Book of the Festival
"A Souvenir from Vilnius" by Leena Lehtolainen
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
The phone rang two days after I returned from Vilnius.
‘Give back what doesn’t belong to you,’ a voice growled in accented Finnish before I had time to say my name. ‘You’ve got two days, or else…’
‘Who is this?’
‘You know all right.’
‘I afraid I don’t. You must have the wrong number. This is Julia Leivo. Who were you trying to call?’
‘Give it a rest. It’s you I want. We know what you took with you from Vilnius, and it’s not yours. Give it back, or…’
The line went dead. I stood there frozen, staring in confusion at the screen on my mobile phone. I pressed a few buttons to check all incoming calls. I had been called from an undisclosed number and I didn’t have the faintest idea who the caller had been or what they wanted, but they sounded serious.
I had just spent a week in Lithuania, in Vilnius and Kaunas. I’m writing a PhD about the Finland Swedish poet Henry Parland who died in Kaunas in 1930 aged only twenty-two. My thesis just wouldn’t be complete without visiting the city where Parland spent the last eighteen months of his life. I had got together the money for the trip by selling one of the big women’s magazines an article about Lithuania’s most famous figure skaters, the ice dancers Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, who had left the amateur rinks a few years ago, but who had decided to make a comeback especially for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. It would the couple’s fifth Olympics in a row.
The trip had gone according to plan. I had started off in Kaunas and visited the spot where Henry Parland’s grave had stood before insurgents destroyed the graveyard. I had forgotten to pack the map of the town I had printed off at home, and finding a map in the town itself seemed impossibly difficult, though I did eventually find one. Thankfully I didn’t have this problem in Vilnius. I had spent my time enjoying the narrow streets and beautiful buildings of the capital and felt happy that the country was once again independent. The figure skaters had been very friendly and I got a good interview. I had met a few other nice people too, but none of them had given me anything I shouldn’t have.
I couldn’t understand what the mysterious caller had been trying to tell me.
Admittedly I had bought the odd souvenir and a collection of Lithuanian poetry in Akademinė Knyga. Though I couldn’t understand it, I was still able to savour the rhythm and sound of the language. The amber earrings were very pretty, but surely they couldn’t have been of any great sentimental value to anyone, as I had bought them from a perfectly ordinary shop with a few dozen pairs of identical earrings. The caller must have been mistaken. Either that, or one of my friends was playing a practical joke. Pauli sometimes had a strange idea of what was funny. But the voice wasn’t his; this voice was deeper and sounded somehow more dangerous.
As soon as I had got home I had unpacked my things and washed my dirty laundry. Could someone have slipped something into my suitcase or my hand luggage without my noticing? You hear horror stories about people in Asia sentenced to twenty-odd years in prison for unwittingly becoming a drug dealer’s courier – and being caught. A thirty-year-old, fairly neatly dressed literature post-graduate, the very image of middle-class life, would have been an easy target. I never get stopped in customs; I don’t have a criminal record.
I had had to leave my suitcase in storage at the hotel for several hours because my flight back to Helsinki only left at a quarter to six in the evening. Someone might have slipped something into the bag during that time. Mine was a hard case, scratched here and there, with a combination lock. Perhaps someone got lucky and managed to open it. My name, address and telephone number were clearly labelled both on the inside and the outside, just in case my luggage should somehow get lost.
I had already taken the suitcase up to my storage locker in the attic. As far as I could remember it had been empty, but I decided to go and double check. I live on the top floor of a six-storey block of flats in Kallio, so it’s only one flight of stairs up to the attic. When I opened the door into the corridor and saw the darkness waiting in front of me, I began to have second thoughts. What if this were in fact a trap, and what the mysterious caller had wanted all along was to lure me up into the attic by myself? Should I go and ask my neighbour Leo for help? He was a friendly man who often helped me around the flat and in return I sometimes babysat his and his wife Birgitta’s children.
No, don’t be stupid. Of course I could go up to the attic without Leo, just as I had gone up there earlier. I wouldn’t be in any danger there. The front door downstairs was always locked and only rarely did uninvited guests find their way into the stairwell. Nonetheless, perhaps it would be best to take something to protect myself, just in case. I went back inside my flat. Instead of the bread knife I decided to take a jar of white pepper and opened the lid ready. Then I stepped back out into the corridor and opened the door to the attic. My steps echoed along the concrete walls. I switched on the lights before daring to step inside.
