A/N: Finally, chapter five. Apologies for taking so long to update (real life getting in the way again...) and thank you to the lovely people who have read and reviewed so far - it means a lot to know that you're enjoying it :)
Linda closed her eyes and sat perfectly still, in the vain hope that the pain in her head would subside. Why had she woken up with a migraine, today of all days? Today the team was going to focus on the man Stefan had tipped her off about. With her eyes closed she could still clearly picture his face. Lars Matsson. He was inside her head and until she knew everything had been done to find him she wouldn't be able to get rid of him in a hurry.
She shivered and suppressed a wave of nausea.
"Are you all right?" Martinsson's voice cut into her consciousness. She opened her eyes again and looked at him.
"My head's killing me," she said. "Migraine."
"My wife gets those. You should go home and get some sleep. It'll be much better for you than sitting here hunched up at your computer."
"But there's so much to do. We've got to look over the reports from Interpol and put a plan together."
"The reports will still be here tomorrow, and if you have any ideas in the meantime you can always phone and let us know." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Come on, let me drive you home."
Linda found she didn't have the strength to argue. Rising slowly to her feet, she followed Martinsson out through reception, where he stopped to talk to Ebba.
"If you see Kurt tell him I've taken Linda home."
"Migraine," Linda explained, beginning to feel a little guilty.
"Oh, you poor thing!" Ebba exclaimed. "Do you need painkillers? I have some here in the drawer. They're very good."
"It's okay, I've taken something already."
"Tell Kurt he needs to look after you a bit better. Letting you come to work with a migraine, indeed!"
Linda and Martinsson exchanged glances, but said nothing. As they were heading out the door Ebba called to them again.
"Before you go, there was a message for you, Linda." She hurried over with a note. "A nice inspector from the Polish police called. I've taken all his details."
"I can deal with this if you want," offered Martinsson.
"No, it's okay. I'll have a look at it at home when I've had a nap."
Thanking Ebba, they left and drove to Linda's street. Once in the house, Linda lay on the bed and closed her eyes. She knew she should sleep, but her head was full of images and half-formed ideas. It seemed to be making the pain worse. She tried to restart her train of thought at the beginning, the first place she'd noticed the sense of unease she was feeling. It had to do with Stefan, she knew that much. It seemed that a lot of things in her life these days had to do with Stefan, more than she would be willing to admit to anybody, especially him.
She sighed and turned over on her pillow to try and ease the throbbing in her head. Stefan had always been fiery and quick to stand up for what he believed, but lately there had been a subtle change in him. It was almost as if... what? She searched her subconscious to understand what this was about. Finally she decided that it was as if a sense of desperation had taken hold of Stefan. The more she thought about it, the more she began to understand that something was eating away at him. It might explain why finding Matsson was so important to him. But what connection could he possibly have with a creep like that?
Linda was shivering. She pulled the quilt over herself and huddled underneath, her eyes closed. Presently she felt the drowsiness creeping up on her. It was like walking down a long corridor. To the left and right there were doors, possibilities, but the other end was her goal, the truth that she sought. I need to keep going, she thought sleepily. I need to keep asking questions...
A cold wind blew across Växjö, buffeting the walls and windows of the police station, threatening snow. Stefan shivered. Gazing out the large window, he watched the cars driving to and fro on the street below, and a hardy few pedestrians struggling along the pavement. As he watched, a very harassed-looking Evert Pilqvist strode across the road from Oxtorget and hurried in the front door. At the same time, a woman scurried out and almost collided with a uniformed patrol officer who had gone outside for a cigarette break. Words were exchanged and the officer watched the woman stride away down the street with a bewildered look on his face. A wistful smile spread across Stefan's face as he was reminded of his colleague Svartman back in Ystad.
He shook himself. To hell with this, he thought, why am I so homesick all of a sudden?
