The Face in the Concrete
Introducing Onni Syrjänen
.... by Tapani Bagge
Translated by Minna Haapio
....The double door of the half-finished construction shed wasnt locked so I pushed it open. Just inside, I stumbled on a cord from a service-lamp hanging from the ceiling and fell to the concrete, still wet and soggy on the surface. The glaring light set eerie shadows swaying on the sheetrock walls. Hot air blowers blasted in the corners, spreading the smell of dust, concrete and fresh wood. My shoes, my knees and my hands left clear prints in the freshly laid floor. I felt like a movie star.
....But I wasnt alone. A couple of meters away lay a dark haired man in red-and-black overalls. His hands, knees and sneakers had also sunk into the concrete, only deeper than mine, and his face was buried in the mud all the way up to his ears. There was no pulse, though the body had remained warm thanks to the blower's heat and warmed concrete.
....Somewhere in the distance, there was a sound of a police siren.
....Five hours earlier I had wiped the sticky snow off my crew cut and pushed through another door, into the warm arms of Tinatuoppi, a joint named after a tankard. The brothers were sitting on a bench by the wall on the under-21 side, with practically empty mugs in front of them. They must have been expecting me to buy a round. I went to the bar, said hi to Aila, and asked for coffee.
.... You didn't come here to see the Häkkinens? Aila wondered.
.... You know why I come here.
.... Aila smiled. She was a pretty blonde, a straight-nosed girl, ten years younger than me. She was always smiling and sometimes she gave me free coffee. For a few years now, that had been enough for me.
.... This time I had to pay for my coffee, but the smile was still free of charge. I took my cup to the brothers' table, laid my second-hand coat on the bench next to Make's crutches and sat opposite them.
.... Some cousin, Jamppa said grimly at Make. Doesn't even buy us a round.
.... I've always had my doubts that this Onni guy is even related to us, Make confessed, speaking as though I wasn't there. He was in his twenties, five years younger, slightly taller and half the weight of his brother. Like I was saying, it was only when he left for the Law School that he
.... Hey, if I want to be insulted, I could just go back to my office and stand in front of the mirror, I said and tasted my coffee. Aila was facing us so I tried not to grimace. I heard that you actually had something to tell me. Has your Pop been caught again?
.... The man was just talking 'bout that, Jamppa said. He's been out for nearly a year now, says he ain't used to that sorta thing.
.... When Pop's pissed, he even tells us sometimes how he misses the joint. And he keeps his knapsack ready, he says, so that he'll be ready to roll when the cops come and pick 'em up again.
.... 'Just the other night he got all mushy over some Christmas bash in jail, Sörkka, I mean," Jamppa filled in. In the midst of a job, too
.... I took a glance around but Tinatuoppi was the usual Monday night dead, with the pool table gathering dust in peace and only the regulars hanging around. They had enough wrestling with their own mental spiders and Aila, she knew everything anyway.
.... The jukebox seemed stuck on "Marraskuu," a song about longing, beer and the sneaking winter. As I turned back to the brothers, it began playing once again.
.... Make had dyed his long hair black, a sculpted curl on his forehead, and his denim outfit decorated with self-made fringes. Jamppa had a rugged gray pilot jacket and short blond hair carefully held in place by gel, but the do wasn't fooling anyone -- he was starting to go bald. He sat there with his mouth open until I nodded, and then he continued his story:
.... The old man started boohooing right in the middle of cracking the safe, starting blubbering about how Granny used to send him Christmas trees we made outta paper.
It was you?
Jamppa nodded eagerly.
.... Granny did help Make a bit, he was only three, but I
.... I mean, was it you that broke into Riipinen's? I specified.
.... Ya think I'm lying? Jamppa got upset.
.... I didn't mean it like that. I was just wondering what you're still doing here, then.
.... Should we be off to the Canary Islands, then? Make seemed exasperated. Two fellas with nuthin' but stinkin' holes in our pockets?
.... I would think that a couple of million would fix just about any hole.
.... Ya would, wouldn't ya?," Jamppa grumbled, and swallowed what was left in his mug. That's 'cactly why we gave ya a holler.
.... Or I did," Make corrected. Jamppa just gave me a fiver.
.... It was my last fiver," Jamppa said and looked at me gloomily, like a landlady who'd just served a sixth useless eviction notice. We didn't get a friggin' penny outta that friggin' job.
.... It seemed the brothers had gotten a tip from Pecos Järvelä, the only long-haired Teddy Boy left in Kerava. Pecos had known Rami Riipinen since elementary school and the Häkkinen brothers ever since they had been able to push their scraggy mopeds from Kaleva, the farthermost part of town, to the downtown neighborhoods near the market square. On Saturday, Rami was said to have lost the key to the night depository and been forced to leave a large amount of money in his rental company safe over the weekend. Pecos would have joined in the heist but he was afraid of getting caught, and even more afraid of having to face Rami. It was said that Rami had a black belt of some kind in judo.
.... So Make and Jamppa brought the job to their Pop, but made him promise he wouldn't bring any dynamite. A previous heist they'd pulled off together a little under a year ago had literally blown up in their faces -- along with the safe and its contents along with it.
.... This time around, the brothers were taking no chances. While the old man had prepared aforehand by visiting Tinis and getting in the mood with about ten shots of kossuvissy, a hard liquor mixed with mineral water, the brothers had gone out looking for a getaway car. Last time Make and his gang had almost frozen their asses off in the bed of a pick-up truck, so things were looking up when Jamppa found an old Elite sedan at the parking lot of the redbrick houses in the Kurkela area.
