Mrs. Ivanova's Coming OutbyJMaxwell69©
"Owwwh." I groaned as I struggled to get up from a position lying on my stomach on the limp mattress. I was in bed in my small sublet apartment in Moscow. It didn't help that the mattress was severely worn such that one had to fight to get up from a central depression that had developed over the years. I would have moved out by now, but the rent was cheap, the location conveniently near the Kremlin and Lubyanka where I spent much of my time doing interviews, and... I don't know... I had an inexplicable attachment to the run-down and musty old place.
This was the worst I'd felt by far since, shortly after arriving in Russia, I began to become ill. I became convinced, as I rolled over with great effort, that I was going to have to make a trip back to America to see a specialist. I hated that it would set back the timeline on my project, and I would probably have to get my publisher to agree to a revised roll-out date. I dreaded that conversation. However, it was now clear that whatever my ailment was, it was getting worse.
After seeing Doctor Elovich, a stocky balding physician recommended by my landlady, twice the only thing resembling a diagnosis I had received was that I worked too hard, was under great stress, and my body was slowly adjusting to the Moscow winter. I knew that I'd better get myself looked at by a doctor with access to X-ray machines, MRIs, and CAT-scanners. Elovich apparently wasn't willing to deal with the hassle of a hospital referral for what he seemed certain was an over-reaction to a minor affliction at best, or perhaps even a case of hypochondria. I had reached the limits of what he could do in his little office, which was disturbingly cluttered as if it were the collection point for materials that would form the exhibits of a Museum of Soviet Era Medical Implements. At least I had not had to wait in the depressing little waiting room, which I had never seen contain an occupant. The waiting area was the opposite of the observation room in that it was devoid of anything except four molded-plastic chairs spaced around the periphery. It would have been zen-like if not for the fact that it was so ill-maintained - having a flickering fluorescent light and a dark water stain down the wall adjacent to the outside of the building.
The aches, pains, and general lethargy started gradually the week I arrived in Moscow. At first, it was easy to chalk my condition up to a combination of cold and lack of daylight. It was late November in Moscow when I arrived, and that bore little resemblance to the late November I was accustomed to in Miami. For the first week-and-a-half, I figured it was a combination of jet lag, Vitamin D deficiency, and, perhaps, the onset of a cold.
If it had just been for the tiredness, achiness, mild malaise, I might not have thought anything more of it. However, with increasing frequency I began to have generalized, but occasionally intense, pains in my lower abdomen. My internal organs felt like they were bruised - pummeled from the inside out, and I occasionally had bloody stool. The odd thing was that I kept having the feeling that I should know what my problem was and what was causing it, but as soon as I thought I might know, the thought vanished. I had had similar experiences all my life in which I thought I had a glimpse of a memory of a dream, but the more I tried to recall the dream, the less I could muster anything but an unexplained feeling. Now, the feelings I felt were consistently dark and macabre.
There was no activity in my life to explain my aches and lethargy. My life consisted of work, occasional requisite evening social functions of a subdued nature, and sleep. While I usually exercised fanatically, lately I could not muster the effort. My sex drive was diminished to nearly the point of nonexistence. The tall, blond, and buxom young Russian women that attended the aforementioned evening social functions barely made it onto my radar screen lately. This was quite a change from my normal mode of operation at parties, but lately I wanted nothing more than to get home to sleep as soon as I could politely manage.
Dr. Elovich was, like the landlady who had recommended him, dour and humorless. Where the two differed was also apparent. Elovich was a nervous fidgety little man, whereas Mrs. Ivanova was a font of stern confidence. Elovich responded to inquiries and attempts at levity alike by repeating his mantra that I just needed to rest more and that the "little aches and pains" of my middle-aged frame were simply exacerbated by the bone-chilling Moscow winter. He further expressed a belief that Russian food was probably also taking some getting used to by my body. I didn't put much stock in this explanation because, while I had never before spent such an extended time in Russia, my job involved constant travel and I had spent months in places with much harsher cuisine (spicy, raw, curdled, you name it) without a problem. In fact, I was known for my cast-iron constitution. Elovich gave me Vitamin D tablets to make up for the lack of sunlight, and told me that if I spent a few days in bed I would be good as new in a week. The latter could not happen given my tight deadline for the book.
