To be human

2nd January 1995

Kurt Wallander was trying to write a speech. He didn't like public speaking and he usually just passed the duty on to someone else, but this time he had been backed into a corner. He had been ordered to speak at the Swedish Police Reunion, an annual and national summit which was being held this year in Ystad, 'a pilgrimage' as one of his colleagues called it. The reunion was on the 11th of January and with just over a week to go, Wallander still had nothing to say. The topic was 'What does it mean to be a police officer in Sweden today?'

Wallander threw his pen down and got up to stretch his legs around his living room. Lately, wherever he was in his apartment in Mariagatan , all he could think of was the house by the sea. The one he had been meaning to buy for years but had never got round to. And the dog he would have. The new life that had always seemed so elusive.

He glanced back at the open notepad on his kitchen table. If only he could take that to the reunion, show them all the scribbles and crossings out, to show them that he had tried, he just couldn't get anything to make sense. Maybe he really didn't know what it meant to be a police officer in Sweden, today or any other time.

As he paced around the living room, he inadvertently turned his attentions to the case he and his team were currently working on. It involved a horrific murder and sexual assault on a 22 year old café waitress, Åsa Wildern. There was evidence that her attacker had held a gun- according to Nyberg, the technical leader, probably an old Glock pistol- to Åsa's head in order to force her to give him oral sex, had then hit and kicked her across the face and body, before shooting her sixteen times in the head and torso. The assailant then raped Åsa's dead body before placing her in a bath of cold water. Identification had been based on tattoos around her ankle, since the face and body were so disfigured that the pathologist had ruled them too unseemly to be viewed by relatives and dental records were out of the question. Most of her teeth were on the living room carpet.

Recalling the events of Åsa Wildern's torment made Wallander shudder. There weren't many suspects. Wallander did not believe there was an accomplice. Originally suspicions had been cast on the boyfriend, but were disregarded: he was a successful, wealthy lawyer who lived in central Ystad. He was clearly a new boyfriend, for the family and friends hadn't heard of him, although according to them that wasn't unusual. Åsa had many boyfriends, it was difficult to keep up.

There was evidence of many gifts from him littered around her apartment. When Wallander had interviewed him he seemed to be in shock, rattling off the details of his girlfriend's life precisely and quickly, but unfeelingly. He was numb, he explained, and Wallander had made sympathetic noises as he ushered him out through the door. He would be of little help. Besides, as Martinsson pointed out, he was her boyfriend. He didn't have to hold a gun to her head to make her have sex with him.

It was the step father who now appeared to be the obvious choice. An alcoholic, he had been arrested earlier in the year for beating his wife, although the charges were dropped in mysterious circumstances shortly before the trial. The same had happened with 2 allegations of rape and one of serious sexual assault. Like the boyfriend, he had failed to produce an alibi for the night of the attack, and had responded viciously during all attempts to interrogate him.

Wallander stopped his pacing and stared out of the window. His own daughter, Linda, was only a little older than Åsa was. One night, Wallander had dreamt that Linda was the victim, and had woken up shouting, screaming and scared.

He looked at his watch. Damn, he thought, I'll be late for the meeting. There was a case meeting in 15 minutes at the police station. It would take him less than 10 minutes to drive there from his apartment, but he also had to pick up one of his colleagues, Ann-Britt Höglund, because her car had broken down.

As he got into his car, Wallander couldn't shake the idea that something was wrong with this case. Then he saw the clock and knew he didn't have time to ponder now. He saw on the thermometer that it was -5 degrees, warm for a Skåne winter. He listened to a Jussie Björling tape as he drove.

When he reached Ann-Britt's house, her son, who was around 12 years old, and her husband were sitting in the front room.

'Ann-Britt will be down in a moment' her husband told Wallander cheerfully. Wallander wondered how long he was home for. Was the marriage solid? He had heard not.

Whilst he waited, Wallander talked a little with the son, about when his mother's car would be fixed. It had been broken for a while now, and although Wallander pretended otherwise, in truth giving her lifts was beginning to irritate him.

Suddenly Ann-Britt's son said:

'Sometimes, it feels like you're stalking Mama, you are here so often.'

His father scolded him loudly about being rude to a guest, but Wallander just stared at him. Suddenly the missing link in the case seemed to drop into his lap. It had been there from the first, but Wallander had been unable to put his finger on it until now.

As Ann-Britt came down the stairs, Wallander threw her the car keys.

'Can you drive, I've got a couple of calls to make?' Wallander shouted as he sprinted to his car passenger seat.

In the end, Wallander only had to make one call during the drive to the station. It was to Per Åkeson, the prosecutor on the case. Wallander argued that because they were not excluding any possibility in such a violent and disturbing case, he wanted a search warrant for the boyfriend's flat. Wallander knew he would get what he wanted- according to his statement Åsa had routinely slept at her boyfriend's flat several times a week- but the prosecutor tried to retort that in this case surely a warrant should be issued for every place the victim had been in the run up to her death.

'No. Just the boyfriend's flat. I have an idea, but it won't work without the warrant'.

In the end Wallander got his wish. He suggested Peters and Nören to lead the search, with an armed back up team on hand, just in case. The prosecutor went along with it- Wallander and his instincts were legend, but he couldn't keep the scepticism out of his voice as he made his promises.

Höglund glanced at Wallander throughout the journey, but since her boss made no attempt to involve her in his theories or the phone call she kept driving as instructed. By the time they reached the police station Wallander was off the phone, so Höglund waited a few moments in the car, hoping he might say something. Instead he just got out of the car, mumbling about being late for the meeting. She followed, trying to convince herself that she wasn't feeling despondent.

