One More Shot
A Onni Syrjänen Mystery

by Tapani Bagge
Translated by Minna Haapio


.....As I stumbled through the door, the hall floor rushed up to greet me like an old friend. Why not? By then, I'd lived in the same dump for about six months. The telephone was ringing.

.....I crawled to my office and yanked on the cord, pulled the receiver to my forehead and cursed.

....."Onni?"

.....I sobered right up. Well, almost. I groped for the receiver and dragged it to my ear.

....."Is that you, Elina?" I wheezed.

.....Now the female voice came from near my mouth. I turned the receiver the right way up and repeated my question.

....."It's me here," Elina replied. "And you over there."

.....Ten years flashed by in a day.

....."When Rami ended up in jail, I waited for you, Onni. Every Christmas I sent a card. You never sent me one."

....."I called you."

..... "Yeah, when Rami was slapped with an extra year in the Appeal."

..... "Six months in practice. Rami was a first-timer."

..... "So am I," Elina said.

..... That took a while to digest. Then I asked: "How come?"

..... "I think I need a lawyer."

..... "Sorry, I don't belong to the Association, the dues…"

..... "You'll do fine, Onni. Besides, the cops are already at the door, I ain't got time to call anyone else."

..... I heard a doorbell ringing furiously in the background.

..... "Where are you?"

..... "Home. They're coming to arrest me for the murder of my husband."

..... "What? Rami's dead?"

..... "No, Sami. I divorced Rami years ago, don't tell me you don't remember. I got tired of waiting around for you and married Sami. Sami died last night."

..... "Don't say a anything to the cops. I'll meet you in Järvenpää. That's where they'll take you. Don't say a single word, except that you're waiting for your lawyer."

..... "Why didn't you call?"

..... The question took me by surprise, even though I'd been pondering it myself for the last ten years.

..... "Go open the door before they break it down," I said. "I'll see you in Järvenpää…"

..... I put the phone down before Elina had a chance to say anything more. I felt dizzy already.

..... I took a quick cold shower and changed into dry clothes. My black party suit was no longer up to the task. Luckily I had recently found a decent quality grey suit in a thrift store, the legs and sleeves of which were only a little short. I'd been saving it in case I ever got another client. The laundry basket gave up an almost clean white shirt, the wrinkles smoothened when I pulled it on. The top button was gone but I didn't have a tie anyway.

..... I was as presentable as I was ever going to be.

..... In the elevator, I avoided my reflection in the mirror. No need to startle oneself too early. I staggered along the tunnel to the station square and noticed that it was only half past four in the afternoon. The September sun was still warm, even though yellow leafs were fluttering over the puddle-ridden asphalt.

..... My head was aching. I bought breath mints at the kiosk and stepped onboard the R-train at number four.

..... I chomped on pastilles the whole way. Commuters shunned my breath but fortunately, ticket inspectors were nowhere in sight.

..... In Järvenpää, I walked a couple of hundred meters from the station to the police station. I was already able to pull that off without swaying.

..... The police building was built in the 1970's and looks like it. Brownish red brick, the window rows decorated with wood peeling off green paint. I sat in the depressing lobby for a long time, waiting for Detective Lieutenant Lähdes to see me. He was blond, short-haired and in his forties. He came from Kerava just like Elina and me, but he was five years younger. He was wearing a thick reddish mustache and the half-official summer uniform of the crime investigators -- tidy jeans and a blue short-sleeved collar shirt.

..... He looked about as merry as a funeral convoy in the autumn rain on the open plateaus of Siberia.

..... "So, Onni has taken yet another shot, has he?"

..... "Or two," I confessed.

..... "I'm surprised the officer on duty didn't lock you up."

..... "Didn't have the nerve. I told him I know you."

..... "All crooks know me."

..... "The famous Detective Lieutenant. Pour me some coffee, will you?"

..... "I'm busy."

..... "If you're about to interrogate Elina, I'm coming with you. She's my client."

..... "Elina who?"

..... I was left thinking about that for a while. As Rami's wife, Elina had been Riipinen but she probably didn't go by that name anymore. And she'd only mentioned the first name of her latest -- and late -- husband..

..... "You don't know the last name of your client?"

..... "Kontio?" Maybe Elina had taken back her maiden name again.

..... Lähdes smiled; shook his head.

..... "It's 'Toukonen.' But don't worry -- I'm not going to put her through the mill just yet. I'm going to let her stew in her cell for a moment."

