A fast-paced detective novel about an American jazz-journalist in Stockholm who gets drawn into two unsolved Swedish mysteries: the 1986 murder of prime minister Olof Palme, and Stieg Larsson's missing fourth book.
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Dedicated to my mother,
Marion Daisy Wetzel
It will be up to the wanderer in Stockholm on a dark February night to feel the faint residue of diabolical energy lingering near the plaque marking the site of the blood on the snow, and sense the memory of a heinous act that drew an awful price, as the shadowy specter disappears up the Tunnelgatan steps.
Blood on the Snow: The Killing of Olof Palme
by Jan Bondeson
She had discovered that the most effective method of keeping the fear at bay was to fantasize about something that gave her a feeling of strength.
The Girl Who Played with Fire
by Stieg Larsson
Map of the escape route used by Olof Palme’s assassin on Friday, February 28, 1986
Drawn by Stieg Larsson
Prologue: Friday, February 28, 1986
Saturday, February 4, 2012, 6:30 a.m
This Fur Evidence
Tall Handsome Swedish Man
Three Days Earlier
Stieg and Magnus
Pearls of Life
The Red Room
Saturday, February 4, 9:00 a.m
Two Days Earlier
Dinner with Fanny and Alexander
Saturday, February 4, 2:00 p.m.
Still a Princess
Pippi Goes on a Walk
36 Steps Again
One Day Earlier
The Girl Who Had a God Who Was Vengeful
Saturday, February 4, 11:00 p.m
At the Glenn Miller Café
Sunday, February 5
Kristiansson and Kvant Go to Morning Prayer
Magnus Goes to a Coffee Party
Juliet Is a Thing-Finder
The Man Who
Here Come the Swedes with a Clang and a Bang
Interview with Holiday
Interview with Bunny
Princess Madeleine Weighs In
Monday, February 6
The Virtues of Lingonberry Jam
Tuesday, February 7 to Thursday, February 9
Dark and Cold
Friday, February 10
Tuesday, February 14
Thursday, February 16
Once Upon a Time in Stockholm
Friday, February 17
Another Man Who
Monday, February 20
Always a Daisy-Belle
Tuesday, February 21
The Cosmic Force
Wednesday, February 22
I Do Think Freckles Are So Attractive
Coda: Final Girl
Emil Sjöö is waiting. He is standing outside the Grand cinema on Sveavägen, the long street that runs through the heart of central Stockholm.
Inside the cinema, his friends Johan and Agneta are watching The Mozart Brothers. The movie started at quarter after nine, but Emil had to work late and couldn’t join them in time. He decided instead to come by at eleven o’clock when the movie ended so they could go for a drink. It was lönehelg, the weekend after the monthly paycheck, and the three of them usually celebrated by having a few beers.
As Emil stands in the cold, he passes the time by watching a strange fellow who is also waiting in front of the Grand. The man is pacing the sidewalk and muttering to himself, a burning look in his eyes. A short and stocky Swedish man, perhaps in his late thirties, with steel-rimmed glasses and a dark cap with earflaps. The man was probably drunk, but Stockholm was always full of drunk people during lönehelg.
The doors to the cinema open, and soon people start trickling out. Johan and Agneta are among the first to appear, and Emil calls out to them. They exchange greetings, then turn left and walk toward Odengatan, where they will have their pick of bars.
As they walk, Emil asks if they liked the movie. Johan says it was sådär, so-so.
Agneta agrees with Johan, then says, “Guess who was sitting behind us? The prime minister! Palme! He was with his wife and one of their sons.”
“Did you talk to him?” Emil asks.
“Of course not. We let him be.”
A half hour later, sitting by the front window of a bar on Odengatan, they see a police car rush past. Then another. And another after that. Fifteen minutes later, a man bursts into the bar and shouts out the unthinkable news that the prime minister has been shot and killed, right down the street on Sveavägen.
A terrible chill shakes through Emil. Johan turns pale as a corpse. Agneta bursts into tears.
The next evening, the three of them are together again. This time, they are sitting in police headquarters in Kungsholmen. Witnesses have been asked to come forth, including anyone who saw Palme the previous night, or anything else that might be relevant to the murder.
Johan and Agneta tell the police about seeing Palme in the theater. Emil tells them about the odd man waiting outside the Grand. Waiting, perhaps, for the prime minister.
Several other witnesses report seeing the strange man. No one knows his name, so the police give him a nickname. They call him Grandmannen. The Grand Man.
Detective Inspector Ulrika Johansson was in a bad mood. Not because of the corpse; she had seen plenty of dead bodies over the past twenty years. The problem was the small dog guarding the corpse. The dog’s red fur was matted in bloody clumps, and its pointy teeth were bared as it whipped its head around and snarled at two approaching members of the Stockholm police force.
Another irritation was the corpse’s resting place. The long male body in the black coat was lying diagonally across the staircase in Mårten Trotzigs Gränd. Renowned for being the narrowest street in Stockholm, the little alley with the steep staircase was a classic piece of Gamla Stan charm. But if there was a more inconvenient place for a dead body, Ulrika couldn’t think of it. Particularly at six-thirty in the morning on a swine-cold Saturday in early February.
Ulrika was supposed to have the weekend off, which was much needed after three weeks of nonstop work solving a murder in Södertälje. She had planned on a sovmorgon, a sleep-morning, followed by a long run, a big breakfast, and a lazy afternoon reading the new Birgitta Birgersson detective novel. Instead here she was in Gamla Stan, sleep-drunk and trying not to fall on her ass on the ice-covered cobblestones.
Her partner, Oskar Karlsson, walked over and joined her by the lower entrance to Mårten Trotzigs Gränd. Oskar had a black wool hat jammed onto his head, and his hands were buried in his navy-blue down jacket, because as usual he had forgotten his gloves. He was a tall man, slim as a stick, handsome despite a generous sprinkling of pockmarks. With his undereye bags and pale lips, he looked how she felt—exhausted.
“Kristiansson,” she said to him.
“Kvant,” he replied, giving her one of his twisted-to-the-side smiles.
“Welcome to hell.”
“What’s going on?”
“That jävla dog bit two of our officers.” Ulrika’s words left white clouds in the subzero air.
