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Weak Left Hand

3

Weak Left Hand

The rumble of a car made her sit up. A flash of blue, white and yellow, scuffling and bumping down the track.

Police.

Ellen brushed dirt and pine needles off her skin and clothes and stood up. She noticed, for the first time, that Simon was missing. She cursed under her breath. He must have sneaked back to the glade when she was calling the police.

She waved her arms at the vehicle.

The car stopped in front of the bikes. A policeman got out.

‘You reported a reindeer killing?’

The policeman walked up to her. He was tall and heavily built, with a nose which looked like it had been broken in the past. His hands hung at his sides, large like lids.

‘They’re in the glade.’ She pointed into the forest. ‘A whole circle.’ She remembered the blood and pointed at the black mark on the ground. ‘We saw the blood marks first, and oil.’ Her hand swivelled to the spruce branch. ‘We think someone must have driven here and carried the heads in plastic bags. One of them ripped on a blueberry bush.’

‘Heads?’ the policeman repeated. ‘Heads?’

‘They were beheaded. We couldn’t see any bodies.’

‘Is anyone else with you?’

‘My brother.’ She looked toward the trees. ‘I think he ran back to the glade.’

The policeman gave a slight nod. ‘We’d better meet up with him then.’ He motioned at her to lead the way.

Simon was waiting for them as they reached the glade. He was leaning against a pine, just beyond reach of the stink.

‘You alright there, fella?’

Simon looked the policeman up and down. The fly was still in his hand. In the other was his phone. Ellen tried to catch his eye, mouth at him to drop the insect, but her brother’s gaze was fixed on the policeman.

‘I have made a few deductions about the killing,’ Simon said.

Ellen’s inhalation was a hiss. No, no, no.

‘The antlers have been sawn off by a left-handed man.’

The policeman studied Simon’s face. ‘Show me what you mean.’ They headed into the glade, Simon leading the way, Ellen trudging along at the back. Her brother held his head high, describing how they came upon the crime scene with broad, sweeping gestures. He knelt down by a head and motioned at the policeman to join him. Ellen hovered beside them, conscious of the dead eyes watching her.

‘Do you see?’ Simon pointed at the antler stumps on the reindeer’s forehead. ‘The cut is angled to the right which means it was a left-handed man who did it, because the force travels to the opposite side, like a mirror. If it was a right-handed man the cuts would slant to the left.’

The policeman’s face was as motionless as the trees surrounding them. He didn’t even bat an eyelid.

‘I took pictures as well to provide evidence,’ Simon said.

‘Photography isn’t allowed on the crime scene, fella.’ The man looked at Simon’s hand. ‘What’s that?’

‘A fly.’

Ellen held her breath.

‘Can’t handle objects from the crime scene without gloves.’ The policeman rose. He towered over Simon. ‘Throw the fly away and delete the pictures. Now.’

Simon put his phone behind his back.

‘Look fella, you don’t want to get into any trouble.’

He made a grab for Simon’s phone. Simon swerved out of the way and began to back out of the circle. His foot nudged one of the antlers.

The policeman held up a finger to him. ‘If you make any more fuss, things will get very serious.’

Ellen stepped in between them. ‘Simon doesn’t mean to be difficult. He just doesn’t like people touching him or taking his things.’

The policeman strode past her as if she weren’t there. He walked right up to her brother, who stood beyond the circle, phone still hidden behind his back, counting to himself.

The policeman grabbed him by the arm.

Simon hit him.

The policeman sectioned off the dirt track with a strip of blue and yellow tape. He tried to confiscate Simon’s phone again, but then Simon screamed and didn’t stop until the man grudgingly returned it. ‘We will deal with that at the police station,’ the man said. Then he pulled down two of the back seats in the car to make room for their bikes, giving Simon frightfully little space in the corner.

The station was a brown brick complex, which, if not for the blue sign reading Police, could have been mistaken for a block of flats. People on the street stopped and watched as Ellen and Simon were escorted inside. She imagined what they thought they were seeing. Teenagers caught shoplifting, maybe, or spraying graffiti. Despite herself, she lowered her head and quickened her pace.