.... ... and then we just drove up to the Riipinen's joint behind the tracks, and jimmyed open both gates and the office door," Make contimued. "We stayed on the lookout, while Pop dropped inside and opened the safe.
.... It must've been the first time he ever did it without dynamite," Jamppa said. He was so friggin' proud of himself he didn't even seem to care that the safe was empty.
.... Empty? But it said on the newspaper that
.... Ya believe everythin' in black-n-white" Jamppa asked.
.... It was empty, all right," Make asserted. We went in to make sure, just in case if Pop had accidentally opened the fridge door or something. But it was the safe all right.
.... And it was empty?" I repeated, still in disbelief.
.... Just our usual crap luck," Jamppa said. I did say right at the start that we'd be better off if we just friggin' stayed home.
.... Hey, moonlightin' always beats stayin' home," Make sighed. Even if there was no loot.
Do the police know about you yet?
.... They don't know shit," Make said. Especially not after they relocated to Järvenpää.
.... What do you need a lawyer for, then?
.... We sorta figured that we might get few beers from ya," Jamppa said and snorted. He sounded about as cheery as an old horse at the slaughterhouse gate. Nah, seriously, whatcha think? Could we drag this Riipinen to court?
.... For slander or something like that, maybe?" Make chimed in. The man's claiming that we're thieves, ya know, and all we did was just break in, that's all.
.... The way I see it, this is a clear case of defamation of our good names, dontcha think? Jamppa asserted. Or betrayal. We worked our asses off for plain nuthin'.
.... Yeah, whatta you say? You'll get a nice cut if we win this. Let's say half.
.... Or let's just make it an even thirty percent," Jamppa suggested, overcome with a sudden spell of generosity.
.... The brothers looked at me and waited, both tippling from their mugs probably not even noticing that they were empty. My coffee was black and thick as tarpaper. I swallowed it all regardless, set my cup down on the plate and gazed at the brothers.
.... Well, I do think that you have been betrayed," I said seriously.
.... Whatcha mean?" Make asked.
.... Surely Pecos doesn't have enough brains for
.... Pecos might not, but Rami does. I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days Rami declares bankruptcy. He just needed a few saps to conveniently wipe out the money from the bookkeeping and came up with the idea of using Pecos and you two.
The brothers looked at me, shocked.
.... Ya can't mean that, man!" Jamppa tried.
.... Sure I can," I said, starting to rise to my feet..
The brothers panicked.
.... C'mon, Onni," Jamppa said. Watcha doin', man?
.... Yeah, Onni, where're ya goin'," Make demanded. Dontcha think we oughta just mull over the summons or file a suit against Rami or whatever the heck it is you do?
.... I'm going back to my office," I said. I rather play solitaire than count the bricks with you.
I took my coat and left. The brothers shrieked something but Aila nodded approvingly.
.... The siren was getting closer. I tried to flip the guy in the overalls over but he wasn't budging -- the concrete had already hardened on him. Although, on second thought, maybe I didn't really want to see his face.
.... His hair and his hunched neck suggested Riipinen, but Riipinen preferred suits, not overalls. The wallet was bulging in the back pocket, and I managed to reach it. A couple of hundred in cash. A driving license, a couple of bank and credit cards and a video club membership card -- all bearing the name of one Raimo Juhani Riipinen.
.... I had been mistaken. It looked like Mr. Raimo Juhani Riipinen wasn't going to be declaring bankruptcy any day soon after all.
.... The siren got louder by the minute. There were no visible gunshot wounds, no stabbing or cutting wounds on Rami's backside, no signs of any violence, yet I didn't quite believe that he would have voluntarily pressed his face against the wet concrete.
.... Except for my footprints, the whole floor was spotless. Had Rami already been lying on the floor when they poured the cement in through the windows? Why didn't the mixer driver notice anything? Was he involved in the killing? But then, why not completely bury Rami?
.... My reveries were interupted by the sound of the snow crunching in the back yard. I moved to the window and peered out: two familiar shadows, one of sporting cast and crutches. The heavier one, the one with two healthy legs, was just about to stick his finger into the hole left open for the door handle.
.... What the heck where those two doing there?
.... At that very moment, the police arrived in front, blue and red lights flashing in via the cracks of the double door.
.... A few hours ago, after leaving the brothers in Tinis, I had walked through the thick snowfall to my first floor office in one of the few real highrises in Kerava, all fifteen stories. I never got around to my game of solitaire, though -- I was just getting the deck out when the doorbell rang.
.... I've been cheated," declared the woman as soon as I opened the door.
.... Good afternoon," I said and offered my hand, smiling. I'm Onni Syrjänen, friend of those who have no friends and righter of those who have been wronged."
.... The voice was deep, with a vaguely East-Finnish intonation. She shook my hand as if any treachery had been my fault and pushed in, snow on her shoulders. She smelled of Dutch flowers and wet and cold. I pulled the door close behind her. She left snow on the hallway floor and her dark red ulster on the rack. Even without the shoulder pads she was a big woman, big and brawny like a football player, almost my height but considerably bustier. She straightened her fluffy woolen jumper and her expensive-looking scarf, fixed her short dark hair in front of the mirror and checked whether her carefully applied but sensible make up had suffered any damage. Then she turned her eye on me as if she had been asking whether everything looked okay.
