Chapter no 66

Anxious People

The bank robber went back inside the apartment. There was blood on the Aoor, but the 1re was crackling in the hearth. Ro was sitting on the sofa eating pizza and making Julia laugh. Roger and the real estate agent were arguing about the measurements on the plan, not because Roger was thinking about buying the apartment anymore, but because “it’s pretty damn important that you’re given the correct information.” Zara and Lennart were standing by the window. Zara was eating a slice of pizza, and Lennart was having fun watching the expression of disgust on her face. It didn’t look as if she liked him, it really didn’t, but she didn’t seem to hate him, either. He in turn seemed to think she was wonderful.



Anna-Lena was standing on her own, holding a plate in one hand, but the pizza on it was untouched and going cold. Naturally it was Julia who spotted her and got up from the sofa. She went over and asked: “Are you okay, Anna-Lena?”

Anna-Lena looked over at Roger. They still hadn’t talked since the rabbit emerged from the bathroom.

“Yes,” she lied.

Julia took hold of her arm, encouragingly rather than to comfort her.

“I don’t exactly know what you think you’ve done wrong, but the fact that you hired Lennart all those times so that Roger would feel like a winner is one of the daftest, weirdest, most romantic things I’ve ever heard!”

Anna-Lena prodded the pizza on her plate tentatively.

“Roger should have had a chance at being promoted. I always thought, next year it’ll be his turn. But time goes faster than you think, all those years all at once. Sometimes I think that when you live together for a very long time, and

have children together, life is a bit like climbing trees. Up and down, up and down, you try to cope with everything, be good, you climb and climb and climb, and you hardly ever see each other along the way. You don’t notice that when you’re young, but everything changes when you have children, and sometimes it feels like you hardly ever see the person you married anymore. You’re parents and teammates, 1rst and foremost, and being married slips down the list of priorities. But you… well, you keep climbing trees, and see each other along the way. I always thought that was just the way it is, life, the way it has to be. We just had to get through everything, I thought. And I kept telling myself that the important thing was that we kept climbing the same tree. Because then I thought that sooner or later… and this sounds so pretentious… but I thought that sooner or later we’d end up on the same branch. And then we could sit there holding hands and looking at the view. That’s what I thought we’d be doing when we got old. But time goes quicker than you think. And it never did get to be Roger’s turn.”

Julia was still holding her arm. Less in encouragement, more to comfort her. “My mom always says I should never apologize for myself. Never say sorry for

being good at something.”

Anna-Lena took a dubious bite of her pizza, then said with her mouth full: “Wise mom.”



They stood there in silence.



And then there was a loud bang.



Once. Twice. A few seconds later came the whistling and explosions, so many and so close together that you couldn’t count them. Lennart was standing closest to the window, so he was the one who exclaimed: “Look! Fireworks!”

Jim had sent a young officer from the station to buy them. He was setting them oP from down by the bridge. Lennart, Zara, Julia, Ro, Anna-Lena, Roger, and the real estate agent went out onto the balcony. They stood there watching in amazement. They weren’t pathetic little bangers, either, they were the real thing, diPerent colors, the sort that look like rain, the whole deal. Because, as luck would have it, Jim liked 1reworks, too.

The bank robber and Estelle watched them from the kitchen window, arm in arm.

“Knut would have liked this,” Estelle nodded.

“I hope you like it, too,” the bank robber managed to say. “Very much, you sweet child, very much indeed. Thank you!”

“I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done to you all,” the bank robber sniPed. Estelle pouted her lips unhappily.

“Perhaps we could explain everything to the police? Tell them it was all a mistake?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Perhaps you could escape somehow? Hide somewhere?”

Estelle smelled of wine. Her pupils were ever so slightly unfocused. The bank robber was about to reply, then realized that the less Estelle knew, the better. Then the old woman wouldn’t have to lie for the bank robber’s sake when she was questioned by the police. So she said: “No, I don’t think that would work.”

Estelle held her hand. There wasn’t much else she could do. The 1reworks were beautiful, Knut would have loved them.