They were handed over to an officer. His headgear, resting on the desk, was flat at the top, with a black rim to shade the eyes – a combination of a bowler hat and cap. The Swedish police emblem on the front glinted in the light shining through the window, flashing gold and sapphire.

‘Sit down,’ he said and motioned to two chairs opposite his side of the desk.

Ellen sat down and rested her hands in her lap, pulling at a nail. The other policeman closed the door behind them.

The officer asked if they were local to Svartjokk. He asked about their family, their parents’ contact numbers and their home address. He asked them about their accommodation in Svartjokk and the hostel contact number. Ellen answered the questions at first, but the officer reminded her it was Simon who had committed an offence, and therefore it was he who should answer the questions.

Simon told him they used to have a great-grandmother who lived in Svartjokk but that now she was dead.

‘Did you mean to hit the policeman, Simon?’

‘Yes,’ he said without hesitation.

‘But you did not mean to hurt him?’

Emphasis was on hurt. Ellen slowed her breath.

Simon frowned in thought. ‘No,’ he said finally. ’I did not mean to hurt him.’

‘Then why did you hit him?’

Ellen’s fingers stilled.

‘I hit him because he touched me. I don’t like strangers touching me.’

The officer pursed his lips and folded his hands in front of him on the desk. ‘The policeman tells me you’d taken pictures of the heads. Is that correct?’

‘I took pictures of the cuts to the reindeer’s antlers. I made deductions about the murderer. He is left-handed.’

The officer clicked his tongue. ‘Look, Simon, all those observations sound good and true, but you must let the police run this investigation. We can’t have civilians, under-aged civilians at that, playing detectives on the side. It could be… disruptive.’ He smiled apologetically at the last word.

Simon puckered his lips but lowered his gaze. Ellen couldn’t help sighing in relief. The hostel room flicked through her mind. She longed to collapse on the bed and bury her face in the pillow.

‘I got this too.’

Simon pulled out a handkerchief and unfolded it on the desk.

Inside was the fly.

‘It has been poisoned.’

Goodness, no, Ellen thought. Wasn’t annoying the constable enough? Did he have to get on the wrong side of the officer too?

Her brother leaned back in his chair, arms folded, telltale frown lining his forehead. ‘All the flies in the neck wounds were dead. I told the constable this but he was not interested.’

Ellen waited for the officer to tell him off. To glower, maybe put him in a cell for arguing with the police.

‘Poisoned?’ Something in the man’s face changed. It wasn’t anger. ‘Tell me about the discovery. From beginning to end. Don’t leave anything out.’

This time he was addressing Ellen.

She took a quiet breath and let it out slowly. OK, she thought to herself, keep it simple, keep it true. She cleared her throat, placed her hands around the chair’s edges, and began.

When she was done, the officer leaned back in his chair, resting his chin on his right hand.

‘Twelve heads, you say?’

‘Yes.’ Simon said, before Ellen could.

‘You are absolutely sure it was twelve?’

‘Yes,’ Simon said again. ‘I counted them two times, and you can see on my pictures that I am right.’

The officer showed no annoyance over Simon butting in. He leaned forward over the table. ‘Let me see.’ He squinted at the pictures and nodded. ‘That is proof enough.’

‘What happens now?’ Ellen asked.

‘Simon deletes the pictures on his phone.’ The police officer eyed the fly and wrinkled his nose. ‘And throws that thing in the bin.’

Simon’s face tightened. ‘According to the Government Crime Registry, authorized by the department of Justice, it is against the law to delete photography of a crime scene.’

Ellen raised her eyebrows. She knew Simon had a knack for memorizing odd pieces of information, but the Government Crime Registry? It was as if he’d known this meeting would happen and prepared his answers in advance.

