|Primary Characters:||Michael, Ditte, Nazim|
|Warning:||m/m sex, non-con sex, violence|
|Description:||Michael is abducted by the Russian Mafia. When he gets back, he seems to be more or less ok, but something has changed. Soon his colleagues learn why. By then he’s already suffered a breakdown.|
The car lost traction for a while. It was dark and a gloppy slush made it hard to brake. Ditte Hansen was a good driver, but she was tired. The call had come in just as she was about to return to her empty house. She’d fallen into the habit of working late those weeks when the children were at their dad’s house. What was the use of going home, when no one would be waiting for her anyway?
Unlike Ditte, Nazim had his daughter this week, so he’d long since gone home. Even Hallgrim was away tonight, though he often tended to lose track of the passage of time while he was following up on a lead. The others had gone too, which meant that Michael was the only one she could take. He’d been staring incessantly at the computer screen. The decryption algorithm was in the process of cracking a complex code, and was doing it fast, relatively speaking. His eyes had hardly been able to follow the numbers which were flickering by on the screen.
“Will that take much longer?”
“We just had a call. The drug dealers. The ones smuggling cocaine from the Baltic states. Apparently an anonymous tip had come in. You know how hard Hallgrim has been working on this. We can’t let Narcotics take it, can we?”
Michael had turned away from the screen and faced his older colleague.
“You want me to come along?”
“Preferably. I could call someone else, but -”
She hadn’t had to finish the sentence. Michael had smiled amiably at her.
“Sure I can tag along. It will be a bit of a change. By the time we get back, this should be done.”
“Great. I’ll drop you off here afterwards. But – are you spending the night here?”
She’d already had her coat on and Michael had been about to put on his jacket and scarf.
A shrug had been his reply. But as an afterthought he’d mumbled a few words.
“I don’t know.”
She’d seen that he wasn’t going to go home and go to bed. Maybe he was going to stretch out somewhere on a couch. At his age that might not be so uncomfortable.
“Yeah, yeah. You do as you like.”
And so they’d taken Ditte’s car, which was full of dog hair, empty candy wrappers and a toy or two, and hurried off. It was cold. Colder than normally for this time of year. If it kept on like that, the sea between Denmark and ghtSweden would freeze over.
The heating wasn’t working very well and their breath made the windscreen misted over, so Michael kept having to wipe them off. His hands were freezing and he wished he’d brought a pair of gloves.
Ditte could guess how he was feeling, and she gave the problem some thought. Her face lit up.
“There should be some gloves somewhere. Look around.”
He stared surprisedly at his colleague, but began to search obediently. It turned out there was a pair of rather thick gloves on the floor at his feet.
“Are you sure it’s ok for me to borrow these?”
“The kids can blame themselves if they throw their stuff around. Those belong to Fie, so I think they’ll fit you quite well.”
Michael looked doubtfully at the gloves which seemed to be rather small. Ditte might consider him of an age with her fourteen-year-old, but he was actually about as close to Ditte’s age as the girl’s. But he tried the gloves on anyway and to his surprise they fit him pretty well. They stretched out a bit.
They were heading for an industrial area outside the centre. There were several warehouses, a couple of wholesalers and quite a few office buildings. More of an office park than any particular major corporations.
“It was a bit of luck that you were here tonight. According to our tipster, there’s supposed to be information in their computer system.”
“Right. I’m sure I’ll find it.”
It was surprisingly dark, despite the snow of which there was more and more out here. Less slush and bigger patches of snow. The streetlights became sparser and since most of the houses out here were either warehouses or offices, the facades were mostly dark.
“It should be around here somewhere. Can you see any numbers on the walls?”
“Hell. It’s supposed to be here somewhere. I was out here some time last year and – Wait. I know where we are now.”
She stepped on the brakes and parked the car in the parking lot outside the office building. According to the tip, it was empty and quiet in most of the premises and in any case it was getting late. Everything was calm and quiet.
“Look in the glove compartment. There should be a flashlight there.”
Michael rummaged around a bit and among comic books, another glove, a ball and a yoyo, there actually was a flashlight. The battery was a bit low, but once inside, the should be able to turn on the lights.
By now, it was even colder and despite their warm clothing, they were both shivering as they left the car. The main entrance was on the other side of the building and they made their way around to the front.
Ditte was beginning to look concerned.
“There should be a couple of uniforms out here. They’d managed to get through the door -”
She was fumbling inside her coat and felt the reassuring weight of her service weapon.
Michael glanced uneasily at her.
“Are you armed?”
He blushed slightly. No. He’d forgotten the gun in his desk drawer. Since he hardly ever worked in the field, he’d never actually needed it. Though naturally he knew how to fire a gun. It was part of the job.
“Get behind me. Just in case. Maybe they went inside. It’s fucking cold out here.”
The door was open and they could see a light from further up the corridor.
“Maybe they made coffee?”
Without making a conscious decision, they both gegan to walk more slowly and Michael hurried to catch up with Ditte. Somehow the darkness and the silence felt menacing. When they saw the door the light was coming from, suddenly another door opened behind them. Then another one. Ditte whirled around and saw half a dozen men issuing from three different doors. Not one of them was wearing a uniform.
Instinctively she raised her weapon, but she knew that if they were armed she and Michael would stand a chance. They’d walked into a trap. What rotten luck the kid had to forget to bring his gun.
The men were armed. She could see that clearly now. She glanced at the nearest door. It was closed and something told her it would be locked too. Either way, she’d never get it open in time.
The men were closing in. At this distance, they simply couldn’t miss.
Ditte was wondering what they wanted from them. They looked foreign. Eastern Europeans maybe. Their faces were hard and arrogant. Russian or Baltic organized crime. She felt a shiver go down her spine. Would she ever see the children again?
She caught Michael’s gaze to make sure the boy wouldn’t do something rash, but he looked just as shocked as she was. He didn’t seem to be about to try anything.
She made a face and lowered her gun.
One of the men gestured for her to put it on the floor. After a moment’s hesitation, she did. He moved his right foot and she got his meaning. She kicked the gun in his direction, then raised her hands above her head. Michael did the same.
They were herded through the first door they’d seen standing open. Inside, two uniformed officers were lying. There was no blood, so maybe they were still alive.
Two of the men grabbed her, hard, and forced her arms together behind her back. They twisted some kind of plastic strips around her wrists and pulled them to. It hurt. They didn’t let go of her. They kept holding on to her upper arms.
She saw them do the same to Michael. Next they brought some kind of adhesive tape and put it over his mouth. Would they do the same to her? Her throat constricted. It felt as if the blood flow in her arms was being cut off. If they covered her mouth, would she be able to breathe?
But there was no more tape. The one who appeared to be the leader pulled out what looked like a truncheon. It took her a second or so to realize that it was. They must have taken it from one of the uniformed colleagues. She knew what to expect now and she held her breath waiting for the blow.
But it became clear that the leader wanted to a little more tonight and he pointed meaningfully at the nightstick, at her unconscious colleage and finally at her. He began to laugh loudly and boomingly. Yeah, real funny, to knock out a cop with a club belonging to another one. Hilarious.
He raised the bludgeon and brought it down on her head. She began to black out and felt herself falling. She never felt the impact as she hit the floor.
It took her a long time to wake up this morning. She thought she’d begun to come to a couple of times already but dozed off again. Her head hurt. Had she been out for a couple of beers with her colleagues? It was so hard to remember. Eventually the weak December sun got in her eyes. She felt sick and her stomach seemed unusually empty. Her throat was dry and she coughed. There was a bad taste in her mouth. Had she thrown up? And why did it smell of urine? Had one of the kids wet the bed again? Wasn’t it quite a long time since they’d last done that, though? Where was she anyway? Wasn’t her bed unusually hard?
A low moan made her try to turn over. Not until then did it dawn on her why she’d been lying so stiffly. Her arms wouldn’t move. She began to panic. What had happened last night? And who was moaning like that? Surely she hadn’t – For a second she was wondering if she’d ended up so drunk she’d picked up some guy and taken him home. She hadn’t done anything like that since she got married.
At last her memory began to return.
She was so concerned about her young colleague her voice almost cracked. She forced herself to ignore the pain in her arms and sit up. Her entire weight was carried by her arms so she could understand why they were so numb. She bit her lower lip to stop herself from crying out. Her head and her arms were aching and she felt dizzy, but her concern for Michael made her force herself to get up.
Finally she was crouching. Her legs had gone to sleep, because she’d been lying to immobile. They felt stiff and clumsy.
She was still facing away from the direction the moan had come from, so she had to try to get up on her feet. It took a while. Several times she fell back and had to start over. All the time she kept calling Michael’s name, but there was no reply. Once she heard the moaning again.
At last she was standing and managed to turn around. Michael wasn’t there. The door wasn’t closed so she rushed into the corridor. She kept calling his name, but there was still no reply. She had a bad feeling about the whole thing.
When she’d looked into all the rooms that were standing open – there were two more – she returned to the one she’d come to in. Even if Michael wasn’t there, two of their uniformed colleagues were.
She bent over them and tried to figure out how badly injured they were. One of them was so immobile she feared the worst. The other one seemed to be about to come to.
“Hey. Wake up.”
