|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.
Mikael glanced at his watch. Five thirty. It was time to go. On Wednesday nights the support group he’d joined almost a year ago, held their meetings. He wasn’t sure if the meetings made him feel better, but he’d decided to go anyway, to a great extent for his friend Leo’s sake. When he’d realized what Leo’s background was, the pieces had fallen into place. He’d realized why he’d always felt he had so much in common with Leo. What he’d sensed was the similarities between them, despite the external differences. They had the same experiences.
When he’d first heard of the support group he’d thought of Leo right away. It was just by chance he’d come into contact with the group. He’d been late for a meeting with a client and he’d run around the corner after having parked his car. A poster on a glass door had caught his eye. It said something about victims. He’d looked again and started reading the text, despite the lack of time.
When he’d finished reading, it was as if the message had been speaking straight to him. The memories of the incident that had haunted him for so many years washed over him and he almost stumbled. A woman who was passing by, stared wonderingly at him. He managed to regain control over himself, but he stayed and kept staring at the poster. There was a phone number and an email address. A little further down there was also a homepage address. He grabbed his mobile phone and made a note of the phone number, then hastily continued on to make his appointment. His client must have begun to wonder where he was.
Afterwards, back at the office, he had been pondering the poster for a long time before he picked up the receiver and punched in the number. It kept ringing for so long it seemed no one was going to answer. Relieved, he decided to give up. That was when he heard a voice on the other end of the line. It was a woman’s voice, and she sounded calm and seemed to inspire trust. She had introduced herself as Lone Haraldsen, and asked if he was calling about the support group.
Mikael hesitated. He had an impulse to hang up and forget the whole thing, but the woman seemed to be prepared for something like that and she began to chat with him. She even made a few jokes, and in the end, he felt ready to get to the point.
“Well, I read about this support group and I -”
“Is this about yourself or a family member?”
He fell silent again. This was something he’d never told anyone, and he didn’t know how to begin. But the woman had asked a simple question. He could answer that. Maybe that was enough for a start.
“It’s about me.”
“I see. We usually meet at the church’s community hall, but we’re not associated with the church in any way. Eventually we’ll try to find a more suitable place.”
“What do you do at the meetings?”
“We’ve only just started, but the idea is that we’ll discuss our special problems. Being adult survivors. That is, survivors of abuse.”
“How old were you?”
Again, the question silenced him. His throat felt dry and he wanted to hang up, to stop feeling that way. But the woman’s matter of fact tone made it seem more – normal. It was as if she was used to this type of story.
“Was it a family member?”
“No, a – friend of my father.”
“I see. Some groups split the victims, men and women into different groups. Most perpetrators are men so some victims find it hard to open up before men. But there’s not that many of us yet, so I don’t believe in splitting the group. Besides it’s all the same. Victims are victims. If one of the women has objections I might reconsider.”
“The next meeting will be next week. Do you think you’ll be able to come?”
“I’ll try. My schedule is very full, but I’ll try to get away.”
“Excellent. You won’t regret it. I’m guessing you’ve been carrying this around for years. Perhaps you’ve never told anyone. It’s good to be able to open up to others who know what you’re going through. Do you know any other victim? A sibling or a friend?”
Mikael hesitated. He couldn’t give Leo’s secret away, but if he didn’t mention his name, perhaps –
“I have a friend who -”
“Man or woman?”
“It’s a man.”
“Try to persuade him to come along. Most people feel better when they’ve been able to talk about it. For many of them it’s been a shameful secret that has been eating them up from the inside. Together we can break the silence. You’re not alone. Neither is your friend. Many of us have been through exactly the same thing.”
He knew that. He’d dealt with cases to do with child abuse. Rapes, sometimes against family members. But he’d never been able to tell anyone about his own experience. In a way he admired Leo who had confided in his colleagues.
When the next Wednesday evening approached, Mikael decided to mention it to Leo. If Leo refused to come along, he’d go alone. But he believed in what the woman – Lone – had told him. Carrying such a secret around wasn’t healthy. You needed to share, even if it was hard for him to open up, in any context.
He noticed that Leo was still around, and he walked over to his friend’s office. To Mikael’s relief Rebecca wasn’t there.
“Isn’t Rebecca here?”
“No, she was going to visit her mother. Did you want to speak to her?”
“No, it’s you I wanted to see.”
Leo raised an eyebrow inquiringly. Mikael considered bringing the matter up immediately, but remembered that CC was still in his office with the door open. It would be better to discuss this in private.
