Yuri is a strange boy. He sits in the cold room at the back of his father's Moscow strip club, working on a computer he built from bits he paid to have smuggled in from West Germany. He has been to all the best Soviet Institutes in the city, but always left them to pursue his own mysterious goals. His father, having grown rich from selling Western booze and rock and roll to the hungry masses, bankrolls his eccentricity, determined that his son be a self made man like himself. Each time Yuri left a school to return to his hermitage in the storage room, Daddy always made sure he had all he needed. He tried to understand the tangents that his boy went off, with limited success. Vice was his business, and business was good.

I work for Radosav Oblak, Yuri's father. I waitress at his club, the TOCHKA, down on Zvenigorodskoe Street, 4 blocks down from the river. He ships in Ukrainian girls from Kiev to writhe on the brass poles and Polish girls from Warsaw to serve Ukrainian vodka. He also tells that joke to every sloppy drunk suit that wanders in here. I'm sure that the Mafia is in business with Old Rado, because he would have been shutdown ages ago left to his own devices. It takes a lot of money to get the Party to turn a blind eye your way, especially with Gorbachev in office.

I went to the club that day, to listen to the Stone's "Their Satanic Majesties Request" play end to end for the hundredth time. The tips from two shifts pays the rent on my rundown apartment for a month. I was hanging up my coat in the rear hallway when I heard Yuri's fevered typing chatter to a stop. "Ludmilla?" he asked tentatively, with a voice that sounded unused for days. I stuck my head in past the blue painted steel door. "Are you still alive in here hermit?" I ask him in return. Yuri sat at a rough pine desk in a nest of black wires. His crouched up silhouette with lit from behind by a little white monitor, covered in tight white script on black. He hadn't turned around when he called me in. "Come back when your shift is over. We have.. things to discuss. Please."

"Oh, so very mysterious." I tease.

Yuri started typing again, signaling that the conversation, such as it was, was over. The mystery would have to wait until the end of hours of ass pinching and spilled drinks. I tie my black serving apron around my back, a prisoner's shackles.

When I return, hours later, I can't be sure that Yuri has moved at all. The screen is still full of tiny white text, and the praying mantis of gangly Yuri is still perched on top of his barstool, long arms folded up like a Swiss army knife. No, wait. One difference. A bottle of Stolichnaya sits open on the table beside a pile of disks. The glass accompanying it is half full. Yuri has been drinking. I don't think I have ever seen that before.

"Hello Ludmilla" comes quietly from his throat, as though it was packed with cotton.

"What's the big mystery? Have you finally destroyed the dreaded Americans and cleared the world for the glorious Revolution?". The joke is lost on him, his limited social skills having withered during his sabbatical from humanity.

"No no, nothing like that. Do you see this?"

He gestured to the screen, which was filling with his furious typing. With a satisfied twack he ran his program. It was a game, with tinny music and falling colored blocks.

"Alexey Pajitnov and I made this game while we were at the Academy of Science together. Somebody sent a copy to some kids in Hungary and they ported it to a Commodore. It was all over Europe in a month! Last month, they sent a contract to Alexy. This game, it could be worth millions. He thinks they are trying to steal it from him. Him. I helped and I get no mention! Well, I am stealing it."

"What's it called?" I ask, lost in the machinations of his private world of betrayals and business.

"Tetris. It's a stupid name. I wanted to call it Blocks but Vadim called it Tetris when he redid it in DOS... It is Tetris now, forever."

Yuri shifts in seat and looks at me, deadly serious behind his thick black framed glasses. The screen reflects blue in his eyes. "He wants to cut me out of what is half mine. I cannot let that happen! That's why I need you Ludmilla. I need your help."

"I don't know anything about computers." It's true. I have trouble with the cash register at the bar.

Yuri stiffens, and looks down at his feet, as if suddenly embarrassed. I only notice then how drunk he is. He is swaying on his seat like a mast in a storm. He turns back to his keyboard and runs another program. It looks identical to the first one to me.

"I want you to be my business partner Ludmilla. I know how bad you need the money and how working here makes you sad. You see this?" he says as he gestures to a flat white box covered in green lights. It says US Robotics on it.

"It's a modem! Can you believe it?"

The spectacular relevance of this escapes me. "What does it do?" I ask, oblivious.

"I can hook up this computer to another using a phone! It is incredible! Dad had to pull some strings to get this here. So, I used it to connect to a BBS in Los Angeles. In America! I have made all the arrangements! I'm going to beat Pajitnov to America! HA!". He pounds his fist on the desk to emphasize his point.

"Why do you need me Yuri? I don't understand.". His drunken rage quickly leaves him, and he gets red-faced again. Something he wants to say is deathly embarrassing to him. Something to do with me.

"They are mad for it, Milla. They will send me 5 American dollars for each copy they play. They call it Shareswares. When I am rich, I will go to live in California and learn to surf."

He is nervous and fretting.

I move to put on my jacket. "Good luck in California, Yuri. Send me your first Hollywood movie, Cowboy." I say with a smile. Poor crazy Yuri it says.

"Please Ludmilla, stay a moment. Please."

I stop in the doorway.

"I changed the program from Alexy's. When you start to win in my Tetris, it reveals a picture. It is my hook! The Americans, they are all about the pretty girls. I... I want to add your picture to the game. Please.". He turned a brilliant shade of red and hung his head in his hands.

"All this for a picture? Why would you want to add a picture of me to your game?"

"Well, you are very beautiful. And you have the nicest body of all the girls. Your chest is very..."

"You mean a naked picture?"

"Ye..eess" he stutters.

I slap him across the face with the back of my hand. "How DARE you! I am not one of your fathers whores!" I thunder.

"50 percent" he manages, holding his hand printed face.

California is lovely this time of year.


For my good friend

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