Chapter Two (continued): Lietuvēns
Valērijs Kapustins poured himself a glass of Remy Martin Louis XIII on ice. The ice was made from water secretly imported from Ölfus Spring in Iceland. Kapustins never consumed water from Latvia because he feared being poisoned. At just over 6000 euros a bottle, it was the lowest priced drink he’d had in five weeks. It was his guilty pleasure to drink Remy Martin when there was nobody around to see him enjoying such a cheap brand of cognac. For Kapustins, keeping up appearances was everything, as evidenced by the 176,900 euro diamond-studded Swiss movement watch on his wrist, which he even wore whenever he went fishing with the Finance Minister near his chalet outside Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. For Kapustins, it was a subtle way to remind people who’s the real boss.
Kapustins’ eyes darted around the Reception Parlour of his 65 million euro split-level villa in Jūrmala. The villa was made from 500,000 cubic feet of Nero Marquina marble, imported from Spain. The interior walls were decorated with images that conjured up memories of Imperial Russia, all painstakingly hardcrafted using 22-carat gold leaf. As Kapustins sat impatiently at a 15 metre long dining table made of rare African Blackwood grown in Senegal, he proudly admired his collection of 2.7 metre tall alabaster gibbons that lined the southern wall of the parlour. The light that reflected off his platinum-iridium tablewear made quaint patterns on the translucent alabaster.
A gate swung open as three armed security officers who looked like they had shares in an anabolic steroids trafficking operation waved a jet black limousine with dark tinted windows into the Security Screening Compound. One of the officers scanned a bomb search mirror underneath the limousine’s chassis while another directed its driver and passenger to disembark from the vehicle.
A thorough search of the vehicle’s interior was followed by each person being scanned for firearms using handheld metal detectors. The passenger’s national identity card was scrutinised and then scanned into a nearby computer. The security officers confiscated the passenger’s identity card, assuring it would be returned later.
Two new security officers arrived at the Security Screening Compound. The limousine and its driver disappeared through a second gate as the visitor was lead through an electronically controlled door into an almost obscenely opulent patio area. There were bubbling fountains made of carved tourmaline, illuminated by colourful intelligent lighting, and all manner of ferns added greenery to an area adorned by golden statues of mythical birds. The walled areas were studded with hexagonal aquamarines.
Two large doors opened and one of the security officers directed the visitor into the Reception Parlour where Kapustins was waiting. She had never been anywhere like this before in her entire life.
The young woman apprehensively walked in, coming face to face with Kapustins.
“Welcome, Elena. I’m so pleased you’re able to join me tonight. Can I interest you in some cognac?”
As Elena stood in the midst of this mind-dazzling luxury in her flowing black dress that she had purchased off the rack at a small secondhand clothing shop in Pļavnieki, she already knew that she was out of her depth. She held her head high, presenting a visage of supreme confidence as she declined the offer of cognac, saying she’d prefer some Bénédictine, if he had any.
Kapustins had some Bénédictine sent in.
Elena watched Kapustins carefully as he poured the Bénédictine into two glasses, and she took the extra precaution of watching him take his first sips before she was willing to taste hers. Kapustins had to resist the urge to glare at her incredulously as he pondered why such a beautiful young woman would decline the cognac in favour of a peasant’s drink that he normally only served to his janitorial staff when thanking them for cleaning up after the outrageous parties he held every month.
Normally he spent his Friday evenings with high class prostitutes that were flown in from Minsk on one of his private jets. They were a “sure thing” and happily drank his pricey booze and did whatever they thought they needed to do in order to be invited back to the Kapustins boudoir. The girls from Minsk weren’t even being paid a fraction of what Elena was due to get. As the lustful oligarch locked his gaze on Elena’s innocent blue eyes, occasionally glancing at her breasts, he started to wonder if she was as purchasable as he originally thought. Then he realised there was nothing he really needed to be concerned about. He had corrupted many people in his life, ranging from bottom rung police officers right up to Prime Ministers and Presidents. He confidently knew that corrupting a nineteen year old girl was not going to be a challenge for him.
