|Primary Characters:||Fischer, Helene La Cour, La Cour
|Description:||Fischer has some bad news and is devastated. La Cour is busy in court all day and can’t come to see him. Helene La Cour decides something has to be done.
The Audi backed into the turnaround and stopped. The man parked the car and faced his companion. She was smiling invitingly and shifted over so her skirt hiked up a bit. He glanced at her legs and his smile widened. Torn between a wish to just watch her for a while, while his expectations were growing and the desire to pull her close, he froze in indecision. In the end, he reached for her and kissed her. She returned the kiss and began to fondle his thighs.
Suddenly they were interrupted by the sound of a car. Angrily, the man looked up, hoping the other guy would catch on and tactfully disappear. But the driver of the blue American car kept getting closer. Biting off a curse, the man in the Audi pulled back and turned the key in the ignition. Sometimes you ran into tiresome people.
Apparently, the other guy was heading for the end of the turnaround, so close to the ditch and the grass-covered fields behind it, that the Audi would need to move. The man in the American car didn’t give them a very long time to react either. He was rushing the engine as if he wanted to run them off.
The driver of the Audi who would prefer not to get his car scratched, tried to turn so he’d be able to back out again, but didn’t have enough room for that. Rather than being pushed off the turnaround, he continued onto the grass. The car sank into the softer soil out there, then hit something large. Not a rock or even an old tire. At last there would be enough space for the other guy.
He stopped the car, but left the engine running, while he unashamedly threw away a box of junk and a plastic sack filled to overflowing.
The driver of the Audi glared sourly at the other guy, who stared back at him defiantly. He was wearing a leather jacket with an emblem on the back. Better not mess with him.
Before the guy in the leather jacket got back into his car, he flashed them an obscene gesture, before vanishing in a cloud of dust.
“Hold on a sec, Sille. I have to check on what I hit. I hope the bumper hasn’t been damaged or one of the tires.”
Sille leaned back in her seat and grabbed her purse. She adjusted the mirror and began to touch up her makeup.
The man walked around the car and took a look at it from behind. The grass was high out here, but he glimpsed something that looked like a rolled-up carpet. People certainly threw away all kinds of things. But what he’d hit wasn’t a carpet, he was sure of that.
He bent over and took a closer look. When he realized what it was he was seeing, he panicked and cowered back. Fortunately, he recovered quickly and took refuge in his car.
Sille turned to face him, looking startled.
“What’s the matter, Preben? You’re so pale. Is the car badly damaged?”
“No, it’s not that. I ran over a body.”
“There’s a dead animal out there?”
Sille looked disgusted.
“No, a human. A woman. I saw her bare legs and – The wheel passed over her and I think the body was crushed. Bloody hell. It was disgusting.”
“We have to get out of here. Come on. Drive, damnit.”
“No, we have to call the police.”
“But I need to get back to the city.”
Sille pouted with displeasure, but realized that Preben was right. She’d have to call the gym and cancel.
“Go on then. I’ll have to cancel my class at the gym. I was supposed to be there at seven.”
Preben was barely listening. In his mind’s eye, he could still see the torn body out there. The memory made him sick, but he had to call the police. The thought of that made him calm down a little. He couldn’t let them see him this – hysterical.
Malene was giving the baby a bath. The phone rang, but her hands were wet. In any case it wasn’t hers. It had to be Patrik’s mobile.
“Can you get that, Patrik?”
He picked up the phone and accepted the call. While the caller was speaking, Patrik forgot his surroundings and the cosy sound of the bath and Malene talking to the baby. The call ended and he forgot to turn it off.
“Patrik? What’s wrong?”
He watched her deep in thought, without really seeing her.
“Patrik. Is anything wrong?”
Finally he began to react normally. He terminated the call and put the phone down.
“It was about Laerke. She’s dead.”
Malene studied Patrik closely. How did he feel about the news? Was he grieving over his ex-girlfriend or was her death a relief? Did he feel guilty because towards the end of the relationship and afterwards too, he’d had reason to hate her?
“How did it happen?”
Malene had a vague idea that prostitutes frequently used drugs, and she was wondering if perhaps Laerke had taken an overdose. Then she realized that there were other more direct dangers in her line of work. Violent clients, for example.
“She was murdered.”
Malene felt all colour drain from her face. She had to sit down. What if it was something to do with Walid? She knew that she shouldn’t have asked her ex-boyfriend for information about Laerke. Besides Walid knew that Laerke was behind the kidnapping of his daughter and the assault on Malene. Malene had still been bruised all over when Walid had returned from Tyskland to see her and to reassure himself that she and their daughter were safe. Perhaps he’d seen it as his duty to get revenge. What did Malene really know about his view of honour and other customs? They had never discussed that sort of thing.
She would have to talk to Walid. If he was guilty – she didn’t even want to consider it.
Patrik looked at Malene, filled with concern.
“Are you alright?”
“I was just thinking – no, it’s nothing.”
He studied her searchingly. Nothing? He was sure something was on her mind, but on the other hand it was hardly surprising that she reacted to Laerke’s death. The two women had never liked each other. Quite the contrary. Of course Malene had good reason to feel that way. Laerke had had Malene’s baby abducted, after all, and had someone attack Malene.
The following day at the law firm, Malene made a few inquiries. She knew police officers and her contacts there had some information for her. They had several differents leads to go on, but they didn’t seem to be very promising. At least that was the impression Malene had. All day a numbing worry was eating her up. She was fond of Walid, and in any case he was Anna’s father.