‘Is there anyone there?’ I asked just to be on the safe side, but all I heard in response was the shrill, mocking sound of the wind as it swept through the ventilation shaft. My storage cupboard was at the far end of the large room. Through the chicken wire you could see people’s bits and pieces, winter sport equipment and thick jackets brought into storage for the summer; familiar, everyday objects, but now it felt as though danger lurked behind each and every one of them.
I had a bit of trouble with the padlock on the door, but eventually it clicked open. The suitcase was over in the corner beneath my ice skates. It looked precisely the way it always had done. I picked up the case, locked the door and walked back towards the corridor as briskly as my self-respect would allow. Though it was only some twenty metres away, I had still broken out in a sweat.
Once inside my flat I opened the case. It was empty, just as I had expected. I checked both compartments and the side pockets, but found nothing more than a paper clip. Surely that couldn’t have been important to anyone. The lining was still intact and when I shook the case I didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. Images of microfilms and other spy film paraphernalia came to mind – they were often infinitely small. You could hide them almost anywhere.
My backpack! I hadn’t emptied that quite as carefully as the suitcase. My diary was still there, I had written it on the plane; my purse, my passport. What about the pockets of my cotton jacket and trousers? I hadn’t put them in the wash yet. I had emptied my bag of toiletries the same night I got home.
I gave my bag a thorough search, but didn’t find anything that shouldn’t be there, just my timetable, my compact, my diary and a few postcards proudly displaying the buildings around Vilnius. Then for my purse. I had kept a few litas as a souvenir. It felt very light, as before I leaving I had taken out all my unnecessary library and discount cards. It would be time to put them back again now.
The telephone rang again, the sound made me jump. I looked at the screen: an unknown caller again. Did I dare answer it? Just before my answering machine cut in I pressed the green telephone icon on the keypad and began to say my name.
‘Have you come to your senses yet?’ It was the same hoarse, male voice that began talking over me. ‘I hope you understand that what you have is far more valuable than your life.’
Tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t understand anything any more.
‘There must some mistake! I don’t have anything that belongs to you. Stop harassing me or I’ll have to contact the police.’
The man was silent for a moment, but when he finally began to speak his voice sounded even more threatening.
‘I wouldn’t advise that, for your own safety. Do you think they would believe you for a second? Listen carefully, Miss Julia Leivo. Return what doesn’t belong to you and you’ll come to no harm.’
‘But I don’t know what you’re talking about!’
‘Please. The American journalist, the one who came to interview the figure skaters after you, he told us everything. He’s in hospital in Vilnius, and he’ll be going back to Delaware without the little finger on his left hand.’
The line went dead. I could no longer stand up, I sank to the floor and started crying. Why was this happening to me – a nice, peaceful literature student whose idea of adventure was walking in the footsteps of Henry Parland and meeting world famous figure skaters? I remembered the American reporter because we had been staying at the same hotel. He had come over and talked to me the morning after my interview as I had been sitting reading the German figure skating magazine Pirouetten. He had seemed very nice indeed, and we were both firmly of the opinion that the Lithuanian couple had been robbed in the finals of the 2002 World Championships when they had been knocked out of the medals on a technicality. What was his name again? He had even given me his card. Dave Fleming, something like that. Where had his card got to?
As I opened my purse to look for the man’s card, the telephone rang again. I almost burst into tears. I couldn’t handle yet another threatening phone call. I decided not to answer if the screen showed an unknown caller again. To my relief the name Pauli was flashing on the screen.
‘Hi,’ I sighed into the telephone and tried not to whimper. Pauli started rattling on about nothing. He hadn’t wanted me to go to Lithuania by myself in the first place and had tried to tag along. Eventually I had managed to convince him that this was a working trip, and that in the evenings I would want to stay in the hotel making notes, not party through the night with him. We ended up having quite an argument about it.
‘Have you got your work done yet? I’m in Hakaniemi, I could pop round, if it suits the lady of the house.’
‘Come on round,’ I said finally. I needed to curl up in his arms. Pauli and I had been dating for about a year and a half, though things had been rather less passionate and intense during the last few months than they had been at the beginning. I had been immersed in my thesis and Pauli had been very busy at his job in an IT company. I didn’t really understand what he did there, but after a string of arts student boyfriends going out with an engineer had seemed refreshingly sensible and secure. Like me, Pauli was ambitious. We hadn’t yet planned a future together, partly because I wanted to get my thesis finished before committing myself to a husband and children. The poetry, prose and essays of Henry Parland had captured my imagination so much that, to me, the subject of my thesis often seemed more alive than real people.
