Emotional transgressions

Issue 4/1985 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Three extracts from the novel Harjunpää ja rakkauden lait (‘Harjunpaa and the laws of love’). Introduction by Risto Hannula

It was a few minutes to two, and Harjunpää was still awake, lying so close to Elisa that he could feel her warmth. He kept his eyes open, staring into the night through the crack between curtains. Once again the boiler of the central heating plant started up, and the smoke began to rise like a stiff column in the cold. Another fifteen minutes had passed, and morning was a quarter of an hour closer. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to concentrate on Elisa’s breathing and the sleepy snuffling of the girls, but his thoughts still wouldn’t leave him in peace. Inexplicably, he felt there was something wrong, that the darkness exuded some kind of threat, that he’d left something undone or had made some kind of mistake.

He swung his feet onto the floor and got up as quietly as he could. But all his care was wasted, he should have known that.

‘What’s the matter?’ Elisa asked sleepily.

‘I just can’t get to sleep.’

‘Again … ‘

‘I can’t help it. I wonder if there’s a bottle of brew left.’

‘Sure. But listen …’

Pipsa turned over in her crib, rattling the sides, groped around a bit and began to suck her pacifier so you could hear the quiet sucking noises.


‘Maybe you could see a doctor. You could ask for some mild … ‘

‘And be labeled a nut … ‘

Elisa sighed and buried her head in her pillow. Harjunpää stepped across the threshold and the floor squeaked just as it always did in winter when a grown-up put weight on it.

Even in the dark, he found his way downstairs and lit a dim lamp in the hall. But he didn’t go to the refrigerator. He walked around silently through the whole downstairs, checked that he hadn’t left anything smouldering in an ashtray, that the coffee maker wasn’t still on, and that the iron was unplugged; he tugged at the front door just to be on the safe side and only then did he turn off the light and start upstairs. But the restlessness didn’t let go of him, it had just changed its shape – and now he had the feeling he should be at work, doing something there, anything in order to stop something from happening.

‘I think I’ll have a chat with Norri, after all,’ he whispered after he’d come back to bed.

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake – how could that help you? I wish you’d go … ‘

‘I don’t mean that …’

Elisa was quiet for a long time and finally said softly:

‘Sure. But I do think you badly underestimate Onerva.’

‘No. I’m sure I don’t. She’s become almost a sister to me and I don’t want … I’m afraid I’ve underestimated that damned guy.’

Elisa drew in her breath as if she’d been going to say something, but just touched his hand under the covers.


Torsten looked over his shoulder. Fabian Street was full of people, just like the Esplanade. They were all walking along, legs in a hurry, heads leaning against the wind blowing in from the sea. But no one seemed to be following, no one staring or even taking furtive glances at him. He thought this feeling had to be some kind of delusion, out of sheer exhaustion. It was already afternoon and he hadn’t yet slept a wink. He had picked up the apartment key from the superintendent and tried to go to sleep, but it was no good, his thoughts had started to take shape and ended by forcing him out of bed. Finally he’d had to get going.

He pulled open the door of the telephone booth. It gave off the smell of wet shoes and frosty windows, and the street noises took on a different tone, changing as if he were listening to them from inside a drum. He placed his attache case on the telephone books and snapped it open – the case was black and flat, with aluminium fittings. Inside, there was a large envelope and a paper bag, a long thick rolled-up white silk scarf, the New York Times he had just bought on the Esplanade, and a dogeared Finnair timetable. Torsten glanced out, and since he still didn’t see anything to worry him, he rummaged around in the bag and hauled out a notebook with red covers, the one he normally wouldn’t ever carry with him. He opened it up at the letter M, picked up the receiver and let the pay-phone swallow a Finnmark.


‘May I have the Central Laboratory? – Miss Martikainen.’

‘One moment.’

Torsten took out some more coins.

‘Laboratory. Martikainen speaking.’

‘Hi, Kaarina … ‘


‘The very one.’

Kaarina drew in her breath. That’s what she always did when she was surprised – or acting surprised. At the same time she would shove her breasts forward, in a motion she must have had to practice in front of a mirror.

