Chapter Two: Lietuvēns
Anger is a potent driving force. It’s far more powerful than love or even lust. Anger regularly destroys what love has created. Even lust, which has also destroyed love all too many times in the past, cannot overpower anger. As a demon, I have often entertained my wicked desire for female humans whenever I come to them as they sleep. But if you gave me the choice between having sex with a beautiful woman or getting revenge against a hated enemy, I’d rather go to my enemy and knock his head off his shoulders. Sex is temporary, love eventually dies, but the destruction of one’s enemy is eternal. There’s such cosmic beauty in it.
The Prometheans were men whose anger had reached boiling point. Given what they were planning to do, they had to operate under strict secrecy and each one of them had a codename. One of the Prometheans had the codename “Delta”. If I tell you his story, I’m sure you’ll understand what fueled his ire. It’s a pitiful tale, but it needs to be told.
Ladies & Gentlemen, you might want to have a bottle of Scotch next to you for this one: This is the story of Delta before he became Delta.
Delta was once an ordinary Latvian boy. He was born into a good, honest family who lived in a coastal village called Ziedciems. His father, Voldemārs, was one of the heroes of The Barricades during January 1991, when about 700,000 Latvians gathered in Rīga Cathedral Square and then erected makeshift obstructions to defend Latvia’s new independence from armed Soviet retaliation. He came very close to getting killed during that incident. His mother, Vaira, was a nurse working for low wages at the local hospital. She was also a volunteer in Latvijas Republikas Zemessardze, which is the Latvian National Guard.
Delta had an older brother called Gundars who worked in the city of Liepāja as a newspaper reporter. He had big dreams of one day becoming an internationally respected investigative journalist. Then there was Elena, Delta’s adorable younger sister. She was a lovely girl, very pretty, and undoubtedly the smartest of the lot. As an A-grade student, she had plans to attend Riga Stradiņš University where she wanted to study to be a lawyer. Delta was very close to his sister and very protective over her, as an older brother should be.
As for Delta, he had just graduated as a Second Lieutenant in the Latvian Army. He had been posted to the 3rd Mechanised Infantry Company at Ādaži and held hopes of one day getting accepted to train for the elite Latvian Special Tasks Unit, which is Latvia’s crack special forces team. They operate under a cloak of secrecy but, as a demon, nothing is secret from me. I love watching those guys train. If you could see some of the things they have to go through, you would understand why very few men get accepted into the ranks of that outfit. It’s horrific. The average person would shit their pants if they even attempted the selection course. If you have any deep inner fears or weaknesses, you will bomb out during the selection process, without any doubt. But I digress.
Delta and his family were going just fine until the day somebody started enviously taking an interest in their family house.
The house was nothing special. It simply served its purpose. But it was perched on a stretch of land that overlooked the deep blue waters of the Baltic Sea and that gave the land it was sitting on extra value. It had been in the family for over a hundred years, although Delta’s grandparents lost ownership of it during the five decades of illegal Soviet occupation in Latvia. The family eventually got it back again around 1993. You could well imagine its potential value to anybody who wanted to buy up all the coastal land in that area to develop their own little playground.
Voldemārs and Vaira were not planning to sell it any time soon.
Now, as it happens, the row of houses along that waterfront were adjacent to a large piece of public land that was designated by the local municipal authorities to be a nature reserve. Latvians have a well-earned reputation in Europe for their unparalleled respect for preserving the ecology. Thus, there was a municipal by-law in place that prevented the sale of that land to private sector interests. It remained an untouchable little ecosystem.
That was until a man called Valērijs Kapustins came along.
Valērijs Kapustins was one of the richest men in all of Latvia. He had made his money in banking. It was not honest work. He was one of the so-called “oligarchs” – ex-Soviet gangsters with former KGB connections who owned vast wealth and exerted unhealthy levels of influence on the government. You see, when Latvia gained its independence from the USSR in 1991, it was a very weak and insecure state. Certain powerful officials of the former Soviet occupation regime somehow made that transition to being members of the new, democratic governance, and then they started helping themselves to Latvia’s assets, using all manner of connivances, threats, intimidation, paper shuffling and dirty tricks. None of them have ever faced justice. In Latvia, even the very worst of criminals can evade the wrath of the Courts, provided they have the money. Kapustins was one of those criminals who had the money. Nothing else could explain this man’s immunity from the law.
Well, one day the local municipal authority that had jurisdiction over Ziedciems announced that they were a little short of money, so the very generous Kapustins came to save the day. He agreed to lend just over two million euros to the municipality, interest free and unsecured, for a period of ten years.
The mayor of Ziedciems hailed Kapustins as a hero, and the local newspaper praised him for his selfless generosity. In fact, the praise went on for many months. Hardly a week went by without the newspaper printing a photo of Kapustins and his big, grinning face, shaking hands with yet another smarmy local official.
