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©Jane H.

Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
Translated from Russian by
Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by
Shona Brandt

Illustrations by
Viktoria Timofeeva

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
Dedicated to my son Ivan

Living for children is great. But it is better to live with


children and live intensely. Children do not forgive their
parents when they have only one occupation – parenthood.
Therefore, one must live in an interesting way, then it will
be exciting for children to watch how you live.
Papa Gavrilov

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
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1

Chapter One
SCYTHIAN GOLD

Do you want the secret of eternal happiness? Write this


down! Go to the pet store. Buy about twenty crickets. They
are sold cheaply as feed for lizards. Put them in a plastic
container, after placing a square of cut cardboard in there
for eggs. Occasionally, feed them grated carrots, water
them with a wet kitchen sponge, and enjoy the sounds from
morning till night.
©Alex

The large Gavrilov family – papa, mama, and seven children – set off for a walk
around Lake Moinaki. In fact, the lake was an estuary and adjoined the sea so closely
that in one place there was only a narrow isthmus. But still it was called a lake for some
reason.
Now, at the beginning of June, a lot of the city residents came here for picnics.
Everywhere on the isthmus were portable barbecues – or meat on skewers roasting over
coals without a barbecue. The appetizing smells distracted the young Gavrilovs from the
walk. The children first demanded something to drink or eat, then staged a sit-down
strike. The walk, having lasted three hours already, had bored them quite a bit. Papa
Nicholas, who now and then had to carry one of the younger ones and listen to the
whims of the older ones, grumbled that walking harnesses were necessary for modern
children.
“Everything’s great! We’re outdoors! You always say in interviews that you love
walks!” Mama Anna pacified him.

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2

She herself went first. At times she stopped and either fished a beautiful branch
out of the grass or picked up a shell from the sand. Mama already had her hands and
pockets full, so when she picked up something, something else fell off her. Mama needed
all these things for crafts. Papa and the children looked at her with concern. They
remembered how Mama had found a wonderful granite block last time and did not calm
down until they took it with them.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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“Such a wonderful little block! Rose from the bottom of the sea, broke off from a
rock, and waiting for us at this spot for eight hundred million years! Do we really turn
our backs on it and walk past?”
Naturally, it was impossible to reject a block that had been waiting for them for so
long. The Gavrilovs tried to load it into the stroller, but something cracked in the stroller,
and the block had to be rolled along the asphalt for about five kilometres.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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4

The oldest Gavrilov son, eleventh-grader Peter, was pacing behind the mama stork.
He did not look along the sides but at the screen of his phone, on which a point was
moving along the Google map. It was important to Peter to expose the map’s
inaccuracies. “What’s here on the map? A dirt road! But in fact? Asphalt! The map lies!”
he constantly exclaimed.
Peter had been having a tough streak in recent months. The closer to state exams
and admission,1 the worse his mood became. Papa and Mama did not know how to
cheer him up. Peter regularly repeated that there was no pleasure, no happiness. The
impending adult life was complete despondency and eternal work. No light at the end of
the tunnel.
Peter’s mama did not share his blues and tried to stir him up in every possible way,
simultaneously creating a working atmosphere for him. She shielded his corner with a
blanket, and pushed him into an old wardrobe, where it was possible to lie down as if on
a bed. But for some reason Peter could not get down to work behind the blanket and
could not sit still in the wardrobe. Two hours of study and his brain turned off. He began
to look for guilty ones and, of course, easily found them among his brothers and sisters.
But the strange thing was that when nobody interfered with Peter, for example when all
his brothers and sisters were out on the street, he himself wandered around the house
and looked for someone who would interfere with him and be blamed for his not
studying.
Vicky, Peter’s fourteen-year-old sister, took two miniature pinschers – Willy and
Richard – with her on the walk. It was not so simple for a person to lead two trembling
dogs on long leashes. They were always entangling the leashes and twisting around poles.
And it was also necessary to watch that they did not miss the asphalt or swallow
anything. The dogs, like vacuum cleaners, sucked in any edible object they came across,
and could even fight for an old seagull wing.
“Ahhh!” Vicky then shouted, clutching her head. “What are you doing? What if the
gull died of tuberculosis?”
“And the flattened rat, which they devoured a minute ago, from bubonic plague!”
Peter said snidely.
Vicky rolled her eyes, estimating whether she would faint, but it was dirty on the
road and time and again she had to postpone fainting. Especially since Willy had already
found a fish tail somewhere and was now hastily choking it down.

1The Unified State Exam is a series of exams taken by every graduating high school student in the Russian
Federation. It is essentially the high school graduation exam, as well as the university or professional
college entrance exam.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
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5

Twelve-year-old Kate and nine-year-old Alena paced behind Vicky.


Kate, who was also Catherine the Great, was majorly fastidious. In her spare time,
she tidied up her half of the room, stacking things according to the Japanese principle so

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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6

that they occupied an amazingly small space. For example, a T-shirt was rolled up and
became thinner than a pencil.
Alena, unlike Kate, did not like to tidy up. She loved crafts, as well as listening to
audio books and reading. Books towered in her part of the room in half-metre stacks.
Things lay around like a carpet, so the simplest way to walk around the room without
stepping on them was to walk on the stacks of books.
“No, no, no!” Alena said. “No cleanup! I'll never find anything! Now I have
everything in my room lying around in its place, but after a cleanup everything lies
neatly in an unknown place!”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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Kate and Alena dragged seven-year-old Alex – the greatest experimenter in the
world – by his hands. Alex whined that he was tired. He tucked in his legs and lay on the
grass, but occasionally, breaking free from his sisters, he ran about four hundred metres
or climbed a tall tree. Everyone walked about eight kilometres, but Alex about twenty,
because at the beginning of the walk he kept running in a zigzag and yelling, “Why are
we going so slowly?”
Still, Alex never stopped chattering. Uncle Blahblah, a friend of the Gavrilov family,
once offered Alex a million so that he would keep quiet for two hours. He offered quite
seriously, because he was very tired of Alex chattering. Alex only survived for one
minute and forty seconds, and the Gavrilovs never got rich.
The head of the family, Papa Nicholas, walked behind Kate and Alena. Three-year-
old Rita sat on his shoulders and controlled Papa, pulling him by his ears. The right ear
– turn right. The left – left. True, Papa had already been tired of obeying for a long time
and was now a disobedient horse. He refused to go into the lake, refused to skip. He
wanted to sit at the computer and work. Moreover, Rita was not the most weightless
child in the world.
“Rita has fat legs! She eats all the time!” Vicky said. Rita heard this and pouted,
about to cry.
“Rita has the best round legs in the world! You had the same!” Mama hastily
objected.
Vicky looked with horror at her legs, which were like two needles from a compass.
Now she was already fretting. “Not true! I never had fat legs!” she declared.
Behind Papa and Rita, five-year-old Costa was moving along the isthmus in short
dashes. He caught butterflies and grasshoppers and put them in a plastic container with
holes made with a red-hot fork. All the windows in the Gavrilov house were crammed
with jars, in which lived crickets, mantises, mole crickets, stick-bugs, hissing
cockroaches, cockchafers, and centipedes. All this was Alex’s and Costa’s enterprise.
To find out how to take care of them, all day long they entered something like
breeding bugs and cockroaches into the computer and were indignant because the
computer offered options on how to get rid of them. And even voice search did not help.
Costa had learned to use the computer voice search about three months ago. He waited
until everyone had left the computer, turned on the microphone, pulled in a full chest of
air so that it seemed he would now take off like a balloon, and shouted very loudly, “A
good super paper the most real good plane is to fold it not that it flew quickly but flew a
long time don’t listen to Alex that he yells such is a good plane and how to breed insects
too.”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
8

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
9

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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11

Before going to the isthmus, the Gavrilovs walked on the steppe. The steppe was
level, flat, with gopher mounds, and with frequent scarlet flashes of poppies along the
sides. Grey waves of feather grass rolled along the field. They were precisely separated
from the field and had no connection with the ground. The clover below, motionless,
serious, barely bowed to the wind. Willows coming for watering clung to the ravine by
the lake. A stray dwarf pine was also encountered on the steppe. Having been burned
together with the steppe several times, the pine was charred, but alive and growing at an
angle, stretching out to distant mountains. Near the pine closer to the path was the grey
cross of a nameless grave. It did not burn: the fire always ran through here quickly, and
the cross was covered with stones.
Everywhere showed the beauty of the world, and Papa was suffering that he could
not scoop it up and transfer it to a book. There was a lot of this beauty, it poured out
from all sides like streams gushing in a downpour, and he could only scoop up just a bit,
as if he was racing back and forth with a jar in the rain. “Maybe the problem is that I’m
too hasty in writing my own and don’t read much of the book of God, in which I’m only
one of the heroes?” he thought.
Papa Gavrilov had not been working for the last month. He was waiting
excruciatingly for a flash of interest in something that would cover his head like a sea
wave and be transferred to the reader. While this interest is not present, unless you lit
yourself up, any work is useless and it is only possible to collect materials. The sun itself
is monstrously hot, therefore it also warms. In order for the reader to get carried away,
the writer himself must blaze. Pretending is impossible here. In the meantime, Papa
either fiddled with notes, or cut out the plot lines from strips of paper and shifted them
from place to place, like a widow playing solitaire. He made a deck of cards of the heroes,
pasted on them faces from photos portrayed on the printer, and laid them out on the
table, hoping that it would be easier. But it did not get any easier. Except that Alena
attached additional arms and legs to the heroes and made them look like beetles.
“Let’s pick some daisies!” Kate suggested.
“You think this is a daisy? It’s hedge parsleys! Only one species of daisies is
available here: wild chamomile,” Alex said importantly.
“Don’t be a smart aleck, squirt!” Kate said.
Alex, having already forgotten that he was tired, broke away from his sisters and
found a tumbleweed stuck in the bushes since last year. “Costa, we’ll take it! Ready?”
Alex yelled, running ahead. “You release it! I’ll catch!” Costa released it.
For a few moments the round tumbleweed incredulously froze, swaying in place,
and suddenly, rushing, darted forward. It twirled, sped, and broke away from the
ground. After bouncing, it shot past Alex and disappeared into the steppe. Alex rushed
to catch it – but slim chance! “Ah! Didn’t catch it! You released it wrong!” almost in
tears, he yelled at Costa.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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12

They walked out to the isthmus. A volleyball jumped out of the reeds onto the road.
Alex, without hesitation, grabbed it. A burly boy leaped out of nowhere after the ball.
Not saying a word, he knocked Alex off his feet and rolled with him on the grass.
Everything happened instantly. Alex and the boy were rolling on the grass, but the ball
lay quietly and small flies sat on it.
“By the way, I was going to return it!” Alex explained, panting, trying to pin the boy
down on his back.
A man in swimming trunks walked out of the bush. He waved cheerfully, like a
good friend, to Papa Gavrilov, picked up the ball, and went to a barbecue. His son
released Alex and, looking back victoriously, rushed after his parent.
Alex stood up and, as if nothing had happened, shook himself off. “Well, are we
moving?” he asked. The burly boy turned around from a distance and stuck his tongue
out at Alex.
“Not local... Probably from Siberia or the North Urals,” Peter said.
“How do you know?” Kate asked.
“It’s obvious! Local people wait till it’s thirty degrees to remove their jacket. But
they are running around naked at twenty! And they’re already tanned, the locals are still
all white.”
“And if, for example, a woman on vacation got up at four in the morning, already
had a swim in the sea before six, changed and washed everything before seven, went on
five trips before ten, and doesn’t know what else to do, then what is she?” Mama
Gavrilov asked.
“Most likely a teacher,” Peter instantly responded.
Papa Gavrilov was interested. He trusted Peter’s observation skills. “And if a red-
haired woman blocking the only exit from the alley paints her lips in the car for three
minutes, then where’s she from?”
“Don’t know,” said Peter. “Need to look at the license plate, not enough
information.”
A low roar forced everyone to raise their heads. The surface of the lake rippled.
Two fighters shot past at low altitude. Today the planes were visible in all their details,
and at times only a rumble was heard, though not coming from where the aircraft was.
This is because a fighter was flying above the speed of sound.
“Well, why are they flying here? They scared the birds!” Alex grumbled.
Alena tugged at his arm. “Don’t tuck in your legs, squirt! They want to fly, so they
fly. They forgot to ask you!”
“But why over me? Can’t they fly anywhere else?”
“This is the border area. While the fighters are flying, enemies won’t attack!” Alena
explained authoritatively.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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“Not true,” Alex objected. “They can do it differently so as not to attack. They have
to rename all the settlements in the border strip. Call them this: Who Captures Is A Fool,
Useless Village and so on. Then no enemy will attack!”
“In fact, yes,” Peter admitted, imagining the headlines on the Internet: Having lost
the entire troop, the enemy occupied Useless Village and fight to break through to the
city Who Captures Is A Fool!

Beyond the lake stretched an endless row of vacation homes and health resorts.
These places were already well known to the Gavrilovs. They had also strolled here
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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14

before, especially in the first months when they had just moved to Evpatoria. Then,
wandering with young children through still unknown streets and alleys, Papa Gavrilov
inhabited the city with terrible creatures. Ghosts lived in trapdoors, skeletons in attics,
birds were actually the transformed souls of disappeared tourists, and monuments came
to life at night. Papa himself quickly forgot where he had settled whom, but the children
remembered and always walked around the city in complex loops, bypassing all
trapdoors, suspicious attics, and monuments.
Alex, after riding on his sisters with his legs tucked in, suddenly discovered that an
entangled kite was hanging on an electrical cable at the post. And, of course, he
immediately wanted to take it for himself. Alex forgot about deadly fatigue and began to
climb the pole.
“Don’t! It’ll zap you!” Mama was uneasy.
“Shouldn’t!” Peter stated authoritatively. “The kite is tangled with one cable. Now,
if it’s with two cables or a wire, then it’s another matter. Or, say, the kite’s string is wet
and your feet are on wet ground, then...”
“Are you sure?” Mama asked.
“Ninety percent,” Peter replied. “Did you see that the birds are sitting on the cables?
So? They’re alive if they don’t touch the other one. Or a second option. Imagine that a
bird grabbed with one foot here and the other a kilometre away. Then the difference in
potential would kill it! I wonder, when Alex now hangs on the cable with his hands, will
there be a difference in potential or not?”
The frightened Mama rushed to pull Alex off the post, but he had already managed
to hook the kite with a stick and fell on the grass together with it. While Alex, Costa, and
Rita were sorting out whom the kite belonged to, Kate went around the post and saw a
pasted flyer.

2 - 8 June
SCYTHIAN GOLD EXHIBITION
Daily 10 am to 7 pm
Local History Museum

“Oh!” Kate said. “The exhibition started yesterday and we didn’t even know! We
can say that we have Scythian gold now at our house!”
“Not at our house but through the wall! And not Scythian gold, but all of only one
Scythian bowl!” Peter retorted.
“But it’s gold!”
“Yes. A large bowl and, they say, beautiful!” Peter agreed, and all the Gavrilovs
pondered. All the same, it is cool when you have a gold bowl through the wall, just a few
steps away.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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15

The local history museum was located in a mansion, which had belonged to a rich
doctor before the revolution. The front doors of the mansion faced the central street of
the city. The house had two entrances – one recessed with a staircase and the other
protruding – and decorative balconies with wrought-iron lattice. On the roof were even
battlements like a fortress wall.
On the side of the alley, the doctor had attached three nondescript wings to the
house like three sides of a rectangle, split them into separate little nooks, each with its
tiny garden and rented them out. Apparently, the idea of setting up a lot of cubbyholes
and letting them out to vacationers was not so new. Enterprising doctors of the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century had fully mastered it already. After the
revolution, the house was confiscated and each cubbyhole became a separate city
apartment.
The Gavrilovs’ former house, which they rented, was in another part of the city,
near the station. However, now the owner himself had arrived there for a month and a
half with his granddaughter, her husband, and the great-granddaughter, so the
Gavrilovs had surrendered the house for a while.
“He’ll notice that he has fewer jars of jam in the cellar!” Alena suffered.
“More likely he’ll notice that we’ve punched another window in the wall. And
installed on the second floor a cabinet the size of our universe in the first seconds after
the Big Bang. And broke three chairs, and tore off a lamp, and much more,” Kate said.
Mama Anna was not so much afraid of the old man himself, whom she considered
kind, but more of his anxious granddaughter. The granddaughter was very square. For
example, if it was written in the childcare manual that a child should not spend more
than two minutes in the open sun, then after the third minute the young mother would
call an ambulance. If a mosquito was sitting on the baby’s nose, then it definitely carried
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
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http://emets.olmer.ru/
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16

malaria. The whole family killed and dragged it to a paid laboratory, where a week later
came a comforting reply that the mosquito was not dangerous. True, by that time they
had already forgotten about the mosquito, because usually something new and just as
fateful had managed to happen.
“Doesn’t matter! I was the same with Peter! It’s from an abundance of energy! By
the fifth baby, she’ll wash the pants right on the kids and dry them with a hairdryer,”
Mama Anna said.
She did not dare to remain under the same roof with the old man’s granddaughter
after all, although that one had offered. It was more advantageous to not scrape off the
gilding from the illusion that the Gavrilovs were decent people. All people are decent
only at a respectable distance. Therefore, Papa Gavrilov was sent to rent temporary
lodging and rented it in the former doctor’s house in the resort area.

The Gavrilovs’ present dwelling consisted of two adjoining rooms and a kitchen.
Between the rooms was an old small furnace with a painted door. It was gas heating,
and the furnace had clearly not been fired up in the last forty years, but the Gavrilovs
wanted terribly to light it at least once and see what would happen. True, Papa Gavrilov
feared that it would be nothing good, because the pipe could be clogged or the furnace
itself could be cracked. Who knows what happens to furnaces after half a century of
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
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inaction. There was also a tiny garden, in which was a wooden table covered with
linoleum.
Accustomed to the spaciousness of a large house, it was, of course, cramped for the
Gavrilovs in two rooms and a kitchen. Beds were found only for Vicky, Alena, and Kate.
Papa, Alex, and Costa slept on a huge mattress, laid right on the floor. In the daytime,
this mattress had to be constantly protected from Alena, who leaped on it like a squirrel,
bringing up the ancient dust lurking in the depths of the mattress.
Mama and Rita slept on an English folding bed of the early twentieth century,
which was very creaky. Besides creaking, the cot had one more incredible property: it
would fold by itself, but to expand it required the joint efforts of Papa and Peter.
Sometimes at night there was a click like from a rifle bolt, and then Mama’s voice, “Oh!”
This meant that the camp bed would now show Mama and Rita again how the English
letter Z was written.
Alena slept in a corner of the kitchen, putting her legs on a stool, and next to her,
under the table, were cages with her animals. There were the rat Schwartz with all his
wives, the bunny Oddball, and the chinchillas. The red-eared slider turtle Mafia swam in
the aquarium by the window.

There was no longer enough space for Peter. At first he tried to sleep on the floor,
then on two desks moved together, but he did not like it and he relocated outside,
hanging a hammock between the trees.
In the space between the resorts began the shops. At the sight of shops, the
younger part of the Gavrilov family perked up and stretched out their favorite song,
“Buy, buy, buy, buy!” They could stretch it for hours, especially Rita. Even Alena
succumbed to the general mood and began to demand chocolate milk with a straw.
“For whom?” Papa asked.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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“For me, moi, Alena,” Alena explained as a tongue twister so that Papa would lose
count and give three. There were times when Papa listened absentmindedly and it
whizzed past.
A group of children on a field trip moved toward them along the waterfront. A
cheerful lady was running ahead of the group. The children, spread out like a herd, were
trailing behind her. All of them were dressed in their own way, but with the same yellow
kerchiefs on their necks, which meant that they belonged to the same camp. Costa and
Rita clung tightly to Papa. Costa even screwed up his eyes. He was afraid of school
groups. Peter once told him that children’s camps catch all the children in a row and
that if a counselor manages to tie a kerchief around a child’s neck, then that is it, the end.
Then they will not let go.
The cheerful guide, without looking back and not embarrassed that the nearest
school child was about ten metres away, said distinctly, “Our city is a resort town!
Known for curative air and healing mud. And now pay attention to the sea! What colour
is it?” The question about the sea was addressed to Kate, who was closer to her than her
own group.
“Blue,” Kate said, to please the auntie. Of course, Kate, as a future artist, knew that
the sea is of any colour except blue.
“But why call it Black?” the guide asked.
“So that enemies won’t guess.” Alena blurted out to tease Alex. The guide looked at
her with alarm.
“The sea is black in a storm,” Kate again came to the rescue.
“That’s right, girl! Yet the Greeks called it the Russian Sea, and our ancestors called
it the Greek Sea.”
“Sure thing! It’s like with the red cockroach,” Alex stated authoritatively. “The
Germans call it the ‘Russian cockroach’ and we call it the ‘German cockroach’. They
think that we brought the cockroach to them, and we think they brought it to us. In fact,
the cockroach has settled because of climate change.”
“Well done, children!” the guide praised. “You’re not from our camp? Why are you
without kerchiefs? Shall I tie one on you?”
“Ohhhh!” came from somewhere behind Papa’s pants. It was Costa, having decided
that this was it, the end.
Papa Gavrilov loved the old city, especially its seaside part. When he walked here,
he stroked the old houses like stroking kittens. He ran his fingers along the uneven
stones. He tried to memorize them, so that he could distinguish the houses by touch,
blindfolded. He stroked the houses and thought about the hands that had cut down
these stones in the quarries, sawed, brought, built, carved on stone and wood, forged the
balcony gratings, long gone, but it seemed as if these people were still all here, and for
that reason the old houses, multiplied by the soul of the creator, seemed alive.

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19

Papa Gavrilov learned to read the language of old cities. For example, what is the
painted metal protrusion in the ring here, like a lone tooth in the open mouth of a giant?
A loop from the gate? No. They tied horses to this ring. Papa Gavrilov showed the ring to
Alena. Alena nodded and looked at her feet, at the old paving stone. In two neighbouring
stones was the trace of a shallow but distinct rut leading to the gates.
“Here’s the proof!” Alena said, and she and Papa nodded solemnly to each other.
Year after year, a water carrier with a heavy barrel came here to the archway leading to
the old courtyard. While he was carrying and drawing water, would he leave the horse
unattached? Hence the ring.

***

Half an hour later, the Gavrilovs reached the doctor’s house. Along a wall of the
local history museum stretched the long tail of a queue. The queue even twisted behind
one of the two large ship cannons aiming directly at the opposite resort. At the entrance
to the museum were two policemen. The Gavrilovs froze in amazement, examining the
queue. They had never seen so many people here. Even on Museum Day, when all the
museums were free.
“Maybe we should go too?” Vicky suggested.
“With such a queue? A shame! We have a bowl through the wall!” Peter stopped
and, scratching his nose, glanced at a couple by the wall. A young man in a white shirt
was photographing a woman, frozen in a picturesque pose. “Look at those characters!
Only discreetly! They’re taking pictures near the electrical panel!” he whispered to Kate.
“So?” Kate replied indifferently.
“Nothing! But strange somehow... You go across the whole country to the sea to
take a picture near the electrical panel! They’re the same everywhere.”
“Well, let them. There are people who generally take pictures near everything. I’m
with the moon, I’m without the moon, I’m with the bowl, I’m without the bowl,” Kate
remarked.
“By the way, that’s the same woman who painted her lips in the car. Yes, precisely
her! Only her hair is somewhat wrong! That was a redhead, but this one’s hair is black
for some reason,” Papa Gavrilov said perplexedly.
“How could hair turn from red to black?” Peter was surprised.
“How do I know? Rita, what are you doing with my ears? Are you stuffing candy
wrappers in them?” Papa suddenly yelled.
Rita was embarrassed and hid her hands behind her back. She was a civilized girl
and did not like throwing scraps of paper. She always folded them and looked to shove
them somewhere.

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20

The Gavrilovs walked past the museum facade, slipped between the huge concrete
flower beds, fencing off the pedestrian street from the rest of the city, and turned into
their lane. It was quiet here. Just a dozen steps and you are already in some other reality:
lawns with flagstones and kurgan stelae, overgrown with high dry grass; damp walls,
with moss at points, of rental houses with arches; rusty gates with occasional spikes. You
can remove the parked cars, let in the extras – a Karaite2 leading a loaded donkey; a
Greek sailor strolling around a shy milkmaid like a cooing pigeon; two rabbis
animatedly leading a theological debate; a young lady on a Baltic-made bike bumping
along the pavement – and the backdrop is ready. You can shoot a historical film.
Alex and Costa suddenly began to jostle, and both turned as red as beets. If Alena
had not squeeze between them, they would come to blows.
“Hey, squirts, time out! Imagine: they were arguing who’s more awesome: Mowgli
or Tarzan!” Alena shouted.
“Watch out!” Mama exclaimed.
The Gavrilovs pressed against the wall. Two men, looking around, came out of the
common courtyard, where their cubbyhole with a separate little garden also was,
adjacent to the museum. One was skinny with sinewy arms covered with tattoos to the
shoulders, and the other was gloomy and massive, with a big belly. This second one was
walking with his head down and face hidden; however, there was no secret of the huge
black beard.

2 The Crimean Karaites belong to the Turkic-speaking ethnic group practicing Karaite Judaism, distinct
from mainstream Rabbinic Judaism.
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“Karabas-Barabas!”3 Alena whispered, because he was really very similar.


“Oh, I know this bearded man! It’s Bugailo, the owner of this large hotel! He even
has a huge jeep! And this second one, with tattoos, is his driver!” Kate reported, when
the strange couple was away.
“I wonder, what were they doing in our yard?” Alena was uneasy and rushed to
check whether her scooter was in place.
Since the doctor’s time, there existed between two extensions a narrow passage,
called no-man’s corner. This passage led to a picturesque shed with two wooden doors
of such a degree of dilapidation that artists were forever rushing to sketch them.
The current residents of the former rooms kept their bikes and strollers in no-
man’s corner. Alena kept her favorite scooter with inflatable wheels there. Inflatable
wheels are whimsical. The holes in the tubes need to be sealed regularly. But you can
take off on the side of the road, race on the pavement, and they do not shake on uneven
asphalt. Wide inflatable wheels will tolerate anything.
The scooter was in place. But Alex began to howl that his pick was gone. The pick
was a piece of an iron pipe, previously serving as a support for a kebab maker. The
power of the pick was exceptional. Looking for beetle larvae, Alex and Costa cracked
rotten stumps with it.
“Ahhh!” Alex yelled, looking around everywhere in search of the pick. “Ahhh! I said
that I should take it home. I did! But you! Ahhh! I’ll not forgive you for this for the rest
of my life!”
“Stop yelling in my ear or your life will end right now! Who could need a stupid
pipe?” Kate said sternly.
Alex calmed down, only after remembering that he needed to promptly cut some
rosehip for the prickly stick-bugs. Rosehip grew only in one place hereabouts: in a
fenced area near the gates. This tiny garden belonged to a young woman named
Christina.
Christina was tall and skinny, and always wearing a long silk scarf. She was a
mysterious and unsociable person of the highest degree. No one knew what she did.
Christina went away somewhere almost every evening, dragging behind her a large
homemade case wrapped in a fishnet and decorated like a pirate chest. Initially, the case
was on small wheels, but then it was moved to the wheels of a kid’s bike. Christina
returned home no earlier than two or three in the morning. During the day she slept or
wandered around the yard, wrapped in a blanket and looking for places with bright sun.
Having discovered such a place, she set up a folding chair and sat, sipping hot tea.

3 Karabas-Barabas, an evil puppet master, is the main antagonist of The Golden Key, or the Adventures of
Buratino (1936), the famous children’s book by Russian/Soviet writer Aleksei Nikolayevich Tolstoy
(1883–1945). The book is an adaptation of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian author Carlo Collodi
(1826–90).
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22

Christina had two children: a nine-year-old son Lexi and a five-year-old daughter
Barb. Shy, timid Barb always spoke in a whisper. She just stood to the side and moved
her lips. The interlocutor heard an incomprehensible whisper and only realized that he
was being asked something about ten minutes later, when Barb had already left and
there was no one to answer.
Lexi was a rotund, swarthy boy, not fat, but precisely cast. He sat in the courtyard
all day either sawing something or dismantling old machinery. Barb was always with
him and quietly asked him something, and he answered her just as quietly. The
Gavrilovs did not understand how it was possible that there were two children nearby,
but they were not heard or seen. Lexi studied indifferently, and was also not seen
reading, but when Mama Gavrilov saw a model of the city theatre, which he had sawed
with a jigsaw just by eye, absolutely prompted by no one, she, as a creative person,
admired it and declared that she should take the boy herself. This is not a boy but a
treasure!

Alex and Costa crawled along the fence, sneaking up to the rosehip covered with
flowers. They knew that Christina was guarding it and was not going to share it with the
prickly stick-bugs. Christina never swore nor screamed, but silently, like a boa
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23

constrictor, crept up to the Gavrilov children, put out a finger and began to yank hard,
as if she was shooting at them from an invisible machine gun. If Christina had yelled,
Alex and Costa would have feared her less, but here was a dry, creeping figure in a black
robe, an ominous silence, and only a finger shaking in the air.
“She’s a witch!” Alena claimed. “I saw how she moves objects with her eyes! She
looks at something, and it starts to move!”
“It isn’t witchcraft,” Alex argued. “It’s levitation!”
“Yeah? And that trunk of hers? Once, she opened it and I happened to pass by! She
saw me and slammed it shut so abruptly, as if she was scared of something.”
Costa and Alex sneaked towards Christina’s garden and hid between the column of
the long-disappeared gate and the rusty grid of the area enclosing the garden of another
neighbour – Adam Tarasiuk.
This Adam Tarasiuk was a unique person. Small in stature but broad in the
shoulders and powerful in the chest, he resembled a dwarf and possessed phenomenal
physical strength. Tarasiuk came to the Crimea from Volhynia some time long ago and
worked as the physical education teacher at the school where the Gavrilov children
studied. Peter claimed that there were legends about him in the school. It was said that
he could pull himself up with one hand and that once, angry at a student, Tarasiuk
threw him through the volleyball net right onto the gym mats.
Pushing his hand behind the grid and cutting off a young rosehip shoot with
scissors, Alex developed the theory that God created Adam and Eve naked, so that they
did not waste natural resources. “So that there was recycling, you understand?” he said.
Costa nodded his head seriously. For the last six months, Alex had been going to a
biology club and all his thoughts were purely biological. On the cut rosehip branch was a
caterpillar.
“Black-spotted moth?” Costa asked authoritatively.
“Ha! Where are the black dots? You only know your own moth!” Alex declared.
“But then, do moths really feed on rosehip plants?”
Suddenly, a shadow fell on Costa and Alex. The brothers squatted and lay low,
thinking that it was Christina who had returned. But no. A man and a woman slipped
cautiously into the common yard, not noticing them behind the gate. The woman
stopped near a yellow gas pipe that ran across the courtyard to the museum, and the
man took a picture of her. After that they quickly slipped out onto the street.
Rejoicing that it was not Christina, Costa and Alex returned home and started
feeding the stick-bugs.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


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25

Chapter Two
A TERRIBLE NIGHT

Algorithm for the perfect crime in England in the late


19th century.
Step one. Kill Sherlock Holmes.
Step two. Commit any crime.
©Peter

Towards evening the city was covered with clouds. The first layer of clouds was
almost black. The second one was purple. And the third, visible only in places in the
breaks, consisted of light bright clouds, illuminated by the setting sun. The light clouds
were racing quickly somewhere, sometimes catching up with each other, sometimes
parting, while the first two layers hung motionless and only changed their shape.
“It’s going to rain! Close the windows, otherwise the wind will knock the glass
about!” Mama Gavrilov said with concern.
Alex and Costa were hanging out on the porch and, lifting their heads, looking at
the sky. Swallows were flying by so low that it was a miracle they did not graze the flat
tiled roof. Costa and Alex were hoping that some swallow would slam into the pipe and
then it would be possible to catch it.
“It’ll pass out and we’ll nurse it!” Costa dreamed.
“And if it doesn’t?” Alex was concerned.
“Well, if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. It won’t be able to take off anyway.”
“Costa! It’s swifts that can’t take off from the ground! Their wings are too long. But
swallows can.”
“And if a swift passes out, will we catch it?”
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“We will!” Alex comforted his brother. “We’ll catch a swift!”


But the swifts did not pass out, and the swallows did not hurry to crash into the
pipes. The air was first completely still, and then the wind suddenly sprung up with
gusts so strong and abrupt that the old willow laid its branches on the ground. And all
this happened almost in complete silence. The willow first lay down, then got up, shook
itself, and again only black clouds hung over the city.
Rita, who had just been freed from sticky tape by Mama, approached Alex and
Costa and also sat on the porch waiting for stunned swallows to start pouring down.
“Boys! Boys! First birdie is mine! And I won’t give it to you!” she bargained.

Rita still did not know how to share. She needed “all mine”: my toys, my notebook,
my modeling clay, my pen. All these were put in an old backpack, which went into a box
under the bed.

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“Okay!” Alex agreed. “Did you have a large chocolate bar? Hand it over! We’ll trade
it for the bird!”
Rita pondered and, as the bird was tempting, took a chocolate bar out of her
backpack. The brothers ate it instantly and even shared a bit with Rita herself.
It got dark. The swallows disappeared. Occasionally, something swept swiftly over
the roof, but not as smooth and graceful in movements as the swallows. These were bats
hunting for moths. The stormy sea was heard howling in the distance.
The Gavrilovs hung around in the kitchen for another half hour, then Mama said
“Good night!” put out the light and lay down on the creaky cot next to the already
sleeping Rita.
The rooms were adjoining, the walls thin. In order to not wake anyone, they had to
go to bed early and all together. Peter, accustomed to staying awake at night, went into
the yard. Through the blinds it was visible how his flashlight was flashing. Peter tried to
read with a flashlight and at times laughed wildly. It seemed suspicious to Papa Gavrilov.
Peter claimed that he was preparing for mathematics, but his mathematical formulae
were awfully funny.
“Aren’t you cold in the hammock? If it rains, come to the kitchen!” Mama shouted
from the cot.
“No. I’ll lie down in our minibus,” Peter replied.
Papa Gavrilov could not get to sleep. He lay in the silence of the room and listened
to the sounds. The sounds were continuous, came from different places, and each had its
own meaning. The dogs were scratching and yawning in the dark. The turtle Mafia hit
the edge of its shell against the glass of the aquarium. The guinea pig squeaked.
Schwartz, the lord of the rat harem, scratched the door of the cage. Somewhere above, in
the sky, thunder rumbled. The wind blew and the sheet metal on the roof of the
neighbouring house groaned, as if lonely ghosts were crying in the attic. The sliding door
of the minibus slammed. This was Peter going to sleep.
Papa was already starting to fall asleep when something struck the windowsill once
and hard. Then someone knocked on the glass with an invisible finger: one, two, three.
It was a signal, because after a moment everything suddenly started to drum, drone. The
rain was pouring so heavily, as if someone had lifted the sea and, tired of holding,
released it.
At times, the sound of the rain subsided and thunder rumbled. The lightning and
thunder almost coincided. A huge electric whip was flogging the city. It hit the roof of
the substation, the park by the sea, and with three close strikes swept along the
embankment. Then the edge of the electric whip jerked up high, arched menacingly,
lingeringly frozen – and something cracked deafeningly quite nearby. The windows were
lit by an otherworldly light. Utensils bounced on the table. The fridge opened by itself.
Rita cried, woke up, and immediately fell asleep. Papa realized that lightning had struck
the museum building.
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Gradually, the lightning began to subside, and there was only rain. It poured,
poured, poured, poured, knowing neither stop nor break. Papa fell asleep, and the sound
of rain intertwined in his dream. Papa dreamed that the city was flooded and the house
was floating. It was rocking and floating out of the city, and it floated somewhere further,
and they were pushing off with a long pole, so that they would not be carried away to the
sea. Then the house disappeared somewhere and only a raft remained. And on this raft,
besides children, there were also dogs. Willy and Richard barked deafeningly, afraid to
jump into the water. At that moment, it was as if a woodpecker knocked on the roof with
its beak, and Papa, through his dream, thought that it was some strange thunder.

“I am scaaaaared!” someone said in Papa’s ear.


Papa got up. A frightened Costa was clutching his hand. Willy and Richard were
rushing around the kitchen and barking, tossing their muzzles to the ceiling. Beyond the
window, dawn was just beginning. The rain no longer poured, and the house neither
floated nor swayed. “Ran aground,” Papa thought.
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29

“I heard! Someone was walking on the roof!” Costa squeaked.


“It’s thunder,” Papa said and, falling headfirst onto the pillow, instantly fell asleep.
This time he was no longer dreaming anything. He slept for a long time and woke
up from the singing of birds. The singing was annoying and repetitive. “Peep-peep-peep!
Peep-peep-peep! Peep-peep-peep!”
It seemed that the birds were sitting on his head and pecking on his eardrum with
their little beaks. For some time Papa Gavrilov, through a dream, was touched that the
birds woke up after the rain and were rejoicing at the worms creeping out onto the
asphalt. But then the birds started screaming in human voices, knocking on the closed
wicket gate, and Papa realized that the birds were actually the electric doorbell.
Papa wrapped himself in a blanket and, slapping his bare feet, went to open the
door. The bell continued to scream. The sounds stretched on. The bird was wheezing in
a bass with a cold. Its battery must be running loud. Before reaching the lock, Papa
heard the wicket gate slam and the doors of the neighbouring houses open. Apparently
they also rang them too.
Rita, Costa, and Alena, also woken by the bird with a cold, huddled fearfully
against Papa’s legs. Alex, as always, slept like the dead. A cannon shot would not be able
to get him up. Unless the words uttered in a whisper, “Where are Alex’s praying mantis?
Shh! Let’s feed them without Alex!” would compel him to jump up instantly.
Papa went out onto the porch. Rita looked out from behind one of his legs, Costa
from behind the other. Alena, armed with the bunny Oddball, hid behind his back. The
bunny looked harmless, but it kicked hard. The kick of his hind legs was so powerful
that once when the bunny accidentally kicked Peter in the stomach, he squatted from
the pain.
At the former doctor’s gate, blocking the exit from the courtyard, a police car was
blinking its flashing light. Two men were standing on the other side of the gate. One,
dressed in a white shirt, was about thirty years old, tall like a maypole, pink, cheerful,
and seemingly nice. He reminded Papa of the hero Dobrynya Nikitich.4 The same light
eyebrows, the same direct look, only no beard.
His companion was small in stature, but swift and agile. In photographs, he must
always come out blurry. He first squatted and looked under the gate, then touched the
grape leaves, then he began to pick with a nail the scratches left by the key around the
keyhole. The mustache that adorned the face of the swift man resembled eyebrows, but
his eyebrows resembled a mustache. Because of these rearranged mustache and
eyebrows, his face was completely confused, and one wanted to stand on one’s head and
see how it would look upside-down.

4
Dobrynya Nikitich was one of the most popular heroes of Rus’ epics. He is the representative of the noble
class of warriors.
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31

Peter was standing between the two men and moodily flashing his own right eye
with the flashlight.
“What were you doing in the minibus? Hiding? From whom?” the shaved
Dobrynya Nikitich asked Peter sternly.
“The fifty-first article of the Constitution! A person has the right to refuse to testify
against himself and against his family members!” Peter answered proudly.
On seeing Papa Gavrilov, Dobrynya switched his attention to him. “We’re from the
police,” he said.
“Wow! Real policemen!” Costa squeaked happily.
Dobrynya frowned, wondering if he should be offended. But it was foolish to take
offense at Costa, and he limited himself to pushing Peter a little ahead. “Do you know
this young man? He claims to live here!”
Papa Gavrilov studied Peter for a moment.
“Pa, don’t testify to who I am!” Peter demanded.
“This is my son Peter,” Papa immediately messed up. “What did he do?”
“Hiding under a blanket in that minibus!”
“That’s our minibus. And about under the blanket, he always covers his head when
he sleeps. Is it forbidden by law?” Papa quietly clarified.
The police looked at each other incredulously. “Sleeps? He often sleeps there?”
“Often! He generally sleeps in different places. Sometimes in a hammock.
Sometimes in the car,” Papa said.
“Once he attached himself onto a tree and slept!” Costa squeaked from behind
Papa’s leg.
The policemen believed Costa more than Papa. The giant stopped holding Peter by
the elbow. Peter blinked his flashlight for the last time and went into the house. The
policemen squeezed into the spot behind him and, interfering with each other, stopped
at the porch.
“Detective Captain Vladimir Matushkin!” Dobrynya Nikitich introduced himself,
showing his ID.
“Lieutenant Maxim Ushitsyn, Criminal Investigation Department!” his companion
informed them, peeking inside the handrail welded from pipes, where the children were
always shoving chewing gum and candy wrappers.
“Oh!” Alena exclaimed excitedly, jumping out onto the porch with the bunny.
“You’re lucky with the last name! Two whole rules!”
Lieutenant Ushitsyn frowned, unaware that his mustache was frowning. “What two
rules?”