..... "So I could meet my client before the questioning?"

..... "Surely you're familiar with the pre-trial investigation law," Lähdes said. "You've got the right to be present at the interrogation and ask questions from your client. And then I can let the two of you meet by yourselves. But first you'd better shave, Onni. There's no way you're meeting a lady looking like that."

..... Lähdes fetched a can of shaving cream and a disposable razor from his locker and directed me to the public restroom. I gladly obeyed. I gave myself a quick shave and used my five-spiked comb to push my hair back. It didn't seem to dangle too bad.

..... When I returned, Lähdes was talking with the uniformed Senior Officer on duty about a bike tour he had made on his Harley in Central Europe during his vacation.

..... "I ain't been on a vacation in years," I said.

..... "And can you tell," the Officer said, smirking. He had a straw-colored crew-cut, potato nose and cauliflower ears. Most likely a farm boy from Tuusula originally.

..... "Watch out, AP," Lähdes told the Officer. "Onni will sue you for slandering his reputation."

..... "How can you slander something that doesn't exist?"

..... A good question. However, I chose not to reply.

..... Lähdes led me through a locked glass door, and along a corridor to a small office. I peaked under the negotiation table.

..... "Where'd you put Elina?"

..... "In a cell, smart ass. Sit down. I wanna first tell you how things really are. Then you can listen to the collected explanations of your client."

..... "Yeah, right. Here, the customer is always wrong."

..... "Shuttup and listen for a change, will you?"

..... "You happen to have any Advil?"

..... He did. I took a couple and thanked him.

* * * * *

..... A quarter of an hour later, Lähdes had had his say. I got up from the sofa, threw the empty paper cup to the trash can and looked out into the sunshine. Across the street, a bottle was being passed around a circle of men.

..... "Is there anything else you want to know?" Lähdes asked.

..... "That's plenty," I told the view from the street.

..... It didn't look good. Economist Sami Toukonen, 48, had been found naked and dead in the lake in front of his cottage in Sysmä just before noon the previous day. He hadn't drowned though -- he'd been shot with a small, probably .22 caliber pistol. In the head. Judging from the powder burns, it had been a contact shot. A small full-metal jacket had pierced the occiput and bounced back and forth within the skull causing fatal internal injuries.

..... The gun hadn't been found but they expected the bullet would be found during the autopsy. According to the elderly couple in the next cottage, Elina had arrived at the cottage two nights previously, but had left in a hurry halfway through the night. The neighbours figured that Toukonen might appreciate some company so they walked over the next morning, intending to invite him to lunch. But Toukonen wasn't receiving visitors. The couple had called the police right away and there had been a request of executive assistance from Heinola County to Järvenpää in the afternoon.

..... At the moment, the cops were tossing both Elina's home in Kerava and the cottage, neighbours and friends were being questioned and Elina's movements checked. Elina had already been subjected to a gunpowder test and it had been determined that she had fired the gun within the 24 hours, but in the preliminary interrogations she had claimed a recent visit to the Hyrylä Anti-aircraft Force Center shooting range. She had a .38-caliber revolver registered in her name and a membership in the Kerava Shooting Association.

..... It could have all been circumstantial evidence except that she also had a motive. According to several witnesses, Elina and Sami had been arguing lately, and there had been talk about divorce. Elina was a real estate agent, not poor but not rich either, whereas Sami had a successful IT-business in Sysmä, several undertakings and a lot of property. They had signed a pre-nupt but they also had a mutual will. In case of a divorce, Elina wouldn't get a penny out of Sami', but if he died she would inherit everything.

..... Unless, of course, she was found guilty in Sami's death.

..... Lähdes escorted me to a windowless interrogation room. On the desk, there was a pocket-sized recorder. There was also a camcorder waiting on its stand in the corner. Lähdes put me on a chair on the side and sat at the desk himself, laid a bottle of mineral water and three glasses on the table, and opened the bottle for us.

..... I pulled my chair up to the table. There was a place reserved for Elina on my right side, opposite to Lähdes.

..... "You'll ask for the floor from me, understand," Lähdes said.

..... I nodded cautiously. The Advil was kicking in.

..... Soon a guard brought Elina in and sat in a chair next to the door. Another witness, I gathered. That's what the guards always do. But at that moment, all I really saw was Elina.

..... Despite the make-up she looked her age. Then she looked at me and smiled, a little bit half-heartedly, maybe, those large blue eyes of hers shining and I wondered where I had wasted all these years. Why hadn't I tried to compete with Rami Riipinen? Why'd I given up so easily?

