Veronika's hair has always been her best marker. Sometimes I'll flinch if I see someone on the street with a straight, black bob like hers. I'll look up at her with my pulse racing, and only dare to exhale when she looks away blankly.
Sebastian turns off the engine.
"It's OK," he says. "It's just a few days. I'm sure she'll get bored and go home tomorrow."
Ever the optimist.
"That must be the lawyer," Sebastian says just as my eyes land on him.
If Veronika looks like a crow over by the wall, then the probate lawyer looks like a cardboard cutout of the stereotypical legal eagle. He's wearing a gray overcoat that matches his Volvo—so much so that I can't help but wonder if it's deliberate—and his hair is neatly combed to the left in a meticulous part. His black leather gloves are perfectly coordinated with the leather briefcase at his feet, on the top step leading up to the front door.
"Hello," I say as I climb out of the car and close the door behind me. After the stuffiness of the drive, the February air feels nice on my face.
"Victoria?" he asks, with the sort of upper-class Stockholm accent that must make it hard for him to spend any lengthy amount of time elsewhere. "We spoke on the phone, no? I'm Rickard. From Lindqvist's."
It was Rickard who contacted me a few weeks ago to suggest we visit Solhöga to compile an inventory of assets. He's younger than I initially thought—late forties, I'd say, from the lines around his eyes and the streaks of silver in his thick, dark hair. It was another, older lawyer who was taking care of the will.
"Eleanor," I correct him, smiling so as not to seem unfriendly. "I prefer 'Eleanor.'"
"Oh," he says. "Nice to finally meet you, Eleanor."
His handshake is firm and warm. I let go a little too soon. My pulse has quickened, a fluttering in my veins.
'He's just the lawyer helping us with the inventory. He isn't dangerous.'
'You have spoken to him on the phone, remember?'
I look away to stop myself from staring at him, and my eyes land on Veronika. She drops her cigarette to the ground, puts it out brutally and efficiently with a stamp of her high heel, and looks up at me.
Neither of us says anything for a few seconds. She's waiting me out—one of Vivianne's old tricks, though Veronika would be furious if I pointed that out.
"How nice of you to come," I say eventually.
She smirks. Just the one side of her mouth—the left.
When I was a child I thought it was intentional. Back then I was still mesmerized by my aunt, who showered me in spurts of absentminded attention as if I were a little puppy. Her attention span lasted longer than Vivianne's, but her moods swung faster. And I idolized her all the more for it.
It was only when I was a teenager and Veronika's intensity had started to
calcify to aggression that Vivianne told me in venomous confidence that Veronika's lopsided smile was the result of a temporary facial paralysis that had happened before I was born. 'Probably a blessing, all things considered', Vivianne had said, with her perfectly symmetrical grin. 'I mean, she did always look like her father. At least the paralysis gave her face a little character.'
"I changed my mind," says Veronika. She hasn't even looked at Sebastian yet, let alone said hello. "I haven't been here since I was a child. I couldn't miss this," she goes on.
She raises her eyebrow slightly, throws a glance Sebastian's way. "Aha. The boyfriend, I see."
Sebastian gives her a big smile, as though she greeted him politely. "Good to see you again, Veronika."
Veronika stares at him for a few seconds, then nods curtly and turns to the lawyer.
"And you are?" she asks, as though until this moment she has been blanking him entirely. I have no doubt that's exactly what has happened.
He looks at her the same way you would look at a snarling dog.
"Rickard Snäll," he says. "Probate lawyer. I'm here to assist with the inventory of assets and property valuation. You have the key, don't you?" he asks, turning back to me.
"Yes." I nod, avoiding his eyes as I step up to the front door. I reach into my pocket and fumble around for the key with sweaty fingertips. "It was in the envelope we found in Vivianne's apartment. With this address, and Bengtsson's phone number. I don't know if it works for any of the other buildings. The other locks may need different keys, but presumably Bengtsson will have those. He's—"
This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
Monday, July 11th, we begin the book KINGDOM OF BONES by James Rollins.