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33

“Well, of course! You write ‘zhi/shi” with the letter ‘i’! One! And ‘tsy’! ‘The gypsy
tiptoed over to the chicken and said shh!’5 Oh, but not for you! So you have to spell with
an ‘i’!”
Ushitsyn did not spell with an “i”. He was trembling with the desire to discover
something. He looked to the right, looked to the left, then up, and then down. “So, so!”
he said astutely, and, bending over, picked up an oblong object from the asphalt. It was
a clay fragment – thick, with a groove, slightly green at one end. “What is this?”
Ushitsyn asked in a denouncing voice.
“A piece of old tile!” Papa Gavrilov said after looking.
“How did it get here?”
“Probably fell from somewhere,” Papa replied carelessly.
“Fell from where?”
“Obviously from a roof.”
“And this lot is yours? Do you live here?”
“Now we do,” Papa admitted.
Ushitsyn caught this “now” and again his mustache frowned. “That is, you usually
don’t live here?”
“We’re here temporarily, while we have renovations done,” Papa Gavrilov
explained.
“So, so!” Ushitsyn muttered and made a note in his notebook.
Matushkin also looked at the tile but did not take it into his hands, and lightly
touched with his toe a completely dull drill that lay on the concrete next to a magnifier.
“Why the drill?” he asked.
“To make holes in the concrete,” Papa explained.
“For what purpose?”
“In order that the wild ant queen will crawl somewhere,” Papa said, realizing that
this sounded like gibberish to a normal person.
However, Matushkin, apparently, was not so normal a person. His face moved a
little. It moved very slightly, but for some reason it seemed to Papa Gavrilov that the
captain smiled.
“Of course. How else can they crawl through concrete? They can’t!” Matushkin
admitted.
“What happened?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
Ushitsyn gave him a penetrating look. “You tell us what happened!” he demanded.
Alas, Papa could not say anything. Without waiting for a confession, Ushitsyn, not
taking his eyes off Papa, uttered slowly and with authority, “An operative-investigative

5The sentence in Russian is Tsygan na tsypochkakh podoshel k tsyplenku I skazal emy tsyts. Something
to help children remember spelling rules. Since Ushitsyn’s name ends in “n” instead of “g”, “p”, or “ts”,
Alena assumes it should spell with an “i” instead of “y” as according to the rule.
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34

team has been created! The territory is surrounded with external inspection of crime
scene and search for witnesses. We are looking for a point of entry.”
“Entry to where?”
“The local history museum was robbed last night! The thief...”
“The Scythian bowl! Yes?” Alena yelled enthusiastically.
Ushitsyn stared at her. “How do you know? I haven’t had time to say this yet!”
“I guessed it!” Alena yelled. “That’s right, yes?”
“Correct. Maybe you also know who stole it?”
“I know who did! We tole!” Rita, who wanted to confess something, shouted
happily.

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Officer Ushitsyn jumped. His hand, writing in a notebook, drew a star by itself.
Perhaps the star should flutter straight from the notebook to his shoulder straps.
“You?” he asked affectionately, squatting down to be on the same level with Rita.
Rita was embarrassed. “We didn’t, did we?” she was confused. “We wanted to?
Make a hole?”
“We wanted it theoretically! Here’s the important difference!” Kate corrected
angrily.
However, Rita still did not really understand what “theoretically” was. And it
seemed, neither did officer Ushitsyn.
“Yes! Our papa always steals! Stole the diamond from the Shah with the help of a
monkey’s hand, and the English queen’s crown!” Costa chimed in happily. “And he also
kills! He sent piranhas in a jar to our neighbour, who knocked on our ceiling with a
broom! Funny, huh?”
“Very!” Captain Matushkin took Papa by the wrist.
Papa Gavrilov thought that in the evenings, the captain must sit quietly by the
window, look into the courtyard with the gaze of a timid girl and tie knots on carnations.
He would tie, admire, and then untie. Epic heroes, as is known, do not go to gyms. They
prefer quiet fun with carnations.
“Let’s go into the house!” Matushkin said firmly.
They walked into the house. Costa and Rita were jumping around Papa. Willy and
Richard jumped out from under the table, barking shrilly. Vicky restrained them,
catching them by the collars. Heels slapped the linoleum. This was Alex getting up. He,
like a zombie, appeared in the kitchen with eyes closed and began to drink water
greedily from the tap.
“Don’t pay attention! He’s like a lunatic in the morning! And in the evening. He’s
always like a lunatic!” Alena explained authoritatively.
“All yours?” Ushitsyn asked. It occurred to him that perhaps, in addition to
Scythian bowls and crowns of the English queen, Papa Gavrilov also stole children.
“Ours!” Papa said.
Ushitsyn pondered agonizingly. “How do you commit crimes? Well, with all these
here?” he asked.
“Very simple,” Papa explained. “In spare time from the children. I’m a writer. My
name is Gavrilov!”
It did not make any impression on Ushitsyn. “So what? Isn’t it possible for writers
to break the law?” he asked.
Captain Matushkin was examining an old gas boiler painted with dragons. Right
there also hung a letter-size piece of paper. On it was written crookedly with a marker:
PAPER OF CALM! I AM CALM. I AM TOTALLY CAL... At this point everything was
interrupted by a curved line. The one who was writing must have tossed the marker and
rushed to pound someone.
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36

The “paper of calm” bent back from the draft, and on the opposite side appeared a
tall man with a small head and protruding ears. The tall man was signed as “Pasha
Volkaf - idial man.” This was Vicky and Kate trying to imitate Alex’s literacy and teasing
Alena at the same time. Pasha Volkov was her classmate.
After releasing Papa Gavrilov’s wrist, Matushkin went to the bookshelves. He stood
and scratched his forehead. He moved the medicine vials, in which Alex bred fruit flies.
He pulled one of the books from the bookshelf and looked at the back cover, where the
author’s picture was. Then he squinted at Papa Gavrilov and again looked at the cover.
Papa had had time to grow a beard since the book was published. However, the
similarity was clearly felt all the same, because Matushkin became thoughtful.
Officer Ushitsyn continued to interrogate the Gavrilovs about the Scythian bowl.
Most of all he was interested in Rita’s statement. She confessed to everything in a row
and, showing where they hid the bowl, even took her own potty out of the bathroom.
“Maxim, slow down!” Matushkin suddenly demanded.
Ushitsyn was very surprised. “Well, not an interesting movie!” he whined.
Captain Matushkin continued to slide his fingers along the spines of the books. He
pulled out first one, then another, all the time snorting and shaking his head. “Incredible!
All here! Incredible!” he exclaimed.
“What’s ‘all’?” Ushitsyn asked, not understanding anything.
“All the books!” Matushkin continued enthusiastically, stroking the bindings.
“Here’s Danny Trumpov – American President. In it the American president, while he
was busy scuba diving, was replaced by our plumber and no one noticed. Here’s Dance
of the Skeletons! Here’s Your frog, sir! Here they finished off the mafia boss, taking
advantage of his love for French cuisine! Instead of the usual frog legs they slipped him
a poison dart frog from South America! And here’s Alley of Tears! The sculptor killed
his wealthy wives and hid them in bronze statues of furies6 for the city park!”
“Yes...” Papa Gavrilov admitted modestly. “I started with detective novels... Then I
switched to fantasy and science fiction!”
“Bad!” Matushkin uttered unexpectedly sternly and pushed the next book on the
shelf with such force that Alex’s fruits flies rushed about in the jars. “Very bad!”
“Why bad?”
“That you stopped writing detective novels! They’re my favorites! At the police
school there was a whole shelf of your books! You helped me choose a profession! I
finished a law degree by correspondence and became a detective! I was madly in love
with your method! It isn’t deductive like Sherlock Holmes, but theatrical and
psychological! You always put yourself in the shoes of the criminal! And mentally
commit all the crimes!” Captain Matushkin said.
Papa Gavrilov straightened up involuntarily. It was awkward for him to stand
barefoot and wrapped in a blanket in front of a fan dressed in a smooth shirt. Officer
6
Furies are female underworld deities of vengeance in Greek mythology.
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37

Ushitsyn, having already cracked Rita on ten high-profile cases, also went to look at the
books. His eyebrows were moving sadly on his pink upper lip. To somehow compensate
for the collapse of his hopes, he stretched out his hands and took Alena’s bunny Oddball.
“Careful!” Papa Gavrilov shouted, but it was already too late.
The bunny Oddball kicked Ushitsyn in the chest with such force that it twirled
around its ears. Ushitsyn sat heavily on the kitchen bench, with his back brushing off
two plastic containers from the window sill. On the officer’s face froze silent resentment.
Apparently, he had never been kicked by a cute bunny before. “Well, not an interesting
movie!” he repeated one more time.

Costa rushed to pick up the fallen containers. One of them was open. Costa looked
at the windowsill. Then to the floor, and after running to the door, looked at Ushitsyn’s
back. “Do you have a healthy heart?” Costa asked.
“They don’t take the sickly in the police!” Ushitsyn said proudly.
“That’s good!” Costa rejoiced. “Because you have a steppe spider on your shoulder!
The most poisonous spider in the world!”
The officer turned his head slowly, looked at his own shoulder, and his face began
to slowly acquire an ashen hue. “Ta...take it off!” he croaked, stretching out a trembling
hand to the spider.
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38

The hero Matushkin slowly brought over his head a thick dictionary, intending on
killing the spider and breaking the officer’s collarbone at the same time.
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39

“Oh! Don’t! It’s not a steppe spider but a black widow!” someone nearby uttered. It
was the waking sleepwalker Alex.
“Steppe spider!” Costa was obstinate.
“Not steppe spider! And it isn’t the most poisonous! The most poisonous is the six-
eyed sand spider! Whoever it nips, instant death! But from bites of steppe spiders, as
many as five people survive in a year!”
“They don’t! Not five!” Costa argued, and both brothers stared with displeasure at
Ushitsyn, who alone, surviving or not, could resolve their dispute now.
The officer stopped turning pale and turned grey. Matushkin froze with the
dictionary.
“Don’t pay any attention! All spiders our Alex has are either black widows or wolf
spiders! In fact, this is an ordinary tarantula! We found it under the porch. See this hair
on it? It’s not hair! These are its children! Don’t make sudden movements, otherwise
they’ll instantly scatter in all directions!” Alena said.
Alena brought the container close to the tarantula and delicately prodded it with a
finger, so that it crawled there. “I hate these insects! They take them, but I have to feed
them. Aren’t squirts stupid?” she said, and, after flicking a sleepy fly off the window sill
to the tarantula, closed the container lid.
Ushitsyn looked at Alena with wild eyes.
“How do you endure all this?” Matushkin asked Mama Anna.
“What exactly?”
“Well, all these?” Matushkin nodded at the children.
“You gradually get used to it,” Mama replied seriously. “But you’ll never get fully
accustomed.”
Officer Ushitsyn picked up the teapot from the table and took a sip from the spout.
“Just like our Peter! He also drinks tea leaves!” Alena was touched. “By the way,
Alex, didn’t you do experiments in this teapot yesterday?”
“I washed it.”
“Did you wash it normally or pour in water with iodine again?”
“Iodine solution sterilizes, by the way!” Alex was indignant.
Ushitsyn once again began to stiffen dangerously, trying to figure out the taste of
what he had drunk, but here a drum rattled in the depths of his pocket. The officer
winced and took out his phone. “I’m working! I can’t talk right now!” he whispered and
hid behind the gas boiler.
“He recently got married. The wife is very jealous,” Matushkin explained to Mama
Gavrilov.
A minute later, the officer stuck his head out of the kitchen cupboard, grunted
guiltily, and put the phone in his pocket. His militant face became peaceful and tamed.
The stiffened eyebrows relaxed, the mustache calmed down, and it even became possible
to assume that the eyebrows were eyebrows and the mustache was a mustache.
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40

Someone drummed at the door. A face, resembling a pillow with a cone as a nose
sewn to it, poked in.
“What do you want, Elkin?” Matushkin asked in displeasure. Papa Gavrilov,
prepared in advance by the nose cone, was not at all surprised by such a name.7
“We’ve discovered the point of entry! On the roof! But the expert doesn’t want to
climb,” the owner of the unique nose reported cheerfully.
“Why not?” Captain Matushkin asked incredulously.
“Refuses, that’s all. He said it was enough for him when you sent him to the loft to
get fingerprints last time and the floor collapsed under him,” Elkin said snidely, and his
nose blinked.
Peter pressed against the window and saw a plump man, continuously sighing,
who squatted next to a cat and gingerly touched its nose, with a magnetic brush for
applying powder, as if closing and opening an electric circuit. When he touched the nose,
the cat’s tail spiked. When he removed the brush, the cat’s tail relaxed. Yet the cat did
not leave, from which it followed that domestication was under way.
The captain went out onto the porch. “Mikhalych, you won’t climb? And what do I
write in the inspection report?” he shouted, clearing his throat.
“Send Elkin or Ushitsyn. I’ll give them the camera to take photos. And if there are
fingerprints, let the electricians adjust a rig for me,” the expert stated. “My ribs aren’t
bought. I’ve had enough of pigeon lofts. Walk in the heat yourself in a plaster corset. You
sweat, everything itches but you can’t scratch.”
Matushkin glanced at Papa Gavrilov standing next to him on the porch. “All right,
Mikhalych!” he allowed the expert. “Ushitsyn will climb! You finish everything in the
museum. I need a general plan of the hall, that hole in the ceiling, and the display case
where the stolen bowl was from different camera angles. Did you get prints from the
security panel?”
“Got them from everything. From the display case, the control panel, the keyboard,
the DVR box, and the safe,” the expert informed him.
“Why the safe?”
“Just in case. For comparison. There are a lot of prints, especially on the display
case. It seems that the whole city came to hug the case.”
The captain scratched his forehead. “And what about video cameras? Any new
data?”
“Only what we’ve seen already. At three in the morning the bowl was still in place.
Then the power went out for a while because of the storm. Cameras, motion detectors on
doors and windows, nothing was working.”
“And backup power supply?”
“They don’t have backup. The museum is old, the security system is ‘all there for
the taking’,” the expert said and left, looking back sadly at the cat. The cat, in turn,
7
A fir tree in Russian is elka.
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41

looked at the expert no less sadly. It seems these two had found each other but now they
had to part.

“You take it! It belongs to no one! Do you want us to catch it and put it in a box?”
the kind Alena shouted after him.
“I have six of my own. Mama will kick me out of the house,” the expert replied
sadly.
Alena opened her mouth, trying to imagine what mama was so terrible, who could
kick the fifty-year-old police expert out of the house. And in that case, where was the
expert’s wife? Although a wife was incompatible with cats and mama, after all she would
have to defend against both cats and mama.
“Mikhalych is a good specialist. They ask for him throughout the Crimea,”
Matushkin told Papa Gavrilov. “Perhaps it’s right that he doesn’t want to climb onto the
roof. The roofs in the Old Town are rotten.”
“And when did they realize that the bowl was stolen?” Papa asked.
“The guard makes his round every hour. He claims that the bowl was in place at
five in the morning. It was already gone at six. He says that he immediately hit the alarm.
The security people arrived, and a few minutes later, the on duty patrol crew. They
immediately cordoned off the entrances, exits, examined the windows, cellars, office
space – nothing.”
“And there was already light by that time?”
“Yes. Power came back at about half past five. We clarified at the station.”
While Matushkin and Papa Gavrilov were talking, Ushitsyn ran around the yard,
calling on all the neighbours. He was looking for a ladder to climb onto the roof. And it
was high time for Captain Matushkin to get down to work, get the inspection report,
fetch the trusty pen out of his pocket, and write-write-write, but he did not want to part
with the favourite author of his youth, who had pointed out the path of life to him. In
addition, Mama Gavrilov shoved a cup of coffee at Matushkin. He turned it in his hand

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42

and, after muttering, “Two spoons of sugar? I drink with two!” sank down onto the top
step of the porch.
“This is our group working. The inspector, that’s me, the detective, and the expert,”
he informed Papa confidently.
“And Sergeant Elkin?” Peter butted in.
“Elkin is from the on duty patrol crew. He came to activate the system. He doesn’t
belong to the investigation team,” Matushkin said.
He finished his coffee and, having just decided on something, turned the empty
cup in his hands. Then he suddenly suggested to Papa Gavrilov, “Would you like to
examine the crime scene with me? What if you’ll toss out some fresh idea? The museum
director has already arrived.”
“I haven’t written any detective novels for a long time. I can think of how to rob a
museum, but how to discover...” Papa Gavrilov was taken aback.
“So come up with how to rob it. Then we’ll verify whether your method works in
practice or it’s just pure literature. Agree?”
Papa, of course, immediately wanted to check whether his method would work.
After all, when you write a detective novel, you can make the criminal whom you want,
and in general it is easy to know the answer when you came up with the riddle, but here...
“And when shall we examine?” Papa asked, yielding to temptation.
“The sooner, the better. In the afternoon they may send an operative on duty. He’ll
interfere with everything and report on the phone to the department head. And at the
next meeting, a group is certain to be created. Senior will lead the possible scenarios
from the office and keep the operatives on checkup. Then you can no longer have an
outsider, but it’s still possible for the time being.”
“Can I come with you?” Peter asked.
Matushkin looked at him doubtfully. “All right! Only don’t touch anything! The
expert has already finished, but you never know... Coming?”
“Coming!” Peter said and began to hastily search for pants. As far as he
remembered, this common feature distinguished all great male detectives: they had
pants on. “Although, no. Father Brown 8 wore a cassock! And Miss Marple 9 was
definitely without pants...” he corrected himself.

8 Father Brown is a fictional Catholic priest and amateur detective in the works by English writer Gilbert
Keith Chesterton (1874–1936).
9
Miss Jane Marple is a fictional amateur detective created by English writer Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa
Christie (1890–1976).
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43

Chapter Three
A BOWL, A SCARF, AND A MACHINE GUN

And he began to look at the forest in full view and


suddenly noticed: at the window in a distant tower sits a
beautiful princess, rosy, white-faced and thin-skinned: it is
visible how the brain shimmers over the bones.
Russian folktale The Seven Simeons

When Papa Gavrilov and Peter left the house, Sviatoslav Kuzin, a twenty-five-year-
old good-for-nothing living opposite the Gavrilovs, was fidgeting by the fence. At the
moment, Kuzin was trying at any cost to get through to no-man’s corner. But, alas, the
strong shoulders of Lieutenant Ushitsyn blocked the only access. Next to him, Sergeant
Elkin’s nose was gleaming sternly.
Sviatoslav Kuzin, who called himself a descendant of the Genoese, really resembled
an Italian Mafioso. He had thick eyebrows and black, wire-stiff hair. He waddled like a
Crimean-Italian Mafioso and constantly kept one hand in his pocket. Someone could
think that there was a pistol in his pocket, but there were sunflower seeds that Kuzin
nibbled around the clock. Wherever he walked, he always left a trail of husks.

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44

“I need my bike! Going to work!” Kuzin insisted, littering husks.


“Can’t!” Ushitsyn forbade it. “Not allowed!”
“Why not? It’s my bike!”

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45

“When you’re allowed to take it, then you can, but not yet. What if the crime was
committed with the help of your bike?” Ushitsyn objected.
Sviatoslav Kuzin stiffened and was even embarrassed. “What do you mean ‘with
the help of my bike’?”
“I really don’t know! The investigation will determine it! Anything you want to say?
A sincere confession softens the blame!”
Ushitsyn fixed his signature gaze on Kuzin. The lieutenant’s gaze was exceptionally
keen. He had just looked piercingly at a cat, before that he looked piercingly at a curious
old woman sticking out of a window, and now he was looking at Kuzin. Sviatoslav Kuzin
trembled and backed away. He no longer wanted the bike and wished to hide.
“Wait! Do you have ID with you?” Ushitsyn stopped him.
“At h-home,” Kuzin stammered.
“Bad! Should carry it with you! Do you live here? Did you see anything suspicious
last night?”
It turned out that Kuzin lived here, and had since childhood, but had not seen
anything suspicious.
“Occupation?”
Sviatoslav was embarrassed and started to babble something, because his
occupation was “petty computer crook”.
Peter understood Kuzin’s difficulties of self-identification and laughed vengefully.
Recently he had been careless enough to trust Sviatoslav to fix his laptop, and miracles
began to happen after the repair. Kuzin restored the system, but the manufacturer of the
hard drive for some reason had changed and the drive had only half its size. In addition,
there was a strange remote access program. “Yeees... This Kuzin is a hell of an ass! He
needs three hundred days of practice to be a person!” Peter said, looking at the list of
running processes on the computer.
“Place of work?” Ushitsyn repeated impatiently, not waiting for an answer.
“I’m this... only arranging...” Kuzin mumbled.
“And how did you plan on going to work?” the lieutenant asked mockingly.
Sviatoslav did not know what to say, was completely taken aback, and hurried to
disappear. Ushitsyn’s gaze, catching up, pierced his back.
“Interesting! Criminals are always drawn to the crime scene!” he said thoughtfully.
“Where’s this ass’ bike? Hmm... Giant bike, aluminum frame, blue, twenty-six-inch
wheels... It seems that somewhere in the old city a bike with an aluminum frame was
stolen! Hey, Volod, do you hear? What kind of wheels were those, do you remember?”
Matushkin, not answering, examined the wall. Dirty prints and traces of knocked-
down plaster were clearly visible on the wall. A strip of fabric was tied to the yellow gas
pipe. “Was the expert here? Did he shoot everything?” he asked Elkin.
“Yes, he was here. He just didn’t climb onto the roof,” the sergeant answered.
“And the footprints?”
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46

“That too. He says these are distinct. And he took soil samples.”
“And the prints on the gas pipe?”
“Looks as if I put them there, and he took his brush and sprinkled powder on my
head,” Elkin said.
Matushkin crouched down, placed the inspection report on his knees and began to
write quickly. He had his clipboard with him. Approximately the same clipboard Kate
used while attending summer art school.
“So!” the inspector said. “The picture is clear. The perpetrator entered through the
courtyard. He had no ladder with him. He tied a rag to the gas pipe and climbed up onto
the roof. Helped himself with his legs... Dirt was left there!”
Peter slipped sideways past Sergeant Elkin and Ushitsyn and studied what
Matushkin called a rag. Only it was not a rag. It was something very familiar. Peter
tugged Papa’s sleeve. “Look!” he whispered. “Our neighbour Christina’s scarf!”
“Speak aloud for more than two!” Matushkin said, without breaking from the
report.
“He asks if it’s possible to take Alena’s scooter.” Papa Gavrilov figured out an
answer.
The investigator shook his head. “Not yet. Although the expert has examined
everything, better not touch anything. The authorities will be here soon. So try not to let
the children go!”
“Well, you won’t let us! But we also won’t go to you!” an indignant voice was heard
and, above the place where the scarf was tied, Costa’s head hung down from the roof.
Matushkin dropped his pen and groaned. What is the point of guarding the area at
the bottom when a child is already on the roof?
“Get him out of there! We still haven’t shot anything on the roof!” he shouted.
Papa Gavrilov and Peter rushed to the gas pipe. Matushkin, coming to his senses,
blocked their path. “Don’t trample the tracks! Don’t touch the gas pipe! How did you get
up there?”
“Alena helped me up! Through our porch!” Costa explained willingly.
“How did Alena get onto the roof?”
“Alex pulled Alena from above!”
“And who threw Alex on the roof?”
“Alex goes anywhere he wants! He opened the door, stepped on the handle, and
climbed!” Costa explained, proud of his brother.
Behind him was heard a rumble and a joyful cry from Alex, “There’s a hole in the
roof! Everything inside is visible! And I found my pick!”
“Kid, get out of there! Get the kid off! You’ll answer for this!” Ushitsyn shouted at
Papa Gavrilov.
“Alena! Are you up there?” Papa called.
“Kinda!” Alena’s not very confident voice came from the roof.
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47

“And what’s visible in the hole?”


“Nothing is visible to me! I’m wet. It’s visible to Alex. He’s touching the tree!”
“What tree?”
“A huge branch lies here. It broke through the roof. And he’s collecting some
caterpillars on it!”

“Don’t touch the evidence!” Ushitsyn howled.


“Alena, tell Alex that the caterpillars are evidence!” Papa shouted cheerfully.
“Alright!” Alena shouted something to Alex, received an answer, and immediately
related it, “He says that these aren’t any snails10 but ordinary caterpillars!”
“All the same, get Alex away from the hole!”
“He won’t listen to me,” Alena replied philosophically.
“You make him listen!”
“Okay!” Alena agreed rather limply, and immediately anticipation flared up in her
voice. “But, keep in mind, I’m using levers of parenting!"
Alena’s “levers of parenting” were Alex's red ears sticking out in different
directions, as well as methods of active pedagogy. Alena’s voice shifted and trailed off.
Perhaps, trying to stay unnoticed, she was crawling over to the “levers of parenting”.
However, before she crawled over, there was a crack of the tiles and a scream.
“Alena! What’s going on there?” Papa Gavrilov shouted.

10In Russian, the word for evidence is uliki while the word for snails is ulitki, the two words differ by only
one letter.
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48

“This weirdo tried to climb over the branch and fell through somewhere,” Alena
replied. “Does this count as my having fulfilled the assignment or not?”
Detective Ushitsyn and Papa Gavrilov simultaneously uttered two yells. Ushitsyn
lamented the destruction of evidence, and Papa was worried about Alex. Sergeant Elkin
and another policeman dragged from the neighbouring courtyard a sawhorse stained
with paint. The lower board, facing the ground, was covered with two layers of snails.
Papa Gavrilov climbed on the sawhorse first, followed by Ushitsyn and Captain
Matushkin. The roof of the doctor’s house gained height gradually. At first, where there
was an extension, there was the usual slate, further up was a small parapet in the form
of the merlons of a fortress wall, and a new set of elevations behind it was already laid
out with old massive tiles.
Half rising on his elbows, Papa Gavrilov saw a hole in the tiles, through which Alex
had vanished. A massive poplar branch protruded from the hole. It was not even a
branch but part of a split trunk. The poplar grew in the next yard and served as a
convenient ladder for all the neighbourhood cats to the surrounding roofs.
Alena was lying on her stomach by the hole, arms stretched out, and trying to look
inside. Lieutenant Ushitsyn dropped on all fours and quickly crawled along the tiles.
Papa Gavrilov crawled behind him on his stomach. He crawled and called to Alex, but
Alex did not respond. Papa’s imagination painted all sorts of horrors. The heavy Captain
Matushkin, afraid of falling through, was cautiously moving last. “The slate is unfit...
one’s rotten! My shirt is ruined here!” the inspector muttered.
Papa Gavrilov reached the hole almost simultaneously with Ushitsyn and,
worrying, looked into it. A small attic was visible under the crumbling tiles. Papa
exhaled with relief, having discovered that Alex was squatting and shoving his pinky into
a hole in the timber.
“There are larvae here!” he informed Papa.
“What kind of larvae?” Papa asked.
“Don’t know! Maybe woodworm? Something has gnawed through.” Alex said
doubtfully and his little finger got stuck in the cracks at once. He began to pull it, but the
little finger did not come out. “Either someone grabbed me or I’m stuck! And by the way,
there’s a hole here! The whole museum is visible!” Alex reported.
Ushytsin panted angrily. Then he ordered Papa Gavrilov to crawl aside and took
some photos. “So! If there were any prints, the rain has washed them away. They got
into the attic from the roof, and from the attic to the museum,” Ushitsyn said and
suddenly grabbed something from the roof. “Here’s one! Trapped under the tiles!” he
exclaimed.
“What is it? What are you doing?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“Collecting evidence! A candy wrapper!”
“Is this called ‘evidence’? Let me give you more ‘evidence’!” Costa rejoiced, sitting
above at the ridge of the roof, and rained candy wrappers onto Ushitsyn.
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49

The detective froze. “Is this, perhaps, your candy wrapper?” he asked Costa.
“Yes. Costa ate candy while Alex touched the branch!” Alena snitched on her
brothers.
Ushitsyn looked back at Matushkin and descended through the hole to the attic.
The attic was low, only a person of Alex’s size could straighten up to full height. The
branch that had broken through the tiles had also broken through the ceiling of the
museum. The gap was right there, really close. Ushitsyn bent down and stuck his head in
it. They heard him exchanging shouts with someone below.
Matushkin got up, took out a blank form, and continued to write quickly. Words
jumped on the lines like chickens on a roost. Papa Gavrilov even envied the quickness of
police inspiration. Matushkin raced ahead, not doubting either the choice of words or
the twists and turns of the plot, engulfed by a single desire: to convey to the reader the
truth of life – that here is a hole in the roof and a branch in the hole. That this is not a
hole at all but a point of entry. And not even a branch but a means of committing a
crime. And the caterpillars on the branch may not be exactly caterpillars but witnesses.
Papa Gavrilov looked at the huge poplar, which, having lost one of its two peaks, still
remained impressively tall, and became more and more criminal in his eyes every
second.
Matushkin had difficulty only in one place. The marks of the trunk that had struck
the roof: are these stress or skid marks? It is clear that when struck, they are stress
marks. But the poplar had been struck obliquely, over a large area, and it had broken
through the tiles somewhere but just scratched them somewhere. And here and there it
had lifted the tiles with separate branches without breaking them – what is it called? Lift
marks?
“What kind of tool is a branch? A battering one?” Matushkin asked Papa Gavrilov.
Papa Gavrilov muttered thoughtfully, hiding his ignorance.
The wind swept slim, spiky discs, dark on one side and light on the other, onto
Matushkin’s report. These discs, in a small amount, clogged the gaps between the tiles.
“Some kind of seeds...” Matushkin said and blew the husks off the report. “Yes, I
remember: a crowbar, an ax, and a chisel are battering tools! The branch here may be
the means. Or also a tool... the fool knows.”
“What distinguishes a means from a tool?” Papa Gavrilov asked, no longer hiding
his ignorance.
Matushkin was so surprised that he even stopped writing. “You’re the author of
detective novels!” he exclaimed with reproach.
“Yes. But I always confused the means and the tools of the crime. For example, if a
sultan was hit on the head with a stool, then the stool is what?”
“The tool.”
“Aha. And if the felon travelled to the crime scene on a donkey specially purchased
for that purpose, then the donkey is what? The means of the crime?”
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50

“The means.”
“Okay! And if the villain pricked the donkey with an awl and the donkey – that is,
in your opinion, the means – kicked the sultan in the forehead with a hoof, then is the
tool of the crime the donkey or the awl? Or is the awl already the means, and the donkey
the tool?”
Matushkin pondered.
Ushitsyn stuck his head out of the gap. “Here’s what I’m thinking!” the head
informed them. “The museum ceiling is very high. What dexterity is needed to jump
down, in the dark, not breaking yourself and not making a noise! And to climb back up?
Even if there was a rope, which for some reason there isn’t now. The felon is physically a
very strong person!”
Ushitsyn helped Alex up, and Papa Gavrilov picked him up by the elbows so that he
managed to get out. Then they all descended from the roof. Alex went down himself,
then again flew up the wall and rushed back and forth this way to infinity, and Alena did
not catch him by any of the “levers of parenting”.

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51

By that time the courtyard was filled with curious people. There were Mama
Gavrilov, Vicky and Kate, and the dogs Willy and Richard jumping from barking, the
mysterious Christina wrapped in a blanket with the eternal cup of tea in her hand, the
computer genius Sviatoslav Kuzin, and the gym teacher Adam Tarasiuk.
“All participants of the program ‘caring neighbours’ are here!” Papa Gavrilov said,
passing Alex and Costa to Mama so that she would hold them tighter.
But not only neighbours were here. The hotel owner Bugailo was also hanging
around here, goodness knows like an infiltrator into someone else’s yard. Paunchy,
black-bearded, and menacing, he peeked out from behind a police car. His driver, dried
up like a skeleton and with tattooed arms, stood next to him.

The sharp-sighted Ushitsyn immediately pinpointed new faces in the crowd. “What
house are you from? Where do you live?” he asked.
Bugailo spat to the side. “We’re... just passing by.”
“Driving past,” the driver added.
“So drive further!” Ushitsyn said sternly.

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52

“We’re going, Commander! No need to repeat!” Bugailo promised. He stood,


crossing his fat arms on his chest, and the flashes of an activated police blinker were
reflected in his sunglasses.
Matushkin beckoned to the sergeant. Elkin hid behind himself a half-eaten piece of
pie, wiped his lips, and walked over, blinking his nose.
“Sergeant! Remove all strangers from the yard! Fence off this corner with
something! Don’t let anyone in!”
“Will do! Not even a fly!” Elkin promised, and immediately three or four flies flew
by. One even sat down on the pie. Elkin waved it off.
“Where did you get the pie?” Matushkin asked.
“That woman over there offered it,” Elkin explained, indicating Christina with his
eyes.
“Why?”
Elkin had difficulty naming the reason and suggested that she just liked him.
Matushkin did not accept that someone could like a nose like Elkin’s.
“Ah, sergeant! Here’s either a bribe or a pie with mind-altering drugs! Did you
check for syringe needles? Give it over, I’ll give it an inspection!” Matushkin demanded.
After taking the piece of pie from Elkin, Matushkin carefully sniffed it and bit off a
large chunk from the side that the sergeant’s teeth had not touched.
“Well? How’s the inspection? Any drugs?” Elkin asked wistfully.
“We’ll soon find out! And now to the museum! We’ll inspect everything again!”
Matushkin said, finishing the piece of pie.
They left the yard and, going around the museum building along the long outer
wall, headed for the main entrance. They had to press themselves against the building.
There had been such a downpour at night that the narrow alley had turned into a stormy
river. Leaves, branches, and even someone’s flip-flops were swirling in the dark streams
rushing to the drain grids.
Papa Gavrilov walked and thought about old cities with labyrinths of intricate little
streets, where everything seems distant but is in fact very close. Perhaps the same
principle also works in other important things? You think it is necessary to look
somewhere far away, but in fact all the most important things are right next to you.
Behind Papa sneaked Alex, Costa, Rita and the other children. They had not been
invited to the museum, but they tagged along all the same, using the fact that Mama did
not see them. Peter ran ahead of Matushkin and Ushitsyn and, turning around, poured
out ideas.
“I wouldn’t rob the museum this way!” he rattled on when they passed the ship’s
cannons. “I would turn a cannon, load it, and blast the wall of the museum!”
“And you would be sprinkled with stones. And the cannons are heavy too. We tried
to lift one at the graduation with the whole class, it didn’t move a centimetre,”

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Matushkin said after a moment’s thought. “Although the plan is all right... What’s your
name? Peter? You think quickly!”
Peter lowered his eyes modestly.
In the museum they were already waiting for them. At the entrance was a bald
middle-aged man. He was nervously twisting a hanky in his hands, with which he
alternately wiped his glasses and his bald head. “Hello! I’m Mark Iosifovich Gupt, the
director!” he introduced himself, ignoring Matushkin and Ushitsyn and quizzically
looking askance at Peter and Papa Gavrilov.
“They are with me!” Matushkin intervened for Papa.
“And they, it turns out, are with me,” Papa Gavrilov added, revealing a whole
bunch of kids who were trying to slip past the director into the museum. “Kate, Vicky!
Please hold Alex’s hands!”
“Why me? What am I, little? It’s I who’ll hold everyone’s hands!” the offended Alex
yelled.
“Come,” the clever Kate agreed. “You hold us by the hand! Me with one hand,
Vicky with the other! Only hold tight so that we don’t touch anything!”
Kate, like Papa, was well aware that Alex’s hands had an extraordinary
characteristic of grabbing everything, moreover, they often acted independently of his
brain. Equally, Alex’s legs also, when they ran, usually acted on their own.
“It seems to me that parents’ problems can be measured in the boys, and patience
in Alexes,” Mama sighed.
“Doesn’t matter!” Papa calmed her. “It isn’t hyperactivity, it’s the supply of vitality!
When all the others are a little tired of life, Alex will just return to normal.”
Captain Matushkin looked at Alex with great doubt. Apparently, he still had not
forgotten who had fallen through the hole in the roof. “The children definitely won’t
touch anything? Promise?” he asked Papa sternly.
Kate came to Papa’s aid. “Yes, what can we touch when Alex is holding us? Rita!
Grab my other hand quickly so that I won’t touch anything with this hand!” Rita, proud
of the assignment, grabbed her sister’s other hand.
The archeology hall, from which the bowl had been stolen, was the continuation of
the large hall of Karaites, Crimean Tatars, Huns, Khazars, and Pechenegs, which was the
heart of the museum’s exhibitions.
Director Gupt stopped for a minute next to a model of the ancient city and began to
click the toggle switches. At the same time, he took off his glasses, and his eyes became
myopic and vulnerable. He barely saw the model now, but he did not need to see
anything: he felt it. Papa Gavrilov noticed that when Gupt put on his glasses, he became
official. When he removed them, he turned into good old Gupt, an artist and a
miniaturist.
At the first click, the light went out. At the second, the shutters dropped by
themselves and the room plunged into darkness. The director tapped the third toggle
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54

switch and the ancient city came to life. Anticipating the approaching dawn, lights were
lit in the mosques, and trembling voices called from the minarets to morning prayer.
Mosques in different parts of the city did not wake up simultaneously, and voices
overlapped and broke up, spreading in waves. On the model, lights flared up first in the
caravan-sheds, then in the smithies, and then in the windows of the khan’s palace. A
small live brook turned the wheels of the mills. Running up the hills, in small groups,
the trees of the multifunction gardens clung to each other. On the epoxy sea, merchant
ships waited, loading on anchor cables of threads.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Gupt asked Papa Gavrilov. “It’s even hard to believe that a
single person, Emelian Novitskii, made all this! A remarkable sculptor, potter, ceramist,
and artist! He was a museum researcher. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the year the
ministry slashed the pay of a researcher, and now Emelian is registered as our
cloakroom attendant. I tried to reclaim him, but do I really decide on whom to be a
researcher? Especially when there’s no salary! A shame, very upsetting!”
Gupt put on his glasses and flipped them irritably with his fingernail, pushing
them into place. And immediately the nice artist disappeared. The severe director
appeared, snapping toggle switches. The blinds opened up, light flashed, and the miracle
vanished. Right behind the model, narrowing the aisle and marking the beginning of a
new hall, were glass display cases with adornments and bronze coins. Chain armour,
bows, and helmets of khan warriors hung on the walls.
“Over here! Please!” Gupt stopped at a tall narrow window. Above it was a hole in
the ceiling, into which Ushitsyn had already looked a little earlier from the attic. Around
the display cases lay shreds of insulation, poplar leaves, and crumbled debris of drywall,
having fallen from above.
“Yesterday the bowl was here!” Gupt said and pulled out a hanky to wipe his
glasses, but, having thought it over, blotted his sweaty bald spot.
Next to the display case, the expert was doing his magic beside an open briefcase.
After dipping a magnetic brush into powder, he processed the metal fixture holding the
glass. “So, decided to check!” he explained from a distance. “I don’t understand how
they took out the bowl if the case hasn’t been touched! No sign of forced entry!”
Matushkin looked doubtfully at the display case. “None at all?” he was surprised.
“The glass is intact, everything’s intact. There are minor scratches from a
screwdriver on the mounts and screws, but they could have occurred when the case was
mounted initially. Simply the theft of the century!” the expert replied.
“The criminal didn’t risk breaking the glass, so that the guard would hear. He
preferred to take it off. Then he took out the bowl and returned the glass in place,”
Ushitsyn suggested.
“In pitch darkness? The lighting was turned off with the cameras,” Matushkin
remarked skeptically. He was sitting on the chair of the day attendant, on the back of
which hung a woman’s sweater, and continued to quickly produce the inspection report.
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55

“The thief could have had a headlamp,” Peter said.


“He could have. He even, most likely, did,” the expert admitted. “But the
dismantling of the display case glass and especially its assembly is a laborious task.
There are a few more than two dozen bolts. And the guard could appear. Here he’s two
halls away and audibility is quite good. And there’s even the risk that he’d turn on the
light, and you’d be in the cameras! He would probably still risk disassembling the case,
so as not to attract the guard with the ringing of the glass, but to assemble again!”
“In general, it’s amazing how he managed to do so with the lights turned off! He
even figured out that the lighting isn’t standalone here,” Ushitsyn said.
“Well, he could have guessed about the standalone, because the bulbs of the
backup lights weren’t burning. As for the storm... maybe he looked at the forecast!”
Matushkin suggested, but there was no confidence in his voice. Too many coincidences.
Even the poplar also collapsed on the roof precisely that night!

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56

“Yeees,” Ushitsyn drawled. “It might not have been a thunderstorm with a
downpour, the power might not have gone off, the poplar might not have fallen...
Strange thing! Everything came together right on the dot! Some mystery!”
Peter stood by the wall, examining a photograph of the Scythian bowl. “Expensive?”
he asked.
Gupt turned around angrily at Peter. “Not everything is measured in money, young
man! This is unique and unparalleled! This is the bowl from the Gaimanova Grave! My
father took part in the search for it!”
A narrow cylinder flashed in the director’s hands, and the red dot of the laser
pointer ran along the walls of the exhibition hall, aiming at the photos. “Look here! By
the summer of 1969, the expedition had unearthed 22 small mounds, and all were
looted back in antiquity! And here they arrived in front of the Gaimanova Mound – a
huge mound of eight metres high and seventy metres in diameter! It goes without saying,
all members of the expedition were convinced that grave diggers hadn’t spared it. But
they decided to take a chance anyway. First they removed the earthen cap. At a depth of
4 metres, they discovered huge limestone slabs placed vertically. Ancient builders sunk
them in order to prevent the soil from sliding! A herculean task!”
“Like the Egyptian pyramids?” Alena asked.
Gupt turned indignantly, and the red dot of the pointer was fixed on Alena’s chest.
“Never even compare how many Egyptians participated in the construction of the
pyramids, and how many Scythians! There were fewer Scythians, of course! But indeed,
the Scythian mounds are no less majestic and blend much more successfully into the
landscape! After opening the mound, at the level of the limestone plates they found the
remnants of a funeral feast: sheep bones, broken amphoras,11 arrowheads, and metal
plates from a horse harness. And here was revealed a manhole by robbers leading down
to the graves!”
“So, they cleaned it out?” Ushitsyn asked and the whiskers on his forehead moved
menacingly.
“Yes. And many centuries ago. However, archaeologists decided to take a chance
and continued the excavation. They went deeper and revealed the funeral chamber!
There were four skeletons in it – two males and two females. Scythian chieftains and
their wives. With a dozen small gold ornaments and a ring pressed in clay. The robbers
did not notice them when they cleaned out the chamber. They had to crawl squatting,
lighting themselves with torches, or even in pitch darkness. A decision was approved to
stop digging. And at that moment my father accidentally ran his hand along the wall,
scraping off a layer of clay!” Gupt’s voice jumped. The light pointer in his hand darted
and pointed to a small photograph at the bottom of the case.
“The wall collapsed! A back chamber with treasures, of which the robbers did not
suspect, was revealed! Treasures lay one above the other in horizontal rows! On top was
11
An amphora is a container for transport or storage in Ancient Greece and Rome.
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a wooden bowl with gold lining, below was a silver flat bowl – a kylix,12 even lower was a
wooden bowl decorated with sheets of gold, further was a silver rython13 with a golden
funnel-shaped extension in the shape of a ram’s head. And finally, at the bottom, of the
greatest value: a silver bowl with gilding for ritual purpose, decorated with a frieze with
relief images of six Scythian figures!”