It felt absoutely useless to be standing like this without being able to touch him. Maybe she ought to try to get out instead. At this time of the morning, there should be people about.
That was when the guy opened his eyes. Though he had a hard time focusing, eventually he seemed to be successful.
“Hello? Can you tell me what happened?”
The man rolled over on his side and threw up. He might be suffering from brain damage. She ought to hurry outside and get help for him. For both of them. The other one was in even worse shape.
Finally, he appeared to recover a little.
“We – went out here to follow up on a tip about drug smuggling. When we entered the building we were attacked by some Eastern Europeans -”
“How do you know?”
“That they were from eastern Europe?”
“I recognize Russian.”
“Right. They said something. Ok. Go on.”
“There isn’t that much more to say. They knocked us out and that’s the last thing I remember. How is Esben doing?”
“I should probably go and get help. Weird that this place is so empty.”
“It is. The owners went bankrupt and it’s going up for sale. We looked into it before coming out here.”
“I see. Do you understand Russian?”
“They didn’t say anything in Danish or English?”
She hadn’t really expected that. It was time she went to get help.
“I’m going now. If you don’t think you could help me get these off -”
She turned around and showed him the plastic strips eating into her wrists.
“I could try.”
But it was obvious that he couldn’t get up. Ditte tried lying down on her side with her back to him, and that worked a little better. He managed to get a hold of them but they were too tough to tear and there was no closing mechanism. When he tried to get his fingers underneath the plastic, Ditte cried out. It hurt too much.
She had to get up again. This time it was much more difficult. Finally, she was standing up. She looked around for something to cut off the strips with. But the room was practically empty. There were just a few paper crates on the floor, covered with dust.
This wasn’t working. She had to get out and get help.
“It’s no use. I have to get out of here.”
She made her way towards the exit. She was afraid the door would be locked, but fortunately it wasn’t. It had stopped snowing outside but the wind had picked up and was making her cheeks sting when she crossed the road. On the other side there were a couple of outlet stores that had to be open.
Fortunately, they were. A couple of surprised men listened to her story and one of them hurried off to get a carpet knife and cut off the strips.
She breathed in as the blood began to rush back into her squeezed wrists. After moving them back and forth a bit, she began to regain her mobility. She was considering going back to to her car to find her cell phone, if it hadn’t been stolen, but she changed her mind. Those injured men would need help quickly and Michael –
“Can I use your phone?”
One of them men pulled out a really nice looking phone and handed it to her.
She punched in Thea’s number and waited.
“Thea? I need help.”
Rapidly she told her boss where she was and described the injured men’s condition, as far as she could tell from a cursory inspection. Thea didn’t waste any time. She promised to send an ambulance and also Nazim.
Not until now could Ditte allow herself to sit down and catch her breath.
The paramedics removed the two injured policemen. The one who was still unconcious seemed to be in a really bad way. The other one would probably pull through but he needed immediate treatment. To Ditte’s astonishment, one of the paramedics stopped and began to examine her.
“There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Impatiently, she began to pull away. The young man held on to her and forced her to stand still while he shone a light in her eyes and squeezed her in various spots. She was forced to answer a lot of questions she didn’t see the point of. Eventually, he seemed to agree that she was probably ok. He still demanded that she checked in at the hospital as soon as she could.
They were wasting time. While she was sitting her doing no good, Michael was gone. Every minute counted. But she’d already lost at least twelve hours while she was lying passed out on the floor. Michael could be anywhere in Denmark or abroad, if he was alive at all. She couldn’t understand why they’d knocked her out and taken Michael. Unless they needed a computer expert. Could that be why? Had they known who they were? That had to mean they’d set them up deliberately, so they could get their hands on Michael.
She went to join Nazim who was waiting by her car.
The forensics team’s car was just coming into the parking right beside them. She was wondering if her ex would be there, but when they jumped out, she saw that he wasn’t there. It was a relief not to have to face him right now.
“Where are you going?”
“I was going to tag along and see what they can find.”
“There’s no need for that. Thea asked me to make sure you get back as soon as possible. But first you’re going to the hospital.”
“Don’t mess with me. We have to start the search for Michael -”
“Hallgrim, Frandsen and Marie are doing that right now. The best thing you can do is to answer my questions. We’ll know if they find anything as soon as they’re done.”
“But what if -”
It was as if Nazim had read her mind.
“He’s not there. I’ve been going through every room. Not a trace of him.”
Not a trace? That had to mean no blood either. She didn’t know if that was good or bad news. The sea wasn’t never very far away and besides there were far too many buildings where he could be hidden. It would be like searching for a needle in a haystack.
“I guess we’d better go.”
“I got a ride with some of the uniforms so we’ll have to take your car.”
Ditte grabbed the handle of the front door, but Nazim followed her around and stared at her.
“You’ve been hit over the hit and you’ve been unconscious for hours. Give me the keys.”
She swore extensively for a while, maybe to blow off steam a bit. Finally, she fished the keys out of her pocket and handed them over. She went around to the other side and opened that door instead. As she sat down, she recalled how Michael had been sitting there the night before. He’d been cold and she’d lent him her daughter’s gloves. She closed her eyes briefly. For the first ten minutes or so, they sat in silence.
“How are you doing?”
“Well – I’m – Nazim -”
“Why did they take Michael? Have you found out anything?”
“No, nothing. We’ve started to dig around a bit, but so far we haven’t come up with anything. Frandsen’s following up on the Russian lead right now. Do you feel up to telling me a little about it now?”
“Sure. The front door wasn’t locked so we went inside. Everything was quiet but the uniforms who were supposed to be waiting for us were nowhere to be seen. We thought -”
She broke off as she recalled how she and Michael had discussed the possibility that the two colleagues had gone inside to make coffee.
“That they’d gone inside because it was so cold. A door was standing open a bit further down the corridor – the room where we were lying.”
“Right. Then what?”
“The lights were on in there, so that’s where were were heading. It was just that – I had a bad feeling.”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it was so quiet. If the uniforms had been there, wouldn’t they have been talking? And they were supposed to wait for us. They should have been keeping an eye out or at least given us a holler when they heard us. So I pulled my gun.”
Not until now did she remember she’d lost it.
“Did you find my gun?”
She knew what the odds were, so she wasn’t surprised when Nazim was shaking his head.
“We heard a noise from behind and we noticed that two more doors were opening behind us. There were six of them. Two from each room.”
“Of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t have -”
“I know. Go on.”
“I knew we didn’t stand a chance against them so – I gave up. The leader gestured to me to put the gun on the floor and kick it to him. They brought us into the room where you found those uniforms. They were there already. Unconscious. They tied me and Michael up and taped his mouth shut. The leader pulled out a truncheon – it belonged to one of the colleagues. He seemed to find it hilarious. Knock one cop out with a nightstick belonging to another one.”
“You didn’t hear them say anything – in any language?”
“No. No one said anything. Just that the one who seemed to be the leader laughed.”
“So they taped Michael’s mouth shut. That means they were taking him. I don’t think you need to worry -”
About him being dead. No, maybe not yet. But what use could they have for him? Ditte couldn’t understand what was behind the kidnapping. Surely they wouldn’t be asking for ransom money?
“But why? I don’t see what they could possibly -”
“No, me neither. Yet. But we’ll find him.”
“We have to. I can’t stand the thought of him tied up. Locked up. Where do you think he is now?”
Nazim shook his head. There was no guessing the answer to that question. Maybe in Denmark, maybe somewhere else in Europe. Hardly further away than that.
After a visit at the hospital, where Ditte was told not to move about too much for the next couple of days, they returned to their colleagues.
Ditte could tell right away that they hadn’t come up with anything useful. She sat down at her desk, fingering the lump behind her left ear. Her head still hurt, but the dizziness was gone.
She didn’t hear her boss coming until Thea was standing over her. Thea patted her arm lightly, but Ditte pulled back anyway. Her arm was probably bruised. Those Russians had held on to her really hard.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m ok. Have you found out anything yet?”
“Not about Michael. I’m afraid one of the colleagues didn’t make it. He never came to again.”
“Oh. What about the other one?”
“He should be fine. Thanks to you. If he’d been left lying there any longer, it could have gone the other way.”
“Thea, we have to find him. I can’t understand why they would want to abduct him.”
“Me neither. But we’ll find out. Don’t worry. I suppose you won’t consider going home to get some rest?”
“Not on your life.”
“I thought you’d say that.. At least you have to eat. I’ve brought coffeee and sandwiches and some rolls. Come on.”
It wasn’t often Thea was this maternal. Ditte knew her boss must have worried about them. Suddenly she recalled her theory about the reason for Michael’s abduction.
“You don’t think they took him because he’s a computer expert?”
Thea studied her younger colleague thoughtfully. Ditte didn’t look so good and she seemed dreadfully worried about the boy.
“What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know. They must have had a reason to take him, right?”
Thea nodded. Ditte’s theory might not be completely farfetched, but Thea found it hard to believe that the Russians needed to kidnap a computer expert. They already had enough. Russian speaking experts. No, the explanation had to be something else.
Thea wondered if maybe their current investigation might have some kind of connection with Russian organized crime. All those drugs from the east had some kind of link to organized crime so it was possible.
