PLEASE NOTE: There are references to rape and violence - and its consequences - in this story. Site etiquette stipulates that you should be warned, and I agree with that. The author abhors abuse and violence, especially sexual violence.
"You're always there for me!"
Marie, 150 cm in height, or an inch shy of five feet if you like it that way, needed something on a high shelf and couldn't reach it. It was the busiest time of the evening and, although she was deputy branch manager and team leader, she was never too grand to work as hard everyone else. But tall she was not. George - her latest recruit - was. Very tall. At a full 200 cm - or 6' 7", he towered over all his co-workers and positively dwarfed Marie. But he was a gentle and very considerate person and he had a knack of 'being there' whenever Marie or their co-workers needed to reach for anything.
"You're welcome," George replied, accompanied by his sweet, shy smile. He handed Marie the stuff she needed and returned to his tasks at the coffee brewer.
He was only shy in a personal setting, Marie had noticed. Towards customers he was open and friendly - cheerful and even jocular when that was warranted, patient and polite when that was required. But the moment he was with people that he would be seeing on a regular basis he was guarded and reserved. Marie knew a bit about his background from interviewing him for the job, but since then she had learned preciously little more. That intrigued her; she usually knew a lot about her staff - the whole atmosphere was friendly and people generally opened up.
The little she knew from the interview was interesting enough. George was a postgraduate student studying for a master's degree in chemical engineering. She had asked him if he had any experience at working in a cafe. He had replied with a sweet apologetic smile that he hadn't, but was used to advanced machinery and following complex recipes in a laboratory and this couldn't be harder. That had turned out to be a fair and accurate assessment, not a boast; and after a few hours of instruction he could handle all the processes better than anyone else.
She also knew some aspects of his family background. Spurred on by some unfortunate reports from the international cafe chain's anonymous test-customers, Marie had been ordered to ensure her staff was versed in at least English and preferably other major languages, so she had asked him about his English fluency. She remembered the conversation vividly.
"How is your English?" she asked.
"My English? Eh, totally fluent," he replied. "I'm bilingual. I'm half English. My name ought to give that away."
"Of course - George," Marie agreed. The usual spelling in Danish would be 'Georg' and the pronunciation completely different. "And come to think of it, there aren't all that many of the surname Rhodes in the local phone book," she added sheepishly.
George smiled; Marie was enchanted. "No, there's only Mum and me," he agreed.
"Your father doesn't live here?" Marie asked. Not a strictly professional question, but she readily admitted to the sin of curiosity.
"Dad died many years ago," George said. "So Mum decided to move back to Denmark."
"Oh, so you were born and raised in England?" Marie asked. This question could be allowed - 'to find out about his fluency, ' she argued with herself.
"Yes," George replied. "Mum was an au-pair, if you can call it that when there is actually not a pair. Or nanny, perhaps. Dad was widowed with four children. My half brothers are about the same age as Mum, but my sisters were only 7 and 10 when Mum was hired."
"Oh!" Marie said. She was a sucker for romances and it sounded totally romantic. "And she stayed?"
George smiled. "She was hired for a year, but they all loved her and Dad married her at the end of that. Less than a year later I was born."
Marie nearly cooed with delight. "And your half-siblings were fine with that?"
"Absolutely," George replied with conviction. "I have always felt loved," he added. There was a calm serenity about him. Marie envied him the feeling.
"And yet you and your mother left?" she hazarded. She was way outside what she needed to know professionally, but she was eager to hear more.
"When Dad died, things were difficult for Mum," George said. "She had gone to London straight out of high school and had no further education. My brothers were well established, but my sisters were still at university and Mum had no income to support them - or herself and me, for that matter. So she decided to sell the London house - the only big asset from my dad's estate - and put the money in trust for my siblings. Then we returned here."
"Gosh," Marie said. "That must have been hard!"
"It was," George agreed. "I missed my friends and my siblings terribly. My sisters in particular, even though they were no longer living at home."
