Beneath a dark winter sky . . . death waits patiently.
A journalist is murdered in the frozen white landscape of a northern Swedish town. Annika Bengtzon, a reporter at a Stockholm-based tabloid, was planning to interview him about a long-ago attack against an isolated air base nearby, and now she suspects that his death is linked to that attack.
Against the explicit orders of her boss, she begins to investigate the event, which is soon followed by a series of shocking murders. Annika knows the murders are connected. At the same time, she begins to suspect that her husband is hiding something, and nothing can counteract the loneliness that has crept into her life.
Behind everything lurks the figure of the Red Wolf, a cold-blooded killer with the soul of a lover. In the end, she must discover the truth not only about the murders but also about the lies that are destroying her own family.
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September 01, 2011
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Excerpt from Red Wolf by Liza Marklund
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 10
Annika Bengtzon stopped at the entrance to the newsroom, blinking against the sharp white neon lighting. The noise crashed against her, chattering printers, whirring scanners, the faint tapping of trimmed nails against keyboards. People feeding machines with text, images, letters, commands, signals, filling digital stomachs with no hope of ever finishing the job.
She took a few deep breaths and sailed out into the room. Over by the news desk the only activity was of the focused variety that was for the moment entirely silent. Spike, the boss, was reading some pages with his feet crossed on his desk. The temporary head of news was skimming the shimmering computer screen with increasingly red eyes, Reuters and French AFP, Associated Press and TTA and TTB, domestic and foreign, sports and financial, news and telegrams from all over the world, an endless stream. The exultant shouting hadn't yet started, no noisy enthusiasm or disappointment about stories that had either come off or blown up, excited arguments advocating one particular approach or another.
She slid past them without looking, and without being seen.
Suddenly a noise, a challenge, a voice breaking the electronic silence.
"So you're off again?"
She started, took an involuntary step to one side. Let her gaze swing toward Spike's voice, and was blinded by a low-energy lamp.
"I read that you're flying to Lule? this afternoon."
The corner of the morning team's desk hit her in the thigh as she tried to get to her glass box too quickly. She stopped, shut her eyes for a moment, and felt her bag slide down her arm as she turned around.
But the editor had already moved on, leaving her all at sea, caught between people's stares and digital sighs. She licked her lips, hoisted her bag onto her shoulder again, feeling their skepticism stick to the nylon of her quilted jacket.
Set sail, away, home. The aquarium came ever closer. Relieved, she slid the door open and fled in through the tired curtains. Slid the door shut behind her, resting the back of her head against the cool glass.
At least they had let her keep her room.
Stability was becoming more and more important, she knew that much, both for her personally and for society as a whole. As chaos broke out and the nature of war was changing, it was more important than ever to look back, to learn from history.
She dropped her bag and her coat on the visitors' couch and switched the computer on. News reporting felt increasingly distant, even though she was sitting in the middle of its pulsing, electronic heart. Things that led the front page today were forgotten tomorrow. She no longer had the energy to keep up with AP's ENPS, the news beast of the digital age.
She ran her fingers through her hair.
Perhaps she was just tired.
She sat patiently with her chin on her hands as all the programs loaded, then opened up her material. She thought it was looking pretty interesting already, but the suits in charge weren't so enthusiastic.
She recalled Spike out there, his voice above the waves.
Gathered together her notes and prepared her presentation.
The stairwell was dark. The boy closed the apartment door behind him, listening intently. The loose window on the stairs up to old Andersson was whistling as usual, the old boy's radio was on, but otherwise it was quiet, completely quiet.
You're useless, he thought. There's nothing here. Wimp.
He stood there for a few moments, then set off determinedly for the front door.
A real warrior would never behave like that. He was almost a master; Cruel Devil was about to become a Teslatron God; he knew what mattered--that you must never hesitate in battle.
He pushed the door open, the same plaintive creak. The endless winter snow meant that the door only opened a fraction, seeing as no one had cleared the steps that morning. He forced his way out, squeezing through the gap. His rucksack caught on the door handle, though, and the unexpected jerk almost made him weep with annoyance. He tugged and pulled until one of the seams split, not caring.
