Dima & a Towel, Ian & Philosophy
Kidnapped! — Moon over Berlin, B3C4
Ian lay on top of his sheets, water droplets from his shower evaporating to cool his bare skin. He listened to Dima’s shower, eyes opening and closing in waves of drowsiness enforced by a belly bulging with fried squid, swordfish souvlaki, and Amstel beer.
Images of the day flashed vividly through his mind. Half dreaming, he could taste the heat and the dust again, see the crowded streets and rocky hills, feel Dima and Juliette pushing sweaty legs into his in the back seats of smelly cabs.
When the running water cut off, he woke up fully and frowned. Dima had been moody all day, at least since the museum and the bronzes of those ancient Greek athletes. He’d cheered up slightly at dinner. Slightly. At least he ate.
The bathroom door squeaked open, and Ian called out softly, “Hey, man. Feel better?”
“Mmmm,” mumbled Dima, emerging from his shower wrapped in a beach towel and a cloud of steamy, shampoo-scented air. He bent down and picked up his dirty clothes. “You packed and ready to go?”
“Yeah, I laid out clean stuff already,” said Ian. All I need to do is jump up and get dressed.”
“Good. I want to get out of here. Juliette’s worried too. I can tell.”
“I don’t see why you guys are stressing,” Ian commented, watching Dima throw a few small items in his backpack. “But, whatever. I can’t wait to get to Mykonos. Athens is interesting, but it’s too hot and crowded.”
“I’ll be relieved when we get on the ferry in the morning,” Dima said as he walked over and sat on Ian’s bed, springs protesting lightly. “We don’t have reservations. We don’t have to show our passports or ID. Nobody will be able to track us or know where we went. We shouldn’t have stayed in Athens, man.”
Ian rolled over on his side, closer to the heat from Dima’s body, which he welcomed despite the room’s dry warmth. “Are you really afraid of being followed? Even here?”
Dima shrugged, fingering the hem of his towel. “Afraid? Maybe that’s not the right word. Cautious. Nervous? I just think we need to keep moving.” He reached up and flicked off the lamp, leaving the room black except for neon shadows that danced in through open windows. “I’m tired, Ian. I need sleep.”
Ian sighed, feeling his friend’s tension vibrate through the mattress. Then a surge of electricity ran through his cheek as Dima reached over and stroked it with his fingertips. “I’m sorry I wasn’t very good company today,” he whispered. “It’s not about you, though, OK?”
“Can I ask you a serious question?”
Dima answered by moving his hand from Ian’s cheek to his shoulder and squeezing reassuringly — kneading. Ian half moaned in pleasure. He swallowed and wondered if he should just let things lie. His mouth opened on its own and decided for him. “Are we on different sides? Is that what you really think?”
Ian heard Dima’s breath suck in sharply. His fingers stopped their massage. But he left his hand in place, an answer drifting into the air as part of a long sigh. “How can we not be? It’s just how things are.”
Ian reached up and grabbed his hand, folding it into his own. “But … ask yourself this. What if we’re our own side? Remember the museum? Do you know anything about Socrates, Plato? The philosophies of virtue?”
“Um… of course, ” Dima answered hesitantly. Then his voice grew stronger. “We Russians study much philosophy in school, you know. I wouldn’t have thought you would know.”
Ian missed the reproach in his friend’s voice. “OK, good,” he said excitedly, index finger lightly exploring the gaps between Dima’s knuckles. “So, you’ll know what I mean! Listen, what if … OK, here’s what I think. What if we’re each behaving as virtuously as we can? We’re each struggling to uphold our ideals and responsibilities in the face of state oppression?”
Dima drew his hand back. “What? Where did you learn all those fancy Russian words?”
“Dostoevsky? Solzhenitsyn. Who remembers?”
“Oh. Well … I’ve never read Solzhenitsyn. Speaking of disloyalty. So, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Forget him. I’m talking about us. What if we’re each driven to higher levels by our … our bond. Friendship, or whatever you want to call it. Like Juliette said, each afraid of shaming the other, each better because of the other.”
Ian reached for Dima’s hand again.
Dima didn’t draw back, but he didn’t grab hold either. “The Sacred Band of Thebes?” He sighed. “That’s a romantic thought. But, Ian, those pairs of lovers were on the same side. They weren’t betraying Polis and People! Ian … look. I love you. I really do, but betraying our countries is not virtue. It simply cannot be.”
Ian gasped, heart speeding up. He’d waited months to hear those words. He never expected to hear them in such a mournful tone. He squeezed Dima’s hand before speaking, and got a firm grip in return. “Dima, please. You of all people should be able to understand. You’re the Marxist-Leninist. You understand dialectic. Should I have to explain to YOU that ideas about morality and the good of the people evolve and move on in a continuous synthesis? Your whole system is built on that. Can’t your decision to help your father be part of examined virtue?”
Dima blinked hard and shook his head. “What do you mean?”
