By Tanya H. Van Cott March 2022
Originally written in 2018
There was an introduction to Putin, who was sitting with his entourage at a restaurant table. I sat beside him with my own entourage, flanking my left, nervous not sure if Putin spoke English. Joking, I made up a very Russian sounding name to see if he would smile. He answered me in English, but with the straight face he's known for, his smile hovering somewhere two inches underneath all his facial muscles, imperceptible, but there.
With our group of five, and Putin's security detail we sat within a restaurant but I decided that each group needed to retrieve something before dinner. Putin and co. were enlisted to go get beer.
As they left, our group, uncomfortable with the reality of Putin's presence decided to just leave, leave for good. We wandered into the shopping complex that the restaurant sat within, and regrouped, assuming Putin and co. would forget about our dinner plans, or at least be baffled enough to give up when they returned and we were missing. I secretly wished Putin would have found the beer run beneath him and not come back at all. But after a while, still hungry, we went to a nearby restaurant. In hindsight, too nearby, because it was only next door to the first "Putin meet up". A moment needs to be taken to describe both restaurants and their orientation to one another. Both, sat along an interior corridor of a mall, both had no facade, or rather, missing an entire fourth wall which would normally enclose the restaurant's activity.
So, there we sat, in a booth designed for six, ordered food, received it and ate happily, hoping the strange ordeal was over, until one of us saw Putin, case of Coors in hand, standing in the mall looking around, visibly upset. Then we all heard him bellow loudly at our disappearance.
Nervous, one of us stood up, not sure who anymore, but he signaled to Putin. I say one of us, because I know it wasn't me.
Our guy approached Putin, then made like the restaurant we were in was our original plan/meet up location, while two of us desperately pulled an empty table toward ours, to tack onto the end of the booth, disrupting the flow of service in the busy restaurant. Unfortunately, the table was the wrong height and tucked strangely a few inches underneath the booth's table.
As the Putin crew approached, and noticed we already had eaten half of the food on the table, we nervously joked that hunger had gotten the better of us, but that we ordered it for all to share. One of Putin’s silent henchmen put his fingers into an already cold plate of mini meatballs and popped one, then two, into his mouth.
An hour later, in an automobile that wasn't driven us, but rather a Putin crony, Putin, sat beside John in the back seat. I sat half turned around in the front passenger seat of the car when Putin finally cracked opened a can of beer and handed it to my colleague, John. Then he opened one for himself. Giddy, just like an uncool, over excited teenager on his first date, he looked at me curiously.
At this it would be helpful to note, that I was the only woman in this entire meet up and Putin's discomfort, since I jokingly told him my name was Tatiana Ver-skin-off-ski was apparent. It was then that my male cohort passed me his open can to share, but just as he did the driver hit a bump in the road, and it spilled on my hand. I made small talk about police, open container laws, and as quickly as I had received the can, I returned it.
Putin sat on a wooden bench, outside the targeted building, along a busy street with the noise of traffic. Surrounded by his men, who nervously paced beside and behind him. Two from our group had disappeared into the nearby building, accompanied by two of Putin's men tasked with retrieving what Putin wanted, the book that he thought belonged to him.
It didn't, I assure you.
Not sure what to make of it, visibly distraught, by their sudden reappearance, Putin’s potential for anger surfaced as both of our men, Luke and Pete reemerged minus one book, but dressed unexpectedly as women now, one more garish than the other, reappeared.
All of us watched, confused as my two men tried to explain to Putin that in order to shed ones discomfort it's sometimes easiest to become someone entirely new. Their forced humor and outrageous costumes, one in a red blouse and a mini skirt made entirely of black fringe, teetering uncomfortably on high heels and in fishnets, while the other, less memorable, but equally outrageous, put Putin at ease, and for the first time all evening he cracked a real smile on his otherwise steely expression.
We knew what they wanted. They knew exactly what they were after. And so far, we hadn't provided them with what they came for. Putin's frustration, after having played nice all evening at our outrageous distractions and games, was now visibly angry. He wanted the book he came for. We feigned ignorance, knowing it was tucked in the front of John's pants under his shirt the whole time. And this is where it fell apart quickly. Putin's anger, turned to violence within minutes and our jovial inaction turned to running within seconds straight back into the building, desperate to escape our imminent death.
Running up an exterior stair, a metal fire escape, Pete, still in a mini skirt screamed about the rug burn on his knees. Not sure why he chose to mention that while running for our lives, but he pressed on about it and then cried out, that it only happens while being fucked from behind. And that's when we realized that Putin’s sadistic crew were not beneath taking advantage of any of us, as they had Pete and Luke.
Finally, inside the building, inside a closed room, one cluttered with the stalled act of manufacturing toy dolls, atop high tables but surrounded by walls exposed from the waist up by glazing we scrambled to hide under the tables only to realize the only logical place to hide would be beside and directly underneath those very transparent walls.
It was at that moment, the weight in the room itself shifted, literally, the room began to tilt, as if precariously balancing on an invisible large ball beneath the floor boards. Desperate not to fall through the glass or be exposed we all clamored toward the center, like rats desperate not to fall in to the ocean on the deck of a sailboat.
Our exposure had us caught. And the book, Putin's 'book', was still a major point of contention.
Now with our arms up in the air, guns pointed at us, and a large black gun burrowed into John’s chest cavity, the book peeked precariously out of the top of John's pants.
In a dark room, across town, after another uncomfortable car ride, Putin and I sat against a wall in ornate upholstered carved wooden chairs as he examined and held the precious book in his hands, finally.
Forced to sit vigil, the room was silent despite being filled with Putin's and my men. A man, unknown to me, but obviously a priest apparently lay dying on a large even more ornate bed, over two yards away from us.
I looked at Putin, trying to understand.
"I need to ask him something", Putin said uncharacteristically aloud.
And despite my agnostic background, I finally understood. Putin was a bad guy, and even bad guys know they are going to hell.
The Oped Files
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Tanya H. Van Cott is currently working on her newest novel, Bandwidth, a digital love story that takes a look into the near future where a new water technology, the climate crisis, Ai and the global landscape have all turned on their head.