Throughout the day Patrik kept watching worriedly, but Malene was too focused on her own thoughts to pay much attention to Patrik. In any case he had his job to do.
Malene considered bringing the matter to Mikael’s attention, but decided that for the time being she would keep her knowledge to herself. She knew perfectly well how her boss, and ex-boyfriend felt about her relations with a former criminal. Maybe he was right, but there was nothing to do about it now.
When she was home again, in the afternoon, she began to brace herself for the conversation with Walid. No matter how little she wanted to discuss the matter with him, she realized she had to.
Patrik had seemed to be rather pensive too, and though he’d been staying with Malene ever since the attack and abduction, he decided to return to his own place. It saddened Malene. His flat was in a neighbourhood where the drug addicts and dealers lived and it really wasn’t a nice place. He was much better off with her. But perhaps he wanted to think things through on his own. In the last few weeks, he’d been back from time to time to pick up some of his things and keep the flat tidy.
Now there was no putting it off any longer. Anna had been fed and was now in bed, sleeping, or at least resting, quietly. Malene went over to the phone and punched in Walid’s number. He picked up on the second ring. His palpable enthusiasm each time he heard her voice, made her feel guilty. But no matter how charming and kind Walid could be, he wasn’t reliable. She couldn’t be in a relationship with a man she couldn’t trust.
Patrik on the other hand- Though why was she thinking of Patrik? What had happened between them had a simple explanation. Patrik needed comfort and he was grateful to her. Naturally that was all it was. And she, herself – wasn’t it just her usual wish to care and nurture those in need of help? But she was too busy to sit around daydreaming about Patrik. Walid would notice her inattention and begin to wonder why she’d called him at all.
“Malene. How nice to hear from you. How is little Anna -”
“Walid, could we meet?”
“If you can.”
“Naturally I have time for you and my daughter. How is she? She’s alright, isn’t she? And you?”
“Yes, Walid. We’re both fine. How are you?”
“I’m fine too.”
“Can we meet now, right away?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll be right there.”
He sounded so pleased Malene’s sense of guilt increased. Her lack of judgment wasn’t Walid’s fault.
When he came, Malene let him pick the girl up, though she ought to have been sleeping, and she couldn’t help smiling. Walid really cared about his daughter. Despite everything, he was a good father. But she still had to ask him what he knew about Laerke’s death.
“Walid – you remember me asking about Laerke, don’t you? Patrik’s ex?”
“Yes, the whore.”
“Did you know she’s dead?”
“No, I didn’t. It must be a relief, for you and for Patrik.”
You really had to hand it to Walid. He wasn’t jealous, though he must suspect there was something between her and Patrik. On the contrary, he seemed to like Patrik and never seemed displeased to see Malene and Patrik pushing the pram.
“It is. But – it’s just that she was murdered.”
“Oh? But surely that’s not your problem?”
Malene stared intently into Walid’s velvet gaze. He seemed to be honest, but sadly, she knew that he was perfectly capable of lying, without her being any wiser. At least until you began questioning him more closely. If he was lying, he usually admitted it in the end. And if not, if he was telling the truth, or close enough, he would get hurt and would let her know about it.
“No, perhaps not. Walid – I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, but you wouldn’t happen to know anything about her death?”
Walid, not surprisingly, was hurt. Deeply upset, apparently.
“You think I had her killed?”
“I don’t want to believe it, but – she attacked me and our daughter. I thought perhaps -”
“You thought, because I’m a muslim, I’d want to get my revenge by killing her?”
He really looked reproachful but when he noticed how concerned Malene was he relented.
“That – might have been true, in my country. But now, we’re here, in Denmark, and I know you can’t do that here. Besides, I know you wouldn’t want me to commit any crimes. I don’t want you to be ashamed of me. And I’m grateful to be here. If we had been at home, my father might have expected me to restore family honour. But if I’d been there, you and I would never have been able to meet. You’re not a muslim and he would never have accepted you.”
“I see. I’m very sorry I had to ask. But we’ve never discussed this before. Your culture and so on.”
“My culture – I’m not a very good muslim, Malene. I told you I’m grateful to be here. Everything is different over there. Women are not treated like here. My father would have bought a bride for me, and I would have had to marry her, a woman who might not have been able to read or write, or who wouldn’t know anything about life outside her village. That’s not love.”
“Do they kill little girls too, Walid?”
“Probably. I don’t know. No one’s told me anything. I’m the youngest of five. But I have two sisters, so maybe not in my family.”
“Yes, I think so too. My little girl – I’ve never told my family about her, though I want to. They wouldn’t understand.”
“Does your family live here, Walid?”
“My mother is dead. My father is still back home and so are my sisters. They’re married. But my brothers are here, one of them here in Denmark, the other in Germany.”
“So you don’t want them to come and see us?”
Walid sadly shook his head.
“No, it’s no use. They wouldn’t understand. My oldest brother is a koran scholar. He thinks I’m a bad muslim. But at least I’m into women. My cousin Azhar – no, it’s too gruesome. Let’s not talk about that now.”
“No, you’re right. It’s enough. Walid – I’m sorry I had to ask.”
“It’s alright. We’ve never discussed this at all. It’s not something I like to talk about. But I swear to you I’d never kill anyone, Malene. Whatever else I’ve done – never that.”
“I believe you.”
She did too. Really. Maybe she shouldn’t, but somehow Walid seemed to be telling the truth. How dreadful that his sisters were still in the old country. If they had daughters, would they be forced to kill them? No, Malene didn’t even want to think about that. Her little girl –
“Would you like to have dinner here, Walid?”
“No, thanks. If that’s all, I really should go. I’m meeting some friends tonight.”
“Oh, I see. Have fun.”
And don’t do anything illegal, she thought. But her suspicion shamed her. When Walid had left, she made dinner anyway, and fortunately, Patrik returned just in time to sit down and eat with her. He was still looking dejected.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m ok. I just found out that there had been a string of burglaries in my area, but my place was ok. There’s nothing to take anyway.”
“Oh. That was lucky.”
“Yes. Listen, I’m pretty tired, so I’ll be going to bed right away.”
“That’s a good idea. I’m pretty worn out myself.”
The following day, Malene was assigned a new case. It turned out to be related to Laerke. When she had received all the information, she stared in confusion at Mikael. She was hoping that Mikael wasn’t just testing her. But as it happened, he had quite a plausible explanation for why he wanted her to handle the case.
“You’ve defended him before, and in any case he asked for you.”
Malene made a face. Having satisfied clients was all very well, but this man was just vile. And he was one of Laerke’s clients, and one of the people who had been staring at Patrik while he was being forced into Laerke’s sordid business.
Recalling the movie of Patrik and Laerke together, made Malene sick. She was hoping that Mikael didn’t know about it. If he did, Patrik would most likely be fired, though strictly speaking he hadn’t done anything illegal. Of course it might look bad for the firm.
“Well, I suppose I’ll have to do it. What’s it about?”
“He had sex with her right before she died. His DNA was found on her body. Naturally he claims they met that evening, but that she left him alive and well. Forensics show that it was hours between then and her time of death, but there’s no telling how long he held her captive.”
“Is there any evidence she died in his home?”
“None. He might have followed her. I must say I don’t believe he’s innocent. The DA’s case against him is very strong. You’ll just have to do your best. Just like the last time, you might be able to cut a deal with the DA. If your client confesses and it was manslaughter, not homicide.”
“I’ll do what I can. But he is an exceptionally repulsive man.”
Mikael studied Malene closely. Maybe he was asking too much of her, when he was expecting her to defend Laerke’s killer, after Laerke had abducted her baby and ordered the attack on Malene herself. But if she couldn’t set her personal feelings aside, she shouldn’t be working as a lawyer. He never let his personal feelings get in the way – except once – and he’d paid for that.
“Excellent. I’ll count on you to do your best for him.”
Malene brought the case file back with her to her office and began to study it closely. She would meet her client within an hour, so she had to hurry. Before the meeting, she’d better get an overview of the case against him.
When she caught sight of him this time, he was considerably more unnerved. The seriousness in the accusation must have had time to sink in, because he looked badly shaken. He was unshaven and his face had an unhealthy tone. He was staring at her with desperation in his eyes.
“You must help me. I didn’t do it. She was alive and well when she left. After that I don’t know where she went. You have to believe me.”
“Calm down. Tell me from the start. When did she arrive at your house?”
“And when did she leave?”
“About nine thirty. I think she had – she was seeing someone else.”
“Did anything out of the ordinary occur during her visit?”
Her client appeared to consider.
“Nothing unusual happened, but it seemed she had something on her mind. She looked sombre. Perhaps something was worrying her.”
“I have to be blunt with you. You have a conditional sentence for using force against a prostitute. According to the post mortem report, Laerke was strangled. Are you sure you didn’t do anything that might have caused her death?”
“Certainly not. I’d never -”
The look in Malene’s eyes made him fall silent.
“I didn’t hurt her.”
“Did you ever see her with another man?”
“She had a partner. Her boyfriend, she said. Sometimes -”
Malene stared coldly at her client, and he interpreted her reaction as a judgment on his preferences. He blushed slightly and raised his voice.
“This man Patrik didn’t display any signs of affection towards her at all. She had some trouble with him. You should take a look at him. He might have something to do with this.”
“We’re looking into all possible leads. Anyone else? I understand she had some – employers – who set up her meetings?”
“Not that I know of. I always made the arrangements with her, personally.”
“She never mentioned anyone who handled her business?”
“Any other client you knew of?”
“No. Except for – ”
He appeared to hesitate. Malene leaned across the table and caught his gaze.
“Well, you see – a colleague of mine recommended her to me. I know that he used to see Laerke before. Last year. Maybe he still did, but we haven’t met for a while. He got a new job and – ”
“Can you give me his name?”
“Is this really necessary?”
“Anyone who’s had anything to do with her are potential suspects. I would have expected you to be pleased to be able to clear yourself of all suspicions.”
“Yes, of course, but the very idea that he might be – it’s absurd – but, very well, then.”
When Malene left the lockup, she had the information. The accusations against Patrik made her furious. Would this never end? Poor Patrik.
But the further she got into the case, she had an odd feeling someone had been trying to set her client up. The evidence was so over obvious. She was sure that some of it had been forged. It gave her a strange feeling.
Naturally, Patrik couldn’t be the killer, but still – he had a strong motive for wanting to get rid of Laerke. So did she, but she knew she hadn’t done it. Was she absolutely sure Patrik hadn’t done it? He’d even been in her client’s home with Laerke. With his criminal past, it would be easy for him to break in and plant evidence.
She felt chilled. The estimated time of death was in the post mortem report. Where had Patrik been that night? She tried to remember. She consulted her diary. It just couldn’t be true. That very night Patrik had been away until exceptionally late. He had had much to do in his flat and he’d actually been away during the time frame when Laerke had been killed.
