I just prayed that he'd stick with Mark and leave me alone. Don't lose hope, sir -- keep shaking! Persevere, my skull-emblazoned friend!
And he did, shaking Mark more and more roughly until Mark woke up. At which time the drunk made the same "Drink with us" offer, poking the nearly-empty bottle at Mark, who got mad once he figured out why he'd been woken up. I was behind Mark one hundred percent-silently, of course, but very sincerely. The exchange was heated:
"Maaaaark...DRINK with us!"
"I said NO!"
Skull-shirt headed to the back of the plane to consult with HQ. There was some muttering, and then they sent their secret weapon, the Good Cop. He was a plump, jolly blond fellow, a real people-person. He brought along the same nearly-empty bottle, flashed it at Mark, and said, "You MUST drink with us! It is a Russian custom!"
Mark said, "I'm not a Russian."
Good Cop smiled excitedly: "Ah! You see, I am not a Russian either!" He seemed to imply that this was even more cause to celebrate.
Mark said "This isn't Russia." Good Cop nodded eagerly, implying that this was just another excellent reason to revel.
Finally he gave up and returned to the brain-trust at the back of the plane. They decided to send Skull-Shirt back up to work on me, the Weakest Link. He sat in front of me, no more Mister-Nice-Guy, and said grimly: "We see you buy it."
Seeing the puzzlement distorting my fake grin, he insisted: "Duty Free! We see you buy!"
At this point I started to get it. We'd zipped into the duty-free store at Vnukovo to get a bottle of something-gin, as it turned out, because it was cheap. I remembered now -- we'd run into these guys in the narrow aisles of the kiosk-sized duty free shop.
Seeing that I'd got the point, Skull-Shirt demanded: "Where is bottle?"
I glanced toward the overhead bin, that fatal glance that they say allows pickpockets to see where you've got your stash. But Skully was too drunk to pick up on it. He just went on saying, "You must share!"
I shook my head, and he settled in to stare at me for -- oh, say, ten minutes. Eye to eye, except I was pretending to read. I don't think I absorbed much of the book, though. I could hear him breathing, muttering, and, towards the end, cursing. I just tried to wait it out, like they say you should lie still if you're attacked by a grizzly.
He wobbled to the back at last, but before I could breathe again up came Good Cop, to make a new offer: "We buy! Yes! Bottle!"
It still irks me that I didn't accept the offer. We didn't even want the damn gin. Ended up leaving most of it for the hotel maids in Sharm. We could've had any price from these desperate junkies -- could've had their last dollar in exchange for that crummy floor-polish tasting Gordon's. But it was too late, somehow, to deal with them. All I could do was keep shaking my head and hope that the plane would crash or get shot down, ending the horror.
For the rest of the flight they settled for sitting in the back cursing us, mocking us. For some reason my Russian always becomes fluent when I'm being insulted, so I heard exactly what they said about my baldness, my stupid glasses, my advanced age, corpulence and general distastefulness. I agreed with most of it, but still.....
Skull-Shirt made one last foray. As I finished a plastic bottle of mineral water -- you know, one of those blue 1.5 liter bottles, He zoomed up the aisle and grabbed it right out of my hand. But before he'd run another meter, he shook it, shouted "Puskaya!" and threw it away. At that moment he turned around, and in the way he was staring at me and Katherine, the pure lethal hatred in that glance, I understood for the first time that this had been a very serious business. As Mark said later, if this had happened in a podmoskovye village they would have killed us.
Skull-Shirt stomped on up the aisle, grabbing every bottle he saw -- sunscreen, soft-drink, water -- and throwing them aside with a snarl. I suddenly realized: hey, this is that mythical creature, the "crazed junkie"! The first actual crazed junkie I've ever seen -- and it turns out to be an ordinary alcohol-junkie. Stands to reason, really: we're trained to dismiss all the drug horrors spawned by alcohol, while publicizing the few involving "drugs." I've known a lot of junkies -- I mean the opiate sort -- and I'd have to say that in general they were some of the quietest, most polite people I've met. Not always trustworthy, but uniformly gentle. But God damn, keep me away from the crazed alcohol junkies.