. And I think maybe He knows I work for Him, because I try to help people.” If anyone asked her to sum up her view of the world, she always quoted Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Her son loved her, but she never managed to get him to believe in God, because although you might be able to drum religion into people, you can’t teach faith. But that night, all alone at the end of a dimly lit corridor in a hospital where she had held so many dying people

by the hand, Jack sank to his knees and asked God not to take his mom away from him.

When God took her anyway, Jack went into her bed, held her hand too hard in his, as if he were hoping she might wake up and tell him oP. Then he whispered disconsolately: “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll take care of Dad.”

He called his sister afterward. She made promise after promise, of course, as usual. She just needed money for the Aight. Obviously. Jack sent the money, but she didn’t come to the funeral. Naturally, Jim has never once called her an “addict” or “junkie,” because dads can’t do that. He always says his daughter is “ill,” because that makes it feel better. But Jack always calls his sister what she is: a heroin addict. She’s seven years older than him, and with that age gap you don’t have a big sister when you’re little, you have an idol. When she left home he couldn’t go with her, and when she tried to 1nd herself he couldn’t help, and when she went under he couldn’t save her.


It’s been just Jack and Jim since then. They send her money every time she calls, every time she pretends she’s going to come home, only she just needs help with the airfare, this one last time. And maybe a bit extra to pay a few little debts. Nothing much, she’s going to sort it all out, if they could just… they know they shouldn’t, of course. You always know. Addicts are addicted to their drugs, and their families are addicted to hope. They cling to it. Every time her dad gets a call from a number he doesn’t recognize, he always hopes it’s her, whereas her younger brother is terri1ed because he’s always convinced this will be the call when someone tells him she’s dead. The same questions echo through both of them: What sort of police officers can’t even look after their own daughter and sister? What sort of family can’t help one of their own to help herself? What sort of god makes a priest ill, and what sort of daughter doesn’t show up for the funeral?

When both children were still living at home, when everyone was still tolerably happy, Jack asked his mom one evening how she could bear to sit beside people when they were dying, in their 1nal hours, without being able to

save them. His mom kissed the top of his head and said: “How do you eat an elephant, sweetheart?” He replied the way a child who’s heard the same joke a thousand times does: “One bit at a time, Mom.” She laughed just as loudly, for the thousandth time, the way parents do. Then she held his hand tightly and said: “We can’t change the world, and a lot of the time we can’t even change people. No more than one bit at a time. So we do what we can to help whenever we get the chance, sweetheart. We save those we can. We do our best. Then we try to 1nd a way to convince ourselves that that will just have to… be enough. So we can live with our failures without drowning.”


Jack couldn’t help his sister. He couldn’t save the man on the bridge. Those who jump… they jump. The rest of us have to get out of bed the following day, priests walk out of the door to do their job, as do police officers. Now Jack is looking at the stage blood on the Aoor, the bullet hole in the wall, the little side table where the phone was lying, and the large coPee table with the discarded pizza boxes.

He looks at Jim, and his dad holds his hands up and smiles weakly.

“I give up. You’re the genius here, son. What have you come up with?”

Jack nods at the pizza boxes. Brushes the hair from the lump on his forehead.

Counts out the names again.

“Roger, Anna-Lena, Ro, Jules, Estelle, Zara, Lennart, the bank robber, the real estate agent. Nine people.”

“Nine people, yes.”

“But when they dropped that lime on my head, the note only asked for eight pizzas.”

Jim thinks about this so hard that his nostrils quiver. “Maybe the bank robber doesn’t like pizza?” “Maybe.”

“But that’s not what you think?” “No.”

“Why not?”

Jack stands up, packs the witness statements away in his bag. He bites his tongue.

“Is the real estate agent still at the station?” “She should be, yes.”

“Call and make sure no one lets her go anywhere!”

Jim frowns so hard that you could lose a paper clip in the wrinkles. “But… why, son? What’s—?”

Jack interrupts his dad: “I don’t think there were nine people in this apartment. I think there were eight. There’s one person we’ve just assumed was here the whole time! Bloody hell, Dad, don’t you see? The perpetrator didn’t hide, and didn’t escape, either. She just walked right out into the street in front of us!”

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