“So it isn’t gold? But why does it say ‘gold’ on the flyers?” Peter clarified in
disappointment.
Gupt looked at him as if he wanted to strangle him, but limited himself to crossing
Peter twice with the laser pointer. “Because!” he snapped. “The figures are made in high
relief, covered with gold. Only the faces and hands are left in silver. Realistic scenes of
Scythian life are depicted on the bowl. A meeting of the chieftains, perhaps, to conclude
a peace. Two bearded men conduct a dinner conversation. In the hand of one is a whip,
in the other, a mace. Both are symbols of authority. A young Scythian has a grivna14
around his neck and a bowl in his hand. This is presumably a noble warrior. An old
Scythian is holding something out to him. The reverse side of the bowl has suffered a lot
from time, many small details are lost. Under one handle of the bowl, a young Scythian
is bent over a wineskin. Under the other, an elderly warrior is on his knees. He’s holding
his forehead with one hand, and searching for something on the ground with the other.
Maybe he has dropped something, perhaps a buckle or a coin. An everyday sketch and

12 A kylix is an ancient Greek cup, broad and rather shallow, for drinking wine.
13
A rhyton is a roughly cylindrical container for liquids. It typically has the shape of an animal’s head and
was produced over a large area of ancient Eurasia.
14
A grivna is a torc, a stiff metal neck ring, and a gold one indicates that the wearer is of high rank.
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it’s in an era when the art of the world was still dozing and sculpture was static!
Egyptian statues always have one leg longer than the other, the bas-reliefs are flat, but
here’s such artistic perfection! And you say: pyramids!”
Gupt again looked grievously at the bowl, and turned away so as not to torment
himself. At the same time, he removed his finger from the pointer button.
“The Scythians drank wine undiluted. For the ancient world, this was a shock
anyway; it's like abusing with glasses of pure alcohol now. The Greeks spoke of each
other when they wanted to condemn someone: drink like a Scythian. They themselves
diluted wine with water. Sometimes they added ice instead of water. And sometimes
they used sea water,” Papa Gavrilov remembered.
Gupt looked around at him in surprise, nodded, and Papa Gavrilov sensed that his
stock had risen with the director.
“The most terrible thing is if they melt the bowl and sell it for the price of the gold
and silver!” the director said in despair.
“What? Can they?” Papa Gavrilov was uneasy.
“Why not? It depends on who stole it,” Matushkin said. "If they stole it under
orders, they would most likely try to get it out of the country. But it’s not easy to smuggle
the bowl across the border – all customs have already been notified, checkpoints at
airports too. Photos of the bowl will be circulated in the coming hours. So, most likely,
the bowl is still in the Crimea. The thief will wait until the hype dies down, and then try
to smuggle it, maybe with some cargo ship. There the inspection isn’t so thorough; there
are a lot of places to hide the bowl on a ship. Worse, if the bowl was stolen by some
casual thieves or floaters. Simply saw it at the exhibition and decided to try their luck.
Such thieves may decide to sell it to jewelers as individual melted ingots. In this case,
their gains will be less, but the risk is lower.”
“Rita! What are you doing? It’s indecent!” Kate exclaimed, interrupting Matushkin.
“What is she doing?” Alena became interested.
“She’s fanning her skirt!”
“I’m hat!” Rita squeaked.
“So? Because you’re a hat, you need to fan your skirt?”
“She isn’t ‘a hat’ but ‘hot’!” Vicky surmised. “By the way, I’m also hot! What, the
windows don’t open here?”
As soon as she spoke of the windows, everyone felt that it was really so stuffy in the
museum, and drops of sweat appeared like broth on the director’s shiny bald head.
“Strange!” Gupt was surprised. “We have air conditioning! Always keeps the
temperature at nineteen degrees. The ideal museum temperature, by all standards!”
“How much? Nineteen?” The expert snorted. “It's all of thirty-five here!”
The director ran to the air conditioner. “Wow! It’s on heat mode! Probably slipped
when the power was off! Now I’ll fix it!” he exclaimed, pressing the buttons on the

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remote control. “Let’s go to my office! As far as I understand, we still can’t touch


anything here? Clean up? Send in the cleaner?”
“No way!” Matushkin was alarmed.
Everyone went to the office. Vicky and Kate were first. They led Alex, who, despite
being held, managed to turn with a foot a millstone, which, until him, had last been
turned in the 3rd century BC. Matushkin went last, continuing to write something.
Suddenly Peter, who was walking in front of him, turned and squatted down. The
inspector ran into him and stopped.

“What happened?” he asked.


“A puddle!” Peter exclaimed. “Where did the puddle come from?” Indeed, there
was a large puddle on the floor. A thin trickle, leading from the puddle, ran up to the
display case of the stolen bowl.

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Matushkin lifted his head, contemplating a hole in the ceiling. “Well, a puddle’s a
puddle! It rained. Flowed from the roof,” he said.
Peter got down on all fours and examined the puddle with interest. Then, for some
reason, he touched it with his finger and licked it.

Matushkin frowned. “What? Tasty?” he asked.


“Tasty,” Peter replied seriously, and, having gotten up, ran to catch up with Papa.
They passed through a hall with the Liberation of Evpatoria diorama. Here was a
stepladder stained with paint and piles of sacks of building mixture. On the floor,
partially submerged in a trough with mortar, lay a massive drill with a mixer nozzle.
Detective Ushitsyn stopped dead. “What’s this?” he asked.
“That, we’re making a small repair. We have two workers working here,” Gupt
explained briskly.
“They work at night?”
“During the day. Obviously, they have no independent access to the museum. They
came in the morning, left in the evening.”

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“The workers didn’t spend the night in the museum? Couldn’t they somehow stay
unnoticed?”
“Of course not!” Gupt was indignant.
Matushkin asked if the repair had been going on for a long time. The director
replied that it was about a week.
“That is such a small spot repair, strictly for the duration of the exhibition?”
Ushitsyn clarified innocently.
Gupt straightened up angrily and looked at him with the gaze of an English king,
whom the supermarket guard accused of stealing ice cream. “Quite right!” he snapped.
“A spot repair strictly for the duration of the exhibition! By the way, we didn’t expect
this exhibition! It fell on us like snow on the head! The bowl should have been taken to
Sudak, and only come to us in July! But Sudak couldn’t take it now, they have the
Aivazovsky15 exhibition there!”
“Okay, okay!” Matushkin said conciliatorily. “Nobody’s blaming you. Everybody’s
doing his job. You yours, and we ours.” He leaned over and, without touching the drill,
looked closely at it and shouted to the expert in the other room to take prints from the
drill and the ladder.
“Ahhh! Don’t touch the hand grenades!” Vicky suddenly yelled. While she was
holding Alex, Costa had managed to get to the display case with weaponry.
“I’m not touching! And if I do, I won’t pull this ring!” Costa said with reproach.
“Let him touch and pull what he wants. The grenades are defused and welded. We
have school trips every day, so we know our audience,” Gupt dismissed it and, grandly
lifting his head as bald as the knob of a walking stick, he turned into a small hallway.
The hallway ended at a wooden door. “Always close!” was written on the door, but it
turned out to be always fully open.
“Now, this is our facility with Emelian. Here’s the office, workshop, catalog, and
accounting – all at once!” Gupt explained.
The office was small. A machine gun of the war era with a pan magazine stood on
one of the tables. Right there was also flaunted a stuffed wolf, at which Gupt squinted
with surprise and disapproval, as if it had run here by itself. The police were more
interested in the machine gun than the wolf.
“Well preserved,” Ushitsyn said appreciatively.
“It is now! Emelian completely disassembled it, soaked everything in kerosene, and
removed the excess paint,” Gupt explained, moving a small, foul-smelling bottle of
acetone to the cabinet.
“Nice machine gun. Remove this rivet here, put it on the roof, and no one can swim
to the sea,” Matushkin said cheerfully.

15Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817–1900) was a Russian Romantic painter, considered one of the
greatest masters of marine art.
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Gupta did not like the joke. “Simferopol is trying to coax us for it. They are offering
an anti-tank gun for it. They have several of those, but no machine gun.”
“Have to agree!” Matushkin approved. “Your Emelian revamps it, touches it up,
and greases it. They’ll swap you a rusty tank for the gun, an airplane for the tank, a
cruiser for the airplane...”
Ushitsyn looked around the walls. Among the diplomas of gratitude for
participation in urban and nationwide activities, a Nagant revolver 16 with a pencil
inserted into the barrel hung discreetly on a nail. Alex also saw it, even before the
detective did, and, trying to reach the revolver, twitched in his sisters’ hands as if he was
being electrocuted.
Ushitsyn took the revolver from the nail and ascertained that it was also museum
quality, with an engraved dedication For the liberation of the Crimea. Below the trigger
there was also a stamp with the date of issue – 1913.
“Nagant were made to last! More than a hundred years old, but naturally like new.
What’s it doing here? Not like it needs repair,” Ushitsyn said.
“Emelian is playing,” Gupt grumbled.
“Emelian has a good pastime. A man’s pastime,” Matushkin complimented. “Even
having an item purely by chance for such a pastime.”
“The weapon is unsuitable for firing. It’s a museum exhibit,” Gupt said sternly.
Matushkin waved his hand and sat down on an ammunition box. There were only
two chairs in the office. Director Gupt was already occupying one, and on the other
Alena had on her lap a squirming Rita, which Alena was hugging with both arms. Tired
of the investigation, Rita kicked, pushing away from the wall, and the chair rolled away,
because it was on wheels. Rita liked it very much.
“Let’s recreate the picture again!” Matushkin said, looking at his report as at a
cheat sheet. “At three in the morning the bowl was in place. This is recorded by the
surveillance camera. The next activation of the cameras was shortly before six. The
record clearly shows that by this time the bowl is no longer in the case. The guard claims
that he saw it last at five during his morning round. At six, he discovered its
disappearance and called the cops. Question: why did the guard not stay by the bowl all
night if he knew about its value?”
Gupt bounced on the chair. “His station is by the central entrance. There’s a table
and a sofa. All video surveillance and phone cables are there. Our security guard can be
trusted. He has been working in the museum for more than ten years. Deliver
Edemovich Khasanov.”
“D.E. Khasanov confirms that from five to six he didn’t go into the hall. The
recording shows how he appears, stands still for a while, looks at the windows, at the
ceiling, shakes his head, calmly turns around, and goes back,” Ushitsyn said.

16
The Nagant M1895 revolver, designed by Belgian industrialist Léon Nagant (1833-1900), was adopted
in 1895 by the Tsar’s military administration as their standard-issue sidearm.
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“Hmm... Just calmly turns around? Not running? Not stumbling?” Papa Gavrilov
was curious.
“Deliver Edemovich is a man with iron restraint. A former military man, he fought
in hot spots!” Gupt proudly informed them.
Peter wandered around the office and examined the director’s caption on a fire-
prevention poster, in which Gupta ordered himself to leave the office in an emergency
through exit No. 1. Exit No. 1 was the only door to the office through which he would
leave even without any poster.
“Hmm... Why, if the cameras were on earlier, did the security guard only discover
the disappearance at six? Was it really not visible on the monitor that the bowl had
disappeared?” Peter asked.
“We asked him about it, too. He explained that it’s impossible to watch the monitor
constantly. There are more than ten cameras in the museum, a few more outside, each
on a square on the screen. And everything’s small, you’ll ruin your eyes,” Ushitsyn
replied.

On the table, the director had a dish with rye croutons. The dish did not give
Captain Matushkin any rest. It was noticeable that he was fighting with his hand. The
hand just casually reached for the croutons, like a snake sliding along the table and

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fingers making short dashes along the polish, but the captain, noticing this, coughed
sternly, and the hand withdrew. Costa and Rita looked at Matushkin with understanding.
“Please take some, take some! My wife made these in the oven, with butter, salted.
Finger licking good!” Gupt said generously.
The inspector took a handful of croutons. “So... Let’s continue! Who had official
access to the bowl? You know, move it in the case, rearrange the light, if necessary?” he
asked.
“The three of us. Novitskii, Masha, and myself,” Gupt replied.
“Masha? Who’s that?”
“Our guide... But she also helps arrange the exhibition. We have a small museum,
few employees.”

Ushitsyn made a note in a notebook that appeared in his hand as if by magic.


“So... Have you known this Masha for long?”
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“Twenty-two years,” Gupt said and reflected bitterly. “Yes, I’ve already known her
for twenty-two years and three months. How time flies!”
“In what way do you know her? Can you give a description?” Ushytsyn pressed.
“Oh, sure! A capricious, dispensable person, having withdrawn from university,
always asking for money for all sorts of nonsense and fighting with her mother!” the
director exclaimed heatedly.
Matushkin stopped crunching croutons. “Quite a character! And how do you
tolerate this at work?” he asked with his mouth full.
“I have to,” Gupt sighed. “Of course, as an employee, I would’ve already fired her
long ago. I tell her every day, ‘Masha, out of my sight!’ But the challenge is that I’m her
father.”
Ushitsyn slammed shut his notebook. “Well, never a dull moment with you!” he
said angrily.
The door flew open. A girl flew into the office. She had a short braid, but of such
thickness that it more resembled a rope. Papa Gavrilov caught himself trying to hear the
sound that emerged when the braid hit the shoulder blades. The girl looked at the
policemen and, running up to Gupt, hastily whispered something in his ear.
“Are you sure?” the director asked. The girl nodded.
“Of all things!” Gupt was surprised. “Here’s such a thing... I asked Masha to check
if anything else was missing. The thief, once he sneaked into the museum, couldn’t have
limited himself to one bowl.”
“And? What else is missing?” Ushitsyn asked in a hurry.
“Exhibit No. 821. Stuffed Marten with a Turtledove in Its Teeth from the ‘Nature
of the Crimea’ hall,” Masha informed them.
Ushitsyn made a note in his notebook. “Is it far from the ‘Nature of the Crimea’
hall to the bowl? Is it possible to get from hall to hall?”
“The idea of an accessible environment is implemented in our museum,” Gupt said
grandly.
“‘Accessible environment’, well said!” the detective grunted. He obviously liked the
expression. “So, there are no doors then? Come when you want, take what you know?”
“There are doors in some places, because the mansion was built, as you understand,
without considering the needs of a museum. But still, wherever we could, we
relinquished doors,” Gupt said sullenly.
“Any photos of the taxidermy mount?” Ushitsyn asked.
“Should be. I think I took it for our site,” Masha responded not very confidently.
“The material value of the exhibit?”
“It’s priceless!” Gupt said. “Though moth-eaten, It’s culturally priceless! The
marten has such an expression in the eyes! Integrity, self-confidence, and self-
righteousness! The body is like a spring. As if the marten stops while running and looks
at its audience with alarm. ‘Why did you come into my forest, people? With what
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intentions? For what purpose?’ And the dove – you see! – it hangs motionless in its
sharp teeth. It’s dead, but as if reproaching. This flows from the very interpretation of
the imagery.”
Ushitsyn moved his lips. “And the marten was definitely stolen? Couldn’t you have
moved it somewhere yourself?”
“Of course not! There’s even a trace of glue left. We reinforce the stand with two
glue points so that the children won’t move it. And here are the glue points, but no
marten...”
“So, since the children touched it, anyone who wanted to could touch the marten?
But how about your hall attendants?” Matushkin remarked.
Gupt stared at him contentiously. “Have you ever worked in a museum? There are
guided tours. Usually two classes. Sixty inquisitive school kids with the desire for tactile
sensations. One hundred and twenty hands, exploring the world. And the attendant only
has two hands,” he added.
“We need to show Mikhalych where the taxidermy was. Let him look at the
fingerprints,” Matushkin yielded. “Anything else missing?”
Masha did not answer right away, looking distractedly at the large amphora
standing in the corner of the office. There were several deep cracks smeared with
something white on the amphora. It must have been glued from many pieces, with the
intention of covering the traces of the glue with varnish when it dried.
“Masha!” Matushkin repeated. “Hey! Anything else stolen?”
“Ah, yes! My smartphone from the table!” Masha said loudly and sat down on
Novitskii’s table, crossing her legs. In order to sit down, she had to move a few glass jars
and a plastic container with a piece of melted butter.
On hearing about the smartphone, Matushkin and Ushitsyn became much more
animated than at the mention of the vanished taxidermy. A smartphone is a serious clue.
Even if the card is pulled out and another inserted, there are ways to track it.
Experienced thieves, who had come aiming for the bowl, would not have coveted a
smartphone.
“What’s your phone number?” Matushkin started to rush. “Any documents left on
the device? The receipt? The box with the warranty?”
There was a short knock at the door. A young man of about twenty-five, lean and
graceful, entered the office with decisive steps. He had a straw-coloured beard and a tan
line on his forehead from a bandana or baseball cap. Because of this line, half of his
forehead was dark and the other half white.
“I accidentally heard your conversation in the hallway and decided to turn myself
in! I’m the villain you’re looking for!” he said and solemnly put his hand into his pocket.
Detective Ushitsyn proved to have the reaction of a mongoose. He jumped and,
after knocking the young man off his feet, sat down on him from behind, wrapping his

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arm around his head. The young man tossed and turned on the floor. Papa Gavrilov and
Peter blinked in astonishment.
“You see... Case closed! And don’t need… no... writers...!” Ushitsyn panted
triumphantly, addressing Papa Gavrilov.

At this moment, Masha behaved strangely. Apparently being in a state of shock, at


first she moved the jars and the plastic container with food into the fridge, and then she
pulled a shoe off her foot and with a squeal began to bash the detective on the back.
“What’s she doing? Vova, get her off me!” Ushitsyn shouted.
Matushkin rushed to pull the girl away, but stumbled over a chair and fell on top of
Ushitsyn.
The young man lying down gasped quietly. “Hey! Get off me, you two! Let someone
sit on me alone! Well, at least one by one!” he demanded.
Muttering, “Vova, hold him! I’ll check him for weapons!” Ushitsyn managed to put
his hand in the young man’s pocket, but instead of a pistol he took out a smartphone.
“What is it?” Ushitsyn asked, puzzled.
“What does it look like?” the young man asked sarcastically.
“It’s my smartphone!” Masha jumped on one leg, because she had no shoe on the
other.
“You’re sure it’s yours?”
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“Yes, I’m sure. I know every crack on its screen!”


Ushitsyn released the young man, who got up, wincing and stretching his arm.
“Do you know this man?”
“I do. This is Emelian Novitskii... Our cloakroom attendant!” Masha said
challengingly.
The young man threw a vengeful glance at her. “I’ll strangle you!” he promised.
Ushitsyn again grabbed his wrist just in case. “And where’s the bowl?” he asked
threateningly.
“What bowl?”
“The Scythian!”
“I have no idea! You were instructed to search, so search!” the young man snapped.
“And we will!” Ushitsyn promised. “Just a minute! Why did you say that you’re
turning yourself in?”
“I heard that Masha had misplaced her phone again and came to confess that I
took it, before she excessively agitated everyone here. That’s all! What’s with the bowl?”
“Why did you steal the smartphone?” Ushitsyn, who wanted poignantly to unravel
something, tried to figure out.
“Please allow me to make a contribution! I suspect that he took my daughter’s
smartphone on the lame justification that he was her former fiancé!” Gupt declared.
“But I, of course, am categorically against it! And my wife, her poor mother, also isn’t
dying of happiness! Earlier, when he was a researcher, it was possible to resign to this. A
fairly clever young man! Of course he hasn’t a penny, of course he doesn’t have his own
apartment, he isn’t even in the position to rent a room, but he’s still a researcher, neither
drinks nor smokes, gives some hopes, and it’s good in our time! But now that he’s a
cloakroom attendant, what will I tell my relatives? That I, Gupt, director of a museum,
gave my only daughter to a cloakroom attendant? She’s suffering, of course, but am I not
suffering? Isn’t her mother suffering?”
“She’s not suffering! Somehow unnoticeable!” Masha cut in angrily.
Gupt turned away. His back was frighteningly straight. His bald head glistened like
an orange under a lamp. “Yes, yes, I understand that I’m involving outsiders! But pay
attention that only we, your parents, can tolerate such a character as yours. Your mother
and I are ready to continue to bear our cross! Where are you rushing to? It still won’t be
too late to ruin your life even in fifty years! And then, when we’re dead, you can manage
your destiny as you like! Marry the cloakroom attendant, go on foot to the North Pole,
hunt whales, everything that your heart desires!”
Ushitsyn finally let go of the young man’s arm and sat down again on the
ammunition box. “I still don’t understand why you need the smartphone!” he said.
“I needed to get on the Internet. Mine’s out of juice,” Emelian explained.
“But couldn’t you ask?” Captain Matushkin offered his option.

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“Well, then you’d also have to ask for the candy! They, by the way, are mine! Gupt’s
croutons, but my candy! And the table from which you are taking them is mine too!” the
fiancé-attendant explained resentfully.
Matushkin looked at his own hand and discovered with surprise that the villainous
hand, having already finished with the croutons, again without consulting him, was now
gradually dragging candy from a nearby table. The captain was embarrassed and, hiding
the evidence, hastily stepped on a fallen wrapper. “Oh, come... why are we stuck on this
smartphone? What nonsense here!” he said conciliatorily.
“And why ‘Gupt’s croutons’? I, by the way, have a name – Mark Iosifovich! I’m
your director! And one can even say the could-have-been papa!” Gupt grumbled.
“Put the kettle on, Papa! It, as always, is on your table!” Masha suggested.
“Yes, yes! The kettle!” Gupt made haste.
But the kettle was never put on, because at that moment an incomprehensible
thing happened. A plump woman’s hand with a large ring on her ring finger poked into
the narrow window. Dumbfounded, Matushkin began to get up, but then a flash flared
up into his face at close range. The captain froze, blinded, covering his face with his
elbow.
“What was that?” Ushitsyn exclaimed.
“Somebody photographed us. And I think my mouth was open! Ugly! They’ll even
put it on the Net!” Masha Gupt replied in confusion.
Everyone rushed outside. A perplexed sergeant Elkin was standing by the cannons
near the entrance to the museum. “What’s that!” he uttered.
“Did you see anything?” Ushitsyn rushed to him.
“Yes. A woman climbed onto the balcony and stuck her hand in the window. So I
went to her, and she noticed me, jumped off, and wandered around the corner. I ran up,
and a group of vacationers poured out of there. In short, I didn’t find her!”
“Would you be able to identify her?” Matushkin asked.
Elkin threw his hands to his head and wiggled his fingers. “Why not? Easy! Hair is
so lush, red, and dark chameleon glasses on a third of the face!”
The inspector shook his head. “Good features! The glasses can be taken off. And
the red hair, most likely, is a wig. What, Elkin, don’t you read detective novels?”
“No way,” the sergeant answered, wincing. “My daughter and I read serious books,
math books.”
“And how old is your daughter?”
“One year old. But she listens and doesn’t interrupt. Detective novels, well... This
stuff at work is good enough for me!” Elkin said.

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Chapter Four
EDIBLE LOCUST AND DRAGONFLY

“Alena, are you afraid of ghosts?”


“Nope. I’m more afraid when I ask ‘Who’s there?’ in an
empty room and they answer me.”
©Alena

In the morning, rivers ran along the asphalt and people were skipping on rocks like
birds. Now, at two in the afternoon, the water was asleep. The sun was frying, as if it set
out to make pancakes. A heat haze rose above the heated roof of the Gavrilov minibus.
Only small mounds of the washed-out dirt at the edges and small puddles confirmed
that nobody had imagined the rain.
“That’s the south! Turns on the downpour at night, but heat in the daytime,” Papa
Gavrilov said and, finding the recorder in the phone menu, muttered into it his feelings
of rain, thunder, and puddles. All this could be useful for a book. In a fictitious book,
every grain of truth is like a raisin in a roll. The more raisins, the more delicious the roll.
All the Gavrilovs were at home, including Vicky, who not long ago had left to take
Willy and Richard for a walk. Alena teased Vicky as “the lady with two dogs”, and Papa
Gavrilov claimed that the southern romance in Chekhov’s short story17 was possible only
17
The Lady with the Dog (1899) is a short story by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860–1904), Russian
playwright and short-story writer, considered one of the greatest writers of short fiction in history. The
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because the lady was childless and had only one dog, and she did not have to worry too
much about anyone. If she had two dogs, they would scatter in different directions and
entangle the leashes. The lady would yell at them, swoop them up in her arms, rescuing
them from menacing mongrels, and constantly wipe off any garbage from their mouths.
Any admirer would run away from her in about ten minutes, deafened by the dogs’
barking, if he himself, of course, was not walking with five dachshunds.

Soon after they had left the museum, Inspector Matushkin was summoned to the
authorities. The tired out, red from the heat Ushitsyn flickered in the courtyard, taking
statements from all the tenants, but did not visit the Gavrilovs. He only popped in once
to drink water, but did not say anything because the drum in his pocket started to tap
again. Ushitsyn’s wife wanted to know how much he loved her. Ushitsyn in exasperation
assured her that he loved her deeply and, after pouring the few drops remaining in the
cup on top of his head to cool down, jumped out into the yard.
A mobile lab from Simferopol arrived – a large closed van with a wide blue stripe
and a retractable ladder, like those of firefighters, on the roof. Papa Gavrilov was forced
to move the minibus from the yard so that the van could park in its place. Now the
experts were also working on the roof. They could be heard crawling along the attic on
all fours.

story describes the adulterous affair between an unhappily married banker and a young married woman,
meeting while both were on vacation alone in Yalta.
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“Didn’t you lose something? How did your pick turn up on the roof?” Papa
Gavrilov asked Alex.
“Someone took it,” Alex replied.
“But not you?”
Alex shook his head. “Will they give it to me?”
“Better not ask for the time being. Maybe they won’t know that it’s yours.”
Sergeant Elkin, left to guard the yard from the curious, where there were more and
more every hour, sat sternly on a stool and read the cosine table with a serious face. Kate
and Vicky even ran to check when they were told what he was reading. They were sure
that it was impossible to read the cosine table.

Peter’s thoughts were simmering. He ran around the kitchen, constantly pressing
against the window for a long time. Finally, in order to distract himself somehow, Peter

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downloaded Paul Ekman’s book The Psychology of Lies. Deceive Me If You Can18 and
dived into its research.
The longer Peter read it, the more suspicious he became. Soon, even the cat began
to seem to him to be behaving unnaturally. Why is it looking sideways at him from the
sofa, pretending to lick its paw? Well, let the cat be, but the others! Checking whether
the book was reliable, Peter approached Kate and, blocking her way, asked sternly, “Did
you take the bowl?”
Kate silently tapped her forehead with a finger. Peter stared at the book, then
looked at Kate again. “Aha,” he muttered. “Avoiding an answer! Gesture in the area of
the forehead! Standing half sideways. Arms crossed on the chest. A closed posture...
Okay, okay, don’t confess!”
“It’s you who’s not confessing!” Kate was indignant. “You slept in the mini bus last
night! You have no alibi!”
Peter did not argue. “True, I don’t! Well, let’s say I could also have taken it. But
why did I take it? Motive, motive! Yeah, I want to get rich! Why did I forget that I took it?
Protective duality of consciousness in order to avoid reproaches of the conscience!
Everything matches! But let’s check the others! Vicky! Did you take the bowl?”
Vicky threw a towel at Peter. Peter looked again at the book. “Here it is! Aggression
is the best way to hide information. You scream, you throw things, and nobody connects
you... Alex, why did you take the bowl?”
“What?” Alex was puzzled.
“Asking to repeat! Avoiding the answer to a direct question and trying to give
yourself time to think! It fits! This Ekman is a sage, he considered everything!” Peter
triumphed. “Who’s left there? Alena?”
“Alena!” Alena acknowledged.
“What will you say, Alena? Shall we confess?”
“I took it!” Alena blurted out.
Such a quick admission did not perturb Peter. “Are you thinking of outwitting me?
What do we have there on the chart? Bravado! Trying to give a true statement for a lie.
So, can’t rule you out!”
Just in case, Peter checked Costa and Rita. Costa fled to the next room and,
squirming, stuck out his tongue, which, according to Ekman’s chart, corresponded to a
stormy facial gesture, but Rita threw up her skirt and covered her face, a typical gesture
of embarrassment in people with a low educational level. However, Mama behaved most
suspiciously of all. She began to demand that Peter prepare for the state exam, which
indicated a clear attempt to shift the conversation to another topic.

18
The Psychology of Lies. Deceive Me If You Can (2010) is one of the Russian-language editions of books
by Professor Paul Ekman, renowned American psychologist, specialist in the field of human emotions.
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Peter burst out laughing. “Okay!” he blurted out, carefully looking out into the yard
to check if someone else could hear them. “Of course, I don’t actually suspect any of you!
And in fact, I think I saw a criminal last night.”
“What?” Papa asked, leaning forward. “Who did you see?”
“The thief,” Peter replied. “I think that it was him, although, of course, not a
hundred percent sure. Only first promise that you won’t be angry.”
“Uh...” Papa Gavrilov tensed up. “Why should I be angry?”
“Well, just in case. Promise?” Papa promised reluctantly.
“Remember you had an old smartphone, which you abandoned, because you said
that it’s dangerous for writers to have smartphones? Writers with a smartphone
degrade... On the whole, now you definitely can’t degrade. Your smartphone broke last
night.”
Papa Gavrilov started to pant. “Why?” he asked.
“Because I photographed lightning with it. Your smartphone has a good camera...
well, had...”
“Why didn’t you shoot lightning with your smartphone? Does it have a bad
camera?”
“Well... never mind... but I was afraid that it would start raining,” Peter explained.
“That is, it, in fact, had already started... You promised not to be angry! Otherwise
there’s not much sense for me to confess my misdeeds any further! In short, I thought
that you don’t really need a smartphone, took it, and jumped out to shoot lightning.
They were flashing like crazy, one after another! I ran around the museum and stopped
at the archaeological triangle.”
“Where all the vessels, bones, and millstones are?” Kate specified.
“Yes! By then the rain was already slashing. And at some point I got the museum
roof into the frame. There was a man on the roof, and in his hands there was something
like a scythe that he kept raised over his head... I understand that this sounds silly. I was
frightened, but still mechanically continued to shoot. And then lightning struck,
something cracked, I was blinded for a second, and I looked: there was no longer anyone
on the roof... And the rain was such that it was impossible to breathe. You opened your
mouth and felt that you were drinking. I ran to the minibus. I wanted to see the pictures,
but the phone didn’t work anymore.”
“So let’s remove the memory card!” Papa suggested.
“Useless. You kept the photos in the internal memory. Who customises this way? I
pulled out the battery and set the phone down to dry... Maybe it’ll still reset. If not, we’ll
hand it over for repair,” Peter said.

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Kate looked at her brother very attentively. “And why, Pete, didn’t you say
anything to Matushkin? Or Ushitsyn?” she asked insinuatingly.
Peter was embarrassed. “Well...” he drawled. “I’m not so law-abiding. Besides, I
saw this person only for a couple of seconds. There’s nothing to tell them yet. They’ll
take the phone from us, and if they don’t find the photos there, they’ll start to suspect
me again... They’ll say: wandering around the museum and all that! No way!”
Kate continued to look at her brother. She precisely had the ability to look. Even
some teachers at school started to get nervous from her gaze, got worn down, and said
angrily, “Gavrilov, either close your eyes or go explain the topic for me!”
“Very well,” Peter said, glancing uneasily at Kate. “Let’s say there’s another reason!
I’m interested in solving this case myself. To test my abilities.”
Mama Gavrilov imperceptibly stepped on Papa’s foot. She was very glad that Peter
finally actively wanted something. And Papa was happy that Peter was so fired up.
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Meanwhile, Peter became more and more inflamed. “I don’t even know what I
need! I’m somehow all confused today!” he muttered. “Oh, I know already! I need
someone rather stupid but loyal, who will listen to me with mouth open! Dr. Watson –
that’s who I need! Alex, come here!”
Alex cautiously got out from behind the table and approached Peter. “What should
I do?” he asked.
“Nothing! I’ll explain to you! And in explaining, I understand! Why do you think
teachers at school are so smart? They constantly explain, explain, and then one day
surprise themselves, ‘Wow! Only twenty years have passed, and I truly understand this
topic!’”
Peter took Alex to the back room and, together with him, drew on half a piece of
paper a diagram of the museum with all the halls, the roof with the hole, the attic, and
the display case with the bowl. He sketched a lot of different people around the building
and thought hard, sometimes erasing something with an eraser, sometimes, on the
contrary, adding something. For two whole hours Peter and Alex were not seen or heard.
Papa Gavrilov wandered about the apartment. There were either children, guinea
pigs, or the Schwartz’s rat family. There was no possibility whatsoever to be alone with
the computer. He tried to shut himself up in the back room, even wrapped the door
handles with tights, but every minute someone came in through the second door and
began to ask stupid questions in the style of: “Did you break my butterfly net?” Or “Rita
lost her right shoe somewhere. Did you take it?”
“I did!” Papa admitted. “I always steal Rita’s shoe! That’s right! And precisely at
that moment when I break someone’s butterfly net!”
With grief, Papa Gavrilov shut himself in the bathroom, but the bathroom was
needed even more often than the room. Work in the kitchen? But the kitchen is known
to be the centre of a home and the fridge its heart. Papa went out onto the street, looking
for a place to work, but the bright sun made the screen hard to see. Then Papa crawled
with the laptop under the grapevines, from which scattering red spiders rained onto the
keyboard, and began to dream about how great it would be to buy a decommissioned
subway car, equip it, and live in it like in a house. He would build a potbelly stove there,
set up a table, and leave the rest unchanged. He would imagine to himself the thousands
upon thousands of people who traveled in this car at different times and it would seem
to him that he was living at the crossroads of many human destinies. And what a book it
would be possible to write, united by a single place of action – the car! And what a film
script! After all, in the same car at different moments of life could be found almost every
citizen of Russia. Especially if it is a car on the Ring Line.19

19 The Moscow subway Ring Line was built in 1950-54 as a circular route around central Moscow with all
its stations serving as transfer stations linking to other lines.
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After working for half an hour, Papa was tired of fighting with red spiders,
returned home, and discovered that Peter had occupied the kitchen table, spreading out
his paper on it. Kate, Alena, and Vicky crowded around Peter. Peter was showing them
the people drawn around the museum.
“All right! All of you, for sure, didn’t take the bowl! I simply checked Ekman’s chart
and realized that it would get even more confusing with it. But this is certain: one of
their own took the Scythian bowl! The thief knew the museum too well. Knew the
courtyard, knew where our pick was! Therefore I’m convinced that we need to search for
the thief nearby! Suspect number one... bum-badum-bum! – Sviatoslav Kuzin! Please
make him feel welcome!”
“You drew him badly! His legs are crooked, like a roguish monkey! He’s actually
pretty cute!” Kate remarked.
“I’m an artist! This is my inner vision,” Peter said. “So, Kuzin! Slippery personality.
I’m not referring to our computer, in which he replaced the hard drive. Also not
referring to his buying phones with a dubious history, then hacking and reselling.”
“So you suspect Kuzin? You think he was on the roof with a scythe?” Papa Gavrilov
asked.
“I don’t know. Remember: you said that you saw sunflower seed husks on the roof?
Look, he, in fact, hung around the police, poking around, and lied as if he had to go to
work. Why?”
“And who’s this?” Kate asked, pointing to the second figure. “Christina, isn’t it?
Why Christina?”
“The scarf on the gas pipe, along which they climbed onto the roof? It’s Christina’s
scarf! I recognized it!”
“Do you think Christina is so stupid? Plan a perfect crime and use your own scarf?
Then we’re guilty too, since our pick was on the roof!” Kate remarked.
“Yes,” Peter nodded. “That confuses me, too. On the other hand, night, darkness,
thunderstorm, rain. Christina tries to climb onto the roof. No rope around. She wraps
the pipe with her scarf and...”
“But I like Christina!” Kate interrupted.
“But the scarf?”
“So what, what scarf? Papa, sit down with us! Remember that we talked about
Christina and eternal opposition?”
Before sitting down, Papa Gavrilov carefully examined the stool. One of the rules of
living in a large family says that even if the stool seems unoccupied, it is still better to
make sure that there is really nothing on it. No puddles of jam, no spilled tea, no cutlet,
which they caringly thought of feeding the kitty and which the kitty did not see. Many
times it happened that Papa sat on the turtle Mafia, or a spider, or any of Rita’s small
toys.

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“Well... on the whole, Kate and I somehow came to the conclusion that Christina is
so difficult because she’s in eternal opposition to everything that’s happening,” Papa
said.
“Uh-huh!” Kate picked it up. “She tries to be fair in everything, and therefore many
can’t stand her. Well, at least with the cars. There’s nowhere to park, and the residents
of our lane are in conflict with the residents of neighbouring lanes, so that they don’t
bring their junk to us. They let out the tyres, put bricks on the hood. Christina, when
talking to the residents of our lane, takes the side of the residents of the other lanes. And
when she argues with her friends from other lanes, she takes our side. And so she
quarrels with everyone. Although she doesn’t have a car.”
“And she lives very simply. The furnishings are plain but very cozy. I once went to
them for antiseptic, when Alex fell out of a tree and scraped himself,” Mama Anna stood
up for Christina.
Peter gave in. “Okay!” he said. “Keep going! Suspect number three is Adam
Tarasiuk!”
“What? Why him, for what reason?” Vicky exclaimed.
“Why does he call students in the morning? ‘Why aren’t you at school? Where are
you? What are you doing?’ As if someone can be doing something at eight in the
morning. And then what does he teach? Gym! He’s a former gymnast. It’s nothing to
him to sneak through the hole in the ceiling and take the bowl!”
“But what’s the evidence against him?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“There is no direct evidence yet. But that is also suspicious. So, he covered his
tracks! Let’s keep going! Suspects number four and five on my list are the hotel owner
Bugailo and his driver. Remember, we met them in our courtyard on the eve of the theft?
They slipped out of here like they were stealing towels from clotheslines.”
“Karabas-Barabas and Duremar?”20 Alena asked.
“Yes! Exactly! And I’m thinking all the time: who do they remind me of!” Kate
exclaimed.
Vicky tried to catch Willy, who was barking aggressively and jumping around the
turtle Mafia. The red-eared slider Mafia, released by Alex to stroll, calmly lay on the
floor like a large oval plate. Its paws and head were hidden under its shell. Only
occasionally did the turtle suddenly open wide its pink and toothless mouth, frightening
the pinscher.
Vicky caught the pinscher and pressed it to her chest. “Ugh! Why would Bugailo
and his driver want the Scythian bowl? Bugailo has a huge hotel!”
“Yes. He’s rich. He has stone lions in front of his hotel entrance.” Alena was
standing at the stove and, having poured sugar into a spoon, was guiding it in circles
over a burner, making herself a candy. Alex tried imitating her many times, but his

20Duremar is a partner of Karabas-Barabas from The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino. He
catches and sells leeches for a living.
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sugar burned to the spoon, and the spoon turned out damaged. Now Alex was bouncing
next to Alena and, pressing his hands to his chest, moaning that she was doing
everything wrong.
“What if the lady in the red wig stole the bowl?” Papa asked. “Remember, on the
eve of the crime, she was sitting in the car at the entrance to the yard? Then she was
photographed by the electrical panel? Then she photographed us in Gupt’s office? And
with her was even a character in a shirt.”
“Yeees,” Peter drawled. “It’s getting more complicated all the time. The museum
guard? What would it be worth to him, when they turned off the power at night, to
unscrew the display case and steal the bowl? The cameras didn’t work for three hours –
plenty of time. After all, we only know from his words that during his round at five
o’clock the bowl was in place! And the guard, according to Gupt, is a decisive man. He
fought in hot spots, which means he can make decisions quickly. He broke a hole in the
ceiling, covering his tracks!”
“And the museum director? The research assistant, who’s now the cloakroom
attendant?” Kate said, wrapping coloured rubber bands around her fingers like rings.
“Why them?”
“Well, you never know. The director because his papa found the bowl! Kind of like
papa’s bowl, and the director felt that he couldn’t part with it. So he wanted to keep it for
himself. As a memory of papa.”
“And the cloakroom attendant?”
“To spite everyone! Here I make the model for you, restore the machine guns, but
you push me to the cloakroom! On the whole, he could also have taken it! Although he’s
cute!”
“She fell in love! Ha-ha-ha!” Alex yelled and jumped, hoping that Kate would chase
him. But Kate only frowned.
Papa Gavrilov looked continuously at the sheet of paper. “The bowl disappeared
from a closed display case! The case wasn’t broken in the process. It seems to me that
the solution should be sought somewhere here,” he reminded them.
“But you didn’t have this in your books?” Mama asked.
“No, but actually, it’s a well-known premise in detective novels. A crime-mystery.
Murder committed in a room locked from the inside. Or the unseen theft of something
huge. For example, the untraceable theft of the Eiffel Tower from Paris in the middle of
the night.”
“It’s impossible!” Vicky declared.
“It’s hard!” Papa agreed. “But it’s possible to search for options. For example, it
was dug up and it collapsed. Or project an image of nothing onto the tower. That is,
there’s a tower, but it seems as if there isn’t. Or ten million tourists, reaching an
agreement on social media, dragged out the nuts and bolts over several months,

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discreetly replacing the parts with styrofoam. When the whole tower became foam, it
was carried away by a helicopter.”
“Why didn’t the wind blow it away then?” Alex chimed in.
“These are already particulars. It’s possible to talk over the options. For example,
superglue, traces of which the detectives will find in the area.”
“Superglue won’t hold up the tower!” Alex declared.
“It will! Will! Will!” Costa argued.
“Won’t!”
Costa’s nose was red and his ears were bright red. He always turned red in
anticipation of a fight, and any argument with him, even the most innocent, ended in a
fight. Even on the topic of whether strawberries or raspberries are redder.
“Superglue won’t hold! People would have fallen if the tower were of styrofoam!”
the truth-loving brother continued to annoy Costa. “You’re smart in quotes! Do you
know what smart in quotes means?”
Costa frowned and, after closing his eyes, moved slowly towards his brother. Papa
caught him with one hand, pushing Alex away with the other.
“Enough!” Papa said. “He’s smart in double quotes! Smart in double quotes is a
genius.”
Alex froze. The discovery that double quotes can change the meaning again
impressed him.
“We’ve digressed from the bowl. And we’ll find the Eiffel Tower later!” Papa
reminded them.
Mama looked at the clock. “No. The bowl will wait, it’s now bedtime. Rita goes to
kindergarten tomorrow, and some have exams!” she said firmly.
Matushkin called Papa before bed. The investigator was not happy. He said that
they had told him off for slowness. That it had already been reported to the Minister,
that there had already been isolated reports on TV and the news had appeared on all
major sites, and tomorrow it would make noise in the newspapers. And that in the
morning meeting, they would most likely surrender him to a senior investigator of the
prosecutor’s office and force him to report on every step.
“Oh, yes,” Matushkin recalled. “The experts from Simferopol found a ballistic
missile layout in the attic. Good that they figured out to show it to me. Filled up a whole
half of a notebook. It’s not your kids who lost it?”
Papa Gavrilov sternly looked at Alex, who had not yet fallen asleep and who still
swore that nothing had fallen out of his pockets. “It’s Alex, trying to figure out how to
make a rocket out of our gas boiler. So?” Papa asked.
“Nothing. I, of course, am not a techie, but there are many mistakes. A ‘racket’
won’t fly so far. And in fact it’s spelled with an ‘o’. And ‘sicret’ is with an ‘e’.” Matushkin
chuckled. “But still I withheld the notebook. Because I can imagine the headlines:

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During inspection of the museum the schematics of secret military missiles was found.
Tomorrow not only the Crimean authorities will come rushing here.”
“Sense of humour?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“The authorities’ sense of humor appears only after the end of the work day,”
Matushkin said sternly, and after a pause, needing at least some good news, asked, “And
what do you have there? Has a brainstorm come? No insight yet?”
“We have too many insights. And when there are too many of them, it’s like there is
none,” Papa Gavrilov replied evasively.

