The following morning Anatoly Dragovich arrived at the Ekranotech offices by taxi at 7.00 am, stepping out into the cold bright morning, sunshine ricocheting off the ice and snow in the car park onto the glass façade of the building. He approached the main door in the usual fashion, as any senior employee would, announcing his name and ID number to the voice-activated security system. Standing back, he waited for the doors to slide open. Nothing. A second attempt was interrupted as the doors opened, controlled from inside. He was met by two of Radoslav’s protection officers. Two burly, suited men, stern-faced and of similar size and stature to himself.
They ushered him through the doors, then off to the left of the reception area into a windowless office. It was basic, just a large round table with half a dozen chairs and a plasma TV screen hung on one wall. Some plain brown cardboard boxes containing stationery were propped up against another wall beside a photocopier. The main reception and office were quiet, it would be another hour or so before the first trickle of staff arrived to begin their long day. Dragovich was unlikely to witness this. The two imposing minders urged him to be seated with his back to the door. Immediately after he sat down, Radoslav and another two men entered the room and took their places round other side of the table. The two suited minders stood either side of Dragovich, one observing the gathering and the other monitoring the door. Dragovich knew this wasn’t going to be good news, but suppressed his natural instinct to fight like a cornered animal. There would be time for that on another occasion.
On his way to the office, he’d reflected on the history he had with Ekranotech, and his first meeting with Radoslav. They had got on initially, not because they were like-minded businessmen or through any common ground, but more because each of them needed the other, or at least that’s what Dragovich sensed Radoslav thought. Dragovich remembered thinking that Radoslav was incredibly bright, bursting with charisma and clearly successful, but that he’d struck it lucky with his first venture. Right time and right place, and if he was honest, he envied the fact that Radoslav hadn’t had to get his hands too dirty to achieve what he wanted. Dragovich was the complete opposite: a hired hand, trustworthy but at times brutal, nothing got in his way but he didn’t have the intellect to harness it to his own benefit, but was smart enough at least to recognise that. Consequently, he had nurtured and earned the reputation of a ruthless hardman.
Being well connected throughout Moscow’s business community meant that he’d been employed by many individuals and corporations seeking to get a tough job done. Whether the results were achieved though bribery, blackmail or simple brute force, Dragovich always delivered. Not long after some early work he did for Radoslav, he was hired by Ekranotech as a permanent staff member. Radoslav had explained that he could see the need for his unique skills, and didn’t want to share them or have to wait for his talent to become available. Dragovich himself saw this as a potentially lucrative payday, given what he’d learned about Radoslav’s past ventures; joining Ekranotech as an employee meant he was part of the next one, with a shareholding to keep him there. In his own mind it was also a chance to go straight. To remove himself from the shadier side of Russian business and politics and, ultimately, to distance himself from the infamous Vory, the Russian mafia.
Dragovich’s darker connections went way back to his teenage childhood and the rough district of Moscow he was brought up in. His father and mother just managed to get by in the old Soviet Russia, but his father was drawn into petty crime as a way to top up the pitiful income he received from working in a hotel kitchen. Most local communities had several members of the Vory in their midst; it was how they managed to survive, as the state help they received did little or nothing to meet their needs. From moneylending to providing narcotics at ground level, the Vory ruled and were not to be crossed under any circumstances. On a global scale their influence reached across all continents, where serious organised crime made them billions of dollars annually, creating its own powerful and incredibly wealthy hierarchy.
They didn’t see themselves as criminals, they considered themselves to be honest – it was the rest of the world that was bent. They earned what they had with brute force and cunning, and they had little time for the uniformed crooks who hid behind laws to get their own way. In the eyes of the Russian people there was no distinction between crime, politics and law enforcement. They were all dependent on each other.
Dragovich was drawn to this lifestyle from an early age, following in his father’s footsteps and engaging in many activities as a local fixer within his community, often coming close to imprisonment as a result. He always avoided the harshest of penalties with a little help from senior Vory members, who protected their own. It was a subculture, like many mafia organisations, and as a member you were protected for life providing that you followed the Vory’s code, kept silent and looked after your own.
Dragovich had risen to a respectable level within the organisation but was keen to dilute his activities and move towards a more law abiding way of living. It would always be difficult for him to loosen the ties, but the Vory bosses saw an opportunity for having an insider operating within big businesses and organisations so agreed to work with him on it.
His first role was within the Russian postal service, which handled the billions of letters and parcels crossing Russia each year, many of which ended up in Moscow. Dragovich had a dual role. As a hired staff member, he was involved in managing and suppressing strike activity, always preferring threat and physical intimidation rather than a negotiated union agreement to quickly achieve his objectives. It was a role he excelled in, as was his alternative, unpaid, role – at least, unpaid as far as the postal service was concerned. As the interceptor of more sensitive tracked parcels his job was to ensure they were identified and diverted to the correct recipients, thereby avoiding detection by the customs and excise authorities.
