Tim Russell: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions -- Guy Noir, Private Eye --


Garrison Keillor: It was January, cold, snowy, a draft blowing through a broken window pane, and I looked for something to stuff in it, and I find a Russian novel called The Curse of the Romanoffs by somebody named Kiirakov, and opened it, and it's January, cold, snowy, and the main character Prince Nikolai is sitting in a room with a draft blowing through it-- (RUSSIAN STING)


TR (RUSSIAN): The Revolution is at hand, Natasha, and before I die, I wish to do something to help the peasants. I think about them living in their squalid huts. Maybe we should bring them some hot borscht.

Sue Scott (RUSSIAN): You are such an idealist, Prince Nikolai Andreyevich. And what do you mean, "before you die"?

TR (RUSSIAN): I have tuberculosis. (COUGHS)

SS (RUSSIAN): Are you sure?

TR (RUSSIAN): I went to see Dr. Zhivago.

SS (RUSSIAN): Dr. Chicago?

TR (RUSSIAN): Dr. Zhivago. Lara's friend.

SS (RUSSIAN): Zhivago!!!! He's a lousy doctor. Lousy. He isn't even a very good poet.

TR (RUSSIAN): He says it's tuberculosis.

SS (RUSSIAN): He says that about everybody. It's probably a sinus infection. You don't drink enough vodka. And you sit in drafts. That's your problem.

TR (RUSSIAN): I look at the winter, the birch trees, I see death coming for me. I want to educate the peasants. I want to give my money to the University.

SS (RUSSIAN): University!!!!

TR (RUSSIAN): The University of Minnesota.

SS (RUSSIAN): Minnesota!!! Why???

TR (RUSSIAN): I don't know. I love the idea of a University named for a little rat. The gophers. Think of it. What a humble people. Other schools are Tigers, Lions, Spartans. They are gophers. (COUGHING) (BRIDGE)

GK: I read on to the next chapter where the Revolution breaks out (HORSES WHINNYING, GUNSHOTS, SHOUTS) and Prince Nikolai leaves his palace when the Czar is overthrown (TR RUSSIAN SHOUT) and he takes a large black wooden chest with him (TR RUSSIAN SHOUT) and loads it onto a wagon (TR RUSSIAN) and drives away at top speed (WHIP, WHINNY, HOOVES) and down to the wharf and boards a steamship (SHOUTS, RIGGING, BLAST OF WHISTLE), the last steamship to leave Petrograd, and sails to America -- (RIFFLING PAGES) the rest of the book was missing -- (BRIDGE) Just on the odd chance that he may have made it to Minnesota, I looked in the phone book under Romanov (TURNING PAGES) and found an address in Northeast Minneapolis...and drove there (CAR SLOWING, STOPPING) -- it was a old neighborhood, near the Russian Orthodox church (BELLS IN BELFRY, FOOTSTEPS IN SNOW)...the house was a big brick house with turrets and a high pitched roof, with a rusted gate (GATE OPEN, FOOTSTEPS) and I walked up to the front door...(KNOCK) -- and I saw a shadowy figure inside...

SS (RUSSIAN, DEEP): Yes? Who is it?

GK: Mrs. Romanov??

SS (RUSSIAN, DEEP): Yes. Who is it?

GK: It's a friend of Nicolai Andreyevich, ma'am.



GK: The room was dim. Steam rose from a samovar. The walls were hung with carpets and religious icons and portraits of the Czar's family. The woman wore a fur coat and a fur hat and thick glasses and her teeth were the color of lead.

SS (RUSSIAN, DEEP): A glass of tea, Mr--

GK: Noir. Guy Noir. Yes, tea for me. No sugar.

SS (RUSSIAN, DEEP): It is very strong tea. I think you will want sugar. (SNEEZE) Pardon me. (WIPES NOSE)

GK: May I tell you something, Mrs. Romanov?

SS (RUSSIAN, MALE): Tell me what, Mr. Noir?

GK: You're not Russian and you're not a old woman.

SS (RUSSIAN, MALE): How can you say that?

GK: When you sneezed your coat flopped open and I saw your T-shirt. It said Juicy Lucy. And old women don't paint their fingernails black.

SS: Okay. Whatever. (STING)

GK: She took off the fur hat and glasses and took out the false teeth (SPIT) and there was a beautiful young woman, blonde, green eyes.

