e x c e r p t
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright ©2014 Dana Ravyn
All Rights Reserved
I died on a perfect spring evening. On the day the world left me behind, the grass was turning green, flowers peeked out from the brush, and leaves took hold on battered trees. The relentless Minneapolis winter had given way to rebirth. People were out dodging puddles, walking around Lake Harriet, and seeing old friends. I was graduating from Macalester College this year, thrilled to finish school but frightened of the future and sad about leaving friends. All of that seemed important until it happened. One car turned the corner and drove along Upton Avenue, changing everything. I looked up and saw it coming, but it was too late to get away. When it hit me, I knew what was happening. Don’t let them say it was too sudden, he couldn’t have felt a thing. I felt everything. I felt the crushing force on my legs, the stinging jolt to my face, the slow pulverizing of my bones. My organs writhed as I was thrown through the air. The pain was unbearable; it was everywhere, deep inside me, reaching places where I did not know I could feel pain. It was gnawing, tearing, and burning pain, but it didn’t last long. Little by little, the life trickled out of my mangled body. My final sound was not a scream, but more of a sigh. The last thing I remember is looking up as I lay on the grass. There were so many stars. A feeling of loneliness came over me that I had never felt. I always had so many people to love me and care for me. It did no good to think of them. Now I was alone, and I knew I would be alone for all of eternity.
Astrid Källström sighed in a long exhale of resignation. She looked at her phone, and as she expected, her father was calling yet again. He had called her several times since she left the office. Now she was just getting off the bus and had to juggle several bags of things she had taken from the office for the trip to the States.
“Hello, Papa,” she said.
“Where are you? I’ve been calling for some time.”
Tobias Källström has been a reporter at Insikt for thirty years. In his tenure at the small firebrand newspaper, he has exposed politicians, business leaders, and the police in corruption and cover-ups. When he lost his job as a middle school teacher, Tobias started freelancing for the paper, more out of desperation than from any high-minded ideas about changing Swedish society. As a cub reporter with no experience, he learned about police taking bribes to cover up officials caught drinking and driving. Posing as a council member leaving a posh party, he successfully paid off a police officer who let him drive on despite his intoxication. The story helped put Insikt on the map as an independent newspaper with guts. Advertising increased, and Tobias showed that his knack for stories had staying power. Over the years, he continued to break features on high-reaching scandals and graft. He had even been offered the position of chief editor, but he turned it down. He liked to be on the streets, he had said.
Tobias’s dedication to the paper took a toll on his family life. Astrid hardly saw her father as a child. Tobias tried to spend time at home, but the little time he had was often focused on Anders, who was two years older than Astrid. When Astrid and Anders approached their teens, Tobias’s career was nearing its peak. The pressure led to ruptures at home, and he and Astrid’s mother, Anna, began to argue and grow distant. Before long Anna announced that she wanted to leave. She had met another man, Clive Gladwell, an American working in Sweden. The affair was too much for Tobias, and he began drinking heavily. Anna and Anders decided to move to the United States, where Gladwell had a home and a successful home-remodeling business. Astrid refused to go. She disliked and distrusted Gladwell, and would have seen it as abandoning her father. She had no interest in living in the Unites States, especially in Minnesota of all places, and vowed to stay by her father’s side. She cringed when they received Christmas cards portraying the family in matching outfits and the dog sporting felt reindeer antlers. She missed Anders terribly at first. Soon after, she forgave her mother, and she realized how much she missed her too. They had been very close, and now a void had developed that she couldn’t comprehend. How could her own mother somehow be lost, at a distance, no longer near or part of her life? Tobias didn’t make it easier for Astrid. With the pain and loss of separation, Tobias became uncontrollable. He would get into drunken brawls and sometimes be brought home by the police. His editor had been patient and understanding at first, but Helena eventually grew tired of his unpredictability. It was a difficult time for Astrid. She often had no one to turn to when she needed support. She had always been a bit of a loner and did not share many interests with young women her age. There had been boys, but she had only had casual relationships. She was disappointed, unable to find that one true friend, someone to rely on and talk to when things were difficult. It didn’t help that her life was consumed by caring for Tobias.
Astrid had always had a talent for reporting and had published stories occasionally when she was at university. When Helena was ready to fire Tobias, she and Astrid had a frank conversation. Astrid offered to help her father with his stories, do research, help him edit, and ensure he made his deadlines. “Maybe the support will keep his head above water long enough for him to turn his life around,” Astrid suggested. Soon, she was reporting her own stories, and became the youngest bylined reporter for Insikt. Astrid and Tobias were a team, and it helped Tobias pull himself along. He still drank heavily, but was back to producing good copy. Even if he had been overshadowed by his daughter, he didn’t care, as long as he was reporting. Besides, if he had Astrid close by he was a happy man.
“I’ve just gotten back to the flat,” she said. She was fumbling with bags and keys, trying to find the lock while pinching the phone between neck and shoulder.
“Well, it’s the Lundstrom affair—we need to talk…When are you going to Minnesota?”
Astrid opened the door and turned on the light. She couldn’t believe what she saw.
Astrid had moved to her South Förstadsgatan apartment in Möllevången just six months ago. She could hardly afford the small one-bedroom, furnished apartment, but decided she needed to get away from Tobias. He had become increasingly dependent, and Astrid feared that she was enabling him by taking care of the day-to-day responsibilities that he should have been meeting. Part of her feared that his drinking would increase and he would plummet into a hopeless condition. Tobias told her she should go. She was twenty-three already, and taking care of an old man was no way to live a young life, he said. He promised her that he would take care of himself. Astrid hoped that forcing him to rely on himself might help, and it did. At first. Before long, she was back, spending the night, putting groceries in the refrigerator, and getting him into clean clothes.
Astrid loved being independent. Having her own apartment, as modest as it was, opened up her life in a way she had never imagined; it was like she could breathe for the first time. She cherished the ability to work in total quiet, to eat and sleep when she chose, and to have privacy, whether it was to read a book or just be alone with her thoughts. The apartment was too small to entertain, so her social life was by necessity relegated to the cafes and clubs. Her apartment was a sanctuary from all of that.
Now, she saw a disaster. Books were tossed everywhere, drawers emptied, even cereal and pasta boxes emptied and broadcast over her only rug, an Isfahan on which she spent far too much money. Sofa cushions had been cut open, and the refrigerator and freezer were emptied; torn packages were melting on the floor.
Astrid felt waves of emotion as the scene in front of her began to sink in. She was angry, but holding back tears of sadness that came with seeing her private, peaceful life torn asunder before her eyes. The violation and vulnerability gave her a queasy feeling. She stumbled through the debris, stopping to pick up a shattered photo of her and Tobias taken at Ribban Beach. It was fall, and they were bundled up in front of a perfect blue sky. Astrid combed through the items on the floor, gently turning upright what she could. She made her way to the counter, where the bourbon had lived, and started hunting. She saw the neck protruding from a sofa cushion, and retrieved it. Taking a glass from the kitchen cabinet, she poured herself a generous share. Picking up an overturned chair, she sat at the kitchen table and took a long sip.
She dialed Tobias again.
“Oh, Papa,” she said. “You are not going to believe what’s happened.”
Tobias came right away; he was only blocks from her apartment and took a cab to save time. Shortly after he arrived, they decided they should not call the police. Astrid was against it because she sensed the break-in was related to a story they were working on and the police would ask too many questions. There was little chance of finding the perpetrator, anyway. Given the exposure of police corruption that had splashed across the pages of Insikt over the years, many Malmö officers were not necessarily fans of the Källströms, and probably would not be that helpful. Tobias helped Astrid begin cleaning and putting things back into some kind of order.
“How did they get in?” Tobias asked.
“I don’t know. The door was locked.”
“Probably bumped the lock or picked it. It appears to be professional.”
“Who do you think would do this?” Astrid asked.
“Well, someone was looking for something. What do you have that they would want?”
“I don’t have anything. I don’t keep files at home. The only thing I’ve been working on is the Lundstrom story. Do you think this has something to do with that?”
“It’s definitely a possibility.” Tobias eyed the bourbon. “Aren’t you going to offer me a drink?”
Astrid reluctantly retrieved another glass and poured a small portion of bourbon. She handed it to Tobias, then replenished her own.
“Thanks.” He took a slow sip and stared into space at nothing in particular.
“Yes, the engineering documents.” He took another sip and abruptly wiped his lips with his hand. “Maybe they know we have them and they think they can get them back.”
“But why would I leave them in the apartment? Obviously, they are going to be someplace secure, like in the safe at the paper. Besides, wouldn’t we have backup copies? The question is how they know we have them; do you think they’ve gotten to our source at the building site?”
“I’m afraid they must have. How else would they know? Unless someone at Insikt tipped them off, and that is unlikely.”
“Well, there’s Mikael.” Astrid laughed. Mikael was a junior reporter of marginal talent who only poorly concealed his jealousy and contempt for the Källströms. “He’d probably love to see me get burned. But he would have told them the papers are in the office, or even copied them.”
“True, but maybe they were afraid of breaking into the office; it’s a lot easier to hit your apartment first.”
“When you called me, you were about to tell me something about the Lundstrom story. What was it?” Astrid asked.
“I need some more over here,” he said, handing his glass to Astrid. She poured both of them a refresher. “I got a call from our inside guy at Byström-Åkerman Construction. There have been some suspicious men coming around the corporate office in Stockholm and asking questions. He thinks they were sent by Acai.”
For the past year, Tobias and Astrid had been researching Byström-Åkerman Construction and its CEO, Kalle Lundstrom. The firm had been developing a manufacturing site in India. With the building nearly completed, the roof collapsed, killing nine people. A whistleblower from the firm had leaked documents to Astrid showing that engineering reports on the roof’s structural condition and inspections had been falsified. Through well-placed “slips” and leaks, Byström-Åkerman gave the impression that the building was to be a garment factory for buyers from big-box stores such as Top Mart. But Astrid had documents showing the building was being funded through a corporation in Hong Kong, which raised suspicion that they were hiding something. From the accounts, Astrid was able to connect one of the contractors to Acai, the world’s largest manufacturers of cell phones and computers. Acai had been dodging a raft of bad publicity about its manufacturing plants in China after a worker committed suicide right on the assembly line. A workers’ rights group smuggled a camera into the facility, and the resulting exposé posted on YouTube revealed the terrible conditions in the factory. Astrid suspected Acai was quietly building a site in India to expand manufacturing and stay out of the camera’s eye.
“What do they want?” she asked.
“He’s not sure—he only overheard conversations. He thinks they are concerned about leaks and want to keep people from talking. The rumor is they are offering money to shut people up.”
“That’s what our contact says.” Tobias finished the last of his bourbon. “Well, let’s get to work.”
Astrid and her father put the pieces of her tattered apartment into some semblance of order. They then vacuumed the cereal and other debris from the floor and rug and cleaned the kitchen. It was 3:00 a.m. when they finished, and Astrid poured them both a nightcap.
“Would you like to stay here?”
“Do you need me to? Will you feel better?”
“No, just offering. It’s late.”
“Astrid, I’m too old. I have to sleep in my own bed, or I’ll be tired all day tomorrow. When do you leave for Minnesota?”
“Late tomorrow.” Astrid laughed. “I was going to pack tonight, but I guess I’ll leave that for tomorrow.”
“Well, stay home and rest; don’t come in to the office tomorrow if you can help it.” Tobias swirled his drink and looked like he was deep in thought.
“What is it, Papa?” Astrid asked.
“Oh, nothing…it’s just…well, your mother,” Tobias said forlornly.
“What about her?”
“Just tell her…I don’t know, that I said hello and I miss her.”
“I will, Papa. I promise.” With that, Astrid gave Tobias a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Are you going to be okay staying here tonight?”
“I’m fine, don’t you worry. They won’t be coming back.”
“Okay, well, good night.”
The next morning, Astrid packed. I have no idea about these things, she thought. After all, none of her friends had ever gotten married. Marriage seemed an anachronism to Astrid, and she couldn’t understand why Anders and Courtney didn’t want to live together to see if they were compatible. Anders—she had to remember to call him Andy, a nickname that came from his American friends—probably would be more open-minded, but Courtney was religious and conservative and likely would have no part of it. She had even gotten Anders to participate in her churchgoing, albeit rather reluctantly.
Astrid had been to one wedding, a long time ago. Friends had had a sunrise ceremony at the beach, and most people were dressed like…well, hippies, for lack of a better description. She would obviously have to wear something more conservative to this wedding. She thought about how men could wear a business suit to a wedding or to the office. Women, on the other hand, were supposed to wear something hyperfeminine, something revealing, or a tightly fitting gown. She decided it didn’t matter, and packed her best business suit. It was a two-tone, striped skirt suit. She chose a top with a neckline that was scooped and flattering, but not plunging.
Astrid was not looking forward to the wedding. She probably wouldn’t know anyone. Most of the guests were going to be Courtney’s family and friends of Anders; as far as she knew she was the only one flying from Sweden. Astrid didn’t know most of her brother’s American friends. Courtney and Astrid didn’t have much, if anything, in common. She had accompanied Anders to Sweden one summer. Courtney sneered at Astrid with her motorcycle and pierced nose. In fact, she seemed to be in a quandary her entire time in Sweden, finding it at once baffling and scandalous. Courtney seemed to expect a nation of reserved Lutherans and was unprepared for the reality of contemporary urban life in Malmö. As Astrid packed, she thought about how Anders had changed after he met Courtney. He used to have so many friends. Anders was attractive with his wavy blond hair and strong features. He was always athletic and popular in school, and had many girlfriends, usually somewhat younger than he was. Since settling down with Courtney, he seemed to lose touch with his friends, spending all his time with her doing things she enjoyed. Astrid vowed to take her big brother out on the town before he was hitched. He needs to have fun, too, she thought.
Astrid called Tobias at the office.
“Are you packed?” he asked.
“Yes, I think so,” Astrid said.
“I wanted to let you know I’ll be coming by your flat every night on the way home. It’s no trouble, and I want you know that someone is watching the place.”
“Thanks, Papa, but that isn’t necessary. The neighbors—”
“I won’t hear of it. I don’t want you worrying. Have a good time.”
“What about the Lundstrom story?”
Tobias sighed. “Okay, next steps. I have a message in the dead drop. Our contact should give us an update on the economic hit men making the rounds. I’ll be passing the information on to our investigator in Stockholm, who should let me know who they are, how many, where they are staying, and most of all…if they have made contact with Kalle Lundstrom.”
“I want you to keep me up to date, okay? Don’t try to do all this on your own.”
“Well, unless something breaks, we won’t be going to press this month; the story will still be here when you get back. You should relax. It’s no life for a young woman to take care of an old man.”
“Okay, Papa. Is there anything else?”
“Yeah, I’ve called Anders, but he hasn’t returned my calls,” Tobias said.
“He may feel hurt that you are not coming. It’s not too late,” Astrid offered tentatively.
“No, I can’t…I can’t bear Clive.” Tobias chuckled, but Astrid could hear the strain in his voice.
“Well, that makes two of us,” Astrid said. “I’ll talk to Anders.”
She understood that seeing her mother again would be too painful for Tobias. Anders might not understand the complexity and emotions of the situation. On the other hand, she could understand why Anders felt hurt. Their father had disappointed him so many times before.
“Okay, Papa,” Astrid said. “Now easy on the akvavit, okay?”
“Oh, Astrid, I won’t be drinking much when my best friend is off in Minnesota.” Tobias chuckled.
“Well, I hope not, because you know I won’t be drinking anything while I’m there.”
They both laughed, and Astrid for the first time felt sadness about leaving; a forlorn feeling came over her as she thought about how fragile Tobias was. She wondered about the day that she would leave Malmö for good. It was not clear in her mind when that should be, but she knew the day could not be so far off.
Astrid took the train across the Øresundsbron to Kastrup. Her car was not crowded, so she had several seats to herself. Looking out the window, she was mesmerized by the sea, an infinite expanse of blue, so peaceful. It had always been present, but had she really looked at it? She usually drove over the bridge and was happy to have the chance to stare out at the expansiveness before being swallowed by the tunnel.
Her flight was SAS 925, and it left Copenhagen at 3:00 p.m. for Chicago. She settled into her seat after the plane took off and read for a bit. Nothing heavy—she wanted pure escapism. She’d been reading one of a series of mystery novels about a woman who was a pilot in Alaska. Astrid enjoyed the character’s independence and wit, but she also related to the long winter nights and glacial weather. After some time, Astrid found worries were creeping into her mind, and she couldn’t concentrate. She was on her second scotch and soda but didn’t feel much of an effect from the drinks. Having to leave her apartment after the break-in was painful. It seemed the natural way to cope with violation and vulnerability was to stay at her place and learn to feel safe there again. It was too soon to be leaving. She worried about Tobias, knowing he would probably be drinking in her absence. He was an adult, she told herself, and had to make his own choices. Mostly, she was worried about staying with her mother and Clive. Astrid missed her mother terribly when she left. Anna had resented Astrid for staying behind with Tobias. At the same time, Astrid felt abandoned by her mother. But mother and daughter could always forgive; the bond was too strong to crumble.
It was Clive who changed everything. Astrid fought the memories, but knew that returning to Minnesota would summon them forth like unwanted guests, dark companions. She finished off the last of her drink and wondered what it would be like to see him again.
The drive from the airport to Minnetonka went quickly, so Astrid wasn’t yet prepared when she arrived at the house. It seemed to be teeming with people. Anders had driven her, so she’d had some time to chat with him alone. He seemed happy but pensive. Anna came out to the driveway, and they hugged closely for several minutes. Anna held Astrid’s face in her hands like a frame and looked adoringly at her. It had been two years since they’d seen one another, but Anna acted as if it were the first time she had gazed on her daughters face. The two had similar features, with their long faces, light hair streaked like oak, and gray eyes. Courtney came out to greet Astrid with a wide but unconvincing smile.
“Good to see you again, Astrid,” she said. Courtney smiled, but far too intentionally.
She looked different from what Astrid remembered. Courtney’s dark, birdlike eyes were prominent, and her long hair was tied in a bun, emphasizing the striking features of her long face and neck. She had a relaxed, natural radiance and confidence that Astrid thought made her attractive.
“And you.” Astrid smiled briefly, wondering what it would be like to be related to Courtney. She feared for her brother’s well-being, but pushed the thoughts back.
Finally, Clive came out of the house and walked down the driveway.
“Astrid, you look as beautiful as ever.”
She didn’t know what to say, so she mumbled, “Hello, Clive.”
“May I help with the bags?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” she said. Astrid glanced at his face. He had an insipid smile, and his look surveyed Astrid in a way that made her uncomfortable.
Anna noticed the tension between them and glanced at Clive with a puzzled look. Anders pretended not to notice and carried the bags up the driveway to the house. Astrid scooped up her backpack and followed Anders. When they were in the house, Astrid turned to him.
“Oh…what am I going to do?”
“He’s a challenge, that’s for sure. If it’s any comfort, he ogles Courtney all the time. It’s…repulsive.”
“How does she handle it?”
“I’m not sure she does; she kind of goes into denial about these things.”
“Anders…Andy, we should talk. I don’t know.”
“Hey, we’ve got a couple of weeks to just be together. I’m looking forward to having some time to hang out with my sister, to catch up.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Clive came into the room holding a glass of bourbon. “Here, I’m sure you need this, after the flight from Sweden.”
Astrid reluctantly accepted the drink. “Thanks.”
“Varsågod,” he said, meaning “you’re welcome.” Anna and Astrid could still have private conversations in Swedish, despite Clive’s rudimentary understanding of the language.
“How is your work?” Clive asked.
“Well, it keeps me busy.”
“What are you working on right now?” he asked.
“Fortunately, I’m on vacation—that’s a good thing. Otherwise, we have a couple of stories we are working on, but of course, I cannot talk about them.”
“Oh, come on, I’m family. I’m not going to tell anyone,” he said.
“That’s not the point, Clive. I have a responsibility to protect my sources, and the victims. I can’t talk about it.”
Clive seemed annoyed, not at having embarrassed himself but more for not getting what he wanted, which was having Astrid relate the salacious details of her work.
“And Tobias?” he asked.
“He’s good—Papa is fine, and he’s very busy keeping things going while I’m gone.”
“Well, good,” Clive said in a perfunctory manner. “Any boyfriends you’re going to tell us about?”
“Clive, I don’t date; you know that. It’s not like here. I have friends, and we hang out. Some of them are closer than others. I don’t want to get tied down.”
“Clive, I’m happy for Anders…Andy; I just don’t see myself getting married.”
“That may change. When I met your mother I knew that she was all I wanted in my life; there could never be anyone or anything else.”
“Well, she did happen to be married at the time.” As soon as the words came out Astrid regretted saying them.
“Well, Astrid, it’s easy to judge, but things are complicated.” Clive was visibly shaken by the attack.
“Clive, I’m sorry…I guess I’m just a bit tired.”
“Let me get you another drink.” He shuffled down the hallway.
Astrid was surprised at how quickly things had gotten prickly. She had hoped she could at least go a day or two.
Clive returned with another bourbon. He handed it to Astrid. He lifted his own, and they touched rims of their glasses. “To the new couple,” he said.
“The couple,” Astrid said.
Clive said nothing but only stared into Astrid’s eyes until it became uncomfortable.
“We’ll, I guess I should be heading to bed,” she said.
“Yes, Astrid,” Clive said mechanically with a sinister look in his eyes.
When Anna and Clive bought the house on Lake Minnetonka, they had kept one of the many bedrooms for Astrid. Anna was stung by Astrid’s decision to stay with her father, and Anna wanted her to feel like part of the new family she had created. Although the room sat empty most of the time, Anna promised the young Astrid it would always be there for her. Over the years, they kept the room exactly the way it always had been. It felt odd now, a relic of a time that never came to be. The room was small but comfortably furnished with a high full-sized bed, a desk, and a comfy chair by the window. The view of the lake was beautiful, and Astrid always liked sitting in the wing-back chair and looking out at the sailboats in the summer. Tonight, Astrid found the room much unchanged, with the same books she had read over the years neatly tucked into the bookcase. Astrid perused the books. The Bell Jar, The Mists of Avalon, several Rita Mae Brown novels, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and a novel she tried to read during each summer vacation: Anna, Hanna, and Johanna.
She took out her laptop and phone and plugged in all the necessary chargers. The bathroom down the hall beckoned, and she took a long, hot shower, trying to eliminate all the grime that comes from airplanes. Feeling refreshed, she returned to her room. She sat on the bed and sipped the last of her drink. It was still too early to call home.
Astrid checked her e-mail. There was one update on the Lundstrom story, but Astrid had to log in to a secure message server where data was kept encrypted. The company used servers with no hard drives, so no one could demand they turn over records or server logs. Once on the Tor system, she logged in and found one message. Their sources at the construction company had overheard Kalle Lundstrom himself being offered a payoff to agree to remain quiet. Astrid wasn’t sure who their source was, but she or he must be high up the food chain to be privy to conversations with the CEO. Was it his admin? Maybe even his partner? While they still lacked evidence that Acai was behind the payoffs, it was the only logical explanation. But how would they prove it?
“Need proof that it’s Acai” Astrid wrote, and placed the message in the inbox. Their contact needed to come up with something definitive to link the payoffs with Acai. According to what they had heard, Acai was behind on production of its newest phone, the Acai 5, and had pressured Kalle’s company to speed things up. Did the inspector decide to falsify inspection reports himself, or was he told to do so? Either way, it was obvious that there was inordinate pressure to complete the facility on time. Astrid wondered if the workers’ advocates in China knew anything about this Indian plant. She took out her Moleskine notebook, turned back the elastic band, and opened it to the page where her current notes were. She made an entry to remind herself to get in touch with her contact in China. The woman had a series of online videos revealing the inner workings of Acai’s Chinese factories, and she single-handedly led an organization of workers’ rights volunteers fighting for better conditions.
Astrid decided she would call home before she fell asleep. Tobias would be worried that she arrived safely.
“Papa?” Astrid called loudly into the phone.
“Älskling?” he asked, calling her darling as he had for as long as she could remember.
“Did I wake you?” Astrid asked.
“No, I’ve been up for hours,” he said. “How was the flight?”
“Well, uneventful, if a bit long,” she said. “I just wanted to let you know I got in safely and everything is okay.”
“Well, things are moving forward with the Lundstrom story, and I have a couple of good leads, so I expect to stay busy.”
“Good, Papa. I wanted to make sure you were okay.” Astrid was relieved to hear that he sounded clear headed.
“Okay, hej då.” Astrid said her good-byes.
Tobias didn’t respond but merely hung up the phone.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Astrid realized she had nothing on but a bathrobe. “Who is it?” she asked.
Astrid opened the door and saw Anna standing in the corridor. She looked refreshed and active, despite the time of evening. Astrid signaled her to come in. The two sat down on her bed.
“Astrid, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve missed you, you know.”
Astrid reached out and held Anna. The two embraced for a few moments, then Astrid took her mother’s hand in hers.
“Mamma, you know even though we’re apart, I’m always thinking about you.” Astrid reached out and brushed a hair out of her eyes. “How have you been, Mamma?”
Anna looked around the room. “You know, I sometimes come in here and sit on the bed; I hold your pillows and think about you. I try to remember your smell, what it is like to have you nearby. Nearly every day I wish we could be together, just to have lunch, or go shopping, just talk about your life. I know so little about you.”
“I guess I could say the same thing, Mamma—how often I wake up and wish I could just call my mother and ask advice, talk about what I was planning for the weekend, or tell you about someone I’d just met.”
“So we both blame each other for leaving—that hasn’t changed,” Anna said.
“I don’t blame you for anything, Mamma. I love you. If I blamed you for anything, I forgave you a long time ago. Our situation isn’t perfect, but it’s all we have, so I want to make the best of it. I want to cherish the time we have together. I’m so happy to be near you again.” Astrid began to feel tears welling up in her eyes. She resented the emotion, but realized she was tired, and seeing her family was overwhelming. She pushed away a tear and swallowed slowly.
“I’m happy you’re here, Astrid,” Anna said jubilantly. “I’m happy you’re here.”
Astrid closed the door behind Anna and sat on the bed. She looked at her empty bourbon glass and decided a nightcap would be both appropriate and desirable.
Fearing an encounter with Clive, Astrid pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans before venturing downstairs. Once she reached the living room and poured herself a bourbon, she decided it might be nice to go outside. It was warm for an early May evening, and she hadn’t been down to the lake yet. Astrid quietly opened the sliding door and screen and walked barefoot through the yard. She went to the dock and walked out to the end. It was a pitch-black night with no moon. A few houses were illuminated along the lake, but for the most part, the water seemed like a shadow that was ready to swallow up the first one who got close enough to the edge. She sat on the edge of the dock, her feet dangling. She sipped her bourbon, thinking about how far she had come, across continents, across generations and families. A soft thumping sound distracted her. Astrid turned around to see a family of deer. The smallest was only months old, still bearing milky spots and exaggerated ears. Three adult females, one several years old, and another a new mother, stood indecisively, not sure whether to run or stay. They were skittish, and nervous, but intent on grazing. Eventually, after nibbling the grasses, they bolted, youngster between them, loping across the field, white tails on full salute, thumping away into the distance. It was an exalted show.
Astrid wandered back up to the house, refreshed her nightcap, and found her way back to her room. This would be home for two weeks, and she should make the best of it.
The next day, Astrid arose early. She heard Anna in the kitchen and went down to greet her. Anna was facing the window, and Astrid saw only her back.
“Good morning,” Astrid said.
Anna turned and looked at Astrid. “Good morning,” she said. “I’m making waffles—can you join us?”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere. Where is Andy?”
“He’s out in the canoe with the dog. Not sure why he can’t just walk Smilla like a normal dog.”
“Well, it’s a wonderful morning for a boat ride.”
“Clive left early for work.”
Astrid was slightly relieved to hear this and felt herself relax a bit. She poured a cup of coffee and sat at the table. Astrid looked around the room. She noticed snapshots stuck to the refrigerator, with many of Andy and Courtney.
“Looks like you may be a grandmother before long.”
“Ugh, am I really that old?” Anna said sardonically.
“You look younger every time I see you, Mamma.”
“I think I’ve aged years over this wedding.”
“How is it going?”
“Well, Courtney likes things…I don’t know, just so, I guess. It’s not always easy trying to please her.”
“Is she still trying to convert Andy?”
“Honey, she isn’t trying to convert him; she just wants him to participate in her church.”
“Yeah, evangelical Lutherans, there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one. So does she buy into all this homophobia and antigay stuff they teach?”
“Astrid, I haven’t exactly sat down with her and asked if her church teaches gay bashing. I know they are conservative, but I hope she can think for herself.”
“You hope. I just don’t get it. It’s Anders…Andy we’re talking about here, the champion of all things just and fair in college. Does he still see his friends from school?”
Anna poured batter into the waffle maker. She took the pitcher of orange juice and set it in front of Astrid. “When people get into serious relationships, they often lose touch with their old friends; it’s quite common.”
“Well, I just hope that—”
Andy came in through the back door. Smilla, a young golden retriever, was bounding ahead of him into the kitchen. He walked up behind Astrid, put his arm around her neck and shoulder, and kissed the top of her head.
“Hey you, look who’s here for breakfast.” Andy was beaming at his sister’s presence. “I wanted to ask you out on the canoe, but you were sleeping. I figured you must have jet lag.”
“Yes, but there’s not much I can do. It will wind down in a day or two. I do want to go out though; I’ve been looking forward to it. The weather is perfect today.”
“Yeah,” Andy said, “winters here are almost as long as in Malmö.”
“We were just talking about the wedding, Andy,” Anna said.
“Andy…it’s your wedding—try to be a little bit excited,” Anna said.
“I am, it’s just…sometimes I think it would have been easier to elope. We are under a lot of pressure.”
“It’s going to be something really special,” Astrid said. “Once you get there, you’ll be able to just enjoy it.”
“I know, but it’s the getting there that’s hard,” said Andy.
Anna was putting plates down on the table when Astrid rose to help, wrestling napkins and silverware from her mother’s grasp. Anna removed two waffles from the machine and poured in new batter.
“I just wish I had more time to take care of Mom,” Andy said. As soon as he finished his words he began swirling his orange juice awkwardly.
“Mamma hardly needs anyone taking care of her.” Astrid sensed something was wrong. Anna was staring into the waffle machine with her back to Astrid. “Mamma, is everything okay?”
Anna turned and looked angrily at Andy.
“I’m sorry, Mom…I thought…” Andy apologized.
“Mamma, what is it?” Astrid asked.
Anna sighed and put down the spatula. She walked to the other side of the table and sat next to Astrid.
“I was going to tell you, Astrid. A few months ago I found a lump on my breast. They did a biopsy, and it turned out to be cancer. It’s malignant.”
“Oh no, Mamma, why didn’t you tell me?”
“You have been so busy, and you already have to take care of your father. I knew you were coming for the wedding, so I thought I would just wait.”
“How serious is it?”
“It’s early. There is a single tumor, about two centimeters, but the lymph nodes are involved. Surgery will be needed.”
Smilla sensed the distress and put her head on Astrid’s lap. She gently stroked her ears. Looking down at the table, she began to well up with tears. I won’t cry, she thought to herself. I have to be strong. She swallowed hard and looked up and into Anna’s eyes. Astrid reached across the table, and they hugged for a long moment.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Andy said.
“It’s okay,” Anna said. She wiped a tear from her lower lid and smiled unconvincingly. “Let’s have some waffles.”
Astrid had so many questions, but she just didn’t know how to begin. When was the right time to ask? Was the tumor metastatic? Would she have a mastectomy?
They ate in silence. Astrid had no appetite, but tried to maintain a sense of normalcy. Anna ate tiny bites, and Andy pushed his food around on his plate. After some time, Anna stood up and Astrid helped gather dishes. Andy excused himself and wandered off, followed by Smilla. Astrid and Anna worked side by side in the kitchen cleaning up the breakfast dishes and putting away leftovers.
“Yes,” she said without turning from the sink.
“What are you facing? Do you have to decide about surgery?”
“The doctors told me they can do breast conservation surgery to remove the tumor and keep most of my breast; after that there would be radiation and chemotherapy.”
“Or they can remove the whole breast, which is probably safer in the long run.”
“What have you decided?”
“Well, I’m leaning toward mastectomy, but Clive…”
Astrid found it took all she had to contain herself. She suspected this but didn’t want to believe it was true. “What?” she asked as innocuously as possible.
“Clive thinks the conservation therapy would be better.”
“I think he believes I will feel less trauma if I can remain complete to some degree.”
“Complete? What the fuck does that mean?”
“Astrid! I knew I shouldn’t tell you. Maybe he’s right—mastectomy is frightening.”
“Mamma, you are an amazing, beautiful woman, and that doesn’t change if you lose a breast. Is this about him?”
“Oh, Astrid, don’t say that. He is only thinking of me.”
“I’m sorry, Mamma, but I find that difficult to believe. What do you want?”
“I want to survive. I want to do anything I need to do to get rid of the cancer.”
“That sounds to me like mastectomy. You know reconstructive surgery is very effective and can really help with the feelings of loss.”
“Yes, we’ve been going to Mayo, and they’ve shown me some amazing results they can achieve even after a mastectomy.”
“Whatever you need from me, please, I want you to know that I’m here for you. And I respect your decision, whatever you decide to do. I’ll stand by you, Mamma.”
Anna looked at Astrid, and she was crying. Unlike the previous night, Anna looked older to Astrid now, with a vulnerability that was palpable. Astrid hugged her tightly. “I love you, Mamma,” she said.
Astrid went back upstairs. In her room, she looked at the photos on the bookshelf. One was taken before the family separated; Astrid was about sixteen years old. The family had gone to the Bergslagen Forest, where they rented a cabin. She pored over the memories: tracking elk and wolves, fishing, cooking over an open fire, and swimming in the frigid lake. In the picture, Tobias and Anna were arm in arm, with Andy and Astrid sitting on a moss-covered log. Astrid smiled at the thoughts of how they had been awakened in the middle of the night by an elk rooting around in the camp. The nostalgia turned to melancholy, and she placed the picture back in its resting place. Astrid thought about Tobias. He still loved Anna and would be devastated to learn of her illness.
Astrid thought about Tobias. It was not the right time, but she must talk to Anna about letting him know she had cancer. Astrid did not feel it was her place to tell him on her own, but she knew Anna would not be keen to reach out to Tobias. She had cut him out of her life in an efficient, almost heartless way. Astrid suspected Clive had a role. She wasn’t aware that Clive had forbidden Anna from communicating with Tobias, but he likely discouraged it. Astrid struggled with her feelings for Clive, after what had happened…She shuddered at the memories. But Tobias was the father of Anna’s children; how could she shun him? Astrid knew—perhaps better than Clive—how much Anna still cared for Tobias. Anna did not know, and Astrid thought she would not be the one to tell her, that Tobias often cried himself to sleep. He was helplessly vulnerable during birthdays and anniversaries, becoming maudlin and depressed. He had failed to make new friends. Astrid had hoped he would meet someone. Tobias knew many attractive, intelligent women. He was well liked by his woman friends. Astrid knew he had occasional casual lovers, but he seemed to avoid any serious relationships. Despite drinking and failing to care for himself, he was still fit and attractive for a man over fifty.
Astrid showered, got dressed, and dried her hair. She put her hair in a braid and pulled on a woolen sweater Tobias had given her last fall. The colors were cheerful, and it was a chilly May afternoon.
Downstairs, she found Andy reading the Star Tribune with Smilla at his feet.
“Shall we take a ride?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” Andy asked.
“Downtown. Let’s take a walk around the lake,” Astrid said.
Astrid climbed into Andy’s Subaru, and they headed toward Minneapolis. Smilla was thrilled to join them and dangled her head out the window watching traffic and pedestrians. Andy seemed to have no cares about the fast food wrappers and newspapers that littered his back seat.
As they got closer to town, Astrid said, “Just drive around first. I haven’t been here in while.”
Andy drove around Lake Nokomis, then went across to Lake Harriet. From there, he circled Lake Calhoun and inched toward Lake of the Isles. Looping back to Excelsior Boulevard, he was on the shore of Lake Calhoun. “Where do you want to walk?”
“Lake Harriet,” she said.
Unlike Lake Calhoun, the chic meeting place adjacent to the uptown scene, Lake Harriet was more of an older, moneyed crowd. The lake was surrounded by conspicuously expensive homes. A handful of small sailboats dotted the shore near the dock, and a bandstand featured plays and music on summer evenings. In-line skaters in trendy activewear whizzed past, and couples sat on blankets on the grassy shoreline. It was a beautiful day with a cloudless blue sky and a gentle breeze. Smilla enthusiastically greeted children and other dogs along the way.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you, Andy.”
“Me too. I’ve been looking forward to your visit so much.”
“It’s very upsetting, about Mamma.”
“Yes, I wanted to tell you but she wouldn’t let me, Astrid. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Andy. You did the right thing.”
“It’s only been two months since the biopsy, so—”
“Andy, don’t worry about it; she needs to be ready. In fact, I was just thinking about how to deal with Papa. She is going to avoid telling him, I know it. But he should know.”
“Are you going to tell him?” Andy asked.
“Not unless she wants me to. I have to respect her privacy. Andy, does she ever talk about Papa?”
