September 5th, 1963

“Identical,” Solomon Rockwell muttered, miffed. The snow globe he stared at was identical to the one lying on a shelf in his suburban bungalow. The glass was made in the Russian satellite state of Germany, the plaster in China. The only “American” bits were the flakes of carcinogenic fake snow floating around in the snow globe water. He liked to think that his snow globe was some kind of convoluted a proof of his identity, his individuality, in the face of globalist trends and shifting geopolitics. He fancied it special. It was not.

“He’s a Tsarist,” a low, albeit nasally voice crackled out from behind Rockwell. “What was that?” Rockwell asked, turning away from the snow globe to direct his attention at a chubby, balding man in a police uniform standing over a body splayed out on the ground.

“Look at what I found in his desk,” the chubby man said, extending out a flabby hand holding a few tiny slips of paper.

Rockwell took the slips of paper, flipped through them and gleaned the important details.

The chubby man smirked, “Told you, he’s a Tsarist.”

After a bit of reading, Rockwell commented, “He’s had his visa authorized by the Tsarist embassy,” Rockwell’s eyes widened with surprise, “for an extended stay! This guy was planning to be in the country for a while, from the looks of it. Here, here, we have his name. Powell, you see this?”

Powell cocked his head and peered at the paper. “Bogdan Ivanov. You think he’s related to the academic?”

“The economist? Perhaps, though Ivanov is a fairly common name. Anything on a motive?” Rockwell asked monotonously, blankly flipping through the papers once more.

“Motive? Do you see this?” Powell exclaimed, gesturing to the ground.

A suicide. A gun in a hand pointed at a head and a cloud of blood speckled on the ground in the intuitive direction. It was so clear, yet something was strange about the look in that man’s mangled face. There was no resolute lover’s smile, nor loser’s contorted sneer of spite at the world he was leaving behind. This man had a lot to lose and everything to gain. This man was here on a mission, a mission of international importance. This man was…

“Cooking,” Rockwell muttered, detecting a whiff of abalone boiled in white wine.

He had been caught off guard… caught off guard by a suicide?

Rockwell kneeled down towards the body and pried the still supple, white fingers of Bogdan Ivanov away from the handle of the revolver he used to end his life.

White knuckles, strained finger muscles still bulging, but a strain in the wrong direction. There was at least a millimeter or two of space between the fingers and the pistol grip before Rockwell had moved them. Rockwell touched the gun.

Suddenly, he exclaimed, “Powell, have you extracted any bullets from the surroundings?”

“With all due respect, Detective, that’s your job. Anyways, I’m sure you’ll have a bit more finesse than my clumsy self.”

Rockwell clicked his teeth in frustration. He stood up and examined the splatters of blood around the dead Tsarist. He took out a notepad and pencil from his back pocket and scribbled, “Blood streak on table. Blood streak on floor. Blood drops from table on floor. Blood drops from head on floor. Bullet hole in bookshelf, no bullet. Bullet hole in wall behind bookshelf, bullet found. Clear trajectory from gun through head through bookshelf to wall…”

Rockwell flipped his notepad back closed, tucked it away, and wrestled a bullet out of the wallpaper. He shifted the bookshelf back into place, but suddenly, he stopped. He kneeled down, reached into his back pocket and took his notepad back out.

“Another bullet hole. Bullet found. Clear trajectory from the gun’s current position on the floor, once again through head, to wall molding near ground,” Rockwell scribbled.

“Powell,” Rockwell called out. “There are two bullets here.”

“Two bullets?” Powell exclaimed with surprise as he turned away from taking pictures of the nearby furniture. He walked over to Rockwell and stared at the bullet wedged in the wall molding. “So this wasn’t a suicide, and the killer put on more in him to be sure. So what?” Powell barked.

“Assuming this scene was staged to look like a suicide, why ruin that by putting a second bullet in his head? Both bullets penetrated the skull. Not only that, the second bullet was fired parallel to the ground. It’s as if the guy pulled the trigger again once he was on the ground and bleeding out, just to be sure.”

“Look, Rockwell, can I go home? We’ve been here for hours, those guys are outside honking their horns and knocking on the front door and I have a bowling match tonight.”

Rockwell poked his pencil into the bullet hole in Ivanov’s head, meticulously burrowing into the pink mush to dig out any fragments or objects of interest… assumedly.

“Oh god,” Powell lurched, averting his gaze to spare his stomach. “Alright Rockwell, that’s it, I’m going home. When you leave, tell the guys by the door it’s alright for them to come inside. Have fun.”

Rockwell offered a grunt of acknowledgement as Powell left. Powell was a lazy, piece of shit, and everyone knew it. Still, he maintained a functional family life and always invited Rockwell to his bowling matches, so Rockwell did his best to reserve any negative judgments he had about the man.

He took a moment to collect his thoughts and breathe. The body had already begun to smell, and, compounding with the dark, musty room, it intensified Rockwell’s discomfort to the point where he too considered giving up. After placing the two bullets in a labeled plastic bag, he glanced at Bogdan’s head and saw two tiny chunks of brain sticking out. He had accidentally pulled them out when he was rummaging around Bogdan’s insides with his pencil. He sighed, he kneeled back down and, gingerly, he picked up the two pieces of brain and stuffed them back inside the bullet hole.

He stood up, tipped his beige hat to Bogdan, buttoned up his coat, and left the building. Upon exiting through the Ivanov estate’s front gate, Rockwell turned to the men outside and said, “He’s all yours”.

Immediately, a swarm of men in camouflage hurtled through the gate and vaulted over the estate hedges. Tanks rumbled and spat out fumes of diesel as they hummed impatiently around Rockwell’s cruiser. Rockwell grimaced at the scene and briskly entered his police cruiser.

The soldiers were nothing new. The tanks however? Surely, this level of anal, military oversight, of utter paranoia was unprecedented… but the victim in question was still a Tsarist official who had died on American soil. Rockwell deduced that meant tanks, and he prayed to God that he would never find another dead Tsarist academic in Ashford County again.

“The Ruskies,” Rockwell muttered, watching despondently as tanks plowed through the estate fence towards the main entrance. “It’s the damned Ruskies.”

America was being left behind by Russia. The Ruskies had single handedly ended the second World War. They had put the first monkey in orbit. They had put the first man on the moon. They had sent the first rover to Mars, the first satellite to Jupiter. And it was barely 1964. The Nazi’s inhumane research paled in comparison to the way the Russian’s disregarded human limitations— and moral boundaries— in their pursuit for expansion, for progress, for power. Communist expats fleeing the Tsar had killed JFK. The Tsar’s (and therefore, Europe’s) embargo of American goods had utterly destroyed the American economy. The military, the last vestige of American glory was frantic, scattering, watching with bated breath and bloodshot eye as its power slipped away slowly, but surely.

That terrible fear, the fear of an impotent ruler watching his crown slowly slip off his head, was no doubt instilled in every single one of those camouflaged soldiers from their camouflaged births in their Norman Rockwell-esque, picture-perfect houses filled with TV’s and dogs and war medals.

Maybe the soldiers just loved their country. Maybe they liked the pay. Maybe they were just good at following orders.

Rockwell, however, liked to think that every single soldier who leaped over that fence that day, who barreled through that house’s front doors, did so because he was scared, scared shitless, that if he didn’t follow every order, kill every target, micromanage every investigation and tiny public office, America would slip away even further and their chances for winning against Russia would be dashed into the rocks of the past faster than the Tolstyak consumed Berlin in nuclear fire.

What were they afraid of? They’d already lost.

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