Never Screw Up by Jens Lapidus – Extract

Never Screw Up

1

The taste of metal in his mouth didn’t tally. Like when you drink juice after brushing your teeth. Total confusion. But now— actually— it did tally. Mixed with fear. Panic. Mortal terror.

A grove. Mahmud on his knees in the grass with his hands over his head, like some fucking Vietcong in a war flick. The ground was wet; damp seeped through his jeans. Might be nine o’clock. The sky was still bright.

Around him stood five blattes. Each one = model lethal. True sol­diers. Guys who’d sworn to always have each other’s backs. Who chowed on small- timers like Mahmud for breakfast. Every day.

Khara.

A chill in the air, even though it was nearly summer. Still, he could smell the sweat on his skin. How the fuck had all this gone down? He was supposed to be living Life. Had finally caged out— free as a bird. Ready to grab Sweden by the balls and twist good. Then this. Could be game over now. For real. Every fucking thing.

The gun was grinding against his teeth. Echoing in his head. Light was flashing before his eyes. Scenes from his life. Memories of whiny social- service hags, pretend- to- give- a- shit counselors, half- baked racist teachers. Per-Olov, his teacher in middle school: “Mahmud, we don’t do things like that in Sweden. Do you understand?” And Mahmud’s response— in a different situation, the memory would’ve made him smile— “Fuck yourself, this is how we do in Alby.” More movie clips: cops in the concrete who never understood what Sven Sweden’s shitty urban rearing did to guys like him. Dad’s tears at Mom’s funeral. All the buzz with the guys at the gym. The first time he got to put it in. Hitting bull’s- eyes with water balloons from the balcony on dog walkers down below. Shoplifting in the city. The chow hall in the pen. Him: a true Millionaire, a housing project kid from the Social Democratic Million Program high- rises, on his way up, like a deluxe gangster. Now: free fall. Wipeout.

He tried to whisper the Shahadah despite the gat in his mouth. “Ash-Hadu anla- ilaha illa- Allah.

The dude holding the piece in his grill looked down at him.

“You say something?”

Mahmud didn’t dare move his head. Glanced up. He couldn’t say shit with the gun filling his mouth. Was this dude slow or something? Their eyes met. The guy still didn’t seem to get it. Mahmud knew him. Daniel: on his way up, becoming a name, but still not one of the big blattes. Thick eighteen- karat gold cross around his neck— true Syriac style. Right now he might be the one bossing. But if his brain’d been made of blow, the sales price would hardly cover a candy bar.

Finally: Daniel understood the situation. Pulled the gun out. Repeated. “Did you want something, or what?”

“No. Just let me go. I’ll pay what I owe. Promise. Come on.”

“Shut it. You think you can play me? You gotta wait till Gürhan wanna talk.”

The piece, back in his mouth. Mahmud remained silent. Didn’t even dare think of the Shahadah. Even though he wasn’t religious, he knew he should.

Pounding thought: Was this it?

It felt like the woods around him were spinning.

He tried not to hyperventilate.

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Fifteen minutes later. Daniel was getting bored. Fidgeted, looked unfocused. The gat was squeaking worse than a rusty old subway car against Mahmud’s molars. Felt like he had a baseball bat in his mouth.

“You think you can do whatever you want, huh?”

Mahmud couldn’t respond.

“You really think you could boost from us, huh?”

Mahmud tried to say no. The sound came from far back in his throat. Unclear if Daniel understood.

The dude said, “Bottom line: nobody boosts from us.”

The guys farther off seemed to sense that things were buzzing. Came closer. Four of them. Gürhan: fabled, fatal, fat cat. Inked all the way up his neck: ACAB and a marijuana leaf. Along one forearm: the Assyrian eagle with wings spread. Along the other forearm, in black Gothic lettering: Born to Be Hated. Vice president in the gang with the same name. Southern Stockholm’s fastest growing gang. One of the most dangerous people Mahmud knew of. Mythic, explosive, insane. In Mahmud’s world: the more insane, the more power.

Mahmud’d never seen the other three dudes before, but they all had the same tattoo as Gürhan: Born to Be Hated.

Gürhan gesticulated to Daniel: Pull out the gat. The VP took it himself, aimed at Mahmud. Half a yard away. “Listen. It’s pretty sim­ple. Get the cash and stop dicking around. If you hadn’t made a fuckin’ mess to begin with we wouldn’t have to play this game. Capice?”

Mahmud’s mouth was dry. He tried to respond. Stared at Gürhan. “I’m gonna pay. Sorry I tripped up. It’s on me.” Heard the tremble in his own voice.

Gürhan’s response: a hard slap with the back of the hand. Exploded in Mahmud’s head like a shot going off. But it wasn’t a shot— a thou­sand times better than a shot. Still: if Gürhan flipped out, he was really screwed.

The dude’s neck muscles were stretching out the layered texture of the marijuana leaf on his skin. Their eyes met. Locked. Gürhan: huge, bigger than Mahmud. And Mahmud was far from a twig. Gürhan: infamous psycho- bandit, blood-loving violence addict, gangster Olym­pian. Gürhan: eyebrows more scarred than Mike Tyson’s. Mahmud thought: If it’s possible to see someone’s soul by looking in their eyes, then Gürhan doesn’t have one.

It was a mistake to say anything. He should’ve lowered his eyes. Groveled for the VP.

