Moving right along, nonexistent readers, here is the next chapter.
Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.
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.”
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