“Looks like a Pomeranian.”
“Hard to tell with all that blood.”
Oskar glanced up at the officers at the top of the staircase. They were inching down the stairs, calling out to the dog and trying to shoo it away. “How much evidence has been destroyed?” he asked.
“You want a percentage?”
“I don’t know. Do I?”
“Eighty percent. There was fresh snow, but now it’s got dozens of footprints. Plus dog shit.”
“Tell me some good news.”
“A veterinarian lives around the corner. Someone went to get him so he can help us get rid of the little monster.”
“I’m the vet,” a deep voice said.
They turned around. A tall man with a trim gray beard and a small black bag stood behind them.
They shook hands. “Thanks for coming,” Ulrika said. “What do you suggest?”
“I have a syringe with anesthesia ready to go.”
Ulrika turned to Oskar. “Did you forget your lunch?”
Oskar blinked. “Ham.”
“Give them to me.”
He opened his mouth to protest. Ulrika held out a hand encased in a blackleather glove. “Kristiansson,” she said. “We all have to make sacrifices.”
Oskar went over to the police car where he had left his backpack. He returned with a crisply folded brown-paper bag.
“First,” Ulrika said to Oskar as she unwrapped the sandwiches, “get those officers off the staircase. Second,” she turned to the vet, “I want you to go around the backstreets until you reach the top of the staircase. I’ll distract the dog, then you come down quietly and stick the needle in.”
“OK,” the vet said.
“I hope that’s only strong enough to make the dog fall sleep. We don’t need any Expressen headlines.”
The vet looked offended. “I was extremely careful.”
“Good. You can leave right now.”
Oskar called up to the officers to leave the staircase, which they were more than happy to do. A few minutes later the vet appeared at the top of the stairs, his syringe at the ready. Ulrika entered the alley, several pieces of pink ham dangling from one gloved hand.
The first few meters of the narrow alley were composed of stone slabs and large rocks set in concrete. There were two initial steps, followed by more stone slabs that led to the main staircase. The corpse lay on the lower part of the main staircase, with his feet just touching the first step. The small piles of snow on either side of the corpse were a mess of footprints, paw prints, and dark-red blood.
The dog was at the body’s head, growling at the vet. As Ulrika started approaching, the dog snapped its head around, then scampered down the stairs and stood by the corpse’s feet. Teeth bared in a snarl, eyes flashing in the blood-matted face, the dog crouched as it prepared to spring.
Ulrika reached out the ham so it hung in front of the dog’s face. She moved the ham slowly from side to side, boring her gaze into the dog’s sharp brown eyes.
The dog continued snarling, but its nose started twitching. Ulrika sensed the vet coming down from the top of the staircase, but she didn’t dare raise her eyes. She took a step forward. The dog took a step back, its eyes fixed on the ham. Ulrika wedged her booted foot next to the corpse’s feet, then took another step up. There was no railing, so Ulrika pressed a hand against the stone wall to avoid falling. The hem of her long gray coat swept over the stiff body.
Ulrika continued moving up slowly, step by tiny step. She felt the vet moving closer as well. The dog continued stepping backward, caught between its longing for the ham and the desire to protect its master.
As Ulrika moved up the length of the body, she took in more details. An open wallet lying on the stairs. A length of black pipe on the step next to the head. Deep, crusting wounds on the back of the skull.
A sharp yelp filled the air as the vet stuck the needle in the dog’s rear. The dog whipped around and flew at the vet, who ran up the steps with the bloody creature at his heels.
Toward the top of the staircase, the dog slowed. It tottered, then tilted to the side and fell onto a snowy step.
Ulrika was straddling the corpse and still holding onto the ham, which had started to shrivel in the freezing air. She looked up at the vet. “OK?” she called.
He leaned forward and gently prodded the little body. “Yes. I’ll bring her down now.”
“Do you have a cage?”
“It’s in one of the police cars.”
“We’ll bring it up to you. Don’t move.”
After the unconscious dog was put into a crate, the coroner came up the steps to examine the corpse. He came back down a few minutes later and declared the man dead. At last the investigation could begin.
Ulrika and Oskar stood at the foot of the staircase, watching in silence as the blue-clad crime techs took photos of the corpse from every conceivable angle. When the photos were done, they could go up themselves and take a closer look.
Deep in the front pocket of her coat, Ulrika’s cell phone beeped. A text. She pulled out the phone.
THANKS FOR LAST NIGHT!
She frowned and dropped the phone back into her pocket.
The crime techs placed black plastic cards with white numbers by each piece of evidence. They took more photos, crouching awkwardly on the narrow staircase. One of the crime techs leaned over and scooped up the black leather wallet on a small stick, then came down the stairs and handed the wallet to Ulrika.
Ulrika and Oskar stepped out on to Västerlånggatan. A crowd had already gathered on the perimeter of the blue-and-white crime scene tape. Ulrika turned her back to the curious faces, then put on plastic gloves and took the wallet off the stick by the edges.
There were several bloody paw prints on the outside of the wallet, but the inside was dry. It was a bifold wallet with plastic slots for IDs and a half dozen slots for cards. The money was gone, as were all the cards except one for a Friskis & Svettis gym membership.
One of the plastic slots held a creased black-and-white photo of an excited looking young man standing between two black men.
“John Coltrane,” Ulrika said. “And Miles Davis.”
“Is that our corpse in the middle?” Oskar asked.
“Presumably.” Her eyes moved over to the ID card in the other slot. She drew in a sharp, short breath.
“What?” Oskar asked.
“I know him.”
“No. But my old lover Bosse introduced us.”
“Which old lover is he? It’s so hard to keep track.”
“Bosse is the jazz musician. Our corpse is Henrik Nordqvist, the jazz impresario. He owns the club Spink.”
“Not just a dead body, but a slightly famous dead body.”
“His wife is the famous one.”
“You mean his widow.”
Ulrika’s bad mood expanded. Looks like they would be getting those Expressen headlines after all.
Her phone beeped again. She ignored it.
Juliet Brown woke with a start. In the gray morning light of her tiny hostel room, Olof Palme stared at her from a propped-up copy of Expressen. He had an unusual face, with hooded eyes, an aquiline nose, and fleshy well-shaped lips.
