First published in Sweden in 2006 as Snabba Cash:
Hatet Drivet Jakten by Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm.
Copyright © Jens Lapidus 2006
Translation copyright © 2011 by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Translated from the Swedish by Astri von Arbin Ahlander
They took her alive because she refused to die. Maybe it made them love her even more. That she was always there, that she felt real.
But that’s also what they didn’t get, what would be their mistake. That she was alive, thinking, conscious. Plotting their demise.
One of her earbuds kept falling out. The sweat made it slippery. She wedged it in at an angle, thought it might stick, stay in place and continue playing music.
The iPod Nano bounced in her pocket. She hoped it was safe. No way she could drop it. It was her favorite possession and she didn’t even want to think about the scratches it could get from the gravel on the road.
She groped with her hand. No worries: The pockets were deep enough; the iPod was secure.
She’d treated herself to the iPod as a birthday present and loaded it with as many songs as it could hold. It was the minimalist design, the brushed green metal, that’d tempted her to buy it. But now it meant something else to her, something more. It gave her peace. Every time she picked up the iPod, it reminded her of these moments of solitude. When the world didn’t force itself on her. When she was left alone.
She was listening to Madonna. It was her way of forgetting, running to music and feeling the tension slip away. Burning fat at the same time was obviously a perfect combo.
She flowed with the rhythm. Almost ran to the beat of the music. Lifted her left arm a bit higher to check her time on her wristwatch. Every time she went jogging she’d try to break her own record. With the competitive obsession of an athlete, she checked her time, memorized it, and later wrote down the results. The route was a total of four miles. Her best time was thirty-three minutes. During the winter months, she trained only indoors at the gym. Weight machines, treadmills, and StairMasters. During the summer months, she kept going to the gym but traded the treadmill for side roads and gravel paths.
She was heading toward Lilla Sjötullsbron, a bridge at the far edge of Djurgården, a park on the fringe of Stockholm’s inner city. A chill rose from the water. It was eight o’clock and the spring evening was beginning to give way to dusk. The lights along the path hadn’t yet been lit. The sun that shone on her back no longer gave any warmth. She was chasing her own long shadow and thought that soon it would completely disappear. But in a moment, when the path was lit up, her shadow would flicker and change direction in time with the lampposts she passed.
The trees were beginning to sprout crisp leaves. Closed buds of whitewood anemones pushed up through the grass beside the path. The banks of the channel were lined with old, dry reeds that’d survived the winter. Flashy villas rose up to the left. The Turkish embassy with its barred windows. Farther up the hill was the Chinese embassy, surrounded by tall iron fencing, surveillance cameras, and warning signs. By the rowing club was a mansion with a yellow picket fence around it. Fifty or so yards farther up was a rectangular home with an outdoor pavilion and a garage that looked like it was built right into the bedrock.
Ritzy private houses with sheltered gardens spread out all along the running path. Every time she jogged, she’d check them out, massive hidden villas protected by bushes and fences. She wondered why they tried to appear unassuming when everyone knew only heavy hitters lived in Djurgården.
She passed two girls who kept a high pace. They sported that special Östermalm look for power walking in the Djurgården Park: down vests over long-sleeved shirts, yoga pants, and, above all, baseball caps pulled down low. Her own workout outfit was more serious: black Nike Clima-FIT windbreaker and tight running pants. Clothes that breathed. It sounded clichéd, but it worked.
Memories from that weekend three weeks ago came flashing back again. She tried to push them away and think about the music instead, or concentrate on running. If she focused on making good time around the channel and the Canada geese she had to veer for, maybe she could forget.
Madonna was singing in her ears.
There was horse shit on the path.
They thought they could use her any way they liked. But she was the one using them. That attitude protected her. She was the one who chose what she did and how she felt. To the world at large, they were successful, wealthy, powerful men. Their names appeared on the front pages of the daily business sections, on the stock market tickers, and in the highest income tax brackets. In reality, they were a bunch of pathetic, tragic losers. People who lacked something. People who obviously needed her.
Her future was staked out. She’d continue to play along in the charade until the time was right to stop and expose them. And if they didn’t want to be exposed, they’d have to pay. She’d prepared herself, gathered information for months. Lured confessions out of them, hid recording devices under beds, even filmed some of them. Felt like a real FBI agent, except for one difference. Her fear was so much greater.
It was a high-stakes game. She knew the rules, and if things went wrong, it could be the end. But it would work. Her plan was to quit when she turned twenty-three. Leave Stockholm for something better, bigger. Cooler.
Two young girls, straight-backed, came riding over the first bridge by Djurgårdsbrunn Tavern. They still hadn’t seen life with a capital L. The same way she’d been, before she left home. She straightened up, because that was still her goal. To ride with her head held high through Life. She’d make it.
A man stood with his dog by the bridge. Spoke into a cell phone while he followed her with his gaze. She was used to it, had been the center of attention since early puberty, and after a boob job at twenty, it’d been like an invasion of constant male staring. She got a kick out of it, but it grossed her out at the same time.
The man looked built. He was dressed in a leather jacket and jeans, with a round baseball cap on his head. But something was different about him. He didn’t have that ordinary horndog look in his eyes. On the contrary, his senses seemed elevated, calculated, concentrated. As if it was her he was talking about on the phone.
The gravel ended. The road leading to the last bridge, Lilla Sjötullsbron, was paved but riddled with deep cracks. She considered running on the trail that was trudged up in the grass instead. But there were too many Canada geese there. Her enemies.
She could hardly make out the bridge anymore. Why weren’t the lights coming on? Didn’t they usually turn on automatically when it got dark? Apparently not tonight.
A van was parked with its back toward the bridge.
No people in sight.
Twenty yards farther up was a luxury villa with a waterfront view. She was familiar with the owner, who’d built the house without a building permit inside an old barn that’d already been on the property. A powerful man.
Before she could turn onto the bridge, she noted that the van was parked weirdly close to the gravel path, only a few feet from her as she turned right.
The van’s doors swung open. Two men jumped out. She didn’t have time to realize what was happening. A third man came running toward her from behind. Where’d he been a second ago? Was he the man with the dog who’d been watching her? The men from the van grabbed hold of her. Put something over her mouth. She tried to scream, scratch, strike. She gulped for air and became dizzy. There was something in the rag they were holding over her mouth. She threw her body around, yanked at their arms. It didn’t help. They were too big. Built. Brutal.
The men pulled her into the van.
Her last thought was that she regretted ever having moved to Stockholm.
A shit city.
* * *
Case: B 4537-04
Tape 1237 A 0.0-B 9.2
Case B 4537-04, the People v. Jorge Salinas Barrio, count 1. Direct examination of the defendant, Jorge Salinas Barrio.
District Court Judge: Would you please tell us in your own words what happened?
Defendant: There isn’t a lot to say. I didn’t really use the storage unit. My name was just on the lease as a favor to a friend. You know, sometimes you gotta give a bro a hand. Sure, I’d stored stuff there sometimes, but my name was really just on paper. The storage unit’s not mine. That’s pretty much all I got to say, actually.
District Court Judge: Okay, if that is all, you may proceed with your questions, Mr. Prosecutor.
Prosecutor: When you say the “storage unit,” you are referring to the storage facility at Shurgard Self-Storage near Kungens Kurva?
Defendant: Yeah, sure.
Prosecutor: And you’re saying that you’re not the one who uses it.
Defendant: Right. I signed the lease, and I did that to be nice to a buddy who can’t rent property and stuff. He’s got bad credit. I’d no idea there was so much shit in there.
Prosecutor: So, who does the storage unit belong to?
Defendant: I can’t say.
Prosecutor: Then I would like to bring the Court’s attention to page twenty-four of the preliminary investigation. It is a statement you, Jorge Salinas Barrio, gave after questioning by the police on April fourth of this year. I will read the fourth paragraph, where you say the following: “The storage unit is rented by a guy named Mrado, I think. He works for the big guys, if you know what I mean. I signed the lease, but it’s really his.” Did you or did you not say that?
Defendant: No, no. That’s wrong. There must’ve been a misunderstanding. I never said that.
Prosecutor: But it says so right here. It says that the statement was read back to you and that you approved it. Why didn’t you say something, if they misunderstood you?
Defendant: I mean, I was scared. It’s hard to keep everything straight when you’re being interrogated. There was a misunderstanding. The police were putting pressure on me. I was freaked-out. Guess I said that so I wouldn’t have to sit there and be interrogated anymore. I don’t know any Mrado. I swear.
Prosecutor: Really. Well, Mrado told us, in a statement, that he knows who you are. And you just said that you didn’t even know there was so much “shit” in the storage unit. What do you mean by “shit”?
Defendant: You know, drugs. The only thing I stored there was, like, ten grams of cocaine for my own use. I’ve been using for years. Other than that, I used the storage unit for furniture and clothes ’cause I move around a lot. The other stuff wasn’t mine and I didn’t know it was in there.
Prosecutor: So, whom do the narcotics belong to?
Defendant: I can’t talk about that. You know, I might have to face reprisals. I think it could be the guy I usually buy drugs from who put the cocaine there. He’s got the key to the storage unit. The scale’s mine, though. I use it to measure out my fixes. For my own use. But I don’t sell. I have a job; I don’t need to deal.
Prosecutor: So, what line of work are you in?
Defendant: I’m a courier driver. Mostly weekends. It pays well. Under the table. You know.
Prosecutor: Let me see. If I’ve understood you correctly, you’re saying that the storage unit does not belong to someone named Mrado, but to someone else. And this someone else is your dealer? But how did six and a half pounds of cocaine end up in there? That’s a lot of cocaine. Do you know what that’s worth on the street?
Defendant: I don’t know exactly, since I don’t sell stuff like that. But it’s a lot. Maybe a million kronor. The guy I buy from puts the drugs in the storage unit himself after I pay him. That way, we avoid direct contact and being seen together. We think it’s a good system. But now it seems like he’s screwed me. Put all that shit in the storage unit so I’d take the hit.
Prosecutor: Let’s go over this one more time. You’re saying that the storage unit does not belong to someone named Mrado. It actually doesn’t belong to you, either. And it doesn’t belong to your dealer, either, but he uses it sometimes for transactions between the two of you. And now you believe that he’s the one who stored all the cocaine there. Jorge, you actually want us to believe you? Why would your dealer want to store six and a half pounds of cocaine in a storage unit that you have access to? What’s more, you keep changing your answers and you refuse to name names. You are not reliable.
Defendant: Come on. It’s not that complicated, I just get a little confused. This is how it is: I hardly never use the storage unit. My dealer hardly never uses it. I don’t know who all that cocaine belongs to. But it seems probable that it’s my dealer’s shit.
Prosecutor: And the baggies, whom do they belong to?
Defendant: They must be my dealer’s.
Prosecutor: Well, what’s his name?
Defendant: I can’t say.
Prosecutor: Why do you keep insisting that the storage unit is not actually yours and that the narcotics in it are not yours? Everything points to that.
Defendant: I’d never be able to afford that. Anyway, I’ve already told you, I don’t deal. What more do you want me to say? The drugs aren’t mine.
Prosecutor: Other witnesses in this trial have named another person, too. Isn’t it possible that the narcotics belong to a friend of Mrado whose name is Radovan? Radovan Kranjic.
Defendant: No, I don’t think so. I have no idea who that is.
Prosecutor: Yes, I think you do. During the questioning by the police, you mentioned that you know who Mrado’s boss is. Isn’t it Radovan you mean?
Defendant: I already told you, I never talked about no Mrado, that shit’s wrong, so how would I know what you’re talking about? Huh? Can you answer that?
Prosecutor: I’m the one asking the questions here, not you. Who is Radovan?
Defendant: I already told you, I don’t know.
Defendant: For FUCK’s sake, I don’t know. You slow or somethin’?
Prosecutor: It seems like this is a sensitive subject. No more questions. Thank you. The defense may ask their questions now.
* * *
Case B 4537-04, the People v. Jorge Salinas Barrio, count 1. What follows is a questioning of the witness Mrado Slovovic in regard to the matter of narcotics in a storage unit by Kungens Kurva. The witness has been sworn in and reminded of his rights. This is the prosecution’s witness.
Prosecutor: You have been mentioned in the preliminary investigation in connection with the accused, Jorge Salinas Barrio, as the person who rents a storage unit with Shurgard Self-Storage by Kungens Kurva in Skärholmen. What is your relationship to the defendant, Jorge Salinas Barrio?
Witness: I know Jorge, but I’m not renting any storage unit. We’ve been acquainted in the past. I used to be involved with drugs, too, but quit a couple of years ago. I run into Jorge now and then. Last time was in the Solna Mall. He told me he runs his drug operation through a storage unit across town now. He said he’d come up in the world and started selling a whole lotta cocaine.
Prosecutor: He says he doesn’t know you.
Witness: That’s wrong. We’re not exactly friends. But we know each other.
Prosecutor: Okay. Do you remember when you saw him? Can you tell me more in detail what he said?
Witness: It was in the spring sometime. April, I think. I was in Solna, visiting some old friends. I’m not usually around there much otherwise. On the way home, I went into the mall to play the horses. I ran into Jorge in the bodega. He was well dressed and I almost didn’t recognize him. You know, when we were buds, he was on his way down, straight shot to the shitter.
Prosecutor: And what did he say?
Witness: He said he was doing well. I asked him what he was up to. He said he’d done some good business with snow. He meant cocaine. Since I quit that stuff, I didn’t want to hear any more. But he kept bragging. Told me he kept everything in a storage unit south of the city. In Skärholmen, I think he said it was. That’s when I told him to stop talking ’cause I didn’t want to hear about all the shit he was into. He got pissed at me. Told me to go to hell or something.
Prosecutor: So, he was angry?
Defendant: Yeah, he got pissed when I, like, thought he was talking smack. Maybe that’s why he’s made up some story about me being involved with that storage unit.
Prosecutor: Did he say anything else about the storage unit?
Defendant: No, he just said he kept his cocaine in it. And that it was in Skärholmen.
Prosecutor: Yes, thank you. I have no more questions. Thank you for your time.
Jorge Salinas Barrio learned the rules fast. The gist of número uno: Never pick a fight. He could count the long version on five fingers. Never talk back. Never stare back. Always stay seated. Never snitch. And finally: Always take it nicely up the ass-no whining. Figuratively.
Life shat on Jorge. Life blew horse cock. Life was tough. But Jorge was stronger than that-they’d see.
The joint stole his energy. Stole his laughter. Rap life remade as crap life. But what only he knew was that there was an end to it, an idea to realize, a way out. Jorge: homeboy you couldn’t keep down. He was gonna get out, break out, escape from this shithole. He had a plan. And it was thick as cream. Whipped.
One year, three months, and nine days in the slammer. Which is to say, more than fifteen months too long behind a twenty-three-foot concrete wall. Jorge’s longest time yet. He’d only done short stints before. Three months for theft, four months for possession, speeding, and reckless driving. The difference this time: He had to create a life for himself on the inside.
Österåker was a close-security prison, a correctional facility of the second degree. Specialty: those condemned for drug-related crimes. Heavily guarded from both directions. No one and nothing got in that wasn’t supposed to. Drug dogs sniffed through all visitors. Metal detectors sniffed through all pockets. COs sniffed out the general mood. Shady types needn’t apply. They only let in mothers, children, and lawyers here.
And still they didn’t succeed. The place used to be clean-during the previous warden’s days. Now bags of weed were catapulted over the walls with slingshots. Dads got drawings from their daughters that were actually smeared with LSD. The shit was hidden above the inner roof in the common areas, where the dogs couldn’t smell it, or was dug down in the lawn in the rec yard. Everyone and no one could be blamed.
A lot of people smoked up every day. Drank four gallons of water so it wouldn’t show in the urine test. Others freebased heroine. Lay in their rooms and played sick for two days until the piss wouldn’t come back positive.
People stayed for a long time at Österåker. Grouped off. The COs did their best to split up the gangs: the Original Gangsters, the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the Yugoslavians, the Wolfpack Brotherhood, the Fittja Boys. You name it.
A lot of the screws were scared. Threw in the towel. Accepted the bills thrust at them in the chow line, on the soccer field, in the shop. The prison administration tried to be in the know. Break things up. Send members to other institutions. But what did it matter. The gangs were in all the prisons anyway. The lines of demarcation were clear: race, housing project, type of crime. The white supremacist gangs didn’t measure up. The heavy hitters were the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the Yugos, and the OG. Organized on the outside. Worked heavy shit. The operational description clear: Make thick cheddar through multicriminal work.
The same gangs controlled the city outside the walls. Nowadays tiny smuggled cell phones made it as easy as zapping channels with a remote. Society might as well surrender.
Jorge avoided them. After a while, he made friends anyway. Got by. Found mutual points of interest. Chileans connected. People from Sollentuna connected. Most blow connections connected.
He hung out with an old Latino from Märsta, Rolando. The guy came to Sweden from Santiago in 1984. Knew more about snow than a gaucho knows about horse shit-but wasn’t totally chalked up himself. He had two years left for smuggling cocaine paste in shampoo bottles. Good guy to know. Jorge’d heard his name already when he was living in Sollentuna. Best of all: Rolando was connected with the OG guys. That opened doors. Gave privileges. Guaranteed golden gains. Access to cell phones, weed, blow if you were lucky, porno rags, pruno. More smokes.
Jorge was drawn to the gangs. But he also knew the danger. You tie yourself down. You make yourself vulnerable. You give them trust-They screw you.
He hadn’t forgotten how he’d been burned. The Yugos’d sold him out. Wrapped him at the trial. He was doing time because of Radovan-cocksuckers’ cocksucker.
They often sat in the chow hall and shot the shit. Him, Rolando, and the other Latinos. No Spanish. There was a risk that those who belonged to gangs be mistrusted by their own. Go ahead, talk to your countrymen and have a good time-but not so that They can’t understand.
Today: a little over two weeks before he hit play on the plan. Had to be cool. It was impossible to escape totalmente solo, but he hadn’t even told Rolando anything yet. First, Jorge had to know the guy could be trusted. Had to test him somehow. Check up on how strong their friendship really was.
Rolando: a homeboy who’d chosen the hard way. Good snow flow wasn’t enough to become a member of the OG. You had to be able to kick the shit out of anyone your leader thought had an ugly mug. Rolando’d done his part: The tattoos around the scars on his knuckles told their own loud, aggressive story.
Rolando took a bite of rice. Talked broken Swedish with a mouth full of food: “Yo, paste even betta than powder. Like, it middle product, not finished. Get you in higher up. Don’t have to deal with them boys on the street. Yeah? Do business with real gangstas, fo’ real. Homeboys without heat on their ass all damn day. And, move easier. No fucking dust. Easier to hide.”
Even if Jorge’d heard all of Rolando’s half-baked ideas by now, the slammer offered a first-class education. Jorge, receptive. Had learned. Listened. Knew a lot already, before he went in. After fifteen months in Österåker, he knew the business inside and out.
J-boy: proud of himself. He knew all about the cocaine routes from Colombia via London. Where to score, what the price was, how to distribute, which middlemen to use, where to unload the shit. How to bulk it without the junkies knowing and how to cut it without the rich Stureplan set catching on. How to package it. Who to bribe, who to avoid, who to stay tight with. One of the latter: Radovan.
The chow hall was a good place for private talk. Enough noise so that no one could really hear what you were saying. What’s more, it wasn’t seen as hush-hush. No sneaking. Just chatting, openly.
Jorge had to steer the conversation in the right direction. Had to know Rolando’s stance.
“We’ve talked about this a thousand times. I know you’re into it. But I’m gonna stay away from the shit for a while. When I get outta here, I’m gettin’ the hell outta this cold-ass Nazi country. And I got no plans of becoming some fuckin’ flake myself.”
“Winnin’ points. Never use. Only sell. Wisdom of the day.”
Carefully, he tested Rolando.
“You got good channels. Heavy hitters got your back, right? No one’s gonna touch you here. Fuck, you could break today and make it easy.”
“Break? Not my game plan right now, hombre. Speakin’ of, yo you heard? Know that dude, OG guy, Jonas Nordbåge. Got done.”
Jorge caught on. “I know who he is. Used to bang that centerfold chick, Hannah Graaf. The guy flew custody in Gothenburg, right?”
“S’right. Same day the sentence. Seven and a half years for two simple robberies and third-degree assault. Dude a real CIT pro.”
“What the fuck man, he fucked it up.”
“Still a king. Listen. Muchacho broke a window and lowered down from the eighth floor. Fifty-six long feet. Five torn blankets. Beautiful, ey?”
Jorge told himself, Keep going, Jorge-boy, keep going. Lead the discussion, read Rolando. Get him to say how he feels about me and breakouts. Subtly.
“How’d they get him?”
“Respect to ’im, but dude ain’t real slick. Hung out at bars in Gothenburg. Partied. Guess he wanted to meet a new Hannah with fat tits. Felt like a baller. Only thing he did, dyed his hair white and wore shades. Like, homey wanna get locked up?”
Jorge silently agreed: totally loco to only dye your hair. Him, he was gonna play it safe. He said, “Had nothing to lose. Bet he thought, Fuck, even if they get me, I won’t get more months. They won’t add to seven and a half.”
“Playa almost made it. Got him in Helsingborg.”
“Pushing the exit?”
“’Parently. Checked into a hotel with a fake name. When the Five-Oh plucked him, playa had a fake passport. Coulda worked. First to Denmark, then on. Homeboy probably got a stash somewhere. But somebody snitched. Tipped the Five-Oh off where he be. Probably somebody saw him at the bars.”
“Anyone in the OG know he was gonna fly?”
“Sorry, Jorge, can’t talk about shit like that.”
“But wouldn’t you back an OG if he broke out?”
“Does Pamela Anderson sleep on her back?”
Bull’s-eye. Jorge-boy, get closer. Test him.
Jorge knew how it was: Friends on the inside are not like friends on the outside. Other rules apply. Power hierarchies are clearer. Time inside counts. Number of times inside counts. Smokes count; roaches count more. Favors grant relationships. Your crime counts: rapists and pedophiles worth zero. Junkies and alkies way down. Assault and theft higher. Armed robbery and drug kingpins on top. Most of all: Your membership counts. Rolando, a friend according to the rules on the outside. According to the principles of the slammer: Playa batted in the major leagues, Jorge in the minor.
Jorge swallowed a gulp of his soda. “One thing to support someone already out. But would you help someone escape?”
“Depends. On risk and shit. Wouldn’t help just anyone. Would always support an OG. Fuck, amigo, I’d help you, too. You know. Never I’d keep my mouth shut for some fucking skinhead or Wolfpack puto. They know it, too. They’d help me never, neither.”
Rolando did something Jorge had never seen him do before. He put his utensils down properly on his plate. Slowly.
Then he grinned and said, “Ey, Jorge, got plans or what?”
Jorge didn’t know what to do. He just smiled back.
Hoped Rolando was a real friend, one who didn’t betray.
At the same time he knew: Friends on the inside play by different rules.
Four guys sat in a living room, pumped to party.
JW with a backslick. And yes, he knew a lot of trash resented his hairstyle. Looked hatefully at him and called it a “jerkoff coif.” But Communists like that were clueless, so why should he care.
The next guy had slicked-back hair, too. Boy number three sported a shorter style, every strand immaculately in place. A carefully chiseled side part cut through his hair like a ruler. The classic New England look. The last guy’s hair was blond, medium length, and curly-a tousled charm.
The guys in the room were fine, fair kids. Creamy white. Clean features, straight backs, good posture. They knew they were sharp-looking boys. Boys in the know. They knew how to dress, how to carry themselves, how to act appropriately. They knew all the tricks. How to get attention. Girls. Access to the good things in life-24/7.
The general vibe in the room-electric: We know how to party; it’s going no way but our way.
JW thought, This is a good night. The boyz are on top. Fit for fight.
As usual, they pregamed at Putte’s, the guy with the side part. The apartment, an attractive one-bedroom on swanky Artillerigatan, had been a gift from Putte’s parents on his twentieth birthday, the year before last. JW was familiar with the family. The father: a finance shark who brown-nosed his superiors and kicked down at anything and anyone beneath him. The mother: old money-the family practically owned half of Stockholm, in addition to hundreds of acres of farmland at a country estate in Sörmland. As one ought.
They’d finished eating. The Styrofoam containers were still on the kitchen counter. Takeout from Texas Smokehouse on Humlegårdsgatan: high-end Tex-Mex with quality meat.
Now they were drinking on the couches.
JW turned to the curly-haired boy, nicknamed Nippe, and asked, “Shouldn’t we go soon?”
Nippe, whose real name was Niklas, looked at JW. Replied in his shrill pretty-boy voice, “We’ve reserved a table for midnight. We’re in no hurry.”
“Okay. Then we have time for another round of Jack and Coke.”
“Yeah, well, when are we gonna taste the other coke?”
“Ha, ha. Clever. Nippe, relax. We’ll have our hits when we get there. It’ll last longer.”
The baggie with four grams burned in the inner pocket of JW’s jacket. The boyz usually took turns getting the weekend fix. The goods came from a darky, a blatte, who, in turn, bought from some Yugo gangster. JW didn’t know who the top dog was but guessed. Maybe it was the infamous Radovan himself.
JW said, “Boys, I really went for it tonight. I brought four grams. That’s at least half a gram for each of us and still enough to give the girls.”
Fredrik, the other guy with slicked hair, took a sip of his drink. “Can you imagine how much that Turk must make on us and all our friends?”
“I’m sure he makes out fine.” Nippe smiled. Pretended to count money.
JW asked, “What do you think his margins are? Two hundred per gram? Hundred and fifty?”
The conversation moved on to other, more familiar topics. JW knew them by heart. Mutual friends. Chicks. Moët & Chandon. Certain things were always a given. It’s not like they couldn’t talk about other things. They weren’t idiots; they were verbally well-bred winners. But their interests didn’t expand unnecessarily.
Finally, the talk landed on business ideas.
Fredrik said, “You know, you don’t need that much money to start a company. A hundred thousand kronor’s enough. I think that’s the lowest capital stock. If we come up with a sweet idea, we can totally do it. Try to do some business, register a cool company name, appoint a board and a CEO. But, above all, buy stuff tax-free. How awesome would that be?”
JW amateur-analyzed Fredrik. The guy was completely uninterested in people, which, in a way, was a relief. He’d never even asked where JW came from or anything else about his background. Mostly, he talked about himself, luxury brands, or boats.
JW downed his Jack and Coke. Poured himself a strong G and T. “Sounds supersweet. Who’ll get the hundred thousand kronor?”
Nippe interjected, “That’s easy enough, right? I like the idea.”
JW was quiet. He thought about where he could get a hundred thousand from and already knew the answer. Nowhere. But he didn’t say anything. Played along. Grinned.
Nippe changed the music. Putte put his feet up on the coffee table and lit a Marlboro Light. Fredrik, who’d just bought a new Patek Philippe, played with the wristband and recited aloud to himself, “‘You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.’”
The latest hit gagaed from the stereo.
JW loved these pregames. The conversation. The mood. These were boys with class. Good-looking boys. Always well-dressed boys. He checked them out.
Button-down shirts from Paul Smith and Dior, and one specially made by a tailor on Jermyn Street in London. One from the brand A.P.C.-French-with an American collar and double cuffs. Two of the guys wore Acne jeans. Gucci on another: intricate designs on the back pockets. One wore black cotton slacks. The blazers were elegant. One from Balenciaga’s spring collection: double-breasted, brown; a somewhat short model with double flaps in the back. One was a charcoal pinstripe from Dior, a slim model with double pockets on one side. One was ordered from a tailor on Savile Row in London: visible seams at the cuffs and with a red silk lining. The wool was super 150s, no higher quality anywhere. The telltale sign of a nice suit: the fluidity of the lining, that it didn’t sag. This particular jacket’s lining was softer, more fluid, and had a better fit than anything that could be found in the stores in Sweden.
One guy wasn’t wearing a blazer. JW wondered why.
Finally, the shoes: Tod’s, Marc Jacobs, Gucci loafers with the classic gold buckle, Prada’s best-selling rubber shoes with the red logo on the bottom of the heel. Originally developed for Prada’s sailboat in the World Cup.
On top of it all: slim black leather belts. Hugo Boss. Gucci. Louis Vuitton. Corneliani.
JW appreciated the total value: 72,300 kronor. Excluding watches, cuff links, and gold signet rings with family crests stamped into them. Not bad.
On the table: Jack Daniel’s, vanilla vodka, some gin, a half a bottle of Schweppes tonic water, Coca-Cola, and almost a full decanter of apple juice-someone had come up with the idea of making apple martinis but then only had one glass of it.
The general consensus: This is not where we get drunk. We’ll get trashed at the club. A drinks table at Kharma was already reserved. Chicks were basically included.
JW thought, What atmosphere, what buildup, what wonderful camaraderie. These were chill guys. The Stockholm night was theirs to conquer.
He let his eyes scan the room. The ceiling was over ten feet high. Rich moldings. Two armchairs and a gray couch on top of a real Persian carpet. Four hundred thousand tiny knots tied by some shackled kid. A couple of Maxims, GQs, car and boat magazines were tossed on the couch. Against one wall stood three low bookshelves from the luxury design store Nordiska Galleriet. One was filled with CDs and DVDs. The second housed the stereo, a Pioneer-not big, but with good power in the four small speakers that were installed in the corners of the room.
The last bookshelf was filled with books, magazines, and binders. A bound catalog of the Swedish aristocracy was among the books, as was Strindberg’s Collected Works and a bunch of high school yearbooks. Strindberg’s Collected had to have been a present from Putte’s parents.
The TV was wide, extremely flat, and disgustingly expensive.
Everyone wore their shoes inside-classic. The shoe question divided the Swedish indoor world. There are three types of people. The type who always walks in with shoes on and has the right attitude-is there anything worse than walking around in party attire and socks? The second type of person is the one who becomes insecure and checks out what everyone else is doing, who might keep them on if everyone else does. Wishy-washy, a turncoat. Finally, there’s the third type, who thinks you should always take your shoes off, who walks around soundlessly in sweaty socks, who only has himself to blame.
JW hated people who walked around in only their socks. Even worse if there were holes in the socks. His suggestion for a solution was simple: a bullet to the back of the head. Seeing an errant toe grossed him out. So Sven-style. So coarse. A true sign of plebs. A recap of the rules of the sock world: Keep your shoes on, never wear tube socks, and make sure there’s never any skin showing between pant and sock. The color should be black, or possibly fun socks in loud colors if matched with an otherwise-somber look.
To be safe, JW always wore kneesocks. Black. Always Burlington brand. His theory: Much easier to sort after washing if they’re all the same.
The plan for the night was simple. Bottle service was always a sure win. They easily fulfilled the requirements to make a reservation. You had to booze for at least six thousand kronor.
Straight shot from there. Drink, snort, drink, check out chicks, maybe dance for a while, converse, flirt, unbutton more shirt buttons, order bubbles, definitely hit on girls, snort again. Fuck.
JW couldn’t let the matter drop. Kept returning to it. The questions popped up in his head. How much can the dealer darky make? Does he have to work long hours? How dangerous is it? Who does he buy from? What are the margins? How does he get customers?
He said, “So, what do you think he makes a month?”
Fredrik, surprised: “Who?”
“The Turk. The blatte we buy C from. Is he a little Gekko, or what?”
Referring to Wall Street was standard among the boyz. JW’d seen the movie over ten times. Enjoyed every second of it: the simplicity of greed.
Nippe laughed. “Damn, you go on about money. What does it matter anyway? I’m sure he makes plenty, but, like, how cool do you think he is? Ever seen his clothes? Hick leather jacket. Thick Gypsy gold chain that he wears outside his shirt, baggy pants from an outlet or something. Huge cuffs on his shirts. I mean, he’s a real tool.”
JW let rip a belly laugh.
They dropped the subject.
Two minutes later, Putte’s cell phone rang. He held the phone close to his ear as he talked, while grinning broadly at the boys. JW couldn’t hear what he was saying.
Putte hung up. “Boys, I have a little surprise for us tonight. They’re just looking for a place to park.”
JW had no idea what he was talking about. The other guys leered knowingly.
Five minutes passed.
The doorbell rang.
Putte went to open the door. The other guys stayed put in the living room.
Nippe lowered the music.
A tall girl in a trench coat and a bodybuilder type in a black jean jacket entered the room.
Putte glowed, “Voilà, the evening’s warm-up.”
The girl went over to the stereo as if she were walking down a catwalk. Self-assured and steady, almost gliding, in sky-high stilettos. She wasn’t a day over twenty. Stick-straight brown hair. JW wondered, Is it a wig?
Changed the music. Raised the volume.
Kylie Minogue: “You’ll never get to heaven if you’re scared of getting high.”
The girl dropped the trench coat. Underneath, she was wearing a black bra, a thong, and nylons with a garter belt.
She began to dance to the music. Provocatively. Invitingly.
She gyrated. Smiled at the boys as though she were doling out candy. She rolled her hips, played her tongue across her top lip, put one foot up on the edge of the coffee table. Leaned forward and stared into JW’s eyes. He chortled. Yelled, “Damn what a fine bonus, Putte. She’s better than the one we had before the summer.”
The stripper moved in time to the music. Touched herself between her legs. The boys howled. She approached Putte, kissed him on the cheek, licked his ear. He tried to pinch her butt. She danced away from him with her hands on her back. Thrust her crotch back and forth rhythmically. Unclasped her bra and tossed it toward the bodybuilder, who stood motionless against the wall. The music kept pumping. She moved faster. Humped. Breasts bobbed. The boys sat as though in a trance.
She grabbed hold of her thong. Moved it back and forth. Put one leg up on the coffee table again. Leaned forward.
Little JW flexed.
The show went on for five more minutes.
It only got better and better.
Nippe joked when it was over: “I swear that was the loveliest thing I’ve seen since my confirmation.”
Putte settled the bill in the hall. JW wondered what the damage was.
When the stripper and the guard’d left, they each had another drink and put on more music. Kept talking about the experience.
JW wanted to hit the town. “Come on, boys. We’re walking, right?”
“No, let’s fucking cab it!” Putte roared.
It was time to get going.
Putte called a taxi.
JW wondered how he would be able to afford the whole night with the boyz.
The gym: Serb hangout. Anabola-fixated. Bouncer farm. Summa summarum: Radovan-impregnated.
Mrado’d hung out at Fitness Club for four years.
He loved the place even though the machines were shitty. Made by Nordic Gym-an old brand. The walls weren’t too clean. From Mrado’s perspective: didn’t matter. The free weights and the clientele mattered. The overall interior: ordinary gym kitsch. Plastic plants in two white buckets with fake dirt. A TV tuned to Eurosport screwed into the wall above two stationary bikes. Constant Eurotechno from the speakers. A poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger posing from 1992, another of Ove Rytter from the 1994 World Gym Championships. Two posters of Christel Hansson, the chick with a six-pack and silicone tits. Sexy? Not Mrado’s style.
Niche: big guys. But not the biggest training freaks-those guys weren’t made of the right stuff.
Niche: guys who care about their bodies, size, and muscle mass but who also realize that some things trump training. Work can take priority. Honor takes priority. The right stings have priority. Highest priority always-Mr. R.
Radovan was in on 33 percent of the gym. Brilliant business concept. Open 24/7, all year round. Mrado’d even seen guys roaring in front of the mirrors on New Year’s Eve. Putting up big plates while the rest of the country watched fireworks and drank bubbly. Mrado was never there on nights like that. He had his business to run. His own standard times were between nine-thirty and eleven at night. The gym then: perfect.
The place was an asset in other ways. Recruitment base. Information magnet. Training camp. Mrado kept his eye on the meatheads.
The moment right after the workout in the locker room-one of the day’s best for Mrado. Body still warm from the workout, hair wet. The steam from the showers. The smell of shower gel and spray-on deodorant. The ache in his muscles.
He put on his shirt. Left it unbuttoned. They didn’t make shirt collars wide enough for Mrado. The definition of a bull neck.
His workout for the day: focus on back, front of the thighs, and biceps. Worked a machine for his back. Slow pulling motions for the muscles in the small of his back. Important not to pull with your arms. Then back-ups. Training for the back, lower region. After that, thighs. Seven hundred and seventy pounds on the bar. He lay on his back and pushed upward. The angle between your lower leg and foot isn’t supposed to change, they say. According to Mrado: crap they tell rookies-if you know what you’re doing, you can stretch it out a little more. Maximum results. Concentration. Almost shat himself.
The last part: biceps. Muscle of all muscles. Mrado only used free weights.
Tomorrow: neck, triceps, and back of the thighs. Stomach: every day. It couldn’t get too much.
He kept a log with daily notes from every workout session at the reception desk. Mrado’s goals were clear. To go from 270 to 290 of pure muscle before February. Then change up his strategy. Shred. Burn fat. By summertime: only muscle. Clean, without surface fat. Would look damn good.
He trained at another place, too, the fighting club, Pancrease Gym. Once or twice a week. Guilt got to him. Should go more often. Important to build muscle power. But the power had to be used for something. Mrado’s work tool: fear. He went far on size alone. In the end, he went even further on what he learned at Pancrease: to break bones.
He usually hung around for about twenty minutes in the locker room. Soaked up that special amity that exists between big guys at a gym. They see each other, nod in recognition, exchange a few words about the training schedge for the day. Become friends. Here also: a gathering of Radovan honchos.
Big boy talking points: BMW’s latest 5 series. A shoot-out on the city’s south side over the weekend. New triceps training exercises.
Two dudes were shoveling tuna fish from one-pound containers. A third sipped on a gray protein drink. Bit into a PowerBar. The idea: to scarf as much protein as possible directly post-workout. Rebuild broken muscle cells into even bigger ones. An unknown face among the guys, a newbie.
Mrado was big. The new dude: gigantic.
He defied the regular ritual: Come a few times. Keep to yourself. Check out the scene. Show humility. Show respect. This guy, the giant, sat right smack in the middle. Seemed to think he was one of the guys. At least he’d kept his mouth shut so far.
Mrado put on his socks. Waited. Was always what he put on last. Wanted his feet to be completely dry.
“I’ve got a job this weekend, if anyone’s interested.”
“What is it?” Patrik asked. Swede. Ex-skinhead who’d left his own and been working for Mrado instead for a year now. His Nationalist tattoos were all over the place. Hard to distinguish. A green mess, mostly.
“Nothing too big. Just need a little help. The usual.”
“How the hell’re we supposed to work if we don’t know what it is?”
“Relax, Patrik. Don’t get so worked up you shit yourself. I said it’s the regular.”
“Sure, Mrado. I’m just fucking around. Sorry. But what’s the deal?”
“I need some help collecting. You guys know my routes through town.”
Ratko, a countryman, Mrado’s friend and squire, raised an eyebrow. “Collecting? Something more than the usual? Aren’t they paying up every weekend like they’re supposed to?”
“Yeah, most of ’em. But not all. You know how it is. Might be some new bars who want us, too.”
One of the few Arabs at the gym, Mahmud, was smearing wax in his hair. “Sorry, Mrado, I gotta work out. Do another session every night.”
“You work out too much,” Mrado replied. “You know what Ratko says. There are two things that’ll give you blisters up the ass: being too small in the slammer, so you have to take cock, and always pressing at the gym ’til you shit your pants like a toddler.”
Ratko laughed. “The job, will it take all night?”
“I think it might take a while. Ratko, you in? Patrik? Anyone else? I just need some backup. You know, just to make sure I don’t look like I’m alone.”
No one else offered.
The new giant opened his mouth, “Seeing how fucking tiny you are, you probably need an entire army of extras.”
Silence in the locker room.
Two possible alternatives. The giant thought he was funny, trying to become one of the guys. Or the giant was challenging him. Seeking a confrontation.
Mrado stared straight out into nothing. Poker-faced. The music from up in the gym was clearly audible. Mrado: the man who could paralyze an entire bodybuilding club.
“You’re a big guy. I’ll give you that. But lay low.”
“And why’s that? Is joking not allowed in here, or what?”
“Just lay low.”
Ratko tried to defuse the tension. “Hey, you, take it easy. Sure, you can joke around, but-”
The giant cut him off. “Fuck yourself. I’ll say what I want, when I want.”
The mood in the locker room like at a wake.
Same thought in everyone’s head: The new giant is playing Russian roulette.
Same question on everyone’s mind: Does he want to be carried out on a stretcher?
Mrado got up. Put his jacket on. “Hey, man, I think it’s best you go upstairs and do what you came here to do.”
Mrado walked out of the locker room. No problem. Nice and easy.
Twelve minutes later, in the upstairs gym area. The giant was standing in front of the mirror. A one-hundred-pound dumbbell in each hand. Swaying slightly and rhythmically. Veins like worms along his arms. Biceps as big as soccer balls. Arnold Schwarzenegger-you can hit the showers.
The guy grunted. Growled. Groaned.
Counted lifts. Six, seven…
It was eleven-thirty at night. The gym was practically empty.
Mrado was standing by the reception desk, writing down the day’s workout in his notebook.
… eight, nine, ten…
Patrik came up. Talked to Mrado. Told him, “I’ll call you on Friday about the job. I think I’m in. That work?”
“Thanks, Patrik. You’re in. We can talk more when you call.”
… eleven, twelve. Pause. Rest a minute. But don’t let the muscles contract.
Mrado walked over to the giant. Stood next to him. Stared. Arms crossed.
The giant ignored him. Began the count over again.
One, two, three…
Mrado picked up a sixty-five-pound dumbbell. Did two lifts in time with the giant. Heavy on freshly worked biceps.
… four, five.
Dropped the dumbbell on the giant’s foot.
He screamed like a stuck pig. Dropped his dumbbells. Grabbed his foot. Jumped on one leg. Eyes teared up.
Mrado thought, Poor, stupid oaf. You should’ve taken a step back and raised your guard instead.
Mrado swung with full force at the guy’s other leg. Three hundred and thirty pounds hit the floor. Mrado over him. Unexpectedly quick. Careful to keep his back to the window. Pulled his gun. Smith & Wesson Sigma.38. It was small but, according to Mrado, functional: It could easily be worn under a blazer without being seen.
People outside couldn’t see what was happening. To flash a live weapon-unusual for Mrado. Even more unusual at the gym.
The barrel pushed into the giant’s mouth.
Mrado released the safety. “Listen up, kiddo. My name is Mrado Slovovic. This is our club. Never so much as set foot here again. If you have any foot left, that is.”
The giant as passé as a reality TV celeb three months after the fact. Realized he’d lost face.
Maybe he was done for.
Mrado got up. Angled the gun down. Aimed at the giant. His back to the window. Important. The giant remained lying on the floor. Mrado stepped on his bad foot-265 pounds of Mrado on fresh-crushed toes.
The giant whimpered. Didn’t dare wriggle away.
Mrado took note: Was that a tear he saw in the corner of the guy’s eye?
He said, “Time to limp home, Tiny Tim.”
When you’re locked up from eight every p.m. to seven every a.m., there’s a lot of time to think in your cell. One year, three months, and, now, sixteen days on the inside. Escapeproof, they said. Forget that.
Jorge was walking on eggshells. Craved smokes. Slept like shit. Back and forth to the crapper. Drove the screws nuts. Had to unlock his cell every time.
Slow nights brought serious thoughts. Memories.
He thought about his sister, Paola. She was doing well in college. Had chosen a different kind of life. Suedi-style with security. He adored her. Prepared things to say to her when he was out, when he could see her for real. Not just stare at the photo he’d pinned up over his cot.
He thought about his mother.
He refused to think about Rodriguez.
He thought about different plans. He thought about the Plan. Most of all: He was working out more than anyone else.
Every day he ran twenty laps around the compound, along the inside of the walls. The total distance: five miles. Every other day: a session in the prison gym. Leg muscles were top priority. Front, back of thighs, and calves. He used the machines. Meticulously. Stretched like crazy after. People thought he’d lost it. The goal: 440 yards in less than fifty seconds, two miles in less than eleven minutes. Could work, now that he’d cut back on smokes.
The area was well groomed. The grass well cut. The bushes low. No tall trees-the risk was too obvious. Gravel paths around the buildings. Good to train on. Big open lawns. Two soccer goals. A small basketball court. A couple of outdoor bench presses. Could’ve been a nice college campus. What sabotaged the collegiate snapshot: a twenty-three-foot wall.
Running: Jorge’s thing. His build was sinewy, like a guerrilla soldier’s. Not yolked, no extra fat. Veins protruding on his forearms. A nurse in junior high once said he was every blood bank’s dream. Jorge, young and stupid, told her to dream of someone else ’cause she was such a fucking dog. No checkup for him that time.
His hair was straight, dark brown, combed back. Eyes: light brown. Despite everything he’d been through in the asphalt jungle, there was an innocent look in his eye. Made it easier to sell snow when it came to that.
They slaved in the workshops during the weeks. Were allowed out twice a day: one hour for lunch and again between five o’clock and dinnertime at seven. After that: lockdown. Just you and your cell. They got more time on the weekends. Played ball. Hit the weights. The gangs shot the shit. Smoked, chatted, sneaked a roach when the COs weren’t watching. Jorge worked out.
He’d started studying for his GED. It was appreciated by the prison administration. Gave him believable reasons to be by himself. He would sit with the cell door open and read between five o’clock and dinnertime every night. The show worked. The screws nodded approvingly. Putos.
The cell was small: sixty-five square feet painted light brown. The five-square-foot window had three steel bars across it to prevent escape. They were painted white, with nine inches between them. But the king, Ioan Ursut, had done it. Dieted for three months and smeared himself with butter. Jorge thought about what would’ve been the hardest to get through, the head or the shoulders.
Spartan decoration. A cot with a thin foam mattress, a desk with two shelves above it and a wooden chair, a closet and another shelf for storage. Nowhere to hide anything. A wooden strip intended for posters ran around the length of the room. No tape was allowed directly on the wall-there was a risk that drugs or other stuff could be hidden behind whatever was put up. Jorge’d tacked up the photo of his sister and one poster. A black-and-white classic: Che with a tangled beard and beret.
The screws searched the cell at least twice a week. Looked for drugs, pruno, or larger metal objects. Man, they were pissing in the wind. The place was crawling with weed, hooch, and Subutex pills.
The environment made him claustrophobic. Other days, he was riding high-thoughts of the escape were like a supertrip. At times, he acted like a fucking tweak fiend. Avoided everything and everyone. Dangerous/unnecessary. Just one tiny suspicion and his plan could be shot to hell-snitching fags sucked CO cock.
He thought about his background. Slyly racist teachers in Sollentuna. Welfare whities, pussy profs, cocky cops. All the right circumstances for a kid from the projects to make all the predictable mistakes. They didn’t know shit about Life. Justice relegated to the rules of the streets. But Jorge never whined. Especially not now. Soon, he’d be out. He thought about trafficking blow. Collected ideas. Analyzed. Spun schemes. Learned from Rolando and the other guys.
Had strange dreams. Slept poorly. Tried to read. Jacked off. Listened to Eminem, the Latin Kings, and Santana. Thought about his training. Jacked off again.
Jorge waited. Anticipated. Contemplated. Fluctuated between rushes of joy and regret. Took himself more seriously than ever. Had never thought this much about any one thing in his entire life. It had to work.
Jorge had no one on the outside ready to take big risks. The consequence: He had to be his own fixer. But he didn’t have to do everything.
Rolando’d never returned to their conversation about flight in the chow hall. The dude seemed trustworthy. If he was gonna sing, word should’ve spread by now. But Jorge had to test him more. Doublecheck that it was time to reveal parts of his plan. The fact was, he needed Rolando’s help.
The first real problem: He needed to speak to certain people and he had to prepare stuff. Needed hours outside the prison. Österåker didn’t grant regular parole anymore. But prisoners could get guarded parole if they had specific reasons. Jorge’d applied two months ago. Had to fill out form 426A. Specified “study and see family” as his reasons. Sounded okay. Anyway, it was true.
They approved of his studies. Liked that he didn’t belong to a gang. He was perceived as orderly. Didn’t mess around. Never high. Never cocky. Obedient without being a pussy.
They granted him one day, August 21, for studies and family relations. He even got permission to shop and see friends. First day on the outside since he’d been locked up. They made a schedule. Would be a hectic day. Fantastic. Maybe he’d pull the whole thing off; he had to do a good job. Not a chance that J-boy was gonna rot in Österåker for the rest of his life.
The one problem: This kind of parole always came with three screws.
D-day arrived: twelve hours of well-planned hysteria.
Jorge and the COs took the prison minivan into Stockholm at 9:00 a.m. Straight to the Stockholm Public Library.
Jorge’d joked with the COs on the ride in. “Am I going to see some Nazi or something?”
They didn’t get it. “What do you mean?”
Spirits were high in the minivan.
The day was off to a good start.
Fifty minutes later, they parked in the city.
Walked up the stairs to the public library. Inside: the rotunda. Jorge dug the high ceiling. The COs eyed him. Was he into architecture, or what?
He asked to see Riitta Lundberg. The super librarian. He’d told her his story over the phone already: He was in a penitentiary, studying to get his GED at a distance. Needed a proper high school transcript to start a new life on the outside. Wah, wah. Now he was doing an independent study about the history of Österåker and the surrounding area in general. Was gonna study the cultural development of the place.
Riitta showed up. Looked like Jorge thought she would: Communist-academic in a knit sweater. A necklace that looked like a glazed pinecone. Straight from central casting.
The screws spread out in the rotunda. Sat by the exits. Kept an eye on him.
Jorge used his velvety voice. Toned down his ghetto accent. “Hi, are you Riitta Lundberg? I’m Jorge. We spoke on the phone earlier.”
“Of course. You’re the one writing about the cultural history of Österåker.”
“Right. I think it’s a really interesting area. It’s been inhabited for thousands of years.” Jorge’d done his homework. There were brochures at the prison. Certain books could be checked out from the prison library. He felt like the master of cheap tricks.
As long as the screws didn’t hear.
She bought it. Had prepared what he needed after their phone conversation. A few books about the area. But, above all, maps and aerial photographs.
Sweet, sweet Riitta.
The screws checked that the windows in the reading room were high enough off the ground. Then they waited in the great hall, by the exits.
All clear. They were clocking nada.
Three hours of intellectual quibbling with maps and photos. Wasn’t used to this kind of stuff. But he wasn’t an idiot. Had checked the maps in the phone book and the map books in the prison library weeks before to learn how they were drawn. Regretted cutting geography class in school.
Spread the papers out in front of him. Asked to borrow a ruler. Went through them all, map by map. Aerial photo by aerial photo. Picked out the maps that showed the terrain and the roads best. Picked out the most detailed photos. Looked for nearby roads, the closest wooded areas, clear paths. Studied the guard towers he knew of, their placement and relation to one another. Checked out the connecting highway. Possible alternative routes. Learned the signs for marsh, hill, forest. Saw where the ground was okay. Visualized. Memorized. Measured. Marked. Mused.
What’s the best way out?
The inside: two one-story main buildings with the inmate cells and a two-story building with workshops and the chow hall. Then there was an infirmary, a several-story building for the screws, a chow hall for the screws, and visitation areas. Between the first- and the last-named buildings was an additional wall.
The outside of the facility: around a hundred feet of clear-cut area, with the exception of a few bushes, brush, and smaller trees. Then miles and miles of forest. But there were small back roads.
He closed his eyes. Committed everything to memory. Studied the pictures and maps again. Went through the pile. Made sure he understood which lines indicated difference in height level. Which were roads. Which were watercourses. Checked the scales. Different for different maps. One inch was fifty feet, one inch was three hundred feet, and so on. Jorge: more meticulous than he’d ever thought he could be. Created an overview of the area.
Finally, he had three alternative spots for the escape and three for a waiting car. He made a copy of a map. Marked the spots on the map. Numbered them. Spots A, B, and C. Spots one, two, and three. Memorized them.
The COs’d been bored. Jorge apologized. Had to stay on good terms with them today. They looked pleased that he was done.
Next stop, the most important of the day: Jorge’s cousin, Sergio. Brother in arms from his time in Sollentuna. The key to the Plan.
Jorge plus screws stepped into the McDonald’s by the public library. The burger smell brought back memories.
They were met by a broad grin.
“¡Primo! Good to see you, man.”
Sergio: tricked out in a black tracksuit. Hairnet like some kinda cook. Dapped knuckles in greeting. Ghetto classic. Unnecessary of his cuz to roll in all gangsta in front of the screws.
They sat down. Chatted. Kept to Spanish. Sergio treated all four of them to burgers. Heavenly. The screws sat at another table. Ate like real pigs.
McDonald’s seemed more modern since Jorge’d been there last. New interior. Chairs in light wood. The pictures of the burgers were sexed up. The chicks working the registers looked sexed up, too. More salads and greens. In Jorge’s opinion: rabbit food. And still it was the sign of freedom. Sure, it sounded soft, cheesy, but McDonald’s was special to J-boy His favorite restaurant. A meeting spot. Ghetto base feed. Soon he’d be able to hang there whenever he wanted.
He felt stressed. Had to get to the point.
Briefly described his escape plan to Sergio. “Six different spots are marked on a map. The car should be parked at a spot marked with a number. On one of the spots marked with a letter, you’re gonna do the rest of what I wrote in the instructions. I don’t know what spots are best yet. I have to go back and think about it. I’ll write you a letter telling you. I’ll put the letter and the number of the spots in the third line from the bottom. A copy of the map and the instructions are folded inside page forty-five in a book called Legal Philosophies. The writer’s name is Harris. At the public library, over there. You with me?” Jorge pointed.
Sergio: not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he understood this kinda shit. Jorge would be indebted to him forever, even though he had to take care of the planning himself. Sergio would do the best he could to deliver.
Jorge asked about his sister. The smell of McDonald’s in combination with memories of Paola. Junk food equaled nostalgia.
The rest of their conversation was nonsense. They talked about their family, old friends from Sollentuna, and chicks. Put on a show for the screws.
It was time to roll.
Jorge kissed Sergio four times on each cheek when they parted ways. Exchanged Chilean pleasantries.
