The girl sat quietly, looking down at her bowl of yogurt and strawberries. She listened to the clinking of silverware against china as her mother and father ate breakfast.
“Would you please eat?”
Her mother looked at her imploringly, but the girl didn’t move.
“Are your dreams bothering you again?”
The girl swallowed, not daring to lift her gaze from the bowl.
“Yes,” she replied in a barely audible whisper.
“What did you dream about this time?”
Her mother tore a slice of bread in half and spread marmalade on it.
“A container,” she said. “It was...”
Her father’s voice came from the other side of the table, loud, hard and cold as ice. His fists were clenched. His eyes were as hard and cold as his voice.
He got up, pulled her from the chair and shoved her out of the kitchen.
“We don’t want to hear any more of your fantasies.”
The girl stumbled forward, struggling to keep ahead of him as he pushed her up the stairs. He was hurting her arm, her feet. She tried to wrench herself from his grasp just as he changed his grip and put his hand around her neck.
Then he let go, his hand recoiling as if he’d been stabbed. He looked at her in disgust.
“I told you to keep your neck covered all the time! Always!”
He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around.
“What did you do with the bandage?”
She felt him pull her hair aside, tearing at it, trying frantically to expose the nape of her neck. Heard his rapid breathing when he caught sight of her scars. He took a few steps back, aghast, as if he had seen something horrifying.
And he had...
Because her bandage had fallen off.
There! The car appeared from around the corner.
Pim smiled nervously at Noi. They were standing in an alley, in the shadows of the light from the streetlamps. The asphalt was discolored by patches of dried piss. It smelled strong and rank, and the howling of stray dogs was drowned out by the rumbling highway.
Pim’s forehead was damp with sweat—not from the heat but from nerves. Her dark hair was plastered to the back of her neck, and the thin material of her T-shirt stuck to her back in creases. She didn’t know what awaited her and hadn’t had much time to think about it, either.
Everything had gone so quickly. Just two days ago, she had made up her mind. Noi had laughed, saying it was easy, it paid well and they’d be home again in five days.
Pim wiped her hand across her forehead and dried it on her jeans as she watched the slowly approaching car.
She smiled again, as if to convince herself that everything would be okay, everything would work out.
It was just this one time.
Just once. Then never again.
She picked up her suitcase. She’d been told to fill it with clothes for two weeks to make the fictitious vacation more convincing.
She looked at Noi, straightened her spine and pulled her shoulders back.
The car was almost there.
It drove toward them slowly and stopped. A tinted window rolled down, exposing the face of a man with close-cropped hair.
“Get in,” he said without taking his eyes from the road. Then he put the car in gear and prepared to leave.
Pim walked around the car, stopped and closed her eyes for a brief moment. Taking a deep breath, she opened the car door and got in.
Public prosecutor Jana Berzelius took a sip of water and reached across the pile of papers on the table. It was 10:00 p.m., and The Bishop’s Arms in Norrköping was packed.
A half hour earlier, she’d been in the company of her boss, Chief Public Prosecutor Torsten Granath who, after a long and successful day in court, had at least had the decency to take her to dinner at the Elite Grand Hotel.
He had spent the two-hour meal carrying on about his dog who, after various stomach ailments and bowel problems, had had to be put to sleep. Although Jana couldn’t have cared less, she had feigned interest when Torsten pulled out his phone to show pictures of the puppy years of the now-dead dog. She had nodded, tilting her head to one side and trying to look sympathetic.
To make the time pass more quickly, she had inventoried the other patrons. She’d had an unobstructed view of the door from their table near the window. No one came or went without her seeing. During Torsten’s monologue, she had observed twelve people: three foreign businessmen, two middle-aged women with shrill voices, a family of four, two older men and a teenager with big, curly hair.
After dinner, she and Torsten had moved to The Bishop’s Arms next door. He’d said the classic British interior reminded him of golfing in the county of Kent and that he always insisted on the same table. For Jana, the choice of pub was a minor irritation. She had shaken her boss’s hand with relief when he’d finally decided to call an end to the evening.
Yet she had lingered a bit longer.
Stuffing the papers into her briefcase, she drank the last of her water and was just about to get up when a man came in. Maybe it was his nervous gait that made her notice him. She followed him with her gaze as he walked quickly toward the bar. He caught the bartender’s attention with a finger in the air, ordered a drink and sat down at a table with his worn duffel bag on his lap.
His face was partly concealed by a knit cap, but she guessed he was around her age, about thirty. He was dressed in a leather jacket, dark jeans and black boots. He seemed tense, looking first out the window, then toward the door and then out the window again.
Without turning her head, Jana shifted her gaze to the window and saw the contours of the Saltäng Bridge. The Christmas lights swayed in the bare treetops near Hamngatan. On the other side of the river, a neon sign wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year blinked on and off.
She shuddered at the thought that there were only a few weeks left until Christmas. She was really not looking forward to spending the holiday with her parents. Especially since her father, former Prosecutor-General Karl Berzelius, suddenly and inexplicably seemed to be keeping his distance from her, as if he wasn’t interested in being part of his daughter’s life anymore.
