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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared / , (by Jonas Jonasson, 2012) -

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared /  ,       (by Jonas Jonasson, 2012) -

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared / , (by Jonas Jonasson, 2012) -

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared / , (by Jonas Jonasson, 2012) -
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2012
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Jonas Jonasson
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Steven Crossley
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upper-intermediate
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12:00:24
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared / , :

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: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

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DEDICATION No one was better at captivating an audience than Grandpa, when he sat on his favorite bench telling stories, leaning on his walking stick and chewing tobacco. But Grandpa Is that really true? we grandchildren would ask, wide-eyed. Those who only says what is the truth, theyre not worth listening to, Grandpa replied. This book is dedicated to him. ONE Monday, May 2, 2005 You might think he could have made up his mind earlier, and been man enough to inform his surroundings of his decision. But Allan Karlsson had never been given to pondering things too long. So the idea had barely taken hold in the old mans head before he opened the window of his room on the ground floor of the Old Folks Home in the town of Malmk?ping, and stepped outinto the flower bed. This maneuver required a bit of effort, since Allan was 100 years old, on this very day in fact. There was less than an hour to go before his birthday party would begin in the lounge of the Old Folks Home. The mayor would be there. And the local paper. And all the other old people. And the entire staff, led by bad-tempered Director Alice. It was only the Birthday Boy himself who didnt intend to turn up. TWO Monday, May 2, 2005 Allan Karlsson hesitated as he stood there in the flower bed that ran along one side of the Old Folks Home. He was wearing a brown jacket with brown trousers and on his feet he had a pair of brown indoor slippers. He was not a fashion plate; people rarely are at that age. He was on the run from his own birthday party, another unusual thing for a 100-year-old, not least because even being 100 is pretty rare. Allan thought about whether he should make the effort to crawl back in through the window to get his hat and shoes, but when he felt his wallet in his inside pocket, he decided that it would suffice. Besides, Director Alice had repeatedly shown that she had a sixth sense (wherever he hid his vodka, she found it), and she might be nosing around in there even now, suspicious that something fishy was going on. Better to be on his way while he could, Allan thought, as he stepped out of the flower bed on creaking knees. In his wallet, as far as he could remember, he had a few notes saveda good thing since it probably wouldnt be free to go into hiding. He turned to take one last look at the Old Folks Home thatuntil a few moments agohe had thought would be his last residence on Earth, and then he told himself that he could die some other time, in some other place. The 100-year-old man set off in his pee-slippers (so called because men of an advanced age rarely pee farther than their shoes), first through a park and then alongside an open field where a market was occasionally held in the otherwise quiet provincial town. After a few hundred yards, Allan went around the back of the districts medieval church and sat down on a bench next to some gravestones to rest his aching knees. The piety in the area was not such that Allan worried about being disturbed. He noted an ironic coincidence. He was born the same year as a Henning Algotsson who lay beneath the stone just across from the bench. But there was an important differenceHenning had given up the ghost sixty-one years earlier. If Allan had been more curious he might have wondered what Henning died of, at the age of thirty-nine. But Allan did not get into other peoples businessif he could avoid it, which he usually could. Instead, he thought that he had probably been mistaken when hed sat in the Old Folks Home, feeling as if he might as well be dead. However many aches and pains he suffered, it had to be much more interesting and instructive to be on the run from Director Alice than to be lying rigid six feet under. Upon which thought the Birthday Boy, despite his complaining knees, got up and said good-bye to Henning Algotsson and continued on his badly planned flight. Allan cut across the churchyard to the south, until a stone wall appeared in his path. It wasnt more than three feet high, but Allan was a centenarian, not a high jumper. On the other side was Malmk?pings bus station and the old man suddenly realized that his rickety legs were taking him toward a building that could be very useful. Once, many years earlier, Allan had crossed the Himalayas. That was no picnic. Allan thought about that experience now, as he stood before the last hurdle between himself and the station. He considered the matter so intently that the stone wall in front of his eyes seemed to shrink. And when it was at its very lowest, Allan crept over it, age and knees be damned. Malmk?ping is not what youd call a bustling town, and this sunny weekday morning was no exception. Allan hadnt met a living soul since he had suddenly decided not to show up at his own hundredth birthday party. The station waiting room was almost empty when Allan shuffled in. Almost. On the right were two ticket windows, one closed. Behind the other sat a little man with small, round glasses, thin hair combed to one side, and a uniform vest. The man gave him an irritated look as he raised his eyes from his computer screen. Perhaps the current crowd was too much for him, because over in the corner stood a young man of slight build, with long, greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard, and a jean jacket with the words Never Again on the back. Perhaps the young man was illiterate since he was pulling at the door to the handicapped restroom, as if the sign Out of Order in black lettering against an orange-colored background had no meaning. After a moment, he did move to the door to the restroom next to it, but there he faced a different problem. Evidently he didnt want to be parted from his big, gray suitcase on wheels, but the restroom was simply too small for the two of them. It seemed to Allan that the young man would either have to leave the suitcase outside while he relieved himself, or allow the suitcase to occupy the restroom, while he himself remained outside. But Allan had more pressing concerns. Making an effort to lift his legs in the right sequence, he shuffled with small steps up to the little man in the open ticket window and inquired as to the possibility of public transport in some direction, any at all would do, within the next few minutes, and if there was, what would it cost? The little man looked tired. He had probably lost track of things halfway through Allans inquiry, because after a few seconds, he said: And where is it you want to go? Allan took a deep breath, and reminded the little man that he had already stated that the actual destination, and for that matter the means of transport, were of less importance than a) the time of departure, and b) the cost. The little man silently inspected his timetables and let Allans words sink in. Bus number 202 departs for Str?ngn?s in three minutes. Would that work? Yes, Allan thought it would. The little man told him that the bus departed from outside the terminal door and that it would be most convenient to buy a ticket directly from the driver. Allan wondered what the little man did behind the window if he didnt sell tickets, but he didnt say anything. The little man possibly wondered the same thing. Allan thanked him for his help and tried to tip the hat he had in his haste not brought along. The 100-year-old man sat down on one of the two empty benches, alone with his thoughts. The wretched birthday party at the home would start at three oclock, and that was in twelve minutes. At any moment they would be banging on the door to Allans room, and then all hell would break loose. He smiled at the thought. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Allan saw that somebody was approaching. It was the slightly built young man heading straight for Allan with his big suitcase trailing behind him on four small wheels. Allan realized that he might not be able to avoid engaging the long-haired youth in conversation. Perhaps that wasnt so bad. He might gain insight into what todays young people thought about this and that. A conversation did take place, but without the depth of social analysis Allan had anticipated. The young man came to a halt a few yards away, seemed to study the old man for a moment, and then said: Hey. Allan replied in a friendly tone, saying that he wished him a good afternoon, and then asked him if there was some way he could be of service. It turned out that there was. The young man wanted Allan to keep an eye on the suitcase while the owner relieved himself. Or as he expressed it: I need to take a dump. Allan replied that, although he was old and decrepit, his eye-sight was still in good repair and it did not sound like too arduous a task to keep an eye on the young mans suitcase. He did recommend that the young man relieve himself with some urgencywithout, of course, using the young mans own terminologyas Allan had a bus to catch. The young man did not hear the last bit. His urgent need drove him toward the toilet before Allan had finished speaking. The 100-year-old man had never let himself be irritated by people, even when there was a good reason to be, and he was not annoyed by the uncouth manner of this youth. But he couldnt warm to him either, and that probably played some part in what happened next. Bus number 202 rolled up outside the entrance to the terminal, just a few seconds after the young man had closed the toilet door behind him. Allan looked at the bus and then at the suitcase, then again at the bus and then again at the suitcase. It has wheels, he said to himself. And theres a strap to pull it by too. And then Allan surprised himself by making whatyou have to admitwas a decision that said yes to life. The bus driver was conscientious and polite. He stepped down and helped the very old man with the big suitcase to get on the bus. Allan thanked him and pulled out his wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket. The bus driver wondered if the gentleman was possibly going all the way to Str?ngn?s. But Allan thought it best to be frugal and so he held out a fifty-crown note and asked: How far will this get me? The driver said jovially that he was used to people who knew where they wanted to go but not what it would cost, but this was quite the opposite. Then he looked in his schedule and replied that for forty-eight crowns you could travel on the bus to Byringe Station. Allan thought that sounded fine. The driver put the newly stolen suitcase in the baggage area behind his seat, while Allan sat down in the first row on the right-hand side. From there he could see through the window of the stations waiting room. The restroom door was still closed when the bus rolled off. Allan hoped for the young mans sake that he was having a pleasant time in there, bearing in mind the disappointment that was awaiting him. The bus to Str?ngn?s was not exactly crowded that afternoon. In the back row there was a middle-aged woman, in the middle a young mother who had struggled on board with her two children, one of them in a baby carriage, and at the very front an extremely old man. This passenger was wondering why he had stolen a big gray suitcase on four wheels. Was it because he could and because the owner was a lout or because the suitcase might contain a pair of shoes and even a hat? Or was it because the old man didnt have anything to lose? Allan really couldnt say why he did it. When life has gone into overtime its easy to take liberties, he thought, and he made himself comfortable in the seat. So far, Allan was satisfied with the way the day had developed. Then he closed his eyes for his afternoon nap. At that same moment, Director Alice knocked on the door to room 1 at the Old Folks Home. She knocked again and again. Stop fooling around, Allan. The mayor and everyone else have already arrived. Do you hear me? You havent been at the bottle again, have you? Come out this minute, Allan! Allan? At about the same time, the door opened to what was, for the time being, the only functioning toilet in Malmk?ping Station. Out stepped a young man who was doubly relieved. He took a few steps toward the middle of the waiting room, tightening his belt with one hand and combing his hair with the fingers of the other hand. Then he stopped, stared at the two empty benches, and looked left and right. Upon which he exclaimed: What the damned hell ! Then words failed him, before he found his voice again: Youre a dead man, you old bastard. Once Ive found you. THREE Monday, May 2, 2005 Just after three oclock in the afternoon on May 2 the calm of Malmk?ping was shattered for what would be several days. At first Director Alice at the Old Folks Home was worried rather than angry, and pulled out her master key. Since Allan had not concealed his escape route, it was immediately obvious that the Birthday Boy had climbed out of the window. Judging by the tracks, he had then stood among the pansies in the flower bed, before disappearing. By virtue of his position, the mayor felt he should take command. He ordered the staff to search in pairs. Allan couldnt be far away; the searchers should concentrate on the immediate vicinity. One pair was dispatched to the park, one to the state-run liquor store (a place that Allan had occasionally frequented, Director Alice knew), one to the other shops on Main Street, and one to the Community Center up on the hill. The mayor himself would stay at the Old Folks Home to keep an eye on the residents who hadnt vanished into thin air and to ponder the next move. He told the searchers that they should be discreet; there was no need to generate unnecessary publicity about this affair. In the general confusion, the mayor forgot that one of the pairs of searchers he had just sent out consisted of a reporter from the local paper and her photographer. The bus station was not included in the mayors primary search area. In that location, however, a very angry, slightly built young man with long, greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard, and a jean jacket with the words Never Again on the back had already searched every corner of the building. Since there was no trace of either a very old man or a suitcase, the young man took some decisive steps toward the little man behind the only open ticket window, for the purpose of obtaining information as to the old mans possible travel plans. Although the little man was generally bored with his work, he still had his professional pride. So he explained to the loudmouthed young man that the passengers privacy was not something that could be compromised, adding firmly that under no circumstances whatsoever would he give him any information of the type that he wished to obtain. The young man stood in silence for a moment. He then moved five yards to the left, to the not very solid door to the ticket office. He didnt bother to check whether it was locked. Instead he took a step back and kicked the door in with the boot on his right foot so that splinters flew in every direction. The little man did not even have time to lift the telephone receiver to phone for help, before he was dangling in the air in front of the young man, who grasped him firmly by the ears. I might not know anything about privacy, but Im good at getting people to talk, said the young man to the little ticket seller before he let him drop down with a bump onto his revolving office chair. At which point the young man explained what he intended to do with the little mans genitals, with the help of a hammer and nails, if the little man did not comply with his wishes. The description was so realistic that the little man immediately decided to say what he thought, namely that the old man in question had presumably taken a bus in the direction of Str?ngn?s. Whether the man had taken a suitcase with him, he couldnt say, as he was not the sort of person who spied on his customers. The ticket seller then stopped talking to ascertain how satisfied the young man was with what he had said, and immediately determined that it would be best for him to provide further information. So he said that on the journey between Malmk?ping and Str?ngn?s there were twelve stops and that the old man could of course get out at any one of those. The person who would know was the bus driver, and according to the timetable he would be back in Malmk?ping at ten after seven that same evening, when the bus made its return journey to Flen. The young man sat down beside the terrified little man with throbbing ears. Just need to think, he said. So he thought. He thought that he should certainly be able to shake the bus drivers mobile phone number out of the little man, and then call the driver and say that the old mans suitcase was actually stolen property. But then of course there was a risk that the bus driver would involve the police and that was not something the young man wanted. Besides, it was probably not so urgent really, because the old man seemed dreadfully old and now that he had a suitcase to drag around, he would need to travel by train, bus, or taxi if he wanted to continue his journey from the station in Str?ngn?s. He would thus leave new tracks behind him, and there would always be somebody who could be dangled by the ears to say where the old man was heading. The young man had confidence in his ability to persuade people to tell him what they knew. When the youth had finished thinking, he decided to wait for the bus in question to return so he could interview the driver without undue politeness. When he had decided, the young man got up again, and explained to the ticket seller what would happen to him, his wife, his children, and his home if he told the police or anybody else what had just occurred. The little man had neither wife nor children, but he was eager to keep his ears and genitals more or less intact. So he gave his word as an employee of the national railways that he wouldnt say a peep. That was a promise he kept until the next day. The two-man search groups came back to the Old Folks Home and reported on what they had seen. Or rather hadnt seen. The mayor instinctively did not want to involve the police and he was desperately trying to think of alternatives, when the local newspaper reporter dared to ask: And what are you going to do now, Mr. Mayor? The mayor was silent for a few moments; then he said: Call the police, of course. God, how he hated the free press! Allan woke when the driver kindly nudged him and announced that they had now reached Byringe Station. Shortly afterward, the driver maneuvered the suitcase out the front door of the bus, with Allan close behind. The driver asked if he could now manage on his own, and Allan said that the driver had no need to worry in that respect. Then Allan thanked him for his help and waved good-bye as the bus rolled out onto the highway again. Tall fir trees blocked the afternoon sun and Allan was starting to feel a bit chilly in his thin jacket and indoor slippers. He could see no sign of Byringe, let alone its station. There was just forest, forest, and forest in all directionsand a little gravel road leading to the right. Allan thought that perhaps there were warm clothes in the suitcase he had on impulse brought along with him. Unfortunately the suitcase was locked and without a screwdriver or some other tool it was surely hopeless to try to open it. There was no other option but to start moving, otherwise he would freeze to death. And given past experiences, he was pretty sure he wouldnt succeed in doing that even if he tried. The suitcase had a strap at the top and if you pulled it, the suitcase rolled along nicely on its small wheels. Allan followed the gravel road into the forest with short, shuffling steps. The suitcase followed just behind him, skidding on the gravel. After a few hundred yards, Allan came to what must be Byringe Stationa closed-down building next to a most definitely and absolutely former railway line. Allan was in excellent shape as far as centenarians went, but it was all getting to be a bit too much. He sat down on the suitcase to gather his thoughts and strength. To Allans left stood the shabby, yellow two-story station. All the windows on the bottom floor were covered with planks. To his right you could follow the no longer used railway line into the distance, straight as an arrow even deeper into the forest. Nature had not yet succeeded in entirely eating up the tracks, but it was only a matter of time. The wooden platform was evidently no longer safe to walk on. On the outermost planking you could still read a painted sign: Do Not Walk on the Track. The track was certainly not dangerous to walk on, thought Allan. But who in his right mind would voluntarily walk on the platform? That question was answered immediately, because at that very moment the shabby door of the station building was opened and a man in his seventies wearing a cap stepped out of the house. Given his big boots, he clearly trusted the planks not to give way and he was entirely focused on the old man in front of him. His initial attitude was hostile, but then he seemed to change his mind, possibly as a result of seeing what a decrepit specimen of humanity had invaded his territory. Allan sat on the newly stolen suitcase, not knowing what to say and in any case lacking the energy to say it. But he looked steadily at the man, letting him make the first move. Who are you, and what are you doing in my station? asked the man with the cap. Allan didnt answer. He couldnt decide whether he was dealing with friend or foe. But then he decided that it would be wise not to argue with the only person around, someone who might even let Allan inside before the evening chill set in. He decided to tell it like it was. Allan told the man that his name was Allan, that he was exactly one hundred years old and spry for his age, so spry in fact that he was on the run from the old age home. He had also had time to steal a suitcase from a young man who by now would certainly not be particularly happy about it; his knees were not for the moment at their best and he would very much like to give them a break. Allan then fell silent, awaiting the courts verdict. Is that so, said the man in the cap; then he smiled. A thief! He jumped nimbly down from the platform and went over to the centenarian to have a closer look. Are you really one hundred years old? he asked. In that case, you must be hungry. Allan couldnt follow the logic, but of course he was hungry. So he asked what was on the menu and if a nip of the hard stuff might be included. The man with the cap stretched out his hand, introduced himself as Julius Jonsson, and pulled the old man to his feet. He then announced that he would personally carry Allans suitcase, and that roast elk was on the bill if that suited, and that there would absolutely be a nip of the hard stuff to go with it, or rather enough to take care of the knees and the rest of him too. Julius Jonsson had not had anybody to talk to for several years, so he was pleased to meet the old man with the suitcase. A drop of the hard stuff first for one knee and then for the other, followed by a drop more for the back and neck, and then some to whet the appetite, all in all made for a convivial atmosphere. Allan asked what Julius did for a living, and got his whole story. Julius was born in the north of Sweden, the only child of Anders and Elvina Jonsson. Julius worked as a laborer on the family farm and was beaten every day by his father who was of the opinion that Julius was good for nothing. When Julius was twenty-five, his mother died of cancerwhich Julius grieved overand shortly afterward his father was swallowed by the bog when he tried to rescue a heifer. Julius grieved over that toobecause he was fond of the heifer. Young Julius had no talent for the farming life (in this his father had essentially been right) nor did he have any desire for it. So he sold everything except a few acres of forest that he thought might come in handy in his old age. He went off to Stockholm and within two years had squandered all his money. He then returned to the forest. With great enthusiasm, Julius put in a bid to supply five thousand electricity poles to the Hudiksvall District Electricity Company. And since Julius didnt concern himself with such details as payroll taxes, he won the bid, and with the help of a dozen Hungarian refugees he even managed to deliver the poles on time, and was paid more money than he knew existed. So far, all was well. The problem was that Julius had been obliged to cheat a little. The trees were not yet fully grown, so the poles were a yard shorter than what had been ordered. This would probably have gone unnoticed if it hadnt been for the fact that virtually every farmer in the area had just acquired a combine harvester. The Hudiksvall District Electricity Company stuck up the poles crisscrossing fields and meadows in the area, and when it was harvest time, on one single morning the cables were pulled down in twenty-six locations by twenty-two different newly bought combine harvesters. The entire region had no electricity for weeks; harvests were lost and milking machines stopped working. It was not long before the farmers furyat first directed against the Hudiksvall District Electricity Companywas turned against young Julius. The town slogan Happy Hudiksvall was not on many peoples lips at that time, I can tell you. I had to hide at the Town Hotel in Sundsvall for seven months and then I ran out of money. Shall we have another swig of the hard stuff? Allan thought that they should. The elk had been washed down with beer too, and now Allan felt so comprehensively satisfied that he began to be almost afraid of dying. Julius continued his story. After being nearly run down by a tractor in the center of Sundsvall (driven by a farmer with a murderous look in his eyes), he realized that the locals werent going to forget his little mistake for the next hundred years. So he moved a long way south and ended up in Mariefred where he did a bit of small-time thieving for a while until he tired of town life and managed to acquire the former station building in Byringe for 25,000 crowns he happened to find one night in a safe at the Gripsholm Inn. Here at the station, he now lived essentially through handouts from the state, poaching in his neighbors forest, small-scale production and sale of alcoholic spirits from his home-distilling apparatus, and resale of what goods he could get hold of from his neighbors. He wasnt particularly popular in the neighborhood, Julius went on, and between mouthfuls Allan answered that he could imagine as much. When Julius suggested having one final snifter for dessert, Allan answered that he had always had a weakness for desserts of that kind, but that first of all he must seek out a toilet if there possibly happened to be one in the building. Julius got up, turned on the ceiling lamp since it was starting to get dark, and then pointed to the stairs saying that there was a functional water closet on the right. He promised to have two newly poured drams ready and waiting when Allan returned. Allan found the toilet where Julius had said it would be. He stood in position to pee, and as usual the last drops didnt quite make it to the bowl. Some of them landed softly on his pee slippers instead. Halfway through the process, Allan heard a noise on the stairs. His first thought was that it was Julius, going off with his newly stolen suitcase. The noise got louder. Somebody was climbing the stairs. Allan realized that there was a chance that the steps he heard outside the door belonged to a slightly built young man with long, greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard, and a jean jacket with the words Never Again on the back. And that, if it was him, then it probably wasnt going to be a pleasant encounter. The bus returning from Str?ngn?s arrived at Malmk?ping Station three minutes early. The bus carried no passengers and the driver had accelerated a little bit extra after the last bus stop to have time to catch his breath before continuing the journey to Flen. But the driver had barely lit his cigarette before a slightly built youth with long, greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard, and a jean jacket with the words Never Again on the back arrived. Of course, the driver couldnt see the words on the back of the jacket, but they were there nevertheless. Are you going to Flen? The driver asked a little hesitantly, because there