Time for More Writing!

In these weird days of de facto house arrest, it can be a challenge to stay optimistic and balanced. Maybe a post or two will help.

Brief Rant

It happens that we have a 2 party system in this country. Maybe another system or way of counting votes would be better, but that’s not what’s on my mind today. For now, elected officials are generally either Democrats or Republicans. Fact. It makes a big difference who is elected. Fact. People who hope to have an influence on elections generally work within one party or the other. Also Fact. Working within the Democratic Party (no experience with the other one) is often dull tedious work: meetings, more meetings, phone banks, Voter registration tables, mailing postcards, putting up signs, taking down signs, handing out leaflets on election day. Fact. It’s not exciting stuff. Fact. If a person is willing to do this work, they can have more influence in their party. They can attend precinct meetings, county conventions, maybe even go to the national convention. If a person is not willing to do dull party work, they will have less influence on their party. Fact, fact, fact. My own beloved sister has put hundreds of hours into fundraising for her county’s Democratic party, in addition to a full time job and other volunteer work. So, I would appreciate it if, when you do not get involved in the tedious meetings, sign putting up and taking down, etc. of political party work and then the Democratic party makes a decision with which you disagree, that you refrain from characterizing the decision makers as “hacks” and “scum.” In return I will refrain from characterizing Bernie supporters as immature adolescent posers. Thank you.

You looking at me?

Conversation among Trees

Long Night, Chapter Ten

Long Night, Chapters One- Seven  Long Night, Chapter Eight   Long Night, Chapter Nine

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Chapter Ten: Sharlotta and Fanya

As they walked downstairs to the Acme offices, Slava said “Before we talk to the secretary, I think we should have a plan.  She might be involved in whatever got him killed.” Roza replied “What if we just do the sympathy bit?  I’ll talk to her gently and explain that we need to temporarily relocate her to a vacant office and that we’ll come back tomorrow or the next day ‘when she’s over the shock’ to question her.  You can watch how she reacts and stay behind to confiscate the computer while she packs up stuff to move out of the office.”  “Sounds good.”

Roza and Slava knocked at the door of Acme and went in without waiting for an answer.  The room was about 15 feet square and mostly occupied by two desks on either side and filing cabinets lined up against the wall like sentries.  The windows were on the right and Viktor’s desk was by the window. Okay, thought Roza.  Viktor preferred light, even if it was colder when the wind came through the cracks.  The desk on the left side of the room faced the door.  Behind it sat a young woman of about 25.  When they entered she was bent over, but quickly sat up and started talking.  “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. It’s awful; who could do this to Viktor?  I’m sorry I was just – I was at lunch and I was just taking off my boots and then” She indicated a pair of black leather boots with spike heels.  “Have you been upstairs yet? What is it like?  I don’t know what to — ”

Roza moved to take charge of the situation before the young woman babbled all morning.  “Hello, I’m Detective Roza Kozlov, and this is Detective Slava Egorov.  We’re very sorry for your loss and we won’t take up much of your time.  Right now we need to ask you to move to another space for the moment, because this office is a crime scene.  The room across the hall is empty.  I’m afraid it’s standard procedure that someone will need to stay with you while you move the essentials across the hall.  Then Slava will take Viktor’s computer back to the police station for examination.  Tomorrow or the next day we will need to talk to you, after you’ve recovered from this shocking event.  Oh, excuse me.  I just realized we don’t know your name.”

“Sharlotta.”  The woman was silent a moment.  “Okay, yes.  I will move.”  Roza noted Sharlotta’s appearance; she was blonde, of average height, with that small amount of body fat that probably bothered her a lot but that no one else would notice.  Roza was quite familiar with that phenomena, as she engaged in an ongoing struggle to lose five pounds that she had been assured were invisible to everyone but her.  Dating a baker didn’t help, she thought, and then returned to the situation at hand.  “Sharlotta,” she said, “as I said we will need to conduct a formal interview in the next few days.  But, for now, can you tell us the last time you saw Viktor?” “Um, yesterday? When I got here this morning, he had gone upstairs to the apartment where – where he was found.”  “Do you know why he was there?”  “Not really, but it was normal for him to check the guest apartment the week before we have a visitor, and we have a visit from the Central Auditor next week, I could check the schedule or maybe we should — ” She stopped talking.  “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said softly.  “Okay,” said Slava.  He glanced at Roza.  It would be better if they did not ask any more substantive questions until they gathered more information.  If Sharlotta was implicated in some type of financial fraud, it would help they knew where the tricky spots were before they interviewed her.  “Roza is going now, but I’ll stay and help you move,” said Slava.  “Yes,” added Roza.  “We will see you again in a day or so.”

Roza was glad to get out of the gloomy building.  It was odd, she reflected, that the cold inside the building felt colder than the wind outside.  It was midday, and the sky overhead was a deep blue grey, allowing her to see down the street without relying on the lamps posted at 100 foot intervals.  She was not looking forward to informing Fanya Lebedev that he husband had been murdered.  Best to get it over with, she thought.  Maybe there would be time to stop at the bakery on the way back to the police station.

Viktor and Fanya Lebedev had an apartment on the first floor of a building close to downtown, as befitted Viktor’s status as a high-ranking administrator for an important company.  When Roza knocked at the door, it was answered by a small dark-haired woman of about 25.  Roza was momentarily startled; Viktor was over 40 and the woman seemed young to be his wife.  “Are you here to see Fanya?” the woman asked.  Roza could see that she was attractive, in a pixie way, but her looks were marred at the moment by red eyes and smeared mascara.  “Yes, is she here?” asked Roza.  “This way,” the woman answered, and led her into the next room.

Viktor must be wealthy, important, or both, thought Roza as they entered the living room. The living room not only had windows on two sides, but there was no sign that it doubled or tripled as a kitchen and dining area.  Fanya was on a couch by the windows.  She had one leg stretched out on an old fashioned hassock and the other curled under her.  She was bundled in a large woolen shawl, and Roza briefly reflected that a lace border would have been a good addition to the shawl.  Fanya looked to be in her late 30s, close to Viktor’s age.  Roza immediately thought of the phrase “faded red head” when she saw Fanya.  Her hair, which had obviously once been a vibrant red, was now duller with grey and brown hair mixed with the red.  Roza wondered briefly why Fanya did not, as so many others did, use dye to maintain the red.

Fanya seemed simultaneously frail and steely.  When she saw Roza, she sat up and put down her tea on a small table.  “Can I help you?”  she asked.  She clearly wanted to maintain control both of her emotions and of the situation.  “Please sit,” she added somewhat imperiously.  “Ms. Lebedev, you may know why I’m here,” she began awkwardly.  Roza had tried to prepare for the task of telling Fanya about her husband’s death; she had not anticipated that someone would have already informed her.  “Yes, I imagine you are here to discuss Viktor’s death,” replied Fanya calmly.  Her icy demeanor unnerved Roza, who reflected that even Viktor’s secretary had seemed more upset than his wife.  “I am, yes.  Has someone else been here to tell you – ”  “Tatiana came over as soon as the police released her,” said Fanya.  So, thought Roza, Tatiana who answered the door was the person who found Viktor’s body.  “Oh,” she said blankly.  “So, do you know – did you know – did Tatiana know? –”  Fanya rescued her.  “My husband and I both know Tatiana.  Her husband works for my brother.  I am disabled, as you see,” she went on, gesturing at her leg, “and Tatiana helps me by filling some of my prescriptions at the hospital where she works as a practical nurse.  She was dropping off a prescription with my husband when she . . . found him.”

Roza tried to process this barrage of possible connections.  Tatiana was a nurse at the hospital.  Tatiana’s husband worked for Fanya’s brother.  Tatiana was taking pills for Fanya to Viktor and found his body.  Something about this explanation bothered Roza, but she decided it would be better to follow the same approach that she and Slava had taken with Sharlotta, and postpone detailed questioning for a day or two.  She had no idea if this was what experienced homicide investigators usually did: what if it was important to talk to every one as soon as possible, before they could coordinate their stories?  On the other hand, they might only have one chance for an interview and if they took it too soon then they might not know what to look for.  Well, she decided, at any rate a formal interview would have to wait until Slava was with her.

“Ms. Lebedev, did Tatiana explain – did she know – has anyone told you that Viktor’s death does not appear to be the result of natural causes?”  “I gather that he was murdered,” Fanya responded flatly. They say to start with family members in an investigation, thought Roza, and Fanya’s weird lack of emotion did nothing to dissuade her from that approach.  “Yes.  I’m sorry that I can’t tell you more.  We will certainly keep you informed of the progress of our investigation.  Also, we will need to conduct an interview with both you and Tatiana in the next day or so.” Fanya’s face remained composed.  “It’s standard procedure,” Roza trailed off, wishing she could be gone from this apartment as soon as possible.  “So, um, we’ll be in touch about an interview, interviews, and again we are very sorry for your loss.  Uh, good afternoon ma’am.”  Not sounding very professional are we, thought Roza.  “Very well. Tatiana will show you to the door.”

Slava and Roza met at the police station an hour later.  Roza described her visit to Viktor’s apartment.  “She already knew that Viktor had been killed; the woman who found his body had rushed over to tell her.  Her name is Tatiana and I guess her husband works for Fanya’s brother or something.  They said Tatiana found Viktor when she went to the apartment to give him a prescription for Fanya, which makes about zero sense.  Another thing, she was an ice queen.  No tears, no emotion; you would think I was there to interview for a position as her housekeeper.  Honestly, she rattled me a little.”

Slava considered.  “Wait, this Tatiana picks up Fanya’s meds for her . . . and brings them to her husband?  I guess that could make sense – the hospital is much closer to Acme than to Viktor’s apartment.  But, speaking of apartments, why did she go there instead of the office?  Before we interview these two, let’s think about what to ask and how to ask it.”  “Gee, great idea,” said Roza rolling her eyes.  As she did so, it occurred to her that if Slava was the touchy type he wouldn’t appreciate her teasing, but really – think about “what to ask and how to ask it?”  To her relief, he laughed.  “Brilliant insight, am I right?” he said.  “You got the computer, right?  Did anything happen while you were in the office?” asked Roza.  “The computer’s here; I’ll start reviewing the files in a few minutes.  Sharlotta is moved across the hall.  I secured the office as a crime scene.”

“Did Sharlotta say anything interesting?” wondered Roza.  “I don’t think ‘interesting’ is her strong suit,” replied Slava.  “She’s awfully flirty though.”  Saying this, Slava rose from his chair and briefly mimed a woman mincing a few steps, hips swaying, before affecting a coquettish arch of the back that accentuated her attributes fore and aft, while asking “could you be a dear and help me reach this?”  Roza burst out laughing.  Slava was a great mimic; she could perfectly imagine Sharlotta’s silly behavior.  Slava flushed and sat down, fiddling with something on his desk, and Roza realized that this performance was not acting. The feminine postures came too naturally to him.  Well, I’ll be, she thought.  Two days and I’m learning his big secret, just like on American television. For if Slava was gay, he would certainly keep it a secret in this setting.  To put him at ease, she gave a campy stage wink with the traditional “zip it” gesture across her lips.  “Okay,” she said. “What’s next?” Slava looked relieved and grateful, as they turned to planning their next steps.

 

Sherry Baby

Yeah, I’m old enough to remember when this came out, but ACTUALLY, if you listen to it, he’s a really good singer.

Long Night, Chapter Nine

Long Night, Chapters One- Seven

Long Night, Chapter Eight

I posted this before editing, oops.  I’m posting it again.

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Chapter Nine: Murder!

The next morning Roza arrived at work a little early, in order to review the file about the anonymous phone call.  The transcript indicated that the caller was a woman who said that she “was calling to report missing girl” described as “7 years old, blonde, and she came on the plane yesterday.” That matched the height of the fluttering scarf that Roza had noticed in a tunnel.  The call had come in two days ago, which meant this was the third day that the child was missing.  Roza tried not to think about the grisly possibilities or to imagine Savina in such a situation.  There were unanswered questions, beyond the basic fact of a missing child.  The only way for a person to arrive in Norilsk was by plane.  They would need to check at the airport and see if the passenger manifests showed any children on board.  Then they would go to the abandoned apartment from which the call was made and see if anyone was there who could shed light on the situation.

When Slava got to the station, they plotted out their activities for the day.  They decided to first go to the apartment building together, because the abandoned buildings were considered sufficiently risky to call for the presence of at least two officers.  Then Slava would head to the airport to check both the records and the memories of the airport personnel.  Meanwhile Roza would go to Marina and ask the day manager whether he had heard of any overdoses from tainted drugs.  They also planned to meet for lunch downtown.  Roza felt comfortable enough with Slava to share a meal.

The two officers laboriously bundled back into hat, gloves, scarf, and outer snow suit and obtained a patrol vehicle key.  As they were headed for the door, they were stopped by an urgent call from the lieutenant.  “Glad I caught you! Good that you’re ready to go out.  We have a report of a homicide.”  “What?” said Slava, stunned.  Murder was rare in Norilsk.  For one thing, in Russia, unlike the USA, citizens were not allowed to buy or own guns without a special permit.  Nadya often said that in Norilsk people were too busy trying to survive to kill each other.  In addition, although the population was over 170,000, Norilsk retained the atmosphere of a much smaller city where people knew each other.  New citizens were usually added when they were born, rather than immigration.

Roza, Slava, and their supervising officer, Captain Orlovsky, met at the back of the room.  Orlovsky had written the name of the victim on a white board, where it would presumably be joined by his relatives, persons of interest, and suspects.  “His name is Viktor Lebedev.”  “Who is he?” asked Slava.  “Where did it happen?” asked Roza at the same time.  Captain Orlovsky held up a hand.  “Steady there.”  Viktor is – was – the administrative officer in charge of accounting and budget for Acme Bus Lines, the bus company that serves Norilsk.”  Roza’s heart sank and she and Slava slumped into the closest chairs.  This was not good news.

When a crime of violence occurred anywhere in the world, law enforcement officers prayed first that it would be solved quickly, and secondly that the crime would be the sad end to a personal conflict, one that implicated no one other than the immediate parties.  The last thing an officer wanted to investigate was a crime that had even a whiff of political corruption.  Roza reflected that they had no information yet about Viktor or any private entanglements he might have had.  However, his job required him to track, document, and report the spending of millions of rubles.  And, it was undeniable that whenever large sums of money were at issue the possibility of corruption existed.  Slava and Roza glanced nervously at each other.

“Where was he found?” asked Slava.  “In an apartment in the Acme office building. The nature of Acme and of Viktor’s position is such that visitors were – are- a fairly frequent phenomena. Auditors, vendors, I don’t know . . . anyway, the company maintains an apartment on site for the use of visitors.”  This made sense, thought Roza.  Other large organizations did the same, so that visitors would not have to search for their hotel room upon arriving in what was likely to be a cold, dark city. “So, why was Viktor there?  Was Acme expecting someone?  Did he usually inspect the apartment?” asked Roza.  “No idea.  I suggest you begin by visiting the scene so that the techs can remove the body, and then meet briefly with his secretary.  Slava, I want you to take possession of Viktor’s computer, which we can review here.  You will need to do that as soon as possible. After you view the body, instruct the secretary on protocol, and retrieve his computer. You two should also inform his wife. We can meet back here to plan the next steps.”

Roza and Slava were silent as they drove to the Acme building.  Both were hoping that Viktor’s death was unrelated to his professional duties, but neither was wanted to say this aloud.  The dark days of the former Soviet Union had cast a shadow long enough to reach present day Norilsk.  If public officials were involved in any sort of  corruption, then their investigation might expose them to personal danger.  Finally, Roza said “If there are empty offices in the Acme building, the secretary should probably move there for the moment, eh?”  Slava agreed and they discussed how to present this to Viktor’s administrative assistant.

The Acme building was grey and gloomy in the twilight glow of the street lamps.  It sat on a corner on the main road out to the mine, which made sense, given that the primary function of the buses was to make runs back and forth to the mine.  The door was about five feet above the level of the street.  The stairs up to the door were buried under snowdrifts, but the press of feet up and down had created passable stair-like treads that could be used to get to the door.  Roza  took a deep breath, fixed her face in an expression meant to both convey compassion and professional competence, and got out of the car.

Inside the Acme building, they waited a moment for their eyes to adjust to the darkness in the hall.  Someday, thought Roza, I’d like to visit someplace warm and bright.  Straight ahead was a narrow enclosure with a door.  This was the back of the stairs to the second floor.  Roza and Slava were familiar with this arrangement.  In most places, the stairs would be immediately in front of you as you entered the building.  In Norilsk, stairs were often reversed, to prevent icy gusts from rushing to the upper floors.  The janitor’s closet would be directly in front, beneath the stairs.

Their first duty was to view Viktor’s body and see what could be learned there, so that the evidence techs could take him to the hospital morgue for further examination.  The apartment was on the second floor, above the Acme offices.  Roza sighed and set off down the hall.  She hadn’t wanted to admit this to her new partner, but she had not previously investigated a homicide.  As they walked down the hall, Slava said in a low voice, “you know, this is actually the first murder I’ve worked.”  Two points for you, thought Roza, for being brave enough to admit it first.  “Me too,” she answered.

The apartment was compact, a small bedroom, combination living, dining, and kitchen area, and a bathroom.  They walked through the living area to the bedroom.  Viktor’s body was sprawled on the floor, face down, like a small child who had fallen asleep on the rug.  They could see blood on his sleeves and on the floor next to his head.  “Here is where Sherlock Holmes would notice that the fibers in the rug were pushed to the north and the bedspread pulled down by the east corner,” murmured Slava nervously.  “Yeah, but I’m not spotting anything that jumps out at us, are you?” replied Roza.  A minute later, she spoke again.  “Well, let’s see if we can rule anything out.  Excuse me,” she asked the tech workers who were guarding the scene, “was there any sign of forced entry?”  “No.  The door was unlocked when Tatiana came in.  She told us she came to the apartment to leave a prescription with Viktor and found the body.”

Roza glanced at Slava.  Now they had something to follow up on.  Who was Tatiana, why was she bringing Viktor a prescription, and why would she bring it to the apartment?  “Any ideas about the murder weapon?” asked Slava.  “Not yet.  There is nothing obvious, like a broken lamp or a gun, and we didn’t want to move the body before you saw it.”  Roza peered under the bed, but saw nothing except a single balled up sock and a warren of dust bunnies.  Slava looked at the bed.  The top quilt was slightly disarrayed, maybe indicating that Viktor had slid off the bed?  However, it did not appear to have been slept in.  The curtains were drawn and a single light was lit on a table across the room.  There was no indication that Viktor had been using the kitchen.  They took photos of his body from various angles and of the apartment, before giving the evidence techs permission to take Viktor to the morgue and leaving the apartment themselves. “That didn’t answer any questions; it just raised a lot,” reflected Roza.  “Yeah, like what was Viktor doing in the apartment, why was he in the bedroom, when was he killed, what was he killed with and, oh yes, who did it?” said Slava.  “Next we should do a preliminary interview with his assistant, and get her to move out of his office,” said Roza, as they headed back downstairs.

