There was deep silence in the Porsche as Maria headed north on 279. She and Eli were both lost in their private thoughts. At last, Maria could no longer stand the tension. She glanced over at Eli and said, “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you? Now that we’re out of my apartment and Oskar’s not around.”
Eli looked over at her. “I should. It would be the smart thing to do. Because I don’t know if I can trust you, Maria.”
“I . . . I don’t know how to make you trust me, Eli. I promised you I would help you and Oskar, like you asked. What else do you want me to do? Keep repeating that I won’t tell anyone about you?”
“You could do that, but you don’t really know what you might do. Because right now the only reason you wouldn’t tell on us is because you’re afraid of us. But you might be afraid of other things even more. So even if you believe what you’re saying right now, under the right circumstances you might tell on us.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” She glanced at Eli and their eyes met.
Eli’s voice grew hard. “How about being questioned by the police, for starters? Being told that you will go to jail unless you cooperate? Or even be thrown in prison for a long time, unless you agreed to help them find us?”
Maria looked away, swallowed and suddenly felt queasy. What would she do if they picked her up and started asking questions? She might face criminal charges right now, just for what had happened in the last 24 hours. Aiding and abetting two . . . shit, maybe three murders. Harboring fugitives. And if cooperating with the police meant that she could go back to her normal life, continue her education, would she tell?
“I—I’d try not to tell as long as I could.”
Eli said nothing and the silence stretched out. Then Maria spoke again. “So—are you going to kill me?”
Eli stared dejectedly out the passenger door window as the highway lights drifted past. “I don’t know. Oskar likes you.”
The knot in Maria’s stomach loosened a little. “So why did you say that we would come back for my stuff later? That wasn’t what you said before, when we talked about signing a lease.”
“What are you studying at the university?”
Maria was surprised by the abrupt change in topic. “Social work. I want to be a social worker. But, to answer my question--”
Maria sighed. “Because a very kind person who was a social worker helped me get back on my feet after David died. And so I decided that I’d like to help people, too.”
“Oskar and I are people.”
There was a pause. “Yes, but—”
Eli looked sharply at her. “There is no ‘but,’ Maria. We are people.”
“I already said I’d help you by signing a lease, if that’s what you need.”
Eli touched the top of Maria’s hand. “We need more than that, Maria. You can’t begin to understand how much help we need.”
“What do you mean? It seems to me like you can take care of yourself.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, I saw what happened to Miguel. And I don’t know what happened to Stella, but I’m sure you had something to do with it. I know Oskar is strong, and you must be too, if he’s like you.”
“You didn’t see what happened to Miguel.”
“Well, I . . . I mean, I know you killed him.”
“Do you think I enjoyed it?”
“I—I guess I don’t know, really.”
“That’s right, you don’t. You don’t know anything about what it’s like to be me. So I’ll tell you: I let him touch me. Run his hands all over my body. Put his tongue inside my mouth.
“I let him do all those things so that he would die without a fight. Without that gun going off inside your apartment; so your neighbors wouldn’t call the police.” Her face grew stony as she stared at Maria, and her voice trembled and took on an even harder edge. “And it was disgusting—to have the tongue of a person I don’t even know inside my mouth. But I did it because it was necessary; because I love Oskar more than anything. And because I will do anything to protect him, to make sure he’ll never get hurt. Would you have done that for Oskar—let Miguel put his hands on you? Or the other?”
Maria was speechless. or over two years she had been letting total strangers touch her, and much more, . . . for money. But never kissing--she drew the line there. The thought of this 12-year-old girl doing what she had just described with Miguel was shocking beyond belief. And that she did it because she loved Oskar . . . her heart suddenly felt as if it would break. She felt like a piece of trash sitting beside a brilliant gem. How much pain was wrapped up inside this little child?
She took her foot off the gas, pulled the car over onto the shoulder, and stopped. The tears welled up in her eyes and she turned to look at Eli. “Oh my God, Eli. I’m so sorry, so sorry. That should never have happened to you.”
Hesitantly she extended her arms toward Eli, wanting to hug her, but Eli did not accept her embrace. Instead she said, “Why do you feel sorry for me? After all, Miguel’s the one who died--not me. I’m the monster, right? I’m not human, so my feelings don’t matter, do they?”