But even if that was true, there was no reason to abduct their computer expert. They had others who could take over and besides, Marie claimed the code was already cracked. Thea had to take her word for it. All her colleagues, except possibly Frandsen, could handle those incomprehensible computers better than she could.
She looked out her window. There was a deep cover of snow out there. She’d need to shovel her way out, she thought. But Bessie couldn’t wait that long. The dog was already scratching at the door. She’d better manage anyway. She got the collar and put it around Bessie’s neck, then attached the leash to the little metal ring on the collar. Bessie whimpered softly, her tail waving happily.
Fortunately, the layers of snow weren’t packed very hard. She could easily make her way to the gate and onto the path. The road leading the other way had already been cleared by the neighbours driving to work. She was lucky not to have to get into town. Her distance studies didn’t require many visits to the university.
After they’d come some distance into the woods, she let Bessie off the leash. This time of year, there would be no trouble letting the dog run free.
She came walking a little slower behind her. Bessie knew that she wasn’t allowed to go too far. If they continued on too far in this direction, they’d come out on the other road, which was more heavily trafficked. Today, Bessie suddenly took off like a shot. Had she picked up a scent? Bessie had absolutely no hunting instinct so it could only be another dog.
If Molle had been out recently, Bessie might be hoping to play for a while. She began to walk faster. Molle’s owner lived too close to the road. Worriedly, she began to call out Bessie’s name. This wasn’t like her.
Out of breath, she stopped right behind her dog. Bessie was wagging her tail slowly. What had she discovered? A fox? It might be best to put her back on the leash so there’d be no trouble. She began to fumble in her pocket for a biscuit or whatever she might have lying around. It had been a long time since she had to bribe Bessie.
“Come on, girl. That’s enough. Molle’s not here. And foxes don’t want to play with dogs. Not even sweet and cute doggies like you.”
She was hoping it would be a badger or something injured –
Bessie retreated, anxiously and she had the chance of reattaching the leash. But – that didn’t look like an animal – What was lying on the snow actually looked like – a human arm. Involuntarily, she stepped back. What if – Ever since she’d read about another dog owner finding a dead boyd in the woods many years ago, she’d been afraid of one day stumbling across one.
But she couldn’t just run off. If there was a dead person out here, she’d need to find out and then call the police or an ambulance or whatever it was you did. She hadn’t brought her cell phone so they’d need to return home anyway. Fortunately. She didn’t want to stick around close to a corpse.
She’d better tie Bessie to that tree, so she wouldn’t go any closer and sniff it. The thought that Bessie might have licked or chewed on the body made her shiver, but she didn’t dare to check on that right now.
“There. sweetie. It’s ok. You stay here an keep watch and I’ll find out what -”
She gathered up all her courage and took a step closer to that arm. Hopefully, it would still be attached to the body – When she’d taken a better look, her eyes widened. That couldn’t be some old berry picker who’d got lost or had a heart attack.
She stared wonderingly at the naked body. It was a young, really good looking guy about twenty-five or so. At least that was how it looked. She caught herself thinking that it was a shame he was dead. If she’d met him while he was still alive she wouldn’t have minded getting to know him. But now she began to wonder why he was naked. This couldn’t be the result of any accident, or could it? She seemed to recall that when you were about to freeze to death, you started hallucinating or something. At least some people would get undressed because they felt too hot.
Maybe that was what had happened to this guy. She looked around for his clothes, but couldn’t see anything like that. Something else struck her. It had been snowing heavily during the night, which should have meant that his footprints should have been erased. Instead, there were footprints all around. Some were made by dogs or birds, but the rest seemed to have been made by people. Not only that, people wearing heavy boots. This guy wasn’t wearing anything on his feet.
She also noticed a weird long imprint which looked as if it had been made by someone dragging something behind them. Maybe that guy? More and more she got the feeling that this was a crime. She ought to hurry back home and call the police.
Suddenly, she heard Bessie whimper behind her and she whirled around, jumpy after the discovery she’d just made. Bessie had managed to work the leash loose and now she came running.
“Come here, girl. Let’s go home.”
But Bessie continued past her and towards the body. No. She held out her hand but missed the leash entirely.
She tried to sound as confident as the dog trainer at the dog club had taught her, but instead, she sounded frightened. No wonder Bessie ignored her.
Though she didn’t want to get any closer to the body, she forced herself to go after Bessie and find out what had caught her interest. If only there wouldn’t be any more dead bodies nearby.
To her horror, Bessie began to lick the guy’s face.
“No. Don’t do that. Come here.”
But Bessie didn’t appear to hear her.
Suddenly, she heard a terrifying wail. She shuddered and lost her balance and fell backwards. Sitting down, she could see the corpse begin to move. It took her a couple of seconds to realize that the guy wasn’t dead. He’d come round, and apparently he too, was terrified.
She had to get up and see if she could do something for him. It had to be dreadfully cold, lying naked like that. She had to have been watching him and wondering what to do for at least ten minutes, maybe more. It hit her that whoever had dumped him here must have been here only minutes before she and Bessie arrived in the clearing where he was lying. She shivered again. If they’d seen her. But maybe they had. Maybe she’d frightened them off. Maybe they weren’t far away. What if they returned?
“Calm down. She’s not dangerous. We just have to get out of here. In case they come back.”
In retrospect, she didn’t know how she’d dared. She didn’t know anything about that guy, other than that he was lying unconscious in the woods not far from here home. That wasn’t any guarantee he wasn’t dangerous himself. If this was the doings of some biker gang, he could be just as dangerous as the ones who had dumped him here. She didn’t know exactly what set her mind thinking about biker gangs, but it hit her that was probably his muscular body. Weren’t those bikers pretty big and strong?
Strangely enough, he calmed down a little when he heard her voice. She bent over him and held out her hand. He stared incomprehendingly at her, then his gaze cleared and after a moment’s hesitation, he took her hand. It wasn’t easy to get him to stand up. He was wobbly as if he’d taken a blow to the head or something else that had made him dizzy. In the end, he stood up.
She could tell he was terribly cold and she knew she had to get him warmed up fast, or he’d most likely lose consciousness again. After some hesitation, she removed her jacket and wrapped it around him. It was tight over his broad shoulders but in the end she managed to zip it up.
She had Bessie’s leash in a tight grip in one hand. With the other, she tried to make the young man follow her. It seemed to have taken too long already. Suddenly, she couldn’t remember if she’d locked the door when she left. If anyone had managed to get inside the house – For the first time she was beginning to feel concerned about living this far out in the woods. Her mother was always saying she ought to move back into town again, but there were a lot more going on there, stuff that you needed to worry about.
In any case she finally managed to get the guy to come along and Bessie too, and despite her fears about someone having gained access to her house, she wanted to get behind closed doors. But the door was locked and she had the key in her pocket. Bessie didn’t react so there wouldn’t be anyone there. All the same she took the time to run from room to room to check. The cabin was so small it didn’t take her long anyway. Everything was like before.
The guy was standing in the doorway of her cosy but cramped little kitchen, seemingly disoriented.
“Come on in. I’ll find something to cover you with.”
He stared stupidly at her as if he didn’t understand. She didn’t have time to mess around. Impatiently, she removed Bessie’s leash and hung it up. She pointed towards the kitchen settle. At least that was long and wide and comfortable too and she would rather not put him in her own bed. Even if he was cute.
Eventually, she she had to grab his arm and lead him towards the settle and make him sit down. He didn’t resist her. At last she could go off in search of some blankets. She brought some sheets too. Now she had to get him to stand up again, but with some effort she was successful. Once she’d made up the settle as well as she could, she gestured for him to lie down. If he’d been hit over the head, it was probably best.
Finally, she could call the police. She come to the conclusion that this would be her wisest course of action. They could call an ambulance or they’d tell her to do it, if necessary.
While she was making the call, the guy was studying her. She couldn’t guess at what he was thinking, if he was thinking at all.
Now that she’d managed to get hold of the police, she felt relieved. She sank down on a chair at the kitchen table and looked back at the cute blond guy.
“How do you feel? Oh, I suppose I should get you a hot drink.”
She didn’t have any coffee in the house. It was so disgusting. He’d have to settle for tea. Herbal tea. Not really tasty either, but you had to have something.
She got the kettle going and put a tea bag in a mug. When the water was done, she poured it out and put the mug in front of the guy. He didn’t seem to get her meaning. Was he in a state of shock? She didn’t know if she ought to insist, but recalled that the police and maybe an ambulance would be on their way. It would be ok anyway.
“Are you in pain?”
No reply. She touched his forehead gently. He seemed to be unpleasantly cold to the touch. Involuntarily she thought of the tv series Angel. But that was just stupid. There were no vampires. The guy was cold because he’d been lying without his clothes in the snow. That was odd, come to think of it. Why was he naked but alive? She had a vague idea that criminals got rid of bodies like that. Without clothes so it would take longer to identify them. Or was that just something she’d read in a mystery?
He frowned as if he was trying to recall, then he opened his mouth. At first she couldn’t hear anything she could understand. It was as if he hadn’t talked for a long time and his voice was hoarse. Or maybe it was because of the cold. Eventually, he got his voice under control. That wasn’t much of an improvement. She could hardly understand anything. It sounded like – Danish. She had seen a couple of Danish tv series and movies, but like most Swedes she had a hard time understanding anyway.
