(From the chapter entitled Of Science, Spies and Saboteurs and Thieves. I’m writing this as fast as I can!)

An excerpt from the untitled and never-published memoir of Alasdair Duncan Magill, late of Fife in Scotland, longtime police chief of Luna City, published with permission of the family in the Luna City Historical Association Newsletter. The extensive memoir was found among his private papers by his family, after his death from natural causes at the age of 98 in February 1987. Chapter 53 – The Matter of Political Murder

Of course, we assumed – my chief investigator John Drury and I both – from the very start that the mysterious death of the young man was more than it had seemed. Luna City was a peaceful, quiet place, through the efforts of citizens and law enforcement alike over time. Both John Drury and I had done our best for decades to assure this happy state of existence. In my tenure as a member of the constabulary – as street officer and as chief of the Luna City police department – we had put an end to the antics of local bad-hats such as Charley Mills, his unsavory influence, the Newton Boys robbery gang; all the disruptions which these miscreants and others threatened to bring to our little town. It was a perilous time, those decades of which I write. The Great Depression had bitten hard and long; many were those desperate souls who sought to make a living by thieving, either in petty means and stealth, or by outright robbery. Still, Luna City was an oasis of calm and obedience to the rule of law, all during those years. Of the four recorded murders in Luna City during the 1930s, one was domestic; a woman aggravated beyond tolerance of a drunkard husband beating her without mercy. The second was the result of excessive consumption of alcohol – a dare regarding relative skill at marksmanship after a particularly rowdy fandango at the Gonzalez Rancho. The third was committed by an outraged farmer, upon discovering a transient whom he had hired to help harvest hay attempting to rape the farmer’s eight-year-old daughter. The transient was dispatched by the farmer, wielding only his bare hands (Charges were dismissed in that case, as rightfully they should have been.) Only the last murder, in the year of our lord 1930_was judged to be premediated and deliberate murder.

But I am getting ahead of myself, in outlining the circumstances, which were indeed peculiar and with international implications. My involvement began with an interview in my own office, with Mayor McAllister and Mr. Albert Wyler, the owner of the ranch enterprise which was the largest of that sort in all of Karnes County. That these gentlemen condescended to meet me without fanfare in my own office in the new Police Department building should have indicated to me the importance of the matter, but at the time of setting the appointment, they only told the Sergeant of the Police that it was a matter of small import. That two of the most important men of the town should require a meeting with me, stressing absolute privacy … well, I might have been born at night, but it was not last night. This, I sensed, was a matter of delicacy.

The new department building had incorporated a separate office for the chief of police; just as the old building had. This office was commodious, with two windows; space sufficient for my own desk, a smaller one for a secretary (against the day when the budget allowed for a dedicated secretary-typist, save a single woman clerk who did all the typing and filing for the department, including that of John Drury, who was still my chief investigator.) John’s presence was not immediately called for, on the occasion of this interview, as I thought it merely a courtesy call on the part of the local nobility.

My new office allowed space for four leather-upholstered club chairs, a few framed botanical prints on the adjacent walls and a small occasional table with a plant on it, to comfortably facilitate informal meetings such as this one. Sgt. Grigoriev – promoted from constable following upon his heroic conduct in defending the former jail building against an outraged but misinformed mob several years previously – showed the gentlemen to my office. Sgt. Grigoriev was a man inclined to do things emphatically – saluting, stomping, and slamming doors. After several years as a member of the police force, we had managed to tone down his enthusiasm for performing the role so enthusiastically. But he remained emphatic – not to say loud – on the occasion of showing important visitors into my office

“Sah!” he opened the door and shouted into my office. “Grazhdanin Wyler and Gospodin MacAllister! They say it is a matter of importance and discretion, sah!”

“I am certain that it must be, Sergeant,” I replied. “And so the matter must be rightfully discussed in whispers … or at any rate, in a lower voice.”

“Sah!” Sgt. Grigoriev replied, fervently, as he held the door open for Mayor McAllister and Albert Wyler, and then closed it … not with the resounding slam which I had expected. So progress was being made.

“So, gentlemen, I take it that the matter is something of major import, and involves my department,” I gestured the two men to the chairs, and took my own seat as they did.

“It is, Chief,” Albert Wyler admitted, with a glance of confirmation towards Mayor McAllister. “But we must ask you to share this intelligence with only those few in whom you repose trust. A man’s life is in our hands – our several hands,”

“An exaggeration, surely,” I ventured, and both men shook their heads.

“No, in absolute earnest,” Albert Wyler replied, his countenance set and grave. “The government of Soviet Russia has set a bounty on his head – declared him to be outlaw and criminal. For no better reason than for having been a member of the pre-Revolutionary government and for being a prominent man of science in his own right – they have ordered his death, for no more than opposing the rule of Stalin – a brutal criminal, even before he dispatched his various political enemies. The Soviet Cheka murder squads might reach far, but it has been in our minds that they cannot reach far into Texas, into a small, obscure town – which honesty compels me to confess that Luna City is. Not New York, or Boston, Los Angeles or St. Louis. This man of whom I speak of is a decent man – and a most clever one, too. I have extended my sympathies and support and rented him the small house on Pine Oak Street, behind the Catholic church, for him and his family. I don’t put much into the political nonsense that goes around these days – but I do recognize a decent, intelligent man when I meet one. And Professor Markov is a decent man, indeed.”