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Chapter Five
THE “FASO” NOTE

“Alex isn’t bothering you? Isn’t running, isn’t fighting?”


“No, no, what are you saying! He’s behaving
wonderfully. True, we tied him up!”
Alex as a guest

It was as if Investigator Matushkin had known in advance. In the morning one of


the popular newspapers already came out with the headline: MAJOR MYSTERY OF
THE CENTURY! And it was followed by:
The Scythian bowl disappeared without a trace from a sealed display case! The
prediction of the ancient witch, found in the embalmed ruins of the pyramid, came true.
“In what ruins? What’s this prediction?” Peter wondered.
However, such trifles seem to have confused Peter alone. People were buying up
the newspaper so that there was a queue. At about noon, when the deficit became
evident, one could only buy a newspaper as a set with a detailed map of the Crimea and
two souvenir magnets with a view of the Swallow’s Nest21 and Chekhov’s house-museum
in Yalta.22

21
The Swallow’s Nest is a decorative castle in Southern Crimea and one of the most popular tourist
attractions.
22 The White Dacha, the house that Anton Chekhov built in Yalta, is now preserved as a historic house

museum and literary tourism destination.


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Towards evening, passing by a cafe, where a huge TV screen hung above the
entrance to attract visitors, the Gavrilovs came upon a TV show. Four invited guests
argued that the Scythian bowl could not have disappeared by itself. There are laws of
physics and in these laws it is written in black and white that bowls do not vanish from
under glass. If you want to get something and something hinders you, then you need to
break this something and then take as much as you like. They quoted Newton on this.
And the other four explained that this is possible. One, with a light beard, babbled
that even Egyptian priests knew a trick with disappearance, and there is nothing more
common than to take and disappear. And in our time there are many such wonders. For
example, one illusionist contrived to escape from a safe dropped from a plane.
A professor from the first four, knocking on the table with his hand, objected that
an illusionist was an illusionist. He probably was not in the safe. Otherwise, throw an
illusionist out without a safe from at least the third floor and see what happens.

No, they objected to him, we do not know all the properties of matter and the
possibilities of otherworldly spirits. A disturbed grave after all! The peace of the dead is
disturbed! The bowl was not only dragged out of the ground, but also put on public
display! And who knows what this bowl was at all, what was its function, and why did
they hastily bury this bowl in the ground with its masters?
Here he was interrupted, and the third interlocutor suggested, “The bowl
disappeared in a terrible thunderstorm! Look for a solution in the thunderstorm!”
The last guy kept yelling, “Come on! Let me also speak! I didn’t interrupt you!”
When he was allowed to speak, he fell silent, and it turned out that he had not yet
figured out what to say. Or maybe he did but had forgotten while he was yelling.
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“Exactly our Alex!” Alena said.

***

The next day Papa Gavrilov got up at five in the morning and, after opening the
front door because it was stuffy, sat down to write in the kitchen. The children, who had
stayed up late the night before, did not hurry to wake up, and Papa worked for a whole
four hours before footsteps smacked along the floor. Papa determined by the footsteps
that this was Rita. Only her heels made such sounds, as if someone was hammering
nails into a tree. Rita went to Papa and hung on his shoulder, demanding consolation for
waking up. Papa still managed to type for a while with his free hand, but Costa appeared
after Rita, and it became unrealistic to work.

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“Semolina porridge?” Papa proposed.


“With little boats!” Rita and Costa whined.
They called croutons dried in the oven “little boats”. Papa made semolina porridge
with little boats.
A sleepy Vicky came in and stopped at the kitchen door. “I’ll help!” she said,
collapsing onto the old armchair by the door. “I’ll wash the dishes!” Vicky pulled her
knees to her chest. “I’ll take the dogs for a walk...” Vicky closed her eyes. Her hands
stirred limply. She continued to work in her sleep.
Soon the rest of the family got up and the usual morning bustle began. Alex tried to
dig the electrical element out of a lighter. Kate washed cups under such a powerful jet
that the water flew to the ceiling. This is because she basically did not remove spoons
from cups. Peter ate macaroni with soy sauce.
“When do you finish exams?” Papa asked.
Peter mumbled something. He had been in a good mood before this, but Papa’s
question spoiled it. And, taking his Dr. Watson with him, Peter went to check whether
the phone had dried.
“If it doesn’t work, it’s possible to show it to Kuzin,” Peter reasoned, guiding the
hair dryer over the phone. “And hint to him casually, under what circumstances the
phone got wet... And then watch his reaction! And if Kuzin suddenly blazes with love for
the phone, then this, of course, is the reason to wipe the pictures from it. Ah? Did you
understand anything?”
“Uh-uh,” said Alex.
“Smart! A real Dr. Watson! Okay, we’ll check!” Peter inserted the battery and, after
exhaling, pressed the switch. The phone started to boot. Peter hastily connected it to the
computer in order to download photos from the phone. Otherwise it can happen that a
phone, if there are one or two drops of water on the circuitry, will work for two minutes
before it locks completely.
While Peter was downloading photos, Alex went to the kitchen and ate three slices
of toast with egg. Then he sat with his back to the sun and began to bask. From satiety
and heat, Alex’s brain became stuck. He was always stuck in one scenario. He began to
repeat the same phrase, the first one that hit him. Now he was repeating like a parrot,
“I’m sizzing, I’m sizzing, I’m sitting and not sizzing!”
“Thank you, we already understood everything!” Kate said, when Alex repeated
this for the tenth time. Alex, not listening to her, continued to share his insights
concerning buzzing.
“Don’t you touch my Dr. Watson! He ate. Blood from the brain leaked into the
stomach,” Peter shouted from the room. “Come on, brother, go on! One, two, three, four,
five! I’ve been a friend of rhymes since childhood!”

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Peter was in a great mood again. He had managed to extract the photos from the
phone and was now expanding them on the monitor, trying to see them better. Papa
Gavrilov came up to him. The streams of rain were bleached by a flash of lightning. A
man in a kimono sat on a twine between two pipes. His arms were up and he was
holding a long shiny blade. The person’s face, completely wet, was solemn and
somewhat unearthly. Bathed in bluish light, it resembled a vampire’s face. However, it
did not seem possible to examine it in detail. With expanding, it disintegrated into pixels.
“Yeees,” Papa drawled. “And this is the best picture?”
“Uh-huh,” Peter confirmed. “On those you won’t recognize anything at all. But now
we clearly see that he didn’t have a scythe but a sword! And he’s wearing... oh, granny,
where are my pills? …a kimono! I wonder, how did a ninja come to be on the roof of the
museum in Evpatoria?”
Alena ran up and turned the monitor toward her. “What kind of ninja is this? This
isn’t a ninja, but a samurai! Ninjas are usually dressed in black. Black pants, a black cap,
but here’s a kimono, like in karate!” she stated.
“Yes, we already realized that this is a samurai,” Peter reassured her. “Go, don’t
interfere!” Alena shrugged and left.
“You aren’t surprised?” Peter asked Papa.
“Surprised, of course,” Papa admitted. “Straight for the tabloids! Mistake of the
ancient witch. A samurai stole the Scythian bowl! And what are we going to do with
these? Show Matushkin?”
“No,” Peter said. “I want to sort everything out myself first! Although the samurai
on the museum roof – this, of course, is deep! Brother Watson, hey! If you see someone
with a sword and in such a thing here – tell me right away!” Alex nodded seriously and
returned to the porch.
Costa was jumping on the porch and reciting musical notes from memory. “Do! Re!
Mi! Faso!” he shouted.
“No such note as ‘faso’!” Alex challenged him.
“There is!”
“Isn’t!”
“Let’s ask Mama! No, don’t you run! You cheat! Rita, go ask Mama: is there a faso?”
Rita ran and returned with the news that there is a faso. Alex was beaten.
Voices made a noise in the courtyard. The grapevines twining around the gate
moved apart, and through them came the heads of Andrew, Seraphim, and Nina
Mokhov – the Gavrilovs’ best friends and their neighbours at the house by the station.

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“Morning!” Andrew uttered grumpily.


He rarely said “good morning” because he considered this expression meaningless.
Indeed, for someone it is good, but for someone else it is not very good. Andrew loved to
clarify everything. Even the phrase “Granny, I love you!” He inevitably followed it with
the reasoning that for some reason, he experiences the most intense love for relatives,
receiving gifts from them.
“Sorry! We didn’t frighten you?” Seraphim asked.
“No,” said Kate.
“Pity,” Seraphim was upset. “And we wanted to! But Andrew spoiled everything.
He was supposed to growl from behind the gate, but for some reason he didn’t.”
“A policeman is sitting on a chair there. He’ll hear,” Andrew remarked.
“He let you through?” Papa Gavrilov was surprised.
“He asked us where we’re going. We got into a conversation, and I recommended
several books for his daughter. He, it turns out, didn’t know that the multiplication table
should be crammed, starting at nine. Then eight and seven. Then you can teach only
fifty percent of the table. The rest will be learned on its own,” Andrew said.
The Mokhovs opened the gate. Seraphim came in and greeted in turn Papa, Mama,
and all the children, including Rita. Papa Gavrilov loved Seraphim. Seraphim had a
unique quality. Insofar as his brother Andrew was a skeptic, Seraphim was able to
rejoice in everything. He found reasons for joy everywhere. Even if he were thrown into
a swamp with a rock around his neck, he would probably exclaim in flight, “Oh! What
leeches and frogs there are!”
The Mokhovs were offered tea and eggs in a basket. Egg in a basket was made as
follows: one put a piece of bread on a hot frying pan with the middle hollowed out. An
egg was poured into the empty middle. According to mood, eyes and mouth were drawn
with ketchup, and pieces of cucumbers were applied as ears.
“Seraphim, do you add condensed milk to your tea?” Papa Gavrilov proposed.

“Very much! Bon to you!” Seraphim replied.


If his brother Andrew, out of a desire to be exact in every way, altered “good
morning” to simply “morning”, then Seraphim, in his characteristic enthusiastic reverie,

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often dispensed with nouns in general. He said “bon” instead of “bon appétit” and
instead of “thank you very much” just “very much!”
After breakfast, the Mokhovs invited the Gavrilov children to stroll around the city
with them. They promised to even take Rita with them, which pleased Mama, because
Rita, when left at home, always hung onto Mama and did not let her do anything. Thrifty
Kate asked Papa for money to buy something on the way.
Mama checked that all children put on baseball caps and hats, and Rita even
changed her shorts, because at night, as it turned out, mysterious water had leaked from
the ceiling onto Rita. The presence of mysterious water did not embarrass Rita, but,
realizing that she was going out, she gave in.
“I agree to change the sorts only if I wear fip-fops!” she declared.
Mama did not argue and changed Rita’s shorts and flip-flops. “It’s good that it isn’t
winter now and you don’t have to change them to boots!” She was pleased.

Mama, finally, sent the children out onto the street. She trusted Nina Mokhov – an
intelligent and calm girl. And on the whole, the Mokhovs were a wonderful family.
Andrew alone among them grumbled and grumbled somewhat pleasantly, tranquilly,
and with respect to his interlocutor. Nina and Seraphim were familiar with supreme
delight.
However, today, despite the presence of the Mokhovs, the walk did not work out.
Costa lost a sandal and for some reason only said so after ten minutes.
“Why didn’t you say anything before? Didn’t you feel that your foot was bare?”
Kate attacked him.
“I wondered!” Costa said.
They had to turn back and search. It was not easy to find the lost item in a dense
crowd of holidaymakers walking to the sea along the main street. Moreover, Costa did
not remember the place where he began to “wonder”. It's good that some compassionate
person had found the sandal and thought of putting it on the ad stand.

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Rita walked along the edge of the sidewalk and hung around in front of souvenir
stalls. Wire racks with lots of toys stuck out of almost all of these stalls, luring such naïve
kids as her. And these toys were placed at such a height that it would be convenient for a
child to grab and not let go until the mother, deafened by the bawling, reached for her
purse.

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True, now Mama was not with them and Rita had to restrain herself. She knew
perfectly well that neither Peter, Kate, nor Vicky would buy anything for her. Suddenly
Rita stopped. There was a small table surrounded by a fence “a la jungle” between two
separated tents. The fence was made of thick bamboo stalks and wrapped with reeds, ivy,
and dry grass. On the table was a cooler.
A young man with a straw-coloured beard and a girl were standing nearby. Both
the girl and the young man seemed familiar to Rita, and she stared at them, her eyes
wide. Following Rita, the others came to the table.
“Hi!” the girl said. “Recognize us? We met in the museum! I’m Masha Gupt! And
this is Emelian! Help yourself, it’s free for you! Only choose quickly, or it’ll melt! Can’t
keep the cooler open for long!”

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Chapter Six
“THE ROMANS, SON!”

A writer is a person who expresses thoughts that others


just think. The thoughts have not materialized, have not
turned into words. And here he is voicing the universal
innermost thought for the first time. Moreover, this
unspoken thought is both lofty and bright, and lowly and
shadowy. The writer himself scarcely discerns what kind of
thought he releases into the world. He just opens the door to
the invisible.
Papa Gavrilov

Masha Gupt opened the cooler, in which were multicoloured beasts with sticks.
“What is this?” Kate asked.
“Frozen juice!” the artist and cloakroom attendant explained. “We make and sell
them ourselves. Ever bought an ice pop? Here we have the same thing, only without
chemicals!”
Everybody took an ice pop for himself. Costa chose a tiger. He loved all things
scary. Kate, having the character of Catherine II, took a timid lop-eared bunny. She was
somehow sure that she was just as timid and nice.
“And how do you make these things?” Vicky asked.
“Very simple. We make a figurine from modelling clay and cast a mould from it.
Fill the mould with juice, water, and food dyes, and put it in the freezer,” Masha Gupt

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said. “Only not a word to my papa! If he finds out that his daughter is selling ice pops,
then he will throw himself off the couch and break his glasses.”

Alex took advantage of the fact that Masha Gupt had not closed the cooler, and,
looking into it, saw a statue of Hercules there, also cast from frozen juice. “Can I have
that instead of the bear?” he asked.
“Can’t,” Emelian said. “Hercules is expensive. Five times more trouble with it.”
“I’ll give you my tooth! A tooth is the same as money. You can exchange it with the
tooth fairy!” Alex said authoritatively.
Not so long ago one of his milk teeth had come out. He received a one-hundred-
rouble note from the tooth fairy. Earlier the tooth fairy had paid him in change. Alex
became greedy. He began to count how many teeth he would pull out and how much
money he would end up with as a result of all these financial schemes.
“How much is ten teeth? Five hundred?” he clarified with Peter. “A thousand!”
Peter corrected him. “A hundred teeth, how much?” “Ten thousand!” Alex’s eyes
climbed to his forehead from greed. This was already a huge amount of money. “That’s it!
I’ll loosen a hundred teeth!” “You don’t have that many teeth!”
Alex was depressed. It became clear that whether he wanted to or not, he would
have to look for another source of revenue. Meanwhile, Alex decided to become a janitor,
because someone had told him that it is possible for a janitor to not attend school.
Emelian was getting stiff. He first sat down, then jumped, and then started to do
push-ups. “I need to jog! Another five minutes and I’ll start hunting for customers! I’ll
catch small, screaming girls about four years old, put them with their feet on the high
fence and remove them only when a mama buys an ice pop from me!” he declared.
“Then I’ll take a walk, too!” Masha Gupt said. "Emelian and I need to go around
the whole city and take photos of all the monuments, holding hands.”
Alena snorted with laughter. “What for?”

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“I wished for happiness this way,” said Masha. “Besides, we have a distant relative
who wants to see the city. And you’ll watch that Emelian doesn’t squirm. He always
squirms in photos. Simply can’t post them on the Net. Everyone’s beginning to wonder if
I’m right in the head.”
“Why aren’t you right in the head when he squirms?” Kate was surprised.
Masha was embarrassed. “Well... uh... have to know a little bit about my relatives,”
she mumbled, and Alena instantly consoled her that it is normal. Alex always squirms.
This is probably something genetic in men.
Peter was wondering where Emelian would leave the table and the cooler and
whether he would drag them with him, but Emelian had everything resolved in advance.
He knocked on the nearest window. An elderly man leaned out the window, took the
cooler, then the table, and, after closing the window, disappeared.
Soon they went out onto the main street and stopped in the shade, waiting for the
trophy tram to approach. This tram was taken from the former Austria after the war. It
was now barely moving, constantly being repaired, but at the same time loved, because
nowhere else in the world was there such an old tram. It and the rails were special,
narrow. Masha wanted very much to be photographed near it and she set Emelian in the
right frame of mind in advance so that he would not make faces.
“Okay, I won’t!” Emelian promised meekly. Masha looked keenly at him. She knew
quite well with whom she was dealing.
They continued to stroll and take pictures. Peter liked to talk with Emelian. Peter
asked him questions about the weapons kept in the museum. Emelian knew a lot and
described interestingly. He knew everything from primitive axes to muskets, flintlock
guns and machine guns. It turned out that initially, he had also come to the museum in
order to tinker with old weapons in peace even during working hours.
“The Crimea is a unique place in this respect. The Scythians fought here, so did the
Greeks, the Genoese, the Mongols, the Turks, and Suvorov,23 the British, the French,
and the Germans. And they didn’t fight with their bare hands. So if the Crimean ground
had immediately given up all the weapons that are still hidden in it, a five-floor high
mountain would have grown here.” Emelian lifted his head with admiration, as if he was
indeed contemplating this mountain.
“Well, the museum has a little something. Almost every month something new is
brought in. But you should have seen how everything was stored before I came! You
open the shutter, layers of rust fall off. Although, of course, your papa painted
everything regularly on the outside! He even got inside the gun barrel with a brush!” he
said to Masha to make her happy.
Peter hesitated. He really wanted to ask one question. “Do you have any Japanese
weapons in the museum?” he asked casually.

23
Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov (1729–1800) was a Russian military leader. He is considered one of the
greatest commanders in Russian history, never having lost a single battle he commanded.
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“Unlikely,” Emelian said. “The Japanese didn’t come here.”


“In fact, he wants to ask: did you see a man in a kimono with a sword? That night
the bowl was stolen, he was doing something on the museum roof!” Alena blurted out.
Peter looked warningly at his sister, but it was too late.
Emelian burst out laughing. “A man with a sword on the roof of the museum? And
what was he doing there?”
“Don’t know. He sat between the pipes, raising the sword. And lightning struck all
around,” Peter said, glad that at least Alena did not spill to Emelian about the photo.
Emelian pondered. “No,” he replied. “We’re somewhat poor in cold steel. There are
the Scythian acinaces,24 a couple of dragoon broadswords, Budyonny’s25 sword, several
Turkish scimitars badly preserved, and something unimportant. And there was no need
to take the Scythian bowl from the museum at all! We have a German mortar, for
example, in excellent condition! I think it had never been fired. They found it in a
covered dugout near Sevastopol.” Emelian sighed so wistfully, as if he had difficulty
restraining himself to not drag it out of the museum.
“And about Japanese swords, here’s whom you need to ask!” Masha said, nodding
at the fence of the city park. On the fence, tied to spikes, hung a long stretched banner:
FACES OF THE EPOCH. FESTIVAL OF RE-ENACTORS IN EVPATORIA.
Behind the fence of the park right on the lawn, a dozen tents were split into four
groups. The French, the Russian army, and the Turks separately. The Roman tents,
sewn from leather and attached by ropes to wooden stakes, were guarded. In the heat,
two young policemen, one of whom had ears really sticking out, were shifting from foot
to foot. Peter and Emelian tried to approach, but the policemen blocked their way.
“Not allowed!”
“Why?”
“The Romans asked us not to let anyone in here. Yesterday a phone was stolen
from the tent.”
“And where are the Romans?” Peter asked.
The police showed him. The Romans were found by the blank wall of the pavilion
with electric cars. A hefty sandbag hung on two poles. Eight Roman guys, dressed in
armour, were throwing pilums26 into it. Although the distance was no more than ten
metres, not a single pilum could hit the target. All of them either did not reach or
twisted in the air and knocked flatly on the brick wall. Peter had the impression that if

24
An Acinaces is a type of dagger or short sword used in the Mediterranean region in the first millennium
BC.
25
Semyon Mikhailovich Budyonny (1883–1973) was a Russian cavalryman and military commander
during the Russian Civil War and WWII.
26 A pilum was a javelin used by the Roman army in ancient times. Some versions of this weapon were

weighted by a lead ball to increase penetrative power.


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you want to survive, you should stand as close to the target as possible, preferably even
in front of it.
The Roman centurion – a princely handsome man in a scarlet cloak and a brilliant
breastplate – grabbed his head. “What are you doing? Well? At practice you have to walk,
not run to the sea!” he moaned.
A Roman snapped back, confronting the centurion like some slave from Odessa,
whom he allegedly captured and who does not even know how to cook potatoes.

Many spectators watched the way the Romans hurled the spears and openly
mocked the poor invaders. After another absurd miss, a strong person of small stature

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moved out from the crowd of spectators. Then he took a spear from one of the Romans,
weighed it in his hand, grabbed it closer to the ball and threw. The spear flew past and
pierced the sandbag. And it pierced in such a way that the heavy bag was swinging and it
became clear: a Roman spear in skillful hands was really a formidable weapon.

The man who threw the spear behaved strangely. Immediately after the throw, he
fled into the crowd and began to make his way to the exit, elbowing his way. When the
centurion, having freed the jammed spear with difficulty, turned around, he was already
gone.
“Oh! That was our athlete!” Peter suddenly said.
“What athlete?”

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“Adam Tarasiuk. I didn’t know that he knows how to throw a spear! I thought he
only pulls himself up with one hand.”
“Precisely him?” Kate was surprised.
“Yes,” Peter confirmed. “I’ve seen enough of him at school. He has every gym class
– it’s the last fight.”
After this successful throw, the centurion did not dare to continue the training in
throwing. He arranged his heavily depleted detachment, and the Romans began to walk
and, forming a turtle, block off imaginary arrows with their shields.

Emelian and Masha soon left, and the Gavrilovs and the Mokhovs moved into the
depths of the park, where on another site a cheerful young man was arranging children’s
battles. The children were fighting with safe swords, covered with insulation and
wrapped in canvas. There were only two rules: no hitting the head and, when you are hit,
leave. And, of course, both these rules were violated.

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Alex and Costa immediately rushed into the battle, and behind them Alena and
Rita. Moreover, Alena showed considerable zeal at that and became the winner several
times in one-on-one combat. Vicky and Nina Mokhov were waiting by the fence.
Occasionally, Alex and Costa, red, sweaty, and staggering, appeared from the
crowd shrouded by dust. “Driiink!” they groaned and fell greedily on a two-litre bottle.
Then they again threw themselves into the battle. “The Red Cap killed me! The Cowboy
killed you!” they shouted.
There was even a girl in a cap with ears, who was underestimated because she was
really tiny. She bounced, swooped, and, slipping under the opponent’s sword, hit the
legs. This girl herself always remained invincible. Her nickname was Bloodthirsty Tonya.
Just two hours later, the children returned home. Costa, Alex, and Alena only
talked about the battle, Bloodthirsty Tonya, Red Cap, and Cowboy.
Peter was shaking his head all the way and thinking about something of his own.
“All the same one question occupies me very much! Where did my athlete Tarasiuk learn
to throw spears? And why didn’t he want anyone to recognize him?” he said.

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103

Chapter Seven
IRON MAN

I have a new theory, that there is no talent but love for


anything. If I have inexhaustible love, then even in the
absence of abilities for anything, I will become first, at least
on account of diligence. Simply talent without diligence and
perseverance is just self-teasing. It is better not to have it at
all.
Papa Gavrilov

Peter thought all evening and most of the night. He sat at his paper, on which was
depicted a diagram of the museum, and added more and more new details one by one.
People, objects, cars, additional rooms; he connected the people and rooms with arrows
and placed question marks beside them. He crossed out, painted over with a brush, and
pasted additional pieces of paper that opened like windows.
Alex, like a true Watson, was sitting near Peter and, not trying to keep up with his
thoughts, drawing a man with a sword on the museum roof. Finally Alex was tired, put
his head down on the paper, and fell asleep. Peter lifted his brother and put him on the
bed. Then he looked at the place on the paper that Alex had covered with his ear, and
again saw the same little man with a sword. At the same time it turned out that out of
zeal, Alex had drawn more of a spear. And the spear had the same ball as the Roman
pilum that had been plunged into the sandbag.
Peter looked long at the pilum, on which Alex had painted as many as three
notches. Then he lay down next to Alex and fell asleep. For the rest of the night he

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dreamed of ninjas sneaking to the fridge and eating pickles from a jar, and when they
were chased, they threw pilums and these pilums pierced the walls...
In the morning Peter woke up at about noon and, looking at the ceiling, tried to
remember for a long time whether he had to go to school today. Then he remembered
that today was the tutorial on social studies, got up and walked into the kitchen. There
was already the usual not even morning but daytime life.
Costa asked Vicky, “Give me a cup, which you didn’t wash!” Costa had an anxious
attitude towards cleanliness. He demanded that cups and plates be washed forty times
and wanted bananas and tangerines washed for him, and this despite him shoving any
iron stuff into his mouth, and washing his hands by just running them quickly under a
stream of water.
Alena, howling, complained that her phone was gone. “I put it on the table
yesterday, and the kids stole it somewhere! They will play on it!”
“Don’t say ‘stole’! Say ‘took’,” Papa Gavrilov corrected her.
“Like I said, they don’t remember where they stole it...”
When Peter appeared in the kitchen, Kate stared at him mockingly, as if wishing to
ask, “What are you doing here? What, you haven’t gone to the tutorial?” Peter looked at
her sternly. Not everything known to a sister must be known to the parents.
After having a bite, Peter sat down at the window and began to observe.
Sergeant Elkin was no longer in the courtyard. The interest of onlookers to the
back yard of the museum gradually waned. They no longer stood as a solid wall and took
photos of any cat that appeared in the courtyard with such greed, as if it were going to
confess to a crime.
The athlete Adam Tarasiuk did not live on the first floor like everyone else, but on
the second floor in the attic, which one of the previous owners had added on to rent out
to vacationers. His home was like a dovecote. A rickety iron ladder, barely noticeable,
led to the door, so that it seemed as if Tarasiuk emerged from a sheer wall and then
walked on air. When people visited Tarasiuk, they always stood for about five minutes
downstairs, gathering courage to go up. Tarasiuk himself did not even touch the railing,
flying up like a chimpanzee in two mighty leaps with the support of his hands.
Peter looked out the window at Tarasiuk’s dwelling and estimated that if you stand
on the railing, then it is possible to pull yourself up and climb onto the roof. And jump
from the roof ridge to the higher roof of the side of the building, and from there, without
the slightest difficulty, climb over to the museum roof. Interesting... simply very
interesting!
He again took out the photo taken at night in the thunderstorm and looked at it for
a long time. The face in maximum magnification broke up into squares. Roughly the
same as videos seen on the Net with the participation of yetis and aliens from space.
Never anything concrete, and always at the most important moment, a tree allegedly
accidentally gets into the frame, or the battery on the phone is discharged.
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“Watson! Come here!” Peter hollered.


Alex bounced up to him. Rita, who always came when someone else was called,
also ran up together with Alex. But when Rita was called, she always found out why from
afar, and then made a decision whether to come or not.
“Uh... Who do you have for gym? Not Tarasiuk?” Peter asked and continued. “So.
Do you and Costa have plastic swords? Take the swords and start fighting on the iron
stairs near Tarasiuk! Fight, fight – and so on up to the top!”
“What if he comes out?” Alex asked.
“Then you show him the swords and say, ‘We have this here!’”
“And he?”
“Hard to predict... If I go up and ask him if he has a sword and if he runs around
the roof with it at night, then it may seem suspicious to him. Besides, he’s always on
duty at all the state exams. Well, but you’re... well, just two fools with swords! Well, he’ll
think something like that! And even not excluding that he’ll want to brag... Understand?
Well, go and call Costa!”
Dr. Watson sniffed, comprehending the task. Then he took a sword, sneaked up
behind Costa and began poking him with it. Costa always caught fire instantly. His only
problem was that he did not know how to play pretend war. If Costa grabbed a sword,
then in three seconds he would start waving it as if it was his last fight and he was going
to sell his life dearly. Good that there was a bulge at the end of the sword, preventing a
painful prick. But indeed it was still possible to hurt as it should. The manufacturers of
the swords clearly did not take into account that they can be in such hot hands as Costa’s.
“Masks! At least put on the masks!” Mama yelled belatedly, because although the
swords had masks attached, they were used extremely rarely.
In the next second Costa was waving his own sword, intending on killing Alex on
the spot. Alex retreated, blocking Costa’s path with chairs. Then he jumped out onto the
street and, backing away, ran to the iron staircase. Costa chased after him, swinging the
sword, and several times hurt Alex painfully on the arm and legs.
Now Alex lost his temper and tried to hit Costa more painfully. “Oh, you’re like
that! Well, this is for you!” he roared.
“Hey!” yelled Peter, who followed them out into the yard. “Hey!” He was afraid that
the matter would end with the usual brawl between the brothers, after which they would
have to calm down for about fifteen minutes sitting in different rooms: Alex on Papa’s
lap, Costa on Mama’s lap, because they would dash off otherwise and again rush to
scream who was wrong.
Alex, having pushed Costa to the wall, remembered something and began to climb
the rickety staircase. Costa, following him, swung the sword along the first few steps, but
suddenly he became frightened by the middle of the staircase. He realized that he was
standing on flimsy shaky metal rods, and emptiness underneath. Expectation on the left
hand was bad, and he clung to the railing with his right hand.
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Seeing that his brother was frightened, Alex began to drag him up by the sleeve. He
dragged five more steps, but then Costa became even more frightened, because it was
even higher. He could go neither up nor down, but only sat and whimpered. Alex tried to
drag him, but Costa was holding with his right hand in such a way that his hand could be
detached from the handrail only after severing his fingers.
“Pull the baseball cap over his eyes so he doesn’t see!” Peter shouted from below.
Alex pulled the baseball cap over Costa’s eyes. While Costa was shaking his head,
trying to get it off in order to be more afraid, Alex managed to drag him up to the last
step. Fortunately, it was almost at the very door of Tarasiuk. Dragging Costa, Alex
leaned his back on the door. The door suddenly opened, and Alex and Costa fell into
Tarasiuk’s apartment as if into a well.
And then the door slammed shut from a draught.

***

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Ten minutes later Peter walked downstairs and was nervous. The brothers did not
appear. The door did not open. There had been no change at all. All this was strange,
very strange. The brothers had just disappeared into a strange home, where they had
gone without an invitation.
Papa and Mama did not know anything. Tarasiuk’s staircase was visible only from
the window, and then only if you lift your head and look at the strip of sky above the
grapevines. Otherwise, the fence was in the way.
Peter went through all the options. Option one: Tarasiuk was now greedily eating
Alex and Costa with ketchup. Option two: he had tied them up and hid them in the
closet. Option three: passionate interrogation. “Who sent you? For what purpose? What
do you know about the secret society of swordsmen in kimonos jumping on roofs at
night?”
Peter already regretted for the two-hundredth time that he had sent such clueless
spies. Finally, unable to stand it, he returned home and imperceptibly beckoned Alena
to him. “Go up and see where they are!” he whispered.
“Who are they?”
“Alex and Costa. Pretend Mama sent you to find them.”

“Why can’t you?”


“I’ll watch from the bottom and if...” Peter coughed.
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“If what?”
“If anything, in short, call me!”
Alena shrugged and went up the stairs to Tarasiuk’s. At the door, she hesitated a
second, trying to look through the small glass, but apparently did not see anything, and,
after pushing the door, went in and disappeared. A minute passed. There was no Alena.
No horrible screams were heard.
And again Peter did not know what all this meant and, most importantly, what he
should do. He ran back and forth, gnawing his nails, and for some reason armed himself
with an iron rod with an extension.
A car stopped outside. Inspector Matushkin rolled into the courtyard like a
herculean round loaf. He was walking to the Gavrilovs’ gate, looking with interest at
Peter armed with iron, when a heart-rending scream came from above. Peter and
Matushkin immediately threw up their heads and, without saying a word, rushed up the
stairs.
They saw a long room with a false attic ceiling. A horizontal bar, a trapeze, and
rings were attached to the beams of the ceiling. Alex was hanging from the gymnastic
trapeze with his head down and howling terribly. Next to Alex was the gym teacher with
a sharp katana in his hands. When the door opened, Tarasiuk looked around. The next
second, Captain Matushkin lunged at him, and they both rolled along the floor,
knocking down chairs. The katana jingled, thrown aside.
Captain Matushkin’s herculean might was put to shame by Tarasiuk’s Tarzan
strength. A minute later, Tarasiuk was already sitting on a broad police chest and
looking down at the inspector below.
“Hands up!” Matushkin croaked. “Police!”
Tarasiuk looked at him incredulously, as if deciding what to do with him. His
furious gaze faded, replaced by a confused one. “I surrender! Vova, it’s not you who lost
a ball?” he suddenly asked.
Now Captain Matushkin’s gaze also faded. Miracles, real miracles were created in
the world! “I didn’t lose it...” he muttered.
Tarasiuk did not continue to figure out the fate of the mysterious ball. He sighed,
rolled back deftly and helped Matushkin up. “Well, turn around, Vova, otherwise you’ll
get soiled!” he said, brushing down the captain’s back.
The brushed down investigator stood like a column. Then he picked up the katana
from the floor and looked at the trapeze, from which Alex was no longer dangling but
swinging with pleasure.
“What were the screams?” the captain asked.
“Costa bit Alex,” Alena explained.
Matushkin pondered distressfully, clearly choosing the right thing for this case.
The tool of the crime is teeth, there is also a mark on the victim’s finger, but what kind of
weapon is teeth? Pinching, cold, or crushing?
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“Costa, are you here? Why did you bite him?” Matushkin asked. Costa kept silent,
hiding behind Alena.
“Simple. Alex got onto this thing, but Costa couldn’t,” Alena explained.
The captain thought for a while. “In fact, what were you doing here?”
“Playing checkers. Did Chapaev really invent checkers?”27 Alex butted in.
And then, alas, Peter had to tell about everything. Including the photo. Matushkin
forced him to bring the laptop and looked at the picture for a long time. “Is this you?” he
asked Tarasiuk. “The katana is kind of similar, but the face…”
The teacher waved his hand. “Okay, well… It’s me!”
“But why on the roof?”

There is a Russian board game called Chapaev, which is a hybrid of checkers and named after the
27

Russian Civil War hero Vasilii Ivanovich Chapaev (1887–1919).


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The athlete turned away. “Come, Vova! We’ll talk on the way!” he said.
Matushkin and Tarasiuk went down the stairs. Moreover, Matushkin went ahead
and the teacher behind, so that it was not entirely clear who was arresting whom.
“Oh, these small towns! The devil knows what it is! But I didn’t lose a ball! Our
eighth-graders were fooling around!” the captain grumbled. Tarasiuk was sullenly silent.
Evening came. Peter was walking with displeasure around the kitchen, crossing his
arms on his chest. He was sulking at Alex for quietly playing checkers instead of sticking
his nose out the window and shouting that they were all right. But Peter was even
angrier that a good man had been arrested because of him. After all, if he had not run
with the phone at night to take pictures of the rain, Tarasiuk would not have been
detained.
“Cheer up, you displayed civil conscience,” Kate told him.
Mama explained to Costa that it was bad to bite. Boys do not bite, only girls bite,
because... Although, no! Good girls also do not bite! You can bite patties, but people...
Costa listened, occasionally making faces of disagreement.
Alena was also listening. “Mama!” she suddenly interrupted. “Here in the second
class, do you know who bit Anna Petrovna?”
“Who?” Mama asked, expecting it to be a dog.
“Her friend. Right after classes.”
Mama was taken aback. Anna Petrovna was the English teacher, strong, speaking
in a bass.
“She was small then,” Alena finished calmly. “Her friend’s tooth broke and got
stuck in the teacher’s hand.”
“What horror!” Papa Gavrilov said.
“Did the tooth fairy give her a hundred roubles?” Alex chimed in.
Suddenly, someone knocked on the gate.
“It’s open!” Papa Gavrilov yelled.
Captain Matushkin entered. This time he was in uniform and even with a holster
that aroused Alex’s great interest. “Why does the wire stick out of the holster? Is it from
the battery so that the red dot appears?” he asked at once.
“It’s not from the battery. This is so that the gun isn’t stolen,” the captain explained
and checked if the holster was buttoned, because Alex nodded in a very understanding
way.
“Well, what about the Scythian bowl? Have you found it?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
The captain, after hesitating a little, shook his head. “Can I have some tea?” he
asked.
Mama put the kettle on. The captain drank tea very interestingly. He dipped
croutons in it and ate them. The tea quickly became shallow from the abundance of
crumbs. The Gavrilovs waited for what he would say. The captain drank tea and gnawed
on croutons in perfect silence. The only sound heard was the working of his jaws.
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Sensing that something interesting was brewing in the kitchen, Peter interrupted his
own reflections, left the room, and stopped by the wall.