Gürhan yelled, “You cunt. First you fuck up and get collared. Then the five- oh confiscate the goods. We checked the court sentence. You didn’t think we were gonna do that, huh? We know there were over ten thousand ampoules missing from what they got. That means you boosted from us. And now, six months later, you start trippin’ when we want back the dough you owe. What, you gonna play hardball now ’cause you done time? It was three thousand fucking packs of Winstrol you lifted. No one steals from us. You a slow learner, habibi?”

Mahmud, panicked. Didn’t know what to say.

In a low voice, “I’m sorry. Please. Sorry. I’m gonna pay.”

Gürhan impersonated him in a shrill voice: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry— stop speaking gaylish, you fucking fairy. You think that’s gonna help? Why’d you start messing?”

Gürhan grabbed hold of the revolver with both hands. Cocked the top break. The bullets fell out, one by one, into his left palm. Mahmud felt his body relax. They could smack him around. Beat him bloody. But without a gat—they probably didn’t plan on ending him.

One of the other guys turned to Gürhan. Said something curt in Turkish. Mahmud didn’t get it: Was the guy giving orders or showing appreciation?

Gürhan nodded. Pointed the gun at Mahmud again. “Okay, this is the deal. There’s one bullet left in this cylinder. I’m gonna be nice to you. Normally, I’d just pop you. Right? We can’t be tolerating a buncha clowns like you who bitch as soon as things sour. You owe us. A lot. But I’m in a good mood tonight. I’ll spin, and if you’re lucky, it’s meant to be. You walk.”

Gürhan held the cylinder up against the pale sky. Clearly visible: five empty chambers and one with a bullet in it. He spun the cylinder. The sound was reminiscent of the wheel spinning on a roulette table. He grinned widely. Aimed at Mahmud’s temple. A clicking sound when the hammer was pulled back. Mahmud closed his eyes. Began to whisper the creed again. Panic took over. The flashes of light in front of his eyes returned. His heart was pounding so hard his ears almost popped.

“Okay, let’s see if you’re a blessed blatte.”

A click.

Nothing happened.

NOTHING HAPPENED.

He opened his eyes again. Gürhan grinned. Daniel laughed. The other guys howled. Mahmud followed their eyes. Looked down.

His knees were wet from the damp ground. And something else: along his left jeans leg. A long stain.

Loud laughs. Jeers. Cruel grins.

Gürhan handed the piece back to Daniel.

“Next time maybe I’ll fuck you instead. You little girl.”

Frenzied feelings. Hope versus fatigue. Joy versus hate. Relief— but also shame. The worst was over now. He would get to live.

With this.

Curtain.

***

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Over the last ten years, the number of reported cases of vio­lence against women has increased by 30 percent, to around 24,100 reported cases, according to the numbers provided by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. This is probably due, in part, to the fact that more cases of abuse are reported, but also due to an actual increase in violence. Meanwhile, the number of cases that go unreported is high. In previous stud­ies, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention has estimated that only one in five cases are reported to the police.

In about 72 percent of reports, the woman is familiar with the perpetrator. Most often, the man and the woman have had a close ongoing or ended relationship.

In 21 percent of the total number of cases, the perpetrator was brought to justice. This means that the prosecutor, after an investigation, has found that there is reasonable suspicion that the person has committed the offense and will proceed with the prosecution, or that the prosecutor has decided to dismiss the case (if, for example, the person in question is a minor or if the crime is of a negligible nature), or that the person in question is issued a fine and/or a suspended sentence.

Violence against women and children is a societal problem that has been given quite a bit of attention over the last few years. This is due both to the creation of new laws (regarding, among other things, restraining orders, and gross violation of a woman’s integrity) and through other measures, such as the formation of a National Center for Battered and Raped Women, as well as a focus on new educational initiatives. The atten­tion of individual organizations has also played a significant role, for example through the creation of hotlines for women and young girls in around half of the counties in the country. Despite the significant measures that have been taken, the prob­lem remains— thousands of women are abused and humiliated each year.

The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention

2

Niklas was back.

He was living with his mother, Marie. Tried to sleep now and then, between the nightmares. In the dream world he was hunted, tracked, punished. But, just as often, he was the one holding the weapon or kicking defenseless people. Just like it’d been when he’d been down there. In reality.

The couch was too short to sleep on, so he’d put the leather cushions on the floor instead. His feet stuck out in the cold, but it was okay— better than being folded up like a Leatherman in a three-seater— even if he was used to that kind of thing.

Niklas saw a sliver of light through the crack in the door. Mom was probably reading ladies’ magazines in there— just like she’d always done. Biographies, memoirs, and gossip. An unvarying interest in other people’s failures. She lived vicariously through news of B- list celebri­ties and their divorces, alcoholism, and affairs. Maybe their tragic lives made her feel better. But it was all a lie. Just like her own life.

In the mornings he remained where he was, on the cushions. Heard her get ready for work. Wondered what his life in Sweden would be like, life as a civilian. What was he supposed to do here, really? He knew what kind of jobs would be suitable: security personnel, body­guard, soldier. The last was out, though. The Swedish armed forces wouldn’t hire someone with his background. On the other hand, it was what he knew.

He stayed at home. Watched TV and made omelets with potatoes and sausage. Real food— not dried stuff, tins, and canned ravioli. The grub down in the sandbox’d almost ruined his taste for quality meat, but now it was coming back. He left the apartment a few times. To jog, grocery shop, run errands. Not a lot of people out in the middle of the day— he ran senselessly hard. Drove the thoughts away.

