The Lutkar

9 Mar

Milan Ralic would never have been taken by anyone to be a doll-maker in business for himself.

How had he entered such a strange trade and odd profession? wondered his neighbors in the Dorcol area of Old Beograd. Not too many customers were ever seen visiting his dusty, dilapidated little shop on Despot Stefan Street. Somehow he survived in the economically dismal, desperate days of the 1930s in the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Milan, a small man with streaks of white in his dark brown hair, saw himself as a master artist devoted to his creation of distinctive, high-quality dolls called lutkas by Serbs. But his storage room in the rear of his shop was packed with unsold dolls of all sorts. The excellency of his products was recognized by everyone with knowledge of the field, but the economic crisis had destroyed most of his potential market. He worked with diligence, yet his stock of fine dolls grew in quantity.

The doll-maker felt financial pressure from his landlord as early as 1931. It was increasingly difficult for him to pay the rent owed. His personal life grew spare and Spartan as he squeezed out every possible dinar from rare, infrequent sales. Milan started to suffer nightmares of being ruined through bankruptcy. But he also came to dream of a fantastic solution to his troubles.

Living dolls that had minds, that he could control and direct through his own mental powers.

Milan had early in life read of and come to believe in psychic communication. He saw himself as an individual who certainly possessed such abilities, more than anyone in his profession did.

I must myself construct a new kind of lutka that my mind can speak to and order about, he consciously told himself. That is the answer to the miseries in which I live. A doll that can move and act when I send a psychic message to it.

The lutak set to work entire day and night, until in two years of labor he thought he had what he wanted and dreamed of. By early 1933, he had a doll less than twenty centimeters in height that moved on its own and carried out the instructions that he projected mentally onto its wooden body.

What was he to do with this miraculous wonder?

Milan decided he did not dare expose it to the public or the world of science. Instead, it was to be an instrument that brought him money through theft and burglary.

This marvel of his genius was to become his criminal assistant in the amassing of untold wealth.

The name that its creator gave to the new type of lutka was Bogdan.

It had an innocent child’s smooth face. The hair was a chestnut shade of brown, similar to that of the doll-maker, but without the streaks of white in it.

The stony black eyes had an eerie slyness to them. Bogdan was meant to have the character of a lopov who specialized in provala and break-in.

Milan spoke to the psychic doll as if it were his own son, both with his voice and his mind.

“You shall become the champion razbojnik of our native Beograd, dear Bogdan. What you accomplish in terms of robbery and plachka will astonish the circles of crime here in the city. The police will never guess that it is a short, small boy like you who takes away the valuables and expensive items that you bring back with you.

“We shall become very rich persons from what you obtain for us. All that will be necessary is that you follow the instructions I give you with total obedience and loyalty. I know that you will steal with success what I command you to take.

“Our first target will be a number of jewels on display in the showcases of a jeweler’s shop here in the Dorcol neighborhood, over in the shadow of the old Kalemegdan Fortress. That will be your first assignment, my beloved one. I am confident that you shall perform the task with perfection, for that is the way that I made you.”

Bogdan did not have hearing or speaking ability, for those were unnecessary for his profession as a burglar of stores holding valuable articles for which there existed an underground, criminal market in Old Beograd. The doll was taught how to cut class and steal through doors and windows.

Milan became familiar with the interior of establishments where small, expensive items were on sale. He made drawings that helped instruct Bogdan on what he was to take away with him. Posing as a potential buyer, the lutkar calculated the optimum means of entry and exit for his little assistant. Basement windows were convenient entry points. The razbojnik became expert at its craft of purloining objects for which there was an illegal demand even in a time of Depression in the Yugoslav economy.

There was an obvious need for an underworld trgovac, a merchant skilled in buying and selling hot items of loot. Through gossip, Milan heard word of a used merchandise dealer in the Savamala neighborhood whose names was Dragan Kostic. He sought out this man who acted as a “fence” who paid without asking any questions about how the goods were obtained.

Dragan proved to be a fat, oily figure with a perpetual, captivating smile across his circular face.

The doll-maker introduced himself upon entering the store packed with a wide variety of wares of all sorts. “I am not in a position to afford an immediate purchase, but I can offer you certain very promising objects that I am certain you would have great interest in, sir.”

“What is it that you have to offer me?” inquired the grinning trgovac with evident curiosity.

“Jewelry and gems,” replied Milan, smiling back. “Would you like to have a look at what I am the owner of? I have some of the things in the suitcase that I walked in here with.”

“Yes,” said Dragan in a honeyed tone. “I am sure that I would.”

Thus began trading that turned out to be very profitable for the maker of the psychic doll named Bogdan.

Robberies occurred in various sections of Beograd: Vracar, Zemun, Savski Venac, and Savamala. These crimes lacked clues as to who the perpetrator might be. Investigators sensed a vague mystery about the unusual nature of the crimes as gems, jewelry, rare coins, perfumes, and art objects disappeared from the places where they were offered for sale.

Milan Ralic began to accumulate funds in his bank account and pay off outstanding bills and debts.

