Day Three: I Feel Pretty

From the Story Arc: A Snake In The Grass

Previous Story in the Arc: Day Two of the Five Day Plan: The Way to Red Saviour's Heart by Red Saviour (Saturday, August 21, 2004)

Next Story in the Arc: Day Four: Full speed ahead for the fourth and final day of the Five Day Plan! by Red Saviour (Tuesday, August 24, 2004)

(posted Sunday, August 22, 2004)

Mosca awoke in pain. Three nights on Red Saviour’s worn couch was doing things to his back that a dozen Fifth Column Nacht Fists could not equal. Fortunately, he had discovered her bottle of Ibuprofen and sampled liberally from it. He considered sleeping on the floor tonight; it would straighten out his back at least.

The bitter irony was that he had refused an invitation to sleep in her bed. More than sleep; she made it clear that the chase was over, and he had overtaken her. After their full day of fine dining, capped by a multiple course Spanish paella dinner and very much iced vino de verano, Natalya had opened up to him. Her words rang clear in his head: “To love, moj dorogoj. To us!” From the moment he first saw her, resplendent in red and black and floating thirty feet off the ground, he wanted her. He wanted to lose himself in her, unlike any other mujer he had ever known. When the chance to spend time with her came, he unleashed as much charm as he could muster, fearing if he did not she would never believe he wanted her.

The problem was that his charm worked too well. Santiago had walked into her life as everything else tumbled down around her. She possessed the greatest inner strength of any woman he had met, yet he found her and won her when she was weakest. A defeated woman, desperate for any kind word. He had thrilled at the beginning of a courtship unlike any other, and it became a conquest. He could not allow that.

At midnight they had staggered out of El Delfin after unending rounds of vodka coladas and red wine. The owner of the restaurant had a brother in Spain who would not be alive but for the decisive actions of Mosca. Never would he accept money for feeding him, and certainly not in front of such a beautiful companion. And, Mosca knew, the owner hoped to curry favor with Gato. He liked the old gentleman far too much to allow that to go any further.

At the corner they stopped to look over the park. Squirrels bolted across the lawns under the moonlight. Natalya gripped his hand fiercely, as if he were a new toy. His joy mixed freely with alcohol and a strange regret.

“I am so happy tonight,” she said. “Is ironic that worst week of my life becomes best week. Is foolish joke on me!”

He chuckled and put his arm around her. “Is most beautiful joke, querida.”

“Santi,” she said in a mock scold. “Moon is out, we are drunken, and you have not kissed me. Must I excoriate you?”

“Hmmm. Perhaps. Would I enjoy it?”

“Oh, no, it would be quite painful. I am very trained at excoriation.”
“In that case, I will do what I must.” He pulled her close and kissed her, twisting to allow her to wrap her arms around his neck, rose still in her hand. She pressed her body against his, and he forgot what it was he regretted about accepting this woman’s love.

Shouts interrupted their kiss. Across the street, a Hellion played tug-of-war with a woman’s purse. She cursed him in a very unladylike way. His companion laughed at every outburst.

“Just take the purse, man! Stop screwing around.”

“Ay! Such unfortunate timing,” said Mosca, arm still around Natalya. “Let us put an end to this crime.”

She pointed above them. “Nyet! Amerikantskii are coming to rescue. We can remain civilians tonight. No smashing, just kissing. Please, again?”

When the four heroes landed nearby, he shrugged and returned to her eager lips. It felt strange to ignore a crime, but she was right, the job was being taken care of. Or was it? The woman began pleading for help, and all he heard was the thugs’ laughter.

“Natya…The heroes, they do nothing. One appears to be consulting a map.”

It was true: the heroes stood no less than twenty feet away, with their backs to the mugging. One of them appeared to be talking on her comm unit.

The oath Natalya swore would have surely shredded Mosca’s ears, had he understood Russian street slang. She released him and stomped over to the muggers. Mosca clearly heard the word “svinyas.”

