The Man Who Laughed at Silence

November 3rd, 2011
Comments Off

The Man Who Laughed at Silence

By Jens Sjorstrom

Translated from the Swedish by Gunnar Courtland

Chapter 1

Lars Larsson poked at the body with his toe.  Something stuck to his shoe when he pulled it back.

“Shit!” Larsson said.

“Smells like it,” said his detective partner, Kjell Edlund, pinching his nostrils together through the handkerchief he was holding to his nose and mouth.

The wind, a gruff and determined Nordic wind, picked at the debris of the landfill, at the discarded fragments of Swedish life, picking up odd pieces of trash, examining them, twirling them, playing with them and then flicking them away, only to then choose more rubbish to tease. A crushing stench wafted with the caprice of the wind, into and out of the nostrils of the detectives.

The face and the upper body of the corpse were splattered with a thick brown coating, in some spots crusty on the outside but still soft and gooey inside, like a chocolate profiterole. The stink rushing up the nose holes of the detectives blended into the mixture of odors in the discontinued trash dump. The total smell was so thoroughly rotten that it seemed impossible such a stain could exist in a place as scrubbed and perfumed as Stockholm.

“You know this place?” asked Larsson.

“Military bilge,” said Edlund. “Scheduled to be closed.”

The body seemed to have been coated deliberately. Even now matted and flaked, the brown glaze swirled around the contours of the chin and shoulders, the upper arms darker and the hair as thick and stiff as a house shingle. The pattern continued down as far as the navel. What lay below that would have to wait until the body was removed from the trash and from the litter that surrounded it.

It occurred to Larsson that it would take a whole lot of lutfisk to produce that much shit.

“Do those look like brush strokes?” Larsson asked Edlund.  “Like somebody painted it on?”

“More like dipped and then smoothed,”  Edlund said.  “See how it seems thicker in the hair and on the shoulders.  And it ran into the ears.  Up the nose, too.”

Edlund coughed.  He snorted. His own nose was working much too well.

“Why can’t we ever be sent to nice garden or to a park?” he asked his partner.  “Why do we always get the shit assignments?”

“Are you trying to be funny?”

“You know me,” Edlund said.

Larsson pushed his handkerchief down his battered nose to give himself a better view of the body.  He could see that the corpse was clearly a woman. Her left breast was fairly unsoiled, the red nipple obscenely apparent, as if it had been licked clean.

“I think what we’re looking for is a painter with a vat of diarrhea,” said Edlund.

“Someone with a big brush,” agreed Larsson.

“Or a small broom,” said Edlund.

As inspector and sergeant of Stockholm’s GCD—Grisly Crimes Division—Larsson and Edlund were kept busy by a dependable assortment of murders and misdeeds in Sweden’s capitol. Decapitations, incinerations, mutilations, assassinations, these were crimes common enough to bring yawns to the detectives.

Not once had a severed head or a crispy corpse caused Larsson to miss a meal. The heavy body poorly served by his unpressed jacket was proof of his puke-proof appetite.

Well into middle age, Larsson had long ago stopped caring about his appearance, had stopped looking into mirrors.  It was as if he believed the pouches under his eyes and the sagging skin on his neck, the graying hair that always needed a barber, would not be there if he did not look.  He slept poorly and had not been with a woman since his wife died more than a year ago.

“Tyrkisk?” asked Edlund, reaching into an inside pocket. The butt handle of Edlund’s SIG Sauer P226 caught the lining of his double breasted jacket.  Edlund shrugged the garment loose.

Unlike Larsson’s rumpled jacket, Edlund’s suit was tailored and fit smoothly across his shoulders.  His pants were cuffed and broke nicely at the top of his shoes, Italian loafers with tassels.  Edlund cultivated a meticulous mustache, thin and dark, contrasting with his blond, efficiently combed hair. But then Edlund was from Skvode and all Stockholmers knew that anyone from Skovde was just naturally prissy.

Edlund shook out several pieces of black licorice candy from a small blue bag and offered them to Larsson.

“Ja visst,” said Larsson, taking away his handkerchief from his face and popping the candy into his mouth.

