May 23 2013 1:00pm
The Healer (Excerpt)
Take a look at Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, out now from Henry Holt and Co.:
It’s two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling a ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; abandoned vehicles are left burning in the streets; the authorities have issued warnings about malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and the plague. People are fleeing to the far north of Finland and Norway where conditions are still tolerable. Social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force. Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still able and willing to live in the city.
When Tapani’s beloved wife, Johanna, a newspaper journalist, goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her. Johanna’s disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a politically motivated serial killer known as “The Healer.” Desperate to find Johanna, Tapani’s search leads him to uncover secrets from her past. Secrets that connect her to the very murders she was investigating...
Which was worse — complete certainty that the worst had happened, or this fear, building up moment by moment? Sudden collapse, or slow, crumbling disintegration?
I lurched with the force of a swerve that shook me out of my wandering thoughts, and looked up.
Yellow-black ﬂames from a wrecked truck lashed the pillar of the pedestrian bridge at the Sörnäinen shore road. The truck looked broken in the middle, embracing the pillar like a pleading lover. Not one of the passing cars slowed down, let alone stopped. They moved to the outside lane as they ﬂew by, passing the burning wreck at the greatest possible distance.
So did the bus I was sitting in.
I opened my rain-soaked parka, found a packet of tissues in the inside pocket, pulled one loose with numb ﬁngers, and dried my face and hair with it. The tissue was drenched through in a moment. I squeezed it into a ball and shoved it into my pocket. I shook drops of water from the hem of my jacket into the space between my knees and the wall, then took my phone out of the pocket of my jeans. I tried to call Johanna again.
The number was still unavailable.
The metro tunnel was closed from Sörnäinen to Keilaniemi because of ﬂooding. The train had taken me as far as Kalasatama, where I’d had to wait for the bus for twenty minutes under a sky pouring rain.
The burning truck was left behind as I went back to watching the news on the screen attached to the back of the driver’s bulletproof glass compartment. The southern regions of Spain and Italy had ofﬁcially been left to their own devices. Bangladesh, sinking into the sea, had erupted in a plague that threatened to spread to the rest of Asia. The dispute between India and China over Himalayan water supplies was driving the two countries to war. Mexican drug cartels had responded to the closing of the U.S.-Mexico border with missile strikes on Los Angeles and San Diego. The forest ﬁres in the Amazon had not been extinguished even by blasting new river channels to surround the ﬁres.
Ongoing wars or armed conﬂicts in the European Union: thirteen, mostly in border areas.
Estimated number of climate refugees planet-wide: 650–800 million people.
Pandemic warnings: H3N3, malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, plague.
Light piece at the end: the recently chosen Miss Finland believed that everything would be much better in the spring.
I turned my gaze back to the rain that had been falling for months, a continuous ﬂow of water that had started in September and paused only momentarily since. At least ﬁve seaside neighborhoods—Jätkäsaari, Kalasatama, Ruoholahti, Herttoniemenranta, and Marjaniemi—had been continuously ﬂooded, and many residents had ﬁnally given up and abandoned their homes.
Their apartments didn’t stay empty for long. Even damp, moldy, and partially underwater, they were good enough for the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving in the country. In the evenings large, bright cooking ﬁres and campﬁres shone from ﬂooded neighborhoods without power.
I got off the bus at the railway station. It would have been quicker to walk through Kaisaniemi Park, but I decided to go around it, along Kaivokatu. There weren’t enough police to monitor both the streets and the parks. Walking through the masses of people around the railway station was something always to be avoided. Panicked people were leaving the city and ﬁlling jam-packed trains headed north, with all their possessions in their backpacks and suitcases.
Motionless forms lay curled up in sleeping bags under plastic shelters in front of the station. It was impossible to tell whether they were on their way somewhere or simply lived there. The dazzling glow of tall ﬂoodlights mixed at eye level with the shimmer of exhaust fumes, the streetlights, and the garish red, blue, and green of lighted advertisements.
The half-burned central post ofﬁce stood across from the station, a gray-black skeleton. As I passed it, I tried to call Johanna again.
I reached the Sanomatalo building, stood in line for ﬁfteen minutes waiting to go through security, took off my coat, shoes, and belt, put them back on, and walked to the reception desk.
I asked the receptionist to ring Johanna’s boss, who for some reason wasn’t answering my calls. I had met him a few times, and my guess was that if the call came from within the building he would answer, and when he learned who it was, he’d let me tell him why I had come.
The receptionist was an icy-eyed woman in her thirties who, judging by her short hair and controlled gestures, was a former soldier who now guarded the physical integrity of the country’s last newspaper, her gun still at her side.
She looked me in the eye as she spoke into the air.
“A man named Tapani Lehtinen . . . I checked his ID. . . . Yes . . . One moment.”
She nodded to me, the movement of her head like the blow of an ax.
“What is your business?”
“I’m unable to reach my wife, Johanna Lehtinen.”
The Healer © Antti Tuomainen 2013