SS: I'm Janice Nelson. I'm a student at the University.

GK: Good job of acting, Janice. What's the story?

SS: You're not a cop, are you?

GK: Private eye. Whole different line of work.

SS: It's like this, Mr. Noir. (BRIDGE)

GK: She told she came to Minneapolis from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and was looking for a room to rent and found this house and the old Russian couple. They had an extra room and were lonely for company.

SS: They let me have stay here for nothing, with one condition: that I eat supper with them every evening. So I did. It was perfect. And then he died. And the old lady went crazy. She didn't know where she was anymore. She thought it was Petrograd, 1917. -- Was there some kind of Revolution then?

GK: Right. Very observant of you. She talked about that.

SS: She talked about a chist. What is a chist?

GK: A chist?

SS: She kept pointing at the floor and saying, Chist, chist.

GK: Perhaps she meant, schist.

SS: Shist?

GK: It's a rock. There are whole layers of schist underground.

SS: But why would she be so anxious about underground rock?

GK: Some people are really into geology.

SS: Anyway, I had to put her into assisted living. She was very agitated before she left. She was pointing down at the floor and she wrote a word on a piece of paper. Cell. C-e-l-l.

GK: Cell.

SS: So I bought her a cellphone.

GK: Ah. Nice of you. And then you started dressing up as Mrs. Romanoff, huh, Janice?

SS: I didn't want to lose the apartment. It was such a great deal. And the Romanoffs were such a mystery to me. Why all the pictures of royalty? I don't get it.

GK: What's your major, Janice?

SS: English.

GK: Aha. Well, the Romanoffs were a famous family in old Russia. (KNOCKS ON DOOR)

SS: Oh oh-- you get that-- I'll go put on my costume. (FOOTSTEPS)

GK: Yeah, who's there?


GK: Rico. What you want?

TR (RICO): I could ask you the same thing.

GK: I asked first.

TR (RICO): Looking for a certain Mr. and Mrs. Romanoff.

GK: They aren't here.

TR (RICO): You a friend of the family?

GK: Could be.

TR (RICO): Mind if I wait inside?

GK: I do.

TR (RICO): Okay. -- Listen. I'll make a deal. You get half, I get half. Even steven. What do you say?

GK: I don't know what you're talking about.

TR (RICO): I think you do.

GK: I don't think so.

TR (RICO): The loot, Noir. Wake up and die right. The simoleons. Gelt. Green stuff. Cabbage.

GK: Nothing of that sort here, I'm sure, Rico.

TR (RICO): Okay. I'll go wait in the car then. But don't forget. I'm here and I ain't going away. (DOOR SLAM, BRIDGE)

GK: So the girl and I slipped out the back and down to a coffee shop and she told me more of the story.

SS: I've gotten so much into being Mrs. Romanoff. I drank vodka, I went to Tchaikovsky concerts, I cried during the Nutcracker. I visited her husband's grave and wept for him (RUSSIAN DEEP) He was a beautiful soul. He was an angel from heaven, my Nikolai. He took care of everybody, he never asked anything for himself. He was a saint. He was so good. But the good die young. You know what killed him? Life killed him. That's what. (SS) And now I'm graduating from the U and I'm going to miss her so much.

GK: Right.

Tom Keith: What can I get you folks?

GK: We're talking, okay?

TK: You want to order?

GK: Later.

TK: You got to order something if you sit at a table.

GK: Okay. Gimme a latte. Extra shot. No whipped cream, no sprinkles, no syrup.

TK: Tall, Grande, or Venti?

GK: Gimme the biggest one you got.

TK: That'd be the Venti.

GK: Good. Gimme that one.

TK: Which one?

GK: The biggest.

TK: We've got Tall, Grande and Venti.

GK: I'll take the last one.

TK: The Venti?

GK: Yes.

TK: Why can't you say it?

GK: I don't want to.

TK: Why not?

GK: I choose not to.

TK: Try it. Venti--

GK: Just give me one.

TK: I'd like to hear you say Venti.

GK: Then give me two mediums. Okay?

TK: Two Media. Coming up. (ESPRESSO SOUNDS)

GK: So-- Janice--you're going to move out of the house?
SS: Well, I have to. I'm graduating. I have to find a job, one with health insurance --find a husband, get a cat. Get real clothes. Can't go around in a "JUICY LUCY" t-shirt. Have to start a 401(k). (SHE SIGHS) Being an adult is going to be sooo annoying.