“Not in front of Clive. He doesn’t handle the subject well. Sometimes when we’re alone she’ll bring him up.”
“What does she say?”
“She misses him…I mean, she doesn’t say that, but I can tell. I think sometimes she wishes she could talk to him.”
“Well, she can; all she has to do is call.”
“I doubt that would go well with Clive. He’s pretty controlling. I’ve even told her to use my phone so that Clive doesn’t have to know.”
“What, he checks the phone bills? How bad is it with him?”
“I heard them fighting one time. Clive was reading her e-mails.”
“Oh, that’s just wrong. What is his problem?”
“I’m not sure, Astrid, but he frightens me sometimes. It’s not just Mamma. His business, it seems shady, like he’s involved in these contracts with some city offices. Last year there was a big exposé in the Cities Reader. They got their hands on documents showing that some of the city officials were taking kickbacks. It didn’t affect offices Clive’s company worked with, but some of the people indicted have been guests at our house parties. And there’s more.”
“What?” Astrid asked.
“Well, I’m not sure, but there is this woman from the office—she’s always in his truck, and I’m not sure what their thing is.”
“Does Mamma know?”
“I don’t know, Astrid. She’s smart, but sometimes with Clive, it’s like part of her gets turned off. She’s either in denial, or doesn’t care.”
“She’d care; I’m sure of that.”
“I’m not sure what to do with him. He and I just go our separate ways. He’s long ago stopped trying to be my dad.”
They were panting a bit, and Smilla was laggard. “Stop here a minute,” Astrid said.
They paused at a bench looking over the lake. It was nestled within a few small trees. They looked out and saw a small sailboat zigzagging across the other end of the lake. There was little wind, but the sailors were no less enthusiastic.
“Andy, there’s something I have to tell you.”
“Andy, please…really, you have to keep this between us. You can’t tell Mamma or anyone, promise?
“Okay, I promise.”
“Right, no one…Astrid, what is it?”
Astrid had difficulty swallowing, and her mouth was dry. She felt almost light-headed and started reconsidering what she was about to do.
“This is really hard to talk about. Remember when Mamma met Clive, and she and Papa were breaking up? Remember it was difficult for Mamma when I decided not to go?”
“That was a terrible time for everyone, I think.”
“I don’t know if you remember, but Papa went away to Stockholm, for business he said, but I think he just couldn’t take seeing Mamma and Clive together.”
“Sure, I remember.”
“We had some guests for dinner, some academic friends of Mamma’s, and Clive was there.”
“I vaguely remember that.”
“Well, he drank way too much; he made a bit of an ass of himself with Mamma’s guests. That night he came to my door. He knocked, and I opened the door and asked him what he wanted. He pushed his way into the room and shut the door. He started telling me how disappointed he was that I wouldn’t be part of the family, and how attractive I was. I panicked because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to shout, because it could have been mortifying for Mamma in front of her guests. I figured he had just had too much to drink, so I told him he needed to go. He got very physical with me. He…” Tears found their way from Astrid’s eyes to her cheeks. She swept one away from the corner of her mouth.
“Astrid, why didn’t you tell me?” Andy reached out and took Astrid’s hand.
“Andy, he yanked at my clothes. It was horrible, and I tried so hard to stop him.”
“What happened?” Andy asked.
“I told him I would scream if he didn’t get out. He was so drunk, but apparently thought better of what he was doing.
“Did he touch you?”
“He groped me.”
“Ugh, I don’t know what to say, I could—”
“Andy, don’t. I know it makes you angry. But I’ve been living with this for a long time. I really needed to tell someone. I just need you to listen, to know the truth. I’m not interested in retribution. Mamma can never know this; it would break her heart.”
“She should know, Astrid. But I would never tell her—don’t worry. Haven’t you talked to anyone about this?”
“No, not until now.” Astrid dabbed tears from her lower lids.
“Well, I’m glad you felt you could talk to me.” He looked at Astrid and opened his arms; he wasn’t sure if she was comfortable being touched but offered a hug. She embraced him tightly, and he held her for several minutes. He was disturbed by what she had revealed and saddened by the thought of her suffering with the traumatic memories for years. He vowed to keep this from his mother, while at a deep level, almost subconsciously, he promised himself that Clive would pay.
It was May 3, the day before commencement at Macalester College. Jonathan Waltershaw was working at the Back Door, a college bar in the Seward neighborhood. The bar was small, dark, and run down. On most days, locals outnumbered students. They were older hippie types or the younger co-op crowd with a few goths or members of the Anarchist Bowling League thrown in. Jonathan tended the bar, but also had his own DJ outfit. During happy hour Wednesday through Friday, he provided dance music and lighting as a run-up to the live acts.
Earlier in the evening, a young woman had approached Jonathan. He was listening through one side of his headset, queuing up music and operating a light board all at once.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey.” Jonathan looked up. He didn’t want to be distracted, but his focus was immediately shattered when he saw how strikingly attractive she was.
“My name is Haley,” she said. Haley had long blond hair tied back in a casual ponytail. She was wearing a Hüsker Dü T-shirt and tight-fitting jeans. Her eyes were green. They were so radiant; Jonathan wondered if she was wearing colored contacts. She had a tattoo on her inner arm that looked like a mandala. A flower of life, he thought it was called.
“Hi, Haley, I’m Jonathan,” he said.
“Jonathan, can you play a song for me?”
“Sure, what do you want to hear?”
“‘Paper Planes,’ you know it?”
“Yeah, it’s a great tune.” Jonathan was confabulating; he didn’t really like the song. “You like the Clash?”
“Um, yeah,” she said.
Jonathan looked at her. He realized she didn’t get the connection—maybe she didn’t even know who the Clash was. For the backing track on “Paper Planes,” M.I.A. used “Straight to Hell” by the Clash. It was a 1982 song, so Haley probably had never heard of it.
“Thanks,” Haley said. “I’m here with my friends, Nan and Bob.” She pointed to two people sitting at a table in the back of the bar. It was hard for Jonathan to see them, but they looked like typical Back Door patrons, early twenties, probably students.
“See you later?” she asked.
“Yeah, see you later,” he said in a decisive way, as though it were a plan, not just a rhetorical expression.
Jonathan did see Haley later. He was tending bar for an hour to cover for someone arriving late to work. He had finished playing music and packed up his DJ equipment. It was in the back hall, ready to load into his van. Haley came up to the bar, which was nearly empty, and sat in one of the red-upholstered stools.
“Hey again,” she said.
“Haley, want something to drink?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, a screwdriver please.”
Jonathan reached for a glass and the rail vodka. He was careful not to pour more than the appropriate amount of vodka; it appeared Haley had been drinking pitchers of beer with her friends for some time.
“Where are your friends…Nancy and…?”
“Nan and Bob. They left already.” Haley took a delicate sip of her drink and smiled.
“Are you a student?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, at the U. How about you?”
“Yeah, I’m at Macalester. Just finishing actually.”
“Oh, when do you graduate?”
“Tomorrow is commencement.”
“Thanks, I’m kind of glad it’s over.”
“What are you doing?”
“You mean, like, after I graduate?”
“No, silly, to celebrate.” Haley excitedly took a solid swig of her drink and carefully placed it back in the center of the napkin. Jonathan shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, that won’t do.” Haley smiled demurely, like she had just learned a secret. “I’m going to a party tonight. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Really? What kind of party?”
“A friend of mine lives in one of those big Victorian houses on Lake Harriet. They are having a huge house party for graduation week. You’ll love it. Please come with me.”
“Okay, Haley. I’d like that. I’m almost done here; would you like to go after that?
“Sure, but I’m going to need another screwdriver.”
The night bartender showed up, apologizing for being late. Jonathan thought to himself how fortunate he was to have been there and told him not to worry at all. Jonathan loaded the van with his equipment and went to get Haley. They left the bar and were standing in the parking lot. It was clear that she’d had a significant amount to drink, and when she started digging through her backpack for her keys, Jonathan said, “I think you should come with me. I haven’t had anything to drink. I can be your driver tonight.”
Haley pondered the idea and said, “Okay, but can you drive my car?”
“Sure,” Jonathan said.
He put his arm around Haley as they walked to the end of the parking lot. Her car was parked far from the entrance, alongside an alley. It was an ancient Ford Escort. The body was rusting from the years of snow and salt, and the interior showed the wear, with rips and stains everywhere. The odometer read 116,518, which explained the car’s condition. Haley climbed in and fastened her lap belt, handing the keys to Jonathan. Her key chain was styled like a double-edged razor blade. He wasn’t sure if she had a predilection for coke or self-cutting. The engine turned over sluggishly but eventually started, and they were off.
“So, where are we going?”
“My place,” she said.
“Okay, your place. Where is that?” Jonathan did not know whether to indulge in feelings of anticipation or to surrender to a creeping sense of foreboding. After all, he didn’t really know what he was getting into. As attracted as he was to Haley, she was a bit more unreserved than he was used to. Usually if something seems too good to be true…then it is, right? He wondered what would come next.
“I live right off Nokomis. Just go down Lyndale to Fiftieth.”
When they arrived at her home, she told Jonathan she lived with her mother, who was away on business. The house was a seventies contemporary. A small sign hung on the porch wall: “The Matily Family.” She invited him in and took him to the living room.
“You want a drink?”
Jonathan was starting to feel anxious and accepted her offer of a beer. The two sat for a few moments side by side on the sofa, sipping their Leinenkugels. Haley said she wanted to shower and change for the party and would only be a few minutes. She vanished in her room. She only partially closed the door, and Jonathan could see flashes of her passing back and forth in the room in various stages of nakedness. He tried hard not to look. Although he found himself speculating about whether she was careless or left the door ajar intentionally, he resigned himself to respect her privacy. Besides, he was more straightforward about things, and didn’t want to play games. If she wanted to seduce him, she needed only do so. On the other hand, he felt ambiguous as desire for Haley started to well up in him. Something…for some reason, he held back.
After what seemed like a long time, Haley emerged from her room. She was drying her hair with a towel. She had changed into skintight jeans and a muscle shirt over a tank top. She was wearing several bracelets, which he had not noticed earlier. Some were string friendship bracelets, one was black leather, another had simple turquoise stones, and the mix was complemented by several thin bangles.
“Want another beer?” she asked.
“No, I’m good,” Jonathan said.
“Come on, I’m having one.” Haley had a disappointed look.
“Okay, maybe one.”
The two talked and drank their beers. Haley talked about school. She was majoring in mechanical engineering and loved mathematics. She hoped to get a graduate degree in aeronautics. Her father was a pilot for Northwest. He and Haley’s mother divorced when Haley was a child. Jonathan looked around the living room. It was tastefully decorated with Scandinavian furniture, mostly teak and neutral-colored fabrics. Photos showed the family together on vacations. A toothy Haley, no more than nine years old, smiled back in one portrait taken at a theme park. Another showed an older Haley in the cockpit of a small plane, maybe a Cessna single engine. She sported aviator sunglasses and a pilot’s headset.
Haley went into her room and returned with a bong. She filled the bowl, lit her lighter, and took a hit. She handed it to Jonathan. He took a hit, but held back a little, not wanting to get too high to drive. He also knew he got a bit paranoid when stoned, and didn’t want to add that to the mix of uncertain feelings he had. Certainly, he didn’t want to go to a party full of strangers with full-on paranoid delusions. Haley took another hit or two, and Jonathan passed. He wondered how Haley’s mother felt about smelling weed in the house.
Suddenly, Haley crossed the room and took Jonathan’s hand. “Let’s go,” she said as she yanked him from his seat.
Jonathan’s head spun as he stood up. They took off down the driveway with Haley hanging on Jonathan’s arm. She seemed tuned up, and Jonathan was glad that he felt sober enough to drive.
“Before we go, I want to pick up some ice cream,” Haley said.
“Okay, where should we go?”
“Stop by Sebelius and Jo’s. They have this awesome Chocolate Coyote; it’s made with cayenne and cinnamon…oh, it’s so good. It’s on the way to the party. Just keep going down Fiftieth to Upton.”
“Sure, I know where it is.”
Jonathan backed out of the driveway and cautiously drove west on Fiftieth. When he got to Upton he turned right and headed north toward Linden Hills. Sebelius and Jo’s, he thought, strange thing to bring to a party. From what he could see of Haley, he thought a stop at the package store would have been more likely.
“Shouldn’t we bring a six-pack or a bottle of wine or something?”
“I have a case in the trunk,” she said.
“Oh, I—” Jonathan suddenly felt shaking in the steering wheel.
“What is it?” Haley asked.
“I’m not sure.” Jonathan felt the car becoming more and more difficult to handle. He had just passed Forty-Fifth Street and only had a few blocks to the store, so he decided he would press on.
“Is everything okay?”
Despite Jonathan wanting to believe things would get better, the wheel was now trembling violently. He turned the wheel back and forth. Based on the lack of stability in the swerve, he concluded he had a flat tire. Jonathan opened the window and listened. As they passed parked cars, the reflected sound was unmistakable: they were getting a flat.
“I think we have a flat tire,” Jonathan said. “I’m going to pull over.” He maneuvered the car into the right side of the lane, about a foot from the curb.
“I’ll take a look,” he said.
He stepped out of the car and immediately saw that the left front tire was flat.
“Oh, shit.” Jonathan was wondering what he had gotten himself into. “Do you have a spare?”
Haley shrugged. Jonathan opened the trunk and began pulling out the various items that cluttered up the space: a case of Leinenkugel, a plastic bucket with a volleyball inside, three empty milk bottles, a plastic grocery bag full of what looked like unopened mail, a dog leash, some dirty athletic clothes, a tennis racket, and something that caught his attention. It was a cardboard box with a lid. He opened it to be sure it wasn’t something fragile or liquid. Inside was a triple beam scale, the type used in chemistry labs…and for weighing drugs.
“Oh, my God, what a mess,” Haley exclaimed.
Jonathan jumped and nearly hit his head on the trunk. “Can you help, please?” Jonathan asked. Haley immediately started stacking the items from the trunk on the grassy area by the sidewalk.
Once the trunk was emptied, Jonathan was relieved to find a sound spare tire and a scissor jack in the compartment under the rug liner.
“It looks like we have a spare; I’ll see if I can get the other one off.” Jonathan looked at Haley. She looked pensive.
“Okay,” she said. “I should stay out here if you’re going to jack up the car.” She walked up the sidewalk toward the back of the car and sat on a stone wall.
Jonathan loosened the lug nuts on the flat. So far, so good, he thought. He had parked in front of a small bungalow and noticed people looking out the window. A pickup truck was parked across the street. As he loosened the lug nuts he wondered if he should move the car to another spot, maybe try to find a parking lot.
“How’s it going?” Haley asked.
“Okay,” said Jonathan. “The old lug nuts are loose; that’s the hard part. I should be done in no time.”
“Okay, great,” Haley said. She was fiddling with her phone. Jonathan hoped this entire episode wouldn’t end up on Facebook.
Jonathan tried to jack up the car from under the front bumper, but there didn’t seem to be anywhere to set the jack that looked secure. Each time he raised the car a bit it tended to slip, and he was afraid of the car falling.
“Hey, do you know how to use this jack?” Jonathan asked Haley.
“No, I’ve never had to use it. I have a manual.”
Jonathan was surprised that the manual remained with such an old car. He consulted the directions for the jack and found that there was a spot under the driver’s door specifically designed for the top of the scissor jack. Once he had everything lined up, the car was raised high enough to remove the old tire. He was going to announce the progress to Haley, but saw that she was talking on the phone to someone. Jonathan removed the lug nuts, carefully placing them in a hubcap so he wouldn’t lose them. He pulled off the old tire and brought it around to the trunk. When he arrived at the front of the car, he squatted down.
He was trying to line up the holes of the spare with the wheel lugs when it happened. The car meandered down Upton, like the others before it. Unlike those that had stopped or slowed and carefully negotiated between Jonathan and the remaining pavement, this car just kept coming. Jonathan looked up, but it was too late. The car didn’t stop; it didn’t even slow. There was a loud thump, and Jonathan was thrown violently, tossed through the air, landing on the grass between the road and the sidewalk about fifty feet in front of Haley’s car. The death vehicle never sped up. It slowed, but continued drifting down the road as if nothing had happened.
Haley heard the thump and walked toward the street around the back end of the car.
Haley screamed and ran toward the front of the car. She saw only a shoe in the road where he had just been. When she saw the tangled heap on the grass and realized it was Jonathan, she ran up to him and knelt next to his body. She picked up her phone and called 911, then she made another phone call.
Even though it was their movie night, Andy was able to talk Courtney into allowing him time to go out for drinks with his sister. Since the day at the lake, Andy and Astrid hadn’t had the opportunity to talk much. Astrid felt that Andy was becoming too stodgy for his age, and that Courtney had kept him too close to home. She wanted to take him out to unwind a little bit.
Andy had never been to The Lounge before. He usually stayed away from downtown bars, which he referred to as “yuppie,” and went for dive bars like Grouchy’s or Liquor Louie’s. The Lounge tried so hard to be hipster it was comical, but was a good place for special occasions. Astrid had arranged a VIP table, and when they arrived, they enjoyed great seats immersed in the throbbing music, but quiet enough to talk. Andy was greeted with balloons and a perky waitress who fawned over him. Her name was Amber, and she asked Andy what he wanted for his first round of shots.
“You get a couple of rounds of shots, Mr. VIP, so pick, big guy,” Astrid said.
Amber just looked at him with a sardonic grin. “Are you serious, man?”
After she left, he leaned to Astrid’s ear and asked, “Too square?”
“Not cliché enough. Couldn’t you have ordered a Rumple Minze?”
In no time she returned with the shots.
“Skol!” Astrid said.
“Skol!” Andy replied.
Andy downed the akvavit and pursed his lips. “Oh, yeah.” He paused and looked around. “Astrid, this is weird. Shouldn’t there be a bunch of people here?”
“Well…I wanted you to myself. Aren’t you having a thing?”
“Yeah, like a bachelor party.”
“Oh, why don’t you call some friends and have them come down?”
“You don’t mind?”
“No, tonight is for you.”
“I should invite Courtney, she’ll—”
“Andy…this is for you, a night away…you know, on your own.”
Andy made a few phone calls and asked his friends to invite others. Within an hour there were six people at the table. Astrid asked for a bottle of Stoli, and it arrived with a bottle sparkler. The group finished it off before long. Some drank beers, and one woman ordered some kind of blue drink in a martini glass. Astrid was never fond of fancy cocktails; she preferred straight bourbon or vodka. The thought made her wonder how Tobias was. She hadn’t spoken to him in two days and made a mental note to check in with him. Someone whooped, and Astrid looked up to try to catch the joke, but only looked on while the group laughed. This brother she knew, living and enjoying himself. Even though he was her older brother, he seemed so young. She thought of how she longed to remain carefree and surrounded by friends for many years. In fact, she couldn’t anticipate settling down at all.
One by one, Andy’s friends said their good-byes, and finally the two of them remained at the table by themselves. Astrid called Amber to the table.
“Can you bring us another bottle of Stoli?” The VIP deal included two bottles, and Astrid had intentionally saved one for their last hours. She poured two shots, and they tapped glasses. Both of them were starting to get quite drunk.
“Andy, you know when I decided to stay with Papa, I always regretted not being together with you. So much time has passed. Now you’re getting married, but you seem so young to me.”
“Come on, Astrid, I’m almost twenty-five. It feels right to me.”
“But all your friends, will you still see them? So much of your life will change. Does it frighten you?”
“Astrid, I’m not dying, I’m getting married. This is the beginning of a new time; it’s a whole new chapter in my life. Sure, we always lose old friends, but we make new ones too. I’ll be part of a whole new family.”
Astrid thought that all his new friends would come from Courtney’s church.
“Why, what’s wrong with our family?”
“Well, I didn’t mean that.” They both drank another shot. “It’s just that Courtney’s family will be my family now too.”
Astrid thought of how Anna’s parents and siblings stopped treating Tobias like family when he and Anna divorced.
“But we’ll always be real family, Andy.”
“Astrid, you’re not going to lose me. You didn’t abandon me. I understood why you stayed with Dad, and you did the right thing. We were busy with college, and I had to adjust to living in another country. It’s only natural that you and I didn’t keep in touch as much as we should…or could have.”
“Do you remember that summer when we were on holiday at Bergslagen Forest?”
“Yeah, it was a great vacation. We rented that cabin.”
“Do you remember the time I downed some of Papa’s vodka and decided to go swimming in the lake in the middle of the night?”
“Oh, yes. You were sixteen and inebriated.”
“Do you remember I went over my head and got cramps in my legs and I started to panic?”
Andy looked down at the table. He poured two more shots. They tapped shot glasses and downed the vodka quickly.
“Oh, God! Yes, I remember,” Andy said.
“Andy, I almost drowned. I was so close to going under, but you saved me. You got me into some warm clothes and put me by the fire. Andy, you saved my life. And you never told anyone. Have you? Have you ever told anyone about that?”
“I’m sorry about Mamma and Papa. They just couldn’t find a way to…you know, they didn’t.” Astrid felt tears coming and wasn’t sure if she was being sentimental because of having had too much to drink or whether she was drinking to avoid feeling this way.
“Andy, about Papa.”
Andy’s face tightened up; he was almost wincing.
“Before I left, he asked me to talk to you. He feels rotten about not coming. But you know—”
“He could have at least have tried, Astrid. How am I supposed to feel? My own father doesn’t want to come to my wedding.”
“He wants to come. Andy, he’s never really gotten over losing Mamma. She left him at a vulnerable time, and he just never bounced back. And seeing Clive just sends him.”
“Has he ever even tried…you know, to find someone?”
Astrid ran her fingers through her hair and took another sip of her vodka. “Andy, it’s complicated. He doesn’t take care of himself. There have been women, and I was hopeful, but he won’t be serious about anyone.”
“He drinks too much. It’s killing him,” Andy said.
“I don’t want to see our family come apart because of the separation. I know it’s been hard, and I never stop thinking about you, Andy.”
“Astrid, no matter what happens, with Courtney, with Mom and Dad, no matter what, you’ll always be my little sister. I love you.”
“I love you, Andy. I’m so glad we had the time to be together tonight. Another drink!”
The two downed another shot. Astrid noticed that they had nearly finished off the second bottle. They ordered coffees and sat talking about Anna. Andy promised that he would be by her side no matter what she needed. Astrid got him to promise to call her if anything changed, or if he needed support. She added that he should call, too, if he felt he needed to talk about anything. She wasn’t specific but feared that marriage would be hard for Andy, and wanted him to know that he could reach out to talk if the pressure was mounting. They finished their coffee and went to an all-night diner for French fries and gravy. They were still far too drunk to drive, so they took a taxi home. It cost nearly eighty dollars to go to Minnetonka, but Astrid decided it was nothing compared to the VIP table at The Lounge. It was early morning when they arrived home, and Smilla woke everyone with her barking. Astrid hugged Andy and kissed him on the cheek.
“Thank you for the time of my life. It was…well, something.”
“Well, don’t pass too many details on to Courtney.”
Andy tousled Astrid’s hair as he used to do when she was a teen. “Good night, Astrid.”
It seemed like Astrid had only been sleeping for a short time when the doorbell rang. She turned over and fumbled for her watch on the bedside stand. Six o’clock. Who could be ringing the bell this early? Whoever was there was impatient and was both ringing the doorbell and knocking. Smilla was barking frantically. Astrid pulled her jeans on and crawled into the T-shirt from the night before, noting it smelled like a bar. As she took her first steps she realized she had a piercing headache.
When she got about halfway down the stairs, she heard someone crying and indecipherable words coming from Andy. Venturing to the end of the front hall, she saw a young woman sobbing and Andy speaking softly in a consoling manner.
“Andy, is everything okay?” Astrid asked.
He turned around abruptly and shook his head. “Astrid, everything is okay, thanks.”
It was clear he didn’t want her intruding. Astrid decided her thirst was unbearable and headed to the kitchen for some water and to start a pot of coffee. As she passed the door she overheard some of the conversation. It was apparent that someone had died, but the identity of the woman was a mystery to Astrid. Once she was in the kitchen gulping a glass of ice water, the two walked by and went to Andy’s room. Astrid attempted somewhat ineffectually to get coffee into the machine without spilling too much on the counter. She then went to the sink to fill the carafe. After accidentally bumping it against the sink, she looked in amazement and saw that the fragile glass had not cracked. She rinsed it and filled it to the top with water. As the coffee dripped into the carafe, she heard the muffled sounds of Andy and his friend talking in his room down the hall. Astrid searched her memory for the face. Then she realized she had met her before. It was a few years ago when she was visiting on summer holiday. Kristen…no, Kristina, that was it. Andy had dated her for over a year. The two broke up before Andy met Courtney. As Astrid recalled, Kristina and Andy had remained friends and were relatively close, until Courtney had pressured Andy to cut the ties. Kristina wanted to get back together with Andy, and Courtney knew that Andy still had feelings for her. What was she doing here now?
The coffeepot began fuming and crackling as puffs of steam signaled the last of the water had run through. Astrid poured some milk into the bottom of a mug and heated it in the microwave. As she began pouring coffee into her cup, she heard Andy’s door open. The two came into the kitchen.
“Hey, Astrid,” Andy said. “Can we get some coffee?”
Astrid looked at Kristina. She had been crying for a long time—her face was red and puffy, and she looked exhausted. “Hey, Kristina,” Astrid said.
“Hi,” she said timidly, not looking up from her gaze at the table.
Astrid poured two coffees. “How do you want your coffee, Kristina?”
“Milk, no sugar,” she said flatly. “Thanks.”
Astrid brought the coffee over to the table and placed the cups in front of Kristina and Andy.
“I’ll be going…”
“No, stay,” Andy said.
Astrid sipped her coffee and looked at Andy. He looked in her eyes, and she could tell he sincerely wanted her to stay. She sat down.
“That’s all right, Andy,” Kristina said. She turned to Astrid, making eye contact. “My brother is dead.”
“I’m…I’m so sorry, I…”
“Thanks. Andy thought maybe you could help.”
“Of course, anything…but, what…I’m sorry.”
“Astrid,” Andy said, “I thought maybe you could help Kristina. Her brother Jonathan was changing a tire in Linden Hills. He was…struck by a car, which left the scene.”
“Do the police have a suspect?” Astrid asked.
“That’s the thing that’s so strange,” Andy said.
“They said they have no idea who did this, and they probably won’t be able to find anyone. They aren’t even trying!” Kristina said.
“Well, they will investigate, but it’s sometimes hard to find a car once it’s gone missing.”
“No, you don’t understand. They said, like, don’t even bother. That’s it.”
“Were there any witnesses?” Astrid asked.
“Yes, one. Some woman that was in the car. I don’t even know her, or why she was with him. She swears she saw nothing,” Kristina said.
“Wait, what? How could that be if she was there?” Astrid asked.
“She said she was on the other side of the car with her back turned, looking at her phone.”
Astrid thought about this and found it peculiar. She knew the police would mount a thorough investigation of any homicide, and surveillance footage would be viewed, witnesses would be interviewed, forensics would be analyzed. She attributed Kristina’s attitude to disbelief and anger about her loss.
“I’m not sure how I can help,” Astrid said.
“I have a colleague who is a detective for the Minneapolis Police,” Andy said. “He taught a class I took, and we became acquaintances. Maybe you could speak with him. He will respect the fact that you are an investigator,” Andy said.
“Wait…you have no idea how the police feel about reporters, not to mention that exposing police corruption doesn’t make me many friends.”
“Rupert is different, and he owes me a favor,” Andy said.
Kristina was staring at Astrid with a wide-eyed, hopeful look. Astrid sighed. “All right, I’ll try, but I can’t guarantee anything. Want some more coffee?”
Astrid and Kristina sat at the kitchen table and discussed everything Kristina knew about the hit-and-run. Astrid established the facts of the case as best she could. On May 3, a vehicle, apparently seen by no one, struck and instantly killed Jonathan Waltershaw, twenty years old, on Upton Avenue, just south of Forty-Fourth Street. He was changing a tire on the front driver’s side of his companion’s car. The woman in the car was Haley Matily, and Jonathan had met her at the Back Door bar, where he worked as a bartender and DJ. As far as Kristina knew, Jonathan did not previously know Haley or have any connection to her. Kristina insisted that Jonathan never went home with women he met at the bar.
“But they took her car. Why?” Astrid asked.
“I don’t know,” said Kristina.
Haley had reported that the two were going to a party at Lake Harriet and were on their way to pick up ice cream when the tire went flat.
“Did they go directly to Linden Hills for ice cream from the bar?” Astrid asked.
“Well, no, they went to her house first,” Kristina answered.
She said that the two had gone to Haley’s house and, according to the police report, spent about one hour there. Astrid found a doodle pad near the sink, and made a note to obtain the police report. According to Kristina, Haley had been sitting on a stone wall while Jonathan changed the tire. She had stood and turned away to look at her phone when she heard a thump. She turned but did not see the body, since it was fifty feet in front of her. When she realized what happened, she could only glance at the taillights of a passing vehicle but had no useful information for the police. Astrid scribbled “mobile phone” and then underlined it.
“Were there any other witnesses?” Astrid asked.
“No, none that have come forward,” Kristina said. “There are people who claim they heard something and came out right after he was hit, but no one saw the car that hit Jonathan.”
“Is there anything else that you can think of?” Astrid asked.
Kristina and Andy exchanged furtive glances.
“Well, there is one thing that worries me,” Kristina said.
“You have to promise not to tell anyone, okay?”
“Sure,” Astrid said.
“Jonathan was in some kind of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I’m not sure; he was being secretive. He had been dealing. Pot. I know that. He needed the money—his DJ business wasn’t taking off, his van needed work, and he had so much opportunity at the bar.”
“Yeah, well, if the bar is mobbed up, as most of them are, and he was dealing there, that could have landed him in some shit.”
Kristina seemed upset by Astrid’s words, and Andy gave a look as if to say, “Easy, Astrid.”
“I’m sorry,” Astrid said. “It’s just that we need to look at all the possibilities. Was there anything else? Who was his dealer?”
“This guy Angel, that’s all I know.”
Astrid wrote down “bar owner” and “Angel” and said, “Okay.”
They discussed some minor details, and Astrid asked about the arrangements, thinking she would like to go to the wake and funeral to investigate but also to pay respects. Kristina and Andy returned to his room, where they talked for some time. Astrid had a second glass of ice water and two more cups of coffee. Finally, Kristina left, and Astrid offered her mobile number, telling her to call anytime that something occurred to her.
“You will talk to the police, right?”
“Yes, I’ll try. They aren’t always so helpful, but I will do my best.”
After Kristina left, Astrid cooked eggs, bacon, and home fries. She and Andy ate voraciously and drank the entire pot of coffee.
After they had cleaned up the breakfast dishes, Astrid took a shower. She was fighting off a respectable hangover and stood a long time under the steaming-hot water. She thought about poor Jonathan, helplessly cut down, only twenty years old and just graduating college. In most cases the perpetrator is someone slightly drunk, afraid to come forward. They often do in one or two days, victims of an irrepressible conscience. More often they simply vanish. They rationalize their hiding with the fact that coming forward won’t change anything and there is no sense to destroying two lives instead of one. But there were so many questions. For example, why did Haley see neither the impact nor the offending car? Why was there no surveillance camera footage or witnesses? It was a quiet neighborhood, and people would have been looking out their windows. Was there a connection with Jonathan’s drug dealing? She thought about what Tobias would do in this situation. After she left the shower and dried off, she went back to her room clad in a bath towel.
Astrid dug around in her backpack for her mobile. She was frustrated to see that the battery had died. She pulled the power supply out of her bag and plugged the phone in. She brushed her hair as the phone charged. After a few minutes, there was enough of a charge to use the phone plugged in. She dialed Tobias, thinking it should be about six o’clock in Malmö.
“This is Astrid,” she said as he picked up the phone.
“Hej,” Tobias said.
He only needed to say “hej,” and Astrid knew he had been drinking.
“How are you?” she asked.
“Oh, okay,” he said.
“What, Papa, what’s wrong?” Astrid asked, sensing something was amiss.
“Oh, it’s okay; I don’t want to bother you on your holiday.”
“Papa, I’m not on holiday, really. I’m here to go to a wedding, and anyway, I seem to have a job already.”
“Nothing, what is happening?”
“It’s not good news, Astrid.”
“Okay, Papa, what is it?”
“Kalle Lundstrom…” he said.
“Is it about the payoffs?”
“Astrid, he’s dead.”
“He killed himself, jumped off the Tranebergsbron.”
“He jumped off the bridge?” Astrid asked in disbelief.
“Yes, sober, left a note. He apologized and said he could never forgive himself for the forgeries. We’re running the story tomorrow. Not much for you to do, but if you want to look at the copy I can e-mail it to you before we go to editorial.”
“Sure, Papa, thanks. I’ll look it over. This is…awful. His poor wife.”
“And three children, one is only three years old.”
Astrid understood why Tobias had been drinking when it was only 6:00 p.m. She thought about having a drink herself.
“Papa, are you okay?”
“I’m okay, Astrid. I wish you were here. I went by your apartment today. I miss you. You know I have to work with that fucking idiot, Mikael.”
Astrid chuckled. “Oh, he’s not that bad, really, just a little insecure.”
“Well, I want the expert back.”
“Papa, is it our fault?”
There was a long silence on the other end, then a sigh. “Astrid, I don’t know anymore. We aren’t the ones who falsified the engineering reports.”
“I know, but I can’t help thinking…”
“What, if we didn’t report the truth he would still be able to live with it?”
“What are the other papers saying?”
“Well, the early papers reported it as a suicide, but none of them tied it to our story. I think they want to avoid sending us readers.”
Astrid heard ice tinkling in the background. “You aren’t drinking too much, are you, Papa?”
“No, I’m drinking just enough.” Tobias laughed. “How is everyone there?”
“Papa, do you remember Kristina, Andy’s friend?”
“Yes, she was a nice young woman; she adored Andy.”
“Well, her brother was just killed in a hit-and-run.”
“Oh, that’s unfortunate,” Tobias said.
“Yes, and there are some strange things about the case. They asked me to look into it.”
“You aren’t writing a piece? You want me to go to the editor with a story about a hit-and-run in…Minnesota?” he asked incredulously.
“No, I’m just telling you. I may need your help.”
“Of course. I’m just not sure how I can help on a case in the States. How is Anna?”
Astrid hesitated. She hated lying but didn’t want to betray her mother’s wishes.
“You should call her. Things are good here, but maybe it would be better if you two talked.”
“Astrid, I can read between the lines. What is it?”
“Nothing, she’s great. Just…you should call her.”
“She never takes my calls.”
“Oh, come on, Papa, try, okay?”
“Okay, Astrid,” he said. “I’m on my way now.”
“I love you.”
There was only quiet on the line for a long moment.
“Me too,” Tobias said as he hung up.
Astrid looked out the window. In the yard, she saw Andy throwing the ball for Smilla. She would run as fast as she could and faithfully retrieve it every time. I wish love were that simple, she thought.
There was still time to make some calls, but Astrid was tired from the lack of sleep and too much vodka. She decided to take a nap. She crawled under the covers in her room and looked around at the photos on the wall and bookcase. Andy needed her help, and he had helped her so many times. As she lay in bed, she thought about Kristina. The horror of a young man killed so violently, when his entire life should have been beginning, was a mystery to Astrid. How could anyone just drive away? she thought. A short, fitful sleep came, and Astrid awoke to the sound of Smilla barking. She looked out the window and saw a strange car in the driveway. It was an American muscle car; she wasn’t sure what kind, but something like Barracuda came to mind.
Andy walked out to the drive and grabbed Smilla by the collar, admonishing her to sit. The man emerging from the car had an immediate presence. He was older than Andy, possibly in his thirties, wearing sunglasses, a polo shirt, and tight jeans. They shook hands and moved closer as the stranger began talking to Andy. After just a short moment, they hugged and he slapped Andy on the back gently. They talked for another few minutes, and then the man patted Smilla on the head, causing frantic tail wagging, at which point he got back in his car. He rolled down the window, and Andy walked up to the car and leaned in. Andy nodded and then stepped back and waved, and the stranger in the black muscle car backed down the driveway with a low throbbing sound.
Astrid threw some water on her face, brushed her hair and quickly braided it, and pulled on her jeans. She still had lines on her face from sleeping, and her eyes were puffy, something she attributed to the drinking. She looked at her watch. It was 3:10, and she wondered if it was too soon for a cocktail. Being at home made her realize how much she drank when she was alone. Astrid wasn’t sure that her liquor tastes were consistent with a family household, so she had picked up some vodka and akvavit for her room. She poured a finger of akvavit into a small glass and sat on the bed. Looking out the window, the lake was still and a deep gray-blue, almost sapphire. She saw a small duckboat not far offshore. A middle-aged man and a child were fishing. She remembered fishing with her father. Every weekend they had a chance, they would put the canoe on the car and drive up the Småland coast to some small lake. Often they caught nothing, but spent the entire day drifting and eating sandwiches. Tobias loved the fact that Astrid wasn’t a big talker. She was content to float along in silence for hours, reflecting on the natural beauty. She cherished the time with her father, and the opportunity to escape the bullies at school. Constantly disciplined for fighting, her teachers often accused Astrid of being too boyish, a characteristic they attributed to being raised by her father. She never had an interest in makeup and dressing up, and could have been considered a tomboy in middle and high school. Boys did not pursue her, which pleased her, although that never stopped her from having a boyfriend when it suited her needs. The fact that Astrid would rather be fishing at 6:00 a.m. with her father than hanging out with her friends at the mall never made any difference at all. By most measures, she believed herself to be more content than most of her contemporaries.
