Category Archives: The Long Night

Long Night, Chapter Ten

Long Night, Chapters One- Seven  Long Night, Chapter Eight   Long Night, Chapter Nine

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Chapter Ten: Sharlotta and Fanya

As they walked downstairs to the Acme offices, Slava said “Before we talk to the secretary, I think we should have a plan.  She might be involved in whatever got him killed.” Roza replied “What if we just do the sympathy bit?  I’ll talk to her gently and explain that we need to temporarily relocate her to a vacant office and that we’ll come back tomorrow or the next day ‘when she’s over the shock’ to question her.  You can watch how she reacts and stay behind to confiscate the computer while she packs up stuff to move out of the office.”  “Sounds good.”

Roza and Slava knocked at the door of Acme and went in without waiting for an answer.  The room was about 15 feet square and mostly occupied by two desks on either side and filing cabinets lined up against the wall like sentries.  The windows were on the right and Viktor’s desk was by the window. Okay, thought Roza.  Viktor preferred light, even if it was colder when the wind came through the cracks.  The desk on the left side of the room faced the door.  Behind it sat a young woman of about 25.  When they entered she was bent over, but quickly sat up and started talking.  “Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. It’s awful; who could do this to Viktor?  I’m sorry I was just – I was at lunch and I was just taking off my boots and then” She indicated a pair of black leather boots with spike heels.  “Have you been upstairs yet? What is it like?  I don’t know what to — ”

Roza moved to take charge of the situation before the young woman babbled all morning.  “Hello, I’m Detective Roza Kozlov, and this is Detective Slava Egorov.  We’re very sorry for your loss and we won’t take up much of your time.  Right now we need to ask you to move to another space for the moment, because this office is a crime scene.  The room across the hall is empty.  I’m afraid it’s standard procedure that someone will need to stay with you while you move the essentials across the hall.  Then Slava will take Viktor’s computer back to the police station for examination.  Tomorrow or the next day we will need to talk to you, after you’ve recovered from this shocking event.  Oh, excuse me.  I just realized we don’t know your name.”

“Sharlotta.”  The woman was silent a moment.  “Okay, yes.  I will move.”  Roza noted Sharlotta’s appearance; she was blonde, of average height, with that small amount of body fat that probably bothered her a lot but that no one else would notice.  Roza was quite familiar with that phenomena, as she engaged in an ongoing struggle to lose five pounds that she had been assured were invisible to everyone but her.  Dating a baker didn’t help, she thought, and then returned to the situation at hand.  “Sharlotta,” she said, “as I said we will need to conduct a formal interview in the next few days.  But, for now, can you tell us the last time you saw Viktor?” “Um, yesterday? When I got here this morning, he had gone upstairs to the apartment where – where he was found.”  “Do you know why he was there?”  “Not really, but it was normal for him to check the guest apartment the week before we have a visitor, and we have a visit from the Central Auditor next week, I could check the schedule or maybe we should — ” She stopped talking.  “I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said softly.  “Okay,” said Slava.  He glanced at Roza.  It would be better if they did not ask any more substantive questions until they gathered more information.  If Sharlotta was implicated in some type of financial fraud, it would help they knew where the tricky spots were before they interviewed her.  “Roza is going now, but I’ll stay and help you move,” said Slava.  “Yes,” added Roza.  “We will see you again in a day or so.”

Roza was glad to get out of the gloomy building.  It was odd, she reflected, that the cold inside the building felt colder than the wind outside.  It was midday, and the sky overhead was a deep blue grey, allowing her to see down the street without relying on the lamps posted at 100 foot intervals.  She was not looking forward to informing Fanya Lebedev that he husband had been murdered.  Best to get it over with, she thought.  Maybe there would be time to stop at the bakery on the way back to the police station.

Viktor and Fanya Lebedev had an apartment on the first floor of a building close to downtown, as befitted Viktor’s status as a high-ranking administrator for an important company.  When Roza knocked at the door, it was answered by a small dark-haired woman of about 25.  Roza was momentarily startled; Viktor was over 40 and the woman seemed young to be his wife.  “Are you here to see Fanya?” the woman asked.  Roza could see that she was attractive, in a pixie way, but her looks were marred at the moment by red eyes and smeared mascara.  “Yes, is she here?” asked Roza.  “This way,” the woman answered, and led her into the next room.

