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Before The World Fell At Our Feet

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Every year on the date that her mom didn’t come home from the hospital that last time, Molly’s dad bakes a new pie. He strains to find new flavors as the years pass.

Greta suggests starting anew. Going back to the classics so that they have more options. Her innocent goodwill is not lost on the Solversons and they both smile sadly.

Her dad, always the charmer, smiles sweetly and pretends to ponder this. “Yeah, now. That would be a load off, I’m sure.”

He nods that way that only someone else missing her mom would recognize as being sad. They share a look and he blinks away the memory. He bops Greta on the head with the dish towel he’d dried his hands with and she flinches and bats it away with a giggle.

“Now, go on. Read the second bit again.”

“Puis-je aller à --” she pauses “how do you pronounce wc? Is that even a word?”

“Water closet. That’d be the bathroom,” Lou answers flatly. “Doub--la--vay--say.”

“Puis-je aller à wc?” Greta asks in stilted French.

Aghast, Lou looks at her sternly after a raise of his eyebrows. “Not in here!”

She giggles more. Molly stares off out the window past where they sit in the corner booth, willing herself not to cry.


++

“Can’t take you anywhere, can I?” Gus says, smirking as he moves closer to where she’s standing over the body.

Molly squints at him with that look that makes him nod. There’s a sound of a screen door slamming against the back side of the old home. The middle-aged inn keeper hasn’t put her hands down from where she’s thrown them up by her shoulders, in surprise.

“Where does that door lead?” Molly questions her, urgently.

The inn keeper’s husband has also stood up in surprise at the commotion from where he sat in the tea room reading the paper. “Oh, that’ll be the sitting area outside. No one goes out there this time of night. Less of course they’re here for the maze?”

“Maze?” Gus asks, unaware of it’s existence until a moment ago.

“A corn maze, is it?” Molly continues, feeling around her purse for her gun. It’s lighter than her service weapon so holding it in her hand feels awkward.

“Sugar beets,” the older man declares. “This time of year would be harder to get weeds to grow, let alone corn.”

Gus pulls his weapon out and leaves it awkwardly by his side. It’s been even longer since he’s drawn his and the unease she felt looks trivial compared to his long limbs trying to hold it discreetly. They take off out the back door and she motions for him to take her six.

They make towards the maze and she pulls the small flashlight she brings with her in case her car breaks down and she needs light to change her spare by, apart from flares. She makes a face at him when she pokes the on button and the light beams brightly from the front, wondering silently if she’s wise to use this or if it’ll get them in trouble. He shrugs, uncaring, and nods towards the back of the maze.

She angles the flashlight above her much-too-light gun and begins tearing through the maze, corner by corner. She takes the opportunity to pull out her phone and call for back-up. It’s the first thing she asked of the pair back at the inn, but you can never be too sure. Especially this weekend.

When she gets to the last few rows of the maze, she pulls around and nearly takes Gus’ head off. The brisk air smells sweetly of beets, firewood, and aftershave. She pants and puts an arm out to steady him by the elbow, eyes roaming over his ashen face. “Turnabout, hey?”

He pats her head and messes her hair a bit, all limbs and adrenaline.


++

When Gus was still in the academy, he was once on a stakeout for twenty-three straight hours. He went to the bathroom twice and ate three meals in the cruiser he’d been parked in and told to keep watch in by his supervisor. Apparently it was a prank to see how long people could go before they snapped, the lesson being something about moderation.

After the twenty-third hour, thinking the car had been abandoned overnight, his supervisor came back speechless. It wasn’t unheard of to have someone overeager try to make waves in a training exercise like this, but he clearly hadn’t anticipated that from Grimly.

It’s about the only thing people remember about his time there, at the academy, that he was the guy who almost spent a day in waiting for nothing to happen.


++

He confides in Molly during a dinner at the diner that he found a pamphlet about enrolling in the junior police academy in the mail, addressed to Greta. He opened it thinking it was junk.

His head is in his hands as she politely sips on a cup of coffee, looking at him with pity.

“‘member when this one said she was going into the academy,” Lou interjects, laying an extra few rolls down on the table between the pair and crossing his arms. “Told me, ‘I’ve decided to be detective, Dad.’”