"How old were you?" Marie asked.
"Thirteen," George replied. "Not the best age to lose a parent and have your whole world turned upside down," he added wryly.
"I can imagine," Marie said mechanically, although truth be told, she couldn't. She suddenly remembered that this was supposed to be a job interview and hastened back to the language issue. "I guess your English would be pretty darn perfect then." She more stated than asked. George just nodded.
Marie asked some more practical - and relevant - questions, but once again her mind strayed. "What about Danish? I can hear you speak it perfectly now, I mean, but back then?"
"It was OK," George said, slightly put out by the question. "Mum always spoke Danish to me and we visited my grandparents frequently, so it wasn't too hard to learn when we got here." That answer was not truthful. He had actually struggled. These were bad memories he wanted to suppress; his new Danish class mates had been a bunch of unruly brats and merciless in their teasing, but it was long ago now.
Marie pulled herself together. "Any other languages?" she asked. "The company is keen on having multi-lingual staff at branches this close to the major tourist centres."
"Oh, I see," George said. He had felt a little uncomfortable about the personal questions, but was keen to get a job to supplement his meagre stipend. Now he thought it had been about language skills all the time and feared that the pretty, dark elfin girl interviewing him must think him a terrible gossip.
That was very far from the truth, but the fear - combined with his shyness - and on Marie's side her embarrassment at having asked too many and too personal questions meant that they didn't discuss anything personal in the following months.
George declared that he could converse in German, had enough French and Spanish 'to get by' and that while he didn't exactly speak Swedish, he understood it well enough and knew where to put in different words to make his Danish intelligible to Swedes.
Marie was impressed. He fit the profile she was after perfectly. He was asked to try his hand at the machinery and two hours later he was hired.
A couple of months had passed. After hiring George, the last in a group of new people, Marie got rid of some of the worst scatter brains on staff. The cafe was doing very well, both during the day time when Simon, the manager, was running it, and during evenings and weekends when it became Marie's responsibility. Another report from anonymous test-customers, compiled during a major conference and involving a lot of foreigners, had praised the cafe's 'outstanding international atmosphere' - a far cry from the previous, damning report. Simon told Marie that the chain's main office had accompanied the report with a letter in which they praised the management for 'the care and professionalism with which they had tackled the previous critique' and stated that this 'exemplary turn-around' would be mentioned in the internal worldwide newsletter. Simon, who was honest and fair to a fault, had thanked the main office and underlined Marie's role in recruiting new staff for the important evening and weekend segments. He adored Marie in a paternal way. In as much as he was easily old enough to be Marie's father, his interest in her was purely platonic. He was gay and harboured no sexual feelings about his deputy.
George did, which embarrassed him, but one cannot control ones feelings, can one? He knew it would come to nothing. He knew Marie was in a long term relationship with somebody called Peter. Peter sometimes called during Marie's shifts - the other girls were tittering that he was a jealous type. George just thought they were being catty; Marie was smart and considerate and clever and beautiful; in short: perfect. George was sure that Peter - the lucky bastard - would have to be equally perfect.
And yet Marie always seemed tense when Peter had called. 'Surely I must be imagining things, ' George thought. 'It's probably just because I fancy the girl myself.'
But no. George was not imagining things; Peter was abusive and violent, manic in his suspicions and his baseless jealousy. He controlled Marie completely. Controlled her by terror. Sex had nothing to do with love or affection; it was rather a case of a nightly rape. What makes an intelligent, resourceful and independent minded girl like Marie put up with an abusive partner? Why don't women simply leave? Or throw the bastard out? It was Marie's apartment, after all.
Marie had tried. She had asked him to leave once when she was so battered and bruised she couldn't go to work for 3 days. Peter had left - long enough to buy flowers, a giant box of her favourite chocolates and pretty bracelet. He returned, contrite and remorseful, pleading that he had been under stress and begging her for another chance.