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The captain thanked Mama for the tea, and then took out of a folder a large
photograph printed on a colour printer. It was still the same photo of the museum roof,
already familiar to everyone.
“Ahem... Here it is! I thought it’ll be interesting to you...” Matushkin said. “Took a
statement for half a day today. The teacher doesn’t deny that he’s in the photo. He says
that... ahem... when thunder rumbles, he always puts on a kimono and goes up onto the
roof. There he practises with a sword. Tries to achieve such perfection, to fend off the
stream of rain with the blade and see the rain as individual drops. Allegedly you can
wield the sword in such a way that you stay dry.”
“I wouldn’t call him dry,” Peter said, remembering the picture.
“Yes. But he explains that he hasn’t yet reached perfection.”
“And what’s the sword?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“A souvenir katana. The expert examined it. Not cold steel. True, Adam sharpened
it so that you can cut a hair with it.”
“Isn’t he afraid of lightning?”
“No. He claims that lightning can be diverted by the katana. Allegedly some
ancient master had already done this. He only asks that you not talk about it at school.
It’s clear that catching lightning with a sword isn’t forbidden by law, but when a gym
teacher with a sword runs on the roof in the rain – that always alarms the department of
education.”
“Why did he behave so suspiciously...when he threw the spear and in general?”
Peter asked.
Matushkin grunted.
“Did Tarasiuk see anyone on the roof?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“No.”
“Was there already a hole in the roof?” Peter specified.
“He said that he was sitting on a twine between the pipes, when the lightning hit
quite close. There was a crack, a flash. Tarasiuk decided that he had been hit by
lightning. When he woke up, pretty quickly, maybe a few seconds later, a poplar branch
was already lying on the roof. He somehow slid down and went home. He didn’t see the
hole in the roof because there was no time...”
“Do you believe him?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
Matushkin, after delaying, nodded. “I’ve known him for a long time. Even from
school. A good man. And... ahem... on the whole, if someone else had told me that he
climbed on the roof to deflect lightning with a sword, I wouldn’t have believed it. But
Adam, he easily can! And all the rest speaks in his favour. And he couldn’t know about
the disabled alarm, and the power wasn’t yet off in the city. And the time of the footage
is much earlier than the hour when the crime was committed.”
“And you’ve checked this?” Peter was surprised.

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“First thing. Every photo file, as is known, has a creation time!” Matushkin said
edifyingly. “And there is no bowl in his home. Ushitsyn checked, just in case, while the
interrogation was under way.”
Matushkin took a handful of croutons from the small dish and stood up. “That’s it!”
he announced decisively. “Why did I come here? To ask you to keep your mouth shut! I
released Tarasiuk, he’ll be a monitor at the exams tomorrow... And don’t say anything in
school! Otherwise, there will be trouble for him!”

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115

Chapter Eight
“SVIATA WILL SWEAR!”

Peter went to school for the state exam. It was not taken in his school but in the
nearby one; however, among the monitors was also the athlete Tarasiuk. He was almost
constantly standing next to Peter, and Peter claimed that if he had a bad result, it was
only because of Tarasiuk, who even followed him to the washroom.
“But not because you didn’t prepare?” Papa asked.
“Of course not! How, I wonder, could I prepare when there wasn’t a single chance
to use the phone? But now I know for sure that Tarasiuk isn’t the criminal!”
“Why?”
“You should’ve seen his face when he was standing nearby! It was I rather than
Tarasiuk who stole the bowl, while suffering from sleepwalking. So, I took a false trail.”
After dinner, Peter returned to his paper and started looking at the drawn museum.
It seemed to him that his museum was more real than the one behind the wall. And in
fact, from time to time it appeared to Peter as if the figures had come to life. Near each
figure he put pluses, minuses, and question marks. These were different kinds of
observations, indicative of both “for” and “against”.
“Karabas?” he mumbled. “Six pluses that he’s the criminal! Christina? Three pluses
that she is, two minuses that she isn’t. Sviatoslav Kuzin? Hmm... five pluses that he is,
two questions and one minus... And if we assume that they are all one gang?”

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“Listen,” said Kate. “Isn’t Tarasiuk alone enough for you? Do you want Christina,
Kuzin, Karabas, and the guard to follow you to the washroom?”
“You scare me with your fantasies!” said Peter, but it was noticeable that he
flinched.
Nonetheless, he did not stop the investigation. Alex, who was always beside Peter,
only took a break to feed his insects. Meanwhile, many insects ate each other. Praying
mantises and spiders were especially noteworthy. “Cockroaches are not pets at all. Never
feed one pet to another. But I so love cockroaches,” Alex said, grating carrots for them.

Costa was jealous of the relationship between Alex and Peter. Previously, Alex was
only his. Alex could chase, catch, fight with him, and take offense at him, but now all this
happiness went to Peter. Therefore, Costa had to switch to Rita. At some point, when
Papa and Mama were not at home, Rita took a jumper from Costa and forgot where she
had hidden it. Costa lost his temper and chased after his squealing sister to smack her
with Mama’s flip-flop.
Rita ran shrieking to Peter and Alex to save her. Peter had no time to deal with
Costa. He picked him up and put him on the fridge. “Let him sit and think about his
behaviour!”

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“He’ll fall,” Alex said doubtfully.


“I’ll watch!” Peter said and ordered Costa to think.
Costa sat on the fridge, knocking on the door with his heels, and shouted to spite
Peter, “I don’t think! I don’t think!”

Someone looked in the open door. The heads of Nina, Seraphim, and Andrew
Mokhov poked in.
Nina went to Peter’s paper and looked at it for a while. “Yeah, a lot of work!” She
appreciated. “Killed hours on it! Want to go to the beach?”
“Let’s!” Peter agreed.
The Gavrilovs quickly gathered their things and set off for the beach. They had to
take Rita with them and even lowered Costa from the fridge. “But I never thought!” he
stated triumphantly.
Alex chased Costa on the way to the sea, and Andrew brought Seraphim to tears,
proving to him that there is no God. If the Mokhov brothers argued, it was only on
important matters; they differed from the Gavrilovs, who always argued over all kinds of
nonsense.
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“There are no miracles! Only facts!” Andrew said.


While the Mokhov brothers were arguing miracles and statistics, Rita waved a
package that she was carrying in her hands. It was Nina’s package. THUNK! The
package hit a post, and the sound came out unexpectedly loud. Not at all like the sound
of a package, in which there was only one beach towel.
“My smartphone!” Nina exclaimed, turning pale. She took Rita’s package and
discovered with horror that the screen of her smartphone had cracked. There was a big
crack across the whole screen, and little ones scattering from it in all directions, so that
it came out like a Christmas tree.

“Doesn’t matter!” Peter consoled Nina. “I know a guy who changes glass superbly!
By the way, you have a common brand, so it’s likely that he has such glass in stock.”
“Sviatoslav Kuzin?” Kate guessed. “Didn’t you call him a great con man?”
“Let’s say I did. Because he, indeed, is a con man!” Peter acknowledged. “But he
repairs phones quite well.”
In a quarter of an hour they were already ringing Kuzin’s doorbell. They could hear
the bell in the house repeat a melody time after time. Sviatoslav’s grandmother, a small,
nimble woman with hair dyed an unpleasant orange, opened the door. Every morning,
even in winter, she cycled to swim in the sea. The grandmother even made good
pancakes. And now she had a frying pan in her hand.
“Shh! Come, just be quiet!” the grandmother said, holding her finger to her mouth.
“Oh, so many of you! Sviata’s at class!”
“What class? Is he a tutor?” Peter marvelled.
“Shh! Sviata will swear!” the grandmother repeated imploringly.
Holding the crippled smartphone in his palm, Peter tiptoed past the grandmother,
slipped into the room, and hid behind the shelves. Something squeaked near his feet. In
a box, a dozen chicks sat surrounding a drinking bowl similar to a plastic hat. The room
was filled with boxes of seedlings, littered with processor blocks, gutted laptops and

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monitors. The seedlings and chickens were clearly the grandmother’s domain, and the
blocks and monitors, Kuzin’s realm.

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True, the entire room was not crammed and littered. In that third of it adjacent to
the window, the order of an office prevailed. Even the wallpaper did not droop there.
Against the background of a wall covered by diplomas in frames, Sviatoslav Kuzin was
sitting and giving a class on Skype.
Sviatoslav was in a perfectly white shirt with a tie carelessly pulled to the side, like
New York sharks tired of business. The table he was seated at was not cluttered with
computer parts. And no chicks jumped on it. On the table lay only an iPhone and several
business magazines deposited into a meticulously thought-out scene.
Peter sniggered soundlessly. Anyone talking to Sviata on Skype hardly suspected
that, below the level of the table, on that part of the body that did not fall into the frame,
Sviata was in shorts and slippers, and beside him on a chair was a bowl with seeds.
Kuzin, giving the class, had not yet noticed Peter. “The hardest part is making your
first million dollars. We young financiers call it the ‘technical million’. Making the
‘technical million’ isn’t easy. It’s often even impossible to do it the honest way, because
one still has to live on something. Then you invest in strategic projects, bet on advanced
technologies – and your money grows like a snowball,” Kuzin explained in the lazy voice
of a major financier.
A female voice squeaked timidly in the speaker. Peter did not make out what it
squeaked exactly, but Kuzin, to whom this squeak was addressed, heard and nodded in
satisfaction, “Yes, of course, I can teach you, and even manage your investments the first
time. I’ll take a small percentage, although, of course, everything will depend on the
return. How much do you plan on investing in a month? I only want to warn you right
away: investing little makes little...”
Something pushed Peter from behind under his knees and he bumped his forehead
into the shelving, knocking off a folder with some papers. This was Rita not being able to
stand it in the dark kitchen. She wanted to see what Kuzin was doing on the computer
and with whom he was talking. Rita ran into the room, went around the table and, after
showing up in the frame, said happily to someone, “Allo! Coo-coo!” And immediately,
pointing at Kuzin’s bare legs, she shouted cheerfully, “Legs! Legs! Sorts!” She was
terribly amused by the shirt and tie in the absence of pants.
Continuing to smile nicely at the camera, Kuzin waved at his grandmother,
demanding that she take away the child. Peter understood the suffering of a financial
tycoon. Kuzin would, with great pleasure, kick Rita out in person, and even better with a
somersault and through the window, but for this he would have to stand up, and then
the webcam would capture his underpants and knees covered with sunflower seed husks.
The grandmother hesitated. Her pancakes were burning slightly.
“I apologize!” Kuzin said with dignity. “Clients came with a child! Please be so kind,
gentlemen, as to wait in reception! I’m having an important conversation with an
investor... Galina Vitalevna, please bring coffee to the clients!”

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Catching a hysterical note in Sviata’s voice, his grandmother became alarmed.


Grabbing Rita by the sleeve, she dragged her into “reception”, where pancakes were
sizzling on the stove. In reception, Rita tried to sit down at the table, waiting for the
promised coffee; however, Galina Vitalevna did not pour her coffee, but put Rita and all
the others on the street.

“Take a walk in the garden! Come back in half an hour! Oh, I have to fly!”

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“At least a pancake?” Alex asked. The grandmother gave him a pancake and
slammed the door in his face.
“No! Well done! So that I’d come as guests again!” Alex said indignantly, but still
ate the pancake.
“A guest, a guest! What do you have in your hands?” Peter suddenly asked.
Alex stopped chewing. He could never answer the question of what was in his
hands, since he himself never knew. “An airplane! And, by the way, it’ll fly far!” Alex said.
However, Peter did not let Alex fly the plane. On the contrary, he took it from his
brother and, ignoring protests, unfolded it. “What paper did you make it from? Are
these the sheets I knocked from Kuzin’s shelf?”
“Yeah,” Alex confirmed.
“Clearly! I thought so!” Peter exclaimed and contentedly smoothed out the sheet
with his palm. On the sheet was written distinctly in large print: Wiring Schematic of
the Museum of Local History. And further were the blueprints, figures, and pointers.

“Well? Does the audience still have questions?” Peter said triumphantly. “There’s
your answer! Why would an honest person draw a wiring schematic of the museum? He
stole the bowl in order to have his ‘technical million’!”
“What’s with a million here? Maybe he simply drew this schematic? As a hobby?”
Alex suggested. Peter was not going to let his brother ruin his theory.
Suddenly Costa, standing next to Peter, jerked his arm.
“What do you want?”
Costa did not answer, pointing to something. Peter saw that from the direction of
the museum, struggling through the crowd, Sviatoslav Kuzin was pushing through to
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them. He was still in the white shirt and tie, and the only thing added to them was long,
knee-length striped shorts. Kuzin’s fists were clenched, and his face was filled with
hidden anger.
“He’ll wipe out witnesses!” Peter whispered.
“Wipe out to where?” Kate did not understand.
“To a coffin! Run!” Peter rushed, throwing Rita over his shoulder.

The Mokhov brothers, grabbing Costa’s wrists and simultaneously yanking his
arms up so that Costa, taken off his feet, was taking giant steps, raced behind him. Vicky,
Alena, and Kate ran behind the Mokhov brothers. The retreating Nina, bringing up the
rear, held Alex by the collar of his T-shirt, just in case.

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“Stop!” the heartrending howl of the financial tycoon flew after them.
No one stopped. Manoeuvring in the crowd, they ran to the sea. Kuzin did not lag
behind. Turning around, Peter saw his white shirt flashing in the crowd. The breathless
Kuzin sometimes switched to a walk, sometimes broke into a run again, but clearly did
not intend on stopping the pursuit.
“He realized that the wiring diagram was gone!” Peter figured out.
“I’m tired! I have a cramp in my side!” Alena groaned.
“Run, if you want to live!”
Losing breath, they swept past the little shops with souvenirs, then past tents with
inflatable rings, masks, mattresses, fins, and hats. Next, collapsible huts with cool drinks,
sausage rolls, gyros, and burgers followed in a long row. There was a small gap between

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the huts and the tents. Local artists installed four mesh stands here and hung their
paintings on them for sale.

Taking advantage of the small curve of the street preventing Kuzin from seeing
them, Peter dived behind the stands with pictures, and from there to behind the tents.
All the others followed Peter. One of the tents was not as wide as the others, so there was
a niche in which it was possible to hide. They pressed their backs to it and stood, also
dragging with them Alena, who had fallen on all fours from fatigue.
Alex alone did not lose his composure. “By the way, I’m barefooted!” he informed
them, looking with some surprise at his toes.
“Sheesh! Where are your flip-flops?” Kate asked.
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“Lost them. And who’s to blame: they’re too big for me!”
“And the baseball cap?”
“Also lost. And who’s to blame: the plastic thingy behind didn’t close!”
“Do you happen to be guilty ever?” Kate was indignant.

After waiting a minute, Peter cautiously looked out from behind the tent. Kuzin’s
white shirt loomed somewhere near the sea. The shirt was behaving restlessly. It
flounced first in one direction, then the other. At the moment when Peter was about to
pull his head back, the white spot of the shirt stopped abruptly. It twitched like a fishing
float. Peter understood what it meant. Kuzin realized that he had been fooled and would
now turn back. Besides, he would not break through the dense crowd of tourists going to
the sea, but turn to the row of little shops and stalls, where, of course, he would
immediately see them.
Peter darted back and again put Rita on his shoulders. “Run! Only quietly!” he
shouted and climbed over the low fence, no higher than waist height, separating the

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street from the park growing wild. In the depths of the park was a two-story mansion
with a grid of wooden balconies.

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128

All the little ones, with shrieks not conforming to the “Only quietly!” instruction,
moved quickly after Peter into the park. Andrew and Seraphim lifted Costa over the
fence. Alex feverishly jumped back and forth over the fence about five times, and
jumped between the tents on the way, but on seeing Kuzin up close, leaped back and
caught up with his brothers and sisters at the mansion, where they crawled between the
wall and grapevines wrapped around the building.
“You’ll get us nabbed!” Peter yelled, clinging to the wall with Rita’s nose.
“And who’s to blame for leaving me, by the way?” Alex asked breathlessly.
The mansion had a lot of architectural curves, protrusions, deserted porches, and
doors hanging in the air, leading to missing verandas. Because of all this, it was
impossible to spy Kuzin, if he was pursuing them. It seemed to Kate, Nina, and
Seraphim that his footfall was constantly behind them. They looked around timidly.
“I’m tiiir-ed!” Alena uttered with difficulty. “I can’t run anymore!”
“And there is nowhere anymore either!” Peter said tartly. The road was blocked by
a brick fence about three metres high. It was impossible to go in a circle around the
mansion, because the narrow path near the blank wall was littered with an incredible
amount of trash: old windows, rotting doors, and metal carcasses of garage gates.
“Which donkey dragged us here?” Peter asked glumly, and immediately
remembered that he was this donkey.
Vicky was about to turn back, but outraged voices were heard from there. Some
residents of the building saw them through a window and were making a noise. They
shouted from one window at first, then immediately from all, and then were even joined
in by a dog, very old and fat, judging by the barking. The dog barked, then breathed,
then barked again. Its barking was unique: it merged into a single, exceptionally
quarrelsome and shrill sound.
Soon Kuzin’s voice also joined the chorus of voices. He tried to squeeze between
the wall and the grapevines, but the residents of the building shouted at him, a window
slammed, and Kuzin yelped piteously – someone from a second-story window had
splashed on him tea from a teapot. “Why tea? My shirrrt!”
“He won’t let us out! He’ll lie in wait on the outside!” Peter realized. “Okay, nothing
else to do! We climb over the fence! Careful! There may be traps!”
“What kind? Porcupine quills, smeared with the poison of poison dart frogs?”
Costa asked in an informed manner.
“Broken glass, smeared with poisoned grease,” Peter said and bent down, making a
stirrup with his hands. Alex the monkey stepped into the stirrup and in an instant found
himself on the fence.
“What do you see?” Peter asked.
“A pool! Behind it are all sorts of roses and a long building with balconies,” Alex
replied.
“Are there people?”
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“Far away.”
“So jump into the pool!” Peter snorted, already helping Kate up onto the fence.
“I’ll jump. But will they have time to turn on the tap? Otherwise, there’s no water,”
Alex hesitated and stayed on the fence. He only ran a little to the side. Fortunately, there
was no grease or nails.
Peter helped Vicky, Nina, Alena, and Seraphim up and, finally Andrew, pushing
him from below, because it was the most trouble with him. Andrew did not know how to
pull himself up, and, dangling like a sausage, kicking his legs, smudged Peter’s T-shirt.
True, Vicky and Nina did not know how to pull themselves up, but at least they did not
kick.
Peter helped Rita and Costa up last. Costa had to be supported. A poorly working
left hand prevented him from holding on by himself. Finally Peter soared up the fence
himself. He hung his legs on the other side and looked around. Under them grew a
prickly blackberry bush. Beyond the blackberry bush were round short lamps for night
illumination. Further was a tiled pool, deep on one side and shallow on the other. One of
its walls was not tiled and wires in thick braids protruded from the walls.
Behind the pool was a park. Young trees that were not really grown were planted in
groups of two or three, and between them were a swing, a table tennis table, and an
unusual brazier in the shape of a steam locomotive, made from an empty gas cylinder.
When it was fired up, the smoke should pour right out of the pipe.
“Do we jump?” Seraphim proposed.
“To where?” Andrew grumbled. “Into the blackberry bush? It’s worse than barbed
wire!”
“Then into the pool!”
“The pool – we’ll break our legs.”
Peter continued looking around. A three-story hotel in the shape of a three-sided
rectangle stretched the entire length of the site. On the short crossbar were the main
entrance and restaurant. Peter was interested in the fire escape stairways, which were at
the end of each wing of the hotel. The stairways zigzagged from floor to floor.
A wooden board was extended between one of the fire escapes and the fence – a
secret bridge, not visible from below, and visible only from the fence. One of the tourists,
or maybe one of the hotel staff, had put the board there, so as not to go around the block,
but run directly from the second floor to the shops of the resort zone.
“Let’s go there!” Peter decided and, balancing on the fence, got to the board. The
fence was not so narrow – the width of two bricks. Alex skipped like a grasshopper
behind Peter. Behind Alex, the girls, Costa, and the Mokhov brothers moved with all
precautions. Alena was leading Rita by the hand.
Rita anxiously glanced sideways at the blackberry bush and constantly clarified
with Alena, “I’m not afwaid?”
“You aren’t afraid of anything!” Alena said.
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After learning that she was not afraid of anything, Rita took several steps. Then
vague doubts again began to torment her. “I won’t fall?”
“You’re a heroic girl!” Alena reassured her. And Rita moved further.

Peter got across the board and ascertained that it was sturdy enough. Three big
steps and now he was standing on the stairs, holding out his hand to the others. The
door leading from the fire escape to the second floor was open. A long carpeted hallway,
doors of rooms, and photographs with views of the city, decorating the walls between
the rooms were visible. There was also a water cooler, occasionally gurgling invitingly
and illuminated from below by diode bulbs so that the water appeared yellow, then
green, then red.
“I want to drink! I’m dying!” Alex yelled and rushed to the bottle, pulling a glass
out of a pyramid.

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“I also want to drink!” wailed the heroic girl Rita, who a second ago did not want to
drink.
“Me too! I’m also dying!” Costa screamed, pouncing on Alex and setting up a pile.

From the last room someone shouted angrily that people were actually sleeping.
“How do they sleep when they yell?” Alex marvelled. Fortunately, he marvelled
quietly, because people, who consider that they are sleeping when they are no longer
sleeping, are usually dangerous.
Peter went to his brothers and took them by the scruff of the neck. “And now the
most pleasant news! While we were on the fence, I kept my mouth shut, so that you,
having lost consciousness, wouldn’t fall into the pool! We are at the hotel of Karabas-
Barabas!” he informed them.

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Chapter Nine
THE STUFFED MARTEN

I dream of becoming an auntie with a huge bust, a


trumpet voice, and hair dyed the colour of poison. Then all
the teachers in school will be afraid of me.
They will ask, “Why is your son so bad at writing?”
And I will bellow thunderously, “WHY IS MY SON SO
BAD AT WRITING? MAYBE SOMEONE DIDN’T TEACH
HIM?”
And the teachers will tremble and hide.
© Mama Gavrilov

“And how are we going to get out? Along the fire escape?” Kate asked.
“I was working out that option. At the bottom was a grating with a lock. If it were
not for this lock, no one would go through the main entrance, everyone would wander
here quietly,” Peter replied.
“And if we jump off?”
“We can,” Peter agreed authoritatively. “But we’d have to jump from the second-
floor railing. The squirts won’t. And if you lower them along the grate, they’ll squeal so
that the guard will hotfoot over.”
Something raged in the water cooler, and a large air bubble, popping, made the
half-empty bottle sway. It happened so unexpectedly that Costa jumped from horror and
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smashed his back into the nearest door. On the door, House:eeping was written with
silvery letters. The letter “k” had fallen off, and in its place were screw holes. The door,
which was not locked, flew open.
Grabbing Costa by the hand, Kate was getting ready to run, but after glancing into
the room, she was convinced that it was empty. And in fact, it was a very strange
House:eeping. No ironing board with an iron, no vacuum, no towels, no stacks of linen
– nothing that was usually in such facilities.
In this room was a narrow sofa, carelessly covered with a blanket. A spear gun,
flippers, and a mask hung on the wall. On the table lay sucked-out claws and cracked
shells of boiled crabs. Between the crabs on the newspaper lay an intimidating knife.
The knife handle was a brass knuckle with four holes for fingers.
“Yeees, Karabas has nice maids! I’m afraid to ask what kind of janitors he has!”
Peter wanted to close the door as quickly as possible, but his attention was drawn to the
rack adjoining the sofa. Peter’s hand, stretched to the door handle, froze. “Come here!”
he whispered, tiptoeing stealthily into the room.
“What are you doing? Get out of there!” Kate hissed.
“In a second! Look what’s here!”
Afraid to enter, Kate nevertheless poked her head into the room. There were only
three shelves on the rack. On the first were folders with samples used by tattooists
offering their art on the quay. On the other shelves was taxidermy. They did not look
brilliant, and the smell from them was unpleasant. It was felt that the person who had
made them was still being trained. Only one was done not just with great skill, but
downright a breakthrough in brilliance, as Papa Gavrilov would say.
It was a stuffed short-tailed predatory beast that fell to the ground and turned its
head. It seemed that the beast, suddenly caught in the moment of a successful hunt, was
figuring out what to do next: drop the prey or protect it. A dead pigeon was in the
predator’s teeth.
“Understand what this is?” Peter asked in a whisper.
“Don’t remember the exhibit number. A stuffed marten with a turtledove in its
teeth,” Kate said in a gravelly voice.
The sound of an engine was heard under the windows. Peter cautiously peered out
from behind the curtain. A black jeep with tinted windows stopped at the hotel. Peter
expected that Karabas would emerge from it, but only the dried-up driver with tattooed
arms, on which all the veins were visible, emerged from the jeep. Furtively looking
around and as if afraid of coming across someone, the driver hurried to the fire exit. He
put his hand into his pocket and pulled something out.
“The key to the grate of the fire escape! We’re in his room!” Peter realized,
immediately connecting Duremar’s blue arms and the tattoo catalogs.

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Fearing that they would be caught in the wrong room, Peter wanted to jump out
into the hallway, but before he did, someone put a hand on Duremar’s shoulder. The
driver, having already opened the grate, looked around.
An elderly man with grey temples stood behind him. He appeared so noiselessly, as
if he had emerged from the ground. “When will you give it back?” he asked reproachfully.
“Tomorrow! I haven’t done it yet!” Duremar hurriedly replied.
The man with grey temples clicked his tongue in displeasure. “The second day you
say ‘tomorrow’! I phone, you don’t pick up! Why don’t you?”
Duremar hurried to hide from him behind the grate. The man put his hand on the
grate, preventing it from being closed.
“Tomorrow I’ll give it all back! Tomorrow! And don’t come here! No need for us to
be seen together!” Duremar shouted plaintively.
The man with grey temples shook his head distrustfully. “You promised, so do it!
Otherwise, it’ll be bad!” he uttered threateningly and disappeared around the corner of
the hotel as suddenly as he had appeared.
Peter jumped out into the hallway. He closed the door behind him and, grabbing
Rita, ran along the carpeted path. The others hurried after him. Alex thievishly held
something hidden under his shirt. Costa was the last sneaking on tiptoe. He did not
realize that in the long hallway, where you were visible far away, there was no need to
sneak but to rush at full speed, trying not to stomp.
Costa was so busy sneaking that he was not even particularly surprised when he
was hailed. Duremar was standing ten paces from him and searching in his pocket for
the keys to the open door. “Are you hiding?” he asked amiably.
“I’m running away!” Costa explained seriously.
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“From whom?”
“From the guy who stole the bowl!” Costa explained.
“Stole what?” Duremar repeated, looking anxiously around to see if anyone heard
them.
Costa did not have time to reply for the second time. Someone’s hands caught him
by his elbows. Peter's terrible eyes loomed before Costa. “Are you totally stupid? Run!!!”
They raced down the stairs so quickly that it seemed the steps were now smoking.
Rita issued her crowning short shrieks, from which the lamps lit up by themselves and
went out. The young Gavrilovs only slowed down a bit in the restaurant and proceeded
to walk, knowing that Duremar would not catch them here. Peter, green with anger,
dragged Costa by his hand. Alex was sheepishly pulling toothpicks from empty tables
and, putting them into his pockets, explained to who knows who, “These are shared!”
Seraphim said “hello!” to everyone, bowed and smiled politely. Andrew, on the contrary,
was pacing like Napoleon. His arms were crossed on his chest and his head was thrown
back. “Don’t draw attention to yourself! Behave like me!” he hissed to Seraphim.
The receptionist was sitting at the counter and writing something. Two waiters
were chatting nearby: one chubby with the face of an opera bass, and the other thin.
Seeing them, Seraphim again said “hello” for some reason, and Costa again began to
sneak, throwing his knees high. Fortunately, the waiters paid them no attention.
Unnoticed by the waiters, the Gavrilovs and the Mokhovs went out into the yard and
went in single file to the open gates.
“Don’t look back! He’s looking out the window!” Peter whispered with his lips,
looking to the side.
It would have been better if he had not said anything, because Rita, Costa, and
even Alex immediately lifted their heads and looked at the windows. In doing so, Rita,
so that no one could guess where she was looking at, covered her eyes with her palms
and looked through the slits between her fingers.
“Stop looking, squirt! Let’s go!” Alena hissed, pulling Alex by the hand. From Alex’s
pockets poured out toothpicks and some small pouches, which turned out to be wet
wipes with the hotel logo.
“Did you also steal the wipes?”
“What, have to walk with dirty hands?” Alex declared and, tearing himself away
from Alena, lost what was hidden under his T-shirt. A stuffed marten slid onto the tiled
path.
“Why did you take this?” Peter exclaimed.
“Why not? He stole it, and I stole it back!” Alex was indignant.
The window above was wide open. Duremar, with a skewed face, watched as Alex
hurriedly stuffed the stuffed animal under his T-shirt.
“We leave!” Peter ordered. “Don’t run, but we walk away! He won’t catch us with
all the people!”
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They reached the gates with great solemnity, but they proceeded to run again
outside the gate, because Seraphim thought he saw Kuzin. He even said “hello!” to him,
but when he was already racing at full speed. They flew through courtyards and climbed
over rusty fences of old resorts, where in the shadows of the parks they even met
sculptured pioneers with bugles. They stopped on a large wasteland, on which a lone
football goal stuck out among the grass, heated by the sun. No one was chasing them.
“It seems we lost them!” Peter unloaded Rita onto the grass. Alena and Kate were
dragging a screaming Costa by his arms and legs. On the way, he scratched his knee and
now, looking at the tiny crimson drop, he repeated in horror, “I’m hurt! I’m hurt!”
“Wait! Don’t wipe it!” Alex ordered him. “Let’s feed your blood to a mosquito! We’ll
check how fast it sucks! Anyway, this droplet won’t flow back!”
Costa stopped whining and thought in a businesslike manner. “It won’t hurt?”
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“No. The blood is wet, it has no nerve endings!” Alex reassured him. “And if a
mosquito doesn’t come, we’ll catch one and poke its nose in. It’ll still drink. It has
negative pressure in its stomach.”
“And if it won’t drink?”
“If it won’t drink, then it’s a male. They feed on nectar.”
“Your last male died when you gave it nectar!” Costa snitched.

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“Not nectar, but sugar water... But it didn’t die from that. It died because it
multiplied and the time limit of its vitality had run out!” Alex remarked reasonably and
began to look for a mosquito. Costa, crushed by his brother’s encyclopedic knowledge,
helped him.
Vicky slipped down to the grass with a groan.
Stretching his back, Peter hung on the football goal. “It’s getting more complicated!
The number of suspects is clearly higher than necessary! Do you know who that was?
Well, who wanted something from Duremar? The museum’s security guard! Whom
Gupt said fought in hot spots. I saw him in the museum!” Peter said.
“And what did the guard want from him? What’s ‘tomorrow’?”
“I don’t exactly know. But suppose that Duremar promised the guard money if he
helped steal the bowl. The bowl was stolen, and Duremar doesn’t want to share the
proceeds. Or, perhaps, hasn’t yet managed to sell the bowl. But the guard is demanding
his share immediately!”
“How did they manage to disassemble and reassemble the case?” Kate asked.
Peter chatted with his legs in the air. “If the guard helped, it’s not a question. The
guard probably has a powerful flashlight.”
“And Kuzin? And the wiring diagram?” Kate was puzzled.
“Nobody thought that a thunderstorm would begin. And even that the power
would go off. Perhaps the diagram was needed to turn off the cameras and alarm. Kuzin
was also in the gang.”
“And the hole in the ceiling and the roof? The guard could have taken the bowl
through the door.”
“Then he would immediately get busted,” Peter argued. “If there’s a hole, it means
that they climbed into the museum from the outside. If they climbed into the museum, it
means that it was definitely not the guard. He doesn’t need to breach the roof.”
Peter jumped down from the goal and looked anxiously at his hands, checking to
see if there was any trace of rust on them.
“Are you going to tell Papa? Well, about all this?” Kate asked.
“Papa, yes. Probably,” said Peter.
Kate nodded. “And Captain Matushkin?”
“Not yet. Need to figure everything out to the end. We’ve had enough history with
Tarasiuk,” Peter said.
Alena called Papa and asked him to pick them up by car. Because the little ones
were tired, and in fact, she wanted to eat. Papa asked where to pick them up. Alena
looked around. She oriented well in the city but could not remember the street names.
“There’s this broken bottle lying around,” she began to describe.
“Understood. Is there anything else?” Papa asked. A broken bottle for a landmark
was not enough for him.

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“Don’t you know the city?” Alena was indignant. “Well, okay, there’s even grass
here... And a football goal! And even...”
Here Alena interrupted her speech, because, turning her head in search of details,
she saw a weird structure. It resembled a hangar of considerable size: the bottom was
assembled from wooden panels, and above was canvas, with a slope for rain to drain.
Inside the hangar, something was continuously rumbling, hissing, and grinding.
The walls began to shake from time to time. Female screams and nervous laughter could
be heard. From the busy street to the hangar was a long narrow chute of a walkway –
exactly a tentacle stretched out to grab its prey.
“Wait! We’ll call you back! Don’t come yet!” Alena shouted and, after pressing “end
call”, ran to the hangar.
Alex and Costa, also attracted by the screams, sneaked up to the strange structure
from the other side, sensibly reasoning that if their sister was devoured, they would have
enough time to escape. They walked along a chain of concrete blocks.
“Do you know what it's called? Border! And what is this border? From what word?”
Costa asked Alex didactically.
Alena first got to the entrance and stopped, hiding behind the panels and, in any
case, pulling her head into her shoulders. The crooked letters Palace of Horrors
burned scarlet above the chute.

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Chapter Ten
PALACE OF HORRORS

Two young people were sauntering around the chute pulling in prey and handing
out flyers. Although the young people attracted a glance even without flyers. One of
them, the giant, had no head. More precisely, he held it under his arm and occasionally
fixed a falling nose. The other young man was sitting astride a tiny dwarf with red eyes.
Far from immediately the observer realized that the dwarf actually did not exist, and
that this was the young man’s pants, to which at the level of the knees was attached the
upper part of a dwarf’s body, on whose shoulders dangled false legs.
On seeing Alena, the headless one rushed cheerfully to her and, putting the head
on the asphalt, exclaimed, “Hello!”
“Hello!” Alena whispered fearfully, moving away a little.
Realizing that he was not recognized, the headless one impatiently began to rip at
the costume on his stomach and another face appeared from there. Apparently, it was a
prey that the cannibal had swallowed before his head was cut off. The swallowed face
was familiar to Alena. It belonged to their common friend Pokrovskii, the boyfriend of
the girl Liuba, who worked in a pet store.
“Where are your brothers and sisters? Whoa, I see!” Pokrovskii said, already
surrounded by Kate, Peter, Rita, and all the others. Alex and Costa were already peering
into the head on the asphalt, inside which were wires and a plastic speaker, like in a
kid’s toy.

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“It’s for the groans and lifting the eyelids... But they don’t lift: the battery has died,”
Pokrovskii explained and suddenly suggested, “Do you want to see the Palace of Horrors?
Go through, only quickly, while the boss isn’t here and you can go in without tickets!”
“Not scawy there?” Rita asked anxiously.
“No, standard. So far no one has died in my shift! Only when you choose a car,
don’t choose the yellow one. Remember that? Any, except the yellow one,” Pokrovskii
warned.
Costa and Alex, of course, immediately wanted to know why you could not choose
yellow, but Pokrovskii, without explaining, was already hastily pushing them inside.
“Come on! We have to work!”
Peter bravely stepped into the chute first. A wind, delivered by a powerful fan, was
blowing towards him. Moving vines, about which Pokrovskii shouted not to hang on or
they would come off, stretched to the face. Rita pressed against Peter’s leg. The others
sneaked behind them. The last were the Mokhov brothers.
Seraphim was sad about something and Andrew was muttering angrily, “Think of
it, horrors! There isn’t even hell, actually! It’s all a cheap farce!”
“Then why are you holding onto my sleeve? Afraid?” Seraphim asked.

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The young man with the dwarf on his pants mechanically counted the ones going
through. “Nine... ten... What horror! Let in a whole crowd! The boss won’t believe that
we didn’t charge them.”
“The boss won’t know if no one snitches to him. And if someone snitches, I’ll tell
the boss that someone doesn’t want to change costumes... I also want to ride a dwarf!”
Pokrovskii said, gloomily picking up the severed head off the asphalt. The shaking
triggered the battery and the head’s eyelids rose heavily.
Pokrovskii’s partner was embarrassed, muttered that he was not going to talk, and
immediately the faithful dwarf picked him up and carried him away further from sin.
“The palace of horrors! A thousand square metres of chilling fear! A hundred nights in
cold sweat! You will remember this for the rest of your life! Administration isn’t
responsible for things left behind!” he shouted the memorized lines.
The farther Peter pushed along the chute, the darker the walkway became. Grunts
and groans came from all sides, but the speakers were not visible. A few more steps and
they were in a tent. It was now completely dark here, and only bluish neon lighting
indicated the direction in which they had to move. Occasionally a scarlet light flashed
ahead, and women began to scream in a heartbreaking manner.
Vicky carefully poked her head from behind Peter’s shoulder and took a weak and
uncertain step. Something flared, and a skeleton, tied to the vine at its feet, fell from
somewhere above. Its bony hands lay on Vicky’s shoulders. Wheezing, Vicky darted to
the side and ran out of the neon corridor. She slammed into the hangar wall and
bounced off, touched something with her hand, and suddenly felt sticky dampness on
her fingers. At the next flash of light she realized that it was blood running down her
fingers.
Vicky made a guttural, completely inhuman sound and was about to faint, when
someone said with deep reproach, “Girl! Are you little or what? Why don’t you follow the
arrows? You knocked over my tomato juice!”
A flashlight was turned on. A sad old man on duty sat on a little chair in the corner
of the hall and looked at the packet of juice that had just been picked up from the floor.
On the old man’s left knee lay an open booklet, which he was reading, when the light
from his flashlight did not prevent visitors from being frightened. The name of the book
was worse than the skeleton on the vine: My friend the stomach. Spiritual practices of
bowel cleansing.
After wiping the tomato blood from her fingers with a serviette, Vicky returned to
the neon corridor. Peter and Rita had already advanced about ten metres. No more
skeletons fell on them, but a witch with a blue face, laughing, moved out of an old
wardrobe standing by the wall. She had a snake wound around her neck.

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Rita screamed in surprise, but the witch had already hid in the wardrobe. The next
time the witch looked out was about five seconds later, when Kate was opposite the
wardrobe. Kate no longer screamed, just flinched and moved away. Alena turned up on
the same spot after Kate. The witch jumped out at her too. Alena was expecting this and
was not scared. She began to run back and forth, forcing the witch to appear and then
disappear. Alex went even further. He leaned his shoulder against the wardrobe to
prevent it from opening. The witch knocked on the door, but could not lean out. The
speaker grunted, repeating the same heartrending howl.
“Girl, do not break the photocell! Boy, get away from the wardrobe!” the attendant
jumped up from his chair and stood angrily beside him, listening to the witch struggling
in the wardrobe.
Grabbing Alex by the arm, the old man dragged him aside. Released on will, the
witch broke out of the wardrobe and twitched in place, unable to hide back. The door,
trying to close, hit her on the back.
“What’s with her?” Kate asked.
“The spring has come off! Don’t touch anything else! Just follow the arrows!” the
attendant grumbled and, looking sideways angrily at the children, climbed into the
wardrobe to repair the witch.

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The young Gavrilovs strode along the arrows, obediently preparing to be


frightened. Peter, walking first, expected that the next terrible figure would work for him,
but everything turned out differently. A massive spider, hissing, crawled out of a niche
in the floor near Costa’s feet. To the surprise of the attendant, looking out of the
wardrobe, Costa did not even flinch. He calmly stood and waited for the spider to stop
pawing and the spring to pull it back.
“Boy! Why weren’t you scared?” the attendant was amazed.
“Is this really a spider? A spider has eight legs, not six!” Costa said with the utmost
contempt.
Meanwhile Peter, walking along the neon path, found two nearby walls, between
which there was a narrow access. In front, marking the end of the path, a small light was
burning, but there was no illumination before this light. In the darkness, movements
and rustles were perceived; sounds, precisely like snakes slithering along stones, were
heard.
“Aha! I see what the thing here is! The maze of fear! Have to feel everything!” Peter
said and, stretching out his arms, bravely went ahead.
The walls were sometimes almost closed in, sometimes apart. It was necessary to
touch them to determine where to go next. You felt the wall and realized that it was not a
wall at all, but something damp, wet, and moving.
Kate and Vicky had disappeared somewhere. Rita pressed herself against Peter’s
leg and was breathing heavily. Costa huddled up against his brother’s other leg. He
walked with his eyes closed and did not touch anything, so he was not as scared any
longer. Peter, on whose legs hung live weights, walked slowly, like a robot. Behind him,
the Mokhov brothers were panting and Alena squealed briefly. She even surpassed Rita
in this. Anyone hearing Alena’s screech would immediately jump, squat down, and plug
up his ears with his hands.
“Yeah... nonsense! A monotonous fantasy worked by partners, without creativity,”
Peter said, feeling in the dark the eye sockets of the next skeleton. “Further on for sure
will be a snake dangling, and after the snake either a skeleton or a mummy again...
Repetitions, gentlemen, repetitions! Well, what did I say! A mummy in a woman’s dress
with buttons! Even too lazy to wrap it in bandages! They put up an ordinary mannequin
from a store!”
Peter’s fingers slid up the mummy. They found a chin, then a cheek, and then
climbed into a mouth. But then Peter felt that the mummy was also timidly feeling his
hand and T-shirt.
“Ahh!” Peter yelled in an inhuman voice.
“Ahhh!” the mummy screamed, and its teeth closed down with inhuman strength
on Peter’s finger.
Frantic with fear, Peter lunged forward. Costa and Rita dangled on his legs like
dumbbells. Then Costa was lost somewhere. Peter stepped into a bucket and fled further
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with the bucket, and the mop sticking out of the bucket poked him painfully in the chest,
and dirty water sloshed. It took at least a minute before Peter managed to cast the
bucket off his foot, and it flew into the darkness, spilling the remnants of the water.
Miraculously reaching the attendant’s chair alive, Peter discovered Kate there.
Kate squatted calmly next to the built-in little lamp.
“Why did you scare Vicky? Nothing else to do?” she asked sullenly.

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“I scared Vicky? Me?”


