The Alps began to rise around them. Before long you had to actually crane your neck and look up to see the skyline on either side of the road. Even looking ahead the snow speckled mountains seemed to be growing up out of the ground as they got nearer. But long before Bodil had to raise her gaze to see the endless azure still ahead they came to the town of Niederurnen, filling the now very narrow gap between the limestone walls of the pass.
The approach to the town was uninspiring. Long, two and three storey buildings stretched across the half kilometre between the steep, built up sides of the enclosing hills. The buildings, with their plain concrete construction were devoid of decoration or any sign of occupation. The single row of square windows on the upper floor gave Bodil the impression of medieval fortifications. She queried Victor about them and learned that they were factories. Nierderurnen was an industrial town producing a variety of heavy engineering and aero industry products. She looked again at the stark utility of the buildings. Victor’s explanation made sense but Bodil couldn’t shake the impression that they were approaching some huge castle of old.
Her impression was not lessened as they eventually joined a short queue of vehicles waiting to enter the narrow gap between two of the factory buildings. This scene, too, could have been lifted from the pages of an historical novel or movie. Replace the cars and trucks with horse drawn wagons, and the officious looking ‘jobsworths’ with clipboards easily became the chain-mailed gatekeepers of yore.
The conjured image brought a smile and Bodil shared the joke with Victor. She was rewarded with a broad grin and a deep chuckle and, for a moment, Bodil caught a glimpse of Victor beyond his job. Then it was their turn.
Victor edged the car forward at the beckoning hand gesture of a dark haired woman wearing the expression of someone who was near the end of their shift and feeling it intensely. The gesture turned into a command to stop so Victor did so and thoughtfully opened his window as a small, sweating man stepped up to the car and leaned down, clipboard at the ready, pen poised.
“Yes your name please?” It was automatic, probably the hundredth time he had said the words today.
Victor gave his name and then hers, presenting the back of his hand for the pen to read.
A full seat away Bodil caught the whiff of the man’s body odour.
The man checked Victor’s name against the clipboard and then turned to Bodil. He raised his eyebrows expectantly, his slightly bulging eyeballs betraying a hint of irritation that he had to do so.
Bodil, following Victor’s instruction to keep quiet, had nothing to offer but a smile.
Victor took over.
“This is Professor Bodil Ramsbottom-Fergusen, Hill-Davis. Head of pre-Sirtuin human history at Brasília University.” He explained. “She does not have security ID but she is a personal guest of Alicia Troy O'Rourke-Liê”
This seemed to confuse the sweaty man.
“Pro Fess Or” Victor intoned, as if to a child. But there was no sarcasm in his voice, only patience. “She is a teacher… at a Uni Ver Sity.”
Bodil watched, bemused. How could he not… maybe he was a child. But even so… Bless Her Name, he’s sounding it out.
It seemed to be true. Looking quite flustered now, the man’s moist lips moved as he appeared to be sounding out the apparently unfamiliar words under his breath. His fingers stabbed at clipboard until he got a result he could live with.
“Ah! Yes! University professor.” Then his glee disappeared like it had been switched off. “Wait please, here.”
Victor sighed and he and Bodil watched Sweaty Man walk to the front of the car and talk with Angry Woman. They both consulted the clipboard. They looked at Victor and the Professor. Bodil produced a broad smile, it couldn’t hurt. Then Angry Woman talked into her jacket cuff and Sweaty Man came back to the open window. He leaned down.
“Over there please. You must wait.” The hand with the clipboard gestured to some indistinct area behind the building to their right.
If Victor thought about pushing it, even for a second, he thought better of it just as quickly.
“Right. Fine. Just, can we hurry things up? This is Alicia Troy’s guest, The Bride? The Professor is expected and I'm pretty sure you don’t want to go giving the ‘Miss Troy’ more reasons to be pissed off at you people now do you?”
But Sweaty man was already moving to the next car in line. Victor stabbed the button to raise the window. “Dammit” He put the car into drive and swung off the road into the shade of the designated area.
“Problem?” Bodil ventured.
A ‘Victor’ shrug.
“Just Bureaucracy at work in our brave new world.”