I love this pairing so much I just couldn't resist writing about them. Unfortunately I don't speak any German so my interpretation of how the characters speak is based entirely on translations ... I hope it's not too far off! Thanks for reading
Emma's fingers slipped around the freezing metal of her bike-lock as she pushed it into place with a hollow clunk. The snow was deep, up to Emma's ankles, and it soaked through the denim of her jeans. Her bike was old, rattling metallically as she shook it to make sure it was secure. It had spent too many winters out in the cold like this. Emma sighed, puffing a mist of warm breath out into the freezing air, glancing up at the bright blue sky that betrayed the coldness of the weather before pushing through the door of 'Bauer's Book Corner'.
The small bell suspended above the door tinkled quietly as it opened – a quaint touch that drove Emma crazy when the shop was busy. She had threatened to remove the bell on many occasions, but even standing on a chair she was far too short to actually manage the operation.
'Good morning Emma,' said Hotte, smiling at her from the counter, a coffee cup in his hand and another steaming beside his elbow. 'How are you this fine morning? I've made coffee.'
'How can you be so cheerful in weather like this?' she asked him grumpily, unwinding her scarf from around her neck.
'How can you not be?' Hotte replied. 'The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the snow looks like frosting on a beautiful wedding cake ...'
'It's Monday, it's below zero, I can't feel my face, my arse is numb ...' Emma continued his list for him.
'Oh Emma,' Hotte shook his head slightly with a sympathetic smile. 'You can never look on the bright side, can you?'
Emma rolled her eyes at her friend, not in the mood for his particular brand of naive optimism this early in the morning. She rubbed her hands together feverishly in an effort to get some generate some warmth. The skin of her hands was red and raw from the bitter wind and it felt like the cold had wrapped around her bones. As she shrugged her thick coat from her shoulders her gaze fell upon an unopened letter by the door, addressed to the bookstore. Frowning, she crouched down to pick it up, her frozen fingers fumbling slightly as she tore open the envelope and withdrew the document from inside.
She scanned the letter quickly, her expression changing rapidly from quizzical to incredulous as she read. 'Hotte!' she shouted, making him jump slightly with her suddenness and volume and slop his coffee over the veneer of the counter. 'Have you heard anything about this?'
Hotte looked at her expectantly. 'About what?' he asked, dabbing at the spillage with his sleeve.
Emma waved the letter at him urgently. 'About this entire street of shops being knocked down to make way for a new hotel?'
'What?' Hotte asked, quickly moving from the counter to Emma's side. He snatched the letter from her and pulled it up close to his face, his eyes narrowing behind his thick-rimmed glasses. 'What complete crap!' he exclaimed, his good mood finally faltering. 'They can't do that, surely?'
Emma snatched the letter back from him, inspecting the sender's address. 'Hartmann Hotel Corporation,' she read out loud. 'I've never even heard of them,' she muttered, studying the letter more closely, as if expecting to discover that it was nothing more than a terrible mistake.
'I see you've heard the news,' a man's voice drifted across the room. Emma and Hotte looked up from the letter to see Herr Bauer leaning against the doorframe to the back room, watching them. He removed his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, his skin creasing like paper. He looked tired.
'You knew about this?' Emma asked, as she and Hotte dashed across the small shop towards him.
'I'm afraid so,' he answered, not bothering to look at the letter Emma offered him. 'I've been contacted on a number of occasions about the matter.'
'But ...' Emma stammered, unable to quite comprehend the situation, 'but ... they can't just buy you out like this ...' she told him. 'This is your shop.'
Herr Bauer smiled sadly. 'I'm afraid I'm just a lowly tenant. The property belongs to Hartmann Holdings.'
'Oh,' Emma said forlornly.
'Then ... there's nothing we can do?' Hotte asked.
'Believe me, if there was, I would have done it,' Herr Bauer assured them. 'I'm sorry you've had to find out this way. I didn't want you to know until I was absolutely certain I'd exhausted all options of preventing it from happening,' he told them as he turned to retreat into the back room.
Emma and Hotte exchanged a look of dejection.
'Although,' he added, turning back around, 'we are being honoured with a visit from their Chief Executive at 12 o'clock today,' he revealed, and Emma wondered if his tone wasn't slightly sarcastic, 'to discuss compensation.'
'Wouldn't a chief executive send a minion to do that kind of dirty work?' Hotte speculated.
'I'll think you'll find that a lot of businesses like to give power a human face,' Herr Bauer told Hotte, 'to make you think they're capable of great things, including compassion.'
'Even when they're stabbing you in the back?' Emma asked, her words harsh and sharp.
'Especially when they're stabbing you in the back,' Herr Bauer replied, with the wise, almost cynical smile Emma had grown to love over the years she'd worked for him. 'Don't worry Frau Müller, you two are young, hardworking ... you'll find other jobs.'
'And you?' Emma asked.
Herr Bauer shrugged. 'I'm old,' he said as he replaced his glasses. 'The world has other plans for me.'
'I just can't believe it,' Hotte said for the seventeenth time that morning.
Emma just sighed and glanced agitatedly at her watch – 11:55. The prospect of losing the bookstore made her heart hurt. Over the past two years she'd grown so attached to it; it would almost be like losing a part of herself. She'd always had trouble fitting in, or feeling like she truly belonged anywhere. With three other sisters all clamouring for attention she was used to being overlooked when she was growing up, and, well, the less said about her teenage years the better. It's not like she had any lofty goals, she'd never expected to be the best at anything, but somehow the little bookstore had provided her with at least the tiniest sense of belonging. And of self-worth.
'We can't just let it go so easily,' she said, banging her fist down on the counter in frustration.
'And what do you suggest we do?' Hotte asked.
'I don't know,' Emma said, glancing around the room in search of inspiration. 'Maybe we ... sweet talk the Chief Executive into giving up the hotel?'
'Yeah ... great plan,' Hotte said scornfully.
'...or relocating it?' Emma suggested. 'Or ... we convince him that this place is so great that they just have to keep it ... maybe as part of the hotel?'
Hotte frowned at her. 'Do you seriously rate your negotiation skills that highly?'
'This guy's going to be a serious suit.' Hotte told her. 'His tie is probably going to be worth more than this shop. He'll own houses and hotels from here to Abu Dhabi. And you think that you're the person to talk him out of a lucrative business venture?'
'Jesus, thanks for the support,' Emma sighed.
'I'm a realist,' Hotte told her.
'I thought you were a utopian,' she muttered agitatedly.
Emma sighed again. 'Fine, if you don't want to stand up for this place ... then I guess I'll just have to do it myself.'
'Well, now's your chance,' Hotte replied, gesturing to the ominous flickering of movement through the frosted glass of the shop door. 'I think our VIP has just arrived.' He held up his wrist and tapped the face of his watch at Emma. 12:00.
Emma turned to face the door, straightening out her shirt and smoothing her hair. Her heart hammered with nerves, those same nerves she always seemed afflicted with whenever she was under pressure, but she fisted her hands tightly at her sides, determined not to give in to her already overwhelming urge to give up. She clenched her jaw and let out a slow, steady breath. She'd not let this bookstore go without a fight.
The bell tinkled as the door opened and Emma gasped in a sharp, shocked breath as the Chief Executive wandered slowly and unassumingly into the store, glancing at her surroundings with gracious interest until she caught sight of Emma, and froze.
'No way,' Hotte whispered.
'Jenny Hartmann,' Emma breathed.