“Yeah. What, you didn’t realize that you were feeling each other in the dark?”
“So it’s Vicky who nipped my finger?”
“What was she to do? Someone was touching her, and then climbed into her mouth
with their fingers!”
Peter breathed a sigh of relief and switched on the flashlight on his phone,
determining if his finger was badly hurt. It turned out that it had only been squeezed by
teeth and not bitten through.
Little by little, the other Gavrilovs and Mokhovs managed to get out of the maze.
When everyone had gathered, they began to find out who was the bravest. Everybody
acknowledged that Nina behaved most decisively of all. She did not scream and did not
step into a bucket, but retrieved the terrified Costa in the maze and led him out by the
hand. And she also saved Alex. Alex was even more frightened than Costa. After the
terrible double howl of Peter and Vicky, Alex came to the conclusion that everyone had
already been devoured and that it was not worth subjecting his precious life to danger.
Hurrying to leave the maze at any cost, Alex began to climb under the wall and got stuck.
“But the bucket was the most terrible after all! So simple, but effective! Great that
they came up with putting it in the middle of the way!” Peter said appreciatively.
“Bucket? What bucket? My bucket?” the attendant exclaimed and rushed into the
maze. Peter hurried along the neon path in the opposite direction.
In the centre of the pavilion was a small platform. Five little wagons, glowing like
rotten wood, 28 stood on rails. Two white, two red, and a yellow. The wagons were

28Foxfire, or fairy fire, is a bioluminescence created by species of fungi present in decaying wood. It emits
a bluish-green glow.
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painted with blurred faces of ghosts and coffins with flipped lids. Pumpkins with eyes
shooting out rays of light served as headlights. All wagons were double-seated.

“We were told that we mustn’t sit in some wagon,” Peter remembered.
“Which?”
“It seems the yellow one.”
“What do you mean ‘not sit’? Five double-seated wagons, that’s ten. And we are ten.
What, two go on foot?” Kate was indignant.
“What if two sit on laps?” Nina suggested.
However, Rita alone agreed to sit on a lap. Costa already considered himself too
big. There was no volunteer for Alex.
“Anyone but Alex! He’ll prod me with his sharp bum!” Vicky refused.
“So, all the same we can’t do without a fifth wagon! What, it’ll explode, after all!
What’s there, dynamite?” Peter said.
On hearing the word “dynamite”, Alex got excited, burst out laughing, and twirled,
and everyone realized that no force would be able to drag him away from the yellow
wagon. Everyone dived into the white and the red wagons, and Alex into the yellow.
They started the wagons by moving a lever. Then they no longer controlled them.
The wagons got under way, maintaining the necessary interval themselves.
Sometimes speeding up, sometimes slowing down, they squeezed through the tunnel,
where something hooted, creaked, and gnashed. Owls’ eyes blazed in the darkness,
graves opened and a weird light broke out from there. A ship’s stern appeared, twined
with the tentacles of an octopus. At the stern a pirate hugged a treasure chest with one
hand and held a rusty broadsword in the other. Then there were graves again, in some of
which they came across mannequins slowly rising from the coffins and just as slowly
laying down.
“Electric motor and a bicycle chain!” Andrew Mokhov said in a voice despising
wonders. “The wagons close the electric circuit, the coffin lids move away and the
corpses rise.”
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“Let’s accept that,” Seraphim acknowledged. “Then why don’t you touch this
terrible auntie’s nose?”
“I won’t!” Andrew refused.
“Scared?”
“I just don’t want to. But I see that it’s a mannequin.”
“So touch it!”
“I don’t want to!”
Beyond the fence of the cemetery began the land of dinosaurs. The dinosaurs,
which Peter said were completely irrelevant here, opened their mouths, trying to steal
the chubby Rita from Nina’s lap. Peter was, of course, also the first to figure out the
dinosaurs’ plans. And he even said that three little girls had already vanished here, but
these were trifles, because dinosaurs also needed to eat something, and Rita was not
some kind of skinflint here to pity one leg for poor hungry little dinosaurs.
“What, I’ll jump ‘ome on one leg? I’ll get tired!” Rita became alarmed and rushed
to take off her sandals, because they were new, and if a dinosaur would eat a leg, then, of
course, it would also gobble a sandal.
After a couple of minutes, the Gavrilovs and Mokhovs reached the final point of the
route. The wagons stopped and here everyone discovered that there were only four of
them. The fifth wagon had vanished somewhere, and, of course, it was the yellow one in
which Alex was traveling.
Everyone began to call him, but Alex did not respond. Only the owls hooted, and
the graves glowed greenish. Peter was about to step on the rails, but before he had time
to take ten steps, the yellow wagon rolled out to meet him, shining with the beams of the
pumpkin eyes. Peter barely managed to jump away. The wagon, slowing down, rolled
out onto the platform and stopped, snapping into the mount. Its seat was empty, the belt
unfastened.
“A minor got lost! I’m afraid he was struck by a current! There’s a pity, family after
all!” Peter said, concerned. Estimating that no new wagon would roll out to meet him, he,
stumbling, ran along the rails. Behind him, Seraphim ran and Andrew the miracle-
wrestler sneaked.
“He couldn’t be devoured! There are only mannequins there!” he muttered.
Everything was growling, hissing, and moaning. Then a new sound was heard.
Andrew grabbed Peter’s shoulder. “Did you hear that?” he whispered.
“Someone’s whimpering,” Peter replied.
“But earlier there was no whimpering?”
“No.”
A track of light ran along the railway ties, and Peter and Andrew saw a skull. The
skull was swaying in the air at a height of about one and a half metres from the floor,
and light poured out of its eye sockets. There was something outrageous in this skull,

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swaying, quietly whining, and purposely scaring no one, sadly floating along the narrow
path. Something differentiated real horror and tense theatrical nightmares.
“Lord!” Andrew whispered. “Lord, save me!”
The skull slowly approached them. A sobbing Alex was walking along the dark path.
With his right hand he was pressing to his chest the skull with the burning eye sockets
and lighting his way with it. Alex’s left hand was inside the skull. He was holding the
battery falling out of it. Under one arm, Alex carried a rusty broadsword, which Peter
had seen earlier with the pirate.

It turned out that in the middle of the route the yellow wagon took to stopping.
Alex sat and sat, but the wagon was not going anywhere. Then Alex unfastened himself,
got out, and started pushing it. The wagon took off, but Alex fell and could not catch up
with it. He had to walk along the ties. He took the skull at the cemetery to light his way
and grabbed the sword on the ship to fight off monsters.

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Peter and Andrew took the sword and skull from Alex and hurried to put them
back. Shouts from the attendant, who had already discovered the missing yellow wagon,
reached them from outside.
They retraced their steps, turning on the flashlights on their phones. By the light of
the flashlights it was not so scary anymore. It was possible to see the electric cables
stretching out to the monsters, the sound speakers on the walls, and the motors driving
everything into motion. Andrew took courage and walked first, laughing at Seraphim,
although Seraphim never claimed to believe that the monsters were alive, but simply
maintained the possibility of a miracle per se.
“And who said, ‘Lord, save me’?” Peter reminded him.
Andrew was embarrassed. “I didn’t say anything!” he declared.
The others were waiting for them by the wagons.
“Found Alex? That’s good! And there’s even a second floor here!” Nina informed
them.
A resonant iron staircase led to the second floor. The welded steps trembled from
each of its steps and the staircase shook. Considering that Peter was leading the ascent,
his head was the first to appear above the floor level of the second floor. Peter paused,
trying to make out anything in front. He was a shrewd person, and he wanted to
ascertain whether the second floor would be interesting to him or it would be possible to
go down immediately.
It was very dark upstairs. There was neither neon tracks pointing the way nor
emergency lights. Peter decided that here was simply an attic for storing monsters, but
at that moment a long jet of flame streaked through the air and low rumbling music was
heard. The music was like a screech, into which blended the beats of someone’s living
heart – and every time the heart beat, someone released a jet of flame.
Kate pushed Peter in the back. “Well, are you going? We can’t see anything!” Peter
began to climb up stealthily.

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152

Chapter Eleven
THE FLAMING WOMAN

If you like a young man, first go to his family. Sit


quietly, see how his father treats his mother. Whether they
shout, whether they quarrel. Then go to his grandpa and
grandma. Sit, smile, have tea. Do not argue with anyone,
keep quiet, be agreeable. And watch carefully: whether
grandpa bullies grandma. Whether they have a decent life,
live peacefully. And then, if you liked everything, you can
ask the young man, “What did you say your name was?”
Lessons of Grandma Masha

By the time the Mokhovs and Gavrilovs ascended to the second floor, the jets of
flame had been extinguished. Blazing balls were rushing swiftly around painting circles
in the air. A woman, dressed in black leather and with a scarlet cap on her head, from
which strips of foil, protecting her hair, went to her shoulders, was rushing about in the
middle of the fire. Sometimes squatting, sometimes jumping, the woman twirled in her
hands fireballs on chains. The balls sometimes almost touched her body, sometimes
shot upward. About two dozen spectators surrounded the woman. Occasionally,
somebody took pictures of her on their phone, blinding everyone with the flash.
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At some point, the balls disappeared from the woman’s hands, and instead of them
appeared a thin shiny rod, on the ends of which fiery torches flared up precisely and
violently. But this also seemed not enough for the woman. She tossed the rod in one
hand, continuing to rotate it with her fingers, bent down and sipped something from a
small bottle.

“I want to drink, too!” Alex whined, and here the woman suddenly exhaled fire
onto a small torch, which replaced the little bottle in her left hand.
A long jet of flame ran at an angle of forty-five degrees, almost touching the barrier
behind which the spectators were standing. When it went out, the woman withdrew the

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torch from her face, again sipped from the bottle and exhaled three quick short breaths
– three raging flashes of flame. The fireballs hung for a brief moment in the air.
One of the spectators gasped in fright and dropped their phone. But this was not
enough for the woman. Casting aside the extinguished rod, she crouched down and
began to blow flames at her feet. At the same time, she rose slowly, which seemed as if
she was rising from hell in a torrent of raging fire.
“And what’s this here? The clothing is non-flammable! And the sleeves altered
from a fireman’s uniform... Let her do it in a swimsuit, then I’ll be amazed!” a man said
loudly to his wife. The flaming woman threw up her head and released a short, angry
tongue of flame in his direction. The man recoiled and shut up.
Costa was frightened of the terrible flaming woman and, in any case, hid behind
Kate. Hiding behind Kate, he was hiding behind Alena, who was standing behind Kate,
and Seraphim, who was hiding behind Alena. Thus, Costa found himself by the wall. The
flaming woman was no longer visible from here: only flashes streaked the air and
terrible music rumbled with heartbeats.
Standing by the wall, Costa suddenly made out a whisper. There were two
whispering: a boy and a girl. The girl was asking quite quietly, the boy answering a little
louder. Costa looked around and at the next flash of flame saw that the boy and the girl
were sitting on a chest. Apart from Costa, they were probably the only ones who were
not looking at the flaming woman now.
“Did Papa heal the bunny?” the girl asked, her voice trembling with emotion.
“Yes!” the boy answered reluctantly, because it was, apparently, the hundredth
such question that day. “The boa swallowed the cage with the bunny, and Papa pulled it
out. He saved both the bunny and the boa, which would certainly have choked.”
The girl laughed happily, rejoicing that everything was okay. “Did Papa heal the
elephant?”
“But of course! Someone threw a spear into the elephant. The elephant was mad
and wouldn’t let anyone near, and only Papa came up with how to get the spear out. He
tied a rope to a palm and the other end to the spear. Then he began to lure the elephant
with sugar cane. The rope stretched, the palm bent, and the spear jumped out.”
The girl leaped on the chest. “Did Papa heal the wasp?”
“Certainly! A wing had come off the wasp. Papa began to sew it back on, but it
didn’t work, and then he made a prosthesis out of... I don’t know what it’s called... from
this thick balloon...”
The girl laughed again. Costa moved closer. The conversation had begun to interest
him. He tried to find Alex with his eyes, so that he could also listen, but Alex was busy:
he was watching the flaming woman. Now she was jumping over a burning rope.
“Yes!” the boy continued, addressing Costa also, because he noticed that Costa was
listening. “No one in the city treats a wasp anymore! Only our Papa! And there’s no
specialist for snakes, lizards and turtles at all. No one even understands anything about
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guinea pigs or rats. They only treat cats and dogs. Sometimes expensive parrots, but
with what? Some drugs for chickens and turkeys! There are no treatment regimens, no
verified doses!”
The flaming woman, still jumping over the rope, made some kind of summoning
sound. She was not heard. Then she turned off the music for a second and shouted
impatiently, “Alexei! Where are you? The hoops!”
The boy, whose father healed elephants and wasps, hurriedly jumped up and one
by one threw the woman three hoops with wicks. The woman lit them; one hoop began
to spin around her waist and the other two on her arms. At the moment when the three
hoops with a lot of wicks lit her face brightly, Peter recognized her. The flaming woman
in leather, blowing fire, was their eternally freezing neighbour Christina. To make sure
that this was indeed Christina, Peter began to search with his eyes for a pirate chest. A
chest, wrapped in fishing net, stood by the wall. Children were sitting on it. Lexi and
Barb – the son and daughter of Christina, were whispering about something, and the
third child, trying to stick his head between them, was Costa.
“It’s all very dangerous!” Lexi said. “I myself will never breathe fire. It only seems
beautiful, but in fact it’s better to distribute ads in the heat than do this.”
“Why?” asked Alena, who had also recognized Lexi and Barb. There turned out not
to be a place on the chest for Alena, and she squatted down, leaning her elbows on it.
“Maybe the leather will catch fire, if someone opens the door and there’s a draft.
Why do you think that my mother’s lips are always burned? And her gums hurt. And her
stomach. And she coughs terribly.”
“Why does she cough?”
“The fuel is poisonous, it corrodes everything in the mouth, and the lungs... And
worst of all is accidentally inhaling the flame.”
“How is this ‘inhaling the flame’?” Alena did not understand.
“Easily. If you accidentally inhale, while the fuel hasn’t yet burned out, the flame
will rush in the other direction and scorch your lungs. Or a cough suddenly finds you,
and a cough is a breath! Once, a spectator tried to repeat the trick when Mama turned
away, and her hair and eyebrows were burned. Mama was summoned to the investigator,
the judgement was – did she have anything to do with it? But if someone tries to repeat
a flip after the gymnast and breaks his neck, is the gymnast guilty?” Barb nodded. This
must have been talked about at home often.

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“It would be better if Mama only twirled the poi!29 There are all sorts of rope
darts, 30 meteors... 31 These are chains and burning ropes,” Lexi continued bitterly.

29 Poi involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmic and geometric patterns.
30 A rope dart is a long rope with a metal dart at one end, which can be used for twining, binding, circling,
hitting, piercing, tightening, slashing and other techniques.
31 The meteor is a long rope with weights at both ends, used for swinging, wrapping, and throwing the

meteor about the performer’s body.


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“Possible to subsist without exhaling flame! But I know whom she spites doing this...
She’s always this way... Always spites. And doesn’t take money from him!”
Peter turned on the flashlight on his phone. Next to the chest were bottles, balls,
and some terrible claws that could belong to a maniac.
“Claws!” Costa said.
“The claws are fire fingers with wicks on the ends. Can move them... Otherwise, on
what do you show, these are fans! See, a lot of spokes with wicks and a round handle?”
Lexi patiently explained.
The last of the hoops went out. Light flared up. Christina stood with her hands
down. A large hoop lay at her feet. The burnt wicks were fuming. Under bright electric
light, Christina’s face lost its mystery and became very ordinary, and it became
noticeable that, yes, the sleeves of her clothes were altered from a firefighter’s protective
suit.
“They turned on the light early, warned them. Now they’ll throw less!” Lexi said
with concern.
And he was not mistaken. Money sprinkled into the box on the floor. But it fell
down rather sparingly. Now, when the miracle had disappeared, everyone saw that
before them was a woman tortured by life instead of the formidable lady of fire. And
they give less to tortured women than to ladies. People mostly threw change, and only
one man threw a paper bill.
Then the crowd thinned out. Only Christina’s children, the Gavrilovs, and the
Mokhovs remained. Christina, with displeasure, collected the hoops, the torches, and
the poi, putting them in the pirate chest. Kate and Alena began to help her.
“Don’t! I’ll do it myself!” Christina muttered. She looked gloomily at the young
Gavrilovs. As could be seen, she would have preferred that the mystery of what she did
for a living would still remain a mystery. “Don’t tell anyone! The neighbours think I’m a
singer. Let them continue to think so,” she asked.
“We won’t tell! But what’s not to tell?” Rita perked up; she adored revealing secrets
to everyone in a row.
“Oh! What not to tell is written in the alphabet book! There every word is a terrible
secret! Let’s read it at home!” Kate hurriedly suggested. Rita hastily hid. Kate smiled.
She knew how to make sure that Rita did not babble.
Christina finished putting her inventory in the chest and deftly swept up the scraps
of unburned newspapers and garbage thrown by the audience. “Otherwise, they won’t
let you in next time!” she said and, after diving into a small room for a minute, returned
almost immediately. The costume for the performances had moved into a carrying case.
Now Christina had on a long skirt and a light turtleneck.
Alex wormed his way forward. “By the way, can I ask a question?”
“By the way, you can,” Christina mimicked.

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“Costa says that your husband pulled a bunny out of a boa constrictor! Why is it, I
wonder, that the bunny did not suffocate? Does he have oxygen inside?” Alex asked with
a thirst for reproof in his voice.
Christina turned abruptly, however, not to Costa but to her son. Two torches
flashed in her eyes. She somehow immediately figured out where to find the clue to
saving bunnies. “It’s you making up stories about Papa? Again?” she asked menacingly.
“Not my fault! She asks all the time!” Lexi snapped, pointing to his sister.
Barb nodded happily. “Yes! And Papa healed the elephant! And the wasp! And...
and...” she blurted out.
Christina reddened. “What nonsense! Barbara! He didn’t treat any wasps!” she
said sharply and, after extending the handle making the pirate chest similar to a tourist
suitcase, carried it to the stairs.
“He did! He did!” Barb shouted angrily after her. Moreover, the voice with which
she shouted and the intonation were very similar to that of Christina herself.
At the stairs, Christina turned around. “Are you going home now? Can you drop
mine off on the way?” she asked Vicky. “I have to go around to the craftsman. A wheel is
about to fall off the trunk.” Vicky promised that yes, they could, and Lexi and Barb
stayed with the Gavrilovs.
“Where’s your Papa?” Alena asked, even before Christina had finally left. Most
likely, she could even hear something, because the iron staircase with singing steps
suddenly stopped clanking, and a heavy suitcase fell, making a loud sound.
“Papa and Mama argued! Papa sometimes comes, and Mama screams at him. And
then we cry!” Barb informed them seriously.
“Barbara!” her brother exclaimed reproachfully.
“You yourself are Barbara! I’m Barb!” Barb continued confidently, because she had
a lot of listeners. “One auntie wanted to take a crocodile to her hairdresser’s shop, but
the crocodile caught a cold and she took our Papa to hers! Now Papa wants to escape
from the auntie and return, but Mama won’t let him. And she threw away his things.
And broke the computer. And smashed his guitar against the wall.” The chest hurriedly
clattered along the steps. Apparently, Christina, implicated in damaging the guitar,
hurried to run away.
The Mokhovs, the Gavrilovs, Lexi, and Barb came out of the Palace of Horrors. The
headless giant Pokrovskii had carelessly let some boy try on his head and was now trying
to get it back. The boy squealed and did not want to return the head, wishing to take it
with him. The boy’s mother looked reproachfully at Pokrovskii.
“Well? Normally scared?” Pokrovskii shouted to Kate. “Come again, only call, I’m
not here every day!”
Barb grabbed Peter by a finger and walked very happily with him, not releasing the
finger, even when it was necessary to go around a puddle. Rita grabbed Peter’s finger on

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the other hand, although she had never done it before. She just realized for the first time
that Peter was a treasure and someone needed him.
Peter was somewhat embarrassed by the fact that his hands were held with such
confidence. He bent down to Barb. “Do you remember that recent terrible thunder? And
the rain?” he asked.
Kate stepped on Peter's foot. From her point of view, making use of a naive child as
a source of information was not honourable. But it was already too late.
Barb started to rattle on. “Yes, I remember! I was afraid, I cried! And Mama ran off
somewhere twice! She told me to lie down with Lexi! We waited for Mama. And she
returned all wet. And angry!”
“Barbara!” her brother again yelled reproachfully.
“Did your mother go to the museum? Possibly, for example, climb through the
roof?” Peter asked, jumping aside, because otherwise Kate would have left him without
toes.
“No!” Barb said in such an honest voice that it was impossible not to believe her.
“We don’t need to go to the museum through the roof! We have our own door to the
museum! Only it’s a secret!” she blurted out and, embarrassed, covered her mouth
tightly with her hand. Barb and Rita were cut from the same cloth.
Peter froze like a column. He did not even feel pain when Kate, aiming properly,
crushed his little toe. “What’s this, a door? Why a door? Can you show it?” he asked.
Barb nodded happily. They were almost there.
Directly at the service entrance to the museum sat two patrol cars and one black
expensive car with blue numbers and blinkers, but without the usual police colouring.
Judging by Matushkin concerned face, flashing for a moment next to the cars, the
authorities had arrived.
“I wouldn’t want to be a policeman!” Seraphim suddenly said. “When they show in
a movie a policeman chasing a criminal, I always want him to run away. I even told
Mama this when I was little. I was afraid that I was crazy.”
They stopped at the wicket gate. Lexi opened the wicket gate first, and then turned
the key in the lock. “Oh! I’ll get it from Mama!” he said.
They squeezed into a small apartment consisting of two adjacent rooms. Costa
immediately began to search for the wreckage of the guitar that Christina had smashed
against the wall, but there was no guitar and the walls looked whole. Costa was very
surprised. He somehow considered that a guitar is something like a sledgehammer with
a musical pitch.
On the back of the chair hung a woolen sweater with transparent buttons, tied
beneath a fishnet. Inside one button was a tiny crab, inside another was an anchor, and
inside the third was a shell. Peter stared thoughtfully at this sweater. It seemed to him
that he had already seen it somewhere.
So many people were packed into the foyer that it had become cramped.
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“Hold Alex's hands! Otherwise this little kleptomaniac will turn off all the valves on
the gas boiler,” said Kate, who knew how to look at things through her brother’s eyes.
Alex whined softly, not understanding how Kate could have guessed. Indeed, he
had only once looked sideways in the direction of the boiler. Christina’s boiler was truly
the rarest. It reminded one of an artillery shell with samovar handles and had an
incalculable number of taps and bent tubing. If the Gavrilovs’ boiler on ignition made a
PUFF sound, then it was even impossible to imagine what sound this ancient boiler
generated.

The door to the museum was not particularly hidden. It was simply crammed with
all sorts of things that made it barely noticeable. It even retained an antique handle,
painted several times together with the door. It was noticeable that the tenants of
Christina’s two rooms, how many of them had changed over the years, did not pay this
door any attention. Beside the door was a low square oven, attached to the wall. Alena
carefully touched the door handle, wanting to make sure that it was real.
“Why is the door here?” Peter muttered. “Ah, got it! This is one building! Maybe
the doctor’s maid lived here. She wouldn’t have to go through the street in the winter!
And when did you realize that the door opens?”

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Lexi hesitated. “We thought it’s permanently closed and locked, and tied a rope to
the handle to dry clothes. Once I hung on the rope with my hands, and the door opened.
We looked, and there’s even a room! We turned on a flashlight: cobwebs, picture frames,
some broken chairs. And we realized that this is the museum!”
“Do they in the museum know that they have a door here?”
Lexi shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Everything is littered there. Once it
was one house, and then the museum became separate, and these rooms separate!”
Barb was hopping nearby.
“And did your mother go through this door that night when it rained?” Peter asked.
“Barb!” Lexi yelled in warning.
“I won’t say! Can’t talk!” Barb said and clamped her mouth with not a single hand,
but two at once.
Kate and Vicky grabbed Peter’s hands and dragged him out into the street. Alex
and Costa, using the opportunity, tore off blackberry leaves for the stick-bugs and said
“oh,” because a blackberry bush had thorns almost everywhere.
“Why are you bothering the girl? It doesn’t matter whether her mother went to the
museum!” Kate hissed at Peter.
Peter freed his hand with dignity. “I don’t want anything bad! I’m just curious!” he
was indignant. “And in fact, if Christina could get into the museum any time, then why
is her scarf tied to the gas pipe? Significance? And why was she all wet?”

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Chapter Twelve
RITA AND LATCHES

Costa yells more than Alex, but not as much as Rita.


Kate is more petulant than Vicky, but does not sulk as long.
Alena is less mischievous than Peter. Rita is louder than Alex
when she needs something. Peter is less irritating than Costa.
Kate is more stubborn than Alena. Alex gets mad when
someone feeds his spiders. The question is: which of the
Gavrilovs is the nicest?
A problem of logic

The next day Matushkin and Ushitsyn popped in at the Gavrilovs for a short while.
They looked mysterious. Matushkin mentioned in passing that the investigation was on
the right track, but did not describe the track, nor ask Papa Gavrilov about his insights.
Apparently, the track was indeed very certain, and Matushkin did not need other
threads.
“Did I say that we were sent a notability from Moscow for reinforcement? He’ll
unravel it! Very meticulous! Well, we also figured out something without him!”
Matushkin said smugly.
“Is there anything else interesting?” Papa Gavrilov asked.

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“Don’t get bored. This morning two clairvoyants and an auntie from the Far North
called, they were talking with the spirits of Scythian kings,” Ushitsyn said sarcastically.
“And the kings? Did they say where the bowl is?”
“No. But they threatened with plagues... And the clairvoyants demanded tickets to
the Crimea be bought for them and accommodation in the best resort provided.”
“But we know who stole the bowl!” Costa suddenly blurted out. Peter tensed up,
thinking of how to silence Costa.
“And who’s that?” Matushkin asked good-naturedly.
“The thief stole it!” Costa added importantly.
Matushkin listened graciously to Costa. “Smart boy! Of course, the thief! Who else?”
he said and left with Ushitsyn.
Peter was torn to pieces. One part of him continued to investigate the crime; the
other was suffering from the proximity of the state exams. He honestly tried to prepare,
but his brothers and sisters hindered him. Then Peter went to the store and bought two
latches and two powerful latch bolts. Peter screwed the latches and bolts to the door of
the smaller room. Now it was possible to be locked in it and none of his brothers and
sisters could enter it.

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Rita was standing next to Peter. With a finger in her mouth, she was listening to
the way the screwdriver worked, and watching as the long screws entered the door.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“This is to keep out the squirts!” Peter explained with a grin.
“Yes!” Rita was excited. “Keep out the skirts! We’ll keep out the skirts!” And she
ran to Costa to tell him the news that she and Peter would keep out the squirts.
The latches and bolts did not give Rita rest all evening. She clicked them, quickly
running from one door to the other, and achieved the greatest virtuosity in the use of all
types of latches.
Alex did not show the slightest interest in the latches. He was busy with something
mysterious, walked with an important air, and hid away in the corners.
This seemed suspicious to Papa Gavrilov. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m falling in love with solitude,” Alex replied.
Papa tensed up. When Alex “fell in love” with solitude last time, it turned out that
he was making a rocket using sulfur from ten boxes of matches. Blown up on a vacant lot,
the rocket ripped out a hefty chunk of asphalt.
“But this isn’t a bomb? Not a rocket?” Papa asked, preferring to play it safe,
because Alex could easily promise not to make rockets any more, keeping in mind that
he would make a landmine or an assault tunnel under the school wall.
Alex shook his head, and Papa calmed down, although he did not find out about
Alex’s secret. The first to discover this was Vicky and Kate. Soon they spotted Alex
swinging in a hammock in the courtyard and turning some sparkly thing on his wrist.
Alex did not manage to hide it from his sisters. It turned out to be a men’s bracelet made
of a dozen flat metal plates drilled in many places and intricately bound together by
leather laces.
“This isn’t just a bracelet! Can also fight with it! Here, you put it on your hand like
this! These skull thingies, they bang! I was the first to discover this!” Alex explained
joyfully.
“I think the one who made this bracelet discovered it first!” Kate snorted. “Where
did you get it?”
Alex sniffed and looked vaguely at the sky. No one else, except Kate, would be able
to expose him only on this sniff and lifting of the head. However, Kate was the greatest
specialist in finding out her brothers’ true intentions.
“Aha! So you found it in the attic! When you fell through the tiles! And didn’t tell
anyone!” Kate instantly deduced.
“Because it’s an ancient bracelet of cave people,” Alex said quickly.
“The house isn’t so old that ancient people forgot bracelets in the attic!”
“Ask Mama! How old is the city? Two five zero-zero-zero!” Alex shouted.
Kate tried to argue, but it was useless to argue with Alex: he had grasped early that
the most reliable way to win an argument was to repeat his version loudly and endlessly,
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covering his ears with his hands and closing his eyes. Moreover, it is necessary to cover
the ears and close the eyes very tightly, so that your counterpart sees that you are not
secretly listening and does not try to scream at you.

Now Kate had long given up and left, but Alex was still continuing to argue with
himself, covering his ears and adding extra zeros to the age of the city. Soon the city had
already become more ancient than Babylon and, perhaps, even before the Crimea
emerged from the sea a billion years ago. And this indeed certainly proved Alex’s
property rights to the bracelet, which also came from the sea at the same time as the
Crimea.
The closed eyes did not allow Alex to see that someone was staring at him from the
outside with open attention, moving apart the leaves of the grapevines.

***
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The same day, Rita accidentally fell asleep after lunch. A child of her age sleeping
during the day is no crime, as Captain Matushkin would put it, but if the child manages
to fall asleep after breakfast, then wakes up before lunch and falls asleep again after
lunch, then one can rest assured that in the evening he will wake up in a terrible mood.
And this happened. Rita woke up at five in the evening, sat in bed, and immediately
began to frown. One third of her brain woke up, another third was still asleep, and the
last third was already searching for an excuse to make a scene. Because if you slept twice
in the afternoon and it will already be evening soon, when you need to go to bed for the
third time, then you do not tire yourself out without making a scene.
Finding no one in the room, Rita proceeded to the kitchen, where the whole family
was already. Her beloved kin immediately determined from Rita’s face that she was in a
nightmarish mood. Rita held in her teeth the lace that tied the neck of her nightgown.
And while she held it, her mouth was not open, and it was now good.

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Everyone knew that the only way to not quarrel with Rita now was to try with all
one’s might to pretend in the next fifteen minutes that Rita was not there. Do not talk to
her, do not look at her, and never say the name “Rita”. And if you really have something
to say about her, it is best to call Rita “some girl”. Rita will feel that it is about her, but
cannot find fault.
Frankly, Rita was no sweetheart. As the youngest child, she was forever giving
orders to everyone. She would repeat many times “Buy! Buy! Buy!” and Mama, cutting
her some slack, would buy her anything she wanted. And Papa, who did not like it,
always said, “Rita, you’re not the commander here!” So Rita used to pester Mama when
Papa was not around.
Now Rita caught one of Vicky’s dogs and, continuing to hold the lace in her mouth,
told it sternly: “You’re not the command here!” The dog licked her nose and ran away.
Wiping her nose with her sleeve, Rita came to the table and stood still, arms
crossed on her chest. The smarter Gavrilovs calmly drank tea, while the rest of the
Gavrilovs were looking for a reason to play with fire.
“Some girl was shoved into the vacuum!” Alex blurted out, looking rascally at Rita.
“Shut up!” Alena pushed him with a foot.
“Some girl sits in the vacuum, and her name is Ru... Ri... Ri...”
Rita’s mouth began to open dangerously, and her eyes started to squint no less
dangerously.
“I’m telling you in a Russian voice: shut up!” Alena kicked the stool from below so
that Alex jumped.
“Not voice, but language!” he corrected.
“Voice! Can’t ever talk in your language! You don’t understand language!”
“And what’s wrong with that? I’m not saying it’s her! I said ‘Ri’!” Alex was
indignant.
“And she’s absolutely cuckoo, this Rita!” Costa, who lacked the flexibility of his
brother’s mind, added tactlessly.
The forbidden name had been uttered. Rita unclasped her teeth and released the
lace. Kate quickly grabbed a cup of tea and, plugging her ear, which was turned towards
Rita, jumped out onto the street. However, to Kate’s surprise, no shrieks rushed to
follow her. Instead, Rita darted into the back room. The click of a latch was heard. Then
the stomping of small feet sounded and another click. The bolts were screwed to the
outside of the door, the lighter latches to the inside.
“She closed both doors! No loopholes! My style!” Peter attached his ear to the door
and made sure that Rita was standing somewhere nearby and listening. Then she
uttered a single short shriek and listened again.
Peter understood perfectly what the matter was. Before Rita was a serious problem.
As is known, a scene needs an audience. To make a scene in a closed room is
uninteresting. But if you open the door, then it will reduce the depth of resentment; it is
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much more interesting to sit in a room with all the latches closed. They knock, you do
not open. They beg, you remain adamant. They coax, you lie on the floor and pound the
floor with suffering heels.
Kate returned to the table. “Let’s not pay attention to her!” she suggested, dipping
croutons into her tea.
As it turned out, this option was also considered in the locked room. A latch clicked
again. The door opened slightly.
“I’m obended!” Rita shouted, sticking out, and immediately hid behind the door.
“It’s very good that she’s sitting in the room!” Kate said. “In the room, she’ll calm
down much quicker. Give me half of that bun!”
The Gavrilovs sat and drank tea very quietly. Every two minutes Rita opened the
door, peeped into the kitchen, yelled, “I’m obended!” then slammed the door and
hurriedly closed it again.
“What would a great educator do now?” Mama Gavrilov asked sadly.
“And the main thing: how to make her open?” asked Vicky, who had left her phone
in the room.
“It’s just easy. Need to lock Rita on the opposite side and tell her about it! Then
she’ll immediately start pounding on the door! Bet you a million!” Peter suggested,
glancing with anticipation at the bolt.
“Don’t! Better be patient for now without the phone,” Kate said hastily. “While she
sits in the room, we’re quite quiet. And she’ll calm down in half an hour.”
In order for Rita to stay longer in the room, Kate would at times go up to the door
and beg Rita to open. “Open up, oh sister, if you are not too ‘obended’!” she said.
Convinced that they remembered her, Rita snorted contentedly.
Costa and Alex tried to ambush while Rita opened the door again to prevent her
from closing it. Lurking, they sat by the door and did not breathe. When Rita, having
lowered her guard, once again clicked the latch to report her resentment, the brothers
leaned on the door and began to push it.
Rita was smart enough to realize that she could not cope with two brothers at once.
Not being confused, she rushed to the second door and opened the latch. She ran
through the next room and, slamming the door behind Alex and Costa, who were
already inside, snapped the bolt behind them. Then she went back to the door through
which she had run out, and closed it as well as the bolt.
Now Costa and Alex were securely locked in the room. And not just locked in, but
with two of the most reliable locks. As soon as the brothers realized this, they
immediately began banging on the door. “Open it now!”
Rita waited a bit, standing at the door with a satisfied look. Then she pushed the
bolt back very carefully. Alex and Costa, crashing into the door in the heat of the
moment, flew into the kitchen, and Rita, immediately slipping into the room, closed it
from the inside. The brothers realized too late that they had been fooled.
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“Yes, you want to make life interesting in the house, put bolts everywhere! Better
yet, two on each door!” Papa Gavrilov said.
Alex and Costa were already panting again, waiting to ambush Rita, but Rita did
not make the previous mistake again.
After a while, Peter sneaked up to the room and looked through the crack. “She’s
playing! She pulled out her own box and is fiddling in it!” he said.
Rita did not like toys as such, except for a few horses inherited from Vicky and a
couple of dolls, but she had a box with seashells, perfume bottles, purses, beads, and
other such trifles. In the same box was also kept Mama’s old handbag, which Rita
stuffed with her treasures so that it could barely close. And now that Rita was
rummaging in her box, it was a sure sign that she was starting to calm down.

“Shall we go for a walk?” Papa Gavrilov suggested.


“Are we taking Rita?”
“Let her stay at home. Otherwise, she’ll still remember that she’s ‘obended’,” Papa
said.
Near the house was a small park with a non-working fountain. The young
Gavrilovs liked to climb down into this fountain and run there, occasionally climbing
onto a large stone flower located in the centre of the fountain. The park was surrounded
by a beautiful white fence, on top of which the children walked, climbing over the white
balls adorning the fence.
The Gavrilovs had barely left, when the door of a shed located in no-man’s corner
creaked and a face appeared, hidden up to its eyes under a tied handkerchief. Heroes of
Westerns robbing banks used such handkerchiefs. Also, cowboys, as is known, have
leather hats. And in this case the hat was also present, only not leather but made from a
yellowed Health Resort newspaper.
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After ascertaining that the last of the Gavrilovs had left the courtyard, the shed
ejected another person, no less strange than person No. 1. Person No. 2 did not have a
handkerchief on his face nor a hat, but they were successfully replaced by a paper bag
from a supermarket, hoisted on the shoulders like a knight’s helmet. The bag covered
not only the face, but also the neck. The drawback of the design included poor visibility:
little doorways for eyes were diligently made in the bag, but they were sliding to the back
of the head all the time.

Meanwhile, the person in the newspaper hat had reached the Gavrilovs’ gate and,
after making sure that the gate was not locked, beckoned the other one with a short
whistle. The second person pattered with small steps, keeping the bag on his head and
bumping into different objects. Without losing time, both persons slipped into the lot.
All was quiet in the courtyard.
“Come on!” person No. 1 whispered.
The second person ripped the openings in the bag a little wider and carefully
pushed the handle. The door yielded. The unknown person poked his head into the
kitchen and listened. The boiler was raging. The guinea pig was romping in the cage.
“No one! Hurry up before they return!” he whispered, and both persons
disappeared behind the door.

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Chapter Thirteen
THE HEROIC DEED OF MADAM USHITSYN

The sinister people slipped into the kitchen and began searching. After rummaging
through the kitchen, they proceeded to the first room. They opened wardrobes in turn
and rummaged through them, shaking out onto the floor the contents of suitcases and
boxes. The search went frantically. The intruders exchanged words in a whisper, trying
to make as little noise as possible. When they turned over the box with the winter things,
a stuffed marten with a turtledove in its teeth fell out.
“Done! Let’s leave!” the man with the bag on his head exclaimed in a muffle and
pressed the stuffed animal to his chest. Such a rapid success seemed to inspire him. He
even tried to kiss the smirking snout of the beast, but only poked it with the bag.
“No, not yet! Let’s look for my bracelet! I saw the boy with it!” the cowboy in the
newspaper hat said and pushed the door into the next room. The door did not yield.
“Locked from the inside! What, do they have another exit?” He stole to the second
door. “And it’s locked here!”
Squatting down, the cowboy tried to peek in the crack, but saw only an empty room
and the shiny pin of the latch. Rita had long heard the rustling of voices outside and
came to the conclusion that it was Costa and Alex. What sly ones here! They secretly
returned and wanted to flush her out of the room. Rita giggled contentedly. Waiting
until the door had stopped shaking, she carefully pulled the latch.

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“Something’s not right! Both doors can’t be locked!” the bag man said, returning to
the first door and pulling it toward him. The door swung open hospitably. “Here, you see!
You opened it the wrong way!” the bag man said with relief and stepped inside.
The newspaper cowboy followed him. They looked around the room, after which
the bag man turned to the wardrobe, and the cowboy to Peter’s desk. Rita ran on all
fours out of the room and, giggling quietly, closed and bolted the door. Cowboy and the
bag man, coming to their senses, leaned on the door together. The bolt held tight. Then
the man in the bag rushed to the other door and tried to open it, but they were also
ahead of him here. A new bolt clicked with the sound of a rifle breechblock, and happy
children’s laughter immediately sounded.

“I’m obended!” Rita informed them through the crack.


The door shook from the blows. However, these were old doors, even pre-
revolutionary, with powerful hinges. And they were locked with bolts, not latches.
“Baa-baa-baa!” Rita shouted triumphantly and jumped out of the house.
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The first ones she saw in the courtyard were Alex and Costa, having caught a
massive purple ground beetle in the fountain and returning home.
“It secretes a poisonous drop! Don’t touch it!” Costa warned.
“I know. I’m carrying it in your cap,” Alex reassured him. “Let’s feed it the snail
with the cracked shell!”
“The one we wrapped a bandage around? Pity!” Costa said.
Recently, Alex and Costa had found on the wall of the house a grape snail the size
of a fist. The snail was high up. To remove it, they began to push it with a broom. The
snail fell and cracked. Alex and Costa rushed to the drugstore and bought a bandage for
its cracked shell.
“Yes, a pity!” Alex admitted. “But the ground beetle has spent maybe a week in the
fountain! And, by the way, the snail won’t be able to reproduce anyway!”
“But it’s already ours! We’ve domesticated it!” Costa retorted.
Alex thought about it. “Yes,” he said. “You’re right! So, we’ll have to feed the
ground beetle young snails, and not feed it the old one, which is our friend...”
However, the beetle had to sit for awhile longer without dinner, because Rita flew
out to meet her brothers. “What, you got away? But I sut you in!” she said.
“Where did you shut us in?” Alex did not understand.
“There!” Rita showed them.
Although the gate was about ten metres away, the brothers heard the blows. There
in the apartment, someone was zealously breaking a door. He slammed his shoulders
into it, kicked it, and roared. Costa wanted to sneak into the house and look through the
crack to see who it was, but the sounds were too scary. Alex grabbed his brother’s hand,
after grabbing Rita’s collar with the other hand.
“Run!” he commanded, and they rushed to the park to tell Papa that Rita had
locked someone in. But before reaching the park, they flew into a man, almost knocking
him down.
“Stop! Where are we flying to?” the man exclaimed cheerfully.
Bouncing, Costa lifted his head. Lieutenant Ushitsyn was standing before them. It
was definitely him, but in some ways it was not him. His mustache even resembled a
mustache, and his eyebrows – eyebrows. And the clothes were different: not a uniform,
but swimming trunks and a T-shirt. Next to him, a small woman impatiently stepped on
the spot. Such power lurked in her strong legs that she literally threw it over the ground
with every step.
Next to this woman, the fidgety Ushitsyn looked subdued. He carried a large
package in each hand. The tail of a fish protruded from one package. No tail peeped out
of the other, but it tilted Ushitsyn to the side. Apparently, in the package hid the very

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burden of the earth, lost by the epic hero Svyatogor32 even in the first centuries of our
era.

