For once, Ivan seemed in more of a hurry to get away than Marina.
‘I need to take this to a jeweller’s,’ he said, stuffing the necklace into his back pocket. ‘I have a feeling it belonged to Anastasia.’
With that he turned and left the room and, when Marina exited the Palace, there was no sign of him. She hailed a taxi back to St Petersburg but, rather than return to the hotel, she stopped off at the Dom Knigi in Nevsky Prospect where there was a cafe which served drinkable coffee.
She stared at the photo and the inscription on the back. She knew the story of Tatiana’s French Bulldog puppy. It had been given to her by a patient she nursed, a dashing young cavalry officer to whom she had taken a shine. When the puppy died, he gave her another one. That animal accompanied the Romanovs all the way to Ekaterinberg where it too had died, bayoneted to death. Tatiana looked serious, even melancholy, in the photo but nursing would have brought her face-to-face with a great deal of suffering. Maybe, even then, she had a premonition of the dark days ahead.
The photo seemed different to the other clues. If it was one of the ‘crumbs’ which would eventually lead to Catherine’s gift, it was very hard to decipher. Could the numerals of the date mean something? Or the dog’s name, Ortipo? As far as she could tell, it meant nothing in Russian. Or was the photo simply to identify that the necklace had belonged to Tatiana? Well, if it did, it clearly was not ‘Catherine’s gift’.
Marina fell to thinking about Ivan. It had been creepy enough the way he kept appearing, like a stalker. But how on earth had he got her name from the hotel – and not just ‘Mrs Jordan’ but her full name as it appeared on her passport? Was he really the nephew of Countess Anastasia? His historical details about her might be accurate, but it was easy enough to pilfer somebody else’s history. The tragedy of the Romanovs had attracted all sorts of imposters.
She looked at the photo again. The unnamed ‘he’ was Dimitri Malama, a scion of minor nobility. His father had been a cavalry general and a military adviser to the Tsar. Young Dimitri had inherited his father’s military prowess and bearing. Wondering what had become of Dimitri after Tatiana’s murder, she Googled him on her phone. Yes, there he was, staring at the photographer, wearing boots and hussar’s uniform with a Doric column as a prop and trees in the background, looking like he had strode up the shore, a hero and a conqueror, in to a landscape by Claude. Later, when the Bolsheviks came to power, he became a Captain in the White Army and died in 1919 in the battle of Tsaritsyn. Where was that, she wondered? She looked it up and her eyes widened as she read how it had been re-named . . . Stalingrad.
Where did this lead her? To a dead end, it seemed. So what about the dog? Apparently Tatiana had her jewellers make models of Ortipo, encrusted with diamonds, as gifts for her friends. Might she have given one to Dimitri as a keepsake? And might he have taken it with him to Tsaritsyn, maybe as his only memento of the dead Tatiana? If so, what would have become of it when he died? Most likely, she thought, the Soviet authorities would have added it to their collections of Romanov jewellery which were placed in museums to illustrate the greed and superficiality of the ruling class – and maybe also, implicitly, the skill of Russian craftsmen. Some, of course, were sold for foreign currency. Some, inevitably, must have been purloined by the new ruling class. Kirov, the first Communist ruler of Leningrad, had apparently kept some Romanov pieces on display in his flat.
She decided to pay a visit to Kirov’s flat as it was not far from the hotel. It was possibly an irrelevance, a red herring, a cul de sac in the maze of her search and yet . . . When she thought how she had managed things so far, she recognised a strong element of luck, or coincidence – or, as she sometimes felt, a family guardian angel was guiding her from clue to clue. Logic had played a part – but quite a modest one.
Kirov’s flat was on Kamennoostrovsky Prospekt, not the most fashionable area of the city but a wide tree-lined street of some beauty. Here, the Leningrad boss had lived with his wife until his assassination in 1934. A charismatic personality, he had been popular in the city and the party, and was seen by some – fatally for him and for them – as a possible successor to Stalin. Much against her expectations, the flat rather charmed Marina. There were shelves crammed with books, two rather diminutive single beds next to each other, a kitchen in which plaster casts of food sat unappetisingly, and posters and photos from the time showing Kirov on building sites, talking to crowds and hobnobbing with a smiling Stalin. The carpets and wall colours had a brightness and warmth and it struck her that the flat reflected Kirov’s personality, that he was a man of great energy and warmth. He regularly attended the theatre, and ballet, and was said to have had affairs with a number of ballerinas. There was something hedonistic about him, a man who, for all the puritanism of his politics, knew how to enjoy the finer things in life.
Wandering aimlessly from room to room, she was suddenly transfixed by a small statue of a black dog. It had deep blue eyes and a collar encrusted with what looked like white diamonds, and her heart skipped a beat. Was this a lost gift from Tatiana?
‘Do not touch! It is forbidden to touch anything.’ The harsh voice behind her made her jump.
‘I’m . . . I’m sorry,’ she muttered. ‘I was just wondering . . . I believe that the Tsar’s daughter had something similar made for her friends, as a memento of her dog.’
She turned to face a stocky woman dressed in a dark grey uniform, who snorted derisively then said, ‘This is just a copy. Comrade Kirov was a modest man.’ The woman took the dog down from the shelf and showed it to Marina.
‘Do you know what happened to the originals?’ Marina asked meekly.
‘Probably sold. The white Russians in Paris had a lot of the Romanov stuff. A Prince Ourassef, I believe, was a prominent collector of confiscated jewellery.’
Marina left the flat, turning the name of this exiled Prince round in her mind. She could have sworn her aunt had mentioned him once or twice, in a tone of contempt. Was this where the photo pointed?