Pauli had come to meet me at the airport, but he had had a work engagement that evening and I had needed to prepare my article on Drobiazko and Vanagas as soon as I got back, so we had only seen each other in passing. I should have spent the evening going over my notes on Parland, but I knew I was no longer up to working. Besides it was already gone six o’clock, I deserved some free time.
When the downstairs doorbell finally rang, I didn’t press the buzzer immediately, but peered out of the window of my joint living and bedroom. Pauli was standing at the door, not someone unfamiliar and frightening. Relieved, I pressed the buzzer to open the door. I heard the lift jolt into motion and glide downwards, its rattling echoing around the old house’s stone walls. I opened the door ready for Pauli and fell into his arms.
‘Hi Julia, nice to see you too. I see you’ve missed me then!’ he said and kissed me so hard I almost couldn’t breathe. I could smell his familiar scent, a warm, musky aftershave that I had chosen for him. He was only about ten centimetres taller than me, around a hundred and seventy, but he was muscular and in good shape. He went to the gym, played tennis and did a lot of skiing. Often he would swap his glasses for contact lenses so he wouldn’t look too much of a nerd, especially now that his hair was beginning to thin around the temples.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked and held me an arm’s length away from him. ‘Are you ill?’ I shook my head and had to bite my lip to stop myself crying. Spluttering and not making much sense I tried to tell Pauli what had happened. His face turned redder, he was furious on my behalf. It felt good. When I had finished my story, he started asking me questions. Unlike me, he watched lots of thrillers and crime dramas on television and had clearly learnt a great deal from them. I didn’t like stories about punching and shooting, and had even less time for it in real life.
‘Whatever this man’s talking about, it can’t be very big. What could be so precious that someone’s prepared to kill for it?’ When I whimpered in reply, Pauli patted me on the shoulder. ‘I’m sorry to say so, Julia, but I take these threats seriously. You’re very important to me. Show me those earrings, just in case they’re not quite what they seem.’
I brought Pauli the earrings and he looked at them carefully, smelt them and finally even tasted them. Then he shook his head. ‘They’re nice. You’ve got good taste when it comes to jewellery, but I doubt they’re priceless. Let’s have another look at your backpack. In case there’s something in the lining.’
It was a perfectly ordinary backpack I had bought from the sports shop. It had a number of pockets and a net on the outside to hold a bottle of water. It was very handy round the town as well as for trips to the countryside. I generally kept my purse and passport in my jacket pocket or in my money belt, but in a crowd of people someone could easily have slipped something into the bag and my back. The bag had also been with me at the breakfast table the morning I had chatted to the American reporter. I had even asked him to keep an eye on it for me whilst I fetched myself more coffee and orange juice. That would have been the perfect opportunity for him to put anything he liked into my bag. Pauli carefully felt the bag, then shrugged disappointedly.
‘Nothing.’ He lay the bag down. ‘Have you double checked all your skin creams, your bottles of shampoo and conditioner?’
‘No. Who would…? Anyway, I’ve already used my cleanser and moisturiser since I got back.’ Pauli silently stood up and walked into the bathroom. I heard the clatter of various bottles and jars that during our time together he had gradually learnt to identify.
‘Nothing there either,’ he said stepping out of the bathroom. ‘Maybe we should open up the seams of your backpack after all, in case someone’s hidden a microchip in there or something.’
‘But how is it possible? The bag was with me all the time.’ Then I remembered once again that I had left Dave Fleming alone with my bag for a moment. Would he have had time to undo the seam, put something inside and sew it up again? No.
‘Did you check the foot lotion?’ I asked Pauli. I had been using a thick organic foot cream, and in Lithuania my feet had been put to the test walking around the old part of the city, but I hadn’t opened the jar since coming back. It was next to my shampoo on the bathroom shelf.
‘No, I forgot.’ Pauli stood up, but I was quicker. In a flash I was in the bathroom and unscrewed the thick glass jar. It seemed fuller than in Vilnius. I stuck my finger into the lotion and felt something that shouldn’t have been in there.
‘Pauli! There’s something here… A plastic bag.’
Pauli was standing behind me; he saw what I pulled out of the jar. It was one of those normal little freezer bags that you can get in the supermarket. Inside it a small lump of something was wrapped in kitchen foil.
‘Have you got any kitchen gloves?’ asked Pauli, his voice quivering. ‘I don’t want to mess up the fingerprints.’
I found a pair of gloves and watched as he carefully unwrapped the foil. When he finally saw what was inside he gave a shout. I had expected to see the gleam of a precious stone, but spread out on the foil was a small pile of pungent, brown powder.