“You—oh, Eli. I don’t know how to answer you. No—you’re wrong. Now listen. Miguel—Miguel was a bad man. For as long as I’d known him, he’d been involved in all sorts of illegal things. He and his brother, both. Prostitution, selling drugs, smuggling guns, I think . . . it went on and on.”
“But you worked for them, didn’t you? So how can you say they were so bad?”
Maria was surprised to feel herself blushing. “I . . . look, Eli, I do what I have to do to get by. My father left my mom when I was two years old. She had to raise my sister and me by herself, but she really wasn’t all that interested, truth be told. She was more interested in herself, and her so-called ‘acting’ career, than in us . . . we were baggage. We had to fend for ourselves. And then, when I was 16, I ran away from home. I couldn’t take it any more—couldn’t take all her crap. I hadn’t finished primary school and I didn’t really have any skills to work, so I started hooking three months later. One thing led to another, and then I got pregnant.
“So yes--I admit it. Working the streets is wrong. But I make a lot more money doing tricks than I’d ever make selling retail, or serving food somewhere. And I’ve been using my money to try to get an education. So maybe I can make something of myself.”
“So you’ll do whatever it takes to survive, is that it? Nothing matters, as long as you can take care of yourself?”
“I—” Maria stopped. She understood the implications of what she’d just said.
“It’s all right, Maria. At least I know who you are. And actually, you’re not much different from me . . . at least, before I met Oskar.”
“Just how old are you, Eli?”
“The more I tell you about myself, Maria, the more dangerous you are to me. Are you sure you want to know?”
Maria took a mental deep breath. “Eli—yes, I do. How can I really help you unless I know you? I mean, I can sign a lease and all, but beyond that . . . if you really want me to help you in other ways, I have to feel like we’re friends.”
“Okay. I’m twelve. But I’ve been twelve for over two hundred years.”
Maria shook her head. She stared at Eli, repeating her words very slowly, as if doing so would make them comprehensible, but they weren’t. “Twelve . . . for two hundred years. I . . .”
“You should probably start driving again. There’s a lot we need to do before sunrise.”
Woodenly, Maria checked her rear-view, depressed the clutch, put the car in gear, and accelerated back onto the highway. She could not wrap her mind around what Eli had just said. The E18 exit loomed ahead and at Eli’s direction, she took it and headed west.
“So how did you become a vampire? I mean, who turned you into one?”
“We’re not vampires, Maria. And how I became this way is a long story that we don’t have time to talk about right now. I’ll tell you later, maybe.”
“But Oskar . . . you said he’s new at this. And he told me that what happened to him was a mistake. So did you turn him into one?”
Eli sighed. “Yes I did. And it was an accident.”
“Do you want to tell me how it happened?”
“You saw Oskar bite Rafael, right?”
“Then you know what happens. Or maybe you don’t.” She turned her head and stared at Maria. “What you don’t understand is . . . how good your blood tastes. And once it starts to flow, it’s hard for us to stop.”
He put the last suitcase down by their front door, happy to see Eli and Maria come in. “Eli!” He gave her a kiss and a hug, pleased to see that she seemed out of her funk. “And hello, Maria.”
Eli couldn’t believe he had everything packed already. He grinned sheepishly. “Well, I can’t say how carefully I packed it all, but everything’s in there.” He motioned to the luggage that sat next to the door. “Oh—everything except . . .” he turned and went into the kitchen, then came back out with two small bouquets of wild daisies in some paper cups. “Here. These are for you two.” He handed one to Eli and one to Maria. “I found them on my way back from the river, and I thought they were pretty. And it’s been kind of a rough night, so . . . well, anyways.”
Both of them thanked Oskar and then took a moment to smell their flowers. Maria tried to remember the last time a child had given her flowers; or even a man who hadn’t paid her to have sex. She couldn’t.
She looked around the little apartment, then at the small pile of luggage. A steamer trunk, two suitcases, and a portable record player; nothing more. She was surprised by how few belongings they had.
Oskar spoke up. “Eli, it’s almost four in the morning. Do you really think it’s a good idea to try to go all the way to Norrköping tonight? I left my old mattress in the bedroom for Maria.”
Eli appeared to be debating what to do. Finally she said, “I guess you’re right. It’d probably be better to stay here until tomorrow night, and then get a fresh start.” She turned to Maria. “Maria, you can stay here and use Oskar’s mattress? I’m sure you’re very tired, seeing as you’ve been up all night.”
Maria went to the bedroom door and looked in. “Okay. But then where will you two sleep?” Don’t they have coffins?
Oskar smiled. “Oh, we usually sleep in the tub. It makes us feel safe.”
In their tub, Oskar whispered to Eli. “Why are you so wiggly?”
“I’m worried, Oskar. Worried and scared.”
“About those guys? Rafael and Miguel? Or . . .”
“Did you two talk in the car?”
“What’d she say? Does she want to come live with us? Or just help us with a lease, or—”
“I’m not sure, Oskar. I think she wants to help out, but I’m not sure how much she’s committed. She’s afraid of me, I think. I just don’t know how much I can trust her. I’ve never had a situation like this before, and going to sleep with her in our apartment makes me nervous.”
“Well, you told her to come with us. Why’d you do that if you didn’t want her here?”
“Because I . . . I don’t know, I just felt that it would be better to have her near to us, rather than far away. Now I’m not sure it was the right thing to do.”
“I think she’s okay, Eli. I don’t think she’ll do anything.”
“Well, she likes you, Oskar. I know that. Probably better than me.”
“I think you need to stop worrying and try to trust her more. She was nice to me, even after I told her what I’d planned to do while she was asleep. Maybe if you trust her more, she’ll like you more.”
“Maybe. I guess we’ll see.”
“Well, I’m getting sleepy, Eli.” There was a pause as Oskar began to drift off. Then he spoke again, his voice soft and slurred.
“What happened . . . with that Miguel guy? Why were you so sad?”
“Nothing, Oskar. It’s all right; I’m fine now. Go to sleep.”
“Mmm . . . okay.”
In Oskar’s arms Eli waited; waited for his purring to begin, the sound he made that she had come to love so much. It wasn’t long in coming, and it comforted her. But still, she tried to stay awake as long as she could. She forced herself to continue breathing and keep her eyes open, trying to listen for the smallest sound from Maria. But she heard nothing; and soon, despite all of her efforts, she, too, drifted away.
8:00 a.m. Maria awoke from a deep, dreamless sleep, wondering where she was. Then she remembered: Oskar and Eli’s apartment in Tensta.
She sat up and looked around the vacant bedroom. The only things in it were the mattress, the backpack stuffed with her clothes, and the flowers from Oskar.
She laid back down on her back and stared at the ceiling. She focused on a cobweb hanging from a broken overhead light. What am I doing here?, she wondered. Her life had suddenly been derailed. Where was she headed?
Oskar and Eli. Meeting them was the strangest thing that had ever happened to her. She wasn’t sure she could handle just how strange it all was.
What if she just left now? Broke the trust they’d placed in her, take the Porsche, and return to her place in Sundbyberg? She would have to move right away; maybe stay with Marta. If she did that, she’d probably have to explain everything to Marta or make up some convoluted lie, and she didn’t like that idea. Or maybe she could just find a new apartment, and move all of her stuff today. Marta would find out she’d moved soon enough, and would wonder why she’d decided to move half-way through her lease, but still . . . it might work.
She had no doubt that if she left them, Eli would come after her; in fact, she couldn’t imagine that Eli would have any greater priority than tracking her down. Would she find her? Even if she changed schools and moved away from Stockholm? Eli had been surviving for two hundred years; God only knew what connections she’d made over that time. And if she did find her . . . Maria shuddered.
What if she left and went straight to the police right now? Reported the deaths of Rafael and Miguel, explained the whole thing from top to bottom. Every detail. Then brought them back here before it got dark so they could take the two of them into custody. What would the police think of such a tale? If she were a police officer, would she believe it? She tried to imagine herself, telling them that a couple of kids had killed two thugs like Rafael and Miguel. They’d think she had flipped her lid. And there was really no physical proof, either. Except maybe the cars. And Miguel’s wallet, although she wasn’t even sure Eli had kept that.