“Extra hot,” said Edlund, his eyes already watery from the sharp sting of the peppery candy.

“You could be right,” said Larsson, wiping the toe of his shoe on the back of his trouser leg.

Larsson had to admit that he had never seen anything quite like this.  The smell reminded him of the night he was on duty in Rinkeby and an angel-faced 12-year old boy had carried in a Willys supermarket bag and plopped it onto the admitting desk.

Larsson had been careful enough to pull on a pair of vinyl gloves before opening the bag.  Inside was the severed head of a woman, her lipstick smeared down one side of her chin.

Her hair was still in curlers, clinging in tight little rows even a week later.

“It didn’t matter who I killed,” the boy told Larsson. “I just had to kill someone. Mommy should have gone bowling.”

Police would later find the mother’s severed left leg being used to support a dying banana tree plant in the foyer of their house.  The woman’s right  hand was cut neatly at the wrist, painted white and nailed to the kitchen wall, palm out and the thumb used to hang a spatula.

That one was weird but not as weird as this one.  Who paints a corpse with…?

“S.O.S.” said Edlund, lapsing into English, speaking not too clearly over his chewing.

“Huh?”

“S. O.S. Shit on a Swede,” said Edlund.

Larsson ‘s thick lips curved into a slight smile, more a smirk, but grudging acknowledgement of Edlund’s wit.  Provided she was a Swede.  It was hard to tell under all the gunk.  Sweden, especially Stockholm, had lately seen more and more outsiders .  Whenever possible the police blamed crime on aliens. Convictions of Arabs or Serbs or Turks were much easier to get.

If the suspects were Travelers, the gypsy Romani from Finland who obeyed no law but their own, all the evidence that was usually needed was a pointed finger.

“Where’s the driver?” asked Larsson.

“Still in that thing, I guess,” said Edlund, nodding his head in the direction of a great iron wheeled tractor sitting idle atop the highest mound of debris. The machine was silhouetted against a continuous sheet of gray, the usual color of the Scandinavian sky at this time of year.

Somewhere beyond the bleakness of the morning sky, a new day shone fresh and full of hope for happy children and optimists.   In Sweden there were mornings like that, sometimes as many as ten or twelve a year.

Rust had eaten away the yellow paint of the tractor, leaving splotches of what it once had been peeping through what it had become.  But the tractor still worked, still did its job, however loudly it moaned, however much its upright exhaust chimney belched. It had much in common with Larsson.

The drivers’ cabin was perched behind an enormous grate connected to the front.  The vertical bars made the grate resemble the wall of a jail cell.    The grate was used to push the trash around, providing what order there was to the place.  Huge piles here, smaller piles there, a rough sorting of materials for recycling. This type of landfill, one where all sorts of rubbish was mixed with other sorts of rubbish, was outlawed. Similar sites had been cleaned and cleared long ago, the trash hauled to Hogdalen to be converted into heat and electricity.

No place on earth is more environmentally conscious than Sweden.  Recycling is taken very seriously in Stockholm. Ugly and ubiquitous green bins spoil the flavor of the city, appearing nearly as unsightly as the trash they hold. Neighbors turn against neighbors when the wrong rubbish is discarded in the wrong bin or placed in a bin that does not belong to the discarder. Trash is fuel and compost is life.  Nearly every Swede believes in that, some more than others.

The driver, a Somali listed as Abshir Waabberri Hassan on his operator’s license but called “Abe” by any Swede who had any reason to know him, had only incidentally discovered the body when he stopped his tractor, got down and dragged out of the way a broken IKEA sofa that he thought he might sell or use himself.

Abshir did not recognize the soft lump as a body at first, not until he noticed the red nipple. Picking through the fragments of rubble, the disposable diapers and the plastic plates, he cleared away enough junk to discover enough to make him scream. If an immigrant worker yells in a condemned landfill, does he make a sound?  Even above the rattle of the idling tractor, his scream shook the mound of trash Abshir had just built and caused a gang of rats to scamper away.

