Excerpt

The Mirror Man

Lars Kepler, translated by Alice Menzies

The following is an exclusive excerpt from The Mirror Man, by Lars Kepler and translated by Alice Menzies. The latest installment of Kepler's Killer Instinct series, it follows an investigation by Detective Joona Linna into the five-year-old disappearance of a sixteen-year-old girl named Jenny Lind, after Lind's body is finally found. Only now, too late, is it apparent that this is the world of a dangerous serial killer.

Through the classroom’s grimy  windows, Eleonor watches the bushes and trees bend in the stiff breeze as dust is blown along the road.

It almost looks like a river is flowing outside the school, murky and silent.

The bell rings, and the students gather up their books and notes. Eleonor gets to her feet and follows the others out of the classroom. She watches Jenny Lind button her jacket in front of her locker.

Her face and blond hair are reflected in the dented metal.

Jenny is pretty, different. She has intense eyes that make Eleonor feel nervous, make her cheeks flush.

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Jenny is artistic. She likes taking photos, and she also happens to be the only person in school who actually enjoys reading. When she turned sixteen last week, Eleonor said “Happy birthday” to her. But no one cares about Eleonor. She isn’t attractive enough, and she knows it, even if Jenny once said she wanted to take a series of portraits of her.

It was after PE, as they stood in the showers.

Eleonor grabs her things and follows Jenny toward the main doors.

The wind whips up the sand and dry leaves along the white walls of the building, scattering them across the yard.

The rope snaps against the flagpole.

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When Jenny reaches the bike racks, she pauses and shouts some- thing. She gestures angrily and then sets off on foot without her bike.

Eleonor had punctured her tires that morning, hoping it would mean she could walk Jenny home.

They would start talking about photography again, about how black-and-white photographs are like sculptures made of light.

She has to rein in her imagination before she pictures them kissing.

Eleonor follows Jenny past the Backavallen sports center.

The seating area outside the restaurant is empty, the white um- brellas flapping.

She wants to catch up with Jenny, but doesn’t dare.

Eleonor is about two hundred meters behind her on the footpath running parallel to Eriksbergs Road.

The clouds race by above the spruce trees.

Jenny’s light hair whips around and blows back into her face as one of the Green Line buses drives by.

The ground shakes as it passes.

They leave the developed area behind, passing the ranger station.

Jenny cuts across the road and continues on the other side.

The sun breaks through, and the remaining clouds cast shadows that seem to dart across the fields.

Jenny lives in a nice house down by the lake in Forssjö.

Eleonor knows this because she once came by after she found Jenny’s missing book—a book she herself had hidden. In the end, she didn’t dare ring the doorbell, and after waiting outside for an hour, she just left it in the mailbox.

Jenny pauses beneath the power lines to light a cigarette, then sets off again. The buttons on the cuff of her sleeve glint in the light.

Eleonor can hear the rumble of a big truck behind her.

The ground trembles as a tractor trailer with Polish plates thunders past at high speed.

Its brakes screech, and the trailer careens to one side. The truck turns sharply off the road and swings straight up onto the grassy shoulder, rolling onto the footpath behind Jenny before the driver manages to bring the heavy vehicle to a halt.

“What the hell!” Jenny shouts.

From the roof, water streams down the blue fabric on the side of the trailer, cutting a slick channel through the dirt. The engine is still running, and the smoke from the chrome exhaust pipes rises in thin columns.

The cab door opens, and the driver climbs down. His black leather jacket has a strange gray patch on the back and fits his broad frame snugly. His tight curls are almost to his shoulders.

He strides toward Jenny.

Eleonor stops dead and watches as the driver hits Jenny in the face.

A few of the straps on the side of the truck have come loose, and a section of the fabric covering the trailer catches the breeze, obscuring Jenny from view.

“Hello?” Eleonor shouts, moving forward again. “What are you doing?!”

As the thick fabric goes slack, she sees that Jenny has fallen to the ground and is lying flat on her back.

Jenny raises her head and gives a confused smile, her teeth streaked with blood.

The loose section of fabric starts flapping again.

Eleonor’s legs are trembling as she steps into the wet ditch. She realizes she should call the police and reaches for her phone, but her hands are shaking so much that it slips from her fingers.

It falls to the ground.

Eleonor bends down to retrieve it, and when she glances up again, she sees Jenny’s legs kicking as the driver picks her up.

A car sounds its horn as Eleonor steps out into the road and starts running toward the truck.