Of course that didn’t mean anything, Malene tried to tell herself. Just because he didn’t have an alibi and had a strong motive, didn’t mean he was guilty. She knew him. Patrik was such a sweet kind person and it was absolutely impossible that he could have killed a woman, whatever she had done.
Malene wondered if she could ask him, like she had with Walid. She’d hurt his feelings terribly. Could she do the same to Patrik – just because he’d been away that night? No, there was absolutely no reason to do so. She mustn’t upset herself.
After Malene had first been struck by the dreadful suspicion that Patrik might have been guilty of murdering Laerke, she caught herself studying Patrik reflectively. He was so gentle and kind to her little girl and he was even friendly and polite to Walid. And with her – It was simply unthinkable that he might have been guilty of a violent crime. Besides, he’d never been involved in that sort of criminality. Malene knew that he’d been in jail for possession of drugs and breaking and entering, nothing worse.
On one occasion she tried to sound Patrik out, without in any way accusing him. They were alone in her flat. Anna was sleeping and it was getting late. Malene hadn’t been able to bring herself to mention Laerke, except once right after she’d found out that she was dead. Naturally she had mentioned to Patrik that she was now defending a man suspected of her murder, and since he was working at the law firm, she couldn’t hide the man’s identiy either.
It had been an unpleasant surprise to Patrik. In fact, he’d been extremely upset by the news.
“Is there any risk his – movies – might be used in evidence?”
“Maybe. But not that one. I – as you know I gave it to you -”
“He might have had copies.”
“Why? I had to go through his collection and it was the only one with a man present. The others were just an endless repitition of the same thing. Mostly Laerke, but sometimes some other woman. I can’t imagine he was exceptionally fond of that particular movie.”
“No – it was clear that he wasn’t interested in me.”
“You see. Don’t worry about it.”
That conversation had been bad enough. This time she’d need to deal directly with Patrik’s feelings for Laerke. She recalled that once she’d more or less asked him straight to his face, what he’d seen in Laerke, but she hadn’t had a satisfactory answer. Maybe now she’d get one.
He smiled warmly at her. Despite the tension connected with the murder, their relationship was just as good as before. Though naturally they never used the word relationship. They also never commented on the fact that Patrik never spent the night on the couch anymore. That was where Walid would sleep, the few times he had stayed so late he needed to spend the night at Malene’s.
“Forgive me for asking, but I was wondering about how you’re feeling now – after Laerke’s death.”
Patrik’s smile vanished and a tense look came over him, no unlike when he’d been the victim of Laerke’s blackmail.
“It – it’s hard to have hated her so much. Now that she’s dead. She might have had her problems, but if so she never told me about. I know she was sexually abused by a stepfather for a short while, but she always used to tell me that was an example of how easily you could turn something negative into something positive.”
“In what way?”
Malene couldn’t understand how something positive could come from being abused.
“She blackmailed him. Made him pay cash for – what he was doing to her. She used to laugh about it, as if to her it was a positive memory. But she can’t really have felt that way. Not deep down. I was beaten as a child. By my stepfathers and sometimes by my mum too. But I knew what it was like for her. In front of my friends I used to brag about how tough I was, never to cry when they hit me.”
Malene eyes filled with tears.
“I never cried while they hit me, but later, in bed at night – I never told anyone that. My mum must have heard me, but I don’t remember her coming in to comfort me. She had a difficult life. Drank.”
“I’m sorry I reminded you about this.”
“No, I – want you to know. I’ve never told anyone about this. Not Laerke – or anyone else.”
Malene smiled faintly. She was wondering how she to go on questioning Patrik about Laerke, but she shouldn’t have worried. He went on, of his own accord.
“Like I said, I don’t really know how she felt. She talked a lot, but I don’t think she revealed anything about her true feelings. It’s sad that she had such a life. Of course I know many people others like that, or those who are even worse off. In any case I’m sorry I hated her so much.”
“I understand. But it was her own fault. No one forced her to blackmail you or have Anna abducted.”
“Or ordered the attack on you. I know. That’s why I hated her so much. To think she could stoop so low.”
“Yes, but it all worked out in the end. Thanks to you, Patrik.”
He smiled faintly, but clearly he wasn’t finished yet, because after a moment, he continued.
“Malene – once I hit her. I promised myself I’d never do it again. If I did, I’d be no better than those men in my mother’s life or my mother herself. But I kept wishing she’d regret what she’d done. Then this happens.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
Malene was hoping that he wouldn’t pick up on the shadow of a doubt in her voice.
“I know. But I – thought so badly of her.”
“So have I. More than you think. The way she treated you made me furious.”
“I know. I’ve never really thanked you for your help. You’ve saved my life. I would never have been able to stand it for long. And if I’d started using again, it wouldn’t have been long before I was back in jail again. I wouldn’t have been able to take that either. Malene, it’s really dreadful in there. If you’re not tough enough, you don’t last long. I can’t go back there again. I won’t survive. Not after living like this.”
Malene didn’t know if he meant his work at the law firm or life here with her, or maybe both. In any case, she couldn’t believe that Patrik had killed Laerke. The pain in his voice as he told her about his feelings for Laerke was far too tangible. If he had killed her, surely he wouldn’t have sounded like that?
Malene knew that she was considered too naive and gullible, but she was a lawyer and no matter how much she wanted to believe the best about people, she did think she was good enough at judging someone’s credibility. Perhaps she’d been taken in sometimes when it came to Walid, but other than that, she thought she was fully capable of telling a truth from a lie. Patrik wasn’t lying.
“Let’s try to forget this. Neither of us can be blamed for this. And I think that I can forgive Laerke. Nothing happened.”