Abshir was not, as Edlund thought, waiting in the tractor to be questioned.  He knew enough of police to not linger.  When he was told to wait, he nodded, said “Yes, sir,” and ran off the first chance he got.

“We have to find someone who saw the driver of the carrier that dumped her,” Larsson said to Edlund.

“Dumped her?”

“She wasn’t killed here, painted with shit and half buried,” said Larsson.  “Someone did this somewhere else.  Probably threw her in a green bin, mixed biodegradable with solids.

“Huh?”

“They left her jewelry on.”

“Wasn’t robbery, then.”

“Probably sex.”

“It usually is.”

“Some kind of game gone wrong.”

“Some kind of sick game.”

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”

Edlund coughed and Larsson turned his back to the wind. A clump of Larsson’s uncombed hair rose on a breath of wind and fell back.

“Might be something to it,” said Edlund.

“To what?”

“Throwing away trash into a trash heap. Could be somebody’s idea of balance, some twisted creep.”

“Didn’t even bother to bag her.”

“Why would they do that after all the trouble of painting her?” asked Edlund.

“I suppose they didn’t like the way she turned out.  Artists can be temperamental that way.”

“You’re saying there will be others until the painter gets it right.”

“Gets it right?”

“Anders Zorn would do a hundred pictures of the same nude.”

“Maybe he just liked to look at naked women.”

“Who doesn’t?” asked Edlund.

Larsson knelt as close to the corpse as his nose and stomach would allow, brushing away the flies from her face.  He peeled back an eyelid.  Cold, lifeless, blank, her eye stared at nothing.

“Blue,” Larsson told Edlund. “Blue eyes.”

So, she was most likely Swedish, or Nordic at least.  Too bad. Had she been Romani as both detectives thought when they first saw her, darkened and partly covered, the case would have been filed without urgency and left to laze with the unimportant clutter of the police files. Instead she was somebody’s woman, somebody’s wife, somebody’s daughter, maybe somebody’s mother and she was Lars Larsson’s problem.  She was somebody to be taken seriously. Larsson could see that her hair was mostly blond under all that slime.

Larsson sighed and shook his head, fully aware of the work ahead. Absentmindedly, Larsson licked the finger he had used to pull back her eyelid.  The small brown flake from his finger had dissolved on his tongue before he realized what he had done.  His eyes widened and he spat.

“Shit! Shit!,” Larsson muttered.

Edlund burst into laughter.

“Hold on. That’s not shit, Edlund,” said Larsson, running his tongue over his lips.

Every Swede knows that taste, a flavor served with so many meals. It is a familiar mixture layered over meatballs with less care than it had been layered over the body in the landfill, but nonetheless as familiar to Swedes as Mother Svea herself.

Admittedly, it may resemble shit, brown and runny, and some might insist there is no difference, but it is Sweden’s gift to world cuisine.

“I know exactly what that is,” Larsson said.  “It’s gravy.”

And for Larsson’s taste, the cook had used too much nutmeg.

Latest

Pick a Card, Any Card

September 16th, 2009
Comments Off

By Bernie Lincicome

Having witnessed Mike Tyson bite off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear and Dennis Rodman kick a cameraman in the crotch, I must say that Serena Williams is Miss Manners as far as bad conduct in sports goes.

Likewise, the oaf who yelled at President Obama is a mere curio on the back shelf of the House of Commons, where the place would not have been quiet enough to hear him during the Prime Minister’s Question Time.

To lump the tuneless Kanye West into a national handwringing over bad manners in public is to beg the greater question, which is, “Who is Kanye West?” Or who is Taylor Swift for that matter?

In this desperate media age, where the local police blotter is on the national nightly news, an epidemic of incivility has been detected, all of it where there were TV cameras to record it.

Millions of unrecorded daily insults—and not just those in the airport security line—fail to flex the twanger of outrage. Not every bad mannered postal clerk or impatient emergency room nurse—how dare you have a heart attack on her shift–or the traffic cop hiding behind bushes to stop the plague of cell phone drivers is brought before the bench of public censure.

