2 August 1983 Kurt and Martin each took a file after they came in over the fax machine: Joakim Bengtsson, a 51-year-old male found dead in Mälaren Lake near Blackeberg; and the 59-year-old unidentified male who had been found dead in a Blackeberg apartment, 75 Ibsengatan. Both of them immediately noted the similarities of the wounds found on the bodies.
“The pathology report in the Bengtsson case says that the man was bitten in the neck by a child,” Kurt noted. “And his head was twisted in a fashion similar to Christensen’s. Here’s the photograph I remembered in the papers of the kid’s shirt that they found tucked inside the man’s clothing. See the bloodstains?” He slid the grainy facsimile across the desk toward Martin. “How about the other guy?”
Martin nodded. “Same deal. Cause of death was exsanguination from a bite wound on the neck—except in his case, there was a lot of tearing of the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and the sternocleidomastoid muscle. In fact . . . the autopsy said there was actually avulsion of the external jugular—the vein had been partially torn free. All of the trauma made a precise measurement of the bite impossible. And . . . yep, the neck was definitely twisted.”
“What about the chest?”
“Ribs were fractured—like Christensen’s.” He looked up and his brown eyes met Kurt’s baby blues. “How about Bengtsson’s?”
“They were bruised in his case. Same pattern, though.” He frowned, then asked, “any blood analysis on the John Doe?”
“Testing of a heart sample showed trace alcohol, but the tox screen was negative for drugs. Liver biopsy showed chronic alcohol use. And the guy didn’t have any drugs on him.”
Kurt read further down the report. “Says here that this Joakim fellow was last seen alive on October 24, 1982, about two weeks before his body was found frozen in the ice by some schoolkids. No question that he had been killed elsewhere and dumped—the body had been tied up with rope and weighted down with stones. But where he was killed was never determined. When was John Doe found?”
“Not long after. Whose apartment was he in? And where in the apartment was the body found?”
“Well, let’s see . . . he was found lying on the floor of the bathroom, face up. Blood stains matching the victim were found on the walls and the doorjamb, confirming that there had been a struggle.
“Now, who had been renting the apartment . . . .” Martin flipped through some more pages. “That’s not really known. The guy who signed the lease in October used a fictitious name, and listed himself as the sole occupant. The rental agent who was interviewed said he was middle-aged, but did not remember his face, nor recall there being a child. But he was shown a photograph of the John Doe and did not think it was him.”
Kurt frowned. “So Doe was in someone else’s apartment. Was the door forced?”
“So Doe knew the tenant.”
“Yeah. Unless the door was left unlocked.”
“That would seem unlikely if our tenant liked his privacy so much that he used a phony name on the lease.”
“Did they find Doe’s prints anywhere?”
“Hang on a sec. Okay--just on a knife that was recovered from the bathroom, and a partial on a kitchen drawer handle. It was an ordinary paring knife, so it’s a fair assumption that he must’ve taken it from the drawer, because those were the only places where his prints were found.”
“Hmm . . . maybe he knew the tenant and didn't like him very much. And that doesn’t suggest he’d been there too often—so maybe he didn’t know him very well. Did they run his prints for a match?”
Martin scanned further. “Yes—nothing. No criminal history, which helps explain why they couldn’t identify him.”
“Did anyone report a missing person later in November?”
“If they did, it’s not in these reports.”
“Well, make a note. We need to check on that. We gotta figure out who this John Doe was. We’ll have to call Rydberg back about that, and if the Vällingby people didn’t do it, we’ll need to. What other prints did they find in the apartment?”
“Several, including some partials, and at least five children and three adults. Hard to tell how long they’d been there, though. You know—it was a rental, and low-end at that.”
“I want all of those. We didn’t get any prints from our scene except the decedent’s, but just in case there’s another attack. Especially the kids’ prints. Do we have an inventory of what was found in the apartment? Photographs?”
“Yeah. Here.” Martin pushed the papers across the desk to Kurt, who scanned down them and grunted. “No drugs recovered from the premises. And no money. Some hair from the bathroom. But these pictures are crap . . . we need to see the originals. When you call Rydberg back, set up a time this week to meet him so we can see the original files. Oh, and where is the list of unsolved murders over the past year that I asked for?”
“I talked to Hallberg and he promised to have it to us tomorrow.”
Kurt scowled. “I wanted that yesterday, dammit.” He shook his head in disgust, then turned his attention back to the Bengtsson file and raised his eyebrows. “Huh. Now that’s sloppy.”
“Doesn’t look like they ever interviewed the people who showed up for Bengtsson’s funeral.”
“Assuming he had a funeral.”
“Well, yeah. Assuming.”
“I know . . . make another note.” Martin dutifully jotted it down, then looked up at Kurt and smiled. Kurt smiled grimly in return. “Martin, we have at least one, and probably two, seriously sick murderers on the loose here—that much is clear. The Canadians are breathing down our necks for a suspect. We can’t leave any stones unturned. Right?”
Martin sighed, ran a hand through his short blond hair, and nodded silently in agreement.
Kurt leaned back on his chair across from Martin, lit a cigarette, and put his feet up on his desk. “So what do you think, genius? We’ve got a modus operandi going here for sure.” Kurt tapped the cast footprint on his desk. “And we know a child was involved in at least two of the three cases, and maybe all three. It seems clear that some big, truly strong fellow—maybe our missing tenant, who’d I say is our lead suspect at this point--is restraining our victims so the kid can chomp on their throats But what on earth for? And what’s all the neck twisting about?”
Martin slowly shook his head. “I just can’t see a motive. Unless there’s some relationship among all three of these guys we don’t know about.”
“Right—maybe drug-related; something like that. Although Christensen’s seems more random, and we have no priors for any of them.”
“And no drugs,” Martin added.
Kurt nodded in frustration, then took off his glasses and cleared an annoying smudge from one lens. “Did they quantify the blood loss on our John Doe?”
Martin looked back on the report. “Well, there wasn’t much left in the body, but there was evidently an awful lot of it sprayed around the room. Exactly how much isn’t really clear.”
“And there’s no way to tell the amount of blood loss on Bengtsson.”
“Nope. He’d been dead in the water too long.”
