Inspector Martin Beck of the Stockholm Homicide Squad has his summer vacation abruptly terminated when the top brass at the foreign office pack him off to Budapest to search for Alf Matsson, a well-known Swedish journalist who has vanished. Beck investigates viperous Eastern European underworld figures andat the risk of his lifestumbles upon the international racket in which Matsson was involved. With the coolly efficient local police on his side and a predatory nymphet on his tail, Beck pursues a case whose international implications grow with each new clue.
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The room was small and shabby. There were no curtains and the view outside consisted of a gray fire wall, a few rusty armatures and a faded advertisement for margarine. The centre pane of glass in the left half of the window was gone and had been replaced by a roughly cut piece of cardboard. The wallpaper was floral, but so discolored by soot and seeing moisture that the pattern was scarcely visible. Here and there it had come away from the crumbling plaster, and in several places there had been attempts to repair it with adhesive strips and wrapping paper.There were a heating stove, six pieces of furniture and a picture in the room. In front of the stove stood a cardboard box of sashes and a dented aluminum coffee pot. The end of the bed faced the stove and the bedclothes consisted of a thick layer of old newspapers, a ragged quilt and a striped pillow. The picture was of a naked blonde standing beside a marble balustrade, and it was hanging to the right of the stove so that the person laying in the bed could see it before he fell asleep and immediately when he work up. Someone appeared to have enlarged the woman's nipples and genitals with a pencil.In the other part of the room, nearest to the window, stood a round table and two wooden chairs, of which one had lost its back. On the table were three empty vermouth bottles, a soft-drink bottle and two coffee cups, among other things. The ash tray has been turned upside down and among the cigarette butts, bottle tops and dead matches lay a few dirty sugar lumps, a small penknife with its blades open, and a piece of sausage. A third coffee cup had fallen to the floor and had broken. Face down on the worn linoleum, between the table and the bed, lay a dead body.In all probability this was the same person who had improved upon the picture and tired to med the wallpaper with strips of adhesive and wrapping paper. It was a man and he was lying with his legs close together, his elbows pressed against his ribs and his hands drawn up toward his head, as if in an effort to protect himself. The man was wearing a woolen vest and frayed trousers. On his feet were ragged woolen socks. A large sideboard had been tipped over him, obscuring his head and half the top part of his body. The third woolen socks. A large sideboard had been tipped over him, obscuring his head and half the tope part of his body. The third wooden chair had been thrown down beside the corpse. Its seat was bloodstained and on the top of the back handprints were clearly visible. The floor was covered with pieces of glass. Some of them had come from the glass doors of the sideboard, others from had come from the glass doors of the sideboard, others form a half-shattered wine bottle which had been thrown onto a heap of dirty underclothes by the wall. What was felt of the bottle was covered with a think skin of dried blood. Someone had drawn a white circle around it.Of its kind, the picture was almost perfect, taken by the best wide-angle lens the police possessed and in an artificial light that gave an etched sharpness to every detail.Martin Beck put down the photograph and magnifying glass, got up and went across the window. Outside it was full Swedish summer. And more than that. It was hot. On the grass of Kristineberg Park a couple of girls were sunbathing in bikinis. They were lying flat on their backs with their legs apart and their arms stretched outward away from their bodies. They were young and thin, or slim as they say, and they could do this with a certain grace. When he focused sharply, he even recognized them as two office girls from his own department. So it was already past twelve. In the morning they put on their bathing suits, cotton dresses and sandals and went to work. In the lunch hour they tool off their dresses and went out and lay in the park. Practical.Dejectedly, he recalled that soon he would have to leave all this and move over to the south police headquarters in the rowdy neighborhood around Vastberga AlleBehind him he heard someone fling open the door and come into the room. He did not need to turn around to know who it was. Stenstrom. Stenstrom was still the youngest in the department and after him there would presumably be a whole generation of detectives who did not knock on doors."How's it going?" he said."Not so well," said Stenstrom When I was there fifteen minutes ago he was still flatly denying everything."Martin Beck turned around, went back to his desk and once again looked at the photo of the scene of the crime. On the ceiling above the newspaper mattress, the ragged quilt and the striped pillow, there was an old patch of dampness. It looked like a sea horse. He wondered if the man on the floor had had that much imagination."It doesn't matter," said Stenstrom officiously. "We'll get him on the technical evidence."Martin Beck made no reply. Instead he pointed ad the thick report Stenstrom had put down on his desk and said, "What's that?"Martin Beck took the photograph and went up one flight of stairs, opened a door and found himself with Kollberg and Melander.It was much warned in there than in his room, presumably because the windows were closed and the curtains drawn. Kollberg and the suspect were sitting opposite each other at the table, quite still. Melander, a tall man, was standing by the window, his pipe in his mouth and his arms folded. He was looking steadily at the suspect. On a chair by the door sat a police guard in uniform trousers and a light-blue shirt. He was balancing his cap on his right knee. No one said anything and the only moving thing was the reel of the tape recorder. Martin Beck situated himself to one side and just behind Kollberg and jointed in the general silence. A wasp could be heard bouncing against the window behind curtains. Kollberg had taken off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt, but even so, his shirt was soaked with sweat between his plump shoulder blades. The wet patch slowly changed shape and spread downward in a line along his spine.The man on the other side of the table was small, with thinning hair. He was slovenly dressed and the fingers gripping the arms of his chair were uncared-for, with bitten, dirty nails. His face was thin and sickly, with weak evasive lines around his mouth. His chin was trembling slightly and his eyes seemed cloudy and watery. The man hunched up and two tears fell down his cheeks."Uh-huh," said Kollberg