|Primary Characters:||Malene, Patrik, Laerke, Mikael
|Warning:||adult themes, violence|
|Description:||Malene finds out something about Patrik and realizes he’s in trouble. As usual, she wants to help. Eventually, she’s successful, but she doesn’t know what price she’ll have to pay.
Malene Bork walked slowly up the stairs to her place of work, the law firm Frank and Christensen. She was on maternity leave, but today she’d managed to get a babysitter so she could visit her coworkers. Halfway up, she had to stop and catch her breath. In the later part of her pregnancy and later, the first couple of months after the delivery, she’d become more sedentary. It was probably about time she began to exercise more.
It was odd that Mikael hadn’t had the lifts repaired. The clients might object to having to walk up the stairs, even if the employees had to make the best of the situation.
She actually missed her job, though she had a feeling that Mikael Frank and CC, and the others too, saw her as just a bit too empathic. Perhaps that wasn’t the best quality a lawyer could have, but she couldn’t change. If you cared about others, you couldn’t switch it off just like that.
She was especially looking forward to meeting their office clerk and general gofer, Patrik Larsen. Though he’d come to them looking for work right after his parole from jail, he was a kind and – at least Malene thought so – reliable person. He was one of the few people she met through work, who seemed to respect and – hopefully – like her.
When she walked through the doorway, a few of the doors to the various offices were closed. Her colleagues would be in meetings with clients. Patrik was nowhere to be seen, but Rebecca Neumann appeared in a doorway, heading for the coffee machine. The younger, newly qualified lawyer wasn’t one of Malene’s closest friends, but the two women greeted each other politely.
“Hi, Malene. So you’re back. I didn’t know you’d be going back to work this soon.”
“Hi, Rebecca. No, not just yet. I’m just visiting.”
“Oh. The others are here somewhere. Except for CC. I think he said he’d be in later.”
“I see. But don’t let me keep you. You seem to have your hands full.”
“I have. You’re right. I have to run.”
Rebecca looked around for Patrik, but when she didn’t see him anywhere, she grabbed a cup and poured herself some coffee, then vanished back into the office she shared with Leo Zielinski. If things hadn’t changed recently, those two were also a couple. Malene had figured that out, though they hadn’t exactly announced the fact to their coworkers.
Maybe Leo was in there, but Malene would rather know where Patrik was. The door to Mikael’s office opened and a well-dressed man in his fifties appeared. Mikael shook his hand and they said goodbye. Malene didn’t recognize the client, but now that Mikael had a moment, she walked over to his doorway and looked inside.
Mikael actually seemed quite pleased to see her. In any case, he got up again and gave her a hug.
“You seem to be doing well.”
“I am. So do you.”
“Oh, I’m just fine. Do you miss this place?”
“Yes, I do, but I should probably wait for a while longer.”
“And the baby? Is she fine too?”
“Yes, she’s growing and thriving.”
“You’ll have to excuse me, but CC and I having a meeting with a couple of clients and I’ll need to prepare for that.”
“Yes, of course. See you.”
Mikael patted her arm absently, then sat down again. When she returned to the corridor, she saw Leo Zielinski glancing around. He too, would be looking for Patrik and the coffee, but when he noticed Malene he came over and shook her hand.
“Hi. I heard from Rebecca that you were visiting. So you couldn’t stay away?”
“No, I missed this place. Of course, it’s nice to be at home too.”
“Personally, I’d never be able to hack it. Children -”
“No, maybe it’s not for everyone.”
“Well, – I was just going to have a coffee and -”
“Do you know where Patrik is?”
“No, he was supposed to be here, but – I’ll have to get my own coffee. If you see him, tell him I need a few copies made. He can come into my office and get the original.”
“I will. Nice to see you again.”
Leo nodded as amiably as he was capable of, Malene thought, when he’d disappeared back into his and Rebecca’s office.
She was wondering why Patrik had disappeared so unexpectedly and wondered if he might be ill. She knew he used to take drugs, so she couldn’t help worrying that he might have started again. That girlfriend, or rather ex girlfriend Laerke, who was a prostitute, really wasn’t the right girl for Patrik. It had been clear right from the start that she was a bad person. She felt sorry for Patrik.
Once when Patrik had been in trouble, Malene had come to see him to make sure he was alright, Laerke had been so poessessive it had been clear to Malene that she was jealous. That had actually been quite flattering. Patrik was younger than her, and most men didn’t find Malene very attractive. When she was younger, it had saddened her, but now that she was more mature, she’d come to the conclusion that it was actually quite pleasant not to have all those men chasing after her. A few were interested anyway, even if she should have used her judgment when she met Walid. But without Walid she wouldn’t have had her daughter, so she wasn’t complaining.
Finally, Patrik showed up. He came from the men’s room. Malene was hoping it wasn’t anything to do with drugs. But why should it? Most likely he’d just had a bit of stomach trouble or been sick.
When he caught sight of her, his face lit up momentarily, but it was very briefly. She noticed that he looked – sad. Dejected. As if something was bothering him. She wondered what it was, but she decided not to pry. Not yet anyway.
“Hello, Patrik. How are you?”
Was it her imagination or did he hesitate just for a moment, before replying? It was hard to say, because almost instantly he caught himself and replied in a normal tone.
“I guess it’s alright. What about you?”
“And your daughter?”
“Yes, she’s just fine too.”
“Are you coming back to work now?”
“No, I can’t. I’ll have to stay at home for a while longer. But – I missed you guys and I managed to get a babysitter, so I could come and visit you.”
She knew she really meant Patrik, not everyone else. Of course she was fond of Mikael. After all, they’d been an item, years ago. But she knew that Mikael’s feelings for her weren’t that strong, not even as a friend and colleague.
Patrik smiled again briefly, but Malene noticed that the smile barely reached the eyes. She hugged him and to her surprise, she felt him tense up. Disappointedly, she let go and pulled back.
Patrik looked at her, pleadingly, somehow, then began to nervously toy with staplers and paper clips on his desk. She noticed that he still had that habit of licking his lips nervously at times. He seemed to have some problem. But she couldn’t poke around in other people’s personal lives. That was one of her great weaknesses, this wish to help and look after others.
“Oh, that’s right, Leo said to tell you he wants a few copies.”
Patrik shot up and hurried off to Leo’s and Rebecca’s office. He returned almost at once, holding a paper.
“I have to get this done now. I’m sorry. Perhaps we can – ”
CC chose that moment to come barging in. He nodded at Malene in passing, as he vanished into Mikael’s office. Malene realized that she was getting in the way, now that she wasn’t working here. Maybe it had been a mistake, coming back, before she was ready to go back to work.
“I should probably be heading home. Nice to see you again, Patrik.”
“Nice to see you too, Malene.”
At least it seemed as if he meant what he was saying. But he looked so – despondent. A little hunched over, as if he was tense or cold. Something was wrong, Malene could sense it. Impulsively she decided to try anyway.
“Maybe we could have lunch some time. Or a coffee.”