Gus smiles, despite his discomfort. “Zero to sixty, huh?”

Molly grins and Lou shakes his head. “That’s what I said. Asked her if she knew that you didn’t walk up to the station and ask to apply. Then she told me she was going to the academy.”

He nods at her, to urge her to recall the incident. It’s clear that like many moments, it doesn't slip Molly's memory.

“You warned me that it wouldn’t happen overnight. It’d be a lot of thankless, hard working years under my belt before they even realized you mean business,” Molly says.

Lou tilts his head at Molly when he speaks, looking straight at Gus, “She tells me that she’s got time to kill before they name her Chief of Police.” They laugh.

Later, when Molly gets up to use the restroom, Lou wanders back over to refill the water in their glasses. “If she finds out that you've hidden that letter, she’ll never forgive you.”

Gus takes a long sip of the water and stares at the empty seat across from him. “Sorry, did you mean Molly or Greta?”

Lou’s eyes seem to twinkle, waiting for Gus to take the hint.

“Is that what happened with you and Molly?”

“No, no, nothing like that.” Lou crosses his arms, the wetness from the water pitcher drips on the edge of the table where he holds it. “At some point, you have to weigh the odds. Is the risk of losing them worth risking losing them over?”

Gus’ eyes crinkle with confusion as he considers that. He nods, but means the opposite. “Thank you.”

“No problem, Deputy.” Lou moves to amble away back towards the counter.

“Gus,” Gus says with a start. “Please, call me Gus.”


++

It takes almost six weeks of offering favors to make up for which he’ll never actually make up for, nearly shooting Molly to death, that is, to get her to agree to one of them.

“Just a minute, Dad. Gus is here,” Molly says into the phone’s receiver. “Hi, Gus,” she says back to him, parroting her father’s words. She lets Gus in the door and smiles awkwardly as she stares, eye level with a bouquet of flowers. This time he’s gone with calla lilies. When she refused to tell him her favorites, in fear of him buying her flowers to make up for what had happened, he reacted in the opposite of how she’d anticipated.

“Lilies,” she says, voice strained a bit because sometimes a miss is just a miss. Now she had to choose which room in her house would look like a funeral parlor. “So pretty.”

“Here, I’ll put them in the vase,” Gus says, already familiar with the procedure, some eight bouquets ago. “You go back to what you were doing.”

Molly nods and puts the phone back to her ear. “So raincheck for Thursday, yeah? See you then.”

Gus looks up from where he’s cutting the bottoms of the flower stems. “Lou can’t make it?”

“No, he got a flat out near the mall. Thinks it was some school kids throwing thumb tacks in the road.”

Gus grimaces. “Oh, does he need a hand? To change it?”

Molly makes a funny noise with her mouth and shakes her head at the very idea. “He’d never forgive us if we tried to stop him from changing a tire on his own.”

Gus still looks forlorn as he stuffs the flowers into the vase and rearranges them a bit until they fall neatly around the top.

She continues, “But, his pension pays for roadside assistance. So he’d be even more upset with us if we didn’t let him get his money’s worth out of it.”

Gus smiles and let’s out a small chuckle. “Well, do you need any help around the house before I head out? I know normally your dad puts away the groceries or does a load of laundry.”

Biting her tongue because it’s never been subtle that the Solversons don’t like taking help, she says nothing. He shot the poor woman and she wouldn’t let him take the blame. The literal least of all things he could do.

“Not unless you want to wash my hair,” she says laughing.

“Sure thing,” Gus says warmly, nodding.

Molly’s face falls. “Oh, I was just joking.” She moves her arm around awkwardly, thinks about doing it herself later and the pain she’ll be in all day at the station because of it.

Maybe she could just skip washing her hair again tonight. She got it wet last night and even though she hates wearing it messy with curls overtaking the edges of her bangs, she's not that desperate.

Gus stares on, disregarding the awkward silence like he always does, puppy dog eagerness alight in his eyes and parted mouth. “I really don’t mind. Pretty hard to screw up putting some shampoo on your head, I’d guess, right? Besides, I have a teenage girl. I’m no stranger to the importance of blow-dryers. I mean, it’s been a little bit, but I probably still could use a straightener even.”