She thought about Kalle Lundstrom as she poured another splash of akvavit into her glass. She knew he had three children. Despite what she had said to Tobias, there was little doubt that the newspaper stories contributed to his depression and likely his sense of hopelessness. Were they responsible for his suicide? Astrid took another sip of akvavit and thought about the question. He was ultimately responsible for his actions on the building site, which were indirectly the cause of nine people’s deaths. Maybe their story was a part of his suicide; she had accepted that as inevitable. She could not conceive of not publishing something for fear of someone’s emotional response. At the same time, she wondered what kind of person was so driven by the search for the truth that they could not accept the consequences, even if that meant a father and husband killed himself?
There was a quiet tap at the door.
“Yes?” Astrid asked.
The door opened. It was Andy.
“Hi, come in,” Astrid said. “Would you like a drink?”
“What? It’s three o’clock…well, maybe a small one.”
Astrid poured an inch of akvavit into a glass on her desk and handed it to Andy. She sat on the end of the bed, and he settled into her comfy wing-back chair.
Andy took a sip of the akvavit and inhaled audibly. “I just met with Rupert.”
“That was Rupert? Your friend from the police?”
“Nothing. I just expected…I don’t know, Rupert Olson? I thought he’d be a balding middle-aged guy with a gut and a donut.”
“Okay…whatever. Look, he told me that he would look into the case on the QT.”
“Who is Cutie?”
“You know, QT…discreetly. He said you should call him. Astrid, this is looking strange.”
“He didn’t say anything directly, but some things weren’t done according to protocol. The good news is they think they know who did it.”
“Angel. They think he may have had it in for Jonathan.”
“Apparently the cops picked up Angel on an anonymous tip. They nabbed him with several pounds of marijuana, a little cocaine, a handgun, and a bunch of cash. He is on bail, but they have a solid case that will put this guy in Stillwater for at least five to ten.”
“What’s the connection?”
“I don’t know, you’ll have to talk to Rupert. Now, how about a bit more of that akvavit?”
“Um…it’s only…” Astrid looked at her watch. “Oh, okay, it’s after four now.”
They both laughed, and she poured a bit more Linie in both of their glasses. They raised their glasses and clinked in a toast.
“How about that canoe ride?” Astrid asked.
“Absolut,” Andy said. His Swedish often came out when he had been drinking, and while Astrid envied his perfect English, she missed hearing her brother speak the language of their childhood.
Astrid and Andy spent the rest of the afternoon paddling through the narrows and private inlets of Lake Minnetonka, with Smilla and the bottle of Linie Akvavit.
They stayed out long after the sun set. After returning, Andy lit a bonfire on the shore. Smilla slept at their feet as they sat by the fire. Astrid sipped the last of the akvavit, and they talked of stories from the past.
Astrid met Rupert Olson at the Cafe Wyrd in Uptown. It seemed a strange place to meet a cop. A hipster hangout, flagship cafe of the “queer” scene, lots of twenty-somethings, this was the place he suggested. She saw him in the back at one of the small tables near the exit. Astrid went to the counter and ordered a cappuccino and a scone. Once she had her order, she meandered toward the back and went to his table.
He stood up in a formal manner and offered his hand.
“Hey, nice to meet you,” she said as she shook his hand. His grip was firm but not overbearing. His smile was warm, and she found him attractive. He was wearing a gray T-shirt, with his sunglasses hanging from the neckline, jeans, and biker’s boots. Astrid noticed his leather jacket hanging over the back of his chair.
“What’s your ride?”
“Harley, 1200 Custom. But you didn’t come here to talk about bikes,” he said.
Astrid sipped her cappuccino after blowing across the top of the foam. She tentatively nibbled on the corner of her scone. “No,” she said. “How do you know Andy?”
“I taught a couple of lectures on forensics for his criminal justice class. We just kind of hit it off.”
“Criminal justice class?”
“Andy took an interest in the street scene, and asked to shadow me on a couple of evenings. I took him out on a few calls. We try to keep things pretty low key when we have civilians on board, but we walked into a firestorm and he got a bit more than he expected.”
“Really? What happened?” Astrid asked.
“Well, we were on a routine call at Lake and Chicago. It was a traffic stop, and one of the drivers had a warrant out for…believe it or not, overdue library books.”
“What? Library books…what are you talking about?”
“Well, sometimes when we can’t come up with anything on probable cause and we just want to pull someone in, we issue a warrant on something lame, like library books or an unreturned video. The idea is that once we have them we can search them and charge them with possession of a firearm or drugs or whatever we find…Anyway, you get the idea. Well, we knew this was someone we had been trying to nail for a while on a shooting. Once we got there, all hell broke loose. There was a firefight, and a kid sitting at a traffic light was shot through the neck by a stray. He started spurting blood like a hydrant, and, well…Andy took it pretty hard. They were about the same age.”
Astrid contemplated her scone and decided it fell too far on the muffin side to qualify as a proper scone. She discarded it and took another sip of coffee.
“You didn’t know that Andy was thinking about being a cop?” Rupert asked.
Astrid literally choked on her coffee. “Um, no, not really. Seriously?”
“What, is it some kind of a joke, being a cop?”
“No. I’m sorry. It’s just not at all like Andy.”
“He’s working on a certificate in criminal justice and thinking of taking the POST. With his degree in sociology, he’d make a good cop.”
Astrid was thinking that most of the people she knew in sociology were pretty far to the left. It surprised her that she knew so little about her big brother.
“Peace Officer Standards and Training. It’s like a state-level entrance exam,” he said.
“And why did you want to meet here? It’s not exactly a cop hangout.”
“This is someplace I trust. No one talks here, and these are my friends.”
Astrid realized that Rupert was a regular here.
“What do you know about this hit-and-run?”
“Wow, Andy told me you were something, but I had no idea. You are quite direct. You know, I’ve seen the articles you wrote; you did a pretty good job of wrecking some cops’ lives.”
“Well, I didn’t make them corrupt. I just wrote the articles.”
“Yeah, and their families?” Rupert took a deep breath. “It’s okay. Don’t worry. Yeah, the hit-and-run.”
“Look, I feel like we got off on the wrong foot, Rupert.”
He looked at her and sighed. Rolling his eyes, he slowly put his sunglasses on. Astrid thought he was walking out on the meeting.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Rupert’s bike was parked on the sidewalk outside of the back entrance to Cafe Wyrd. Several people were braving the cool weather on benches outside. He straddled the Harley Davidson 1200 Custom, inserted the key, and hit the ignition. It immediately started with a dull roar. He scooted forward and signaled for her to climb on. Astrid took his helmet, and although it was massive for her head size, she drew the straps tightly and lifted her leg over the seat. They bumped over the edge of the curb and headed up Lake Avenue toward Lake Calhoun. The two glided around West Calhoun Parkway to Lake Harriet, passed the bandstand, and turned up West Forty-Fourth Street. Rupert stopped in front of Sebelius and Jo’s. They went inside and ordered ice cream. Rupert had the Sicilian, and Astrid had the White Monkey. They sat in the courtyard.
“Look over there,” he said, pointing just beyond the intersection south of the cafe.
Astrid craned her neck. “Okay.”
“That’s where it happened, just a little south of where Upton turns into Sheridan Avenue. He was thrown over fifty feet. Whoever did it to him drove right by here.”
“Isn’t there any surveillance camera video?”
“Only one, and it was useless.”
“A restaurant, Frank’s Famous Barbeque. They have a camera that faces out onto the parking lot and can pick up cars driving by on Sheridan Avenue. On the night of the accident, the video was lost.”
“That’s it. We canvassed witnesses in the area, and no one saw a vehicle pass by that could be or was in suspicion of being the hit-and-run vehicle.”
“So what do you have, then?”
“Well, there is Haley Matily.”
“She said she was on the phone and saw nothing.”
“And you believe her?”
“We’re not sure. It would have happened very quickly, so she could have been distracted by her phone and may have been turned away from the street at the moment of impact.”
“But really, at that distance you’d hear bones breaking, breath exuded through crushed lungs. How long would it take to turn around? You’d have to have seen the car before it could have gotten far.”
“One would think, but, well…people can get pretty distracted by texting.”
“Do you have her cell phone records?”
Rupert hesitated. He seemed to be keeping something back. “We’re looking into the numbers on the call sheet.”
“I have one more question.”
“Why are you helping me?”
Rupert shifted in his chair. He scraped around in the bottom of the cup, where his ice cream had long since vanished. “Well,” he said, “Andy and I are friends, and I wanted to help him.”
“I have to be honest. I know who you are. You’re a good investigational journalist, and I may need your help.”
“What do you mean?” Astrid asked.
“Look, I can’t talk right now. I have to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“I think there is something going on with this case. I’m having evidence disappear.”
“What kind of evidence?”
“I think that’s it for now. I hope you can help to find out who did this. I would be grateful for your help.”
Rupert stood up. “Can I drop you anywhere?”
“Take me back to my car?”
Astrid climbed on the back of Rupert’s bike, and he brought her back to the Cafe Wyrd parking lot. She jumped off and returned the helmet. “Thanks for everything, and look, I’m sorry if—”
“Forget about it. Good-bye, Astrid.”
Rupert roared off, cutting across traffic and zipping up Lake Avenue. Astrid made her way to her car in the back parking lot. When she got within a few feet, she held out her key fob and unlocked the doors. Someone came up behind her suddenly and stopped. She turned around. A young man, maybe twenty-one, was standing in the parking lot. He wore a leather biker’s jacket. She noticed the cock ring clipped under his right epaulet. Bottom, she thought.
“You’re not a cop,” he said.
“No, I’m not,” Astrid replied.
“Rupert shouldn’t be talking to you,” the man said.
“He’s putting you in danger. Everyone knows who did this, and if you get involved, there will be trouble for you. You better watch out.”
“So who did this?”
“Look, all I’m going to tell you is that bitch, she was in on it.”
“Haley,” he said angrily.
“Okay. So you knew Jonathan.”
“Everyone knew Jonathan. I just wanted to warn you, watch out for—”
“Brian! Brian!” The shouts came from a tall man in a white T-shirt standing in the back door. “What are you doing?”
“Look, I’ve got to go. Just be careful, okay?”
He turned and walked back to the door, passing by the taller man, who stood still, staring at Astrid. She started her car and drove out of the parking lot, with the tall man in the white T-shirt watching her all the way.
Astrid sat in the screened porch. It was a warm afternoon, and she had pushed opened the windows. She extricated the cork from a bottle of Shiraz Grenache and poured a glass into her oversize stemware. A large piece of drawing paper lay on the table in front of her. She was armed with several sizes and colors of sticky notes, highlighters, a pencil, and some colored pens. In another pile lay a stack of papers. There were newspaper clippings, the police report, and some photocopies of background material from the library. In front of her were two reporter’s notebooks exuding sticky notes, paperclips, and other manner of bookmarks. She sipped her wine and looked out at the lake. The marsh grasses swayed, rhythmically bent and released by the waxing and waning breezes.
Astrid was at a loss as to where to start. She drew a circle in the center of the page and labeled it “J” and “May 3.” She took a green sticky note and placed it slightly above the circle. The vehicle. It had to come from somewhere, she thought; somebody had to have seen it. She wondered what damage was done and whether the police had screened for cars with damaged front ends. She sketched out various squares and circles, enumerating the cast of characters: Kristina, Angel, Haley…everyone she could think of who was even remotely related to the case.
The officer responsible for the investigation was Dennis McGuiness. This struck Astrid as odd, because McGuiness was a junior patrol officer. She could not see who had assigned him to the case, so she jotted down a reminder in her notebook—“Who assigned McGuiness?”—and read on. She found that shortly after arriving at the scene, McGuiness had called Detective Konrad Buckley. The more she read, the more mistakes she found. McGuiness claimed to be first at the scene, but two other officers had arrived before the ambulance and began to direct traffic. He also said that he had approached Jonathan and found no pulse, when the ambulance reported removing the body before McGuiness arrived. The distance Jonathan was thrown and the final place where he landed in the grass were incorrectly reported. It appeared that Buckley had done the heavy lifting on the case.
Buckley and a second officer collected pieces of glass they thought may have come from a broken headlight of the vehicle that hit Jonathan. However, neither Haley Matily nor the witnesses in the vicinity at the time of the accident heard glass breaking. Additional material collected at the scene appeared to be amber plastic, possibly from a directional light. Astrid looked for the inventory of evidence, which would have detailed the materials collected and the chain of custody. She found nothing.
Astrid decided to call the tow-truck operator. She found his number and punched it into her cell phone. As it rang, she took another sip of wine.
“Hello, is this Gustafson’s Towing?”
“Yeah, this is Maria Gustafson.”
“Is Brendan there?”
“Uh, who should I say is calling?”
“I’m Astrid Källström. I’m consulting for the Minneapolis Police; I had a couple of questions about an accident he responded to.”
“Well, he’s out on a call. He can’t—”
“I need his cell phone, please. It’s urgent.”
“Oh, well, just a minute then.”
Astrid heard the two talking even though the phone was muffled.
“Hi, is this Brendan?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“I’m Astrid Källström with Insikt, and I’d like to ask a couple of questions about an accident you responded to. It was a hit-and-run on May third.”
“Yes, I’m reading the police report, and I’m a little confused. Could you tell me what you found at the scene?”
“Well, the car was in perfect condition, just had a flat tire, you know. I was supposed to bring it to the impound lot.”
“Was there any other material at the scene? Did you pick up anything, or see anything from a damaged vehicle?”
“Didn’t you say you had the police report?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, then you know about the amber plastic, the headlight glass?”
“And the green plastic.”
“What? Green plastic?”
“Yeah, there was a piece of fractured green plastic, maybe a front spoiler or bumper cover.”
Astrid grabbed her reporter’s notebook and started writing quickly.
“So you had a piece of green plastic. Could you describe it please?”
“Sure. It was small, maybe the size of a pack of cigarettes, but it was jagged, not square—more like a star or triangle. It was dark green—really dark, almost black—like a forest green.”
“And what did you do with it?”
“Well, I found it under the driver’s side of Matily’s car when I was putting the tow chains on. I called over the officers there, um…Buckley and McDonald.”
“Yeah, that’s right, then. So I said I found this plastic under the car, you know? And the old guy, the detective…he jumped right up and grabbed it from me. I thought I saw him put it in the evidence bag there. That was it.”
“Just one more question.”
“Did you see anything else? Any marks on Matily’s car? Any debris anywhere, on the side of the road, maybe?”
“No, I pretty much figure the cops are going to comb the place. You know, there was one thing.”
“What’s that, Brendan?”
“Well, they usually don’t let you anywhere near the scene until they give the place a careful going over. I thought it was odd them letting me in there so soon and all, and that I was finding evidence…or I guess it was evidence. Maybe it was just trash, I don’t know.”
“You’ve really been helpful, Brendan. Thanks.”
“So, you work with the police?”
“Sort of. I’m an investigator.”
“Well, I hope you find who did this, I’ve been on a wrecker for years. I’ve never seen anything like this. And that girl who said she didn’t see anything.”
“Well, jeez, that’s just impossible. You can’t be that close to an impact like that and not turn around unless you’re deaf or stoned out of your mind.”
Astrid suddenly had an idea. “Brendan, can you do me a big favor?”
The next morning Andy was driving Astrid to South Minneapolis. They made their way down Chicago Avenue and turned onto Franklin. Andy wandered through side streets before turning down an alley and stopping alongside a chain-link fence. Immediately two dogs started barking and thrust headlong at Astrid. They looked neglected and hungry, and Astrid didn’t want to challenge them. After a moment, a tall blond man came out from behind a panel van being used as a storage unit.
“Hi there, I’m Brendan…Brendan Gustafson.”
“Hey. Astrid. This is my brother, Andy.”
“Hi,” Gustafson said, shooting an indirect look at Andy. “Well, come on in. Don’t worry about these two.” With a wave of his hand, the two dogs sat in unison. To Astrid, they looked just as menacing, licking their lips. She put out her hand and bent down her head, careful not to make eye contact. Within a few seconds, they were licking her hand and wagging their tails. “See, told ya.”
“It’s nice of you to do this. Thanks,” Astrid said.
“It sounds like fun. Let’s go then,” Brendan said sarcastically and signaled by thrusting his shoulder toward the wrecker. Andy looked puzzled but went to the back of the truck and deposited two plastic grocery bags and a paper grocery bag stuffed with clothing. He opened the passenger door and let Astrid climb into the cab. She scooted along the seat, twisting her legs to make lots of room around the stick shift. Brendan climbed in and backed toward the gate. He stopped and blew the horn. On cue, a diminutive woman with black hair came out from the shadow of the garage. She had dark eyes and Native American features. She was also pregnant, and hobbling toward the fence. The dogs ran in the opposite direction as she opened the fence wide enough for Brendan to back out. The two didn’t make eye contact through the whole process. But once the truck was backed into the alley and the gates were shut, she walked up to the closed chain-link fence and stared at him. He looked back. Neither of them said a word; he simply drove off as she hobbled back into the garage.
They made their way along the highway to White Bear Lake, then took a country road for miles, until they finally came on a junkyard. Brendan pulled in and hopped out of the truck. A man in greasy coveralls came out of a shack shrouded in car hoods and radiators. The two talked briefly, then the man in the coveralls pointed toward a field teeming with wrecked cars. Brendan hopped back into the wrecker and drove silently to the end of a long field.
“This is it,” he said.
There, in the middle of a muddy dirt road, was a burgundy 1995 Ford Escort, the same year as that driven by Haley Matily.
Everyone knew what to do as the group went about their preparations. Brendan produced a scissor jack and raised the Escort up to tire-changing level. Andy took the clothes out of the bag. They were jeans and a T-shirt similar to those worn by Jonathan Waltershaw. Then he took the plastic bags. He had called on an old friend at Lund’s in Uptown who’d produced an entire day’s expired meat that would otherwise have ended up in the Dumpster. He patiently stuffed parts of the clothes with the meat-filled plastic bags and shrink-wrapped chicken. Andy then staged the meat man where Jonathan would have squatted.
Andy walked, counting the steps: fifty-one, fifty-two…until he was exactly 125 steps away, exactly how far the Mittys’ doorstep was from the car.
Astrid stood where Haley Matily would have been leaning on the stone wall, about twenty feet away from the front end of the Escort.
There was one chance to do this, and Astrid knew it, so she wanted everything to be right. She took out her phone, the same model that Haley had, an Acai 4.
In the distance, Brendan was sitting in a Honda Civic. The rear was completely crumpled, and the car was obviously totaled. But they needed something, and junkyard cars that actually run are few and far between. Right now, the major suspect was Angel, and he drove a tricked-out Subaru, not far from the Civic, so it was a reasonable approach.
Astrid nodded her head. Okay, she signaled.
Brendan revved up the Civic. Andy looked disconcerted, but happy to be acting as the criminal investigator. He looked at Brendan, then at Astrid, and nodded.
Brendan audibly shifted and then put his foot to the floor. Astrid had asked him to try to hit the model at twenty-seven miles per hour, which was slightly below the average speed of a vehicle traveling on Upton Avenue. The driver probably would have slowed to pass a disabled car on the side of the road. Brendan accelerated the black Civic and approached the Escort with confidence and precision.
As he hit the thrift-store model stuffed with meat, an enormous thumping sound could be heard. Andy immediately signaled that he had heard the thump from his staged position replicating the Mittys’ porch. Astrid was not only viscerally affected by the intensity of the throbbing meat sound; she barely escaped the blood and flesh that rained down all around her. Instinctively, she turned around the instant the car hit the flesh, and she knew immediately that there was no way anyone could be standing there and not be instantaneously transformed by the violence of the act. Who would not see the vehicle responsible? The front end of the Civic was shattered, with pieces of the headlights, the front spoiler, and turn-signal lenses thrown in every direction all around the scene. Andy’s perception of the thump suggested that not only the Mittys but at least a half dozen homes would be in range of hearing the collision.
“Wow,” Brendan said. “There’s pieces of this thing all over the place.”
Astrid surveyed the muddy lot. There were fragments of the car spread all around. She looked at the front of the Civic. It was damaged to such an extent that one would require major repair work done at a body shop or resign it to a total loss.
“Whoever did this would have a hard time hiding this kind of damage,” she said.
“Oh, man, definitely a total loss,” Brendan said. “Not to mention the airbag would have gone off, and it takes a body shop or dealer to repair that.”
Astrid shook her head and started walking toward the shack at the main gate of the junkyard.
The man in overalls came out before she could get to the entrance of the shack. He looked at her and shook his head. “You’ll never find them,” he said.
“What, who?” Astrid asked.
“Whoever hit that guy,” he said.
“Why?” she asked.
He just turned and walked into the building surrounded by bumpers, radiators, and other car parts. Astrid followed him inside and stopped as soon as she stepped into the shack…She couldn’t see three feet in front of her. It was dark and dusty. “Hello?” she called. No one answered. The man was gone. She looked around and saw nothing but dusty shelves full of parts, and a counter with a book containing notes inserted into a dual-ring-binder accounting-type record system. She looked at the papers piled on the counter and saw nothing notable. Astrid turned to walk out of the building, when she heard a voice behind her. She turned and saw the man with the overalls.
“Keep looking. Every crash tells a story. But the car…it’s gone, believe me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just mean that it’s easy to get a car disappeared, if you need to.”
“Chop shop, junkyard, ship it to Mexico, drop it off a trawler, there are a thousand ways.”
With that, he was gone. Astrid headed back to the wrecker and found Andy and Brendan talking.
“Okay, let’s go,” Astrid said.
Three of them piled into the wrecker and headed back to South Minneapolis. No one said a word about what they had done. They only commented on the brilliant pink clouds on the blue horizon and what a great May it had been considering what a long winter they had all endured. When they returned, Gustafson’s partner came out to join them. The dogs were nowhere in sight. Maria offered everyone tea, and they sipped a warming drink of roasted barley before they headed back home.
Once back home, Astrid took Smilla out for a walk. Sitting at the lakeshore, Andy showed up, to Smilla’s delight. The three sat on the beach contemplating the day’s events.
“There is no way they can hide forever,” Andy said.
“I know,” said Astrid.
“That car is out there somewhere. You have to find it,” Andy said.
“I’ll try. Andy?”
“You never told me you wanted to be a cop.”
“Well, I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted.”
“Rupert told me—”
“Forget Rupert, okay?”
Astrid was surprised; she thought that Andy was interested in pursuing a police career. “Andy, are you interested in law enforcement? It’s just that—”
“Can we drop this, okay?” he asked.
“Okay. Andy, is there anything you want to tell me?”
Andy jerked Smilla’s leash and stood up abruptly. He pulled her toward him forcefully and started heading up the bank toward the backyard. “I’m headed in now, okay?”
With that, he was gone, only a fading shadow on the lawn.
Astrid sat on the beach for a long time. She wondered about so many things. Was Tobias going to be okay, knowing that Kalle Lundstrom had killed himself? Had the economic hit men reached Tobias? Would the paper go ahead with the articles she had worked so hard on? Would they hit her apartment again? And what about Jonathan Waltershaw?
Astrid lost track of time as she stared out at the lake. One by one, all the powerboats and sailboats made their way in to shore. She went over to the fire pit and looked around at the driftwood. Astrid began gathering partially burned remnants of logs and bits of lumber that had served as kindling. She contemplated hiking up to the house to gather some newspaper and a lighter. Just then, she heard rustling in the grass.
Andy stumbled down the bank with a canvas bag, an armful of old cedar shingles, cardboard, and a couple of cleanly split oak logs. He expertly reconstructed the fire pit, and within minutes, they had a roaring blaze. It was so hot that Astrid had to move back a bit to keep from overwarming. Andy sat down in the sand and put his foot up on a log. He reached into his bag and pulled out a cigar. He reached into his pocket for a lighter.
“Well, that’s rude,” Astrid said.
Andy reached into his bag and produced another cigar, cut the end off, and handed it to Astrid. He reached out to her with the lighter. She placed the lighted flame on the phallic cylinder and puffed several times until it exuded a tangerine glow. Astrid handed the lighter back to Andy. The two sat and puffed on their cigars for some time, and then Andy reached into the canvas bag and produced a bottle of akvavit. He rustled through the sack and found two plastic cups, pouring about an inch of the aromatic liquor in each. He handed one of the cups to Astrid.
“Tack,” she said.
“Inga problem,” he said.
They were both quiet for a long time, enjoying their cigars and drinks.
“I met Rupert when he taught a class on forensics. We went out for coffee afterward.”
“Let me guess, Cafe Wyrd,” she said.
“No…we went to Mickey’s Diner. We just hit it off. He was interesting.”
“He does have a kind of charm.”
“Astrid, I never really knew…you know, how I felt. We went to the Town House. I met his friends; no one has ever been so nice to me. We went to a party afterward in Uptown. I was so amazed at how close everyone was; they all seemed to be concerned about me. Anyway, the party went until morning—I don’t know, it must have been 4:00 a.m.—and finally I just wanted to go home.”
“Okay, something was nagging you, right?”
“Well, yeah, something. I just felt like I wanted something.”
“And?” Astrid asked. “What happened?”
“Well, I was tired. Rupert invited me over, and his place was only a couple of blocks away. I ended up…well, Astrid…we slept together.”
“Was it good?”
“What?” Andy asked angrily. “Are you—?”
“Well, did you like it?”
“Astrid, you don’t get it. I slept with some guy…some cop.”
“Andy, did you like it?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t hate it…I just, what about Courtney?”
“Andy, why are you telling me this? Shouldn’t you be telling her?”
“Astrid I…” Andy took another hit from his plastic cup of akvavit. “What am I supposed to do?”
“What do you want to do?”
“That doesn’t matter…Fuck! I’m getting married in a week.”
“Andy, it does matter. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re feeling. Maybe it’s who you are, maybe it’s a one-off. Either way there is nothing wrong with what you did.”
Astrid stood up and walked over to Andy. She took the plastic cup out of his hand and put her arm around his shoulder. The two held each other for a long while. Andy lurched, and then sobbed.
“I love you, Andy.” He sobbed more, and then looked up at her in tears. “It’s okay, big brother…You’re my hero, you know that?”
Andy fell apart and cried in her arms. After some time he raised his head. She brushed away the tears from his cheeks. “You know what?” she asked. “I respect you so much, no matter what.” With that, she ran her hands through his hair and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. She turned her head away and held him cheek to cheek. “I will always love you, Anders,” she said.
After a moment, she pulled her head back and looked into his eyes. Both were crying, and neither held back. She reached down to his lap and retrieved his cigar, and then stretched over to her own. She put his cigar into his mouth, did the same with hers, and then lit both.
“Let’s drink,” she said as they both fumbled for their plastic cups. She raised hers and said, “To my brother, who will always be my soul mate, my big man…”
Andy crashed his plastic cup into hers, and akvavit splashed over them like holy water. They drank deeply. Andy took a draw on his cigar and said, “Damn, sister, why can’t you be here all the time…I love you so much.” Tears wandered out of Andy’s eyes and dripped down his cheek.
The next morning Astrid called Gustafson to thank him for the experiment.
“It was kind of fun…well, except cleaning up.”
“Brendan, can I ask you another favor?”
“Yeah, as long as it doesn’t involve meat.”
Astrid explained her request. Before long, the long flatbed wrecker with “Gustafson’s Towing” painted on the door was rolling down her driveway.
Brendan and Astrid didn’t talk as they drove along. The engine was loud, and there was no radio.
“Can you get into the impound lot?” Astrid asked.
“Sure, no problem. I’m in and out of there all the time.”
The two rumbled down Cedar Lake Road to Glenwood Avenue. At the entrance, there was a glassed-in booth. Brendan pulled up, and a rotund woman with cat’s-eye glasses on a chain turned on a microphone. Through the crackles, Astrid heard her greet him by name and ask his business. Brendan said he had a pickup for a client.
“Tag number?” the woman asked.
Brendan fumbled through some papers and said, “SGZ 733.”
The woman tapped a few keys on the computer keyboard and looked at the screen. She removed her glasses, letting them dangle on the chain, floating over her large bosom. She looked up and squinted at Astrid. Then she reached toward the edge of the counter and pressed a button. The chain-link gate obediently slid open. Brendan drove ahead.
“You’re not really here to pick up a vehicle.”
“No,” he said, “but there was one I dropped off two days ago due for a pickup. Good enough to get me in.”
Brendan weaved in and out of the rows of cars. Suddenly Astrid pointed, “There!”
“We better make this quick. There are a lot of cameras here.”
Astrid climbed out of the truck. Brendan had intentionally parked at an oblique angle to obscure her side from the security camera. Astrid went up to the Ford Escort and saw that the doors were sealed with tape reading “Evidence.” She put her hand over her forehead to shield her eyes from the light and looked in through the window. On the passenger side was the flat tire. Astrid was shocked. After all, it was an important piece of evidence. She reached into her pocket and produced a small butterfly knife she always carried. Astrid popped open the blade and slit the evidence tape. She opened the door and stooped over to look inside. She turned the tire around and took a closer look. Astrid produced a toothpick from over one ear and a permanent marker from the other. Brendan couldn’t see what she was doing as she bent over the tire. She then put everything back in her pocket and pulled her mobile phone from her pocket, leaned in, and took a photo.
Astrid climbed back in the truck. The two quickly headed to the gate. When he reached the security station, he waved at the woman with the glasses. She came to the window looking quizzically at the empty truck.
“Maria just called. Apparently the check bounced, so no pickup.”
The woman laughed and opened the exit, and they were headed back to Lake Minnetonka.
When Astrid returned home, she looked up Rupert’s number and dialed.
“Rupert? We need to talk.”
Astrid arranged to meet Rupert at Wyrd in the midafternoon. She got there a little early and walked in to a nearly deserted cafe. Two women were sitting outside on the bench. It was a beautiful day, and a pleasant breeze was wafting off Lake Calhoun.
Astrid ordered an Americano. The person waiting on her was serious about body modification, with two sharp spike implants over his eyebrows and enormous flesh tunnels in his earlobes.
“Have you seen Brian around?” Astrid asked.
“Naw…wait, he was here.” He turned to the back of the cafe and yelled, “Hey, Chris! Where’s Brian?”
“In the basement.”
“He’s in the basement.”
Astrid paid and discreetly scanned the back wall. Where was the door to the basement? She saw one candidate; it was a doorway on the right in the corridor that went to the kitchen. Astrid made her way to the corridor and decided it was probably the right direction. Inside there was a door, and when she opened it she saw stairs going down.
The basement was well lit. Half of it was a typical commercial building basement, with shelves full of large cans, boxes of Styrofoam cups, and other restaurant supplies. There was a security fence between the supplies and the customer space. A few tables were chaotically spread around, surrounded by mismatched chairs. Against the wall there was a well-worn sofa and a coffee table full of dog-eared magazines. The only person in the basement was Brian, who was sitting on the sofa engrossed in his phone. He was wearing a tight black T-shirt, faded jeans, and a white-and-blue checkerboard belt.
“Brian,” Astrid said.
He looked up. “Hi.” A quizzical look revealed that he had not yet recognized her. He squinted and then looked down at his phone in resignation. “Oh, you, the Norwegian.”
“Actually, I’m Swedish. Nice to see you again. Can I get you a coffee or anything?”
“No, I’m good.” Brian never looked up, but Astrid could tell he was aware of her in his peripheral vision.
“I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“How did you know Jonathan?”
“We met at a party. A friend of mine was having a house party and hired Jonathan to do the music. I thought he was cool, so we talked. We went out a couple of times, that’s all.”
“Out? Like on a date?”
“No, just to parties. I liked him, but he had a girlfriend. He was, like, so into the music. He knew how to DJ; he knew the queer scene, the tunes, how to read the audience. I tried to get him work, too. He was pretty good.
“What did you mean that Haley was in on it?”
“Haley. She knew how to use it. You know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, she got pretty much whatever her sorry little ass wanted.”
“What did she want?”
“Well, she didn’t want Jonathan—I can tell you that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Haley could—and did—get whatever guy she wanted. Why would she go after Jonathan? He wasn’t her type.”
“Who was her type?”
“Angel. He had the money, the car, the connections, and…the body. No offense to your friend, but he’s not her type.”
“Why do you think she ended up with Jonathan driving her around and going to a party?”
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t trust her. Just my opinion.” Brian looked back at his phone and swiped intently. Astrid thought she had gotten him to say everything he would say.
“What do you know about Angel?”
“He’s a typical hard-ass player from North Minneapolis. Deals pot mostly, a little coke. Look, you a cop?”
“No, I’m a newspaper reporter in Sweden.”
“Whatever. Jonathan started selling from the bar. Dumb shit, right? Of course, he ended up smoking more than he sold and got behind. He owed Angel money. But that was nothing until Angel got the idea he was a rat.”
“Yeah, Angel always blamed Jonathan for ratting him out. He got busted in a parking lot waiting to meet Jonathan.”
“Do you think Jonathan would rat him out?”
“I don’t know. I liked him, but you never know, I guess. So what’s up with you and Rupert?”
Astrid had to think for a moment. “He’s my contact; he’s helping me with the case.”
“Why the fuck is some reporter from Sweden here investigating this?”
“Good question. Do you want to find out who killed Jonathan?” Astrid asked.
“Shit, yeah. You gonna do it?”
“I’ll try, Brian. But thanks for your help.”
He looked down at his phone again. “Yeah.”
Astrid went back upstairs and got a refill on her Americano. She took out her reporter’s notebook and made some notes. “Did Haley set up Jonathan?” was the first thing she wrote. She stared at the question, underlined it twice, and stared some more. She was deep in thought when Rupert spoke up from right behind her; Astrid jumped.
“Sorry, did I startle you?”
“No, I guess I was preoccupied.”
He had a cup of coffee and a cookie and sat down across from her.
“What’s the big news? You have something for me?”
“Well, where do you want to start?”
Astrid told Rupert about the trip to the junkyard. He was flabbergasted that they had reenacted the collision with bags of meat and an identical model car. He had been nagging the homicide squad to do even a drive-by reenactment. Astrid described the debris and raised her concerns about the lack of physical evidence collected at the scene. She explained that the sound was visceral. Anyone a few feet away, as Haley was, would have an immediate response to the sound.
“We’ve interviewed Haley several times now, and got nothing out of her.”
“Rupert, there is something else.”
“What’s that, Astrid?”
Astrid took out her phone and showed him the picture she took at the impound lot.
“What is this?” Rupert asked.
“It’s the Schrader valve from Haley Matily’s flat tire.”
“How do you get this? That’s evidence in a crime; you can’t—”
“Rupert, I measured the position of the valve works inside.”
“The what?” he asked.
“Inside the valve stem is the Schrader assembly. There is a piece that screws in. It must be all the way down to seal off the valve. On the Matily spare, the distance from the top of the valve stem to the valve assembly was three millimeters. When fully screwed down, that distance is seven millimeters.”
“What are you saying?”
“Someone unscrewed the valve assembly slightly…but not all the way. This would allow air to escape from the tire slowly. The result would be a flat tire, which would develop over the course of several blocks, like the distance between Haley’s driveway and the scene of the collision.”
“Wait, you’re saying that someone caused the flat?”
“How would you…who would? So can this be proven?”
“Yes, examine the tire…I can’t believe you guys didn’t examine the tire for the cause of the flat…you could even unscrew a valve on a similar tire and determine how long it would take for the flat to develop. But none of this will do much good if the chain of evidence was compromised.”
Rupert took out his notebook and began scribbling. “I’ll find the specs on the tire…and I’ll have forensics come out and look at this.”
Astrid broke off a respectable portion of Rupert’s cookie and started munching.
“Do tell them it was you that removed the evidence seal on the door, okay?” With that Astrid tore a page out of her notebook and passed it to Rupert. “Here is the tire, size, and valve type.” Rupert stared at the paper, folded it in half, and inserted it into his notebook.
“The question, of course, is why,” Astrid said.
“Why what?” he asked.
“Why would someone cause the tire to go flat? I think the most parsimonious argument is that Haley was working for Angel. They did find that scale in her car, right? Was it his, or was she selling? So, she set up the tire malfunction to occur within a specific area…that’s why the ice cream request…and when Jonathan was on the road she called Angel, who would have been nearby. He hit Jonathan; she claimed she didn’t witness anything.”
“Hmm. That’s quite a theory. But why would Angel go through all that trouble? Jonathan was at Haley’s house; Angel could have simply shot or strangled him and thrown him in Red Bear Lake.”
“Too messy. A hit-and-run allows everyone to get off without suspicion. Oh, I did have one question,” Astrid said. “What color is Angel’s car?”
“Blue, a light blue,” Rupert said.
Astrid wondered now if the debris Brendan Gustafson found was trash. Why would the front spoiler part be green when Angel’s car was blue?
“By the way, are you coming to the wedding?” Astrid asked.
“Well, I’ve been invited. I just…well, I’m not sure.”
