Chapter Two (continued): Lietuvēns
Delta stood outside 1 Impasse de la Croix Pommier in Fontenay-sous-Boir, in the eastern suburbs of Paris. Looking up at the arched hallway in front of him, he saw Fort de Nogent inscribed in the stone. That’s what he was looking for. Necessity, not ambition, had brought him to this place.
The week that followed Elena’s passing had been a drunken blur for Delta, dulled even further by Oxazepam tablets he had borrowed from Voldemārs. There were moments when he paused to reflect deeply upon the events that had taken place. This usually happened after he woke up with a hangover but before he would start up his drinking again by ten o’clock every morning. Delta had lost the very spirit that made him who he was. His motivation to serve as a commissioned officer in the Latvian Army had died an unceremonious death. The dynamic and positive man that he had once been was now afflicted with sorrow for the loss of his sister, self-loathing that he didn’t do more to help her, and a putrid anger towards the people in the corridors of power in Rīga.
Why were men like Kapustins allowed to exist? These Soviet scumbags, the KGB agents, the elites of the Supreme Soviet, the Kremlin insiders, who had stolen so much from the people of Latvia, should have been ejected from the country in the early 1990s. They should have been given their marching orders when the last Russian troops left Latvia in August, 1994. Why were they allowed to get away with everything they’d done? Surely in other countries people like them would end up being arrested by the police, convicted in the Courts, and sent to prison. Why were they being protected here in Latvia? What kind of honest, fair-minded, proud member of Latvia’s leadership would ever protect such a malignant bunch of pests? What kind of people do we have running our government?
Plenty of questions. No answers. Just tears, sadness, sleeping tablets and a whole lot of alcohol. That’s all that Delta had.
Delta knew he couldn’t return to the Army. Not now, anyway. His heart just wasn’t in it. He just wanted to be alone with a bottle of Hektors liquor, tearing himself apart with questions and drinking himself to the point of unconsciousness every day. Even in his drunken, depressive state, he knew that it was a serious offence for a commissioned officer to desert his post. At this point in time, Delta just couldn’t give a damn.
One night just after midnight, he wrote a rather indignant letter to the mayor of Ziedciems. Then he wandered up to the construction site of Kapustins’ new villa on the waterfront in a drunken state and smashed several windows with rocks before packing his bags and catching a bus to Liepāja in the morning. He hadn’t paid a visit to his brother, Gundars, in a long time. They didn’t always see eye to eye on everything but this time was different. It was a very solemn reunion. Delta told Gundars all about being absent without leave from the army, the windows he smashed, and the letter to the mayor. Gundars pleaded with him to get off the alcohol and suggested that he stay with an old friend in coastal Lithuania for a few weeks to dry out and get his head sorted out. Delta took Gundars’ advice and made his way to Lithuania to stay with his friend, Jurgis, who he had met while doing Erasmus studies in Amsterdam
Jurgis had always had a positive impact on Delta. Jurgis lived a very healthy lifestyle and never drank a single drop of alcohol. Delta was too polite to abuse the hospitality shown to him by Jurgis so he, too, refrained from drinking while staying with Jurgis. That was a good thing. Delta passed his days with Jurgis by going for long runs through Kuršių Nerijos national park, as well as training at the local gym and watching DVDs of popular movies from the 1980s, such as The Breakfast Club, The Dead Poets Society, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Meanwhile, the Latvian Military Police obtained a warrant for his arrest.
It wasn’t long before the MPs had lobbed up onto the doorsteps of just about every close friend and relative Delta had. The MPs knocked on doors in Ziedciems, Kandava, Kurzemnieki, Tukums, Liepāja, Klapkalnciems, and Kolka. Nobody could provide any information as to his location. Delta’s family members also claimed to have no idea where he was and said that they had not seen him since Elena’s death. Of course, the MPs had already realised that they were lying, but it didn’t really matter very much because, in the end, Delta wasn’t very hard to find. His bank statements had listed a number of withdrawals from a Automatic Teller Machine in Klaipėda, Lithuania. A European Arrest Warrant was issued, and it wasn’t long before officers from the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau came knocking on Jurgis’s door.
Delta hid in a locker in the cellar while Jurgis told the police that he’d made a day trip to Kaunas to pick up a laptop computer. That was a short-term strategy for averting the police, but Delta knew that sooner or later the police would be back to take him into custody. No matter where he went within the European Union, he was at risk of being arrested. In the end, he made a very big decision to go to the one place on the entire European continent where he could find protection from the Latvian authorities: Paris.
