A Holmes For the Czar

Ufa, the new capital of the legitimate government of Russia, is now a fast-growing boom town. Crime is running rampant and the city guards don’t have a clue how to handle it. Can Vasilii Lyapuno, an engineer working at the newly-founded Dacha in Ufa, serve the city as a one-man detective force?

Why not? He loves up-time up-timer murder mysteries, doesn’t he? Besides, he has the assistance of the bargirl Miroslave, who’s… different.

$4.99

(3 customer reviews)

Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, rtf,

Category:

Ufa is going crazy. The new capital of the legitimate government of Russia, once a trading post in the far east, is now a fast-growing boom town. Into this maelstrom come peddlers and exotic dancers, criminals and craftsmen, nobles and assassins. Crime is running rampant and the city guards that passes for policemen don’t have a clue how to handle it—and wouldn’t know a clue if they stumbled right over it. They can manage to walk a beat, at least in broad daylight. But solve a crime?

Not a chance. And Czar Michael Romanov and his officials aren’t any help, since they’re pre-occupied with building a nation out of spit and bailing wire.

But the bargirl who was murdered had friends who cared. And those friends call in Vasilii Lyapuno, an engineer working at the newly-founded Dacha in Ufa and loves up-timer murder mysteries.

Can Vasilii track down the killer? Luckily for him, he has the assistance of another bargirl named Miroslava, who has a unique way of seeing the world. Together they might figure out who did what to whom and who was responsible for the crime.

Crimes, rather. Murders start adding up.

A Fight at the Happy Bottom

Location: The Happy Bottom, Ufa, Russia
Date: April 15, 1637

The lights were the new Coleman lanterns, inside and out, and young boys earned coins running around and pumping up the lanterns as needed. There were dozens of people waiting to be admitted, most of them armed and dressed as soldiers including the western Russian army armbands, as well as the outfits of Cossacks and the soldiers of the Kazakh Khanate. It was a soldier’s club with lots of booze and other drugs, much of which was shipped up the Ufa River from the Volga, in spite of the war. The winter trade continued with only occasional interruptions. As much came in winter as in summer, because the ice made a perfect road once it was deep enough.

The club had a big sign over the wide double doors proclaiming “Girls! Girls! Girls!”

The line advanced. Feliks stepped through the door, and was allowed into the even better lit foyer. To the right as he entered was a cloakroom with a counter, and an attractive, scantily clad woman backed by a large armed man.

“Check your weapons and coat.”

It wasn’t a question. You couldn’t get into the club proper with weapons, but they were very good about keeping them safe until you came back with the tag. He passed over his sniper rifle and his pistol, even his bandolier of loaded chambers. Also his great coat. In return, he got a wooden token with a hole in the top and a number painted on it. The number matched a tall box built into the walls of the cloakroom, tall enough to hang a coat or store a long gun or both. There were no doors on the boxes, just the tags, and people watching the stuff.

This stop was most of the reason for the line of people out into the cold.

Pocketing his token, Feliks went through a single door into a large, much less well-lit room. There were some bright spots.

There was a stage at the far end of the room. At the moment, it was occupied by a bunch of women dancing to an amplified record player. The stage was lit by more Coleman lanterns. These had part of the chimney mirrored, turning them into flood lights, lighting up the dancers.

The space behind the bar was well lit for the making of drinks and the counting of money.

Feliks headed for his table, looking around for Fiana. She was dressed in a short skirt and one of the new “corsets” that were popular in Moscow. They weren’t, Fiana told him, real corsets, just cloth with brass and tin spangles. Hers was red. A really bright red from one of the dyes that the Dacha produced. She was in white makeup, with ruby red lips. She had a tray of vodka, put a mug on a table, got paid, and gave the soldier a kiss on the cheek. Feliks didn’t like her having to work here, and he didn’t like it when she kissed other men. But, in spite of his rank—he was a sergeant—he couldn’t afford to buy her out of her contract.

So he glared at the man and went to his chair, which wasn’t occupied at the moment, and ordered a vodka.

He paid Fiana, and got his own kiss, then drank the pale green liquid in two gulps and ordered another.

✽✽✽

Two hours later Feliks was slurring his words a bit, and begging Fiana to marry him every time she brought him a drink. A big man came in. He had a still fresh scar on the right side of his face from a bullet that had come within an inch of killing him.

Feliks knew who he was. He was Egor Petrovich, who worked in Stefan Andreevich’s gun shop, and was with him at the battle in the field. Egor was a part-time soldier, but he had money because he worked in Stefan’s gun shop and the lucky bastard got let go without having to pay a ransom like he should have.

Feliks didn’t like Egor. He especially didn’t like the way he was always grabbing Fiana.

“Bring me a beer, Fiana,” Egor bellowed. “A big one.” Then he sat in the chair, almost breaking it. Egor was big, which was another reason that the five foot three Feliks didn’t like him much.

Fiana waved her free hand, and yelled, “Coming right up.”

Less than a minute later, she was at Egor’s table, bending over to put the large stein of beer onto the small table. Egor, the bastard, put one arm around her hips and pulled her close. With the other arm, he pulled three of the red and gold bills from his pocket and put them down into her corset. Fiana wiggled and pushed her breasts against his hands and kissed him on the lips.

✽✽✽

The first Egor knew about it was when Fiana was pulled away from him. She fell backwards over another customer, pulled by a hand around her arm. Then Egor felt the fist hit his cheek, slide off it to break his nose, and at that point Egor knew what to do.

He jumped up and grabbed the little bastard who’d hit him and squeezed while the little man pounded on his back. The little bastard was stronger than he looked, and when he changed targets to the sides of Egor’s head, Egor shifted his grip and threw the little bastard.

That knocked over more tables in the crowded club.

Shortly afterward, the bouncers interrupted, and both Feliks and Egor were ejected from the side door of the club.

Egor walked around the corner to the front of the building and went in just far enough to retrieve his coat and pistol, then went home cursing the name of Feliks Pavlovich.

✽✽✽

Ivan Grigoriyevich Shkuro climbed from the floor after the big man threw the little bastard onto his table. His tunic was covered in the local vodka and beer, and one arm had landed in some sort of dipping sauce. He clapped with the rest as both combatants were thrown from the club, then asked Marina who they were and what it was all about. He smiled at her as she explained. She would be dead soon.

The explanation somewhat exonerated the big man in Ivan’s view, but that little shit who was so proud of the sniper patch on his tunic. . . . He needed some sort of punishment. Even after Ivan finally got into the city, finding Marina turned out to be more work than he would have expected. Karol Karolivich was dead, making him hard to track. And by the time Ivan got through with that, the girl was gone from his house. The landlord neither knew or cared where, but did inform him that she’d had her brat on his good sheets on the very day of Karol’s death.

A bribe to a clerk got the news that Karol had legitimized the little bastard while still in the womb. So Ivan was planning to kill the girl just as instructed, then tell the clan about the babe. He was in this soldier’s club because he’d finally gotten the story of Karol and Marina from one of the sergeants in Karol’s company, along with the word that Marina was back in The Happy Bottom serving drinks now that Karol was dead.

It was Marina who brought him his beers, the one before the fight and the one after it.