The driver’s sunglasses flash in the sunlight as he wipes his bloody hands on his jeans and climbs back into the cab. He closes the door, puts the truck into gear, and pulls away, one wheel still on the footpath. Dust rises from the dry strip of grass as the truck thunders into the road, quickly gaining speed.

Eleanor comes to a halt, gasping for air. Jenny Lind is gone.

A trampled cigarette and her bag of books are all that are left on the ground.

 

2.

Jenny Lind is lying in the bottom of a small, tarred boat on a dark lake. The rolling waves make the wood beneath her creak. She wakes with a sudden urge to throw up. The floor is rocking.

Her shoulders are aching, her wrists burning. She realizes she must be inside the truck.

Her mouth is taped shut. She’s lying on her side with her hands bound above her head.

She can’t see much—it’s as if her eyes are still asleep. Lines of sunlight break through the tarpaulin.

She blinks, and her vision blurs.

She feels unbelievably sick. Her head is pounding. The huge tires roar against the asphalt beneath her.

Her hands have been bound to one of the poles holding up the trailer’s covering.

Jenny tries to work out what happened. She remembers being knocked to the ground, someone holding a cold rag over her mouth and nose.

A wave of anxiety washes over her.

She looks down and sees that her dress is bunched up around her waist, but she is still wearing her black tights.

The truck is speeding along a straight stretch of road, the engine steady.

Jenny desperately searches for some kind of logical explanation, a source of misunderstanding, but deep down she knows exactly what is happening. She is in the very situation everyone fears most. This is the kind of thing that only ever happens in horror films.

She left her bike at school and was walking home, pretending not to notice Eleonor following her, when the truck pulled up across the footpath behind her.

When the driver hit her, it was so unexpected that she didn’t have time to react, and before she could get back on her feet, he shoved a wet rag in her face.

She has no idea how long she was unconscious. Her hands feel numb from lack of blood.

Her head is spinning, and her vision disappears completely for a moment. She rests her cheek against the floor.

She tries to keep her breathing calm. She knows she mustn’t throw up while her mouth is taped shut.

There is a dried fish head wedged next to the tailgate, and the air in the trailer smells sweet and heavy.

Jenny raises her head again. Blinking, she notices a padlocked metal cabinet and two large plastic troughs at the very front of the trailer. The troughs have been secured with thick straps, and the floor around them is wet.

She tries to remember what women who have survived serial killers say about fighting back or trying to forge a bond by talking about orchids or something.

There is no point trying to shout through the tape. No one would hear her. Anyway, she needs to keep quiet. It’s better if he doesn’t know she is awake. She shuffles upright, tenses her body, and raises her head to her hands.

The trailer lurches, making her stomach turn. Vomit fills her mouth.

Her muscles start to shake.

The zip tie around her wrists is cutting into her skin.

She manages to grip the end of the tape with her numb fingers and pull it from her mouth. She spits and slumps back onto her side, trying to cough as quietly as she can.

Whatever was on the rag has affected her vision.

She peers up at the metal frame holding up the tarp that runs down either side of the truck. It feels like she is looking through a sack. Each of the poles runs up to the ceiling, where it makes a sharp ninety-degree turn, and then continues beneath the roof and down the other side.

Like roof trusses, linked together with horizontal bars along the sides.

She blinks, trying to make her eyes focus, and sees that the bars are missing on the other side of the trailer, where the curtain is reinforced with five rows of sewn-in poles instead.

Jenny realizes that this must be so that the side can be rolled up for loading. If she can follow the metal pole across the roof with her bound hands, she might be able to get to the other side, open the cover, and shout for help.

She tries to lift the zip tie up the post, but immediately gets stuck. The sharp plastic digs into her skin.

The driver changes lane, and Jenny loses her balance, hitting her temple on one of the struts.

She slumps to the floor again, swallowing several times, and thinks back to that morning. To the breakfast table, with toast and marmalade on plates. Her mother was talking about her aunt, saying that she’d had four stents placed in her heart the day before.

Jenny’s phone was on the table beside her mug. It was switched to silent, but the notifications on the screen still caught her eye, and that annoyed her father. He thought she was being disrespectful, and she was frustrated by how unfair it was.

“What did I do? Why are you always on my case? Just because your life is so miserable!” she shouted, and stormed out of the kitchen.

The floor tilts, and the truck slows, gearing down as they drive uphill. Occasional flashes of sunlight burst through the tarp, making the filthy floor shine.