Kurt took a deep drag on his cigarette and held it, savoring the smoke before letting it go. Then he drummed his fingers on his desk. “You know, Martin, if you wanted to make someone bleed to death, why not just cut their throat with a knife? Using your mouth is awfully damn personal. You’ve gotta be a little crazy to be doing that sort of thing.”
“Uh huh. That’s an understatement, I think.”
“Crazy enough to make you want to drink some of that blood?”
Martin raised an eyebrow. “Oh come on, boss. You’d have to be serious deranged to be thinking that shit.”
“I don’t know. Stranger things have been reported . . . and all this vampire crap out there. You hear about it in the media sometimes--young teens who really think they need blood to live. Somehow they convince themselves . . . get stuck in these little cults and become deluded. Maybe our kid here was indoctrinated to believe it. Or even forced to do it.”
“I suppose it’s possible, but . . . .”
“Let’s do a little digging and find out more about that. Because I’m not seeing much else here to go on for a motive. These’re all much too strange to be an ordinary, run-of-the mill killings.”
“Okay, I’ll ask Hallberg to check it out. See if any of these cults are known to exist in Stockholm. Want some more coffee?”
“Yeah. Definitely. And when you talk to Hallberg, tell him I don’t want any foot-dragging.”
Martin nodded in agreement, then filled both their cups with what was left from the pot he’d brewed over two hours ago. “So how was the baptism?”
“It had to be postponed. Gabe got sick.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear. Nothing serious, I hope.”
“No, I don’t think so. Brit took him to the doctor’s because he was running a fever and throwing up. That’s all I heard from Flora.”
“Guess it sorta worked out well for you, though, huh? With all of this to do, I mean.”
Kurt frowned. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.”
“So what are you going to tell the chief?”
Kurt blew a cloud of smoke up at the ceiling and sighed heavily. “Yeah . . . what am I going to tell him?” He paused. “I’ll tell you, Martin, what I’m going to tell him: everything that we think right now, that’s what--even this bullshit vampire angle. But I’m also gonna tell him that the only thing we can tell the Canadians is that we think there’s a connection with two other unsolved murders around Stockholm. No details. Because if we do still have suspects in this area, and they’re following themselves the papers, I don’t want them to know what we know. That’s it.”
He stubbed out his cigarette, swung his feet down off the desk and pushed his coffee away. “You know what, Martin? I think I’ve had enough for one night. What do you say we call it quits?”
Martin waited for a second to see if Kurt was just testing him, or maybe trying to be funny, but when he saw him stand up and start to pull on his blue jacket, he realized Kurt was serious--he really was going home, and it wasn’t even eleven. So he replied that yes, he probably could use a few extra hours of sleep; organized the pile of papers on the desk; and gathered up his gear.
Kurt waited for him at the door, then shut off the light as they stepped out into the hall. “So how do you like your new BMW? Well, I mean, your new, used BMW.”
“Oh, it’s great. It runs real smooth, and it’s easy to handle. I’m glad I went with the direct drive. And Kim loves riding on it.”
“You still seeing her—that pretty young thing? I thought she dumped you.”
“Nope. Well, she did for awhile—but then she came crawling back. I guess she must’ve realized how good she had it with me.”
Kurt snorted. “She probably just fell for the uniform.”
3 August 1983 Maria Fridell adjusted a stocking on her leg and then told “Nick” that he could let her out at the next light. He began to protest. “But it’s starting to rain. Are you sure I can’t take you back to your flat?”
“I’m sure,” she replied with a tone of deliberate lightness. As if she would ever let him, or any of them, for that matter, know where she lived. “I’ll be fine. Really.”
“Okay.” He steered with one hand for a moment as he reached under his seat and retrieved a small umbrella. “But at least take this.”
“It’s okay—I don’t need it.” She wanted to get out of the car—it suddenly seemed much too warm. His heater had finally kicked in.
“Please. I insist.” He thrust it at her.
“All right.” She took it from him, wishing she hadn’t. “Thanks.”
“Mmm.” He nodded wordlessly as he pulled his Renault 17 to the curb. The wipers swished back and forth as she started to open the door.
He put a hand on her thigh before she could leave. “Thanks again. You were great.” He leaned over to kiss her, but she said thanks back and got out before he could. As the little red car pulled away into the night, she thought, never. Never for a moment would I let you kiss me. Anything else, fine—but not that.
Her perineum ached as she walked as quickly as she could toward her apartment. She was dying to get out of her high heels, shed her uniform, and get into the shower. The folded wad of Kronor bills tucked into her bra felt good; made her feel secure.
In her relief to get away from Nick and his cozy little coupe, she had forgotten the umbrella. She tucked her handbag under one arm, unsnapped the strap, and pushed the button on the handle. It sprung open, but not fully; the spines on one side were bent, so it opened more or less halfway. She shook it, and it opened a little further. That’ll do, she thought, as she continued up the street.
She sighed to herself. Nick had been like so many other married guys she’d encountered; wanted to be thrilled by his “dirty little whore.” Wanted to experiment, do some things he said he could never ask his wife to do, yet wanted Maria to be in charge. And she had given him what he wanted without complaining, trying not be brusque and businesslike. Pretending as though she cared about him, as though his climax was special.
He’d actually been a fairly easy trick. He had his own condoms and had put it on himself without being asked. His sexual requests had been rather mundane, in her experience. And after he’d done his thing, he hadn’t been ready for more. He just wanted her to lie with him, and had even agreed to pay her extra for the favor, considering that she could’ve gone back out and found another customer before the night got too late.
The rain came down harder, and the cheap, flimsy umbrella began to feel as though it might buckle soon under the gusts of cold wind. She turned a corner and was happy to see the dark, familiar outline of her apartment building up ahead, down at the bottom of the hill.
She approached a small patch of grass lying between the sidewalk and the wall of the aging, five-story building that had been her home for the last four months, her heels clicking sharply on the wet concrete. The grass had not been cut recently and had grown tall, and there were a couple of untidy bushes and an ugly, slate-gray electrical box sprayed with graffiti in the middle of the little patch.
As Maria drew near, she frowned. Someone was lying in the grass next to the box, trying to stay out of the wind. When she was within a few meters of the figure, she realized it was a young boy. He couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve, and he wore a thin, gray T-shirt and some old brown jeans. As he turned his head to look at her, she realized that on his feet he wore only flip-flops--in rainy, 50-degree weather.