“I wish I could forgive as easily. You were badly injured. But – she’s gone now and she can’t have been as carefree as she tried to make it seem. You’re right, we should try to put this behind us.”
“Shall we – go to bed now?”
Patrik’s tense expression vanished again, and this time he managed to relax. His smile warmed Malene.
When Malene arrived at the courthouse that morning, she was confronted by a new witness the DA had introduced unexpectedly. The judge approved of the addition, and soon a young woman who looked very similar to Laerke, was taking the witness stand. Coolly she surveyed the room, while waiting to be questioned.
The DA’s gaze was equally chilly. She got up and made eye contact with the judge.
“I must ask to have ms Bork suspended from this case.”
This time the judge’s normally rather unperturbed face showed clear signs of surprise.
“On what grounds?”
“Malene Bork is a suspect of the murder victim. Besides, she has a close relationship with the victim’s ex-boyfriend.”
She approached the bench and handed over a pile of papers.
Malene began to protest. This was something she should have been informed of earlier. But the judge asked her to be quiet while he studied the new facts.
He appeared to ponder the matter and after a moment’s silence, he arrived at a decision.
“Court will recess while ms Bork is replaced and informed of her rights.”
Fortunately, she had the opportunity of calling the law firm and was able to ask for a replacement. Eventually, an out of breath Rebecca Neumann arrived. She didn’t look pleased at all to have been torn away from another important case, but neither of the men had been available. After a very short meeting, Rebecca took over. Malene had to accept being interrogated by the DA’s assistent.
It was intensely humiliating. She couldn’t understand what the accusation was based on. Before long, she found that it rested almost entirely on the young woman’s testimony. Apparently she was a friend of Laerke’s, and clearly Laerke had confided in her.
Malene herself wouldn’t be called to the stand for a while yet, most likely not until the following day, but she was already worrying about what might happen if the jude deemed the case against her strong enough to have her arraigned. Who would look after Anna? And how would all this affect Patrik?
At least she wasn’t arraigned or locked up for any reason. Her spotless reputation made it impossible for the DA to obtain an indictment. Still, she wondered what Mikael would say. When she returned to the office she went to see him right away.
Mikael studied her with a gaze that seemed to hint at a mix of incredulity and sternness.
“What is this about, Malene? It sounds utterly absurd.”
“It is. Naturally I didn’t have anything to do with the murder.”
“I didn’t think so. But how can this woman claim that you’re implicated? It says here that you threatened Laerke. What about that? Another lie too?”
Malene hesitated, under Mikael’s keen gaze. Her reaction wasn’t lost on him. She realized that she had to tell him the whole thruth if she wanted him to be able to help her.
“There’s – some truth in it. Naturally I didn’t threaten with violence – but I told her I’d report her to the police.”
Malene felt trapped. Now she’d be forced to betray Patrik’s trust. What incredibly bad luck that Laerke had been so talkative and that her friend saw an opportunity to profit from the matter, one way or another. Malene imagined that she might be in trouble with the police, perhaps over drug possession charges, or perhaps blackmail.
“Laerke was a blackmailer. On several occasions she’d been involved in blackmail and sometimes outright fraud.”
“I’m not surprised, but what does this have to do with you?”
“Laerke was blackmailing Patrik too.”
“Patrik Larsen? Our office clerk? But what -”
Mikael broke off. He had actually briefly considered the possibility that Malene might be emotionally attached to Patrik, and now it seemed as if it was true, no matter how unlikely it sounded. Perhaps it was just her kindness that made her want to help everyone she considered in need of help, but wasn’t this a bit much? No, he was forced to conclude that Malene and Patrik really were a couple. Remarkable. Malene didn’t seem to be able to choose a partner among honest people. Of course Patrik had been a law-abiding citizen for some time now. Perhaps even Malene’s ex was, these days.
“Oh, well. Perhaps that doesn’t matter. What did she have on Patrik? And what was she extorting from him? I’m sure he doesn’t have much money.”
Mikael frowned. He was hoping Patrik didn’t have anything left from his bankrobbing days, hidden away somewhere. That would put a rather different slant on things.
“She made him help her in her – profession.”
“Oh, that. That he was her driver? I thought he did that voluntarily.”
“He did. For a while. Then she – claimed one of the clients insisted on – a couple.”
Mikael, who normally didn’t display much emotion, looked disgusted.
“I see. And he did it?”
“Don’t give me that look. She said she’d lose her job and that her employers would make things difficult for her. Patrik felt sorry for her.”
“Stupid of him. But go on.”
“My client – he was involved too – used to make – home movies. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.”
“Yes, of course. So Laerke managed to get a copy and used it to blackmail Patrik?”
“She said she would send it to you, so Patrik would lose his job.”
Mikael opened his mouth to tell her that what Patrik had done wasn’t illegal and that he wouldn’t have fired Patrik for it, but realized that he most likely would have. The firm couldn’t be associated with something like that. And now it would be anyway. But in this case he knew that he could hardly blame Patrik or Malene for what had happened. Such an unpleasant woman, that Laerke.
“I promise I won’t fire Patrik now. We’ll have to weather this crisis. But now we need to focus on getting you acquitted. You merely threatened to go to the police? If that’s all, they don’t have a case against you. The DA just wants to throw some dirt in the machinery. The judge will probably take offense and that will be that.”
“No, I can’t see that they have much more than that.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I haven’t done anything illegal. You should know.”
“But – Laerke chose to interpret my relationship with Patrik her own way.”
“So you don’t have a relationship with him?”