was something about the young man that didnt feel right. Im not going to Flen. And neither are you, answered the young man. Hanging around waiting for four hours for the bus to come back had been a bit too much for what little patience the youth could muster. Besides, after half that time he had realized that if instead he had immediately stolen a car, he could have caught up with the bus long before Str?ngn?s. On top of it all, police cars had started to cruise around in the little town. At any time the police could stumble into the station, and start interrogating the little man behind the window in the ticket office as to why he looked terrified and why the door to his office was hanging at an angle on one hinge. The young man had no idea what the cops were doing there. His boss in Never Again had chosen Malmk?ping as the transaction venue for three reasons: first, it was close to Stockholm; second, it had relatively good transportation options; and thirdand most importantbecause the long arm of the law wasnt long enough to reach there. There were simply no cops in Malmk?ping. Or, to be more precise: there shouldnt be, and yet the place was crawling with them. The young man had seen two cruisers and a total of four policemen; from his perspective that was a crowd. At first, the young man thought that the police were after him. But that would assume that the little man had squawked, and the young man could categorically discount that possibility. While waiting for the bus to come, the young man hadnt had much to do other than keep an eye on the little man, smash his office phone to bits, and patch up the office door as best he could. When the bus eventually did come and the young man noted that it had no passengers, he had immediately decided to kidnap both the driver and the bus. It took all of twenty seconds to persuade the bus driver to turn the bus around and drive northward again. Close to a personal record, the young man reflected as he sat down in the exact seat where the geriatric he was now chasing had been sitting earlier the same day. The bus driver quivered with fear, but got through the worst of it with a calming cigarette. Smoking was, of course, forbidden on board the bus, but the only law the driver was subject to at that moment was sitting just diagonally behind him in the bus and was slightly built, had long, greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard, and a jean jacket with the words Never Again on the back. On the way, the young man asked where the elderly suitcase thief had gone. The driver said that the old man had gotten off at Byringe Station and that was probably entirely random, explaining the backward way the old man had gone about things, offering a 50-crown note and asking how far he could get with that. The driver didnt know much about Byringe Station, except that it was rare for anyone to get on or off there. Supposedly there was a closed-down railway station some way in the forest, and Byringe village was somewhere in the vicinity. The geriatric couldnt have gotten much farther than that, the driver guessed. The man was very old and the suitcase was heavy, even though it had wheels. The young man immediately calmed down. He had refrained from calling the boss in Stockholm, because the boss was one of the few people who could scare people more effectively than the young man himself. The young man shivered at the thought of what the boss would say about the suitcase going astray. Better to solve the problem first and tell him later. And seeing as how the old man hadnt gone all the way to Str?ngn?s or even beyond, the suitcase should be back in the hands of the young man quicker than he had feared. Heres the Byringe Station bus stop The driver slowly rolled to the side of the road, prepared to die. But it turned out that his time had not come, although his mobile phone wasnt so lucky. It met a rapid death under one of the young mans boots. And a whole stream of death threats directed at the drivers relatives spewed out of the young mans mouth, designed to avert any possible thought of the driver contacting the police instead of turning the bus around and continuing the journey to Flen. Then the young man got off and let the driver and the bus escape. The poor driver was so terrified that he didnt dare turn the bus around; he continued all the way to Str?ngn?s, parked in the middle of Tr?dg?rds Street, and walked in shock into the Delia Hotel where he rapidly downed four glasses of whiskey. Then to the bartenders horror, he started to cry. After a further two glasses of whiskey, the bartender offered him a telephone in case he wanted to phone somebody. The bus driver started to cry againand called his girlfriend. The young man thought he could make out tracks in the gravel on the road, tracks of a suitcase on wheels. This would be over in no time, which was a good thing, because it was getting dark. Off and on, the young man wished that he had done a bit more planning. It struck him that he was standing in a rapidly darkening forest, and it would soon be pitch black. What would he do then? These troubled thoughts ended abruptly when he first caught sight of a shabby, partly boarded-up yellow building near the bottom of the hill. And when somebody turned on a light on the upper floor, the young man mumbled: Now Ive got you, old geezer. Allan quickly stopped peeing. Then he carefully opened the toilet door and tried to hear what was happening in the kitchen. Soon enough he had his worst fear confirmed. Allan recognized the young mans voice, bellowing at Julius Jonsson to reveal where the other old bastard was. Allan snuck over to the kitchen door, silently because he was wearing bedroom slippers. The young man had grasped Julius by both ears, the same hold he had earlier practiced on the little man at the station in Malmk?ping. While he shook poor Julius, he continued his interrogation. Allan thought the young man should have been satisfied with finding the suitcase, which was standing right in the middle of the room. Julius grimaced but made no move to answer. Allan reflected that the old timber merchant was quite a tough guy, and looked around for a suitable weapon. Amid the junk he saw a small number of candidates: a crowbar, a plank, a container of insect spray, and a packet of rat poison. Allan first settled on the rat poison but couldnt just then figure out a way to get a spoonful or two into the young man. The crowbar, on the other hand, was a bit too heavy for the centenarian to lift, and the insect spray No, it would have to be the plank. So Allan took a firm hold of his weapon and with four sensationally fast stepsfor his agehe was right behind his intended victim. The young man must have sensed that Allan was there, because just as the old man took aim the youth loosened his hold on Julius Jonsson and spun around. He received the plank slap bang in the middle of his forehead, stood where he was and stared for a second before he fell backward and hit his head on the edge of the kitchen table. No blood, no groaning, nothing. He just lay there, with his eyes closed. Good one, said Julius. Thanks, said Allan, now wheres that dessert you promised? Allan and Julius sat down at the kitchen table, with the long-haired youth sleeping at their feet. Julius poured the brandy, gave one glass to Allan, and raised his own in a toast. Allan raised his glass too. So, said Julius when theyd emptied their glasses. Im betting thats the owner of the suitcase? Allan realized that it was time for him to explain a thing or two in more detail. Not that there was so much to explain. Most of what had happened during the day was hard for Allan himself to understand. But he described the eventshis defection from the home, his spontaneous seizure of the suitcase at the station in Malmk?ping, and the fear at the back of his mind that the young man who now lay unconscious on the floor would probably quickly catch up with him. And he sincerely apologized for the fact that Julius now sat there with red and throbbing ears. But Julius said that Allan most certainly shouldnt be apologizing for the fact that there was finally a bit of action in Julius Jonssons life. Julius was back in good form. He thought it was high time that they both had a look at what was in the suitcase. When Allan pointed out that it was locked, Julius told him not to be silly. Since when has a lock stopped Julius Jonsson? asked Julius Jonsson. But there is a time for everything, he went on. First there was the matter of the problem on the floor. It wouldnt do if the young man were to wake up and then carry on from where he left off when he passed out. Allan suggested that they tie him to a tree outside the station building, but Julius objected that if the young man shouted loudly enough when he woke up he would be heard down in the village. There was only a handful of families still living there, but all hadwith more or less good reasona bit of a grudge against Julius and they would probably be on the young mans side if they got the chance. Julius had a better idea. Off the kitchen was an insulated freezer room where he stored his poached and butchered elks. For the time being the room contained no elks, and the fan was turned off. Julius didnt want to use the freezer unnecessarily because it used a hell of a lot of electricity. Julius had of course hot-wired it, and it was G?sta at Forest Cottage farm who unknowingly paid, but it was important to steal electricity in moderation if you wanted to keep taking advantage of the perk for a long time. Allan inspected the turned-off freezer and found it to be an excellent cell, without any unnecessary amenities. The six-by-nine feet were perhaps more space than the youth deserved, but there was no need to make things unnecessarily hard. The old men jointly dragged the young man into the freezer. He groaned when they put him on an upturned wooden chest in one corner and propped his body against the wall. He seemed about to wake up. Best to hurry out and lock the door properly! No sooner said than done. Upon which Julius lifted the suitcase onto the kitchen table, looked at the lock, licked clean the fork he had just used for the evenings roast elk with potatoes, and picked the lock in a few seconds. Then he motioned Allan over for the actual opening, on the grounds that it was Allans booty after all. Everything of mine is yours too, said Allan. We share and share alike, but if there is a pair of shoes in my size then I call first dibs. Upon which Allan opened the lock. What the hell, said Allan. What the hell, said Julius. Let me out! could be heard from the freezer room. FOUR 19051929 Allan Emmanuel Karlsson was born on May 2, 1905. The day before, his mother had marched in the May Day procession in Flen and demonstrated on behalf of womens suffrage, an eight-hour working day, and other utopian demands. The demonstrating had at least one positive result: her contractions started and just after midnight her first and only son was born. She gave birth at home with the help of the neighbors wife, who was not especially talented at midwifery but who had some status in the community because as a nine-year-old she had had the honor of curtsying before King Karl XIV Johan, who in turn was a friend (sort of) of Napol?on Bonaparte. And to be fair to the neighbors wife, the child she delivered did indeed reach adulthood, and by a very good margin. Allan Karlssons father was of both a considerate and an angry nature. He was considerate with his family; he was angry with society in general and with everybody who could be thought of as representing that society. Finer folks disapproved of him, dating back to the time he had stood on the square in Flen and advocated for the use of contraceptives. For this offense he was fined ten crowns, and relieved of the need to worry about the topic any further since Allans mother out of pure shame decided to ban any further entry to her person. Allan was then six and old enough to ask his mother for a more detailed explanation of why his fathers bed had suddenly been moved into the woodshed. He was told that he shouldnt ask so many questions unless he wanted his ears boxed. Since Allan, like all children at all times, did not want his ears boxed, he dropped the subject. From that day on, Allans father appeared less and less frequently in his own home. In the daytime he more or less coped with his job on the railways, in the evening he discussed socialism at meetings far and wide, and where he spent his nights was never really clear to Allan. His father did however take his financial responsibilities seriously. He handed over the greater part of his wage to his wife each week, until one day he was fired after he had turned violent with a passenger who happened to announce that he was on his way to Stockholm with thousands of others to visit the King in the royal palace and assure him of their will to defend their fatherland. You can start by defending yourself against this, Allans father had said and punched the man with a hard right so that he fell to the ground. The immediate dismissal meant that Allans father could no longer support his family. The reputation he had acquired as a man of violence and an advocate of contraception meant that it was a waste of time for him to look for another job. All that was left was to wait for the revolution, or best of all to speed up its arrival, because every little thing nowadays went so damned slowly. Allans father was a man who wanted to see results. Swedish socialism needed an international model. That would light a fire under everything and make things hellishly hot for Mr. Wholesale Merchant Gustavsson and his ilk. So Allans father packed his bag and went off to Russia to depose the Czar. Allans mother missed his salary of course, but she was otherwise satisfied that her husband had left not only the district but also the country. After the family breadwinner had emigrated, it was up to Allans mother and the just-ten-year-old Allan himself to keep the family afloat financially. His mother had the fourteen fully grown birch trees they owned felled and then she cut them up and split them herself to sell as firewood, while Allan managed to get a miserably paid job as an errand boy at Nitroglycerin Ltd.s production branch. In the regular letters she received from St. Petersburg (which soon after was renamed Petrograd), Allans mother noted to her increasing surprise that Allans father had started to waver in his belief in the blessings of socialism. In his letters, Allans father often referred to friends and acquaintances from Petrograds political establishment. The person who was most often quoted was a man called Carl. Not an especially Russian name, Allan thought, and it didnt get any more Russian when Allans father began to call him Uncle Carl or just Uncle. According to Allans father, Uncles thesis was that people in general didnt know what was best for them, and that they needed somebody whose hand they could hold. That was why autocracy was superior to democracy, as long as the educated and responsible segment of society made sure the autocrat concerned did a good job. Seven out of ten Bolsheviks cant read, Uncle had snorted. We cant hand over power to a load of illiterates, can we? Allans father had nevertheless defended the Bolsheviks on that particular point, because, as he wrote in one letter, You cant imagine what the Russian alphabet looks like. Its no wonder people are illiterate. What was worse was how the Bolsheviks behaved. They were filthy, and they drank vodka like the riffraff back home: the ones who laid the rails crisscrossing central Sweden. Allans father had always wondered how the rails could be so straight considering the extent of the workers consumption of spirits, and he had felt a twinge of guilt every time Swedish rails swung to the right or left. Be that as it may, the Bolsheviks were at least as bad as the Swedes. Uncle maintained that socialism would end with everybody trying to kill everybody else until there was only one person left to make all the decisions. So it would be better to rely from the start on the Czar, a good and educated man with a vision for the world. In a way, Uncle knew what he was talking about. He had actually met the Czar, indeed more than once. Uncle claimed that Nicholas II had a genuinely good heart. The Czar had had a lot of bad luck, but surely that couldnt go on. Failed harvests and Bolshevik revolution had made a mess of things. And then the Germans started to growl just because the Czar was mobilizing his forces. But he did that in order to keep the peace. After all, it wasnt the Czar who had killed the Archduke and his wife in Sarajevo, was it? That was evidently how Uncle (whoever he was) saw it all, and somehow he got Allans father to see it the same way. Besides, Allans father felt an affinity with the Czar because of all the bad luck he suffered. Sooner or later such bad luck must change, for Russian Czars as well as for ordinary honest folk from the vicinity of Flen. His father never sent any money from Russia, but once, after a couple of years, a package came with an enamel Easter egg that his father said he had won in a game of cards from a Russian comrade, who besides drinking, arguing, and playing cards with Allans father didnt do much more than make these kinds of eggs. His father sent the Easter egg to his dear wife who just got angry and said that the damned layabout could at least have sent a real egg so that the family could eat. She was about to throw the present out the window, when she reconsidered. Perhaps Mr. Wholesale Merchant Gustavsson might be interested in it. He always tried to be special and special was exactly what Allans mother thought the egg was. Imagine Allans mothers surprise when Mr. Wholesale Merchant Gustavsson after two days consideration offered her eighteen crowns for Uncles egg. Not real money of course, just canceling a debt, but even so. After that, his mother hoped to receive more eggs, but instead in the next letter she found out that the Czars generals had abandoned their autocrat who then had to leave his throne. In his letter, Allans father cursed his egg-producing friend, who had now fled. Allans father himself planned to stay on and do battle with the upstart clown who had taken over, a man they called Lenin. For Allans father, the whole thing had acquired a personal dimension since Lenin had forbidden all private ownership of land the very day after Allans father had purchased 130 square feet on which to grow Swedish strawberries. The land didnt cost more than four rubles, but they wont get away with nationalizing my strawberry patch, wrote Allans father in his very last letter home, concluding: Now its war! And war it certainly wasall the time. In just about every part of the world, and it had been going on for several years. It had broken out about a year before little Allan had got his errand-boy job at Nitroglycerin Ltd. While Allan loaded his boxes with dynamite, he listened to the workers comments on events. He wondered how they could know so much, but above all he marveled at how much misery grown men could cause. Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany declared war on Russia. Then, Germany conquered Luxembourg a day before declaring war on France and invading Belgium. Great Britain then declared war on Germany, Austria declared war on Russia, and Serbia declared war on Germany. And on it went. The Japanese joined in, as did the Americans. In the months after the Czar abdicated, the British took Baghdad for some reason, and then Jerusalem. The Greeks and Bulgarians started to fight each other while the Arabs continued their revolt against the Ottomans So Now its war! was right. Soon afterward, one of Lenins henchmen had the Czar executed together with all his family. Allan noted that the Czars bad luck had persisted. A few months later, the Swedish consulate in Petrograd sent a telegram to Yxhult to inform them that Allans father was dead. Although it wasnt really the job of the civil servant in the consulate to go into detail, he did. Apparently Allans father had nailed some plank around a little bit of earth, and proclaimed the area to be an independent republic. He called his little state The Real Russia but then two government soldiers came to pull down the fence. Allans father had put up his fists in his eagerness to defend his countrys borders, and it had been impossible for the two soldiers to reason with him. In the end, they could think of no better solution than to put a bullet between his eyes, so they could go about their task in peace. Couldnt you have chosen to die in a less idiotic manner? said Allans mother to the telegram from the consulate. She hadnt really expected her husband to come home again, but recently she had nevertheless started to hope, because she had troublesome lungs, and it wasnt easy to keep up her old pace when splitting logs. Allans mother made a croaky sigh and that was the extent of her mourning. She told Allan philosophically that it was what it was, and that in the future whatever would be would be. Then she ruffled her sons hair kindly before going out to split more logs. Allan didnt really understand what his mother meant. But he understood that his father was dead, that his mother coughed, and that the war was over. He himself, at the age of thirteen, was particularly accomplished when it came to making explosions by mixing nitroglycerin, cellulose nitrate, ammonium nitrate, natrium nitrate, wood flour, dinitrotoluen, and a few other ingredients. That ought to come in handy someday, thought Allan, and he went out to help his mother with the wood. Two years later, Allans mother finished coughing, and she entered that possible heaven where his father was already established. Then, on the threshold of the little house, Allan found an angry Mr. Wholesale Merchant, who thought that Allans mother should have paid her debt of nine crowns before shewithout telling anyonewent and died. But Allan had no plans to give Gustavsson anything. Thats something youll have to talk to her about yourself, Mr. Wholesale Merchant. Do you want to borrow a spade? As wholesalers often are, the man was lightly built, compared with the fifteen-year-old Allan. The boy was on his way to becoming a man. If he was half as crazy as his father, then he was capable of anything was how Mr. Wholesale Merchant Gustavsson saw it, and since he wanted to be around quite a bit longer to count his money, the subject of the debt was never raised again. Young Allan couldnt understand how his mother had managed to scrape together several hundred crowns in savings. But the money was there anyway, and it was enough to bury her and to start the Karlsson Dynamite Company. Maybe the boy was only fifteen years old when his mother died, but Allan had learned all he needed at Nitroglycerin Ltd. He experimented freely in the gravel pit behind the house; once so freely that two miles away the closest neighbors cow had a miscarriage. But Allan never heard about that, because just like Mr. Wholesale Merchant Gustavsson, the neighbor was a little bit afraid of crazy Karlssons possibly equally crazy boy. Since his time as an errand boy, Allan had retained his interest in current affairs. At least once a week, he rode his bicycle to the public library in Flen to get updated on the latest news. When he was there he often met young men who were keen to debate and who all had one thing in common: they wanted to tempt Allan into some political movement or other. But Allans great interest in world events did not include any interest in trying to change them. In a political sense, Allans childhood had been bewildering. On the one hand, he was from the working class. You could hardly use any other description of a boy who ends his schooling when he is ten to get a job in industry. On the other hand, he respected the memory of his father, and his father during far too short a life had managed to hold views right across the spectrum. He started on the Left, went on to praise Czar Nicholas II, and rounded off his existence through a land dispute with Vladimir Illich Lenin. His mother, in between her coughing fits, had cursed everyone from the King to the Bolsheviks, and, in passing, even the leader of the Social Democrats, Mr. Wholesale Merchant Gustavsson, andnot leastAllans father. Allan himself was certainly no fool. True, he spent only three years in school, but that was plenty for him to have learned to read, write, and count. His politically conscious fellow workers at Nitroglycerin Ltd. had also made him curious about the world. But what finally formed young Allans philosophy of life were his mothers words when they received the news of his fathers death. It took a while before the message seeped into his soul, but once there, it was there forever: Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. That meant, among other things, that you didnt make a fuss, especially when there was good reason to do so: for example, when they heard the news about his fathers death. In accordance with family tradition, Allan reacted by chopping wood, although for an unusually long time and without saying a word. Or when his mother followed his fathers example, and as a result was carried out to the waiting hearse. Allan stayed in the kitchen and followed the spectacle through the window. And then he said so quietly that only he could hear: Well, good-bye, Mom. And that was the end of that chapter of his life. Allan worked hard in his dynamite company and during the first years of the 1920s built up a considerable circle of customers in the county. On Saturday evenings, when his contemporaries were attending barn dances, Allan sat at home and developed new formulas to improve the quality of his dynamite. And when Sunday came, he went to the gravel pit and tested the new explosives. Not between eleven and one, thoughhe promised the local pastor in exchange for not complaining too much about Allans absence from church. Allan liked his own company and that was good, because he lived an isolated life. Since he didnt join the ranks of the labor movement he was despised by socialists, while he was far too working class (not to mention related to his father) to be allowed a place in any bourgeois gathering. Gustavsson, for one, would rather die than end up in the company of that Karlsson brat. Just think what would happen if the boy discovered what Gustavsson had been paid for the enamel egg, the one that he had once bought from Allans mother for next to nothing and now sold to a diplomat in Stockholm. Thanks to that bit of business, Gustavsson had become the districts third proud owner of an automobile. That time he had been lucky. But one Sunday in August 1925, after the church service, Gustavssons luck ran out. He went out for a drive, mainly to show off his expensive car. Unluckily for him, he happened to choose the road that passed Allan Karlssons house. At the turn, Gustavsson had gotten nervous (or perhaps God or fate had a hand in the events), and the gears got stuck and one thing led to another and Gustavsson and his automobile went straight into the gravel pit behind the house, instead of following the gentle curve of the road to the right. It would have been bad enough for Gustavsson to set foot on Allans land and have to explain himself, but things turned out much worse than that, because just as Gustavsson managed to bring his runaway automobile to a halt, Allan set off the first of that Sundays trial explosions. Allan, himself, was curled up for protection behind the outhouse and could neither see nor hear anything. Not until he returned to the gravel pit, did he realize that something had gone wrong. Bits of Gustavssons automobile were spread out over half the pit, and here and there lay bits of Gustavsson himself. Gustavssons head had landed softly on a patch of grass. It stared vacantly out over the destruction. What business did you have in my gravel pit? Allan asked. Gustavsson did not reply. During the next four years, Allan had plenty of time to read and improve his knowledge of how society worked. He was immediately locked up, though it was hard to say exactly what for. After a while, his father was brought up. This occurred after a young and enthusiastic disciple of Professor Bernhard Lundborg, an expert on Racial Biology at Uppsala University, decided to build his career on Allans case. When Allan was delivered into the clutches of Professor Lundborg, he was immediately sterilized for eugenic and social reasons on the basis that Allan was probably a bit slow and there was probably too much of his father in him for the state to allow further reproduction of the Karlsson genes. The sterilization did not bother Allan. On the contrary, he felt he was well treated at Professor Lundborgs clinic. Now and then, he had to answer all sorts of questions such as why he needed to blow people and things into bits and whether he had any knowledge of having Negro blood. Allan answered that he saw a certain difference between things and people when it came to the pleasure of lighting the fuse of a load of dynamite. Splitting a rock down the middlethat could make you feel good. But if instead of a rock, it was a person, well, Allan couldnt see why a person wouldnt move out of the way under the