Chapter 26: The mad Russian

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 33

The Mad Russian

1910-1929

Ivan wasn’t always a poor potato farmer. Back in his hometown of Saint Petersburg, Russia, he was a local jewelry craftsman of considerable fame. Unfortunately, his career took a sudden turn for the worse when he became intimately involved with a local aristocrat's wife. His dalliance cost him both his best customer and his freedom.

Fortunately for Ivan, the tide turned in his favor with the great Russian revolution of 1917. He was freed from his cell to make room for a new prisoner. Ironically, it was the same man who had Ivan jailed in the first place after the man ran afoul of the Bolsheviks.

Having seen the revolution's carnage firsthand, Ivan decided to leave mother Russia for greener pastures. After several months of living off his wits and his skill with cards, he ended up working in a saloon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unfortunately, Ivan had the bad luck to meet up with the Ziggler brothers, Jake and Abner.

When they first met, the brothers made fun of Ivan’s broken English. Still, gradually they found Ivan to be both intelligent and tough. His six years of strenuous labor had made the Russian as hard as an old oak tree.

When he wasn’t tending bar, Ivan often had a card game going with the customers. One night after he cleaned up in a match against Jake and Abner, they demanded another round. When Orloff scoffed, saying the brothers were broke, Abner smiled and took two gold coins from his vest pocket.

Ivan’s eyes widened when he saw the coins. As an ex-jeweler, he loved gold in all its forms. He asked if the brothers had any more, but they just smiled mysteriously. Ivan kept working away. Soon, under the influence of heavy drinking, the brothers admitted they had participated in several banks and train robberies.

They were currently between jobs because their third partner had passed away from consumption recently. When they asked Ivan if he wanted to join them as a replacement, he did so with enthusiasm.

Their first robbery was the Hillsbury Savings Bank in La Huerta, New Mexico, and it was almost their last.

When one of the customers refused to surrender his wallet, Jake shot him through the throat. Several customers and bank tellers joined in with their personal firearms. In the ensuing pandemonium, the bank looked like the shooting range at a rural carnival. Luckily, the trio escaped unharmed with several thousand in currency and silver and gold coins.

“Jesus,” Ivan said, angry. “Why you shoot poor man, Jake? He not big problem. Just need hit head with gun. Not kill.”

Jake glared at the Russian. “Shut up, you ignorant bastard. I’m in charge of this gang. You follow my lead, or you’ll end up dead like that stubborn asshole.”

Ivan shut up and followed the others on the trail of robberies and murders all the way up from New Mexico to the border of North Dakota. By the time they reached their destination, Ivan was sick to death with the bloodshed and continually running. He told the Ziggler brothers he wanted his cut and would take off in the morning. They were camped out just a few miles outside of Fargo.

The brothers took the news badly.

Ivan made up his bedroll by the fire and pretended to be asleep. He didn’t trust the Zigglers, so he wasn’t surprised to hear them whispering together on the far side of the campfire. As a safety measure, Ivan had concealed a razor-sharp Bowie knife under his pillow.

He tensed up when he saw Abner leave to untie the horses, and then Jake take out a pistol. When Jake was close enough to make sure of his shot, he leaned down, intending to shoot Ivan in the head.

Like a rattlesnake, the Russian struck forward with his knife, slicing Jake across the throat. The wounded man fell heavily, dead before he touched the earth.

Abner quickly mounted his horse, intending to flee but stopped when he saw Ivan only had a knife. Abner raised his pistol to shoot just as Ivan released his throwing knife. Abner’s shot hit Ivan’s left hand, blowing two fingers cleanly off, but Ivan’s throw was much more deadly.

The Bowie knife entered Abner’s chest just above the heart, severing the main artery. Abner toppled off his horse dead, and Ivan became the sole survivor and claimant to the ill-gotten fortune.

Ivan bound his bleeding hand with strips of cloth from Jake’s shirt. Then, after burying the bodies, the Russian loaded up the accumulated wealth of the Ziggler brothers’ trail of mayhem and headed south. He rode one horse while the other two animals struggled under the weight of thousands of gold and silver coins. In addition to the cash, he also had a saddlebag full of paper currency.