He could be very charming at will. So the fool girl gave him that chance and took him back in. Three days later he knocked her to the floor and raped her again because she had mentioned the same male staff member twice.
The abuse continued, but it was not constant, so Marie kidded herself into believing that things were improving - until the next episode. And she always found reasons to excuse Peter's behaviour. That he was under stress, that she was not looking after his needs, that she was being careless and giving him cause to be jealous. She censored herself. She spoke very little about her work and hardly ever about male colleagues, fellow students or friends. She mentioned Simon - Simon was gay and thus 'safe'. But Peter was a homophobe so Marie never admitted her very deep affection, and she had to endure, and pretend to agree with, Peter's bigoted outburst against 'the little poof'.
She never mentioned George. She simply didn't trust herself to be neutral about her half-English recruit. Not only was he her best worker - and the real cause of the recent turn-around; his sweetness and helpfulness was a source of almost daily joy and comfort, but she was sure Peter would go ballistic if she mentioned anything like that.
For a few months her situation was tolerable, if you can call it that. Then an ominous change to the worse started. Peter was working as an instructor at a fitness centre. It brought in very little; Marie was essentially the bread winner - working nights and weekends at the cafe and studying for a business degree at University during the week days. Peter did nothing to supplement his meagre income; the work at the gym was only part time, but he spent nearly all his free time there too, working out. He was impatient with his physical development and started using illicit drugs, steroids in particular. Their effect on his already mercuric temper was frightening. He would hit Marie at the slightest imagined provocation and in the end she fled. But Peter guessed she was at her friend Helen's apartment, stalked the place for hours and when Helen left for work, she was an unofficial deputy to Marie, Peter kicked in the door and dragged Marie home literally by the hair. That nigh he raped her in every orifice and systematically beat her, bruising every square inch of her body. No, actually, he didn't touch her hands and face - he was careful not to leave marks on Marie that could be seen when she was dressed.
When she crawled in to work a few days later Marie refused to tell Helen what had happened. She refused to report it to the police and claimed again and again that she had moved back in with Peter voluntarily.
George, who had seen her limp and look beaten up, overheard part of the conversation. When Marie went home - Helen essentially sent her home - George asked Helen what was going on and Helen confided her suspicions to him.
Aghast, George stewed for a day or two but then decided he had to do something. He waited until the next time he had a shift together with Marie. It was a Thursday towards the end of the month and fairly quiet so only they and Helen were at work. Helen was at the counter while George and Marie were going through stock in the store room at the back. They worked so well together; there was an almost telepathic report between them so they hardly had to speak about the work. George finally spoke his mind. Or perhaps more accurately, spoke his heart. "Marie," he said quietly. "There are men who don't beat their partners."
Marie looked shocked. She couldn't keep eye contact and she was mumbling something about 'being all right'.
"We both know you're not," George said - still quietly, but in a tone of voice that left no room for argument. "If you want it to end I'll be there for you."
Marie started weeping. "You're always there for me here, but this you can't help me with. He has said he will never let me go."
"Marie, it has to stop!" George pleaded. "Why do you let him treat you this way?"
In between the sobs, Marie started telling. She was from a broken home and had experienced loss and neglect and deceit from an early age. She didn't know her biological father and had no contact with her mother any more. When she met Peter at the fitness centre where he was her instructor for a while, she was lavished with attention and was taken in completely. When things were not perfect - and, even early on, Peter's true nature unveiled itself - she was convinced it was due to her own failings and she was adamant that she would not run away from every conflict, like her mother had done. She wanted this to work.
George was a good listener and Marie was really opening up. George was fervently praying that business would remain slow so Helen could manage on her own. But just when Marie got to tell about when things had started going badly, there was a sudden influx of 8-10 rowdy guests and the moment was lost.
The next evening George and Helen swapped notes. "I think he is a sadist and closet paedophile which is why he picked someone so small," Helen said.