The muggers watched the heroes, chuckling that they were beneath notice, but nevertheless cautious. The one with one hand on his victim’s purse never saw Natalya’s fist. He slumped to the ground with a broken jaw.

His comrade was surprised but fast. He drew a pistol and pointed it at Natalya. “Stay back!” he shouted. Mosca’s heart raced. The situation turned deadly so quickly – ten seconds ago he was kissing her – and now she faced death.

“Pfff!” Without dropping into a combat stance, she seized the crook’s pistol arm and twisted it away from his body. The sound of snapping bone echoed against the buildings, as did his howls. Irritated, Natalya backhanded him, and he dropped to a fetal position.

“What was that?” One of the heroes, wearing spiky armor and a bandolier, peeked over his map at Natalya. Mosca had reached her side and helped the woman up.

“Thank you, thank you so much.” The woman, middle-aged and now dirty, brushed off her pants. “They didn’t help at all, did you see that?”

“It is shame, matrozka. Please to be more careful next time. You cannot count on Amerikantski heroes for anything!” The volume of her voice rose until the quartet of heroes was sure to overhear.

They did: they all turned and stared. Leaving Mosca and the woman, she wobbled over to them on Gato’s ill-fitting stiletto heels. “You,” she started, pointing at them, “you are to be ashamed on yourselves. What are you doing?”

One of the four, dressed in black leather and standing seven feet tall, looked down his nose at her. “We are on a mission, citizen.”

“A task force,” added a blonde in silver body armor. “For Positron.”

Natalya spit on the ground. “Pah! Positron is svinya running dog loser! You think he is more important than helping keep workers safe?”

“Workers?” The last of the four, a giant almost as wide as he was tall and bearing a battle axe, took a step towards her. “What are you talking about?”

She pointed back at Mosca and the victim. “That worker was being robbed by Hellions. I am on date, was KISSING, and had to stop very romantic moment because you could not be bothering to help.”

“We’re on a Task Force mission. We’re Task Force Victory’s Wing. The city is in danger if we don’t act fast.” The giant gestured to the spiky man’s map.

Natalya put her hands on her hips. “It took me very few seconds of smashing to help lady. You could not spare that?”

The woman in the armor held up her comm unit. “I was receiving instructions.”

Natalya’s hand snaked out and slapped the unit to the ground. It shattered at the silvery woman’s feet. “I instruct you now to do your jobs, svinyas! You sicken me!”

“Hey!” They all crowded forward. Mosca was at her side in an instant, fists balled.

“Please give word and I will teach them manners.”

But Natalya pushed him back. “Nyet, darling. I am very mad now. Perfect evening ruined by stupid Amerikantskii heroes.” They bristled at this. “I am now ready to fight.”

“I’m not fighting a girl,” said the giant. “Not a civilian anyway. And not a drunk one.”

“Oh! You are saying I cannot hold my vodka, big dum-dum? This is ultimate insult to Russian. I am ending Task Force Useless Amerkantskii Retards now, starting with you.”
“Natya,” Mosca said. “What if we let them alone? You have shown them error of ways.”

“Have not even begun.” She gave her rose to Mosca. “You are holding my rose.”

“Si, Commissar Red Saviour.”

The woman in silver gasped with recognition. “Red Saviour? From the Communist Group of…whatever it is?”

“Da.” Natalya removed Gato’s shoes and piled them on top of the rose. “Am same. Bad night to pick on civilians, nyet?”

“Uh, guys,” said the dark spiky map reader. “She’s, like, really tough. Like blow up buildings tough.”

The giant laughed scornfully. “This chick? I don’t think so.”

Red Saviour flicked her wrist. A thin beam of blue energy blasted a small hole at the giant’s feet. He jumped back, startled.

“Is start thinking time,” she said. “But I don’t need magic powers to teach you lesson. Is more satisfying to beat you to pulp with bare hands and feets. Now,” she assumed a combat pose. “All at once, please. Am taking pretty man home to bed, I am in big hurry.”

“Querida, no. This is a bad idea.”