“Do you have a moment?”
“It depends. What’s it about? I was going to call it a night, but if it’s something really urgent, I’ll reconsider.”
“No, it’s not about work. It’s something – personal.”
Leo’s cool eyes bored into Mikael’s while he considered what his friend and colleague might want. Then he shrugged. He might as well find out.
“Ok. Shall we go into your office?”
Mikael glanced behind him, into the corridor. Here or in his office didn’t matter. He reached out and closed the door behind him.
“Right. Here. Well, what’s up?”
Now that he’d come this far, Mikael hesitated again. How did you touch on something like this? Leo was sensitive when it came to his childhood experience. In the end, Mikael decided to dare to confide in Leo, then the rest would probably follow more easily. He still had more than an hour. Even if Leo didn’t want to come along, he’d make it anyway.
“There’s something I’ve never told you. Or anyone else, for that matter. It’s not easy to talk about so – I’ll just say it. When I was eleven a friend of my father – began to take an nterest in me. He brought me along for little outings. He taught me how to shoot, or at least he took me to a shooting range. Sometimes he let me drive his car, in the country.
Then one night, while my father had a dinner for all his colleagues, this friend came to see me, outside in the yard. He offered me some of the dessert wine in his glass and – began to touch me. I didn’t understand what he was doing at first. Then he – sexually assaulted me. After that night he would often come to see me or – take me for a ride.
My parents thought he was so kind to me. And I came along. There was nothing else I could do. If I’d have refused I would have had to explain why, and no one would have believed me. I must have been fifteen before it stopped. Before I dared to refuse to come along or -”
The expression on Leo’s face, usually so distant, had been transformed into attentive interest. Now a glint of sympathy had crept into his eyes.
“I had no idea. Bloody hell. Well, as you know, I can relate to what you went through. Not that I remember everything, though a lot has come back to me. But you must have known what it meant – because you were so much older.”
“Yes, that’s right. I knew it was wrong and I didn’t want it. But – it was too late. Everyone trusted him and so did I, earlier. There was no way out.”
“Are you sure you couldn’t have told your mother?”
“Yes. She always did what my father wanted. No one would have believed me. If I’d have said something, my father would have beaten me. He would have thought that I had made the whole thing up, for some reason. Most likely he would have believed there was something – wrong with me.”
“Yes, of course. In those days you didn’t expect anything like that to happen to a child. What happened later, when you were older? How did you get away from him?”
“I became more busy with school and he fell ill. He had a stroke and ended up in a wheelchair. There were no more car trips after that.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Yes. But I still haven’t been able to confront him. My father still wouldn’t believe me.”
“No, maybe there’s no point in dragging up all that old stuff. Since you can remember.”
“On the other hand it’s not good to carry it around either. Leo – I’ve found a support group for adult – survivors. For those who were abused as children. I’m going to a meeting tonight. Would you like to come along?”
Mikael produced a copy of the poster that had been attached to the door. He had been given a few such information sheets and this he placed at Leo’s desk.
At first Leo stared uncomprehendingly at Mikael, then shook his head and made a gesture of denial.
“No, no. Support groups aren’t my thing. Can you really see me sitting around in a circle telling everyone about it? But you go on. If you think it will help, I’m sure that’s great.”
“If you’re sure you don’t want to -”
“I’m going out to have a few drinks. You know where I hang out. Afterwards you might want to unwind a bit. Come on over if you like.”
“Maybe I will.”
Mikael nodded and went to put on his coat and leave. It was time he was on his way.
At the church hall he took off his coat and hanged it up, then walked slowly into the room. He heard some people talking in there. As far as he could tell, they were women’s voices. Doubtfully, he looked inside. For the first time in years he felt unsure how to deal with a situation. Usually he was the counsellor Mikael Frank. Now he was just a member of a rather unusual group.
Just like he’d guessed, everyone in there were women. One of them, a woman of his own age, got up and approached him.
“Are you Mikael?”
“Lone. We spoke on the phone the other day.”
“Welcome. Come and say hello to the others.”
Apart from Lone there were five women. The youngest was in her early twenties. The others were between about thirty and maybe mid-fifties or a little more than that. While they were speaking, another woman showed up, with a young man, also about twenty. He was of slight build, with shoulder length hair, and seemed extremely nervous. The young woman, who might be in her mid-twenties, held the younger man by the hand. There was a strong resemblance between them, so Mikael assumed they were brother and sister.