When they were 1nished the bank robber went into the living room, and the others all came back in from the balcony. The bank robber tried to signal discreetly that she wanted to talk to the real estate agent, but sadly that was impossible given that the real estate agent was busy arguing with Roger about the price Julia and Ro ought to pay for the apartment if they bought it.

“Okay, then! Obay!” the real estate agent 1nally snapped. “I can go a bit lower, but only because I have to put the other apartment up for sale in two

weeks’ time, and I don’t want that competing with this one!”

Roger, Julia, and Ro all tilted their heads in such a way that they bumped into one another.

“Which… other apartment?” Roger asked.

The real estate agent harrumphed, annoyed with herself for having let that slip out.

“The apartment opposite, on the other side of the elevator. I haven’t even put it up on my website yet, because if you sell two apartments at the same time, you get less for both, all good real estate agents know that. The other apartment looks just the same as this one, only with a slightly smaller closet, but for some reason it has excellent mobile reception and that seems to be ridiculously important for people these days. The couple who own it are splitting up, they had a terrible row in my office, they’ve removed all the furniture from the apartment, the only thing left in there is a juicer. And I can quite see why neither of them would want it, because it’s a truly tevvible color…”

The real estate agent went on babbling for a long time, but no one was really listening anymore. Roger and Julia looked at each other, then at the bank robber, then at the real estate agent.

“Hang on, you’re saying you’re going to be selling the neighboring apartment as well? The one on the other side of the elevator? And… there’s no one living there at the moment?” Julia asked, just to be sure.

The real estate agent stopped babbling and started to nod instead. Julia looked at the bank robber, and of course they were both thinking exactly the same thing, a possible solution to all this.

“Have you got the keys to the other apartment?” Julia asked with a hopeful smile, convinced that this would be a perfect end to the whole thing.

Unfortunately the real estate agent looked back at Julia as if that were a ridiculous question. “Why would I? I’m not even going to start trying to sell it for another two weeks, and do you think I carry people’s keys around just for the fun of it? What sort of real estate agent do you take me for?”


Roger sighed. Julia sighed, more deeply. The bank robber wasn’t even breathing, just tumbling headlong into the hopelessness inside her.



“I had an aPair once!” Estelle said cheerfully from the other end of the apartment, because she’d found another bottle of wine in the kitchen.

“Not now, Estelle,” Julia said, but the old woman was insistent. She was slightly drunk, that can’t be denied, because the closet had already provided quite a lot of wine for an elderly lady.

“I had an a$aiv once!” she repeated, with her eyes 1xed on the bank robber’s, and the bank robber suddenly felt nervous about the possible details that might slip out in a story that started like that. Estelle waved the wine bottle and went on: “He loved books, and so did I, but my husband didn’t. Knut liked music. I suppose music’s all right, but it’s not the same, is it?”

The bank robber shook her head politely. “No. I like books, too.”

“I thought as much from looking at you! As if you understand that people need fairy tales as well, not just narrative. I’ve liked you from the moment you came in here, you know. You messed things up a bit, with the pistol and all that, but who hasn’t messed things up at one time or another? All interesting people have done something really stupid at least once! For instance, I had an aPair, behind Knut’s back, with a man who loved books, just like me. Whenever I read anything now I think of the pair of them, because he gave me a key, and I never told Knut that I kept it.”

“Please, Estelle, we’re trying to…,” Julia said, but Estelle ignored her. She ran one hand along the bookcase. One of the last times she met her neighbor in the elevator he gave her a very thick book, written by a man. He had underlined one sentence, several hundred pages in: We ave aslee9 until me fall in loue. Estelle gave him a book in exchange, one written by a woman, so it didn’t need hundreds of pages to say things. Close to the start Estelle had underlined: loue is manting you to exist.

Her 1ngers traced the spines of the books on the shelf, as if she were dreaming, not as if she were looking. A book fell out from the middle of a row, not as if it had done so on purpose, but simply because her 1ngernails happened to touch its spine. It landed on the Aoor and fell open a few pages in. The key that fell out bounced oP the pages, then landed on the parquet Aoor with a tinkling sound.

