Chapter 7: Putin Your Neck on the Line
“Hello Dalia,” Putin says again, for the benefit of everyone who was too lazy to go back and reread the last chapter. “We were just talking about you.”
“All good things, I hope,” says the woman who just dropped in through the skylight. Dalia (by now you’ve deduced that her name is “Dalia”) leaps off the countertop with the skill of someone who practices jumping down from counters and sashays over to Putin. She has short blonde hair and is dressed in a sleek black catsuit and pointy high-heeled boots, which would not be your first choice for jumping through a skylight, but whatever.
“It is nice to see you again, Vladimir,” she purrs, resting her hand against his chest.
“I wish I could say the same,” says Putin drily.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” she continues lightly, “what with all of the surveillance equipment I have installed in here.”
“Wait…is that what the tape recorder in the cupboard is for?” you interrupt. “Uh oh. I’ve been using it as an audio diary! I wanted to be like Doogie Howser.”
Dalia’s head snaps toward you.
“Doogie Howser’s diary was a computer, dammit,” she spits.
“Oh yeah…” you say, eyeing the mailroom computer.
“I am so sick of listening to your cryptic little recordings. ‘This week I learned that a broken heart is a lot like a broken mirror, in that they can be both be fixed with glue.’ What kind of diary entry is that?”
“That was the week I fixed my mirror,” you explain.
Dalia grumbles something unintelligible.
“Who are you anyway?” you ask, because apparently no one is going to introduce you. (Rude.)
“My name is Dalia Grybauskaitė. I am the president of Lithuania.”
Lithuania. And suddenly know where that symbol of a white knight your kidnappers were wearing comes from. It’s the coat of arms of Lithuania! You should have recognized it from your high school world history class, when you had to memorize the coats of arms of all 196 countries. (Your teacher Mr. O’Connor had some misguided ideas about what was going to be on the AP exam.)
“You are the one who had me kidnapped,” you say slowly.
“Oh, did Vladimir not tell you that?” she asks, eyeing Putin curiously.
“I was trying to protect her,” Putin says through clenched teeth.
“How sweet,” says Dalia in a menacing way that makes you question her sincerity. “Well, it’s true—those kidnappers are my evil henchmen. You see, I’ve been monitoring your every move ever since Vladimir here first took an interest you.”
“By hiding tape recorders everywhere?”
“Well, yes. But I also had a man on the inside,” she smiles. “Or, to be more precise, a bear.”
“It was Olga from accounting, wasn’t it? Ugh, she is the worst!”
“No, it was Stepan!” Putin interjects, shaking his fist in rage.
“That’s right,” Dalia says. “I mean that Putin is right,” she clarifies, turning to you. “As usual, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“How could Stepan betray me like this?” Putin demands.
“It wasn’t even very hard to persuade him to work for me. You know how they say that you catch more flies with honey?”
“Uh, you’ve seriously never heard that? Well, the point is that I paid Stepen in honey. He can’t resist honey—it’s his one weakness, besides eating hikers.”
“I was wondering where he’d been getting all of that delicious honey!” Putin fumes, still shaking his fist.
“But I didn’t come here just to tell you all the details of my evil plan,” Dalia clarifies. “I came here because I heard that the two of you are planning to move in together. Unfortunately, I cannot allow that to happen.”
“What are you, his landlord?” you ask.
“No,” she says. “I’m his girlfriend.”
“His girlfriend?” you gasp. You swat away Putin’s hand, which has been gently massaging your thigh this entire time.
“She isn’t my girlfriend,” Putin groans, rolling his eyes.
“Well, maybe not yet,” Dalia concedes, “but that’s just because you keep accidentally dating other women!”
“Only a few of them were accidents,” Putin points out.
“You will never be with Vladimir Putin,” Dalia snarls at you. “I thought that kidnapping you would get that message across, but apparently you were too dense to get it.”
“Apparently,” you concede.
“So I am here now to offer you a choice. You can leave right now—disappear forever, and never attempt to contact Vladimir again. Or you can fight me.”
“Hmm…” you say. “They both sound tempting.”
“Before you make your decision, you should know that no one has ever defeated me in hand-to-hand combat.”
“Like because you’ve never fought anyone, or…?”
“No, it is because I am trained in the deadly martial arts! I have a black belt in karate and a purple belt in appreciating Vladimir Putin, which is a martial arts discipline I invented.”
