Russian Amerika

A STRIKING ORIGINAL NOVEL OF ALTERNATE HISTORY

Alaska, 1987. In a world where Alaska is still a Russian possession, charter captain Grigoriy Grigorievich has a stained past–as a major in the Czar’s Troika Guard he was cashiered for disobeying a direct order.

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A STRIKING ORIGINAL NOVEL OF ALTERNATE HISTORY

Alaska, 1987. In a world where Alaska is still a Russian possession, charter captain Grigoriy Grigorievich has a stained past–as a major in the Czar’s Troika Guard he was cashiered for disobeying a direct order.

Now, ten years later, Grisha charters out to a Cossack and discovers his past has not only caught up with him, but is about to violently change his future, and the future of all nine of the nations of North America as well.

Revolution against an oppressor, continent-wide alliances, and an epic struggle of a people to be free–spanning Alaska from the Southeastern Inside Passage to the frozen Yukon river, this is an epic tale of one man’s journey of redemption and courage to face old fears, new challenges, and help birth a new nation.

Chapter 1: Clarence Strait, Russian Amerika – July 1987

Etolin Island lay to starboard, and Prince of Wales Island stood fine on the horizon to port. All six meters of Pravda tossed like a cork in a pond. The graying seas broke into spraying foam at two meters and the wind shrilled warning.

Charter Captain Grigoriy Grigorievich couldn’t drop anchor here, nor could he just abandon the wheel and go below to mediate what was sure to turn into rape, at the very least. Both passengers argued below in the main cabin. He popped open the hidden compartment on the console and poked the tiny phone into his ear so quickly he hurt himself.

“No!” Valari said.

“You will do this with me for two reasons,” Karpov said, sounding like a schoolteacher. “First, it will give us both comfort in this storm. Secondly, if you don’t do it willingly, I will beat you and take you by force. This is inevitable; besides, you used to enjoy me.”

“I was lying, you swine!” she shrieked. An oddly familiar “thonk” came over the phone, and Grisha realized that someone had just been hit with a bottle. A large mass fell on the deck.

He smiled and put the earphone away. Valari was beginning to appeal to him. She raged up the steps, the vodka bottle clutched by its neck. Throwing it over the side, she grabbed the railing, braced herself on the heaving deck, and shouted at him.

“I wish to make a formal protest to be entered in the log!”

He gestured with his chin as he clutched the wheel with both hands. “It’s right up there,” he yelled over the building wind. “Make the entry yourself.”

“You’re the captain.”

“Do you want to take over?”

Hanging on to the railing with both hands she took in the sea around them. Huge swells of slate-colored water veined with submerged foam, like fat in a rich man’s steak, roiled up around them, rising and dropping with unimaginable hydraulic force. Wind ripped loose foam off wave tops and hurled it at the boat where it smacked the hull and topsides like thrown sand.

Pravda rolled  from side to side and pitched up and down as she struggled from one wave to the next. Prince of Wales Island now lay behind a seamless wall of driven water and impenetrable cloud.

“By the saints, no,” she said, almost inaudible, swaying with the dance of the boat. She raised her voice. “Are we going to get out of this?” Water sluiced across the deck and gurgled into the scuppers as the boat labored through the shrieking elements.

“Of course!” He forced himself to smile and licked salt spray from his lips.

“You don’t lie well. Tell the truth.”

“We’re not far from Fort Dionysus. If the storm doesn’t get any worse, we will make it.”

“And if the storm gets worse?”

He shrugged. “Figure it out for yourself. We won’t.”

“Shit! This was such a stupid idea! Now we’re all going to die. If I get out of this, I’m going to get a new job.”

“Why are you here?” Grisha shouted to be heard over the storm.

She gave him a level look and smiled. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. The less you know, the better off you’ll be.”

Grisha repressed the flare of anger.

Karpov, blood streaming down the side of his head, erupted out of the companionway, slid across the soaking deck on his knees and tackled Valari. She screamed and pounded his head with her fists.

“What are you doing, you ass?” she screamed at him. “Have you lost your mind?”

Still on his knees, the beefy man gripped her shirt with one hand, slapped her face with the other. Blood arced from her cut lip. The small sound from deep in her throat jerked open Grisha’s gut anger.

