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Book Excerpt: A Nearly Normal Family

A Nearly Normal Family

A Nearly Normal FamilyWe were standing in the entryway. My hand on the lock. Ulrika’s whole body was shaking.

Why had Michael Blomberg called? What was Stella doing at the police station?

“Tell me,” I said to Ulrika.

“All I know is what Michael said.”

Michael Blomberg. It had been several years since I’d heard his name. Blomberg was well-known in more than just legal circles. He had made a career as one of the country’s foremost defense attorneys and had represented defendants in a great many high-profile cases. His picture had been in the evening papers and he was called upon as an expert on TV. He was also the man who had once taken Ulrika under his wing and paved the way for her success as a defense attorney.

Ulrika was breathing hard. Her eyes were darting like frightened birds.

She tried to squeeze past me and out the door, but I caught her, held her in place between my arms.

“Stella is in police custody.”

I heard what she said, the words reached me, but they were impossible to comprehend.

“There must be some mistake,” I said.

Ulrika shook her head. A moment later, she collapsed against my chest and her phone crashed to the floor.

“She’s suspected of murder,” Ulrika whispered. I stiffened.

The first thing I thought of was Stella’s stained top.

Ulrika called a taxi as we hurried to the street. Outside the recycling station she dropped my hand.

“Hold on,” she said, stumbling in among the recycling bins and containers.

I stayed put on the sidewalk and heard her coughing and throwing up.

Soon a black taxi appeared.

“How are you feeling?” I whispered as we put on our seatbelts in the back. “Like shit,” Ulrika said, coughing into her hand.

Then she typed on her phone with both thumbs as I rolled down the window and bathed my face in the fresh air.

“Can you go a little faster?” Ulrika asked the driver, who grumbled a little before stepping on the gas.

My mind turned to Job. Was this my trial?

Ulrika explained that Michael Blomberg was waiting for us at the police station.
“Why him?” I asked. “Isn’t that an awfully big coincidence?” “He’s an extraordinarily talented attorney.”

“Sure, but what are the chances?”

“Sometimes things just happen, honey. You can’t control everything.”

I don’t want to say I disliked Blomberg. I don’t like speaking badly of others that way.

Experience tells me that when you dislike someone on such vague grounds, the problem often rests with you.

I tipped the driver and then had to jog up the stairs to the police station, where Ulrika was already pulling open the door.

Blomberg met us in the lobby. I’d almost forgotten what a big man he is. He came lumbering over to us like a bear, his jacket flapping around his stomach. He was tanned and wearing a blue shirt and an expensive suit, and his slicked-back hair curled at the back of his neck.

“Ulrika,” he said, but he stepped right up to me and shook my hand be- fore he embraced my wife.

“What’s going on, Michael?”

“Take it easy,” he said. “We just concluded the interrogation and this nightmare will be over soon. The police have come to an extremely hasty conclusion.”

Ulrika sighed heavily.

“Stella was identified by a young woman,” Blomberg said. “Identified?”

“Perhaps you heard that a body was found on a playground over by Pilegatan?”

“And Stella was supposedly there? On Pilegatan?” I said. “There must be some mistake.”

“That’s exactly what it is. But this girl lives in the same building as the man who was murdered and claims to have seen Stella there last night. She thinks she recognizes Stella from H&M. That seems to be all the investigators have.”

“That’s ridiculous. Can she really be in custody on such flimsy grounds?” I thought back to the night before and tried to remember the details. How I had lain awake, unable to sleep, waiting for her; how Stella finally came home and showered before slipping into her room.

“Is she detained?” Ulrika asked. “What’s the difference?” I asked.

“The police have the right to take someone into custody, but in order to keep them there a prosecutor must order detention,” Blomberg said. “The lead interrogator just has to brief the prosecutor on duty and then Stella will be released. I assure you. This is all a mistake.”

He sounded far too confident, just as I remembered him, and that worried me. Anyone so free of doubt is certain to lack attention to detail and engagement as well.

“But why such a rush to bring her in?” I asked. “If they don’t have any- thing else to go on?”

“This case is a real hot potato,” Blomberg sighed. “The police want to act quickly. The fact is, the victim isn’t just anyone.”

He turned to Ulrika and lowered his voice a notch. “It’s Christopher Olsen. Margaretha’s son.”

Ulrika gasped.

“Mar . . . Margaretha’s son?” “Who’s Margaretha?” I asked. Ulrika didn’t even look at me.

“The dead man is named Christopher Olsen,” Blomberg said. “His mother is Margaretha Olsen, a professor of criminal law.”

A professor? I shrugged.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Margaretha is very well-known in legal circles,” Blomberg said. “Her son has also made a name for himself in a number of circles. A successful businessman, he owns real estate; he sits on lots of boards.”

“Why would that matter?” I said, my irritation mounting.

At the same time, I recalled my own words, that this sort of thing only happens to alcoholics and drug addicts. That had certainly been an assumption full of prejudice, but it was also based on empirical evidence and statistics. Sometimes you have to close your eyes to the exceptions to keep from going under.

“Maybe it shouldn’t matter,” said Blomberg. Reading between the lines, it was clear that it did matter, and that he wasn’t sure there was anything wrong with that fact.

“Margaretha Olsen’s son,” Ulrika said. “How old is . . . was he?” “Thirty-two, I think. Or thirty-three. Deadly force with a bladed weapon.

The police are being very tight-lipped with the details. During the interrogation, they were mostly interested in Stella’s whereabouts yesterday evening and last night.”

Yesterday evening and last night?

“When was this man murdered?” Ulrika asked.

“They’re not sure, but the witness heard arguing and shouting just after one o’clock. Were you awake when Stella got home?”

Ulrika turned to me and I nodded.

There I’d been, tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. The text I’d sent, without receiving a reply. So my worry hadn’t been unfounded. I thought of how Stella had come home and clattered around in the bathroom and laundry room. What time had it been?

“There must be someone who can give her an alibi, I said.” Both Ulrika and Blomberg looked at me.


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