He finished his new beer and went to the exit. He asked the guard, “What do you know about that little shit who started the fight?”

The guard shook his head in disgust. “That’s Feliks. There’s his rifle, right over there.”

Suddenly Ivan was struck with an idea. There was his crossbow, just three of the little cubicles down from the rifle. Why not trade his crossbow for the rifle? He showed his shirt sleeve to the guard and made the suggestion.

“I can’t do it. Tomorrow Feliks will show up, and if his gun is missing, there will be hell to pay.”

Ivan was disappointed, partly because he was planning to use the rifle to kill Marina later tonight. But then he had another thought.

“All right, I understand.” He scratched his beard. “How about this? You don’t give me a thing. Just switch my stuff for Feliks’, like we got the wrong tickets or something. No real harm done, but it will inconvenience the bastard. And I don’t need my crossbow for a while. There’s a ruble in it for you.”

Not seeing any harm in it, the guard agreed, and the deed was done. What the guard didn’t realize was that Ivan was a thorough man. He knew the shifts at The Happy Bottom, and he knew that this guard would be going off shift at midnight. And there would be three hours after that for Ivan to pick up the rifle before the club closed.

He would shoot Marina with Feliks’ gun.

✽✽✽

Two hours later, Ivan strolled in the front door, handed over his ticket and collected Feliks’ gear. All of it.

Murder in the Night

Location: An alley in Ufa
Date: 3:30 AM April 16, 1637

Ivan stood in the alley and waited, watching the side door of the Happy Bottom. The door was thirty-seven of Ivan’s paces away. He had carefully paced off the distance yesterday. He was also beginning to think that the rifle was a bad idea. The iron barrel wasn’t just heavy. It was long. Holding the cursed gun level was worse than holding a pike steady. At least with the pike, the pike butt was on the ground and if a pike blade moved an inch or two, who cared.

The side door opened. He lifted the gun to his shoulder, and took careful aim. Ivan was a strong man. He braced himself against the building and waited, looking down the sights. The girls were milling about in the light of a Coleman lamp held on a stick.

There!

His target was talking to another girl. He took a breath and held it. The other girl moved, and he squeezed the trigger.

The rifle slammed against his shoulder like the kick of a mule.

When he looked back at the scene, the wrong girl was down.

Everyone was running around and a few moments later, well before he had the chamber out of the rifle, Marina was back in the club and it was not looking like she was going to come out again anytime soon.

✽✽✽

Two hours later, in his room, he looked at the rifle and quietly cursed himself. He never should have let his resentment of the asshole in the bar make him change his plans. The local cops were going to be looking for a rifle. If one was missing from the Happy Bottom’s cloakroom, it wouldn’t be long before they knew just who took it. That stupid guard would talk his head off.

Ivan didn’t just kill people. He also stole stuff. He’d picked locks before, even the new locks. This, however, would be a first.

The first time in his life that he’d broken into someplace to put something back.

✽✽✽

It wasn’t one of the new locks. A string and some wires did the job. His gear was in Feliks’ box, so he took his, and returned Feliks’, not even keeping a few rubles for himself.

To the devil with it. I’ll use my crossbow.

Location: The Happy Bottom, Ufa, Russia

Date: 3:30 AM April 16, 1637

Anatoly opened the side door and lifted the Coleman lantern on the rod, then stepped out into the alley. He looked around for cut purses, muggers, and horny bastards, then waved out the ladies. It was part of his job, after all. They came out, colored cloaks over their regular clothing, faces washed of the makeup they wore at work. They milled around, talking to one another. Or complaining to one another, as their individual personalities dictated.

As they were starting to separate to go to their homes, Anatoly heard a shot.

✽✽✽

Fiana heard the shot too. Then the bullet hit her. It went between two ribs on the way in, ripped the carotid artery to shreds two inches above her heart, then bounced off the right scapula and exited out her right side. Eight feet later, going much slower, it buried itself in a heavy wooden wall.

People were screaming and Fiana didn’t know why. She was coming out of shock and the pain was just starting. She turned and the lack of blood to her brain made her stumble and fall. She fell onto the wet, cold ground and the light of Anatoly’s Coleman lamp was the last thing she saw.

✽✽✽

Marina screamed and ran. She didn’t see where the bullet came from, but she ran anyway. There were no more shots.

✽✽✽

Miroslava didn’t run. To outward appearances, she was frozen in shock. That wasn’t the case, not exactly. The truth was she was trying to figure out what had happened. The shot came from somewhere, but where?

Miroslava’s brain didn’t work right. She knew that. Her mother had told her. Her father had told her. The priests had told her. Everyone told her. When something weird happened, she had to stop and figure out what was going on. It could take from a few seconds to minutes, but she was pretty much useless until she figured it out. It was a dangerous way to live, and the truth was that if Miroslava weren’t so pretty, she would probably be dead by now.

In this case, the bullet couldn’t have been shot by someone close. First, the shot wasn’t loud enough. Second, there was the time between the sound and the bullet hitting Fiana. Like lightning, but backwards. The sound arrived before the bullet. Then there was the fact that no one was armed. Certainly not with a rifle. And there was no smell of gunsmoke in the air, like there would be if it was fired from nearby. This was a rifle shot at night.

About then Anatoly grabbed her arm and tried to push her back into the Happy Bottom.

“Put out the light, Anatoly. You’re letting him see us.”

“What? Get inside where it’s safe.”

It was over an hour later that Miroslava was finally allowed to go home. They were asked if anyone saw the shooting. Miroslava hadn’t. She wasn’t looking in the direction of Fiana or the shooter, who was probably standing next to a building across the alley and a block away. She was looking at Marina. She knew where everyone was, but they didn’t ask that, so she went home.

Home was a rooming house. Twenty small rooms, each just large enough for a cot, and with only a curtain between them and the hallway. But there was a place where you could put a locked trunk to hold your goods, and the old man who owned the place would notice if anyone tried to take a trunk out.

Location: Barracks, Ufa, Russia

Date: April 16, 1637

Feliks Pavlovich woke with his head banging, and Tadeas Tadeavich shaking his foot. He kicked air and groaned.

“Where’s your rifle, Feliks?”

“What!” Feliks looked around and didn’t see his rifle. Also missing were his pistol and his great coat. It took a little while. Feliks wasn’t feeling well. Then he had it. He got thrown out of the Happy Bottom last night. His rifle was still in the checkroom of the bar.

“What’s the time?” he asked.

“Eight, I think. Maybe a bit after.”

“Shit!” Quickly as he could, given his condition, Feliks put on his boots. He was still wearing his pants and underclothes from last night.

“Tell the master sergeant I’m in the crapper. I’ll be back.” Then he ran.

It only took him five minutes to get to the bar. It was located fairly close to the Ufa Kremlin. When he got there, the place was quiet. He banged on the front door.

✽✽✽

Marina was just getting back to sleep after feeding the baby. She wasn’t up to dancing yet, so she got stuck with all the unpleasant jobs. It was how she paid for her and the baby to stay here. “What do you want?” she yelled through the door, trying both to be heard by the banger and not wake Madam Drozdov or the baby.

“I need my rifle and my great coat!” Feliks said.