..... The story of my life. In a few lines.

..... But now I had a chance to make it up to her.

..... "You came," Elina said and lightly touched my cheek with her index finger.

..... I got an electric shock or something, woke up startled from my dreams.

..... "I came. I'll be present at the interrogation. I may also chip in and ask you questions. But after this, we'll be meeting alone."

..... "And now begins the interrogation," Lähdes said, slightly amused. He checked that the machine had a fresh cassette. Pressed rec, laid out the dates and participants and so forth. Then the questioning began.

..... In her earlier days, Elina had looked like Audrey Hepburn, or at least her blond Finnish cousin. Now she had tiny grids of fine wrinkles in the corner of her eyes and slight lines round her mouth. Still, the years had been gentle on her. I could be too, I thought, if I only got a chance. For a moment, I let my imagination run. I thought of how I would stroke that blond hair, kiss that small snub-nose and those carmine lips, those high rouge cheekbones and that slightly sharp jaw, the small dimple where her birdlike neck began, just over the golden necklace, and finally, the small breasts dimly visible underneath her two-piece costume. I'd hold her close, carry her home over the doorstep. Make her mine.

..... And piss off to the pub Tinatuoppi the minute love would hit trouble. That's why I'd never dared to share my feelings with Elina. She was much too good and pure to be my wife. She deserved better. Was there anyone good enough for her?

..... Or bad enough for me?

..... Well, I was bad enough for myself. At least when I kept to myself, I didn't harm anybody.

..... Except my clients maybe.

..... My thoughts were disrupted when Elina turned her eyes on me and asked: "Should I answer that?"

..... I hadn't a clue what she was talking about. Fortunately Lähdes let me off the hook.

..... "I asked her whether she will benefit from the death of her husband."

..... "Go ahead," I said. "The police already know."

..... Elina replied: "Right, well, yes, we had a mutual will. And we had a pre-nuptial agreement as well, but it was revoked last week. I mean, there was a new one made that replaces the old one."

..... "How's it different from the old one?" Lähdes asked. He was good. If you didn't know that he had just been startled, you wouldn't have noticed.

..... "According to the new settlement, in the case of a divorce all property would just be split in half. Only Sami's share of the family mansion in Sysmä would have entirely stayed with him."

..... "Why was it left out?" I asked. I wanted to show that I remembered something of the divorce laws. Terminology if nothing else.

..... "Sami's parents. Or actually, Sami's father, my father-in-law. He insisted on the original pre-nup. He thought I was nothing but a golddigger. I wasn't good enough for his eldest son."

..... "You?"

..... She shrugged. "That's what he said. And Sami never stood up for me. Obviously, my feelings didn't really matter."

..... I sighed out of compassion but didn't say anything. Next to me, Lähdes grunted impatiently.

..... "Why'd you change lawyers in-between the pre-nups?"

..... Elina took her time and looked at me, then at Lähdes.

..... "Hämäläinen was on vacation, and we wanted to do it right away."

..... "What happened last night at the cottage?"

..... "Sami was killed, wasn't he?"

..... "But before that. How long had you been there?"

..... "I went there yesterday. Sami had been there since Thursday but I had another deal to close. A two-bedroom in Ahjo, I really had to work hard for that one. I left Kerava right after I got the signatures and said goodbye to the customers."

..... "And received the commission," Lähdes added.

..... "I need to pay my bills, don't I?"

..... "What happened at the cottage?"

..... "Nothing, really. We ate, Sami drank, we went to the sauna. Then there was a quarrel, but it was nothing, really. I left so he could sleep it off."

..... "When did you leave, Ma'am'?"

..... "Somewhere around the midnight. I arrived in Kerava at two and went straight to bed."

..... I thought about that and my elbow slipped from the edge of the table. I almost hit my jaw on the worn-out birch surface.

..... Lähdes never took his eyes off Elina. It didn't surprise me. I turned back to Elina and smiled apologetically. She granted me a quick smile.

..... "What did you quarrel about?" Lähdes asked.

..... "What do couples usually fight about? Nothing. I think I said something to him about was it really necessary to drink that much and he got pissed off."

..... "Oh," I said.

..... Lähdes scowled at me: "Were you getting along in general?"

..... "With Sami? Sure. Just fine. Just last week we'd had a serious conversation and Sami had promised to watch his drinking and I promised to continue loving him. Sami wanted to change the pre-nup after that, as a kind of a token of trust, he said."