Costa, Rita, and Alex jumped around them.

32Svyatogor is a mythical hero from Kievan Rus bylina epic poems. He is a giant, one of the most ancient
pre-Christian epic heroes, divine and mighty. In one version of an epic poem, he tries to pull off the
ground a bag containing all the burdens of the earth, but he fails.
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“Rita locked up someone! Someone broke into our home!” Alex shouted.
“And the ground beetle is lost!” Costa sighed, showing an empty hand.
“Max’s day off! He’s going for onions!” the woman looked anxiously at her husband.
A mysterious transformation came over detective Ushitsyn. His mustache and
eyebrows changed places, and this was a sure sign of a family coup. Ushitsyn became a
brave warrior before their eyes, and his wife remembered that she was a timid woman.
She even squealed, adjusting to her timidity. She did not like her first squeal, and she
squealed again, catching the right pitch. The second time was much better. The
newlywed nodded in satisfaction and then only reproduced this sound. Rita listened
with understanding as an adult aunt played ‘shrieker’.
Ushitsyn put the bags down by a post and was already running into the courtyard,
making a phone call on the move. “Who’s on duty? Pasha, are you? A crew to the
museum from the side of the alley! Apartment burglary!” he shouted.
When they ran up to the porch, the blows were already rare, but heavy. The
intruders, swinging, rammed the door with a sofa.
“Won’t they escape through the window?” Ushitsyn asked matter-of-factly.
“There’s a grid!” Alex replied.
“Great!” the detective nodded, and at the same instant the bolt was completely torn
off.
The intruders flew into the kitchen. On seeing Ushitsyn, they froze and tried to
brake the accelerating sofa.
“Hands up! Police!” Ushitsyn shouted, pointing his finger at them.
His words thundered very solemnly, although they coincided with the sofa falling
on the floor. The bag man gasped: it crushed his foot. The newspaper cowboy stared
blankly at Ushitsyn’s finger for several moments, assessing his rate of fire, and then
descended on the lieutenant with a growl, knocking him off his feet. The bag man
jumped around the kitchen on the crushed foot, after which he found nothing cleverer
than piling on top of the fighters. Apparently, his idea was to pin Ushitsyn down with
the common mass.
But here the brave newlywed burst into the house. With one swing of a loaded
package like a shot, she took down the poor fellow with the crushed foot, who was sitting
down to rest on her husband. The package broke. Not taken aback, the newlywed
grabbed the heaviest thing in the package – the fish – and began to recklessly whack the
newspaper cowboy.
“Robbers! Killers!” she wailed, although from Rita’s point of view, it was rather she
who was doing the killing, working the fish like a battle axe.
The poor fish turned out to still be alive. Waving its tail, it knocked down the
cowboy’s newspaper hat and handkerchief. Under his hat there was a bald spot, and
under his handkerchief there was a long black beard, which detective Ushitsyn lying
below immediately wound around his hand.
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“Karabas!” an astonished Alex exclaimed.


The animated fish continued its heroic deed. Slipping out of the hands of the
newlywed, it outlined an arc in the air. Trying to catch it, Ushitsyn’s wife flew into the
man jumping on one leg and tore the paper bag off his head.
“Duremar!” Alex exclaimed once again.
A few seconds later, a police squad burst into the house and captured Karabas and
Duremar.
“Let go of my beard!” Karabas angrily demanded.
Ushitsyn released his beard. “Citizen Bugailo! Your rushing was the rushing of a
hunted beast!” he said with the same solemnity with which he said “hands up!” aiming
with his finger.
“This is a misunderstanding!” Karabas muttered.
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“Is this a misunderstanding? Well, an interesting movie! If I’m not mistaken, this
is the stolen exhibit No. 821!” Ushitsyn snatched the stuffed marten from the hands of
Duremar, whom he called “Citizen Chernobrovkin”.
Karabas and Duremar were taken away. Ushitsyn stayed to write down the
statement, how Chernobrovkin and Bugailo broke in and how Rita locked them up.
Showing how she had done it, Rita tried to lock up detective Ushitsyn, but the bolt had
been ripped off, and from disappointment, Rita locked his wife in the toilet.
By that time all the Gavrilovs had returned from the walk.
“Well, here’s your vaunted deduction!” Ushitsyn mockingly told Papa Gavrilov.
“We made them nervous and they made a mistake. Now it remains to find out where
they hid the bowl, but we’ll crack them, have no doubt!”
Papa Gavrilov nodded, contemplating the sofa stuck in the doorway. “And is it
possible to ask when and why you began to suspect them?” he asked.
“Easy!” Ushitsyn said. “I think we can talk about this, since the crime has been
solved. Do you remember those two workers who made repairs at the museum? We
identified them! It turned out to be Bugailo and Chernobrovkin. Curious? The owner of
a large hotel settled for temporary work, for which they pay pittance! We began to dig
deeper. Found out that a few years ago, Bugailo took out a large loan. Then the rate
changed, and he couldn’t pay. He didn’t even complete the repair of the pool at the hotel,
and vacationers hardly go to him because of this.”
“So, Bugailo isn’t rich at all?” Vicky was disappointed.
“No. He has already sold everything he could. Even the jeep in which he drives
actually belongs to another person. Consequently, stealing the Scythian bowl would
have been a way out for him. If he sells the bowl, he could pay off the bank.”
Someone called Ushitsyn from the street. He said goodbye to Papa Gavrilov and
left.
A minute later there was a knock at the door. It was Ushitsyn’s wife. “Where’s our
fish?” she asked matter-of-factly. The fish was in the bathroom. Costa and Alex had put
it in water, where it was swimming melancholically. It had multiple air bubbles on its
scales.
Mama, Kate, and Vicky collected the scattered things from the floor and picked up
the overturned stools and pieces of dishes. Papa Gavrilov was wondering what he would
tell the landlord of the apartment, and what the landlord would tell him in turn.
Peter sat with his paper, which had been thrown off the desk in the fight, and
someone had even walked on it. “Some imperfection! I understand that the pluses
pointed to him, but still the mind is restless! And what’s this name Chernobrovkin?
‘Duremar’ is much better! A concise, beautiful word!”
Peter blew dirt off the paper and placed it sideways on the windowsill. Then he
caught Alex and, pointing a finger at his chest, said sternly, “In short, Dr. Watson, admit
that Professor Moriarty is you! The one I threw off the waterfall was just your assistant!”
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“Huh? What?” Alex asked, confused.


“Never mind. Go bring me a violin, tea, and a sandwich with sausage. If you can’t
find the violin, then the last two items on the list will suffice... And I’ll think about Kuzin,
Christina, and the Scythian bowl!”

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179

Chapter Fourteen
A MINOR ERROR HAS EMERGED!

Alex: We take all the kittens, because, first: a) it’s warm


here; secondly, b) they’re fed tasty cutlets here; thirdly, c)
there’s protection here.
Alena: Can you not say a) b) c)? Awfully annoying!
Alex: I can, but, first, a) it’s more understandable;
secondly, b)...
Alena: Aaaaah!
Alex: You see, you also started to say ‘a’. But, first, a)
this is my word...
Dialog

The next morning, Costa realized that he wanted attention and love. He began to
be cranky and broke a jar.
“It broke by accident!” Mama hurriedly said.
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“Accent, accent!” Rita shouted, hastening to figure out what Costa had done with
his speech.
Vicky swept the jar fragments into the dustpan. “Poor jar! It survived yesterday’s
battle to die so foolishly today!” she exclaimed.
Costa continued to roam around the house. He went around and looked for
someone to love him. He hit Alena, pinched Vicky, and stole a spray bottle from Alex.
And everyone shouted at him, everyone demanded, “Go, do something!” And Kate even
said, “Constantine! Go, do, something, really!”
Costa approached Richard. He gave it a rolled-up newspaper on its nose. The dog
did not take offense and rubbed its face against it. Costa sat down, hugged its neck, and
said, “Well, at least Richard loves me!”

Then Costa’s mood began to improve rapidly. He decided to become a writer. With
that in mind, he immediately stood his own book on the shelf. Helping himself with his
teeth, Costa tore the cardboard cover from the old telephone directory up to the white
paper and wrote “I” on the empty white space with a marker.
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Having become a writer, Costa decided to become a mathematician at the same


time. Mathematicians, in his view, were those who came up with problems. “A double-
decker bus crashed into a three-decker bus. The drivers began to quarrel, but then a
four-decker bus fell from the bridge onto them. That’s all!” he said.

“But the question! What is the question?” Vicky whispered.


However, Costa had already grown cold towards mathematics. Alena’s speaker
caught his eye. Alena was listening to audio books on it and called it a “droner”. The
“droner” also worked as a radio. Costa began to press the button, and the “droner”
suddenly spoke, “...alleged thieves of Scythian gold have been detained in the Crimea. It
is not yet known whether the investigation has any information about the location of the
bowl. According to our source from law enforcement agencies, the bowl probably has
not yet left Russia’s borders. Well, last time it hid in a burial mound for more than two

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thousand years! Let’s wait a little longer! In the meantime, a short commercial!” At this
point, Alena discovered that her “droner” had been pilfered, and Costa had to flee.
Peter opened the door. Not far away, behind the house and the wall, there was a
continuous stream of resort patrons, but the courtyard lived a quiet and ordinary life.
The sparrows jumped up and down like balls. Cats, lying on the roofs, watched them
with bored eyes, which did not prevent individual sparrows from disappearing without a
trace.
Christina, wrapped in a blanket, wandered around the yard, drank hot tea, and
froze. Her son Lexi whispered to his sister Barb about how their papa had healed a
grasshopper that had broken a leg.
The great schemer, Sviatoslav Kuzin, sitting on his porch with a laptop on his lap,
was pitting the US State Department’s main computer against the Pentagon’s main
computer for the third hour in a row. He tried to get them to glean passwords from each
other and brag the results to Kuzin. The faithful grandmother fed Kuzin pancakes and
put an old straw hat on him, so that his clever little head would not overheat. In the hat,
the tawny Kuzin, with his protruding eyebrows, resembled an Italian Mafioso even more.
The athlete Tarasiuk pulled himself up with one hand, using the gas pipe instead of
a horizontal bar. With the second hand, he sometimes held his wrist first, lightly helping
it, and sometimes scratched his cheek.
Thick polyethylene was stretched over the hole in the museum’s roof, but it had not
yet been sealed. The museum was open. Director Gupt stood at the entrance and
demanded Emelian remove from the museum a vase which did not appear on the
inventory. The guard with grey temples walked beside them and furiously rummaged
with a hooked stick in the trunks of old cannons, into which the tourists always threw
garbage.
“An audit from Simferopol is coming today! And what shall I tell them? ‘Hello,
dear inspector! Please close your watchful eyes! You’re admiring a vase, which doesn’t
have an inventory number!’” Gupt asked harshly. His bald head glistened in the sun so
much that it hurt to look at it.
“It’s not a vase, Mark Iosifovich, it’s an amphora for grain!”
“The whole bottom of Kalamita Bay is littered with these useless shards! The
Greeks burned the Crimea’s beech forests to make them!”
“I went scuba diving for this amphora and donated it to the museum,” Emelian
said.
“You donated it officially? With registration?”
“No, but…”
“Nevertheless, I’m a saintly man, if I tolerate such a cloakroom attendant! It’s bad
enough that he dismantles machine guns during working hours, instead of helping
anyone in the cloakroom! And my daughter, a saintly woman, though not with the best

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character in the world, has been trying forever to chain herself to this man! No, my dear!
Put the amphora by the entrance, behind those iron gates! This very second!”
“But it’s no longer the museum’s domain!”
“That’s precisely it. So, we won’t be asked the inventory number,” Gupt said
contentedly and, taking off his glasses, wiped his brow and eyebrows with a
handkerchief.
“Mark Iosifovich! I will not remove the amphora! Someone will make off with it!
And you’re worrying about nothing!” Emelian said stubbornly, taking advantage of the
director not having glasses on, and, therefore, being temporarily in the human
embodiment.
“I’m worrying about nothing?” Gupt flared up, and his glasses quickly soared like a
bird to the bridge of his nose. “Fine! I’m worrying about nothing, and consequently who
am I? The director! But you don’t think about anything and who are you? Okay, leave
your vase, but at least write a number on it so I can put it in the inventory!”

Costa, tagging along with Peter, recognized Emelian and ran up to him. “Do you
have ice? The one you and the auntie were selling?” he asked.
“What ice? With what auntie?” Gupt tensed up.
Novitskii coughed. “Ice will be in winter,” he said sternly.
Costa bounced in disappointment. Now he was angry with Emelian and wanted to
prove to him that he was not so smart. “And how much does the pupil weigh, do you
know? One gram? A hundredth of a gram? More?” he yelled.
“One gram!” Emelian answered at random.
“Wrong, ha-ha! The pupil weighs ZERO! In fact, the pupil is a hole!” Costa
exclaimed triumphantly.
Novitskii frowned. “Is it really just a hole?” he asked.
“Yes,” Costa confirmed. “A hole.” The enlightenment ended on this. Peter picked
up his brother, put him onto his shoulder, and carried him away.

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***

In the evening, Papa Gavrilov met Matushkin. The captain had picked up his son
from kindergarten. His son was a very strong boy. It was possible to shove a medium-
sized auntie into his pants. In his left hand he held a loaf of bread, about a third eaten.
In his right hand he had a container of kefir.
“What, don’t they feed you in kindergarten?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
Matushkin’s son shook his head, but the investigator did not believe his son’s
testimony.
“What was for afternoon snack?” he asked.
“Pudding,” Matushkin Jr. replied through the loaf.
The captain frowned sternly. “What, one pudding? I need to go and investigate!
They’re starving the children!” he said indignantly.
“How’s the bowl? Have you found where it’s hidden?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
Matushkin looked stern. Then he squinted at his son. His son was not listening.
But still, the captain, just in case, pressed his fingers into his son’s ears. The boy reacted
to this indifferently, continuing to nibble the loaf.
“You do understand that it’s the secret of the investigation? I don’t divulge even to
my own son!” he said, drilling accountability into Papa Gavrilov with a look. Papa
Gavrilov understood this. But at the same time he felt that Matushkin wanted to consult.
“In short, the bowl hasn’t been found,” the captain continued. “It’s a strange story!
And they were interrogated separately and together, everything kind of agrees, no
contradictions.”
“And what are they saying? Did they climb into the museum or not?”
“It’s all complicated... Both yes and no,” Matushkin faltered. “Basically, they claim
that they got up onto the roof in the middle of the night to unscrew the satellite dish.”
Papa Gavrilov remembered the dish they were talking about. “Yes, it’s a prominent
dish! Never saw such a huge one. Simply an elephant umbrella. But what is it to them?”
“Mama Bugailo lives directly opposite. Here’s your roof, here’s her house,”
Matushkin drew directly in the air. “It’s metres from the dish... well, twenty-five to her
balcony... I was already with her, checked. The dish looks right into her kitchen window.
And Mama Bugailo has gotten it into her head that she’s getting radiation from this
dish.”
“The dish is a receiver, not a transmitter!” Papa Gavrilov commented. “It seems it
belongs to the landlord from whom we’re renting. And in fact it isn’t connected. We
don’t even have a TV.”
“It’s obvious,” Matushkin said. “But you can’t explain this to the mama. She’s old.
She howls. Doesn’t sleep at night, doesn’t go into the kitchen. Claims that her flower on
the windowsill has dried up from the radiation. Bugailo tried to talk to your landlord.
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The guy is stubborn, won’t take down the dish. So Bugailo and the driver picked a dark
night and set off to unscrew the dish. The day before, they looked for a suitable piece of
iron lying in no-man’s corner. And then the downpour... Well, they think it’s even better
with rain, no one will see. They climbed onto the roof, and there was a hole, punctured
by the poplar.”

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“And seeing a hole in the roof, they climbed down into the museum?” Papa
Gavrilov asked.
“They climbed down to the attic to escape the rain. They say that the rain was such
that it was just like breathing with gills. They forgot about the dish. They crawled
around the attic, and then the ceiling collapsed. The beam had been eaten through by
bugs and could not support Bugailo, who, as is known, is a large man.”
“So, the museum ceiling wasn’t punctured by the tree?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“No. The tree only cracked it, and it collapsed under Bugailo’s weight. Bugailo lost
the piece of iron prepared for the dish, and then worried all the time that his prints
would remain with it. Do you remember that they were hovering in the yard in the
morning? By the way, we played on this, although there were no clear prints. The iron is
rusty, the surface is uneven, and also the rain.”
“So they fell into the museum?”
“Yes. They were lucky. Didn’t get serious injuries from the fall. The museum was
dark. Power at the substation had already been turned off, even emergency lighting
wasn’t working. But Bugailo had a phone with a flashlight, and Chernobrovkin a lighter.
They began to walk and look around the museum.”
“Well, that’s quite understandable,” Papa Gavrilov said. “Suppose I fell into the
Tretyakov Gallery at night. And the alarm wouldn’t work there. Wouldn’t I really wander
around the museum? Wouldn’t I illuminate a picture with a lighter?”
Matushkin extracted his index fingers from his son’s ears and replaced them with
his pinkies. “You’re a strange man! I would fade away before I got busted. A crew of
about five would even come rushing to the scene. It’s the capital, an important
establishment. You try to justify why I climbed onto the roof of the Tretyakov Gallery at
all,” he said.
Papa Gavrilov laughed. “Logical. And what about the Scythian bowl? Did Bugailo
see it?”
“They say the bowl was in place. But when they were looking at the bowl, they
heard someone walking in the next room. They decided that it was the guard. They lay
low, and then took the ladder, which they used during the day for the repairs, and put it
close to the hole in the ceiling. The first to climb out was Bugailo, who tied his belt to the
driver’s belt and hung them down. Chernobrovkin put the ladder back, then scrambled
up the belts. He’s slight and strong enough. Then they got out onto the roof and climbed
down from it along the gas pipe.”
“So they left the museum empty-handed? But the stuffed marten?” Papa Gavrilov
asked.
Matushkin’s son started coughing. The captain patted him on the back. “Go for a
walk!” he ordered. The son walked ten steps away, sat down on the curb, and continued
eating. The loaf was already more than half gone. And the kefir had become
considerably shallower.
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“Chernobrovkin doesn’t deny that he took the stuffed marten,” Matushkin said.
“But he took it a week before with the permission of the guard. Says it had begun to rot.
A moth had eaten it in some places, the wool had come out. And he’s keen on taxidermy.
Decided to refurbish it. The guard was in the know, but not the director.”
“But why couldn’t he tell the director?”
“Says he wouldn’t have allowed it. Let the moth eat, but never take it out of the
museum. And he took it, returned it to its place, and all that. No one would’ve noticed.
So, in any case, says the driver. By the way, his biography is complicated. Probation for
fighting. Another probation for stealing a moped.”
“So they didn’t take the bowl? And why did they repair the museum?” Papa
Gavrilov asked.
“Bugailo claims that because of the loan, he’ll take any work. And he does repairs
quickly and with ease. At one time he started as a tiler. And so he can do carpentry and
all the rest. He took Chernobrovkin because you can’t do repairs without a partner.
That’s their version!” Captain Matushkin said and departed, putting his strong son on
his shoulders. The boy continued to eat on his shoulders, occasionally sprinkling kefir
on papa.

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188

Chapter Fifteen
DANCE OF THE CRAZY BANANAS

All people can be divided into three groups: “pros”,


“cons”, and “don’t care”. The pros say, “Study! Wow! Read!
Wow!” The cons say, “Study again? Bathe again?” And the
“don’t care” say, “Should I now study or bathe?”
©Alena

“Do you think it’s not Karabas?” Peter asked eagerly when Papa Gavrilov told him
his conversation with Matushkin.
“I don’t know,” Papa replied. “Too many coincidences. The tree accidentally fell.
They accidentally climbed into the museum... Then it turns out that they also
accidentally took the bowl. Decided to slightly renew the gilding, sell it for a short time,
and then return it.”
Peter leaned back in his chair. He had a habit of swaying so energetically on chairs
that the legs flew off the chairs. “Well, let’s say, they took it... But when would they have
time to remove the glass and put it back in place? Although, of course, they had tools

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lying around in the museum. For sure there was also a screwdriver. With a screwdriver
you can manage quite quickly,” Peter said.
“The guard saw the bowl at five in the morning unharmed. But they fell into the
museum much earlier. And by five they were no longer in the museum,” Papa Gavrilov
reminded him.
“A little disconnected!” Peter acknowledged. “A simply incredible coincidence with
this poplar. Every statistic rests! If the poplar branch hadn’t been sawn, then it would’ve
been difficult to guess. Bugailo and his driver could, of course, have made arrangements
with the guard. Then the guard, in order to shield them, could’ve lied that at five in the
morning the bowl was in place. And then our Rita wouldn’t have caught them!”
“Chik-chik!” Rita said smugly. She was so proud of her action, for which they had
praised her many times, that she now locked everyone in a row. Even the bolts of the
doors had to be unscrewed.
“Fine,” Papa said after a moment’s thought. “Let’s accept that Karabas isn’t guilty.
Then who?”
Peter rushed for his paper. He even kissed it from fullness of feelings. “There are a
whole bunch of suspects. The museum guard is one. The lady in the red wig who takes
pictures of everything is two. Christina is three. And, finally, Sviatoslav Kuzin is four!
The crook of crooks! I’ll deal with him!” Peter said with anticipation.
And Peter really handled Kuzin. The real Sherlock Holmes would write a polite
letter to the criminal and schedule to meet him at ten in the morning, to which that one
would appear with absolute English punctuality. And at five minutes to ten Holmes
would have scheduled to meet the police inspector, and the criminal and the inspector,
hurrying to meet with the great Holmes, would open the door for each other.
But this was not England, and Peter acted differently. He began by taunting Kuzin
with the wiring diagram. He held it up to a window, showed it, and removed it.
Sviatoslav, with short dashes, roamed around the shared part of the yard. First he
emerged by the fence, then his twisted face tried to poke through the cat door. Peter
opened the door and greeted him politely. Kuzin also greeted him and gloomily departed.
His face was harried. His wire-like hair stuck up on end.
In the afternoon, when Peter went to the store, Kuzin suddenly appeared in front
of him. He pulled Peter by the sleeve to where a fridge with waters and juices shuddered
and wobbled. “Listen!” Kuzin spoke quickly. “Let’s negotiate! I have a good graphics
card and an excellent hard drive, new... I can install them on your laptop. Everything
will fly straightaway! Huh?”
“Don’t want them,” said Peter.
Kuzin grabbed his arm. “Free, of course,” he whispered eagerly. “Only give me my
piece of paper!”
“I’ll think about it,” Peter promised and, in order that Kuzin hold his temper,
loudly greeted the saleslady.
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The fridge nearby started to shake. It seemed that the bottles in it had come to life
and were trying to break away from confinement. Kuzin caught the shaking from the
fridge and also twitched. “You think nicely, or else it’ll be bad!” he repeated quietly.
When Peter got home, Kate was describing a woman from the market who had
been choosing a chicken for an hour. “It was a downright circus! Could sell tickets! I
imagine: would the chicken buy this auntie and ask, ‘Is this a fresh auntie? She’s
somewhat strange! What’s this tattoo she has? What other health stamp?’”
“Did she buy a chicken as a result?” Mama asked.
“Of course not. It seemed to me that she didn’t need a chicken, but emotions!”
“All people need emotions,” Mama sighed. “And some have already got them! Peter,
for example! In any case, he has precisely such a face.”

***

In the evening, Costa and Alex were making a racket. Mama packed them off out
onto the street. She told Costa secretly that, because Alex was a little pale, he would go
for a walk with Alex, and also told Alex secretly that, because Costa was also a little pale,
he would go for a walk with Costa.
Five minutes later the brothers were in the park. Children were running along the
high rims of the non-working fountain. Two boys of about four were playing in the
sandbox. One had a plastic shovel, the other had a scoop. The papas sent out with them
were shifting from foot to foot nearby. The boy with the shovel hit the other one on the
head. The tot started bawling. The papas figured that it was time to intervene.
“It’s okay, it’s okay! Let him learn to be a man! Hit him back!” the father of the
child with the shovel said, and he happily looked sideways at the one with the scoop,
knowing that he notably would not hit back with the scoop.
But the boy with the scoop turned out to be a creative individual. Taking advantage
of the permission, he scooped up sand and threw it in his offender’s face. The child with
the shovel somehow spat out sand, rubbed his eyes, and also started bawling. He had
clearly received more than he deserved. In order to not remain in debt, he scooped up a
full shovel of sand and poured it on the head of the other boy.
“Yes,” his papa said thoughtfully. “Good that our mama isn’t here.”
“And ours!” the papa of the “shovel” boy added. “But then all’s fair! Don’t whine!
You’re a man! And you also don’t howl! You’re also a man! Shake hands!”
The children were forced to shake hands with each other, and the papas parted,
very pleased with each other.
Inspired by the fight in the sandbox, one burly boy of about seven decided to
quarrel with Costa. He came up and shoved his fist under Costa’s nose. “Smell it, what’s
that smell?” he asked loudly.

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Costa took his wrist, seriously sniffed between his fingers and said, “Phew! Did you
eat fish?”
Then the children came running and also began to grasp the burly boy’s wrist and
take turns sniffing. He was embarrassed and climbed up to the very top of the fountain,
to the stone flower, from where water had once gushed.

Seraphim came with Andrew. Andrew was in a poor mood and explaining
something. Fleeing from the explaining Andrew, Seraphim crawled into a bush, where
Andrew would never follow him, because microbes, viruses, and bacteria lived under the
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bush. Seraphim got out from the bush with round eyes and waved his hand, beckoning
Alex and Costa to him. Alex and Costa crawled after him. On the way, an old broken
thistle bush sprang up. Green leaves mixed with dry ones, forming a canopy. Seraphim
put his finger to his lips and showed which direction to crawl.
Under the thistle bush, completely invisible from the park, a hedgehog mama was
lying on its side and feeding four baby hedgehogs. The mama hedgehog lay on its side
like a cat, and the baby hedgehogs pushed their faces against its belly. Alex and Costa
watched with bated breath. Their appearance did not make the mama hedgehog roll
over and bristle. True, Costa and Alex did not touch it and did not approach it closer
than an extended arm.

Alex and Costa were about to crawl back, but Seraphim was already pointing them
in another direction, where there was a deep hollow in the fence from a crumbled rock.
In the hollow was the last shelter of a dead rhinoceros beetle. No less than two dozen
ants, which seemed tiny in comparison with the beetle, were crawling on its horn, its
legs, and along its shell. The ants were hovering and fussing, and seemed to realize that
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they could not drag it. But they did not retreat and tried to find a hole in the beetle’s
armour to crawl inside. The beetle, even in death, was majestic. There were no less than
five or six ants sitting on its horn.
“That’s probably what the death of a dinosaur looked like!” Seraphim said softly.
He took out his phone to photograph the beetle, but changed his mind and removed the
photo. “You just need to remember it with your eyes for the rest of your life!” he said.
Seraphim crawled out of the bushes and began to hear someone asking him about
something. Costa and Alex looked out cautiously. Next to Seraphim, a little old lady was
turning her head excitedly. “Have you seen a boy here in a T-shirt with a skeleton? He
said that he was going to the playground and got lost!” The woman almost cried.
Kind Seraphim rushed to look for the boy. He looked in the wooden hut, the
bushes, and the fountain. Even under burdock leaves. “No sign of him!” Seraphim said.
“There he is! Mikey!” the woman suddenly exclaimed and, after happily throwing
up her hands, rushed somewhere.
Alex and Costa saw a boy of about sixteen years old with a huge forehead, standing
by the mulberry tree and tossing up a heavy stick, knocking down the berries. The boy’s
T-shirt did indeed have a skeleton. Even, perhaps, two.
“Mikey! Don’t toss the stick! It’ll fall on your head! Throw it at an angle!” the
grandma yelled.
Having decided to listen for a change, Mikey threw the stick at an angle. Flying
along an arc, the stick disappeared over the park fence. There was the sound of a hit and
an abrupt car alarm. Mikey immediately realized what was going on and, without trying
to get the stick back, ran to the back gate. When running, he worked his elbows in a
funny way, precisely like setting a car piston in motion.
His nimble grandma hurried after him. “Mikey! You don’t know the city! Mikey,
don’t get lost!” she exclaimed.
Immediately after the disappearance of the grandma, an angry man in a white
short-sleeved shirt burst into the park. Standing at the fence, he gazed intently at the
park, especially the part from where the stick had flown, trying to determine from
people’s behaviour who had launched it. Almost immediately his gaze settled on Costa,
Alex, Andrew, and Seraphim, unable to hide the fact that the story of flying sticks was
well-known to them.
“Run! He won’t believe that it’s not us!” Seraphim shouted, combining
extraterrestrial thoughtfulness with practical knowledge of life.
The first to dart off into the little bush was Andrew, followed by Alex and Costa,
whom Seraphim dragged by the elbows. True, he did not drag for long, and soon they
were already crawling, hugging the ground. The little bush through which they made
their way was a trimmed hedge. It was so grown together and intertwined that they
barely squeezed through.

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The man, running up, just hopped outside and tried to find a gap. But there was no
gap. The hedge adjoined the fence, reaching the stone balls. When he was rushing
around the mulberry bush, ripe berries fell down on him, leaving indelible marks on a
white shirt. Noticing this, the man let out another growl.
“Let’s tell him it wasn’t us!” Alex panted.
“He won’t believe it. He already found the guilty ones. Better wait until he calms
down. And then I’ll explain to him,” Andrew said.
They crawled through the bush up to the fence and ascertained that climbing over
it would not work. It was impossible even to get up. Besides, while they would be
managing to get out, the man in the white shirt would have time to run through the gate
to the other side.
“Will he calm down soon?” Alex asked.
“Hard to predict. Seraphim, how long before adrenaline leaves the body? Is it
excreted through the kidneys or does it chemically switch into something?” Andrew
asked.
Seraphim did not know. “Maybe some miracle will happen?” he suggested.
Alex and Costa listened, shifting admiring glances from one Mokhov to the other.
Only the Mokhovs had the ability to lie under a fence next to pigeon tails and talk about
adrenaline and miracles.
Alex looked out and checked to see if the legs waiting for them by the bush had
disappeared. Alas, the legs in shiny, perfectly polished boots had not gone anywhere.
Moreover, another pair, female, was added to them. These were already in light summer
sandals. The toenails were covered with striking polish.

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“I parked the car. Why was it left on the road?” Alex heard a woman’s voice.
“Who’s there?”
“Children!” the man replied angrily.
“And what are you going to do? Try to catch them till evening?”
Instead of answering, the man carefully, so as not to soil his pants, knelt down, and,
poking his head under the bush, shouted, “Hey you! Get out!”
“It wasn’t us!” Alex replied fearfully. “We didn’t throw the stick!”
“Who then? Pushkin?” The man was puzzled. From his tone, it was noticeable that
he was calming down.
“A grandma with a skeleton!” Alex explained.
“What grandma with skeleton?”
“Not the grandma, but the boy who’s an uncle!” Costa corrected.
“What boy uncle? And where are they?”
“They’ve already run away,” Seraphim said.
“And the grandma ran away?”
“And the grandma!”
“But why are you hiding?”
“Because you have an adrenaline rush!” Alex butt in, quickly remembering
everything related to biology. However, this was not worth mentioning. The man again
began to get angry and demand that the boys get out, to which they logically remarked
that since they did not throw the stick, there was no sense for them to get out.
“And if I promise not to touch you?”
“You also can’t touch us while we’re sitting here,” Andrew answered logically. “And
in fact, we’ll call the cops!”
“Where are you calling?” The man flew off the handle. “And I…” He did not finish
talking. The legs in sandals kicked him slightly on the ankle. “That hurts!”
“Come on! Look at the time! We have business!”
For a full minute Andrew and Seraphim watched as the boots were being stubborn,
and the sandals were angrily dancing around. Gradually, the sandals managed to force
the boots from the spot. The boots moved three steps away, then, thinking suddenly,
tried to return, but the sandals went after them and, stinging like a wasp, drove the
boots to the gate.
Alex climbed out of the bush like a rather energetic worm. “It’s that auntie!” he
informed them.
“What auntie?”
“Who’s in a red wig and takes pictures all the time!”
Costa also hurried to climb out. There was no wig on the retreating woman. Her
head was tied with a blue silk headscarf. “Why did you decide it’s her?”

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“She has multicoloured toenails! And a band-aid on the little toe! I remembered!”
This was brilliant. Everyone was looking at the woman’s face and only Alex, usually
looking no higher than the asphalt so as not to overlook insects, remembered her feet.
“Let’s follow them!” Seraphim proposed.
Andrew began to grumble that it was dangerous, but the others were already
running after the mysterious couple, and Andrew had to grumble on the run. After
yielding, he cautiously looked out from behind the fence. “There’s his car!” he said,
although more than a dozen cars were parked.
“Why do you think it’s his?”
“Who else’s? He took pride when he looked at it. Men behave in a very funny way
beside their cars. They spit on the asphalt, put a foot on the bumper, lean on it, and kick
the tyre. In general, they mark their territory. If I were to do this with someone else’s car,
they’d chase me hard for a long time,” Andrew said.
Without getting into the car, the couple passed through a lane and, after turning up
on a busy street, merged with the crowd. The woman had a wig on her head again.
Sunglasses covered half of her face.
Going about fifty metres, the woman in the wig and her companion moved to a
lawn, taking a suitable position for observation. Alex, Costa, Andrew, and Seraphim
were in a quandary. To go to the lawn would be stupid: they would be noticed. To cruise
in front of the couple’s nose was also not an option.
A way out was found by itself. Costa was recognized by a girl from whom he had
once bought chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup in a chocolate cone. And now this
girl shouted, “Hey, boy, who buys chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup! Is it you?
Come here!”
Costa approached, and the others followed him. The girl treated them to ice cream,
though without cones but by simply squeezing it out of the tap with a lever onto napkins.
She explained that she had a countable number of cones. She also said that she was tired
of standing in the heat and envied her replacement. He had sat down at the cash register
yesterday, sat for five minutes, and it broke down. So he went home. Alex generously
volunteered to repeat the feat of breaking the cash register, but the girl refused his help,
saying that Alex would break it incorrectly. You need a gift to break it correctly.
Costa, having licked the ice cream clean, and at the same time even licked the
napkin clean, choked and coughed.
“You know what? You go home! And call Peter or Papa!” Andrew ordered.
“Co... coughing?” Costa was surprised.
“Cough on the run!”
Obediently coughing on the run, Costa ran home. Alex tagged along behind Costa.
He doubted that Costa would be able to tell Peter and Papa everything clearly enough.
Costa’s stories forever acquired unnecessary details.

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Alex was away for a short time and soon appeared at the museum again. Peter
hurried after Alex. He did not like to run, but loved to take big steps, especially since
each of his steps was equal to two of Alex’s leaps. Andrew and Seraphim continued to
follow the couple. The couple photographed each other several times against the
backdrop of the museum’s emergency exits, video surveillance systems, and window
grilles, and then moved in the direction of the city square.
“Where’s your Papa?” Seraphim asked.
“Papa wasn’t home! And Costa in fact stayed to watch cartoons,” Alex said.
“Instead of investigating the case? Nice sleuth!” Andrew was indignant.
Not reaching the square, the couple sat down on the veranda of a summer café.
Peter did not risk going to the veranda, and followed Alex, Seraphim, and Andrew into
the café itself. It was hot inside and almost all the tables were empty. A paunchy man
stood behind the bar and was cleaning the kvass tap nozzle with his little finger. Seeing
the newcomers, he quickly removed his little finger from the nozzle and pretended to
brush away crumbs.
“Welcome! Tanya, service!”
A woman in an apron tore her eyes from her phone. “Oh, my favourite customers!”
she exclaimed, recognizing Alex. “Is it you who come to visit us with your brother? We
have goodies, right?”
“We don’t come to you because you have goodies!” Alex said honestly.
The woman was puzzled. “Then why?”
“We come because you have spiders living in the cracks!”
The waitress dropped her arms down beside her body. “And what do you do with
them?” she asked.
“They put flies in your cracks!” Seraphim explained.
Alex was indignant, explaining that they do not put flies there but maggots, that is,
fly larvae. Peter pulled his brother by the arm to the exit. The waitress and the man
behind the counter talked quietly about something.
Then the waitress caught up with them, “Arsenii Pavlovich is asking: where are the
spiders? Can you point them out?”
“Why?” Alex asked.
“We’ll feed them too!” the waitress replied. Alex began to turn naively to the wall.
“Don’t do it!” Seraphim whispered to him. Then he added aloud, “Don’t worry!
They’re full!”
Hurrying to leave the café, they mixed up the doors and went out to the summer
verandah. And they immediately bumped into the table at which the couple were sitting.
Alex leaped back in surprise, but Seraphim, beside himself, approached the table and,
after half-closing his eyes, uttered desperately, “Dance of the crazy bananas! When you
open the fridge and the light comes on, the bananas lie still, but when you close the door,
the bananas begin to dance wildly!” Later Seraphim was asked many times why he said
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it. And why exactly that phrase? Had he heard it somewhere? But Seraphim could not
explain anything.
The couple froze. Possibly, they would have been allowed to leave, but then Alex
did the most unwise thing that could have been done at all. He yelled, “Ahhh! We’ve
been spotted!” and started running. Andrew, Seraphim and Peter had no choice but to
follow Alex. The man in the short-sleeve shirt and the woman with colourful nails
chased after them. The woman’s red wig slipped to the side and she pulled it off,
becoming a short-cropped blonde under the wig.

