He poured the white powder on to the table top, arranged it to his satisfaction, using a razor, then rolled up a piece of paper. Bending over, he proceeded to inhale the coke, tensely awaiting the rush. Each time it took a little longer. The predominant emotion was guilt, though. Every time he did this, he knew the price he was paying and he wished he had the strength to pull out.

But his contemplation was interrupted by the delayed reaction to the drug. Time enough for worrying later. Now he was feeling great. Great enough not to care too much about paying the bill. The music, which moments earlier had seemed too loud, suddenly felt invigorating. He wanted to be on the floor, dancing, moving about, mingling with the other guests.

Subconsciously, as always, he was looking for Emilia. Though he doubted he’d find her, he couldn’t stop scanning the room for her. And to his amazement, someone looking exactly like her sidled into the room. Martin began to inch his way over to the doorway, hoping against hope that it would be her.

”Emilia?”

By the way she shrank back, he knew it was her. Why did she always react that way when they met? Before she found out about his modelling, her face had always lit up when they saw each other. Now, she seemed to detest his company.

And somehow, he couldn’t blame her. Even if she didn’t know about the coke or the price he was paying for it, the modelling, the partying and the lifestyle in general was more than enough. She wasn’t impressed with superficial qualities. Neither was he. But he needed the money, and besides, Dan would never let him go. There were times when he could – To his relief, she didn’t try to ignore him. His greeting was met by a shy smile.

”Oh, hello.”

He was too pleased to see her to question her reason for showing up in the first place. Or why she didn’t seem to be dressed for the occasion. His first impulse was to ask her to dance, then he wondered whether he ought to introduce her to some of the other guests. Judging by the expression on her face, neither seemed to be a good choice. But he still didn’t have a clue as to why she’d come to a party she hadn’t been invited to and clearly wasn’t enjoying.

Now what? He knew that if he didn’t say something soon, she’d be gone again in the crowd, but he was also all too aware of the risk of saying something wrong. Besides, the time was slipping away. Soon Dan would be there, demanding his pound of flesh and then –

”So – I didn’t expect to see you here -”

Was he mistaken or was that a flush creeping over her slightly pale features? Unlike most of the other female students, she hardly ever seemed to develop a tan. Maybe asking about her reason for being at the party had been a mistake, and hurriedly, he clumsily tried to cover his own confusion by speaking too fast. His head was feeling light and by now, the full impact of the cocaine rush had set in. Though only seconds ago he’d been struggling for the words, everything fell into place.

”Let me show you around. If you’d like me to introduce you to anyone -”

”No, thanks.”

If he’d been paying attention, that came out rather too quickly, but again, he didn’t notice. Anyway, he didn’t really want to share her with anyone else. If only things could be like before. Before things got this complicated.

”Right. This way.”

After a moment’s hesitation, she nodded absently and followed him out of the large room, where most of the party guests were crowding each other, trying to score, working out deals, gossiping, networking, whatever it was called. He led her up the stairs and into a smaller room, that looked like a more normal living room.

”How did you do on the test?”

”History? Ok, I guess. What about you?”

He shrugged vaguely. The truth was he hadn’t quite managed to get up that morning. But he was going to nail it the next time. The teacher was eating out of his hand. She was past middle age and though she thought no one could guess her real age, it was only too plain to see. That in itself was no problem. What was, was that she apparently believed she hadn’t lost it. But as far as Martin could guess her powers of attraction must have begun to fade along with the eighties.

History was one of his favorite subjects, and he’d studied as much as he could fit into his tightly packed schedule. English literature was another favorite, but nothing came close to creative writing. That was where he had met Emilia.

”The paper is due next Monday.”

”I know. Did you finish it?”

”Not yet. But I will. Did you?”

”Almost. Do you like this?”

He indicated the room around them, but Emilia could tell he was referring to the music, just like she knew that he was trying to change the subject. That was a bit odd, since he’d been the one who had brought it up in the first place. His mind seemed to be on other things, which wasn’t surprising.

Why should he even notice her, when he was surrounded by other models, groupies and wannabes? Perhaps he felt he owed it to her ‘for old times’ sake’. They had been taking the same classes for nearly three years now.

”I guess.”

Actually, she loved the band, but she hadn’t come to listen to music, or mingle. She shouldn’t have come, but something kept her coming back. As if some strange obsession had her running after the best looking guy at uni. Didn’t she have any dignity at all? She shouldn’t have come, but now that she had, she ought to get right up and leave. Stalking him like some crazy fan was worse than pathetic, it was downright – crazy. But there were times she felt she’d do anything to –

”So do I. Come on, let’s dance. No, no, not this time, don’t just sneak off. It’s a party, so let’s party.”

Without listening to her protests, he grabbed her and began to sway slowly to the music. It was the drug talking now, the normal, everyday Martin. He’d never force her to do anything, and if she pulled herself free, he’d have to let her go. But miraculously, she didn’t push him away. Tensely, she let him lead, poised for flight at the first opportunity. For a few seconds, he allowed himself to savour the scent of her hair, the feeling of her smooth cheek against his. Her body felt wonderfully soft and –

A dry laugh from the doorway broke the spell.

”Why don’t you introduce me to your friend, Martin?”

That voice – He should have known it was too good to be true. Lamely, he let his arms fall down by his sides. Emilia retreated to a safe distance, and her face became an unreadable mask.

”Of course. Dan, this is Emilia, a good friend from uni. Emilia, this is my agent, Dan Ecker.”

”Enchanted – Emilia -”

Dan’s voice appeared to imply the exact opposite, and in fact, Emilia didn’t reply, hardly even acknowledged the man’s presence in the small room.

”I have to go. Work on that paper. You know -”

”Yes. See you in classes tomorrow?”

He hadn’t intended to say that. The words just left his mouth before he’d had time to think. Tomorrow morning there was that photo shoot for the Italian magazine. He’d fly out to Milan before 6.

As if reading his mind, Emilia’s voice rang out clearly in the sudden silence, while the CD player switched track.

”I don’t think so. Maybe next week?”

”Yes, definitely. See you in the library?”

”Maybe.”

Dan Ecker watched the little scene with interest. So that was Martin’s true preference? Interesting. You never could tell. Obviously, blonde and slim didn’t do it for pretty Martin. Though Dan’s taste in women ran towards the anorectic, fake and plastic, he knew many men liked a bit of shape to a woman.

It made sense. The more of something nice the better. Some women actually paid to pad their bras like that, but if Dan wasn’t mistaken, that bosom was the real thing. And the hair was most likely genuine too. Very nice. If the girl had been into acting – Or if she could sing, maybe – Yes, he thought he might well find a market for her type.

Wisely, he kept his thoughts to himself. Affecting indifference, he smoothly intercepted Martin as he seemed about to walk a couple of steps in the girl’s direction.

”Feeling ok? Nothing wrong with the merchandise?”

”What? Oh, no, it was fine.”

After a long pause, Martin remembered his position, and added a less than sincere thanks.

”Thanks.”

”Excellent. Perhaps we should mingle? There are a couple of people I’d like you to meet.”

”Girls?”

”Potential employers. I think it’s been a while since anyone’s referred to Helene as a ‘girl’. If you play it right, she’ll want you for the entire package. The entire season. And you know what that means. Paris, Moscow, Tokyo. New York.”

”Yes. I know. Good.”

Martin’s tone of voice didn’t fool Dan for a minute, but he couldn’t care less how the model felt, as long as he performed. At work and in private.

”Then there’s Sergio. More work in Italy is exactly what you need. They love your type down there.”

”I’m not blond.”

”Oh, they like your colour scheme too. Anyway, to them, you are blond.”

”Whatever. Well, let’s go then.”

”Not so fast. Anja’s got a new girl. Russian, Ukrainian, something like that. You’d look perfect together. Get her a drink. Dance with her. Or do you want people to say that you’re gay?”

”What does it matter? They’ll say it anyway. And that I’m into kids or whips and handcuffs.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Martin regretted them. Why did he have to give Dan ideas? That kind of thing would make the old creep lick his lips in anticipation.

”Come on.”

Now there was a touch of impatience. They both knew who ran the show. With the drug in his system, it took Martin a little bit longer to remember, but when he did, he slumped down and nodded.

”Of course. I’ll do it. When can we get out of here?”

”Don’t worry about it, you can get a bit of sleep on the plane. And lucky for you, this range needs a guy who looks exactly like he’s come from a long night of debauchery. Isn’t the new millennium fantastic? Anything sells, but nothing sells like a hint of decadance.”

”Yeah. Let’s go.”

*

From her corner of the room, Emilia could follow Martin’s every move, without being noticed. The crowds were even thicker now, and the cigarrette smoke was thicker, the lights dimmer. By now the guests were more mellow, but more predatory at the same time. Twice she had to deflect unwanted attention from older men who seemed to think they were Brad Pitt.

Once a strange young woman approached her, and for a while Emilia thought she too was hitting on her, until she realized that the girl was trying to get rid of her, so she could grab the spot to spy on a very handsome young man at the other end of the room. He was totally unaware of the attention fixed on him and the two blonde girls who hung one on each arm. They were practically identical.

Though Emilia was normally shy and retiring and totally out of her depth here, she managed to scare the obsessed fellow stalker away. Her feathers slightly ruffled, the girl retreated while she still had some dignity, but Emilia felt that if they ever ran into each other again, she’d have to watch out.