He coughed and looked at her forlornly as she came abreast of him. His long, blond hair lay completely flat upon his head, utterly soaked. Then, as she feared he might, he spoke to her. “Excuse me.”
Maria stopped and adjusted the angle of the umbrella to shield as much of herself as she could from the driving rain. She realized that under the dirty smudges, the boy’s face was remarkably handsome—beautiful, in fact.
“Sorry, but . . . can you help me?”
Here we go, she thought. Don’t get involved.
“Uh . . . well, I . . . I need to get home, really. It’s very late. What is it that—”
The boy coughed again, louder this time. “Oh, I—well, you see—”
“What—money? Is that what you need? A little money to get home?”
“Well, um, I need to call my mom. She said I was going to be staying at her friend’s today, right here in this building, but there was no one home in the apartment she told me to go to. She was supposed to pick me up awhile ago, but she never came back. So I’ve just been waiting, and uh . . . but now I’m gettin’ kinda cold.”
Maria looked at him with a mixture of surprise and suspicion. His mother dumped him? Maybe she was on drugs . . . addicted to something? Couldn’t take care of him anymore? His story sounded like a lie—after all, what kind of a mother would have been that careless, or even tricked her own son like that, but he sure looked unwanted . . . .
He needs to get inside out of the rain.
Now she couldn’t believe that she had been thinking of ignoring him, of just walking past. What kind of person was she? His mom was probably a lot like hers, from the sound of it. “Oh! Sure, kid--you can use my phone.”
He brightened a little with something that seemed like relief, and got up out of the grass. He was wringing wet, and once he was next to her she immediately handed him the umbrella. “Here, take this.” He shivered and took it gratefully.
They went around the corner and up to the building entrance. She unlocked the door with her key and stepped inside, holding the door open for him. As he collapsed the umbrella, he asked of he could come in. So polite, she thought. He looked like a little dog, abandoned and lost, and his politeness just added to his charm. What kind of a mother . . .
He shivered again, more violently, as they entered the lobby, and she tried to make him feel better. “Well, at least you’re out of the rain! Let’s get you inside and get you a towel.” They went past the mailboxes and the big cement flowerpots with the fake trees and up a short flight of stairs, then turned left and went down the hall to her door. Once unlocked, she pushed it open and stood, turned sideways in the doorway, holding the door for him. Again he paused at the threshold and looked at her. “Are you sure this is all right—that I can come in? I won’t take long, I promise.”
“Of course—don’t be silly. Get in here before you catch your death from a cold, um—what’s your name?”
“Well, come on, Johny. You’re a mess--let’s get you cleaned up, what do you say?”
“Thanks.” He dropped his head and stepped into her living room.
Maria kicked off her heels and threw her jacket onto the arm of her couch. “Wait right there and let me get you a towel.” She disappeared from view for a moment, then returned with a pink terrycloth towel. It had started to come apart at end, but it was big and fluffy, and she handed it to him. “Here. Why don’t you sit down on the couch for a minute and get dried off? Then you can try your mom. The phone’s on the end table, there. I’ll be right back.”
Oskar was extremely nervous and uncomfortable. How much longer should he keep up the charade?
He had had a long talk with Eli earlier that evening about this—about him going out on his own to hunt. It had been more than a week since either of them had eaten, and they were both very hungry. He’d told her that he wanted to try it by himself, that he thought he was ready. She didn’t seem so sure; had argued that they ought to go together. And although part of him wanted to agree with her, and felt comforted by the thought of Eli being at his side, another part of him wanted to do it on his own. Something about their trip to Skansen had changed him, and he felt ready.
Eli, too, had secretly felt conflicted. The idea of him going out on his own made her nervous and uncomfortable, but she had been afraid that if she insisted in going together, he would think she didn’t have confidence in him. So finally, she had relented.
They both had keys, so they’d split up in the courtyard. He had no idea where she had gone, or where she now was.
He dried himself off with the towel. Could he really go through with this? Was he ready? His hunger told him that he was. It was the only thing inside him that felt driven and purposeful. The rest of him would have been more than happy to run out of here right now.
He looked around the tiny apartment. There wasn’t much to look at, but what was there bespoke of a caring, feminine order; of someone who was doing the best with what she had. Naturally, the walls were whitewashed, but the drapes for the patio door to his left, behind a matching chair and the end table, had a reddish-brown pattern that was pleasing to the eye. A ceramic pitcher, the kind you might see on a shelf in any second-hand store, rested on the coffee table in front of him, topped with a bright bouquet of yellow and violet flowers.
Next to the flowers were a few photographs. In a tarnished brass frame was an old, black and white picture that showed a little blond girl wearing a sun hat—undoubtedly, a younger version of the woman he was with right now--standing next to an old, dour-looking man on a pier somewhere. He held a fishing rod, and she held the fish they had just caught with a big smile on her face.
Another, this one in color, showed her sitting arm in arm in the back of a small powerboat with some lady friend, both of them wearing swimsuits and sunglasses. They were holding beers and smiling broadly, the deep blue lake glittering behind them in the sun.
The third scared him the most; it showed a baby lying on a pillow, under a blanket. The baby’s hands peeked up from behind the blanket on either side of the head, which was topped with a small white hat like the kind they provide for newborns at the hospital. It was hard to tell what the baby was thinking; it looked at the camera with an uncertain expression, as if to say, why are you taking my picture?
On the opposite wall, to the left of the hallway that led to the bedroom, there was a stereo/TV stand. A small TV sat in the middle, immediately above a tape deck. A colorful collection of bottles was arranged in a nook to the right of the TV, and to the left were a bunch of tapes. A pink and gray backpack, its top unzipped, sat on the floor, leaning against the stand.
He glanced into the cramped, well-kept kitchen to his right that opened directly into the living room, and then back to the baby picture as he heard some soft noises from her bedroom. I should just leave right now. Instead, he just sat there, resting his bottom considerately on the towel so that he wouldn’t soak her couch.
He was scared. Not scared of her, but of what he was doing. He suddenly understood, utterly and completely, what Eli had told him: that after she’d been let go, she had been scared all the time, afraid to go near people because either she would hurt them or vice-versa. By deception he had managed to get into this woman’s apartment. Now he was thinking about destroying her to satisfy his own urges. Before, Eli had done it for him. Now, he was going to do it. The act, the consequences—it would all be on him.
