Ben Gilbert is founder of TheBlueSpace Guides Co-operative, Nepal and a consultant to Child Space Foundation, Nepal. He lives in the United Kingdom. Ben Gilbert has had poetry and short stories published in Poems of Meaning (2014), Poached Hare Journal (2018: Identity), Scarlet Leaf Review (Nov 2019), Fear of Monkeys (Dec 2019 - The Moor Macaque issue), Twisted Vine journal (Dec 2019), Bookends Review (April 2020), The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (July 2020), and is the author of The World Peace Journals (Garuda Books 2013), No Place Like Home (Garuda Books 2013) and Mumbo Jumbo (Garuda Books 2015). He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
1. Stockholm Airport, 2nd January. Detective Sergeant Ryan Reeves sits at a small table looking through huge glass panes into the murky light of a bitterly cold afternoon. Outside, well-insulated crew stand on mobile platforms spraying de-icer over a waiting plane’s wings. It’s a time consuming job and he notices the frustrated looks from passengers peering out of porthole windows. If it’s cold here, what would it be like further north? He had already had two shocks that day: the first was the call; the second, his sandwich, probably the most expensive sandwich in the world. For almost half the price he could be lounging in a ritzy London hotel, overhearing conversations from the rich and famous, smelling French perfume and admiring sun tans and designer suits, with exactly the same bread and ingredients sitting on a plate in front of him. But he’s not: he’s on a public concourse in a busy airport. The sandwich looks good. He takes a bite. It is good and he snickers: still not worth thirteen pounds. Unable to raise a smile at the other shock, he ponders as he eats the sandwich. The call had come before dawn. It had never happened before, not to him, and not to anyone he had ever known. These calls were urban myths, until now. Anxiety suddenly washes over him and he abruptly leaves his ivory crust to pace the long concourse, glancing into shops, feigning interest. In a few hours he too would be peering out a porthole window, waiting for the de-icers to do their job. The connecting flight would then fly north, to a job he knows nothing about in a country he’s never been to. The call had been brief. His boss, the reticent Inspector Charlie Mace, had told him to pack a bag with warm clothes, bring his passport and immediately come down to the station. He protested. It was his day off and he needed to prepare for his promotion interview: he was days away from becoming a Deputy Inspector. He had earned it, done his time, and tried to reason with Charlie Mace, but his boss got angry and the phone went dead. In less than an hour he was at the station. Charlie Mace was not there and the desk sergeant handed him a folder. There wasn’t much inside, just a ticket to Lulea, car hire details and destination along with a short note telling him the Swedes would pay for everything. His flight left in three hours. Asking for more information, the officer at the desk had just shrugged, meanly saying: ‘You got the call, now don’t mess it up.’ Was he jealous? On the subway to Heathrow airport, the train had rushed out a noisy tunnel into the gloomy light of a winter dawn. His carriage was hushed and the few people sitting near him looked out from sleepy, empty faces. Maybe they were heading to work or, like him, to a flight to who knows where. He had to rush to catch his flight. It felt like exile. He stops pacing the concourse as the penny drops. The promotion: they don’t want him to get the job. Charlie Mace knows how much it means to him. It was his, now it’s for someone more in favour. He had had the call that everyone wants: an international crime scene detective, glamorous, double time and an expense account. On return, he would be back to his old job, one he didn’t want anymore. With his stomach rumbling and anxiety waning, he returns to find his half-eaten sandwich and coffee cup still there. He sits and gloomily watches the de-icers. He had only packed a jumper. The raucous New Year Eve’s party, just two days ago, where he and friends danced vivaciously and drank too much, seems an age away. Life feels bitter sweet. 2. Ryan wakes from his doze as the plane lands bumpily on the runway. Although it’s pitch black outside, he sees white, and lots of it. By the time the plane taxis towards the terminal, the landscape is illuminated by flood lights: snow and ice everywhere, wind gusting, blowing spindrift right and left. Battling the elements, ground crew are wearing large gauntlets and thick parkas, hoods up and fastened tight. Ryan hadn’t even bought a hat, let alone a pair of gloves. Maybe his shock of black hair would keep him warm. But as this was all new to him, he really has no clue. Collecting the car keys from the desk, he nonchalantly exits the temperate terminal. The wind hits, driving cold into every part of him. He gasps at the shock, aware his temperature is dropping fast. By the time he reaches the car, his hand pulling the suitcase is numb and his thumbs are painful. It’s unbearable. Wasting no time, he starts the car. Turning the heater full up, he waits for warmth. As he drives off, the GPS shows fifteen minutes to the hotel. There’s no tarmac to be seen, the car’s headlights illuminating white sheet ice. Stay on the right he keeps telling himself as he turns into a roundabout, gingerly taking the turn. The car broadsides and comes to a halt, banked up against a wall of snow. The car hire note had told him he would have full winter tyres, this can’t be right. Are they trying to kill him? Nervously, he drives back to the airport, sliding into a parking spot just missing the adjacent car. He needs to change the tyres. He tries to be calm but when the girl at the desk fobs him off by telling him he’s just not used to these winter conditions, he loses his cool: ‘I’m driving three hundred kilometres north tomorrow!’ That does the trick and he’s given the keys to another car with brand new tyres: type Ice 2 with studs, he’s told. Ryan feigns a confident nod. Cautiously, he drives to the hotel, chilled to the bone. Confused and exhausted, he crashes fully clothed on the bed, not waking until seven the next morning. Knowing his destination has good daylight from only 10.30.am until 12.45.pm, he starts his journey north. It’s dark and freezing cold. Not daring to call Charlie Mace until he arrives at Gallivare police station, he still has hope of his promotion. The empty road cuts through tracts of snowy pine. It’s more than twenty minutes before he meets another vehicle: a logging lorry passing on the other side, sending up clouds of spindrift so thick it blocks his view. Unable to see the road ahead, he drifts into the path of another logging truck, its horn blaring horribly. Urgently he pulls the wheel, steering the car back, studs and tyres grinding in the ice. The girl was right, he’s not used to these conditions, good tyres or not. Jittery, it’s with some relief that Ryan pulls into a siding with a lit-up neon sign. This must be a cafe, Ryan thinks as he hurries from the car to the front door. It’s still dark and freezing cold. Standing opposite a pretty woman, she looks him up and down. From his first hello, she knows he’s not a Swede and speaks in fluent English: ‘Are you trying to kill yourself with those clothes, it’s minus twenty six outside and dropping fast.’ Ryan feels a fool. Maybe the truth will help. ‘I came unprepared, they called me yesterday morning, it’s urgent I guess. I’m Ryan, a British Policeman, come to help out in Gallivare.’ ‘Oh, the murder of that Englishman, never off the news.’ Murder? Ryan was a specialist in drugs and money laundering. What use would he be to the Swedes? He really has been exiled. ‘Sorry, I can’t talk about it.’ And he couldn’t, he knows nothing. ‘Well, buy some warm clothes, don’t want another dead Englishman.’ Ryan laughs. Is that his case? Maybe, maybe not and his hand reaches for the mobile in his jacket pocket to look at online news. Pulling out the mobile, he hears the woman asking for his order. Hungry, he leaves the phone and tells her he’ll take whatever she suggests. The place is empty. Lifeless eyes of wild creatures bear down from shelves and perches. An ancient collection of taxidermy tells him he’s in an unfamiliar world. Ignoring this display of hunting trophies, he helps himself to bread and coffee. Ryan drinks two mugs and tastes the unfamiliar black bread. Two steaming moose meatballs arrive with potatoes and overdone veg. Curiously, it’s delicious. The cafe starts filling up with customers, outside workers in what seems like full arctic attire. They smile, momentarily staring; in his jeans, trainers and leather jacket he must really look a fool. Drinking a third cup of coffee, Ryan looks at his mobile: no message from Mace. He decides to leave the news, not wanting to fill his head with something that may be distracting and probably irrelevant, and hurries to the car. Passing an ice clad sign telling him he’s now inside the Arctic Circle, the drive to Gallivare becomes increasingly stressful. Snow had started falling during breakfast and visibility is now dangerously low, even with full beam on. The road becomes soft and slushy as the car ploughs through the newly fallen snow. Ryan realises he can’t see the sides or middle of the carriageway. Everything is white. With nowhere to pull over, he carries on, dropping speed to less than thirty. As dawn breaks, things become easier but the stark facts frightening: he’s on a white road with white sides in a white landscape. A snow plough passes on the other side; no sign of any other vehicles. Tense and knotted, he turns off to Gallivare. The GPS shows sixteen minutes to his destination. Bursting for pee, he curses as he passes a lay-by – it’s full of snow, he’d get stuck if he drives in there. 3. Ryan had driven into the first large supermarket he saw, used the toilet and now sits in the Co-op cafe with yet another cup of coffee. The drive had shaken him badly. He’s a detective, meant to be level-headed, focused and professional, but feels a wreck. He had looked in the bathroom mirror and saw himself pale, unshaven and glassy eyed. They won’t be expecting this, he frets. Ten minutes later he’s staring through the windscreen at a large, modern and very uninteresting building: Gallivare Police Station. He hurries through the snow and wind to the glass fronted entrance. ‘Detective Sergeant Ryan Reeves, British Police.’ Shivering from cold, he tries to smile The woman at the desk just stares back; in fact, the entire office behind her stare. An uncomfortable moment is broken by a deep voice: ‘Happy New Year Ryan, come on through, we are glad you’re here. How was the drive up?’ ‘Err, different...Happy New Year.’ The office breaks out in laughter. The man speaking to him from behind the desk laughs too: ‘Damned dangerous, you mean!’ Ryan manages a smile and goes through a door someone else is holding open. The deep voice belongs to Chief Inspector Erik Olofsson, head of station; burly, fair headed with an impressive blonde beard. After jokes and concerns about his clothing, he’s introduced to a woman who would partner him while he’s in Sweden. Special Investigator Captain Eva Strid is petite, slim with long black hair. A sallow complexion matches her shiny black obsidian eyes. She puts her hand out. Ryan shakes it. ‘Let’s try and work this out together. Did they brief you in London?’ ‘Inspector Mace didn’t say...very much at all.’ Eva and Erik exchange glances. Erik speaks: ‘Not your boss, this is inter-government co-operation, the request was made at the highest level. We need a specialist...we don’t want to look like incompetent fools.’ Erik laughs but Ryan grimaces. He too will probably end up looking like a fool when they realise he’s not special, just a detective working on low level money laundering cases. He chooses bluff as a defence. ‘I am a specialist,’ Ryan says, unconvinced by his own words. After all, that’s what they’re expecting. He starts to feel on edge. Before anxiety gets the better of him, he’s thankful when Eva takes him outside to collect his bag. He follows her down the street thick with snow to the hotel: The Quality Resort, right opposite the eloquent train station neatly painted in red and black. Eva studies Ryan and then tells him to get some rest; she’ll pick him up at six. Ryan checks his watch: 12.45.pm. It’s getting dark. His spacious room overlooks the icy train station. Although pleased to be inside a warm hotel room, he just can’t shake the cold. Standing in wet trainers with numbing feet, he heads towards the shower. 4. Meanwhile, down the road at the police station, Eva Strid worries about Ryan. He’s unprepared: has not been briefed and risks frostbite or hyperthermia in his urban clothing. She’d appealed for help and now she’s got it. Having been assigned to work closely with him, feels responsible. With Stockholm overwhelmed with increasing crime and terrorism, most Lulea detectives have flown south. At Gallivare, the station has a skeleton staff, most of whom are not experienced for a case like this. She needs to look after Ryan. Erik, seeing a concerned look on Eva’s face, walks over to her desk. ‘Think he’s up to the job?’ Eva keeps her thoughts to herself. After all, Ryan is only here because she put in a request for help to Lulea, which went to Stockholm and then became political. She has no idea if Ryan is the man she needs. ‘He’s a specialist, said so himself...he needs clothes though, we might be in the backcountry. The forecast says minus thirty five tomorrow. It’s one of those winters.’ ‘I think the budget will stretch to some warm clothing. Brief him tonight.’ At the hotel, Ryan sits on the bed staring at his mobile: still no message. He’s tired but with all the coffee he’s drunk, just can’t sleep. Clean, shaved and wearing new clothes, he feels respectable again. He dials London. ‘DC. Reeves here Sir, I’m in Gallivare.’ ‘Anything to report Reeves?’ ‘No, just arrived.’ ‘Then why are you calling? You’ll be some time out there I think. Send a report by email every few days or so. Is there anything else?’ ‘My promotion sir...’ ‘DC Coogan is now Deputy Inspector Coogan. You volunteered for an important posting.’ Ryan hesitates and the phone goes dead, again. Ryan looks across the road to the train station. That bastard, he fumes. He never volunteered, press-ganged into service more like. Charlie Mace and Jack Coogan play squash together, their wives go shopping together, yet he’s only been in the job for half a year. Is that why he’d been sent here, to remove him from the interview process? Add to that his lack of international experience and unsuitable clothing, he’s bound to make a hash of it. At a time like this, only the bar could give him solace. Later, outside the hotel, Eva sits in her car mulling over the situation. It’s six o’clock but she hesitates. She needs to get this right, brief him properly so tomorrow they can work together. Hopefully he’s had some rest. The murder of a British celebrity in a remote cabin without clues, motive or murder weapon has so far hit a dead end. His name was Fuzzy Smith, a famous British comedian. He and a Russian business partner were trying to develop pristine forest into a winter holiday resort. It had been met with fierce local opposition; however, it seemed likely the authorities would grant permission. She now needs to tell Ryan in a way that is clear to him. Eva leaves the car. She sees Ryan in the bar. He’s lounging in an easy chair behind a table of empty glasses. He looks different, more relaxed, clean and shaven. But he’s still wearing inappropriate clothing. Greeting her with a smile, he wobbles as he gets up out the chair, hand outstretched. Not shaking it, she momentarily stares. He’s obviously drunk. ‘Ryan, are you on duty?’ ‘I don’t know, am I?’ He laughs. ‘I suppose not.’ There can be no briefing in his condition. But time is of the essence, more snow is due tonight; it’s already hard to get about. Eva knows she’s got to take control. ‘Have you eaten?’ ‘This morning at some weird roadside cafe.’ ‘You’re in no shape for briefing. You need to sober up and eat. I’ll cook something at mine. I’ll drive.’ This is hard work for Ryan, all he wants to do is drink himself into a stupor and forget about the lost promotion. Now he’s been summoned to her house for food and work. Don’t these Swedes relax, he’s been on the go all day? She’s looking at him impatiently and he resigns himself to a sobering night out. 5. They don’t speak during the drive. It takes about twenty minutes down a pitch black road without any obvious signs of housing. The road’s been recently been ploughed but is still thick with hard dense ice, reminding Ryan of his perilous trip north earlier that day. Considering the conditions, Eva drives fast. Eva slows the car to a crawl, the headlights illuminating a small neat red house where the road becomes a dead end. ‘They plough this just for you?’ ‘I’m resident,’ Eva states emphatically. Ryan, struggling with the effects of alcohol and increasing weariness, steps out the car as soon as it comes to a halt. The biting wind burns his face. Eva opens the house front door. Before she takes the key out of lock, she points to a chair in the middle of the room. ‘Take off your shoes and sit there, and Ryan...there’s no alcohol.’ ‘Don’t you drink?’ ‘I’m Muslim.’ Ryan does as he’s told. The chair is comfortable and the house warm. He soon finds himself battling sleep. For distraction, he looks around. The room is modern, almost minimalist, the polished wooden floor partially covered by a large oriental rug. In another room, he hears the movement of plates and pots, a cupboard being opened and closed and the noise of a kettle warming up. Through the window he gazes down the dark and empty road, mesmerised by the fall of heavy snow. ‘I’m vegetarian, so I hope this will do. I know it’s late for coffee but I need you alert.’ Ryan glances up as Eva puts down a tray on the table in front of him. He studies his plate of steaming food and large jug of coffee. ‘Ryan!’ He jumps as she shouts his name, instantly snapping out of his reverie. Embarrassed, he points towards the window. ‘Sorry, it’s snowing.’ Frowning, Eva looks through the window at the flakes. They eat in silence. When finished, Eva produces a thick file, which heavily thuds down on the table between them. Disinterested, Ryan sighs softly. But instead of asking Ryan to take a look, she tells the story of Fuzzy Smith. He quickly perks up, taking interest in her every word. Fuzzy Smith found on the 1st of January. No wonder Ryan hadn’t heard, he was busy nursing a savage New Year’s hangover; and then the call. ‘Was the Russian laundering money?’ Eva looks hard at Ryan. So he is a real detective, she surmises. ‘I don’t know, he was in Russia over New Year and the Russians aren’t co-operating. I’m sure we’ll never see him again.’ She pulls a photograph from the file and shows it to Ryan. It’s the murder scene with Smith on his back, eyes open pointing skywards, covered in ice and spats of frozen blood. His clothes are torn and bits scattered in the snow. ‘I doubt it was the Russians, far too messy. Looks more like a brawl to me.’ Ryan studies the photo. ‘Would you like to see more pictures?’ ‘I’d like to see the crime scene,’ Ryan says, looking up at Eva. She hesitates, looks out the window at the falling snow before looking back at Ryan. ‘There is no crime scene.’ She says it so quietly that Ryan’s sure he heard her wrong, but her look tells him differently. Perplexed, he just stares and listens to the story. ‘Two days after Christmas, Fuzzy Smith wasn’t missing but his hire car was two days overdue.’ Ryan learns that the hire company, not being able to get through to Smith, had tracked the car down to a remote cabin. It was an expensive car and they wanted it back. As so much snow had fallen, they had been forced to hire a snow plough to push through the last thirteen kilometres. It was dark by the time they reached the car. Not noticing the body, they simply drove the car away. In fact, it’s now suspected that the plough drove over Smith while doing a U-turn to drive back out again. The car hire company then spotlessly cleaned the vehicle and hired it out again. Only when he hadn’t returned on New Year’s Eve did a member of his family call the police. ‘But the photograph, it’s a crime scene, Eva.’ ‘On New Year’s Day, two local policemen and their dog went to investigate. They found Smith lying face up in the snow just like photograph, but contaminated the entire scene, even treading on the body in an attempt to stop the dog urinating on Smith. They failed. By the time forensics arrived, heavy snowfall had started and the wind blowing so hard that the body was quickly covered in snow. A tent was erected but that soon flattened and blew away. Conditions were impossible and the men so cold, it was decided to remove the body and take it to Lulea. Only the cabin had any real forensics done. That photo was taken by the first policemen on the scene. The nearest neighbour is twenty kilometres away and then they are only summer residents.’ Eva shakes her head. ‘That’s when I became involved. Forensics should be in tomorrow for the body, car and cabin. Besides that, there’s nothing.’ Looking at the picture, Ryan feels somehow cheated out of an investigation and says, rather cattily: ‘So this messy crime scene isn’t a brawl, it’s just a big mess made by your colleagues and their well trained dog.’ He regrets his comment. ‘Sorry.’ She sits down opposite him and puts her head in her hands. Ryan hopes she doesn’t start to cry. He can’t cope with that. She stares up at him with a worried, ashen look. ‘Please help me Ryan.’ Of course he’s going to help her, it’s his job. Out of habit, he laughs. But this isn’t England and his defence mechanisms don’t work. She’s still looking, nothing’s funny, nothing’s changed. Ryan blurts out the last forty eight hours and his feelings of dejection at being shafted by his boss. Suddenly it’s him who has his head in hands, wondering if it’s he that’s going to cry. Feeling like a mess, he can’t quite believe what he’s just said. He feels her hand on his shoulder. Tensing, he looks up and says: ‘Any of that coffee left?’ His voice sounds urgent and, as Eva heads towards the kitchen, Ryan feels ridiculous. Badly needing personal space, he yearns for the hotel. She returns with tea. ‘You need warm clothing.’ Snow had started freezing to the windows and Eva walks over to peer through. Studying the road, she speaks quietly without looking back. ‘We’ll never get the car through that, will have to wait for the early morning plough.’ Unsure of what she means, he waits. It’s at least a minute before she turns around, and, as she can’t see him, Ryan doesn’t take his eyes off her. But his reflection in the glass tells her exactly what he’s doing. ‘There’s a spare room upstairs but I think it best you sleep down here, I’ll get some blankets. There’s a small bathroom out the back.’ 6. Glaring lights and loud noises startle him. Panicked, Ryan sits bolt upright. Through the window he sees a large modern tractor pushing snow, its large protruding bucket scraping the thick ice on the road as it clears the area around the front of the house. The unfamiliar surroundings have him confused and Ryan pushes back the covers and stands up. Illuminated by bright white light, he retreats into the shadows. Minutes later he watches red taillights and flashes of a yellow hazard disappear up the road. It’s still snowing. He lies back down. He awakes to the sound of a shower and footsteps overhead. Not wanting any more awkward moments, he dresses and tidies up the room. The outside thermometer fixed to the window ledge reads minus thirty seven. How cold is that? Ryan wonders. The answer comes soon enough. Eva appears, dressed in warm clothing, woollen green slacks and a thick white patterned jumper. She looks like she’s going skiing. ‘Dressed for the weather?’ He says, making light of things She looks at him oddly. ‘My husband is about the same size as you, you can use his things. Follow me.’ He follows her through the kitchen into the garage where she searches through a pile of boxes, handing him pieces of outdoor clothing. Not waiting for a response, she starts dressing herself until she looks like an arctic explorer in a padded parka with a fake fur-lined hood. Remembering the airport workers at Lulea, he laughs but she doesn’t, insisting he dresses the same. She hands him a pair of thick-lined winter boots. Feeling absurdly overdressed, he follows Eva to the car. One step out the door has his ears aching so badly from the icy wind that he frantically pulls at the hood of his new jacket. Fumbling, as he had ignored Eva’s pleas to put on gloves, his fingers don’t work properly. Helping him, she straightens his hood and pulls the gloves up over his hands. A few minutes later they are sitting in her green police car. Ryan is breathing hard, almost in shock. Now she laughs. ‘Welcome to Sweden.’ As the car warms up, Ryan unzips his jacket and removes his gloves. ‘I feel bad about using your husband’s things...’ She cuts him off. ‘He’s in Athens. Familiar food, nice weather...’ She pauses, takes a big breath and continues: ‘We were reporters in Iran but had to flee, run for our lives. He couldn’t stand the cold or the Swedish language, loathed it when I joined the police... he left me.’ She glances anxiously at Ryan. ‘At home we had terrible experiences with authority. I had to change my name, I’m Swedish now...’ Eva suddenly stops talking and Ryan, knowing how close he had come to crossing a red line last night, doesn’t ask questions. They stay silent until they reach the hotel. When they arrive, it’s still dark outside. ‘I’ll pick you up ten thirty, read the file.’ Ryan showers and then orders breakfast at the bar. The file tells him nothing, it’s full of dull paperwork. Only the photographs are of interest. He reads the online news and learns there’s nothing new. For how long can he string-out this dead-end case: days, weeks, months? The last place he wants to be is home, working for that irascible Charlie Mace or worse, Deputy Inspector Jack Coogan. 7. At the station, Eva studies the forensic report and, without speaking, hands it over to Erik. He reads it thoroughly and then seems lost in thought before putting the file down, asking: ‘How good do you think Ryan Reeves is?’ ‘He’s very to the point...don’t think he’s used to sticking to the rules.’ Erik looks hard at Eva ‘Then let him loose, and if it goes badly wrong, we can blame him before we kick him out.’ ‘Are we that desperate?’ ‘You tell me Eva, he wasn’t at the hotel this morning when I stopped by.’ ‘Oh...’ Eva knows the sombre light of dawn will never pass. It will be dark in a few hours. She enters the hotel to find Ryan waiting in the foyer, dressed in all the clothes she had given him. He seems irritated. ‘How can you bear living with no light, and when it comes, it’s like this?’ He indicates to the gloom. ‘That’s what my husband used to say.’ Ignoring that, he points to the car. ‘Where are we going?’ Not answering, she goes back to the car. Ryan follows. As she drives, she hands him the forensic report. He reads it twice. That morning from the hotel, he’d asked the British police for more information on Fuzzy Smith, but they couldn’t give him anything useful. He’s quiet for a while, mulling over what he’s just read. No forensics of any use, certainly no strange prints, DNA or fibres. And as there’s no mobile phone signal at the murder scene, there are no phone records. Add to that no witness, murder weapon or obvious motive, Ryan feels Inspector Mace has sent him on a wild goose chase. There’s nothing he can do. He looks at the report again. Smith hadn’t even been drinking before he died. A light blow to the head and death by freezing: at least that’s clear. So are the dog, fox, moose and reindeer tracks. The fox had even nibbled Smith’s frozen ear. And then there’s the snow plough whose huge heavy chained wheels had reversed over Smith, let alone all the messy police contamination. ‘Any other cock-ups I should know about?’ Blurting that out, it had sounded mean. Ryan instantly regrets his tone. ‘Eva, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’ ‘Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re in a strange country with no light at minus thirty seven and a half with no clues for a case you’re expected to solve. And you lost your promotion.’ Eva pauses before saying quietly: ‘I know exactly how you feel.’ Out of awkwardness, Ryan laughs. ‘I’ll try and help you solve this case, but I just don’t think I can. By the way, where are we going?’ ‘To a crime scene that isn’t there.’ Eva turns the car into a narrow single track road. At least it’s been kept ploughed, she notes. She doesn’t want ‘no snow plough’ added to Ryan’s list of Swedish police incompetencies. As Erik suggested, they’re desperate. In fact, she must be really desperate to be driving Ryan to this desolate place. She hopes he won’t get angry when he finds there’s only snow and nothing else to see. And what did Erik mean by “let him loose”? What kinds of pressure is Erik under to solve this case if he’s more than willing to throw Ryan to the dogs if it all goes wrong? Ryan breaks her thoughts. ‘Is there any colour besides white around here?’ 8. After a long and slow drive, what light there is begins to fade. They have parked up where the snow plough stopped, about twenty metres from a large cabin on the edge of a dark forest. A piece of police tape, one end stapled to the front cabin wall, flaps in the wind. ‘We don’t have much time.’ Eva takes two pairs of snow shoes out the trunk and passes a pair to Ryan. He looks bewildered. ‘Put them on, you’ll get nowhere without them, in fact, you’ll sink up to your waist.’ Eva watches and then follows as Ryan does his own thing. He’s pulled the photos from the file and clasps them tightly, examining them and looking at what he assumes was once a crime scene. There’s police debris, the remains of the flattened tent, torn and shredded in the wind and stuff he can’t quite place. The cabin’s locked and he refrains from asking why. In the last of the light, he stands awkwardly, trying not to let the wind rip the photos from his hands. He studies the front of the cabin. It’s exactly the same as in the photograph. He makes a mental note of what he sees. He can’t believe how cold he is and sits in the car with Eva, trying to warm up. She’s apprehensive. ‘Did you see anything?’ ‘I don’t think so. What was he doing out here on his own at Christmas?’ ‘We’ll probably never know. The land they wanted to develop starts right here and runs back for miles, right up into those hills and more. Eva points. ‘It’s full of lakes and creeks.’ ‘Environmental activists?’ ‘We checked the data base, anyone like that is just a lefty student type and anyway, they were all away for Christmas.’ ‘A wandering psycho, who took offence to his bad humour...?’ ‘Ryan, be serious, please.’ In the last of the light, Ryan looks at a photo and back to the cabin one more time. ‘Have you found something?’ ‘It’s not like that, I’m being thorough. Besides, I never found him funny. Let’s watch one of his shows later, you can get a measure of the man.’ He turns and faces her and she’s quick to answer: ‘At the hotel, not mine.’ As they start to drive away, a gust of wind howls, shuddering the car. A second later, a fair sized tree branch hits the bonnet with a loud scraping thud before being pulled away with the wind. Eva stops the car. They look at each other. Ryan says it first: ‘What if it’s not murder but an accidental freak of nature? Hit on the head by a piece of flying debris...makes perfect sense.’ ‘You’d have to return to England.’ Not liking that prospect, Ryan pushes it aside, gruffly remarking: ‘Let’s exhaust the murder enquiry first, there’s still a lot we can to do.’ In silence they drive, Eva wondering how a murder case could make her feel so optimistic. 