"How big is the bloke?" George asked.
"Not very, actually," Helen said. "Not much taller than me. Compared to Marie he is a giant of course, but you would dwarf him."
"I dwarf most people," George said with a small smile.
"True, you are a very big human being," Helen smiled back, "but hey! The world is a better place for having Gentle Giants in it!"
"Gentle Giants?" George asked puzzled.
"Yup. That's what Marie calls you," Helen replied. "You are her Gentle Giant."
"I could be hers all right," George said - mostly to himself, but Helen heard him. "If only she wanted me," he added in an even lower voice.
Helen pressed a piece of paper into George's hand. "This is her mobile number," she whispered. "I hope you can make her want you. God knows any sane girl would!" She blushed profusely; she hadn't meant to admit to her own affection for George. Luckily, Helen thought, George didn't seem to catch the meaning. He was nodding, deep in thought.
"George!" Helen said. He looked up. "Beware of Peter. I think he is on steroids."
The next day George called Elaine, the youngest of his older sisters. Of all his siblings, George was closest to Elaine, not just in age. She was hugely fond of her little brother. She was only just 9 when he was born and getting a new mother and a much desired little brother had been a dream come true - or perhaps a bit like waking up after the long nightmare of losing her mother and finding that life was good after all.
"George!" she exclaimed in delight. "How is my Baby Brother?" She always called him that. When he was younger it had annoyed him, but he had come to realise it was a term of profound endearment.
"Not good Elaine," he replied - his tone of voice alone made her sit up and take notice. "I am in trouble. Deep trouble."
"What's happened?" Elaine asked - aware that this was not going to be just another of their rare but cosy chats on Skype.
"I've met this girl," George started.
"That's great!" Elaine exclaimed. She knew George had arrived too late in Denmark to really integrate and he'd never had a serious relationship.
"It could be great, but right now it's catastrophic," he said - still tonelessly.
"Is it Elaine the doting big sister, or Elaine the clinical psychologist you want to talk to?" Elaine asked. Her voice was very serious now.
"Both," George replied. "Oh God, I wish you were here."
The desperation in George's voice brought tears to Elaine's eyes. She had been distraught when George and her stepmother left England after her father's death, but she knew it was for her sake. Without it, she would never have been able to afford university. But the emotional cost was enormous. Not having her little brother near by was a source of constant pain. Even now she missed him terribly and knowing he was desperate for her help made her equally desperate. "Tell me all there is to tell in any random order," she said. "Save the bad bits for last if that helps, but tell me all."
George managed to tell all more or less chronologically. Elaine only had a few questions. "When did you fall in love with her?" she asked. George hadn't said he was in love, but he didn't protest either.
"At once," he admitted. "I guess it was love at first sight. When I found out she had a boyfriend I backed off. Mentally, I mean. I hadn't said anything to her. But I hosed down my own dreams and fantasies."
"But you didn't stop loving her," Elaine hazarded.
"Of course not," George replied. "I never will."
"That's good," Elaine said. "She will need that - once she is through. But it is going to be difficult to get her there."
"Do I stand a chance?" George asked. "And should I wish for that, or is she some weirdo if she puts up with the abuse?"
"Yes and yes and no," Elaine said, "You stand a very good chance - I say so and mean it, even if am biased because you are my Baby Brother. And she sounds wonderful and you are in love with her, so you should wish for it. And no, she is no weirdo. But she is deeply damaged, psychologically. It is very difficult to understand what goes on in the mind of a woman who lets herself be abused the way your Marie is being abused. And thus it is very, very difficult to devise a strategy to help her out. Women in her situation have been known to cut off all contact with friends and family who wanted them to leave the abusive man - or simply just pointed out that things were bad. Are there any parents around?"
"No," George said. "She never knew her father and her mother neglected her." He recounted what Marie had told him.
"Well, it sounds like she has no one who cares for her - apart from you and her friend, the colleague you mentioned. Helen was it?" Elaine said.
