Vladimir Putin looked out onto the snowy barren desert that is the Red Square in winter. He was greeted by the blank glare of sterile white. Insolence. And so he spent five minutes attempting to out-glare snow.
In the midst of this battle, his door opened.
Vladimir Putin was the President of Russia, judo blackbelt, former KGB spy, father of two - and a mind-reader. Which was why, before his visitor could open his mouth, he opened his.
Spinning 180 degrees on his heel - a move rehearsed well in advance - he glared, pouted, and sneered simultaneously."I don't want to hear it, Mikhail".
"Ilya, don't be like that", Mikhail grimaced, but immediately smoothened out his expression. God knows, at his age, he didn't need more wrinkles. Instead, he displayed his carefully cultivated pout - well, perhaps not quite as pretty as Chirac's, but it would do.
He ran through the possible list of things he might have done to annoy Vladimir but stopped at number 729. Damn the Secret Service - those nancy boys spilt everything to Vladimir. Mikhail was horribly certain dear Ilya even knew how many shots of vodka he'd had for breakfast that morning (five, incidentally).
"Whatever's the matter - and don't wrinkle your nose like that, sweetheart, it makes you look like Yeltsin".
Mikhail realised - unfortunately only after the words left his mouth - that Ilya disliked being compared to Yeltsin. In fact, he had illustrated the point so very clearly that Mikhail had been unable to sit down for days. And what torture it had been standing through those Cabinet meetings that lasted forever...
Vladimir's huff, however, brought him back to the present.
"Er- you only look like him from this angle", Mikhail tried, but received only a glare in return.
"Er-the resemblance is infinitesimal, I assure you, darling", he cooed. But Vladimir had turned back to the window.
"Ilya, I swear to you that you have never looked less like Yeltsin", he finally blurted, and placed his arm on the especially sensitive small of Vladimir's back.
"Don't touch me!" Vladimir turned around and narrowed his eyes at his erstwhile political ally. "You", he began, taking the same heavy, clenched-teeth tone he had used with those silly Chechen delegates a week ago. "You are absolutely unbelievable - don't you even remember? I hate being touched there". He allowed a significant silence to interecede before continuing, taking another threatening step closer. "Very much unlike some other people...for instance...the CEO of Yukos? Eh, Mikhail? What do you think?"
How exactly Vladimir Putin knew about Khodorkovsky's sensitive spots was a different matter altogether, and Mikhail was in no shape to ask.
He began to yearn terribly for the bottle of vodka on the stand beside Vladimir's desk.
"Ilya - my love, let us sit down and have a drink. And then we can discuss this, don't you think?"
But Ilya only ground his teeth at him.
Mikhail stood, terribly unsure of what to do and terribly afraid of being flung across the Presidential Office by the Presidential Fist, staring at Vladimir's jaw working up and down. It took him a few moments to realise Ilya was talking, and it took him a few more to realise he was shouting. At the top of his voice.
"..with a capitalist, nonetheless! I cannot even bear to look at you, Mikhail Nikolaievich! I am dismissing you from this office!" he roared. Mikhail turned to leave, staring at the nearby bottle of vodka balefully. His own office was tiny, stuffy, and sadly lacking in spirits.
"Wait!" Vladimir's voice rang out authoritatively. "First you will tell me of the circumstances of this", he sneered, "engagement."
Mikhail stood dumb. And then he whimpered five fatal words: But we are in love.