Magnus was disoriented and lightheaded when he finally opened his eyes. It took a moment for his vision to fully clear and for his eyes to focus on anything beyond the dark spots in his vision. His swore he could hear bells ringing, but it was only the high pitched ringing in his ears that echoed shrilly in his mind.
Kurt was hovering over him with a worried expression on his face. Worry was an emotion that often creased the older man's visage, but it was not often directed at Magnus, and it caught the younger detective off guard.
"What happened?" He asked slowly, trying to remember how he had ended up in a painful heap at the bottom of the staircase.
"What were you thinking, Magnus?" Hissed Kurt, his worry quickly replaced with anger, furious once he realized Magnus was not dead. "What were you thinking! Didn't you learn how to properly clear a room at the Academy?"
"I'm fine," Magnus mumbled darkly. "Thanks for asking."
Kurt sighed and scrubbed at his face with his hands, a gesture colored with frustration that boded ill for Martinsson. He was sure Wallander was going to vilify him for his error, but the other detective merely shook his head. "I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
Magnus took a moment to mentally examine all of the aches and pains he felt throughout his body. Nothing appeared to be broken, his ribs and his back ached and he knew he was going to be extremely sore in the morning. His head was pounded with a frightening intensity and he briefly wondered if he had a concussion. It would be a miracle after a fall like that if he didn't, but the true miracle was that he didn't break his neck. There was a nasty gash on his forehead from where he had banged into the steps during his rapid descent - it would probably require a few stitches at some point - and there was a cut on the palm of his right hand from where he had snatched at the picture frames on the wall in his frantic search for solid purchase to stop his fall.
"I think I'm alright," he said at last, raising his uninjured hand to the cut on his forehead to try to quell the bleeding. He quickly discovered that it was impossible to stop the flow of blood from that wound. Giving up, he reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve a handkerchief which he used to wrap around the bloody laceration on his hand instead.
Kurt eyed him skeptically.
"My head hurts," he admitted, knowing the other man would not be happy until he knew he was in pain.
"Yeah, well, you're bleeding all over the damn place and you probably have a concussion," replied Kurt. "We should get you to the hospital and have you looked at."
"No," protested Magnus, using the railing to support himself as he climbed gingerly to his feet in full protest of his entire body. He tightened his grip on the polished wood of the banister as a wave of nausea passed over him, and he began to suspect that his initial assessment about not having any broken bones had been wrong. He inhaled slowly, positive that he had at least one cracked rib, but he hide the sharp gasp of pain with a quick cough. "I think I'm okay," he lied. "Really. There's nothing they can do about concussions anyway." He looked around the entryway feeling marginally guilty about the gaffe that had led to this whole sodding situation. "Did the guy get away?"
Kurt shook his head, eyes going hard and sad again. If he caught the little white lie, he chose not to comment. "Yeah. Yeah, he got away. Did you see his face?"
"No." Magnus had the surprising decency to look slightly abased but he did not let the moment languish. He turned to look up the stairs behind him with purpose, the wheels in his mind spinning fast and faster, playing catch up after being rattled.
Something clicked into place. "The laptop."
"He was on the laptop when we came in. I have to get it. Maybe I can find out what he was doing."
Without waiting for the other man to respond, Magnus loped slowly up the stairs, his injured hand clutching painfully at his ribs, the other sliding along the railing for support. He gently stooped to retrieve his gun from the floor near the open door where he had dropped it during the brief scuffle and holstered it before stepping into the room.
It was a small, quaint bedroom with pink floral wallpaper and enough lace to kill a Victorian lady. There were rows and rows of porcelain dolls lining the shelves and dressers, their frozen, dead eyes staring at him, watching him, as he crossed to the computer desk underneath the lace covered window. He pulled the swivel chair to him and sat down with a shudder at the thought of sleeping in a room like this one. The dolls alone were enough to send cold shivers of unease down his spine.