 

The sun returns!

The sun rose again in Norilsk!

Sweet Home in a Trailer

Long Night, Chapter Eight

Long Night, Chapters One- Seven

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Chapter Eight: A Moonlit Date

Roza hurried home after work.  She was exhausted after drinking too much the night before and getting up early, but she didn’t want to miss her planned outing with Sergei to the edge of Norilsk.  She fixed food, took a shower, and put on a pink sweater under all her outer gear.  The next step was less certain; she had impulsively told Sergei that she was bringing Savina, but had not actually checked this with Nikolai.  However, as luck would have it, she got a call from Nikolai.  “Olena and I need to go to a parents’ meeting at Savina’s school.  Can you watch her until 8:00 or 9:00?”  Roza was delighted.  She had always had a policy of not exposing her daughter to the men she dated, but her relationship with Sergei felt different, and she wanted him to meet Savina and to see how he responded to her. When Nikolai asked her to watch Savina, Roza felt like her gamble of telling Sergei she was bringing her daughter had been validated. “Sure, I’ll come get her now.”

Nikolai and Olena’s apartment was across the courtyard from Roza’s.  She entered to the smell of sizzling onion and garlic, and the sound of a Disney princess in peril.  Savina was sitting on the couch, watching a cartoon on Nikolai’s tablet, and Olena was pacing between the kitchen and living area, trying to soothe Kirill, who was eight months old.  “Hi Roza,” said Olena, with a tired smile.  “Sorry for the racket. This little guy has a cold and it’s making him cranky.  Thanks for taking Savina tonight.”  Roza felt awkward at being thanked for watching her own daughter, which reminded her that she needed to tell Nikolai and Olena about her schedule change.

“No problem.  In fact, I just found out yesterday that my schedule is changed.  From now on I’m working day shift, from 7:00 to 3:00.  I was thinking that I can spend more time with Savina, if – I mean, I know you have custody, but if it would help, or if it’s okay, I could – ”  Roza realized she was babbling and stopped.  The briefest glance passed between Nikolai and Olena, and Roza thought “What? Does that look mean ‘it’s about time you took more responsibility,’ or ‘do you think we can trust her?’ or maybe just ‘we’ll talk about this later when she’s not here’?”  Taking a deep breath, Roza reminded herself “We’re divorced. I no longer have to fret over Nikolai’s mysterious glances or try to interpret them.”  “Actually,” began Nikolai, “That would be – ”  Olena broke in “Thanks Roza, that might work out.  We’ll need to sit down and look at everyone’s schedules sometime.”  “Sometime?” thought Roza.  Does that mean “never”?  Not the time to start a conflict, Roza told herself.  “Great,” she said with a less-than-sincere smile, “Well, let me get Savina ready to go out.”

It took almost a half hour to dress Savina for the outdoors and trundle across the open space back to Roza’s apartment. Babka!” called Savina when she saw her great grandmother. Savina and Nadya were a mutual admiration society, and Roza braced for a battle over her plan to bring Savina along on her walk with Sergei.  Nadya protested variously that the cold would kill Savina, that Sergei wouldn’t like it if she seemed to be pushing him into a father role and, in contradiction, that Sergei might become attached to Savina and they might later break up.  Roza was as stubborn as her grandmother, however, and did not relent.

Roza and Savina walked to Sergei’s apartment about three blocks away  Sergei came outside holding the hand of a shy blonde girl who appeared to be about Savina’s age, and introduced her as his niece, Katia.  They waited in the doorway of the apartment building until the lights of a bus appeared in the darkness, and then dashed onto the bus.  At six years old, Savina had already incorporated the guiding principle of Norilsk life in winter, which was to minimize one’s time outside.  The bus was well-heated and the passengers, most of whom had just finished work, were in a good mood.  Men argued about soccer, Roza saw a flask passed discreetly across the aisle, and two women engaged in a conversation of such conspicuous hilarity and high spirits that it was obvious that they hoped to draw the attention of the men passing the flask.

Roza and Sergei rode to the end of the line, where the bus stopped at a ten foot snow pile and turned around.  “When do you come back?” asked Sergei.  “Twenty minutes.  Too long to be outside.”  Sergei assured the driver that they would find shelter and that they would be back at the stop in precisely 20 minutes.  He gestured to a lone building about 100 feet beyond the road’s end.  “We’ll wait in there until we see your lights.”

They got off the bus and walked single file down a narrow path through the snow.  They passed the café that Sergei had pointed to and continued on into the darkness.  Roza wanted to get past the lights to where they could see out onto the tundra, but she didn’t want to risk having Savina outside too long.  Every winter a certain number of people froze in Norilsk.  Roza reassured herself by recalling that most of these were drunk and fell into a snowdrift and passed out.  They hurried past the café and over a steep hill.

Beyond the hill, the world behind fell away.  The lights of Norilsk were not visible.  As far as they could see there was only darkness punctuated by thousands of stars.  The wind was blowing the pollution away from them and the air was clear.  Suddenly vivid electric green and pink lights appeared in the sky.  “Look, Savina, it’s the northern lights!” said Roza.  It was beautiful and Savina was captivated.  “Ohh, I want to dress up like that!” she exclaimed. Katia and Savina played a game called Frozen, which involved jumping around, waving their arms, and discussing who would be Elsa.  Sergei reached for Roza and pulled her close for a kiss.  A real kiss, that let Roza know there was something real between them.  In a few minutes Savina began to complain, so they went back to the small café for chocolate while they waited to see the lights of the return bus.

When Roza brought Savina home, Nikolai opened the door and immediately bent to whisper to Savina that she should be quiet.  “Your little brother finally fell asleep,” he told her.  Straightening, he said “Thanks Roza.  It was really helpful that you entertained Savina tonight. Did you guys have fun?”  “Yes!” piped up Savina in a stage whisper. “We went with Sergei and Katia to see the rorabor alice!” Nikolai looked puzzled, and Roza explained  “We went with friends to the end of the bus line and saw the northern lights – aurora borealis?” “Oh sure.”  Nikolai looked as though he had more questions.  To avoid answering, Roza quickly excused herself and went back to her apartment.

“Well?  Will he be a good father?” asked Nadya as soon as Roza walked in.  “Nadya, please.  I’m so tired I can’t think.  I drank too much last night, met my new partner today, worked all day, dealt with Olena and Nikolai glancing at each other when I said something, hiked in the snow, and now I just need to sleep.”  “All right, all right, don’t be touchy,”said Nadya, as she trundled back to her room.  “And yes, I’m sure he’d be a great father, but who knows if I’d be a good mother,” called Roza after her.

#Norilsk #fiction

Long Night, Chapters One- Seven

Following are the first seven chapters of my 2018 Nanowrimo story.

Greetings.  I have wanted to write a story set in Norilsk, and now I have.  It is a very rough first draft.  I would like to know if you finished it and, if so, what you think of the setting and whether the story is worth editing and revising.  Please be honest.

Things that need to be done to the rough draft, in no particular order:

Research:  the % of minerals that come from Norilsk Nickel, hierarchy in Russian police force, use of mercury street lights, laws about gun ownership, nature of permafrost, juvenile delinquency regulations in Russia, use of search warrants in Russia,

Also, must attend to: Last names where needed, Punctuation and formatting of quotations, Time line – events in sequence, in reasonable amount of time, editing for word choice, grammer, flow

 

Author’s Note

Norilsk is a real city.  It is located in Siberia and is the northernmost city of more than 100,000 people in the world.  It was founded as a gulag for prisoners, but is now inhabited by 170,000 people who live their voluntarily. The reason for its existence is the presence of nickel and other minerals.  The main industry is Norilsk Nickel, a vast mine that is the source of XX percent of the world’s nickel and other minerals.

Pollution.  Minerals are mined and smelted in Norilsk and the resultant pollution is reduces life expectancy significantly, to approximately 50 to 55.  Workers are entitled to full retirement at 45, and no plants or trees grow for miles around due to the pollution.  However, in recent years, Norilsk Nickel has taken steps to remedy this.

Weather:  It snows 270 days of the year.  In winter there are about 45 days when the sun never rises, and in the summer 8 weeks when the sun never sets.  For several months the temperature is below zero.  In the brief summer it may go up to 40 or 50.

Ravelry is an actual website, where over 8,000,000 knitters post on hundreds of forums and record their yarny exploits.

What is not necessarily true:  everything else. I hereby state the customary disclaimer that the people are all imaginary and not intended to bear any resemblance to anyone living or dead.

But it goes farther than that. I made all this up.  Norilsk is what is called a closed city.  In order to visit, one needs government permission, presumably because of the strategic significance of the mining that takes place there.  Because it’s a closed city, there are few tourists and no published guides. Also, there are no roads or passenger trains to Norilsk.  There is a freight train that goes further north, but people must arrive by air.  This makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of daily life, sights to see, customs, views, local habits and festivals, favorite foods, social patterns, living arrangements, hobbies, and so on.

I resolved the problem of obtaining accurate information about daily life in Norilsk by making it all up. I have no idea if any of the description of life in Norilsk bears the slightest resemblance to reality.

Chapter One: Introduction

Our story opens on December 4 in Norilsk, Siberia, in the Russian Federation. Several days earlier, the sun had risen and set for the last time for the next six weeks.  At the moment our heroine, Roza, was in an orange grove, with bees buzzing near her head. Of course, Roza had never been in an orange grove or seen a bee, but such is the magic of dreams. The bees continued buzzing loudly until Roza awoke to realize that she had forgotten to turn off her alarm. That remedied, she slept for 2 more hours.

When she woke again, Roza reached for her laptop and checked a few sites, then closed its battered top and tucked it between her mattress and the bed board.  Standing, she twisted and stretched from side to side with her arms raised overhead before moving to a window.  Although the sky outside was a deep bluish grey, she could see across the courtyard to several other five story concrete apartment buildings that mirrored her own.  Harsh street lamps illuminated the few people who were outside in the gathering darkness. It was 2:00 in the afternoon.

Even during the 45 days a year when the sun does not rise in Norilsk, there are brief periods of twilight – civil, nautical, and astronomical. Civil twilight is defined as the time when the sun is no more than 6 degrees below the horizon and daily activities can be conducted without artificial light.  Nautical twilight occurs when the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon, and the sky is a deep blue.  Astronomical twilight, when the sun is more than 12 degrees below the horizon, is the period just before full darkness.  At 2 in the afternoon, nautical twilight was yielding to astronomical twilight’s deeper darkness.

Roza’s apartment was on the second floor at the end of the hall, a location that she considered ideal.  The apartments on the first floor were exposed to the brutal winds that blew into the building.  On the other hand, she was glad not to be any higher in the building because Roza shared the apartment with her grandmother, Nadya, and did not want her to climb to the 3rd, 4th, or 5th floor.  Furthermore, they had windows on three sides because their apartment was at the end of the hall.

Roza moved from her bedroom to the main room, where she and Nadya spent most of their time. This room had a kitchen area, a table and chairs, and a small couch.  Next to windows on one side were tiered shelves holding over 100 plants, including herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Although Norilsk Nickel was engaged in an ambitious effort to alleviate it, the air pollution was still too severe for trees and plants to grow near the city.  There is a human need for greenery, which in Norilsk was met by indoor plants.

Nadya had been born in Norilsk, but her parents grew up where the soil was living, and so Nadya was skilled at nurturing plant life.  She crooned old Russian folk songs to her flowers, exhorted the herbs to be strong and healthy, and attended to her flowers and vegetables with the dedication of a governess or besotted admirer.  Her indoor garden rewarded her devotion by blooming, sprouting, or leafing out. Roza’s job was to water the garden, to save Nadya the back strain of filling the water and bending over repeatedly.

After watering the small indoor garden, Roza brewed a cup of tea for Nadya and coffee for herself.  She set the table automatically, having made the same gestures daily for over a decade, since Nadya came to live with her.  Without having to think about it, she cooked an oat porridge, adding a small amount of honey.  Then she crossed the hall to bring Nadya her tea.

“I’m up, I’m up,” she heard Nadya say from their tiny bathroom. It was tiny, but – wonderfully – it was private.  Roza thanked the fates every day that they did not have to share a bathroom with other apartments.  “I’ll leave your tea by the bed, Babushka.”  Nadya had adapted to Roza’s schedule and generally slept until Roza fixed breakfast at around 3:00.  Roza returned to the kitchen, and looked more closely at a small miniature orange tree growing among the other plants.  “Nadya, I think we can add one of the little oranges to our cereal – what do you think?”  “Wait until I can look at it.”

Roza sat down and sipped her coffee.  The garden contained a large onion and mustard greens that were on the verge of bolting.  Roza thought that if she got to the market when it first opened, after she got off work at 7:00 a.m., she could buy a piece of meat, a few potatoes, and a carrot, with which to make a stew.  And, of course, no one would blame her if she happened to stop by the Stolle bakery to buy her babushka a sweet roll . . . and maybe visit with Sergei.  Nadya came into the main room, set her tea on the table, and went over to the garden area.  “Okay, which of you are ready for cereal, eh?” she murmured over the little oranges.  No, you need to get larger.  You – come with me.”  She sat at the table and handed Roza a calamondin orange no more than an inch or two in diameter.  Roza hopped up, kissed the top of Nadya’s head and carefully dissected the orange.  All of it, including the peel, was added to their cereal.  The seeds she put in a bottle cap and set by Nadya for future gardening.  The orange bits added welcome flavor to the otherwise bland cooked cereal.  As they ate, Roza shared her proposed shopping list with Nadya, who approved, adding only that she should get a garlic clove as well.  “I’ll dig up Mr. Onion and cut the greens while you’re gone,” she said.

Chapter 2 – Police Station

After breakfast, Roza straightened the apartment, helped Nadya plant the orange seed, and worked on knitting a pair of socks.  At around 10:00 p.m., she got ready for work. Over her underwear, she added silk leggings and a long sleeved shirt.  Over that went wool leggings and another shirt.  Next she put on a police-issued waterproof down snow suit, theoretically suitable for temperatures down to -45.  Wool socks, felt boot liners, boots, scarf, gloves, and a hat completed the ensemble.  Roza bundled and trundled down the wide worn steps and out into the night.

At 11:00 p.m., when Roza’s work shift began there was no twilight, just the darkness of the Long Night.  She waited alone at the entrance to her apartment building for one of the buses that circled Norilsk. The only sound was the howling of the winter wind, and she wondered how the reindeer, far away from Norilsk, survived during the winter.   The bus took her to within a block of the police station in downtown Norilsk.  The few other pedestrians on the street were bent over to keep the wind and snow off their faces.  Roza, however, felt that as a city police detective she should always be alert and upright on the streets, and refused to hunch over, despite the stinging on her cheeks.

The police station was barred by a heavy iron door, slick with snow.  Roza was experienced at opening it, having lived through the embarrassment of a newly minted probationer struggling with the door. She deftly gripped the handle with her left hand, pressed the cross bar with her right and heaved her shoulder against the door.  Just inside the door was a small mud room to slow down the wind and allow employees and visitors to stamp the worst of the snow off their boots.

Once past the mud room, the station was not dissimilar to its cousins in every corner of the world.  Whether it’s a gleaming, computerized glass office in New York, or a down at heels shed in a country whose spelling is hard for most of the world to remember, police stations have certain features in common.  Among these is a desk behind which sits a bored officer, usually one who is very new, very old, or who is being punished. This person functions as the receptionist, assessor of imminent danger, and all around triage officer.  Beyond that were desks in pairs, bulletin boards, and chalk boards.  Roza greeted the newest recruit, a young woman who was serving her time behind the entry desk, and wove through the desks to her own little patch of policedom.

As she walked to her desk, Roza exchanged greetings with her fellow officers.  She was proud both of having achieved the rank of detective and of her congenial relations with the other law enforcement officers. For another universal feature of police departments is their officers’ initial unease with female colleagues.  Of course there are women lawyers, doctors, heads of state, pilots, bank robbers, clam diggers, builders, teachers, politicians, and bead stringers; nonetheless, older police officers have a tendency to respond to each new female recruit as though the calendar said 1812 and not 2020.  And so it was for Roza – her assignment to the department was met with initial suspicion.

However, in relatively short order Roza had dissipated her male colleagues’ reluctance to embrace her as a peer.  It helped that Roza was pretty, but not so gorgeous that one was uncomfortable looking at her.  She had the blonde hair and high cheekbones of a Russian model, but she was neither 6 feet tall nor model-thin; she was attractive, but in an accessible way that allowed her male colleagues to imagine that maybe they might have a chance for a kiss at the Christmas party.  Secondly, Roza was a good sport.  She understood that she would have to earn their respect and did not make a big fuss about it.  She took opportunities to do kind things for other officers who, one by one, began to feel protective and companionable, rather than resistant.  Thirdly, she was a good police officer – hard working, fair, bright, and energetic.  At 31, Roza had a tiny bit of wisdom of adulthood while keeping the idealism and buoyancy of youth.

Finally, Roza’s grandmother, Nadya, was well loved in Norilsk. At 78, Nadya was one of the oldest inhabitants of Norilsk.  Her parents were sent with other prisoners to build Norilsk in the 1930s, when the city was a Siberian labor camp.  Nadya was born in 1942 to parents who had given up hope of ever having a child.  She now looked like an apple doll, lined and a bit shriveled, but seemingly unbreakable.  She described herself as “too stubborn to die.”  Nadya was known for her indoor herb and plant garden, and her ability to coax even orchids into blooming in the far north.  She was held in great respect as one of the city’s elders, respect which spread to the police force and influenced their reception of Roza.  Or maybe it was the spicy orange cookies that she regularly baked for the station after Roza joined the force?  At any rate, Roza had navigated the initial hazing, and after 18 months on the city’s detective squad, was now a favorite.

Her promotion to detective also reflected an unusual feature of life in Norilsk.  In Russia, as everywhere else, it is generally easier for men to ascend to positions of responsibility.  Roza had observed that if a man has a job, it comes with a title such as Sub-Commandant, Associate President, or Vice Manager (a title that Roza found funny).  If a woman does the same job, it is simply Public Employee Level Whatever.  In Norilsk, however, the default employment for men was to work for Norilsk Nickel.  Norilsk was built to support the mine, existed because of the mine, was defined and poisoned by the mine.  If Norilsk had a God, other than God, it was Norilsk Nickel.  Citizens were no longer required by law to toil in the mine, but toil they did.