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Alex manoeuvred in the crowd like a cockroach. Peter skipped half-sideways. He


bumped into passers-by with his shoulders and continually muttered, “Cuesme, cuesme,
cuesmecuesme!” Passers-by turned around with displeasure. They did not understand
why in the world they should cue him. Andrew ran along the curb, balancing with
outstretched arms, and Seraphim got totally lost somewhere.
The pursuers hot on their heels, they jumped into a familiar alley and their feet
carried them straight to the park, where, besides the shrubs, there were many good
places where an adult would hardly crawl. The colourful nails and the white shirt were
catching up. The woman was waving the red wig on the run.
“There... their... car! Second from the end!” Andrew exhaled.
“Whose?” Peter did not understand.
“Theirs...” Andrew was losing his breath.
And then, out of nowhere, Sviatoslav Kuzin appeared ahead. He was going about
his business and carrying under his arm a laptop with the lid hanging on one hinge.
Kuzin bought up broken laptops around the city, gave them a more or less passable look,
and then either sold them through the Internet or, if the laptops were already
completely obsolete, got rid of them through an acquainted broker to a pawnshop.
Hearing footsteps behind him, Sviatoslav turned. His face reflected so many
emotions that it was not able to express them all. But Kuzin got out of that state. His
ears, hair, and fingers began to move, and his feet began to dance like Seraphim’s
bananas in a closed fridge.
Trying to stop Peter, Kuzin spread out his arms. Peter swerved and rushed past.
Kuzin ran after him. Rubber flip-flops battered his heels. Acting on a hunch, Peter
snatched from his pocket the electrical wiring diagram, which he had with him, and
waved it in front of Kuzin's nose. Then he accelerated.
Kuzin dropped the laptop, from which the other hinge flew off, onto the asphalt
and rushed after Peter. “I’ll... still… catch you...” he gasped, trying to grab Peter’s T-shirt.
In the process, Sviatoslav lost a flip-flop and jumped awkwardly on one leg.
Still not reaching the car of the couple pursuing them, Peter noticed that its rear
window was slightly lowered. In the south, few people close all the car windows unless
the car is in the shade. Kuzin sprinted, which cost him the second flip-flop, and grabbed
Peter by the gate, nevertheless. Realizing that the electrical wiring diagram would now
be taken away from him, Peter quickly stretched out his hand and threw the piece of
paper inside the car through the gap in the window like through a mail slot.
The diagram fell slowly, first pressed against the glass, and then folded in two.
Kuzin, on seeing this, screamed. Having tossed Peter aside, he yanked the door handle.
The door did not open. Sviatoslav added pressure. The plastic handle remained in his
fingers. Kuzin looked at it for a moment in bewilderment, then threw it away and,
inserting his fingers into the slot, hung on the glass with all his weight. His idea was
simple: break the window regulator. And he did. Shouting triumphantly, Sviatoslav
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shoved his arm in up to his elbow and began to fumble blindly, trying to reach the door
lock.
However, Sviatoslav did not succeed in opening the door. Some powerful force
pushed him in the back, pressing his nose hard to the car. Then Kuzin was knocked over
onto the asphalt, and someone’s strong knees got onto his back.
“My arm!” Sviatoslav howled. It seemed to him that his arm had remained in the
window. But no. Somehow his arm was miraculously in place. Both the one he had
shoved into the gap in the window and the one that was now wrapped around his head.
“Down!” Someone shouted. Kuzin stopped resisting in surprise, because the voice
was feminine.
A woman was sitting on Sviatoslav’s back. She was also twisting his arm. The man
in the white shirt only hopped belligerently nearby. Apparently, this couple was like
lions, among which, as is known, the lionesses hunt, while the lions only issue victorious
roars.
Peter, Andrew, and Alex stopped at a distance, ready to slip away if necessary.
Papa Gavrilov and Matushkin were rushing towards them to help. The clue of their
appearance was simple. The missing Seraphim had hotfooted it to the Gavrilovs, and the
captain had just dropped by to visit them.
The man in the white shirt blocked the way of Matushkin and Papa Gavrilov. “Not
allowed! There’s an arrest going on!” he said sternly.
“I’m allowed! I’m the police!” Matushkin was offended, pulling his ID out of his
pocket.
“And I’m the police!” the man in the white shirt said.
“What police are you? I know all our police force!” the captain was doubtful, and
both police began pushing each other with their bellies.
But then a third police officer also showed up next to them. “The Krasnodar police!
Apollinaria Bianca!” imparted the woman sitting on the back of the quiet Kuzin. In her
hand also appeared ID from somewhere. It had probably been hovering somewhere in
the air, waiting to materialize.
Matushkin studied it attentively. “Greetings, Comrade Major! And I’m Captain
Matushkin!” he introduced himself. The investigator nodded graciously.
“And we’re arguing all the time: who is this A. Bianca from Krasnodar?” the
captain continued cheerfully. “We know from the phone message that there should be
some A. Bianca, but who is he and where is he? And there also should be some
Lieutenant Ivanishin!”
“Why some? I’m Lieutenant Ivanishin!” The owner of the white shirt became angry.
Matushkin sheepishly coughed into the palm of his hand. “Well, that’s great! Then
everyone’s here,” he said.
“Uh...” Papa Gavrilov said, looking in confusion at the detective. “Excuse me, but I
saw you even before the theft of the bowl! You were painting your lips in the car!”
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“What, I can’t paint my lips? Who forbad it?” the investigator asked blusterously.
“Of course you can. But before the crime! BEFORE!”
“So, it’s not possible to paint them before a crime? Then when is it possible? At the
time of the crime? After?” Bianca asked sarcastically.
“It’s all complicated!” Matushkin explained in a whisper, pulling Papa Gavrilov
aside by the sleeve. “In short, the Krasnodar police received information at the end of
April that the bowl was going to be stolen. The theft was planned by one of their local
figures, and they took preventive measures. However, the figure, as a result, didn’t reach
us. He fell asleep at a gas station heist.”
Lieutenant Ivanishin looked glumly at the damaged window of his car. Then he
took out a piece of paper from the interior and held it out, not to Matushkin, but to his
boss.
“A schematic of the museum halls. Electricity gateway, branching. External
security cameras... Very curious!” Apollinaria Bianca said, examining the drawing. “So,
shall we confess?”
Kuzin raised his head. “It’s not mine! The first time I’ve seen it!” he declared.
“Then why did you break our window? It’s useless to deny it. Forensics will
confirm the handwriting. Why do you need a wiring diagram? Well! By whose orders did
you make it?”
Sviatoslav Kuzin sobbed. “No one!”
“So, for yourself? You wanted to steal the bowl?”
“I didn’t want to steal anything! I wanted to connect to the museum’s electricity
grid! Honestly! Only this and nothing more!” Sviatoslav hollered desperately.
“Why?”
“What do you mean why? Look at the schematics! There they have lighting in two
places on the roof! A spotlight and two festive lights. If you connect a cable under the
slate through to them, then the museum would pay for electricity for Grandma and me,
and our meter wouldn’t have to turn. Only need all of twenty metres of cable! It’s all the
same to the museum whether they pay more or less! They’re run by the state!”
Matushkin tapped Peter’s elbow. “I saw from a distance! It’s you who threw the
diagram into the car?” he asked softly.
“Well, it was me,” Peter replied reluctantly.
“Have you had it for long?”
“Not particularly.”
“And when did you start suspecting Kuzin?”
“When I realized that he was also on the roof that night.”
“But how did you know that?”
“Sunflower seeds,” Peter explained. “Kuzin eats sunflower seeds all the time. There
were shells around the hole.”

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Matushkin slapped his own forehead. “Shells! I saw them too! When were you on
the roof? So, after the poplar broke it?” he asked Kuzin sternly.
“I wasn’t anywhere!”
“Don’t lie! Did you see the hole?”
“I just climbed up and immediately climbed down. Don’t you hold me! I didn’t take
your stinking bowl!”
“Did you go down to the attic?”
“No!” Kuzin shouted.
“What, is that really so, you didn’t go down? Weren’t interested?”
“Why would I go there? And how would I get back out? Hop like a bunny?” Kuzin
snapped.
“Okay, we’ll still figure this out. And was there anyone in the museum? Anyone
climb down from the roof while you were there? Climb up on it?”
“I saw no one! My arm! At least let me get up!”
“What tools did you have with you? A screwdriver? A flashlight?” Apollinaria
Bianca asked sternly. “You wouldn’t climb without a flashlight. And with what did you
plan on twisting the wires? Your hands?”
“I won’t do it again! I didn’t touch your cable! Let me go!” Kuzin sobbed.
“We’ll let you go when necessary!” A. Bianca said, putting Kuzin in the car.
“My laptop is lying there! I need to pick it up!” Sviatoslav began to bustle.
The investigator from Krasnodar arranged with Matushkin that he would now go
to the police station, after which the car pulled away. The captain and Papa Gavrilov
remained on the street.
“The guy could have gone down into the museum, unscrewed the display case, and
taken the bowl. He obviously had a flashlight, tools were available...” Matushkin said
thoughtfully to Papa Gavrilov.
“Yes. But he insists that he saw no one. What’s the point of him lying? On the
contrary, it would make sense to say that he saw someone to lay the blame on. Maybe
he’s telling the truth?” Papa Gavrilov said.
“Wait a minute!” the inspector objected. “Bugailo claims that they left the museum
when they heard a rustle in the next room. What if it was Kuzin? He could’ve hid in the
museum until five in the morning. He waited until the guard made his round, and then
unscrewed the glass, took the bowl, returned the glass to its place, and somehow got out
onto the roof.”
“For such actions, endurance is needed, but the guy is nervous,” Papa Gavrilov said.
“Yes, a troublesome fact!” Matushkin sighed and suddenly began to turn his head.
“And where, by the way, is your oldest son?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Papa Gavrilov replied. “Seems to have run off.”
“Okay! Then it’s time for me too! They’re waiting for me!” Matushkin said and
rushed off to the station.
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***

Papa found Peter at home. Peter was sitting in front of his paper and thinking. He
had Kuzin and Karabas and Duremar circled with a red marker. Without limiting
himself to this, he took three soldiers from Costa and rearranged them like tokens on
the drawing.
“This one’s here. These two are here. Does it coincide? No!” Peter rearranged the
soldiers. “And if he’s down, and these two are on the roof? No, Karabas made the hole in
the attic! No one could have fallen through into the museum before him!”
Costa sat beside him and looked with longing at his soldiers. He had not played
with them for six months before this, but now that Peter had them, they had acquired
new worth for Costa. It seemed to him that if he did not take them away from his
brother right now, he would never see them again.
“Let me bring you Kinder33 toys! But give me the soooldiers!” he whined.
“Fine...” Peter gave in. “Haul other figures here and... hmmm… marshmallows!”
The brains of the great detective needed a lot of fuel. Marshmallows, which he for
some reason ate exclusively with soy sauce, served as such fuel for him. Occasionally,
however, Peter made an exception for chocolate spread. And he ate it without sauce,
spreading it on bread.
At times, Peter wrote something on separate sheets of paper, rearranged them
from place to place, precisely laid down a mosaic, and then mercilessly tore and threw
them into the trash, and sometimes he transferred something from one sheet to another.
These were probably the thoughts that Peter accepted as the most valuable; the others
he gave up without pity.
Papa and Mama were amazed at Peter’s ability to concentrate on one subject for so
long. They took turns going up to the door of the room and admiring a thoughtful Peter
through the crack. Peter plugged up the crack with modelling clay. Kate pushed the clay
out with a cocktail straw. Then Peter hung a hanger on the door handle and his sweater
on the hanger, which was useless to push away with a straw. The sweater only swayed on
the hanger, which immediately gave away to Peter that he was being watched.
Alex, as Dr. Watson, Peter took to his room. Peter needed Alex to explain aloud.
Explaining to Alex, Peter understood something himself. Along with this, Alex
immediately forgot everything that did not concern insects, so it was safe to explain to
him. He would not blab any secret. The rest of the children remained behind the door.
And, it goes without saying, they were offended.
“Let me in! I have to get some-thiiing!” Alena was indignant.
“What do you need to get?” she heard from behind the door.

33Kinder Surprise, also known as Kinder Egg or Kinder Surprise Egg, is most popular in Germany, Russia,
and the United Kingdom.
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“Some-thing needed veeery much!”


“What exactly?”
“One thing!”
“What thing? Still haven’t come up with it?”
“Let me iiin!”
But Peter did not let her in. Then Rita, Alena, and Costa came up with the idea of
sneaking to the adjacent door and lying down on their stomachs. The gap under the door
was wide enough to be able to see at any time the thinking Peter’s feet clad in grey socks.
“Indeed! While Peter was available, everyone only ran from him. Now Peter is
unavailable, and what popularity!” Papa Gavrilov said. And he began to imagine how he
would go to live in the taiga. Nothing would be heard about him for years. All the
readers and publishers would be confounded. They would send expeditions to search for
him, but only after many years would they find his lonely hut and a genius manuscript
lying in a closed three-litre jar, because mice would have devoured it otherwise.
While Papa was daydreaming, Vicky walked around the kitchen, holding a tea bag
in her hand and calling in a plaintive voice, “Clean cups! Clean cups!” The clean cups sat
quietly and did not respond.
Costa was lying by Peter’s door for so long that he was stepped on several times.
Then he jumped up and began to run around the kitchen, interfering with Alena.
“Costa, sit still! By the way, they praised you today! I met girls from your
kindergarten. They said that Costa is three percent normal!” she flattered.
At eleven in the evening, Peter’s yell came from the room, “Eureka! I’ve got it!”
“What have you got?” Papa asked through the door.
“I realized that when answers A and B don’t fit, you need to look for answer C!”
And a latch immediately clicked. Peter invited everyone in.

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206

Chapter Sixteen
THE MOST INCORRECT SLEUTH IN THE WORLD

A girl from the café gave Costa a balloon on a long


plastic straw. Costa replied, “I don’t want it!” But then he
took the balloon anyway and did not part with it all day.
When the balloon burst, he did not part with the straw, and
when the straw was lost, he was terribly angry. “I really
didn’t want it!” he declared.
©Costa

It was close to midnight when Papa Gavrilov rang the doorbell. Usually at this time,
Christina was still continuing her fire show, but today the light was on in the windows of
her place. Christina opened and stood on the threshold, looking inquiringly at them.
“You’ve come to me? Come in!” she said.
Papa Gavrilov wanted to immediately explain why they had come, but his family,
making use of the permission, had already begun to trickle into the kitchen. The first to
enter was Peter, holding Rita under her armpits and moving her in front in leaps. Rita
was stubborn and declared that she did not know how to walk. Actually, it had long
passed Rita’s bedtime, but telling her that she wanted to sleep was dangerous, because
Rita would not agree with it.
Vicky timidly shifted from foot to foot at the gate. Kate, standing on the porch,
beckoned her doubting sister with a finger. Mama Gavrilov, with a mixer in her hands,
stood next to Kate. When everyone had set off to Christina’s, Mama Gavrilov forgot to
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leave the mixer in the kitchen. Now Mama had no idea where to put it. The non-walking
Rita, put by Peter on the porch, sneaked up and licked the sweet dough off the mixer.

Alex and Costa started jostling, figuring out who would enter first, and both were
stuck, as the door did not open fully: a drying shoe was interfering. Alena began to climb
over Costa and Alex and also got stuck.
“Alena!” Mama gasped, “You’re smart!”

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“But why is this squirt shoving?” Alena snorted, trying to catch Alex by the “levers
of parenting”.
Christina was standing in the kitchen. Barb was clinging to her right leg, with a cat
hanging from her arms. Lexi was holding a jigsaw and a piece of plywood. And he was
also watching fearfully.

“We’ve come to you for a secret conversation!” Papa Gavrilov said. Christina
looked around in silence.
“Yes, yes, we understand! Papa and I wanted just the two of us to come. But all the
others tagged along!” Peter added, justifying.
“Yes, it will be a good secret conversation,” Christina said.
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“Wait!” Kate thought suddenly and addressed Alena. “Alena! Cover up Costa’s ears,
or else he’ll tell everyone! And I’ll cover up Alex’s mouth, or else he’ll talk all the time
when someone else is talking. And when everyone stops talking to listen to what he
wants to say, Alex also shuts up!”
“And we don’t cover up Alex’s ears?” Alena clarified with anticipation.
“I don’t have enough hands!”
“And who will cover up Rita’s mouth and ears?” Vicky asked.
“Rita’s busy. Until she’s worn out stroking a stranger’s cat, you can discuss
anything you want in her presence!” Kate said.
Christina glanced uneasily at Barb and Lexi. “Go to the room!” she ordered.
Barb willingly fled and together with Rita began to stroke the cat, engaging in the
production of cat electricity. The cat purred, turning excess electricity into sound. Lexi
remained and continued to stick out like a column next to his mother.
“Go to the room!” Christina repeated impatiently. Lexi left.
“You’re going to talk about the Scythian bowl?” Christina asked, looking firmly at
Papa Gavrilov. She had clearly already surmised something.
“Yes. We... uh... know that on the night of the theft you were at the museum. You
passed through a secret door,” Papa Gavrilov said. Christina looked fearfully out into the
courtyard.
“But we haven’t told anyone. We just want to find the bowl!” Peter reassured her.
Christina tracked down a forgotten coin on the table and with a finger moved it on
the polishing. Everyone was looking at Christina’s finger, and she was also looking at it,
as if also wondering what it was doing.
“Before the storm, our cat ran away. When there’s a thunderstorm, its mind suffers.
Once it climbed into someone’s car, where the motor is. Climbed in from under a wheel,”
Christina said suddenly.
“And you went looking for it?”
“Yes. I was wet all over, and then suddenly I heard a meow! There’s a place in no-
man’s corner – tiles everywhere, but slate at the edge. The cat hid under the slate and
got stuck. I threw my scarf on the gas pipe and tried to climb. Dug my heels against the
wall.”
“Did it turn out?”
“No, not enough strength,” Christina confessed. “Rain was pouring, the cat was
howling, I was all wet, it was dark. And then suddenly something rumbled, a flash of
light, a terrible crash, and I realized that something had fallen onto the museum roof.
The cat got scared and jumped out of the gap. I grabbed it in an armful and ran home.
The kids weren’t sleeping; they were scared, waiting for me.”
“So, the cat was already with you? But you did go through the secret door to the
museum. Why?” Peter elaborated. Christina was silent.

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“I’ll try to guess! Because of the crash that broke the roof. You realized that the
museum might be flooded,” Peter looked attentively at Christina, seeking confirmation
in the expression on her face. “You called on the phone! You were told something, or
maybe you yourself guessed something, and then you rushed to the museum through a
secret door! Is that so?!”

“NO!” Christina shouted.


“Yes, now I see exactly that I guessed! You called. But to whom? It’s silly to report
to the police that a tree fell on the museum. Who else to notify? Emergency? You... Yes, I
understand! You phoned this sweater!” Peter exclaimed on a hunch, stretching out his
finger and pointing at something. Christina turned and pulled off the back of the chair
the sweater with shells inside the transparent buttons.
“Yes,” continued Peter mercilessly. “That’s right! You called the owner of this
sweater! And now tell me if I guessed correctly here!” Then Peter made a confused
speech, in which the words “sugar, water, corn starch, gelatin, lemon juice, glycerin”
were interwoven.
Christina listened to him rather inattentively, after which she gave up. “Wait!” she
said, hesitant about something. “I understand nothing about that. I’m more of a
specialist on combustible material. Let someone else listen to you!”

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And, beckoning everyone after her, Christina went into the back room. She pushed
aside the pirate chest on wheels, and Papa Gavrilov was the first to see a door with
massive loops and a painted copper handle. “It’s Papa Carlo’s den!34 And the fireplace
on a piece of old canvas!” he said.

34 Papa Carlo is Buratino’s creator in The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino.
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Christina knocked. Two knocks and two more. She listened and knocked again,
this time stronger and louder. From the other side of the wall, the sound of a chair being
pushed back was heard, and the door opened. Masha Gupt and the artist-cloakroom
attendant Emelian Novitskii entered the room. Masha removed a spider web from her
face. Emelian had a small aerial bomb in his hands. He was painting its welded round
fin with a cotton swab.
“German! Obviously, they dropped it already at the end of the war. Before ’43 the
Germans did everything very diligently. Double coating, precise welding. In a word,
German quality. But after ’43, they began to become openly sloppy. Only carried the
ammunition to the front or loaded it onto a plane, and there it would fly somehow,” he
explained to Christina and, suddenly noticing Papa Gavrilov and the children, raised his
eyebrows in surprise.
“Eh!” He drawled, looking inquiringly at the secret door. “Good evening,
gentlemen! I really didn’t expect anyone!”
“Hello!” said Christina. “I knew that you and Masha are still at work. Heard
rustling behind the wall. This young man is telling an intricate story. I thought that
you’d be interested to hear...”
Emelian Novitskii considered the aerial bomb in his hand. “We’ll listen, of course!
Why not?” he readily agreed and sat down on a chair. Masha Gupt, standing behind the
back of the chair, leaned an elbow on his shoulder.
Peter paced the room, bringing his thoughts into the system. He obviously missed
his paper now. He even wanted to run for it, but gave up and remained. “Hello! In short,
this! In exposing this crime, I made an incredible amount of mistakes! Distracted by
minor details. I suspected a lot of innocent people or people not at all guilty and didn’t
see what was before my eyes all the time! And only this evening I realized how simple it
all was!”
“What’s simple?” Masha asked.
“In a sec! It all started when, while inspecting the crime scene, I for some reason
licked a puddle under the stand. Matushkin and Ushitsyn believed that the puddle was
rain that had drained from the roof. I perceived that the puddle was sweet! You know,
with sugar! There under the stand wasn’t water, or not quite water!”
“Can you not run back and forth? Flickers in the eyes!” Emelian requested. Peter
tried to stop, but was so agitated that he continued marching on the spot.
“And another moment, which they didn’t pay attention to! The air conditioning! It
was set on heat, moreover after the power came back on! Otherwise, all settings would
be reset! I kept thinking: why? I didn’t believe in a system failure. So, it was important
for someone that the museum hall was heated like a steam room in a bathhouse!”
“And all these conclusions from the sweet puddle?” Novitskii asked scornfully.
“Uh-huh, because of it!” Peter acknowledged. “I then began to think in that
direction. At five in the morning the bowl was still there. The guard saw it. At six in the
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morning it had already disappeared from the closed display case, which was recorded by
the surveillance camera. And that’s all. No more bowl. The most mysterious theft of the
century!”
“The prediction of an ancient witch,” Masha Gupt reminded them. “Dear editorial
board! They write to you from the depths of centuries.” Novitskii laughed.
“And then,” Peter continued, “thinking about the bowl, at some point I exclaimed,
‘But it didn’t melt, after all!’ Did someone hear me exclaim this?”
“We only heard you neighing,” Kate shook her head. Peter coughed reproachfully.
“And then it dawned on me! I realized that the bowl could really have melted if the
thief had made it out of ice and, say, food gelatin. The guard had to believe that at five
o’clock the bowl was still there.”
“Do you think it’s possible to make a bowl out of gelatin so that you’d mistake it for
the real one? There’s fine carving, and here’s some gelatin!” Novitskii remarked.
“Of course, not exactly gelatin!” Peter replied calmly. “Gelatin would leave sticky
traces inside the display case, but there weren’t any. I think that only the mould was
made of gelatin, the bowl itself was made of water with the addition of a little something
that gave it a sweet flavour. I watched several videos about casting moulds in gelatin. It’s
fast, and besides, such a mould is easily destroyed. I don’t think that the guard looked
hard at the bowl in the case. It was important for him to make sure that the bowl didn’t
go anywhere. He looked at it from a distance, lit with a flashlight, and left. And by six
o’clock the bowl had already melted!” Peter looked triumphantly at Emelian.
“So?” Novitskii asked blusterously. “So, according to you, the criminal stole the
bowl and replaced it with an icy one? And then adjusted the air conditioner so that it
melted? What’s the point? Why would he want the bowl to melt?”
Peter scratched his head. “That also baffled me. Someone spent a lot of time to
remove the glass, replace the bowl, and put the glass back in place. But why did he
choose ice? If he cast a better copy, for example, in plastic, the crime would only be
revealed in the next museum. And here it was as if he was trying to expose himself!”
Emelian listened to him, stroking the bomb as if stroking a cat.
Without waiting for an answer, Peter continued, “Indeed, why commit a
conspicuous crime, when there’s the opportunity to commit an inconspicuous one?
Someone took care to make this theft the crime of the century. To attract as much
attention as possible so that they wrote about it, talked about it on TV, and at the same
time it would take place at the moment when the true perpetrator had an alibi! Here you
are, for example, what did you do after five in the morning?”
“Me?” Emelian was surprised.
“Yes, you!”
“After five?” Novitskii drawled lazily. “I don’t remember exactly... Although at half
past five I usually run with the guys on the beach. Nice, fresh, not hot. That morning,
true, the sand was damp, but we ran all the same.”
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“Here exactly! A perfect alibi, isn’t it?”


Emelian grinned, but the grin was crooked. “What are you implying? That I stole
the bowl?” he asked.
“YOU!” Peter’s finger quickly shot up, aiming at his chest.
“An interesting statement... And what lead you to this idea?”
“That you have golden hands. We were shown your model of the old city! Mills,
mosques, mountains, gardens! Incredibly beautiful!” Peter exclaimed.
“Thank you. Now I’ll make everything unsightly, so that I won’t be suspected of
anything!” Novitskii grunted.
“And the figures of fruit ice! Remember, you treated us to ice pops? If you could
make all those bears, then a fake bowl wouldn’t be a problem for you!”
“Well, as they say! Gelatin is expensive nowadays, and still need glycerine. It’s me
talking like an artist,” Novitskii said mockingly.
“So, do you confess?” Peter rejoiced.
“What? That I was running along the beach? You yourself admitted that I have the
perfect alibi!”
“And what did you do before that night?”
“At night, I apologize, I slept. I have a witness - the god of dreams, Morpheus,”35
whistling, Novitskii said. “But just for the sake of interest: when did you start suspecting
me? After the ice pops? So much for being nice to people after this!”
“There was a story that made me think. The case with the allegedly stolen
smartphone... Seemingly a trifle, but totally not one!” Peter said. “Everything was very
theatrical. The police were distracted by you. I also got distracted, but I accidentally saw
how Masha quickly removed something from the table. Presumably, some evidence
remained on the table.”
“Evidence?” Masha Gupt was surprised. “What evidence? I removed food to put in
the fridge!”
“Food...” Peter repeated, straining his memory. “Yes, yes, yes, exactly! There were
some jars and a container... But why not remove them in front of the police? What’s that
here? Wait a minute! I remembered! Before you mentioned that your smartphone was
stolen, you looked at...”
Peter darted off and, forgetting that he had promised not to do it, started to run
around excitedly again. While he was running, someone entered the room. Papa
Gavrilov saw the museum director. Mark Iosifovich Gupt stood in the semi-darkness of
the doorway and looked around, looking first in bewilderment at the door, the existence
of which he apparently did not suspect, then at Masha with Emelian, and at the
Gavrilovs. Papa Gavrilov quickly lifted his finger to his lips so that Gupt stood quietly.
Gupt obediently froze, moving into the shadows. Neither Masha nor Emelian saw him.

35 Morpheus is the god of sleep and dreams from Greek mythology.


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“Curious,” Peter continued. “The police seized the young man, but his fiancée, by
the way, claiming the loss of the phone, first removed food to the fridge, and only then
whacked the police with a shoe!”
“And why did I remove the food?” Masha asked.
“Probably because you had forgotten to do this earlier. The police could pay
attention to this and guess that someone had been in the office at night. And another
detail: the ice bowl needed to freeze somewhere! Your cooler is rather small for this.
Most likely, you used the museum freezer, for which you had to pull out the food;
otherwise the bowl would not fit. You destroyed the gelatin mould, of course, but forgot
to clear away the food. However, all the same, the main thing was something else! The
amphora is the main reason you arranged the circus with the smartphone!”
“What’s with the amphora here?” Emelian exclaimed.
“This! You needed to hide the real bowl. And urgently. But where? The police will
probably search the museum. The only thing they clearly won’t do is break other
exhibits. And then you came across the amphora! You placed the bowl in the amphora
and covered it with something. Sawdust, for example. Or crumpled newspapers for
packing stuffed animals.”
Emelian snorted. “Extravagantly invented! Only I didn’t do it!”
“You did, you did!” Peter calmly assured him. “This thought first flickered in me
when you didn’t want to move the amphora out of the museum. After all, the bowl would
have to be moved together with it! But in the museum it was under protection!”
“Nonsense,” Emelian said, turning away angrily.
“But not here! You had to hide the bowl at night, in the dark, with a flashlight. The
haste was obviously terrible! And it was in the office, near your desk. I think that
something spilled next to the amphora and you had to cover everything. How to look
after everything here? And then nothing fit in the fridge! Well, have I proven that you’re
the criminal?”
Masha Gupt stopped leaning on Novitskii’s shoulder. She straightened up. Her
eyes were blazing. “No! Emelian isn’t a part of this! The rest is all true. About the ice
bowl and the freezer. And I was always afraid that one of the policemen would stick his
hand in the amphora. Only it wasn’t sawdust or newspapers in the amphora, but foam
peanuts. In the darkness, I spilled them by the amphora, and all these peanuts were
lying about on the floor, just two steps away from the hidden bowl! I saw this, panicked
and shouted about the smartphone. I needed time to kick the peanuts under the table.
Well, of course, remove the food to the fridge at the same time.”
“Quiet!” Novitskii yelled, grabbing her hand. “What are you doing? They can’t
prove anything!”
Masha winced. “Don’t, Emelian! I’m done! Yes, I stole the bowl. And it happened
spontaneously, without special preparation, because we, of course, couldn’t know about
the rain with thunderstorm and that we wouldn’t have power. The night before, I asked
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Emelian to make a gelatin mould of the bowl. He made it to an approximate size. We


certainly couldn’t take the real bowl from the display case. We poured the mould and,
filling it with water, put it in the freezer the night before, before the rain.”
“Why did you make it?”
“Simply for the sake of interest. We thought, maybe we’ll sell it together with ice
pops or keep it ourselves. Emelian left. I was held up with work and sat quietly in the
office. The guard didn’t know about this. He thought I had also left. The guard is far
from here, and the light doesn’t reach there. And then everything rattled, it poured, and
the light went out. I was just sitting in a daze... no, I wasn’t scared, but something simply
came over me... it was such a night... time just stopped... Some time later the tree fell on
the roof, then someone fell or came down into the museum, and they walked around the
bowl, talking quietly... I wanted to look carefully to see who was there and, apparently,
frightened them. They dragged a ladder and fled through the hole in the ceiling... I
approached the bowl, illuminated it... It was so beautiful and so close: just stretch out
your hand. And then I don’t know what came over me! I returned to the office. Opened
the freezer. It turned out that our mould had time to freeze before the power went out. I
took a screwdriver... I had a lot of time, and I knew about the guard’s round. And I also
knew that the cameras weren’t working. I put the ice mould in place of the bowl.”
“And Emelian? He didn’t guess?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“He did. In the morning, on discovering that the mould of the bowl was missing
from the freezer, he instantly realized who was to blame for everything, but covered for
me. And Christina knows that I took the bowl. When she phoned at night to say that the
museum roof had been broken by a tree, she heard the melody of my phone through the
wall. And she realized that I was in the office. She came into the museum, and here I was
found with the bowl... Christina began to dissuade me, and we argued, but I didn’t
return the bowl, and Christina returned to her place.”
“But why did you take the bowl?” Vicky asked.
Masha sobbed and wiped her nose with her wrist. It was a ferocious sob and a
ferocious wiping of the nose. “I took it and that’s it! I know that I’m guilty, but all this
was like a dream. Night, darkness, museum. Some rustling outside, water dripping
through the hole in the ceiling. Precisely as if it was not me but someone moved my
hand!”
“But why? There was probably an objective!”
“There was! I thought maybe something would change! I didn’t want to sell this
bowl, just wanted to draw attention to all this!” Masha sobbed again.
“First, Emelian, a wonderful artist who practically resurrected this museum, is
made an attendant in an empty cloakroom, where two jackets are handed over in a day!
And it’s two in winter. In summer it’s none at all! And still they say: be thankful that at
least you’re not on the street! I don’t care about part-time! I love the cloakroom
attendant. But not my mother! She tells me this one hundred, no, two hundred times a
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217

day! And tomorrow, the cloakroom attendant’s wage will be taken away, and then my
papa will remain here alone, walk with a double-barrel at night to guard the torpedoes,
and guide tours in the day! Maybe, at least then my parents will leave me alone!”
Director Gupt, having kept quiet till this, could not stand it and jumped out of his
hiding place. “What ‘parents’? You have no parents, criminal daughter! You have a papa
and a mama! What shame have I lived to see? The great-granddaughter of a professor
stole a bowl from the museum and now she’ll go to jail, and I’ll make croutons for her!
And for whom? For the sake of a cloakroom attendant! I’ll expose this schemer! It was
he who instigated you!” Gupt shouted, rushing at Emelian.
Novitskii, not losing self-control, shoved the bomb into the hands of the director,
who froze with it, afraid to drop it. “What, do you mean to say that it’s real?” he asked
anxiously.
“Do you mean to say that there are fake bombs in our museum?” Novitskii replied.
“I’ll put you away all the same! I have connections! Even my wife doesn’t know all
my connections!” Gupt threatened, nursing the aerial bomb in his hands.

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Taking advantage of her father standing with the aerial bomb and not knowing
where to put it, Masha Gupt approached him from the side and said something in an
undertone in his ear. Gupt swayed. His hands unclenched. The aerial bomb slowly
slipped to the floor and did not explode. Alex quickly picked it up and crawled under the
table with it. He had always dreamed of a personal bomb, but his dream never came true.
Until this hour.
Masha continued to mutter something quickly, touching her father’s hand. Gupt
listened to her as if spellbound.
“What grandson? Where does my grandson come from? I don’t have a grandson!”
Gupt asked incomprehensibly. However, he understood quickly. “Does Mama know?”
“I’m not sure,” Masha replied.
“Who will tell her? Me? And what will your mother say to me? Oh, I know
everything she’ll say to me! Yes, I’ll definitely lock this cloakroom attendant up! You sit
down right now! Sit down on this chair and sit!” Gupt started shaking his fists again.
“Papa, take your glasses off!” Masha asked gently.
“Why?” Gupt tensed up.
“Well, just take them off, that’s all. What, are you sorry?”
Gupt was at a loss. “But I won’t see anything then!” he protested.
“What do you need to see? You’ve already seen everything!” Masha asked and took
off his glasses.
The director fumbled around with his hands. “Such a strange feeling! You’re all
such contours! Faces are pink spots!” he informed them piteously. “What will it be now?
I ask you: what will happen to my Masha and this cloakroom attendant? Maybe, they
will still lock the cloakroom attendant up at least? Do not lock up my grandson together
with his criminal mother!”
“No need to lock anyone up!” Papa Gavrilov said wearily.
Gupt turned to the voice. “Excuse me, I can’t see you very well! Are you the father
of the large family? What do you mean, no need to lock anyone up? So you’re not going
to tell anyone that you’ve unraveled this complex matter? But what about justice? What
about the rule of law?” he exclaimed.
“What kind of justice is this, when it’s bad for everyone? Justice is when it’s good
for everyone,” Papa Gavrilov said. This definition pleased everyone, and most of all Gupt.
“And where is the Scythian bowl now?” he asked.
“What do you mean by where? In the amphora that you were going to move out of
the museum!” Masha said mockingly. “It never left the museum at all!”
Gupt took the glasses from her and put them back on his nose. “How did it never
leave? What do you mean?” he asked dryly.
“I hid it in the amphora! The one glued together. You’ve seen it a hundred times!”

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Gupt made a howling sound. “In that awful amphora that always sticks out in the
hallway? Which people walk past in droves? Near which the committee members stood
yesterday?” Gupt was horrified. “Could you at least have given me a hint?”
“How could I give you a hint?” Masha was surprised. “Tell the truth?”
“When a woman wants to hint, she hints even without the truth. As a person who
has lived with your mother for thirty years, I tell you this categorically! And your mother
is a saintly woman!” Gupt said and, rushing to the amphora in the museum, shoved his
arm into it all the way up to his shoulder.
Crumpled newspapers and foam peanuts began to fly out of the vase. Suddenly, the
director’s fingers touched something and felt it thoroughly. Gupt’s face fell. He licked his
lips and hastily filled the amphora with peanuts and newspapers again.
“Fine!” he said. “Let’s suppose we’ve discovered the bowl. But what’s next? Can’t
we just take it and return it to the display case? How do we explain this to everyone else?”
Papa Gavrilov pondered. “That’s a serious question. Even a kind of paradox.
Sometimes, it’s more complicated returning the bowl than stealing it.”
“What if I confess everything to Matushkin? He’s a wonderful boy! I knew his late
grandmother! She took him by the hand till he was ten, and as soon as he opened his
mouth to say something, she shoved a bun in it! And what a hero he has grown to be! A
warrior!” Gupt said with hope. “After all, the bowl was in the museum all the time! Just
for a little time not where it was placed at the very beginning!”
“Have to say, it’s possible,” Papa Gavrilov agreed. “But I have a better idea. What
do people love most of all in the world?”
“Money? Children? Cakes?” Peter proposed.
“People love legends! Only legends ultimately have value! What is the Crimea? The
Crimea, if you examine it, is one big legend! Here every rock, every cape, every palace is
associated with at least one legend! Sometimes quite absurd, sometimes magically
beautiful!”
“So?” Gupt hurried him.
“So, dear future grandpa, for the sake of your daughter, we’ll try to create one more
beautiful legend!”
“And it’ll be believed?” Gupt asked.
“It will, if this legend is beautiful!” Papa Gravilov said with inspiration. “And we’ll
make sure of it! Does everyone remember at all how and from where this bowl
appeared?”
“It was taken from the dead. From a Scythian grave,” Mama Gravilov said.
“Correct. In a sense, it was stolen, and those from whom it was stolen may well
wish for its return.”
“How’s this?” Gupt asked suspiciously.

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“Very simple! Has everyone heard of the Greek-Scythian settlement Chaika?”36


“Uh-huh,” Emelian replied. “When I was a kid, I found a tarpan’s hoof there! Lying
exactly like that, right in the palm. It’s about ten kilometres from the city. A mysterious
place! Some in our city are even afraid to go there at night! They say they hear voices,
moans, and guns rattling.”
“Moans?” Kate asked. “Who moans?”
“There are people. Once upon a time the Scythians attacked the fortress and killed
all its defenders. Even now, under the rubble they find bones, fragments of arrows, and
weapons. They reckon that it was a night raid and the garrison of the fortress wasn’t
prepared. Why, it’s asked, weren’t they prepared? A mystery! A riddle!”
“And now there are also excavations, it seems?”

“Yes. Muscovites arrived two weeks ago. They’re digging the main tower. It’s filled
up, overgrown with grass, now it’s just like a hill. They think that if it’s opened, it’s
possible to discover something valuable. When they exposed the neighboring
fortifications, they found the Feasting Hercules,37 and a terracotta Aphrodite.38 There
are whole piles of ceramics,” Emelian said.

36 The ancient settlement Chaika was a fortified Greek settlement founded around the middle of the 4 th c
BC. It was captured by the Scythians in the middle of the 2 nd c BC and existed until the middle of the 1 st c.
Studies have been conducted there since 1959.
37 The Feasting Hercules is an amphora made between 520-510 BC by the famous Ancient Greek potter

Andokides.
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“Excellent,” Papa Gavrilov said, rubbing his hands. “Simply excellent! Don’t even
need to invent a legend: it’s already prepared!”
A child’s shriek was heard from behind the wall. Christina rushed to check what
was happening. A wet cat ran out of the bathroom, immediately behind it was Rita and,
finally, Barb with round eyes. “She sat our cat on the toilet seat! Almost drowned it!”
Barb squealed in delight.

38 Aphrodite is the Ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty.


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222

EPILOGUE

Rita, can you say ‘rr’? Well, let’s check! Say ‘mouse’!
©Costa

A week had passed. And now, almost at night, when fiery flowers of fireworks
blossomed over the resort zone, Peter rushed home with a newspaper found in the park.
A long three-line headline reported:
CURSE OF THE SCYTHIAN KINGS! THE VANISHED BOWL FROM A
BURIAL MOUND WAS FOUND DURING THE EXCAVATION OF A GHOST
TOWN!
In the photo, two students, one of which was small with big ears, were holding the
bowl. Below, separated from them by the text, a fearsome warrior with a stubbly beard
was reaching for the bowl.
“Who’s this?” Mama Gavrilov asked.
“A Scythian spirit posing for the newspaper photographer. Look, the Scythian has
on a watch, but they altered it with Photoshop into a bracelet! Newspaper artists create
miracles!” Peter admired.
“I spoke with Emelian yesterday,” Papa Gavrilov informed them. “Emelian said
that as soon as the bowl was found, the Minister of Culture flew in and met with city
authorities. Our Gupt was also there. The minister shook Gupt’s hand six times and
patted him on the shoulder the same number of times.”

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“How many times? Why so many?” Peter did not believe him.
“The CCTV camera had some problems with the recording. The arrival of the
minister was all very accelerated. The bowl was returned to the museum after
undergoing examination. Of course, now there’s such protection that a fly can’t sit on
the glass. There’s a huge queue for the exhibition. Excellent advertisement for the city!
Yalta, Kerch, and Feodosia are all dying of envy. Koktebel most of all! Our Scythian bowl
has completely eclipsed their Voloshin 39 Museum. To muscle in on our glory, the
Koktebelians now claim that Voloshin foresaw that everything would happen this way
and even once drew a very similar bowl on a piece of paper. It’s possible to see this
leaflet from Monday to Friday at Koktebel, Central Embankment, Voloshin Museum...”
“And the hole in the ceiling?”
“For the time being it has been hastily repaired. And as soon as the exhibition is
over, the museum will be closed for renovations. They say it’ll be the best museum in the
Crimea. 3D-technologies, elevators, wheelchair ramps, robot vacuum cleaners –
everything you like. Director Gupt rightfully stood next to the minister, surrounded by a
crowd of journalists. They returned the pay for the researcher Emelian and raised his
salary. Mama Gupt is temporarily satisfied with everything. A researcher isn’t a
cloakroom attendant. Such a son-in-law can now be presented to relatives, with some
reservations. And in a couple of years, maybe Gupt will get a promotion and Emelian
will take his place. I admit, I would like that.”
“And Matushkin and Ushitsyn? Did they also really believe in the curse of the
Scythian kings? They seem competent,” Peter chuckled.
“Matushkin and Ushitsyn also met with the minister. Then with the prosecutor of
the Crimea, with whom many met. I think they decided to hush up the matter. The city
has never had so many tourists. Any the granny who sells sunflower seeds is now a
major resort magnate. And all thanks to the Scythian kings! They’d have to be insane to
destroy such a legend, putting a fragile girl in jail.”
“And the famous Moscow detective? How did he get himself out of this?” Mama
Gavrilov asked.
“Didn’t even blink an eye. I read his interview today. He instantly appeared before
the administration and reported. The main idea was that, under his modest leadership,
they thwarted the activity of an international criminal syndicate engaged in the theft of
art objects. The thieves were put in circumstances where, surrounded on all sides, they
had to leave the bowl, hoping to avoid even more exposure. But he, of course, won’t stop
until he brings the matter to an end. Now he’s flying to St. Petersburg for a symposium
on fighting illegal trade in antiques. And from St. Petersburg to Vienna, where he has

39 Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin (1877 – 1932), commonly known as Max Voloshin, was a
Russian poet and one of the significant representatives of the Symbolist movement in Russian culture and
literature.
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been invited for an exchange of experience, and from Vienna to France... Something was
also stolen from the Louvre there. So it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see him again!”
“And Bugailo with his driver and Svyatoslav Kuzin?”
“They were quietly released. They are cogs too small for an international syndicate.”
“Hooray! The main thing is that Emelian will now be able to go to a husband and
Masha will take a wife!”40 Alena exclaimed in delight.
“It would be better, of course, the other way around, but on the whole the idea is
correct,” Papa Gavrilov looked at the children.
The children were standing together in the dim kitchen, lit only by the laptop
screen and a flashlight held by Costa and Alex. Vicky pressed her cheek to the gas boiler,
which produced mysterious bubbling sounds. Even Peter was together with everyone –
huge, like a swan among ducklings.

The End

40
In Russian, different terms are used for male or female getting married. A man zhenitsia – takes a wife -
while a woman vykhodit zamuzh – goes to a husband. Alena, in her excitement, switched the terms,
prompting Papa Gavrilov to follow with his statement.
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