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    WELCOME TO THE BLACK RUSSIAN BLOG--DEDICATED TO TOPICS CONNECTED WITH, AND CIRCLING AROUND, MY BIOGRAPHY OF FREDERICK BRUCE THOMAS, THE SON OF MISSISSIPPI SLAVES WHO BECAME A MILLIONAIRE IMPRESARIO IN PRE-REVOLUTIONARY MOSCOW AND 'THE SULTAN OF JAZZ' IN CONSTANTINOPLE To subscribe to this blog's RSS feed, please click on the icon above

    Entries in Frederick Thomas (109)

    Frederick Thomas Faces New Dangers in the South (of Russia)

    Although the act of crossing the border into German-occupied territory immediately removed the class stigma and threats that had dogged Frederick on the Bolshevik side, new problems appeared at every step, beginning with his having to insist that he was—Russian.  The United States had been at war with the Central Powers since April of 1917 and an American entering their territory would have to register as an enemy alien and would be their nominal prisoner.  Frederick’s appearance and the way he spoke English—if he revealed that he could—would have given him away to any German who had ever met other American blacks.

    When the Germans and Austrians occupied southern Russia in early 1918 after the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with the Bolsheviks, they set up a puppet state in Ukraine, including Odessa, which they garrisoned with thirty thousand troops.  Their presence put an end to the reign of terror that the Bolsheviks had unleashed in the city after their October takeover.  But not all the Bolsheviks fled.  Some went underground instead, plotting how to expel the occupiers and their local allies, and waging a persistent, low-grade guerilla war that marked daily life in Odessa.  Ukrainian police bristling with guns stood on every street corner and could kill on sight any civilian carrying a firearm.  Despite this, the city regularly echoed with the sounds of gunfire and explosions, as Bolsheviks sniped at sentries and blew up supply depots. 

    There was an even greater danger for Frederick and other civilians than being accidentally caught in crossfire.  In Odessa as in Moscow, the Bolsheviks had thrown open all the prisons after their putsch and several thousand thieves and murderers had spilled out onto the streets.  Thus reinforced, the city’s notorious criminal gangs—which were comparable in their larger-than-life brazenness to Chicago gangsters from the 1920s—instituted their own reign of terror against the city’s inhabitants, whom they burglarized, robbed, and murdered on the streets, in their homes, and in their businesses.  The “king” of Odessa’s underworld was nicknamed “Mishka Yaponchik,” or “Mikey the Little Jap” (real name, Moisey Vinnitsky) and crimes committed by his gang and their ilk were so numerous that most remained unreported. 

     

    The “king” of Odessa’s underworld “Mishka Yaponchik,” or “Mikey the Little Jap”

     

    Odessa was especially dangerous at night.  Many eyewitnesses recalled how gunfire that began on the city’s outskirts at dusk gradually crept toward the center as the darkness thickened; after midnight, small arms fire, grenade explosions, and even machine guns would erupt in the city’s heart. 

    A prominent lawyer who risked walking to the well-known London Hotel late one night counted 122 gunshots from various directions during the 12 minutes that he was outside.  The firing lasted all night long and it was hard to tell who was shooting at whom—Bolsheviks at soldiers, or criminals at barricaded homeowners; most times, it was both. 

    Frederick owned an expensive villa in Odessa located in an outlying, sparsely populated area that would have been easy prey for thieves who would not hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way.  Frederick was also sufficiently prominent to have been mentioned in local newspapers when he arrived in the summer of 1918, together with other notable entrepreneurs and entertainers from Moscow and Petrograd, which increased the chances of his becoming a target.  Between Bolsheviks on the one hand, who were still eager to finish settling accounts with the “bourgeoisie,” and traditional thieves on the other, he would have found it prudent to move himself and his family to the city center, where there was at least some safety in numbers.

    But even with bullets and other threats swarming around them, Odessites were still free in ways that had become impossible in the Bolshevik north.  The Germans and Austrians had no interest in establishing a radically different social and economic order or in reengineering human beings, and thus largely left the local population to its own initiatives.  As a result, the city’s residents could pursue all their favorite pastimes and forms of dissipation, which they did with a feverish zeal that contemporaries likened to a feast during a plague. 

    During the day, the handsome streets overflowed with colorful and polyglot southern crowds.  People filled the elegant stores, restaurants, and popular cafes like Robinat and Fanconi, which also doubled as exchanges for hordes of speculators trading currencies, cargoes from abroad, abandoned estates in Bolshevik territory, anything of value.  At night, people flocked to theaters, restaurants, café-chantants, gambling dens, and dives specializing in sex or drugs, throwing money around as if it had lost all value, trying to grab as much pleasure as they could from life and to forget its horrors. 

