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Protection

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It wasn’t his fault he was young, Magnus thought as he pulled his car into the parking lot of the police station. He also couldn’t help it if he had looks that women (and quite a few men) seemed to consider handsome. Despite what certain people seemed to think, his looks were not the reason he had risen so quickly through the ranks to become the youngest detective on the Ystrad police force. If anything his blond curls, baby face, and bright blue eyes were a hurdle he had to overcome. 

He was a good cop. Methodical, persistent, and focused, he tended to play things by the rule books, but really, shouldn’t that be a good thing for a law enforcement officer? No one had to question whether his gun was fired inappropriately when he was forced to take out a perpetrator, thank you very much. If he didn’t have the intuition of certain other, older cops, well what could they expect when he had twenty years less experience? Surely even the great Kurt Wallander hadn’t been a mastermind at tywenty six. 

All he wanted was a little respect. He deserved to be given a real case with real responsibilities. He was going to talk to Lisa about it today. He was sick of being given the shit work by everyone just because he was younger. How was he supposed to learn if they didn’t let him do anything!

Rounding the corner into the squad room, determined set to his chiseled jaw line, Magnus saw his coworkers assembled around a table. Lisa, their comanding officer, had a file in her hands and stood at the head. Kurt and Anne-Britt sat on one side, listening to her. They all stopped and turned to look at him as he came into the room. 

“Nice of you to join us,” Kurt grumbled. 

“I’m three minutes early,” Magnus said defensively, then cursed internally for rising to the bait. Don’t engage, he reminded himself. It was just what the old bastard wanted.

Turning around the chair across from Anne-Brit and straddling the back of it, gave her and Lisa each a sunny smile and ignored the man in the room. 

“What have we got?” He asked. 

“An analyst was murdered at a high tech data company last night. He was found by an assistant who was working late with his throat sliced. We think he may have stumbled upon something those higher up in the company wanted hidden.”

”Such as?” He asked. If the case involved technology, he knew he would be neck deep in it. God knew Kurt could barely open his own email. 

“Identity theft, for starters,” Anne-Brit replied. “The firm collects data from some of the most exclusive organizations in the EU.”

”They’ve already killed once to keep whatever they’re doing secret,” Kurt mumbled. “Who knows what else they might do.”

”And the witness?” He asked. 

“We had a stroke of luck there,” Anne-Brit said, though she didn’t exactly look happy about it. “Turns out I know her. She’s the daughter of an old friend of mine, I was like a big sister to her growing up.”

”She’s willing to help us,” Lisa added. 

“Help us how?” He asked. 

“Lanie is the assistant to the CEO of the company. She has classified access to all company records, at least the ones they admdit to. And more than that,” Anne-Britt added with a grimace, “she seems to think her boss is rather... um... taken with her. She’s actually been thinking of quitting her job as it’s gotten a bit uncomfortable with his attention to her.”

”She’s agreed to spy on him for us,” Lisa continued the narrative, filling in the two men. “You must have heard of Erik Haas?”

“Of course,” Magnus confirmed immediately. “He’s notoriously secretive.”

”Which is why her help is so vital. We think Haas is directly involved in the opperation.”

”He’s throwing a very exclusive house party in a week,” Anne-Brit said. “As his assistant, Lanie will be there as half guest, half worker. More importantly, she’s allowed to bring a date. Lucky for us, she’s currently single.”

”A date?” Kurt scoffed.

”We need someone to go with her, undercover as her escort, and do some digging around. Also, since she will be snooping herself, it’s important to me that she has protection backing her up.”

”If she really works for this man, and he’s so paranoid, won’t he know she’s not seeing anyone?”

”That’s why we have a week to arrange a very public, whirlwind courtship,” Lisa let the shoe drop, turning to look at Magnus, who felt his jaw drop to the floor.

“What? No way!” He refused.

“She will be at Doyel’s bar tonight. You will pick her up there and sweep her off her feet.”

”You can’t be serious?” He demanded. “I know that bar. I go there. People will recognize me.”

”Exactly,” Anne-Brit replied, “so it won’t look suspicious at all to anyone if you leave with a girl. Hardly the first time.”

Magnus blushed. He hadn’t realized his coworkers knew he was a bit of a flirt. He tried to keep things all business at work.

”I’ll do it,” Kurt said suddenly. Perversely Magnus was irritated. He might not want this case, but wasn’t it just like Kurt to try and take it away from him. “Martinsson’s too green. The girl will need someone experienced protecting her.”

Lisa and Anne-Brit exchanged worried, uncomfortable looks.  

“Kurt,” Lisa said gently, laying a hand on his shoulder, “I’m afraid that just won’t work. The girl is twenty five... this has to be believable.”

Magnus smiled smugly as the older man’s face reddened.

”So come on, pretty boy,” Anne-Brit teased him, “time to put those luscious curls and baby blues to work.”