.... Please come in," I said and pointed with my hand. Would you like some coffee?
.... Yes please." She went into my office. She had red jeans and an interesting gait.
.... I fetched a clean mug from the kitchenette and enquired about sugar and milk, but she said she took it black. I poured full mugs for both of us and sat behind my desk cautiously, in order not to destroy the extremely thin fabric of the office chair.
.... Like most tall women, she wore low-heeled shoes, but other than that, she wasn't apologetic about her size. She sat on the squeaky guest chair in an almost military-like posture, her big light-colored cotton bag leaning against the chair leg.
I tasted the tepid coffee, glanced at her left hand ring finger and asked:
.... How have you been wronged, Mrs. Riipinen?
.... Grossly." She dropped the word like a piano and rounded her lips for the coffee mug. Her lips were already quite arched by nature, round red cheeks, a slightly upright nose and small, brown eyes. She was perhaps 35, about my age. She reminded me of a sturdy, extremely competent farmwife who could take care of the whole farm on her own, all the way from manuring to milking the cows, and still keep the man of the house satisfied as well. But now she was a long way from the barn and on guard. She took a tentative sip of the the coffee, as if it was poisoned.
.... You can talk to me freely," I said. I'm bound by professional discretion.
.... I know that," said the woman You have an investigator?
.... As if I could afford hiring a detective," I grumbled. Six months rent is due anyway.
.... I just thought, you know, like Perry Mason
....II am both a lawyer and a detective -- I do my own investigating. I smiled, trying to be reassuring. At least that was the intention. You said that you have been betrayed. Who has cheated you? Your husband?
.... She swiped with her hand like there was a fly harassing her and shook her head. Could be Raimo is in on it too," she said. But what I want is compensation from Burrito.
.... And who might Burrito be?
.... It's not a person, it's the new Tex-Mex place down over the tracks, near the mini mart.
.... Oh, Burrito," I nodded. I used to go there when it was still a pizza joint run by some Indians. They piled every dish with incredible heaps of curry. Isn't it more of a tavern these days, at least in the evenings?"
.... The food is still pretty good, actually, but the owner is a complete pig.
.... Who owns it now?
.... Some yokel, I believe his name is Hietala. Anyway, I was there after work last night and towards the end of the evening the DJ declared a contest. The prize was a "Getaway for Two," they called it. At first I had no intention of participating but by that time, I had already finished a few liters of beer and I thought, well, a getaway is a getaway. And I won.
.... She didn't seem exactly overjoyed about her good fortune; if anything she seemed to regret the whole thing. I had already began to suspect why, but I kept a poker face and asked how she had been deceived.
.... The 'Getaway for Two' turned out to just be two train tickets to the suburbs, to Savio. C-zone tickets, at that! I guess they might be good for Korso or Rekola. or even in the north for Järvenpää, but
What sort of a contest was it?
.... She cast her eyes down and wiped a non-existent piece of fluff off her thigh. Then she looked at me timidly from under her lashes and said very quietly:
A speed contest.
A speed contest in what?
.... Again her eyes fell down; again the non-existent fluff was sent flying. Her voice grew so faint that I had to lean over the table to hear her.
Could you show me how it happened?
.... She chuckled for a millisecond; her laughter cut short as though guillotined.
.... I am not boozed up now," she looked straight at me, her eyes narrowed into a stilt that crossed the bridge over her nose. I want a real Getaway, not some freakin' crappy ticket to Savio. I deserve it!
.... I am afraid I can't really help you. A getaway is a getaway. If the destination wasn't specifically mentioned
.... This is just outrageous! she roared and leaped up. I have been publicly humiliated and all you do is mutter. Hell, what sort of a lawyer are you anyway?
.... The regular kind," I said, still seated. I don't have anything against income. If you wish, I can sue the owner of Burrito. But you must know that taking someone to court isn't exactly cheap -- and I doubt we hav much chance of winning. Maybe if we had class action like they have in the States
.... It wouldn't do any good," she said.
I was the only participant.
I shrugged my shoulders.
.... Okay. If you really want to take this to court and don't mind the possible publicity
.... I don't know
," she said reflectively. Raimo doesn't know anything about this yet. Maybe we should just forget it
.... Your name wasn't even mentioned in the paper," I offered, trying to cheer her up.
The paper! She was so shocked she had to sit down again, and cover her mouth with her hand. There was something about it in the paper?
.... I picked the newspaper from the kitchenette table and shook most of the rye cracker crumbs off before handing it over.
.... A small report on the corner of page three, right underneath the story about the burglary to your husband's Rental services. Here." I pointed to the article.
She read the heading: "The Getaway of an Amateur Stripper," and her entire face turned red.
.... A forty-year-old technician from Kerava
she read and exploded. Forty! I'm not even thirty-five yet!
.... In a sudden burst of rage she tore the paper in half and would probably have continued shredding it had I not snapped the pieces from her hands and quickly taken cover back behind my desk.
.... Calm down," I said standing. I didn't really dare to sit down. You should be happy there aren't more details. Nobody can suspect you except those who were present at the time
Oh my God! You said it!
What did I say?
.... Raimo often eats there. If he finds out about this, I'll die, I'll surely die!
.... The doors of the police car opened and closed at the yard. Jamppa wrenched the backdoor open and froze in his tracks when he saw me.
