Day Two of the Five Day Plan: The Way to Red Saviour's Heart

From the Story Arc: A Snake In The Grass

Previous Story in the Arc: Day One of the Five Day Plan: The Bed-In by Red Saviour (Wednesday, August 18, 2004)

Next Story in the Arc: Day Three: I Feel Pretty by Red Saviour (Sunday, August 22, 2004)

(posted Saturday, August 21, 2004)

Day Two:



Day Two of the Five Day Plan began, as Day One had, well after dawn. Mosca again had to drag her out of bed and force her to clean up in order to make the breakfast service at Golden Lions Country Club.


There he plied her with mocha coffee and scones, surrounded by the elegant décor of a country club that had seen millions of dollars of deals closed. Natalya was disgusted by the display of decadence – particularly the fountain spewing orange juice and champagne --  until Mosca began to make fun of their neighbors under his breath. They giggled through the lamb with mint jelly, and when the smoked salmon came they were drawing stares. Natalya got her notebook out of her bag, hammer and sickle in gold leaf on the cover, and made a show of eavesdropping on conversations. Three tables left abruptly. She left their waitress a fifty percent tip, out of guilt and as a recruitment ploy.


Natalya wanted to try her hand at golf, but Mosca would not allow it.


“The rules are clear. Today is to be spent at fine restaurants, even if we are not eating.” The fact that the golf course was part of the club did not sway him. “Besides,” he said with a mischievous grin, “if you are wanting to golf, I will take you to Scotland where is game of the peoples, all peoples – here is only game of bourgeoisie pigs. But… perhaps we come back here on some afternoon picnic in the rough, and you can be making their balls explode in big air while I cover holes with grenade webbing.”


They took a cab to a coffeehouse in Founder’s Falls, where a cup of coffee cost as much as a regular meal, double including the pastry. The coffeehouse occupied half of a rare book store, packed with musty leather volumes selling for inflated prices. Natalya found a hundred year old copy of Das Kapital but refused to let Mosca buy it.


“Whoever can afford this book most certainly needs to read it,” she explained.


By early afternoon they regained their appetites. This time Natalya led the way to a Russian restaurant. The walls were decorated with golden fabric tapestries, and the traditional dress of the waitresses gave away the pre-revolutionary sympathies of the owner.


“He has seen Dr. Zhivago once to much,” she told an amused Mosca. “Is no good Communist style restaurant in all city…probably not in all country.”


“And probably not good in Russia either,” he said. “Admit it, querida, there is a joy to living that we must not let ideology squelch. Do you not agree?”


“Nyet,” she set the menu down. “Utilitarian food is good for everyone, everywhere. You do not have revolution when lunch undermines doctrine.”


“What if,” he waggled a finger, “the simple joy of eating is of the greatest utility? Is not a happy worker a productive worker?”


Natalya chewed her lip. “Da.”


“And what of love? Does not a worker who looks forward to making love to his darling bride every night work faster, to match his quickening heart?”


“Santiago! Such talk!” She hid behind the menu. He reached over the table and pulled it down to meet her eyes.


“I am not embarrassed to speak of loving around you, Natya. I keep no mysteries from you. It is but my way. How long must I hide my admiration?”


She leaned forward. “You hide it very poorly.”


“I am glad you think so.” He squeezed her fingers. “Then I will stop trying, my beautiful flower.” She swatted his hand with the menu. “Que?”


“You are making me to sound like little frail girl. Am not flower.”


“A rose has thorns.”


“Pfff!”


She wouldn’t let Santiago see the menu. When the waiter arrived, she told him in Russian to bring the manager out, that Krasnyj Spasitel, Red Saviour herself, was here to dine with them. His jaw dropped as he recognized her as the famed Soviet heroine, and he rushed into the kitchen.


Natalya gave Mosca a satisfied smirk.


“Currying favor because of your position is not very humble, my delicate servant of the collective.”


She waved the comment away. “Is how we do things in Moscow. Be watching and learning, moj dorogoj.”