He had developed a taste for this double life, being able to live a little more comfortably with his family, both in terms of putting food on the table as well as not having to constantly look over his shoulder. Being a fully signed-up member of the Vory brought many advantages in life but these were always balanced against the risk of paying the ultimate price. Working at the postal service had suited Dragovich as a stepping stone in his quest to balance an honest future with a murkier past.
He’d been settled at the postal service for a number of years when he was introduced to Radoslav, and joining Ekranotech had allowed him to step even further away from the Vory. But all that was about to end. The walls of the dimly lit room off reception were in stark contrast to the sleek, gleaming surfaces of the boardroom: he was no longer on the inside.
Radoslav began the meeting, repeatedly adjusting the two documents in front of him so they were symmetrical and nervously clearing his throat. “Thank you for attending this meeting, Anatoly, I hope your time away from the business has given you the opportunity to think about things. You’re aware of the concerns our investors have, and we are now faced with a need to conclude things, as the deal has been formally completed.”
Dragovich listened. He wasn’t particularly interested in anything that was being said, but wanted to hear the bits that mattered: how much money, when and how he would receive it, and if there was any small print.
He wasn’t fearful for his life, he knew too much, and was too well connected with the underworld and Radoslav knew that. Radoslav spoke a little more calmly, but still fidgeted with the documents. “You know, Tony Varkanopolis was a good man but he simply opened the wrong doors. He’s been arrested by the authorities for questioning. We believe that part of the deal was not as it should have been, and we have suspicions that there is a case for fraudulent behaviour, a crime punishable by a lengthy jail term in Russia, as you know.”
Radoslav went on to explain to Dragovich how they were grateful for his efforts over the years, but that any payment was a gesture rather than the big payday he’d once been promised in the event Ekranotech was ever sold.
“How much are we talking about?” asked Dragovich, as he placed his hands on the table, fixing Radoslav with steely eyes until he answered.
“I’ll come to that in a moment,” said Radoslav, folding and unfolding the corner of a document in a tight triangle. “You should know that we will have no hesitation in recommending that the authorities also interview you should this matter not be fully concluded at this meeting. We’ve had the lawyers draw up the agreement and all it needs is your signature,” he said. He quickly slid a copy of the document across the table.
Dragovich looked at it, scanning the summary paragraph on top, and as his eyes settled on the figure he heard Radoslav confirming the two hundred thousand dollars payoff. His fury raged inside. This was nowhere near what he’d been promised as a shareholder, but he swallowed his anger down once again, teeth gritted and fists now hidden, clenched tightly under the table.
“So be it,” he said calmly. “Your pen.” Radoslav blinked, hesitated, and a frown rippled briefly across his forehead. He passed the pen over and they took it in turns to sign the paperwork. Dragovich was struggling to contain himself, taking his copy and folding it, sliding it into his suit pocket beneath his heavy leather coat. It was time to play it cool, take the money and then, at the right time, take further action. He would have his revenge, but this was neither the time nor the place.
He rose to his feet, leaving Radoslav and his two advisers seated. The two minders prepared themselves, hands released from behind their backs and ready by their sides. Dragovich refused the handshake offered by Radoslav, looked him in the eye then turned and left the room, the two minders followed, guiding him towards the main door. The contrasting brightness of the piercing blue morning forced him to shield his eyes. Locating his waiting taxi to the left he marched towards it, and the billowing cloud of exhaust fumes rising and floating above it. He wrenched open the door, climbed in and slammed it shut. As he settled into the warmth of the car it rolled gently forward, gathering speed and consumed briefly by the spiralling fumes that followed.
Dragovich’s mind was racing on the journey back to his apartment. He connected to his voice-activated account with his mobile phone and checked that his bank balance reflected the promised funds and that they had cleared. He had already been briefed by the Vory about Tony Varkanopolis being arrested and was aware that there was a risk he, too, could come under scrutiny. However, unlike Tony, Dragovich’s connections ran far deeper than the reach of the law and the state-influenced legal system. He was still rankled following the Ekranotech meeting. He was a man who bore grudges and who enjoyed seeking revenge. It was in his make-up, and he had been involved in enough darkness and dirty deeds that it had become ingrained in his soul. He could try to polish it, present it differently, but under that thin veneer was still the raw malice that had guided him through his life up to now.
The Vory had already been supportive of Dragovich. When he was working at Ekranotech he had been involved in some of the organisation’s darker activities, doing the dirty work to move things forward, breakdown barriers, or to win favour with local and national government contacts. It was all designed to grease the wheels, and many of the payments that Tony had confronted Radoslav with were indeed handled by Dragovich. What Radoslav didn’t know was the full extent of these payments, nor that a sizeable portion of each was going straight into the Vory’s bank account. Dragovich saw this as their commission, something he shared in as well. Radoslav didn’t need to know the exact breakdown, he just needed results. Sometimes those results were straightforward to achieve, others required a little more influence, and that was something that Dragovich’s connections could deliver.
He had been summoned to meet with his Vory peers following his departure from Ekranotech. Now that he was free of his corporate duties he could be used to great advantage by the Vory on a much grander scale. Dragovich felt it was time to re-embrace his old ways of working. He’d have the opportunity to get even with Radoslav, to have his revenge. It was just a matter of time.