[Destiny] Chapter 18: Reflex Shivers

~~~

Everyone knew that Copenhagen was dangerous if the only film you’d ever seen was Pusher, and even more dangerous if you swerved away from the tourist areas cos there were no drug deals next to the little mermaid statue and no killings outside those colourful houses by the harbour, ever.

Sila and Joanna [trailing fifty metres behind him] were not couched in the tourist area anymore, they were walking into a live version of the picture Sila had pulled from the internet, the playground on hard concrete with the youth centre in the background.

It didn’t look that much different from the online version, except for a few needles and burger wrappers, and neither Sila nor Joanna flinched at the needles cos both had read the recent story about Hackney, how activists had placed fake used needles in the streets to get more attention for the area, how artists and pseudo artists had put more fake used needles down next to the first batch to make it seem like they were living in a slum, how locals had added even more fake used needles to get rid of the artists, and how the drug addicts had placed used needles down cos they didn’t know where they were or what they were doing, so

needles could have any story, it didn’t have to mean drugs or danger, in fact, because there was a youth centre nearby, it probably meant the owners were trying to get more funding though

‘…that guy does look pretty dodgy,’ said Sila, who had noticed Joanna stalking him, waited for her to catch up and was now pointing at a pale white guy in a Juventus jacket standing next to the slide, staring a yard to the right of them.

‘I have my blade,’ said Joanna, patting her jacket pocket,’ if we need it.’

‘He might just be tired.’

‘Like Giovanni Ribisi.’

‘Yeah.’ Sila scanned the building and saw what he thought might be the entrance, then cough-laughed when the Ribisi reference got through. ‘I’m going inside.’

‘How are you gonna get to the cabinet?’

‘Don’t know yet.’

‘I’m coming too.’

‘If you want.’

Joanna pulled him back and hit his arm. ‘You’d let me wait out here with him?’

‘What are you doing?’ Sila rubbed his arm even though it couldn’t possibly hurt.

‘Don’t exaggerate.’

‘Why did you hit me?’

‘You don’t care if I stay out here with that guy.’

‘What are you talking about? I said come if you want…’

‘That means you don’t care.’

‘It doesn’t mean anything. You can come in or you can wait here.’

‘You’re leaving me to his mercy.’

‘Whose mercy? That guy?’ Sila looked over, scanning for positives and coming back with only one: his Juventus jacket looked quite clean. ‘He won’t do anything. It’s Copenhagen, not Helmand province.’

‘… … … … … … … … …’

‘What?’

‘… … … … …’

‘You’re calling me a twat, aren’t you?’

‘… … … … … …’

‘This is pointless.’

Joanna put both hands in her jacket pockets, the one on the left shuffling around, possibly getting a grip on the handle of the knife. ‘I said you’ve got no heart.’

‘That’s it? That’s what you said three times?’

‘No heart, no compassion.’

‘Fuck off, I’ve got compassion. I’ve got loads of compassion. You don’t know anything about me.’

‘All you care about is cabinets.’

‘I give £5 a month to Shelter. That’s not cabinets. That’s homeless people, people like him.’ Sila pointed at the guy by the slide. ‘Potentially.’

‘Your words do not match my view.’

‘Ja, view from where? Back round the side of Ljubljana castle?’

‘… … … … … …’

‘Chinese again. Fantastic.’

Another short burst came out of her mouth, then a full-stop grunt. She edged round the side of him, onto the green concrete of the playground. ‘You’re really going to leave me out here alone.’

‘I’m not your master.’

‘Aren’t you?’

‘Aren’t I what?’

‘Going to leave me out here alone.’

He looked down at the green concrete, seeing future child death. ‘I said I’m not your master. Jesus. I’m going in, you can do what you like.’

‘If I stay here…’

‘Your choice.’

‘You won’t ask me to come in?’

‘Nope.’

‘I want you to ask.’

‘I said already, come in or don’t, it’s your choice.’

‘You won’t ask?’

Sila looked at the tired-looking guy, who now had one hand in his pocket and the other one out in front, gesturing for them to come over. ‘What’s he up to?’

‘You see.’

‘Is he serious? Why would we go over?’

‘He wants to sell us drugs. And then mug us. Think what he’ll do when I’m all alone out here.’

‘Shut up…’

‘You’re still not going to ask?’

‘He’s not gonna mug us or sell drugs…maybe the drugs part, I don’t know, but okay, fine. I’ll ask. But only on the 1% chance out of 100 that he is dodgy.’

‘I don’t hear a question.’

‘Relax, I’m asking. Would you, proven murderer with a knife, like to come in with me so you can escape that probably okay guy who hasn’t done anything except stand there?’

Joanna gave a performance nod and said, ‘yes.’

‘I hope you can see the difference between us now,’ Sila said as they worked their way to the youth centre door, avoiding needles, fake or otherwise.

‘There is no difference between us.’

‘Jebote, picka. Ste v zmoti.

‘Slovene again?’

‘Fuck off.’

‘Better.’