“Don’t tell me. If they ask you, you’ll have to answer, but if not -”
“It’s just that he’s more or less moved in with me. After what happened – ”
Mikael sighed. Malene really could get herself into a mess at times.
“Alright, alright. That’s no crime either. You’re both adults. Are there any copies left of that movie?”
“Not that I know of.”
“I won’t ask you how you were able to get hold of your client’s movie. You’ll just have to hope that the judge or the DA won’t speculate about it. As long as there are no more copies, they can always dismiss the witness’ claim as hearsay. If she can’t produce any DVD, there won’t be any evidence of Patrik’s involvement.”
“My client accused Patrik. I suppose he didn’t think Patrik was enthusiastic enough.”
There was barely repressed fury in Malene’s voice. Mikael really didn’t want to know anything else about how Laerke and Patrik had done their work, so he hastily tried to calm Malene down.
“I see. You think the witness might mention Patrik’s name and your client will be forced to testify about that occasion. That would be a problem. But your client would hardly be likely to advertise the fact that he doesn’t just hire female prostitutes, it’s men too, though of course we can’t count on that.”
“This is extremely serious, but I still think we’ll be able to avert the threat. I’ll speak to the DA. What about the evidence against your client?”
“It looks pretty watertight, but -”
“Actually, I don’t think he did it.”
“Do you think Patrik killed her?”
Malene tensed up. She hadn’t expected Mikael to be so perceptive.
“No, I’m sure he didn’t.”
“Do you know for a fact or do you just believe he’s innocent? Did he spend the night at your place the night of the murder?”
“Yes, but he got back late. He was it his flat.”
“Then we’ll hope someone saw him. Someone credible. If not, he’ll be in deep trouble. Possibly you too. If someone got it into their head to pursue a case against you, seriously. Or against Patrik. This keeps getting worse.”
“But you will defend Patrik too, if the worst comes to the worst?”
Mikael didn’t hesitate any more. Malene was clearly in love with Patrik. There was nothing else for it. He’d have to do as she wanted. Besides, he was the one who had hired Patrik. One could always claim it was his duty in any case. After all, he had known about Patrik’s criminal past.
“Yes, I’ll see to it. Leo or CC will have to represent you, and I’ll represent Patrik – in case anyone would get it into their head that I have a personal interest in you, because of our previous relationship.”
“Thanks. I really appreciate -”
“That’s alright. But please, Malene, try to exercise a little caution when it comes to choosing partners. Remember that you’re a lawyer. Your reputation might suffer.”
“If you think I’ll turn my back on Patrik just because -”
“No, I don’t suppose you will. Give me all you have about the case, and I’ll see to the rest. You will stay in the office until it’s all blown over.”
“So am I, but we’ll work it out.”
Unfortunately, it turned out Laerke had been speaking extensively with her friend. She knew all about Patrik’s involvement and though it was quite obvious that he’d only reluctantly been dragged into Laerke’s business, that might be interpreted as a sign of his culpability. Malene’s so called threat was made much of, but since she’d never threatened violence or anything else outside the law, that part of the accusations were dropped after careful perusal by the court.
The DA then tried to imply that Malene and Patrik had been working together. That didn’t leave Rebecca any other choice but to demand the immediate release of her client. However, the evidence against him was so solid they couldn’t be dismissed. The trial appeared to have come to a standstill.
When Patrik found out that Malene was a suspect in the killing he was distraught. His own connection upset him far less. After all, he was used to being accused of crimes. But he couldn’t beart to see Malene, who had only been trying to help him, being harassed. He knew that if the case against her was strengthened, there was a chance she might be disbarred and would never again be allowed to work for a law firm.
After a moment’s hesitation he knew what he had to do. If he took the blame for the murder, the charges against Malene would be dropped. He owed her that. No matter how much he feared prison, he couldn’t let Malene suffer for having tried to help him.
He called Walid again and asked him to come to the flat to watch his daughter. Walid hurried there, and learned what Patrik’s intentions were. He stared incredulously at him.
“Malene hasn’t killed anyone. That’s simply not possible.”
“What about you?”
“Of course not, but Malene mustn’t end up in trouble because of me.”
Walid studied Patrik with his velvet eyes. There was a sad glint in them, but also admiration. The Dane’s love for his Malene touched him. If only he could have been able to hold on to her. But there was no doubt Patrik loved her. He held out his hand and squeezed Patrik’s. Patrik blinked uncomprehendingly, but returned the handshake. At least now he knew that Anna would be safe.
He left for the police station, hoping he’d get there in time, before the sentencing.
Meanwhile, Walid pondered the romantic and beautiful in what Patrik was about to do. It hit Walid that Malene would be devastated to lose the man she loved. Without him, she’d be all alone again. She had him, Walid, but he knew that there was no chance for them anymore. Malene didn’t trust him. Recently, she had even asked him if he’d killed Laerke. If Malene could believe that, wouldn’t the court find it very plausible that a man like himself might see it as his duty to avenge the insult against his family? He knew enough about his culture to make it credible.
Malene wouldn’t have to do without Patrik. Walid would sacrifice himself for the woman he loved.
Malene had given him the number to the babysitter, in case of emergency. This certainly qualified as one. He called the girl and asked her to come and look after the baby. She let herself be persuaded and showed up so quickly Walid knew she was keen on making more money. From now on, she would. Now that the little girl’s father would spend so many years in prison.
Reassured, he hurried off to the police station to confess to the murder.