Work in the mine was, to quote the famous saying, nasty, brutish, and short, and also very cold.  Workers rode to work in convoys of buses, so that if one bus broke down the passengers could be transferred to another before they froze to death.  A view of the mine from above, showed one of these buses as the proverbial dot at the end of this sentence.  Once at the mine, the men got to work.  Roza did not know exactly what they did, and neither does your author.  Let us simply agree that the miners did work that was dangerous and exhausting, and at sub-zero temperatures.  The work force in the mine was overwhelmingly male.  Because the men in Norilsk generally worked for Norilsk Nickel, fewer men applied for other jobs, including that of police officer.  Norilsk was in this respect not unlike a country during wartime, when Rosie the Riveter could obtain a position generally held by men in peacetime.  This demographic quirk, as well as Roza’s open smile, well-known grandma, and good scores on the entry exam, enabled Roza to become a police detective.

Police work was also regarded as having fewer benefits than working in the mine.  Both miners and law enforcement officers worked in the bitter cold and darkness of winter.  Miners, however, whether as an enticement or an apology for their shortened life spans, had as many as 90 vacation days and other perks, including full retirement at age 45.  Police officers were also exposed to the common air pollution, although not as directly as the miners, but they had to cover 24 hour shifts all year.

When Roza arrived at work, she made her way to her desk.  If the air temperature in the large room were shown in color, it would have been a swirl of extremes.  People who swear by the wonders of a sauna and enjoy the pleasures of moving directly from a steamy environment into a snow drift would have appreciated the air in the police station.  Fierce heaters pushed out air that, if it were unimpeded, would have heated the room into the 80s.  The heated air fought an ongoing battle with the winds of -30 that blew in the door, cracks, and the two windows high above the desks.  The result was that as you walked around the room the temperature fluctuated wildly.  Roza’s desk was in a cold zone, which she preferred.  It meant she could keep her snow suit on while she was at the desk.

The first thing she did was check in with her superior officer and with the detective whose shift would end as hers began.  “What do we have?” she asked.  “A possible drug overdose at Marina, and a possible lost child.”  “Any details?”  “A 24 year old man collapsed outside the club a few hours ago and was taken to the hospital.  We’re waiting for the results of hospital tests.” “And the child?”  “8 year old girl. Supposedly arrived on the plane yesterday afternoon. Anonymous call.”

Arrived “on the plane.”  There were no roads or passenger rails by which to reach Norilsk, which meant that everyone in the city was either born there or had come by air.  The fact that the missing person was a child was troubling, that she was a girl added an additional sinister layer, and that the call was anonymous – not a worried grandmother or auntie – all combined to generate a feeling of anxiety in Roza.  A young girl gone missing during the Long Night was not good.  “Okay.  I’ll start with Marina, and then look around for the little girl.  Do we have a name?” “No name.” Roza put on her hat, scarf, and gloves and stood to leave.  “Oh, I almost forgot – Nadya made these for us.  She says that the orange essence is good for our health during the darkness.”  A cheer swept through the room as she put the bag of cookies on the front desk.  “Later.”

Chapter Three: Roza Visits Marina

Outside, Roza scuttled quickly around the corner to the police lot and found her patrol car.  It was a relief to get in and shut the door.  A desire to prove that women were as tough as men led her to face the wind and snow and act as though the minus 34 degree winds were just a summer breeze.  In truth, she was grateful to have zipped in and out of the police station in a few minutes, so that the patrol car she shared with the officer assigned to the earlier shift was still warmed up.  Roza pulled out of the lot into the street, which was silent except for the wind.  As she wound her way through the quiet streets, she kept an eye out for a small, lost girl, but saw no one until she spotted two men in a doorway about 50 feet fom the Marina nightclub.  She pulled up to them and got out.

“Guys, c’mon. You can’t – I mean this is right out on the street.”  Roza was not inclined to search the men, discover a small amount of whatever drug they were selling, go back to the station, process the arrests, and fill out paperwork, all for some pissant amount of happy pills.  On the other hand, there was a possible overdose tonight.  More importantly, while she was willing to not notice minor drug transactions, the users and sellers had to do their part, which consisted of staying out of sight.  Willful blindness has its limits.

“We were just  — discussing the English soccer match before heading home.”  A patently false excuse for lingering in the subzero street, although British soccer had become a fad among men in Norilsk, and it was not uncommon to overhear arguments over the relative merits of Manchester and whoever they were playing.  “Ah.  Soccer.  Well, why don’t you get home before you freeze to death and take up the discussion tomorrow, right?”  The men disappeared down a flight of stairs and into a tunnel leading to another street.  Fine, thought Roza, Out of sight, out of mind.

Roza parked next to the door of Marina, Norilsk’s “nightclub.”  Marina was, in its own way, a perfect reflection of Norilsk.  Although they were isolated, the people of Norilsk were free, here on the top of the world, to study, imagine, copy, and adopt the habits of rest of the world, in particular the western world.  For it is not 1922 in Russia or 1968 in China.  There is no ban on reading bourgeoisie fiction, no shame in watching British soccer or American dramas on TV, and no restrictions on the internet other than the rules applicable anywhere regarding pornography, bomb making, and so on.

The people of Norilsk were especially fond of American police shows, from which they gathered a lot of their impressions of American life.  Roza had watched many episodes of NCIS and the various Law & Order spinoffs with her fellow officers.  “Hey, Roza,” they would shout, as an American detective went about her business dressed in a clinging undershirt and tight jeans, “You should dress that way for work!”  Roza would answer “Great idea!  Tell the boss to send me to L.A. for a fitting and instruction on using a bullet proof vest over shorts!”  The law enforcement officers of Norilsk also found it funny that in the USA, police work appeared to consist mostly of dashing from one room to another shouting “Clear!”  Another source of humor among the squad was the fact that, to judge from popular TV shows, in America law enforcement officers, hospital workers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers were unable to work together without a constant series of steamy, often adulterous affairs.

Roza had never had an affair with a co-worker and intended to keep it that way.  She was neither a virgin nor a prude; in fact, she had been married briefly in her 20s, to Nikolai, and remained on good terms with him and with his new wife Olena.  Nikolai and Roza had a 7 year old daughter, Savina, who lived with her father.  During the period of her life shortly after they divorced, Roza went through a wild spell of several years. Although that was behind her, Roza realized that working all night was not compatible with raising a child, observed that Olena was a sweet, caring woman, and did not fight Nikolai’s request for custody of Savina.

Nor was Roza immune to the charms of cheerful blue eyes or broad shoulders.  She had several flings after she and Nikolai split, and was currently in the early stages of a relationship that might develop into more than a fling. No, Roza’s success at avoiding workplace entanglements resulted from her possession of another trait besides being attractive and good-natured – common sense and the self-discipline to stay within its bounds.  No good would come of an affair with a fellow officer, so she simply did not go down that path.

Marina brought to mind another feature of American crime dramas, namely the fact that resolution of the central mystery or the capture of the episode’s Bad Guy inevitably seemed to involve a visit to a strip club or seedy night spot.  In addition to being an excuse for airing otherwise irrelevant scenes of barely clad young women, the darkened club was generally the place where, after being roughed up a little and led down a hall so dank that the viewer could practically smell the urine and mildew, the officer would meet with a soulless crime lord who would give him the next clue.

These scenes seemed to have informed most of the design and décor choices of the owners of the Marina club.  The lights were dim, the music loud, the sofas lining the walls stained with no one wanted to know what.  As Norilsk is in Russia and not L.A., the room was also smoky.  Roza slipped through the door into the cacophony.  Immediately to the left was a combination locker room and coat check.  Patrons arrived wearing far too many layers to conveniently leave on a chair.  Therefore, restaurants, clubs, classrooms, and so on, had check rooms where patrons could remove outer clothing in a cubicle, place items in a locker, and take the locker key with them.  Roza took off her outermost layers of clothing and went into the club.

Although Roza did not dash around in a tight undershirt like her fictional colleagues on American TV, neither did she wear a uniform.  Like detectives of film and TV, she was permitted to wear street clothes.  Roza’s aim was to wear clothing that might blend in anywhere and not be noticed, commented on, or remembered. Generally this meant black or grey pants, with a black, grey, or navy blue shirt in some sturdy fabric.  Her shirts were not, as was always the case on television, unbuttoned to reveal cleavage.  The primary religion in Norilsk is Russian Orthodox and Roza wore a small Russian crucifix on her neck that she had inherited from her mother.  Like all baby girls in Norilsk, her ears were pierced at birth, and she had tiny matching crosses on her ears.  That was the extent of her adornment; she did not wear makeup or gaudy jewelry.

Roza was in Marina to see what she could learn that might be relevant to the question of whether the man taken to the hospital had been the victim of an accidental or intentional overdose. Law enforcement officers in Norilsk might be willing to overlook minor drug infractions, but tainted drugs or drug-based murder would have to be stopped.  Because the overdose victim had collapsed in Marina, it seemed like the obvious place to begin gathering information about him and the drug he had taken.

This was not Roza’s first visit to Marina.  Her parents had both died when she was a teenager and there had followed several years of confused behavior, during which time Marina was a frequent refuge.  Eventually, Roza went back to school and studied history and literature. These proved useless in looking for a job in Norilsk.  One summer night, as Roza walked home in the July daylight of 11:00 p.m., she stopped to tie her shoe near the police station.  As she sat on the steps in front of the old building, she felt inexplicably comfortable and, lacking another plan, decided to apply for the police academy.  This impulsive decision had worked out better than some of her other impulses.

Roza understood the role that Marina played in local society, seeing past the sticky floor, the cigarette burns, and the spilled drinks.  In the novels of Jane Austen, public social events provide the mechanism for the plot to advance.  The question of which carriage the dashing young lord rides in, who the heiress dances with at the glittering ball, which couple lingers for a private conversation on the promenade — these are important signifiers.  Teen dramas achieve the same forward movement of plot based on who takes who to the prom.  Thus, the endlessly fascinating drama of dating and mating has both a private and public side.  In private, we yearn and long for love, and scribble in diaries.  In public, we declare publicly, or at least leave tantalizing hints.

No, Norilsk does not have regal Victorian balls with dance cards filled out or left blank to send a message about Who Loves Whom.  There is no Brighton Promenade observed by meddling aunties for clues about who Lord Whatsit might marry.  Instead Norilsk has Marina, which serves the same purposes.  The relevant clues would be found in who paired up to play pool, sat at the same crowded table to drink, or danced together.  Unlike some of her male colleagues, Roza recognizes Marina’s role among the young people of Norilsk.  In addition, some of its habitués were her girlhood pals.  Further, as a detective, she overheard all the gossip about everyone sooner or later, which gave her an advantage when it was time to snoop.  Roza scanned the room for an acquaintance, but saw no one she recognized, so she approached the bar and perched on a sticky stool.  “Hey, Ily – Baltika Dark please.”  Ilias, Marina’s newest bartender, fetched her a beer, which she began to nurse slowly, one sip every minute or so, while waiting for someone to appear from whom she might get useful information.

The wait was short.  “Zini!” Roza waved to Zinovia, with whom she had played as a child and had attended school.  Zinovia moved through the crowd like a Siamese cat, thin, dark and slightly feral.  “Roza! Are you here about Oleg?”  Oleg was the man who had collapsed in the club.  Zinovia had not had the career success of her friend, but it was not because she lacked intelligence or perception. Rather, Zini lacked another ingredient of upward mobility – restraint and common sense.  Roza adored her.  When she was with Zinovia, she was relaxed, and allowed Zinovia to tease her about her supposedly superior street smarts as compared to Roza’s less impressive “school smarts.”  “Here,” said Roza, “I bought this for you,” and handed Zinovia the practically full beer.  “Drink up so you’ll tell me everything.  But, first – was Kolya here tonight?  Has he realized you’re the answer to his dreams?”  “He was here an hour ago, but he left to go home and sleep before work.”  In Zinovia’s world, Kolya was the eligible Duke of Earl with whom she hoped to dance at the cotillion that was Marina. He worked at the Norilsk Nickel mine, driving some impossibly large piece of machinery.

“And you, Roza?  Are you still seeing the gingerbread man?”  Roza had recently begun dating Sergei. Although Roza was determined not to rush into anything, her common sense slipped a bit when they were together.  He was a bear of a man, generous and easy going.  Sergei did not qualify for work at the mine, because of some minor physical flaw that he had not yet confided to her.  Instead, he worked at the Stolle Bakery.  Zinovia found this fact, in combination with Sergei’s round build, to be hilarious and had dubbed him the Gingerbread Man. “Yeah, he’s taking me to the Riviera next week,” said Roza.  “Really, we’re having fun.  Tomorrow night we’re supposed to walk to the edge of the world.”  The “end of the world” was what the residents of Norilsk called the edge of town, where one could look out over an unbroken expanse of snow and tundra.  Roza and Sergei were hoping to see the Northern Lights, the Norilsk compensation for the lack of sunshine.

“Have you told him yet?” asked Zinovia.  “That I have leprosy?  No, I thought I’d wait.”  “No, seriously,” responded Zinovia.  “If you don’t tell him soon, it will look like you’re hiding her.”  Roza sighed.  “You mean, have I told him that I have a 7 year old daughter?  I didn’t have to.  Remember, we were all in school together, and he knows Nikolai a little.  We were married in public, Zinovia. It wasn’t a state secret.”  She realized that she sounded irritable and tried to correct this.  “Sorry.  I think I’m just a little anxious about whether or not this might turn into an actual real grown-up relationship.”  “Aah, he’d be lucky to have you,” said  Zinovia, holding up her beer in a toast to Roza.

“So, what do you know?”  Roza asked Zinovia.  “Not much. Oleg just started coming around recently.  He doesn’t seem like an addict, but he definitely likes to get high.  He likes steam heat I think.  I don’t know what he took tonight, probably steam heat.  But people collapse all the time, don’t they?”  So, Oleg was not an addict, but he liked the new methedrine spinoff stimulant, “steam heat.”  This was as much information as Roza could expect to pick up at Marina.  She sat with Zinovia awhile catching up on family news and then picked up her clothes in the check out room and returned to the icy street.

Roza had another bar to check out for information and, after going to Marina, she had no further excuse to postpone the visit.  She sighed and drove through the empty streets to her next stop. The Moose and Squirrel was an establishment unlike Marina in every respect except that both served alcohol.  Moose and Squirrel had no sticky floors, blaring music, ripped barstools, or shouting patrons.  The lighting was indirect, the ambience subdued, the music jazzy, and the clientele decidedly hipster.  Roza scanned the room upon entering, saw no one she knew, and noted that both of the tables with painted chessboards were occupied by players who were frowning and sipping as they considered their next moves.

Roza sighed again and reminded herself not to let her antipathy to Moose and Squirrel interfere with her job, which was to find out if any tainted methedrine had been seen or sold there.  If she had engaged in a bit of self-analysis, Roza would have realized that the bar triggered her insecurities.  Everything about it seemed designed to signal that the place and its patrons were the elite of Norilsk.  Even the name – when she asked about it, trying to be friendly, the bartender informed Roza superciliously that “the name is derived from an exceedingly well-known American cartoon.” The bartended acted as though any intelligent person should know this, but Roza though it was stupid to assume that anyone – let alone everyone – would know which cartoons were shown in America 50 years ago.  Apparently, this cartoon featured Russian spies who ran around after a moose and a squirrel.  Roza was proud both of her background as a descendant of the original settlers in Norilsk, and of her academic success at college.  Yet, she could not escape the feeling that the drinkers in Moose and Squirrel considered themselves superior to any police officer, especially one whose great grandparents came to Norilsk as prisoners.

Roza crossed the room, weaving among carefully placed little tables, and approached the bar.  The bartender ignored her, perhaps sensing that she was not there to order an expensive liquor.  “Excuse me, sir,” she said after a full minute had passed.  She opened her wallet to display a badge and said, in a somewhat louder voice, “I’m a detective with the Norilsk police department, and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”  As she had hoped, the faint whiff of Trouble or Bad Publicity brought the bartender scurrying over.

“Thank you,” she began when he was close enough for them to talk softly.  “Earlier this evening, a man collapsed at a bar here in town from an apparent overdose.  We’re trying to warn other bars, and also to find out whether there have been incidents involving overdoses or tainted drugs in other places.”  The man ran a languid hand through his hair and twitched his shoulders as if shaking off an annoying insect.  “I shouldn’t think that would occur here,” he said with finality, as if there could be no further question.  “I see.”  Roza waited a few seconds.  “So, are you saying no drug use, drug overdoses, or tainted drugs have ever been associated with this bar?” This was an absurd question, as the bartender could not possibly know whether any “drug use” had “ever been associated with” Moose and Squirrel.  But she was annoyed by his attitude and wanted to rattle him a bit.  After another minute of verbal fencing, Roza left a card and asked the bartender to call her if he learned anything relevant.

Roza then drove from Moose and Squirrel to the Norilsk hospital to check on Oleg’s status.  Even in Norilsk, smoking was not allowed inside the hospital, and a shivering cluster of smokers were gathered just outside the main entrance.  One of them spotted Roza and peeled off from the group.  “You here about the guy from Marina?”  “Hey Bogdan.  Yeah, what do you know?”  The security guard turned away from his fellow smokers and leaned close to Roza. He seemed to consider them to be colleagues, as though his position as a night shift security guard at the hospital was equivalent to a detective’s badge, a delusion which Roza humored. She smelled a combination of cigarette smoke and vodka. Drinking on duty was, naturally, against hospital regulations but was, naturally, impossible to regulate during the long night.  “Could be lung trouble,” said Bogdan.  “Hmmn.”  Lung trouble – cancer, COPD, emphysema – was a frequent cause of death in Norilsk.  “Or,” he said, leaning even closer, “it might be that new stuff, steam heat.”  Thanks, she thought.  It might be drugs or maybe he’s just sick.  That’s some real top secret info you have there.  “Thanks, Bog. Keep it up.”