Left to herself, she watched Martin get the exotic looking girl a drink, then lead her to a comfortable couch by the window. For about twenty minutes they appeared to be deep in conversation. Finally, they got up, and Emilia thought Martin would leave, but instead, he put his arms around the girl and danced with her, exactly the same way as he had earlier with her.

That bitch – Emilia’s hands clenched and unclenched of their own volition. If she could only meet that girl face to face somewhere, she’d stuff those expensive shoes down her throat. What did she weigh? 45 kilos? Emilia was surprised Martin didn’t cut himself on those sharp bones.

At long last, the girl left with someone who might have been her agent, a masculine-looking older woman, who seemed to be busy checking out the rest of the room, calculating if maybe she could poach on some other agent’s territory.

Now she expected Martin to leave as well. If he really was going to work the next day. She was pretty sure he wasn’t going to uni, or spend the day working on the paper. With all this – why would he want to study? He’d never have to apply for a teaching job or work as a shop assistant.

To her surprise, the agent again attached himself to Martin, and this time led him back up the stairs.

She didn’t want to, and she hadn’t intended to, but somehow, she found herself following slowly, hesitatingly. The guests were beginning to leave in twos or threes. Soon her presence might be questioned and by then, someone might discover that she didn’t have an invitation, or had arrived in someone’s company. At the door, the guy who had appeared to be checking the new arrivals had been busy receiving a small package from a shifty-looking guy outside what looked like a bathroom.

Too late to back down now. She was upstairs, and following behind the two men at a safe distance. What a house. Mansion might be a more appropriate description. It was more like a dorm corridor on campus. Not that she lived in one. Though the tiny room she rented was very nearly beyond her means, it was a luxury she had to allow herself. She needed privacy above all else.

A frown of concentration appeared on her face, but she was too busy to guess the purpose of the men’s presence up here. She suspected some kind of drug transaction. It was nearly six months since she’d discovered Martin’s habit. He probably didn’t suspect she had any idea. But though drugs weren’t her scene, she knew something was wrong, and it couldn’t be a coincidence that his mysterious symptoms had appeared since he’d begun working as a model.

To her disappointment, the older man shut the door rather firmly behind them. Undecisively, she remained standing in the corridor, wondering what to do. The smart thing would be to call for a girl’s taxi and go home. She’d be tired enough in the morning if she left now. But she didn’t move. There had to be something she could do. A noise from behind alerted her to the fact that someone was coming. The host?

Maybe, but whoever he was, he was accompanied by a girl who looked exactly like one of Martin’s colleagues. In fact, Emilia had seen her face plastered all over town, advertising some expensive brand of make up. She ducked into the room beside the one where Martin and the other man had disappeared. With her usual luck, the couple would be heading for this room and then she’d be caught.

But the room she was in, didn’t look like a bedroom. It was hard to imagine that someone could live in a house like this all on his own. How many rooms? She couldn’t even begin to guess. Anyway, this appeared to be where he kept his expensive wardrobe. A dressing room. This guy must make an impressive amount of money doing – what?

Shrugging impatiently, she dismissed the thought. That wasn’t what she wanted to know. She’d come this far, she might as well go the whole distance. A french window was standing slightly open, and she walked over there and peered outside. The room next door opened on a large balcony. From here you could see the landscaped garden, with the pool.

But the pool wasn’t what Emilia was staring at now. Martin was standing only a couple of meters away, fortunately looking in the other direction. She ducked down, hiding behind the door, still staring through crack between the door’s hinges. This way, she could observe the scene without being noticed herself.

Martin had a cocktail glass in his hand. But he never drank alcohol – Oh, well, she’d been wrong about a lot of things about him. This was just a minor detail. Now the man was saying something from inside the room. She had to focus.

”Are you done yet?”

”In a minute.”

Martin didn’t sound a bit drunk. If anything, his voice sounded cold and alert, but there was a distance that suprised Emilia. When he was talking to her, he always sounded so – warm and open.

For a while, nothing else happened. Martin stood there watching the garden, thoughtfully toying with the glass. He wasn’t drinking anything, just swirling the clear fluid around.

”How about now? We’ll have to leave for the airport in a few hours, and you need to look fresh on the plane. You never know when one of those paparazzis is going to show up and catch you on a bad day.”

No reply, but Emilia could see that Martin was irritated by the man’s insistence. If he was after some drug, surely he’d be more anxious to finish the deal?

Noiselessly, the man must have approached from inside. Emilia was almost as startled as Martin appeared to be. He tensed up, and tried to move away, as the man put his hands on his shoulders.

”Don’t let me stop you from contemplating the scenery. We can do it right here. Terje is busy with little Lena.”

”I said in a minute. Just let me finish this drink.”

”That’s what you said five minutes ago.”

Martin swept down the contents of the glass and flung it down onto the patio down below, where it crashed into little pieces. If he had expected the older man to react to that, he was mistaken.

Unperturbed, the agent – Dan – , began to unbutton Martin’s shirt. Amazingly, Martin didn’t push the man’s hands away. Though still as tense as before, he stood, awaiting the man’s next move.

Emilia’s breath caught in her throat. So this was it. Of course. He didn’t want her. He didn’t even want that emaciated model. A man was what he desired. What a fool she’d been making of herself. Everyone else must have known all along. The girls must have been laughing at her behind her back. Kristin, Sofia, Jenny – She hated them, and now she’d given them an excuse to ridicule her.

Though she wanted to run away, far away from this place, something compelled her to stay and watch. This was the most heart-breaking scene she’d ever witnessed, yet insanely, it was also the most breath-takingly beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Her fingernails penetrated the sensitive skin inside the palms of her hands, but she was oblivous to the pain. All that mattered was to devour every detail of what was unfolding before her eyes.

By now, Dan had managed to remove Martin’s shirt and his hands were sliding over the smooth hairless skin of Martin’s back. Moving closer, he put his face against the younger man’s neck and shoulders, letting his lips explore the taut lines.

Emilia could hear a muffled sigh escape Martin. She didn’t want to see, she wanted to see, she had to go, she had to stay. Caught in the moment, she remained crouched, her eye to the crack.

Dan’s hands moved further down Martin’s body, fiddling around with something outside of her vision, but when Martin’s jeans began to slide to his knees, she realized what the man was doing. He moved closer still, pressing his hips into Martin’s ass, while his hands continued the exploration.

Again, a slight noise could be heard. She didn’t want to listen, but couldn’t help straining her ears to catch Martin’s reaction. Was she a masochist? Why did she continue to watch avidly though the pain was as poignant as the excitement that was stirring inside her?
She thought she saw Martin grinding his ass into Dan’s crotch, but maybe she was imagining it. This was easily the sexiest thing she’d ever seen. No, the sexiest thing she’d been able to imagine.

The jeans fell to the floor, and responding to Dan’s urging, Martin stepped out of them. Propelling the model toward the door, Dan was able to drag him along. The last thing Emilia saw before the men vanished into the murky depths of the bedroom, was Dan’s hands guiding Martin’s face closer to his. Their lips met – but now the men were out of sight.

Unless she wanted to make her own situation even more impossible, the show was over. Taking a deep breath, Emilia was at last able to tear herself away. It was over. Not only the show. Everything was over. Now that Martin was gone, the pain took over. Her eyes filled with tears. She’d known all along that someone like Martin wasn’t for her.

But somehow, she’d imagined – against all hope, she’d hoped – for a miracle. A miracle that would never come. All that was left was a dark despair that ate through her, darkening her mind. That man – Dan something – how she detested him. She wanted to – Yes, she wanted his death. If he died, maybe the intense hatred inside her would die, leaving her empty, but in peace.

*

”What’s wrong?”

”Nothing.”

”Come on. You’re not fooling me. This is me, your old buddy. So tell me all about it. Is it that guy Martin again?”

”No. Not that guy Martin. But you’re right. It’s something to do with him.”

”What did he do this time?”

”Never mind what he did. Can we talk about something else?”

”Of course. Whatever you say, sweetheart. Oh, don’t look like that. Come here.”

Viktor held out his arms to her, and though she wasn’t really into all that hugging and touching and fussing, she let him hold her. Though she had never been much of a crybaby – they had pretty much taken that out of her in daycare – her face crumpled up and she felt hot tears sting her eyes. What a fool she’d been. She should never have followed Martin, never stayed behind after the other guests, like a mad stalker. If she hadn’t seen what she’d seen, she wouldn’t be feeling this way right now.

Making small soothing noises, Victor did his best to comfort her. She could feel his hands making little circles on her back. Eventually, it began to have an effect. What would she do without Victor? He was such a sweetie. In many ways, he was the perfect guy. Certainly, he was her best friend.

Viktor knew she would tell him sooner or later. She always did. He could always unravel her secrets.

”There. Feeling better?”

”I guess so. Ok. I suppose I’d better pull myself together. This isn’t doing me any good.”

”It’s perfectly natural that you feel betrayed. A guy like that -”

”Viktor.”

He recognized that tone, and let the matter go for the moment.

They returned to the library, and sat down to some more study. When the deadline came, they would both have their papers ready.

Around four, Emilia decided that she’d had enough work for the evening. She picked up her notes, and stuffed them into her backpack.

”All done?”

”For now. I’m tired -”

”Pizza?”

