A Siberian Lesson

Carmen

Queen of Crime
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Something enlightening happened to me along the tracks of the Trans-Siberian. Awaiting departure from Sverdlovsk station, I was in my seat, reading an English-translated copy of 'Crime and Punishment'. Gratifyingly, I discovered the 1938 edition inside a used bookshop in Yekaterinburg.

I was barely past the introduction when an older man approached me. He looked distinctively local with a rounded nose, clear eyes, and a smile that worked genuinely to appear through his timeworn skin.

"Eto myesto, prinyatykh?" In Russian, he asked if the seat next to mine was available, then he repeated the same question in French. "Est-ce que la place est prise?"

"Non," I returned his French as politely as possible, "s’il vous plaît."

"Merci, c'est gentil," he sat down with a heavy sigh and pointed at the book in my hand. "En anglaise? You know, that doesn't read so good translated."

I apprehended that this was no ordinary Russian. Within the past few sentences, he had spoken three different languages. Some upper-class Russians command two, with French being the preferred foreign tongue.

"I am in no position to be reading it in Russian, I'm afraid," I acknowledged his attempt to start a conversation then showed my lack of interest by returning to my book. It would be fifty-five kilometers from Yekaterinburg to the next station in Beloyarskiy, and I preferred the silence.

As the train moved, he began to roll up one side of his trousers to reveal a prosthetic leg. I paused in the book as he went about his business brushing the metallic limb with a handkerchief. He grinned when he saw me, "Sorry, I should have warned you. I lost it in the war," he explained, "People say I lost more than my leg, but life goes on, you know. I not so much like war, or guns."

"I'm Anna Callas," Returning his smile with an introduction; false, as it was, seemed appropriately polite.

"Fedor Mikhailovich" He offered a handshake and I reciprocated, "I'm very good with guessing heritage, but you look difficult. With your French and your English, I guess: West Europe?"

I smiled, "España."

He laughed, "Ah, I am still good. Espagne, so far away, what are you doing out here?"

"My fiancé is in Omsk on business," by the end of that sentence, I had my fictional fiancé's name and profession ready for further interrogation.

"Congratulations."

"Thank you. What about you?"

"Weapons," He smiled honestly with his eyes. My perplexed reaction must have been sufficiently satisfying, for he chuckled. "I do salvaging and a little cleaning. Few goes to collectors, most goes to killing."

"I thought you didn't like guns."

"Since when does a man have to like something that keeps his wife happy and his children fed?" He had a look in his eyes while he thought about what he had said. "I was born in for this, you know, I was a soldier, then a merchant, I deal with weapons, I know this. This is all I know."

He seemed defensive or uncomfortable, so I put my book away to show that he had my full attention. In observation, 'Crime and Punishment' was enough an admonition.

"You know what it is?" He asked almost apologetically, "To know you do wrong but you do it because the day you wake up not doing it, you don't know yourself."

It is strange how one impression from a chance meeting could bring to light things I have been neglecting. I don't have to be on this path. I could disband V.I.L.E. and wait five years for the statute of limitations for all my crimes to dissipate. I might consider myself free of all this, but true to my nature, that felt like cheating.

"No," After a slow shrug and a smile, I lied, "I can't say I know."

He was quiet, and then began to laugh. "And you should never have to know! You'll get married, have the little children, and you never suffer the regrets. That is my wish for you." If he knew how empty that blessing appeared to me at the time, I may have felt less sinful for taking it graciously.

Hours later, he got off the train near Yalutorovsk and woke me up to say good-bye. "A young woman, travelling alone, here, very dangerous," he reached into his pocket and handed me a folding knife. "You learn how to use that from here to Omsk, very easy."

I thanked him and he gestured a light wave to signify the end of our journey. I don't often accept gifts of weapons but he was distinguished, a refusal would have been terribly rude.

Every train I entered thereafter held an achromatic reminder of Fedor Mikhailovich. I have since lost that knife, somewhere, but I do hope its previous owner found the same happiness he so generously wished for me.

[Text in italic has been transliterated. My thanks to Mr. Raine for checking the Russian accent.]
 

Patty

Valkyrie
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I tots think it's awesome this is how you met Fedor Mikhailovich, before he went to Kamchatka with us and became our weapons-dealing-Russian-uncle-spy. I think that knife he gave you was in Antarctica, so it's probably kept in an ACME cache somewhere.
 

Carmen

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@Neb, thank you kindly for posting this.

I tots think it's awesome this is how you met Fedor Mikhailovich, before he went to Kamchatka with us and became our weapons-dealing-Russian-uncle-spy. I think that knife he gave you was in Antarctica, so it's probably kept in an ACME cache somewhere.
The connections we make widen our world. I made Fedor a promise he can leave his weapons trade after that Kamchatka expedition, perhaps more on that some other time.
 

Contessa

Royalty
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Oh the sort of plebs that take the Trans-Siberian. Next time, “Anna”, do what I do, buy up the entire first class compartment so you won’t have to listen to chatty weapons dealers.
 

Joe Kerr

VILE Trickster
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@Neb, thank you kindly for posting this.


The connections we make widen our world. I made Fedor a promise he can leave his weapons trade after that Kamchatka expedition, perhaps more on that some other time.
Hmm...I may have something up my sleeve that Fedor may like...depends on what his actual area of expertise is.
 

Eartha

Personal Trainer
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Oh the sort of plebs that take the Trans-Siberian. Next time, “Anna”, do what I do, buy up the entire first class compartment so you won’t have to listen to chatty weapons dealers.
LOL, you're so funny, Adrianna. Can we really do that?
 

Joe Kerr

VILE Trickster
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@Eartha, darling, with enough money, you can buy anything! Carmen and I bought La Louvre for a few extravagant nights. It's really only 1/5 the price of one very well customised red trench coat.
1. Let's not give the secret of the trench coat away...

2. Have you ever thought of buying over ACME, Contessa? Would make things a whole lot easier for everyone.
 

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