When I finally sat up in the bed, my jaw dropped in astonishment. I was dumbfounded. Except for my things, the tiny apartment had been cleared out. Had I been robbed? The thought crossed my mind, but it seemed that if anything Mrs. Ivanova had been robbed. But that made no sense. A cursory look around gave no indication that anything of mine was missing. It defied logic that robbers would leave $5,000 worth of camera equipment and a two month old fully-loaded Panasonic Toughbook laptop sitting around while they took the dusty old lamps, unimaginative pastoral artworks, stained doilies, tattered curtains, little bronze statues of Stakhanovite workers, and all the other cheap drab North Korean-made 1970s Communist-era decor and tchotchkes that had adorned the apartment. One could see where paintings had hung by the rectangles that were several shades lighter than the rest of the wall, and one could see where the cylindrical and rectangular bases of statuettes had sat on the shelf by the dust-free geometric shapes. There was an extra level of mustiness to the air as it seemed the dust continued to be stirred by recent activity. Amazingly, there was a Brownian motion of particulate matter that continued to swirl around in a shaft of light that angled in through the room's solitary window.
In the abandoned apartment, it did not take long for the folded yellow legal pad note with a USB-drive taped to it to catch my eye. It was the only thing left that wasn't mine, and the modernity of the flash-drive seemed strikingly out of character for Mrs. Ivanova.
The yellow page had the oddest statement hand-written on it. "Dear Subject X: I'll miss our little experiences together, but it is time to say ado. I have a message to get out, and you are just the person to be my mouthpiece. As a reward, I grant you permission to tell my story without revealing your own part in it. But tell it you must, or I will come to visit you again some day. Watch the video on the attached device [referring, ostensibly, to the USB drive] it should make clear what I am talking about. Also, I put a number of files on the disc that will provide background information and cases for your story. As you watch it, just know that I treated you better than the others." It was signed "Mistress Ivanova".
My mind reeled as I tried to decipher the note. "...our little experiences together..." To what did that refer? Unlike my earlier mentioned attempts to grasp a fleeting memory, now I was trying to push away, to deny, a distressing thought that was beginning to dawn.
Mrs. Ivanova, as I called her, was not exactly the gregarious type. I knew almost nothing about her, and had spent little time in her presence. It was telling, in fact, that I called her Mrs. Ivanova. I knew her first name was Elena, but could not seem to put myself on a first name basis with her. The "Mrs" in lieu of "Ms" was indicative of her status as a widow. That she was a widow was one of the few personal things I had managed to extract from her during our initial conversation. For example, I did not know how the relatively young woman, she seemed to be in her fifties and talked as though her husband had died at least a decade earlier, had become widowed. During that initial meeting, when she showed me the apartment, Ivanova displayed a reasonable facsimile of warmth and friendliness - at least with the hindsight derived from seeing her subsequent behavior. For the first week, I wondered if she was not angry with me, because of her change in demeanor. However, I gradually concluded that she wasn't one for chit-chat, and had probably just screwed on a smile in order to rent the dismal little apartment.
"Subject X"? That was coldly impersonal even for Ivanova. In conversation she called me "Alexiy" - short for my proper first name of "Alexander", but either more diminutive or Russified than the "Alex" most people called me.
I grabbed my laptop. I was a little scared by what I would discover - given the odd and ominous tone of the note and the gnawing feeling of foreboding in the pit of my stomach. Part of me just wanted to pack up and get my life back to normal, but this part was overwhelmed by another that was driven to find out what Ivanova was talking about. I inserted the thumb-drive into the laptop, and watched as the machine worked to recognize the new memory source. What normally would have been an inconsequential instant for the computer to recognize the device and to get its files ready to open seemed interminable under the circumstances.