..... "I see," Lähdes said and fleetingly rubbed the side of his nose. "I see."

..... "That's why I got upset last night. He'd said he'd watch his drinking."

..... "Where did you meet Sami?" I asked Elina.

..... Lähdes cleared his throat but I didn't pay any attention to him. Elina looked at me, swiped a lock from her eyes and smiled. Vaguely but soothingly. I got more strength out of that smile than I did from Vitamin C or any of the AA-meetings.

..... "I as the real estate agent when he bought the house on Kettupolku. We got to know each other on the side, he invited me for a dinner and so on. To celebrate the closed deal it was my turn to buy him a dinner and we went to that Heimo place next to the station again. A marvelous place, delicious food, marvelous wine list. I ended up spending the night in the house I had just closed a deal on. It was still empty, we slept on the floor. And in the morning, when I got back from the shower, Sami asked whether I'd like to move in with him. I could choose the furniture for all the rooms except his study."

..... "And you moved in."

..... ""And now Sami is dead…" She didn't cry but she grazed the corner of her left eye. My eyes filled up out of sheer compassion.

..... Lähdes went on with the interrogation but I couldn't get rid of the image of Elina returning from the shower, probably without a towel or a bathrobe, because the house was still unfurnished and unoccupied. I saw her in front of me naked, wet, inviting… and I was ashamed of my thoughts when she glanced at me. My forehead was pushing sweat like a crazed set a sprinklers. I was afraid that I'd spoil the recorder on the table and moved it a bit further away, but I knocked the bottle of mineral water onto Lähdes's lap.

..... "Ohhh, sorry," I muttered.

..... Lähdes took the bottle from my hand. "It's all right. I was gonna wash these pants anyway. But maybe you should wait outside in the corridor until the interrogation is over."

..... I stood up, tried to grin at Elina. She was still smiling at me and blinked her lashes.

..... "See you soon," I said.

..... Elina nodded.

..... Lähdes said: "The counsel Onni Syrjänen leaves the room at… Eighteen thirty-two."

..... The guard opened the door for me and closed it behind me. I stumbled to the lobby through the corridor, fell on a seat covered with dark blue fabric and the earth swallowed me.

..... I had screwed everything up. I wasn't yet sober enough to act as a counsel. Lähdes had seen it and had tried to put me together. I had betrayed both him and Elina.

..... I was a no good, miserable drunk. A hopeless case. Why did I even try?

..... I wondered if I had time for a quick shot at RT or Totti. The interrogation would probably continue for a while, at least... I could already taste the lingering bite of kossuvissy.

..... Or, I thought, I could just go into to the men's room and hang myself by my shoelaces.

..... Black spiral stairs corkscrewed from the middle of the lobby up toward the D.A.'s office. I went around them a couple of times. Then I sat back to wait and sweat and suffer.

..... It served me right.

* * * * *

..... The next morning the telephone rang while I was struggling with the coffeemaker. I dropped a full scoop, tried to catch it in the air, dropped the coffee packet on the floor and knocked the coffeemaker over into the sink. The water splashed all over the dirty dishes.

..... So there, a pre-wash then.

..... "Syrjänen," I mumbled to the receiver.

..... "You represent Ellu Riipinen, right?" The man sounded even hoarser than I had the morning before.

..... "Toukonen," I corrected. "Riipinen was her ex-husband."

..... "Tell her that I want five k more."

..... "Tell who?"

..... "Fuck off!" the man snapped. "You tell Ellu that I want the money."

..... "Why?"

..... "She'll know."

..... "She already paid you 5000? And now you want five more?"

..... "I've got expenses. And I done what we agreed on."

..... "What did you do?" I asked, suddenly realizing that I didn't want to know.

..... "I killed her man. Five up front and another five after the deed's done. She promised."

..... "Who promised?"

..... "Ellu."

..... "How'd you kill him?"

..... "I strangled him."

..... "Oh really?"

..... "Well, I mean I drowned him."

..... "Guess once more."

..... "I shot him?"

..... "With what?"

..... "Might've been a .45 Colt, I didn't really look. The main thing is that it worked."

..... "I'm surprised you didn't use a Howitzer," I said. "The whole story was in the papers, Kuokkanen."

..... "There were no names. But I seen the cops yesterday, taking Ellu away. Hey… how ditcha know my name?"

..... "Recognized you from your voice straight away. You're the only one who orders a half a pint in Tinatuoppi."