Molly shuts her eyes, embarrassed for them both.

Twenty minutes and a glass of wine later, she’s wet her hair and sat in her bathrobe, a towel around her shoulders, while he massages her head with Pantene Pro-V.

The whole time, he makes conversation about how bad the Wild are doing and how they’re probably going to sell the team if they keep up the losing streak. It’s accidentally the most intimate she’s ever been with another person and they haven’t even gone on a date.

When she leans back against her tub and he uses the detachable shower head to wash the lather from her scalp, he lays a washcloth across her forehead. “Don’t want to get any in your eyes.”

After, when he’s brushing it with a straight comb, betraying the fact that it has in fact been a while since he’s brushed so much hair and going slower than she would if she tried to do it herself, they’ve fallen into silence. Despite his attempts at pretending to be an expert on hair care, even with the slowness of his movements, he’s deep in concentration so as not to hurt her.

“Dandelions,” she says, almost whispering. Gus looks up, taken aback. “Dandelions are my favorite flower.”

Gus smiles and says, not unkindly, “Aren’t those technically weeds?”

Molly catches his eye in the bathroom mirror from where she sits on a chair she pulled from her kitchen table. “Technically, weeds. But it’s the flower I used to give my mom. We used to have a field in our back yard full of them.”

“My dad, he’d bring her all kinds of flowers from the local grocer. Got them half off because he was a regular.” Molly says. Her head rocks gently back and forth as Gus continues to pull the comb through her hair. “She had two vases, one big, one was just an old coke glass.”

“One for you, one for Lou?”

She nods. “Although my flowers were always seasonal, when they were in season, I’d have enough bunches for sixty vases.”

Gus stares at her, rapt. She continues. “But when they were gone, they were gone for a long time.”

They lapse back into silence and don’t bring it up again. Until she visits her mom’s grave on New Year’s Day, and sees a fresh bunch of dandelions there, even though it’s still the dead of winter.

They marry in the spring, in the field behind her dad’s house.


++

They’ve questioned six different people before they need to find a new notepad for notes. The one provided in the guest bedrooms just doesn’t have the thickness she likes in her case books.

After, when they’re all sitting around looking guilty and confused by how official an investigation this is given the cops not being her yet, it’s up to Molly and Gus to cover the body with a tarp and get everyone to cordon off the entryway where things took place.

“When do you think someone would’ve found the time to steal the spare tractor and make off without anyone seeing or hearing it happen?” Molly says again, going over her notes in the nook near the front of the building where she and Gus worked on their case.

There were now several others now mingling among the group doing their own questioning and answering, though it was unclear if this was originally planned by them or done after seeing Molly and Gus conduct their interviews.

Molly looks over Gus’ notes about the tractor accident that happened moments after they finished clearing the maze with no suspect in tow. It had been left on and allowed to crash into a precariously large pile of unearthed dirt that was used to keep the sugar beets fresh every few days. It, too, was nearly frozen, but much easier to break apart and sprinkle in the places where the roots needed some cover from the brisk Minnesota winds.

The keys are still in the engine and anyone who was driving it must’ve abandoned it to flee on foot. The only thing for miles was a liquor store that was closed two hours ago and a bus bench. No bus for twelve hours to stop at it, however. They walked to both and saw no sign of living soul for hours, not even employees or owners.

They’re missing three people from the list of people who should be here. The innkeeper’s daughter is away at a sleepover, although she’s eleven and likely not to blame. There is a cook whose shift wasn’t over until midnight but left early without telling anyone why. Lastly, there’s a elderly gentleman who was last seen in his room around dinner time. They are currently suspected perpetrators and victims, depending on when they turned up, alive or dead.

“How big did would you say that tractor was?” Molly asks, gaze far off like she’s staring right through the pieces of paper littering the front counter’s surface.

“Big fella,” Gus says, already on the same page. “At least six feet tall. My head didn’t reach the top. It’s for crops in the season, keeper told me.” He shuffles the notes around looking for that line of questioning to back up his assumption.

“So, if the older man is sick with food poisoning like you thought and the cook gave him a lift to the bus station before, like you thought. Based on what the teenage son of the newly re-weds said. It eliminates all options.”