“That’s a lot of belts,” you admit. You only have one belt, and technically it’s a seatbelt, so you’re not sure if you should mention it. “What happens if I win?”
“Ha!” she snorts. “In the extremely unlikely event that you win, then Vladimir Putin is yours. I will go back to Lithuania and you will never hear from me again. Except, you know, maybe the occasional angry postcard.”
“I don’t know…I’ll need some time to think it over.”
“Take all the time you need,” she says. “As long as it’s less than two minutes. Because I’m only giving you two minutes.”
You huddle with Putin, pausing for a moment to gather your thoughts and breathe in his Putiny scent. “What should I do?” you whisper. “Do you think I stand a chance against her?”
“No,” he says. “She’ll probably kill you.”
“I still think you should do it though. I’m worth it.”
“Isn’t there something you can do to get rid of her? You poisoned that mailman for me…”
“No, that mailman was poisoned because he ate a potato cake with poison in it! It’s not my fault if he’ll eat any old potato cake sent to him by the president of Russia without checking it first for poison. And Dalia is far too savvy for that—believe me, I have tried getting rid of her before. She has been tormenting me for years…following me around, hiding surveillance equipment in my mailrooms, killing my girlfriends in hand-to-hand combat…Why do you think I’m still single?”
“I guess I thought it was because of that whole thing with Ukraine.”
“Two minutes is up, probably!” Dalia interrupts. “I don’t know for sure, because I don’t have a watch. Now, what is your decision?”
You take a deep breath and turn around to face her.
“I’m not going to run away,” you say. “My relationship with Vladimir Putin is worth fighting for. Even though technically we’ve only been on one date. And then he didn’t speak to me for a month. ”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” she says. “To the combat arena!”
The Kremlin combat arena turns out to be next door to the mailroom, so that’s convenient. Dalia stops you outside the entrance.
“I’ll give you a moment to say goodbye to Vladimir in private,” she says. “Although…I don’t know why I’m doing this, given that I am so bent on keeping the two of you apart. Ha ha! Oh well!”
She pushes through the door, leaving you and Putin alone in the hallway. Well, not alone exactly—Kremlin employees are streaming past you into the combat arena, talking excitedly about the upcoming battle. Apparently someone made an announcement over the PA system.
Putin ignores them and grabs you around the waist, spinning you around to face him.
“How about a kiss…for luck?” he murmurs.
“I can use all of the luck I can get,” you smile.
“No, I meant luck for me,” he explains. “You are going to be dead pretty soon, so what will you need luck for?”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess that’s a good point.”
Putin leans in slowly—agonizingly slowly, to the point that you are starting to get bored. Then his lips meet yours, and they are irresistibly thin and as cold as the Siberian tundra. He lingers for a moment, and then moves in at full force, bobbing his head around, back and forth and then from side to side. It is terrifying but also thrilling (but mostly terrifying). This must be how kissing how is supposed to work, you decide, and everyone else has been doing it wrong this entire time.
Putin pulls away, and you see Alexander Lukashenko standing at the other end of the hallway. His face is bright red, and he looks like he’s in pain.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Alexander manages after a moment. “I was just…surprised. I heard that there was going to be a battle in the combat arena, and I wasn’t expecting…” He trails off.
“Alexander, I’m sorry,” you say, forcing yourself to meet his gaze. “It all happened so fast. Well, not me being in love with Vladimir Putin—that’s been going on for a while. But I was going to tell you. I mean, I was going to tell you if I survived this fight to the death. Otherwise I was probably going to skip it, to be honest.”
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Alexander says in a quiet voice. “I could take you with me back to Belarus, and you wouldn’t have to fight anyone. We could spend the rest of our days in peace, scything large fields of grass and arresting journalists.”
Part of you aches to tell him yes. After all, you do hate journalists (and grass). It would be so easy to fall in love with Alexander Lukashenko—like falling in love with your dentist.
But you can’t bring yourself to form the words. Because there is another, much larger part of you that is hopelessly, irrevocably in love with Vladimir Putin. And apparently that is the part of you that controls your vocal chords.
Lukashenko’s eyes meet yours, and it’s like he can read your thoughts—you don’t need to say anything. “It’s OK,” he says so quietly that it’s barely audible. “I understand. Go to him.”
You hesitate, and he gives you a small smile. “You know,” he says, “a broken heart is a lot like a broken mirror. I just need to sniff a little glue and I’ll feel better.”