‘You got in today?’

‘Just a minute ago. And you know how long the flight from NYC takes … I’m pretty well done in. I can never sleep on planes.’

‘Poor darling … ‘

Torsten laughed softly.

‘But I didn’t call you to whine. You see, I’ve got a little surprise for you. Or for both of us.’

He paused and let Kaarina wait. Curiosity got the better of her:


‘It’s a car.’

‘No . . . Really?’

‘Sure. And not just any old car. I can give you one little hint – you told me that once in your life you’d want to own this very make of car.’

‘A Mercedes! Johan … But that was only a joke.’

‘But this isn’t. It’s a metallic green station wagon. Just think – Pulteri can have his own seat and you won’t have to worry about the whole car being filled with dog hair. And later one could have a baby carriage in the back … ‘

That was a good trick. Kaarina was quiet. Torsten could actually see how she was beginning to finger one of her earrings. Then she mumbled:

‘I. . . I don’t know what to say … ‘

‘You don’t have to. But you’ll need to help me just a little. You see, the car I’m talking about belongs to Hans Müller, Embassy Secretary of the Federal Republic of Germany. It’s used, but it’s been driven only about thirty thousand kilometers. Hans sat next to me on the return flight and mentioned that he was being transferred to Canada and would have to sell his car. I offered to buy it since I remembered … Because he’s leaving he wants to have cash up front right away. He’s selling it unbelievably cheap – didn’t ask more than eighty thousand Finnmarks for it, and I know that’s not even half what it’s really worth. It … ‘

Another coin dropped into the pay-phone. Someone came into the next booth. Torsten turned his back to the wall and lowered his voice.

‘It’s all because he was able to buy it tax free. Even if I sell it in five years, I’ll be sure to get the full eighty thousand back. But the problem is that I’ve got only sixty-four thousand marks on hand. And right now I can’t pry any more loose. You can lend me sixteen thousand for a few days, can’t you?’

Kaarina hesitated. Torsten shifted restlessly from one foot to the other. He knew it was really a lot of money for her, but on the other hand, he knew that after saving for many years she now had almost nineteen thousand marks. He had checked her bank books when she was in the shower. The poor thing had the idea that one day she’d be able to get out of the laboratory and start a boutique selling her original handmade clothes. But from what he’d seen of her little efforts, she’d better stick to her test tubes.

‘On Monday I’ll have them sell enough bonds so you can get yours back,’ he said. ‘Right now I’m so pooped that I just couldn’t deal with it . . . Did I tell you it has a sunroof too? Made of tinted glass. Just think how nice it’ll be in the summer to go see your mother in Somero and have the smell of wild cherry blossoms flooding in … And a car’s useful, too. For distribution, at least by the time you get the marketing going full speed.’

‘You need it right now?’


Torsten glanced at his watch. It was two minutes to one. He thought Mirjam had already had her lunch hour, but still, with her it would take time, she was so careful.

‘All right if I come see you at work around three? You’ll have had plenty of time to get to the bank by then.’

‘All right. Johan. You know … ‘

‘I know. I sure do know, my dear little Kaarina.’

They were both silent and they knew, listening only to each other’s breathing.

‘Three o’clock, then,’ Torsten finally said, as if he had to struggle to finish the phone call. ‘Let’s talk some more about the night, too.’

He hung up. He certainly wasn’t going to spend the night with Kaarina. He had other plans.


Onerva and Harjunpää came out of the front entrance to the apartment house and onto the street, and although it was almost seven o’clock, Häme Street was packed with people on foot. You could see from the way they were all rushing along that the work week was over and they couldn’t wait to enjoy the blessed free moments of the weekend. Harjunpää’s eyes followed a stocky man who had pulled a woollen cap down over his forehead – he was whipping along with one hand waving through the air in wide arcs while the other clutched a briefcase stuffed to bulging. Now and then you would hear the tinkle of glass in it. For a moment he envied the man, would almost have wanted to be him, on his way to an apartment that reeked of fried sausage and a quarrel that had taken place in the morning, to get in there and take a long drink that would soften the world.