‘What is it?’
Pauli took a cautious sniff at it. ‘I’m not exactly an expert when it comes to Class A drugs, but I’d say this is smoking heroin. Its street value must be astronomical.’
Though I had spent my entire life in and around Helsinki I’d never even seen anyone smoking as much as cannabis. All the people I mixed with believed that you should stay well away from drugs. And now in my own flat I’d found a stash of heroin so big that someone was prepared to kill for it. It must have been very valuable indeed.
‘But how on earth has it ended up in my jar of lotion?’
‘Well, didn’t you say the American was staying at the same hotel? He must have found an excuse to go up to your room and hide the gear.’
‘But how can you even bring…? Don’t they check everybody’s luggage very thoroughly?’
‘Think about it. Did you see any sniffer dogs at the airport?’ Pauli looked at me fixedly. He assessed my situation with the thoroughness of the engineer he was, and I was happy I didn’t have to go through this alone. There had been soldiers with dogs at the airport in Vilnius, but even there they had only been in the area around the security checks. On arrival in Helsinki I had taken my things and walked straight through the empty customs desk. I felt thirsty. I went into the kitchen for some water and gulped down two glasses. My whole body felt dry, like a teabag left out in the sun.
‘The American man’s card, check if it’s in my purse!’ I shouted from the kitchen. I needed a cup of tea. That would pep me up. ‘There’s an email address on it. Let’s check whether he’s really in hospital or…’ I didn’t want to finish the sentence.
When Pauli stepped into the kitchen he took me firmly by the waist. ‘Sorry. I couldn’t see any card. Maybe you put it in amongst your papers.’
Before I could answer the telephone rang again, but this time it was Pauli’s. He hastily picked it up.
‘Hi. Sure. Fine. Great, thanks. See you tomorrow.’ I listened to his short, staccato replies with my head whirling. I felt like a hare being hunted down by a lynx.
‘Sorry. Business. My staff can’t make decisions without me apparently. Tell me more about the man who called you. What did he say?’
I thought it was important that the called me Miss Leivo. Finns only rarely address each other like this. The oddity of his speech indicated that the man was foreign, as did his accent. After all, wasn’t drug racketeering in Finland largely the work of Russians and Estonians? Perhaps their networks stretched to Lithuania too.
Pauli listened gravely as I told him this.
‘Maybe this Fleming was trying to get a piece of the action too. Had you arranged to meet him the afternoon of your flight home?’
I tried hard to remember, but we hadn’t agreed anything like that. Dave Fleming was a young man, not much over twenty, and had been visiting Europe for the first time. He was a former figure skater himself, but had been forced to give it up because of back problems. Pauli switched on my computer and searched in Google under the name Fleming.
‘Twelve-thousand hits,’ he said downheartedly. He tried a number of different word combinations, but couldn’t find the man who had introduced himself to me as Dave Fleming. Perhaps it was a false name. But surely not just anyone would have been granted an interview with Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas. In any case, his knowledge of figure skating had been very impressive indeed.
‘Should we ring round the hospitals in Vilnius and see if we can track him down?’ I suggested.
‘We’re not family,’ he pointed out.
‘We can lie and tell them that we are,’ I said imploring him. I was becoming desperate. Pauli didn’t answer, but continued tapping away at the computer. I let him get on with it and went into the kitchen to make some tea. I felt I needed a calming blend of camomile and lavender. The view from the kitchen window was the same as ever: the square yard between the yellow sanded houses, a few rows of dustbins, an ailing rowan tree with barely the first sign of leaves, even though it was already the middle of May. In Vilnius summer had been in full bloom. Why hadn’t I just stayed there, why had I come back to this nightmare? Though naturally without my trip to Vilnius there would have been no nightmare in the first place.
‘Do you think we should tell the police?’ I asked as the aroma of honey-sweetened tea rose from my cup.
‘What, about mysterious men who hide drugs worth hundreds of thousands of euros in your luggage? Do you think they’d believe you?’ Pauli took a sip from his own cup; he was usually more of a coffee drinker. ‘A penniless literature student writing a PhD on a tiny scholarship. It wouldn’t be difficult to recruit someone like you to become a drugs courier.’
I was taken aback at the sharp tone in his voice. Did he really imagine that I’d got involved in this of my own free will? If Pauli didn’t believe me, there was no way the police would. Did Pauli think I hadn’t wanted him to come with me just so that he wouldn’t interfere with my crooked plans?
