The Invisible Man from Salem

Christoffer Carlsson (trans. Michael Gallagher)


When I wake up it’s dark, and I just know that something has happened. Out of the corner of my eye I see something flashing. Across the road, the wall of the building opposite is struck by a bright-blue flashing light. I get out of bed and go to the kitchenette, drink a glass of water, and pop a Serax pill on my tongue. I’ve been dreaming about Viktor and Sam.

With the empty glass in my hand I go over to the balcony and open the door. The wind, warm but damp, makes me shudder, and I can see the world that’s waiting down there. An ambulance and two police cars are grouped outside the entrance. Someone is pulling blue-and-white incident tape between two streetlamps. I hear muted voices, the crackling of a police radio, and see the silent flashing of the police cars’ blue lights. And beyond that is the hum of a million people, the sound of a big city in temporary slumber.

I go back in and pull on a pair of jeans, button a shirt, and run my fingers through my hair. In the entrance hall I hear a fan spinning somewhere behind a wall, the muted rustle of clothes, a quiet, mumbling voice. Someone pushes the button to call the old lift down, and it starts its descent with a mechanical crunch, making the whole shaft vibrate.

‘Can’t we shut that bloody lift off?’ someone hisses.

The lift masks the sound of my footsteps as I make my way down the staircase that winds itself around the lift-shaft. I stop at the second floor and wait. Below me, on the first floor, something has happened. Not for the first time.

A few years back, the large apartment was bought by a charity with the help of a donation from someone who had more money than he needed. The group remodelled the apartment into a hostel for down-and-outs, and named it Chapmansgården. It is visited at least once a week, usually by jaded bureaucrats sent by Social Services, but quite often by the police. The hostel is run by a former social worker, Matilda or Martina — I can’t remember her name. She’s old, but commands more respect than most police officers.

As I look over the bannister I see that the heavy wooden door of the hostel is open. The lights are on in there. An irritated male voice is being soothed by a softer one, a woman’s. The lift passes me on its way to the first floor, hiding me from view as I follow it down. The two police officers standing there freeze when they catch sight of me. They’re young — much younger than me. The lift stops on the ground floor, and suddenly it all goes very quiet.

‘Watch your step,’ says the woman.

‘Put the tape up,’ he says, and holds out the roll of incident tape, to which she responds with a stare.

‘You put it up, and I’ll take care of him.’

She has taken her cap off and is holding it in her hand; her hair is up, in a tight ponytail that makes her face look stretched. The man has a square jaw and kind eyes, but I think both officers are quite shaken because they’re constantly looking at their watches. On the shoulders of their uniforms are single gold crowns, with no stripes. Constables.

He walks towards the staircase with the roll of tape in his hand. I try to smile. ‘Listen, something has happened here,’ says the woman. ‘I’d like you to stay in the building.’

‘I’m not going out.’

‘What are you doing down here, then?’

I look at the stairwell window, which is large and looks out at the house over the road that is still soaked in blue light.

‘I woke up.’

‘You were woken by the flashing lights?’

I nod, unsure what she’s thinking. She looks surprised. I detect a sour smell, and only now do I notice how pale she is, that her eyes are bloodshot. She’s just been sick.

She tilts her head ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly, and furrows her brow.

‘Have we met before?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘I’m a policeman,’ I venture, ‘but ... no, I don’t think we’ve met.’

She looks at me for a long time before pulling out her notepad from her breast pocket and flipping through it, then clicking her pen and jotting something down. Behind me, her colleague wrestles clumsily with the tape in a way that gets on my nerves. I look at the door behind the woman. It shows no sign of having been forced.

‘I had no information about any police officers living here. What’s your name?’

‘Leo,’ I say. ‘Leo Junker. What’s happened here?’

‘What department are you with, Leo?’ she continues, in a tone that reveals she’s far from convinced I’m telling the truth.



‘Internal Aff—’

‘I know what it stands for. May I see your ID?’

‘It’s in my coat, up there in my flat,’ I say, and her gaze moves over my shoulder, as though she is trying to make eye contact with her colleague. ‘Do you know who she is?’ I chance. ‘The body.’

‘I ...’ she starts. ‘So, you know what’s happened?’

I’m not really that observant, but it’s pretty rare for men to use the hostel. They have other places to go to. Women, on the other hand, don’t have that many hostels to choose from, since most places turn away anyone using drugs or involved in prostitution. Women are generally allowed to do one or the other, but not both. The problem is, of course, that most of the women do do both. Chapmansgården is an exception, which means that lots of women come here. This place has just one rule when it comes to being allowed in: you mustn’t be carrying a weapon. It’s a generous attitude.

So the chances are it’s a woman, and, judging by the commotion, she’s no longer alive.

‘May I ...?’ I say, and take a step towards her.

‘We’re waiting for Forensics.’ I hear her colleague’s voice behind me.

‘Is Martina there?’

‘Who?’ says the woman, confused, and looks at her notepad.

‘The one who runs the shelter,’ I answer. ‘We’re friends.’

‘You mean Matilda?’

‘Yes. Exactly.’

I step out of my shoes, pick them up, and walk past her into the hostel.

‘Excuse me!’ she says sharply, grabbing my arm. ‘You stay here.’

‘I just want to know how my friend is,’ I say.

‘You don’t even know her name.’

‘I know how to move around a crime scene. I just want to know that Matilda is okay.’

‘That’s irrelevant. You’re not coming in.’

‘Two minutes.’

The policewoman stares at me for some time before she lets go of my arm and looks at her watch again. Someone is knocking on the door downstairs, forcefully and sharply. She looks for her colleague, who’s moved up the stairs and is now out of sight. 

‘Wait here,’ she says, and I nod and smile, doing my best to look sincere.

The Invisible Man from Salem Christoffer Carlsson (tr. Michael Gallagher)