It was already four o’clock. At seven o’clock, he and the screws had to go back.
Next stop: He was gonna buy shoes. Had ordered catalogs. Read up. Called the stores. Researched the hell out of it. Gel, Air, Torsion, and the rest of the techniques for comfy kicks. God knows how much crap/fake technology there was. You had to see through the bull. Really buy good stuff. The two desired features: good running shoes-important; best shock resistance ability on the market-even more important. The screws thought it’d be fun to check out lame sporting goods stores. Jorge in the know. Stadium on Kungsgatan had the biggest inventory.
They drove the minivan into a parking garage on Norrlandsgatan. Jorge asked to drive the last short bit. The screws said no.
They got out of the car. One of the screws asked a guy who’d just parked if he had change for a twenty. Needed coins for the meter. The screw bought a parking pass.
They went out into the street.
Sweet feeling. Downtown. Kungsgatan. The pulse. August heat. Jorge remembered. He’d rolled down K-street in a BMW 530i, also known as a cocaine sled. That was two days before he’d been picked up. Sure, the car’d been on a long-term loan from a friend, but still. He’d been stylin’. Livin’ life. Livin’ cash. Livin’ booty. Livin’ his reputation.
And now: Jorge was back in town.
What’d he learned since then? At least he knew this: The next gig he did would be well planned. That’s when he realized what made him different from so many others. He felt biggest/best/ballin’. But that’s exactly what everybody else in his hood thought about themselves, too. The difference was that Jorge, deep inside, felt that maybe it wasn’t so-and that was his strength. That would always make him think twice in the future. Always plan, prepare-make the impossible possible.
He kept dreaming.
Looked around. The screws were positioned around him.
The crowd was moving on the street. To the rhythm of free life. He stared. Hot chicas. He’d almost forgotten-the bitches were so much more caliente in the summer than in the winter. But they were the same chicks. How was that possible? A mystery.
And soon Jorge’d be out. Would roll down Kungsgatan. Grab a lot a bootay. Fix all the chicks. Be Jorge again.
Joder, he longed to be out. He’d been given parole. Just that was superfly. Alone with three COs on Kungsgatan. What an opportunity. All you had to do was book it. He was fit. Strong. Knew the city like the back of his hand. He was a naughty, naughty little boy. On the other hand, the risk was too great. The screws were being nice today, but they knew their job. They were tense, hyperaware. Kept careful watch over him. Were in total control. Could lose it over nothing. Would have free rein. Cancel the parole. Make it impossible for him to complete his actual plan.
He wasn’t prepared. Couldn’t escape now. The fuckup risk was too big.
The salesclerk was hot. Jorge: horny. But the shoes were more important than pussy. They had the model he wanted. He already knew that. Asics 2080 DuoMax with gel in the heel. Still, he wandered around the store for a while. It was big. Him and his bros used to lift shit here when they were thirteen and Sollentuna grew too small for them. Again: flashbacks from his teenage years. First at McDonald’s and now in the sports store. What the hell was going on?
He looked around the other departments for show. Bought a pair of track pants and a basketball jersey in addition to the shoes.
Five o’clock rolled around. Cool on time. Just one more thing. He was meeting a friend, a former screw from the prison, Walter Bjurfalk. The dude’d resigned of his own accord a year ago. The COs thought it was gonna be nice. Didn’t think it was strange that Jorge and the ex-screw were meeting up. Some screws become friends with inmates; that’s just how it goes. The surveillance COs had no idea why Walter’d really quit.
They were sitting in Galway’s on Kungsgatan: Sven hangout. Swedeville. The place was decorated like a typical Irish pub. Signs on the wall: HIGHGATE & WALSALL BREWING CO LTD. Trying to be clever: IN GOD WE TRUST. ALL THE REST, CASH OR PLASTIC. It reeked of beer. Felt homey.
The screws sat down a few tables away and ordered coffee. Jorge ordered a seltzer, light on the bubbles. Beer wasn’t allowed on guarded parole. Walter ordered a Guinness. It took ten minutes for the bartender to pour it.
They chatted. Memories from last summer, when there’d been mini riots at Österåker. How the guys who’d gated out were doing. How the ones who’d gone straight back in were doing. Finally, after a half an hour, Jorge lowered his voice, asked what he’d come here to ask.
“Walter, I’ve something serious to discuss with you.”
Walter looked up from his beer. Looked intrigued. “Shoot.”
“I’m gonna fly. No way I’m gonna rot three more years in prison. I’ve got an idea that might work. I trust you, Walter. You were always a good CO. I know why you asked to resign. We all know. You were good to us. You helped us. Would you help me now? I’ll make it worth your while, claro.”
Jorge was 99 percent about Walter. The last percent: Walter could double-game him. In that case, J-boy was a goner.
Walter leapt right in: “Breaking out of Österåker is hard. Only three guys’ve done it in the past ten years. Each one of them’s been picked up within a year of the escape. ’Cause that’s the hardest part, to lay low after the escape. Just see what happened to Tony Olsson and those other guys. Your plan’s got to be damn solid. Or else you’re fucked. You know, those guys were lying doggo under some bridge when the military forces plucked ’em. They didn’t have a chance in hell. On the other hand, they were violent sons of bitches, so whatever. Fuck ’em. I’m not in that field anymore, so to speak, so I don’t know if I can help you. But I’ll give it a try for some jingle. Tell me what you need. I never snitch; you know that.”
Jorge’d made up his mind. He was gonna put his chips on Walter.
“I need to know a couple of things from you. Five large if you can help.”
“Like I said, I’ll try.”
Weird feeling. Sitting in a pub-with the screws only a few feet away-talking escape plans with an ex-screw. Had to strain his face. Control his body movements. Make sure you couldn’t tell how stressed he was by looking at him. Jorge put his hands in his lap under the table. Crossed his legs. Picked at a napkin. Tore it to shreds. Tried to focus.
“Two questions. First, I want to know what routines the COs have to check on us when we’re in the rec yard. Second, I need to know how fast the COs could pick up a chase if someone skipped over one of the walls, probably one on the south side, by D Block.”
Walter sipped his beer. Got foam on his upper lip.
Started talking about what he’d done last summer. Uninteresting chatter.
Jorge looked at him. Walter was thinking, calculating, but he wanted his mouth to run in case the screws looked over.
Jorge glanced at them. The screws were talking. Chilling.
It was cool.
He calmed down.
Walter knew a lot. Went over it. Good info. Useful. For example: the placement of the guard towers, escape preparation plans, communications codes, established routines. Times for guard change, schedules for frisking, alarm systems. Plans A and B, where A was in case of an individual inmate’s escape attempt, and B in the case of several inmates’ escape attempts. Skipped C: plan in case of riot. Walter’s knowledge was golden.
Jorge, eternally grateful. Promised to get Walter his five grand within a few weeks.
The screws waved.
Time to go back.
J-boy to himself: Rubber’s rolled on and I’m ready to dip.
No one in the posh parts of Stockholm knew the following about Johan Westlund, alias JW, the brats’ brattiest brat: He was an ordinary citizen, a loser, a tragic Sven. He was a bluff, a fake who was playing a high-stakes double game. He lived the high life with the boyz two to three nights a week and scraped by the rest of the time to make ends meet.
JW pretended to be an ultrabrat. Really he was the world’s biggest penny-pinching pauper.
He ate pasta with ketchup five days a week, never went to the movies, jumped turnstiles, stole toilet paper from the university bathrooms, lifted food from the grocery store and Burlington socks from high-end department stores, cut his own hair, bought his designer clothes secondhand, and sneaked in for free at the gym when the receptionist wasn’t looking. He rented a room from a certain Mrs. Reuterskiöld-well, Putte, Fredrik, Nippe, and the other guys did know about that. Being a boarder was the only thing about his real situation that he hadn’t been able to hide. It was accepted somehow.
JW became a pro at being cheap. He wore contacts only on the days he had to and used the one-month disposable kind much longer than recommended, until his eyes itched like hell. He always brought his own bags when he went grocery shopping to avoid the tiny bag fee, bought Euroshopper-brand food, poured budget vodka from Germany into Absolut bottles-miraculously, no one ever seemed to notice.
JW lived like a rat when no one was watching. Big-time.
He just barely earned enough to make it work. He got money courtesy of the welfare state: a student allowance, student loans, and housing assistance. But that didn’t go far with his habits. He found salvation in a part-time job-as a gypsy cabbie.
Balancing the checkbook was hard. He easily dropped two thousand kronor on a night out with the boyz. With luck, he could pull in the same amount on a good night in the cab. His strengths as a driver: He was young, looked nice, and wasn’t an immigrant. Everybody would brave a ride with JW.
The challenge of the game was becoming one of them, truly. He read etiquette books, learned the jargon, the rules, and the unwritten codes. Listened to the way they talked, the nasal sound of it, worked hard to eliminate his northern accent. He learned what slang to use and in which contexts, understood what clothes were correct, what ski resorts in the Alps were in, which vacation destinations in Sweden were it. The list wasn’t long: Torekov, Falsterbo, Smådalarö, et cetera. He knew the trick was always to spend with class. Buy a Rolex watch, buy a pair of Tod’s shoes, buy a Prada jacket, buy a Gucci folder in alligator skin for your lecture notes. He looked forward to the next step, buying a BMW cab in order to realize the last of the three b’s: backslick, beach tan, BMW.
JW was good; it worked. High society took him in. He counted. He was considered fun, hot, and generous. But he knew they still noticed something. There were gaps in his story; they weren’t familiar with his parents, hadn’t heard of the place he went to school. And it was hard to keep the lies straight. Sometimes they wondered if he’d really been on a spring break trip to Saint Moritz. No one who’d been there at the time remembered having seen him. Had he really lived in Paris, pretty close to the Marais? His French wasn’t exactly super. They could feel it: Something was off, but they didn’t know what. JW recognized what his challenges were: to create effective camouflage, to fit in and seem genuine to the core. To be accepted.
And why? He didn’t even know the answer. Not because he didn’t think about it-he knew he was driven by a desire for validation, to feel special. But he didn’t get why he’d chosen this particular way of doing it, which was the easiest route to humiliation. If he was found out, he might as well leave the city. Sometimes he thought maybe that’s exactly why he kept pushing it, because of some self-destructive desire to see how far he could take it. To be forced to deal with the shame of being found out. Deep down, he probably couldn’t have cared less about Stockholm. He wasn’t from there. Didn’t feel as though the city had anything profound to offer-other than attention, parties, chicks, the glamorous life, and money. Superficialities. It could be any city, really. But right now, the capital was where it was at.
JW had a real story. He came from Robertsfors, a small town above Umeå, in the rural north, and moved to Stockholm when he was a junior in high school. He took the train down without his parents, with only two suitcases and the address to his dad’s cousin in hand. He stayed there three days, then found the room with Mrs. Reuterskiöld. Flung himself out into the world he now inhabited. Changed style, clothes, and haircut. Enrolled in Östra Real, a premier brat high school. Hung out with the right crowd. His mom and dad were worried at first, but there wasn’t much they could do once he’d made up his mind. After a while they calmed down-they were happy if he was happy.
JW rarely thought about his parents. For long stretches of time, it was like they didn’t even exist. His old man was a foreman at a lumber factory, pretty much as far from JW’s life plan as you could get. His mom worked at a job-placement agency. She was so proud that he was going to college.
What he did think about, a lot, was the family’s own tale. An unusual, unsolved tragedy. An incident that all of Robertsfors knew about but never mentioned.
JW’s sister, Camilla, had been missing for four years and no one knew what’d happened to her. It took weeks before anyone even knew she was missing. Her apartment in Stockholm revealed no leads. Her phone conversations with Mom and Dad didn’t give any clues, either. No one knew anything. Maybe it was just a mistake. Maybe she’s grown tired of it all and moved abroad. Maybe she was a movie star in Bollywood, living it up. JW couldn’t deal with home after it happened. His dad, Bengt, had buried himself in drink, self-pity, and silence. His mom, Margareta, had tried to keep it all together. Believed it was an accident. Thought it would help to get involved in the local Amnesty chapter, work longer hours, go to a therapist and talk about her nightmares, so that she, since she was reminded of them twice a week by the damn shrink, dreamed them over and over again. But JW knew what he believed: no fucking way Camilla would just up and leave somewhere without being in touch for four years. She was really gone. And deep down, everyone probably knew it.
It kept eating at him. Someone was responsible and hadn’t paid the price.
The mood at home risked crushing him. He had to move. At the same time, he was forced to retrace his sister’s footsteps. Camilla, who was three years older, had also left Robertsfors early, when she was seventeen. She wanted bigger things than to waste her life away behind some painted picket fence. Mom claimed that when they were little, Camilla and JW’d fought more than other kids. They had zero positive connection. But after she’d been in the city for two years, a relationship began to develop. He started getting texts, sometimes short phone calls, occasional e-mails. They reached a kind of understanding, that the two of them wanted the same thing. JW could see it now, they’d been a lot alike. Camilla in JW’s imagination: the queen of Stureplan. The party’s hottest it girl. Elevated. Well known. Exactly where he wanted to be.
The gypsy cab gig was easy. He borrowed a car from Abdulkarim Haij, an Arab he’d met at a bar over a year ago. He picked it up with a full tank and returned it with a full tank. The other city drivers accepted him-they knew he was driving for the Arab. The price was set ad hoc at each pickup. JW would write the info down on a pad: time of pickup, destination, price. Forty percent went straight to Abdulkarim.
The Arab would occasionally do tests. Like, one of his men would pretend to be a customer and take a ride with JW. Afterward, the Arab would compare what his controller’d paid with what JW wrote in his log. JW was honest. He didn’t want to lose the extra cash he made on the job. It was his lifeline, his salvation in the race to score points with the boyz. JW only had one road rule. He didn’t do any pickups at Stureplan. The risk of exposure was too evident on his own turf.
JW was driving off the books tonight. He picked the car up in Huddinge with Abdulkarim, a Ford Escort from 1994 that’d once been painted a pure white. The interior was crappy. There was no CD player and the seats were frayed. He smiled at the Arab’s attempts to spruce it up-Abdul’d hung three Wunder-Baum air fresheners in the rearview mirror.
JW drove home. A cool August night-perfect for the taxi business. As usual, finding a parking spot in Ö-malm was tough. The SUVs hogged the streets. Driving by the latest beauty from Porsche made him drool: Cayman S. A 911 combined with a Boxter-hotness incarnate. He finally found a spot-the Ford wasn’t exactly a big machine.
He went up to his room at Mrs. Reuterskiöld’s. It was nine o’clock. No point in driving the cab before midnight. He settled down with his schoolbooks. Had a midterm in four days.
The apartment was located near Tessin Park. Lower Gärdet was okay for JW. Upper Gärdet wouldn’t cut it-too far off the grid, too bitter. The room was 216 square feet, with a separate entrance, toilet, and a big window overlooking the park. Peaceful and calm, just like the old lady wanted it. The problem was that he had to be so damn quiet when he managed to get a girl home.
The room was furnished with a full bed, a red armchair, and a desk from IKEA, where he put his laptop. He’d swiped it from some oblivious sucker at school. Piece of cake. He’d waited till the owner went to the bathroom. Most people took their computers along with them, but others chanced it. JW’d seen the opportunity-just slid it into his shoulder bag and walked out.
The lamp from his childhood room was screwed into the desk. It still had glue marks from old cartoon stickers. Embarrassing, like whoa. Important to turn it off when he had a girl over-home game.
Clothes were strewn everywhere. There was one poster on the wall: Schumacher in a Formula 1 uniform, spraying champagne from the prize podium.
There really wasn’t much to the room. Sparse. He preferred to go home with the chicks to their places instead-away game.
JW didn’t mind studying. He liked writing his own papers instead of copying stuff off the Internet. He participated actively in class discussions when he was prepared. Always tried to make time to do the practice sets after. Tried his best to be ambitious.
He cracked the books. The Financial Analysis course had the hardest exam. He needed more time.
Turned the sets over in his mind, counted, fed numbers into the calculator. His thoughts returned to the discussion he’d had with the boyz the night before. How much did the blatte really make selling coke? How much did he pull in a month? What were his margins? Risk versus possible income. He should be able to calculate that.
JW went through the list of his life goals. One: to not reveal his double life. Two: to buy a car. Three: to become loaded. Finally: to find out what happened to Camilla. A step toward getting over it-if that was possible.
Principles of Corporate Finance-he got through seven pages. The difference between financing a company through stocks or through loans. How does the value of the company change? Preference shares, beta value, rates of return, obligations, et cetera. He took notes on a pad of paper and underlined in the textbook with a neon yellow highlighter. Almost fell asleep over the pages covered in graphs and equations.
When he nodded off for a second, he dropped his pen. That woke him. He thought, No point to keep going at this hour.
Time to drive home the money.
He was on his way to Medborgarplatsen, on the south side of the city. It was quarter past eleven. He was driving Sibyllegatan down to Strandvägen, past Berzelii Park. Dangerous area, way too close to the boyz’ stomping grounds.
JW kept mulling over his thoughts. What did he really know about his sister’s life in Stockholm anyway? The texts, calls, and e-mails he’d gotten were often without substance. Camilla’d had a part-time job at Café Ogo on Odengatan and gone to continuing-education classes at Komvux to get better high school grades in literary arts, math, and English. She’d had a boyfriend. JW didn’t even know his name. He knew only one point of interest: The guy’d driven a yellow Ferrari. There were photos of Camilla in the car at home in Robertsfors. In them, she was glowing, smiling and waving through a rolled-down window. You couldn’t make out the guy’s face in the pictures. Who was he?
JW drove past the Foreign Ministry at Gustav Adolf’s Square. There were a lot of people out and about. Everyone was back from vacation and wanted to make up for what they’d missed by vegging out at country houses and on sailboats. He drove through the tunnel at Slussen toward Medborgarplatsen.
He parked the car outside the Scandic Hotel and got out. Positioned himself outside Snaps. There was always someone there who needed a ride home or downtown.
Three chicks stumbled out. Possible good pickup. He cocked his head to the side, pulled an irresistible JW. “Hey, ladies. Need a ride?”
One of the girls, a blonde, looked at her friends. They knew what was up, nodded. She said, “Sure. How much to Stureplan?”
Damn it. Gotta play this. Coax, smile. He said, “There’s so much traffic there. I know it sounds like a drag, but would it be okay if I drop you off by Norrmalmstorg?” Charm attack. Added, in a fake blatte accent, “Special price for you only.”
Giggles. The blond girl said, “Only ’cause you’re cute. But then you have to give us a good deal.”
It was settled: 150 kronor.
JW drove toward Norrmalmstorg. The chicks chirped in the back. They were going to Kharma. It had been so nice at Caroline’s. Amazing food, crazy atmosphere, sweet drinks. They were soooooo drunk. JW shut them out. Couldn’t get interested in anything but driving tonight. He smiled, looked mysterious.
The girls babbled. Did he wanna come? JW felt the vibe, it would be so easy to score. But there was a major hurdle: These weren’t the kind of girls he wanted to meet. Svens.
Before he dropped them off, he said, “Ladies, I have to ask you something.”
They thought he was going to make a move.
“Have you ever met a girl out named Camilla Westlund? Tall, pretty, from the north. Like, four years ago?”
The babblebrauds looked like they were thinking, hard.
“I’m not too great with names, but none of us recognize Camilla Westlund,” one said.
JW thought, Maybe they are too young. Maybe they weren’t partying at the right places back then.
They got out by the bus stops at Norrmalmstorg. He gave the chicks his cell phone number. “Call whenever you need a ride.”
Time for more driving.
He parked by Kungsträdgården Park. Couldn’t stop thinking. It was the first time he’d asked anyone about Camilla. Why not, anyway? Maybe someone would remember.
Seven minutes passed before the next passenger was seated in the Ford.
It was a calm night. Everything went off smoothly. The clubbers were into it, wanted to get home. JW delivered.
Later. The night was a success; he’d made two thousand kronor so far. Mental arithmetic. That meant twelve hundred in his pocket.
He was waiting outside Kvarnen on Tjärhovsgatan. Mostly jailbait and soccer fans. The line was long, more orderly than the one outside Kharma. Lamer people than at Kharma. Cheaper than Kharma. No one was being let in just then-something’d happened inside. Two police vans were parked outside. Their flashing lights illuminated the walls. JW wanted to get out of there fast; it was needless to take risks with the car.
As he was walking back to the Ford, a familiar figure came toward him. One who walked with rhythm, dressed in a well-tailored suit with billowing pants. High hairline and short, curly hair. Without really being able to make out the figure’s face, JW knew who it was: Abdulkarim. He had his big friend in tow, his very own gorilla: Fahdi.
JW looked at him, hoped nothing was up.
Abdulkarim said hi, opened the car door, and got into the passenger seat. The gorilla folded himself into the back.
JW jumped in behind the wheel. “Nice to see you out and about. Anything in particular you want to check?”
“No, no. No worry, man. Just drive us to Spy.”
Spy Bar. Stureplan. What was he going to say?
JW started the car. Held off answering. Made a decision-he couldn’t stir shit up with the Arab.
“Spy Bar it is.”
“There a problem?”
“Absolutely not. It’s all good. It’s a pleasure to drive you, Abdul.”
“Don’t call me Abdul. It means ‘slave’ in Arabic.”
“Me, I know you donwanna drive to Stureplan, JW. Know you donwanna be seen there. Got fancy buddies there. You’re ashamed, man. Never be ashamed.”
The Arab fucker knew. How? Maybe not so strange, if you thought about it. Abdulkarim was out a lot. He’d seen JW with his friends around Stureplan. Connected the dots. Understood why he didn’t tend to make pickups there. The rest was just simple math.
He had to do damage control.
“It’s not that bad, Abdulkarim. Come on, it’s no big deal. I just have to make some money. Want to be able to party and stuff. This isn’t the kind of thing you tell everybody.”
The Arab nodded. The Arab laughed. The Arab controlled the convo. Small talk.
Then it happened. The offer.
“Me? I know you need the big cheese. I got a suggestion. Pay attention. Could be up your alley.”
JW nodded. Wondered what was coming. Damn, did Abdulkarim like the sound of his own voice.
“I have some other business, other than the cabs. Sell C. I know, you’ve bought candy from me. Through Gurhan, you know, the Turk you and your buddies get it from. But Gurhan won’t work. Big Jew. Tryin’ to rip me off. Skims the top. Sells too high. Doesn’t keep good books. And, worst thing, he buys from some other guy, too. Tryin’ to be clever. Play us against each other. Pressure me. He says, ‘If I can’t get it for four hundred a gram I don’t wanany this week.’ Messy. No good. That’s where you come in, JW.”
JW was listening but didn’t catch on. “Pardon me, but I don’t think I’m following.”
“I’m wondering, you wanna sell instead of Gurhan? You run this taxi thing real good. You hang at the right bars. Believe me, I know. Bars where people’s drills are as full of sugar as sugar drills. You’d do good.”
“What’s a sugar drill?”
“Forget it. You in or what?”
“Shit, Abdul. I have to think about it. I was actually thinking about that the other day. Wondering how well the Turk makes out.”
“Don’t call me Abdul. And sure, go ahead. Think about it, big man. But remember, you could be like Uncle Scrooge. Swimming in it. You want in. I can feel it. Call before next Friday.”
JW focused on the road. They drove down Birger Jarlsgatan. He was nervous. Kept a lookout for the boyz while trying to hunch as low in the seat as possible.
Abdulkarim rattled on in Arabic with the meathead in the back. Laughed. JW grinned without knowing why. Abdul grinned back, continued to jabber in Arabic to Fahdi. They were approaching their final destination.
Stureplan. Huge lines outside the nightclubs and bars: Kharma, Laroy, Sturecompagniet, Clara’s, Köket, East, The Lab, and the rest. More people out than ever in the daytime. A gold mine for gypsy cabs.
JW stopped the car. Abdulkarim opened the door. “You know the deal. Before Friday.”
He stepped on it.
JW’s last pickup of the night was a hammered middle-aged man who mumbled something about Kärrtorp. JW said he’d take him there for three hundred kronor.
He drove in silence. Needed to think. The man fell asleep.
The road was dark. Hardly any cars out except a few taxis. JW felt the anxiety of decision making wash over him.
On one hand: fantastic luck, a chance, a real opportunity. Probably nothing else offered the kinds of margins that coke did. How would it work? Buy a gram for five hundred, sell for one thousand? Calculate. The boyz alone could easily do four grams a night. He should be able to turn twenty thousand kronor. At least. He multiplied. Gains from one night: ten thousand. Holy shit.
On the other hand: mad dangerous, really fucking illegal, scary. One mistake and he could screw it all up, his whole life. Was it his kind of gig? It was one thing to use now and then. Dealing was a totally different ball game. Be a part of the drug industry, make money on other people’s fried sinuses, their wrecked lives. Didn’t feel right.
On the other hand: No one ruined their life on coke, as far as he knew. Mostly, it was better people who did it anyway. Like the boyz, for instance, who snorted to have a good time, not to escape some bottom-feeder existence. They studied, had money and good families. No problem for them. No risk of tweaky junkies. No risk JW had to suffer a bad conscience.
On the other hand: Abdulkarim and his crowd were probably not the nicest boys in town. Just take the backseat gorilla. Didn’t take much to see that Fahdi was lethal. What would happen if JW couldn’t pay, got in trouble? Messed up sales? Was robbed of merch? Maybe it was too dangerous.
On the other hand: the money. A sure way. An easy way. Learn from Gekko: “I don’t throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things.” The returns in this industry were guaranteed. JW had the need-and he wouldn’t stay a tragic Sven. There’d be an end to the secondhand clothes, the home-cut hair, and the boarding. An end to being cheap. The dream of being able to live normally could come true. The dream of a car, an apartment, a fortune, could come true. He’d be included in the business plans the boyz had.
HE’D BE INCLUDED.
Successful C entrepreneur versus loser.
Crime versus safety.
What to do?
Saturday night in Stockholm: clubs, chicks, credit cards. Trashed seventeen-year-olds. Trashed twenty-five-year-olds. Trashed forty-three-year-olds. Trashed all ages.
Bouncers with leather jackets and cocky attitudes: denied, denied, denied. Some didn’t get it-find your kind of place or be denied entrance. Don’t try to get in where you don’t belong.
Along Kungsgatan, the Svens caravanned. Along Birger Jarlsgatan, the brats were on parade. Business as usual.
Mrado, Patrik, and Ratko were going on a raid. They grabbed a beer at the blingy hub Sturehof before starting out. Tonight they were doing the south side, Södermalm.
Coat checks equaled gold mines. Calculation of a midtier place: Force everyone with some sort of jacket or other personal item to check it. Twenty kronor a head. Extra for bags. Four hundred people passing through on average. Sum: at least eight thousand kronor per night. Ninety percent off the books. All money in cash. Impossible for Big Brother Tax Collector to control the revenue. And the only cost was a pretty girl to stand there and run the show.
The scheme was advantageous: The Yugos collected a fixed rate of three thousand per weekend night. Nothing on weekdays. The place and the coat-check personnel had their own agreements about how the rest was distributed. Win-win: good business for everyone.
Strategy of the night: Mrado and Ratko stood in the background. Patrik fronted, did the talking.
It had to go off smoothly. If shit went down, Mrado would have to take the consequences. The fight for Radovan’s favor was getting heated. Mrado was competing with the other men directly under R.: Goran, Nenad, Stefanovic. It’d been different under Jokso: Then they played like a team. Serbs together. Three types of coat checks in Stockholm: the ones Radovan controlled, the ones someone else controlled, like the Hells Angels or the club king Göran Boman, and finally, the ones that were independent. The latter: no good. Proceeded at their own risk.
They started at Tivoli on Hornsgatan. The place: Radovan-controlled. Patrik went up to the girl working the coat check. Mrado nodded. Recognized her. They went way back. He put his hand on Patrik’s shoulder. “I got this. I know her.”
Everything was cool. She was on ticket number 162. The night was young. He took a look in the cash box. Seemed straight. No funny stuff.
They moved on. The place across the street, Marie Laveau, was controlled by Göran Boman. His time would come one day, but they let it go for now.
They continued toward Slussen. The night was cool. Ratko talked about how he was gonna build his upper body. Chow on lean protein: tuna and chicken. Pop Dbols. Do double sessions at the gym. New ideas for how to plan his training.
Mrado looked at him. Ratko was built but needed many hours at the gym before he’d play in Mrado’s league.
Patrik revealed that he’d eaten ice cream only twice in the past year. The single unhealthy thing he put into his body was beer.
Mrado got lost in thought. The guys were obsessed with the wrong stuff. He thought about Lovisa, his daugher. His ex, Annika, lived with her. Mrado had visitation rights, every other Wednesday night to Thursday night. It wasn’t enough, but they were still the best days in the month. His schedule as a collector/dealer/hit man was perfect. Had the whole day free for museums, children’s theaters, the latest Disney flicks. They ate pizza, watched movies, and read Serbian children’s books. Mrado could honestly say to those around him, “I am a good father.” Family court, Annika, society, everyone-they didn’t think that a Serbian man could take care of kids. Bullshit.
He should retire. Get more visitation. Be more with Lovisa. Stop being hard-boiled.
They walked up to Götgatan. Checked spots off the list. Most were already controlled, but there were some wild cards. Patrik did good work. Stepped up. Mrado and Ratko stood in the background, clearly visible. Arms crossed. Patrik asked to speak to the person in charge of the coat check. Patrik explained the advantages. Patrik: in tight jeans, T-shirt, thin green military jacket, shaved skull covered in scars, tattoos protruding on his neck.
“We make sure you don’t have any trouble with mobs or gangs. You wouldn’t want your coat-check cash robbed all the time, would you? Our insurance covers that kind of thing. We can help you get more paying customers. We have lots of good ideas about how to increase coat-check efficiency.” Yada, Yada, Yada.
Most people bought the bull. Some’d been visited before. No problems. People didn’t want to get the Yugos on their backs. Some refused. Patrik didn’t make a scene. Just asked to come back later. They knew they were being fucked-smile and take it or have to take it from someone else.
They walked along Götgatan. Down to Medborgarplatsen. It was 1:00 a.m. A lot of places were starting to close. Down by Medborgarplatsen, Snaps, 5ifty4our, Kvarnen, Gröne Jägaren, Mondo, Göta Källare, and farther down, Metro and East 100, still open.
Snaps belonged to Göran Boman. Gröne Jägaren belonged to HA.
They went into Mondo, in Medborgarhuset. A youth center. Lots of people. Patrik did his thing. The place got the drift. Wanted to make a deal. Most restaurant and bar owners counted the coat-check revenue in their own balance sheets. Mrado thought the ex-skin did good. Over the year they’d been working together, Patrik’d toned down his hotheaded tendencies, picked up the right style: calm, assured, commanding respect.
They left at quarter past one. Gypsy cabs swarmed outside Medborgarplatsen.
On to one of the biggest bars and clubs on the south side: Kvarnen. An old boozehound and soccer hooligan hub. Place’d gone wild when Bajen, the area’s team of choice, won the national championship in 2001. The old room had once been a beer hall. High ceilings. Columns, wooden tables, turn-of-the-century wood paneling. The new room was decorated in an aquatic theme. Aquariums and blue stylized water drops on the walls. The basement had a fire theme. Orange walls, no big tables, only bar stools and little tables screwed into the walls serving as parking spots for beers.
The line stretched all the way out to Götgatan. Nearly forty yards long. Pretty orderly. No drama at the door. Hipsters with complex hairstyles and accessories. Alternative types with tightly laced boots and Palestinian scarves. Popfuckers: dyed black hair with bangs. Bajen soccer fans: no frills.
Kvarnen drew quite a crowd.
Mrado, Patrik, and Ratko cut the line. People glared, pissed. But still-no protests. They got it. Unmistakably registered the aura of respect.
The bouncer said no. “No first-class boarding.” This is the democratic south side. Jackass. Patrik kept cool. Explained that they just wanted to have a chat with the coat-check attendant. The bouncer was clueless. Refused to let them in. Mrado wondered who the loser was. Stared. Patrik tried again. Explained that they didn’t want to cut the line, just had some business with the coat-check attendant. The bouncer turned his head. Saw Mrado. Seemed to get it. Let them in.
The coat check was run by the bouncers themselves. Unusual. Meant trouble.
The coat-check bouncers: three big guys. Their shirts bulged, the panels of their bulletproof vests visible beneath the fabric. Controlled the crowd with a rough attitude. Take no prisoners. Real southies. Wouldn’t budge on the fee, didn’t matter that tons of people only had thin jackets. Even the pretty girls had to pay. These boys worked for SWEA Security-a Sven company for real Sven boys.
The head bouncer, their front man, knew right away whom he was dealing with. Maybe he’d heard the outside discussion in his earpiece. “Hey, hey. Welcome to Kvarnen. Unfortunately, we’re not interested in your business, but feel free to come in and have a drink.”
Patrik, who’d already gotten fired up from the provocation at the door, was getting his edge back. “You in charge of the coat check here tonight? Why don’t we go have a chat. I’ve got a proposition.”
Mrado and Ratko stayed put in the background. Mrado, laser-focused. Tried to listen.
The bouncer said, “I’m in charge here. But I don’t have time to talk right now. You either go in or out. Sorry.”
“We weren’t treated very well at the door. I want to talk to you now. You follow? Your other two guys’ll be just fine here by themselves for ten minutes.”
Attitude. The two other bouncers glanced over. Saw there was trouble. The front man said, “Excuse me. Perhaps I wasn’t clear? We’re not interested in your services. We play our own game. I don’t want to be impolite, but you have to understand that we’re fine. Without you.”
Patrik’s body language screamed, I want to take this fucker down.
His fists were balled, knuckles whitening. His tattoos seemed to spark.
Mrado stepped up, laid his hand on Patrik’s shoulder. Calmed him. Turned to the front man, “Okay, we’ll go in. We’ll have a seat and wait for you. Come in when you have time to talk.”
Shit was tense.
Mrado tugged at Patrik. Ratko did the same.
Patrik caved. Went in.
The bouncers won.
Mrado ordered beer. They sat down at a table.
The volume in the beer hall was on high.
Patrik leaned toward Mrado, “What the fuck was that? We can’t tolerate that kind of shit. Why’d you pull me away?”
“Patrik, chill out. I’m with you. We’ll talk to him, but not in front of all the guests. Not in front of the other bouncers. That’d be trouble. Listen. We’ll sit here, relax. Maybe he’ll come to us. Maybe not. But we don’t forget, we wait, and when that cunt has to go to the bathroom or is on his way home or whatever, then we’ll have a little chat with him. Tell him what’s up.”
Patrik calmed down. Looked more relaxed. Ratko cracked his knuckles.
They chilled. Mrado drank light beer. Checked out the chicks. Checked out the place. Checked out the bouncers on the sly. He was sitting so he could see straight into the coat check. But he didn’t make any obvious eyes in that direction. Easy does it.
They talked about Ratko’s upper body again. Went over different steroids. Mrado told a few Radovan secrets even though he shouldn’t. Patrik told them how he’d shot a Magnum last weekend: the recoil, the pressure, the bullet holes.
Patrik got personal. Asked Mrado, “How many’ve you killed?”
Mrado, dead serious: “I was down in Yugoslavia in 1995. Draw your own conclusions.”
“Right, but what about here in Sweden?”
“I don’t talk about that. I do what needs to be done for business to run smoothly. That’s one thing I can teach you, Patrik. Loyalty to R. and business is everything. Sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches. Can’t sit and think about and regret the shit you’ve done. I’m not proud of everything.”
Patrik pushed him, “Like what?”
“Learn one more thing: We do more than we talk. Sometimes you’ve got to do stuff that ain’t pretty. What can I say? Like, for example, I’ve had to take care of friends who weren’t reliable, or women, hookers, who messed around. That kind of thing, I wouldn’t say it’s what I’d put at the top of my résumé.”
Patrik fell silent. Understood. There are some things you just don’t discuss.
They jabbered on about other things.
An hour went by.
The general party mood in the beer hall was on the rise.
The bouncer guy was still standing in his spot. It was quarter past two. The place closed at four. They waited. The party people were shit-faced. Mrado drank a seltzer. Patrik ordered his sixth beer. Was getting really tanked. Ratko drank coffee. Patrik returned to their treatment at the door. Stoked the fire. The bouncer fags would be schooled. The bouncer fags would cry. Crawl. Beg. Groan. Concuss.
Mrado calmed him down. Glanced at the coat check. The bouncers couldn’t have cared less about them. Were they stupid? Didn’t they get who they were dealing with?
Another hour went by.
They waited. Jabbered on.
At one point, the head bouncer left his position.
Patrik drained his glass. Got up. Mrado saw he was okay, not too trashed. Mrado got up, right by Patrik. Face-to-face.
Patrik was wide-eyed. His breath reeked. Put a lighter in front of his mouth and the place would explode worse than a gas station.
Mrado took his face in his hands. The noise in the hall was deafening. He yelled, “You okay?”
Patrik nodded. Pointed toward the bathrooms. Probably had to piss after all that beer.
He walked in that direction.
Mrado sat back down. Ratko looked at him, leaned across the table. Asked, “Where he goin’?”
Like a bolt of lightning through Mrado’s head. Fuck, how could he be so dense. The bouncer’d probably gone to the bathroom and Patrik was following him there-without Mrado or Ratko.
Mrado got up. Waved at Ratko. “Follow me. Now.”
They hurried after Patrik.
Stepped into the bathroom.
White tiles and large metal sinks. One wall covered by a mirror. Five urinals on the opposite wall. Stalls farther in. Leaking toilets. Piss on the floor.
The head bouncer was standing at one of the urinals. At the sinks, three guys were talking. Looked like losers: unbuttoned shirts over T-shirts. Farther in, two kids were queuing at the toilet stalls.
Patrik on his way to the guy.
The bouncer turned around, cock still in hand.
Patrik stood only inches away from him. “Remember me? You dissed me, straight out. Totally wrote off our services. You think I’d let that go unpunished?”
The bouncer understood. Mumbled something. Tried to calm Patrik down. The guy’d been around the block. Started fumbling for his earpiece with his free hand.
Patrik took another step, unclear if he’d registered that Mrado and Ratko’d followed him into the bathroom.
He head-butted the bouncer guy on the nose. The blood appeared even redder against the white tiles as it sprayed the wall. The bouncer yelled for his colleagues. Tried to shove Patrik aside. The bouncer, strong. Big. But Patrick, amped. The losers at the sink started hollering. The boys by the stalls ran forward to break it up. Mrado stepped between them. Pushed them away. Not exactly tough guys. Ratko positioned himself by the exit. Blocked. Patrik grabbed hold of the bouncer’s short hair. Pounded his head against the urinal. Teeth went flying. Pounded again. More teeth. His nose broke in x number of places. The urinal looked like a butcher’s sink. Patrik pounded the bouncer’s head again. It sounded hollow. He let go. The bouncer guy collapsed on the floor. Unconscious. His face, unrecognizable. The losers by the sinks were crying. The kids by the toilet stalls were screaming.
Two bouncer colleagues rushed past Ratko. Patrik shoved one of them aside. Ratko got out of there. Mrado reached for one of the bouncer’s knees. Grabbed hold. Did a lock. Twisted. The guy crumpled like a marionette with cut strings. Mrado grabbed the guy’s foot in another lock. Twisted. Patrik ran amuck, yelled, swore. Mrado said in a measured voice, “Leave, Patrik. Now.”
The ex-skin walked out. Mrado was the only one left. Saw Ratko and Patrik outside the bathroom. Twisted the foot in his grip a little more. The bloody bouncer under the urinal shook. The bouncer in Mrado’s grip whimpered. One bouncer left standing. Hesitated. Looked like he was calculating the odds. Two bouncers on the floor. Immediate knockout. Left in the ring: him, alone, against a huge Yugo. And two more guys out there. Where was backup?
Mrado said, “Guys. You made a little mistake tonight. You messed with the wrong people. We’ll be in touch regarding our business with you. One more thing, don’t make a big deal outta this. I think you can figure out why.”
Mrado released his grip and walked out of the bathroom. Three bouncers left in there. Like fools.
Mrado, Ratko, and Patrik pushed their way through the crowd. Outside Kvarnen, the cop cars’ blue lights lit up the night. They jumped into a taxi. Patrik with blood on his jacket and T-shirt. Bad.
The place was crawling with cops.
It was almost time.
Jorge sat still in the chow hall. Concentrated. He didn’t give a damn about the clatter, the crunching and munching. Today was the day.
Rolando called after him when he stood up. “Jorge, you gonna come blaze later?” Rolando was being ironic. The only one who knew.
Jorge said, “Don’t holler like that. The screw over there can hear you.”
Rolando grinned. “He don’t know words like that. He just a small-town guy.”
Jorge put his hand on Rolando’s shoulder. “I’m gonna miss you, hombre.”
Rolando looked serious. “Damn, Jorge, you doin’ the right thing, you know it. Come on, wontcha tell old gangsta Rolando how you gonna do it? Who wanna be caged for the rest o’ his life?”
“Loco, I can’t tell you today. You’ll see for yourself. Just watch and enjoy. As long as you do your thing.” Jorge got up. He honestly felt like he would miss Rolando, his bullshit about cocaine paste, long lectures on the OG community and armored-car heists.
He’d tested Rolando several times. Revealed a few things to see what would happen. For example, that he exercised the way he did to prep an escape. If Rolando was gonna snitch, Jorge could’ve laughed it off as a joke. But it was cool. Rolando’d kept his mouth shut. No leaks. The Latino was trustworthy. Jorge’d made up his mind: Rolando would play an important part in the actual Plan. He would do his thing today.
But everything hinged on Sergio, who Jorge’d met on his jam roll. That he could fix what needed fixing on the outside. Thirty-odd yards beyond the walls: cleared land-would be hard to do anything that took too long without being spotted. If things worked out today, Jorge would be forever indebted to him. Jorge knew enough to fix this thing. The COs’ routines. Where Sergio’d come from. Where the car would be parked. The best way to drive. The forks in the roads. Jorge knew he could run 440 in less than fifty seconds, two miles in less than eleven minutes. Knew people’d have to pick their jaws up off the ground. Jorge had the know. Jorge had the skill. He got this-without violence and without Sergio’s ass too much on the line. Man, he was el rey.
After lunch they had an hour break from work. Everything ready to go. Now was the time. The plan was simple and genius. Jorge, surprisingly calm. If the shit hit the fan, so be it.
Jorge went back to his cell. Closed the door. Removed the Che Guevara poster from the wall. Unscrewed the wooden panel with his fingernails. It came off easily. He’d done it many times before.
Took out the rope that lay coiled like a thin snake in the space he’d carved into the concrete. The only place the screws didn’t check when they searched the cell. A shallow but long hole. Perfect for a cable.
They thought that panel was smart. Jorge-the Salsa Breaker-was smarter. Honestly: He thought even his sister would be proud. No matter how college-educated she was, she could still recognize finesse when she saw it.
The rope: twined out of long strips of bedsheet. The ritual before turning his sheets into the laundry once a week: tearing off a strip, about half an inch wide. The dude who picked up the sheets was Colombian. Their deal: Hombre didn’t say anything about Jorge’s sheets looking funny in exchange for one pack of smokes a week.
The rope would hold. He’d tested every segment after every new foot he twisted into shape.
He walked out.
It was sunny outside. Sweet. Swedish summertime.
The rec yard was full of people. The screw on duty was playing soccer with the guys. Rolando was on the screw’s opposing team. Beautiful.
Jorge checked the time.
Showtime in exactly thirty seconds.
Rolando glanced at him. After ten seconds, he made the sign they’d agreed on. Rolando braced himself. Ran toward the screw. Full-on slide tackle à la Vieira. The screw went flying. Screamed like a pig. Writhed in pain. Attention: zero.
Jorge ran to the wall. Got in position.
Saw what he’d planned now for so long: The top of an aluminum ladder appeared above the wall, on the other side.
Sergio, the savior, had followed instructions. Driven as close as he could, parked the car at the edge of the woods, where the cleared land was at its narrowest. Ran the last yards, placed the ladder, leaning, against the outside of the wall at the point they’d agreed upon. At the right place. At the right time. At the right second. Incredible.
Jorge got out the rope. Had kept it coiled in his pocket. Clasped the hook onto the end. It’d been crafted out of one of the rings on the basketball hoops, which he’d paid a pretty sum to have removed. Bent it into shape with Rolando’s help an hour ago.
Positioned himself opposite the top of the ladder. Looked up. He’d calculated this.
Felt the mass of the hook in his hand. Weighed it. This was the only part he hadn’t been able to practice. Everything depended on his succeeding in hooking the rope onto the top of the ladder and pulling it over the wall, to his side.
He pitched it. The white rope arched in the sky. Settled over the rounded edge of the wall. Didn’t connect with the top of the ladder. He pulled the rope to the side. Hoped to make the hook catch somewhere lower down on the ladder. Didn’t feel any resistance. Shit. Tugged again. Nothing. No resistance. He pulled at the rope. The hook fell down on his side of the wall. Fucking cock. He ran to it. Picked it up again and got into position. The ladder remained on the other side of the wall; he could see the top of it plainly. The way out. He had to get it right this time. Pitched it again. Come on. The clank of metal. Had he gotten it? He pulled the rope. There. Resistance. The hook had caught onto something-it was the ladder. He made a test tug. It worked. Started to pull. Pulled harder. The ladder scraped. More than half was visible over the wall. He tugged. Even though it was aluminum, it was heavy. Finally: It fell down on his side. He heard yelling in the background. He turned around. Saw the screw get up. Fumble for his walkie-talkie. Jorge moved quickly. Leaned the ladder up against the wall. Glanced over his shoulder. The screw was running toward him. Jorge climbed up as fast as he could. Good grip. Didn’t weigh too much. Strong arms. Up at the top. Looked down, then back: more screws in action. He kicked the ladder aside. It fell into the grass. He heaved himself down, dangling on the outside of the wall. Let go. Jumped. Sixteen feet down. Rough landing. Asics 2080 DuoMax with gel in the heel-his foot still suffered the impact. Mierda.
He ran. Felt good to weigh 147 pounds today. The adrenaline pumped. The clearing like a mirage.
The map in his mind. His foot hurt. Sight set on point number two. Felt the sweat on his back. Heard himself pant. Heavily. Fuck, wasn’t he in better shape? Relax. Lower your shoulders. Enter the zone. Think about your breathing.
Remember: guaranteed the best shape you’ve ever been in. Guaranteed the best shape of any of the inmates. Guaranteed the smartest slumdog. For real. Fuck the fucked-up foot.
Through the woods. Along the small gravel road.
Sergio should’ve peaced long ago.
His back, completely drenched. In the middle of his mad rush, a thought about his sweat. His smell now: sharp, strong, stressed.
Keep going down the gravel road.
Never slow down.
And there was the car. Sergio’d parked it exactly where they’d agreed. Point number two. Oh, you beautiful new world. Jorge heard the sirens in the distance. Jumped in. The key was in the ignition. He gunned it.
There was a God.
The sirens in the distance came closer.
The line could be seen all the way from Sturecompagniet. JW walked up Sturegatan with the boyz. They were pumped, amped, ready to roll. JW felt the energy like currents of electricity through his body-they were riding high.
Earlier that night, they’d eaten at Nox. Ordered fine wine with dinner. It’d been two weeks since the last time they’d gone out. The boyz’ needs were making themselves known: Putte wanted to hook up, Fredrik to booze, Nippe to chase tail. JW was speeded; he wanted to test his new job, mark his territory.
Thirty grams of his own ice, on credit from the Arab, were packaged in ten mini zip baggies-Red Line brand. He had six grams in his pockets right now. The rest was stashed behind a radiator in Mrs. Reuterskiöld’s foyer.
The boyz strutted down the street. JW kicked his feet widely with each step. Thought about the Men in Black sound track.
The line wasn’t a line-it was an organism made up of human bodies. People screamed, waved, jammed, pushed, hurled, cried, flirted. The bouncers tried to keep things under wraps. Drove people like cattle into a number of lines behind the roped-off area. The line for you with Kharma Cards. The line for you with VIP Kharma Cards. The line for you with VIP VIP cards. The rest needn’t bother. We’re at capacity. Only regulars tonight. Don’t you get it? We’re AT CAPACITY.
Oversized ghetto kids threatened to beat them up. Banker boys pressed crumpled bills into their hands. Girls offered blow jobs. They were denied, one bouncer at a time. The air was thick with one word that no one said but everyone who wasn’t ushered in through the velvet rope felt: humiliation.
It took five minutes just to push through the crowd and up to the bouncers. Some got the drift and let the boyz through. Others thought the world was a fair place, tried to keep them back. Sharpened their elbows and jabbed.
Nippe nodded to one of the bouncers.
The never-flagging confidence that JW was doing his utmost to copy worked its magic. They floated past the crowd. Humiliation was reserved for other people. The feeling: better than sex.
At the cash register, they were welcomed by a tall blond guy with clean features: Carl. The guy was 100 percent jet set. Hence his nickname: “Jet Set Carl.” He and a partner owned the place. Kharma: premier hub of the riches-royales. Brat central. Backslick bay.
Nippe threw open his arms. “What’s up, Calle? Things going well, as usual, I see. Incredible amount of people out tonight. Awesome.”
“Yes, we’re pleased. Af Drangler is running the club tonight, really sweet crowd. You guys have a table?”
“Of course, always.”
“Great. We’ll have to chat more later. Have a good night, boys.” Jet Set Carl turned and walked in toward the venue.
For a brief moment, Nippe looked like he was fumbling. Cut off with his mouth full of brownnosing shit. JW thought, It worked, so who cares?
The girl at the register recognized Nippe. She waved them past without asking them to pay.
Inside, the place was half-empty.
Nippe and JW looked at each other. Laughed. They could hear the bouncers yelling outside: “We’re at capacity. Only regulars with cards tonight.”
An hour later, Nippe was on his knees in the bathroom, bent over the toilet seat, with paper napkins spread out on the floor.
Putte took the opportunity to sneak a Marlboro Light. Hummed along to the Eurotechno streaming in from the dance floor. “Why is this kind of music so popular at Kharma? Why not music with some more song to it, like R ’n’ B or hip-hop. Or why not some honest-to-goodness pop, like Melody Club. But no, they basically just play really fucking boring, watered-down, mainstream, party Eurotechno. A load of crap.”
JW sometimes tired of Putte’s know-it-all attitude when it came to music. The guy had over eight thousand MP3s at home in his hard drive and was always complaining about other people’s taste.
JW said, “Come on, do you have to whine? This place has amazing fuckin’ pull tonight.”
Nippe put a mirror down on the closed toilet seat lid. The place wasn’t exactly spick-and-span. There were brown burn marks on the lid and the top of the toilet from people sneaking cigarettes and putting them down while doing other stuff. Such as cutting lines, the way the guys were doing now, talking on cell phones, pissing, being sucked off. If JW squinted, it looked as though there were raisins spread out on the lid.
JW pulled out a baggie and carefully poured out about one-third of the contents in three piles on the mirror.
Nippe looked surprised. “You bought again this week?”
“Sure. But from another guy.”
“Okay. Better price than the towelhead?”
JW lied. “Not much, but nicer guy. I didn’t like that blatte. Thought he was trouble. I brought a lot tonight. If you know anyone who wants any, let me know.” He grinned, “Preferably ladies, of course.”
Nippe shaped the powder into three lines. “This is so ill. I’m getting horny just looking at these lines. I’m gonna fucking beat my own record tonight. At least three girls.”
JW looked at him. “Dude, no way. You’re insane. I thought it was pretty good when you got blown by two girls in the same night.”
“Sure, but tonight I’m on it. I can feel it in my cock. After this little dose of mirror magic, I’ll be scoring a hat trick. At least three girls are gonna taste the pinecone.”
“You’re ridiculous, man. Where do you go? In here?” Putte stubbed his cigarette against the toilet. Another raisin.
“Yes, my love. Here, or the ladies’ room. And now that it’s almost summertime, Humlegården Park is prime real estate.”
JW wanted to be like him, Nippe, Stureplan’s uncrowned prince of BJs. With a profound self-assurance that always showed-no matter the situation, he radiated confidence. But sometimes JW wondered how deep it really ran. Like, did Nippe really think he was God’s gift to women, or was he just such a damn good actor that he even convinced himself? Whichever it was, it made him someone with edge, the guy everyone talked about. Someone JW wanted to be. And still, he didn’t want to be him-the guy could be such a tool.
Nippe pulled a bill out of his back pocket. Rolled it Hollywood-style, leaned over, and vacuumed the mirror.
JW and Putte followed suit.
The powder hit right away. White dynamite.
He lost the boyz out on the dance floor. The music pounded. Bob Sinclair in autotune: “Love Generation.” A smoke machine hummed in the corner. Strobe lights flashed. The world in movie snippets. Scene one: the chicks, top of the line. Cut: A chick swings her arm over her head. Cut: The same chick’s cleavage is pressed up against JW’s face.
Kharma was a class-A meat market-for the crème de la crème.
He got lit, hot. Felt like he was running on 98-octane gas. JW wanted to dance, touch, grope, hump. Most of all, he wanted to explode. He got an erection so rock-hard, a cat could’ve sharpened its claws on him.
He kicked ten times more than usual with his legs. Strutted.
The feeling was so crisp: He was the best, horniest, smartest. Coolest. They’d see.
Another girl came toward him. Kissed him on the cheek. Yelled in his ear, “Hey, JW! What’s up? Did you guys have a good time the other weekend?”
JW pulled his head back. Clicked into focus. “Sophie. You look so pretty tonight. Are you here with the rest of the girls?”
“Yes, everyone except Louise. She’s in Denmark. Come to our table and say hi.”
They held hands. He was pulled along.
His gaze swept over the people at the table. Four insanely hot girls were seated in a row, dressed in tops that revealed more than they covered. The dominating colors: pink, purple, turquoise. All with push-up bras or boob jobs, tight blue jeans or short skirts.
