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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Absence




Pete Singer, former American journalist, currently prominent Russian politician, had been kidnapped, and no one in Moscow cared. Moscow doesn't care about much, but in this case even the people who cared about Pete didn't seem to notice that something - that is, someone - was missing. His best friend, his legislative aide, his former cellmate and current godfather Alexei didn't notice because he had a new business. He was getting big. He was getting into oil. He didn't understand much about it yet, but he was attending a lot of meetings and talking about large amounts of money, and the phrase that got him a place at the table without fail was, "I am the top legislative aide to the representative from the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region." Which is where his abducted boss-friend happened to be, but Alexei didn't know. From time to time, he noted the refreshing absence of Pete's nagging presence, but the thought floated out of his mind before he could get it into focus and start to ask questions.


Then there was Lena. Pete's friend, possibly even his fiancee. They spent so much time pretending to be engaged that they both had nearly come to believe in it. Then Pete had proposed for real, but an extraterrestrial occurrence blurred the outcome. In any case, Lena had come to care for him, to take taking care of him for granted. And now, in her own way, she was rebelling. Coincidentally at first, then more consciously, she had acquired a personal life. She was dating two different men and one woman. One of her boyfriends was a wealthy, handsome and married businessman who took her to expensive restaurants that always seemed to be in hotels. The other was a struggling creative type who lived with his mother and wrote eloquently of his feelings. The woman was an independent-thinking, self-supporting new-style Russian woman like Lena herself; she was a journalist who specialized in oil, and she and Lena got into heady discussions of geopolitical issues. Lena was having a lot of fun, very little sleep and no time at all to wonder where her charge had gone.


But who should be concerned about a man's whereabouts when his whereabouts seem to be of concern to no one? His mother. And his mother, involved as she was in a romantic liaison with the ambassador of the United States of America, was uniquely positioned to help her son, to organize publicity - if nothing else, to make him feel wanted. But she was too absorbed by her own affairs, which is to say, she had decided that her relationship with the ambassador was no longer an affair but the love of her life, and she was drafting a letter to Pete's father to inform him she would be seeking a divorce. Now Nancy Singer was a feminist couples counselor, which is to say two things: After a lifetime of telling couples that any issue, no matter how grave, can be resolved if people are truly committed, she did not take these things lightly; and, inclined as she was to dump her husband of 26 years and at the same time to treat him for the trauma, she had a difficult time writing the letter.


"Dear Hugh," she wrote. "If I were in Brookline now, I would say, 'We have to talk.' But I am not in Brookline, and the reason is what we have to talk about." She didn't like ending her sentences with prepositions.


She began again. "Dear Hugh, there is something I feel I must tell you. You may have noticed my absence over the last seven months. Of course, I have had many things to do in Moscow, especially when Peter was in jail, but the real reason, I have now realized, had to do with something else. Or, rather, someone else." No. This sounded vague and almost apologetic. She should be direct.


"Dear Hugh," she began. "I have met someone. This doesn't mean, of course, that I no longer love you." She hated double negatives.


She began: "Dear Hugh, we have had many years together. We have had our ups and downs, our good times and bad times,but in my mind, the good outweighs the bad. We have raised a wonderful, intelligent, independent son. We have created our world in our wonderful house. But everything comes to an end, even such storybook marriages as ours." The lack of communication over the past half year had rendered her husband a bit of an idiot in Nancy Singer's imagination, but even so she realized this paragraph was too condescending.


"Dear Hugh," she wrote. "I am seeking a divorce. I'm sorry. I love another man."


She looked down at her letter. She liked it. It was strong, honest and to the point. Then she realized it was written on U.S. Embassy stationery.


Now when would she have had the time to think about her son the hostage?