Two Cases For The Czar – Snippet 05

“Huh?” Aside from the whole lady of the evening bit, which Miroslava had had read to her from one of my mysteries and just loved for some reason, none of it made any sense to me. I’d spent the day reading gauges in the shop and finding that not enough steam was turning back into water.

So for the next hour or so, Miroslava told me of her day. How the state of the room told her that Vetrov was trying to have sex with some one shortly before he died, and that something had gone wrong, leading to violence and his being shot.

“Why do you assume that the person he had sex with was a lady of the evening?”

“He wasn’t married.”

For all her experience, Miroslava was in some ways quite unworldly. Men had sex with their wives and ladies of the evening, sometimes both. Sometimes both at once. But a category that was neither didn’t fit in her world view. A thing I hadn’t realized until that moment.

“Men and women sometimes have sex when they aren’t married and when it’s not a business arrangement.”

“It’s always a business arrangement,” she insisted. “Marriage is a business arrangement too.” She took my hand, and I realized that she was explaining how the world worked to me. “It doesn’t mean it’s not fun, or one party doesn’t like it, or like the other party, but it’s always a business arrangement.”

She was wrong, but she was wrong in the way that Miroslava was often wrong. She saw very clearly. Especially she saw all the details, but she often missed subtlety. The hard part was going to be explaining that to her, because she wasn’t entirely wrong. There was an aspect of negotiation, business, in all human relationships. Not just sexual ones, all of them. “Yes, but that is rarely all there is. People agree to do things for a lot of reasons.”

“I don’t think this girl agreed, at least not at the last.”

“Then what was she doing there?”

“That is why I spent the day looking for a lady of the evening.”

“So you’re sure now that it wasn’t a lady of the evening?”

“No. Just that it’s no one I know, or no one that I know knows. Or at least can direct me too.” 

That was true enough. The girls at the Happy Bottom, even at all the clubs like the Happy Bottom, weren’t the only women making their living at the oldest profession. There were still at least two men for every woman in Ufa. It was a seller’s market, which was why Madam Drozdov had brought her girls to Ufa in the first place.

“Let’s go to dinner. We can both get started on our headaches in the morning.” 


The next morning, I suggested that she join Pavel on his hunt for the embassy bureau suspect.

Location: Ufa Kremlin, Office of the Czar

Date: May 11, 1637

“Come in, Bernie.” Czar Mikhail waved. He was standing at the sideboard of his office, fixing himself a glass of tea. The samovar he was using was based in part on pictures and descriptions gotten from Grantville but it wasn’t much of a change from the authepsas that were present in Russia before the Ring of Fire. The two big differences were this one had the space for the fire built in and a place for a tea pot above the water boiling part. The tea was a gift from Salqam-Jangir Khan. He didn’t have the lemons that would be part of the mix in that other history, but he had honey and cream. He held up a wire frame holding a glass. “Want one?”

“No, thank you.” Bernie preferred coffee, which was available from the Turks. Besides, he wasn’t in the mood. “What’s going on?”

“Tea, as it happens. The addition of the Kazakh Khanate as the first state in the USSR opens up more possibilities than we first thought. Both for them and for us. We have the river routes from Ufa to the Caspian Sea–and, with a very short rail line, to the Black Sea. Also the links to the Arctic Ocean, and–if we win–to the Baltic and the rest of Europe. That’s not new, but with a rail line from Ufa to Shavgar, we’re a good part of the way to northern India, Tibet, and China. And–” Czar Mikhail held up the glass of hot tea in the metal framework. “–this. As well as Chinese silk, Indian cotton, and a host of other goods.”

“Not possible! The iron rails alone–“

But the czar was already holding up a hand. “Wood, single rail, and a graded road that can be used for carts and wagons when not used by the trains.”

“Okay,” Bernie said, slowly. “What do you want me for?”

“Nikola Vetrov got put on the China desk at the embassy bureau back before we had any idea that a route for the China trade might open up. We were all focused on Sheremetev and holding Kazan. He’s well connected in the nobility and no more corrupt than most. The rail line is his idea. And he’s dead, murdered in a locked room. The city guard had to break the door down to get in.”

“Okay,” Bernie said, even more slowly.

Czar Mikhail grinned. “Yes. It gets worse, or at least more suspicious, when you learn that my head of the embassy bureau isn’t giving our new detective sergeant the time of day. And the way I found out about the project is from stock certificates and books found in Nikola Vetrov’s wardrobe. I don’t own any stock in that venture, so I’m curious.”

“You think he was offed by another of your spies over the potential China trade that may be opened up by Kazakh joining the United Sovereign States of Russia.” Bernie avoided using the initials since he’d been rudely interrupted by Gerry Simmons. The song had taken off in Russia, at least in Ufa and Kazan in the last couple of weeks and you haven’t lived until you have heard “Back in the USSR” sung in Russian, backed by Russian guitars, and– Bernie shuddered just thinking about it. 

“I don’t know what to think, but I’m not at all sure that Colonel Milktoast Aslonav, the head of my police department, is up to bearding the embassy bureau in its lair.”

“And you want me to go back up Detective Sergeant Baranov.”

“See? I knew you were the man for the job.” Czar Mikhail grinned, then sipped his tea and sighed in contentment.  “And while you’re at it, find out who else over there knew about this railroad.” 

Bernie shook his head and left.

Location: Ufa Kremlin, Police Headquarters

Date: May 11, 1637

The place looked the same as it had the last time Bernie was here. Streltzi coming and going most of them effectively beat cops, a couple of sergeants who oversaw the mess, and in a corner at an up-time style desk was Maksim Vinnikov, with his boss sitting at a table next to him, drinking a mug of small beer. Small beer was beer with less alcohol content than regular beer.

Pavel looked up when Bernie came in, said something to Maksim, and left. Maksim stood and brought some papers to Bernie.

Bernie’s Russian was passable by now, and he recognized the Arabic script of the Kazakh Khanate. He didn’t need it. Maksim was already saying, “They’re railroad stock certificates. And you should see the books.”