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.