..... "I can't afford no long necks. I'm a poor pensioner. But listen, lend me a tenner, I'll pay you back at the end of the month, you'll get it back for sure…"

..... I hung up and glanced at the mess in the kitchen sink. I decided to have my morning coffee at the cafeteria at the Järvenpää Court House.

* * * * *

..... The Court House was built in the 1980's, with pale brown Kahi-bricks and green marble decorations. Elina was brought there from her cell at the police department via a second floor tube between the two buildings to a small anteroom. Lähdes was nowhere to be seen but I didn't really care. I needed to speak with Elina before the imprisonment trial began. She smiled when she saw me.

..... "Sorry about yesterday," I apologized. "I've had this flu, I can't seem to shake it…"

..... "That's okay."

..... "But now I've been industrious. And sober."

..... "Great."

..... It sounded like Elina meant it.

..... "I found this Captain Lindgren you remembered seeing yesterday at the shooting range. He remembered you."

..... "I asked him for the time since the battery of my cell phone was dead and I had an appointment with the hairdresser's at ten."

..... "That's what the Captain said, though he didn't mention the hairdresser. The police have already spoken to him, he says."

..... "How about Rytö?"

..... "The guy next door? He admitted seeing you in the bedroom window at two. He must be checking on you on a regular basis."

..... Elina grimaced. "He's just a married guy, retired."

..... "Well, I hope he doesn't suffer from a heart condition," I said and made Elina smile. "His testimony should be a valid alibi, however. After all, the neighbors at the cottage said they didn't hear a blast until half four."

..... Elina nodded. Did I already mention that she has gorgeous blue eyes?

..... As Elina cleared her throat, I tried to catch my breath again and continued:

..... "I also looked into Sami's books. Or tried to -- he had all sorts of businesses, and it looks like they all owned each other to the extent that I'll be damned if I can figure that out. There's really not much activity, though. The 'succesfull IT-business' in Sysmä is nothing but an empty office building."

..... "I think that he ran his businesses for the sake of the image, to be a successful businessman. And to avoid debtors and guarantors."

..... "What are you suggesting?"

..... "Just between us, I've been ready to leave Sami for a long time. The truce last week wouldn't have held very long."

..... "Don't ever say that in the court. Or to the police."

..... "I'm not stupid, Onni." Elina looked hurt.

..... "That's never crossed my mind," I said and dared to touch her cheek. "Never…"

..... Elina took my hand and pressed it against her cheek.

..... "You're so good to me… Why didn't you call me?"

..... I couldn't speak. All that brightness got into my eyes and I had to close them for a while. I just felt the warmth and the softness and the down of Elina's cheek; the firmness of her hand. She was the one who'd help me rise. I could still be the brilliant lawyer everyone in college, even during the internship, had expected me to become. Before I went back to Kerava.

..... Then the guard knocked on the door, Elina let my hand go and I opened my eyes. Elina was still the same but the magic had disappeared. I was back to the forty-five-year-old soak who desperately tried to stand for a counsel.

..... I looked at Elina and gained new strength. I stood up and offered her my hand. "Shall we?"

..... We walked to the court room arm in arm like a couple.

* * * * *

..... I woke up to the dark of the night in my own bed. Alone. Three floors below me the rain splattered on the asphalt.

..... The phone was still ringing when I dragged myself to the hall. I put the light on, saw myself in the mirror, switched the light off. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober but that didn't help much.

..... I sank into the excuse of a chair at my desk. The gas spring sighed long and deep. I answered the phone and for a moment, I thought my dream would continue from where it had stopped.

..... "It's Elina, hi. I didn't wake you, did I?"

..... "No, I'm still asleep."

..... "I tried to sleep. Then this creep called. There's been all kinds, accusations and insults, but I've gotta keep the phone on. You never know when someone is gonna buy or sell a house."

..... "In the middle of the night?" I wondered. The clock at the office wall showed half past twelve and it was still ticking.

..... "Some of the best deals have been made in the middle of the night. But this caller was by far the rudest of 'em all, said his name was Kukkonen or something."

..... "Kuokkanen?" I became alert in the middle of the yawn.

..... "Yeah, that's it. How'd you know?"

..... "He called me this morning. Tried to squeeze money out of me, claimed that you'd hired him to kill Sami."

..... "He told me to have done it because he had promised to answer for Sami's debts in case he defaulted, and lost everything."