The small black laptop was still open on the desk, the screen blank. Magnus taped a finger on the keyboard and the display lit up to reveal a welcome screen that was password protected. He thought about it for two seconds before typing in the name "Oskar". People were so predictable and the Hjalmarssons were no exception. The welcome screen disappeared and he found himself staring at the desktop. A picture of the Hjalmarsson's son, very much alive and exuding happiness under a bright, sunny sky, stared back at him and Magnus felt ice crackle down his spine and for a moment he couldn't do anything but stare blankly at the boy's smiling face.
He hesitated and awkwardly clicked on the browser icon with his left hand and headed straight for the history cache. Several websites had been accessed since the Hjalmarsson's murders, but none of them were particularly interesting or incriminatory. Except one.
The other detective shuffled into the room behind him with a first aid kit from the car in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.
"What is it now, Magnus?" Kurt stopped dead in the doorway, a vexed expression that hinted at trouble clouded his face. "Did you dust for prints before you blooded up that desktop? Did you even think about the evidence you were destroying when you started tapping away on the keyboard?"
Magnus looked down at his right hand to find a pool of blood collecting near the laptop and he quickly snatched his hand away. He felt his ears burn red but he refused to be bullied, even if it was justifiable.
"We may have bigger problems than me potentially destroying evidence," he replied breathlessly.
"What? What are you talking about?"
He pointed toward the screen. "Several internet sites have been accessed from this laptop within the last two days. None of them really caught my attention: a couple of news sites, Facebook, a few political sites, Google earth, a porn site or two…"
"Get to the point," growled Kurt.
He nodded, "then I spotted this site." He opened the link and sat back with an expectant expression on his face. "Well?"
"Is – is that what I think it is?"
"Schematics for making a bomb. A rather big one by the looks of it."
Magnus clicked around on the laptop for a few more minutes but his eyes began to burn and the pounding in his head intensified tenfold. He closed the lid and took the first aid kit from Kurt who was rummaging around in the room looking for signs that anything else had been disturbed or tampered with.
The small bathroom adjacent to the bedroom was decorated in hues of pale blue and soft sea foam greens. It was not as abusive to the eyes as the pink and Magnus found that his headache was beginning to abate slightly. He opened the first aid kit and took out several bandages. The gash on his forehead was tender to the touch and burned when he smeared antiseptic cream on it. There were small, painful shards of glass embedded in the cut on his hand and it took every ounce of his resolve and pride not to scream out loud as he tweezed each painful piece out and wrapped the wound in antiseptic gauze.
His task done, and his wounds tended as best he could manage under the circumstance, he leaned against the sink and closed his eyes. He was so sleepy that he probably could have drifted off right then and there but a loud bang sent him jumping out of his skin.
"What was that?" He called hoarsely to the other detective around the large lump in his throat.
"You may want to come take a look at this," replied Kurt's voice, muffled by the walls between them.
Magnus swallowed hard and took a deep, steading breath, finding his racing heart somewhere in the vicinity of his feet. Now that the adrenaline of the past ten minutes or so had completely worn off he was beginning to feel nervous, shaky even, and he had to force himself to relax. He looked down at his hands, trembling by his sides, and shoved them deep into the pockets of his jacket to keep Kurt from noticing how unsteady he was.
"What," he asked again, reentering the gaudy bedroom across the hall.
Kurt was leaning over a wooden trunk at the end of the bed, his hand resting on the edge of the open lid, a peculiar expression on his face. "It looks as if we may indeed have a problem," he said.
Magnus closed the distance between them and stared in disbelief at the contents in the box. There were wires, watches, a few disposable cells phones, a variety of explosives, blasting caps, and all of the other materials necessary for making a bomb or two or five.
He sat down on the edge of the bed. "Well, you said you missed something when you were here last, but how did you miss that?"
Kurt glared at him and Magnus glared right back. "There was no reason to check this room beyond the cursory sweep."
Kurt puffed himself up and Magnus knew that he had said the wrong thing yet again. His inappropriate sarcasm would be the death of him someday, and today was starting to look quite likely.
