Two Cases For The Czar – Snippet 02

Here was another puzzle to solve. She ran her hands lightly over the wood, and felt a crack where there shouldn’t be one. Pushed, pulled. Nothing. More examination led to another spot. Two hidden cracks at the back of the wardrobe in the gap between wardrobe and wall. This time, when she pushed, a door popped open at the back left side of the wardrobe. She called one of the officers over to it.

The papers were only partly in Russian, and even her Russian wasn’t great when it came to reading. So she couldn’t make out what they were. 

“They look like deeds of some sort,” the officer said. He couldn’t read much better than she could. Reading and writing wasn’t a common ability among the lower, or even the middle, classes in Russia in the seventeenth century.

Having found the hidden door, she turned the contents over to the police. She shared her belief that the murder was committed by a woman, but not the notion that the woman might have been a prostitute. Then she left, explaining, “I need to see some people.”


Pavel knew that by now Miroslava read better than he did, so he called Maksim over and had the lad read the documents.

“They’re deeds, Sergeant. More properly, shares in something called the Russia China Railroad.”

Pavel knew what a railroad was. By now everyone in Europe knew what a railroad was. The railroads in the Golden Corridor were famous across Europe, from England to Russia and from Denmark to southern Spain. The railroads were given credit for much of the great wealth that was created in the Golden Corridor of the USE.

The Russia China Railroad? That could be worth— Pavel didn’t have any idea what it could be worth. Nothing more concrete than “a whole lot.”

Location: Ufa Kremlin, Embassy Bureau

Date: May 10, 1637

“What brings you here, Detective Sergeant?” Simeon Budanov asked. He was a tall man with a beard cut so short that it might be called loosely shaved. He was in his thirties, or at most early forties, and was a cousin of a boyar family. And while “disowned” by his family for coming to join Czar Mikhail in Ufa, in Budanov’s case, that reason was even more threadbare than most. He was here on the direct orders of his uncle, who was in the Duma back in Moscow.

Pavel Borisovich wasn’t surprised by the recognition, at least not very. Detective Sergeant was a new title, and as the first, Pavel was almost famous. Budanov’s secretary would have told him who was coming, even as makeshift as the embassy bureau was here in Ufa. “Sad news, I’m afraid. Nikola Vetrov was found dead in the hotel apartment he rented on Irina Way.”

Pavel watched Simeon Budanov’s face carefully as he gave the news. There was the hint of a smile, followed by a half frown, before the face took on a solemn countenance. Pavel didn’t know what it meant, it was such a confused mishmash of expressions.

“Since you’re here, I assume it was a murder?”

“We think so. A death by violence, in any case.”

“How can a death by violence not be murder?”

“There are several ways, sir, but in this case the only one I can think of that might apply is if the killer was acting in self defense. Not likely, I grant, but I try to avoid jumping to conclusions until I have all the evidence.

“Can you tell me if anyone here had any strong disagreements with him?”

What? You think it might be someone from the embassy bureau?”

“I try not to think anything at this point in an investigation,” Pavel said, still watching the boyar. Simeon Budanov would make a decent poker player, but not, perhaps, a great one. The man was clearly nervous about something.

“Well, you can think nothing somewhere else,” Simeon Budanov informed him. “Nikola Vetrov wasn’t murdered or killed by self defense by anyone in this office. So you can go detect somewhere else.”

And Pavel knew that he’d just fallen into it again. Since his promotion to detective sergeant, he’d put to bed three murders, not one of which had required any real solving. Two were bar fights, and one was a mugging. The mugging was the one that was closest to hard and the mugger had pawned the victim’s ring. Leaning on the pawnbroker got the mugger, and that was that.

But now he’d fallen into another political mess. It must be something about Miroslava Holmes, he thought, not really believing it.

Still, he knew how to deal with them now. He had clear instructions from the czar and his direct boss: follow the evidence and don’t worry about offended boyars. “I will go where the evidence leads me, sir. I have to consider all the possibilities until they are eliminated. If you want me gone, let me look. All I care about is the murder.” That wasn’t true. There was something fishy going on here, whether it had anything to do with the murder or not.  

Location: Ufa, The Happy Bottom

Date: May 10 1637

The Happy Bottom was open and doing business, though it wasn’t yet the busy time. The bouncer, Anatoly, was at the door. “What brings you back here? Slumming?”

“Why would I want to do that?” Miroslava asked, honestly confused.

Dariya laughed with a bitter edge to it. “Miroslava doesn’t care enough about us to want to show off to us. Never did. If she’s here, it’s because she needs something.”

“So what do you want?” Anatoly asked.

“Information,” Miroslava said. “I need to know about Nikola Vetrov?” Her tone made it a question.

“Who?” Dariya asked. Dariya was good at sizing up a customer, but she wasn’t the sharpest of the girls in the club. And she wasn’t good with names unless there was money in it.

“He might be a customer. He had Nizhny Novgorod vodka in his room.”

“This isn’t the only place you can get Nizhny Novgorod vodka,” Dariya said, and Anatoli nodded in agreement.

“I know, but it’s one of them. And I think that there was a girl in his room.”

“One of us?”

“Maybe, or maybe someone we know,” Miroslava said. “He was a tall man and strong.” She went on to describe him. Height, weight, the clothing he had in his wardrobe.

“I don’t remember him,” Dariya said.

“Thank you anyway. I need to talk to Madam Drozdov.” Miroslava went through and Anatoly let her, though he looked like he wished he had an excuse not to.


In the club Miroslava found a variety of responses to her presence. Kira was nervous around her, but tried to be nice. Tried harder now than she had when Miroslava had worked here. Roksana, who’d essentially ignored her when she was a bar girl, was now anxious to be friends and was treating her pretty much like she would a customer. Irina resented her, treated her like she was invading the club. Elina was happy for her, but that was pretty much the way Elina always had been. She was nice.

All of them scattered when Madam Drozdov came out of her office in the back. “Come back to my office, Miroslava.”