He suddenly became aware of his own breathing—how rapid it was. His heart, too, had sped up, he could tell. He tried hard to maintain a veneer of outward calm as she came back into the room.
She had changed out of the short brown skirt and shimmery top she’d been wearing into a pair of gray sweatpants and a navy blue sweatshirt with a sports logo. “Well, you look better! Are you still cold in those wet things? Here, let me find you a blanket.”
Before she turned around to go back to her bedroom, he realized for the first time how pretty she was. She had let her hair down; it was the same color as his, and it now hung freely to her shoulders. She had pale, fair skin and green eyes, and could easily have passed as his older sister.
He thanked her. From her bedroom she asked him whether he’d called his mom yet. No, he replied, but he would do it right now.
She came back in with a quilted blanket and gave it to him. The wind gusted against the patio door, spitting rain against the glass. “Are you sure you got the right apartment number of your mother’s friend? Maybe there’s just been a misunderstanding. Oh—do you want some hot tea?”
“Pretty sure, yeah. And thanks for offering the tea, but I’m okay, really.”
She put a kettle on the stove and lit a burner. “You sure? You must be cold.”
“No thank you.”
He picked up the phone and was getting ready to dial a number when the room went dark.
“Oh, shit,” she said. “The power went out.”
He paused, phone receiver in his hand, his eyes drawn to the only source of light—the blue flame on the stove beneath the kettle.
“Must be the storm,” he offered.
“Hang on—I think I have flashlight or something around here somewhere.”
He pulled the blanket around himself and sat in the darkness, watching her as she rummaged around in a cabinet in the kitchen. The thought occurred to him that he could easily have helped her locate the light, but of course he didn’t dare. Even though he wasn’t cold, the wet clothing felt uncomfortable on his skin, and somehow the blanket made him feel better. Her kindness to him brought out the kindness in himself and a desire to be helpful. “Where should I put this towel?”
There was a burst of new light in the kitchen as she snapped on a small plastic flashlight; with it, she kept looking for something else in her cupboards. “Oh, that? Just leave it there on the floor. I’ll take care of it.”
The low sound of water beginnng to boil filled the otherwise quiet apartment. “Oh, here they are.” She went into the bedroom and then returned to the living room with a large, white Christmas candle and a pack of matches, which she put on the coffee table in front of Oskar and lit. “There, that’s better. Does the phone still work?”
Oskar listened into the phone and heard the dial tone. “Uh huh.” He dialed the number he had planned, the one that he knew would not be answered, and tried to look unhappy as it rang and rang. “There’s no answer.”
“Oh. Well, is there anyone else in your family you can call? Your dad, or maybe an aunt or an uncle?”
“No. I don’t even know where my dad lives, and I don’t have the phone number for my grandma.” A nervously ludicrous thought came to him: I can call my Aunt Eli! Have her come get me out of this fix!
She stood beside him with her flashlight aimed at the floor, looking at him. The unanswered phone call had changed things, and when she spoke it was with forced cheeriness. “Well, don’t worry--we’ll try again in a few minutes, huh?”
“Yeah. I’m sure she’ll be home soon.” Oskar looked away as he replied and hung up the phone.
“Are you sure you don’t want something to eat? You must be hungry if you’ve been waiting around outside all this time.”
“No, that’s okay. I’m fine.”
She looked at him uncertainly for a few seconds more before she went back into the kitchen to prepare her tea.
When she came back with her mug, she sat in the chair near the couch, drawing up her legs to her chest and holding them with one arm as she sipped the tea. They exchanged pleasantries in the flickering candlelight, and she asked him some questions—how old he was, where he was from, and how long he’d lived in Stockholm. He answered all of her questioned truthfully. Then he asked her if the baby in the picture was hers, and learned that he was. His name was David; he was now three, and lived with his father.
After a second phone call, he apologized and suggested that maybe he should just take a bus back to Blackeberg. But it was still raining, and was now a little past one o’clock in the morning. Maria would have none of this idea. “I have classes tomorrow, but they don’t start until 8:30. I’ll call my friend Marta first thing. She has a car, and we’ll have plenty of time to get you back to your home.” She looked at Oskar with grave concern. “I think I should meet your mom.”
When she’d finished her tea, she asked him if he needed to use the bathroom. When he said no, she suggested that he lie down on the couch and try to get some sleep. Then she excused herself and went to the bathroom.
He knew the best thing he could do now would be to leave. Just get out. But she knew what he looked like, and knew where he was from. What if she got so worried that she called the police? They were still looking for him, probably; it hadn’t even been a year since the incident at the pool. It would be bad if he were reported.
The hunger gnawed at him, insistent and demanding. He hated it; wished it would go away and just leave him alone. But it didn’t. So, with no clear plan for what he was going to do, he did as she said: he shucked his wet shirt and pants, laid down in his damp underwear and pulled the blanket up to his neck. He listened to her take a shower by flashlight, and studied the candleflame as it wavered gently back and forth, swaying slightly with the drafts from the patio door.
After a few minutes, she came out of the bathroom wearing a terrycloth bathrobe, her hair wrapped in a towel.
“Are you asleep yet?” He pretended to be drowsy, and gave her a softly slurred ‘no.’ Then she saw his clothes on the floor. “Oh—stupid of me. Let me hang these up in the bathroom, so they’ll be dry in the morning. Do you want some sweatpants or something to wear?”
“No, I’m pretty warm under this blanket, thanks.”
She paused by the couch, holding his his wet clothes to her chest. Then she bent down, lowering his face to his. She had a pleasant, soft smell like lillies. “Don’t worry, Johny. You’ll be fine here. We’ll take care of all of this in the morning.” She ruffled his hair. “For now, try to get some sleep. If you need anything, just ask. I’m in the bedroom. And you can leave the candle burning as long as you like. It’ll burn all night with no problem.”
A wave of confusion passed through him at the genuine gratitude that he felt. He reached out with one hand and squeezed the slender wrist that held the flashlight. “Thank you so much, ma’am. For everything.” He started to cry, and his tears were real.
“Oh you poor thing. Please don’t worry. And call me Maria, okay?”
She turned and walked quietly back the short hall to her bedroom. Then he heard the door softly close.
Oskar closed his eyes and listened to the rain on the window for a long time. Other than the occasional sound of other tenants, the room was now silent.
