It's the trees that first get him. There’s something about them, tall and majestic and ancient, like they’ve been rustling here since long before a single human ancestor was standing erect.
Once a month, every month, Special Agent Dale Cooper makes a point of pausing his day-to-day life’s activities to acknowledge the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. For simplicity’s sake, he does it on the first of the month, as close to dawn as possible. It’s a ritual, as he has explained to Diane on several occasions, a way of reminding himself of both the smallness of life and the glorious necessity of it – essential things for an agent of the law to keep clearly in mind, when he is tasked by the federal government with investigating deaths that have already taken place, and when he carries a weapon that can be used to deadly effect.
There is another, deeper craving in it, the same primordial desire that makes a man check the position of the sun or study the sky on a clear night to know which way is north. On the first of every month, Dale Cooper looks up – metaphorically speaking – at the entire web of life, infinitely more complicated than the sun and planets and visible stars. He hopes the full map of it will come to him one day, in a dream or otherwise. Without that, it is difficult to understand his perspective of it, to know his place.
It’s the 24th of February when he arrives in Twin Peaks. Stepping out of his car outside Calhoun Memorial Hospital, his gaze drawn upward and his lungs filled with the breath of a thousand ancient trees, the visceral impact of the web of life finds him, five days early.
The local sheriff is grown from the same earth as the Douglas firs. He has a stability and patience that speaks of deep roots, paired with an unexpected flexibility of mind. It’s a rare thing to find a man of power in a small town who’s willing to relinquish it, yet Harry S. Truman yields his authority as easily as supple pine branches bend to the wind.
“Like I said, we’re grateful for all the help you can give us.” The soft lines on the Sheriff’s face speak of a character both humble and earnest, and Cooper feels an instant trust that’s rare in his line of work. That feeling grows stronger, hour by hour, as the disparate threads of the Laura Palmer case tangle around them.
It has been a long time – a very long time – since Cooper has had a true partner. He doesn’t have one now, of course. The FBI has ultimate jurisdiction in this case, making them unequal, and Cooper’s acquaintance with Harry is inevitably fleeting, something temporary and convenient.
Still, he feels the urge to nurture it as though it’s something important, sharing bits of human connection like one - in an analogy appropriate to an environment such as Twin Peaks - might feed twigs to a campfire.
In a darkened truck cab at the side of a rural highway, sharing a span of comfortable silence, Cooper considers that it’s also been a long time, perhaps even longer, since he’s had a true friend.
He’s been in town three hours when he first sets foot in the Twin Peaks sheriff station, a building that will become entirely familiar to him in due course. Harry’s in the bathroom, Bobby Briggs’s lawyer is collecting a briefcase from his car, and the receptionist is brewing a fresh pot of coffee.
“You must have traveled all over for the FBI, Agent Cooper. How many towns have you been to? Not… I mean, not just to drive through. Where…” Lucy leans in, “where someone died.”
“There are other reasons why the FBI might be called in to investigate,” he says. While that’s true, Cooper has rarely been sent to a city or town without receiving a coroner’s report upon arrival. “Fifty-eight.”
“Fifty-eight.” Lucy whistles, eyes wide. “If you’ve worked more than one case in the same place, are you counting that once in the fifty-eight, or for each time?”
She nods slowly, making waves with her curly hair. “So that’s at least fifty-eight cases. And sometimes in a case, more than one person is…” Her eyes sparkle, more with interest than horror. Cooper has always had an easier time intuiting the motivations of men over those of women, but he would bet a large sum of money that Lucy chose her profession because of an insatiable desire for gossip.
He decides to redirect. “How many towns have you been to, Lucy?”
She blinks. “Well… my sister Gwen lives in Tacoma, but she used to live in Puyallup, where she got married. And my cousin lives in Grand Forks, but I’m not sure if you count that, because it’s only an hour away. Should I—”
The coffee pot dings. Lucy pours the coffee with a gravity as strong as the brew itself, just in time for Harry to wave Cooper toward the conference room.
“Wait!” Lucy stops him with an urgency usually reserved for something on fire, and then asks him about his favorite donut.
It’s hours before he sees Lucy again, the roadhouse and a stakeout and Donna Hayward and James Hurley. When he and Sheriff Truman return to the station, there are eight jelly donuts in the spread on the conference table.
“Lucy sets it up for us every night,” Harry says, with a warm gratitude, but without the breadth of experience Cooper has with what is typical in police stations across the country.
On his way out, he passes through the waiting area. It’s well after midnight. Lucy’s watering the flowers.
It’s not Cooper’s place to tell her to go home and get some rest, so he tells her that in fifty-seven cities and towns, never once has someone ordered extra jelly donuts, just for him.
There are some FBI agents who solve strictly by process of elimination, stripping away extraneous color to get at the black and white bones of truth beneath.