“Maybe you could help me out.”
“Well, family, you know. I don’t have anyone to accompany me, and while I don’t think my mother or Andy mind, it’s his day, and I don’t want to draw attention by going solo. Would you consider being my date?”
“It’s just an expression, no ropes attached.”
“You mean strings?”
“Yeah, just accompany…unless you already had someone.”
“Astrid, I’d be thrilled to be your date,” he said. “I think it would be a blast.”
Astrid thanked Rupert, and the two finished their coffee. They spoke about police work, motorcycles, and Swedish novelists. Rupert turned out to be a fan of Swedish crime and detective novels. When Astrid gathered up her dishes and prepared to head out, she thought about how much she had actually enjoyed her time and their conversation. It reminded her of something she was now dreading…dinner that evening with the family, including Clive and Courtney.
Astrid drove home, stopping for gas, to pick up some flowers as Anna had requested, and at the liquor store. There, she bought a bottle of Mouton Cadet Bordeaux, some Pinot Grigio, and a bottle of Alsatian Gewürztraminer for dinner. She picked up a six-pack of Pilsner Urquell for Clive, and she bought a bottle of Absolut vodka for herself. As she traveled up the driveway, Smilla came out to greet her, barking and violently wagging her tail. Andy helped with the packages. Astrid was careful to keep the vodka tucked under her arm and brought it to her room. As she poured her second glass, she began promising herself she would behave at dinner.
Astrid peeled off her clothes and put on a bathrobe to make the journey down the hall to the bathroom. Once inside, she locked the door and turned on the water. Slipping out of her robe, she climbed into the large glass shower and pulled the door closed. Steam began to fill the room, coating the shower and mirrors. Astrid braced herself against the wall with an outstretched palm, and enjoyed the hot water rolling down her hair and back. She began thinking about her day. Did she make a mistake inviting Rupert to be her date at the wedding? It might raise Andy’s hackles. Astrid knew she could be selfish sometimes. He was good looking, but she didn’t have to worry about entanglements. At least, that was her working hypothesis. He almost felt like part of the family. That wasn’t all, though; she had a selfish motivation. Spending social time together would help the relationship, and Astrid felt they could be a good team when it came to working this crime. At some level she hoped Andy would like having him around. As heartless as it was, she thought he needed to be reminded of who he was. Andy was always confident, but she was concerned that Courtney, or at least being married, might chip away at that self-actualization, the way it had in other couples she knew who were married. Astrid turned her thoughts back to Rupert. She recalled riding his bike on the way to get ice cream at Sebelius and Jo’s. They were close, and she could smell the leather of his jacket. On one particularly rough turn she had put her arm around him. His fish-eyed reflection in the mirror revealed pleasure, despite his dark glasses. Astrid found herself aroused. She switched the showerhead to massage and within seconds had a satisfying orgasm.
When she returned to her room, Astrid refilled her glass and downed it quickly. She fluffed her hair dry with a towel and put it in a loose ponytail with a black scrunchy. She went back to the bathroom to brush her teeth and gargled with some mouthwash, then headed down to the kitchen.
“Oh, there she is,” Clive said. He walked over toward Astrid. She feared he would try to hug her, so she darted around the table nonchalantly. She came up behind Anna, who was leaned over a cutting board.
“Hej, Mamma, jag har saknat dig,” Astrid said as she put her arms around Anna’s shoulders and kissed the back of her head. She told Anna she missed her because they had not seen each other in days, despite living in the same house.
“Well, where have you been, anyway?” Anna asked.
“Yeah, someone was going to help with the flowers and the logistics, remember?” Courtney said.
“Hey, Courtney, I’m sorry. I’m here tomorrow. Can I help with—”
“Oh, yeah, Miss Crime Fighter, always looking for the story, right?” Courtney had a way of sounding like a snob even though she really had good intentions. She just used humor in a way that didn’t work. She didn’t seem to realize there should be a certain familiarity when one used sarcasm humorously.
“Can I get you some wine?” Andy asked.
Astrid mouthed the word “yes.” Andy knew she’d want the Bordeaux—she didn’t like sweet wines. “Mamma, can I help with dinner?”
“Yes, please. Can you please cut the dill?”
“Yes, and Varmrökt lax with romsås and boiled potatoes, all your favorites.”
“But really, red wine with räkor?” Clive asked.
Why can’t he pay attention to Courtney? Astrid asked herself.
“Well, maybe it’s time to switch to white. Andy?” Andy retrieved another glass, poured some Pinot Grigio, and handed it to Astrid.
Astrid helped put some of the dishes together while Courtney and Andy set the table. Finally, the group sat down to eat.
“So, Astrid, really, tell us about this case you’re working on,” Clive demanded.
“The one here?” she asked. She wasn’t trying to be immodest, but she was wrapped up in thoughts about Kalle Lundstrom and Acai as well as wondering who broke into her apartment.
“Well, Andy knows as much as I do.”
“Yeah, I heard about your adventure in the junkyard,” Courtney said.
“You mean the reenactment?” Andy said defensively.
“Oh, yes, tell us—what did you guys do?” Courtney asked.
Astrid and Andy looked at each other awkwardly.
“Well, we wanted to see if the impact of the collision…that is, the hit-and-run…um, was powerful enough to damage a vehicle, and what kind of debris might be…or should have been…at the scene.” Astrid took a sip of her wine. Clive reached over and refilled her glass. “Thank you,” she said. He smiled.
“What did you find?” Anna asked.
Astrid had just put a spoonful of potatoes dripping in romsås into her mouth. She put her hand over her mouth and said, “Um…”
Andy jumped in. “With the damage to the vehicle, there should have been more debris at the scene than what appears in the police report. Astrid has talked to one of the detectives, and he seems to think…”
“Rupert Olson,” Courtney said. “Your friend.”
“Yes, that’s right, Detective Olson. Anyway, he thinks that they failed to adequately search the area and may not have collected the evidence that was present.”
“Does Andy sound as though he’s talking more like a cop, or is it me?” Clive asked. He cast a warm smile toward Andy. Astrid smiled, relieved at how easily Andy and Clive got along.
“Funny. But there are a number of issues with the case,” Andy said.
“Such as?” Anna asked, delicately wiping a piece of räkor from her lips with her napkin.
“Well, for one,” Astrid said, “there are pieces of evidence missing, like the fragments from the front end of the car. And there is no surveillance footage. The only restaurant that had a camera had no files of the evening’s recording. And there are no witnesses.”
“And then there’s the girl,” Courtney said.
“The girl?” Astrid asked.
“Haley.” Courtney turned to Andy. “What did Kristina think about him being in Haley’s car?”
Astrid was resisting the temptation to get a pen and jot things down. But she realized there were several lines of inquiry she hadn’t properly investigated. She glanced at Andy. He was too aggravated with Courtney’s salacious remark to make eye contact, but she guessed his gears were turning too.
“Kristina assumed that Jonathan was trying to help Haley out,” Andy said.
“Were there any witnesses at the bar? I mean, why did he get in her car in the first place?” Clive asked.
“Good question,” Astrid said. “It seems that Jonathan’s van was parked there loaded with equipment. The officer on the scene thought she was intoxicated; maybe Jonathan was driving because she had drunk too much.”
“Didn’t they test her at the time of the accident?” Clive asked. Astrid was becoming impressed with his questions.
“Haley refused a Breathalyzer test,” Andy said.
“How could she do that?” Anna asked.
“Well, she wasn’t driving, and she had nothing to do with the hit-and-run—presumably—so they couldn’t force her to comply,” Astrid said.
“Hmm…looks bad,” Clive said.
“Well, yes and no. It would have looked worse if she claimed she saw nothing and was intoxicated. The cop said that there was ‘a distinct aroma of marijuana’ in the car.”
Astrid decided it was time to change the subject. “Clive, how are things going at work? Is it picking up?”
“Well, things have really heated up. I think with the market in the tank, that helps. It’s a great time to buy, but you have to sell. Instead, most people have decided to stay put and refinance,” he said.
“And they can’t fulfill the dream of a new home, so they—” Astrid interjected.
“Remodel,” Clive said. “Things have actually never been better for us. Most of my new equipment is paid for, and we have a good core crew that has been with us for a long time. They are very loyal; we’ve been one of the few operations that offered health care and retirement.”
“Even for part time,” Anna said.
“Yeah, must be the Swedish influence,” Clive said.
Everyone laughed, and Andy poured more wine for all. Astrid thought that Clive could sometimes be charming if he didn’t try hard.
Anna looked at Clive. The two made some kind of eye contact, and Clive shrugged his shoulders.
Anna said, “I have something I’d like to…talk about.”
Everyone became very serious. They knew what was coming would not be pleasant. Even Smilla sensed the change in mood and shifted from her bed to stand by Anna’s side.
Anna braced herself with a sip of wine. She smiled, but it was unconvincing. “I have been talking to so many doctors, but my oncologist and I—and Clive—we’ve discussed the options. Anyway, I’m going to have a radical mastectomy.”
Astrid reached over and held Anna’s hand. Anna fought back tears and smiled at Astrid.
“Anna, I’m so sorry,” Courtney said.
“Mamma, what did they say about the chances of eliminating the cancer?” Astrid asked.
Courtney looked like a deer in the headlights, uncertain of the decorum of being so direct.
“Well, they said with the radical mastectomy, it is nearly certain that they will remove the entire tumor.”
“That’s great,” Andy said. “That’s what you were hoping for.”
“Yes. They will do an immediate biopsy of the lymph nodes in the surgical theater to rule out any spread, but if that’s clean, it’s radiation and chemotherapy. But I could live for years, they say.”
“It was a tough decision. It’s a big step to take,” said Clive.
“But it sounds like the right one,” Astrid said, not meaning to be petulant.
“This is such a difficult decision for anyone to make. I just hope I can be there and help through the process,” Clive said in a self-congratulatory way.
“We will all be here with you, Mom, and we are proud of your courage and…how difficult it must have been…” Andy started being choked up, but his pride showed as he beamed through the tears.
Astrid squeezed Anna’s hand tightly. “Whatever you need, Mamma, we’re here for you.”
The group talked for a while about the procedure, the recovery, and Anna’s relationship with her oncologist. Anna talked more about the decision-making process, what she had read, and her support group. Then she had enough of being the center of the attention.
“Right now, I just need you to eat!” she exclaimed. “I worked hard on this meal; let’s don’t be such downers, okay? Eat!” With her imperative, dishes began clinking and glasses were raised to the woman who faced radical change and uncertainty. It was not a feeling of gloom, but one of embracing life, taking on its challenges, and refusing to do anything but live it for the most it could give.
After dinner, Courtney was engrossed in Gophers basketball with Clive when Andy stole upstairs. He knocked on Astrid’s door.
The door opened, and Astrid walked back to her comfortable chair. Andy came in and sat on the bed.
“Well? Are you going to offer me a drink?”
Astrid opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of Absolut. She handed him a glass and the bottle.
“Something on your mind?” he asked. He noticed several notebooks piled up on the windowsill and the bed, together with a map of South Minneapolis.
“Oh, a few things.”
“Want to talk?”
“I don’t know,” Astrid said. “I’m not sure where to start.”
“Yeah, I mean, that’s a big decision to make.”
“Do you think it was the right thing to do?”
“I think so. Maybe it was the right thing, I don’t know. I mean, as long as the cancer is gone, that’s all that matters.”
“Well, I wasn’t sure at first that Clive wasn’t pressuring her to keep her breast.”
“I know, but even Clive wouldn’t stoop that low, would he?”
“Not sure.” Andy took a steady hit on his vodka. “But this case is bothering you, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I just don’t know why things don’t fit. The tire valve suggests that someone, even Haley, staged the flat just so he could be struck down. Haley got Jonathan in the car. So everything points to Angel, right?
“Well, seems like it.”
“But why is there no physical evidence? No surveillance footage? Haley probably knew Angel, but none of the debris at the scene matches his car. I mean, they haven’t even looked at his car for damage. Something is going on.”
“Well, it’s true there should have been evidence on the scene. Maybe that’s why they haven’t charged him…no witnesses, no physical evidence.”
“Astrid, about the other night.”
“At the beach?”
“Yeah, I just wanted to say…”
Astrid listened silently.
“Rupert and I, well, we’re just friends.”
“Okay, so it’s not that serious?” Astrid asked.
“No, no, not at all. I’m very sure I know what I want, and that is to be with Courtney.”
“Andy, it’s none of my business…but, have there been a lot of men? Are you wanting to be with men all the time?”
“There have been a few. I have to be honest, Astrid, it’s more the individual. If I meet someone I really hit it off with and it happens, that’s fine. If I had ever met a guy I felt serious about, like the way I feel about Courtney, I wouldn’t hesitate to…I don’t know, go steady? It just never happened. I feel the same way about women, too; I just happened to wind up with someone I want to be with in a serious way.”
“That makes total sense. I think it sounds rather healthy, actually. I hope you’ve had good experiences. I know it’s none of my business, but does Courtney know?”
“Well…” Andy sipped his drink.
“None of my business.”
“So, Rupert,” Andy said.
“Well, he asked me if it was okay for him to come to the wedding as your date.” Andy smiled widely.
“Uh! Ugh, are you serious? I’m so embarrassed.”
“Don’t worry about it; it’s totally cool. We are close friends, and I hope we always will be.”
“Thanks for trusting me. I’m so glad you’re by big brother.” She got up from her chair and gave him a big hug. For some reason, probably the emotional release, possibly the vodka, both started giggling uproariously and rolling around on the bed. At that instant, Courtney opened up the door. Andy and Astrid froze.
“There you are,” Courtney said.
“Um, ever hear of knocking?” Astrid asked.
Courtney made a face that at once was embarrassed and indignant, while strongly disapproving.
The two stared at her until she shut the door. Then, Astrid and Andy looked at one another and burst out laughing. They were practically in tears. Astrid settled back into her chair. Andy scooted to the edge of the bed and laughed. He finished off his vodka and said, “Oh, boy, I guess I better go deal with it.”
Astrid was already engrossed in her paperwork and flipping through notebooks when Andy walked out the door.
Astrid drove back to Linden Hills. She parked across from Sebelius and Jo’s and walked south to the site of the crash. It looked like any other South Minneapolis street. Clean, well-kept bungalows with neat lawns, wildflowers along the sidewalks, and freshly painted screened porches adorned with giant butterflies or twirling garden ornaments. She tried to find the exact site where Jonathan’s body was recovered. From the maps in the police report, she estimated it to be in the grassy area between a specific driveway and one utility pole. She stared at the grass and shuddered at the thought of how a nascent life could come to such a violent end. She vowed to keep going until she figured out what happened that night.
One by one, she went to the shops and asked if anyone had surveillance footage. Most simply said no, but others became defensive, clearly suspecting her of casing their security. Astrid didn’t exactly look the part of investigator with her leather jacket and pierced nose. Working for a Swedish newspaper meant nothing. She at least hoped to get some leads and get the detective back to investigate anything that popped up.
Her next stop was Frank’s Famous Barbeque. She was lucky enough to get the manager, Eddy, and he seemed willing to talk. She said she wanted to ask about the missing security footage. They headed to his tiny office and passed the pit they called the Buddhist’s Nightmare. He was twenty-something with a hipster beard and clearly had an interest in Astrid. She didn’t reveal her hand right away, knowing that shooting him down would do nothing for her case. She soon found out that on nights when there was no manager, company policy was to prepare a DVD of all the footage. Like most security outfits, they were more concerned about the employees than the public. Apparently, when the manager was off, there had been several incidents involving employee theft, drinking, and smoking pot in the parking lot.
“I’m not surprised it’s missing,” he said. “Usually someone does something stupid and then he says he forgot to put in a DVD that night. You live around here?”
“So if someone had, say, downed some beers in the parking lot or taken a nap in his car, there may still be a DVD. He may have just taken it out and it wound up in the Dumpster?”
“Sure. You know, I already explained all this stuff to Detective Buckley,” Eddy said.
“Detective Buckley questioned you? Okay, thanks.”
“Ever tried Frank’s Famous? I could get you a nice rack of ribs,” he said, standing up too quickly.
“Thanks, but I’m good. Thanks, though…” Astrid forgot his name.
“Eddy, can I ask you for one more thing?”
Astrid sat in the courtyard at Sebelius and Jo’s with a coffee and a cup of When Pigs Fly. It was the first time she had experienced bacon-flavored ice cream. And people think Swedish food is weird, she thought.
Trying not to annoy other guests, who were all a fair distance away, she began dialing numbers. It was frustrating getting voice mail, even though it occurred to her that plenty of times that’s what she hoped for when calling people. She tried to imagine that in Tobias’s time there wasn’t even anything like an answering machine. If you didn’t pick up, you either were out of the house or were very impolite. After several calls, she reached one woman. Hers was the last name on the list.
“Natalie, hi, I’m Astrid Källström, a reporter at Insikt. I’m consulting for the Minneapolis Police.”
“What? You’re who?”
“Are you selling something?” Natalie asked.
“No, I’m investigating a crime. Look, were you working at Frank’s Famous on May third?” Astrid thought being decisive might help.
“No, I was scheduled to.”
Astrid was ready to give up as her last lead went dry.
“But I was there,” Natalie said.
“Could you explain?”
“Yeah. I was scheduled, but something came up, so I switched with Aidan. After I took care of my business I went to the restaurant to see if everyone wanted to go out for a drink later.”
“Do you know whether there was a DVD that night of the security footage?”
“I, uh…well, I didn’t…I’m not sure.”
“Natalie. Listen carefully. There was a serious crime that happened off the property of the restaurant, and we think the video might help. We don’t care what else is on the video. If we see what we’re looking for on Sheridan Avenue, we’ll ignore the rest, you understand? But this is very important. If you know where the disc is, Natalie, you have to help, okay?”
“I can’t…he’ll kill me.”
“Why? Tell me, Natalie.”
“Well, apparently there was this girl who used to visit him, and sometimes, you know, they went out into the parking lot, by the Dumpster and she’d…well, you get the idea. Aidan was closing. I was helping get everyone out so we could go to the bar. He saw the whole thing was on the DVD and flipped. What if someone saw them? It could end up on the Internet. So he took it.”
“Does he still have it?”
“I don’t know. He should have gotten rid of it.”
“Natalie, listen, does he still have it?”
“I think so, the pig, he likes to watch…”
“Okay, don’t say anything to Aidan. Can we go to his house and get it?”
“What, like you and me?”
“Yes,” Astrid said.
“You know what…yeah, sure, let’s go.”
Astrid suspected there was some jealousy here. “Okay, where are you now?”
Natalie was in an apartment in Steven’s Square, and it turned out that Aidan was only a few blocks away on Franklin Avenue. Astrid called Rupert and asked him to come along. The three of them knocked on Aidan’s door. His recognizing Natalie helped them get him to open the door. Once he saw Rupert’s badge, it didn’t take long for him to hand over the DVD.
“You have time?” Rupert asked Astrid.
“Oh, do I have time,” she said.
The two roared into the parking garage of the Minneapolis Police and climbed the stairs to Rupert’s office. He powered up his laptop with a whir and opened the drive. He removed a disc labeled “Coltrane” and inserted the DVD. A program automatically opened, and a grainy image appeared. It piqued their excitement to know that the footage was intact. The time stamp said that they would have to fast-forward. As they did, they saw Aidan’s indiscretion by the Dumpster with some woman in tight jeans and a hoodie. The entire episode was so brief in duration they would have missed it had they not been looking for it. Yet, Astrid was rapt—the oblique light from the overhead streetlamp, the furtive glances, the seediness of the Dumpster, and the willingness of the kneeling woman. She thought it came together to create a sort of pornographic pastiche that was undeniably erotic. Astrid and Rupert exchanged raised eyebrows. They fast-forwarded to the time of the collision. They assumed the time stamp was correct and started ten minutes prior to the event, watching every vehicle that passed. Then they did it again, and again. After several rounds, they ordered Chinese takeout and reviewed the film again. They plugged the laptop into a large monitor and turned off the office light. No matter what they did, they did not see Angel’s light-blue Subaru. The camera was on the driver’s side of the road, so they couldn’t immediately detect any damage on the passenger’s side of the front of the passing vehicles. Astrid had just stuffed a morsel of General Tso’s chicken into her mouth when she exclaimed, “Stop!” The food almost flew from her lips.
“What?” Rupert asked.
“There! See that? Go back. Now slow. Yes, there.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“That vehicle, the brake lights are on. It’s like they are driving the brakes, but there is nothing in front of them.”
“You mean riding the breaks?” Rupert asked.
“Yes, see. Now think about it. You just hit something in the road—what are you going to do?”
“I’d be coasting along with one foot on the brake, deciding if I should stop.”
“That’s right,” Astrid said.
“But wait a minute. If I hit a person, I would jam on the brakes. This…this is more like, I don’t know…”
“Like I think I hit something, but I’m not sure, so I’m going to coast with the brakes on,” she said. “Stop the video.”
Astrid looked carefully at the car; it was so far from the camera that it was not much more than a blur.
“This car looks black.”
“Yes, it looks black,” Rupert said.
“But what is that right there?”
“Not just a streetlight—it’s a mercury vapor lamp,” she said.
“Most streetlamps use mercury vapor; they last forever. The problem is these lamps give off a greenish tint due to the spectral range of the mercury. It makes skin look putrid, so the ones in stores are color corrected. The street lamps, though, are not.”
“This is all very…illuminating?” Rupert said, grinning and dipping into his egg foo young.
“Ha-ha. Okay, if the light is green and the car looks black, what color is the car?” Astrid asked Rupert.
“Oh, jeesh.” Rupert slapped down his take-away box and looked dumbstruck. “Green,” he said. “Shit.”
They both thought about the same thing. Brendan said he had found a piece of green plastic, probably from a front spoiler.
“Let’s go,” Rupert said.
The two climbed down into the bowels of the police building, into the bedrock through a narrow hallway. They traveled down the corridor past banks of lockers, antique file cabinets, and piles of retired desks. At the end of the hall was a doorway with a small window to the right. A man in uniform shrugged.
“Rupert Olson, homicide. I need to look at the evidence for a case. Jonathan Waltershaw, hit-and-run, May third…”
“That’s okay, I know the case. You’re the second one today looking for the evidence,” he said.
Rupert cast a glance toward Astrid, and they both looked puzzled.
“Here you go, sign here,” the uniformed officer said.
Rupert looked at the manifest. They went in through the shelves of long-forgotten stashes of drugs, weapons, and even a tricycle. A Bankers Box with the name Waltershaw was where it belonged, together with several other boxes bearing Jonathan’s name. Rupert opened box after box, but never found the green plastic.
“Who was the one who looked at the evidence today?
“Konrad Buckley,” Rupert said.
Astrid called Brendan Gustafson. He was certain he had given the green plastic to Detective Buckley. He said that he could be almost certain of the shape of the piece, and would sketch it out and send the rendering by fax. Astrid and Rupert now had something to go on. A green BMW, probably a Series 7. The slow driving, riding the brakes, if it was the car in question, meant they might be looking for a driver that was distracted or intoxicated. But where was the evidence?
Rupert gave Astrid a ride back to her car in Linden Hills. The two sat in his detective vehicle for a long time, talking and discussing the case. Astrid decided it was time to go and put her hand on the door handle.
“Well, thanks for your help,” she said.
“My help? You cracked this thing wide open. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“You don’t owe me anything, but I would appreciate your friendship,” she said. She reached across the front of the Ford Interceptor and kissed him on the cheek. He raised his sunglasses to his forehead and looked at her.
“We’re going to go all the way, right? I mean, we’re going to find who did this?”
“All the way,” he said, cutting a big toothy grin.
“Hej då,” she said.
When Astrid returned home, she grabbed Andy, who was absentmindedly staring at soccer on TV.
“Hey, Andy…I have to talk to you,” she said.
“Wha?” he asked, sounding sleepy.
“I’ve got something.”
“Okay, come out to the porch,” Andy said.
They traversed the girth of the house to the porch jutting off the end by the lake. Andy shut the door, and the two sat side by side.
“What’s going on?” Astrid asked.
“Oh, just not a good day,” Andy said.
Smilla was late following the two onto the porch and stood at the French door looking forlorn. Andy got up and let her in.
“Courtney wants my head.”
“Oh, oh, should I ask?”
“No, she wants your head too.”
“What? What did I ever do?” Astrid asked.
“The other night when she came in and we were rolling around in the bed, she had a shit fit. I think she’s jealous of you.”
“What?” Astrid couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry…it’s just that, I’m not sleeping with you—we’re brother and sister, for fuck’s sake.”
“I know, Astrid, she’s just…weird. She distrusts our closeness.”
“Well, is that a measure of how close you two are? I’m just saying, partners are never as close as siblings, but they—”
“Who’s jealous here, Astrid?” Andy blurted out.
“What?” she asked.
“You know you’ve never been totally okay with Courtney. I always get the feeling like she just doesn’t pass the Astrid test, you know? Like Clive, and hell, the rest of us!” Andy was shouting now.
“Andy? What’s gotten in to you?” Astrid asked.
“You never take any chances yourself, Astrid. You always play it safe, no commitments, no risk. You’re just like fucking Rupert.”
Astrid wanted to speak, but she decided to take a deep breath.
“Is this about Rupert?” Astrid asked.
“No, yeah, well…I don’t know.”
“Are you jealous that he’s my date for the wedding, Andy?”
“No…I’m not in love with him.”
“So what is it, Andy?”
“It’s Courtney. After she stormed into your room she got all in my face about you and me, and I wasn’t honest with her, and—”
“Oh, dear…I see where this is going. So you told her about…”
“So you two had a sort of coming to terms; everything is on the table. That’s actually healthy. If you’re going to be married, you should know most everything about one another. That’s good, right?
“Yeah, well, fucking no, she wants to call off the wedding.”
“What? That’s insane. Andy, she’s just got cold feet; she’ll get over it soon—”
“She told me she could never be married to someone who’s been with a guy.”
“Oh, please. I haven’t met a guy who hasn’t done something with another guy sometime…What’s the big deal?
“Astrid, your worldview isn’t relevant to someone like Courtney. She’s a very black-and-white sort of woman,” Andy said.
“Come on, like she hasn’t—”
“Astrid…I doubt it. Please don’t go there,” Andy said, showing his annoyance. “For once can you put all that cool behind you? Help me here.”
“Well, Andy, you told her the truth. If she can’t face it, maybe you need to rethink this.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Sometimes I think you always hoped that Courtney and I would break up.”
“Do you want me to talk to her?” Astrid asked.
“Oh my God, do you really thing that would help? You can’t be serious,” Andy said.
“I don’t know what else to say,” Astrid said. “Where is she now?”
“She’s at home.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Astrid said. “Andy, you need to keep an open mind. You two are just working out the machinations of a relationship. You’re under pressure. It will be fine.”
Astrid drove along Excelsior Boulevard to a tower of condominiums overlooking the northern shore of Lake Calhoun. She rang apartment 1206. Courtney answered and was reluctant to let Astrid in, saying it was late, and she wanted to wash her hair.
“I’ve got cosmos,” Astrid said.
Astrid took the elevator to the twelfth floor and knocked on the door, hoping that all this would just go away. Courtney showed up wearing a bathrobe over a tan teddy.
“Hey, thought you might want to talk,” Astrid said.
They walked to the narrow kitchen, and Courtney looked at the bottles Astrid had produced. The vibrant red color of the mix excited her, and she produced two martini glasses. Courtney expertly filled each with crushed ice and cold water from the refrigerator dispenser and stirred them until they were chilled. She then went into the cupboard and retrieved a Boston shaker. In the glass section, she placed more ice from the dispenser and poured in the vodka and cosmopolitan mix. She then fit the stainless steel cup on top, shook briefly, and poured the ice water out of the martini glasses. From a drawer, she retrieved a strainer and poured the chilled concoction into the glasses. Astrid was amazed that each martini glass ended up filled to the brim without a drop of liquid left in the shaker.
“I was a bartender in college,” Courtney said.
“Well, here’s to tending bar,” Astrid said, as she raised her glass. Courtney tapped her glass on Astrid’s. She was careful to keep the top of the rim of her glass a half inch higher than Astrid’s in a show of dominance.
“Shall we?” Courtney asked.
The living room was crowded with overstuffed furniture that looked comfortable, but left room for little else other than a television. The bookcases were filled with volumes, and Astrid immediately felt comfortable with all the books she saw. Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, and Alice Munro graced the shelves, together with so many southern American writers, including Astrid’s favorites, like Zora Neale Hurston and Eudora Welty.
“You know, I always thought of the American South like some exotic, dangerous place,” Astrid said. “It was a landscape that only dreamers and novelists dared unveil.”
“Well said. You might be a novelist yourself.”
“I do unravel stories, but I’m more like Steven King; in the end everyone betrays each other and they all die.”
“Thanks for the drink, Astrid. You know, you and I haven’t had much of a chance to talk. Maybe we didn’t always hit it off as best we could.”
“Courtney, I have a pretty jaundiced view of things, I’ll admit that. It comes from what I do. But I hope to get to know you better, now that we are going to be family.”
“You’ve talked to Andy. You two are inseparable.”
“Well, he is my only brother, in fact, my only sibling.”
“Well, then you know we’re having second thoughts about the marriage.”
“May I ask why?”
“Yeah, you should know—he’s been fucking some guy,” Courtney said.
“Look, it was a while ago. It may be hard to find this out now, but Andy is…complicated.”
“Complicated?” Courtney was starting to appear angry. “Is that some kind of touchy-feely way of saying it’s all right to sleep with guys?
“Courtney, calm down. I would just like to ask you, is it the intimacy that upsets you, or the fact that he had a gay experience?” Astrid asked.
“I don’t know, both.”
“This is a lot for you to process. If it helps, it’s normal for guys to have sex with other guys; it doesn’t always mean anything. I can assure you that Andy isn’t in love with Rupert.”
“Rupert? What the fuck, Rupert? He slept with Rupert? Oh, oh, this is sick.”
“Isn’t that what he told you?”
“No, he told me about Ricky.”
Who the hell is Ricky? Astrid asked herself. She started wondering if this wasn’t going badly. “And Ricky is?” Astrid asked.
“Ricky is my friend from college. We’ve always been close, and I’ve known he was gay since he was ten years old.”
“Just because Andy has the ability—I would even say the gift—to be attracted to both men and women, that doesn’t change the fact that he wants to be with you. He chooses you, Courtney. That also doesn’t have anything to do with his ability to be monogamous.” Astrid tried not to cringe. “If that’s what the two of you choose. Courtney, he’s the same old Andy. Would you want him to be less honest with you? Think of the courage it took him to come out to you. I didn’t even know about it myself, but when I did, I told him he had to be honest with you, that you deserved it. It may be my fault.”
“Oh, it’s not your fault, Astrid. You’re just a fuck-up.”
Apparently, Courtney was starting to get tipsy. Astrid finished her cosmopolitan and suggested Courtney prepare two more expert beverages.
“Oh, I guess it’s not so bad,” Courtney said.
“Courtney, I know how Andy feels about you. There is no doubt in my mind that he is totally committed to you. It would break his heart if you called off the wedding.”
They went back to the living room. Courtney put on some music; Astrid thought it was Keiko Matsui. They leaned back and let the couch swallow them up. Courtney was lightening up.
“There’s just one thing that maybe bothers me. Can I be honest with you?” Courtney asked.
Astrid sipped her drink. It wasn’t as precisely concocted as the first. “What’s that?”
“I guess I’m kind of jealous.”
“Yeah, guys just can’t keep it in their pants…um, I mean—” Astrid regretted her faux pas. The two looked at each other seriously, then burst into laughter.
“I’m not jealous of that; that’s a guy thing.”
“Oh, what is it?” Astrid asked.
“Well, I’ve never been with…you know, a woman. Why should he get to explore that part of himself but I don’t get to? Courtney ran her finger around the rim of her glass. Have you? You know, if you don’t mind me asking…I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s all right. Yes, I have.”
“See, I’m jealous. I’ve never even kissed a girl.”
Astrid thought briefly. She sipped her drink. “Well, would you like to kiss me?”
“No, I didn’t mean…I’m not asking—”
“I think you are,” Astrid said. She took Courtney’s drink from her hand and put it on the end table. Courtney looked terrified as Astrid moved toward her. When their lips met, Courtney fell under Astrid’s spell and loosened up immediately. Within seconds, the two were twined in a relaxed, passionate embrace and kissing deeply.
“Um, I’m not sure I—”
“Shh,” Astrid said, as she reached behind Courtney and turned off the light.
When Astrid woke up it was light out and she was in Courtney’s bed. This is really an “oh my God” moment, she thought to herself. What have I done? Now she felt that she had betrayed Andy. How could she tell him she had slept with his fiancée? She wished the two of them would just get their act together and get on with the marriage.
“Hey, you’re awake,” Courtney said.
“Um, yeah…How are you doing?”
“Good. I made coffee. Look, I need to go to the studio; we have a shoot today. There are eggs and bread—just help yourself.” Courtney came over and sat on the side of the bed. “Astrid, what you…we…it really meant a lot to me. You helped me sort through so many things last night, about Andy, and my needs, and our needs as a couple. Well, I just hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did.” Courtney reached over and brushed a tuft of hair out of Astrid’s eye. “I didn’t plan on sharing this with him; I think all things being equal, I get to have this for me.”
Astrid just stared at Courtney, at a complete loss for how to respond. How could this be the Courtney she had known?
“Um, okay, well I wasn’t about to bring it up,” Astrid said timidly.
Courtney reached over and kissed Astrid passionately. “Have a great day. I’ll see you?”
“Um, yeah, see you.”
Courtney banged some things around the kitchen, and then Astrid heard the door slam. She pulled the sheets up to her chin. What just happened? she thought. She hunted around for her underwear and jeans and pulled them on piecemeal as she found each. Her T-shirt was behind the sofa. She went to the bathroom and realized she had no toothbrush. What the hell? she asked herself and pulled Courtney’s brush out of the holder, dabbed some toothpaste on, and went at it. She made her way to the kitchen and smelled the coffee. Then she opened the refrigerator and pulled out what was left of the cosmopolitans. She found some orange juice and mixed the two together into a respectable morning blend. As she took her first long guzzle, she heard her phone ring. It took her a while to find it, but finally she followed her “Exorcist” ring tone to the couch and managed to reach it before the call went to voice mail. The caller ID said “Anders.”
“Where the hell were you?” Andy asked.
“Well, Courtney and I, we had a heart-to-heart. We drank a bit, so I passed out on her couch,” Astrid said.
“What? A heart-to-heart? You two? You can’t be serious.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised. Andy, she really does care about you; she just needs to come to terms with everything you told her.”
“Okay, and how’s that supposed to happen?”
“Normalizing. I helped…you know, normalize things.”
“Normalize? What does that mean, exactly? I’d really—”
“Hello?” Astrid called into the phone.
“Hold on, she’s calling me now. I’ll call you back.”
Within a few moments Andy called Astrid and was effusive; Courtney had seemed like a different woman, he said. The marriage was back on. “I have no idea what got into her, but thank goodness she found religion,” Andy said.
“Um, I don’t think it was religion,” Astrid said quietly.
“Anyway, I called you for a reason,” Andy said. “Are you still at Courtney’s? I’ll be right over.”
“Oh, no…you see, I’m just out the door. I’ll meet you nearby. Um, Cafe Wyrd?”
“Are you okay? You’re mixing Swedish and English. All right, Wyrd in thirty?”
“Ja, okey.” Astrid hung up. She suddenly forgot English.
When Astrid walked in the door she saw Andy at a small table along the wall, staring out the window. She sat down before ordering.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m losing everyone,” he said. “You, Courtney, even Rupert.”
“Andy, getting married is a stressful event, one of the biggest transitions in life. Everything is changing. We’re not kids anymore; we have to be a bit more serious.”
“Courtney told me.”
Astrid sank in her chair; she was running out of energy for what was quickly becoming, in her estimation, a drama. “Told you?”
“That you outed me and Rupert.”
“That was an accident, Andy. I thought you’d already told her.”
“No, it’s okay,” Andy said, “she didn’t seem to care.” He shifted in his seat. “I don’t know what you did, Astrid, but you got her to be accepting of everything as if I was just a normal partner.”
“You are a normal partner, Andy; that’s the point. And so is Courtney. You guys are going to be so happy together. You have to get to a point in your life when you’re past thinking about who you want to sleep with.” And that was a point Astrid thought she didn’t want to reach in her own life.
“So, what is this all about, really?”
“Oh, there is news about the green fragment.”
“Really?” Astrid asked.
“Yeah, there were several pieces of evidence that were removed from the boxes in storage. The debris, Jonathan’s clothes, and other items. Rupert isn’t sure what’s happened, but Buckley was the last one to sign for it. Take a look at this,” Andy said.
He handed Astrid a copy of Cities Reader, the local alternative press. “There is an article about Waltershaw. Take a look,” he said.
Astrid opened the tabloid and saw a two-page spread with a large, moody close-up of Lucinda Waltershaw, Jonathan’s mother. In the article, “Who Killed Jonathan?,” Mrs. Waltershaw castigated the police work and implied there was a cover-up. She promised to find the person who killed her son. Astrid read on and found that while the reporter had whipped up a lot of drama, there was very little substantive. Astrid was impressed that the article reported the police finding that Angel’s car had front-end damage. It was not stated, however, that he had said the collision causing the front-right damage occurred prior to the hit-and-run. He claimed he could prove it. She combed the copy and was relieved to find that there was nothing about the green plastic shard and the video of the BMW.