“My chef has prepared some Solyanka for us this evening. I understand your father… Voldemārs? Is that his name?… I understand he likes solyanka, although the soup my chef makes is a lot better than the concentrate that comes in jars. He used to cook for the Rotenbergs, you know, but he came to me because I pay him more.”
Elena was growing increasingly uncomfortable about Kapustins constantly glancing down at her chest. She folded her arms in front of herself defensively, which had the unfortunate effect of accentuating her cleavage rather than hiding it. Noticing what seemed to be an unnatural bulge in Kapustins’ pants, she immediately stood up and walked towards the southern wall, feigning interest in his alabaster gibbons.
“Mr Kapustins, may I call you Valērijs?”
“Please… call me Valera”, Kapustins replied, with a sickly smile as his amorous eyes scanned her body from her legs up to her bustline.
“Valērijs, you seem to have a fascination for apes. I met five of them while coming through your security area this evening, and two others paid an unwelcome visit to my father in Ziedciems not long ago.”
“Ziedciems? I’m sorry, Elena, I… I’m not sure what you’re talking about”, said Kapustins.
Elena continued, “Two of your pet apes threatened my father while he was shopping at a supermarket back home. Shouldn’t you be keeping those things on some kind of chain?”
“Miss Elena, I don’t know anything about this… this ‘ape’ incident you’re talking about. I would have no reason to cause any problems for your father. They tell me he’s a very good man. I’m sure he’s a very good father to you and, of course, a good father to your brother Gundars in Liepāja… quite a smart journalist, your brother, isn’t he? I couldn’t help noticing that he wrote a very interesting article about the mayor of Ziedciems. It sounded like he was alleging that the mayor is corrupt. I felt the article was, perhaps, a little impolite. Of course, he chose his words carefully. I had to read the article twice. Still, I’ve never understood why journalists always want to go through people’s laundry. I hear your brother is doing very well, though. Is he still living in that little townhouse on Krūmu iela with the rose garden out the front?”
Elena could feel her heart starting to beat inside her throat.
Kapustins continued, “You have another brother, don’t you? He’s quite a patriot, serving our nation as an officer in the army. I’ve always admired this country’s military personnel. With all the training they do with live grenades, it’s really quite amazing how few accidents there are, don’t you think? Where is your brother based?”
Elena snapped nervously, “I don’t know. It’s a military secret. He doesn’t tell us anything.”
“You’re so tense. I’m sure working at the supermarket all day does that to a young lady. A little more Bénédictine, Miss Elena?”
“Yes. I mean no. I mean… maybe some cognac instead. Just a little.”
“Remy Martin Louis XIII, just for you, Miss Elena. From Selfridges in London. Only the best for the classy young lady that you are”, as Kapustins grinned with the smugness of a serial killer who had just trapped his prey.
Elena knew she was going to have to pull herself together. Her mind was racing as she mentally visualised her rapid escape from the villa, kicking and screaming her way past armed guards, hoping they’d stop short of harming a young woman. At the same time, she tried to appear as cool as a cucumber. All the while, she wanted to burst into tears crying. Elena was scared out of her wits.
She managed to maintain an outwardly calm aura as she strutted across the floor to examine an arabesque sword displayed on the northern wall.
“Are you married, Mr Kapustins?”
“Sorry. Are you married, Valērijs?”
Kapustins smiled and shrugged, “It depends on how you define the word ‘married’. It’s all relative, don’t you think? I’m not married tonight.”
Elena thought to herself: oh my god, what an absolute creep! Oh god, this man makes me sick.
“Come! Sit next to me, Elena”, Kapustins cooed in a low, whispering voice as he unbuttoned his shirt.
Suddenly, Elena felt the blood running out of her head. Her heart was beating like a drum as she became nauseous.
“I need an ambulance!” she cried. “I need to go to hospital! It’s my… it’s my pancreas. My liver. I have a medical problem…”
Elena started gasping for air.
