Code of Silence

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Chapter 15

Anatoly Dragovich hadn’t slept well. For the first few nights following his ousting from Ekranotech he’d struggled to come to terms with it. A proud and stoic man he wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of bad news, nor being unable to control a difficult situation. But Ekranotech was now in his past and the payoff Radoslav had made would go some way to easing the pain.

In his younger days he’d been directly involved with the Vory at ground level. As a brigadier within one of the Working Groups, as they were called, he was instrumental in operating criminal activities at a local level: drugs, extortion, trafficking and general fraudulent activity designed to make serious money. He’d learned the ropes quickly and excelled in his roles, developing a ruthless focus and a blind eye to any consequences that didn’t directly affect him or the job he had to do.

The Vory was an organisation with a long and chequered history, and he was to meet with the senior tier of the Solntsevskaya, the largest of the mafia organisations operating in Moscow. They numbered into the thousands, yet were operated through a lean and effective structure. At the top was the Elite Group operated by the Pakhan and his two generals, sometimes known as his spies. The Pakhan was responsible for the big decisions, the running of the organisation, the philosophy and culture of the whole thing.

Below the Elite Group were two more: the Security Group and the Support Group, each managed by one of the Pakhan’s spies. The Security Group was responsible for daily organisational activity and intelligence, plus ensuring there was no crossover with other mafia organisations. The Support Group was assigned to specific tasks, and to oversee the activities of the Working Group. Both the Security and Support Groups had equal standing and were run by the Vory’s most experienced and dangerous people. Below them was where the dirty work happened: the Working Groups.

The Working Groups were created and disbanded based on instructions from the Support Group, depending on where criminal activity was required and where there was the most money to be made in the shortest period of time. Dragovich knew this structure well, and it reminded him of the larger corporate organisations he’d eventually worked in, with their board and management structures. Similar, but far more effective and operated with ruthless efficiency.

He had risen from the Working Groups in his late twenties to become part of the Support Group. It was in this role that he first got involved with the Russian postal service as part of the Vory’s plan to have one of their own within large national organisations that were vital to Russia’s infrastructure. It helped them legitimise their own activities and, once they were involved in these huge businesses, it was very difficult for them to be detected or removed. Energy companies, mining, banking, logistics and airlines were the primary targets, and all of them were riddled with Vory insiders, ensuring the organisation’s reach was truly international.

As Dragovich approached the hotel on a side street just off the main square, close to the hustle and bustle of one of Moscow’s prestigious shopping centres, he was excited about his reunion with the Vory bosses. He’d been pleased to discover that there had been little change at the top, and the same people that he’d worked with since his promotion to the Support Group and on to the Russian postal service were still firmly in charge.

It was like a sort of homecoming after an arduous assignment in a corporate role that he’d reluctantly taken up as a loyal servant. But he knew his time on this corporate assignment would benefit the organisation and promote his own ability with the people that mattered. He was well respected by his Vory peers and bosses. At first his loyalty had been questioned when he’d explained he wished to do things a little differently, balancing his early Vory activities with a more honest approach in the future. Some saw it as a sign of weakness and proposed drastic action; others could understand but feared to comment. It was the senior people who recognised that the world was changing and that the Vory needed a new, or at least an adjusted, approach to take them into the future.

It had been Dragovich’s opportunity to shine; a successful stint at the postal service, followed by his role at Ekranotech Industries. Both had generated lucrative profits for the Vory, profits that came on top of their more traditional activities at street level. When hired by Radoslav in the early days of Ekranotech, Dragovich had remained anonymous in terms of his Vory links. He had portrayed himself as a freelancer, well connected and with a supporting reference from the Russian postal service to allay any fears of those who wanted to employ his services. He was trusted by Radoslav, never failing to deliver the results when challenged with difficult tasks. If he required funds to make something happen then they were provided. He just built a little extra profit in for both himself and the Vory, and as long as the problem had been solved Radoslav didn’t ask any questions.

Dragovich strolled confidently through the recreational gardens that fronted the hotel, neatly designed geographic shapes surrounding the cleared pedestrian walkways, borders dusted with powdery white snow from the night before. It was early afternoon but still well below zero and the walk from where he’d left the warmth of the taxi to the hotel was refreshing. He was a little anxious, having not met with his bosses for some time, but was intrigued by how the meeting would go and what might be on offer since his departure from Ekranotech.

Taking the front steps in his stride, he pushed and followed the heavy brass bar on the hotel’s revolving door to enter the foyer. The contrast in temperature was immediate, but not as marked as he’d imagined it might be. The cavernous aspect and the marble floors of the hotel’s entrance meant there was still a freshness, just without the biting cold that you could feel on exposed skin when outside.