He was living on borrowed time. His mom couldn’t handle his staying with her. He couldn’t handle his staying with her. Neither could handle knowing they couldn’t handle it. He had to release some pressure. Find a place to live. Make a move. Something just had to work out.

After all, he was back in easy, safe Swedeland. Where everything could be arranged with a little willpower, gung- ho, money, or Com­mie connections. Niklas didn’t have connections. But he did have willpower— harder than the armor on an M1A2 Abrams tank. Mom called him cocky. Maybe there was something to it. He’d been cocky enough to hold his own down there with guys who’d fuck with you for much less than a stupid English mispronunciation. And money? He wasn’t sitting on a lifelong fortune— but it was enough for now.

He was standing in the kitchen, thinking. The secret to a good omelet was cooking it under a lid. Get the eggs to coagulate faster on the sur­face to avoid slime on top and burning it on the bottom. He piled on diced potatoes, onions, and pieces of sausage. Topped off with cheese. Waited for it to melt. The smell was fantastic. So much better than all the grub he’d had down there, even on Thanksgiving.

His thoughts were dreary. He was back— felt good. But back to what, exactly? His mom was present absent. He didn’t know who he knew in Sweden anymore. And how was he doing, really? If he truly let him­self feel, for once? Confusion/recognition/fear. Nothing’d changed. Except for him. And that was terrifying.

During the first years he’d been gone, he’d come back once a year or so. Often got R & R around Christmas or Easter. But now it’d been over three years since the last time. Iraq was too intense. You couldn’t just up and leave. He’d hardly even spoken to Mom during that time. Hadn’t been in touch with anyone else, either. He was who he was. Without anyone knowing. But on the other hand— had anyone ever known?

The day crept by in slow motion. He was sitting in front of the TV when she came home. Still full from the omelet. Watching a documen­tary about two guys skiing across Antarctica— the most meaningless shit he’d ever seen. Two clowns playing at fake survival— there was a camera crew there too, obviously. How did they survive if it really was as cold and awful as they made it out to be? Pathetic people who knew less than nothing about survival. And even less about life.

Mom looked much older than when he’d been home last. Worn out. Tired. Grayed, somehow. He wondered how much she drank. How much she’d worried about him during all those nights after watching the news. How often she’d seen Him with a capital H— the man who’d destroyed their lives. The last time Niklas’d been home she’d claimed they didn’t see each other anymore. Niklas believed that about as much as Muqtada al-Sadr believed the United States wanted the best for his people. But all that was over now.

She was strong, somehow. Had raised a punk kid on her own. Refused welfare. Refused to give in and retire early like all her girlfriends had. Toiled through life. On the other hand, she’d let Him come into her life. Let Him take control over her. Humiliate her. Wreck her. How could they be so different?

She set a grocery bag down on the floor. “Hello, hi. So, what’ve you been up to today?”

He could tell how much pain she was in just by looking at her. He’d understood already on his first day back in Sweden: her back’d given up. Still, she kept working— part time, sure, but still:  what was the point, really? Her face’d never exactly radiated joy. The wrinkles between her eyes were deep now, but she’d always had them. They formed an expression of constant worry. She’d lower her eyebrows, scrunching them up, making her most noticeable wrinkles deepen by almost half an inch.

He kept studying her. Pink cardigan— her favorite color. Tight jeans. A necklace with a gold heart around her neck. Her hair had blond highlights. Niklas wondered if she still had it done at Sonja Östergren’s salon. Some things never change, as Collin used to say.

She was actually the nicest person in the world. Too nice. It wasn’t fair.

Marie. His mother.

Whom he loved.

And still despised.

Because of that— the niceness.

She was too weak.

It wasn’t right.

But they would never be able to talk about everything that’d happened.

Niklas put the groceries away in the kitchen. Went back into the living room.

“I’m moving out soon, Mom. I’m going to buy a firsthand rental contract for an apartment.”

There they were again: the wrinkles. Like cracks in a desert road.

“But Niklas, isn’t that illegal?”

“No it’s not, actually. It’s illegal to sell rental contracts, but not to buy them. It’ll be fine. And there’s no other way to get a rental in this city, you know that. Stupid socialist housing system. But I have some money and no one’s going to rip me off. Promise.”

Marie mumbled something in response. Went into the kitchen. Started making dinner.

Insomnia was having its way with him. Not even during the worst nights down there, when the grenades’d made more noise than a New Year’s Eve fireworks display in the middle of the living room, had his sleep been this shitty. Earplugs used to be a blessing; his CD player, salvation. But nothing helped now.

He lay watching the gap under his mother’s door. Lights off at twelve- thirty. For some reason, he already knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He turned over and over again. With every turn the sheets slipped more and more to one side of the cushions. Got twisted. Anni­hilated the chance of sleep.

He was thinking about what he’d bought the other day. Unarmed, he was unsafe. Now he felt better. He’d arranged what he needed. His thoughts drifted on. He considered his work options. How much of his résumé should he include, really? He almost chuckled to himself in the dark: maybe in-depth knowledge of more than forty types of weapons wasn’t the kind of thing that was valued too highly in Sweden.

He thought about Him. He had to get out of this apartment, away from this building. It was giving him bad vibes. Difficult memories. Dangerous intimacy.