“I don’t know, but it’s getting interesting, isn’t it?”
Astrid read on, then stopped and sipped her coffee. Again, she had the feeling that there was something missing, something that she didn’t see.
“By the way, how was the couch?” Andy asked.
“Huh?” Astrid asked.
“I always end up with a sore back when I sleep on Courtney’s couch.”
Astrid jumped up, blurting out, “I think it’s time to talk to Haley.”
Andy and Astrid took Andy’s beat-up Subaru wagon to Lake Nokomis to see if they could speak with Haley. Astrid knocked on the door.
Andy looked at Astrid and said quietly, “What’s up with you? You have some kind of a glow.”
The door opened faster than they expected. “Saw you drive in,” said Haley. She was wearing athletic shorts and a loose-fitting tie-dyed T-shirt. She pushed her hair behind her ear and said, “I’m not talking to any more cops.”
Astrid said, “Do we look like cops?”
“What do you want?” Haley said in a whiney sort of way.
“Look, I know a lot of people have probably been bothering you. We’re not cops. I’m an investigative reporter writing an article on the—”
Haley immediately closed the door. Astrid put her hand on the door, stopping it, and yelled through the crack, “Look, I can write this with or without your point of view. You’re going to like it better if you have the chance to defend yourself. Let me do that for you, Haley. My colleagues won’t be so nice.”
Slowly, the door opened again. Haley turned around and walked away. Andy and Astrid followed her. She stopped in the kitchen and sat on a stool at the coffee bar. “You guys want something to drink?”
“I’m fine,” Astrid said.
“Yeah, me too,” Andy chimed in.
“Well, I’m having one.” Haley walked over to the shelf and pulled out a bottle of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey. She reached up for a glass, turned her head back, and waited.
“Well, okay, just a bit, maybe,” Astrid said.
Haley placed three glasses on the counter and poured a generous splash of whiskey into each.
She walked back to the stool, head down, looking defeated.
“Haley, we just want to hear the story from your point of view, that’s all. What happened that night?”
Haley told the same story she had a dozen times. It came across as rehearsed and contrived. She didn’t show any emotion, other than her eyes glistening when she discussed the actual collision and finding Jonathan’s shoe in the road. Astrid had her reporter’s notebook out but didn’t write anything much. She was becoming impatient.
“Haley, you’re not telling the truth.”
Haley turned and looked shocked. “What do you mean? About what?”
“Haley, you weren’t just standing at the stone wall when it happened; you were on the phone.”
“Yeah, I said that.”
“But you’re not being honest about who you were talking to. We have all the info from the phone company.” Astrid reached into her bag and pulled out an itemized list of phone numbers. She casually flipped through the pages and came to some highlighted numbers. “We know who you were talking to at the time of the collision, and before.”
“We’re just friends, that’s all. I was calling Angel to see if he was coming to the party.”
“You and Angel are just friends?”
“Yes, I told you, I was on the phone with him when…” Haley started crying. Astrid felt it wasn’t grief, but a reaction to the way the questioning was going.
“Haley, why were you letting Jonathan drive your car?”
“I wanted us to go to the party together, but I had too much to drink, so he was driving.”
“Okay, just one more question. How long were you two here, at the house?”
“About an hour, maybe an hour and a half.”
“During that time, was anyone else here?” Astrid asked.
“No, just the two of us.”
“So you were in the house the whole time?”
“What do you mean?” Haley asked.
“What I asked…did you go outside?”
Haley looked up and to the right. Then she took a sip of her Bushmill’s. “No, I don’t remember going outside.”
“Okay, thanks, Haley.” Astrid drank the rest of her whiskey and stood up. Haley started moving to the door. “Oh, by the way, did Angel ever work in a garage?”
“Sure, he used to work at the Lyndale Auto Center, but that was a long time ago.”
“Okay, thanks, Haley.”
“So, do I get to see this story, you know, before it’s published?” Haley asked.
“No,” Astrid said, “but I’ll call to confirm any quotes before I print. Of course, it will be in Swedish.”
Andy and Astrid walked down the drive and headed to the car. When the front door was shut, Astrid doubled back and looked over the fence to the backyard.
Once in the car, they headed home.
“Astrid, where the heck did you get her phone records? Rupert couldn’t even get his hands on them, and he’s a detective.”
She pulled the papers out of her bag and flipped through them. “Who says they were her phone records?”
“Oh my God, you highlighted your own phone records, and she thought—”
“Good move. So where are we now?”
“Well, we know she did call Angel before the collision and at the time of the collision.”
“And Jonathan was on his shit list. Angel is thinking Jonathan ratted him out; he owed him money.”
“And something else,” Astrid said. “There is a back door and a gate in the backyard fence. Haley could have snuck out to loosen the valve on the tire.”
“So, you’re thinking that Angel taught her how to do that, because he worked in a tire center.”
“Right,” she said. “And she was clearly lying when I asked if she went outside.”
“There are too many things unresolved,” Andy said. “First, does the collision on Angel’s car that the police know about predate the hit-and-run? Second, why was the debris not from Angel’s car? Third, wouldn’t the police have brought him in by now?”
“A lot of ‘ifs.’” Astrid shifted in her seat and brought out her phone. She had been waiting for a call from Tobias that was overdue. “First, the police seemed to screw up the evidence collection, and probably weren’t able to get enough to bring him in. Second, his accident could have been faked, or legitimate, because he may have used a totally different car for the hit…why use your own car?”
“True. Maybe that’s why the BMW.”
“I don’t think so.”
“The price point on a Series 7 is around $75,000. It’s not the kind of car you use as a hit-and-run. He’d want something beat up that he could dump.”
“So the BMW is out?”
“I didn’t say that, just that it doesn’t make sense.”
“But Haley is clearly hiding things, protecting Angel, confabulating.”
“Yes, she definitely talked to him, and she’s close to him. There is something going on here that I just don’t get.”
“Back to the drawing board,” Andy said.
When they got back to the house, Astrid went back on the porch with her large sheet of paper, sticky notes, and colored pens. Something had to be going on that she was missing. Then she had a thought.
“Hey, Andy!” she shouted.
He was in the other room watching television. “What?”
“Come here. Please.”
Andy came onto the porch. He looked at Astrid in front of all her materials.
“Have you seen Kristina lately?”
“Yeah, I ran into her at the bookstore yesterday; she was with her witch friends.”
“Her witch friends?”
“I just call them that. They are into Wicca.”
“Can you invite her over? I need her help,” Astrid said. “Tell her to bring her cards.”
“Cards?” Andy asked.
Kristina arrived to as much hullabaloo as the Gladwell house could produce. Lights came on, Smilla barked furiously, Clive thumped down the hallway, and people jumped out of their chairs. Once she had been properly welcomed and let in, everyone went back to his or her normal routine; Andy and Clive returned to watching sports on television, and Anna was working on her laptop.
Astrid took Kristina’s hand. “How are you?”
“I’m well, Astrid. Thank you. How are you?”
“Good. Thanks for coming,” Astrid said.
Kristina looked tired—not just in the normal way of being fatigued. She had deep bags under her eyes, and a bloodshot sadness masked her otherwise vibrant brown eyes. Her chestnut hair was thrown back in a vertical barrette, making a rooster tail that wagged as she walked. Astrid noticed how the warm tendrils captured the light and suggested a livelier, premourning woman who was full of life.
They went to the porch, where a large table was strewn with all manner of notebooks, papers, pens, and sticky notes.
“Can I get you something, a glass of wine?” Astrid asked.
“Sure, white wine.”
Astrid returned with two glasses of Chardonnay and handed one to Kristina.
“Kristina, I was wondering if you could help me?”
“Well, you know we’re working really hard to find Jonathan’s…uh, the person responsible.”
“Well, you have talent, I’ve heard, with tarot.”
“Wait a minute, you want to do a reading to find the killer? I don’t think—”
Astrid hurriedly sipped her wine to respond. “No. Not at all—that would be maudlin and not respectful. But I was hoping you might use the tarot to help me think about the crime in a different way.”
“How?” Kristina asked.
“Well, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up, in a bind, where you see the individuals in a story in a certain light. In fact, they may be something other than what they appear. So, by using the cards, we could maybe align each player, each incident, with a card. Using the cards as metaphors, we may see a dimension of someone or something we are currently overlooking. Does that make sense?”
Kristina seemed skeptical. “Tarot isn’t something to fool around with. On the other hand, it is really a tool for insight. How would this work?”
“Easy, we just go through each person or event and decide the most appropriate card to represent it…you know, psychically. Then you tell me the implications, we adjust things, and we optimize our metaphorical vision of the crime. It’s like a chess board, but more…esoteric.”
“Actually sounds kind of interesting. How do we do it?”
“That’s up to you,” Astrid said. “But we can start with a diagram or a layout.”
Kristina took a sip of her wine. She took out her cards and mixed them gently. She passed them to Astrid and asked her to touch them, shuffle them as she felt comfortable, to put her “energy” into them. Kristina sifted through the deck and immediately pulled out the Death card. She placed it at the center of the table.
“Death usually doesn’t mean dying literally, but in this case, it is the appropriate card to start with. Death means bringing something to a close, parting ways, so it can be the key event we are concerned with. It both represents Jonathan…his…passing, and the goal. That is to bring the crime to solution.”
Astrid looked at the card with its dark skeletal remains tumbled at the bottom of valley. She shuddered a bit and wondered if she was into something slightly over her head.
“I would want the Tower to go here too.” Kristina placed the two cards side by side.
Astrid knew the Tower was upheaval and chaos, a crash.
“And this is what we want.” Kristina produced the Sun card. She placed it above the Death and Tower cards. “This is you,” she said.
Astrid knew that Sun meant understanding, truth, or a breakthrough, an insight. She hoped that she could live up to the Sun and find the truth of what happened.
“Okay, so Rupert Olson, the detective.” Kristina placed the Hierophant to the right of the Tower card. “He is trying to understand, but in an orthodox manner.”
“Haley Matily,” Astrid said. Kristina seemed to hesitate. Suddenly she sorted through and selected the Devil card.
“This is interesting. The card symbolizes accepting an unwanted condition, being under another’s will,” Kristina said. “Is she under the wheel?”
“I’m sorry?” Astrid asked, not understanding the question.
“Was she a bystander, or did she have some part in this…Astrid?”
Astrid was confused. “Well, let’s focus on the cards, Kristina. I’m sure there are things about Haley that are upsetting, that bother you. I—”
“Forget it,” Kristina said. “Forget it.”
Astrid went to the kitchen to retrieve the bottle of wine from the refrigerator. Anna told her they were planning to eat and asked if Kristina would like to join them. Astrid said they’d be very busy and should not be disturbed. If they could not make it in time, they would eat afterward. When Astrid reached the porch, Kristina seemed almost obsessed. There were now over fifteen cards placed, with everyone in position, including Kristina herself, her mother, even Brendan the tow truck operator. Astrid was overwhelmed at the complexity and symbolism of the crime map, and all the players.
“What patterns do you see?” Astrid asked Kristina as she refilled her glass.
“Well, I see a lot of Major Arcana; many of the players in this scene have strong motivations and intentions. But the truth is scarce; it’s only peripheral.” She took a sip of wine. “Look here,” she said.
Astrid looked but did not see anything.
“You’ve got all this energy, but it doesn’t go anywhere.”
“Yes, that’s the impression I’ve been getting: there is something missing. May I?”
“Astrid you are so much closer to this than I am. Why don’t you try?”
Astrid reached for the deck. She flipped through the cards, uncertain of what she was looking for. She pulled out two cards: the High Priestess, and the Two of Swords. She placed them on the table side by side. They seemed irrelevant to her.
“I don’t know, I’m grasping at straws here.”
Kristina’s eyes were like saucers. “Why did you choose these?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I just thought they might fit. I’m not sure why.”
“Do you realize these cards mean something closely related? The Two of Swords is about hiding, turning away from responsibility, avoidance. The High Priestess is hiding, concealing something. These are strong withdrawing and reflecting cards.”
“Oh, come on, you mean…there is someone out there who is hiding, the real killer? And they are waiting, contemplating the reality of their actions?”
“Exactly, they think if they just blend into the scenery they will be unnoticed.”
“The green BMW,” Astrid said.
“What?” Kristina asked.
“There was a car on the surveillance tape; it looked black, but it was green.”
They placed the cards close to the Death and Tower cards, below the Sun card. “Why are there two?” Astrid asked.
“Good question,” said Kristina. “Unless…”
“Well, maybe you have two things here: one is the perpetrator, and the other is…”
“Motive,” Astrid said.
“Right,” said Kristina. “They go hand in hand, so they would be reinforcing cards.”
“Are these reinforcing cards?” Astrid asked.
“Absolutely, they are,” Kristina said.
“So what do they mean?”
“Well, both are avoidance, but the Two of Swords is more active; it suggests an impasse, fear to act because of implications.”
“Hmm, so motive to run from the scene. The perpetrator is hiding from punishment.”
“Well, think of it more like keeping your cool,” Kristina said.
“Then who is the High Priestess?” Astrid asked.
“I’m not sure,” Kristina said.
“If she’s not the perpetrator, then maybe an accomplice? A witness? She’s hiding something.” Astrid was growing confused.
“On the surface,” Kristina said, “the High Priestess is one who protects mysteries, inner secrets; she is a sort of guardian, or gatekeeper. She balances the masculine and feminine and holds a book of knowledge, or laws, sometimes thought to represent the Torah.” Kristina took a sip of her wine. “Oh, of course the person could be a man or a woman; these are metaphors.”
The two of them looked at the constellation for a long while. They didn’t talk much. Both agreed that they had done a great deal to find the missing piece tonight, and they had an entirely new perspective on the players.
Astrid sketched the cards on a large sheet of drawing paper. Kristina told Astrid that she had brought an older, disused deck. Knowing the unorthodox use she had planned for the cards, she didn’t want to use a “live” deck, and because of that Astrid could keep them.
At one point, Astrid held her glass up to Kristina, and they drank a toast. “Kristina, thank you. Why don’t we have something to eat?”
Astrid was sleeping soundly when her phone rang. She rooted around the bedside stand, then reached down to her bag on the floor and began digging around in it. She just managed to retrieve her phone before it went to voice mail.
A voice responded in Swedish, and Astrid became disoriented. She looked at her alarm; it read 3:11 a.m. It took her a while to understand what was being said.
“Your papa, Astrid, he is in the hospital.” It was Helena, her editor at Insikt. “I was with him a while ago; he’s going to be okay, but I thought you would want to know.”
Astrid was shocked awake, but it was not like a real wakefulness. It was more like a dream. She asked a thousand questions, and found few details. Astrid was stunned to find that he had been picked up in her apartment by Malmö Police. Helena wouldn’t get into any details.
Astrid thanked her politely and dialed her longtime friend at the Malmö police station.
“Sofia? This is Astrid.”
“Oh, your father, is he okay?” Sofia asked.
“Well, I talked to the doctors, and they say he’s going to be fine. He was apparently in shock. They feared he had a heart attack, but all the tests are negative,” Astrid said.
“Well that is a relief; we were all concerned.”
“Can you give me anything?” Astrid asked.
“Hold on,” Sofia said. Astrid heard the muffled phone and some bumping. It sounded like Sofia was moving to another office.
“Can you hear me?” Sofia asked. She was whispering.
“Well, it’s very odd. We got a call from a neighbor of yours. He said he had heard some bumping and a scream, then someone running down the stairs. He went over to knock on the door, but found it ajar. He didn’t go in, just called us.”
“What did you find at the scene?” Astrid asked, struggling to distance herself from the emotions she was feeling.
“That’s the thing. There was nothing amiss. No furniture turned over, nothing broken, just Tobias…your papa, on the floor.”
“What did he say? I know he would try to give some kind of statement. What about a description?”
“In the ambulance he said someone was in the apartment, something about a knife, and…”
“You, Astrid, he seemed concerned about you.”
“Thanks, Sofia. I owe you.”
“Well, you still haven’t come to any of our parties. Promise when you get back you’ll come visit us? Will you be back for midsummer? We are going to have—”
“I’ll try, Sofia. Was there anything else?” Astrid asked.
“Oh, one thing,” Sofia said. “There was an envelope with $10,000 of US currency on the table.”
“That’s it, he won’t say anything about it.”
“Sofia, where is the money?”
“Well, we have a few questions. It’s at the station.”
“Sofia, I got the call from my editor. Was she there, or did she call in to the scene?”
“Yes, we didn’t know who to call since you are in the States, so we called Helena.”
“Does she know about the money?”
“Umm…yes. She was in the apartment with your papa when they found it.”
“Okay, thanks so much, Sofia, you are an angel,” Astrid said.
“You too. Are you going to be okay? Ready for this wedding?”
“It sounds like he’ll be on the mend; I’ll keep in touch and come back if I need to.”
“Okay, hej då.”
Astrid put the phone on the bedside stand and lay back on the bed. A barely audible tapping sounded at her door. She got up and walked over, opening the door narrowly.
“Are you okay?” Andy asked. He looked half-asleep but concerned.
“Oh, it’s okay,” Astrid said.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Andy, it’s Papa.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s in the hospital…but he’s fine. He’ll be fine.”
“The hospital? How?”
“Oh, Andy, it’s a long story.”
“Maybe we need some tea.”
He took Astrid by the hand, and they quietly navigated their way to the kitchen in the dark. With Astrid in her bathrobe, clutching her mobile phone, and Andy wearing a long T-shirt and sweatpants, the two fumbled through the cabinets to retrieve tea and some cups. Astrid appeared to be sleepwalking and nearly dropped her cup into the sink. Finally, when the two had their pot of tea and cups on a tray, they made their way to the porch, followed by Smilla.
Astrid blew gently on the surface of her tea. “I told you about Kalle Lundstrom?”
“Uh, not really.”
Astrid explained about the Swedish CEO, the construction firm, and the collapsed roof in India.
“Yes, I remember you told me something about that,” Andy said. “So what about it? What does this have to do with Tobias?”
Astrid was struck. Andy never used to call her papa by his first name. “Well, we found out something.”
“Apparently the company behind the building was Acai.”
“Acai?” Andy asked. “The Acai?”
Astrid held up her phone. “The Acai. They were planning a manufacturing facility. When the roof collapsed, strange things started happening.”
“Like what?” Andy sipped his tea.
“Well, there was this media campaign, and everyone was saying the building was associated with Top Mart, some kind of garment sweatshop.”
“Oh, clever, that fits. Go for the working-class image, not like Acai’s hi-tech panache.”
“The next thing we knew they had cleaners in the field.” Astrid put her cup down, almost for emphasis. “They had fucking hit men.”
“No, no. Economic hit men, they come around and pay everyone off, keep the officials quiet, keep the story spun the way they want it spun,” Astrid said.
“So, you think one of these guys attacked Tobias?” Andy asked.
“I think so,” Astrid said. “They had already tossed my apartment.”
“What?” Andy sounded alarmed.
“They broke in and smashed everything. They were looking for something; I don’t know what.”
“Were you there?”
“No, I came in and found it that way. Papa said he’d keep an eye on things when I was gone. It sounds like he entered the apartment when someone was in there.”
“What would they be doing back in your apartment, Astrid?” Andy asked.
“Well, from what I know so far, it sounds like money. They were trying to pay me off, or Papa, I’m not sure. Something must have gone wrong. Either they hurt him, or maybe he just collapsed from the stress.”
“Money? What money?”
Astrid picked up her cup and looked at it disparagingly, as if to say, “You have no liquor in you, betrayal!”
“Andy, you have to promise you won’t say anything to Papa.”
“Okay, I promise.”
“Acai’s people got to me. They promised me a great deal of cash. I said I would take it.”
“What? Why would you? Oh, Astrid, that isn’t like you.”
“I was stupid. I thought I could set them up and expose them.”
“So you knew they would be coming to make the drop-off?”
“I didn’t know how or when they would approach me. After the break-in I thought the entire thing would have fallen through,” Astrid said. “I had no idea they would be there when Papa…”
“Astrid, you couldn’t have known. But why do you insist on fucking around with these people? You know they are dangerous.”
“There’s another thing,” Astrid said. “Kalle Lundstrom, the CEO, killed himself.”
“Because of the exposure?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“What?” Andy asked.
“Now I’m thinking maybe the money could help the family; it’s my fault.”
“So what’s next?”
“I guess we should tell Mamma.”
They drank the rest of their tea. Andy rose and walked up to Astrid. He tousled her hair and said, “For now, let’s see if we can’t get some more sleep.”
“You go ahead, Andy. I’m going to try calling again in a while.”
“Okay, tell me if anything changes,” Andy said.
Andy went back upstairs. Oddly, Smilla didn’t follow him this time. She dropped her chin on the sofa and raised her ears. Astrid patted her head and tickled her ears.
“Smilla, what am I doing?” she asked.
Smilla wagged her tail but didn’t answer. Astrid leaned over and put her head on the pillows. Just then, she heard the robins in the yard. It was morning.
Several hours later, Astrid awoke and climbed upstairs to bed. Under the covers, she indulged in a sleep laden with vivid dreams. She imagined she was in a canoe with Smilla and Andy. They were peacefully paddling downstream on a gentle river. Astrid looked down and saw dozens of fish in the bottom of the canoe. They were gulping, desperately struggling for air. They were squirming, and among them were tarot cards. Astrid leaned over to pick one up. She turned it around and stared at the image. The High Priestess. The priestess sat on a throne in front of two columns. Between them a rich fabric hung, maybe velvet, obscuring what lay just beyond. In her lap was a neat pile of fresh hundred-dollar bills. As she stared intently at the image, she heard a growing thunder. Suddenly Andy screamed her name. She looked up and just ahead of them. The river became roiling rapids, with white water whipping and froth blowing across the river into their faces. Rocks were everywhere. Andy turned to look at her, asking what to do. Astrid! Astrid! he asked.
Astrid woke to find Andy standing next to her bed calling her name.
“For Christ’s sake, wake up. Your phone is ringing.”
Andy handed her phone to her and, sleepily, she ran her fingers through her hair and pushed it into her ear.
“What? Okay.” She looked quizzically at Andy. “Hello, Papa? How are you? Yes, okay.” She hung up the phone. “He wants to talk to Mamma.”
The two went downstairs to the kitchen. Clive had left for work, and Anna was cleaning up his breakfast dishes.
“Do you two need something to eat? There’s coffee.”
Astrid made a beeline for the coffee and stole a piece of bacon from Clive’s leftovers on his used plate. She took a generous bite, then handed the rest to Smilla. “Mamma, I need to talk to you.”
“Yes, is everything okay?”
“Well, no, not really.” Astrid took a sip of coffee, raising her eyebrows as it went down. “Papa’s in the hospital.”
“What?” Anna asked.
“He was attacked. In my flat.”
“How could that be?”
“My apartment was broken into. It probably has to do with a story we’re working on. Anyway, he was checking on the flat. My guess is he went in when someone was in there, and he was attacked. He wasn’t badly hurt; they think he just blacked out, maybe from his blood pressure.”
“Oh, Astrid, that’s horrible. What can I do?”
“He wants to talk to you.”
“Um, really? Well, okay,” Anna said.
“And, Mamma? You need to tell him.”
“Astrid, this isn’t the time.”
“Please, Mamma, he needs to know,” Astrid said.
“Well, let’s see.”
Astrid called the number and handed the phone over to Anna.
“Hello…yes, um, hello, Tobias?” Anna spoke reluctantly into the phone.
Astrid signaled to Andy, and they left the kitchen. Anna had been talking for almost an hour when she put the phone on the counter and sighed. She sat down at the table. Tears ran down her cheeks. She sat for a long while before standing, carefully pushing the chair in so it aligned perfectly with the others, then walking upstairs to her room. No one saw her for the remainder of the day.
Everyone moved about the house as if in a trance. People watched phones, and any ringing led everyone to run to the kitchen, the unofficial meeting center, where the household members shared their updates.
Finally, at about eight o’clock, Astrid called everyone, and she, Anna, and Andy were standing in the kitchen.
“I spoke to Papa; he’s fine,” Astrid said. “Of course, he’s giving everyone a hard time. He believes nothing bad has happened and he’s fit to go home.”
“Well, sounds like Papa,” Andy said. Astrid was tickled to hear him refer to Tobias as Papa.
“They are going to send him home in the morning. I told him to stay away from my flat. Mostly, he said how much it meant to him to talk to you, Mamma. I think that’s what gave him the strength to overcome what he experienced. Anyway, he’s safe; the police said they would send a car around his place and keep an eye on him.”
“Thank goodness,” Anna said. “I just want him to be safe.”
Suddenly, Smilla started barking and running to the door.
“What?” Andy said.
He followed Smilla to the door. Astrid kept one ear toward the direction; she was curious why Smilla was so alert. Astrid heard the door open, and Smilla immediately calmed. Then there were two low voices. Finally, she heard Andy say “Come on in.”
The sound of leather squeaking came before footsteps, and Astrid knew it was Rupert. Andy entered the kitchen, followed by Rupert. Both seemed pensive and distraught. Rupert cast a furtive glance toward Astrid and blinked as he saw Anna.
“Hello, Mrs. Gladwell, Astrid.”
“Detective Olson,” Anna said.
“What’s going on?” Astrid asked.
“Well, I’ve got some bad news,” Rupert said. “It’s a tragedy, really.”
Everyone stood awestruck, waiting for him to tell them what was happening.
Andy looked at Astrid as if to say “I’m sorry, this is bad.”
Finally, Rupert continued. “I’m sorry to say that Haley Matily has attempted suicide. She took an overdose and is in Hennepin County. She’s on life support; it doesn’t look good.
“An overdose of what?” Astrid asked.
“We don’t know for sure. There were several bottles of prescriptions drugs. We think lithium, plus a second drug, a dye…”
“Diuretic,” Astrid said.
“They have her on dialysis, but the damage to the brain…well, it’s probably irreversible.”
“Who was bipolar?”
“What?” asked Rupert.
“Whose lithium was it?” Astrid asked.
“The prescriptions were Mrs. Matily’s. That’s all I know.”
“Were there any signs of a struggle or physical harm?”
“Well, Astrid, I can’t really…I’ve already told you too much.”
“Was she at home or somewhere else?”
“At home,” Rupert said. “You know, I need to get back to work.”
“Thanks so much for coming by, Detective,” Anna said.
Astrid went across the room and put her hand on Rupert’s arm. “Thanks for coming; it means a lot to all of us.”
Rupert nodded his head and walked down the corridor. Once he was out of the house, Astrid hustled through the front door and ran up behind him.
“Rupert, what’s going on?”
“This is getting very political all of a sudden; everyone who is anyone has something to say about this case. I’m in a shit storm.” He straddled his bike and looked at Astrid. “Look, if you find something, you better let me know; I’m under the gun.”
“Only what we’ve discussed, Rupert. Listen, is there a chance Haley will regain consciousness? Let’s see if we can ask her a few questions.”
“I doubt it. You won’t get near her.”
“Okay, well, thanks.” Astrid reached over and kissed him on the cheek. His afternoon beard tickled her nose, and she almost sneezed. “Thanks for coming.”
“No problem.” Without looking back, he throttled off into the darkness of the driveway, his headlight bobbing like a searchlight through the trees.
Andy came out of the house and came up behind Astrid.
“He’s like that, you know. Don’t worry, he’ll come around.”
“Okay, thanks,” Astrid said.
Andy put his arm around Astrid’s shoulder, and she craned her neck as she looked up at him. “This is too fucking weird.”
“Yeah, I think. Let’s get a drink.”
They went out on the dock with a bottle of red wine and two glasses. Astrid pulled a Djarum from her jacket pocket. She lit it and puffed furiously, then sat back in the lounge chair, sipping the Shiraz Grenache. “Oh, man, I love Grenache…any Grenache; take me away…” She handed the clove cigarette to Andy. He took a few tentative puffs.
“Do you think she’ll make it?” he asked.
“Not sure, if she took a diuretic with lithium. But who would know to do that? You’d have to be a doctor.”
“Well, lithium is toxic in huge doses, but overdose is not practical. Because lithium is eliminated by the kidney, if you take a diuretic, you can increase retention of lithium, and increase the dose, reaching toxic levels.”
“What? So you just read the New England Journal for fun? How do you know that?”
“Oh, I knew someone in university that was bipolar. But taking lithium and a diuretic, you’d have to be experienced to know how to combine those. Most young girls take sleeping pills. It can’t be a coincidence that she took those two drugs. This is most likely a homicide, not a suicide.”
“Okay, so what about Haley?”
“Well, let’s see if we can interview her,” Astrid said.
“How? Impossible. They won’t let you anywhere near her.”
“I can try, eh?”
Andy and Astrid arrived at the Hennepin County Medical Center parking ramp just before noon. Astrid thought that most of the staff would be on break at noontime and they would not schedule any procedures during lunch. Astrid pleaded with Rupert to tell her the shift change for the protective officer at the door. He could have lost his job and pension for this one thing. But he knew that if anyone would get anything that would be helpful to the case, it would be Astrid. It was 11:50. Astrid knew enough about cops to realize there was a likelihood of a gap in coverage, so she took that as the time to make her approach. She entered the ICU and wandered around the nurses’ station chatting up any young man who fell under her guile. She hated doing that, but, hell, it was so easy, and she needed a way to get from point A to point B. At about eleven thirty, the officer at Haley’s door looked at his watch. He adjusted his belt and trousers. For sure, he needed to go to the bathroom. His replacement arrived. They chatted briefly. The new guy indicated he needed to go the men’s room before starting and began in that direction. The other guy shrugged his shoulders and headed in the same direction. Astrid excused herself from the cute resident who was talking with her, and dashed over to the room marked “H. Matily. No visitors.” Astrid’s heart thumped as she came closer to the room. She tried to act nonchalant as she pushed the door open. At the same instant, a woman emerged from the room. Astrid was taken aback; was this a relative who would recognize her as an interloper? The two almost bumped into one another. Astrid looked at her. She was about the same age, early twenties. She was shorter than Astrid. Her eyes were blue, her lips full and carmine, and her hair was a vibrant red. She had a kind of stature and presence that impressed Astrid so much that she paused.
“Excuse me,” Astrid said.
The woman pushed by without saying anything. Astrid turned and looked at her as she passed. There was something about her, a sense of entitlement.
Astrid entered the room and found the scene far more dismal than she expected. Haley was on a ventilator, and a monitor beeped out her vital signs. Astrid put her hand on Haley’s forehead and gently brushed her hair back. “I’m so sorry, Haley,” Astrid whispered.
She turned around and left the room, cognizant of the expensive cologne she sensed, presumably from the red-haired visitor.
Just as she reached the end of the corridor, she saw the duty officer returning from the men’s room, checking his fly and adjusting his belt. Astrid deflected the accosting resident she had been talking with her earlier. Soon she was back in the parking garage.
“How did it go? Did you talk to her?” Andy asked.
“No, but I saw someone else,” Astrid said.
“Who?” Andy asked.
“The High Priestess.”
Anna was not in the kitchen in the morning, and the scene was noticeably subdued. Andy ate cold cereal, and the coffee was much stronger than she would have made it. The table was not set; it was everyone for himself. Courtney’s was the only face that was slightly animated. Apparently, she had spent the night. She looked at Astrid with a smile that bordered on salacious. Astrid smiled back warmly.
Clive was mesmerized by the sports section of the Star Tribune. Astrid reached over and looked at the national section.
“So are Minnesota politics big in Sweden?” Clive asked, without turning away from the paper.
“That wrestler governor of yours gets a lot of press. It’s not always so flattering though,” Astrid said.
“Well, it looks like our senator may be up for the vice-presidential nomination, if things go well.”
Astrid thought about Derek Dickson. He was ten points ahead of the president in the polls and was slated to win back the White House for the Republicans, largely due to the failure of the Democrats’ health-care policy. “So Senator Carlsson is going to be on the ticket with Dickson, eh?” Astrid asked.
“Where’s Mamma?” Astrid asked.
“Upstairs,” Clive said.
“Is she okay?”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Clive said perfunctorily. “Why?” He flipped pages and sipped his coffee.
Um, she just found out Tobias was in the hospital and told him she has breast cancer. Why be concerned? Astrid thought. “No reason,” she said sarcastically. She poured a cup of coffee and took a sip of orange juice out of the carton. Courtney stared disapprovingly.
“I’m going to say good morning.” Clive completely ignored her or didn’t hear what she said.
Astrid went upstairs and gently knocked on Anna’s bedroom door. There was no response. She thought about coming back, and turned to head back down the stairs. Just then, the door opened.
“Oh, Astrid,” Anna said.
“Mamma, are you okay?” Astrid could hardly think of a day when Anna hadn’t been in the kitchen by dawn, jump-starting everyone’s day and making them all feel cheerful.
“Come on,” Anna said and opened the door.
Anna sat down in her rocking chair and signaled Astrid to sit on the bed. Astrid leaned on her hip and drew her legs up under her bathrobe.
“I talked to your father yesterday.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I’m terribly worried about him, ever since the stroke.”
“Stroke? What stroke?”
“It was a tiny stroke, a TIA, but nonetheless…”
“When did that happen?” Astrid asked.
“A year ago. Astrid, you were in the middle of so many things, getting your apartment. The doctors said there were no long-term consequences; he was fine. But he had to take care of himself to prevent a worse event.”
“Okay, that’s when he started taking the blood-pressure medications,” Astrid said.
“Yes, and he’s been fine on that. But his passing out in your apartment, Astrid…I’m sorry, but I think he had another stroke.”
“Oh, Mamma. It’s my fault.”
“I knew you would say that, and so did he. It is not your fault, Astrid…do you hear me? It was very minor. He is going to be at risk for these ministrokes every time his blood pressure spikes or he has extreme stress. And having a knife held to your throat—”
“What?” Astrid looked shocked.
“He didn’t want you to know, but someone came up behind him and put a knife to his throat. They told him to take the money and shut up or they would kill him.”
“Oh, God, that’s horrible. Poor Papa,” said Astrid.
“They said they were going to kill you too. Astrid, they were inside your apartment. I don’t like this. What you’ve been doing has always been dangerous, but this is too much. This really upsets Tobias, too.”
“And that’s not what I want, especially now. Did you talk to him about your health?”
“Yes, reluctantly. I felt he had to know, but the timing is awful, and I didn’t want to add to his stress.”
“How did he take it?”
“He cried. Like a baby. Astrid, I don’t know what to do with him; he’s hopeless.”
“He still loves you, Mamma.”
“Yeah, or maybe it’s the booze.”
“Well, there’s that. But I can see it in his eyes when he talks about you. That’s why he couldn’t come. He’d be devastated.”
“Well, tell Andy that. He’s crushed that his father isn’t coming to his wedding.”
“He refers to him as ‘Tobias.’ Did you know that?” Astrid asked.
“I’ve heard him do that,” Anna said, “but does that really matter?”
“It matters to me; he’s our father,” Astrid said.
“Astrid, there’s something else.”
“He told me about you.”
Astrid had to think. “What about me?” she prodded.
“Come on, Astrid, don’t play games. He said you’re bipolar.”
“Well, he should know. He made the diagnosis before the psychiatrist. It’s true.”
“Are you taking your medications?”
“Right now? No.”
“And you drink so much, Astrid,” Anna said.
“Mamma, I came up because I was worried about you. Don’t think about me; take care of yourself.”
“Uh-huh, sounds like someone is avoiding the issue. You are so like your father.”
“Okay, what do you want to know?”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Since university, my first year. I was depressed all the time. I’d occasionally have these great highs, and get all my work done. I’d stay out all night. But there was a dark side. I’d spend all my money on things I didn’t need, even borrow money to buy drugs.”
“Did the medication help?”
“Yeah, at first, but I felt so…I don’t know, flattened. And I gained so much weight.”
“Like I had no range of emotion. It was all just the same. I missed the highs, but every time I cycled I ended up going lower and lower when I crashed. At one point, I assaulted a police officer in Umeå and ended up in jail for a few days.”
“Oh, Astrid, he didn’t tell me that.”
“It was a long time ago. I’m fine now, really.”
“Astrid, you medicate yourself with alcohol—don’t you think I see that? Tobias is worried about you; he wants you back on your medications, but you can’t drink like a fish on these pills.”
“I’ve been fine. I don’t have the impulses I used to have.” Astrid thought about Courtney.
Anna stood up and walked up to Astrid. She took her hands and pulled her off the bed. They hugged. “Astrid, honey, I shouldn’t lecture you. There’s no judgment. Please just let me know what you’re going through, okay?”
“Okay.” Astrid stepped back. “But what about Papa?”
“He’s going to be fine. The neurologist said he can be on his own and there won’t be any fallout from the stroke. You don’t have to return to Malmö, and he said he’d give you a call. He’s going to take a short holiday in Copenhagen. He’ll stay with friends of Helena’s for a few days. They have room and would enjoy the company.”
“Okay, Mamma.” Astrid pulled her back, and they hugged again. “Want some breakfast? I’m going to make crepes.”
