Ane led the way down the stairs and across the factory floor. Wearing a water proof trench coat and a broad-rimmed hat she looked like someone taken straight out of a western movie. However, her outfit was in no way covering up her feminine appearance, and she made no effort to appear masculine in any way. Her long dark hair flowed freely down her back, and she moved with a natural elegance matching her stature and gender. If anything, her outfit only served to highlight her femininity.
The factory floor was teeming with activity. Not only were groups of workers hauling fish into the factory from outside, groups of women were already manning the conveyor belts, processing and packaging fish. They were all dressed in white water tight gowns and wearing thick orange gloves to protect their hands from the cold and the water.
Three groups of women, each sitting at the head of a conveyor belt on the receiving end of the production line, were busy gutting the fish and cleaning it with liberal amounts of water before tossing it onto the conveyor belt in front of them, sending the fish on its way down to a point where the conveyor belts merged and dropped the it onto a single belt.
The single belt was in turn manned by another group of women who picked up the clean fish and put it into crates, carefully arranging the fish, tail to head for optimal packaging. And every time a woman had filled a crate, she released it from her station by pulling a small lever, allowing it to move across a series of rollers to its final destination while she put another empty crate in front of her to repeat the process.
A small group of workers manned the final station where the crates rolled onto a large electronic scale to be weighed and labelled, after which the workers covered the fish in crushed ice and sealed it off for transportation.
"We really need a fork lift," Ane remarked as she led Bjorn and Geir past the second conveyor belt where two women and a small Asian man were struggling with four crates of fish stacked on top of each other. "I wish grandpa hadn´t sold the one we had."
"Your grandpa?" Bjorn enquired, curious to learn more about Ane´s connection to the place.
"Yeah, he had to sell it of course. The poor man was stabbed in the back."
"Well, not literally of course. But he was promised all sorts of subsidies and help from Oslo, and it never materialized. He sank his fortune into this, and it was all for nothing, until now that is... But that is of little comfort to him now... He would have loved to see this place up and going again, though."
Coming out on the quay in front of the plant, Ane switched the subject back to the rules and regulations that were the sole purpose of Bjorn and Geir´s visit. A yellow line was painted on the concrete surface, parallel to the waterside, and now that it was pointed out to him, Bjorn could see that the line stretched the entire length of the quay down to the fence with the barbed wire. He must have seen it when he entered the area, but must have overlooked it completely, not understanding the significance of it.
To Bjorn´s surprise, Geir wasted no time pulling out a measuring tape from his pocket, handing the lip of it to Bjorn and asking him to hunch down and place it at the land side of the yellow line. Taken a little aback by the suddenness of Geir's action, Bjorn nevertheless did as he was told and hunched down next to line. Geir on his side rolled out the tape to measure the distance to the edge of the quay, and it was clear that Geir was taking the business of inspecting the premises way more seriously than Bjorn had imagined.
Realizing that it was becoming increasingly clear that he himself had no idea about the exact wording of the rules, Bjorn tried to make himself sound at least remotely informed by commenting on the measurement that Geir read out loud.
"Two meters exactly," Bjorn said. "That´s good."
"Good? That leaves no margin at all."
"True!" Bjorn confirmed, and guessing the rule´s exact wording, he added "it should be at least two meters."
"Right! Some people go about these rules as if they prescribe exact measurements. Operating with such tight margins makes it damn hard to know if the rule is properly followed." Geir gave Ane a stern glance as he said this. "Come on, Bjorn, lets measure the line a bit further up."
The two men walked first down towards the fence, making several measurements, and then back up away from the fence, quietly ignoring Ane as they passed her. However, every measurement came in at exactly two meters, which clearly irritated Geir who kept repeating how such pedantic accuracy makes life hard for inspectors such as himself.
Finally giving up on trying to find a place where the line might be too close to the edge, Geir straightened up, giving the line a good hard look, before asking Bjorn if he had seen anyone crossing the line.
"No. Everyone seems to be following the rules," Bjorn replied, pleased to have another chance to pretend that he had actually read the rules.
"It looks indeed as if everything is in order," Geir continued, barely able to hide his irritation with Ane and her pedantic accuracy in drawing the line for the no go zone.
Bjorn could not muster much sympathy for Geir, though, and turned his attention instead to several box-like living units. The wooden barracks, placed next to the factory and stacked two levels high, were dwarfed by the protective rock along which the quay was built. They looked tiny and flimsy, and Bjorn wondered out loud about the plight of the workers, hoping to change the topic away from the yellow line that was absorbing all of Geir's attention.
"So this is where Ane keeps her cattle," Bjorn remarked, pointing to the living units.
"Cattle?" Geir responded, not getting what Bjorn was driving at.
"The workers," Bjorn corrected. "The barracks are for the workers, aren't they?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Why?" Geir asked, starting to walk back towards the fishing boat.
"Don´t you think it a little suspicious?" Bjorn insisted, tagging along with Geir.
"Well, what did you expect? Ane can´t very well let the poor buggers freeze to death, can she?"