Copyright 2020 all rights reserved
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.