Notes from underground

30 September 2003 | Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the crime novel Harjunpää ja pahan pappi (‘Harjunpää and the priest of evil’, Otava, 2003)

Killing a person wasn’t difficult. No more of a problem than killing a pigeon. It only needed a slight push – at the right time, of course, and in the right place. He if anyone had the ability to scent out the time and place, or rather perhaps they were revealed to him in a certain way; and, hey presto, the flesh did come off the bones and the veins burst open on the macadam, and vertebrae and joints rolled about like beans, and the life departed from all that filth that had turned a person into a devil of greed. Of course he knew that. He’d seen it and smelt with his own nostrils the stench of raw human flesh that gave you that sweet shudder.

And it was a particularly beautiful moment when the spirit left the body. It spurted off into the air as tiny grains, no bigger than salt crystals; then, in a single moment, all this developed into an intense vermilion whirl, and at once the rock, Mamma’s divine flesh, sucked it into herself. That was the origin of the phrase said at funerals – ‘From earth have you come…’ – and the truth was again a step closer to its coming!

‘Ea lesum cum sabateum!’ he shouted with an excited gesture but controlled himself at once, swiftly made all three sacred signs with his fingers and bowed his head – for that obeisance he too had to make before Mamma, even though he was her chosen one, an earth spirit, emerged from under the earth, a power incomparably greater than a human power, rather like a cross between an angel and a priest. He was Mamma’s daughter – or her son – it all depended on the mode of manifestation that Mamma herself chose to assume.

‘Vibera berus, quelle villaaum est,’ he added, and his voice was strangely husky, as if, through being unused for so long, it had rusted in his throat and was adhering to it. A strange smell emanated from him, not exactly stale, but rather like the stony smell that breathes out on you when you enter the underground railway. He rested his hands side by side on the railing, momently caressing the rough surface, corroded as it was by decades of rain. Then he raised his eyes.

His look was such that if anyone had encountered it at precisely that moment his legs would have gone weak under him.

His city lay there, kneeling around him, so that no lightless spot could be seen anywhere, and at the back of his head he heard a hum of empowerment like silver sand being whisked inside a golden rattle; and the power in his hands was so great they grew warm with it. But he controlled himself again, since the power wasn’t actually merited by him but the result of Mamma’s favour towards him. And he rested content with viewing all that was his.

And killing wasn’t even a sin. And so it couldn’t in fact be a crime either: all that was the sheer fabrication of ignorant people.

There was only one true and holy God, and her name was Mamma, Mamma the Gracious, in her whole threefold manifestation: as Holy Big Bang, Holy Sun, and Holy Iron Heart – which, geographically, was the closest for him, being right under his feet. She was a massive molten mass glowing in the bowels of the earth, simply awaiting her eruption and union with Holy Sun and Holy Big Bang – that was the truth of the matter. A new Big Bang was coming ineluctably, but it couldn’t come as long as evil and filth remained on the earth; and so Mamma longed for sacrifices, and she blessed with her grace those devotees who produced them for her.

He closed his eyes and breathed fervently and deeply. The air tasted slightly of springtime town. It was also scented with Mamma’s apostles, the underground trains: their movement, their irresistible progress, their hot metal, and Mamma’s blue milk, electricity. Her apostles drank the milk with their trunks, straight out of the overhead cables. He bent down to look: at this moment there were five of them in motion.

‘Mamma, Merciful One, Gracious One,’ he breathed and cast his eyes upwards. There were stars in the sky already – they too sent on their way through the universe by Holy Big Bang; and when he stared at them he suddenly felt a Spirit’s powerful presence: he felt somewhat as if he’d been feverish, but only in the palms of his hands, his fingers and his ears. It could only mean one thing: Mamma was calling to him, perhaps hinting that she’d reveal herself to him the very next night. He fervently hoped it would be so, for that was a mighty occurrence. It was the finest thing one could ever experience in life. For an ordinary person its splendour would be overwhelming – so extreme it would drive him out of his mind – and therefore Mamma only revealed herself to her elect, to her own dear earth spirits.

He began to wonder which sex Mamma would reveal herself in – as a woman, or as a man – for that would also settle which sex he had to take on himself.

Harjunpää was only a few yards before the juncture of Meripuisto Road and Lauttasaari Road when he stretched his hand out and pressed the fourth upright switch on the dashboard: a red light came on, meaning that the strobe light on the car roof would flash blue, and rhythmical electric-blue flashes would come through an opening in the trellis of the cooler: zip-zip! He pressed the switch again, and the car sent out an almost painful howl: Wow-wow-wow!

He negotiated the first crossing without difficulty; the lights were green, and then he was already speeding towards Lauttasaari bridge, the siren now sending out long high wails: whee-whee-whee!