The door shut behind him and he jumped, remembering where he was and what he was here for. Chief Turesson had finally arrived, having kept Stefan and Ahlqvist waiting for the last twenty minutes. It had, thought Stefan, been a lot like being back in school, waiting in the headmaster's office for him to dish out a punishment.
"Sorry to keep you waiting. It's Britta's birthday next week and the social committee wants some ideas on what to do for her." Turesson sank into his seat and looked intently at the two officers. "And what can I do for you two gentlemen?"
Stefan cast a brief glance at Ahlqvist, who was sitting uneasily in the visitor's chair. Ahlqvist shifted apprehensively and cleared his throat.
"I'm afraid you're not going to like this very much," he said.
"What is it?"
Turesson stared up at them, with absolute unbroken attention. It had occurred to Stefan that behind the chief's laid back exterior was an exceedingly sharp mind: this was now being proved by the absolute concentration he was focussing on them. Stefan wasn't sure how much he liked this; it had the potential to get very uncomfortable for them very quickly.
Ahlqvist cleared his throat again.
"We've uncovered some rather disturbing evidence about our suspect Matsson," he said. "The problem is how we uncovered this evidence."
"Go on." Turesson leaned forward and rested his chin on his hand, fixing Ahlqvist with an intense stare, as if he had idea of what was coming next.
"Well, um, it's like this, we didn't actually follow procedure..."
"It was my idea," Stefan broke in, unable to bear the tension. "I persuaded Peter to come with me and take a look at Matsson's house, to see if we could get some sort of tip-off on who his associates are. We got in through a window." He stopped, and swallowed, suddenly aware of how dry his throat was.
"I see," said Turesson. He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms, frowning up at Stefan. "So you mean to tell me that the pair of you broke into Matsson's place and searched it without a warrant or indeed any kind of authorisation at all?"
Stefan shifted his weight from one foot to the other and looked at the carpet.
"Yes. That's about it."
"I see," said Turesson again. He pushed his chair back from the desk and stretched out his legs. He looked across at Ahlqvist. "Frankly, I'm surprised at you, Peter, agreeing to go along with this. You know perfectly well what the law says about this sort of behaviour. It was really damn stupid of you. What if you'd been caught?"
Ahlqvist squirmed in his seat, shame-faced.
"I know, and I'm sorry. But we weren't caught."
"Anyway, it was my idea!" Stefan interrupted. "I twisted Peter's arm. It was wrong, but it was a means to an end!"
Turesson gave him a curious look, then sighed. He was silent for several minutes, during which time he rubbed his moustache, evidently in deep thought.
"All right," he said, finally. "As you seem so certain that nobody saw you, and as I'm in a good mood today, I'll let it drop just this once. But if it ever happens again, you'll both be out of here so fast your feet won't touch the ground. Do I make myself clear?"
They nodded. For the first time that morning Stefan felt himself relax a little.
"So," Turesson continued. "What's this disturbing evidence you've found?"
Without a word, Ahlqvist placed the book on Turesson's desk. The two officers watched in silence as the chief examined it and took out the photographs sandwiched between its pages. After a while he looked up at them again, his normally good-humoured face unsmiling and sombre.
"I see why you brought me this," he said quietly.
Linda woke with a start. Groggily, she sat up in bed and looked at her watch. She had been asleep for more than three hours. The pounding in her head had reduced to a general weary achiness. It was like having a hangover, complete with the requisite mental fog and aversion to bright light. She grimaced at the sun shining through her window, heaved herself up and drew the curtains.
Time for more painkillers and, now that her stomach seemed to have settled down, a good strong coffee. She sat at the kitchen table with her cup and tried to figure out what had woken her so suddenly. The dream she had been having was already a dim memory, a series of seemingly unconnected faces and images, but nonetheless something in her subconscious had stood out sharply enough to jerk her mind back to reality. She rubbed her forehead and took another sip of coffee.