It dawned on her that he’d asked her if she was from Sweden. What did he mean from Sweden? They were in Sweden.
“I’m Swedish, yes. And you’re Danish?”
It was as if his mind was making a double take. He looked surprised.
“Are we in Sweden?”
“Yes, of course. Don’t you remember anything?”
Something moved in his eyes, but he didn’t reply. Odd. A good thing the cops were on their way. What if he was insane? Or a drug addict? Involuntarily, her eyes were drawn to his lower arms, sticking out of the too short sleeves of her jacket. No needlemarks. But there were other types of drugs, weren’t there?
“It’s ok. The police will be here any time. I’m sure they’ll be able to help you.”
Now he was saying something again. A long sentence she only partially understood.
“I’m a police officer.”
She was wondering if he’d been involved in some operation with the Swedish police, but it seemed to hard to work that out, so she didn’t ask. Besides, she heard a car pulling to a stop outside in her yard. She looked outside and to her relief, she saw that it was a sqaud car. Two uniformed men stepped out of the car and approached her front door. They vanished around the corner and left her field of vision. There was a knock on the door.
She went to open it.
“Did you call about finding an injured man in the woods?”
“I don’t know how badly injured he is. He was naked and very cold. In a state of shock too, I think. But he doesn’t look too badly injured. Not that I’m an expert. Come on in. He’s in the kitchen.”
They walked in and stamped their feet to get rid of the snow. Bessie got up and wagged her tail at them. One of them patted her, but the other one just walked by her.
“Can you tell us what happened?”
The guy was staring at the police man without replying. His Swedish colleague, if he’d been telling the truth.
“Has he said anything?”
“Yes. He’s Danish. And he says he’s a police officer too.”
The unfriendly cop who hadn’t paid any attention to Bessie was looking at her as if he thought she was a naive, gullible fool.
“Oh, yeah? Can you identify yourself?”
She thought it was a stupid question. Where would he have that ID? He was naked.
Still no reply.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Now he was speaking loudly and exaggeratedly clearly as if to a child or someone of a lower intelligence.
The guy still didn’t reply. He’d talked to her, so he must have understood what she was saying. It seemed to her that he was scared. In a state of shock just as she’d guessed.
“Isn’t the ambulance coming?”
“They’re on their way. But in the meantime, we could try and find out something about your friend here.”
He was making it sound as if they’d made it all up. What a jerk. He walked up to the table and standing there, towering above the guy, he looked quite menacing. The guy seemed to think so too, because once again, he made a noise that hinted at fright. This time it was more of a sob, rather than a cry.
“Take it easy. He hasn’t done anything wrong, has he? Can’t you see that he’s in a state of shock or something?”
She sat down again, this time on the settle and it seemed as if the guy somehow felt calmer when she was between him and the other cops. He had to be confused in some way, because even if this cop was really unfriendly, surely he couldn’t be scared of his own colleagues?
Fortunately, the ambulance arrived so the cops backed off a bit. One of them let the paramedics in. By now, the kitchen was getting a bit crowded, so she got up and called Bessie’s name. The dog seemed to be happy to be shut into the bedroom.
The friendlier cop followed her and asked her about the details of the discovery.
“We’d better take it from the beginning. What’s your name?”
“And where did you find this young man?”
She told him the circumstances, but was interrupted by a scream like the one she’d heard earlier. They turned around and saw that the paramedics were having trouble examining the guy. He pulled away and it looked as if he wanted to hide somewhere.
Ella ran back and pushed her way in between the paramedics and the guy. He’d let her touch him before. She sat down beside him and tried to calm him down. He was tense and it seemed as if he was prepared to escape if he had a chance.
“Come on. It’s ok. They just want to make sure you’re ok. What’s your name anyway?”
“Michael? Right. Ok. Michael, what’s wrong? Are you in pain? Are you hurt?”
“But you’re really cold. Can’t you let the paramedics take care of you? There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
She felt a little silly, but at least it seemed as if the guy was calming down a bit. Just to make sure, she stayed where she was, patting his arm while the paramedics were examining him. It seemed as if whatever it was that had made him seem so disoriented – drugs, a blow to the head or simply shock – was wearing off. He seemed to be making a serious effort to cooperate.
The unfriendly cop’s cell phone rang. It sounded as if he was commenting on Michael. Was the call about him? Had they found out who he was? When the cop finished the call, it really seemed that way.
“I think I know who he is. He’s been missing for a couple of weeks, apparently. It seems he was abducted from Copenhagen nearly two weeks ago.”
Copenhagen? Two weeks ago? That was odd. What had happened to him? Ella felt that she’d become quite attached to her unexpected guest, in the short time they’d known each other. She was hoping he wasn’t badly injured.
“We’ll take him to the hospital and they can come and pick him up there.”
One of the paramedics suggested that Ella came along.
“He seems to trust you. And it would be best if he could stay calm.”
“Sure. No problem.”
Ella looked at her jacket and realized that she’d have to wear something else. She wouldn’t be surprised if it was now part of the evidence. She put on an extra sweater and her spring jacket which was thinner than the other one. Somehow, she’d manage.
When she was back, she let Bessie out of the bedroom and let her outside for a bit. She threw the blankets and the sheets in the hamper, then made herself something to eat. While she was eating, she thought about Michael. She was hoping he’d be ok now. Before he left, he’d asked for her phone number. He’d seemed really grateful for her help. Maybe he too felt they’d connected a bit.
Since Michael’s disappearance, they’d all worked day and night to find him. Most of all, Ditte, who somehow felt responsible. But by now, they didn’t have any high hopes that he’d be found alive. They hadn’t been able to find any useful leads. All their efforts ran into a blank wall.
Marie and Hallgrim were put back on the narcotics case they’d been working on earlier. The others kept looking for Michael and the ones who had abducted him, though as time went by, the chances of finding him were growing slimmer and slimmer.
Then finally, the call from Sweden came. Thea picked up and at first no one noticed anything out of the ordinary. When she mentioned Michael’s name every conversation around the room ended. Everyone’s attention fixed on the boss. She nodded agreement, at the person on the other end of the line, who naturally couldn’t see her, then hung up. After making a few quick notes, she cleared her throat and got up.
Ditte stared at her intently. What would they learn? Had they found Michael or his dead body?
“Listen up everyone. That was the Swedish police. They’ve found Michael. He’s in a hospital in the west of Sweden -”
Thea had a bit of trouble with the unfamiliar Swedish name and none of the others had heard of the small town, but they really couldn’t pay attention to that now. Everyone kept staring at their boss expectantly, hoping to hear the rest.
“He doesn’t seem to be that badly injured, but I don’t much more than that.”
Everyone began speaking loudly and in the end, Thea had to raise her voice again.
“Hold on a sec. One of you will have to go and pick him up -”
She glanced at Ditte enquiringly. After all, it had been Ditte who had worked the hardest, trying to find her younger colleague.
Ditte looked distraught.
“I can’t. The children are back. Otherwise I’d love to.”
“Ok. Who else? Nazim?”
“Yes, that’s ok. My daughter is at her mother’s this week.”
“Good. Then that’s settled. The rest of you can get back to your regular cases, but when you have time you can keep looking for the people responsible. We’ll see what Michael has to say.”
Nazim went straight to the airport and booked a ticket on a flight to Landvetter. From there he went by car further inland. He had to use a map, but eventually he found himself in the small town. Finding the way to the hospital wasn’t very difficult.
At the reception desk he identified himself and made contact with one of the Swedish colleagues who had found Michael.
“Actually, I didn’t find him myself.”
Nazim glanced enquiringly at the man. He gestured towards the elevator and they continued in that direction together.
“He was lying naked in a wooded area, in the snow. The girl who found him thought he was dead, but – he came to. She brought him back to her cabin and called us.”
“How badly injured is he?”
“You’ll have to ask the doctors about that, but it didn’t look very serious, I think. Of course I couldn’t see that much of him, because the girl had lent him something to cover himself with. But I really don’t think it’s too bad.”
Nazim breathed out with relief. It would be good to come back and tell Ditte this. She’d been so worried. They all had. And here he was, more or less uninjured. But the whole thing was getting more and more mysterious. Where had he been for so long? And why had he been abducted? Most of all, why had they let him go, as relatively uninjured as this? Then Nazim recalled that Michael had been lying naked in the snow. Maybe the kidnappers had meant for him to freeze to death.
On the third floor, the elevator stopped and they got out. Michael’s room was some way down the corridor. Another uniformed colleague was guarding the door.
“I think you can go on in. The girl who found him is in there, but I’m sure she’ll realize that you, his colleague, will need to speak to him.”
“Yes, the paramedics felt it was best.”
That information didn’t make Nazim any wiser, but he didn’t ask what was behind the statement. Now all he wanted was to see Michael and make sure he was ok. He’d also need to find out what Michael remembered of the two weeks he’d been missing. If he knew where he’d been and so on.
Nazim knocked on the door and walked in. A darkhaired girl of about Michael’s own age was sitting beside the bed and it looked as if she was holding Michael’s hand. But she pulled back her hand quickly and got up.
“Are you Michael’s colleague?”
“Yes. Nazim Talawi.”
