The Considerate Killer(4)

By: Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis

Who had done it? And why? Was it random, or was it because Nina was Nina? Both Morten and Hanne seemed automatically to assume the latter, but even stubborn and at times highly exasperating Red Cross nurses could be the victims of random violence. He had to speak to the local police. Find out what had happened, and how they were handling the case. The desire to act, to do something, was overwhelming.

He coaxed a few more miles per hour out of the Hyundai and changed lanes to pass a Polish long-haul. Adrenaline made his hands vibrate faintly against the steering wheel, and somewhere in his chest was a tight nervous pain that for once has nothing to do with the physical scarring.

He reached Viborg just shy of midnight. There had been an accident near Fredericia that backed up the traffic all the way across the Lillebaelt Bridge. The intensive care unit was dimly lit and oddly womb-like. There were no windows facing the outside world, only a glass wall separating it from the central observation point from which the output from all the various apparata in the ward was monitored. Sounds were faint and muffled, soft beeps and distant steps, lowered voices. Through the glass, he could see how the eyes of the duty staff slid constantly from one monitor to the next, their faces lit more by the screens than by the dim lamps. It reminded him sharply of the atmosphere inside a surveillance van.

Nina was alone in a unit called OBS 4. At the sight of her slight figure in the hospital bed, his heart took an entirely unauthorized tumble in his scarred chest. He knew it was illogical—that you in fact did not love with your heart, but rather with your brain and a complex series of hormonal signals. Still, he could not free himself from the thought that she had gained access to the most vulnerable part of him when she—to save his life and allow the punctured lung room to expand again—had plunged first a knife and then part of a ballpoint pen into his chest. With great precision and ruthlessness, in exactly the right place. “Wow,” the young ambulance doctor had commented, “she sure hit that one right on the nail.” And then, when he realized that Søren had heard him, “Sorry, but that’s one of the most effective acute interventions I’ve ever seen. You can thank her for the fact that you are still alive.”

He knew that. While he had lain there in the snow, feeling the ability to breathe being taken from him, heartbeat by heartbeat, he had had time to think about death. Not Death with a capital D, personified in the somewhat theatrical guise of the Grim Reaper, but the simple, concrete, and omnipresent biological process that would shut down all his vital signs. For his part there had been no dark tunnel and bright light, no out-of-body experience. Absolutely no sense of anything but struggle, pain, and suffering, and somewhere a point in time when the suffering would end, when everything that he considered his—an active body, a functioning brain, a consciousness or a soul or whatever you preferred to call it—when all of that would cease to be him and turn instead into random decomposable matter headed for biology’s recycling system.

Nina had saved him from that point of death. It was perhaps not too surprising that the experience had left certain inerasable grooves in his inner universe.

Sure, he had noticed her before that. There was something about her stubbornness, her intensity, the too-slender body, and those eyes . . . particularly those eyes, dark grey like a sky before a storm, with an unfathomably vivid gaze that he felt compelled to meet, even at moments when it would have been wiser not to. Certainly, he had seen her, and been curious. Interested. But it was only after the knife had gone in that she had acquired this ability to hurt him. The ability to make his abdomen contract, the ability to make his hands turn into fists reflexively if he thought any kind of danger, imaginary or real, threatened her.

Right now his fists were clenched so hard that his fingers were getting numb. With an effort, he unclenched them one by one.

She lay on her side, probably so the weight of her head would not put pressure on the shaved area on the back of her head and the damage that was hidden under a white gauze compress as large as a standard sheet of paper. A raw and crusty abrasion covered most of one cheek, and the hollows of her eyes were so bruised and swollen that the eyes were just greasy slits. A bit of clear fluid leaked from one nostril and dripped down onto the flat pillow under her head, where there was already a damp spot.

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