Molly eases her patrol car to a stop in front of the grey car parked haphazardly on the verge. The driver's door is open and a man leans on the side of the hood, staring out over the smooth ice of the lake, lightly dusted from the snow that's slowly falling. She climbs out carefully and considers the situation. There is something familiar about the man, but she can't put her finger on it.
"Sir? Is everything alright?" she asks. The man turns and Molly eases her gun from her holster automatically, nice and smooth and no jerky movements, just like she's always practiced. The deaf fella doesn't smile, just puts his hands up as she approaches. Molly mentally catalogues him as she walks slowly closer. He's thin, painfully so, and his face is white and pinched. He doesn't seem to have a weapon, but she takes it slowly anyway. She knows she'll need to be closer for him to read her lips, though she can't imagine what they have to say to one another.
As she gets closer, he gestures to the hood of the car with one hand. A pen and small white board sit there, obviously waiting to be used. He's planned this, then, coming to find her. Despite her caution, she's curious.
"Go ahead," Molly says, not lowering her gun. He slowly picks them up and starts writing. She watches him frown over the words, but there is no hesitation. He's clearly been thinking about what he wants to say. He turns the board round.
I'm dying, it says. On the next line, Cancer. I don't want to die alone.
Molly lowers the gun slightly and considers. She doesn't doubt for even a moment that he's telling the truth about dying; he looks ill and frail enough. The other half of the statement is harder to make sense of. "Why come to me?" she asks.
Turning the board over again, he writes some more. You shot me, it reads. You're the only person I have left.
Molly nods. She thinks she understands. His bosses are dead, his partner is dead. Even his nemesis is dead. She doesn't know if he's ever had family, but she supposes they could very easily be dead too. She can see how the woman who shot him in a blizzard might well be the only person he feels close to.
"I married the man who shot me," she says. "He hasn't found me a new spleen yet, but he's still working on it." The deaf fella grins at her and she smiles back. Yes, she can be responsible for this man, whatever he's dying from. "I'm going to have to arrest you." His grin doesn't fade; he writes once more and holds it up.
I know, it says. I'm ready. Be careful of my head. Molly grins too, then, and he puts down the board and turns slowly, stepping back from the car and putting his hands behind his head. Molly cuffs him quickly and gently, leading him to her car and folding him into the back seat. He sits there silently, passively, as she calls it in, asks for the car to be towed, and, finally, retrieves his board and pen. She puts them on the front seat beside her and he cranes his neck to see. She turns, as much as she can, to face him and hopes he can see her mouth move clearly enough.
"I'm not arresting you to keep you silent," she says, and a ghost of a smile plays round his mouth again as she shuts her door and they drive away, tyres crunching on grit, between rows of black trees against a darkening sky. The snow starts to fall more quickly around them as the headlights illuminate the black ribbon of road back to town.
The sky outside is grey and leaden with snow again. Molly turns away from the window and contemplates the pinboard in front of her. She reaches for the top left corner and takes out the pins holding the paper in place. It seems so insubstantial in her hand, just a note from an interview with someone at the hospital, but she knows that these papers add up to something important for her to remember.
The pins drop into their plastic tray, while the papers lie flat in a file box. She knows already that the first thing she puts in her office, even before seeing to the name plate on her door, will be the box. She's going to find a corner for it, tucked away safely, to remind her of the disappointments that lie in wait for her. She's too practical to believe that being Chief will shield her from that. Things will go wrong sometimes, but she'll have this box to remind her to hold on and wait for better times.
Unravelling the bits of string makes her curse quietly with the strands wrapped awkwardly around her fingers. She wishes there was a better way of connecting things on a pinboard than wool and drops the strands into the bin. She doesn't need these. At least the whiteboard one, the one she'd hidden in a storeroom until those two agents came to see it, was easy to clean.
The door slams downstairs and Greta's voice echoes through the house. Molly shakes her head; it sounds like a herd of wild elephants, though she knows it's just one girl taking off her shoes and dropping her bag.
"Up here," she calls and hears Greta's feet pounding on the stairs. She removes the last pin and turns as Greta pokes her head in the door.