I looked at myself in the hall mirror. I saw an average Finnish woman; straight, blond, shoulder-length hair, round cheeks, pointed nose and blue eyes that were generally eager and happy. Like many Finnish women I had a body the shape of a pear. I was wearing a safe, striped Marimekko T-shirt and a pair of Kalevala-koru earrings. I looked as normal a person as can be. Why had my life suddenly turned into an unimaginable nightmare all because of an unknown American journalist?
The telephone rang again, and this time it was mine. The sound seemed to shatter my eardrum. Pauli picked up the phone and looked at the screen.
‘Unknown caller. It’s probably best if you answer it. But don’t let on that anyone else knows about the drugs except you.’
Of course I wouldn’t have said anything, I didn’t want to put Pauli in harm’s way. My voice was quivering as I said my name. This time the man listened until I had finished, then began speaking:
‘Miss Leivo, have you come to your senses? Are you ready to give us back what doesn’t belong to you?’
I let out a small whimper. The lynx had caught its prey and the hare was squealing with pain.
‘Yes…’ I finally managed to utter.
‘Good. I knew you were a sensible girl. Nothing will happen to you as long as you do exactly as I say. You haven’t told anyone else about this, have you?’
‘No,’ I replied as Pauli had instructed.
‘Good. Remember, under no circumstances should the police get involved in this. If you tell them, we’ll find out – wherever you are. Do you understand?’
I managed to mutter some kind of response. Why had my living room walls suddenly started to turn green? They were supposed to be covered in warm cream coloured wallpaper.
‘We must wait until it’s dark. Do you know the car park in Hanasaari cultural centre in Espoo?’
‘I think so… along the western highway?’
‘Correct. I don’t mean the section by the bus stop, but the car park itself, further along the road into the island. Be there at eleven o’clock tonight. We’ll recognise you. As long as we get what we want, we’ll leave you in peace. And remember: not a word to anyone!’
The line went dead. Pauli looked at me anxiously.
‘Eleven o’clock at the car park in Hanasaari. Then this nightmare will be over.’
It didn’t take Pauli long to think things through. ‘I’ll go over there now. I’ll take the car and hide in it. There’s still three hours until your meeting. They won’t suspect a car that’s been sitting there for hours. You understand I can’t let you face those bastards by yourself, now we’ve got the chance to take them by surprise.’
Pauli lived in Kulosaari, so it was easy to get there on the metro. He had decided to keep his car for trips out of town.
‘You’d best come by bus, a taxi would arouse too much suspicion. Don’t worry, Julia. I’ll protect you. I won’t let anything happen to you.’ Pauli took me in his arms. I didn’t want to let him go and leave me to worry about things by myself for the long hours to come, but there was nothing else we could do. The caller must not see Pauli with me.
‘I’ll have my phone on silent. Text me when you’re near Hanasaari,’ he said before he left.
My computer had been left switched on and I tried to carry on going through my notes, but it was no use. The seagulls were screeching on the roof of the house opposite, and the sunlight fell on my sofa. By eleven o’clock it would already be dusk. I wasn’t afraid of the dark, but I decided to pack a torch in my handbag, as I couldn’t remember how well lit the area around the bus stop was.
As the minutes passed, so my panic grew. What if I just flushed the heroin down the toilet? If I said that someone had stolen it from me? No, they would surely take revenge. I would live in fear for the rest of my life. But what guarantee did I have that they would leave me alone once I had given back the drugs?
I felt as removed from reality as the protagonist of Henry Parland’s novel Broken, who could no longer tell the difference between what was real and what was imaginary. He pondered whether he should take action or remain an onlooker. I didn’t have a choice, I had to act according to someone else’s instructions.
The more I thought about it, my fear was joined by a sense of anger. What right did Dave Fleming have to choose me of all people and ruin my life? I knew that once this was over things would not go back to normal, I would always be afraid, no matter what Pauli said. I loathed being afraid.
As a child I had always had my nose in a book, and this had annoyed some of the other girls in my class and the older ones too. According to them I thought I was better than everyone else, because I would rather sit reading than play with them. Through books I was able to travel into new worlds. That’s why the bullying started. This mostly took the form of taunting or stealing my books, but I gradually became afraid of going to school or the library. And the fact that I was afraid and tried to avoid them seemed to make them tease me all the more.
When I finally plucked up the courage to tell my parents, they didn’t take me seriously. My Mother even encouraged me to read less and spend more time with the girls. Once I realised my parents were going to be of no help whatsoever, I stood up to the bullies myself. I spoke my mind to them a few times and told them that no one treats me like that and – to my surprise – it worked.