He stumbled down the steps, waving his arms madly to keep his balance. At the bottom, he peered through the falling snow above the fence and stopped still.
The whole sky was illuminated by a blue light swirling against the black backdrop, coming and going, coming and going.
They're here now, he thought, feeling his throat tighten. This is for real.
He set off, but stopped next to a broken lawn mower that was hardly visible under the snow, hearing his heart hammering once more, faster and faster, thud, thud, thud, thud. He screwed his eyes shut.
He didn't want to see, didn't dare go up and look.
He stood there, his ears pricking, feeling his hair gel stiffen in the cold. Hard flakes landed on his nose. Every sound was wrapped in the cotton wool of the snow, the sound of the ironworks barely audible.
Then he heard voices. People talking. A car engine, maybe two.
He opened his eyes as wide as he could, looking over the fence toward the soccer field.
Police, he thought. Not dangerous.
He waited until he had calmed down before creeping toward the road and leaning carefully forward.
Two police cars and an ambulance, people with confident postures and broad shoulders, with belts and uniforms.
Weapons, the boy thought. Pistols. Bang, bang, you're dead.
They were standing there talking, walking about and pointing; one man had a roll of tape that he was unwinding; a girl closed the back doors of the ambulance before getting into the passenger seat.
He waited for the sirens, but they didn't come.
No point rushing to the hospital.
Because he's already dead, the boy thought. There's nothing I could have done.
The sound of a bus accelerating grew louder down the road; he watched the number 1 go past the fence, annoyed that he had missed it. His mom got so angry if he was late.
He ought to hurry. He ought to run.
But he stayed where he was, his legs refusing to move, because he couldn't go onto the road--there might be cars, gold-colored cars.
He sank to his knees, his hands shaking, and started to cry, wimp, wimp, but he couldn't stop.
"Mom," he whispered, "I didn't want to see anything."
Anders Schyman, the editor in chief, unfolded the graph of the circulation figures on the conference table in front of him. His hands were twitchy, a bit sweaty. He already knew what the columns showed, but the conclusions and analysis affected him in a way that actually made him blush.
It was really working. It was going to be okay.
He took a deep breath, put his hands facedown on the table, leaned forward, and let the information sink in.
The new direction for the news team was making a clear difference, both to the circulation figures and to the finances. Here it was, in black and white. It was working, the bitterness from the latest round of cutbacks was dying down. The reorganization was complete, people were motivated, working toward a common goal, in spite of the cuts.
He walked around the shiny walnut table, his fingers stroking the wood. It was a beautiful piece of furniture. He had deserved it. His high-handed treatment of the staff had turned out to be exactly the right thing to do.
I wonder if anyone else could have done it, he thought, even though he knew there was no one else. He had finally been able to prove himself.
The deal he had worked out with the printers had cut their print costs by 8 percent. That was saving the owners millions each year. And the recession meant that the cost of paper had gone down, which of course he couldn't take any credit for, but it all added to the successful development of the business. The recruitment of a new sales manager had helped attract advertisers, and in the last three-quarters they had taken market shares from both the morning papers and the broadcast media.
And who was it who had fired the old fogy who was still selling advertising space like he was working on some small-town local paper?
Schyman smiled to himself.
But the most important thing was probably his continued development of sales on the front page and flyers. He wasn't counting his chickens, but, fingers crossed, it looked like they were going to catch The Competition during the next financial year, or possibly the one after.
The editor in chief stretched, massaging the small of his back. For the first time since he arrived at the Evening Post he felt a sense of real satisfaction. This was how he had imagined his new job would be.
It was just a bit of a fucker that it had taken almost ten years.
"Can I come in?" Annika Bengtzon asked over the intercom.
He felt his heart sink, the magic fade. He breathed in and out a couple of times before going over to his desk to press the reply button and say "of course."
He stared out at the Russian embassy as he waited for the reporter's nervous steps outside the door. The newspaper's success meant that he had finally started to get some respect out in the newsroom, which was most noticeable in the fact that there was less traffic through his door. This was partly explained by the new way the newsroom was organized. Four all-powerful editors worked shifts, running the various departments, and it was working just as he had planned. Instead of making him weaker, the delegation of power had actually made him mightier and more powerful. He had handed the responsibility down, and instead of having to argue constantly with the whole of the staff, he imposed his authority through his cardinals.