Straighten up now, JW-fucking focus.
Nippe was already sitting at the table, had his arm around one of the girls. Buttering her up, joking, gazing deep into her eyes. JW thought, Which number was she in line? Damn it, could he have scored one already?
JW sat down. On the table was a “banker tray”: an ice bucket with a handle of vodka and smaller bottles of Schweppes tonic, ginger ale, soda water. JW got one of the basic rules confirmed: You drink hard stuff or bubbles. No beer.
It was hard to talk over the music. Sophie poured him a vodka tonic. JW sipped, stirred, picked up an ice cube with his fingers and popped it in his mouth. Sucked on it, hard. Sophie looked at him and sipped her drink.
He went over Abdulkarim’s advice silently to himself. Start by handing out freebies. Make friends by being generous, friends who like coke. Friends with cash or other friends with cash. Try to make sure people take as little as possible at the club-it’s an unsafe environment. Go to after parties instead. Organize after parties. Deliver to B-list celebs at after parties. Use at home. Don’t sell too-large quantities in the beginning-you don’t want to create a secondhand market.
Nippe leaned over and started talking to Sophie. JW couldn’t hear what they were saying. He dug the rush instead, unbuttoned another button on his shirt and gulped his drink. Felt how sharp his thoughts were-like a Mach3 razor blade.
JW had his own ideas. He wouldn’t carry too much at a time. If he was picked up, he wanted to be able to claim it was for his own use. He hid the rest in smart places. When he sold out: home for more. No problem, Stureplan was close enough to Tessin Park. Even more important: keep his buds well heeled so they didn’t question too much why he’d always be the one delivering from now on.
Sophie leaned over and brushed JW’s ear with her lips. He shuddered.
She said straight out, “Nippe says you’ve got Charlie. Can I taste some?”
Silently, JW thanked Nippe. This was an opening. Play your cards right now. Don’t make a big deal about it.
“Sure,” he said. “I have some left over. Bring your friend Anna and we’ll go to Humlegården.”
They held hands again, pushed through the crowd. Past the golden boys, the silicone babes, the Yugo Mafia dudes, and the corporate schmucks.
The Eurodisco beats kept pumping.
They walked toward the exit. It was packed by the cash registers. Jet Set Carl was there, keeping watch over the cash flow. But his real, more important job was to hug, smile, introduce, make small talk, laugh, flirt. Jet Set Carl had control. Jet Set Carl had style. The money poured in. JW took note: He’s a good contact for the future.
He walked up. Positioned himself with Sophie and her friend Anna on either side and extended his hand. Jet Set Carl raised his eyebrows. “And you are…” JW was prepared. Replied, “Nippe Creutz’s friend, you know.”
JW saw a flicker of recognition in his eyes. But maybe it wasn’t genuine recognition. One of Jet Set Carl’s most valuable skills was making people feel welcome and well treated, even though he didn’t remember them or have any idea who they were. Some called it two-faced. JW called it business-minded.
JW pulled some quick, prepared one-liners. Followed by mutual laughter. Carl checked out JW’s entourage: two hot chicks-he’d made the right move. He explained that they were only getting some air but would be coming back in. Carl nodded. JW fired off a couple more jokes. They connected. Good vibes. Jet Set Carl looked happy.
JW to himself: Nice work, JW.
They stepped out. It was 2:00 a.m. The line was gigantic, hysteric, chaotic. He made a deal with a bouncer that they’d be back soon. Humlegården Park stretched out in front of them, still dark green even though the sky was beginning to brighten. The sounds from the line could be heard en baisse. The girls were ready to go. They sat down on a park bench. Made some lame jokes. The air was cool; the sweat dried on their bodies. JW jabbered on, showered them with compliments, put in the highest charm gear possible. He played confidant, on their side. “Damn, you two look good tonight. Have you seen any sweet guys? Nippe’s pretty hot, isn’t he? I can set you up, Sophie.” And so on, and so on. Sophie was brutally beautiful. He wanted her.
He knew them, but still not really. The girls belonged to the clique from Lundsberg, an elite boarding school. A school with the motto Knowledge, Tradition, Community. They all had the same first names as their parents and their parents before them. JW was used to most things from hanging with the boyz. Knew the jargon and the etiquette. He ought to have a chance.
Anna giggled. “Didn’t you have something for us to taste?”
JW said, “Absolutely. I almost forgot.” He hadn’t wanted to be too pushy. Waited for them to ask.
He brought out an etui with a mirror, the flip kind. The baggie was ready in his jacket pocket. He poured out a pile and cut it with a razor blade-three thin lines. Presented the girls with a polished-steel snort straw. He glanced around, then handed over the straw.
Fifteen minutes later, the girls went inside. The bouncer remembered them. Girls like Sophie and Anna would’ve gotten in no matter what-they glided through the line like Moses through the Red Sea.
JW stayed in the park, wanted more nose candy by himself.
Everything was going so damn well. The girls seemed pleased. High, bouncy, and filled with spontaneity. It was a good start. JW’s first step into the C world. C as in cash.
It could only get better.
The sky was pale gray.
The glass-covered ramp connecting two sections of the Royal Library in the park seemed to glisten. JW usually studied there when he wasn’t studying at home. He’d seen Sophie there many times. Had learned to recognize the click of her heels on the floor when she walked between different reading rooms, had checked out her girlfriends, seen which guys she said hi to. And after a time, it turned out that he actually already knew some of the people in her group. The circles were smaller than he’d thought.
He brought out the etui and held the straw in his hand.
That’s when he saw it.
The motor sounded like a nuclear power plant as it blew past down Sturegatan, a tear through the Stockholm night.
A yellow Ferrari.
His first thought: The model looks the same as the one in Camilla’s pictures.
His second thought: There can hardly be more than one car like that in all of Stockholm.
The memory of his sister washed over him.
He had to know.
Who owned that car?
* * *
DISTRICT COURT OF STOCKHOLM
District Attorney Markus Sjöberg
Stockholm District Attorney’s Office
1. Joakim Berggren, 740816-0939
126 52 HÄGERSTEN
2. Daniel Lappalainen, 801205-2175
117 27 STOCKHOLM
1. Patrik Sjöquist, 760417-0351
118 53 STOCKHOLM
2. Mrado Slovovic, 670203-9115
Katarina Bangata 37
116 39 STOCKHOLM
Martin Thomasson, Esq.
112 31 STOCKHOLM
Subsection 3, Paragraph 6
Prison, 3 years.
CHARGE ON APPEAL
Count 2 (Mrado Slovovic, regarding assault)
GROUNDS FOR THE DECISION
COUNT 1 (PATRIK SJÖQUIST, THIRD-DEGREE ASSAULT)
The prosecutor has as written evidence, referred to a medical report regarding injuries incurred by Joakim Berggren. The report is in reference to, among other things, a fracture in the nasal bone, a crushing of the jawbone in two places, a fracture in the right cheekbone, torn skin in five places, bruises and swelling on cheeks and forehead, bruising around the right eye, swelling and tearing of the lips, four severed teeth in the upper front row, as well as bleeding in the brain, severe swelling of the brain, and brain contusion.
As verbal evidence, the prosecutor has referred to the statement of the witness Joakim Berggren, the statement of the witness Peter Hallén, security guard at restaurant Kvarnen, as well as the statement of the witness Christer Thräff, guest at the previously named restaurant at the time of the incident.
The plaintiff Joakim Berggren has, among other things, said the following: The three men, Patrik Sjöquist, Mrado Slovovic, and Ratko Markewitsch, came to restaurant Kvarnen at around 0120 on August 23 of this year. The security guard who was working the line at the door, Jimmy Andersson, informed Berggren through the internal communication system that the three men had acted in a hostile manner and had demanded to speak with the person in charge of the coat check. Jimmy Andersson chose to let them in. Berggren understood that the three men belonged to the so-called Coat Check Mob, a segment of Stockholm’s organized-crime world that seeks to make money on different restaurants’ and bars’ coat-check business. He therefore informed them that Kvarnen was not interested. Despite this, he welcomed them into the restaurant. The three men acted aggressively. Among other things, Patrik Sjöquist said that they refused to leave the venue if they were not permitted to speak to the person in charge of the coat check. After approximately two minutes, the men entered the venue without having spoken to anyone regarding the coat check. Berggren continued to work the coat check and the door. At around 0300, he went to the rest room to urinate. Patrik Sjöquist entered the rest room. Shortly thereafter, the other two men also came in. Berggren was standing at one of the urinals. Patrik Sjöquist went up to him and headbutted him across the nasal bone. He believes the nose was broken. After that, Patrik Sjöquist grabbed hold of Berggren’s hair and hit his head against the side of the urinal. Thereafter, Patrik Sjöquist pounded Berggren’s head against the edge of the urinal at least three times. He remembers that Patrik Sjöquist yelled, “You fucking fag” and “This is what happens to people like you.” Shortly thereafter, Berggren lost consciousness.
In response to the charges, the defendant Patrik Sjöquist has made the following claims. He was threatened by Joakim Berggren, who said that “he would grind him to a pulp if he ever set foot in Kvarnen again.” The reason for this was that Patrik Sjöquist had refused to check his coat. He believes that is the reason that Joakim Berggren believes that he belongs to some so-called Coat Check Mob. Later, he went to the bathroom to urinate. Inside the bathroom, he was shoved in the chest by Joakim Berggren. He tried to defend himself and there was a scuffle. He is not able to remember exactly what happened, but he knows that he received several punches and, in turn, hit Joakim Berggren. He is claiming self-defense against Joakim Berggren’s assault. However, he admits that he hit Joakim Berggren in the face with at most three blows. The reason for this is that he was protecting himself and acted in self-defense. He does not believe that he pounded Joakim Berggren’s head on the urinal. He would not do something like that. After that, the two other persons ran into the bathroom. Sjöquist did not know that they were security guards. One of them began to fight with Mrado Slovovic. Sjöquist does not know why. He was inebriated at the time.
DISTRICT COURT’S JUDGMENT
The security guard Peter Hallén has recounted, among other things, that he saw Patrik Sjöquist holding Joakim Berggren by the neck when he entered the bathroom. He also saw how Mrado Slovovic “wrestled” one of the other security guards, Daniel Lappalainen, to the floor and put his leg in a lock. The restaurant guest Christer Thräff has recounted how he heard Patrik Sjöquist yell to Joakim Berggren that he would “teach him a lesson,” as well as that he saw how Patrik Sjöquist head-butted Joakim Berggren. The witnesses’ testimonies appear to be reliable. The District Court further believes that Joakim Berggren’s testimony is reliable. For example, he has described details regarding what Patrik Sjöquist yelled. His testimony is supported by the medical reports and by the testimonies of witnesses Peter Hallén and Christer Thräff.
Patrik Sjöquist sustained no reported injuries and also did not consult a doctor after the incident in question. The witness Christer Thräff has recounted that it was Patrik Sjöquist who, unprovoked, head-butted Joakim Berggren. This leads the District Court to believe that Patrik Sjöquist’s testimony is unreliable.
In summation, the District Court finds Patrik Sjöquist guilty of assaulting Joakim Berggren, consistent with the prosecution’s allegations. Patrik Sjöquist did not act in self-defense. The assault was of an unusually ruthless nature and shall be judged as aggravated assault, since it included repeated blows to the head, with severe injuries as a result. The charges are supported and will therefore be accepted. The crime shall be labeled aggravated assault.
Patrik Sjöquist has seven previous convictions on his criminal record. Most recently, he was convicted for assault by Nacka District Court and sentenced to four months in prison. His record also includes a previous conviction for assault as well as unlawful threats, hate crime, illegal possession of arms, illegal doping, and various traffic infractions. Based on medical records by court-appointed doctors, it is clear that Patrik Sjöquist lives in an orderly way. He is employed as a construction worker and spends a great deal of his free time on so-called body-building. He has a yearly income of around 200,000 kronor. There is no present need for surveillance. Patrik Sjöquist has agreed to community service.
Considering the severity of the crime and the aggravating factors discussed supra, no alternative sentence to imprisonment is available. The sentence shall therefore be set at three years in prison.
COUNT 2 (MRADO SLOVOVIC; ASSAULT)
The prosecutor has, as verbal evidence, referred to the statements/questioning of the plaintiff, security guard Daniel Lappalainen, as well as to the questioning of the witness, security guard Peter Hallén.
Daniel Lappalainen has, among other things, recounted the following. He does not know if he was wearing his security guard’s badge at the time of the incident. He understood that there was something “going on” in the men’s bathroom. When he entered it, he saw Joakim Berggren lying on the floor. There was blood on the wall and on Joakim Berggren’s face. There were a number of people in the bathroom. He yelled at everyone to stay in the bathroom. One man ran past him out the door. Another man, Mrado Slovovic, grabbed hold of his leg, so that he lost his balance. Mrado Slovovic then put his foot in a lock. It hurt a great deal. He thought that Mrado Slovovic would break off his foot. Then Mrado Slovovic told him that “Kvarnen would be visited again” and that “Joakim Berggren had messed with the wrong guys.” After that, Mrado Slovovic and Patrick Sjöquist left the venue.
The security guard Peter Hallén’s version of events is the same as under Count 1.
In response to the charges, the defendant, Mrado Slovovic, has made the following statement. The security guard Joakim Berggren had been very unpleasant to his friend Patrik Sjöquist earlier during the night. When Mrado Slovovic came into the men’s bathroom, he saw that the situation was generally tumultuous and that a fight was going on between Joakim Berggren and Patrik Sjöquist. He was on his way to break up the scuffle when two men entered the bathroom. Mrado Slovovic did not realize that they were security guards. One of the men, Daniel Lappalainen, must have thought that Mrado Slovovic was involved in the fight, because he tried to “wrestle” him to the floor. At that point, Mrado Slovovic became very frightened. Mrado Slovovic succeeded in freeing himself from Daniel Lappalainen’s grasp. He may have grabbed Daniel Lappalainen’s foot in order to tear himself away, but it was not hard. Daniel Lappalainen was not wearing a security guard’s badge and Mrado did not realize that he was a security guard.
DISTRICT COURT’S JUDGMENT
Daniel Lappalainen and Mrado Slovovic’s versions of events differ when it comes to who attacked whom and whether or not Mrado Slovovic injured Daniel Lappalainen’s foot in self-defense. Both have given believable accounts. Daniel Lappalainen’s version is supported by the security guard Peter Hallén’s testimony regarding the fact that it was Mrado Slovovic who “wrestled” Daniel Lappalainen to the ground. Mrado Slovovic’s version is supported by Patrik Sjöquist’s account that it was the security guard who began to fight with Mrado Slovovic.
According to Swedish law, the defendant’s claims shall form the basis of the Court’s judgment unless they are refuted by the prosecutor. In instant case, this is a situation of one man’s word against another’s, and both versions have certain support in the observations of others. It should also be noted that there is no medical record that supports the claim that Daniel Lappalainen’s leg was injured. However, it shall be regarded as irrefutable that the general conditions in the bathroom at Kvarnen were tumultuous. A scuffle had arisen in this situation, and it is possible that it was unclear who attacked whom. It will be considered confirmed that Mrado Slovovic entered the bathroom at a later point than Patrik Sjöquist and therefore may have interpreted the situation differently. Even if Mrado Slovovic did, in fact, injure Daniel Lappalainen’s leg in the alleged way, this may have been defensible if Mrado Slovovic did indeed perceive that he was attacked and therefore acted in so-called putative self-defense; in other words, he believed he was in danger of becoming the victim of a criminal act. It is also not clear whether or not Daniel Lappalainen was wearing his security guard’s badge. Mrado Slovovic’s claim that he did not realize that Daniel Lappalainen was a security guard should therefore be given due consideration. In conclusion, the District Court finds that the prosecution was unable to prove the alleged act. The charges will therefore be dropped.
TO APPEAL, see attached information (DV 400). An appeal should be made to Svea Court of Appeals and be submitted to the District Court no later than three weeks from today.
On behalf of the District Court
Mrado in the serene suburb-like a penguin in the jungle. Didn’t fit in. Wrong habitat. Wrong climate. Wrong size. Attracted stares. A relief that Radovan invited him over to his house relatively seldom.
He couldn’t find a parking spot. The risk of not making it on time was increasing. He drove in circles. Kept his eyes peeled. Maybe someone was on their way to their car to drive off. Improvised with streets. Like a rookie. No structure. No success.
He was busy worrying about other stuff.
No open legal spot to park his Mercedes SL 500. Finally, he parked the car too close to a pedestrian crossing. Ticket bait. Whatever. It was leased. Parking tickets would go to the leasing company.
Mrado walked up to Radovan’s house.
The house: a long one-story, almost four thousand square feet. White walls and a flat roof with black panels. Door and window frames in dark wood. Well-groomed garden during the summer. Fuchsias, perennials, rhododendrons. Now on their way to the inevitable fall brown. The property was surrounded by a wooden fence about five feet tall. Roses grew along the inner periphery. It looked peaceful, boring, and harmless from the outside. Mrado knew that it was heavily guarded from the inside.
“Dobre dosao, come on in, Mrado.”
Stefanovic, Rado’s jack-of-all-trades, opened the door. Led Mrado through the house.
Radovan was seated in a leather armchair in the library. Dapper as always. Dark blue blazer. Light-colored corduroys. Well coiffed. The furrows/scars on his face spelled out the word respect.
Dark wallpaper. Tall as well as short bookcases along the walls. On the walls, above the shelves: framed maps, paintings, and religious icons. Europe and the Balkans. Lovely Donau. The Battle of Kosovo Polje. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. History’s heroes. Portraits of Karayorye. The Holy Sava. Most of all-maps of Serbia-Montenegro.
Stefanovic left them alone.
Radovan, in Serbian: “Welcome.”
“The pleasure is all mine. We don’t see each other that often.” Mrado remained standing.
“Have a seat, for Christ’s sake. No, we don’t see each other that often. I guess that’s for the best. But we talk on the phone.”
“Of course. As often as you like.”
“Mrado, let’s skip the pleasantries. You know me-I express myself plainly. No frills. That doesn’t mean it’s personal. I think you know how I feel about what happened at Kvarnen.”
“I think I do.”
“A total clusterfuck. Shit like that just can’t happen. I trust you, and you’ve made a fool of yourself. Now the whole situation’s hysterical. Do you understand what the hell you’ve done? The blowback could be war.”
“I’m incredibly sorry, Rado. I misjudged the situation. I take full responsibility for what happened.”
In Mrado’s head: The whole shit show was really Patrik’s fault. But there’s no point in blaming others. If you’re in charge, you’re responsible.
Radovan said, “Well, you fuckin’ better. Anything else would be crazy. You know our situation. That skinhead you used, Patrik, was convicted of aggravated assault. He can’t call or write when he wants. No information goes in or out. We don’t know shit about what he’s saying about us in there. You can’t trust just anyone. For your sake, you better hope the fucker’s no canary. For our sake, too.”
“I think it’s cool.”
“You’ve done good all these years. And now this? Why didn’t you stop that unprofessional skin faggot? The police can crack that guy easier than an egg in a frying pan. What’s more? Hells Angels, Bandidos, Boman, or someone else can flip their shit. The relations between the factions in this city are tense enough as is. Things can’t get worse.”
Mrado was usually Mr. Hard Ass. But Rado was the kind of man that people, even the Yugo Mafia, lowered their voices around and avoided eye contact with. Mrado felt the worry grow in the pit of his stomach. Radovan was really angry. Pulsating thought: Can’t fuck up my relationship with Radovan. Repeat: Can’t fuck up my relationship with Radovan.
On the other hand, Mrado more than pulled his weight. Worked the coat checks, racketeering, and more. Remembered the time under Dragan Joksovic, when he and Rado’d been equals. Colleagues in Jokso’s monopoly of violence. Now Radovan was sitting there saying that he’d “done good all these years.” What bullshit. Radovan was the one who’d done good under Jokso. It was repulsive: Radovan was playing God.
What’s more: Mrado’s cut these days wasn’t big enough. Rado let him in on too little. Most important, too little of the profits. As if they didn’t have a past. As if R.’d always been at the top of the ladder.
But now he had to grovel pretty. Think constructively. Come up with solutions. Subtle mood fixers.
“Rado, Patrik’s good. On my honor. Yeah, he’s a hothead, still too impulsive, but he’s no rat. He’s cool. He knows the rules. I’m not worried about that.”
“That’s good news. But we could be in shit up to our knees all the same. Patrik’s dumb. The guy needs Google Maps to find his own dick. There’re a couple possible scenarios. The first is that the pigs press the skinhead till he serves our asses on a plate. Then they’re gonna start the world’s biggest fucking investigation, cops swarming every bar we’ve got stakes in. Maybe we’ll have to shut down a whole lot of our businesses, pull out. Another scenario is that HA, Göran Boman, or someone else flips ’cause the strategy we’ve been pushing on the coat-check front’s too heavy on the artillery. We don’t want to make the situation any worse than it is, Mrado, and you, of all people, know that. Four of our guys went down in the last round. And let’s not even get into what happened to you. I know war. All of me’s a fucking war. You know the balance-after Jokso, no one’s allowed to be king. Between us, Mrado, they can forget about it. But this is no time to rock the boat.”
“A good analysis, Rado. As always. Allow me to offer some additional ideas. Want to hear them?”
“Absolutely. That’s also why we’re getting together now. What’re you thinking?”
“Patrik knows the drill. Knows our code. Rats catch cold. Only a couple days ago, he saw what happened to a dude at the gym who was acting up. And that was no little guy, either. The skinhead gets it. If he snitches, he won’t live long enough to make it to the joint’s unguarded urinals and back. Trust me, I know a lot of people who’ve been taken down in the Tidaholm pen. But that won’t happen, him snitching.”
Mrado’d been thinking. Loaded up on ideas. Helicopter perspective. Big-picture perspective. Future perspective. Possibility. Expansion flexibility. Radovan wanted to be king. He had potential. At the same time-Mrado wanted to bring up his cut of the coat-check business.
“We can’t lose the coat checks. Since we put it in high gear last year, that business has yielded around three hundred thousand per month in the winter season and just under one hundred fifty thousand per month in the summer. We’ve got about twenty places. The more places we can control, the more people’ll get used to paying a fee. Finally, every little shit pub in this city’ll be able to charge people something to check their stuff. The crux is what we do with the gold. The coat checks are perfect. We operate cash only. Big Brother doesn’t have a chance in hell to calculate our revenue. All salaries are under the table. The places themselves don’t declare a cent anyway.”
Radovan smiled. He loved cash talk. Squinted. Brought out paper and pen. Calculator. He already knew the numbers. He already knew the advantages. He already knew the money had to be laundered. But Mrado knew that Radovan liked to hear what Radovan already knew.
“It works well, Mrado. I agree, we’ve got laundry issues right now. We need to get rid of the money somewhere. Clara’s and Diamond can’t swallow the kind of sums the coat-check business brings in. We need more companies. In a way, it’s a luxury problem. Sign that business is booming.”
Mrado replied, “Video-rental stores would work, I think. Big Brother can never find out how many movies we actually rent out. We’ll inflate the returns as much as we want. I can do it. I’ve done it before. If it gets messy after all and the state starts getting suspicious, someone else’s head’ll fall. A straw man.”
“Right on. Who?”
“Someone with no folding history. Not a total tool, but someone who doesn’t have a lot to lose, either. I’ll get on it. But the fall guy doesn’t really protect if Big Bro wants the laundry money back. Mostly protects against bankruptcy if we get hit with fat tax debt or something. But you don’t want to get your name dirty with suspicious bankruptcies that’ll nix your trade license. This’ll be perfect.”
“You know this. Start tomorrow.”
Stefanovic knocked. Brought in chai tea and biscotti. Radovan leaned back. Dipped the biscotti in his tea. Like a Sven. Smacked his lips. They made some small talk about Radovan’s daughter. She was starting school. Private school, inner-city school, the suburban school-what was best? Mrado vented his own shit. That he saw Lovisa too seldom. The custody battle with the mother. Rado-style: asked if there was anything he could do. Mrado thought, Hell no. If Social Services finds out you’re in the picture, my custody battle is shot.
Two real Persian carpets on the floor. Radovan’d decorated this as his classicist room. The books on the shelves were mostly for show. On the shelves: encyclopedias and map books. Collected works by Serbian writers. Mrado didn’t even recognize the names: Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, Sima Milutinović Sarajlija, Kraljević Marko. Only one was familiar: the Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić.
Mrado thought about his teacher in Native Language Studies class, who’d gotten him to read Ivo Andrić. A year later, he was Södertälje’s toughest fist.
Radovan set down his glass of chai.
“The smokes business is going well. Goran’s good. But in the long run, we can’t rely on it. Society at large is against smoking these days. The ban on cigarettes at restaurants is catastrophic, the new pictures of black lungs are repulsive, and increased customs control with non-EU countries is devastating.”
“You’re right, but it’s important that we maintain our contacts with the teamsters. The logistics wouldn’t be easy to build back up from scratch. Soon all of the Balkans will open up with EU membership. Heroin is eight times cheaper there. Even if it rises somewhat, we’ve got to be prepared. The same truckers who drive smokes today can drive brown sugar tomorrow.”
They kept the discussion going. Went through all of Radovan’s businesses and projects: cigarette and booze smuggling, the debt collectors, drugs, the Jack Vegas gambling machine fakes, the apartment brothel, the call-service hookers.
And then the semilegal ones: Clara’s, the bar, and the Diamond, a nightclub. Laundromats.
The abstract read cash flow, rising dough, money that had to be taxed to come back clean. The bar and nightclub didn’t cut it. Radovan had to appear like a law-abiding, respectable citizen.
The conclusion: They definitely needed two video-rental stores. Maybe more.
All along, Mrado had wanted to get to the question of his cut of the coat checks.
Finally, he raised the tea glass to his lips and tried to drink from it, even though it was obviously empty. Hoped he’d softened Radovan up enough.
“Rado, I also want to talk about the economics of the coat checks.”
Radovan looked up from the number-covered papers that were spread out in front of him. “And what exactly do you mean by that?”
“Maybe I didn’t handle this whole Patrik thing too well. But I’m taking responsibility for it and I do a good job. We just went over the numbers. They point straight up. What’ll my cut be?”
Mrado tried to push it. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Mrado, let me make one thing clear. You don’t make the rules here. No matter how fucking brilliant your business ideas are, they’re all mine. No matter how well you do your business, in the end it’s my cash. We’ll have a discussion about your piece of the pie when I feel like it. Let’s not ruin a good night with that kind of thing. I’m going to forget what you just asked me, okay?”
Mrado, speechless. How could he have made such a miscalculation? And he’d groveled like a fucking faggot begging to be reamed just to ask the question about his cut. Another thought took hold: One day, someone else will be king of the hill.
It was eight o’clock. They moved to the dining room. Radovan’s wife came home. Made small talk with Radovan and Mrado for half an hour. She was thin. Mrado thought she was the most beautiful Serbian woman he’d ever seen.
She ate in the kitchen with the daughter.
Radovan acted irreproachably. As though Mrado’s question’d never been asked.
The mood went back to normal.
They uncorked a Burgundy from 1994. Radovan tasted it. “I’m assuming you already know this, but Jorge Salinas Barrio fled the coop.”
“Ratko told me. I think some rag had a story on it last week, too. It didn’t say much, but apparently he hopped over the wall. Impressive.”
“It’s a bad thing he’s out. We wrapped him at the trial. He might be sitting on a whole mess of shit about our blow business. From what I’ve gathered, he’s pissed at us, and his life is pretty shitty right now. On the run, not a lot of friends. He might decide to do something stupid. I honestly don’t know how much he knows. Do you?”
“Not really. But I know what you mean. What should we do?”
“Nothing yet. But if he tries anything, we gotta stop him. Remind him who’s boss. Rough him up. Right, Mrado, the way we deal with troublemakers?”
Mrado stared down at his wineglass. Was that last statement referring to how Rado was going to treat him if he kept making demands? Either way, the Jorge thug should get it right now. The Latino was a threat to the Yugos.
Mrado had other things to think about. Deal with the coat checks after the Kvarnen fiasco, find a front man to build up the money-laundering biz, fight for his daughter. The Latino’d have to wait.
What’s more: no point in overstepping Radovan’s bounds, taking things into his own hands. Their relationship already felt strained enough.
He’d wait for a green light before he went after that Jorge fucker.
And their strained relationship-he had to think about that.
Jorge the man, rey de los bandidos, blew the popo outta the water. The 5-0 could drag their bloodhounds around. Forget it-they weren’t finding Jorge-boy.
He was out. He was loose. He was the city’s slickest slumdog.
He thought about how the gab must be rolling. The man who ran faster than Ben Johnson. The man who screwed the screws up the ass with his smarts. The man who caged out of Österåker with the help of a couple of bedsheets and a hook from a basketball hoop. Slam dunk. Gracias y adiós.
The man. The myth. The legend.
And they didn’t have a fuckin’ clue.
Jorge’s plans before the break had been well oiled. His plan now: stay alive, and stay free. Get cash. Bust the border. In other words: not much of a plan.
Santo Sergio’d delivered the ladder at the right place. Hauled ass to his car and driven outta the woods before Jorge’d even gotten halfway over the clearing. He’d parked the other car perfectly.
Fugitivo fantástico. A Latino with balls.
Jorge’d driven like a maniac down the forest road. Like a back-road racer. The COs missed his curveball, didn’t see him get in the car. Thought he was still booking it on foot. He’d planned it that way. The road forked three times. By the time the screws realized he was on wheels, it’d probably take them an hour to figure out which road he’d taken. Out on the highway. Past Åkersberga. Exit. Into the woods. That’s where he’d met Sergio. Sergio’d jacked the car that he’d left waiting for Jorge three days earlier. They dumped it. A tank of gas in the trunk. Torched it. Not worth waiting around to watch the flames.
That’s where the trail ended: deep in Hansel and Gretel land.
If the 5-0 even got that far.
He’d arrived at the apartment at two-thirty in the morning. They’d waited all night in the car until the coast was clear-wanted to avoid neighbors seeing Jorge go in. They ate falafel, drank Coke and coffee. Listened to Hit FM. Chatted. Stayed awake. Jorge chillin’, coming down off the adrenaline high.
The following days: Jorge could live in the empty apartment. It belonged to Sergio’s aunt. The old lady’d been in a retirement home since seven weeks back.
The deal: Jorge could stay for ten days tops. Jorge couldn’t so much as wiggle a foot out the door. Jorge had to lay subterranean low. After that, he could do what he liked, but he had to pay Sergio back for everything-he’d sworn his life on it.
Jorge was grateful. Sergio was an angel. Had already done more than anyone. Sacrificed. Gambled. Taken risks. Like family oughta do for one other, but what no one’d ever done for him. He was planning on staying no more than a week.
Shut in the apartment. Heavy-he was supposed to be free. Now this, caged again. The only difference between this and the cell at Österåker was a few additional square feet. He had to prepare for his new life on the run.
Jorge let his beard grow. Cut his hair. Dyed it blacker.
He asked Sergio to buy small curlers and perm solution: thio balance perm. Read the instructions over and over, all the fine print. Stood over the bathtub. Rinsed his hair under the water. Carefully rolled his hair on the curlers. Good thing no one was watching. Felt like a real fairy.
Practiced a new walk. Tried to disguise his voice as much as possible.
Jorge knew: People instinctively recognize you by your body language, the way you walk, talk, run your hand through your hair, and smile. Your unconscious tics. The way you use certain expressions. Rodriguez’s only good deed, according to Jorge: The dude’d recorded home videos of him and Paola when they were kids. Two completely different people: a boy and a girl, sinewy and graceful, angular and round. And still, their body language was almost identical. Jorge remembered. Codes of character more dangerous than looks.
Change that kind of stuff, Jorge-boy-fast as fuck.
The apartment was rough. He wanted out. Took down the mirror from the hall and propped it up against the wall in the living room. Walked around from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. that first day with Marge Simpson hair and rehearsed new moves. Practiced new tics. Practiced new lingo.
After twelve hours, his new hair-curly. It wasn’t as kinky as he’d hoped, even though he’d kept the rollers in double the instructed time.
He smeared himself with self-tanner: Piz Buin, the darkest kind. According to the directions on the back of the tube, the color would last for three days. Should work.
Finally, the total effect: he looked like a zambo-el zambo macanudo. A lip and nose job and his own mother wouldn’t even know him.
Blinds shut. A constant pale gray light in the room.
The apartment was small-two rooms and a kitchen. There was a narrow bed with no sheets in the bedroom. Jorge thought they’d have that kind of stuff in the retirement home, but they seemed to have emptied every drawer when they picked up the old lady. The living room had a couch, a TV, a rug, and a dark wood coffee table in it. There was a yellow glass lamp suspended from the ceiling. The bookshelves were filled with family photos, postcards from Chile, and books. Mostly in Spanish. He caught himself wondering if she’d had a family. Tried to check out the postcards. Read a few. Got bored after a while. The Asics shoes hadn’t cut it. His foot still hurt. It might be sprained.
Midday, he rang the doorbells of the neighbors over, under, and next to him. Hid in the stairwell in case they opened. No one was home. He could watch TV.
Lowered the volume anyway. There was no cable. Listened to the news. Nothing about him. He watched reruns, matinee movies, and shopping shows. Got nervous.
Kept practicing his new walk. Nail the rhythm. Swing your arms. His right leg made an extra little swerve with each step. Nigga with attitude. Walk with soul. Movements with flow. Don’t overdo it; make it seem real. Felt as if he’d moved like this all his life. Had it in his blood. From birth.
He read the evening papers that Sergio’d brought with him. They hadn’t written much about the escape. Just a short article in Expressen on the first day after and a small notice in Aftonbladet.
According to Expressen:
A man convicted of possession with intent escaped from the Österåker Penitentiary on Thursday afternoon under spectacular circumstances. One of the correctional officers told Expressen that the fugitive, Jorge Salinas Barrio, was not a troublemaker and that the staff did not suspect that he was planning an escape. According to a source at the facility, Jorge Salinas Barrio climbed over the exterior wall with help from the outside. Then he is said to have run toward the woods, where it is probable that a car was waiting for him. The same source stated that the fugitive had been training long-distance running in what is described as a “manic” way for months before the incident. The prison administration has expressed self-criticism over what has happened, though they are pleased that the incident involved very little violence.
After the wave of escapes in 2004 when, among others, Tony Olsson, convicted of the murder of a police officer in Malexander, succeeded in escaping on two separate occasions during the same year, the control and security at the country’s penitentiaries have been improved. After yesterday’s incident, the Criminal Investigation Department has given word that an eventual investigation will be implemented to further heighten the level of security at penitentiaries of this kind.
Jorge smiled. So, they’d thought his training was exaggerated. Wonder what they’d thought about his studies at the city library? Had they even connected the dots?
There was nothing in the papers on day two. He was disappointed. At the same time, relieved-the less attention the better.
He missed running. Disliked the silence. Was scared his endurance and his fit body would break down.
Time slower than a Prius without a plug-in. He tried to plan. Jacked off. Peered between the blinds. Got nervous. Practiced the new Jorge over and over again. Listened for suspicious sounds on the street or in the stairwell. Fantasized about his success abroad.
Boredom: ten times worse than in the slammer.
He slept poorly. Woke up. Listened. Raised the blinds. Stared through the peephole in the door.
Paced. Looked himself in the mirror. Who would he become?
Jorge’s dilemma: The blow biz was all he knew. But how could he get back into it without disclosing his identity? As Jorge, he was respected. Not as whatever his name would be now. It was a tough scene to break into solo. Impossible without support.
He needed a personal identification number and an address in order to hide behind a temporary identity. Besides, he wanted to jump stiles. If you got collared, you could always give someone else’s digits and address to placate the subway controllers.
What’s more, he had to find a tanning bed so he could cut the self-tanner. Needed contacts with a darker brown tint than his natural eye color. Needed more threads than the dingy tracksuit Sergio’d given him. Needed a cell phone. Needed to get in touch with certain people. Most of all, J-boy needed cash. He missed Paola. Wanted to call but knew he shouldn’t. It’d have to wait. After five days, he started wigging out. Thought every single car that stopped on the street was the 5-0. Sergio came that night; they talked the situation over. The cops hadn’t visited Sergio yet. Everything seemed cool. Jorge, still buggin’. Wanted out.
Sergio picked him up at 6:00 a.m. the next day. Jorge was totally spent. Hadn’t slept a wink. Had crawled around the apartment with a sponge, wiping every piece of hair and other possible traces of himself off the floor.
They drove to Kallhäll. Jorge asked Sergio to make a few extra loops to lose any eventual tails.
Sergio shook his head, “You tweakin’ out, primo.”
The next place for Jorge to sleep: a room at Sergio’s best bud’s place, Eddie’s. The advantage: If the cops were on his heels, they’d definitely lose the trail now. The downside: The circle of trust widened.
Really, the optimal thing would be to stay with people who didn’t know who he was, or who wouldn’t recognize him. You couldn’t fool Eddie. Laughed when he saw Jorge. El negrito. He was introduced to Eddie’s wife and two kids. Didn’t know squat about Jorge’s story. Not perfect, but okay.
Jorge lay on a bed for days on end. Listened to the kids crying. Studied the patterns on the ceiling. Thought about what it must’ve been like when his mom came to Sweden big with him. From the dictatorship. Alone with the memories. He was ashamed that he knew so little. Hadn’t asked enough.
The room was small. Belonged to one of the kids. Legos all over the floor. Kid posters on the walls. Some teen idols Jorge didn’t even recognize. Flowery curtains over the windows. He read comics. Wished he could play Eddie’s Xbox but didn’t dare leave the room. Yearned to be back in the old lady’s crib, but still knew he was safer where he was. Yearned for real freedom. Yearned to be out.
A few days later. Eddie knocked on the door at around 2:00 p.m. He should have been at work. Jorge knew right away: Something was wrong. Eddie was sweaty. His shoes were still on. His kids were screaming in the background.
“Jorge, you gotta go. They’ve picked Sergio up for questioning.”
“When? How do you know?”
“They called this morning and told him he had to show up before one p.m. He called me right away and said I had to tell you but that I couldn’t call.”
“Good. I’m the one that told him no calls. They can tap ’em, and God knows what else they can do. You weren’t followed?”
Eddie: not the world’s sharpest Latino. But he’d been around the block. Knew to keep a lookout.
Jorge started getting dressed. Besides the tracksuit, he’d borrowed a jacket from Sergio. Not much to pack: a tube of Piz Buin, the curlers, a toothbrush, two pairs of boxers, and an extra pair of socks. It’d all come from Sergio, along with five grand he’d borrowed.
Shoved the stuff into a plastic bag. Kissed Eddie on the cheeks. Waved to the screaming kids. Thanked the oldest niño for the use of his room. Hoped Eddie hadn’t told his wife his name or who he was.
He’d been on the run for ten days. Was it already going to hell?
Wrote a note in Spanish for Sergio, coded according to their agreement. Gave it to Eddie.
Stepped out of the apartment. Thought he heard a siren outside.
Opened the door to the street.
Looked around. No cars on the street. No people. Coast clear. Paranoid Latino on the run.
What the fuck was he gonna do now?
The air was getting chillier. September ninth. Jorge walked around the city all day. Downtown: Drottninggatan, Gamla Brogatan, Hötorget, Kungsgatan, Stureplan. Ate at McDonald’s. Window-shopped. Tried to check out chicas.
Couldn’t enjoy. Only stress. Whichever it was-OCD or rational security measures-he kept looking around like every hombre on the street was an undercover on the LO.
Get to know broken Jorge: El Jorgelito-a scared little shit. He wanted to call his sister. He wanted to talk to his mama. He almost wanted to go back to prison.
This wouldn’t fly; he had to wise up. Stop thinking about his mama and sister all the time. What the fuck was wrong with him anyway? Family’s everything, sure. That was rule número uno. But if you didn’t have a real family, if you had to take care of yourself, then other rules applied. He focused on the important stuff.
Nowhere to sleep and no bros/co-dees he could trust right now.
Five grand in his pocket. He could pay some old blow buddy to put him up for a few nights. But the risk was too big; they’d rat for anything, just show them the cheese.
He couldn’t stay at a motel. Probably too expensive. Besides, they’d want to see some kind of ID.
He could get in touch with his mama or his sister, but they were probably under surveillance by the cops and it was unnecessary to put them through that kind of crap.
During the days on the bed in the kid’s room, an idea had started to take shape: Go to a homeless shelter. Would solve the problem of needing a bed, but his need for cash remained. There was another, bigger idea, too. Dangerous. Dicey. He tried to push it away, since it involved Radovan.
Jorge asked some junkies downtown where he could sleep. They told him about two places: Stadsmissionen’s place by Slussen, Night Owl, and KarismaCare by Fridhemsplan.
He walked down to the Hötorget subway stop. It was eight o’clock at night. The turnstiles didn’t look like how he remembered them before he was locked up. Harder to jump. High Plexiglas barriers that slid open and closed like doors when you swiped your pass at the front of the turnstile. He didn’t want to waste money. He didn’t want to walk to Slussen. Risk analysis. The turnstiles were too high to jump. He glanced toward the guard in his booth: He was reading the paper. Seemed to care less about his job. He watched the flow of the crowd. Not a lot of people. He made loops. Navigated. Speculated. Calculated. Finally, a group of youngsters approached. He walked into their group. Slid along. Close behind a guy in his early twenties. There was a beep from the turnstile when it sensed that he’d slipped through behind someone. The guard didn’t give a fuck.
Rode to Slussen. Checked the address on a map in the subway station.
He was tired. Longed for a bed.
Rang the doorbell. Was let in.
It looked cozy. The reception desk was right by the entrance. Farther in: a group of tables and chairs, a sink and an oven against one wall. A TV stood in a corner. People sat and played cards. Chowed. Watched TV. Talked. No one so much as glanced at him. There was no one there that he recognized. No one there seemed to recognize him. Super.
The receptionist looked like the librarian at the city lib. Same style, same dowdy threads.
“Hi, can I help you?” she said, looking up from a crossword puzzle.
Jorge said, “Yeah, I’ve had some trouble finding a place to stay lately. Heard this is a good place.”
Put on that saccharine-sweet pity-me voice. He didn’t have to fake it. He was broken, for real. The woman seemed to get it. Social Services ladies/welfare officers/shrinks were always understanding. Jorge knew their kind.
“We’ve got some beds open, so it should be fine. Have you been without a residence for long?”
Converse. Be nice. Say something believable. “Not too long. About two weeks. It’s been rough. My girlfriend kicked me out.”
“That sounds difficult. But at least you can stay here for a few nights. Maybe things will work out with your girlfriend. In order for you to stay here, all I need is your name and personal identification number.”
“Do you really need that info? Why?” He thought, I do have a personal identification number. Can I give it out?
“I know that a lot of people may not want to disclose that kind of information, but even a place like this costs money. We’ll send an invoice directly to your social welfare officer, if you have one. Two hundred kronor per night. So, unfortunately, I’m going to need your personal identification number.”
Cunt. He couldn’t give her fake digits. No way it’d work.
“I can’t do that. I’d be happy to pay cash.”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t take any cash payments anymore. We stopped doing that two years ago. Maybe you should be in touch with your social welfare office?”
Fucking cunt fuck.
Jorge gave up. Said his thanks. Stepped back out on the street.
Regretted trying. Hoped he hadn’t raised any red flags.
Wondered if anyone’d recognized him. Looked at his reflection in a shop window. Black hair. Curly. His beard was getting longer. His skin darker than it really was. It should be enough.
A thermometer pointed to fourteen degrees Celsius.
Where would he sleep?
He thought about his other plan-his cash idea. Did he dare? Challenge Radovan.
JW counted the money again. Twenty-two thousand clean, and then he’d still partied like Paris Hilton four weekends in a row, and on top of that been able to buy a Canali blazer.
He weighed the forty-four five-hundred-kronor bills wrapped with a rubber band in the palm of his hand. Usually, he kept them hidden in a pair of socks in the closet. Selling coke paid well. He’d made the money in a month. Paid back his debt to Abdulkarim and passed his Financial Analysis exam, too.
Abdulkarim praised him, wanted him to work with coke full-time. The flattery warmed. The flattery fed him confidence and sweet dreams for the future. But JW declined-he was planning on doing it all: partying, dealing, studying.
The boyz’d accepted that he provided the goods. They were polished boys. It suited them, having the goods delivered without needing to get their delicate hands dirty. The only one who reacted was Nippe, who dissed him as a joke, “Are you low on cash, or what? Kinda seems like it, since you’re, like, a runner all the time now. Just say the word and my old man will lend you some.” JW ignored him. Thought, Soon I’ll be able to buy Nippe’s old man and shut him up for good.
JW checked himself in the mirror. His lion mane was well groomed with the generous amount of Dax wax he’d just smeared into it, on top of all the wax that never completely washed out. He used to cut his own hair. Now he had other opportunities. Maybe he’d go to the same hairdressers as the boyz: Sachajuan, Toni & Guy, only the best. Fine thought.
All his clothes were secondhand: the Gucci jeans, the Paul Smith shirt, and the Tod’s loafers with the characteristic cleat-like rubber soles. That’s why it felt so good to put on the Canali blazer. No wrinkles, nice structure, crisp feeling. Even the smell was new.
He was nearly six feet tall, fair and with a slim face. Slim wrists. Slim neck. Everything slim. Piano fingers. Defined jaw. JW changed his pose in front of the mirror. I look good, but maybe I’d look better if I bulked up a little. Gym membership, here I come.
It was a Saturday. He was going with Nippe to one of his friend’s parents’ place, an estate in Sörmland. JW had met the guy, Gustaf, a couple of times before at the nightclub Laroy. The plan: dinner followed by a party. Everyone was staying the night. Sophie and Anna were going. Some people he didn’t know were going. Best of all, Jet Set Carl was going.
With some luck, maybe he’d be able to get with Sophie. With even better luck, he’d make a good impression on Jet Set Carl. Definitely an opening to C channels.
It was 3:00 p.m. JW felt sluggish, tired for no reason. He hadn’t even partied the night before. He sat down on the bed, pulled up his legs, and counted the money again. Relished the rustle of paper. Waited for Nippe to honk down on the street.
The sales curve pointed straight up. The weekend after he’d treated Sophie and Anna in the park, he’d made his first deal. It started with him treating a second time. But never in Humlegården again-he’d decided that was a one-time thing. Too lame.
They’d been hanging out at Putte’s, as usual. The whole gang: JW, Putte, Nippe, and Fredrik. Sophie, Anna, and two other prep school broads’d been there, as well. The boyz were in on the deal: JW scored the ice and they all split the bill. This time, the girls wanted in. JW played pasha, all generous and munificent, treating them each to a nose. The two new girls, Charlotte and Lollo, had never tried before. The mood got high, not just metaphorically. They felt molten-hot, impulsive-Autobahn-speeded. Everyone appreciated JW, the guy who brought the party. After three hours, they jumped in cabs and rode down to Stureplan. JW packed four grams. They went into Köket. Business as usual: danced, boozed, flirted. Nippe managed to get blown by two birds. After half an hour, one of the new girls, Lollo, came up to JW and said she thought the whole thing was so wonderful. Asked if he had any more and insisted on paying. JW looked concerned. Said she shouldn’t have to pay but that he’d promised another friend some. She said, “Come on, you just gotta give me a few noses. You gotta let me pay.” He said, “Sure, I’ll see what I can do.” He thought, Daddy’s paying anyway. He unloaded the whole stash for twelve hundred a gram. Wholesale price was six hundred. Profit: 3,400 kronor. Compared to the gypsy-cab gig, it was mind-blowing-a whole night’s work in the Ford equaled three minutes of ingratiating talk at a club, and he’d had a drink in his hand and a pretty girl to look at the whole time. Not bad.
Same deal the next weekend, but with different people. Pregame in a different apartment, party at a different club, after party in a different pad. He’d raked in seven thousand kronor net, even though he’d handed out a total of five grams for free.
The week after, he’d met Sophie for a coffee in Sturegallerian, by Stureplan. They talked about sweet clubs, stylish clothes, shared acquaintances. Talked about serious stuff, too. What they wanted to do when they graduated. Sophie was studying economics at Stockholm University but wanted to try to transfer into the Stockholm School of Economics for her junior year. Had to get top grades on all her exams, study hard, be disciplined. Then she was going to London to do right for herself, to work. JW wanted to work with stocks; he had a head for numbers. She got personal, asked about his parents and background. JW was evasive, said they’d lived abroad most of his childhood, that they lived on an estate in Dalarna now, and that she probably didn’t know them. She wondered why they didn’t live in Sörmland, or somewhere else closer to the city. JW changed the subject. He was an old hand, had a store of conversation topics up his sleeve. They talked about her family. That worked; Sophie let his background go and talked about her own instead.
She came from the countryside, from an estate, and had enrolled in a regular school in first grade. Hadn’t worked. Her classmates weren’t nice to her. Called her a snob, didn’t pick her for teams in gym class, thought it was totally fine to swipe her stuff. It almost sounded silly, but JW understood, for real. After sixth grade, she’d switched to the prep school Lundsberg. To her own kind. She loved the place.
JW couldn’t stop thinking about her. She was his best source of sales and she was so foxy, but she seemed genuinely nice, too. A good girl. His goal was clear: He would work on her, doubly.
The next weekend, JW’d hung out with Sophie and her group of girlfriends at a private party. Lollo loved snow, shouted at JW, “This stuff totally gets me off! My sex life is, like, amazing!” Sophie loved snow. Anna loved snow. Charlotte loved snow. Everyone at the party loved JW. He made eight grand.
The weekend after that-last weekend-they’d pregamed at Nippe’s on Friday, then went to Kharma, where a table waited for them, and then on to an after party at Lollo’s. Saturday started with dinner at Putte’s, followed by a reserved table at Café Opera. The evening ended with an after party at Lollo’s again-crammed with new faces.
A new record: He’d cashed in eleven grand net.
Weekdays he tried to study. He felt like a new person. C sales did wonders for his finances, his confidence, and his wardrobe. Still, he got no peace. Thoughts of the yellow Ferrari kept bothering him. The night the Arab’d suggested he sell coke was the first time he’d ever asked about Camilla. He’d hoped that maybe someone knew something, but deep inside he didn’t think it would lead anywhere. But now there was the Ferrari tearing down Sturegatan at a furious speed as a constant image in his mind. He had to know more.
He’d called the National Road Administration. Unfortunately, JW didn’t remember the car’s license plate number, but it worked anyway-vehicle registration was a wonderful state institution. Anyone could find out who the owner of any Swedish registered car was. If the car was unusual, you could get information even without the license plate number. According to the guy at the Road Administration, there were two yellow Ferraris in Sweden the year Camilla went missing. One was owned by the IT millionaire Peter Holbeck, and the other was owned by a leasing company, Dolphin Finance, Ltd. The company specialized in sports cars and yachts.
JW began by looking up Peter Holbeck. The man’d made his money on Web consulting. Now, in retrospect, JW thought the whole thing seemed so obvious. How the hell could they think that consultants should make five million a head for building websites that any fifteen-year-old computer geek could handle? But that hadn’t bothered the entrepreneur and fake visionary Peter Holbeck. He sold out in time. The Web agency had 150 employees. Six months after the sale, the agency was shut down. One hundred and twenty of the employees lost their jobs. Peter Holbeck made 360 million. Now he went skiing eighty days out of the year and spent the rest of the time in Thailand or other warm places with his kids.
JW’s question: What had the IT millionaire been doing the spring Camilla went missing?
He took a chance on easy answers, tried to call Holbeck. It took three days to track him down. Finally, he got hold of him. Holbeck sounded short of breath when he answered the phone. “This is Peter.”
“Hi, my name is Johan.” It wasn’t often that JW introduced himself with his real first name. “I have some questions for you. I hope I’m not calling at a bad time.”
“Are you a journalist? I don’t have the energy to speak to you people.”
“No, actually not. It’s regarding a private thing.”
Holbeck sounded surprised. “Shoot.”
“I’m looking for a woman, Camilla Westlund. She disappeared about four years ago. No one knows where she is. We know that she was sometimes seen in a yellow Ferrari before she disappeared. You owned one of those during the year in question. Thought maybe you know something. Maybe you lent out the car, or something?”
“Are you calling from the police, or are you a journalist?”
“Not a journalist. Didn’t I already say that? Not from the police, either. I’m a private person, calling about a personal matter.”
“Either way. I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Are you insinuating something?”
“Sorry if this sounds strange. I just wanted to know if you remember anything.”
“Whatever. I was in the Rockies half of that year. On skis. The rest of the time I was in the south of Sweden or in Florida. With my kids. The car was parked in a garage in Stockholm.”
JW realized: no point in pushing it any further. Holbeck’d said enough. He ended the conversation.
The next day, he Googled Holbeck for hours. Finally ended up in the archives of Aftonbladet. Holbeck was mentioned in articles about luxury vacationers. It was true: He had a house in the south of Sweden and one in Florida, and he’d been skiing in the States the same year that Camilla disappeared. Maybe the IT millionaire wasn’t involved.
There was one more yellow Ferrari, after all. JW looked up the leasing company, Dolphin Finance, Ltd. Just the name gave off sketchy vibes. He got in touch with the National Registry of Incorporated Companies. The administrator on the other end of the line was helpful, told him that the company’d gone bankrupt a year ago. All the assets-the cars and boats-had been bought by a German company. There wasn’t much more JW could do. It was almost a relief. He could let the Ferrari go. Or could he?
A honk from the street. JW looked out and saw Nippe in the Golf that’d been a twenty-first-birthday present from his mom and dad.
They headed south on the freeway-on the road to peeps, parties, possibilities.
A classic Swedish hip-hop song on the radio. JW wasn’t a big fan of hip-hop, but he couldn’t help but dig Petter’s lyrics: “The tide has turned.”
It applied to him. Big-time. His time had come-to stop living a double life, to become like them, for real. To get even deeper in the clover. Eat them for breakfast.
