Two Cases For The Czar – Snippet 04

There was something off in that, but–even for Miroslava–identifying the precise meaning of facial expressions or nonverbal communications in general was a hit or miss proposition, affected by circumstance and the abilities of the person being observed. Tatiana was highly skilled and Miroslava wasn’t at all sure what if any her connection to the murder was.

“Then why did you say he wasn’t one of your favorite patrons?”

“Because he wasn’t. I don’t understand your question.”

“Why ‘wasn’t’ rather than ‘isn’t’?”

“Oh.” Tatiana paused and looked at Miroslava. “Because he was no longer a client, even before he died.”

That was almost certainly true, but it wasn’t all. Miroslava thought it likely that Tatiana had known that Vetrov was dead before she told her. But she couldn’t be sure. “Why did he stop being a client?”

Again that pause to examine Miroslava before Tatiana answered. “There are rules to my profession that you might not be aware of.”

Well, that wasn’t hard to read at all. In fact it was clear that Tatiana wanted her to hear the emphasis on “my” and “you,” and Miroslava was sure that she was supposed to be insulted. Tatiana felt that the difference between what she did and what Miroslava had done in the Happy Bottom was so great as to be a difference in kind. 

Miroslava wasn’t insulted. Not because she’d only rarely had sex with her customers. That didn’t matter to her. The reason Miroslava wasn’t insulted was because she didn’t see why she should care. You did what your talents and circumstances allowed you to do. Very few people had much of a choice in the matter. Miroslava certainly hadn’t, still didn’t, though she liked her situation better now. She knew intellectually that most people put some sort of value on what they did, either greater or lesser. But though she liked detecting better than dancing naked, she didn’t think it was “better” in any sort of moral sense. “What rules are you referring to?”

“Confidentiality. I don’t discuss my friend’s tastes.”

“Even former clients?”

“Even former clients!”

“I ask you to reconsider that position in this case for two reasons. First, because Nikola Vetrov is dead, so no longer cares about his privacy. Second, because I will keep his tastes private. I don’t understand why he or you should care. But I don’t understand a lot of what most people care about. For me, knowing that they care is enough to keep me silent on the matter.”

“If you’re silent on the matter, how will it help you?” Tatiana asked. It was a good question.

“Because it might tell me where to look for his murderer. Can you tell me where you were last night?”

“Are you asking if I killed him?” Tatiana looked offended at the very thought. “I did not.”

“If you were somewhere else and have a witness who can confirm that, we can eliminate you from the pool of suspects.”

“I don’t see why I am in that group in the first place,” Tatiana said, rather heatedly.

Miroslava considered the woman. She wasn’t happy and she might even be a bit frightened. That would make sense whether she was involved in the death or not. Miroslava was aware that you didn’t have to have committed a crime to hang for it, and there was little doubt that Tatiana was as aware of that fact as Mirosalva was. “I have good evidence that you knew Nikola Vetrov. You are roughly the right size to be the murderer, and you have been reticent about your relationship with him.”

Tatiana was clearly frightened now. Unfortunately, that didn’t make her easier to read. “I do have a witness for my whereabouts for yesterday evening and a good part of last night.”

“Good. Who is it? I will talk to him and . . .”

Tatiana was shaking her head. “I can’t tell you who it is. I already told you why.”

“Yes, confidentiality. However, that leaves you as a suspect.” That might mean that Tatiana was true to her code, or simply that she didn’t have an alibi.

Miroslava was learning that questioning of suspects, especially suspects who hadn’t been tortured, wasn’t how it was in the books. It was a slow grind of guesses checked against other guesses until you had a good idea what happened. She already had a good idea what happened, just not who was in the room. Tatiana fit the size range, and her profession fit the circumstances.

“So tell me about Nikola Vetrov’s tastes, or at least why he was no longer a client.”

Tatiana considered her yet again. “Do you think I did it? Not a pool of suspects, or the proper procedures. You,Miroslava Holmes?”

“I don’t know.” Someday Miroslava might learn to lie convincingly, but she hadn’t yet, in spite of the requirements of her former profession. 

Tatiana’s lips twitched in a smile. “He liked it rough. He had a lot of anger in him and I was afraid he might go too far at some point. You know how it works. You don’t take it personally. You can’t.”

Miroslava nodded. That fit all too well with what she’d seen in Nikola Vetrov’s rooms. Unfortunately, it neither exonerated Tatiana or proved her responsibility. It could be that Tatiana was the woman in the room, and Vetrov got rough, and Tatiana ended it with a pistol.  Or it could be that she refused to see him and Vetrov went to another woman. “Is there anyone who can confirm that you had stopped seeing him?”

“There may be, but I can’t tell you his name without getting his permission.”

“What about the person you were with last night, can you get their . . .” 

“No. The person I was with last night would never give permission, and I wouldn’t ask for it.”

After leaving Tatiana with her address at the Dacha, Miroslava went by the cop station in the Ufa Kremlin. 

Location: Room 22B, Ufa Dacha

Date: May 10, 1637

“How was your day?” I asked as Miroslava came in.

“Frustrating, Vasilii. Very frustrating.”

“Mine too,” I admitted. “Even with the forced air, we’re not getting enough cooling in the condenser.”

“You should be.” Miroslava frowned. She didn’t like it when the real world didn’t match the math. She was used to it, but she still didn’t accept it. Not really. I felt myself smiling as she came over to my drafting board and looked at the notes. By now, of course, she knew her numbers, and could follow math and use a slide rule. “One of your assumptions is wrong,” she pronounced like a judge pronouncing sentence.

“Yes, dear, I know. But I don’t know which one. We know we aren’t getting laminar flow in the hot box. There’s no way we could. With all the heat exchange fins we have there, we don’t even want it. The guys are thinking that it’s the airflow that’s the problem.” I put a hand over the scribbled calculations. “What was so frustrating about your day?”

“Tatiana may be a murderer, may have acted in self defense, or may be completely uninvolved. And she is the only–” Miroslava grinned at me and finished. “–lady of the evening who I can confirm was associated with Nikola Vetrov.”