Cooper prefers the opposite tack, taking in as many details as possible. Every person, every place, every lie and excuse and blade of grass can be dropped into place like dots on a canvas, until he can step back and see the whole picture at once: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte or an irrefutable argument for a conviction, name and motive and overwhelming evidence.
Be it by intuition, experience, or some esoteric bureaucratic astrology, an ASAC worth his salt will invariably send the agent with the right skill-set for the puzzle at hand, and Cooper was sent to Twin Peaks. Of all the agents who prefer to fish with a net instead of a spear, his has always been among the broadest.
When Doc Hayward delivers the coroner’s report with shaking hands, the case is already deliciously complicated, a feast of red herrings with the promise of many more to come. The painting of Laura Palmer’s sad end is far from taking its final shape, but is already filling with cocaine and skin magazines and safe deposit boxes, high school rivalries and jilted lovers and a town full of people whose names begin with J. Nothing is insignificant, not the seemingly random details, not the dead ends. The more he learns about Laura Palmer, the more complete the picture will be. He’s eager to know what more information will come to fill in the still empty space.
Still, Cooper is taken aback when Doc Hayward says, “I delivered Laura,” on his way to explaining why another man oversaw the autopsy.
Investigating death is almost always about investigating life – the months and years leading up to the grisly conclusion. Cooper has an excellent closure rate. For nearly every victim, he has found the person who took her last breath; he has never before had cause to think about who held her as she drew her first one.
Cooper looks across the table at the man who delivered Laura Palmer and then identified her body seventeen years later, and realizes that no matter how large a canvas he prepares to paint, no matter how detailed a file Diane types up for him at the end of this case, he will never have the whole story.
Cooper is well aware that he will die one day – mortality is a topic difficult to avoid, in his line of work, to the point where contemplation of one’s own inevitable demise can be considered an occupational hazard. As such, he’s especially aware of his good fortune that on the way from birth to death, he has the opportunity to enjoy the cherry pie offered by the Double R Diner.
Norma Jennings is the proprietress. She’s the sort of woman who will be beautiful her entire life, with a grace befitting her industry and the grit of someone used to managing things alone. She would likely have done as well or better outside her hometown, had it ever occurred to her to leave it.
“How are you finding Twin Peaks?” she asks. The question is polite, a social nicety, but there’s a genuine pride beneath it, a glow of affection for where she lives.
“Top-notch,” Cooper says. “Very welcoming.”
“Is that so unusual?”
It is, and he’s not quite sure how to explain it without directly bringing up the topic he has found so remarkably absent in Twin Peaks. In most similar towns across America, he has found an entrenched distrust of Federal authorities that makes his initial days and weeks there a struggle. He considers the penguins of Antarctica, but suspects Norma Jennings may consider the analogy unflattering.
“In times of crisis, people can close ranks to outsiders,” he says. Coming in with orders from Washington and holding the captain of the high school football team in jail, he could expect the proprietor of the local diner to spit in his coffee rather than serve it to him with a smile.
Harry is shaking his head. “Can’t imagine why, in a situation like this.”
Cooper believes him, believes that Harry can’t imagine it, and feels that same urge to whittle something as he did when Harry slowed his truck to a stop at the yellow light. Such unlikely wholesomeness should be captured and preserved in tangible, noise-making form.
Perhaps those other towns were nothing like Twin Peaks after all.
“You live in an incredible place, Norma,” he says, and toasts her with his half-empty mug.
She reaches for the coffee pot and says, with a smile, “Let me warm that up for you.”
It’s a long drive back from the Packard mill, and Harry is quiet until he says:
“You must be wondering what she sees in me.”
“I’m not,” Cooper assures him. Then, “Are you wondering what she sees in you?”
Harry takes his hand off the gearshift to run it over his face. “I mean, I’ve got to, right? Beautiful, wealthy woman like that?”
Nearly a mile passes in silence.
“So what are you thinking about?”
“They have no natural land-based predators in their environment, did you know that? When a human being comes along to the Antarctic – a scientist, presumably, in this day and age, though I assume the situation was the same with the initial explorers – the penguins don’t react with fear.” It’s the best working theory he can come up with, about the warm invitation the FBI has received in Twin Peaks – lack of previous exposure, due to remote location.
“Maybe they think the person is a funny-looking penguin.”
“That would be my guess, Harry.”
“Huh.” It’s a long minute before Harry asks, “Is this… connected?”
“Everything is connected,” Cooper says, but adds: “Not directly.”
The daughter of Benjamin Horne joins him for breakfast.
There’s something in her Cooper finds fascinating, something beyond the teenager she is or the woman she’s pretending to be.
He tries to suss it out, a morning at a time. Unlike most of the mysteries he’s teasing apart around him, he keeps it off the record, aware of how it will sound – even to one as familiar with his way of thinking as Diane – for a grown man to ponder aloud the strange sense of having met a high school girl in his dreams.
