Chapter no 61

Anxious People

Roger was right that time when he looked at the plans and said that the top Aoor of the building had probably once been one single, large apartment. Then, when the elevator was installed, the apartment was split in two and sold as two separate apartments, which led to a number of creative solutions, among them the double wall in the living room and the abandoned ventilation duct above the closet. That was left intact, ignored for years, until, like people you think have become superAuous with age, it suddenly made itself known again. Because in winter cold air would blow in from the attic of the old building: the insulation up there is poor and the air 1nds its way down in the form of a draft in the closet. You have to sit right at the back, on a chest full of wine, to notice it. Not a bad place to smoke, of course, if you’re that way inclined, but apart from that the vent hasn’t served any purpose at all for many years. Not until a real estate agent realized that the space was just large enough for a fairly small real estate agent to climb up and hide so she didn’t get shot by an armed bank robber.

The opening in the ceiling was so tight that she had only just managed to squeeze through, which of course meant it was far too tight for Lennart not to get stuck, so much so that when he tried to pull himself free, the rabbit’s head finally came loose. He fell backward from the hatch, oP the stepladder, and landed heavily on the Aoor. Horri1ed, the real estate agent leaned past the rabbit’s head and out of the hatch to see if he’d killed himself, whereupon she, too, promptly lost her balance and tumbled through the hole, landing on top of him. Anna-Lena’s foot was trapped beneath them and she fell over, too. The stepladder wobbled and in turn fell over, hitting the hatch on the way and swinging it shut with a bang. The rabbit’s head remained up there.


Roger, Ro, and the bank robber heard the commotion from out in the apartment and came rushing over to see what was going on. Everyone inside the closet tried to crawl out, and everyone outside tried to 1gure out which limbs to pull on, not altogether unlike trying to untangle the wiring of the Christmas lights the Christmas after the Christmas when you had a row with your wife about brothels and ended up stuffing the whole lot into the box, thinking: “I’ll sort the whole darn mess out next Christmas!”

When they were all 1nally back on their feet, they stared in unison at Lennart’s underpants, because it had become difficult not to, even if Lennart himself had no idea what was going on until Anna-Lena howled: “You’ve bleeding!”

Lennart, now free of the rabbit’s head, leaned over quite a way to see past his stomach, and, sure enough, blood was dripping from his underpants.

“Oh no,” he groaned, then stuck his hand inside his underwear and pulled out a small, leaking bag that looked like the sort of thing you hope your child won’t notice when you pass it on the motorway. He ran toward the bathroom, but tripped over the edge of the carpet in the living room and fell head1rst, and the bag of blood Aew out of his hands and the contents exploded across the Aoor.

“What the…?” Roger exclaimed.

Lennart gasped breathlessly: “Don’t worry! It’s stage blood! I had a bag of it in my underpants, because sometimes you need that little bit extra in the whole ‘rabbit on the toilet’ routine to really frighten people away.”

“I didn’t order this!” Anna-Lena was quick to point out.

“No, it’s an optional extra,” Lennart con1rmed, getting clumsily to his feet. “Go and put some pants on,” Julia said sharply.

“Yes, please do,” Anna-Lena pleaded.

Lennart obeyed them and set oP toward the closet. When he came back out, Zara had just come in from the balcony. It was the 1rst time she’d seen him with clothes on, without the rabbit’s head. It was an improvement, she had to admit to herself. She didn’t hate him.


The rest of them were staring at the blood on the carpet and Aoor, uncertain about what they ought to do now.

“Nice color, anyway,” Ro said.

“Very modern!” Estelle nodded, because she’d heard on the radio recently that murder was fashionable in popular culture at the moment.

Roger, in the meantime, was naturally feeling an increasing need for information, so he turned to the real estate agent and interrogated her: “Where the hell have you been?”

Embarrassed, the Realtor adjusted her rather too large and very crumpled jacket.

“Well, you see, when the viewing started I was in the closet.” “What for?” Roger demanded.

“I was nervous. I always am before any big viewing, so I usually shut myself in the bathroom, for a couple of minutes to give myself a pep talk. You know, ‘You can do this! You’re a strong, independent real estate agent and this apartment mill be sold, by you!’ But the bathroom was occupied, so I went into the closet. And then I heard…”

She gestured politely but nervously toward the woman standing in the middle of the room with her mask in one hand and the pistol in the other. Estelle intervened helpfully and said: “Yes, this is the bank robber, but she isn’t dangerous! She’s just been holding us hostage, but we’ve been very well looked after. We’re going to get pizza!”

The bank robber nodded apologetically to the real estate agent and said: “Sorry. Don’t worry, this isn’t a real pistol.”

The real estate agent smiled in relief and went on: “Well, I was in the closet, and then I heard someone scream ‘We’re being robbed.’ And then I suppose I acted on instinct.”

“What do you mean by on instinct?” Roger wanted to know. The real estate agent started to brush oP her jacket.

“I’ve actually got several viewings over the next few weeks. The House Tricks Real Estate Agency has a duty to its clients. So I thought, I can’t die. That would have been irresponsible of me. And then I discovered the hatch in the ceiling, so I climbed up there and hid.”

“All this time?” Roger wondered.

The real estate agent nodded so hard that her back creaked. “I hoped I might be able to crawl out of the other end somehow, but I couldn’t.” Then she seemed to think of something important and clapped her hands together and exclaimed: “Well, goodness, look at me standing here chattering away. First and foremost, HOW’s TRICKS? How lovely that so many of you were able to come to this viewing, is there anyone who’d like to make an oPer on the apartment straightaway?”

The assembled gathering didn’t look particularly impressed by the question.

So the agent threw her arms out happily.

