As Putin tore along the highway, back the way he had come, his thoughts raced even faster than his trusty Junker.
Someone had tried to kill him, someone who did not want him inside Chernobyl, someone who was keeping watch.
“Operation Circus Bear”—what could it mean? Clearly, Doctor Antonosky, or whoever ran the program, had a specific agenda.
They hadn’t just been torturing at random; in fact, they hadn’t ”tortured,” in the traditional sense, at all.
“Brainwashing,” he mused, as the Junker roared past the old babushka’s farmstead. “Why … ? Wait! What was that?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he saw the old woman holding a small apricot Poodle in an exquisite Dutch clip!
Putin slammed on the Junker’s brakes, counted to three until the machine responded, and skidded to a stop facing back toward the farm.
By the time he reached the farmstead, the old woman was no longer in sight, but there—Yes! Yes, it was a perfectly groomed little Poodle!
Putin parked the Junker and dismounted. Holding out his hand to the little dog, he noticed the faint green tinge of his excitement.
Quickly, he suppressed his putinescense. He had learned his sad lesson with another Poodle, poor little Malen’koye Der’mo: Never again!
“Hello, Little Friend,” Putin smiled, walking carefully across the rutted yard to where the Toy Poodle stood calmly wagging its tail.
As he approached, the little dog stepped backwards, just out of reach. Again, Putin admired the beautifully scissored hair of its legs.
“Come, come, Little One,” Putin murmured, stretching out his hand. “I will not hurt you.” Still wagging, the dog stepped back again.
“Ah! I see!” he said, “This is a game with you.” As if by signal, the little Poodle turned and ran for the collapsing old wooden barn.
Smiling, Putin followed. Such japery! Perhaps this little fellow would make a jolly companion for C-4, back in the Fortress of Opulence.
As he stepped through the door into the darkness, Putin was brought up short by the smell. The old woman’s cow must have died some time ago.
He would get her a new cow, he would get her a new barn! Surely she would see that he could give her dog a better life than this.
Putin blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dim light filtering through the holes in the corrugated metal roof. He did not see the Poodle.
“Where are you, Doggie?” he called, moving quietly toward a huge pile of rotting straw. The straw shifted slightly, then was still.
Putin’s smile widened. “I wonder where the little doggie went,” he sing-songed as he stepped forward, then plunged his hand into the straw.
“Here!” he cried, just as pain sliced through his forearm and razor-sharp teeth sank into his calf.