His brain felt cloudy. This Cold War. So cold that other bodies couldn’t provide warmth. A stand-off, a frozen state. What was any of it good for? Power struggles helped nobody. But the Soviet Republic had to triumph. It had to be an example. And yet, and yet…
He tossed back the second shot and went back for another. And another. And another after that. But despite feeling numb, he could not erase that face from his mind. The only person in the world he would like to talk to was not there. He remembered their periodic chats with a fondness he had never felt before. Each phone call lasted at least a half-hour but it felt like it lasted for ten hours or five seconds. And each time it was never enough.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the record player, gilded and golden in the corner of the ornate bedroom. He fumbled through a stack of records until he came to the only disc that would help the pain.
Seems like the other day
My baby went away
He went away ‘cross the sea
It’s been two years or so
He thought of the Doomsday device. It would be so brilliant and perhaps his beloved would be surprised. Oh, how he loved surprises. Demonstrating this ingenious feat of engineering—yes, world-destroying, but perhaps peace-keeping?—would surely make the President of the United States stand up and take notice.
He began to sing along with the record. Once it ended, he skipped the needle back again and turned up the volume.
The phone rang. Alexei! Alexei began speaking quickly. Something about the president, something about planes. His brain was too muddled to comprehend the words. And then, before he knew it, the phone transferred to the American president.
“Hello?” he asked. He felt his heart skip as he heard the flat monotone voice on the other end of the line.
“Hello? Hello, Dimitri? Listen. I can’t hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little?”
“Oh, yes,” Dimitri mumbled. “Yes, of course.” He flipped off the sound and felt his cheeks blush with embarrassment. The Shangri-La’s, while terrific, were not the musical choice of a Soviet Premier.
“Oh, that’s much better.”
“Can you hear me now, Merkin? Is it fine now?”
“Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine.”
“You, also, are coming through fine.”
“Well, then, as you say we are both coming through fine. Good. Well, it’s good that you’re fine and I’m fine.”
Dimitri clutched the cord of the phone close to his chest, twisting it in circles around his fingers. “It’s great to be fine,” he said stupidly.