But it wasn’t Olof Palme who woke her up. Someone was knocking on the door, softly but insistently.
Juliet leaned over and pressed the light on her travel clock. Eight a.m. Four hours of sleep was not enough, particularly on top of jet lag.
This better be good, she thought, groggily pushing aside the white duvet and throwing on a sweater. She opened the door and saw Hedda, the attractive brunette who worked at the hostel’s front desk. Hedda’s lips were pursed and her eyes wide.
“Juliet, I am sorry to wake you,” Hedda said in her thick but charming Swedish accent. “The police are here.”
“They need to see you. At once. You may use the office if you like.”
“I’ll be right out.”
Juliet put a bra on under her sweater and changed her pajama bottoms to jeans. She stepped out into the hallway and walked through the hostel’s common room. Hedda stood outside the office door and motioned Juliet to go in.
Standing by the counter was a Swedish policeman, tall with high cheekbones and receding red-blonde hair. He wore the outfit Juliet knew so well from the many ScandiCrime films she had seen: dark-blue coat and pants with shoulder decals spelling POLIS in gold letters, a dark-blue peaked cap with yellow piping and a decal featuring three gold crowns, and a walkie-talkie positioned next to the shoulder.
“You are Juliet Brown?” the officer asked with a light accent.
“Yes. Can I help you?”
“I am sorry to tell you so, but there is bad news.”
Juliet had only been in Stockholm three days, and she knew just a handful of people. “Is it Bunny? Bunny Nordqvist?”
“It is her husband, Henrik Nordqvist.”
“He is dead.”
A white wave passed over Juliet’s eyes. “Henrik? But—when? What happened?”
“His body was found about two hours ago at Mårten Trotzigs Gränd. We do not know for sure, but we think someone robbed him while he was walking his dog.”
“Oh my God.” Juliet leaned against the doorframe. “I can’t believe it.”
“The reason I am here is to talk to you because of the dog.”
“Pippi! Is she OK?”
“The dog is alive, but she would not let anyone close to the body. We had to find a doctor to give her sleeping medicine.” He inhaled deeply. “It has been a long morning.”
“How can I help?”
“The dog is full of evidence. There is blood on her coat and fur, and we need to collect all this. Our forensic people would like a doctor to shave off the dog’s hair and see also what it has in the paws and ears. Before we do this, we need signed permission.”
“Have you spoken to Bunny?”
“Bunny Nordqvist is completely in hysterics. She is the one who said you could help us. We need you to come now to Mårten Trotzigs Gränd and confirm that the dog is OK. Then you can sign a form that will allow the animal doctor and forensic people to examine her.”
“All right. Just give me a moment to get my coat.”
Juliet left the office and hurried to her room. She drew on her boots with shaking hands, then grabbed her purse, tossing in her passport in case the police needed ID.
What the fuck is going on?
Lisbeth! I have no idea. I’m really confused.
Don’t get involved with the police.
It’s too late. I’m already involved.
The streets of Gamla Stan were empty save a thick layer of white fog. Juliet and the policeman walked as quickly as they could over the snow-crusted cobblestones. When they passed Bunny’s building, Juliet glanced up at the third floor. All the lights were blazing.
They entered Järntorget, and the world turned upside down. Dozens of bundled-up people stood solemnly in front of white-and-blue tape with the repeated message POLIS AVSPÄRRAT. Police officers stood at the perimeter of the restricted area, and several police cars—white with geometric accents in yellow and bright blue—were parked at odd angles in the square. Behind the tape were crime techs in navy-blue plastic suits with little hoods, and a few people in civilian clothes who were most likely detectives.
The white wave passed over Juliet’s eyes again. She stopped walking, and the redheaded officer took her gently by the elbow.
“Come,” he said. “The dog is over here.”
He led Juliet to a police car in front of a restaurant, then hurried over to the crime scene to speak with a short brunette woman in a voluminous gray coat. The woman ducked under the crime-scene tape and marched over to Juliet.
“Ulrika Johansson, Detective Inspector,” she said in a heavy accent. The detective had olive skin, pointy features, and brown hair in bangs. Surprisingly, her large blue eyes were severely crossed.
“I’m Juliet Brown.”
“Do you have ID that I can see?”
Juliet handed over her passport. Detective Inspector Johansson pulled out a small notebook and pen from the interior of her coat and carefully wrote down Juliet’s information.
Dumb. Very dumb.
I don’t really have a choice, Lisbeth.
“You are here as a tourist?”
“I’m visiting from Denver. For three weeks.”
“Officer Svartman told you about the dog,” the detective stated.
“I will tell you, Juliet Brown, that this dog has already bit two of our officers this morning.”
“Her name is Pippi.”
The detective blinked. “The dog is evidence. She has been subdued and is in the car with the animal doctor. We need for you to confirm that she is OK, and to sign a form so we can collect this fur evidence.”
“Fine. Can I see her now?”
The detective walked forcefully to the police car and pulled open the door to the back seat. A tall man with gray hair and a trim beard got out of the car.
“This is the animal doctor,” the detective said. “He will be taking the dog back to his office, together with two of our technicians.”
“How’s Pippi?” Juliet asked.
“I will show you.” The vet pulled out a small beige carrying case and put it carefully on the front hood. Pippi was visible through the wire-mesh screen in front. Her furry face was pressed against the screen, and her eyes were shut. Pippi’s pink coat, the one with the fake rubies, was caked with blood.
Juliet’s heart melted. She started to put her fingers on the screen, but the vet stopped her.
“Careful!” he said. “This dog is dangerous.”
“I know her.”
“Yes, but with a dog that bites . . .”
Juliet narrowed her eyes. “You’re not going to put her to sleep?” She turned to Detective Inspector Johansson. “You can’t do that. Pippi just lost her master, she’s upset.”
The detective had dark, lined circles under her crossed eyes. She looked as if she hadn’t slept for days. “We will not put her to sleep,” she said testily. “Just please, sign the paper so we can take the dog with us.”
“When can I get her back?”
“We will bring her to the Nordqvist home. Or can we call you for this?”