~~~

Sila didn’t know if the website he’d looked at was outdated or just straight up lying, but the youth centre wasn’t a youth centre, it was…actually, it wasn’t clear what it was as there were three floors; the first a canteen, the second some kind of office, and the top one a reading area with most of the books in Danish and one shelf in German. One thing was for sure, there wasn’t much youth around.

Joanna said she didn’t understand how a library full of books that new immigrants couldn’t read would help the local minorities and for the first time in three days Sila agreed with something she’d said.

‘Unless they have baby books…that might work.’

‘Doesn’t look like they do.’

‘But even then, Danish uses the same alphabet as English so if the only language you know is Arabic then what use is it?’

She looked at a book with a cover that seemed familiar, a picture of a spray can with the letters UBIK written on the side. For some reason, she knew this book but had no idea why. She turned it over and read the synopsis on the back but it was all in Danish; the only thing she could understand was the word UBIK and the name Philip K Dick.

‘Ha, UBIK,’ said Sila, leaning over her shoulder, ‘I read that five times when I was in…’ He stopped then flipped the book back over to look at the cover. ‘Yeah, UBIK. Not a bad book. Bit of a mindfuck.’

Joanna offered the book to him, but he shook his head and looked at the counter with no staff.

‘It’s weird…anyone could just come in and take stuff.’

‘Maybe they don’t like books.’

‘Actually, in Slovenia, the working class are the biggest readers of books. This place would be packed.’

‘I remember.’

‘Remember what?’

‘The bookshops in Ljubljana. They always had a lot of people…I don’t know their financial status, but they didn’t look very poor.’

‘You were in the tourist area.’

‘Which other areas are there?’

Sila looked at her and knew where she was leading him so he walked forward, all the way to the end of the room and through a door that led to another door that led to a room that looked like a storage area.

There were no cabinets but that didn’t matter

he just wanted a moment to compose himself, a moment away from the interrogator, and if he’d had a cigarette he would’ve lit up, but he didn’t so he picked up a roll of masking tape and threw it up and down a few times, saying to himself in Slovene that he wasn’t going back, he wasn’t ever going back, not again, and when he realised she was at the door he stopped throwing the tape and walked back out and through another door and into a stairwell that led back down to the other floors, but also up to a fourth floor that hadn’t been accessible from the opposite side.

Humming the Blake’s 7 theme, he went up, not down, and at the top of the stairwell was a door with a note in Danish that he tried to read even though he didn’t know a single word and

giving up on farligt,

he pulled out his phone to translate, but then he remembered, there was no connection for him in Copenhagen, he hadn’t signed up, fuck, so he put his phone back in his pocket and called to the interrogator, ‘come here, I think I’ve found something.’

Joanna appeared fast, along with her aura of black hole outreach, telling him the place was completely deserted and what was that note on the door?

‘Do you have internet here?’

‘No, I don’t need it outside the hostel.’

‘Serious?’

‘Unless I’m staying somewhere for a long time. What does the note say?’