circumstances. Didnt Professor Lundborg feel the same way? But Bernhard Lundborg was not the sort of man to involve himself in philosophical discussions with his patients; he repeated the question about Negro blood. Allan answered that you never really know, but both his parents had had skin that was as pale as his; perhaps the professor could settle for that as an answer? And then Allan added that he was dying to see a black man for real if the professor had one on hand. Professor Lundborg and his assistants did not answer Allans questions, but they made notes and hummed and then left him in peace, sometimes for days at a stretch. Allan devoted those days to all kinds of reading: the daily newspapers of course, but also books from the hospitals extensive library. Add to that three square meals a day, an indoor toilet, and a room of his own, and you can see why Allan found it very comfortable to be locked up in an asylum. The atmosphere had been a little unpleasant only once, and that was when Allan asked Professor Lundborg what was so dangerous about being a Negro or a Jew. For once, the professor didnt respond with silence, but bellowed that Karlsson should mind his own business and not interfere in other peoples affairs. Allan was reminded of that time many years ago when his mother had threatened to box his ears. The years passed and the interviews with Allan became few and far between. Then parliament appointed a committee to investigate the sterilization of biologically inferior individuals and when the report was issued, Professor Lundborg suddenly had so much to do that Allans bed was needed for somebody else. In the spring of 1929, Allan was pronounced rehabilitated and fit once again to enter society, and was sent out onto the streets with just enough cash to get him a train ticket to Flen. He had to walk the last few miles to Yxhult, but Allan didnt mind. After four years behind bars, he needed to stretch his legs. FIVE Monday, May 2, 2005 The local newspaper lost no time in posting the news about the old man who had disappeared into thin air on his hundredth birthday. As the newspapers reporter was starved for real news from the district, she managed to imply that you could not exclude the possibility of kidnapping. According to witnesses, the centenarian was all right in the head and probably wasnt roaming around confused. There is something special about disappearing on your hundredth birthday. The local radio station soon followed the local newspaper, and then came national radio, the Web sites of the national newspapers, and the afternoon and evening TV news. The police in Flen had to hand the case over to the county crime squad, which sent two police cars with uniformed police officers and a Detective Chief Inspector Aronsson who was not in uniform. They were soon joined by assorted reporters who wanted to help search every corner of the area. The presence of the mass media in turn gave the county police chief reason to lead the investigation himself and perhaps to appear on camera in the process. Initially the police work involved the police cars driving back and forth across the municipality, while Aronsson interrogated people at the Old Folks Home. The mayor, however, had gone home, and turned off his phone. In his opinion, only harm would come from being involved in the disappearance of an ungrateful geriatric. A scattering of tips did come in: everything from Allan being seen on a bike, to standing in line and behaving badly at the pharmacy. But these, as well as similar observations, could soon be dismissed for various reasons. For example, he could not have been biking at the same time as he was definitely observed eating lunch in his room at the Old Folks Home. The head of the county police organized search parties with the help of about a hundred volunteers from the area, and he was genuinely surprised when this gave no results. Up to now he had been pretty certain that it was an ordinary case of a demented person disappearing, despite the statements of witnesses as to the good quantity of marbles possessed by the hundred-year-old man. So the investigation didnt at this stage go anywhere, not until the police dog borrowed from Eskilstuna arrived at about half past seven in the evening. The dog sniffed a few moments at Allans armchair and the footprints among the pansies outside the window before it set off toward the park and out the other side, across the street, into the grounds of the medieval church, over the stone wall, coming to a halt outside the bus station waiting room. The waiting room door was locked. An official told the police that the station locked its doors at 7:30 in the evening on weekdays, when the officials colleague finished work for the day. But, the official added, if the police absolutely couldnt wait until the following day, they could visit his colleague at home. His name was Ronny Hulth and he was sure to be listed in the telephone directory. While the head of the county police stood in front of the cameras outside the Old Folks Home and announced that the police needed the publics help to continue with search parties during the evening and through the night since the centenarian was lightly dressed and possibly in a state of confusion, Detective Chief Inspector G?ran Aronsson rang Ronny Hulths doorbell. The dog had clearly indicated that the geriatric had gone into the waiting room, and Mr. Hulth, who had been in the ticket office, ought to be able to say whether the old man had left Malmk?ping by bus. But Ronny Hulth did not open the door. He sat in his bedroom with the blinds drawn, hugging his cat. Go away! Ronny Hulth whispered toward the front door. Go away! And in the end that is precisely what the chief inspector did. Partly he agreed with his bosss belief that the geriatric was wandering about locally, or that if the old guy had gotten on a bus, he was presumably capable of looking after himself. Ronny Hulth was probably visiting his girlfriend. The first task tomorrow morning would be to seek him out on the job. If the geriatric hadnt turned up by then, that is. At 9:02 p.m., the county police received a call: My name is Bertil Karlgren and Im calling Im calling on behalf of my wife you could say. Well, yes, anyway, my wife, Gerda Karlgren, has been in Flen for a few days visiting our daughter and her husband. Theyre going to have a baby So theres always a lot to do. But today it was time to go home and she tookI mean GerdaGerda took the early afternoon bus, and the bus goes via Malmk?ping, we live here in Str?ngn?s Well, this might not be anythingthe wife doesnt think sobut we heard on the radio about a hundred-year-old man whod disappeared. Perhaps youve already found him? You havent? Anyway, the wife says that there was an incredibly old man who got on the bus in Malmk?ping and he had a large suitcase as if he was going for a long journey. The wife sat at the back and the old man sat right at the front so she couldnt see so well and she didnt hear what the old man and the driver talked about. What did you say, Gerda? Well, Gerda says that she isnt one of those people who listen to other peoples conversations The old man got out only halfway to Str?ngn?s. Gerda doesnt know what the bus stop is called. It was sort of in the middle of the forest The conversation was recorded, transcribed, and sent by fax to the detective chief inspectors hotel in Malmk?ping. SIX Monday, May 2Tuesday, May 3, 2005 The suitcase was stuffed with bundles of 500-crown notes. Julius did some quick math in his head: ten rows across, five rows high, fifteen bundles in every pile Thirty-seven-and-a-half million if I counted correctly, said Julius. Thats a decent amount of money, said Allan. Let me out, you bastards, the young man shouted from inside the freezer. The young man was acting crazy in there; he yelled and kicked and yelled some more. Allan and Julius needed to collect their thoughts about the surprising turn of events, but they couldnt do it with all that noise. In the end, Allan thought it was time to cool the young mans temper a little, so he turned on the freezer fan. It didnt take many seconds for the young man to notice that his situation had worsened. He quieted down to try to think clearly, not something he usually had much aptitude for, let alone with a pounding headache when trapped in a rapidly cooling freezer. After a few minutes deliberation, he decided that threatening or trying to kick his way out of the situation was unlikely to be effective. All that was left was to call for help from outside. All that was left was to call the boss. It was a dreadful thought. But the alternative seemed even worse. The young man hesitated for a minute or two, while it got colder and colder. Finally, he pulled out his mobile phone. No signal. The evening turned into night, and the night became morning. Allan opened his eyes but couldnt figure out where he was. Had he gone and died in his sleep, after all? A chipper male voice wished him a good morning and informed him that there were two pieces of news to be conveyed, one good and one bad. Which did Allan want to hear first? First of all, Allan wanted to know where he was and why. His knees were aching, so he was alive despite everything. But hadnt he and didnt he then take Was the man called Julius? The pieces were falling into place; Allan was awake. He lay on a mattress on the floor in Juliuss bedroom. Julius stood in the doorway and repeated his question. Do you want the good or the bad news first? The good news, said Allan. You can skip the bad news. Okay. Julius told him that the good news was that breakfast was on the table. There was coffee, sandwiches with cold roast elk, and eggs from the neighbors. To think that Allan was going to enjoy one more breakfast without porridge in his life! That was good news indeed. When he sat down at the kitchen table, he felt that he was now ready to hear the bad news after all. The bad news, said Julius, lowering his voice a little, the bad news is that when we were well and truly pissed last night, we forgot to turn off the fan in the freezer room. And? said Allan. And the guy inside must be dead coldor cold deadby now. With a worried look, Allan scratched his neck while he decided whether to let news of this carelessness spoil the day. Oh dear, he said. But I must say that youve got these eggs just right, not too hard and not too runny. Detective Chief Inspector Aronsson woke at about eight a.m. in a bad mood. A geriatric who goes astray, on purpose or otherwise, should not be a case for somebody with the chief inspectors qualifications. Aronsson showered, got dressed, and went down to breakfast on the ground floor of the Plevna Hotel. On his way he met the receptionist who gave him a fax that had come in just after reception had closed the previous evening. An hour later, the chief inspector saw the case in a different light. The importance of the fax from the county police was unclear until Aronsson met a pale Ronny Hulth at the stations ticket office. It didnt take long before Hulth broke down and told Aronsson what had happened. Shortly afterward, there was a call from Eskilstuna reporting that the county bus company in Flen had just discovered that a bus had been missing since the previous evening. Could Aronsson call a Jessica Bj?rkman, the live-in girlfriend of a bus driver who had evidently been kidnapped but released? Chief Inspector Aronsson went back to the Plevna Hotel for a cup of coffee and to put all this newly gained information together. He wrote down his observations: An elderly man, Allan Karlsson, goes AWOL from his room at the Old Folks Home just before his hundredth birthday is to be celebrated in the lounge. Karlsson is or was in sensationally good condition for his age. The simple physical fact that he managed to get himself out through a window attests to thisunless the geriatric got help from outside of course, but later observations would suggest that he was acting on his own. Furthermore, Director Alice Englund has testified that Allan may be old, but he is also one hell of a rascal and he damned well does exactly what he feels like. According to the tracking dog, Karlsson, after trampling down a bed of pansies, walked through parts of Malmk?ping and eventually into the waiting room at the bus station where, according to witness Ronny Hulth, he had gone straight up to Hulths ticket windowor rather shuffled up, since Hulth noticed Karlssons short steps and that Karlsson was wearing slippers, not shoes. Hulths further comments indicate that Karlsson wanted to get away from Malmk?ping as quickly as possible, with the direction and the means of transport seeming to be of lesser importance. That is incidentally confirmed by Jessica Bj?rkman, the live-in girlfriend of bus driver Lennart Ramn?r. The bus driver has not been interrogated as yet, on account of his having taken too many sleeping pills. But Bj?rkmans statement seemed sound. Karlsson bought a ticket from Ramn?r for a predetermined amount of money. The destination happened to be Byringe Station. Happened to be. There was thus no reason to believe that anybody or anything was waiting for Karlsson. There was another interesting detail. The ticket seller had not noticed whether Karlsson had a suitcase before he climbed on board the bus to Byringe, but this fact had very soon become apparent to him on account of the violent behavior of a supposed member of the criminal organization Never Again. There wasnt a suitcase in the story Jessica Bj?rkman had managed to get out of her boyfriend, but the fax from the police confirms that Karlsson had presumablyalbeit incrediblystolen the suitcase from the Never Again member. The rest of Bj?rkmans story, together with the fax from Eskilstuna, tells us that Karlsson, at 3:20 in the afternoon, give or take a few minutes, and then the Never Again member, about four hours later, got off at Byringe Station before walking toward an unknown destination. The former is one hundred years old, dragging a suitcase with him; the latter is about seventy-five years younger. Chief Inspector Aronsson closed his notebook and drank the last of the coffee. It was 10:25 a.m. Next stop, Byringe Station. At breakfast, Julius told Allan everything that he had accomplished and plotted during the early morning hours while Allan still slept. First, the unfortunate accident in the freezer room: when Julius realized that the temperature had been below freezing for at least ten hours during the evening and night, he had armed himself with the crowbar and opened the door. If the young man was still alive, he wouldnt be even close to as awake and alert as he would need to be to stand up to Julius and his crowbar. But the crowbar safety measure was unnecessary. The young man sat hunched up on his empty box, his threatening and kicking days over. He had ice crystals on his body and his eyes stared coldly out at nothingdead as a butchered elk, in short. Julius thought it was too bad, but also very convenient. They wouldnt have been able to let that wild man out just like that. Julius turned the fan off and left the door open. The young man was dead, but he didnt have to be frozen solid. Julius lit the stove in the kitchen to keep the place warm, and checked on the money. It wasnt the thirty-seven million that he had hurriedly estimated the evening before. It was exactly fifty million. Allan listened to Juliuss account with interest, while he ate his breakfast with a better appetite than hed had for as long as he could remember. He didnt say anything until Julius reached the money part. Fifty million is easier to split into two than thirty-seven. Nice and equal. Would you be so kind as to pass me the salt? Julius did as Allan requested, saying that he would probably have been able to divide thirty-seven into two as well if it had been necessary, but he agreed that it was easier with fifty. Then Julius became serious. He sat down at the kitchen table opposite Allan, and said that it was high time they left the disused station for good. The young man in the freezer could do no more harm, but who knows what he might have stirred up behind him on the way here? At any moment there could be ten new young men standing there shouting in the kitchen, each one just as ornery as the one who was done shouting. Allan agreed, but reminded Julius of his advanced age and pointed out that he wasnt as mobile as he once had been. Julius promised to see to it that there would be as little walking as possible involved. But get away they must. And it would be best if they took the young man in the freezer with them. It would do the two old men no good if people found a corpse in their wake. Breakfast was done with; now it was time to get going. Julius and Allan lifted the dead young man out of the freezer and into the kitchen, where they put him in a chair while they gathered their strength. Allan inspected him from top to toe, and then said: He has unusually small feet for someone so big. He has no use for his shoes anymore, does he? Julius answered that although it was clearly cold outside at this time of the morning, the risk was greater that Allan would get frostbitten toes than would the young man. If Allan thought the shoes would fit, then he should go ahead and take them. If the young man didnt object, that meant he agreed. The shoes were a bit too large for Allan, but solid and much better suited to being on the run than a pair of well-worn indoor slippers. The next step was to shove the young man out into the hall and tip him down the steps. When all three found themselves out on the platform, two standing and one lying down, Allan wondered what Julius had in mind now. Dont go anywhere, Julius said to Allan. Not you, either, he said to the young man, and jumped down from the platform and headed for a shed at the end of the stations only siding. Shortly afterward, Julius rolled out of the shed on an inspection trolley. Vintage 1954, he said. Welcome aboard. Julius did the heavy pedaling at the front. Just behind him, Allan let his feet follow the movement of the pedals, and the corpse sat on the seat to the right with his head propped up on a broom handle and dark sunglasses covering his staring eyes. It was five to eleven when the party set off. Three minutes later, a dark blue Volvo arrived at Byringes former railway station. Chief Inspector G?ran Aronsson stepped out of the car. The building did undeniably seem to be abandoned, but he should probably take a closer look before he moved on to Byringe village to knock on doors. Aronsson stepped cautiously up onto the platform, since it didnt look entirely stable. He opened the door and called out: Is anybody home? Not receiving an answer, he went up the stairs to the first floor. In fact, the building did seem to be inhabited. Downstairs, there were glowing embers in the kitchen stove and an almost-finished breakfast for two on the table. On the floor sat a pair of well-worn slippers. Never Again described itself officially as a motorcycle club, but in fact it was a small group of young men with criminal records, led by a middle-aged man with an even longer criminal record, all of them with ongoing criminal intentions. The leader of the group was called Per-Gunnar Gerdin, but nobody dared call him anything but the Boss, because thats what the Boss had decided and he was almost six-and-a-half feet tall, weighed about 500 pounds, and was apt to wave a knife around if anybody or anything crossed him. The Boss had started his criminal career in a rather low-key way. Together with a partner, he imported fruit and vegetables into Sweden and faked the country of origin in order to deprive the state of taxes and get a higher price from consumers. The only problem with the Bosss partner was that his conscience wasnt sufficiently flexible. The Boss wanted to diversify into more radical schemes such as soaking food in formaldehyde. He had heard that was how they did things in some parts of Asia and the Boss had the idea of importing Swedish meatballs from the Philippines, cheap and by sea. With the right amount of formaldehyde the meatballs would stay fresh for three months if necessary, even at 100 degrees. They would be so cheap that the partners wouldnt even have to label them as Swedish to sell them at a profit. Danish would suffice, thought the Boss, but his partner said no. In his opinion, formaldehyde was fine for embalming corpses, but not for giving eternal life to meatballs. So they went their separate ways and nothing more came of the formaldehyde meatballs. Instead, the Boss discovered that he could pull a ski mask over his face and rob his most serious competitor, Stockholm Fruit Import AB, of their days takings. With the help of a machete and an angry shout of Gimme the cash or else! in an instant and to his own surprise, he had become forty-one thousand crowns richer. Why slave away with imports when you could earn such nice money for almost no work at all? And thus the course was set. Usually it went well. In almost twenty years as an entrepreneur in the robbery business, he had only had a couple of short involuntary vacations. But after two decades, the Boss felt it was time to think bigger. He found a couple of younger henchmen. The first thing he did was to give each of them a suitably idiotic nickname (one was called Bolt and the other, Bucket), and with their help he then carried out two successful armored car robberies. A third armored car robbery, however, ended with four-and-a-half years in a maximum-security prison for all three of them. It was there that the Boss got the idea for Never Again. During stage one, the club would consist of about fifty members, divided into three operative branches: robbery, narcotics, and extortion. The name Never Again came from the Bosss vision of creating such a professional and watertight structure for crime that they would never again find themselves in a maximum-security prison. Never Again would be the Real Madrid of organized crime (the Boss was crazy about soccer). In the beginning, the recruitment process in prison went well. But then a letter to the Boss from his mom happened to go astray in the prison. His mom wrote, among other things, that her little Per-Gunnar should take care not to mix with bad company in the prison, that he should be careful with his delicate tonsils, and that she was looking forward to playing the Treasure Island Game with him again when he got out. After that, it didnt help that the Boss sliced up a couple of Yugoslavs in the lunch line and generally acted like a violent psychotic. His authority was damaged. Of the thirty recruits so far, twenty-seven dropped out. Besides Bolt and Bucket, only a Venezuelan named Jos? Mari? Rodriguez stayed on, the latter because he was secretly in love with the Boss, which he never dared admit to anybody, even himself. The Venezuelan was given the name Caracas, after the capital city of his home country. However much the Boss threatened and swore, no one else joined his club. And one day, he and his three henchmen were released from prison. At first, the Boss thought of abandoning the whole idea of Never Again, but Caracas happened to have a Colombian comrade with a flexible conscience and dubious friends, and after one thing and another, Sweden (through Never Again) became the gateway country to eastern Europe for the Colombian narcotics trade. The deals got bigger and bigger, and there was neither need nor staff to activate the robbery and extortion branches. The Boss convened a war council in Stockholm with Bucket and Caracas. Something had happened to Bolt, the clumsy idiot who had been trusted to carry out the clubs largest transaction so far. The Boss had been in contact with the Russians in the morning and they swore that they had gotten the merchandiseand handed over the payment. If Never Agains courier had run off with the suitcase then that wasnt the Russians problem. The Boss assumed for the time being that the Russians were telling the truth. Would Bolt voluntarily have skipped town with the money? No, he dismissed the idea; Bolt was too stupid for that. Or too wise, however you wanted to look at it. Somebody must have known about the transaction, have waited for the right moment in Malmk?ping or on Bolts journey back to Stockholm, knocked out Bolt, and grabbed the suitcase. But who? The Boss presented the question to the war council and didnt get an answer. The Boss wasnt surprised; he had long ago decided that his henchmen were idiots, all three of them. Anyhow, he ordered Bucket out into the field, because the Boss thought that the idiot Bucket was still not quite as big an idiot as the idiot Caracas. The idiot Bucket would thus have a greater chance of finding idiot Bolt, and perhaps even the suitcase with the money. Go down to Malmk?ping and poke around a bit, Bucket. But dont wear your jacket; police are all over the town. A hundred-year-old guy has disappeared. Julius, Allan, and the corpse rolled along through the forest. At Vidk?rr they had the misfortune to meet a farmer. The farmer was there inspecting his crops when the trio came racing by on the inspection trolley. Good morning, said Julius. Nice day, said Allan. The corpse and the farmer didnt say anything. But the farmer stared at the trio for a long time as they went off into the distance. The closer the trolley got to the local steel works, the more worried Julius got. He had thought they might pass a lake on the way and that theyd be able to dump the corpse in it. But they didnt. And before Julius had time to worry any further, the trolley rolled into the foundry yard. Julius applied the brakes just in time. The corpse fell forward and hit its forehead on an iron handle. That would have been really painful if the circumstances had been a little different, said Allan. There are undoubtedly advantages to being dead, said Julius. Julius climbed down from the trolley and positioned himself behind a birch tree to survey the area. The enormous doors into the factory halls were open, but the yard seemed deserted. Julius looked at his watch. It was ten past twelve. Lunchtime, he realized. He spotted a large container and announced that he intended to go off and do a bit of reconnaissance. Allan wished Julius the best of luck and asked him not to get lost. There wasnt much risk of that, because Julius was only going to walk the thirty yards to the container. He climbed in and was out of Allans sight for just over a minute. Once back at the trolley, Julius announced that he now knew what to do with the corpse. The container had been packed half full of steel cylinders of some sort, each one of them in a protective wooden box with a lid. Allan was totally exhausted once the heavy corpse was finally in place inside one of the innermost cylinders. But when he closed the wooden lid and saw the address label, he livened right up. Addis Ababa. Hes going to see the world if he keeps his peepers open, said Allan. Hurry up, Julius said. We cant stay here. The operation went well, and the two men were back under the birch trees well before the lunch break was over. They sat down on the trolley to rest, and soon things started to liven up in the factory yard. A truck driver filled the container with a few more cylinders. Then he closed and locked it, brought over a new container, and continued the loading. Allan wondered what they actually manufactured there. Julius knew it was a works with a history; as far back as the seventeenth century they had cast and supplied cannons to everybody in the Thirty Years War who wanted to do their killing more efficiently. Allan thought it sounded unnecessary for the people in the seventeenth century to kill each other. If they had only been a little patient they would all have died in the end anyway. Julius said that you could say the same of all epochs. Then he announced that the break was now over and that it was time to make themselves scarce. Juliuss simple plan was that the two friends would walk the short distance into the more central parts of ?ker and once there decide on their next move. Chief Inspector Aronsson went through the old station building in Byringe without finding anything of interest except a pair of slippers that might have belonged to the centenarian. He would take them with him to show the staff at the Old Folks Home. There were pools of water here and there on the kitchen floor, leading to an open walk-in freezer, which was switched off. But that was unlikely to be of any significance. Aronsson continued into Byringe village to knock on doors. There were people at home in three of the houses, and from all three families he learned that a Julius Jonsson lived on the first floor of the station building, that Julius Jonsson was a thief and a con man whom nobody wanted to have anything to do with, and that nobody had heard or seen anything strange since the previous evening. But they all took it for granted that Julius Jonsson was up to no good. Put him behind bars, one of the angriest neighbors demanded. For what reason? the chief inspector wondered in a tired voice. Because he steals my eggs from the henhouse at night, because he stole my newly purchased sled last winter and painted it and called it his own, because he orders books in my name, goes through my mailbox when they arrive and lets me pay the