It is those among the silly classes, the athletes, the entertainers, the politicians, the talk show hosts, the overpaid, who have the duty to be the proxies for a cruel and inhospitable world, and who must then apologize not for being jerks, but for being caught on camera. As Donald Rumsfeld reminded, it is not torture that is disgusting it is the pictures of torture.

To help with the problem, I have established a list of appropriate regrets. They can printed and categorized on business cards and passed out as the occasion demands.

For general misconduct.

“To (my fans), (my constituents) (my mother), I want to publicly apologize for my actions. I was wrong. I deserve to be punished. I realize what I did was offensive and improper, though they had it coming.”

For general weirdness.

“To the rest of the world, I want to say I am sorry that there is not room for you in here with me. I would like to look you in the face and tell you that. And I would like you to look me in the face and tell me, ‘you can’t do what you do,’ but I have to be quiet now.”

For a role model’s sense of responsibility.

“To Parents and Teachers. I want to publicly apologize for any children I may have influenced to, oh, I don’t know, act like a lunatic, accuse others of awful things without proof, show disrespect for anyone you don’t agree with; however, I would ask you to please remember that famous people do not warp your children when you aren’t looking, babysitters do.”

It would be a good idea for celebrities, politicians and athletes to open an account with a florist and leave a standing order. Roses for anger, geraniums for profanity, carnations for anything that resulted in a mug shot, though nothing shows long term sincerity quite like a cactus.

The card would read, “Please accept my apology and these lovely (check one).”

Apologies are not just for critics but for disciples, too, those who defend bad conduct no matter how outrageous, who excuse behavior no matter how bizarre.

“To my friends, and you both know each other, I want to apologize for perpetually contradicting all the nice things you say about me and for whizzing on all the good will you extend to me.”

An all-purpose apology is probably best. The cards could be passed out to strangers or left in a pile at the door of any public appearance.

“To Whom I May Affront: I would like to apologize for whatever you think I may have done or am about to do to you, your shrubs or pets.”

So, thanks to Serena and Rep. Joe Whatizname and Kanye for stepping up to take the fall for the rest of us, for becoming wretched martyrs to conduct unbecoming human beings. We may now all go back to abusing each other knowing that they stand tall on the wall of bad behavior and are ready to serve, even when not called.

Latest

Rudy Fang: Sports Vampire

September 3rd, 2009
Comments Off

The following is an excerpt from the new novel Rudy Fang: Sports Vampire.  It will be on sale soon.

“Have you got balls?”

“Enough for both of us.”

Rudy met Barron for golf, a sport that appealed to both of them. It could be explained in Rudy’s case because he came from Barron, but why Barron, who came from Albania?   There has never been a single golfer from Albania and the only course in the nation was built as a tourist resort long after communism and Barron left.  None of them had returned, not the tourists nor Barron, though communism still sent postcards.

To be entirely accurate, what vampires play is not strictly golf.  It is vampire golf, or volff.  It has its own rules, vampire rules. The only meaningful rule is not to eat a moving ball.  If the ball is in flight, or bounding along a fairway, it is not food, even though its center is filled with fresh blood.

It is impossible for a vampire to lose a volff ball.  No rough, no thicket, no water hazard will keep the smell of fresh blood out of a vampire’s nose.

If the ball is sitting on the tee, about to be struck, it is okay for any vampire in the foursome, or on this early morning, the twosome, to snatch it up and put it in his mouth. The snatcher gets to take two strokes off his score and can add two to any other vampire in the group.

One of the skills a vampire must master is placing the ball and striking it before a partner can snatch it. This is best done with a single motion and the better vampire volffers can do it in a blink of an eye.

The danger for the snatcher is that, if his timing is off, he might lose his head. One of the classic ways to destroy a vampire is to remove his head.  When it happens, as it ocassionally does, much laughter follows.  A vampire head rolling down a fairway is one of the few things that can make a vampire laugh, and that is why a volff game usually starts off with at least an 8-some, so there will be enough players by the 18th hole.

Rudy kept his volff scores in the little black notebook he always carried, and he had improved his handicap by three heads since coming to the Vail Valley.