Some lobe in his brain got a signal through about what to remember when driving: not too fast. Too much haste only led to accidents. Just use all your skill and calm; you could always manoeuvre the narrow openings if you just kept your head. And there was the other fact: inside the emergency vehicle the siren’s wail might seem to be filling your whole head, but it was heard relatively poorly by the other vehicles, and above all it was difficult for them to decide which direction it was coming from.

Simultaneously some other thoughts were going round in his head – the things one had to remember in underground-cases, and with train-cases too: the witnesses’ statements of course, and the driver’s, and breathalysing the driver. Then easing the train forward, carriage by carriage separately, so that the human remains and the rags of clothes stuck to the underside of the carriage could be taken into safekeeping. The firemen helped with that. Then the video tapes from the control room – and the verification of the victim’s identity, of course. In that way the whole packet began to take shape.

The seagulls were screeching away in the air, and the square was swarming with people and life – there were even T-shirts already – just as if nothing had happened. And that was how it ought to be: the present ‘end of the world’ had happened under the earth, deep in a tunnel of the underground. That notion had run through Harjunpää’s head earlier: each person’s death was the end of one world – this person’s particular world: a world where the deceased had been the ‘I’ and had experienced everything that existed in the only way open to him, simply and solely from his own point of view. But that one single person’s world was bound up with other people’s worlds, his wife’s, his children’s, his parents’, his colleagues’; all those people’s lives and worlds were shaken by that one individual’s personal end of the world.

His way down was not impeded, as the first level of the Hakaniemi tunnel was in a shopping arcade full of little boutiques and service points. On the actual steps Harjunpää was met by an ageing and evidently, for some reason, extremely agitated woman. She had freely-flowing, almost silvery hair and a beret pulled down practically over her eyes; and she was pressing some bundle of leaflets to her chest. She offered a sheet to Harjunpää, but he was staring down below. This boutique level was swarming with about a hundred people, all moving about, and there was a buzz of uncertainty and perhaps discontent.

‘Take it!’ came a statement at Harjunpää’s side – or rather, an order. The woman had been taking short steps trailing along with him.

‘Take it!’

‘Thank you, no. I’m expected down below.’

‘Take it! You if anyone will find yourself begging for mercy! And the Lord will grant it you, though still more graciously the Lady will!’

‘Let me pass!’

‘It’s sheer injustice for the Lady’s divine being to be denied,’ the old woman croaked. Harjunpää again started to feel jumpy. This rumba he’d been dancing the whole morning wasn’t really to his taste, nor was this world-improving nutcase. As a last resort he held out his hand, took the sheet, looked at it with feigned interest, though not in fact reading a word, and then folded it and stuffed it in the waistcoat pocket of his uniform.

On the station’s intermediate level he saw the accident had been on the eastward-bound line. An orange underground train was stationary there. Now he suddenly got a waft of another smell – the smell of a mutilated human body and blood. The train’s carriages were separated from each other, forming a gap about twenty metres wide. At first Harjunpää couldn’t make out what had happened, for in the tube cases where he’d been on duty the corpse had been removed from the front end of the train.

But the firemen were at the gap in any case, and one of them had crept so far in that nothing but his light was visible. The ambulance men were already assembling their equipment and obviously about to depart. That implied a certainty that nothing living would now be pulled out from under the train.

On the platform there were also some constables of the Uniformed Police patrols, and Sergeant Viitasaari was wearing the waistcoat of a field leader. Kivinen from the technical division was bent over a body bag laid out on the platform; the bag looked empty to Harjunpää, at least from where he was standing.

‘Hi there, Harjis,’ Viitasaari said with a nod and glanced at his papers. ‘A bit of a bad do this. Not a single eye-witness. Or if there were any they were off while we were on our way here. All in a hurry to get to work. And it’s a funny business this, too, for in some extraordinary way he managed to squeeze himself into the space between the carriages.’

‘And the driver?’

‘That woman over there. As for the breathalyser, complete zero. Didn’t see anything unusual as the train came in, she said. Just masses of people on the platform. It was only when she started up again that she saw people waving in the mirror and someone running towards her compartment.’

‘Well, let’s hope there’s something on the monitor tapes at least.’

‘They’ve already been taken into safekeeping. You can take them with you when you go.’

‘Could it have been an accident rather than suicide?’

‘Well, we’ve all been wondering that.’

Harjunpää put his hand to his forehead to squeeze his temples between his thumb and forefinger – he’d have to question the driver himself and also arrange a time for her interrogation, but the real hope was in the monitor videos; he reckoned the underground had several hundred cameras all told. Of course it was also advisable to inform the newspapers and get them to call for witnesses. The deceased’s identity had to be established, but doubtless the person would have a wallet in his pocket with documents; his relatives, if such there were, might well throw some light on the matter.

