Men are made stronger on realization that the helping hand they need is at the end of their own right arm
(Sidney J. Phillips, speech, July 1953)
on the forty-kilometre bus ride from Arlanda airport southwards towards Stockholm, Lewis enjoyed what for him was the fairly uncommon view of a foreign country. After a while the tracts of large pine and fir woods changed to smaller coppices and open fields; then farmhouses, red, with barns that were red too, and a few yellow, wooden, Dutch-roofed manor houses, just before the outskirts of Stockholm, with its factories and tidy, newish buildings -and all so very clean and litter-free. In wooded surroundings within the city itself, three- and four-storeyed blocks of flats took over; and finally the end of the journey, at the Central Station terminal.
Lewis had never studied a foreign language at school, and his travel abroad had hitherto been restricted to three weeks in Australia, two weeks in Italy, and one afternoon in a Calais supermarket. The fact that he had no difficulty therefore in summoning a taxi was wholly due to the excellent English of the young driver, who soon brought Lewis into the suburb of Bromma -more specifically to an eight-storey block of white flats in Bergsv"agen.
The Stockholm CID had offered to send one of its own men to meet him, but Lewis had not taken advantage of this when he'd arranged the details of his visit the previous morning. Seldom was it that he could assert any independent judgement in an investigation; and here was his chance.
The entrance hall was of polished pink granite, with the long list of tenants' named displayed there:
Lewis felt excited at the sight of the name; it was almost as if… as if he felt he was going to make some significant discovery.
The door, bearing the name-plate eriksson, was opened by a woman in her mid-forties, of medium height, plumply figured, hazel-eyed, and with short, brownish-blonde hair.
'Irma Eriksson,' she insisted as he shook her hand, and entered the apartment.
The small hallway was lined with cupboards, with what looked like a home-woven mat on one wall and a large mirror on the other. Through the open door to the right Lewis glimpsed a beautifully fitted kitchen, fresh and gleaming, with a copper kettle and old plates on its walls.
'In here, Mr Lewis.' She pointed smilingly to the left and led the way.
Her English was very good, utterly fluent and idiomatic, with only a hint of a foreign accent, just noticeable perhaps in the slight lengthening of the short T vowels ('Meester Lewis').
The place was all so clean; and so particularly clean was the parquet flooring that Lewis wondered whether he should offer to take off his shoes, for she herself stood there in her stockinged feet as she gestured him to a seat on a low, brown-striped settee.
As he later tried to describe the furnishings to Morse, he felt more conscious than anything about the huge amount of stuff that had been packed into this living room: two coffee tables of heavy, dark wood; lots of indoor plants; groups of family portraits and photographs all around; dozens of candle holders; a large TV set; pretty cushions everywhere; vases of flowers; a set of Dala horses; two crucifixes; and (as Lewis learned later) a set of Carl Larsson prints above the bricked fireplace. Yet in spite of all the clutter, the whole room was light and airy, the thin curtains pulled completely back from the south-facing window.
Conversation was easy and, for Lewis, interesting. He learned something of the typical middle-class housing in Swedish cities; learned how and why the Erikssons had moved from Uppsala down to Bergsvagen almost a year ago after… after Karin had, well, whatever had happened. As Lewis went briefly through the statement she had made a year ago, Irma Eriksson was watching him closely (he could see that), nodding here and there, and at one or two points staring down sadly at a small oriental carpet at her feet. But yes, it was all there; and no, there was nothing she could add. From that day to this she had received no further news of her daughter – none. At first, she admitted, she'd hoped and hoped, and couldn't bring herself to believe that Karin was dead. But gradually she had been forced to such a conclusion; and it was better that way, really – to accept the virtual certainty that Karin had been murdered. She was grateful – how not? – for the recent efforts the English police had made – again! – and she had been following the newspaper correspondence of course, receiving cuttings regularly from an English friend.
'Can I get you coffee? And a leetle Swedish Schnapps, yes?' When she went out to the kitchen, Lewis could scarcely believe that it had been himself who had answered ‘Yes to the first’and 'yes' to the second. So often in his police career he'd prayed for Morse to be on hand to help him; but not now. He stood up and walked slowly round the room, staring long at some of the photographs; and especially at one of them: at three young ladies standing arm in arm, dressed in Swedish national costume.
'Ah! I see you've found my beautiful daughters.' She had moved in silently, and now stood beside him, still in her stockinged feet, some five or six inches shorter than the six-foot sergeant; and he could smell the sweet summer freshness of her, and he felt an unfamiliar tic in a vein at his right temple.
'Katarina, Karin, Kristina.' She pointed to each in turn. 'All of them better looking than their momma, no?'
Lewis made no direct reply as he still held the framed photograph. So much alike the three of them: each with long, straight gold-blonde hair; each with clear-complexioned, high-cheekboned faces.
'That's Karin – in the middle, you say?' Lewis looked at her again, the one who was looking perhaps just a little more serious than her sisters.
Momma nodded; then, unexpectedly, took the photograph from Lewis's hands and replaced it – with no explanation for her slightly brusque behaviour.