I was pleased at being able to protect myself. None of my previous boyfriends had ever showed the slightest chivalry either. That was one of the qualities I admired in Pauli. He was considerate and protected me from harm. He had even offered to call one of my professors and reproach him for being, in Pauli’s opinion, too critical of my work in a research seminar. If I were out with the girls I always had to let him know I’d got home safely. Pauli would never allow anyone to bully me around. When I was in Lithuania I had to call him every day and let him know that everything was okay. It had even started to bother me a little. And now he was sitting in Hanasaari ready to sort out a drug baron, though I wasn’t sure he knew quite what he was getting himself into.
I put my purse and keys into my handbag and after a moment’s thought decided to pack a torch and the jar of white pepper. I had to force myself out of the door. It felt almost as though I was walking on a cushion of air, my steps had a strange swing about them. People must have thought I was drunk. It was frightening to think that in my handbag there was a stash of drugs worth hundreds of thousands of euros. I gripped it tightly as I walked down into the metro. The carriage was almost empty: only a woman of my age, a young Somalian boy listening to his headphones and a security guard. I jumped as she looked at me.
Without looking around me I got off at Kamppi and took the first bus heading west along the motorway. It was just about to leave. All the buses stopped in Hanasaari. The journey was a lot shorter than I had imagined and I found myself in Hanasaari by half past ten. The cultural centre was on the opposite side of the road from the bus stop, and I had to go through the underpass. Anything could have happened to me in there, and Pauli wouldn’t have been able to see a thing, because he would be in his car. Although the traffic was rattling by on either side, in the tunnel I would be utterly alone.
The words of the title poem of Henry Parland’s collected verse ‘Hamlet said it better’, in which the poet stressed our freedom of choice, ran through my mind. To hell with it, I didn’t want some criminal to make decisions for me! I didn’t want to be a snivelling coward, always turning to others for help. It would be insane to turn myself over to the mercy of a group of drug pushers. If everyone thought like that the world would soon turn into a jungle.
It occurred to me that I thought more clearly when Pauli wasn’t around telling me what to do. I rang directory enquiries, asked for the police and dialled the number. The voice that answered was friendly and business-like. When I said I wanted to report the threatening phone calls I was transferred to another policeman by the name of Puupponen. He took my situation very seriously.
‘Calls like this should always be taken seriously, though I find it hard to believe that you managed to bring smoking heroin into Finland. There are sniffer dogs at the airport and their sense of smell is a thousand times more sensitive than a human’s. How much of the substance did you say you had?’
‘I don’t know. About a hundred grams.’
The policeman was silent for a long time.
‘Unfortunately it’ll take a while to access your phone records, and if this is a professional criminal he’ll probably have an illegal number. You say you’re already at Hanasaari? I’ll send a patrol car over there right away.’
‘But then you’ll rattle him and he’ll run away. The calls will just continue and I don’t want that. You have to catch him! What if I go and promise to give him the drugs, then your squad turns up and arrests him. I could try and stall him for a while,’ I suggested. My teeth began chattering; a biting wind blew in across the sea.
‘We don’t want to put you in any danger, Julia.’ Puupponen began using my first name. My phone beeped signalling that a text message had arrived. Damn it. I had forgotten I was supposed to let Pauli know when I was close by.
‘Go and sit in the car with your boyfriend. If necessary, stay inside,’ Puupponen commanded me. ‘A squad car will be on its way. I’ll call back soon.’
The conversation ended. I quickly typed a message to Pauli to tell him I was at the other end of the tunnel, then forced myself to step into the underpass. Thankfully there was someone walking a dog at the other end. The sound of the traffic no longer seemed terrifyingly loud. I would get through this. The police were on their way.
As I walked along the path towards the cultural centre there was only a small amount of light shining through the trees and the street lamps hadn’t yet come on. There were a number of cars parked outside, and I could see Pauli’s silver-grey Audi amongst them. I started walking towards it when I saw a shadow come out of the trees.
The man had pulled a balaclava over his head. I could only see two things: a pair of dark sunglasses covering his eyes and the pistol in his hands. At that moment I realised that this was not going to end well.
‘Good evening, Miss Leivo.’ The voice was familiar from the telephone, rough and menacing. I couldn’t bring myself to utter a sound. ‘Lay your handbag on the ground. Good. Now bend down and give me my package.’