“I mean, it’s my liver, but sometimes it’s my pancreas, too. I’m sorry, I really have to get an ambulance.”
“No you don’t”, Kapustins retorted. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Kapustins’ face went completely stolid as he walked towards her, undoing his belt buckle, with those creepy eyes drawing circles around her nipples. As fear gripped every part of her body and soul, she started to panic. Then she started sobbing. As Kapustins put his arm around her, he slipped his left hand inside her bra, touching her right breast.
Elena started screaming as she ran from the parlour to the patio. She was crying out for an ambulance. Then she screamed for police.
She heard a voice in the distance coming from beyond the Villa’s outermost walls. An unknown person, possibly somebody walking past on Bulduru prospekts, called out “What’s going on?”
As security officers came running into the patio area, Elena screamed at the full volume of her voice that she needed an ambulance. Security officers threw her to the ground as she kicked and bucked and pleaded for somebody to help her.
“Just throw her out of here!” barked Kapustins. “Get the dirty little whore out of here! I’ll deal with her later!” he demanded, as he tucked his private parts back into his underwear and zipped up his pants.
The sound of police sirens was heard several blocks away as Elena, holding her torn dress together, ran through the back streets of Jūrmala, eventually finding a taxi. As she leapt into the rear of the cab, she was hysterical. She pleaded with the driver to take her back to her apartment in Rīga immediately.
Two days later, she returned to her job at the club on Kaļķu iela. Being an exotic dancer was not such a traumatic thing for her these days. It was now becoming a bit of harmless, but wild fun. She received a lot of attention from the regular customers, and the tips were great. Most of the guys treated her well. She felt like a goddess in her own little world as she treaded the platform in her lingerie and heels.
She didn’t make a single cent out of her visit to the Kapustins lair, and she didn’t care. If she never saw him again, it would be too soon. Indeed, she never would see Valērijs Kapustins again. Nor her family.
It was the Tuesday night just after escaping from the clutches of that slimy monster in Jūrmala and she was nearing the end of one of her routines on the catwalk. As the tips were being thrown at her feet, her last piece of clothing dropped to the floor with the same careless aplomb of any seasoned professional in her field. Then the cops grabbed her.
Five officers, all of them senior in rank, hauled her off the platform while she was as naked as the day she was born. Without even giving her the chance to put some clothes on, she was ushered out to a waiting police van in front of onlookers, some of whom videoed the incident on their mobile phones. Minutes later, while sitting in the van completely naked with handcuffs on her wrists, her clothes were hurled into the back of the van where she sat, utterly shaken, terrified that she was about to be raped.
She needn’t have worried. The police were far more professional than that. One nice officer even removed her handcuffs and allowed her to put her clothes on.
Elena was taken to the police station where she was charged with prostitution, property damage, theft, and assault. All of the charges, of course, related to the incident at Kapustins’ house of horrors on Friday night. The police warned her that she was facing time in prison.
Elena was released on bail later that night and allowed to go home pending her first appearance in court the next day. As she sat in her bathtub, she contemplated her dreary future. Her parents would be certain to hear about her job at the club, and they’d be disappointed that she had not been honest with them. Actually, they’d be more than disappointed; they’d be disgusted. Her name would be in the newspapers, too. Her neighbours would be reading about the prostitution charges and her part-time job as a stripper. So would her supervisors at Rimi. There’d be no chance of her getting a scholarship to study at university. She could forget about that, now. Her career as a lawyer was looking less and less likely to reach fruition, too, especially if she was found guilty in court. She faced the possibility of waking every morning in a prison cell. She wondered what kind of treatment she would receive in prison at the hands of prison guards who were probably on Kapustins’ payroll. Everything now seemed so bleak and dark. How was she going to face everybody?
She had already written a letter to her dear brother who was serving in the army. She apologised for letting everybody down. She apologised for the shame she had brought to their family. She asked him to let Gundars know that he was in danger and that he should move to a different address. She expressed a hope that her mother might one day return to her father, and that the family might be happy again.