She turned restlessly on her side and stared at the daisies Oskar had picked for her. Why would she want to report them, anyway? Did she really want to leave?
She remembered Oskar standing there in his underwear, a little boy frightened beyond measure, fumbling with the locks on her door as he tried to flee her apartment. A few seconds earlier, he had abandoned his plan to kill her as she lay sleeping in her bed. Why?—for no other reason than that she had been kind to him.
And then he had protected her from Rafael, not knowing that she had had sex with Rafael before, and had been prepared to have it with him again, if it had been necessary; if it would have gotten him out of her apartment. But she wouldn’t have done it with Oskar there, watching. In fact, just before Oskar had attacked, she had been planning to tell Rafael that they should at least go back to the bedroom.
The poor, sweet kid. He had been doing what he thought was right: protecting her honor, her dignity--not realizing that she had none.
And then, how he had started to cry after he’d killed Rafael. That had been the most unbelievable part of the whole thing; the part that had touched her most deeply. He had been ashamed of what he’d done to Rafael. He didn’t want to be what he was. It was . . . incredible.
And then there was Eli. She was afraid of Eli, but she respected her, too. Her commitment to Oskar was humbling; Maria had never met a person so deeply devoted to someone. And obviously Oskar loved Eli deeply, too. In a way, she was almost jealous of them, for she herself had neither loved, nor been loved, like that. Maria was beginning to sense, too, that there was an innocent, child-like quality to their love. She wasn’t sure how that could be, with them needing to find blood to live, like they did; but nevertheless, it seemed to be there.
In her mind she heard Eli stridently declaring that she and Oskar were people. Clearly, Oskar was; he’d been made a vampire, or whatever it was that they thought themselves to be, by accident. But what about Eli? To be perpetually 12 for two centuries . . . what did that mean?
Maria tried to think back to how life had been when she had been that age; how she had been at 12. How scary and insecure the world had seemed. No father, and an alcoholic mother who viewed her daughters as an impediment to her quest to marry the wealthiest and most successful man she could find before she got too old and lost her good looks, so that they could pull themselves out of their pitiful circumstances and she could at last make it big in acting.
She remembered hiding in a closet, hugging her sister Lena and trying to stop her from crying, as their mother came home drunk once again; yelling and screaming down in the living room about how horrible her life was with no husband and her worthless, good-for-nothing daughters. To be trapped at that terrifying age, forever. She couldn’t imagine it.
And who could have done that to Eli? Someone must have bitten her, infected her, just as she had bitten Oskar. Way back in . . . what—the 1780’s, for God’s sake. But who would do that to a little girl like Eli? And why?
She recalled the soft touch of Eli’s hand when she’d told her how much help they needed, and how she’d related her experience with Miguel. Clearly, she also did not enjoy doing what she did.
But how could she help them? This was what she didn’t understand. She certainly wasn’t going to help them find people to kill--no way was she doing that. She’d rather have Eli kill her than do that.
They had said they wanted to go to Norrköping to try and find a way to undo themselves. What the hell was in Norrköping? She didn’t have a clue. But if that’s where they wanted to go, then . . . she’d help get there, find them a place. Maybe then they could talk about whether she’d remain with them or not.
She realized that she had to pee. They’d told her that they didn’t mind if she used the bathroom, even though they were in there, so . . . .
She got up, stretched, and went into the hall. The apartment was quiet, and rather dim since they had put blankets over all of the windows. Apparently they didn’t like light—or at least, didn’t like sunlight. She looked into the kitchen at the blanket hanging over the window there, and at the little bit of light that came in around the edges. So strange, to think that it was all true—that they really were vampires. It was almost easier to think that they were just mentally ill and believed that they were, and that she’d just imagined seeing Oskar fly; that every extraordinary thing she’d seen them do had just been her fantasies. But of course, that wasn’t true. She herself had taken a little flight on Oskar’s back when they’d dropped down into the square behind her building. She shook her head.