He noticed that the older women, except for the one who was about thirty were rather fat. One of them was speaking incessantly, which would be a sign of nervousness. Two of the others merely smiled fixedly.
After glancing at her wrist watch, Lone got up and asked them to be silent.
“I suppose we’d better get started. We’re not expecting anyone else. Unless one of you have invited someone?”
There was no reply. Mikael had invited Leo, but he’d turned him down. No use bringing that up.
Just like Leo had predicted, they were expected to sit in a circle. Compared to the size of the room, it was quite a small circle.
“Since we have a new member, I thought we’d start with an introduction. Just tell us a little about yourselves. If you can’t say anything about the abuse, skip it for now. This is just so we can get to know each other.”
The members began to glance around nervously.
Lone herself started. She told them her name and age and what she did for a living. After that she briefly told them about the abuse she’d suffered. Mikael felt his teeth clenching and he had to force himself to try and relax, as best he could.
One of the other women continued, and in turn all the other members introduced themselves, until only the two siblings and Mikael were left. The girl looked as if she wanted to escape, but collected herself and mentioned her name and age. Just as Mikael had guessed, she was about twenty-five. She glanced at her brother and hastily began to speak about how their father had abused them both for nearly ten years. In the end, their mother had had enough and killed him and was now serving a sentence for manslaughter.
That set Mikael thinking about how to launch an appeal or an application for a pardon. A woman who had killed a sexual predator to defend her children shouldn’t be in jail. Suddenly it was his turn. The boy had refused to say anything but his name and his age – nineteen.
Mikael felt everyone’s gazes studying him. He coughed nervously and began.
“My name is Mikael and I’m a lawyer. When I was eleven I was sexually assaulted by a friend of my father. The – abuse continued until I was about fifteen.”
“Thank you, Mikael. Very good. Now we all know a little more about each other.”
Suddenly the door opened and a familiar face looked in, familiar to Mikael at least. Leo. So he’d dared to come anyway. When Leo caught sight of Mikael he nodded and stepped inside. This time all the members of the group were staring at him. But Leo wasn’t one to let that hinder him.
Mikael felt he had to explain.
“This is a friend of mine. I suggested he come along tonight, but – ”
“But I didn’t want to. Then after a while I began to think that perhaps I should drop in anyway.”
“You’re welcome. The rest of us have just introduced ourselves. Perhaps you’d like to say a few words about yourself. If you like you can tell us a little about the abuse, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“I see. Right. I’m Leo and when I was four, I was sexually assaulted by one of my stepfathers. Ironically enough, it was the one I liked best. Until quite recently I had no memories of this, but then it all came back to me. I asked my mother about it and she confirmed that it was true. She also claimed she threw my stepfather out that very night. But – I don’t think that was the first time. I have a feeling it happened before then too. I don’t remember much of it, but I’m sure he – abused me at least a few times.”
“Thanks, Leo. You missed the other introductions, but we’ll do it again later. Now I’d like for us to split into smaller groups for more discussion. You choose which group you want to join. If I may make a suggestion, why don’t the men form one group -”
The thin youth seemed to oppose the suggestion and his sister appeared to become anxious too. She put her arm protectively around her brother’s shoulders and Lone didn’t insist on splitting them up.
Mikael was surprised that Leo had changed his mind so suddenly. Besides, he was impressed with how comparatively easy it seemed to be for Leo to talk about what had happened to him. For Mikael himself, it had been considerably harder. For many years he’d managed to convince himself that he must have remembered incorrectly. That nothing had happened, at least not all of it. Sure Henrik had been – overly affectionate – but most of the memories had to be fragments of nightmares. But he knew that it had all happened and if he’d had bad dreams, they had a foundation in truth.
During the talks with the other survivors, Mikael began to feel a little better. He wasn’t alone. The others had been through almost the same things. It turned out that in this group all members had been abused by men, but Lone told them about another group where two of the men had been abused by women.
After the first evening, he’d returned every time, except for when he’d been in hospital. Lone had told them that in some groups the members were told not to enter relationships while they were participating in the meetings, but she didn’t think it was necessary to turn down a chance at being loved. Most members of the group were married or were in some kind of relationship, except for the two young siblings.
