July 04, 2014

Stranger on a Train


Stranger on a Train

{Excerpt from Murder at the Dacha, by Alexei Bayer. Published by Russian Life books. All Rights Reserved}

At the far end of the car a man stood up. Facing him was a middle-aged woman wearing a pink cardigan, its home-knit fabric stretching over her ample bosom. She was plump and her head barely reached the man’s shoulder. But what she lacked height, she made up in spunk. Hands on hips, a double chin thrust forward, she clearly wasn’t going to take any crap from anybody.

“You won’t get away with it,” she shouted, stabbing the air with an index finger. “Harassing a young woman like that.”

Her face had turned beet red and her eyes gleamed with excitement. A lock of hennaed hair had burst free from under her kerchief.

“Shut up, bitch.”

The man’s voice was soft and lazy, but the words resonated in the sudden silence. He looked like someone who had been holding it in and was about to burst.

“What did you say, you, criminal?” shrieked the woman. “I’m not afraid of you.”

The train was moving along and the lights outside the window were dull and yellow, speeding back toward Serpukhov.

“A drunk,” said a woman next to me.

“A thug,” another passenger corrected her. “I’ve seen plenty of them in my time.”

As though to confirm this assertion, the man leaned over the pink cardigan and said softly:

“I’ll wring your neck if you don’t pipe down.”

She choked and stood silent for a moment, appalled.

“Did you hear that,” she screamed at last, turning to other passengers. “He’s just threatened me. Somebody do something. Why are you standing around, men?”

“The police should be called,” someone said reluctantly.

Before the quarrel started, the man had been sitting by the window, across from a young woman who apparently was the cause of the commotion. Whether or not he had been bothering her, she now sat motionless, as though the scene had nothing to do with her. She wore a fashionable nylon kerchief with a blue polka dot pattern, which left most of her face in its shadow. The lights from the window glided over her sharp cheekbones.

No one showed much inclination to get involved and I too decided to stay out of it for the time being. The man could have been a jail bird, but the red cardigan seemed more than capable of standing up to him. Slowly, I edged up the aisle, which had become strangely less crowded. While the woman kept shouting and gesticulating, I had plenty of time to study her opponent.

A character, of course. His clothes were worn, and his tweed overcoat came from a shorter, stockier man. But he was dressed with considerable care. His military boots were waxed and polished, even if now smeared with mud. His hair was short and he was clean-shaven. It was not easy to tell his age. He had a youthful face, which got sharper as he got angry, but tinged with gray and deeply lined.

He didn’t relish being the center of attention. But his attempt to scare the pink cardigan backfired, bringing forth a torrent of invectives that was not going to stop any time soon.

Finally, he gave up and started to move out, stepping on other passengers’ toes and kicking knitted bags of fruit and vegetables on the floor. Once he reached the aisle, he turned and looked back at the young woman. She kept staring straight ahead.

I stood in the aisle, blocking his way.

“Move over, asshole,” he said in the same soft, lazy voice, coming close to me.

I was getting used to being insulted in that car.

“Did you hear me? Are you deaf?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “My hearing is good."

“What the hell is your problem?”

His voice rose, suddenly sounding the familiar high notes of labor camp hysterics.

I shrugged, to indicate that I wasn’t sure myself what my problem was.

“Very well, then,” he said.

He was suddenly calm again. He slipped his right hand into his pocket and when he pulled it out again it was for all intents and purposes empty except for a millimeter-wide edge of a straight razor gleaming between his thumb and forefinger.

The pink cardigan was observant. This time she didn’t shriek but threw up her hands and whispered:

“There’s going to be a murder.”

I was sure he wouldn’t try to stab me with people around. But I don’t like straight razors or people who carry them. I shielded myself with my left hand, jumped as high as I could--he had a couple of inches on me - and head-butted him in the face. I felt the resistance of his septal cartiladge and something cracked with a dull, sickening sound.

He sagged onto the floor, blood streaming down his face, flooding his mouth and chin and soiling his shirt front. It gathered at our feet in a scarlet puddle.

“They’re killing each other,” the pink cardigan shouted. “Men and comrades, move. Pull them apart.”

Men and comrades came to life at last. Several of them jumped up and rushed over to the man, who was now leaning against a bench. I eased the razor out of his grasp and just as I did so a fat passenger fell on top of him, pressing him down and shouting into his ear:

“You goddamn gangster, you’ll pay for it.”

“Get the police,” another passenger shouted from his seat.

I pushed the fat passenger off the man and told others to stop kicking him.

“I’m the police,” I announced. “Sr. Lt. Pavel Matyushkin, Moscow Criminal Investigations. Do we have witnesses?”

I pointed to the fat passenger.

“You for instance?”

“I saw everything, Comrade  Policeman,” the pink cardigan butted in. “When he pulled a knife on you I thought I was going to faint. He was bothering a girl. I had my eye on him from the moment he got on. Didn’t I, my dear?”

We both turned to where the young woman had sat. The two seats across from each other were empty. At the other end of the car, the glass doors slid silently shut.

“Never mind,” I said, getting back to the problem at hand. “We’ll take him off at the next stop. But no more punching or kicking. We’re Soviet citizens, after all, not Americans. We don’t kick a man when he’s down.”

Don't stop here, get the full novel, in print or ebook.

You Might Also Like

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
The Little Golden Calf

The Little Golden Calf

Our edition of The Little Golden Calf, one of the greatest Russian satires ever, is the first new translation of this classic novel in nearly fifty years. It is also the first unabridged, uncensored English translation ever, and is 100% true to the original 1931 serial publication in the Russian journal 30 Dnei. Anne O. Fisher’s translation is copiously annotated, and includes an introduction by Alexandra Ilf, the daughter of one of the book’s two co-authors.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955