“You? You are going to make crepes? Oh, this I have to see.”
Astrid outdid herself with crepes that were light and fluffy. They were so thin it was almost possible to read a newspaper through them. Everyone drowned theirs in leftover smoked salmon, fresh dill, bacon, and romsås. Clive decided to go in late and joined the fest, but Astrid thought he was just happy to see Anna back to her morning routine. Even Smilla celebrated, as she got both the botched-up crepes and salmon scraps. After the repast, Andy and Courtney excused themselves. The wedding preparations were accelerating, and they had to do a site visit and some shopping. Anna and Astrid started cleaning when Clive came up and demanded he do the tidying up. Anna and Astrid took a walk to the dock and sat on the chaise lounges. It was a capital morning, perfect in every way. The air was crystalline, and the early-morning sun drenched everything in long arcs of golden light. They chatted about things easy to speak about: what Anna was wearing to the wedding, how she had to lose three pounds to get into her gown, the cost of the catering, and how much the Lund’s Market charged for capers. They were enjoying themselves, when Smilla started barking. Astrid looked up and saw her bounding across the yard. Then she saw an unmarked police interceptor in the driveway.
“Ugh,” she sighed. “No peace. What is going on now?”
Astrid walked toward the vehicle and greeted Rupert as he emerged. He had on a nicely cut sport jacket and was wearing a tie. He yanked away his sunglasses.
“Hey, Rupert,” Astrid said.
“Hey, Astrid,” he said. “Not good news.”
“Haley died last night. I don’t have the medical examiner’s report; they should be finishing up the postmortem this morning.”
“I’m sorry, Rupert.” His expression didn’t change.
“Is Andy here?” Rupert asked.
“No, he had to do…stuff.”
“Well, listen. There is a press conference at eleven. The Minneapolis Police have designated Angel Rivera as a person of interest and brought him in for questioning.”
“On what evidence? I thought you didn’t have anything.”
“Get your notebook and tape recorder; I’ll bring you to the presser.”
Astrid quickly threw on some professional-looking slacks and a V-neck sweater. She slipped into some low heels and put on a string of pearls she borrowed from Anna. She braided her hair, then grabbed her press ID, her reporter’s notebook, and a small digital tape recorder. Astrid hopped in the car after having been gone for all of fifteen minutes.
“That was fast,” Rupert said, “and you look great.”
“Thank you,” Astrid said.
“You could be a detective in a getup like that.”
“Um, let’s remember which sides we’re on, okay?” It felt wrong to joke considering the circumstances, but Astrid really did like Rupert’s company. Astrid told Rupert she didn’t think that Haley committed suicide and explained her theory. He seemed to consider her view but was reluctant to call it a homicide until he received the medical examiner’s report. She asked whether they could charge Angel. Rupert explained that the FBI had found several automotive paint flecks embedded in Jonathan’s clothing. Some were blue, the color of Angel’s vehicle.
“It doesn’t make any sense, Rupert.”
“Why?” he asked. He turned down the police radio. They pulled up to a light, and he turned to look at her. She could tell he was still taking in the transformation in her look.
“Well, first, why be stupid enough to use your own car to do a premeditated murder?
“True, it’s not smart, but have you met Angel Rivera?”
“Okay,” Astrid said. “Did the paint flecks match the manufacturer’s specification or the prototype samples?”
“What? How do you know all this stuff? You really are a detective, aren’t you? No, that hasn’t been done yet.”
“So they’re just blue.”
“Um, well, there’s a problem with that, anyway,” he said.
“What, what problem?”
“Well, the chain of custody for the evidence is so poor for the clothing that we don’t think it would hold up in court, even if it were a perfect match.”
“So, why the press conference?” Astrid asked.
“It’s good PR. We have to do something now that our only witness is dead, and…well, the truth is…”
“Astrid, you seem to know a lot about cops, okay? I’m not going to bullshit you. Most of the time we have nothing. In this case, the chip isn’t going to help. But Angel doesn’t know that. He thinks we have the goods on him. If we can just get him to admit to it, we have our man.”
“Yeah, if he did it, if that even matters. And if he’s too stupid to ask for a lawyer,” Astrid said.
“Okay, now you sound like a reporter.”
Rupert’s mobile phone rang. He reached in his breast pocket and swiped it on. It was Andy. He had heard something on the news and wondered what was going on. Rupert told him they were headed to the press conference directly and he could meet them there if he wanted, but Andy said he would be busy all day.
They arrived at City Hall, and Rupert parked in the police vehicle area.
“We probably should go in separately.”
“Of course,” Astrid said. “Rupert?”
“I have one question. Were there any other paint flecks on the shirt?”
He knew the question was coming. “Yes. They were dark green.” He suspected someone tampered with the evidence, adding the blue paint chips.
The press conference didn’t reveal anything new. It was a puff event, designed to make it look like they had apprehended the killer. Astrid guessed Angel would be on the street in about twelve hours. In the end, the police would look worse for having fouled up the evidence. There was one good thing. It would be clear that Angel’s vehicle was not the car that killed Jonathan. That would put pressure on the real killer, and pressure causes people to act, to make missteps. The real reason she went to the press conference was the chance, ever so small, that she would see the High Priestess. It didn’t work out as she’d hoped, and who would be so stupid as to show up with all these cameras? Then who walked right by the protecting officer in the hospital?
Suddenly, Astrid had a thought. She began scribbling in her notebook.
After the press conference adjourned, Astrid found Rupert with his hand on the coffee vending machine, almost like a big brother giving advice. She walked up, and they both stared at the dispensing door. Nothing seemed to be happening.
“I’m good. What did you think?”
“We need to talk. Your office?” Astrid asked.
“Okay.” He tapped the dispenser door in a futile gesture and started walking toward his office. “Sit down, please.” He had swept through and extracted a pile of files from the only chair in his tiny office. He sat at his desk and started toying with the computer.
“I have a question.”
“Wait, oh, look,” he said. “I’ve just received the autopsy report on Haley Matily.”
Astrid waited an interminable time as he read every line. She fidgeted and toyed with the papers on his desk.
“Interesting. It’s quite complicated. First, the primary cause of death was lithium poisoning.”
“Primary?” Astrid asked.
“Yes, but the proximal cause of death was hypo…hyponatremia.”
Astrid had to think. Then it hit her. “Oh, my God!”
“What?” Rupert asked, sounding slightly annoyed.
“The High Priestess…it’s her.”
“Hold on, what? Can you explain this?”
Astrid looked over his shoulder and saw a whiteboard with meetings and times written on it in neat rows. She ran past him, grabbed the eraser, and started erasing the board.
“Astrid! I actually need—ugh.”
“Okay, look,” she said. She drew a diagram on the board in blue.
“Yes, that looks like…what, a candy cane, a fire hose?”
“This is the proximal tubule of the kidney.” She took a red marker and drew some dots, then did the same with the green, then with the black.
After about fifteen minutes, Rupert started to understand what she was saying. When you take lithium, it is excreted by the kidney. Most of the lithium is reabsorbed in a part of the kidney called the proximal tubule, what he saw as the cane-shaped fire hose. When a diuretic is added, which is what happened with Haley’s overdose, lithium is reabsorbed faster, raising the blood levels. Both of these things could be fatal alone, she explained. But hyponatremia is the real killer. When sodium is low, the kidney tries to reabsorb it, taking lithium in with the sodium, and raising the toxicity levels even higher.
“So what is hypno—you know, the black dots?”
“Hyponatremia is simply having too little sodium.”
“How does that happen?”
“All it would take to cause hyponatremia would be to give someone too much fluid. Like the marathon runners who drink too much distilled water.”
“So the hospital screwed up,” he said.
“Well, that’s the elegant and truly malevolent thing,” she said. Astrid took the red marker and wrote in big letters, “The High Priestess.”
“I saw her coming out of the room,” Astrid said. “All she had to do was go in to the room and turn up the valve on Haley’s IV fluids. That’s it. Or she may have even changed the fluids from a salt solution to distilled water. Anyone could do it.
“But who would know how to do that?”
“Someone with medical training. And it implies the same person who initiated the overdose in the first place. Look at the report. Did they measure Haley’s sodium level?”
“Let’s see, electrolytes…sodium, yes. It was 118…M-E-Q.”
“What? One hundred eighteen milliequivalents per liter? She had hyponatremia, all right. Check her drugs—was she given something called aminophylline?”
“Yes, it’s here. Why?”
“Well that drug inhibits lithium absorption. With that on board, she should have recovered. With all due respect, this ‘reporter’ says you have a homicide on your hands.”
“Astrid, I want to hear more about this ‘High Priestess.’ But first, tell me how you know all this stuff?”
“Hmm, lunch out?”
Rupert and Astrid decided to go to someplace appropriate to their attire. They headed to Nye’s Polonaise. They ordered martinis, pickled herring, pierogies, and golbaki. Rupert told Astrid about his maternal Polish side, and she giggled at the idea of a Polish Olson. By the time they were well into their martinis, Rupert asked her again how she knew her way around the medical examiner’s report. She explained to him that she had been a pharmacy student in Umeå for two years, and that she had a friend who took lithium. Astrid wanted to discuss the case. She was feeling tipsy, but had some ideas.
“First, you need to seriously consider this as a homicide,” she said. “There are a couple of things that might help. Check the IVs and the records for the nursing and pharmacy dispensing history in the chart. Find out if there is any evidence that her IV infusion rate was accelerated. Second, check all the IV bags you can find to see if there are signs of tampering, such as an injection of water. Water, the perfect murder weapon, eh?” She took a sip from her martini and almost spilled it putting it back on the table. “Whoa, I’m feeling a bit woozy.” She looked at Rupert, who was staring at her, deep in thought.
“What about the initial OD, though?” he asked. “Okay, if I agree with your princess—”
“Priestess, High Priestess.”
“Let’s say she killed Jonathan. There needs to be motive for her to kill Haley as well. If Angel was the killer, I could see why he’d want to eliminate Haley. She would have been an accomplice that could roll on him. But you’re saying he’s not the killer, so this other person…Priestess…must have felt that Haley could expose her, but how?”
“Well, even if Haley couldn’t finger the Priestess, she could blow the Priestess’s cover by saying that Angel was not the killer?”
“Okay, I’ll subscribe to that.” Rupert took another sip of his martini. “But it’s weak. If Haley doesn’t have the ability to finger the killer, she’s only going to be turning up the heat. You don’t kill a twenty-year-old woman for that…usually. My guess is that Haley actually saw the collision and lied about it. She is protecting someone else for some reason.”
“But, what about opportunity? When would the Priestess have forced Haley to down the lithium?”
“Good question. But this whole thing—”
The server came to the table and said it would be a bit longer for the pierogies—would they like a second martini? Astrid and Rupert looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. “Yeah, sure,” Rupert said.
“Where were we?” Astrid laughed and blushed. “Oh yeah, opportunity. Where was Haley found, under what circumstances?”
“That’s the strange thing,” Rupert said. “Haley was in her bed. There were several prescription bottles on the floor. The toxicology report found a high level of alcohol in her blood. That’s usual for suicides, the disinhibition effect. But it wasn’t so high that she would lose control or consciousness. There was an empty water bottle in the room, presumably what she used to down the pills.”
“Check the emergency department chart. When they pumped her stomach, did they find the gelatin capsules?”
“And get your hands on that water bottle and have it checked for lithium.”
“What? I’m not following…”
The server arrived with their martinis. Both sipped the last out of their glasses and surrendered them. At the last minute, Astrid lunged for the olive, smiling at the server apologetically.
“Look, if you are going to do this, are you going to stand there and cram pills down someone’s throat? No, I would pour a solution of concentrated lithium down her throat. Ask them to check the toxicology for—”
“Exactly. By the way, did her mother have sleeping pills, Valium, anything like that?”
“As I remember, yes, she did.”
“So why lithium? And who would know to pick out a diuretic to go with it? Most girls her age would go straight to the alcohol and sleeping pills; it’s classic.”
“Good point,” Rupert said. “So you have to give me a complete description of this Priestess, and look at all the surveillance video from the hospital camera. In the meantime, I’ll get these tests ordered.”
Rupert called the medical examiner and explained the additional tests he needed. He also called the hospital and requested that they retrieve and retain any IV bags, needles, etc., from the room, including those from the trash. He had the nurse forward him to security, and he requested time to view the videos. The food finally came, and Astrid and Rupert feasted. They ordered coffee and sat until the cobwebs were washed out of their brains and Rupert felt it was safe to drive.
Rupert brought Astrid home. She insisted that she had to return the pearls before dusk, or there would be an all-points bulletin issued for her. They arrived at the house, and Astrid invited Rupert in. He felt he’d had a very productive day and decided to kick back a bit. Just as they were headed into the house, Andy drove up with Courtney. They looked piqued, but put on a smile to greet Rupert and Astrid, who helped them with their innumerable bags and parcels. Once inside, Astrid dashed upstairs to change. Rupert and Andy popped open some beer and planted themselves in front of the sports channel.
Astrid was planning to take a quick shower and had extricated herself from her business attire and put on a bathrobe, when there was a knock at her door.
“Hey, Astrid,” Courtney said. “May I?”
“Uh, yeah, come on in. What’s going on?”
Courtney walked across the room and planted herself in Astrid’s comfy chair. “Can we talk?”
Astrid was concerned about how Courtney would handle the other night. But at the same time, she couldn’t completely distance herself from the emotional connection she had made; part of her liked Courtney. She sat on the bed. “What is it?”
“I just wonder, Astrid. How do you do it?”
“Do what, Courtney?”
“I don’t know. You are so free. You can have emotional connections, then move on like it’s nothing, then have new friends—friends, lovers, whatever.”
“Courtney, is this about the other night?”
“Yes, of course. And no. Astrid, I think I’m just feeling a bit freaked about getting married.”
“Well, understandable, but I don’t think I am the one to—”
“Of course you are, Astrid,” Courtney said. “Because you seem to be able to handle it all. I don’t know how I’m going to do it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it seems like one week before I was going to be married, everything made so much sense; now my whole world is upside down.”
“Oh, Courtney, is this my fault?”
“No, I can see Andy feels the same way; he’s got his issues.”
“But isn’t it better that you went through all of this now, before you were married? It’s not something you want to happen during the three-year itch,” Astrid said.
“You mean the seven-year itch?” Courtney asked.
“I guess, yeah; it seems like it should come sooner than that.” Astrid scolded herself for yet another faux pas. “Courtney, are you having feelings? For me? Because you know I have feelings, too.”
“Yeah. You think it was nothing? It meant a lot to me.”
“You said you’d been…”
“Yeah, once, but it was horrible. You’re attractive, Courtney, and I feel a lot for you…you’re family. Come on.” Astrid and Courtney stood up and hugged. “Now go down to your husband; he loves you, Courtney.”
“I’m sorry, am I…weird?” Courtney asked.
“A little, but I think you have been shopping too much.”
They both laughed, and Courtney walked out the door. She stopped, turned around, and looked at Astrid and said, “Thanks. You’re some kind of weird sister.”
Astrid took an expedient shower, resisting the urge to luxuriate in the hot water. The doorbell rang, and Smilla ran up and down the hall, her nails sliding on the hardwood floors. Astrid came downstairs. Was it the police coming for Rupert, more news? Had something happened to Anna? Astrid felt panicked as she thought about Tobias. Was it Kristina?
Courtney turned to Astrid. “It’s okay—I ordered pizzas.”
“Oh, you rule, girl,” Astrid said.
The wedding was just a few days off, and Astrid had told Rupert she had to stop thinking about the case and deal with family matters. He laughed and said, “Yeah, right.” Astrid was actually doing a good job. She had acquiesced after a long struggle, and agreed to visit Courtney’s stylist. She gasped when she found Alana’s minimum was $150, which she agreed to discount on behalf of the bride-to-be. Astrid had never done much with her hair other than wear it long and cut it straight. Astrid explained that she had never had bangs, and Alana fumed at her single-length hair.
“This has to go,” Alana said with a Russian accent. “Too…ugh, flat, like nineteen sigzties,” she said.
Astrid thought that was about thirty years before Alana was born.
“Will you keep it long?” Astrid asked. “No bleach.”
“Promise. Honey, you don’t need lightening, you have byooteeful blond highlights.”
God, Astrid thought, this is going to cost me. Alana came back with some pictures of celebrities, all with long blond hairstyles. They had mostly straight hair but layered, with sides gently arcing out at midlength.
“You see, look here.” Astrid felt like she should know who these women were, but she hadn’t a clue. Alana turned the page. The woman had her hair up in an elegant bun, but tendrils sensuously framed her face. “This is perfect for wedding.
“Okay, I’m going to wash, then we massage the scalp,” Alana said. “You look nervous.” She snapped her fingers and said, “Tatyana!” A tall woman with a round face came rushing over with a flute of champagne. She handed it to Astrid and led her to a chair at the washing station. Tatyana tipped her head back into the sink and said, “Relax, sweetie.” She turned on the water, and while waiting for it to heat up she put her hand on Astrid’s forehead and stroked softly back. She repeated this several times. She then adjusted the temperature and started washing Astrid’s hair. It felt like it took an hour, with shampoo after shampoo, vigorous scalp massages, and then conditioners. When Tatyana applied a “finalizer,” Astrid knew she had never heard of such a thing but was glad that it sounded like the last step. As soon as Astrid could sit erect, she scrambled for the champagne, downed it, and asked for another. Tatyana came back with another flute, and handed it to Astrid. Now in the stylist’s chair, she looked around. She remembered why she never did this. First, there were far too many mirrors. She never thought that much about whether she was attractive, but mirrors made her nervous. Alana returned to the chair and said, “Ready?”
“Yes, I guess,” Astrid said.
Alana picked up the scissors, and Astrid trembled.
Within only a half hour of cutting, the worst was over. Alana talked the entire time, but Astrid was oblivious to anything she said. Finally, after some contemplating looks and tiny snips, Alana applied large handfuls of mousse and started blow-drying with a big round brush that Astrid thought looked like a milk bottle with whiskers. Alana parted Astrid’s hair in the middle, something she had never done. Then Alana picked up a spray bottle and, shielding Astrid’s eyes, began spritzing some material all over her head. As some of the moisturizing mist settled on her lips, Astrid realized it was intensely salty. Then she took a curling iron and started putting curves in the sides. As Astrid watched the effort come to fruition, she was amazed at the transformation. Suddenly there were parts that had motion and layers, and pieces that turned, tumbling over her shoulders. It really was a work of art.
“Oh, that’s something. It’s not…”
“What, you don’t like?”
“I love it, Alana. It’s just such a huge change.”
“You are very beautiful woman,” Tatayana said. “You just fall out of bed beautiful.”
“Okay, now I’ll show you how to wear this up for the wedding,” Alana said.
Alana and Tatyana did their best to get Astrid to learn how to take care of her style, and convinced her to buy several conditioners, mousses, and a sea-salt spray. Astrid left with a bag and $300 less than she came in with, including tips.
Astrid was exhausted; the champagne had made her tipsy, and she just wanted to relax with some tea. She walked down Hennepin and stopped into an outdoor cafe at Calhoun square. Astrid ordered a pot of green tea and a lemon square.
As Astrid sipped her tea, she looked at her phone. She had missed several calls. Of course, Courtney called, probably to see if she had survived the ordeal. Truthfully, it was a nice gesture on her part, and Astrid made a mental note to call and thank her as soon as possible. One message intrigued her. It was from Maria, Brendan the tow truck driver’s partner. Astrid called the number.
“Maria?” Astrid responded.
“Astrid? Oh, thanks for the call,” Maria said.
“What is it? Is everything okay?” Astrid asked.
“I can’t talk on the phone. Can you come to the shop?” Maria asked.
“Look, you might want to get down here sooner rather than later.”
“Okay.” Astrid wasn’t sure how to respond. “Like, today?”
“Yeah, like today.” With that, Maria hung up the phone.
Astrid dialed Rupert, but he was out on a call. Andy didn’t notice his cell.
“Courtney, hey, this is Astrid.”
“Oh, how was the session with Alana?”
“Well, it was…awesome, but I’ll let you be the judge. Courtney, I need help. Are you—”
“You name it,” Courtney said a little too quickly.
“Okay, can you meet me? Let’s see, you know where the Tebby’s Railroad Salvage Store is on Franklin?”
“Are you serious? What, are we copping meth?”
“Come on Courtney, I need you to—”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes. Anything else?”
“No, see you there.”
Astrid pulled into the parking lot and saw Courtney dutifully waiting. Courtney hopped out of her Lexus and joined Astrid in Andy’s geriatric Subaru.
“You look great. Oh, she just did a fabulous job. Do you like it?” Courtney asked.
“I love it, really. Thank you, Courtney. Look, I had someone contact me; I think they have information on the case I’ve been working on. I really wasn’t comfortable going alone. I mean, I think it’s safe; it would just be better to…you know, have someone along. Are you game?”
“What am I getting into?” Courtney asked.
Astrid explained the entire story to Courtney about Brendan Gustafson and his partner, Maria, the dogs, the meat man, and everything she knew.
“Astrid, nothing of what you’ve said should raise any concerns. Why is this meeting spooking you?”
“It’s a gut feeling.”
“Okay, tell me what you need me to do.”
Astrid approached the shop from the alley as Andy had. Once they stopped along the chain-link fence, the dogs approached. They were oddly silent. They stood watching, looking like they were capable of a merciless attack, but not barking, just sitting patiently. Astrid heard a slight wisping sound, softer than a whistle. The dogs turned obediently and went into the garage. Maria hobbled out and opened the gate. She turned around and headed back in without saying a word.
As they passed from the bright afternoon to the dark of the garage, Astrid couldn’t see anything. She nearly tripped on discarded car parts that were strewn across the floor. Once her eyes adjusted, she looked around for Maria. In the corner, there were some old pieces of office furniture: an antique chair, a file cabinet topped with a coffee maker, and a metal bookcase filled with yellowing documents. Maria was sitting in the chair, and Astrid and Courtney walked over.
“Brendan’s up at Red Bear Lake at an auction,” she said. “I heard something I thought you might want to know.”
“Well, Brendan, you know with the bills, the truck payments, and now me being pregnant and all, he sometimes does jobs that, well…”
“It’s okay, Maria. We’re not cops and don’t care; we just want to find out who killed Jonathan.”
“That’s kind of what I thought, but I never saw this one, here.” She nodded toward Courtney.
“I’m sorry,” Astrid said. “She’s my future sister-in-law, Andy’s wife…fiancée.”
“Okay, sure,” Maria said. She was staring at Astrid intently.
“What?” Astrid asked.
“Did you do something to your hair? Oh, never mind,” Maria said. “Look, Brendan sometimes moves vehicles that might not have a completely stellar provenance, you know what I mean? So someone came up to him and asked him about this piece that was going around.”
“It’s a vehicle. You know, it’s like an unofficial auction. Once a vehicle is available, all the people that need to know, they find out about it, and make an offer, what they think it’s worth.”
“Okay, so what was this car?”
“A green BMW Series 7.”
Astrid tried not to show her excitement. “Where is it now?”
“No one wanted it. Those things are too risky. It’s $20,000 even when hot, and they’re not common enough around here; you’d have to move it. When nobody wants a piece, the hardware goes into the shredder.”
“The chop shop?”
“Yeah, they take what they can out of it and ditch the rest.”
“So which chop shop?”
“Well, that’s the thing. Do you want some tea?”
“No, thank you. Do you know which chop shop?”
“Seems nobody around here would touch it, so it went to Federal Hill.”
“What, is that in Wisconsin?”
“No, Providence. No place for beginners, dear. Be careful.”
Maria stood up and went over to a garden hose. She turned it on and crimped it to keep the water from flowing out. Then she walked over to the dogs’ bowl and filled it up.
“You better get going; they’ll have that thing shredded in a day or so.”
Astrid looked at Courtney. “Okay, well…thanks for letting us know, Maria.”
“Yeah, well, don’t tell anyone, even Brendan. You could get us both killed. And if you go out there, please don’t lead them back here.”
Astrid and Courtney walked out into the yard. Astrid put her foot directly into a warm pile of dog shit. “Oh, shit,” she said. She scraped most of it off and rubbed her shoe in the sand before getting into the car.
“What are you going to do?” Courtney asked.
“Get out of this outfit,” Astrid said.
Astrid dropped Courtney at her car, and the two of them arrived home by late afternoon. The house was empty, and Astrid immediately took a hot shower. She felt relieved to be back in jeans and a T-shirt, having washed all the additives from her hair. She looked in the mirror and felt that, without the mousse and sprays, the cut looked nice on her, and she was happy to have a new look. She seldom indulged, especially in anything feminine. She was surprised that Courtney had turned out to be a good influence on her. She had anticipated loathing and trepidation toward Courtney but now actually enjoyed her company. Not to mention, she was attracted to her. Astrid went downstairs. Courtney was in the kitchen.
“That was something,” Courtney said. She already had a bottle of Chardonnay out with two glasses.
“Yeah, something, but what?”
Courtney handed Astrid her wine. She picked up a piece of her hair and let it flop onto her shoulder. Then she reached up to Astrid’s temple and brushed a few pieces off to the side. “Look at you,” she said.
“Yeah, this is all your fault,” Astrid said, feigning anger.
Courtney tousled more of Astrid’s hair, and they moved closer. For a moment, both wanted to kiss, and they held each other affectionately.
“Oh, Courtney,” Astrid said.
“Look, I can’t.”
“No, I understand.”
Astrid paced around the kitchen and took a large sip of wine. “This can’t go on, Courtney. You are going to be married…my brother…I can’t. Oh!”
“Astrid, I’m sorry, I should never have done that. You just look so…”
“I don’t care! Don’t you see what is going on?” Astrid demanded. “Courtney, I’m falling for you; that wasn’t supposed to happen. Look, we had our fun, you got to have your…fling…but we have to move on. You’re marrying my fucking brother.”
“Okay,” Courtney said. “Okay.” Courtney started crying. “I’m just not sure I’m going to be able to do it, Astrid.”
“Do what, Courtney?”
“Be a good partner. How can I ever be everything he is going to need, and what about my needs?”
“Well, when marriage comes, you have to give up a lot of things. But sometimes you don’t, too…you just have to see what kind of marriage you create. Courtney…you and me…this is hard right now. But what I care about is being your friend, your sister, for a long, long time. I want you and Andy to be friends and respect one another most of all. I want us to be close, like sisters, forever. I don’t want to lose that for a quick fuck. You are more important to me, understand?”
“You know, it’s weird, but Astrid?”
“I think I love you,” Courtney said. They hugged and looked into each other’s eyes. They drew closer and kissed gently, just the lips, in a long and sensual embrace. Courtney turned and walked away.
Astrid knew that was the last time they would ever kiss. She knew that nothing would ever come of their desire, now or in the future. In fact, Astrid suspected she might have been the last woman Courtney would ever kiss.
Astrid went to her room and cried herself asleep.
Astrid woke to the sound of commotion in the kitchen. She reluctantly padded down the stairs with bare feet. When she turned the corner, she saw everyone there. Anna was washing vegetables, and Andy was handing her utensils: a cutting board, knives, peelers. Courtney was preparing a salad, meticulously tearing lettuce into little squares. Clive was intent on chopping onions, and crying for it. Astrid stood in her T-shirt and bare feet and stared at the scene. It seemed like many minutes had past, and she tried to only inhale, take in the vision. She thought, This is my family. They are all I have in the world; they make me who I am; they…At that moment, Courtney looked up and glanced at Astrid. It was as though Astrid were invisible to everyone else. Courtney smiled. She smiled in a knowing and seductive way. For a long while, it was as if only the two of them existed. Astrid was still emotional, and a tear rolled down her cheek. She turned and went back upstairs. A half hour later, and after a quick vodka, Astrid returned downstairs dressed smartly in jeans, a turtleneck, and a jacket.
“Oh, why look at you,” Anna said.
There were oohs and ahs, and everyone complimented Astrid on her hairstyle.
“Well, I’m broke now; Courtney had good taste.”
“I have the best taste,” Courtney said. “I always want what I can’t afford.”
“Oh, dear, sounds like trouble, Andy,” Anna said.
“You have no idea,” Astrid muttered. Astrid looked at Andy, but he wasn’t smiling. He was staring at his eggplant. “What can I help with?”
“Well, we need to open some wine,” Clive said.
“Oh, you’ve got me typecast, Clive.”
Astrid didn’t mind and opened a bottle of Chardonnay and a bottle of Merlot.
“Andy, we have to talk,” Astrid said.
“Okay, but can it wait?” He looked at Courtney for support but found her tilting her head toward Astrid as if to tell Andy to do what she was asking.
The two headed off to the study. As soon as Andy tried to close the door, Smilla stuck her snout through.
“What’s going on, Astrid?”
“You’re not going to believe this. It’s big, but I’ve been wasting time; we need to call Rupert. He’s going to—”
“Astrid. Listen, I’m a little worried about you.”
“What, why? I have a lead, and—”
“Astrid, slow down. First, we need to talk about Courtney.”
“What? What about her?”
Andy slammed his hand on the coffee table. “What the fuck, Astrid?” He put his head in hands. “Astrid, where are you? Where’s my little sister?”
“Oh, God, Andy, don’t think that—”
“What do you mean? Don’t think what?”
“I can explain…that night that she was upset with you, I—”
“Yeah, I know…look, Astrid. I get it—she wanted her chance to do whatever. I can’t blame her. But this morning, I was here.”
“Oh, shit, Andy.”
“Yeah, I was out in the canoe. I came in the back door to hear my wife say she loves you? Astrid, what the fuck?”
“Andy, she’s…okay, she’s over it, okay. She was just infatuated.”
“Oh, and that’s why you spent the day in bed crying. Astrid, you know what? I love Courtney with all my heart, and this is the first thing I ever had in my life that was right. But I don’t care about all of those things as much as I care about you. I know Courtney and I will be okay because we love each other. Astrid. Look, you need help. Mom told me you were bipolar and not taking your meds. What are you thinking?
“Andy, I’ve been dealing with this a long time,” Astrid said.
“You just get obsessed with these cases. I mean, Dad getting attacked, now this one, then you act out with Courtney.”
“You know what?” Astrid yelled. “For fuck’s sake, Andy, she wanted it too. Okay? Why can you sleep with guys and she doesn’t have the right to kiss another girl? Don’t call me obsessed…ugh, I hate it when people say that. Just label me with some disorder, then everything I do is passed through some kind of a lens and can only make sense as a manifestation of my disease. I’m sick of it!”
“Okay, well, fair is fair, Astrid. I’m not going to tell her I know. Just don’t encourage Courtney, okay?”
“Encourage Courtney? Ha, you better keep an eye on her, dog.”
They looked at each other and laughed, and Andy wiped a tear from Astrid’s cheek.
“Okay, so what’s this lead?”
“Let’s call Rupert.”
“Three days before my wedding and I’m going to Providence? You must be kidding,” Andy said.
“I’m holding your boarding pass in my hand.” Astrid said.
“Ugh, okay, I’ll pack,” Andy said.
“How did Courtney take it?” Astrid asked.
“She thinks you’re insane, and she’s a bit annoyed with all that’s left to be done for the wedding, but I think she doesn’t know what to say anymore,” Andy said.
Rupert sped up the driveway on a beautiful morning with Smilla barking and following along. Rupert popped the trunk and got out of the car and patted Smilla, scratching behind her ears. As Andy and Astrid emerged from the house, Rupert stood and walked toward them.
“May I help?” Rupert asked Astrid and reached for her bag.
“I’m fine, thanks, Rupert. How are you?”
“I guess I’m okay. I’ve been so busy.”
Andy quietly put his small carry-on in the trunk. As they headed off to the airport, no one said much. Rupert asked Astrid if she had been in touch with her contact in Rhode Island. She said yes, and that they’d have someone to “walk them through the fieldwork,” whatever that meant.
Astrid opened her bag and popped open a mini Absolut.
“Um, Astrid, you know, you can’t drink that in here.” Rupert said.
Astrid shifted her gaze toward Rupert while placing the bottle to her lips, and downed the contents in a matter of seconds. She replaced the cap and slipped it back into her bag. Rupert looked at Andy, who just rolled his eyes.
“I figured you guys wouldn’t mind sharing a room.”
“With each other?” Andy asked.
“No, all three of us. We’re on a budget.”
Rupert insisted that Astrid dump her minis before going through security. She resented it but tossed them in the liquids container at security. Once at the gate, they had only a thirty-minute wait for a flight to Providence. On the flight, Andy and Rupert sat together. Astrid sat next to a rotund man in a wrinkled gray suit who breathed heavily and sighed endlessly. She looked over her notebooks and tried again to come to some insight. Who was the High Priestess? The answer must be right there, Astrid thought. Why couldn’t she see it? Haley could have fingered Angel, but would it really be worth it for him to kill a young woman? Besides, the method of killing was too sophisticated for Angel’s crew. Maybe Haley did see the car after all and never told anyone, for some reason. Now she never would. Astrid looked at Rupert and Andy. They were having a light, animated conversation. Andy seemed to be helping Rupert with his Kindle. Rupert put his hand on Andy’s forearm several times. From her vantage point, she could see they rested their arms in a touching position, which was normal for a cramped airplane. Still, there was affection between them, Astrid was certain. She reached in her bag and retrieved the one mini she had refused to surrender during security.
It was a short flight to Providence, and the three piled out of the plane and down the Jetway. None had checked luggage, so they were in their rental car and at the parking lot gate in no time.
“Where are we going?” Andy asked.
“Hopkinton,” Astrid said.
“What? Where is that?” Andy asked.
“About a half hour from here, in South County,” Rupert said.
“Okay, is that one of the three counties in Rhode Island?” Andy said snickering.
“Come on, don’t be an ignoramus,” Rupert scolded.
A quick exit from the airport and a drive by the Ann and Hope department store brought them to the on-ramp for I-95. From there, the drive south led them by a veteran’s cemetery, endless turf farms, and a large nursery.
“Oh, Astrid, I forgot to tell you,” Rupert said.
“What?” She moved forward in her seat.
“I got the tests back from the medical examiner. You were right.”
“About which one?”
“Well, there was Rohypnol in her system. The emergency department report showed that there were traces of gelatin capsules in her gastric fluid, so she must have ingested the pills. The water bottle contained only water. But with the roofies on board, it’s pretty easy to see how she could have been forced to swallow them.”
“Could show foul play, but not really enough to prove it was a homicide,” Astrid said.
“No, I’m afraid not,” Rupert said. “But we’re a lot closer.”
“What about the IV and hospital records?”
“Still waiting on that.”
They took the Hopkinton exit. They were amazed that so close to Boston and New York they could have been in Appalachia. They saw run-down shacks, chickens roosting in abandoned refrigerators, battered couches on front porches, and rusting, abandoned pickup trucks in yards.
“Swamp Yankees,” Andy said.
“The Great Swamp, you mean, King Phillip’s War?” Rupert asked.
“Massacre, really,” Andy said. “The Puritans wiped out the Narragansett by the hundreds, mostly women and children.”
“For a swamp?” Astrid asked.
Astrid looked at the directions and said, “Turn here, at this fork.” An enormous barn leaned so far to the right it looked like it would tumble into oblivion at any moment. They drove past a millpond with a low-budget dam, and a couple of mobile homes. The roads started to twist.
“Stop! Turn here,” Astrid shouted, her eyes glued to her tablet.
Rupert quickly turned the SUV right and skidded into a narrow country road lined with trees and not much else. They drove awhile before reaching a small dirt drive on the right.
“That’s it! Turn there,” Astrid said.
Rupert arced the vehicle reluctantly into the dirt track. They followed it at dead-slow speed until they reached a building at the end of the drive. There must have been fifteen or twenty cars parked around the shack. An old white-and-red Coca Cola sign read “Pasquale’s Place.”
“Um, strange place for an Italian restaurant,” Rupert said.
“Stay here,” Astrid said, and went inside.
Rupert and Andy shifted in their seats. “Astrid, oh, man,” Rupert laughed.
“What?” Andy asked.
The two looked at one another and burst into laughter.
“Shh, here she comes,” Andy said.
Astrid was accompanied by a short, thin man, about fifty, wearing a denim jacket and sunglasses. They got in the back seat.
“Guys, this is Joey.”
“Hey there, I’m Joey,” he said in a thick Rhode Island accent.
Rupert and Andy looked quizzically at Astrid.
“He’s going to help us,” Astrid said. “Where are we going? Joey?”
“Oh, yeah, go back to Noose Neck and turn down Skunk Hill Road,” Joey said.
Rupert looked at Astrid, raised his eyebrows, and hunched his shoulders. Astrid tapped a few things into her tablet and handed it to Rupert. He and Andy conferred a bit on the directions, and then Rupert started backing out of the parking lot.
Within a few miles, Joey indicated they were to turn down a small road. Cautiously following the road, they came to a small community. It appeared to be a former industrial town, with turn-of-the-century mills along the river. The entire compound had been transformed into a sort of commune. But this was not a hippie town. It looked more like David Koresh meets ZZ Top. Long-haired, bearded biker types were lounging around their pickups sporting 9 mm handguns, shotguns, and sundry weapons. Joey directed the group down a narrow passage between some abandoned factory buildings until they reached what looked like a storage facility.
“Now, you guys know what to do?” Joey asked.