Roza walked into the hospital, stopped at the desk for information, and set off down the corridors to find Oleg’s room.  To save money, the hallways were dimly lit at night, giving them a subterranean air.  It was about 3:00 a.m. and Roza was tired.  She decided to get coffee after checking in on Oleg.  When she arrived at his room and looked inside, Roza’s heart sank.  The bed was stripped.  Clean sheets lay on the bed and an orderly was haphazardly mopping the floor.  Aw, hell, she thought.  Roza walked back down the hall to the nurses’ station.  “What happened to Oleg?” she asked the nurse on duty.  The nurse put down a paperback book, rubbed her eyes, and rifled through the charts on her desk.  “Came in at 20:30, unresponsive.  Stabilized at 21:00 and placed under Close Watch.  Died at 1:05.”

Roza hated military time because she always had to stop and translate it to what she thought of as “real” time.  Okay, he came in at 8:30, died at 1:05 the next morning.  “Cause of death?”  The nurse yawned.  “Won’t know until they finish with him.”  “Okay. Thanks.”  Roza left the nurses’ station and took the elevator down to the basement.  The morgue and autopsy area, where they would “finish with” the unlucky Oleg, were in the basement.  Roza’s work brought her into frequent contact with the Norilsk medical examiner, who guessed why she was there as soon as she appeared in his door.  “Roza, good to see you.  I have three ahead of your guy, I’ll get to him in a few hours.”  “Thanks, I’ll be back then,” she said, thinking that it would probably be the officer on duty during the next shift who would follow up on this.  Roza repaired to the cafeteria for a cup of their surprisingly good coffee.  Then it was back out into night.

Chapter Four: Roza’s Secret

Roza awoke at 2:30 the following afternoon and lay in bed in the twilight darkness planning her next few hours.  She would need to wash and fold laundry, replenish groceries, cook a soup for Nadya, and then – then she would have time to go online.

Roza had a secret.  In this city in which survival seemed to require hard work and hard drinking, she had a passion for useless, frivolous lace knitting, an activity that she carefully hid from her co-workers.  Of course most of the women in Norilsk and even a few men knitted useful items all year round – hats, scarves, mittens, and wool socks.  Roza had knitted her share, starting when Nadya first taught her as a young girl.  But these projects did not capture her heart.  To Roza, lace knitting was the ultimate test of skill and art in knitting.

She had stumbled into the world of lace shawls knit from delicate, expensive, yarns during a visit to Ravelry, the knitters website.  When she had checked the day before, Ravelry had over 8,000,000 members, but only 16 Russians were online at the time.  For Roza, Ravelry was her window into the western world.  It seemed to Roza that those who posted on its forums were generally white, middle class, and inordinately fond of their pets.  They dithered online about which yarn to order for the next Knit Along – yarn that cost a third of Nadya’s monthly pension.  They said “supportive” things when someone’s boss or mother in law was mean, and cheered each other on through health crises and knitting successes.  To Roza these women seemed to live in a magical, childlike world, where there was money, time, and energy to wax rhapsodic about a ball of yarn that had arrived in the mail.  Roza had studied English for years in school, but was never sure that she completely understood what these women were communicating.

And yet.  And yet, Roza had fallen under the spell.  She bought used, moth-eaten, sweaters at the second-hand shop, carefully un-knit them, and wound up the resulting kinked up, pilled yarn.  She taught herself the stitches and short cuts, learned to read schematic charts, and puzzled out the American knitting slang. Last Christmas she had presented Nadya with a warm shawl.  She added a little lace, but not too much, lest she have to hear Nadya’s opinion of “time wasting.”

Today she planned to visit a Ravelry forum devoted to yarn dyers who regularly led online mystery knitting events.  The yarn dyers were in the United States, and the patterns for the knit alongs were named after children’s stories that were familiar to American or British women, although Roza had not heard of all of them.  The Knit Along events all followed the same pattern.  The dyers would announce the name and general shape of the next Knit Along – “Our next knit along is Little Women.  It will be a long rectangle with optional beads.”  There would follow several months of discussion and excitement among the regulars about which color yarn to buy.  That was the catch – to participate, you had to buy yarn from the dyers.  Roza couldn’t afford that, and she marveled at it all – the skill of the knitters, the availability of extra funds to buy yarn, the ease of their lives.

Roza had another secret even deeper than her fascination with this Ravelry forum, a secret that she had not shared with anyone.  There was a French magazine called “Fil et Tricot,” or “Yarn and Knitting.”  The magazine was sponsoring a knitting design contest.  Contestants were required to submit an original pattern for a lace shawl with photos of the finished project.  Roza had decided to enter, and had been working on a shawl that she considered original or interesting.  Roza had knit her pattern using yarn she had salvaged from discarded sweaters.  She liked the result  – and here was the daring part – she had bought some of the soft, lovely, fine yarn preferred by the knitters on Ravelry.  She chose a set of skeins that shifted from deep blue to an irridescent green, which reminded her of the aurora borealis.  She was now ready to knit up her entry to the contest. After thinking for a few minutes about yarn, knitting, the prizes for the contest winners, and the women who had both the time and the self-confidence to post on Ravelry, Roza got up and went to the kitchen and living area.

In the kitchen, Roza first checked on Nadya’s garden and replaced a burnt out light bulb.  Roza would have been ridiculed for spending money on fancy yarn; however, it was considered a good use of money to buy lights that simulated the natural light spectrum.  The lights served the dual purposes of helping to ward off Darkness Lunacy (“seasonal affective disorder” she had seen it called in western websites), and to enable Norilsk residents to grow plants.  Roza was happy to pay for Nadya’s expensive light bulbs, especially since they led to the production of fresh flowers and vegetables. After breakfast, Roza began to cut an onion and two potatoes for supper, which they would eat when Roza got home the following morning. When Nadya said that she would take care of meal preparation, Roza returned to her room and worked on her knitted shawl.

But, when Roza left the apartment, Nadya did not immediately turn to chopping or cooking.  She waited until she heard the door slam on the first floor before going to Roza’s room.  Nadya was small, no more than five feet tall, and she joked that she was starting to shrink.  She crossed herself as she gave daily thanks for whatever luck or fortune had allowed her to live so much longer than others in Norilsk.  At this stage of her life, Nadya seldom left the apartment during the long night.  It was too cold, too dark.  In the apartment, however, she was aware of every speck of dust.

Specifically, she was aware that Roza was interested in lace knitting.  This had first come to her attention several months ago, when Roza’s daughter Savina had broken her wrist.  Nikolai had called after their early afternoon breakfast and Roza had immediately dashed from the apartment.  This had allowed Nadya to peek at what Roza had been looking at on her laptop.  Nadya did not regard this as inappropriate or intrusive; her life had been one in which the concept of a “boundary violation” was unknown.

Moreover, now that Roza’s mother was gone, Nadya regarded it as her duty to keep an eye on Roza. Nadya respected Roza’s work ethic, sensible approach to most things, and her easy going temperament.  Nadya was as fascinated as Roza by the discussion forums on the Ravelry site, and admired the intricate lace shawls made by the mostly American, mostly female, knitters on the site.  She concluded that Roza’s interest in knitting lace shawls, although frivolous, was not harmful.  Nadya also knew that Roza was intending to enter the shawl design contest, and silently wished her luck.

Chapter Five: Day Shift

At 7:00 a.m., Roza left the police station and walked a few blocks, the darkness illuminated by orange mercury lamps, until she reached a street lined with shops.  She was frustrated to see a short line outside the grocery, women stamping their feet and trying to talk against the wind.  She joined them at the back of the line, glad that a check of her watch showed that the store would open in a few minutes.  While she waited, Roza looked around at the other stores.  Like the apartment buildings, the commercial streets huddled together, facing each other like covered wagons headed inward.

Tunnels connected some of Norilsk’s buildings, and provided a refuge for pedestrians when circumstances required them to be outside.  Unfortunately, these tunnels also played a central role in vice-related crime.  Norilsk had vice to spare, and who could blame a person for coping with the cold and dark with the self-medication offered by drugs or alcohol, or with the frisson of excitement of dangerous or adulterous sexual liaisons?  Recognizing this, the police took a relatively tolerant attitude towards minor infractions of the laws governing substance abuse, provided they occurred between consenting adults and did not result in injury to anyone.  As long as the sale of drugs consisted of the transfer of a small amount, conducted out of sight of either the police or passersby, and no one got hurt, there was generally little chance of investigation by law enforcement officers.  If larger amounts, public sales, or tainted drugs were involved, however, all bets were off. The recent overdose had Norilsk law enforcement on alert, and Roza reflexively checked the tunnel entrances even while she was off duty.

Finally, the door to the store was opened to the appreciative cheers of the women who had been waiting.  As Roza turned to file inside, she caught a brief glimpse of something in a tunnel across the street – fabric moving in the wind, like a scarf.  Inside the store, Roza made her purchases and returned home.  It was later, after she cut up the ingredients for a stew and set it to simmer, that it suddenly occurred to her what was odd about the passing glimpse of fabric – its height.  The swirl of a scarf was about at the level of her waist.  Roza recalled her superior officer telling her about the anonymous report of a missing child, and wondered if there could be a connection.

Before getting ready for work, Roza went out again, this time to the bakery. The wind was picking up, the temperature was falling, and the bakery was a warm, fragrant oasis in the dark.  Roza’s cheeks were bright red by the time she had walked the few blocks to the bakery.  Inside, she pretended to idly look at the pastries on display, but no one was fooled.  “Sergei,” called a woman behind the counter.  “Better come out here!”  It was getting to be common knowledge at the bakery that the baker and the detective were interested in each other.

Roza felt a dancing excitement somewhere near her stomach when she saw Sergei.  He grinned and approached holding a small bag.  “I saw an American TV show the other day.  It said that police officers are always begging for free donuts there.  We don’t have donuts, so this will have to do!”  She glanced at the pastries inside the bag before following him into a short hallway that led to the back rooms of the bakery.  “How are you?” he asked.  “Fine. I have tomorrow night off.  Would you like to go to the end of the world?”  She paused, gathered her nerve, and went on, “I might bring Savina, if it’s okay with Nikolai and Olena.”  This was the first time Roza had directly referred to her daughter, and she was a little apprehensive about Sergei’s response. Was he one of those men who didn’t want to date a woman who had children from an earlier relationship?  To her relief, he grinned.  “Great idea! In fact, I might bring my neice too.”  They agreed to meet the next evening, and Roza thanked Sergei for the goodies before returning to the apartment.

At 10:00 that night, Roza got ready for work, pulling on the layers of silk, wool, felt, and down that protected her from the cold.  She tucked a flashlight into her outer snowsuit, kissed Nadya goodbye, and headed for the police station, arriving shortly before 11:00, when her shift started.  Roza entered to the usual greetings and calls across the room.  “The cookies were great – your babushka is the best.!”  “Did you hear that guy who overdosed died?”  “Do you want in on the pool – Manchester against Liverpool.”

She ignored the comments after the officer at the front desk handed her a note directing her to report to her supervising officer.  She did not think she was in trouble, but a summons to the boss’s office was always a bit disconcerting.  When she arrived at the office, he quickly put her at ease.  “Sit down, Roza.  There isn’t any problem.  I just need to change your schedule.”  Although Roza had known there wasn’t any logical reason why she would be subject to a reprimand, she was still relieved to hear this from the lieutenant.  “Yes, sir.”  She relaxed and sat down.  I’ve decided to grant your request for transfer to the day shift.  Go home tonight. Tomorrow you begin working from 7:00 morning until 3:00 in afternoon.”

Roza was delighted with this news.  Sergei worked normal store hours, from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and her night shift had made it difficult for them to see each other.  Roza felt slightly guilty that this was her first thought, rather than the possibility that Savina’s custody arrangement might be changed. If she were honest, however, Roza would admit that for the moment it was better for Savina to live with her father and step-mother.  Nonetheless, she could see her daughter more often if she were free in the evenings.

“Thank you, sir.  I appreciate this.  It will make it easier for me to care for my grandmother.”  “Oh, Nadya can survive anything.  And don’t thank me for this.  The reason I’m making this change is that Leonid can no longer work.  He is in the hospital with lung problems.”  Roza was quiet at this.  In Norilsk, “lung problems” were often a death sentence.  “I’m sorry to hear that.  I hope he recovers soon,” she said, although she had little confidence that this would occur.  “I’ll be back in the morning then.”

As Roza fiddled with the lock on the apartment door, she heard Nadya moving inside and smiled.  Roza knew that Nadya looked at her computer and poked around her room.  She had not been promoted to detective without developing the skills necessary to discern her beloved babushka’s clumsy attempts to hide her surveillance.  At some point, she might discuss it with her, but not tonight.  Tonight was a time to celebrate her new schedule.  Accordingly, she delayed her entry, pretending to have trouble with the lock, stamping her feet in the hall, and taking extra time unlacing her boots.  “I’m home, Nadya.  Wait till I tell you why!”

When Roza entered the main room of the apartment, Nadya was sitting at the table.  “Leonid on day shift is sick, and can’t work, so they moved me to days.  From now on I’ll be working from 7:00 to 3:00.  Just like a normal day!”  Nadya grinned slyly.  Having almost been caught prying, she instinctively turned the focus to Roza.  “And more time to see your gingerbread man, eh?”  “Hey, when did you see Zinovia?” Roza asked, for Zinovia was the only one who used this nickname.  “Oh, she came by earlier, I forgot.  She left you a note in your room.”  Strange, though Roza.

“Never mind about Sergei,” said Roza.  “Tonight we celebrate.  Plus after sleeping until afternoon, I need some way to fall asleep early.”  Nadya knew that “celebrate” meant drink.  Roza reached under the couch for a hidden bottle of vodka.  Nadya chatted with her plants for a few minutes before producing a tiny orange she deemed ready for celebration.  Roza poured two substantial glasses of vodka to which she added cloves and allspice.  Nadya sat at the table, first squeezing the juice from the little orange and then delicately mincing the pulp and peel, which she added to the drink.  Roza had read that Eskimos used every part of the whales which they hunted and reflected that Nadya took the same approach to her precious oranges.  “Your health!” they said and clinked their glasses before tipping them back and swallowing.  “Ah,” said Roza.  “This is nice.  Thank you for keeping my crazy hours, but day shift will be easier.”  “Day, night, all the same at my age.”

An hour and several vodka drinks later, Roza and Nadya bid each other good night and Roza stumbled to her bed.  As she lay in the darkness, the world spinning slightly, she imagined telling Sergei that they would be working a similar schedule and how his bushy eyebrows would rise when he smiled.  She thought about shawl patterns and lace. She briefly recalled the scarf she had seen fluttering in a tunnel and Nadya’s mention that Zinovia had left a note, but her head was heavy and she instantly forgot these things.  A small trilling noise at her feet brought a smile to her face and Roza grabbed Rybka around her plump tummy, bringing the small striped cat up to her chest.  “Purr little tiger sweetie,” she said as she fell asleep.

Chapter Six: Slava

When Roza’s alarm sounded at 5:30 a.m., it felt like the middle of the night.  It will take a few days to adjust to this, she thought.  When she sat up, her head complained about the vodka she had the night before.  “Onward,” she said to herself and hurried through her morning washing and dressing.  In the kitchen, Nadya was also up and fixing breakfast.  “Oh, you are too good to me. How did you know this would be a difficult morning.”  “Simple,” said Nadya.  “There is an old saying that ‘three vodkas makes hard morning.’  Here.”  She set down a plate holding bread and eggs over which Nadya had sprinkled an herb from her indoor garden “for her head.”  Roza ate quickly, saving a tiny bite for Rybka, who sat expectantly next to her chair.  “Enjoy, little tiger.”

Roza’s first day of working from 7:00 to 3:00 was not much different from her usual shift, except that there were different officers playing the usual roles. Her desk was the same, but the desk opposite, which was empty during the night, was occupied by her new partner, Slava.  Law enforcement officers who worked nights were not assigned partners, because the streets, the city, and the pace of crime all slowed to near-hibernation levels at night.  Respectable people, cautious people, those who feared freezing to death, mine workers, mothers, teachers, shopkeepers, and children were hidden under blankets at night.  The others – drinkers, druggies, dancers, prostitutes, wild young people, insomniacs – were mostly gathered in a few well known spots such as the Marina club.  During the day, however, Norilsk was closer to a normal city of over 170,000 people.  Stores opened, buses ran, children went to school.  More people out and about meant more crime, which meant that officers worked in pairs.

Roza was familiar with the police partner relationship as depicted on American TV.  In western crime shows, an officer was closer to their partner than to a spouse.  When partners were not racing from one room to another, they were saving each other’s lives, sharing their darkest secrets, and maybe having a love affair.  It was different in Norilsk.  Roza would be working as a team with Slava, but they would not be joined at the hip, via an affair or otherwise.  Rather, they would divide their assigned tasks, keep each other informed of their location and progress, and be available to join the other within a few minutes if needed.  Certain duties, such as interviewing witnesses, were always done in pairs.  Other situations, such as entering an abandoned building, might also call for “back up” as the American shows had it.  But, if Roza went to the hospital to see the records on the overdose victim, or if Slava needed to ask a school principal about a truant child, the other did not need to tag along.  Roza was glad that she and Slava would not be expected to immediately start sharing every minute, before they even knew each other.

Slava was a few years younger than Roza, and slightly shorter and thinner.  Roza hoped this would not present a problem in the form of a macho need to overcompensate or strut around.  He was dark haired, with a handsome face that was marred, in Roza’s opinion, by his insistence on a mustache that hardly covered his upper lip – that overcompensation perhaps?  Like Roza, Slava had studied English in school.  He had also studied computer technology for two years before applying for the police force. Good! thought Roza. On television every assignment required someone to furrow their brow and type rapidly while muttering mysterious incantations – “I’ve breached the firewall but I can’t access the folderol!”  If their cases implicated coding or hacking or whatever it was, Slava could do it.  On the other hand, she daydreamed, if an assignment called for someone to infiltrate an elite party in a slinky green gown . . .

“Roza?”  She realized Slava was talking to her and snapped to attention. “Yes.  Do you know what we have this morning?”  “We have three things going on right now,” began Slava.  “We’re supposed to meet with the guy who issues monthly bus passes – something about drugs.  We also have to follow up on that fellow who died the other night after being at Marina, and the supposed missing little girl.” Like her grandmother, Roza tended to shift the focus to the other person when she was embarrassed.  “How would you like to work?” asked Roza, careful to defer to Slava’s experience with day shift protocol and hopefully prevent a pointless power struggle.

“If it’s okay with you, I’d like it if you went to the hospital to find out more about Oleg, the overdose guy.  That way I can work on tracing the number that called in about the little girl.  I’m trying to triangulate the IP address argle bargle satellite bingo.”  At least, that’s how it sounded to Roza, who tuned out as soon as she heard the words triangulate and IP address.  “Sounds good,” she said, relieved to be the one who would be outside.  Despite the bitter cold, the snow, and the relentless wind, Roza would rather not be stuck inside the stuffy police station.  She put on the outer layers she had removed upon arrival, checked out a car, and left the station.

