From the Story Arc: The Bearer of Strashnyjj, Strashnyjj News

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(posted Wednesday, February 15, 2006)

The police had left, satisfied that Kurt Taylor had not been the victim of foul play. The paramedics took Kurt’s body away in an ambulance, with Belladonna Aura accompanying his body to expedite the paperwork. Red Saviour had packed away the Lone Ranger and Tonto outfits with discretion, made sure Oksana dressed and ate some food, and left her alone with a promise to visit after patrol.

Her ears perked up at a whinny from the yard. The horses hadn’t been tended all morning. She pulled on her work boots and grabbed a bucket.

Thunder tossed his head when he spotted her. Her heart sank. “Da, comrade Thunder. Your old friend is gone. Is just Oksana now.” Until they sold the ranch, she realized. Her time with the horses would be limited.

Thunder lowered his head to be patted. His big brown eye rolled at her; he’d read her sorrow and understood the source. He snorted in consternation.

Tearing up, Oksana fed him and Dolly, the mustang Kurt gave her. She left the stable before her own grief upset the horses. The sky had cleared; majestic clouds towered in a deep blue sky, catching the sunlight and turning it to gold. It was well past dawn, the time Kurt liked to wake and watch a sunrise before his morning ride.

Is too bad good Communists do not believe in Heaven, she thought. I wish Kurt was peeking down from behind those clouds, bragging to the angels about his little cowgirl. Wherever cowboys go, I hope he is happy.

She took off her hat and held it to her chest, in case Kurt could see her. She’d never said do svedanya to him.


In her reverie, she hadn’t noticed the Range Rover crackle over the gravel road up to her gate. The stocky man who waved to get her attention wore a crisp, tailored suit as though it were a uniform; his briefcase he gripped like a rifle. He offered her a reassuring smile that somehow creased his tall forehead. She set her hat on her head again as he strode forward, hand out to shake hers.

“How do you do! I’m Adam Stein, of Stein, Beasley, and Boyd.” He paused as she goggled at him. “The law firm.” He sighed. “Mr. Taylor’s attorneys.”

“Oh.” She gave his hand a squeeze. He brought the smile out again and flexed his hand behind his back. “You want me off his land.”

“Not at all, Miss Fedin. You are Oksana Uly… Ulyon…” He blushed.

“Oksana Ulyovna Fedin, da. This is me, pardner.”

“Ah, yes.” He ran a hand through his hair. “May I call you Oksana? Please?”

Oksana shrugged. “Is fine, comrade pardner. I ain’t beink one to stand on formality.”

“Whew. Well, Oksana, I think you’ll find your situation is less grim than you’d think.” He loosened his collar. “Ah, aside from Kurt’s passing.”

She regarded him for a long moment. The morning sun leaned out from behind a cloud and dazzled her eyes. Tugging her hat down, she said: “You might as well come in, then.”

Kurt’s kitchen was spacious, airy, and wood paneled like the rest of the house. Mounted antlers flanked an authentic Remington painting of a campfire. A second freezer held his year’s supply of venison and Omaha steaks. Oksana started the coffeemaker, far later in the morning than she usually did.

Mr. Stein arranged his briefcase on the expansive oak table, watching Oksana muddle around the kitchen. He hemmed and hawed as he removed papers from manilla folders, but avoided her listless gaze.

At last he broke the silence. “By the way, I’m terribly sorry for your loss. Kurt spoke highly of you.” He clicked his pen. “You were very special to him.”

Oksana shrugged, stretching the terrycloth robe. “Is fine to hear such talk, but doesn’t really matter now. He’s gone.” She poured them coffee. “How do you take your joe?”

“Black, please.” He accepted the coffee with an inclination of his head. “Had Kurt discussed his will with you?”

“Da.” She sat across from him. “He was willful old coot. You couldn’t tell him nothing.”

“Ah, ahem. By ‘will’ I mean a testament.” He spread his hands at her puzzled look. “A legal document.” She shook her head, confused. “What happens to his stuff when he dies.”

“Oh, I gitcha. Zaveshhanie. Naw, he didn’t bring it up.”

Mr. Stein passed the document across the table. “Here’s a copy for your perusal. Do you… need me to read it to you?”

“Nyet, pardner. I’m book learnt.” She pulled it over with a fingernail, leaning down to read the words while she sipped. “Hmm. Hmm. Uh huh. Well, consarnit, this ain’t right.”

“Which part?”

“He’s got me in here as his wife. We didn’t… I mean, we talked about it…” She grew quiet. Kurt’s tentative smile when she agreed to consider the idea had her stomach in knots. “We weren’t hitched, Mr. Stein.”

“I understand. As executor of his will, I’m obliged to ensure his last wishes are carried out to the letter. That he describes you as his wife in his will is beside the point, as most courts would agree. He is otherwise quite clear what you are to receive.”

Oksana held up a hand. “I don’t want for nothin’, pardner. I’m a-fixin’ to pack my saddlebags and vamoose.”

“Understandable, of course. This house has a lot of memories for you. Are you planning to sell it?”

“The house? Tarnation, Mr. Stein, it’s Kurt’s house. I just shared his bed.”

Mr. Stein’s face reddened. “I… know. But Kurt revised his will a month ago. A quarter of his fortune goes to his favorite charities.” He looked out from under his brow. “The rest is yours, Oksana.”

“What rest? Talk sense, fella.”

He flipped her copy of the will to page ten. “Here.” He took a deep breath. “Just shy of thirty million dollars.”

Oksana set her cup of coffee down before her numb fingers dropped it. “Tarnation.”

“Yes, you could say that. I’d venture to guess that you’re now the richest cowgirl in America. Congratulations.”