Marina recognized the voice and the face through the eyehole. She let him in, took his claim check, then gave him his rifle, pistol, bandolier, and great coat from the shelf. Neither of them noticed that one of the chambers of the bandolier was empty.

Marina closed the door and went back to her cot. Between Fiana being shot and the baby crying, she’d gotten maybe two hours sleep last night and was so tired she wasn’t tracking. By the time she got back to her cot, she’d forgotten who it was that knocked. And by the time she woke up that afternoon, she’d forgotten that there had been anyone.

Who Cares?

Location: Factory of Stefan Andreevich, Ufa
Date: April 19, 1637

Egor Petrovich knocked on Stefan’s office door, and Stefan assumed it had to do with the drop forges. That was Egor’s job, after all. This was Stefan’s first day back at work, and he was still very much on light duty after the battle, which was why he was stuck in the office with his arm taped and his ribs wrapped.

“What’s gone wrong now?” he asked, the pain making his voice rougher than he would have preferred.

“Nothing with the forges. This is something else.”

Seeing the expression on Egor’s face, Stefan used his good arm to awkwardly wave him in. “What’s wrong?”

“Fiana’s dead and the cops aren’t even looking for the murderer.”

“Who’s Fiana?”

“She’s . . . She was . . . a bar girl at the Happy Bottom,” Egor said.

And Stefan knew why the streltzi cop force wasn’t looking very hard for the killer. They didn’t much care, and they surely didn’t want to offend some Deti Boyar or dvoriane by accusing him of the murder of a bar girl. “Cop” was one of the new words introduced by the up-timers. Before then the city guards were less concerned with fighting crime than manning the walls in case of attack. That was still partly true, but nowadays most good-size towns—which Ufa was becoming—had cop forces that patrolled the streets and offered some protection from robbery and assault.

What Stefan didn’t know was what Egor thought Stefan could do about it. It took Stefan that long to remember that he was now Captain Stefan Andreevich Ruzukov, a member of the service nobility in his own right. It was a recent occurrence and there was a lot going on. The constitution of New Russia was only days old and Ufa was still being rebuilt after the attack by the Kazakh khanate. They were back in the main building, but not yet back in production. It turned out that the Kazakh army hadn’t burned down their building.

That still left the question. “What do you want me to do about it? Egor, I don’t know how to find a murderer.”

“I know who did it,” Egor said. “It was that bastard Feliks.”

That required a bit of explaining. Apparently Fiana had Egor, Feliks, and perhaps several others on her string, and Feliks was the jealous type. Egor was willing enough to share and realized that Fiana had probably liked his money more than she liked him. But he cared for the girl and her death hit him pretty hard.

Egor was with Stefan in the battle, and he’d stood his ground with the rest of them. That was a bond that couldn’t be ignored.

“So, if I push an investigation, it might come back on you?”

“I’d never kill Fiana, sir. And besides, I wouldn’t shoot someone from a block away.”

“I’m not accusing you, Egor. I’m just pointing out that this Feliks character isn’t the only one with a motive. I doubt I could get the cops to investigate on just my say so.”

“What about the Honorable?” Egor asked.

That was a good question. Stefan’s wife, Vera Sergeevna, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and now that they had a constitution—even if it was so far only ratified by the Kazakh khanate and the cities of Kazan and Ufa—she was likely to become one of the first representatives in the new Congress of Eastern Rus.

Vera probably could get an investigation started. Not that Stefan was sure that was a good idea, but she was the one to talk to.

✽✽✽

That night in their townhouse—they lived in Ufa now, not New Ruzuka—Stefan asked Vera what she thought.

“I don’t know, Stefan,” Vera said. “I remember how you almost got executed for murder.”

“Well, to be fair, I did kill the man. It was an accident and in self-defense, but I did kill him. Apparently this young woman was shot from a distance. That could hardly be self-defense.”

“That’s not my point,” Vera said. “I just don’t have a lot of faith in the deductive powers of the cop force—That’s it!”

“What’s it? What’s what, for that matter?”

“Vasilii Lyapunov, is it. He’s an engineer who worked on the steamboat engine design, and he loves up-timer mystery stories. He was in the congress, which is how I know him. Now he’s back at work in the new Dacha here in Ufa, and swears he will never involve himself in politics again.”

The New Dacha, or Ufa Dacha, wasn’t actually a dacha, which meant the private farm or country house of a Russian noble. The New Dacha was the rebuilt Dacha in Ufa where, even now, they were working on rebuilding the technological base from the Gorchakov Dacha outside of Moscow.

“Why would Vasilii Lyapunov be interested?” As it happened Stefan knew Vasilii. He was a nice enough man, in the sort-of-distracted way that was fairly common among the scholars of the Ufa Dacha.

“Because he loves mysteries. Everything from Sherlock Holmes to the Murder She Wrote and Quincy, M.E. books.”

“What?” Stefan had not the slightest idea what she was talking about. He could read and write his own name, he could even—slowly and with effort—make his way through a report on the cost of iron or the effect of replacing the gear on a drop forge crank. He had never read a word of the Bible. That’s what priests were for. And in his entire life, he had never read a single word for entertainment.

“He likes to read for the fun of it,” Vera explained. “There are books in the new Dacha that have stories in them, and some of those stories are stories about mysteries, even murder mysteries.”

“Why would anyone want to read something like that?”

Vera shrugged. “You like listening to ghost stories on a long winter night. I know you do.”

“Good enough. You think he would be interested in this situation?”

“I can ask. I’ll go over to the Dacha tomorrow and do that.”

Location: New Dacha, Ufa

Date: April 20, 1637

The Dacha was a walled compound next to the Ufa Kremlin. It was a combination research center and university, even though the university part was just getting started.

It took Vera a few minutes to find Vasilii. He was giving a lecture on steam engines. With a model on a wooden bench, he showed how it worked. Vera sat in the back of the room while he was talking, and while he answered a series of questions. Some seemed to Vera to be good questions. Others seemed to be silly.

✽✽✽

As the class was breaking up, Vera walked down to the lectern, where Vasilii was explaining something to a young man.

Then he turned to her. “What can I do for you, Vera? Are you and Stefan going to start building your own steam engines?”

“No. This has to do with your other interest.”

“Politics? That’s not an interest. That’s a curse. I’m out of it, and never going back.”

Vasilii was a member of the liberal wing of the Dacha group. He was disgusted by the compromises on the issue of slavery and serfdom they ended up making. “Not that either,” Vera said. “I’m here about a murder mystery.”

“What? You want to borrow my books?”

“No, Vasilii. You know I only read Russian, not up-timer English. Now, if you will let me finish before explaining that it can’t be, or asking questions, you might find out why I’m here.”

Vasilii held up his hands, “I yield to the Honorable Delegate from New Ruzuka.”

“There was a murder at the Happy Bottom on the night of the fifteenth. One of the bar girls was shot, and no one has been arrested or charged. I haven’t talked to the cops, but from what I have been told they aren’t investigating it. I was wondering if you would like to pretend to be . . . Dr. Watson, is it? Or Mr. Marple.”

“Miss Marple. Vera, why do you care?”