Mikael was recalled to the present by the sound of the phone ringing. It was his wife, or rather his ex-wife, even if the divorce wasn’t finalized yet. She just wanted some of her things that were still at his house. Mikael considered telling her about his experience, but realized that he no longer felt any connection to her. Confiding in her wouldn’t mean anything. Perhaps he’d tell Malene. He had a feeling that Malene would be understanding. For now, though, he wanted to keep his secret to himself. Leo had respected that.
Neither of them had mentioned anything about the meetings they participated in together. Mikael had assumed that Leo had confided in Rebecca but it didn’t seem that way. In any case that was Leo’s business.
More or less every time they had made their separate ways to the mettings. They had however frequently left together. Leo had a taste for bars and pubs, and afterwards Mikael would often be in the mood for some beer.
He had noticed that the other members had begun to get to know each other and sometimes they would leave the church hall together. After a while they’d moved to a more suitable location closer to the centre with its restaurants and bars. The only ones who didn’t seem to benefit from the discussions were the two young siblings. Mikael noted that they hadn’t even shown up the last few times. He was hoping they were alright.
One of the other members, Karen, who was in her thirties, had taken to joining Mikael’s och Leo’s group more regularly. She was dark, thin and reminded them a little of Rebecca Neumann. Sometimes her eyes would fix on Mikael so intensely it almost unnerved him, but on other occasions, she would smile so warmly he felt drawn to her. Leo found it easier to keep his distance.
This particular evening turned out to be a little different from the last time. Lone pointed out that it had been a year since their first meeting. Mikael and Leo hadn’t been there from the start, but they too were invited to celebrate the anniversary. Several of the members would be going out afterwards, to a bar or restaurant. With the exception of the two siblings, everyone had found their respective situations improved.
Perhaps that was cause for celebration, Mikael thought. He felt a little more free now. Some day he might try telling his parents, after all. The worst they could do was not believe him. By now it might be time to tell his colleagues as well. The only one whose reaction Mikael wasn’t sure of, was CC’s.
When the meeting was over, Leo as usual, wanted to go to his favorite bar, and Mikael had no objection. However, Karen suggested they go to her place instead.
“I live not far from here and it would be nice if you’d like to join me. Nothing fancy, just some wine and cheese and so on. So if you’d like to -”
Mikael hesitated. Something told him it might not be such a great idea to tag along to someone’s house like that. They hadn’t even gone out together, to some public place before. Still, Karen’s smile was so inviting, and Mikael had missed being able to follow an impulse, as if he’d been an ordinary man. It was tempting to forget the past and allow himself to act as if none of that had happened.
“Well – what do you think, Leo?”
“I should be getting back. Rebecca -”
Karen frowned inquiringly.
“My girlfriend. A colleague.”
“Oh. We won’t be very late.”
Leo hesitated. Judging by the way Mikael looked, he wanted to be alone with Karen, and he could certainly relate to that. But now he noticed that Karen seemed to be rather eager for him to join them. Maybe she felt it would be too intense, with just her and Mikael. He shrugged.
“Right. I suppose I’ll come along for a little while.”
He didn’t call Rebecca. With Mikael and Karen close by, he wouldn’t be able to speak freely.
Karen turned out to live in a beautiful old flat in a building that seemed to hold only large flats. It was quiet and peaceful there, and if anyone was in one of the other flats on the same floor, they didn’t make any sound.
Karen set out wine glasses, plates and napkins. She produced a tray full of several different kinds of cheese and brought a pitcher of dark ruby red wine. Leo smiled approvingly. Karen seemed to have good taste in wines. As if she’d read his mind, she told him about the wine.
“My father owned this place and he had a wine cellar downstairs. I inherited all of it a few years ago.”
Mikael frowned. Karen had told the group about her father and how he’d sexually abused her throughout her school years. Her still living here, felt wrong somehow, here, where her father had abused her for so long. He had felt only relief when his parents had sold the old house and moved to something smaller more easily kept. The new place had no negative associations for him. He couldn’t imagine how Karen could stand living in the same rooms where the abuse had taken place. Of course, that wasn’t his business.
They ate, drank and talked. To Mikael’s surprise Karen drank almost nothing. Perhaps she was concerned about getting drunk. He and Leo didn’t drink much either. They had brought their cars and didn’t dare to get too intoxicated. After a while, he began to feel dizzy. He was wondering if the wine was very strong since it was affecting him so strongly already. Though perhaps it was just that he hadn’t had dinner. He reached for another biscuit and began to nibble on it. Though he hadn’t eaten, he didn’t have much appetite. The biscuits were dry and tasteless.