“You can definitely call me. Or text.” Juliet reached into her purse and pulled out a business card.
“Fine.” The detective opened her coat and dropped the card in one of the many interior pockets. From the depths of another pocket, she pulled out a white envelope with an official-looking crest. She opened the envelope, pulled out a sheet of paper, and slammed the paper on the hood of the police car. “Sign at the bottom.” Another rummage in the enormous coat. “Here is a pen.”
The paper consisted of three dense paragraphs in impenetrable Swedish. Juliet’s eyes swam. A translation would have been nice, but one look at the detective’s face told Juliet not to ask. Juliet signed, silently praying that she wasn’t turning Pippi’s body over to science.
As Juliet handed the paper back to the detective, a tiny growl emerged from the cage. Pippi! Juliet looked at the mesh door. Pippi’s eyes were half open, her upper lip attempting a snarl.
“She is waking,” the vet said warily.
“Herregud, get her out from here before she bites someone else,” the detective snapped. She thrust the signed paper into her coat, nodded at Juliet, then strode back to the crime scene.
“Wait,” Juliet said to the vet. She got closer to the cage. “Pippi! It’s me.”
Pippi’s eyes opened a bit more. In the back of the cage, Juliet could see the dog’s tail rise half-heartedly. Juliet’s eyes filled with tears. She ignored the vet’s injunction and put her fingers against the screen to stroke the blood-crusted head.
“She is a tough little dog,” the vet said. “She was out all night in the cold guarding the body, and she still had enough energy to fight us this morning.”
“Henrik loved her,” Juliet said. “He spoiled her terribly.”
The vet looked at Juliet dryly. “This is touching, I suppose, but it would have been more so without the biting.”
“She’ll be OK?”
“She needs X-rays. For her concussion.”
“She has a large lump on her head. There—you see it? Careful, do not touch.”
“We do not know for sure, but it is possible she got in the killer’s way and got hit by the pipe also.”
Juliet looked at him solemnly. “Is that how Henrik died? He was hit by a pipe?”
The doctor’s face closed. “We will take her away now.”
Juliet fished another card out of her purse. “Please call me if there’s any problem. And promise me you won’t put her to sleep.”
The vet looked at her in shock. “Here in Sweden, we would never do such a thing without your permission.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just worried.”
“We will take good care of her.”
The redheaded police officer came over and spoke to the vet in Swedish. The vet lifted Pippi’s cage from the hood and put it in the back seat, then climbed in the car himself. The doctor gave Juliet a little wave, which she returned sadly.
As Juliet watched the police car drive away, her legs started to wobble. She leaned against the nearby building and shut her eyes. Henrik was dead. Not just dead but murdered. With a pipe. It was too much to take in.
A voice close by spoke in Swedish. Juliet opened her eyes. Standing about a foot away was a tall, lean man with short gray-blonde hair. He wore jeans, a light-blue down jacket, and a black backpack. He was looking at her with a shy, puzzled expression.
Hello, tall handsome Swedish man.
Instantly Juliet felt ashamed. Henrik was lying dead a hundred yards away, Pippi was about to get shorn and probed, and here she was acting like a fool. She started to cry.
The man’s eyes flew open, and he said something else in Swedish. He had a lovely voice, low and musical.
“I’m American,” Juliet said. “I don’t speak Swedish.”
“Oh! Sorry. I asked if you are feeling all right,” he said in a lilting accent. He reached into his jacket and pulled out, of all things, a handkerchief. “Here, take this, please.”
Juliet took the handkerchief, which looked old but clean. She blew her nose ferociously and handed it back to him. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ve had a terrible shock.”
“It is Henrik Nordqvist, yes?”
“That’s right. Did you know him?”
“Not personally, no. But his club is quite popular. He is a well-known person in Stockholm.”
“I know his wife,” Juliet said. “But I spent a lot of time talking to him these past few days, and he became a friend. He gave me these.” She held up her hand and showed the man a bracelet with multicolored beads. “They’re called the Pearls of Life.”
The man nodded gravely. He had even features, clear blue eyes, and sharp cheekbones. Handsome. “I know these.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to put all this on you. I have jet lag, I hardly got any sleep last night, and I really need a fika.”
He blinked. “I would be happy to get you coffee.”
“Yes.” He gestured to his left. “That café is open. Wait, I will be right back.”
“Milk and sugar!” she called after him.
Juliet watched the handsome man walk off. Was she really flirting in the middle of all this? Juliet hadn’t felt attracted to anyone since the Evil Years. She had always hoped her sexual desire would pop up again one day, but she never expected it to happen during her three weeks in Sweden. Much less at a murder scene.
Why? What have I done?
Showing the police your passport. Getting your name in one of their fucking reports.
What on earth was I supposed to do? Bunny needed me. Pippi needed me, too.
It’s stupid to be sentimental about animals. It’s even stupider to be sentimental about Bunny.
I didn’t have a choice. Anyway, it was the right thing to do.
I seriously doubt that.
Henrik is dead. Murdered.
Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.
The tall handsome Swedish man emerged from the café shortly afterward, carrying a paper cup and a fat cinnamon roll dotted with bright-white sugar balls. He stopped and stood stiffly as he waited for a woman with a press badge to finish taking a photo of the crime scene. His down jacket was slightly goofy, and his jeans were worn and a little baggy. He was plain, somehow, not a stylish man like Henrik had been.
At the thought of Henrik, Juliet teared up again. By the time the man reached her, she was crying in earnest.
“Here,” he said. “Your coffee. And a kanelbulle.”
“Thank you.” She pushed away her scarf and took a sip of coffee. “It’s really nice of you.”
“It is not a problem.”
“My name is Juliet, by the way.”
Juliet expected him to leave, but he stood silently at her side while she drank the coffee and ate the kanelbulle, the white bits of sugar flying off and sprinkling her coat. They were standing close to the crime-scene tape, and Juliet watched as technicians with magnifying glasses crawled on their hands and knees. The cross-eyed detective stood off to the side, talking to a pockmarked man and gesturing with her wide gray-wool sleeves. Suddenly the detective dashed into Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, like a terrier after its prey.
“I’m worried about Pippi,” Juliet said.