He hesitated for a moment and Malene was beginning to think that perhaps he’d just been trying to be polite to one of the lawyers at his place of work, when he’d seemed so kind to her earlier. Then he smiled again, briefly.
“Yes, that would be nice. You’ll call me?”
“Sure. And you have my number, don’t you?”
“Yes. Then we’ll be in touch later.”
He seemed harried, somehow. Had Mikael or CC been complaining? In the end, Malene merely smiled and turned and left. No use trying to hug him again, that was obvious.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
Time went by and Patrik didn’t call, so in the end, after more than two weeks, Malene called him. He didn’t answer. She kept calling him for a few days, but when at last he did pick up, he sounded a bit evasive and told her he couldn’t see her that week. He suggested they try again the week after, but by then Malene had come to the conclusion that he didn’t want to see her. Maybe he was just beginning to forget her. That happened a lot. If you didn’t see each other and kept in touch you ended up drifting apart. Nothing to grieve over, perhaps. But she really cared about Patrik. Besides, she guessed that he was going through a difficult time, and she really wanted to help him if she could.
That was why she arranged to return to the law firm more than once, and when she was there, she kept a watchful eye on Patrik. His good cheer didn’t seem to return. Eventually, they managed to go out for a coffee, but the whole time he seemed nervous and restless and it looked as if he had something on his mind, something that worried him.
In the end, Malene couldn’t help asking what was wrong.
“Patrik. Are you alright? You seem – worried. Is something the matter?”
He replied too quickly, as if he didn’t even need to think. Malene was sure that he was trying to hide sometihng from her. Hesitatingly, she tried again.
“But I can see something’s bothering you. Won’t you tell me what it is?”
“I told you, it’s nothing.”
Malene stared at him, wide-eyed. Patrik was never that brusque.
He noticed her reaction and seemed to be ashamed of himself. In a slightly more friendly tone, he tried to excuse himself.
“I didn’t mean to snap at you. But nothing’s wrong.”
“Ok. I’m sorry I was prying. It’s none of my business anyway.”
“Don’t apologize for caring. I appreciate that. But – I have nothing to tell you.”
“I’d better get back to the office. It was nice to see you again.”
“Patrik – you will call me again, if there’s something you’d like to tell me? In fact, call anytime. Just to chat.”
This time he actually took her hand and shook it, before hurrying back to work. Malene stayed for a while, pondering what she’d just heard. Something was wrong and she was hoping she’d be able to find out what it was. She knew she was the only one at the law firm, who cared about Patrik. The others would simply let him go, and hire a new clerk, if they didn’t decide to let her do the more basic chores. Patrik as a person, meant nothing to them. She was sure Mikael had just hired Patrik because he’d been so persistent.
Malene couldn’t stand remaining at home any longer. She found a nice nanny, who was with Anna in the daytime, and Mikael gave her a flexible schedule, so she could return home from time to time. Mikael didn’t mind. Malene suspected he didn’t want her in court more than necessary. And having a lawyer in the office, preparing cases for the others, could be useful.
The lifts still hadn’t been repaired, so she ended up running up and down the stairs a lot.
One of the first days back at work, she was on her way up to the office, but ended up so out of breath, she had to rest a while. She sat down some distance up the stairs and stretched her legs. She really needed to get in shape again. She was behind the curve of the staircase, invisible from the entrance. She heard the sound of the door opening and some people walked in. One of them was a woman with a shrill, unpleasant voice.
“Don’t forget our meeting tonight. Eight thirty. You must remember. It wouldn’t look good if you’re late.”
The voice sounded familiar, but it took Malene a while to place it. The man’s voice, was lower pitched and harder to discern. Malene couldn’t hear his replies, but judging by the woman’s next words, he hadn’t answered to her satisfaction.
“You can’t back out now. Do you want the old man to find out? If he did, you wouldn’t be able to consider yourself above than us ordinary mortals. What if they knew? Your fancy coworkers, the lawyers.”
“Yes, I’ll be there, but -”
“No buts, Patrik. You know what will happen if you let me down. It’s not too bad, is it? You were my boyfriend once and I didn’t have to ask you twice then.”
Again, Malene missed Patrik’s replies, then the female voice was back again. Malene recognized it now. It was Laerke.
“We’ll see. Most of them want me there too. But if not – you’ll just have to come through for me. You owe me that.”
If Patrik said something now, Malene couldn’t hear it his reply. The door downstairs slammed shut again and Malene tried to get to her feet quickly, so Patrik wouldn’t catch her eavesdropping on such a private conversation. Then she heard the door slam again. Patrik had left too. Malene managed to get up and hurried on.
Once in her office, she considered what she’d heard. Laerke was trying to make Patrik agree to something he didn’t want to do. And somehow, she was succeding. There was something Patrik didn’t want ‘the old man’ – Mikael? – to find out. And not the others either. Laerke’s voice had been dripping with contempt when she referred to ‘the fancy lawyers’. She also spoke to Patrik coldly and scornfully. It made Malene furious. She had to find out what was going on, and when she did, she’d make sure Laerke left Patrik alone, and she’d teach her a lesson too.
Patrik took a long time returning, and when he did, he was pale and tense. Malene asked if he was alright, and he replied curtly. It was clear that he didn’t want her to butt in. She forced herself to respect that, but she was already planning on ways she could help him.
One day, she was assigned a case, that she suspected was a test. Maybe Mikael wasn’t going to fire her if she failed, but she wouldn’t get any more court cases. She hesitated for a long time before she accepted the case. It centered around an unpleasant, but highly educated and wealthy man who was accused of assaulting a prostitute. Malene instantly formed the impression he was guilty, but that the girl had taken the opportunity of exaggerating her injuries, to get more money. Personally, Malene would have preferred to help the girl squeeze money out of the man, but since he was the client, she forced herself to see to his best interests.
He was in custody, and many of his personal possessions, among them an extensive collection of homemade porn, had been seized as evidence. Being his legal representative, Malene had to go through the material because she’d found out that the prosecutor was going to play up the fact that he’d sometimes used violence against prostitutes in connection with sex. It was a depressing collection of movies. Malene wished she could have had someone else go through them, but she forced herself to watch anyway.
One evening when she was skimming the unsavoury material, she caught sight of something that made her pause. It wasn’t something she could use in his defense, but she wanted to watch that sequence again anyway. She was hoping she’d made a mistake. Surely it wasn’t possible that –
But she hadn’t been wrong. The sequence featured a not too enthusiastic man having sex with a far more active young woman. In addition you sometimes had glimpses of her client, watching the scene avidly. The man’s almost grotesque arousal made Malene sick.
But what upset her the most was the fact that the younger man was Patrik. There couldn’t be any mistake. Just to be sure, she played that part back a second time, and watched it a third time. The woman was Laerke, and the man was Patrik. Unfortunately, there was no doubt about that. His sad face and the nervous gestures were only to familiar to her. Most of all it looked as if he was reluctantly being seduced.
Malene had to blink to clear her sight, once she’d finally turned off the player. This was simply revolting. How could Laerke have made Patrik agree to that? She’d have to confront him about it. This time she had evidence.