“Why are you asking about my life, anyway?” Audrey complains once. The affected coy veneer slips away, revealing a genuine frustration beneath. “There’s nothing to it.”
“I’m interested in people,” Cooper says, which is true, even apart from his growing professional interest in Audrey’s father.
“Interesting people, maybe. But you won’t find those here in Twin Peaks.”
He thinks about the Log Lady, about the unsettling Doctor Jacoby, about the elegant Packard widow and the soft-hearted deputy Brennan who can’t fire a gun. About Harry. About Audrey.
“Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met live right here in Twin Peaks.”
“You’re just saying that.”
He takes a long drink of coffee.
“You’re just saying that,” she accuses, with the sharp tone of a girl who’s been lied to many times, and who plans to one day settle up on it.
“Why would I lie to you about that?”
A sad smile breaks across her face. “You wouldn’t, would you? Because you’re an FBI agent.”
“A man shouldn’t have to be an FBI agent to tell you the truth.”
“Of course you would say that.” She has a look in her eyes like she’s gazing up at a field of stars, picking out a constellation that might, in the abstract, resemble a man of law. “The rest of us here though, we’re just regular people. Boring, lying, ordinary people.”
“Audrey,” he says, setting the empty cup down with a satisfying clink. “There is very little ordinary about you.”
Three times in one day, Cooper finds himself in the same room as a fellow employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a longtime colleague, a man with the same signature on his paycheck and the same seal on his badge, and three times Cooper aligns himself with local law enforcement instead.
It’s Albert though, and Harry. In that match-up, Cooper would like to see J. Edgar Hoover make a different choice.
It only bears thinking about because, before Albert leaves, he pulls Cooper to the side and waves a finger in his face. “Don’t stay here too long, Coop. You’re becoming one of them.” The amount of derision Albert manages to put into the words is an impressive feat, a testament to decades of practice.
When Albert leaves and the station doors close behind him, Harry approaches. He’s been skulking around the edges of the station, nearby but out of range of direct confrontation. “What was that all about?”
Cooper picks a jelly donut up off the kitchenette counter. “Well, Harry,” he says, and pauses for dramatic emphasis. In the pause, he chews and swallows a single bite. “For perhaps the first time in our respective lives, Albert has said something nice to me.”
“Agent Cooper, have you ever been in love? I mean... really in love.”
Cooper looks over at Harry, who manages to convey a lot in a miniscule shrug.
“Are you in love, Andy?”
“No-o-o.” Then, “Yes.”
“Good for you,” Cooper says.
“But what if you find something out about her? Or what if... you find out she doesn’t love you?”
Andy is surely talking about Lucy, and whatever complicated happening is unfolding in the Sheriff station lobby, but Cooper finds himself thinking about Josie. By the sense Cooper got in their brief conversation up at the Packard mill, Harry’s affection for her is not entirely unrequited, but certainly uneven. He could say much the same about Audrey’s youthful infatuation with him, or the undefined yearning Cooper has felt in himself since he first took sight of those fantastic trees.
“Well, Andy,” he says, “that’s a little outside my jurisdiction, but I’ve always taken the opinion that love isn’t found in the other person at all, but in what the act of loving teaches us about ourselves.”
“Andy,” Harry says, tugging on his ear. “We need the room.”
In retrospect, James Hurley’s uncle is the first of them he ever met, when Cooper stopped for gas on his way into town. He didn’t pay a great deal of attention at the time, only noted that the man looked tired, the way one naturally might when he owns a business. Since then, Cooper has broadened his assessment. Ed Hurley has the look of a soul who’s been tired for decades, so long that it has become a part of him as essential as any other.
It takes only a moment, when Norma stops by their table at the Double R, for Cooper to understand the source of it.
“So,” he says, “How long have you been in love with Norma?”
He looks over at Harry to share the joke, and feels warm at the pride embedded in Harry’s smile.
Later, returning from a trip to the restroom to wash his hands, Cooper hears a piece of an exchange he isn’t meant to.
“I trust your judgment,” Ed is saying, “but Harry, are you sure.”
“He’s one of us.” Harry says it like it’s a solid thing, as tall and old as the Douglas Firs filling the hills around them.
It’s the first of March, early morning, and he hasn’t yet been to sleep.
“I’ve been thinking about love, Diane.” It’s not an unusual topic for their one-sided conversations, given how many murders and kidnappings are crimes of passion. While Laura Palmer’s still unsolved murder is almost certainly borne of lust, not love, his few days in Twin Peaks keep bringing the topic to mind.
The shifting teen liaisons and adult romances, the tangled grief of love and loss, pride of place and profession and purpose all rise and fall in his mind. They drift away before they make it onto the tape, leaving only the sounds outside his room at the Great Northern – the waterfall outside, wind through the trees.
He breathes, deeply, and envisions the sprawling, near-infinite web of connections crossing the globe. He feels as though he’s standing still in the center of it.
It feels, a little bit, like home.