He heard Eli’s voice in his head: you have to stop thinking of them as people, and do what needs to be done. Could he? If so, the time was now.
If only Maria hadn’t been so kind to him, hadn’t reminded him so much of his mother, things would be easier. Why couldn’t she be mean and vicious? Yell at him, slap him or something? Then his anger could do the work. He knew it was down there, somewhere inside of him; deep-seated and brooding, waiting for the opportunity to spring out and get even. Settle the scores with everyone who’d ever wronged him; punish all the evil, nasty people out there who made life miserable for him and kids like him. But this girl wasn’t like that. He didn’t know what she did to make money, but she was a student at a college or university somewhere nearby. She was trying to make something of herself. She had brought him home to her apartment, and had gone out of her way to make him feel comfortable. How could he hurt her?
But what would he tell Eli when he got home? He’d either have to find someone else in the brief time that remained before dawn, or tell her everything. And if he did tell her, what would she think? She was very patient, but even patient people had their limits. He knew she’d be disappointed.
There is no other way.
He looked at his wristwatch: 2:05 a.m. The sun would be up in 2-1/2 hours.
Like a robot he pulled the blanket off his thin body, swung his feet to the floor and stood up. Bent down and blew out the candle. Walked slowly down the hall to her bedroom door. Listened; heard nothing but the wind and the rain. Put his hand on the handle, pushed down. Felt the door give way and swing soundlessly open to his left.
Maria was asleep under her covers, alone in her double bed. She lay on her side in a fetal position with her back to the door. On the opposite side of the room, directly across from Oskar, was her tiny closet, stuffed with clothes. Next to the closet was another patio door that led to a small balcony, now covered with drapes.
Without a sound Oskar’s feet left the floor and he floated like a wraith over to her sleeping form. The closer he got, the bigger the fear that was growing in his chest, so that by the time he was next to her he was almost completely terrified that she would suddenly awake and confront him. He settled softly onto the bedspread behind her, listening intently for her breathing to change. But it did not.
He again smelled her beautiful, fresh clean smell. Admired her soft, golden hair spread out on her pillow. Studied the skin beneath her ear. The thing inside him rushed forward like a wolf to the end of its chain, barely restrained. The enamel on his teeth bulged, then changed. Take it.
He swallowed and suddenly felt nauseous. I should at least ask her first. She deserves as much. Eli’s face, her mouth smeared with blood, looking a him like he was crazy. Get real, Oskar.
He extended his hand to touch Maria’s shoulder and wake her; hesitated.
It could mean my death to wake her up. And Eli’s. It’s your life, Oskar—not Eli’s. Do you still believe in right and wrong? There was a heavy thud from a transformer somewhere down the street, and suddenly the overhead light came on. Oskar, as incredibly tense and nervous as he was, was so startled by the instantaneous, blinding transformation from darkness to light that he jerked his arm back from Maria, lost his balance, and fell backwards onto the floor with a thump.
There was a rustle of covers from the bed and as Oskar scrambled to right himself, he glimpsed the back of Maria’s head and upper back rise up. “What—what’s going on? Oh—the lights.”
For a split second, Oskar thought about just staying frozen where he was, hoping that she would simply lie back down and go to sleep. But when she just stayed upright, and slowly turned her head toward his side of the room, he knew--knew that she was going to get out of bed and turn off the light at the wall switch. And realizing that he was about to get caught, his will broke.
He rolled onto all fours and loped as fast as he could toward the bedroom door. “Johny?” He knew from the sound of her voice that she had spotted him.
“Johny?” Sharper this time, yet concerned—not accusing. “Are you all right? What’s the matter?”
He rushed to the front door and began to fumble with the locks. But there were at least four of them, and as he started to open the second from the top, a chain lock, he realized that all he had on was his underwear. Shit! He half-turned, the thought of going outside in nothing but his skivvies compelling the thought of his pants hanging in the bathroom, and saw that Maria was coming toward him wearing nothing but black panties.
Somehow, the unexpected shock of seeing of her naked, athletic figure in full view—not a little kid’s body, like Eli’s, but a mature, adult woman--ratcheted his panic up from an already extreme level to something beyond his control. Seeing her body was so totally unexpected and made him feel so out of place that it was just too much. No longer did he care about his pants--he just had to get out. In the back of his mind, he realized what a total fuck-up this whole night had been--the shit had hit the proverbial fan.
“Johny? Why were you in my bedroom? Are you scared? Where are you going?—it’s the middle of the night!”
He started to mumble semi-coherently as he fiddled with the last lock, which seemed to have acquired a will of its own to prevent him from leaving. “I . . . I was scared, I guess—the storm, it . . . I didn’t want to be alone— I need to leave, I have to go home . . . .”
Her hand touched his shoulder, and with its soft warmth, the nervous energy seemed to dissipate and drain out of him as if by magic.
“Johny, please wait. You can’t go outside like that—you’ll freeze to death. Please.” She pulled him gently away from the door. His right hand was on the knob, prepared to turn it, but with her pull his fingers slipped away, and he dropped his arm to his side. He turned to look at her, and could not help staring at her breasts, which he noted, in a bizarre and abstract way, were larger than his mother’s, from the few times in his short life that he’d seen hers.
The awkwardness of the situation—she in her panties, he in his underwear, an arm’s distance from one another--did not seem to concern her. She led him over to the couch and sat him down on the blanket. “Johny, just relax--calm down. There’s no reason for you to go anywhere. You’re safe here, and we’ll get you back to your mom in just a few hours.”
He looked up at her. Any will to take her life had completely left him--he was defeated. The thought brought him a feeling of enormous relief, but also filled him with unhappiness. His needs could not be postponed indefinitely. But he simply could not satisfy them with her--no way.
Maria was turning to go get her bathrobe when they were both startled by a loud banging on the door. Oskar jerked his head around to the sound, as did she, and before either of them could do anything, the knob twisted and someone pushed the unlocked door open.
An angry man strode into the foyer. Without looking behind him, he kicked the door shut with the booted heel of his left foot. “Okay, bitch! Where’s my money?”
Maria stood up straight, covered her breasts with her crossed arms, and involuntarily stepped backwards, wobbling as she bumped the back of her calves on the coffee table behind her.