He couldn’t fly to Paris. There was too much of a risk that he’d be arrested at Vilnius International Airport while departing from Lithuania, or he’d end up being arrested at Orly on arrival in France. Instead, he spent five days hitchhiking and anonymously riding buses and trains through Poland and Germany, while running the gauntlet of police in four countries before putting his bags down in The City of Lights. Arriving outside Fort de Nogent, he saw the words Légion Étrangère emblazoned across the entry. He had arrived to seek enlistment in the famous French Foreign Legion.
The Legion had its upsides. In the Legion, a man could escape from his past. It was not an easy way out, but for Delta it was literally the only way out. He could either enlist in the Legion, or face eventual arrest and extradition to Latvia. Of course, he could have just surrendered himself to the police and returned to Latvia to face the music. But he feared the prospect of imprisonment, especially after having sent that letter to the mayor of Ziedciems before he left, kindly asking him to tell Valērijs Kapustins exactly what he thinks of him. Delta had been as drunk as a skunk when he wrote the letter, but he had no doubt that Kapustins had a deep enough reach into the prison system to make sure he would be severely punished for his remarks.
The letter was not the most diplomatic thing I’ve seen Delta write. Delta had a way with words when he was intoxicated and filled with bitterness. This is what he said:
“To the Mayor of Ziedciems,
I apologise for writing to you, as I can well imagine how busy life must be while working as a real estate agent for Valērijs Kapustins. I’ve often wondered if it’s stressful whenever your master visits you. I could imagine that your knees must be sore, with all the time you spend down on the floor while Master Valērijs tosses little treats for you to catch in your teeth. Does he give you a nice, clean bowl of water, too? I hope he occasionally takes you out to a park and lets you off your leash so you can go for a run. I’m sure you’re a good boy, Mr Mayor, and Master Valērijs gives you a big pat on the head every time you roll over a play dead for him. I’ll bet he has taken you to the vet and made sure you’ve had all your vaccinations and you get a nice, juicy bone every night. Some little puppies are so much luckier than the others.
Since this whole situation is like a cartoon where dogs can talk, I was hoping you might pass on a message to your loving master. You can tell him that it comes from me, the son of a family he robbed, the brother of a sister he killed, and man who would happily chain his ankles together and tie an M26 Fragmentation Grenade to the soles of his feet and watch him crying his eyes out for five seconds before he would be committed to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
You can tell that filthy bandit that he will never rest. He will always have to maintain 360 degree situational awareness in all three dimensions. He will have to spend his life wondering if there is a set of crosshairs focussed on his head. He will never be sure when a 5.56mm round is going to strike him between the eyes at 920 metres per second. He will never be sure that somebody isn’t going to tip kerosene all over him and ignite him.
You can tell him that I will not exit this life without seeing him punished in the worst possible way. And when I’ve finished with Kapustins, I’ll come to get his equally criminal real estate agent. You know, that treasonous guy who drives that flashy Porsche.
You be sure to have a lovely day, Mr Mayor.”
Yep, that’s what he wrote, I’m afraid to say. You can now see why it would not have been in Delta’s best interests to return to Latvia. At Fort de Nogent, without further ado, Delta signed his name on the dotted line to serve in one of the toughest fighting forces in the world.
From Fort de Nogent, Delta was sent to the 1st Foreign Regiment in Quartier Viénot, Aubagne in the south of France, not far from Marseille, where he undertook a very rigorous selection process by the notorious “Gestapo”, as they were affectionately known in the Legion. Two weeks later, he was on his way the the 4th Foreign Regiment in Castelnaudary, just one hour down the road from the city of Toulouse.
After many months of savage but thorough training, during which he lived in a state of constant sleep deprivation, withstanding the occasional beating that was meted out to new recruits, spending his days marching like a mule through Hell, Delta learned to speak the crude French of the Foreign Legion recruits and he completed his training in the top five percent of his intake. This meant he was accepted into the unit he had most wanted to get into: the prestigious 2nd Foreign Regiment of Parachutists, based in Calvi, Corsica.
The Legion is trained to execute the dirtiest, most dangerous military operations on behalf of France. Over 140 different nationalities form the ranks of the French Foreign Legion. There were many reasons that a man might seek to enter the Legion. Some do it for adventure. Some do it to achieve something that is not available to them in their former country. Others are crazy romantics who have spent too much time reading Beau Geste. Then there are those who are running away from some mistake they’d made in life. There was no doubting that many of the men within the ranks of the Legion had very little to lose by being there. You see, the Legionnaire fights for France, but he swears allegiance only to the Legion itself. Service in the Legion is considered the highest service a man can render to the French Republic. For Delta, serving in the Legion meant he was now completely outside the reach of the Latvian authorities. The Legion provided him with unparalleled protection, and a chance to rule a line and start a new life. In the Legion, his past was forgiven. Furthermore, he was able to acquire a new identity – “Emmanual Cochet” – and his Carte d’Identité Militaire even gave him a new date of birth and identified him as a Canadian. For now, we’ll keep calling him Delta.