Holding the wheel with one hand, he turned and snap kicked Karpov on the side of the head as hard as he could. Still clutching Valari, Karpov flew backward, and his head smashed into the fishing gear compartment. The door to the locker swung open as he flopped on the deck, spasming as he tried to retain consciousness.

Valari squirmed out from under Karpov’s twitching mass. “Thank you, Captain Grisha. I think he would have really hurt me this time.” She staggered across the deck and hugged him. He put one arm around her. “I owe you for that one,” she said.

With a gasp, she was wrenched out of his grasp and flung across the bridge deck by a seething Karpov. The large man didn’t even look back. He stood, glared at Grisha, rain and blood mingling on his face as bruises and lumps purpled and thickened.

“I relieve you of command!” he said with a growl. He swung his massive fist at Grisha’s face.

Grisha released the wheel, ducked under the swing, and put all his weight behind a two-fisted uppercut to Karpov’s solar plexus. Air whoofed out of the larger man and he staggered back three steps. Grisha kicked him in the crotch as hard as he could. Karpov doubled over with a moan and fell hard .

Grisha grabbed the spinning wheel and gave his attention to straightening the boat, which had turned broadside to the wind. Pravda lurched sideways off a wave top and slid to the bottom of the trough with a crash. He felt thankful the boat hadn’t rolled down the liquid incline.

Numbingly cold seawater crashed into the open bridge, soaking it and everyone on it. Gear spilled from the fishing locker and slid around the deck. On the other side of the bridge, Valari pulled herself to her feet and clung to the railing, shivering from the cold and shock.

Karpov shook his head and swung from the deck to bury his fist in Grisha’s stomach, smashed him against the bulkhead and knocked him breathless. He slid down on the deck, gasping. The boat again put beam to the wind and rolled  starboard, hung for an impossibly long time before it rolled back to port.

More seawater inundated them. The bridge deck swirled with the increasing water the scuppers couldn’t handle.

“Wheel!” Grisha gasped. “Get the wheel!”

Karpov threw himself on Grisha and hit him with three hammering blows. The vessel lurched in the moaning gale and crunched into a trough. Crockery shattered in the galley. Grisha twisted his body and threw Karpov off him.

He rolled over and pushed himself up, tried to hit Karpov but couldn’t find a target the few times he could put any strength behind his fist. Valari grabbed the wheel and turned it back and forth without result.

“Into the wind!” he screamed. “Turn into the wi–”

Karpov’s fist drove the oxygen from his lungs again. Grisha crashed back on the deck. The heavy man straddled him and began to choke him with both hands.

Grisha stared at the hate-filled eyes in the bloody face. He dimly realized this was the first fight he’d been in since he got married. He felt his windpipe crackle and knew he was going to die soon.

The lack of air became more pressing than the pain. He tried to struggle but his arms lacked strength, pinned under the Russian’s massive weight. Spots swam red before his eyes.

Karpov lurched, his jaw dropped open, and his eyes lost focus. The terrible crushing at Grisha’s throat eased as the man collapsed on him. The medicinal scent of vodka mingled with Karpov’s last shuddering breath.

Karpov  rolled off Grisha and flopped on the deck, arms flung wide, then slid to the back of the boat with the quarter meter of water running across the deck. Valari pulled back the foot she used to push the corpse and braced against the console. Blood and rain dripped off the steel spike on the halibut club in her hands.

“Get up and drive this goddamned thing!” she screamed, waving the club.

Even though Grisha felt more like lying there and going to sleep, he rolled over and dragged himself up into the captain’s chair, thankfully bolted to the deck. Pravda rolled  to starboard again, and he grasped the wheel, turned to follow the roll, prayed the tiller would grab enough water to keep from completely rolling over. Sea water seeped over the starboard gunwale as the boat pushed into multiple tons of brine.

Pravda edged into the keening wind, the laboring diesel barely audible, and slowly, reluctantly, creaked back to port. His head and throat ached. Every breath felt like fire. The spots dancing in front of his eyes evolved into raindrops.

“This isn’t good weather for fishing,” he said in a croak and shook his head. He pointed the bow into the wind and increased the throttle. Pravda surged against the storm and made headway.

He estimated the waves to be ten meters from trough to top. It hurt to swallow.

Valari huddled against the far bulkhead, braced and sobbing. “What are we going to do?”