.... I waved my hand at the brothers, gesturing to them to get away, and for once they understood the situation and took off, back through the snow. I took half a step with the intent of following them but then I came into my senses. Why should I run? I hadn't done anything illegal.
.... I tugged the backdoor shut, slipped Rami's wallet back into the corpse's back pocket, strode off to the front entrance and opened the foor.
.... Evening," I said to the policeman rushing towards the door. The stiff's over there at the back.
.... She didn't fold, at least not immediately. Instead, she told me that she was going to let the matter brew and thanked me for hearing her out, shaking my hand and leaving a scent of tulips behind. I tried to watch her through the window but the day had already darkened and it was snowing too much. I could barely make out the blind concrete wall of the opposite bank building.
.... A weird client -- or almost-client, but I'd had plenty of those. I'd been in the business for ten years now, first as a student, then as an apprentice in a firm in Helsinki and for the last five years on my own. I wasn't exactly rolling in it but I had paid my rent. More or less.
.... Still, I wondered why the woman had claimed to be Rami Riipinen's wife. I had been in the same class with Elina through the entire high school, and the real Elina was small and fragile and naturally blond and her eyes were big and blue. And she was no technician but a commercial school graduate and a real estate agent.
.... That evening I woke up on the waiting room couch to a tinkling phone. At first I thought it was some kind of a court trick played by Matlock but then I noticed that nobody on the television reacted to it, and that the sound came from the coffee table.
I groped for the mobile and answered.
.... It's Riipinen, goddammit." the phone said. I
I think I need a lawyer.
.... What the hell?"
Aren't you a lawyer?
.... I guess," I said. I don't belong to the Association, though, because
.... For Chrissake, quit fuckin' around. Just try and get your ass over here now!
.... To the rental services, there's an unfinished shed here
.... Alright, alright," I said even if I had no idea of what was going on. I'll be there right away.
The things you promise to do.
.... My faithful Wartburg wagon started at the very first try and throbbed evenly, even if it did sound like a calcified coffee maker. The snow had eased off, and people were returning to the streets, snow ploughs scraping screeching spark sprays off the asphalt. Street lamps formed chains outside the car's steamed-up windows.
.... My winter tires had seen better winters, and a lot of them, but they got me over behind the tracks to the Jäspilä industrial park, where the Riipinen Rental Services harbored itself. Offices and warehouses snoozed underneath the snow cover, but my head was buzzing like a disturbed ant nest. What on earth did Rami need me for? Had someone else stolen the millions that he'd already reported stolen?
.... I left the car on the street next to the high chain link fence and walked in through an open gate. The full moon cast a milky glow on the snow on which the stars sprinkled glitter. Tire tracks lead to and from the yard.
.... Next to the office was a shed, dark and locked as well. Next to the shed another one was being built, with brown windshield boards on the walls, and a cement truck parked in front. A red-bristle street brush leaned on the office wall. It had been used to wipe out all the footprints between the office and the new shed.
A light shone through the cracks of the double doors of the unfinished shed, but the building was as silent as a winter grave.
.... And that's exactly what happened," I told Detective Sergeant Lähdes.
.... Lähdes was blond, long-haired and in his thirties. His reddish moustache reminded me of my teenage years, when I had desperately tried to look like Wyatt Earpl. Lähdes was wearing the usual half-official uniform of the local criminal investigators: smart jeans and a medium-brown nappa leather jacket.
.... This makes no sense." Lähdes said after browsing through his notes for a while. Let me go over this again. According to you -- correct me if I'm wrong...
My image on the steamy window of their civilian Ford Mondeo nodded and I nodded along with it.
Radio rasped cozily on the dashboard.
.... This afternoon, a lady unknown to you dropped by, and told you that she was the wife of Rami Riipinen, but she wasn't. Half past eight Rami called and asked you to come over here because he claimed he needed a lawyer. You come running and find a dead man, lying face down, half-buried in the floor. Apparently, Rami also called the police, pretending to be a neighbor. The patrol happened to be in the vicinity and they found you here with the body. He looked at me. "That right?"
.... I must admit it doesn't sound too convincing, but it's true.
.... And you still haven't got a clue of who came to the backyard via the neighboring lot and went back the same way?
.... I have a cold and besides, I am not a professional snooper."
And you don't know anybody with a cast and crutches?
Lähdes lifted his eyes from the notebook. I'd seen more pleasant gazes.
.... Have mercy, Mr. Sergeant, sir," I groaned and raised my hands. No more of the third degree. I'll confess anything! I murdered this man, and I was there at Lake Bodom, and I murdered Olof Palme and both of the Kennedys, not to mention the Governor-General Bobrikov. I
.... Shut up Syrjänen," Lähdes said with heavy eyelids. I was called here in the middle of a nice quiet night of quality time at home -- just me and my Harley -- for this bullshit. It's about as confusing as the notebook of a granny gone crazy with a serious case of memory disorder. I don't feel like laughing.
Lähdes opened the car door.
.... You wait in there, we'll go and check the other shed and the office. Just in case there are more bodies.
I said I would wait. Lähdes and a patrolling officer rushed on their way, with snow crunching like broken Styrofoam under their steps.
.... I listened to the crackle of the police radio and looked at the stars. I called the operator and got Elina Riipinen's mobile number. I caught her right in the middle of sales negotiations. I said I was interested in one of the apartments on their agency's list and she took my name and number and promised to call me back as soon as she could. She didn't seem to remember me from high school.