Again, the police officer’s eyes betrayed no emotion. ‘I think we can make an exception for a fly, don’t you?’ He rubbed his nose with a thumb. ‘If you read the entire registry, you will know it also says that the civilian must follow the policeman’s orders at all times. If the police don’t want any photography at the scene, that’s the way it is. And we don’t want any of those pictures going up on social media, do we?’ He clasped his hands in front of him on the table. ‘Now delete the photos, Simon.’

The room held its breath. Ellen didn’t dare look at either her brother or the officer.

Simon deleted the pictures. Ellen’s hands relaxed, she brought them back to her lap.

The officer made Simon show him on the screen that the photos were gone. ‘Well done,’ the officer said. ‘Even so, I am giving you a caution.’

‘What is that?’ Ellen asked.

‘It means we will write down you hit a policeman but did not mean to hurt him,’ the officer said, without shifting his gaze from Simon. ‘That it was an accident.’

Ellen tensed as Simon opened his mouth, but just as she thought he was going to correct the officer, he closed it again and shrank back in his seat.

‘If there are any more problems, we will consider your caution and things will get a lot more serious. Do you understand?’

Simon nodded his head a fraction.

‘Good.’ The officer stood up. ‘Constable Viirtanen will see you out.’

They were just about to leave through the glass doors when Ellen spotted the newspaper. It lay folded on the table in the foyer. She stopped and picked it up. Polluted lake kills reindeer, the headline read. Dated Wednesday 13th July. Yesterday.

Glancing up, she noticed Simon and the constable were waiting outside. She tucked the newspaper under her arm and hurried through the doors.

‘It wasn’t an accident,’ Simon muttered as she joined them. He gave the policeman a deep scowl.

Ellen shushed him. Constable Viirtanen didn’t turn, but even if he had heard, she doubted he’d show it. She felt his eyes on her as they reached the car park and she and Simon unlocked the bikes. A quiet, penetrating look, that gave her the feeling he could hear with his eyes or lip-read at the very least. She wondered how angry he was over Simon’s hitting him. Her brother’s fist had left no mark on the man’s face, but she doubted a skinny fourteen-year-old had ever hit him before. He kept watch on them as they crossed the road, the emblem on his cap a third eye glinting in the sun.

When they turned a corner, Ellen stopped and got out the newspaper. ‘I picked this up in the foyer,’ she said. ‘There was an article about reindeer.’ She unfolded the paper and held it out for both of them to read. As her eyes skimmed through the lines, her jaw dropped.

Fifty-four reindeer had been found dead on Tuesday by Nilajaure, a lake south of Svartjokk. After a headcount, the reindeer herders had confirmed another twelve were missing.

Twelve.

Ellen lowered the paper. ’They must be the same. The heads, and the

missing reindeer…’

‘Yes.’ Simon nodded. ‘There is a very high chance the crimes are related.’ He took the paper from her and held it up to his face. ‘The killer could have removed the twelve carcasses on Monday night, beheaded them Tuesday night, and planted the heads in the glade on Wednesday.’

Ellen put a hand to her forehead.

‘Ellen!’

Her brother’s voice made her look up.

‘We have to find the killer.’

‘Have you forgotten what the police officer said?’ She leaned in towards him and lowered her voice. ‘If we’re found meddling, we could get into a lot more trouble. You could go to jail!’

‘I would only go to jail if I were accused of deliberately trying to hurt a policeman or sabotage their work.’

‘Hitting that constable wasn’t far off!’ She put her hands on her hips. ‘The best thing for us is to put this aside and move on. We have that tour tonight, remember? And the trip to the mine tomorrow.’

She shrugged out of her rucksack, zipped it open and held out her hand. ‘Give me the newspaper.’

Simon’s grip around the paper tightened. He stared at a point just beyond her shoulder.

‘Simon?’

Her brother breathed in and out of his nose. Then he said: ‘Police constable Viirtanen is a suspect.’

‘How?’

‘He tried to confiscate my pictures and didn’t listen when I told him my deductions.’

‘Simon, that’s ridiculous.’

‘And he ignored the fact that there was another man in the forest watching us.’