No sport is a real challenge to a vampire, nor to any demon, really.  Vampires still proudly regale each other with tales of the NBA exploits of  Vlade Deevich and Jeorghe Muresan, whose origins were Balkan.  Serbia and Romania?  Come on. No one ever suspected, and now Muresan is a much better player in the retelling than he ever was in the NBA.

Aron Tiriac, a legendary, mustachioed Romanian, may be the all time greatest vampire sports hero.  His picture is on the wall of nearly ever vampire lodge, along side Vlad and Legosi.

Tiriac took up tennis when he might have been better at ice hockey (he was an Olympian) because the women wore short dresses in tennis and layers of wool underwear in hockey.  His doubles partner Ivie Nastase, though a better tennis player than Tiriac, was not a vampire according to all who knew him.

All supernatural creatures have their own special games.  Except for the zombies.  Zombies have no minds, and it has been wondered why they are not football fans.  But they are not.  They clomp and chomp and try to keep their skin from falling off, but they do not play.

For their own amusement, a pack of werewolves once talked a pair of zombies into painting themselves like football fans and going to a Denver Broncos game.  In fact not much paint was needed for them to blend in.

Not only were the zombies not detected, because of their mindless roaring and grunting and trying to eat the defensive end of the Oakland Raiders, they are now the unofficial mascots of the team, after Thunder the horse, who has lately been missing chunks out of his withers.

Witches play games on broomsticks and shapeshifters are prone to footraces, favoring playing as the deer and the antelope. Their antics have inspired songs. The only way to tell an elk or a deer from a shapeshifter is to notice if the elk is waiting for the light to change before he crosses the road. Chances are, shapeshifter.

Pretty much anything goes at the Eagles Talon Golf Club, no dress code, walk, ride or pull, nine holes or 18, tee time or not, they’ll get you on.  The course is a ragged piece of property, mainly because grass is not native at the altitude.  Grass does not matter. Eagle’s Talon is selling altitude.  On its caps for sale in the pro shop.  Golf with an altitude. 8,500 feet.

In the thin air the ball flies 20 per cent further.  Wimps become monsters at altitude.  Monsters become more monstrous.

Barron bought one of the Golf with an Altitude caps in the pro shop.  He modeled it for Rudy.

“These days you’re supposed to wear it with the bill in the back,” said Rudy.

“One fad at a time,” said Barron, turning to show Rudy  his low rider pants, out of the top of which were bunched half of a pair of plaid boxers.

“Cool.  Very dude-ish,” said Rudy

Rudy knew this game with Barron was not to be the usual fun outing for a couple vampires with a free morning and enough SPF to cover a desk full of cable TV news anchors. Barron did not tee his ball up on the first hole.  Instead Barron threw it down the fairway, the ball coming to rest within 10 feet of the pin.  A chance for an eagle on the par four.

So, this was going to be human rules, Rudy thought, or as close as a vampire will allow it to be.

Rudy knew that at some point he would have to pay for assuming a new name without permission.  Barron had not forgotten.  Barron  never forgot.  At the top of  Rudy’s backswing on the par 5 fifth hole, Barron spoke.

“So, you turned a vag,”

The word chilled Rudy, even though vag is not a vampire vulgarity.  Vag simply means the product of vampire lust, male or female.  It means that one vampire has made another vampire.  Rudy is Barron’s vag. He always would  be.  Once a vag, always a vag.

Rudy never thought of Darlene that way, a surprise had he considered it very deeply.  What Darlene was to Rudy probably had better words in her language.  What Rudy was to Darlene he assumed was, well, every young girl’s fantasy.

“You didn’t ask the council, lagfart,” said Barron.  Lagfart is the vampire word for rebellious punk.

Rudy’s reputation for disobedience allowed Barron to not only assume the worst but to take joy in what he could now do to his own vag .

In order for one vampire to make another vampire, permission must be granted by the council. It is not just control, but it is population control, a way to keep the number of vampires manageable.  There is only so much blood to go around.