The room was quite dark and the light from the candles made everything a bit diffuse. The shadows danced in the flickering light and Mikael was becoming concerned that he might have had too much after all. Funny. He used to be able to handle a glass of wine without getting this intoxicated. He noticed that Leo too looked as if he’d had a little too much. It looked as if he was dozing off. It was time for them to leave.
Mikael tried to get up and opened his mouth to thank his hostess, but his legs wouldn’t carry him and he saw that Leo’s head was drooping towards the plate. He didn’t move again. What was happening to them? Once again, Mikael tried to get up, but his head felt so heavy and the darkness was closing in on him. It was so strangely silent too. Tired. He was so tired.
When he came to, he had no idea of where he was. Wherever he was, it was dark and quiet. Almost unnaturally silent. He tried to get up, but found he couldn’t. Something was tying him down. Was this just a bad dream? But he didn’t think he was asleep. He tried to move his arms, but they wouldn’t budge. Neither did his legs. What had happened to him? If only he could remember. Hadn’t he and Leo gone to the meeting in the support group and then – they’d gone to Karen’s place. Karen. Where was Leo anyway?
A muffled moan came from somewhere close by, so close he started. Since he couldn’t move he had to settle for asking again.
“Is that you, Leo?”
“Mm. What the hell are you doing here?”
“I don’t know. What about you?”
There was a pause, then Leo’s voice returned, still hoarse, but now there was a note of concern in it.
“I don’t know either. Where are we?”
“I’m not sure. We were at Karen’s and -”
“That’s right. We had wine and – then what happened?”
“No idea. I can’t move. Can you?”
It sounded as if Leo was trying, but Mikael didn’t think he was succeeding. At least he only felt faint movement from below. Were they on a double bed? He began to feel even more ill at ease. What had happened to them? Why were they here – on the same bed, tied down, in the darkness?
The door opened and a little light from outside touched them. A vague figure was silhoutted against the light. It moved closer and the light came on all over the room. The figure who had entered was Karen. She watched them with a look in her eyes that Mikael found hard to read, but it unnerved him.
She sat down on his side of the bed, watching him quietly.
“Karen? What are we doing here? Why -”
He looked down on himself and noticed that he was tied up, just as he’d already guessed. Securely tied up. So was Leo.
“Why did you tie us up?”
“Release us now. What kind of insane stunt are you trying to pull?”
Karen still didn’t say anything. She just sat next to Mikael, watching him. At times she glanced at Leo, but mainly her gaze rested on Mikael. He faced her, trying to make sense of what was going on. Something about Karen was – abnormal. She looked different than the night before. At least he hoped it was the night before. In any case he wasn’t all that hungry or thirsty and while he needed the bathroom, fortunately, he wasn’t desperate.
“Karen, why did you tie us up?”
Suddenly, she leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. It took Mikael completely by surprise and it didn’t occur to him to press his lips closed. He let her go on, partly because he hadn’t been prepared for what happened, but somewhere at the back of his mind, he had an unpleasant feeling it would be best to humour her.
Leo seemed to be close to panic. He raised his voice and it sounded as if he was about to break into hysterics.
“Let me go at once. You have no right to tie me down and keep me here. And last night – you must have drugged us. What are you trying to pull?”
Mikael didn’t know how to convey the warning to his friend, but he was hoping his voice was somehow communicating a soothing message.
“I wan’t out of here now. Now.”
Karen ignored him, but it was obvious that she was getting more tense while Leo was speaking. She fumbled with Mikael’s clothes and managed to open the shirt. He felt her hands paw at his chest. It made his skin crawl. No one knew where they were. It was dawning on him that this woman was completely insane. The treatment she’d suffered at her father’s hands had made her lose her mind. He thought she would be capable of anything.
For now, he wasn’t going to do anything that might bring on a violent outburst. Even if it was embarrassing to lie here shirtless so close to Leo, while Karen was fondling him, he didn’t dare to make any objections.
Once again she kissed him and this time she continued to shower kisses on his neck and chest. She was attractive, beautiful in fact, but at the moment, Mikael wished himself miles away. Leo too. Feverishly he was wondering how to get his hands on his mobile phone to call for help.
“Karen – I need to go to the bathroom. Won’t you let me do that? Let me loose and -”
At first she didn’t seem to hear him at all, then she got up, her gaze darting around the room. She caught sight of Leo and she began to move around the bed in his direction.
