Maud let out a loud sigh of relief as she sank into her comfortable seat on the plane. She surprised herself, because she rarely showed her feelings. She stole a glance at the passenger next to her, a young man in a suit who was busy trying to stuff his elegant black carry-on into the overhead bin. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t manage to close the door. Good. He probably hadn’t heard her little burst of emotion, which had come straight from the heart. The last few months had been extremely taxing, but now she felt as if the worst was over. At long last she could relax and look forward to a wonderful trip to South Africa.
The group would be accompanied by a Swedish-speaking guide throughout. They would travel around, seeing and experiencing much of what the country had to offer. Five-star hotels, fine dining, five nights at an exclusive lodge in the Kruger National Park, including a safari with the promise of seeing the “big five”: lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. There would be visits to vineyards, plus a trip to the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to see the Victoria Falls, followed by a cruise along the Zambezi River. The final week would be spent in Cape Town. Maud had been to South Africa twice before, but on those occasions she had traveled alone, as she always did, staying in simple but clean hotels and using buses or trains to get from one place to the next. However, the distances were considerable, and she hadn’t seen a fraction of what she’d had in mind. And she certainly hadn’t been able to afford a safari at the time.
The idea of a luxury trip had grown on her during her summer vacation on the coast of Croatia. Why shouldn’t she treat herself to the experience of a lifetime? She was almost eighty-nine years old, fit and healthy, with no family. She had to admit that age was beginning to take its toll to a certain extent. To be perfectly honest, she wouldn’t be able to carry her luggage in the oppressive heat, even though she preferred to travel light.
The flight she had just boarded would take her from Gothenburg to Copenhagen, where she would join the rest of the South Africa Grand Tours group. It was still dark outside the window; in the floodlights of Landvetter Airport she could see big wet snowflakes slowly drifting down. As soon as they touched the ground they melted, forming big puddles on the runways. In three days it would be Christmas Eve. How wonderful to escape the cold and all the nonsense associated with the festive season. And those annoying police officers.
The thought of the two detectives who’d turned up on her doorstep a few days ago made Maud’s heart rate increase. She hadn’t expected to see them again; she’d assumed the case had been shelved. The tall woman, Inspector Irene Huss, had politely asked if they could have a few words with her regarding “the unfortunate incident back in August.” Behind her stood the younger officer, Embla something-or-other, her face totally expressionless. However, her blue eyes had bored into Maud with an intensity that made Maud take an involuntary step backward. The two women had interpreted this as an invitation to come in, and before she knew it, they were standing in her hallway.
Maud had automatically reverted to her best defense: the confused old lady. Unfortunately she realized she wasn’t wearing her fake hearing aids, which she used when she wanted to give the impression that she was particularly hard of hearing. At first this made her feel anxious, but then she thought she could use it to her advantage, reinforcing the image of a slightly addled senior citizen.
“Why . . . Why are you here? Has something happened?” she asked anxiously.
Irene Huss had quickly reassured her. “No, no, nothing new. Inspector Nyström and I just wanted to talk to you again about the murder of the antique dealer William Frazzén. He was found dead in your home, so we thought we’d check whether you’d remembered anything . . .”
“What? Dead? Who’s dead?” Maud asked loudly.
“Frazzén, the antique dealer who was killed here . . .”
Maud didn’t let her finish the sentence. On the verge of tears and with her voice breaking, she said, “No, no! I can’t even bring myself to think about . . . that terrible . . .”
Inspector Huss had smiled warmly. “Could we sit down for a quiet chat?”
She sounded friendly, but Maud wasn’t fooled. She found a handkerchief in the pocket of her bobbly green cardigan, and dabbed at her eyes with a trembling hand. Sniffing quietly, she led them into the kitchen and gestured toward the three chairs around the small table. She didn’t offer them anything to drink; she certainly didn’t want them to feel welcome and stay longer than necessary.
When they were all seated, Irene Huss cleared her throat and gazed steadily at Maud, who immediately brought the handkerchief up to her eyes once more.
“It’s been four months since Frazzén was found in your father’s smoking room,” Irene began.
“Gentleman’s room. It’s a gentleman’s room,” Maud muttered into her handkerchief.
“Forgive me. Gentleman’s room. If I can just run through what happened in August, to refresh your memory. The whole building was covered in scaffolding and tarps because the façade was being renovated, which, of course, made things easier for the intruders. Frazzén had an accomplice with him, who climbed up the scaffolding and got into the smok—gentleman’s room through a window that had been left ajar. The accomplice then let Frazzén in through the front door. The keys for the security lock are kept in a key cupboard in the hallway. The two men went straight to the gentleman’s room and began to remove the silverware from a display cabinet, but for some reason they had an argument, and Frazzén’s accomplice attacked him from behind. Frazzén was found lying facedown, with a significant wound to the back of his head. The weapon was beside his body: a poker that’s usually kept next to the stove in the same room. He’d fallen onto the fender, and one of the pointed turrets had penetrated his eye and gone straight into his brain. According to the pathologist, death was instantaneous. It looked as if he and his accomplice had been in the process of stealing the silver collection. We found a bag containing a number of artifacts in the middle of the room. There was a large pool of blood from the victim’s head injuries, and it was possible to make out the partial impression of a shoe. There were bloodstains on the windowsill and on the planks outside the window, which suggests that the accomplice had both entered and left the apartment by that route. Presumably he panicked, since you assured us that nothing was missing.”
She fell silent and looked at Maud, who had spent the entire time dabbing at her eyes and nose. When there was no response, the inspector continued:
“The accomplice appears to have gone up in smoke. We have no idea who he was.”
Maud’s brain was working overtime. Had the police come up with fresh evidence? Had she missed something? Left traces of DNA, in spite of how careful she’d been? Best to keep quiet, wait and see.
“Have you remembered when you opened the window in the gentleman’s room?”
“What?” Maud cupped a hand behind her ear.
Patiently Irene Huss repeated the question. Maud merely shook her head and muttered something unintelligible into the handkerchief.
“No idea at all?”
Maud shook her head again.
“Since that was what facilitated the intruders’ entry into the apartment, it would be helpful if you could try to remember.”
“Entry? Are you talking about a competition entry?”
The inspector couldn’t hide her irritation when she repeated the question.
Maud cleared her throat several times before answering. “Oh, they came in through the window . . . I haven’t been into Father’s room . . . he doesn’t like us going in there . . . I mean . . .”
She let out a sob and shook her head yet again. She heard one of the detectives—presumably the younger one—sigh. Good. The sooner they got tired of this, the better.