If vampires were making new vampires whenever they bit into somebody, they might as well be gerbils. The precautionary vetting process helps avoid mistakes and regrets, the most prominent example being a former American vice-president named Chick Cheeny.

Vampires may be a solitary lot, but a mistake like Cheeny reflects poorly on them all.  The council asked why Cheeny was just not eaten and left to rot, but Renfield, his kaylur, could only mutter something about “his eyes, his eyes.”

Even in the case book of the affair, the order of who was whose vag gets muddled. But the book was closed when Renfield willingly took the punishment for not going through the council, accepting the standard sentence–eternal exile.

Banishment is the least of what awaited Rudy and what Barron was ready to impose before the short par 3 sixth hole, a poorly planned layout that tended to kick every shot to the right and off the green.

In Rudy’s particular vampire sect the making of a new vampire uses the formula BSB, bite, suck, bleed.  You bite the candidate, suck her blood and then bleed some of your own blood into her.

Vampires have a special compartment in the gums (the slooze, to use the vampire medical term) behind their incisors that can be opened to complete the third step in making a new vampire.

Any vampire who just wants to gnaw away or drink until full may do so freely and without consequence as long as he does not open his slooze.  In very young, inexperienced vampires, those just coming into full vampirehood, sometimes the slooze leaks without them wanting it to. These accidents are understood and are usually corrected by inviting the unintentional new vampire for a round of volff.

Cheeny had been invited to volff many times but was clever enough to refuse.

The slogan for young vampires who are always losing their slooze is”Just Chew It.”

Rudy is not a young and inexperienced vampire.  His slooze works only when he wants  it to. He had not had an involuntary or premature slooze for more than a century now.

“She is not a vag,” said Rudy.

“What would you call her?” asked Barron.

“A sweetheart,” said Rudy.

Sometimes vampires get deeply attached to their vags.  Barron suspected this was the case with Rudy and Darlene.  Barron had, for the first 50 years or so, moistened his slooze just thinking about Rudy, or Alonzo as he knew him then.  But no matter how he smoldered, and Barron is not built for smoldering, Alonzo/Derrick paid him no more attention than an apprentice does for a master.

There was that time in Venice, in the gondola, under the Bridge of Sighs, the high tenor of the gondolier echoing off the walls… “Santa-a-a-a Luci-i-i-a”… that Barron thought they had a moment, but it turned out to be bad risotto.

If  Barron’s present resentment for Rudy grew from there, all that mattered is that he had it in for his old vag and Rudy’s sin was much more dire than a mere name change.  This was high treason and Rudy was doomed.

“I didn’t slooze,” said Rudy.

“What?”

“I didn’t slooze,” repeated Rudy.

“Didn’t?”

“Didn’t.”

Barron’s eyes had a tinge of yellow, right around the pupils.  If the yellow spread completely over the pupils, no matter what Rudy  said, he could visualize his head rolling down the fifth fairway.

Popular depictions of vampires always have their eyes turning black.  This is half right. Vampire’s eyes do turn black, all black, but that is usually at the point of slooze.  Black is a very good color for vampires.

“She’s just a girl. The same girl.  She is my girl.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Barron. “She’ll have to be tested.”

“No tests.  She’s as human as that poor fool.”

Rudy pointed to a local man, dressed in cargo shorts, a sleeveless hoodie, black socks and saddle shoes, hitting his fifth ball at the sixth green.  The gully down below on the right side, where his golf balls were gathered, took this shot with as much indifference as the others.

The golfer threw his 6-iron up into the trees, kicked his bag, spilling out the rest of his clubs, screamed,”Shit! Shit! Shit! then threw himself on the ground and pounded the tee box with his fists.

“Maybe more human,” Rudy said.

There would be no arguing with Barron about the testing of Darlene.  It would have to happen or Rudy was gone.  And so would be Darlene.  Gone from him.

“Bring her to me tomorrow,” Barron said, teeing up and hitting his next shot in one smooth, perfect vampire motion.

And, as it turns out and though Barron lied about it later, he  missed the eagle putt on the first hole and only shot a 67 instead of a 66, a more appropriate demon number.

Latest