“Ella Pettersson. Right. I’ll get going so you two can talk. Bye, Michael. Take care of yourself.”
“Wait. Could – I have your number? I’d like to talk to you more later.”
“Oh. Sure. Just a minute.”
She couldn’t find any piece of paper to write on and no pencil either. The room was more or less empty apart from the bed, a chair and the bedside table.
“I could put it in my phone book, if you like, Michael.”
Michael was looking at Nazim in a way that Nazim found hard to interpret, then he nodded.
The girl gave him the number and Nazim saved it in his phone book, under the name Ella, Michael’s friend.
She took her jacket and left.
Nazim sat down on the chair she’d just vacated. He studied his younger colleague thoughtfully. Something had changed. Michael looked different somehow, but he couldn’t quite say how. The eyes were unnerving somehow. Nazim thought he could read anguish there, an anguish he found hard to understand if Michael hadn’t been treated any worse than his lack of injuries indicated.
“How are you feeling?”
It sounded as if Michael spoke a little too quickly, as if he hadn’t even reflected on his reply. Nazim didn’t insist. He just nodded.
“Can you tell me anything about the ones who took you?”
“They were Russians.”
“How do you know?”
“I heard them speak Russian a few times.”
“Ok. Where did they take you, after they’d got you and Ditte?”
“I don’t know. They tied me up and taped my mouth shut and locked me into a car with dark windows. After that, I don’t know where we went, except that now I realize it must have been Sweden.”
“Right. Then what?”
Michael didn’t reply. Instead, he sat staring down at his own hands. Throughout their conversation, he’d done his best to avoid Nazim’s gaze.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the snow.”
“Nothing? What did they do to you? Did they knock you out too?”
“No. I think they gave me a shot of something.”
“Right. And that’s all you remember?”
Again, Michael kept quiet and the pause that followed felt charged somehow. Nazim didn’t know what to expect, but he found it hard to believe Michael didn’t remember more than that.
“Do you know when they gave you that shot?”
“After we’d been in the car for a couple of hours, I think.”
“And they never said anything to you.”
The reply sounded curt and evasive. Nazim sensed there was more to say, but this wasn’t a criminal he was interrogating. It was a colleague and friend.
“I see. How are you feeling?”
“I said fine.”
“I mean, do you think you could go home right away? If your doctor agrees?”
“Good. I’ll go and speak to the doctor and the colleagues, and we’ll make sure you get home. Ditte and the others have been really worried about you, as you can understand.”
“How is Ditte? They knocked her out.”
“She’s fine – but one of the colleagues didn’t make it.”
“One of the guys in uniform?”
Nazim saw Michael pale.
“Yes. The other one’s ok now, but – the other guy – he’d suffered head injuries and they were just too serious.”
Outside, the two Swedish colleagues were waiting. One of them stayed outside the door while they other one came with Nazim to a room where they were told to wait for the doctor.
“Do you know anything about where he might have been and who could be responsible?”
“I’m afraid not. But they must have come only minutes before the girl and her dog showed up. That might be what spooked them. We’ve checked the place where he was found and the area around it, but we didn’t come up with anything useful. The road outside is pretty heavily trafficked at times so many other cars had been driving in the same tracks.”
“I see. Lucky for him that the girl was there.”
“He seems to be very attached to her even though they can’t have known each other for more than half an hour or so, before we arrived and the paramedics.”
Nazim smiled. Apparently Michael had made a good impression on the girl. He’d guessed that women would find Michael attractive, even if he hadn’t had much luck with women so far.
The doctor who had examined Michael arrived and the police officer got up and left the room.
“You’re Michael’s colleague?”
“Yes. Nazim Talawi.”
“What sort of injuries does he have? Do you know which type of drug he’d been injected with?”
“He isn’t all that badly injured. No fractures or internal injuries. There’s evidence of some physical abuse. Bruising. Something which could be burn marks from electrocution.”
Electrocution? Nazim swallowed nervously. That sounded more like torture, than ‘some physical abuse’.
“Did you find any traces of a drug in his system?”
“No, nothing conclusive. Just that he’d been injected with something. Needlemarks on his arms.”
“Enough time must have passed for all traces of the drug to leave his body.”
“Nothing definite. According to the paramedics, he was in a state of shock. He was apathetic and seemed to have a hard time understanding what they were saying, but of course that might just be a language problem.”
She smiled at that and Nazim returned her smile. She seemed to be an intelligent and pleasant woman. Attractive too.
“From what I hear, he wouldn’t let himself be examined at first. Thanks to the young woman who had found him, he calmed down. Personally, I didn’t notice any signs of shock by the time I examined him. The way it looks now, he’s recovering well.”
“So it would be ok for him to return to Denmark right away?”
“Yes. There’s no medical reason why he shouldn’t. If that’s what he wants, it’s fine with us.”
“Thanks. Then I guess we’ll – Oh, right. I hear he was naked when he was found?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Then he’ll need something to wear -”
“He’s wearing the hospital’s clothes now. Just send them back later.”
Nazim decided to take Michael straight back to headquarters. There had to be something there for him to borrow. He knew the others would want to see him before he went home.
When they walked in, they were all there, even Ditte, who must have gone back home to see her kids and come straight back, just so she could see Michael.
She rushed up to Michael and hugged him, and though he seemed self-conscious about the attention, it was clear that he was pleased to see her too.
“How are you?”
“I should be asking you that.”
“No, you’re the one who was knocked out in that room, so -”
“Oh, that. I’m ok. Now I want to know how you are. Come on. Sit.”
Ditte pulled him along to his own chair, facing the computer.
Nazim talked to Hallgrim and Frandsen about a change of clothes and between them, they managed to find a pair of jeans, a sweater, apart from underwear – Michael’s own – and socks and a pair of sneakers. When he returned from the locker room, Michael wasn’t there anymore.
“Where is he?”
“He went to the bathroom.”
Nazim followed him there and when Michael emerged from the stall he’d been in, he shied away from Nazim, as if he didn’t know him.
“Hey. Take it easy. It’s just me. With the clothes. I thought you’d want to wear some real clothes, instead of those hospital things.”
He could see that Michael was making an effort to seem normal.
“Oh. I didn’t hear you. I was just a little startled. Thanks. I’ll take those.”
He held out his hand for the pile of clothes Nazim was carrying over his arm. Nazim noticed that Michael’s hand was shaking a little.
“There you go.”
When Michael returned, the hospital clothes were hanging over his arm. Nazim took them from him and promised to send them back to Sweden the first opportunity he had.
Thea, Marie and the others gathered around Michael, who seemed a little ill at ease by all the attention. It was obvious that he was exhausted and before long, Thea sent him home. He didn’t object.
The next day he was back, and asking to be put to work. Thea had her doubts about the wisdom of that course, but she didn’t have the heart to refuse his offer. She knew he’d want to be among his colleagues.
“But just part time to begin with. You have to take it easy.”
“Sure. I mean, it’s not really hard work, sitting in front of a computer.”
“Don’t say that. Personally, I’d go insane if I didn’t get to do anything else.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Computers are really terrific. There’s nothing you can’t do with them.”
“If you say so. Welcome back, my boy.”
Nazim kept an attentive eye on him but kept his concerns to himself. He felt that everyone ought to have noticed how tense Michael was and that he kept glancing wildly around the room as if scanning for a potential threat. Maybe the others noticed the change, but didn’t say anything about it.
When Frandsen happened to place a hand on Michael’s shoulder, as he was looking at something on the computer screen, Michael pulled away violently, and the look in his eyes was like that of a feral animal. Frandsen stared in astonishment at his younger colleague and apologized for startling him.
It was a while until Michael seemed to hear him, but once he did, he looked embarrassed and apologized too. Nazim found Michael’s reaction alarming. He considered telling Thea, but decided to wait. He also considered discussing the matter with Ditte, but again, he came to the conclusion that he didn’t have anything concrete to tell them.
One morning, Nazim discovered Michael crying desolately in one of the interrogation rooms. When the door opened and Nazim entered, Michael looked up and the look in his eyes was not only distraught, but forlorn. As if he was lost. Nazim felt a deep sense of disquiet.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m ok. Just tired. Lately, it’s been a little hard to sleep, that’s all.”
“But Michael – there has to be something else going on – if you’ve remembered something you know you can tell me – or Ditte, if you prefer. We just want to help you.”
“It’s nothing. I told you. I’m just really tired.”
Nazim sighed. He hadn’t really expected anything more.
“I see. Stay here and get some rest, and I’ll talk to the others. Maybe you should go home and try to sleep now?”
“Maybe. It’s ok.”
Nazim went and told the others that Michael needed to rest. Ditte rushed inside to take a look at her protege, but when she got there, he’d dried his tears and looked as if he merely was a little tired, just like he’d told Nazim.
They decided to let him stay and rest in there. There was a bed and some blankets and pillows and Nazim and Frandsen carried them into the room. Michael looked as if he’d much rather have done without all the extra attention, but he thanked them gravely anyway.
The others began their work day. Suddenly, Thea called out for them. She’d received an unusual email. It contained an attachment.
With Marie’s and Nazim’s help, they were able to play it. It started with a short sequence they’d already seen. The one with the little Russian girl being sexually assaulted.