I did as I was told. All I could hear was the man’s voice full of anger. My legs felt weak as I stood up. The man pointed his gun right at me.
‘Come closer, I won’t bite.’ From his voice I could here that he was smiling. I took a step forward, and that’s when everything started to happen.
Pauli rushed out of the car. It took the man so much by surprise that for a moment he didn’t know which of us to aim at. He chose Pauli.
‘Run, Julia!’ Pauli shouted, but I didn’t have time to move, as just then a police car swerved into the car park at an incredible speed. I only just managed to jump to safety. Both Pauli and the attacker froze to the spot.
‘Put the gun down!’ came a voice from the police car. The attacker seemed not to know what to do. To my amazement, Pauli ran towards him and that’s when I heard the gun shot. I heard Pauli scream and closed my eyes. Now it had happened. Pauli was dead and it was all my fault.
When I opened my eyes again I saw the drug pusher lying on the ground and Pauli shaking him. Pauli was still shouting.
‘Jesus, Darius, say something!’
At that point I felt my legs give way beneath me. How could Pauli know the drug dealer? Was he somehow involved in all this? I saw the police dashing towards him and the man called Darius. There were four policemen. A fifth, a slightly older, tall woman came running over to me.
‘Julia Leivo? Are you all right? I’m DC Liisa Rasilainen,’ she said, but all I could hear was Pauli shouting.
‘Darius isn’t a drug pusher. We work together. Do something, call an ambulance or a med copter.’ Pauli was using his hands to try and stem the bleeding gushing like a fountain from the man’s thigh and one of the policemen went over to help him. He was carrying a first aid bag and pulled out a pressure bandage.
‘Bloody Haikala, why does he always have to panic like that?’ Rasilainen muttered to herself. The minutes that followed were a blur. Rasilainen was talking frantically on the phone. The man called Darius had lost consciousness. The bullet had struck the main artery in his thigh and he had lost a lot of blood. The ambulance arrived, accompanied by more police cars. I saw Pauli being bundled into one of them and didn’t understand what was going on. Someone picked up the package of drugs and handed me back my handbag. Finally Rasilainen informed me that I would also have to follow them down to the station.
‘DC Puupponen will want to talk to you.’
‘Is that man going to die?’ I asked once I had sat down next to Rasilainen in the back seat of a car speeding off towards Espoo police station. It was a place wholly unfamiliar to me.
‘Hard to say really. But now I understand why your boyfriend was prepared to run at the man with the pistol. It was only a fake gun,’ she replied in a tired voice. Once at the police station she offered me a banana and a cup of tea and left me sitting alone in a white room, silent except for the hum of the ventilation shaft. I closed my eyes and tried not to think, because it was pointless. I no longer knew what was what.
I gave a start when Liisa Rasilainen said my name.
‘DC Puupponen is waiting.’
We took the lift up a few floors and marched the length of a long white corridor into another room. Inside the room sat a red-haired, freckled man in his thirties. His smile was friendly but subdued.
‘Ville Puupponen. We spoke on the phone. Quite a night you’ve had! We won’t keep you long. Would you run us through this afternoon’s events once again, please?’
I went through what had happened, though my mind was full of questions. The man sitting next to Puupponen was busily typing at his computer. Rasilainen was in the office too, her presence felt reassuring. Once I had finished, Puupponen sat quietly for a moment.
‘Your version of events is pretty much the same as Pauli Lind’s. It all looks very clear, though we still can’t interview Darius Katukevičius. I’m sorry you’ve got mixed up in all of this.’
‘Tell me, is Pauli really a drug dealer and a friend of this Darius?’
‘Well, yes and no. Darius Katukevičius and Pauli Lind are close work colleagues, but no drugs have ever been involved in this. Liisa, would you bring Lind in here? Let him explain for himself exactly what he’s been up to.’ Puupponen poured himself more coffee and asked if I would like some. I said no. I felt sick.
Pauli’s jacket was still stained with Darius’ blood and his stubble had grown. He looked confused, and when he tried to come over and give me a hug Rasilainen held him back. Thankfully he didn’t start another fight but let the matter drop.
‘Well, Pauli, tell Julia just who was behind all those threatening calls,’ said Puupponen once Pauli had finally sat down far away from me.
‘Julia, you’ve got to understand, it was only a joke! Darius really is Lithuanian, quite a coincidence! That’s what gave me the idea.’ Pauli seemed to be talking more to Rasilainen than to me. ‘I knew Julia wouldn’t understand anything about the drugs. That smoking heroin is a ground organic nutritional supplement. Pretty clever, don’t you think?’
