Read Bubble: A Thriller Online

Authors: Anders de La Motte

Tags: #Thriller, #Suspense, #Mystery

Bubble: A Thriller (10 page)

Once, then several more times, harder. Strands of hair came loose and wound around his fingers, but he hardly noticed.

The phone could be a copy.

He had given his own to Mange, two years ago, and then Becca had picked it up and buried it in the lost property office. Then he had found out that the phone was owned by ACME Telecom Services, so presumably it had found its way back to them.

ACME Telecom Services—a proud member of the PayTag Group . . .

He stopped tearing his hair, absentmindedly pulled the loose strands from his fingers, then reached for the phone.

Its surface felt cool as he held it up to the light and tilted it until he found what he was looking for. A couple of centimeter-long scratches in one corner of the glass screen, from the time he had been dangling off a brick wall in Birkastan, with a tattooed gorilla—whose door he had just defaced with a little warning message—doing his best to pull him down.

Like hell was this a copy!

He’d known it the moment he caught sight of the phone on the floor. This really was his phone.

♦  ♦  ♦

Even before she lifted the lid of the lower section, she had a good idea of what it contained.

It was the smell that alerted her. A bitter, oily smell that she knew all too well.

She slowly lifted the lid. A black revolver with a narrow brown handle lay concealed in the lower compartment, and her heart instantly began to beat harder.

She resisted an immediate urge to pick up the gun. Instead she leaned forward and inspected the revolver as closely as she could. Unlike a lot of her colleagues, she wasn’t particularly interested in guns. The police force’s Sig Sauers and the compact assault rifles that were the Personal Protection Unit’s backup weapon of choice were pretty much the only things she had ever fired. But compared to a pistol or an assault rifle, a revolver was a fairly simple weapon. A rotating cylinder in the middle that usually contained six bullets.

Handle, barrel, trigger, and a large, visible hammer that could be drawn back with your thumb—that was basically it.

The stubby barrel made the gun look cruel, a bit like a bulldog’s nose.

She carefully measured the diameter of the barrel with the end of her little finger. It was roughly the same as her own service pistol. Nine millimeters or thereabouts, but she had a feeling that the caliber of revolvers was usually measured in thousandths of an inch. She tried to work it out in her head but didn’t get very far.

There was a small reading lamp on the little table, and she switched it on and angled it so it shone down into the metal box.

Immediately above the cylinder she found some engraved lettering.

Cal .38,
then a longer number, presumably the gun’s serial number. Obviously she ought to write it down. She dug out a pen and notepad from her bag. She double-checked carefully
as she wrote the number twice, going back over the numbers and making them thicker merely to draw out the process. To have something to occupy her mind.

But the respite was only temporary.

What the hell had she actually found here?

She spread the passports out on the desk in front of her and looked through them.

All five had been issued in the late seventies and contained photographs of her dad.

In some of them he was wearing glasses, in some a mustache or a beard; in one his hair color was different. The only thing they all had in common was that none of them were issued in his real name. She glanced at the metal box, still fighting the urge to pick up the revolver.

But her police training won out once again.

The weapon was perfectly harmless where it was, and touching it without gloves would mean contaminating it with her fingerprints. But it wouldn’t do any harm to have a closer look.

She stuck her pen into the barrel, lifted it up, and tried to turn it around. The cylinder slipped out slightly, and when she tried to turn the gun it fell out altogether. Six chambers, just as she’d suspected, and each one held a flat, brass-colored disc. The weapon was loaded, in other words.

Two of the bullets had obvious indentations from the hammer, meaning that they must have been fired, but the other four were completely intact.

Suddenly she had an idea. She really should have thought of it at once instead of bothering with her notepad.

She put the revolver down on the desk and took out her cell phone.

Obviously there was no coverage down there, but that
didn’t matter. She opened up the camera app and took several pictures of the revolver from different angles. Then she carefully returned it to the bottom of the box.