The scene changed and to their horror, they saw a similar room, with a similar bed, but with another victim. Michael. At first they couldn’t believe their eyes. They kept thinking the man on the bed would look up and turn out to be someone else, someone who reminded them of their friend and colleague, but wasn’t.
But it wasn’t another man. The young man in the film clip was without a doubt Michael. A totally different Michael. He seemed to be beaten, broken up. The look in the eyes that were looking straight into the camera made Ditte close her eyes and blink away tears. Nazim’s throat constricted and Thea looked away. The men avoided meeting each other’s gazes.
Michael. Their colleague. How was this possible? Was it simply a skillful montage?
Eventually, Thea regain the power of speech.
“We’ll have to get an expert to look at it.. Maybe -”
Marie shook her head.
“There’s no mistake. No montage or other manipulation could be behind that. The quality of the movie is just too good.”
Nazim coughed nervously to clear his throat.
“It’s him. But how -”
“Didn’t you say that they’d drugged him? And beaten him? They must have -”
“But the medical examination -”
“If enough time had passed maybe nothing would show up. Marie – you studied the mass rapes in Rwanda, didn’t you?”
“Do you know anything that might -”
“No. Or – if it’s rape, it will show. The injuries are so clear there’s no mistaking them. Of course, they’ll heal eventually, physically. But Michael hasn’t been gone long enough for that. If I understand this correctly, they haven’t raped him. Or at least not used that much force. They could have bullied him into submission and that counts as rape, but the injuries wouldn’t be the same. There are ways of avoiding injuries -”
“But there were more than one – I don’t get it.”
Thea came to a conclusion. They couldn’t stand here debating, until Michael returned and discovered what they’d found out.
“It doesn’t really matter. At least now we know why he’s so – changed.”
“He seems to be especially wary of – men.”
Nazim was the one who dared to point out this fact, which had been bothering him for a while.
Frandsen nodded agreement.
“That’s right. He looked as if he wanted to bite me, when I put a hand on his shoulder without thinking. Just the other day.”
“You must understand that he’s been traumatized.”
“Yeah, now I do.”
Ditte had finally regained control over herself.
Thea looked helplessly at the other woman.
“I really don’t know. He can’t go on like this. There must be some kind of help he can get.”
“But what if he won’t acknowledge there’s a problem? Can we force him to get help? Do we confront him with this movie clip or rather our knowledge of it?”
Thea shook her head.
“I think we need to take the risk of suicide into consideration.”
Ditte’s eyes filled with horror. That Michael might want to do himself harm was something she hadn’t even had time to consider. But of course. According to what Marie had told her, you almost never got to interview any adult male rape victims. Little boys might tell what had happened to them, but never men. And the reason for that wasn’t simply that the men refused to be questioned. Many of them didn’t survive the time after the rape. They took their own lives, rather than to live with the shame. But would Michael feel that way?
Besides, the trauma in itself would be enough. You didn’t need to speculate on what the feelings of guilt bring him to. And now they’d talked enough. Someone had to go and talk to Michael.
He hadn’t been lying. It was hard to sleep. Just not exactly the way he’d told Nazim. It was just that he couldn’t allow himself to sleep. Because when he slept, he couldn’t stop the memories from returning. In the dreams, he was there again.
A bare room, lit up by a very strong light, maybe a photo light. The light got in his eyes. He had to squint to make out the men who were standing above him. The bed they’d thrown him down on was covered by a sheet, nothing more.
It was hard to think clearly. Since they’d given him the injection, everything was hazy. That wasn’t all though. When the car had pulled to a stop, they’d pulled something over his head. They’d led him into the building where he found himself. He thought it had sounded like concrete under his feet, but he wasn’t sure. Everything was so blurred.
Inside, they’d torn off what was covering his head, and pulled off his jacket. He’d tried to resist, but as soon as he moved, they hit him. In the abdomen. On his face. His back. They kicked his legs and pushed him backwards, against a wall.
His ears were ringing and a red haze made it hard to see, but after a while, it cleared up again. One of them cut off his sweater, while the others held him up. The man with the knife continued all the way down, cutting off the rest of his jeans. It seemed as if he was amused by the proceedings. When the shorts, shoes and socks were gone too, they shoved him onto the bed.
The beating continued. Most of the first twenty-four hours vanished in a blur of confused memories. Pain. Terror. In the end, he was crying. Pleading with them to stop, but they just laughed at him. The electric shocks hurt more than he’d imagined. First he felt nothing, then there was a burning sensation and the pain kept spreading under his skin.
It didn’t take them long to get where they wanted. All resistance drained from him and when they showed him what they wanted him to do, he did it, without objection. The tears were flowing down his face when he got on all fours and began to crawl towards the man kneeling in front of him. He couldn’t recall how many times that scene repeated itself. Sometimes there were two of them, sometimes more.
Then suddenly, it had all ended, as quickly as it had begun. They’d pulledd him off the bed, without a word, and dragged him away. The cold outside had been a shock, but he was already drifting in and out of consciousness, so it didn’t last long. He thought this was death and he didn’t mind.
When he’d been woken up by the dog licking his face, he hadn’t remembered anything. That had felt comforting. He hadn’t wanted to remember. Not who he was or where he’d come from, or what had happened. Then she’d been there. The girl. The one who had taken him home and warmed him up and talked to him normally. Made him feel like a human being again, not some object that had been used up and discarded. For a while, his mind had been full of her, the dog and the house, which had felt like a safe haven. Then they’d arrived. The Swedish colleagues. The paramedics. Who had tried to touch him again.
And then Nazim had been there, with his kindness and suspicions. Ditte and the others. Everything ordinary, normal. They didn’t know. To them he was the same Michael as before. And he’d really tried to forget. To get back to normal again. There was nothing he wanted more. That the weeks that had gone by since he and Ditte had gone to that office building hadn’t happened. That it had been possible to turn the clock back. That he’d been able to to become the old Michael, the one who’d never experienced anything devastating.
But that wasn’t possible anymore. That Michael didn’t exist anymore. And the new Michael couldn’t handle the acting anymore. Each time Frandsen or Nazim or Hallgrim walked behind him, he had an impulse to whirl around and defend himself. or run and hide somewhere. Not even Ditte’s warm, maternal care helped. He wasn’t her child. It was too late to hide in someone’s arms. Not even there did any security exist.
He crawled into a corner the furthest away from the door, wrapped his arms around himself and pressed his cheek against one of his arms.
When Ditte opened the door, she couldn’t see Michael anywhere. She was afraid he’d managed to get outside and disappeared. In her mind, she was already organizing the search, when she heard the low, whimpering sound. It sounded like the dog, her ex husband’s dog, when he was scared or unhappy about something.
“Michael. It’s me. Ditte.”
She moved closer, slowly and cautiously, so she wouldn’t spook him. But she soon realized that he wasn’t aware of her presence. He seemed to be completely apathetic. She kneeled and very gently put her hand on his arm, but he didn’t seem to feel it. Not even when she put her arm around him and tried to pull him close, did she feel any response in him. Alarmed, she got up and went to tell her colleagues.
Thea reached for the phone and called an ambulance. This was too serious for a group of cops to deal with. It was time for the experts to move in.
Ditte came along in the ambulance. She informed the paramedics of what was behind Michael’s breakdown and they contacted the emergency mental ward. He was taken straight there, where a psychiatrist was waiting to examine him. A woman from the rape counselling service came and discussed the case with Ditte, but finally she declared that she didn’t have any experience of that type of case.
“Don’t you work with male victims?”
“Sometimes. But – this seems to be more complicated. I’ll have to consult with a colleague in the United States. As soon as I know more, I’ll get back to you.”
After the examination Ditte was allowed to see Michael briefly. It wasn’t really a question of meeting him. Not even since he’d received medication was it possible to communicate with him. He appeared to be deeply asleep. At least he seemed to have find peace of mind. That was the impression Ditte had. She fondled his hair before getting up to return to her colleagues.
There wasn’t anything else she could do. If the hospital couldn’t help him, no one could.
Michael stayed in the mental ward for three weeks, and though his colleagues, especially Ditte and Nazim, visited himj, they didn’t manage to truly connect with him. Eventually, he had his medication dose reduced and he was awake during their visits.
But he hardly had anything to say. He still didn’t ‘remember’ anything. They’d had discussions with the psychiatrist about whether or not to confront him with the knowledge of what he’d been subjected to. The advice they received was that it might have a beneficial effect. The strain of having to live with his secret might have contributed to his breakdown.
Ditte found it hard to believe that anything would get Michael to feel better, but she was prepared to accept the experts’ advice. After some discussion, it was decided that Ditte would be the one to tell him about the movie clip. Thea had been inclined to handle the matter herself, but she realized that Ditte presumably had a better connection with the boy.
“Michael – I have to tell you something.”
“What? Am I fired?”
“No. Definitely not. Who do you think would handle the IT department if didn’t come back?”
“I don’t know. My successor maybe.”
He sounded so absent and indifferent. As if nothing really concerned him anymore. Ditte was wondering if it might not be best to let him go on believing no one knew about his secret. But she had to trust the psychiatrist’s recommendation.
“Don’t talk like that. We’d miss you. Besides, I don’t think we could find anyone more qualified than you are.”
