Read Bubble: A Thriller Online

Authors: Anders de La Motte

Tags: #Thriller, #Suspense, #Mystery

Bubble: A Thriller (4 page)

“Stigsson. How long has he been with the firm?” she asked Runeberg when they were sitting in the police canteen.

“Why do you ask?”

“I thought I knew most people in the Security Police, but he’s new to me . . .”

Runeberg shuffled slightly, enough for her to notice.

“Okay, he isn’t new, he was actually my supervisor back in the day. But then he worked abroad for years. UN, OSCE, that sort of thing, but right now we’re pulling in all available resources. Have you had a letter yet, by the way?”

“A letter?”

“Anyone on leave of absence is being asked to return to duty to cover the wedding. We’re going to need every trained bodyguard we’ve got. We’re already stretched as it is, with all these right-wing Sweden Democrats needing protection from the voters. How about it? It would only be a couple of weeks . . .”

She shook her head.

“Not at the moment, Ludvig, we’re only just getting things sorted at Sentry. It’s a bit of a muddle with all the new staff
and the buyout. I’ve got more balls in the air than I care to think about . . .”

It suddenly dawned on her that he had managed to change the subject.

“Okay, it’s more or less like this,” he said. “New general director and all that. Will you promise to think about it? Do you want more coffee, by the way, they’re about to close.”

She shook her head and stood up.

“I have to get home, Micke will have dinner ready and I’m already late.”

“Okay,” he said, pushing back his chair. “How have things been going on the home front . . . ? I mean, after . . .”

“Tobbe Lundh? Oh, we got through it. Micke’s the forgiving sort.”

“Good.” Runeberg looked away for a few seconds. “Well, I have to show you out. New bosses, new routines, you know how it is.”

♦  ♦  ♦

HP emerged from the tobacconist’s, tore the cellophane from the pack of cigarettes, and pulled out a Marlboro.

His hands were still trembling slightly, but that was probably due to his nicotine withdrawal. Well, that was his preferred explanation . . .

A couple of deep drags on the sidewalk to calm the worst of the pangs, then he set off toward the subway. Time to go home and inspect the damage. The cops had no doubt turned his flat upside down. Good thing he had nothing there that he was worried about.

He opened the door to the subway station, then, without deigning to look at the ticket booth, jumped over the barrier as he usually did, and carried on toward the escalator.

On the way down he was passed by a tall, platinum blonde woman roughly his age. Mostly out of habit he watched the movement of her hips for a few seconds before returning to the maelstrom of thoughts in his head.

He had to try to make some sort of sense of whatever the fuck was going on, and who had ratted on him. And, above all, why . . .

But first he had to get a few hours’ sleep.

He got to the bottom of the escalator and strolled slowly along the platform toward an empty bench.

The blonde was sitting a short distance away. The music in her massive headphones had to be seriously absorbing, because she was staring ahead of her with a glassy look in her eyes, and didn’t even seem to have noticed him.

Never mind, women were the least of his problems right now, and besides, to judge by her black nail polish, bangs, and gloomy clothes, she looked like she was probably a bit emo. Not really his cup of tea . . .

A faint gust of wind against his legs made him turn his head toward the opening of the tunnel. He got slowly to his feet as the train thundered into the station.

♦  ♦  ♦

“Well, it was still good to see you, Normén,” Runeberg said as they approached the reception area. “Even if the circumstances could have been rather happier . . .”

He held his card up to a little black reader beside the door. It looked new—the pale outline of the old card reader was still visible on the wall behind it.

Runeberg pulled at the handle, but the door remained locked. He muttered something and repeated the procedure, with the same result.

“Bloody security system,” he muttered. “Two years of planning, millions of kronor, and the crap still doesn’t work properly . . .”

Taking it more slowly, he repeated the procedure again, and suddenly the lock clicked. Over by the reception desk two people appeared to be having a heated discussion with the guards. Runeberg quickly ushered Rebecca past them and off toward the main door.