They were soaked to the skin. The ocean temperature rarely warmed more than eight or ten degrees above freezing. With the squall in excess of fifty knots, they  were in the depths of hypothermia.

“We’re going to live!” he said , and winced at the pain in his throat. “We beat him, we can beat the storm!”

“I’m so cold!” she wailed.

“Go below, first locker on your right. Coats. Bring me one.”

The few minutes she took seemed like hours to him. She reemerged bundled in a coat too large  and handed him a foul weather jacket. He shrugged into it and knew he was going to be all right.

“We m-must get rid of that,” she said, nodded toward Karpov’s bloody body. She was all business again, the tears gone but teeth still chattering. “B-but how?”

“Why do we have to get rid of him?”

“You f-fool! We’ve k-killed one of the Czar’s Co-Cossacks! The Okhana will hang us both.”

“Find something heavy,” he said. “Tie it to him. Once we’re out of the weather, we’ll dump him over. Tell them he fell over the side when he was drunk. They’ll believe us.”

She gave him a look of respect and something else—he didn’t know what. Despite the heavy weather, she conducted a quick search, and drug out Karpov’s heavy tackle kit.

“Will this do?” Color had returned to her face, and she no longer shivered. She only held the rail with one hand and didn’t watch her feet. Grisha decided she was a natural sailor.

“Open it. He brought that on board. I want to see what’s in it.”

Valari grabbed the halibut club and brought it down with a crash. The broken padlock skittered across the deck. She unsnapped the clasps and threw the lid open. Oily metal glistened from the box.

“What the hell?” Grisha said.

Valari pulled out a gleaming pistol, twisted it about while she examined it and released the rail to pull the slide open to check the chamber. She had handled weapons before. Grisha felt his stomach drop. Other pistols rested in the box.

“Kharitikoff, nine-millimeter,” she announced. “Holds a clip of seven rounds, accurate up to twenty meters. An excellent weapon.”

Over the last seven years, Grisha had carried many illegal items on his boat, but never this. He had two rifles locked in their rack down in the main cabin, but pistols?

“Do you know what they do to you if they catch you with an unauthorized handgun?” Grisha asked, horror in his voice. “They take your dominant hand off at the wrist!”

She looked at him for a long moment, then returned the pistol to the box and shut it. “Where’s the rope?”

Grisha pointed to another locker. “In there, but for now just hang on.”

The boat dropped into another trough as he worked his way toward land.

Chapter 2: Four Days Earlier

It didn’t take Grisha long to realize this was the charter trip from hell. He’d puzzled at it ever since the broker called to book boat and skipper for a five-day fishing trip to New Archangel, the capitol of Russian Amerika, 350 versts west. Most fishermen arrived at the dock the same time he did, eager to pursue the Chavych, or Chinook salmon, or the monstrous halibut that could grow larger than a barn door.

Grisha arrived just after sunrise. The summer sun hung two hand-widths above tree-covered Mt. Robare when he finally spied the big man lumbering down the dock toward him. The client dressed like a fisherman, complete with trolling pole and tackle kit, but he walked like a Cossack—arrogantly precise in a ruler-straight line and exuding the certainty he owned the world. At the edge of the dock, he stopped and stared into Grisha’s eyes, spoke Russian. “You are Charter Captain Grigoriy Grigorievich, yes?”

“Yes,” Grisha replied in English. “Are you my charter to New Archangel?”

The man casually threw his tackle kit over the gunwale. When Grisha caught it, he almost collapsed with the surprising weight of the locked metal box. The man climbed on deck and looked around.

“You have vodka on board?”

Grisha glanced at the chronometer in the console, it was half past eight of the morning. Stale sweat and bowel gas eddied around the large man, who dropped into the other seat bolted to the bridge deck.

Grisha watched the man look around at his nautical surroundings, obviously for the first time. So, what was in the tackle box? This was patently a smuggling run and would provide much more money at the end of the trip than previously agreed.

“Yes, and beer, even some California whiskey.”

The man regarded Grisha with baleful, piggish eyes. “That is against the Czar’s law, unless you have paid the duty, of course.”

“Of course!” Grisha suppressed a grin while stowing the tackle box, which he estimated at ten kilos, with his own fishing gear.

Like this walrus ever worried about duty taxes!

