Red Russia

Below are the first two chapters of Red Russia.


The Priestess

In the center of the action is Death. He appears as an oak red skeleton with a scythe. His bones are twisted in impossible directions and he is cutting a path through the waters of creation. He could best be described as running amok.

I am pleased to see him. It’s the first time I have drawn the card and his location puts him at the heart of everything that is about to happen.

Honestly, I don’t know why I do it: shuffle the cards right over left, cut the deck three times, and then think I can divine the future from the Tarot.

I call myself agnostic, but I’m more like an atheist; though admittedly, an atheist who pays respect to religion. I’m both a skeptic and an optimist, a cynic and an idealist. I rely on reason yet I am superstitious. It makes no sense, I know, but there it is nonetheless.

The Death card is welcome because Death signifies change. Here in the center it means nothing will be spared. Change is going to affect the past, which is revealed in the two cards to the right. It will influence the future, which lies in the cards to the left. There will be alterations in the subconscious mind which can be seen in the cards just below Death, and above him is the conscious mind with its goals and aspirations.

All of it is going to end. A major event is on the horizon.

The immediate past is the Four of Coins. I have come to resent this card. It is stability. It is financial certainty. It is the starter mansion in the suburbs, 401k, hedge funds, life insurance, and the threat of procreation which will result in school runs, crayon art, and an abrupt end to sexy Halloween.

Beside the Four of Coins is the Prince of Coins. This is the bastard responsible for all the high-walled private-gated security. God, he is boring; all the Coins are, but the Prince is particularly tedious. Not yet a king, he is always striving upwards, forever seeking new wealth, greater conquests, proving his worth by adding new stones to his fortress, as though the thick walls of prosperity might make him invulnerable.

The Prince has forgotten that Death has no time to lay siege. Death doesn’t recognize walls or wealth or fancy titles like prince, president, or CEO. Death has his own agenda, and Death is going to ensure we won’t have to deal with the Prince of Coins for much longer.

The Prince is going to be surprised to learn his fortress is not as stable as he thinks. Discontent has been working at the foundation for some time. You can see it in the subconscious. There’s a dark pit of hell forming in the cellar. The Ten of Wands sits beside the Seven of Swords: every attempt to escape has been suppressed; every action is futile. The situation down below is dire.

The conscious mind wants to be free of the oppression, and the presence of the Queen of Swords indicates freedom may be gained through violence. This queen is prone to cut people’s heads off. Of all the women you don’t want to cross, it’s her.  The solution to every crisis is a swift execution. Her weapon of choice is a sword, but beside her is the Two of Wands. Things are going to get messy. The wands are clubs, blunt weapons that bludgeon and crush, and it is with this primitive instrument she will act.

To the left of Death is the future. The cards are the Devil and the Moon.

The deck holds such cards as the Lovers and Lust, but no card is more sensual than the Devil. In the Crowley deck, he appears as the god Pan. Behind him is a phallus that rises majestically up until it pierces heaven. There is no sin in the devil. He is not evil. What he signifies in the Tarot is carnal energy at its purest.

The Devil alone is nothing to fear, but each card in a spread is defined by the card beside it. If you see the Tower and the Sun together, it means someone is going to die, but pair the Sun with any ace and it’s the start of something marvelous. Find the Lovers with the Nine of Swords and you can expect a divorce, but the Nine of Swords beside the Ten of Wands is rape.

To discover the Devil and Death in the same spread is momentous. But the Devil paired with the Moon speaks of dark deeds. It foreshadows secrets, depravity, and midnight treachery.

That the two of them have been set loose by Death is nothing short of sinister.


The Empress

The Prince of Coins is coming home early from work. He doesn’t know I call him such, and honestly he’d be insulted because he thinks he’s the king.

Sure, a man’s home is his castle, but if he shares it with a woman, he knows his rule is limited.

I reign in this castle, this architecturally ambiguous behemoth that sits large among similar monstrosities in the River Run gated community. One more ring on my finger and it will be mine legally. I already wear the contract: a four carat square diamond set in platinum. Four carats and four sides, the symbolism is rife, but the Prince of Coins doesn’t see it.

I see it though. I know four plus four equals eight, and eight is not a number you want to base a marriage on. Four is stability, but eight is trouble.

I don’t really believe any of this, but still I know it. And in knowing it, there is the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s the fault of my parents: new age hippies. I spent my youth traveling the circuit of never ending Renaissance fairs. My mother read palms. My father made candles. We lived like gypsies in a caravan. It wasn’t quite the circus, but it was tragically close.

