Chapter 6: Putin the Moves On You
Alexander Lukashenko insists on walking you home after dinner, even though it is freezing outside and you keep hinting that you would rather him take you home in a cab.
“I wonder if it would be more cold or less cold inside of a cab,” you hint. “I’m guessing it would be less cold. Of course, there’d be only one way to find out for sure…”
“I had a wonderful time tonight,” Lukashenko interrupts, smiling at you and ignoring yet another of your comments about cabs.
“So did I,” you say, thinking back fondly on your potato cake.
“It was a little strange though,” he adds, “the way Vladimir Putin was standing outside the window staring at us the whole time.”
Your head snaps up at the mention Vladimir Putin.
“Yeah,” you say, trying to sound casual. The truth is that you have thought about little else, ever since you saw Vladimir Putin’s icy blue eyes fixed on you from outside the restaurant. He was so close that his breath kept fogging up the window, and more than once he had to reach out and wipe it clean with his hand. “What do you think was going on with him?”
“Oh, who knows. He’s a strange guy.” Lukashenko shrugs. “Why, just this afternoon I mentioned to him that I was going on date with one of his employees from the mailroom, and then out of nowhere he punched through a plate glass window.”
“Wait—what?” you gasp. Could that timing be just a coincidence? “Is he OK?”
“I guess so. Obviously he was well enough to come stand outside our restaurant all night.”
You stop in front of your apartment building.
“Well…this is me. Thank you again for dinner.”
“It was my pleasure. Perhaps our next date should be in Belarus,” he says with a wink. “I could teach you how to use a scythe!”
“Uh, is that code for something?”
“One time I taught Gerard Depardieu how to use a scythe. I tricked him into scything my whole lawn!”
“…Are you trying to trick me into scything your whole lawn?”
“No,” he says after a suspiciously long pause. “Well, I suppose I should say goodnight now.” Lukashenko leans in toward you.
You’re not sure if he is going to try to kiss you or not, and you’re not sure whether you want him to kiss you. You need more time to sort out your feelings. So just in case, you bob your head around quickly, as if you were listening to a bebop song. (You also start bebopping, to make it more convincing.)
Lukashenko hesitates for a moment before taking your hand and pressing it to his lips. Then he walks away.
You drag yourself into work the next morning, exhausted from tossing and turning all night.
On paper, Alexander Lukashenko has everything you could want in a man. (You pause for a moment to consult the piece of paper you carry with you listing everything that you want in a man. Hmm, let’s see…he’s sweet, he’s gentle, he has a mustache, and he’s the president of an Eastern European country. Yep! He’s got it all.)
But you’ve also realized that you were fooling yourself in thinking you were over Vladimir Putin. The moment Putin made eye contact with you, he sucked you back into his orbit and now you’re stuck there, circling around him like the moon circles around the Earth. (And let’s face it—the moon is pathetic. Get a life, moon!)
You’re still thinking about how much you hate the moon as you open the door to the mailroom and flip on the light.
There, standing just a few feet in front of you, is Vladimir Putin.
“AAAAAH!” you say.
“I am sorry to startle you,” he says, smirking a little and not looking especially sorry. He is leaning casually against the counter, and your eyes can’t help but be drawn to his muscular and tanned upper body (because he is not wearing a shirt).
“Um…how long have you been standing here in the dark?”
“Never mind that!” he snaps. Now he looks annoyed.
“OK…well, what are you doing here then? Are you expecting some mail?” That last part comes out sounding a little bitter. The truth is, you’re exhilarated. Your body feels as if it is pulsing with electricity, and only part of that is because the Kremlin has a big maintenance backlog and a lot of exposed wiring.
“Yes, since you mention it—I have been expecting a lot of mail. I haven’t received any mail for nearly a month!”
“Maybe no one has sent you any mail,” you say innocently. You have, in fact, been feeding all of his mail to a local goat. It’s weirdly therapeutic.
“But I also came here to talk to you,” he adds, his expression softening. “I decided that you deserve an explanation.”
Your heart sinks a little. Listening to people explain things is boring.