The next morning she waited until Patrik seemed to have a moment free. She walked over to his desk. This would be hard, but she had to remind herself that it was for Patrik’s own good.
“Patrik? Do you have a moment?”
“Sure. What can I do for you?”
“Could you step into my office for a moment?”
He looked tired and worn, it seemed to Malene. It was clear that his mind was only partially on the job.
She closed the door behind him and pressed the red button. Surprised, he glanced at her hand, and cast her an inquiring gaze.
“Just a moment. I’m afraid I’m going to have to show you something.”
She pressed play and waited. Patrik stared at the tv, looking puzzled. Malene had already seen the vile movie so she chose to study Patrik’s face instead. Several conflicting emotions moved across his face. Revulsion. Surprise. Shock. Anger. In the end, she saw his eyes fill up with tears.
“Where did you get that? Did she send it to Mikael?”
“No. I found it among a client’s belongings. He’s suspected of having beaten a prostitute and the police seized several movies he’d made for himself. Patrik – ”
“I’m resigning. Mikael won’t have to fire me. And then maybe I’ll -”
“Nothing. If that’s all, I’ll go and type out my resignation and give it to Mikael.”
“Calm down. Mikael doesn’t know anything about this. I’m the only one who’s seen the movie. Except for my client.”
“Who is your client?”
Malene told him. He sank down on a chair. It was obvious the news had hit him hard.
“Then – he saved a copy.”
“Patrik, I’m not going to tell anyone, but you’ll have to tell me about it, if I’m going to be able to help you. Did Laerke use this to blackmail you somehow?”
To Malene’s surprise and sorrow, Patrik was so devastated he buried his face in his hands. It was a while until she could get through to him. In the end, she put a hand on his shoulder.
“There. I promise I’ll sort this out. As long as you tell me, so I’ll know what to do. Start with Laerke. How did she get you to do – that?”
He looked up and faced her with eyes shiny with tears. Despite that, it was as if her words had given him a little hope. He swallowed hard and rubbed the back of his hand below his eyes.
“She – perhaps you remember that I used to be her driver?”
“Yes. And you’d wait for her and drive her back when she was finished with the client.”
“Yes. Then once a client changed his mind and wanted to – watch her – he wanted a couple.”
“I see. And she was trying to get you to agree to that?”
Patrik stared at Malene, eyes dark with emotion. The last thing he wanted was for Malene to find out exactly how far he’d fallen. But if he didn’t tell her, he’d lose his job, his one chance at a normal, honest life. Without that, he might be allowed to work for Laerke’s employers as long as the clients were interested, and maybe longer, as a driver, that was all.
“She told me she’d be fired if she didn’t deliver.”
“So you did it?”
Patrik lowered his gaze. Malene must think him – low – sordid.
“You’re far too nice to her. She doesn’t deserve you.”
He looked up again. Malene’s tone led him to believe that her contempt, was only for Laerke, not him.
“I didn’t know they were going to shoot a movie. She must have known he did that, and asked him for a copy afterwards.”
“I see. Then what? What’s she up to now? You know, I thought you weren’t together anymore.”
“We’re not. Not – in private.”
“Oh. And she won’t let you go anyway?”
“She – said she’d send a copy of the movie to Mikael if I didn’t – agree to – go on with it.”
Go on? Prostituting himself?
“What did you go on with? The two of you – together or -”
“Yes, us together. And -”
His voice broke and again Patrik buried his face in his hands. This was worse than all the rest. No, it was all hateful. Laerke had nagged him. Told him it would just be like when they were still together. They could ingore whoever was watching. The client wouldn’t be touching them, at least not him.
But it had been difficult. So difficult Laerke had tired of waiting for him and forced him to use another method, where his enthusiasm wasn’t important or at least less so.
Then she’d told him other clients were interested. Nothing to worry about, she’d assured him. No one would do anything to him. It would just be him, on his own, with the client watching. That was when he’d begun to cry. Tried to explain that it wouldn’t work, not with a man staring at him. Laerke’s retort had been that she was sure he could make the extra effort. If not, all he had to do was let her know. She’d send the DVD the following day.
In the end, he’d given in and gone off on his own. He didn’t know how he’d managed to please the client, but at last it was over. For a time. It wasn’t repeated that many times, but to him, it felt as if his ordeal would never end. Besides, not all clients wanted merely to watch. They wanted to give him a hand and he had to do the same for them. Four months, give or take a few weeks.
“Patrik. Tell me, and I’ll make sure she’ll never bother you again. Look at me. Do you trust me?”
He looked up, blinking away the tears that were blinding him. She smiled encouragingly.
“Yes, I trust you. Sometimes – I had to go on my own.”
Malene blinked. This was worse than she’d imagined. Was Patrik saying that – She had to ask. Her concern for him left her no choice, even if she understood how hard it must be for him.
“You – you haven’t been infected with anything?”
An expression of dread spread across his face.
“No. No. It wasn’t like that. Nothing that -”
Hastily, she interrupted him, without fully understanding what he’d been trying to say. If he was sure he was safe, that was enough for her. Badly shaken, she sank down into the visitor’s chair next to him and put her arm around him. He let her hold him and buried his face in her hair.
Once they’d collected themselves, Malene got up.
“I’ll sort this out. Don’t worry about Laerke. Just don’t go with her again. If she does send the movie here, I’ll make sure it disappears. Or I’ll speak to Mikael. He can’t fire you. You didn’t break the law.”
“It could still harm the firm’s reputation.”
Patrick knew Malene meant well, but she was the only one working here, who cared. No one else would hesitate to get rid of him.
“It won’t get to that. I’ll deal with Laerke. Though – it would be best if she couldn’t find you at all. You’ll have to stay with me. It’s a bit cramped, but you can sleep on the couch. Or do you mind the baby crying?”
“No, of course not. But do you really want -”
“Well, of course I do. If you need something from your own place, go there now and pick it up. If not, I should be able to get you something. I’ll let the others know that I’m sending you on an errand.”
“Are you sure you want me there? With your daughter?”
“Yes, why not? Go on, hurry. Laerke mustn’t find you at home.”
Patrick nodded, looking dazed. He ran out, leaving a puzzled CC staring at him.
Malene went to have a word with CC.
“I just sent Patrik out on an errand.”
“Oh. He seemed to be in a hurry.”
“I suppose he wanted to make sure he’d be back as soon as possible.”
“Well, that’s good. So, how are you doing, Malene? With the case and so on?”
“It’s fine. I think we’ll be able to make a deal with the judge, to get a lower sentence. Tell Mikael that for me, please.”
“I will. And the work isn’t too strenuous for you?”
“No, not at all. Before I returned, I was just at home, idling about. Well, not quite. But it’s good to be back.”
“Excellent. Nice to have you back.”
Before Patrik returned, Malene made a call to Walid. As they all knew, her ex had a criminal background. She was hoping he’d be able to get some information about Laerke. Preferably, she wanted to find out something that could be used to put pressure on the dispicable woman. No one with any heart at all, could have blackmailed Patrik into prostitution. Malene would make sure she’d regret it.