.... Me and Rami had also been classmates, at one time, but in the elementary school. We'd even some sort of friends as well, but because we'd lived on the opposite sides of town, Rami had stayed at the old co-ed when I was transferred to the new one. After that, the friendship faded. After high school Rami spent a few years in the School of Economics but dropped out, for the languages if I remember correctly, and eventually went to work as a salesman for his car dealer father. About five years ago the old man went bankrupt and retired, and soon thereafter Rami opened his rental services.
.... I had heard that the place was never more than a step from bankruptcy itself, not unlike a lot of other construction-related companies lately. But if his company was circling the drain, why had Rami been building a new machine shed? Was the building just a show for the debtors so that Rami could buy a little time before taking the money and running?
.... And what did the woman who introduced herself as Elina Riipinen have to do with any of this? Had she killed Rami and if she had, why? and why had Rami invited me to take a look at his own corpse? Who had invited the Häkkinens -- or had they showed up without invitation?
.... Lähdes and the patrol cop were gone for about ten minutes. It got cold, just sitting there, so I got out of the cop car to walk a bit when they surfaced from the office. Lähdes shook his head.
Full of empty, both buildings, he said.
.... Just then, the officer who had been left behind to keep the body company stuck his head out the shed door yelled:
The stiff just came off the concrete!
.... We pushed in through the double doors in the middle of the blowers' humming. Senior Officer Siltala was leaning over the corpse and taking pictures with a Nikon. The flash flickered, the motor buzzed, the angle changed frequently. Siltala enjoyed his work.
The younger badge came towards us from the backdoor. In his gloves, he held a brown square of plywood with a wood-carved handle nailed on it. The board had concrete, blood and snow on it.
.... The murder weapon! he announced proudly. I bet this has also been used to smooth the tracks from the concrete.
.... Great," Lähdes yawned into his palm. Put it in a bag and mark the spot in the map.
Just lo-ove punching the clock with you, Lähdes, Siltala said, without interrupting the shoot for a moment. Ya never get tired of thanking others and giving credit, man.
.... Sod off," Lähdes grumbled and snarled to me: You should always be patting their heads.
.... Someone already patted that guy," Siltala said and took yet another snapshot.
.... The man in overalls lay in the concrete on his back. His face was dirt grey in the flare of the service lamp and the flickering flashes, only slightly greenish due to the detergent that had been used to pull him off. On his left temple there was a nasty looking bruise, perhaps where the corner of the screed had struck.
.... He looked both vaguely familiar and very dead, a man and a woman at the same time, although he clearly was a man.
.... That's not Rami," I said and rushed outdoors with a hand on my mouth not to mess up the crime scene.
.... Lähdes followed me to the door, waited until I had vomited myself dry on the snow. He offered me a xylitol gum from his pocket. I took it.
.... No, that's not him," Lähdes said. It's Hemi, Hemi Leikonen. Hemingway, we used to call him in school. A bit of a geek -- knew all about machines and construction but any sentence over three words was too tricky for him. They moved here in mid-semester from somewhere East, Savonia or North Karelia, somewhere like that. Everyone laughed at the way he spoke.
.... The cop continued,"He used to run excavator business, but that went belly up and he was working for Riipinen, last I heard. His only employee, in fact."
.... This Hemi have a sister?
.... Lähdes studied me. Could be. Why?
.... He looks exactly like the client I was talking about. The woman who said she was Elina Riipinen.
.... The mobile beeped in my pocket as I got into my own car in the Rental Services lot.
.... You haven't been to the class reunions," Elina reminded me. In the background there was medieval church music and the drone of a modern car.
.... I don't believe in them," I said, starting up the Wartburg. I don't need to be reminded that all of my old buddies have turned into middle-aged wussies like me. You know where Rami is?
.... I'm certainly not his guardian. Rami and I just happen to share the same address these days.
.... Sorry to hear that," I lied. The police called yet?
The police? Why?
.... I told her. Elina was left gasping when I finished my story and stopped the Wartburg at the traffic light by the old co-op. They were building a new supermarket where the slaughterhouse used to stand. The pre-cast concrete units stood in snow, looking as lonely as ancient ruins.
.... But the woman couldn' have been Hemi's sister," Elina burst out finally. We were good friends -- I'm sure Ulla would have let me know if she was here.
The lights changed.
.... Yeah. Ulla lives in Australia, she moved there with her husband over twenty years ago and hasn't been back to Finland since. I am sure she would have written or called
What does she look like?
Ulla? Let me think
.... Someone honked behind me. I switched gears and continued driving. I joined the cruisers at McDonalds, even if I didn't quite fit the crowd.
Does Ulla look anything like Hemi? I asked as Elina seemed to have lost all words.
No, Ulla is from another planet. Petite, cute, smaller than me
.... I was still trying to come up with something sensible to ask when Elina told me, without any prompting, that Rami had not come home yet and that he often stayed out late and then came home by cab, loaded. Or spent the night in town. Elina suspected that Rami was seeing someone else but she didn't know whom.
.... It might be wise that you don't go home before the police find Rami," I said. He might be on an unpredictable mood, if he just killed Hemi.
.... Rami? Elina almost laughed. Hard to believe. Rami may be a shit, but he's the most good-natured man there ever was. And Hemi's probably even more even-tempered. A big man, quiet and shy. Almost apologetic for existing.
.... Well, there's no need for Hemi to apologize to anyone anymore. Did he ever have any disagreement with Rami?
