Read Bubble: A Thriller Online

Authors: Anders de La Motte

Tags: #Thriller, #Suspense, #Mystery

Bubble: A Thriller (7 page)

Message sent 06/05 22:02:

Hi Mangelito, are you back? /HP

Message received 14/05 21:13:

Where are you, Henke? Are you okay? Please, call me! /Becca

Message sent 15/05 03:11:

Mange, call me need to talk pronto! /HP

Message received 23/05 18:36:

Henke, please get in touch!!! /Becca

Just as he realized he was reading his own text traffic, the messages disappeared from the screen and were replaced by moving images.

A familiar figure snatching an umbrella from a bag.

CUT

A cortege of horses and carriages riding through Stockholm.

CUT

A dark-clad figure on a moped.

CUT

An unmarked police car rolling over in slow motion.

CUT

An isolated cottage in flames.

CUT

Desert ravens circling above sand dunes.

Then, finally:

The silhouette of an elderly man against a snowy forest glade full of flickering lanterns.

The screen suddenly went dark. But still HP couldn’t tear his eyes away. He was still kneeling motionless in front of the computer, holding his breath and waiting. When the message finally appeared he almost pissed himself:

Time to decide, Henrik!
This is your final task.

Do you want to play a Game?

Yes
or
No
?

5

GHOSTS FROM THE PAST

OBVIOUSLY SHE OUGHT
to try to get hold of him. He was her brother, after all. Tell Stigsson where he could stick his damn rule book . . .

But she’d actually already tried. It felt like she’d been chasing him all spring, calling, texting, even going around to the flat and knocking on the door a few times. He was still there, she was sure of that. The flat had smelled lived-in, not musty the way it had during the months he’d been away.

A couple of times she had seen the flickering light of the television from out in the street, but he still hadn’t opened the door.

And at some point last winter he must have changed the locks, because her spare keys no longer worked. He was angry with her. And she knew why . . .

He didn’t like the fact that she was in touch with Tage Sammer. He knew perfectly well why she liked the old man, and for exactly the same reason Henke was obliged to hate him, without even giving him a chance.

Uncle Tage reminded them both of Dad . . .

But even if Henke was an obstinate fool, she still had to try to help him.

Do her best to save him from himself.

She looked up the number in her contacts, hesitated a couple of seconds, then pressed Call.

It was a stupid idea. But she had no choice . . .

He answered after the first ring:

“Personal protection unit, Runeberg!”

“Hi, Ludvig, it’s Rebecca. Sorry to call so early but I took a chance that you might be at work . . .”

“Normén, hi! Quite right, there’s no time to rest up here at the moment. As you know, we’ve got our hands full. Are you calling to say you’ve changed your mind? Keen to get back to the mother ship?”

Runeberg’s voice sounded the same as usual, which made what she wanted to say somewhat easier.

“Not quite. I’m still thinking about it,” she lied. “I wanted to ask you for a favor, Ludvig . . . It’s a rather sensitive matter.”

“Mmm.”

She thought she could hear his office chair creak as he rearranged his great bulk.

“It’s about my brother . . .”

“Call my cell in ten minutes.” The tone of his voice suddenly sounded very different.

“W-what . . . ?”

But he had already hung up.

♦  ♦  ♦

For the third time in five minutes he nudged the blinds apart and peered down at the dimly lit street. Everything looked okay, but he was still
certain
he was being watched. One hundred percent utterly and absolutely certain . . .

Every movement, every website he’d visited, all his text messages. They had been watching everything, in spite of all his precautions. They were playing with him, trying to fuck with his head.

And doing a pretty good job of it . . .

He let go of the blinds, walked around the sofa, once, then again. Then he sat down, drumming his fingers on one knee before noticing a fingernail he hadn’t yet managed to ruin completely. The plan, insofar as he actually had one, hadn’t envisaged this scenario.

Not by a long shot!

And he’d been trying to convince himself that they had forgotten about him . . .