Maintaining a professional mien, he slipped over the side onto the dock. “We’re late. I’ll get us underway.” Quickly, he untied both lines and stepped aboard.

Grisha edged the boat into gear and eased the throttle forward. “Do you have a name?”  Other than pig-eyes?

The boat left the slip and angled toward the channel. A warm breeze rippled the water and the sky stretched bereft of clouds as far as the eye could see. A charter skipper couldn’t ask for better omens.

“I am Karpov. How long does it take to get to T’angass?”

“Depends on how much fishing we do on the way and how fast we go.” Grisha snapped his head around and stared at Karpov. “Wait a minute, I thought we were going to New Archangel.”

“There has been a change of plans. I wish to go to T’angass,” Karpov said. “We will fish on the way back. At maximum speed, how long will it take us to get to get there?”

“Today and two more days if we don’t run into bad weather. If you’re in a hurry, why don’t you fly?”

“I enjoy the sea air. Where is the vodka?”

“In the galley.” Grisha motored past the harbor patrol, careful not to show any wake. So far, he wasn’t making all that much on this run, and a fine would put him in the hole, as well as add stamps to his license. Collect enough stamps and the license becomes worthless. He loved the symmetry of Russian law.

Karpov disappeared into the cabin. Grisha decided he had a smuggler on his hands. Smuggling paid a lot better than charter fishing trips, so he would patiently wait for the proposal.

A ruble was a ruble, what the hell. His wife’s face flashed through his mind, and he slapped the wheel.

No time for that now. It’s either better when I return or it’s over. Small, angry teeth bit inside his gut. They chewed at him a great deal these days. He felt pissed at himself.

“Sorry I slapped you,” he murmured to the wheel, “I was aiming for someone else.”

“Do you Creoles talk to yourselves all the time?” Karpov asked as he clumped up out of the galley. The bottle of vodka looked small in his wide, beefy hand.

“I talk to my boat when the notion strikes me,” he said, edging his words with a glint of steel. Grisha forced himself calm. This wasn’t the old days, even if Kazina didn’t want him anymore, but if this tub of suet kept up this “Creole” crap, there would be trouble.

“You need diversions on your boat for your passengers. Perhaps a Creole woman, heh?” Karpov laughed and drank from the bottle.

Grisha ground his teeth. It was going to be a long trip.

The boat burbled past the breakwater and into Akku Channel.  He pushed the throttle forward, Pravda’s cutwater surged up onto step, that portion of the boat where the vee of the hull flattens into a plane for moving at high speed, and raced cleanly toward the distant tip of Douglas Island.

Grisha thought it humorous that an island in Russian Amerika bore the name of an English religious leader. Custom in the old days of exploration decreed  all nations would honor the wish of whomever named it first. British Captain George Vancouver had  finished what his former skipper, Captain James Cook, had started, and charted the entire southeast Alaska coast in the 1790s before Imperial Russia completely dominated the region.

The constant rumble of stamp mills faded behind Pravda. They passed the whaling station on the island, scaring up part of the large flock of seagulls scavenging scraps. The station’s stench caught them for an instant before the boat burst through the invisible miasma.

“Smells like the Creole part of town,” Karpov said.

Abruptly, Grisha pulled the throttle back to neutral and Pravda’s bow dipped with the sudden loss of power. The boat drifted.

“Why do you stop?”

“There will be an understanding before I go any farther. I am the captain and owner of this boat. You are my passenger. “Despite the fact my father was a poor Russian laborer, and my mother was a Kolosh, you will show me the respect you would for any citizen, especially, a boat captain. If you do not, I will return you to port so you can find a different charter to take you south.”

“It would not be a smart thing for you to do. You would miss making a great deal of money. Also, your license might be forfeit.”

“And your superior might ask many questions why I brought you back. Perhaps he has relatives who are Creole or works with them. The Czar’s ukase of 1968 said there would be no more prejudice because of one’s birthright. That’s nineteen years, you should have heard about it by now. I don’t want any more bigoted shit from you.”

Karpov’s squinting eyes receded even further into his face as he took another long drink.

“Drive your boat, I will say no more about your unfortunate station in life.” As the beefy Russian lifted the bottle to his lips, Grisha pushed the throttle forward. Pravda reared like a Cossack’s horse and charged across the water. Karpov rocked back in his chair and vodka spilled down his neck and jacket front.