“Because, Vasilii, one of our employees, Egor Petrovich, cares,. Egor was with my husband on the field.”

“Very well. I will look into the matter. I’m not a real detective, but there aren’t any real detectives, are there?”

“Not here at any rate,” Vera agreed.

Location: Ufa Kremlin

Date: April 20, 1637

Colonel Evgeny Ivanovich Aslonav looked up. He recognized the clothes more than the man. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Vasilii Lyapunov, Colonel. I’m from the Dacha and I am curious about a recent murder.”

That was a surprise. What did this fellow care about peasants killing peasants in street fights and drunken brawls? “Which one? We’ve had three in the last week.”

“A young woman, Fiana Ivanovna, a bar girl. Shot outside the . . .”

Vasilii trailed off at Evgeny’s wave.

“I know the one you’re talking about. Not much to it. No one knows who did it and no one much cares, either.”

“Well, a friend asked me to look into it. So, what can you tell me about it?”

“Not much, but wait a moment.” Evgeny got up from the table he was working at and went to the door. “Kazimir, go find Pavel Borisovich and have him come to my office.”

He turned back to the Dacha man. “Pavel was the one called to the scene. He can tell you more.”

✽✽✽

Pavel, it turned out, was a short, somewhat paunchy man in a faded green-dyed broadcloth tunic with two black stripes on a yellow armband indicating the rank of corporal in the city guard. He also wore a thick leather belt with a truncheon in a holster. His hair and beard were brown, starting to go gray. “Happy to help, sir.”

They left the Kremlin and Pavel asked, “Why are you interested, sir?”

“I read murder mysteries, so a friend asked me to investigate.”

“Murder mysteries? Careful of the puddle there, sir.”

Vasilii avoided the puddle and explained about murder mystery books.

Pavel didn’t say anything. But the way Pavel didn’t say anything got Vasilii’s attention. Russia was still a very class-driven society, and while streltzi were above peasants, they were well below a well-placed Deti Boyar like Vasilii. Especially here in Ufa. Working at the Dacha was high status. “Speak freely, Pavel. What do you think?”

“Honestly, sir, it strikes me as a bit silly,” Pavel said, still hesitant. “Most murders are simple things. Two men fighting over something, usually a woman or money. One wins, the other dies, and we hang the winner.” He didn’t add “unless the winner is a noble.”

“Sometimes it’s a man and a woman fighting, and then it’s usually the woman who dies. And we hang the man.” Again the unspoken proviso “unless the man is a noble.”

“So, who are you going to hang for this one?” Vasilii asked with a grin.

Pavel shook his head. “This is the other kind. They’re less common, but they do happen. This is the body in the street murder. No one knows who did it or why.” Pavel took a breath. “Even with these we mostly know why because we find their purse gone. That tells us someone killed them for their money, but there are a lot of people killed for their money. And we mostly don’t know who did the killing.”

“But Fiana’s purse wasn’t gone, was it?”

“No, and that’s the most surprising thing about this case. Even if the killer wasn’t after her money, I would have thought one of the other whores would have taken it.”

“Not the fact that she was shot from a distance?”

“We only have the witness’ word for that,” Pavel said.

“You think they are all lying?”

“Maybe. Some because they have something to hide. Some because they are afraid of their pimp or the club owner.”

They were walking as they talked, and they came to the Ufa mortuary, a new addition since the Czar’s arrival and over full at the moment. Most of the common soldiers who died in the battle were buried with some ceremony in what was coming to be known as Soldiers Field. But some officers, mostly, were actually being embalmed and getting head stones.

Meanwhile, the everyday people of Ufa—however they died—were piling up. Ufa had plenty of ice since winter was just ending, so there were a lot of chilled bodies in the basement of the mortuary.

✽✽✽

The mortuary attendant appeared to share Pavel’s view that this was a fool’s errand. But he showed them to the body, then stood by as they examined it. They found the entry wound and the exit wound, which meant Vasilii’s hopes were dashed. “I was hoping the bullet would still be in her.”

“Whatever for?” asked the morgue attendant.

“Because you can tell which gun the bullet came from if you have the bullet.”

“How?”

So Vasilii explained about the grooves cut into the bullet by the rifling and how it is unique to each rifle, like a fingerprint. That, in turn, led to an explanation of fingerprints, complete with Vasilii showing his finger tips and comparing them to Pavel’s and the morgue attendant’s.

The morgue attendant was a serf from Nizhny Novgorod, who followed General Tim up the river because he didn’t want to be a serf anymore. This was what he could find in the way of a job and he was okay with it. Dead bodies didn’t bother him.

Vasilii told him about Quincy M.E., explaining what a medical examiner was a doctor that examined dead bodies to determine how they died.

“I don’t know about cutting into them. It seems sort of disrespectful. What if they feel it?”

“They don’t,” Vasilii said.

“How do you know?”

Vasilii looked at the man. He was taller than Pavel and thin, younger too, and for a moment Vasilii was considering suggesting that he study to become a medical examiner. But the man probably could barely spell his own name. He would look for one of the doctors that Tami Simmons trained. Tami was the up-time nurse who came to Russia to be Mikhail’s family physician. Mikhail appointed her Surgeon General for Russia shortly after they arrived in Ufa. As Tami put it, it wasn’t that she was qualified, it was just that there was no one else in Russia who wasn’t even less qualified.

In this case, though, the cause of death was fairly apparent, so a full autopsy was probably not necessary. Still, Vasilii thought Ufa needed a medical examiner.

“Thank you for your help,” He said to the morgue attendant. “What’s your name by the way?”

“Waldemar, sir.”

They took their leave, and Pavel suggested they get lunch.

“That’s a good idea. Let’s go to the Dacha cafeteria.”

The Dacha cafeteria was a part of the Dacha and was manned by cooks from the Dacha back outside of Moscow. It was one of the best places to eat in Ufa because it used equipment brought from the original Gorchakov Dacha. Franklin stoves and woks, frying pans and rotisserie grills.

It was also exclusive. The workers at the Dacha and their guests, and that was it. Well, the czar and czarina sometimes ate there.

Location: Dacha Cafeteria

Date: April 20, 1637

The room had south-facing windows. The glass had a greenish tint, and came in small sections about four inches across, held together by thick lead came. At this time of day the windows filled the room with light and warmth. There were wood tables and checkered tablecloths, and you got your food by going through a line and picking it up. There were wood trays to carry it back to the table. It was all very fancy to Pavel’s eye, but Vasilii was used to it from his time at the original Gorchakov Dacha.

He got to the end of the line where a woman was seated with a box and a hole puncher. Vasilii pulled out his meal card, and pointed at Pavel. “He’s with me.”

Karina punched two holes in the lunch column of Vasilii’s card and handed it back.

“Karina, do you know where Tami is?” Karina started life as a slave on the Gorchakov estates. She was now a free woman and knew everyone in the Dacha.

“She should be here in a little bit. She has a class on infectious diseases that should be ending about now.”

“Would you ask her to drop by my table when she comes in?”

“Sure.”

✽✽✽

They were eating stroganoff and cheese with mushrooms and little sausages, good black bread, and peas on the side when Tami Simmons arrived.