Estelle’s chest was rising and falling breathlessly and her voice may have been slurred but her eyes were crystal clear when she said: “When Knut fell ill we signed the apartment over to our daughter. I thought she might want to move in here with her children, but that was obviously a silly idea. They didn’t want to live here. They’ve got their own lives, in a place of their own. Since then there’s only been me here, and… well, you can see… it’s too big for me. This isn’t a sensible apartment for a single person. So in the end my daughter said we ought to sell it and buy something smaller for me, something easier to look after, she said. So I called several diPerent real estate agents and obviously they all said that it wasn’t usual to hold a viewing so close to New Year, but I wanted… well, I thought it would be nice to have a bit of company at this time of year. So I went out before the real estate agent arrived, then I came back up once the viewing had started and pretended to be a prospective buyer. Because I didn’t want to sell the apartment without knowing who was going to be buying it. This isn’t just an apartment, it’s my home, I don’t want to hand it over to someone who’s just going to be passing through, to make money from it. I want someone who’s going to love living here, like I have. Maybe that’s hard for a young person to understand.”

That wasn’t true. There wasn’t a single person in the apartment who didn’t understand perfectly. But the real estate agent cleared her throat.

“So… when your daughter commissioned me, I wasn’t the 1rst person she’d called?”

“Oh, no, she called all the other real estate agents before she felt obliged to ring you. But just look how it’s all turned out!” Estelle smiled.

The real estate agent brushed the dust oP her jacket and her ego.

“So this is the key to…,” the bank robber began, staring at it but still not quite able to believe it.

Estelle nodded.

“My aPair. He lived in the neighboring apartment, on the other side of the elevator. That’s where he died. I was standing in front of the bookcase when the apartment was put up for sale, and I wondered what would have happened if I’d met him 1rst, before Knut. You can let yourself do that when you get old, go for a little stroll in your imagination. A young couple bought the apartment. They never changed the lock.”

Julia cleared her throat, rather taken aback. “How… sorry, Estelle, but how do you know that?” Estelle gave her an embarrassed little smile.

“Every so often I… well, I’ve never actually o9ened the door, of course, I’m not a criminal, but I… sometimes I check to see if the key still 1ts. It does. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re splitting up, that young couple, it really doesn’t, because I often used to hear them arguing when I was smoking in the closet. The walls are rather thin in there. You get to hear all sorts of things. Some of it would shock even Stockholmers, I can tell you.”

The bank robber put the book back on the shelf. Clutched the key tightly.

Then she turned to the others and whispered: “I don’t know what to say.” “Don’t say anything at all. Go and hide in the other apartment until this is all

over. Then you can go home to your daughters,” Estelle said.

The key was dancing in the bank robber’s palm when she unclenched her 1st, she couldn’t hold it still.

“I haven’t got a home to go back to. I can’t pay the rent. And I can’t ask any of you to lie for my sake when you talk to the police. They’re going to ask who I am and if you know where I’m hiding, and I don’t want you to lie for me!”

“Of course we’re going to lie for you,” Ro exclaimed. “Don’t worry about us,” Julia cajoled.

“We don’t actually have to lie, any of us,” Roger said. “We just need to play dumb.”

“Yes, well, there’s no problem, then, is there? Because that’s hardly going to be a challenge for any of you!” Zara declared. For once, it wasn’t actually meant as an insult, it just sounded like it.

Anna-Lena nodded thoughtfully at the bank robber.

“Roger’s right. We just have to play dumb. We can say you never took the mask oP, so we can’t give a description.”



The bank robber tried to protest. They didn’t give her a chance. Then there was a knock at the door, and Roger went into the hall and peered through the spyhole, and saw Jim standing outside. That was when Roger realized what the real problem was.

“Damn. That policeman’s out in the stairwell, how are you going to get past him into the other apartment without him seeing you? We didn’t think of that!” he exclaimed.

“Perhaps we could distract him?” Julia suggested. “I could squirt lime juice in his eyes!” Ro nodded.