“Would you like to look around a bit more? No problem! I haven’t got any other viewings today!”

Roger’s eyebrows sank.

“Why are you even holding a viewing the day before New Year’s Eve? I’ve never experienced that before. And I’ve attended quite a few viewings, I can tell you.”

The real estate agent looked as cheerful as only a real estate agent who’s recently been released from a con1ned space can look.

“It was one of the seller’s requests, and I didn’t mind, because at the House Tricks Real Estate Agency, euevy day is a working day!”

The others collectively rolled their eyes at this. All except Estelle, who shivered and asked: “It’s cold in here, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? Cooler than Roger had budgeted for!” Ro exclaimed, to lighten the mood, then regretted it at once because Roger’s mood didn’t seem to have been lightened at all.

Julia, who by now was aching in most parts of her body, and who had run out of patience altogether, elbowed her way past them all and went and closed the balcony door. Then she went over to the open 1replace and started to sort out the wood.

“We might as well light a 1re while we wait for the pizzas.”

The bank robber stood in the middle of the room with the pistol in her hand, for all the good that was doing. She looked at the group of hostages, which had now grown by one more person, which the bank robber could only assume

would increase the length of her prison sentence proportionately. So she sighed: “You don’t have to wait for the pizzas. You can all go now. I’ll give up and let the police do… well, whatever they’re thinking of doing. You can all go 1rst, I’ll wait here, so that no one else gets hurt. I never meant to… take anyone hostage. I just needed money for the rent so my ex-husband’s lawyer wouldn’t take my daughters away from me. It was… sorry… I’m an idiot, you didn’t deserve any of this… sorry.”

Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and she was no longer making any attempt to stop them. Maybe it was the fact that she looked so small that got to the others. Or maybe they each in turn found themselves thinking about what they’d actually experienced that day, and what it had meant for them. Suddenly they all started to protest at the same time, talking over each other:

“But you can’t just…,” Estelle began.

“You haven’t hurt anyone!” Anna-Lena went on. “There must be some way of solving this,” Julia nodded. “Perhaps we could 1nd a way out?” Lennart suggested.

“We certainly need a bit of time to gather all the information before you let us go!” Roger declared.

“And the bidding hasn’t even started yet,” the real estate agent piped up. “We could just wait for the pizzas, couldn’t we?” Ro suggested.

“Yes, let’s have something to eat. This has all turned out to be rather pleasant, hasn’t it, getting to know each other like this? And that’s all thanks to you!” Estelle beamed.

“I’m sure the police won’t shoot you. Not much, anyway,” Anna-Lena said comfortingly.

“Why don’t we all go outside with you? They won’t 1re if we all leave at the same time!” Julia insisted.

“There must be a way out, if it’s possible to sneak into a viewing, then it must be possible to sneak out,” Lennart pointed out.

“Let’s all sit down and make a plan!” Roger demanded.

“And make bids on the apartment!” the real estate agent added hopefully. “And eat pizza!” Ro said.



The bank robber looked at each of them in turn for a long time. Then she whispered gratefully: “Worst hostages ever.”

“Help me lay the table,” Estelle said, taking her by the arm.

The bank robber didn’t resist, and went with Estelle into the kitchen. She returned with glasses and plates. Julia carried on sorting out the 1re. Zara wrestled with her personality for a while, then handed Julia her lighter without her having asked for it.

Roger was standing beside the 1replace, unsure of how to make himself useful, and said to Julia: “Do you know how to do that?”

Julia glared at him, and was about to tell him that her mom had taught her how to make a 1re, in such a way that Roger couldn’t be sure that didn’t mean Julia and her mother had set 1re to her father. But it had been a long day, they had all heard one another’s stories, and that made it harder to dislike one another, so Julia said something incredibly generous instead.

“No. Can you show me how to do it?”

Roger nodded slowly, crouched down, and started to talk to the wood.

“We can… I’m assuming we can, unless you… we can do it together,” he mumbled.

She swallowed and nodded. “I’d like that.”

“Thanks,” he said quietly.

Then he showed her how he usually started 1res.

“Is it supposed to smoke that much?” Julia wondered. “There’s something wrong with the wood,” Roger grunted. “Really?”

“There’s something wrong with the damn wood, I tell you!” “Have you opened the damper?”

“Of course I’ve opened the damn damper!”

Julia opened the damper. Roger muttered under his breath and she started to laugh. He joined in. They weren’t looking at each other, but the smoke was stinging their eyes and tears were streaming down their cheeks. Julia glanced at him.

“Your wife’s nice,” she said. “So’s yours,” he replied.

They each poked at separate pieces of wood in the 1replace.

“If you and Anna-Lena would really like the apartment, then—” Julia began, but he interrupted her.

“No. No. This is a good apartment for children. You and Ro should buy it.” “I don’t think Ro wants it, she 1nds fault with everything,” Julia sighed.

Roger poked harder at the 1re.

“She’s just scared she isn’t good enough for you and the baby. You need to tell her that’s nonsense. She’s worried she won’t be able to mend the baseboards herself, so you’ll just have to tell her that no one can 1x the damn baseboards until they’ve done it once. Everybody has to start somewhere!”

Julia let that sink in. She stared into the 1re. Roger did the same. Each of them staring at a diPerent piece of wood, a bit of Aame, a lot of smoke.

“Can I say something personal, Roger?” she whispered after a while. “Hmm.”

“You don’t have to prove anything to Anna-Lena. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. You’re good enough.”

They each poked at the 1re. And they both got a hell of a lot of smoke in their eyes. They said nothing more.


There was a knock at the door. Because the policeman outside had 1nally 1gured out that the doorbell didn’t work.

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