..... "When did Kuokkanen ever have anything? All the unemployment checks in the world will never cover his markers. He's not too smart, but he can be dangerous."

..... "What's he into?"

..... "You name it. Break-ins, stealing, shoplifting, strong-arm stuff, whatever he can scrounge up. In eighth grade our arts and crafts teacher took him to the storage room and beat him up for telling him to fuck off in class. That night, someone stabbed the teacher when he was out jogging, and left him for dead, with the knife stuck between his ribs. Kuokkanen's prints were all over it. Things like that."

..... "Oh yeah, now I remember. He was in your class?"

..... "Yeah, he was repeating the eighth grade, mostly absent though. Then, after the stabbing, he got shipped to the juvenile center."

..... "He must've had a poor childhood."

..... "His dad spent his days in the same joints as my old man. His old lady jumped under a train when he was three. Kuokkanen lived with his granny in Lapila. So, yeah, he's had a rough life."

..... "Your mom worked at the post office, didn't she?"

..... I didn't want to go there. "It's Kuokkis we're talking about. This morning he didn't even know what killed Sami. He's just trying to scam some money off you."

..... "He told me that as you didn't take him seriously, he didn't bother telling you the truth."

..... "Kuokkanen wouldn't know the truth even if it came and bit him in the nose."

..... "He told me Sami had been shot with a twenty-two, Onni. It wasn't in the papers, and I wouldn't have known myself if you didn't tell me."

..... "Okay, maybe he knows something. I guess it's not entirely impossible that he actually shot Sami, for some reason, and then figured he could squeeze some money out of you. But what's there to be scared of? Did he threaten you?"

..... "He said if I don't pay him a ten grand, he'd go to the police and tell them that I hired him to take Sami out. I'm still a suspect, even though you saved me from custody. Kuokkanen would only add more wood to the fire."

..... "But he'd end up in jail himself, Kuokkanen. With his record a contract killing would get him life."

..... "That's what I told him. He said he couldn't care less. He's been in so many times that he prefers it there to freedom. It's easier in there, no need to use your brain."

..... "Still, that's possible, I guess. Where'd you leave it?"

..... "I promised to meet him in Tinatuoppi within half an hour."

..... "Pick me up at the station square. I'm coming along."

* * * * *

..... When Elina's dark red Jaguar XK finally stopped in front of me, I was soaking wet. The station clock showed half past one.

..... "Sorry, it took a while," Elina said from behind the wheel and leaned forward to kiss me on the cheek. "So sweet of you to come Onni. Dunno what I'd have done without you."

..... I felt warm instantly. It wasn't just because of the heating of the Jaguar.

..... The two-pieced costume had changed but stayed. The thin gold necklace on her neck and the delicate gold watch on her wrist were the same. There were no rings.

..... "I brought a revolver with me. Just in case. It's in my purse at your feet. Do you know how to use it?"

..... "I dunno," I said. "I had an assault rifle in the military and I guess we tried the pistol too but that's like centuries ago…"

..... "There's nothing to it. It's already loaded. Just aim and pull the trigger."

..... "And where should I aim then?"

..... "Nowhere yet," Elina said. "But put it in the pocket of your coat. Just in case."

..... I picked the purse up and looked at the black matte revolver underneath the crescents of the streetlamps. The gun felt heavy, dangerous. Cold but somehow alive. I put it in my pocket and placed the purse back on the floor.

..... The drizzly center was quiet. Tuesday night. On the square, a lonely drunkard outside the Tinis hugged the abstract fountain of the pedestrian street, scratching his face on its rough bronze surface. Some other night, it could've been me.

..... "It looks like the the pub is closing."

..... The bouncer guided the last ones out into the rain. Kuokkanen was among them. He was staggering quite a bit, his worn-out leather jacket dangled open. The tip of his boot hit the sill as the bouncer speeded him up from the back. Kuokkanen stumbled down a half a dozen steps, the blond rat tail flapping on his neck, before he righted himself and continued along the sidewalk, disappearing around the corner of an old bank building. Then there was rattle, clatter and cursing. Kuokkanen must have stumbled on a trash can or something.

..... Elina drove past. After the old market square, she turned left at the lights, then to the left again and past the McDonald's queue to the deserted square of Puuvalo. Kuokkanen appeared in her headlights.

..... The windshield wipers were slapping slowly. Elina made a U-turn on the open square, then stopped in front of Kuokkanen. The man staggered against the backdoor, pushed his face on the window and grinned.

..... "Help the man in," Elina told me.

..... I got out of the car. Kuokkanen was supporting himself on the car and stared at me in the light of the streetlamps. Long and slow. The world stopped, the rain continued.

..... Then: "Syrjänen, you motherfucker! Jump in!"

..... "I was in already. Get in the backseat." I held open the door.

..... Kuokkanen looked at the Jag, then me. "How come you're riding one of these?"

..... "Just get in."

..... Kuokkanen was slightly smaller than me, approximately in the same shitty shape but a more experienced fighter. I didn't dare to push him into any direction. I was afraid that he'd beat me up. It wouldn't 've been the first time.

..... I gestured towards the backseat again. Finally Kuokkanen got it.

..... "Okay, the backseat. Where are you taking' me?"

..... "We'll see."

..... "Okay, we'll see," Kuokkanen said and opened the door. Then it hit him. "Hey, this is Ellu's car. And Ellu's driving!"

..... "Just get in and stop yelling," Elina said quietly.

..... Kuokkanen and I both obeyed. Elina took off. After a few lights she dived left under the tracks. When we got back up it was pouring like hell. Elina had to set the wipers at their full speed.

..... Up to that point Kuokkanen had just been staring at the leather and exotic wood interior and breathing heavily. He didn't smell too good.

..... Suddenly our passenger snapped to. "Have you got my dough?"

..... "We'll pay you all right," Elina said via the rearview mirror. "Don't worry."

..... "I want my money right now. I ain't gonna be taken to any dump'n be killed."

..... "Are we some kinda killers, eh?" I asked.

..... "Fuck you, Onni. You ain't cut for killing come rain or shine… That takes balls. But Ellu has them -- more balls than you. Fucking Syrjis… You were a fucking genius at school, weren't you? And what the fuck good was it to you? You turned up a bum just like your old man." .0...

..... We passed Hong Kong, the cheap retail store. Ellu turned right to Jäspilä. On the left, there were a few old detached houses and some forest, on the right there were 80's style flat-roofed office buildings and industrial halls.

..... "The old man had a paint shop," I found myself saying.

..... "Not for very long," Kuokkanen said. "He was hitting the exact same joints as my dad. That's where we always met, ice-cream bowls in front of our noses."

..... "When there was money left for ice cream," I said softly.

..... "Yeah, usually that went for something more important. Fuck, I used to think that I'd never become a boozer like my dad."

..... "And you never did?" I wondered.

..... "No way in hell! I ain't dragging no kid with me to the frigging saloons. And the old man never had what it takes to kill a man, he was far too soft for 't. He kicked mom and me every way and then some but we were a lot smaller. As soon as I grew up, at the age of twelve, I put him on his fucking knees with a bowie and he shitted his pants. He thought I was fucking gonna kill 'im right there and then. And I could've, it's not like I cared. I just didn't feel like it."

..... "You've always been an upright feller," Elina said.

..... We passed the Koff breweries and the Klondike made of red bricks, the old Nokia tire factory. We were in Savio already.

..... Kuokkanen went on. "Don't try buttering me up, Ellu. I remember you too, even though you weren't in our class. You always thought you were so much better than the rest, even if your dad had drunk himself six feet under and your mom sold flats to others. Looks like you just inherited that job of yours from her."

..... "So what if I did," Elina said. "So what?"

..... "Hey, what the fuck are we doing here in the bush?" Kuokkanen's head snapped up.

..... "We're almost to the gates of the dump," Elina said.

..... "What are you gonna do to me?" Kuokkanen became frightened.

..... "What do you think we can do? To a killer like you?" Elina asked and smiled innocently to the rearview mirror. "Pay of course.

..... "Yeah," Kuokkanen was delighted. "Where's the dough?"

..... "In the trunk. I'm gonna stop soon, Onni can give it to you."

..... "You ain't gonna just leave me here, though, are you?"

..... "We can call you a cab. Ten grand takes you a long way."

..... "Yeah, okay then," Kuokkanen said. "I do understand that you don't wanna be seen with me in town."

..... Elina glanced over her shoulder, smiled again. "I'm glad you understand."

..... But I didn't understand. After Koff, I had felt misplaced like a quality stereo in Radio Shack. The revolver felt like it was burning a hole in my pocket. How on earth was Elina hoping me to deal with the situation? Did she expect me to shoot Kuokkanen, or what?

..... A brown hare appeared in the Jaguar headlights from the clump of spruces. He got scared of the brightness, changed direction and froze, huddled in front of us for a while. Shivering. I understood how he felt.