Viktor must be wealthy, important, or both, thought Roza as they entered the living room. The living room not only had windows on two sides, but there was no sign that it doubled or tripled as a kitchen and dining area.  Fanya was on a couch by the windows.  She had one leg stretched out on an old fashioned hassock and the other curled under her.  She was bundled in a large woolen shawl, and Roza briefly reflected that a lace border would have been a good addition to the shawl.  Fanya looked to be in her late 30s, close to Viktor’s age.  Roza immediately thought of the phrase “faded red head” when she saw Fanya.  Her hair, which had obviously once been a vibrant red, was now duller with grey and brown hair mixed with the red.  Roza wondered briefly why Fanya did not, as so many others did, use dye to maintain the red.

Fanya seemed simultaneously frail and steely.  When she saw Roza, she sat up and put down her tea on a small table.  “Can I help you?”  she asked.  She clearly wanted to maintain control both of her emotions and of the situation.  “Please sit,” she added somewhat imperiously.  “Ms. Lebedev, you may know why I’m here,” she began awkwardly.  Roza had tried to prepare for the task of telling Fanya about her husband’s death; she had not anticipated that someone would have already informed her.  “Yes, I imagine you are here to discuss Viktor’s death,” replied Fanya calmly.  Her icy demeanor unnerved Roza, who reflected that even Viktor’s secretary had seemed more upset than his wife.  “I am, yes.  Has someone else been here to tell you – ”  “Tatiana came over as soon as the police released her,” said Fanya.  So, thought Roza, Tatiana who answered the door was the person who found Viktor’s body.  “Oh,” she said blankly.  “So, do you know – did you know – did Tatiana know? –”  Fanya rescued her.  “My husband and I both know Tatiana.  Her husband works for my brother.  I am disabled, as you see,” she went on, gesturing at her leg, “and Tatiana helps me by filling some of my prescriptions at the hospital where she works as a practical nurse.  She was dropping off a prescription with my husband when she . . . found him.”

Roza tried to process this barrage of possible connections.  Tatiana was a nurse at the hospital.  Tatiana’s husband worked for Fanya’s brother.  Tatiana was taking pills for Fanya to Viktor and found his body.  Something about this explanation bothered Roza, but she decided it would be better to follow the same approach that she and Slava had taken with Sharlotta, and postpone detailed questioning for a day or two.  She had no idea if this was what experienced homicide investigators usually did: what if it was important to talk to every one as soon as possible, before they could coordinate their stories?  On the other hand, they might only have one chance for an interview and if they took it too soon then they might not know what to look for.  Well, she decided, at any rate a formal interview would have to wait until Slava was with her.

“Ms. Lebedev, did Tatiana explain – did she know – has anyone told you that Viktor’s death does not appear to be the result of natural causes?”  “I gather that he was murdered,” Fanya responded flatly. They say to start with family members in an investigation, thought Roza, and Fanya’s weird lack of emotion did nothing to dissuade her from that approach.  “Yes.  I’m sorry that I can’t tell you more.  We will certainly keep you informed of the progress of our investigation.  Also, we will need to conduct an interview with both you and Tatiana in the next day or so.” Fanya’s face remained composed.  “It’s standard procedure,” Roza trailed off, wishing she could be gone from this apartment as soon as possible.  “So, um, we’ll be in touch about an interview, interviews, and again we are very sorry for your loss.  Uh, good afternoon ma’am.”  Not sounding very professional are we, thought Roza.  “Very well. Tatiana will show you to the door.”

Slava and Roza met at the police station an hour later.  Roza described her visit to Viktor’s apartment.  “She already knew that Viktor had been killed; the woman who found his body had rushed over to tell her.  Her name is Tatiana and I guess her husband works for Fanya’s brother or something.  They said Tatiana found Viktor when she went to the apartment to give him a prescription for Fanya, which makes about zero sense.  Another thing, she was an ice queen.  No tears, no emotion; you would think I was there to interview for a position as her housekeeper.  Honestly, she rattled me a little.”

Slava considered.  “Wait, this Tatiana picks up Fanya’s meds for her . . . and brings them to her husband?  I guess that could make sense – the hospital is much closer to Acme than to Viktor’s apartment.  But, speaking of apartments, why did she go there instead of the office?  Before we interview these two, let’s think about what to ask and how to ask it.”  “Gee, great idea,” said Roza rolling her eyes.  As she did so, it occurred to her that if Slava was the touchy type he wouldn’t appreciate her teasing, but really – think about “what to ask and how to ask it?”  To her relief, he laughed.  “Brilliant insight, am I right?” he said.  “You got the computer, right?  Did anything happen while you were in the office?” asked Roza.  “The computer’s here; I’ll start reviewing the files in a few minutes.  Sharlotta is moved across the hall.  I secured the office as a crime scene.”