What the local citizens didn’t know about was a special clause in the contract between Kapustins and the mayor’s office that gave Mr Generosity the option to call in the loan after twelve months. The mayor made no mention of this. The media didn’t say a word about it, either. Then – surprise, surprise – after twelve months of everybody having to constantly read about what a hero Kapustins is, he called in the loan.
You didn’t see that coming, did you?
The fun started when the municipal treasurer checked the accounts and declared they simply “didn’t have the money” to pay him back. What were they going to do? It almost looked as if Ziedciems was about to go bankrupt. Then the mayor saved the day with a flash of brilliance! They could just hand Kapustins the title to the nature reserve as a full and final settlement of the debt! A meeting was called that lasted about five minutes and Kapustins graciously agreed to this arrangement.
Before you could say “as sleazy as hell”, Kapustins became the proud owner of the coveted waterfront reserve.
I’d imagine you’re probably wondering what happened to that by-law that banned the sale of that land to the private sector. Well, don’t forget that the municipality didn’t actually sell the land to Kapustins. They gave it to him to clear a debt. That’s not the same thing as selling the land. It was all perfectly legal.
All the same, unless you’re a complete and total cretin, I’m sure you can figure out what happened there. For a start, the land itself was conservatively assessed as being worth twice what Kapustins lent to the municipality. Then, about a month later, the mayor was seen whizzing around town in a brand-new Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. How much would that have cost? Well, as they say, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. Let’s just say it wasn’t a bad upgrade on his previous car, which was a 2004 Czech-manufactured Škoda. There were a few cynics out there who dared to call the mayor’s new car “the pay-off”.
Some people were angry about all this, but most people had such low expectations that they’d say this was all perfectly normal.
Life went on in Ziedciems and Kapustins started flattening several hectares of forest to build a mansion on his newly acquired land. Delta’s family were about to get a new neighbour.
Christmas was approaching and snow-covered Latvia was in its darkest time of the year. On the evening of the Winter Solstice, Voldemārs arrived home from work to discover his house had been issued with a Notice of Non-Compliance. He was not alone. Every house along the waterfront had been issued the same notice, alleging that the houses were in breach of certain Latvian building codes. Everybody was being threatened with exorbitant fines and legal action. It was probably true that each house did have some kind of technical breach, but this was commonplace in Latvia and it had never been a heavily enforced issue before. Lots of houses in Ziedciems had various non-compliances. Yet, it was only the houses along the waterfront that were being singled out for some very nasty monetary penalties. The Notice posted on Voldemārs’ front door warned that if the non-compliance was not rectified within thirty days, he would be fined. And if the fine was not paid, the house would be seized by the state and sold.
I’m going to spare you the agonising story of what followed. All you need to know is that nobody along that row had the means to rectify the alleged non-compliances. Nobody had the bankroll to pay the fines being demanded. Nobody had the financial staying power to challenge the government in court. Everybody’s house ended up being seized for resale.
Guess who offered to buy the houses?
Yes, you’re right: Mr Valērijs Kapustins. Great guy! He was always the man you could count on to turn up with a cheque book just when he was needed most. He got the lot for one third of their estimated market values, based on a deal he struck with the government to purchase all the houses in one hit.
Kapustins now owned the entire waterfront of Ziedciems. Meanwhile, Delta’s family were about to have their entire world turned upside down. Voldemārs filed allegations of corruption with the KNAB, which is Latvia’s anti-corruption authority. Then something really crazy happened that became known to the regulars down at the local pub in Ziedciems as “The Solyanka and Sprats Incident”.
It was only a matter of a few days after Voldemārs had made his complaint to KNAB that he was accosted by two big, ugly men while shopping at the local Maxima supermarket. Standing before Voldemārs in their grey Oscar de la Renta suits, they strongly suggested that he should drop the complaint with KNAB. Voldemārs, who had never been one to back down, just about went ballistic. Now, there were several different versions of what actually happened that morning that did the rounds of the local folks, but I can confirm for you that he told the pair of them to screw themselves and threatened to hammer them with a jar of Spilva Solyanka Soup Concentrate and a can of Rīga Sprats. Clearly wanting to avoid getting their suits covered with shattered glass and solyanka concentrate, the two men retreated from the scene. We can only assume the two mystery men needed their suits to be in good condition for another engagement later that day.
Not satisfied with their hasty departure, Voldemārs ran out to his car and pulled out a tyre lever. As the two goons were about to get into their Lada Kalina hatchback, he ran towards their car in a vain attempt to smash their windscreen. Fortunately for our two hapless gangsters, they drove off only to lose their left rear vision mirror as the tyre lever came flying through mid-air and smashed it to pieces. Remarkably, Voldermārs actually lived to tell that story down at the local pub. The interesting thing is, nothing about this story surprised anybody in Ziedciems. The only thing that amazed anybody was that these overdressed thugs were driving a Lada. Who in their right mind would buy a Lada? Nobody wastes their money on a Lada.