“Yeah, we got it,” Astrid said.
No one was around, but as soon as Astrid, Joey, and Rupert climbed out of the car, groups of men approached from opposite directions. They looked the three up and down.
“Hey, Vito sent me to tawk to you guys about the cah…the Beamah,” Joey said.
“Yeah?” said one of the men. He was wearing gold coveralls and Timberlands. “Where are they from?”
“Wisconsin,” he said.
“Oh, like the cheese?” he asked, cutting a wide grin full of blackened teeth. His colleagues chuckled. Someone muttered something about Green Bay.
“They want to see the Beamah,” Joey said.
The tall guy shrugged, and they walked toward a unit with a corrugated steel door. Someone opened the door, and there it was. In the afternoon light, sitting in a storage unit on a bed of gravel, was the vehicle that killed Jonathan.
“Why don’t you turn it over regulah?” Joey asked. Astrid worried he was going off script.
“Too hot for some reason,” the tall guy said. “Look, fifteen and it’s yours. But I don’t care much about how you get it to…Michigan?”
“Okay, I’m going to have my guy look it over,” Astrid said.
Rupert walked over to the car. They group watched him resolutely.
Astrid reached up and released the barrette in her hair. As it tumbled down, she shook her head and leaned back. Suddenly, they were rapt, and she said, “You know, what I really want is a good ride, you know guys…a good ride.”
They started to shift from foot to foot, and a couple had visibly raised respiratory rates. Astrid cast a furtive glance toward the car and saw Rupert taking pictures with his phone.
A short, round man with a mustache said, “What’s your ride? Maybe we can accommodate.”
“Harley 1200 Custom.”
“Ugh, come on, a woman don’t ride no hog like that,” said the tall man.
Rupert came back talking into his phone. “Uh-huh, yeah, I see. Okay.” He turned to the group. “Sorry, fellas, no deal.”
“Oh, well how much—”
“Naw, it’s not the money,” Rupert said. “My boss is spooked. There’s something not right about the Beamer.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, I’m telling you,” the tall man said.
Two of the men off to a distance muttered something between themselves. Their body language suggested they were getting ready for a problem.
Everyone nonchalantly walked back to the SUV and got in. The tall man walked up to the driver’s side and tapped on the window. “You guys come all the way out here to look at one car, then you leave? What the fuck?”
The remaining men started milling closer to the vehicle, one with his hand on his hip, where what looked like a Glock rested in a nylon holster.
“Look, Vito had special customers. You can’t give them what they’s asked for, so that’s it, okay. They don’t want the Beamah, and they don’t want nothin’ else.”
Reluctantly, the group backed away from the SUV, and Rupert drove off. As soon as they were a mile away Rupert pulled over. He turned around. “Get out.”
Joey stepped out of the car. Rupert called his supervisor and told him he found the car that killed Jonathan Waltershaw. He instructed her to look at the e-mail and referred her to the fax that Brendan Gustafson had sent in describing the fragment. The photo showed an exact match, Rupert said. He told his captain that she should call the district attorney and get a warrant to retrieve the car. He then provided the address and rudimentary instructions. “Have the Rhode Island State Police contact me at this number,” he said.
They brought Joey back to the restaurant, gave him his money, and sped off. They parked at a rest stop halfway back to the chop shop. They waited for two hours, when a call came in.
“Olson,” Rupert said. “What? Okay…well then we need to…what?” Rupert fumed. “Okay, then…I understand.”
“What is it?” Astrid asked.
“We can’t get a judge to issue a warrant. They even called a judge here in Providence, a friend of the family. They won’t budge.”
“I don’t understand. At the least this is a stolen car. Why are they afraid?” Andy asked.
“Well, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but apparently the FBI has their eyes on the compound. They are interested in money laundering, something that is linked to something that is possibly linked to terrorism. They won’t let us blow their cover for what they called ‘just a hit-and-run.’”
“I’d like to know if any of them have a fucking twenty-year-old kid,” Astrid said.
“In their world, they are more concerned with their kid being taken out by a terrorist than a hit-and-run driver.”
“Well, ask Mrs. Waltershaw what she’s afraid of,” Astrid said.
They arrived at the Baltimore Hotel just before 4:00 p.m. and checked in.
As they entered the room, Rupert said, “I’m going to make a few calls, see if I can twist someone’s arm.”
Astrid needed a shower and quickly washed off the day’s grime. She buried her face in the lush towel and enjoyed the brief moment of peace. After changing in the bathroom, she emerged with her bag and a handful of dirty laundry. “Um…” she said. “There’s only one bed.”
“What? Astrid, let’s call and get separate rooms,” Andy said.
“Okay, who sleeps with whom?” she asked jokingly. She called the front desk. She spoke to a curt representative who insisted that because the room was booked online for one bed it could not be exchanged. Another room would be $565, plus tax.
“Ugh,” Astrid said. “I’m going to the bar.”
It was happy hour when Astrid arrived in the lounge. She ordered a double vodka neat.
“You’re not from around here,” a man, probably in his early fifties, said to Astrid.
“Well, if I was I wouldn’t need a hotel,” she said without turning around.
“You know, that’s just cold.”
Astrid ran her fingers through her hair nervously and leaned back. “You know, you’re right. I’m sorry. I have a lot on my mind, and I was rude. Astrid.”
“So why am I not from around here, Albert Nutell?”
“Well, most of us don’t order vodka neat; we’re not that far north. Besides, you’re from Malmö.”
“I’m sorry? What?”
“I can tell by the accent; my wife is from Skåne.”
“Oh, my. So you know a bit about—”
“Oh, yes, I know quite a bit. What brings you to Providence, or for that matter, to the States?”
“Oh, it’s a long story.”
“Well, happy hour lasts until five.”
Astrid looked at this man. He seemed sensitive, and he had a certain poise she found attractive. He was not the average guy, but she wasn’t sure yet if she liked him.
“Oh, if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. Or you’d have me killed.”
“It sounds like you’ve been in Rhode Island for longer than I thought.”
They laughed. He said he was ordering hors d’oeuvres and asked if Astrid would like to join him at a table. She graciously agreed.
They talked at length about accents, literature, politics, and climate. Finally, Astrid asked him, “What do you do?”
“I’m a Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice.”
Astrid was flabbergasted. “Oh, my…that must be…”
“Well, actually, what I was going to say was…lonely…I’m sorry.” Astrid was shocked that the first thing that entered her mind was the thought of being alone with all the decisions and choices, never being able to be close to anyone.
Albert looked at her. His eyes glassed up, but this man was clearly not going to allow himself to cry.
“You are really one very special woman, Astrid.”
Hors d’oeuvres turned into dinner. Astrid could not remember enjoying a meal so much. Albert was sharp, charming, self-effacing, and funny. They had a wonderfully convoluted and discovering conversation. There was no sign that either had said enough when, for dessert, they ordered tiramisu and two Sambucas.
“Astrid, tell me about your case.”
“I really shouldn’t.”
“Astrid, I’m a judge…privilege; it’s okay.”
Astrid surprised herself and told Albert everything.
After he took it all in, his face shifted; he was moved in some way.
“Astrid, I need to be honest. I wasn’t just chatting you up,” he said.
Astrid realized a long while ago that all of this wasn’t just friendliness, but she had resisted speculating about what he wanted. She just wanted to enjoy his company. She didn’t care that much what he wanted; she was that lonely.
“Astrid, I lied about my wife.”
“Oh, she’s not from Ystad?” Astrid asked.
“Oh, yes, that was true. It’s just, well, she died. Last year, from cancer. Astrid, I’m sorry, you just remind me of her. We had twenty-six years together, three children. She looked just like you when we met. I’ve been sitting here drinking every night by myself for a year, just wanting to…well, frankly, to die. When I saw you, I thought God had sent me a miracle. To have dinner and share conversation with you is the greatest blessing an old man like me could ever have.”
“Albert, do you want to have more than a conversation?”
Astrid wasn’t sure why she had asked. She wasn’t attracted to him, but she still had a sensual response his desire, to the intimacy of what they had shared. She was overwhelmed with empathy for his loss of his wife. But there was a greater loss, something she couldn’t understand, something vital. Like a soul sinking into a hole in the ice. Astrid realized she had never given selflessly. She had never shared herself to comfort or nurture another, only for her own pleasure or satisfaction.
He looked off into the distance, but didn’t have to think long. “You know, you just gave me back ten years of life, Astrid. There is nothing I would love more, but I’m afraid I’d feel like an old fool and probably cry. That’s about the kindest thing anyone has ever said.”
“May I ask you a question?”
“How did you two meet?”
“Oh, it was a long time ago. I was in the navy then, a submariner. I was on a boat in Stockholm, and I met this young man, a strapping young Swede, with a heart of gold. We hit it off, his name was…Tobias, yes, that’s it.”
A chill ran up Astrid’s neck as if someone had blown on it.
“Tobias? What was his last name?”
“Oh, I don’t remember. He had this friend; she was beautiful, like you. And you know what her name was? Astrid.”
Astrid was overwhelmed. Tobias had a friend or lover named Astrid?
Albert continued, “We went out for a meal, and he invited her. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t interested in her; apparently, there was someone else, and so I asked her to the dance. After that we were rarely apart.”
“Who was Tobias really interested in?” Astrid asked eagerly.
“Um, her name was…I don’t remember. Well, Astrid, I don’t know what more to say.”
Albert looked out the windows. “You know, I hate those feebs sometimes. What’s your detective’s name? You’ll have your warrant in the morning.”
“Albert, that’s not a good idea. You’ll get a lot of heat.”
“Ah, fuck ’em.”
Astrid went back to the room and headed to the minibar. She turned on the TV and flipped through the channels. She settled on a Russian news channel and watched a feature about a newly elected communist member of the Chilean Congress who was taking the country by storm, as much for her green eyes as her politics. Astrid found her to be stunning and passionate as she lectured the crowd on the virtues of collective action. She thought about Courtney as she sipped a vodka from the mini bottle and wondered how they would negotiate the sleeping situation. Just then, she noticed a faint rumbling. She looked into the bedroom and saw that both Andy and Rupert were already sprawled all over the bed and snoring. Both were stripped down to their skivvies, Rupert in boxers, Andy in briefs.
“Ugh, my life,” Astrid said.
She flipped through the channels endlessly, settling on nothing. Astrid took out her phone and swiped.
“Hello, Mamma? Who am I named after?”
Astrid woke up to the sound of Andy snoring. Rupert’s arm was around her stomach, and someone’s sweaty feet were on her calves. Suddenly, a phone began ringing incessantly, and Astrid realized she had a pulsating headache.
“Answer that, will you?” Astrid complained.
She climbed out of bed and walked over to the sound of the phone. It was coming from Rupert’s jacket. She pulled it out and walked over to hand it to him, but he had already disappeared. She looked over and saw a light under the bathroom door.
“Hello? Detective Olson’s phone.”
There was a long pause, then what sounded like a laughing and young, macho-sounding voice, “Um, yes sir…ma’am, this is Sergeant Ringold at the Exeter Barracks of the Rhode Island State Police. Detective Olson should know that we have his dark green BMW Series 7 from the Kendall Mills site in possession. We have made no arrests, but we executed the warrant and have the vehicle as per the justice’s order. Ma’am?”
Astrid ran to the bathroom and began banging on the door.
“What, Astrid, do you mind? I need to piss,” Rupert said.
“They have the car, they have it!” Astrid blurted out.
The door opened. “What? I don’t understand; no one would sign for a warrant. I—”
“Yeah, but…I met this justice, he…oh, forget it. Look, we have to get to the vehicle. Andy! Andy!” Astrid shook him. “Wake up.”
Within a few minutes, they were ready to check out. Astrid said, “I’m going to grab a scone. What do you guys want?” She went to get coffees and stood in line for a couple of scones. Patiently waiting, she jealously eyed the pastries. Suddenly, her attention was drawn to a large flat-screen display against the wall.
“Tragically, today, we report the death of esteemed Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Albert Nutell. He was found in his garage, asphyxiated by car exhaust. It remains unclear if he committed suicide, but sources close to the investigation say that Nutell was found with a picture of his late wife, Astrid, in his hands.
Astrid screamed and dropped her coffee. She fell to her knees and screamed more. Astrid’s shock turned to panic. She felt as if she couldn’t breathe. The room felt like it was growing larger while it was tipping. She struggled to keep her balance as the world seemed to fly away from her. Then the blackness came; slowly at first, then like a torrential rainfall, it fell onto her. Was she dying? She started to scream.
Andy and Rupert had just entered the lobby. They looked at her in disbelief. Astrid was screaming something incoherent about dogs and submarines. Rupert ran up to her and put his hand on her shoulder.
“Are you okay? Astrid, talk to me.”
She looked at him with terror as tears ran down from her eyes.
“Hi, my name is Molly Evangelista. I’m a psychiatrist.”
“Where am I?” Astrid asked.
“You’re at Butler Hospital.”
Astrid strained to bring the room into focus. She lay in a bed, but the room looked more like a hotel than a hospital. There was a panel over her head with outlets, an oxygen spigot, and other technical-looking things. A curtain circled her bed.
“And who are you?” Astrid asked.
“I’m a doctor here.” She was wearing jeans and running shoes.
“So am I being held against my wishes?”
“No, not at all, Astrid. You were brought here because you were delusional and seemed to have a psychotic break. People were alarmed. Do you remember anything?”
Astrid attempted to sit up, but felt her head spin. She struggled to rise, scooted to the floor, and then looked around. “Where are my clothes?”
“What’s your connection with the judge?”
“The justice?” Astrid asked. Then she realized what had happened to Albert. It made her feel weak, and she thought she might fall. “I just met him,” Astrid said. “We met at the bar, had dinner, and went our own ways, nothing more. I don’t remember much.”
“The police may want to ask you some questions. You were the last person he saw alive, and with your episode, and you know, some coincidences—a last minute warrant, you having the same name as his late wife—there are many issues they’ll want to know about.”
“May I leave?” Astrid asked.
“I really don’t recommend that. Astrid, you blacked out. The scalding coffee you dropped burned a three-year-old boy.”
“Is he all right?”
“He’ll be fine. It was a scare for him, especially your state.”
“My state, what was that?”
“Astrid, how much have you been drinking?”
Astrid felt tears well up in her eyes; she dabbed the bottom of her eyelid. Molly put her hand on Astrid’s arm.
“Have you been depressed?”
“I just want to go home.”
“Would you like to see your friends?” Molly asked.
Molly went outside and came back with a plastic bag.
“Your clothes are in here. Put them on and come with me.”
Astrid shut the door and dressed quickly. She cracked open the door to survey the landscape. Suddenly Molly was right there. “Astrid, this way.”
They walked down glaring corridors pungent with antiseptic. Astrid tried not to look at the overly waxed floors or the overhead fluorescent lights, which were making her nauseous. There really was no place to look. They passed through a locked door. At the end of the hallway, there was a small, dark room to the right boxed in glass. Molly yanked hard on the glass door and motioned Astrid in. The plastic furniture and hermetically sealed environment made her cautious. Rupert was standing looking into a dark window. She saw his face, and their eyes met in the reflection. He turned around.
“Astrid,” he said. He opened his arms. Astrid was so happy to just feel him near. She nestled her cheek in his chest.
“You don’t remember?” Rupert asked.
He led her to an orange sofa and sat down next to her. He held her hand, rested on his strong knee. “I have good news and bad news, Astrid.”
“Good, I need that.”
“They picked up the BMW, and the state police now have photos of the front spoiler and the VIN for the vehicle.”
“Okay, so what is the bad news?” Astrid asked.
“Well, they seem to think you had an affair with Justice Nutell, and that’s why he signed the warrant, and anyway, the lawyer got them to quash the search warrant. Everything is going back; they are giving up the case, and we’re going to lose the BMW.”
“Oh, fuck,” Astrid said. “Fuck!” she yelled louder than anyone her size should have been able to, but the silence of the glass room held her secrets. “Let me out of here!” Astrid screamed.
“Astrid, that’s not so simple.”
“You were sent here by another judge; she says you’re dangerous…you’re not real popular right now,” Rupert said.
“Oh, let me guess. Ms. Rample, the one he was sleeping with?” Astrid said.
“Um, well, looks like it. I just need a while to get you out of here—”
“No, I’m out of here. Right now.” Astrid looked down the corridor and saw no sign of Molly. “Where’s Andy?”
“I don’t know, outside with the car.”
“Do you have a phone?” Astrid asked.
“I had to check it at the desk.”
“Tell them it’s important police business, and call Andy. Get him to the front door.”
“Astrid, are you sure? Maybe you need—”
“Don’t tell me what I fucking need, Rupert. A man died because of me; it’s my fault.”
“Okay, Astrid, I’ll go up to the desk and call. He’s only in the parking lot, okay?” Rupert said.
Within fifteen minutes, Astrid was at the front entrance in her street clothes and climbing into the SUV. Andy smiled when he saw his sister. “Man, let’s get out of Rhode Island,” Andy said.
On the flight, Astrid asked Andy if she could switch with him and sit next to Rupert.
“I can’t believe we even made the flight,” Astrid said to Rupert.
“What happened back there, Astrid? I mean, do I even know you anymore?”
“What do you mean? Of course you do. Albert meant something to me. He knew my parents when they were single.”
Astrid told Rupert the story and why she was devastated when she heard about Albert. Rupert listened and calmed a bit. He reached over and took Astrid’s hand in his. She felt safe. But why had Molly let her slip away? Did she understand she didn’t belong there, and it was wrong to hold someone against her will who wasn’t dangerous?
Astrid, Rupert, and Andy arrived in Minneapolis at 10:00 p.m. The taxi ride home was silent. At home, everyone had phone calls to make. After a while, the group met in the kitchen. Astrid sat in front of a bottle of Pellegrino.
“Okay, where exactly do we stand?” Rupert asked.
Astrid pulled out her reporter’s notebook. “We have a brief period of police possession of the evidence, with chain of evidence, and forensics: fingerprints, photographs, and DNA. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. They released the physical evidence shortly after the—” Here, Astrid stopped and regained her composure, swallowing, and forcing back tears. “After the ordering justice died.”
“So we have some evidence. What about the fragment?”
Astrid took a deep breath. “We have photographic and forensic evidence on the front lower spoiler, the fragment missing, and the color specs.”
“Do we have the VIN?” Andy asked.
Rupert said, “The state police wouldn’t give it to me, but I took a photo of it in the storage area.”
“Well, let’s look it up,” Astrid said.
Rupert read out the numbers and letters one by one as Astrid typed them in to AutoFacts, the online site that provides the history of every VIN in existence.
“That’s weird; it doesn’t match anything. Rupert, you must have it wrong.”
“Here it is again…” Rupert said, reading each number and letter carefully.
Astrid carefully typed in everything and hit return.
“Nothing,” said Astrid. “There is something wrong here,” she said.
“Okay, I’m going to log in to the station,” Rupert said.
He went through several screens and logged in a couple of times. Once he was in the station’s site, he clicked on the DMV search tab and logged in yet again. Finally, he was prompted for the VIN. He typed in the letters and numbers very carefully. What came back shocked him.
“No fucking way,” Astrid said.
“Unbelievable,” Rupert said.
They were staring at the same thing, but they couldn’t comprehend what they were seeing. It now made so much sense why the FBI avoided the case. The owner of the BMW was Senator Conner Carlsson.
At first, it made no sense in terms of the hit-and-run. Astrid asked if the vehicle could have driven by after the original deadly collision and had minor scrape, a secondary collision. Maybe they were trying to cover it up to escape the possibility of being involved further.
“Who are these people?” Astrid asked.
“Who, the Carlssons?” Rupert answered. They did a simple Internet search.
“The quintessential senator’s family, all the charity events, nights at the Walker,” Rupert said.
“Wait!” Astrid exclaimed. She was rising out of her seat.
“What?” Rupert asked.
“There!” she said. “Holy fuck!”
Rupert looked at the images lined up across the screen. Then he saw it.
“The High Priestess,” he said. “There she is.”
Suddenly the sound of Schubert came from the living room. It was the piano trio in E flat. Andy’s favorite. He was a fan of Barry Lyndon.
They all looked at the image of the High Priestess. Her excitement lasted about as long as Schubert’s trio, just a few moments, and it ended on too high a note, in Astrid’s opinion.
“Who is she?” Astrid asked.
“The senator’s daughter, Brigitta,” Rupert offered.
There was no doubt in Astrid’s mind that it was the High Priestess, with the brilliant red hair and bright blue eyes, just like every Skogsrå she had seen in any book or fantasy. “That’s her—that’s the woman I saw in the hospital.”
“And check this out,” Rupert said. He pointed to an article about a humanitarian mission for hurricane relief in Mexico. Rupert read, “Brigitta Carlsson, daughter of Conner Carlsson and heir to the Edisson Hotel fortune, went on a mission as part of the second-year class of medical students from the University of Chicago.”
“Oh, my God. She’s a medical student,” Astrid said. “She would know how to combine the diuretic and lithium.”
“She’s your High Priestess,” Andy said.
“Can we push this through, with the info from Rhode Island? We have our killer.”
Andy and Rupert drew long faces. Rupert started tidying up the laptop as if to go home for the night.
“What, don’t we have everything?” Astrid asked.
Rupert looked at Astrid. “We have nothing. They’ve quashed the evidence from Providence, and we can’t connect a sitting US senator to a crime based on a Google search. I’m sorry, Astrid.”
Astrid grabbed the bottle of wine and stormed out of the kitchen.
“Um, I should probably be leaving,” Rupert said.
“No, you know what, Ru? Why don’t you take this one?” Andy asked. “Please?”
Rupert pulled on his hoodie and stumbled down to the lake. Astrid was sitting on a log, puffing on a cigarette and sipping her white wine.
“Hey,” Rupert said.
“Hey,” Astrid said.
Rupert sat next to Astrid. “You’ve been through the mill.”
“I’ll say,” Astrid said, and handed the bottle to Rupert. He took a swig of wine and passed it back to Astrid.
Rupert turned to Astrid and looked into her eyes. “Astrid, what happened?”
“Where do I start?” she asked.
Rupert put his arm around Astrid and pulled her close. She felt like she could hide in his embrace, leaning against his chest, feeling his breathing. Slowly, she told him everything. Tobias, Anna, her bipolar disorder, Albert, even Courtney. After it all, she pulled away and looked at him.
“Astrid,” Rupert said, “I really had no idea. Whatever you want to talk about, you can always come to me, okay?”
Astrid started choking up.
“What?” Rupert asked.
“Our case, Rupert, I’ve screwed it up; it’s over.”
“No, Astrid, it’s not your fault. We’ll just do what we can with the case we have.”
Astrid took a big swig from the wine bottle, Rupert followed suit, and Astrid finished it off. She nestled against his chest, and the two sat for a long time just holding one another. Astrid fell asleep in Rupert’s lap. He stroked her hair for a while. Then he took off his hoodie and draped it over her. After she slept for a while, he scooped her up and led her to the house. Once in the bedroom, he pulled off her sweatshirt and shoes and put her under the covers.
“I’m sorry, man,” Rupert said to Andy.
“Hey, thanks for coming and dealing with all the drama.” Andy said.
“She’s been through hell,” Rupert said.
The next morning Astrid awoke terrified by all that ran through her head. She rocked back and forth in her bed, sobbing until Courtney knocked on the door.
“Are you all right, sweetie?” she asked.
“I’m okay,” Astrid said. “Am I? Do I need help?” Astrid asked Courtney.
“You know what, just hold me, hon.” And Courtney held Astrid so closely that she almost had to gasp for air. “You are okay,” she said. “In fact, you better get your ass in gear. I’m getting married tomorrow!”
Astrid sat up and scooted to the end of the bed. She jumped down and looked around for her jeans. Courtney pointed to the bathroom, and Astrid ran in, coming out fully clothed.
“It’s okay if you need to slow down a little, Astrid; why don’t you take it easy today?” Courtney asked.
“Why aren’t you freaked? You’re getting married tomorrow!”
“Oh, I am, don’t worry, but what’s important to me right now is you.”
Astrid stared into Courtney’s face. She never realized how beautiful her dark eyes were, and how mesmerizing her features were. She realized that something was wrong, that she needed to get back to the place she was before. Astrid said, “I’m still sort of tired.” She lay on the bed. Courtney leaned over and gently kissed the top of Astrid’s head. “Rest, okay?” she implored. Courtney crawled into the bed and cuddled Astrid’s frame. Astrid fought back the tears, but they came; she was defenseless.
Andy and Courtney were married the next day. The household rose early, and everyone dashed around and fussed in front of mirrors as they put on all the adornments: the gowns, the tuxedos, the hairdos. Anna was beside herself. She was seeing her only son get married today. Astrid thought of Tobias as she put her hair up the way Alana had taught her. She wished that he could be there to experience the day with his son. She would miss him, too.
The ceremony was spectacular and moving, but Astrid thought it was too long. There were many biblical references that she did not understand, but overall she found it to be a touching wedding. In fact, several readings and some Bach helped to lift Astrid’s spirit a bit, and she felt a little like she was emerging from under her cloud.
Rupert accompanied Astrid to the reception. He encouraged her to enjoy every moment, made her smile, and insisted she forget the horrors of the days past. Astrid found a certain comfort in Rupert’s presence, and the two danced and offered up the joy and celebrations that the young couple deserved.
Astrid cried when they toasted Andy. When the men talked about what a good husband Andy would be, Astrid tightened her grip on Rupert’s hand. She knew this was hard for him and reached around his waist with a hug. When Courtney’s friends gave her testimony, Astrid became emotional. Although all the sentiments were syrupy, Astrid didn’t feel that any really captured the Courtney she had come to know.
“Ru, what are we doing? Let’s go outside.”
They walked by the river, holding hands and saying nothing. Astrid wondered if Rupert was feeling the same loneliness and heartbreak. She was happy they could have each other and wanted them to be more than friends. She stopped and looked into his eyes. She knew immediately that he felt the same way. They passed underneath some bushes and hobbled along the bank until they were leaning against a retaining wall overlooking the Mississippi.
“Rupert, I’m not sure what’s going on anymore,” Astrid said.
Astrid was leaning against the wall and pulled Rupert toward her. He wrapped his arms around her, and they looked at one another. Astrid’s face flickered in the shards of moonlight that cut through the branches. She kissed Rupert, unleashing all the passion they had been containing. He kissed her back hard, and his strong hands groped her thighs. Astrid threw her arms around his shoulders and tightened her embrace. His tongue was a force within her, warm and enveloping, stealing her breath.
She fumbled for his belt, and he reached for her panties. Astrid let go of him and reached down to lower her tights and panties, leaving only her skirt. She returned to her frantic effort to liberate him, her motions guided by the waxing intensity of his kisses. When she finally touched him, he groaned quietly and arched with elation. Rupert put his hands on her cheeks, gently. He drew back and kissed her softly, then gently bit her lower lip as he ran his fingers through her hair.
When they met, she was ready. She thought he would explode inside her. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her to the top of the wall, all the while staying deep inside her, never losing contact with her mouth. They moved slowly. He looked into her eyes, not hiding, not fantasizing. He was all hers. Astrid wrapped herself around Rupert as if the two would meld into a single layer. She hoped it would never end, but for Rupert the fervor was more than he could contain, and he ruptured in moans of ecstasy.
They held each other. Rupert said, “Astrid, I don’t deserve you.”
“I could say the same. But we have each other,” Astrid said.
When Rupert and Astrid returned to the wedding, the couple had cut the cake, and it was time to dance. They headed to the bar during the disco numbers, and when there were slow dances, Astrid and Rupert held each other tightly, locked in a swaying adagio. Astrid looked at her brother, who raised an eyebrow at her. Courtney looked at her and pouted…it was all more than she could handle. Astrid went to the bar.
“Hey, sister,” Andy said.
“Brother, I’m so proud of you!” Astrid exclaimed and threw her arms around Andy. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks, Astrid. And how are you doing?”
“I’m fine, why?”
“Well, you’ve been through a lot, is all.”
“Thanks, but you know, this is your night. Live it large!” Astrid shouted over the band.
“Where’s Rupert?” Andy asked.
“He’s around, talking to people, I guess.”
“Astrid, I’m so happy.”
“You should be,” she said.
“I’m happy to have Courtney, but also to have you, and Mamma, and Rupert, all of you.”
Suddenly, Courtney appeared from nowhere. “What’s going on? Astrid!” Courtney hugged Astrid closely.
“Congratulations, Courtney!” Astrid said loudly. “You look beautiful.”
“Astrid, I need a drink; this is insane.” Courtney waived the bartender over.
Andy said, “I’m going to keep going…see you at home.”
Astrid nodded and waved him on.
Courtney ordered two vodkas, neat. “Hmm, may be the last time you and I get to have vodka neat, eh?”
Astrid wondered how many things she had experienced for the last time. She knew Courtney’s love was among them. “Guess so.”
Courtney took one of the drinks and handed it to Astrid. She picked up the other glass and, with the rim slightly below Astrid’s, tapped them together. “Here’s to marriage.”
Astrid looked at her, unable to hide her reticence.
“What I mean is, here’s to everything that makes a marriage great. Like a history, a real history, with friends, and those who care. Care enough to stay around and make sure those of us who are scared shitless will still have friends to help us get through this.” She was starting to get drunk.
Astrid looked at Courtney and smiled. “Okay, I’ll drink to that.” They clinked glasses again and drank. “But you’re going to be okay, Courtney, really.”
“We’re going to be okay, right, Astrid?” Courtney asked. “Us?”
“Us, Courtney. Friends and sisters, that’s right.”
Courtney looked at Astrid. There was a poignant pain in her eyes that betrayed her desire and loneliness.
Astrid had to turn away to hide her tears. She walked slowly and deliberately away.
“Astrid?” Courtney called out plaintively.
It took all the strength that Astrid could summon to keep walking. She had come to deny the parts of herself that sprang into the arms of joy and desire, the spirit that offered love freely, the fearless heart. The truth was, there were things bigger than love. She thought of Andy and her promises to him. Although she didn’t turn back, she could feel Courtney’s stare, and a little part of Astrid withered and died. It was a silent scream, and it killed her a tiny bit. She knew that a part of her had been lost that was irretrievable. There was a poison stain on her life forever.
Astrid left on her flight from Minneapolis to Kastrup at 6:10 a.m. She refused to let Rupert bring her to the airport. She wanted to believe, for at least a while longer, that what happened at the wedding wasn’t a mistake. Clive and Anna dropped her off and said good-bye. They implored her to return soon and offered good wishes for Tobias. Anna insisted Astrid call when she got in to Kastrup, no matter what the time.
When Astrid settled in to her flight, she sat and thought about all that had happened. What was important was Jonathan, she thought. The case—that was what mattered. She pushed away the dark thoughts that haunted her and pulled out her notebooks. There were now eight, all bulging with sticky notes and rubber bands, notes written all over the covers. Astrid had no seatmate, so she opened the tray and laid her notes out. It was an eight-hour flight. Within an hour, she had sticky notes everywhere and papers fanned out on the empty seat. She ordered another vodka and contemplated her work. Astrid skipped the meal, nibbling only on some peanuts and potato chips. Within an hour of landing, she had several outlines and a very rough draft of a feature article. She would ask for twelve pages and half a dozen photos. A feature on Jonathan, highlighting the victim. One article on Mrs. Waltershaw and her tragic loss and sense of injustice. This piece would detail the police incompetence. One article on Haley as the accomplice and victim. And the feature, on the role of a sitting US senator in the death of a college student, one day before he graduated. This article would rely on inside sources and anonymous quotes about the evidence, but Astrid thought she had recorded enough cops and FBI agents and could name enough eyewitnesses to construct a credible exposé of the true evidence about the BMW Series 7. She had seen it herself. There was the evidence collected in Rhode Island, the details of which could not be disclosed. If nothing else, Astrid wanted to protect Albert’s memory. She had a meeting with Helena scheduled for the day she returned to Malmö. Astrid began to gather up her notebooks and asked for one more vodka before landing. The flight attendant shrugged in a disapproving manner but produced it nonetheless. The plane was bobbing toward the runway as Astrid tucked the empty Absolut mini into the seat-back pocket.
Astrid landed in Kastrup and reluctantly queued up to leave the plane. She reached the Jetway and groped around her bag for her phone. Once recovered, she turned it on and absentmindedly slipped it into her pocket. Vibrations and beeps told her of missed calls. She assumed Anna and Clive were checking on her, sending last thoughts and wishes. Maybe Rupert had called. She planned to head to the trains as quickly as possible, but her phone kept vibrating and ringing. Finally she side-stepped the moving crowd and pulled out her phone. She couldn’t believe her eyes: sixteen messages. Helena had called six times most recently. Astrid only needed to see “Skåne University Hospital” to figure out what was happening. She listened to her voice mail. Tears ran down her cheeks as she heard the desperate calls, the concerned friends. She wished Rupert’s voice were among them.
With hands shaking, Astrid dialed the hospital. Tobias had a massive stroke, they said. Could she get there soon? Astrid explained she was in Copenhagen and would be there in an hour.
“He’s resting comfortably,” the voice said. “Get here as soon as you can.”
On the train to Malmö, Astrid stared out the dark window feeling more alone than ever. Anna had been stronger than she imagined and promised any help that Astrid needed. They had to decide whether to call Andy on his honeymoon and concluded that they would wait to see how serious it was.
Astrid arrived at the hospital at 2:00 a.m., so it was difficult to get any information. They immediately took her to the stroke unit. Tobias looked surprisingly at ease. He had no ventilator and had only a single IV. Despite the relatively calm surroundings, Astrid had to struggle to keep from falling apart when she saw Tobias unconscious in the hospital bed. She walked up and took his hand in hers. He felt warm.
“Ms. Källström?” Astrid turned to see a woman in her forties wearing blue scrubs and a lab coat.
“Astrid?” She pointed outside with her shoulder. The two went into the corridor.
“I’m Dr. Magnusson, the attending neurologist.” They shook hands, but Astrid felt nothing. “Astrid, I’m afraid I haven’t much good news. Your father has had a massive hemorrhagic stroke in the left temporal region of the brain. It’s severe, and we could not do anything surgically.”
“Will he be able to walk, or talk again?”
Dr. Magnusson paused, and her forehead knotted. “Astrid, the area of damage is quite large; he probably will begin to suffer organ damage due to the loss of brain function, and we really don’t expect him to survive.”
Astrid gasped; she was shocked. Had she been naive, or in denial? Why hadn’t she seen that it could be this bad?
“Astrid, you need to be prepared. If he does survive—his body, that is—his brain will be…as you know, in a vegetative state.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Astrid tried to breathe, but it felt like she was underwater. “How long?”
“A day, a week, we just don’t know. He’s not in any pain, and as for now, we are keeping him on nutrition and hydration. We can stop the nutrition now if you’d like.”
“Okay, let’s do that,” Astrid said. “I will make some arrangements.”
Astrid wasn’t sure what to do or where to start. She sat in an orange plastic chair in the corridor and stared at the wall. The sound of equipment and the humming of a soda machine seemed to rise to unbearable levels. Astrid thought, I am alone.
“Mamma?” Astrid called shakily. “Mamma, it’s me. I’m at the hospital. Mamma, it’s serious.”
They talked for fifteen minutes, but Astrid wanted her to stay on the line forever. She wanted to fly back to Minnesota and fall into her arms. To have Rupert comfort her. When she hung up the phone, Astrid stared out the window and looked at nothing in particular. She had a strange vision. It was the night of the break-in, and Tobias was there. Courtney came in. Tobias greeted her, and they both sat on the sofa.
“We really should clean this place up,” said Courtney.
“Yes,” said Tobias.
Suddenly, she was calm, she felt centered, and she was ready.
The next few days were full for Astrid. Each day she rose early, went to the hospital, and helped care for Tobias. When she wasn’t bathing or grooming him, she sat by his side, reading to him from some of his favorite books. Dr. Magnusson came in regularly, and she and Astrid became acquaintances. One day, Astrid asked her for coffee. As they sat in the pleasant courtyard, sipping espresso, Astrid did one of the hardest things she had ever done. She explained to her the problems she had been having with depression and drinking, and she said she wanted to go back on her medication for bipolar disorder. Dr. Magnusson suggested Astrid see a psychiatrist, but she refused. Astrid only wanted to go on her regimen again; that was it. Reluctantly, she prescribed medications for Astrid under the conditions that she promise to see a friend of hers. She gave Astrid the name of a woman she said she greatly admired. The psychiatrist had a private office in an upscale neighborhood.
“And, Astrid,” she said, “it wouldn’t hurt to talk to her about what you’re going through, with your father.”
Astrid thanked her and vowed to keep her promise to see the psychiatrist. She went back to Tobias’s room and sat by his side.
Astrid gazed over the frame that used to be the vital man she loved so much. Loved more than any man, and always would. The man who used to take her out in the canoe and tell her long stories about wolves and ravens, and wait patiently while she insisted on fishing in empty eddies on the riverbank. He was the one who held her when she awoke with nightmares. Her teen years were rebellious and angry. She could see her father as a workaholic and nothing else. The old man at the paper, she thought. No time for his daughter. She blamed him for the separation and the loss of her mother. But as all of that passed, and Astrid became an adult, she understood Tobias more. His subtleties, his complexities. She appreciated relationships as being more complicated. Now, she only wished she had more time to give him as a daughter, and a friend. How could she be losing him just when she was beginning to understand him?