    As the champagne corks popped and singers warbled indoors, businesses and homeowners bolted their iron shutters and locked their entrance doors.  The city center took on an eerily empty appearance late at night, as if the entire population had died out.  The sudden noise of a crowd leaving a theater or cinema and scattering rapidly broke a silence that was otherwise punctuated only by sporadic gunshots.  Cabs were hard to find and drivers demanded enormous fares to venture out, which forced people to take special precautions if they had to walk any distance. 

    One naval officer recalled being instructed as follows:  if you see someone on the street, and especially two or three people, cross over to the other side immediately and take the safety off your revolver.  If the person or persons follow you, open fire without warning.

    Frederick Thomas at Gunpoint

    Frederick later described the hysterical scene that followed his unexpected arrival in the apartment of his estranged wife, Valli (I was very fortunate to find his handwritten letter to an American consular official in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland; I preserve Frederick's spelling): 

    the Woman forced her Bolshevik Lover to attempt to kill me and only my little Girl and my Son, who was a Child then too . . . saved me from beeing thus killed, because they screamed aloud and the Bolshevik let me go. 

    During the ensuing confusion and in his haste to get away, Frederick managed to take only Mikhail with him (where his oldest daughter, Olga, was at this time is unclear).  Irma remained in the apartment and Frederick would in fact never see her again. 

    Whether Irma stayed with Valli willingly or was kept by her (Valli had been the only mother Irma had known), and whether Valli kept Irma out of love or because of calculation, the little girl became the primary victim of the adults’ emotional battle.  Indeed, Irma would remain a pawn between Frederick and Valli for years after they parted.

    After the dangerous encounter with the commissar, Frederick realized that he had to put as much distance between himself and Valli as possible. 

    This is when the radical revision of family laws by the new regime played into Frederick’s hands (and as far as he was concerned, this was the only good thing that had come of it).  The Soviet government issued its first decrees on marriage and divorce just two months after the Revolution, on December 18, 1917.  These could not have been simpler or more “progressive”:  a court would grant a divorce even if only one of the parties wanted it; the request did not even have to be written but could be made orally; and no reasons or explanations had to be given.  Henceforth, the new Soviet state would also recognize only civil marriages, which would be performed by clerks in a new Bureau of Vital Statistics. 

    Another provision that was especially welcome from Frederick’s point of view was that the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children was eliminated.  (On the other hand, parents could no longer pass on an inheritance to their children, which was a deeply troubling prospect for a rich property owner like him.)  Frederick took advantage of these new laws and in a coordinated series of steps, at a courthouse near his home as required by the regulations, divorced Valli, married Elvira, and legalized the status of her sons Fedya and Bruce; thereafter, Elvira always used “Thomas” as her surname.  She and the four children could now set out on their long and arduous journey to Odessa. 

     

    Frederick Thomas shortly after his marriage on January 5, 1913, to his second wife “Valli,” together with his children by his first wife, Hedwig—Irma, approximately 4 years old, Olga, 11, and Mikhail, 6 ½.  The men with Frederick are unidentified; on the left may be a relative of Valli’s; on the right, Frederick’s business partner, M. P. Tsarev.

    Frederick’s Fortune and the Bolsheviks

    Everything changed for Frederick Thomas when the Bolsheviks seized power at gunpoint in November of 1917.  They began a brutally violent transformation of all aspects of life in Russia (which I describe in some detail in my book), including a radical redistribution of wealth. 

    Among their early actions was a wave of bank seizures, but when these failed to generate the huge sums they wanted to consolidate their power internally and to start projecting it abroad--where they hoped to ignite a worldwide revolution--they turned to the contents of private safe deposit boxes.  Throughout the country, people with boxes were ordered to come to their banks and to bring their keys; they were then made to witness the inventorying and confiscation of the contents by armed soldiers who supervised the bank’s employees.  If owners did not come when summoned because they had resigned themselves to losing their valuables or had already fled, the boxes were simply broken open.

     

     

    Ivan A. Vladimirov, “The Requisitioning of Safes.  December 1917.”