Magnus looked at her. “Pippi? Pippi Långstrump?”
“Pippi the dog. I had to sign a paper so they could take her away.”
“Apparently. They’re going to shave off all her hair. She won’t like that.”
“How is the dog involved?”
“Henrik was walking her when it happened. This was the route they always walked. I even did it with them the other night. I guess Henrik was attacked in there, and Pippi stayed with him all night.”
“Do you have any idea why this happened?”
“The policeman who brought me over here said it was a robbery. They found Henrik’s wallet next to his body, with the cash and cards missing.”
Magnus frowned. “If it was just a robbery, why did they kill him?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he fought back. Or maybe Pippi did. The vet said she got hit, too.” Juliet looked at the man solemnly. “With a pipe. I don’t think the vet was supposed to tell me that, but he did.”
“But the dog survived?”
“‘The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime,’” Magnus quoted quietly.
“‘The dog did nothing in the nighttime,’” Juliet quoted back.
“‘That was the curious incident.’”
They looked at each other and smiled. Juliet! she scolded herself. Not now.
“Well.” Magnus cleared his throat and looked down at his watch. “Are you sure that you are all right?”
“Yes. I mean, I’m in shock. But I’m maybe too tired to even know that. The fika helped. Thanks again for being so kind.”
He nodded stiffly, then walked into the ever-growing crowd.
What do you mean?
Oh, come on. “Hello, tall handsome Swedish man.” You can’t fool me.
So what? He’s tall and handsome. And I’ll never see him again.
I don’t even know his last name.
Stockholm is smaller than you think.
So I’ve noticed.
By the way, there’s something weird about your new friend.
He’s being followed.
When have you ever known me to make a joke? Look at that creepy man walking behind him.
That super-tall guy?
Looks like there’s more to your tall handsome Swedish man than meets the eye.
The Singing Tree Café was a snug respite from the icy gray February afternoon. Long white candles in silver holders glowed in the windowsills, and a tea light encased in ruby-red glass burned in the center of each table. The smell of baking filled the air, as did the low rumble of conversation from the other patrons.
Juliet helped herself to the coffee bar, which included a jug of milk on a silver pad that was cold to the touch, something she had never seen in America. She walked over the creaky wooden floor to the corner table and sat across from Henrik Nordqvist. He already had his coffee, and he had placed two pieces of cake on the pink-and-white-checked tablecloth. Always a good sign in a man.
“It is very nice at last to meet you, Juliet,” Henrik said in his attractively accented, slightly askew English. “But I must give my apology for Bunny. She was not able to come with me to welcome you.”
Juliet waved a hand. “That’s OK.”
“I wish the reason she had was a better one, but it is only that it is Wednesday, and on this day Bunny gets her facial.”
Juliet took an eager gulp of coffee. She had arrived in Stockholm that morning, and a fog of jet lag numbed her senses. Hopefully the coffee would blast her into consciousness. The cup was about half the size of a conventional American coffee cup, and Juliet drained it in three gulps.
Henrik looked at her empty cup in amusement. “I see you drink coffee like a Swede,” he said. “Please, go to help yourself to more.”
When Juliet was settled once again, she took a politer sip and looked across at Henrik. Through the jazz grapevine, she knew he owned a small but successful club called Spink. Henrik was at least a decade older than Juliet, perhaps in his midsixties. Tall with good posture, he had a sculpted face with high cheekbones and dark blue eyes, and a full head of carefully groomed salt-and-pepper hair. He was dressed in a way never to be seen on an American male: Beatle boots, wide-waled yellow corduroys, a blue-and-white checked shirt, and a thin scarf in an orange-and-red design wrapped elegantly around his neck. Unlike the brash American club owners Juliet had met over the years, Henrik was rather refined. His voice was soft, his manners shy, and his eyes a little bit sad.
“Now that you are in Sweden,” Henrik said, “you must learn the most important Swedish word.”
“No,” he laughed. “Fika. It is both a noun and a verb. It means ‘coffee break.’ But it is so much more than this. Fika is what we do: you meet friends, you drink coffee and eat pastries. You talk and exchange news. You get warm, inside and out.”
“Here I have brought us a traditional Swedish treat.” He motioned to the fat wedges sitting in front of them. The cake had a layer of sponge, another of cream, and a thin stripe of jam. Bright-green marzipan covered the top and the back. “Prinsesstårta. Princess cake. I think you will like it.”
“It looks delicious,” Juliet said insincerely. The bright-green icing threw her off, as did the fact that it was marzipan, a substance she associated with animal-shaped sweets served by grandmothers. Gamely she put her fork against the icing, which was soft and yielded immediately. The cake was light as air, and the cream and marzipan melted pleasingly in her mouth.
“This,” Juliet said, “is the best cake I’ve ever tasted in my whole life.”
“Actually,” she said, scooping off another bite, “I think I already know about fika.” She looked into Henrik’s blue eyes and smiled. “‘Pippi Goes to a Coffee Party.’”
Henrik laughed again. He was really very handsome. “You like Pippi Långstrump? Or Pippi Longstocking, as you say in America.”
“I don’t just like Pippi. I love Pippi. For freckled redheads like me, she’s a hero.”
“Here in Sweden, she is the national hero for everyone.”
“When I was a child, Pippi was my imaginary friend. I used to talk to her all the time, and she even answered back. In my head, that is. I couldn’t have gotten through my childhood without her.” Pippi also saved Juliet’s life when she was an adult, but no need to mention that to Henrik.
“My daughter loved Pippi, too.”
“Is your daughter a redhead?”
Henrik’s face stiffened. “She is—was—blonde.” He paused a long moment. “She died several years ago.”
Juliet blushed. “I’m so sorry.”
“Do not worry. You did not know. Anyway, my daughter had many Pippi dolls. I still have them.”
“I had a Pippi doll too,” Juliet said quickly. “I literally loved it to pieces.”
“Most certainly you can replace your doll here. The tourist stores are full of them. Speaking of Pippi, this is my dog’s name also. She is a redhead as well. A Pomeranian.”
“A friend of mine had a Pomeranian. They’re amazing. They’re so loyal.”