“Papa?” Astrid whispered. “All the things that happened, Papa, with your work, your drinking, and Mamma moving away. Papa, none of those things matter anymore. All I want is to have you back. Oh, please, Papa, don’t leave.”
Astrid sat for hours just watching his chest rise and fall. How can he not be alive? Astrid asked herself, seeing him there, as if sleeping.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, Papa, but Mamma wanted me to tell you something. She said we have to promise not to tell Clive. But, Papa, she said she still loves you, she always has.”
Astrid rubbed his arm and looked at his face. She brushed a few stray hairs off his forehead.
“And, Papa? I’m here for you now, okay? It’s going to be you and me. And, you know what? I’m getting better now, Papa. I’m going to try…for you. But you know, I always loved you. Papa?”
For the rest of the morning, Astrid helped as she could and wandered around the ward aimlessly for the rest of the time.
At midday, Astrid decided to run a few errands. On the way to the shops, she passed an outdoor cafe. It was a beautiful day, so she decided to stop for soup and a sandwich. She had just settled in with a bottled water when her phone rang. It was Rupert. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to take the call, but couldn’t bear to ignore him.
“Astrid, this is Rupert.”
“Hey, how are you?”
“How are you is the question. How is it going with Tobias?” Rupert asked.
“It’s day by day. He’s comfortable; I just don’t know…” she said.
“Everyone here is thinking about you, Astrid. We all feel for what you must be going through right now. We made Andy promise to finish his honeymoon, but he’s so upset. Even Courtney, she seems so worried about you. You have many people here who love you, Astrid. Including…me.”
There was a long silence.
“Um, thank you, Rupert.”
“Okay, well, I have some news.”
“Your story has been picked up by all the papers. Jesus, Astrid. What a shit storm. You basically accused a sitting US senator of murder.”
“Well, the paper wasn’t so keen on everything I wrote, but the evidence is strong enough that they went with it, even though the embassy freaked and tried to put pressure on us.”
“But the whole thing. I’ll tell you, I’ve gotten my fair share of shit about it. It makes the lot of us look like clowns. The FBI preventing the arrest, the last-minute search warrants, it’s fucking brilliant.”
“Thanks. I should be thrilled; it’s the chance of a lifetime. I only wish Tobias…” Astrid kept herself from sobbing.
“Well, based on the article, there has been a huge push to reopen the case. Mrs. Waltershaw and her attorney have been putting a lot of pressure on the DA.”
“Good, so they are going to go after Brigitta?”
“Well, that’s the bad news,” Rupert said.
“Yeah, they still won’t arrest Carlsson. The evidence has been so messed up, and there are so many missing pieces; they can’t touch a senator’s daughter without a rock-solid case.”
“So she walks free?”
“Well, yes and no. We have a champion, Astrid. His name is Dennart Josephs, and he is a superior court judge. He is so disturbed about this that he has decided to convene a one-man grand jury.”
“He’s going around the DA; it’s some kind of technicality, but he’s convening his own grand jury, subpoenaing witnesses, the whole deal. He’s issued an order unsealing the evidence from the BMW, but it was already overturned by a judge.”
“Do they have the car?”
“No, the car is gone, but the state police took photos,” Rupert said.
“Will I have to testify?” Astrid asked.
“If you can. It will be a while, yet. Astrid?”
“I miss you. It’s not the same without you around.”
“I miss you too, Rupert. Are you okay?”
“Well, I’m getting by each day. Astrid, you shouldn’t be doing this on your own.”
“I am alone, Rupert.” Astrid felt too many feelings welling up. “I need to go now.”
Astrid had a sandwich and a cup of tea. She went to the pharmacy, picked up her lithium and olanzapine, and took the first doses. She picked up some treats for the nurses and then went back to the hospital.
Astrid delivered the bakery items and was chatting with the nurses when they heard it. There was a sudden horrific crash of metal and breaking glass. Everyone jumped. Astrid looked around, and in front of Tobias’s room, there was a towering cart with housekeeping equipment. Astrid ran into the room. As she entered, she saw a young girl, no more than seventeen or eighteen, standing, shivering with her hands to her mouth. Astrid walked around the corner and saw Tobias. His eyes and his mouth were open. He was dead.
Astrid gasped. She took the girl by the hand and led her to the corridor. She walked back in and sat on the bed. Tears tumbled from her eyes, and her hands were shaking as she held Tobias’s cold and already stiffening hand.
“Papa. I’m still your little girl. I love you.” Astrid stared at his lifeless face. She gently closed his eyes and adjusted his chin. She heard the nurses murmuring, but they stayed away out of respect. Astrid put her head on Tobias’s still chest. She sobbed uncontrollably. Who was left in her life?
Astrid made some preliminary arrangements at the hospital. She bundled up Tobias’s last items and went back to her apartment. She poured herself a bourbon.
Sitting on the sofa, Astrid looked down, and tears rolled from her cheeks. She watched each fall and absorb into the carpet. Then she noticed something shiny under the corner of the rug. She reached down and picked it up. It was a shard of glass, still there from the break-in. She turned it over and looked at the reflection of her face in the glass. The glass distorted her eyes, but she looked older, tired. She felt as if she had lived a lifetime in one summer. Astrid wrapped her fingers around the glass as if it were a knife. She allowed her mind to go to places no mind should travel. Her grip tightened, and blood began to trickle out between her fingers. Then she walked over to the sink. With a paper towel, she wiped the glass clean. She then walked to the other end of the living room where there was a box on the floor. She sat cross-legged on the floor and began to go through the items. A dog-eared diary, a collection of dried flowers, a shell. Then she found what she was looking for. She slowly pulled out the framed photograph. She was thirteen. She and Tobias stood in a beautiful meadow; behind them the canoe sat restfully in a still lake, framed in still blue skies. They were holding one another and smiling. Astrid held up a string of puny fish.
Astrid picked up the photo with its shattered glass. She then reached over for the shard she found on the floor. She carefully fit it into the remaining gap in the splintered glass framing the photo. She gently placed the picture back in the box.
Astrid picked up her phone and swiped a few times, then tapped on a number. While it rang, she walked over to the couch. She picked up her bourbon, then went to the kitchen and poured it into the sink.
Astrid spent all of the next day making arrangements. Everyone from Minnesota would be coming. There were arrangements to be made for the service at the church, and relatives, friends, and colleagues to call. Helena rang from the paper. Although Astrid initially thought she was being gracious, Helena told Astrid that between the heat from the US Embassy and the police asking questions about the bribe money related to the Kalle Lundstrom case, she had to suspend Astrid from the paper for a while, “just until things settle down.” She offered to help, and Astrid let her take care of some of the arrangements, calling colleagues to tell them about the memorial service.
The day had been physically and emotionally exhausting. Astrid lay on the sofa and slept. Suddenly, she awoke to the sound of the door buzzer. Probably flowers or something, she thought. She looked at the clock and saw it was 2:00 a.m. Panic poured over her, and she began to tremble. She slowly approached the door and looked out the peephole. It was Rupert.
Ecstatic, she opened the door and flew into his arms. He stroked the back of her head and held her tightly.
“How did you get here so fast?”
“Well, I actually left after our phone call yesterday.”
“So you didn’t know?” Astrid asked.
“No, I just had to come. But, I heard on my layover. I’m so sorry.” They hugged again.
“Come in,” Astrid said. Rupert took off his jacket and sat on the sofa. Astrid went to the table and placed two glasses next to the bourbon bottle.
“Um…nothing for me at the moment,” Rupert said.
Astrid waved the bottle around like a magic wand, looked at her glass, and replaced the lid. She went to the refrigerator and produced two bottles of Pellegrino.
“Thanks,” Rupert said.
They talked about the flight, all the arrangements that had been made, what remained to be done, and how Astrid had been doing under the stress of it all. Inevitably, the conversation came back to the night of the wedding.
“About that…” Astrid said.
“Astrid, I know what you’re going to say,” Rupert said. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
“Well, maybe it was my fault, Rupert.”
“I disagree,” he said.
“Well, I kind of started…”
“No, not that. I disagree that it shouldn’t have happened; I’m glad it happened.”
“But, Rupert, I shouldn’t allow myself—”
“To what, fall in love with me?”
“Well, it’s not fair to either of us,” Astrid said.
“Rupert, come on.”
“All I know is that since we were together I can’t get you off my mind, Astrid. All I want is for you to see me the same way as I see you.”
“And what’s that?”
“Another person, someone I’m in love with.” The silence was painful, so Rupert said, “Okay. Look, I don’t know how you feel; I don’t want to pressure you.”
“No,” Astrid said, interrupting. “I want to be with you too, Rupert. I think I’m falling in love with you.”
Rupert reached over and kissed Astrid. They kissed like teenagers, perched on the end of the couch. They kissed gently, embracing but not groping. There was no urgency, no goal. The minutes passed, and they submerged into a deep rapture of tenderness. Astrid rested her head on Rupert’s chest, and he stroked her hair. After a few minutes, he realized she was asleep. He gently moved out from under her, placing her head on a pillow. Rupert found the bed and took two blankets. One he draped over her. He sat on a chair and covered up with the other. Rupert watched her breathe. He drank in the beauty of her face, luminous in sleep. When the first light came, Astrid opened her eyes. Rupert was sitting, watching her, smiling.
“What?” Astrid said.
“I can’t explain.”
She sat up and ran her fingers through her hair. He came over and sat next to her.
“Ugh, I have a busy day today. Did you sleep?” Astrid asked.
“No,” Rupert said.
“I’m still exhausted. Come on.” Astrid took Rupert by the hand, and they lay on her small IKEA bed. They cuddled together, and both were asleep in minutes.
Rupert woke Astrid at 9:00 a.m. and made breakfast while she showered. The two were soon out of the house and running errands.
Astrid had offered to have Anna, Clive, Andy, and Courtney stay at her apartment, but it was impossible. She booked a bed-and-breakfast for the family; they had arrived the previous night from the States. Rupert and Astrid stopped by in the morning to greet them and be sure they were comfortable. There were many tears and hugs, and Astrid was overwhelmed that everyone had been able to travel so far.
When they returned to the apartment, Astrid looked at Rupert and said, “Well, this is it.”
They both dressed, and Rupert held the door. Astrid walked under his arm. She exuded trepidation. He was concerned she was beyond exhaustion. They just hoped they could make it through the day.
The memorial service was at St. Peter’s Cathedral. Apart from family, all of Tobias’s work colleagues were there. A large portrait of Tobias sat on a table in front of the casket. Astrid was touched when people from the competitors’ papers showed, and even several officers from the Malmö Police. It was a pleasant service. Astrid had to wonder if Courtney noticed God was barely mentioned. A Swedish flag, a vestige of Tobias’s early days in the Swedish Navy, made his casket look regal and vibrant. There were so many flowers; the church smelled wonderfully spring-like and cheerful.
After the memorial, everyone gathered at the Insikt office.
“Astrid, we’ve been talking,” Anna said. Clive hung expectantly over her shoulder. “We think you should come live with us. Andy and Courtney are moving back home.”
“What?” Astrid was surprised.
“Well, Courtney’s apartment is expensive. Her photography studio is growing, and they are getting into a more upscale clientele. She is taking over Clive’s old office in the remodeled garage, converting it to a studio. Andy is teaching in Minnetonka, so it makes sense. Astrid, you’d make our family complete. Please stay, just for a while, until you have a chance to get back on your feet.”
Astrid thought about it for a moment. “Mamma, I can’t. I have responsibilities here.”
“Like what?” Anna asked.
“Well, the newspaper. They lost Papa; I have to keep going for him.”
“Oh, Astrid. I know about the newspaper. They are being gracious hosting us here today, but I know they are taking you off duty because of the Kalle Lundstrom affair.”
Astrid fought back tears.
“Why not be with all those who love you so much?
Anna stopped talking and looked at Astrid.
“Mamma, I’m scared. I’ve never been so frightened.”
Clive said, “Astrid, you need to do what’s right for you right now. You are always welcome in our home; we love you very much, and you are our daughter.” He reached out and hugged Astrid. It was the first time she ever felt safe with him. She just wanted to let go. Let go of everything: the past, fear of the future, responsibility. She had no more father.
At the train station, Astrid fought hard to keep from falling apart as she watched Anna, Clive, Andy, Courtney, and Rupert fade into the distance. When everyone was gone from view, she turned and slowly walked away. When she got back to her apartment, Astrid poured a bourbon.
She climbed into the shower and thought about everything. Tobias’s death, Anna’s cancer, Rupert, Courtney, the wedding, the payoffs at the paper. She felt empty. Where had it gone? That sense of possibility, the love, the lust, and passion. Were they just yesterdays in my life? Is this what it is like getting older? she wondered. Little pieces of confidence or joy just chip off, like the broken picture frame. Losing loved ones. To marriage, to death, to time. Astrid put on her bathrobe despite being soaking wet. She went over to the table and downed the bourbon in her glass. She walked to the windowsill. Looking outside, she saw traffic moving up and down on Förstadsgatan. What’s the point? she wondered. She picked up the box cutter she’d been using to pack.
The first cut barely grazed her forearm, threadlike. Still, it felt good, and she watched the blood ooze slowly from the fine perforation. The next cut would be deep and slow with more pleasure, more relief. She pushed the tip into her arm until the blood pooled up. Ready. She braced herself for the slash. She thought about Andy. How long would Mamma have left? Astrid thought of Courtney, and pangs of guilt overwhelmed her.
The door buzzer rang, and she found herself annoyed. She put the knife down.
When she looked through the peephole, she was shocked at what she saw.
“Rupert?” Astrid yelled. She suddenly felt her spirit lift. “What are you doing? You left already.”
“I can’t leave you, Astrid.”
They embraced and kissed. “Your flight?”
“Forget it,” he said. “Astrid, I want you to come back with me.”
Astrid sat down. “Rupert, how can I?”
“What do you have here at this point, Astrid? You need a change. Come back to Minnesota.”
“But this is my home.”
“Then I’ll stay here…if you want me.”
Astrid was shocked that he would say such a thing. From what she knew about Rupert, he meant what he said. “In Malmö? Ha-ha…” Astrid laughed. “Come here.”
Rupert sat on the sofa.
“I don’t think you can stay here,” Astrid said.
“Oh, why not?” Rupert asked.
Astrid looked at him and smiled, saying, “Um, I think the bed is too small.”
They laughed and held one another.
“I’ll pack,” Astrid said.
The blueberries were ripe, and there was frenzy in the kitchen.
“I know how to make the batter,” Clive said.
“No, no, my recipe is awesome; everyone knows it,” Andy said.
Anna intervened, “Well, you guys will have to—”
Astrid appeared out of nowhere. She was at the bottom of the stairs, near the kitchen, and walked up to the coffee bar. Everyone was silent.
She pushed her way through the crowd and poured herself a cup of coffee. As she sat down to the table, she said, “You guys don’t stand a chance against my crepes.”
Everyone burst into laughter. Andy threw an empty cereal box at Astrid. She jumped up and pinched his abdomen, making him bend over in laughter.
She was happy to be home after two weeks in the hospital. No booze, staying on her meds, even the group therapy: she had resisted them all. But as the days passed, the visits from family—and Rupert—helped. She finally started facing the pain. Astrid didn’t feel strong yet, but she was beginning to feel hopeful.
“Where’s Smilla?” Astrid asked.
Andy whistled, and Smilla came running up the hallway, sliding across the hardwood floor. She came up to Astrid and put her chin on her knee. Astrid patted her head and scratched her ears.
Astrid took her coffee and walked outside, calling Smilla along.
Anna shook her head, and Andy shrugged. “This will take time,” said Anna.
Andy put on his jacket and followed Astrid to the lake.
“Hey,” Andy said.
“Hey,” said Astrid.
“Don’t want to have breakfast?” Andy asked.
Astrid was throwing a tennis ball for Smilla, who returned it faithfully.
“Breakfast sounds great. Why don’t you go ahead?” Astrid mumbled.
Andy walked up to Astrid and put his hand on her shoulder.
She found the motion too arresting. “Andy, what?”
“Come to the house—have breakfast with us. We missed you.”
Astrid did an about face and started walking back to the house.
When she arrived, Astrid walked up to Anna. “Can I help, Mamma?” Anna turned and hugged Astrid. They held one another for a long while. “Astrid?” Anna asked. “There is someone here for breakfast.”
Astrid looked down by the lake and saw Rupert bringing in the canoe. He walked slowly toward the house. Astrid ran to the porch and tumbled out into the yard in her bare feet. She jumped into Rupert’s arms. He held her, embarrassingly, a few feet off the ground. Astrid grasped onto him with everything she had. She kissed him. They held hands and walked toward the house. Once back in the kitchen, Astrid heard that Clive had lost the battle, and the family would be subjected to Andy’s blueberry waffles. They were the best waffles Astrid had ever tasted.
It was an otherwise idyllic morning until the call.
Astrid received a call on her cell marked “Anonymous.” With the case and so many secretive correspondences lately, she decided to take the call.
“Astrid? This is Brigitta.”
“I’ve been over it a hundred times,” Astrid said.
“Are you sure there isn’t anything else?” Rupert asked.
“No, that’s it. She wants to meet me. Alone. And she told me when and where.”
“You’re not going to tell me,” Rupert said.
“I can’t, you know that. I can’t reveal my sources to…the police.”
“Great, that’s how it is?”
“Well, Rupert, if you know, you have to act on it, right?” Astrid asked.
“Look, Astrid, you can’t go alone; it’s dangerous. She could be, probably is, a killer,” Rupert said.
“Well, I’m going alone, Ru; I have to. I’ll be all right,” Astrid said, as much to convince herself as to persuade Rupert.
“Okay, look, I won’t report this; I’ll just come off duty. I’m a professional, remember? I can keep my distance; no one will know I’m there,” Rupert said.
When she found herself considering his offer, Astrid realized that she was afraid. But a journalist showing up with a cop in tow…that broke every rule there was. No source would ever take her seriously again.
“No, that’s it.”
Astrid got up and went upstairs to her room. She sighed and sat in her wing-back chair. Astrid looked out at the lake. It was starting to rain. She ran her toe up and down the edge of the cabinets under the window. Then the thought struck her. She reached down and opened the cabinet. There was a bottle of Absolut and some Linie Akvavit. She took a glass and opened the vodka. She hadn’t vowed to abstain, she thought to herself. She thought of all the reasons why there was nothing wrong with having a drink. Astrid put the glass down. Suddenly the sadness she felt turned over slowly; it twisted up inside her. Her throat contracted, and she squinted her eyes. No more, she thought, I can’t cry any more. Astrid swung her arm with all her might. The glass shattered, and bits flew across the room, suspended in a shower of vodka. Astrid put her hands over her face. It took a while for her to realize that her hand was bleeding badly.
Anna knocked and opened the door.
“Astrid, is everything—”
When Anna saw Astrid’s hand and face covered in blood, she almost gasped. She slowly walked over and took Astrid’s hand in hers. She saw a two-inch gash across the palm. It was deep and meaty, and blood was oozing out like a little stream. Anna reached over to the dresser and grabbed a bandana. She expertly tied it around Astrid’s hand and took her other hand, placing it over the cut. “Put pressure here, like this.”
Astrid complied. “Mamma? I’m sorry.”
Anna looked at Astrid. She looked exhausted, and had blood smeared across her face. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” Anna said.
The stitches were painful, and Astrid had a bulky bandage wrapped around her hand. She was already feeling it itch and tried not to undermine the bandage as she scraped at it.
She was lost in the labyrinth of the downtown skyways, seemingly going around in circles. She had to leave the maze and step out on the real sidewalks.
She managed to make her way to Hennepin County Court House and find the chambers of the Honorable Dennart Josephs.
“This is very unusual, you understand, meeting ex parte. You are sure you don’t want an attorney?” he said.
Astrid looked around at the dark bookcases, the volumes, pictures of family.
“Yes,” she said.
“Okay, well, we’ll be counting on you as a witness, Ms. Källström. I just wanted to make sure we weren’t going to have any problems.”
“What kind of problems, sir?” Astrid asked.
“Well, I’ve seen the articles you’ve written for your paper in Sweden. We’ll need to know the sources, where you got this information. For example, from the FBI.”
“That’s not possible, Your Honor.”
“Astrid, it’s not a request; you are required to comply. A grand jury proceeding is, well, it’s not like a regular trial. There are no exemptions, no exceptions. You must provide the information required.”
“Well, sir, grand jury or any other proceeding, whether the United States or Sweden, for me there is only one standard. As a journalist, I do not reveal my sources.”
“You are very naive, Ms. Källström. You can be compelled, and if you don’t provide the information we require, you may face serious fines, even jail time.”
“I’ve been in jail before and will face that again if I need to. As a Swedish citizen, there is not much you can do to me; I think you know that. This is already an international story. Jailing me would, well…be a disadvantage to your case. On the other hand, if you want to cooperate, I think there is nothing that you and I want more than to see the killer of Jonathan Waltershaw face justice.”
“Ms. Källström, you do not get to come in here and tell me what I want. Neither am I willing to negotiate with you.”
“Sir, may I ask you something?”
“Why are you doing this, convening a grand jury of one, taking on this case?”
“Don’t concern yourself with the politics of the day. Just know that if a crime occurred, we will not stop until we bring the responsible party to justice.”
Astrid knew that her articles had already thrown the nomination of Carlsson as vice president into a tailspin. A conviction now would not only undermine the vice presidential nomination; it might throw the entire candidacy of Derek Dickson into jeopardy. Judge Josephs seemed to have more in mind than bringing the leakers to justice than the perpetrator.
“Well, I await your subpoena, and we’ll see what kind of witness I can be,” Astrid said. “Unless, that is, I decide to go back to Malmö.”
Astrid stood and walked out. The judge stood up abruptly and said, “I don’t know who you think you are, and this little paper you work for, but in my courtroom—”
“Thank you for your time, Judge Josephs.”
Astrid splurged and took a taxi home. When she returned, she lay in bed with the covers to her chin. She slept with uneasy dreams. Dreams of Tobias and Andy and images of Courtney intruded on her thoughts, and she tossed and turned for a few hours.
“Oh, fuck it,” Astrid said aloud.
“Rupert, it’s Astrid.” She sighed and lay back in bed against a wall of pillows. “Okay, I want you to come with me; can you do that?”
Rupert drove up the driveway just as it was growing dark. Andy saw him and let Smilla out to greet him.
“Girl, hey girl,” Rupert said. “Hey,” he said as he saw Andy come out to the driveway. They hugged. Andy patted Rupert on the back and put his arm around his shoulder as he led him to the house. “Astrid,” Andy said.
“Yeah, Astrid,” Rupert responded.
Rupert went upstairs and tapped on Astrid’s door. There was no response, so he entered tentatively. He saw her sleeping and walked into the room. He sat on the bed and placed the back of his hand on her cheek. Astrid slowly opened one eye.
Rupert looked at her. “You look tired,” he said.
Astrid stretched out her arms and yawned. “No, just a long day,” she said.
“Well, you called.”
Astrid immediately sat up on the bed. “Oh, yeah, I met your judge. Man, what a creep. And I changed my mind; I’d really like you to come with me to meet Brigitta.”
“Sure, no problem. Where are you meeting?”
“At 2:00 a.m., in Powderhorn Park.”
“What? No one goes in there after dark. Are you crazy?”
“No, that’s what she wanted.”
“Astrid?” Rupert asked.
“Yeah?” she asked.
“Why did you change your mind?”
“I need you, Ru. Not as a cop, just as my partner.”
“Okay.” This he had to think about.
Astrid pulled Rupert toward her and the two lay in bed. “Let’s rest for a while.”
Astrid’s bed was small, and the two had to snuggle to fit. Rupert kicked off his shoes and put his leg over Astrid’s, with his knee landing on her thigh. She reached up and put her arm around his waist. They drifted in and out of sleep for several hours. After a while, Astrid stirred and went to the bathroom. She went downstairs, and Rupert heard coffee brewing. He readjusted his clothing and wandered downstairs.
“Here, eat,” Astrid said. She pushed a toasted bagel toward Rupert. He crunched down what he could, and washed the bagel down with the coffee she poured. “Are you ready?” Astrid asked.
“Almost.” He went out to the car and opened the trunk. After a few minutes, he returned. Rupert took his empty mug and poured some more coffee. Astrid could see that he had put on his sidearm, a Glock 17. It was the first time she had seen Rupert armed. She hoped he would not need it tonight.
“Okay, let’s go.” Astrid gathered her digital recorder, her phone, and her notebooks and pens. They walked down the driveway and climbed into Andy’s derelict Subaru.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to follow you in the cruiser? I’ll have the radio and—”
“Forget it, big man, this is a civilian operation.”
They drove down Chicago and turned down East Thirty-Fifth Street, driving along Powderhorn Park. It was hard to imagine that only a few weeks ago the space was teeming with life-sized puppets and hundreds of people celebrating May Day. Tonight it was dark and foreboding.
“Where did she—”
“Shh,” Astrid said.
She pulled up next to a house shaped like a giant barn. “Stay back,” Astrid said. “Stay way back.”
Rupert was surprised at how fast Astrid disappeared into the park. “Shit,” he said just below his breath. He slowly wound his way around the lake until he saw a park bench in the distance, underneath a few ancient cottonwood trees and obscured by some large bushes. He pulled his weapon out and quietly drew it back to chamber a round. Rupert made sure the safety was on and returned it to the holster. He could hardly see Astrid sitting there. Then, what looked like an Escalade pulled up and parked on East Thirty-Fifth. There was no sign of motion or activity, but Rupert knew it was not a coincidence. He watched Astrid closely. Then, out of the bushes, a figure appeared.
“Brigitta,” Astrid said. “Come, sit.”
Brigitta was wearing a long coat. She had her hair up under a plain bandana, but Astrid couldn’t help but notice the magenta color. She was as beautiful in person as the pictures had suggested.
She sat on the bench.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Astrid put out her hand.
Brigitta held it for a long time. She looked directly into Astrid’s eyes. “I’m so glad to meet, finally, Astrid. Such a beautiful name.” She gripped Astrid’s hand tightly. “And a beautiful woman.”
“Why did you want to meet, Brigitta?”
Rupert watched from the distance. He couldn’t see anything in detail, but didn’t like the way things were going, so he decided to move closer. Before doing so, he looked at the SUV parked on Thirty-Fifth. Carefully, he hugged the shadows.
“Astrid, you are my nemesis—you know that.”
“Well, I could see how that could be.”
“You and Haley.”
“What happened to Haley, Brigitta?”
“All she had to do was keep her mouth shut, that’s it.”
“So she saw the accident, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, she saw the car and the collision. She was looking right at him. She had just called Angel and let him know Jonathan was in position on the road, so she thought Angel was driving the BMW. When you went snooping around, I was afraid she’d talk. She wanted more money to keep quiet.”
Brigitta looked at Astrid. She looked sad, with a kind of loneliness coloring her expression.
“I hear you lost your father. I’m very sorry,” Brigitta said.
Astrid was taken aback. “What? How do you know about—”
“I know about your mother too. Such a shame, cancer.”
“Wait a minute, what—”
“I love my mother, Astrid. Do you?” Brigitta asked.
“Of course. What are you talking about?” Astrid asked.
“You’ve failed to realize what happened on that night, Astrid. My mother, she was driving.”
Astrid realized that Brigitta was confessing, and there was no longer a way out for her. That worried Astrid. She should signal Rupert. Astrid ran her fingers through her hair.
Rupert saw the signal and put his hand on his sidearm, then started making his way to the bench where they sat.
“What do you mean?” Astrid asked.
“Well, you should understand, Astrid. You are a fucking alcoholic.”
“What?” Astrid asked.
“I know about you. You drink; you are running away, like my mother.”
Brigitta started crying. “It wasn’t her fault. I told her not to drive after she’d been drinking. Father’s always in Washington. The Secret Service, they’re supposed to take care of her, but they tire of her, and she always gets away from them. Astrid, it’s like you and me. We have to take care of our mothers.”
“I know, Brigitta,” Astrid said nervously. “I know.”
“No! You don’t fucking know!” Brigitta screamed. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a Springfield XD-S, a tiny gun, but with its big-bore .45 load, it was lethal.
Astrid felt like she might lose control of her bodily functions. She had never been so frightened.
“You are the real problem here,” Brigitta said.
Rupert saw the gun and felt a pang of nausea. He was in the wrong position to deliver a shot that would guarantee she could not pull the trigger. He quietly moved behind the bushes, trying to get into a position where he could come up behind her. He saw a way, but worried that it would take too long to work his way around her. He was winding through the bushes when he noticed a woman barging out of the SUV followed by several men.
“Brigitta, it’s not your fault, what happened to Jonathan,” Astrid said. “If your mother was driving, you don’t have to do anything to get her in more trouble, but it isn’t your fault. You still have your life, medical school.”
“No, Astrid, it’s just you. You are the only problem, not my mother, not medical school. You are the one.”
Astrid noticed she had her finger on the trigger. She knew that was the action of a novice; the hair trigger could go off at any time. A more experienced shooter would have kept her finger on the frame of the gun, knowing that triggers are sensitive things.
“Brigitta?” Astrid moved forward toward Brigitta.
“Stop!” She raised the gun and pointed it at Astrid’s head.
Astrid put her hand on Brigitta’s arm. “Please don’t point that thing at me; it could go off. That’s not what you want, right? Brigitta?” Astrid slid her hand down her arm and stopped at Brigitta’s hand. She interlaced her fingers into Brigitta’s and held her hand.
“Don’t do this,” Astrid said. “You don’t have to.”
“Brigitta!” A voice came from the walk behind the shadows. “Don’t! Brigitta!” It was her mother. “It’s my fault. I hit him. I did it.”
Brigitta stood up. “Mother!” she yelled. The gun went off, and Astrid fell. Rupert ran from the bushes. He held his Glock high, pointed at Brigitta.
“Police. Drop that weapon! Drop it now!” he exclaimed. Brigitta looked at him vacantly. She raised the piece to her head and held it there.
“No!” Brigitta’s mother screamed. “No!”
The handgun went off with a popping sound, and Brigitta fell to the ground. Rupert ran to her and kneeled on the ground. He anticipated the worst; the .45 would leave little room for survival with a head shot. There was blood everywhere. Rupert gently turned her head, expecting to see brain matter. There was a large amount of blood, but holding her head, he saw it was only a superficial scalp laceration. He looked down and saw Astrid gripping Brigitta’s ankle.
By now, the Secret Service agents from the SUV had arrived, their guns drawn. They whisked away Mrs. Carlsson.
“Oh, fuck,” Astrid said. “Will we ever get her?”
Rupert ran to Astrid. Her clothes were soaked with blood. Rupert lifted her T-shirt, and found she had been shot in the abdomen. Rupert knew she had less than a 50 percent chance of surviving.
Astrid was in surgery in Hennepin County Level One Trauma for eight hours. The chief surgeon said there was surprisingly little damage. Astrid had a clean perforation of the colon, and the greatest risk was infection, so they pumped her full of intravenous antibiotics and kept her heavily sedated in the ICU for five days. Once she passed the window of vulnerability, her chances were good.
Rupert was by her side every day. When they moved Astrid to general ward, she said to Rupert, “Don’t you have someplace to go? Come on, you can’t spend all your time in this stupid hospital.”
“Sure I can. Besides, someone has to sort through your fan mail.” Rupert held up a copy of Insikt with Astrid’s photo and a screaming headline that read, “Reporter Shot.”
“I think I told you once, you know—I don’t deserve you,” Astrid said.
“Yeah, well, I don’t deserve you either, but here we are.”
“How is Brigitta?”
“The High Priestess. She’s okay; she was discharged. She’s admitted to killing Haley to protect her mother. She’s now in the psychiatric unit, and may be there for most of her life. Her mother isn’t likely to be charged with much more than vehicular homicide. Carlsson’s finished. Tragically, she was intoxicated when she hit Jonathan; she really just needed help. All the papers are reporting the story of a daughter who covered up for her mother. Now, an entire family, an empire, has fallen. I would watch my back, girl.”
“Well, every paper reported it but mine.”
“You were a little bit busy lying around the ICU,” Rupert said.
“And the grand jury?”
“Discharged, all one of them.” They laughed. “I think all Josephs wanted was for Carlsson to be unseated. The irony is it was unlikely that he could even hand down an indictment; the evidence was so weak. If Brigitta had waited, she may have been able to slip through with a good attorney. The interesting part is that Josephs now suspects that Carlsson had some of the evidence tampered with or covered up. He’s talking to the DA, and Detective Buckley is under investigation. Oh, and you were right about the hospital; they found evidence that someone replaced the saline solution with water.”
Astrid shifted in the bed and winced in pain.
Rupert took Astrid’s hand in his. “You’re going to be okay. For a while, Astrid…” Tears began to form in his eyes. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Hey,” Astrid said. “How come you’re the cop and I’m the one who gets shot? Ever been shot? No. Yeah…”
Rupert hugged her.
“Ouch!” Astrid exclaimed. She looked at him sideways.
When Astrid returned home, she ambled into the kitchen and sat at the table. She stared out the window and thought about Jonathan. He would have had his whole life to live, full of opportunities, pleasures, and sorrows. She thought of the chain of tragedies that unfolded: a woman who had too much to drink, a girl in the middle of two killers, and Brigitta’s slow descent into delusions of grandeur and paranoia. And, Astrid thought, there was her own journey. She felt like a different person than the one who flew here in May for a wedding.
Smilla came and butted her thigh with her nose. Astrid wanted some orange juice but didn’t feel like undertaking the struggle of retrieving it.
Courtney came downstairs and saw Astrid. She sat next to her.
“How are you, now?”
“Well, I’m alive.”
Courtney stood up and walked behind Astrid. She messaged her shoulders, and then took her hair in her hands. She drew it back and began braiding it. When she finished the last braid, Courtney leaned over her and kissed Astrid’s temple. Astrid’s blood chilled. But she said nothing. She only hoped that Courtney would come to terms with her feelings in time—that living together would allow them to rebuild their friendship as sisters-in-law. Or maybe Courtney would capitulate and Astrid would surrender. Astrid suddenly remembered why she hated marriage: it was about possession. Why was one’s relationship status more important than whether two souls could communicate, whether two voices could mingle on a lonely night? Astrid laughed to herself, realizing that what was supposed to be the ultimate gesture of togetherness—monogamy—was really just about possession, jealousy, and greed.
Anna came into the kitchen and ran up to Astrid. “You’re home,” she said. “Astrid, Clive and I have something to show you.”
Astrid followed Anna into the yard.
They walked into the garage that had been converted into Clive’s office. Astrid saw that the space had been remodeled for Courtney’s studio.
“It looks fantastic. She must love her new space,” Astrid said. “Her office is upstairs?”
“That’s what I want to show you,” Anna said. Astrid hobbled up. When they reached the top of the stairs and opened the door, Astrid couldn’t believe what she saw. It was a beautiful studio apartment with high ceilings, track lighting, and a handsome granite coffee bar.
“They are moving up here?”
“No, Astrid, you are. This is for you.”
Astrid looked in amazement. Then she noticed how similar the apartment was to her place in Malmö. “It looks just like—”
“We tried as best we could to make it just like your old flat,” Anna said.
“Well, it was Clive’s idea, and he put a lot of effort into this.”
Astrid looked at the sofa; it was very similar to her old one, although the bed was more substantial than her miniature IKEA bed. Then something caught her eye. She walked up to the mantel and picked up a photograph. It was the shot of her and Tobias at the lake.
“You know how old I was?” Astrid asked.
“Thirteen,” Anna said, “and you still can’t catch a fish to save your life.” Anna put her arm on Astrid’s shoulder and gently rubbed her back.
Astrid noticed another small photograph in a frame she didn’t recognize. She picked it up and saw a photograph of a couple standing on a pier. In the background were naval boats and a submarine. The man was wearing an American uniform. The woman was wearing a summer dress, her blond hair waving in the wind.
“I found it the attic with some of Tobias’s war photos. It’s Albert and Astrid.”
There was a knock on the door. Anna opened it to see Rupert beaming.
“Hello, Anna,” he said.
“Astrid.” Rupert walked up to Astrid and gently hugged her.
“Hey.” Astrid smiled warmly.
Anna looked at the couple and said, “I’ve got to get back. See you later.” Anna walked out the open door.
Rupert said, “This is pretty chic.”
“Yeah, and you knew nothing about this, right?” Astrid said sarcastically.
“Guilty,” Astrid said.
“Astrid, Anna said that, if you wanted to, well, it would be okay for me to stay with you for a while. You know, until you are on your feet.”
Astrid was surprised, and thought for a moment. Astrid didn’t know what she thought about Rupert. Despite being close, he remained an enigma. Maybe she liked it that way. All she knew was he had been there for her—a companion, a lover, a friend. There wasn’t much more to it, when she thought about it. Astrid didn’t want to speculate about Rupert; she wanted to love him.
“What do you want?”
“Well, my bags are in the car.”
“And when I’m back on my feet?”
“Well, I can go back to—”
Astrid reached up and put her hands on his lips. She kissed him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. They kissed a few times and then looked at one another for a long moment.
“Welcome home, Ru. Now, you want to close that door?”