bill, because he tries to sell privately distilled vodka to my fourteen-year-old son, because he Okay, Okay, fine. Ill put him behind bars, said the chief inspector. I just have to find him first. Aronsson turned back toward Malmk?ping and was about halfway there when his mobile rang. A farmer had just phoned in with an interesting tip. An hour or so earlier, a known petty criminal from the district had passed his fields on an inspection trolley on the disused railway line between Byringe and ?ker Foundry. On the trolley he saw an old man, a big suitcase, and a young man with sunglasses. The young man seemed to be in charge, according to the farmer. Even though he wasnt wearing any shoes I dont get it, said Chief Inspector Aronsson and turned his car around at such a speed that the slippers on the passenger seat fell onto the floor. After a couple of hundred yards, Allans already glacial walking pace slowed. He didnt complain, but Julius could see that the old mans knees were causing problems. In the distance stood a hot dog stand. Julius promised Allan that if he made it to the hot dog stand, then Julius would treat himhe could afford itand then he would find a solution to the transportation problem. Allan replied that never in his life had he complained over a bit of discomfort and that he wasnt going to start now, but that a hot dog would hit the spot. Julius increased his pace; Allan stumbled after him. When he arrived, Julius had already eaten half of his hot dog. A fancy grilled one. And that wasnt all. Allan, he said, come and say hello to Benny. Hes our new private chauffeur. Benny, the owner of the hot dog stand, was about fifty, and still in possession of all his hair, including a ponytail. In about two minutes, Julius had managed to buy a hot dog, an orange soda, and Bennys silver 1988 Mercedes, including Benny himself, all for one hundred thousand crowns. Allan looked at the owner of the hot dog stand. Have we bought you too, or just hired you? he asked finally. The car has been bought, the chauffeur has been hired, Benny answered. For ten days to start with, then it seems we are going to have a new discussion. A hot dog is included in the price. Can I tempt you with a Viennese wurst? No, he couldnt. Allan just wanted an ordinary boiled sausage if that was all right. And besides, said Allan, one hundred thousand for such an old car was an extremely high price even if it included a driver, so now it was only fair that he throw in a bottle of chocolate milk too. Benny agreed instantly. He would be leaving his kiosk behind and a chocolate milk more or less made no difference. His business was losing money anyway; running a hot dog stand in a small village had turned out to be just as bad an idea as it had seemed at the beginning. In fact, Benny informed them, even before the two gentlemen had so conveniently turned up, he had been toying with plans to do something different with his life. But a private chauffeur, well, he hadnt pictured that. In light of what the hot-dog-stand manager had just told them, Allan suggested that Benny load an entire carton of chocolate milk into the trunk of the car. And Julius, for his part, promised that Benny would get his own private chauffeurs cap at the first opportunity, if only he would take off his hot-dog-stand chefs hat and exit the stand because it was time for them to be on their way. Benny didnt think it was part of his job to argue with his employers, so he did as he was told. His chefs hat ended up in the garbage, and the chocolate milk went into the trunk. But Julius wanted to keep the suitcase on the backseat with him. Allan had to sit in the front where he could stretch out his legs properly. So the only hot-dog-stand manager in ?ker went and sat in the drivers seat of what a few minutes earlier had been his own Mercedes, now honorably sold to the two gentlemen in Bennys company. And where do you two gentlemen want to go? asked Benny. What about north? said Julius. Yes, that would be fine, said Allan. Or south. Then well say south, said Julius. South it is, said Benny. Ten minutes later, Chief Inspector Aronsson arrived at ?ker. By following the railway tracks, he discovered an old inspection trolley behind the factory. But the trolley provided no obvious clues. The workers in the yard were busy loading cylinders of some type into containers. None of them had seen the trolley arrive. But just after lunch they had seen two elderly men walking along the road, one of them dragging a large suitcase. They were headed in the direction of the gas station and the hot dog stand. Aronsson asked if there were really only two men, not three. But the workers hadnt seen a third person. Driving to the gas station and the hot dog stand, Aronsson considered this new information. But it was harder than ever to make sense of it all. First, he stopped at the hot dog stand. He was getting hungry, so it was perfect timing. But it was closed. It had to be tough to run a hot dog stand out in this wilderness, Aronsson thought, and continued on to the gas station. There, they had seen nothing and heard nothing. But at least they could sell Aronsson a hot dog, even though it tasted of gas. After his quick lunch, Aronsson went to the supermarket, the flower shop, and the Realtor. And he stopped and spoke to any natives who had ventured out with dogs, baby carriages, or a husband or wife. But nobody had seen two or three men with a suitcase. The trail simply came to an end somewhere between the foundry and the gas station. Chief Inspector Aronsson decided to return to Malmk?ping. At least he had a pair of slippers that required identification. Aronsson phoned the county police chief from his car and updated him. The county police chief was grateful because he was giving a press conference at the Plevna Hotel at two oclock and so far he had had nothing to say. The police chief had something of a theatrical bent; he was not inclined to understatement. And now Chief Inspector Aronsson had given him just what he needed for todays show. So the police chief pulled out all the stops during the press conference, before Aronsson had time to get back to Malmk?ping to stop him (which he wouldnt have succeeded in doing anyway). The police chief announced that the police had to assume that Allan Karlssons disappearance had developed into a kidnapping, just as the local newspapers Web site had suggested the previous day. The police now had information that Karlsson was alive but in the hands of people from the underworld. There were of course a lot of questions, but the police chief skillfully avoided them. What he could tell the press was that Karlsson and his presumed kidnappers had been seen in the little village of ?ker as recently as around lunchtime that very day. And he urged the police authoritys best friendthe General Publicto keep their eyes open. To the disappointment of the police chief, the TV team hadnt stayed around for his dramatic announcement. They would surely have been hooked if that sluggard Aronsson had managed to dig up the kidnapping story a little earlier. But at least the national tabloid was there, as were the local paper and a reporter from the local radio. And at the back of the hotel dining room stood another man whom the police chief didnt recognize. Was he from the national news agency? Bucket wasnt from a news agency. But he was becoming convinced that Bolt had skipped town with all the doughin which case he was now as good as dead. When Chief Inspector Aronsson arrived at the Plevna Hotel, the press had dispersed. On his way, Aronsson had stopped off at the Old Folks Home and they had confirmed that the slippers did indeed belong to Allan Karlsson. (Director Alice sniffed at them and nodded with a disgusted look on her face.) Aronsson had the misfortune to stumble upon the county police chief in the hotel lobby. The chief told him about the press conference and ordered him to solve the crime, preferably in such a way that it didnt conflict with what the police chief had said to the press. Then the police chief went on his way. He had a lot of work to do. It was, for example, high time to bring a prosecutor on board. Aronsson sat down with a cup of coffee to reflect on the latest developments. He decided to focus on the relationship between the three trolley passengers. If the farmer had been wrong about Karlsson and Jonssons relationship to the trolleys third passenger, then it might be a hostage drama. The police chief had just said as much at his press conference, but since he was rarely right, that might be a strike against the kidnapping theory. Besides, witnesses had seen Karlsson and Jonsson walking around in ?kerwith a suitcase. So the question was, had the two old men, Karlsson and Jonsson, somehow managed to overpower the young and strong Never Again member and throw him into a ditch? An incredible but not impossible idea. Aronsson decided to call in the Eskilstuna police dog again. The dog and her handler would need to take a long walk all the way from the farmers fields to the foundry in ?ker. Somewhere in between, the Never Again member had disappeared. Karlsson and Jonsson themselves managed to disappear into thin air somewhere between the back of the foundry and the gas stationa distance of 200 yards. They disappeared from the face of the earth without anyone noticing. The only thing along the route was a closed hot dog stand. Aronssons mobile rang. The police had received a new tip. This time the centenarian had been seen in Mj?lby, probably kidnapped by the middle-aged man with the ponytail who sat behind the wheel of a silver Mercedes. Should we check it out? his colleague asked. No, said Aronsson, sighing. Years of experience had taught Aronsson to distinguish between good and bad tips. That was a consolation when most things were clouded in mist. Benny stopped in Mj?lby to get gas. Julius carefully opened the suitcase and pulled out a 500-crown note to pay with. Then Julius said he wanted to stretch his legs a little, and asked Allan to stay in the car and guard the suitcase. Allan was tired after the days hardships, and promised not to move an inch. Benny came back first, and got behind the wheel. Shortly after, Julius returned. The Mercedes continued its journey south. After a while, Julius started to rustle something in the backseat. He held out an opened bag of candy to Allan and Benny. Just look what I found in my pocket, he said. Allan raised his eyebrows: You stole a bag of candy, when weve got fifty million in the suitcase? Youve got fifty million in the suitcase? asked Benny. Oops, said Allan. Not quite, said Julius. We gave you one hundred thousand. Plus five hundred for the gas, said Allan. Benny was silent for a few seconds. So youve got forty-nine million, eight hundred and ninety-nine thousand, five hundred crowns in the suitcase? You have a head for numbers, said Allan. Silence reigned until Julius said that it might be better to explain everything to the private chauffeur. If Benny wanted to break their contract, then that would be quite all right. The part of the story Benny found hardest to stomach was that a person had been put to death and subsequently packed for export. But on the other hand, it had clearly been an accident, even though vodka was involved. For his part, Benny never touched the hard stuff. The newly employed chauffeur thought it through and decided that the fifty million had most certainly been in the wrong hands from the very beginning, and now the money might be of more use to humanity. Besides, it seemed wrong to resign on the very first day of a new job. So Benny promised to stay on and wondered what the two old men were planning next. Until then, he hadnt wanted to ask; in Bennys opinion, curiosity was not a desirable quality in private chauffeurs, but now he had become a bit of a conspirator. Allan and Julius admitted that they didnt actually have any plan at all. Maybe they could follow the road until it started to get dark, and then spend the night somewhere where they could discuss the matter in more detail. Fifty million, said Benny and smiled, while he put the Mercedes into first gear. Forty-nine million, eight hundred and ninety-nine thousand, five hundred crowns, Allan corrected him. Then Julius had to promise to stop stealing things for the sake of stealing. He said it wouldnt be easy; he had it in his blood and wasnt suited to anything else. But he did promise, and one thing Julius knew about himself was that he rarely failed to keep his promises. The journey continued in silence. Allan soon fell asleep. Julius ate another candy. And Benny hummed a song whose name he didnt remember. A tabloid journalist who sensed a story is not easy to stop. It didnt take long for the reporters to form a much clearer picture of the true course of events than the one the county police chief had presented at the afternoons press conference. This time around, the Express was the first to get hold of ticket seller Ronny Hulth, visit him at his home, andupon promising to find a live-in partner for Ronny Hulths lonely catmanage to persuade him to follow the reporter to a hotel in Eskilstuna for the nightout of reach of the rival paper. At first, Hulth had been afraid to talk; he remembered only too well what the young man had threatened him with. But the reporter promised that Hulth could remain anonymous and assured him that nothing would happen to him since the police were now involved in the case. But the Express did not stop at Hulth. The bus driver too had been caught in the net, as had the villagers in Byringe, the farmer in Vidk?rr, and various people in the ?ker village. All in all, this offered fodder for several dramatic articles the next day. They were of course full of incorrect assumptions, but considering the circumstances the reporter had done well. The silver Mercedes drove on. Eventually, Julius too fell asleep. Allan was snoring in the front seat, Julius in the back with the suitcase as an uncomfortable pillow. All of this while Benny charted their course as best he could. Eventually Benny decided to leave the highway, continuing south, deep into the Sm?land forests. Here he was hoping to find suitable lodging for the night. Allan woke up and wondered whether it wouldnt soon be time to go to bed. That conversation woke up Julius, who looked around, seeing forest everywhere, and asked where they were. Benny told them that they were now about fifteen miles north of V?xj? and that he had been thinking while the gentlemen slept. What he had concluded was that for reasons of security it would be best to find a discreet place to stay the night. They didnt know who was chasing them, but if you stole a suitcase with fifty million, you should not expect to be left in peace. So Benny had turned off the road that led to V?xj?, and headed toward a much humbler place called Rottne. Perhaps there might be a small hotel there where they could spend the night. Smart, said Julius appreciatively. But perhaps not smart enough. Julius explained what he meant. In Rottne there might be, at best, a little shabby hotel that nobody ever found their way to. If three gentlemen without a reservation suddenly turned up one evening it would attract considerable attention from the villagers. Better, in that case, to find a farm or a house somewhere in the forest and bribe their way into a room for the night and something to eat. Benny found Juliuss reasoning wise, and thus turned on to the first insignificant gravel road he saw. It had just started to get dark when after almost two winding miles the three men saw a mailbox at the side of the road. On the mailbox it said: Lake Farm, and next to it was an even narrower track, which they presumed would lead to the farm. And that turned out to be correct. A hundred yards farther on they came across a house. It was a proper red two-story farmhouse with white window frames and a barn. Farther along beside a lake there was something that had once been a tool shed. The place seemed to be inhabited and Benny brought the Mercedes to a halt just in front of the entrance to the farmhouse. Then, out through the front door came a woman in her early forties, with frizzy red hair, wearing an even redder track suit, and with an Alsatian at her heel. The three men got out of the Mercedes. Julius glanced at the dog, but it didnt look as if it would attack them. In fact, it gave the guests a curious, almost friendly look. So Julius dared to take his eyes off it. He said a polite Good evening and explained their quest for a place to sleep and perhaps a bite to eat. The woman looked at the motley crew in front of her: an old man, a less-old man, and a rather stylish guy, she had to admit. And the right age too. And with a ponytail! She smiled to herself and Julius thought they were set, but then she said: This is not a damn hotel. Allan sighed. He really was longing for something to eat and a bed. Life was exhausting now that he had decided to live a little longer. Say what you like about the Old Folks Home; at least it didnt give him aches and pains all over his body. Julius looked disappointed too and said that he and his friends were lost and tired, and that they were naturally prepared to pay their way if only they could stay there the night. If absolutely necessary they could skip the food bit. Well pay one thousand crowns per person if you give us somewhere to sleep, Julius offered. One thousand crowns? said the woman. Are you on the run? Julius brushed her rather perceptive question aside and explained again that they had come a long way, and although he could probably keep going, Allan here was advanced in years. Yesterday was my hundredth birthday, said Allan in a pathetic voice. One hundred? said the woman, almost frightened. Well, Ill be damned! And then she was silent for a moment. What the hell, she finally said. I suppose you can stay. But forget the thousand crowns. Like I said, this is not a damn hotel Im running here. Benny gave her an admiring look. He had never heard a woman swear so much in such a short time. He thought it sounded delightful. My Beauty, he said. May I pet your dog? Beauty? said the woman. Are you blind? But sure, pet away. Buster is friendly. You can each have a room upstairs; theres plenty of room here. The sheets are clean, but watch out for the rat poison on the floor. Dinner will be on the table in an hour. The woman headed past the three guests toward the barn, with Buster faithfully at her side. Benny inquired in passing what her name might be. Without turning she said it was Gunilla but that she thought Beauty sounded fine, so just stick the fuck to that. Benny promised. I think Im in love, said Benny. I know Im tired, said Allan. At that very moment, they heard a bellowing from the barn that made even the exhausted Allan stand up straight. It must have come from a very large and possibly pained animal. Cool it, Sonya, said the Beauty. Im on my damn way. SEVEN 19291939 The little house in Yxhult was a mess. During the years Allan had been in Professor Lundborgs care, the tiles had blown off the roof and lay scattered on the ground, the outhouse had fallen over, and one of the kitchen windows was flapping in the wind. Allan peed in the open air, since there was no longer an outhouse in working order. Then he went in and sat in his dusty kitchen. He left the window open. He was hungry but resisted the urge to check the larder; it wouldnt improve his mood, he was sure. He had grown up here, but home had never felt as distant as it did at that moment. Was it time to cut his ties with the past and move on? Most definitely. Allan got out several sticks of dynamite and set about a familiar task before packing his bike trailer with the few valuables he owned. At dusk on the third of June 1929, he took off. The dynamite exploded as it was meant to exactly thirty minutes later. The little house was blown to bits and the neighbors cow had another miscarriage. An hour later, Allan was behind bars at the police station in Flen, eating dinner while being yelled at by Superintendent Krook. The Flen police had just acquired a police car and it hadnt taken long to catch the man who had blown his own house to bits and pieces. This time, the offense was more obvious. Negligent destruction, said Superintendent Krook authoritatively. Could you pass me the bread? Allan asked. No, Superintendent Krook could not. He could, however, dress down his poor assistant who had weakly complied with the wishes of the delinquent when he had requested an evening meal. In the meantime, Allan finished his dinner and then let himself be taken to the same cell as last time. You dont happen to have todays paper? Allan asked. Something to read before bed, that is. Superintendent Krook replied by turning off the ceiling light and slamming the door. The next morning, the first thing he did was phone that loony bin in Uppsala to tell them to come and get Allan Karlsson. But Bernhard Lundborgs colleagues turned a deaf ear. Karlssons treatment was complete, and now they had others to castrate and analyze. If only the police superintendent knew how many people the nation must be saved from: Jews and Gypsies and Negroes and imbeciles and others. The fact that Mr. Karlsson had blown his own house to bits did not qualify him for a new journey to Uppsala. Arent you allowed to do what you want with your own house? We live in a free country, dont we? Police Superintendent Krook hung up. He could make no headway with these big-city types. He regretted that he had not let Karlsson bike away the previous evening. And that is why Allan Karlsson, after a morning of negotiations, was back on his bicycle with the trailer in tow. This time he had food for three days in neat packets and double blankets to keep him warm if the weather turned cool. He waved good-bye to Superintendent Krook, who didnt wave back, and then turned north, because that direction seemed to Allan to be as good as any. By afternoon, the road had taken him to H?lleforsn?s, and that was far enough for one day. Allan stopped beside a grassy slope, spread out a blanket, and opened one of his food packets. While he chewed away at a slice of syrupy bread with salami, he studied the industrial premises that hed happened to choose for his picnic site. Outside the factory was a heap of cannon pipes from the foundry. Perhaps the people who made cannons could use someone to make sure that they went off when they were meant to go off. There was no point in biking as far away from Yxhult as possible. H?lleforsn?s would do as well as anywhere else. If there was work to be had, that is. Allans assumption that the presence of cannon pipes might mean work for him was perhaps a little naive. Nevertheless it turned out to be exactly right. After a short talk with the director, during which Allan omitted details of certain recent life events, he secured employment as an ignition specialist. He was going to like it here, thought Allan. The manufacture of cannons was at a low point at the foundry in H?lleforsn?s, and the orders continued to decline. The minister of defense, in the aftermath of the First World War, had reduced the funds available to the military, while King Gustav V sat in the palace gnashing his teeth. The defense minister, a man with an analytic bent, realized in hindsight that Sweden should have been better armed when the war broke out, but that didnt mean that there was any point in arming now, ten years later. The consequences for the H?lleforsn?s foundry were that production was switched to more peaceful products, and the workers lost their jobs. But not Allanignition specialists being hard to come by. The factory owner had hardly believed his ears and eyes when Allan appeared one day and turned out to be an expert on explosives of every type. Up until then, he had been forced to rely entirely upon the ignition specialist he had, and that was not a good thing, because the man was a foreigner, could hardly speak Swedish, and had black hair all over his body. He also doubted whether the man was reliable. But the owner had not had much choice. Allan, on the other hand, did not think of people in terms of their color. He had always found Professor Lundborgs ideas strange. But he was curious to meet his first black man. It was with longing that he read the advertisements in the paper announcing that Josephine Baker was to appear in Stockholm, but he had to settle for Esteb?n, his white but dark-skinned Spanish ignition specialist colleague. Allan and Esteb?n got along well, and shared a room in the workers barracks next to the foundry. Esteb?n told Allan his dramatic story. He had met a girl at a party in Madrid and secretly embarked upon a fairly innocent relationship with her, without realizing that she was the daughter of the prime minister, Miguel Primo de Rivera. The prime minister was not a man you argued with; he governed the country as he wished, with the King trailing helplessly along behind him. Prime minister was a polite word for dictator, in Esteb?ns opinion. But Primo de Riveras daughter was a knockout. Esteb?ns proletarian background had not in any way appealed to his potential father-in-law. So in his first, and only, meeting with Primo de Rivera, Esteb?n was informed that he had two alternatives. One was to disappear as far away from Spanish territory as possible, the other was to receive a bullet through his neck on the spot. While Primo de Rivera cocked his rifle, Esteb?n said that he had at that moment decided in favor of the first alternative, and backed rapidly out of the room without so much as a glance in the direction of the sobbing girl. As far away as possible, thought Esteb?n, and he went north, and then even farther north and finally so far north that the lakes froze to ice in the winter. He had been in Sweden ever since. He had gotten the job at the foundry three years earlier with some interpreting help from a Catholic priest and, may God forgive him, a made-up story about having worked with explosives back home in Spain, when in actual fact he had mainly picked tomatoes. Gradually, Esteb?n had managed to learn workable Swedish and had become a fairly competent ignition specialist. And now, with Allan at his side, he became a real professional. Allan felt at home in the workers barracks. After a year, he could make himself understood in the Spanish that Esteb?n taught him. After two years, his Spanish was virtually fluent. But it took three years before Esteb?n gave up his attempts to impose his Spanish variety of international socialism on Allan. He tried everything, but Allan was not susceptible. Esteb?n could not understand that particular facet of his best friends personality. It wasnt that Allan took an opposite view of the ways of the world and argued accordingly. No, he simply had no opinion whatsoever. Allan had the same problem. Esteb?n was a good friend. It wasnt his fault that he had been poisoned by those damned politics. He certainly wasnt the only one. The seasons came and went for some time before Allans life took a new turn. It started when Esteb?n finally received the news that Primo de Rivera had resigned and fled the country. Now proper democracy was just round the corner, perhaps even socialism, and Esteb?n didnt want to miss that. So he planned to go home as soon as possible. The foundry was getting fewer and fewer orders because Se?or Defense Minister had decided that there wouldnt be any more wars. Esteb?n was sure that both ignition specialists would be fired any day. What did his friend Allan have in mind for the future? Did he want to come along to Spain? Allan thought about it. On the one hand, he wasnt interested in any revolution, Spanish or otherwise. It would probably only lead to a new revolution, in the opposite direction. On the other hand, Spain was actually abroad, just like every other country except Sweden, and after having read about countries abroad all his life perhaps it wouldnt be such a bad idea to experience them for real. On the way, they might even meet up with a black man or two. When Esteb?n promised that they would meet at least one black man on the way to Spain, Allan had to say yes. The two friends then discussed more practical matters. In doing so they came to the conclusion that the owner of the foundry was a stupid bastard (that was exactly how they put it) and did not deserve their consideration. They decided to await that weeks wages and then discreetly disappear. So it was that Allan and Esteb?n got up at five in the morning the following Sunday to depart by bicycle with trailer attached, headed in a southerly direction, leadingeventuallyto Spain. On the way, Esteb?n planned to stop outside the foundry owners residence to drop off a complete sample of the result of his morning visit to the outhouse, delivered in a milk-filled jug that looked just like the one that arrived early every morning at the factory owners gate. Esteb?n had been forced to put up for a long time with being called the ape by the factory owner and his two teenage sons. Revenge is not a good thing, Allan warned him. Revenge is like politics: one thing always leads to another until bad has become worse, and worse has become worst. But Esteb?n insisted. Just because you had slightly hairy arms and didnt speak the foundry owners language that didnt make you an ape, did it? Allan had