“Rafael! Wh—why are you here?”
He advanced rapidly into the room toward Maria, completely dismissive of Oskar’s presence, a wave of cool night air from the outside hallway preceding him. He was short and stocky, but not fat, and he wore black jeans and a black leather jacket. “You heard me—I want my money. You were supposed to bring it—remember?”
Oskar sat, paralyzed, on the couch, staring at this strange and dangerous-looking man. He had black hair cut very short, a moustache, and goatee. Oskar guessed he was Spanish, based on his skin color and accent, but he really wasn’t sure. Something was tattooed on the back of his hand, but Oskar couldn’t read it--not that he wanted to.
Maria maneuvered away from the coffee table and turned, still facing Rafael, so that her back was toward the hallway leading to the bedroom. “Oh! Shit—I forgot! I . . . I got sidetracked, I—hang on, I’ll get it!” She turned and rushed into her bedroom, leaving Oskar alone with Rafael, who stood in the middle of the room, glowering after her into the bedroom.
“You forgot. What the fuck, bitch? That’s bullshit—you never forget to pay me.” His leather jacket creaked as he turned to look at Oskar. “Who’s this little shit? Get the fuck outta here, punk.” He nodded toward the door.
“Uh . . . okay.” Oskar felt confused and uncertain about what to do. Only a few moments before, he had been dying to get out. Now, this bad looking dude was here with Maria, who had been so kind to him. The passive little kid inside him thought it best just to slink out while the going was good. But another part of him wanted . . .
Slowly he got up and started to move toward the door. For some stupid reason, he began to wonder whether he should take her blanket with him. Then Maria spoke from the bedroom. “No—don’t make him leave! Please. I’ll give you your money, just—”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Maria,” he replied in a low, dangerous voice. Once again he looked toward Oskar. “I told you to get the fuck out, boy. You don’t wanna be here right now.”
The thought of what terrible things Rafael might do to Maria once he left galvanized Oskar’s will. He heard Eli’s voice in his head: you have to start remembering what you can do.
He dropped the blanket. “No.”
Rafael had turned his head once again to the bedroom. He looked back at Oskar and frowned, as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. “What did you say?”
“No. I won’t go.”
In an instant, Rafael half-turned and his right foot snapped out and kicked Oskar squarely in the balls. The explosion of pain caused him to double over and he fell onto the couch, clutching himself and writhing in agony. Rafael loomed over him and now used his leg to thrust the coffee table out of the way. The pictures flopped down and the pitcher tipped over and rolled onto the floor, spilling water and flowers. “You’ll do what the fuck I tell you, you little shit.” He grabbed Oskar’s right arm, yanked him upright, and punched him squarely between the eyes, then let go. Oskar felt an amazing quantity of pain as his nose flattened under the blow; then temporary blackness as he fell back down onto the couch.
Oskar felt himself at the bottom of a dark well full of pain. His eyes were closed and he cradled his wounded balls with one hand and held the other over his broken nose, feeling the wetness as the bloodstain spread across his face. He heard Maria’s voice, now loud and shrill. “You leave him alone!” Then there was a breaking sound and he heard Rafael cry out. “Owww!” Oskar opened his eyes halfway in time to see Rafael turn away from him and hit Maria across the face with his open hand. She went sprawling into the kitchenette. He advanced upon her, his boots crunching on the remnants of a bottle she’d broken on top of his head. “I’ll teach you to hit me, bitch!” His hand dropped to his waist, tugged at something under the lower edge of his jacket, and then he was holding a knife.
Oskar, now fearful for Maria’s life, tried to pull himself up out of his pain; tried to focus. He closed his eyes and concentrated. I don’t feel any pain. I’m healed.
Maria rolled to a sitting position, her back against the dishwasher. She saw the knife in his hand and stiffened in terror. “Please—no. No. Take the money—all of it.” She held the wad of bills out to him with a trembling hand. “He’s harmless—just a kid who needed to call his mom, that’s all. Just take it and leave.”
“I’ll take it,” he replied as he plucked it from her fingers and stuffed it into his jeans. “But that don’t make up for what you just did to me.” He gestured at her with his knife, then half-nodded back toward the couch. “I guess he can watch. Hell—maybe he’ll learn a thing or two.” He grinned, unzipped his pants, and withdrew his penis. “Now get over here and—”
Maria’s eyes widened in surprise as Rafael was suddenly seized from behind. Oskar didn’t just use his arms, but his whole body; as if he had decided that Maria’s pimp should behave like a good daddy, and give him a piggy-back ride. His legs wrapped around Rafael’s waist, and his right arm pinned Rafael’s knife arm to his side. He planted his hand firmly over Rafael’s mouth and nose, and he wrapped his left arm across his chest, squeezing tightly.
Rafael’s eyes registered shock and surprise. He tried to raise up his arms to throw the boy off, but he couldn’t get any purchase, so he began to swing wildly around the room, bucking his body to rid himself of this unexpected attacker. Urgent, muffled sounds like “mmm, mmm” came from under Oskar’s hand as Rafael shook his head violently from side to side. Soon, though, he ran out of air and fell silent. He continued to struggle, deliberately backing into the TV/bookcase and dragging Oskar along its length, trying to scrape him off. The protruding metal shelf brackets dug in, peeling the skin from Oskar’s back, but doggedly he hung on, never relaxing his grip. When this didn’t work, Rafael fell to the floor and rolled. The bookcase tottered and then fell on both of them with a resounding crash, spilling bottles, books, cassette tapes and stereo equipment down onto them.
Still Rafael struggled. He got his legs underneath himself and began to flop like a fish toward the front door, his knife long forgotten. Then his movements slowed, and he collapsed. Oskar remained on top of him, his hand still firmly clamped over Rafael’s face, cutting off all flow of oxygen to his spasming lungs. He stayed this way for what seemed, to Maria, like a long time.
Maria had stood up during the struggle. She didn’t know what to do, or how to intervene. She couldn’t believe that every effort on Rafael’s part to shuck the young, fragile-looking boy off had failed, and that he still triumphantly clung, back striped with blood like war paint, to Rafael’s fallen body. Then as she spoke his name, thinking to tell him it would be a good idea to let go, she saw something that utterly terrified her.