"How does this connect with our serial killer theory?" He asked quickly. He wasn't in the mood for another ass chewing. His head simply could not take it.
Kurt deflated faster than a popped balloon. "It doesn't."
"Well, that's helpful."
"I haven't figured it out yet, alright. I'm still trying to find all the pieces to the puzzle."
"Well, this is a pretty big piece. You know what, I've got it. Maybe our serial killer isn't really a serial killer after all, just a guy moonlighting as a vigilante, keeping Sweden safe from pipe bomb makers and the exploits of little children." Magnus could not keep the scoff out of his voice or the irritated expression off his face.
"I said I haven't figured it out yet, Magnus, but I'm working on it! Stop using your mouth and start using your hands! Since you've already destroy any fingerprints and touch DNA that might have been there, see what else you can find on that computer!"
The consequence of Kurt's yelling manifested itself in the renewal of a headache, and Magnus closed his eyes against the onslaught of pain. He should have kept his mouth shut, but it just wasn't in his nature where Wallander was concerned.
Taking another deep, steading breath, he stood up slowly and crossed to the desk. He rifled around in the drawers and found a mobile phone with a dead battery. He pocketed it with the intention to look at it later, thinking that something interesting might show up on the phone records if nothing else.
"Let's go," said Kurt after several minutes of fruitless searching, already heading for the door.
Magnus grabbed the laptop and cast another glance around the room, but he didn't see anything else worth taking with him back to the station. He padded across the hallway and eased down the staircase, one hand clutching the laptop to his chest, the other sliding along the railing in a death grip that betrayed how shaken up he really was over his fall.
When he climbed into Kurt's car, it was nearly full dark, or as close to full dark as it ever got in Sweden during the summertime. The empty land around them was shrouded in a dusky hue that perpetuated eerie shadows along the tree line. A chill ran down Magnus's spine and he felt like someone had doused him in cold water. He wished Kurt would get off the phone and start the car so that they could leave this place and never come back. All he wanted to do was crawl into his nice warm bed and forget that this day had ever happened.
He leaned his head against the cool glass of the window and closed his eyes. His eyelids felt too heavy and his mind was beginning to cloud with a strange fog. It only took a moment of relaxation before he was drifting away from the house, but a strong hand on his shoulder shook him violently back to Earth and suddenly Kurt was snapping his fingers in his face.
"Wake up, Magnus! You can't go to sleep. I'll be damned if I let you die in my car, two hours from home and the nearest hospital. Sit up straight and keep your eyes open."
He glowered and tried to ignore the other man, but Wallander would not let him have any peace on the ride back.
As they turned out of the driveway and Kurt pointed the car toward Ystad, he launched into a line of inquiry that left Magnus reeling. "How did that guy get into the house? The doors were locked and there were no signs of forced entry on the backdoor. Did he have a key? Where did he get it? What was he doing there in the first place and why didn't he just take the laptop with him? Why sit around in a crime scene and use it?"
Magnus shrugged his disinterest and gave Kurt his standard, noncommittal reply. "Because he was really devious."
Kurt shot him a glare that could have melted an iceberg. "Not helpful," he growled. "Think, Magnus. Think!"
"I don't know," he said after a moment of thoughtful silence in which he did not actually think about anything other than how sleepy he was.
"Well, there has to be a connection somewhere. Find it."
Magnus groaned. Whenever Kurt said there was a connection, it usually meant that he was going to be wading through a pile of shit for the case breaker that Kurt would later ignore.
"What do we know?" Asked Kurt, "Start with the facts."
He sat up and ran a weary hand over his face. "We know that the Hjalmarsson's were into some pretty extremist shit judging by the bomb factory in their bedroom."
"No," said Kurt, his voice derisive and hard, "that is all conjecture. We do not actually know that they were involved in anything."
"Conjecture?" Countered Magnus, "I'd say it's not that much of a long shot. How else did that stuff get there?"
"Facts, Martinsson. Give me the facts and nothing else."