After almost three days of travel, Ivan found himself on the outskirts of Washburn. He intended to bypass the town, but his injured hand hurt like hell. As he rode, he scanned the dirt road ahead for a place to rest, eventually stopping when he saw an ancient FOR SALE sign on a weather-beaten rural homestead.

The owner, an old widower, was so anxious to sell he took Ivan’s first offer with no pretense of bargaining. He even threw in his bloodhound Cookie, at no extra charge.

After moving in, Ivan’s first order of business was to protect his ill-gotten fortune. He walked far back into the depths of the property with the horses following on a lead. The entire acreage was densely populated with pine trees.

When Ivan spotted a tree with a most unusual shape, he stopped. At some point in the past, the tree appeared to have been struck by lightning. The blow had split the main trunk into two parts still joined halfway down. By some perverse nature, the tree had survived, and its shape could be clearly identified among the forest of trees.

Ivan measured twenty paces south-west from the warped tree and buried the stolen money. He placed a large rock on top of the site. On his return trip to the homestead, Ivan was amazed at the size and number of pinecones lying scattered beneath the trees. He thought for a minute, then picked up a handful of the largest cones. He took them back to the cabin.

Because of the murders, the Russian knew a pack of lawmen would be out hunting for any trace of the killers and the stolen goods. He was well aware he would hang if anyone discovered him with the loot. 

Ivan decided to keep the saddlebag of untraceable currency for living expenses, then find some way of disguising the gold coins so they couldn’t be identified.

Over the next several years, Ivan worked hard to establish himself as a harmless immigrant potato farmer while steadily implementing his gold conversion plan. His plan was simple but brilliant. Leaning heavily on his background as a jeweler, Ivan made two rudimentary molds. Each mold in the shape of one half of a large pinecone.

Every week he would carefully melt just enough gold coins to fill the molds. When the metal cooled, he attached the two pieces to form the shape of a rough pinecone. Then, using the sticky sap from the trees, he glued actual parts of a real pinecone onto the gold. With the metal still soft, he inserted a small wire hook into each golden cone.

The gold now looked and felt like real brown pinecones. Although the cones were much heavier than the natural thing. Now, Ivan had to hide them where they wouldn’t be discovered. He returned to the original burial place and selected a sturdy young pine tree.

He started by hanging the fake cones on the tree as soon as they were fabricated, placing them close to the trunk. The Russian knew as the tree grew, it would carry the pinecones higher out of reach or close observation by spying eyes.

Now, the tree was heavily laden with the golden pinecones, but Ivan was running out of paper currency. He decided to keep the last bag of gold coins in a bucket at the bottom of his well, intending to use them as needed.

Ivan planted potatoes and raised rabbits primarily to show a source of income as a cover. His lonely life, devoid of companionship, made Ivan yearn for the solace he used to find in his homeland's strong drink. He fashioned a makeshift still. With abundant raw materials at hand, he was soon known throughout the district for his potent potato juice.

One night while sampling his latest batch, Ivan reflected on his time with the Ziggler brothers. Memories of the depravities he participated in sickened his soul and instilled a desperate need for forgiveness for his sins. Ivan recalled his conversation with Bill Teller about the dismal state of the church’s finances. In his remorse, he vowed to try to atone by helping the church recover.

After the fourth glass of his homebrew, Ivan decided to resume work on his secret masterpiece. For safety, it was hidden under a loose floorboard in the kitchen. Before starting, he looked outside the window but saw nothing. Cookie, sleeping by the fire, would surely have barked if anything was amiss.

Ivan lifted the floorboard to retrieve a small wooden box covered with burlap. He carefully removed the object from the interior and placed it on the table with his tools. His eyes gleamed with satisfaction as he stared at his creation. It seemed almost lifelike as it glimmered brightly in the reflection of the candle lights.

Ivan had worked for months on what he considered to be his best lifetime achievement. The work of art was about the size of a large piece of fruit, but all earthly comparisons ended there.

The glowing object was a beautiful and delicate angel. An exquisite golden angel with feathered wings unfurled and a mischievous smile on her radiant face.

The Mad Russian wasn’t quite sure what had inspired him to create this masterpiece. It could have been the subtle influence of the soothing angelic feminine voice he heard in his dreams almost every night after his prayers.

Or then again, it might have been just an idea generated while under the influence of his potent homemade elixir.

(Story continues shortly in Chapter 27)

 


Submitted: February 23, 2021

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