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