Magnus inhaled in an attempt to reign in his temper. "The Hjalmarsson's were a middle class family. The father was a carpenter, the mother was a stay-at-home mom, and the son was an honor roll student. They were all gruesomely murdered, most likely by a serial, and their bodies were posed in a way that echoed an older crime committed over thirty years ago. There were explosives and bomb making materials in their house and an uninvited guest using their computer after their deaths. Beyond that, everything is speculation and supposition."
Kurt sighed and was silent for several moments. "Did the father know the Ahström family?"
"I don't know."
"Did he have any ties to the Bäckström family?"
"Who?" Asked Magnus in confusion. This was the first time Kurt had mentioned that particular name and he was terribly afraid he had missed something important.
"The second murdered family. The crime scene I spent all afternoon at. It looks to be the same MO as the others: all dead, all posed."
"Oh. Well, I don't know.
"Was the father a disgruntled employee? Does he have a criminal record? The Ahström's were in the used car business, did he buy a car from them?"
"I don't know," repeated Magnus in irritation. He could feel his headache coming back under the barrage of Kurt's questions and he was starting to get terribly hot.
"Well, what do you know? You spent half the day on the bloody crime database. What where you doing?"
Magnus lost it. "I am not Sherlock Holmes," he bit out, each word pointed and sharp. "I can't just pull the bloody answers out of thin air whenever you ask a question. You had me looking for connections between MO's and serial killers and that is what I was doing. You want other answers? You're going to have to wait for them because I can't conjure them out of my ass."
Kurt appeared stunned at his little outburst but Magnus was beyond reproach. Maybe it was the concussion talking but he was tired, sore, and hungry, and if Kurt wanted to play hard ball and be an ass then Magnus could play that game, too. The other man had always thought him tactless and insensitive, maybe it was time he learned that Magnus had a backbone and didn't appreciate being pushed around because he was the youngest, least experienced guy on the force.
He took a deep breath to calm his rising temper and forged ahead before Kurt could think of a response. He was not about to apologize but he could try to salvage the situation and maybe save his career. "I can tell you that the father was not a political activist. His name was not flagged on any of the databases: the crime database, Interpol, or any of the international terrorist watch lists. The mother was clean, too."
"So maybe the boy had something to do with it."
"What? The boy?" Magnus asked incredulously. "Are you daft? A ten year old making a bomb?"
"Stranger things have happened," mused Kurt.
Magnus shook his head and watched the shadows pass by out the car window. "Maybe he was just making a volcano."
It was Kurt's turn to be incredulous. "A volcano?"
"Yeah, I made one when I was ten for the school science fair. I won second place," he added proudly. "Some kid with a butterfly collection won first."
"And what about the websites? The bomb schematics? Why would a kid building a volcano have need of those?"
"Maybe he knew another kid had a butterfly collection and was planning to sabotage it. Bombs trump butterflies."
Even in the darkness, he saw Wallander's face turn red. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel and Magnus knew he had gone a step too far.
"Or maybe he was building a bomb for another purpose. It's not much harder to build a pipe bomb than it is to build a volcano. Or maybe it was the father after all. Maybe he was a disgruntled employee looking for a bit of payback, or maybe he hated his neighbors and wanted to get rid of them. Maybe the mother was teed off at her book club. Who knows why they had bomb materials and schematics in their house. It's not like we can ask them now, can we?"
"Tomorrow," said Kurt evenly, though Magnus could tell it took a great deal of effort, "I want you to crosscheck all three cases: Ahström, Hjalmarsson, and Bäckström. Fine me something that connects them. I don't care how small the connection is or how unimportant you think it is. I want to know everything. I can't solve the puzzle unless I have all of the pieces." He gave Magnus a barbed look that warned him not to open his mouth again. "And find out why they had bomb making material in that house."