"What are you doing?" she asks. "I thought you were supposed to take it easy?"
"Easy, yes," says Molly, "but I can't sit on the couch all day."
"You could have a snack with me," says Greta and Molly nods.
"You go put your stuff away - in your room, not in the hall - and we'll have cookies."
"Great," says Greta, beaming as she races back down the stairs. Molly closes the lid of the file box and follows more slowly. She's feeling particularly ungainly today, but she lays out juice and cookies and it almost doesn't feel strange to be at home during the day, making a snack for her daughter.
"It's snowing again," says Greta, sliding into her chair. "Are these oatmeal raisin?"
"Yes," Molly says. "I made them myself." Greta pauses with the cookie halfway to her mouth until Molly laughs. "No, of course I didn't make them; Ida brought them over earlier."
The look of relief on Greta's face is almost comical, but Molly isn't offended. She isn't much at home in the kitchen and she's happy with that. If she'd made the cookies, they'd be chewy, indigestible lumps. She takes one and breaks it in half. Ida is a good baker; the cookie is delicious.
"How was your day?" Greta asks.
"I took it easy," Molly answers. "No, really," she says, when Greta snorts, "I took down that pin board and tried to knit something. I am really terrible at knitting."
"It's not your thing," agrees Greta. "You're not really into making things. You like figuring out people better, looking after them and keeping them safe. That's why you're a cop. You're all about making things right."
Molly eats the other half of her cookie slowly, enjoying the taste. She thinks Greta is right, at least about smoothing things out. Outside the snow is falling faster. It's a cold, uncompromising world out there, and Molly has always tried to approach it as simply as possible. Too much complication is too hard to carry, out where the tracks are obscured and the ice might be thin.
The guard pulls up a chair for her in the corridor and looks dubiously at the baby carrier on the floor. Molly doesn't blame him. She's bought a baby with her to see a hitman, even though said hitman is actually dying. She can't imagine that happens very often.
Sylvia gurgles and drools and Molly wipes her face. She's been awake in the car, which Molly thinks might bode well for the visit, if she sleeps. She knows the deaf fella - she still doesn't know his name, thinks he's still a John Doe in the system - won't mind if Sylvia starts screaming, but she might find it hard to concentrate.
When she's ushered in, he's propped up with pillows and wrapped well in blankets, but the grey, pinched look is worse and his collarbones stick out over the neck of his nightshirt. One hand is cuffed to the rail and Molly looks at it for a moment, but she doesn't say anything. The prison service is already doing her a favour, letting her see him at all. He smiles wearily and she sees the board and pen tucked in next to him.
"I'd say you're looking better, but you should always be honest with people you've shot," Molly says. He smiles and turns his eyes to the baby carrier. Molly turns it and Sylvia looks vaguely surprised at the sight of the new person. The deaf fella looks surprised too, and Molly smiles and waits till he looks at her. "This is Sylvia," she says. He looks back at the baby, who blows a few bubbles and yawns. Her eyes close and Molly puts the carrier down and sits next to the bed.
"Are you comfortable?" she asks. He lifts the board and writes shakily.
I didn't know they gave felons the good drugs, it says.
She wants to say that everyone deserves to die with dignity, but she doesn't. She knows it will seem hollow, or, worse, sanctimonious. She remembers his partner's blood soaking the snow and knows that it doesn't really matter what people deserve, only what they get.
"Writing is getting difficult for you," she says, instead, and sees the pain sweep over his face. "I'm sorry. You'll be truly alone then."
He turns the board back round and concentrates on writing. He looks sweaty and shaky and it's hard for Molly to watch the effort it takes, but she's not going to stop his efforts to communicate. She can wait.
I was alone for a long time, she reads. My whole world has been silent. I had family, but it still felt like I was at a distance from everyone. I don't know if it's like that for everyone.
He takes the board back and writes more, turning it again so she can read, I've read that being in a snowstorm is a bit like being deaf. You're muffled and alone and disoriented. You miss things. I got used to it, but it's still lonely.