“Did Sharlotta say anything interesting?” wondered Roza.  “I don’t think ‘interesting’ is her strong suit,” replied Slava.  “She’s awfully flirty though.”  Saying this, Slava rose from his chair and briefly mimed a woman mincing a few steps, hips swaying, before affecting a coquettish arch of the back that accentuated her attributes fore and aft, while asking “could you be a dear and help me reach this?”  Roza burst out laughing.  Slava was a great mimic; she could perfectly imagine Sharlotta’s silly behavior.  Slava flushed and sat down, fiddling with something on his desk, and Roza realized that this performance was not acting. The feminine postures came too naturally to him.  Well, I’ll be, she thought.  Two days and I’m learning his big secret, just like on American television. For if Slava was gay, he would certainly keep it a secret in this setting.  To put him at ease, she gave a campy stage wink with the traditional “zip it” gesture across her lips.  “Okay,” she said. “What’s next?” Slava looked relieved and grateful, as they turned to planning their next steps.

 

Long Night, Chapter Nine

Long Night, Chapters One- Seven

Long Night, Chapter Eight

I posted this before editing, oops.  I’m posting it again.

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

Chapter Nine: Murder!

The next morning Roza arrived at work a little early, in order to review the file about the anonymous phone call.  The transcript indicated that the caller was a woman who said that she “was calling to report missing girl” described as “7 years old, blonde, and she came on the plane yesterday.” That matched the height of the fluttering scarf that Roza had noticed in a tunnel.  The call had come in two days ago, which meant this was the third day that the child was missing.  Roza tried not to think about the grisly possibilities or to imagine Savina in such a situation.  There were unanswered questions, beyond the basic fact of a missing child.  The only way for a person to arrive in Norilsk was by plane.  They would need to check at the airport and see if the passenger manifests showed any children on board.  Then they would go to the abandoned apartment from which the call was made and see if anyone was there who could shed light on the situation.

When Slava got to the station, they plotted out their activities for the day.  They decided to first go to the apartment building together, because the abandoned buildings were considered sufficiently risky to call for the presence of at least two officers.  Then Slava would head to the airport to check both the records and the memories of the airport personnel.  Meanwhile Roza would go to Marina and ask the day manager whether he had heard of any overdoses from tainted drugs.  They also planned to meet for lunch downtown.  Roza felt comfortable enough with Slava to share a meal.

The two officers laboriously bundled back into hat, gloves, scarf, and outer snow suit and obtained a patrol vehicle key.  As they were headed for the door, they were stopped by an urgent call from the lieutenant.  “Glad I caught you! Good that you’re ready to go out.  We have a report of a homicide.”  “What?” said Slava, stunned.  Murder was rare in Norilsk.  For one thing, in Russia, unlike the USA, citizens were not allowed to buy or own guns without a special permit.  Nadya often said that in Norilsk people were too busy trying to survive to kill each other.  In addition, although the population was over 170,000, Norilsk retained the atmosphere of a much smaller city where people knew each other.  New citizens were usually added when they were born, rather than immigration.

Roza, Slava, and their supervising officer, Captain Orlovsky, met at the back of the room.  Orlovsky had written the name of the victim on a white board, where it would presumably be joined by his relatives, persons of interest, and suspects.  “His name is Viktor Lebedev.”  “Who is he?” asked Slava.  “Where did it happen?” asked Roza at the same time.  Captain Orlovsky held up a hand.  “Steady there.”  Viktor is – was – the administrative officer in charge of accounting and budget for Acme Bus Lines, the bus company that serves Norilsk.”  Roza’s heart sank and she and Slava slumped into the closest chairs.  This was not good news.

When a crime of violence occurred anywhere in the world, law enforcement officers prayed first that it would be solved quickly, and secondly that the crime would be the sad end to a personal conflict, one that implicated no one other than the immediate parties.  The last thing an officer wanted to investigate was a crime that had even a whiff of political corruption.  Roza reflected that they had no information yet about Viktor or any private entanglements he might have had.  However, his job required him to track, document, and report the spending of millions of rubles.  And, it was undeniable that whenever large sums of money were at issue the possibility of corruption existed.  Slava and Roza glanced nervously at each other.