GK: Did you ever get the idea that Mrs. Romanoff was wealthy?

SS: I don't know. Eccentric, yes. Sometimes she'd go into the basement and lock the door behind her and I'd hear her singing down there.

GK: Wait a minute. The note she left--

SS: Cell.

GK: Maybe what she meant was--

TK: You ordered the Venti lattes, right? No whipped cream, no sprinkles, no syrup. Extra shot.

GK: Right.

TK: The Ventis, right?

GK: Yes. What you have in your hand.

TK: These are Ventis.

GK: Then put them down.

TK: I just wanted to make sure they're yours.

GK: Listen. Forget the whole thing. Come on, Janice. (STING) We made our way down the alley and in the back of the house and down to the cellar.

SS: The cellar!!!!

GK: That's what she meant to write. (FOOTSTEPS)

SS: I never come down here. It's so dark down here.

GK: You got a shovel?

SS: Snow shovel.

GK: Good enough. See that mound in the corner?

SS: Yes.

GK: Unless I'm mistaken, there's a black wooden chest under there, Janice. (BRIDGE) And a few hours later...

SS: You're right. A black wooden chest. (SHE STRAINS) My gosh, it weighs a ton. (SHE SETS IT DOWN) Oh this is so exciting. (CREAKING OF LID) Oh my gosh. I can't believe it. A big chest full of-- old books.

GK: The library of the Russian royal family.

SS: A big box full of Russian books. -- This looks like Little House on the Prairie. In Russian.

TR (RUSSIAN): It was one of my favorites. Laura and Mary and Ma and Pa in their little house on Walnut Creek.

GK: Who's that?

TR (RUSSIAN): Nicolai Sergeyevich.

GK: The guy in the novel.

TR (RUSSIAN): Exactly.

SS: He's not real?

GK: I didn't say that. He's in a novel.

SS: What do you want?

TR (RUSSIAN): I want to make sure the books go to the University to educate the peasants.

GK: Did you hear that?

SS: I did.

GK: Good. It's always a relief when somebody talks and I'm not the only one who hears it.

TR (RICO): I heard it too. Me. Rico. Standing over here. I'm not in a novel. I'm in the corner. Holding a gun.

GK: What you want, Rico?

TR (RICO): Three guesses and the first two don't count. I'm gonna sell those books on e-Bay and earn me a bundle.

SS: You and I could make a life together, Rico. Go to the Caribbean. Buy an island.

TR (RICO): I don't care for sunshine. It depresses me.

SS: Go to Norway. Buy an island.

TR (RICO): I don't care for herring.

SS: Go to the Orkney Islands. Buy an Orkney.

GK: He's too old for you, Janice. It'd never work.

SS: We could make it work. Money would be a great incentive to make it work.
TR (RUSSIAN): Money can't buy you happiness.

SS: I know. That's why they invented credit cards.

TR (RUSSIAN): Tragedy is where we find happiness, Janice. Tragedy is the richness of life.

GK: Is that why you wanted to educate the peasants--?

TR (RUSSIAN): Of course. The peasants are stupid and happy. They drink their beer, eat their sausage, dance, tell jokes, go home, go to bed, pass out. When they are educated, they give up drinking, become vegan, watch the dance, analyze jokes, go home, and lie awake all night worrying about the meaning of life.

GK: Outta my way, Rico. We're taking these books to the University library.

TR (RICO): Not before I look at em and ascertain where there may be money hidden in the pages of the aforementioned books.

GK: There's a curse on these books, Rico.

TR (RICO): Oh yeah? Well maybe I don't believe in curses. Let's have a look at this one here. (TURNING PAGES SLOWLY): Hmmm. Interesting. Huh. Lookit that. (HE GOES ON, MURMURING)

SS: What's the curse?

GK: The curse is that anyone who opens these books sits down and starts reading them.

SS: Oh right.

GK: It happens to people cleaning out basements, it happens to scholars. You open up a box of books and a thousand years passes and you sit there collecting dust and cobwebs.

SS: I'm getting out of here.

GK: I think that's exactly what you should do.


TR: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions...Guy Noir, Private Eye. (THEME OUT)