As you watch him walk away, it occurs to you that you and Alexander Lukashenko might be soulmates, and you’ve just been blinded this entire time by Vladimir Putin’s raw sexual magnetism. Huh. Oh well!
“I hear the battle gong sounding,” Putin says, taking your hand in his. “Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” you with a long sigh. “Unless I’d had a couple of months to train or something. That would have been nice.”
The combat arena is shaped like a circle, with a dirt floor surrounded by a low concrete wall, beyond which rise tiers of bleachers in every direction. The ceiling must be three or four stories high, and the whole room echoes with the chatter of eager spectators as they file into the stands.
“What is this?” you ask Putin.
“This old place? Stalin built it back in the 40s to hold dirt bike races. Nowadays we mostly use it for battles, whenever one Kremlin employee challenges another Kremlin employee to hand-to-hand combat in order to settle a work-related dispute.”
“I better go if I want to get a good seat,” Putin says, giving your hand a quick squeeze. He puts a finger under your chin and lifts it so that you meet his gaze. “I just want you know that even though you are about to die fighting for me, I do not regret having met you. Not for a second.”
You watch him walk away from you until you can’t bear it any longer. Then you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and roll up the sleeves of your coat (because you still haven’t had a chance to take off your coat. Ugh, busy day!) Dalia is on the far side of the field, showing off for the crowd by chopping concrete blocks in half with her hand. (Where did she even get all of these concrete blocks? Did she bring them from home?) Reluctantly, you begin walking slowly toward her. As you reach the center of the arena, a hush settles over the crowd. Dalia’s eyes meet yours, and she gives you a menacing smile.
“I hope you’ve written your last will and testament,” she taunts.
“Huh,” you pause. “I hadn’t thought of that. Can I have five more minutes?”
“Ugh, fine. I HEREBY LEAVE ALL OF MY WORLDLY POSSESSIONS TO MY BEST FRIEND, SANDRA BULLOCK,” you shout, figuring that this will probably be legally binding. (You’re not really best friends with Sandra Bullock, but this seems like a good way to get started.)
Dalia saunters toward you with her arm outstretched. “Why don’t we shake hands first? Just to show everyone that there are no hard feelings in this battle to the death.”
“OK,” you say warily (because you have a thing about germs). You hold out your hand and Dalia grabs it, yanking you forward while using her free hand to karate chop you repeatedly in the side.
“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” you say, before managing to shake her loose.
“Hmm…You are not as easy to chop in half as a concrete block…not as firm and rigid, more flexible and squishy,” she observes.
“That’s good to know. I guess.”
As you and Dalia circle each other, you try to think back to your army training. Wait a minute…you’ve never been in the army! Uh oh. You probably wouldn’t have agreed to this if you’d remembered that earlier.
Then something small and shiny whizzes past your ear. Startled, you look up in time to see Dalia pull a throwing star out of her belt and fling it in your direction.
“Hey!” you cry, ducking out of the way. “I didn’t know we were allowed to bring weapons. Isn’t that against the rules?”
Dalia throws back her head and laughs.
“A fight to the death at the Kremlin is a lot like a game of Sorry,” she says. “There are no rules.”
“Um…I’m pretty sure you’re playing Sorry wrong,” you point out, just as Dalia launches another throwing star in your direction.
You leap out of the way, but not quickly enough. It grazes your knee, tearing into your skin and sending a sharp wave of pain up your leg. Before you have time to react, another throwing star hits you and lodges in your shoulder.
Plucking it out causes you no small amount of pain, but there’s no time to dwell on that now. You take off running, figuring that it will be more difficult for Dalia to hit a moving target. After a few seconds you remember that running is horrible and decide that you would rather be hit by throwing stars. Hmm…maybe you should try playing dead. Isn’t that what they say you’re supposed to do when you’re trying to escape from possums?
‘Uh oh!” you say convincingly. “I think I’m having a heart attack! Also I come with a family with a history of heart disease so this isn’t as big of a surprise as it seems.”
You stagger backward and, clutching your chest, collapse to the ground.
The crowd gasps, and both Putin and Lukashenko let out a cries of agony from the stands. You hear a low chuckle as Dalia approaches you.
“I haven’t checked yet to see whether or not she is dead,” Dalia announces loudly to no one particular, “but I am going to karate chop her for a while anyway.”
