Authors: Erik Mauritzson
Copyright Â© 2015 by Erik Mauritzson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication, or parts thereof, may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotes in a review, without the written permission of the publisher.
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The Permanent Press
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Grendel's game / Erik Mauritzson.
pages ; cm
1. DetectivesâSwedenâFiction. 2. Serial murder investigationâFiction.
Printed in the United States of America
In memory of my uncle, Julius,
who taught me to love books.
aturday, October 8.
Three days before the cannibal's letter arrived and his life changed forever, Walther Ekman was at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport. It was an unusually bright, cloudless fall afternoon. Beyond the tinted glass wall overlooking the runways, sunlight glinted on taxiing planes, their engines' noise muted by the thick glass.
Arlanda was a clone of other large international airports: an anonymously modern, noisy sprawl, crowded with a bustling mix of the world's nations. Rushing to make flights, some trailed wheeled luggage, others waited in long lines at ticket counters, their faces edged with impatience or boredom. Clusters of people had gathered near gate exits searching expectantly for arriving family and friends, or like Ekman, were there to see them off.
His parents were leaving for a month's visit with friends in sunny Malta, and he'd driven them to the airport from their apartment in Gamla Stan, the city's medieval center. Why spend three hours to come from Weltenborg when we can simply take a taxi, they'd protested. But Ekman insisted he wanted to see them off.
He felt guilty about not visiting for two months. Most of all he was afraid he might never see them again, although he knew this was irrational: Gustaf, 83, and Maj, 81, were in good health, and Malta was safe.
Ekman's wife, Ingbritt, had agreed with his parents that it made no sense and decided not to come. She was working on her tenth children's book and had a long scheduled meeting with a new illustrator that she told Ekman she couldn't afford to delay.
“Give them an extra hug from me,” she'd said that morning as she took his coat from the hall closet. He'd bent down to kiss her good-bye, as he had every day for thirty-three years, his six foot five dwarfing her petite figure.
is mother's simple blue pantsuit contrasted with his father's jaunty outfit: Gustaf wore a tan linen jacket with white trousers, a bright red tie, and a Panama hat tilted at a rakish angle. He leaned on an ebony cane, but claimed it wasn't needed, it was simply decorative.
Ekman noticed that although he had a protective hand on Maj's elbow, his father was ogling two pretty young women walking by. Gustaf glanced over, saw his son watching, and winked, as if to say, “I'm still not too old to look.” Maj had also noticed Gustaf's actions and gave Ekman a faint, resigned smile, her comment on his father's futile efforts to ward off the rapidly advancing years.
Ekman was fifty-six, but only felt his age occasionally. He wondered what it must be like to be truly old. Was a young man inside, bewildered to be peering out through rheumy eyes, still not resigned to mortality? His father seemed to be like this. Perhaps it was always this way.
The line at the security post was taking forever, so Ekman used his police credentials to speak with a supervisor, and shepherded his parents down the corridor to their gate. He kissed and hugged his mother, feeling her slender bones, grown frail as a bird's. Then, with his arm around the old man's thin shoulders, he kissed him on the cheek, something he hadn't done in many years, bringing a look of startled surprise to his father's face.
“Have a wonderful time. Call us when you arrive,” Ekman said, as they turned and headed down the ramp to the waiting plane.
Looking at their receding figures, he had a persistent sense of inevitable loss. In his work he frequently confronted unexpected death. This was different. He knew these two people he'd loved since childhood would die; it was more certain with every passing day. But he wasn't ready to accept it.
Ekman would not have believed that in a few days his premonition of impending death would become a reality.
unday, October 16.
Grendel rubbed his gloved hands together and stamped his boots on the concrete floor to keep warm, his breath lingering in the chill air. Despite the numbing cold, he smiled with satisfaction as he looked around the refrigerated room.
Bathed in a white fluorescent glare, the meat locker's floor sloped toward a center drain; in the left rear corner, attached to a wall spigot, was a hose, coil on coil, ship style. A metal roll-down door took up a third of the right wall.
The ten-foot high, rough cement ceiling was fitted with connected steel trolley racks supported by I beams. Pulley chains attached to large hooks allowed heavy weights to be hoisted up to the racks where they could be shifted about easily.
Suspended from the hooks by coarse ropes wound tightly around them were bulky cocoons. Barely visible, swathed beneath thick plastic sheeting, were ashen faces with blind, staring eyes.
On a wooden butchering table against the left wall were kitchen shears next to an object shrouded in bubble wrap. Grendel picked it up and placed it on a bed of dry ice in a plastic-lined, white cardboard box. Covering it with tissue, he put a note on top, and pushed the lid closed. He hummed a repetitive, off-key tune as he wrote an address on the lid, then wrapped twine tightly around the box. Stepping back, he admired his handiwork.
“A gift to remember, boys,” Grendel said with a smirk, nudging the body nearest him. It slowly swung back and forth on its hook.
uesday, October 11.
This raw, overcast morning, the River Lagan ran gray-green in the weak light. There was a scent of dampness from mist, gradually clearing as a pale sun rose.
Weltenborg's riverfront was lined with stone warehouses recently converted to luxury apartments, some popular ethnic restaurants, and a few imposing mansions, their immaculate lawns sloping to the riverbank. Outside the city, the Lagan turned southwest, widening near a new industrial park, then cutting through brown, stubble fields. The river was almost hidden miles later in dense pine forests when it emptied into the narrow Kattegat strait separating southwestern Sweden from Denmark.
Stark white and aggressively angular, the county police headquarters overlooked Stortorget, the city's main square. A block of ancient, dilapidated buildings had been razed to make room for it, despite the loud protests of preservationists. Its five stories now loomed, incongruously, over the remaining weathered structures fronting the cobblestoned plaza.
The county councillors, by a narrow vote, had approved the demolition and controversial design. They'd insisted Weltenborg needed “a fresher image, something to show we're in the twenty-first century.”
Ekman, like many in the city, believed they'd lost their minds. He remembered with something like affection the run-down building four streets away: until last year, it had served for three decades as police headquarters. This new one was less crowded, more efficient, but far too austere, too sterile for his taste. He doubted he'd ever feel comfortable there.
he cannibal's letter arrived in his morning mail.
Ekman was curious about it because there was no return address. Slitting the envelope, he removed the pages:
My Dear Chief Superintendent Ekman:
“I am not an animal! I am a human being!” The poignant words of the “Elephant Man,” that pitiable, grossly disfigured creature, echo in my mind. Is it inappropriate for me to feel a strong kinship with him, since I am not pitiable, diseased, nor an animal? My deep sense of injustice is exactly the same, and so with him I feel entitled to say, “I am not a monster.”
On the contrary, many of you find me handsome, charming, and robust, which I ascribe in no small measure to the diet you find so distasteful. Your revulsion is quite unreasonable, but I acknowledge it's partly my fault, a failure to communicate. How can I persuade you to see things in a more balanced light?
First, let me say with a certain pride, that each of my food sourcesâI refuse to use the prejudicial “victims”âhas died an instantaneous death. They do not linger, as most people do when dying.
I abhor the infliction of suffering. It is uncivilized, uncalled for, and appeals to the worst sadistic impulses, although, admittedly, anyone may experience a fleeting desire to inflict pain. I emphasize “fleeting.” Our unfortunate history, however, is replete with whole societies reveling for centuries in torture and horrendous deaths. I find this profoundly repugnant.