Magnus slumped over in his seat and stared out the window. Night had finally fallen in earnest and the horizon was a dusty yellow line in the distance. The long, lonely road back to Ystad was practically deserted and he had not seen another car for several miles. It was going to be a long ride home. The tense silence that permeated the car made him uncomfortable and he wished Kurt would turn on the radio, but he may as well have wished for the moon for all the good it would do him. Kurt did not appear to like music which may have been just as well because he suspected anything Kurt liked would not be something he liked himself.
He reached into his pocket and removed his mobile to find he had two missed text messages. The first one was from his mother inquiring after his whereabouts and he realized he had missed her birthday dinner. He hadn't even called to tell her he loved her or wish her happy birthday and he had completely forgotten to pick up her present. He resolved to send her a bouquet of flowers and call her first thing in the morning and apologize. His mother had a soft heart and would quickly forgive him, especially when she saw his injuries, but his father never would. It was just another opportunity for the man to yell at him and make him feel about two inches tall. His mother, for her part, would try to talk him into quitting his job in favor of something safer. If it were up to her, Magnus would be sitting behind a desk pushing paper.
Oh, wait, he thought ruefully, I already do that. It's just that sometimes Kurt and Lisa let me out into the world to get shot at and make myself look incompetent.
He sighed out loud and clicked through to the next text message. It was from his girlfriend, or judging by the vehemence and all capitals letters, his now ex-girlfriend. He hit the delete button with a frown, finding the prospect of being a single man again slightly depressing. It appeared that no one approved of his chosen profession.
Just then, his mobile vibrated in his hand indicating that he had an incoming text. Having isolated all of his family and driven away another girlfriend because of his job as a policeman, Magnus had no idea who would have been texting him at this time of night.
The number was blocked and he felt something cold twist in his stomach, but his curiosity was stronger than his unease. He opened the message and was surprise to find it only contained a single word: Soon.
Confused, he tried to find a callback number but it was blocked, too. His puckered brow deepened and he pressed his lips into a thin, hard line. The shard of ice in his stomach twisted sharply and the sense of foreboding that had been plaguing him for miles finally reared its ugly head. He wondered if he should share this with Kurt but the other man was staring straight ahead, driving far too fast, eyes distant, and knuckles white with anger on the steering wheel.
He turned his attention back to the phone, his eyes catching the movement out the window in his peripheral vision, but by the time he opened his mouth to shout a warning, it was far too late.
Kurt slammed on the brakes as the deer shot into the road in front of them. The tires squealed and Magnus was flung forward and then backwards, the safety belt the only thing keeping him from crashing through the windshield and eating the pavement. He felt the impact rattle his body all the way down to his toes. The airbag deployed and smacked him full in the face, causing him to inhale a lungful of airbag dust. He coughed and gasped for breath as the car skidded to a halt on the side of the road.
"Kurt?" He gasped between coughing fits. "Kurt?"
The other man did not respond. Magnus reached for the seat belt release and tumbled out of the car. He landed painfully on his knees, panting and grabbing at his chest where the seatbelt had left a long red kiss down his chest.
Somehow he found his feet and stumbled to the driver's side. Kurt was laid out across the steering wheel, unconscious, but alive and bleeding from a cut on his face. Yanking the door open, he tried to release Kurt's seatbelt but it was stuck. He pulled at it, frantically trying to free the other detective as the smell of petrol filled the air around them. Cursing, he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his pocket knife to cut the belt loose. He managed to cut his finger in his haste, but he ignored the stinging as he hauled Kurt to safety on the other side of the road where he collapsed in the ditch under the other man's weight and the strain of his own fatigue. He checked his pulse again, just to reassure himself that Kurt wasn't dead, and he was relieved to find it strong and steady. He reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve his mobile phone, thinking to call for help, but he remembered that he had been using it when the crash happened and he must have dropped it somewhere in the car.
He cursed again, a colorful string of profanities that would have made his mother faint, and trudged back across the road. He rummaged around in the seat and floorboard for the phone but came up empty handed. He reached between the seat and the center console and hit pay dirt. Unfortunately, the screen was completely shattered, rendering it impossible to use.
"Fantastic," he grumbled, "bloody fantastic."