Outside, the temperature had dropped from minus fifteen to minus thirty and the wind had picked up.  Roza didn’t care.  She was euphoric to be working during the day.  There was no sun, but she could still see in the dusky twilight.  The sky was a haunting blue grey; even without the sun, the daytime held more light than did the night.

Roza found her patrol car in the lot and drove to the hospital.  The road was broad but at this time of year only two lanes were cleared, in the center of the road.  Drifts over eight feet high had been shoved to the sides of the street, with pathways cleared at the intersections.  Because she had limited visibility and there were more people about, Roza was careful to slow down at each corner. Roza remembered how, as a child, she and her friends would jump from rooftops onto piles of snow ten feet high.  It was safe during the dead of winter, but when the snow started to melt a child could fall into the middle of a drift and become stuck.  At the hospital, a different group of smokers – the day shift – huddled beside the entrance.  Roza saw no one she knew, but offered a general smile to the determined puffers as she passed.  Once inside, she went to the basement to meet with the medical examiner.

“What did you find out, Mosya?” she asked when she entered the cold room.  A strong smell of disinfectant failed to entirely mask the smell of the bodies who were examined on stainless steel tables in the room.  “Ah, you are here about the unfortunate Oleg.  Well, he was unfortunate.  The autopsy revealed that he had advanced lung disease.  Even if he had not taken drugs, he would not have been with us much longer.  I wonder that he didn’t know, didn’t seek treatment?  Today we have advances in –”  “But you found drugs in his system,” interrupted Roza, trying to cut short what she knew might be a fifteen minute reflection on the State of Medicine Today.  “Oh yes, the drugs killed him.”

“Could you tell more?  Did he just overdose, or was there something wrong with the drug?  And what drug was it?” Roza peppered Mosya with questions, anxious to get a better understanding of the situation.  “All of the above,” replied the examiner.  “Yes, I could tell more.  The drug was a variation on methedrine.  It’s signature is the addition of red food coloring and it’s street name is ‘steam heat.’  Yes, it was an overdose.  Poor Oleg had ingested enough to knock out an elephant.  But also, yes, the drug was botched.  Even if he had taken just a little, he would have died.  This formula had five times the usual amount of acetone.  It’s like someone dumped in a bottle of nail polish remover.”

“So, let me see if I understand.  Oleg took an amount that would have caused his death, regardless of the purity of the meth. But, aside from that, even a little bit of this batch would have killed him, because of the extra acetone?”  “Correct,” said Mosya.  “Do you need anything else?  If not, this fellow here needs my attention,” he continued, gesturing to a draped figure on the steel table.  “No, that’s all.  I’ll get the report from your secretary and turn it in at the station.  Thanks, Mosya.”  Roza smiled and left the room, eager to pick up the official report and be done with this part of the hospital.

Back at the police station, Roza told Slava what she had learned.  “Do you think there’s more of this out there?  she asked Slava.  “No way to tell, unless there are other overdoses,” he replied.  “But if there aren’t any others, does that mean they figured out their mistake?  Or was Oleg targeted on purpose? And, if so, by who?  Do we know anything about him?”  Roza was unsure where to start answering these questions.  “No,” replied Slava.  “We haven’t investigated him because we were waiting to find out about the cause of death.  Now that we know it was overdose of a tainted drug, it’s more urgent to find out the answers.  I hate to ask you to go back to the hospital, but his admission records might be a place to start – they might have information about his next of kin or employment.

Roza blushed and swore silently at herself.  Her first day on day shift, her first morning working with a partner, and she’d overlooked the most obvious thing.  However, one of Roza’s strengths was her lack of defensiveness with her colleagues.  “Shit – how was I so dumb to forget that?  I’ll go back right away – thanks.”  Roza forced a grin and left to go back to the hospital for Oleg’s admission records.

When Roza returned to the police station, Slava was taking a lunch break. She sat at her desk, studying the records from the hospital.  Oleg’s last name was Federov.  He worked – had worked, rather – at the mine.  Okay, so a miner who was out late at night – unusual.  His job was underground on one of the sluice lines.  He had missed several days this month for medical appointments.  It seemed possible that he had found out about his probable terminal diagnosis.  Maybe this was a suicide?  Oleg was married to a woman named Ivona, and they had one child, a two year old boy.  Oh, this was sad all the way around.  Roza realized she and Slava would have to visit Ivona, tell her about Oleg’s cause of death, and see if his widow had any information that might lead them to the maladept or malevolent creator of the poisoned methedrine.

Roza was suddenly tired of reading about the young father’s sad overdose. She jumped up, grabbed her coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, and went back outside.  The light, dim to start with, was fading, the blue-grey darkening to a deeper greyish black.  She calculated that there were five more weeks until the sun returned.  Norilsk’s downtown was compact, another feature of the inhabitants’ instinct to huddle together against the cold.  Stolle was only a five minute walk.  When Roza entered the bakery, the wind’s direction shifted, causing the door to bang shut behind her, startling Sergei, who was behind the counter.  “Hey, honey.  What are you doing out this early?”  She warmed at his calling her ‘honey’ and explained that she was now working the day shift. She warmed even more at his obvious delight when he realized that they could now spend more time together.  He gave her a fruit filled pastry with the customary joke about police and donuts, and she wolfed it down.  “You’ll need to start packing a real lunch,” he said.  “Maybe Nadya will help me.”

Roza returned to the police station and found Slava poring over the hospital records.  “I guess we should talk to Ivona, eh?” he said.  Although it was highly unlikely that Ivona posed any threat, interviews were always conducted by two officers, for several reasons. If a witness later changed their story, they would be faced with two opponents, eliminating a “one said, the other said” situation.  Secondly, as partners learned to work together, they could often intuit which would be more likely to draw out a witness.  Or, they could sing a duet, perhaps the familiar “good cop bad cop” refrain.  If one officer conducted the interview, the other could take notes.  Finally, two heads were better than one when it was time to recall details.  They discussed their plan and decided to start off by assuming that Ivona might react better to Roza, but that if that did not appear to be the case, Slava would step in.

Chapter Seven: Ivona

Ivona lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building about 12 blocks from the downtown center.  The building had been painted a bright aqua that had since faded and peeled.  Both its location far from the commercial district and the fact that the apartment was up five flights indicated that Ivona and Oleg were neither rich nor powerful.  Ivona was a pale blonde who seemed as though she might collapse at any moment.  Roza had the feeling that only her child was keeping her from giving up altogether.  She allowed them into the small, dark apartment, gestured towards a sagging love seat, and sat waiting in the only other chair in the room.  Apparently it would be up to them to initiate the conversation.  Roza cleared her throat.  “First of all, Ivona, we are so so sorry for your loss,” she said.  Ivona’s blue eyes immediately filled with tears that continued to trickle down her face during the remainder of the interview.  “Do you know what happened?” she asked.  When they informed her that her husband had died of a drug overdose, she straightened briefly.  “Oleg did not take drugs!” she insisted.

The rest of the interview was painful.  Ivona had not known that her husband sometimes went to Marina, that he had used drugs, or that he had been diagnosed with a very serious lung disease.  Roza reflected that Ivona might as well have been 100 miles from downtown.  The distance was too far to walk during the winter, and the couple did not have a car.  A co-worker drove Oleg to work each day.  She was essentially trapped with her child in this tiny dim apartment.  Roza hated to think about what Ivona’s life would be like as she coped with the loss of her husband. Further complicating Ivona’s life was the fact that she was visibly pregnant. After about 15 minutes, Slava and Roza exchanged an imperceptible nod of agreement that there was nothing further to be gained by imposing on Ivona’s hospitality, and they left.

Back at the station, Roza and Slava talked about the case and agreed to ask one of the night shift officers to return to Marina.  Hopefully the officer might find out more about whether there had been other overdoses, who was making the ‘steam heat’ methedrine, and any entanglements or enemies that Oleg might have had.  Roza regretted handing the Marina investigation off to someone else, but recognized that she could not work both day and night shifts.  While Roza filled out paperwork detailing the course of their investigations, Slava returned to his computer investigation of the call reporting a missing child.

At 2:00 that afternoon, he announced that he had successfully pinpointed the source of the call.  Roza did not try to follow the technical details, but was very interested to learn that the call had come from one of the empty buildings.  There were more than 25 multi-story apartment buildings in Norilsk that either had never been completed or had been abandoned.  After Norilsk’s status as a gulag officially ended in the early 1950s, its population decreased by about 50,000.  In order to save energy, rented apartments were consolidated into fewer buildings, unused buildings were vacated, and unfinished apartments were abandoned.  Predictably, these were an ongoing source of problems for the police, who hated investigating them.  There were no utilities serving the vacant buildings, which were freezing, dark, dirty, and generally unsafe.  Nonetheless, it appeared that Slava and Roza would be visiting an abandoned apartment in order to follow up on the call about the missing girl.  By the time they finished discussing this, it was too late to go there, and they were both happy to postpone the trip until the next day.

Roza and Slava finished their first day of partnership generally pleased with each other and with their progress.  Neither of the two officers had seen their worst fears realized in a partner, they had obtained useful information about both of their cases, and were ready to pick up the trails the next day.  As it turned out, however, it was several days before they had any further involvement with either the missing little girl or the methedrine overdose.

#Norilsk #fiction #editing #knitting #mystery

For this story to make sense, it’s better to read the chapters in order, like this:

Chapter One  Chapter Two  Chapter Three  Chapter Four  Chapter Five  Chapter Six             copyright 2020, all rights reserved

Chapter Seven: Ivona

Ivona lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building about 12 blocks from the downtown center.  The building had been painted a bright aqua that had since faded and peeled.  Both its location far from the commercial district and the fact that the apartment was up five flights indicated that Ivona and Oleg were neither rich nor powerful.  Ivona was a pale blonde who seemed as though she might collapse at any moment.  Roza had the feeling that only her child was keeping her from giving up altogether.  She allowed them into the small, dark apartment, gestured towards a sagging love seat, and sat waiting in the only other chair in the room.  Apparently it would be up to them to initiate the conversation.  Roza cleared her throat.  “First of all, Ivona, we are so so sorry for your loss,” she said.  Ivona’s blue eyes immediately filled with tears that continued to trickle down her face during the remainder of the interview.  “Do you know what happened?” she asked.  When they informed her that her husband had died of a drug overdose, she straightened briefly.  “Oleg did not take drugs!” she insisted.

The rest of the interview was painful.  Ivona had not known that her husband sometimes went to Marina, that he had used drugs, or that he had been diagnosed with a very serious lung disease.  Roza reflected that Ivona might as well have been 100 miles from downtown.  The distance was too far to walk during the winter, and the couple did not have a car.  A co-worker drove Oleg to work each day.  She was essentially trapped with her child in this tiny dim apartment.  Roza hated to think about what Ivona’s life would be like as she coped with the loss of her husband. Further complicating Ivona’s life was the fact that she was visibly pregnant. After about 15 minutes, Slava and Roza exchanged an imperceptible nod of agreement that there was nothing further to be gained by imposing on Ivona’s hospitality, and they left.

Back at the station, Roza and Slava talked about the case and agreed to ask one of the night shift officers to return to Marina.  Hopefully the officer might find out more about whether there had been other overdoses, who was making the ‘steam heat’ methedrine, and any entanglements or enemies that Oleg might have had.  Roza regretted handing the Marina investigation off to someone else, but recognized that she could not work both day and night shifts.  While Roza filled out paperwork detailing the course of their investigations, Slava returned to his computer investigation of the call reporting a missing child.

At 2:00 that afternoon, he announced that he had successfully pinpointed the source of the call.  Roza did not try to follow the technical details, but was very interested to learn that the call had come from one of the empty buildings.  There were more than 25 multi-story apartment buildings in Norilsk that either had never been completed or had been abandoned.  After Norilsk’s status as a gulag officially ended in the early 1950s, its population decreased by about 50,000.  In order to save energy, rented apartments were consolidated into fewer buildings, unused buildings were vacated, and unfinished apartments were abandoned.  Predictably, these were an ongoing source of problems for the police, who hated investigating them.  There were no utilities serving the vacant buildings, which were freezing, dark, dirty, and generally unsafe.  Nonetheless, it appeared that Slava and Roza would be visiting an abandoned apartment in order to follow up on the call about the missing girl.  By the time they finished discussing this, it was too late to go there, and they were both happy to postpone the trip until the next day.

Roza and Slava finished their first day of partnership generally pleased with each other and with their progress.  Neither of the two officers had seen their worst fears realized in a partner, they had obtained useful information about both of their cases, and were ready to pick up the trails the next day.  As it turned out, however, it was several days before they had any further involvement with either the missing little girl or the methedrine overdose.

Long Night, Chapter Six

Long Night, Chapter Five   Long Night, Chapter Four    Long Night, Chapter Three

Long Night,Chapter Two   The Long Night, Chapter One

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved

When Roza’s alarm sounded at 5:30 a.m., it felt like the middle of the night.  It will take a few days to adjust to this, she thought.  When she sat up, her head complained about the vodka she had the night before.  “Onward,” she said to herself and hurried through her morning washing and dressing.  In the kitchen, Nadya was also up and fixing breakfast.  “Oh, you are too good to me. How did you know this would be a difficult morning.”  “Simple,” said Nadya.  “There is an old saying that ‘three vodkas makes hard morning.’  Here.”  She set down a plate holding bread and eggs over which Nadya had sprinkled an herb from her indoor garden “for her head.”  Roza ate quickly, saving a tiny bite for Rybka, who sat expectantly next to her chair.  “Enjoy, little tiger.”

Roza’s first day of working from 7:00 to 3:00 was not much different from her usual shift, except that there were different officers playing the usual roles. Her desk was the same, but the desk opposite, which was empty during the night, was occupied by her new partner, Slava.  Law enforcement officers who worked nights were not assigned partners, because the streets, the city, and the pace of crime all slowed to near-hibernation levels at night.  Respectable people, cautious people, those who feared freezing to death, mine workers, mothers, teachers, shopkeepers, and children were hidden under blankets at night.  The others – drinkers, druggies, dancers, prostitutes, wild young people, insomniacs – were mostly gathered in a few well known spots such as the Marina club.  During the day, however, Norilsk was closer to a normal city of over 170,000 people.  Stores opened, buses ran, children went to school.  More people out and about meant more crime, which meant that officers worked in pairs.

Roza was familiar with the police partner relationship as depicted on American TV.  In western crime shows, an officer was closer to their partner than to a spouse.  When partners were not shouting “Clear!” from another room, they were saving each other’s lives, sharing their darkest secrets, and maybe having a love affair.  It was different in Norilsk.  Roza would be working as a team with Slava, but they would not be joined at the hip, via an affair or otherwise.  Rather, they would divide their assigned tasks, keep each other informed of their location and progress, and be available to join the other within a few minutes if needed.  Certain duties, such as interviewing witnesses, were always done in pairs.  Other situations, such as entering an abandoned building, might also call for “back up” as the American shows had it.  But, if Roza went to the hospital to see the records on the overdose victim, or if Slava needed to ask a school principal about a truant child, the other did not need to tag along.  Roza was glad that she and Slava would not be expected to immediately start sharing every minute, before they even knew each other.

Slava was a few years younger than Roza, and slightly shorter and thinner.  Roza hoped this would not present a problem in the form of a macho need to overcompensate or strut around.  He was dark haired, with a handsome face that was marred, in Roza’s opinion, by his insistence on a mustache that hardly covered his upper lip – that overcompensation perhaps?  Like Roza, Slava had studied English in school.  He had also studied computer technology for two years before applying for the police force. Good! thought Roza. On television every assignment required someone to furrow their brow and type rapidly while muttering mysterious incantations – “I’ve breached the firewall but I can’t access the folderol!”  If their cases implicated coding or hacking or whatever it was, Slava could do it.  On the other hand, she daydreamed, if an assignment called for someone to infiltrate an elite party in a slinky green gown . . .

“Roza?”  She realized Slava was talking to her and snapped to attention. “Yes.  Do you know what we have this morning?”  “We have three things going on right now,” began Slava.  “We’re supposed to meet with the guy who runs the buses out to the mine – something about drugs.  We also have to follow up on that fellow who died the other night after being at Marina, and the supposed missing little girl.” Like her grandmother, Roza tended to shift the focus to the other person when she was embarrassed.  “How would you like to work?” asked Roza, careful to defer to Slava’s experience with day shift protocol and hopefully prevent a pointless power struggle.

“If it’s okay with you, I’d like it if you went to the hospital to find out more about Oleg, the overdose guy.  That way I can work on tracing the number that called in about the little girl.  I’m trying to triangulate the IP address argle bargle satellite bingo.”  At least, that’s how it sounded to Roza, who tuned out as soon as she heard the words triangulate and IP address.  “Sounds good,” she said, relieved to be the one who would be outside.  Despite the bitter cold, the snow, and the relentless wind, Roza would rather not be stuck inside the stuffy police station.  She put on the outer layers she had removed upon arrival, checked out a car, and left the station.

Outside, the temperature had dropped from minus fifteen to minus thirty and the wind had picked up.  Roza didn’t care.  She was euphoric to be working during the day.  There was no sun, but she could still see in the dusky twilight.  The sky was a haunting blue grey; even without the sun, the daytime held more light than did the night.

Roza found her patrol car in the lot and drove to the hospital.  The road was broad but at this time of year only two lanes were cleared, in the center of the road.  Drifts over eight feet high had been shoved to the sides of the street, with pathways cleared at the intersections.  Because she had limited visibility and there were more people about, Roza was careful to slow down at each corner. Roza remembered how, as a child, she and her friends would jump from rooftops onto piles of snow ten feet high.  It was safe during the dead of winter, but when the snow started to melt a child could fall into the middle of a drift and become stuck.  At the hospital, a different group of smokers – the day shift – huddled beside the entrance.  Roza saw no one she knew, but offered a general smile to the determined puffers as she passed.  Once inside, she went to the basement to meet with the medical examiner.

“What did you find out, Mosya?” she asked when she entered the cold room.  A strong smell of disinfectant failed to entirely mask the smell of the bodies who were examined on stainless steel tables in the room.  “Ah, you are here about the unfortunate Oleg.  Well, he was unfortunate.  The autopsy revealed that he had advanced lung disease.  Even if he had not taken drugs, he would not have been with us much longer.  I wonder that he didn’t know, didn’t seek treatment?  Today we have advances in –”  “But you found drugs in his system,” interrupted Roza, trying to cut short what she knew might be a fifteen minute reflection on the State of Medicine Today.  “Oh yes, the drugs killed him.”