Elena wrote for many pages, trying to explain everything. The letter was left in an envelope on her kitchen table, sealed with a pink ribbon.
Whenever a person is feeling suicidal, they want to be dead and alive at the same time. They’re mutually incompatible states, but such was the confusion of young Elena. She had now reached a very murky and insufferable place in her life. She could not see any light at the end of the tunnel.
Elena lay back in the warm water of her bath, watching the light of a single candle dance and flicker as she gulped down half a bottle of plum brandy. As blood vented from her wrists, Elena gradually lost consciousness. Minutes later, her body floated in the bloodied bath water, pale and lifeless.
Elena was found deceased the next morning by her housemate, Sanita.
I don’t need to explain to you how devasted Elena’s family were. Voldemārs was a broken man. Gundars cried uncontrollably in his office when he heard the terrible news. Vaira went into shock and had to be given sedatives. When Delta read Elena’s suicide note, he asked to be excused from his military duties for the next week.
Delta’s heart had been torn from his chest. He couldn’t even think straight. He travelled from the military base in Ādaži to Ziedciems to visit Voldemārs and, in his dazed condition, made the mistake of going straight to where the family used to live on the waterfront as if he was expecting to see his father there. Only as he arrived at the house did he snap out of his delusional trance and remember that they no longer live there. He stood outside the house and watched as workers from a demolition company were smashing the house to the ground.
Memories of growing up in that house with his dearly departed sister came flooding back. Tears trickled down his cheeks. From fleeting memories of his darling little sister singing as she made daisy chains when she was only six years old, to the time when young Elena organised a surprise party for this 18th birthday, his mind now turned to Valērijs Kapustins, his vast wealth, the mansions and villas he owned, the private jets, and all the people in powerful positions in government who were making money from bribes that he paid. His resentment started to simmer as he thought about the plethora of people whose lives had been ruined by Kapustins, and the system that protected him. Worst of all, there were more people like Kapustins in Latvia. None of those men were enterpreneurs. They were thieves. They were the reason that ordinary people had to work so hard for so little. The nation’s best assets had been misappropriated during the 1990s so as to buy luxuries for just a handful of men. Much of the nation’s money had been sent offshore, hidden in various tax havens. It was a system shadowed by a regime where fraud, theft, graft, and extortion where the main components of any oligarch’s business model. Entrepreneurial efforts played no part in their ascendancy. Many domestic banks were more than happy to back this model. And why not? The oligarchs controlled the banks. Even the European Union, and the biggest internationally owned banks fueled this shadow regime as if everything was perfectly fine. Nobody was facing prison for any of this. Not one member of Latvia’s parliament, the Saeima, showed any sign of wanting to do anything about it. No police officer had ever arrested any of the oligarchs, nor had they arrested any of the senior politicians on the oligarchs’ payrolls. No judge would even entertain the idea of committing any of those men to a cold, dark, dirty prison cell. On paper, Latvia was a liberal democracy. It had all the trap-ins of a European Union country: separation of powers, democratic elections, freedom of speech, and a free market economy. Behind the scenes, it was being ruled by a criminal junta that was tearing the flesh from Latvia’s bones.
Delta later found out that Kapustins had ordered that all of the houses along the Ziedciems waterfront were to be demolished in order to make way for a large terrarium, an indoor running track for his prize-winning greyhounds, a private IMAX cinema, a zoo, tennis courts, and a helipad for his private helicopter. The helicopter was a gift from a very rich friend of his in Moldova after Kapustins had helped him transfer some money from a Moldovan bank to various accounts in the European Union.
Delta watched while a large hydraulic machine knocked the last wall of his former home to the ground. In a cloud of dust, the place once so full of happy memories of growing up with Elena and the rest of his family was now a pile of rubble.
“How about that. I’m an officer of the Latvian Armed Forces. And this is what I’m defending?”
(Part III to be continued, Friday 15th June, 2018)