‘Danish.’

‘Can you translate it?’

He laughed and then swore in Slovene cos it was so weird, so strange to have a door at the top of an unmarked stairwell in a dodgy-looking part of Copenhagen with a note left on it, why would anyone leave a note?

He stood still a while then said fuck it [in Slovene], doesn’t matter what the note says, I’ll just open the door, have a look.

He turned the handle, once, twice, four times, but the door was locked.

‘Fuck…’

‘You can try kicking it.’

‘I know that.’

‘Good. Then kick it.’

‘Someone might be downstairs.’

‘There’s no one here.’

‘They might’ve come back from lunch.’

‘It’s not lunch time.’

‘Late lunch.’

‘Are you kicking or not?’

‘I’m thinking.’

‘If you don’t kick it, I will.’

‘Why?’

‘To see what’s inside.’ She tried to nudge him out of the way, but he nudged back. ‘You’re going to kick?’

‘Uh-huh. But gently.’

He took a step back and kicked the door, but he didn’t put enough weight behind it, so all it did was shake a little.

‘Harder.’

‘I’ll try running into it instead.’

‘With your head.’

‘Ha.’

He stepped back again, listened for faint conversation sounds downstairs then jogged into the door shoulder-first.

The frame didn’t budge.

Adding another metre to his run up, he tried again, this time making it tremble a little more, but still not enough to break it down.

By the fifth attempt, his shoulder started to hurt.

‘I think we need a fat person,’ said Joanna, looking back down the stairwell.

‘Macho Man Randy Savage.’

‘Who?’

Sila rubbed his shoulder and muttered, ‘guy from the 80’s, you won’t know him.’

‘Maybe the room is nothing special. Maybe it’s used for storage. Are you sure there’s a cabinet inside?’

‘90% sure.’

‘And the other 10%?’

He stopped rubbing his shoulder and launched into the door again, this time breaking the lock and stumbling through.

‘Shit…’

Joanna quickly followed him in and said the same thing in Cantonese.

The room definitely wasn’t being used for storage, most of the floor was visible, but it wasn’t a hundred per cent empty. The windows had been blackened by someone, but there were enough scratches on the paint to let slats of outside light in…some of which settled on the wooden box laid out on a large dining table in the middle of the room.

‘Is this normal?’

‘Normal?’

‘In Denmark…do they usually have this kind of thing?’

‘I don’t know.’

Sila reached towards his inside jacket pocket and edged forward. It wasn’t a cabinet, technically, though he wasn’t actually sure what the technical specs for a cabinet were, but it was weird, and it was in a hidden room, or a not easy to notice room if you didn’t own the building, and…

‘What are you doing?’

Sila didn’t answer and Joanna didn’t wait for one as she walked forward, ahead of him, and looked down inside the box.

‘Careful…’

‘What is this?’

‘What?’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘What is it?’

Sila took another few steps and saw what it was she was looking so puzzled about.

In the box was a small figure, a girl, face down, naked and shivering.

‘Jezus…’

‘Is this real?’

Sila had looked up a few Danish phrases when they were on the train the day before but now he couldn’t even remember the word for hello.

He tried English instead.

The child stopped shivering for a moment, turned its body, stared up at the visitors…then started shivering again.

‘She’s cold,’ muttered Sila.

‘Take off your jacket.’

‘Shivering…’

‘Quickly.’

Blinking like a salaryman on a handle-less train, Sila removed his jacket and put it over the girl who couldn’t have been more than six years old. It covered most of her body, apart from her ankles and feet.

‘And your shoes.’

‘My shoes?’

‘Yes.’

‘I just gave my jacket.’

‘And now she needs shoes. Come on, faster.’

‘Fuck off, why all my stuff? You’ve got shoes too. And smaller feet.’

‘You won’t do it?’

‘I will, I’m just saying, you’ve got smaller feet. My shoes won’t even fit.’

‘Okay, fine.’ Joanna took off her socks and shoes and put them on the girl’s feet. The socks went on, a bit loose, but the shoes were a lost cause. ‘I think socks are enough.’