She turned and shot him a regal glare. It thrilled him: this was the Red Saviour he loved. “I give you orders, Mosca. Do not interfere. Just watch what Natalya did to svinyas when all I had was Fei Li’s training and two fists.” She turned back to the superheroes, now all tensed for battle. “We begin re-education now.”

The giant snarled. “We’re not fighting you, commie. We have real foes to vanquish.”

Natalya leapt into the air and launched a spinning kick that snapped his massive head back. She landed neatly on her feet. “I am your foe now, bolshoi stupido. Please to bring it on.”

The giant roared and rushed her. Hands that could enclose her head reached for her. She leaned to the right, jutted a leg forward to trip him, and took hold of his massive arm with both hands. Pivoting back on her leg, she threw him into the spiky armored hero. Both went down in a pile of limbs.

The black leather seven footer extended his hand. Green radiation seeped out of his glove. “I shall subdue her,” he cried. A beam of blinding green light shot out at her, but she had already rolled under his aim. She sprung into the air and landed feet first on his broad shoulders. He bucked like a horse. Natalya spun in the air and dropped behind him, grabbing the sides of his leather mask and using her momentum to fling him against a telephone pole. Dislodged band flyers wafted over his prone body.

She straightened her skirt, and discovered the seam had torn up her side, revealing a glimpse of red panties. The anger on her face was frightening, and it was directed at the last standing member of the team: the woman in silver armor.

“Wait.” The woman held up her hands in surrender. “We don’t have to fight.”

Natalya advanced. “But I am enjoying it. Also, only nice dress is ripped.”

The silver heroine backed up. “I don’t want to use my ice blast on you.”

“Please try. You will miss, and then I get to beat you senseless. Then work on your friends again.”

“Querida,” Mosca called. He stood with the mugging victim, who seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. “If their mission is important, you must let them finish it. Do not be greedy.”

She spat on the ground. “Was just getting started, Santi! I wanted to show you Ukraine Kick. Is specialty I developed. See?” She crouched, arms extended like a crane’s wings. “Then I aim at this one’s head…”

“Please!” The woman backed away again. “You’re right, we’re sorry! We should have stopped.” The others had gotten to their feet and advanced menacingly. “You made your point.”

“Da?” Natalya regarded the angry heroes. The giant with the axe fingered its haft. “What is your name, woman?”

“Silver Shadow.”

“If you were in CCCP, you would be excoriated for negligence. We are here to save workers, not appeal to our egos. Am clear on you?”

They all nodded, the men angry but cowed. Natalya walked back to Mosca and the woman. She took the rose from his hands and gave it to her. “Please to have safe night, matrozka. May we call cab? Fare is on them.”


Back at the apartment, she reviewed the damage to her outfit. Mosca quickly hid Gato’s shoes, fearing for their safety. When he came back into the living room, she was pulling apart the seam. The dress fell away from her right side. She wiggled her left arm to deposit it on the floor.

“Are you mad at me?” She faced him in what he knew to be samples from Victoria’s Secrets. There was no shame in her bearing. She wanted to be seen by him now. “They deserved much more. I was planning to feed spikes to spiky boy. They’re lucky I promised to show you fighting moves and not just blow them up.”

“Very lucky.” Her near-nudity made him feel weak. His eyes roamed over her body. She was more muscular than the models the Americans favored. Even so, he wondered how her slender form could be so strong.

“Is evening ruined?” She began to play with a bra strap.

“Ah, no, not yet. There is much we can be doing.” He watched her step around the coffee table to curl up on the couch. Despite the prowess she’d shown in battle, she was clearly still feeling the effects of the wine and vodka.

“Santi!” Her hands felt the cushions. “Couch is hard as rock! You cannot sleep here any more.” She stood. “We will replace it tomorrow. Tonight you sleep in bed.”

“Was there not a rule? You were not ready for such.”

Natalya put her arms around him. “Am ready. Come to bed. I am tired of fighting and want sweetness.” Her lips found his. Despite his qualms, he rested his hands on the small of her back. The muscles were hard as steel wires.