“You dung-eating Cre–, you ass!” Karpov shouted. “I would punish you, but for the fact I need to get to T’angass as soon as possible.”

Grisha ignored him, a smile flickered at the edge of his mouth. More bullshit: if he wanted to get south as soon as possible, the swine wouldn’t have hired a small boat. His practiced eyes swept over the instrument panel and his mind ticked off the levels, amperage, rpm, and hull speed without thinking about them.

Kazina’s face occupied his thoughts. Her dark hair framed high cheeks and nearly jade eyes. Lilacs always attended her.

When they married just under six years ago, he knew fortune had finally smiled on him. She epitomized the crowning accomplishment of his climb back from the lowest strata of the Czar’s American possession.

The illiterate son of serfs, his father married a Kolosh woman of the Kootz-neh-woo people from Admiralty Island. As a Creole, a person of mixed race, Grisha found himself  shunned by the children of low caste Russians as well as by the children of the Auk and Taku Kolosh, even his own cousins.

At an early age, he learned the three essentials of survival: a quick mind, lightning fists, and fast feet. After leaving the priest’s school at fourteen, he crewed on a fishing boat. At seventeen he developed into a handsome combination of the ethnicities he represented.

Grisha’s virginity went to a pretty barmaid during an equinox party. Women in every port of the Alexandr Archipelago watched for him. His idea of a good time  involved a drunken fight after which his opponent had to be carried away.

One night, the fight was with his own skipper. Grisha won the fight but lost his berth. The next morning, he joined the Troika Guard, the “Russian Foreign Legion.”

Originally, all the officers were Russian, but that had changed over the years. However, all the enlisted were either minority races from the vast Russian Empire or foreigners. Never had he been challenged on every level of his being, nor felt the degree of camaraderie, as he did in the Guard.

The Russian Army was political, complete with intrigue whose genesis went back centuries. The Troika Guard was tough, demanding, and received all the hard, dirty jobs. In essence, they were mercenary troops—which suited Grisha just fine.

He loved the Troika Guard. Starting as a sub-private he learned quickly and made his way upward to command sergeant in less than five years. His men loved him.

At the age of twenty-five, he received a battlefield commission as well as the Imperial Order of Valor, the second highest decoration the Russian Empire awarded her soldiers and sailors. Four years later, came French Algeria and dishonor.

His loathing of the Russian government began then and grew over the years. Dealing with the day-to-day officiousness of Russian Amerika gnawed at him, but, like all other non-Russian residents, he endured.

The mustering-out money bought him his home and his boat but cost him his self-respect. He started over, going back to the things he learned before he had killed his first man. He returned to the life he knew before the Troika Guard, fiercely holding onto the freedom of being his own boss. After a couple years fishing, smuggling, and building up a charter business, he met Kazina at a party.

She was a twenty-six-year-old bookkeeper with the Russian Amerika Company. Her extraordinary beauty lured him. Her intelligence hooked him. She made it plain she was on her way up and had no interest in a has-been.

He pointed out he worked for himself and made a good living. They married when he was thirty-two, still the master of Pravda, a ten-meter fishing boat. He rigged the boat for sport fishing, which had turned into big business along the Inside Passage. Financial opportunities occurred for skippers who knew how to lade cargo quietly and get out of port quickly.

At thirty-nine he could pass for a man ten years younger. Wiry and lean, except for a slight paunch, he stood 1.7 meters and possessed open good looks which still attracted women who appreciated adventure.

Now, after six, almost seven, years of marriage, Kazina seemed distant. Grisha’s past attempts to interact with her friends always came off stiff and wooden. None were Creole. He detected or expected their silent racism and ceased his efforts.

The marriage had been on the ebb for some time before tall, blonde, Kommander Fedorov knocked on their door with an “Imperial Order for Lodging an Officer of the Czar.” Grisha’s small chart room became the sacrifice for the officer’s comfort and fanned the embers of his anger at the government.  The sudden animation he perceived in Kazina proved the heaviest burden.

Until Fedorov arrived, Grisha entertained hope  he could find compromise with his beautiful wife.  She hadn’t even said good-bye when he left for this charter. As a commander of troops, he  learned the necessity of cutting one’s losses, but this was much harder. The tiny teeth in his stomach bit so hard  he groaned aloud.