    (Central State Museum of Contemporary History of Russia)

     

    In Moscow and Petrograd, thousands of people lost everything when their boxes were emptied:  war bonds, corporate equities, deeds to real estate, foreign currency, gold and silver coins, jewelry, platinum, and precious stones.  One man in Petrograd later recalled what it was like watching this: 

    Tables were set up in the vault at which employees were seated.  All around stood the safe deposit boxholders whose boxes were to be opened. The plan followed was to remove all valuables . . . ., which were subject to confiscation for the welfare of the state, and to make it impossible for the owner of any particular object later to identify his property. . . .  In a case such as mine, where the valuables were wrapped up in packages, the wrappers were torn open and the particular object was tossed on the pile.

    The Bolsheviks had hoped to amass the equivalent of 100 to 150 billion dollars in today’s money.  And even though they failed to get that much, in Moscow alone by the summer of 1918 they confiscated the contents of 35,493 safes, which yielded half a ton of gold, silver, and platinum bullion, some 700,000 rubles in gold, silver, and platinum coin, 65 million tsarist rubles, 600 million rubles in public and private bonds, and large sums in foreign currencies.  This was only a fraction of the total number of safes in the city; the others were cracked later.

    This is how Frederick lost much of his fortune as well.  The rest of what he had was tied up in real estate  . . . (to be continued).

    Frederick Thomas & Puerto Rico

    Frederick never went to Puerto Rico, but his biographer did.  In fact, I am here now, on Sunday, December 29, which is why I decided to use this misleading title. The photo above was taken this morning at the famous El Morro fort in Old San Juan.

    And I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to send all of you--who have been good enough to follow my weekly blog during the past year--my warmest wishes for a Happy 2014!

    Frederick spent time in various appealing vacation destinations during his adventurous life:  Ostend in Belgium; Cannes on the French Riviera; Monte Carlo; Odessa and other places on Russia's Black Sea coast; towns on the Bosporus near Istanbul.  If I grant myself some biographer's license, I can easily imagine him enjoying the Caribbean, too, although not Puerto Rico, which became an American possession in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War, or four years after Frederick left the US, never to return.

    I look forward to returning next week with regular entries in my "The Black Russian Blog," and a continuation of "Frederick Thomas and the Russian Revolution(s)."

    Frederick Thomas and the Russian Revolution(s)

    Frederick could scarcely have chosen a worse time to invest in Moscow because exactly one week after he bought the Cantacuzene-Speransky property on February 16, 1917, the first, “February” Revolution of 1917 broke out (it was actually March in the West, but the Russian calendar was thirteen days behind).  This event, which involved the abdication of the emperor and the establishment of a “Provisional Government” (I describe it all in more detail in my book) was initially greeted with widespread euphoria, especially among the urban classes and national minorities, who believed that the country had finally thrown off tsarist tyranny and would now be transformed into a constitutional democracy. 

    However, that spring and summer, as a new order struggled unsuccessfully to emerge out of the growing chaos, optimism gradually faded.  For many, hope died altogether less than a year later, after the second, “October” Revolution of 1917 (November in the West), which spawned a range of horrors unprecedented even in Russia’s frequently grim history. 

    In March 1917, however, no one could anticipate what was coming. 

    Theatrical life in Moscow started to adapt to the country’s new political reality very quickly, although many of the changes were relatively superficial and most theatrical activities went on as before, with profits continuing to roll in.  The city’s new “Commissar” renamed the former “Imperial” theaters “Moscow State Theaters”; he also gave oversight for all of the city’s popular theaters, circuses, cinemas, and cabarets to the new “Soviet [or “Council”] of the Theatrical Society.” 

    In the Bolshoy Theater, one of the city’s most prestigious venues for high culture, the super-patriotic nineteenth-century opera A Life for the Tsar was dropped from the repertoire. 

    By contrast, with the elimination of the imperial censorship and a marked decrease in the church’s influence on public life, lewd and irreverent plays that would have been impossible under the old regime and that often ridiculed Rasputin and his relations with the imperial family began to be staged widely:  some typical titles include Rasputin’s Happy Days, Grishka’s Harem [“Grishka” is a Russian pejorative diminutive for “Grigory,” Rasputin’s first name], The Crash of the Firm “Romanov and Co.”