“You will love my Pippi. I gave her this name not only for her color, but for her ensamhet, which she also shares with Pippi Långstrump.”
Juliet drew her brows together. “That means—?”
“I suppose it is ‘solitude.’ Being alone. But not in the negative way I think that Americans—or at least Bunny—see this word. It means independence. And strength. My little Pippi was abandoned on the streets of Gamla Stan when she was very young. I found her in the alley by my club. Her hair was one big knot, and she was just bones with skin. She is a true survivor.” He rose. “Excuse me, I will refill my cup and come right back.”
As Henrik walked to the coffee bar, a man at the counter called out his name. Henrik went over to the man and clapped him on the shoulder, and they began talking earnestly.
That Henrik is fucking attractive.
Don’t even go there.
I’m here to interview Bunny, not sleep with her husband.
You haven’t had sex in years.
Yes, Lisbeth, I’m aware of that. I haven’t had sex since the Evil Years.
I don’t like you saying the Evil Years. You’re plagiarizing my expression All the Evil.
It’s not plagiarism. It’s an homage.
You can’t flatter me.
I wouldn’t dream of trying. Look, I’m in the middle of something here. Can you please go away?
This isn’t my kind of place anyway. I’m going to the 7-Eleven for a cup of coffee and an open-faced sandwich.
In America, eating at 7-Eleven is considered a last resort.
So you have a problem with 7-Eleven. Ironic, since it’s an American company. Not that you Americans understand irony.
Buzz off, he’s coming back.
“So sorry,” Henrik said as he took his seat. “An old friend. He owns the shop next to my club. So Joo-lee-et, I have read many of your articles on the website. How have you come to be so interested in Swedish jazz?”
Ah—the website. Juliet speared another bite of princess cake. Ideally she could talk about her articles without discussing the website. “It started about thirty years ago when I was in my early twenties. I was hanging out at a jazz club after hours, and the bartender was playing records for everyone. Suddenly I heard this song. It was the purest, clearest thing I’d ever heard. The bartender told me it was Lars Gullin on baritone sax, and the song was ‘Danny’s Dream.’”
Henrik nodded. “The sound of Gullin’s sax reminds me of the Swedish summer night out in the forest. It is so soft and quiet and beautiful.”
“And sad,” Juliet added. “Just a little sad.”
“We have a word for that: svårmod. It is something between sadness and depression, but it is a more permanent feeling. It is part of the Swedish character. Due mostly to the long, dark winters. Even at the height of summer when the sun almost doesn’t go down, we know that months of darkness are waiting for us.”
Juliet looked outside. Although it was midafternoon, night had already fallen.
“Tell me,” Henrik went on. “Does the editor from the website give you the assignments, or do you write what you like?”
It couldn’t be avoided. Juliet would have to talk about ScandiGeeks.com.If Henrik had read Juliet’s articles, he had seen the rest of Rose’s website, with its neon colors and flashing headlines. Rose was a morbidly obese woman who lived next door to Juliet, a generous soul with a burning passion for all things ScandiFabulous. Rose’s taste, however, was questionable. Particularly her decision to feature a photo of herself wearing a plastic Viking hat with blonde braids, with a circle of Scandinavian flags spinning above her head.
Perhaps Henrik had also perused “Rose’s ScandiBlog.” The majority of the posts concerned actors, such as “Great Dane: Ode to Mads Mikkelsen’s Cheekbones.” A few were about writers, including “ÖMG! I Love Jo Nesbø!” Scariest of all was when Rose took on an entire people, most notably in the website’s most popular post: “Swedes: Never Rude, Always Nude.” That particular post ended with the observation: “With their casual nakedness, pristine white duvets, open-faced sandwiches, and yearlong paternity leave, Swedes are not like the rest of us mortals.”
“I basically write whatever I want,” Juliet finally answered. “The editor gives me a lot of freedom.”
“You do a very fantastic job.”
“Thank you.” Henrik was clearly too polite to mention the tacky graphics and the distorted lens of “Rose’s ScandiBlog.” Never rude, indeed.
“I see that you also do book reviews,” he went on. “Mostly Swedish crime novels. How did you become so interested in this?”
“With Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, like most people. Then I realized that he was the tip of the iceberg, and I started reading every Swedish mystery I could get my hands on.”
“I also like detective novels very much. We have so many fine crime writers here in Sweden.”
“I plan to do the Millennium tour while I’m here and write an article for the website.” Juliet sipped her coffee. “I take it Stieg Larsson is as big in Sweden as the rest of the world?”
“Yes indeed. There was a time when he and his books were in the newspapers almost every day.”
“My next favorite writer is Birgitta Birgersson. I love how her detective, Erika Eriksson, has ESP. It’s always great when the heroines have a superpower.”
“I have read all of her books. Twice.”
“I love writing about books, but my main focus is Swedish jazz.” Juliet bit her lip. “I had stopped writing for several years, so it’s great to be doing this big interview with Bunny.”
“How did you get the assignment?”
“My old editor Geoff from Jazz Today saw my articles on the website. He got in touch with me and said it was high time they did a cover story on Bunny.”
“She is quite famous now, isn’t she. Not just in Sweden, but all over the world.”
Bunny had Stieg Larsson to thank for that. Two years ago Juliet and Rose went to the movies to see the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In one scene, Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are driving in a car with jazz playing on the radio. Juliet recognized the singer at once, but she could hardly believe her ears. Could it really be Bunny Reynolds? Bunny, who had left the New York jazz scene in the late eighties and moved to Sweden, never to be heard from again?
Juliet and Rose sat through the credits. Sure enough it was Bunny, only she was listed as Bunny Nordqvist. A weird chill ran through Juliet’s spine: Bunny had hit the jackpot. Hands down.
Later Juliet watched the second and third movies of the trilogy, and Bunny’s music popped up there as well. Articles on Bunny started appearing in jazz magazines, but it was difficult for Juliet to connect the voluptuous blonde in the photos with the mousy young woman that Juliet had known in New York.
“I’m hoping we can do the interview sooner rather than later,” Juliet told Henrik as she sipped more of the high-octane coffee. “I’m here for three weeks, but my editor Geoff would like the article as quickly as possible.”