Annika Bengtzon, the former head of the crime team, had been invited to become one of the four. She had declined. They had fallen out badly. Schyman had already revealed his plans for her, seeing her as one of three possible heirs, and wanted to get her involved in a larger program of development. Becoming one of the editors was the first step, but she had turned the offer down.
"I can hardly punish you," he had said, hearing exactly how that sounded.
"Of course you can," she had said, her unreadable eyes fluttering across his. "Just get on with it."
Bengtzon was one of the few who believed they still had open access to him and his office. It annoyed him that he hadn't done anything about this. In part, her special treatment stemmed from the big media storm last Christmas, when she had been taken hostage in a tunnel by a mad serial killer. That had certainly helped break the paper's downward spiral; the market research proved that. Readers found their way back to the Evening Post after reading about the night the mother of two had spent with the Bomber. So there was good reason to treat Bengtzon with kid gloves for a while. Her way of dealing with the situation and the attention that followed her release had even impressed the board. Maybe not her as a person, but the fact that she had insisted on the press conference being held in the newsroom of the Post. The chairman of the board, Herman Wennergren, had practically turned cartwheels when he saw the paper's logo live on CNN. Schyman had more mixed memories of the press conference, partly because he had been standing directly behind Annika in the spotlight during the broadcast, and partly because of the countless repeats that had been shown on every channel.
He had been staring down at the tousled back of her head, noting the tension in her shoulders. On screen Bengtzon had been pale and giddy, answering the questions clearly but curtly in decent school-level English. "No embarrassing emotional outbursts, thank God," Wennergren had said on his cell phone to one of the owners from Schyman's office afterward.
He could well remember the fear he had felt at the mouth of the tunnel when the shot rang out. Not a dead reporter, he had thought, anything but a dead reporter, please.
He stopped looking at the bunker of the embassy and sat down on his chair.
"It'll collapse beneath you one day," Annika Bengtzon said as she closed the door behind her.
He didn't bother to smile.
"I can afford a new one. The paper's on a roll," he said.
The reporter cast a quick, almost furtive glance at the graphs on the desk. Schyman leaned back, studying her as she carefully sat down on one of the heavy chairs for visitors.
"I want to do a new series of articles," she said, looking at her notes. "Next week is the anniversary of the attack on the F21 air base in Lule?, so it would make sense to start there. I think it's time for a proper summary of what happened, all the known facts. There aren't many of those, to be honest, but I could do some digging. It's over thirty years ago, but some of the employees from those days will still be in the Air Force. Maybe it's time for someone to talk. You don't get any answers if you don't ask the questions . . ."
Schyman nodded, folding his hands on his stomach. Once all the fuss had died down last Christmas, she had spent three months at home. A sabbatical, they had agreed to call it. When she got back to work at the start of April she had insisted on being an independent investigative reporter. Since then she herself had chosen to focus on terrorism, its history and consequences. Nothing remarkable, no revelations, routine reports from Ground Zero and 9/11, a few follow-up pieces about the bombing of that shopping center in Finland, and interviews with survivors of the Bali bombings.
The fact was that she hadn't really done much lately. Now she wanted to go even deeper in her retrospectives of past acts of terrorism. The question was just how relevant this really was, and if it made sense to embark on that battle right now?
"Okay," he said slowly, "that could be good. Dusting off our old national traumas, the hijack at Bulltofta, the siege of the West German embassy, the hostage crisis on Norrmalmstorg . . ."
". . . and the Palme murder, I know. And out of all of them, the attack on F21 is the least written about."
She dropped her notes in her lap and leaned forward.
"The Defense Department has kept the lid on this, applying a whole arsenal of secrecy legislation. There were no media-trained PR people on the defense staff in those days, so the poor bastard in charge of the base up there had to stand there in person shouting at reporters that they had to respect the security of the nation."
Let her run with it a bit longer, he thought.
"So what do we know?" he said. "Really?"
She looked dutifully down at her notes, but he got the distinct impression that she knew all the facts by heart.
