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

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