You Only Live Twice, or Actually Once

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You Only Live Twice, or Actually Once

I looked on as Snowden arrived... but Putin was close behind.

I looked on as Snowden arrived... but Putin was close behind.

Private collection

I looked on as Snowden arrived... but Putin was close behind.

Private collection

Private collection

I looked on as Snowden arrived... but Putin was close behind.

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Editor’s note: Jim Union’s Christian name is Richard Schlong, and he was once a private eye; kidnapped by his former nemesis, Kaufman, and subjected to plastic surgery, Richard has now become an agent for an agency that doesn’t exist–operating under the name: Jim Union.

I was going to Russia, and I was keeping my sentences clipped. K. had given me the ticket yesterday morning, economy class, along with an English-Russian translation book, which turned out to be “The Klingon Dictionary.” We met at Burlington International at six in the morning.

“Call me Dr. Ruth,” K. said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Now you’ll be flying to Moscow – first class, old chap,” K. said. Before my first assignment, K. had told me he would lie once during each future briefing. He had told the truth.

“Your mission, old boy, should you choose to accept it, which you’ve already done, and we thank you for it, is to assassinate the President!”

My look of horror caused him to re-examine the index card from which he was reading.

“Oh!” He turned the index card rightside up. “You’re to rendezvous with Edward Snowden in Moscow, then escort him to the moon.”

“The moon,” I exclaimed. I lit a cigarette. “That’s a bit above my paygrade.”

Of course, I didn’t really mind. I liked Snowden. He was the zen whiz kid who blew the whistle on the NSA. He leaked thousands, hundreds of thousands, of horrific documents, detailing the redefinition of “invasion of privacy.” It was Snowden who nudged America, and said, “Hey, uh – guys? Big Brother is watching.” Sure I’d go to the moon for him. Sure I would.

The flight was fine. One of the hostesses was hot. She brought me peanuts, then we made love in the restroom.

When I stepped off the plane, Vladimir Putin was waiting for me. Vladimir Putin and an entourage of thick-necked Russians. They were wearing sunglasses.

Vladimir Putin was wearing fishing trunks and no shirt. He looked like he’d swallowed a steel vault, and it had gone right to his stomach. His pecs were two perfect slabs of steak. He was wearing a floppy fishing hat and holding a fishing pole with a dead perch hanging off the end.

“I vrecognize you,” he said. “Teemethee Dulton.”

“Close,” I said, stepping on to the tarmac and lighting a cigarette.

Vladimir Putin’s eyes narrowed.

“Vat ees your nem,” he leered.

“Union.” I puffed the cigarette. “Jim Union.”

Putin threw down the fishing pole and stepped forward, raising his sledgehammer fists.

En guarde!” he cried.

We duelled while Putin’s Russian entourage watched. We were tied after nine rounds. One of my eyes had swollen shut, my cigarette had been squashed into my upper lip, and one of my nipples was dislocated. Putin was out two eyes and a nose, and his ear was lying on the tarmac.

“No more, American,” Putin panted. “Forfeit and I will geeve you Znowden.”

He grabbed me in a boxer’s embrace and whispered into my ear, “Cossack brother.”

“I forfeit,” I said. “Now get me Edward Snowden. Then get me a light.”

It took 45 minutes, but Snowden showed, carried on to the landing strip in a limousine. I was on my ninth cigarette.

Snowden stepped out. He was thin, pale, red-haired. He had a short-trimmed goatee and a zen look in his eyes.

“I’m ready,” he said.

“Now just a minute,” I said. “We haven’t even acquired a rocket yet.”

“Please,” Putin said. “Take my perzonal rocket ship.” He gestured to a yak being led off the tarmac; his eyes were still sealed shut.

One of his men took Putin by the shoulders and turned him 180 degrees.

Now he was gesturing to the most spectacular collection of steel I’d ever seen, a perfect rocket ship, glinting in the Russian gray light. An image covered the side of the ship, depicting a flexed bicep.

“She ees oiled up and ready to go,” Putin said.

I looked Vladimir Putin in the eyes. But he’d put on pink aviators to hide his sealed eyelids. I decided to trust him.

“Thank you,” I said.

He wrapped me in a hug that would necessitate vertebrael realignment after my mission was complete.

“Vee should go fishing zumtime,” Putin said.

It took two hours to prep the rocket ship. Putin offered a co-pilot, one of the leftover monkeys from the Bion program in the Eighties. The monkey had a beard. I politely declined.

“Here,” Putin said. “Vee vill enjoy a smok.”

“Sorry, Vladimir,” I said. “Edward Snowden and I have to get to the moon.”

10 minutes later, we had lift-off.

“T-minus 20 minutes ‘til moon landing,” Edward Snowden said.

I lit a cigarette, but ran into opposition from my helmet. I put it out in Putin’s anti-gravity ashtray. It was full of thick cigar ash.

I looked at Snowden. He was gazing all zen-like out the window. We were burning out of the atmosphere.

“Ready for your second life?” I asked.

Snowden was silent for two whole minutes. Then he looked at me, all zen-like, and said: “Are you familiar with the works of the English author Ian Fleming?”

“Intimately.”

He was silent another five minutes.

Then he said: “You only live twice: once when you are born, and once when you look death in the face.”

After a moment, I said, “Or actually, just once.”

I leaned back and decided to enjoy the ride. I could see the moon.

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