”No, thanks. Viktor, you’ve been terrific, but I feel like I could sleep for a week.”

”Ok. I’ll see you tomorrow in class?”

”If I can’t make it, I’ll call you.”

”Don’t stay up all night worrying, deal?”

”No worrying. Check. Honestly, I’m alright.”

Her eyes belied that light statement, but again, Viktor let it go. It was no use pushing. If she didn’t want to hang out in the evening, he could get a bit more work done before dinner.

On her way out, she ran into Karina, one of the less obnoxious girls from her history class. With an effort, Emilia smiled and prepared herself to be open and charming. In a way, she put on her public face. It was what people expected, and anyway, normally, she didn’t mind chatting for a few moments.

”I haven’t seen you for a while. Have you been sick?”

”No, just personal stuff. But I’ll get that paper in on time. What about you?”

”Yeah. I’ll manage. So, where are you off to? To hear the band?”

”No. Just home to get some sleep. I’ve been working pretty hard lately.”

”Haven’t we all? Listen, what’s wrong? You look kind of -”

”Awful?”

”No, don’t be silly. Just upset.”

With a sigh, Emilia realized that she couldn’t keep her state of mind a secret to the people who knew her.

-Guy problems.”

”Right. But I thought Viktor -”

”Oh, Viktor – He’s really sweet, but he’s – not really my type. And I doubt if I’m his type either, if you see what I mean.”

”Oh. I think so. I’m sorry. Well, you know what they say, there’s always one waiting around the corner.”

”I know. Thanks. It’ll be alright. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got it covered. Look, I need to go. Talk to you later, alright?”

Karina was left staring in confusion after her classmate. She’d never seen Emilia this – fierce. It looked as if she could kill someone. Karina was glad she wasn’t the one who had stolen her guy, whoever he was.

Oh, wait a minute. Didn’t someone say that Emilia’s guy was a model? That scene, all those female models. Of course someone like that had shown up and what guy would say no? Poor Emilia. Or – judging by her expression – poor girl whoever she was, who had enticed her guy away from her.

*

Martin was sleeping. He had been dreaming about something unpleasant, something so horrifying, he simply had made himself forget about it. Traces of the feeling lingered, and he woke up in a cold sweat, to the sound of insistent pounding on his door. What? Had he overslept and missed a shoot?

No. Today was supposed to be one of his few days off, when he would take time to recover from the intense schedule of work and partying, while making some half-hearted attempts at studying. Actually, he had planned on working on the paper today. But whoever was outside his door, seemed to have other ideas.

”Alright, alright, I’m coming.”

He looked down on himself to check if he was presentable, and found that he’d been sleeping in nothing more than a towel. So he’d come straight out of the shower. Last night – Shaking his head impatiently, he grabbed the robe and hurriedly put it on, while making for the door.

Fumbling with the lock, it was a while before he was able to get the door open. Outside, two grim-looking men were standing, looking like they meant business. For a second, Martin feared some drug mafia’s vengeance, but then he decided that it was absurd. He paid for his stuff, in a currency that was more expensive than it was worth. The price was his life.

”Yeah? What can I do for you?”

”Martin Landstrom?”

”Yes, that’s me. What’s this about?”

”Do you know a man by the name of Dan Ecker?”

”Of course. He’s my agent.”

”When did you last see him?”

”Last night – but you still haven’t told me what you want from me?”

”At what time did you leave his house?”

”It must have been around 1.30, 2 at the latest. Why?”

”Mr Ecker is dead. He was found dead in his bedroom this morning, by his cleaning lady.”

”Dead? I – When I left, he was fine.”

”Can anyone vouch for your arrival here? At what hour, by the way, did you return to your apartment?”

”I don’t know. At that time in the morning – I couldn’t get a cab, so I took the subway, then walked. I saw a couple of people about, but they were pretty drunk. I have no idea if they’ll recognize me. They didn’t look like the kind of people who would be interested in the world of fashion.”

”I’m going to have to ask you to come down to the station to sign a statement, and to provide your fingerprints and a blood test.”

”Am I under suspicion?”

”At this point, this is just a routine inquiry. You may refuse to accompany us, but if you do, your behaviour can be interpreted as suspicious. What’s it going to be?”

”Oh, I guess, I’ll come. Can I make a phone call?”

”To whom, if I may ask?”

Martin’s first impulse had been to call Emilia. But judging by the cop’s reaction, he’d only manage to drag her down with him. Next followed an instinctive reaction to refuse downright, or to contact a lawyer.

He didn’t know much about legal matters, except for what he’d seen on tv, or in movies, but he wasn’t naive enough to believe that was realistic to any greater degree. Besides, most of the dramas were produced in Hollywood. European conditions most likely differed a great deal.

”Never mind. It will keep. Just give me a moment to get dressed.”

To his relief, the two cops backed off and allowed him to get ready in relative peace. His mind was racing over the possibilities. The cops hadn’t told him the cause of death, but he was guessing they wouldn’t be anxious to hear his statement, as they called it, if Dan had died of natural causes.

Martin’s face lost all colour when he recalled how much he’d hated the man. There had been times when he’d have loved nothing better than to smash his fist into that leering face. Had he told anyone? Had his reaction been clear to anyone but Dan, who appeared to take his feelings as a splendid joke?

But then Dan always enjoyed playing with fire. At least according to Dan himself. Martin had been forced to listen to plenty of stories of how Dan had slept with the wives of rich and powerful men, or their daughters, or on occasion with their sons or the men themselves. This time, he’d gone too far. If you play with fire for long enough, it’s not surprising if you get burnt.

Feeling more helpless than ever before, Martin trailed after the plain clothed officers, grateful that at least they were driving a similarly plain car. His neighbours might not long be deceived about his destination, but at least it wasn’t immediately clear where he was being taken.

Down at the station, it wasn’t long before he became aware of the direction the line of questioning was taking. Even if the cops still insisted that the interview (or interrogation) was merely routine, Martin had no doubt that he was under suspicion. And though he tried his best to act normally, he knew that he was pale and shaken.

If they began to run tests – Traces of his presence in Dan’s house had to be plentiful, even in the private areas of the house. And faced with such overwhelming physical evidence, how could they fail to find him guilty?

Now he was glad he hadn’t given in to his initial impulse. Why should he drag Emilia down with him? It was bad enough that she’d know all about his degradation once the scandal hit the media. He knew that she had little respect for a profession as shallow as modelling, and he didn’t think she could be naive enough not to guess about his drug use, but the rest – When she knew all of it, she’d recoil in disgust.

For a second, Martin wanted to confess and get it over with. Then maybe the full extent of his involvement with Dan might never be known. But some stubborn shred of pride made him hold on to his idea of justice. You were innocent until proven guilty.

When he couldn’t take it any longer, he got up and faced the man in charge of the interview.

”All these questions – it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where they’re heading. I think I’d better call my lawyer.”

”If you feel that way. Please. Be my guest. Interview interrupted at 1.18 p m. Suspect exits the interview room.”

‘Suspect’. There it was. Even though Martin had sensed it was coming ever since he’d learned about Dan’s death, it was chilling to find himself under investigation. Not for drug possession, or drunk driving or anything like that. Murder.

He had a sick, suffocating feeling that the room was closing in on him. The looks on the men’s faces didn’t hold a hint of mercy. There was no compassion, no understanding to be found here. These men were after their killer and they’d stop at nothing to get him.

But people didn’t get sentenced and sent away if they weren’t guilty, surely? Right. It was on the news. People who had spent a year in jail were finally granted a new trial, and were acquitted. They demanded ridiculous sums of money in damages, as if you could ever be compensated for something like that.

It wasn’t just the loss of freedom. Once you’d been branded a killer the stigma stuck. And there was more. Even if he was eventually found not guilty, his reputation would be lost. His career, such as it was, would be over. He would be finished. Everyone would know who and what he really was.

From the time his lawyer had arrived, Martin felt that everything escalated faster than his mind could take in. It wasn’t long before he was taken to a cell. A cell? Things like this simply didn’t happen. There were men in all the other cells. Drunks, bikers, one guy who was stoned or something, and was yelling bloodcurdling curses at the cops, promising a swift retribution against someone named Cecilia, who appeared to be his wife or girlfriend.

Fortunately, Martin was locked into a cell that was empty. It was so small, he had difficulty breathing. He knew it was just his mind playing tricks on him, but he felt an acute attack of claustrophobia. The whole place was so bare and grim looking, and despite the strong smell of disinfectant, an underlying stench of vomit or worse stuck to the place like a thick blanket.

They took away his belt, his shoe laces, more or less everything, leaving him wearing just a pair of jeans, socks and a t-shirt. He was told to sign for his possessions. With a sigh, he did.

Whatever he’d guessed his life would be about, this was as far from it as it possibly could. He had always thought that one day, he’d have finished his degree, and he’d have earned enough to choose his own way in life. As always, life had its little tricks to play on you.

*

The next phase of the investigation focused on the suspect’s friends, colleagues, fellow students and other people who might shed any light on the motive for the murder. Forensics had come up with plenty of suggestive theories and the post mortem even more. But somehow the true motive of the crime still eluded the investigators.

On Wednesday morning, just as Emilia was about to rush into the lecture hall, late as usual, since she didn’t live on campus, a man stopped her. Believing it was something to do with her registration, she swore under her breath, and prepared herself to miss the lecture.

It was going to make her life more difficult, but it wouldn’t cost her her degree. Not if she could hand in her paper before the deadline. The last test had gone ok, if not as well as she’d hoped. She’d been worrying too much about Martin. It had been nearly three days since she’d last met him, and when she’d asked around, no one else had seen him either.

For hours last night, she’d been hovering near the phone, her hand ready to pick up the receiver and dial his number. But the memory of what she’d seen last weekend still haunted her. Why would he want to speak to her?

And even if he did, she was tired of always being the best friend, ‘one of the guys’. She was a woman too, and she needed a boyfriend, not another gay buddy. Though of course, Viktor was a sweetheart. She didn’t know how she’d have managed to get through the past week without him.

”I did pay the fee, honestly. I know it’s a bit late, but you can ask administration. The secretary will tell you -”

”Miss Sanden?”

”Yes. What is this about?”

”I’m Detective Steen. May I speak with you for a moment?”

”Police? Alright.”

She couldn’t figure out what this man wanted with her. He obviously had the wrong person. There were plenty of people who did drugs, and a couple of anarchists who might or might not have been using not quite legal methods to announce their protests against society, but she didn’t know any of those people personally.

She wasn’t a member of any political party, and certainly didn’t do drugs. An occasional pain killer was the only connection she had with drugs, and as for alcohol, she was over the legal age, easily. Not that she drank much. Her tastes ran more towards cider and mineral water.

”I have a lecture, but I suppose -”

The cop ignored her hint, and ushered her back into the cafeteria. By now, it was virtually empty. Some girls were sitting at the back of the room poring over their books, and one guy was frantically scribbling notes on the pages of a notepad, but no one was within earshot. Not even the guy who worked behind the counter. He was doing something over in his cubbyhole and you could hardly see him from where Emilia and the cop were sitting.

”Do you know a man named Martin Landstrom?”

”Yes. He’s a student here.”

”What about Dan Ecker?”

”Yes. I’ve met him.”

Emilia was beginning to feel decidedly uncomfortable. This was about the last thing in the world she wanted to discuss, especially with a stranger.

”Dan Ecker was killed sometime during last weekend.”

”Killed?”

Her voice came out a lot more shrilly than usual.

”Yes. He was murdered. Someone hit him over the head repeatedly, until he died of a fractured skull.”

”Oh.”

”It would help our investigation if you could tell us all you know about mr Ecker and mr Landstrom.”

”Well, I don’t know mr Ecker at all. I only saw him briefly, the weekend before last.”

-Where did you meet him?”

”There was a party – Anyway, mr Landstrom introduced me to him, but that’s all. He didn’t strike me as a very nice person.”

”What makes you say that?”

”He didn’t sound very nice, that’s all.”

”Did mr Landstrom appear to find him – nice?”

What an odd question. It was almost as if he knew – Emilia paused to consider her options. If she said yes, maybe the cop would ask if she knew anything about the relationship between the two men, and she’d be forced into explanations about her connection to Martin.

On the other hand, if she said no, wouldn’t that make Martin seem suspect? Perhaps that was the whole point of the interview. To cast Martin as the bad guy. She didn’t want to help them with that, no matter how betrayed she felt. Martin couldn’t help being who he was, anymore than she could help feeling the way she did about him.

”I don’t know. Like I said, I was in the room with them for maybe two minutes. It was late and I had to leave.”

”I see. And there isn’t anything else you can tell me about the relationship between mr Landstrom and mr Ecker?”

”Why should I be able to? I know Martin a little, since we’re taking the same subjects, mostly. But he’s been very busy with work, so I haven’t seen him a whole lot in the past year or so.”

She could tell that she wasn’t doing a very good job, evading the man’s questions. If he wanted to, he could probably ask around. Virtually everyone knew about her friendship with Martin. Though she didn’t like to dwell on it, most of those people probably guessed how she felt about him. But it was too late to change her mind about what attitude to present to the cop.

”You left the party right after you’d been introduced to mr Ecker?”

He made it sound as if she’d been driven out of the house by Dan. Which in a way was only too true, except for the fact that she’d stayed and watched the scene between him and Martin. Unfortunately, she had also followed Dan and Martin to Dan’s place once, and only last Thursday, she’d followed them to Martin’s place. She had to be a masochist, because what she’d learned hadn’t taught her a lesson.

By now, her hesitation hadn’t been lost on the cop. What was she going to say? Emilia cursed her own stupidity. She’d entangled herself in a sticky mess and she had no idea how to escape unscathed.

”Well – not right away, but quite soon.”

That wasn’t true either, and she knew how she sounded. Like she had something to hide. The cop didn’t have to be brilliant at his work to figure that one out.

”I see. What were your feelings towards mr Landstrom?”

”My feelings?”

Again, her voice had betrayed her. She wasn’t handling herself at all well. Not a bit like she’d imagined she’d do, if she was ever questioned by the police. When she wasn’t studying or reading some absorbing book, she loved to watch tv, and cop series were among her favorites.

She’d always laughed at the dumb women who left themselves open to more questioning by sounding less than sincere. But she hadn’t bargained on how hard it was to lie, and get away with it. She could do it, especially if she wasn’t facing the person she was talking to. But not when it came to something this momentous.

”Yes. Did you like him? Dislike him? Surely that isn’t such a difficult question? Not half as difficult as the questions they’ll be asking you at that lecture you were supposed to go to.”

”I guess not. Well, like I said, we were friends during our first year. From then on, I’ve seen less and less of him.”

There. Emilia felt that she was doing better again. That hope was shattered as soon as she heard the cop’s next question.

”Friends? Did you date?”

”No, not really.”

”Not officially?”

”I don’t know what you mean by officially. He wasn’t my boyfriend if that’s what you’re asking.”

She’d lost her temper, and she knew that always placed her at a disadvantage. That cop was smiling infuriatingly. It was as if he saw right through her, drawing conclusions she could only guess at, but somehow she didn’t have a doubt that they would be uncomfortable to say the least.

”He isn’t your boyfriend, but you’d like him to be?”

By now she’d had it with the questions. Let the man draw whatever conclusions he liked. Love wasn’t a crime.

”So what if I did? Martin is a very attractive guy. And a good guy, which isn’t quite the same. Why shouldn’t I be attracted to him?”

”Quite right. Why shouldn’t you? It appears a number of people shared your appreciation for him. Would it surprise you to learn that mr Landstrom and mr Ecker were lovers? Or at least that they had sexual relations?”

While he was talking, the man’s shrewd eyes bored into Emilia, making her feel exposed. It was like when she was a child and had taken some of her sister’s candy. Her mom knew it was her, though Emilia was sure she didn’t have any stains of chocolate around her mouth. Knowing that her mother suspected her had infuriated her, even though she was guilty. This time, the nature of the conflict was far less clearcut.

”Yes. Why should I know that? It’s not the sort of thing someone would tell you, is it?”

”You were friends. I thought maybe he’d confided in you.”

”Well, he didn’t. Is that all? Like I told you, I’ve got a lecture -”

”Yes, you told me. You know what else I think? I think that you were in love with mr Landstrom. When you learned that he was involved with someone els – a man – you didn’t like it very much, did you? Or perhaps you were in fact lovers, but some time you learned that he was cheating on you. With another man. How did that make you feel?”

Emilia couldn’t think of a thing to say. How did that man guess? Was she that obvious?

”Martin and I have never been lovers.”

The cop nodded wisely and Emilia wanted to shout with frustration. Again, she’d given him more information than she’d intended to.

”I see. But you wanted that, didn’t you? I’ve been talking to your classmates, and it’s common knowledge that your feelings for mr Landstrom were strong. Obsessive in fact.”

Obsessive? Who did she have to thank for that judgement? Kristin? Jenny? Any of those bitches would gladly sell her out. It had clearly been beyond their comprehension why a guy like Martin would choose the company of someone like Emilia over them.

At times, that had given Emilia an unworthy sense of triumph. Maybe she’d gloated a little too much. No one likes to acknowledge defeat, and certainly not to an opponent so unworthy, from the point of view of those girls. Now she was paying the price for her petty reaction.

”Obsessive? That’s ridiculous. I think I know who told you that. Perhaps you ought to ask your informant how she felt about Martin herself. Or ask anyone else. If I was obsessive about him, then so were most of the female students here.”

”Perhaps the males as well?”

Emilia shrugged. If so, no one had dared to make his feelings known.

”Is that it? Do you have any further questions for me?”

Her anger felt liberating. Whatever conclusions this man had drawn, she couldn’t do anything about it. Let him insinuate, let him throw his ridiculous, though humiliating accusations at her. Sticks and stones –

”No, I think we’re done for today.”

For today? That had an ominous ring to it. Now that Emilia’s anger was simmering down a bit, she realized that if her movements had been observed, she might end up in more trouble than she’d first anticipated. Perhaps losing her temper hadn’t been a good idea, but when had she ever been able to control her temper?

”Good.”

”I’ll get back to you if I have further questions.”

”I can’t stop you.”

”Just a moment. Can I have your phone number and address?”

”I suppose so. I’m surprised you don’t already have it.”

”Naturally, I can get them easily, but now I’m asking you.”

”Fine.”

She gave him the information he wanted, and turned to leave. It was a relief to finally be allowed to go. The interview had been an eerie experience, and not at all like she’d imagined it might be. But she’d relaxed too soon.

”Oh, and miss Sanden -”

”Yes?”

”This might come as a surprise to you, but we have arrested your friend mr Landstrom for the murder of mr Ecker.”

What? Martin? But –

She waited for the cop’s next words, but they didn’t come. Instead, she saw the man leave by the other exit.

This was impossible. Martin wouldn’t – He wasn’t the sort of person who would kill someone. Or – Didn’t he have the best possible motive? Emilia had read somewhere, and not in a cop story, that the most likely suspect in any murder was the victim’s partner or a close relative. If Martin and Dan had had a falling out – or if someone had cheated –

She shook her head despondently. It wasn’t her problem anymore. If Martin had loved her – But it was obvious that he couldn’t care about her, if he was involved with Dan. She’d better focus on clearing her own name, not worrying about Martin. Still, she couldn’t help dwelling on Martin’s warm smile whenever he caught sight of her. Was it possible that he could be so two-faced?

*

Inspector Steen pressed a few keys, entered a keyword, and while the screen flickered a couple of times, the information he was seeking appeared. He whistled softly to himself. Yes. Another piece of evidence.

”What are you so happy about?”

”Come here, Erikson. Take a look at this. What did I tell you? Our pretty boy isn’t as innocent as he looks. Figuratively speaking.”

”Drunk driving?”

”Without a license.”

”Says here he was 17.”

”You see.”

”But he wasn’t convicted.”

”Yes he was, but the sentence was revoked. That doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got him.”

”Are you saying this proves he battered the agent to death?”

”His agent, dealer and lover.”

”Even so. I don’t think this proves anything yet. You have to admit that being drunk and driving a car when your underage isn’t quite the same thing as beating someone to death.”

”He’s been using drugs for over a year. That can change people. And if the violent tendencies were there all along -”

”Yes. Could be, but I still say we need to keep looking. We still don’t have a motive. Killing a dealer, it’s like biting the hand that feeds you, isn’t it?”

Steen waved his colleague’s words away. As far as he was concerned, the killer was as good as locked away already.

Erikson shook his head. In his experience a badly built case could easily collapse in your hands, leaving you without a perpetrator, with an unsolved crime. He scanned the screen in front of him, and found a name, and a police department. Just in case, he might as well call and sound his colleague out about the drunk driving case. Sometimes you didn’t put everything into the report. There could be other interesting facts, that only the investigating officer could tell you.

The voice at the other end of the line turned out to be female.

”Wall.”

Erikson introduced himself, by rank, explaining where he was from and exchanged a few polite phrases before getting to the point.

”So what can I do for you?”

”We’re investigating a homicide. I thought maybe you could help me shed some light on one of our suspects. He was in trouble some years back, on your turf.”

”Oh? Let’s hear all about it then.”

In a few words, he outlined the basics of the case.

”Hm. I see. For what it’s worth, I think you have the wrong guy. Just a feeling.”

”But he killed someone five years ago?”

”That’s just it. Chances are, he didn’t. I spoke to the two girls who were in the car with him, and they first claimed it was the other guy who was driving. Landstrom’s cousin. As it happens, that guy’s father is a very rich man. It seemed to me Landstrom was pressured into taking the fall for that. His cousin was older, and would have been given a harsher treatment, if found guilty.”

”I see. Interesting. What about other priors? Did you uncover anything at all? In particular anything violent?”

”No. Nothing. I could be wrong, but he struck me as a good kid.”

”Oh. What about drug use?”

”No drugs, as far as I knew. A bit of alcohol, but they all do that.”

”Another thing – Any indication he was gay?”

”Gay? Are you kidding? He was the girls’ favorite. I don’t think so. Why?”

”The victim and Landstrom were lovers.”

”Seriously? I guess that goes to show you never can tell. Anything else I can do for you?”

”No, I think that was about it. Thanks. You’ve been very helpful.”

”Let me know if you catch your bad guy.”

”Will do.”

Erikson toyed with his pencil while he was digesting this new information. All along he’d felt they had the wrong guy. Something about this guy didn’t add up. He just didn’t seem the type to bash a sleeping man’s brains in. If pushed into a corner, anyone would fight back, but this type of crime took a colder, more calculating mind.

In the meantime, he realized that in the absence of any other strong suspect, his partner would go ahead and push for a confession. Erikson didn’t think that Steen seriously entertained the idea that Landstrom’s little friend would have been provoked into such a killing frenzy, even if she’d known about the liaison between the two men.

He was right about his partner’s intentions. It wasn’t long until he called Landstrom in for more questioning, with the purpose of securing a confession. While Erikson had his doubts, he knew that he wasn’t in a position to stand in Steen’s way.

Sometimes repeated interrogation might produce a confession. It had been known to happen from time to time. And at present they didn’t have any irrefutable evidence pointing in any direction.

Watching the interview from beyond the one-way screen, Erikson couldn’t deny that his colleague was skilled at this. His technique was brilliant. Without in any way appearing physically hostile, he was expert at pushing his suspect into a corner, figuratively speaking, from which he’d have a difficult time extricating himself.

”Why didn’t you tell us about the man you killed five years ago? I asked you if you had any priors, and you said no, didn’t you?”

Landstrom had changed in the week or so since they’d booked him. His former good looks were still there, but he looked defeated, tired, pale. It seemed to have been a while since he’d last managed to get a good shave, and the shapeless overalls he was wearing, hid his well built body. At Steen’s words, he seemed to shrink further and a wary look crept into his eyes.

”Oh. That.”

”Yes. That. You got drunk, got in the car, though you didn’t have a license and a man got killed. That’s hardly something to dismiss so lightly.”

”No.”

Martin’s voice had dropped to something barely above a whisper.

”And here you are again, at the scene of another murder. Pardon me. The first one was deemed manslaughter, later reduced to reckless endangerment. But do you detect a pattern here? I think I do.”

The suspect didn’t reply. There didn’t seem to be a need for one. He felt as if he was losing his foothold in reality. One thing happening after another, taking him further and further away from his normal, everyday life. It was like a nightmare, but one he somehow knew he couldn’t wake himself from.

Not paying attention to the police officer turned out to be a mistake. It seemed the man had tired of his monologues and was going straight for the jugular.

”Did you kill Dan Ecker?”

”No.”

”No? Well, who did? If you didn’t, only one other suspect remains. Your little friend, Emilia.”

”Emilia? That’s impossible.”

”Is that so? Look at the facts. She’s been seen near the scene of the crime, only days before it occurred. Witnesses also place her near your apartment, a few days earlier. Were you doing her before you went on to sleep with your agent? Or were you two-timing them both?”

”That’s not -”

”What isn’t correct?”

”I wasn’t sleeping with her.”

”No? Maybe she wanted you to. I think she found out about you and Ecker, and somethingflipped inside her brain. If you didn’t kill your lover, she must have.”

The thoughts were whirling around Martin’s head. She knew? Impossible. But if she did – What if she’d found out after all? If she was the one who had killed Dan, then she had to love him a lot more than he’d dared to hope.

Suddenly, Martin knew that was the truth. Emilia. That explained a few things. Things he hadn’t wanted to understand, but was now beginning to make sense. He’d seen her outside his apartment.

She’d withdrawn into a doorway, but he’d know her everywhere. At the time, he’d been hoping against hope that she might have been on her way to see him, to talk things through. Now her presence in his neighbourhood lent itself to a more sinister interpretation.

”She wouldn’t have done something like that.”

But he didn’t sound too sure of himself.

”If she didn’t, then you must have. Why did you do it? If you explain that to me, so I can understand it, perhaps we’ll be able to go easy on you. Was he blackmailing you about the dark secret in your past?”

Something about the suspect’s features changed, and Steen knew he’d been right about his guess. Blackmail. That put a totally different slant on the situation. Ecker had been blackmailing Landstrom. Somehow he’d learned about the drunk driving incident, and was extorting sexual favours from the model.

Yes, it made sense. But a guy like Landstrom wouldn’t tolerate being treated like that for long. He’d snapped and the gruesome scene in the bedroom had played itself out.

”I -”

”Come on, mr Landstrom. You’ll feel a lot better after you’ve confessed. Or are you still saying it was your little friend who did it?”

”I never said she did. You did.”

”All I did was point out that someone had to have killed mr Ecker. I’m saying it was you or her.”

Who else could it be? Can you show me any other likely suspect? Who would have had a reason to kill him, other than you or miss Sanden?

Emilia. It all came back to her. Martin couldn’t believe she’d been capable of such a crime, but in a way, it made sense. He was crazy about her, but he’d seen tendencies to fly into a temper. She’d always try to smooth things over, but at times, he’d seen a glint of steel in her eyes.

He’d never felt threatened, or even alarmed about it. What man feared the strength of a young woman? But with Dan asleep in his bed, she could have managed to sneak up on him, and wreak such terrible vengeance on him.

And how could he blame her, if she had? There had been times when Martin himself had wanted nothing more than to get his hands around Dan’s neck and throttle him. But he couldn’t let her take the blame for this. It was his problem, he was the one who should have sorted it out.

Was his career really worth prostituting himself over? Today, he would have said no, without hesitation. Emilia and everyone else were able to get through university without resorting to that kind of degradation. He could have as well. What a fool he’d been.

”Alright. You win.”

”What did you say?”

”I did it. I killed Dan. I’m not gay. I’d had enough of his pawing and ogling and – Anyway, I saw red and I killed him.”

”What weapon did you use? Where is it now?”

”I thought you wanted a confession? That’s what you’ve been telling me ever since you brought me here. I did it. End of story. Now I’m tired. We can go through the details later.”

Steen considered Landstrom’s request. Yes, he’d earned a break. Let him get some rest and some nutrition. Now that he’d secured a confession, Steen wasn’t in such a hurry as before. The details would keep.

”Very well. Interview concluded at 9.57. Suspect exits interview room.”

In a way, it was a relief. All those questions had almost made Martin feel as if he was somehow responsible for Dan’s death. Maybe he was. If Emilia had killed him out of jealousy, he was to blame, indirectly. He should have declined the modelling job.

If he had, he and Emilia might be together now. None of this would have happened. Dan would have been sleeping with some other wretch, and their lives would be continuing along normal lines. But he had been weak and self-centered enough to relish the fame, the attention, the money – all the trappings of celebrity and wealth.

For the first time since he’d answered the door, finding two police officers on his doorstep, Martin felt he could relax. It was over. The nightmare was over. Though at the back of his head a little voice was whispering that it had only begun. Next would follow the trial, then he’d be transferred to a prison. He had only vague ideas of what it would be like, but at the moment, he was too exhausted to feel much concern.

It was odd, but the small cell had ceased to suffocate him. Now it felt like a safe haven. If only he could get some sleep. He was sure he’d feel more himself in the morning.

On his way out, followed by the guard, he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings, until a small noise made him look up. His eyes met Emilia’s. The chance encounter startled him out of his brooding. Without words, he tried to convey his love for her.

There wasn’t anything else he could do for her, but at least he would pay the price for her crime. The look in her eyes wasn’t easy to read, but somehow, maybe out of his urgent need to believe so, he felt there was some warmth there. It was over in a heartbeat. He was led into the corridor of cells, she seemed to be taken to the interview room. That was all.

To Emilia the brief meeting meant no less. Whatever kept them apart, she couldn’t deny to herself that she still had feelings for Martin.

She was stunned to realize that Martin had pleaded guilty to the murder. Her own interview was cut short, and she found herself standing outside the police station, her mind in turmoil. It never occurred to her that he might be innocent. She herself had fervently wished to see Dan dead. How could she question Martin’s actions, now that she’d learned the truth about the relationship between him and Dan?

That it in itself caused the most reaction in her. So that was the explanation. Then maybe – If Martin wasn’t gay, then was it possible that he might have feelings for her after all? Her first impulse was to rush back inside and demand to talk to him. On second thought, she decided to give the matter more thought before comitting herself.

But no matter their feelings for each other, Martin was now going to be tried and sentenced for a murder. Nothing would be the same from now on.

As the dull, leaden feeling set in, Emilia felt that an abyss was opening before her. Life without Martin for whatever reason – how was she going to endure that?

Without thinking, she returned to university, at a loss, not knowing what to do, or where to go. There she ran into Viktor. It was such a relief. Finally, someone who cared, someone who would understand.

”What’s wrong?”

”It’s Martin. He’s confessed to the murder.”

Something moved in Viktor’s eyes, but he said nothing, just silently urged her to go on. He put his arms around her, and led her to a chair in a secluded place.

”I can’t believe it. He wouldn’t do something like that.”

”I guess you never know. Isn’t it time you faced the fact that the creep was never right for you? What else do you need to convince you of that?”

Emilia was too shocked to really pay attention to Viktor’s tone.

”I’m just so tired. I need to go home.”

”Come with me. Let me make you dinner and look after you. You shouldn’t be alone after all this.”

Yes, it would be a relief not to have to face her tiny apartment alone right now. Without protest, she let Viktor lead her away. Nothing mattered anymore.

Despite herself, she began to feel a little better, after watching Viktor walking around, fussing over her, getting her dinner. He wasn’t Martin, but there was no denying that all this affection was warming. At least she’d always have Viktor, whatever happened. His loyalty was reassuring.

Once dinner was over, and Viktor had cleared away the dishes, Emilia looked at her watch. She should get going. Sleep was what she needed. She felt as if she could sleep for a week. It would be better if she never woke up again. Life was getting too complicated for her. There didn’t seem to be any way out. From here on, she could only see her life going downhill. Fast. Now Viktor seemed to be done in the kitchen, and he smiled warmly.

”Thanks, you’ve been great. Sometimes, I don’t know how I’d get through the day without you. Like today. You’re a darling.”

”I do my best.”

”I should get going.”

”Wait. Don’t go yet. I thought we could talk.”

”About what? Ok.”

Viktor had never seemed this intense before. In the past, he’d always struck Emilia as a very laidback person.

He sat down beside her, and moved closer. She had no idea where this conversation was leading, but she imagined that he was anxious to reassure her further.

”In all the time we’ve known each other, there’s something you’ve probably never guessed.”

”What’s that?”

He was a sweetheart, but at times he could be such a bore. At the moment, all she wanted was to get home and into bed.

”You’ve only had eyes for that guy Martin. Now that you know what kind of person he is, maybe you’re prepared to give me a chance.”

What? This simply couldn’t be happening. She had to be imagining it. Viktor wasn’t into girls. In the time since they’d come to know each other, he’d never once shown an interest in a girl. But he appeared to be in total earnest. This was beginning to scare her. He was looking into her eyes with an intensity she’d never noticed before.

”Viktor -”

”No, don’t say anything. Just give me a chance to prove myself to you. I’ve been there for you all this time, but you never realized how I felt about you, did you?”

”I’m sorry but I -”

She might as well have kept quiet. Her words didn’t appear to reach him. He was running his fingers through her hair, pulling her closer, closing the distance between their faces. With revulsion, she felt his tongue snaking in between her lips. Instinctively, she recoiled.

”It’s always the same. He was always in the way, but now – I want you, I need you, Emilia. I hate him. Those good looking guys always take everything for granted. The girls fall for them, and never bother with what’s on the inside.”

Again, he pulled her closer, and she felt his body press into hers so hard it hurt. By now she was terrified. This wasn’t the Viktor she knew.

”Viktor, please, you’re scaring me.”

”You’ve got nothing to be frightened of. Can’t you just accept that? We’re finally rid of him. At last. Forget about him. In there, he’ll find a whole new set of admirers.”

The way Viktor sounded, it now dawned on Emilia that not only was he totally obsessed with her, he also hated Martin beyond reason. She felt a chill go down her spine. It occurred to her that maybe Martin hadn’t killed Dan after all. But that was a later concern. Right now she had to focus on distracting Viktor.

”I don’t want to think about that now. Can’t we just relax a little? Do you have any wine?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Viktor appeared to relent.

”Yes. Hold on a sec. Don’t go anywhere.”

”I’ll be waiting.”

Emilia couldn’t believe she was using that stupid flirtatious tone. Even less credible was that Viktor would buy it. But it seemed he did. Men could be such morons, which was lucky for her. So far so good. If only she could get him to keep drinking, until he dozed off.

”Here. It’s not champagne, but close. We have a lot to celebrate.”

Would it be ok to ask him what that was? But Emilia didn’t trust this stranger, and she merely smiled encouragingly.

”To us.”

”To us.”

Fortunately, for her, she could take a lot of alcohol without being affected. When the bottle was empty, Viktor had drunk greater part of it, but he still showed no tendency to get sleepy. Emilia smiled insincerely, desperately searching for a solution to her problem.

”Thanks. That was wonderful. You don’t have anything stronger? After all the emotional upheaval, I could use a nightcap.”

Was he going to fall for that ruse? His predatory grin made her realize that he saw an opportunity to weaken her reluctance.

”I think I do. You look tired though, do you really think you’ll need a nightcap?”

”Maybe not, but I’d like one anyway. You know, to help me relax a little.”

Again, she accompanied her suggestion with a seductive smile, at least that was what she hoped it looked like. It wasn’t anything she’d had much practice doing.

”Then of course we’ll have one. I won’t be a minute.”

”Thanks, you’re an angel.”

A demon, more likely, but she’d tell him anything that kept him in a good mood for a little while longer.

He returned bringing the bottle, and two new glasses. Emilia hated the stuff, but she knew she’d drink it no matter what. At least she knew that Viktor couldn’t hold his liquour. It had been the source of countless jokes between them over the years.

”To us.”

Emilia contented herself with smiling again. Was it this easy to string a guy along? Just smile and agree with everything? If she hadn’t been so terrified, she’d have laughed out loud at the simplicity of men. And to think that she’d found Martin complicated.

To her relief, the mad glint in Viktor’s eyes was dimming and he appeared to relax. If she hadn’t seen his earlier transformation, she’d have believed her old friend was back. But she wouldn’t let herself be fooled into a false sense of security. While pretending to enjoy her drink, she discreetly studied Viktor out of the corner of her eye.

”Relaxed enough yet?”

”Yes. I feel fine. What about you?”

”I’m doing great.”

Once again, he leaned over to pull her into his arms, but this time, the grip was looser, less threatening. He was beginning doze off. She only hoped he wasn’t trying to test her. But while he still held on to her, she felt his head sliding down to rest on her shoulder.

Her resolve returned. In a minute, she’d try disentangling herself. That was when she felt a hand moving up underneath her top. It came to rest on her right breast. Emilia had to use up all her willpower to stop a shudder of distaste.

A soft snore told her that Viktor had finally fallen asleep, if the thin trickle of saliva from the corner of his mouth didn’t tell her as much. Gross. How she’d wished that he had been gay. Then he might have been drooling all over some guy instead. But the washing machine would take care of that. Now Emilia had had quite enough. She had to get out. Right this minute.

Slowly, inch by inch, she removed Viktor’s possessive hands, and withdrew from his embrace. Anxiously, she watched his sleeping form for any kind of reaction, but nothing came.

The couch was comfortable enough, and now his head was resting on a cushion. Much better. Not even taking time to straighten out her clothes, Emilia grabbed her jacket and opened the door. Still not a sound from inside the apartment.

*

Outside on the landing, she paused and listened anxiously. No. Nothing. All was quiet in the dorm. Now if only her luck would hold and Viktor wouldn’t wake up and come looking for her.

Down below, she again stopped to consider her next move. Her place wouldn’t be safe. Viktor had been there too many times, and she didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Perhaps one of her friends would take her in temporarily, before she had decided what to do.

But Viktor knew all her friends as well, and where they lived. Karina and her boyfriend might be willing to offer her shelter for a limited time, but Emilia didn’t want to bring this down on them.

She still couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. Her old friend Viktor, an insane, obsessive madman? Insane. And maybe a killer too? Emilia was beginning to think that the best place for her to go would be the police station. If she could get there before Viktor woke up and found her gone. Wouldn’t he guess where she’d be going and follow her there? She couldn’t afford to waste time hesitating.

When was the first morning bus into the city centre? She didn’t have a watch on, and had to spend precious moments walking over to the main university building to look at the clock there. 5.15 or close enough. Wasn’t there a bus at 5.20? Yes, one that left the end station one block away. If she hurried, she could make it.

Running across the lawn, she got a stitch in her side, but she kept up the pace until she saw the bus stop. No bus yet. What if it had already left, or was going to be late? Every second counted, she felt that keenly.

There, finally. And still no sign of Viktor. Emilia walked over to the open door and was about to get in, when she remembered that she didn’t have any money. She hardly ever needed any around campus, and she hadn’t been back to her own place since yesterday morning. The bus driver gave her a strange searching look.

”Anything wrong?”

”Yes. I’m sorry, I don’t have any money, but can I get on anyway? It’s really urgent. I need to get to the police station right away.”

The bus driver seemed to consider her request, then nodded. She had an eerie feeling that her face was looking odd, and that maybe the man could guess something had happened to her. But he didn’t ask any more questions, just closed the door behind her and drove off.

There weren’t any other passengers waiting that morning, so she found herself outside the police station before 6. Would it be open that early? But that was silly. Wasn’t the point of having a police station, that it would always be open and ready to combat crime?

The officer on duty in the reception area subjected her to a rather penetrating stare, and Emilia wondered if she ought to come right out with her accusation then and there, or – No, she couldn’t do anything until she’d spoken to Martin. If he could assure her he hadn’t had anything to do with Dan’s death, then she’d know what her course of action should be.

”Yes?”

”I know it’s early, but could I speak to Martin Landstrom? He should be in one of your cells, or have you had him transferred yet?”

”Martin Landstrom? He’s still here. Our men are still trying to get a statement out of him.”

”Yes, ok, I see. Could I see him, please?”

”Now?”

”Yes, now. If it isn’t too much trouble.”

Emilia knew she was about to cry, and she wanted to shout at the impossibly slow officer, but with an effort she controlled herself. She also hated the pleading note in her voice, but didn’t know what to do about it. Since she’d found out about Martin, her whole world had fallen apart. It was all she could do, holding herself together.

”Well, I suppose that would be alright. Just in case, I’ll ask the officer in charge of the case.”

Please don’t let it be Steen. Let it be the other guy, the older man. He seemed less forbidding.

”Wait here.”

The officer left the reception desk and disappeared inside a set of glass doors. He returned after what could only have been less than a minute, but which in Emilia’s mind felt like half an hour.

”This way, please.”

”Thanks.”

She was going to be allowed to see Martin. That was all that mattered. It would be ok. She was inside the police station. Viktor couldn’t get to her in here. They would be safe, both of them.

Though the old policeman seemed to move impossibly slow, she forced herself to remain calm. After what seemed like an eternity, he led her into a small windowless room.

”Stay here. I’ll bring the prisoner in a minute.”

There were just two chairs and a table in the room, and just one exit. Normally, such a small room might have made Emilia feel claustrophobic. Today, she hardly noticed. All her thoughts were focused on the meeting ahead.

The door opened, and she realized that she wasn’t ready to see Martin yet. What would she say, how would he react to her presence? Perhaps Viktor’s aversion to the better looking young man had misled her. For all she knew, Martin might still be guilty. This had been a mistake.

But he didn’t look as if her presence was unwanted. His face lit up, and the look in his eyes was one filled with hope.

”Emilia. You came. I thought I’d never see you again.”

The guard pushed Martin forward, leading him towards the table, and the chair opposite the one Emilia was sitting on. Not until now did she see the handcuffs that held Martin’s hands linked together. The guard opened one of the cuffs and fastened it to the table, which appeared to be secured to the floor. After that he stepped back, and, incredibly, left the room, leaving the door open.

”I -”

She hadn’t anticipated how strongly the sight of him would affect her. He was changed. Surely he couldn’t have lost weight since their last meeting? But he looked smaller somehow, less self-assured, more – desolate than ever. And now Emilia realized that all last year, he’d become sadder with every day. Like her. Though hardly for the same reason.

”I just want to tell you that – Dan and me – it wasn’t as you might have thought -”

”No. I know. The cops told me. He was blackmailing you. There was something he knew about you from the past.”

”Yes. When I was 17, I was out with my cousin Anders and two girls. We’d been drinking and -”

There was an accident and a man was killed. Somehow Dan had found out about it and he gave me the choice of – I should have told him to go to hell, but I was a coward.

”You were driving?”

”No. But my cousin would have been hit harder if it had become known that he did it. So his father asked me to take the blame. I didn’t even have a license. Still don’t. It’s on my record. I don’t know when I’ll be allowed to try again. Anyway, that was what I wanted to tell you. And Emilia – I understand why you did it. I don’t care about that. All I care about is you. I should have told you ages ago. I love you.”

This was like a dream. How many times had she made believe she’d heard him say those words? But there was something she needed to tell him. And what had he just told her, right before he’d said he loved her?

”Why I did what? Martin, I love you too, but there’s something I need to ask you.”

”Alright. Ask me anything you like.”

”Did you kill Dan?”

What? She was asking him if he’d – Had he got it all wrong? If she was asking him, she could hardly have been the one to – But then who –

”I thought you did.”

”Me? Why would you think that? Oh.”

She felt her face flush all over. He’d known. Just like everyone else, he’d known how she felt. But she reminded herself that it was ok now. He loved her too.

”I wanted to, I just didn’t know how. But if you didn’t, why did you say you did?”

”They said it had to be either you or me. And I guess – I’m sorry. It just seemed like you might have. I saw you, you know. Outside my apartment. He was in there waiting for me, but I saw you, even though you tried to pull back, so I wouldn’t see you. And they told me you’d been outside Dan’s place too. So, I guess I -”

”I see.”

”Why did you want to ask me if I did it? Emilia, is something wrong? You look so -”

”Yes. It’s Viktor. Martin, I think he did it. I think he killed Dan, but I think maybe he was after you. He hates you.”

”Viktor? I’m not surprised. He’s been after you ever since the first year.

”But I thought he was gay.”

”I don’t think so. There are so many gays in the business, I think I can tell. He’s been all over you. I’m surprised you never noticed. What about him? Did he hurt you?”

Did he? Oh, this was so complicated. Suddenly, Emilia felt weak. Viktor hadn’t exactly raped her, but it had been very close. It wasn’t until now that the feeling had had time to sink in. If she hadn’t thought of getting him drunk –

”Emilia?”

She could hear Martin struggle with the handcuffs, but they held him fast.

”No. The sick bastard. I wish – Emilia, I can’t come over to your side, so would you like to come here?”

Yes. She wanted to be with him. She wanted him to make everything alright. But the warmth in his voice made the tears she had been holding at bay, begin to fall. This was something she hated. Crying in front of other people. It made her feel weak and pathetic and she couldn’t stand that.

”Wait, it’s not like you think. He tried – but I managed to stall him. We had some wine and – anyway, he got drunk and fell asleep.”

”Thank goodness. Darling, I wish I could have stopped it from happening at all, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even stand up for myself against Dan. But I promise you, it’s going to be alright. He’ll never lay a hand on you again. Just tell the police what you told me, and they’ll take care of it. But first, won’t you come here. Damned cuffs. I can’t move an inch.”

At long last, her legs obeyed her, and she rounded the table and put her arms around Martin. That made her feel a lot better already. She could feel his free arm move around her, patting her back reassuringly. Gingerly, to avoid the cuffed arm, she sank down on his knee. This was another thing she was uncomfortable with, at least under normal circumstances.

She wasn’t a child. Girls who sat on the laps of their boyfriends were wimps. But at the moment, Emilia was shaken enough to accept his comfort without questioning her appearance. His cheek felt rough against hers, but she’d never felt anything quite as wonderful. They could sit like this all day, for all she cared.