“Karina said you wanted to see me?” Tami said, holding a tray with one hand.

“Have a seat. If you have time, I would like to talk to you about getting a medical examiner for Ufa.”

Tami nodded, and took a seat. “That’s not going to be as easy as you might think. Both the Russian Orthodox church and the Muslims hereabout have issues with desecrating the dead. It’s made doing any sort of work on corpses politically challenging.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Vasilii admitted. He scratched his short-trimmed beard. “We may be able to help each other if the city government of Ufa could be persuaded to install a medical examiner. That might let us find the bodies for your classes.”

“I’ll talk to Olga Petrovichna and see if we can get anything arranged.” Ufa had fairly unique status in New Russia, Eastern Russia, the Real Russia, whatever you want to call it. It was the capital and it was a state in the federal system. What that meant was still being worked out. The Constitution was still only confirmed by Ufa, Kazan and the Kazakh Khanate. No legislator was yet seated, or elected, for that matter. The laws, such as they were, were temporary decrees issued by Czar Mikhail, or by people like Olga’s husband, Stanislav Ivanovich Polzin, officially appointed as mayor of Ufa. Like the nation, the city of Ufa was still trying to figure out how to elect a government.

They talked about the legal status and duties of a medical examiner, and what to propose. In spite of Vasilii’s oath that he would never again be sucked into politics, his time as a delegate to the constitutional convention left him with considerable knowledge of how politics worked. If they could get Olga to agree, she would convince her husband and the czarina, and that would make it happen.

Pavel watched all this with something like shock on his face. These were, if not the movers and shakers of New Russia, at least people who knew them to talk to.

“See, Pavel? You’re going to have a report to make to your commander,” Vasilii said.

Pavel swallowed.

Location: Alley Next to The Happy Bottom

After lunch, Vasilii and Pavel went to the scene of the crime. Vasilii had Pavel describe where the girl’s body was found, and while he was drawing the outline of the body in chalk, one of the girls who worked in the bar came up the alley and knocked on the door to be let in. That brought the bouncer, Anatoly, to the door, and that brought several of the other girls that worked at the bar.

Pavel started to tell them to get back inside and mind their own business, but Vasilii wanted to question them, so they were told to wait.

Vasilii went to the wall and started looking for the bullet.

“What are you doing?” a female voice asked.

“Looking for the bullet.”

“You’re looking in the wrong place,” the girl said.

“And how would you know that?” Pavel asked the girl, who shrank back and said nothing.

“It’s all right, Pavel.” Vasilii waved the cop back, and looked at the girl. She was a bit on the tall side—he guessed five foot seven—and thin, but still with enough curves that it was quite clear she was a woman. She had auburn hair, and since she wasn’t yet wearing her makeup, he could see that she had freckles. Not a lot, just a few on her cheekbones, which were high on a heart-shaped face. The early afternoon sunlight turned her eyes bright green. “Now, Miss, what’s your name?”

“Miroslava,” said the girl. She was wearing a fur robe and there wasn’t much on beneath it. She was one of the girls who came out to see what was going on, and Vasilii assumed that she was getting dressed for work when they showed up.

“Very well, Miroslava. What makes you think I’m looking in the wrong place?”

“Because you are,” Miroslava answered. Then, as Pavel started forward, she added, “She turned when she fell.”

“You were here at the time of the murder?”

“Yes.”

“Where were you standing?”

She pointed and he had her stand on the spot and face the way she was facing that night.

“And that’s the way you were facing when the shot was fired?” Vasilii asked.

“Yes.”

“But if you were looking in that direction, you couldn’t have seen her when she was shot.”

She didn’t say anything, but Vasilii could tell from her expression that she was not convinced by his logic. Now his curiosity was aroused, so he asked, “How do you know which way Fiana was facing?”

“Because she was calling Marina a whore, and Marina was standing there. And because if she was standing the way you thought, the person shooting would have had to be in that wall there, and there was no one there.”

Vasilii looked at the wall where she was pointing. It was clearly in her line of sight. He visualized the scene. Where Miroslava was standing she could see Anatoly, the club’s bouncer, the missing Marina, and the wall where the shooter would have to be if the bullet entered Fiana’s body from that angle. She had to have turned when she fell. The girl Miroslava was right.

“Very good,” he told her.

She rolled her eyes again. In the different light they were a rich, warm brown.

“So which way was Fiana facing when she was shot?”

Miroslava pointed.

Vasilii followed her pointing finger to the wall of the club, then walked over to where Fiana was standing on the night of the murder and faced the point Miroslava indicated.

He shook his head. “No, Miroslava. It still doesn’t work.”

She turned to face him, then said, “You’re facing the wrong way.”

“I’m facing the way you said she was facing.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, he is,” put in Pavel, and several of the girls who were watching the re-creation murmured agreement.

Miroslava’s face turned red, and one of the girls said, “That’s done it. Miroslava’s going into one of her moods.”

Vasilii looked at Miroslava, then at the girl, and was even more curious. He stepped back and said, “Miroslava, please show me how she was facing when the shot was fired.”

Begrudgingly, Miroslava walked over and took a position facing the wall of the club with one hand up, pointing at someone who wasn’t there.

Pavel started to say something, but Vasilii held up a hand. There was something about the way she was standing and the way she was facing. Then he had it. Miroslava was facing the way Miroslava said Fiana was facing the night of the murder. Not at the same point, but in the same direction.

Vasilii had faced the point Miroslava pointed at, but Miroslava was standing in a different place when she pointed, and he’d asked for direction, not target.

Vasilii didn’t think he had ever in his life met someone as literal minded as Miroslava.

“Do you see it? She is facing the same direction she said. Not the same point, in the same direction.”

Pavel just looked confused.

“Never mind, Pavel. She wasn’t lying. She’s just more precise than most people.”

Vasilii went back to his calculations. Remembering his books and the lines that stretched from point to point described in the books, he drew a line in his mind that went through the space where Miroslava stood, then followed that line to the wall. He walked over about fifteen feet and started examining the wall about four feet above the ground. He wasn’t finding anything.

“What are you doing?” Miroslava asked.

“I’m looking for the bullet.” He turned back to her and the concern or perhaps confusion on her face.

✽✽✽

Miroslava looked at him, and something was wrong. She looked at the ground where Fiana’s body fell the other night. She walked back to where she was standing when Fiana was shot, then retraced her steps as she’d gone to see the body on the ground. She saw in her memory the bullet holes, the small entry wound and the slightly larger exit wound.

And now she knew what was wrong. The wound where the bullet came out wasn’t just bigger. It was longer, not round. The bullet didn’t come out facing the same way it went in. By now everyone knew what bullets looked like. They weren’t balls like the old guns shot. They were little short spears like a crossbow bolt without the feathers. And this one was facing down when it came out of Fiana.

It didn’t go straight through Fiana’s body. It must have hit something and bounced, so when it came out of her it was going in a different direction. “You’re still looking in the wrong place.”

“Where should I be looking?”

She pointed to a place about six feet to his left and almost at the base of the wall.