Niklas was planning to live according to his own philosophy now. A temple of thought he’d been building meticulously over the past few years. Ethical rules only mattered to yourself. If you were able to rid yourself of them, you’d be free. All that stuff died down in the sandbox. Morality dried up like a scab that disappeared on its own after a few weeks. He was free— free to live his life in the way that suited him best.

He thought about the men. Collin, Alex, the others. They knew what he was talking about. War made humans become self- aware. There is only you. Rules are made for other people.

The next day, he tried an off-the-books apartment broker. The guy sounded shady over the phone. Probably a nasty type. Niklas’d gotten his number from an old school bud, Benjamin.

First he had to leave a message on the illegal broker’s voice mail. Four hours later: a call from a hidden number.

“Hi, I’m a broker. I heard your message. You’re interested in looking at some properties. Is that correct?”

Niklas thought, Some people lived well off other people’s crises. The guy was a snake. Consistently avoided words like apartment, con­tract, or off the books— knew not to mention anything that could be used against him.

The broker gave him instructions: I call you, you never call me.

They arranged to meet the following day.

He stepped into McDonald’s. Totally beat, but ready to meet the broker. The place looked just as he remembered it. Uncomfortable metal chairs, cherrywood-colored paneling, linoleum flooring. Clas­sic McDonald’s smell: a mix of hamburger meat and something rank. Ronald McDonald House donation jars by the registers; ads for Happy Meals on the tray covers; young, downy-lipped dudes and swarthy chicks behind the registers.

The difference since he’d been here last: health fascism. Mini car­rots instead of french fries, whole- wheat buns on the burgers instead of the traditional white bread, Caesar salad instead of extra cheeseburg­ers. What was people’s problem? If they didn’t exercise enough to burn normal food they should think twice before they even went into this place. Niklas ordered a mineral water.

A man walked up to his table. Dressed in a long coat that almost dragged on the ground, under which he was wearing a gray suit and a white shirt. No tie. Slicked-back hair and empty eyes. A smile so wide it looked like his head was going to split in half.

It must be the broker.

The man extended his hand. “Hi, I’m the fixer.”

Niklas ignored his hand. Nodded at him. Point: You may be the fixer I need— but that doesn’t mean I’m going to kiss your ass.

The broker looked surprised. Hesitated for a moment. Then sat down.

Niklas didn’t skip a beat. “What do you have for me and how does it work?”

The broker leaned forward. “You seem to be a straight shooter. Aren’t you going to eat anything?”

“No, not now. Just tell me what you have and how it works.”

“All right. I’ve got listings anywhere you want. I can get you some­thing south of the city, north of the city, Östermalm, Kungsholmen. I can get you something in the royal Drottningholm Park if you’re interested. But you don’t look like the type.” The broker laughed at his own joke.

Niklas remained silent.

“But remember, if you ever come claiming we’ve met here to discuss what we’re discussing, it didn’t happen. I’m in a meeting with some colleagues right now, just so you know.”

Niklas neither heard nor understood what the broker was talking about.

“Yeah, so, I’ve got myself covered in case of rotten eggs. Just so you know. If anything unpleasant happens, I have witnesses who’ll say I was busy with other stuff somewhere else right now.”

“Okay. Good for you. But you didn’t answer my question.”

The broker smiled again. Got going. Spoke rapidly. He was difficult to understand. Niklas had to ask him to repeat himself several times. The guy’s confident style didn’t match his jumbled manner of speaking.

He described the listings in detail: in all the inner- city neighbor­hoods. Collaborations with landlords of luxury apartments, single-family homes, state- owned rental co- ops. Magnificent apartments in the inner city, one- bedrooms with eat- in kitchens on Södermalm or studios in the boroughs. According to him: safe, good-value deals.

Niklas already knew what he wanted. A one- bedroom in an area just outside the inner city. Preferably near Mom.

The broker explained the routine. The preparations. The timing. The process. The guy looked like he thought this was all a game.

“First we’ll register you at a rental out in the boondocks for a few months— a place with a short tenant wait list attached to it. Everything’ll look good on paper. That’s where you’ll be registered and since there was a short wait list, no one will wonder how you got your hands on it. I’ll deal with the landlord. After a few months, we’ll exchange the apartment for the one you’re actually going to buy. That way, the trade will look completely clean. After that, the seller will have to be registered at the same apartment you traded from— that is, your fake apartment— for at least two months. Credibility is everything in my field, as I’m sure you understand.”

Problem. This wouldn’t cut it— Niklas had to get a place this week already. He had to get out of Mom’s apartment. Fast.

The broker grinned. “Okay, I think I know your problem. Did your chick kick you out, or what? Shredded clothes? Trashed stereo? Things tend to go a little High Chaparral when they’re mad.”

Niklas held his gaze. Stared for two seconds longer than normal social codes would allow if he were laughing it off as a joke.

The broker finally got the message— this was not the time to try to be funny. “Whatever,” he said. “I can still help you. We’ll get you a sublet for those three months when you’ll need to wait. Does that work? I can put you in a sweet one- bedroom, five hundred and forty square feet, in Aspudden. If you want it, you can have it next week. But it’ll cost a little extra, of course. What do you think?”

He needed something even sooner. “If I pay more, can you get it faster?”

“Faster than that? You’re really cutting it close, I have to say. But sure, you can get it the day after tomorrow.”

Niklas smiled inside. That sounded good. He had to get away.

Better than expected, actually.

To disappear so quickly.