“Could you tell more?  Did he just overdose, or was there something wrong with the drug?  And what drug was it?” Roza peppered Mosya with questions, anxious to get a better understanding of the situation.  “All of the above,” replied the examiner.  “Yes, I could tell more.  The drug was a variation on methedrine.  It’s signature is the addition of red food coloring and it’s street name is ‘steam heat.’  Yes, it was an overdose.  Poor Oleg had ingested enough to knock out an elephant.  But also, yes, the drug was botched.  Even if he had taken just a little, he would have died.  This formula had five times the usual amount of acetone.  It’s like someone dumped in a bottle of nail polish remover.”

“So, let me see if I understand.  Oleg took an amount that would have caused his death, regardless of the purity of the meth. But, aside from that, even a little bit of this batch would have killed him, because of the extra acetone?”  “Correct,” said Mosya.  “Do you need anything else?  If not, this fellow here needs my attention,” he continued, gesturing to a draped figure on the steel table.  “No, that’s all.  I’ll get the report from your secretary and turn it in at the station.  Thanks, Mosya.”  Roza smiled and left the room, eager to pick up the official report and be done with this part of the hospital.

Back at the police station, Roza told Slava what she had learned.  “Do you think there’s more of this out there?  she asked Slava.  “No way to tell, unless there are other overdoses,” he replied.  “But if there aren’t any others, does that mean they figured out their mistake?  Or was Oleg targeted on purpose? And, if so, by who?  Do we know anything about him?”  Roza was unsure where to start answering these questions.  “No,” replied Slava.  “We haven’t investigated him because we were waiting to find out about the cause of death.  Now that we know it was overdose of a tainted drug, it’s more urgent to find out the answers.  I hate to ask you to go back to the hospital, but his admission records might be a place to start – they might have information about his next of kin or employment.

Roza blushed and swore silently at herself.  Her first day on day shift, her first morning working with a partner, and she’d overlooked the most obvious thing.  However, one of Roza’s strengths was her lack of defensiveness with her colleagues.  “Shit – how was I so dumb to forget that?  I’ll go back right away – thanks.”  Roza forced a grin and left to go back to the hospital for Oleg’s admission records.

When Roza returned to the police station, Slava was taking a lunch break. She sat at her desk, studying the records from the hospital.  Oleg’s last name was Federov.  He worked – had worked, rather – at the mine.  Okay, so a miner who was out late at night – unusual.  His job was underground on one of the sluice lines.  He had missed several days this month for medical appointments.  It seemed possible that he had found out about his probable terminal diagnosis.  Maybe this was a suicide?  Oleg was married to a woman named Ivona, and they had one child, a two year old boy.  Oh, this was sad all the way around.  Roza realized she and Slava would have to visit Ivona, tell her about Oleg’s cause of death, and see if his widow had any information that might lead them to the maladept or malevolent creator of the poisoned methedrine.

Roza was suddenly tired of reading about the young father’s sad overdose. She jumped up, grabbed her coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, and went back outside.  The light, dim to start with, was fading, the blue-grey darkening to a deeper greyish black.  She calculated that there were five more weeks until the sun returned.  Norilsk’s downtown was compact, another feature of the inhabitants’ instinct to huddle together against the cold.  Stolle was only a five minute walk.  When Roza entered the bakery, the wind’s direction shifted, causing the door to bang shut behind her, startling Sergei, who was behind the counter.  “Hey, honey.  What are you doing out this early?”  She warmed at his calling her ‘honey’ and explained that she was now working the day shift. She warmed even more at his obvious delight when he realized that they could now spend more time together.  He gave her a fruit filled pastry with the customary joke about police and donuts, and she wolfed it down.  “You’ll need to start packing a real lunch,” he said.  “Maybe Nadya will help me.”

Roza returned to the police station and found Slava poring over the hospital records.  “I guess we should talk to Ivona, eh?” he said.  Although it was highly unlikely that Ivona posed any threat, interviews were always conducted by two officers, for several reasons. If a witness later changed their story, they would be faced with two opponents, eliminating a “one said, the other said” situation.  Secondly, as partners learned to work together, they could often intuit which would be more likely to draw out a witness.  Or, they could sing a duet, perhaps the familiar “good cop bad cop” refrain.  If one officer conducted the interview, the other could take notes.  Finally, two heads were better than one when it was time to recall details.  They discussed their plan and decided to start off by assuming that Ivona might react better to Roza, but that if that did not appear to be the case, Slava would step in.

#fiction #Nanowrimo #editing #Norilsk

Long Night, Chapter Five

I forgot to mention that this is a murder mystery. Sometime soon we’ll get to the murder.

copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Long Night, Chapter Four

Chapter Five: Day Shift

At 7:00 a.m., Roza left the police station and walked a few blocks, the darkness illuminated by orange mercury lamps, until she reached a street lined with shops.  She was frustrated to see a short line outside the grocery, women stamping their feet and trying to talk against the wind.  She joined them at the back of the line, glad that a check of her watch showed that the store would open in a few minutes.  While she waited, Roza looked around at the other stores.  Like the apartment buildings, the commercial streets huddled together, facing each other like covered wagons headed inward.

Tunnels connected some of Norilsk’s buildings, and provided a refuge for pedestrians when circumstances required them to be outside.  Unfortunately, these tunnels also played a central role in vice-related crime.  Norilsk had vice to spare, and who could blame a person for coping with the cold and dark with the self-medication offered by drugs or alcohol, or with the frisson of excitement of dangerous or adulterous sexual liaisons?  Recognizing this, the police took a relatively tolerant attitude towards minor infractions of the laws governing substance abuse, provided they occurred between consenting adults and did not result in injury to anyone.  As long as the sale of drugs consisted of the transfer of a small amount, conducted out of sight of either the police or passersby, and no one got hurt, there was generally little chance of investigation by law enforcement officers.  If larger amounts, public sales, or tainted drugs were involved, however, all bets were off. The recent overdose had Norilsk law enforcement on alert, and Roza reflexively checked the tunnel entrances even while she was off duty.

Finally, the door to the store was opened to the appreciative cheers of the women who had been waiting.  As Roza turned to file inside, she caught a brief glimpse of something in a tunnel across the street – fabric moving in the wind, like a scarf.  Inside the store, Roza made her purchases and returned home.  It was later, after she cut up the ingredients for a stew and set it to simmer, that it suddenly occurred to her what was odd about the passing glimpse of fabric – its height.  The swirl of a scarf was about at the level of her waist.  Roza recalled her superior officer telling her about the anonymous report of a missing child, and wondered if there could be a connection.

Before getting ready for work, Roza went out again, this time to the bakery. The wind was picking up, the temperature was falling, and the bakery was a warm, fragrant oasis in the dark.  Roza’s cheeks were bright red by the time she had walked the few blocks to the bakery.  Inside, she pretended to idly look at the pastries on display, but no one was fooled.  “Sergei,” called a woman behind the counter.  “Better come out here!”  It was getting to be common knowledge at the bakery that the baker and the detective were interested in each other.

Roza felt a dancing excitement somewhere near her stomach when she saw Sergei.  He grinned and approached holding a small bag.  “I saw an American TV show the other day.  It said that police officers are always begging for free donuts there.  We don’t have donuts, so this will have to do!”  She glanced at the pastries inside the bag before following him into a short hallway that led to the back rooms of the bakery.  “How are you?” he asked.  “Fine. I have tomorrow night off.  Would you like to go to the end of the world?”  She paused, gathered her nerve, and went on, “I might bring Savina, if it’s okay with Nikolai and Olena.”  This was the first time Roza had directly referred to her daughter, and she was a little apprehensive about Sergei’s response. Was he one of those men who didn’t want to date a woman who had children from an earlier relationship?  To her relief, he grinned.  “Great idea! In fact, I might bring my neice too.”  They agreed to meet the next evening, and Roza thanked Sergei for the goodies before returning to the apartment.

At 10:00 that night, Roza got ready for work, pulling on the layers of silk, wool, felt, and down that protected her from the cold.  She tucked a flashlight into her outer snowsuit, kissed Nadya goodbye, and headed for the police station, arriving shortly before 11:00, when her shift started.  Roza entered to the usual greetings and calls across the room.  “The cookies were great – your babushka is the best.!”  “Did you hear that guy who overdosed died?”  “Do you want in on the pool – Manchester against Liverpool.”

She ignored the comments after the officer at the front desk handed her a note directing her to report to her supervising officer.  She did not think she was in trouble, but a summons to the boss’s office was always a bit disconcerting.  When she arrived at the office, he quickly put her at ease.  “Sit down, Roza.  There isn’t any problem.  I just need to change your schedule.”  Although Roza had known there wasn’t any logical reason why she would be subject to a reprimand, she was still relieved to hear this from the lieutenant.  “Yes, sir.”  She relaxed and sat down.  I’ve decided to grant your request for transfer to the day shift.  Go home tonight. Tomorrow you begin working from 7:00 morning until 3:00 in afternoon.”

Roza was delighted with this news.  Sergei worked normal store hours, from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and her night shift had made it difficult for them to see each other.  Roza felt slightly guilty that this was her first thought, rather than the possibility that Savina’s custody arrangement might be changed. If she were honest, however, Roza would admit that for the moment it was better for Savina to live with her father and step-mother.  Nonetheless, she could see her daughter more often if she were free in the evenings.

“Thank you, sir.  I appreciate this.  It will make it easier for me to care for my grandmother.”  “Oh, Nadya can survive anything.  And don’t thank me for this.  The reason I’m making this change is that Leonid can no longer work.  He is in the hospital with lung problems.”  Roza was quiet at this.  In Norilsk, “lung problems” were often a death sentence.  “I’m sorry to hear that.  I hope he recovers soon,” she said, although she had little confidence that this would occur.  “I’ll be back in the morning then.”

As Roza fiddled with the lock on the apartment door, she heard Nadya moving inside and smiled.  Roza knew that Nadya looked at her computer and poked around her room.  She had not been promoted to detective without developing the skills necessary to discern her beloved babushka’s clumsy attempts to hide her surveillance.  At some point, she might discuss it with her, but not tonight.  Tonight was a time to celebrate her new schedule.  Accordingly, she delayed her entry, pretending to have trouble with the lock, stamping her feet in the hall, and taking extra time unlacing her boots.  “I’m home, Nadya.  Wait till I tell you why!”

When Roza entered the main room of the apartment, Nadya was sitting at the table.  “Leonid on day shift is sick, and can’t work, so they moved me to days.  From now on I’ll be working from 7:00 to 3:00.  Just like a normal day!”  Nadya grinned slyly.  Having almost been caught prying, she instinctively turned the focus to Roza.  “And more time to see your gingerbread man, eh?”  “Hey, when did you see Zinovia?” Roza asked, for Zinovia was the only one who used this nickname.  “Oh, she came by earlier, I forgot.  She left you a note in your room.”  Strange, though Roza.

“Never mind about Sergei,” said Roza.  “Tonight we celebrate.  Plus after sleeping until afternoon, I need some way to fall asleep early.”  Nadya knew that “celebrate” meant drink.  Roza reached under the couch for a hidden bottle of vodka.  Nadya chatted with her plants for a few minutes before producing a tiny orange she deemed ready for celebration.  Roza poured two substantial glasses of vodka to which she added cloves and allspice.  Nadya sat at the table, first squeezing the juice from the little orange and then delicately mincing the pulp and peel, which she added to the drink.  Roza had read that Eskimos used every part of the whales which they hunted and reflected that Nadya took the same approach to her precious oranges.  “Your health!” they said and clinked their glasses before tipping them back and swallowing.  “Ah,” said Roza.  “This is nice.  Thank you for keeping my crazy hours, but day shift will be easier.”  “Day, night, all the same at my age.”

An hour and several vodka drinks later, Roza and Nadya bid each other good night and Roza stumbled to her bed.  As she lay in the darkness, the world spinning slightly, she imagined telling Sergei that they would be working a similar schedule and how his bushy eyebrows would rise when he smiled.  She thought about shawl patterns and lace. She briefly recalled the scarf she had seen fluttering in a tunnel and Nadya’s mention that Zinovia had left a note, but her head was heavy and she instantly forgot these things.  A small trilling noise at her feet brought a smile to her face and Roza grabbed Rybka around her plump tummy, bringing the small striped cat up to her chest.  “Purr little tiger sweetie,” she said as she fell asleep.

#Norilsk #fiction #writing

Long Night, Chapter Four

Moving right along, we get to the knitting part.  Of course there’s a knitting part!

The Long Night, Chapter One    Long Night,Chapter Two

Long Night, Chapter Three

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Chapter Four: Roza’s Secret

Roza awoke at 2:30 the following afternoon and lay in bed in the twilight darkness planning her next few hours.  She would need to wash and fold laundry, replenish groceries, cook a soup for Nadya, and then – then she would have time to go online.

Roza had a secret.  In this city in which survival seemed to require hard work and hard drinking, she had a passion for useless, frivolous lace knitting, an activity that she carefully hid from her co-workers.  Of course most of the women in Norilsk and even a few men knitted useful items all year round – hats, scarves, mittens, and wool socks.  Roza had knitted her share, starting when Nadya first taught her as a young girl.  But these projects did not capture her heart.  To Roza, lace knitting was the ultimate test of skill and art in knitting.

She had stumbled into the world of lace shawls knit from delicate, expensive, yarns during a visit to Ravelry, the knitters website.  When she had checked the day before, Ravelry had over 8,000,000 members, but only 16 Russians were online at the time.  For Roza, Ravelry was her window into the western world.  It seemed to Roza that those who posted on its forums were generally white, middle class, and inordinately fond of their pets.  They dithered online about which yarn to order for the next Knit Along – yarn that cost a third of Nadya’s monthly pension.  They said “supportive” things when someone’s boss or mother in law was mean, and cheered each other on through health crises and knitting successes.  To Roza these women seemed to live in a magical, childlike world, where there was money, time, and energy to wax rhapsodic about a ball of yarn that had arrived in the mail.  Roza had studied English for years in school, but was never sure that she completely understood what these women were communicating.

And yet.  And yet, Roza had fallen under the spell.  She bought used, moth-eaten, sweaters at the second-hand shop, carefully un-knit them, and wound up the resulting kinked up, pilled yarn.  She taught herself the stitches and short cuts, learned to read schematic charts, and puzzled out the American knitting slang. Last Christmas she had presented Nadya with a warm shawl.  She added a little lace, but not too much, lest she have to hear Nadya’s opinion of “time wasting.”

Today she planned to visit a Ravelry forum devoted to yarn dyers who regularly led online mystery knitting events.  The yarn dyers were in the United States, and the patterns for the knit alongs were named after children’s stories that were familiar to American or British women, although Roza had not heard of all of them.  The Knit Along events all followed the same pattern.  The dyers would announce the name and general shape of the next Knit Along – “Our next knit along is Little Women.  It will be a long rectangle with optional beads.”  There would follow several months of discussion and excitement among the regulars about which color yarn to buy.  That was the catch – to participate, you had to buy yarn from the dyers.  Roza couldn’t afford that, and she marveled at it all – the skill of the knitters, the availability of extra funds to buy yarn, the ease of their lives.

Roza had another secret even deeper than her fascination with this Ravelry forum, a secret that she had not shared with anyone.  There was a French magazine called “Fil et Tricot,” or “Yarn and Knitting.”  The magazine was sponsoring a knitting design contest.  Contestants were required to submit an original pattern for a lace shawl with photos of the finished project.  Roza had decided to enter, and had been working on a shawl that she considered original or interesting.  Roza had knit her pattern using yarn she had salvaged from discarded sweaters.  She liked the result  – and here was the daring part – she had bought some of the soft, lovely, fine yarn preferred by the knitters on Ravelry.  She chose a set of skeins that shifted from deep blue to an irridescent green, which reminded her of the aurora borealis.  She was now ready to knit up her entry to the contest. After thinking for a few minutes about yarn, knitting, the prizes for the contest winners, and the women who had both the time and the self-confidence to post on Ravelry, Roza got up and went to the kitchen and living area.

In the kitchen, Roza first checked on Nadya’s garden and replaced a burnt out light bulb.  Roza would have been ridiculed for spending money on fancy yarn; however, it was considered a good use of money to buy lights that simulated the natural light spectrum.  The lights served the dual purposes of helping to ward off Darkness Lunacy (“seasonal affective disorder” she had seen it called in western websites), and to enable Norilsk residents to grow plants.  Roza was happy to pay for Nadya’s expensive light bulbs, especially since they led to the production of fresh flowers and vegetables. After breakfast, Roza began to cut an onion and two potatoes for supper, which they would eat when Roza got home the following morning. When Nadya said that she would take care of meal preparation, Roza returned to her room and worked on her knitted shawl.

But, when Roza left the apartment, Nadya did not immediately turn to chopping or cooking.  She waited until she heard the door slam on the first floor before going to Roza’s room.  Nadya was small, no more than five feet tall, and she joked that she was starting to shrink.  She crossed herself as she gave daily thanks for whatever luck or fortune had allowed her to live so much longer than others in Norilsk.  At this stage of her life, Nadya seldom left the apartment during the long night.  It was too cold, too dark.  In the apartment, however, she was aware of every speck of dust.

Specifically, she was aware that Roza was interested in lace knitting.  This had first come to her attention several months ago, when Roza’s daughter Savina had broken her wrist.  Nikolai had called after their early afternoon breakfast and Roza had immediately dashed from the apartment.  This had allowed Nadya to peek at what Roza had been looking at on her laptop.  Nadya did not regard this as inappropriate or intrusive; her life had been one in which the concept of a “boundary violation” was unknown.

Moreover, now that Roza’s mother was gone, Nadya regarded it as her duty to keep an eye on Roza. Nadya respected Roza’s work ethic, sensible approach to most things, and her easy going temperament.  Nadya was as fascinated as Roza by the discussion forums on the Ravelry site, and admired the intricate lace shawls made by the mostly American, mostly female, knitters on the site.  She concluded that Roza’s interest in knitting lace shawls, although frivolous, was not harmful.  Nadya also knew that Roza was intending to enter the shawl design contest, and silently wished her luck.