They chatted. JW listened. Nippe had the hots for Lollo. Nippe thought Jet Set Carl’d had attitude last weekend-who did he think he was? Nippe complimented JW’s Canali blazer. Nippe discussed the latest reality-TV show. Nippe had verbal diarrhea.
“I might quit the finance focus. Thinking about marketing instead.”
JW’s interest, lukewarm. “Really.”
“Marketing’s where it’s at, especially branding. Sell any product at any price, no matter how cheaply it’s made. As long as it’s branded and marketed correctly. There’s such fucking potential.”
“Sure, but in the end it’s your core business that matters, the leverage of capital employed, the financing. If your marketing costs too much, and you never really make a profit, you die.”
“Sure, but you make money. Just look at Gucci and Louis Vuitton. The clothes, the boutiques in Stockholm, the fashion collections, all of that is just an excuse. What really makes it rain are branded accessories. Shades, perfume, belts, purses. China-made crap, little stuff. Branding, that’s, like, all it is.”
In JW’s opinion, Nippe wasn’t the sharpest brat in the pack, and today he’d apparently gotten hung up on one word. Like a broken record.
They chatted on.
JW dug life. Next month, he’d triple sales. He did some mental arithmetic: added, subtracted, multiplied. He saw sales curves, credit, cash. He saw a bull market in himself.
It took an hour to get there. Nippe told him it was an old manor where Gustaf’s parents lived. The parents-good friends with His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf.
Gustaf welcomed them. JW made the same analysis of the guy as the last time they’d met: He was the essence of a backslick brat. Dressed in a tweed jacket, white chinos, red cravat, checked shirt with double cuffs, and Marc Jacobs loafers. Slicked hair stiff as a helmet-lion mane of lion manes.
The main house was over 21,000 square feet. Two massive crystal chandeliers dangled between the pillars in the hall, and paintings of snow-covered landscapes hung on the walls. A curved staircase led upstairs. Gustaf introduced them to Gunn, “the housemother,” as he put it.
“She’s the one who looks after me when Mom and Dad are gone.”
JW retorted, “I guess that’ll be needed tonight.”
Gunn laughed. JW chortled. Nippe giggled. Gustaf guffawed, loudest of them all.
Definite good vibes. Gustaf seemed to like him.
Nippe and JW were led away by Gunn, who got them settled in a guest room in one of the wings of the house.
JW fingered the manila envelope in his pocket. Fourteen grams, just to be on the safe side.
Dinner was served at seven-thirty. Beforehand, Sophie and JW played tennis doubles against Nippe and Anna. Seven-five. Six-four. Four-six. Seven-five. Spirits soared among the winners. Nippe was a bad loser, threw his racket on the ground. Anna stayed calm. JW hadn’t really played tennis while growing up and thanked his natural athleticism for his ability to impress-made it look like he’d been playing all his life.
They showered. JW napped for half an hour. Nippe took a shit.
They changed into tuxes. JW had a secondhand Cerruti that he said had cost twelve grand. The actual damage was 2,500. Nippe wondered if JW’d brought some gear. “Seems like you’re reliable these days.”
JW didn’t know if the comment was good or bad. Had he moved too quickly?
He laughed. “Sure, I’ve got some. You want a taste?”
They split thirty milligrams, enough for a mild rush.
The coke hit right away.
They were slammed unexpectedly fast with a fit of giggles.
They walked down the stairs to the cocktail party in the salon. JW felt like the world’s most intelligent human being.
The fourteen other guests waited with champagne glasses in hand. JW scanned the crowd.
The guys: JW, Fredrik, Nippe, Jet Set Carl, Gustaf, and three other dudes.
The girls: Sophie, Anna, Lollo, and five chicks JW hadn’t met before. They were all upper-crust creamers. Girls with good genes. Rich dads equaled hot moms, or the other way around. They knew how to make themselves up. How to apply the right rouge, the best eye shadow, smooth foundation. Above all, they knew how to rock self-tanner for a sun-kissed look. They knew how to dress themselves, how to cover up the flaws: a somewhat saggy belly, a thick waist, too-small breasts, too-flat back. They highlighted their strengths: nice neck, full lips, long legs. Fit, slim girls. Odds were, they all had luxury gym memberships.
Gustaf was selective with his invites. It was an honor to be invited, especially since he’d met the evening’s host only three times before.
Everyone sipped, made small talk, chilled. JW had to try to contain himself; he was soaring. Felt like every word coming out of his mouth was brilliant, like he was the life of this party. Nippe winked at him-you and me, JW, flyin’ in the C sky.
They sat down for dinner.
JW was seated between Anna, whom he often sold to these days, and a girl named Carro. Worked well; both were easy to chat up.
The appetizer was already on the table. JW could see right away that it was not of this world. A piece of toasted bread topped with Kalix roe, sour cream, and finely chopped red onion. The basic idea wasn’t too original, but it was the large glass bowl in the middle of the table that made it so ridiculous-at least eleven pounds of extra roe. An orgy of excess. JW piled at least four hundred kronor’s worth on his plate.
Gunn brought the main course: venison with a sauce of wild chanterelles, and oven-roasted potatoes. JW loved game. They drank a Bordeaux. Anna told him about her parents’ wine cellar. Sorbet with blackberries and raspberries for dessert. JW promised himself: Within ten years, he’d have his own Gunn. Gorgeously good gastronomical miracles.
The mood grew lighter in time with the bottles of wine that Gunn kept bringing. After dessert, Gustaf walked around with a frosty bottle of Grey Goose and poured out brimming shots. The heat intensified.
The girls eyed Jet Set Carl and Nippe. Always Nippe.
JW checked out Sophie.
She didn’t give him the time of day.
The room wasn’t a room. The right word would probably be salon. Or maybe hall. Huge, incredibly high ceilings, tremendously grand decorating job. Two chandeliers with real candles burning in them were suspended from the ceiling. Two-toned dark red wallpaper with wide stripes. Modernist art on the walls. A few were possibly very valuable.
JW’d gone to the Museum of Modern Art with Sophie that week. He wasn’t exactly a fine-art kind of guy, but Sophie said she liked powerful color combinations and therefore was more a fan of modern art. JW’d read up on what was on display in the museum a couple of days beforehand. He wanted to make an impression. Without realizing it, he’d gotten a feel for a couple of artists. Maybe one of the paintings here was a Kandinsky. An enormous one with three muted fields of color that matched the wallpaper might be a Mark Rothko.
The table was set with style and panache. White linen tablecloth, pressed green linen napkins, and silver napkin holders. Antique coasters for the wine bottles. Gleaming silver cutlery and crystal stemware-only appropriate.
JW ate it all up.
They kept chatting. The guys liked the sound of their own voices. Jet Set Carl bragged, Nippe made lame jokes, and Fredrik spewed business plans. Same old.
Anna told him about her latest trip to Saint Moritz. Reapplied lip gloss between every other sentence. She and a girlfriend’d become friendly with a polo team that traveled down every year to play on the frozen alpine lake. Normally, they were bankers in London; polo was just a little weekend fancy. JW dove right in, told her about his trip to Chamonix last year. Made up most of it, added and exaggerated. The only time he’d been to the Alps for real was on a budget trip during spring break five years ago, when fifteen guys from up north, from Umeå and Robertsfors, had crowded, slept, and farted on a bus for twenty-six hours.
Anna was pretty and nice. But boring. No spark. He listened to her, laughed at her jokes, and asked follow-up questions. She kept talking, seemed to like his company. JW only had thoughts for Sophie.
The dinner rolled on. People were lit but still mellow. Gunn kept serving and clearing the table. Everyone seemed expectant.
Fredrik gave a speech of thanks to the host.
They rose from the table and went into a kind of barroom. Wide couches piled with pillows stood along two walls. A long table was placed in front of each couch. Gunn had put iittala glass candlesticks in four different colors on the table. In one of the corners of the room was a bar, built with classical wood paneling. Behind the bar: martini glasses, highball glasses, tumblers, beer steins, and wineglasses in a built-in glass display case. An insane number of bottles lined up on shelves.
Gustaf positioned himself behind the bar. Hollered that he was the bartender for the night and that it was time to place their orders. Someone put on music. Beyoncé. Badonkadonk beats.
They boozed. Drank apple martinis, G and Ts, beer. Gustaf’s dad had a blender. They made fruity drinks: strawberry daiquiris, piña coladas.
JW drank a beer. Eyed his friends.
Nippe hit on Carro. Jet Set Carl was at the bar, talking to Gustaf. The rest of the guests sat on the couches, chatting.
Music played in the background. JW heard clatter from the dining room as Gunn cleaned up.
He got the feeling that something was off.
Gunn’s sounds were distracting, too audible.
JW understood what was wrong. The barroom lacked volume-no one was dancing, no one laughing, no one hollering. Simple conclusion: It wasn’t much of a party.
He got behind the bar and walked up to Gustaf. Took a sec to listen to what Jet Set Carl was saying before he excused himself. Asked to speak with Gustaf privately. Suggested they talk in another room.
They went back into the dining room, where the table was completely cleared. Gunn was efficient. JW pulled out a chair for Gustaf.
“Gustaf, it’s so damn nice to be invited here tonight. What a fantastic dinner.” JW knew the linguistic ground rules: Swearwords were permitted only in positive contexts. He started his pitch. “I’ve got a totally sick idea. I happened to bring a couple grams of Charlie. I know you’ve tried before. How about taking some? That’ll rev up the party for sure.”
“Yeah, you’re totally right. You got coke? That’s fuckin’ sweet. We’ve gotta have some. What do you want for it?”
Best-possible question. Saved JW the tricky business of asking for money. Gustaf wanted his party to be a rager. Who didn’t? JW could deliver.
“I don’t usually, like, sell and stuff, but right now I’ve got some left over. You want six grams? You can have it for twelve hundred a gram. That’ll last all night, for everyone. The chicks go wild, too; you know that.”
Gustaf bit the bait straight off. He didn’t have cash but promised to pay JW the following week-no problem for JW.
Gustaf positioned himself behind the bar once again. Blazoned out, “There’s a fuckin’ blizzard over here!” JW’d already lent him a snort straw and two mirrors.
Everyone but two guys took a hit, twenty milligrams each.
The party exploded.
The music was jacked up. The girls climbed up on the coffee tables and danced, rolled their hips. Fredrik shouted along to Eric Prydz’s “Call on Me.” Sophie rocked back and forth, Nippe sucked Carro’s face on one of the couches, Gustaf tore his shirt off and jumped to the beat on the other couch, Jet Set Carl dug it all hard. He did the brat dance-pumped one fist in the air in time with the music.
The success of the party was sealed. Their transformation into party animals, total. The two guys who hadn’t snorted the first time tried now. It gave the desired effect. Everyone got down, dug, danced. The music blared. The party spun. Everyone poured stiff drinks. Shouted along to the music, laughed at nothing, danced, bounced without stopping like Energizer bunnies. Felt hot like hell. Superfly. Jet set. Coursing through everyone’s veins: energy, intelligence, hard-ons. Gustaf’s party was the sickest rager. Rock on.
Five hours later, the cocaine ran out. JW was still wrapped up in the rush. He’d been checking Sophie out all night. She couldn’t have cared less about him. He felt deceived.
But Anna came up to him. Said she thought he was really nice, thanked him for their conversation at dinner, and started dancing with him. They got more and more entwined. Half the party’d passed out. The rest’d crashed on the couches, talking or making out.
JW and Anna went up to her room.
It was five-thirty in the morning. JW felt like he could go forever.
They locked the door and sat down on the bed.
Anna giggled. They looked at each other. Got turned on. JW caressed her breasts through her top. She unzipped his fly, pulled out his cock, bent down, and started sucking. Lip gloss on his cock. Groaned. Really tried to hold it, didn’t want to come yet. He pushed himself away and sat up, undressed her instead. Licked her tits. She grabbed hold of his cock again and guided him inside her.
They fucked furiously.
It was way too quick.
He pulled out, came in his hand.
Wiped himself on the sheets.
They lay still, chilled for a moment.
Anna kept talking; wanted to go over the events of the night.
JW didn’t want to talk. Cocaine better than Viagra-after fifteen minutes, he was fit for fight.
Cut the foreplay-just fucked right away.
He came after two minutes, max. Embarrassing.
He felt empty.
Slept like shit.
Mrado’s areas of responsibility within Radovan’s sphere: the coat checks, general racketeering, keeping the lackeys in line. He sometimes helped to set dealers or pimps straight who thought they were Dragan Joksovic, or took care of whores who thought they could make their own decisions. Mostly used Ratko or other guys from the gym as backup.
Mrado had his own business on the side. Import firm. Bought wood from Thailand: teak, ebony, balsa. Sold to fine carpenters, interior designers, and contractors. Smooth sailing. Above all, he needed clean, taxable income.
Mrado’s headaches: Patrik convicted. The ex-skin probably wouldn’t hang anyone, but there was always a risk. Fucking shit luck that the skinhead’d been such a hothead. Even worse: that Mrado’d been stupid enough to bring up his demand for a bigger cut when Rado’d already been pissed. Was a crisis of trust between him and Radovan on the horizon? What’s more: Mrado should find that coke monkey, Jorge. Even more: Mrado’d been given the order from Rado to deal with the so-called Nova Project, the cops and the courts in cahoots on a big-budget crackdown to bring the city’s organized-crime scene to its knees. Finally: Mrado had to see Lovisa, or else he’d explode. Annika, that cunt, was battling him in court. He was preparing to fight for his daughter. Felt like all of society was against him. He had a fucking right to have a good relationship with his kid, just like anyone else.
He was having trouble sleeping. It wasn’t what he had to do or the sheer number of things he had to take care of that made him wake up in the middle of the night; it was thoughts of Lovisa and of a different kind of life that did it. The risk of not being permitted to see her. Thoughts about what he’d do if he stopped doing what he was doing now. Maybe there was another way to live, other businesses where he’d fit in. And still, no. Mrado was who he was. This city needed men like him. The smallest of his current problems was finding a straw man for the video-rental companies. That’s where he’d begin.
He made the rounds at the gym. No one wanted to be a part of it. Not because they had fortunes to lose-at least not any that Big Brother knew of-but because they didn’t want to fold. The boys had big biz dreams. In the end, everyone had to play somewhat by the legal rules. Conclusion: Don’t dirty your record unnecessarily.
Mrado didn’t want to fuck things up. At the same time-if things got messy, someone else’d have to take the hit.
He could call one of his peers: Goran, Nenad, or Stefanovic. All were underlings of the Yugo king, on the same level as Mrado in the hierarchy. Guys with their ears to the ground. But also competitors in the race for Radovan’s favor.
He called Goran.
The guy was Radovan’s smokes and booze importer. A greasy prick. A brownie. If Rado chewed Goran out, he’d lie on his back and wag his legs in the air. Like a bitch. Despite that, the dude was disgustingly good with his gear. Big profits, a turnaround of seventeen million a year.
Smokes and booze import: complicated logistics, administrative mathematics, well-developed transportation and freight methodology. A global enterprise based in Stockholm’s criminal underworld. Cheap booze and chic booze. Via Finland from Russia, the Baltic countries, Poland, and Germany. Repackaged, with the country of origin and mode of production blacked out. Goran knew the business. Had solid connections within the Swedish Transportation Union. Had his eye on the teamsters. Was friendly with the bosses. Knew which ones to bribe. Knew what European smuggle routes to use. Faked freight passes, rigged credible chains of transport, recipients and senders. Stuck with the tough guys. The ones who wanted to make easy money. Who set the bar low. Old-timers who worked full-time without giving a cent to the Man.
Mrado wanted to get at the latter group. A different type from the guys at the gym. Older. Prestige-free. Saw the world through the bottom of a bottle. Were done striving. Had seen better days.
Mrado on the line with Goran. Even made himself believe he liked the guy. In Serbian: “Goran, my friend. It’s me.”
“Mrado, I hear. Since when did we become friends?”
Goran: a dick to everyone and anyone except il Padre, Mr. R. Mrado bit his lip. Let it slide-his mission was more important.
“We work for the same man. We’re countrymen. We’ve gotten shit-faced together. Aren’t we friends? We’re more than friends.”
“You’d do best to remember that we’re not friends, and we’re not family. I’m a businessman. I’ve never really understood what the hell it is you do. Beat the crap out of poor coat-check people. Do you steal their jackets, too?”
“What’re you talkin’ about?”
“Last weekend, I lost my jacket at Café Opera. The faggots in the coat check didn’t have a clue. Someone pointed to it and claimed he’d lost his tag.”
“Is that the kind of shit that happens at your coat checks?”
“You should check up on that.”
“Goran, it’s not often that I ask for help. And that’s not what I’m doing now, either. I’m going to reward you; that’s not what I call help.”
“Stop speaking in riddles. Something good can come of this talk. I can feel it. My only question is, What? You started this off so nicely. Calling me a friend.”
If it’d been anyone else, Mrado would’ve hung up. Hunted the person down. Ended said person. But first, preferably, snipped off one finger at a time with a ratchet lopper.
“Witty as usual, Goran. I need someone who’s got the DL on the teamsters. A trusty old-timer. If you hook me up with a good contact, I’ll let you in on five percent of the profits.”
“What’ll that be for me per month?”
“Honestly, I don’t really know yet, but it’s a supertight Rado gig I’ve got going. I’m supposed to set up two companies for him. I’d guess we’re talking at least five grand a month and up. Clean.”
“Five thousand and up, for a name? Per month? What hole are you fucking me in, exactly?”
“I’m not fucking you. It’s just really important to me that this works out. That’s why I’m ready to pay.”
“What the hell. Shoot. What can I lose? What exactly do you need?”
Mrado explained without saying too much.
Goran said, “I’ve got a guy. Christer Lindberg. I’ll text you his number. That cool?”
“Sure. Thanks. I’ll call you this week to let you know how it goes. Maybe you’re a good guy after all.”
“‘Good’? Good is just my middle name. Remember that.”
Mrado hung up. Wondered if he’d been smart or a total dipshit.
Fall was coming. Jorge’d managed to get a bed at a homeless shelter fourteen out of the past twenty-four nights. Bought personal identification digits from a junkie in the Sollentuna Mall for three grand. Good till the end of the month. The shelters sent their invoices to the junkie’s social welfare officer. The mainliner lost his welfare check-he wanted cash for heroine/amphetamine instead.
Jorge didn’t get why there were mostly Svens at the shelters, when he knew immigrants were the real dirt-poor suckers-blattes with nada. Did the blizzardheads have no pride?
Life in the shelter was sweet. Well-cooked meals were included for breakfast and dinner. Jorge watched TV. Read newspapers. They weren’t writing shit about his escape.
Chatted a little with the others. Kept it bare bones.
He tried to do push-ups, sit-ups, or jump rope when no one was around. He couldn’t run; his foot was still busted from the jump off the wall.
It wasn’t working in the long run. Couldn’t keep his hair curly without people wondering. Couldn’t smear himself with self-tanner without them looking. There was the risk that one of the bums would recognize him. What’s more: After fourteen days, the shelter started charging five hundred kronor a night instead of two hundred. There was no fairness in this world. The junkie’s money could run out. The Social Service rep could get suspicious.
He hadn’t been able to pay his cousin, Sergio, or his screw fixer, Walter, back. Shameful.
Gray, frightened thoughts. Psychological low point.
Zero ability to run. Shitty stamina. Physical low point.
This wasn’t what he’d gone AWOL for.
He had to score money.
Out one month. Not bad, if you thought about it. Better than many others. But no big success. What’d he been expecting? That plastic surgery, a passport, and a field of clover’d just materialize, for free? That he’d find a few pounds of blow under his pillow at the Night Owl homeless shelter? That his sister’d call and tell him she’d bought tickets to Barcelona and borrowed her BF’s passport? Fat chance.
Sergio’d taken a lot of risks. Jorge hadn’t heard from him since the day before he left Eddie’s. Didn’t dare get in touch with him. His bad conscience burned. He should pay Sergio back. But what could he do?
What the FUCK could he do?
He didn’t think the cops had a red alert out on him. In their eyes, he was a harmless small-time druggie. Armored-car robbers, rapists, and other violent criminals were much higher up on their list. That was his luck: He hadn’t used any violence during the break. Still: Life on the lam was no cakewalk. Cash was the solution.
The thought of Radovan. The ace up his sleeve.
He didn’t want to use it. Had been lying at night in the shelters, thinking. Tossed. Turned. Sweated. Reminded him of the nights before the break. But worse, somehow. Then, it could either fly or not fly at all. Now, it could either get fucked up or even more fucked up. Still, he had hope. Maybe it’d work.
The idea: Jorge’d worked for Radovan’s organization. Knew stuff they didn’t want leaked. Above all, they didn’t know exactly how much he knew. He could scare them. Had learned the game on the inside; snitches are bitches and silence is golden. The Yugos should be willing to cough it up.
R. was difficult to get in touch with. No one could or wanted to disclose his home or cell number.
Impossible to reach the Yugo boss.
Radovan’s underling, the rat who’d wrapped him in his witness testimony, Mrado, would work fine. Jorge tracked him down instead.
He finally got Mrado’s cell phone number from an old dealer in Märsta. Mrado wasn’t Radovan, but he was as close as Jorge was gonna get. It’d have to do.
He made the call from a pay phone near Östermalmstorg’s subway station.
His fingers shook as he dialed.
He immediately recognized Mrado’s voice. Deep. Dangerous. Damning.
Almost shat a brick. Straightened up. “Yo, Mrado. It’s Jorge. Jorge Salinas Barrio.”
Silence for a short moment. Mrado cleared his throat. “Jorge. Nice to hear your voice. How’s life on the outside?”
“Cut the crap. You guys fucked me two years ago. The game you pulled at the trial was bullshit. Still, I’m willing to make a deal now.”
“Wow, talk about cutting to the chase. What’s this deal about?”
Jorge didn’t let himself get provoked. “You know what it’s about, Mrado. I had your back, yours and Radovan’s both. And you let me sink. Fucking deep. You owe me.”
“Ah, I see.” Mrado sounded sarcastic. “I guess we’d better see to it that you’re happy right away.”
“Sure, you can choose to fuck me. But I’ll talk, fast. You know I know too much about Radovan’s business. I got slammed with three fuckin’ years for your sake.”
“Easy, Jorge. If you hurt us, we’ll make sure you’re sent right back to where you came from. But a little deal isn’t a bad idea. What’d you have in mind?”
“Simple. Radovan gets me a passport and a hundred G’s, cash. I’ll jump ship and you’ll never hear from me again.”
“I’ll convey your request to Radovan. But I don’t think he’s gonna like it. Blackmail isn’t his thing. Nothing he lets himself get subjected to. How can I reach you?”
“You think I’m a fuckin’ idiot? I’ll call you on this number in ten days. If he’s not in on my deal by then, I’ll fuck him up.”
“It’s lucky for you Radovan didn’t hear that. Call me in two weeks. Good passports can’t just be bought on the street.”
“No, ten days. Can’t you fuckin’ order passports from Thailand, or somethin’? And yo, one more thing. If anythin’ happens to me, some accident or somethin’, you catch my drift, what I know’ll leak on the spot.”
“I follow. Make it two weeks.”
Mrado hung up. Fucking chesty Yugo fuck. Jorge was the one setting the rules, wasn’t he? But now all he could do was accept. Two weeks. That was still better than expected-could be kale at the end of this. Was he back on track?
Jorge kept standing where he was. People kept streaming past.
Jorge-boy: the world’s loneliest homeboy. Solo y abandonado.
Jorge’d been thinking about a possibility-seemed served on a plate. Svens shut up their summer homes during the off-season. New housing market for him. Maybe that would at least solve one problem.
He was screwed when it came to cash. Had one G left of the five Sergio’d given him.
His expenses had been too big so far. A total of three thousand kronor for the shelter. Every session at the tanning booth: sixty-five kronor. Vending machine grub for lunch. A new pair of pants, gloves, two T-shirts, a knit sweater, underwear, socks, and a winter jacket from a thrift store: 450 kronor. In preparation for a cold autumn.
He took a last trip to the tanning bed. He was dark now. Had nailed the walk. The right rhythm. Now he wanted to get away for a while. Wait for Radovan’s answer.
He took the subway to the Royal Technical Academy station. Didn’t really know where he was going. Just that he wanted to head north. Somewhere deserted. He nixed the express bus to Norrtälje. Got on bus number 620 instead, also headed north to Norrtälje, but with a more roundabout route.
The bus drove past Åkersberga. There were hicks on the bus. A lady with two wiener dogs stared at him.
He got off at a stop that looked nice, called Wira Bruk. The plastic bag with his clothes in it was twisted around his wrist. He let it get tangled.
Not his kind of turf. Jorge’d been to the country once in his life, on a school field trip when he was thirteen. Ended with his being sent home. You weren’t allowed to set the forest on fire.
To his right was a stone church. The clock tower stood separately, built of gray wood. A couple of gravestones in the grass around the main building. To the left, the land slanted upward. To the woods. One road kept going straight, and one took off to the left. Fields farther up. The crops had been harvested.
The sky was gray.
He started walking.
Toward the fork in the road. Looked down the road that veered to the left. A couple of houses and parked cars. He walked closer. Saw a sign: WIRA BRUK-OLD HOMESTEAD MUSEUM. He walked across the parking lot. Nine cars total. Toyed with the thought of boosting one, then scrapped it. Walked down toward the houses.
A stream to his left. Picturesque. A little bridge. Leafy trees. Gravel road. Red kiosk. Seemed boarded up for the fall, but they’d forgotten the ice-cream cardboard cutout outside. Farther down, three larger houses. A gravel square between them. Signs on the houses. An old school. An old parish hall. An old county sheriff’s house. A middle-aged couple entered the school. He was seriously off. There were no vacation homes here. It was a fucking museum.
Out on the main road again.
He kept walking. For fifteen minutes. No houses in sight.
Fifteen more minutes.
Saw houses farther up between the trees.
The first seemed lived in. There was a Volvo V70 parked outside.
He went on to the next one. Woods all around.
Jorge wondered if it’d been the right move to come up here. Unknown territory. Away game. Simple fact about J-boy: He wasn’t exactly the type who’d been raised a Boy Scout, field biologist, or explorer. Limited exposure to a world without asphalt and McDonald’s.
The house was about three hundred yards farther up. Couldn’t be seen from the first house. No car parked outside. It was big. Two glassed-in porches. Faded red paint. White trim. Green paint around the windows. The bottom porch was hardly visible behind all the wild trees and bushes. Jorge walked up the path. The gravel crunched. The door to the house faced the yard, at the back of the house if you stood on the road. Perfect. Looked in through all the windows. No one home. Knocked on the door. No answer. Yelled “Hello.” No one came out. Walked back out on the road. No other people or houses in sight. Went back. Tried to locate an alarm system. Nada. Put his gloves on. Broke a window. Carefully reached his hand in. Didn’t want to cut himself. Unhooked the window latch. No problem. Opened the window. Pulled himself up. Jumped in.
Listened. No alarm. He yelled again. No answer. Qué lindo.
After two days in the house, he felt right at home.
He made a room with a window facing the hedge his bedroom. Avoided the other windows. Cleaned all the grub out of the cupboards. Found pasta, rice, canned goods, beer, herring. Old condiments. No favorite foods, but it’d have to do.
During the day, he did push-ups and jumped rope on one foot. More training: sit-ups, back exercises, stretching. Wanted to stay in shape. Make up for what he’d missed during the time in the shelters.
Nervous. Ears perked. He listened for the sound of cars. Crunching on the gravel. Voices outside. He took an old beer can and put it on the handle of the front door-if someone came, it’d fall on the floor and make enough noise to wake him up.
It was peaceful. Tranquil. Quiet. Damn dull.
He was supposed to call Mrado in ten days.
He couldn’t sleep that night, his thoughts distracted. What would he do if Radovan refused to give up? How would he make cash? Maybe he’d have to be in touch with someone in the C business after all. Flip a few grams. Deal for dosh. Back to the old routine.
What’d happened to Sergio? Eddie? His sister? His mama? He should really give them a call. Show he cared.
He thought about Sångvägen, the street where he’d grown up. His first pair of soccer cleats. The grass field down by Frihetsvägen. The hangout room in Tureberg’s School. The basement of his house. His first joint.
Man, he wanted one.
Got up. Looked out the window. The sky was starting to glow. Fog rose off the ground. Sappy flick. Cue the music. Dig the paradox: him, Jorge, progeny of the asphalt jungle, sucking up the bumpkin paradise and enjoying it. It was so beautiful outside.
In that moment, he didn’t give a shit if anyone saw him.
JW was soon a real hot ticket. The rings spread on the water after the party at Lövhälla Manor. The talk about the rager went on for weeks: how crazy Nippe’d been, how funny Jet Set Carl’d looked when he’d run riot, the killer jokes Lollo’d made, how randy Nippe was all the time. The gossip exaggerated the drinking, the dancing, the scandals, and the rush, to JW’s advantage.
He made good money in the weeks that followed. Abdulkarim loved him. He painted their brilliant plans for the future, fantasized-they were going to own this town. JW didn’t know if he should take Abdul seriously or if he was kidding around. The Arab talked so damn much.
JW stopped driving the gypsy cab, let another guy take over. Checked with Abdulkarim first. It was cool with the Arab.
JW saw himself with new eyes: business baron, blow bringer, bitch banger-got three girls home in two weeks. A personal record. He felt like a mini Nippe.
During the days, he went berserk in the boutiques. Two new pairs of shoes to call his own: Gucci loafers with the gold buckle, and Helmut Lang boots for the winter. He bought a suit, Acne design with visible seams at the cuffs. It was hip, possibly too hipster. Maybe not the correct, strict style. He gorged himself on new shirts with double cuffs: Stenströms, Hugo Boss, Pal Zileri. Bought new jeans, pants, socks, belts, tank tops, and cuff links. The best buy of all was a cashmere coat from Dior, for the winter. The price was twelve thousand kronor. Expensive, sure, but it costs to be on top. He hung it in front of his bed so it’d be the first thing he saw when he woke up in the morning. Coat for a king.
JW loved every minute. He didn’t save a cent.
As for the Ferrari, he kept repeating to himself: There’d been two cars like it in Sweden that year. It shouldn’t be impossible to find someone with a connection to them, someone who’d known Camilla or at least knew more than the police. Peter Holbeck, the owner of one of the cars, had hardly used his. Anyway, it didn’t seem likely that Camilla would’ve had anything to do with the guy; the dude was never in Sweden. That left the leasing company, Dolphin Finance, Ltd. The company’d filed for bankruptcy a year ago-that was obviously shady.
JW looked up info about the company with the National Registry of Incorporated Companies. It was bought as a shelf company, Grundstenen, Ltd., but had immediately changed its name to Leasing Finance, Ltd. Six months later, it changed its name to the Finance ER of Stockholm, Ltd. A year later, it changed its name again, this time to Dolphin Finance, Ltd. Three name changes in less than three years. The fish stink was unmistakable. The same person’d been on the board ever since the storage company’s buyout, a certain Lennart Nilsson, born March 14, 1954. JW looked the man up with the Civil Population Registry.
Lennart Nilsson was dead.
JW ordered a copy of the documents connected with the bankruptcy case.
Peculiar information: Lennart Nilsson was a known user from Nacka and had died of cirrhosis. According to the compulsory information the administrator of the bankrupt estate was obligated to supply in case of eventual falsifications, the man was probably a cover, a so-called front man.
JW’d reached a dead end. The Ferrari was leased by a company that’d gone under and whose only physical representative had passed away. How would he proceed now?
The only thing he could think of was to get in touch with the administrator of the bankrupt estate personally. He called, got a secretary on the line, and asked to speak with the lawyer. According to the secretary, there were tons of hurdles. Every time JW called, she said, “Can you call back? Unfortunately, he is in a meeting at the moment.” JW asked her to tell the lawyer to call him. He thought that should be enough. The lawyer jerk never called back. JW had to keep at it. Took over a week to reach him.
Finally, they were able to talk. A real anticlimax for JW. The lawyer/administrator didn’t have any more information than what was written in the documents he’d ordered. The company hadn’t kept any books, had no employees, and there were very sparse annual financial reports. The accountant wasn’t in the country, and it wasn’t clear who owned the stocks.
All the leads to the Ferrari ended in a bankruptcy that seemed Criminal with a capital C. It was blatantly obvious that something wasn’t right, but JW’d stopped thinking about the car for a few days. There wasn’t much more he could do.
He tried to let it go.
Didn’t work. He couldn’t escape his thoughts. His sister was missing and there had to be a way to learn more.
Four years ago, a policeman had told JW’s family the odds: “Normally, the unfortunate fact is that if we don’t find a missing person within a week, the person is most likely dead. The risk of that is nine out of ten.” The police kept explaining, “Most often, the person hasn’t been the victim of a violent crime. As a rule, there are accidents, like drowning, heart attacks, unfortunate falls. The body is usually found. On the other hand, if it isn’t, it can be a sign that other circumstances brought about the death.”
Memories of the conversation with the police gave JW ideas. He knew Camilla’d last been heard from on the night of April 21 of the year she went missing. At the time, she called a friend, Susanne Pettersson, who was also the only known acquaintance of Camilla’s that the police’d been able to dig up in Stockholm. She’d told the police she didn’t know anything. Her only connection to Camilla’d been that they studied together at Komvux, a continuing-education center. Maybe that’s why he hadn’t given her more thought before.
In JW’s opinion, the police couldn’t have done a particularly thorough job; they must’ve seen the pictures of Camilla in the Ferrari. Still, it wasn’t mentioned in the reports JW’s family’d been shown. They could’ve missed other things, too.
JW grasped desperately at the poor odds-one in ten missing people wasn’t dead.
Maybe Camilla was still alive.
He had to know more; he felt he owed it to his sister. A week after he heard about the dead board member of Dolphin Finance, Ltd., he called Susanne Pettersson. They talked for a bit. She’d never completed her studies, never gotten her GED. Now she worked as a salesclerk at H &M in the Kista Mall. When he suggested they meet up, she asked if their phone conversation wasn’t enough. It was obvious that she didn’t have an interest in digging deeper into the Camilla story.
JW went out to Kista anyway. Wandered around the brightly lit mall until he found the H &M store and asked for Susanne. He introduced himself to her.
They stood in the middle of the shop floor. There were few customers in the store at that time of day. JW wondered how it could be worthwhile to keep the place open.
Susanne had bleached-blond hair, but dark roots were visible at the base of her scalp. She was dressed in skinny jeans tucked into a pair of high boots, and a pink top with print across the chest: Cleveland Indians. Her entire body language screamed, I don’t want to talk to you. Arms crossed, gaze glued somewhere other than on JW.
JW tried to pressure her, gently. “What subjects did you study together?”
“I had to redo almost everything. Math, language arts, English, social science, history, French. But school was never my thing. I wanted to be a lawyer.”
“It isn’t too late.”
“It is. I have two kids now.”
JW sounded genuinely happy, “That’s great! How old are they?”
“One and three, and it’s not great. Their good-for-nothing dad left five months before the youngest was born. I’ll stay in this store till the cellulite finishes me off.”
“I’m sorry. Don’t say that. Anything can happen.”
“It can, I promise. Would you please tell me more about Camilla?”
“But why? The police asked all they needed to know four years ago. I don’t know anything.”
“Relax. I’m just curious. You know, I hardly even knew my own sister. I was just wondering what kind of classes you took together and stuff.”
“I would’ve been a good lawyer-you know, I can really argue when I need to-and then Pierre came along and fucked it all up. Now I’m here. Know what a salesclerk makes?”
JW thought, The chick could never have been a lawyer. Totally lacks focus.
“You don’t remember which classes you took with Camilla?”
“Hold on. I think we were in the same language arts and English classes. Used to do our homework together, study for the tests. She got good grades even though we cut a lotta class. I got shit grades. Never knew how the hell Camilla did it. But then, I didn’t really know her that well.”
“Do you know if she hung out with anyone else?”
Susanne was quiet for a beat too long.
JW looked her in the eyes. “Please, Susanne. I care about my sister. Don’t I have a right to know what happened to her? Don’t I have the right to ask you these questions? I just want to know more about Camilla’s life. Please.”
Susanne twisted uneasily, looked toward the empty registers, as if she had to go help some invisible customer. Obviously uncomfortable.
“I don’t think she was friends with anyone else in her Komvux classes. Camilla sort of kept to herself. But ask the language arts teacher, Jan Brunéus. He might know.”
“Thanks. Is he still at Komvux, do you know?”
“No clue. Some made it; some didn’t. I never finished. Haven’t set my foot in that place since and don’t plan to, either. And I don’t know anything about Jan. But there are a lot of salesclerks who’ve made a load of money. Won reality-TV shows and stuff like that. Camilla might’ve done something like that.”
Susanne said she really had to get back to work. JW got the hint, went home. Wondered about Susanne’s last comment. Reality TV and Camilla-what was the connection?
He thought that he had to concentrate on school and selling C, couldn’t waste more time playing detective. The Susanne Pettersson trail didn’t lead anywhere. The chick would’ve already said something if she knew something, wouldn’t she?
JW was at home studying when Abdulkarim called his cell phone. The Arab wanted to meet up-preferably today. They decided to meet for lunch at the Hotel Anglais on Sturegatan, near Stureplan.
JW kept reading. He couldn’t let his studies slip. He’d made a deal with himself: Go ahead and snort, deal, make millions and be happy-but don’t flunk out of school. He saw that kind of thing among the boyz. There were two types of people for whom Daddy picked up the tab. The knowledge that they’d never have to worry about money made one type into lazy, disinterested, stupid freeloaders. They couldn’t care less about their studies, failed their exams, made fun of people who were ambitious. They wanted to do their own thing, pretended to be entrepreneurs, visionaries. In the end, things worked out no matter what. The other type got anxious, knowing they’d never have to lift a finger for their own livelihood. They wanted to prove themselves, had to prove themselves, to create their own successes, to earn the right to the fortunes they were going to inherit anyway. You found them at the Stockholm School of Economics, in law school, or in London. They sat till one in the morning with group projects, before quizzes, tests, oral exams. If they could fit it in, they had part-time jobs, at law firms, banks, or with Dad. They strove and achieved-got somewhere on their own merit.
JW wasn’t the kind of guy to take shortcuts, not really. Sure, he could probably live on C for a few years, but he still wanted the safety. Study a lot, never flunk out.
He packed up his books. Undressed and got into the shower.
With practiced technique, he held the showerhead in his hand with the stream of water angled away from him, as he tried to set the right temperature. Why was it that no matter how you turned the dial, it was impossible to get it right? Too hot. A nanotwist to the left-too cold.
He began by running the water over his legs. The blond hairs flattened downward when the stream of water washed over them. He put the showerhead back in its holder, let the water pour over his hair, head, and torso. Turned up the heat.
Tried to forget about Camilla. Thought about Sophie instead. What was he doing wrong? He’d thought he was going to score with her at the Lövhälla Manor party. Instead, he’d ended up with Anna, her best friend. Anna was nice and all, but she didn’t have that extra something. How retarded was it to fuck Anna? Gossip about the party’d spread so widely, it might as well have been in the tabloids. Sophie could’ve found out. Maybe she was pissed.
Sophie in JW’s eyes: pretty as hell, body like a bikini model, sexy like a Playboy Bunny, charming like an intelligent talk-show host. And she had brains, too. Wrestled him to the ground verbally every time they had a discussion. Radiated smarts every time she opened her mouth. One-upped his jokes with a twinkle in her eye. But that wasn’t all-she seemed nice, too, even though she’d dissed him like a typical Lundsberg prep school chick. She got top grades, ten out of ten. He had to see her more, but without the boyz. Alone.
JW turned up the heat even more. Thought about peeing in the shower but didn’t. Wasn’t his style.
Maybe he didn’t have enough game. Maybe he should ignore Sophie. Not be so obviously into her. Not seem so happy to see her. Talk to her less and hit on her friends more. JW hated the tail game. And yet he was an expert at playing his own game in front of the boyz. But when it came to Sophie, he just wanted to hold her every time she was near. Hug her, kiss her, and all that. How the hell would he be able to act ice-cold? Sure, he could pick up girls at bars. Pull some one-liners. Get ’em in bed. Bag ’em. Brag in front of the boyz. But the serious stuff was trickier. The real game was wily.
He turned the heat up again. That’s what he always did; began with a temperature that was hard to perfect and felt good at first but got too cold after a couple of minutes. Made hot even hotter. In the end, the water was almost scalding. The mirror fogged up; the bathroom turned into a steam room.
Time to have lunch with Abdulkarim. JW got out of the shower and readied himself in the bathroom. Put on Clinique Happy under his arms and Biotherm moisturizer on his face. Putting wax in his hair was the last thing he did-the goo was so difficult to get off his fingers. He looked at himself in the mirror and thought: I look good.
He stepped out of the bathroom. Shivered. Got dressed. Put on the cashmere coat-a boy with class. Put his new MP3 player, a tiny Sony, in his pocket and put the earbuds in. They didn’t stay very well, tended to fall out. He tried to wedge them in at an angle. Put on a Coldplay song and walked down toward Sturegatan. It was a bright day. It was already twenty past three.
The Hotel Anglais was half-empty. Two waitresses sat at a table, folding napkins in prep for the night. Behind the bar, a guy in jeans and a T-shirt was sorting bottles of booze. Sly and the Family Stone was playing from the hidden speakers. Only two guests sat at a table. Abdulkarim didn’t appear to have arrived yet.
One of the napkin-folding chicks walked up to him. Led him to a table by the windows, far from the other guests. He ordered a coffee. Looked out through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Out toward Sturegatan. Humlegården was right across the street. He thought about the first time he’d treated Sophie and Anna to a hit in the park. The gateway to the network. That was a little over five weeks ago now. He’d gotten to know more new people during that time than during his entire life. Cocaine-controlled chum cartels.
There weren’t a lot of people on the streets at three-thirty in the afternoon on a weekday. A couple of stressed-looking bankers in dark blue suits hurried past. Two moms, each pushing a baby carriage with one hand and holding a cell phone in the other, strolled up toward the park. One of them was pregnant again. JW thought about Susanne Pettersson. He’d be bitter, too, if he was in her situation. A lady walked by with a pug on a leash. JW leaned back in his chair and pulled out his cell phone. Fired off a text to Nippe, asking what the plan was for the night: Drinks at Plaza, maybe?
“Salam aleikum. How’s school going?” Abdulkarim’s shrill voice, almost unaccented. JW looked up from his texting.
Abdul stood by his table. At least as much wax in his hair as in JW’s, but shaped differently. Some sort of pageboy look. Abdulkarim was always dressed in a suit, with the cuffs of his shirt peeking out of the jacket. As if he were some honest, hardworking banker or lawyer. What gave him away were the pants. They were three times baggier than the current fashion and had old-man pleats in the front. In 1996, the rest of the pants world had moved on and left Abdulkarim behind. The only thing he got right was a stylish silk handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket. Abdulkarim had a gait with attitude, a constant five o’clock shadow, and dark, glittering eyes. The heart of it: The Arab was the definition of a blatte playboy.
JW replied, “School’s good.”
“Isn’t college a little gay? Buddy, when you gonna realize there are faster roads to success? I really thought you’d have understood that by now.”
JW laughed. Abdulkarim took a seat. Waved his whole arm in order to get the attention of one of the waitresses. True Abdul the Arab. His gestures were too big. Un-Swedish, unreverent.
Abdulkarim ordered sesame-marinated, finely sliced filet of steer and noodles. Trendy. In the same breath, he managed to say that he wanted the waitress’s number, that she ought to change the music, and that he wondered whether the steer’d been well hung. He laughed for five minutes at his own joke.
JW ordered a seafood soup with aioli.
“Very good to see you like this. Was getting tired of just buzzing on the phone all the time.”
“You’re right. We need to get together, to celebrate. These are glorious times, Abdulkarim. If you can get me more, I need more. You know that.”
“Times are fattening you up. You switch that out, like I told you?” Abdulkarim pointed to JW’s cell phone.
“Nope, not yet. Sorry. I’ll buy a new one this week. Sony Ericsson’s latest. Have you seen it? It’s got a super-high-def camera. Really damn sweet.”
Abdulkarim imitated him. “‘Really damn sweet.’ I know your story. Stop talkin’ like you lived in Östermalm since the cradle. Plus, I want you to buy a new cell phone today. Damn it, you gotta watch yourself. We do good business, you and me. Too good to fuck up because of bad phones, if you know what I mean.”
The Arab could seem silly sometimes, but JW knew the guy was a real pro. Cautious, never used words like police, cops, risk, cocaine, coke, or drugs in public. Knew that restaurant employees and customers could eavesdrop better than a gramps with his hearing aid turned up to max. Knew the police easily tapped cells, tracked contracts. Abdulkarim’s rules were safe. Always call from a pay-as-you-go SIM card, exchange the card every week, preferably switch phones every other week.
“You know, I got two other guys selling. They do good. Not as good as you, no, but okay. We can talk numbers on the phone. Prices are going down. My boss’s suppliers, they’re not perfect. Think there’re at least two middlemen between them and the wholesaler.”
“Why don’t you go straight to the wholesaler?”
“First of all, it’s not really my call. I work for the boss and don’t run my own fuckin’ business. I thought you knew that. Second of all, I think the wholesaler’s in England. Hard to read. Hassle to negotiate with. But we’re not here to talk about purchasing prices today. Not at all. What I want to tell you is, we need salespeople. In the boroughs, the projects. Someone who knows that market. Someone who can sell to other retailers. Someone who knows the business and the tricks, if you know what I mean. The prices are going down. The product is getting popular in Stockholm’s satellites. At the beginning of last year, the proportions were something like twenty borough, eighty inner city. At the end of last year, it was fifty-fifty. You with me, my man? The boroughs are waking up in winter, and loving the snow. It’s not just inner-city people, your upper-class buddies, and the partyers doing this stuff anymore. Everyone is. Svens, niggers, teenagers. It’s populist stuff. Folksy. Like IKEA, H &M. We’re talking bigger volume. We’re talking lower purchase prices. Growing margins. You follow, college boy?”
JW loved the Arab’s parley. He spoke better Swedish than expected, like a real businessman-serious business. The only thing that put him off was the fact that Abdul seemed scared of his boss for some reason. JW wondered why.
“It sounds interesting. For sure. But you know, the boroughs aren’t my turf. I can’t sell there. I don’t know anybody there. That’s just not me.”
“I know that’s what you want people to think about you. That’s fine with me. You got your market and you do good. But listen up.” Abdulkarim leaned across the table. JW got his drift, pushed his plate to the side. Crossed his arms and leaned his chest in closer.
Abdul looked him in the eye and lowered his voice. “There’s a guy, a Chilean or somethin’, who just broke outta the joint. I remember him from a couple years back, a clocker without much of a clue. But now talk has it the guy knows the northern boroughs like you know the bathrooms at Kharma. Learned even more on the inside. The joint’s a better school than all the projects combined. I know some of his buds from Österåker. They say he’s smart as hell. The Chilean pulled off quite a show five or six weeks ago. Fucking Cirque du Soleil. Climbed over the wall and disappeared in the woods. A twenty-three-foot wall, you dig? The guards just stood there twisted up like question marks. He’s a good guy. But right now he’s a guy under a fuckload of pressure. I know he hasn’t left the country yet. He’s got what we need. Most important, he’ll work for cheap in exchange for me taking him on.”
“What am I supposed to say? I don’t know about all that. Don’t know why you’d want to get involved with some guy who’s obviously gonna attract the cops like flies to shit.”
“Right now, at this stage, I’m not gonna get involved with him. You are. I want you to find him. Flatter him. Pay him. Take care of him. Then he’ll help us tighten our grip on the boroughs. But don’t scare him; remember, he’s on the run. But that’s the whole point. You dig, my man? Since he’s on the run, he’ll get dependent on us providing for him, giving him a safe place to stay, keeping him undercover.”
JW didn’t like what he was hearing. At the same time, it was like he’d tasted blood, whet his appetite for the Arab’s business. He’d been hesitant in the beginning, but now the sun just seemed to keep on shining. Maybe the Chilean runaway idea wasn’t so bad after all.
“Why not? Let’s try it. How and where do I find this Chilean?”
Abdulkarim laughed out loud. Praised JW. Praised Allah. JW thought, is Abdul getting religious, or what?
The Arab leaned in even closer and gave JW the info. The little he knew. The runaway’s name: Jorge Salinas Barrio. The guy was from Sollentuna and his family consisted of a mom, a plastic papa, and a sister. Abdulkarim’s best piece of advice: “Go to Sollentuna and talk up some of the right people. It should give you something, inshallah; just make it obvious you’re not a narc.”
He ended by tucking a bag in JW’s jacket pocket. JW felt with his hand-bills. He looked at Abdul, who held up all ten fingers. “There are this many bills in there and a piece of paper with six names on it. That’s the best help I can offer.”
JW fished out the slip of paper. All the names except for one sounded Spanish. The money was, as the Arab put it, “for getting all the homeys in Sollis to dish about el runaway-o.”
JW finished his soup. Abdulkarim settled the bill.
They walked out. It was chilly outside.
JW started thinking. This could be big. This could be a little conglomerate all on its own.
He was going to track down that Chilean.
He walked home. Had trouble studying. Couldn’t concentrate. His mind kept wandering. He stretched out on the bed and tried to read the last issue of GQ.
His cell phone rang. JW realized he’d forgotten to keep his promise to Abdulkarim about getting a new one.
Jet Set Carl’s voice on the other end of the line.
What the hell? What could he want?
After saying hi, Carl said, “JW, Lövhälla Manor was such a great fucking time. Totally insane.”
“Ridiculous. We’ve gotta do that again sometime.”
“For sure. Really damn sweet that you could help bring the party. I really think everyone appreciated it.”
“Nice to hear. I tend to be able to find a way to bring some fun, so to speak.”
“Did you know I jumped the shit out of a couch? Totally busted it.”
JW gauged his tone-no problem, okay to laugh.
“It was a real piece, too. Designer.”
“You’re kidding? What’d Gunn say?”
More laughter. I mean, Gunn? Please.
They chatted about the awesome dinner, Nippe’s game, that Jet Set Carl’d paid fifteen big ones to fix the couch, that Gunn must’ve wondered why everyone was sneezing up a storm the morning after.
In JW’s mind, the same question kept coming back to him: Why is Jet Set Carl calling me?
He didn’t have to wait long for an answer. “It’s my birthday and I’m having a big party at my house. Think you could bring some fun?”
JW was used to the slang and the roundabout way of saying things. Even so, it took him a sec to catch on. “You mean C? Of course. How much do you need?”
“Hundred and fifty grams.”
JW: brain freeze.
He tried to sound unperturbed, “That’s a lot, but I think I can get it. Just have to check the amount first, make sure it’s cool.”
“I don’t want to be a drag, but I have to know pretty soon. I’ll call you back in an hour. If you don’t know, I’ll ask someone else. What’s your price?”
JW did some rapid mental arithmetic. It was dizzying-if he could get a hold of the amount, that is. Maybe he’d be able to push the purchase price down to five hundred. Could charge Carl at least a thousand. Left for him: at least seventy-five grand.
Jesus Christ Superstar.
“I’ll do my very best, Calle. I’ll call you as soon as I know.”
Jet Set Carl thanked him. He sounded like he was in a good mood.
They hung up.
JW sat on the bed-with the stiffest hard-on in northern Europe.
* * *
Dagens Nyheter, daily
TONIGHT, THE STOCKHOLM POLICE BEGAN A MAJOR OFFENSIVE AGAINST ORGANIZED crime. The goal is to eradicate at least one-third of the 150 specifically targeted persons from the criminal underworld-and to deter young people from taking up a life of violent crime.
The offensive, classified as “Nova,” was actually supposed to begin over six months ago. The planned action had to be postponed because resources were allocated to a number of other recent highly publicized investigations.
But the first hit took place tonight. Hundreds of police officers from various divisions, including special operations from the gang unit, took part in a number of crackdowns in different parts of the city and the surrounding boroughs. The result of the work is not yet known and the district police have not answered any of Dagens Nyheter’s questions.
Through Nova, the district police hope to combat the networks of more or less career criminals who are behind violent crime, protection racketeering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, and cigarette smuggling. The project’s action plan states that violent crime is on the rise in the Stockholm area and that the likelihood of criminals bearing arms has increased.
The strategy is to first and foremost strike out against the leaders of these criminal networks. In connection with the offensive, 150 known criminals across the region have been pinpointed as being of special interest. The goal is that at least fifty of these will, “by means of distraction or force of law,” be “made to refrain from criminal activity in the long term.” None of these persons is currently serving time or is charged with crimes that can lead to more than two years in prison.
The goal is to be reached within two years, at the latest.
On his way to Radovan. Serbian music on the stereo: Zdravko Colic. Mrado, pissed-that faggot Jorge’d been uppity. Threatened Radovan. Indirectly threatened Mrado. Tried to blackmail. Tried to be smart. Tried to play with fire.
Jorge had info on the cocaine business. Knew of storage spots, import routes, smuggling methods, dealers, buyers, labs, bulking techniques. Most of all, the blatte knew who ran the show. Mr. R. himself risked being in the danger zone. Gospodin Bog-the blatte fucker was the one should be in the danger zone.
That cocksucker. Mrado would find Jorge, tape him up, cut him to pieces. Eat him up. Shit him out. Lap up. Shit out again.
Mrado’d called Radovan right after he got off the phone with the blatte. Radovan sounded calmer than Mrado. But Mrado sensed the vibes under the surface: Radovan even more pissed than he was.
Jorge, prepare for revenge of the Yugos.
The good thing about the Latino’s provocation: The incident diverted Radovan’s irritation from Mrado. Last time they’d gotten together, the mood’d hit an all-time low. Radovan’d gone too far.
