Cass decided to take Semyon to Gordon’s on Embankment. She pointed at the entrance, a thin door that looked like a derelict Nineteenth Century shop. He looked at her suspiciously, “You are not serious. This is not a bar.” She ignored him and ushered him down the stairs. Semyon found himself in an ancient wine cellar. Cass remembered fondly when the bosomy French Landlady used to smoke by the bar, considering what ever you ordered with disdain. The sadly the disdain was all that remained of Gordon’s edge. Cass loved this place.
It was early enough for them to find a table in the vaults. The candle light was the only light. She went and ordered a bottle of vino verde. The Landlady had seen Cass’ taste improve over the years, she even managed to smile at Cass as she passed over the glasses and the bottle.
“Someone told me this place has been a cellar since Roman times,” Cass informed Semyon.
“English people are so sentimental,” Semyon was not impressed.
“Have a drink and lighten up. Enjoy the ambiance,” Cass ignored his brattishness. Semyon did start to relax. By their second bottle, they talked about Moscow and the Kremlin. He was sure that the sanctions were unjustified. “Crimea had been Russian since Catherine the Greats. How would you feel if Scotland won independence?” he muted.
Cass was not so sure it was comparable. She could not imagine government backed Georgies charging Hadrian’s Wall to liberate English settlers, but still she listened with interest. It then got onto Putin in general.
“But Cass, if people want change they will make it. You forget we are people of revolution!” he laughed expansively. “It is one thing we are very good at.”
Cass suddenly hunkered down in her seat, she should have thought about this, “Fuck, it is my friends.”
“Invite them over,” Semyon was in full flow now, they had not eaten anything and he was enjoying the light fizz of the wine. He turned around and then asked loudly, “Where are they?”
Alec, Luke and Shaheen joined them. Semyon was quite taken by Shaheen. Cass tried to bury her irrational irritation.
Luke was acting over chummily with Semyon. Cass found Luke’s enthusiasm even more grating. She did not want Semyon to know more about her. She was showing him London and hoping he would disappear thereafter.
At the bar Alec helped Luke with the order, “Dude, what the fuck?”
Luke looked down at the tray, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“She is on a date. If you want to stay friends, get over it.”
“I am being absolutely delightful,” Luke retorted. “I am just getting to know the guy. He could be Russian Mafia for all we know.”
“You are territorially pissing, and you know it. We will finish this round and leave them to it,” commanded Alec.
“Yes darling,” flirted Luke.
“Fucking repressed Brits,” Alec smiled at Luke.
They all left together. Semyon bear hugged Cass’ friends goodbye and their wobbly separate ways in the June evening.
Cass walked Semyon up Charings Cross Road into Theatre land. “ I want Sushi,” Semyon insisted expansively. Cass was not too sure it was wise having sushi with a secret FSB officer, but she needed to soak up the booze and she could not see a Nandos.
They found a restaurant near Covent Garden. Tiny colour coded dishes – check! Conveyor belt – check! Going to eat so much you are going to find it difficult to lie down in bed – check!
Semyon talked excitedly with his mouthful, “I love London. It is so messy and the people are so different.”
“I am not too sure that is a compliment,” Cass laughed as she struggled with her chop sticks and then gave way to her hands.
“Your friend Shaheen. She is so beautiful,” Semyon said gauchely. “And funny!”
“Yes she is,” Cass had no right to disagree.
“I have not met many Muslims who are funny,” he said.
“I don’t think I know many Muslims but she is definitely funny,” Cass found his stereotyping annoying. Cass wondered darkly, why did everyone have to be catagorised. Jewish, you should go into stand up, banking or partitioning the West Bank. Christian, makes a good friend and a good cake but watch out for your kids. Muslim, serious, industrious and will behead you over a bacon sandwich.
“She told me about your fiancé,” Semyon said tentatively.
“She shouldn’t have,” Cass stated flatly. She turned to a waitress, “Please can I get two Saki?”
Trying to change the subject even more ineptly, “Your men friends are funny too. Are they all gay?”
“Not all of them,” Cass was surprised. She had not picked up on Luke’s split loyalties until a few years of knowing him.
“We do not have many open gays in Moscow. It is bullshit. My uncle is gay, he has had the same partner for 40 years. They cannot even hold hands in public. He has to be especially careful now. He is a University Professor. He must not disseminate his lifestyle or he will loose his job.”
Cass now felt a bit guilt for judging Semyon on his “funny Muslim” comment.
“Putin compared gays to paedophiles before Sochi, “ Cass said sympathetically.
“I know and that is why I do not vote for him,” Semyon downed the saki. “My uncle and, well, my other uncle, you know, my uncle’s partner, were like fathers to me. My real father left my mother after my sister was born. I was three. Being gay does not mean you want to hurt children.”
“Does Putin know Tchaikovsky was gay?” Cass asked.
“I don’t know,” Semyon laughed. “But he doesn’t ban the Nutcracker at Christmas for disseminating homosexual lifestyle. “
“I think Putin’s bare chest bareback riding photos have done more to disseminate a homosexual lifestyle, “ laughed Cass.
Semyon looked at her blankly, ”He looks strong and masculine in those pictures.”
“Yes,” Cass smiled. “ A real Russian Bear.”