✽✽✽

Vasilii looked at her, followed her pointing finger, shrugged and moved to where she directed. And sure enough there was a white spot where the bullet knocked a piece of the bark of the log loose. The Happy Bottom was a log building. That was common in Ufa—and Moscow, for that matter. Using a knife, he cut some of the wood away, then tried to pull the bullet out with his fingers. It didn’t budge. “I’m going to need some tools, Pavel. You wait here while I go back to the Dacha and get them.”

“That’s fine. I’ll hold our murderer while you’re gone.”

“What?” Vasilii looked up to see Pavel holding Miroslava’s arm.

“She couldn’t have seen the bullet hit if she was where she said she was,” Pavel explained. “So if she didn’t do it, she knows who did.”

Miroslava was looking angry and terrified.

“Don’t be silly, Pavel. You’ve already seen that Miroslava can tell things that other people can’t.”

Pavel didn’t release the arm. He just looked stubborn. “It’s a trick, a cheat. Next thing she’ll be claiming Fiana’s ghost told her where the bullet went.”

Vasilii stood up. “Look, Corporal. I know you would like this to be over, but you have no motive. You have no murder weapon. All you actually have is the fact that Miroslava is more observant than most. There is no reason to believe she is the murderer, and very good reason to believe that she can’t have been.”

“And what would that be, sir?” Pavel was starting to sound positively belligerent.

“The bullet. I can’t be sure of much about it until I get it out of the wall, but I can already see it’s a copper-jacketed bullet.”

Copper jackets were not common in pistols. They weren’t even common in normal rifles. They were hunting and sniper rounds, because the copper coating held the round together better and kept the barrel cleaner, both of which made them more accurate at longer ranges. But they cost twice as much as a regular lead round.

“It’s a reasonable supposition given what you knew, Pavel, but she didn’t do it. Fiana was shot with a rifle from a distance.”

Pavel looked around the alley. It was around fifteen feet wide and the buildings on either side of it were short on windows. Pavel looked up at the top of the buildings, but they were slanted to slough off snow. No good place to stand, and the angle didn’t work either. “From where?”

Miroslava pointed. “There. Two blocks down, across the alley. At first I thought it was a block away, but that doesn’t work.”

Pavel shook her. “How do you know that?”

Miroslava looked at him and her face went red again. So did her upper chest, which was exposed by the robe opening.

“Let her go, Pavel,” Vasilii said. “She’s Sherlock Holmes, that’s all.”

“What?”

“Her mind works differently. She isn’t the murderer, but she can help us with the investigation.”

“She has to work,” said Anatoly. The big man was just standing there watching, until then. “She has a contract and she owes the owner fifteen rubles.”

“Fifteen rubles!” Vasilii blurted. “You have to be joking.” Looking at Anatoly, Vasilii perceived that he wasn’t joking at all. “I want to see that contract and your books.”

“Not my books,” Anatoly said. “Madam Drozdov owns the club.”

“Fine. I will want to see the contract and her books. And so will Olga Petrovichna.”

It took a while to get it worked out. One of the girls was sent to the Dacha with a note to Vadim, a streltzi craftsman who worked with Vasilii on steam engines and other projects. Vadim had no interest at all in murder mysteries, but he was fond of pretty girls.

Meanwhile, Vasilii took possession of Miroslava from Pavel and took her inside so he could have a chat with Madam Drozdov. It turned out that Madam Drozdov was acquainted with Olga, and the contract was legal as far as it went. And the books were in order, even if the prices that the girls were charged for makeup, rent on their dressing room, and—as best Vasilii could tell—the air they breathed while in the club, were exorbitant. To put it mildly.

Vasilii was not an ivory tower intellectual. He knew how the world worked, which was the reason that he was one of the people that the Dacha chose to be a delegate at the constitutional convention. He was fully aware that he couldn’t save the world. But Miroslava was special. He wanted to think that it was the uniqueness of her mind that enthralled him, but the truth was that her beauty was a part of the reason for his interest.

Not being able to think of what else to do, he paid her debt and bought her contract. It was a general employment contract, light on the specifics of her duties, and Vasilii had no idea what he was going to do next.

✽✽✽

Next, it turned out, was Vadim and the tools from the Dacha. The bullet was carefully removed from the wall and examined. He showed Pavel and Miroslava the striations on the bullet and assured them that they were unique to the gun, and that a comparison to other bullets would let them tell the difference.

“And that would help if we had a bullet to compare this one with,” said Pavel.

They had spent most of the day on this, and Vasilii had other work to do and so did Pavel. Grudgingly, Pavel released Miroslava into Vasilii’s custody with warnings not to run off.

✽✽✽

Miroslava examined Vasilii Lyapunov. He was dressed in good clothing, and there was ink on his right forefinger and thumb, and a spot in his left cuff, so he wrote. Both hands had contact with the paper for some reason. His shoes were the new left and right in the new combat boot style that was becoming popular in Ufa. His pants were the up-time jeans, black. Black—really black, not the dark gray that was more common. Black was expensive dye. A much more expensive dye than woad.

He was wealthy, well-educated, not bad looking, though his teeth were a bit crooked and he had a bump on his nose. His hairline was receding, but not badly yet. And he was fidgeting like he didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t a pimp. “Should we go to your rooms now?”

“What? Yes, I guess so, until we find some place for you to live.”

“I have a room,” Miroslava said. Not all the girls did. She didn’t like the idea of taking anyone to her room, but he owned her contract. So if he wanted to go, he could go. Miroslava always kept her agreements. It was all she could do to keep the world sane. She was worried about how she was going to pay the rent at the rooming house now.

“Let’s go there, then. I will see you home and we’ll figure out what to do next. You are in my custody so it might be better if you stay with me,” Vasilii said as though he was just now working that out. He owned her contract, and she was under suspicion in the murder and in his custody, so she would have to stay with him until she was cleared.

“It’s this way.” She walked, leading him, and being careful of where she put her feet. Four blocks away, they got to the small building that held her room. It was seven feet wide and eleven feet long.

“This isn’t a room. It’s a closet,” Vasilii said.

The room had a cot, two and a half feet wide, and five feet long. It rested on her two trunks. The trunks held her collections. Miroslava didn’t know how to explain her collections. No one understood them, not even her. They were rocks and animal hairs, and things that made no sense to anyone but her. But, in her mind, they fit together and having them and ordering them made her feel better. Made her feel calm.

✽✽✽

Vasilii looked at the room. It wasn’t actually a closet. That was just a phrase that he learned from a book. It was very small. Too small for a person to live in. But also it was very, very clean. The wood floor was smooth and flat, as though someone had used a stone on it to polish the wood. And, in a corner, was the stone. The daub walls were whitewashed, and the small lantern was covered so that the smoke would collect on the chimney, and not reach the walls to discolor them. There was a rag, neatly folded, over the stone. Probably to be used to wipe down the walls. There was a heavy blanket on the cot, so that she could survive cold winter nights without the sort of stove that Vasilii had in his rooms at the Ufa Dacha. It wasn’t a pleasant place to Vasilii’s way of thinking, but work had been done here. A lot of work to make the place as clean and orderly as possible.