The urge to go compelled her to the bathroom; she opened the door and peeked inside. It was too dark to see anything, and she didn’t want to turn on the bathroom light lest it somehow awaken them; so she turned on the hall light instead. Then she went into the bathroom, leaving the door open. The tub was covered with a blanket.
As she sat down to urinate she realized that a strange noise was coming from under the blanket draped over the tub. Where they were. A soft, low rumbling sound that was unlike any sound she had ever heard before. As she peed, she stared intently at the blanket over the tub, fascinated by the sound. She finished her business, pulled up her pants, and quietly lowered the toilet lid.
She started to leave the room, but then stopped. She turned back, drawn as if by a magnet. Slowly, haltingly, she reached down and lifted up one corner of the blanket and pulled it back; then stared at what she saw in the half-light from the hallway.
They lay half in darkness, half in light; clinging to one another in the tight confines of their little tub. Oskar lay behind Eli with his arms wrapped around her, holding her close to his heart. Eli had her arms crossed in front of her, over Oskar’s hands. When Maria bent down for a better look, she realized that the rumbling was coming from their chests.
They looked completely at peace, contented in each other’s arms. Oskar’s face was partially hidden in the black hair on the back of Eli’s head, his blond locks contrasting sharply with hers. Eli’s face looked even more doll-like in sleep than it did when she was awake. Her delicate lashes lay against the pale, ivory-smooth skin, a tinge of pink shading her eyelids. As Maria stared at them in wonder, she appreciated how still they were, and realized that they weren’t breathing.
They didn’t look like monsters. They looked like two lost and lonely children who had nothing in the world except each other. Which was, she realized, precisely what they were.
Slowly she sank back down onto the toilet, put her head into her hands, and silently began to weep.
I can’t leave them.
Kurt and Martin shut the doors of an unmarked Volvo sedan. Martin started the car, pulled out of the police lot, and headed toward Blackeberg.
Kurt held up the day’s copy of the Svenska Dagbladet. “Did you see this morning’s paper about this business over in Sundbyberg last night?”
“Nope. But I saw a little bit of it on TV while I had breakfast. What’s the paper say?”
“A woman named Estella Fransson fell eight stories from an apartment building on Grånsgatan. Only, she didn’t really fall from the apartment building. According to this, she hit the side of the apartment first.”
“Yeah. The SVT guy said there was some speculation about whether she might’ve fallen from an airplane or something.”
“Well that’s possible, only the paper says no one reported seeing or hearing an airplane flying overhead at the time. Did you see the picture of where she hit the side of the building?” Kurt folded the paper and held it up for Martin.
Martin glanced over at the gruesome black and white for a second. “Yup. Goddamnest thing I’ve ever seen. And that photograph really doesn’t do it justice--you should’ve seen it in color. Do they have much information about the woman?”
Kurt skimmed down the article. “No, not much. Apparently she was a prostitute. She’d been arrested a few times for little shit, and pled to a possession charge a few years ago.”
“I’m surprised they were able to identify her. I feel sorry those forensic guys. Getting an I.D. card out of that mess.”
“It’s all part of the job, Martin.” There was a pause before he continued. “You know, she probably looked like that guy we saw a few years ago--you remember? The one who was taking a piss behind the loading dock when that roll-off truck put down that big trash dumpster? Squashed him like a bug.”
“Yup—I’ll never forget that case.” Martin chuckled. “What a way to go out—taking a piss behind a loading dock.”
Kurt raised an eyebrow, then gave Martin a bemused grin. “I wonder if this gal had a pilot’s license?”
He shot Kurt a look of mock seriousness. “You know, sometimes I find your sense of humor disturbing.”
“Well, it just occurred to me, that’s all. We have flying vampires, and now flying prostitutes. If this keeps up, they really should be licensed. Then maybe she wouldn’t have flown into the wall like that.”
Martin shook his head and laughed as he turned onto Drottningholmsvägen and headed west. They drove in silence for a bit before he spoke again. “You know, Kurt, I could really use another cup of coffee. My ass sure is dragging this morning.”
“Mine too. Let’s stop somewhere before we get to Blackeberg and grab a cup. I hope this Holmberg has some useful information. Because we need to come up with something soon.”