‘Are they on tight enough?’

‘Open the door more.’

‘Look a bit loose.’

‘Go, open the door, make it wider.’

Joanna lifted the girl out of the box and guided her to the doorway. The girl hesitated then dug her feet in and outright refused to go.

‘What’s Danish for go?’

‘Just use English.’

Grunting, Joanna turned and looked down at the girl. ‘Go.’

‘Not like that.’

‘Go…’ she repeated, a tiny bit softer.

The girl pulled her arms in tight at her sides, her skin trembling as if a thousand, microscopic scientists with jump plugs were scattered all over.

‘Let me try.’

Sila bent down to the girl’s eye level and did a combo of bobbing head and librarian smile, then said, in English, that it was okay, they were going to get her somewhere warm.

The girl stared at him, her pale blue pupils growing out over most of her irises, and finally replied in what he assumed was Danish.

Sila flinched at the size of her pupils and tried to ignore what he’d read about sexual attraction starting in the eyes. She was tiny, she couldn’t think like that…unless it also applied to parental love.

‘It doesn’t make sense,’ said Joanna, as they reached the bottom of the stairwell and moved back into the library area.

‘That someone was keeping her naked in a wooden box in a locked room in the middle of winter?’

‘Not that.’

‘What, that makes sense to you?’

‘She’s looking at us, all the time.’

‘Huh?’

‘Her eyes have not moved to anything else. She hasn’t looked out the window, around the room, at all these books. Only us.’

‘She looked at the doorway.’

‘Even now, she’s staring at you, not the books. Did she look at the doorway? I didn’t see it.’ The girl turned and stared at Joanna. ‘Look, now she’s back on me.’

‘That’s not weird. We’re her saviours…’

‘Maybe.’

‘And we’re talking in a language she doesn’t understand. I think. And if you don’t understand, but want to understand then you look at the speaker’s lips…even if it doesn’t really help much.’

‘Is she looking at our lips?’

‘Probably, yeah.’

Joanna looked at the girl and tried to draw the line from her own lips to the girl’s eyeballs, but the target seemed to know what was happening and turned to look at the books instead.

‘See, she’s changed view,’ said Sila, keeping the jacket wrapped tight around the girl’s body. ‘She’s not looking at us now.’

‘Maybe she understands what we’re saying.’

‘Or maybe she’s just scared. Jezus, why are we even talking about this? Let’s just get her to the hospital. Okay?’