Delta took to life in the Legion like a duck to water. He spent the next ten years dealing with his smouldering indignation by throwing himself headlong into his military duties. He attained the rank of Caporal very early in his career, and he was eventually promoted to the rank of Caporal Chef after six years. His biggest leap forward was being accepted into the elite Groupement des Commandos Parachutistes, that is to say, the Commando Parachute Group. That is the most elite unit in the Foreign Legion.
Delta served in countless overseas deployments, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and various parts of West Africa. He spent very little time in Europe and, true to the traditions of the Legion, he severed all ties with his homeland. He had long since lost contact with everybody back home in Latvia. Delta had not seen nor spoken to any of his friends or relatives in many years. It was better that way.
At one point he made up his mind that after ten years of service, if he was still alive, he would obtain a discharge from the Legion and pay a visit to Latvia. Latvia would have forgotten about him by then. Besides, he would be entitled to French citizenship. He could deny who he was to anybody in Latvia and he would have a French passport citing his new identity to prove it.
Several months before he was due to be discharged from the Legion, Delta and his unit were deployed to the Central African Republic as part of the French commitment to a multi-national force that was seeking to stabilize that country after years of civil war. It was supposed to be a mostly routine operation, and nobody in his unit was expecting anything too exciting to occur.
It was only two weeks before Delta was due to return to France to be formally discharged from the Legion that something a little unexpected happened . He and his team were flying in a Eurocopter Couger helicopter over Koumpo in the north of the country, on their way to do some routine patrols in Nzoro, just south of the border with Chad. While in transit, an alert went out that they were to be diverted north of Koumpo to the town of Paoua, where a small section of troops working with the United Nations stabilization force had come under attack from a large rebel force. Delta and his men were ordered to effect a rescue operation.
The Commando Parachute Group team landed in Paoua to the sound of machine gun fire. They had no time to spare. The legionnaires immediately deployed across the ground and moved into positions to assess the situation. Within seconds, they were engaging in heavy return fire on the rebel positions. Delta moved rapidly across the ground in an attempt to make contact with the UN troops who had already been under fire. Upon coming within 70 metres of their location, he saw something that rocked his world: those UN troops were Latvians. They were outnumbered, but they were fighting this rebel force like champions.
Nobody really knows exactly what took hold of Delta that day, but the sight of these fearless Latvian soldiers engaging this large band of rebel guerrillas made him snap. He was like a man on fire, three metres tall and bulletproof. He developed the legs of a jaguar, the loyalty of a wolf, and the heart of a lion. His actions on that day while coming to assist the Latvians were beyond reproach. In the next twenty four hours, the following communiqué was dispatched to the Palais de l’Élysée in Paris:
“Your Excellency, yesterday a team of the Commando Parachute Group in the 2nd Foreign Regiment of Parachutists serving in the Foreign Legion of the French Army conducted an air mobile rescue operation into Paoua in the Ouham-Pendé prefecture of the Central African Republic in order to provide armed support for a group of Latvian soldiers serving with the United Nations stabilisation force who had come under a heavy attack by a numerically superior rebel force.
Immediately upon the helicopter insertion, the team was engaged by machine gun fire from multiple, dominating positions. The team was pinned down by fire from three machine guns in an elevated fortified position to the east of the town. Under the cover of suppressive small arms fire provided by the Latvian troops, the team manoeuvred to within 65 metres of the enemy position in order to destroy the rebel machine gun positions and reassert dominance.
Upon commencement of the assault, the team drew very heavy and sustained fire from the rebel position. Caporal Chef Emmanual Cochet and his team members fought towards the enemy position until, at a range of 55 metres, the volume of rebel fire prevented further movement forward. At this point, he identified the opportunity to exploit some cover provided by a burnt out tractor.
As he approached the tractor, Cochet sighted an rebel armed with a rocket propelled grenade launcher who was about to engage his patrol. Cochet engaged the rebel at point-blank range resulting in the instant death of the rebel. With the members of his team still pinned down by the three enemy machine gun positions, he exposed his own position in order to draw fire away from his team, which enabled them to bring fire to bear against the rebel position. His actions enabled another legionnaire to throw a grenade and incapacitate one of the machine guns. Seizing the initiative, and demonstrating extreme devotion to duty, Cochet, with a total disregard for his own safety, stormed the enemy position killing the two remaining rebel machine gunners.
