Friday, December 28, 2018.
Robinson noted the shift from "help them" to "help us." The visitor was obviously impatient with the host's stalling. Was his old acquaintance about to make the request personal? As he recalled, Fedoruk had always oscillated between warm friendship and cool manipulation. In the places where the Moldovan had worked and survived, Robinson thought, was there even such a thing as disinterested friendship? (Was there, anywhere?)
Meanwhile, he caught Judy glancing at the time on her phone, and read her thought bubble: would John please stop yakking with his old buddy long enough to put the children to bed? On Fridays, since there was no school the next day, this task could be even trickier than usual. Getting the hint, Robinson excused himself, and herded his flock of two into the bathroom, then on to the children's shared bedroom. Exhausted from a long week of school, followed by energetic daily playground sessions with their excellent nanny, George and Amy hardly resisted. Robinson had read to them but a single page (large print) of the latest installment of an Armenian knock-off of Paddington Bear (which he translated, as he went), and both children were gone. He then took a short nap of his own, on the children's synthetic polar- bear rug.
George and Amy's full-time nanny, Altoon ("gold," in Armenian) was an excellent, affordable, nineteen year-old, who was also a full-time college student. When did she sleep? John and Judy assumed she napped while the children did. Altoon was paid 7,500 dram an hour, or about $U.S.15-16, depending on the exchange rate. (John, as usual, had done the math.)
Tuition and fees for the year 2018-19 at the American University of Armenia (AUA) amounted to some 1.5 million dram, or a little over U.S. $3,000. John had further calculated that, to earn that sum, Altoon would have to work for them 200 hours, or only about five weeks. Since she had started the job a few days shy of three months before, she must easily have accumulated the 1.5 million by now. Not bad, plus the young woman came from a middle-class family. John did not know how to ask in Armenian (which Judy hardly spoke) whether student loans or scholarships were available. Altoon's blank look, when he asked in English, then circumlocuted in Armenian, suggested that the concept of financial aid was unknown to her. As for "spending money," that was far beyond his linguistic competence.
Altoon usually took one meal a day at the flat, lunch, which she prepared with George and Amy's "help." Her cooking was so good, apparently, that the children often fussed about the meals their parents prepared, clamoring for "Altoon food." There were never leftovers for the parents to sample. So far, at least, the young woman had shown no signs of wanting to leave their employ.
When John returned from the children's room, without preamble Judy said, "Diodur was just telling me some of Geistmann's hilarious pranks, John. I thought I'd already heard them all from you."
Robinson plopped down on the matching sofa next to an end table, to which his glass of wine had been transferred. He saw that Fedoruk had carried the bottle across the room, poured a glass for Judy, and topped up his own.
"Actually, John," he said, "I was about to tell your lovely wife about the time Geistmann humiliated that New York real-estate tycoon."
" Robinson smiled. "The slime ball he buried in garbage? 2002, wasn't it? Didn't the guy suffer a fatal coronary? Not funny -- for him!"
"Accurate, as usual, John, except the slime ball didn't die. The EMS crew must have performed a miracle. Not mouth-to-mouth, I hope! For some reason, the news media got that part of the story wrong. Rumor had it that the police report had been faked, possibly to discourage the perpetrator from returning to the city. And guess what else?"
"Don't tell me!" said Robinson, whose light bulb flashed. "That same slime ball is now President of the United States!"
"Oh, no!" said Judy. "Geistmann nodded."
"And POTUS is one of the most vindictive people on the planet!" Robinson added. "Remember when he hired those hard-currency prostitutes to piss on the sheets the Obamas had slept on at the Ritz-Carlton, in Moscow? He never stopped going after Obama for the jokes he made at that Press dinner. Geistmann had better watch his step."
"Really?" said Judy, frowning. "POTUS -- I call him the POS, Diodur, 'Piece of Shit' -- had better watch his step. Isn't 'Vindictive' Geistmann's middle name?"
"Hmm," said Robinson. "I wonder why he never went back to finish the job. I guess the tableau had made his point. But something tells me that this -- shall we say, story? -- may be related to what brings you to Yerevan, Diodur."
"Uh, oh!" said Judy, and John could see her portcullis slamming shut. "Not to spoil the party, guys, but could you possibly continue this discussion elsewhere? I don't mean to be rude, Diodur, but I have a big report to finish this weekend. It has to be in New York by nine o'clock Monday morning, which means I only have ... John?"
"Seventy-two hours, still."
"Really?" she replied. "Well, it may take that long. So why don't you boys go for a walk, or something? Live it up, go to a bar! I mean, I can see that the conversation is going to be juicy. John can give me a precis later."
Robinson guessed the "report" was Judy's excuse for not wanting to listen to any more shoptalk. He also guessed that the deeper reason was that she did not welcome this recurrence of danger from his past. Now that they had children, his double life was less welcome than ever.
But she must have regretted her rudeness to his old colleague, for she quickly added, "Oh, and please do come back later, Diodur. We'll make up the spare bed for you."
"Thank you, sweet lady," Fedoruk replied, with a small bow. "But, as usual, I'm on the FBI dime. I've already checked into a nice boutique hotel not far from here. In fact, while we're out, I'll tell John how to get there, so you can bring the kids over in the morning. There's a heated children's pool, and we can all have breakfast on Uncle."
Ignoring the syntactic ambiguity ("heated children's pool"), Robinson noted that Fedoruk had not specified which of "Uncle's" underlings at the Bureau would be picking up the tab. He took that for confirmation that the situation was murky. If Fedoruk was trying to get the attention of the curious librarian (a lexical ambiguity), he was succeeding. The Ukrainian double/triple agent was a world-class attention-getter.
If readers are interested in Reading Geistmann, it is available as a free PDF from the author. Please visit www.ronsinger.net for contact information.
And Geistmann in Africa (Geistman II):