Rover kept his eyes on the white-painted concrete floor in the eleven-square-metre prison cell. He bit down on the slightly too long gold front tooth in his lower jaw. He had reached the hardest part of his confession. The only sound in the cell was his nails scratching the madonna tattoo on his forearm. The boy sitting cross-legged on the bed opposite him had remained silent ever since Rover had entered. He had merely nodded and smiled his blissful Buddha smile, his gaze fixed at a point on Rover's forehead. People called the boy Sonny and said that he had killed two people as a teenager, that his father had been a corrupt police officer and that Sonny had healing hands. It was hard to see if the boy was listening—his green eyes and most of his face were hidden behind his long, matted hair—but that didn't matter. Rover just wanted his sins forgiven and to receive Sonny's distinctive blessing so that tomorrow he could walk out of Staten Maximum Security Prison with the feeling of being a truly cleansed man. Not that Rover was religious, but it could do no harm when he intended to change, to give going straight a real try. Rover took a deep breath.
"I think she was from Belarus. Minsk is in Belarus, isn't it?" Rover looked up quickly, but the boy made no reply. "Nestor had nicknamed her Minsk," Rover said. "He told me to shoot her."
The obvious advantage of confessing to someone whose brain was fried was that no name and incident would stick; it was like talking to yourself. This might explain why inmates at Staten preferred this guy to the chaplain or the psychologist.
"Nestor kept her and eight other girls in a cage down in Enerhaugen. East Europeans and Asians. Young. Teenagers. At least I hope they were as old as that. But Minsk was older. Stronger. She escaped. Got as far as Tøyen Park before Nestor's dog caught her. One of those Argentine mastiffs—know what I'm talking about?"
The boy's eyes never moved, but he raised his hand. Found his beard. He started to comb it slowly with his fingers. The sleeve of his filthy, oversized shirt slipped down and revealed scabs and needle marks. Rover went on.
"Bloody big albino dogs. Kills anything its owner points at. And quite a lot he doesn't. Banned in Norway, 'course. A guy out in Rælengen got some from the Czech Republic, breeds them and registers them as white boxers. Me and Nestor went there to buy one when it was a pup. It cost more than fifty grand in cash. The puppy was so cute you wouldn't ever think it . . ." Rover stopped. He knew he was only talking about the dog to put off the inevitable. "Anyway . . ."
Anyway. Rover looked at the tattoo on his other forearm. A cathedral with two spires. One for each sentence he had served, neither of which had anything to do with today's confession. He used to supply guns to a biker gang and modify some of them in his workshop. He was good at it. Too good. So good that he couldn't remain below the radar forever and he was caught. And so good that, while serving his first sentence, Nestor had taken him under his wing. Nestor had made sure he owned him so that from then on only Nestor would get his hands on the best guns, rather than the biker gang or any other rivals. He had paid him more for a few months' work than Rover could ever hope to earn in a lifetime in his workshop fixing motorbikes. But Nestor had demanded a lot in return. Too much.
"She was lying in the bushes, blood everywhere. She just lay there, dead still, staring up at us. The dog had taken a chunk out of her face—you could see straight to the teeth." Rover grimaced. Get to the point. "Nestor said it was time to teach them a lesson, show the other girls what would happen to them. And that Minsk was worthless to him now anyway, given the state of her face . . ." Rover swallowed. "So he told me to do it. Finish her off. That's how I'd prove my loyalty, you see. I had an old Ruger MK II pistol that I'd done some work on. And I was going to do it. I really was. That wasn't the problem . . ."
Rover felt his throat tighten. He had thought about it so often, gone over those seconds during that night in Tøyen Park, seeing the girl over and over again. Nestor and himself taking the leading roles with the others as silent witnesses. Even the dog had been silent. He had thought about it perhaps a hundred times. A thousand? And yet it wasn't until now, when he said the words out loud for the first time, that he realised that it hadn't been a dream, that it really had happened. Or rather it was as if his body hadn't accepted it until now. That was why his stomach was churning. Rover breathed deeply through his nose to quell the nausea.
"But I couldn't do it. Even though I knew she was gonna die. They had the dog at the ready and I was thinking that me, I'd have preferred a bullet. But it was as if the trigger was locked in position. I just couldn't pull it."
The young man seemed to be nodding faintly. Either in response to what Rover was telling him or to music only he could hear.
"Nestor said we didn't have all day, we were in a public park after all. So he took out a small, curved knife from a leg holster, stepped forward, grabbed her by the hair, pulled her up and just seemed to swing the knife in front of her throat. As if gutting a fish. Blood spurted out three, four times, then she was empty. But d'you know what I remember most of all? The dog. How it started howling at the sight of all that blood."
Rover leaned forward in the chair with his elbows on his knees. He covered his ears with his hands and rocked back and forth.
From The Son by Jo Nesbo. Translation copyright 2014 by Charlotte Barslund. Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing.