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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

the hostage

Odd how these things happen. Pete remembered most of it. He remembered the three young officers, the burning pain in the back of the neck, then he remembered looking down the stairwell, which seemed immeasurably deep, and then he remembered measuring it with his entire being, rolling down each step individually, coiling briefly on the landing and getting a kick that helped him swiftly down the next flight. He remembered emerging head-first from the Ugly Duckling's black metal door in the dim passageway, and he remembered suddenly feeling like he could rest a moment, he remembered relaxing in the icy entryway, and then he didn't remember anything at all. That is, he remembered realizing he was in the trunk of a car, but he did not know how he got there.

He tried to concentrate, and in-between thinking about the shock absorbers and the smell of the gasoline, he nearly succeeded. He reviewed the night's events, but his recollection stopped once again in the passageway, and then he drifted off into something like sleep. Then the shock absorbers again, the gasoline. This seemed to go on for a long time. Gradually Pete regained some of his strength, enough to test the resistance of his handcuffs and realize he wasn't wearing any. He poked his fingers into various walls until he found something he could pry apart. Through the narrow slit he created he saw the backs of four heads. They looked like small men; he would have expected his kidnappers to be bigger.

The car slowed down, jerked left and right, bounced and then stopped. He heard the slamming of car doors, echoing footsteps, and then a key in the trunk lock. He looked up and saw the brick walls and metal roof of a garage, and then someone snapped, in Russian, "Look down!" and Pete realized he understood. He looked down. A hand lifted his head gently, and another pair of hands placed a man's necktie across his eyes. Then hands he could no longer count helped him out of the trunk and directed his uncertain legs through doorways, up and down steps and around corners for what seemed like an eternity before a chair was pushed up against the backs of his knees and he was told to sit down, and he understood. He sat down. The necktie was removed.

Pete was sitting on a small wooden chair on a stage in some sort of hall. All of it seemed strangely familiar. It was as if he'd been here before. Pete struggled to remember when in his life he'd spent any time up on a stage.

An Asian man in a leather jacket and fur hat appeared in front of Pete and stared for a moment. The he took off his hat. Then he opened his mouth.

"Peter Singer?" "Yeah," said Pete with a Russian accent. He meant it was him, that he was Pete Singer. Other men in leather jackets appeared around the first speaker.

"We are very sorry," said the man. "You are an honored guest. We respect you very much. You are a leader of our region. It is an honor for us that you visit. We are very honored."

"I don't understand," confessed Pete, even though the man had been speaking English.

"We sent you invitations. We sent letters and telegrams. We sent an emissary, but your big aide told him to go home. We called on the telephone, but he said you were busy. We are very sorry we had to force you to visit."

"Well, that's all right," said Pete, feeling a bit guilty for having evidently snubbed these hospitable people.

"We have respected you since you spoke in this hall," the man continued, and his helpers nodded emphatically.

"I did?" asked Pete.

"And we elected you," the man confirmed. "You are our leader in Moscow."

Pete realized he was in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region, which had elected him to the Duma three months earlier. He felt even guiltier for not recognizing the place.

"We have many problems," said the man and paused. His teammates lowered their heads somberly. "We have no heat. We have no water. We have electricity only two hours every day. We have no help."

Pete didn't know he was capable of feeling this guilty.

"We know you don't help only because you don't know, Mr. Singer. We must show you. Then we take you back to Moscow. But if you don't mind, we make you supper first?"

"Sure," said Pete. "I don't mind."