“Oh. Sorry. Ditte, I know you mean well. I’m just so tired. I don’t know when I can come back.”
“Take the time you need. We’ll manage somehow.”
“What did you want to tell me?”
“Oh, right. We got this movie clip in an email. Thea received it and she couldn’t open it.”
“But one of you has to know how to do that. Don’t you? Usually, you just have to click it and it will begin to play.”
“Uh – yes. We know that. Marie – but – it’s just that- that movie -”
She had to stop and get a grip so she wouldn’t begin to cry. It was so horrible. First that little girl and then Michael. How could they be so cruel? She often found it hard to go to sleep at night, as she thought about all the vile things that floated around the internet. All the abused children, women and men too. Beaten, violated.
“Michael, we know what they did.”
“What do you mean?”
He was probably still on strong sedatives. It didn’t sound as if he had any idea of what she was trying to tell him. She forced herself to go on.
“That movie clip – it showed what they did to you.”
She could that now he knew what she was talking about. The look in his eyes pained her. She couldn’t keep the tears at bay any longer. She was ashamed of herself. Here she was, sobbing, when nothing had happened to her. She and her children were safe.
He sounded resigned somehow, yet – it was obvious that he hadn’t quite managed to suppress his emotions.
“I – you’ll think I was a coward. Whatever they did, I shouldn’t have -”
“No. No. Of course I don’t think so.”
“But I was. I was so scared they’d hit me more. Hurt me more. And I just did whatever they told me to. Do you think Hallgrim would have done that? Nazim? Villy? Do you?”
“Yes. I do. Anyone would be broken by torture. You know that, really. Haven’t you seen that in our line of work? Think of all the murder cases and other things too. You can’t handle the pain. I wouldn’t have. But maybe that doesn’t matter? Since I’m only a woman?”
“What are you saying? Do you think I think so? That you’re ‘only’ a woman?”
“No. I don’t think so. But don’t you get it? Anyone would have done what you did. Under the same circumstances. This time it was you they were after. Because your work made it possible for us to save that little girl.”
“So that was why. Their revenge.”
“So I’d be sorry for what I’d done to them. But I’m not. I only wish we could save all those other locked up, abused kids.”
Despite the medication, Michael began to cry. The sobs shook his body which had become so thin in the past few weeks. Ditte felt helpless. Could she – Hesitantly, she began to stroke Michael’s hair. Maybe it was good for him to cry like this. Normal. Anything was better than that catatonic state he’d been in when she’d found him. In the interrogation room.
When he’d calmed down, he looked up and his intensely blue eyes caught and held her gaze.
“But I’m not a child.”
“What do you mean?”
“You treat me like a child. I’m not. I’m your colleague. You compare me to your daughter. She’s fourteen, right? I’m twenty-eight. How old are you?”
“You see. I’m actually closer to your age than hers.”
Ditte smiled enquiringly. Had she really made Michael feel like a child? She hadn’t meant to do that. Sure she respected his professional competence. She counted as much on him as on the other colleagues. It dawned on her that she’d hurt his feelings by making the comparison with Fie.
“I apologize. I didn’t mean to treat you like a child. And actually, you’re not at all like a teenager. You don’t slam doors, you don’t give me attitude. It’s a lot more peaceful to hang out with you than with Fie most of the time.”
“Ok. I’m sorry I got so worked up about it. It just felt as if you were patronising me. I am an adult. Whatever happened – in Sweden.”
“I know. Oh – speaking of which – Nazim told me you’d met a girl over there.”
“She’s the one who found me in the snow. If she and her dog hadn’t come along, I would have frozen to death. She said it was below zero. It gets cold up there. In Sweden.”
“I can imagine. But you got along well?”
“I guess. It’s all a bit hazy now.”
He looked away. Now he wasn’t as willing to meet her gaze. Ditte noted that and decided to remember it in the future. When Michael had been talking about the Swedish girl, he’d looked different, more like the old Michael. She had to make sure they saw each other again, somehow.
It really seemed as if the knowledge that his colleagues knew what he’d been through, had helped Michael deal with the memories. He began to feel better and his pscychiatrist agreed to discharge him from the hospital. Ditte and Nazim came to pick him up.
Michael looked a little uncomfortable when he saw Nazim. It made Nazim feel ill at ease. He was hoping Michael didn’t associate him with the men who had subjected him to the abuse. It turned out it was something else that was bothering Michael.
“Nazim – I’m sorry I lied to you at the hospital in Sweden. About not remembering anything. I just -”
“Oh, that. It’s ok. I can understand that you didn’t want to talk about it.”
“I was too chicken. If you or Hallgrim or Villy -”
“What are you saying? You think I would have been better at resisting torture than you were? I don’t think so. They told me that you’d been given electric shocks -”
Nazim faltered. It might not be the right thing to tell Michael, now that he was feeling better and would be going home.
Michael, however, didn’t seem to react much to the statement.
Eventually, Nazim went on with what he’d been about to say.
“If it had happened to me, I wouldn’t have been able to resist either. Don’t you understand? Everyone works the same way.”
“Yes, but -”
“No buts. Ok, maybe some religious fanatics who think they’ll get their reward in heaven. But not any normal human being.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“No one thinks you were a coward, Michael. Remember that.”
Michael studied Nazim thoughtfully, then nodded.
They got in the car and Nazim drove them back to the office.
Ditte kept turning around and studied Michael carefully. He did look more normal now. Even though he was still too thin. Other than that, it was hard to believe that only recently he’d been unreachable. Completely trapped inside himself.
“I thought perhaps you’d consider staying at my place for a while.”
“I’d like that.”
“You’re welcome to stay at my place too.”
“I can look after myself.”
“I know. I just thought you could help me with the kids.”
“If you have time, you’re welcome to help out with my daughter too. Or tidy up the place. You know how it is for us cops – We never have time to do the dishes or clean up or do the laundry.”
Michael smiled at his colleagues. He knew what they were trying to do. They wanted him to feel a part of the team again. And it was working.
“Yeah, I could do a bit of work on the side at your houses and make a little extra, now that I’m on sick leave.”
At the office, he was greeted by the rest of the team. Marie embraced him and Thea circled around him, taking a good look.
“Well? How about it? Will you let me come back to work?”
“We’ll see. First you need to eat properly. I have some jelly rolls here and a big sandwich.”
“Thanks. Though they did feed us at the hospital, you know.”
“That revolting mush. I’ve been hospitalized a couple of times in the past few years and what they serve in there won’t make anyone happy.”
“Well, now that you mention it, it was a bit dull.”
Nazim pulled a cell phone out of his desk drawer.
“Michael. Here. I ordered a new phone for you. You’ll have to do the settings yourself. I’ll just send you that Swedish girl’s number.”
Marie glanced enquiringly at her colleagues. She didn’t know what Swedish girl they were talking about. Frandsen raised his eyebrows, wonderingly.
“Who? What Swedish girl?”
“A girl I met over there.”
“Go on. Send it to me. No, not like that. Here. Give me your phone and I’ll do it myself.”
Happily, Michael bent over the phones. These phone plans were so expensive that he couldn’t afford to have one for his home phone. It was almost as nice, but it had one of the ordinary subscriptions. Even though he didn’t feel like before, it was a relief to be able to return to his ordinary routine.
He ended up agreeing to stay with Ditte for a while. The reason he did it wasn’t just so he wouldn’t be alone. He didn’t want to hurt Ditte’s feelings. It was obvious she was very fond of him. And he liked her too. She was a good colleague and a good friend. Besides, this gave him a chance to show her how good he was with kids.
It wasn’t long, though, before he found himself wanting to see Ella again. Now that everyone was asking about her, he was beginning to recall more about the brief time they’d spent together. She’d saved him from the insanity he’d felt lurking, from the moment he began to remember. At the hospital, he’d clung to her hand, as if it had been what anchored him in reality. Somehow, her touch had made him feel normal.
Now he just had to see her again, and hopefully make a better impression than then. Fully dressed. With all his memories intact and able to speak. If she could understand him. He might have to learn some Swedish. It could help him understand her better too.
Since Thea still didn’t want to let him come back to work, he decided to go to Sweden. There had to be some hotel somewhere around Ella’s cabin. He wasn’t going to show up there as if he was expecting to stay with her. From what he could recall, there wasn’t more than one room, so he definitely couldn’t stay there.
They could still see each other. And talk. He was looking forward to getting to know her better. Maybe they didn’t have anything in common, but hobbies didn’t mean everything. If they had a good connection, it could work out anyway.
He got on a plane for G ‘9ateborg, the Monday after he’d been discharged from the hospital. Ditte’s kids were complaining about his disappearance. The little ones had appreciated his talent for computer games but Fie had been regarding him with a little too much admiration for his taste. Little girls really weren’t to his taste. Considering that, he might be able to understand Ditte’s reaction to him, but the comparison wasn’t fair anyway. He was grown up and Fie just a kid.
But he forgot to mope about that as soon as he was in his seat on the plane. Later on the bus, he realized that he didn’t remember the name of the town closest to Ella’s cabin. He should have remembered, since he’d been in the hospital there, but it had slipped his mind. That was when it hit him that he should have called Ella and told her he was on his way. What if she was out of town or busy? So he punched in her number and she picked up on the second signal.