Harjunpää strode towards Kivinen and the body bag. Kivinen was just focusing his camera on something at the bottom of the bag and Harjunpää bent down to look. It was a human face torn from the skullbones – looking like a limp rubber mask; through the mouth and the eyeholes nothing was visible but the black of the sack. It was clearly a man’s face, and a young one’s too. The beard had been carefully shaved, and on top of everything Harjunpää could distinguish the faint aroma of some familiar aftershave.

The whirl was incredible! She’d never seen anything to equal it. In that man’s spirit there’d been a quite incredible number of grains, perhaps even one and a half times as many as in the normal person’s, and to cap it all they’d been large ones, almost the size of sugar crystals. And they’d developed into a fantastically deep red whirl. She could still see it in her mind’s eye. And almost hear it as well, since it had sent out a distant hum – before disappearing completely. It had been sucked into the underground-tunnel wall with such furious force that the pebbledash had almost been blown off.

‘Carboratum nexi datum,’ she sighed and took off the beret that was pulled almost down to her eyes. Then she strode to her bedside table and took an aluminium water mug from behind the storm lantern; it contained her false teeth, both upper and lower. She slipped them into her mouth and took a moment settling them with her tongue. Her face changed considerably.

Now it was no longer the face of an old sharp-chinned crone but considerably younger – and, in addition, a man’s face. Next this emerging man stroked his hair with both hands, tightly smoothing it over his skull and down to his neck, slipped a rubber band round it with a practised hand, forming a ponytail, and then he was even less like the old biddy who had recently crept up the ladder to her hideaway in the underground.

He stopped and thoughtfully rested his hands on his hips. He’d hesitated a moment and it had been almost fateful: the whole sacrifice had been close to failure. The Orange Apostle – and it had been Advocatus Mamillus himself – was already accelerating to speed away with his jaws, but Mamma’s devotee had decided to try anyway, and it had worked! Advocatus Mamillus had snatched the sacrificial victim into his bosom, and the victim had merely had time enough for a cry before he was gone. And he, Mamma’s favourite devotee, had clearly felt her smiling gratefully and sending him a radiant bunch of blessings, and this time they were actually copper.

He took off the dress and carefully placed it on a coathanger, which he hung on a string in the doorway. Then he put his hands between his shoulder blades, undid the bra, removed it, and with it the breasts. When he’d put his hoodie on he looked even more like a man. He put his hand between his legs and felt around. For a very short moment his face was blank – as if some spark had left him. Then he swiftly took his knickers off – they were made of shiny red material with a broad lace band at the front – grabbed a narrow leather belt, black with sweat, out of his sleeping bag, fastened it round his waist and buckled it. Then he began to work the belt round so that the buckle was at his back, and a leather sheath, tightly crammed full of sand, lay on his stomach. It hung down over his legs, its end almost reaching half-way down his thighs. Finally he slipped underpants on – boxers with pictures of some cartoon character on – pulled trousers on as well and took some heavy-framed glasses – the sort President Kekkonen used to wear – out of a pocket. When he had them on his nose there was no shred left of the woman Mamma had wanted him to be the previous night.

Himself, he’d been so excited by the sacrifice that he’d simply felt compelled to go several times during the morning to the same tube station, and he’d been able to breathe in several breaths of that raw exciting smell of human flesh – rather like passing a butcher’s in the market hall. And even that hadn’t been enough for him. He’d been irresistibly compelled to mark out people for himself, even though he knew it was dangerous in the daytime.

The rush hour was the best for that, as then people were crushed together in the carriage, pushing and shoving, so that no one noticed when he was stealthily marking them out as his own.

‘Iiaa!’ The risk-taking had been worthwhile, for he’d been rewarded with a vision. Mamma had granted it and had given an order immediately afterwards to fulfil the vision. This time the visionary vermilion whirl she’d projected had been very great, and seeing it he’d foreseen a still greater whirl, almost gigantic – such as would only be created when several people died simultaneously and their spirits were released simultaneously – perhaps ten or twelve people – and the whirl ought then to be huge enough for Mamma to take him to herself for all eternity.

And he already had some premonition of how he’d realise it.

Harjunpää drove inside and reversed into the Crimes’ parking area. His mood was strangely ambivalent – like a half-clouded sky, dammit, for, on the one hand, he was both pleased and even somewhat excited that the National Bureau of Investigations had agreed to consider the fingerprint question urgent and thus let it jump the queue. There were good grounds for the move, fantastic though it sounded in Finnish conditions : but they were clearly on the trail of some sort of serial killer, and it was touch and go when the next unlucky individual would be pushed under a tube train.

