The second book in Simukka’s Snow White trilogy follows Lumikki as she departs for Prague to escape her notorious crime ring. She meets a strange young woman named Lenka who claims to be her long-lost sister, and though Lumikki doesn’t quite believe her, she feels drawn to Lenka. But Lenka’s on the run for her life, and this time, she might not be able to survive it alone.
For more, visit the Snow White trilogy’s website.
Thursday, June 16
Shirley Manson’s voice flowed into Lumikki’s ears, assuring her that she only listened to sad songs, only found comfort in black nights, and always loved bad news. The sun shone in a perfectly cloudless sky. Eighty-two-degree heat sent sweat trickling down Lumikki’s back. Her arms and legs were sticky. If she’d licked the back of her hand, she would have tasted salt. Each strap on her sandals felt like one too many. Her toes and the soles of her feet yearned for freedom.
Sitting down on a stone wall, Lumikki took off her sandals, pulled up her legs, and wiggled her toes. A group of Japanese tourists stared. A couple of the young women giggled. Hadn’t they ever seen bare feet before? Hello, I’m from the land of the Moomins. Moomins don’t wear shoes.
It wasn’t raining like in the song. It hadn’t rained for five days.
Lumikki couldn’t sing along with Shirley because then she would have been lying. She could be happy without rain. Like now. The sun was shining and she was happy. She didn’t want things to be complicated. She didn’t feel good only when things were going wrong. Shirley could keep her doom and gloom. Lumikki switched off the music and let the tourist chatter fill her ears.
Italian, Spanish, American English, German, French, Japanese, Russian. In the melee of languages, it was tough to pick out individual words, let alone phrases. It was actually a relief because then she didn’t have to concentrate on the trivial repetition of obvious banalities. Lumikki knew exactly what most people said at this spot.
What a view!
And it was. There was no denying it. The view over Prague was stunning. Red tile roofs, treetops, church towers, bridges, the Vltava River glittering in the sun. The city took Lumikki’s breath away. Even after five days, she still wasn’t used to this sight. Every day, she made her way to some high place just to gaze at the city and feel this inexplicable joy.
Maybe it was the freedom of detachment and solitude she felt. She was completely on her own. She wasn’t accountable to anyone. No one was calling for her and no one wanted to know her schedule. She didn’t have a single responsibility. Thoughts of preparing for her senior year of high school and working for the second half of the summer could wait until she was back in Finland. Now there was only her, the blazing heat, and the city, which breathed deep sighs of history.
It was June 16. Lumikki only had a week left of her Prague vacation before she was supposed to return to Finland to spend a traditional Midsummer with her extended family, this year in the Turku archipelago. She hadn’t known how to refuse when her father assumed that of course Lumikki would come. She didn’t have anything else going on, did she? A cabin rented with some friends? Special plans with a special someone?
No, nothing. Lumikki would have preferred to spend Midsummer at her apartment, alone, listening to the silence. She didn’t yearn for merry schnapps songs, new potatoes, or herring. She didn’t want to play the role of the diligent schoolgirl, smiling and chatting politely, giving vague answers to questions about the future and boyfriends, pushing away uncles who weren’t biologically related and hugged her just a little too long.
But she knew Dad really wanted her to come. Mom too. Only three and a half months had passed since Lumikki was in the hospital. She’d been shot in the thigh, but luckily the bullet had only grazed the skin. Much worse was the frostbite she got from lying in the snow. Working to unravel the mystery of a trash bag full of blood-soaked cash thrown into her classmate Elisa’s backyard had gotten her in trouble with a network of drug smugglers. Tracking Elisa’s dad, a narcotics cop on the take, had led Lumikki to a lavish party at a carefully guarded mansion. There, she’d learned that the leader of the smuggling operation, known as Polar Bear, was actually two women who were identical twins. Lumikki had been forced to flee when Boris Sokolov, Polar Bear’s thug, recognized her.
Based on Lumikki’s testimony, Sokolov and Elisa’s father both ended up behind bars, but no one could touch the Polar Bear twins. After everything that happened in March, Lumikki had decided that, from now on, she truly was never going to stick her nose in anyone else’s business ever again. She had been chased, nearly frozen in a freezer, and shot. That was quite enough, thank you very much. No more blood. No more sleuthing or running for her life through the snow in slippery combat boots.