“Santi…da, please…”

He pushed her away from him. “No, querida, I am sorry. I cannot.”

Her eyes searched his. The fear in them broke his heart. “What is wrong?”

“Nothing!” he assured her. “This moment, it sings to me. You are so lovely, I cannot wish for more. Yet I am not ready for this.” Santiago stroked her hair. “I fear we rush something I wish to last forever, Commissar.”

Natalya brought his hand to her cheek.

“Am not Commissar,” she murmured.

“You are, you are. Do not lose faith. Let me restore your faith first.” He surprised himself with his need for honesty. “I cannot live with doing nothing while you give up your life’s work. You cannot substitute me for CCCP. You might lose both.”

“I don’t understand.”

He pulled her to him. “Querida, a part of me wants to help you remove these lovely frilly things and make love to you all night. A very large part. But that is not what you need. You need a friend to warn you about the road you travel on, it is going to wrong place.” He kissed her quickly. “I love you too much to be the mistake you regret. Please give me time to…to…” He could not find the words. “I do love you, Natya. You know this?”

She nodded. He hoped she wouldn’t cry again.

“Then let me honor everything you are. Commissar, woman, friend… many things. I, too, am changing. I am finding new purpose with you.”

“I am happy to be hearing so,” she whispered.

“Si. Believe me, mi corazon, it is hard for me to refuse this offer.” He could not resist running a hand up her back. She shivered. “Very, very…well, very difficult. I would not do it for any other woman.”

“So,” she said with a little smile, “you will not make love to me because you love me?”

“Si. It sounds very strange, no?”

Natalya let go of him and stepped back. She looked him over, still smiling. He returned her smile. She seemed awkward and childlike, standing with one arm behind her back. With small steps backward she edged towards her bedroom door. At the threshold she stopped, tilted her head. He chuckled and waved to her. Smiling once more, she ducked into the bedroom and closed the door.


The morning sun and his hangover were an unfortunate combination. He deeply regretted going to sleep without drinking several glasses of water, and regretted even more allowing Natya to do so. She could handle vodka, but red wine seemed to pack a punch. An image came to his mind of her ripping her evening gown off. It laid in a heap near the couch. A casualty of the wine, he thought. Like myself.

He made a pot of instant coffee, the only coffee in her pantry, promising himself that he would stock her kitchen with decent food from now on. She even sacrifices coffee for the sake of the struggle. In this small way, I can improve her life.

Last night he saw two women: Red Saviour, resplendent in battle glory even in a doomed evening gown, and Natalya, helpless in the throes of love. Have I created this schism with my word games, he wondered. When Red Saviour was ready to admit defeat, did I bring her the terms of surrender and sweeten the deal with asylum in my arms?

Even as he held her pale form last night, ready for love, was he sowing the seeds of failure?

Ay, it is too much to grasp. Why is this one so complex? And with such poor taste in coffee. He forced himself to drink it for the caffeine fix.

Today was to be pampering day. Mosca had picked out a fancy spa, replete with massages, saunas, mud baths, all to relax his poor Natya. Then manicures, pedicures, waxing. She would feel like a real woman by the end of the visit. Somehow, that is what I fear most. I want my Commissar back, not some doe-eyed supermodel.

And when she stopped the mugging and picked a fight with those foolish heroes? It was my true Natya, calling out from under this soft pillow of girliness. I am not blind, he decided. I saw her true nature last night. It rose to the surface when instinct was called upon to act. Fearless and decisive action are in the core of her being. I would not be drawn to her – I could not be so in love with her – if she did not possess this. The lingerie, the submission to me…it is her sickness of spirit.

With determination he poured another cup of bitter coffee. She needs me now, more than she knows, Mosca thought. It is like a supervillain in her heart, using flunkies toting weapons of self-doubt. I must invade their evil lair and destroy their machinery.