As they entered the reception, Ebba, the station's long serving receptionist, informed Wallander that the warrant had been sent over by express delivery and Peter's and Nören would be leaving any minute to meet their backup and begin the search. Wallander was amazed that everything had been organised so quickly and he thanked Ebba heartily while she explained that everyone was already waiting for them in the meeting room.

Åkeson was present in the meeting room, along with Lisa Holgersson, Chief of Police, Martinsson and Hansson, Wallander's colleagues and Sven Nyberg, the technological expert. Höglund sat in her usual seat on Wallander's left, while Wallander sat at the end of the table, directly opposite Chief Holgersson.

Åkeson stood up and opened the meeting by explaining that Peters and Nören were searching Andres Sodjen's apartment, with no specific instructions, on what they looking for. He glanced across the table at Wallander as he added that the reason behind this surprise development in the case was Sodjen's admission that his girlfriend slept in his flat, and that although this information was not new to the case it was now instrumental in altering the direction of the case.

All eyes moved to Wallander, who stood up. Per Åkeson stopped talking and stared expectantly at Wallander without himself sitting down. It was rare to have two members of a meeting standing at the same moment, and Wallander knew he was being rude by interrupting, but he carried on regardless. His idea was beginning to take over. Something flashed into his mind as he stared across the table, searching for words.

'Wait here a minute, I'm coming back.'

With that Wallander bounded out of the meeting room. He knew his colleagues would be discussing him in the meeting, and it was possible that they would take his erratic behaviour as a sign that he could not handle the case. Wallander doubted that this would come to anything; however, as he was now certain that he was right. The facts would soon be proved, one way or another.

Ebba was on the phone when Wallander arrived in reception, so he waited for her to finish before leading her into the meeting room. In front of his bewildered colleagues he asked her:

'What's my number plate Ebba?'

'What?'

'My numberplate. I've used the same number plate for all my cars for 10 years, since I always buy a Peugeot, and you've organised the servicing, parking and payment of fines on those cars for just as long, if not longer. What is it?'

Ebba looked puzzled for a few seconds and then, upon realising that Wallander was being serious, valiantly attempted to answer the question.

'Err, well. Oh I remember! Martinsson once made a joke about how the first part of your number plate is bög (gay in Swedish)' – at this the room burst into giggles and Ebba went bright red 'and oh'

'Right, thank you Ebba, that's perfect, you can go back to your duties now'.

After he had shut the door on Ebba, Wallander turned to his now astonished team.

'Don't you understand? We've been looking at this case the wrong way. We've been looking for more evidence instead of looking at the evidence we have properly.'

He turned to Martinsson.

'You were in with me when we interviewed Sodjen. Did you not think there was something odd about how he remembered everything? He remembered it all correctly, but in the wrong way.'

Wallander knew as soon as he had spoken that the phrase was clumsy, but he ploughed on regardless.

'People remember things about the people in their lives based on experiences. Ebba remembered my number plate based on a joke told to her by Martinsson. Anders Sodjen remembered every element of Åsa Wildern's life based on facts, as if he were reading straight off a piece of paper. It was so clinical. It wasn't like he had been living life with her, more like he was looking in on her from the outside.'

There was silence in the meeting room as the everyone contemplated the meaning of Wallander's speech. A glimmer of comprehension began to dawn on everyone's faces, and Wallander, encouraged by this, went to speak, but it Chief Holgersson who spoke first.

'You're saying he was her stalker and not her boyfriend?'

20 minutes later Peters rang the station to inform them of the hoard of stalker paraphernalia they had obtained from Andres Sodjen's apartment. The cache included photographs of Åsa and shaky, handheld video camera footage of her at work, walking home and out with her friends.

Sodjen was arrested at work. He made no protests, and when the charges against him were read out he made no attempts at denial. He did not even request a lawyer.

It took Wallander and his team almost a week to piece together what had happened. Most of the evidence was obtained through Wallander's interrogations of Sodjen. At first he was unwilling to cooperate and throughout the first few interviews was completely silent.

Gradually he began to open up. He had met Wildern about 2 months previously, when he had stopped off at the café she worked in to get some lunch. After that, Sodjen had become obsessed with her, and had stalked her vigilantly. He had even hired a private detective to watch her he was unable to, claiming that she was his wife and he suspected she was cheating on him.

One evening just before Christmas, Sodjen had gone over to Widern's apartment to express his 'love' for her. He had bought gifts over for her, as well as the pistol. He claimed he kept it with him at all times, for 'personal security'. He had used it to rape Åsa before shooting her when he saw the look of disgust on her face.

Wallander was sat in his office when Höglund walked in. The final report had just been sent off and Anders Sodjen had been formally charged and moved to a secure psychiatric unit in Lund. Wallander's final interview with him had been that morning. Höglund had watched. It was the first Wallander had ever seen her physically shaken.

'How can he show so little remorse?' she asked, her voice listless.

Wallander sighed. He had thought about that very same question over and over again since the start of this case.

'Because he doesn't think he has committed a crime.'

He ploughed on, ignoring his colleague's disbelief.

'Many men do the same thing. They see the person they love, or believe they love, as their property, as theirs to hurt as they wish. They don't see them as human.'

He hid his face from her as he said this, as if afraid she would see in his eyes that he had once been one of those men also, who had seen lovers as property.

'That's ironic really'. Ann-Britt smiled wearily.

'How?'

'Because you solved this case entirely by being human'.

With that she turned and left.

It took Wallander a moment. Then he understood. He understood everything. He pushed aside the old, scribbled on sheets of paper and stretched a fresh, virgin piece out in front of him. He wrote the title of his speech- tonight's speech. 'What does it mean to be a police officer in Sweden to day?'

Wallander hardly felt his hand move as wrote the answer: To be human.