Two Cases For The Czar – Snippet 01

Two Cases For The Czar

By Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett

From the Casebook of Miroslava Holmes

The Spy Who Got Away

Location: Room 22B, Ufa Dacha

Date: May 10, 1637

I take pen in hand to record the second case of Miroslava Holmes, my companion and friend. Miroslava has taken to reading with a fanatic zeal, so when she was called to the scene, she was reading yet another children’s book. Even for Miroslava, reading isn’t something that you learn in an hour, though that was all the time it took her to learn the alphabet and the way reading works.

It was a warm afternoon with the mercury indicating seventy of the up-timer degrees or twenty-one by the more rational centigrade scale. The grandfather clock was ticking off its seconds in the corner, indicating that we were three hours and twenty-seven minutes past noon, when the knock came and Maksim Borisovich Vinnikov came in to announce, “Detective Baranov needs you.”

I was torn. I wanted to go along. I was more than a bit concerned about Miroslava. I understand her peculiarities, but not everyone does.

No, that’s not true.

I doubt that I really understand the way her mind works, but I love her, so I try to be patient with her uniqueness of mind. Not everyone shares my willingness to accept the unique way she looks at the world.

But the fact was, I was knee deep in the condenser for the steam engine of the plane. And on a tight schedule. I didn’t have the time, and Miroslava knew that.

“You can’t go, Vasilii,” she said. “I will get my light coat.”

Miroslava was wearing a modified version of the culottes that were all the rage in Europe these days. Miroslava’s had a string sewn into the leg holes to tighten around the ankle so that the cold Russian winter air couldn’t circulate. It also mostly kept her split skirt out of the mud.

Maksim was grinning at me with all the impetuosity of his youth. He was an apprentice detective in the city guard. In his teens, he was always happy to see his elders being treated as children.

This next part I learned second hand, and will record in the third person, because that is the manner that is preferred for this sort of archive.

Location: Hotel Turkovich, Room 218, Crime Scene

Miroslava followed Maksim to a fairly nice room in an upper class hotel. At the door there was a trickle of dried blood. More than a trickle, actually. A small rivulet went across the hall. The door, which was designed to open outwards, was broken inwards with considerable damage to both door and door frame. Once she stepped into the room, she saw that on the door frame opposite the hinges there had once been a bolt, the sort used to lock a door from the inside. This one was, or rather had been, of hard wood an inch thick. The paint on the door frame was scratched in an arc above the busted lock. The lock itself was ripped entirely off both door and frame.  

Miroslava clicked her tongue in silent disapproval. They should have pulled the hinge pins to get the door open, but apparently didn’t think of that. Instead, some cop put his shoulder into it, and the door, not particularly strong, gave way.

Detective Sergeant Pavel Baranov looked up at Miroslava from the body of a large man. “You see the problem? He was shot by something with a smallish bore. And, see here, the powder stippling on his chest. It was close range. The barrel of the gun wasn’t more than five feet from him.”

Miroslava saw. She also saw the bullet hole in the far wall. In her mind, she saw the man standing. He would have been three feet to the left of where he fell. A strong man, and he was still moving to attack his attacker, even after he had half his chest blown open. “He was standing there when he was shot,” Miroslava said. “Facing that way.” She pointed. “The shooter was shorter than him, five four, or so.”

The corpse on the floor had been six feet two and heavy. He had also been rich. She knew that both from the carpet he’d died on, and the clothing he was wearing. Well, underwear he was wearing. He wasn’t dressed to go out. But the underclothing was Chinese silk, dyed bright red, even before the blood.

“Who was he?”

“Nikola Vetrov,” Pavel said, looking at his notes. “This is his room, and he worked in the China section of the embassy bureau.”

This far east, the China section was more important than it was back in Moscow. Especially since the Khanate joining the USSR meant that trade with China was even easier now. “Easy” being a relative term, but the truth was trade went on. Even over a thousand plus miles of mountain passes, trade went on. And having Sheremetev’s Russia between them and trade with the west made trade with the east all the more important.

“I’ll check in with his bosses and see what he was doing there.”

Miroslava nodded, not looking at him. She didn’t think that the killing had anything to do with his job. But it was a good idea to examine all the evidence all of Vasilli’s books said so. Miroslava was looking around the room. The covers on the large bed, with the down-filled mattress, and linen sheets. The covers were thrown back and the sheet rumpled. On the sideboard was an opened bottle and a glass. A second glass was broken on the floor. She went to the sideboard and sniffed. The opened bottle was three-quarters empty; it contained a slightly greenish liquid and she recognized vodka. Not the purified alcohol the up-timers thought of as vodka, but real vodka, Russian vodka. The herbs used in real vodka were sometimes hallucinogenic. Several of the girls from the club used it regularly, and Miroslava recognized the type. It was made in a distillery in Nizhny Novgorod, and depending on how much you drank could make you horny, violent, or unconscious. 

She straightened, looked around the room again, her eyes and mind taking in hundreds of details, any one of which might or might not be important. The broken glass against one wall, scratches on the inside surface of the broken door that matched those on the doorframe, the way the sheets on the bed were disarrayed, and so on.

Pavel’s little squad was here. Maksim was back, taking fingerprints. He did it by dusting with fingerprint powder, then using a camera to photograph the print. The celluloid film for the camera was smuggled in from a factory in territory “controlled” by Shermetev’s faction in Moscow.

She examined the wardrobe and noted that its back was way too thick, and so was the bottom. Wardrobes were heavy enough to begin with. You didn’t make them heavier unless you were crazy. She put her hands against one side and pushed. If the back and base were as thick as they seemed, the wardrobe should be heavier.

She knew that rich people sometimes had hidden catches in their furniture. Madam Drozdov had one in her makeup table. It had papers and opium in it. Miroslava had solved the riddle of how to open it and looked. She didn’t like what opium did to her mind and she couldn’t read at the time, so she left the drugs and papers where she found them and closed up the makeup table.