    Frank nudity, another crowd pleaser, also began to appear on the variety theater stage, including Frederick's Aquarium, although still under the veil of ennobling references to classical antiquity, such as the story of Phryne, a courtesan in Ancient Greece who was brought before a court on a charge of blasphemy, but acquitted because of her beauty:

     

     “Mme. Khristoforova in the role of Phryne,” a tableau vivant on the stage of Aquarium’s “Music Hall” (Rampa i zhizn’, June 18, 1917, p. 12)

     

    (To be continued)

    Frederick’s Biggest Investment in Moscow at the Worst Possible Time

    Far more important than the property’s lofty provenance for Frederick (please see my previous post) was its cost and the income it would produce.  He paid 425,000 rubles, which is roughly equivalent to $7,000,000 today.  With this purchase, Frederick had completed the process of investing most of the money that he had accumulated during the Great War.  His focus on land and buildings, which included a villa he bought earlier in Odessa, must have reflected not only his desire to put roots even more deeply into his adopted country, but also his conviction that real wealth was tied to real property, something that must have been impressed upon him by his parents during his youth in Mississippi.  Frederick’s purchase at this moment in Russian history also reflects a trait of his character that would reemerge forcibly later in Constantinople—a conviction that he would surely prevail against any looming threats.  It is likely that he got this from his parents as well, both of whom fought tenaciously for what they believed was theirs. 

    Early in 1917 Russia was a deeply troubled land:  the war was going badly, strikes were constantly breaking out everywhere, food shortages had become more acute during the bitterly cold winter, and there was widespread yearning across class lines for radical political, economic, and social change.  According to an American businessman who was an eyewitness, the number of police in Moscow had been increased greatly in January and early February; they were also seen transporting machine guns to strategic points and preparing barricades in preparation for violent demonstrations.  In light of what he could see all around, Frederick’s purchase was a demonstratively optimistic act:  an expression of faith that all the country’s problems would pass—presumably as similar ones already had in the 1905 Revolution—and that he would personally emerge unscathed. 

    Frederick believed that he had made a sound investment and was proud of the property he had acquired:  he would later characterize it as “one of the finest apartment buildings in Moscow.”  The three handsome main buildings facing the streets were three stories high and decorated with balconies on the second floor; there were also two one-story structures in the courtyard flanking a two-story building.  All were built of stone and well maintained; and all were connected to the city’s sewer system, which was not very common in Moscow at the time.  Uniformed doormen guarded the two main entrances and the grand staircases that led to the residential sections of the buildings; watchmen patrolled the perimeter and courtyard at night; the property was well illuminated, including the service stairs; and the sidewalks around the buildings were kept clean and in good repair.  The entire property was approximately three-quarters of an acre, which was a sizeable footprint in the built-up city center where land prices were high.  The six buildings comprised thirty-eight rental units of varying sizes, including fifteen apartments, ten shops and small businesses, storage spaces, and a half-dozen rooms used by the eminently respectable, private, Raevsky High School for Women. 

    Three years before Frederick bought the property, the two Cantacuzene-Speransky brothers who owned it cleared 23,000 rubles in annual profit, which was the equivalent of approximately $500,000 today.  Because prices on everything had risen by 1917 and Moscow had gotten even more crowded as a result of the war, Frederick could count on an even larger sum and would have no difficulty finding new tenants whenever he needed them.  He had reached the apogee of his personal fortune and must have thought that his future looked very bright indeed.

    But February 16, 1917—the date Frederick bought this property—was just one week before the outbreak of what became known as the February Revolution, an event that spelled the death of the country that had adopted him and that he had embraced in return.

    Frederick Thomas, Moscow Real Estate, and Ulysses S. Grant

    Frederick was making so much money during the Great War that he decided to invest in additional property in Moscow.  On February 16, 1917 (a noteworthy date, as we will see in my next post!) he signed documents that made him the owner of six adjoining, mixed-use buildings on one of the main spokes of the Moscow street wheel, with the addresses 2 Karetny Ryad Street, 1 Sredny Karetny Lane, and 2 Maly Karetny Lane.  Karetny Ryad Street was a major thoroughfare then, as it is to this day.  This location is less than a mile from the Kremlin, and, in an ironic twist, was (and still is) across the street from the Hermitage Garden, the one serious competitor for Frederick’s Aquarium Garden. 

     

    Remodeled buildings on the site of the property Frederick Thomas bought in 1917 in central Moscow across from Hermitage Garden;  view from Karetny Ryad Street.  Sredny Karetny Lane is on the right. (Photograph by author, 2007)


    The property’s previous owners were two brothers who belonged to an aristocratic Russian family distinguished by having not one but two resonant titles, as a result of which each was simultaneously Prince Cantacuzene and Count Speransky (the first title is believed to reflect descent from a fifteenth-century Byzantine emperor).