I know a dozen ways to tell your fortune: tea leaves, I Ching, Tarot, crystal balls, the palm of your hand, the feel of your skull, commune with the dead, Ouiji board, table tapping, numerology, astrology, and good old psychic intuition.

The things I know… God, it’s embarrassing. So are my parents. My fiancé hasn’t met them yet. I’m hiding them lest he figure out I’m trailer trash. I need to seal the deal before he learns too much. To make this relationship work, I’ve had to keep some fairly important things hidden, including my cards.

He’s not yet seen himself represented in a spread. He doesn’t know he’s an archetype, the Prince of Coins incarnate.

To his face, I call him Peter. I call him darling and dear, and sometimes in bed I call him a rebel because he likes it, but he’s not.

He’s stable.

He aspires to greatness.

He wants to dig a wine cellar.

Well, he wants to contract labor to dig a wine cellar, but regardless, he wants one beneath this atrocity of suburban conformity.

I don’t know why I did it, but I tricked him once. I poured a twelve-dollar merlot into a hundred-dollar zinfandel and served it with dinner. After studying the label and spotting the price, he confirmed it was excellent.

I never let him in on the joke, mostly because it wasn’t funny, but also for fear of giving him ideas. If he ever looks past my designer labels, he might recognize me for an imposter as well.

He has a master’s degree in economics from Cornell. I have one in Russian literature from UConn. His degree produces tangible assets, while mine… Well, there’s really nothing you can do with a degree in Russian literature except bore the shit out of people at dinner.

But corporate executives don’t want wives that compete financially. They want wives who look pretty and act smart. No one needs to learn my GPA was 2.4. I speak Russian and read the classics. In the world of MBAs, that makes me a bona fide intellectual.

And Peter, well Peter is considered the next Morris, which is something when he works for Morris & Hugo Enterprise. Senior management at M&H calls him the kid. It’s not just that he’ll be thirty on his next birthday, but he has an Xbox in his office. In his emails, he refers to the board of directors as team-killing noobs. He encourages map hacking the competition, and he gives TL;DR summations. The junior staff thinks he’s awesome. They think he’s hip and edgy. But what do they know? They all majored in business.

And business right now is Russian timber. That Peter has a fiancé who speaks the language and, further, can bore the shit out of the Russian elite with their own literary giants, well that pretty much guarantees Peter is the new tsar of the lumber account. He just needs to seal the deal and make me his wife.

Not only will he score a pay raise, he’ll win an apartment in Moscow and another in London.


He can’t believe his fortune, but then he’s not looking at the same one I am.

He’s driving home to collect me and then we’re off to the airport and our first visit with the Russian executives of Konstantin Imperiya. Peter has to charm them into signing a contract before he’s offered control of the timber account.

And no one doubts the Russians will sign because, at this point, closing the deal is all down to the power of personal relationships. And who doesn’t love Peter? He’s awesome! He’s perfect! And his fiancé speaks Russian, you know?

Together we’re the company’s most apt and adorable couple.

I even taught Peter to say “Ya ne govoryu po-ruski, no my smozhem govorit cherez moyu zhenu.” I do not speak Russian, but we will be able to talk through my wife.

I didn’t need to study business to understand the economy of value.

I need to make myself irreplaceable before Peter learns I have a couple of crazy parents in a trailer park, a Tarot deck in my carryon, and an addiction to sleeping pills. Yes, well, I didn’t mention it because we hardly knew each other two pages ago.

Let’s see, at this point I take zopiclone, Ambien, methaqualone, and promethazine. Half the cocktail gets me to sleep and the other half keeps me there, otherwise a person might wake up in the grocery store parking lot trying to start a stranger’s car with the keys to their secret P.O. Box.

Yes, well, never mind that either, because after the trip to Russia, and after the wedding, I won’t need a P.O. Box because I’m going to cut back to just one pill, which a real US doctor will prescribe, and a real US pharmacy will fill, and then I’ll introduce Peter to my parents.

And then everything will be honest between us because I really do lov… I mean, I really do like… uh… need? him. Whatever. He’s a great guy. Look at him, coming in from the city with a Zegna briefcase in one hand and in the other he’s thumbing through a Mobiado phone, talking loud and bombastic to god knows who on the headset hidden in his ear.