“Where was he found?” asked Slava.  “In an apartment in the Acme office building. The nature of Acme and of Viktor’s position is such that visitors were – are- a fairly frequent phenomena. Auditors, vendors, I don’t know . . . anyway, the company maintains an apartment on site for the use of visitors.”  This made sense, thought Roza.  Other large organizations did the same, so that visitors would not have to search for their hotel room upon arriving in what was likely to be a cold, dark city. “So, why was Viktor there?  Was Acme expecting someone?  Did he usually inspect the apartment?” asked Roza.  “No idea.  I suggest you begin by visiting the scene so that the techs can remove the body, and then meet briefly with his secretary.  Slava, I want you to take possession of Viktor’s computer, which we can review here.  You will need to do that as soon as possible. After you view the body, instruct the secretary on protocol, and retrieve his computer. You two should also inform his wife. We can meet back here to plan the next steps.”

Roza and Slava were silent as they drove to the Acme building.  Both were hoping that Viktor’s death was unrelated to his professional duties, but neither was wanted to say this aloud.  The dark days of the former Soviet Union had cast a shadow long enough to reach present day Norilsk.  If public officials were involved in any sort of  corruption, then their investigation might expose them to personal danger.  Finally, Roza said “If there are empty offices in the Acme building, the secretary should probably move there for the moment, eh?”  Slava agreed and they discussed how to present this to Viktor’s administrative assistant.

The Acme building was grey and gloomy in the twilight glow of the street lamps.  It sat on a corner on the main road out to the mine, which made sense, given that the primary function of the buses was to make runs back and forth to the mine.  The door was about five feet above the level of the street.  The stairs up to the door were buried under snowdrifts, but the press of feet up and down had created passable stair-like treads that could be used to get to the door.  Roza  took a deep breath, fixed her face in an expression meant to both convey compassion and professional competence, and got out of the car.

Inside the Acme building, they waited a moment for their eyes to adjust to the darkness in the hall.  Someday, thought Roza, I’d like to visit someplace warm and bright.  Straight ahead was a narrow enclosure with a door.  This was the back of the stairs to the second floor.  Roza and Slava were familiar with this arrangement.  In most places, the stairs would be immediately in front of you as you entered the building.  In Norilsk, stairs were often reversed, to prevent icy gusts from rushing to the upper floors.  The janitor’s closet would be directly in front, beneath the stairs.

Their first duty was to view Viktor’s body and see what could be learned there, so that the evidence techs could take him to the hospital morgue for further examination.  The apartment was on the second floor, above the Acme offices.  Roza sighed and set off down the hall.  She hadn’t wanted to admit this to her new partner, but she had not previously investigated a homicide.  As they walked down the hall, Slava said in a low voice, “you know, this is actually the first murder I’ve worked.”  Two points for you, thought Roza, for being brave enough to admit it first.  “Me too,” she answered.

The apartment was compact, a small bedroom, combination living, dining, and kitchen area, and a bathroom.  They walked through the living area to the bedroom.  Viktor’s body was sprawled on the floor, face down, like a small child who had fallen asleep on the rug.  They could see blood on his sleeves and on the floor next to his head.  “Here is where Sherlock Holmes would notice that the fibers in the rug were pushed to the north and the bedspread pulled down by the east corner,” murmured Slava nervously.  “Yeah, but I’m not spotting anything that jumps out at us, are you?” replied Roza.  A minute later, she spoke again.  “Well, let’s see if we can rule anything out.  Excuse me,” she asked the tech workers who were guarding the scene, “was there any sign of forced entry?”  “No.  The door was unlocked when Tatiana came in.  She told us she came to the apartment to leave a prescription with Viktor and found the body.”

Roza glanced at Slava.  Now they had something to follow up on.  Who was Tatiana, why was she bringing Viktor a prescription, and why would she bring it to the apartment?  “Any ideas about the murder weapon?” asked Slava.  “Not yet.  There is nothing obvious, like a broken lamp or a gun, and we didn’t want to move the body before you saw it.”  Roza peered under the bed, but saw nothing except a single balled up sock and a warren of dust bunnies.  Slava looked at the bed.  The top quilt was slightly disarrayed, maybe indicating that Viktor had slid off the bed?  However, it did not appear to have been slept in.  The curtains were drawn and a single light was lit on a table across the room.  There was no indication that Viktor had been using the kitchen.  They took photos of his body from various angles and of the apartment, before giving the evidence techs permission to take Viktor to the morgue and leaving the apartment themselves. “That didn’t answer any questions; it just raised a lot,” reflected Roza.  “Yeah, like what was Viktor doing in the apartment, why was he in the bedroom, when was he killed, what was he killed with and, oh yes, who did it?” said Slava.  “Next we should do a preliminary interview with his assistant, and get her to move out of his office,” said Roza, as they headed back downstairs.