Joanna stared at the little blonde head in front of her, still shivering. ‘Both maybes are possible.’

~~~

The hospital the taxi dropped them at didn’t look much like a hospital.

In fact, as Sila carried the little girl from the back seat of the taxi through the revolving door entrance, he picked up a mental photo of the library in Liverpool, the old red brick one with the science fiction professor in the basement, but he didn’t dwell on it as he was still pissed off about that guy in the playground.

Didn’t he have any morals at all?

Even drug dealers had souls, or the ones he’d met anyway, but that guy…

‘I still think we should’ve called the police,’ he said, checking the little girl’s waist for the fortieth time in case the wound was slow-moving.

‘No need.’

‘He tried to stab her…’

‘They’ll come here anyway. For the child in the box part.’

‘Ja, but…he’ll be gone by the time we tell them about it. Fucking psycho. He’s probably the one who put her in the box in the first place.’

Joanna stopped, looking around the reception area. ‘Where is everyone?’

‘Yeah, must’ve been. There was no one else there, just him. But why would he do that? I don’t get it. Why would you put a little girl naked into a wooden box?’

‘Can we just find a doctor and get out of here?’

‘What?’

‘I don’t like hospitals.’

‘Well, we’re gonna have to stay and talk to the police.’

‘Doctors can do that.’

‘Okay, then don’t you wanna at least see if she’s okay?’

‘No.’

‘No?’

‘She’s not my child.’

‘Yeah, but…’ Sila looked at the girl and realised she was dropping quite low. He gestured to the plastic seats nearby with his foot. ‘Over here.’

They sat down, the girl staying attached to Sila’s arms. Joanna looked around for someone medical-looking, but the reception area was still empty except for an old woman sleeping across three of the other seats.

‘Did we come in the right entrance?’

‘It said emergency on the sign.’

‘I can’t see any doctors.’

‘Maybe they’re on lunch break.’

‘It’s not lunchtime.’

‘I know, I was joking. Remember? You said before, where are all the…’ Sila realised she wasn’t looking at him. ‘Ah, never mind. You’re not even listening.’

‘I’m looking for a doctor.’

‘Yeah, I can see that.’

‘And when I do, you can explain what happened.’

‘Ha, great. Can’t wait for that story. Probably have to tell them where we found her, and that she wasn’t wearing anything. Not sure what else they’ll ask. I suppose they might ask us to stick around, if they can’t find the girl’s parents.’

‘No.’

‘No to what?’

‘Questions are okay, but I’m not adopting anyone.’

‘Adopt?’

‘I don’t have the time or the desire to carry a child around with me, especially one that didn’t even come from my own womb.’

‘What the fuck are you-…’ Sila checked the little girl’s reaction. Her eyes were open, staring at him like a cult member, exactly the same as before. ‘You’re lucky she doesn’t understand what we’re saying.’

‘I don’t care if she does. I’m not Madonna.’

‘Okay, keep it down. No one’s accusing you of being Madonna.’

‘I don’t like children that are already six years old and not mine. You can’t control them or shape them, it’s impossible. The best thing that can happen is you tolerate each other and when it’s eighteen, it leaves.’

‘That’s the best thing?’

‘The worst is, it kills me in my sleep and empties my bank account.’

Sila tried to lower the girl onto the seat next to him, but she tightened her grip, forcing him to keep hold of her. ‘You’re insane. She’s a kid, not Pol Pot.’

‘Pulput?’

‘And kids are pure as fuck. I mean, look at the way she’s staring at us. Even you, after all that shit you just said.’

‘She’s Danish, she can’t understand.’

‘Not the words, but she can tell by your face. Probably. Anyway, kids don’t understand morality. If you’re her mum, you’re God. You could probably tell her what you…about your adventures on Ljubljana hill and she’d still adore you.’

‘I don’t want her to adore me.’

‘She might even be halfway there now…’

A tall man in a white jacket walked out from a nearby corridor, yawning. Joanna jabbed him in the arm as he went past. ‘Are you a doctor?’

The man said, ‘yes, why, what’s the problem, is this your child?’ and before Sila had a chance to clear his throat to tell the tale, Joanna was already two thirds of the way through it, making sure to leave in all the details that might paint them as crazy people.

‘That’s a real story?’ asked the doctor, when she was done.

‘No,’ said Sila, coughing over Joanna’s yes, ‘we’re just tourists, not cabinet hunters.’

‘I mean, the box part.’

Joanna nudged Sila to the side, right on the hip bone. ‘Yes, like a coffin. Can you take her?’

‘Wow, very disturbing. Yes, of course we can, this way.’

He reached over to take the girl’s hand, but she growled and buried her face in Sila’s jacket.

‘A bit shy,’ said Sila.

‘Maybe you should come too then.’ The doctor started walking back to the corridor he’d come from, slowing down a little and turning to check that Sila and the girl were following.

They were, and now the girl was strong enough to walk, though she still kept her hand tucked in Sila’s.

‘Do you know if she has parents?’

‘No,’ said Joanna, walking on the side of Sila that didn’t have a little Danish girl.

‘Anyone we can call?’

‘I told you, we found her in a box.’

‘Yeah, I remember that part.’ A nurse appeared next to the doctor, almost on cue, and he told her something in Danish. She nodded, looked at the girl with a sympathetic eunuch face, and hurried off.

‘Do we have to stay and talk to the police?’ asked Joanna, looking back down the corridor at the weird shuffling run the nurse was doing.

‘You understand Danish?’

‘Lucky guess.’

‘Well…ideally, yes, you should stay. Unless you need to go somewhere?’

Sila nudged Joanna in the side, not on the hip bone.

‘We’ll stay,’ she replied, monotone.