“Go ahead, talk to your boat,” Karpov said with a slur. “I’m going to take a nap. Wake me when the evening meal is prepared.”

As the burly man staggered down the steps into the cabin, Grisha steered sharply around imaginary flotsam, knowing the Cossack would lose his balance in the narrow passageway. He heard Karpov crash into the companionway bulkhead.

“Damn your black ass!” Karpov’s voice was muffled by distance and engine noise. Grisha smiled, trying to make it a victory.

Two days later, after pounding south at his top speed of 24 knots, Grisha still waited for enlightenment. Maybe they would acquire contraband tomorrow in T’angass?

Much smaller than Akku, Fort Dionysus claimed to be the second oldest settlement in Southeast Alaska, after New Arkhangel. Grisha had fished out of the small town in his youth and still had friends there.

He pulled into the fuel dock, clicked the throttle back, and switched off the engine, letting the boat glide alongside the wooden dock. He grabbed the bowline, and  jumped onto the bobbing dock to deftly loop two turns around a cleat.

As soon as he dropped the line, he grasped the boat rail to keep the stern from yawing away from the slip. The station worker came out of his small shack as Grisha snubbed down the stern line.

“What ya runnin’?” The man said, and then blinked with surprise. “Grisha? That really you?”

“Alexi! By God, you’re working a real job.”

Alexi’s face sported new lines and old scars. A limp now slowed him. He looked thinner than ever.

“Whose boat you workin’ here?”

“Mine.” Grisha said.

“So that’s why you quit drinkin’ with us, you were savin’ your money.”

“You got it, Alexi. How have you been?”

Alexi’s grin dampened down to a polite grimace. “Getting by. You know, job here, job there, working as crew when the Chinook are running, or the czar krab fishery gets good. That don’t happen much no more. Dimitri offered me a day job running his fuel dock, so I took it.”

The diminished man ran an expert eye over Pravda. “Nice boat. Your home port is Akku these days?”

“Yeah. Even got a marriage that’s going sour.”

Alexi stepped back into the shack, looked over his shoulder at Grisha. “Diesel or mix?”

“Diesel.”

“So,” Alexi said when fuel gurgled through the hose into the boat. “You got any kids?”

“No. All I have is my Pravda, here.”

“Why’d you name it after something that doesn’t exist?” Alexi asked with a flash of bitterness.

“She’s the only truth I know,” Grisha answered.

The boat rocked and Karpov came out on deck. “What is this place?”

Alexi grinned up at him. “Welcome to Fort Dionysus, home to promyshlenniks since 18–”

“I care nothing about fur hunter dens. Is food to be had here?”

“There’s a lodge just up the street from the end of that dock,” Alexi said, jabbing a thumb toward the shack.

Karpov gave Grisha a sour glance. “You will come and tell me when you are ready to leave, Captain Grigorievich.” Then he stomped up the ramp to solid ground.

“Thought you was done with the military,” Alexi stared at him under raised brows. “What you doing with a fucking Cossack like that?”

“If I knew, I’m not sure I could tell you, old friend.”

After Grisha paid for the fuel, he moved Pravda to transient moorage, then found his way up to the Canada House Lodge. Despite the late hour, the sun barely touched the mountains on Zarembo Island. Diners laughed, drank, and ate on the screened-in deck.

Grisha found a table, ordered, and had just swallowed his second mouthful of beer when Karpov loomed over him.

“When do we leave this place?”

“I’d like to get underway at 0700 tomorrow, if you can be on board that early.”

Karpov stalked into the lodge.

Why was the man pretending to be thicker than he really was? If they were smuggling something in the tackle box, when would Karpov broach the subject? Did the Russian plan to set me up as a dupe, or think he could endanger boat and captain without a cut of the profits?

The next morning, he glanced at the cloudless horizon, sucked hot tea through the sugar cube clenched between his teeth, and eyed the brass-cased chronometer on the console. The sharp, iodine-tinged smell of tidal flats filled his nostrils. At 0658, just as he allowed his tongue to seek out the final sweet granules, Karpov plodded down the steep ramp.

Fall and break your neck, pig-eyes. I’ll tell your keeper you didn’t know what a low tide was.

Karpov did not fall.