At mid-morning, Maria returned to her apartment from the Student Registrar’s Office. She had completed a form to confirm her withdrawal from her classes due to a family emergency: her sister had just been diagnosed with cancer, and had no one else to help her.
She felt better now that she had made up her mind to help Oskar and Eli. She had never liked feeling wishy-washy about anything, and had always found it preferable to make a decision, even if it ultimately turned out wrong. And although she had many concerns and fears, and did not know where all of this would end up, she felt in her heart that she had made the right choice. For the first time in many years, she felt genuinely happy.
She had seen no reason to go directly back to Oskar and Eli’s apartment; there was nothing useful she could do there all day while they slept. So she returned to her own place, took a shower, and prepared a quick breakfast. Then she stood in her living room with her cream cheese bagel on a plate, took a bite, and turned on her TV, intending to eat it quickly before doing some packing.
After a commercial, the news came on. When the top story began, she learned what had happened to Stella. She saw a video feed of where Stella had struck the side of the apartment building; saw more video of a stretcher being loaded into an ambulance in a parking lot fronting the building. The shape under the sheet looked . . . disassembled.
Maria recognized the apartment, and realized she could walk two blocks and see the aftermath herself--live and in person. Assuming they hadn’t washed it all away yet.
She swallowed the bite of bagel that she had stopped chewing, fighting the gagging sensation that made her want to spit it out. Then with a trembling hand she put her plate down and collapsed, weak-kneed, into her chair while she continued to stare at the TV.
What had Eli done? In that brief period between when Maria had turned and ran, and when Eli had entered her apartment through the door that was now right behind her? What had she . . .
There was only one explanation.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Maria struggled against the nausea that rose from the pit of her stomach to strangle her esophagus, but it was hopeless. She bolted to her bathroom, threw up the toilet lid, and puked. She easily recognized the bits of bagel as they floated in the pinkish cloud of fluid that spread out across the bowl. Then she retched again, this time bringing up the deeper, more acidic material from the bottom of her stomach. She hung trembling and weak over the bowl, her happiness having departed with her breakfast, wondering what in God’s name she had gotten herself into.
“That’s what the report says, because that’s what the boy reported. I can’t make sense of it, either, but his statement was consistent with the bloodstains. You can look at the photos yourself . . . no one’s been able to make heads or tails of it. And of course, the media had a field day with it.”
Gunnar Holmberg pushed the photo file across the table toward Magnusson and Lieutenant Lundgren. Kurt thought he sounded defensive, but who could blame him with this kind of stuff?
Martin spoke up. “When was this Andreas Siskov last questioned about the murders?”
“Oh, it’s been awhile. Not since back at the time, I guess. Why?”
“Well, we were thinking we might want to speak with him ourselves.”
“You won’t be able to.”
Kurt looked up from the photographs, puzzled. “Why’s that?”
“He committed suicide four months ago. Jumped in front of a train at the Blackeberg Metro Station.”
Even Kurt looked shocked. “Holy shit.”
“Yeah—pretty tragic. Parents were devastated, as you might imagine.”
An ominous silence descended among them as Kurt and Martin, clearly troubled, slowly turned their attention back to Gunnar’s files. Finally Kurt stopped reading, closed the file, and looked at Gunnar with a level gaze.
“I tell you what, Constable, I’ve been investigating murders for over 30 years, and I’ve never seen a file like this one. I suppose you’ve heard about the death in Tyresta that we’re investigating.”
“Yeah . . . the Canadian guy who was attacked. I feel for you. Got any suspects yet?”
“If we did, we wouldn’t be talking to you about this,” Martin replied. “But we know that someone bit him in the neck and twisted his head around like a corkscrew. And that the same thing happened last October to a fella named Joakim Bengtsson, and a couple of weeks later to one Lacke Sorensson. We recovered a child’s footprint at the Tyresta crime scene, and a kid’s shirt was found on Bengtsson’s body. So we have every reason to believe a child was involved—maybe the same child ‘angel’ that did in these three boys.”
Gunnar suddenly sat up. “You know what? Another person was bitten like that last fall, too—‘The Ritual Killer.’”
Kurt was flabbergasted. “What? I thought he fell out of his hospital window.”