"On the night of November 17-18, 1969, a Draken fighter plane exploded in the middle of the F21 base at Kallax Heath outside Lule?," she said quickly. "One man was burned so badly that he died of his wounds."
"A conscript, wasn't it?"
"That only came out later, yes. He was transferred by air ambulance to the University Hospital in Uppsala, and hovered between life and death for a week before he died. The family was gagged and kicked up a real stink a few years later because they never got any compensation from the Air Force."
"And no one was ever arrested?"
"The police interrogated a thousand people or so, the security police probably even more. Every single left-wing group in Norrbotten was pulled in, down to their least significant members, but nothing was ever found. It wasn't as simple as all that, though. The real left had managed to stay pretty tight knit. No one knew all their names, and the whole lot of them used code names."
Schyman smiled nostalgically; he himself had gone under the name of "Per" for a short period.
"You can never keep stuff like that secret, though."
"Not completely, of course not, they all had close friends in the groups, after all, but as far as I know, there are still people in Lule? who only recognize each other by the code names they used in left-wing groups at the end of the sixties."
She could hardly have been born then, he thought.
"So who did it?"
"Who blew up the plane?"
"The Russians, probably. That's the conclusion the armed forces came to, anyway. The situation was completely different then, of course, we're talking about the height of the arms race, the deepest freeze of the cold war."
He closed his eyes for a moment, conjuring up images and the spirit of the time.
"There was a huge, great debate about the level of security at military bases," he suddenly remembered.
"Exactly. Suddenly the public, or rather the media, demanded that every single base in Sweden had to be guarded better than the iron curtain itself. Which was completely unrealistic, of course; it would have taken the whole of the military budget to do it. But security was certainly stepped up for a while, and eventually secure zones were established within the bases. Dirty great fences with video cameras and alarms and what have you around all the hangars and so on."
"And that's where you want to go? Which one of the editors have you spoken to?"
She glanced at the time.
"Jansson. Look, I've got an open plane ticket for this afternoon. I want to meet a journalist on the Norrland News up there, a bloke who's found out some new information, and he's going off to Southeast Asia on Friday, away until Christmas, so I'm in a bit of a hurry. I just need you to give the okay."
Schyman felt the irritation rising again, maybe because she was excusing herself so breathlessly.
"Couldn't Jansson do that?"
Her cheeks started to go red.
"In principle," Annika said, meeting his gaze. "But you know what it's been like. He just wants to know that you're not against it."
She closed the door carefully behind her. He stared at the space she had left, understanding exactly what she meant. She works without boundaries, he thought. I've always known that. She hasn't got any instinct for self-preservation. She gets herself into all sorts of situations, things normal people would never dream of doing, because there's something missing there. Something got lost long ago, yanked out, roots and all, the scar fading over the years, leaving her exposed to the world, and to herself. All she's got left is her sense of justice: the truth like a beacon in a brain full of darkness. She can't do anything else.
This could get really messy.
The editorial team's euphoria over the sales figures for the Christmas holiday had come to an abrupt halt when it emerged that Bengtzon had got an exclusive interview with the murderer while she was being held captive. It had been typed on the murdered Olympic delegate's computer--Schyman had read it--it was sensational. The problem was that Annika, like a real pest, had refused to let the paper publish it.
"That's just what the bastard wanted," she had said. "And because I've got copyright I can say no."
She had won. If they had published without her consent, she had promised to sue them. Even if she might have lost the case, he wasn't prepared to challenge her, considering the amount of good publicity the story had already got them.
She's not stupid, Anders Schyman thought, but she might have lost her bite.
He stood up, went over to the graphs again.
Well, there would be further cutbacks in the future.
The sunset was spreading a fiery glow in the cabin of the plane, even though it was only two o'clock in the afternoon. Annika looked for any gaps in the whipped-cream clouds beneath her but found none. The fat man next to her drove his elbow into her ribs as he spread out his copy of the Norrland News with a sigh.