Elina thought silently for a while, accompanied by the church choir, and then said:
.... Actually, one evening not so long ago, Rami wasn't around, Hemi came by our place, apologized for interupting me, of course, and then asked whether we could perhaps spare some old bread for him. I wondered whether he had taken a dog or something. You know, what else would he do with old bread? Hemi said that it's just that for some reason Rami had forgotten to pay his salary and that he couldn't afford to buy any food -- not that it would matter but as this had been the case for about eight months now. Eight months! I couldn't believe it! Hemi said he'd already borrowed from everyone he knew
I gave him a hundred of my own money, all I had at the house, and the next morning I preached Rami a loud sermon, when he was sober enough to understand at least some of it.
Did Rami pay the wages then?
.... I don't know. I meant to check with Hemi before Christmas. But then Rami didn't have any money either, due to the burglary and
Elina burst into tears in the middle of the sentence.
.... Good Lord," Elina sobbed. I still can't believe that Hemi is dead
I hope God exists and allows him to go to heaven.
Let's hope so.
And I hope that the one who killed him will burn in hell.
.... Amen to that," I said and turned from Keskikatu towards the car park.
.... I locked the car and turned towards the entrance of the hall. Suddenly someone suddenly stepped in the front of me from behind the neighboring vehicle. Someone else cluttered on his back on the concrete floor with his crutches and all, thanking Jamppa aloud for it.
.... Oh sorry," Jamppa said and bent over to help his brother up.
.... In doing so, though, he stepped on Make's plastered leg. But Make was so miserable he even forgot his customary moan in case any women from the Social Security happened to be around. Make had worn the same cast for well over a year now, receiving a daily allowance from the insurance. I'd heard that he was even considering the disability pension.
I told the Häkkinens to get off to where they had probably never been since their birth.
.... We're thinking of seeking political asylum," Jamppa said with a serious face. We thinks that the coppers are out to get us.
.... And why would you think that?"
.... Pop's disappeared," Make explained. He even took his old doctor's bag along, the one where he keeps all his getaway gear.
.... It wasn't left behind at the Riipinen Rental Services?
.... The fuck it was," Jamppa said. Dunno where the reporters came up with that idea. All the rags had the same yarn, but we didn't leave anything there at all.
Make nodded affirmatively. The old man had the sack along when he came outta the office. for sure."
.... Why'd you go back there tonight? I asked.
.... Ain't it customary for the crooks to return to the scene of the crime," Jamppa said with a straight face. Dontcha read whodunits?
.... And may I ask who read them to you?
.... Nah," Make grinned, ignoring my taunt. Pecos came to Tinis and insisted that Pop told us to go to the rental place.
.... I said Pecos is full of it, didn't I?" Jamppa reminded us.
.... That's 'zactly why nothing ever works with us, man," Make whined. Ya never believe nuthin'.
.... And you'll buy anything," Jamppa snarled. If someone told ya that we're master thieves, you'd swallow that too.
.... Hhmph!" Make puffed. But we are!
Jamppa's sigh was as heavy as a meter of wet snow on the drooping shingle roof of an old grey barn.
.... That's what I meant," he said.
.... While the brothers bickered with each other, we had made our way to the parking hall entrance. I took the key pouch from my pocket and gave it to Jamppa.
.... The office key is the one in the middle. Stay in there and don't open the door for anyone but me. I'm trying to save you from murder charges.
.... Murder charges? Who's dead? Make asked.
.... Leikonen. Hemi's body was found in the shed you were trying to get into."
.... Hot damn!" Jamppa said seriously. I didn't see anyone but you.
.... Ya didn't bump him off, did ya?" Make asked me.
.... Thank you for showing such confidence in me. I'll try to be back by morning.
.... It was ten and then something. A humppa trio thumped in the hall, and pool balls were constantly clicking on the youth side. I said hi to Aila but didn't go over to talk to her or to get coffee. I wasn't in the mood.
.... Pecos had stationed himself by the urinals. He was a short, lanky man in denim and a hippie scarf, about my age, and quite the womanizer -- at least according to him. I had defended him once on charges of receiving stolen goods. I got him parole, which he later screwed up -- he was caught speeding and drunk, driving without a license in a stolen van with open backdoors, stolen stereos falling out on the streets. I did all I could, but you try and come up with an excuse for that. I claimed that he had accidentally drunk too much cough medicine and mistaken the van for his car. The whole show was embarrassing, not one of my proudest moments. Still, I had to do something for my fee.
.... Now I greeted Pecos as if nothing had ever happened, went into a booth and waited until he had finished and rinsed his hands and was drying them under the fan. I swung the door open and pulled him inside the stall by the scarf. I slammed the door shut and gave him a dirty look.
.... It was enough for Pecos. He sniffed his nose and started sputtering hastily:
.... C'mon, Onska my man, I ain't played any tricks on the Häkkinens on purpose -- Ellu made me!
.... What? I slipped. Rami's wife? How?
She gave me a hundred.
.... Coercion by force," I contented. How much do you know?
Nuthin', man, I just keep on rockin' and pickin' up chicks!
.... I was still contemplating what to ask next when someone came into the men's room and started pissing. The music flowed on the dance floor, the bass drum thumped and the floor wobbled underneath the dancers.
.... Can't I just go now," Pecos pleaded. He had eyes like a shortsighted spaniel. I couldn't take that look, especially as I because he probably really did know nothing.
I opened the door, lead Pecos out of the bathroom to the dance floor and gave him to the first woman who came along. I continued straight out the door.