Mikael tried again. Something told him Leo wouldn’t be quite as accommodating.
“Karen, let me go to the bathroom.”
She ignored him and put her hand on Leo’s cheek, though he tried to face away from her.
“No. Don’t touch me. Let me go. You have no right to keep us here.”
Suddenly her hand flew through the air. It hit Leo’s right cheek so hard his eyes began to tear. It felt as if his teeth began to rattle. Clearly she was stronger than she looked. His breath came faster and faster.
Mikael didn’t think it would be long until Leo began to hyperventilate, but there was nothing he could do about that. Or was there?
“Leo – try to calm down. We’d better – take it easy.”
But it was obvious Leo couldn’t hear him. Karen had begun to unbutton his shirt too, and her long, thin fingers began to touch the skin on his chest. Leo strained against the bonds that kept him tied to the bed. His body tensed against the bonds, but they held.
“No. Don’t touch me.”
Horrified, Mikael saw Karen’s long, sharp nails leave red marks on Leo’s chest. The pain made his friend gasp momentarily, then fall silent. There were no more objections and his attention turned inward. Mikael saw his friend withdraw from the outside world.
“Karen. Please. I need to go. It’s quite urgent. At least let me use the bathroom.”
She turned and faced him as if it was only now she realized he had spoken.
She nodded and for a moment, Mikael was hoping she’d go and get something to cut through the bonds tying him down. To his relief, she left the room.
“Leo – try not to provoke her. I think – be careful.”
He couldn’t be sure his friend had heard him. In any case there was no reply and now he could hear Karen’s footsteps returning in the corridor outside.
To his disappointment she had brought something that looked like a thick, flat plastic bottle, with a wide opening. It almost reminded him of a bedpan, one of which he’d had to use during his time in hospital. She wasn’t going to let him go. From her point of view, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Even by himself, Mikael knew that he could easily overpower her physically. She might be insane, but she wasn’t stupid. He sighed.
She began to pull his pants down and held out the bottle. He had no choice but to use it, though Leo was lying there right beside him, and Karen was staring at him with far too much fascination. When he was finished, she took the bottle and left, without pulling his pants up. Mikael felt naked and exposed, lying like that. Leo didn’t seem to be conscious anymore, but it was still humiliating. It was even worse than in the hospital where interns and other staff had been rushing back and forth while he was trying to use the bedpan or receive a sponge bath.
Karen returned, her unnerving interest in his body still unchanged. This time she didn’t settle for just looking. Her thin hands began to fondle him in a new spot. Mikael could understand how Leo had felt. This was – almost as frightening as what Henrik had done to him. He was afraid his lack of response would provoke Karen, but she didn’t seem to react in any way he could detect.
Now she walked over to Leo’s side of the bed and Mikael noticed that his friend was conscious after all. He screamed so loudly any neighbours who might have been around should have been able to hear him, but Karen didn’t seem the least bit concerned.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me, you crazy bitch. Get away from me. Stop. Fuck off. Get your hands off me.”
For a brief moment Mikael thought she wouldn’t listen to him and just carry on anyway, like before. Then she backed up and grabbed a big vase from a table over by the window. She hit Leo over the head with it, so hard Mikael thought he could hear the skull break. He was hoping he was wrong. If not –
She turned to face Mikael again. The remains of the vase, she tossed away, as if she was barely aware of them. She lay down on top of Mikael, fondling him again. After a while, she seemed to notice that he wasn’t reacting as she had expected. She went on kissing him for a while longer, then got up again. This time, Mikael had stopped hoping for any improvement of his situation. He glanced at Leo’s unmoving shape. The pillow was dark with blood and Leo’s face was almost as white as the pillow case had been a moment earlier.
When Mikael faced in the direction of the doorway, Karen was back. She had brought a big carving knife. He closed his eyes. This wasn’t the way he’d thought the end would come. He tried to remember his training in the Guards, to gather all the courage he had left, then he felt the cold steel against his wrist.
He dared to open his eyes again. Karen was untying the bonds holding his left hand. She reached over him and cut off the other one as well. It was a long time before the blood returned to his hands. Mikael clenched his teeth in pain. His wrists were pounding. He tried to move his hands a little. In the end, he was able to.