So that was it. They didn’t wany him for his skills as a cop, but for his looks. Fucking perfect.

”What exactly am I supposed to do?” He asked with resignation.

”I’d think you would know that better than any of us,” Anne-Brit smiled.

”Talk to the girl, make it look believable,” Lisa instructed. “Take her home and keep her safe. Play the besotted playboy for the week until the party. Try not to let her out of your sight any more than you have to.”

”And how far am I to take this little charade?” He asked. “Am I expected to whore myself out to make him buy it?”

”If you have to,” Anne-Brit told him, looking serious. “I care about this girl, Magnus.”

”Well,” Kurt huffed, “looks like there’s finally a job you’re suited for.”

***

Lanie took another sip of her wine and looked around the bar. Had he decided not to come after all? Anne had admitted that he was less than thrilled by the assignment. She wasn’t particularly looking forward to it herself. 

Still, she had to do something. You didn’t discover a dead, obviously murdered, colleague and then go blithely about your business. At least, she didn’t. She had called Anne, sat down, given herself five minutes to have a breakdown, then pulled herself back together and tried to think of who would want Micah dead.

She knew something untoward was going on with the company. There had been too many odd occurrences of late. Meetings kept deliberately off the books, files even she was not allowed to touch, let alone read. And Erik, not completely stable to begin with, had become a borderline stalker, asking inappropriate questions one minute and yelling at her for answering his phone, part of her job, the next.

When he had insisted on joining her and her coworker Holly for drinks tonight, “to make sure she was really okay after her ordeal last night” she had panicked. Anne, however, thought it was perfect. Having him witness her initial meeting with Magnus first hand would help convince him it was real. They just had to sell it.

”Ready for another?” Erik asked her, hand caressing her arm and making her cringe. 

“I’m still working on this one,” she answered, continuing to nurse her drink. “Looks like Holly could use one though.”

He gave her a thin smile and made his way to the bar, Holly following in his wake. Lanie thought her friend might have a crush on their dark haired boss. If only he would return her feelings, instead of focusing his attention on Lanie! But then, if he really was involved in Micah’s death Lanie didn’t want Holly anywhere near him.

For the millionth time Lanie’s eyes swept the bar. She was glad her recent trauma gave her an excuse for appearing jumpy, as she was obviously on edge waiting for the unknown detective who was to be her constant companion for the foreseeable future. God help her.

Anne had not exactly been comforting. When Lanie asked her how she would recognize Martinsson, the older woman had smiled devilishly and given a short laugh. 

“You’ve been to Florence on holiday, yah?” she asked, obscurely. Lanie nodded. She was an artist in her other life, when realities of work and rent gave her time to indulge her passion. “Well, when you see one of Michelangelo’s statues come to life walk in, that’s him.”

”What exactly do you mean?”

”Just keep your eyes open for a tall blond. He’s seen your picture; he’ll approach you.”

Now, as a gust of frigid air blew in from the opened door, Lanie saw that her old friend had not exaggerated. Standing in the doorway rubbing warmth back into his cold hands was an artist’s dream. 6’2” of long, lean muscles, ice blue intelligent eyes, and tousled blond curls that gave him the look of an cherub, but one all grown up and ready to sin. She instantly itched to paint him. Preferably nude, an errant thought raced through her mind before she could stop it.

Lanie watched the tall man survey the room, a frown on his slightly petulant lips. Around the bar people were starting to turn in his direction.

”Magnus,” bellowed the bartender, “shut the damn door! What, were you born in a barn?”

Magnus shook himself, closed the door behind him, and then turned to smile at the bartender. Lanie thought her heart had stopped. It was like the sun had come up when that smile lit his face. 

“Sorry, Jan,” he said, crossing the room and shaking hands with the man in greeting. “The cold addled my brains.”

”Beer to warm you up then,” the barman said, pouring him a pint.

Lanie realizes she was staring and tore her eyes away. This man was supposed to come over and hit on her? And it was supposed to be believable? Were they crazy? It would be obvious to anyone that all he needed to do was stand there and women would flock to him. Even now she could see the waitess trying to catch his eye as he leaned back against the bar and took a pull from his glass.

Checking to see that Erik and Holly were at the other end, Lanie rose and made her way to the bar next to him. Lord, he was tall! He had almost a foot on her, and she had never been one for heels. She stood there for a minute, as though waiting for the bartender’s attention, and felt him turn to look at her.

She looked up, and for a moment his eyes met hers with what looked to be hostility. Before she could be sure though it had passed and he smiled at her. Even knowing it was all an act Lanie’s stomach did a little flip as their eyes met.

”Hello darling,” he said in a voice like melted chocolate. “You look like you could use a refill. Let’s see if we can’t get Jan’s attention. I’m Magnus, by the way.”

”Lanie,” she replied. Good lord, she was doomed.