A stocky man arrived at their table. Behind him was what appeared to be the entire staff of the restaurant, the manager’s family, the valets, and two or three diners. She stood to greet him and he took Natalya’s hands in his. The excited stream of words came out in thick Georgian accented Russian.


“Comrade Red Saviour, you grant us such an honor! We have never before had so great a hero of the people in our humble establishment! I am Ivanov Siamko, I am the owner here. Please, you are most welcome. Make yourself at home.”


She bowed. “Comrade Siamko, you honor me with your kindness. It is good to hear our beautiful tongue spoken in middle of this crass American city. My comrades have spoken of your restaurant, but it is only today that I have managed to find the time to eat here.”


“Such good news! But look, you have the wrong menu.” He removed the menu as if it were covered with flies. “Bring the proper menu for our guest.” His wife bustled away. Ivanov gestured to his cook, who produced a digital camera. “Comrade Commissar, we beg your forgiveness, but could we trouble you for a picture? It will hang in a place of honor. Then we will leave you alone with your handsome friend.”


She regarded Mosca for a moment. “Nyet, you need not leave us alone. Perhaps you can eat with us? It is past your lunch rush.” Mosca’s face betrayed his surprise.


Within minutes four tables were pulled together and filled with chattering Russians. Natalya took the middle position, giving Mosca the impression that they were staging a Russian version of the Last Supper. To her right the cook snapped pictures and pointed his finger at choice items on the Russians-only menu. To her left, I. Siamko prattled about Russian celebrities in the states, or so it seemed to Mosca, who could only pick out a proper noun here and there.


Somehow, Natalya seemed to pose for a picture with each of the Russians before the food came: borscht, presumably from a batch reserved for native diners; coarse white bread, suitable for dipping; pelmeny, with sour cream for dipping; baked potatoes, cooked just like at the popular chain Kroshka-Kartoshka, which caused Natalya to cry out in delight and insist Santiago eat one.


“Is not fancy, Santi, but is how I ate in Moscow. Oh, I am missing this.”


The dishes were cleared away, and a samovor of tea was brought out. Apple pastries with Alvay honey were piled on each end of the table. Santiago marveled at how Natalya could keep her figure with such heavy food forming the basis of her diet. One of the little girls tugged at his sleeve.


“Do you want a pastry?” She held it up to him in dirty hands.


“Oh, mi amiga, you have made this boy very happy.” He made a show of savoring a slow bite. “It is sweet like you, si? What is your name?”


“Galina.”


“A beautiful name. Mi bella Galina, would you bring this pastry to my dear friend?” He plucked a pastry from the nearby tray.


“Okay.” The girl ran around him to get to Natalya, who was listening to the wife of the owner and nodding patiently.


“Oh, who is this being?” She lifted Galina into her lap. Flash bulbs went off in a dozen digital cameras.


“I’m Galina,” said Galina. “I’m six.”


“Very good, Galina. Your English is most excellent. Do you like living here?”


“Yes.” Everyone waited for her to elaborate. She became interested in Natalya’s hair. The table laughed.


“She is my granddaughter, comrade Saviour. Please tell us if she is bothering you.”


“Nyet, she’s fine.” Natalya nevertheless looked tense holding the child, as if she was as fragile as the glass tea cups. I. Siamko chuckled.


“I must admit, I am surprised you are not yet in Moscow. Is there special superhero plane to take you there tonight?”


“Eh? Nyet, I am not going to Moscva.” Galina, emboldened by the attention, tried to feed her another pastry.


“For the state funeral, of course.”


Frowning, she put Galina down. “Who has died? An official of the Party?”


I. Siamko blanched. The room fell silent. “I’m sorry, I thought…you would have known. Comrade, Worker’s Champion was killed in accident two days ago.”


Natalya bolted upright. “What?”


He bowed his head. “I am sorry, I am sorry. I did not mean to be the bearer of sad news. I just assumed you would know of these things.”