Far too soon, the guard looked inside and coughed discreetly. He was showing far too much consideration, compared to earlier, but they hardly paid attention.

”If you’re done, Detective Steen would like a word.”

Steen? Oh, no. But maybe it was for the best. They needed to tell someone about it all anyway.

”Oh, yes, of course.”

Guiltily, Emilia got up and was about to leave the room, when she saw the officer standing in the doorway.

”No need to get up. We’ll have another chair brought in. Now, may I have a word with you?”

”Sure. But -”

Steen ignored her and went on as if she hadn’t spoken.

”Now, I’d like to hear your statement, miss Sanden.”

Emilia’s words came bubbling up all at once. She was anxious to get the disturbing story off her chest.

Detective Steen didn’t interrupt, just let her finish. When it became apparent that she was done telling her story, he gave her a thoughtful look, then turned to Martin.

”And you, mr Landstrom? Do you have anything to add?”

Martin thought about it. No. What else could he say? Except make it clear that he hadn’t killed Dan, even though he’d pleaded guilty to the charge. He didn’t have time to begin. Steen got up, and began pacing around the small room. Without warning, he turned and confronted them.

”You know what I’m thinking? The two of you were in cahoots all along. You came up with the idea of killing mr Ecker. Perhaps you, mr Landstrom, noticed mr Ecker’s interest in you, and placed yourself at his disposal, to gain his trust.

Or it could quite simply be that once the novelty of the gay affair was fading, you were tired of your lover. Together you dreamed up the ruse of one of you pleading guilty to the charge, then to change your plea. Mr Edlund must have seemed like the perfect scapegoat.”

”What? What would I have to gain by letting Dan – by agreeing to his demands?”

”You were his favourite model. That must have given you a special position. He provided you with drugs. Did you pass some of them along to your girlfriend?”

”No.”

”We’ll see. A simple blood test will give me the answer. Even if the motive was mr Ecker’s blackmail, I still say you were in it together. You, miss Sanden, wanted your lover’s full attention. It must have been intolerable for you to see him in another man’s arms.”

Emilia looked down at her hands. In this at least, the cop was right. She’d hated Dan, with a smouldering intensity. Under different circumstances, she might have killed him. And she knew the thought had crossed Martin’s mind as well. How were they going to be able to disprove Steen’s accusations?

Martin looked defeated. Seeing Emilia again had filled him with a sudden wild hope. Now every chance of a future together had been cruelly snatched away. He ought to have known never to expect any mercy from this cold, hard-eyed man. All he cared about was finding a culprit. He didn’t care who he sacrificed. But it was all wrong. They hadn’t committed any crime. It was so unfair.

A knock on the door distracted them from their dour thoughts, and everyone’s eyes turned inthe direction of the noise. Detective Erikson walked in.

”Can I have a word with you?”

A look of dismay spread across Steen’s features.

”Not now. I’m in the middle of an interview.”

”Yes now. Some new information about the case has come to light. Outside now.”

”Fine.”

Steen looked like he wanted to call in the guard to cuff Emilia to the table as well, but he was torn between the wish to obtain another confession and his partner’s insistence.
The door was shut, leaving them alone again.

”I’m sorry, Martin. It seems I only made things worse.”

”He’ll never be able to nail you to the killing. You were never inside the bedroom. There can’t be any evidence linking you to Dan.”

”But if you saw me outside your place, he could have witnesses placing me on the scene as well. I kind of -”

”I know. He told me. You’re right. He does have a witness, but that doesn’t matter. You were never inside the house. No judge would accept that as evidence. I hope.”

”So do I. But if he doesn’t have any of Dan’s blood on any of your clothes, he can’t get you either.”

”I know. But he’s got my confession. Emilia, when he returns, don’t say anything. You’ll have to demand to see a lawyer. If you don’t make any admissions -”

”You think I want to leave you to take the fall? It’s my fault you felt you had to confess in the first place. And if I hadn’t made a fool of myself over you and Dan, I wouldn’t have been seen anywhere nearby. I feel like such an idiot.”

”No, you’re not. I can’t believe you love me that much, after you found out about me and Dan.”

”I – I hated him so much.”

Martin squeezed her hand, and Emilia realized he was trying to stop her from saying anything incriminating, in case they were being monitored from outside. She changed her choice of words, but knew she had to go on and get the matter out into the open.

”I felt so betrayed. But then I heard that you were being blackmailed and I allowed myself to hope again.”

”I can’t believe you still feel that way about me, after – How did you find out anyway?”

Martin wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but somehow, something made him inquire anyway.

”At that party – I thought you were involved with that blonde model or whatever she was. I – oh, god, I feel such a fool. But I guess I’d better tell you all about it, now that we’ve brought it up.”

I stayed behind, after the other guests had left. Like some mad stalker, I spied on you. And of course I found out far more than I’d bargained for.

She gave him a sheepish grin, but her behaviour seemed to be of very little interest to Martin. His face reflected feelings of guilt, shame, and regret.

Emilia had seen him and Dan together. He’d already guessed as much, but knowing for a fact, was worse. She’d seen the guy’s hands all over him, maybe – No. Unless she’d been in the bedroom with them, she couldn’t have seen much more than she might see in any of today’s sexually explicit fashion ads.

Even so, the whole idea made him nauseous. But no matter what she’d seen, she still wanted him. He’d have to focus on that. It would have to be enough to get him through the years ahead. He’d end up in jail, but Emilia would still love him. If only they could keep her from being implicated.

Now the door opened again, but Steen was conspicuously absent. Instead Erikson walked in, looking far more reasonable. He had brought the guard.

”Would you uncuff mr Landstrom? Thanks. We’ll manage without them. There. Much better. Now we can talk.”

”What’s happened?”

”Oh, I just received some new information, which puts a different slant on the whole case. Am I right in assuming that you came here to make a statement, miss Sanden?”

”Yes. I -”

”Can I just ask you a question?”

Emilia fell silent. She had no idea where this was leading, but she had a sudden hope that maybe their luck had changed.

”Does either of you know a man by the name of Viktor Edlund?”

”Yes.”

They spoke at once. This was eerie. It was as if the police officer had read their minds. Now it occurred to Emilia that the room might have been bugged.

”Miss Sanden?”

”Yes. He is – was – a friend of mine.”

”Was?”

”He was a classmate of ours.”

”So you both know him?”

”Yes.”

”May I ask the reason for the change in his status as your friend, miss Sanden?”

Yes. That’s why I came here. I think he killed Dan Ecker. He’s -”

”We think so too. You see, only last night, forensics found a fingerprint we’d previously missed. Being thorough, we’ve taken the fingerprints of many of our primary witnesses. Not your friend’s though. But as it happens, we were able to identify him anyway. In his teens he was hospitalized for several years, over a violent episode in which he’d attacked another boy at school. The boy was injured. Quite seriously too.”

”I see.”

”Just for the record, I’d like to ask both of you again. Miss Sanden, did you kill Dan Ecker?”

”No, sir, I didn’t.”

”Mr Landstrom?”

”No.”

”But you confessed to the murder anyway.”

”I thought that Emilia had done it.”

”Yes, that’s what I thought. Now, miss Sanden, can I hear the reasoning behind your suspicions of mr Edlund?”

”Are you just going to sit here, while he’s still running around free?”

”No. He’s being picked up as we speak.”

With that fingerprint, it seemed they already had enough evidence to tie Viktor to the crime, so Emilia couldn’t understand why they had to sit here, talking. But she humoured the officer, and gave him the few facts she had.

She didn’t tell him what had nearly happened between her and Viktor, but she sensed that he most likely guessed anyway. There was nothing she could do about that. As long as Viktor was locked up and put away for good, that was enough for her. And now she’d had enough of this little room, and she was pretty sure Martin had too.

”Does this mean we’re free to go?”

”Yes, of course.”

”Good. Then I’d like to get out of here now. We both would.”

She looked across at Martin, and the sentiment was echoed in his eyes.

”Come on.”

She reached out her hand towards Martin and he took it.

Erikson walked ahead of them towards the reception desk. The man in charge nodded a greeting to his colleague.

”Can we have mr Landstrom’s things, please?”

”Right away.”

Ten minutes later, they were standing outside the police station, dazed and stunned, wondering where to go.

A police car slowed down and pulled to a stop outside. When the door opened, they saw Viktor being led outside, handcuffed. Two officers were flanking him, making sure he didn’t stray.

His eyes met Emilia’s, and she felt a chill go down her spine. The senseless, burning hatred, frightened her. He seemed to see right through her, but when he caught sight of Martin, the face was twisted into a rigid mask. Instinctively, they took a step closer to each other, and Emilia felt Martin’s hand close on hers.

It was over. Their part in the case was over, at least for now.

”I’d like to go home now.”

”Can I come too?”

”Yes, of course. Do you have any money?”

”Money?”

”I don’t. The bus driver let me come anyway.”

”Oh. Yes, there should be something in my wallet.”

He looked through it, and realized that he had more than just something.

”We’ll get a cab.”

He might as well spend what he had left, because he knew he’d never get back to his old life again. If others could get by on less, so could he. What had all the money he made given him anyway? Nothing.

He couldn’t quite believe that he’d come through it all, and with Emilia still by his side. Wearing his own clothes had never felt so good. Smiling, he put his arm around Emilia, and went looking for the cab.

FIN

© MilliLinnea

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