Lying among the lumps of dry mud and dark leaves, Jenny notices a front tooth. Adrenaline surges through her.

Her eyes scan the trailer.

No more than a meter away from her, she spots two broken fingernails, the red polish painted on them intact. There is a trickle of dried blood on one of the poles, broken strands of hair still clinging to a dent in the tailgate.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Jenny mumbles.

She gets to her knees and sits still, taking the weight off the zip tie around her wrists and feeling the blood come flooding back to her fingers with thousands of tiny pinpricks.

Her body is shaking all over, and she tries to get up, but the plas- tic tie has caught on something.

“I can do this,” she whispers.

She needs to remain calm. She can’t allow herself to panic.

Wiggling her hands, she moves to one side and realizes that she can shuffle along the bottom bar.

She is breathing too quickly as she works her way forward, past bumps in the pole, and reaches the front section of the trailer. She grips the bar with both hands and tries to pull it free, but it has been welded to the front post and is impossible to bend.

Jenny peers over to the metal cabinet. The padlock is open, swinging on its shackle.

Another wave of nausea rises up inside her, but she doesn’t have time to wait. The journey could be over at any moment.

She leans as far as she can toward the cabinet, stretching her arms to their full length and managing to reach the padlock with her mouth. She carefully lifts it clear and carries it back, crouching down to drop it into her lap. She slowly parts her thighs and it falls to the floor without a sound.

The truck turns, and the cabinet door swings open.

The shelves inside are full of brushes, pots, pliers, hacksaws, knives, scissors, cleaning products, and rags.

Her heart rate increases, and her pulse thunders in her ears.

The sound of the engine changes, and the truck seems to slow down.

Jenny gets up again, leans to one side, and holds the cabinet door open with her head. She spots a knife with a dirty plastic handle on a shelf between two cans of paint.

“Dear God, please save me, dear God,” she whispers.

The truck swerves, and the metal door slams shut on her head with such force that she loses consciousness for a few seconds, drop- ping to her knees. She throws up.

She gets back onto her feet and notices that blood has started dripping from her wrists to the filthy floor.

Jenny leans forward, reaches the handle of the knife with her mouth, and bites down on the plastic as the truck comes to a halt with a hiss.

There is a soft scraping sound as she lifts the knife from the shelf.

She carefully lowers her head to her hands and presses the rusty blade to the plastic tie with as much force as she can.

3.

With the rusty knife  between her teeth, Jenny tries to saw through the zip tie around her wrists. When she realizes that the blade has made only a faint nick in the white plastic, she bites down harder on the handle, increasing the pressure.

She is thinking about her father. About his sad face as she shouted at him that morning, the scratched glass on his wristwatch, his resigned gestures as she stormed out.

Her mouth is hurting even more, but she keeps sawing. Saliva trickles down the handle of the knife.

A sudden wave of dizziness hits her, and she is just about to give up when the plastic snaps. The knife has cut through the tie.

Trembling, she slumps onto her side and hears the knife clatter across the floor. She quickly gets up and finds it, then moves over to the right-hand side of the trailer and listens.

She can’t hear a thing.

Jenny knows she needs to act quickly, but her hands are shaking so much that at first she struggles even to push the knife through the fabric.

She hears a buzzing sound that lasts only for a few short seconds. Jenny adjusts her grip on the knife and makes a vertical cut in the fabric, right next to the last post. She parts the material slightly

and peers out.

They have stopped at an unmanned truck stop. The ground is strewn with pizza boxes, oily rags, and condoms.

Her heart is pounding so hard that she can barely breathe. There is no sign of anyone else nearby, no other cars.

The wind carries a plastic cup across the pavement.

Jenny’s stomach cramps, but she manages to repress the urge to throw up, swallowing hard.

Beads of sweat trickle down her back.

With trembling hands, she makes a horizontal cut in the fabric, just above the bar.

Her plan is to climb out, run into the woods, and hide.

She hears heavy footsteps, a metallic scraping sound. Her vision blurs again.

She climbs out, teetering on the edge of the trailer with the wind in her face. As she clings to the tarp, she sways and drops the knife. The dizziness seems to ripple through her head, and as she peers down at the ground, it feels like the entire truck might topple over.

She feels a searing pain in her ankle when she lands, but takes a step forward anyway, managing to maintain her balance.

She is so dizzy she can’t walk straight.