Walid, as always, sounded pleased to hear from her. They spent some time chatting about their daughter and their lives in general. Though Malene tried not to be too obvious, she always listened carefully when he told her what was going on in his life. She was hoping he wasn’t doing anything criminal at the moment. In the end, she dared to get to the point. If Walid suspected there were personal feelings involved, as far as Patrik was concerned, he didn’t comment. He merely promised he’d ask around and if he found anything useful, he’d get back to her right away.
Malene was ashamed of herself, but she couldn’t help pleading with Walid not to take her request as an excuse to put pressure on Laerke. No matter how much Malene hated her, she didn’t want Patrik’s tormentor to end up in hospital or in any other way be harmed physically.
“Walid – I just want information. You can’t ask anyone to – frighten her or something like that. Do you understand?”
As always, he sounded hurt over the suggestion that he wasn’t always a law-abiding citizen. All that was only too familiar. Only this time Malene couldn’t risk coddling him.
“Don’t be offended. I just wanted to be completely sure. She’s horrible, but we have to do this right.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll just ask my friends if they’ve heard anything. That’s all. I don’t know how you could ever think that I’d -”
“I don’t, Walid. It’s just that some of your friends -”
“Yes, yes, you’re right. Some of them might not be completely reliable. I’ll be very careful.”
“When can I see you again?”
“Oh, maybe next week. Are you free then?”
“I’m always free for you and our lovely child.”
“Right. I’ll call you later about that. Take care of yourself.”
“You too. And little -”
Malene heard Patrik outside in the passage and she hastily terminated the call.
“Yes, of course. I have to go now.”
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
Fortunately, Walid called her back the same evening. Malene shut herself away in her room and accepted the call. It turned out Walid had many interesting facts to share with her. Apparently, Laerke had been practicing her blackmail skills for years. She and her employers, had on occasion managed to extort large sums of money from politicians, judges and industry leaders, unwilling to give the general public access to their spare time indiscretions. Laerke also liked to supplement her finances with fraud.
A few years back, she’d managed to trick a man with learning disabilities out of large sums of money. His wealthy family didn’t want it to become known that their son had wasted six digit amounts on a prostitute he’d never even met in person, so the case had been hushed up. Even so, Malene thought some of her friends in the legal system might be able to put the case back on active status, if necessary.
By now, Malene felt she had enough to confront Laerke face to face. She spent the next few days collecting evidence. She didn’t tell Patrik about what she was doing, but she managed to keep his spirits up anyway. If anyone noticed them arriving at the office at the same time, no one commented on the fact.
When the time for the confrontation got closer, Malene began to feel a little nervous. The trick would be to present the matter exactly the right way. She mustn’t let Laerke sense any trace of weakness on her part.
Her research had given her Laerke’s current address, so she wouldn’t have to ask Patrik. The less he knew about what she had planned, the better. She wouldn’t give him any reason to worry.
Malene wished she’d been able to get help from the police, but decided she might as well get started. If she didn’t find Laerke at home, she’d have to return. She didn’t think Laerke could guess what her intentions were.
It was obvious that Laerke didn’t like her. Good, Malene thought. Saves time. There would be no need for empty polite phrases.
“May I come in?”
“Well, well, what do you know? I certainly hadn’t expected this. Here I was thinking you were a respectable hetero. Alright, come on in. I’m not picky. And money doesn’t smell, as they say.”
“You’re a comedian too? What do you know? Supplementing your income as a standup comedian? You’re certainly versatile.”
Laerke smiled coldly and stepped aside, only barely enough for Malene to squeeze by. She glanced demonstratively down Malene’s body, as if she wanted to give the impression she was baffled anyone could let her body go to that extent. Malene knew perfectly well that she was out of shape and slightly overweight, but that didn’t matter very much in her profession.
“I’m not staying long. You’re a busy woman and so I am. I just thought you’d like to see these – documents.”
Laerke stared suspiciously at the file Malene dug out of her bag. Calmly, she arranged about half a dozen computer printouts on a sideboard in a spacious, well lit living room.
“This information should go to the police, but since – you and Patrik were once close, I thought you might appreciate a chance to – make a fresh start.”
“What do you want in return?”
“The movie clip.”
Something flickered in Laerke’s ice grey eyes. Her lips pursed, she scanned the printouts. When she was finished, she faced Malene again.
“I see. So that’s it. Well, I realize a woman with your looks has to pay for it. And Patrik’s skills are impressive, if I may say so. Quite hung too.”
She shrugged expressively.
“I know other guys, so – why not? You can have him. I’ve taught him all he knows, so you won’t have anything to complain about.”
“The movie. And you’ll never contact him again.”
“I guess we have a deal.”
Malene was wondering how she could be sure she really got all copies, that she was sure Laerke had made. There were no guarantees, so she wasn’t going to let go of the originals of the printouts she had. As long as Laerke left Patrik alone, she would just refrain from contacting the police.
“I want all the copies you have of the movie – right now.”
“How do I know you’re not going to report me anyway?”
“Don’t tempt me. At least my word is worth something. Would you like me to help you or not? I could easily contact the police and – use my connections to protect Patrik. It would be better if you just give me the copies.”
“Ok. Wait here.”
Ignoring her, Malene followed Laerke to a set of shelves, as she dug out a dvd from one of the drawers at the bottom.
“I said all the copies.”
“This is the only one I have.”
Malene stared coldly at Laerke without replying. In the end, Laerke was the one to look away. She went into the bedroom, opened a drawer and brandished another dvd.
“Give me the rest of them.”
“These are the only ones I have.”
“I can stand here all day. You’re the one who seems to be in a hurry.”
Laerke hesitated, then went to her computer and started it. She blocked Malene’s view to stop her from seeing the password, then moved aside to let Malene see her open a file, then a subfile, called Insurance. Inside it was an icon whose name showed it to be a certain file format. She deleted the movie, her eyes boring into Malene’s.
“This was the last place. If you don’t believe me, you’ll have to search the whole flat.”
“Perhaps you have a bank vault?”
“Give it a rest. I don’t have any other copies. Just take them and go. Take Patrik. Enjoy him. But hey, just so you know – he’s a slow starter.”
“With you, maybe.”
Malene didn’t know where that provocative tone came rom, but to her delight, it looked as if her words stung Laerke.
“Out. I have a meeting in twenty minutes.”
“Well – enjoy yourself then. I won’t be in touch again if you leave Patrik alone.”
“You fat cow.”
“Just remember what I told you.”
Malene turned on her heel and slammed Laerke’s door shut behind her. It had seemed a little too easy, but she knew that Laerke knew that she had the information about her. She could hardly hand over any originals, but Laerke just had to count on Malene keeping her promise.
When she got back to her own flat, she considered destroying the dvd:s right away, but decided that Patrik would want to do it himself. She checked on the baby and talked for a while with the nanny, before going into her own room to lock the dvd:s into a little safe she had for sensitive documents to do with her work.