9. Eva drops Ryan at the hotel so he can mull things over, come up with a coherent plan to move the investigation on. But in their hearts, the flying wood tells a different story. At the station, Erik is curious. ‘Nothing new, Ryan wondered about environmental activists. He’s thinking it through. I’m sure he saw something at the cabin besides the endless white of snow.’ In the hotel bar, Ryan sits with a cup of coffee and a rather good sandwich. At least he’s not paying for it, he muses. Having written a short report to Inspector Mace, detailing only the positive points of the investigation, he is now trying to get a grip of anything that might push the investigation forward. A dead-end would mean a flight back home. Eva had told him that the proposed resort site lay in a buffer zone around a large National Park. Even with development there would be restrictions and limitations. To him, that ruled out environmental activists. Along with that, local hunting societies had long been banned from the area; so no recent grievance there. Nothing fitted, not even a piece of flying wood. Forensics had said nothing of wood in the shallow gash on Smith’s left temple. Knowing that they must get a breakthrough in the next few days, Ryan leaves the hotel and hurries through the cold to the station. Snow ploughs are busy, their flashing yellow hazard lights illuminating the streets. It’s snowing again. Having been buzzed through reception, he stands in the big open office looking at Eva from across the room. Sitting at her desk, busy with paperwork, she looks up and sees Ryan’s cold, tense face. A minute later she’s in Erik’s office. ‘He wants what? We just don’t have the staff. There’s all the other regular police work to do. In these conditions there’s a car accident every few hours. A farm gate was stolen last night. We can’t even manage these things effectively.’ ‘We’re desperate and it’s the only idea he has.’ ‘We already look incompetent. Anymore mistakes and they’ll send in a hard-nosed team from Stockholm. No doubt we’ll be transferred, rural duties farther north...I’ll have no choice but to blame it all on Ryan.’ ‘No, don’t do that, he’s doing his best, please Erik.’ ‘His idea, he’ll get blamed. I don’t want to spend my days chasing missing reindeer, do you?’ Eva goes back to Ryan, who is now sitting in her chair. ‘Are you sure you want to do this, what if we find nothing?’ ‘We’re at nothing now, can’t see that changing, can you?’ ‘But every suspicious or unsolved case for the last twenty years...do you know how many files that is, some of them in other stations collecting dust.’ Ryan nods. ‘I suppose I could ask Olaf to come out of retirement for a week or so and then there’s that intern, what’s her name...you don’t read Swedish either, we’ll have to translate everything.’ ‘No you won’t. Focus on isolated rural cases, especially in winter. Start there and make a short list.’ Eva is impatient. ‘What’s on your mind, I’m your partner.’ ‘Something’s not right with this case, I just don’t know what. What did Erik say?’ ‘I’ll be sent north to look for missing reindeer, and you, you’ll be blamed for wasting police time and for all our...cock-ups.’ 10. Managing to get a small private room next to the hotel reception to watch a Fuzzy Smith show, Ryan sits looking through the window at the continuing snowfall. He’s not in the mood to watch a crass comedian, but feels Eva needs to know something about the character found frozen outside a lonely cabin. Mulling over the mystery of Smith’s demise, Ryan blurts out his concerns as soon as Eva walks into the room. ‘...if the snow plough had deliberately been sent to remove any traces on the road before they crushed Smith’s body, along with all the other missing evidence, it starts to look like high level conspiracy.’ ‘Or it just might be a piece of flying wood,’ Eva says. ‘Think we’ll ever know?’ Not waiting for a response he turns on the screen. In silence they start to watch the show. Neither laughs nor makes a comment. Before a minute passes, Eva pushes the off-button on the remote control. ‘Graceless and tasteless, but bad humour isn’t cause for murder.’ Ryan laughs at Eva’s wit. ‘Maybe Smith was in the wrong place, wrong time, witnessed something, something secret that goes on round here?’ ‘Is that why you want the files?’ Ryan, looking up to the ceiling, stretches his arms out wide and shrugs. ‘If we don’t spend time looking in the files Eva, I’ll be sent home.’ They stare at each other for a moment. ‘I know a good place to eat. They sell drink.’ 11. Sitting at a table by a window, they have been talking about the case. ‘I still prefer the flying stick theory,’ Eva says jovially. How can she be so happy, she’s not even had a drink, Ryan wonders. ‘Besides, it’s normal procedure to requisition an expensive missing car.’ ‘And the snow plough – thirteen kilometres, what did that cost?’ ‘Insurance paid it.’ ‘Flying sticks it is then.’ Ryan lifts his wine glass and downs the contents. He orders more. ‘Does it always snow like this?’ Ryan is looking out the window. ‘Not like this. The last time it snowed this hard, I was with my mother. She smuggled us to Baku in an old boat. That’s how we escaped. Holding my hand, she sung poetry, things I didn’t understand...she...’ Eva breaks mid sentence, and Ryan, feeling she’s about to say something personally revealing, deflects the conversation: ‘Poetry...is she still alive?’ Eva nods, knowing he’s not that interested. ‘In Baku...can you swim Ryan?’ ‘Not in this weather.’ About to ask why she asked that question, his wine arrives. One more for the snow-ploughed road, he thinks, knowing he’ll sleep well tonight. 12. Gallivare Police Station, 7th January. Eva had managed to enlist Olaf, Ann the Intern and Sharky from the basement archives. Everything had been collected and for several days now they have been meticulously sifting through old files. An upstairs room is full of them. Eva’s compiled a list. ‘Missing, disappeared, unexplained, suspicious, some murdered, in remote places in the dead of winter. Not so short, this short list.’ ‘Let’s start with the oldest.’ Each file requires one of the Swedes to read before verbally translating it to Ryan. Everyone is trying to find something that will link to Smith’s case, no matter how tenuous. Photographs are put upon the wall. More whiteboards are brought in and they try to put a jigsaw puzzle together. But it doesn’t work. The pieces are all wrong. Ryan needs to narrow it down somehow. There are too many files, too many imaginary links. He looks at the heaps of files that are still unopened. They break for lunch. Ryan suggests the hotel and he and Eva sit in the bar area eating expensive sandwiches. ‘They really make the best.’ ‘Go to Norway, The Swedes call it Land of the Sandwich.’ ‘Don’t you miss the food back home?’ ‘Of course,’ she says, forlornly. Ryan changes subject. ‘Who’s the longest serving member of the police here?’ ‘Olaf until he retired.’ Back in the station, he asks Eva to quiz Olaf about any old cases that had seemed unusual: missing people, accidents in remote places, perhaps with property or resort connections. There’s a sudden exchange between Olaf and Sharky. ‘They both remember a case, more than twenty years ago, on the other side of the National Park. A property developer went missing, he was later found by rangers outside a small fishing cabin by a frozen lake, with no obvious cause of death.’ Sharky and Olaf stare at Ryan. ‘Which file,’ he asks, looking around at all the files. ‘And why the odd looks?’ ‘It’s not here, last saw they saw of it was in a tiny police station, which closed down years ago...strange case, best forgot.’ A few minutes later, Eva is in Erik’s office. He’s unhappy. ‘My predecessor lost his job over that. These things run deep around here. It was one of only two cases that station ever had to deal with. The other was a case of missing reindeer. I suggest you familiarise yourself with that one, Eva.’ 13. The Quality Resort Breakfast Bar, 6.15.am 8th January. Too early for breakfast, Ryan sips coffee and gazes through a nearby window. The night sky clearly shows the falling snow. His tranquil thoughts are interrupted by bright headlights and flashing hazards of a passing snow plough. Turning away from the glare, he looks across empty tables towards the hotel lobby and main entrance. Eva should be here by now; it’s not like her to be so late. Meanwhile, down her lonely narrow road, Eva drives fast to make up time for her rendezvous with Ryan. Unusually, the snow plough had been late as all the unexpected snow made for lots of extra work. Her solitary house on an empty road is not municipal priority. Her mind is on the case. Indulging Ryan’s far-fetched theories is risky and just might end her career. But what else can she do? Admit to failure? Erik had clearly warned her about his intentions if things went wrong, but the only way to hang on to Ryan is to let him loose, let him follow his nose. Having been briefed by Olaf, she worries nothing good will come of opening up an old police post to pull a dusty file, if it’s still there, of yet another unsolved case. It had caused a lot of trouble in its day. It was with apprehension that she had turned the starter key to pass the plough and drive the road to Ryan’s hotel. Distracted by her thoughts, she fails to notice a large moose standing in the middle of the road, nostrils steaming in the cold night air. Frantically swerving to avoid collision, Eva rams the car into deep soft snow piled high along the edges of the road. Stopping with a shuddered thud, an airbag triggers, smothering her face in an expanding hissing cushion. On deflation, she peers through her side view window, glimpsing the dark shape of the moose disappearing down the road. Stuck, Eva waits for the flashing hazards of the snow plough to come back up the road. Minutes later it starts to dig her out. At 6.45.am Ryan drains his second cup of coffee. Picking up the heavy parka, he walks over to wait by the hotel reception. It’s pitch black and far too cold to wait outside. Last night Erik paid a visit, warning Ryan not to look too hard at the old unsolved case. It had caused much anger and resentment. Local Sami people claimed the casualty had raised the wrath of ancient forest spirits. The church was furious. There was uproar, with both sides defending faith and heritage. The provincial police, caught in the middle of this feud, along with a general lack of evidence, became embarrassed. Stockholm took control. As the cause of death was unknown and nothing obviously suspicious found, the case was quickly closed. Erik’s predecessor was up in arms. A day later, he lost his job. A cover up, that would figure, Ryan mused, or maybe just incompetence. If the cases are somehow linked, he would be way out of his depth and politically his hands completely tied. But for now he has a theme: wild nature, property development and suspicious police incompetencies. At least it takes his mind off things at home. Eva’s car pulls up with a buckled bonnet and a broken headlight. Putting on the parka, Ryan pulls the hood up tight. Instead of waiting in the car, Eva walks towards the hotel entrance. She’s slow, and Ryan pulls the door open. As freezing wind blasts him in the face, he sees that she is shaking. She avoids eye contact and her fragile face tells Ryan not to be a dumbass and ask a stupid question. Concerned, he takes her arm and helps her to a nearby table. Unsure of what to do or say, he orders coffee and breakfast for them both. Some minutes later after coffee has arrived, she tells him of the moose and being half buried in the snow. Badly shaken, she drove straight to the hotel. Ryan offers to take her to a hospital but she declines. Picking at her breakfast, she imploringly looks him in the eye: ‘I don’t want to lose my job. I’m a refugee with no ties here in Sweden.’ Knowing that plea contains a warning aimed at him, Ryan’s gets the message loud and clear: if he messes up, he’ll be taken down. There can be no real investigation. It simply isn’t going to be allowed. ‘Can I at least stay and do my best? Nothing has to be official.’ Eva nods. Is that a smile Ryan sees, he’s not entirely sure. 14. Reporting the damage to her car, they leave the hotel and hurry to the station. Having lost time, Ryan starts his hire car as Eva picks up the key to the old police post from Erik in the office. For his sake and for hers, Ryan drives slowly. These roads terrify him. ‘How’s Erik?’ ‘Not happy.’ ‘Is it a nice drive?’ ‘It’s dark.’ What an idiot he must seem. Ryan doesn’t even laugh. Soon after leaving Gallivare, Eva falls asleep and Ryan follows the sat-nav, cautiously looking out for moose. On a small and empty icy road, the gloomy light of dawn begins to show. Ahead, surrounded by thick snow covered pine is the silhouette of the police post: a large black corrugated cabin half buried in the snow. No wonder it was closed down, Ryan surmises, there’s nothing out here. Although the road has been recently ploughed, there’s only room for one car on the narrow carriageway. Ryan stops outside the post. Eva had put the key on top of the dash and Ryan takes it. She’s still asleep. He softly clicks the car door shut. The snowy bank at the side of the road is more than three feet high and Ryan clambers up and over to sink thigh deep. As he pushes down with his hands to free his legs, his arms too sink down. He flounders, lies flat and tries to forge a path to the post’s front door. It takes a full five minutes and he half sits, half lies, panting, wondering if he’ll make the last ten feet. Turning, he looks back towards the car. Eva is staring at him. Embarrassed, he wonders for how long. The window of the car comes down and she tries to speak but starts to laugh instead, giggling at his predicament. Ryan doesn’t feel like laughing, everything so far has been a disaster, so much so that he feels he’ll end up covering up his own incompetence. But his seriousness doesn’t deter Eva. She gets out, shouting: ‘Every hire car has a shovel in the trunk.’ And she fetches it to start clearing a path to Ryan and the front door. On reaching him she hands over the shovel. ‘Team work, partner.’ In silence, he gets to it. Clearing the steps and the area immediately in front of the door he looks at her. She’s smiling and he can’t help himself. ‘I love your smile.’ Looking down at the icy wooden veranda, he reaches in his pocket and hands over the key without catching her eye. Eva turns the lock. A dry musty air catches them by surprise. ‘We’ve opened a tomb.’ ‘Then let’s not disturb the dead, as Erik said,’ Eva replies. Ryan, taking a step inside, doesn’t know if that’s a joke or not. The lights don’t work and the shutters are all down. Entering the shadows, Eva turns on her torch. The wind blows in cold air and Ryan pushes the door shut. In silence they stand still following the light of the torch. There’s not much left, most of the furniture has gone. Covered in dust and cobwebs, a large map of the area is on one wall. Below it is a simple metal filing cabinet. Eva goes straight to it, pulls open the draws and takes out just two files. Without saying a word, Eva closes the draws, walks over to the door, opens it and leaves. Ryan follows and Eva locks it and heads straight for the car. Sitting in the car, Ryan warms up as Eva reads. It doesn’t take long and she turns to him. ‘There’s not much here, a photo of the cabin but not the victim, a poor sketch of a suspect that led nowhere, and a name of an unreliable witness who was later deemed mentally ill.’ ‘And the other file?’ ‘It’s an insurance policy.’ Eva throws that file on the back seat and hands the old case file over to Ryan. As he studies it, she turns her head, glancing at the back seat. ‘That’s it, no forensics?’ Eva shakes her head. Ryan studies the old photo, and then looks at the sketch: a fierce looking unkempt man with long hair and a beard. He tries to remember something he had seen at the Smith site, but nothing comes. Shaking his head: ‘Useless....who was this witness?’ Eva looks at the file again. ‘A name but no address, it seems.’ ‘Someone really wanted this case shut down.’ ‘Please Ryan, don’t...’ An open-back pickup truck brimming with cut logs stops in front of them. A bearded wild looking woodsman type stares at them through the windscreen. ‘Ask him about that name.’ Ryan points at the file. ‘Then I’ll back up.’ Eva gets out. The conversation is brief. As Ryan backs down the road, Eva speaks: ‘Past his wood yard is one house only. That’s where she lives.’ 15. As Ryan focuses on the dimly lit forest road, Eva eyes him. Had she heard him right outside the police post door? They pass a roadside clearing full of ramshackle sheds and piled up logs. Fresh tyre tracks lead from a yard onto the road. ‘It must be soon,’ Ryan states, looking right and left. But it’s another twenty minutes before the snow ploughed road ends in front of a crooked wooden house with a black metal chimney, smoke churning in the wind. Outside, on a cleared veranda sheltered from the wind, is a bench. Sitting on it is an old woman dressed in what looks like black rags, stroking a black cat. Her feet are bare. ‘She must be near frozen...mentally ill you say?’ Eva studies the file one more time. ‘Yes...and totally unreliable.’ Ryan switches off the engine. The woman is staring at them. ‘I have a bad feeling about this, Ryan.’ ‘Let‘s make it quick then.’ Eva nods. From the car she had looked wizened; but now up close, she’s gnarly like the twisted bark of the old pines growing tall around the house. Eva asks some questions. The woman and cat both stare at Ryan. The cat stands up in her lap, the dark fur raised on its back and neck. Ryan feels the need to leave but her deep gravelly voice keeps him rooted to the spot. She doesn’t take her eyes off him. ‘Her Swedish is poor, worse than mine.’ Eva shows the suspect sketch. The woman looks, speaks and points into the dark forest behind her house. ‘Twenty three years ago, she saw him following the victim to his fishing cabin...he had a large dog with him.’ Eva, struggling with the language, asks more questions. ‘He spoke to her.’ ‘That’s not in the report. What’d he say?’ But the woman only laughs, her piecing shrill startling some birds that start squawking overhead. Ryan and Eva exchange worried looks. Sensing some hysterical outburst, they turn and leave. The woman shouts, her words stabbing the harsh cold air. Ryan wastes no time and turns the car around. Neither of them dare look back. Passing the wood yard, Ryan finally speaks. ‘She spooked the hell out of me,’ he jokes, letting out his nervous tension. Turning to briefly glance at Eva, he sees her pensive face transfixed on the road in front. ‘What wrong? She’s just a batty old lady.’ ‘She said...’ Eva turns and looks deadpan at Ryan. ‘...that he spoke to her, just one hour before we arrived.’ 16. At the station, Ryan studies the photos: Smith’s cabin and the twenty three year old black and white photo of the small fishing cabin by a frozen lake. Spotting something, he shows Eva, convincing her to call Lulea Forensics. A while later, after Forensics has sent a new report, Eva and Ryan are in Erik’s office. Erik doesn’t need convincing, it’s plain to see: both photographs show huge icicles hanging down the front of their respective cabins. But in each photo there’s an icicle missing, snapped off from where it left the roof. No one has doubt that both icicles had deliberately been broken off. ‘A big weapon, a meter I’d say and thicker than your arm, Eva.’ Eva agrees, passing over the forensic note. As Erik scan reads, he mumbles out the words: ‘Ice embedded in his wound, frozen cells before Smith’s actual death, etc, etc.’ He looks up, smiling. ‘Not proof of anything but at least we no longer look like imbeciles.’ Erik’s body language expresses ruffled excitement, making Eva wants to laugh but she still has more to say. Hearing about the old lady irks Erik. ‘That mad Sami woman was nothing but trouble, we’ll all get fired. The old case is closed and stays closed. Do you hear me?’ Eva’s nod placates Erik and he states that Stockholm will be pleased; they’ll not be sending up a hard-nosed team. Leaving the office, Eva whispers to Ryan: ‘You have something concrete now to tell your boss, hopefully this will last for months, and I...’ But she doesn’t finish, leaving Ryan wondering if she’s hoping for promotion. No chance of that for him. Suddenly, he wants a drink. He invites her to the hotel; they could have a bite to eat and he a drink or two. She declines; there’s all the paperwork to do, she says. Ryan heads off alone, exiting through the big glass doors into darkness, bitter wind and snow. Eva watches him disappear across the road. In his room, Ryan too has paperwork. Knowing Stockholm will send full reports to Inspector Mace’s superiors, he hurries through it: bullet points of his own excellence should keep that bastard off his back. He won’t bother with anymore phone calls; so long as Erik’s happy, there’s nothing Mace can do. Ryan heads downstairs to find a friend at the bottom of a glass and hatch a plan. He’s on his own agenda now. Eva leaves the station at 8.pm. Having been given a new car, she sits with the engine running, studying herself in the rear view mirror. The long fraught day, starting with the car crash, shows in her drawn and tired face. Glassy eyed, she cautiously drives out the station car park towards home; but she’s unable to switch off her thoughts. Ryan had triumphed today, so much so that the office hadn’t stop talking about him. They had made a breakthrough: a probable murder weapon linking to another case. But that case is off limits, she had had her orders. What will Ryan do next? Intuitive and creative, he’s also unpredictable. As the wipers take away the snow, Eva peers down the narrow icy road trying hard to get him out her head. 17. The Quality Resort Breakfast Bar, 8.15.am 9th January. Last night hadn’t gone to plan. Instead of a solitary session of self medication, Ryan was spontaneously joined by Erik and a bunch of people from the station, most of whom he’d never seen before. They wanted to party. An absurdly premature party, Ryan thought: the case wasn’t anywhere near being solved and probably never would. However, it quickly transpired that he had unwittingly saved their jobs. As the Swedes hit the bottle, Ryan kept his drinking modest: no need to overdo it, he told himself, he was on full display. With a clear head, Ryan now watches snow through the windows of the breakfast bar. Things would start slow and late today. Erik and his drinking pals would be worse for wear, giving Ryan time and space to try and comprehend the secrets of this case. He had missed Eva last night. But before thoughts of her start to blunt his focus, he leaves the hotel. He already has a plan of sorts. Cold air jars him. Ryan gasps, hurrying to his hire car. In the police car park, he passes Eva’s damaged car. Seeing that the driver’s door is bent and misaligned, he stops. In the dark, Ryan tries the door. It squeaks open. Pulling the boot release catch, he moves to the rear of the car and removes a pair of snow shoes. Minutes later on the edge of Gallivare, Ryan stops for gas. Filling up the car, he deliberates his plan. If he’s fast, he won’t be missed. It’s not even a hunch, more a sense of curiosity that has him driving round the edges of the National Park. Although the old case is off limits, experience tells him the two cases are linked by something more than icicles, but if the Swedes find out he’s poking about, he’s sure to lose the job. They just won’t find out, he confidently thinks. It’s light by the time he stops outside the old police post. Eva had forgotten to take the front door key back; it sits on his dashboard. Using the snow shoes, he’s soon at the door, turning the lock. The place still smells musty and feels oppressive. Wasting no time, Ryan uses the light from his mobile phone to illuminate the map. And there it is, an X that marks the cabin by a lake, somewhere behind the cackling Sami witch’s place. How far is that? The map’s hand drawn, nothing’s to scale, but it can’t be that far, he thinks. Who in their right mind would walk any distance in an arctic winter to go fishing? Twenty minutes later he pulls up outside the Sami woman’s wooden house. She’s nowhere to be seen. Putting the snow shoes back on, he heads around the house. The wind is freezing and Ryan hopes that his journey will be quick. At the back of the house, she stands there, holding the cat. Still dressed in rags, she’s barefoot and her toes are grimy black. Ryan stops. Before he can frame a thought, her gaze and finger point to the forest. Not risking another skittish outburst, he follows her direction to the trees. According to the map, her direction seems right. How can she be barefoot in the snow? But as she’s out of sight, she’s quickly out of mind. Enveloped by tall trees, he moves as quickly as he can. Even with snow shoes it’s a slow and tiring plod; sinking and pulling up with every step. Ryan focuses on the task: if he pushes hard, he should be by the lake around midday. He hopes to find something useful there, and make a concrete link. Stopping to catch his breath, he listens to the forest. Increasing gusts of wind disturb the silence and blow around the snow. Realising that snow’s been falling all day, he turns, looking back the way he came. His tracks are still there, but for how much longer? He forges on. Even with Eva’s husband’s gear, he feels cold; stopping is not an option now. Tree trunks turn black and the bright snow underfoot begins to dull. Ryan looks at his watch: one thirty. Having lost track of time and fearful of losing light, he decides to turn back. The forest suddenly feels menacing and Ryan feels the need to flee. His tracks are faint and filled with snow. In the fading light, they’re soon lost from view. It must be this way, or is it over there? Lost, confused and, more urgently, in pain from cold, he desperately keeps on moving. Drawn to a steep bank, he scrambles up among the rocks and trees. There must be a view at the top, he thinks, but thinking’s getting hard. Everything’s becoming numb. At the top of the bank, he stops, struggling for breath in the cold air. There is no view, only eerie silhouettes. He’s in a clearing and looks across to the other side. Is that a cabin or a shack? He’s not sure as the dark sky has given up the day. I need to be out of the wind, he mumbles to himself, and lurches forward, towards the other side. Soft snow gives way to hard ice. He’s on a lake and instinct tells him to skirt around the edge. Faster on ice than snow, he feels a surge of energy. Where the edge of the lake meets some trees, he pauses and looks hard at the dark shape: yes, it’s a small cabin, less than fifty meters away, he thinks. His mind’s going foggy and his hands seizing up, but the confirmed sight of shelter spurs him on. The hard ice beneath him turns mushy. Looking down, he sees dark swirling patches and hears a wretched crack. He’s on a running creek and the ice gives way. Ryan’s down and under, surfacing with a gasping cry. Grasping at the icy crust he tries to pull himself up and out, but the ice breaks and he slips back down. Frozen, he hears the sound of bubbles and sees only black. Then the doom of silence comes. 18. Gallivare, 10.40.am 9th January. Driving to work gives space, time to think and ponder on events. Reflecting off the white road, the morning light is harsh. Eva puts on her sunglasses and listens to the radio. She smiles when she learns it’s minus forty one outside. Even her husband’s gear won’t cope with that temperature, especially as the wind now blows from the north east. That will keep Ryan indoors and out of trouble, although he’s probably still asleep, waking up to a thick head. Erik had texted her last night telling her to come in late: there was a party at the hotel, a celebration for the breakthrough in the case. The endless excuses to celebrate the dark winter months, is something she had learned to accept. There was no breakthrough in the case, just a possibility that Smith was wacked over the head with an icicle. It could never be proved, she was sure of that. The police station is near empty. Besides the Smith case, which is Eva’s only job in Gallivare, nothing much happens in the dead of winter: crime goes to sleep. She’s usually away, working in Kiruna or Lulea at this time of year. A drunk driver in an overturned car in a snow filled ditch or some high-spirited kids booting a football down an icy urban street scaring a bored pedestrian, is the extent of it round here. Having completed all the necessary paperwork last night, she’s at a loss of what to do. There really is nothing to investigate, no leads to follow or questions to be asked. Smith’s finances are in order; even the Russian’s money seems to be legitimate. Maybe Ryan has a way forward, she’s sure he does: he seems desperate to string this out and not go home. Ryan’s mobile doesn’t ring and Eva walks over to the hotel. On arriving she’s almost in shock from cold. Reception calls his room: no answer. Eva takes the lift to Ryan’s floor and door. She knocks three times before calling out his name. Hurrying through the police car park, she notices her battered police car’s boot is half open. About to bang it shut, she sees an empty space: a pair of snow shoes is missing. And there she was, a little while ago imagining Gallivare as a winter crime free zone. They had been stolen. A present from her husband, the only useful thing he had ever given her, was gone. They were meant for Ryan; something hurts inside her. Seething, she heads towards the main entrance, but stops. Ryan’s hire car is also gone. The tyre marks in the snow tells her it left not so long ago. She just knows Ryan took the shoes. Erik arrives but takes no interest in Eva’s questions to where Ryan might have gone. She scowls: he’s always disinterested after a drinking session. But she does learn that Ryan left the party early, and sober; he must have had a morning plan, she thinks. Wherever he is, there’s no mobile reception: the phone still won’t ring. And, if he wants daylight, he’d be there by now. Smith’s cabin or the old police post – where else does Ryan know? Smith’s has no mobile reception but the old post must have some. Eva opts for Smith’s cabin and drives to pick up gas. The cashier remembers Ryan, the only Englishman in town. She points to a newspaper on the counter. The headline reads: ‘The Icicle Murder’. That’s just plain wrong, there’s no proof and who leaked it to the press anyway? The cashier points towards the main road out of town. That’s not the way to Smith’s cabin. Eva ruffles through her pockets. Where’s the key? Had she left the key in Ryan’s car? Heading for the old police post, she turns on the car’s blue lights. This has started to feel wrong. Eva pulls up outside the old post. Although it’s been snowing most of the day, she sees the vague outline of snow shoe tracks leading from the road up to the front door. So he’s been here, she deduces. What for? Then it clicks: the map, the cabin by the lake. What’s he going to find there after twenty three frozen winters? The road is full of snow and it takes more than half an hour to reach the house; the plough won’t be back ‘til the morning. She parks behind Ryan’s car. It’s one thirty: she’s almost lost the light. Even in full winter attire, Eva feels the cold. She must find Ryan: he won’t last long out there. She sees his tracks disappearing around the house. Full of snow, they’re almost gone. Putting on her own snow shoes, she starts to follow what’s left to see. A small gust of wind blows spindrift in her eyes and nose. She stops, sneezes and wipes away the snow to see the old woman standing in her way speaking a language Eva doesn’t know. She’s pointing to the tracks. Inside each of Ryan’s large prints are others: a bare human footprint and what looks like a large dog. Eva suddenly feels terrified. The woman then speaks in broken Swedish: ‘There’s nothing you can do, the Nightmare will choose.’ Before she faints, Eva sits down on the veranda bench. She feels the cat’s tail swish across her face. When she wakes, it’s dark. Numb with cold, she drags herself off the bench. The front door is wide open. Stopping in the opening, she leans against the frame. Warmth from the wood burner draws her inside. The door slams shut behind her. The only light is from the wood burning stove. As Eva adjusts her eyes, the old lady commands her to sit. There are no chairs, just large cushions on the bare wood floor. Sitting down next to the old woman, Eva notices her black feet and smell like old milk mixed with fresh cut hay. Not speaking, Eva gazes through the burner glass, mesmerised by flames. She’s so cold that it takes some time before she can take off her gloves and coat. Her mobile falls out. The signal is strong and she calls Erik. ‘It’s two o’clock in the morning Eva.’ ‘What, oh...’ Ryan would be dead by now. Explaining the situation, she keeps any reference of the Sami woman to a minimum. Erik doesn’t have much hope as the temperature is near minus forty five in Gallivare. It must be lower in the forest. A search and rescue team would be there in the morning, but morning still means darkness. Ryan might have found an old cabin to take shelter, but Eva knows he’s only trying to be nice. On the boat to Baku as they fled Iran, Eva’s mother had sung poetry: beautiful words that wove mysterious tales. Eva had laughed, enjoying the distraction, especially when told that she would meet a man in a foreign land who would later fall into the freezing waters of a winter nightmare. Then, listening to that melody helped take away bad thoughts. Now, it’s just plain frightening. 19. The Wooden House, 10.15.am 10th January. Cold, Eva wakes. The fire’s out and the room full of sombre shadows. It must be near ten o’clock, she thinks. Breathing in, a weight on her chest feels uncomfortable. The cat sits staring at her before stretching out and scratching at her woollen jumper. Standing, it arches, turns around and displays herself right in Eva’s face. Charming, Eva frowns, as the cat jumps down. Arctic wind bites as she heads towards an outhouse she’d noticed by her car. Having left her coat and gloves, she’s tight and pained by the time she’s returning to the house. The old woman sits on the bench, still bare foot in rags. Eva hurries past and goes straight to the stove, opening the door to blow any embers that might be left. A glow of red and Eva stokes the fire. The old woman is behind her offering a steaming bowl of food. In the other hand is a mug. Eva takes them and sits down by the fire. She can barely see in the gloomy light and doesn’t understand the food she eats: a stew made of things unknown and a drink that tastes resentful. The woman just stands and stares. Eva stares back while eating and drinking alien cuisine. She looks like a fairy tale witch. Superstition is not something Eva wants or needs; back home it meant believing in things you couldn’t understand. She had her facts: Ryan had gone looking for a cabin by a lake to get some clues to connect to Smith’s murder case. The old woman just lives here with a cat and has remarkably tough feet. That’s all. Nightmares are just things that disturb your sleep, and she had slept very well last night. Where’s Ryan? As Eva feels the rise of fear, the woman’s raspy voice says things Eva doesn’t understand. The moment is broken by a helicopter passing overhead, and then by someone knocking at the door. ‘Sorry we’re late, got stuck and had to call the snow plough. Only this woman and her grandson’s wood yard ever use this road.’ Erik explains that they had to break down the police post door. Olaf had confirmed that the lake Ryan had headed for was indeed the old murder site. But it’s a day’s walk without the snow; Ryan couldn’t have covered even a third of the distance. Police skiers would make their way from here while others would be dropped by helicopter at the lake. ‘Has she said anything?’ ‘I can’t understand her.’ ‘It’s a Sami language.’ Erik talks to the old woman who says a few words back. ‘Twenty three year old trouble...she’s barking mad.’ Erik and a dozen police officers ski into the shadows of the forest. A van with two officers sits outside the house co-ordinating the search. Eva spends her time between the van, her car to listen to the radio and the house where she warms up and drinks tea the colour of black tar. It’s late by the time everyone returns. They had found no trace of Ryan. More men will come tomorrow to broaden the search area, Erik says, before he and everybody heads off home. Feeling no need to ask permission, Eva stays. It’s past midnight. Not having exchanged a word, the two women stare at the fire. Headlights illuminate the room, giving Eva hope that a rescue party has returned. On hearing noises, bangs and thumps, she heads outside with her coat and gloves. There’s no police search and rescue team, just a white pickup truck being unloaded of cut logs. The old woman’s grandson walks past Eva without a glance. He’s carrying two shopping bags of food. Eva stands at the open door staring in. The two are in conversation. He must speak Swedish, Eva thinks, blurting out a question: ‘Where’s Ryan?’ ‘At the bottom of the lake,’ he replies. ‘But there was no trace of him anywhere around the lake.’ Eva knows she sounds desperate. They both stare at her. The sound of spitting wood from the fire fills up the room. She feels like screaming. ‘Wrong lake.’ Looking out the window, he points: ‘It’s dangerous, full of fast creeks and tiny lakes, that’s where he went down.’ Not saying another word, he leaves. Eva hears the pickup start, reverse and turn before driving away. How can he know Ryan broke through the ice? That’s not possible. Back arched and fur on end, the cat is hissing at her. She turns and looks at the old woman who puts a finger to her lips. Woefully resigned and not wanting to hear things she doesn’t understand, Eva stays quiet. 20. The Lake, 11.am 11th January. The lake is completely covered in snow, except for one small area of thick translucent ice: a self-evident and recent hole. Through it, the ominous murk of deep water shows. Eva had pointed the way to Erik and his team. It turned out to be only five hundred metres from the old woman’s house. She hadn’t dared tell what the grandson said; she kept things simple and told a lie, saying the old woman had seen Ryan heading off that way. The team is large. At least twenty five people had skied ahead of Eva. She followed in her snow shoes. Arriving, she saw the team spread out along the lakeside, all focused on one spot: the hole. No one speaks. In the hush, she hears the wind swishing through the swaying trees. Battling the cold and holding back tears, Eva can’t imagine a scene more solemn. It’s obvious what had happened. No one really knows what’s next: divers in the lake perhaps? Eva alone knows what the grandson said, but all the others only guess. Is Ryan really at the bottom of the lake? Unsure of what to think or do, people start to look around. Someone points and shouts. Across the lake, leaning against the cabin door, is a huge icicle shaped like a bent finger. Some distance from the door, between two large hanging icicles, is a gaping space: an icicle is missing. The ice finger had been snapped off and deliberately placed against the door. Looking from the ice finger to the black hole in the lake, Eva spots a trail of disturbed snow. Something had been dragged from the lake to the cabin’s front door. 21. The Lake, 3.15.pm 9th January. Retching and disgorging water full of icy lumps, Ryan flounders in the snow. Foggy and disorientated, he recalls empty darkness before rough hands yanked him to the surface. Someone had then slung him to the ground where he now lies. As cold spikes every fibre in his body, he starts to uncontrollably shake.
Cabin by the Lake, 6.am 10th January. Orange shadows flicker, something cracks and fizzes. An oppressive presence fills his space. It’s the growl that rekindles his senses. Ryan gulps for air, a huge inward gasp. Throwing off a blanket, he bolts upright in a state of panic. Breathing hard, he takes in his surroundings. Ignoring the wood burner and his clothes hanging on a lean-to branch, it’s the massive dog, bearing teeth, that has his attention. A huge man, strong and powerful, stands next to the dog holding a piece of ice. More than a metre long and bent like a crooked finger, it’s pointing straight at Ryan. In a dream like state, he tries to scream but nothing comes out. The man is speaking but Ryan can’t hear him. Nothing makes sense. Then the dog lurches forward and bites Ryan on the hand. The pain is real, the blood feels warm, oozing and dripping on the blanket. Forced to listen, Ryan can’t understand a word. A rhythm and a rhyme keep turning round and round until he recognises the man’s face as the suspect from the old case. Seemingly satisfied, the man stops speaking and leaves the cabin with the dog. Intense cold blasting through the open door has Ryan down on the hard board bench, pulling the scratchy blanket over his head. The cabin rocks as the door bangs shut and Ryan shivers into sleep. 22. The Lake, 11.15.am 11th January. There’s a dilemma. No one wants to cross the ice. Having seen the dreadful hole where the creek flows into the lake, the team don’t want to risk the hundred metre crossing. The ice could be one metre thick or a mere centimetre; no one knows. The team, apprehensive, opt to skirt around the lake’s long perimeter to get to the cabin. They hit a snag: dropping out the lake into the forest is another creek, full of cracked and broken ice. The Lake, 12.45.pm 11th January. Eva stands shivering, her hood tied tight against the wind. It had seemed an age waiting for a chainsaw to be fetched from a vehicle parked by the old woman’s wooden house. She now feels irritable, watching as a makeshift bridge is cut from nearby trees and laid across the creek. It’s tough keeping up with the skiers, but for some unknown reason Erik, at the lead, takes it slow. What’s wrong with him? Eva fumes. He’s wasting precious time. Erik arrives at the cabin. Instead of forcing the door open, he starts taking photos with his phone. Furious, Eva barges past the police team and demands to know why he’s not pushing at the door. ‘I’ve never seen one this big,’ he says, pointing at the finger. ‘What..?’ How many has he seen? She eyes the grotesque weapon, its frozen crooked joint set in a ghastly smile. Erik can’t fool Eva. She sees that he’s scared stiff, delaying finding out what lies behind the door. ‘Ryan,’ she yells, before banging the wooden door with her clenched fists. The door swings open and the ice finger falls, breaking clean in two. Cold air quickly fills the cabin. Half conscious, Ryan hears the yell, thump and cracking sound of ice. Under darkness of the covers, he curls into a ball. Not that dog and man again, he silently pleads. The cabin’s dark and Eva hovers in the doorway adjusting to the light. Recognising her husband’s parka hanging on a branch, she says his name again, quietly this time. He knows that word, it sounds familiar and the soft voice not foreboding. He tries to speak, to say that he is here, but nothing seems to work. Eva pulls the blanket back. Facing her, eyes shut and curled up, she wonders if he’s dead: ashen skin, cold to touch and a hand crusted in dry blood. As she kneels to see if there is any life, Erik enters, blocking out the light. Eva turns and looks back at Erik. He moves into the cabin. On seeing Ryan’s hand, the deep holes of the dog’s incisors clearly visible, proclaims: ‘He’d be better off dead at the bottom of the lake.’ Horrified and perplexed, Eva is transfixed. ‘I told you not to mess. You’ve no idea...’ Without hesitation, Eva picks up half the ice finger lying on the floor. In one fast ferocious move, she’s on her feet smashing it into Erik’s face. With a crack, the finger shatters into flying shards of ice. Erik groans and stumbles back. Back home, she’d hurt a man like this before: he’d pushed his luck too far. Confused and concerned, Olaf and some men rush in. Erik barks an order and then leaves the cabin, nursing a bloody wound across his cheek. She hears Erik tell the team that Ryan must have pulled himself out the icy water, valiantly crawling fifty freezing metres to the cabin; a remarkable feat in these conditions. That doesn’t explain the ice finger or Erik’s strange behaviour, Eva rages. No evidence has been collected or other ideas explored. Would she ever get to the bottom of this? A medic arrives. A few minutes later, Ryan is on a stretcher, being carefully carried back towards the wooden house. Aware of movement and his throbbing hand, he opens his eyes. Squinting in the harsh light, he briefly sees the lake. Recalling the taste of its peaty water in his mouth and throat, he starts to gag and shuts his eyes to make it stop. He hears a language he doesn’t know and feels something softly touch his head. Then he feels a sharp pain in his arm. The man and dog: this is all he remembers. Helpless, he falls back to oblivion. When she knows he’s alive, she doesn’t show emotion. Stay strong, she tells herself, this is far from over: unprovoked, she had violently attacked her boss. She would have to deal with that later; for now, she needs to stick with Ryan. He’s not safe, she feels. 23. The Wooden House, 2.45.pm 11th January. In the deep gloom of arctic twilight, they enter the clearing by the house. An ambulance had been called from the cabin, and Eva now sees faint blue flashing lights on the dark horizon. The saline drip in Ryan’s arm had made the journey through the dusky forest slow and difficult. The team are packing up. It’s a large crowd, gear is everywhere and their vehicles, jammed together down the road, are making space for the ambulance to pass. Eva spots Erik talking to the old woman and her grandson. He’s speaking Sami, she realises: of course he is – he is Sami! How could she be such a knucklehead? A large makeshift lint plaster covers one of his cheeks. Even in the dimness, she sees the dark spread of blood. Although she knows she will probably lose her job, she won’t back down and plead forgiveness. Ryan would be better dead than found alive, he’d said. What’s wrong with that man and what’s he hiding? Still enraged, she marches over, confronting Erik. ‘What aren’t you telling me?’ Erik stares but doesn’t answer back. His frightened face tells Eva that he doesn’t know what’s going on. He might know facts, but not the truth. Realising this puzzle won’t be solved by asking questions, she turns away to watch the ambulance arrive. As the door opens and Ryan placed inside, his wounded hand clearly shows. ‘Nightmare,’ the old woman gasps. ‘What nightmare? Eva seethes. The old woman lets out a deep raw cry, forcing Eva to hurry to the ambulance. Once inside, the closing door shuts the madness out. 24. Kiruna Hospital, 11.00.am 15th January. For three days now Eva’s been visiting Ryan in his room. Each morning and afternoon she tells him things about her life back home, and other things she wouldn’t dare if he were wide awake. Not regaining consciousness since briefly waking at the lake, she wonders if he ever will. Dehydrated and hypothermic, he’d been in a state of total shock. Considering the lethal low temperature, icy water of the lake and length of time spent inside a freezing cabin, it’s a miracle he’d survived, the doctor said. For the first two days, Erik had phoned twice a day. Initially demanding she return to Gallivare, she’d refused. He hadn’t asked again and never mentioned the assault. Relieved, she’d then been foolish, asking awkward questions about the case. ‘Call me if he wakes,’ was all he said. Eva had booked in at the Scandic Ferrum Hotel, a short walk from the hospital. She’d paid with Ryan’s Swedish expense account. Angry, with scant regard for protocol, she’d even bought some new clothes. Right now, there’s no chance of going back to Gallivare: it’s feels risky, something’s very wrong. The doctor had told her that, although Ryan may not seem conscious, his hearing may still function: any words of comfort might help him wake up. Sitting across the room, she’s telling tales from Iran. Ryan stirs, a slight movement of his head. Watchful, Eva keeps on talking. Making soft noises, he breathes out with a sigh. Instead of calling for a nurse, she calls his name. That word again, is that me? It is me, and who’s that voice. Ryan opens his eyes and stares blankly across the room. ‘Ryan, it’s Eva. I’m here.’ He knows that name. Almost inaudible, he answers back: ‘Eva?’ She leaves to fetch a nurse. Barred from the room as two doctors and a nurse attend Ryan, she calls Erik. He’ll be there in two hours; he’ll meet her at the hotel. Peering through glass at the movement in the room, she could do without a fraught and potentially explosive meeting with her boss right now. Allowed back, she’s self conscious. What if he heard all those things she’d said? He’s very much awake and she sits close to him. For a short while, they don’t speak. The words the man had spoken in the cabin keep going round and round. As their vibration slowly starts to settle, Ryan tells his story. It’s brief, there’s not much he can remember. ‘He was the same man in the photo-fit, hadn’t aged a day.’ She stares out the window. Looking back at Ryan, hoping for a reasoned explanation, he’s fallen asleep. This case is now ineffable, she fears. 25. Scandic Ferrum Hotel Lobby, 1.00.pm 14th January. When Eva arrives, Erik’s sitting on a sofa near the fire. Finishing a large glass of beer, he doesn’t bother greeting her. He must have put his blue lights on to get here this fast, she derives. Not wanting to look him directly in the face, she stands watching the amber liquid drain from his glass. ‘Want to eat?’ Eva nods. Badly needing food, she sits down opposite and studies the menu. ‘I’ll put it on expenses along with everything else, won’t be questioned; be assured of that.’ She knows he’s looking directly at her but she still can’t meet his gaze. That’s not like Erik, he’s a stickler for detail: he’s got something fishy up his sleeve, she’s sure of that. What the hell is coming next? As Erik orders food and another beer, she finds the courage to look directly at his face. The plaster’s new, clean and neat, but still covers half his face. Feeling less on edge, she starts to settle. Sensing that, Erik takes a file from his case. Reading out a lengthy report, he doesn’t finish until the food arrives. For the first time, Eva meets his gaze. Perplexed, she tries to comprehend what she’s just read. ‘Ryan chased a suspect through the woods before falling through the ice?’ ‘We have a suspect, although he’s now twenty three years older, and a possible murder weapon we think was used in both cases.’ ‘The Ice Finger?’ ‘Just like the one that broke off and whacked me in the face as I opened the cabin door.’ Now she knows he’s really lying. ‘I’ve recommended you for promotion and a medal. Ryan would have died without your vigilance.’ The bastard wanted Ryan dead and now he’s trying to buy me off. What will Ryan think?’ Eva tries to tell Ryan’s story but Erik shows no interest; in fact, he cuts in as she speaks, causing Eva to erupt: ‘God damn you, you wanted him dead and have a report full of fabrication and downright lies!’ Unfazed, Erik puts his hands up, palms out, and shrugs, as if to say: okay, I’ll listen if I must. Eva knows he’s heard the words but couldn’t give a darn. ‘Hallucinations, quite common in these extreme survival cases...this is the report Eva, Ryan’s report. He can sign it later. ’ Unable to fathom the confounding mysteries of the case, she says no more. 26. Kiruna Hospital, 3.00.pm 14th January. Ryan is sitting up in bed looking at the two of them sitting across the room. There’s a frosty silence, Ryan notices. Erik reads the report aloud and then shows Ryan a sketch of an older man, not recognisable at all. ‘This is your photo-fit description.’ About to say he hadn’t done photo-fit and besides, the man he’d seen looked exactly the same as in the original sketch, Erik continues: ‘Inspector Mace is mighty pleased with you, spoke to him myself. There might be a promotion, rural Shropshire.’ Ryan almost laughs but he’s feeling too strange for that. ‘Chasing lost sheep, you mean.’ ‘I’ve been speaking to my boss. A lot of foreign money laundering is buying up resorts, paying off corrupt local officials. It’s getting too much...a nightmare job. We could do with a man like you.’ Ryan doesn’t say a word. Eva knows he’s trying to buy Ryan off too. ‘We could put you on salary, paperwork will take some time, three months or so, you could both do with a holiday.’ ‘He’ll take it.’ Eva is up out of her seat, energised, and then Erik has the report in front of Ryan, handing over a pen for him to sign. He just signs, knowing he has no life at home and the pack of lies written in the report is how it’s got to be. Ryan’s hand itches. ‘What happened to me? But Erik’s already leaving the room. Pausing, he turns: ‘It’s all in the report, you said it yourself.’ The door clicks shut and Eva is immediately up and over Ryan. ‘I’m going to Baku, come with me.’ Her eyes are shining. He feels changed but a small part of him remains the same, the old Ryan. It’s that part which speaks: ‘Now you’ve got me spooked.’