- Book one of The Game Trilogy
Blinking is supposed to be the fastest movement the human body is physically capable of.
Even so, it hardly compares to the brain’s electrical synapses.
‘Not now!’ was the thought that flashed through his head when the light hit him.
And, from his point of view, he was absolutely right. There ought to be more time, plenty of time – that was what he had been promised. After all, he had followed the instructions to the letter, had done exactly what he had been told to do.
So this shouldn’t be happening.
His surprise was entirely understandable, not to say logical. And it was also the last sensory impression of his life.
A millisecond later the explosion turned him into a charred jigsaw puzzle that would take the police forensics team more than a week to put together. Piece by piece, like a macabre family game, until he was more or less back in his original shape.
But by then the Game was long since over.
Wanna play a game?
The text flashed up on the screen for the umpteenth time, and for the umpteenth time HP clicked it away in irritation. No, he didn’t want to play any bloody game, all he wanted to do was figure out how the mobile phone in his hand worked, and whether it was possible to do anything as simple as make a phone call with it?
The commuter train from Märsta, early July, heading towards the city.
Almost thirty degrees, his top sticking to his back, his mouth already dry. Predictably, he was out of fags, and the only consolation was the breeze generated by the speed of the train, forcing its way through the pathetic little ventilation window above his head.
He sniffed his t-shirt a couple of times, then checked his breath. The results were pretty much as expected. An away match, hangover, and the smell of something rotting in his mouth. Yeehaa! An almost perfect Sunday morning, if it weren’t for the fact that it was actually Thursday morning and he should have been at work two hours ago. So much for that period of probation.
But so what.
It was only a McJob anyway, a bunch of losers with a fully paid-up wanker in charge.
It’s important to be one of the team, Pettersson. Yeah, right. Like he was going to hum Kumbayah and play team-building games with anyone. The only reason he was there was so he could make a new claim for unemployment benefit afterwards.
Suck on that, mofos!
He had noticed it shortly after the train left Rosersberg. A small, silver-coloured object on the seat on the other side of the aisle. Someone had been sitting there a minute ago, but had got off and the train was already moving again. So there was no point waving and shouting about it now, if he was seriously considering Doing The Right Thing.
As if …!
Anyway, everyone had a responsibility to look after their own damn stuff, didn’t they?
So he looked quickly around instead, searching for security cameras with a practiced eye and, once he’d concluded that the carriage was too old to have any, he changed seat so he could examine his find at leisure.
As he had thought, a mobile phone, and his morning suddenly got a bit better.
A new model, touchscreen. Sweet!
It was odd, but he couldn’t find the manufacturer’s name anywhere, but maybe the phone was so exclusive that there was no need for one? Unless the engraved lettering on the back was actually a brand-name?
128, it said in light-grey lettering slightly less than a centimetre high.
He couldn’t remember ever hearing of a phone company with that name.
But what the hell …
It must be worth five hundred kronor or so from the Greek who dealt in stolen mobiles. The alternative was spending a couple of hundred disabling the IMEI code so the owner wouldn’t be able to stop the thing working, then he could keep it for himself.
But that was hardly an option …
Last night had blown a definitive hole in his already overstretched finances. He’d had nothing in his account for ages, and he’d already used up all his other life-lines. But with a bit of hustling here and there he’d soon be back on his feet …
You could never keep someone like him down for long, the mobile was living proof of that. He held the phone up to examine it more closely.
It was small and neat, hardly bigger than the palm of his hand, and the shell was made of brushed steel. A small hole in the back indicated that it was equipped with a camera, and at the top was a clumsy black clip, presumably so you could fasten it to your clothes. The clip was in marked contrast to the otherwise minimalist design, and he was about to see if he couldn’t take it off when the screen suddenly came to life.
Wanna play a game?
it asked, showing two icons for Yes and No.
HP started in surprise. In his comatose, hungover state he hadn’t even checked if the phone was switched on.
He touched his finger to the No icon, then tried to work out how to get the menu to appear. If he was lucky, he’d be able to use the phone for a few days until the owner managed to block it.
But instead of a normal start menu, the phone just kept repeating the question, and now, as he clicked it away, with growing irritation, goodness knows how many times, he was on the verge of giving up.
Fucking shit phone!
He swallowed a couple of times in an attempt to stop himself throwing up. Fucking hangover, he ought to know better than to mix his drinks, and he was so desperate for a cigarette that he felt like he was going to burst.
As for that girl, Christ, she was a dog, but what could you expect if you went out on the pull in the burbs? He had made a quick exit when the morning light mercilessly revealed her shortcomings, giving some lame excuse about a football game he’d promised a friend he’d show up for. To judge by her lack of response, the feeling had been pretty mutual. Run, Forrest, run!
But he wasn’t really in any hurry to get back to Maria Trappgränd. A stop to see the Greek, some easy money that ought to be enough for a hangover pizza and then a few beers at Kvarnen.
There was always space for that in the diary.
If he was lucky, there’d be enough left over for a bit of weed, because the mobile was no bog-standard design like the ones he sometimes ‘chanced’ upon. Five hundred to a thousand kronor pure profit, all in all not a bad day, in spite of the hangover and the tropical heat.
The screen flashed again and his finger had almost gone automatically to the No icon before he noticed that this message was different.
Wanna play a game, Henrik Pettersson?
HP stiffened in his seat.
What the fuck …?
He glanced around quickly a few times. Was someone messing with him?
There were maybe ten, twelve other passengers spread out around the carriage, and apart from a mother with two hyperactive kids almost all of them seemed to be in the same sluggish morning coma as him. Hanging heads, glassy eyes, sweaty, overheating. Not one of them so much as glanced in his direction.
He checked the screen again. The same text. How the hell could the phone know his name?
He looked around, but was left none the wiser. Then he clicked the button for No.
A new message flashed up immediately, this time in Swedish.
Are you really sure you don’t want to play a Game, HP?
He almost flew out of his seat. What in the name of holy fuck was going on here?
He shut his eyes tight, took a couple of deep breaths, and regained control of his galloping hangover anxiety.
Just keep calm, he thought. You’re a smart lad. And this isn’t the fucking Twilight Zone.
Either this is Candid Camera or else one of your mates is mucking about with you. Probably the latter …