3

The Southern District might not have the most incident reports per capita, but it always had the most major crime. The City District, downtown, definitely topped the numbers, everyone knew that, but that’s because the scum from south of Södermalm came into the city and did a lot of petty shit there. Shoplifted, pocketed cell phones, harassed, started bar brawls.

Thomas thought, The south— real ghettos that the politicians don’t give a damn about. Fittja, Alby, Tumba, Norsborg, Skärholmen. Every­one knew the names of the northern shit holes: Rinkeby and Tensta. Diversity aid and cultural organizations abounded. Support efforts were focused. Project money rained down. Integration institutes invaded. But in the south, the gangs ruled for real. Iraqis, Kurds, Chileans, Alba­nians. The Bandidos, Fucked for Life, Born to Be Hated. You could spend ages burping up calamities. Topped the Swedish lists in number of firearms, number of guys who refused to talk to cops, number of reported blackmail attempts. The criminals organized, copied the MC clubs’ hierarchies, pulled together their own steel- fisted gangs. The teen punks followed the examples set by older bank robbers/drug deal­ers/thugs. A well- trodden road. To a shit life. The list was endless— all the facts were there. In Thomas’s eyes, didn’t matter what you labeled those niggers and losers— they were all scum, the lot of them.

He’d heard all the theories that the social- service ladies and the youth psychologists droned on about. But what were they really sup­posed to do with all those behavioral, cognitive, dynamic, psychiat­ric, blah- blah- istic hypotheses? No methods worked anyway. No one could clean it up. They spread. Reproduced. Multiplied. Took over. Once upon a time he too might have thought there was a way to stop it. But that was a long time ago now.

Things used to be better. A cliché. But as Lloyd Cole sings, the rea­son it’s a cliché is that it’s true.

Yet another night on the beat. Thomas was driving calmly. Let his hands rest on the wheel. Knew he’d get his ear chewed off at home for signing up for the night shift all week. He didn’t really need the extra money— even though that’s what he told Åsa. A police inspector’s base salary wasn’t even worth a tenth of the drugs he confiscated on a regu­lar night. It was an insult. Ridicule. A loogie in the eye of all the honest men who really knew what needed to be done. So if they took back a little, it was only right.

There were five or six of them who took turns driving these routes together. Circled the areas around Skärholmen, Sätra, Bredäng. Damned the development to hell. Skipped the PC bullshit and the Commie fake- empathy crap. They all knew the deal— break the swine or roll over and die.

Thomas’s partner tonight, Jörgen Ljunggren, was sitting in the pas­senger seat. They usually switched sometime around 2:00 a.m.

Thomas tried to count. How many times’d he and Ljunggren slid through the slowly darkening summer nights like this? Without unnec­essary chitchat. Ljunggren with his paper cup of coffee, always for too long— until the coffee got cold and he hurried off to get a refill at the closest all- night place. Thomas often with his thoughts elsewhere. Mostly focused on his car at home: zinc treatment for the new original detailing, parts to the differential in the back axle, the new tachometer. A project of his own to long for. Or else he yearned for the shooting range. He’d just bought a new pistol— a Strayer Voigt Infinity, made to his specifications. Thomas was lucky in that way, he had more than one home. First the cruiser with the guys. Then his own car at home. Then the shooting club. And then, maybe, home- home— his house in Tallkrogen.

Jörgen Ljunggren suited Thomas well— he preferred people who didn’t babble too much. What came out was mostly nonsense anyway. So they were quiet. Shared meaningful looks sometimes, nodded, or exchanged short remarks. That was enough for them. They liked it that way. Mutual understanding. A worldview. It wasn’t complicated: they were here to clean up the crap flooding the Stockholm streets.

Ljunggren was one of the best on the squad. A good guy to have on your side when things heated up.

Thomas felt relaxed.

The police radio was spewing out commands. The Stockholm County Police Department used two frequencies instead of one: the 80 system for City, the Southern District, and the Western District, and the 70 system for the rest. In accordance with the rest of the orga­nization. The fact that there were two systems instead of one: ineffi­ciency was the middle name of this operation. No one ever woke up to realize a new age’d dawned. You couldn’t keep trudging along in the same old tracks anymore. His thoughts ran on a loop: The rabble organized completely differently these days. It wasn’t just some Yugos and washed- up Finns running amok. The bottom-feeders stayed fresh. Professional, international, multidisciplinary criminals. New methods were needed to get at them. Faster. Smarter. Tougher. And as soon as someone wanted to do something about it, the media started whining about the new laws as if they were intended to hurt people.

The radio crackled. Someone needed assistance with a shoplifter at a twenty- four- hour bodega in Sätra.

They exchanged glances. Grinned. Forget it, they weren’t taking a crap job like that— let some greenhorn cadet take it. They ignored the call. Drove on.

Approached Skärholmen.

Thomas downshifted, slowed. “We’re thinking of going away for Christmas again.”

Ljunggren nodded. “That’s nice. Where were you thinking?”

“Don’t know. My wife wants to go somewhere warm. Last year we did Sicily. Taormina. Real nice.”

“I know. You didn’t talk about anything else for three months after.”

Laughs.

Thomas turned off toward the Storholms school, outside of Skärhol­men’s center. Always worth taking a look at the schoolyard. The punks usually got it into their heads to go there at night— sit on the back of park benches, roll a fatty, as they say, smoke up, and enjoy their short lives.