    Frederick must have been amused by the coincidence that one of the brothers had a prominent connection to the United States.  In 1899, Prince Mikhail Mikhaylovich Cantacuzene, Count Speransky, married Julia Dent Grant, the granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union Armies during the Civil War and eighteenth President of the United States.  Julia had in fact been born in the White House during her grandfather’s presidency, and after her marriage lived in Russia with her husband, who was a close aide to Tsar Nicholas II and eventually rose to the rank of general.  After the Revolution, these Cantacuzene-Speranskys escaped to the United States, from where they initially tried to support opponents of the Bolsheviks (Mikhail Mikhaylovich even returned to Russia in 1919 to fight in the Russian civil war); but after that failed they turned to business interests in Florida. 

    Who in Hopson Bayou, Mississippi, could ever have imagined that a black native son would be involved in a property transaction in Moscow with a family such as this?

    (To be continued)

    Hollywood Beckons to THE BLACK RUSSIAN

     

     

     

    I now have a formal agreement with a film director who wants to make my book into a movie or a TV miniseries.  This is exciting news, even though the distance that Frederick Thomas would have to travel to get onto the screen—silver or HDTV—is still very great.  There are all sorts of potential pitfalls on the path to making a film adaptation; but an agreement like this is the essential first step.

    Frederick’s life (1872-1928) has a kind of inherent cinematic sweep to it because it spanned the rural Deep South, Gilded Age Chicago and New York, the major cities of Western Europe, Moscow, and Constantinople; Frederick also lived through the Great War, the Russian Revolutions and civil war, the Allied occupation of Constantinople, and the birth of modern Turkey.  It would be wonderful to have the story of how he reinvented himself shown against these backgrounds.  And since he ran famous nightspots in exotic locales, the possibilities for vivid scenes are increased even more.

    The next step is for the director and his associates to secure financing for the project.  The goal is an English-language production with worldwide distribution.  But there are other possibilities as well.

    Stay tuned.

    A Digression from Frederick Thomas to a Revolutionary Terrorist

    The twenty years that Frederick spent in Russia, starting in 1899, were marked by ever-increasing violence and social upheaval—political assassinations, strikes, pogroms, the imperial regime’s executions of revolutionaries and demonstrators, the revolution of 1905, millions of deaths during the Great War—all culminating in the revolutions of 1917 and the civil war of 1917-1921.

    I’m in London now to do research on a person who played a role in much of this violence, the revolutionary terrorist Boris Savinkov—the subject of my next book.  An implacable foe of the imperial regime, he orchestrated the assassination of a prime minister in 1904 and of a grand duke, the tsar’s uncle, in 1905 (who was literally blown to bits inside the Kremlin).  Although a socialist himself, Savinkov hated the Bolsheviks, whom he saw as betraying the needs of Russia’s largely agrarian population.  Thus, after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, he started uprisings against them in several cities near Moscow and plotted to assassinate Lenin and Trotsky.  He also did not trust the Whites who were fighting the Reds in the Russian civil war and organized a Russian army in Poland to fight the Bolsheviks. When this failed, he tried to get several European leaders to help him in his campaign, including Churchill and Mussolini.  However, in the end, the Soviet political police managed to lure Savinkov back to Russia, and he died under murky circumstances in the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow in 1925.  The official version was that he committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window. 

    This is a very incomplete sketch of just some of the activities of this remarkable man.  Among other things, he wrote novels, poetry, journalism, and a memoir, all of which are extremely interesting sources of information about him.

    The British paid keen attention to Russia during the Great War and afterwards, as a result of which the National Archives in London hold a rich store of documents about this period.  There are also some valuable documents about Savinkov’s activities from 1917 onward.  The National Archives are a wonderful place to work—comfortable, efficient (you get the documents you want in 40 minutes or less), very user-friendly in all respects.  I had worked in them before, when I was researching Frederick’s life.

    It is remarkable to think that Frederick and Savinkov were contemporaries.  Although there is no evidence that they met, one could easily fantasize about their passing each other on a street in Moscow in 1905.  And there is no doubt that Frederick had heard of Savinkov because of how notorious the latter had become after Frederick settled in Moscow.

    The National Archives, Kew, London, England

    Frederick Thomas’s Attempted Big Play in Petrograd

     

    Ciniselli Circus on Fontanka Embankment, no. 3, Saint Petersburg, c. 1900.  Frederick Thomas took part in an auction for a long-term lease on this building in December 1915.