Her lunch break had been over for a long time, and she was hoping no one would have been looking for her at the office. When she returned, everyone was busy. She decided not to tell Patrik until they got home again that evening.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
She sent the nanny home and fixed something to eat for herself and Patrik. He set the table. When dinner was over and they were about to sit down, the baby began to cry. Malene excused herself and went to comfort little Anna. Fortunately, it was quite easy to get her to go back to sleep again. That done, she sat down facing Patrik.
“Patrik – I have a few things to tell you.”
“Is it about -”
“Laerke,yes. I – paid her a visit today. She agreed to give me the movies.”
Patrik stared at her wonderingly.
“How? Just like that?”
“Well, I managed to get some information about her and I promised I wouldn’t share it with the police.”
“What kind of information?”
Malene hesitated, then decided that telling Patrik wouldn’t do any harm.
“I guess she’s used to blackmailing people. Except normally she wants money.”
“Did you know anything about that?”
“Of course not. If I had, I would have told you or Mikael right away.”
“Of course. Fraud was another of her specialties. For instance, she managed to get a large sum of money from a man with learning disabilities without even having to meet him in person.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Me neither. Don’t be offended, but I really don’t see what you saw in her, even from the start.”
He shook his head, as if he too found it hard to recall what had brought them together, then decided to answer anyway.
“Who else do you think would have had me? I was alone. None of my old friends were interested when I got out of jail.”
“Patrik, don’t think like that. You deserve better than someone like that -”
“Thanks. A lot of people deserve someone much better, but – things are the way they are, right?”
Malene was wondering if he meant her. If so, he was right. At least she was hoping she deserved someone better. Because so far she hadn’t been very lucky with men. She decided to change the subject. Remembering Laerke’s insinuations, she didn’t want Patrik to think she – had any expectations about him.
“In any case, I have the dvd:s in the bag. Here. You can do what you like with them.”
“Thanks. I don’t know what to do to -”
“You don’t have to do anything. Just take the movies and get rid them or – whatever you do. Perhaps it’s enough to erase them.”
“No, I think I’ll have to destroy them. I’ll manage. Malene -”
“You’re amazing. I don’t know why you care about me, but – I -”
He sounded so touched, Malene was afraid he’d begin to cry again. She got up and began to clear away the plates and glasses.
Patrik hastily gave her a hand. He insisted on doing the dishes, and after protesting a few times, Malene gave in. She could understand that he didn’t want to accept any charity.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
Patrik moved back to his own place and Malene missed him right away. It had been nice to have a grownup to talk to. The nanny was a sweet girl, but she was only about nineteen or twenty.
But she had her daughter, and nothing beat being with your own baby. Malene was beginning to settle back into the routines at work and she liked the mix of periods of intense work and more quiet stretches. Once in a while, she and Patrik went out to have lunch together. At times, Walid showed up and they used to go for walks together, in one of the parks nearby.
This Sunday, he wasn’t there and Malene was walking on her own, pushing the pram. The sun was shining quite pleasantly and the trees were full of green buds. Spring was her favorite season, although she also appreciated a white Christmas.
The birds were singing and children were running around, playing. She turned onto the path leading to the pond, when suddenly she heard footsteps coming from behind her. Two men were approaching. For some reason, it made her ill at ease. They were staring at her so intently. She picked up her pace, but she heard them doing the same. Suddenly, she was seized by an unreasonable terror. They weren’t alone. There were people, only a few metres away. All she had to do was scream and –
Suddenly, one of them grabbed her hard. He pressed his hand to her mouth and pulled her to him. The other snatched the pram out of her hands and began to walk quickly in the other direction. Malene tried to break free, but the man holding her was much stronger. She tried to kick his legs, but he just swung her around, to face him. Without changing expression, he pushed her to her knees and began to hit and kick her. She managed to get her arms up to protect her face, and curled up so he wouldn’t be able to kick her abdomen. Blows were raining on her and she sank to the ground, still curled up.
She thought she heard voices calling something, but she wasn’t sure. Everything vanished in a blur.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
When she woke up, Mikael was there. It surprised her and she was about to open her mouth and ask him what he was doing there, when she became aware of the pain in her ribs. It hurt to breathe and her lips were swollen and sore. Now that she was paying attention, her entire body hurt. One of her wrists seemed to be in a cast. She could barely move.
She broke off, suddenly recalling what had happened.
“Malene – take it easy.”
Mikael took her hand and squeezed it, the way she remembered he used to do when they were involved, all those years ago.
“But where -”
“I’m sorry. We don’t know yet. The police are looking for her everywhere. They’ll find her soon.”
She began to cry. The scream that was on its way across her lips, died. She was too exhausted to be able to draw that much breath.
“You’re going to be alright. The wrist is broken and a few of your ribs too, but there are no internal injuries or skull fractures.”
It was as if his words didn’t mean anything. What did it matter how she felt, when she had no idea if her daughter was even alive or – She knew better than most parents of young children how many sick people existed out there. If one of them had –
“Malene, I promise you they’ll find her. Try to calm down now. Perhaps I should call the nurse -”
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’m not going into hysterics.”
What was the point? She sank into a sort of semi-unconsciousness, that didn’t dampen her worry and pain, but made the outside world recede a little. Mikael stayed with her for a while longer, watching her worriedly.
He was reminded of the time he’d been critically ill in the hospital. His father had told him that Malene had been by his side, patiently, while he’d been unconscious. And now, here she was. Her life wasn’t in danger, but he sensed that what had happened to the baby concerned her far more than her own condition.
Then he remembered that Patrik was waiting outside. He hadn’t known that Malene and Patrik were so close, but Malene was such a warm, considerate person. Perhaps that was the appeal for Patrik att. It never occurred to Mikael that he might treat his protege a little more like that. He’d given him a job. After all, this was a grown man.
“Malene? Are you awake?”
“Patrik is here. I forgot to mention that. It seems he’d like to come in and say hi. If you’re up to it.”
The thought of Patrik made Malene pull herself out of her apathay, just a little. She couldn’t leave Patrik out there worrying about her.
“Tell him he can come in, if he wants.”
“Oh. Walid called. He’s in Tyskland on a job, so he can’t make it until tomorrow.”
Mikael got up and went off in search of Patrik. He was just outside, looking pale and tense. It seemed Patrik really was fond of Malene. And of course she was a very kind person.
“You can come in now, if you want.”
“Thanks. How is she?”
“Well, she’s – at least she’ll be alright. Just go on in. She’s waiting for you.”‘
Patrik opened the door and peeked inside. He saw that Malene’s eyes were open and that she was facing the doorway.
He sat down on the chair that Mikael had just left and took Malene’s hand. It was in a cast, almost all the way down to her fingers. He felt sick, thinking of what had been done to her. Who had wanted to hurt her that badly? Was it a coincidence that they’d targeted her, or was it something to do with her work? Mikael had told him that the people who had attacked Malene had stolen her baby as well. That worried him even more. Just like Malene he knew more than he wanted to, about the sick people out there.
“They took her.”