Twenty minutes later, he arrived in Näsbypark. The leafy suburb. Gaudy paradise of the straitlaced and square. Cunts. He parked his car and lit a cigarette. Held it between thumb and pointer finger-Slavic-style. Took deep drags. Had to calm down before his meeting with Radovan the Great. Phlegmy cough. Thought about Radovan’s paintings. Total value? Couldn’t be measured in money.
He stubbed out his cigarette. Walked up to the house.
Rang the doorbell.
Stefanovic opened the door. Didn’t say a word, just led Mrado to the library. Radovan was seated in the same chair as last time. The leather on the armrests was worn and faded. A bottle of whiskey on the coffee table: sixteen-year-old Lagavulin.
“Have a seat, Mrado. Thanks for calling right away. We could’ve done this over the phone, but I wanted to look you in the eyes to see that you’re not too rabid. You’ve got to take it easy. We’ve got to take it easy. Solve this one step at a time. It’s not a huge deal. Others have tried. Only difference now is that he actually might know something. Tell me what he said. From the beginning, please. Full transcript.”
Mrado told him everything. Tried to keep it short without leaving out the most important part-the blatte’s attitude.
“Jorge Salinas Barrio’s on the run. You know more than me about that story; you were the one who informed me. According to what I’ve heard, the guy’s some sort of hero at Österåker. Even the heavy hitters at federal joints like Kumla and Hall admire his style and finesse. Disappeared into thin air like some fucking magic trick. Broke out, Houdini-style. I should’ve dealt with him right away. That fuckin’ fag.”
“Houdini-I like the comparison. But don’t tell me you should’ve taken him down right away. We don’t know what could’ve happened then. Just keep talking.”
Mrado told him about his conversation with Jorge. That Jorge’d sounded stressed-out, that the blatte’d probably called from a pay phone, that he wanted a passport and a hundred G’s, that he’d said a lot of shit would be leaked if anything happened to him.
Radovan sat silently. Refilled his glass of Lagavulin. Took a sip.
“He knows a lot about us. But not that much. He can’t make me dance like some kinda monkey with the shit he knows. This is his big chance to get me to help him. Of course I could get him a new passport. Cash. A new life in some warm country. The only problem is, he’s gotten me all wrong. No one forces me to do anything. Anyway, what’s to say he’ll stop there? You know how the fucking Croats were back in the homeland. They wouldn’t settle for ninety-nine percent of the coastline, they wanted it all. It’s the same with this guy. One day I get him a new identity, and the next day he’ll be back asking for money. Or asking for plane fare. Or asking for any fucking thing-stake in Radovan’s empire.”
Mrado laughed. Rado: the gangster king who talked about himself in the third person. Mrado relaxed. Better mood than last time he’d been here. Felt the whiskey warm his body. Soften his shoulders. Caress his insides.
“His trump card is what he knows, or maybe knows. I’m not really sure that he actually has enough info to hurt us, but he’s a threat. Our trump card is that we can send him right back to jail, without passing Go. The disadvantage of our advantage is that there’s a risk he’ll lose hope if we send him back in. If he doesn’t have anything to live for anymore besides building biceps at a supermax, that canary’ll sing quicker than you can say blow. I can guarantee you that.”
“Excuse me, Radovan. But why not just pop the fucker?”
“That’s not how we do. Too dangerous. You heard him. It’ll leak. We don’t know who else he’s told. Jorge Salinas Barrio’s no idiot. If we rub him out, I promise he’ll have made sure the info we don’t want seeing the light’ll be up and out with the fucking dawn. He’s probably already leaked to someone who’ll tell all if we so much as pluck a hair on his nappy head. But, you know, he could do anything. Lock papers in some safety deposit box. If he bites it, no one’ll be there to keep paying the fee, the box’ll be opened, someone’ll see all the papers he put in there, including detailed accounts of our business. Or else he’s written some e-mail that’s programmed to be sent to the cops after a certain date unless he stops it. You know where this is going-point is, we can’t off him. He’s too smart for that. But there are ways. Classic methods, you know, Mrado. You find him, or get in touch with him in some other way. Do your thing. Explain to him that he can forget about his ugly blackmail attempts ever making Radovan quiver. And then, once you’re sure he knows who sent the greeting, crush him. You ever stabbed someone in the stomach?”
“Yes, bayonet, Srebrenica, 1995.”
“Then you know it bleeds like a bitch, will fold anyone. So many soft parts to hit and so much to injure. That’s the way to approach Jorge-break him right away, fast and easy. Like stabbing with a knife.”
“I’m following. Do I have carte blanche?”
“Yes and no. You can’t finish him. No knife. That was just to paint the picture. Let me put it this way: You have to use soft brass knuckles.”
Radovan laughed at his own joke.
“I understand. Do you know anything else about where I might find him?”
“Not really. But he’s from the Sollentuna area. Ask Ratko or Ratko’s brother. They’re from there. One more thing. You can’t fuck the blatte fag up so much he has to go to the hospital. Then he’ll be sent back to prison, and we’ll be back in the risky territory I just mentioned. In the slammer without hope, he’ll screw everyone. Turn into a rodent in no time.”
“Trust me. Not a single bone will be broken in the body of that little pussy. Still, he’ll wish he was back in his mother’s.”
Mrado’s vulgarity made Radovan smile. He whisked the whiskey around in his glass. Took a sip. Leaned back in the armchair. Mrado, pumped. Wanted out, on the street. Away from Radovan. To the gym. Talk to the guys. Find leads. Crack the code. Crush Jorge.
They talked about other stuff: horses and cars. No business. Nothing about Mrado’s demanding a bigger cut of the coat checks last time. After fifteen minutes, Radovan excused himself. “I’ve got some things to attend to. And Mrado, considering the fiasco at Kvarnen, I want Jorge now. Know what? I want him yesterday already.”
Mrado went to the gym. Talked to the guys working the desk. Interrupted their discussion about the latest muscle medicine. Asked questions. Did they know anyone doing time at Österåker? Did they know anyone working as a guard at Österåker? Did they know anything about that slick break that’d gone down five weeks ago?
One of them said, “You seem interested. Are you on your way in and want to know how to get out?” Grinned at his own joke.
Mrado, indulgent. Refrained from biting back. Joked along instead. “Preparation’s a shortcut, right?”
The guy leaned over the desk: “That escape was totally SUPERior. I mean, honestly, the dude that stepped over the wall must’ve been Sergej Bubka himself. Twenty-three feet, Mrado. How the hell do you jump that without a pole? Is he Spider-Man, or what?”
“Do you know anyone doing time there?”
“I don’t know anyone doing time there. I’m a refined person, don’t you know. Don’t know any guards, either. Ask Mahmud, maybe. You know, Arabs are always a little criminal. Half the race is, like, behind bars. Check the showers, I think he just did his morning sesh.”
Mrado went downstairs. Into the locker room. Mahmud wasn’t there. A couple other guys were getting dressed. Mrado said hi. Walked back up. Looked around the room on the right. The Eurotechno blared. No Mahmud. Looked around the room on the left. Saw Mahmud kneeling on a red mat. Stretching his back. Looked like a grotesque ballerina mid-pose.
Mrado knelt down next to him.
“Yo, twiggy. How’s your sesh? What d’you do?”
Mahmud didn’t look up. Kept stretching his back. “I don’t know who you’re calling twiggy, twiggy. The sesh was good. I’ve worked the crap out of my lower back and shoulders today. Is fine. They’re far from each other. How’re things with you?”
“Rollin’. I need help with something. That cool?”
“Course. Mahmud never leaves you hangin’; you know that.”
“Cool. Do you know anyone doing time at Österåker?”
“Yeah. My sister’s husband’s there. She visits a lot. They get a room to themselves, have a little fun.” Mahmud changed positions. Stood up. Arms between his legs. Hunched his back. The sound of joints cracking.
“When’s the next time she’s gonna visit?”
“Don’t know. Want me to ask?”
“Yeah. Would you call when you’re done here? I need to know as soon as possible.”
Mahmud nodded. They were silent. The Arab did a few more stretches. Mrado waited. Chatted with two other guys in the room. They walked down to the locker room. Mahmud called his sister. Spoke in Arabic. His sis was going there on Thursday.
They met up at a place on the south side. Supercheap-greasy kabobs and falafel in pita bread for twenty kronor a pop. Mrado ordered three. Scoped out the place. Pictures of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and Arabic texts on the walls. Genuine or for show? Who cared when the kabobs were so good, they’d melt in your mouth.
Mrado’s take on Mahmud’s sister: tacky blatte. Clothes a little too tight. Skirt a little too short. Makeup a little too much. The Louis Vuitton accessories? A little too fake. Much too much ghetto Swedish. Tone it down, habibti.
She was amenable. Nema problema. He instructed her on what to ask: If Jorge’d had an unusual amount of contact with another inmate the days before the escape. With a CO? How’d he gotten over the wall? Had he belonged to a gang? Did people know who’d helped him on the outside? Who were his friends on the inside?
She wrote the questions down and promised to memorize them before her next visit to the penitentiary. Wanted two thousand cash for her time.
Mrado knew Jorge’s type; they never shut up. Bragged, showed off, said too much.
He felt certain: With a contact at Österåker, the Latino’d soon be found.
The hunt could begin.
Spanish dreams. “Jorgelito, I’ll sit here till you fall asleep. Jorgelito, wait here and I’ll get the storybook. Jorgelito, have I told you you’re my prince? Paola’s my princess. You’re my own royal family.”
Jorge woke up.
It was light outside. Hot in the room. Sweet dreams were over. He lay on a mattress that he’d pulled off a bed. Reduced the risk that someone would see him from the outside. Double safety measures-tall bushes outside the window blocked the view.
He’d spent a total of six days in the cottage. Bored. Soon time to call that Yugo. He thought about Rodriguez. One day, Jorge-boy’d be back. Redecorate his face. Make him crawl. Lick mom’s feet. Beg. Creep. Cry.
Maybe he’d been stupid. Careless. For instance, he’d run out of food the day before. He’d walked out to the road. Followed it until he reached a bigger road. Kept going. Saw water. Boats that people were taking out of the water. Haloed autumn panorama. About an hour and a half later: a grocery store, ICA Nygrens. He went in.
Never felt as dark as there, in the Aryan Swedish national store. The blatte stood out, sharp contrast. No one said anything. No one seemed to care. But Jorge, el negrito, thought he was gonna be lynched, dipped in poisonous boat paint and rolled in granola.
He bought spaghetti, chips, bread, sandwich meat, eggs, butter, and beer. Laundry detergent and hair dye. Paid cash. Didn’t say thank you to the lady working the cash register. Just nodded. Thought everyone was eyeing him. Hating him. Planning to turn him over to the cops.
Already on his way out of the store, he felt like an idiot. Tried to walk through the woods on his way home. Didn’t fly. Kept hitting private property, houses. Got scared that people might be home. Get suspicious. Get pissed off. Report the nigger to the police. Walked back out to the main road. Hoped no one would take note of him, el fugitivo.
Jorge fried two eggs. Buttered five pieces of bread. Added sandwich meat. Drank water. A tower of plates and silverware balanced precariously in the sink. Why bother doing dishes? The house’s rightful owner could take care of that later.
He sat down at the kitchen table. Ate the sandwiches quickly. Ran his fingers over the tabletop. It looked old. He wondered if poor people owned the cottage, or if they’d chosen an old table on purpose.
Then: a sound outside. Jorge’s ears perked up.
He hunched down.
Slid off the chair, onto the floor.
Lay flat on his stomach.
Crawled toward the window. If someone was on the way in, he could be cooked. If it was the cops outside, he was definitely cooked.
Goddamn it, why hadn’t he prepared better? Nothing packed. His clothes, hair dye, food, toiletries-everything was spread out in the room where he slept. Fucking idiot. If he had to run now, he wouldn’t manage to take a fucking thing.
He tried to look out the window. Didn’t see anyone outside. Just the tranquil garden, surrounded by trimmed hawthorn bushes and two maple trees. Again: the voice. Sounded like it came from the little road leading up to the house. Folded in half, he slunk over to the other window. Through the hall. The broad wooden planks in the floor creaked. Fuck. Didn’t dare look out the window. They might be able to see him from the outside. Listened first. Heard another voice, closer now, but not right outside. At least two people talking to each other. Was it the 5-0 or someone else?
Listened again. One of the voices had a slight foreign accent.
He peeked cautiously. No parked car. Couldn’t see the people. Looked up the road that continued past the house toward a dark red barn behind the garden. There. Three people were walking toward the house.
Jorge fast-forwarded through his options. Weighed the advantages and the risks. The cottage was good. Warm, relatively shielded from view, far from the city and the cops’ searching. He could bunker down here until all his money ran out. On the other hand, the people on the road from the barn. He couldn’t really make out who they were.
They could be the owners of the house. Maybe it wasn’t their house but they were just curious. Took a look-see through the windows. Saw the mountain of dishes, saw the mattress on the floor, saw the mess.
It could be the cops.
The risk was too big. Better to pack up his things and clear out before they got here. There were other houses. Other warm beds.
Jorge shoved his stuff into two bags, food in one and clothes and toiletries in the other. He went to the door. The upper half was made of painted glass. He looked out. Didn’t see the people. Opened the door. Walked quickly to the left. Not the gravel path out to the little road. Pushed through an opening in the bushes instead. Got caught on thorns.
Thought the voices sounded closer.
He ran without looking back.
JW: on his way to the top. Jet Set Carl’s offer-a golden opportunity. Abdulkarim: overjoyed. Babbled on about their expansion plans. “If you just find that Jorge dude,” he reminded JW, “we’ll own this city.”
JW didn’t break any unnecessary sweat looking for the Chilean. He’d put out some hooks here and there. Had dinner with peeps from the Sollentuna area and offered them money for information that could lead to zeroing in on the fugitive. It’d work out.
Today, he had another project.
JW’d called the Komvux teacher, Jan Brunéus, a couple of days ago. The teacher remembered Camilla well but really didn’t want to talk about her. When JW’d insisted, he’d hung up on him.
JW hadn’t been able to deal with his reaction at the time. Hadn’t bothered to call him again. Tried not to think about the whole thing.
But today it was time. He had to.
He put on jeans, shirt, coat.
Walked toward Sveaplan Gymnasium, the high school below the Wenner-Gren Center where the continuing-education center, Komvux, was located. Wanted to meet Jan Brunéus face-to-face.
Valhallavägen was louder than usual, either due to the heavy traffic or due to his headache. Probably due to both.
He spotted the school building at the end of Sveavägen.
It was 11:30 a.m. Lunch break. JW suspected that the reception desk would close during lunch. He didn’t want to have to wait till after, ignored the arrows and signs and just asked someone for directions. A woman with a Fjällräven Kånken backpack who seemed on her way out gave him a good explanation of how to get there: Take the main entrance, up the stairs, then to the right.
JW ran against the current. Mostly young people his own age on their way out to lunch. The washed-up middle class-didn’t realize there were faster ways to Life.
He took the stairs three at a time. Got short of breath.
Reached the reception area.
A woman in a pleated skirt and an old-fashioned blouse was on her way out the door with purposeful movements that said, I’m closing now.
He said, “Hello, ma’am. May I please ask a question before you close for lunch?”
JW’d become the prince of politesse-calling the receptionist “ma’am.” He’d learned well from his Stockholm crowd.
The lady was mollified and let him in. She got back behind the counter.
“I need to speak with one of your teachers, Jan Brunéus. Does he have classes this week, and if so, where might I find him?”
The woman grimaced, looked uncomfortable. JW didn’t like her style. Instead of using clear communication, some people grimaced their way through life.
She pulled out a schedule and ran her finger down the boxes. Finally, she said, “He has a class today that is letting out in ten minutes, at noon. Room four two two. That’s one flight up.”
JW thanked her kindly. Wanted to maintain a good relationship with the woman, for some reason. Sensed he might need it later.
He ran up the stairs. Found the right hallway.
Room 422. The door was closed, still five more minutes till lunchtime.
He waited outside. Put his ear up to the door, heard a chanting voice but couldn’t recognize if it was Jan Brunéus’s.
JW checked out the hallway. Beige walls, wide windows, simple white china light fixtures in the ceiling, graffiti on the radiators. Classic high school. He’d expected a different vibe at Komvux. More mature.
The door to the classroom opened.
A black guy with baggy clothes and jeans almost down to his knees stepped out. Twenty-odd students streamed out behind him.
JW popped his head into the classroom. A couple of girls were collecting their pens and notebooks by the desks.
A teacher stood at the whiteboard, erasing writing. He didn’t see JW.
It had to be Jan Brunéus.
The teacher was dressed in a brown corduroy suit with leather patches at the elbows. He wore a green V-necked knit sweater under the jacket. Three days’ worth of stubble made it more difficult to appreciate his age, but he was probably around forty. He had thin-framed glasses, maybe made by Silhoutte. JW thought he looked like a nice guy.
He walked up to Jan.
Jan turned around, studied JW.
JW thought, Does he see the resemblance between me and Camilla?
Jan said, “How can I help you?”
“My name is Johan Westlund. We spoke on the phone a couple of days ago, as you might remember. I would like to speak to you about my sister, Camilla Westlund. If that’s okay.”
Brunéus sat down on the edge of the desk. Didn’t say anything. Just sighed.
Did he want to seem like he was ready for a heart-to-heart, or what?
The girls who’d been in the classroom left.
Jan got up and closed the door behind them. Sat back down on the edge of the desk.
JW remained standing. No comment.
“I really want to apologize for my behavior. Thinking about her made me upset. The whole disappearance is just so tragic. I didn’t mean to hang up on you like that.”
JW listened without saying anything in return.
“I remember Camilla very well. She was one of my favorite students. She was talented and interested. Good attendance. I gave her an A in every subject.”
JW thought, Teachers care about bullshit like attendance.
“What subjects did she have with you?”
“Language arts, English, and, if I’m remembering correctly, social studies. You know, around two hundred faces pass through my classes every year, but I remember Camilla. You look a lot alike.”
“People say that. Can you tell me more about what you remember about her? I know that she hung out some with a girl named Susanne Pettersson. Did she have other friends here?”
“Susanne Pettersson? I don’t remember her. But I honestly don’t think Camilla had a lot of friends, which was strange. I thought she was very extroverted and nice-seeming. She looked nice, too.”
Something was off. Susanne Pettersson’d said that she and Camilla used to cut class. Now Jan Brunéus was saying she’d had a good attendance record. And that she’d looked nice. Did teachers usually say stuff like that?
They talked for another two minutes or so. Jan spoke in generalities. “Komvux is an important social institution. High school doesn’t suit everyone. Here, they can get a second chance.”
JW wanted to get away from the classroom. Away from Jan Brunéus.
Jan shook his hand. “It’s a sad story. Send my regards to your parents. Tell them that Camilla would’ve gone far.”
Jan picked up a worn leather briefcase from the floor and disappeared out into the hall.
JW walked back to the reception desk. Took note of the hours. The administration offices were closed for the day. Typical, or what?
At home, he flipped through the phone book. City of Stockholm, Education Department. Called the number and asked to be connected to someone who could answer general questions about transcripts and official records. He was put through to the responsible administrator. They discussed JW’s questions for fifteen minutes. That was enough. JW got all the answers he needed.
He would definitely go back to the reception at Komvux. Dig deep in the school’s transcript archives. Something wasn’t right with Jan Brunéus’s story.
Mrado’d played crime thriller for two and a half days while he waited for Mahmud’s sister to visit Österåker. Ordered passport photos of Jorge. Called his two cop contacts, Jonas and Rolf. Promised five grand to the one who’d dig up useful info on the Jorge fucker. Looked up the Latino’s relatives with the Population Registry. No leads. Checked in with his colleague Nenad, Radovan’s blow and whore page. Nenad didn’t even remember Jorge, other than from the trial. Mrado had breakfast with Ratko and Ratko’s brother Slobodan, alias “Bobban.” They gave him the lowdown on Stockholm’s northwest criminal map-which junkies to talk to, which employees to talk to at which bars, which dealers knew Jorge’s crowd. He went out to Sollentuna and Märsta twice and talked to various cocaine contacts and Latinos. Bobban went with him. Good visual aid.
Most already knew who the fugitive was, and those who didn’t got the passport pics shoved under their noses. A hero. A legend. Everyone wanted to buy the hero a drink. Celebrate the guy. Congratulate the guy. But no one’d seen him.
Jorge’s mom lived with a new husband, and he had a sister, Paola. The mom lived outside Stockholm. The sister in Hägersten. He ordered passport photos of the sister and mom. Got two hits when he Googled the sister’s name. She’d written an article in the Stockholm University newspaper, Gaudeamus, and taken part in the campus Literature Days. Good girl. Was apparently trying to make her own way from scratch. He figured maybe he should take a closer look at the university.
He called the Literature Department. The sis was taking the “level 3 course,” whatever that was.
Mrado drove out to Frescati, university playground. Parked the car at the back of the blue high-rises. His Benz stuck out. The rest of the cars in the parking lot: dud cars.
The university for Mrado: a foreign country. Population: stick figures, four-eyed bookworms. Players who preferred parlance to performance. Pussies. To Mrado’s surprise, however, there were hot chicks en masse.
He eyed some signs. Found the Lit Department. Rode up in the elevator. Asked a lady in the hall who was responsible for the level 3 course. Got the name of the teaching assistant. Eyed more signs. The TA’s room was farther down the same hall. Tacked on the door was another sign: I LOVE MY WORK… DURING LUNCH AND COFFEE BREAKS. Mrado knocked. No answer. Asked a woman in the room next door. The TA was in a meeting in room C 119. Rode down again, all the way down. The halls felt half-finished. Pipes and ventilation systems hung from the ceiling. Some walls looked unpainted. White wood panels leaned up in a corner. He eyed the arrows. Found the room. Knocked. A guy in a blazer and frizzy bangs opened the door. Mrado asked to speak to the TA. The guy said they were in a meeting. Mrado cocked his head to the side. Put his foot in the door so it wouldn’t close. Stared the guy down. Mr. Frizz stood his ground. After fifteen seconds, he looked away. Went to get the TA. A young girl-twenty-five tops. Mrado’d expected an older woman. She asked what he wanted. He pulled some bull. Said he was supposed to buy books from a girl who hadn’t shown. Wondered if the TA had her number or knew where she had class today. She asked why he was in such a hurry. Mrado pulled some more bull, something about heading out of the country and needing the books today. An emergency. The TA: gullible and too nice, a cold trick. They went up to her office. She found Paola’s telephone number and the schedule for the level 3 course. Said Mrado was in luck. “Paola is in a seminar today in room D three twenty-seven.” Finally, a hot hand.
How she let herself be fooled by a six-foot Yugoslav, he couldn’t even begin to imagine.
To D 327. Eyed signs again. Found the room.
Same deal as with the TA. Some dude opened. Mrado asked him to get Paola.
Mrado closed the door of the seminar room behind her. Paola understood immediately that something wasn’t right. Jerked her head around. Took a step back, averted her face. Mrado had time to see her eyes. If unease had a face, it would look like hers.
Not what Mrado had expected from a lit major. She was wearing a light blue blouse with wide cuffs. Dark, tight blue jeans. Straitlaced style. Black hair, pulled back in a ponytail. It gleamed. Innocent look. Something sparked within Mrado.
He waved toward a bathroom. They walked in that direction. Paola: stiff movements. Mrado: focused. They stepped into the bathroom. Mrado closed the door.
The bathroom was covered in graffiti. Mostly written in pencil and ballpoint pen. Mrado, surprised. College students weren’t supposed to do that kind of thing, were they?
He told Paola to sit down on the toilet. Her face flushed.
“Calm down. I don’t want to hurt you, but there’s no point in screaming. I prefer not to use violence on girls. I’m not that kinda guy. Just need to know a few things.”
Paola spoke perfect Swedish. No trace of an accent. “It’s about Jorge, isn’t it? Is it about Jorge?” Near tears.
“You got it, babe. It’s about your bro. You know where he is?”
“No. I don’t have a clue. I don’t know. He hasn’t been in touch. Not with Mama, either. We’ve just read about him in the papers.”
“Cut it. I’m sure he cares about you. Of course he’s been in touch. Where is he?”
She sobbed. “I told you-I don’t know. I really don’t. He hasn’t even called.”
Mrado kept pushing it. “Don’t lie. You seem like a good girl. I can make your life a living hell. I can make your bro’s life good. Just tell me where he is.”
She kept denying it, point-blank.
“Listen carefully, little lady. Stop pouting. This bathroom looks like shit, don’t you agree? Walls totally scratched up. You’re leaving this kind of shit behind. You want to get out with your fancy education. Up in life. Your brother can get a good life, too.”
She stared straight into his eyes. Her pupils big, glossy. He saw his reflection in them. She’d stopped crying. The mascara painted black lines down her cheeks.
“I really don’t know.”
Mrado analyzed. There are people who can lie. Dupe. Fool anyone. Stand up against cops, prosecutors, and lawyers in interrogation after interrogation. Even stand up against guys like Mrado. Maybe they believe their own stories. Maybe they’re just extremely good actors. Other people try to lie and it shows right away. Their eyes shoot up to the left, a sign that they’re making things up. They blush. Sweat. Contradict themselves. Miss details. Or the opposite: try to be calm. Pretend it’s raining. Speak slowly. But it shows. They’re too confident. Their stories are too sweeping, too big picture. They sit abnormally still. Seem too secure in their statements.
He knew them all. Paola didn’t belong to any of these. Mrado’d been in the protection-racket business long enough. Had squeezed juice out of people. Forced them to show him where the cash was stashed, how much blow they’d dealt, where they were delivering their moonshine, how many johns they’d had. Held his gun to people’s temples, in their mouths, against their cocks. Asked for answers. Appraised their answers. Forced answers. He was an expert at answers.
Mrado checked her hands. Not her face. He knew people control their mugs, but not their bodies. Hands speak the truth.
Paola wasn’t lying.
She really didn’t know where the Jorge fucker was.
He left her sitting on the toilet. Paralyzed.
Jogged down to the parking lot. Jumped in the car. Pulled the door shut hard behind him. Drove off to meet Mahmud’s sis.
Mrado felt stressed-out. He saw her right away. She was sitting with a Pepsi in front of her. The Arab joint was packed. Two veiled women with at least 140 ankle biters occupied the back half of the place. In the front were a couple of Svens lapping up multicultural Sweden. Mahmud’s sister held out her hand. Meaning: I want my two thousand cash. The chick’d been compliant last time. Now: considerable attitude problem.
Mrado sighed. Thought something that surprised him: Too many people who are downright losers rock an attitude. He’d experienced it a lot. Unemployed Sven boozehounds, uneducated bouncers, and cocky project blattes played tough guy. Did that protect them? Did it keep them from feeling like the dregs they were? This chick was an obvious loser. Why did she even try?
He sat down.
“Okay, babe, let’s hold off on the money. You’ll get it soon. First, tell me what he said.”
Before she’d even said a word, he knew the answer.
“My man, he know nothin’.”
“What do you mean? He knew about Jorge, didn’t he?”
“No, I mean, like, they hung never, or whatever.”
Got irritated. The chick couldn’t fucking speak straight. Someone should return her to the store. Reclaim the warranty.
“Come on. Of course he knew who Jorge was. Think. What’d he say?”
“What’s your deal? Don’t think I remember, huh? Me, comin’ from there now. I just said-they hung never.”
“You want your dough or what? Did he know who the Latino was or not?”
“He knew. Said tightest break he’d ever heard.”
“You mean the escape? Did he see the escape?”
“Shit, you nag. My man not there. Not on motivation.”
“Girl, if you want the dough, you have to fuckin’ talk so I understand you.” Mrado was about to snap. Pushed back his chair. Signal: Wise up or I’ll leave.
“He, like, in not same block. Not motivation. He somewhere else. You know?”
Mrado knew. Bummed. Mahmud’s sis was a dud. There were two units at Österåker. One for inmates who wanted to get their lives back on track, where they got motivation to get off drugs. Learn society’s rules. Pedagogical programs, workshops, bullshit psychology and chat therapy. Of course that’s where Jorge’d been, the so-called motivation unit. Then it was true what she’d said: Her tired-ass man didn’t know zilch.
He moved on to another cottage. Stayed there two days. And now he was gonna switch it up again. Had to keep moving.
He walked for over three hours. Wanted to get away from the area where he’d just stayed-watchful neighbors equaled foes. His nigger look a threat. One family has a break-in and suddenly every unknown individual with dark hair in the area’s a suspect. A miracle that no one’d stopped by the side of the road yet to ask him who he was and what he was doing there.
A cold wind. The middle of October wasn’t his favorite time of year. But Jorge-boy’d planned ahead. The knit sweater and the winter jacket warmed. Thanked the thrift store for that.
He turned off the main road. Read a sign that said DYVIK, 2 MILES. Smaller road. No houses yet. Pine trees all around. He kept trotting along. Hungry. Tired. Refused to lose heart. J-boy: still on the way up. Out. Onward. Toward success. Radovan would yield to him. Give him a passport. Kale. Opportunities. He’d head to Denmark. Maybe invest a few grand in blow. Deal. Make cash. Move on. Maybe to Spain. Maybe Italy. He’d buy a real identity. Start all over. Play drug kingpin with hard-core connections in Viking territory. Hook his old homeys up. Everyone except Radovan would bathe in his glory. The Yugo faggot would have to beg to get in on deals belonging to Jorge, King of Blow.
The road sloped downward. The forest opened up. He saw houses. To his left, a barn with two run-down green tractors out front. Farther down, horses. Not good. Someone lived on the place. He kept going. Found another house. Broke in.
A small kitchen, a living room, and two bedrooms-one with a queen-size bed, the other with a twin. It was cold. He turned on the radiator. Kept his jacket on.
He unpacked his food. The fridge and the freezer were turned off-a good sign that the house was closed for the winter. Fried two eggs. Cut thick slices off the loaf of bread. Put the eggs on top. Checked the pantry. Almost empty: an old box of chocolates, two cans of crushed tomatoes, and beans. Worthless.
Sat down in the living room. Opened the door of a corner cupboard that was painted with florid designs in red and blue: crammed with bottles of booze. Jackpot. City’s sickest juice-juju.
Screw safety. Jorge-boy was gonna have a niiiiice night.
No mixers. No ice. No fruit or drinks to blend it with. Fuck that. Real men take it straight. Jorge did a whiskey tasting all by his lonesome. Lined up five glasses on the living room table. Poured out five different brands. Picked the ones with the weirdest names: Laphroaig, Aberlour, Isle of Jura, Mortlach, Strathisla.
Munched on stale chocolate. Turned on the radio on a huge Sharp stereo. A display with blinking yellow stripes and patterns began to glow to the beat of the music. Felt very 1991.
Mortlach was the best. He poured himself another glass. Sang along to the songs from the radio. Tried to wail like Mariah Carey.
Poured water into a glass and more whiskey into another. Not his thing to drink straight, but what the hell. He drained the glass.
The house was spinning. Poorly built. Crooked corners. Tilting windows. He laughed at himself-the countryside’s new urban architect. The buzz washed over him.
Joy. At the same time: little Jorgelito, so alone.
Drunken rush. At the same time: He had to be vigilant.
He sat down on the floor to steady himself.
Suddenly, he remembered something he hadn’t thought about in a very long time. How he and Mama’d been walking together from the grocery store. He might’ve been six or seven. Paola was already at home, waiting for them. Preparing dinner. Everything but the rice-they’d run out and so Jorge and Mama’d had to go buy some. Rodriguez’d refused to help out, and Jorge’d been scared to go alone. He saw his mother’s face now, clearly: the dark furrows under her eyes and the lines in her forehead that made her look like she was always wondering about something but never could find the answer. He’d asked, “Mama, are you tired?” She’d set the bag of rice down on the sidewalk. Lifted him up into her arms. Smoothed back his hair and said, “No, Jorgelito. If we sleep well tonight, I’m going to be wide-awake tomorrow. That’ll be nice.”
Jorge reached for the bottle. Poured out more Mortlach.
The living room was spinning like crazy.
He stood up.
Passed out on the floor.
Three days later. Jorge had some serious problems. He’d been out of food for twenty-four hours already and he had only four hundred kronor left. Couldn’t even muster sit-ups. Too tired to go to a new cottage. Unfortunately, you couldn’t live on whiskey and water.
He needed to get to a store and buy food.
He needed to get cash. The question: Would Radovan agree to his proposition? If not, his need for cheddar would grow even more.
But worst of all: He felt so alone.
He needed to talk to someone-meet some old friend or relative. Human contact.
Was he already fried?
He had to get to the city. Eat. Scrape up some extra dough while he waited to call the Yugos. That’s just the way it was.
Jorge checked out map books in the bookcase. The scale was too bad. He checked the back pages of the phone book-he wanted to know how to get back to this cottage when he’d completed his mission in the city. Looked for Dyvik.
Considered boosting a car.
It was, without a doubt, the bash to break all bashes-the year’s most prestigious, profligate private party.
JW lived off the hype several days beforehand. It was high-gear, high-class, high-line. Most of all, it was so goddamn jet set.
Carl Malmer, alias Jet Set Carl, alias the Prince of Stureplan, was turning twenty-five and was having a courtly revelry in his four-room, sixteen-hundred-square-foot apartment. The apartment was on Skeppargatan and the rooftop terrace’d been booked for months.
The hottest chicks were booked; the kids from the best families were invited; the bottles and models set would naturally be featured at the party.
JW arrived with Fredrik and Nippe. They’d pregamed at Fredrik’s. It was eleven-thirty. Overflowing coatracks stood in the foyer, as did an enormous black dude without bouncer tag but sporting a spot-on style: black leather jacket, turtleneck, dark jeans. Fredrik grinned. “A bouncer at a private party?”
The bouncer checked them off a list and waved them through.
They hung up their coats and walked in.
Heat, perfume, party din, and the smell of eau de cash hit them as richly as at the velvet-roped entrances of Stureplan’s best clubs. They made their way through a crowd of underage girls who seemed to have just arrived-they were fixing their faces in front of the mirror in the hall. Nippe was drooling, couldn’t help himself; started flirt-chatting with one of the girls. Fredrik asked where Carl was. Someone pointed toward the kitchen. They pulled Nippe with them.
The kitchen was nearly six hundred square feet. An island remade as a bar filled the middle of the room. Two guys in bandannas mixed drinks. The place was packed. The music from the speakers: the Sounds. In the middle of it all was Jet Set Carl himself, wearing a white tux and a blinding smile.
“Hey, boys.” Carl hugged and welcomed them. Introduced them to the two chicks he was talking to. Top-tier superbimbettes. Fredrik made conversation and Nippe pulled his telltale tail tales. JW looked around with a bored expression. Had to keep the surface ripple-free, couldn’t show how impressed he was.
He thought, Carl must make a killing on his parties and club gigs, almost better than you make on C. The kitchen area was redone. Boffi, Italian design for people with black cards. Corian countertops. Slim, discreet cabinet handles. Oven in brushed stainless steel, Gaggenau-four gas burners and a built-in grill. Tap and levers in stylish chrome floated like a swan’s neck over the sink. The fridge and freezer were of stainless steel, American extra-wide size, with round, wide handles. To the left of the fridge was a wine cooler with a transparent door, filled with bottles. Having a kitchen like that scored more adult points than having kids.
Right mix of A-, B-, and C-list celebs in the crowd. Bloggers, actors, models. Scenesters and artists. Princess Madeleine plus entourage. He glimpsed former Social Democratic minister Leif Pagrotsky smack in the middle.
Nippe was swallowed up, disappeared on a mingle crusade. Fredrik lit a cigarette.
Jet Set Carl turned to JW. “Good to see you. You haven’t been here before, have you?”
“No, but it’s a damn nice apartment you’ve got.”
“Thanks. I like it myself.”
“How many people did you invite tonight?”
“Many. I’ve booked the rooftop terrace, too. Probably hundred and fifty people up there already. Gonna be wild. You’ve got to go up and check it out; that’s where the food is. There’ll be some stuff happening on the roof later, too.”
“What about your neighbors?”
“I booked rooms at the Grand for the families next door and below me. They were happy as hell.”
“Who wouldn’t be for a free night at the Grand Hôtel? Everything cool with the stuff?”
“Sure thing. Sweet that you could get it on such short notice. It’s in the bedroom.”
“Yup, check the terrace.”
JW thanked him, moved on. Felt good that he and Carl were starting to become tight.
He walked out through the foyer, nodded to the bouncer, and took the stairs up.
The terrace looked like a forest of metal mushrooms-gas-powered heaters to soften the October chill. Carl didn’t take any risks-a third of the terrace was covered by a party tent. But there were no rain clouds tonight. The gas ’shrooms spurted heat and the girls felt good in their tiny tops and bling. JW was scanning the scene for Sophie. The crowd pushed from all sides. Enormous speakers blared Robyn’s latest hit.
A dozen or so girls stood in the middle of the crowd, trying to get the dance party going. Maybe it was too early; in an hour, the terrace would explode. People just needed more booze and a noseful of blow.
The buffet was stylish. Tiny portions on tablespoons: a crouton with fois gras, sour cream with fish roe and red onion, potato salad topped with Russian caviar. You just cleaned the spoon with one bite, tossed it in a bin on the table, and then chose a new gourmet spoon to your liking. Farther down were plates with wineglass holders attached. The buffet consisted of lime-marinated chicken kebobs, tabouleh, and sweet-and-sour chili sauce. The catering crew worked efficiently. The morsel-laden spoons were quickly replaced with new ones; the bucket was emptied in time with the filling of wineglasses.
Real New York vibe in the Stockholm night.
There were ads for Kharma posted everywhere. Jet Set Carl was no dummy-he’d write off this entire party as a company expense.
Sophie was standing at the far end of the terrace, where the party tent began. JW made his way to her. She was talking to a tall guy in a pinstriped blazer and skinny jeans. The guy had some sort of trendy image painted on the back of the blazer. He was unshaven, with hair as short as his stubble. JW recognized him. He was a famous ad guy with a cheesy smile permanently glued to his face. Named Sweden’s seventy-third-sexiest man by Elle a couple of years ago. Generally infamous cunt-catcher. A total tool.
He positioned himself near them, wanted to be introduced. Sophie dissed him majorly, kept talking to the trend tool. JW shoved his hands in his pockets, made a serious effort to nail the disinterested look again. His couldn’t-care-less chin hung.
She looked right through him.
He gave up, skipped her. Played the game and went downstairs to the living room.
A single word in his head: fuck.
Something was wrong with Sophie. JW worried. Did she see through him? Would she call his bluff? Predetermined tracks were hard to hide. A guy from Robertsfors just couldn’t make it with the Stureplan scene’s coolest chic.
A thought: What’s my yearning for Sophie about anyway? Maybe Sophie was like an incarnation of Camilla. A party girl with brains. Something’d happened to his sister, something he repressed. And still he was doing what she’d done. Moved to the city, partied, spent money. Was falling for girls who looked like her. Was faking Life, like she’d done. Camilla’d lived some kind of double life, definitely in front of his mom and dad, but also in front of JW. That had become apparent after he saw the pictures of her riding in the Ferrari, though she’d never told him about the car. She’d only hinted to JW once. Said, “I make more dough in two months than Mom does in a year.” Why? And how was it possible that she’d only had one friend at Komvux, Susanne? JW remembered her as Robertsfors’s number-one socialite.
The thoughts churned. He thought about what he’d found out three days ago from Jan Brunéus.
It was all so shady.
He had to know more.
The living room was more crowded than a late subway car on a Monday morning. In one corner, a stroboscope was spurting flashes of light. Six different-colored spotlights were moving and painting pictures on the opposite wall. There was a smoke machine on the floor, and gigantic speakers in the corners of the room ensured that everything vibrated. Two flat-screen TVs that were set up on top of the speakers were projecting video installations by the artist Ernst Billgren.
JW got it confirmed once again: People with money party better.
He was dancing wildly with some twenty-year-old silicone celeb from the Paradise Hotel when he saw the closed door from the living room. There was another bouncer positioned in front of the door. Older, subtler, slicker, with his hair gelled back. The revealing factor once again: his clothes. Black turtleneck, dark jeans, and a thin leather jacket-indoors. JW recognized him. He was the head bouncer from Stureplan’s biggest security guard company, Tom Schultzenberg.
He thought, That’s gotta be it.
The bouncer checked JW’s name off the list. He slid in.
He found himself in Jet Set Carl’s bedroom, remade as a Lebanese café-super-privé. The bed’d been carried out; in its place were brass hookahs filled with fruit-flavored tobacco on the floor. Purple-and-red fabrics hung on the walls. A thick carpet and tasseled pillows with gold embroidery swallowed the sound in the room. Still, an amped aura: elated, active, sexy. JW clocked right away. In the middle of the room was a glass-topped table. In the middle of the table was a pile of snow.
Six people were sitting on pillows around the table. Two of them were snorting lines. Two others were preparing theirs. All the people in the room were sniffling, wiping powder with the backs of their hands, sneezing, and babbling about the glory of existence.
JW regarded his work, his delivery. VIP room without borders. What an event, what class.
He sat down on a red pillow. Reached for a razor blade and started to cut a line. A girl across from him was staring him down, sucking him off with her eyes. JW smiled back, snorted the cocaine. The straw was made of glass.
Four hours later. JW was a little too sweaty for comfort. He’d danced, mingled, tried to make out with the girl from the cocaine room in front of Sophie. She kept up her don’t-give-a-shit act. They’d talked for a total of only seventeen minutes. He pulled out all the charm cards he had in his deck. Thought, If I can’t get her tonight, I’ll never fucking get her. He chatted with Jet Set Carl, his friends Fredrik and Nippe, snorted with them, snorted with the silicone bimbo from the Paradise Hotel. Chatted with celebs and silver-spoon babies. He sold himself in.
JW’s message was simple: I’m hot as hell and I’m your local cocaine dealer. Buy from me.
He didn’t see her coming. Suddenly, Sophie was there, took his hand, looked at him. This time, she wanted something more than to chat. He could feel it.
JW was already on a rush. He couldn’t distinguish between the heat in his pants, the heat in his nose, and the heat in his heart. They pushed their way through the party people. It was four o’clock and the party’d peaked. It was still crowded, but not as crowded as before. JW found his jacket on the floor of the foyer. Sophie’s was dangling on a hanger. They pushed the button for the elevator. Giggled together. JW squeezed Sophie’s hand. Still no other bodily contact. In the midst of the spell he was under, JW felt unease. Was it really all set?
On the way down, Sophie said, “What happens now?”
JW looked at her. Grinned. Pulled a cliché. “Can I come up for a cup of tea?”
She smiled. JW got even more nervous, tried not to let it show.
Out on the street, they could hear the music from the party pounding several stories up.
JW said, “Weird that no one’s complaining. Did Carl put the entire neighborhood up at the Grand?”
Sophie, with a Mona Lisa smile: “Maybe they like the music?”
They started walking. JW was unsure of the direction. He thought, Is she playing with me? Is it a joke? She’d done a 180-first ignoring him, as if he were no better than chopped liver, and now taking him home with her.
After a while, she stopped. Looked like she was about to say something. JW’s heart skipped a beat. “Of course we should go to my place for a cup of tea.”
Was happiness on the horizon?
They kept walking along Linnégatan, past 7-Eleven. At least ten people from Carl’s party were stuffing their faces with hot dogs inside the store. JW didn’t have the energy to say hi; he didn’t want to let anything break the mood.
He and Sophie were quiet, which was unusual for both of them. They just kept walking toward Sophie’s place.
They arrived at her apartment on Grev Turegatan-a small studio, 380 square feet. She went into the kitchen. JW, clueless. Was she really going to make tea? He wanted to caress her, kiss her, and hug her, just lie and talk all night with her. At the same time, he wanted to have sex with her more than ever.
The coke kick was wearing off. He got an idea. Went into the bathroom and turned on the tap. Created white noise. He pulled his cock out and began to masturbate. The inspiration came from the movie There’s Something About Mary. He thought of Sophie naked. He came after two minutes. He was pleased with the security measure-if he was to make it with Sophie, he’d be able to marathon it.
He unlocked the door and walked out.
Sophie was standing by the edge of the bed. Her top’d slid down over one shoulder. Was it a hint?
She looked him in the eyes as though she were saying, What are you waiting for?
He took two steps forward, ended up a few inches from her face. Waited for a reaction from her. Shit, he was such a pussy. Not even now, with all the vibes she was sending out, did he dare make the first move. He was too scared, too nervous. Didn’t want to make a fool of himself and burn his bridges with her. Miss future opportunities. Sophie took a tiny step closer. The tips of their noses touched. He hoped she didn’t suspect what he was feeling-his heart was pumping 230 bpm.
She kissed him. Finally.
He was flying. Soaring.
JW put his arms around her. Kissed her back. No one had ever tasted so good: smoke, alcohol, and Sophie smell. They ended up on the bed. He took her top off, carefully. Cupped her breasts over her bra. She licked his neck.
JW put his hand on top of her pants, over her butt. Began to kiss her neck, breasts, and belly. He unbuttoned her tight jeans and pulled them off. Kissed the inside of her thighs. She made sounds. JW was dying to put his cock in her, but at the same time he wanted to wait. Sophie started to take her thong off herself. Straight shot, Sophie-style. He continued to kiss around her pussy while he caressed her left breast. Carefully pinched her nipple.
He asked, “May I have a taste?”
Sophie mmmm’ed in response. He licked carefully around her labia. After a while, he let his tongue slip in and slowly swirl around. First around and around, then up and down. He could hardly believe it. He was making her feel good. He was making Sophie whimper.
Sophie pulled him up and pressed him down on his back against the bed. Took off his shirt. Pulled off his pants. Took his cock in her mouth. Sucked him in rapid mouthfuls. He looked down cautiously and saved the image in his mental hard drive-him and Sophie.
JW got up. He was scared he might come. She kept his cock in her hand. Reached over toward the nightstand. Looked for something. He wanted in and didn’t get what she was up to. She leaned back. Then she opened a condom wrapper.
JW, filled with angst-he hated condoms.
He asked, “Do we have to use that?”
“Don’t kid, JW. Of course we do.”
He regretted having said anything. Had to try. She rolled it onto his cock and pulled him down toward her. Right before she guided him in, he went soft. He tried to laugh it off. She looked questioningly at him. JW sighed. Lay down on his back.
Sophie asked, “You and condoms are not a good combo, or what?”
“Damn, Sophie. I’m so happy.” Almost told her this was the happiest day in his life but then shut it; he’d already said too much. Unnecessary to open up more, even though she was the most wonderful thing in the world.
“Don’t know what the deal is. I just don’t work too great with rubber is all.”
The condom hung loosely. She pulled it off. Started kissing his cock. He got hard again. She pulled back his foreskin and licked the tip. Kissed his balls. He got rock-hard. She pulled out another condom from the same drawer. JW tried to relax. Took the condom in his own hands. Put it on. Remained lying on his back. Guided her on top of him. She grabbed hold of his cock to put it right.
The smell of latex.
He went flaccid.
She said, “That’s okay. It can happen to any guy.”
JW thought back to something he’d read in the paper two years ago: a list of the most common lies.
Mrado was sitting at a table under the vaulted ceilings on the cellar level of Café Piastowska, on Tegnérgatan. He’d ordered schnitzel Belwederski with sauerkraut and Okocim, Polish beer. He liked the venue. Brick walls and dark wood paneling. A flag with the Polish eagle hung at one of the short ends of the room. Beer ads were glued to the ceiling. Genuine feel to the waitress: middle-aged gray-haired woman with integrity.
He took out pen and paper.
Around him: a racket. It was the weekend. Someone was celebrating their thirtieth birthday-the tables were pushed together to form one long one. The birthday celebrators ordered beer and called down the troubadour from the upstairs level.
A longhaired toothpick with an acoustic guitar attached to a black sash around his neck came down the stairs. Sang a folksy classic with a soft voice. The thirtieth-birthday revelers hooted with joy.
Mrado shut them out. He was tired, had slept worse last night than in the trench in Bosnia.
Was trying to think. Compartmentalize. Analyze. Find leads. In front of him on the table: a ruled notebook. Wrote questions in a column on the left-hand side of the page. What’d Jorge done? Where’d he gone? Who would know where he was? Wrote down probable answers in another column on the right-hand side. The Latino’d asked for a passport; the call’d come from a Swedish pay phone. Conclusion: Jorge hadn’t left the country.
Jorge must’ve planned large parts on his own. In other words, he was on the run, without too many helpers. He wasn’t hiding at his sister’s, probably not at his mother’s. If he was in the Sollentuna area, the Latino was staying indoors at all times. He couldn’t have that much money stashed away, either. According to what Mrado remembered, the blatte’d been cleaned out worse than Lehman after closing when he’d been locked up at Österåker one and a half years ago. And now he was hitting up Rado for money, too.
In summation: Jorge was hiding somewhere cheap, in Sweden, probably in the Stockholm area. Alone.
Left in the middle of the page: a column for unanswered questions. Who’d last been in touch with Jorge? Where’d he gone directly after the breakout? Mrado underlined two central words: location now. He hadn’t really gotten anywhere in his search. Figuring out where the blatte was hiding was as easy as completing a jigsaw puzzle of a sky with all blue pieces.
He could wait for Jorge’s call and scare him then. Threaten to hurt the Latino’s sister, his mom. But those weren’t Radovan’s orders. Instead: Find him, hurt him, and make him understand who’s in charge. Also: Jorge’d broken with his family. In that case, threats wouldn’t help.
Mrado took a final swig of beer. Asked for the check. Paid. Tipped. On his way up the stairs from the lower level, he felt a vibration in his pocket. Service again. A text. He picked up his cell. Didn’t recognize the number. Read the text: Call me on this number at 8:00 p.m./Rolf. His cop connect. The pussy used his son’s or daughter’s cell when he got in touch with Mrado. The text: good news. Maybe Rolf knew something.
It was eight o’clock. Mrado was sitting in his car outside the shoot club, Pancrease, on Odengatan. Called Rolf. Was careful not to be explicit with his own name, Rolf’s name, or other details. Kept it brief, as usual.
“What’s up? It’s me.”
“Yep. And you?”
“Sure, sure, but I’ve had a tough day. Sat hunched in the driver’s seat of a car all day. My back’s giving out.”
“You should work out more. Go running sometimes and do fifty back-ups every night and I’ll bet you’ll feel better. Whattya got for me?”
“I’ve checked up on what we talked about. The northern precinct brought a guy in for questioning a month ago. Sergio Salinas Morena, a troublemaker from Sollentuna. He’s cousins with your guy. Didn’t lead to anything, but apparently he was suspected of aiding.”
“Nice. I bow in thanks. Will check it out. That all?”
“That’s all. Later.”
Mrado started up the car. Drove to the intersection of Sveavägen/Odengatan. Turned up toward Norrtull. There wouldn’t be any working out at the club tonight. He called Ratko-needed his contacts in Sollentuna. Ratko was with his girl in Solna. Didn’t seem too hot on joining the hunt. Despite that: agreed to be picked up at Råsundavägen. What could Ratko do? The bottom line: When Mrado asks, you deliver.
They drove on the E4 highway toward Sollentuna. Ratko didn’t know anyone named Sergio Salinas Morena. Called Bobban. He recognized the name. Thought the guy still lived in the Sollentuna area. Didn’t know more than that.
The road was poorly lit. Ratko made calls to old friends from Märsta and Sollentuna, asked about Sergio. Mrado was strangely unfocused. Didn’t have the energy to listen to Ratko’s phone buzz. He was tired. Thought about Lovisa. His preparatory hearing in family court was coming up. Annika didn’t even want him to see his daughter every other week. So fuckin’ low.
They tore down the highway. Mrado’d busted the speed limit more times than he could count. He remembered one time in particular: when Lovisa was born. Immediate cesarean. He’d been at Solvalla with some buds. Gotten a call from Annika that the contractions’d started but that the water hadn’t broken. She called the hospital. They said, “Take it easy until the contractions come more frequently.” Mrado stayed at Solvalla. Why go home if it wasn’t time? When he was leaving, he called home. No answer. Worry. Had she gone without calling him? There was a note on the kitchen table. Went to Huddinge. Had to hurry. Mrado ran back out to the car. Gunned it. Drove 110 to Huddinge Hospital. Took the turns on two wheels. Worried more than he’d ever done in his entire life. Ran the entire way to the hospital’s main entrance. When he arrived, drenched in sweat, Lovisa’d already been plucked out. Her heart rate’d started to plummet-there’d been no time to spare. Before Annika went under, she heard the surgeon tell the rest of the team they had only five minutes of game time. From emergency to catastrophe. Mrado’d been late to his own daughter’s birth. He would never forgive himself for that. But the following two hours had been some of the best in his life-in an adjoining room with Lovisa, 6.9 pounds, lying on his chest. She folded her head in under his chin. Grazed his neck with her tiny mouth. Seemed to become calm. Annika was still not awake after the cut. Just Mrado and Lovisa-the way it should be, always. Maybe the way it could be if he threw in the towel. Stopped with this shit.
Ratko shoved him, “Hey, are you listening?”
Someone’d bitten the bait. Sergio Salinas Morena: worked as a courier driver, lived on Allévägen in Rotebro.
Mrado slammed his foot on the gas. They drove past Sollentuna. Continued on E4 north. Took a left by Staketvägen. His pulse was rising. The tension was soaring. Mrado was in the mood.
Salinas Morena lived on the fourth floor. They looked up at the windows. Six out of nine were lit on the fourth floor. Three apartments on that level. At least one window in each apartment was lit. Hopefully, people home in each of them. The house looked run-down. The sky was darkening, but the crap graffiti was still visible. The paint on the outer walls was peeling.
Ratko positioned himself down in the foyer. Mrado went up. Covered the peephole with his finger as he rang the doorbell.
A girl’s voice yelled something in Spanish inside the apartment.
Nothing happened. Mrado rang the bell again.
A guy opened. Mrado assessed him. Around twenty-five years old. Dressed in a black T-shirt with large white Gothic lettering: Vatos Locos. Faded jeans. Dark hair. Cocky look. Did he think he was a Los Angeleno, or what?