#LaceKnitting #ravelry #knitting #fiction #norilsk

Long Night, Chapter Three

Copyright 2020 all rights reserved

The Long Night, Chapter One

Long Night,Chapter Two

Chapter Three: Roza Visits Marina

            Outside, Roza scuttled quickly around the corner to the police lot and found her patrol car.  It was a relief to get in and shut the door.  A desire to prove that women were as tough as men led her to face the wind and snow and act as though the minus 34 degree winds were just a summer breeze.  In truth, she was grateful to have zipped in and out of the police station in a few minutes, so that the patrol car she shared with the officer assigned to the earlier shift was still warmed up.  Roza pulled out of the lot into the street, which was silent except for the wind.  As she wound her way through the quiet streets, she kept an eye out for a small, lost girl, but saw no one until she spotted two men in a doorway about 50 feet fom the Marina nightclub.  She pulled up to them and got out. 

            “Guys, c’mon. You can’t – I mean this is right out on the street.”  Roza was not inclined to search the men, discover a small amount of whatever drug they were selling, go back to the station, process the arrests, and fill out paperwork, all for some pissant amount of happy pills.  On the other hand, there was a possible overdose tonight.  More importantly, while she was willing to not notice minor drug transactions, the users and sellers had to do their part, which consisted of staying out of sight.  Willful blindness has its limits.

            “We were just  — discussing the English soccer match before heading home.”  A patently false excuse for lingering in the subzero street, although British soccer had become a fad among men in Norilsk, and it was not uncommon to overhear arguments over the relative merits of Manchester and whoever they were playing.  “Ah.  Soccer.  Well, why don’t you get home before you freeze to death and take up the discussion tomorrow, right?”  The men disappeared down a flight of stairs and into a tunnel leading to another street.  Fine, thought Roza, Out of sight, out of mind.

            Roza parked next to the door of Marina, Norilsk’s “nightclub.”  Marina was, in its own way, a perfect reflection of Norilsk.  Although they were isolated, the people of Norilsk were free, here on the top of the world, to study, imagine, copy, and adopt the habits of rest of the world, in particular the western world.  For it is not 1922 in Russia or 1968 in China.  There is no ban on reading bourgeoisie fiction, no shame in watching British soccer or American dramas on TV, and no restrictions on the internet other than the rules applicable anywhere regarding pornography, bomb making, and so on. 

            The people of Norilsk were especially fond of American police shows, from which they gathered a lot of their impressions of American life.  Roza had watched many episodes of NCIS and the various Law & Order spinoffs with her fellow officers.  “Hey, Roza,” they would shout, as an American detective went about her business dressed in a clinging undershirt and tight jeans, “You should dress that way for work!”  Roza would answer “Great idea!  Tell the boss to send me to L.A. for a fitting and instruction on using a bullet proof vest over shorts!”  The law enforcement officers of Norilsk also found it funny that in the USA, police work appeared to consist mostly of dashing from one room to another shouting “Clear!”  Another source of humor among the squad was the fact that, to judge from popular TV shows, in America law enforcement officers, hospital workers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers were unable to work together without a constant series of steamy, often adulterous affairs. 

            Roza had never had an affair with a co-worker and intended to keep it that way.  She was neither a virgin nor a prude; in fact, she had been married briefly in her 20s, to Nikolai, and remained on good terms with him and with his new wife Olena.  Nikolai and Roza had a 7 year old daughter, Savina, who lived with her father.  During the period of her life shortly after they divorced, Roza went through a wild spell of several years. Although that was behind her, Roza realized that working all night was not compatible with raising a child, observed that Olena was a sweet, caring woman, and did not fight Nikolai’s request for custody of Savina. 

            Nor was Roza immune to the charms of cheerful blue eyes or broad shoulders.  She had several flings after she and Nikolai split, and was currently in the early stages of a relationship that might develop into more than a fling. No, Roza’s success at avoiding workplace entanglements resulted from her possession of another trait besides being attractive and good-natured – common sense and the self-discipline to stay within its bounds.  No good would come of an affair with a fellow officer, so she simply did not go down that path. 

            Marina brought to mind another feature of American crime dramas, namely the fact that resolution of the central mystery or the capture of the episode’s Bad Guy inevitably seemed to involve a visit to a strip club or seedy night spot.  In addition to being an excuse for airing otherwise irrelevant scenes of barely clad young women, the darkened club was generally the place where, after being roughed up a little and led down a hall so dank that the viewer could practically smell the urine and mildew, the officer would meet with a soulless crime lord who would give him the next clue. 

            These scenes seemed to have informed most of the design and décor choices of the owners of the Marina club.  The lights were dim, the music loud, the sofas lining the walls stained with no one wanted to know what.  As Norilsk is in Russia and not L.A., the room was also smoky.  Roza slipped through the door into the cacophony.  Immediately to the left was a combination locker room and coat check.  Patrons arrived wearing far too many layers to conveniently leave on a chair.  Therefore, restaurants, clubs, classrooms, and so on, had check rooms where patrons could remove outer clothing in a cubicle, place items in a locker, and take the locker key with them.  Roza took off her outermost layers of clothing and went into the club.

            Although Roza did not dash around in a tight undershirt like her fictional colleagues on American TV, neither did she wear a uniform.  Like detectives of film and TV, she was permitted to wear street clothes.  Roza’s aim was to wear clothing that might blend in anywhere and not be noticed, commented on, or remembered. Generally this meant black or grey pants, with a black, grey, or navy blue shirt in some sturdy fabric.  Her shirts were not, as was always the case on television, unbuttoned to reveal cleavage.  The primary religion in Norilsk is Russian Orthodox and Roza wore a small Russian crucifix on her neck that she had inherited from her mother.  Like all baby girls in Norilsk, her ears were pierced at birth, and she had tiny matching crosses on her ears.  That was the extent of her adornment; she did not wear makeup or gaudy jewelry. 

            Roza was in Marina to see what she could learn that might be relevant to the question of whether the man taken to the hospital had been the victim of an accidental or intentional overdose. Law enforcement officers in Norilsk might be willing to overlook minor drug infractions, but tainted drugs or drug-based murder would have to be stopped.  Because the overdose victim had collapsed in Marina, it seemed like the obvious place to begin gathering information about him and the drug he had taken.

            This was not Roza’s first visit to Marina.  Her parents had both died when she was a teenager and there had followed several years of confused behavior, during which time Marina was a frequent refuge.  Eventually, Roza went back to school and studied history and literature. These proved useless in looking for a job in Norilsk.  One summer night, as Roza walked home in the July daylight of 11:00 p.m., she stopped to tie her shoe near the police station.  As she sat on the steps in front of the old building, she felt inexplicably comfortable and, lacking another plan, decided to apply for the police academy.  This impulsive decision had worked out better than some of her other impulses.

            Roza understood the role that Marina played in local society, seeing past the sticky floor, the cigarette burns, and the spilled drinks.  In the novels of Jane Austen, public social events provide the mechanism for the plot to advance.  The question of which carriage the dashing young lord rides in, who the heiress dances with at the glittering ball, which couple lingers for a private conversation on the promenade — these are important signifiers.  Teen dramas achieve the same forward movement of plot based on who takes who to the prom.  Thus, the endlessly fascinating drama of dating and mating has both a private and public side.  In private, we yearn and long for love, and scribble in diaries.  In public, we declare publicly, or at least leave tantalizing hints. 

            No, Norilsk does not have regal Victorian balls with dance cards filled out or left blank to send a message about Who Loves Whom.  There is no Brighton Promenade observed by meddling aunties for clues about who Lord Whatsit might marry.  Instead Norilsk has Marina, which serves the same purposes.  The relevant clues would be found in who paired up to play pool, sat at the same crowded table to drink, or danced together.  Unlike some of her male colleagues, Roza recognizes Marina’s role among the young people of Norilsk.  In addition, some of its habitués were her girlhood pals.  Further, as a detective, she overheard all the gossip about everyone sooner or later, which gave her an advantage when it was time to snoop.  Roza scanned the room for an acquaintance, but saw no one she recognized, so she approached the bar and perched on a sticky stool.  “Hey, Ily – Baltika Dark please.”  Ilias, Marina’s newest bartender, fetched her a beer, which she began to nurse slowly, one sip every minute or so, while waiting for someone to appear from whom she might get useful information. 

            The wait was short.  “Zini!” Roza waved to Zinovia, with whom she had played as a child and had attended school.  Zinovia moved through the crowd like a Siamese cat, thin, dark and slightly feral.  “Roza! Are you here about Oleg?”  Oleg was the man who had collapsed in the club.  Zinovia had not had the career success of her friend, but it was not because she lacked intelligence or perception. Rather, Zini lacked another ingredient of upward mobility – restraint and common sense.  Roza adored her.  When she was with Zinovia, she was relaxed, and allowed Zinovia to tease her about her supposedly superior street smarts as compared to Roza’s less impressive “school smarts.”  “Here,” said Roza, “I bought this for you,” and handed Zinovia the practically full beer.  “Drink up so you’ll tell me everything.  But, first – was Kolya here tonight?  Has he realized you’re the answer to his dreams?”  “He was here an hour ago, but he left to go home and sleep before work.”  In Zinovia’s world, Kolya was the eligible Duke of Earl with whom she hoped to dance at the cotillion that was Marina. He worked at the Norilsk Nickel mine, driving some impossibly large piece of machinery. 

            “And you, Roza?  Are you still seeing the gingerbread man?”  Roza had recently begun dating Sergei. Although Roza was determined not to rush into anything, her common sense slipped a bit when they were together.  He was a bear of a man, generous and easy going.  Sergei did not qualify for work at the mine, because of some minor physical flaw that he had not yet confided to her.  Instead, he worked at the Stolle Bakery.  Zinovia found this fact, in combination with Sergei’s round build, to be hilarious and had dubbed him the Gingerbread Man. “Yeah, he’s taking me to the Riviera next week,” said Roza.  “Really, we’re having fun.  Tomorrow night we’re supposed to walk to the edge of the world.”  The “end of the world” was what the residents of Norilsk called the edge of town, where one could look out over an unbroken expanse of snow and tundra.  Roza and Sergei were hoping to see the Northern Lights, the Norilsk compensation for the lack of sunshine. 

            “Have you told him yet?” asked Zinovia.  “That I have leprosy?  No, I thought I’d wait.”  “No, seriously,” responded Zinovia.  “If you don’t tell him soon, it will look like you’re hiding her.”  Roza sighed.  “You mean, have I told him that I have a 7 year old daughter?  I didn’t have to.  Remember, we were all in school together, and he knows Nikolai a little.  We were married in public, Zinovia. It wasn’t a state secret.”  She realized that she sounded irritable and tried to correct this.  “Sorry.  I think I’m just a little anxious about whether or not this might turn into an actual real grown-up relationship.”  “Aah, he’d be lucky to have you,” said  Zinovia, holding up her beer in a toast to Roza.

            “So, what do you know?”  Roza asked Zinovia.  “Not much. Oleg just started coming around recently.  He doesn’t seem like an addict, but he definitely likes to get high.  He likes steam heat I think.  I don’t know what he took tonight, probably steam heat.  But people collapse all the time, don’t they?”  So, Oleg was not an addict, but he liked the new methedrine spinoff stimulant, “steam heat.”  This was as much information as Roza could expect to pick up at Marina.  She sat with Zinovia awhile catching up on family news and then picked up her clothes in the check out room and returned to the icy street. 

            Roza had another bar to check out for information and, after going to Marina, she had no further excuse to postpone the visit.  She sighed and drove through the empty streets to her next stop. The Moose and Squirrel was an establishment unlike Marina in every respect except that both served alcohol.  Moose and Squirrel had no sticky floors, blaring music, ripped barstools, or shouting patrons.  The lighting was indirect, the ambience subdued, the music jazzy, and the clientele decidedly hipster.  Roza scanned the room upon entering, saw no one she knew, and noted that both of the tables with painted chessboards were occupied by players who were frowning and sipping as they considered their next moves. 

            Roza sighed again and reminded herself not to let her antipathy to Moose and Squirrel interfere with her job, which was to find out if any tainted methedrine had been seen or sold there.  If she had engaged in a bit of self-analysis, Roza would have realized that the bar triggered her insecurities.  Everything about it seemed designed to signal that the place and its patrons were the elite of Norilsk.  Even the name – when she asked about it, trying to be friendly, the bartender informed Roza superciliously that “the name is derived from an exceedingly well-known American cartoon.” The bartended acted as though any intelligent person should know this, but Roza though it was stupid to assume that anyone – let alone everyone – would know which cartoons were shown in America 50 years ago.  Apparently, this cartoon featured Russian spies who ran around after a moose and a squirrel.  Roza was proud both of her background as a descendant of the original settlers in Norilsk, and of her academic success at college.  Yet, she could not escape the feeling that the drinkers in Moose and Squirrel considered themselves superior to any police officer, especially one whose great grandparents came to Norilsk as prisoners. 

            Roza crossed the room, weaving among carefully placed little tables, and approached the bar.  The bartender ignored her, perhaps sensing that she was not there to order an expensive liquor.  “Excuse me, sir,” she said after a full minute had passed.  She opened her wallet to display a badge and said, in a somewhat louder voice, “I’m a detective with the Norilsk police department, and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”  As she had hoped, the faint whiff of Trouble or Bad Publicity brought the bartender scurrying over. 

            “Thank you,” she began when he was close enough for them to talk softly.  “Earlier this evening, a man collapsed at a bar here in town from an apparent overdose.  We’re trying to warn other bars, and also to find out whether there have been incidents involving overdoses or tainted drugs in other places.”  The man ran a languid hand through his hair and twitched his shoulders as if shaking off an annoying insect.  “I shouldn’t think that would occur here,” he said with finality, as if there could be no further question.  “I see.”  Roza waited a few seconds.  “So, are you saying no drug use, drug overdoses, or tainted drugs have ever been associated with this bar?” This was an absurd question, as the bartender could not possibly know whether any “drug use” had “ever been associated with” Moose and Squirrel.  But she was annoyed by his attitude and wanted to rattle him a bit.  After another minute of verbal fencing, Roza left a card and asked the bartender to call her if he learned anything relevant.

            Roza then drove from Moose and Squirrel to the Norilsk hospital to check on Oleg’s status.  Even in Norilsk, smoking was not allowed inside the hospital, and a shivering cluster of smokers were gathered just outside the main entrance.  One of them spotted Roza and peeled off from the group.  “You here about the guy from Marina?”  “Hey Bogdan.  Yeah, what do you know?”  The security guard turned away from his fellow smokers and leaned close to Roza. He seemed to consider them to be colleagues, as though his position as a night shift security guard at the hospital was equivalent to a detective’s badge, a delusion which Roza humored. She smelled a combination of cigarette smoke and vodka. Drinking on duty was, naturally, against hospital regulations but was, naturally, impossible to regulate during the long night.  “Could be lung trouble,” said Bogdan.  “Hmmn.”  Lung trouble – cancer, COPD, emphysema – was a frequent cause of death in Norilsk.  “Or,” he said, leaning even closer, “it might be that new stuff, steam heat.”  Thanks, she thought.  It might be drugs or maybe he’s just sick.  That’s some real top secret info you have there.  “Thanks, Bog. Keep it up.” 

            Roza walked into the hospital, stopped at the desk for information, and set off down the corridors to find Oleg’s room.  To save money, the hallways were dimly lit at night, giving them a subterranean air.  It was about 3:00 a.m. and Roza was tired.  She decided to get coffee after checking in on Oleg.  When she arrived at his room and looked inside, Roza’s heart sank.  The bed was stripped.  Clean sheets lay on the bed and an orderly was haphazardly mopping the floor.  Aw, hell, she thought.  Roza walked back down the hall to the nurses’ station.  “What happened to Oleg?” she asked the nurse on duty.  The nurse put down a paperback book, rubbed her eyes, and rifled through the charts on her desk.  “Came in at 20:30, unresponsive.  Stabilized at 21:00 and placed under Close Watch.  Died at 1:05.” 

            Roza hated military time because she always had to stop and translate it to what she thought of as “real” time.  Okay, he came in at 8:30, died at 1:05 the next morning.  “Cause of death?”  The nurse yawned.  “Won’t know until they finish with him.”  “Okay. Thanks.”  Roza left the nurses’ station and took the elevator down to the basement.  The morgue and autopsy area, where they would “finish with” the unlucky Oleg, were in the basement.  Roza’s work brought her into frequent contact with the Norilsk medical examiner, who guessed why she was there as soon as she appeared in his door.  “Roza, good to see you.  I have three ahead of your guy, I’ll get to him in a few hours.”  “Thanks, I’ll be back then,” she said, thinking that it would probably be the officer on duty during the next shift who would follow up on this.  Roza repaired to the cafeteria for a cup of their surprisingly good coffee.  Then it was back out into night.   

 

Long Night,Chapter Two

Moving right along, nonexistent readers, here is the next chapter.

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

The Long Night, Chapter One

Chapter 2 – Police Station

            After breakfast, Roza straightened the apartment, helped Nadya plant the orange seed, and worked on knitting a pair of socks.  At around 10:00 p.m., she got ready for work. Over her underwear, she added silk leggings and a long sleeved shirt.  Over that went wool leggings and another shirt.  Next she put on a police-issued waterproof down snow suit, theoretically suitable for temperatures down to -45.  Wool socks, felt boot liners, boots, scarf, gloves, and a hat completed the ensemble.  Roza bundled and trundled down the wide worn steps and out into the night.  

            At 11:00 p.m., when Roza’s work shift began there was no twilight, just the darkness of the Long Night.  She waited alone at the entrance to her apartment building for one of the buses that circled Norilsk. The only sound was the howling of the winter wind, and she wondered how the reindeer, far away from Norilsk, survived during the winter.   The bus took her to within a block of the police station in downtown Norilsk.  The few other pedestrians on the street were bent over to keep the wind and snow off their faces.  Roza, however, felt that as a city police detective she should always be alert and upright on the streets, and refused to hunch over, despite the stinging on her cheeks. 

            The police station was barred by a heavy iron door, slick with snow.  Roza was experienced at opening it, having lived through the embarrassment of a newly minted probationer struggling with the door. She deftly gripped the handle with her left hand, pressed the cross bar with her right and heaved her shoulder against the door.  Just inside the door was a small mud room to slow down the wind and allow employees and visitors to stamp the worst of the snow off their boots.  

            Once past the mud room, the station was not dissimilar to its cousins in every corner of the world.  Whether it’s a gleaming, computerized glass office in New York, or a down at heels shed in a country whose spelling is hard for most of the world to remember, police stations have certain features in common.  Among these is a desk behind which sits a bored officer, usually one who is very new, very old, or who is being punished. This person functions as the receptionist, assessor of imminent danger, and all around triage officer.  Beyond that were desks in pairs, bulletin boards, and chalk boards.  Roza greeted the newest recruit, who was serving her time behind the entry desk, and wove through the desks to her own little patch of policedom. 