to agree, so the two friends arrived at a reasonable compromise. Esteb?n would limit himself to pissing into the milk. That same morning witnesses had tattled to the foundry owner that Allan and Esteb?n had been seen on bikes with trailers on the way toward Katrineholm, or perhaps even farther south, so the foundry owner was prepared for the coming weeks immediate decrease in staff. He sat brooding on the veranda of his lavish foundry owners villa while he sipped the glass of milk that Sigrid had kindly served him, together with an almond biscuit. The foundry owners mood darkened because there seemed to be something wrong with the biscuits. They had a distinct taste of ammonia. The foundry owner decided to wait until after church to tell Sigrid off. For the time being, he would drink another glass of milk, hoping to remove the unpleasant taste in his mouth. So it was that Allan found himself in Spain. It took them three months to make their way down through Europe, and on the way he got to meet more black men than he ever dreamed of. But after the first one, he lost interest. It turned out that there was no difference other than the color of their skin, except of course that they spoke weird languages, but the whites did that too, from southern Sweden onward. Professor Lundborg must have been frightened by a black man when he was a child, thought Allan. Allan and his friend Esteb?n came to a land in chaos. The King had fled to Rome and been replaced by a republic. The Left called for revoluci?n, while the Right was terrified by what had gone on in Stalins Russia. Would the same thing happen here? For a moment Esteb?n forgot that his friend was incorrigibly apolitical and tried to drag Allan in the direction of revolution. But Allan stuck to his habit of not getting involved. It seemed all too familiar, and Allan was still unable to understand why everything always had to become the exact opposite of what it was. An unsuccessful military coup from the Right was followed by a general strike from the Left. Then there was a general election. The Left won, and the Right got grumpy, or was it the other way around? Allan wasnt really sure. In the end, there was war. Allan was in a foreign country and had no better idea than to follow half a step behind his friend Esteb?n, who joined the army and was immediately promoted to sergeant when his platoon leader realized that Esteb?n knew how to blow things up. Allans friend wore his uniform with pride and looked forward to his first contribution to the war. The platoon was ordered to blow up a couple of bridges in a valley in Aragon, and Esteb?ns group was told to deal with the first bridge. Esteb?n was so exalted by the trust placed in him that he got up onto a rock, grabbed his rifle in his left hand, raised it in the air, and shouted: Death to fascism, death to all He didnt manage to finish the sentence before half of his head and one shoulder were shot away by what might possibly have been one of the first enemy mortars fired in the war. Allan was about twenty yards away when it happened, and thus avoided being dirtied by the parts of his comrade that were spread around the rock that Esteb?n had been stupid enough to stand on. One of the soldiers in Esteb?ns group started to cry. For his part, Allan looked around at what was left of his friend and decided that it wasnt worth picking up the bits. You should have stayed in H?lleforsn?s, said Allan and suddenly felt a sincere longing to be chopping wood outside his little house in Yxhult. The mortar that killed Esteb?n may well have been the first in the war, but it certainly wasnt the last. Allan considered going home, but suddenly the war was all around him. Besides, it was one hell of a long walk back to Sweden, and nobody was waiting for him. So Allan sought out Esteb?ns company commander, introduced himself as Europes leading pyrotechnical expert, and said that he would be prepared to blow up bridges and other infrastructural constructions for the company commander, in exchange for three square meals a day and enough wine to get drunk on when circumstances allowed. The company commander was about to have Allan shot because he stubbornly refused to sing the praises of socialism and the republic and, almost worse, he insisted on serving in civilian clothes. As Allan expressed it: One more thing if I am going to blow up bridges for you, then Im going to do it wearing my own jacket; otherwise you can blow up the bridges yourself. No company commander has ever been born who would let himself be browbeaten by a civilian in that way. The problem for this particular company commander was that the most skilled explosives expert in his company was spread in pieces across a rock on a nearby hill. While the company commander sat in his foldable military field chair and ruminated upon whether Allans immediate future was employment or execution, one of the platoon leaders whispered in his ear that the young sergeant who so unfortunately had just been shot to bits had previously affirmed this strange Swedes abilities as a master in the field of explosives. That decided the matter. Se?or Karlsson could a) stay alive, b) be fed three square meals a day, c) have the right to wear his jacket, and d) have exactly the same right as all the others to sample the wine now and then, in reasonable quantities. In return, he would blow up exactly what the commanders around him requested. Two foot soldiers were asked to keep a special eye on the Swede, because there was no way of knowing for certain that he wasnt a spy. The months turned to years. Allan blew up what he was told to blow up, and he did so with considerable skill. The job was not without its risks. You often had to crawl along the ground in order to sneak up on the object that was to be blown up, place an explosive charge there with a time fuse, and then zigzag your way back to safe ground. After three months, one of Allans two soldier guards lost his life (by mistake he crawled right into an enemy camp). Six months later, the other one met the same fate (he got up to stretch his back and immediately that same body part was shot in two). The company commander didnt bother to replace them, since Se?or Karlsson had done such a good job with the explosives. Allan couldnt see the point of killing lots of people unnecessarily, so he tried to make sure the bridge in question was empty when the charge went off. That was true as well for the very last bridge he was ordered to blow just before the war ended. But this time, just as he had finished his preparations and had crawled back to some bushes beyond one of the bridge foundations, an enemy patrol came walking toward him with a medal-wearing little man in the middle. They approached from the other side and seemed to be totally unaware that the republicans were close by, and that they were just about to join Esteb?n and tens of thousands of other Spaniards in eternity. But Allan had had enough. So he got up out of the bushes and started to wave his arms. Go away! he hollered at the little man with the medals and his entourage. Be off, before you get blown up! The little man with the medals gave a start. Then his entourage dragged him over the bridge and didnt stop until they had reached Allans bush. Eight rifles were suddenly pointed at the Swede and at least one of them would have been fired if it hadnt been for the bridge suddenly blowing up behind them all. The pressure wave knocked the little man with the medals into Allans bush. In the tumult, none of the little mans entourage dared send a bullet in Allans direction, since it might hit the wrong person. Besides, he appeared to be a civilian. And when the smoke settled there was no longer any question of killing Allan. The little man with the medals shook his hand and explained that a real general knows how to show his appreciation and that the best thing now was for the group to withdraw to the other side again, with or without a bridge. If his savior wanted to come along, he was more than welcome. Once there the general would invite him to dinner. Paella Andaluz, said the general. My cook is from the south. ?Comprende? Yes, indeed, Allan understood. He understood that he had saved the life of the generalissimo himself; he understood that it was probably to his advantage to be standing there in his dirty jacket instead of in an enemy uniform; he understood that his friends on the hill a few hundred yards away would be watching the whole thing through binoculars and he understood that for the sake of his health it would be best to change sides in the warthe purpose of which he hadnt in any case understood. Besides, he was hungry. S?, por favor, m? general, said Allan. Paella would hit the spot. Perhaps with a glass or two of red wine? When, ten years earlier, Allan had applied for a job as an ignition specialist at the foundry in H?lleforsn?s, he had chosen to exclude from his r?sum? the fact that he had been in an asylum for four years, after which he had blown up his own house. Perhaps that was precisely why the job interview went so well. Allan thought back to that while he chatted with General Franco. On the one hand, you shouldnt lie. On the other, it would be best not to reveal to the general that it was Allan who had set the charge under the bridge and that he had, for the last three years, been a civilian employee of the republican army. Allan wasnt shy, but in this particular case there was a dinner and good booze on offer. The truth could temporarily be set aside, Allan thought. So, Allan told the generalissimo that he had found himself in the bush while fleeing from the republicans. Luckily he had personally observed how the charge had been set, so he was able to warn the general. Furthermore, the reason he had ended up in Spain and the war at all was that he had been tempted there by a friend, a man who had a close relationship with the deceased Miguel Primo de Rivera. But since that friend had been killed by an enemy mortar shell, Allan had been forced to struggle on his own to stay alive. He had been in the clutches of the republicans, but eventually managed to break out. And then Allan quickly changed the subject, telling instead of how his father had been in the inner circle of the court of the Russian Czar Nicholas and that his father had died a martyrs death in a hopeless battle with the leader of the Bolsheviks, Lenin. Dinner was served in the general staffs tent. The more red wine Allan downed, the more colorful the descriptions of his fathers heroic deeds. General Franco could not fail to be impressed. First his life is saved, then it turns out that his savior is practically related to Czar Nicholas II. The food was excellent; the Andulasian cook did not dare let it be anything else. And the wine flowed in an endless series of toasts in honor of Allan, of Allans father, of Czar Nicholas II, and of the Czars family. And finally the general fell asleep just as he was giving Allan a big hug to seal the fact that they had just progressed to the familiar t?. When the two now-firm friends woke up again, the war was over. General Franco took charge of the government of the new Spain and offered Allan the position as head of his internal bodyguard. Allan thanked him for the offer, but said that it was high time for him to be heading home, if Francisco would allow it. And Francisco would, even writing a letter giving the generalissimos unconditional protection (just show this if you need any help) and then providing Allan with a princely escort all the way to Lisbon from where the general thought boats would leave for the north. From Lisbon, boats left in every direction imaginable, it turned out. Allan stood on the quay and thought about it for a while. Then he waved the letter from the general in front of the captain of a ship sailing under the Spanish flag, and he soon had a free passage. There was no question of his having to pay his way. The ship wasnt actually going to Sweden, but on the quay Allan had asked himself what he would do there anyway, and he hadnt really come up with a good answer. EIGHT Tuesday, May 3Wednesday, May 4, 2005 After the afternoons press conference, Bucket sat down with a beer to think things over. But however much he thought he couldnt make heads or tails of it. Would Bolt have started kidnapping centenarians? Or did one thing have nothing to do with the other? All this thinking gave Bucket a headache, so he stopped and phoned the Boss instead, reporting to him that nothing at all had happened that was worth reporting. He was told to stay in Malmk?ping and await further orders. The conversation over, Bucket was alone again with his beer. The situation was becoming too taxing. He didnt like having no idea what was going on, and now his headache came back again. So in his mind he fled to the past, remembering his youth back home. Bucket had started his criminal career in Bra?s, not far from where Allan and his new friends now found themselves. There, he had gotten together with some like-minded peers and started the motorcycle club called The Violence. Bucket was the leader; he decided which newsstand was to be robbed of cigarettes next. He was the one who had chosen the nameThe Violence, in English, not Swedish. And he was the one who unfortunately asked his girlfriend Isabella to sew the name of the motorcycle club onto ten newly stolen leather jackets. Isabella had never really learned to spell properly at school, not in Swedish, and certainly not in English. The result was that Isabella sewed The Violins on the jackets instead. As the rest of the club members had had similar academic success, nobody in the group noticed the mistake. So everyone was very surprised when one day a letter arrived for The Violins in Bra?s from the people in charge of the concert hall in V?xj?. The letter suggested that, since the club obviously concerned itself with classical music, they might like to put in an appearance at a concert with the citys prestigious chamber orchestra, Musica Vitae. Bucket felt provoked; somebody was clearly making fun of him. One night he skipped the newsstand, and instead went into V?xj? to throw a brick through the glass door of the concert hall. This was intended to teach the people responsible a lesson in respect. It all went off well, except that Buckets leather glove happened to follow the stone into the lobby. Since the alarm went off immediately, Bucket felt it would be unwise to try to retrieve the personal item in question. Losing a glove was not good. Bucket had traveled to V?xj? by motorbike and one hand was extremely cold all the way home to Bra?s that night. Even worse was the fact that Buckets luckless girlfriend had written Buckets name and address inside the glove, in case he lost it. So by the following morning the police had worked out who the primary suspect was, and picked up Bucket for questioning. In the interrogation, Bucket explained that there were extenuating circumstances and described how he had been provoked by the management of the concert hall. The story of how The Violence became The Violins ended up in the local newspaper, and Bucket became the laughingstock of all Bra?s. In a rage, he decided that the next newsstand they were robbing should be burned down instead of just having its door smashed in. This in turn led to the Turkish-Bulgarian ownerwho had gone to bed in his storeroom to guard against thievesnarrowly escaping with his life. Having decided that one glove was better than none on a cold evening, Bucket wore his remaining glove to the scene of the crime (with the address noted just as neatly as in the first glove), lost it, and not long after found himself on his way to prison for the first time. There he met the Boss, and when he had served his sentence Bucket decided it was best to leave Bra?s and his girlfriend behind. Both seemed only to bring him bad luck. But The Violence lived on, and the members retained the misspelled jackets. Lately, however, the club had changed its focus. Now it concentrated on stealing cars and on fixing the odometers. Or as the new leader of the group, Buckets little brother, used to say: Nothing makes a car prettier than when you suddenly discover it has driven only half the mileage. Bucket was occasionally in touch with his brother and the old life, but had no wish to be back there. What a fuckup, was how Bucket concisely summed up his own history. It was tough to think in new ways and equally tough to remember the old. Better to have a third beer and then, in accordance with the Bosss orders, check in to the hotel. It was almost dark when Chief Inspector Aronsson accompanied by the police dog handler and Kicki, the dog, arrived at ?ker village, after the long walk along the railway track from Vidk?rr. The dog hadnt reacted to anything along the way. Aronsson wondered if she actually realized that they were working, not just out on an evening stroll. But when the trio came to the abandoned inspection trolley, the dog stood to attention, or whatever it was called. And then she raised one paw and started to bark. Aronssons hopes were raised. Does that mean something? he asked. Yes, it certainly does, answered the dog handler. And then he explained that Kicki had different signs, depending on what she wanted to convey. Well then, what is she trying to tell us?! asked the increasingly impatient Aronsson and pointed at the dog, still standing on three legs and barking. That, said the dog handler, means there has been a dead body on the trolley. A dead body? A corpse? A corpse. Chief Inspector Aronsson saw in his minds eye how the Never Again member killed the unfortunate centenarian Allan Karlsson. But then this new information merged with what he already knew. It must be the exact opposite, he mumbled and felt strangely relieved. The Beauty served beef and potatoes with lingonberries and beer, followed by a glass of bitters. The guests were hungry, but first they needed to know what sort of animal they had heard from the barn. That was Sonya, said The Beauty. My elephant. Elephant? said Julius. Elephant? said Allan. I thought I recognized that sound, said Benny. The former hot-dog-stand owner had been struck by love at first sight. And now, at second sight, he felt no different. This constantly swearing red-haired woman with the full figure seemed to have popped straight out of a novel! The Beauty had discovered the elephant early one August morning in her garden stealing apples. If she had been able to talk she would have said that the previous evening she had absconded from a circus in V?xj? to look for something to drink, because the elephant keeper had gone to do the same in town instead of doing his job. When darkness fell the elephant had reached the shores of Helga Lake and decided to do more than simply quench her thirst. A cooling bath would be very nice, the elephant thought, and waded out in the shallow water. But suddenly it wasnt so shallow anymore, and the elephant had to rely on her innate ability to swim. Elephants in general are not as logical in their thinking as are people. This elephant was a prime example; she decided to swim one-and-a-half miles to the other side of the cove to reach firm ground again, instead of just turning around to swim four yards back to the shore. The elephantine logic had two consequences. One was that the elephant was quickly declared dead by the circus people and the police, who rather belatedly thought to follow her tracks all the way to Helga Lake and onto the shore of its fifty-foot-deep water. The other was that the still-very-much-alive elephant, under cover of darkness, managed to spirit herself all the way to The Beautys apple orchard, without a single soul observing it. The Beauty didnt know that, of course, but afterward she worked out most of what happened when she read in the local paper about an elephant that had disappeared and was now declared dead. How many elephants could be running around the area and at that particular time? The dead elephant and the still-very-much-alive elephant were presumably the same. The Beauty began by giving the elephant a name. It became Sonya, after her idol Sonya Hedenbratt. This was followed by several days negotiations between Sonya and the Alsatian, Buster, before the two agreed to get along. Winter arrived, meaning an endless search for food for poor Sonya who ate like the elephant she was. Conveniently, The Beautys father had just conked out and left an inheritance of one million crowns to his only daughter. (When he became a pensioner twenty years earlier, he had sold his successful brush-making factory and subsequently looked after his money well.) So The Beauty resigned from her job at the local clinic in Rottne, to be a stay-at-home mom for a dog and an elephant. Then spring arrived and Sonya could once more sustain herself with grass and leaves, and then that Mercedes drove into the yardthe first visitors since Daddy, bless his dear departed soul, had come to see his daughter one last time two years before. The Beauty said that she wasnt one to argue with fate, so it never occurred to her to try to keep Sonya a secret from the strangers. Allan and Julius sat quietly and let The Beautys story sink in, while Benny said: But what was that bellowing from Sonya? I feel she must be in pain. The Beauty stared at him wide-eyed: How the hell could you hear that? Benny took a bite to give himself time to think. Then he said: Im almost a vet. Do you want the long or the short story? They all agreed that they would prefer the long version, but The Beauty insisted that first she and Benny should go to the barn so the almost-vet could have a look at Sonyas painful left front foot. Allan and Julius remained at the dinner table, both wondering how a vet with a ponytail could end up as a failure of a hot-dog-stand proprietor in one of the most out-of-the-way places in the county of S?dermanland. A vet with a ponytail, what sort of sense did that make? These really were strange times. Benny examined poor old Sonya with confidence; he had done this sort of thing before, during the practical part of his studies. A broken-off twig had become jammed under her second toenail, and made part of her foot swell up. The Beauty had tried to get the twig out but she had not been strong or dexterous enough. It didnt take Benny more than a couple of minutes to manage it, with the help of calm talk with Sonya and a pair of tongs. But the elephants foot was badly swollen. We need antibiotics, said Benny. A couple of pounds. If you know what we need, I know how to get it, said The Beauty. But getting it would require a visit to Rottne in the middle of the night, and to pass the evening Benny and The Beauty returned to the dinner table. They all ate with a good appetite and washed the food down with beer and bitters, all except Benny who drank juice. After the last bite, they moved into the living room and the armchairs beside the fire, where Benny was asked to explain how he came to be an almost-vet. It all began when Benny and his one-year-older brother, Bo, who grew up just south of Stockholm, spent several summers with their uncle Frank in Dalarna. Uncle Frank, who was never called anything other than Frasse, was a successful entrepreneur who owned and ran a number of different local businesses. Uncle Frank sold everything from campers to gravel and most things in between. Besides eating and sleeping, work was his great passion. He had some failed romances behind him, since all the ladies soon got tired of Uncle Frasse just working and working, eating and sleeping (and showering on Sundays). Anyway, during a number of summers in the 1960s, Benny and Bo had been sent to Dalarna by their father, Uncle Frasses older brother, on the grounds that the children needed some fresh air. It is doubtful whether they got much of that, because Benny and Bo were quickly trained to look after the big stone-crushing machine at Uncle Frasses gravel pit. The boys liked working there, even though it was hard, and for two months they had to breathe in stone dust rather than fresh air. In the evenings, Uncle Frasse delivered moral sermons, regularly exhorting: You boys make sure you get a proper education; otherwise youll end up like me. Now, neither Benny nor Bo thought it would be such a bad thing to end up like Uncle Frasseat least until he fell into the stone crusher and came to a gravelly endbut Uncle Frasse had always been bothered by his own limited schooling. He could hardly write, he was no good at math, he didnt understand a word of English; it was only with difficulty he could remember that Norways capital was called Oslo if anybody happened to ask. The only thing Uncle Frasse knew was how to do business. And he ended up rolling in money. Exactly just how much money Uncle Frasse had at the time of his departure was hard to say. It happened when Bo was nineteen and Benny almost eighteen. One day, a lawyer contacted Bo and Benny, and informed them that they were both mentioned in Uncle Frasses will but that the matter was somewhat complicated and that a meeting was required. Benny and Bo met the lawyer at his office and discovered that a considerable amountunspecifiedof money awaited the brothers the day they both completed their education. And as if that wasnt enough, the lawyer would supply the brothers with a generous monthly allowance (to be regularly increased according to the rate of inflation) while they were studying. But the monthly allowance would stop if they abandoned their studies, just as it would when they had passed a final examination and thus should be able to support themselves. There was more to the will, some more- or less-complicated details, but on the whole what it meant was that the brothers would only be rich once they had both finished their studies. Bo and Benny immediately started on a seven-week course in welding skills and the lawyer confirmed that according to the will that would suffice, although I suspect that your uncle Frank might have had something more advanced in mind. Two things happened halfway through the course. One, Benny finally had enough of his brothers bossiness. Thats the way he had always been but it was time to make it clear to big brother that they were both grown and he needed to find someone else to order around. Two, Benny realized that he didnt want to become a welder and that in any case he had no talent for it. The two brothers argued about this for a while, until Benny managed to talk his way into a course on botany at Stockholm University. According to the lawyer, the will allowed for a change of subject, as long as there was no interruption. Bo finished his welders training, but didnt get a penny of Uncle Frasses money because his brother Benny was still studying. In addition, the lawyer immediately ended Bos monthly allowance, in accordance with the will. This, of course, meant that the brothers became enemies. And when Bo, in a bout of drunken confusion, smashed up Bennys newly purchased motorcycle (bought with money from his generous study allowance), that was the end of all brotherly love, the end of any relationship whatsoever. Bo started to do business deals in the spirit of Uncle Frasse, yet perhaps without his uncles talent. After a while he moved to V?sterg?tland, partly in search of new business opportunities, partly to avoid the risk of bumping into his damned brother. Benny, on the other hand, stayed in the academic world, year after year. The monthly allowance was, as explained earlier, generous and by changing his subject just before taking final exams and starting on something new, Benny could live well, while his bullying jerk of a brother had to wait for his money. And Benny continued like this for thirty years, until the extremely aged lawyer one day contacted him and announced that the money in the will was now used up, that there wouldnt be any more monthly allowances, and of course there was no other money available for anything else. The brothers could forget the inheritance, said the lawyer who was now more than ninety years old and who appeared to have stayed alive for the sake of the will, because just a couple of weeks later he died in his television armchair. All this had happened just a few weeks ago. Benny had suddenly found himself forced to get a job. But despite being one of the best-educated people in Sweden, he discovered that the labor market was not interested in the number of years he had studied, but rather in his final-exam grades. Benny had almost finished at least ten academic degrees, but still found himself investing in a hot dog stand in order to have something to do. Benny and Bo were compelled to be in each others presence in connection with the lawyers announcement that the inheritance had now been used up but on that occasion Bo expressed himself in such a way that Benny did not make any immediate plans to go and visit him. Having gotten this far in Bennys story, Julius was beginning to worry that it might lead to all too personal questions from The Beauty, such as how Benny had ended up with Julius and Allan. But The Beauty didnt bother with the details, thanks to the beer and the bitters. Instead, she had to admit that she was feeling a bit infatuated, old as she was. So what else have you almost become over the years, besides a vet? she asked with sparkling eyes. Benny understood just as well as Julius that the developments of the last few days shouldnt be described in too much detail, so he was grateful for the direction of The Beautys question. He couldnt remember everything, he said, but you can cover a lot if you sit at a school desk for three decades, and do your homework once in a while. Benny was an almost-vet, almost-doctor, almost-architect, almost-engineer, almost-botanist, almost-language teacher, almost-sports teacher, almost-historian, and almost quite a few other things. And for a bit of variety he had taken some shorter courses of varying quality and importance. Sometimes he had even taken two courses at the same time. Then Benny remembered something else that he almost was. He leapt to his feet, facing The Beauty, and declaimed a love poem in very poetic Swedish. Complete silence followed; then The Beauty mumbled an inaudible expletive while she blushed. Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Benny explained. With those words I would like to thank you for the food and the hospitality. I dont think I said that I am an almost-literary expert too? Benny might have gone too far when he asked The Beauty if she would like to dance in front of the fire, because she quickly said no, adding that there must be some damned limit to these stupidities. But Julius noticed that she was flattered. She zipped up her tracksuit jacket and smoothed it down to look her best for Benny. After which Allan retired for the night while the other three moved on to coffee, cognac optional. Julius happily said yes to the entire offer, while Benny settled for half. Julius showered The Beauty with questions about the farm and her own story, partly because he was curious, partly because he wanted to avoid the subject of who they were, where they were going, and why. But he didnt have to worry. The Beauty had now gotten up steam and was talking about her childhood; about the man she married when she was eighteen and kicked out ten years later (that part of the story contained even more expletives); about never having children; about Lake Farm, which had been her parents summer house before her mother died seven years ago and that her father had let The Beauty take over; about the inheritance that was starting to run out; and about it soon being time to move on. Im already forty-three, said The Beauty. That is damn well halfway to the grave. I wouldnt be so sure about that, said Julius. The dog handler gave Kicki new instructions and she moved away from the trolley, sniffing constantly. Chief Inspector Aronsson hoped that the corpse in question would turn up somewhere in the vicinity, but only thirty yards inside the grounds, Kicki started walking in circles, and seemed to be searching at random, before looking up pleadingly at her handler. Kicki says shes sorry, but she cant figure out where the corpse has gone, the dog handler translated. The dog handler did not convey this message as precisely as he perhaps should have. Chief Inspector Aronsson interpreted the answer as meaning that Kicki had lost track of the corpse as soon as she walked away from the trolley. But if Kicki had been able to talk, she would have told him that the body had definitely been moved a few yards into the grounds before disappearing. And then Chief Inspector Aronsson might have investigated whether any shipments had left the foundry in the last few hours. The answer would have been just one: a tractor trailer with a container bound for Gothenburg harbor. Then, the police could have been notified and the tractor trailer intercepted on the highway. But now the corpse had disappeared beyond the borders of Sweden. Almost three weeks later, a young Egyptian watchman sat on a barge that had just emerged from the southern end of the Suez Canal. He noticed a terrible stench from the cargo. Finally he couldnt stand it any longer. He wet a rag and tied it around his nose and mouth. In one of the wooden boxes he found the explanation: a half-rotten corpse. The Egyptian seaman deliberated. He had no desire to leave the corpse there to ruin the rest of the journey. Besides, he would almost certainly be subjected to long police interrogations in Djibouti, and everybody knew what the police were like in Djibouti. Moving the body himself wasnt a pleasant thought either, but in the end he made up his mind. First he emptied the corpses pockets of everything of valuehe deserved something for his troubleand then he shoved it overboard. And that is how what had once been a young man of slight build, with long blond and greasy hair, a scraggly beard, and a jean jacket with the words Never Again on the back, was turned with a splash into fish food in the Red Sea. The group at Lake Farm split up just before midnight. Julius went upstairs to sleep, while Benny and The Beauty got into the Mercedes to visit the health clinic in Rottne after hours. Halfway there they discovered Allan under a blanket on the backseat. He woke up and explained that he had gone out for a breath of fresh air and once outside he had realized that the car would be a good place to sleep because the stairs up to the bedrooms were a bit too much for his shaking knees, after such a long day. Im no longer ninety, he said. The duo had become a trio for the nocturnal exercise, but it didnt matter. The Beauty described her plan in more detail. They would get into the clinic with the help of the key The Beauty had forgotten to return when she resigned. Once inside, they would log in to Doctor Erlandssons computer and in Erlandssons name send a prescription for antibiotics, made out in The Beautys name. For that you needed Erlandssons password, but that was no problem said The Beauty, because Doctor Erlandsson was not just pompous, he was also a fool. When the new computer system was installed a couple of years earlier, it was The Beauty who had to teach the doctor how to file electronic prescriptions, and she was the one who chose his user name and password. The Mercedes arrived at the intended crime scene. Benny, Allan, and The Beauty got out and inspected the surroundings before committing the actual crime. Of course, a car passed by slowly at that moment. The driver was as surprised by the trio as they were by him. A single living being awake at that time of night in Rottne was a sensation. On this particular night there were four. But the car drove on and darkness and silence settled on Rottne once more. The Beauty led Benny and Allan in through the staff entrance in the back, and then to Doctor Erlandssons room. There she turned on his computer and logged in. Everything went according to plan and The Beauty giggled happily until, suddenly, she let loose a long stream of curses. She had just realized that you couldnt simply send a prescription for a couple of pounds of antibiotics. Write erythromycin, rifampin, and gentamicin, three hundred grams each, said Benny. Then we can attack the inflammation from several different angles. The Beauty looked admiringly at Benny. Then she invited him to sit down and spell it all out. Benny did and added various other medicines, useful to have on hand in case of future bad luck. Breaking out of the clinic was just as easy as breaking in. And their journey home was without incident. Benny and The Beauty helped Allan upstairs and when it was almost half past two in the morning, the last light was turned off at Lake Farm. After ten at night there werent many people awake in that sleepy area. But in Bra?s, not far from Lake Farm, a young man lay in bed turning restlessly, desperate for a cigarette. It was Buckets little brother, the new leader of The Violence. Three hours earlier, he had finished his last cigarette and soon felt an unstoppable need to have another. He cursed himself for having forgotten to buy smokes before everything shut for the evening. At first he had intended to hold out until the following morning, but by midnight he couldnt stand it any longer. That was when he got the idea of reliving old times, of simply gaining entry to a newsstand with the help of a crowbar. But it couldnt be in Bra?s, where he had a reputation to uphold. Besides, he would be suspected of the crime almost before it was discovered. It would be best to go a bit farther afield, but he needed a smoke so badly that he had to compromise. And the compromise was Rottne, about fifteen minutes away. Dressed inconspicuously he rolled slowly into the little town in his old Volvo 240, a little after midnight. When he drove past the health clinic he was surprised to see three people on the sidewalk: a woman with red hair, a man with a ponytail, and just behind them a terribly old man. Buckets little brother didnt analyze the event deeply. (He rarely analyzed anything deeply or even superficially.) Instead, he drove on, stopped under a tree quite close to the newsstand hed been seeking, failed to break in because the owner had secured the door against crowbars, and then drove home again, just as desperate for a smoke as before. When Allan woke up just after eleven oclock the next morning he felt reinvigorated. He looked out of the window where the forest spread out around a lake. The landscape reminded him of S?dermanland. It looked like it was going to be a nice day. He got dressed, putting on the only clothes he had, and thinking that he could perhaps afford to renew his wardrobe a little. Neither he nor Julius nor Benny had even managed to bring a toothbrush with them. When Allan came downstairs, Julius and Benny were eating breakfast. Julius had been out for a walk while Benny had slept deeply and for a long time. The Beauty had put out plates and glasses and left written instructions about self-service in the kitchen. She herself had gone to Rottne. The note ended with an order that the gentlemen should make sure to leave a reasonable amount of breakfast on the plates, so Buster could have some too. Allan said good morning and received the same greeting in return. After which Julius added that he had had the idea of staying another night at Lake Farm because the surroundings were so enchanting. Allan asked if perhaps the private chauffeur had had some influence over that decision, considering the passion that had been in the air the previous evening. Julius answered that Benny had indeed given a wealth of reasons for staying on at Lake Farm for the rest of the summer, but that the conclusion was his own. Where would they go anyway? Didnt they need an extra day to think? All they needed in order to stay was a plausible story explaining who they were and where they were goingand The Beautys permission, of course. Benny followed Allan and Juliuss conversation with interest, clearly hoping that it would end with another night at the same place. His feelings for The Beauty had not diminished since the previous day. On the contrary he was disappointed she wasnt around when he came down for breakfast. But she had written thanks for last night in the letter. Could she have been referring to the poem that Benny had recited? If only she would come back soon! But it was almost an hour before The Beauty turned into the yard. When she climbed out of her car, Benny saw that she was even more beautiful than the last time he saw her. She had exchanged her red tracksuit for a dress and she might even have been to the hairdresser. He took some eager steps toward her, and exclaimed: My Beauty! Welcome home! Behind him stood Allan and Julius, enjoying the tender scene. But their smiles disappeared as soon as they saw her demeanor. First she walked straight past Benny and then past the other two, before stopping on the steps of Lake Farm, where she turned round and said: You bastards! I know everything! And now I want to know the rest. Assemble in the living room. NOW! Upon which The Beauty disappeared into the house. If she already knows everything, what more does she want to know? asked Benny. Just be quiet, Benny, said Julius. My words exactly, said Allan. And then they went inside to meet their fate. The Beauty had started the day by feeding Sonya some newly cut grass and then decided to smarten up a little. Reluctantly, she had admitted to herself that she wanted to be beautiful for that Benny guy. So she had swapped the red tracksuit for a light yellow dress and her frizzy hair had now been tidied into two pigtails. She had also added a little makeup and a touch of smell-good before she got into her red VW Passat to drive to Rottne for supplies. Buster sat as he always did in the passenger seat and licked his chops when the car headed for the supermarket. Afterward, The Beauty wondered whether in fact Buster had seen the newspaper headlinesthe one for the Express was lit up outside the shop and had two photos, one at the bottom of old man Julius, and one at the top of very old man Allan. The headline read: CENTENARIAN KIDNAPPED BY CRIMINAL GANG. HUNT ON TODAY FOR NOTORIOUS MASTER THIEFPOLICE The Beauty turned bright red in the face, her thoughts flying in all directions. She was furious and immediately abandoned plans to buy supplies, because those three sly devils would be out of her house before lunch! But first The Beauty went into the pharmacy to pick up the medicine that Benny had ordered the night before, and then she bought a copy of the Express to find out in more detail what on earth was going on. The more The Beauty read, the angrier she became. But at the same time she couldnt really piece it all together. Was it Benny who was Never Again? Was Julius a master thief? And who had kidnapped whom? They all seemed to get along so well. In the end, her anger won over her curiosity. Whatever had happened, she had been conned. And you didnt con Gunilla Bj?rklund and get away with it! My Beauty! Hah! She sat in her car and read the article once more: On his hundredth birthday on Monday, Allan Karlsson disappeared from the Old Folks Home in Malmk?ping. The police now suspect that he has been kidnapped by the criminal organization Never Again. According to information received by the Express, the master thief Julius Jonsson is involved. This was followed by a mishmash of information and witness statements. Allan Karlsson had been seen at the bus station in Malmk?ping, then he had climbed on the bus to Str?ngn?s, and this had made a member of Never Again furious But hang on Blond man in his thirties That did not describe Benny. The Beauty felt relieved? The confusion continued when she read that Allan Karlsson had been seen the day before on a rail inspection trolley in the middle of the S?dermanland forest, together with master thief Jonsson and the Never Again member who had been so angry with him. The Express could not give an exact description of the relationship between the three men, but the current theory was that Allan Karlsson was in the clutches of the others. That at least was the opinion of the farmer Tengroth in Vidk?rr. Finally, the Express had yet another scoop. According to the assistant at the nearby gas station, the proprietor of a local hot dog stand, by the name of Benny Ljungberg, had disappeared without a trace the day before, close to the last known location of the centenarian and the master thief. The Beauty folded the paper and placed it in Busters mouth. Then she headed back to her farmhouse in the forest, where she now knew her visitors consisted of a centenarian, a master thief, and the proprietor of a hot dog stand. This last one was handsome as well as charming and clearly had some medical knowledge, but there was no room for romance here. For a moment, The Beauty was more sad than angry, but she worked up to a fury again just as she drove into her yard. The Beauty pulled the Express out of Busters mouth, unfolded the first page with the pictures of Allan and Julius, and started swearing and shouting before reading aloud from the article. Then she demanded an explanation and promised that all three of them would be on their way in five minutes, come what may. Then she folded the paper again and put it back in Busters mouth, crossed her arms, and ended with a frigid: Well? Benny looked at Allan who looked at Julius, who strangely enough broke into a smile. Master thief, he said. Im a master thief. Not bad! But The Beauty was not impressed. She was already red in the face and became even redder when she informed Julius that he would soon be a very beaten-up master thief if The Beauty didnt immediately find out what was going on. And then she told the assembled guests what she had already told herself, namely that nobody conned Gunilla Bj?rklund at Lake Farm and got away with it. To put force behind her words, she pulled an old shotgun down from the wall. It didnt work, of course, The Beauty admitted, but it would serve well to smash the skulls of master thieves, hot-dog-stand proprietors, and old geezers, if necessary, and it seemed it would be necessary. Julius Jonssons smile quickly faded. Benny stood there, nailed to the floor, with his arms hanging limply by his side. As far as he could see, his chance of romance was rapidly evaporating. Then Allan stepped in, and asked The Beauty for time to think. With The Beautys permission, he would like to have a private conversation with Julius in the adjacent room. The Beauty agreed with a bit of muttering, but warned Allan not to try any tricks. Allan promised to behave and then he took Julius by the arm and led him into the kitchen, closing the door behind them. Allan asked Julius if he had any ideas which, unlike previous attempts, would not just make The Beauty even angrier. Julius answered that the only way they could save the situation was by inviting The Beauty to partake in some sort of part ownership of the suitcase. Allan agreed, although he pointed out that no good would come of telling a new person each day that they had stolen someones suitcase, killed that person when he wanted to get it back, and sent the corpse to Africa packed neatly in a steel cylinder. Julius thought Allan was exaggerating. So far only one person had paid with his life and surely he got what he deserved. If they could just stay hidden until things calmed down, then nobody else need meet the same fate. Upon which Allan said that he himself had had a new idea. He thought that it was just as well to divide the contents of the suitcase in four: Allan, Julius, Benny, and The Beauty. Then there would be no risk of the last two talking too much to the wrong people. And as a bonus they would all be able to stay at Lake Farm for the summer, by which time the motorcycle gang would certainly have stopped looking for them, if they were looking for them at all, which one must assume they were. Twenty-five million for a few months room and board and a chauffeur, Julius sighed. But he accepted Allans suggestion. The meeting in the kitchen was finished. Julius and Allan went back into the living room. Allan asked The Beauty and Benny for another thirty seconds patience, while Julius went up to his room and returned with the suitcase trailing behind him. He put it on the long table in the middle of the living room and opened it. Allan and I have decided that the four of us will share this equally. Jesus bloody Christ! said The Beauty. Have a seat, and Ill explain, said Julius. The Beauty found it just as hard as Benny had to digest the part about the corpse, but she was impressed with Allan for climbing out of a window and just disappearing from his earlier life. I should have done the same after fourteen days with that asshole I married. Calm returned to Lake Farm. The Beauty and Buster went off again to pick up supplies. She bought food, drink, clothes, toiletries, and lots of other stuff. She paid for everything with a wad of 500-crown bills. Chief Inspector Aronsson questioned the witness from the gas station in Mj?lby, a woman in her fifties. Her profession and the way she described what she had seen made her a credible witness. She could also identify Allan in pictures from an eightieth birthday party at the Old Folks Home a week or two earlier, pictures that Director Alice had been kind enough to provide not only to the police but also to the press. Chief Inspector Aronsson was forced to admit to himself that he had wrongly dismissed this tip the day before. But there was no point in looking back. Instead, Aronsson concentrated on his analysis. From a flight perspective, there were two possibilities: Either the old men and the hot-dog-stand proprietor knew where they were going, or they were simply traveling south at random. Aronsson preferred the first alternative, given that it was easier to follow someone who knows where hes going. But with these people it was hard to know. There seemed to be no obvious link between Allan Karlsson and Julius Jonsson on the one hand, and Benny Ljungberg on the other. Jonsson and Ljungberg might be acquaintances; after all, they lived fairly close together. But it was possible that Ljungberg had been kidnapped and forced to drive the car. The centenarian too could have been forced to follow along, although that interpretation had two strikes against it: 1) the fact that Allan Karlsson had gotten off the bus at Byringe Station and, it would seem, of his own volition sought out Julius Jonsson; and 2) witness statements that Julius Jonsson and Allan Karlsson seemed to be on good terms: a) on the inspection trolley through the forest and b) on their walk outside the foundry. Whatever the circumstances, the gas station attendant had noticed that the silver Mercedes had left the highway and continued toward Tran?s. Although twenty-four hours had passed, that fact remained of interest. Somebody heading south along the highway who turns off at Mj?lby has immediately limited the number of likely final destinations. They might be going to Oskarshamn and then on to the island of Gotland but there was no sign of them on the ferry passenger lists. All that remained was northern Sm?land, in which case the Mercedes had hardly chosen the fastest route. But if the old men and the hot-dog-stand proprietor felt they were being chased, then it would be sensible to choose smaller roads. What spoke in favor of their still being in the area that Chief Inspector Aronsson had just zeroed in on was first, the car contained two people without valid passports. They would hardly be going abroad. Second, Chief Inspector Aronssons colleagues had phoned every imaginable gas station in a southern, southeastern, and southwestern direction between 200 and 300 miles from Mj?lby. No one had seen a silver Mercedes with three conspicuous travelers. Of course, they could have gotten gas at an unmanned station, but people usually went to full-service gas stations because after having driven a certain distance they invariably required a bag of chips, a bottle of soda, or a hot dog. And what additionally spoke in favor of the full-service gas stations was that they had chosen one before, in Mj?lby that time. Tran?s, Eksj?, N?ssj?, Vetlanda, ?seda and thereabouts, said Chief Inspector Aronsson to himself in a congratulatory tone, before frowning. And then where? When the leader of The Violence in Bra?s woke after a terrible night, he immediately made his way to the gas station to do something about his desperate need for a smoke. On the wall outside the entrance the newspaper headlines screamed down at him. The big picture in the Express showed the same old guy he had seen in Rottne the previous night. In his haste he forgot to ask for cigarettes. But he did buy the Express, was astounded by what he read, and then phoned his big brother, Bucket. The mystery of the vanished and presumably kidnapped centenarian caught the attention of the nation. More than one-and-a-half-million viewers, including the centenarian himself and his new comrades at Lake Farm, watched a report that didnt actually reveal anything more than the Express. If I hadnt known it was me, I would have felt sorry for that old guy, said Allan. The Beauty was less easygoing; she thought that Allan, Julius, and Benny had better keep well out of sight for a long time. And from now on the Mercedes would remain parked behind the barn. And the next morning she would go off and buy the large bus she had had her eye on for a while. Since many of the seats had been cleared away and it had been fitted with an unusually wide side door, it was perfect for moving especially large cargo. They might have to make a quick getaway very soon, and in that case the whole family was going, including Sonya. NINE 19391945 On September 1, 1939, Allans ship, sailing under the Spanish flag, arrived in New York. Allan had contemplated taking a quick look at the big country to the west of Europe, and then sailing back again, but on the same day one of the generalissimos dear friends marched into Poland and once again war was raging in Europe. The Spanish-registered ship was impounded, confiscated, and then did service in the U.S. Navy until the war ended in 1945. Everyone on board was sent over to the immigration office on Ellis Island. There, every passenger was asked the same four questions: 1) Name? 2) Nationality? 3) Profession? 