Sergio looked skeptically at Mrado. Didn’t say anything. Raised an eyebrow. Meaning: Who the fuck are you?
Mrado looked beyond Sergio, into the apartment. A hallway with three doors. TV sounds emanating from somewhere. No sign of the woman he’d heard through the door. Generally shabby and ugly. Bare linoleum on the floor. A couple of posters on the walls. Lined up and spread out in the hall: enough sneakers to fill a fucking sporting goods store.
“Are you Sergio? Can I come in?”
“Ey, WHO are you?”
Mrado thought, Kids, no respect these days.
“We can talk about that inside. Can I come in?” No chance in hell he’d repeat the question one more time.
Sergio remained standing. Staring.
Neither one looked away. The guy had to get that Mrado wasn’t a cop. But did he pick up that Mrado was one of the most feared men in the Stockholm underworld? Unclear.
Finally, Sergio threw open his arms, gesticulated. “Whaddya want with me?”
“Are you Sergio?”
The guy took a step back. Let Mrado in. The apartment smelled of burned onion.
“Sure. And who’re you?”
Mrado thought, What a stubborn motherfucker. Doesn’t quit gabbing.
“Let’s put it this way: You don’t need to know who I am. I don’t need to know more about you than that you’re Sergio. I only want the answer to one question; then I’ll go. Where is Jorge?”
The guy’s left hand moved involuntarily. His neck muscles tensed.
The guy knew something.
“Don’t play dumber than you are. You know where he is. You’ll tell me, whether you want to or not.”
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin’ about.”
“Exactly which words didn’t you understand?”
“Pendejo, you think you can come here, to my house, and talk a lotta basura?”
Mrado, silent. Just stared. The guy was crazy. Might be king of his anthill, but a nobody in the real world. Clocked nada.
Sergio started yelling in Spanish. A girl came out of the TV room, wearing sweatpants and a black tank top. Sergio was freaking out. Mrado was standing calmly. Sergio raised his arms. Got into boxer pose with white-knuckled fists. One arm was out, the other guarding his face. The girl moved toward Sergio. Said something in Spanish. Seemed to be trying to calm him down. Looked at Mrado, her face twisted into a question mark.
Sergio yelled, “Come on, you fat Croat!”
Mrado took another step forward. Sergio struck with his left. His fist’d twitched a heartbeat earlier. Enough for Mrado-he blocked the punch. Put Sergio’s arm in a lock. Pressed Sergio’s hand up against the arm, his wrist at an unnatural angle. Forced the entire arm back. Sergio howled. Tried to strike with his free hand. Hit Mrado’s shoulder. Lost his balance. Fell. The girl screamed. Mrado, on top of him. Continued to force his wrist back.
“Sergio, listen. Tell your bitch to shut up.”
The girl kept shrieking. Mrado got up, grabbed hold of her arms. Pushed her down to the floor. She sat down with her back to the wall. Tried to get back up. Sergio, who was still on the floor, tried to kick Mrado’s leg. It hurt. Their mistake: to make Mrado lose it. The girl came at him. He slapped her. She fell down again. Hit her head against the wall. Sounded like someone’d bounced a tennis ball on wood. She lay still. The guy started to get up. Fucking mayhem. Mrado punched him in the stomach. The guy doubled over, mouth wide open. Gasped for breath. The girl cried. Mrado pulled a roll of duct tape from his jacket pocket. Had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Gripped Sergio’s left hand, pinched between his thumb and index finger. Should hurt like hell. Bent his arm back. Taped his two arms together. Sergio kicked wildly. Mrado tackled him carefully, like it was a training session at Pancrease-but in slow motion. Taped his feet together.
Sergio hollered, “You fuckin’ cunt!”
Mrado ignored him. Worked efficiently. Taped up the girl. Dragged her into another room. Fuck. The situation’d derailed. Messier/more dangerous than planned. He called Ratko, asked him to come upstairs.
Leaned over Sergio, “Well, wasn’t that really fucking unnecessary?”
“You seem to have a limited vocabulary. Don’t you know any other bad words?”
Sergio kept his mouth shut.
“It’s simple. You just have to tell me where Jorge is. We won’t turn him in.”
“I think you’ve pretty much figured out what kind of guy I am. I won’t leave until you’ve dished. Don’t be an idiot. Why make this such an unpleasant night? Why not just talk?”
Ratko came in through the front door. Locked it behind him. Looked with disapproval at the hall. Clothes and shoes littered everywhere. Both posters torn down. A stool was turned over. A duct-taped loco Latino in a pile on the floor.
Mrado slapped Sergio across the face. Immediate effect: the guy’s cheek turned red as a blood orange. He still kept his mouth shut. Mrado delivered another slap across the face. Told him to talk. The Latino bit it.
They played good Yugo/bad Yugo. Mrado delivered three, four slaps. Yelled at him to talk. Ratko said it wasn’t their intention to hurt Jorge, that they’d take the tape off Sergio, that he’d be compensated if he told them where his cuz was hiding.
Mrado took Sergio’s hand in his-looked like a baby’s hand in a father’s palm.
Sergio was rigid. The tape tightened.
Mrado snapped his pinkie finger.
Sergio howled. Lost his cool. The attitude: broken.
He sobbed. Cried.
“I don’t even know where he is,” he whimpered. “I have no idea. I swear.”
Mrado shook his head. Grabbed onto Sergio’s ring finger. Bent it back.
About to snap.
Sergio cracked. It ran out of him. He told them almost everything. “Okay, Okay. You fucking cocks. I helped him a little. When he’d gotten out. He stayed at my aunt’s. For five days. Then he started wiggin’ out. Thought there were civvies in every car parked on the street. Totally freaked, yo. Made me drive him outta there. I lent him cash. Don’t know where he went. Jorge let me down. He owes me for all the help I gave. I haven’t seen a fuckin’ cent. He’s worth less than a bag o’ dog shit.”
“That’s it, there you go. You know where you drove him, don’t you?”
“Fuck, man. Yeah, I know. He crashed with this guy, Eddie. Then the cops called me in. That’s when he peaced. I swear on my father’s grave, I don’t know where he went. I swear.”
Mrado looked at Sergio. He wasn’t lying.
“Great. Now you’re gonna go call that Eddie. You’re gonna tell him that you need to know where Jorge is. Play it like all’s cool. Say you promised to help him with some stuff. And my friend here”-Mrado pointed at Ratko-“understands Spanish. So no tricks.”
Mrado pulled out Sergio’s cell phone. Told the Latino: “One peep from you about what happened and you can forget all about your left hand.”
No one picked up at the first number Sergio called. Mrado checked the contacts list. There were three numbers: “Eddie cell,” “Eddie home,” “Eddie work.” Sergio tried “Eddie home.” Someone picked up. Spoke in Spanish. Mrado tried to understand. Hoped his lie wouldn’t show. Ratko understood as much Spanish as Sergio understood Serbian. But he picked up a word here and there. The talk was going in the right direction. Sergio wrote something that Eddie said down on the back of an envelope. Ratko was sweating. Was he nervous? The girl stayed calm. The neighbors were chill. Time stood still.
Sergio hung up. His face was expressionless.
“He said Jorge disappeared from his place the same day I was called in for questioning. Said he didn’t know where he was going. That he was gonna sleep in parks or shelters and then get dough.”
“How can I be sure you’re not lying?”
Sergio shrugged. The attitude was back.
“If you want insurance, call a fuckin’ corporate boojie, fatso.”
Mrado grabbed his ring finger.
“Don’t call me that. Give me something I can trust or I’ll break your whole hand.”
Sergio screamed. Wailed. Cried.
After a couple of minutes, he calmed down. Seemed apathetic. Spoke quietly, in starts. “Jorge gave Eddie a piece of paper. Coded. Jorge and me came up with the system. A couple of months ago. Eddie read it to me. You can check it with him. If you don’t believe me. Just don’t hurt me anymore. Please.”
Mrado nodded. Sergio showed the letters he’d written down on the back of the envelope: Pq vgpiq fqpfg kt. Bxgtoq gp nc ecnng. Sxg Fkqu og caxfg. Incomprehensible letter combinations. Some kind of code. Shouldn’t be impossible to crack, Sergio explained. It was simple. “Every letter is really the one two steps further up in the alphabet. It says: No tengo donde ir. Duermo en la calle. Que Dios me ayude.” Mrado asked him to translate. Sergio glanced at Ratko.
Mrado said: “He doesn’t understand a word.”
The Latino translated, “I have nowhere to go. Sleep on the street. God help me.”
Mrado and Ratko were silent on the ride home. Mrado’d made a big-enough tear in the tape that Sergio’d be able to free himself in a couple of minutes.
Mrado said, “You thought that was unnecessary?”
Ratko’s answer was filled with irritation, “Is there rice in China?”
“Don’t worry. He won’t say anything. If he does, he’ll have to turn himself in.”
“Still, risky behavior. The neighbors might’ve heard.”
“They’re used to shit goin’ down around there.”
“Not like that. The blatte screamed worse than a Bosnian whore.”
“Ratko, can you do me a favor?”
“Never second-guess me again.”
Mrado kept driving. Dropped Ratko off in Solna. Back with his girl. Mrado thought, Congrats, you’ve got a life.
New useful information: The Latino fugitive’d left. Planned to sleep outside or at a homeless shelter. But it was colder now. Jorge’d have to be stupid to sleep on the street this time of year. Odds were he stayed at shelters.
Mrado called information. Got the telephone number and address of three homeless shelters in Stockholm. Stadmissionen had two locations: the Night Owl and the Evening Cat. The third: KarismaCare near Fridhemsplan.
He drove to KarismaCare.
Rang the doorbell. Was buzzed in. A small waiting area. A large bulletin board across from the reception desk was covered with handouts published for Situation Stockholm, a newspaper whose proceeds went to the homeless: opportunities to sell newspapers. Information on community college courses: discounts for the homeless. Information packets about welfare. Pictures from soup kitchens. Ads for yoga classes in the city.
A thin, dark-haired woman was sitting behind the counter. She was dressed in a navy blouse and a cardigan.
“How can I help you?”
“I was wondering if you know if anyone named Jorge Salinas Barrio has slept here in the past four weeks,” Mrado said in a matter-of-fact voice.
Mrado couldn’t even get pissed. The woman seemed too nice.
There was only one thing to do. He walked back to the car. Prepared to sleep. Folded down the backseat as far as it would go. He wanted to get the opportunity to talk to all the homeless guys, even the earliest birds, tomorrow morning when they left the shelter.
He slept better than at home. Dreamed he was walking on a beach and was denied entrance to a shelter that was built inside a set of monkey bars at the edge of a forest. Tried to throw sand up at the people in the monkey bars. They laughed. Bizarre.
He woke up. It was 6:00 a.m. He bought coffee and a pastry at a 7-Eleven. Stayed awake from then on. Listened to the radio. The seven o’clock news: anti-U.S. demonstrations in the Middle East. So? Guaranteed they got less beat up by the Americans in Iraq than by their own leaders. Europe didn’t get it, as usual. But the Serbs knew. Despite that, all Yankee critique was good. The swine’d bombed the shit out of Yugoslavia.
No movement on the street. Mrado was about to fall asleep again.
Ten minutes past seven: The first homeless guy stepped out. Mrado opened the car door and called out to him. The guy, wearing several layers of jackets and old snow boots, his face covered with gray stubble, seemed uneasy at first. Mrado sugared his tone. Showed the guy pictures of Jorge. Explained that he’d probably changed hair color or something else about his appearance. Explained that the Latino’d stayed at the shelter at some point over the past four weeks. Explained that he’d be served grilled cheese if he said something good. The homeless guy knew nil. Seemed to try hard, especially when he heard about the cheddar.
Mrado waited. After ten minutes, two other homeless guys came out. He pulled the same move on them as on the first one. They didn’t recognize J-boy.
He continued. Counted off twelve people. It was now eight thirty. KarismaCare closed in half an hour. No one knew shit, and the worst was that they didn’t seem to be lying.
Finally, a middle-aged man stepped out. Shitty teeth. Otherwise, relatively well-kempt appearance. Coat, black pants, gloves. Mrado called out to him. Same routine: explained, exhibited, enticed. Offered one grand. He could see the man was thinking. He knew something.
“I recognize that thug.”
Mrado pulled out two five-hundred-kronor bills. Rubbed them together.
The man continued, glanced at the bills. “I’ve seen that clown at least three times up at KarismaCare. You know, I noticed him; he was always on the floor doing sit-ups. Then he’d shower and smear himself with lotion. Self-tanner. What a damn hustler.”
“So he was tanner than in the picture?”
“You know, blacks wanna be white, like that player Mikey Jackson. Whites, like, wanna be brown. That hustler in your picture, he was also kinda coffee-colored, so it was strange. By the way, his hair is curlier in real life. A beard, too. I tried to talk to the guy once. Not much of a conversation. But he knew about other shelters in the city, so maybe you’ll find him there.”
“How do you know?”
“How do I know? He used to whine so damn much. Claimed the standard was better at other places, like the Night Owl. What an ass. You can’t complain when you get a bed, breakfast, and dinner for two hundred. There’re a lotta whiners out there, ya know. Don’t know what gratitude is.”
Mrado thanked the old-timer. Felt genuinely happy. Gave him the two bills. Told him to spread the word: Anyone who knows anything about the nappy, dark thug can report to Mrado and cash in.
The first thing Jorge wanted to do was eat.
McDonald’s in the Sollentuna Mall: Big Mac, cheeseburgers, extra fries, and ketchup poured into the small white cups. Jorge: in heaven. At the same time: anxiety masiva-he was out of money and there were two days left before he had to call Mrado. The word CASH pulsed through his body like blood.
He’d left the cottage. Brought a handle of whiskey from the cupboard. Fell asleep on the bus. So fuckin’ nice-one of the safest spots in town. Golden relaxation. Went straight to Sollentuna. Hadn’t dared be in touch with Sergio or Eddie. 5-0 might have eyes there. He’d called some homeboys from way back instead, Vadim and Ashur. Co-dees he used to push powder with in the good old days.
He shouldn’t have done it but couldn’t resist-thought he’d get the shakes, his withdrawal from actual human contact was so bad.
They welcomed him like a king. J-boy: the legendary fugitive. The blow myth. The lucky Latino. Lent him paper for McDonald’s. Reminded him of happier times, asphalt jungle bros, Sollentuna hos.
Vadim and Ashur: international friends. Vadim’d come to Sweden from Russia in 1992. Ashur: Syrian from Turkey.
According to Jorge, Vadim could’ve gone far. The guy was driven, smart, and had a flush family-they ran computer stores outta every single mall in the area. But gangsta dreams got him. Thought dealing a little blow would make him king of the streets. Okay, the clocker’d made out all right, only been in for shorter stints, not like Jorge. But damn, look at the guy today. Worn down like a fuckin’ Sven with barrel fever. Tragic. Homeboy should curb his habits.
Ashur: always with a big silver cross around his neck. Stayed straight. Worked as a hairdresser. Kept his eye on the chicks in the area. Highlighting by day, riding by night. Charmed the bitches 110 percent with his talk of bangs and toning.
Jorge should be safe. After all, his appearance was pretty altered. Vadim hadn’t even recognized him at first.
After the burgers, they went home to Vadim’s. Dude lived in a dump on Malmvägen. Cigarette butts, snort straws, beer cans, and Rizla papers covered the floor. Lighters, pizza boxes, empty booze bottles, and burned spoons on the coffee table. What vice didn’t Vadim have?
They popped the whiskey. Drank it with lukewarm water like connoisseurs. Plus beer. Later, they built a spliff fat like whoa. Maxed Beenie Man on the stereo. Jorge loved the camaraderie. This was freedom.
They got sloshed. Stoned. Speeded. Vadim spewed fast-cash schemes: We should be pimps. We should build a website and sell mail-order weed. We should sprinkle cocaine in middle schoolers’ lunch boxes so they get hooked early. Exchange their Tootsie Rolls for C paste. Jorge joined in. Riled. Get dough. Bake it out. Bake it out.
Vadim looked mischievous, pulled out a matchbox. Unrolled a homemade bag made of plastic wrap. Poured out two grams of blow on a mirror. “Jorge, man, this is to celebrate your homecoming,” Vadim said as he cut three lines.
What a party.
Jorge hadn’t even dreamed of tasting snow tonight.
Maybe not the most luxurious snort straw-the guys each got a straw that Vadim tore off three juice boxes.
Rapid inhale. First a tickling sensation at the root of the nose. A second later: a tickling sensation in the entire body. Grew into a rush. Felt on top of the world. Everything crystal-clear. Jorge the king. Long live the king. The world was his to conquer.
Ashur buzzed about bitches. He’d arranged to meet up down at the Mingel Room Bar in the Sollentuna Mall with two girls whose hair he usually cut. Good girls. He hollered, “One of ’em, man, you gotta see the back on that female. Beyoncé look-alike. Queen-bee bitch. I gonna promise her free stylin’ if one of us get a piece of it tonight.”
Course they were gonna get bitches. Course they were gonna go out.
Jorge, stiff, thinking of giving it to the Beyoncé look-alike.
They filled up, more whiskey and another nose each.
The cocaine pounded out the beat of the music.
They went down to Ashur’s car.
Mingel Room Bar: Sollentuna’s Kharma. But still not. Check Jorgelito out front. Jacked on blow, whiskey, and beer. He didn’t feel the chill in the air. Only felt himself. Only felt his party-mood rocket. They eyed the line. Twenty people max, sheepishly cued up. Eyed the chicks approaching the line from the commuter train. Ashur dissed them, “Fuckin’ Sweden, man. In this country, chicks don’t know howtta walk. Only the guys got it. You should see my home country. Smooth like cats.”
Jorge checked them out. Ashur was right: The chicks walked like bros. Straight, with purpose. Without swish, without ass swing, without sex in their steps. He didn’t give a fuck. If that Beyoncé broad was inside, he’d butter her into a back bend.
Vadim claimed to know the bouncer. Stepped up. They exchanged Russian pleasantries. Smooth sailing.
Jorge, Vadim, and Ashur were about to glide into the joint, when the bouncer put his hand up. Vadim’s questioning look was ignored. The bouncer gazed out toward the road. The line came to a halt. Grew silent. People turned around.
A cop car parked along the curb.
Two cops got out. Walked toward the line.
Jorge’s brain made coke-clear assessments: What were they looking for? Should he book it or have faith in his new look? One thing was certain: If he ran, they’d chase him, ’cause it was shady to dash.
He remained standing. How could he be so stupid that he’d gone out and partied?
Vadim shut his eyes. Looked like his lips were moving, but no sound came out.
Jorge felt stiffer than a substitute on the first day of class in his junior high must’ve. Didn’t move. Didn’t think. Did like Vadim-shut his eyes.
Squinted toward the line. Brass with flashlights.
Pointed them in each person’s face. The chicks in the way back giggled.
The dudes next to them tried to play cool. One told the cop with the flashlight, “If you don’t have a VIP card, you’re not getting in.”
The cop replied, “Take it easy, buddy.”
They continued down the line. People wondered what’d happened. The cops mumbled something unintelligible. They turned the light on Ashur. He cracked a smile. Pointed to the cop with the flashlight. “Hi, I run Scissor Central down in the mall. I think you’d look great with some frosted tips.”
The cop actually smiled.
Turned the light on Vadim. For a long time. His wasted face attracted the cop’s attention.
“Hey there, Vadim,” said the guy with the flashlight. “What’s up with you?”
“Sure. Like always.”
“Yeah, right. Like always.” Cop irony.
Jorge stared straight ahead. Felt like it was all a twisted dream. He couldn’t concentrate. Time stood still.
What the FUCK was he supposed to do?
They came up to him. Shone the torch in his face. He tried to relax. Smile suitably.
JW with morning-after angst. He felt like a baked potato with a lead hat on his head. He’d woken up at nine-thirty. Crawled home from Sophie’s place. Sat on the floor beside the bed and felt nauseous for twenty minutes. Then drank four cups of water in a desperate attempt to curb the hangover. After the water, he puked in the toilet. Felt considerably better. Fell asleep.
Now he was awake again, after only two hours of sleep. Had gotten what he deserved. Couldn’t fall back asleep. He was racked with angst. Things’d gotten weird with Sophie. Felt like the definition of humiliation. On the other hand, he’d done his biggest C delivery ever. So, the night still had to be counted as somewhat of a success.
Promised himself to stick with coke in the future. No booze.
Promised himself to set things right with S.
He stayed in bed even though he couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t get up.
Promised himself for the six thousandth time: Only coke in the future.
JW woke up again. Remembered why he wasn’t allowed to sleep in. There were two projects he had to deal with today. First, he had to make sure the Jan Brunéus story checked out. Then he had to find that Jorge dude. He’d slacked off a little too much on that front. Abdulkarim’s expansion plans demanded action.
He skipped a morning lecture at the university. Returned to the Sveaplan high school instead. Went up to the reception desk. The receptionist recognized him and greeted him cheerfully. She was sporting the same pleated skirt as the first time he’d seen her.
JW said, “I have a question for you, ma’am. It may be somewhat unusual.”
The woman smiled. JW’d done a good job buttering her up with his manners last time.
“I’d like to see the transcripts for someone who studied here four years ago, Camilla Westlund.”
The woman kept smiling but made one of her faces: squeezed her eyes shut, twisted her neck, squinted at JW from the side. Meaning: Aren’t you going a little too far now?
“Sorry, we don’t release that kind of paperwork.”
JW’d spoken with the city agency in charge of academic transcripts. Had expected a reluctant response from Komvux. He was prepared. Had read up, sharpened his arguments. Felt confident. Brought out the heavy artillery right away. No point in mollycoddling the old hag.
“The transcripts are public documents that are to be released unless they are deemed classified for some reason. If you can’t prove that they are classified and provide me with the reason for that, they should be considered public and immediately be made available to me. If you refuse to release them, you will be committing a breach of duty, which may be punishable.”
The woman made another face but kept that same smile on her lips. Her eyes were staring down to the left. Insecurity.
JW continued as though he were reciting from memory. “Other documents that you draw up here at Komvux are also public and most probably unrestricted. According to the Public Records Act, you have no right to withhold the documents. So, if I may trouble you to please produce Camilla Westlund’s grades for all the classes she took here. Thank you.”
The woman turned on her heel. Went into an adjoining room. JW heard her speak to someone.
Michael Moore-you can hit the showers.
The receptionist returned.
New expression: The smile on her lips was even phonier than before. Her eyes were glittering in a servile grimace.
“I have to go get them in the archives. Would you mind waiting?” She didn’t say a word about being wrong.
It didn’t matter. The score was still JW: 1, Grimace lady: 0.
The receptionist disappeared.
She was gone for twenty minutes.
JW got nervous. Sent texts, checked his calendar on his cell. His thoughts flitted from cocaine-selling strategies to Abdulkarim’s platitudes, Camilla’s Ferrari trips, and the Chilean he still had to track down. Everything hit him at once. No order to the chaos.
The woman returned. She was holding a plastic folder in her hand. She handed it to him.
JW scanned the documents: transcripts. Stockholm’s City Continuing Education Program. Sveaplan Gymnasium. Grades for Camilla Westlund. The grades were filled in by hand.
Language Arts: Levels 1 and 2: A
English: Levels 1 and 2: A
Math: Level 1: C
History: Levels 1 and 2: F
Social Studies: Level 1: A
French: Levels 1 and 2: C
JW remained standing by the reception desk. His gaze was glued to the grades. Something was wrong. He tried to get a grip on what. Camilla’d had Jan Brunéus in language arts, English, and social studies. She’d aced them all, just like he’d said she had. She’d only got a C in two other subjects, and failed one. Question was: How come she’d aced Jan’s courses?
JW had to know.
He called for the receptionist again. Asked her to get other documents on Camilla.
Less of a wait this time. She knew where to look.
The receptionist came back after five minutes with a similar plastic folder in her hands-other documents.
They addressed Camilla Westlund’s attendance record. The same subjects as were listed on the transcript. She had less than a 60 percent rate of attendance. His head was spinning. The Komvux reception area was contorting around him, threatening to swallow him up. He felt hot. Camilla’s attendance rate for language arts, English, and social studies-under 30 percent. Something was really fuckin’ wrong. No one could ace anything with that kind of attendance. Why had Jan Brunéus lied?
He turned to the receptionist and said, “Do you know where Jan Brunéus usually spends the breaks between classes?” JW made an effort to smile.
“He’s probably in the teachers’ lounge,” she said, and pointed.
JW turned. Booked it down the corridor.
The door to the teachers’ lounge was open. He didn’t bother to knock. Just walked right in.
Looked around. Seven people were sitting around a large table of pale wood. Eating Danishes and drinking coffee.
None of them was Jan Brunéus.
JW straightened up. “Hi, pardon me for intruding. I was wondering if you know where Jan Brunéus might be?”
One of the people around the table said, “He’s left for the day.”
JW let it drop. Walked out.
His cell vibrated on the way home from Komvux. At first, JW was going to ignore it-he had enough to think about. Then he realized it might be Abdul. He fished the phone out of his pocket. Too late.
The missed call was from José (cell).
José was one of the guys whose name JW’d gotten from Abdulkarim in the search for Jorge. The guy was a bartender at a place in the Sollentuna area, Mingel Room Bar. JW’d met him two days earlier and taken him to dinner at Primo Ciao Ciao-a moneymaking pizza joint. JW’d offered him two grand in exchange for info on Jorge. José was a perfect hit. Knew who Jorge was, worshiped him like a hero. He’d hung with the same crowd as the Chilean in the early ’00s. JW’d told him the truth, more or less: He didn’t wish Jorge any harm, wanted to offer the fugitive opportunities, wanted to help Jorge get back on his feet in his new and wonderful life on the outside. Like Jesus, Jr. But José hadn’t known anything about Mr. AWOL at the time.
JW waited fifteen minutes to call him back. Walked along Valhallavägen and thought through what he wanted to know and what he had the energy to do right now. Thoughts of Jan Brunéus got in the way. He had to concentrate. The Camilla thing couldn’t suck all the energy out of his coke gig right now.
JW said to himself, Focus. Drop the sis angst. It’s more exciting to play detective regarding a Chilean on the run than regarding Camilla. The Jorge dude on the run-JW’s chance to be part of something big.
He called José.
As soon as the guy picked up, JW knew José had superimportant act-fast-as-fuck kind of info. Someone who looked like Jorge’d been spotted in Sollentuna last night. The blatte’d partied hard together with two other Sollentuna gangsters: Vadim and Ashur. Infamous in northwest Stockholm. The Jorge dude’d left the bar at closing, 3:00 a.m. José’d gone out to the entrance, where the stragglers were still hanging. They were juiced up. Blabbered on about the close call they’d had with the 5-0. José asked Vadim if it really was Jorge he’d seen. The hero’d curled his hair, looked darker, more facial hair. Vadim just grinned. He didn’t reveal anything directly, but what he did say was enough: “He a new bad boy, yo. Gonna spend the night at my crib ’cause the Five-Oh be chasin’ him all the time. Tonight, too.” José read him.
JW asked two questions before hanging up: “Where does Vadim live? What time is it?”
José knew the address: Malmvägen 32. Near the Sollentuna Mall. It was 1:00 p.m.
JW stopped short. Tried to hail a cab.
He waited. Not a lot of cabs around at this time.
Thought about the Chilean he had to get hold of. What would he say to him?
Six minutes passed. Where were all the cabs?
Restlessness overtook him once again. Nothing worse than waiting for a taxi.
He waved at a cab that looked empty.
It drove past him.
Hailed another one.
JW got in. The driver said something in unintelligible Swedish.
JW said, “Take me to Malmvägen thirty-two, please.”
They drove toward Nortull.
Out on the E4 expressway. Felt like they were crawling.
JW evaluated: There were worse things in the world than waiting for a cab-such as sitting in a cab and waiting for the traffic to move.
Soon he’d have his talk with the Chilean.
Mrado’d just completed his weekend training. Murder-machine meeting place par excellence. His guilty conscience-he was there too seldom. Pancrease Gym: Krav Maga, shootfighting, thai boxing, combat tae kwon do. The basement venue consisted of a large room with padded flooring. Four seventeen-pound sandbags suspended by chains along one of the walls. A broad metal locker with sweaty gloves, pads, and safety vests in one corner. A boxing ring in another.
The head instructor was Omar Elalbaoui. Professional shootfighter, fourth dan, Japan. Fastest left hook in town. Middleweight champion in Pride Grand Prix MMA-mixed martial arts, all styles. Swedish-Moroccan prize-podium hunter. Poet of violence. Feared full-contact prophet.
Broken noses, busted knees, dislocated shoulders-legion. And the question: What does fear mean? Omar Elalbaoui’s philosophy: “Fear is your worst enemy. Everyone is afraid of something. You’re not afraid to get hurt. You’re afraid to do poorly, to fight a bad match, to lose. That is the only thing to fear. Never become a loser.”
MMA: everything allowed-kicks, punches, knees, elbows, throws, choke slams, grips. No pussy helmets or huge gloves. The only protection: finger gloves, mouth guards, and jockstraps. Sport of sports. Raw strength, agility, and speed were important factors, but above all: strategy and intelligence.
It was the ultimate thing: no props, no complex courses or plans, no complicated rules. Just fighting. The one who gave up first or was knocked out lost. As easy as that.
Mrado’s advantages: size, weight, the power behind his punches. Range. But the guys at Pancrease were good. Took punches. Avoided kicks. Blocked tackles. Mrado often got his ass kicked. Once, four years ago, he’d had to be rushed to the hospital. His nose was broken in two places. But the thing was, Mrado liked getting beaten. Made him feel alive. Made him practice not being afraid. To keep feeding jabs even though his head was going numb. To never give up.
Competitions were mostly held in Solnahallen, a large venue in Solna. The organizers easily sidestepped the national ban on boxing. Sometimes they fought in cages, Brazilian vale tudo. Mrado knew the guys; a lot of them trained or had trained at Pancrease. He knew their styles, their weaknesses/strengths. At the latest competition in Stockholm, he’d cashed in ten grand. Knew how to place his bets. MMA in its different incarnations was blowing up as a sport.
Mrado knew what was up. Had learned techniques. Trained the right muscle groups. The stronger muscles, tendons, ligaments you have, the more difficult it is to knock you down. The more flexible you are, the lower the risk of pulling something. Maintain your guard. Eye on the punches. Follow your opponent’s movements. At the same time, tense the right muscle groups to take the hit. Above all: A strong neck reduces the movement of the head. With Mrado’s neck, he was almost immune to knockouts.
Mentally: Pain increases with fear and is reduced with aggression.
Mrado’s only problem: Lately, he’d been working out at the gym too much, hadn’t been to Pancrease enough. State of contradiction: beefier muscles, less agility. He was starting to lose it. Stiffer joints. Reduced flexibility. Slower punch sequences.
Fighting was a lifestyle.
Mrado pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt after the training. Let the sweat dry. He didn’t shower at Pancrease. Showered at home. The guys at the fighting club were too young. Too jazzed. Mrado liked the meatheads at Fitness Club better. He downed a protein drink. When he got home, he’d take his own witch’s brew of growth meds.
Drove over the Västerbron bridge, the most beautiful spot in the city. Lit up from below. View over a territory: a business empire annexed by the Serbs. No puny AWOL nigger could take that away from them.
Reached Katarina Bangata in four minutes. Home. Now he had to find a parking spot.
The apartment: a two-bedroom. Living room, Mrado’s bedroom, and Lovisa’s room.
The living room: Eastern European luxury look. A group of black leather corner couches. Glass table. Bookshelf with a stereo, flat-screen TV, and DVD player. Expensive shit. Also on the shelves: CDs, mostly Serbian music and rock, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Young. DVDs: action, boxing, all the Rocky films, and Serbian documentaries. Photos of his family in Belgrade, the Swedish king, Slobodan Milosevic, and Lovisa. Three bottles of good whiskey and a bottle of Stoli Cristall. The rest of the booze was in anther cupboard. Four flint-lock rifles on the wall, bought at an arms market in Vojvodina-symbols of the 1813 uprising against the Turks. In a broad glass-front cupboard beside the bookshelf: two Browning pistols, one Smith & Wesson Magnum.41 replica, a bayonet, and a real land mine from the war. The bayonet was well used. Constant question about the mine: Was it disarmed? Mrado kept up the suspense. Never told anyone the truth.
He sat down on the couch. Turned the TV on.
Channel-surfed. Watched a couple minutes of a nature show about crocodiles. Got bored. Kept zapping. Shit across the board.
Fingered his gun. Mrado packed Starfire ammunition. The bullet was hollow at the tip. Effect at impact: explosion. Tore up enough flesh to kill with one shot.
Put the revolver down on the table. Mused.
The Jorge fag was a total fucking fiasco. He was annoyed with himself for not having found the Latino yet, with Radovan for his arrogant style, and with Jorge for lying low.
Flipped through his notebook. Questions and probable answers. In the middle, a column devoted to questions without answers. Two words were underlined and circled: current location. The trail’d ended. But people usually slipped up eventually. Ran outta kale. Wanted to bang bitches. Live la dolce vita. Livin’ on the lam was hard. But Jorge was keeping a low profile. Nevertheless, Mrado was certain the blatte was still in the country/city. It wasn’t over yet.
But where to pick up the search?
Mrado leaned back.
His cell vibrated.
A text: Met Jorge tonight. He at Vadim’s now.
Mrado called the number. A guy, Ashur, answered. Mrado remembered the name. One of the kids him and Ratko’d shown pics of Jorge to during their runs in Sollentuna. Got the story told to him in crappy Swedish.
Ashur, Jorge, and another hoodlum, Vadim, had been out partying the night before. Cruised to Mingel Room Bar in the Sollentuna Mall and boozed. Jorge’d almost been collared. The Latino’d asked to crash at Vadim’s. Ashur’s theory: They were still there; it was only noon.
Mrado thanked him. Agreed to stop by later and pay up what he’d promised.
Put on his leather jacket. Stuffed a rubber baton in his inside pocket. Popped the revolver into the holster. Walked down to the car.
Drove the road he now knew by heart. To Sollentuna. To Jorge. It was about fucking time.
What was the smartest thing to do? Head straight into the apartment and do his thing, like he’d done with Sergio? There was a big risk that Vadim, Jorge, and maybe others who were in the apartment would be harder to overpower than Sergio’s screaming chick. Risk number two: If neighbors heard and the cops showed up, Jorge’d be put away again. The Latino’d be able to cut down big parts of the Yugo empire with what he knew. Conclusion: Mrado wanted to get at the fugitive alone.
Meanwhile, he called Ratko, Bobban, and other contacts. Asked them if they knew Vadim. Who the guy was. If he was dangerous. Put them to work making calls and finding out more: if the dude worked, where he worked. Who did he hang with? Did he pack heat?
Mrado kept an eye on the entryway to the building. People went in and out. He took note: an unusual number of people around for this time of day. Immigrants, junkies, wife beaters, other criminals-all bunched together in the same kind of concrete towers he’d grown up in.
Mrado was on the phone with Bobban when a guy who looked like Jorge stepped out.
He’d seen the Latino four or five times before. The last time: at the trial, where he’d testified so that Jorge was put away for three years. Radovan and Mrado’d fed him to the wolves-you had to take some losses. Then: The Latino’d been a young, cocky player with modern, gaudy threads. Gold chain with a cross. Gelled hair. Good-looking stubble. Quick movements and machine-gun tongue. Now: The person outside the car looked like a fucking nigger. Nappy hair, dark brown complexion. Walked like a Rastafarian: sluggish with rhythm. Baggy clothes, dirty puffy. Still, there was something about the person’s worn appearance that seemed to suggest something else: vigor.
It had to be the Latino.
Mrado hunched down lower behind the wheel. Saw Jorge look around. Then walk toward the commuter rail station. Too many people around to act.
Mrado waited until Jorge rounded the corner toward the path leading to the station before he stepped out of the car. Put on a pair of shades. Wound the scarf a couple more times around his chin. Sent off a prayer to the big Car God: Let my car be left untouched, unscratched, unstolen here on Sollentuna’s most dangerous street.
Walked to the corner where Jorge’d turned off.
Jorge didn’t turn up the stairs to the station. Kept walking straight. Toward the Sollentuna Mall. Mrado kept his distance, but he didn’t want to lose sight of his target.
Into the Sollentuna Mall. Mrado waited a couple of seconds outside the automatic doors before he followed Jorge in. As soon as he stepped inside, he saw Jorge disappear into the grocery store. Mrado sneaked into the photo store across the way. He was such a scout-combat-trained. He called Ratko. In Serbian: “Ratko, where are you? It’s important.”
In past conversations, Ratko’d been whiny about the over-the-top treatment of Sergio. Now he heard that something real was up.
“I’m home. Watching TV. D’you find him?”
“Yeah. He spent the night at some guy’s in Sollentuna. On his way outta here now. Get ready. Go to your car.”
“Damn, I was getting so comfortable. Where am I going?”
“Don’t know yet. Just get ready for the starting shot.”
“Already out the door.”
“Nice. I’ll call you. Bye.”
Jorge walked out of the store. Had two bags in each hand. Looked like they were full of food. The Latino was probably on the way to his hideout.
He trailed him up to the train station. Ground rule: no sudden movements when you’re following someone. A guy like Jorge was electrified with tension-would react right away.
Jorge walked out on the platform. Mrado stayed inside the station house. Hoped the outside light turned the glass doors into mirrors. Jorge seemed watchful.
The train headed to the city rolled in. Jorge got on. Mrado got on another car.
He called Ratko again. Told him to drive toward the city.
Mrado looked out the doors at every stop. Jorge didn’t get off.
The train slowed down. Rolled slowly into the Stockholm Central Station.
Came to a stop. Mrado looked out. Saw Jorge get off.
Mrado waited outside the train till Jorge walked down the stairs toward T-Centralen, the subway station. He followed. Jorge walked farther up, mixed with the crowd. Mrado concentrated, couldn’t lose him now.
They walked the underground passage toward T-Centralen.
A South American band was blowing into pan flutes and banging on drums. A woman in a trench coat standing by a pillar was peddling the Watchtower.
Jorge: down toward the subway track. Mrado followed at a measured distance.
Jorge got onto the train toward Mörby Centrum. Mrado boarded another car on the same train.
The car was half-empty. Two punks in baseball hats and windbreakers-potential future recruits-were sitting with their feet propped up on the seats. A misplaced Stureplan brat: blond, knee-length coat, narrow jeans, backslick. Was listening to his MP3 player.
Jorge got off at the Royal Technical Academy, KTH, station. Mrado: same.
Jorge walked out past the turnstiles. Stood and checked out the bus schedules. Went into the bodega. Bought something. His bags looked heavy. He walked up to the bus stop. Mrado followed. The Stureplan brat from the train was there, too, positioned himself at the same bus stop as Jorge. Probably just a coincidence.
Mrado eyed the bus number: 620. Jorge was clearly waiting for a ride to the Norrtälje area.
Mrado called Ratko. Told him, “Drive to KTH.”
The 620 bus pulled up. Ratko hadn’t shown. Mrado walked over to the hot dog stand by Valhallavägen. Beside it: a taxi stand.
Jorge got on the bus. It pulled out. Drove off.
Mrado told the taxi driver, “Follow the six twenty bus.”
They drove for thirty minutes. Mrado was worried. The Jorge-guy was smart. On his guard. Might start wondering why the same taxi kept driving two to five cars behind the bus.
Mrado kept in touch with Ratko.
Switched to his car at Åkersberga.
They kept their distance. Nothing strange about it. There were several cars backed up behind the bus. It didn’t make many stops.
The Latino stayed on.
Finally: Dyvik. The bus stopped. Jorge got off.
The Stureplan brat did, too. Weird, but no time to think about that now.
Mrado yelled, “Turn, goddamn it!”
Ratko turned off in the direction Jorge was walking. Mrado ducked in the passenger seat. They passed Jorge at a ten-foot distance. Drove as slowly as they dared. Like people who didn’t really know their way around. Looked in the rearview mirror, saw him walking. Worked for a minute or so. Then it got shady. They had to keep driving. Lost sight of Jorge behind them.
They stopped the car. Got out. Mrado walked up into the the woods. Couldn’t be seen from the road. Ratko started walking in the opposite direction. Toward Jorge.
Two minutes later, Ratko called. “He’s a little over two hundred yards away from me on the road. Still coming at you. What do I do if he recognizes me, gets jittery, and runs?”
“Keep going toward him. Just pass him like it’s nothing. Then turn around when you know he can’t see you. Start following him. I’ll take care of him here.”
Mrado waited. No houses nearby. No people. No problems.
His cell was on. Ratko on speed dial. Poised to call him.
Jorge came walking. Bags in hand. Looked tired. He was twenty yards away, down on the road. Mrado called Ratko. Whispered. Told him to run.
Mrado charged out of the woods like an evil Boy Scout, size XL.
Jorge knew right away. Panic in his eyes. Dropped the bags. Turned around. Saw Ratko running from the other direction. In a game of pickle. Tried to run-too late. Mrado grabbed him by the jacket.
Return of the Yugos. Fall of the blatte.
Mrado punched Jorge in the gut with full force. Jorge doubled over. Fell. Ratko came up behind, grabbed hold of him, and, with Mrado’s help, dragged the Latino up into the trees. Away from the road. Mrado snatched the bags. Jorge puked. Sour stink. Vomit on Mrado’s shoes. What a pig. Mrado, with the baton in hand, hit Jorge across the back. Jorge fell to the ground. Stood on all fours. Mrado kept beating him. Jorge screamed. Mrado was careful: didn’t break anything. No fractures. No bloodshed. No life-threatening injuries. Nothing that necessarily required medical attention. Just struck with the rubber baton. Across his thighs, arms. Hit across his back, neck, stomach. Whacked. Thrashed. Crushed.
Jorge tried to get on his knees. Folded. Protected his head. Curled into a ball.
Mrado let the baton dance. It bounced up and down over the Latino’s body.
Finally, Jorge was a puddle. Destroyed. Almost passed out.
Mrado knelt down.
“Can you hear me? Faggot.”
Mrado lifted his head by the hair. “Blink if you can hear me.”
The Latino blinked.
“You know what this is about. You tried to fuck with the wrong people. Radovan doesn’t dig your style. You only have yourself to blame. Who the fuck do you think you are? Blackmailing Rado. Remember this: We’ll find you, always. Wherever you are, on the run, in the joint. With your mom. We never forget. We always punish. If you tell anyone so much as a peep about us, I won’t be as nice next time.”
Mrado released his grip on Jorge’s hair. His head fell back down.
“Oh, and one more thing.” Mrado pulled out his cell phone. Scrolled to his photos. Held up the screen in front of Jorge’s face.
“You know this chick? I’ve talked to her about you. Go ahead, ask her. I know her well. Know where she lives. Where she goes to school. What classes she’s in. Don’t fuck shit up for her. That’d be a shame for such a pretty girl.”
J-boy, gone/with it. Flashed in and out.
The pain was insane.
Closed his eyes. Waited. Heard the Yugos leave. Crackling in the woods. Their sounds faded out. He waited. Listened.
Beaten to bits. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t feel his legs; they were numb. His arms were totally gone, too. His back, he could feel. Passed out.
Snapped back. Heard a car drive by on the road. Heard the beat of his own heart. Tried to move his arm. Hurt too much.
Just lay still.
Clear flow of thoughts: Jorgelito in the fairy-tale woods. Crushed. Dumped. Disgraced. Thought he’d been the king. Really, the most naïve bitch. They’d been after Paola. God, please don’t let them’ve hurt her. Not humiliated her. He’d call her when he was done here. When he could get up. Paola, the world’s best sister.
He descended into darkness.
She’d accepted baby Jorge’s attitude. When he was fourteen years old, he’d come home with a letter from school.
I hereby wish to inform you that Jorge Salinas Barrio will be suspended from the Tureberg School for six weeks starting March 1 of this year. The reason for this measure is that he has serious problems cooperating with others and has a negative impact on the other students and the general schoolwork. I have on several occasions spoken with you about Jorge’s problems and we have also spoken with the school counselor, Inga-Britt Lindblom, about opportunities for Jorge to reach an understanding regarding his behavior. Unfortunately, his destructive behavior has only increased during this semester, which I also discussed with him and you on February 3 of this year. The school sees no other option but to suspend Jorge during the above-mentioned time. Sollentuna will offer homeschooling. Do not hesitate to be in touch with me if you have any questions.
– Jan Lind, Principal
Mama’d cried. Rodriguez’d whooped him. Jorge’d thought, If my real dad’d been here, he would’ve taken me back to Chile. But Paola wasn’t angry, not apathetic. Hadn’t made excuses. Just been nice. The only one who really talked to Jorgelito. Even though he was a hard-knock, it still felt good to talk. She explained, “You’re Mama’s and my prince. Never forget that. No matter what you do. You’re our prince.”
Someone in the forest was calling Jorge’s name. He couldn’t lay any quieter or stiller than he already was. Were the Yugos back?
No one showed up.
The puke stank.
He was finished. Caput. The Yugos were smarter than he’d thought. He should’ve been even more cautious. Must’ve been the hangover. How long’d Mrado and the other guy been following him? They weren’t on the bus. They hadn’t been on his subway car. Hadn’t seen them at the bus stop at KTH. Hadn’t seen any one single car following the bus. Had they trailed him all the way from Sollis? How’d they known he was at Vadim’s? Suspicions: The Russian fucker must’ve leaked. Or someone at the bar the night before. Had people recognized him? Cunts.
He tried to move a smaller body part-an index finger. Couldn’t feel it at first. Three seconds later, his entire arm was pounding with pain. Too much pain. He screamed aloud. Didn’t give a fuck if the Yugos were still around.
Someone yelled his name again.
Prayers on his lips: La madre que te parió. Thoughts in his head: Who can I trust now? Sergio? Eddie? Ashur? Can I get in touch with Mama? Do I dare call my sister? His flight from the big cage’d been smooth, slick. Speedy. Best one yet. But life after-Jorgelito’d thought too short-term. Thought it’d be easy. Same mistake as all the others-been weak, partied. Needed social interaction.
He tried to open his eyes.
Fir trees all around. The light peeking through the branches painted the ground a spotty pattern. Brown, bumpy, bare. No birdsong.
What would happen now? It was one thing to risk your own life to get at Radovan’s cash. But to risk your sister’s?
He thought about his two tattoos. On his left shoulder was a smiling devil. All in black. On his back, a crucifix with the text: The Man, in Gothic lettering. He’d thought he was the man with the master plan, when really, he was just a loser. Fucked over.
Down for the count.
A deluxe guy on a walk in the enchanted forest. JW was looking for Jorge. Two alternatives: Either the Chilean was lying wounded somewhere in the woods or the Yugos’d taken him with them.
He started on the right-hand side. Walked in a zigzag pattern. First about ten yards forward, then crossed down to the left, then ten yards forward again.
Thought about Spaceballs. “Comb the desert!” the Darth Vader caricature orders. In the next scene, his helpers are pulling huge combs over the sand. Mel Brooks-so lame and yet so witty.
JW combed the forest.
Didn’t find Jorge among the trees.
An hour and twenty minutes earlier, JW’d reached Malmvägen just in time to see someone who looked like Jorge leave the building. Detective JW took a few steps back, behind the corner of the house-which proved to be the right move. He peered out. Saw an enormous man step out of a car that was way too slick and follow the Chilean. Something wasn’t right. The man never walked up to Jorge. Kept a few yards back. It was obvious after a while: The giant was following the Chilean.
The man fulfilled all the criteria of the classic Yugo gangster look: mid-length leather jacket, scarf, black jeans, leather shoes. A neck that put the Hulk to shame. His arms hung out along his sides at an angle, looked like he was constantly carrying a TV. Short, dirty-blond hair, straight-cut bangs. His jaws revealed a hard-core testosterone diet.
Why the hell had Abdulkarim put him in this situation? JW felt like a failed police investigator. Didn’t dare approach Jorge, even though he was right on his tail. The biggest question was who the huge Yugo was. Did the Serbian Mafia want to put Jorge’s coke know to use, too?
He kept trailing them. Up to the commuter rail station. JW remained standing at the bottom of the escalators and heard the train pull into the station. He ran up and jumped into a car. He could see the Yugo through the glass doors leading to the next car. Thank God.
Total tension. JW completely forgot about the Camilla thing.
The huge Yugo got off at T-Centralen. He couldn’t see Jorge, but JW assumed the Yugo was on it. Followed him down.
Got off at KTH. Created a distance between himself and the Yugo. Saw Jorge hanging around a bus stop. JW walked with deliberate steps toward the same bus stop. It had to look like his one and only goal in life was to get to bus 620. He passed the huge Yugo on his way there. Two yards between them. JW couldn’t decide if it was suspicious that he was going to the same bus stop as Jorge, but he felt the Yugo’s presence as fiercely as though they’d been standing eye-to-eye in a cramped elevator. The man exuded authority.
A couple of people got on after Jorge, but the Yugo wasn’t on the bus. Had he given up? Jorge was squeezed in next to a middle-aged lady with a bag on her lap. The woman’s two kids sat in the seats in front of them, eating ice-cream cones. One of the seats behind him was free; the other was occupied by an old man in a baseball hat. This wasn’t the time to chat up the Chilean; it’d have to wait until he got off. JW took a seat in the way back.
He’d gotten off at the same stop as the Chilean. Followed a couple hundred yards behind him. After a while, a Yugo came running. Understood: They were here. Thirty seconds later, he heard screaming. Panicked. What the fuck was he supposed to do? He ran into the woods. Stood still, listened. Waited. That’s where he was now. Was going to look for Jorge. But he couldn’t see him. After he’d crisscrossed over a few hundred yards, JW switched sides. It was worth spending another hour searching.
He heard a scream. Not as loud as the previous ones, but still-painful.
He tried to walk in the direction of the sound. Looked around. Saw dark trees, pine needle-covered paths. In some places, the branches of the fir trees dragged on the ground, hiding what might be found underneath. JW stepped up, lifted the branches, looked under them. Scratched himself on needles. The forest wasn’t exactly his scene. And anyway, he was about to shit a brick, he was so scared.
Eight yards farther up, he saw plastic bags filled with groceries strewn on the ground. JW followed the trail. Farther in, he spotted a huddled-up human. Was it the Chilean? Was he alive?
JW looked around. No Yugos in sight. He called out. No answer. Got closer. The guy looked dead. JW knelt down beside him. Said Jorge’s name. Really didn’t want to find a murdered person.
Finally, he got a reaction.
With his eyes still shut, Jorge mumbled, “Get outta here.”
JW didn’t know what to say. Thought, Relief the guy’s alive. But how much help does he need? Not a good idea to get an ambulance involved.
“Hi. How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do?”
“Nice to hear you’re alive. I know who you are. I recognize you. I’ve been looking for you for hours.”
Jorge opened one eye. He had a slight immigrant lilt to his speech. “And who the hell are you?”
“My name is Johan. I’ve no idea who did this to you or why. You look like shit. Probably need medical care. You’ve got to listen to me. I’ve got good news.”
“I said, beat it. You’ve got fuckin’ nothing to do with me. I’ve never even seen your face.”
“Get it together. Your name is Jorge Salinas Barrio and you escaped from Österåker on August thirty-first. You’ve been on the run ever since. That can’t be easy. You know the cocaine business better than anyone else. You’re the king of coke in the Stockholm area. Are you listening, or what?”
Jorge lay still. Didn’t say anything. But he also didn’t say no.
“I work for an Arab-Abdulkarim Haij. Do you know who that is?”
Jorge looked up again. JW read it as: Keep talking.
“He keeps me in the C. I, like, deal to the Stureplan crowd and make a killing. You can get up to eleven hundred a gram from them. That’s not bad. But imagine if we could push the purchase price even more. That’s what we’re going to do when we expand. And we know you; you’ve got no life without our help. There are clearly others, besides the police, who’ve got it in for you. You can forget about them now. We’ll help you, get you back on your feet. Fix a passport, pesetas, whatever you need. The police don’t stand a chance. Not those Yugos, either. If you work for us, we’ll make you a rich man.”
JW caught his breath. Didn’t give a shit that Jorge seemed totally out of it. He felt how excited he was, had thought about this for days. Was hard to take it easy now.
“Listen, man, we’ve been tracking the development in Stockholm. The coke is on its way to the boroughs, to the projects. It’s the big trend, the new everyman drug. It’s going to be like weed. And the price is sinking every day. When you were put away it was, what, twelve hundred a gram? Now there are a lot of people out there selling eighty-five percent Charlie for eight hundred. That means the volume’s going to be through the roof and we, since we’ve got good contacts, can buy at lower prices. The aggregate income increases radically. This is where you come in. You’re going to help us bring in more. Above all, you’re going to deal to the boroughs. You and me, together, are going to own this town. You with me? Own it.”
Jorge, with a whimper: “Maricón. Beat it.”
Four months later.
Oral proceedings in the Stockholm District Court
Case number T 3245-06
Honorable District Court Judge Patrick Renbäck
KEEPER OF THE MINUTES
District Court Clerk Oskar Hävermark
Annika Sjöberg, 690217-1543
117 69 STOCKHOLM
Present in person
REPRESENTATION UNDER THE LEGAL AID ACT
Göran Insulander, Esq.
112 21 STOCKHOLM
Mrado Slovovic, 670203-9115
Katarina Bangata 35
116 39 STOCKHOLM
Present in person
Martin Thomasson, Esq.
112 31 STOCKHOLM
Custody, living arrangements, visitation rights, etc.
The judge reviews what has previously been decided in the case.
Göran Insulander states that Annika Sjöberg, albeit on an interim/interlocutory basis, petitions for sole custody of the daughter, Lovisa.
Martin Thomasson states that Mrado Slovovic’s stance is as follows: He contests Annika Sjöberg’s claim. He petitions, albeit on an interim/interlocutory basis, to have visitation rights with Lovisa every week from Tuesday at six p.m. to Friday at six p.m.
Göran Insulander states that Annika Sjöberg contests Mrado Slovovic’s claim. She agrees that Mrado Slovovic should have visitation rights with Lovisa every other week from Tuesday at six p.m. to Wednesday at six p.m.
Göran Insulander states that the grounds for and the circumstances around Annika Sjöberg’s case are as follows: Annika Sjöberg and Mrado Slovovic were married around nine years ago. Together, they had a daughter, Lovisa, two years later. It is in the best interest of Lovisa not to have too much contact with Mrado Slovovic, since he has a very negative influence on his daughter, as well as the fact that it is dangerous for the daughter to spend time with him. Furthermore, he is unable to cooperate with Annika Sjöberg when it comes to picking up and dropping off the girl in connection with his visitation rights. Mrado Slovovic has threatened her on a number of occasions. Despite this, Annika Sjöberg believes that Mrado Slovovic should have limited visitation with Lovisa, since it is important for a child to have a connection with both parents. Lovisa never asks for Mrado Slovovic. In 2002, the parties’ relationship began to deteriorate. Mrado Slovovic was never home at night and slept most of the day. He became angry when Lovisa cried or made noise and didn’t take care of her. Annika Sjöberg was the one who fed Lovisa and cared for her hygiene. Mrado Slovovic moved in criminal circles and, in the spring of 2004, Annika Sjöberg decided to file for divorce. Mrado Slovovic was enraged by this and threatened, among other things, to take Lovisa with him to Serbia. On two occasions, he also said that he would break her neck if she didn’t let him live with Lovisa. Between 2004 and 2006, his visitation rights with Lovisa have been characterized by problems. Over long periods of time, four months being the longest, he has not seen Lovisa at all. On several occasions, Mrado Slovovic has failed to show up at the agreed time and instead kept Lovisa for up to three days longer without Annika Sjöberg’s permission. Lovisa is very stressed-out and sleeps poorly after she has been with him. When she is with Mrado Slovovic, she is allowed to watch movies all night and he does not prepare proper food for her. He still moves in criminal circles and has previously been convicted of several violent crimes. Acquaintances of Annika Sjöberg have reported seeing Mrado Slovovic driving at speeds far above the speed limit with Lovisa in his sports car. It has also happened on one occasion that he took her along to a combat sports club, where she had to stand outside the ring and watch Mrado Slovovic be beaten up. Lovisa was very upset after this. It is harmful for Lovisa to spend time with Mrado Slovovic. Partly because he brings her along to activities that are actually dangerous, and partly because he is involved in criminal activity. Furthermore, Mrado Slovivic is unable to work together with Annika Sjöberg.
Martin Thomasson states the grounds for and the circumstances around Mrado Slovic’s case are as follows: Lovisa needs her father. It is untrue that it is dangerous for her to spend time with him. He does not exceed the speed limit when driving with her in his car. He has given her proper food and she does not only watch TV. They do many active things together, such as go to the Skansen outdoor museum and bake. On one occasion, Lovisa accompanied Mrado Slovoic to his combat sports gym, but it is not true that she saw him being beaten. What did, in fact, happen was that he and Lovisa “shadowboxed” for fun in the ring in a completely harmless manner. The reason that Annika Sjöberg makes false claims is that she is jealous of Mrado Slovovic, since he, shortly after the termination of their marriage, had a relationship with another woman. The problems in connection with Lovisa’s pickup and drop-off are brought about by Annika Sjöberg, who is at times psychologically fragile. On such occasions, she lies apathetically in bed and is unable to take care of Lovisa. This behavior had already begun during the parties’ marriage. When Annika Sjöberg suffers such periods of depression, Mrado Slovovic does not deem it healthy for Lovisa to live with her mother. Lovisa is very happy with the time she spends with Mrado Slovovic and has on several occasions expressed a desire to spend more time with him. On Mrado Slovovic’s last occasion of visitation in January, Lovisa said that “she wanted to live with Daddy like she lives with Mommy.” She is always very sad when it is time to drop her off with Annika Sjöberg. Annika Sjöberg has refused Mrado Slovovic the right to take Lovisa to Serbia to visit the daughter’s grandfather. Mrado Slovovic has never had the intention of taking Lovisa there without Annika Sjöberg’s permission. It is in the best interest of Lovisa that the parties maintain joint custody of her and that she spend the same amount of time with her father as with her mother. Presently, Mrado Slovovic is of the mind that visitation from Tuesay to Friday is sufficient.
The judge presided over a discussion during which the parties aimed to come to an agreement. No mutual agreement was reached.
The meeting is adjourned with an announcement that a decision will be made public at the office of the Court on February 23 of this year, at 1:30 p.m.
After careful consideration, the District Court has reached the following decision:
DECISION (TO BE DELIVERED ON FEBRUARY 23 OF THIS YEAR, AT 1:30 P.M.)
Opinion of the Court
The District Court does not find sufficient grounds to terminate joint custody in the present situation. Annika Sjöberg’s claim will therefore be dismissed.
As for visitation rights, the District Court concludes that Mrado Slovovic has had irregular contact with Lovisa in recent years. Considering this, the District Court finds that Mrado Slovovic, until further notice, will have visitation rights with Lovisa one day every other week. If the visitation proves positive, the parties can discuss increased forms of visitation independently.
Until the issues have been resolved by a final verdict, or by court order, or by a contract created by the parents that has, in turn, been approved by Social Services, or until another decision has been made, the District Court has decided the following:
A. The parties will continue to maintain joint custody of Lovisa.
B. Lovisa’s need to see her father will, until further notice, be filled by Mrado Slovovic’s right to visitation with her every other week from Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. to Thursday at 6:00 p.m.
Psychological borders carved into the Stockholm territory. Kungsgatan was divided into three geographical regions. Farthest down, by Stureplan, were stylish clothing stores, cafés, bars, movie theaters, and electronics retailers. All types of people walked this stretch: Svens, Stureplaners, slumdogs. The next segment led from Hötorget down to Vasagatan. Crap central: shitty dives and rowdy restaurants. Street-fight central: populated by blattes and Svens. The last part, the intersection with Vasagatan down to the bridge, was empty of restaurants and regular bars, stores, or cafés. Only places with a specialized profile were found here. An indie theater, a jazz joint, and the gambling pit-Casino Cosmopol. Older clientele. Revitalizing mix of theater fanatics, jazzers, and gamblers.
A slash through Stockholm’s nightlife/shopping/entertainment scene. Kungsgatan-the sidewalks were always warm, always clean of snow, always crowded. Always racked by consumer hysteria. Three different strata. Three different worlds along the same street.
Mrado was sitting at the bar at Kicki’s Bar & Co., one of the crappy dives in the street’s middle section. He was waiting for Ratko. Bar hang with beer & co.: ale, light brew, hard cider.
He was so damn beat.
Staring vacantly. Twenty-year-old bad boys in stolen puffies hung in clusters around the place. Refused to check their coats-the Canada Goose label, with its implied price tag, was a symbol of a world they’d never really gain access to. Stared at a safe distance. They didn’t know who he was. Clocked anyway-don’t mess with the giant in the bar. If the coat check in this place were his, those downy-lipped niggers’ Geese would’ve been on hangers ages ago.
There was neon lettering on the walls. Formed the words Kicki’s Cocktails. Written in red, blue, and yellow, interlaced.
Mrado and Ratko’d decided to grab a beer before going to Casino Cosmopol, farther up on Kungsgatan. Mrado had to get some clean cash. The video-rental stores/laundromats weren’t working as they should. Weren’t able to handle the required volumes. The casino was always a last resort for cleaning cash.
The clock struck 10:05. Ratko wasn’t usually late. Had his grouse increased lately? Couldn’t be tolerated. Mrado was above Ratko in the Yugo hierarchy. Therefore, he was only gonna wait for ten more minutes.
Ordered another beer. Thought through the past months.
The Jorge situation’d cleared out well. Four months’d passed and the Latino’d taken it easy ever since. Laid low. No more attempts to fuck with them. Mrado’d gotten some indications. Jorge was still in the city, probably still rockin’ the dark look in order to survive on the lam. Scraping by the only way he knew how: pushing blow for some dealer. Mrado couldn’t care less, as long as the shit didn’t affect him.
Mrado’d been trudging along in the same old tracks. Longing for Lovisa. Cursing Annika. On February 23, the district court’d ruled: mixed verdict. A relief that he was allowed to maintain joint custody. Fucking ridiculous that he got a visitation day only once every other week. Sweden betraying the Serbs yet again.
Mrado woke up every night between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m., couldn’t sleep. Like an old hag. Usually downed a fat whiskey to fall back asleep. What the hell was going on?
Once, he went into Lovisa’s room to find peace of mind. Sat down on her bed. It creaked. The sound reminded him of something. Couldn’t think of what. He pulled out a drawer in her desk. Saw the crayons. Realized what the creaking reminded him of. He felt depleted. Racked with anxiety. What would Lovisa think of him if she ever found out about all the shit he’d done? Was it possible to be a good father and still break people’s fingers? He should stop.
Other than that, it was the same old. Business was booming. Cash was flowing. Important to-dos right now: fix the video-rental stores and figure out how to deal with the pigs and their new Nova Project. Radovan’d called everyone to a meeting about Nova. All the colleagues were supposed to talk about the cops’ efforts to stop them. Mrado, Goran, Nenad, and Stefanovic. Circle-jerk.
The video-rental companies’d been created after thorough research’d been done on the straw man, Christer Lindberg. Mrado didn’t want anyone who’d raise suspicions with the Man. He’d checked the public records to make sure the guy was registered as a Swedish resident, that he didn’t have any red flag-raising German-imported Beamers, that he was in the clear with tax records, bankruptcy records, and latepayment records. Finally, he’d checked the police’s internal lists-everything had to look clean as a Tide commercial. Mrado thanked his police hookup, Rolf, for the latter registry printouts.
Christer Lindberg was, at least on the surface, a responsible citizen. It would work.
Mrado didn’t want to meet Lindberg personally, kept his distance. He’d had Goran explain most of it. Mrado’d only spoken with the guy once on the phone. All he was told: Mrado was a friend of Goran and could fix fine flow in exchange for signatures on various documents and possible questions from the tax man.
Lindberg according to Mrado: proletarian caricature. Talked intense Sven Swedish, peppered with clichés and shallow insights. Mrado thought about their one and only conversation. Couldn’t help grinning to himself.
“Hi, I’m a friend of Goran. I’m calling about a business idea with video-rental stores. Has he mentioned something about it to you?”
“Do you know what it’s about?”
“Let’s put it this way: I wasn’t born yesterday. I get the idea.”
“Can I ask you a question? What did you do before you started working for Goran?”
“Yours truly worked as a truck driver for Östman Åkeri, in Haninge.”
“And how was that?”
“That was like night and day, so to speak.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know, Östman wasn’t exactly the type to turn down a drink. Göran showed up one day. Took over the entire operation. Strongly done, so to speak.”
“His name is Goran.”
“Ha, ha. Right, Goran. I’m not too good with names.”
That was enough. Mrado didn’t want to get close to Lindberg in any way.
He sent the guy paperwork. Asked him to sign. Explained some more what it was about, that a friend of Mrado and Goran was gonna open video-rental stores. Needed someone registered in Sweden to be on the board of the company. Lindberg would get a one-time fee of twelve thousand kronor if he signed. After that, they’d give him ten thousand every six months, as long as it all flowed smoothly. Mrado instructed him what to do if any nosy authorities got in touch with him.
It was “good as gold,” as Lindberg put it.
Mrado got in touch with a company that sold shelf companies. Bought two. Paid a hundred grand per company. Sent in all the paperwork that Lindberg’d signed. Changed the names: the Stockholm Video Specialist, Ltd., and Video Buddy, Ltd. Set up bank accounts. Switched accountants. Landed storefronts.
One of the stores was on Karlavägen. They took over an old videorental place, Karlaplan’s Video. Some poor Turks owned it. Mrado sent Ratko and Bobban to scare them a little. They stopped by ten minutes before closing one night in October. Explained the situation. The two Turks refused. Two days later, when the guys opened the DVD case for Batman Begins that’d been returned through the slot in the door-boom boom. One of the Turks lost four fingers and the sight in his left eye.
Mrado bought the space a month later for thirty grand. A steal.
The other video-rental store was in the Södertälje Mall. The store-front used to be a dry cleaner’s. Business was bad for the previous owner, also a Turk. Chance changed channels-the Yugos against the Turks. Low odds on the Yugos. The dry cleaner’s sold for twenty thousand kronor. Didn’t need convincing. They just moved right in.
He renovated and rebuilt the storefronts during the month of November. Used a Rado-owned demolition firm. Neat way to give the demolition firm clean, taxable profits.
Mrado threw out the pornos at Karlaplan’s Video. Bought a ton of children’s films-full-stocked Disney paradise. Lined one wall with shelves of penny candy. Rebuilt the registers, made sure you could buy lottery tickets, magazines, membership. Repainted the place, started selling paperbacks in one corner. The final product: the mildest, most child-friendly video store in all of Östermalm.
The store in Södertälje: Mrado sold the dry-cleaning machines to some old contacts, Syrians. Södertälje was their Jerusalem. Mrado knew-he’d hung out with Syrians growing up. Was even invited to weddings sometimes. The Syrians: one of the tightest networks in Stockholm. Dominated the dry-cleaning and B-list barber biz. Entrepreneurs. Mrado nurtured his connections. Dry cleaners and hairdressers-just as good for money laundering as video rentals. Could come in handy.
Within two months, the video stores were working perfectly. The basic idea was simple. Mrado had 400,000 kronor in cash. Two hundred thousand went to buying the companies. The remaining hundred grand per company, divided into smaller sums, was added to each company’s account. The money covered the storefronts, the renovations, and the purchase of DVDs. Guys from the gym manned the stores from 4:00 to 10:00 p.m. every night. Everything under the table. RIP-right in pocket. On paper, Radovan was employed and was a stockholder. Mrado was employed part-time. He added money to each company’s account every other day. When it was running smoothly, each store actually made fifty thousand a month. With Mrado’s creative bookkeeping: three hundred thousand a month. Left after Radovan was paid a salary of twenty-five grand a month, Mrado twenty, and other general costs and taxes were taken out: around 150,000 kronor per store. Clean. Summa summarum: the salaries plus the stores’ remaining assets-white as snow.
Money from the coat checks was run through the video business on paper-after tax payments, what came out at the other end were honest bills. Best of all, if the business went to hell, it was Lindberg who went there with it. Mrado and Radovan were not on the board and were not registered on paper anywhere.
Despite the laundromats, he had problems. They weren’t enough. In the past months, his insomnia’d only gotten worse. The Radovan situation-more aggravated than ever. Was it because of Mrado’s demand for a larger cut of the coat-check business? The Yugo boss seemed patronizing. Gave responsibilities to Goran and the others but not to Mrado. R. was planning something without M. Indications leaked out via Ratko and Bobban. The question: Had R. just put Mrado on building up the video stores in order to keep him busy? Question number two: What could Mrado do without this crap in his life? Would he even exist without it?
He longed for the good old days.
Ratko didn’t show. Mrado got up. Paid. Walked toward the casino alone.
Casino Cosmopol: state gambling nest par excellence. The philosophy of hypocrisy perfected. To gamble is a Lutheran sin. To gamble is a waste/stupid/socially deviant. To gamble leads to addiction; at the same time, it sows a clover field for the finance minister. The people need entertainment, bread and circuses. Come on-gambling’s just a little thrill, right? The automatic game machines were the worst-cashed in five billion kronor for Big Brother every year. Put people in financial ruin. Sunk families like mini Titanics. Crushed dreams. Along with obesity, the new welfare disease was gambling addiction. Up 75 percent since the automatic game machines and casinos’d opened.
The casino bouncers greeted Mrado. He glided past the entry-fee registers. For regular folks, they checked IDs and compared with head shots in their database. The first time you went to the casino, you had your picture taken. Mrado didn’t need to do that stuff-he had a membership. Anyway, Mrado was Mrado.
The place was a cross between a well-refurbished turn-of-the-century amusement park and a cheap yacht. Five floors. The street level was the slickest. High ceilings, fifty feet. Nicely painted wood paneling. Original moldings and designs. Four enormous crystal chandeliers. Mirrored walls made the room feel even bigger than it was. Red carpeting. Eight big roulette tables in pairs of two. Between every pair, on an elevated platform, was a tux- or suit-clad casino employee in a black leather swivel chair. Job: to keep their eyes on the game, make sure no one pulled any moves. Minimum bet on the roulette table: five hundred on color, evens, or columns. You could blow a grand in five minutes, easy.
Moving on: five blackjack and punto banco tables. Two sic bo tables for the Asians. Various one-armed bandits everywhere.
Blatant hypocrisy 2.0-someone handed Mrado a pamphlet: Do you have a gambling problem? Don’t be ashamed. Over 300,000 Swedes suffer from the same addiction as you do. But there is help. Call us at THE ADDICTION CENTER. Dig this shit: They handed out pamphlets against gambling at the same time as it was possible, without a problem, to withdraw 100,000 kronor at Casino Cosmopol’s own cash counters.
As usual, the clientele was at least 30 percent Asian. The rest were Sven dudes, older blatte dudes, middle-aged women with shirts cut too low, a group of young guys, and the pros-the regulars who came every night.
Mrado greeted a few familiar faces. Headed up toward the fourth floor, where the real game was being played. Poker.
The second floor: brown carpeting, blackjack tables, a couple of midsize roulettes, lots of slot machines. A bar. Mrado went up to the bar. Greeted the bartender. Asked what was up. Things were cool. Frankie boy was crooning in the background. He kept moving.
The third floor: same as the second story, but without a bar. In the stairwell, he ran into the guys from the welcome desk at the gym.
Mrado greeted them. “What’s up?”
“Do an old friend a favor. Come to the Klaraberg viaduct and push me in the water.”
Mrado laughed. “You blow your whole load again?”
“Yup, goddamn it. This is all geharget, totally fucked, man. Dropped thirty big ones tonight. I can forget about that vacation. It’s hard to yell when the barrel’s in your mouth.”
“Get it together. You’re always saying that. It’s fine. You’ll be back.”
“I’ve got to practice more on the guys at the gym. People more in my class. Right? We should organize a little poker night. Sip whiskey, puff cigars.”
“Not a bad idea, but a lotta guys are gonna pass on the booze. Too many dangerous calories.”
“Yeah, but what the fuck am I supposed to do? I don’t have a pissing chance against these guys.”
“Just the heavy hitters here tonight?”
“You can say that again.”
“You seen Ratko?”
“No, not yet. Didn’t see him at the gym today, either. You guys have a date?”
“He better have a good excuse. We were supposed to meet twenty minutes ago.”
“If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re up there and you’re steaming. I’ve gotta head home, or this might get ugly for real.”
Mrado resumed his upward climb. The guy in the stairwell was obviously on the verge of becoming a gambling junkie. Mrado wondered what was worse, gambling addiction or steroid addiction.
He pushed through the doors to the upper level. Green carpeting. The same color as the felt on the poker tables. Black ceiling with discreetly angled spotlights. No mirrored walls here-cheaters thrived anyway. Mrado made the rounds. Stockholm’s legendary professional players were there: Berra K., the Joker, Piotr B., the Major, and others. Men who’d flipped the day just like Mrado. Worked from 10:00 p.m. until the casino closed at 5:00 a.m. Players who never had less than fifty grand in rubber-banded wads. Maladjusted mathematical masterminds.
Half the room was filled exclusively by one-armed bandits.
The other half housed the poker tables. Thick velvet ropes kept curious bystanders and Peeping Toms at bay. Poker was popular. At the middle of each table’s long end stood the state-employed dealer, dressed in a white shirt, red silk vest, and pressed black slacks. The mood was solemn, tense, deeply concentrated.
Two of the tables were reserved for high-stakes play. Someone looked desperate-maybe the family’s savings were all blown. Someone beamed-maybe they’d just pulled in twenty, thirty grand in one pot. The rest just looked incredibly immersed in the game.
There were free spots by one of the expensive tables. No limit: no restrictions on the stakes, possible to do all in. About twenty deals an hour. The state took 5 percent of the pot. Expensive hobby-excluding losses.
Mrado’s idea was based on the fact that you were provided with receipts for all wins of over twenty grand at the state poker tables-the money was white as fleece. Mrado wasn’t the world’s best player, but it happened that he got lucky. In that case, play high stakes. The odds were bad tonight-a lot of good players at the table. On the other hand, that’d make it a higher-stakes game, more money that could be laundered. With luck, he might be able to clean a hundred grand. His plan: play tight. Only bid if he had a good opening hand. Cautious low-risk tactic.
He sat down.
The game: Texas hold ’em. Supertrendy since Channel 5 started airing American competitions. Lured lots of greenhorns to the poker tables, even though it was the toughest type of poker. Fast, most deals per hour meant greatest chances of winning. Bigger pot than in Omaha or seven-card stud, with more players at the table. No open cards except for the five community cards. The game for fast, fat wins.
From the look of it, there were only staples around the table tonight.
Bernhard Kaitkinen, better known as Berra K. Even more famous as the man with Stockholm’s longest schlong, which he never passed up an opportunity to point out-Berra with the Boa. Always dressed in a light suit, as though he were in a casino in Monte Carlo. Been paired off with most of the city’s society dames: Susanna Roos, editor in chief of Svensk Damtidning, the royal gossip rag, was just one in a long line of Botoxed bellas. Berra K.: a loudmouth, a romance scammer, a gentleman. Most of all: a fantastic poker player. Mrado knew his tricks. The dude always buzzed about other stuff, distracted, created a poker face by letting his mouth run nonstop.
Piotr Biekowski: pale Polack. Won the World Championship in backgammon a few years back. Switched over to poker-more money in it. Dressed in a dark blazer and black pants. Wrinkly white shirt with the two top buttons undone. Rocked a nervous, insecure style. Sighed, oy’ed, eyes flitted. That might fool the casino rookies. Not Mrado. He knew: Never play too high against Piotr-best way to empty your wallet.
Across from Mrado: a young guy with sunglasses that Mrado didn’t recognize. Mrado stared. Did the kid think he was in Las Vegas, or what?
Mrado started with the big blind: one thousand that someone-in this particular round, Mrado-had to chip in to incite play. No one could stay in the game without betting at least the same sum.
Piotr sat with the small blind-five hundred kronor.
The dealer dealt the cards.
Mrado’s hand: five of hearts and six of hearts.
The flop hadn’t happened yet.
Berra K. was the first to act. Said, “These cards remind me of a game I played on a boat in the archipelago last summer. We had to stop because a huge fuckin’ thunderstorm blew in.” Mrado tuned out the nitwit nonsense.
Berra K. folded.
The Sunglass Kid posted a grand.
Piotr bet five hundred, up at the same level as the big blind.
Mrado looked at his cards again. It was a pretty shitty hand, but still-suited connectors were consecutive cards of the same suit, and it didn’t cost him anything to stick out the round. He checked, kept pace.
Flop: the first three cards on the table. Seven of hearts, six of clubs, and ace of spades. Nothing perfect for his hand. Small chance of suit remained. Piotr starting whining-his style.
Mrado had to really think things through. The game was high. Piotr could bluff, try to get the rest of the players to raise the stakes by grumbling and moaning. In that case, Mrado should fold, even though he had a chance at suit or flush. Had promised himself to show tableside restraint.
He folded; the betting went on without him.
The Sunglass Kid called. Put in four grand. Not bad. Maybe he was one of the newbies who’d learned everything from online gaming. But it was different in real life. With hard cards.
Turn: the fourth card on the table. A seven of diamonds.
Piotr first out. Added fifteen big ones.
The Sunglass Kid put in thirty grand. Doubled the bet fast as hell.
All eyes on Piotr. Mrado knew: The Polack could have three of a kind, even a full house. Also possible: The guy could be blowing smoke.
Piotr went for it-put all in, 100,000 kronor. A murmur of disbelief swept over the table.
The Sunglass Kid cleared his throat. Fingered his chips.
Mrado eyed Piotr. Was convinced the Polack was bluffing-a brief glitter in his gaze gave him away. Their eyes met. Piotr saw that Mrado knew.
The Sunglass Kid didn’t see. The strong offense turned him yellow.
River: the final card-was never dealt.
Mrado thought, The Polack is shooting high tonight. Playing tough with nothing.
Time for the next round.
The game continued.
Deal after deal.
Mrado stayed afloat.
Piotr played aggressively. Berra K. babbled about broads. Distracted. The Sunglass Kid tried to win back what he’d just blown.
After twenty-four deals: Mrado’s hand-the big slick of hearts. A classic in the poker world: an ace and a king. You’ve got a chance to get the best-possible hand, royal straight, and you’ve got the highest cards. And still, you’ve got nothing. Binary: If it flies, you soar; if it crashes, you’re done for.
A single drop of sweat on Mrado’s forehead. Could be his chance. So far, he’d played tight. Piotr, Berra K., and the Sunglass Kid didn’t think he’d put all his chips in without having something. But it could be a trick, too. You play steady, trick everyone into thinking that you never take risks. Then you bluff like Abagnale.
His best opening hand of the night. He made up his mind, for the sake of the companies, to save the Rado situation-bid high.
The drop of sweat lodged itself in Mrado’s eyebrow. So close to a royal straight and still, hardly one in several thousands of a chance.
He twirled a chip around his fingers.
Thought, Let’s do this thing.
Bid five grand.
Berra K. called his bet. Five grand. High-stakes game.
The Sunglass Kid pulled out. Would be crazy to ride out a game this aggressive without really sitting on anything good.
Piotr, with the big blind, raised him. Twenty-five total. Crazy.
Berra K., Mrado, and Piotr all had a sick number of chips in front of them.
Mrado considered: It’s make it or brake it now. He knew the odds; his hand was one of the top ten opening hands you could get in this game.
He looked at Piotr. Didn’t he glimpse that same glitter in his eyes as in the first deal, when the Polack bluffed? The feeling was the same. Piotr was up to something. Mrado was sure of it-the Polack was trying to pull a fast one-it was Mrado’s turn to make it big this time.
He kept going. Twenty into the pot.
Berra K. started prattling again. Jabbered on about other crazy games he’d played and that this one was the craziest one yet. Then he folded. Not surprising.
Mrado faced off against Piotr, waiting for the first cards on the table.
The Sunglass Kid removed his shades; even Berra K. stopped talking. Silence settled around the table.
The flop gave an ace of clubs, a two of diamonds, and a queen of hearts.
Piotr bet another fifteen. Maybe to check Mrado’s pulse. Disgustingly high stakes.
Mrado still had a pair of aces, the best pair you could get. He just had to be in the clear, since he had the highest kicker, the king. And still a chance he could land a royal straight. He kept going. Bet fifteen grand. Called.
He was gonna crush that fuckin’ Polack.
Turn: jack of hearts. Crazy lucky. Mrado still had a chance at a royal straight. He wasn’t going to give up now. And he kept feeling more and more certain: The Polack didn’t have jackshit. The guy was crazy bluffing.
Crazier than crazy.
Piotr raised him another thirty.
Mrado thought he saw that gleam again.
He took the chance-played all in, the rest of the money he had in front of him, 120 grand. All his chips on one board. Prayed to God that he was right, that Piotr was trying to pull a fast one.
Piotr shot back the call, didn’t miss a beat.
The dealer felt the tension around the table. Both Mrado and Piotr turned up their cards.
Everyone around the table leaned in to get a look.
Mrado: almost royal flush, except for the ten of hearts.
Piotr: three aces.
Mrado’s heart sank. The Polack fucker hadn’t bluffed this time. That gleam in his eye was something else-maybe triumph. Mrado’s only chance was that the river contained a ten of hearts.
The dealer took his time with the river. Piotr shifted uneasily in his seat. Everyone in the poker area stopped what they were doing, sensed that something big was about to happen at one of the tables. If Mrado won, he’d rake in over 300,000.
The dealer dealt the card: three of clubs.
Mrado was dead.
The winner: Piotr. Three of a kind. The entire pot. Mrado’d blown 160,000 on one hand. Congrats.
Mrado could hear his own breathing. Felt dazed, got vertigo. Ready to hurl.
Felt the beating of his own heart. Fast, sad beats.
Piotr stacked the chips. Swept them off the table into a cloth bag.
Got up. Left the table.
Someone called Mrado’s name. Ratko was waiting on the other side of the velvet enclosure. More than two hours after the appointed time. Mrado nodded toward him. Turned back to the poker table.
Remained seated, as though in a fog. Felt a flash of heat. He was sweating.
Finally, the dealer turned to him, asked, “Are you in for the next deal?” Mrado knew-for him, a catastrophe had just occurred. For the dealer, it was only a question of when the next round could begin.
Mrado got up. Walked away.
Bobban used to say, “Things happen quick in hockey.” Mrado knew-things happen even quicker in Texas hold ’em. Burned more than 160 grand within an hour. Not his night tonight. He should’ve known. Too many vets at the table.
Ratko stood at a one-armed bandit with his back to the poker table. Fed bills to the machine.
Mrado knocked him on the shoulder. “You were late?”
“Me, late? Sure, but you’ve been playing for over an hour. Made me wait.”
“But you were the one who was late. We were meeting at ten.”
“My apologies. How’d it go?”
Ratko asked again. “That bad?”
“It went so fuckin’ bad, I’m considering throwing myself off the Klaraberg viaduct.”
Mrado remained standing and watched as Ratko played. He was done for. Shouldn’t have played when he was so beat. Money that belonged to the video-rental stores. This couldn’t get out.
Ratko fed a final bill to the machine. Pressed the play button. The symbols started spinning.
Mrado’s head was spinning even faster.
Back in business. The long-lasting feeling: J-boy, baddest bad boy in town. El choro. Phoenix out of the ashes. Gotten back up after what they thought was a knockout.
His life vacillated between justified hate and high-level blow business. The hate toward Radovan & Co.: the ones who’d shredded him. The blow business: his job for Abdulkarim.
But Jorge was the man with the plan; he would break Radovan’s empire once and for all. Make sure the Yugo Mafia got locked up or wiped out. All he needed was more information and time to plan.
R.’s day would come. Jorgelito was mad certain.
Jorge’d recovered surprisingly quickly. First, when JW found him in a thousand pieces in the woods, he didn’t clock a thing. Who the hell was this Östermalm creamer? Buzzing about new markets, blow-biz expansion. Did he want in?
Fifteen minutes of explaining to a busted Latino.
Jorge was hardly listening at the time.
JW promised that a car would come. That he’d fix painkillers.
Jorge asked him to leave.
JW walked down to the road.
Jorge left alone on the ground. Half an inch of movement equaled otherworldly pain. The cold crept up on him. Jorge wanted to pass out. Disappear. But the questions were buzzing worse than the pain in his head: Would the Yugos hurt Paola? Would they leave him alone now? Should he skip the country right away? In that case, what were his chances? No money, no passport, no connections. In other words, about as much chance of survival as a twiggy with attitude at Österåker.
Darkness settled over the forest. The weather was getting worse. The trunks of the trees looked black. The branches hung low to the ground.
Felt like his upper arms and thighbones were broken. Felt as though his back was torn apart. Felt as though he’d gotten a second asshole torn up beside his first. Nature’s strange symmetry completed: two eyes, two nostrils, two arms, and two legs. And now, two assholes.
He tried to sleep. Not a chance.
The definition of eternity: Jorge’s one and a half hours in the forest before JW showed up again. He had a big guy with him, a gorilla. They lifted him. Jorge thought he was going to die for the second time in four hours. Pest or cholera. First to be beaten to death by a psycho Yugo and then to be carried to death by an enormous Lebanese.
A white Mazda van was waiting on the road. There was a padded gurney in the back. They strapped him down. A Swedish-looking man who Jorge, at the time, thought was a real ambulance EMT poured morphine down his throat. He numbed off. Dreamed of dancing grocery bags.
Fragments of memory.
Woke up in a stark room. Confused. Safe, but scared he’d ended up in a hospital. He’d get treated at the same time as he’d get found out-be sent right back to his cell at Österåker. Then came the pain. He howled.
A big man in the room, the same man who’d carried him to the van. The guy in a turtleneck and dark blue jeans. Jorge realized he wasn’t in a hospital. Something about the man signaled the opposite-that face didn’t belong in the health-care sector. Dark, coarse features. Scratches/scars along one side of his face. The man smiled; gold gleamed in his upper row. Maybe that’s what confirmed it-no one who worked in a hospital would grin with a gold grill like that.
The man, Fahdi, smiled, “Allahu akbar, you’re alive.”
A few days later. He woke up. Someone was dabbing at his arm; it was a sickly green color. On one arm and his left thigh, scabs were healing. Improvement. So, he wasn’t beaten black-and-blue anymore-he was beaten green.
The guy dabbing at his arm introduced himself as Petter and said, “You’re gonna be fine, man.” Jorge let his arm fall down on the bed again. The guy reached for a glass of something red. There was a straw in the glass. He held up the straw to Jorge’s mouth. Jorge sucked. It tasted like raspberry Kool-Aid.
The guy left the room. Jorge looked at the wall. Drawn curtains. Was there a window behind them? He tried to turn his head. Hurt too much.
Lay still. Fell back asleep.
Morphine dreams: Jorge was walking on a dark road with Paola. Along the side of the road were tall green stone walls. Spotlights lit up stretches of the road. Soft asphalt. Jorge’s feet sank down. Created imprints in the granulated, warm mass. He thought, If I have to run now, how fast can I go? His sister turned to him, “My prince, do you want to play war with me?” Jorge tried to lift his foot. It was hard. The asphalt mass stuck to him. Black, coarse. Felt heavy.
A couple of nights later: Paola was jumping double Dutch. Two ropes. Made out of twisted sheets. Two friends of hers were holding the ropes. Paola: eight years old. Jorge ran toward the ropes. Was about to fall. Stumble. And right then: an enormous blue trampoline. It cushioned the fall. He rolled around. Couldn’t get up. The trampoline was too soft. Like quicksand. He sunk down. Tried to support himself with his hands, his elbows, his knees. Paola laughed. The girls laughed. Jorge cried.
Later: The guy who’d dabbed at him, Petter, sat by the bed. Said everything would be fine. That Jorge would look so great. Better than before.
Jorge was too tired.
Didn’t ask what they were gonna do.
A bright light blinded him.
He turned his head. Shut his eyes.
Could instinctively feel that something was approaching his face.
A man he hadn’t seen before rubbed his nose with something.
Suddenly: extreme pain.
Felt like his nose’d been torn off.
He sat up.
The man held him down.
Poured something down his throat.
He fell back asleep.
Someone was shaking him. “Wake up, buddy. You’ve slept enough today.” Jorge looked up. A dark-haired man. Maybe around thirty years old. In a suit. A shirt with broad cuffs. The top buttons undone. A white Craig David hat on his head. “Open your eyes for real.”
Jorge stared in silence.
“I’m Abdulkarim. Your chance in life. Your boss.”
“You been lying here for over three weeks now. You gonna be a morphine junkie if you’re not healed already. You gotta be able to function by now. Raise your arm.”
Jorge raised his arm. Yellow at the top, near his shoulder, but otherwise okay.
“You look fine, buddy. Allah is great.”
Abdulkarim held up a mirror to his face.
Jorge saw the image of himself: a thin, dark-haired, and bearded man, maybe twenty-five years old, dark eyebrows, bulky nose, almost like a boxer’s, olive-colored skin.
A version of Jorge.
He grinned. At the same time, he felt sad. On the one hand, it was his chance. Abdulkarim-whoever he was-had fixed him up. Rubbed him down with a new type of self-tanner, curled his hair, dyed it. Better than he’d done himself. And he was skinnier.
But aside from that, something was different about his nose.
“What’ve you done to my nose?”
Abdulkarim laughed. “Broken in two places, buddy. Brought in a guy who set it straight. Hope it didn’t hurt too much. I think it looks better now. A little flat, maybe, but cooler.”
Jorge like Nikita: picked up off the street. Woken up, made up, fixed up to be their new supersoldier. How would the rest of the story go?
Abdulkarim kept talking.
“They pounded you real good. You looked like a fuckin’ blueberry when we found you. Then you became like the Hulk. Spotty green. Too bad you don’t have his powers.”
Jorge turned over in bed.
Abdulkarim tried to be funny. “What jerks. Did they pork you, too, buddy? Who was the bottom?”
Jorge fell asleep.
Everything’d gone so quickly. He was almost completely recovered from Mrado’s and Ratko’s rough treatment. The only problem: scars on his back and pain in one of his upper arms. He’d been given a chance to stay in Sweden and earn pesetas. That his nose’d been broken and realigned by Abdulkarim’s people could be an advantage. It was crooked, broader. Jorge’s appearance was even more altered.
Enough time’d passed since his break. The cops no longer had his picture as one of the top one hundred that popped up on their screens as soon as they had a lead. With his new look, the Arab’s money and help, Jorge realized he had a chance.
He knew why he was so perfect for Abdulkarim-his blow know mixed with his dependence and debt of gratitude to the Arab would make him the most faithful dog in Abdul’s dealer kennel. Abdulkarim’s business idea worked the way JW’d explained it. The boroughs were ready for a coke invasion. Blowkrieg. Jorge dug the plans. He’d thought about similar strategies when he was still at Österåker.
Jorge and JW sat in Fahdi’s apartment during a couple of days in November and made plans. Abdulkarim stopped by and discussed the big picture. Guidelines, strategy. How much blow did they think they were gonna need for the month of January? In which boroughs were they gonna start? Jorge name-dropped. People they had to get in touch with. Dealers to contract. People to consult. Fahdi brought pizzas and Coca-Cola.
Abdulkarim kept talking about import. They had to get more. Structure smarter smuggling.
Jorge taught JW everything he knew. The Östermalm-boy inhaled the knowledge like a teenager inhales beer at his first kegger. According to Abdulkarim, the dude was a whiz at dealing to the Stureplan crowd. Jorge had a knowledge advantage. Still, JW tried to seem worldly. Snobby. Jorge didn’t like his style.
Abdulkarim, shady but good. In every other sentence he praised Allah, in every other sentence he talked blow pricing. One night at Fahdi’s, he said, “Jorge, can I ask you a serious question?” Jorge nodded. Abdul continued, “What religion do you have?” Jorge shook his head. “Mom’s a Catholic. I believe in Tupac. He lives on.” Tried to joke. All ghettoites knew about Tupac, didn’t they? The Arab replied, “You know, there’s a war going on. You have to pick sides. You think all the Swedes are gonna accept you just ’cause you got cash? Allah can give you guidance.”
JW claimed the Arab hadn’t always been like that. Before: only talked blow. Allah was definitely a new player on the field.
At the end of November, Jorge hit the streets again. At first, he was paranoid. Kept looking around every third step. The cops or the Yugos reappeared from his nightmares. He slept at Fahdi’s. Every time the Lebanese dude came home at night, Jorge woke up, thought it was the 5-0 and that he was done for. After a few seconds, the sounds from the pornos calmed him. He realized that he actually looked different. Bonier. Blacker. Broader beak.
He went to a tanning bed regularly. Kept curling his hair. Tried to learn to use a pair of dark brown contacts Abdulkarim’d given him. The rhythm to his step got better with every day; he did his best to walk like a gangsta.
He needed his own place.
Jorge got in touch with Sergio and thanked him for his help. Blessed/praised him. Told him everything was cool but that they couldn’t see each other for a while. Sergio understood. He explained: His broken fingers were still crooked; his girlfriend was still shaking like a kitten.
Jorge hated the Yugos even more.
Wrote a text to Paola from a prepaid phone that Abdulkarim’d given him: I’m alive and doing well. How are you? Don’t worry about anything. Say hi to Mama! Hugs /J.
Two guys, the Sven who’d taken care of him, Petter, and a Tunisian, Mehmed, became Jorge’s assistants. Looked up people in the Sollentuna area on his orders. Distributed grams to the right people. Sold on from there. Jorge himself worked the other projects. Places where his face, even if it was new, had never been known.
Everything went beautifully. In January, they grossed 400,000 kronor. After they’d deducted the purchase price and Abdulkarim’s cut: 150,000 kronor for Jorge, Petter, and Mehmed to split. Life was sweet. Jorge was royal-Jorgius Maximus.
One thought he hardly ever had time to think: Was this preordained? Was dealing C as far as an ordinary slumdog from a Stockholm ghetto could get? Was the race already rigged when his mama decided to leave Chile and try to become a normal citizen of a new country? It was like when you get on the subway and realize the train is going in the wrong direction. There’s nothing you can do. Can’t jump off the train. What happens if you pull the emergency brake? Jorge and his buds’d done that a ton as kids. The fuckin’ train didn’t stop in the middle of the track like you thought it would; it drove on to the next station before it stopped. What was the point of an emergency brake if you still had to go where you didn’t want to go?
Jorge’s project for the future slowly morphed. Leaving the country as quickly as possible was no longer a given. To get back at Radovan became more important. And there was still a long way to go on that road. He knew some about Mr. R.’s cocaine dealings from before-but not enough. Radovan must’ve thought J-boy knew a hell of a lot more than he did. If not, why send Mrado and Ratko after him? Jorge needed more, enough heavy shit to sink Radovan instantly.
Enough to put Paola out of danger.
Enough to sate his hate.
Abdulkarim’s plans took time. To establish the blow biz in the western boroughs as well as select areas in the south: Bredäng, Hägerstensåsen, Fruängen. And he was in the middle of planning/preparing a large shipment of snow. Maybe straight from Brazil.
Jorge’s new free life was keeping him busy.
The inner journey: by train. JW was on his way to Robertsfors.
Was he on his way home? Or away? Where was home, really? The boyz’ co-ops, the bathrooms at Kharma where the C deals were brokered, his room at Mrs. Reuterskiöld’s, or Robertsfors-at Mom and Dad’s?
He was listening to music-Coldplay, the Sadies, and other pop-while he munched on a bag of candy. Tried to see if the gummy colors tasted different from one another. Red, or green, or yellow, or… what? Did a blind test.
It was dark outside. He looked at his reflection in the window. JW thought, A wonderful vantage point for a narcissist like me.
The train car was almost empty of people. One of the advantages of being a student was that you could travel any day of the week. Of course, he could’ve afforded to take any train or flight, almost at any price. But it was unnecessary-stupid to make his parents suspicious.
He should really be studying. He had an assignment to do on macroeconomic theories: the relationship between interest, inflation, currency rates. He even had the laptop open in his lap. But the movement of the train lulled him. He felt tired.
He closed the computer. Shoved his mouth full of gummies and shut his eyes. Chewed and contemplated his circumstances.
It’d been four months since he found Jorge in the woods. Since then, Abdulkarim’s coke expansion’d taken most of his time. JW and Jorge were each project managers of an area. The gelt kept growing, an average of a hundred G’s a month. Soon he’d be able to buy his BMW-cash-and maybe a co-op apartment. Just had to launder the money first.
He was barely getting by in school. He nearly flunked the exams. Was he on the verge of breaking his promise? The positive effect of his scholarly neglect was that he was becoming a name in the Stureplan jungle. Everyone with a penchant for skating on ice knew of him. JW bided Abdulkarim’s orders; he was careful about giving out his cell phone number. Couldn’t make it too easy. People called, left messages. JW called back, checked up on people, dictated the terms. Played according to the Arab’s strategy-safe.
He hung out with the boyz, more and more with Jet Set Carl and other acquaintances, people raised in rich suburbs like Bromma, Saltsjöbaden, and Lidingö. In Djursholm. Important parentheses: Know-it-all types thought you were supposed to say on Djursholm, not in, when people who really knew said the opposite. They were people with contacts and cash: party organizers, coke snorters-above all, clients.
JW approached the inner circles around the Swedish royal family. Golden glamour. Progeny of the landowning aristocracy. Wild parties with wild winners and their families. Important C sales. A private arena with exclusive access. Forget pricey tix. This scene was VIP only.
He’d been getting together with Sophie like two or three times a week. Sometimes they went out to eat, got a drink at a bar, or went for a walk.
Their problem, according to JW: The relationship wasn’t developing. Felt like they were still playing a game. She wouldn’t call for days. JW didn’t call back. They waited. Played hard to get.
The sober sex sucked. Embarrassing. JW was all nerves. It took twenty seconds. Tops. He tried to make sure it happened when he was tripping on coke. Worked better that way.
After a couple of months, their relationship’d become more stable. He slept over at Sophie’s place several nights a week. At the same time, a certain distance remained. Sometimes she didn’t want to get together, without JW knowing why. He missed her whenever the time between their dates got too long.
Nothing wrong with the Jorge dude. Not JW’s type, but fine enough. The Chilean possessed sick knowledge about coke. JW tried to absorb all the info, all the know-how, all the tricks.
The train slowed down at Hudiksvall. JW glanced out at the station. There was a lake on the other side of the tracks. He was halfway home.
Three days ago, Abdulkarim’d called. Sounded worked up: “JW, I got something big goin’.”
“I’m all ears, Abdulkarim. Tell me.”
“We goin’ to London. Fix a fat import.”
“Okay. How? Is your secret boss in on it?” JW felt more and more secure with Abdulkarim-almost dared be cocky.
“Chill, habibi, my boss’s in on it. Big stuff, you understand. Much bigger than our other imports. We’re gonna contact the wholesalers direct. Gonna be ill, inshallah. You gotta book tickets for us. Me, Fahdi, and you. We need, like, five days. Have to be there by March seventh, latest. You gotta book hotel rooms, I want it nice. Classy. Fix sweet clubs. Fix a weapon for Fahdi. Fix up London for me. You with me, buddy?”
It drove JW crazy every time Abdulkarim used the word buddy. But he didn’t feel so safe in his seat that he’d mock the Arab. Sucked it up instead.
“Course. I’ll be your travel agent. But I have to check the dates; I’ve got exams and stuff. And how’ll I get a gun there?”
“No, no ‘check the dates.’ Gotta be there March seventh. Talk to Jorge about guns. And hey, buddy, I want you to fix sightseeing in London, too. Big Ben, Beckham, and all that?”
It sounded exciting. Glam. Abdulkarim and he’d talked about it a lot-they had to get purchase prices down even more in order to increase the import. Find new smart ins. After his visit to Robertsfors, he was going to deal with planning the trip.
The only thing he’d already looked up was how to score a gun for someone in London. Jorge knew a guy who’d done time in England. They contacted him. Contacted his contacts. Promised to pay two thousand pounds. Sent a five-hundred-pound advance via money transfer. Arranged a spot for the handoff. A Yugoslavian pistol, Zastava M57, 7.63mm, would be available for pickup at the Euston Square Tube station at twelve o’clock on March sixth.
Definitely a step up for JW. He felt exhilarated about being invited along to negotiate directly with the big boys. Allowed entrance to the C business’s VIP room.
One thing worried him: JW noted that Abdulkarim was changing. Talked more about Islam and world politics. Started wearing a white Muslim headpiece. Referred to the latest Friday sermon in the mosque. Praised Muhammad in every third sentence, stopped drinking alcohol, and whined about the U.S. running the world. In JW’s opinion, the Arab was digging his own grave. There was only one loyalty: sales. Nothing could come before that, not even God.
JW hadn’t seen his mom and dad since the summer. Their communication’d been patchy since then. One call from his mom, Margareta, every other week or so and that was it. Her reoccurring questions annoyed him. “How is school going?” “Are you coming up to see us and Grandma soon?” His reoccurring answers were bland, whiny. “School’s fine; I’m doing well on all my exams.” “I don’t have time to come up; I have to do my job as a taxi driver. And no, Mom, it’s not dangerous.”
Love and guilt baked together. The fear in Margareta’s voice was always there; he could hear it. The terror that something would happen to him.
He could see Camilla’s face in front of him. What did he know that their parents didn’t?
He’d found out some things.
If he hadn’t seen the yellow Ferrari over six months ago, things would’ve stayed the way they were. Silent sorrow. Repressed grief. Conscious forgetting.
Maybe it was the car’s speed that’d bothered him. The sound. The roar of the engine. The senselessly cocky move of driving through the city streets at a speed of at least fifty-five miles an hour.
JW’d been forced to choose: either keep searching and maybe discover something unpleasant or just stop right now. Forget it all, try to keep leaving the past behind, like he’d been doing during the past few years. It would probably be best to tell the police what he’d found out. Let them do their job.
He couldn’t-not when Jan Brunéus was lying about something.
JW’d called him up. The teacher was obviously unwilling to meet with him again. JW coaxed. Tried. Told him how happy he was that Jan’d known Camilla. Jan armed himself with excuses: He didn’t have time. He had to go to a teacher’s conference. He was sick. Had to grade papers, was going on vacation.
The weeks passed. JW stopped calling. Instead, he went reluctantly back to the school again.
He pulled the same moves as last time. Positioned himself outside the classroom and waited. The same young black kid who’d come out of the door last time, came out first this time, too.
Jan was still in the classroom. JW got flashbacks to the last time he’d been there-the same girls were still in the classroom, stuffing notebooks into bags.
He remained standing in the doorway and waited for a reaction. Jan was calm. Walked up to JW. Didn’t even look surprised.
He greeted him, “Hi, Johan. I’ve been thinking a lot about you. I understand if you think I’ve been acting strangely.”
JW looked him in the eyes.
Who was Jan Brunéus? JW’d looked him up. The teacher was married, no kids, and lived in a row house in a lower-middle-class suburb. Drove a Saab. Besides teaching at Komvux, he taught high school. Didn’t show up in Google searches. He seemed normal on the surface. But, then again, who didn’t?
JW replied, “That’s an understatement.”
“I have a suggestion. Let’s take a walk. What about walking out toward Haga Forum. It’s pretty there.”
JW nodded. Jan had something to say.
It was December. Freezing and snowing out. The ice had set, although thinly, over the Brunnsviken Bay. JW didn’t dig the season. It was so difficult to wear nice shoes; they always ended up heavy on rubber and light on finesse.
They were walking behind Wenner-Gren Center when Jan started telling his story.
“I’ve been a shit. I should’ve seen you a long time ago and told you. I admit that.”
Steam billowed from his mouth as he spoke.
“This whole story has really weighed on me. I have nightmares and can’t sleep. Wake up in the middle of the night and wonder. What really happened to Camilla?”
Jan continued: “She had a rough time. Not a lot of friends. Her talent pushed other girls away, I think. You could tell by looking at her that she wanted to get somewhere. Maybe her ambition scared the others off. Anyway, I took her under my wing. Encouraged her. I used to discuss things with her after class. She really liked studying English, I recall. I mean, she was a grown woman. People who go to Komvux aren’t kids anymore. Despite that, I sometimes see them as kids. I mean, most of them haven’t made it through the regular school system without problems. There’s often something missing.”
JW wondered when the guy was going to cut to the chase.
“When you showed up here at Komvux, wanting to know more about Camilla, I got scared. Felt guilty. That I didn’t encourage her even more. That I didn’t see it coming. Her sorrow and alienation. Her frame of mind. Depression. Suicide.”
JW stopped. Thought, What is Jan talking about? No one knows what happened to Camilla.
“Where did you get the idea about suicide?”
“Of course, I can’t know for sure, but now in retrospect I can see that the signs were there. She lost weight. Must’ve had trouble sleeping, came to class with dark circles under her eyes. Pulled more and more away, into herself. She was feeling like shit, to put it simply. I was blind. Blame myself. I should’ve told someone, sounded the alarm, so to speak. But at the same time, how could I’ve known?”
The thought wasn’t new. JW’d wondered many times how his sister’d really been feeling.
Jan continued: “That’s why I’ve stayed away from you. I guess I haven’t been able to deal with this situation. Been afraid. I understand if you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to. I really have to apologize again.”
They walked another hundred yards or so. JW didn’t have much to say. Jan said he had to get back to Sveaplan Gymnasium. He had more classes to teach.
They shook hands.
JW watched him walk away. Jan was wearing a padded brown Melka jacket. Had bad posture, walked with quick steps toward the school building. Seemed stressed.
JW was standing outside Haga Forum by himself. He was cold, wrapped in thoughts. Had Jan given Camilla good grades to be nice? To encourage her? Because he saw how she was feeling?
He felt low. For his sister’s sake. For not finding out anything new. If Camilla had, in fact, killed herself, where was her body? Why hadn’t she left a note? Wasn’t suicide, as the shrinks say, a call for help? No, even though he hadn’t known his sister that well, he’d known her well enough to know that she hadn’t killed herself. She wasn’t like that.
JW’d ridden straight out to Kista. He knew Abdulkarim would be angry. They’d agreed to meet up and exchange cash for coke, but it’d have to wait.
The Kista Mall’d been newly renovated since the last time he was there: the movie theaters, the restaurants, the clothing stores, you name it. He went straight to H &M. Hoped Susanne Pettersson was working that day. It’d been several months since he’d been there the first time and she’d hinted that he should look up Jan Brunéus.
It was like he was paralyzed for long stretches at a time. Couldn’t bear to do anything about the Camilla thing. He blamed the C biz, school, Sophie. When he finally did look into what’d happened, it was always in spurts, with sudden stops and starts.
Susanne was manning the register. There were people in the store. JW asked to speak with her. No problem. Another girl took over. Susanne and JW positioned themselves by the denim section.
She was visibly stressed-out by the situation. Was glancing around, eyeing the customers, her colleagues, anyone who might be listening.
“Pardon me for busting in like this. And I’m sorry for bothering you. How’re you doing?”
“You know, fine.”
“How’re the kids?”
“They’re good, too.”
“I wanted to tell you that I met Jan Brunéus, your old teacher.”
“I’ll make it brief. He says Camilla was feeling like shit. That she must’ve killed herself. That he tried to encourage her, help her. He blames himself for the way things turned out.”
JW waited. Susanne had to say something more.
“What do you have to say about that?”
“I don’t know anything more than that. I guess it’s the way Jan said.”
JW followed her with his gaze.
“Susanne, you know something. Why did Jan give Camilla all A’s even though you guys never went to class?”
Susanne folded a pair of jeans. Refused to answer. JW could see plainly: She was blushing.
“What the fuck, Susanne, answer me.”
She held up another pair of jeans, tenderly. Fake wear on the knees and thighs. She put one leg on top of the other. Folded the pants in three steps. The back pocket and the label symmetrically aligned. The Divided logo in the customer’s eye.
Loud background music playing in the store: Robbie Williams.
“You haven’t figured it out by now? Didn’t you know your sister, or what? Don’t you know in what way she was talented? Ask Jan ‘Horndog’ Brunéus the next time you see him. You think Camilla got top grades in other subjects, or what? No. Just from him. Do you know how she used to come dressed for his classes?”
JW didn’t get it. What was she talking about?
“Don’t you get it? For an entire semester, Camilla was Jan’s plaything. Good grades for sex. That pig fucked her.”
The train passed Sundsvall. The conductor called out, “Tickets, please.” JW opened his eyes. Conscious again. It had been two months since Susanne Petterson’d almost shrieked out her explanation for Camilla’s good grades.
Who was his sister, really? Or, who’d she been? Was she, like he was, a treasure hunter, but one who’d ended up with the wrong crowd? Who hadn’t been able to take the pressure and skipped town. Or had someone else made sure she was erased from the picture? And if so, why?
JW was hungry but didn’t want to eat. In an hour and a half, he would be sitting at his parents’ dinner table, and it was important that he not lose his appetite by then. That he not be too full.
He got up. Walked toward the dining car. Not because he planned on buying anything, but because he was so antsy. The restlessness’d been creeping up on him more and more over the past few months. When he’d sit down to study, during lectures, while waiting for Fahdi or someone else to meet him and load him up with coke. He’d had to move. Direct his concentration on something. He’d learned to deal. Be prepared. Always kept his Sony player in his breast pocket, often took a paperback with him, downloaded sweet games on his phone. The margins of his college notebooks were filled with doodles.
Now he felt he had to move. Cell phone games wouldn’t help. Had to do a few laps. The question that worried him: Was it his new snort habits or the Camilla thing that was making him jittery?
He eyed the people in the train car. Tedious, tired people. Sven squared. JW wore common camouflage: Acne jeans, Superlative Conspiracy sweatshirt, and semi-ratty Adidas running shoes. He blended in. Suitable for his parental reunion.
He’d made up his mind after the conversation with Susanne. Playing private eye wasn’t his thing anymore. Even so, it’d felt strange to call the police, to talk to the investigator who’d been in charge of the case. He’d explained what he’d found out: that Jan Brunéus’d had some kind of relationship with Camilla Westlund in the time before her disappearance. That Susanne Petterson was aware of this and had told JW. That Jan’d given Camilla top grades despite her lack of attendance.
The investigator’d promised to look into the info more closely. JW assumed that he meant that Jan Brunéus would be called in for questioning.
That JW’d been in touch with the police was a contradiction. Abdulkarim couldn’t know.
But it’d felt like a relief-he’d let go of the burden. Was letting the police do their job.
He’d drifted back into denial. Focused on C, school, and Sophie. Prepared the London trip. Discussed strategies with Jorge. Sold. Dealt. Counted cash.
He’d made up his mind: He wouldn’t tell his parents what he’d told the police.
He was arriving in Robertfors within five minutes. His stomach was growling violently. Was it worry or hunger?
In truth, he knew he was worried about seeing Mom and Dad.
It was almost six months since he’d last bid them good-bye and studied his mother’s worn face and his father’s tight jawline. Would they be feeling better now? JW couldn’t stand being reminded of the tragic plodding of their lives. His goal had been to get away, start over. Be accepted as something different. Something better. Bigger than his parents’ whole-milk lifestyle with its accompanying angst over a lost child. He’d wanted to forget.
The train pulled into the station. People were waiting for arrivals and to depart themselves. The brakes screeched loudly. His car stopped right in front of his waiting parents. JW saw that they weren’t talking to each other. As usual.
Tried to calm down. Look happy and relaxed. As he ought.
He stepped down onto the platform. They didn’t see him at first. He walked toward them.
JW knew that Margareta was trying to call out. But for some reason, she’d been unable to raise her voice ever since the Camilla thing. Instead, she greeted him with a tense smile.
“Hi, Johan, let us take your bags.”
“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad.” JW handed one of his bags to Bengt.
They walked toward the parking lot together in silence. Bengt still hadn’t said a word to his son.
They were sitting at home, in the kitchen. Wood paneling along the walls and stainless-steel counters. A white Electrolux stove, linoleum on the floor, and a shiny wooden table from IKEA. The chairs were Carl Malmsten copies. There was a copy of a PH-lamp in the ceiling that cast a warm purplish glow. Above the sink hung green pots with words painted on them: Sugar, Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Basil.
The food was on the table. Thin strips of beef with a blue-cheese sauce. A bottle of red wine, Rioja. A carafe with water. A glass bowl with salad.
JW didn’t have much of an appetite. The food was good; that wasn’t the problem. It was really good. Mom’d always been a good cook. It was something else-the look of the place, the topics of conversation, and that Bengt talked with his mouth full. Margareta’s clothes were all wrong. JW felt like a stranger. The combination bothered him-contempt mingled with a sense of security.
Margareta reached for the salad. “Tell us more, Johan. How are things?”
A few seconds of silence. Her real question was: How are things in Stockholm? The city where our daughter disappeared. Who are you spending time with? You don’t run with a bad crowd, do you? Questions she would never pose directly. The fear of being reminded. The fear of coming too close to the dark scream of reality.
“I’m doing really well, Mom. Passing my exams. The latest one was on macroeconomics. There are over three hundred students in the class. There’s only one lecture hall that’s big enough.”
“Wow. There are so many of you. Does the lecturer use a microphone?”
Bengt, with a chewed gray beef mass in his mouth: “Of course they do, Mother.”
“Yes, they do. It’s kind of funny, ’cause they draw all these graphs and curves. You know, in a perfect market, the price is where the demand curve meets the supply curve. All the students copy every single graph into their notebooks, and since there are so many different curves, everyone’s got those four-colored Bics-you know, the pens with four different colors of ink in them-so they can tell the curves apart. When the lecturer draws a new curve, three hundred students switch colors at the same time. A little clicking sound for each one. It’s like a symphony of clicks in the lecture hall.”
They kept talking. JW asked about his old school friends from Robertsfors. Six of the girls were moms. One of the guys was a dad. JW knew that Margareta was wondering if he had a girlfriend. He didn’t bother to share. The truth was, he didn’t even know the answer.
A sort of calm washed over him. Warm, safe grief.
After dinner, Bengt asked JW if he wanted to watch sports with him. JW knew that was his attempt at intimacy. Even so, he declined. Preferred to talk to Mom. Bengt went into the living room by himself. Settled into the La-Z-Boy. JW could see him from the kitchen. He stayed where he was and talked to Margareta.
Camilla’d still not been mentioned. JW didn’t care if the topic was taboo. For him, his parents were the only people with whom he’d ever consider really talking about her.
“Have you heard anything?”
Margareta understood what he was talking about.
“No, nothing new. Do you think the case is still open?”
JW knew that it should be now at least. But he hadn’t heard anything, either.
“I don’t know, Mom. Have you changed anything in Camilla’s room?”
“No, everything is just like it was. We don’t go in there. Dad says he thinks it gives Camilla peace that we don’t intrude.” Margareta smiled.
Bengt and Camilla’d fought furiously the year before Camilla moved to Stockholm. Now JW looked back on it with nostalgia: doors slamming, crying from the bathroom, screaming from Camilla’s room, Bengt on the porch with a cigarette between his fingers-those were the only times he smoked. Maybe Margareta felt the same way. The ominous fights were their last memories of Camilla.
JW helped himself to another slice of blueberry pie. Gazed out at his father in the living room.
“Should we join Dad?”
They watched a movie on TV together: Much Ado About Nothing. Modern interpretation of Shakespeare, using the original language. Difficult to understand. JW almost fell asleep during the first half. During the second half, he calculated the kind of money he was missing out on making this weekend. Shit, the alternative costs for spending time with his parents were high.
Bengt fell asleep.
Margareta woke him up.
They bid JW good night. Went to their room.
JW remained seated, alone. Prepared himself mentally. Soon he’d go up to the room. Her room.
He flipped through the channels. Lingered on MTV for five minutes. A Snoop Doggy Dogg video was playing. Asses shook in time to the song.
He turned it off.
Climbed into the La-Z-Boy.
He felt empty. Scared. But, strangely, not restless.
He turned out the lights.
Sat back down.
The silence was so much deeper than by Tessin Park.
He got up.
Tried to walk silently up the stairs. Remembered almost step by step which stairs creaked and what strategies to employ to avoid them. Foot on the thick inner edge, foot in the middle, step over an entire stair, step on the edge, on the narrow section, and so on-all the way up.
Another two steps’d become creaky since he’d moved away from home.
Maybe he wasn’t waking Bengt. He was definitely waking Margareta.
The door to Camilla’s room was closed.
He waited. Thought Mom might fall back asleep. Pulled the door while simultaneously pushing slowly down on the handle. It didn’t make a sound.
When he flipped the light on, the first thing he saw were the three baseball hats Camilla’d hung on the opposite wall: a dark blue Yankees hat, a Red Sox hat, and a hat from her junior high graduation. The text on it: We rocked and rolled in black lettering on a white background. Camilla liked baseball hats like a fat kid likes cake. Uncomplicated. If there was one, she wanted it.
The untouched room of a seventeen-year-old. To JW, it was almost more childish than that.
There was a window in the middle of one of the room’s short ends. The bed was opposite the window. Camilla’d begged for a whole year to get a double bed to replace her twin. Pink coverlet with flouncy edges. Different-colored throw pillows, some with hearts on them, were spread at the foot of the bed. Margareta’d sewn them. Camilla used to kick the pillows to the floor before going to bed.
A young girl’s room.
Every object was a memory.
Every item a chip in JW’s armor.
More baseball hats were arranged in a bookcase. On top of the bookcase were framed photographs: the family on a ski vacation, JW as a baby, three friends from school-wearking makeup, smiling, full of expectation.
The rest of the shelves were filled with baseball hats.
Above the bed was pinned a poster of Madonna. A strong, successful woman with a mind of her own. Camilla’d been given it by a guy she’d dated in eighth grade. He was four years older, a secret she kept from Mom and Dad.
JW’d thought about how after the disappearance, when he was still living at home, he’d never gone into the room. It’d been empty for so many years, and the effect of the stored and reinforced memories hit him like a punch in the face.
Camilla at her junior high graduation. Hair in an up do. White dress. Later that night: wearing a camo-colored baseball hat. The stories JW’d heard about her behavior at the graduation party. Next memory: Camilla and JW in a fight over the last glob of Nutella. JW: pulled into the room and beaten up, smeared with his own sandwich-with an extra-thick layer of Nutella. Later: Camilla next to JW on the bed, when they were friends again. She showed him her CDs: Madonna, Alanis Morissette, Robyn.
Read the text on the inserts. Said she was definitely going to leave, go to Stockholm.
Enjoyed hanging out together.
There was a built-in bookshelf and two mirrored closet doors on the left wall.
Unread YA books and CDs were lined up on the shelves, but only the ones she hadn’t taken with her to Stockholm. A Sony stereo-a gift on the day of her confirmation. Camilla liked music better than reading.
JW opened the closet doors.
Clothes: skinny jeans, miniskirts, pastel-colored midriff baring tops, a jean jacket. A black corduroy coat. JW remembered when Camilla’d brought it home. She’d bought it herself at H &M in Robertsfors for 490 kronor. Too expensive, Mom thought.
Next to the folded tops was a storage box with reinforced metal corners. JW’d never seen it before. Stiff gray cardboard. JW recognized the type; he’d seen similar ones at container stores in Stockholm.
He pulled the box out and set it down on the bed. It was filled with postcards.
A half hour later, the postcards were all read. Seventeen in total. Camilla’d been living in Stockholm for a little over three years before she disappeared. During that time, she’d been home three times. It made Margareta sad; Bengt angry.
But apparently she’d at least been writing postcards. Cards that JW’d never seen, and that Margareta’d saved and put in Camilla’s room. Maybe she thought they belonged there, as though no other place was sufficiently holy to store the fragments of her daughter’s abridged life.
Most of it was stuff he already knew. Camilla wrote thin descriptions of life in Stockholm. She worked at a café. She hung out with the other waitresses. She lived in a studio in Södermalm-the south side-that she rented through the owner of the café. She studied at Komvux. She quit the café job and started working at a restaurant. Once, it said that she’d ridden in a Ferrari.
Not a word about Jan Brunéus.
She mentioned her boyfriend in some of the letters. He wasn’t referred to by name, but it was clear the boyfriend owned the car.
One postcard, the last one, contained information JW didn’t already know.
I’m good. Things are going well for me and I quit the restaurant. I work as a bartender instead. Make good money. Have pretty much decided to forget about Komvux. Next week I’m going to Belgrade with my boyfriend.
Say hi to Dad and Johan!
That was news to JW. That Camilla’d been planning to go to Belgrade. With the boyfriend.
He made the rapid calculation: Why go to Belgrade? Because you were from there.
Who was from there? The man with the Ferrari.
He was a Yugo.
Stefanovic as lecturer. He probably wasn’t familiar with the term strategic consultant, but if he’d worked for Ernst & Young, they would’ve been proud.
It was serious. Organized. The elite were gathered around a conference table in the VIP room on the top floor of Radovan’s bar. Radovan, Mrado, Stefanovic, Goran, and Nenad. The conversation was held in Serbian.
Mrado: responsible for the coat checks and other racketeering/blackmail/hit-man jobs.
Stefanovic: Radovan’s bodyguard and CFO.
Goran: bossed over booze and cigarette smuggling.
Nenad: biggest supplier of coke to Stockholm’s dealers, and also ran the trade in whores, apartment bordellos, and call-service chicks. Was responsible for the entire gamut of services. Nenad was Mrado’s closest among the colleagues-he saw in him the same desire he felt to be his own man. None of Goran or Stefanovic’s rimming.
The room and the bar’d been searched for hours. The cops were on the hunt. Stefanovic’d looked for any recording devices: under tables, chairs, behind lamps, under ledges. Checked civvies in the bar downstairs, suspicious cars, cameras in the windows across the street. It was the first time Radovan’s entire cadre had been together, in person, in over a year and a half.
Stefanovic began ceremoniously. “Gentlemen, three months ago I was given the task of figuring out what we should do about Nova. You’re familiar with it. The Stockholm police began the project four months ago. They’ve got their sights set on us and other groups. They’ve already collared more than forty people, mostly those in the western region. Thirty are already convicted. The rest are rotting in jail while they wait to stand trial. All of us in this room appear on their list of the hundred and fifty persons who make up the core of organized crime in this city.”
Goran grinned. “Where did they get that idea?”
Stefanovic cut him off. “Funny, Goran. Are you stupid because you’re a loser, or a loser because you’re stupid?”
Goran opened his mouth, then closed it again without a word. Like a fish.
Radovan looked at him. Most of the time, Goran was his fluffer, but now he wanted seriousness. Mrado thought: One point docked for Goran.
Stefanovic took a sip of mineral water. “During the last five years, we’ve concentrated our focus on five different areas of business. Then we run some other treats on the side, as you know-freight skimming, tax stuff, et cetera. We have a total turnaround of about sixty million kronor a year. Deduct general costs from that-the price of laundering the cash and paying off the guys. Your net result is something like fifteen. Add your earnings from your own and our shared legal businesses. Clara’s, Diamond, and Q-court. The demolition firm and the video-rental stores, et cetera. You’re all co-owners in one way or another. You live well on this stuff. But the businesses work differently. The margins vary. The whore biz is rolling. The cigarettes are okay. The blow is flying. Right, Nenad? What’s the price today?”
Nenad spoke slowly. “We buy for four fifty. Sell for between nine and eleven hundred. After turnaround costs, we earn an average of four hundred per gram, given that we don’t bulk.”
“That’s good. But everything can get better. If we can zero in on the source, we can press down the prices more. And, anyway, coke is the riskiest of the businesses. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. It’s important that we have several functioning businesses simultaneously. The risk is really high when it comes to ice. We have to be mobile, be able to switch between different areas depending on the relationship between risk and revenue.”
Mrado wasn’t surprised about the level of the lecture. He’d talked to Stefanovic two days ago, when he’d told him the instructions Radovan’d given him: “The presentation is for professional businessmen who deal in crime. I want numbers, statistics. Background analysis, prognoses, constructive solutions. No brainless gangster chitchat.” Still, Mrado was amazed. Unusually open description of Radovan’s empire. Mrado pretty much knew what made up Radovan’s domain, sure, but this was the first time R. himself, through Stefanovic, was giving numbers in detail.
Mrado regarded the men around the table. All in first-class suits. Broad shoulders. Broad tie knots like sportscasters’. Broad smiles when they heard the numbers.
Radovan was at the head of the table. His head was tilted back, chin in the air. Gave the impression that he wanted to have an overview of the others. Concentrated, steely look on his face.
Stefanovic: unassuming appearance. Mrado knew better-he was the other half of Radovan’s brain.
Goran was sitting with his arms crossed. Almost as beefy as Mrado. Almost as bitchy as a teen with a curfew. Followed Stefanovic with his eyes. Listened and analyzed the strategy. Had a lined notebook in front of him on the table.
Nenad rocked the Stureplan look. Backslick, pinstriped suit, pink tailored shirt. Matching silk handkerchief in his breast pocket. What gave him away was the Serbian cross tattooed on his hands. The Cocaine King/Whore Boss looked like a cocaine king/whore boss. Tried to pull a laid-back attitude-drawling voice, slow movements-but he was always jittery.
Stefanovic rose. Paced back and forth. “Let me give you a quick history lesson.”
Goran took notes.
“We’ve gotten competition over the last couple of years. When they took down Jokso in 1998, many of us thought the market shares were up for grabs, that there weren’t too many contenders in the cockfight. Then came the cease-fire between the Hells Angels and the Bandidos in 2001. You remember the terms. Neither of the gangs was allowed to expand. They had territories in Malmö, Helsingborg, and in two places on the west coast. But they were smart. Instead of the main clubs growing, the hang-around clubs grew, Red & White Crew and Red Devils, X-Team and Amigos MC. We are the people your parents warned you about, as they like to say. Mischievous boys. Today, they’re like ants and Sweden is their hill; even Stockholm’s crawling with them. As if that wasn’t enough, the prisons’ve really revved up: Original Gangsters, the Wolfpack Brotherhood, Fucked for Life, et cetera, et cetera. At first, they were loosely knit groups of young criminals and overgrown teen fists. Today, they’re almost as well organized as the motorcycle gangs, even outside the walls. What’s more, the Russian Mafia, the Estonian crime rings, not to mention the Naser Gang-we all know them-and the fuckin’ Polacks with their illegal Benz import have cut into large parts of the market. What’s happened?”
Stefanovic stared them down, one by one. The old boys were chastened. What he’d told them wasn’t news. Even so, you could see it in their eyes, the flicker of understanding that maybe the Yugos weren’t the biggest, baddest, and most beautiful anymore. The golden age was over. They were no longer kings of the hill.
Nenad arranged a well-waxed piece of hair, smoothed it down. “I can tell you what’s happened. They’re letting too many blattes into this country. Fuck, first it was the Kosovo Albanians, Naser’s ugly mugs and the rest. Then all the nasty-ass Gambians-they fuckin’ own half of the heroin in this city. And this is goddamn unbelievable: The Russians are smuggling cigarettes with the Bandidos. Unholy bedfellows. Worse than Croats, Slovenians, and Americans sucking each other off. It’s sicker than what the Svens do to our import pussy. Close the borders. Deport every Eastern fuck who sits his dark-haired, drug-filled ass down on the blond side of the border.”
Stefanovic said, “There’s a lot to what you just said. But it’s not just the new immigrants who’ve created the competition. We’re seeing new alliances. New gangs. They’ve learned from us and the motorcycle gangs in the States. We’ve got certain advantages, we all come from Holy Serbia. We speak the same language, have the same habits and contacts, are unified. But today, that’s not helping. Especially not now when the peace’s been broken. There’s a new war on-and it involves us. So far, two from the Bandidos, one HA, and one OG-popped. But we’ve taken a beating too. You all know what’s happened. Two months ago, one of ours was shot, severely injured. Both the war and the Nova Project will continue if we don’t do something. I’ve been thinking about it. Radovan’s been thinking about it. Mrado and I’ve talked to some others, which you’ll hear more about in a moment. To conclude, there are a lot more players on the field than five years ago, the cease-fire’s been broken, and the police’ve strengthened their positions through this damn Nova shit. They’re pinpointing us, infiltrating us, disturbing the balance. When people within certain groups fall, other groups think it’s a free-for-all. We’re fighting, when we should be collaborating. But we have a suggestion for a solution to the problem. Mrado will tell you about that.”
Stefanovic handed out copies of a paper with a list of names on it. Pointed.
“These are the gangs that control organized crime in Stockholm. Under the name of each gang, I’ve written down what they do and where. For example, you can see here that the Hells Angels run coat checks all over the city, do some drug dealing, primarily in the southern boroughs, import precursors, run automatic gambling machines all over the city, and do protection racketeering. All you gotta do is compare. Who’s in the same business we’re in and where’re they doing it. I’m about to hand the show over to Mrado. He’s already been in touch with some of the gangs on the list. Discussed the solution.”
Goran leaned across the table, as if he didn’t think the others would hear otherwise. “I honestly don’t see why we gotta find a solution. I don’t see a problem, since I’ve got total control over my business. If someone else’s got a problem, they should have to solve it on their own.”
Clear message directed at Mrado and Nenad: You’re not handling your job.
Stefanovic supported himself with both his hands on the table. The sleeves of his suit jacket slipped down over his cuffs and cuff links, which were in the shape of mini revolvers. He leaned over the table, mimicked Goran.
“You’re missing the point, Goran. We’re in this together. We consider and analyze what’s best for Radovan and for us. Not just for you. If you haven’t understood that by now, you’re welcome to discuss the matter with Rado in private. End of story.”
The second time today that Goran’d stepped out of line. The second time he’d gotten his fingers smacked. How much crap would Rado take?
Radovan remained calm. Gaze glued on Goran. Power play.
Goran stared back for a microsecond, then nodded.
Mrado cleared his throat. He’d prepared tonight’s talk ahead of time. Some parts were hot; Goran might freak out again.
“As Stefanovic was saying, I’ve been in touch with some of the groups. Among them, the Hells Angels and the Original Gangsters. And we’ve come up with the solution; it’s all about dividing up the market. Dividing up the different areas we work between us. The groups work differently. The HA are a lot more organized than the OG. On the other hand, the OG are ready to take bigger risks and have better connections in the outer boroughs. You can take a look at Stefanovic’s handout to see what they’re doing. The HA compete with us over coat checks, cocaine, and booze smuggling. They’re bigger than us at racketeering and gambling machines. The OG do cocaine and some racketeering and different loosely planned CIT hits. My assessment is that the OG aren’t a direct threat to our business. We could basically give a fuck about them. But they might, for example, be in competition with other groups that, in turn, compete for the same markets we do. We get a domino effect. The Hells Angels, for instance, are ready to discuss a division regarding either the booze import or the coat checks. Stefanovic and I are gonna look into it further. I’m gonna meet up with more people and hear what can be done. The Gambians, the Bandidos, the Wolfpack Brotherhood, and others. The point is that we have to fortify the front against this Nova shit and end the war. You know as well as I do that no one wants to be called a canary, but in a war, the whole sky fills with birdsong. Rat people out rather than rub ’em out, man to man. The Nova Project gains from everyone being at war with everyone else.”
Mrado continued to explain. Described the gangs. The rings that divided and ruled the city. Unholy alliances and kinship. Ethnic, racial, and geographic groupings.
The men sat in silence. No one wanted to give up their market. At the same time, everyone understood the problem. Most of all, no one wanted to fight with Radovan.
Mrado thought about the mood he’d sensed earlier. Rado wasn’t totally pleased. After this run-through, Radovan’s attitude toward him ought to improve. Mrado’d begun a huge job with the market division.
He wrapped up his lecture.
Radovan thanked Stefanovic and Mrado.
Everyone turned their cells back on.
A few minutes of small talk.
Goran excused himself. Said he had to go.
Rado looked satisfied. “Thanks for coming. I think this could be the beginning of something new, something big. You can go now if you want. Personally, I’d planned on enjoying myself tonight.”
The doors to the room swung open. Two girls in short skirts rolled in a booze cart. Poured out drinks.
They sang Serbian drinking songs.
Nenad pinched one of the girls on the butt.
Food was brought in.
Mrado almost forgot his feelings toward Radovan.
It was gonna be a long night.
* * *
(Confidential, pursuant to chapter 9, paragraph 12 of the Secrecy Act.)
COUNTY CRIMINAL POLICE INITIATIVE AGAINST ORGANIZED CRIME
Balkan-related crime in Stockholm
Report Number 7
The following memorandum is based on reports and suspicions from the Special Gang Commission and the Norrmalm police’s Financial Crime Investigation Unit in collaboration with the Unified County Effort Against Organized Crime in the Stockholm Area (collectively referred to below as the Surveillance Group). The methods employed include mapping, with the help of the combined experience of the Stockholm police; the collection of information from people within the criminal networks, so-called rats; secret wiretapping and bugging; as well as the coordination of requisite registries. The memorandum is being presented due to the fact that new information has been gathered from a person (X) who is currently convicted and incarcerated and who was previously active within the networks described below and also noted internal conflicts within the Yugoslavian network’s leadership.
Since the summer of last year, the Surveillance Group has, with increased efforts, tracked a number of persons who belong to the so-called Yugoslavian Mafia (referred to below as the Organization). The members of the Organization are suspicious of new people, which is why the Organization is difficult to infiltrate. This is largely due to the Organization’s ethnic homogeneity. The upper levels of the hierarchy solely consist of men between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-five, all born, or with both parents born, in the former Yugoslavia, today Serbia-Montenegro. There are few so-called rats who are ready to provide information about the Organization because of its members’ well-documented history of violence. The Organization has become famous for following through on threats, and several incidents of serious violent crimes over recent years can be tied to it and its related groups. See reports 2-4. Wiretapping or other bugging is often unsuccessful, since the people within the Organization search the places where they spend time as well as use prepaid phone cards that are frequently switched out.
Since three months back, the Surveillance Group has suspected that the Organization is preparing itself and its business to face the threat posed by Project Nova.
The Business of the Organization
There are suspicions in regard to the following criminal activities: alcohol and cigarette smuggling, sex trafficking, procuring, and pandering, blackmail, and racketeering, as well as freight frauds and freight theft.
Radovan Kranjic: The Organization’s leader is the Swedish citizen Radovan Kranjic (also known as Rado, Mr. R., and the Yugo boss), born in 1960 at an unknown location in the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia-Montenegro. He came to Sweden in 1978, seeking employment.
Among other things, Kranjic has previously worked as a bouncer and a bodyguard. Today, he owns and runs a restaurant, Clara’s Kitchen & Bar, Ltd. (Organization number 556542-2353), in central Stockholm. He reported an income from the company as well as from certain shares in Diamond Catering, Ltd. (Organization number 556554-2234), a total of 321,000 kronor for the past fiscal year.
Kranjic has previously been convicted of the following. 1982: assault, minor. 1985: illegal threats, assault, illegal weapons possession, speeding (served eight months in prison). 1989: illegal threats, tax fraud, illegal weapons possession (served four months in prison). Since 1990, Kranjic has not been reported for any crimes or misdemeanors.
Kranjic is married to Nadja Kranjic, with whom he has one child. Kranjic is believed to have participated in the war in the former Yugoslavia, 1993-1995, during which time he was not in Sweden for long stretches of time. He is said to have good connections within segments of the Serbian Nationalist Movement, among them Zeljko Raznatovic, better known as “Arkan,” whose private paramilitary army, the Tigers, led ethnic cleansing actions in Kosovo 1992-1995. During the later part of the 1990s, he was the number two in the Organization in Stockholm and was primarily responsible for the racketeering and cocaine businesses. Kranjic is also believed to have started the sex trafficking, procuring, and pandering business during this time.
Mrado Slovovic: He is Radovan Kranjic’s direct subordinate. Slovovic, who is a Swedish citizen born in 1967, came to Sweden in 1970 from the former Yugoslavia. He has previously worked as a bouncer and with the import of Thai wood products. He trains in so-called bodybuilding and combat sports.
Slovovic reported an income of 136,000 kronor for the past fiscal year, profits derived from his wood-importing business as well as from gambling.
He has previously been convicted for the following. 1987: driving under the influence. 1988: aggravated assault, illegal weapons possession, and illegal drug possession, minor (served one year in prison). 1995: breaking and entering, robbery, and resisting arrest (served twenty-four months in prison). 2001: illegal threats. Since 2001, he has not been reported for any crimes or misdemeanors. Slovovic was most recently prosecuted for aggravated assault of a bouncer at restaurant Kvarnen in Stockholm. Charges against Slovovic were dropped on appeal. The other defendant, X, was sentenced to three years in prison for aggravated assault. X is believed to be one of Slovovic’s so-called lackeys and has worked with him within the Organization’s coat-check racketeering business. Furthermore, Slovovic is currently involved in a custody battle with his former wife, Annika Sjöberg, regarding the care of their daughter, Lovisa.
Slovovic is believed to have been a member of the so-called Tigers, during their attack on Srebrenica in 1995. Slovovic is very violent and has, other than the incident at Kvarnen, without a doubt committed a great number of acts that would be classified as aggravated assault if he were forced to stand trial for them. Among other things, the Norrmalm police’s Drug Unit has tried to infiltrate a group of so-called bodybuilders at the Fitness Club gym on Sveavägen in Stockholm, which serves as a recruiting base for crime. The police infiltrator (Y) was, on August 18 of last year, gravely assaulted by Slovovic, who used free weights from the gym as well as threatened him with a gun. Y does not believe that Slovovic suspected his connection with the police, but that the assault was done as an “exhibit of power” by Slovovic.
Slovovic is responsible for the Organization’s protection racketeering business as well as other acts of blackmail and threats. The protection-racketeering business is directed primarily against restaurants and bars in the Stockholm area, but also against other business owners who appear to exist in a legal “gray zone.”
Stefanovic Rudjman: He is Kranjic’s nephew and his and his family’s private bodyguard. Born in Sweden in 1977. He has previously been enrolled at Stockholm University, where his studies have included law and economics. He did not complete a degree in either subject. He has previously been active as an accountant at the accounting firm Rusta Ekonomi, Ltd. (Organization number: 556743-3389).
He reported an income of 859,000 kronor for the past fiscal year, income that mainly originates from interest on stocks and other assets.
The Surveillance Group suspects that Rudjman runs a money-laundering business for, among others, Kranjic. Rudjman has not been convicted of any crime except for a number of traffic offenses since 2000. He is unmarried. Rudjman is also believed to handle Kranjic’s investments. Rudjman has, among other things, invested large sums in real estate development projects in the Belgrade area.
The Surveillance Group has gathered information regarding internal conflicts within the Organization. The Organization is well aware of Project Nova and is preparing itself to face the police’s efforts. Its leadership is planning to divide the market for certain types of criminal activity in order to avoid insider competition. The method proved effective during the so-called cease-fire between the motorcycle gangs Bandidos and Hells Angels. The Surveillance Group believes that Mrado Slovovic and Stefanovic Rudjman have been entrusted with the job of researching and planning as well as implementing such a division of the market. Slovovic has been in touch with a number of other criminal networks and organizations. He is very difficult to keep under surveillance since he often changes phone carriers. What’s more, there is no permit for further surveillance efforts. It is probable that he is planning to meet with more of Stockholm’s criminal gangs in the near future. Certain internal conflicts exist within the Organization in regards to the attempts to divide the market.
Based on a tapped conversation between Kranjic and Rudjman on February 15 of this year (tape SPL 3459-045 A), it is apparent that Kranjic no longer trusts Slovovic. The following quotes are translated from Serbian and taken from the transcript of the conversation:
Kranjic: We probably have to get rid of the coat checks or knock him off [Mrado]. I don’t trust M.
Rudjman: But he means a lot to us. Does a good job. Got a hold of that Chilean snitch whore. Puts people in their place. Hookers, bouncers, live wires.
Kranjic: Sure, but he doesn’t know his place anymore. This fall, he demanded a bigger cut of the profits. He can forget about that. After the Kvarnen shit show. Bad and poorly planned. But, most of all, and now I know I’m getting personal, it’s about history. He can’t accept that I’m in charge. We worked on the same level a long time ago. That’s another reason he’s gotta go. His loyalty falters.
The Surveillance Group believes that this is another sign that Project Nova has succeeded in its initial stage: to disrupt the organized crime scene and weaken it.
The Surveillance Group suggests the following measures to be taken, based on what has been described above:
1. Increased surveillance operations against Mrado Slovovic and Radovan Kranjic, to the extent that permission is granted.
2. Continued attempts to gather information from X.
3. Continued attempts to infiltrate the Organization.
Regarding the budget for the above-listed measures, see attachment 1.
Criminal Investigation Department Superintendent Björn Stavgård
Special Investigator Stefan Krans
Jorge had to pee so bad, he could’ve pissed a whole ginger ale bottle full. Funny thought, maybe treat someone. “Here, have some ginger ale.” The color deceptively similar.
It would be weeks before he finally understood a basic ground rule for people in the surveillance business: Always bring a bottle to pee into when you’re staking out in a car. If it’s an empty ginger ale bottle or not doesn’t matter.
The car’s back windows were tinted-it was necessary so no one could see him. Regular windows would be too much of a hassle; he’d have to lie with his seat lowered all the way back. And then there’d be the risk of falling asleep.
Radovan’s house was peaceful. It was the first day he’d spent sitting out here. The first of many days to come.
He’d stolen the car, a Jeep Cherokee, in posh Östermalm at 3:00 a.m. Switched out the license plates. Reduced the risk of being outed by the cops.
Jorge, the Angel of Revenge, was gonna bring Radovan’s empire to its knees. He just had to figure out how.
All he knew right now was that hate went a long way. A vendetta that demanded even more patience than the escape from Österåker. He had to investigate, stake out, add things up. Dig up dirt on Radovan. To start, figure out Mr. R.’s routines. A good start: sitting in the car, thinking, and waiting to see if something shady would happen.
Nothing was happening on the street.
He looked at the house.
There was snow on the roof.
Unclear if anyone was home or not.
He kept staring, as if he’d enrolled at Komvux again-a course in suburban architecture.
Nodded off between five and six o’clock in the afternoon. Not good. Had to stay awake. Tomorrow, he was gonna bring cigarettes, Coca-Cola, maybe a Gameboy.
The day slipped by.
The hate remained.
A few days later, he was staking out the house again.
Forced himself to think about an outlet for his feelings toward Radovan. The ideas’d found their way into his mind a week ago for the first time. Earlier, he’d pushed the thoughts away, into the future. Had only wanted to survive on the run. Get in with Abdulkarim. Do a good job. Make some money. Fix a passport. Skip the country. Now, he enjoyed walking the city streets, being unrecognizable. The thought of leaving Sweden was starting to seem like too much of a hassle. Instead: When he’d made enough money, he’d start some kind of assault on Radovan.
A thought: There was the possibility that he was actually working indirectly for Radovan right now. Jorge knew coke Stockholm inside out. There weren’t many players out there with muscles big enough to deal on Abdulkarim’s massive scale. The Arab seemed ridiculous sometimes, but Jorge knew the dude had an iron grip on cocaine. Knew his shit. Jorge could have cared less either way. It wasn’t probable that Rado actually controlled Abdul-Serbs and Muslims didn’t usually mesh. And, if Radovan really was the boss, the irony was just too perfect.
He needed to plan other projects, his first real job for the Arab. Make sure a coke shipment had a smooth arrival, directly from Brazil.
That was his area of expertise.
Founding principle: An old trick can fly if you play it right. Jorge was prepared. A much bigger load than usual was being delivered. Cocaine acquired through contacts of contacts in Brazil. Priceworthy. Forty American dollars a gram. Heavy phone traffic the last couple of months. The deal was done: The tickets had been bought, a new prepaid cell had been acquired, the necessary people had been informed, customs officers in São Paolo had been bribed, and a hotel room had been booked. Most important of all, the courier had been secured. It was a woman.
Troubleshooting: done. Abdulkarim: double-checked everything.
Again: An old trick can fly if you play it right. The Arlanda airport police/customs were after suspicious couriers worse than baby ballers in the projects were after the gangs they wanted to belong to, like leeches.
Jorge repeated: He would play it right.
He went over his revenge project once again, which led to questions. What did he really know about R.? Some from the time before he was locked up, when he’d pushed powder for the Yugos. Their routines were tight. He’d pick up a key in a storage locker at the Central Station about once a week. Then he’d ride out to a Shurgard storage unit in Kungens Kurva, where he’d measure out ten to twenty grams per visit. Dealt the shit in the northern boroughs, sometimes at bars in the city. Sometimes to other dealers, sometimes directly to the customers. Simple jobs. Still, he’d banked. Been glossy.
He knew so much more about snow now. Österåker’d had its good sides-J-boy was a walking Stockholm coke encyclopedia.
Then: He’d always known Rado, the Yugo king, was behind it all. But he’d also known that nothing led back to Mr. R. The guys that delivered the coke to Jorge had never mentioned his name. He’d never run into them at the Shurgard storage unit. Strange that Mrado hadn’t killed him out there in the woods. The Yugos must’ve been scared that he had so much dirt on Radovan, he’d be able to hurt them for real.
He wished he had as much on the Yugo boss as they thought he did.
Something Jorge had to consider: If he tried to gather info about R. within the field he knew best, coke dealing, didn’t he risk his own skin? Didn’t he risk his buddies: Sergio, Vadim, Ashur? Dudes who’d all been involved in Radovan’s coke pyramid in one way or another. He ought to find out other stuff about the Yugo Mafia.
What else did he know about Radovan from his time at Österåker? First and foremost, what everybody knew: The Yugo boss was involved in a ton of other businesses besides ice. Racketeering, doping, cigarette smuggling. But what did he know of substance? Only a couple things: Radovan’s blow came in via the Balkan route, over the former Yugoslavia, where the shit was refined and packaged. Not like most other blow in Sweden, which came in through the Iberian Peninsula, England, or directly from Colombia and the rest of Latin America. The Balkan route was usually the heroin channel.
Moreover, he knew which restaurants Radovan was said to control and use for laundering. He knew a number of people who’d been threatened or gotten the shit kicked out of them because they’d challenged parts of Radovan’s empire: the blow biz in the inner city, Jack Vegas gambling machines at bars in the western boroughs, moonshine instead of smuggled stuff at restaurants in Sollentuna.
But again, nothing could be linked directly to R. Nothing could be proven.
Jorge figured he should give up. Eat the humiliation. Lots of people got the living daylights beaten out of them by men like Mrado. Who did he think he was? What could he achieve? On the other hand, J-boy, the big-balled Latino, escape artist extraordinaire, was bigger than the regular ghetto gophers with dreams of bling and expensive rides. He was gonna be somebody. Cash in, for real. If Österåker hadn’t been able to stop him, no flabby Serbo-Croatian would, either.
The sky was darkening.
A crappy day.
The house was the wrong place to start. Jorge had to think. Be systematic.
He drove off. Parked the car in Södermalm. Dangerous to ride around in it for too long.
Couldn’t let go of the thoughts of R. and his connection to the Balkan route. Jorge knew a guy, Steven, at Österåker. The dude was doing time for smuggling horse from Croatia. Might be a starting point. Find out if Steven was out yet. Otherwise, find Steven’s partners. Guys who knew more about the Balkan route.
The next day, he called Österåker from a pay phone. Disguised his voice. Asked if Steven’d been released yet. He was met with a mocking tone on the other end of the line. Jorge didn’t recognize who it was. “Steven Jonsson? He’s got at least three years left. Call back then.”
Jorge called Abdulkarim, Fahdi, Sergio. Everyone he trusted. No one knew much about Steven and H smuggling. Some of them knew his name but had no idea who he’d worked with.
Three days of making calls. No success.
He couldn’t even get in touch with Steven himself in a safe way. Phone calls could be tapped, if they were even allowed. Letters could be opened and read. E-mail wasn’t allowed at the facility.
He staked out the house. Waited for something without knowing what.
Stared at the flat roof, his gaze glued to the snow.
Thought: How do I get in touch with Steven? Learn about heroin via the Balkan route. It was a perfect area. Jorge himself’d never been involved in it. No risk for him or his friends.
It became an obsession. A manic goal with Rado’s and Mrado’s heads as bounty.
Sometimes he saw people at the house. R. himself came home. A woman with a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girl arrived at the house at around six o’clock every night. It had to be R.’s wife and daughter. Home from school and work. Never alone. Always accompanied by a big dude with a Slavic look-obvious capo in the Yugo hierarchy. Later, Jorge learned who the guy was. His name was Stefanovic, private bodyguard and murder machine for the Radovan Kranjic family.
The woman drove a Saab convertible.
Radovan drove a Lexus SUV.
A happy little family.
When Jorge saw the girl, he thought about the picture of Paola that Mrado’d showed him in the woods. They played dirty. Jorge could play dirty, too. Do something to the girl. Still, it didn’t feel right. The girl was innocent. Besides, it seemed too dangerous.
The house was heavily guarded. Every time someone approached it, floodlights automatically lit up the path leading to the door. Sometimes, if Stefanovic was home, he came and opened the door for Radovan. That indicated that some sort of indoor alarm system forewarned him as soon as someone approached the house.
Jorge abandoned the idea that waiting outside the house would yield anything. It seemed half-baked.
Four days later: another idea. He called Österåker again. Asked about Steven. Asked what he’d been convicted of. Asked when he’d been convicted. At which district court.
Thanked Sweden for the law about open access to public records, whatever it was called. Jorge called the district court. Asked them to send him information about Steven Jonsson’s conviction. No problem-they didn’t even ask his name.
A day later, in Fahdi’s mailbox: trial documents. Stockholm’s district court. Aggravated drug possession. Thirteen pounds of heroin. Straight from Croatia, fresh. The defendants were Steven Jonsson, Ilja Randic, Darko Kusovic. Steven’d been sentenced to six years, Ilja to six years, Darko to two years. The last guy should be out by now.
Darko wasn’t difficult to get hold of. His cell was listed in the regular directory.
“Hey, my name is Jorge. Old buddy of Steven’s from Österåker. I was wondering if it’d be okay if I asked some questions.”
“Who the hell are you?” Darko sounded on edge.
“Chill out, man. I did time with Steven. We were on the same hall. Would like to get together if you’ve got the time.”
Jorge cajoled. Sounded pleasant. Pulled some slammer stories about Steven. Made Darko understand that he’d really been in the cell next to Steven. Jorge giggled. Played like a cob. Harmless tool.
That always worked.
Finally, Darko said, “It’s cool. I’ve kicked that habit. Refurbishing Saabs full-time now. I’ll meet you, but only on one condition. I don’t wanna get pulled into anything. You get me? I quit that shit. I can tell you what Steven and I were up to, but it’s gonna be my way. Nothing more. I’m straight these days.”
Jorge thought: Yeah right, superstraight.
They arranged to meet up.
He was gonna meet Darko in four days. Five hot G’s burned in his pocket. A large part of his income from the job with Abdulkarim went to his hate project: It was both completing and depleting.
They met up at a coffee shop on Kungsgatan. Blueberry muffins and a hundred different types of coffee behind the counter. Place packed with teens and maternity-leave moms. The clientele’s conversation topics recapitulated: guys, girlfriends, stroller models.
After some polite small talk and the three thousand kronor as promised, Darko started talking. His dark voice carried over the shrill cackle as he recounted the preparations the heavy hitters’d made four years ago. Despite all his objections over the phone, he didn’t seem to give a shit if people heard him.
Darko was a Balkan route pro. Was familiar with every single smuggling route between Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, and the Balkans. He knew the 20 of every customs station along the entire stretch of the former Yugoslavia’s border. Which customs agents would turn a blind eye for dead presidents. Who was expensive, who was cheap.
Jorge was impressed. He asked about Radovan specifically.
Darko shook his head. “I can’t tell you. Can lead to trouble. I’ve got a son, eight years old.”
Again, Jorge thought about the cell phone picture of his sister that Mrado’d held up to his face in the woods that afternoon.
Kept applying pressure.
“Come on. Help me, just a little. Two more G’s for the info?”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Fuck it, man, call and ask Steven if you think I’ll sing. We used to sneak a blaze in the bathroom my whole time on the inside. I’d never jux a friend of Steven’s.”
Darko seemed to relax when he heard Steven’s name.
“You’re stubborn. I’ll tell you the whole story for five.”
No point in haggling. Jorge said, “Agreed. Five.”
Darko kept talking. Told how he and Steven hadn’t really worked for R. except on two occasions. The first time, they smuggled in nine pounds of heroin hidden in a tractor-trailer crammed with timber. Value on the street: over one and a half million. They’d cooked the whole dish from scratch: fixed the dudes who drove, kept their eyes on the dudes who drove, bribed customs agents, landed protection from other organized naughty boys in Belgrade.
The second time, he hadn’t smuggled H, something else. Worse.
Jorge got interested. Poured on the questions.
Darko looked strained. His eyes danced around the room. Downed his coffee. Suggested a walk instead.
They went out.
It was a cold February day. Crispy air and blue sky.
Jorge spewed chatter. Created trust. Babbled on.
“You should’ve been there. In the summer. Steven smuggled in fifteen cannabis seeds hidden in raisins that he planted in the rec yard. You know, cannabis is thirstier than an Arab in the desert.”
Darko listened. Let himself be entertained. Looked like he was unwinding somewhat.
“Major problem, watering the plants. Steven got the sickest idea, stood and pretended to piss on ’em at the same time the dude poured a glass of water on the shits. A screw found him out, of course. Walked up. Flipped the fuck out and was all ‘Are you urinating on the lawn?’ Steven denied it, straight up. The screw was all gonna prove he’d pissed, got down on all fours. Started smelling the grass. You follow? Like a fucking dog. Steven told the CO fag, ‘Now you proved it. I suspected it a long time-screws and bitches, you got the same genes.’ Man, everyone in the yard just howled.”
Darko smiled. “I’ve heard that story before. Steven’s a cool bro.”
They walked up Kungsgatan.
After another five minutes, he started telling the story. “Me and Steven worked with a Serb, Nenad. Cruel bastard. The dude had good connections in Belgrade. There were rumors he’d belonged to the Tigers, that he’d slaughtered thirty Bosnians in Srebrenica with his bare hands. First brought the men out into the square, their hands tied behind their backs, and beat them until they crawled in their own puke. Then they raped their wives, in front of them. We didn’t know then that he was Radovan’s man. When we did the H job, it was on direct orders from R. We got a twenty percent cut. Partied for six months, then time for business again. So, the second time we worked for Radovan, it was on Nenad’s orders. Think that was a year before I was put away. We met up at Café Ogo-you know, Jokso’s old place. Nenad introduced himself, said we could call him the Patriot ’cause he always supported Serbia. That was serious for those guys. He was rock-hard, Nenad, with war tattoos all over his knuckles. Two other dudes were there at the table. Kept their mouths shut the whole time, I think. But I recognized one of them from the club scene, Stefanovic. Younger guy who worked for Radovan at the time. Nenad buttered us up. Kept talking about the good job we’d done with the last transport. What a success it’d been. He knew a lot about me, but that wasn’t strange, since we often worked for Yugos. I mean, I’m a Serb myself.”
Darko paused. His eyes glowed like embers. Fired up by old memories. By the kicks. The suspense. Or?
They walked across the square at Hötorget.
“Nenad went over the plan. It was a big load of H. We were gonna bring it on trucks, like before, from the Belgrade area. And it’d be real bulked, take a lotta space. We didn’t clock shit, then. Planned the whole thing. Landed two German-registered semis, took two containers each. Fixed the drivers, the customs crap, the permits. The whole enchilada. Officially, machine parts were being driven from Turkey over the Balkans. Nenad had rules. Needed at least seventy cubic feet for the load in each container. When we met up with our contact people outside Belgrade, they drove up in two old army buses, dressed in military uniforms and carrying machine guns. Had four women with them. I thought they were gonna give us vodka and a nice time with the girls. It took me a minute to get it. We were never bringing any H. It was people we were smuggling. At first, I thought they were refugees.”
Jorge and Darko kept walking along Vasagatan at a leisurely pace. Past the Central Station. The taxis in line. Jorge asked, “Who were the contact people?”
“No idea. But we drove the girls all the way here. Wouldn’t let ’em out even once. It was hot as hell that summer. When we drove through Germany, the thermometer showed over ninety-seven degrees. Fuck knows how they survived the trip. Thirty hours in seventy cubic feet-suck on that. At least they had water. We unloaded them in the harbor at Södra Hammarbyhamnen, which was an undeveloped industrial area at that time. I can still see their faces when they came outta those containers-puffy from crying, a dark gray color. Bags under their eyes that added twenty years. If I’d only known ahead of time what I’d be carrying, fuck. I could’ve said no. But they had water.”
Jorge ignored Darko’s remorse. Right now, it didn’t matter if the whores’d had water or not. He asked, “Who met you?”
“Radovan, Nenad, Stefanovic, and a couple others.”
“Yeah. I recognized him from pictures I’d seen at Café Ogo.”
“As sure as I am that it wasn’t H I was driving that time.”
“Who were the others?”
“No clue who the others were, other than Nenad and Stefanovic. Sorry.”
“How much did you get?”
“Hundred and fifty each. To cover everything. Including bribes and salaries for the drivers.”
Jorge with a fire inside.
Radovan-wading in the whore trench.
Jorge picked up the chase.
JW’s luxury problem: He’d put away 300,000 kronor in three months and still been able to consume like an oil sheik-what to do with all the money?
It would soon be time for the Beamer. Maybe in a month. Maybe in two. Probably a used one after all. He was choosing between a slick BMW 330Ci with M sport pack from ’03, an even slicker BMW 330 cab with navi from ’04, and, slickest of them all, a BMW Z4 2.5i. He was eyeing the last-named car online. It was ill, silver with leather interior, and made zero to sixty in five seconds. Cash car. Class car. Cavalier car for the incomparable. It was soooo him.
Faced the classic caveat for off-the-bookers. On paper, JW didn’t make any money and lived, according to Big Brother’s records, on student loans-a total of 7,500 kronor a month. The car had to be registered and insured. As a result, Big Brother would see that he’d bought a car for three hundred G’s, even though he didn’t report any income or assets. Big Brother would wonder. Worst-case scenario: Big Brother would get suspicious, start eyeing JW more closely.
The standard solution for naughty off-the-bookers was to launder the dirty money.
JW did some research. These economic models weren’t the most openly written about. Hard to find info. He asked Abdulkarim about smart ways to do it.
The Arab responded, “JW, man, you know, me, I’m no economist. Me, I’m a regular blatte. Sweden don’t trust me anyway. I don’t need clean cash. I’m outside all that.”
JW tried to explain the advantages of being good with the system.
Abdulkarim offered a crooked smile. “You comin’ to London ’cause you’re my economist. You do the thinking. You come up with a smart way-you tell me. In that case, I’ll wash ten percent.”
The Arab had a point: One alternative was to stay completely outside the system. Not register any cars, not insure any cars, not buy any co-ops, always pay cash.
But that wasn’t JW’s way. He wanted in-for real.
Three days after he came home from Robertsfors, JW asked himself, What do I have with me from that place? The easy answer: nothing. But still, deep inside, he knew that it’d felt good to be there. Felt good to be safe. Not have to pretend. Be able to speak with his regular dialect again. Be able to walk around in any crappy old threads. Be able to lie on his bed all day without having to call people and ask them what was happening that night.
At the same time, he felt contempt. His parents were clueless. Where he came from-it just didn’t cut it.
And he’d brought a new lead home with him: Camilla’s guy’d been a Yugo. What did that mean? That was probably information he should give to the police.
But were the police finding anything? JW’d provided them with the Jan Brunéus story, the teacher who’d obviously used his sister. Why didn’t they call? Didn’t they give a fuck about the Westlund family’s anxiety and grief?
At the same time, it was such a relief to have handed it all over to the police. He could do other things. He couldn’t let Camilla take too much of his concentration; he had to focus on his career.
JW learned about money laundering. The key to success was moving money from one economic system to another. Moving from dirty to clean areas of business. Moving in a cycle. Moving in three vital steps: placement, concealment, laundry. Without them, the circle wasn’t complete.
Placement was necessary since you were dealing in cash. No C sales, no matter how posh the people, happened through any other payment method. Catchy phrase: Cash is king for cocaine consumers. The advantage of cash: left no trace. The disadvantage: It was suspicious. People raised their eyebrows at fat rolls of big bills. The cash had to be moved. Placed. Converted. Into another currency, into electronic ones and zeros in a bank account, into stocks, options, or other financial instruments. Into something that didn’t attract attention, that wasn’t easy to maneuver, that was one step away from your illegal source of income.
The second move was all about concealment. Use businesses as a front or use other methods that would conceal the source of income: bank accounts in countries with good confidentiality policies. You had to break the chain. Create layers of transactions. Couldn’t show where the money’d come from. Use decoys. Use numbered accounts. Use systems that cut your connection to the sweet sums.
The final move was the most important; it regarded the actual laundering, the reintegration of the money into your finances. When the cash’d been placed, been put into accounts, the money concealed and impossible to trace back to you, it was time for the final step-the focus on where it’d come from, the creation of a chimera of legitimate sources. Often taxed sources. Normal sources.
Money laundering forced you to play by the rules of the state. You lost the sweet flexibility of cold, hard cash. Entered it into the financial system, where everything was meticulously regulated. All information was saved. All assets were checked off on lists. Every move was registered. No assets arise out of thin air. But it’s possible to fake it.