“I know. Mikael told me. The police -”
“The police -”
He could tell she didn’t have much faith in the police investigation. It occurred to him that he might be able to do something. He still had some connections in the criminal world. If someone had kidnapped a baby, word would get around fast. Everyone knew everything. It was only a matter of what you could offer them in return for the information. But there were still a few people who owed him favours. Maybe he’d be able to find out.
“Try to go to sleep. I’ll stay here as long as they’ll let me.”
Her distraught gaze met his. He held on to her hand. It didn’t take her long to doze off. Only minutes later, a nurse looked in and told Patrik to leave.
Outside, in the hallway, he remained standing, considering who to contact first. Slowly, he began to walk towards the exit. When he was in the entrance hall, right inside the doors, his mobile rang. He hurried out into the heavy rain that had begun to fall as if out of nowhere about an hour before.
The voice was only too familiar.
“How is your fat girlfriend doing?”
“Laerke? Stay the hell away from -”
“Just listen to me. This is what happens when you mess with me. Tell that to your big brood mare.”
“Did you -”
“Draw your own conclusions. I hope you’re satisfied now. Does she fuck as well as I do?”
“Bloody cunt. Where’s the baby? If you don’t return her, I’ll -”
“I’d be very careful about threatening me, if I were you. Cunt.”
He was drawing breath to yell at her, when he heard a click. She’d terminated the call.
His first impulse was to go to Laerke and shake the truth out of her. But he couldn’t do that. That would make him no better than his mum and all the temporary father figures who had come and gone in his childhood. No matter how much he hated Laerke he wasn’t going to hit her. He’d done it once, but then he’d promised himself never to hit a woman again.
Besides, Laerke wasn’t stupid. She wouldn’t be at her place now. Not until this was over, one way or another.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
After running around the junkie neighbourhoods for so long he lost track of time, he finally ran into Sören, who had been able to help him. They’d been in the same cell for a few months and Sören had told him what he knew without asking for anything in return.
Not that it brought him that much closer to the solution of the problem, but at least he now knew that Laerke had sold the baby to a childless couple, not paedophiles. Now all he had to do was get to where the couple would be picking up the baby they’d bought in time to stop them. That and get past the hired muscle that would be protecting the child dealer.
The address Sören had given him turned out to lead to a warehouse near the docks. Patrik knew it was an area where money was traded for drugs, weapons or live merchandise. He shivered. Early on the rain had penetrated his thin jacket and he’d been outdoors for hours. This time of the year the weather could change any time and suddenly the temperature had gone down to about five below. But he couldn’t worry about details. If he didn’t hurry, the German couple would take Malene’s baby out of the country and if so he wouldn’t be able to get her back.
Now he’d have to get through half the city, and the Germans might arrive at any time. He got on a bus, hoping his drenched state wouldn’t make the bus driver throw him off again. Fortunately he had money. The driver merely cast him an indifferent glance, then returned to his driving.
He had to change buses once, but in the end he was standing on the docks. The dull black waves gave off a penetrating damp chill. It looked menacing, as if the sea wanted to flood the land, consuming everything that lay in its path.
Silently he made his way to the building. It was dark in there, but one or two street lights cast a dim light onto the walls. Everything appeared to be calm and quiet, but even so he stayed close to the wall, prepared to take shelter behind a trash can or an empty crate, if anyone should turn up.
The big door leading to the loading dock was locked and he was forced to make his way all the way around the other side. At least he now he escaped the chill from the water. On the other side he found a row of smaller doors, but they were all locked. In the end, he found a window that could be opened without breaking the glass. He got in, but more than one wooden splinter got lodged in his hand on the way in.
The room he’d entered was empty and he continued into the bigger storage room inside. He was moving even more stealthily now. Suddenly he heard a faint noise he’d learned to recognize while he was staying with Malene.The baby. She couldn’t be far away. The noise was cut off almost at once, and he realized someone had put his hand on the child’s mouth. He picked up his pace as much as he dared. If Malene’s baby was hurt –
To his surprise, the man had come alone. No bodybuilders were on watch as far as Patrik could see. He couldn’t get over the fact that he’d been so lucky. The man himself was rather big, but at least he was alone. The baby was still in her pram. Most likely it would be included in the price. If only he could get the man away from the baby, maybe he could –
He was interrupted by a noise that sounded like an explosion. In the semidarkness he’d kicked something that was on the floor. The man whirled around and began to move in the direction of the sound. Patrik threw himself down behind a couple of crates and tried to make his way around them so he could hit the guy from behind.
Once again he was lucky. He managed to get where he wanted and before the other guy knew what was coming, Patrik attacked him. He hit the right arm and heard something made of metal hit the floor and roll away. There his luck ended. The guy whirled around much faster than Patrik had been prepared for and barrelled into him. Patrik hit a container that was behind him and lost his wind.
The other guy followed up with a series of blows so hard, Patrik felt himself losing consciousness. Desperately, he tried to avert the blows. By now he didn’t bother following any rules. He rammed his knee into his opponent’s crotch. That gave him enough breathing space to jab his thumb into the guy’s eye. But now the other managed to get his hands around Patrik’s neck and squeezed. A red haze filled his vision and he was struggling for air.
Desperately, he fumbled with his right hand for something he could use to defend himself. His hand made contact with something that felt like a wooden board. It was loose enough that he was able to break it free and with his last strength managed to hit his opponent on the head as hard as he could.
For a second he didn’t think it would be enough, but then the grip loosened and he could breathe again. He pushed the guy away and sank to his knees, coughing and retching.
As soon as he could, he got up and examined the man on the floor. He seemed to be out cold, but Patrik saw that he was breathing and he was hoping he’d make it, then he staggered off in the direction of the pram. The baby seemed to be unharmed. She was breathing calmly and seemed to be sleeping normally. Gently, Patrik touched her cheek. It had a normal temperature. At least it felt as it always did.
Now all he had to do was get the baby to the hospital. He was hoping no one would pay attention to his bedraggled appearance and call the police. That reminded him that he too had a mobile phone. He fumbled in his pocket and found the phone. But it must have been damaged in the struggle. He couldn’t get a signal. Maybe there was no reception out here.
He couldn’t afford to lose any more time anyway. Fortunately, he was able to get on one of the night buses going to the centre of the city. His appearance didn’t cause any raised eyebrows. The night drivers only seemed to be intent on getting through their shifts unharmed, not on providing information for the police.
He made it all the way to the hospital, without anyone questioning him. There he found Mikael and handed over the baby.
“Where did you find her?”
“I asked an old acquaintance and then I went to – I’ll tell you later. She’s fine, I think. You can see for yourself.”
Mikael looked as if he’d rather leave child care to the trained professionals, but reluctantly he grabbed the prams handle.
“You look as if you might need medical care yourself.”
“No, I’m ok. All I want is to get back to my place and get into some dry clothes. Tell Malene that I – we’ll talk later.”