“Right.”

“Or it leaves us with an eleven-year-old prime suspect who I do not like as the murderer, you?” Molly asks, sheepish.

“Doesn’t fit to me,” Gus agrees.

“But,” Molly continues, spit-balling their earlier surmising. “If someone knew we were on their case and wanted to throw off suspicion to someone missing at an unknown time, they could easily have hidden under the tarp while we chased after the tractor itself. Then snuck back inside while we were occupied and pretended to have been here all along.”

“Anyone who did that would run the risk of the innkeepers seeing them come back in through the back door.”

“So either they were confident that they could blend in, or--” Molly begins.

“Or -- they knew them and didn’t think them suspicious enough to merit telling us they were anywhere but their rooms when the murder took place and the chase ensued after.”

“I still think, based on the gait of the killer, even with the lights off, they must’ve been at least 5’7” or taller with some weight. They took off in a hurry and it was noisy.”

The pair revisit their hosts for one last round of questioning. This time with a timeline that is updated to included people who were claiming to check if anyone had been caught after the original scuffle took place. The list is short, but there’s three new people. The first person they question was also a minor and nervous in a way that means either they’re a terrible actor or they likely are far too afraid to hide anything from authority figures.

Before they even get to the third person, their second potential murderer -- a broad-shouldered school teacher wearing a cardigan, broach, the whole look -- barely sits for ten seconds before she attempts to flee.

“Freeze!” Molly yelps, back to pulling her gun when all she wanted was a curt confession. It was perhaps a bit more “cop” than the situation warranted, but instincts being what they were, there’s not much she could do.

This time, the school teacher’s got a room full of witnesses, lights on, and two guns pointing in her direction. She makes an incredibly unpleasant face at the pair and begrudgingly raises her hands in defeat. They lower their weapons and move forward.

Unimpeded, the school teacher flinches again, foolishly attempting to close the 10 foot gap between the only open exit and herself.

Molly shoots, nailing her in the arm with the nerf dart, and waits for the other woman to surrender. She instead staggers forward and it’s up to Gus to get her center of mass. The trajectory is not quite how they’re trained to predict at the shooting range, so he misses completely.

Giving up on getting out alive, the teacher runs straight at the source of the darts, possessed with intent to stop the shooting at any cost. Before she can do any damage to Molly, there’s a dart right between her eyes. She collapses dramatically to the floor and the room erupts in raucous applause.


++

One night while Gus is out late, putting in extra hours training since he’s still new on the job, Greta convinces Molly to be bad and have brownies for dinner.

They ice them in creamy vanilla frosting and describe their approach to sprinkles in a very specific, strategic way. Greta doesn’t like the thick ones because she likes her brownies gooey and chomping on the thick ones makes them too crunchy for her taste. She prefers nonpareils or the shredded sugar flake kind. While Molly agrees, the added chocolate from chocolate sprinkles is too great an addition to totally write off.

While they’ve settled down to watch the Step Up DVD they’ve had sitting on their mantle for weeks. Gus has been putting them off, but Molly’s Netflix queue is too long to let it sit there unwatched for another day. So they have a night, just the two of them, to soak in as much of the hunky young lead guy as their eyes can take.

Molly pauses the DVD to go pour the tea that’s boiled and when she returns with two mugs, she catches Greta stealing a chocolate sprinkle from her plate of brownies. Instead of reacting, Molly only moves into the room wordlessly, mouth comically dropped open and eyebrows up past her bangs.

Greta cackles at the expression and takes advantage of Molly gently setting down the tea mugs to make her own comically broad move to grab a whole brownie.

“So what was all that talk earlier about how much you hate sprinkles? Was that all a lie?” Molly is moving in towards the couch like she’s approaching someone waving a gun around. It’s somehow still tense despite them both wearing matching socks with cartoon mailboxes on them.

Greta vamps like a Bond villain and moves the brownie up towards her mouth as she speaks, loud and ridiculous. “It was all part of my master plan to get two types of brownies! You wouldn’t have bought both sprinkles if I hadn’t insisted now would you?”

Molly recoils back, feigning terror. “You’re a maniac,” she whispers.