He winced, both from the bad coffee and the worse analogy. Si, it is very silly, but for us there is truth in it. All along I thought I was fighting to win her heart, but I should be helping her to win back her heart. This is the choice of one who truly loves her.

Mosca flipped open his comm unit, switched it to phone mode, and began making calls. She would rise soon, he had little time.


“Santi?” Her voice was barely a whisper. “Santi…you are…making coffee?”

He jotted down directions and clicked the phone off. “Si, my heart,” he called. “You are awake?”

“Nyet. I am in horrible. Where is last night?”

A bad sign, he thought. He poured a cup and then a glass of water. He brought both to Natalya, who was trying without success to sit up in bed. She had not changed out of her underwear.

“Am trying to remember…what happened last night. Was vodka colada, ricey foods, red wine…ah, nyet, red wine. Stupid devushka with weakness to red wine.” She wavered, then chose the water and finished it in one gulp. “Coffee.”

“So red wine is your Kryptonite? That is very tragic. I will have to be your backup when you fight evil restaurateurs and wineries.”

“Ha ha, you make joke that hurts head. I am remembering now…I was fighting bad guys?”

He sat next to her and stroked her hair. “A few, but mostly good guys. They were very misguided, and you guided them. With fists and feet.” She nodded into her coffee. “It was a good show of excoriation! You were magnificent, my greatest dream.”

“Da, but still defeated by red wine monster.” Her eyes searched his. “You slept on couch again?”

“Si. You made kind offers to me, but I could not accept them. Let us not discuss it before coffee.”

“Did we make break up?”

“No, no! You were just too tired and feeling effects of wine and adrenaline come-down.” He rubbed her shoulders, eliciting a cat-like stretch that he knew he would enjoy watching for decades to come. “You do not have to fear for my loyalty, Commissar. My heart is yours.” He waited for her to correct his use of her former title. Instead, she stepped off the bed.

“Is long shower time. Please forgive.” He waved her off to the bathroom. When the door clicked shut he pulled out the comm unit and his piece of paper again. He took a deep breath, then dialed People’s Blade.


Mosca laid out her most expensive blouse and slacks. He sorted through her drawers and found a simple gold necklace, the best she had for jewelry. Feeling fiendish, he brought Gato’s pumps out from their hiding place.

Natalya’s powers of recuperation were remarkable. She looked fresh, despite circles under her eyes. Mosca thought her fetching in her tattered terrycloth robe.

“What are these?” She eyed the clothes with skepticism.

“Your clothes, madam. You are going to very fancy spa today, remember? I have booked a reservation at the finest spa in Paragon City.”

“But is my exercise time now. I have been very lax. Almost could not throw giant man last night.”

“Mi corazon, you cannot break the rules. Your appointment is in half an hour. They have a gym at the spa, surely it is better than push-ups on your floor.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he held up the blouse. “You are no longer a soldier. You must look your best. The ladies are accustomed to an elegant lifestyle, and you must fit in.”

She sighed and accepted the blouse as if it were lined with needles.


Spa Sylvain occupied ten acres of ancient forest on the outskirts of Paragon City, in the upper-class suburb known as Hilfiger Hills. The cabbie took the curves of the winding driveway as if he had been there every day. The main building of the spa was once a mansion owned by a famous romance actor. The mock Greco-roman architecture created an air of Mediterranean sophistication that Natalya had never seen. She craned her neck to watch passing statuary and fountains, not to mention the elegant women strolling in silk robes.

“I did not bring a robe! Santi, I will look foolish.” He patted her hand and said nothing.

The valets waved the cab to the front of the entryway. Mercedes Benz and Porsches waited to be taken to the private parking lot. Natalya got out of the cab and waited for Santiago to climb out, but he closed the door.

“This is your day to relax and feel special,” he said through the open car window. “At the end of the day you will feel like a true woman. I will come for you then.” He blew her a kiss and tapped the cab driver’s shoulder. The cab pulled off before Natalya could speak.

