"So, what are you up to here in Lundby?" Bjorn asked the tall Italian as they entered the casino.
"We're carpenters," the Italian answered with some pride. "We're working on the apartment building behind the church."
"The one down by the water?" Bjorn asked.
Bjorn nodded thoughtfully as he followed the Italians in the direction of the roulette table, in the room to the left, behind the staircase.
"I'm doing the flooring," the man explained. Then, with a toss of his head in the direction of his colleague to his left he continued. "Mario here is taking care of the skirting, and Lorenzo is our cabinets guy."
"Sounds serious," Bjorn remarked, impressed by the high degree of specialization. "So you don't do a bit of everything each? Wouldn't that be more fun?"
"Not really, the stuff we are doing hasn't been done since Venice was a republic. You really have to be an expert to get it right. And, to be honest, I'm pretty blank on both skirting and cabinets."
Bjorn found it hard to believe that skirting was actually a field that required specialization. Cabinets, on the other hand were another matter. Cabinets may require a high degree of specialization, but skirting? Wasn't that just a matter of cutting some planks into proper lengths before attaching them to the walls?
Bjorn vented his scepticism.
"Well, Lorenzo could probably do both skirting and flooring just as well as Mario and me," the tall Italian explained. "But he's the only one of us who knows how to do cabinets the old fashioned way. I mean... It would be a complete waste to have him do any of our jobs."
"But skirting and flooring is in fact very different fields," Mario added, having followed the conversation closely. "Those are no ordinary floors Georgio is putting in. And the skirting is not just a bunch of narrow planks. We're talking top of the line luxury stuff."
Bjorn was again surprised. The apartment building, although large and elegant, did not look like a palace, but the inside was evidently another matter.
"It looks deceptively ordinary from the outside," Bjorn commented.
"It does," Georgio agreed. "But they have some wild plans for the garden."
"Garden?" Bjorn asked. "Are they going to plant a garden up here in the arctic?"
"Really? How? I mean, this is the arctic after all. Hardly anything grows up here."
"They are going to put up glass domes," Mario explained. "And it is not like they will plant tropical plants. Just ordinary sturdy garden plants common further south in Norway."
It all sounded doable, but insane. This was Lundby, after all. A modern day gulag of sorts. And here he was talking to expert carpenters from Venice, describing a building project so luxurious that only the very best carpenters can complete it.
"So, who's behind this project?" Bjorn asked.
"Pedro," Georgio answered.
"Ah... King Pedro the Great!" Bjorn said with a smile. "The mad scientist, or whatever."
The Italians laughed. Even Lorenzo who had been curiously quiet during the conversation smiled.
"He's actually a nice guy," Lorenzo commented. "Surprisingly down to earth."
"Yeah," Mario added. "He's not the only one moving in there when the place is finished. Your foreign minister is also getting an apartment. And so is Mons... I'm not sure who is moving into the fourth apartment, though."
"Mons?" Bjorn asked. "Who is Mons?"
"Oh... You don't know?" Marius asked, genuinely surprised. "He's the owner of the port and iron mine."
"The ship owner?"
"Yeah... Pedro's friend."
Bjorn looked around in the room they were standing. People were placing bets on the roulette table, and over by the wall, there was a Black Jack table with people also betting against the house. Bjorn felt that he had talked enough to the Italians, and signalled that he was ready to go back to his colleagues, thanking the men for the pleasant and interesting conversation.
The Italians too, seemed ready to end the conversation at this point, but Mario had a final question for Bjorn.
"So, what are you doing up here?" Mario asked. "Are you from Kirkenes?"
"No, I´m from Oslo," Bjorn explained. "I work as a guard up at the Lundby Neiden checkpoint."
"Ah... Really!" Mario exclaimed with a sly smile. "So you are watching an arbitrary line, making sure that the rules on one side are not the same as those on the other side?"
Bjorn was caught a little off guard by this comment, and had to think a bit before he answered.
"Arbitrary?" Bjorn asked rhetorically. "It's hardly arbitrary. It's drawn by the foreign minister himself... And, someone has to make sure the asylum seekers don't escape."
"Sure," Mario answered, still smiling. "But just remember, in the Fifth Empire there are no borders, only property lines."
"And what's the difference?" Bjorn asked.
"I'm sure you can figure that out for yourself if you think about it," Mario said with a wave of the hand. "Chao!"