She closed her eyes, shutting herself off. Pulled the shutter down against the hiss of the plane's air-conditioning, the pain in her ribs, the captain's reports on the temperature outside the cabin and the weather in Lule?. Let herself be carried at a thousand kilometers an hour, concentrating on the pressure of her clothes against her body. She felt dizzy, shaky. Loud noises had begun to startle her in a way she had never experienced before. Open spaces had become impossibly large; cramped spaces made her feel suffocated. Her sense of spatial awareness was warped, so that she had difficulty judging distances; she was always covered in bruises from where she had walked into things, furniture and walls, cars and the edge of pavements. Sometimes the air seemed to vanish around her. The people her vicinity used it all up, leaving nothing for her.
But it wasn't dangerous, she knew that. She just had to wait until it went over and the sounds came back and colors became normal again; it wasn't dangerous, wasn't dangerous.
She suppressed the thought, letting herself float away, feeling her chin drop, and suddenly the angels were there.
Hair like rain, they sang, beings of light and summer breeze, danger-free and cherry trees . . .
Fear made her sit bolt upright in her seat, she hit the folding table, spilling orange juice against the wall of the cabin. The racing of her heart filled her head, shutting out all other sound. The fat man was saying something to her, but she couldn't make out what.
Nothing scared her as much as the song the angels sang.
She didn't mind as long as they kept to her dreams. The voices sang to her at night, chanting, comforting, meaningless words with an indefinable beauty. Nowadays they sometimes carried on after she was awake, which made her mad with anxiety.
She shook her head, cleared her throat, rubbed her eyes.
Checked that she hadn't got orange juice on her laptop.
As the steel tube broke through the clouds on its final approach it was surrounded by swirling ice. Through the snowstorm she caught a glimpse of the half-frozen gray of the Gulf of Bothnia, interrupted by dark gray islands.
The landing was uncomfortably rough, the wind tugging at the plane.
She was last out of the plane, restlessly shuffling her feet as the fat man heaved himself out of his seat, got his luggage from the overhead compartment, and struggled to pull his coat on. She ran past him on the way out and noted with some satisfaction that he ended up behind her in the queue for rental cars.
Key in hand, she hurried past the crowd of taxi drivers by the exit, a cluster of dark uniforms that laughed and made shameless evaluating judgments.
The cold shocked her as she walked out of the terminal building. She gasped carefully for air, tugging her bag higher on her shoulder. The lines of dark blue taxis sparked a memory of a previous visit here with Anne Snapphane, on the way to Pite?. That must be almost ten years ago, she thought. God, time flies.
The parking lot was down to the right, beyond the bus stops. The gloveless hand holding the laptop was soon ice cold. The sound her feet made reminded her of broken glass, making her cautious. Her forward motion left doubt and fear behind it; she was on her way, she had a purpose; there was a reason for her being here.
The car was at the end of the row, she had to clear the snow from the license plate to make sure.
Dusk was falling incredibly slowly, taking over from a daylight that had never really arrived. The snowfall was blurring the outlines of the stunted pines that edged the parking lot; she leaned forward, peering through the windscreen.
Lule?, Lule?, which way was Lule??
In the middle of a long bridge heading into town the snow suddenly eased, giving her a sense of the river beneath her, frozen and white. The structure of the bridge rose and sank around her in soft waves as the car rolled onward. The town gradually crept out of the snowstorm, and off to the right dark industrial skeletons rose toward the sky.
The steelworks and ore harbor, she thought.
Her reaction as the buildings enclosed her was immediate and violent, a d?j? vu from childhood. Lule? was like an arctic version of Katrineholm, colder, grayer, lonelier. The buildings were low, in varying colors, built of cement blocks, steel-and-brick panels. The streets wide, the traffic thin.
The City Hotel was easy to find, on the main street, next to the Town Hall. There were free parking spaces outside the entrance, she noted with surprise.
Her room had a view of the Norrbotten Theatre and Stadsviken, a strangely colorless picture in which the leaden gray water of the river swallowed all light. She turned her back on the window, and rested the laptop against the bathroom door, putting her toothbrush and extra clothes on the bed so she didn't have to carry them with her in her bag.
Then she sat down at the desk and used the hotel phone to call the Norrbotten News. It took almost two minutes before anyone answered. She was about to hang up when a sullen female voice answered.