“He did. But he was bitten on the neck first.”
Kurt turned to Martin. “Did you know that?”
“Jesus. Tell me more, Gunnar. What do they know about the bite? Did they see who did it? Anything?”
“I was involved in his apprehension at the Vällingby Pool the night he tried to exsanguinate his second victim; I didn’t investigate his death. But you really ought to review his file. I heard they found a bite wound, but I don’t know whether there were any witnesses.”
Kurt gave Martin a disgusted look. “Do you ever get the feeling that your own police department is actively trying to keep you from doing your job? I mean . . . this is just fucking ridiculous.” He picked up the phone and dialed.
“Karla—it’s me, Kurt.”
“I’m fine. Look, is Hallberg around?”
“Well, when he gets back, tell him to pull the file on ‘The Ritual Killer.’”
“Yeah . . . it might be. We’ll see. So tell him to pull it and take a look for any information about a bite wound the guy suffered before he fell. Yeah. And I want to know about any witness statements. Got it?”
“Good. I’ll talk to you later.”
He hung up, then looked at Gunnar again. “So tell me about Oskar Eriksson.”
Maria shuffled weakly out of the bathroom and looked anxiously around her apartment. Two people had died within fifteen feet of her. Now that the police knew about Stella, would they make the connection to Rafael? And then to Miguel? How long would it be before they came here?
She was thoroughly unnerved by what had happened to Stella. Yeah, she’d been kind of a bitch, but . . . had she deserved that? To be flung against the side of a building like a ball, or a piece of trash . . . .
Her hands trembled and she suddenly realized how badly she wanted a drink. If there had been any liquor in the apartment, she would’ve poured herself double shot; it would have made everything feel better. She closed her eyes. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet, and the craving was there. The memories of her life four years ago came back to her; day after day of coffee, booze and cigarette breakfasts. Getting up and getting drunk to make last night’s hangover go away.
She entered her bedroom, crawled onto the bed, and studied the coverlet very carefully, looking for any trace of Miguel’s demise. Sure enough, she saw a single tiny, brown droplet near the center of the bedspread. She stripped the cover off the bed, and was relieved to see that it had not soaked through to the blanket beneath. She wadded up the coverlet beneath her arm and then went into her living room. She put it on the coffee table, then got down on all fours to check the place where Oskar had bitten Rafael.
She combed her fingers carefully through the carpet, scrutinizing the nylon fibers. As she did, her inner voice asked her how in the world she had gone in less than two days from being a reasonably normal person—well, a reasonably normal prostitute, anyhow—to someone who was now worried about erasing any evidence of murder so that she would not be arrested and imprisoned for the rest of her life.
Some other person is doing this, she thought. Some other Maria, in some parallel universe, whose life path had diverged sharply from her own. The real Maria—the freshly reinvented woman who was putting as much distance between herself and her past as possible, was sitting in a Psychology class right now, taking notes. What she was doing didn’t feel real. Murder . . . vampires . . . . She saw no stains on the carpet. She pulled a kitchen trash bag out of her pantry and was beginning to stuff the coverlet inside it when the phone rang. She paused and stared at it.
It rang three times and then there was a click. A robotic male voice requested the caller to leave a message. Marta’s happy, perky voice followed.
“Maria? Hey girl! Pick up if you’re there.”
Maria moved to the counter; placed her hand on the phone and debated whether to lift the handset. What would she tell Marta she’d been up to? Getting the bloodstains out of her apartment? She suppressed a hysterical laugh. In a brief few seconds she recalled Eli’s face in the car last night, looking intently at her. Could she be trusted not to tell? She pulled her hand back as if the phone had become a poisonous snake.
“Okay, guess you must be at class. Hey listen, I was wondering if you’d like to get together tonight. I want to do some shopping downtown—I need to pick up a new skirt for work. Give me a call when you get home, okay? See you soon.”
There was a beep, a mechanical sound signaling the end of an opportunity to reconnect with the real world, with her old life. Maria stood stupidly at the phone for several seconds, her mind a blank. She suddenly felt . . . very alone.