She opened her mouth to say something, but Runeberg was quicker.

“I’ll be in touch . . .” He gestured toward the ceiling and it took her a couple of seconds to realize that they were standing right beneath the dark globe of a little camera. Just like the card reader, it looked very new.

She frowned and for a few seconds they stood opposite each other without speaking. Then she gave him a quick hug and opened the door.

“Bye, Ludvig,” she said as she left, but for some reason Runeberg didn’t answer, just pulled an involuntary grimace. It only lasted a fraction of a second, then his face went back to normal. But for the second time in just a few hours she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.

♦  ♦  ♦

The note was on his front door, and he came close to just crumpling it up and throwing it down the stairwell. A little grayish-white scrap of recycled paper, with a tiny bit of tape to hold it up, just like all the ones that had gone before it.
Please don’t play loud music at night
, or
We would like to remind you of the housing association’s rules about [blah-blah-blah]
 . . .

A nocturnal Nescafé visit by the antiterrorism squad had probably made the committee shit themselves. He could easily imagine the discussion downstairs in the communal area.
We
need to let our feelings be known, Gösta. Use capital letters this time . . .

In previous years he had always just moved the notes onto the Goat’s door. Which probably wasn’t a very nice thing to do, in the pale light of hindsight. The little hash pixie was already paranoid enough. It still seemed a bit odd that he hadn’t said anything about moving out, or knocked on his door to ask for help.

But on the other hand he hadn’t exactly been very sociable himself in recent months, and he’d long since cut the wires to the doorbell.

Oh well, his new and as yet unknown neighbor might as well have a little welcome message.

He pulled the note off and fixed it to the door of the neighboring flat. His hands were still shaking slightly, which irritated him more than he was prepared to admit.

There, welcome to Housing Association block number 6, mofo!

He stepped back and was just about to turn away when he realized that the note didn’t look the same as usual. Instead of in the chairman’s old man’s handwriting, this note was written in rounded, almost feminine letters.

Problems?
Don’t give up, we can help you!
070-931151

He peered suspiciously at the message for a few seconds. Admittedly, he could do with a bit of instant salvation, but a subscription to
Watchtower
was hardly going to help.

At least the cops had had the decency to fix the door, he noted. More or less, at any rate. Two of the locks were completely messed up, but the third seemed to have survived pretty much unscathed.

The crooked frame creaked in complaint as he pushed the door open.

Just as he stepped inside he thought he heard a noise from the neighbor’s door, and for a few moments he imagined someone was about to come out.

He quickly closed the door behind him and then put his eye to the peephole, but his new neighbor must have had a change of heart because nothing happened.

Oh well, sooner or later they were bound to bump into each other. Right now he had other things to think about. Considerably more important things . . .

The cops evidently hadn’t found the USB memory stick he had hidden in a jar of coffee in the kitchen, but otherwise the flat looked pretty much as he had expected. Every drawer had been emptied, the shelves cleared, and the stained mattress on the bed turned upside down.

Some of his things were missing, he knew that already. He had been given a copy of the list of items they had seized before he was turfed out of the police station. The only question was how much wiser the cops would be after examining a few dog-eared paperbacks and a collection of action films. Not to mention his extensive collection of adult movies . . .

As luck would have it, he hadn’t had any dope in the flat for months, he could hardly even remember the last time he smoked a joint. Must have been in Dubai after that fake Frenchman-slash-hitman had given him a bad trip and then tried to frame him for the murder of sex goddess Anna Argos.

These days he steered clear of dope—he was paranoid enough as it was.

He spent ten minutes clearing up the worst of the mess, then threw himself down on the bed.

♦  ♦  ♦

“Oh, a letter came for you, by the way,” Micke said when he and Rebecca had almost finished eating. “Something about a safe-deposit box . . .”

She started, but he seemed to misinterpret her reaction.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to open your mail. I just saw the SEB bank logo on the envelope and assumed it must be for me. I’ve just got a bit too much on my mind right now . . .”