Puupponen did not look the slightest bit amused.
‘It’s a good thing Miss Leivo described the appearance and amount of the substance over the telephone. I knew straight away that it wasn’t smoking heroin, and certainly not worth as much as she claimed. That’s the only reason I allowed her to go and meet the caller. I guessed someone was just having a laugh and as soon as she mentioned a boyfriend, you were number one on my list.’
Pauli looked visibly irritated.
‘I thought it was a great plan! Remember, you rang me the evening after the interview with the figure skaters and told me about that American guy. He’s fine, he doesn’t know anything about this. I took his card out of your purse when you asked me to go through it.’ Well well. Pauli pulled Dave Fleming’s card from his jacket pocket and handed it to me. I didn’t take it, but moved further away from him.
‘Didn’t I ever told you I used to do magic tricks as a child? Those ‘drugs’ were hidden up my sleeve and I put it in your foot lotion when I was going through the bottles. I had thought of putting it in the lining of your suitcase, but you were too quick and you’d already checked it before I got there.’ There was something almost bitter about Pauli’s voice.
I looked around the room at the now familiar faces and realised that I hadn’t missed Pauli in Lithuania at all. I had enjoyed my own thoughts, my own company; the fact that I could pop into a shop whenever I wanted to and could choose the restaurant I ate at by myself. Pauli thought women should only drink wine – he would have been shocked to see me enjoying a pint of Lithuanian beer.
‘Why on earth did you do it?’
‘You didn’t seem interested in me anymore. All that mattered to you was the bloke in that thesis of yours! I thought this way you’d realise how much you needed me. I’d show you that I can protect you.’
I stared at Pauli, astonished and sad. How wrong he could be. ‘You couldn’t have protected me from a real criminal. I protected myself by calling the police.’
‘If you’d followed my instructions Darius would still be alive!’
‘Is he dead?’ No one answered; all I could see were empty faces around me. Then I began to regret it. Why had I called the police? Why hadn’t I let Pauli finish his little game?
‘I thought you’d be impressed if I attacked an armed man and made him run off. You’d think I’m interesting again, even though I don’t write poetry like that Henry what’s-his-face.’ Pauli’s voice was almost tearful.
‘Are you really jealous of a man who died seventy-five years ago?’ I asked. DC Rasilainen shook her head in disbelief. Pauli didn’t answer.
‘Don’t you understand? I thought my life was in danger.’
‘It only lasted a moment,’ Pauli scoffed. I could hardly believe my ears. Puupponen’s mobile rang. He listened silently to the voice at the other end, thanked the caller and hung up.
‘Darius Katukevičius will be okay,’ he informed us. I saw that, beneath all the freckles, his skin was tired and grey. ‘Julia, I’ll arrange for someone to take you home. Mr. Lind on the other hand can stay here and answer some more questions.’
‘I haven’t done anything! It’s your lot that shot Darius!’ he protested.
‘Making illegal threats is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment,’ Rasilainen answered matter-of-factly and indicated for me to follow her.
‘Imprisonment! This was only a joke. Surely you… Julia, soon you’ll be laughing at this.’ Pauli stood up and took a few steps towards me. I wasn’t afraid of him, after all there were three policemen standing around me. ‘Kiss me good night, Julia. I’ll come round tomorrow as long as they’ve let me out.’ He tried to touch my hair but I moved away.
‘Don’t come round tomorrow, don’t ever come round.’ My voice didn’t falter. I followed Rasilainen out of the room. I could hear Pauli trying to follow me, and the sound of the other police officers restraining him.
Outside the spring morning had already begun to break, the sun’s pink glow could be seen faintly on the eastern horizon.
‘Just contact the police if Pauli starts harassing you,’ said Rasilainen as she turned the car into my street. I promised I would.
Once I got home I had a shower, made some tea and sat reading Henry Parland’s essays on the cinema. Morning gradually brightened into day and I began to think of where I could apply for a travel grant. It hadn’t been the city’s fault that a cloud had momentarily darkened Vilnius, but Pauli’s. The memories I had brought with me were wonderful and I decided to go back there and finish writing my thesis in Vilnius.
© Leena Lehtolainen. All Rights Reserved 2005.
Lehtolainen debuted as a writer when she was twelve with a novel for young readers „And suddenly came May“ (Ja äkkiä onkin toukokuu) in 1976...
2005. Nordic Council of Ministers Office in Lithuania. All rights reserved e-solution: gaumina