A Vicious Cycle

Mikhail Dodnik probably knew better than anyone else that Dalmatia was one of the most politically unstable nations in the world. It had changed governments no less than three times in 12 years. Thus, he was not surprised when the Pink Party was successful in taking over the government. And for reasons crucial to his safety, Dodnik fled Dalmatia hastily, before the Pinks consolidated their power and closed the country’s borders. Using a fake identity on a forged passport, he entered the United States and quietly disappeared.

Dodnik found a small apartment in an obscure neighborhood on Chicago’s near north side, and hoped he would have a few years of quiet anonymity before he was found and assassinated. He knew, from past government overthrows, he would be relentlessly hunted, located sooner or later, and promptly disposed of. If the communists could find Leon Trotsky in Mexico, kill him and get away with it, the Pinks could find him and do the same thing. It was only a matter of time. He would just have to wait.


* * * *


For five years after the end of World War I in 1918, Dalmatia had been a Republic. Kindly old Alexi Frapov had been elected President to satisfy the victorious Western Powers who were determined to grant self-government to every ethnic group. It was a noble but unrealistic goal. There were just too many separate groups clamoring for their own separate place. Even in Dalmatia , as small as it was, there were several different ethnic groups who wanted self-government – the Zebs, for example.

President Frapov, old, tired, and feeble, assented again and again to the various demands until he broke under their combined weight. Five years after his election the country erupted into violence. Dodnik was in his late 20s at the time and watched the ensuing chaos from the sidelines. The cure turned out to be worse than the disease. In 1923, the ruthless Brown Party came to power. Of the leaders in the deposed government, only old Frapov was spared, but he was imprisoned in a small country villa far from the capital and the seat of power. He died not long after, a disillusioned man. Dodnik remembered Frapov’s death and the fact that he had not shed a tear. Dodnik thought Frapov was a bungler. He wasn’t hard enough. Sadly, no one else in the country shed a tear either. Joseph de Maistre, the French political philosopher, is reputed to have said, “Every nation has the government it deserves.” This seemed to be the case in Dalmatia after the republic fell.

With the accession of the Browns, and during the purge that followed, Dodnik initially kept out of sight. He worked diligently at an unimportant job by day, and carried on a love affair with the Browns’ Security Minister’s wife by night. The latter proved to be a very rewarding experience in more ways than one. He had found a way to satisfy a physical need without a permanent commitment and a way to obtain highly classified information about political prisoners, the methods of their treatment and the names of individuals who were potential threats to the Brown regime without arousing suspicion. Its round-up of the Zebs, the most vocal minority, and their confinement in concentration camps never bothered Dodnik. By now, Dodnik had his own agenda, and the Zebs were no part of it. The loss of their property, their freedom and then their very lives, Dodnik ignored. Let them suffer. It’s the way of the world, he told himself.

By the time the Tan Party came to power three years later in 1926, Dodnik had been an active member of the party’s revolutionary council for some time. He worked hard and without scruple, and his efforts were rewarded with the position of Security Minister. Never was a crueler person placed in such a position of power. Dodnik ordered the arrest and execution of all the leaders of the Brown Party, past and present, from the President down. The wife of the Browns’ Security Minister was among those who were killed. Five-hundred people died. Many joined the Zebs (who Dodnik refused to release) in the concentration camps. With an iron hand he kept the Tans in power.

But as the past had so clearly shown, in Dalmatia at least, power was fleeting. The Tans fell in the fall of 1929, oddly enough concurrent with the American Stock Market. The Pinks, aided by the people who were tired of tyranny, succeeded in gaining control of the government.

Even before, the President’s office was occupied, Dodnik, with an incredible instinct for survival had abandoned his office. Wrapping himself in a shabby old coat he secretly kept in the closet for just such an emergency, Dodnik slipped away unseen to a prearranged place on the border. The coat’s lining was stuffed with American money. Trusting no one, he went alone.

Fired by their intense hatred, the Pink’s scoured the country-side searching for Dodnik, but there was no one to provide useful information, name his collaborators or identify his escape route. Dodnik had kept his own counsel. Members of the Browns, when accused of seeking revenge, said it was merely just punishment for crimes committed against the people.


* * * *


Now, in November of 1940, he sat in a small comfortable apartment in Chicago, smoking an expensive cigarette, drinking a glass of Polish vodka, and waiting for the end. For the past 11 years, at least, he had been able to live in private luxury. The lining of his coat had indeed been an excellent hiding place for the stash of United States currency he had accumulated during his reign of terror with the foresight to know that one day he would likely have to make a quick escape.

From time to time, Dodnik thought of the old days and the prisoners he had interrogated and the money and jewelry he had found on them and confiscated. Having been the Tans’ Security Minister from the first days the party achieved power, he had literally been able to do what he wanted with impunity, and he took and kept everything of value. Then, with neither glee nor regret, Dodnik had ordered them summarily executed. And why not? His Brown predecessor had done the same thing.

But now, Dodnik had other more urgent thoughts on his mind. His instinct told him it was very likely the man he had seen watching him in the liquor store the day before, and at the tobacco counter in Rosenthal’s drug store that morning, was his appointed executioner. Dodnik knew he could kill the man, but he also knew it would avail him nothing. The Pinks – and the Zebs perhaps – would only continue to send someone else until they were completely satisfied Dodnik was dead. Like other Dalmatian parties, they were not lacking in determination. Someone would eventually call him to account.

Dodnik was pouring himself another glass of vodka when he heard a sharp knock at the door. It was, of course, produced by a human hand, but to Dodnik it represented Death just the same.

“Come in,” Dodnik said without emotion. “The door’s not locked.”



Fred E. Schwartz owned and operated Baybury Books in Ephraim. He has written four books of essays, including Seasons on the Peninsula, on Door County. Fred was the publisher of the Baybury Review for six years, and also wrote numerous reviews and columns for other publications in the area.