It was then that she remembered the note that Ebba have given her. Unfolding the slip of paper, she noted the details of a Polish police officer called Lisiewicz, who had found something in his force's archives that she might be interested in. She could call him back any time to discuss it. No time like the present, she thought, pulling her mobile phone towards her and dialling the number. It rang several times before a man with a pleasant voice answered. When she introduced herself he surprised her by speaking in Swedish. It transpired that he had spent several years seconded to a Swedish force as part of some kind of initiative to reduce crime around the Baltic. He was especially interested in links between Polish and Scandinavian criminals and, as something of an expert within his force, Linda's query had been passed to him.
Linda spent a little over twenty minutes talking to Lisiewicz. When she put the phone down, she had almost forgotten about her migraine. She looked at the hasty notes she had scribbled, the comprehensive list of names and dates that the Polish officer had given her. She recognised at least one of the names.
By then she had also remembered what it was that had caused her to wake so suddenly. It had been something to do with Borås, she was sure of it. She had seen a mention of the place somewhere among all the investigation data they had accumulated. Stefan was from Borås. Was this unpleasant mess linked to him in some way?
How could it be? What did he have to do with these people and their predatory behaviour? Linda shook her head to dispel the idea, then immediately regretted it as a spasm of pain shot across her forehead. Rubbing her head, she focussed on a half-formed that had floated to the surface of her mind.
Getting up from the table, she grabbed a little-used keyring from the drawer and hurried out to her car.
It had been a long meeting. Stefan had a headache and a feeling of apprehension. On the other hand, Turesson's reaction to his and Ahlqvist's confession had been a relief. Stefan was well aware that Turesson could have hauled them over the coals for breaking and entering if he had wanted. He was glad that the chief had instead taken a more practical course of action.
"We'll say that we had an anonymous tip-off," Turesson had explained to the two of them. "I can say that this book was sent anonymously to you, Peter. I see Matsson's been stupid enough to actually write his name and address inside the cover, which is lucky for us. I don't doubt that his fingerprints will also turn up on the photos inside the book."
They adjourned to the conference room, and Turesson called the rest of the team together. They waited while the chief took Solberg to his office and explained the situation – minus the truth about how the photos had been discovered. When the two rejoined the rest of the team Solberg looked pale, but determined. Turesson was flushed and more animated than Stefan had ever seen him before.
Then they talked. They discussed the new evidence, formulated theories, tried to create a coherent plan of action. The discussion lasted the rest of the morning, and well into the afternoon.
Stefan found himself unable to keep quiet, stung out of his usual silence by his discovery. The others could not possibly know why this was so important to him. They also didn't know about the other photo he had found, the one that was now burning a hole in his jacket pocket and that, more than anything, goaded him into action. This was personal, even though he couldn't let on about it.
By the end of the meeting, they finally had a plan. Matsson's house would be searched, this time with a warrant. Stefan and Ahlqvist would do more digging on Matsson's background and associates. Solberg would speak to the specialist child protection unit. Everyone seemed fired up and eager to get going, and there was a scramble for the door once Turesson dismissed the meeting.
Stefan slunk back to Kalle Pedersen's office once more, and closed the door. Closing his eyes, he put his head down on the desk, cocooning himself away from the world. His temples throbbed, the perfect accompaniment to the buzzing in his ears. He let his mind wander, images and thoughts slipping in and out of his consciousness.
It was as he had thought it would be. Making the first move in a case like this was like lifting a rock and watching the insects underneath scurry out from underneath. He had known this already, had thought he was prepared for what he would find under this particular rock, but it still disgusted and frightened him.
I'm not a kid any more, he had to remind himself. I'm not powerless. I know what I have to do. It needs to be done because I can't keep living this way any more.
There was another thing that he knew he needed. Getting up from the desk, he went to Ahlqvist's office and excused himself. As it was Friday afternoon, Ahlqvist understood. They agreed to meet the following evening.
Stefan got into his car and drove away. He took the road south, not slowing until he finally caught sight of the dull gleam of the Baltic under the setting winter sun.