She left her apartment, intending to throw the bag into a trash can on the street somewhere before returning to Oskar and Eli’s place. She would worry about packing her stuff later. And what to do about her lease.
She stepped outside and looked to the left, wondering if she could see the high-rise just shown on the news. She couldn’t, but it didn’t matter because her attention was immediately drawn to the flashing lights of a tow truck idling at the corner. She took a few steps toward the street to get a better view of what was going on, and saw—
. . . they were towing away Rafael’s ZX—and behind and to the side of Rafael’s car was a police car. Two uniformed officers were standing by the front of it, watching the tow truck driver winch Rafael’s wheels up onto the tilted bed of the truck. They were talking, but she couldn’t hear them over the rumbling diesel and the electric whine of the winch motor. One of them had a metal clipboard and was making notes.
Adrenaline shot through her and she barely controlled the urge to spin on her heels and flee. Instead she slowly stepped backwards until she was out of their line of sight, turned, and walked as rapidly as possible, without flat-out running, down Tallgatan toward Miguel’s Porsche, parked around the corner on Vintergatan. When she reached it she realized she still had the bloodstained coverlet in the bag under her arm. Fuck it. She unlocked the car and got in.
Her mind raced as she started the little car and backed out onto the street. Gotta get outta here, outta here, outta here . . . . She gave it too much gas and popped the clutch too fast, and the car lunged forward, its rear tires chirping. Shit! She let up on the gas as she shifted up into the higher gears. Slow down and take it easy, Maria, she told herself. If you get pulled over driving this car . . . .
She made a deliberate effort to relax as she turned right onto Sturegatan; took a big, deep breath and let it out slowly. Then she turned on the air conditioning and felt better.
As she headed back to 279 North, her thoughts returned to what might happen if she were stopped. As she continued to think about it, her apprehension slowly grew. Miguel’s car, Miguel’s car . . . her eyes began to rove around the interior. God only knew what he had stashed away in here.
It dawned on her as she passed the Solvalla horse racing track that it would not be a good idea to drive the Porsche all the way to Tensta. If the police began looking for Miguel as well as Rafael, it stood to reason that they’d be out looking for his car. Even if they were going to Norrköping soon, would it really be a good idea to lead the police anywhere near Oskar and Eli’s apartment? Besides, the car would be of no use in getting to Norrköping. There was hardly any space inside for the three of them and the luggage, especially the steamer trunk. So she made up her mind to park the car somewhere near the Rinkeby Metro Station, and take the train out to Tensta.
Within a few minutes, she got off 279 and drove into Rinkeby. The Porsche’s engine was loud, and she felt incredibly conspicuous driving it. She found a big apartment complex with a generous parking lot a few blocks away from the Metro station and pulled in. She picked a space under a tree at the corner farthest from the building, stopped, and turned off the car.
Before leaving it, Maria thought she would look through the car for anything useful. She dug through the glovebox and the pockets on the doors, but found nothing. In fact, these storage spaces were conspicuously clean and empty. She was about ready to get out and look in the trunk up front when she noticed that there were little map pockets on either side of the footwells. When she reached in the one on the driver’s side, she felt something metal and withdrew a small, nickel-plated revolver.
Instantly, she held the pistol down close to her lap and glanced out the windows to see if anyone was watching her, but there wasn’t. Outside the tight confines of the car, it was just an ordinary, sunny day in Rinkeby.
She looked at the deadly-looking little gun; turned it over in her lap. It had wooden grips, and “Made in U.S.A.” was stamped above the trigger. “S&W 38” was stamped on the incredibly short barrel. She pushed a button on the side and the cylinder flipped out. It was fully loaded. She pushed it back and it clicked shut.
She pointed the gun toward the passenger-side footwell and slowly squeezed the trigger. The hammer on the back began to rise, but she stopped once she understood that if she continued, it would probably go off. Other than the one she’d seen the day before, she had never held a real-life gun, and she stared at it, fascinated by the concentration of power in her hand.
For a long time, she debated whether to leave the gun in the car or take it with her. Finally she slipped it into her purse.
The Porsche’s trunk was completely empty. She made sure the car was locked, then headed toward the Metro, chucking the bag with the coverlet into a trash can as she went.