Forty Rubles by Peter Hajinian

Your Honour:

This is my confession, not of murder, but of the events that led to the death of Vladimir Gargarovich Karpuk. Though I was present, I can attest it was an accident, and therefore I beg Your Honour’s leniency in any sentencing.

[private]Karpuk was a bear of a man. He wore his moustache wild. Thick black hair crept out from under the collar of his woolly coat. Everyone who met him thought “swarthy,” but most were too polite to say it. Let the truth be known. You wouldn’t find a lazier man in the entire Russian Empire.

I’m neither tall nor big. In fact, some have called me a bird of a man. My nose is hooked, and my chin disappears when I look down. I don’t have much of an upper lip, but I was born with small teeth. My arms are skinny, so I try to avoid coats and shirts that drape over me. As lazy as Karpuk is, I am diligent. I have mastered my emotions. Only a German expresses less, but it’s been scientifically proven Germans don’t feel much of anything.

But this begins with my sweet wife Emma. We had a happy life in Andropov, a village in the Kazarov District. Our life was happy. Then one day she complained she never enjoys the finer restaurants. I told her we don’t need to eat at the restaurants, because I hired a fine cook with the largest mole in all of Kazarov on her cheek. Emma said it wasn’t good enough. Just the week before Andrei Ivanovich Sokabokavich took his wife Silva to a fine restaurant in Moscow. How can I compete? I love my wife, Your Honour, and did what any man would do when confronted with these claims. I promised her I would take her to St. Petersburg for the finest lunch of smoked sturgeon and pickled eggs.

Trains are getting more and more expensive. Some time ago I had lent a sum of money to Karpuk, and on that fateful day Emma made her wishes known I decided it was time to collect. Everyone in Andropov knew you could find Karpuk sitting in the local public house, doing nothing. And that’s exactly where I found him.

Like a gentleman I asked if he remembered borrowing forty rubles from me. He did. I asked him to kindly pay me back, for it had been close to seventy-two days overdue. As you know, all gentleman’s agreements should be paid back within forty-five days. But Your Honour, he with no honour just laughed at me.

With a straight face, Karpuk claimed he didn’t have the forty rubles. I asked if he could pay me twenty rubles. He said all he could give me was three kopeks. Three kopeks! An obvious insult not only to me, but to gentlemen everywhere who enter in to such agreements. I do not pretend to know how to judge men as you do, and take this not as a confession, but the Russian Empire is stronger with one less Karpuk.

As you recall, I am quite in control of my emotions. But I could not help but steam. I demanded he needed to pay me at least thirty rubles. Karpuk thought in his slow, laboured way, and then told me he would give me the money. But first I had to beat him in a contest. I agreed. I followed him out behind the public house, where it was just the two of us, a bottle of vodka, and two hatchets stuck in a stump. As you see, Your Honour, in this story I have continually acted to resolve this issue peacefully and on his terms.

A vodka-drinking, hatchet-tossing contest is not how gentlemen should settle such disputes. But I remind you, he was no gentleman. And in a moment of weakness, I went along with it. If I could have walked home and told Emma we would be going to St. Petersburg in the autumn instead of the spring, I would. If I could take back the six drinks of vodka I would. Mind you, I do not call back our toasts the health of the Tsar, the empire, the troops, the Archbishop, the mayor of Andropov, to your health, too, Your Honour; but I wouldn’t then pick up a hatchet and try to hit the bulls-eye painted on a tree trunk. Best two of three.

It turned out Karpuk was good at something. He was an ace hatchet thrower, and was on his way to beat me. It would take me so many months to save up. So many months with Emma complaining about Sokabokavich and our cook and my inability to enter a gentleman’s agreement with a trustworthy man. Once again, I am normally a much controlled person. But the vodka spun my thoughts. All these future complaints filled my head and my heart. As they say, any door doubt opens is the one the devil walks through. It was in that moment that the devil acted, and I brought the hatchet back over my shoulder to throw. I knew Karpuk was behind me, but had only meant to scare him, to maybe graze his thick black moustache. To my horror the steel struck bone.

It is obvious to me now that he had to have been leaning in to taunt me. If he had stayed at a safe distance, he would still be alive today. Let the record show what poor decisions a drunk man can make.

When Karpuk fell, I immediately dropped the hatchet and checked for signs of life. Finding none, I looked around for help, but there was no doctor behind the publican’s house. As a matter of fact, there was no one who could stay with him while I went to get a doctor. I thought it was important to stay and explain the situation if anyone came to help. I checked his pockets for papers, hoping to find the name of next of kin. That’s how I found the forty rubles. I thought it likely that he kept a name on a slip of paper hidden in the stack. So you see, I wasn’t counting the greasy notes when the gendarmes discovered me, I was searching for help. You see, Your Honour, it was all a very reasonable situation I was found in: a bystander to the accidental death of a drunken man who had lost control of his balance and facilities.

Every day my dear wife Emma writes and asks when I might return to her. I am a responsible man, but I am no use here in prison. I petition you to release me, and to allow a most useful subject of the great Russian Empire to continue serving the Tsar. I have learned my lesson. Never again will I enter into a gentleman’s agreement with a man who is less than a gentleman.

Most sincerely,
Konstanin Nikolai Spanodrov[/private]

Peter Hajinian lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife, their bulldog, and chickens. He spends his days writing advertising copy, and his nights either recording radio dramas or visiting friends in the neighbourhood. A lifelong writer, this is his second publication.

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