.... The Christmas lights shone in Kerava square. I gazed at my breath in the frozen air. It was time to hit the next bar.
.... Rami looked at me, trying to twist his eyes into focus, while squeezing some lemon on the Burrito's lacquered dark hardwood bar right next to his glass of tequila. More than three sheets to the wind, he still seemed bigger than me, though we were both the same height..
Sy---Syrjänen, my pal, goddammit! Sit down on your arse, I'll buy you a shot.
.... I could have a coffee," I said and remained standing next to Rami at the counter. Raw.
.... Por vavor," said the waitress and plunked the cup down in front of me. She punched the amount on the register. She had a bright multi-colored sombrero, red-dyed curls, a lose red-and-yellow flowery dress and a look that could freeze you for good. Me and Rami were the only customers.
.... What the fuck?" Rami said and passed his fingers through his hair. You ain't drinkin'?
.... Not any more," I said and tasted the coffee. I had to grimace -- couldn't anyone in town make coffee right? The waitress was waiting for the payment with an outstretched hand. She grimaced back.
.... How'd ya figure out to come here?" Rami said while reaching for his wallet.
.... This is the closest place to your Rental," I said, and your Volvo was in the parking lot. Besides, I heard that you come here often to eat.
.... The waitress gave a gloomy laugh and collected Rami's last money out of his palm. There was barely enough to cover my coffee and yet another tequila.
.... Waiting for his shot, Rami placed the sleeve of his expensive dark blue suit right into the lemon juice on the counter, oblivious, and looked at me, his head slightly askew.
.... Keep your fuckin' posture, Syrjänen! he suddenly snapped, smiling. That slouch ain't gonna take you anywhere in this world.
.... Isn't that what Mr. Härkönen always told me in Phys Ed?"
.... That's right. He complimented me on mine, but how well have I been doing? Huh?"
.... I didn't answer. Rami brought his face right in front of mine and stared at me with his dark bloodshot eyes and breathed liquor straight into my nose. I could almost feel the tequila in my throat. I very nearly grabbed the glass the waitress had just placed on the counter.
.... Pretty Goddamn badly, that's how I've been doing." Rami finally replied to his own question. Have you already heard of my most recent heroic deed?
I fucking killed Hemi.
.... You did?
Who else? Rami said and burst into tears. I loved that man
.... That one took me by surprise. But I looked him in the eyes and saw that he meant it. Pain floated in the tequila.
.... Why? I wondered.
.... I-I didn't mean to, no
It was an accident," Rami sobbed into his glass. You must know that the construction business has been in trouble for years now, a joke. I fucking started it right at the worst possible time, and not even once broke even. So, after the last financial statement I decided to grab what I still could, take the money and run. So I bought a few new machines and sold them off along with some old ones off the records, and didn't even bother trying to pay the installments, tax debts or nothing. But I waited too long. I had nearly two million marks in cash in the safe and I was so stupid, I didn't even think of splitting fo Tallinn or somewhere, I was so stuck in these friggin' gin mills. And Hemi
Oh fuck how I loved that man, much more than I ever did Ellu. I couldn't leave him.
.... I took a sip of the bitter coffee. "Whose idea was the burglary?
.... Mine. I came up with that brilliant scheme while drunk, ran into Pecos and conned him into dropping a hint to the Häkkinens. I figured that I'd get the money out of the safe and let those two fools crack open an empty one. Then I'd tell the police that I just kissed two million goodbye.
And how were you going to explain those two million?
.... I wasn't -- because I was going to be so drunk. And I spent the whole night and the next day drinking myself into stupor, as an alibi, you know? But I got shit-faced. hen I finally sobered up, the Häkkinens had struck and the dough really was gone.
.... Except, the Häkkinens don't have the money," I pointed out.
.... That's what Pecos said too," Rami nodded and almost finished off his drink. That's why I asked Hemi if he knew anything about it. He was smoothening the floor of the new machine shed, I figured that the new shed would bamboozle the debtors for a while, they'd think that I was honestly trying to keep the company going.
.... Poor Hemi, he didn't know anything about anything except the machines, and oh yeah, love. I'd thought that at my age it was impossible to go nuts over somebody, anybody, especially over a man after having been straight for my entire life, but that's just what happened. Except that Hemi was wearing women's clothes, he sometimes went to town wearing them. And you wouldn't know. I took him for a woman and went ahead and picked him up, and was so pissed when I realized the next morning whom I just had woken up. I, I meant to beat him up but I, I couldn't... I fell in love with him.
.... Hemi used to pose as your wife?
.... He stared down into his glass. "Sometimes. It was kinda embarrassing but it was just impossible to deny him anything. Hemi knew how to wrap me around his little finger. Especially in women's clothes -- as a man he was such a quiet fella, walking next to the wall so that nobody would notice him.
.... Hemi wasn't wearing women's clothes tonight."
.... Right, he wasn't." Rami said and emptied his glass. He raised his finger for the waitress and appealed to me with his eyes. I paid. He was wearing those overalls of his. I went in minding my own business, just to ask Hemi whether he knew anything about the money but he flipped totally. I tossed him by the hip right on his face to the concrete and swung with the screed immediately after, I was so pissed off. He stayed there, his skull probably smashed somewhere around the temple area. I fucking freaked out, I didn't know what to do for a long time. I just stood there. I loved him -- and I killed him. Fuck!"
