Category Archives: V. MOSCOW

Week 22

Mila sat in the apartment, sipping from a tumbler of vodka as she read a translation of the latest book by Harold Robbins.

The last few weeks had been blessedly uneventful. The Commander had reappeared, and informed her that Putin was almost certainly dead.

She had not realized the strain her undercover existence had put on her until it was suddenly relieved.

It was possible she would be reassigned, but her well-established identity as Putin’s wife would preclude any more undercover work.

Perhaps she’d request a desk job at headquarters. Perhaps they would pension her, with secret honors and a medal for meritorious service.

Of course, there was still her other work, her real undercover … Suddenly she heard a key turning. Someone was opening the door!

She felt beneath the cushion of her comfy chair and grasped the handle of the Makarov pistol. There would be time for only one shot.

“Oh. Hello,” Putin said. He stood shirtless in the hallway, his skin a ruddy color from the sun, yet with a faintly green tinge about him.

Mila stared, her mind running quickly through myriad possibilities. Beneath the cushion, she kept her hand on the gun.

“Please, don’t let me disturb you,” Putin said politely. “I just stopped by to pick up a shirt. I must go report in at the office.”

Releasing the gun, Mila jumped up and attempted, but failed, to simulate delight at seeing him again. “Where have you been?” she shouted.

“I told you I was going on assignment,” Putin said, with a touch of irritation. “I know,” Mila replied, “but—they told me you were dead!”

Now it was Putin’s turn to look surprised. “Who told you that? The Commander?” He smiled slyly. “I see you are in grief-stricken mourning.”

“I have been waiting, waiting all these weeks, for you to come back to me!” she cried. Putin squirmed, extricating himself from her embrace.

“Well, that’s very nice of you. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to dress and go see the Commander.”

Within a few minutes, Putin had left. Mila waited until she heard him lock the door, then rushed to the potato bin.

She uncovered the encrypted cell phone she used to call the Commander, then dug deeper in the bin and pulled out a smaller device.

She held the object to her cheek and began making a series of peculiar sounds—whirrings and clickings that rose and fell in volume.

In the hallway, Putin stopped. Odd: He could have sworn he heard forest insects. Cicadas? He shook his head and continued down the stairs.

Week 23

Outside, Putin waited as a yellow Lada puttered by, then briskly crossed Pl. Novaya towards the Lubyanka building—KGB headquarters.

He stared up at the squat, dingy yellow brick façade, and considered how it contrasted with the grandeur of the Siberian wilderness.

High above the public square, the Commander looked down from his office but failed to notice Putin calmly weaving through the crowd.

At the building’s front doors, Putin grasped the handles and then paused for a moment, considering the step he was taking.

In the forest, he’d had a chance to be free again, to start over in the place he loved, with a new companion—Snowy.

The giant Kaiju mosquito had destroyed that dream, and whoever sent it had forced Putin’s hand: Now he was on a mission.

He set his jaw, and the office’s front doors groaned as he pulled them open. The sound echoed through the cavernous wooden entranceway.

Putin crossed the floor casually, as if he were beginning an average day at the office, and passed the guard station with only a nod.

Upon recognizing the long-absent section chief, Private Zangief simply froze, feeling slightly nauseous as Putin passed.

Putin ignored the door marked “Tyur’ma” and headed for the elevator bank. He entered a vacant car and pressed the button for 9.

Eight floors above, the Commander thought he smelled a hint of ozone in the air, and then heard the familiar chime of the elevator arriving.

Instead of the timid knocks he was used to hearing, however, the Commander was startled to see his door swing open.

In stepped Putin, giving an almost sarcastic salute before closing the door. The Commander, to his credit, did not show his fear.

“Hello Commander. I apologize for my absence. I will be submitting a full report, of course, but the explanation is quite simple.

“While driving from the airport to Chernobyl, Dr. Antonosky struck an elk and lost control of our vehicle.

“We drove off the road, crashing into the Pryp’yat River. My last memory is exiting the car and grasping for an old tire drifting past.