 

Long Night,Chapter Two

Moving right along, nonexistent readers, here is the next chapter.

Copyright 2020, all rights reserved.

The Long Night, Chapter One

Chapter 2 – Police Station

            After breakfast, Roza straightened the apartment, helped Nadya plant the orange seed, and worked on knitting a pair of socks.  At around 10:00 p.m., she got ready for work. Over her underwear, she added silk leggings and a long sleeved shirt.  Over that went wool leggings and another shirt.  Next she put on a police-issued waterproof down snow suit, theoretically suitable for temperatures down to -45.  Wool socks, felt boot liners, boots, scarf, gloves, and a hat completed the ensemble.  Roza bundled and trundled down the wide worn steps and out into the night.  

            At 11:00 p.m., when Roza’s work shift began there was no twilight, just the darkness of the Long Night.  She waited alone at the entrance to her apartment building for one of the buses that circled Norilsk. The only sound was the howling of the winter wind, and she wondered how the reindeer, far away from Norilsk, survived during the winter.   The bus took her to within a block of the police station in downtown Norilsk.  The few other pedestrians on the street were bent over to keep the wind and snow off their faces.  Roza, however, felt that as a city police detective she should always be alert and upright on the streets, and refused to hunch over, despite the stinging on her cheeks. 

            The police station was barred by a heavy iron door, slick with snow.  Roza was experienced at opening it, having lived through the embarrassment of a newly minted probationer struggling with the door. She deftly gripped the handle with her left hand, pressed the cross bar with her right and heaved her shoulder against the door.  Just inside the door was a small mud room to slow down the wind and allow employees and visitors to stamp the worst of the snow off their boots.  

            Once past the mud room, the station was not dissimilar to its cousins in every corner of the world.  Whether it’s a gleaming, computerized glass office in New York, or a down at heels shed in a country whose spelling is hard for most of the world to remember, police stations have certain features in common.  Among these is a desk behind which sits a bored officer, usually one who is very new, very old, or who is being punished. This person functions as the receptionist, assessor of imminent danger, and all around triage officer.  Beyond that were desks in pairs, bulletin boards, and chalk boards.  Roza greeted the newest recruit, who was serving her time behind the entry desk, and wove through the desks to her own little patch of policedom. 

            As she walked to her desk, Roza exchanged greetings with her fellow officers.  She was proud both of having achieved the rank of detective and of her congenial relations with the other law enforcement officers. For another universal feature of police departments is their officers’ initial unease with female colleagues.  Of course there are women lawyers, doctors, heads of state, pilots, bank robbers, clam diggers, builders, teachers, politicians, and bead stringers; nonetheless, older police officers have a tendency to respond to each new female recruit as though the calendar said 1812 and not 2020.  And so it was for Roza – her assignment to the department was met with initial suspicion. 

            However, in relatively short order Roza had dissipated her male colleagues’ reluctance to embrace her as a peer.  It helped that Roza was pretty, but not so gorgeous that one was uncomfortable looking at her.  She had the blonde hair and high cheekbones of a Russian model, but she was neither 6 feet tall nor model-thin; she was attractive, but in an accessible way that allowed her male colleagues to imagine that maybe they might have a chance for a kiss at the Christmas party.  Secondly, Roza was a good sport.  She understood that she would have to earn their respect and did not make a big fuss about it.  She took opportunities to do kind things for other officers who, one by one, began to feel protective and companionable, rather than resistant.  Thirdly, she was a good police officer – hard working, fair, bright, and energetic.  At 31, Roza had a tiny bit of wisdom of adulthood while keeping the idealism and buoyancy of youth.

            Finally, Roza’s grandmother, Nadya, was well loved in Norilsk. At 78, Nadya was one of the oldest inhabitants of Norilsk.  Her parents were sent with other prisoners to build Norilsk in the 1930s, when the city was a Siberian labor camp.  Nadya was born in 1942 to parents who had given up hope of ever having a child.  She now looked like an apple doll, lined and a bit shriveled, but seemingly unbreakable.  She described herself as “too stubborn to die.”  Nadya was known for her indoor herb and plant garden, and her ability to coax even orchids into blooming in the far north.  She was held in great respect as one of the city’s elders, respect which spread to the police force and influenced their reception of Roza.  Or maybe it was the spicy orange cookies that she regularly baked for the station after Roza joined the force?  At any rate, Roza had navigated the initial hazing, and after 18 months on the city’s detective squad, was now a favorite. 