Her head pounds more fiercely with every step she takes. The diesel pump pulses loudly.

Jenny blinks and starts walking just as a huge figure appears around the edge of the trailer and spots her. She stops dead and takes an unsteady step back. She feels she is going to throw up again. She ducks down beneath the muddy connection between the trailer and the truck and crawls underneath, watching the figure

hurry in the other direction.

Her mind is racing—she needs to find somewhere to hide.

Jenny gets up on shaking legs and realizes she won’t be able to run away from the driver into the woods.

She no longer knows where he is. Her pulse is throbbing in her ears.

She needs to make her way back to the main road and flag down a car.

The ground sways and lurches, the trees swirling around her, and the yellow meadow grass at the roadside pitches in the strong wind.

The driver has disappeared. She thinks he might have gone around the truck, or maybe he is hiding behind the line of huge tires.

Her stomach cramps again.

She glances in every direction, clinging to the tailgate, blinking hard, and trying to work out where the on ramp to the highway is.

She hears a shuffling sound. She needs to run, to hide.

As she moves back along the trailer, she feels like her legs are about to give out. She spots a couple of trash cans, an information board, and a footpath leading into the woods.

There is a rumbling engine somewhere nearby.

She looks down at the pavement, tries to compose herself, and is just considering calling for help when she sees a shadowy movement to one side of her leg.

A large hand grips her ankle, pulling her down. She lands on her hip, and something in her neck cracks as her shoulder hits the ground. The driver is beneath the trailer, dragging her toward him. She tries to cling to a tire, rolling onto her back and kicking out with her free leg. She hits the suspension and grazes her ankle, then manages to get away and crawl back out.

Jenny struggles to her feet, but the entire landscape swings to one side. She swallows the bile in her throat, hears the thud of footsteps, and assumes the driver must be running around the trailer.

She staggers forward, ducks beneath the hose from the diesel pump, and moves as fast as she can toward the edge of the woods. Just as she glances over her shoulder, she runs straight into another person.

“Hello, what’s going on here?”

The voice belongs to a policeman, urinating into the long grass.

She grabs his jacket, about to fall and drag him down with her. “Help me ”

She lets go of him and staggers to one side. “Take a step back,” he says.

She swallows, trying to grab hold of his jacket again. He shoves her away, and she falls into the grass, dropping to her knees and breaking her fall with both hands.

“Please,” she breathes before throwing up.

The ground sways, and she slumps to her side, looking up at the officer’s motorcycle through the grass. She can see movement reflected in the shiny exhaust pipe.

It’s the truck driver, striding toward them. She turns her head and sees his filthy jeans and leather jacket, her vision still blurred as though she’s looking through scratched glass.

“Help me,” she repeats, struggling to hold back the cramps.

She tries to get up and vomits again, hears them talking as she spits into the grass. A voice says, “She’s my daughter,” explaining that it isn’t the first time she has run away and gone on a drinking spree.

Her stomach turns. She coughs and tries to speak, but vomits again.

“What can you do, you know? Threaten to confiscate her phone?”

“Sounds familiar,” the police officer says, laughing.

“There, there, honey,” says the driver, patting her on the back. “Get it all out—you’ll feel better soon.”

“How old is she?” the officer asks.

“Seventeen. In a year, she’ll be able to make her own decisions . . . but if she listened to me, she’d stick with school so she doesn’t end up driving a truck.”

“Please,” Jenny whispers, wiping the slimy mucus from her mouth.

“You can’t put her in a drunk cell for the night, can you?” the driver asks.

“Not if she’s seventeen,” the officer replies before answering an emergency call on his radio.

“Don’t go,” Jenny coughs.

The officer walks calmly back to his bike as he finishes the call.

A crow caws somewhere nearby.

The long grass bends and quivers in the wind, and Jenny watches as the police officer pulls on his helmet and gloves. She knows she needs to get up and presses her hands to the ground. The dizziness comes close to knocking her sideways again, but she fights it and manages to get onto her knees.

The officer climbs onto his motorcycle and starts the engine. She tries calling to him, but he doesn’t hear her.

The crow flaps up into the air as the policeman puts the bike into gear and rolls away.

Jenny slumps back into the grass. She hears the sound of gravel crunching beneath his tires as he rides off into the distance.

__________________________________

 

From The Mirror Man by Lars Kepler and translated by Alice Menzies. Used with the permission of the publisher, PUBLISHER. Copyright © 2020 by Lars Kepler.




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