“We have that all worked out. Our plan is for you to come to the club tonight and see the group. Tomorrow we have you for dinner, and you can do the interview right after in our apartment.”
“That’s terrific. And as I mentioned in my email, I’m also hoping to interview the bassist Per-Åke Andersson. He’s on that rare Chet Baker recording that was just released, so my editor asked me to get a few quotes for a sidebar. Per-Åke is the only musician from that date who is still alive.”
“Bunny has a plan for this also. I believe you will be meeting with Per-Åke in a few days, after one of the gigs.”
There was also the third interview that Juliet needed to set up, which she suspected was the real reason Jazz Today had sent her to Sweden. Perhaps now was the time to ease into that.
“So Henrik,” she said. “Tell me more about your club. It used to be called Swingen, right?”
His eyes brightened. “This is right. For years Swingen was one of the best jazz clubs in Sweden. In all of Europe, really. But the owner died in the early eighties and the wife let the club go down. When she decided to sell, I jumped myself on the chance. Ever since I was a small boy, I have always wanted to have my own jazz club.”
Juliet laughed. “That’s an unusual childhood dream.”
“My pappa used to be a doorman at the club Nalen, so I spent much time there as a boy. You know about Nalen, of course. You mention it often in your articles.”
“It’s not possible to write about Swedish jazz without mentioning Nalen.”
“I loved Topsy Lindblom, the man who ran Nalen. He was not a very easy person, but he was a real father for the musicians. I always fancied myself in this sort of role one day, so now I am doing so. The musicians all know they can come to me for any sort of help.”
“That’s great. Jazz is a tough business.”
“But it is an essential thing for the human soul, and we must take care for the special people who make this music.”
“I totally agree.” Juliet leaned forward a little. “So the group is Bunny doing vocals, Per-Åke Andersson on bass, Nisse Sjöö on drums, and of course, on piano—”
“The great Holiday Perkins. He is my good friend, and Spink is the only place he plays. Also he lives with me and Bunny.”
“What a story he has to tell.”
“You are right. But he will never do so.”
“Holiday does not like to speak of himself. His past is painful for him.”
“That’s such a shame! Because really, Holiday should write his autobiography. Or dictate it. Is he—do his eyes give him a lot of pain?”
“Not anymore. And yes, I agree. Holiday is one of the last of the greats, and his story has tremendous value. But he will never tell it. I am sure you know that he has not given an interview since the late sixties. He despises journalists, I am afraid to say.”
That was a well-known fact among jazz writers, and as a result an interview with Holiday Perkins was considered the holy grail of jazz journalism. Geoff told Juliet that Jazz Today wanted to start a publishing arm, and their dream was to have Holiday’s autobiography as their first book.
Juliet looked down at her coffee. Should she press Henrik a little more? No, that was enough for now. She was going to be in Stockholm for three weeks, so at this point she just needed to lay a foundation.
“On the other hand,” Henrik went on, “Bunny loves to be interviewed. So this is sure to go well.”
“I’m so happy Bunny’s career has taken off. That’s a lot to do with you, right, since you’re also her manager?”
“Yes. I handle all of her business obligations. Partly due to the language barrier. Regrettably Bunny has not made much effort to learn Swedish, even though she has lived here for so many years.”
“In one of her emails, Bunny told me that she speaks Swedish like a not-so-bright ten-year-old.”
Henrik didn’t laugh. “That is accurate.”
“Do you think—” Juliet stopped.
“Do I think what?”
“You know,” she said slowly. “I completely forgot what I was going to say. Wait a minute, it’ll come to me.” She closed her eyes, but nothing popped up. A blurry cloud filled the place where her thoughts should be.
“It’s the time change,” Henrik said sympathetically. “I have seen musicians forget how to play ‘Take the “A” Train.’”
“I’m sorry,” she blushed. “I do feel pretty tired. But I’m afraid if I sleep anymore, I’ll be up all night.”
“Do not worry about that. We live on jazz time, so we are awake quite late.” He clapped his hands. “I will show you one beautiful thing in the neighborhood, then you can go back to your room and sleep.”
“OK,” Juliet agreed. She took a final sip of coffee. “I’m ready. Lead me to something beautiful.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Magnus’ cell phone rang. He dragged his eyes away from the computer screen and glanced at the phone lying on his white IKEA desk. It was three o’clock, so even though the sun was down and the sky pitch-black, it was still technically business hours.
Magnus didn’t recognize the number, but that wasn’t unusual. In addition to writing a book on Olof Palme, Magnus took on the occasional freelance article, so the call might be from an editor offering an assignment.
“Hello, Magnus. This is Aksel Hivju.”
Norwegian name, Norwegian accent. A whiny voice. “Yes?”
“Magnus, I don’t know if you recognize me. I’m a journalist. Freelance, although I work mostly for Se og Hør.”
A celebrity magazine. Magnus shifted in his seat. “Jaha.”
“I know your work very well, Magnus. My first job was at Aftenposten, translating articles from Swedish to Norwegian. I worked on a lot of your articles about the Palme murder.”
Magnus’ first employer, the news agency TT, sold articles to all the big Nordic papers. “Is that so?”
“You did very fine work.”
“And now you’re working on a book on Palme. That’s what Google says, anyway.”
“That’s right.” Magnus’ book was long overdue, and his publisher was not happy. But just that morning Magnus had started the next-to-last chapter, called “History Repeats: The Murder of Anna Lindh.”
“I’m interested in the Palme murder, of course,” the Norwegian said. “But that’s not why I’m calling.”
Magnus looked back at his screen. “Yes?” he said, trying to keep the impatience out of his voice.
“Do you have a moment to talk, Magnus? I think you’ll find what I have to say quite interesting.”
“I’m actually working right now, so—”
“I don’t think you want to miss this conversation. Your writing can wait a few minutes.”
Magnus sighed. He picked up his coffee cup and walked through his bedroom to the living room, past his daughter Pernilla’s bedroom and into the kitchen. “I can give you five minutes.”
“Let me start like this. I can tell you don’t recognize my name. But I think you’ll recognize my great-uncle. Trond Espen Hivju.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Magnus said as he pressed the thermos on the counter and topped off his black coffee. “I’ve read many of his articles. He’s an expert on right-wing extremists.”