He’d been here before, and moved through the foyer with a steady confidence. He followed the corridor to the right without catching the eye of the doorman, the concierge or staff on reception. It was a bustle of activity and he was just another businessman doing business in the hotel. One of the four copper-panelled elevator doors was open and he entered, tapping the button for the sixteenth floor and then turning to face the opening, back to the wall, chin up, focussing on the art deco floor-level indicators above the door. He removed his thick winter overcoat and folded it over his arm. The door closed and the lift silently rose, Dragovich watching as the lights glowed then faded as each level passed. It gently slowed to a smooth stop at the sixteenth floor. Glancing at the room indicators on the corridor wall, he stepped out and made a left before approaching suite 1602. He knocked firmly on the double doors.

They were opened to reveal a familiar face. “Anatoly.” The voice was low and gravelly with a warm and welcoming tone. It was Sergei Brotinoff, a Vory member he knew from his early days, and one who had taken the more orthodox route as he climbed the Vory hierarchy. The two had been good friends and had worked well together on several jobs previously. They’d kept in touch, and it was Brotinoff that Dragovich had contacted when he learned of his fate at Ekranotech. This was a meeting that the Vory bosses had quickly requested, such was his reputation, to capitalise on the fact that Dragovich was free and able to be used elsewhere in the Vory’s plans to make money. A body search was not required, a further sign that Dragovich was considered a trusted visitor, and one from which he took huge comfort. There were two other men in the suite, one standing and the other seated, and he made eye contact with both as he was welcomed into the room.

The suite was palatial, contemporary in its design and decorated with the highest quality materials. It was a vast space, floor-to-ceiling windows along the length, the weak afternoon sunshine just managing to filter through the drawn voile curtains, side and wall lights adding to the illumination. Dragovich laid his jacket on a chair by the dining table and entered the main living area, down a step and towards the two men, both of whom he also knew. Boris Kapnacov stood beside the sumptuous leather sofa; he was equal in standing to Brotinoff, having also achieved the trusted and exalted level of a Vory spy. He offered his hand and they shook firmly, their greeting sealed with a silent nod to one another.

The man who was seated now rose, fastened the single button on his jacket and stepped forward. He was senior enough to do away with the formal handshake. Mikhail Vedrov had known Dragovich for almost two decades now and was pleased to see him. He held him by both upper arms and performed their traditional embrace, three kisses to the cheeks, his right hand then patting Dragovich’s shoulder, gradually guiding him to the seat to his left. Both men sat, smiling. Dragovich felt relaxed now, back in the arms of his second family.

Vedrov was older than Dragovich and a veteran of the Vory. He was in charge of the Solntsevskaya in Moscow, and was immaculately dressed in a charcoal-grey lounge suit and open-neck black shirt. He was tall and muscular and had obviously being keeping in shape. An ex-army man, some said KGB, with longstanding political connections. He was one of the most feared gangsters in Russia and one not to be crossed, a legendary figure in Vory circles, and although Dragovich hadn’t spoken to him regularly, he knew that any decisions made or instructions he received during his time at the postal service and Ekranotech were sanctioned by Vedrov. His reputation as a Vory hardman with a razor-sharp intellect created a potent image in the mind of those he influenced, and he commanded the utmost loyalty from those around him.

Dragovich was no exception, and he knew that being summoned to this meeting meant that there were important things to discuss.

“So, how have you been, my friend?” asked Vedrov, unfastening the button on his jacket and placing an arm casually across the back of the sofa.

“Good, very good. Some unexpected time on my hands as of a few days ago, but generally I’m well,” Dragovich said, trying to appear positive despite the deep anger he still held about leaving Ekranotech.

Both men smiled, and continued the small talk as Brotinoff and Kapnacov seated themselves opposite, pouring coffees and passing the cups and saucers across the glass table.

Dragovich took his time updating Vedrov about his experience at Ekranotech. He found it strangely therapeutic to hear his own words describing his final weeks and days there. He made sure he was succinct and precise, he knew Vedrov was not one for other people’s long-winded explanations. They spoke about some of the past successes they’d enjoyed with the postal service, which was still such a lucrative source of income for the Vory, and how the organisation now had many insiders working there, eating away at its profits thanks to Dragovich’s early pioneering work.

The Ekranotech assignment had been an interesting departure from the Vory’s infiltration into traditional and established national businesses; it had allowed them to enter into a new and faster-moving technology-driven environment. The Vory were well aware of the recent developments at Ekranotech, of the new investors, and deals that had been done in buying up companies. Vedrov explained that they had planned to use Dragovich in a more important role within Ekranotech, but had had to pause when Radoslav decided to involve external investors, politicians and other officials.

The Vory had acted fast, knowing that Dragovich’s impending departure meant they would lose their insider position, and today’s meeting was a continuation of their evolving plans. Vedrov explained that they saw how the world was changing, and it was vital that the Vory understood and capitalised on this if they were to maintain their position as the most powerful mafia group in Moscow and, for that matter, in the whole of Russia.

Vedrov regarded Dragovich as an important part of the future and reassured him that there were many things planned, but that they had to be certain they could trust and rely on him to help execute their plans.

“You see, Anatoly,” said Vedrov, leaning forward and reaching for his coffee, “while we have lost a strong position that we spent many years developing, we have alternative routes to getting what we require. This loss is not your fault, you must understand, and we appreciate your efforts. However, what we want has not changed. How we get it has, and that, my friend, is where you come in.”

Dragovich nodded, more relaxed now and eager to hear more.

He was in the presence of the three most senior Vory members in Moscow and could tell that this was a positive meeting. He wasn’t quite sure where it was leading to, but years of Vory experience had honed his instinct for knowing when things were going well or not. With the Vory, it was generally when things weren’t going well that they made their position clear sooner than expected.

Dragovich’s ongoing feedback from his days at Ekranotech had been monitored closely by top Vory people. They knew all about Ekranotech’s plans to attract new investors, boost profits and diversify activities into other areas. They had also been aware of the Varkasoft deal and all its intricacies, including what it might do for Ekranotech’s profits, plus other potential benefits. Dragovich had been directly involved with Radoslav in his early meetings with Tony Varkanopolis. In the process, Dragovich was able to relay sensitive information about the V-Works AI voice activity, and how excited Radoslav was with this opportunity. He’d been surprised to learn that this V-Works aspect had also interested the Vory.

The tone of the conversation had intensified; this was where it would get serious. Dragovich listened closely. Vedrov had paused, and now looked briefly across at his two cohorts, ensuring absolute silence before he spoke again.

“We have been successful in our main activities for many years now, but the world has moved on. We must hold on to what we have worked hard for but we must also plan for the future.” Vedrov laboured the point softly with his clenched fist on the arm of the chair.

Dragovich remained silent, absorbing the detail as the Vory’s plans for the future were outlined by Vedrov.

The traditional activities they were involved in would not change. These were tried and tested, made good money and could be managed by a fairly simple structure, one that had worked for decades and would require little effort to control. If things worked then all was good, the rewards were reaped and everyone enjoyed the benefits. When things began to fail then immediate change was required and effected, be that in processes, procedures or people. Swift and brutal change if necessary.

They were an established and traditional organisation but new blood rising through the Vory ranks had now taken over. Vedrov and his two generals epitomised this new Vory breed and were responsible for much of the change and rewards over the last decade. Educated and intelligent, they had a desire to make sure the Vory, at least the Solntsevskaya faction, wasn’t left behind. Many new opportunities had been considered, but they were most interested in those which offered the maximum rewards for the minimum of effort, and which would be the most difficult to trace back to their doorstep.

Technology was to become an important part of their future plans and they had already seen some great successes on a smaller scale. Just a year earlier they had set up a Working Group dedicated to advancing their capability with technology. There was plenty of unscrupulous resource available out there in the form of disaffected hackers and developers who had shunned the usual gaming or systems development opportunities and ploughed their efforts into more deviant activities. The dark web was awash with them. They just had be recruited or coerced into working for the Vory, with the promise of financial reward and the protection afforded by being part of the Vory family. It was an attractive proposition for a hooded loner running illegal operations from a backstreet bedsit, and reminded Dragovich of the lure that the Vory had when he was a younger man.

Vedrov explained that their first forays into the tech sector had been straight hacking jobs for a disruptive effect, such as bringing down the communications infrastructure that they knew would affect critical services, albeit on a temporary basis. They targeted the police, government, big industry and media outlets. This was more about experimentation, how to use the newly acquired powers, and establishing what sort of advantages could be gained. Initially, it was also meant prove that if they flicked the switch and the national TV channels went down then it couldn’t be traced back to the Vory, which is exactly how it played out.

Armed with technology as part of their weaponry, and a growing confidence that this could be their future, they expanded the activity. At first they employed a modern twist on one of their most successful and oldest activities, extorting money from a national Indian bank whose systems they closed down, subsequently demanding a seven-figure ransom sum to be paid before the reinstallation of the services. The Vory’s top people were pleased with these early results and could see how this could change the face of the organisation forever, taking it to another level in the process. A meeting was set up involving the Support and Security Groups where key Vory personnel were challenged with maintaining current activities, while seeking opportunities where they could use these new skills to raise their game.

Dragovich was intrigued and eager to learn more. He could see how his Ekranotech experience had opened the Vory’s eyes to the possibilities. He understood that their initial experiments using technology had boosted confidence and confirmed the huge potential, but he was struggling to see what his role would be in all of this. It would not be long before he found out.

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