For a while, Lumikki’s mom and dad had wanted to keep her at home in Riihimäki, north of Helsinki. They’d even pushed to give up her tiny apartment in Tampere, but Lumikki wouldn’t hear of it. She spent all spring delivering newspapers to cover the rent, convincing her parents to keep the apartment “just in case.” For the first few weeks, though, there was no point trying to get them to let her stay there overnight. Lumikki just accepted the situation and took the train all the way to Tampere for school every day. Gradually, her parents saw how impractical the commute was, and Lumikki started slowly moving her things back to the apartment. One overnight there turned to two, two turned to three, and eventually, in May, she announced that she would only be dropping by Riihimäki every once in a while. Period. Her parents didn’t say anything. How could they have stopped her? She was practically an adult, after all. Lumikki could pay the rent from savings and her small student stipend if she had to.
After school ended, Lumikki wanted a break. She booked a ticket to Prague, looked for an inexpensive room in a hostel, packed her backpack with just the bare necessities, and left.
The moment the airplane took off, she could feel the relief in her gut. Time away from Finland. Away from her parents’ constant anxiety. Away from the streets where she sometimes still flinched when she saw a man dressed all in black. Lumikki had spent her whole life fighting fear. She hated fear. As she walked off the plane at the Prague airport, she felt the heavy chains loosen their grip. Her posture straightened and her steps became surer.
That’s why Lumikki was happy. That’s why she turned her face toward the sun, closing her eyes and smiling to herself. Breathing in the scents of Central Europe. Digging through her backpack, she pulled out a postcard of the Charles Bridge lit up at night. She decided to write a quick note to Elisa, who was “Jenna” now because she and her mother had changed their names. That was the only way for them to stay safe after what happened with Elisa’s father. Lumikki still thought of Elisa as Elisa, though.
They lived in Oulu now, in the north of Finland, and Elisa was studying cosmetology. She wrote to Lumikki from time to time to keep her up to date. In the last letter, Elisa had written about finally visiting her father in prison and how it hadn’t felt as bad as she had imagined it would. It had been important to see her dad. In her letters, Elisa sounded surprisingly calm and a little more mature than before. The events of the winter had forced her to grow up and take responsibility. She couldn’t be daddy’s little party girl anymore, and surprisingly, that seemed to fit her much better than her previous role. Lumikki was pleased that things were going so well for her, given the circumstances.
Actually, Elisa had made this trip possible. She’d sent Lumikki a thousand euros from the thirty thousand thrown into the yard before turning most of the rest over to the police. Lumikki told her parents that she was paying for the trip from her savings, but Elisa’s gift meant she didn’t need to touch them. It felt good to get the blood money used up and out of the secret compartment in her dresser where it never seemed to leave her alone.
Suddenly, a shadow fell over her face. The scent of incense with a hint of hemp soap overpowered the general smell of the city. Lumikki opened her eyes. Next to her stood a girl in her twenties wearing white linen trousers and a loose, long-sleeved shirt made of the same material. Her brown hair was done in two braids that wrapped around her head to form a crown. There was uncertainty in her gray eyes. The girl fingered the worn leather strap of her shoulder bag, which was the color of cognac.
Lumikki felt mild irritation.
She had seen the girl a few times before. She’d been watching Lumikki, apparently thinking she wouldn’t notice. They kept visiting the same tourist spots and crossing streets around town at the same time. The girl looked a couple of years older and was also on her own. Probably some sort of hippie looking for a traveling companion to sit with in parks drinking warm, cheap red wine and discussing the deep interconnectedness of the universe.
Not that there was anything wrong with that, but Lumikki had come to Prague specifically to be alone. She didn’t want any new friends.
When the girl opened her mouth, Lumikki had already planned what to say. It would be brief, polite, and cold. Cold always worked. Despite the hot weather, though, by the time the girl reached the end of her sentence, a different kind of cold had crept up Lumikki’s spine and given her goosebumps. “Jag tror att jag är din syster.”
I think I’m your sister.
Excerpted from AS WHITE AS SNOW by Salla Simukka. Copyright 2015. Published By Skyscape. Used by permission of the publisher. Not for reprint without permission.