“Why don’t I start with that night at my vacation home—the night before you were kidnapped. I never told why I had to interrupt our dinner so rudely.”
“I thought you said it was for a matter of national security…”
“That wasn’t entirely accurate,” he says slowly. “The truth is that I received some intelligence that you were going to be kidnapped. We knew that the kidnappers were staking out your apartment, and we were expecting them to ambush you there. I didn’t tell you, because I didn’t want to scare you. And I left dinner so I could deal with it personally. But obviously our intelligence was…incomplete. The kidnappers had a back-up plan.”
“Wait, are you saying that those kidnappers know where I live? Is my apartment safe?” You’ve already been kidnapped, so it’s not like you could be kidnapped again, right?
“Yes, of course your apartment is safe. I never would have allowed you to stay there if it wasn’t. But that brings me to the next thing I have to tell you.” Putin pauses and lets out a long sigh. “Remember when I told you that as long as you were involved with me, your life will be in danger?”
“Yessssssssssssss,” you say. (You do not remember this at all.)
“Well, I wasn’t just saying that to make conversation. I mean, partly I was saying it to make conversation, but it is also true. And when you were kidnapped, I was so scared I was going to lose you…I realized that you really would be better off without me. If it wasn’t for me, then no one would have been trying to kidnap you in the first place. So I’ve spent the past month ignoring you, for your own good. Because it is the only way to keep you safe.”
He looks up at you, and his gaze is so intense that it feels as if it boring into you like a laser.
“It has taken all of my willpower to stay away from you,” he continues. “And I know that I have caused you pain, but I want you to know that I have endured way, way, way more pain. Your pain is like a small, insignificant fraction of the pain that I have been suffering.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” you admit. You zoned out for a minute there, thinking about cupcakes.
“What I’m saying is that I love you. But it is killing me.”
“Wow,” you say. “That is exactly how I feel about cigars!” You take a satisfying puff of the cigar you’ve been holding this entire time.
“I’m so torn up about it I can’t sleep. The day before yesterday I slept for four hours; today, for five hours.”
“See, that sounds like you can sleep…”
“And then when I found out you were going on a date with Alexander Lukashenko,” he spits out the name, “I was so angry, I thought I was going to explode. I almost killed him with one karate chop, but I managed to restrain myself and kill a plate-glass window instead.”
“Ah…I heard about that.”
“I wanted to stay away from you, to keep you safe,” he says, his expression severe. “But after seeing you on a date with another man, now I’ve decided I don’t care about keeping you safe. I must be with you, even if it means you are probably going to get killed.”
“Oh, you know. I mean eventually.”
“Of course, I’ll do everything I can to keep you safe. In fact, it would probably be best for you to move in with me.”
“Move in with you?” You feel a rush of warmth inside, as if your heart were pumping some kind of warm liquid all through your body. (Which it is. That’s how hearts work!*) You’re so elated that you completely forget your fear of being kidnapped and murdered. Putin reaches out and takes your hand in his, and you feel like your entire body is humming. (But just your mouth is.)
“It would certainly be the easiest way to keep an eye on you,” he smiles. “What do you say then? Will you move in with me?”
“Hmmmmmmmmmm,” you hum.
“Uh, is that a yes, or…”
“Can I ask just one question?” you ask. (Well, so technically it’s two questions).
“You can ask me anything.”
“Who are these people that are trying to kidnap me? They all wear the same red patch with a white knight on it—what does that symbolize? And why do they hate you so much?”
“Ah,” he says quietly. “The problem is not that they hate me. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”
You’re about to ask him what he means when the room shakes with a deafening crash. Putin knocks you down and crouches over you, shielding you with his compact body as the room is sprayed with glass. Looking over his shoulder, you see someone dressed in all black fall through the skylight and land nimbly on the countertop.
As Putin pulls you to your feet, you’re surprised to see that the figure standing on the counter is a woman. You’re also surprised to see that this room has a skylight, which you never noticed before. That’s kind of weird for a basement, right?
“Hello, Dalia,” Putin says dryly. “We were just talking about you.”
*h/t 16th Century physician William Harvey!