gloomily. "You hit him on the head with the bottle, them, until it broke?"The man nodded."Then you went on hitting him with the chair as he lay on the floor. How many times?""Don't know. Not many. Quite a lot through.""I can imagine. And then you tipped the sideboard over him and left the room. What did the third one of you do in the meantime? This Ragnar Larsson? Didn't he try to interfere; I mean, stop you?'"No, he didn't to anything. He just let it go on.""Don't start lying again now.""He was asleep. He'd passed out.""Try to speak a little louder, all right?""He was lying on the bed, asleep. He didn't notice anything.""No, not until he came to and then he went to the police.Well, so far it's clear. But there's one thing I still don't really understood. Why did it turn out this way? You'd never even seen each other before you met in that beer hall.""He called me a damned nazi.""Every policeman gets called a damaged nazi several times a week. Hundreds of people have called me a nazi and Gestapo man and even worse things, but I've never killed anyone for it.""He sat there and said it over and over again, damned nazi, damned nazi, damned nazi. . . It was the only thing he said And he sang.'"Sang?""Yes, to get my goat. Annoy me. About Hitler.""Uh-huh. Well, had given him any cause to talk like that?""I'd told him my old lady was German. That was before.""Before you began drinking?""Yes. Then he just said it didn't matter what kind of mother a guy had.""And when he was about to go out into the kitchen, you took the bottle and hit him from behind?""Yes""Did he fall?""He sort of fell to his knees. And began bleeding. And then he said, 'You bloody little nazi runt, you, now you're in for it.' ""And so you went on hitting him?""I was . . . afraid. He was bigger than me and. . . you don't know what it feels like. . . everything just goes round and round and goes red . . . I didn't seem to know what I was doing."The man's shoulders were shaking violently."That's enough," said Kollberg, switching off the tape recorder. "Give him something to eat and ask the doctor if the can have a sedative."The policeman by the door rose, put his cap on and led the murdered out, holding him loosely by the arm."Bye for now. See you tomorrow," said Kollbergy absently.At the same time he was writing mechanically on the paper in front of him, "Confessed in tears.""Quite a character," he said."Five previous convictions for assault," said Melander. "In spite of his denying it every time. I remember him very well.""Said the walking card file," Kollberg commented.He rose heavily and started at martin Beck."What are you doing here?' he said. "Go take your holiday and let us look after the criminal ways of the lower classes. Where are you going, but the way? To the islands?"Martin Beck nodded."Smart," said Kollberg. "I went to Rumania first and got firend-in Mamaia. Then I come home and get boiled. Great.And you don't have any telephone out there?""No.""Excellent. I'm going to take a shower now anyhow. Come on. Run along now."Martin Beck thought it over. The suggestion had its advantages. Among other things, he would get away a day earlier. He shrugged his shoulders."I'm leaving. Bye, boys. See you in a month."Most people's holidays were already over and Stockholm's August-hot streets had begun to fill with people who ha spent a few rainy July weeks in tents and trailers and country boardinghouse. During the last few days, the subway had once again become crowded, but it was not the middle of the working day and Martin Beck was almost along in the car. He sat looking at the dusty greenery outside and was glad that his eagerly awaited holiday had at last begun.His family had already been out in the archipelago for a month. This summer they had had the good fortune to rent a cottage from a distant relative of his wife's a cottage situated all by itself on a little island in the central part of the archipelago. The relative had gone abroad and the cottage was theirs until the children went back to school.Martin Beck let himself into his empty flat, went straight into the kitchen and took a beer out the refrigerator. He took a few gulps standing by the sink, then carried the bottle with him into the bedroom. He undressed and walked out onto the balcony in nothing but his shorts. He sat fro a while in the sun, his feet on the balcony rail as he finished off the beer. The heat out there was almost intolerable and when the bottle was empty, he got up and went back into the relative cool of the flat.He looked at his watch. The boat would be leaving in two hours. The island was located in an area of the archipelago where transportation to and from the city was still maintained by one of the few remaining old streamers. This, thought martin Beck, was just about the best part of their summer holiday find.He went out into the kitchen and put the empty bottle down on the pantry floor. The pantry had already been cleared of everything that might spoil, but for safety's sake he looked around to see if he had forgotten anything before he shut the pantry door. Then he pulled the refrigerator plug out of the wall, put the ice trays in the sink and looked around the kitchen before shutting the door and going into the bedroom to pack.Most of what he needed for himself he had already take out to the island on the weekend he had already spent there. His wife had given him a list of things which she and the children wanted brought out, and by the time he had included everything, he had two bags full. As he also had to pick up a carton of food from the supermarket, he decided to take a taxi to the boat.There was plenty of room on board and when Martin Back had put his bags down, he went up on deck and sat down.The heat was trembling over the cit and it was almost dead clam. The foliage in Karl XII Square had lost its freshness and the flags on the Grand Hotel were drooping. Martin Beck looked at his watch and waited impatiently for the men down there to pull in the gangplank.When he felt first vibrations from the engine, he got up and walked to the stern. The boat backed away from the quay and he leaned over the railing, watching the propellers whipping up the water into a whitish-green foam. The steam whistle sounded hoarsely, and as the boat began to turn toward Salts-jon, its hull shuddering, Martin Beck stood by the railing and turned his face toward the cool breeze. He suddenly felt free and untroubled; for a brief moment he seemed to relive the feeling he had had as a boy on the first day of the summer holidays.He had dinner in the dining saloon, then went out and sat on deck again. Before approaching the jetty where he was to land, the boat passed his island, and he saw the cottage and some gaily colored garden chairs and his wife down on the shore. She was colored garden chairs and his wife down on the shore. She was crouching at the water's edge, and the guessed she was scrubbing potatoes. She rose and waved, but he was not certain she could see him at such a distance with the afternoon sun in her eyes.