She glanced at the time: she ought to be getting off to work now. Time to make a decision.

She quickly gathered together the passports, opened her bag, and tucked them away in the inside pocket. After a few moments’ reflection she put the money in as well, but she hesitated over the revolver—it was making her feel distinctly uneasy. She couldn’t leave it for Stigsson’s team to find, that was out of the question. But on the other hand she definitely didn’t feel like taking it to work, and then home to Micke. But perhaps there was another option?

She hesitated a bit more, then closed the heavy lid and turned the combination dial a few times. Then she picked up the box with one hand, hung her bag on her shoulder, and turned toward the door.

For a few moments she stood there with her hand on the handle as she listened for any sounds from out in the vault. Then she opened the little cubicle door, glanced up at the nearest camera, and headed back toward the compartment in the vault, trying to act casual. She put the box back in place, turned the crooked key with some difficulty to lock the door, then left the vault.

“I was wondering if I could have a copy of the original contract covering the lease of the box?” she asked the man behind the counter. “I’d also like to register for another box, in my name alone. Preferably right away . . .”

♦  ♦  ♦

He put the phone down, picked the book up from the floor, and leafed through the pages with trembling fingers.

Stockholm City Library—Bagarmossen,
the stamp inside the front cover said. After a bit of searching he found the year it was printed—1986.

But it was the message on the first page that made
the shaking of his hands shift into overdrive. Ornate, old-fashioned handwriting that looked very much like his dad’s:

It’s time to decide,
Henrik!

Do you want to play a Game?
Yes
or
No?

7

JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID . . .

HE MOVED THE
glass to a different part of the wall, then pressed his ear to the bottom of it. But there was only a slight improvement. The same steady stream of vague, mumbling voices, several at once, but it still wasn’t possible to make out what was being said.

Damn it!

He had loitered about on the landing for several days, waiting for someone to go in or out, and had rung the doorbell a couple of times. Fuck, he’d even bought a box of chocolates as a polite little welcome gift.

But even though he was certain there were people inside the flat, his new neighbor hadn’t opened the door. Whoever it was in there, he clearly had no desire to meet, which basically only confirmed his suspicions.

The Game was keeping a close eye on him and knew all about his comings and goings. That meant they had to have an observation post, and a fucking good one at that. Once he realized that, the rest had been easy to work out. He could imagine them there inside the flat, a whole gang of faceless, suited Stasi agents
with massive headphones over their ears, moving microphones over the walls or drilling tiny holes so they could stick miniature cameras through the walls next to the electrical outlets.

All the while muttering among themselves as they planned the next stage of the operation . . .

He put the glass down and took a quick walk through the flat.

Obviously he ought to take off. Get the hell out of there and hide away in some hole in the ground. But that wouldn’t help, the Game was bound to find him sooner or later. As long as he was inside the flat he knew where they were. The Game Master couldn’t possibly know yet that he had worked out where their secret surveillance center was located.

Advantage HP, in other words . . .

A small advantage, maybe, but still!

And if he was going to keep hold of it, he would have to implement a few security measures . . .

Duct tape. He needed more duct tape. All the plugs and sockets in the wall may have been covered, as well as the biggest cracks and blemishes, but he still couldn’t be sure. The walls were old and very uneven, and could easily conceal a microscopic little camera lens.

But in order to get more tape he would have to go out and leave the flat unguarded while he made his way to the ironmongers on Hornsgatan.

He hadn’t been out for almost a week, living off canned sardines, cigarettes, and tap water until he felt he was belching aluminum. But he didn’t have any choice.

First stop, the Co-op: crispbread, fish roe, canned food, some assorted Findus ready meals, and so many packs of cigarettes that the girl at the till was clearly bemused by the size of his request.

Then, with the whole lot hurriedly stuffed into plastic bags, back out onto the street.