"Helen, yes," George replied. "She's still trying."
"Well George, I would be lying if I said it was going to be easy - or that a positive outcome was guaranteed," Elaine started. George grunted agreement.
"But hang in there," Elaine continued. "You should 'be there' for her and get ready to take it to the next level when you sense she is ready for that. You have to play by ear, and you have to expect setbacks. Keep talking to the friend too. Oh, and one more thing: Watch out for the present boyfriend. A psychopath on steroids is a dangerous adversary."
George thanked her. Elaine was right that she couldn't do very much for him, but just being able to tell her about it had helped and he was grateful. "Not at all," Elaine said. "You can call anytime, day or night. Remember that. And give Mor my love - say that Paul and I are planning to come over soon."
She had used 'Mor' - the Danish term for 'Mum'. Unlike her older siblings she had actually made an effort to learn some Danish and still understood a lot. George was comforted by that little word. As he told Marie during the interview, he had always felt loved. Elaine played a huge part in that.
It took a long time for George to work up the courage to 'take it to the next level' and call - so he just kept 'being there' for Marie It was some weeks later - when he noticed discolouration on her neck and throat that looked suspiciously like strangulation marks - that he decided to act. Helen had told him about Peter's unusual working hours, and George rang the next morning in the hope that Marie was alone and able to talk.
She picked it up immediately. "It's Marie."
"Next time he might kill you," George said without preamble.
"What do you mean?" Marie said. She knew instantly who it was and was petrified because Peter could actually be home any moment.
"The marks on your throat and neck," George said. "The ones you had tried to cover with makeup."
"Oh those," Marie said, trying to laugh it away. "That was just, eh, um, me being, you know, clumsy. Yes, clumsy. Ha ha."
"The only thing that's clumsy is the lie, Marie," George said. "We both know that."
There was a long silence. Then George spoke again. "He's a psychopath. You need help to get away from him, Marie. And I want to help you. I want nothing from you; I just want you to be safe. I want to protect you."
"It is really sweet of you George," Marie said, "but I can't!" She realised that Peter was in the room. He must have come in completely silently. She was numb with fear - 'how much has he heard, ' she wondered. She had to make up something quick. "We simply don't do that. Anyway, I gotta go now. Bye." She hung up, blocking off George's confused last comment, and switched the phone off before he could call back.
She looked up, pretending she only now discovered Peter. She made a gesture of impatience with the phone. Peter looked inscrutable. She never knew what he was thinking, or when he was going to explode. George had called him a psychopath. Maybe he was. The silence was oppressive; she was about to say something when Peter spoke. "Who - was - that?"
Innocent and not unreasonable words, but the way he spoke them made her even more fearful. She forced herself to stay calm. "Oh, that was George from work," she said as off-handed as she could. 'Don't act guilty, or he will hurt you. Make it sound innocent, ' she thought.
"What did he want?" Peter asked. Again quite a reasonable question, but it was said in a way that almost made her wet herself. 'Please God, I gotta make up something!' she thought.
"He, um, wanted me to hire his girlfriend," Marie improvised. That should both deflect jealousy and explain why she had said he was sweet. "Very cute; I got a long list of her qualities," she continued, attempting to sound scornful. "But as I told him, I can't; we don't do that." 'Phew - that fitted all Peter might have heard!' she thought.
"Don't do what?" Peter asked. Marie's 'danger index' dipped. Perhaps the diversion was working.
"Hire partners," she said. "It's against company policy. Focus should be on costumers and the company, not personal matters." She was talking herself warm now. True, there was such a policy. It was never enforced; the number of couples was huge, especially amongst the evening and weekend staff. The day staff was much older and almost exclusively female. But her staff was young and mixed and amorous. That is always the case when young people work together. She hoped Peter would not think of that. She rarely spoke about her work to him now - it was too dangerous - and she hoped the lie would pass.