Oskar loosened his hold on the still form. His mouth opened wide to reveal two large incisors, and without hesitation he sunk his teeth deeply into Rafael’s neck with a wet popping sound that Maria thought akin to crushing a plum in one’s hand.
She gasped and recoiled in horror. Rafael didn’t move--didn’t make a sound. And that was why the only noise in the now still, demolished apartment was an intermittent growl and a gulping sound from Oskar’s throat as he greedily sucked the warm, fresh blood down his gullet, completely heedless of Maria’s presence.
Oskar closed his eyes as he worked his jaws on Rafael’s short, thick neck, savoring the taste and pulling as much blood into himself as rapidly as he could. He hadn’t realized just how starved he had felt until he began to take it in. At last, the hunger was over, and he felt enormous relief.
For a brief instant after feeling Rafael slacken and go limp in his hands, he had thought about trying to keep his secret and not feeding in front of Maria. But his hunger, his anger at Rafael, and the nearness of the warm, defenseless body were simply too much, and in a heartbeat he had let go to the thing that now reigned inside him. The dark wolf had slipped its leash, and was now in charge--at least temporarily.
With the slackening flow came the resumption of control and a return to his senses. He gradually became aware of the revolting sounds he was making. Yet he still bore down harder with his mouth, biting deeper in an effort to drain every drop that he could from the man.
When at last there was nothing further, he let go and sat up to look at Maria. The kind, gentle person who had said good night to him a little while ago was now aghast, her eyes wide open and full of horror. She had backed up into the corner of the kitchen as far away from him as she could, and stood, flattened and rigid, against the cabinets.
Still straddling Rafael’s body, Oskar looked into Maria’s eyes and saw her revulsion and disgust. Recognizing it, he felt deeply ashamed for what he had just done—of being out of control, like an animal, in front of her. His embarrassment was like that of a masturbating teenager who realizes at the moment of orgasm that he is being watched by a parent; of being caught in a situation that permanently alters the way the observed and the observer think of each other.
There was a pause as the two of them stared at each other. Oskar wiped the blood from his lips with the back of his hand. Then he sniffed and started to cry. He cried because Maria’s open recognition of his monstrous nature made him understand, in a way he had not before realized while with Eli, that he was monstrous—and that he would remain a repulsive monster for the rest of his life, no matter what he did; no matter how hard he tried to avoid it. He lowered his head, covered his face, and sobbed bitterly.
Maria stared at Oskar, her mouth hanging open in shock. When he had stopped biting Rafael and looked up at her with his bloody mouth, she had expected him to attack her next, but she relaxed when he began to cry, and realized that her life was not in danger. Then, as Oskar bent over crying, she again saw the bloody, horizontal gouges running across his back. Moved with pity, she pulled a dishtowel out of a drawer, soaked it with warm water, and took it over to him.
She crouched down at his side and hesitantly touched his shoulder. “Here—let me help you.” He continued to cry, but she opened up the dishtowel and spread it over his wounds, pressing it lightly against him.
“Does that help?”
His crying slackened. After a time he stopped and looked at her. His teeth were normal, his eyes were wet and shiny, and his face was an open book of amazement. “Are . . . aren’t you going to run away?”
She gave him a faltering smile as she held the dishcloth in place. “Should I—Johny? Or is that not your real name?”
He arched his back a little as he turned to face her, then looked down in resignation. “No, it’s not. I’m really Oskar.” He looked at Rafael for a moment, picked something up, and then handed her the folded wad of Kronor. “This is yours.”
She hesitated for a second and then took it. “Thanks.”
“You can take the towel off now.”
She gave him a confused look. “If I do, then we need to find something else to put on your back. Because you’re bleeding pretty badly, and—”
“I’m okay. Really.” He reached back and pulled it from his back. Maria’s stared, dumbfounded, at the smooth, intact skin under the towel. Where the gouges had been, there were now only pinkish-colored scars.
Then it really hit her: that this innocuous-looking boy, who appeared so pitiful and forlorn when she had first met him, had actually been in charge of events. The way he had grabbed Rafael and taken him down; the way he had killed him so quickly. And now this. The boy was full of a hidden power. Far from being helpless, he was the one who had actually been in control the entire night. She shuddered as a cold finger of fear ran down her spine.
Oskar crawled off Rafael and fetched his knife from where it lay under the stereo. Then he crawled back over to the body and said, “You may want to look away if you don’t want to see this.”
Maria looked at him with a puzzled expression, but when she saw that he was placing the tip of the knife at the back of Rafael’s neck, she paled, swallowed, and then turned away. Grimacing, Oskar plunged knife deeply into Rafael’s cervical spine between two vertebrae, then twisted the blade sharply in the wound and pulled it from side to side. There was a soft, slippery popping sound, and a mixture of blood and cerebrospinal fluid oozed out and ran down either side of the neck. Then he pulled the knife out. “Sorry. You can look now.”
Oskar searched through Rafael’s pockets. He found some money and then emptied the man’s wallet. “So why was he so mad at you?”
“Because I was supposed to pay him tonight.”
He looked at her with concern. “Was I the one who sidetracked you?”
She responded softly, without anger. “Uh huh.”
“Sorry about that.”
“Why did you have to pay him?”
“He’s my pimp.”
“What do you mean?”
She gave him a funny look. “I’m a hooker.”
She smiled at his display of innocence and surpressed a small chuckle. “You know . . . a prostitute. People pay me to have sex.”
Frank realization spread across Oskar’s young face. “Ohh—I get it. Sorry—I’ve never met a hooker before.”
Her smile grew. “No need to apologize. I’ve never met a vampire before, either.”
Both of them suddenly laughed. He noticed for the first time that she had dimples. Then he said, “I’m not really a vampire, actually. I'm still . . . Oskar. Inside.” He tapped the middle of his thin, bare chest, then gestured at the body. “This is all just a big mistake, actually—what happened to me. An accident.”
Maria touched him and said, “Well, thanks for helping me. Oskar.”
“You’re welcome.” Oskar suddenly realized that he was no longer embarrassed to see Maria’s exposed breasts. Somehow, things between them were different now; she was just a person—maybe, a friend. He got up and stood the bookcase back up against the wall. “Sorry your room got all messed up.” He began to pick up her tapes and put them back on the shelf. Maria put on her bathrobe and then began to help.
“So that thing about your mother. That was all . . . made up, right?”