            Her promotion to detective also reflected an unusual feature of life in Norilsk.  In Russia, as everywhere else, it is generally easier for men to ascend to positions of responsibility.  Roza had observed that if a man has a job, it comes with a title such as Sub-Commandant, Associate President, or Vice Manager (a title that Roza found funny).  If a woman does the same job, it is simply Public Employee Level Whatever.  In Norilsk, however, the default employment for men was to work for Norilsk Nickel.  Norilsk was built to support the mine, existed because of the mine, was defined and poisoned by the mine.  If Norilsk had a God, other than God, it was Norilsk Nickel.  Citizens were no longer required by law to toil in the mine, but toil they did. 

            Work in the mine was, to quote the famous saying, nasty, brutish, and short, and also very cold.  Workers rode to work in convoys of buses, so that if one bus broke down the passengers could be transferred to another before they froze to death.  A view of the mine from above, showed one of these buses as the proverbial dot at the end of this sentence.  Once at the mine, the men got to work.  Roza did not know exactly what they did, and neither does your author.  Let us simply agree that the miners did work that was dangerous and exhausting, and at sub-zero temperatures.  The work force in the mine was overwhelmingly male.  Because the men in Norilsk generally worked for Norilsk Nickel, fewer men applied for other jobs, including that of police officer.  Norilsk was in this respect not unlike a country during wartime, when Rosie the Riveter could obtain a position generally held by men in peacetime.  This demographic quirk, as well as Roza’s open smile, well-known grandma, and good scores on the entry exam, enabled Roza to become a police detective. 

            Police work was also regarded as having fewer benefits than working in the mine.  Both miners and law enforcement officers worked in the bitter cold and darkness of winter.  Miners, however, whether as an enticement or an apology for their shortened life spans, had as many as 90 vacation days and other perks, including full retirement at age 45.  Police officers were also exposed to the common air pollution, although not as directly as the miners, but they had to cover 24 hour shifts all year. 

            When Roza arrived at work, she made her way to her desk.  If the air temperature in the large room were shown in color, it would have been a swirl of extremes.  People who swear by the wonders of a sauna and enjoy the pleasures of moving directly from a steamy environment into a snow drift would have appreciated the air in the police station.  Fierce heaters pushed out air that, if it were unimpeded, would have heated the room into the 80s.  The heated air fought an ongoing battle with the winds of -30 that blew in the door, cracks, and the two windows high above the desks.  The result was that as you walked around the room the temperature fluctuated wildly.  Roza’s desk was in a cold zone, which she preferred.  It meant she could keep her snow suit on while she was at the desk. 

            The first thing she did was check in with her superior officer and with the detective whose shift would end as hers began.  “What do we have?” she asked.  “A possible drug overdose at Marina, and a possible lost child.”  “Any details?”  “A 24 year old man collapsed outside the club a few hours ago and was taken to the hospital.  We’re waiting for the results of hospital tests.” “And the child?”  “8 year old girl. Supposedly arrived on the plane yesterday afternoon. Anonymous call.” 

            Arrived “on the plane.”  There were no roads or passenger rails by which to reach Norilsk, which meant that everyone in the city was either born there or had come by air.  The fact that the missing person was a child was troubling, that she was a girl added an additional sinister layer, and that the call was anonymous – not a worried grandmother or auntie – all combined to generate a feeling of anxiety in Roza.  A young girl gone missing during the Long Night was not good.  “Okay.  I’ll start with Marina, and then look around for the little girl.  Do we have a name?” “No name.” Roza put on her hat, scarf, and gloves and stood to leave.  “Oh, I almost forgot – Nadya made these for us.  She says that the orange essence is good for our health during the darkness.”  A cheer swept through the room as she put the bag of cookies on the front desk.  “Later.” 

#Norilsk #fiction #fictionediting

The Long Night, Chapter One

This is a little scary for me, but here goes. Last year I wrote a story for http://www.nanowrimo.org and this year I want to edit it. The thing is I have no particular talent and no training for writing fiction. So, the scary part is exposing my attempts to my nonexistent readers. I’m going to do it a little bit at a time. Please please feel free to make suggestions. In my opinion, this first bit is kind of flat, but that’s okay. If I don’t jump in, I’ll never jump in. I’ll improve it later.

Copyright, all rights reserved, 2020

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.