The Power Breakfast
After three hours tromping around the Kremlin I was stiff with cold and exhausted.
“Ruslan, let’s go back to my hotel and warm up, have a beer. I need to make some notes.”
“Okay, but first I must take a picture of you. For your husband. In front of Stalin’s apartment.” He ran across a little footbridge and leaned over the railing. “Look over here!”
When I’d put my camera away we hurried past the frozen creek and the Grand Kremlin Palace. He pointed to the Armoury, a massive red brick building. “You must go there soon, see the jewels, the Czar’s troika, the stuffed Russian wolves.”
“Maybe next time.”
Ruslan’s car was a good half mile away. I climbed into the back seat and sat on an old rug that cushioned rusty springs. The broken front seat of the clapped-out Lada flopped forward like a fractured arm.
My colleague, an expert on oil and gas exploration, had recently been hired to help our company exploit the sector. It was my job to justify the additional investment. He had wanted to discuss the big meeting the following day and I had wanted to see the Kremlin, so we compromised.
Everyone wanted a piece of Russia. My team–Developing Markets–got it, and the Germans were whining. Two employees from our Munich office had ginned up a reason to attend the meeting——something about modeling our plan. I’d never met or even talked to the men. When I learned they’d be there I suggested we meet for breakfast that morning. They promised to call when they got to Moscow. Everyone stayed at the Penta. Besides the old-fashioned Metropole it was the only decent hotel in 1992.
In the bar Ruslan found a table against the wall and ordered Heinekens. The low-ceilinged room was filled with a winter-Sunday crowd of businessmen in dark suits and expensive eyeglasses. Scattered among them were black-clad young women in short skirts and long boots, sitting with their legs crossed, their cigarettes held aloft as they laughed and flirted. Their clownish makeup was a give-away——the bright pink cheeks, the heavily outlined eyes, the corn-colored hair.
I asked Ruslan a few more questions and punched in some numbers. My calculator glowed green in the smoky light. The amped-up plan was solid. I was pleased.
Across from me I watched a handsome, chiseled man place bits of food on the outstretched tongue of a willowy girl. The shorter softer man’s companion sat with her feet curled under her, stroking his back. The four of them drank something amber-colored from short thick glasses.
An hour later I put my calculator away. “Go home, Ruslan. It’s late. See you in the morning.” I lifted my half-full glass. “I’m going to finish my beer.”
I made a few more notes and watched the seduction across from me. The curled-up girl had moved closer to the soft man. The chiseled guy had taken off his glasses and slumped further into his seat. The girl beside him rubbed her breasts against his arm as she offered puffs from her cigarette. Those men must be here on business. No one would travel to Moscow in February for fun.
The waiter offered another beer. I thanked him and asked for the check. Avoiding their faces I threaded my way past the amorous foursome, and went to the front desk to book a car for the next morning. I signed the log and for a few minutes watched ancient cars slog through the sloshy, dimly lit streets.
Behind me the elevator pinged. I signaled a fur-hatted man to hold the door. The foursome from the bar was cuddled against the back wall. The air reeked of smoke and whiskey. I studiously watched the numbers tick by and on the fifth floor darted off without looking back.
By 8:00 that night I hadn’t heard from the Germans. Mildly annoyed, I got undressed and into bed to read another chapter of Moby Dick. By 9:00 I was asleep, spiraling into a dark tunnel of dreams.
The next morning at 7:00 my phone rang. It was Stefan from Munich. “Kristoph is with me. Is eight okay? See you. Bye.”
I had told him to look for a woman in a red suit. At ten to eight I packed my briefcase, locked the door and padded down the carpeted hallway to the elevator. I needed to find out what the Germans were up to. The conversation might be awkward.
In the dining room I looked out over a sea of scrubbed, white, men in dark jackets. Near the front a man caught my eye, smiled and waved me over. It was the soft man from the bar. Seated at the table beside him was the chiseled man.