Dig the irony: the same kids that usually played hooky all day flocked to the schoolyard at night— to smoke themselves stupid. If they were still sitting on those benches five years from now, jobless, they could only blame themselves. But they complained that it was society’s fault. Moved on to heavier stuff: moonshine, hash, aimies. If unlucky: brown sugar. Talk about free fall. Welfare and social services. Worked a couple corners. Flipped a few grams and pulled some sub­urban break- ins. Their parents could only blame themselves— they should’ve taken their responsibility ages ago. The police could only blame themselves— should’ve clamped down right off the bat. Society could only blame itself— if you gather that much riffraff in one place, you’re asking for trouble.

The lights in the schoolyard could be seen from far away. The gray concrete school building lay like a giant Lego block in the darkness behind the yard.

They stopped the car. Got out.

Ljunggren grabbed the white baton. Completely unnecessary— but correct. The other feeble expandable baton didn’t always cut it.

“Maria always needs to be so damn cultural. Wants to go to Flor­ence, Copenhagen, Paris, and God knows where else. There isn’t even anything nice to look at over there,” Ljunggren said.

“Can’t you look at the Mona Lisa?”

Chuckles, again.

“Yeah sure, she’s about as hot as a fucking bag of wieners.”

Thomas thought: Ljunggren should swear less and show his wife who’s in charge more.

He said, “I think she’s kinda hot.”

“Who, the Mona Lisa or my old lady?”

More laughter.

For once, the schoolyard was empty. Except for under one of the basketball hoops, where a red Opel was parked.

Thomas lit his Maglite. Held it at head height. Illuminated the license plate: OYU 623.

“That’s Kent Magnusson’s car,” he said. “I don’t even have to run the plates. We ever plucked him together?”

Ljunggren hung his baton back on his belt. “You’ve got to be kid­ding me. We’ve picked him up ten times, at least. You going senile, or what?”

Thomas didn’t respond. They approached the car. Weak light inside. Someone moved in the front seat. Thomas leaned over. Knocked on the car window. The light went out.

A voice: “Beat it!”

Thomas cleared his throat. “We’re not going anywhere. That you in there, Magnusson? This is the police.”

The voice in the car again: “Dammit. I don’t got anything tonight. I’m as clean as Absolut.”

“Okay, Kent. It’s okay. But come out anyway so we can talk.”

Indistinct swearing in response.

Thomas knocked again, this time on the roof. A little harder.

The car door opened— the stench from the car: smoke, beer, piss.

Thomas and Ljunggren’d both struck a broad stance. Waited.

Kent Magnusson climbed out. Unshaven, hair a mess, rotting teeth, herpes blisters around his mouth. Faded jeans on half- mast— the guy had to pull them up at least a foot and a half in order not to fall over. A T-shirt with a print ad for the Stockholm Water Festival that must’ve been ancient. An unbuttoned plaid shirt over the T-shirt.

A complete junkie. Even more worn down than last time Thomas’d seen him.

Thomas shone the flashlight in his eyes.

“Hey there, Kent. How high are you?”

Kent mumbled, “Not at all. I’ve been cutting back.”

His eyes really did look clear. His pupils were a normal size— contracted when the light from the flashlight hit them.

“Yeah, right, you’re cutting back. What you got on you?” Ljunggren said.

“Honest, man. I got nothing. I’m trying to quit. It’s the truth.”

Ljunggren was losing his temper. “Don’t give me that crap, Kent. Just give us what you’ve got and we’ll play nice. No fuss, no hassle, and no bullshit. I’m damned tired tonight. Especially of junkie lies. Maybe we can be nice to you. You follow me?”

Thomas thought: Curious thing about Ljunggren— he talked more with the criminals than he did with Thomas during an entire night in the car.

Kent made a face. Seemed to be considering his options.

“Eh, come on. I don’t got any.”

The junkie wasn’t going to make it easy for himself. “Kent, we’re going to search your car,” Thomas said. “Just so you know.”

Kent made another face. “Fuck, man, you can’t search my car with­out a warrant. You ain’t seen no drugs. You don’t got the right to go through my car, you know that.”

“We know that, but we don’t give a shit.”

Thomas looked at Ljunggren. They nodded at each other. No prob­lem: just write a report afterward claiming that they’d seen Kent fid­dling with something in the car when the door opened. Or that they’d seen that he was high. Or whatever the fuck— there was always reason­able doubt. Piece of cake. Cleaning up the streets of Stockholm— that was more important than objections from some whiny junkie.

Ljunggren crawled into the car and began the search. Thomas led the junkie away a bit. Kept the situation under control.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Kent spit. “You can’t do this. You know that.”

Thomas remained cool. No point in getting worked up. All he said was, “Calm down.”

The junkie hissed something. Maybe pig.

Thomas had no patience for people like him. “What did you say?”

Kent kept mumbling. If the guy whined and made a fuss, that was one thing. But no way he said pig.

“What did you say?”

Kent turned to him. “Pig.”

Thomas kicked him hard in the back of the knee. He collapsed like a tower of matches.

Ljunggren popped his head out of the car. “Everything cool?”

Thomas turned Kent over. Belly to ground, arms behind his back. Cuffed him. Put one foot on the guy’s back. Called to Ljunggren, “Sure, it’s cool.”

Then he turned to the junkie.

“You fucking cunt.”

Kent lay still.

“Please, can you loosen the cuffs? It fucking hurts, man.”

Oh, so now he thought it was time to sulk.