Greta laughs like she’s Count Dracula and Molly lurches out to pin her to the left side of the couch. They hit the remote and the movie unfreezes onscreen, Sean Paul’s loud hip-hop sound floods the room and they devolve into laughter.

Trying to grab the brownie, Molly reaches out over the couch’s arm to reach where Greta’s holding it. When she won’t relent, Molly starts tickling her. Just like her father, she’s absurdly ticklish under her arms.

The brownie goes flying across the room and lands on the wood floor, icing side down. Both girls pause to watch it fall for a second and break out in giggles once more. Before they get back to the movie, Molly reaches out and surprises Greta with another round of tickles. Greta tries to push her off, but is clearly so amused by the situation she’s really just flailing back and forth, tears squirting from the sides of her eyes.

“You’re gonna regret that, you criminal mastermind!” she cries out over Greta’s loud guffaws.

“I’m sorry--I’m--Mom--I’m sorry, I surrender! I surrender!” Greta says between laughs.

Molly calms, still chuckling, and straightens back out. She grabs a napkin and reaches out to get rid of the smear of vanilla frosting across Greta’s upper lip. The younger girl shakes her head and simply licks it away, rubbing a finger and licking it to make sure there’s nothing there.

“Maniac,” Molly says again with a grin, sitting back.

They return their attention back to the film and Greta uses the napkin to wipe at her eyes and blow her nose.

Molly grabs one to do the same. Pretending that the laughter is what had her welling up.

A year, twenty-six days, and seventeen hours of labor later, Molly meets her second daughter.


++

After a few minutes of celebrating, they help their would-be murderer up from off the ground and laugh that Molly had been brusque with her from the moment they “met” in the hallway the first day they were there. Instincts are instincts.

Molly and Gus re-introduce one another, the winners of the Halloween Hack-And-Solve Weekend, not their assigned IDs, George and Meryl.

Molly makes a show of putting her wedding ring back on her finger and giving Gus another celebratory kiss on the neck.

“Oh, my goodness. You two are married?” Jenna Marie, the woman playing the inn keeper with her fiance, Hal, says over the noise of everyone discussing the murder's solution.

“Yes, ma'am, three years going,” Molly says happily as she watches Gus also slide his ring back on his finger.

“I’m so glad. I was rooting for you to be the real deal. Last year there was a pair in here playing marrieds that were just hired for the job. You can never tell who the plants are!”

Molly laughs and agrees. The schoolteacher has been annoying her all weekend. She and Gus were still a couple, so the eyes the other woman was giving him were not excused by his temporary lack of ring. She’d never say so, but Molly was glad that she turned out to be the murderer. Putting a dart between her eyes, while not actually resulting in her death, really did wonders for the vengeful streak of hers.

“Congratulations, you two.” Mary, the woman running the weekend presented them with their winnings. A gift card to a nice steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis and a check for three hundred dollars.

They excuse themselves politely after collecting their prizes and avoid the non-discreet comments from other contestants complaining that they shouldn’t be allowed to win three years in a row and still get asked back. They didn’t even know she was Chief of Police or they’d never hear the end of it.

Later, when they’re drifting off to sleep, Gus kisses the back of her neck and whispers, “Good golly.” She rolls her eyes, lovingly.


++

“Please don’t think we're trying to overstep.” Gus winces, looking unsure.

Lou waves him off, already reading down the paper. “This sounds good,” he says, showing it to Molly to get her opinion.

She’s already seen it, on the way here, and smiles with a nod in approval. “It does.”

“I love blueberries,” Greta explains why half the pie is blueberries. The other half cherry, which needs no explanation for them to know why. Lou supposes Molly let them know that was Betsy's favorite.

“I do too,” Molly says, grinning.

“This way you can go back to the beginning a little bit, but it’s still new,” Greta explains, looking to her father to back her up. He smiles.

“It was all Greta’s idea, but I think it’s a pretty good one.”

“Has quite a few of those, doesn’t she?” Lou says, with an incredibly affectionate sigh. “Takes after her mom.”

“I learned from the best,” Molly says, hands up, redirecting the attention. She pops a blueberry in her mouth with a smile. “Now. Let’s get started.”