Chapter 4: Putin on a Brave Face
This romantic getaway with Vladimir Putin is not turning out at all like you had hoped.
For one thing, you have no idea where Vladimir Putin is. He left in the middle of dinner last night, giving no details about where he was going or when you would see him again. He just stood up, stabbed his steak knife into the table, and rushed off while its handle was still vibrating.
For another thing, you’ve been kidnapped by a group of masked men and locked in the trunk of a car. (I know, I know—but it’s not as fun as it sounds!)
Your wrists and ankles are bound, and there’s a rag tied around your mouth so you can’t cry for help or even complain loudly (except in your head, like you always do). The only way for you to express your displeasure is to grunt unhappily.
After a few minutes of unhappy grunting, it occurs to you that you might be able to gather clues about where you are going by listening to the sound of the road. Maybe if you keep track of how many bridges you’ve driven over, later you’ll be able to reconstruct where your captors have taken you, like Robert Redford in Sneakers.
Unfortunately, this plan turns out to be boring. You give up after a few minutes and instead focus on remembering all of your favorite scenes from Sneakers. (Like when the blind guy has to drive the van? Classic!)
You must have dozed off, because you are startled awake when the trunk opens. Two of the kidnappers lift you out of the car and untie you. They’ve removed their ski masks, and you quickly try to memorize their faces. Hmm. They just look like regular faces! Trying to sound casual, you ask them if they have any tattoos or visible scars.
The kidnappers rudely ignore your question and march you down a long corridor and into a shabby basement bedroom. The guard stationed outside your door declines your request for a TV and videocassette of Sneakers, so you pass the time by plotting your escape. Your first idea is to tunnel out by using water to erode away the floor. You get to work pouring water on the floor, but so far it doesn’t seem to be doing anything. (You KNEW that tour guide at the Grand Canyon was a liar!) Perhaps it’s just as well, because after the first few gallons the guard refuses to keep refilling your water bottle.
The next plan you come up with is pretty foolproof. You’ll wait until the guard forgets to lock your door, then you’ll walk down the hallway and exit through the garage. Easy! You figure that it’s only a matter of time before the guard slips up—why, you accidentally leave your apartment door unlocked all the time. Now that you think about it, your apartment door is unlocked right now. (Damn!)
You pass the time by drawing diagrams of your escape plan on the wall, using a finger dipped in one of the pools of water on the floor. Eventually the guard stops by to bring you a bowl of some kind of potato pudding that may or may not be part of your punishment. You ask him his name, and he says “Boris,” but you’re not sure if that’s his name, or if it’s Russian for “I don’t speak English.” Either way, you start calling him Boris.
You have no idea how much time has passed when Boris opens your door and motions for you to follow him. He leads you down the hallway to what looks like an interrogation room. There’s a table with two chairs in the middle of the room, and one wall is taken up by a large, two-way mirror. At least, you assume it’s a two-way mirror. You suppose it could just be a very suspicious-looking one-way mirror.
A square-faced man is seated at the table, and he gestures for you to join him. He is dressed in the same uniform as your kidnappers—all black except for the symbol of a white knight on his right arm.
“Hello,” he says in a heavily accented voice. “My name is Saulius. I am going to ask you a few questions.”
“Can I call you Saul?” you ask.
“What should I call you then?”
“Blech! No. That would be mean.”
“Let’s move on,” Saul says sternly.
“OK,” you agree. “But first, will you tell me how long I’ve been imprisoned here? I don’t even know what day it is.”
“What—what are you talking about?’ You’ve been here for forty-five minutes!”
“Huh. It’s felt like longer.”
“There’s a window in your room! The sun hasn’t even set yet!”
“I thought maybe that was because we are in the arctic circle.”
“We are not in the arctic circle. Also, it is March.”
“Huh.” You pause, then point at the mirror. “So who’s watching us through that mirror?” you demand.
“No one. That is just a regular mirror. I like to see what I look like when I’m interrogating.” Saul quickly checks his reflection and fluffs up his hair a little.
“You do this a lot then?”
“Enough!” Saul shouts. “I am the one who is asking questions!”
“Fine,” you say, leaning back in your chair. “But I already know what this is all about, and I have nothing to tell you.”
“Is that so?” He raises an eyebrow.
“Yes. This is all because I work in the Kremlin mailroom, isn’t it? You think I might have some inside information for you, because I read all of the mail or something. And I do read all of the mail, but it’s in Russian, so have no idea what any of it says.”
“Never mind that,” says Saul, rolling his eyes. “That’s not why you’re here.”
“No. Tell me: What is your relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin?”
You freeze. Just hearing Vladimir Putin’s name makes your cheeks flush and your heart beat a little faster.
Your first thought is that you should refuse to answer. Then it dawns on you that you don’t actually know the answer.
“I don’t know,” you say finally.
“Are you romantically involved with Vladimir Putin?” Saul asks, eyeing you skeptically. You wonder if he’s noticed your blush.
“I don’t know,” you repeat.
“Have you been on a date with Vladimir Putin?”
“I don’t know!” Now you’re starting to feel annoyed.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Saul presses.
With a sigh, you give Saul a rundown of everything that’s happened to you in the last 48 hours, being careful to leave out any details that could potentially put Putin in danger, even though it’s hard for you to picture Putin really being in danger. You know you can’t trust Saul, but even so, part of you feels relieved to have someone to talk about this with.
Saul continues questioning you for what feels like hours—although you are not great at judging lengths of time, as has already been established. By the time he calls Boris to take you back to your room, he seems just as confused about your relationship with Vladimir Putin as you are.
After Boris deposits you in your room, you wait a minute before checking see if he remembered to lock your door. (He did—drat!) Exhausted and defeated, you slosh across the room and collapse into bed.
The next thing you know, someone is standing over your bed, shaking you roughly. Before you are even fully awake, he is pulling you into a standing position and half-dragging you out of your room and down the hallway.
“Boris?” you croak, still groggy from sleep.
He doesn’t answer. He’s wearing the same black uniform that everyone around here wears, but he also has the black ski mask on, so you can’t see his face. The hallway is dark—it must still be the middle of the night—and the only thing you can make out clearly is the familiar badge of a white knight sewn onto his left arm.
Wait. Shouldn’t that be on his other arm?
You stop short and gasp. You know who he is.
Before you can speak, he picks you up in one swift motion and presses his hand firmly against your mouth so you can’t cry out. Now he is running. He dashes through the garage door and outside, where you can hear a car idling in the street. He opens the passenger-side door and tosses you inside, and a second later he’s behind the wheel. The car peels away, the force of it pressing you into the back of your seat.
He pulls off his ski mask and tosses it into the backseat, then looks at you with piercing steel blue eyes. “How did you know it was me?” Putin asks with a sly smile.
Seeing his face, your chest is flooded with warmth.
“Your shirt is on backwards,” you say, laughing a little. The warmth is spreading out through your arms and legs as relief settles in. For the first time since your kidnapping, you allow yourself to consider how much danger you were in. “I know you’re not used to wearing shirts,” you add. “I’ve noticed that sometimes you accidentally put them backwards.”
“You are very observant,” he says, chuckling softly.
“Honestly, I don’t know how you were even able to button it—”
Without warning, Putin slams on the brake, putting his arm out to stop you from being thrown forward. Then he rips off his shirt, revealing his toned, muscled chest.
“That’s better,” he says, smiling again. He presses down on the accelerator, and you fly forward into the night. (But I don’t mean “fly” literally. You’re in a car!)