She stood stock still, half risen from her chair. Santiago stood and put his arm around her, guiding her back down. “Querida, sit, please.” She gripped his hand. He could see tears gathering in her eyes.


“I cannot believe it.” Santiago was puzzled by her reaction to the death of her nemesis, but he was not one to let a woman weep uncomforted. He pulled her close, letting her crush her tears into his shirt. In his arms, she began to weep.


The Russians at the table all hung their heads. Natalya’s shock had reopened the wounds of the loss of their famous Russian hero. Galina began to cry and had to be held by her grandmother.


Natalya wiped her eyes. “It is not your fault. I have been away from things for a time. I’m sorry to ruin our meal.” I. Siamko patted her hand, having comforted many crying women, young and old, in his life.


“Nyet, Comrade Saviour, you are right to mourn. We’re glad you can be here with us for it.”


She sniffled. “Do you have vodka, comrade? Good Russian vodka, or, better, samogon?”


He nodded, gave a meaningful glance to one of the waiters, who rose and left to fetch it. He returned with a large unmarked bottle and a tray of vodka glasses. Natalya gestured to him to bring the tray to her. She poured the strong smelling homemade vodka into each glass and passed them. The final two glasses she reserved for her and Santiago.


She stood for a toast, but said nothing, merely held out her glass. The table rose with her and held up their glasses. She started to speak, choked, then swallowed and gave them an embarrassed smile.


“Ivan Ivanovich Medvedev, you were great Russian hero. It was bolshoi honor to serve under you. My comrades and I will strive to uphold your example. Sleep well, comrade Boryets.” She lifted the glass and drank the powerful stuff in one gulp. The table answered her with a “sleep well.” I. Siamko squeezed her shoulder.


Lunch was over, but it took twenty minutes for Natalya and Santiago to leave. I. Siamko wouldn’t hear of accepting money for the meal, and she wouldn’t agree to eating for free. Finally he allowed her to pay for the vodka, though Santiago thought he saw enough bills being passed for a dozen table-sized toasts. He doubted their meager CCCP paychecks would survive this 5 Day Plan. Natalya promised to return to the restaurant next week for dinner with the family.


The shock of Worker’s Champion’s death had exhausted her. Santiago guided her back to the apartment to sleep off the two large meals. He sat on the couch and flipped through the sheaf of blue paper, covered with angry orders in cyrillic writing. He did not understand her reaction. Everything he knew about Worker’s Champion had painted him as an evil man, with sinister intentions and a hold over the CCCP and his beloved Natya. His departure from this world should have been a tremendous relief to her.


I have much to learn about this woman, he mused.



* * *



Natalya studied her profile in the mirror, standing as far back as her tiny bathroom would allow. She wore skintight outfits for a living, yet wearing an evening gown still intimidated her. It was…what? Too girly. She didn’t feel like herself in an evening gown, even though she knew she could wear one like a weapon.


Tonight she only wanted to impress Mosca, though that was proving to be easy. Yet there was a reticence in his manner that worried her. She first assumed she’d be fending off his advances with a barstool, like a lion tamer. Two nights on the couch changed him. Now he watched her expectantly. For an invitation to bed? Or something else? She feared that she had misunderstood some code normal people use to fall in love. Men had always tried to worm their way into her life, and she usually chased them off, even those she rather liked. It was a superheroine curse, she had decided long ago. She was resigned to being an icon rather than an actual woman.


The dress was jet black, of course. It was made of a polyester blend that imitated a finer cotton weave, without wrinkling. The bust scooped low, fringed by frilly black lace. It came down to her knees and hung on tightly. She had bought it once for a funeral, and the looks she received at the cemetery suggested that it was suitable for more frivolous pursuits.


She felt as awkward as a teenager on her first date.


To make it worse, she had no fashionable high-heeled shoes for such an outfit. Santiago had broken into the apartment of his sister, called his sister, Gato Rojo, and borrowed a pair. They fit poorly. Natalya swayed, trying to keep her balance on the needlepoint heels. She had worn heels but only sturdy Russian ones. How Gato got around on these pins she could not fathom.