Yet he was still more excited at having managed to follow how the leaflet he’d brought had been tested in ninhydrin. And what had bucked him most of all had been the excellence of the fingerprints – and their broad spread over the sheet – so that there could be no way all of them were his own fingerprints.

His other mood he couldn’t properly weigh up, since he didn’t feel old – nor was he yet; but some vague premonition was preying on his mind. It was as if the train to somewhere unknown had already departed – and he’d been left standing on the platform. This feeling had come to him while his fingerprints were being taken for comparison. In the Pasila HQ the staff had been looking after the registration of suspected persons for years, so that all investigators had to do was send in a request on the internal post. And now there was no question of blackening his fingers with ink: he merely had to put his fingers and palms one after the other on the glass surface of something rather like a copying machine, though many times smaller. A computer in the machine photographed the hand, and almost immediately the printer spat out a sheet with his fingerprints on.

And the wonders didn’t end there. His fingerprints were fed into AFIS, a computer programme that would compare them with all the registered fingerprints in the world and with all the prints recorded at various crime-spots. That would occur with the prints found on the leaflet: they’d be photographed and scanned, and if the old biddy who gave him the sheet had been involved with the police at that level, the machine would swiftly connect her present prints with the others and reveal her name.

The same nagging mood was associated with something else: the tool he used in his daily work – the computer. He’d scarcely managed to learn one programme’s secrets and the possibilities it offered when it was replaced by a better programme, supposedly, at least, more efficient than before. And the same endlessly puzzling autodidactic process had to start up again, as no training was ever provided; the most that could be expected was some demonstration of the programme.

Harjunpää couldn’t be bothered to go to the cafeteria but strode straight to the door of Onerva’s office. Piipponen was there. They were studying printer copies spread out on the table. Both of them were radiating, in some incomprehensible manner, joy – or whatever: something, anyway, that told Harjunpää they’d discovered something new.

‘That sheet gave us terrific prints… Santalahti promised to provide preliminary images this very day, even though they take a couple of days to be at their very best. So with luck we’ll have that type’s name today.’

‘No, you don’t say!’

‘Yep.’

‘Terrific. Come over here, Timo, and take a look.’

Harjunpää moved closer to the table – and he’d not been mistaken: spread out there were at least twenty sheets, each one with a face printed on it. They weren’t photographs: the technical department had constructed them on a computer programme, building the face up bit by bit, according to the witnesses’ descriptions. The nose or the lips would change slightly till the final result corresponded to a witness’s report.

Harjunpää’s eyes wandered from sheet to sheet and stopped at a sharp-chinned old woman, perhaps just because, before setting out, he’d made a rough pencil outline of this face. Looking now at the wrinkled face built up from details, he was staring at pretty well the very same old biddy he’d bumped into in Hakaniemi.

‘Of all these old women this is the one.’ Harjunpää couldn’t help whispering it, as if he were afraid some magic spell would be broken by speaking aloud. Then he let his eye progress along the row of faces. And then: the last but one picture on the left! That guy – almost exactlty like that heart-attack case – the preacher their patrol picked up and revived the week before at Sanoma House!

‘How did you mange to set that one up?’

‘Actually it was Piippis who did it. The old biddy’s been done according to your drawing. But as for this guy with the goggles – I rang our star witness again. The one I’d got the identification details from. And he agreed to break off work and come in. That picture was put together from his description. And I had him interrogated at the same time.’

‘And guess what?’ Piippis put in.

‘Well?’

‘Those pictures have already been delivered everywhere possible through the team forum. All the station staff-room walls have those prints on them, along with the information we have about him.’

‘Her pictures… Or theirs, as the case may be. Now, if she knows what’s good for her, she’d better not show her face anywhere.’

‘No. Soon every single policeman will remember those faces of theirs.’

‘We’ve taken a step or two forwards today.’

‘Not to say strides.’

They stared at each other for a while, and already they were beginning to venture open smiles. It was as if they’d recovered from some totally paralysing illness. And that tremendous feeling was only broken when Harjunpää’s mobile rang.

‘Crimes Against Persons, Harjunpää,’ he replied. He listened for not more than a few seconds then snatched a pen from his pocket, turned one of the facial pictures over and began writing. ‘Would you repeat the end of the identity number? Thank you. And you’ll be putting in an official report as soon as you can? Great. And once again – thanks.’ He switched off the phone and slipped it back in his pocket.

‘Guess what?’

‘Well?’

‘That auntie of ours is an uncle after all.’

‘So who is it?’

‘Markus Luukas Paavali Heino. With a higher degree in Theology. And a teacher of religious education.’

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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