..... Finally he tried to make a break for the roadside. Elina jammed on the brakes.

..... "Uuuuuuhhh!" Kuokkanen said, as the sudden stop tossed him against the dashboard from between the front seats.

..... Elina and I jerked forward against our seatbelts, and then were thrown back into our seats. Kuokkanen dropped in-between us like a duck from the sky. His face turned towards me, puzzled. The nose was a bloody mess and the neck in an unnatural angle.

..... No breath. No pulse.

..... "We better call the cops," I said, when I got my voice back.

..... "Of course," Elina said. "But first put that thirty-eight in the glove compartment, take out a twenty-two and press it in Kuokkanen's hand."

..... "What?" I said.

..... "And then pull the trigger. Make sure the gun is in Kuokkanen's hand. We need to get some powder on his hand."

..... Topi. Now I remembered. Kuokkanen's first name was Toivo, meaning "hope." Also known as Topi. But there wasn't much hope left. Not for Topi anyways.

..... Elina didn't say anything anymore, just waited. I pressed the electric window down, raised Kuokkanen's floppy arm and placed the small pistol on it, aimed it out the window, pulled the trigger with Kuokkanen's finger. Nothing happened.

..... "Must be stuck somehow," I offered.

..... She sighed. "The safety." She told me on how to release it.

..... On the second try the gun went off easily. The flash hurt my eyes but the sound wasn't much louder than the rain.

..... The closed gates of the dump loomed about a hundred meters ahead. The rain drummed the roof of the car like a drunken steel drum band, gusty wind shook the forest. The brown hare was nowhere around. Not a stupid animal, after all.

..... I sat in the car with the love of my life. A murderer.

..... And the late Kuokkanen.

* * * * *

..... I told myself Elina had a good reason for what she did. I told myself Sami was a drinker and a vile person in general. So I told the police just the kind of a story Elina wanted. Kuokkanen had hijacked Elina's car from the square in the middle of our romantic cruising and threatened to kill us both, just like he had killed Sami.

..... "Why?" Lähdes asked the following morning in Järvenpää.

..... "He kept saying something about old grudges," I said, "going all the way back to school. Ellu was supposedly so high and mighty, wouldn't join him for a skip in the disco or anything. Does it take much for a loony like him?"

..... "I'm so glad that the brown hare got away," Elina said, wiping her eyes. "And I'm so happy… So happy that it's all right."

..... "Well, you know what they say about lucky rabbit's feet," Lähdes said and looked at me.

..... "Luck and glass break easily," I mumbled from the corner of my mouth. And necks, too, I thought.

..... Lähdes may not have bought our story but I thought that the chain of evidence was pretty flawless. Kuokkanen had been holding the same gun that was used to murder Sami, he had powder traces on his hand, and nobody knew where he'd been at half past three on the night of the murder.

..... Elina and I left the police station hand in hand. The cops still had the Jag so Elina drove us to Kerava in a rental Beamer. She was as beautiful as always but there was something fresh in her smile. I didn't know what it was until she stopped on the side of Porvoonkatu at my place and I tried to take her hand, resting on the stick.

..... Elina pulled her hand away as if something that'd been lying dead and stinking underground for a long period of time had tried to touch her. She looked at me slowly and her eyes told me the whole story without the words.

..... "You didn't think I was gonna just hook up with another piss artist, did you? Get out."

..... The words clattered like the ice cubes in my glass long after Elina's taillights had disappeared into the rain.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Tapani Bagge.



The publication of "Onni yksillä" ("One More Shot") marks the second English-language appearance of the work of Finnish crime writer Tapani Bagge, and his lawyer/detective, Onni Syrjänen.

Onni yksillä appeared first in the anthology Naisen rikos (”Woman’s Crime”, 2006). The story was also included in Tapani's short story collection Kasvot betonissa in 2007. Kummisedän hautajaiset ("The Godfather’s Funeral"), his sixth crime novel to depict the misfortunes of the crooks and cops of his present home town Hämeenlinna will come out in Finland this June. The fifth novel in the series, Musta taivas (”The Black Sky”) won the Clue of the Year award of the Finnish Whodunit Society in 2007. Meanwhile, Tapani's first crime novel, Puhaltaja (2002) is still due out in English from Point Blank Press, once the translation by Juri Nummelin and JT Lindroos is ready. The tentative English title for it is "The Jack”.

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