I took a deep breath, and braced for a jarring impact to my psyche. I now had a rough idea of what the recording contained. There were a number of clues. First, there was my recent physical condition - the nature of which I now felt I had been in denial about. Second, there were the odd comments on the note. Finally, I now recalled the vague glimpses of imagery in my mind's eye that I had had in recent weeks, but which I had chalked up to nightmares. Yet, I needed to know something about the "why" and "how" to match my knowledge of the "what" that was on the recording.
A static frame popped up on the screen, frozen for a few instants before the file began to play. It was Mrs. Ivanova's face poised for speech, and I recognized the background as her living room. Seeing her created an odd swirl of thoughts and feelings. I was angry and scared and, at a conscious level, I hated Ivanova for what I expected I was about to find out she had done to me, or, at a minimum, for scaring me severely. Yet, I could also feel something else. It was as though, at a subconscious level, I had an attachment to her that was almost maternal in nature. I realized that this was not a new feeling. All along as I thought about how stern and hostile she seemed, there was something that I had always found appealing, or even endearing, about Ivanova. Then, I had chalked it up to an ambiguity of her physical appearance - now I did not know.
While Ivanova maintain a sullen countenance, her features were attractive for a woman in her mid-fifties. She was likely considered quite pretty in her day, or, at least, capable of being beautiful if she made an effort to smile and let her hair down. She had high cheek bones, a nose that was aquiline but small and not excessively beak-like, and skin that, while it was now a little sun-browned and creased in places, was still reasonably smooth. In short, she was a pretty older woman that may have been a gorgeous young woman. She was lean and had a build suggestive of an adolescent, but did not have the frail or gaunt appearance common in petite women of her age. Her jet black hair seemed to always be worn in a tight bun. I had once wondered if letting her hair down wouldn't get the blood flowing to her face, replace the scowls with smiles, and, just possibly, make her seem less irritable. I suspected she was from the South, the Caucuses, rather than an indigenous Moscovite. Her look reminded me of the women I had seen in Grozny when I was on assignment there briefly after the Chechen War.
I stared transfixed as the video started. Mrs. Ivanova began to speak. She was sitting on a chair looking straight into the camera. "Dear Alexiy, before we get to the more titillating parts of the show, I would like to give you some background information, some context." She said.
"You will no doubt have heard of a program run by your country's CIA that was called MKULTRA. Hollywood depictions like the 'Manchurian Candidate' and 'Bourne Identity' give one the impression that this program, and fictional one's based on it, were just about making assassins. However, this was just one facet, the one that had dramatic appeal to story-tellers. MKULTRA was concerned with a wide range of behavioral modification applications from getting tight-lipped spies to tell all to building soldiers willingly and even apparently eagerly to engage in activities that were at least as out of character for them as shooting someone in the head." She paused for effect. No doubt she knew she would have my attention at this point. Was she telling me she had made me into an assassin? I didn't think so, but, then, I didn't really know what to think.
"Our Soviet Union had a program of a similar nature, but we were able to do it much better and to run our program for much longer." The way she said it, it seemed that she was reminiscing over the glory days of the USSR. "Your government was hamstrung by nosy journalists and buckled under public pressure." Her tone indicated that she intended this commentary on the power of American civil society more as an insult than commiseration for the relative ineffectiveness of MKULTRA versus its Soviet analog.
She continued. "I was part of the Soviet program from the time I entered graduate school in 1977 until the break up of the Soviet Union, at which time our program was radically downsized and I was among those who were let go.
"It is not particularly hard to find a person that can be trained to be a cold killer. It is also not so hard to find someone that can be used for blackmail operations. However, a good spy might need to suck dick like a little bitch one day and be cool in a shoot-out the next, and building a person who could switch between such roles without a hitch was the objective of our program. My task was to find a subject's deepest inhibitions, and then develop a conditioning program that would break down those inhibitions. We sought to build a person for whom nothing was taboo - who wouldn't show the least bit of reluctance no matter what they were asked to do. We used drugs, hypnotism, and combinations of both in this process, and we got progressively better at it. We learned about picking the right subjects, tweaked the recipe of our drug cocktail, and perfected methods for triggering altered mental states instantaneously in subjects in a waking state. At the risk of showing hubris, I was responsible for a number of these advancements, and was fast-tracked up through the ranks. By the time I was 34, when the Soviet Union Collapsed, I held a civilian rank equivalent to Major General in the Army. Then, just like that, it was all over.