They hadn’t seen each other since the spring, and every time Jana mentioned his strange behavior to her mother, Margaretha, she offered no explanation.
He’s very busy, was always her response.
So Jana decided not to waste any more energy on the matter and had just let it be. As a result, there had been few family visits over the past six months. But they couldn’t skip Christmas—the three of them would be forced to spend time together.
She sighed heavily and returned her gaze to the man whom the server had just given a drink. When he reached for it, she saw a large, dark birthmark on his left wrist. He raised the glass to his lips and looked out the window again.
He must be waiting for someone, she thought, as she got up from the table, carefully buttoning her winter jacket and wrapping her black Louis Vuitton scarf around her neck. She pulled her maroon hat over her head and gripped her briefcase firmly.
As she turned toward the door, she noticed that the man was talking on his phone. He muttered something inaudible, downed his drink as he stood up and strode past her toward the exit.
She caught the door as it swung shut after him and stepped out onto the street and into the cold winter air. The night was crystal clear, quiet and almost completely still.
The man had quickly vanished from sight.
Jana pulled on a pair of lined gloves and set out for her apartment in Knäppingsborg. A block from home, she caught sight of the man again, standing against the wall in a narrow alley. This time he wasn’t alone.
Another man stood facing him. His hood was up, and his hands were stuffed deep into his pockets.
She stopped in her tracks, took a few quick steps to the side and tried to hide behind a building column. Her heart began to pound and she told herself she must be mistaken. The man in the hood could not be who she thought he was.
She turned her head and again examined his profile.
A shiver went down her spine.
She knew who he was.
She knew his name.
Detective Chief Inspector Henrik Levin turned off the TV and stared at the ceiling. It was just after ten o’clock at night and the bedroom was dark. He listened to the sounds of the house. The dishwasher clunked rhythmically in the kitchen. Now and then he heard a thump from Felix’s room, and Henrik knew his son was rolling over in his sleep. His daughter, Vilma, was sleeping quietly and still, as always, in the next room.
He lay on his side next to his wife, Emma, with his eyes closed and the comforter over his head, but he knew it was going to be difficult to fall asleep with his mind racing.
Soon he wouldn’t be sleeping much at night for other reasons. The nights would instead be filled with rocking and feeding and shushing long into the wee hours. There were only three weeks left until the baby’s due date.
He pulled the comforter down from his head and looked at Emma sleeping on her back with her mouth open. Her belly was huge, but he had no idea if it was larger than during her earlier pregnancies. The only thing he knew was that he was about to become a father for the third time.
He lay on his back with his hands on top of the comforter and closed his eyes. He felt a sort of melancholy and wondered if he would feel different when he held the baby in his arms. He hoped so, because almost the whole pregnancy had passed without him really noticing. He hadn’t had time—he’d had other things to think about. His job, for example.
The National Crime Squad had contacted him.
They wanted to talk about last spring’s investigation of the murder of Hans Juhlén, a Swedish Migration Board department chief in Norrköping. The case was closed and Henrik had already put it behind him.
What had initially seemed to be a typical murder investigation of a high-ranking civil servant had turned into something much more, much worse. Something macabre: the smuggling of illegal refugees had led the team working the case to a narcotics ring that had, among other activities, been training children to be soldiers, turning kids into cold-blooded killers.
It was far from a routine case, and the investigation had been front-page news for several weeks.
Tomorrow, the National Crime Squad was coming to ask questions about the refugee children who had been transported from South America in shipping containers locked from the outside. More specifically, they wanted to talk about the ring leader, Gavril Bolanaki, who had killed himself before anyone could interrogate him.
They’d be reviewing every minute detail yet again.
Henrik opened his eyes and stared out into the darkness. He glanced at the alarm clock, saw that it was 10:15 and knew the dishwasher would soon signal the end of its cycle.
Three minutes later, it beeped.
Her heart was pounding and her pulse racing.
Jana Berzelius breathed as quietly as possible.
A wave of mixed emotions flowed over her. She felt simultaneously surprised, confused, irritated.
There was a time when she and Danilo had been like siblings, when they had shared a daily existence. That was a long time ago now, back when they were little. Now they shared nothing more than the same bloody past. He had scars on his neck the same as she, initials carved into flesh, a constant reminder of their shared dark childhood. Danilo was the only one who knew who she was, where she came from—and why.
She had sought out Danilo last spring to ask for his help when the shipping containers filled with refugee children began appearing outside the small harbor town of Arkösund. He had seemed helpful, even favorably inclined, but in the end he had still betrayed her. He had attempted to kill her—unsuccessfully—and then disappeared underground.
Ever since then, she had been searching for him, but it was as if he had vanished into thin air. She hadn’t been able to find a single trace of him in all those months. Nothing. Her frustration had intensified in proportion to her desire for revenge. She daydreamed of different ways to kill him.
She had sketched his face in pencil on a white sheet of paper, drawing and erasing and drawing again until it was a perfect likeness. She had saved the picture, pinned it to a wall in her apartment as if to remind herself of the hatred she felt for him—not that she could ever forget it.