By the way, if you’ve never had Solyanka before, I can thoroughly recommend it. It’s not hard to make. You will need a decent sized carrot, some onions, potato, pickled gherkins, black olives, sour cream, fresh parsley, dill, some chopped beef, a selection of smoked meats of your choice, some tomato purée, bay leafs, chicken broth and peppercorns. You can use your judgement as to the appropriate amounts of each ingredient.
Put the chopped beef into a pot of chicken broth with some onion and simmer it for about one and a half hours. It really brings out the flavour. Then cut your pickled gherkins lengthwise into strips. You’ll also need to cut your smoked meats into strips. Put the smoked meats into a pan and fry them for about five minutes. There’s an oil on sale here in Latvia called Rapšu Eļļa which is good for this, but you can use any variety of cooking oil. Now chop up an onion nice and fine. Put the finely chopped onion into a frying pan with a little oil, add grated carrot and some tomato purée. Some people like to add some shredded cabbage, too. Sauté this mixture for about five to seven minutes, then add the pickled gherkin strips and stir. Add this to the pot of chicken broth and beef, as well as adding the smoked meats, diced potato, and the parsley, dill, bay leaf and peppercorns as well as some of the gherkin juice to help give the Solyanka its characteristic sour flavour. Now simmer the soup for about twenty to thirty minutes. Finally, add the black olives. Many people like to chop the olives into little rings. Finally, serve it in a porcelain bowl with a dob of sour cream on top. It’s excellent comfort food on a cold winter’s night.
Given how easy it is to make Solyanka, I’m not sure why Voldemārs bought the commercially manufactured stuff that’s sold in jars in Latvia. I will say this, though: The Solyanka and Sprats Incident was not without consequences. Out of nowhere, Voldemārs’ wife was summarily sacked from her job at the hospital. She was given no explanation why. Vaira sent an email to the hospital’s administration, asking why she had been dismissed from her job. You wouldn’t have believed their reply. It went like this:
“In regard to your request for the reason for your employment being terminated at the Ziedciems Hospital, after consultation with senior management and our lawyers, we are unable to provide any further information at this time. We wish you the very best for the future.”
That was all they had to say.
It turns out that Kapustins, in one of his many works of philanthropy, had set up a benevolent fund to help finance the hospital. Nobody is saying he had anything to do with getting Vaira dismissed from the job she had done so diligently for the past nineteen years, but it sure looked like it. That’s how philanthropy works when criminals donate money. There is always something they’re secretly buying in return for their “donation”.
Vaira ended up having a huge argument with Voldemārs, accusing him of doing more harm than good by pursuing the corruption complaint. Some unfortunate words were exchanged between the two before she packed her bags and went back to her parents’ home in Kandava.
With nowhere else to go, Voldemārs moved into a rented apartment on the other side of town. Everybody in Delta’s family were reeling from the shock of it all – Voldemārs started taking sleeping tablets – but the hardest hit was young Elena. With their family house gone, her parents separated, her mother unemployed, and her father shelling out rent every month for an overpriced apartment owned by the mayor, she could see her opportunity to go to university in Rīga evaporating before her very eyes. She knew that her family wouldn’t be able to afford it anymore. So she decided to take matters into her own hands. She moved to Rīga, telling her dad that she was going to try to find a job there. For a little while she worked in the Rimi supermarket inside Galerija Centrs on Audēju iela. That gave her a reasonable cover story for what she really planned to do. Little did anybody know, she was going to try to fast track her finances.
She quietly took a part-time evening job in one of those shitty nightclubs on Kaļķu iela in Rīga’s Old Town precinct, not far from Līvu laukums. Most of them are owned and managed by the scum of the universe. If Voldemārs had known about that, he would have had kittens. If Delta had known about it, I’m pretty sure he would have confronted the nightclub’s management with a 7.62mm Heckler & Koch G3 Battle Rifle, with bayonet fixed. Nobody in that family would have wanted that kind of lifestyle for young Elena, no matter what.
It’s probably not going to come as much of a surprise to anybody that the proprietor of Elena’s new place of employment was on fairly good terms with Mr Kapustins. Kapustins knew all the main sleazebags in Rīga. Kapustins also knew about Elena. He had been obsessed with her striking beauty ever since he saw a Facebook post she made in which she called him the most disgusting excuse for a human being she had ever seen. She had also remarked about all the mansions and villas he builds, saying that he must be compensating for his nanoscopic penis.
Indeed, young Elena was quite an eye catcher. She was the kind of young lady that passing motor vehicles would slow down to have a look at. When Kapustins heard that she was now working for a good friend of his, he made a personal request for her to join him at his palatial villa in Jūrmala for a weekend of champagne and pâté de foie, and lounging around by his indoor platinum and rhodium-plated, sapphire-studded swimming pool. He was prepared to pay her well above the market rate for professional female company in Rīga if she agreed to join him for the weekend. The amount he was offering her would pay her rent for the next twelve months. That was a lot of money to dangle in front of a nineteen year old girl’s nose. By late Thursday that week, Elena had been informed of Kapustins’ indecent request. She now had to decide if she was going to accept the offer.
(Part II to be continued, Friday 8th June, 2018)