He works hard.

He provides without resentment.

He’s given me everything the trailer trash child in my soul ever wanted.

Good Lord, I can be such a fool. I need to put these cards away and stop thinking they can predict the future.

*     *     *

Peter comes through the front door still talking. “Me and Sibyl are meeting them offline tomorrow. By the close of play, I’ll have us in bed with Konstantin himself.”

He drops his briefcase just inside the door so it rests against the bags I’ve packed. He gives me an appreciative thumbs-up and then adjusts his headset to respond, “If the timber industry was scalable, every venture pig on the big board would be looking to fill their plate, but we’re vertical in this field.”

Don’t be alarmed. When corporate executives get really excited, they leverage their learnings against comprehension to revolutionize English.

He strides across the quartz floor to embrace my waist while assuring the person on the phone: “Not a worry. I’ve got my own Russian sharp shooter. Sibyl’s a regular wookie in the hills. She’ll snipe ‘em dead.” And then squeezing me to his chest, he asks, “Amirite?”

If we’re going to get through this, just do like I do: nod and smile.

Releasing me, he walks to the refrigerator and pulls an H2Yo bottle from the shelf. M&H Enterprise is funding the H2Yo venture and marketing the water to young urban blacks. Don’t laugh like I did because irony isn’t part of the pitch.

From this insular culture, Peter speaks to his kin. “I haven’t been over the wall in months,” meaning he hasn’t worked with anyone outside M&H Enterprise. “The Muppets have kept me on the mothership doing hotshots for weeks.” I have no idea what that means, but Peter is glad it’s over. He starts singing, “They say you gotta toe the line, they want the water not the wine, but when I see the signs, I jump on that lightning bolt.”

And I am so unhip, so uncool and uninformed, I have no idea what that’s about either.

He ends the call by saying, “We’ll circle back later this week for some PvP.”

To me he growls, “We’ve got time for some PvP too.” Player versus player, and he’s not talking Xbox like before.

I am not so unaware as not to recognize Peter is a highly desirable catch. Never mind his linguistic artifices, he is actually capable of conversing in generally recognizable phrases; and he’s considerate, intelligent, not prone to violence, public scenes, or any greater vice than vanity. He goes to the gym, uses more grooming products than me, and while he only buys designer labels, he also makes them look good. Sure, he can’t tell a merlot from a zinfandel, or Salinger from Steinbeck, but he knows the difference between bonds and equities and when to purchase each. He knows how to make friends, promote his own goals, and destroy the competition. With his skills, attributes, and inventory, he’s the perfect hero, an honest-to-god Prince of Coins incarnate that any woman should be happy to find in her future, and yet (Isn’t there always a great deal of flattery before the word that inevitably undoes everything that precedes it?) I am unmoved.

He growls for sex, but I am bored.

I don’t need the Tarot, a crystal ball, or my psychic third eye to predict every sound and every move that will ensue. It’s all so routine.

I wish he had a kink. But after digging through his online porn habits, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t. It was straight-up guy on girl action, a blowjob and a fuck.

One look at Mirra Lokhvitskaia and you’ll see more passion in a 19th Century poet than the conservative side of PornHub.

I try to make sex with Peter more exciting. I talk, I resist, I submit or take control, but whatever I do, I’m still told to quiet down and go slow, or worse, be normal.


It is what I’ve strived for. It’s the facade I’ve contrived. But normal is truly and thoroughly dull.

And so I say to Peter, “I wish we could, but we really don’t have time.”

It’s a lie because we have electronic tickets, priority check-in, and are pre-checked with the TSA.

Peter’s idea of normal doesn’t include standing in lines. It’s the way he was raised. His mother was a tenacious social climber who fought her way onto Connecticut’s Gold Coast. To her, image is everything. If she knew her most precious darling little Peter were engaged to a girl who had been raised in a camper, she’d explode in such a way that the wedding registry at Tiffany’s would shower silver shrapnel all over the select guests at the Hartford Club.

In my Tarot deck, she is represented by the card Justice, and she always appears in a spread with the Ace of Swords, which makes her scary as hell.

One day she’s going to learn my parents haven’t been touring the Samoan Islands on a philanthropy mission, and that’s the day her sword will cut a divide between Peter and I.

That is if Death doesn’t do it first.

*     *     *

Red Russia is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple iBookstores, Smashwords, and other retail sites.

Direct links to various book sellers:

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble