Ali steered the Audi into the fast lane. Finally, now he could make good time. He was on his way to Södertälje, he had to show his face to his folks again. He hoped Hanna would survive the evening by herself. After all, he couldn't always babysit her. Damn, such shit. He almost had her there, she was already eating out of his hand. And then, suddenly, her parents showed up. Who could have guessed that they would hire a private detective? They weren't that fond of Hanna - at least that's what she claimed. At first, he had thought that Hanna had contacted her parents or that Klara, and that is why they showed up at his door. But Hanna had been as surprised as he had been and had even asked her parents how they had found her. Private detectives - he couldn't believe it. But at least this proved that he could count on Hanna, she had not betrayed him. That was something.
He accelerated, finally he was allowed to drive faster. The Audi sped ahead; Ali loved that feeling. For a while he had toyed with the idea of getting a TT, but he thought the interior was just too small. From the outside it looked super cool, but if you wanted to invite a few more chicks, it was simply incredibly tight. Nah, the RS5 was just right, exactly his thing.
Now he could start from scratch again with the bitch. He had spent the entire day yesterday trying to get her back on track. He'd probably lose a minimum of two weeks, if not three. Fucking shit, how much time had he already invested? And now this setback. Mehmed was already complaining about when he was finally going to let the horse run. He wanted more dough so they could have a blast. He was right, Ali had been way too patient with her. On the other hand - if he had taken the next step earlier and then the parents had shown up? No, that wouldn't have worked at all, she would probably have run for home. This way, he could get her back on the track and then slowly tighten the screws. Everything was fine.
The sweetest thing of all was that her old man had actually guaranteed Ali's success. Initially he had been very calm and had let his wife do the talking. Ali had already seen his plans going up in smoke. But then her father got angry and started screaming. And when Hanna had responded with a snotty reply, the old man had lost it and immediately socked her one. Ali had been so pleased about that; he could hardly contain himself. Hahaha. He still had to laugh now. How stupid could you be? After that, Hanna ran into the bathroom and locked herself in there. The old man had been ranting and threatening to call the police, but Hanna had stood her ground. No, she was never coming home. If the police came for her, she would run away again the next day. Ali almost jumped for joy. The old man drove her even deeper into his arms, it was just awesome.
Damn, couldn't the idiot with his shitty Ford get out of the way? There were three lanes to choose from and this fucker had to block the fast lane. Ali couldn't tailgate any closer, wasn’t that idiot looking in his rear-view mirror? Finally, he changed to another lane. Ali stepped on the gas pedal.
He wasn't sure yet how to proceed. It wasn't good that the parents now knew where Hanna was. Maybe they did call the police. Sure, Hanna would certainly come back, but once the cops had been there, hell man, that was stressful. Perhaps if he took her to another apartment, it would be safer. A new cell phone and a bit of caution, then even the detective wouldn't find her. But the sensitive bitch felt so comfortable in his apartment, he might end up wasting time going somewhere else. Ah, shit, either way he was doing it, it was a risk. He had to talk to Mehmed. Although he was often too reckless, it would be good to know what he would do in his situation. After all, he'd been playing this game for a while longer.
He was up to 100 now, it felt good. Although there was a speed limit of 65, the police hardly ever came here, because the traffic was mostly too congested for them to catch anybody. Ali accelerated again and passed a Tesla, so cool.
This morning he had sex with her again, he did it with her once a day. She had to be broken in properly, he was all up for that, hehe. She wasn't particularly pretty, but she was a young girl. Her body was firm and slender, the skin was soft, unfortunately she didn't have much in the way of boobs. Anyway, with enough make-up, sexy clothes and the right lighting, she still looked very enticing. They had done this many times before; at first, she had been reluctant, but now she liked it more and more. Like he said, she was almost there. Shit, he'd get through a few more weeks. He would listen to what Mehmed had to say, but somehow another apartment seemed safer to him. He would get his little pony running there, too. When it really kicked off, he would need several places anyway. After all, it wasn't supposed to go on in his home. Yes, he breathed a sigh of relief. A little sprint at 110 mph helped him clear his mind. That's when he made the best decisions. He would send the kid a sweet text message, then she would be pacified tonight, and he could relax with his family.
Crap, a truck swerved to overtake, he had to hit the brakes. Why did they pass here? He flashed his lights, but the stupid driver in front wouldn't even notice. Either way, it didn't matter, he was almost there, and he'd made his decision.
Another day at the office went by with nothing special going on. But Elin was now on fire, and she constantly checked her mail in the hope of finding a new request, but there was nothing. It was enough to drive her insane! She so wanted another assignment, one that would truly challenge her—one that was even more interesting than Helena’s. Elin had driven to the cabin a third time and seen the men there, but since nothing new had come of it, she decided she was done with it.
Now back at her apartment, she had changed into something comfortable and eaten a snack. She was standing in the bathroom washing her hands when Maja came home.
“Elin!” Maja was screaming. The door to the apartment slammed shut. Maja’s bag made a loud noise as it landed in a corner, and her rapid footsteps could be heard crossing the living room floor. Elin hurriedly dried her hands. This was not at all like Maja, who was usually the image of calm itself. Something must have happened. Elin opened the door to see Maja standing before her, her hands on her hips. Her face was red; her breathing, quick and shallow. She stared at Elin, furious: “What have you done? Where did you go with my car?”
“Maja, calm down! What happened?”
“I will not calm down! I want to know where you went with my car. Damn it!” Her dark eyes flashed at Elin.
“Fine, no problem. I’ll tell you. Come on, let’s sit down.” Elin stepped toward Maja and tried to take her in her arms, but Maja pushed her away.
“What? I haven’t done anything to you. Whatever it is, I didn’t do it intentionally. What’s going on with the car? Is something broken?” Elin looked at her, distraught. She had never seen Maja like this before. Usually, it was Maja who had to calm Elin, not the other way around. “Come on, let me hold you in my arms. I love you.”
That seemed to work. Maja lowered her eyes, and her shoulders dropped. Elin put her arm around her and drew her close. What was going on? Maja was sobbing. She embraced Elin and held her tight. Her shoulders jerked, and she was howling like a hyena. God Almighty, this must really be bad. Maja seldom cried, and never this hard. Elin was getting seriously worried. What had happened here? After all, she had parked the car in the courtyard, and everything had been fine. Unless someone had tried to break in, but that would have happened later. And why did Maja think Elin was to blame? That wasn’t like her at all.
Gradually, the sobbing subsided. Elin led Maja into the living room and sat her down on the couch. Squatting down before her, she looked into her tear-filled eyes.
“Now tell me everything, and if I’m to blame, I’ll admit it right away. Promise! And I’ll formally apologize. But I honestly have no idea what could be wrong with your car. I borrowed it again the day before yesterday, but then I parked it in the courtyard, as usual. Everything was still fine at that point. I swear!” Elin raised her right hand.
The corner of Maja’s mouth twitched briefly into an unsuccessful smile. She dug around in her pants pocket, produced a tissue, and blew her nose. Then she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Luckily, she wasn’t wearing any makeup, or she would have looked even worse.
“I was attacked,” she finally gasped.
“What? Are you hurt?” Elin couldn’t believe it. Maja was extremely well trained—she could perform any self-defense move in her sleep. And what did this have to do with the car?
“No. They only threatened me.”
“That’s lucky.” Elin breathed a sigh of relief. At least, Maja was unharmed. “But who threatened you? Now please! Tell me the whole story from the beginning.” Elin gave her a penetrating look. “All right, Maja?”
Maja blew her nose once more and leaned back. “Yeah, OK. So I was walking out of the studio on my way to the underground. Since it was still so light out, I took the shortcut through the park. There was no one in sight other than that guy who’s been following me for the past few days. He was sitting on a bench in the middle of the park. I was trying to decide whether to turn around. But then I thought, ‘This is my chance to find out what this is all about,’ and I walked right up to him. He immediately stood up, and it was only then that I noticed he was wearing a mask. I wanted to go back right away, but when I turned around, there were three other guys standing before me, all with masks as well. I tried to escape to the right, but these guys already had a knife at my throat, and they were restraining me on all sides. Then they pulled me off the path and down into the bushes, and one of them whispered that I should keep my trap shut. I was sure they were going to rape me, and I was desperately trying to figure out how to break free. But then one of them—a tall guy, definitely over six feet—said that they just wanted to talk to me. I didn’t really believe that, but I waited to see what they would say.”
Elin stared at her, spellbound.
“I need something to drink,” Maja said.
Elin rose and went to the kitchen. She had an uneasy feeling for some reason. Four guys, of all things, and one of them very tall. That was surely no coincidence. But why?
Elin handed Maja a glass of water. Maja drank eagerly. “And what did they want?” asked Elin.
“They claimed I’d followed them in my car. And that they didn’t like having someone sneaking around behind them. This would be their first and final warning. If they saw either me or the car nearby again, our next meeting would proceed without a lot of talking. They said they’d make short shrift of me.” Maja had tears in her eyes again, and she let out several sobs. “I had to confirm that I understood. I obviously said yes. After that, one of them hit me in the stomach full force, and I blacked out. When I came to again, the four of them were gone.”
