An Elephant

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Chapter 11: Tadeusz

Chapter 11: Tadeusz

“The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.”

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“One man’s dream, is another man’s reality, is another man’s nightmare, Pawel.” Tadeusz waited to see if Pawel understood.

“But not everybody wants the same things, Uncle.”

“The money to buy what you want. It’s whether you’ve got it or you haven’t, and I’ve got lots of it.” He pinched his Canali jacket, a symbol of his success.

“Money’s not everything though, uncle Teddy.”

“You’re sounding like a fucking communist, again.”

Fucking Russians. Stalin was worse than Hitler: he murdered thirty or forty million, and the Red Army soldiers raped over a million women on their way to Berlin.

He felt like spitting. Tadeusz detested the Russian influence on his native land. The years of persecution and suppression and would have been enough to drag down the spirits of any population, however proud. While not entirely illegal, even the people’s Catholicism was frowned upon, and the constant shortages and queues, even for essentials like bread and milk, had led Tadeusz to swear that he would eventually escape such degradation. At a young age he had learned the phrase: ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ He had somehow decided, on some unconscious level, that absolute corruption should therefore lead to absolute power.

“Do you know how I got started, Pawel?”

“Not exactly, uncle.”

“Before your time, back in the days of communism, shoes, warm clothes and even the most basic of foods were in short supply. Even with cash, they were simply unavailable in the shops, but certain groups working outdoors at the docks occasionally received a quota, of sorts. Once in a while we used to receive a fixed number of sheepskins. I got the paperwork signed to say they had been sold to outdoor workers, and then sold them on the black market at a premium and pocketed the difference.

“Not many people know this, and it shows I would have made it even without Andrzej’s parcels from abroad - it just would have taken longer.

“When the Russian Communist influence began to recede from Poland, it left a vacuum where fortunes could be made. I saw the window of opportunity between the end of communist-era restrictions and the introduction of capitalist regulatory controls.

“When the Berlin Wall came down I went to Germany. I bought a second hand Black Mercedes for cash, drove it back and sold it to a corrupt official. It ended up being used to transport visiting diplomats. I did the run again, the second time I filled the boot with designer jeans and perfume.

“I kept doing this, either selling cars to corrupt officials or to the out-and-out criminals that sprang up around that time; no one else could afford them. I was evading tax, but when Aleksander got shot dead right next to me after the walk-out at the shipyard, I learned first-hand how close to danger you can be and still remain unscathed.”

… Also the effect that brute force can have on a situation he thought to himself.

“After doing many runs of this kind, eventually I realised I could afford to keep a Mercedes for myself. Just think of it - thanks to my desire and ingenuity, we are nearly as big as the Pruszkow Gang, and I built everything I have, the life I have, just from starting with a few sheepskins and parcels from abroad. You could have so much more, too, Pawel. You could make so much more, just by spending more time in my factory.”

Pawel appeared unmoved, he presumed due to laziness brought about by an inability to focus on goals. When thinking about a skiing holiday, Tadeusz gave no thought for what he might have to do to finance it; he thought only of the smell of the pine cones, the sight of snow-covered trees and the warmth of a log fire. He had his finger in a hundred pies, few of them completely legal. With a dozen or so import and export businesses, he had connections with Uzbeki cotton growers who exploited slave labour to grow cotton. He had connections from the Vatican to the Triads and everything in between, and thanks to some Polish government connections, he had interests in some upscale pieces of Polish national infrastructure, building roads and repairing railways.

He had recently returned with Boss Jerzy from an organised crime meeting in Antwerp, where representatives from the Camorra, a Colombian cartel, the Russian mafia, and an Afghan general met to discuss how to divide up the world.

He was flying to Lisbon the next day, to finance some commercial property to launder money, while Jerzy’s yacht would sail to Marbella. Tadeusz was then going to fly to Malaga a week later to report to Jerzy on his yacht, and then interview a couple of potential yacht captains for North Africa hashish runs to San Pedro.

He could tell that Pawel, as usual, was unconvinced by the trappings of his opulent lifestyle. He found this attitude to be as bewildering as it was infuriating. Tadeusz was wealthy and played hard, but he worked very hard to maintain his position and create income streams.

“You should make more money for yourself, Pawel, so that you can buy the things that you want, whatever they are. Get some goals.”

Tadeusz knew that if he could motivate Pawel to produce more amphetamines at his factory, and earn more money for the organisation, then Tadeusz would earn a lot more for himself, with no discernible increase in risk or effort.