“They say that he was the Thomas Edison of Russia, in the days of the Czar,” I replied, after a moment of astonishment. For even I knew of Professor Pavel Markov and his mechanical inventions. “One of their most brilliant scientists – and a patriot, as well.”

“Not that brilliant,” Mayor McAllister remarked, with a touch of asperity. “One should learn that discretion is the better part of valor, in politics as well as war. Professor Markov as a scientist was too accustomed to speak frankly on matters of import and of state generally, little reckoning that such a habit might turn out to be a teeny bit unpopular among the Reds. But that is neither here nor there…”

“He is going by the name Marcus,” Albert Wyler took up the explanation. “A scholar of botany; we think. Semi-retired and interested in our local flora. And he and his family are posing as Czechoslovakian – Mrs. Markov is of that nation, originally, so that guise should be fairly convincing. Only the three of us in this room know his true identity. Chief, it is imperative that Professor Markov be protected from assassination – which is why we are informing you, as the head of our police department.”

“Hmm,” I took the opportunity to say something noncommittal, while I thought about this situation. Yes, it was a great honor, to be trusted with such knowledge as this, but still a challenge. My force consisted then of myself, my chief investigator, John Drury – late of the Texas Rangers and semi-retired – Sergeant Grigoriev, our lady secretary, Miss Avery, and seven ordinary constables – all local lads and unmarried, save the most senior of them, Henry Vaughn, who had lost his farm property near Beeville to foreclosure, and took the job to provide for his wife and boys. “So – who among us in Luna City might not be fooled by this particular subterfuge – of Marcus the Czechoslovakian scholar-botanist?”

“There are no Czechs settled any closer than Beeville, I reckon,” Albert Wyler replied thoughtfully. “There are Poles – but they’re in Panna Marie. Of Russian – only your Sgt. Grigoriev, and he’s a White … or so we assume.” And he bent a skeptical look upon me.

“He is, most assuredly,” I replied. “When he gets drunk … which does happen, under circumstances which I do not inquire regarding … he insists that everyone present drink a toast to the late Czar and his family, and to his exiled commander, Colonel-General Deniken.”

“Ah.” Albert Wyler rubbed his chin, in a thoughtful manner. “Then I suppose it might be safe to let your sergeant know of Professor Markov’s presence here. He’s a bright lad; Perhaps he should be informed from the start, rather than figure it out later and assume the worst – or be resentful regarding a lack of trust. Of a certainty, he would recognize the famed inventor. In any case, Professor Markov is not completely without protection. The young man posing as his oldest son, Sergei, is actually a dedicated bodyguard. The middle son, Mikhail, is in actuality, Professor Markov’s scientific assistance – he has been with him in that regard for several years. Only the little boy, Dimitri is his child, Madame Markov being so very much younger than her husband.”

“How old is the boy, then?” I asked. “I presume that he will be kept at home for lessons, for his own security…”

Alfred was already shaking his head. “School age – the same as Stephen. Part of the Markov’s reason for settling here for the foreseeable future is for the little lad to have a chance of a normal life. Madame Markov insisted. It is planned for Sergei to keep a watchful eye on the boy, in any case.”

Mayor McAllister cleared his throat. “The essential part required of your department, Chief – is for your force to continue maintaining that commendable degree of vigilance that you have always kept …”

“I take great pride in my … in our record,” I returned, and Mayor McAllister nodded.

“Of course – but with the presence of the Markovs, and the threats posed to them, it is essential that your people keep a watchful eye on any strangers, especially foreign strangers suddenly appearing in Luna City and exhibiting an unseemly interest in the family. We leave it to your discretions as to who you take into your confidence as to their true identity, or the nature of the threat against them.”

“I’ll keep that intelligence to the smallest number possible,” I said, “Always remembering the axiom regarding a secret – that two may keep it, if one of them is dead.”

Albert Wyler snorted with a suppressed laugh. “I hope you do not intend to go to that extreme. But we should all keep our eyeballs peeled. I’ve given my word to the Markovs that they should feel safe enough in Luna City, and I do not like to think that my word is not my bond. They will be arriving sometime next week”

“Your word is a bond on all of us, Mr. Wyler,” I said, and both gentlemen looked pleased. Taking up their hats, they indicated that the interview was concluded satisfactorily. I showed them to the door, and then sat at my desk for a long while, considering how best to manage this grave addition to my already heavy responsibilities.

1 Comment

  1. The present and the past intertwine. As it should be in a small town.
    And a reminder than while you may not be interested in politics, politics is interested in you.