Week 54

Putin stopped just outside the door and took a deep breath. He always found these meetings with Yeltsin to be challenging.

The idea that the entire Federation was being helmed by an old tosspot … Though not in reality, of course.

Luckily, there were others—politicians, oligarchs—who controlled everything behind the scenes. Putin found them useful.

And there were certain advantages to the situation with Yeltsin: For one thing, no one ever asked him what the FSB was actually doing.

Having mentally prepared himself, Putin opened the door and stepped into Yeltsin’s office—which smelled like something had died in there.

He hesitated for only an instant, then strode across the room toward the President. Yeltsin sat at his desk, a security man behind him.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich!” Yeltsin smiled and attempted to stand, knocking over something that looked like a dog bowl sitting on his desk.

“Whoopsie!” Yeltsin laughed, and half fell back into his chair. “Worse than usual,” Putin thought, wrinkling his nose at the pervasive odor.

“So!” Yeltsin began, looking up through a fringe of white hair and smiling slyly. “So! Why have I called you here?”

Putin barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Mr. President, you said you had something important to tell me.”

“Yes! That’s right, yes!” Yeltsin agreed heartily. “I’m naming you President!” Putin blinked several times but said nothing.

The security man hurried forward and leaned over to whisper in Yeltsin’s ear. “Not a security man,” Putin thought, “but what, then?”

“Right, yes! Right!” Yeltsin agreed, tipping violently to one side and grabbing the edge of the desk to keep from sliding onto the floor.

“Today I, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, President, appoint Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as First Prime Minister! A toast!”

Yeltsin raised the dog bowl over his head like a trophy, then tipped it upside-down and looked up into it. “Empty,” he said sadly.

Putin managed to keep a straight face as he made a slight bow toward the President. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “This is a great honor.

“I shall fulfill these new duties to the best of m…” “Right, right, yes!” Yeltsin interrupted. “Just as I’m fulfilling mine!

“I’ve done just what they’ve told me, I…” The faux security man raced back to Yeltsin’s side, producing a bottle from under his jacket.

“A toast, sir,” he murmured as he filled the bowl. “Yes! Good!” the President agreed happily. “To the new First Prime Minister!”

But Putin was already considering how he would use his new power. First, he would find out who that “security man” was.

And second, he would hire a new State Exterminator—the stench of death in Yeltsin’s office was unbearable.