Vasilii looked at it and thought of his own rooms. He had three. His workroom, his bedchamber, and his sitting room. There was also the cafeteria, where he ate most of the time, but that wasn’t his room. And there was the jakes down the hall. The Ufa Dacha was the first place in Ufa to get indoor plumbing, even before Czar Mikhail’s residence, and the bath house. There wasn’t actually much construction at the Ufa Dacha. As soon as they got something working, it moved to one of the factories in town.

But Vasilii’s rooms were a mess most of the time. Not dirty, but Vasilii tended to leave stuff where it was when he finished with it. Twice a week a maid came in and cleaned the place, putting things away. The rest of the time things were wherever Vasilii had last put them down. He wasn’t all that sure Miroslava would appreciate the change. But he wasn’t leaving Miroslava in this place. He just couldn’t.

During the battle with Salquam-Jangir Khan’s forces, the Ufa Dacha became emergency quarters for the more well off of the citizenry of Ufa, but those people were moving back out into the open space now, some of them living in double-walled tents.

Vasilii talked to the old man who owned the flop house, and informed him that Miroslava would be moving. He also hired two men to carry Miroslava’s trunks and other possessions to the Dacha.

✽✽✽

The rooms in the Dacha were large by Miroslava’s standards, and the toilet was a revelation. She was curious as to how it worked, and flushed it three times, examining the way the float worked to control the flow of water into the tank. The cafeteria was another revelation, and aside from the fact that Vasilii was a slob—not unusual among men—it was a very nice place.

She saw his drafting board in his workroom and realized where the ink on his sleeve came from. She looked at the drawings of things she didn’t know enough to understand, and wanted to understand.

Vasilii said, “Let’s go to see Anya and get you a bed.” Anya, who was now married to Filip Petrovich Tupikov, was the manager of the Dacha. She wasn’t part of the scientific staff. Instead, she was the top boss of all the support staff. She was the person that would arrange for a bed to be brought to Vasilii’s rooms and also for Miroslava’s meal ticket, the paper card with squares to be punched out as meals were eaten in the cafeteria. Anya was also the person in charge of the Dacha commissary, which for convenience sake was where Vasilii bought grooming supplies, ink, paper, and pens. He assumed that Miroslava would need grooming supplies too, and more.

Location: Ufa Dacha

Date April 20, 1637, 4:30 PM

Anya was up to her ears, as Bernie would say. Peace with the Khanate was only declared eight days ago, and though the damage to the outlying town proved much less than they feared since the Khan’s forces hadn’t gotten around to burning the outer city, it was still pretty extensive. As well, Ufa was constantly in a state of overcrowding, so she had people stacked on top of each other.

Anya didn’t have a computer, not even an aqualator, though there were some of those in the Ufa Dacha. She had a typewriter, a mechanical calculator, and three secretaries.

Vasilii Lyapunov was the only member of his family in Czar Mikhail’s Russia. They were a Gorchakov connection and were quite well off, but most of the family was less than enamored with Vladimir and Natasha and decided to stay home. They were probably all dead now, all but Vasilii. So if Czar Mikhail won, Vasilii Lyapunov would end up owning some fifteen villages and a small town. He was also quite a good mechanical engineer and was doing good work on the design of new steam engines and boilers. About half the steam engines in Ufa were designed by him. So were the steam engines used in the dirigibles. At the moment, he was working on what he called an airplane steam engine system. Not for a single engine plane, but for a larger plane. Specifically, Vasilii bought the plans for the Jupiter 4 and intended to put the boiler in the body, the condenser in the plenum, and the motors in the wings.

The main reason that Lyapunov had been spared a roommate was the money. Anya was one to keep her eye on the ball, and Vasilii’s credit account in the Russian National Bank, Ufa Branch, was huge.

It was also the reason he was allowed past her secretaries to see her in person. Vasilii came in, followed by a very pretty auburn haired woman a bit taller than average, but not much, even features, but the giveaway was the clothing. The cheap finery that tried to imitate the dress of a noblewoman, but failed to carry it off. Anya remembered being dressed that way.

“What can I do for you, Vasilii?”

“I’m going to need an extra bed for my rooms and a meal card for Miroslava.” He pointed at the girl.

“Why do you need another bed?” the girl, presumably Miroslava, asked.

“For you to sleep on,” Vasilii said, a blush crawling up his cheeks.

Miroslava was looking confused, and Anya—who had seen the world from both Miroslava’s and Vasilii’s positions—assumed that she wasn’t all that bright. She was certainly pretty enough, a lithe figure, wavy auburn hair under a povyazka, the traditional headgear of unmarried women.

“He’s trying to look noble,” Anya said. Then, looking at Vasilii’s blush, added, “Maybe he’s actually being noble.”

Miroslava looked at Anya and back at Vasilii and said, “He bought my contract. The one bed is fine.”

“You bought her contract.” Anya lifted an eyebrow. Vasilii was a bright shade of pink now.

“Ah . . . She’s a material witness in a murder investigation.”

“And that required that you buy her contract?” Anya asked, playing with him, then seeing how embarrassed he was, decided to let him at least a little off the hook. “It’s none of my business.”

“No, no! It’s— She’s a female Sherlock Holmes.”

Oddly enough, Anya did know who Sherlock Holmes was. Bernie Zeppi had mentioned him and his sidekick Doctor Watson several times, and she was aware of Vasilii’s obsession with murder mystery stories. As it happened, Anya preferred science fiction. At least when she had the time to read for pleasure, which wasn’t often. She looked at the woman again. She still didn’t look all that bright to Anya, but what could you tell just by looking? She looked back to Vasilii. “So, are you planning to be her Doctor Watson?”

“Why not?”

“Because you have the engine system for an airplane to design. Which is much more important than following her around while she comments on the strange thing the dog did in the night.”

It was, too. The drawback to dirigibles is simple. They are big. Very big and very fragile. Big makes them expensive and fragile means they rarely last long enough to pay for their construction, as proven by the loss of both the Czarina Evdokia and the Prince Alexi. Czarist Russia needed to transition from dirigibles to fixed-wing aircraft as soon as possible. And in spite of Bernie’s Dodge, internal combustion engine development kept running into quality control issues. Well, materials issues.

“I can do that too,” Vasilii insisted. And the truth was that Vasilii didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to. He was rich enough to sit on his butt for the next twenty years and never do a lick of work, so Anya let it go.

Anya wrote a quick note. “Take this to Damir, and he will get you set up.”

✽✽✽

Damir got them set up, including not just the meal card, but an account at the commissary represented by another card with her name on it and an amount that frankly staggered Miroslava.

Then they went to dinner in the cafeteria. Miroslava copied Vasilii’s selections, and copied his use of the up-time designed flatware. It wasn’t until they were seated and talking that he realized that Miroslava didn’t realize she could choose other options than he did.

Vasilii ate his borscht and considered the case. “We need to get another bullet to check against the one we found in the wall.”

“How will you find the gun it was fired from? There are a lot of guns in Ufa.”

“We have a suspect,” Vasilii said. “Well, Vera says her husband suspects a sniper. Which would fit with the copper-jacketed rounds.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know his name. We’ll go see Vera tomorrow and ask.”