A trim blonde woman greeted her at the door. “Ms. Shostakovich? Hi! I’m Kelly, your Spa coordinator for today. Come this way, we’ll get you settled in. This is your first time? I love your shoes!”

Kelly took her by the arm and led her into the lobby. Ferns and marble statues lined the walls. There were three oil paintings in this room alone. One was clearly a Paul Klee original. Natalya stared at the painting and wondered why it wasn’t in a museum. Kelly looked at her expectantly.

“Um…spasibo, tovarisch Kelly. You have nice shoes as well.”

Kelly tittered like a robin. “Oh, these? They’re just work shoes! I do so much running here! Are you Russian? That’s so neat! You’ll love it here, I know. Is this a present from a special friend?”

Despite her fluency in English, Kelly’s rapid-fire delivery seemed to be chipping away Natalya’s verbal comprehension. Ten more minutes, she thought, and I will be monolingual again.

“Da…I mean yes, is from special friend. What should I do?”

Kelly actually put her hand over her mouth to laugh. “Oh, hee hee! Nothing! That’s the point of a spa! You don’t have to do anything today. We’ll do it for you!”

The receptionist handed Kelly a clipboard. “Wow! Ms. Shostakovich…can I call you Natalya? That is such a beautiful name! Your special friend is very generous. You’re signed up for the Olympia Luxury Program. That’s just about everything we offer. Come with me! We’ll get you started. Are you ready to hear what we have planned for you?”

Foreboding filled Natalya. She looked at the Klee again. “All right. Please continue, Kelly.”

“Okay! First, our signature manicure and pedicure. Then a detoxifying Black Baltic Mud Treatment. You are going to love that, Natalya! I can see you are very athletic. It’s perfect for you!” She tapped the clipboard. “Your friend has ordered the entire skincare treatment suite! Wow! Your skin looks really clear though, but today’s your day to be babied, so it will look even clearer. So, Restorative Vitamin C, Smoothing Glycolic, Cleansing Enzyme, Refined Lips, Revitalized Eyes, Hydrated Décolleté & Neck, Clarified Back, Toning Microcurrent and even Exfoliating Microdermabrasion. You are going to look amazing after this! Not that you don’t look amazing already. Do you model?”

Dazed, Natalya mumbled, “Da, I did once.”

“That is so neat!” Natalya realized that Kelly had somehow established dominance over her by perkiness. Quite a power, she thought. Perhaps it works on zombies? “Wow, okay, you have a full day here. We’re going to be good friends by the end of the day! Okay, next we’ll let your skin relax and work on your muscles. You’re pretty athletic? Do you work out?”

“Da, but not today.”

“That’s okay! We have a gym here, and it looks like you’re signed up for an hour of tai-bo and some free weights. That will be great! You’ll love that too! Great! Then, after the workout, yoga and a heated stone massage.  You’re also signed up for wellness therapy. Neat!”

“Wellness? What is this?”

“Wellness is like, like whole body health. Your wellness, you know? The spirit and the body are like One, and by balancing them you contribute to your overall wellness.” Back to the clipboard. “Oh! He’s signed you up for the full course! Color therapy, Reiki…oh, I just love Reiki, it’s very invigorating! And CrystalSonic Acoustic Soundwave Therapy. The woman who does that is so neat! Very centered.”

Before Natalya could object, Kelly dragged her to the locker room. “Let’s get you undressed while we finish this list. You have a full day ahead of you!”

The locker room looked more like a Roman version of a harem. Fabric hangings softened the sunlight. The women in the room were of varying ages, but to a one projected a feminine vulnerability that disturbed her. Kelly brought her over to a wood paneled locker. “This is yours!” she chimed. “There’s a robe inside. Go ahead and undress.”

“Here?” Natalya had seen no stalls. Somehow, stripping in front of these strangers bothered her more than being nude in a gym’s locker room.

“Sure! It’s a spa, after all. You should be as comfortable as possible. So,” she paused, waiting to be obeyed. I’m right, Natalya decided, she’s a supervillain in training. Reluctantly, she removed her clothes and hung them in the locker on wooden hooks. “So, after your wellness therapy, we go right to the good stuff. Waxing.”