She checked her make-up once more, hoping the eyeliner hid her red eyes enough, and opened the bathroom door. Santiago stood in his sharp black suit, with a bold wide collared red shirt declaring CCCP colors. He had trimmed his goatee, slicked back his hair and removed his sunglasses. In his hand was a single red rose.


“Santiago, you are so…quite dashed.” Her cheeks felt warm. “When did you get so dressed?”


With a flourish he presented the rose. “When a woman enters the bathroom, time stands still for her suitor. Besides, is no rush, si? Our reservations are an hour away yet.” His eyes roamed over her dress. “It is a good fit, no? You are so lovely, Natya. I am content to stand here for that hour and admire you.”


“Poo, you are flatter on me. Am feeling silly.”


“Then I have been confusing beautiful with silly all my life. I shall never forget you like this.”


She blushed so hard it made her temples hurt. “Please, Santi, I embarrass…”


“Lo siento, Commissarina. I behave as a foolish boy. Please forgive, querida.” He offered an arm. “Let us arrive early for our meal.”


“And flower? I have bottle for saving.”


“You must bring it with you, so that no pendejo dares to try to steal you away.”


* * *


 It felt odd to ride the train in civilian attire. Natalya felt little affinity for the handful of costumed crimefighters riding with them in their car. Their gaudy outfits seemed to have been sewn together by a frustrated teenager. The dark figure with the glowing red eyes seemed to have it worst of all.


El Delfin overlooked the central park in Atlas Park. Yet another gargantuan statue of a fallen hero stood, lit from below with orange sodium streetlights to seem a glowing ghost presiding over a haunted city. Colored lights moved erratically in the sky: heroes on their nightly patrols. Natalya almost reached for her comm unit until she recalled it was at home, turned off and batteries removed.


Their table nestled in the corner of the patio. Ferns in rough ceramic pots concealed them from their fellow diners. From habit, she peeked through the leaves to assess each of the civilians. They all seemed harmless, though the graying man with the younger woman was a plainclothesman. Homicide, she decided from the hunch in his shoulders.


The waiter arrived, a handsome middle-aged Spaniard with a thin moustache. Mosca in twenty years, she mused.


“Buonas noches, senor y senorita,” he said as he set glasses of water on the table. “Mi llama Agapito. ¿Esta usted de España?”


“I am sorry, camarada, I am from Spain, si, but my lovely companion is Russian. Do you speak English?”


“Si, I do, senor. Welcome to our establishment, senorita,” he said with the same elegant bow Santiago had greeted her with on their first meeting.


“Spasibo. Are all Spaniards so charming?”


Agapito laughed from deep in his throat. “Oh, si, senorita! You are just now noticing? Beauty makes us remember our manners.”


Santiago tapped the drink menu. “To begin, please bring us dos vodka coladas.” Agapito inclined his head and stepped away. Santiago favored her with a smile. “Mi corazon, this is the finest Spanish food in Paragon City. It is the perfect end to a day of intestinal paradise and,” he added, “to hearing of sad news.”


“Is day of good company too.” She took his hand with ease. After spending yesterday in bed, talking for hours on end, Natalya had already grown accustomed to touching this man. She found every excuse to do so now.


The vodka coladas arrived, flanked by plates of tapas: calamares, boquerones, gambas a la plancha. “Squid,” Santiago explained when Natalya held up a calamari with a quizzical expression. She grimaced, then shrugged and tried it. “Too chewy,” she said, reaching for the shrimp. He moved the plate to his side of the table.


“Allow me, corazon.” With deft fingers he stripped the shell off the shrimp, dipped it in butter sauce, and held it out. “Now you may eat.” She leaned over and nipped off half the shrimp, barely missing his fingers. “Bueno, si? Much tastier when a friend feeds you.” They finished the shrimp together, then the boquerones, tiny fried sardines.


Santiago ordered the vino de verano, insisting it was better than sangria, less sweet and with more character. “El Delfin’s house wine is particularly good. We will start with nothing less than a bottle.”