~~~

An hour later, the police had asked all their questions and, following an injection of anaesthetic, chloroform, sleep juice, whatever the medical term was for it, the girl was asleep in the children’s ward.

Apparently, she was physically fine, apart from some reflex shivers that would [hopefully] dissipate after a few more hours of uninterrupted rest. There were no bruises, no scars, no obvious motive for someone keeping a little girl naked, face down, in a wooden box.

The police asked for Sila’s and Joanna’s contact details and told them they were okay to leave the country, but reminded them that if they did catch the people who did this, they were legally obliged to return and give evidence.

‘Both of us?’ asked Sila.

‘Yes.’

‘Could we just send an e-mail or something?’

‘That would not be admissible in court. It has to be in person.’

‘But we don’t know anything.’

‘Yes, we know. We just need you to confirm that you found her in a box and what condition she was in.’

‘That’s all?’

‘If you didn’t see anyone at the scene of the crime, then, yes, there would be nothing else to add.’

Sila nodded but Joanna didn’t. The police didn’t seem to care either way as they were already on their way out.

Joanna got up and followed after them, before having her sleeve grabbed by Sila and pulled back.

‘What?’

‘Hang back a sec.’

‘Why?’

‘Habit.’

‘We’re not taking her with us.’

‘I wasn’t saying that.’ Sila waited until the police car had left and then released his grip.

‘Are you scared of them?’

‘Who?’

‘The police.’

‘No. Just being cautious.’

‘About what? You wanted to call them before, to catch that drug guy.’

‘That was before you told them our whole story.’

‘So? They didn’t care.’

‘Maybe.’

‘They didn’t, they’ve gone.’

‘Ja, … … … … …’

‘It’s fine. We are cabinet hunters, we found a box, there was a girl in it.’

‘Let’s just…say tourists next time.’

‘Why? It’s not illegal.’

‘Tourists. Okay?’

Joanna didn’t really understand, but also didn’t care, so she shrugged and said, ‘okay.’ What she really wanted to do was get out of there and out of Copenhagen before the girl woke up and asked where the blank-looking Chinese woman had gone to.

There was no malice or hate, she was glad they’d rescued her, but she didn’t have the room in her life to be anyone’s mum. It was bad enough following the Slovene Quixote around, and she had a nasty feeling in her stomach that he was going to get back to the hostel, look at the map, and say, next stop, Sweden.

If he did, she’d have to try the Innsbruck trick again. Get him drunk or drugged and then dig for details.

In fact, why didn’t she just do that again anyway?

Drunk was better as it opened things up, and if he really didn’t say where exactly the cave was this time then she could just leave the next day and go back by herself.

How hard could it be to find a cave?

She’d only tried it previously for a few days, before she got the idea of baiting the hook, and she hadn’t explored very far. It had to be somewhere between the castle and the wardrobe in her hostel room, unless that was some kind of magical wormhole. If you would call that magical, probably not. Wormholes were scientific, theoretical as far as she knew, but still based in science,

not speculative supernatural fantasy.

‘Can we go now?’ she asked, zipping up her jacket.

Sila picked his own jacket up off the chair and put it on, noticing it had a faint smell of child on it now. ‘You sure you don’t want to say goodbye to our baby?’

‘Funny.’

‘We could leave her a note.’

‘She doesn’t speak English.’

‘We could get the doctor to write in Danish for us…’

‘No.’

‘And you said I have no heart.’

‘We brought her here, that’s enough.’ Joanna pulled out her wallet and checked her money situation.

‘You’re leaving her some cash?’

She finished counting and put the wallet back in her pocket. ‘I need a drink.’

‘You really are a sociopath, aren’t you?’

‘How about you?’

‘What?’

‘Drink?’

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