"Do you mean you wouldn't hire me?" Peter asked. The jolt came out of the blue, but she sensed extreme danger now. If she said "yes", everything in the explanation she had just built would collapse. If she said "no", God knows how Peter would react. He might consider it a slight. He might beat her.
She chose a dangerous middle ground. It was two-step deflection and to pull it off, there had to be a pause between the too parts. He would be upset; she prayed he wouldn't go straight to violence.
"Don't be daft Peter!" she said with as much mirth as she could manage. "I wouldn't be hiring you!"
He looked stung - she feared she had over-done it. But although she could see his fists tighten, he spoke. "And why not?" he asked harshly.
"I only hire staff for menial tasks," she said. "A deputy branch manager doesn't hire managerial staff!"
He was too dim to get it. "What do you mean?" he asked. But the edge was off his voice and the 'danger index' once more left the red zone.
"If you were joining the company it would be as a branch or regional manager," she said with as much conviction in her voice as she was able to mobilise. "The likes of me would have no say in that!"
"Oh!" Peter looked mollified. "Do you think I should go for it?" he asked.
Marie finally felt she was on safe ground. "You know, I've been thinking about that." She tried to look pensive. "I don't think you're being appreciated where you are now."
He grunted agreement. This was a pet-gripe of his. "I'm sure you'd be really good at it," she continued. "Only, I am not certain that you'd like the business in the long run. One has to deal with so many idiots."
"Like the twit who wanted you to hire his girlfriend just now?" Peter asked.
"Exactly," Marie said. "They have to have your number so they can call in sick and cancel shifts and so on." That was a lie. No one did. But it covered for George having her private number.
Peter nodded. The lie was accepted, but she still wanted to ward off potential jealousy. 'I wonder how George got my number. It has to be Helen, ' Marie thought.
"And then they call you constantly about their personal problems," she continued her gripe. "You wouldn't really have the patience for that, would you?" She smiled the coyest smile she could muster.
It worked. The danger passed. The nightly rape was almost gentle compared to what she had been subjected to recently. Mercifully Peter came quickly and fell asleep.
Marie was lying awake in the dark. She was thinking of George and what he had said. 'I want to protect you.' The thought alone warmed her.
The warmth stayed with her. Every time she was working together with George she felt warm and safe. Every time she was yelled at or humiliated or beaten or raped by Peter she remembered George's words - ''There are men who don't beat their partners, ' 'I want to help you, ' 'I want nothing from you, ' 'I just want you to be safe', 'I want to protect you.'
George's words provided her with a mental cocoon, a shell against Peter that enabled her to endure the violence without really feeling it. But it was dangerous - Peter sensed that shell even if he didn't understand it and it made him furious. Like the true sadist he was, he fed on her pain - and now she wasn't showing it, not responding with the fear he craved.
The crunch came because she gave her secret away. Unwittingly. One Saturday morning she was being beaten for not having washed his sweaty gym clothes immediately after she got home the night before. Next he raped her - first vaginally, then - because she hated that more than anything - anally. The pain was intense and the cocoon was dissolving. In her anguish she called out the secret name, her secret talisman. "George!" she wailed.
Peter was a psychopath, but he was no idiot. He understood immediately what Marie hadn't even realised herself yet. She was in love with someone else. His slimy dick wilted - he struggled to get it out of her anus. He was sweating and shaking. The control was broken.
Marie got up from the vile bed and got dressed. She looked at Peter completely without passion - no fear, no hatred, nothing. Her voice when she spoke was without emotion. "When I get home from work you will have moved out. I will never see you again." She walked out of the apartment.
Peter's paralysis lasted several minutes, but then his mind, damaged by the steroids, started firing. 'If I can't have her, no one else shall!' was the thought that went through his reptile brain. He got dressed, grabbed a knife from the kitchen and set off for the cafe.