After five minutes, Ljunggren yelled something. Yup, he’d found two bags of hash in the car. No surprise there. Ljunggren handed the baggies to Thomas. He checked— one with ten grams and one with around forty.

Thomas bent Kent’s head back.

“Now what you got to say for yourself?”

The junkie’s voice jumped up a notch. “Come on now, Officer, someone must’ve put them there. I didn’t know they were in the car. I mean, where’d he find it? Can’t you cut me some slack?”

No problem. Fifty grams of hash wasn’t much, considering. They’d let it slide, for now. “It’s cool,” Thomas said. He took the bags. Put them in the inside pocket of his jacket. “But never lie to me again. Got that?”

“No. Never. Thank you so much. Damn, you guys are being nice. Fucking generous. You’re cool.”

“You don’t have to bend over. Just quit lying. Act like a man.”

Two minutes later, Kent was crawling back to his feet.

Thomas and Ljunggren walked back to the cruiser.

Ljunggren turned to Thomas. “Did you toss the shit, or what?”

Thomas nodded.

Kent climbed back in the Opel. Started the engine. Turned the vol­ume up high on the stereo. Classic rock. The junkie just got spared a month or so behind bars— despite losing the hash he was as happy as a kid on Christmas.

Back in the cruiser. Thomas pulled his gloves off. Ljunggren wanted to go to some twenty- four-hour café and get a java refill.

From dispatch: “Area two, do we have anyone who can take a call for an unconscious man in Axelsberg? Seriously wounded. Probably intoxicated. He’s lying in a basement at Gösta Ekman Road number 10. Over.” A real dirty gig. Silence. They slid on down the road. No one else took the call. Crap luck. The radio again: “We’re not getting any response for Gösta Ekman Road. Someone’s gotta take it. Over.”

Dammit, two chill police officers like Thomas and Ljunggren shouldn’t have to deal with more small fry tonight. It was enough that Ljunggren’d had to crawl around in the junkie’s nasty ride. They kept their mouths shut. Rolled on.

The radio ordered: “Okay. No one’s taking Gösta Ekman Road. It’ll be car 2930, Andrén and Ljunggren. Copy? Over.”

Ljunggren looked at Thomas. “Typical.”

Sometimes you just have to eat shit. Thomas pushed the mike but­ton. “Roger that. We’ll take it. Any additional info? It was a drunk, right? There gonna be any booze left for us? Over.”

The radio voice belonged to one of the boring girls. According to Thomas: a sour pussy. Couldn’t kid with her like you could with most of the other chicks on dispatch.

“Quit playing around, Andrén. Just go. I’ll get back to you when we know more. Over and out.”

The car pulled up to Gösta Ekman Road number 10 a few minutes later. Ljunggren was whining about not getting his coffee yet.

People were lined up outside the entrance to the building as if wait­ing for some kind of show. A lot of people— the building had eight stories. The sky was beginning to brighten.

They got out.

Thomas took the lead. In through the entrance. Ljunggren dis­persed the crowd outside. Thomas heard him say, “Nothing to see here, folks.”

Inside, the building felt super sixties. The floor was made of some kind of concrete plates. The elevator door looked like it belonged in a Star Trek spaceship. The small entranceway had a door out to a court­yard and a set of stairs leading down. There was a metal railing along the stair leading up to the second floor. He saw some people standing up there on the landing. A woman in a bathrobe and slippers, a man with glasses and a sweat suit, a younger kid who must be their son.

The woman pointed down.

“I’m so glad you’re here. He’s down there.”

“It’d be great if you could go back inside,” Thomas said. “We’ll take care of this. I’ll be up to talk to you in a bit.”

She seemed reassured by having done her civic duty. Maybe she was the one who’d called 911 in the first place.

Thomas started to walk down. The stairs were narrow. There was a garbage chute with a sticker on it: Please— help our sanitation workers— seal the bag!

He thought about his car again. This weekend he might buy a new motor for the automatic windows.

He checked out the lock on the cellar door. Assa Abloy from the early nineties. He should have a skeleton key that’d work, or else he’d have to ask the family he’d seen on the landing for help.

A few seconds later the electronic skeleton key buzzed. The lock clicked. It was dark in there. He switched on his Maglite. His right hand searched for the light switch.

Blood on the floor, on the bars over the cellar windows, on the stuff in the storage units.

He pulled his gloves on.

Eyed the body. A man. Dirty clothes, now also very bloody clothes. Short- sleeved shirt and corduroy pants. Covered in vomit. Boots with the laces untied. Arm at a weird angle. Thomas thought, Yet another little Kent.

The torso was bent. Facedown.

Thomas said, “Hello, can you hear me?”

No reaction.

He lifted the arm. It felt heavy. Still zero reaction.

Pulled off his glove. Searched for a pulse— stone cold dead.

He lifted the head. The face was totally busted— beat beyond recog­nition. The nose didn’t seem to exist anymore. The eyes were so swol­len that you couldn’t see them. The lips looked more like spaghetti and meat sauce than like a mouth.

But something was strange. The jaw seemed to be sunk in somehow. He put two fingers inside the mouth, felt around in there. Soft like a baby’s palate— the dead man was missing teeth. This was obviously not a junkie who’d lost consciousness by his own doing— this was a murder.

Thomas didn’t get worked up.

Considered placing the man in the recovery position, but left him as he was. Skipped CPR. It was pointless, anyway.