“Hi, this is Michael Kristensen.”
He hesitated. Should he tell her he was the naked man she’d found in the woods. But he needn’t have worried. She remembered him anyway.
“Oh, hi, Michael. I hope you’re feeling better now.”
“Yes, I am. Actually, I’m on my way to – what’s the name of the town where I was in the hospital?”
She told him. He could tell she was curious about his reason for showing up like this, so he hastened to explain. By now, when he was already on his way, he caught himself thinking he might have taken a bit too much for granted. Maybe she hadn’t been serious about wanting to see him again.
“Uh – I – would like to see you again and thank you for – finding me and so on.”
“That’s great. I can come into town and meet you.”
“Do you know if there’s a good hotel there?”
“Hm. Good? There’s a motel. I’m sure it’s ok. It’s just that I haven’t stayed there myself. I’ll show you when you get there. When will that be?”
“I don’t know. When I get into G ‘9ateborg, I’ll have to find out which bus to catch.”
She told him what bus to take and asked him to call again when he was on it. He did. They met about an hour later. She looked a little different than he’d remembered her. In his vague snatches of memory she’d looked a little like an angel or a movie star. Now he saw that she was an ordinary girl. But cute. And – despite everything, there was still a little magic.
He couldn’t free himself from the feeling that she’d saved his life. It wasn’t just gratitude and a wish to repay her that made him want to see her again. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but either way, he was glad to finally be able to see her under normal circumstances. This time he wouldn’t be so much at a disadvantage.
“Welcome. If you like, we could go to the hotel now, or maybe we could go to a caf ‘8e.”
He only had a sports bag, so he didn’t think there was any need to drop it off anywhere. They went to the caf ‘8e and sat there talking for a long time. By the time it was getting dark, she walked him to the motel. Not until then did it dawn on him that she’d need to get home, on her own. That thought was unnerving somehow.
“Will you be going home, this late?”
“Actually, no. You see, I dropped Bessie off at mum and dad’s because I thought I might be away for quite a while. So I’ll just get back there and crash. Don’t worry about it.”
“I see. So you’ll have time to stay and talk a while?”
“Of course. I’d love to.”
By the time they got there, he’d begun to worry that maybe it would be booked solid, but it seemed to be the off season, so there were plenty of rooms available. The receptionist made him blush when she asked if they wanted a double room. He hurriedly explained.
“No, just a single room.”
“Right. Your name please?”
Once he’d signed the register, Ella followed him up to his room. He put down his bag on the floor and looked around. It was a rather impersonal room, but he hadn’t expected anything better. He was wondering if Ella would find it weird if they stayed here and talked. Maybe she’d prefer to talk in the bar, which would be neutral ground, in a way. But what he wanted to tell her, he could hardly discuss among strangers.
She sat down on the chair over by the shorter wall, closest to the door and didn’t seem at all ill at ease at finding herself alone with a man she hardly knew, in a motel room. He decided to treat the situation the same way. He sat down on the edge of the bed, the only remaining place to sit.
Once he’d made the decision to go and see Ella, he’d wanted to tell her what had happened. What was the reason for his lying there in the snow, as if he was dead. Now that the moment had arrived, it didn’t feel quite as natural anymore. How did you tell a girl, one whom you were actually attracted to, that he’d just been subjected to sexual assault and physical torture? At the same time, he felt that if they were to get to know each other, and he didn’t tell her from the start, the secret would hang between them, growing worse as time went by. It was important that she knew what he’d been through, if they were to have a chance to become friends – or more.
“Ella – when you found me in the snow – I don’t know if the colleagues explained anything to you.”
“Not really. Just that you’re a Danish police officer and that you’d been missing for a while.”
“Yeah. That’s right.”
“I suppose it was something to with your work?”
“Yes, you could say that. I can’t tell you too much about that, but it’s to do with a case we solved some months ago. We found a movie clip with – child pornography. I managed to find out where the little girl was being held and our Russian colleagues were able to get her out. It seems there’s a group of people belonging to Russian organized crime, who took that personally. So they – had me abducted.”
“Oh. That’s really awful. That they’re capable of something like that, even in another country.”
“Yes, you could say that.”
He hesitated. He’d told her what it was about. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted her to know all of it, no matter how hard it was. He just didn’t know how to begin. After thinking about it for so long the silence was beginning to feel oppressive, he threw himself into the explanation.
She sat quietly, listening without interrupting him, while he finished his story. He saw the look in her eyes change and she breathed in sharply. What would she think? About him? About how he’d folded under their pressure. He didn’t know what sort of image she had of cops. Did she think they were stronger, tougher than others? Would she find him weak?
But she didn’t say anything that could be interpreted that way. At first, she didn’t say anything. He could tell that she was about to say something, but broke off before she’d begun. In the end, she gazed at him with eyes that seem to hint of contempt.
“I’m really sorry. I had no idea it was something that – terrible.”
“No. Of course I hadn’t expected anything like that either. As far as I know, no one else from the Danish police have ever been through anything like that. There have been a couple of cop killings though.”
“Here too. But I haven’t heard of anything like what you told me. I’m really glad, though, that I found you. So that you didn’t freeze to death.”
He was beginning to relax a bit. It hadn’t been as bad as he’d feared, even if he still didn’t know what she was really thinking.
“So am I. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“You don’t have to. Like I said, I’m just glad you made it. And you seem to be feeling better now.”
“Yes, I am. But I was – in a mental ward for a while. Getting treatment and so on.”
“That was probably necessary. Personally, I’m not really into psychologists and so on, but you should probably trust the experts. They know best, I’m sure.”
They sat in silence for a while. He wanted to ask her what she thought about him, but he couldn’t find a way of posing the question. What if she’d be embarrassed? It might mean she was ashamed of her own reaction, or naturally, that she hadn’t reacted the way he feared. He remembered what his colleagues had told him. No one had seemed to think he was a coward, but what did they know? They hadn’t been there.
“But – the worst part is that I couldn’t refuse. I didn’t resist them.”
“Are you trained to withstand torture? Like CIA agents? Well, the way they seem to be in the tv series.”
“No, of course not.”
“No. I don’t know how they can handle it, but if they do, I think it’s because they’ve already been brainwashed. By their own people. I think it’s sick. You know what I thought when you told me what had happened?”
He stared at her, hoping she’d tell him.
“But it sounds too silly. Can I just ask you something first?”
He was hoping she wouldn’t ask him something he wasn’t prepared to tell her.
“When it happened, did you wish you’d left that little girl with them?”
“No, of course not. I’m just even more happy that she’s safe now.”
“There. Laugh if you like, but I think you’re a hero. A real one, not like those jocks they call heroes as soon as they’ve managed to kick a stupid ball into a goal. Though I guess you like that kind of thing?”
“Maybe you think I think you’re a coward? Come on. That’s what you were hinting at when you told me. Of course I don’t think so. You know what I think. You’re braver than anyone I ever met. But it’s not just that. You seem to be a really nice guy too. So I’m really glad I got to know you. Though of course I wish it had been under other circumstances.”
His mouth twitched a little. Really nice. She was glad she’d met him. Now he was ashamed of himself for more or less twisting her arm to get a reply. And he didn’t agree with her claim that he was a hero. Maybe he wasn’t a coward, but a hero? He didn’t think so. And he also didn’t know if she thought he was nice, but not very attractive. Or nice and – But when she found out that he spent his days in front of a computer? Not so heroic as she might have thought. Or maybe he was being unfair to her. She might not find computers dull at all. Even if most girls did.
“Me too. But I don’t get out a lot. I – most of the time I’m just sitting in front of a computer.”
“We might have met anyway. So do I. I live in quite an isolated spot, and when I’m not out walking my dog or studying, there isn’t that much to do.”
“At the university. I’m studying Italian. It would be fun to go to Italy some day.”
“Yeah, that sounds nice. Maybe I could go too. If we went at the same time, you could help me with the language. I only know English and a little German.”
“I’d love to. But now I have to go. It’s getting late. How long will you be staying anyway?”
“I don’t know. A couple of days at least.”
“That would be really nice for me, but there isn’t anything to do or see here. It’s pretty dull. Unless you’d like to go somewhere. What are you interested in?”
“I don’t know. All kinds of things.”
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow then. Sleep well.”
“No, wait. I’ll walk you home. It’s so dark outside.”
“Will you find your way back here afterwards? It’s not really far. I can manage on my own.”
“No, I’m sure it will be ok.”
He didn’t like the idea of her walking home alone in the dark, even if she did know this town and he didn’t. And even if he’d broken under the torture, he was a cop. He’d be able to protect her if anything happened.
She got up and put on her jacket again. He did the same, but remained standing, hesitating. If he gave her a hug, would she think he was too pushy? In the end, he decided to risk it. He was hoping he wasn’t making a mistake. When he was holding her, he found that it wasn’t a mistake at all. Her reaction confirmed it. It felt good, standing like this, holding her. She was so soft and smelled so nicely and – he felt safe in her arms.
He was glad he’d come, and that he’d got to see her again. Somehow, he felt more hopeful about the future now. He wouldn’t let those – monsters – win. They hadn’t broken him permanently, and he’d keep on fighting them his way. What he did best. Using the computer.