“I will. Patrik -”
But Patrik didn’t feel anywhere near as content as perhaps he should. He was glad he’d managed to save the baby. Of course he knew how much it meant to Malene. It was just that right now he hurt all over. He was frozen and exhausted and the conversation with Laerke had depressed him. Cunt, she’d called him. She might as well have said whore. The fact that he could have called her the same, didn’t matter. To Laerke that was hardly an insult. She saw other women, like Malene, as stupid for not using what nature had given them, to make money.
He was also weighed down by guilt. If Malene hadn’t tried to help him, she’d never have been that badly beaten. And most importantly, she wouldn’t have had to experience the horror of seeing her baby abducted. It was all his fault. She deserved better than being drawn into his sordid problems.
He returned to his flat, but only stayed long enough to grab what little cash he had at home, then rushed down to the street again. He went to see a man who lived just around the corner. His – shop – was open round the clock. All you had to do was ring the doorbell.
“Cezar. Open up. It’s Patrik.”
The reply came so quickly he knew the man hadn’t even gone to bed. He heard footsteps and guessed someone was looking through the peephole, then a safety chain clinked and Cezar was in the doorway.
“You’re in a hurry. Is there a fire?”
There was no smile in response. Patrik handed over the envelope with the money, and Cezar accepted it. After counting the content, he studied Patrik reflectively.
“That won’t buy you very much, my friend. Is that all you’ve got?”
“Come on. You know me.”
“Yes, but you know how it is.”
Patrik touched his wrist watch to check if it was still intact. Oddly enough it was, but the watch hadn’t cost him much to begin with. He didn’t have anything worth very much. If Cezar kept making trouble, he’d end up going home empty-handed.
“You hold on to that watch. I already have one.”
Cezar proudly showed off his wrist watch, that at least looked like a Rolex. Patrik suspected that it was probably manufactured somewhere completely different than those fancy watches. Maybe in Cezar’s native country.
After a moment’s reflection Cezar nodded.
“You’ll come to me, next time, right? I don’t want you to buy from the Chinese. The crap they’re selling will make you go blind.”
“Yeah, yeah. If I want more, I’ll come to you.”
Patrik’s choice of words was lost on Cezar. He was convinced that anyone who started buying from him would always come back for more.
Patrik accepted the little plastic bag with the expensive little pills. He shoved them into the pocket where he’d kept the envelope and hurried back to his place. He hesitated, trying to decide if he was going to shower and change first, but the thought of lying down in his damp and grimy clothes wasn’t appealing. He tossed the clothes to the floor and went into the bathroom. Blood and dirt ran down the drain and the soapy water made the cuts on his hands and face hurt. The rest of his body was sore, but he couldn’t see anything alarming. It only hurt a little to breathe.
He found himself some clean underwear and a t-shirt in a drawer, then lay down on the bed. Sleep wouldn’t come just yet. The room was so chilly it wasn’t long until he got up again and found an extra blanket. Rolled up in it, he picked up the plastic bag with the pills, that he’d put on the little table beside the top of the bed. For a while, he studied them, then swallowed them without further thought.
It was hard to find a position that wasn’t too painful, but in the end, he lay flat on his back, the blankets up to his chin. The effect seemed to take a long time coming, but eventually the pain began to recede and a pleasurable feeling spread through his body.
Suddenly, he heard the door open. Had he forgotten to lock it? He was too tired and dizzy to worry much about the possibility of Laerke having sent someone to get back at him. But the two people standing in the doorway were familiar and didn’t cause him any particular worry.
“Patrik. Why did you run off like that?”
Malene nearly stumbled and Mikael shifted his grip on her. They walked over to Patrik’s bed and there Mikael let go of Malene, who sank down on the side of the bed.
“You shouldn’t be on your own at a time like this. Mikael, you didn’t tell me he’d been beaten up.”
“Didn’t I say that he was a bit worse for wear?”
“I thought you meant being soaking wet. Patrik, how did you find her? Who attacked you?”
Mikael looked around the narrow, depressing flat. He’d better get Malene out of there as quickly as possible. The doctors had been very reluctant to let her out of the hospital. Besides, the baby was in the car parked in the street below. He really thought Patrik should have been allowed to rest. If Malene really was dead set against staying in the hospital, he could have driven her straight home instead.
“Mikael, please go downstairs and keep an eye on -”
“Surely you’re not staying here? Come on. Can’t you see that Patrik -”
Yes, what was he seeing, really? Patrik had to be sore and exhausted, but surely that gaze couldn’t be caused by fatigue alone?
“Patrik. Are you alright?”
Malene, too, noticed that something was wrong. She grabbed Patrik’s shoulder with her relatively unharmed hand and shook him.
“I’m fine. You didn’t have to come – come – here.”
She looked up and faced Mikael, with eyes filled with concern. He nodded his agreement.
“Downers, I think. What did you take, Patrik?”
“Nothing left. Get your – your own.”
“Malene, it’s no use talking to him now. It will take hours until he’s back to normal.”
“I know. We’ll have to bring him with us. He can’t be left alone, not like this.”
Mikael couldn’t believe he’d heard her correctly. He knew Malene was the kind of person who wanted to adopt all homeless cats and dogs and bring homeless people and derelicts to her home and give them a hot meal, but did she really want to bring a drug addict into her home, a home with a baby? But he knew her. When she was this stubborn, she would be fully capable of trying to drive herself, cast and all, and he couldn’t let her do that.
“Ok. Stay here and I’ll come back for you when I’ve got him into the car.”
He grabbed Patrik’s upper arms and tried to lift him off the bed. Patrik wasn’t heavy, but he wasn’t the least bit cooperative.
“Let go of me. Don’t want to. Malene, make him go away. Not doing that anymore.”
Mikael was only listening with half an ear. What was he supposed to do now?
Malene stroked Patrik’s hair and cheeks and spoke soothingly to him.
“It’s Mikael. He’s just going to help you down to the car. Nothing else. You know Mikael.”
“Mikael. Yeah, he’s cool. Gave me a job when I got out of jail. Are we going somewhere?”
Once again, Mikael tried to lift Patrik and this time he was more successful. Patrik wasn’t exactly helping, but at least he didn’t fight back.
“The blankets too.”
Mikael sighed resignedly, and made sure the blankets more or less covered Patrik. It wouldn’t be easy to drag him down the stairs.
In the end, he managed it. At this hour of the morning, the street was empty. No curious glances. When Mikael had made Patrik sit down in the seat next to the driver’s seat, he glanced doubtfully at his semiconscious passenger. It looked as if he’d be staying put the few minutes it would take to get Malene. The baby was sleeping peacefully in the backseat.
Finally, he’d put Malene in the backseat next to her daughter. Patrik seemed to be sleeping in the front seat. Mikael glanced at him, but he had worried needlessly. Malene leaned over and made sure Patrik was comfortable and breathing normally. It was amazing how caring women were.
At Malene’s place Mikael had to repeat the process in reverse. First bring the baby upstairs, then her pram, then her mother and finally Patrik. Afterwards, Mikael was pretty much done in, but he turned down Malene’s offer of breakfast anyway. She needed to sleep. Sleep was what they all needed right now.