            As she walked to her desk, Roza exchanged greetings with her fellow officers.  She was proud both of having achieved the rank of detective and of her congenial relations with the other law enforcement officers. For another universal feature of police departments is their officers’ initial unease with female colleagues.  Of course there are women lawyers, doctors, heads of state, pilots, bank robbers, clam diggers, builders, teachers, politicians, and bead stringers; nonetheless, older police officers have a tendency to respond to each new female recruit as though the calendar said 1812 and not 2020.  And so it was for Roza – her assignment to the department was met with initial suspicion. 

            However, in relatively short order Roza had dissipated her male colleagues’ reluctance to embrace her as a peer.  It helped that Roza was pretty, but not so gorgeous that one was uncomfortable looking at her.  She had the blonde hair and high cheekbones of a Russian model, but she was neither 6 feet tall nor model-thin; she was attractive, but in an accessible way that allowed her male colleagues to imagine that maybe they might have a chance for a kiss at the Christmas party.  Secondly, Roza was a good sport.  She understood that she would have to earn their respect and did not make a big fuss about it.  She took opportunities to do kind things for other officers who, one by one, began to feel protective and companionable, rather than resistant.  Thirdly, she was a good police officer – hard working, fair, bright, and energetic.  At 31, Roza had a tiny bit of wisdom of adulthood while keeping the idealism and buoyancy of youth.

            Finally, Roza’s grandmother, Nadya, was well loved in Norilsk. At 78, Nadya was one of the oldest inhabitants of Norilsk.  Her parents were sent with other prisoners to build Norilsk in the 1930s, when the city was a Siberian labor camp.  Nadya was born in 1942 to parents who had given up hope of ever having a child.  She now looked like an apple doll, lined and a bit shriveled, but seemingly unbreakable.  She described herself as “too stubborn to die.”  Nadya was known for her indoor herb and plant garden, and her ability to coax even orchids into blooming in the far north.  She was held in great respect as one of the city’s elders, respect which spread to the police force and influenced their reception of Roza.  Or maybe it was the spicy orange cookies that she regularly baked for the station after Roza joined the force?  At any rate, Roza had navigated the initial hazing, and after 18 months on the city’s detective squad, was now a favorite. 

            Her promotion to detective also reflected an unusual feature of life in Norilsk.  In Russia, as everywhere else, it is generally easier for men to ascend to positions of responsibility.  Roza had observed that if a man has a job, it comes with a title such as Sub-Commandant, Associate President, or Vice Manager (a title that Roza found funny).  If a woman does the same job, it is simply Public Employee Level Whatever.  In Norilsk, however, the default employment for men was to work for Norilsk Nickel.  Norilsk was built to support the mine, existed because of the mine, was defined and poisoned by the mine.  If Norilsk had a God, other than God, it was Norilsk Nickel.  Citizens were no longer required by law to toil in the mine, but toil they did. 

            Work in the mine was, to quote the famous saying, nasty, brutish, and short, and also very cold.  Workers rode to work in convoys of buses, so that if one bus broke down the passengers could be transferred to another before they froze to death.  A view of the mine from above, showed one of these buses as the proverbial dot at the end of this sentence.  Once at the mine, the men got to work.  Roza did not know exactly what they did, and neither does your author.  Let us simply agree that the miners did work that was dangerous and exhausting, and at sub-zero temperatures.  The work force in the mine was overwhelmingly male.  Because the men in Norilsk generally worked for Norilsk Nickel, fewer men applied for other jobs, including that of police officer.  Norilsk was in this respect not unlike a country during wartime, when Rosie the Riveter could obtain a position generally held by men in peacetime.  This demographic quirk, as well as Roza’s open smile, well-known grandma, and good scores on the entry exam, enabled Roza to become a police detective. 

            Police work was also regarded as having fewer benefits than working in the mine.  Both miners and law enforcement officers worked in the bitter cold and darkness of winter.  Miners, however, whether as an enticement or an apology for their shortened life spans, had as many as 90 vacation days and other perks, including full retirement at age 45.  Police officers were also exposed to the common air pollution, although not as directly as the miners, but they had to cover 24 hour shifts all year. 

            When Roza arrived at work, she made her way to her desk.  If the air temperature in the large room were shown in color, it would have been a swirl of extremes.  People who swear by the wonders of a sauna and enjoy the pleasures of moving directly from a steamy environment into a snow drift would have appreciated the air in the police station.  Fierce heaters pushed out air that, if it were unimpeded, would have heated the room into the 80s.  The heated air fought an ongoing battle with the winds of -30 that blew in the door, cracks, and the two windows high above the desks.  The result was that as you walked around the room the temperature fluctuated wildly.  Roza’s desk was in a cold zone, which she preferred.  It meant she could keep her snow suit on while she was at the desk. 

            The first thing she did was check in with her superior officer and with the detective whose shift would end as hers began.  “What do we have?” she asked.  “A possible drug overdose at Marina, and a possible lost child.”  “Any details?”  “A 24 year old man collapsed outside the club a few hours ago and was taken to the hospital.  We’re waiting for the results of hospital tests.” “And the child?”  “8 year old girl. Supposedly arrived on the plane yesterday afternoon. Anonymous call.” 

            Arrived “on the plane.”  There were no roads or passenger rails by which to reach Norilsk, which meant that everyone in the city was either born there or had come by air.  The fact that the missing person was a child was troubling, that she was a girl added an additional sinister layer, and that the call was anonymous – not a worried grandmother or auntie – all combined to generate a feeling of anxiety in Roza.  A young girl gone missing during the Long Night was not good.  “Okay.  I’ll start with Marina, and then look around for the little girl.  Do we have a name?” “No name.” Roza put on her hat, scarf, and gloves and stood to leave.  “Oh, I almost forgot – Nadya made these for us.  She says that the orange essence is good for our health during the darkness.”  A cheer swept through the room as she put the bag of cookies on the front desk.  “Later.” 

#Norilsk #fiction #fictionediting

Thoughts on Resolutions

I made a bunch of new years resolutions a few days ago. Unfortunately, I’ve been sick with a bad cold and awake all night coughing, so that’s kept me from getting a start on half of them. I have started the fiction editing, finished the 2019 annual bookkeeping, looked up the Chatham County Democratic party online, and figured out the row-a-day scarf (along with a modification that is okay to miss a day and then catch up. Even 2 or 3 days!). But the daily vigorous exercise – not a chance this week.

So now, in light of this halting start, I’m making another resolution: to cut myself a break when circumstances get in the way.

#newyears #resolutions

The Long Night, Chapter One

This is a little scary for me, but here goes. Last year I wrote a story for http://www.nanowrimo.org and this year I want to edit it. The thing is I have no particular talent and no training for writing fiction. So, the scary part is exposing my attempts to my nonexistent readers. I’m going to do it a little bit at a time. Please please feel free to make suggestions. In my opinion, this first bit is kind of flat, but that’s okay. If I don’t jump in, I’ll never jump in. I’ll improve it later.

Copyright, all rights reserved, 2020

Greetings.  I have wanted to write a story set in Norilsk, and now I have.  It is a very rough first draft.  I would like to know if you finished it and, if so, what you think of the setting and whether the story is worth editing and revising.  Please be honest.

Things that need to be done to the rough draft, in no particular order:

Research:  the % of minerals that come from Norilsk Nickel, hierarchy in Russian police force, use of mercury street lights, laws about gun ownership, nature of permafrost, juvenile delinquency regulations in Russia, use of search warrants in Russia,

Also, must attend to: Last names where needed, Punctuation and formatting of quotations, Time line – events in sequence, in reasonable amount of time, editing for word choice, grammer, flow

 Author’s Note

Norilsk is a real city.  It is located in Siberia and is the northernmost city of more than 100,000 people in the world.  It was founded as a gulag for prisoners, but is now inhabited by 170,000 people who live their voluntarily. The reason for its existence is the presence of nickel and other minerals.  The main industry is Norilsk Nickel, a vast mine that is the source of XX percent of the world’s nickel and other minerals. 

Pollution.  Minerals are mined and smelted in Norilsk and the resultant pollution is reduces life expectancy significantly, to approximately 50 to 55.  Workers are entitled to full retirement at 45, and no plants or trees grow for miles around due to the pollution.  However, in recent years, Norilsk Nickel has taken steps to remedy this.

Weather:  It snows 270 days of the year.  In winter there are about 45 days when the sun never rises, and in the summer 8 weeks when the sun never sets.  For several months the temperature is below zero.  In the brief summer it may go up to 40 or 50.

Ravelry is an actual website, where over 8,000,000 knitters post on hundreds of forums and record their yarny exploits. 

What is not necessarily true:  everything else. I hereby state the customary disclaimer that the people are all imaginary and not intended to bear any resemblance to anyone living or dead. 

But it goes farther than that. I made all this up.  Norilsk is what is called a closed city.  In order to visit, one needs government permission, presumably because of the strategic significance of the mining that takes place there.  Because it’s a closed city, there are few tourists and no published guides. Also, there are no roads or passenger trains to Norilsk.  There is a freight train that goes further north, but people must arrive by air.  This makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of daily life, sights to see, customs, views, local habits and festivals, favorite foods, social patterns, living arrangements, hobbies, and so on. 

I resolved the problem of obtaining accurate information about daily life in Norilsk by making it all up. I have no idea if any of the description of life in Norilsk bears the slightest resemblance to reality.

Chapter One: Introduction

        Our story opens on December 4 in Norilsk, Siberia, in the Russian Federation. Several days earlier, the sun had risen and set for the last time for the next six weeks.  At the moment our heroine, Roza, was in an orange grove, with bees buzzing near her head. Of course, Roza had never been in an orange grove or seen a bee, but such is the magic of dreams. The bees continued buzzing loudly until Roza awoke to realize that she had forgotten to turn off her alarm. That remedied, she slept for 2 more hours.

When she woke again, Roza reached for her laptop and checked a few sites, then closed its battered top and tucked it between her mattress and the bed board.  Standing, she twisted and stretched from side to side with her arms raised overhead before moving to a window.  Although the sky outside was a deep bluish grey, she could see across the courtyard to several other five story concrete apartment buildings that mirrored her own.  Harsh street lamps illuminated the few people who were outside in the gathering darkness. It was 2:00 in the afternoon.

Even during the 45 days a year when the sun does not rise in Norilsk, there are brief periods of twilight – civil, nautical, and astronomical. Civil twilight is defined as the time when the sun is no more than 6 degrees below the horizon and daily activities can be conducted without artificial light.  Nautical twilight occurs when the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon, and the sky is a deep blue.  Astronomical twilight, when the sun is more than 12 degrees below the horizon, is the period just before full darkness.  At 2 in the afternoon, nautical twilight was yielding to astronomical twilight’s deeper darkness.

Roza’s apartment was on the second floor at the end of the hall, a location that she considered ideal.  The apartments on the first floor were exposed to the brutal winds that blew into the building.  On the other hand, she was glad not to be any higher in the building because Roza shared the apartment with her grandmother, Nadya, and did not want her to climb to the 3rd, 4th, or 5th floor.  Furthermore, they had windows on three sides because their apartment was at the end of the hall.

Roza moved from her bedroom to the main room, where she and Nadya spent most of their time. This room had a kitchen area, a table and chairs, and a small couch.  Next to windows on one side were tiered shelves holding over 100 plants, including herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Although Norilsk Nickel was engaged in an ambitious effort to alleviate it, the air pollution was still too severe for trees and plants to grow near the city.  There is a human need for greenery, which in Norilsk was met by indoor plants.

Nadya had been born in Norilsk, but her parents grew up where the soil was living, and so Nadya was skilled at nurturing plant life.  She crooned old Russian folk songs to her flowers, exhorted the herbs to be strong and healthy, and attended to her flowers and vegetables with the dedication of a governess or besotted admirer.  Her indoor garden rewarded her devotion by blooming, sprouting, or leafing out. Roza’s job was to water the garden, to save Nadya the back strain of filling the water and bending over repeatedly.

After watering the small indoor garden, Roza brewed a cup of tea for Nadya and coffee for herself.  She set the table automatically, having made the same gestures daily for over a decade, since Nadya came to live with her.  Without having to think about it, she cooked an oat porridge, adding a small amount of honey.  Then she crossed the hall to bring Nadya her tea.

“I’m up, I’m up,” she heard Nadya say from their tiny bathroom. It was tiny, but – wonderfully – it was private.  Roza thanked the fates every day that they did not have to share a bathroom with other apartments.  “I’ll leave your tea by the bed, Babushka.”  Nadya had adapted to Roza’s schedule and generally slept until Roza fixed breakfast at around 3:00.  Roza returned to the kitchen, and looked more closely at a small miniature orange tree growing among the other plants.  “Nadya, I think we can add one of the little oranges to our cereal – what do you think?”  “Wait until I can look at it.”

Roza sat down and sipped her coffee.  The garden contained a large onion and mustard greens that were on the verge of bolting.  Roza thought that if she got to the market when it first opened, after she got off work at 7:00 a.m., she could buy a piece of meat, a few potatoes, and a carrot, with which to make a stew.  And, of course, no one would blame her if she happened to stop by the Stolle bakery to buy her babushka a sweet roll . . . and maybe visit with Sergei.  Nadya came into the main room, set her tea on the table, and went over to the garden area.  “Okay, which of you are ready for cereal, eh?” she murmured over the little oranges.  No, you need to get larger.  You – come with me.”  She sat at the table and handed Roza a calamondin orange no more than an inch or two in diameter.  Roza hopped up, kissed the top of Nadya’s head and carefully dissected the orange.  All of it, including the peel, was added to their cereal.  The seeds she put in a bottle cap and set by Nadya for future gardening.  The orange bits added welcome flavor to the otherwise bland cooked cereal.  As they ate, Roza shared her proposed shopping list with Nadya, who approved, adding only that she should get a garlic clove as well.  “I’ll dig up Mr. Onion and cut the greens while you’re gone,” she said.

 

Here we go!

I’m adding one more to this daunting list – knit a long scarf by adding a little every day.

New Year in Norilsk

One of my resolutions is to edit a story set in Norilsk, which is in Siberia and is the northernmost city of over 100,000. Almost 200,000 people call Norilsk home and love it, despite its isolation (no roads or trains in or out, and you need government permission to visit), the weather (no sun for 6 weeks, months of snow and below zero temps), and the pollution (nothing much grows there, full retirement at 45 because life expectancy is low). I find it fascinating, the extreme weather and the residents’ affection for their home town. Because it’s a closed city, when I wrote a story set there I had to make everything up, with no idea whether it bears any resemblance to reality.

Anyhow, I’m in a Norilsk Facebook group (can’t understand any of it because it’s all in Russian), and here are a few photos from today:

Resolution hereby Resolved

It’s 31 December 2019, time for New Years Resolutions. I resolve:

To do some writing and some exercising every day.

To start a garden, organize yarn, keep painting, and write letters.

Not to make 20-20 vision jokes during 2020.

Anyone else?

“The Weight | Featuring Robbie Robertson | Playing For Change

2020 Ticket

Time to consider the best 2020 Democratic ticket. Disclaimer: Just my opinion:

Parameters.

We cannot win with a ticket that is two white men.

We need a woman on the ticket, and we also need a non-white person on the ticket. Yes, I realize that if Stacy Abrams or Kamala Harris is on the ticket, that takes care of both.

We need a presidential candidate that Cousin Louise would vote for. (Louise, my second cousin, is an educated, suburban Republican who is dismayed by Trump. My own one-person demographic!).

Candidates being ruled out. This exercise does not consider candidates who appear to have no chance of winning, although WHO KNOWS, I certainly ruled out Voldemort in 2016. Management is ruling out the following:

Yang – one trick pony with low poll numbers.

Williamson – she actually has some good ideas, but oh well.

All those white guys on the sides of the stage in the first 2 debates.

Possible tickets.

1. Biden and someone. I’m not enthused. He’s too old, too old fashioned, too dull, too more of the same. But he is the front runner for now anyway, so okay. Let’s give him a good running mate, either Kamala Harris or Stacy Abrams. That would boost turnout, Louise would vote for him, and I think he’d win. Not enthused though.

2. Bernie and someone? No. I just won’t. He is passionate about his ideas, his ideas are good ones, but my instinct is no. He seems more interested in shouting than in the nitty gritty of governing, and Louise would balk at voting for him. If he is the nominee, who would run with him? Klobuchar to add a woman and a moderate? Stacy or Kamala?

3. Elizabeth Warren! She has plans! If she tweaks her positions just a little (that’s a separate post), Louise would vote for her. She comes across as peppy and practical. Let’s pair her with Cory Booker, and we’ve ticked the racial and gender boxes with 2 nice people. I like Buttigieg better than Booker, but racial diversity is necessary to drive turnout. Best ticket so far.

4. Kamala Harris and somebody? Buttigieg and somebody? Would the two of them be a good ticket? Putting this match aside for now.

5. Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Castro. Sorry guys, but I don’t see a place for you. I don’t trust Amy, and both Beto and Julian have shown lapses in judgment, and I don’t want to vote for any of them.

“Turn of the Key”

Listening to Ruth Ware’s Turn of the Key while knitting, and the (?)heroine is driving me nuts. I want to slap her. Since that’s not possible, I’ll opt for a running commentary. Spoilers abound.

10 September. Knitting. Lovely green shawl for a friend (Hi Laura!) who is expecting twins.

Not A Spoiler. The book opens with the protagonist, Rowan, writing to an attorney from a Scottish prison where she is awaiting trial on charges of killing a child in her care. She insists on her innocence and asks the lawyer to read “the whole story” of what led up to the child’s death.

9 September. Knitting: an appallingly hideous scarf knit from some frightful hairy novelty yarn. Someone hired a friend (hi Merike!) to knit two of them, and I offered to do one.

Story so far: Rowan takes a position as a nanny for a rich family with 3 small girls and a teenager, who live on an isolated estate in remote Scotland. Every room of the old home place has been outfitted with cutting edge computer activated smart house features, including surveillance capability. Normal, right? She accepts the job without nailing down important details about her duties, the girls, or the smart house stuff. Mom seems to be a nervous wreck and dad is a sexist pig. She also ignores the flashing red light that 2 or 3 hundred nannies quit during the previous year, ostensibly because the place is “haunted.”

As soon as she arrives, both parents leave for a few weeks (also very normal, right?) and then ~~☆*creepy spooky*☆~~ stuff starts to happen. Mysterious creaky footsteps, disappearing keys, lights going on in the night, strange noises in the dark? Is it a ghost? (spoiler: I doubt it.) More to follow!