Epic fucking fail!

He had to get out of the flat at once, before he started climbing the walls. It was just past seven in the morning, and ordinarily it would be several hours before he tumbled out of bed. But his experience in the library seemed to have opened all the floodgates in his head. His mind was still full of fragmentary images. As if he had dreamed an entire film with a beginning, a middle, and an ending but could now only remember a few scenes.
Memento
sequences that he couldn’t piece together no matter how hard his aching brain tried.

The overflowing ashtray on the coffee table had just swallowed up his last cigarette, which gave him a legitimate reason to head down to the 7-Eleven at Mariatorget and get a bit of fresh air.

As soon as he opened the front door and stepped out into the street he could feel their eyes on him. He twisted his head around, checking every possible angle, but obviously they were far too professional to give themselves away so easily.

Even though it was still early, there were already four or
five people squeezed into the shop. A gym-pumped guy with tattoos who was standing over by one of the shelves gave him a quick glance and HP froze midstride. He was almost certain he’d seen the man before. And his pretense of innocently browsing the pick-and-mix candy convinced him: raspberry gummies didn’t exactly fit into a low-carb, high-fat diet. HP had no choice but to turn on his heel and get out of the store at once. Really he ought to have gone straight back to the flat, but without cigs he was finished.

Instead he carried on down Hornsgatan toward the Slussen junction, trying hard to resist the temptation to drift through the morning traffic just to give his pursuers a challenge. The walk took less than five minutes, but in spite of the fact that it wasn’t even particularly warm, his T-shirt was sticking to his back and he had to sit down on one of the benches outside the subway station to catch his breath.

He was worn out, not only physically, and it wasn’t until he was fishing through his pockets for a cigarette that he remembered a lack of cigarettes was the reason for this little outing in the first place. There was a newsstand just inside the doors to the station, and he glanced around a couple of times before getting to his feet and heading in that direction.

A train must have just arrived, because in the middle of the doors he was suddenly confronted with a great tide of people on their way out.

Office workers in suits and ties, early-bird tourists, and perfectly average Swedes on their way to work. He put his chin to his chest and elbowed his way through the crowd, ignoring the disgruntled complaints as he did so.

Out of nowhere he was shoved in the side and almost lost his balance. He looked up angrily, but faces were streaming past on all sides and it was impossible to tell who had pushed him.

Then the rush was suddenly over and he was left standing in the ticket hall. Instead of making his way to the little kiosk, he stood there while his brain tried to find the right synapse. One of the faces that had gone past had seemed familiar as well. The bodybuilder in the 7-Eleven might just have been a phantom, but this was something else. The eyes, forehead, the set of the face, it was all horribly familiar. But there was something that wasn’t right, something missing that was stopping him from putting the pieces together.

It took him another few seconds before his brain finally made the right connection.

The beard!

He took a couple of hesitant steps back toward the doors, then a few more, faster now. He rushed out into the square and even flew up onto one of the benches to get a better view, his head spinning like Linda Blair’s.

“Erman!” he yelled. “Ermaaaaaan!”

But all he could see were people’s backs as they hurried away from him, none of them any more familiar than all the others.

He opened his mouth to shout again, but then he noticed the looks he was getting from people around him. In spite of the bustle of the square, a small crowd of onlookers were gathering around the bench he was standing on, as if they all wanted to see what was happening but didn’t dare get too close.

A couple of teenagers were pointing at him and giggling, a dad was dragging a small child closer, and some German Stieg Larsson tourists already had their cameras out.

He caught sight of his reflection in one of the station’s glass doors. Bright red face, hair all over the place, eyes bulging like Ping-Pong balls. Add a week or so’s stubble and his shabby
clothes, and it was hardly surprising that people were staring. He looked totally fucking mad!

Schwedisch Dummkopf, ja, ja—sehr gut!

Embarrassed, he got down quickly from the bench, fixed his gaze on the cobblestone, and did his best to blend into the crowd as he headed off toward Guldgränd.

He had been mistaken.

He
must
have been mistaken.

For the umpteenth time, his raging imagination had broken its reins and galloped off.

That had to be it.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” he muttered.

No

Such

Thing

As

Ghosts

♦  ♦  ♦

“You understand that this contravenes any number of regulations, Normén?”

She nodded.

“Absolutely. Like I said, Ludvig, I really appreciate . . .”

“Well, enough of that. You’ve got half an hour or so,
then I want everything back by the time I’ve finished eating. Sunesson’s in charge of stores today, I’m sure you remember him?”

“Transferred from Norrmalm? Sure. He worked as a duty officer for a while.”

“Good, there won’t be any problems there, then. Just smile and wave . . . The corridors will be full of the lunchtime crowd, so there’ll be plenty of people about. But Sunesson’s mean, he
always brings a packed lunch. Probably doesn’t want to miss the lunchtime horse race . . .”

Runeberg leaned forward and carefully pushed a folded copy of
Metro
toward her.

“This is all you need . . .”

“And you’re quite sure it’s there?”

“Yes, I checked the register of confiscated property after you called.”

“Good!”

For a moment she wasn’t sure what to say. Even though it hadn’t been mentioned explicitly, she was pretty sure she knew why Runeberg was helping her. He was best mates with Tobbe Lundh, and godfather to his son, Jonathan. The same Jonathan who, together with his friend Marcus, had created the Internet phantom MayBey, whom they then used to torment for months, spreading rumors and gossip about her online, and even making her think Henke was in serious danger, until she eventually worked it all out and put a stop to the whole charade.

She really only had herself to blame: she was the one who had embarked on an affair with Tobbe Lundh, even though she knew he was a married man with a family.

Either way, Runeberg seemed to feel partly responsible for what had happened.

She suddenly found herself regretting that she was exploiting his guilty conscience like this. The entire plan was actually pretty idiotic from the start . . . Stigsson’s instructions had been unambiguous:

For the duration of this investigation into terrorism, obviously you can have no contact whatsoever with your brother. I repeat: no contact whatsoever. Is that clear, Normén?

But she had no choice. She had to get into that safe-deposit box before Stigsson’s team got there. She only needed a quick look, then, once she had assured herself that there was nothing in there that could make things even worse for Henke, she could theoretically even tip them off about the box’s existence. Give them a bit of help with the investigation. At least that was what she was trying to tell herself . . .

Runeberg seemed to notice her hesitation.

“Off you go, Normén, the clock’s ticking and my food’s about to arrive . . .”

A waitress was approaching with a heavy tray, and Rebecca stood up before the young woman reached their table. On her way out she picked up the newspaper and put it in her shoulder bag.

“Thanks again, Ludvig, I’m really . . .”

He smiled and shrugged.

“No problem, Normén. Now, off you go.”

“By the way,” he added when she had started to walk off toward the door, “if this all goes to hell, I’ll probably be looking for a new job, so you can expect to hear from me . . .”

A brisk three-minute walk took her to the staff entrance.

She held the card against the reader beside the turnstile, holding it upside down on purpose so no one would see Ludvig’s photograph on the front.

The guard gave her a quick glance, then nodded in recognition.

First obstacle cleared.

She followed the glass walkway between the buildings, holding her head up and trying to look like she was just on her way to a perfectly ordinary day at work. That shouldn’t be too difficult, seeing as she had actually worked there until last winter. In theory she was still employed at the Security Police, so there wasn’t that much difference.

Yet she still felt like a stranger, someone who didn’t belong there. She couldn’t help glancing at the little spherical cameras on the ceiling and did her best to stay as far away from them as possible.

She turned off right into a yellow-painted corridor. At the far end she stopped at a broad metal door with a small white sign.

Confiscated Goods Division.

She held Ludvig’s card up against the reader.

A bleep, but nothing happened. Shit!

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