“Santi…can we afford this meal? I am having fears that our 5 Day Plan will be end of savings.”


He waved her concern away. “I know the owner. He is a compadre, and owes me favors. We eat with impunity here.”


“Favors. Hmmm. I am taking word on that.”


The vino arrived with a carafe of ice, and with that gazpacho soup and diced vegetables. Mosca seized her bowl of vegetables and her soup bowl. “You must dress your soup properly. I am honored to dress you, querida.” She giggled. “The secret is to fear no excess! Onions and onions again!” He added a smattering of tomatoes and green bell pepper chunks.


Natalya tasted the cold soup and declared it good. Then she reached for a piece of table bread to dip into the soup. The look of alarm on Santiago’s face stopped her. “Nyet?”


“No. Por favor.” She shrugged and ate the bread dry.


“Natya mi corazon, I must ask you a question, this question I hope you will answer.” He pushed aside his gazpacho. “I did not understand when you became so upset over Worker’s Champion. Since I have joined group, there is nothing but hatred for him. Sweet little Bestla and Commissar Mojiotok were said to be risking death by confronting him. It is not good news, then, that he can trouble you no more?”


 “Is not easy to explain.” She paused to search for words. “Worker’s Champion was hero to Soviet people for nearly century. He helped create Duma, he fought for Stalin. He fought Hitler. Every time Russia has needed strength and willpower, Worker’s Champion stood up to be counted. We thought he was immortal, tied to the Russian spirit like Viktor is through magic.” She sipped her wine – more than a sip, really – and continued: “Can you hate your own country? No matter how horrible things become, or leadership corrupts, you are knowing that your fellow man is suffering with you. That is your true country…just as Amerkantskii can look around this room and see countrymen. Russia was lucky to have face to put onto that concept. Was Worker’s Champion. Greater hero than Statesman, greater than any of us.”


“But all the conflicts you had with him, the crazy policies…kicking Gato and I out of CCCP. You even believed Bestla was sent to kill you! How can you excuse this?”


“There is nothing to excuse. Mojiotok accused me of becoming like Worker’s Champion. Perhaps, if I was Commissar long enough, I would see myself making same decisions. I am not saying he was right in what he did, but he was hero. He was the hero. He was part of Russian soul, for good parts and bad too. I hated him, but I knew my feelings were very small compared to very big thing that he was to my people.” She pushed hair out of her eyes. “That is why I cried for him.”


They were silent for a time. Natalya picked at her food. The waiter removed their tapas plates.


“Santi,” she began, then stopped. Her hand found his. “I know you are wondering about what I am to do, but please understand that I am not thinking so much of this. CCCP is over now. Moji is in charge, and old Viktor, and Fei Li, and they must determine course without me. I am sure everything will be brighter and happier with Worker’s Champion gone. But I was part of bad times too. It was time to step down.”


He shook his head. “You were the heart and the soul of the group. Without you it is nothing.”


“Heart, soul, everyone has these. They will find another. You do not know Fei Li as I do, but she is more of leader than Moji, me and Viktor put together. She is only person I know who I see as Worker’s Champion’s equal. Maybe is because she is half spirit, but never underestimate her because she is quiet.” Her eyes were downcast. “I cannot keep failing. I thought fighting was only thing I am good at. But I am thinking I am finding new thing to be good at.” She smiled at him. The new sense of hope in her eyes squeezed his heart.


“Tell me!”


“Is being with you, Santi.” He looked away from her for a moment. “What, is not good news?”


“No, no, querida…I am just overwhelmed. Never before have I wanted to hear such a thing so much!” Her smile became broader. “You would quit CCCP for me?”


“I have already quit, darling! I am free. Is great feeling, and is all thanks to you!” She let go of his hands and raised her wine glass. “Should we not toast?”


“Si, si, a toast is in order.” He refilled his glass and raised it. “To…?”


“To love, moj dorogoj. To us!”


Their glasses chimed like a bell tolling the end of the day.