‘Which way now?’ Onerva asked, looking up Fifth Street, somewhere towards their car. Harjunpää thought Onerva was tired and fed up though she tried not to show it. They had started at three and continued on without a break up till now. They had gone up and down, checking stairway after stairway, and had rung countless doorbells and got answers to their questions that didn’t help them at all. They had tried Torsten’s keys in three doors that had the right kind of locks, but of course they didn’t work.

‘Well,’ said Harjunpää, thinking of how he’d been working two weeks straight, without a single day off, and had come home so late that everyone had been asleep and had left so early that only Elisa had been awake. And suddenly he felt his shoulders were aching and the right shoe that had been chafing at his heel all day must have given him a blister by now.

‘Let’s stop somewhere and get a cup of coffee,’ he said, and suddenly remembered that in the corner cabinet of his kitchen there was a half-full bottle of liquor. He could almost see himself sitting at the table with Elisa, how they would touch each other’s feet and in turn take sips from the only brandy snifter they owned, making themselves believe they were drinking something better.

‘It’s beginning to snow … ‘

White streaks swooshed past the streetlamps, and were almost phosphorous – you could feel something on your face, like light touches that left no trace, not even small drops.

‘It’s coming down thick and fast,’ Harjunpaa said, unable to keep the optimistic tone out of his voice. ‘Looks like the traffic will be stuck pretty soon. Let’s go back to the car.’

They started briskly up the hill, and the whirling flakes were coming down harder and harder, the wind whipping them up so that a white layer began to cover their coatsleeves. Harjunpää was figuring in his mind that at the very best he would make it home to Kirkkonummi before nine if he caught the quarter to eight L-train from Pasila. He brushed off some snow from the windows of the police car, opened the doors, sat down in the driver’s seat and stuck the key into the ignition but didn’t turn it yet.

‘Let’s look for a minute and see what comes of it. But when we start, we’ll go up that side of Fifth Street and down this side to that green building, then around the corner and continue on Häme Street … ‘

Onerva didn’t say anything, just glanced at her watch, tapped out a cigarette for each of them and turned on the radio. On the Hela band they were exchanging quick messages, the kinds that let you know something was going on but you couldn’t tell what. Then someone said in an excited voice:

‘Patrol listening at the other end? The ambulance men ask you to keep a corridor open so they can get going if they have to. Get those damned gawkers out of there! You hear me?’

‘Hela intercepts . . . Change over to channel fifteen. All info on the Manual case has been shifted so seventeen won’t get jammed.’


‘I wonder what’s going on there.’

‘Could be a fire.’

Onerva tuned in to the other channels but couldn’t get any sound out of the radio. Maybe they hadn’t installed all the crystals, maybe they’d managed some savings that way.

Onerva stole another glance at her watch, and only then did Harjunpää remember. ‘That call when we were leaving,’ he said. ‘That was Mårten?’ Somehow he had a hard time saying Mårten’s name out loud, and even harder looking Onerva in the eye.

‘Sure, it was him.’

‘And he’s coming to see you?’


‘Well, why the devil didn’t you say so earlier … ‘

‘Well … ‘

Onerva shrugged and looked out the window. She seemed somehow unreachable, even more so than earlier in the evening.

‘Come on,’ Harjunpää groaned. He would have liked to continue but didn’t know how. He knew Onerva wasn’t one to sulk, much less need conciliation.

‘No … He told me he thought he’d come around by eight o’clock. And besides, he’s got the key. He can look after himself.’

‘I’ll drop you off at home.’ Harjunpää started the engine, turned on the lights and windshield wipers, and the headlight beams were flooded with snow flitting past like tails.

