Lenin cast the last piece of unleavened bread towards the bird. “It’s not easy being on the run,” he said, “especially when you’re carrying a fortune. You’re always looking over your shoulder, see; wondering what that person’s looking at, or what that policeman is doing there. You’re drifting from place to place, never feeling comfortable, never feeling safe enough to stick down new roots.
“You lose all your friends too. Well, be honest you would, wouldn’t you, when you’ve got the crown jewels in your bag? And now I can’t even get rid of my haul. No fence will take them and split them up; ‘Too hot,’ they say. And how do you find a gem cutter you can trust? They’d turn me in for the reward money, I swear. The only thing I do know is that the detective inspector is out there somewhere, looking for me.” The man rinsed his pan clean in the stream.
“It’s not as if they even want the jewels,” he moaned. “After all the country’s not a kingdom anymore, not as such; hasn’t been for a long time. It’s supposed to be a democratic republic, but that’s a laugh too! After all, no one has voted in the Lord Prefect, and he’s run the country for years. So why’s that bastard have to go and stump up such a big reward, huh? You tell me that.”
The raven, surmising that breakfast was over, looked at the fugitive with an intelligent eye, then with a hop and a flap the large bird was airborne and beating away toward Lodnun. “Arrrse, arrrse,” it called back. Lenin packed away the pan, and kicked out the little cooking fire. The trouble was the reward money was becoming terribly attractive. He’d started concocting stories of how he’d found the jewels.
Lenin had arrived at the police station and presented the jewels at the reception desk, whereupon the desk sergeant had ushered him into an interview room with the treasure. The room was as bare as one would expect; one table, two chairs and from their brackets each side of the door, two candles casting a paltry glow across the windowless room. Between him and that door now sat Detective Inspector Curtis Kalashnikov, who had been saying that the jewels’ owners were going to be very pleased with their return. “Just got this paper work to fill in,” he said genially. “Name?”
“Lenin; Gustov Lenin.”
Kalashnikov wrote. “Address?”
“Er… I don’t have one.”
“No problem.” He wrote ‘No fixed abode’. “Occupation?”
“Er… well um, I don’t have one. I just travel around, from place to place.”
‘Vagrant’ was added to the form. “How long have you been a vagrant?”
“Yeah, more than I care to remember.”
“Is that between one and five years, up to ten years, more?”
“Well I guess maybe six or seven years,” Lenin smiled ingratiatingly.
“So Mister Lenin, where did you find these items?”
“They were in a suitcase, down river of Lodnun, about two miles, in the rushes.”
“Really? And what were you doing there?”
“Having breakfast, sir; a bit of bread and fish.”
“Uh huh,” Kalashnikov continued to pen in the replies. “Poaching?” He asked sharply.
“No, no. There was nothing there about not fishing.”
“Okay,” Kalashnikov sighed. “Now I just need to write a description of the recovered goods. Let’s look at them and see what they are, shall we?”
“Oh, they’re the crown jewels.”
“Oh, come on,” Kalashnikov face cracked into a broad grin. “What makes you say that?”
“It said so on the reward poster,” insisted Lenin. A patina of sweat appeared on his brow.
“Did it?” Kalashnikov asked, and opened a folder beside him. From it he drew out three reward notices. He studied the drawings of jewellery on each, dropping them onto the table for Lenin to see. Dropping the third, Kalashnikov smiled. “This is the one; it’s a perfect match with part of your goods. Now tell me Lenin, why would a tramp such as you believe these were the crown jewels? There’s nothing on the poster.”
“Er… I seen’em before, in the museum.”
“Would that be Lodnum Museum of History?”
“Yeah… I think.”
“But they’re not on display there.”
“But they were.”
“No, Mister Lenin, they weren’t. Since our incumbent prefect came to the leadership of our country, the jewels have never been displayed.”
“But I saw ‘em there, didn’t I?”
“Kalashnikov wrinkled his nose. “I think that the museum staff would have refused you entry.”
Lenin eased back into his chair. His eyes skittered around the bare room.“I… I…” He didn’t know what to say. The jewels had been displayed; he knew that because he’d stolen them.
“Well, having detained you, my instructions are to escort you to the citadel where you are no doubt to be entertained as a guest of his maj… his lordship’s pleasure,” Kalashnikov grinned. Lenin’s jaw dropped for a second time. To suggest that the Lord Prefect had any pretentions toward royalty, let alone demonstrating allegiance to royalty, was punishable by death. “Pretty gems I suppose might encourage a return to royal rule, Gustov;” the detective spoke reflectively, “but the succession of one despot by another would almost certainly create a lot of bloodshed between camps. Yet I am a man of the people; a policeman. I serve to protect.
“You know Gustov, I figured if I put a large enough reward out for these jewels, you’d eventually come in, being the thief that you are. And here you are! But you see, only you and I know these as the crown jewels; and I’ll let you into a secret. Only you, and I and the Lord Prefect know that they’re not missing.” As Lenin frowned in puzzlement, Kalashnikov picked up a large ruby and flicked it into the air, caught it and hurled it at the wall. Lenin flinched and squeaked, his eyeballs almost leaping from his face. The gem smashed into tiny shards.
“Glass and paste, Mister Lenin, glass and paste; all of it. You’re free to leave my city.”
© Clive Newnham, 02-10-2009.