She wasn’t beautiful, and she was of course perfectly aware of it. She moved timidly across the floor in the way that most shy women do, with an apologetic expression. With no desire to take up space, no hope of making an impression or being believed, or, for that matter, being taken seriously at all. For well over forty years the mirror had taunted her about this lack of beauty, and she had bowed her head and accepted the judgment. If a spark had come blowing on the wind, she would presumably have gone up in flames—her hair was as dry as straw and she was as pale as paper. She was wearing a green nylon smock, with big deep pockets that contained nothing, as they had long since been searched and emptied. There was a logo on the breast pocket, over her heart, with the word Europris embroidered in big letters. She had an ugly scar across her throat, left by a wound that had not healed well. She was underweight and perhaps anemic, with red hair and freckles. And yet, despite her lack of color, the blood was still coursing through her veins, especially now that she was standing in front of him, there to explain herself, her hands hidden in the thoroughly inspected pockets. She was waiting for permission to sit down, was not presumptuous enough to make herself comfortable. Sejer had questioned many people over the years, but no one like her.
She pulled the chair out carefully, so it would not scrape on the floor—the noise might bother someone. She had never had anything to do with the public prosecutor before, must not irritate or provoke him in any way, make him angry. Only now did she notice the inspector’s dog over by the window; it stood up and padded across the floor. The dog, Frank Robert, was a small, fat Shar Pei and rather charming with all his wrinkles and folds, as if he were wearing a far too big coat, like herself. The dog stood up on his hind legs and laid his heavy head on her lap. His eyes, which were barely visible in among all the folds, instantly touched something in her and made her forget the seriousness of the situation. There was a small flash of joy in her own eyes, a glimpse. Her eyes lacked color as well; the irises were pale and watery, and her eyebrows were as thin as whiskers. She had not expected a dog. Certainly not one that would come up to her like that, devoted, without hesitation. She was not used to prompting such feeling, not from man or beast. As the beggar he was, Frank stayed on his hind legs and slavered on her coat. When she stopped patting him, he put his paw on her lap, hoping for more.
“Frank,” Sejer said. “Lie down.”
The dog padded back to his blanket. He pushed and pulled it with his paws to make a nest. The excess kilos slowed him down, and each command from his owner had to be interpreted and carefully assessed before it was obeyed, so everything took time. He was also getting on, in dog years. His sight, hearing, and movement were all much reduced.
“Let’s not make this too formal,” the inspector said. “My name is Konrad.”
He held out his hand.
“Ragna,” she whispered. “Riegel.”
“Like the chocolate,” Sejer said with a smile. “I used to like their chocolate when I was a boy, and a bar only cost thirty øre. Everyone could afford a Riegel.”
As soon as he had said it, he realized it could be misinterpreted, but his words made her smile and the ice was broken.
Her hand, thin and white, rested in his for a moment. He noted the lack of strength. It was warm and dry, but there was no sign of nervousness, even though she was quick to lower her eyes. Their handshake was the first step toward something inevitable. Everything that needed to be talked about, explained, and understood.
She snuck a glance at him and was reminded of old impregnated wood or a log on a river, something heavy and solid. He was a good deal older than she, tall and gray. Dressed in a plain shirt with a dark blue tie. There was a cherry with two green leaves embroidered on the tie. That wasn’t sewn in a factory, Ragna thought. Someone, presumably a woman, had sat with a needle and thread and embroidered that cherry as a token of love.
“You’re trying to win my trust,” she whispered. “You won’t say a word about why I’m here, not for a long time. You’ll warm me slowly until I pop like popcorn in a pan. Turn myself inside out.”