“Waxing? Soaking in wax?”

“No, silly! To remove unwanted hair. He’s signed you up for full body waxing, plus…Oh, this is so sexy, you’ll love it! Brazilian bikini waxing. He’s a very lucky guy!”

She didn’t like the sound of that. “You will be telling me what is Brazil bikini.”

Kelly was unperturbed. “It’s everything in the groin area. You can choose the shape of what’s left. It’s really, really sexy.”

Natalya pointed to it on the clipboard. “You are crossing that one off, tovarisch. And this one? Eyebrows? What is wrong with eyebrows?”

“Well, like, they’re pretty bushy, don’t you think? We can really arch those nice. Like Madeline’s,” she pointed at a woman whose eyebrows rode so high on her forehead that she bore a look of constant alarm. “So pretty!”

“Nyet to that as well.”

“Okay. It’s probably good to save a little time to enjoy lunch.” Kelly crossed it off, but Natalya could tell she sensed a challenge. “Okay, okay! Great! The last thing is a trip to our soothing sauna. Then you’re all set!”

“May I see clipboard?” Natalya left no room for discussion.

“Oh, okay, sure.” Kelly relinquished it with poor grace, then fidgeted.

Natalya read down the list. Santiago had ordered her a massive regimen of treatments. In printed form it read like a list of tortures. Each carried a price tag that seemed absurd. At the bottom was the total: just under three thousand dollars. 

“Kelly. This is more than my friend and I can afford. I am afraid I must leave.”

Kelly giggled, and Natalya heard triumph in the high pitched sound. “Oh, gosh, he’s already paid for it! You’re lucky to have a great guy like that. And he’s smart, too. He knows how to treat a woman just right! Was he the guy in the cab? He is really hot! Hold on to that one!” Her final giggle was like a cell door being shut.


Nine hours later, Natalya waited by a fountain for Mosca to return. She could have waited for him in the lounge, but the thought of another minute among those decadent capitalist women turned her stomach. This is what Marx and Engels breathed fire over! Perhaps the Manifesto was conceived after a visit to a German spa. She was ready to write a chapter herself.

The women in the spa reminded her of pampered toy poodles. They cultivated the ideal helplessness to make their rich husbands feel masculine and in control. The environment of the spa created an unwelcome sense of camaraderie, and the regulars took it upon themselves to meet this exotic newcomer. They admired her fitness almost as invasively as a male letch, feeling the muscles in her arms and stomach without an invitation. It was worse when they asked her to feel the progress they were making on their glutes.

And throughout the day, the conversation revolved around consumerism. Perfume, make-up, workout machines, organic foods, cars, vacation spots. One middle-aged executive even acknowledged the excess: the spa was the place she came to engage in guilt-free “girl-talk.” Politics crept into the conversation only once, to give all the women a chance to affirm their loyalty to the party of the ruling class and their contempt for the opposition, who were only a nudge to the left of the current administration. She bit her lip and kept silent.

When they spoke of their husbands, it became clear to her. These women were sheep. Not only sheep, but the sheep elites! The exploited working women of this deluded country looked up to these pampered whores as a symbol of success. After hours of this, Natalya found herself preferring the company of the talkative archfiend Kelly, who at least was a proletarian worker. If she could have chosen to be left alone, she would have, but the entire resort seemed to be designed to force fraternization.

Santiago was all smiles when he arrived in a taxi. “Querida, how beautiful you look! You are radiant! They have treated you well, no?”

No, she wanted to say. It was like being tortured by the Fifth Column again. “It was very relaxing,” she answered. She allowed a peck on the check.

“Nothing is too good for my angel.” They descended the hill and rode back to the city. Natalya could not bring herself to speak. She sat away from Mosca, smiling when he met her eye but otherwise watching the American city pass by the window. It was an alien land to her.

Santiago permitted himself a little smile of satisfaction.