'How can I help you any more?' She sat cross-legged opposite Lewis in an armchair, tossed back her small, squat glass of Schnapps, before sipping the hot, strong coffee.
So Lewis asked her a lot of questions, and was soon to be forming a much clearer picture of the daughter about whom her mother spoke so lovingly now.
Karin had been a reasonably clever girl, if occasionally somewhat idle; she had left her secondary school in Uppsala at the age of eighteen, with good prospects before her; attractive, very good at swimming and tennis; and with a series of badges and diplomas from school societies and guides' groups for birdwatching, orienteering, rock-climbing, judo, embroidery, and amateur musicals. It was just after she had left school that Irma's husband, Staffan Eriksson, had moved in with a darkly seductive brunette he had met on a business trip to Norway and, well, that was about it really. She uncrossed her legs and looked over at Lewis with a gentle smile.
'Why not?' said Mr Lewis.
Katarina (Irma Eriksson resumed), the eldest daughter (should it be 'elder' now, though?), was married and working with the European Commission in Strasbourg as an interpreter; the youngest (younger) daughter, Kristina – still only eighteen – was in her last year of schooling, studying social sciences. She was living at home, there in the flat, and if Mr Lewis would like to see her…? If Mr Lewis were staying in Stockholm?
The troublesome tic jerked in Lewis's temple once more, as he turned the conversation back to Karin.
What was Karin like - as a person? Well, her mother supposed she would call her 'independent' – yes, above all, independent. The summer before she'd gone to England, she'd spent two months on a kibbutz near Tel Aviv; and the year before that she'd joined a group of enthusiastic environmentalists in the Arctic Circle. But she was never (for the first time Irma Eriksson had seemed to struggle with her English vocabulary) she was never an 'easy' young girl. No! That wasn't the word at all! She was never the sort of girl who went to bed, you know…?
'Was she – do you think she was a virgin, Mrs Eriksson?'
' "Irma", please!'
'As far as you know… Irma?'
‘I’m not sure. Apart from the trouble in Israel, if she had sex with anyone it would be with someone she liked. You know how I mean, don't you?'
‘She was fond of birdwatching, you said?' Lewis was losing his •Aay. (Or was he?)
'Oh, yes! Never did she go out on any holiday or walk without taking the binoculars.' (The idiom was breaking down – just a bit.)
There was just the one thing left now which Morse had asked him to confirm: the passport and the work-permit procedures for fa young lady like Karin.
No problem. For the first time Lewis thought he saw the underlying grief behind the saddened eyes, as she explained that Sweden did not belong to the EC; that all Swedish nationals needed to apply for work-permits in the UK if they proposed to stay for any length of time; that even for au pair work it was wholly prudent to do. But Karin had not applied for such a permit; she gave herself only three weeks in the UK; and for this, her Swedish passport, valid for a ten-year period, would have been sufficient.
Lewis was suddenly aware that if there had been anything mildly flirtatious in the woman's manner, the situation had now changed.
'You kept Karin's passport, didn't you?' she continued quietly.
Lewis nodded, and his slight frown prompted her quick explanation:
'You see, I suppose we hoped she might – if she were still alive – she might apply for a new passport – if she'd lost it. Do you see…?'
Lewis nodded again.
'And she hasn't, has she, Mr Lewis? So!' She got up briskly, and put her feet into a pair of black, semi-heeled shoes. 'So!'
‘I’m afraid we can't bring you any hopeful news – not really,' said Lewis, himself now rising to his feet.
'It's all right. I knew from the start, really. It's just…'
'I know. And thank you. You've been very helpful. Just one more thing – if I could just borrow a photo of the three girls…?'
As they stood in the hallway, Lewis ventured a genuine compliment:
'You know, I always envy people like you, Mrs – Irma – you know, people who can speak other languages.'
'We start learning English early though. In the fourth grade -ten years of age. Well, I was twelve myself, but my daughters all learn from ten.'
They shook hands, and Lewis walked down to the ground floor, where he stood for several minutes beside a play area surrounded by a low palisade of dark-brown wooden slats – not a potato-crisp packet in sight. It was early afternoon now on a beautiful summer's day, with a cloudless blue sky and a yellow sun – like the colours of the flag on the rucksack found at Begbroke, Oxfordshire.
Standing on her high balcony, Irma Eriksson watched him go. As soon as he had disappeared into the main thoroughfare, she stepped back into her flat and let herself into the rear bedroom, where the ensuing conversation was held in Swedish:
'Was he intelligent?'
'Not particularly. Very nice though – very nice.'
'Did you ask him to bed with you?'
'I might have done if you hadn't been here.'
'Do you think he suspected anything?'
'But you're glad he's gone?'
Irma Eriksson nodded. 'Shall I get you coffee?'
When her mother had left, the young lady looked at herself in the long wall-mirror in the shaded room, deciding that she was looking tired and dark around the eyes. Yet had Lewis seen her there that afternoon he would have been impressed by her pale and elegant beauty; would have been struck immediately too by a very close likeness to the photograph of the student found in the rucksack at Begbroke, Oxfordshire.