In the end, she had given up on her search for him and returned to her everyday life with the belief that she would probably never find him.
He was gone forever.
Or so she had thought.
Now he stood fifty feet from her.
She felt her body tremble and stifled an impulse to throw herself forward—she had to think rationally.
She held her breath so that she could hear the men’s voices, but she couldn’t make out a single word. They were too far away.
Danilo lit a cigarette.
The worn duffel bag lay on the ground, and the man with the birthmark was crouched down next to it. He pulled the zipper, exposing its contents. Danilo nodded and gestured with his right hand, and both of them went with quick steps through the alley and disappeared down the stone steps toward Strömparken.
Jana clenched her teeth. What should she do? Turn around and go home? Pretend she hadn’t seen him, let him get away? Let him disappear from her life yet again?
Silently, she counted to ten before stepping out of the shadows and going after them.
Detective Inspector Mia Bolander opened her eyes and immediately clapped her hand to her forehead. Her head was spinning.
She got out of bed and stood there naked, looking at the man whose name she had forgotten, who lay on his stomach with his hands under a pillow.
He hadn’t been completely with it. For twenty minutes, he had paced the room and repeated that he was a waste of space and didn’t deserve her. She had told him again and again that of course that wasn’t true, and in the end she had convinced him to get into bed with her.
When he later asked considerately if he could massage her feet, she was too exhausted to say no. And when he had put her big toe in his mouth, she had finally reached her limit and asked straight out if they couldn’t just fuck. He had gotten the hint and taken his clothes off.
He had also moaned loudly, licked her neck and given her hickeys.
Mia scratched under her right breast and looked down at the floor where her clothes lay in a heap.
She dressed quickly, not caring if she made noise. She just wanted to go home.
She’d only intended to make a quick stop at the pub. Harry’s had had a Christmas-themed karaoke night, and the place had been packed with women in sparkly dresses and men in suits. Some had been wearing Santa hats and had probably gotten drunk earlier in the night at some Christmas party somewhere in Norrköping.
The man whose name she had forgotten had been standing at the bar, holding a beer. He seemed to be around forty and had straight, blond hair that was oddly styled—parted straight down the middle. She had seen a colorful skull-and-crossbones tattoo on his neck. He had otherwise been neatly dressed in a sport coat with overstuffed shoulder pads and a tie.
Mia had sat down a few stools away from him, fingering her glass and trying to get him to notice her. He finally had, but it took even longer for him to walk over and ask if he could join her. She had answered with a smile, again running her finger around the top of her glass. He’d finally understood that he should buy her another drink. Three pints of beer and two seasonal saffron-flavored cocktails later, they’d shared a taxi home to his apartment.
She could still taste the saffron. She went out in the hall, into the bathroom and turned on the light. She was blinded for a second and kept her eyes closed while she drank water out of her cupped hands. She squinted into the mirror, tucked her hair behind her ears and then caught sight of her neck.
Two large red hickeys featured prominently on the right side, under her chin. She shook her head and turned off the light.
She took his sport coat from the hook in the hall and rifled through the pockets. His wallet was in the inside pocket and only held cards—no cash at all.
Not a single krona.
She looked at his driver’s license and saw that his name was Martin Strömberg, then she replaced it and put her boots and jacket on.
“Just so you know, Martin,” she said, pointing a finger toward the bedroom, “you are a goddamn waste of space.”
She unlocked the door of the apartment and left.
Jana Berzelius stopped at the top of the hill near Norrköping’s Museum of Work and looked around. She couldn’t see Danilo or the man with the birthmark anymore.
She surveyed all the street corners in front of her, but neither of the men were there. She didn’t see another living soul, in fact, and was amazed at how deserted the industrial landscape could be on a chilly Wednesday evening in early December.
She stood there silently for ten minutes, watching. But she didn’t hear a single sound or see the slightest movement.
Finally, she accepted that they were gone. She had lost him. The anger welled up inside her. There was only one thing to do now, and that was to leave, go home with the feeling of again having been tricked.
But what had she thought was going to happen? What had she been thinking? She shouldn’t have followed him; she should just leave him alone and take care of herself.
There was nothing else she could do, really.
Walking along Holmensquare, she suddenly had the strange feeling that someone was following her, but when she spun around, the only thing she saw was a short man walking a dog off in the distance. She glanced up at the apartments along Kvarngatan and saw advent candelabras in many of the windows. The sky was pitch-black and still crystal clear.
Shivering, she pulled her shoulders up before continuing across the square and into the tunnel. Halfway through, she was again gripped by the feeling of being followed.
She stopped, turned and stared into the darkness behind her. She stood still, breathing quietly, listening.
She crossed Järnbrogatan with quick steps and rushed through the pink archway that marked the entrance to the Knäppingsborg neighborhood.
Then she suddenly heard a sound behind her.
There he stood, alone.
Thirty feet from her.
His chin was down and his jaw was clenched.
She met his gaze, dropping her briefcase, and prepared herself.
We hope you enjoyed this sample of Marked For Revenge by Emelie Schepp.
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