The desk sergeant didn’t know what to do. He’d heard that a man in a high position was about to be sentenced for the murder of a prostitute. Then he’d heard that a lawyer was a suspect. Barely had that rumour had time to spread around the police disctricts before a man with a criminal record, who had had a relationship with the victim, had turned himself in. And now here was another man, likewise with a criminal record, who for a change had had a relationship with the lawyer who was a suspect. This was far beyond the understanding of an ordinary policeman.
He had no choice but to lock up the second killer too. Perhaps it would be best to put them in the same cell. For all he knew, they might have acted together.
When he caught sight of Walid, Patrik sprang to his feet paling considerably. Had something happened to the baby in the short while he’d been absent? But the guard unlocked the cell door and Walid walked in and sat down on the other berth. The door was locked again and the guard left.
“What’s the matter? Is Anna alright?”
“Yes, of course. The babysitter is with her.”
“What about Malene?”
“I’m sure Malene is fine too.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“I have confessed to the murder. Malene asked me to get information about Laerke. Besides – that woman had Malene beaten and my daughter abducted. Surely that’s enough of a motive?”
“Did you do it?”
“No, but -”
“Why confess if you’re not guilty?”
“Malene loves you. I won’t let her lose you. Me on the other hand – she won’t miss me. And no one will doubt that this is a murder for cultural reasons. I’m a muslim. They’ll believe me.”
“But – I was Laerke’s boyfriend and – they’ll believe me.”
“Retract your confession. Tell them you were concerned about the woman you love.”
“I can’t do that. It’s my fault Malene was dragged into all this. She only wanted to help me.”
Patrik sat down again. He really didn’t want to tell Walid about that.
“Laerke had been blackmailing me. I could have lost my job.”
“Oh. But -”
Walid fell silent, realizing that Patrik didn’t want to tell him more. He certainly wasn’t surprised Laerke had been killed. There must have been many people who had a motive. One of them must have killed her. Perhaps the man Malene had been defending until recently. If he was found guilty, maybe neither of them would have to take the blame.
“If we’re lucky, the original suspect will be convicted. Perhaps then neither of us will have to -”
A door was opened further along the corridor. They turned as one to see who was coming in their direction. Patrik recognized Leo Zielinski from the law firm. Either Mikael had sent him, in which case he’d been very generous, or Malene herself had managed to persuade Zielinski to take on the case.
“Hi there, guys. What kind of a mess have you got yourselves into this time?”
“What do you mean? I’m guilty.”
Patrik wasn’t going to let Walid take the blame. He had a baby daughter. This was nothing to do with him.
Walid didn’t hesitate either.
“Don’t listen to him. He’s only trying to save Malene, but he didn’t do it. It was me.”
“You can drop the act. Malene appreciates the gesture, but you’re not fooling anyone. Consider this carefully. You should know better, both of you. Jail isn’t very pleasant, you know that already. I’ll speak to the DA. Besides Mikael Frank is looking into the case. Whoever is really behind this will be found and brought to justice.”
Leo actually looked amused. What a show, what noble self-sacrifice. Nothing remotely like it must have been seen this millennium. Sweet. They both had to be in love with Malene. Personally, Leo had never been attracted to her, but she was a very nice woman. Very kind and friendly. Too kind. She might end up getting hurt. And what Mikael told him seemed to indicate she already had. That’s what happened when well-meaning amateurs tried to take on cold-headed pros like Laerke. If Malene had asked him for help, the whole thing would have gone much more smoothly.
“I’m representing you now, so you’ll take my advice, do you hear? No, just be quiet. This will be expensive enough as it is, so just listen, don’t talk. You will not say another word, until I’ve had time to deal with the situation. Did you get that? Not another word. Stay here and chill out, and Mikael and I will make sure Malene gets out of this mess. And you too.”
He shook his head. Loving a woman so much you’d go to jail for her, was all very well, but he definitely wouldn’t do something that stupid. You’d be much more help to her if you acted. Someone was guilty of this murder. Old-fashioned honest investigation would discover this person. End of story. No meaningless gestures or exaggerated nobility. It was clear that Patrik would never make a lawyer.
Mikael had stopped worrying about the costs a long time ago. He was already in the middle of the case. Better do a good job from the start. Malene could start earning her pay right now. He told her to go through all old material and the new files the police had sent him a few hours earlier. Somewhere in that material there had to be evidence pointing to whoever was the real killer.
Malene hadn’t believed her client was guilty though she’d disliked him from the start. Despite her naivety and her good heart, Mikael had confidence in her ability to judge a person’s credibility. Thus he too believed the client was innocent.
That Malene would have managed to strangle a young, fit woman, who was taller and stronger than her was simply absurd. She might have been able to kill Laerke if the latter had been about to kill Malene’s baby, but never like this, as revenge after the fact. It was utterly unthinkable. Just as unthinkable as Patrik being guilty. Mikael knew him and was sure he’d never committed any violent crimes. And Walid –
Once again Mikael sighed. When it came to him, Malene really had made a mistake, but in this context at least, Walid wasn’t interesting. He might have had a motive, but Mikael recognized his type. Weak, suggestible, but not aggressive or a psychopath. Neither of Malene’s unlikely dates could be guilty. There had to be someone else.
After several hours of intense work, Malene managed to find something that pointed in the direction of Laerke’s more or less invisible employers. At this point they could have used Patrik’s or Walid’s connections. How incredibly stupid of them to confess to the murder. Malene had been extremely upset about it and she’d wanted to rush off to the police station to speak to them, but Mikael had managed to stop her.
Instead he’d had to send Leo. He’d end up paying for that out of his own pocket, because he found it hard to believe his old friend would work for free to help two such jackasses. Perhaps he should have married Malene. It couldn’t have been more expensive than this.