✽✽✽

Back in Vasilii’s rooms after they had both showered, Vasilii worked at his desk while Miroslava went around and cleaned the room. The Ufa Dacha had electricity, but lacked lightbulbs, so they used oil lamps after sunset. And Vasilii’s drafting table had a set of three lamps with mirrors so that the surface was well lit. It also tilted as needed, and Vasilii used bits of gum to hold the sheets in place as he worked.

In just a few minutes Miroslava had Vasilii’s rooms in excellent order with everything put away. Vasilii worked for two hours on the designs and after a while Miroslava went over to watch him trying to figure out what he was doing. He was using an abacus, not because he didn’t have an adding machine. He did. And a slide rule. But he was used to the abacus. He’d used it since he was a kid. The other things were new, so what could be done on the abacus, he did that way.

He expected Miroslava to ask him what he was doing but she didn’t say a word while he worked.

She waited until he was finished, then he asked her, “Which side of the bed do you want?”

“You take your side. I will take the other.”

He shrugged and did so, blowing out the lamps on his way to bed. Then Miroslava took off her robe, folded it onto a chair, then stood before him nude.

“You don’t have to do that.” He stuttered looking away.

“You bought my contract. Is there something wrong with me?” Miroslava’s confidence in her attractiveness was a mile wide and half an inch deep. She’d been told for most of her life that the only reason for keeping a freak like her alive was because she was beautiful. She took great pride in her appearance, but it was more than that. Her attractiveness, her sex appeal, were issues of life and death. To be found unattractive was to be found dead in a ditch.

And the owner of her contract was looking away from her.

“No, it’s not that. You’re beautiful.” He glanced down. Miroslava followed his gaze and saw that at least a part of him was interested. “I want to, but you don’t have to.”

“You own my contract.” She reached into her bag, and pulled out a condom. “Besides, I like it. It feels good.” Then she climbed into bed next to him.

Location: Factory of Stefan Andreevich Ruzukov

Date: April 21, 1637, 8:30 AM

Miroslava considered Vasilii as they walked. He wasn’t inexperienced, but could benefit from some training. Of course, experience had taught her that attempting to tell men how to have sex was difficult to do without giving them offense, and could be dangerous, depending on the man. Breakfast that morning was scrambled eggs, warm black bread with butter, and cedar nut and black currant jam, all she could eat, which made it the best meal she’d eaten this year.

She wasn’t wearing her work clothes today. She was wearing her normal clothes. They were undyed broadcloth. A skirt, belted, and a blouse, covered with a cloak. The ground was starting to thaw in the morning sun, so her shoes were leaking a bit and her feet were cold and wet. Which they had been all winter.

They opened the door to the building, to see workmen busily putting the shop back together. It still wasn’t back in production yet, but they were getting there. A workman directed them to an office. Once they were in and the door closed, the amount of noise was much less.

“Good morning, Stefan,” Vasilii said. “Your wife asked me to look into the murder of Fiana.”

“She told me. What have you found?” Stefan was a big man, tall and broad with muscles on his muscles. He was swathed in linen bandages holding his left arm in place. He also had bandages on his head, but none of them seemed to keep him from working. Or maybe they did. He was here, after all, not out in the work room.

“The bullet that killed her,” Vasilii said.

Miroslava said nothing, because for a woman of her class, to speak out in public was to invite a beating. And though she was coming to trust Vasilii, she didn’t trust him fully yet. And she didn’t trust the big blacksmith at all.

“What good is that?”

“If we find the gun that fired it, we can prove that it was the gun.”

“How?” That led to a discussion of rifling, ballistic lands and grooves, and fingerprints that Miroslava took in like water to a dying plant. The notion that everything was unique, and knowing all the features of something let you tell it from all the others, fit her view of the world perfectly.

“I can give you the person who did the shooting if you can prove it. Or, at least, my workman can.” He called out and the door was opened. A much smaller man stood in it. “Petr, find Egor and send him in.”

It took a few minutes, while Vasilii asked Stefan about how the work was coming, and Stefan explained what they were doing and why. Then Egor came in.

Miroslava recognized Egor, but he didn’t even notice her. Miroslava wasn’t unattractive, but when not in her work clothing, and not wearing the white makeup and the bright red lip gloss, she looked a lot different. Her regular clothes did more to hide her figure than to show it.

Egor gave them Feliks Pavlovich’s name, and that seemed wrong to Miroslava. She wasn’t quite sure why, but there was something wrong. Not about what he said happened in the club, but about what he assumed happened later. It didn’t quite fit with what she knew about Feliks, but she wasn’t sure how.

Location: Ufa Kremlin, Barracks Area

Captain Pushka Lazarivich Anosov wasn’t happy to see them. “Feliks is a good soldier and an excellent shot. What proof do you have?” A repeat of the explanation of ballistics, plus the invoking of Anya and Bernie Zeppi still didn’t provide the rifle’s release. But they did get the commander’s assurance that the AK4.7 sniper rifle would be locked up.

Location: Ufa Kremlin, Apartments of Bernie Zeppi

Bernie was kissing Natasha when the knock came. Vladimir had only just left and they had hoped for a few minutes of privacy.

They looked at each other, shook their heads, and said, in unison, “Every single time.”

Then Bernie opened the door. “Vasilii? What are you doing here and why are you trying to ruin my love life?”

Vasilii blinked, then saw Natasha and blushed. Natasha was wearing makeup, but not the white pancake makeup that was popular in Moscow before the Ring of Fire. She and the czarina now wore makeup in the up-timer style, mostly gathered from magazines located in Grantville.

Miroslava looked at the pink cheeks and slightly smudged subdued red of the Princess’ lip gloss and wondered how she could get ahold of makeup like that. It looked like she wasn’t wearing makeup at all, but was just naturally beautiful. Or at least that was what Miroslava thought it would look like, if it hadn’t just been smudged.

“I need you to get Czar Mikhail to issue a warrant for the rifle of Feliks Pavlovich.”

Bernie looked at Natasha and sighed. “Come in and tell us all about it. The mood is ruined anyway.”

Telling all about it took a while, and involved introducing and explaining Miroslava, which was complicated by the fact that the assumption everyone made wasn’t totally inaccurate. It was simply not all of it. “She’s the one who figured out where the bullet was. And where the shooter was, as well.”

That led to more conversation and Bernie pointing out, “You need to teach her to read. With her memory, there’s a good chance she’ll learn fast.”

It took almost two hours, and the conclusion was that, for this instance, they would get an order from the czar, but they also needed to come up with a way for the not yet formed judiciary to issue warrants in the czar’s name for the collecting of evidence, and some way of assuring that the evidence would be returned to its rightful owner.

And even at that, Czar Mikhail was busy. They wouldn’t be getting the warrant until tomorrow.

3 reviews for A Holmes For the Czar

  1. William Scott (verified owner)

    A great sequel to The Volga Rules. I hope we see more of the team of Vasilii and Miroslava in the future.

  2. Hal Porter (verified owner)

    Lots of fun, new characters a little twisted, lots of fun

  3. larry hovland

    If you like the Bernie Zeppi in Russia Saga you’ll love this book. I truly enjoyed the story of people who orbit Berni and the Czar.

Add a review

Upcoming Events

  1. CapClave 2021

    October 1 - October 3
  2. ICON 46

    October 15 - October 17