    During the summer of 1915, rumors in Russian theatrical circles had begun to spread that the Ciniselli Circus in Petrograd was going to be put up for auction.  This was an exciting possibility, because for all of Moscow’s economic and cultural importance, it was still the country’s second city; a chance to expand to Petrograd was therefore not to be missed. 

    Moreover, the Ciniselli Circus was a prestigious and potentially very lucrative venue.  It was the oldest permanent building of its kind in Russia as well as one of the most famous in all of Europe.  Constructed of stone in 1877 by the head of a famous Italian circus family in an excellent location in the city center, the Ciniselli Circus was capacious, ornately decorated inside and out, and adaptable for different kinds of performances—including vaudeville—on its circular stage, which was surrounded by concentric tiers of seats under a high, domed ceiling.  It was also very popular with the cream of Petrograd society, from the imperial family on down.  Whoever won this trophy property would enter the ranks of Russia’s best-known showmen.

    The auction was scheduled for December 7 and Frederick travelled to Petrograd to take part in it.  A motley array of other major players also participated:  Akim Nikitin, the longtime owner of Moscow’s best-known circus that bore his name; Anton Marchand, a prominent businessman of French extraction who owned Petrograd’s best sausage factory and shop, as well as the city’s second, more “democratic” circus; and Ivan Radunsky, whose stage name was “Bim” and who was half of a popular comic musical act known as “Bim-Bom.”  Fyodor Chaliapin, the internationally famous operatic bass, was interested in creating his own opera house and was reportedly represented by an agent as well. 

    The Ciniselli family’s forty-year lease on the land where their building stood was about to expire and the city government’s somewhat byzantine plan was to auction off another long-term lease to the property for an annual sum that included use of the existing building or the option to reconstruct it. 

    The stakes were for the highest of rollers:  bidding would start at an annual rent of 60,000 rubles (approximately $2,000,000 today) and all participants had to provide a deposit of 30,000 rubles to show they were serious.  With such high rent, the property could be expected to generate spectacular profits; but the risks would also be great if anything went wrong. 

    When the bidding started, the minimum was quickly left behind.  Aleksandr Davydov, a former tenor in the city’s imperial opera who had turned entrepreneur, bid 73,000 rubles.  Nikitin from Moscow offered 76,000; then Frederick topped him with 78,000.  This was his maximum and for a few heartbeats he waited anxiously.  But someone quickly offered 80,000 and Frederick realized that he was out (he would not realize for several months how lucky he had been in escaping even more serious disappointment). 

    The sums continued to increase until only two competitors were left.  Scipio Ciniselli, the current leaseholder and son of the founder, bid 82,125.  This is when a certain Aksarin, the man who had identified himself as Chaliapin’s representative, made his move and bid 87,000 rubles.  After this, there was silence—his offer, the equivalent of $2,700,000 was too rich for the others.

    Frederick had no reason to stay in Petrograd after the auction and left for home, but the Ciniselli Circus story was not over yet.  The Cinisellis had been fixtures in the city’s entertainment circles for decades.  They were rich and had connections.  At least two attractive female members of the family who had been trick riders on the circus stage had caught the eyes of grand dukes.  The day after the auction, Scipio Ciniselli presented himself to the functionaries in the city government who were in charge of confirming the new lease and explained that, upon reflection, he could not bear parting with a property that had been in his family for forty years; he was, therefore, raising his bid to 87,500 rubles.  Moreover, he added, Aksarin was not a serious bidder because he could not possibly afford to make the renovations that the building required. 

    The functionaries initially made a show of rejecting Ciniselli’s unorthodox move and confirmed the result of the auction, albeit with the stipulation that Aksarin would need to provide details about how he planned to use the building.  But a few months later, when all the excitement had quieted down, Scipio Ciniselli suddenly and mysteriously emerged from the bureaucratic fog as the property’s renewed leaseholder. 

    Rumor suggested that this was not without the collusion of Mr. Aksarin, who had apparently bargained with the city bureaucracy about lowering the annual rent that he had bid, and then “returned” his renegotiated rental agreement to its “rightful” owner—in exchange for a certain sum of money, to be sure.  If Frederick and the others had known that the auction was going to devolve into an elaborate charade with Aksarin as a front man for Ciniselli, they would not have bothered to get involved. 

    However, when the rumors of the rigged auction did reach Frederick, he could not have been very surprised.  He knew from firsthand experience how things could—in fact, often had—to be arranged with city governments.  If anything, he might have been impressed and amused by the nervy way that Ciniselli had managed to shut out interlopers with designs on his property and to keep what was his.

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