“Don’t worry,” she muttered. “I’ve got no secrets from you . . .”

. . .
anymore,
a little voice inside her head added, and to judge by Micke’s reaction he must have heard it as well.

He stood up quickly and came back with the torn-open envelope.

Dear Rebecca Normén
,

The contract regarding safe-deposit box 0679406948, listing you as one of the key holders, is about to expire.

Please contact our branch at 6 Sveavägen in Stockholm to discuss the extension of the contract.

If we fail to hear from you within thirty (30) days from the date of this letter, the box will be opened in the presence of a public notary and the contents stored by the bank for a further sixty (60) days. After that the contents will be disposed of at auction and any eventual profit, minus a handling charge, will be placed in a bank account in the names of the key holders.

Yours faithfully,

L. Helander

SEB

“I thought safe-deposit boxes disappeared years ago,” Micke said in an exaggeratedly amused voice. “A tin box hid
den in an underground vault feels like a pretty old-fashioned way to store valuables. More the sort of thing my parents or grandparents would do. I didn’t know you had one . . . ?”

“Nor did I,” she muttered.

He opened his mouth to say something but seemed to change his mind.

“So what do you want to do?” he asked a few seconds later.

“W-what?” She looked up from the letter.

“It’s Friday evening, and just for once we’re both off at the same time. How about the movies?”

“Don’t you want to work? I thought you were up to your neck . . . ?”

“I am, but it can wait till tomorrow. Clooney’s new one looks interesting.”

He was still acting with exaggerated cheerfulness, but neither his tone of voice nor his smile convinced her. Okay, so they had talked through everything. She had told him the least hurtful details about her affair with her colleague Tobbe Lundh, and Micke had said that he forgave her. That he believed her assurance that the whole thing had been a stupid mistake and that he was the one she loved.

But even though six months had passed since her confession, and even though he had never raised the subject again—not even during one of their rare quarrels—she had no trouble at all picking up the emotion that was bubbling beneath his urbane exterior.

He didn’t trust her . . .

And he was hardly alone in that . . .

He picked up the paper from one of the kitchen chairs and leafed through until he found the right page.

“It’s playing at Filmstaden on Södermalm, we could aim for the nine o’clock screening and grab a beer afterward . . .”

Her first instinct was to say no. Her computer was full of work she needed to do, things that couldn’t really wait. But a late film and a few beers might manage to reinforce the illusion that their relationship was still working. It might even get her brain to skip the usual nightmare and make it easier for her to sleep.

She could always hope.

“Sure, great! Let’s go for it!” She tried to sound as though she meant it. “Do you want to get the tickets now?”

“Yep!”

He got up to fetch his laptop and she took the chance to read the letter once more.

A tin box hidden in an underground vault . . .

For some reason she couldn’t help shivering.

4

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

“HELLO, MY NAME’S
Rebecca Normén. Apparently I’ve got a safe-deposit box here?”

She held out the letter and her driver’s license to the man behind the counter.

She was in a small reception area behind an anonymous door right next to Sergel’s Square in the center of the city. She must have walked past it a thousand times without ever noticing it. A buzzer and an entry phone, a reception desk, and one solitary man in a suit. Behind him a short flight of steps led down to a dark steel door. It all would have looked perfectly innocent if it hadn’t been for the unobtrusive little round cameras in the ceiling. Five of them, exactly the same sort as in Police Headquarters, which had to be at least three more than necessary. Every point in the room was covered from at least two angles.

“You need to use your card . . .”

“Sorry?”

“Your pass card . . . To get into the vault you need to use your pass card,” the man explained, gesturing backward with his thumb at the metal door behind him.

“It also opens the right section of the vault. Then you use the key to open the box itself. You’ve got a key?”

She shook her head.

“I’ve haven’t got a pass card or a key. To be honest, I didn’t even know I had a deposit box until I received this letter from you. I was hoping you might be able to give me a bit more information . . .” She nodded at the sheet of paper in front of him.

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