h2g2 Storytime II: Prologue

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St Petersburg. 1916

It was not a dark and stormy night, though this would have been convenient for narrative.

There had been some snow flurries early in the evening, but now at a little after two o' clock in the morning, the streets of St. Petersburg were simply freezing over in the totally ordinary fashion, with no thought for dramatic convention. Steam rose from the gutters. The more unlucky tramps didn't.

Felix Yusupov scraped a match along the parapet of the bridge and lit a cigarette with shaking, manicured hands.

He was an aristocrat of sensitive temperament, and had recently found that murder didn't agree with him. In his defence, their victim that night had been highly uncooperative in the matter of dying, most unsuitable for a first-time murderer. Yusupov took a deep drag, and coughed. His breath misted in the night air and mingled with the cigarette smoke.

The others had hauled the sack containing it out of the car and laid it out on the cobbles next to the parapet. Yusupov flinched, reliving the moment on the journey when Dmitry had wailed that it was moving again... the desperate fumble between the seats... the sound of the shots, insanely loud in the confined space of the auto... 'Had to be done,' he told himself. 'Had to be done.'

"Felix? Come over here. This is your party, after all. Hoho." shouted a distant voice.

'Very funny Nikolai,' thought Yusupov bitterly. 'You should perform in the music halls.'

He walked over slowly to join the circle of conspirators standing over the sack. All were reluctant to touch it, and equally reluctant to show they were reluctant to touch it. There were many shuffled feet and downcast eyes. Finally Dmitry turned from the car and hefted a tyre iron in his tough soldier's hands.

"To make certain," he rumbled, in reply to Yusupov's horrified expression. "You were not so squeamish when you took my revolver and - "

"Alright! Alright. You make certain. Mother of God..." The dapper prince turned his back for a few moments, until the dull, fleshy thumps had ceased.

Now the other four each took a corner of the sack and heaved it up to rest on the parapet. Below, the canal ran swift and black beneath a thin coat of ice. A glance was exchanged between the four, then there was a mutual grunt of effort and the sack slid awkwardly over the edge. There was a splintering crack from the canal below, then a moment of silence.

Then there was another moment of silence.

Nikolai cleared his throat, eyes fixed on the jagged hole in the ice.
"Perhaps you would like to say something to mark this occasion, Felix?"

Yusupov suppressed a nervous twitch, and thought for a moment.

"Yes. Let us all go back to my place and get on the outside of some hot whiskies."

The old politician furrowed his brow and nodded slowly.

"Not exactly what I had in mind, but it works. Gentlemen, we are all of us heroes. Tonight we may well have saved the motherland. Well done. Bloody well done."

Now there were a few nervous smiles and a little back-clapping, before the conspirators started to pile back into the car. Dmitry gunned the engine, and the automobile skidded off through the icy streets.

"One thing though..." frowned Yusupov, speaking over the excited talk of the others. "When he was shouting, raving, back at the house...after we shot him the first time..." He drifted off, lips moving soundlessly.

"Yes? What of it?"

"What were all those things about...'a dying pilchard'?"

Puzzled silence fell in the car interior for a moment. Then the chattering began again.

If they had cared to stay on the windswept bridge a little longer, they might have noticed the bubbles breaking gently in the ice hole. Or perhaps it wouldn't have been worth it, as they stopped after a few minutes.

Early on the morning of the nineteenth of December 1916, the corpse of Grigory Efimovich Rasputin was found bobbing on the surface of the Malaya Nevka canal. A malevolent grimace was frozen on his face; the ropes that held him had been snapped, and his arms were raised menacingly. But he was very dead. So that was that.

Except of course that it wasn't.

h2g2 Storytime II: Dramatus Personae
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