‘What?’

‘You weren’t looking. You were busy explaining to the constable how I didn’t mean to hit him and scream and that it was because of my Asperger.’

‘Simon, I was trying to protect you, seeing you don’t know how to.’

Simon lips pouted and he looked away. His hair fell forward, hiding his eyes. ‘I took a picture of the man.’ He pulled out his phone and opened the photo gallery. ‘He watched us as we got into the car.’

He angled the phone for her to see. In the photo was a man, peering out from behind a tree.

‘He was only ten meters from the track,’ Simon said. ‘The constable saw him when he rounded the car to the driver’s seat.’

The picture had been taken on a zoom-in, which blurred the man’s facial features. What was most distinct about him was the brown cap he wore pressed down over his head, and his mouth, a thin line shaped like an upside down ‘u’. Ellen bit her lip. How stupid she’d been. If she’d looked up, even if only a second, she would have seen him. Had the shock of finding the reindeer heads really made her that blind?

‘The police constable looked at him for three seconds,’ her brother said, ‘but I did not know what he was thinking.’ He looked at her. ‘If someone looks at a person for that long, does it mean they know that person?’

‘I… well…’ Ellen counted under her breath. ‘Three seconds is a long time.’

‘A professional policeman would not have left the site without interrogating the man. It is their job to record suspicious behavior and this was very suspicious.’ Simon raised his chin. The movement made the lock of hair fall back. He looked intently at his sister. ’If the constable and the man know each other, it could be they

know something about the crime.’ He folded his arms. ‘We need to launch our own, private, investigation.’

Ellen closed her eyes. She suppressed a sigh, opened her eyes again. ‘Simon,’ she said slowly, ’this is exactly the kind of thing I did not want us to get involved in. And what about the pictures? Didn’t you say they were solid evidence? Without them, how can you…’

‘We still have the pictures,’ Simon said.

‘What?’

‘I sent the pictures to you.’

‘When?’

‘When we got into the car. I did it when the constable closed the boot and made his way to the driver’s seat.’

Ellen wanted to shake him by the shoulders. It didn’t seem to matter what she told him, it all went in through one ear and straight out the other. Teeth clenched, she pulled out her phone, looking over her shoulder as she did so. The street was empty. It was still boiling, so most people were probably indoors, or by the river. She scrolled through the notifications on the screen, all of them flashing the same five words at her: Simon sent you a photo, Simon sent you a photo, Simon sent you a photo.

‘How many did you take?’ she gasped.

‘Twelve.’

She swiped through each one. Reindeer heads filtered through her vision. One single death, forever copying itself.

Ellen looked at the newspaper in her brother’s hand. The reindeer carcass had its head facing away from the camera, tilting downwards into the moss and the blueberry and lingonberry leaves. Had the photographer deliberately taken the photo at that angle?

Had the police officer known she’d spot the newspaper on the way out? Is that why he didn’t tell her about the pollution himself?

She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath, struggling to believe what she was about to say.

‘You can investigate a little bit. But if it gets too dangerous, if people get angry, you have to stop, okay?’

A grin spread over her brother’s face. Before he could break into excited laughter she held up a finger.

’Remember though, just a little bit. And like you said, it’s a private investigation. We only tell people if it’s absolutely necessary. Mum cannot know.’ Ellen took the newspaper and stuffed it in her rucksack, then put her phone in her pocket. She felt the reindeer’s stares through her jeans. She was only doing this to please Simon, she reminded herself. At the best possible moment, she would talk him out of it. Yet, a rush of excitement coursed through her body.

She began to walk, the ticking sound of the revolving bike wheels loud in her ears. She did not know the exact way back to the hostel, but Svartjokk was small, and the Museum and New Church were visible landmarks whichever part of the town you were in.

As they crossed the road onto another street, the black church spire in view, a thin strip of cloud skirted across the sun, giving it a glum frown. Ellen’s rush of excitement faded away. She hoped, for Simon’s sake, that she hadn’t made the wrong decision.

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