4) Purpose of visit to the United States of America? All of Allans comrades from the ship said, through a Spanish interpreter, that they were simple Spanish seamen who now had nowhere to go because their ship had been impounded. After which they were quickly admitted to the United States, where they had to manage as best they could. But Allan was different. He had a name that the Spanish interpreter couldnt pronounce; he said he came from Suecia; and, most important, he revealed that he was an explosives expert, with all sorts of experience ranging from running his own explosives business, to the manufacture of cannons, and most recently to participating in the war between Spaniards and Spaniards. After which Allan pulled out his letter from General Franco. Terrified, the Spanish interpreter translated it for the immigration officer who immediately summoned his superior who immediately summoned his superior. At first the inferior and the two superiors agreed that the fascist Swede should immediately be sent back where he had come from. As long as you can find a ship for me, Ill be happy to go, said Allan. This was not a practicable suggestion, and so the interrogations continued. And the more the immigration officer got out of Allan, the less fascistic the Swede seemed to be. He wasnt a communist either. Or a national socialist. He was nothing at all, it would seem, other than an expert on explosives. As for the story of how he came to be on first-name terms with General Franco, it was so ridiculous that it had to be truehe could hardly have made it up. Since he had no better ideas, the senior immigration officer arranged for Allan to be locked up for a couple of months. Unfortunately, the months turned into years, and the immigration boss mostly forgot about Allan, until one day he found himself discussing the case with his brother when they met at the family farm in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. His brother was working on some kind of explosive device for the military. The brother was not thrilled at the idea of having a potential Franco supporter on his hands, but they were desperately in need of all the expertise they could muster down at Los Alamos, and they could probably find some suitably unqualified and not-too-secret work for this odd Swede, if it would help out his brother. The immigration director answered that it most definitely would be a favor, and then the brothers tucked into the turkey. Some time later in the winter of 1943 Allan flew for the first time everdestination: the U.S. national laboratory in Los Alamos, where it was soon discovered that he didnt speak a word of English. A Spanish-speaking lieutenant was given the task of finding out the extent of the Swedes professional skills, and Allan was required to write down his most explosive chemical formulas for the lieutenant. The latter looked through these, finding evidence of a considerable innovative ability, but pointing out that the force of Allans explosive charges would barely blow up a car. Oh, but it would, answered Allan. A car with a man in it. Ive tried it. Allan was allowed to stay on, at first in the most remote corner of the compound, but as the months and years went by and he started to speak English, he was allowed to move about more and more freely. As an extremely meticulous observer, during the days Allan learned how to make explosive charges of a substantially different nature from those hed been in the habit of setting off on Sundays back home in the gravel pit. And in the evening, when most of the young men at the Los Alamos lab went out to town to chase women, Allan sat in the restricted-access library and learned about new realms in the world of explosives. The war in Europe was escalating, but these events largely passed Allan by as he acquired knowledge, which, as a lowly assistant, he couldnt really use. It was no longer about familiar chemicals like nitroglycerin and sodium nitratethat was for amateursbut about exotic relationships between atoms like hydrogen and uranium, which turned out to be far more complicated elements than he could ever have imagined. From 1943 on, extremely strict security restrictions came into force at Los Alamos. The scientists had been given a secret mission by President Roosevelt to create a big bomb: a bomb that, Allan guessed, could destroy ten or even twenty Spanish bridges with a single explosion. Someone needed to help out on even the most secret activities, and the hugely popular Allan was given the highest security clearance. He had to admit that they knew their stuff, these Americans. Instead of working with the conventional materials Allan had been brought up on, these scientists had found ways of unlocking the power that held the nuclei of atoms together, trying to create more enormous explosions than anything the world had seen before. By April 1945, they were almost there. The researchersand for that matter Allanknew how to achieve a nuclear reaction, but they didnt know how to control it. The problem fascinated Allan, and when he sat in the library in the evenings he worried away at the problem that nobody had asked him to worry aboutand he solved it. Every week that spring, the most important military people met for hours with the leading physicists, led by chief scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, while Allan filled their coffee cupsand listened. The scientists pulled at their hair and asked Allan for more coffee. The military people scratched their heads and asked Allan for more coffee. The military people and the scientists all despaired of finding a solution and asked Allan for more coffee. And so it went on, week after week. Allan had been sitting on the solution to the groups problem for some time but he didnt think it was the waiters task to tell the chef how to prepare dinner, so he kept what he knew to himself. Until on one occasion, to his own surprise, he heard himself say: Excuse me, but why dont you divide the uranium into two equal parts? It just sort of slipped out, while he was pouring coffee into Robert Oppenheimers cup. What did you say? said Oppenheimer who was so shocked that the waiter had opened his mouth that he hadnt even listened to what Allan said. Allan had no choice but to go on. Well, if you divide the uranium into two equal parts and slap them together only when it is time, then theyll explode when you want them to. Equal parts? said Oppenheimer. There was a lot more going on in his head at that moment, but equal parts was what he managed to say. Well, perhaps you have a point there, Professor. The parts dont have to be equal in size. The important thing is that they are big enough when they come together. Lieutenant Lewis, who had vouched for Allans suitability as an assistant, looked as if he wanted to murder the Swede, but one of the scientists around the table reacted with considerable interest: But how do we slap them together? And when? In the air? Exactly, Professor. You see, its not hard to make it all explode. The problem is that you cant control the moment of explosion. But a critical mass divided into two gives you two uncritical masses, doesnt it? And the opposite applies too, because from two uncritical masses you can get one critical mass. And how do you propose we slap them together Mr excuse me, but who are you? said Oppenheimer. Im Allan, said Allan. And, Mr. Allan, how do we slap them together? With a good old, everyday explosive charge, said Allan. Thats the sort of thing Im good at, but I am sure you can manage it yourselves. Professors of physics in general and top military scientists in particular are not stupid. In a few seconds, Oppenheimer had worked his way through thickets of equations and come to the conclusion that it was extremely likely that the waiter was right. Just imagine that something so complicated could have such a simple solution! A good old everyday explosive charge at the back of the bomb could be activated from a distance and would send an uncritical mass of uranium-235 forward to a meeting with another uncritical mass. It would immediately become critical. The neutrons would start to move, the uranium atoms would start to split. The chain reaction would be in process and Bang! said Oppenheimer to himself. Exactly, said Allan. I see that you have already worked it out, Professor. Would anyone like some more coffee? At that very moment the door to the secret room was opened and in walked Vice President Truman on one of his rare and always unannounced visits. Sit down, said the vice president to the men who were all standing to attention. To be on the safe side, even Allan sat down. If a vice president told you to sit down then it was probably best to sit down; that was how it worked in America, he thought. The vice president asked for a status report from Oppenheimer, who quickly stood up again. Somewhat flustered, the only thing he could think to say was that Mr. Allan over there in the corner had just solved the remaining problem of how the detonation could be controlled. Mr. Allans solution was not yet tested, but Oppenheimer was speaking for all those present when he said that the problem had just become history and that within three months they could have a trial explosion. The vice president looked round the table and got nods of agreement. Lieutenant Lewis had gradually started to breathe again. In the end, the vice presidents eyes fell on Allan. I do believe, Mr. Allan, that you are the hero of the day. As for me, I need to have a bite before I return to Washington. Would you like to join me? Following on less than a decade after the generalissimos dinner invitation, Allan surmised that it must be a common characteristic of world leaders to invite you to eat as soon as you did something they liked, but he didnt say so. Instead he thanked the vice president for the invitation and the two men walked out of the room together. Oppenheimer was left at the conference table looking both relieved and unhappy. Vice President Truman had ordered his favorite Mexican restaurant in the center of Los Alamos to be sealed off, so Allan and Truman had the place to themselves, except for a dozen or so bodyguards spread out in various corners. The head of the security unit had pointed out that Mr. Allan was not an American and not even cleared to be alone with the vice president, but Truman dismissed the security officials objections with the comment that today Mr. Allan had done the most patriotic thing anyone could imagine. The vice president was in excellent spirits. Straight after dinner, instead of going to Washington, he had decided to fly to Georgia, where President Roosevelt was staying at a polio clinic. The president would want to hear this news directly, Harry Truman was sure of that. Ill order the food, so you can choose the drinks, said Harry Truman jovially and handed the wine list to Allan. Truman turned to the head waiter who bowed as he received a large order for tacos, enchiladas, corn tortillas, and salsa. And to drink, sir? Two bottles of tequila, Allan answered. Harry Truman laughed and asked if Allan wanted to drink him under the table. Allan answered that the last year had taught him that the Mexicans could make spirits with as much oomph as akvavit, but that the vice president could of course drink milk if he considered that more suitable. No, Ive given my word, said Vice President Truman, and he made sure the order included lime and salt. Three hours later the two men were calling each other Harry and Allan, which goes to show what a couple of bottles of tequila can do for international relations. Allan told Truman how the local bigwig had been blown to bits and how he saved the life of General Franco. The vice president, for his part, amused Allan by imitating President Roosevelts attempts to get up out of his wheelchair. When the two men were on the most jovial of terms, the head of the security staff discreetly approached the vice president. Could I have a word please, sir? Go ahead, said the vice president in a slurred voice. Preferably in private, sir. Ill be damned if you dont look just like Humphrey Bogart! Have you seen him, Allan? Sir , said the increasingly troubled security man. Yes, what the hell do you want? the vice president hissed. Sir, it is about President Roosevelt. What about that old goat? The vice president guffawed. Hes dead, sir. TEN Monday, May 9, 2005 Bucket sat outside the supermarket in Rottne for four days, hoping to see his colleague Bolt, first of all, and then a hundred-year-old man, a red-haired woman of a slightly younger model, a guy with a ponytail (otherwise of unknown appearance), and a Mercedes. It wasnt his idea to sit there; it was the Bosss. Bucket had immediately reported his fortuitous conversation with his little brother and leader of The Violence in Bra?s about the centenarian who had most definitely been outside a health clinic in Sm?land in the middle of the night. That was when the Boss had ordered a watch on the towns most popular supermarket. He assumed that a person who was out walking in Rottne in the middle of the night must be holed up somewhere thereabouts, and everyone needs to go food shopping sooner or later. The logic was indisputable. It was not for nothing the Boss was the boss. But of course that was five days ago. Now, Bucket had started to despair. His concentration was no longer top-notch either. So he didnt notice the red-haired woman when she drove into the parking lot in a red VW Passat instead of the expected silver Mercedes. But as she had the good taste to walk right past Buckets nose on her way into the store, he didnt miss her. He couldnt be certain that it was the right woman, but she was about the right age, and she did have exactly the right hair color. Bucket phoned the Boss in Stockholm. He wasnt nearly as enthusiastic. It was primarily Bolt they were hoping to find, or at least that damned geriatric. Still Bucket was told to make a note of the license plate and then discreetly follow the redhead to see where she went. Then he was to report back again. Chief Inspector Aronsson had spent the last four days at the hotel in ?seda. The idea had been that he would be close to the center of events when new witnesses turned up. But none did, and Aronsson was just about to set off for home when his colleagues in Eskilstuna phoned. They had got some results from the bug they had planted on the Never Again troublemaker Per-Gunnar Gerdin. Gerdin, or the Boss, as he was known, had been something of a celebrity several years earlier in connection with the establishment of a criminal organization in the maximum-security prison where he resided. The media had taken note, even printing Gerdins name and picture. The enterprise had fizzled out as a result of a letter Per-Gunnar Gerdins mother had sent him, but that part of the story never reached the media. A couple of days earlier, Chief Inspector Aronsson had ordered Gerdins phone bugged, and now they had a bite. The conversations were taped, transcribed, and then sent by fax to ?seda: Hello? Yes, its me. Anything new? Maybe. Im sitting outside the supermarket and I just saw a red-haired dame go in to do some shopping. Just the dame? Not Bolt? Not a hundred-year-old? No, just the dame. I dont know if Was she driving a Mercedes? Err, I didnt have time to see but there wasnt a Mercedes in the parking lot, so she must have been driving something else. [Silence for five seconds] Hello? Yeah, Im still here, Im thinking, damn it. Somebody has to. Yeah, but I only There must be more than one red-haired dame in Sm?land Yeah, but shes the right age, according to Follow her in your car, write down the license plate, dont do anything stupid, but find out where shes going. And make damned sure no one sees you. Then report back to me again. [Silence for five seconds] Did you get that? Well, err, yeah. Ill be in touch as soon as I know more And next time call my pay-as-you-go mobile. Havent I told you to use it for all business calls? Yeah, sure, but isnt that only when we do business with the Russians? I didnt think youd have it turned on now that Idiot. [Followed by grunting and then the conversation ends.] Chief Inspector Aronsson read the transcript and then put the new bits of the puzzle into place. The Bolt that was mentioned must be Bengt Bylund, one of the known members of Never Again, now presumably dead. And the one who phoned Gerdin was presumably Henrik Bucket Hult?n, hunting down Bolt somewhere in Sm?land. Aronsson now had proof that he was on the right track: Somewhere in Sm?land, as he had previously surmised, was Allan Karlsson, together with Julius Jonsson, Benny Ljungberg and his Mercedes, together with a red-haired lady of unknown age. Still she could hardly be particularly young because she had just been called a dame. On the other hand, for somebody like Bucket you wouldnt have to be very old to become a dame. At Never Again in Stockholm they thought that Bolt was also with the group. Did that mean he was on the run from his own lot? Otherwise why hadnt he been in touch? Because he was dead, of course! But the Boss hadnt fathomed that, so the Boss thought that Bolt was hiding in Sm?land together with but where did the redhead come into the picture? So Aronsson ordered a family background check on Allan, Benny, and Julius. Was there possibly a sister or a cousin or some other relative who lived in Sm?land and who happened to have the right color of hair? But shes the right age, according to Bolt had said. According to what? What somebody had said to them? Someone who had seen the group in Sm?land and phoned to tip them off? What a pity the bug hadnt been activated earlier. And by now, of course, Bucket would have followed the redhead from the supermarket and then either dropped the case if she turned out to be the wrong redhead, or Bucket now knew where Allan Karlsson and his friends were holed up. In that case, the Boss would soon be on his way down to Sm?land too, to make Allan and his companions spill the beans as to what had happened to Bolt and his suitcase. Aronsson phoned Conny Ranelid, the prosecutor in charge in Eskilstuna. At first Ranelid had not been particularly interested, but his engagement increased with every new complication that Aronsson reported in to him. Now, dont let Gerdin and his henchman slip away, said Prosecutor Ranelid. The Beauty put two shopping bags from the supermarket in the trunk of her VW Passat and set off for home. Bucket followed at a safe distance. As soon as they reached the highway, he phoned the Boss (on his pay-as-you-go phone, of course; Bucket did have some survival instinct) to inform him of the make of the car the redhead was driving and its license plate, and he promised to call again when they reached their destination. The two cars drove out of Rottne but the redhead soon turned off down a gravel road. Bucket recognized it. He had once come in last at a car rally here. His then-girlfriend had been the map-reader; halfway through the rally she had realized she was holding the map upside down. The gravel road was dry, and the redheads car left a cloud of dust behind it. Bucket could safely follow her without even keeping her in sight. But then after a few miles the cloud of dust suddenly disappeared. Damn it! First, he started to panic, but then he calmed down. The dame must have turned off somewhere along the road. Less than a mile back on the road, Bucket thought he had solved the puzzle. A little track went off to the right next to a mailbox. She must have gone down there. Bearing in mind how things soon developed, you could say that Bucket was a little too enthusiastic. He sent the car and himself at a decent speed down the little track, wherever it might lead. The idea of being discreet and cautious was discarded early on. Bucket was driving too fast, and before he realized it the track had come to an end and was replaced by a little yard. And if he had been driving just a little faster, he wouldnt even have had time to stop but would have driven straight into the old man who was standing there feeding an an elephant? Allan had quickly found a new friend in Sonya. They had quite a lot in common. One had climbed out through a window one day and thus given his life a totally new direction, while the other had waded out into a lake with the same result. And both of them hadbefore thatbeen out and about and seen some of the world. Furthermore, Sonya had deep furrows on her face, more or less like a wise centenarian, Allan thought. Sonya was not about to do circus tricks for just anybody, but she happened to like this old man. He gave her fruit, scratched her trunk, and chatted with her in a friendly way. She didnt understand much of what he said, but that didnt matter. It was pleasant. So when the old man asked Sonya to sit down, she sat down, if he asked her to turn around, she was happy to do just that. She even showed him how she could stand up on her back legs, although the old man didnt know the command for that. The fact that she got an apple or two for her trouble and an extra bit of scratching on her trunk was a pure bonus. Sonya could not be bought. While this was going on, The Beauty liked to sit on the veranda steps with Benny and Buster, with a cup of coffee and some doggy treats for the dog. They looked on while Allan and Sonya bonded in the yard, and Julius fished for perch down at the lake. The spring heat wave continued. The sun had been shining a whole week and the weather forecasters were predicting that the high pressure would continue. Benny, who apart from all his other skills was an almost-architect, had sketched out how the bus that The Beauty had just purchased could be fitted out to suit Sonya. When The Beauty discovered that Julius was not just a thief but also a former timber merchant and he knew how to handle a hammer and nails, she said to Buster that these friends were not bad. It was a good thing that she hadnt slammed the door on them. It didnt take Julius more than an afternoon to nail together the new bus interior according to Bennys instructions. After which Sonya walked in and out of the bus together with Allan to test it, and Sonya seemed to like it. It was a bit of a squeeze for her, but there were two kinds of dinner to chew on, one to the left and one straight ahead, and water to drink to the right. The floor was raised and slightly sloped, and Sonyas droppings had their own pit running along the back. The pit was filled to the brim with hay, which was intended to absorb most of what might come out during the journey. In addition there was a substantial ventilation system in the form of holes drilled along both sides of the bus, and a sliding glass panel behind the drivers cabin so that Sonya could see her benefactor and feeder while they were on the road. The bus had, to put it simply, been transformed into a luxury elephant transporter. The more prepared they got, the less eager the group was to set off. Life at Lake Farm had developed quite pleasantly. Not least for Benny and The Beauty who by the third night had decided that it was a pity to wear out sheets in different rooms when they could just as well share. The evenings had been passed in front of the log fire, with good food, good drink, and episodes from Allan Karlssons remarkable life. But on Monday morning the fridge and the pantry were almost empty, and it was high time for The Beauty to go off to Rottne to stock up. For reasons of security, the journey was undertaken in her old VW Passat. The Mercedes remained hidden behind the barn. She filled one shopping bag with this and that for her and the old men, and another one with fresh, Argentinean apples for Sonya. When The Beauty got home, she gave the bag of apples to Allan and put the rest of the groceries away before joining Benny and Buster on the veranda with a basket of Belgian strawberries. Julius was there too, taking a rare break from fishing. That was when a Ford Mustang roared into the yard and almost ran down both Allan and Sonya. Sonya was the calmest of them all. She was so focused on receiving the next apple from Allan that she neither saw nor heard what happened around her. Or perhaps she did, despite everything, because she stopped in the middle of a twirl and froze with her bottom toward Allan and the new visitor. The second calmest was Allan. He had been close to death so many times in his life that a bolting Ford Mustang hardly made any difference. If it stopped in time, so be it. The third calmest was probably Buster. He was strictly brought up not to run off and bark when strangers came to visit. But his ears stuck up and he was all eyes, ready to follow developments. But The Beauty, Benny, and Julius all jumped up from the veranda and stood there in a row waiting to see what would happen next. Bucket, somewhat disconcerted for a moment, got unsteadily out of his Mustang and felt about for a revolver in a bag on the floor of the backseat. He pointed it first at the elephants behind, then had a better idea and aimed it at Allan and the three friends standing in a row on the veranda, and then he said (perhaps rather unimaginatively): Hands up! Hands up?? That was the most stupid thing Allan had heard in a long time. What did this man think would happen? That he himself, one hundred years old, would throw apples at him? Or that the delicate lady over there would bombard him with Belgian strawberries? Or that Okay, Okay, do what the hell you want with your hands, but dont try any tricks. Tricks? You keep your mouth shut, you old bastard! Tell me where that damned suitcase isand the guy who took it. Well there we are, thought The Beauty. That was the end of their luck in life. Reality had caught up with them all. Nobody answered. They all racked their brains so you could hear the creaking, all except the elephant that was facing away from all the drama and thought it was time to relieve herself. And an elephant relieving itself is not something you can miss if you happen to be in the vicinity. Oh, shit, said Bucket and took a few rapid steps away from the mess that poured out of the elephant Why the hell do you have an elephant? Still no answer. But now Buster couldnt restrain himself any longer. He obviously felt that things werent quite right. And he really wanted to have a good bark at the stranger. And even though he knew the rules, he let out a deep growl. Discovering the Alsatian on the veranda, Bucket instinctively took two steps backward, raised his revolver, and looked as if he was ready to shoot. At that point Allans hundred-year-old brain gave birth to an idea. It was a wild idea, and there was an evident risk that he would get shot in the process, unless of course he really was immortal after all. He took a deep breath and with a naive smile on his lips, he walked straight toward the troublemaker. And he said in his most doddery voice: That really is one hell of a nice pistol youve got there. Is it real? Can I hold it? Benny, Julius, and The Beauty all thought that the geriatric had lost his marbles. Stop, Allan! Benny shouted out. Yeah, stop, you old bastard, or Ill shoot you, said Bucket. But Allan kept shuffling toward him. Bucket took a step backward, stretched out his hand with the revolver even more threateningly toward Allan, and then he did it. If youve ever stepped in a heap of sticky, very fresh elephant shit then youll know its virtually impossible to keep your balance. Bucket didnt know, but he quickly learned. His back foot slipped, and Bucket tried to counter this with his hands but fell helplessly, landing softly on his back. Sit, Sonya, sit! said Allan as the final part of his daring plan. No damn it, Sonya, dont sit, shouted The Beauty who suddenly realized what was about to happen. Fucking hell, said Bucket where he lay on his back in the elephants excrement. Sonya, who stood with her back to them all, had clearly and distinctly heard Allans command. And the old man was nice to her, and she liked to do as he wanted. Besides, his benefactor and feeder had confirmed the order. The function of the word Dont to countermand an order was not something Sonya had ever grasped. So Sonya sat down. Her bottom landed on something soft and warm, with a dull crushing sound and something that sounded like a squeak before complete silence reigned. Sonya was ready for another apple. There went number two, said Julius. Jesus, bloody, fucking Christ, said The Beauty. Yuck, said Benny. Heres an apple, Sonya, said Allan. Henrik Bucket Hult?n didnt say anything at all. The Boss waited for three hours for Bucket to get in touch again. Then he decided that something had happened to that good-for-nothing. The Boss found it desperately hard to understand why people didnt just do as he said and nothing more. Time to deal with it all himself; that much was obvious. The Boss began by checking the registration number that Bucket had given him. It didnt take many minutes to ascertain via the national vehicle registry that it referred to a red VW Passat, owned by a Gunilla Bj?rklund, of Lake Farm, Rottne, Sm?land. ELEVEN 19451947 If it is possible to become stone-cold sober instantly after having just downed a whole bottle of tequila, then that was what Vice President Harry S. Truman did. The news of President Roosevelts sudden demise meant that the vice president had to conclude the pleasant dinner with Allan and fly immediately to Washington. Allan was left behind in the restaurant to argue with the headwaiter about the bill. In the end, the headwaiter accepted Allans argument that the future president of the United States was probably reasonably creditworthy and that, in any case, the headwaiter now knew his address. Allan took a refreshing walk back to the lab and resumed his duties as coffeemaker and assistant to Americas foremost physicists, mathematicians, and chemists, even though they now felt somewhat embarrassed in Allans company. The atmosphere was uncomfortable and after a few weeks Allan was considering whether to move on. A telephone call from Washington settled the matter: Hi, Allan, its Harry. Which Harry? Truman, Allan. Harry S. Truman, the president, damn it! How nice! That was a good meal we had, Mr. President, thank you. I hope you werent required to fly the plane home? No, the president had not. Despite the gravity of the situation, he had passed out on a sofa and had not woken up again until it was time to land five hours later. But now, Harry Truman had some things to deal with that he had inherited from his predecessor, and for one of these the president might need Allans help, if Allan thought that possible? Allan certainly did, and the next morning he checked out from the Los Alamos National Laboratory for good. The Oval Office was just about as oval as Allan had imagined. And there he was, sitting across from his Los Alamos drinking partner. It turned out that the president was having some trouble with a woman whom hefor political reasonscouldnt ignore. Her name was Soong Mei-ling. Perhaps Allan had heard of her? No? Well, she was the wife of the anticommunist Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek in China. She was also extremely beautiful, educated here in America, and a best friend of Mrs. Roosevelt. She drew an audience of thousands wherever she turned up, and had even given a speech to Congress. And now she was hounding President Truman almost to death to ensure that he would make good on all the promises that she claimed President Roosevelt had made with regard to the struggle against communism. I should have guessed that this was about politics, said Allan. Its pretty hard to avoid that if you are president, said Harry Truman. Just for the moment there was a brief period of calm in the struggle between the Kuomintang and the communists, for they were more or less fighting for a common cause in Manchuria. But soon the Japanese would surrender, and then the Chinese would certainly start to fight among themselves again. How do you know that the Japanese are going to surrender? asked Allan. You, of all people, ought to be able to work that out, answered Truman and immediately changed the subject. The president proceeded with what for Allan was a boring overview of developments in China. Intelligence reports said that the communists had the advantage in the civil war, and at the Office of Strategic Services there were questions about Chiang Kai-sheks military strategy. He was concentrating on the towns, leaving the rural areas open for communist propaganda. The leader of the communists, Mao Tse-tung, would of course soon be eliminated by the Americans, but there was an obvious risk that his ideas might gain a foothold among the population. Even the irritating Soong Mei-ling acknowledged that something had to be done. So she simply followed her own military course. The president continued to describe military strategy, but Allan had stopped listening. He looked absentmindedly around the Oval Office, wondering whether the windowpanes were bulletproof and where the door to the left might lead. He thought it must be difficult to drag the gigantic carpet out for cleaning In the end, he felt he had to interrupt the president in case he started asking questions to make sure that Allan had understood. Excuse me, Harry, but what do you want me to do? Well, as I said, its about stopping the communists freedom of movement in the rural areas What do you actually want me to do? Soong Mei-ling is pushing for increased American weapons support, and now she wants even more equipment than what theyve already been offered. And what specifically do you want me to do? When Allan had asked the question for the