The great man sat in an ornate chair that looked like it belonged in the 17th century with its padded arms and lack of plastic casters. He wasn’t a tall man and the two large, red, white, blue and gold flags on poles dwarfed him. Of course, pointing this out to the man in front of him was the last thing that Oleg Mikhailovich Speransky would think of doing. The bald underling in the ill-fitting suit was named, in part, for Mikhail Mikhailovich Speransky, once known as the ‘father of liberalism’ in Russia. His mother had given her son the first name of Oleg, rather than Mikhail, for political reasons. It would do the family no good to pay homage to a liberal in today’s Russia shaped by the gangster Vladimir Putin.
Oleg was exceedingly intelligent and the leading expert in the Russian diplomatic service on the United States of America. He kept his head down and his demeanour meek - which was the wisest thing he could do in the presence of the great man. Speransky felt even less confident, more paranoid, than usual because he was in the Presidential Office in The Kremlin instead of in his usual bureaucratic lair surrounded by normal, selfish, ignorant, totally venal fellow employees of the Russian state.
Oleg was seated in a utilitarian chair well away from the president who sat behind a big but relatively unremarkable desk covered with a blonde, leather pad. There was a table set against and perpendicular to the front of the desk. Speransky sat at the far end of this table, at the bottom end of the T. He concentrated on speaking in a voice loud enough to be heard by the president but not so loud as to be objectionable. The President’s own voice was so soft, Speransky could hardly hear his supreme leader speak.
“What did you say, Mr. Speransky?” The President’s head remained down, his eyes apparently on documents in the folder in front of him. The file was the only thing on his desktop.
“Uh...” Oleg raised his voice slightly and carefully. “I can report that much of the interference with our special operation in Ukraine seems to originate in North America.”
“What is the location?”
Oleg was confused. He had already been through this with the President during the 15 minutes he had been allotted for the meeting. Oleg was used to being ignored but this was tedious.
“Canada, sir. We believe that is one of the hot spots, as it might be termed, for propaganda against our country’. ...against your efforts to free Ukraine...”
He came to an abrupt halt when the president held up his hand and raised his head.
“I understand. So, these problems begin at some place in Canada? It is a big country, second to us though. Never mind. I have other people who will confirm what measures we can take to counter this opposition.”
Then, the president smiled. The smile on that face caused Speransky to feel ice cold as though he had been grabbed by a Viking god. It was the most frightening facial expression the bald man had ever seen.
“I wish I could consult Trump on this, like my predecessor did,” the president mused. The smile became a deep chuckle.
Speransky gulped. His throat constricted and he couldn’t swallow. He took up the glass of water that had been placed in front of him when he first sat. He took a quick sip. The water caused him to choke. Finally, he was able to control his coughing.
“Former President Trump? I don’t quite know how to...”
The Russian President stopped chuckling and scowled. “You know he was the best partner we have ever had, Mr. Speransky. Too bad he’s out of business now.” He shook his head regretfully and dropped his eyes to the file.
Speransky didn’t know what to do or say, so he sat without breathing, much less speaking. After minutes but what seemed like hours, a presidential aide came to Speransky’s side and touched him on his shoulder. Speransky looked up, fear in his eyes. The aide had no expression on his long, pale face.
“You are finished here. Come with me.”
The words almost caused Speransky to piss his pants. He gathered up the papers in front of him and, clutching them to his chest, he stood and followed the aide out of the office. The two men marched down a hallway with elaborate panelling and dark, foreboding pictures along its length. Speransky expected to feel the muzzle of a pistol against the back of his neck all the way to the exit of the building within the Kremlin complex.