.... Rami gulped his tequila shot and raised his finger again. The waitress turned her eyes on me and I put my wallet down on the counter.
.... Rami stared at the empty glass, lost in memory.
.... Then a security company car passed by, and that got me going. I started to clean up the mess. But all the time I knew it was already over, that it was all for nothing. Still, I kept going, on auto-pilot. I switched wallets with Hemi, dunno why, I guess I thought I was gonna take Hemi's papers and leave for Tallinn or something. I smoothed the tracks from the concrete and the yard, jumped into my Volvo and drove over here to the Burrito. Then I called you and Pecos, told him to deal with the Häkkinens and sent them over to the new shed under some excuse and blame Elina in case anyone asked. I figured that if I messed with everything enough, I'd have time to knock a few drinks back and I'd have time to come up with a plan.
.... Rami sighed and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
.... I killed the one and only person I have ever truly loved. And Hemi loved me more than anyone ever did. He... he was a real angel
.... A stripping angel," I muttered to myself and gazed at the small stage at the back of the room.
Rami stared silently into his empty glass right up until the police arrived.
....In court, Rami readily confessed to the killing. He didn't want me to petition for a mental examination, though I tried my best to talk some sense into him. He also copped to the whole burglary scam, claiming he'd lost the moneybag somewhere in town while drunk. The prosecutor had some doubts about the vanished loot but he couldn't prove otherwise.
.... Rami got eight years. As a first-timer, he'll probably sit four, if he can behave himself. Whether he will ever be able to get Hemi out of his mind is a whole other story. Or whether he even wants to.
.... What happened to the money wasn't solved until a few days before the following Christmas. I had just been to Tinis to buy the brothers Christmas beers, and had found a Christmas card sent by Elina on the floor when I'd staggered back to my office to sleep it off. Then the phone rang and I was being summoned to Pasila for an imprisonment trial, the suspect having specifically insisted on Mr. Onni Syrjänen from Kerava.
.... I had a little time to review the case in the corridor of the Pasila courthouse in Helsinki. Pop had arrived from Tallinn on a ferry the day before and was nabbed at customs, trying to carry in almost two million marks in cash in a paper sack. He didn't even try to explain where it had come from. The prosecutor suspected a case of money laundering.
.... Hi, Onni," someone called out not far away.
.... I raised my eyes from the papers and saw that my client was already being brought in. Jussi, the man the brothers called Pop, was a wrinkled little chap with a pale stubble, a mop of greasy hair parted in a way or another, and a surprisingly sharp look in his pale blue yes. The faded blue jacket and brown pants with bags on the knees belied the fact that for an entire year, he had been sitting on almost two million marks.
.... He hurried towards me and raised his cuffed hands up to the waistline. I shook his hand and winked, and he grinned like we were secret allies.
What's the count, buddy?
.... We've been meeting basically every two years," I said and nodded a hello to the guard and pulled Jussi next to me to the bench. He smelled of cigarettes and old booze, as usual.
.... Let's talk a little tactics," I whispered.
Jussi lowered his voice too, so that the guard couldn't hear what we were saying.
.... The tactics is clear. You just get me back to my place before the Eve. That's why I came to Finland, see.
.... Okay, here's how we'll play it. You found the money on the Kerava square before last Christmas, and haven't spent a penny of it," I pondered half aloud, so the case is pretty much clear.
.... I did not," Jussi said quietly but firmly. I cracked open the Riipinen Rental Services box. I did it. Me. Alone. No accomplices. I took my burglar gear outta me bag and filled the bugger with cash, I figured I'd live a little. Didn't say a dang thing to the boys either, the blockheads would've spilled their guts to the next person they saw. Then I packed me knapsack and went to Tallinn, but the sweet life wasn't to my taste. For a couple of nights I lodged at the Hotel Viru and burned money like butane. I almost got killed hangin' with those Mafioso scum and their tootsies. Then I took the bag to a locker and moved to a cheap dive, took up a few capers every now and then to bring me home some bacon. But now it's Christmas again and I got homesick and I knew I had to get back to Finland. Couldcha get me back to my place by Christmas Eve?
.... Our case was being called in. A tear glimmered in the corner of the old man's eye, unless it was a clot of snot wiped aside with the sleeve of the jacket. I got up, looked Jussi in the eyes and offered him my hand.
.... Look, at the most, you're guilty of possession of lost property, but even that is questionable. You ask me, they have no reason to hold you in. I think I could get you back to Kerava today.
.... What the fuck am I gonna do in Kerava?" Jussi snapped and got up without my help. I ain't no teenage con! I did it, and I wanna go to fucking Sörkka. That's my place. you understand? Them folks over there have the real Christmas spirit.
.... I sank back on the bench, thinking that I'd never get up again.
Copyright (c) 2005 by Tapani Bagge.
The publication of "Kasvot betonissa" ("The Face in the Concrete") marks the first English-language appearance of the work of Finnish crime writer Tapani Bagge, and the debut of his lawyer/detective, Onni Syrjänen.
Kasvot betonissa will also be the title of Tapani's short story collection coming out in spring 2006. Julma maa ("The Heartless Land"), his fourth crime novel to depict the misfortunes of the crooks and cops of his present home town Hämeenlinna just came out in Finland this June. Meanwhile, Tapani's first crime novel, Puhaltaja (2002) is due out soon in English from Point Blank Press, translated by JT Lindroos. The tentative English title for Puhaltaja is "The Jack.
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