"I loved my job. I'm going to tell you something that I never told anyone - not my co-workers, not my husband, and not even my subjects while they were under hypnosis. Perhaps I owe you as much given what I put you through, but I'm telling you this because it is an important element of the exposé you will write. Not only did I love my job, but it might not be going too far to say that I had an addiction to it. My dirty little secret was that I lived for the thrill of dominating my subjects and making them do all the things they abhorred. Watching some macho sexist soldier swallow his buddy's cock or some prissy moralistic prude sexually service her son and several other young men and women alike gave me great satisfaction.
"My only regret, the thing that most detracted from my joy, was that the subjects had no idea what I had done to them. They awoke every morning, and while they might have had an inkling that something was out of sort, they had no recollection of what they had done at my command. I wanted them to know what power I had over them, just as you are about to know. The individuals whose dossiers appear on this drive are those that I particularly wanted to know. They were arrogant and thought they were my superiors, even while they spent their nights being my bitches.
"That is why I want you to tell my story. Don't try to look for me. I know you are a quite skilled investigative journalist, but, if you were to find me, I guarantee you would regret it. However, between my old comrades from government service and the individuals I can still trigger to do my bidding, I am quite well-connected for an old spinster. When a professional writer came to look at my apartment, I took it as a sign of providence. The rest of this movie is sort of a 'greatest hits' of our little midnight trysts." She concluded, and the screen when blank for just an instant.
When an image came back on the screen, it was green and grainy. It was clearly filmed on the camera's night-vision setting. The camera was close enough that it was a simple matter to make out the subject of the shot. It was me - a sleeping me. I was lying in bed under the thick layer of covers needed in the apartment because it got chilly at night. I lay on my stomach. Mrs. Ivanova tip-toed into the frame, and sat gently on the corner of the bed. She then leaned in and seemed to be whispering something in my ear. I could not make out what she was saying. I pumped up the volume setting to the maximum, but it was still no more than a garbled mumble.
I was startled when the image of me on the screen spun sharply to his back, and, tossing sheets and blankets aside, said "Yes, ma'am." The volume was still blaring, and I paused the video long enough to turn the volume down.
I exited the frame briskly, and, an instant later, the screen flashed bright green before it went dark as the camera's setting was apparently changed to the normal mode. When the camera came back on, it was panning on me as I walked briskly back to Mrs. Ivanova. I stopped and stood before her.
"Why are you wearing clothing? Do you think you are a person? Get naked this instant!" Mrs. Ivanova commanded. I was wearing boxer shorts and a t-shirt, but I shed them on command and stood there unabashedly naked. Ivanova reached down and grabbed my scrotum and gave it a sharp tug. On film I involuntarily grimaced slightly, but the me watching winced and turned away in reaction to the disturbing sight on the video. She punctuated the action with a remark. "There, you'd better learn to be a good pet."
"I'm going to lend to you my friend Olga, you will call her Mistress Karpov, now you're her toy." Before Ivanova finished speaking, the camera panned away to a previously unnoticed occupant of the room.
Olga Karpov was physically the antithesis of Mrs. Ivanova. Where Ivanova was petite, Karpov might best be described as powerfully built. She was younger than Ivanova, and had a strong athletic, but not particularly feminine, physique. One could easily imagine her throwing shot put or javelin on a Soviet Olympic team. Her hair was dyed a dark shade of red and was kept in a frizzy pony-tail. She had an ominous glowering expression.
"Go get my tool, and bring it to me!" Karpov commanded.
On the video I responded immediately to the command by moving out of frame and then returning with a leather harness with about a ten inch long black plastic dildo attached to it. The demeanor and mannerisms of my on-screen doppelganger were completely foreign to me.