Bjorn leant back in his chair, sipping his beer in silence. He felt a fuming frustration with Thomas and his definition of slavery, but also a sneaking suspicion that the real source of his frustration was Ola and Ane, and that the thing that was really upsetting him was a jealousy of their youth and success.
Bjorn was not the oldest one in the casino, but he was clearly a good deal older than most. And what did he have to show for it? Nothing. For a few weeks he had lived under the illusion that he too was rich, when in fact he had signed the papers that would bankrupt him. And the fall had been horrendous, brutal and unyielding, with the tax man showing no mercy as he rejected every single one of Bjorn's arguments. The inheritance tax could not be recalculated. It was set in stone as it were, and would never be forgiven.
Ola's great sin was simply to be the man that Bjorn would liked to have been. His success reminded Bjorn of his own failure, and it was this more than anything that made him feel so edgy and hostile towards both Ola and Ane. But this was neither the place nor time to dwell on the past. Bjorn was on a journey of his own, he thought, even if he was just an observer. Lundby was an exciting place, and the casino was full of life and energy. He was an explorer of sorts, and his success would be a private one, not measured in wealth, but in experiences.
Sipping his beer, Bjorn convinced himself that he would be successful in his own way, and that his life was as exciting as anyone's. And pretty soon he felt almost relieved to know that Ane was living her own life, quite separate from his, for he had better things to do than to be together with a woman obsessed with fish and profits. Bjorn was free. And his very lack of material wealth was the source of this freedom.
Looking out on the dance floor, with people dancing and moving about, some hoping for love, and others looking to make some money, Bjorn felt relieved to know that he was above this. He was beyond this hustling and sentimental nonsense. Bjorn was the observer, separate from the daily struggles, hopes and fears of the people around him.
Bjorn took another sip of his beer, enjoying the sense of calm that was starting to fill his every fibre. Then Espen made a comment out of the blue.
"They were both from Fredrikstad," Espen said, as if announcing something deep and significant.
"Who," Bjorn asked.
"Ola and Per."
"Well, they said they were from Longyear... But no one grows up in Longyear. It's not a place where people raise families."
"True... The place is so far north it's a wonder anyone lives there at all."
"Yeah! Compared to Longyear, Lundby is almost a tropical paradise." Thomas added. "But what makes you so sure they are from Fredrikstad?"
"Their dialect... I got family in Fredrikstad, and they talked just like them... Toned down a bit, but still..."
"So you think they were lying about Longyear?" Thomas asked, confused by Espen's story.
"No, no... I'm just saying that they must have grown up in Fredrikstad. I'm sure they've been working the mines up at Svalbard. But that's not where they are from originally."
"Okay?" Thomas answered without any sign of interest in what Espen was talking about.
Bjorn didn't find Espen's comment very interesting either and slipped back into his meditative mood rather than making any effort to keep the conversation going. Bjorn looked over at the table where he had last seen Frank and Ante, thinking that it would be nice to have Ante back at their table, but the table was empty. He looked around, but could see neither Frank nor Ante anywhere in the room. However, Bjorn didn't feel like making a point of their disappearance, preferring to sit quietly and enjoy his meditative state instead.
"It's nice how they keep the music down enough for us to be able to talk without shouting on top of our voices," Espen commented idly, apparently trying to start another conversation.
"It's the way they positioned the loudspeakers," Thomas explained. "See how they hang right above the dance floor. That way it is loud where it matters, and more mellow out here."
"So that is how they do it," Espen answered in apparent wonder.
"Yeah, there are no loudspeakers out here, as you can see."
Bjorn looked up to verify Thomas' claim, but felt immediately dizzy.
"Oh my! I'm more drunk than I thought," Bjorn said, turning his gaze quickly to the floor to fight a sudden spell of nausea.
"You're all right?" Espen asked.
"Sure... I just have to stop drinking."
"Need some help getting out in the fresh air?" Thomas asked.
"No, no... I'm fine. I'm not sure why I feel this way... I haven't drunk all that much."
Bjorn quickly regained his balance. "What was that all about?" Bjorn thought to himself with an uneasy feeling that his sudden spell of dizziness was more than just alcohol related. But Thomas broke Bjorn's line of thoughts with a question before he had time to even start speculating on an alternative cause.
"Where is Ante?" Thomas asked. "He's not getting drunk again, is he?"
"I don't know," Bjorn answered, feeling less dizzy by the second. "I haven't seen him in a while."
The three men looked around, unable to find any trace of Ante. And Frank was also nowhere to be seen. But just as Thomas were about to get up to go looking for the two men, Ante appeared from the back of the room, all smiles and with a glass in his hand.
"Is that a cocktail, you got there?" Thomas asked as Ante presented himself at the table.
"No, it's a long drink," Ante answered with a broad smile. "A Rum Fizz to be exact."
"But you are our designated driver!" Thomas said with quiet despair.
"Sure... But I'm not drunk... I'm fine... I'll get you all back safe and sound to the checkpoint when the time comes."