“I awoke many weeks later in a hospital in Kiev. Apparently I’d floated unconscious on that tire until some fishermen picked me up.

“As soon as I could walk, I returned to Moscow, and now I am here. But if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to work.”

With that, Putin saluted again, and turned to leave, reaching the door before the Commander could even speak.

“Putin,” he said, a trickle of cold sweat dribbling down his neck. Putin paused. “I … I expect that report by day’s end.”

Without looking back, Putin replied, “Yes, sir,” and left the office. In the hall, he admired a bull’s-eye pattern in the parquet floor.

Week 24

Putin finished typing his report and sighed. In his whole department there was only one computer, and today was not his turn to use it.

He took the paper from the machine and reread what he’d written—the same six sentences he’d said to the Commander earlier in the day.

He saw no reason to waste time embellishing such transparent lies. Surely the Commander knew he’d been inside Chernobyl.

The Commander must know many things—where Putin came from, why he was installed at the KGB, what had happened in the White Room …

He’d spent the day going through the department’s files, looking for answers, but found many folders had gone “missing.” It was frustrating.

Putin climbed the stairs to the ninth floor, walked into the Commander’s empty office without knocking, and tossed his report onto the desk.

Exiting the building a few minutes later, he saw Zangief staring at him from across the lobby. He glowed brighter, just to mess with him.

Putin’s mind was far away as he walked to his apartment block, and he arrived before he knew it. “Home,” he thought bitterly.

He opened the door to the flat and turned his head away in disgust from an appalling smell drifting down the hall from the kitchen.

“Oh, Pootie, you’re home early!” Mila cried. “It’s not ready yet!” She bustled about, adjusting a large platter on the candle-lit table.

“What is it?” Putin asked, staring in dismay at a large, striated block of … food. “It’s your favorite—selyodka pod shuboy!” Mila trilled.

“My favorite? I don’t even like selyodka pod shuboy,” Putin frowned. Mila looked confused. “But … but you told me …”

But perhaps it had not been Putin who enjoyed the traditional “herring under a fur coat”—perhaps it had been the Commander.

Desperate to cover her faux pas, Mila burst into tears. “I just wanted to have a beautiful dinner to celebrate your homecoming!” she wailed.

“Oh, stop it,” Putin snapped. Mila stopped abruptly. Mr. and Mrs. Putin stood staring at each other across the dining table.

Putin picked up the vodka bottle and headed for the living room. “Bring some glasses,” he said. “We have to talk.”

They settled themselves on the sofa and Putin poured them each a drink. “Mila,” he began, “we both know we are not in love.”

“Do not deny it,” he said sternly, as she began to protest. “Our marriage is one of mutual advantage, and I have no wish to end it.”

“I intend to go into politics, and it will be helpful for me to show myself as a stable family man.” “And for me?” Mila asked pointedly.

“You will continue to have a home, a position in society.” He stopped, as if that should be enough. She paused. “All right. I agree.”

“The fool! How he underestimates me!” Mila thought scornfully. They clinked glasses and drank to their new arrangement.

Week 25

Putin emptied his glass and set it down. “Good. I’ll be taking the bedroom, of course, but the couch is all yours. Goodnight.”

Before Mila could respond, he rose and walked away. Closing the bedroom door, Putin smiled briefly. “Take that, old sow,” he thought.

In the morning, Putin called the Commander’s secretary to say that he had a family emergency and would be gone for a few days.

The Commander and Mila had been much more compliant than Putin had expected. He could already move into phase two of his plan.

Putin packed a suitcase, walked out past snoring Mila—her bulbous body scrunched on the couch—and caught a cab to the airport.

During the flight to Irkutsk Oblast, he passed the time sipping vodka and flipping idly through a book of Boris Vallejo illustrations.

Once in Irkutsk, he found the car rental agency, surveyed the lot full of yellow Ladas, and chose the least dirty one.

For hours he drove ever deeper into the forest, navigating without a map, guided by his keen Putin Sense, intuiting where to find Snowy.