She nods and replies, "You can't even hear your footsteps. You walk and walk on faith through the blankness, but faith won't get you through. The snow doesn't care about whether you believe it's the right way home or not, or even about how fast you're losing heat. It just falls."
Once, I had someone who made a trail for me, he writes. Who helped me navigate the blankness.
"Your partner?" Molly asks, and he nods. He looks angry for a moment and writes furiously again, bashing his fist against the side of the bed as he turns the board back around.
I told him once I couldn't live without him. It turns out to be true.
Molly isn't sure what to say. She picks at the arm of the chair for a moment as he takes a deep breath and unclenches his fists. His eyes are wet and he wipes them roughly.
"I'm sorry," she says.
He shrugs and collects the board and pen. The effort of his emotions seem to have exhausted him and he closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them again, his expression is bleak beyond bearing.
"My grandma, she came out from Norway just after the war," Molly says. "She had family here, and no food there, so she told me. They were lucky; they ate fish and had a garden, but hunger stalked her everywhere. It stalked everyone, that and cold. She came out here and met my grandfather and married him and had children, and she still catches fish and has a garden. But I never knew, not until I went to see her and told her I was pregnant, that she'd been married before."
"She never knew what happened to her first husband; he was in the navy and, well, anything could have happened. But her daughter, their daughter, got ill one winter, and there wasn't enough food and there certainly wasn't enough medicine, and so she died." She glances down at Sylvia's sleeping face as she says it, the swallows hard and raises her eyes back up to the man watching her words so carefully.
"Anyway, she says that the world doesn't care if you live or die. Only people care. Only people will act to make your life better or worse. So you live as best you can, until you can't anymore, and then you die." Molly shrugs and continues, "I don't know, I'm not a philosopher. But that's what I'm trying to do, and that's what you were maybe doing, and then you couldn't. So I'll carry you a little bit of the last trail."
The board is picked up and Molly watches his fingers shake as he fights to control the pen. The board slides from his grasp and Molly stands to pick it up and read it.
My partner was the philosophical one, it says. But, when you put me down, I hope he's waiting to pull me out of the snow on the other side.
She swallows, hard, glad to turn at the soft noise of Sylvia waking up. The little noise is a test, she knows, before Sylvia launches into a full fit of crying. Molly lifts her out of the carrier and rocks her back and forth gently, soothing her grumpy noises. She turns her slightly as she looks back at the bed.
The deaf fella reaches out and Molly shifts closer. Sylvia wraps her tiny fist round his finger and tugs it gently. Molly watches her daughter watch this new person, watches the deaf fella stare at her. She's not sure how long they stay there, the three of them, but it might as well be forever.
The house is still and quiet. Gus and Greta are out, Sylvia asleep. Molly sits at the kitchen table with a cup of herbal tea and pulls closer the package that arrived this morning from the prison service. She pulls open the package and pulls out the letter on top of a stack of notebooks.
I'm not quite sure what to call you, it says, and Molly snorts. Deputy Solverson seems too formal, and I don't know your first name. It doesn't matter. I've managed to go this long thinking of you as the shooter in the snow and I'm sure it won't matter wherever I'm going. This is the last thing I'll ever say on this side of the snow, before I see my partner again. I hope you read it.
Molly knows she'll read it all. She picks up her cup and looks out the window. The snow might be stopping and the clouds aren't quite so thick. Soon the sky will be blue all the way to the horizon and the snow will hurt to look at, and the trees will be stark black against the blue and white background. The land doesn't compromise. It's so thoroughly indifferent that you can't help but find it beautiful.
Molly has always thought that when the land is this unforgiving, people get stripped back to their essentials. They wrap themselves up in down jackets and woollen hats, and stamp their feet in heavy boots, but underneath they're bare, right down to their marrow. It all comes out, whether good, bad or indifferent. No one can conceal themselves forever in a land like this. Eventually, you have to show yourself for what you are, even if it's hard to look at.
Blowing on her tea, Molly enjoys the silence and stillness of the house, enclosed in the softly falling snow.