‘I’m not brooding over that thing in the morning anymore,’ Onerva said quietly when they reached the Kulosaari bridge. ‘Don’t you worry about it. That’s just the way it goes sometimes … Mårten was supposed to come yesterday, but then out of the blue he had to go to some cardiologists’ meeting. And you know how you feel when you’re tired and alone and start thinking all kinds of stuff… Because to tell the truth I really don’t know that much about Mårten’s earlier life. I haven’t tried to pry into it. It’s been enough for me to have what there is now. But he’s been married and still sees his former wife now and then. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Why should they hate each other? Would that somehow be better? There’s enough of all sorts of stuff going on in the world … ‘


‘And somehow it feels like… If there’s something good in your life, someone’s out to destroy it. If you’re happy for just a moment, other people think it’s a crime that has to be punished … And the worst thing is that you yourself start thinking like that, too. You begin to doubt. I sure don’t quite know … ‘

Harjunpää touched Onerva’s hand and they drove the rest of the way in silence. It wasn’t snowing so hard over to the east. The blizzard was just starting up.

Harjunpää didn’t drive all the way up to the front door, but circled around to the parking area below the rest of the yard. And he already knew he wouldn’t make it to the train he had meant to catch, maybe not even to the next one – the drive had taken much longer than he had thought, and besides, he still had to get to the police station to sign in the car.

‘What time’ll we start?’ Onerva asked, and snapped the door open.

‘Nine o’clock. Or no … let’s get in at eleven so we can sleep at least a little bit late.’


‘Listen …’


‘Everything okay for sure?’

‘Sure, sure.’

Onerva clutched her bag under her arm, quickly ran up the wooden steps. She didn’t look back, just vanished behind the hedge that surrounded the yard, and only her blonde hair flashed in sight once more before she disappeared altogether. Harjunpää swung the car around and headed for the Ounasvaara Road, began to accelerate but then braked so suddenly the car skidded for a moment with the wheels locked. He sat motionless, held his breath as if he’d been listening to something. Then he glanced at his watch­ it was twenty to eight. After that, he peeked out the side window, almost guiltily, cautiously, as if he’d been afraid he’d see Onerva. But the parking place was empty, and so was the road leading to the yard. The walls of the apartment buildings were mottled with lights from the windows. No one seemed to be looking out of the fifth floor window.

Harjunpää shifted into reverse and let the car rumble backwards. The best thing would be for him to get out of the car and stick close to the yard, maybe hide in a doorway opposite her building. And something in his mind reproached him for being silly and devious, maybe even jealous in some childish way, but he stifled the thought and explained to himself that it was simply a question of making sure, that no one would ever find out about it. He got back as far as the parking place and managed to hide his Lada behind a large van, but he had barely stepped out of the car when the radio officer on duty called:

‘Is Harjunpää or Nykänen from Violence there?’

He snatched his microphone from the dashboard and pushed down the key.

‘Harjunpää on two-three-two in Mellunmäki, about to push on to headquarters.’

‘Well, headquarters is the wrong place. Get going to Maunula and Suursuo Road, right next to the shopping center. And get hold of your chief so you can find out what’s what.’


‘No, it’s Vauraste.’

For a moment, Harjunpää didn’t know what to make of it, didn’t even have the sense to sign off.

‘Well, is this clear with two-three-two?’

‘Sure. You couldn’t just give a hint?’

‘You haven’t been listening to the radio? There’s quite a mess out there, has been for the past few hours. Tried to kill a woman. And at this point, as things stand now, the one who did it has barricaded himself in the apartment where it happened. I guess a guy you know pretty well … ‘

‘That’s enough. Roger.’ Harjunpää thrust the microphone back in place.

Suddenly he was so agitated he could hardly get the car started. And then it hit him that he should go pick up Onerva, and a minute later that he shouldn’t – that Onerva deserved her night off and it would waste several minutes and there must be enough police out in Maunula even without her. He got the car going with such fury that the wheels sent snow and gravel flying, and with the rear end skidding he spun onto Mellunmäki road, then thought he should stop and switch the roof blinker and siren on, but couldn’t make himself take the time to do it, and. went on ahead with the rest of the traffic. And then it began to get to him. He had the nagging feeling that he and Onerva had been cheated, that they’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time, that all their work had gone down the drain, that others would get credit for what they had done. He clenched his teeth hard for a moment. Then the resentment began to let go of him, and the vindictive thought began to throb in his head that they had been right after all, and that they’d managed to prove it to everybody, all the way up to Vauraste.

Translated by Aili and Austin Flint

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