Karen lay down on top of him again. He noticed that she’d put the knife on a shelf beside the door. When her hands were fondling him again, he knew what he had to do. Slowly he raised his arms. He let his hands caress her hair and back then back up again. He didn’t want this. Not touch her like this and not –
But Leo’s life was in his hands now. If his friend was still alive. His own life too. Perhaps he could – But he had no room left for manoeuvering. If he was going to do something, it would have to be fast. If she had any warning, she’d get up again and grab the knife. He didn’t want to hurt her. He’d been listening to her telling the group about her tragic past. It wasn’t her fault that her father was a sick bastard.
It was time he made up his mind. He could let her have her way. He thought he’d be able to perform for a while longer, but that would only mean postponing the inevitable. He’d never done this in real life, but he knew exactly how to do it. It was just that he’d never expected to have to do it. Least of all to a woman. He felt sick. Then he remembered the sound of the vase breaking over Leo’s head. Leo was his friend. He owed him a chance, no matter what the cost.
His hands closed around Karen’s neck and twisted. She sank down on top of him without a sound. He put his finger to her neck. No pulse. Filled with revulsion, he pushed her body onto the floor.
He was able to get up and get to work on the bonds tying his legs. He was hoping he’d be able to work them loose, because he knew he wouldn’t be able to reach the knife. The bonds ate into his ankles so hard it was difficult even to fit a finger in between them and the skin.
He was forced to lie down again. The room was spinning around him. Suddenly he needed to throw up. He tried to face away from Leo. Some of the vomit landed on his left arm.
He faced back in Leo’s direction and pressed his fingers to his neck. It took him a while, then he felt a weak, irregular pulse. He had to hurry. At least it had been worth it. Mikael forced his thoughts away from Karen’s immobile body, lying on the floor beneath him.
At last he managed to free one foot, then the other. When he sat down on the side of the bed, one foot touched Karen’s body. It already felt stiff, but maybe that was his imagination. He clenched his teeth and stepped over her. The mobile had been in his coat pocket. He had to find it.
He was still dizzy and once he threw up again, before he began to feel more steady on his legs. The flat was big and dark, but in the end he managed to find the hallway, where he and Leo had left their coats. When his fingers made contact with the mobile, the relief almost made him black out.
Hands shaking, he punched in the number. He didn’t recognize his own voice. It sounded more the way Leo’s had a moment ago. When he was sure the ambulance was on its way, he sank down onto the floor, burying his face in his hands. He could still see Karen’s head in his mind’s eyes, and the way it had been twisted at an unnatural angle after he’d –
When the paramedics arrived, he forced himself to show them the way to the room where Leo was. He tried to sound calm and sensible, but he knew he was only barely keeping the panic at bay. At least for a moment more.
After they’d carried Leo away, they returned for him. They asked for his name and what injuries he had, but he found it hard to answer.
“Mikael? Look at me. Is there anyone you would like us to notify? Mikael. Can you hear me?”
Mikael considered. He didn’t want to see his father, not now. For a moment, he wondered if he ought to mention Rebecca’s name. Leo would want her to be with him. But for himself, he couldn’t think of anyone. His ex-wife wouldn’t appreciate being involved. Then he remembered Malene and the warm look in her eyes. Malene – why had their relationship ended? She was so – loving and comforting and –
“What? Who is Malene? Your wife?”
“Girlfriend. Ex. A colleague. Malene Bork. In my mobile. And Leo’s girlfriend, Rebecca Neumann. You’ll find her name there too. Colleague.”
He showed them the mobile. One of the men took it and made him lie down on a gurney. Mikael closed his eyes again. If Malene came, maybe he’d feel better. But what he’d done couldn’t be undone. He’d always have to live with the memory. Then he remembered Leo. It was important to remember Leo, not Karen.
“My friend – Leo. The one who was here – Will he be alright?”
The paramedics exchanged looks, then one of them nodded.
“I should think so. He has a bad lump on his head and a nasty cut too, but it looks as if his skull is intact. I’m guessing it’s just a concussion. Though the doctor will be able to tell you more.”
“But – I heard -”
“Would did you hear?”
“It sounded as if -”
“What you heard was probably just the vase breaking. Big, ugly thing. But your friend will be ok. Don’t worry about him.”
That was enough for him. Malene would come. Leo would be alright. Mikael gave up the struggle to remain conscious. It was over. When his eyelids closed again, he didn’t bother opening them again. The darkness was far more inviting than the harsh light of dawn out there and the silence beckoned to him. He wasn’t seeing Karen’s body anymore. He didn’t remember anything.