He reached back into the car and collected his laptop and the laptop he had taken from the Hjalmarsson's house. They looked to be mostly intact and Magnus was grateful.
"Kurt," he shouted, hoping that the other man had awakened, but he still received no answer. He peered through what was left of the window, but Kurt was too far down the ditch to see from the road.
Magnus was about to stand up when he spotted the pair of headlights screaming toward him. His first instinct was to jump up and stop the car, but alarm bells sounded in his head and he remained crouched half in, half out of the passenger's side of Kurt's car.
The other car did not slow down and he could have sworn it accelerated as it got closer. He watched in mute horror as someone leaned out of the driver's side window, arm extended, and tossed a lighter toward the petrol tank of Kurt's car.
Magnus threw himself backwards and rolled painfully down the short incline into the ditch. He curled up into a tight ball and covered his head with his hands as the explosion rocked his body. He felt the heat on his face and hands and the acrid smell of smoke nearly caused him to heave. He coughed as the other car disappeared into the darkness, tires squealing on the pavement.
Kurt's BMW was a flaming heap of metal by the time Magnus crawled out of the ditch and back to the other man's side. He reached into Kurt's jacket pocket and pulled out his mobile. There was one signal bar in the upper left hand corner and the battery was almost dead.
Magnus punched in Anne-Brit's number and waited breathlessly for the call to go through.
"Anne-Brit! It's Magnus. I need your help."
"Hello? I can barely hear you. There so much static on the line. Kurt is that you?"
"No, it's Magnus!" He shouted into the receiver. "There's been a car accident. Send help. We're just outside of Kivik! Hello? Anne-Britt? Hello!"
Magnus shook the phone and banged it against his palm but the call had ended and the battery was dead. He tossed it into the dirt in fury and disgust. He felt hot, angry tears prickle behind his eyes but he blinked them away. He hunched over, bringing his knees up to his chest and rested his head on them.
He didn't know if Anne-Britt had understood what he was trying to tell her. If she didn't, if the call ended before he told her where they were, or if the interference was too much for her to understand, they could be stuck by the side of the road for a very long time waiting for help to arrive.
Exhausted and aching, he collapsed backwards on the dirt. The overwhelming sensation of helplessness crashed over him. He had fallen into something that he was wholly unprepared for and, for the first time, he felt like he was in so far over his head that he could no longer tell which way was up. He closed his eyes and willed it all away, willed it all to be a terrible nightmare, but when he opened his eyes nothing had changed.
He banged his uninjured fist into the dirt in frustration. It was hopeless. He did not know how the serial killer connected with the bombs, or if there was even a connection there at all. He did not know who had just tried to kill them, or how they knew they would be here in the first place. The deer had been a coincidence, an accident that could not have been predicted or prevented.
The more he thought about the case, the less sense it made. He tried to look at it the way Kurt would, to see it from all possible angles, all the possible connections as tiny threads that led somewhere, but he could not make his brain paint a coherent picture. Everything was muddled together, all the threads knotted into a heap, and the harder he tried to untangle the knot, the tighter it got and more his head ached.
He rubbed furiously at his eyes with hands, trying vainly to stop the pounding, but it was no use. He huffed at the stars above, dancing merrily in the heavens, oblivious to the plight of the two men on the side of the road beneath them.
The longer he lay there the more he began to feel a strange disconnection from the world around him. Minutes felt like hours and Magnus did not know how long he had been lost in his thoughts. The adrenaline from the crash and the fiery aftermath had completely worn off, leaving him slightly numb. He began to relax despite himself and he could feel sleep creep up on him like a thief in the night and steal away the last vestiges of his resolve. His eyelids were heavy, weighted like lead, and, no matter how hard he tried, he could not keep them open.
He fell asleep in the dirt, shivering in the tepid night air, completely unaware of the car creeping down the road toward them.
I am SO sorry for not updating this story sooner. I have been agonizing over this chapter for a month and I am still not entirely happy with it. I swear the next update will not take so long.
Please don't forget to leave a review.