Viva, CCCP!

From the Story Arc: The Death of CCCP

Next Story in the Arc: Suspicious Minds by Red Saviour (Thursday, March 10, 2005)

(posted Tuesday, March 01, 2005)

“I am blind,” Red Saviour said.

“I will buy you sunglasses,” Mosca said. “They will protect you from the glare, my heart.”

Red Saviour gestured at the street, squinting. “Darlink, how wrong is this being? It is nine o’clock at night! I should nyet need sunglasses.”

Mosca laughed. “This, my Commissarina, this is Las Vegas. It is the heart of this capitalist land.”

Las Vegas Boulevard stretched out before them. They had deplaned at McCarren International, took a taxi to the strip, and got out blocks before their stop. Little did either anticipate how massive the blocks, crammed full of stately casinos, whose light shows displaced the night entirely. Tourists lined the streets. Those who did not appear to be tourists were clearly feeding off them.

“Why did we not ride all the way to meet…what was his name?” Mosca’s eyes followed one feeder, dressed in hot pants and a frilly pink tank top.

“Cestimir Romanov. Lieutenant. He is liaison for Moscow PD here in States.” Natalya blinked and waited for her eyes to adjust to the bright lights. “I wanted to get sense of city first. Here on street is best way.”

“What sense are you getting?” Mosca watched two fat drunken tourists slapping a slender prostitute’s bottom as they haggled over price, while shoppers pushed past them with overflowing bags.

“That madness is in charge here. Come, I am getting dizzy.”

Suitcases in hand (and containing their costumes and gear), they made their way through the greedy throngs, down the busiest street in Las Vegas. They passed MGM Grand, New York New York, Aladdin, and Monte Carlo, taking in the fountains, the exquisite landscaping (strangely green in a desert); Bellagio, Paris and Bally’s; the famous Caesar’s Palace and the Flamingo; until, at last, they found their destination, flanked by palm trees: Harrah’s. Immaculately dressed doormen treated them with so much courtesy that Natalya was reminded of Moscow fancy dress balls for corrupt officials.

“My stomach hurts from this decadence,” Natalya muttered as they approached the front desk.

“At least here, here they are open about it.”

“Bah. Good point.”

Mosca jerked his neck around. “Querida! I see something. I’ll be right back.”
Natalya crouched, scanning the crowd for adversaries. Then she saw Santiago’s destination: a brochure rack. Mosca’s hand went right to the brochure with a white sequin suited Elvis impersonator. He exclaimed something in Spanish with the enthusiasm of a teenager. She groaned: on the plane ride, he felt it more important to brief her on the life and times of Elvis than to read over the admittedly slender packet of information Romanov had sent.

She shook her head as Mosca snatched five more pamphlets.

The short, bald clerk at the check-in counter watched them approach with a guarded expression. Natalya showed him the print-out of Romanov’s email. “Natayla Shostakovich,” she said. “Our comrade Romanov arranged for rooms.”

“Yes. Ah, yes, ma’am. Ah, you see…” He paused, looking at the doorway to the back office. No one was evident, and his shoulders sagged. “I’m afraid we’re overbooked.”

“No matter. Where is being room?” Natalya glared at him. She felt the fire rise in her, as if about to confront a dozen gang members.

“I can’t…that is, you see…um…can you hold on for a second?” He scurried into the back office before she could speak. She heard a hasty conversation with a woman, who cursed in Spanish.

“What’s the matter?” Mosca, attracted by the sound of his native tongue, had abandoned his post at the brochure stand.

“Overbooked,” she grunted. “Am nyet happy with Romanov.”

The Spanish speaker came out from the back office, looking annoyed. She was a stout latin woman with curly hair tied in a bun. She kneaded her hands as if at church. “Hello, sorry for the confusion. Mr. Romanov didn’t make reservations for you. He spoke to us and asked for a complimentary room, which we could have provided if it weren’t for the overflow of the insurance adjuster’s convention. We’re packed solid. I am so sorry.” Her voice, confident at first, withered as Natalya’s jaw clenched tighter and tighter.

“Insurance adjusters convention?”

“Yes. There’s nothing we can free up for you.”

Natalya turned red. “This is outrage! Why –“ She was stopped by Mosca placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Pardon us, madam,” he said in smooth, modulated tones – and in Spanish. “We are here to investigate problems your establishment has experienced. We are not tourists or conventioneers. It is your own well-being that concerns us. If we are forced to go elsewhere…if our mission fails…everyone suffers. Surely,” and he gave her his most charming smile as he read her name tag, “Inez, surely you have a room soon to be free. I trust you to help us with this.”

“Darlink,” Natalya began, but was shushed.

“This lovely woman is going to save the day, mi corazon,” Mosca said.

Inez blushed and stammered, “Gracias, senior. I will…see what I can do.” She fanned herself as she returned to her office. Mosca massaged Natalya’s shoulders until she relaxed.

“You are shameless,” she said.

“I miss my grenades and explosives. My charm, it is the only weapon they would let me bring on the plane.”

She kissed him on the cheek. “Are lethal,” she whispered.

Inez returned in five minutes with papers and a smile. “I found a room for you. The couple left late last night, with all their bags, and the way they were fighting, I don’t think they need the room for tonight.” She pointed to the form. It read Honeymoon Suite. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, eyeing Santiago for his reaction.

“Oh. Hmmm,” he said, glancing sideways at Natalya. She winced at him. “Muy bueno, Inez. You are a hero in your own right.” He pushed the form over to Natalya to sign. “Commissar, if you please.”

Natalya signed the form and handed it back, daring the woman to speak with a stern glare. Inez managed a small smile and tapped at her computer terminal.

Mosca shrugged. “It is all they have. There is no shame in so.”

“Am nyet shamed, silly.” She hefted her suitcase.

They received their keys and directions to the room, spurning the bellboy and taking the stairs for exercise. Twenty-two floors later, they stood outside a door marked “H1.”