Your eyes fly open and before Dalia can react, you grab her foot and pull it as hard as you can. She lands on her back with a loud thud.
This is your chance. You leap on top of Dalia, pinning her to the ground. She struggles underneath you, trying to throw you off. And she would do it, too, except that you are still clutching the throwing star that you dislodged from your shoulder earlier. You press one if its sharp points against Dalia’s throat, and she goes still. Her eyes meet yours, and you it’s like you can feel the fury and hatred radiating off of her.
“Look,” you say between gasps for breath. “I don’t want to kill you. Honestly, I don’t even want to cut you if I don’t have to. All I want is for you to leave me alone. I’ll let you go right now, if you agree to go back to Lithuania and never bother me or Vladimir Putin ever again.”
“It seems that I don’t have much of a choice,” she sighs. “Let me go and I promise that I will never lay a hand on you or Vladimir. You have my word.”
You help Dalia to her feet and there is an awkward pause while you stand there, uncertain about what to do next.
“I suppose this is goodbye then,” you say.
“Indeed,” she says. “Goodbye forever!”
She puts two fingers in her mouth and lets out an ear-piercing whistle. Behind her, you see a large mass of brown fur leap into the arena.
“I said that I would never lay a hand on you, and I intend to keep that promise,” she smirks. “Stepan, on the other hand…”
The bear rears up on its hind legs and lets out a deafening roar before charging toward you.
With your last few seconds of life, you scan the crowd for Vladimir Putin. You spot him in the front row—his eyes are fixed on you, and he looks like a beautiful snapping turtle. You stare at him, trying to memorize every inch of his face—his squinty eyes, his unremarkable nose, his honey blonde hairs.
And that’s when you have an idea.
You reach into your coat pocket and grab the bottle of honey that Alexander Lukashenko convinced you to take from the condiment station during your date last night. (Was it really only last night? Because it feels like it was three months ago!) Dalia watches you, raising a quizzical eyebrow. Before she can figure out what’s going on, you unscrew the lid and hurl it at her like a grenade.
The bottle strikes her in the chest and honey splatters all over her. She looks up at you, furious but still puzzled.
Before she can finish, Stepan knocks her over and pins her to the ground, lapping up honey furiously.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” she cries. “Honestly, Stepan, watch your claws!”
The crowd erupts in cheers. You search the stands for Putin again and see that he has leapt into the arena and is running toward you with his arms outstretched as if in slow motion. (You love it when he does his pretend-slow motion run!) He sweeps you up in his arms and swings you around and around.
“Hey,” he says, his lips pressed against your ear. “I’m glad you made it, because I almost forgot to tell you that I love you.”
“And I almost forgot to tell you that I love my job here at the Kremlin and you are a great boss.”
You and Putin watch as the last few Kremlin employees file out of the combat arena.
“I have never been prouder of you,” he says, wrapping his arm around your waist. “That might just be because I don’t know you very well though.”
“I’m just glad it’s all over,” you say.
“Are you two just going to stand there while this stupid bear eats me?” Dalia demands, her voice muffled underneath Stepan’s fur.
“Yes,” says Putin.
“No,” you say. “Dalia, my offer from earlier still stands. We’ll call off Stepan if you promise to go away and leave Putin and me alone. But, you know, for real this time.”
“OK, OK, you win,” she groans. “You can trust me because I’m not winking this time. Now get this stupid bear off of me!”
“Sure thing,” you say. “I have no idea how to do that though. I guess we could try to lure him away with more honey?”
“Good luck finding some,” says Putin. “If there were any honey in the building I would have eaten it by now.”
“Um, I’m sure we’ll figure out something,” you tell Dalia. Then you turn back to Putin. “Now that I’m safe from Dalia, I guess I don’t need to move in with you anymore.”
“I don’t know about that,” Putin smiles. “I wasn’t exactly expecting you to survive, so I’ve already had your belongings packed up and mailed to Sandra Bullock.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sure she’ll be willing to send it all back.”
Putin throws back his head and laughs.
“You don’t know Sandra Bullock very well!”
The End (or is it?)
Yes, it is. Sorry, Mom! But please stay tuned for my upcoming Justin Trudeau fan fiction, even if you aren’t my mom.
In the meantime you should check out these talented teenagers who reenacted the first chapter of Putin fan fiction. There also might be a radio play version coming out from some (presumably talented) students at Grinnell College; check our Facebook/Twitter pages for updates.