If Peter had been paralysed, Marie was a "walking wounded". Helen reacted with abject shock and horror when she saw her friend. "I gotta get you to the hospital," she said at once when she saw the state Marie was in. George nodded in anguish. "Go! I'll run the cafe."
Helen dragged Marie out the back entrance; Helen's small car was parked in the courtyard, down half a flight of metal stairs. They were only just outside the door when a lurking shadow rushed towards them. Peter, with the face like a mask, raised his right hand and drove the long knife into Marie's chest close to the heart. He withdrew it and Marie sank noiselessly down on the platform.
George heard Helen's piercing scream and rushed out. The scene that met him was out of a horror movie. Peter was repeatedly stabbing at Helen's hands - the only barrier between the knife and Marie's already lifeless body.
Peter withdrew the knife from Helen's hand, kicked her violently to the side and lifted his arm high to deliver the final blow to Marie's chest.
It never came. George tried to take the knife from Peter but failed and suddenly found himself the target of Peter's attack, receiving cuts in several places. He had never in his life laid hands on another human being, but now he closed both his huge hands around Peter's arm and broke it like a stick. The knife fell out of Peter's hand. George then lifted Peter up - mainly by the broken limb, causing white hot pain - and bodily threw him down the stairway to the basement. The banister got in the way. First Peter's groin, and then his forehead, hit the metal. He was out cold.
George sank down next to Marie. She wasn't moving, but blood was still flowing out of the wound in her chest and he knew she must be alive; dead people do not bleed. He put his big hand over the wound and yelled for help. A very young colleague, alerted by Helen's scream and George's yell came rushing out. "Get hold of ambulances and the police quick," George said. "Peter tried to kill Marie."
"Who is Peter?" the colleague asked.
"Don't ask questions. Don't waste time. Call 1-1-2 NOW," George yelled. "Or Marie WILL DIE." The shaken colleague finally complied.
A police patrol happened to be in the vicinity and arrived within 2 minutes. The ambulances were going to take much longer, and the senior officer - highly experienced in knife injuries - judged that they could not afford to wait. He ordered his young colleague to stay on the scene, got George and Marie in the back of the patrol car and drove off at maximum speed, radioing for an escort and asking to have the emergency room on standby for a critically injured stabbing victim.
When they arrived at the emergency entrance of the hospital on screeching tires, they were met by a team of trauma experts ready to take over. George handed over the small bundle that was Marie and sank down on a chair to begin an endless vigil.
Around him things were happening. Two ambulances arrived with Helen and Peter; the latter hand-cuffed to a policeman. George didn't take any notice. He was just waiting. Waiting to hear if he had been too late or not.
"My God," the police officer said when he was taken into the room in the intensive care unit. "She looks like a tiny, broken porcelain doll." There were tears forming in his eyes and his voice was shaking. After 20 years on the beat he was still affected by mindless violence - especially when someone who looked like a child was involved. And Marie was smaller than his daughters.
"Not quite broken," the tired surgeon said in a gentle voice. "But it was touch and go. You and the big lad saved her. If he hadn't put his fingers in the wound to staunch the bleeding and if you hadn't decided that there was no time to wait for the ambulance, she would have been dead. We used over 4 litres of blood."
"Where is the lad?" the police officer asked.
"He is being fixed up himself," Dr. Hansen, the surgeon, said. "He got some cuts to his hands and thigh from the jerk's knife, but it's nothing major - the ER nurses are handling it."
"A bit late isn't it?" the police officer said puzzled. Marie had been in the operating theatre for near on three hours.
"Yes," Dr. Hansen said wryly. "No one knew he was injured. That he had blood all over could hardly surprise and he never said a thing; he was just waiting for news of the girl. One of our secretaries noticed he was still dripping blood and had him seen by a doctor."
"What about the other girl?"
"Oh, she was in a bad state," Dr. Hansen replied. "The lacerations to her hands were very severe. We staunched the bleeding and had her airlifted to the University Hospital. I have a colleague there who is an expert on micro surgery. If anyone can save the use of her hands it's him."