“Simple. Your loyalty lies with the people that Peltsin and his gang want to exploit and oppress. The workers. You know, that whole damn Marxist thing?”
“So … you think I’m being loyal, after all? Dima seemed to grope for his words. “I don’t know. I know I need to help my father. I know you’re important to me. But … That would be a weird sort of loyalty.”
“Not so weird! We’re independent moral agents, not cogs in a machine. Isn’t that what Stalin got wrong? That’s what Solzhenitsyn says. You really should read him.”
“Don’t push it, Ian, please. I hear you, but …”
“OK, you’re right. Forget Solzhenitsyn. He doesn’t matter. But what about Socrates? Why do you think he drank the hemlock?”
“Probably because somebody like you wouldn’t shut up and let him sleep!”
Ian sucked in his breath, afraid he’d pushed too hard, but Dima laughed, bent down and kissed him lightly on the lips. “I’m not mad at you. We’re OK. But … I have things to figure out, and I’m not sure you can help me do it.”
Ian’s thoughts raced so fast he could barely keep up with them. He snapped to a decision faster than he was aware of having one to make. He pulled Dima down with one hand, kissing him again, long and hard. His other hand fumbled at Dima’s waist, fingertips exploring just beneath the towel. “I’m sorry I’ve been so distant,” he said. “Physically, I mean. I’ve been stupid. And thoughtless. Sleep with me tonight? There’s plenty of room.”
Dima reached down and stroked his hair for a moment, silently. Then he whispered, “No,” and stood up. “I’m tired. I’m confused. And I’m nervous. We have to get up super early to catch the ferry. Let’s just sleep, OK?”
He walked over to his own bed, and Ian could barely make out his silhouette in the neon-tinged darkness as he dropped his towel and slid in between his sheets.
Peltsin cursed at the early morning traffic. He hadn’t expected the Athens streets to be jammed just after dawn. The sun had barely risen and the cab was crawling along, jerking forward, stopping, inching forward again. But mostly stopping.
The air was was furnace-hot already, and Peltsin was miserable, sweating like a peasant as he sat wedged between Makharov’s brain-dead agents. “How much far?” he asked the driver in clumsy English.
The man just shrugged. He didn’t look like he even understood.
Peltsin’s head pounded from the effects of too much vodka and too little sleep on the overnight flight. The blaring horns surrounding them made him want to vomit almost as much as the thick, stinking air that was interfering with his breathing. “I’ll kill that kid when I find him!” he swore into the air.
Almost an hour later he was arguing in sign language over the fare, parked in front of the small hotel that matched the address on the slip of paper in his hand. The driver was a damn thief! “OK, you have now money. But waiting here. No moving!”
After handing over a wad of cash and promising much more later, he got out and repeated his instructions to his men. “If you spot him coming out, hit him with the auto-injector right away. You each still have one?”
The biggest of the goons pulled a syringe just clear of of his shirt pocket, grinning.
When the other two nodded, Peltsin continued. “Get him him in the cab fast. The embassy isn’t 10 minutes away. Not even in traffic. If anyone gives you trouble, hit them too. Especially the big man with the black hair. We don’t want a fight on our hands. It’s just a muscle relaxant, so don’t hesitate. Got it?”
He carefully stationed them around the hotel, then smoothed his hair, took a deep breath, and walked into the lobby as casually as he could, as if his entire career didn’t depend on the next 10 or 15 minutes.
He walked across white marble tile to the reception desk, where he slapped down photos of the boy and the three Americans. “You see these people?” he asked in English.
The dark, pudgy woman at the desk ran a hand through her greying hair and stared blankly.
“Well?” demanded Peltsin. “Yes or no?”
“Sir. This is hotel. Is not, how you say? Lost and found? Who are you?”
He growled to himself. Now what? Her tone was stubborn, the cow. Back in Germany or Russia, he would just flash his ID and delight in the fear it produced. Here? He was at a loss.
“Sir? she asked with a tentative cough. “Perhaps you wish…” She shrugged as if embarrassed and gestured with her index finger and thumb in universal sign language.
Ah! Now he was back on familiar ground. This, he understood. He reached into his pocket and laid a bank note on the counter, smiling. She just stood there, almost imperceptibly shaking her head.
He had to slide several more notes over the smooth wooden surface before she finally snapped them up. “Yes, yes, now I remember,” she mumbled as she pulled a thick, leather-bound register off a shelf behind her. She opened it slowly and ran a hand page by page over signed entries.
“Ah!” she said. “Here. You look now.” Her finger rested below a line.
“Yes!” he grunted. The names matched. Carpenter, Mburu, Collins. And Andrews. Andrews!” He took a note of the room numbers and felt for his own injector, removing the protective cap while it was still in his pocket.
“Which direction?” he asked.
She pointed down one of two corridors. He started walking, heels pounding on marble.
This has been chapter 4 of the third act of a Cold War geopolitical thriller, gay coming-of-age romance. Settings and characters are pulled directly from my own life, but the story is fictional.