Without a word, Grisha untied the boat and pushed off. He wanted to make T’angass by early afternoon. Three days of sunshine unnerved seamen in this part of Alaska. After a time it felt natural, and if one took good weather for granted, one would pay for it.

***

Chapter 3: Tolstoi Bay, Prince of Wales Island

Pravda danced and jerked on the anchor line. The small cove on Prince of Wales Island sheltered them from the brunt of the storm. Grisha took a firm grasp under Karpov’s shoulders.

“Ready?”

Valari nodded.

“Hup!”

They swung the stiffing body off the deck and up onto the gunwale at the stern, balancing it carefully. The memory of butchering hogs flashed through his mind.

“Okay, I’ll hold him, put the box on his chest.”

She bent over and grabbed the box tied to the corpse with a short line, sat it in the middle of Karpov’s chest.

“Push!” Grisha ordered.

The body splashed into the water and spinning in a slow circle behind the heavy box of weapons, sank out of sight.

Numb lassitude spread over him, and he relaxed for the first time in three days.  Valari pressed against him, her hands moving over his face, chest, groin.

“I need you,” she said. “Right now.”

With a tired smile, he pulled her into the cabin.

***

The bright sky held no wind when he woke. For a long moment, he lay in the bunk beside the woman and collected his thoughts. He tried to figure out how he could have changed the outcome.

This charter was set up by the government, even he knew that. Would the Okhana believe their concocted story about the loss of one of their agents?

“What’s the matter, Captain Lover?”

Grisha turned his head and looked at her. The now-familiar mouth smiled, lips parted slightly as if anticipating a kiss but Valari’s eyes held a hardness unaffected through murder and sex.

He’d seen eyes like hers only a couple of times. They belonged to desperate men whose only hope lay with the legal benediction of the Troika Guard. Both had finished badly; one shot for cowardice and the other killed in a barroom brawl.

He had let this situation get out of his control. With this woman he had helped murder a man and finally cheated on his wife. Too much, too fast. He knew nothing about her, yet she held his life in her hands. Amazing how an orgasm could clear the mind.

“What are we going to do now?” he asked.

“He got drunk and fell over the side during the storm.” Her eyes searched his. “Isn’t that what you said last night?”

“Yes, but…” Grisha licked his suddenly dry lips, “…you must attest to what I say, no matter what. Agreed?”

“Da.” Valari’s eyes narrowed, and her mouth flattened. “You must be very convincing and not waver.”

“I can do that. You worked for him, or with him, isn’t there someone you could talk to, and make this be all right?”

Something deep in her eyes shifted and for a moment he thought he saw triumph before they became veiled. “Just who do you think I am?”

“I know you’re an agent for the government. I know Karpov was someone you reported to. There’s much I don’t know.

“Why did they hire a boat to bring you to New Arkhangel when flying would have been much more expedient? Why did Karpov hire me?” He felt angry. “Why, at my age, is everything in my life suddenly out of control?”

“I cannot tell you more than I already have. If you do not wish to face the Okhana, we have two options. We can turn ourselves in and tell the truth, which would mean the gallows for both of us.”

“For stopping him from raping you? For saving us all from drowning because he imperiled this craft?”

“They rarely believe survivors who do not bring back a corpse.”

“He fell over the side. We were in a storm, right?

“Or we can go to California, ask for political asylum, and start our lives over.”

“Political asylum? Who are we to ask for that?”

“I’m an espionage agent for Imperial Russia, you are my lover. They would give us asylum.”

He allowed himself to think about it, to savor the idea like a bite of potato salad or a mouthful of good ale. His marriage was finished, and he didn’t want to be in the same small town where Kazina would be showing off her new Russian husband. He would forfeit the house but if the authorities refused to believe them, he would also forfeit his life.

He had to depend on Valari. Of course, she said she owed him, but he couldn’t bring himself to trust her. A small part of his brain pointed out this would be a new adventure, something he had sorely missed since leaving the Troika Guard.

He couldn’t go on smuggling forever.

“We’ll need money,” he said.

“Do you have any?”

“Yes. I’ve put away half my earnings for three years now. At first, it was for my children,” he turned his head and stared toward the overhead, focused on an image infinitely far away. “Then it was for my escape.”

“How much?”

“Enough to live on for a year.”

“It’s on the boat?”

“No. It’s in my workshop behind my house at Akku.”

“Where your wife is,” Valari said.