“Perhaps we could just try reasoning with him?” Estelle said hopefully. “Unless we all run out at once so he gets confused!” Anna-Lena said,

thinking out loud.

“Naked! People always get more confused when you’re naked!” Lennart informed them, in his capacity as an expert.

Zara was standing next to him, and he was probably expecting her to tell him he was a damn idiot, but instead she said: “Perhaps we could bribe him. The policeman. Most men can be bought.”

Lennart of course noticed that she could have said “most 9eo9le,” she didn’t have to say “most men,” but he couldn’t help thinking it was a nice gesture on her part to try to be part of the group.



The bank robber stood in front of them for a long while with the key in her hand, on the brink of telling them about Jim, but instead she said thoughtfully: “No. If I tell you how I’m going to escape, you’d have to lie when the police question you. But if you just walk out of here now and go downstairs, you can tell the truth: when you closed the door behind you, I was still in here. You don’t know what happened to me after that.”

They looked like they wanted to protest (all except Zara), but eventually nodded in response (even Zara). Estelle put some clingwrap over the remains of the pizza and put it in the fridge. She wrote her phone number on a scrap of paper, put it in the bank robber’s pocket, and whispered: “Send me a text when you’re safe, otherwise I’ll worry.” The bank robber promised. Then all the hostages walked out of the apartment. Roger went last, and carefully closed the door behind him until he heard the latch click. Jim directed them to walk down the stairs, where Jack was waiting to escort them into the police cars that would drive them to the station to be questioned.



Jim was left alone in the stairwell for a while, and waited until Jack came up the stairs.

“Is the bank robber still in there now? Are you suve, Dad?” Jack asked. “One hundred percent,” Jim said.

“Good! The negotiator’s going to call the phone in there shortly and try to get him to come out voluntarily. Otherwise we’ll have to break the door in.”

Jim nodded. Jack looked around, then crouched down by the elevator and picked up a piece of paper.

“What’s this?”

“Looks like a drawing?” Jim said.

Jack put it in his pocket. Looked at the time. The negotiator made the call.



It had been tucked inside one of the pizza boxes, the special telephone thingy. It was Ro who had found it. She was very hungry, so she just thought it was odd to 1nd a phone in a pizza box, put it down, and decided to eat 1rst before bothering to think about it. And by the time she’d 1nished eating she’d forgotten all about it. There was so much else going on, the 1reworks and all the rest of it, and perhaps you had to know Ro to understand just how absentminded she could be. But perhaps it’s enough to know that once she’d 1nished her own pizza, she opened all the other boxes and ate the crusts the

others had left. At that point Roger turned to her and said she needn’t worry, he was sure she was going to be a good parent now, because good parents eat other people’s crusts out of other people’s boxes just like that. Hearing that meant so much to Ro that she burst into tears.

So the phone was left on the little three-legged table beside the sofa, as unsteady as a spider on an ice cube. When all the hostages had gone, the bank robber put her pistol down next to the phone, after wiping it carefully 1rst, of course, because Roger had seen a documentary about how the police 1nd 1ngerprints at crime scenes. She also threw her ski mask on the 1re, because Roger had said the cops might be able to get DNA and all sorts of other stuP oP it otherwise.



Then the bank robber went out through the door. Jim was standing alone on the landing. They glanced at each other quickly, she gratefully, he full of stress. She showed him the key. He breathed out.

“Hurry up,” he said.

“I just want to say… I haven’t told anyone you’re doing this for me. I didn’t want anyone to have to lie for me when they were questioned,” she said.

“Good,” he nodded.

She tried in vain to blink away the dampness in her eyes, because of course she knew she was actually asking someone to lie for her, more than he had ever lied for anyone. But Jim wouldn’t let her apologize, just pushed her past the elevator door and whispered: “Good luck!”

She went inside the neighboring apartment and locked the door behind her. Jim was left standing on his own in the stairwell for a minute, which gave him time to think of his wife and hope she was proud of him. Or at least not really angry. With all the hostages safely on their way to the station, Jack came running up the stairs. Then the negotiator made the call. And the pistol hit the Aoor.

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