I went to a disco in the center of town where the cover was 40 rubles and beers were 25-30. There was almost nobody there except some whores in the lobby that I chatted up for half an hour or so. Some guy they knew showed up and bugged them for $10 blowjobs, picking at Polina's fishnet stockings, which she was wearing over a regular pair of tights. Two of them had phone numbers, another did not. Not all of Kostroma made it into the 20th century and many people still don't have a home phone. When I returned from the disco, I found a message from Anna -- she had gone to work at 10, got my message, and come to the hotel only to leave when I didn't come back.
The next day I waited in the morning in the lobby of the hotel for Anna to come. She arrived around 11:30. She was a bit of a disappointment -- she had looked rather young in the whitewashed pictures that she had posted on the web site. In real life she had crow's feet and could have passed for 30. She was fairly tall, standing about 5'8" or 5'9" in her high-heeled 'fuck me' boots. She was wearing a sweater with a generic label in English and skin-tight pants. She had bleached blonde hair and was smoking Next cigarettes. 'We need go to hospital..." she said. I wondered what was wrong. Apparently she had some minor malady that required a trip to the gynecologist. I'd never started a date with a trip to the gynecologist, but the rates posted on the wall were reasonable enough -- appointments were less than three dollars, surgery only $20 or so.
After Anna was given a clean bill of health, we made our way to her friend Olya's apartment. Olya was also a chat girl. Anna said it was Olya's birthday, so we bought a cake on the way for Olya's place. Olya wasn't home, but her mom was, and fed us soup, tea, cranberry juice, and a shot each of home-made Ukrainian vodka which tasted a bit like Swedish Aquavit. While we waited around, we proceeded to eat half the cake. Nobody bothered to light any candles or make a wish.
Olya's cat and 18-year-old son were home. She had a husband too, but he was away. The apartment was a standard one-room place on the first floor of a Stalin-era building. In the one-room place dwelt: Olya, Olya's mom, Olya's son, Olya's husband, and Olya's cat.
"Nice kitty," I told Anna.
"Oh -- you can have her -- there isn't any room for her." I would have considered it if not for the big, fat ticks on the cat's back.
Olya came home. She was seven months pregnant, and looked it. She had short, dyed blonde hair, pretty lips and a cute nose, but her pregnant-mom overalls and crowded apartment weren't exactly stimulating. Besides, she looked pissed off, even before I offended her by saying "Foo!" when she lit a cigarette, my middle class instincts kicking in. Olya ignored me from then on. She didn't speak any English anyway, and wasn't as willing to listen to my bumbling Russian as her Mom had been. Olya had bigger problems; she was in the middle of a divorce.
"Don't worry," Anna said. "Olya smoke last time pregnant." After playing with the cat and toddler for a few minutes, Anna and I took off for her studio. I never actually got a look at the studio; I waited outside the studio and had a cigarette. It was in an anonymous residential building; the entrance was a standard korpus that resembled half of the Stalin-era korpusi in Moscow. Anna got her friend Lena, who went to a bar with us where she explained how the girls' set-up worked.
Lena had long, chestnut-brown hair, a round face and what she described as a Kazakh looking nose. She had an energetic personality; it was hard to assess her body under the large winter coat she was wearing. I forget the name of the bar, but it wasn't bad for a city with the size and average disposable income of Kostroma. Lena was of average build; Anna was much more fit but looked older. Lena showed me her passport; she had just had her 23rd birthday. Anna claimed to have lost her passport in a taxi. There was hardly anybody in the bar, but the waitress insisted that if we wanted a table that we had to pay at least 300 rubles between the three of us. I almost laughed at the low minimum, but then again, nothing on the menu was more than fifty rubles.