He fixed his gaze on the sidewalk, tensing the muscles in his neck as hard as he could to stifle the urge to look around. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t help looking back.

He caught sight of them almost immediately. Two of them, in their thirties, standing in front of a shop window a short distance away. Chinos, sensible black shoes, staring hard at what was going on around them rather than at each other. Cops, he was pretty certain.

But they could just as easily be working for the Game. Or both . . .

He turned sharply to the right and could feel their eyes burning into the back of his neck.

A couple of hundred meters to the hardware store, a few rolls of duct tape, then straight back home.

Once the flat had been properly secured, he might finally get a chance to do some thinking.

The newspaper fly sheets along the way were trumpeting the latest royal wedding news. The clothes, menu, guest list . . .

Just as he had expected, his own arrest was already forgotten. Now it was evidently all about the fact that the new prince had a “difficult choice” ahead of him. If he had to guess, it was about which charity he would pretend to work for now that the taxpayers were going to guarantee his future income . . .

He spat a gob of saliva into the gutter and glanced back quickly over his shoulder. His pursuers were suddenly nowhere to be seen, which probably only meant that he had more than two people following him.

Sweat was sticking his T-shirt to his skin, and he stopped outside the hardware store to pull it away from his chest. A sour whiff of BO wafted up and made him screw up his nose. God, he stank!

He took a quick look at himself in the shop window. His damp T-shirt was now more yellow than white, and his torn jeans were so stained they were starting to go stiff. Throw in his beard, greasy hair, the dark rings under his eyes, and his crazy boggle-eyed stare and the diagnosis was crystal clear. It was hardly surprising that people made way for him on the sidewalk. He looked like a raving lunatic.

A sudden noise broke through the sound of the traffic, making him jump and sending his pulse up by another twenty BPM. But it was only the air brakes of the number 43 bus pulling up on the other side of the street, and he had already looked away when his brain caught up. Third seat from the back, the bloke sitting next to the window . . .

Fucking hell!

He ran straight out into the traffic. There was a cacophony of blaring horns, squealing brakes, and skidding tires. But none of that made him take his eyes off the bus.

He only just escaped being run over by a Saab, but the Volvo in the next lane braked a bit too late and struck him at knee height.

He fell to the tarmac and the contents of his plastic bag spilled out across the road, but he made no attempt at all to gather them up again. Instead he used the Volvo’s bumper to get quickly back on his feet.

Status check: aching pain, but—as luck would have it—no sign of any blood or jagged bones . . .

He took a couple of stumbling steps. The pain was bearable.

The driver got out of the car, his face swollen like a tomato.

“What the fuck are you playing at, you fucking mor—”

HP didn’t hang around for a debate.

The bus had already pulled away from the stop and was building up speed as it headed along Hornsgatan.

He got his legs going, left, right, left again. Faster and faster. He swerved to get around a car and found himself behind the bus.

He had built up speed now, almost running in top gear—but the bus was still pulling away from him. A red light at the next junction would put a stop to that.

But the bus driver showed no sign of braking and actually seemed to be accelerating instead.

HP could see the traffic lights now—green.

Damn it!

He must be seventy-five meters behind the bus, and cars were rushing past him on all sides with their horns blaring.

His legs ached from being hit, his lungs were burning with the sudden exertion, but he had no intention of giving up, at least not while he still had the bus in sight.

He veered across the road and carried on along the sidewalk. Far ahead the bus finally seemed to have stopped at Mariatorget. Yes!

He ran even faster, crossing Torkel Knutssonsgatan as he approached the back of the bus.

Fifty meters.

Forty.

Thirty.

♦  ♦  ♦

“Hi, Nina Brandt here!”

“Hi, Nina, can you hang on . . .”

She put the phone down, stood up from her desk, and closed the door to her office.

“There, now I can talk.”

“Is everything okay, Becca?”

“Absolutely fine,” she lied. “A few too many balls in the air, maybe . . .”

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