third time, the president fell silent. Then he said: I want you to go to China and blow up bridges. Why didnt you say that right away? said Allan, his face brightening. As many bridges as possible, so that you cut off as many of the communist roads as you can Itll be nice to see a new country, said Allan. I want you to train Soong Mei-lings men in the art of blowing up bridges and that When do I leave? Although Allan was an explosives expert, and had rapidly and drunkenly become good friends with the future American president, he was still Swedish. If Allan had been the slightest bit interested in politics, he might have asked the president why he was the one to have been chosen for this mission. Had the president been asked he would have answered truthfully that the United States couldnt be seen to support two parallel and potentially contradictory military projects in China. Officially they supported Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang party. Now they were adding to that support on the sly with a whole shipload of equipment for blowing up bridges on a major scale, ordered and pushed through by the beautiful, serpentlike (in the presidents view), and half-Americanized Soong Mei-ling. Worst of all, Truman couldnt rule out that everything had actually been settled over a cup of tea between Soong Mei-ling and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. What a mess! But now all that remained was for the president to introduce Allan Karlsson and Soong Mei-ling to each other. Then as far as the president was concerned the matter was over and done with. The next item on his agenda was more of a formality, because he had already made his decision. There was no need for him physically to push the button, so to speak. On an island east of the Philippines the crew of a B-52 bomber was waiting for the go-ahead from the president. All the tests had been carried out. Nothing could go wrong. The next day was the sixth of August 1945. Allan Karlssons delight that something new was going to happen in his life soon faded when he met Soong Mei-ling for the first time. Allan had instructions to call on her at a hotel suite in Washington. After managing to negotiate his way through a couple of rows of bodyguards, he stood in front of the lady herself and holding out his hand said: How do you do, Madame, Im Allan Karlsson. Soong Mei-ling did not shake his hand. Instead, she pointed to an armchair close by. Sit! she said. Over the years, Allan had been accused of being everything from crazy to fascist, but never a dog. He considered pointing out the unsuitability of the ladys tone, but refrained from doing so, since he was curious to see what would come next. Besides, the armchair looked comfortable. When Allan sat down, Soong Mei-ling embarked upon something that Allan felt a particular aversion to, namely a political explanation. Oddly, she referred to President Roosevelt as the man behind the entire plan, and Allan found that strange. Surely you couldnt lead military operations from beyond the grave? Soong Mei-ling described the importance of putting a stop to the communists, of preventing that clown Mao Tse-tung from spreading his political poison from province to province, andrather strangely, thought Allanof her husband, Chiang Kai-shek, not understanding anything about this business. How are things really between you two on the romantic side? said Allan. Soong Mei-ling informed Allan that such a matter was of no concern to an insignificant person like him. Karlsson was appointed by President Roosevek to be directly under her command in this operation, and from now on he should only answer when spoken to, and otherwise be silent. Allan didnt get angrythe word didnt seem to be in his vocabularybut he took advantage of the fact that he had been spoken to, to answer. The last thing I heard about Roosevek was that he was dead, and if anything has changed about that it would have been in the papers. I am doing this because President Truman asked me to. But if your madameship is going to keep on being angry then I dont think Ill bother. I can always visit China another time, and Ive already blown up more than enough bridges. No one had confronted Soong Mei-ling like this since her mother had tried to stop her daughters marriage to a Buddhist, and that was many years ago. Besides, her mother had later had to apologize because the marriage had led her daughter all the way to the top. Now Soong Mei-ling had to stop and think. She had evidently misjudged the situation. Up to now, all Americans had started to tremble when she described President Roosevelt and the First Lady as personal friends. How should she deal with this person who didnt react in the same way as everybody else? Who on earth had that incompetent Truman sent her? Soong Mei-ling was not a person who would fraternize with just anybody, but her goal was more important than her principles. So she changed tactics: I think we forgot to introduce ourselves properly, she said, and held out her hand in the western manner. But better late than never. Allan was not one to harbor a grudge. He took her hand and smiled indulgently. But he didnt agree in general with better late than never. His father, for example, became a faithful supporter of Czar Nicholas the day before the Russian Revolution. Two days later Allan was on his way to Los Angeles, with Soong Mei-ling and twenty men from her personal bodyguard. There awaited the ship that would take them and their cargo of dynamite to Shanghai. Allan knew that it would be impossible for him to keep out of the way of Soong Mei-ling for the whole of the long voyage across the Pacific Oceanthe vessel simply didnt have enough hiding places. So he made up his mind not even to try, and he accepted a permanent seat at the captains table during dinner every evening. The advantage was the good food. The disadvantage was that Allan and the captain were not alone; they had the company of Soong Mei-ling, who seemed to be incapable of talking about anything but politics. And to be honest, there was yet another disadvantage; instead of vodka, they were served a green, banana liquor. Allan accepted what he was served, but he reflected that it was the first time he had drunk something that was essentially undrinkable. Drinks with an alcoholic content ought to go down your throat and into your belly as quickly as possible, not stick to your palate. But Soong Mei-ling liked the taste of the liquor and the more glasses she put away during an evening, the more personal was the tone of her everlasting political ramblings. What Allan quite effortlessly learned during the dinners on the Pacific Ocean was, for example, that the clown Mao Tse-tung and his communists could very well win the civil war and that such an outcome would essentially have been caused by Chiang Kai-shek. Soong Mei-lings husband was incompetent as commander in chief. At this very moment he was partaking in peace negotiations with Mao Tse-tung in the south Chinese city of Chongqing. Had Mr. Karlsson and the captain heard anything so stupid? Negotiating with a communist? Where would that lead, other than nowhere! Soong Mei-ling was certain that the negotiations would break down. Her intelligence reports also revealed that a considerable part of the communist army was waiting for its leader Mao in the desolate mountains in Sichuan province not far from Chongqing. Soong Mei-lings handpicked agents, like Soong Mei-ling herself, believed that the clown and his forces would next move to the northeast, toward Shaanxi and Henan, in their disgusting propaganda procession through the nation. Allan made sure to keep quiet so that the evenings political lecture would be no longer than necessary, but the hopelessly polite captain asked question after question while he repeatedly filled her glass with the sweet green banana goo. The captain wondered, for instance, in what way Mao Tse-tung actually posed any sort of threat. The Kuomintang did, after all, have the USA behind it and was, as the captain understood it, militarily completely superior. That question extended the evenings misery by almost an hour. Soong Mei-ling explained that her pathetic husband was just about as intelligent and charismatic as a cow and possessed the same leadership qualities. Chang Kai-shek had completely embraced the erroneous belief that it was all about who controlled the cities. It was not Soong Mei-lings intention to confront Mao in battle. How could she do that with the little project she had cooked up with Allan and a handful of her bodyguards? Twenty poorly armed men, twenty-one with Mr. Karlsson, against a whole army of very able opponents in the mountains of Sichuan That would be ugly. Instead, the first stage in the plan was to limit the clowns mobility, to make it more difficult for the communist army to move around. The next stage was to get her miserable husband to realize that he must now seize the opportunity to lead his forces out into the rural areas and show the Chinese people that the Kuomintang would protect them from communism, and not vice versa. Soong Mei-ling had understood, just like the clown, what Chiang Kai-shek so far had notnamely, that it was easier to be the leader of a nation if you had the nation behind you. Sometimes, of course, even a blind hen will find a grain of corn on the ground, and it was good that Chiang Kai-shek had invited his opponents to the peace negotiations in Chongqing. Because with a little luck, the clown and his soldiers would still be there south of the Yangtze, after the negotiations had broken down, when her troop of bodyguards and Karlsson arrived on the scene. Then Karlsson could blow up bridges with maximum effect! And for a long time to come, the clown would be confined to the mountains halfway to Tibet. But if he should happen to be on the wrong side of the river, then we simply regroup. There are five thousand rivers in China, so wherever the parasite goes there will be a river in his path. A clown and a parasite, Allan thought, doing battle with a cowardly, incompetent figure who to cap it all had the intelligence of a cow, and between them, a serpent drunk on green, banana liquor. Itll definitely be interesting to see how it all turns out, Allan said sincerely. Incidentally and apropos of nothing at all, Captain, do you by any chance have a few drops of vodka somewhere, to wash down this green liquor? No, unfortunately the captain didnt. But there were a lot of other flavors if Mr. Karlsson wanted some variety for his palate: lemon liquor, cream liquor, mint liquor Apropos of nothing at all again, said Allan, when do you think we will reach Shanghai? Allan Karlsson and a force of twenty men from Soong Mei-lings bodyguard traveled on the Yangtze by riverboat in the direction of Sichuan, as part of their plan to make life more difficult for the communist upstart Mao Tse-tung. They departed on October 12, 1945, two days after the peace negotiations had, as predicted, broken down. They proceeded at a leisurely pace since the bodyguards wanted to have fun in every harbor. And there were lots of harbors. First Nanjing, then Wuhu, Anqing, Jiujiang, Wuhan, Yueyang, Yidu, Fengjie, Wanxian, Chongqing, and Luzhou. And every stop featured drunkenness, prostitution, and a general lack of morals. Since such a lifestyle tends to use up funds very quickly, the twenty bodyguards devised a new tax. The peasants who wanted to unload their products onto the ship in the harbor could not do so unless they paid a fee of five yuan. And anyone who complained was shot. This new tax revenue was immediately spent in the darkest quarters of the city in question, and those quarters were nearly always close to the harbor. Allan thought that if Soong Mei-ling believed it was important to have the people on her side, she might have conveyed that message to her subordinates. But that, thank God, was her problem, not Allans. It took two months for Allan and the twenty soldiers to reach Sichuan province, and by then Mao Tse-tungs forces had long since left for the north. And they didnt sneak off through the mountains, but went down into the valley and did battle with the Kuomintang regiment that had been left to defend the city of Yibin. Yibin was soon on the verge of falling into communist hands. Three thousand five hundred Kuomintang soldiers were killed in the battle, at least two thousand five hundred of them because they were too drunk to fight. In comparison, three hundred communists died, presumably sober. The battle for Yibin had nevertheless been a success for the Kuomintang, because among the fifty captured communists there was one jewel. Forty-nine of the prisoners could simply be shot and pushed into a hole in the ground, but the fiftieth! Mmmm! The fiftieth was none other than the beautiful Jiang Qing, the actress who became a Marxist-Leninist andfar more importantMao Tse-tungs third wife. A palaver immediately started up between, on the one side, Kuomintangs company command in Yibin and, on the other, Soong Mei-lings bodyguards. The argument was about who would have the responsibility for the star prisoner, Jiang Qing. So far, the company commander had just kept her locked up, waiting for the boat with Soong Mei-lings men to arrive. He hadnt dared to do otherwise because Soong Mei-ling could be on board. And you didnt argue with her. But it turned out that Soong Mei-ling was in Taipei, which simplified things considerably as far as the Kuomintang company commander was concerned. Jiang Qing would first be raped in the most brutal manner and then, if she was still alive, she would be shot. Soong Mei-lings bodyguards did not object to the rape bit. They could even see themselves joining in, but Jiang Qing must definitely not be allowed to die. Instead she should be taken to Soong Mei-ling or Chiang Kai-shek for them to decide her fate. This was big-time politics, the internationally experienced soldiers explained in a superior tone to the provincially schooled company commander in Yibin. The company commander grudgingly promised that he would hand over his jewel the same afternoon. The meeting broke up and the soldiers decided to celebrate their victory with a drinking spree. They were going to have a lot of fun with the jewel on the trip home! The final negotiations had been carried out on the deck of the riverboat that had brought Allan and the soldiers all the way from the sea. Allan was astounded by the fact that he understood most of what was said. While the soldiers had been amusing themselves in various cities, Allan had been sitting on the stern deck together with the good-natured mess boy, Ah Ming, who turned out to have considerable pedagogical talent. In two months, Ah Ming had helped Allan make himself understood pretty well in Chinese (with a special proficiency in expletives and profanity). As a child, Allan had been taught to be suspicious of people who didnt have a drink when the opportunity arose. He was no more than six years old when his father laid a hand on his little shoulder and said: You should beware of priests, my son. And people who dont drink vodka. Worst of all are priests who dont drink vodka. Acting on his own counsel, Allans father had certainly not been completely sober when one day he punched an innocent traveler in the face, upon which he was immediately fired from the national railways. This in turn had caused Allans mother to give some words of wisdom of her own to her son: Beware of drunks, Allan. Thats what I should have done. The little boy grew up and added his own opinions to those he had acquired from his parents. Priests and politicians were equally bad, Allan thought, and it didnt make the slightest difference if they were communists, fascists, capitalists, or any other political persuasion. But he did agree with his father that reliable people didnt drink fruit juice. And he agreed with his mother that you had to make sure you behaved, even if you had drunk a bit more than was wise. In practical terms, that meant that during the course of the river journey Allan had lost interest in helping Soong Mei-ling and her twenty drunken soldiers (in fact there were only nineteen left, since one had fallen overboard and drowned). Nor did he want to be around when the soldiers raped the prisoner who was now locked up belowdecks, regardless of whether she was a communist or not, and of who her husband was. So Allan decided to abandon ship and take the prisoner with him. He told his friend, the mess boy, of his decision and humbly asked that Ah Ming provide the future escapees with some food for their journey. Ah Ming promised to do that, but on one conditionthat he could come along. Eighteen of the nineteen soldiers from Soong Mei-lings bodyguard, together with the boats cook and the captain, were out enjoying themselves in the pleasure district in Yibin. The nineteenth soldier, the one who had drawn the shortest straw, sat grumpily outside the door to the stairs that led down to Jiang Qings prison cell. Allan sat down with the guard and suggested that they should have a drink together. The guard said that he had been entrusted with responsibility for possibly the most important prisoner in the nation so it would not be right to indulge in rice vodka. I entirely agree, said Allan. But one glass cant hurt, can it? No, said the guard, upon reflection. One glass certainly cant hurt. Two hours later, Allan and the guard had each emptied a bottle, while the mess boy Ah Ming had scuttled back and forth and served goodies from the pantry. Allan had become a bit tipsy while on the job, but the guard had fallen asleep right on the open deck. Allan looked down at the unconscious Chinese soldier at his feet. Never try to outdrink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian. The bomb expert, Allan Karlsson; the mess boy, Ah Ming; and the eternally grateful communist leaders wife, Jiang Qing, slipped away from the riverboat under cover of darkness and were soon in the mountains where Jiang Qing had already spent much time together with her husbands troops. The Tibetan nomads in the area knew her and the fugitives had no problem in eating their fill even after the supplies carried by Ah Ming had run out. The Tibetans had good reason, or so they thought, for being on friendly terms with the Peoples Liberation Army. It was generally assumed that if the communists won the struggle for China, Tibet would immediately gain its independence. Jiang Qing suggested that she, Allan, and Ah Ming should hurry northward, in a wide circle round Kuomintang-controlled territory. After months of walking in the mountains, they would eventually reach Xian in the province of Shaanxiand Jiang Qing knew that her husband would be there, as long as they didnt take too long. The mess boy, Ah Ming, was delighted by Jiang Qings promise that he would be able to serve Mao himself. The boy had secretly become a communist when he saw how the soldiers behaved, so he was fine with changing sides and advancing his career at the same time. Allan, however, said that he was certain the communist struggle would manage just fine without him. So he assumed it would be okay if he went home. Did Jiang Qing agree? Yes, she did. But home was surely Sweden and that was terribly far away. How was Mr. Karlsson going to manage? Allan replied that boat or airplane would have been the most practical method but poor placement of the worlds oceans had ruled out catching a boat from the middle of China, and he hadnt seen any airports up there in the mountains. And anyway he didnt have any money to speak of. So Ill have to walk, said Allan. The head of the village who had so generously received the three fugitives had a brother who had traveled more than anybody else. The brother had been as far afield as Ulan Bator in the north and Kabul in the west. Besides which, he had dipped his toes into the Bay of Bengal on a journey to the East Indies, but now he was home in the village again and the headman sent for him and asked him to draw a map of the world for Mr. Karlsson so that he could find his way back to Sweden. The brother promised to do that and he had completed the task by the next day. Even if youre well bundled up, it is bold to cross the Himalayas with only the help of a homemade map of the world and a compass. In fact, Allan could have walked north of the mountain chain and the Aral and Caspian seas, but reality and the homemade map didnt exactly match up. So Allan said good-bye to Jiang Qing and Ah Ming and started upon his perambulation, which was to go through Tibet, over the Himalayas, through British India, Afghanistan, into Iran, on to Turkey, and then up through Europe. After two months on foot, Allan discovered that he must have chosen the wrong side of a mountain range and the best way to deal with that was to turn back and start over. Another four months later (on the right side of the mountain range) Allan realized he was making rather slow progress. At a market in a mountain village he haggled as best he could about the price of a camel, with the help of sign language and the Chinese he knew. Allan and the camel-seller finally came to an agreement, but not until the seller had been forced to accept that Allan was not going to take his daughter as part of the purchase. Allan did consider the part about the daughter. Not for purely physical reasons, because he no longer had any such urges. They had been left behind in Professor Lundborgs operating theater. It was rather her companionship that attracted him. Life on the Tibetan highland plateau could sometimes be lonely. But since the daughter spoke nothing other than a monotonous-sounding Tibeto-Burmese dialect that Allan didnt understand, he thought that where intellectual stimulation was concerned he could just as well talk to the camel. Besides, one couldnt rule out that the daughter might have certain sexual expectations as to the arrangement. Something in the way she looked at him led Allan to believe that to be the case. So another two months of loneliness ensued, with Allan wobbling across the roof of the world on the back of a camel, before he came across three strangers, also on camels. Allan greeted them in the languages he knew: Chinese, Spanish, English, and Swedish. Luckily, English worked. Allan told his new acquaintances that he was on his way home to Sweden. The men looked at him wide-eyed. Was he going to ride a camel all the way to northern Europe? With a little break for the ship across ?resund, said Allan. The three men didnt know what ?resund was so Allan told them that it was where the Baltic Sea met the Atlantic Ocean. After they had ascertained that Allan was not loyal to the British-American lackey, the Shah of Iran, they invited him to accompany them. The men told him that they had met at the university in Tehran where they had studied English. After their studies, they had spent two years in China, breathing the same air as their communist hero, Mao Tse-tung, and they were now on their way back home to Iran. We are Marxists, one of the men said. We are pursuing our struggle in the name of the international worker; in his name we will carry out a revolution in Iran and the whole world; we will build a society based upon the economic and social equality of all people: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. I see, comrade, said Allan. Do you happen to have any spare vodka? The men did. The bottle went from camelback to camelback and Allan began to feel that the journey was working out nicely. Eleven months later, the four men had managed to save each others lives at least three times. They had survived avalanches, bandits, extreme cold, and repeated periods of hunger. Two of the camels had died, a third had had to be slaughtered and eaten, and the fourth had been given to an Afghan customs officer so that they would be allowed to enter the country instead of being arrested. Allan had never imagined it would be easy to cross the Himalayas. But later he had realized just how lucky he had been to bump into those kind Iranian communists. It would not have been pleasant to wrestle alone with the valley sandstorms and the flooding rivers or the minus forty degrees Fahrenheit in the mountainseven if he could have managed the bitter cold on his own, with his long experience of the Swedish winters. The group had set up camp at an altitude of just under 7,000 feet to wait for the 194647 winter to end. The three communists tried to get Allan to join their struggle, especially after they discovered his talent for working with dynamite. Allan wished them the best of luck, but said that he had to go home to Sweden to look after his house in Yxhult. (Allan momentarily forgot that he had blown the house to bits eighteen years earlier.) In the end, the men gave up their attempts to persuade Allan of the rightness of their cause, and settled for his being a good comrade, and someone who didnt complain about a bit of snow. Allans standing improved further when, while the group was waiting for better weather, he figured out how to make alcohol from goats milk. The communists couldnt fathom how he managed, but the end result was definitely potent and made everything a bit warmer and less boring. In the spring of 1947 they finally made it over to the southern side of the worlds highest mountain chain. The closer they came to the Iranian border, the more eager the communists were to talk about the future of Iran. Now was the time to chase the foreigners out of the country once and for all. The Brits had supported the corrupt Shah for years and years, and that was bad enough. But when the Shah finally tired of being their lapdog and started to protest, then the Brits simply lifted him off his throne and put his son there instead. Allan was reminded of Soong Mei-lings relationship to Chiang Kai-shek; he reflected that family relations could be weird out in the big wide world. The son was evidently easier to bribe than the father, and now the Brits and Americans controlled the Iranian oil. Inspired by Mao Tse-tung, these Iranian communists were determined to put a stop to that. The problem was that some other Iranian communists leaned more toward the brand of communism practiced in Stalins Soviet Union, and there were other irritating revolutionary elements that mixed religion into it all. Interesting, said Allan, and meant the opposite. They replied with a long Marxist declaration on the theme that the situation was more than interesting. The trio would, in short, be victorious or die! The very next day, the latter turned out to be the case, because as soon as the four friends set foot on Iranian soil they were arrested by a border patrol. The three communists unfortunately each had a copy of the Communist Manifesto (in Persian!), and that got them shot on the spot. Allan survived because he had no literature with him. Besides, he looked foreign and required further investigation. With the barrel of a rifle against his back, Allan took his cap off and thanked the three dead communists for their company across the Himalayas. He couldnt really get used to the way people he befriended went and died right in front of his eyes. Allan didnt have time for a longer period of mourning. His hands were tied behind his back and he was thrown into the back of a truck. With his nose buried in a blanket he asked in English to be taken to the Swedish Embassy in Tehran, or to the American one if Sweden didnt have any representation in the city. Khafe sho! was the answer, in a threatening tone. Allan didnt understand the words, but he understood the sentiment. It probably wouldnt hurt to keep his mouth shut for a while. On the other side of the globe, in Washington D.C., President Harry Truman had problems of his own. Election time was coming up, and it was important for him to make his policies clear. And that meant deciding what they were. The biggest strategic question was how much he would be prepared to support the Negroes in the South. You had to maintain a fine balance between seeming modern and not seeming too soft. That was how you maintained your support in the opinion polls. And in the world arena, he had Stalin to deal with. There, however, he was not prepared to compromise. Stalin had managed to charm quite a few people, but not Harry S. Truman. In light of everything else, China was now history. Stalin pumped in help to Mao Tse-tung, and Truman couldnt refrain from doing the same to that amateur Chiang Kai-shek. Soong Mei-ling had so far gotten what she wanted, but now that would have to end too. He wondered what had happened to Allan Karlsson. A very nice guy. Chiang Kai-shek suffered more and more military defeats. And Soong Mei-lings project failed because the explosives expert assigned to it disappeared, taking the clowns wife with him. Soong Mei-ling asked time and time again for a meeting with President Truman, hoping to be able to strangle him with her bare hands for having sent her Allan Karlsson, but Truman never had time to receive her. Instead, the United States turned its back on the Kuomintang; in China, the corruption, hyperinflation, and famine all played into the hands of Mao Tse-tung. In the end, Chiang Kai-shek, Soong Mei-ling, and their subordinates had to flee to Taiwan. Mainland China became communist China.

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