“I have what I have because I have taken advantage of every opportunity that came my way, and created a good few of my own. In a way, so have you - that’s why you spend time in Aurek’s warehouse making the speed for us. That’s why you studied biochemistry. To make money.”

“I studied biochemistry because of Great Uncle Piotr.”

“He was a fisherman!”

“But biochemistry saved his life when the concentration camp was liberated.”

“The so-called Russian liberation saved Uncle Piotr by giving him a bit of emergency rye bread and some chocolate.”

Pained at using ‘Russian’ and ‘liberation’ in the same sentence, Tadeusz sighed coldly and clasped his hands together. Pawel continued:

“The Germans had left all but the capos at death’s door from malnutrition and many were left, literally dying as the gates were opened. Some got to see their liberation and died on the spot. It could have even been the excitement that killed them. The Russians gave the survivors steroids along with the food, to keep them alive and to help metabolise the nutrients effectively. Great Uncle Piotr told me this when I was nine, and I could not understand how something other than food could lead to sustenance and survival, so I became interested in biochemistry.”

“Well it’s paid off now because you earn quite a lot of money to…” He briefly glanced around him until he was satisfied no one around them spoke Polish and understood. “…produce our amphetamines. You could earn three times as much if you devoted more hours and stopped spending most of your time tending to your garden. You could pay someone to do that for you. In fact, you’ve probably got enough money now, I can’t understand why you don’t move out of that shit-hole altogether.”

“Great Uncle Piotr left it to me, Anna likes it, it’s big enough and there is enough land to grow plenty of fresh food. I like to work in the garden, it’s not just because Anna wouldn’t like me working for you full time. I get to spend more time with Jozef, too.”

Tadeusz clasped his hands together again. He hated children. What made it even worse was that he knew Pawel was always smiling and seemed happy and content, he just couldn’t understand why.

That property and land are worth less than my cufflink collection.

“Don’t you want to travel the world Pawel? Relax in a hammock with a cocktail, take advantage of foreign cultures, beautiful beaches, great food?”

You could be like me and go to a different Caribbean island for Christmas, every year, if you concentrated more time on the business and didn’t insist on spending most of your time tending your Mikoszewo vegetable plot and that screaming child.

“You could go to the Maldives if you really wanted, they are amazing. You speak better English now, it won’t rain, and the food’s fantastic.”

“I don’t think my bank manager would like the sound of that.”

“That’s my point, Pawel. Make a lot of money by devoting more time to the business, whatever your wife thinks. Why should it be up to your bank manager where you go? People treat you the way you allow them to treat you. My bank manager comes to me, Pawel, I don’t go to him. I don’t even know where my bank is.”

Actually, it’s a good job I’m never there, because I’ve arranged to have it robbed twice.

As of late, Tadeusz tried to spend as little time as possible in his native land. He found the food was still terrible, the winters were cold and miserable, and he found the Poles who decided to stay were generally pretty lacklustre individuals or criminal wannabes, and he enjoyed the company of neither.

He thought that most with any self-respect had left the first chance they got, but he still had enough business to take care of to keep him there for a few months a year.

“Tst.” He looked at Pawel and shook his head.

Back to business: We need to be aware of police here because we don’t own them. I’m not convinced that Jerzy’s idea that the football crowds will be the perfect distraction holds much water.

We could have done the deal on the yacht, but Jerzy had heard that this Dog character could be very dangerous and didn’t want him on board.

They arrived onto Place St George, turning right from Rue de la Revolution, and headed along the square’s north side past a bookshop and a café toward Hotel de la Paix.

Agitated at the prospect of a meet with only Pawel and Quiet Tony as his immediate companions, he looked around the square. Some locals, some France ’98 tourists, and two journalists with their camera in the middle of the square. Tadeusz focused on the tripod and the man doing the filming rather than the woman with the microphone.

In the south easterly corner, he saw there was a couple sat on the ground, there was a man with a red neck whose face he couldn’t see, and a girl in a pink vest was facing out. Along from them an olive-skinned woman in a white T-shirt with a Brazilian flag on it, sitting and watching the passing crowds next to a blocked off alleyway. In front of Tadeusz, Pawel and Quiet Tony, walked two England fans. A poor, North African-looking lad passed ahead of them, and in front of them was a Japanese couple. Ahead of them was-

Oh my God he is absolutely huge.

Tadeusz winced.

That must be Dog and Boot. Has he got purple hair? So much for a low profile meet.

Fucking amateurs.

He shook his head with a combination of disbelief and anger. At the hotel, Dog disappeared around the corner, carrying a black hold all.

Freak show.

They slowly approached Hotel de la Paix and Tadeusz first heard, then saw, a big blond man shouting in English. He looked at the England fan’s clothes, he was one of a trio.

I have a pair of the same Armani shorts, I bought them in Rome. They are expensive and this caveman looks like he couldn’t string a proper sentence together. The state of him… Is he foaming at the mouth? Some English football fans are worse drunken louts than the Russians.

This led Tadeusz to suppress a smile as he thought back to one of his favourite facts about Russian history. Many of the Russians who died in WWII were not killed in action, or doing any actual soldiering at all; they were killed by alcohol poisoning. Despite having a daily vodka allowance, they raided every single chemical factory on the way and converted them to produce even more alcohol for them to drink - all the way to Berlin. Literally millions eventually died, purely as a result of alcohol-poisoning.

“Slow down, both of you” he whispered. “Remember Riccardo, our Sicilian insurance, should be up at the tall apartment block up there on the left. If these people are stupid enough to try anything, make sure you are not in the line of fire.

They walked past a book shop and an internet café on their right. He wondered briefly if, big as he was, this Dog character might make the mistake of trying something.

“Here we are.” They passed the terrace of Hotel de la Paix, where there were two tables of locals and the three rowdy Englishmen stood around the third. They rounded the corner as Dog walked to Table 4 from the far side, carrying a black holdall. Tadeusz looked at Quiet Tony and then at the enormous, looming tattooed frame of Dog.

That’s the biggest chest I’ve ever seen. I was told he had lots of tattoos, but I didn’t think they’d be over his face as well.

He checked out Dog’s Green Lacoste T-shirt, and felt some satisfaction that the Ray Bahn sunglasses Dog wore, were from a cheaper range than his own.

At least that T-shirt was a good idea, though. That could be a football fan’s T-shirt and doesn’t draw any more attention than is necessary. A man looking like him would be even more out of place, if he dressed military style like Quiet Tony.

Tadeusz eyed Tony with disgust. He was still angry with him for correcting him about Stanislaw and his feet earlier. He silently ushered Tony to take the shoulder bag from Pawel, and he put it onto Table 4 as if it weighed nothing. Tony had very much the look of a weightlifter about him, but he suffered in comparison with Dog.

If size were the only factor, Dog could beat Quiet Tony to a pulp. We have Riccardo as back up, but I can tell by their body language they know who they are dealing with.

“You must be Boot.”

“It-t’s ‘Boots’.” They shook hands.

Very nervous.

“You must be Dog.”

Dog put the holdall on top of Table 4, but kept his left hand near it.

“You must be Ta-d…”

Tadeusz shook Dog’s hand.

“Call me Teddy.”

More professional than he looks.

He marvelled at the size of Dog, but simply stared at his curled upper lip and said:

“I thought you’d be bigger.”

Dog is obviously in charge. Boots’s hands are cold and clammy. He’s terrified. The other one seems erratic and difficult to gauge.

Teddy ushered Quiet Tony to unzip the black shoulder bag. Tony checked around him, put it on the ground by their table, and held it wide open, for Grant to check it out.

“You two, talk.” He gestured for Pawel to talk to Boots.

Purple-haired freak. That stupid downmarket football shirt doesn’t even fit him. He looks about as scientific as Quiet Tony… He could do with a dose of Uncle Piotr’s steroids to fatten him up.

Tadeusz sat down and snapped his fingers at the waiter, who ignored him, taking a tray with nine empty bottles away from the three rowdy Englishmen’s table just around the corner. He was furious at being treated like this in front of Dog’s trio, and knew he failed to completely hide the fact.

He wouldn’t treat me like that in Poland or I’d have Tony and his brother give him a special home visit.

He watched as Boots unfolded some notes on the table and then took out a pencil. He began to explain to Pawel, with the aid of arrows, what he had made, and how he had made it. Boots’s chemical diagrams and sudden enthusiasm were swiftly overcoming any language barrier. Yet again Tadeusz became distracted by Dog’s tattoos and the sheer mass of him. He fancied Dog could derail a speeding train.

What kind of soulless, moronic cretin gets his face covered in tattoos?

He felt he had nothing to say to any of the English trio, so he simply sat back in his chair and maintained a look of mild disdain for all present. Grant crouched down by the table, out of sight of the passers-by, carefully counting the cash from Tadeusz: bundles of fresh notes, straight from the bank. The wads had been stuffed into a plastic bag inside Tony’s shoulder bag. Grant checked them as best he could, and then nodded to Dog, smiling manically. He lifted the plastic bag filled with cash from inside of the shoulder bag, and swiftly put it into their black holdall, just as Dog lifted the Evian bottle filled with Boots’s product out. He gave the bottle to Quiet Tony who put it in his shoulder bag and zipped it closed.

There was a collective lull in the tension and everyone breathed a palpable sigh of relief until the waiter walked abruptly out from indoors. He arrived with a nonchalant look as if it were the beginning of his shift, and looked at the motley group of misfits, coolly hiding any surprise he may have felt.

“If this has the properties you say, you are a genius!” said Pawel to Boots, pointing at the piece of paper. He warmly and enthusiastically shook the skinny hand of his opposite number while dropping the written notes into his own pocket, now complete with a few of his own pencilled additions that made sense of the code.

Impatient but satisfied, Tadeusz spoke to the waiter,

“Armagnac. Grand. Coca Cola.” He barely hid his contempt at the snub from moments before.

“…and five beers,” almost as an afterthought. He didn’t care what the others wanted.

He could hear noises and shouting, suggesting some kind of disturbance at the bottom of the hill. This was confirmed by a few more people hurrying toward Place St George at the top of the hill, where a small group of onlookers were gathering. Tadeusz wanted himself and his team to be gone even before the disrespectful waiter would return with the order.

He spoke in Polish.

“You are certain you understand, Pawel?”

“Positive, Uncle. The base substance is a complex one, but common, and readily available to us. The altering process will actually be quite straightforward, now we know where we’re going with it. He was just playing around, running it through a few different chemical processes and checking the results. I believe the result should be as brilliant and elegant as he says.”

Tadeusz simply said “Goodbye” to Dog, Boots and the money-counter and signalled for Tony to grab his shoulder bag. He turned to leave, glancing briefly up, across the square at the dusty window at the top of the apartment block to the South.

It appears that Riccardo’s services will not be required he thought with relief and satisfaction. This is good. His service will cost less money.

These people may think they know who we are, but they wouldn’t have expected to get their heads blown off by a sniper at the first sign of a problem.

Screaming, breaking glass and sirens warned of the riot in progress at the bottom of the hill. There was a slight whiff of tear gas in the air. What appeared to be innocent locals were hurrying up the hill toward them in an effort to escape the violence. Without waiting for their drinks, Tadeusz, Pawel and Tony stood up and left the way they came, mingling with the people in flight.

As they threaded through the small crowd amassing outside the hotel at the top of the hill, Tadeusz checked around the square to see if they were being watched or followed, and saw the girl in the pink vest that he had seen in the corner a few minutes earlier. She was walking across the square, but paying no attention to him or his team.

Beautiful girl he thought. Really, really beautiful.

“Did you see the size of that Dog character, Uncle? I wonder if there is anywhere he was not tattooed. I’ve never seen anyone even close to that size-” Pawel suddenly looked at Quiet Tony apologetically.

“He looks like he’s been taking those Soviet steroids from WWII.” They were walking briskly, already about to leave the square.

“I don’t think he’s old enough” answered Tadeusz, meaning it as a throwaway remark.

“He may be on them.”

Irked, Tadeusz tensed his face and clamped his hands together.

“What are you talking about, Pawel? I am talking about the steroids used at the liberation of Auschwitz, that uncle Piotr was given by the Red Army.”

“I know. Tonnes and tonnes of them were produced Uncle, and they remain active for years and years. So much so that they are still around today - the exact same batch. They get circulated via the Spetznatz and Russian criminals. I know a man with a hundred litres of it, stashed somewhere in Chechnya. They’re not even that uncommon amongst body builders on the black market in Eastern Europe.”

Suddenly Quiet Tony seemed to be listening intently, wide-eyed.

“The main problem is that, apart from all the normal side effects of steroids, like liver toxicity, testicle shrinkage, fertility problems, heart attacks and strokes, the likelihood of them causing cancer increases with their age.”

Quiet Tony coughed nervously, looking surprised, and then extremely uncomfortable.

I’m glad that it’s Tony with a revelation and not me thought Tadeusz with gleeful hatred. I don’t like surprises.

They walked back down Rue de la Revolution, heading to the meeting point with their driver.

“Does this drug have a name?” Tadeusz asked Pawel, nodding toward Tony’s shoulder bag, with the bogus Evian bottle inside.

“He calls it ‘Elephant’, Uncle.”

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