“And her lover,” he agreed.

“Check the weather,” she said, smiling.

“I don’t understand it,” he said, staring at the high cloud cover where blue peeked through in spots. “Yesterday the radio said it would be worse by this morning.”

She laughed behind him. “How often are they correct?”

He grinned and snapped on the radio. The low-pressure system had inexplicably shifted far to the north and west where the storm now pounded from Kodiak Island to sprawling St. Nicholas, the huge military bastion of Russian Amerika on Cook’s Inlet.

Good, I hope the Russian-Amerika Company offices all wash out to sea.

They ran north as fast as he dared push the boat. Grisha settled into an apprehensive anticipation. Something about his feelings struck a chord in his memory.

He was again a frightened five-year-old, who watched his drunken father beat his mother. His mother grunted with the blows, tried to cover her face and chest. Grisha’s fear for his mother overcame self-preservation and he attacked his father.

He pounded on his father with small fists. The next thing he knew, his mother was bathing his face with cold water. Pitr Grigorievich had knocked him out, realized the monstrousness of his actions, and fled into the night.

They had waited together, fearful and expectant, for the man to return and for it all to begin again. Which it did.

Grisha shook his head at the vividness of the memory. He knew he still harbored old anger for his father, but he thought the fear long vanquished. And how was this like that?

They spent the night at transient moorage in a small settlement on Mitkof Island. Fuel cost more there, but Grisha didn’t want to run into anyone he knew. Not that Valari let him get too far from the double bunk in the bow and her insatiable needs.

By 0900 the next morning they were on the last leg of their trip. The fair weather held for the entire day, and they made good time. Akku Channel lay quiet and empty in the late evening when they rounded the south end of Douglas Island.

The stamp mills sat silent; something that only happened on Christmas Day and the Czar’s birthday. The last glow of light reflected on the water.  Fireworks shouted across the sky as they neared town.

“What are they celebrating, a local holiday?” Valari asked.

Grisha thought hard. “No. There’s no holiday in early July. I don’t know what’s going on.”

He slowed as they passed under the bridge, but no patrol boats lurked in their usual spots. They idled up to the fuel dock, and he tied the boat while she stepped into the office.

“There’s nobody here.”

Laughter and music drifted down from the Harbor Hotel. Fireworks popped and whistled above them; the acrid stink of gunpowder drifted on the air. Grisha shrugged and filled the fuel tanks.

“This bothers me,” Valari said. “I want to know what’s happening.”

He moved Pravda over to her normal berth as full darkness settled over an unusually boisterous Akku.

“You wait here. I’ll get the money, and we’ll go look at California.”

“Be careful, Grigoriy,” she whispered, then kissed him.

He hurried away, and wondered where they would be a year from now. From half a block away, he could see  every light in his house blazed. People milled about, laughing and drinking.

A party. She’s having a party.

He had known all along marrying a woman fourteen years his junior was not a good idea.

He crept close enough to see Kazina radiant on the arm of Kommander Fedorov. She wore a dress new to him, and the Kommander stood resplendent in full dress uniform. They made a handsome couple.

Surprisingly, the teeth didn’t bite at him. He tensed in the old way, but they were gone.

It’s over, and I don’t care anymore, he thought. A new adventure waits for me.

The sense of freedom left him giddy. He hurried around the house to his well-built shop. Quietly he slipped in through the door and stopped, pulse drumming in his head.

He wasn’t alone. Barely discernible noises exuded from the dark, sawdust-scented space. He peered at the workbench but could see nothing in the dim light other than a few tools out of place.

Three large electric saws dominated the center of the room. Sorted wood filled racks against the back wall, and his drafting table and books loomed on the left. The only thing against the right wall was his cot.

“Oh, Georg! Oh, my GOD!” exclaimed a young, feminine voice. Grisha grinned despite himself and moved off to the left.

He had hidden the money in his file cabinet. Just a few more steps…

His foot hit a can of nails and knocked it over like a thunderclap in a hospital ward.

The woman gasped, and a male voice boomed out, “Who’s there? Identify yourself. I’m armed!”

“Sorry, friend,” Grisha said in a normal tone of voice. “I didn’t realize there was anyone in here until after I had shut the door. Then I tried to get my property without bothering you.”

“I didn’t hear anyone come in!” the man said.

***

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