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

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