Oskar put the TV down on the shelf and turned to face her; looked down at his feet. “Yeah.”
Her tone grew more serious. “So you came in here because . . . you were going to kill me, right? Like him.”
He couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eyes. Reluctantly he said, “Yes. But I--”
“Is that why you were in my room? When the lights came on?”
“Yeah.” He waited for her to yell or start screaming at him. Instead she asked, not unkindly, “Why’d you change your mind?”
His mouth twitched and he slowly looked up into her eyes. “Well, um . . . you were too nice to hurt--I just couldn’t. You reminded me of my mom. You see, I haven’t been like this very long, and I guess I’m not very good at it. It’s horrible—like a disease. It makes you do things you don’t wanna do. So I’m probably going to end up starving to death, I think. Even though I feel like I’m ready, I’m not, really.”
For a second Maria felt the urge to ask Oskar to say that everything was a joke; that it was all made up. Then maybe she could return to some semblance of normalcy, and shed the feeling that she had just slipped off the edge of the real world. But she had seen too much to ask such a question. Then as his words sunk in, it dawned on her that even though he was . . . whatever he was, he was still, somehow, just a young, inexperienced kid, and she struggled to grasp how this could be true.
She brushed her hair back out of her face and looked around at the room and the body. “So . . . um—what do we do now? Are you gonna, you know, kill me because . . .”
“I just told you—I couldn’t hurt you.”
“I’ll take care of him.” Oskar nodded at the body. “But you have to promise you’ll never tell anyone about me. Because we could really get in trouble if you did that.”
He looked her in the eyes. “Swear it.”
She slowly raised her hand. “I swear I won’t tell.”
He looked relieved. Then he turned toward the patio window and said to himself, “How am I going to explain this to her?”
He hesitated. “I really don’t think I should tell you much more.” He thought for a moment. “Will someone come looking for this guy?”
She sat down. “His brother works with him. So probably—yeah.” She looked around the room with fear and crossed her arms. “Oh my God . . . what am I going to do? Maybe I should just break my lease and leave. Or should I stay and act like I don’t know anything? Or maybe—”
“You can come with me if you want. But then they’d be suspicious, wouldn’t they? Or . . . I know—you could stay here and I could come back and check on you. Make sure you’re okay.” He thought a little further. “But if his brother came during the day, I wouldn’t be much use. I couldn’t help you then.”
“Um . . . well, no one would suspect me of anything. I could just tell Miguel that Rafael came and then left, and didn’t say where he was going.”
“Do you think he’d be suspicious?”
“Mmm, probably not at first.”
“Okay. Well then, we could come back and check on you. Make sure you’re okay. Maybe tonight?”
He came over to her chair, bent down, held her forearm and looked at her earnestly. “Please don’t tell the police about me . . . please. No matter what.”
She put her hand over his and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I promise I won’t, Oskar. Don’t worry.”
He looked at his watch. “I’ve gotta get out of here. It’ll be dawn soon.”
“Oh—let me get your clothes.”
After he dressed, he put the knife into his pocket, divided the money he’d taken from Rafael, and handed her half. “Here—you take this.” Then he grabbed Rafael’s body and dragged it to the patio door. “Can you open that?”
She pulled back the drapes and slid it open. The rain came hissing in, spraying lightly on the carpet. “What are you going to do with him?” She watched in amazement as he hoisted Rafael’s body and held it over his shoulder; thought that maybe he intended to dump it into the bushes below.
“Take him someplace where he’ll never be found. Don’t worry.” He staggered out onto the patio, and launched himself into the night. Maria stood for a long time on the patio, looking up in amazement at the dark sky where he’d gone.
Eli had showered and was drying the bottom of the tub with a towel when he got back to their apartment on Skäftingebacken. He had beaten the sunrise by fifteen minutes.
“I was starting to worry about you,” she said warmly as he stood in the bathroom doorway and began to strip off his sopping-wet clothes. She offered him a towel as he pulled off his shirt, then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
He deliberately beat her to the punch for the evening’s report. “So, how did things go tonight?”
“Mmm . . . okay. I found someone--a drunk. Over near Vällingby. It was easy, and he didn’t suffer much, I think.” She sat down on the toilet as he threw his pants up over the bathroom door.
“Did you just take a little, or . . . .”
“No. All of it. It happened outside, and I was too hungry to try something else.” She looked down at her naked feet. “How about you? Did everything go all right?”
“Well . . . not exactly. Things got kinda complicated.”
She looked up and gave him a worried look. “Oh?”
On his way back from the Mälaren River where he’d dumped Rafael’s body, he had thought about how he was going to explain everything. He had tried to figure out a way to tell the story so that she wouldn’t think he’d just chickened out when it came to Maria, but in the end he couldn’t think of a convincing way to stretch things that would make any sense. So he just told her the whole story from start to finish, watching her face carefully as he talked. At times he had read concern, confusion, and even surpressed amusement.
She was silent for awhile after he finished. Then she got up, threw a blanket into the tub, and laid down on it. “Come on. It’s time for bed.” She looked up at him expectantly.
He gave her a puzzled look, then switched off the light and climbed in behind her. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
She sighed. “It’s all right, Oskar. It’s not the greatest situation, but we’ll just have to deal with it.”
“Are you mad at me?”
“Not really. I was afraid maybe you weren’t ready yet, but I wanted to give you the chance. I told you before, not everything turns out perfectly.”
He swallowed and clasped her to himself. “Well, the thing is, Eli . . . I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to hurt someone like this lady. I just—with that guy, it was easy, because he was bad and was going to hurt her. But with her, by the time I was ready to do it, I knew her too well. And I—”
“Oskar, it’s all right.” She turned her head and kissed him. “I’m never going to tell you what to do about this sort of thing. It’s not my place--I have no right. It’s . . . it’s bad enough that I’m responsible for what you are. We’ll just . . . we’ll have to be more careful who we pick, that’s all.”
An enormous feeling of relief swept through him, and he was silent for awhile, grateful for her understanding. He kissed the back of her head and said thanks. She murmured her assent and wriggled closer to him. Then he began to feel drowsy, and with his eyes closed, spoke softly into her ear. “So what do we do about Maria?”
“You made a promise—we’ll have to keep it. But then I think we should move.”
Before he could reply, his mind disengaged, and Oskar fell asleep.