“It’s a prank?!”
“Keep it down, damn you, it’s broadcasting.”
Luka glanced through the window into the small, featureless room with the microphone and the old tape recorder, letting out that consistent buzz tone. When he had first gotten the assignment to work at the hidden radio station, he had believed that he was doing something great, something top-secret that would benefit Russia.
Well, it was top-secret, yes, but it sure as hell wasn’t ‘great’.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized through clenched teeth. “God forbid the Americans find out it’s all a joke.”
“It’s not a joke,” said Luka’s supervisor, a doughy man in his fifties named Nikolai. “More of a bluff. A ruse. A trick.”
“A joke, then.”
“Call it what you want. We’re paid well to keep it running,” Nikolai said, shrugging.
Nikolai blew over his mug of coffee, dispelling the steam. “Picture two cars going down a road at night. One of them has its headlights on, windows open and speakers at full blaring some horrible pop music. The other doesn’t. Which one of them would you pay more attention to?”
“The first one,” Luka said, realization dawning. “Of course. By having something so obvious, we’re drawing attention to it so that the Americans don’t realize we actually have other more secret broadcasting stations like the second car with the lights off-”
Nikolai reached out and slapped him while taking a sip of coffee. “No, stupid, there is no second car.”
Luka blinked, stinging redness in his cheek disrupting his thoughts. “But you just said…”
“I lied. There actually isn’t a second car, there’s just the one obnoxious one going down the road causing a ruckus and disturbing people,” Nikolai said. His expression was completely flat. “This is horrible coffee, by the way.”
Luka’s mouth flapped, trying to form the beginnings of any one of a dozen questions. “But – I – you – then the – but the second car – then why-”
“Confused?” Nikolai asked, slapping him on the other cheek. It wasn’t even a very hard slap, but it was still a slap. “Baffled? Perplexed? Puzzled? Bamboozled?” Each word was said with another light slap.
Luka snapped out of his stupor and grabbed Nikolai’s wrist while he was two syllables into ‘discombobulated’. “Why are you slapping me?” he asked, very calmly.
Nikolai shrugged. “You have a very slappable face,” he admitted. “But you’re confused by all this, aren’t you? Wasting time thinking about it that could be better spent doing something like, say, making me some better coffee?”
“…Yes?” Luka guessed, hoping Nikolai wasn’t about to start slapping him again.
“That is the point of this station. To confuse the Americans and get them to waste their time on something stupid,” Nikolai said, pressing his coffee mug into Luka’s hands. “I was serious about the coffee, it’s horrible. Make some more.”
“Right away, sir,” Luka said, still trying to fit all the pieces together.
“Good lad,” said Nikolai. Then he slapped Luka again, just for the hell of it.