Week 5

Putin sighed and looked up from the file he had been examining. “Another day, another oligarch,” he thought wearily.

Sometimes it seemed he’d been at the KGB forever; it was as if he could not remember a time before he was a chief of the secret police.

All his days passed by with a grey sameness: read some files, order some torture, go home for dinner with his wife, Mila.

Occasionally he engaged in a bit of meaningless political maneuvering, destroying the career of a rival just to break the monotony.

He had the status of a successful KGB chief, yet Putin lived simply: He drove a yellow Lada; his apartment was small, dark, and cave-like.

Mila was large, brown-haired, plain. His colleagues could not understand why he had not married a blond gymnast from the Duma.

Putin could not explain the strange yearnings he felt. His trips to the country were the only thing that gave him any relief.

“I’m going to the dacha this weekend,” he said that night at dinner. “Again?” Mila frowned, but said nothing more.

Putin felt more strongly than ever that his wife did not understand him. The next morning he packed his things and left before sunrise.

As soon as he was gone, Mila got out an encrypted cell phone hidden at the bottom of the potato bin and dialed a number known only to her.

“Mila,” said the man’s voice evenly. There was no surprise, no pleasure, no emotion at all: It was just a statement of fact.

“I must see you, in person, today.” He hesitated only a split second, but Mila caught the pause. “Today,” she said again.

“In one hour, the usual place,” he said, and hung up. Mila put the phone back under the potatoes and went to the closet for her coat.

She took the Metro several stops, got out, and walked a circuitous route to the Lubyanka Building: KGB headquarters.

By the time she arrived in Putin’s office, his superior officer, the Commander, was already there and waiting for her.

They had chosen Putin’s own office as their regular meeting place, since the Commander had every reason to be in the building at any time.

And it was expected that Putin’s wife would sometimes visit to paw through his things, to see what he was up to when he was away from her.

As long as they were careful, no one would notice they were in the office at the same time. Mila turned and locked the door behind her.

“He’s gone to the country again,” she said flatly as she pulled off her heavy brown fur coat—a gift from Putin—and draped it over a chair.

“Perhaps you should go with him sometime,” the Commander murmured as he lit a Sobranie and gazed out the window.