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The Golden Source

21 January 2017

natashaI met Svetlana (not her real name) outside a Russian tea house in New York City. Not the famous Russian Tea Room on W. 57th St. that has hosted glitterati, literati and Russian ex-pats since 1927, but a hole-in-the-wall, Mama and Papa joint in the far reaches of Brighton Beach—the type of establishment where, if the second-hand smoke from unfiltered Soviet brand cigarettes doesn't kill you, the East River catfish caviar certainly will.

My new companion pulled me inside, obviously paranoid that we would be seen together, and ushered me to a table in the darkest corner of the room.

"Has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Natasha from 'Rocky and Bullwinkle?' I began chattily.

"American Cold War propaganda bullshit!" Svetlana hissed, untying the belt of her trench coat and settling her oversized fedora on the table. She peered disconcertingly at me over her dark glasses and extended a spidery, gloved palm, demanding, "O.K., first money."

"Uh uh." I shook my head firmly. "First you give me information, then you get your money."

She shrugged, and lit a Belomorkanal. Exhaling a noxious plume of smoke directly in my face, she conceded, "O.K., what you want to know?"

At this point a haggard-looking waitress wearing a dingy Czarist serving girl's uniform slouched over to our table and slammed down a rusty samovar, a couple of styrofoam cups and an ashtray. Svetlana looked up and ordered vodka. We both remained silent as we watched the woman walk away, leaving in her trail a palpable Russian melancholy.

Svetlana carefully examined the inside of the samovar, which looked like it hadn't been cleaned since Anastasia Romanova went missing, and once she was satisfied that it didn't contain any microphones or miniature cameras, she began to talk.

"Yes, I remember big shot American businessman who like to watch Russian girls make water. So?"

"Tell me about that night in Moscow," I said, turning on my recorder. " You were, uh, a working girl?"

"Yes, I was prostitute," she replied matter-of-factly. "Not many options for post-Soviet girl like me. We can't all be mail-order bride for rich American real-estate tycoon."

The vodka arrived, and my source knocked back a brimming glassful. "Boris call to say he have easy job for me and another girl."

"Boris?"

"My pimp. He say show up at Ritz Carlton in one hour. Drink plenty of water first, five liters at least. I ask why not vodka? He say water make you pee more. Is that true?"

"I'm not sure," I told her. "You can Google it after this interview. Go on, please."

"So I meet my friend Magda (not her real name) in lobby, and we go up to Presidential Suite. Funny orange-hair man with big glass of water in each hand answers door. We take drink to be polite, but I'm ready to burst, hoping I won't sneeze and have accident!

"He tell us how Russian women are most beautiful women in world, how Slavic women love him, blah blah blah. How this john love sound of his own voice!" She rolled her eyes and lit another cigarette.

"What happened next?" I prompted.

"First, he need ego stroked. We are telling him, 'You have such big hands! Ooh, your hands are sooo big!' Typical insecure American male bullshit. Then he ask for raincoat."

"A raincoat?" I asked, not sure I had heard her correctly. "Do you mean a condom?"

"No, raincoat. He say he is germaphobe. I tell him, don't you know urine is most sterile human excretion? Is what our reporters use to cleanse wounds when they get beat up by KGB?

"He say he's not taking any chances, and asks for rain hat also. So we bring him these things, and when he puts on shiny yellow coat and hat, he looks just like Paddington Bear from cute Hollywood movie. This make Magda laugh so hard she pees tiny bit, and Paddington gets very angry, and scream at her not to waste water.

"Then Mr. Ugly American says, 'O.K., ladies, foreplay is over,' and orders us to perform golden showers all over each other on Presidential bed, which gets him so excited his pudgy pink face turn as red as my Babushka's borscht.

"Before we squeeze out last drop, this guy is already telling us to leave. Won't even let us take real shower in Presidential bathroom! Tries to pay us in Chinese currency! We cry and cry, telling him how Boris will beat us if we don't bring home U.S. dollars. Last thing I see as we leave room is mean orange john sitting naked on sofa, tweeting on fancy mobile phone.

"That is all I remember," she concluded, stubbing out her tenth cigarette and swilling the last of the vodka.

"Thank you, Svetlana," I said, handing her a fat wad of bills, which she ruffled through as efficiently as a casino counting machine before shoving them down the bodice of her dress.

"Your information has been very helpful. If you don't mind my asking, what do you plan to do with the money?"

"I get best immigration lawyer," she replied, "so I can move to America and become big shot fashion entrepreneur."

"Good luck with that," I said. After I paid the tab, Svetlana gave me subway directions back to Manhattan, instructing me to wait at least twenty minutes before leaving. "They always watching us," she said knowingly, slipping out of the tea room like a shadow.


Julie Homi is an avocational satirist who devoured every dystopian novel she could lay her hands on as a child, never realizing she would one day be living in one. In addition to a Masterís degree in Music Composition, Julie earned a Masters of Library and Information Science, which gave her mad Googling skills for stalking old boyfriends. She makes her living as a musician, currently touring the U.S. and Canada with elitist musical theatre types..