CC was still in his office and Mikael went to have a word with him.
“You still have some connections with the police, right?”
“Don’t you? But sure. I know some guys who could give me some information if that’s what you want.”
“Yes. You know the mess Malene has ended up in?”
CC made a face, and the two friends and colleagues indulged in a moment of quiet sympathy. Women.
“Yes. It’s about Laerke?”
“There had to be crowds of people standing in line to have a go. I hear she’d blackmailed several different people and dabbled with fraud too?”
“That’s right. But now it looks as if her employers had had enough. Could you find out what the word is on the street?”
“Sure. I don’t have any choice, do I? We could end up unemployed, all of us. We’ll have to solve this as soon as possible. Then we’d better hire that Walid, so he’ll stay out of trouble. Now that Laerke is dead, we shouldn’t have any more trouble with Patrik.”
“There’s a thought. Hiring all Malene’s boyfriends to keep them out of trouble. But what use will Walid be?We don’t have any lions that we need to put down or skinned. And I suppose we’d better hold off on the bankrobbing too.”
CC laughed. Certainly Walid’s qualifications weren’t all that useful, but they could always let him help Patrik, make coffee or carry files. And it would be good to have someone on duty during all office hours. You had to have lunch some time. Even the clerk.
“Maybe he could work with Patrik.”
Mikael shook his head. He wasn’t prepared to let Walid into the office, after all. Could he be trusted at all? But perhaps he had to consider it anyway. If they put him to work, he’d hopefully refrain from committing any more crimes and that would leave the firm’s reputation intact.
“We’ll see. Now would you please talk to the police. If we can get a verdict at the trial tomorrow, perhaps we can all return to work as usual. We’ve wasted enough money already.”
“Sure. Just a moment and I’ll call my contact.”
Once they’d begun to take a look at Laerke’s employers – two men connected to underground clubs in all the major cities in Denmark – the evidence was there. It turned out they’d panicked when Malene had dug up evidence against Laerke. The blackmail and the fraud were her own ideas and from their point of view just a sideshow. When she’d been exposed as a criminal, they no longer had any use for her, and they made plans to get rid of her.
There were uses for prostitutes that were no longer wanted, but they’d ended up fighting over the best way to use the opportunity and in the end, they’d let one of their own hitmen get rid of her fast.
One of the two had a considerably shorter rap sheet than the other and by offering him a lower sentence, in exchange for a testimony against his business partner, they were able to get evidence against both of them. Malene’s client was released immediately and the suspicions against Malene, Patrik and Walid were dismissed.
By then Patrik and Walid had ended up spending a night in their cell. Neither of them appreciated the experience, but Patrik was the one hit hardest. Being locked up in such a small room gave him an anxiety attack. This time he hadn’t needed to fear his cell mate, but the memories of when he’d been locked up before had brought him close to panic.
Malene came to pick them up, and when she saw them, she embraced them both, one after the other.
“You shouldn’t have done it. What got into you?”
Patrik avoided meeting her gaze. He didn’t want to discuss this with Walid present, and he suspected that Walid didn’t want to speak of it either. At least not like this, in public.
“But it was really sweet of you. I’ll never forget that you were prepared to sacrifice yourselves for me like this. Come on. Why don’t we have dinner at my place?”
Walid felt superfluous and began to make up excuses for why he couldn’t join them, but Malene wouldn’t hear of any it.
“Patrik doesn’t mind, do you?”
“No, of course not. Come on. We have to celebrate our release, right?”
Walid hesitated, then remembered his daughter. As always, he was keen to see her again. She was such a source of joy in his otherwise chaotic life.
So they had dinner together all three of them, as soon as Anna had fallen asleep.
After dinner Walid excused himself and left. He knew Malene and Patrik wanted to be left alone. He was right, but not for the reason he’d assumed.
Malene had noticed right away that Patrik was tense and wasn’t feeling well. She sensed the reason, but didn’t fully understand.
“Are you alright, Patrik? You seem – ”
“It’s nothing -”
“Of course there’s something. Won’t you tell me what it is?”
Could he explain to her? Malene would worry, but maybe he’d better be frank. She might be able to help him somehow. In any case, the least he could do was be honest with her.
“Well, you see – being back in a cell was pretty grim. It reminded me of – how it used to be.”
“Oh, Patrik, of course. You told me about that before, didn’t you? I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have -”
“I couldn’t let you go down, just for trying to help me. But this made me feel the way I used to, back then. And right now -”
His eyes burned humiliatingly. Not again. He didn’t want to start using again. It had been dreadful letting Malene and Mikael down the last time. If he should fall for the temptation again –
“I need something. Pills or – But I don’t want to. It just feels so – You don’t know what it’s like. My whole body is screaming for something. Anything really. Dope, booze, medication.”
Malene watched Patrik filled with compassion. He was going through this because of her. She considered. There was a bottle of wine and of course she had some painkillers. But if she let Patrik solve the problem that way, he might easily continue like that. It wouldn’t be long until he was back where he’d started. She couldn’t let that happen.
“I’m sorry. Come here.”
She pulled him close and dragged him into the bedroom. They stretched out on the bed and he buried his face at her shoulder. After a while, he felt himself begin to relax a little. The craving for drugs eased up a little. By focusing on her, how it felt lying pressed against her body, her scent, her hair, her slow, calm breaths, he managed to subdue the need, at least to a manageable level.
They both began to relax and it wasn’t long before they dozed off and fell asleep.