Finally he stopped in front of a small gash in a wall of trees, and exited the Lada. Without hesitation, Putin marched into the wilderness.

Miles in, he paused and tilted up his nose: He smelled battle. A ferocious cry shattered the still forest air. Putin ran to its source.

At the edge of a clearing, Putin stopped. Through the trees, he saw a sight that made his pulse race with excitement.

A massive herd of sabertooth deer were attacking a tiger, bucking, and charging, a riot of gleaming fangs and white-tufted tails.

The noble cat fought with a terrible fury, gnashing its great teeth and cutting deer in two with slashes of its vicious claws.

Still the deer charged, diving at the cat with fangs raised, screaming their terrible war cry. Blood ran thick on the forest floor.

As Putin watched, transfixed, a figure appeared by his side: It was Snowy. He turned and their gazes met. Putin smiled as Snowy bowed.

“Does this one please you?” Snowy asked. Putin nodded without taking his eyes off the slaughter. “Good. I have already recruited him.”

Soon the battle was over. The cowards who survived had fled, and the tiger, blood matting the fur around its awful maw, began to groom.

Putin waited for the victor to finish its bath and then emerged from the forest, walking over and around the many disemboweled corpses.

As he approached the tiger, Putin could see its full, massive bulk. His eyes flashed excitedly, anticipating future sparring matches.

The tiger met Putin’s gaze to show recognition, and then rolled onto its back, exposing its soft tummy in a sign of submission.

Putin knelt to stroke the purring beast, tousling its fur affectionately. “I will name you Murder Cat,” he said. “Our Sargent at Arms.”

Week 26

Putin lost no time initiating phase two of his plan. He considered spending the night in the tiger’s den, but decided to leave at once.

As they walked back to the Lada, Putin outlined the strategy. First, Snowy and Murder Cat would relocate closer to Moscow.

They would drive to Putin’s dacha where he would leave them for the time being. He would return to the city to begin his political campaign.

It wasn’t that he cared about the presidency, or any other office; he just needed the power to shake down oligarchs for money.

As Putin consolidated his political power, Snowy and Murder Cat would train and work with new animal agents preparing for battle.

Eventually, they would build a secure headquarters, but for now the dacha would have to do.

Soon the three made their way back through the forest to the rental Lada parked just off the road. Snowy stared dubiously at the little car.

“Snowy, you’re in back, I’ll drive, and Murder Cat gets in front with me.“ The animals did not move. “Well?” Putin snapped. “Let’s go!”

An hour later, after removing the rear seat to open up the back into the trunk, Snowy succeeded in stuffing her entire body into the car.

Murder Cat was massive, but also lithe and agile, and managed to curl into the passenger seat. “Pretend you’re a Shriner!” Putin commanded.

Putin jumped in, started the little car without too much trouble, and they were off, racing along the highway at 70 kilometers per hour.

As they drove west, through the deepening twilight, Putin revealed all that he remembered of his past and all he believed about his mission.

“I am asking you to help me battle the greatest threat the world has ever known,” he said. “Perhaps we will not succeed, but we must try.”

Glancing down at the petrol gauge, he realized it was time to stop and refuel. It would be good to get out and stretch his legs.

Murder Cat, too, would want to stretch, but poor Snowy would have to stay inside; if she got out, they might not be able to get her back in.

After filling up, Putin went inside the station for some coffee; he came back with treats—gummi bears for Snowy and SlimJims for Murder Cat.

“I’m oddly weary,” Putin said. “Murder Cat, you drive while I sleep.” The killer tiger agreed at once and jumped into the driver’s seat.

Through the dark Russian night Murder Cat steered the little Lada, with the savior of humanity and his war bear asleep beside him.

As the sun rose behind them, Murder Cat slowed the car and eased it onto the shoulder of the road. Putin awoke and smiled.

“Thank you, my friend,” Putin said. “I feel much better now. I’ll take us the rest of the way to the dacha.”

“It will be difficult to explain the missing back seat to the rental company,” Putin mused. “But if need be, I can have them all arrested.”