"And the jerk himself?" the police officer asked.
"We set his broken arm - it was a very clean break so that was easy - and bandaged the head-wound. Next we gave him a very strong painkiller - morphine, actually. He should feel nothing," Dr. Hansen said. "Then he was taken away by your colleagues to a holding cell at the police station."
"Morphine? For a broken arm and a small knock on the head?" the police officer asked outraged.
"No," Dr. Hansen said. "For the other pain." He broke eye contact, looking down.
"What are we talking about?" the police officer asked. He sensed this was going to be off the record.
"The ambulance driver said he believed the assailant had received a very severe blow to his groin, but he wouldn't let anyone look at it," Dr. Hansen said. "I am hoping the morphine will dull the pain so much that he sleeps right through the night and that the damage will then turn out to be irreparable. I confidently expect to see him again tomorrow; he will insist, but I am sure the red tape will add another hour or two." He was looking straight at the police officer again now. "And I am sure we will have to conclude that his testicles cannot be saved."
There was a brief silence. "When we saw the bruises on that girl's body and the injuries to her vagina and rectum, we were ready to castrate him on the spot." The hatred in Dr. Hansen's voice was almost palpable.
The police officer nodded slowly. Remand prisoners always make a noise. Adding an hour or two before this swine was allowed to see a doctor was not a problem; he would ensure everyone at the station knew that.
As he was about to leave, the door opened and a nurse escorted a limping George in. Both his hands were bandaged and there was a gash in his bloodied trousers showing a bandage on the thigh.
"Will she live?" George asked.
"Yes," Dr. Hansen said. "She'll live, but it will be a while before she can thank you. We're keeping her in a light coma to counter the shock."
"I'll wait," George said.
The nurse eyed Dr. Hansen who nodded imperceptibly. She went and got a chair for George and when she had placed it close to the bed, she guided George into it. She was a smallish girl herself and she could barely reach George's shoulders. The motion was strangely gentle, almost a hug.
Throughout the day, evening and night, the ICU nurses brought the silent giant food and drink and helped him up when he needed to go to the toilet. His presence was highly irregular, but they all shielded him. His eyes hardly ever left the small, broken porcelain doll in the middle of the big high-tech bed. Her body was covered in bruises of all colours. The most recent ones darkened as he kept his vigil; a stark contrast to the small areas of unblemished skin that were pale, almost alabaster white. But she was breathing soundly in her deep, deep sleep and her body made good use of the blood and other liquids slowly piped into her veins from the bags that the nurses replaced at regular intervals. She would live.
The drugs that kept Marie in coma wore off during Sunday morning and around noon she was briefly awake. "George," she whispered - speech was difficult, her mouth was dry.
A nurse offered her water. "Hush love, he is right here," she said. She helped George to stand so Marie could see him. The look in Marie's face when she recognized him was one the nurse knew she would never forget - even as the image became blurred from her tears.
"It's over Marie," George said. "He will never hurt you again. I will protect you."
"You are always there for me," Marie whispered.
The pain overwhelmed her and the doctor added a strong dose of morphine to the IV line, causing the pain - and Marie's consciousness - to go away. "OK, young man," the doctor said, firmly but gently. "She will sleep again for a long time now. It's time you got the dressings on your wounds changed and went home to sleep. We'll look after your girl for now."
Docilely George agreed and let himself be led away.
Morphine had also made Peter sleep. When he woke up Sunday midmorning in a cell he was in agony, but too confused to figure out where the worst pain came from. His head was throbbing - both from the aftermath of the drug-induced stupor and, mainly, from when he banged his temple on the banister. His broken right arm was acutely painful too. It was set fine, but none too gently. From that double onslaught of pain, he barely noticed the dull ache from his groin. He was loud and unruly and a general nuisance to the guards at the remand centre and they avoided him as much as they could.