The last he saw before heading for the exit was Malene, who had already put the baby to bed, over by the couch, seeing to Patrik. Walking down the stairs, Mikael shook his head. Either Malene was the most self-sacrificing woman in the world or – but surely that wasn’t possible – she was in love with Patrik. In any case it was none of his business. Now he was finally going to get some rest.
<p style=”text-align: center;”>***</p>
Malene lay down on the bed in her room, after taking a last look at her daughter. The baby was sleeping calmly and she decided she’d better get some sleep before it was time for the morning feeding. The nanny would have heard what had happened and you never knew if she was going to report to work or not. If she didn’t think anyone would be at home, she would hardly show up for work.
By the time she’d finished the thought, she was already asleep.
She didn’t know how long she’d been asleep. It couldn’t be for very long, but it didn’t matter. They were safe now, so she could always sleep some other time. She hurried out of bed and picked the baby up and checked if the diaper needed to be changed. It always did, so she got to work on that first, then she went into the kitchen and heated some gruel.
When everything was done and she’d heard a proper belch, she put the baby into the playpen. She put all her favorite toys there, then walked over to the couch to check on Patrik. He was still soundly asleep and she was wondering if he was going to wake up when he needed the bathroom. But his breathing sounded normal and she let him be.
She made some breakfast for herself. She ought to do the laundry and was the baby and – But her entire body hurt and she came to the conclusion that it would be best if she sat down for a while. She dozed off almost instantly, but it wasn’t long before she came to again. Someone was moving around.
It was Patrik. He was almost back to normal again. It turned out he’d already been to the bathroom and was on his way back to the couch.
“Patrik. Are you alright?”
“Well. I guess – How are you?”
He looked ill at ease.
“I’ll be alright. Would youl like some breakfast?”
“Excuse me, but how did I get here?”
“Mikael drove us. He helped us upstairs too.”
Patrik seemed to be thinking intensely, or at least as intensively as he could at this time of the morning. Maybe there were still some traces of the drug left in his system. Malene was no expert, but at least it looked as if Patrik was more or less himself again.
She took his hand and led him into the kitchen, where she forced some orange juice into him, but he ran straight to the bathroom and threw up. She considered a moment, then made some toast and put a little butter on it. Patrik didn’t look enthusiastic, but he agreed to try. At least he got a few bites down.
They sat down on the couch in the living room. Patrik still seemed to be pondering something. He was looking disoriented and worried.
“Malene – I guess you know that I – what I had taken last night -”
“Yes, more or less. It was hard to miss.”
He looked sad, or rather as if he was ashamed.
“I’m sorry. I just – ”
“Don’t say sorry. If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t have had my daughter back.”
“Yes, but if you hadn’t tried to help me, Laerke wouldn’t have -”
“Laerke? Was she behind this? I should have known.”
“She called me at the hospital and I knew she must have set it all up.”
“Then what? What did you do? Did you go over to her place?”
It looked as if the question bothered Patrik.
“No. I started looking for people who could tell me where the baby was.”
“And you found her? But who beat you?”
“The guy who was going to sell her. I did tell Mikael that, didn’t I – no, I guess I didn’t. That guy, was going to sell her to a rich couple from Germany. Some people who couldn’t have children of their own.”
Malene let go of the breath she’d held in. What a relief. Not paedophiles. No African witch doctors who cut body parts off living children to make magical amulets. Just a childless couple.
“I see. I don’t know how to thank you.”
Eyes brimming with tears, Malene put her arms around Patrik and held on to him. They were sore and bruised, but they clung to each other as if the touch made them feel at least a little safe. The kiss took them both by surprise. One moment they were resting cheek to bruised cheek, the next – they were kissing not worrying about the wisdom in their course of action. They might have continued for much longer if the sound of a baby crying hadn’t interrupted them.
Embarrassed, Malene pulled herself free of Patrik’s embrace and limped over to the playpen to pick up the baby. Patrik trailed behind her.
“If you like I’ll take her. It must be hard, with that arm.”
“Thanks. That’s kind of you. But now I have to know. How bad are your injuries?”
It would best not to mention the kiss.
“I’m sure I’ll be alright.”
“Come here and sit down.”
Obediently Patrik returned to the couch, the baby in his arms. Malene had sunk down onto it again. She took the baby and checked if the diaper needed to be changed. For once, it didn’t. The baby must have felt ignored, that was all. Now she was smiling delightedly. Malene didn’t think she would need to be fed for a while yet.
“Why don’t you put her back into the playpen again, and we’ll see if she’ll settle down.”
She did. Patrik returned to the couch, and sat down, some distance from Malene.
She grabbed the t-shirt and pulled it up. Even if it made him ill at ease, he didn’t refuse to let himself be examined. Instead he helped pull it off.
“But Patrik, you’re bruised all over. And your neck -”
She indicated his neck, which was covered with big, dark bruises.
“I’m sure it’s nothing -”
“Nothing? He must have tried to strangle you. We’d better get you to the hospital. No, don’t say anything. That looks terrible. Do you think anything is broken?”
“No. Look. I can twist and turn arms and legs. The ribs might have been cracked, but that’s hardly the first time.”
“Did he hit you over the head?”
“I don’t remember.”
She began to probe his head with her left hand, but in the end, she gave up.
“No, there doesn’t seem to be any lump. But you’re going to the hospital today.”
“Well, uh – I don’t seem to have any pants.”
“We’ll find a way to deal with that. I can always go out and buy a pair. But maybe you could borrow some of my sweatpants or something like that.”
“Maybe, but I really don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”
“You haven’t seen all those bruises. I’d be a lot happier if you were examined by a doctor.”
“Ok. Sure, but the main thing is that you’re back and that you’re ok.”
“Yes, yes. But it was all my fault from the start. That Laerke did this.”
“It was entirely her fault. She was blackmailing you and – well, all the rest. I really think our deal is at an end. I’m calling the police.”
“No, don’t. She’ll be wanting revenge again.”
“Not if she’s locked up.”
“Even if she’s locked up, her employers are still around. Please don’t. Stay away from her.”
“Ok, I’ll lie low, but I’m going to ask around, discreetly. I know people who can -”
“Just be careful.”
“Of course I will. We should call Mikael. Hey, I’ll tell him to bring a pair of jeans or something for you.”
“Are you going to tell my boss to go all the way back to the slums to find me a pair of clean jeans?”
“Yes, or he can buy a pair or lend you a pair of his own. Why not?”
Patrik smiled. The thought was actually quite amusing. Mikael Frank, the laywer, would be going through an ex junkie – no – judging by what he’d done last night – a junkie’s flat for clean clothes.
“No. I’m sure he won’t want to do that. I don’t know how you managed to get him to drag me down the stairs then up here.”
“It wasn’t hard. He must have known I was serious. I wanted you here, so I could make sure you were alright.”
He stared at Malene as if he’d never seen her before. Judging by the way she sounded, she might actually –
Suddenly they were kissing again, but that was ok. As long as they didn’t mention it afterwards, nothing would change. The main thing was that Malene was ok and the baby and – that they were all alive and not too badly hurt. They could sort out the rest later.