He followed the rulebook. Alerted dispatch. Raised the radio mike to his lips, spoke in a low voice so as not to freak out the whole build­ing. “I’ve got a homicide here. Real grisly. Gösta Ekman Road number 10. Over.” “Roger that. Do you need more cars? Over.” “Yes, send at least five. Over.” He heard the call go out to everyone in the Southern District. Dispatch got back to him: “Do you need any senior officers? Over.” “Yes, I think so. Who’s on tonight? Hansson? Over.” “That’s right. We’ll send him. Ambulance? Over.” “Yes please. And send a couple rolls of paper towels, too. We’ve got a lot to mop up. Over and out.”

The next step, according to protocol: He talked to Ljunggren on the radio, asked him to make people identify themselves, gather addresses and telephone numbers for potential witness reports. Then have them wait until backup arrived with enough people to ask the usual control questions. Thomas looked around the stairwell. How’d the guy been killed? He didn’t see a weapon, but the perp’d probably taken that with him.

What should he do now? He looked at the body again. Lifted the arm. Didn’t bother with routine— he should really wait for the techni­cians and the ambulance.

He looked at the man’s hands. They were weird somehow— no miss­ing fingers, not unusually clean or dirty— no, it was something else. He turned a hand over. Then he saw it— the tops of the dead man’s fingers were all messed up. On the top of every fingertip: a blood effusion. It looked like they’d been sliced, leveled, erased.

He dropped the arm. The blood on the floor’d dried. How long’d the dead guy been lying down here?

He searched his pockets quickly. No wallet, no cell phone. No money or identification. In one of the back pockets: a slip of paper with a smudged cell- phone number. He memorized the discovery. Put it back.

The man’s T-shirt was sticking to his skin. He looked closer. Turned the body over a little, even though he shouldn’t. That kind of thing was totally against protocol. Really, they ought to take photographs and search the place before anyone moved the body— but now his interest’d been piqued.

That’s when he saw the next weird thing, on the arm. Track marks from an injection needle. Small bruises around every puncture. Com­pletely clear: what he had in front of him on the floor was a murdered junkie.

He heard sounds on the other side of the cellar door.

Backup was coming.

Ljunggren entered the room. Two younger inspectors brought up the rear. Thomas knew them, good guys.

They eyed the body.

“Damn, he sure slipped on all the blood someone spilled every­where,” Ljunggren said.

They grinned. Police humor— blacker than this cellar’d been before Thomas’d switched on the lights.

Orders started sputtering out from their radios— Hansson, the senior officer, had arrived, gave orders to have the area cordoned off. Did what he usually did: ordered, organized, hollered. Still, it was a small operation. If it’d been anything other than a junkie in the stair­well, they would’ve called in all the squad cars they could get. Cor­doned off half the city. Stopped trains, cars, subways. Now there was no real hurry.

The ambulance crew showed up after seven minutes.

Let the body lie there for a while. A technician came down, snapped some photos with a digital camera. Analyzed blood. Secured evidence. Investigated the crime scene.

The ambulance guys brought a stretcher down. Covered the body with blankets. Hauled it up.

Disappeared.

When there’s action, it’s fun. When it’s fun, the night flies by. But they’d combed home zilch. Ljunggren sighed. “Why did we even bother making a whole operation out of this thing? It’s just one less drunk who probably would’ve started a fight ’cause the liquor store opened three minutes late some Saturday morning when we’re really not in the mood to deal with bullshit like that.” Thomas thought, Sometimes Ljunggren can really talk.

They interrogated some neighbors at random. Photographed the area around the basement. Sent two guys to the subway station. Wrote down the names and phone numbers of people in the building next door, promised to be back the following day. The technicians checked for fingerprints and swabbed for DNA traces in the basement. A couple of cruisers blocked off the street and stopped a sampling of cars down on Hägerstensvägen. Hardly anyone out and about at this hour anyway.

They were quiet on the way back to the station in Skärholmen. Tired. Even though nothing’d happened, it’d been an intense experience. Would feel good to shower.

Thomas couldn’t stop thinking about the body in the basement. The busted face and the fingertips. Not that he felt sick or thought it was hard to deal or anything— too much nastiness’d crossed his path already; it didn’t affect him. It was something else. The shady aspect of this whole business— the fact that the junkie seemed to have been offed in a way that was just a tad too sophisticated.

But what was strange, really? Someone’d freaked on him for some reason. Maybe a fight over a few milligrams, an unpaid debt, or just a bad trip. It couldn’t have been hard to beat the shit out of the guy. He must’ve been lit like a bonfire. But the missing teeth? Maybe it wasn’t so strange. Addicts’ bodies tended to give up early— too much of life’s good stuff corrodes the fangs. Dentures on forty- year- olds were legion.

Still, the face that’d been beaten beyond recognition, the cut fin­gertips, the fact that someone’d plucked out the dentures. Getting a positive ID on this guy was going to be a bitch. Someone’d given this some real thought.

It spelled out a job by semipros. Maybe even by total pros.

This wasn’t the work of some fellow addict. No way.

Weird.


Excerpted from Never Screw Up by Jens Lapidus. Copyright © 2008 by Jens Lapidus. Translation copyright © 2013 by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Translated from the Swedish by Astri von Arbin Ahlander. First published in Sweden in 2008 as Aldrig Fucka Upp by Wahlström & Widstrand, Stockholm. First published in English in 2013 by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. New York. First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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