“God, how awful! I’m so sorry—I’m sure they were the same guys I was observing. I just don’t understand why they reacted so viciously. I’ve already put the whole thing to rest. Honestly, Maja, I didn’t want to pull you in. I’m sure it was me they were after.”
“Yeah, that much was clear to me by then. But did you go back to the cabin another time? You only told me about two surveillances. And the men didn’t see you at all, did they?”
“Well, yes, they did. The second time, they stopped briefly next to my—I mean, your car. I ducked right away, but they might have written down or photographed the license plate number. I’m sorry—that was my mistake. The first time, I did better and parked around the corner. I’m sure they didn’t see the car that time. Then the day before yesterday, I was there again for the third and last time because I just couldn’t get the whole business out of my head. I wanted to get through the surveillance quickly, so I drove the car down the dirt road to the fork where it turns off to the cabin. On their way back, they obviously drove by your car, but I was hoping they didn’t see it.”
Maja sighed. “But they did. Did you find anything out?”
“No, that’s why I put the whole thing to rest. The assignment is done. I just wanted to make sure one more time that nothing new had come up. But it was the same game as the other times: working together on their computers, four guys in two cars—nothing more.”
Maja was calmer now. Her breathing was steady again. “I’m sorry I lit into you earlier. It’s clear that it wasn’t your fault. I just needed to vent my frustrations on someone.”
“No problem. I probably deserved it, anyway. When I think of how they could have attacked me instead, then I know that I got off lightly with your tirade. But that should be a lesson to me: I’ll no longer use your car for detective work. I see now what comes of that. But tell me, can you describe these guys at all?”
Maja shook her head. “No. They all had on black masks, hoodies, jeans, and sneakers. The one who was following me earlier was wearing a brown parka, as usual—otherwise, I’m sure I never would have recognized him. And as I said, one of the other three guys was very tall. Aside from that, I didn’t notice anything special.”
Elin thought it over. “It fits in any case. I mean, who else could it be? I just don’t understand why they would make such a big deal out of it. If all they’re doing is playing harmless computer games, they wouldn’t have had such a violent reaction. Something about the whole thing stinks—I’ve had that feeling from the very beginning. Four guys who meet in secret in a secluded place several times a week ... that can’t possibly be harmless.”
Maja sat up. “You’re not really thinking of pursuing this further, are you? To be honest, I’ve had enough. I can usually put up a good fight, but four men armed with knives—I’d rather not risk that again. And I can tell you: they meant what they said.”
Elin raised both hands in defense. “Stop worrying! Under no circumstances do I want anything to happen to you. But it bothers the hell out of me that they could get away with this intimidation act so easily. In my view, our best move would be to bring in the police. They’d definitely find something interesting here—if only I knew what it was.”
“Thanks, but I really have no interest in dealing with the police. You know how overworked they are. And since nothing serious happened to me, I can imagine what priority they would give this incident. Also, if these guys ever caught wind that the police were involved, they’d get in their heads to make good on their threat. I really don’t need that, thank you very much.”
“Yeah, I know. But this situation doesn’t exactly feel safe, either. I mean, how do we know that they’ll leave us in peace, even if we just lay low? Think about it. You run across one of these guys by chance. You don’t even recognize him, but he alerts the others, and there you are again with a knife at your throat.”
Maja looked at Elin in horror. “Do you have to be so graphic? I’ve got chills running down my spine.”
“You’re right, though. It’s still a risk. Let me see how I cope with it. Ask me again in a few days—maybe I’ll change my mind. But please do not do anything without my consent! This thing concerns me now, too. You can’t make the decisions on your own.”
“All right, Scout’s Honor. I’ll discuss everything with you beforehand.”
Elin could easily understand Maja’s point. And she would keep her promise. On the other hand, her detective instincts had been aroused, and she wondered what lay behind this thing. Just what sort of plot were they hatching in that cabin?
Elin rose and walked to the window. She looked down at the entryway to the house on the other side of the street. There was no one there.
“At least, they seem to have called off their surveillance. I don’t see anyone there.”
“Sounds good. That’s something, anyway.” Maja made no effort to check Elin’s observation but instead went straight to the kitchen. “I need to eat something now. And a glass of wine would also be good. Now that I think about it, more like several glasses.”
That was something Elin could fully endorse. Right now, a little normalcy and relaxation were just what they both needed.