Constant questions originated with Dragan Kostic about the source of all the valuables that he fenced for the doll-maker.

“I wonder at the amounts and varieties of expensive goods that you are able to furnish me,” gasped the trader with evident frustration. “It is frustrating that you continue to keep your sources unknown. Why should you have any doubts about my loyalty and discretion? Haven’t I proven myself to be your trustworthy ally and partner in all our work?”

Milan stared at the merchant without replying to anything he had asked. “Please, do not concern yourself with anything that is my business. I mind my own affairs, my friend, and you should do the same. That is what I advise you.”

With that, the doll-maker turned around and walked away.

It was past midnight when Milan exited his shop carrying a large suitcase. He slowly walked down the sidewalk, unaware that a thick figure stood behind a corner watching him move away.

The doll creator made it to a store selling clocks and watches on Solunska St., halting in order to bend down over the case he had set on the pavement and opening it.

Dragan, the merchant in purloined goods, gazed in wonder from a distant position along the street.

A short, small figure dressed in black emerged, walking away from Milan, toward the glass display window of the clockmaker’s establishment.

The strange little form held a glass-cutting instrument in its hands and began to make a circular incision in the surface of the front display window. Milan stood at a distance of about fifteen meters away from the vandal whose intent was to steal an object that was located in the front window of the shop. The short arms of the creature reached in and pulled an expensive, ornate lady’s clock out of those exhibited there, then carry the timer and the cutter back to where Milan stood waiting with the suitcase.

The clock-maker placed the stolen clock, the cutter, and the childlike figure into the suitcase and made his escape from the scene. He was still unaware that Dragan Kostic, his brain spinning, had seen the criminal escapade proceed to is end. From a safe distance, he trailed Milan back to his doll shop.

The lutkar entered his shop through the back door facing an alleyway, into the storage room where he kept the loot from his nightly excursions with Bogdan. He removed the criminal doll and the stolen clock piece, placing both off them on a large, high work table. Tired and sleepy, the doll-maker was eager to lie down in his bedroom adjacent to this area of the store.

A disturbing knock sounded from the rear door.

Who could it be at this late hour? Milan asked himself, frightened at the idea of possible discovery.

He quickly hid the stolen clock under a large piece of cloth, leaving Bogdan atop the table as an inert doll, a product of his own hands.

With speedy steps, the lutkar hurried and opened the door. He blinked at finding it was Dragan Kostic who was standing there.

“I must see and talk with you, Milan,” roughly said the fence. “It is important for both of us.”

Dragan entered as the astonished doll-maker retreated toward the center of the storage room.

“What is this about?” Milan managed to ask hesitantly.

The surprise visitor looked him directly in the eye. “I know what you are engaged in. Your secret lopov is exposed to me because I followed you to the clock shop tonight. I know how you get hold of so many valuable merchandise, Milan. You have no more secrets left. I know everything.”

“You saw the doll that serves me?” nervously inquired the craftsman.

“I know nothing about how it is done, but I saw the robbery at the display window with my own eyes. I stood in the shadows a short distance away. Everything was clear and evident to me.”

“What are you after?” bluntly asked Milan. “What is it you want from me?”

A sinister smile crossed the thick lips and wide mouth of Dragan. “What do you think? You and your dummy will be working for me from now on. I will be deciding how much you will be paid for each item you get. And I aim to be the one who decides on what will be taken from what business in these neighborhoods of Beograd. You will no longer be chief of operations using the doll.”

Milan, in an instant, lost control over both body and mind.

He made a mad, desperate lunge toward the fat man attempting to compel him to fall into servitude to him.

Arms flew forward, fists turned into weapons of attack upon the face and head of Dragan.

The latter was unable to raise any defense whatever. His arms failed to move up in time to provide any kind of protection. The only possible escape was through sudden counterattack.

Dragan threw his considerable weight into a desperate push forward toward the smaller body carrying forth the brutal offensive on himself.

One final, total strike at the doll-maker occurred before the latter realized or sensed it.

Milan fell backwards in reverse direction, colliding with the high table upon which Bogdan lay.

His head and shoulders crashed with colossal pain that shook all parts of him.

Dragan continued his advance, leaning forward and pummeling the upper portion of his opponent.

But then the unforeseeable happened, for the merchant was in a second or so stabbed in the neck.

The knife had been resting on the top surface of the high table.

But it was not the doll-maker, but the doll itself, that made use of it to stop the terrible assault being made by Dragan.

The eyes of the latter seemed to pop with surprise and pain as the exposed neck suffered stab after stab from the knife held in the tiny hands of the entity called Bogdan.

Only after Dragan was on the wooden floor, unconscious and inert, did Milan dare raise himself off of the side of the table he had been pushed onto.

A check of the unmoving torso and its head proved that the merchant was no longer alive.

Milan turned around to discover the doll lying with eyes closed on the table top.

I must have send it a message calling for help, for immediate assistance, he told himself.

The lutkar had no specific memory, but realized that must have been what had occurred.

How could Bogdan had decided to save me without a communication from me?

Even a psychic doll cannot exercise any form of self-will, the doll-creator assured himself.

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