Two Cases For The Czar – Snippet 03

Once in the office, with the door closed and Miroslava seated in the guest chair, Madam Drozdov gave Miroslava a bitter smile. “I hope you’re not going to bring more royal attention my way, Miroslava. The last time almost ruined me.”

Miroslava didn’t like Madam Drozdov, but neither did she dislike her. A more accurate description of their relationship was one of guarded respect. Each knew the other, at least somewhat. And Madam wasn’t intentionally cruel or vicious. She just had a “business is business” attitude. So that was the tack Miroslava took. “Not if I don’t need to. There was a murder last night, and I was called to look at the crime scene.”

“And what does that have to do with us here?”

“I don’t know that it has anything to do with you or the club, but the victim had a bottle of Nizhny Novgorod vodka, the kind you like from the brewery on Cobbler Street.”

“Who was this unfortunate person?”

“His name was Vetrov, Nikola Vetrov. He worked in the China section of the embassy bureau.”

“I don’t know the man, but I can ask my sources.”

“Thank you,” Miroslava said. Then they talked about the price. Some of it would be in money, some in favors. And then they talked about the new situation.

“Since the czar’s ruling, the girls are independent contractors.” Madam Drozdov grimaced. “I can’t protect them that way. And you know, Miroslava, not all of the girls who work here have the sense that God gave a goose.”

That was true enough, but Madam Drozdov’s protection had never been as benign as she made it sound. “I will want to chat with the girls in case they have sources of their own.”

Again the grimace. “I can’t stop you.”

“No, you can’t.”


Miroslava talked to the girls, the bouncers, the guards, and a new addition, the “disk rider,” who changed the disks on the record player and handled the new amplifier and speakers. And realized that if she was going to investigate crimes as she was beginning to think she wanted to do, she would need connections, sources. What the Sherlock Holmes books called irregulars. And while Sherlock–who in spite of herself Miroslava was starting to think of as a sort of distant relative, in a way a more real relative than her mother had been–had used children as his irregulars, Miroslava was going to have to spread her net more broadly. The girls of the Happy Bottom were going to be a part of that network, but they couldn’t be the whole of it.

Location: Ufa Kremlin, Police Headquarters

Date: May 10 1637

“Pavel! Get in here!” Evgeny Ivanovich Aslonav shouted. He was Pavel’s boss and they normally got along pretty well. However, the colonel wasn’t comfortable speaking truth to power, and he positively hated being pulled into turf wars. In large part, that was because he was in his twenties, and he knew perfectly well that he was likely to be replaced if anyone noticed how young and unqualified he was.

“Wasn’t my fault, Boss,” Pavel shouted back, even as he headed for the colonel’s office.

“Detective Sergeant, you are going to get me fired one of these days. Then some forty-year-old petit boyar will have to deal with you, and I will laugh my ass off. Now why is the embassy bureau pissed at you?”

“Because someone over there is too clever to be smart.”

“Well, that sounds like them.”

Pavel, because of his acquaintance with Vasilii Lyapunov, knew who James Bond was, and was also aware that if Russia ever had a James Bond, he would work for the embassy bureau. Because the embassy bureau wasn’t just Russia’s state department. It was also their MI6, CIA, or KGB. Depending on which up-timer reference you were using. “Yes, sir. In this case, they managed to pull off a locked room murder.”

“A what?”

“It’s a murder where you find the body in a locked room with no way for the assailant to get in or out of the room to commit the murder.”

“Sounds impossible.”

“Yes, sir. There’s always some clever trick to it that makes it possible. And that sort of clever trick is just the sort of crap that one of those embassy bureau creepers is likely to pull, just because they can. That’s what I meant about them being too clever to be smart. If they’d just left the door unlocked, there would be no particular reason to look at them.”

“But now there is.” Colonel Aslonav nodded. “So you went bulling into the embassy bureau, and I get to start my day with an official complaint.”

“I didn’t bull in anywhere, sir. I very respectfully asked what the China desk was up to, to discover if there might be a motive for his death in that.”

“And what is the China desk up to?”

“I don’t know, sir, but whatever it is, it stinks like week-old bass. Otherwise, there’d be no reason for them to get me out of there so fast.”

“All right. I’ll put in the request.”

Location: The Home of Tatiana

Date: May 10, 1637

As long as the oldest profession has been practiced, there have been gradations. Russia in the seventeenth century wasn’t Athens in the era of the hetaerai,but neither was it Victorian England. Prostitution was legal, if frowned upon by the church, and at the top of the field were women of both great beauty and skill. Women who could talk politics at the highest levels, knew art, music, and dance, and who lived quite well and had more control over their destinies than most people of the time, slave or free.  

 Tatiana was one such, and half a day of questioning had led Miroslava to her door. The building was one of the new hotel boarding houses that were springing up in Ufa since the czar and his court, as well as the dacha, moved to Ufa.

It was also the sort of place that wouldn’t have let Miroslava in the front door before Vasilii had bought her contract. That didn’t bother Miroslava, and wouldn’t have bothered her even then. It was just one of the strange rules that she didn’t understand but had to follow. 

Now the doorman examined her Dacha ID card with her photograph and sent her up the stairs to Tatiana’s room with a bellboy escort.

The door opened, and a maid looked out at them.

“Miroslava Holmes to see Tatiana,” the bellboy announced.

There was a voice from inside, soft and gentle. “Show the lady in, Arina.”

Arina stepped aside, and waved Miroslava in.

In the living room was a lounge and a woman of uncertain age sitting in a plush chair. Miroslava examined her. She might have been eighteen or forty-eight. From the very faint lines around her eyes, Miroslava guessed her to be closer to the latter than the former. She was wearing a dressing gown of purple silk and the new up-timer style makeup.  She waved Miroslava to a chair. “What can I do for the czar’s detective?”

“I’m here about Nikola Vetrov,” Miroslava said.

That produced a slight frown and a lifted eyebrow. “He wasn’t one of my favorite patrons.”

“Then you’ve heard about his death?”

“No, I hadn’t, but I am not greatly surprised.”