“He was in his heyday. But my great-uncle had dementia the past five years, and he stopped writing altogether. I don’t know if you read about it over there in Sweden, but my uncle died four months ago.”
Magnus looked out the kitchen window. His apartment was in Södermalm, just behind Katarina Church, a majestic light-yellow building with a black cupola. Magnus was not the least bit religious, but the sight of the church and its pleasing symmetry was always comforting. The church graveyard was also the place where Anna Lindh was buried. “I’m sorry to hear that. He was an excellent journalist.”
“He was, wasn’t he. I can’t say I’ve lived up to his example,” the Norwegian said with a harsh laugh. “I write a different kind of journalism. But he’s always been my inspiration.”
“Is that why you’re calling? To tell me about your uncle’s death?”
“Magnus! You’re so impatient. I’m getting to the point. The fact is, my uncle left everything to me. His house and all his possessions. I’m quite wealthy now.”
Magnus frowned as he walked back to his bedroom. He didn’t like bragging. “Jaha.”
“Which means that I now have the luxury of working on my own projects. The timing is just perfect, because something has come up. Something quite big that I would very much like to work on. In fact, I’ve already started.”
“Is there something you want me to help you with?”
“Funny you should ask, Magnus. Because I think you can help me.”
“It seems that you and my great-uncle had a mutual friend.”
The Nordic world of journalism was small, so Magnus didn’t doubt this. “Who is that?”
Magnus’ coffee cup almost slipped through his fingers. “Jaha,” he said as he lowered into his chair.
“Isn’t that right, Magnus? Weren’t you friends with Stieg Larsson?”
Magnus closed his eyes. Stieg. Oh, Stieg.
“Yes,” Magnus said to the Norwegian. “We were friends.”
“Did you know that Stieg and my great-uncle were quite close? They only met a few times over the years, but they kept up a regular correspondence.”
“Stieg had contacts all over Europe,” Magnus said cautiously. “I’m not surprised.”
“But you might be surprised to hear just how close they were.”
“Magnus! You still don’t know what I’m talking about?”
“I’m talking about the USB drive, Magnus.”
Magnus’ eyes went immediately to the bookshelves above his desk. In the far corner at the top, next to hardcover copies of his ex-wife Birgitta’s detective series, there was a well-thumbed copy of August Strindberg’s classic novel The Red Room.
“A USB drive?” Magnus asked, reaching up and pulling The Red Room off the shelf.
“Magnus. It’s not possible that you don’t know.”
“I don’t. What USB drive would that be?”
Magnus reached back into the space where The Red Room had been and took out a tin. It was small, red, and rectangular, and it had an image of Moomin Troll carrying a black umbrella.
“It’s a very important USB drive. Worth a great deal of money. Millions, actually.”
“And what is on this alleged USB drive?” Magnus asked as he opened the tin and looked inside at the silver USB drive lying on the bottom.
“Magnus, don’t be coy! I know you know.”
“I don’t. Tell me.”
Magnus held his breath. It wasn’t possible that the Norwegian knew. It simply was not.
“Stieg Larsson’s fourth book, Magnus. The one that’s been missing since his death seven years ago.”
Magnus and Stieg met in 1988 at TT. Magnus was fresh out of Stockholm Journalism School, and he was hired by TT to write about the Palme assassination. Magnus’ first article needed a map of the assassin’s escape route, and his boss directed him to Stieg.
Magnus left his desk in the open-plan newsroom and went one floor up, searching among TT’s archive shelves until he found a little room tucked in the far corner. Sitting in the small office was a pale, lean man with round glasses and dark-blonde hair. The man had a burning cigarette in one hand, and a desk covered with coffee cups, stacks of paper, and an overflowing ashtray.
Magnus introduced himself, and Stieg motioned Magnus to take a seat in a worn-out armchair. Magnus knew right away that Stieg was from Norrland, northern Sweden. It was obvious from Stieg’s accent, as well as his reserved manner. They talked about the map Magnus needed, then Magnus went back to his office downstairs.
The friendship proceeded slowly. Magnus and Stieg worked together closely about once a week, and after several months they went out for a beer to celebrate a particularly rough deadline. Magnus discovered that Stieg had grown up in Skellefteå and Umeå, and since Magnus was from Robertsfors, they had been more or less neighbors. And they were neighbors still: Magnus lived with his new bride, Birgitta, in Södermalm, and Stieg had just moved there with his partner.
Not long after, Magnus’ work hours changed, and he started spending his mornings at Kaffebar. Or the Mellqvist Kaffebar, as it was rechristened in later years. Turns out it was Stieg’s favorite café, and they took to sitting together. As they each drank white coffee—milk, no sugar—and ate sandwiches with Västerbotten cheese, Magnus and Stieg discovered they were both former members of the Communist Party, although Stieg had been a Trotskyite. They also shared a mutual fear of the right-wing factions seeping into Swedish society—or really, the right-wing factions finally coming aboveground after hiding in the decades after World War II.
Over subsequent meetings at Kaffebar, Magnus learned that Stieg had an entire life outside of TT. Stieg wasn’t just concerned about the right-wing extremists in Sweden, he was actively working to stop them, both as a writer and researcher. In the midnineties Stieg joined an organization called Expo, and one morning over coffee Stieg proudly handed Magnus the first issue of Expo magazine, which Magnus read from cover to cover that very same night.
Both Magnus and Stieg were political animals, and they loved discussing Swedish politics past and present—the Ebbe Carlsson scandal, the IB Affair, the Laser Man, Anna Lindh’s assassination. They also talked endlessly about Palme’s murder. Stieg and Magnus also had a mutual love of detective novels, particularly the husband-and-wife team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who wrote the Martin Beck detective series.
Magnus and Stieg didn’t talk all the time. They were often silent during their mornings at Kaffebar, and that silence was perhaps the true foundation of their friendship. Many mornings passed where they hardly said a word, particularly if one of them had a deadline or was engrossed in a book. Neither of them was fond of small talk nor probing personal questions. They both had a deep need for privacy, as well as a tremendous respect for ensamhet.
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