The next day, Putin drove to his dacha. As the yellow Lada turned into the gravel drive, the crunching sound reminded him of bones breaking.
He disliked this official vehicle, with the seal of the Presidential Property Management Department so prominently displayed on its doors.
Such symbolism was for losers; soon enough everyone would know who he was, without any foolish signs of rank or position.
He parked the auto out of sight in back of an outbuilding, got out, stretched, and looked around with satisfaction. He saw no one.
A quick, shivering movement in a pile of dead leaves caught his attention. He moved silently toward it, as stealthy as a sabre-toothed deer.
Putin’s hand flashed down into the leaves and brought up a wriggling miniature Poodle as if he were scooping up salmon from a stream.
“C-4, you rascal!” he laughed. “What have I told you about remaining still when we do camouflage drills?”
But the little apricot-colored dog could not disguise her delight at seeing Putin again. She yapped and squirmed until Putin set her down.
A great admirer of Poodles, Putin himself had recruited C-4; he told himself her super-powered cuteness would be of use someday.
Gradually the others emerged from their hiding places: Snowy the War Bear, disguised in a ghillie suit, climbed slowly down from a tree.
Black-Ops, the Pygmy goat, crept silently out from the darkness beneath the dacha’s wooden porch and trotted forward.
He had been recruited by Murder Cat, who was out hunting dinner one night at a neighboring farm and was alarmed by the little goat’s eyes.
Never having seen a goat before, Murder Cat didn’t realize that ALL goats have weird eyes.
But Black Ops’ coal-black coat and strange features did give him a rather malevolent appearance, and he had taken well to his training.
The last to appear was Murder Cat himself, whose “disguise” had consisted of standing still next to patch of tall, dead grass.
The Siberian Tiger’s coloring gave him a natural advantage in outdoor settings, but he still had to work on disguising himself indoors.
Putin greeted them all as he took off his shirt and received Snowy’s report on the progress of their training. “Very good,” he smiled.
“I intend to recruit two or three more agents soon, and then we will build our headquarters. But before that … Phase Two begins tomorrow!”
Tomorrow! The animal agents could not suppress their excitement at this announcement. Murder Cat smiled broadly and declared himself ready.
Putin nodded. “Let us go inside now. I will bring you up to date on events in Moscow while we eat.
“And after dinner, we will work together to make the necessary preparations for tomorrow—for the visit of President Yeltsin!”