His act of valour enabled his team to break into the enemy position and to lift the weight of fire from the Latvian troops who had been pinned down by the machine gun fire. While still coming under attack by rebel small arms fire, Cochet reached the position of the valiant Latvian troops and lead them away to a position of relative superiority from which they could assist the Commando Parachute Team by providing fire support. While being provided cover fire by the Latvians, who with the characteristic dash and elan of their people were unflinching in their determination, Cochet returned to the rebel position. On seizing the fortified gun position, Caporal Chef Emmanual Cochet then took the initiative again and continued to assault enemy positions in depth during which he and another team member engaged and killed further rebels. His acts of selfless heroism directly enabled his team and the Latvian troops to go on and clear the town of rebel insurgents. This decisive engagement subsequently caused the remainder of the rebels to retreat from the area, carrying many dead and wounded. During this operation, the conspicuous gallantry, intrepidity, and indomitable courage of Caporal Chef Emmanual Cochet upheld the very best traditions of a Legionnaire in the service of the French Republic.”
Before that week had ended, the word was out: Caporal Chef Emmanual Cochet, or “Delta”, as we prefer to know him, was to be made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour. His story exploded across the French media.
Upon completing his service with the French Foreign Legion, Delta became a French citizen and was issued a French passport in the name Emmanual Cochet. He went into hiding in Verona, Italy for a while, mainly to escape from the prying cameras of the French media. There was talk that the President of Latvia wanted to contact him. There had been a plan to award him a high Latvian state honour. Naturally, the President didn’t know that the very heroic “Emmanual Cochet” was actually a Latvian citizen who was wanted on an outstanding warrant. As you could imagine, the last thing that Delta needed was public exposure in Latvia. He had to keep his true identity secret, so he simply didn’t return any phone calls.
It’s a fact of life that the general public have very short memories and so do the media. Some time passed, he was no longer a hot topic in the media, and Delta decided it would be safe for him to go to Latvia. He wanted to visit his mother Vaira in Kandava, his father Voldemārs in Ziedciems, his brother Gundars in Liepāja, and he wanted to visit the grave site of his beloved little sister, Elena. He knew it wouldn’t be easy for his family because nobody had seen nor heard from him for the past decade. He had originally planned to say nothing about his service in the French Foreign Legion, nor his actions in the Central African Republic, but he realised that in Latvia he was known only as a military deserter. He decided he was going to tell them everything. He felt that at least his parents deserved to know all about their son.
Despite his new identity and nationality, Delta was reluctant to arrive in Rīga by air. He flew by Wizz Air from Milan International Airport to Vilnius, Lithuania where he caught a bus across the border into Latvia. He didn’t want any record of his arrival in Latvia appearing on an AirBaltic flight manifest. That wasn’t suprising.
Upon arriving in Ziedciems, he made some cautious enquiries as to the whereabouts of Voldemārs, only to discover that Voldemārs had passed away three years earlier after suffering from a bladder infection. He was completely unable to locate his mother, Vaira. Her parents no longer lived at their house in Kandavar and she was nowhere to be found. When he arrived in Liepāja, he discovered that his brother, Gundars, had been murdered four days earlier. Gundars had become a very high profile investigative journalist during the ten years that Delta had been away. Only a week beforehand he had published a damning article about Valērijs Kapustins. It was a brilliant exposé about Kapustins assisting a former Prime Minister to steal 50 million euros from a Latvian Government department. More about that later. A few days after the exposé was published, Gundars was attacked from behind and severely assaulted outside his apartment by an unknown assailant. He died in hospital the next day. The police never identified a suspect and suggested the murder was not necessarily related to his anti-corruption efforts. They speculated that, maybe, he had an unpaid debt or something like that.
The people who believed in that theory also believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and they probably still blame me, Lietuvēns, for a whole bunch of things that I never do.
This was not the return to his homeland that he had hoped for. After laying twelve red roses at his sister’s grave just outside of Ziedciems, Delta headed into Rīga and took a seat at a popular bar and restaurant called Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs on Peldu iela.
Ala, is it’s known to locals, is a fantastic place to hang out any night of the week. It’s actually underground in a large basement and has a traditional Latvian feel about it. The bar staff are friendly and welcoming, and there’s a large choice of beers, spirits, and other speciality drinks on sale. The food is good, too. While I’d normally recommend the 1kg pork hock to anybody who goes there for the first time, Delta, understandably, was not in the mood for eating.
Delta sat on a stool at the main bar, bought a pint of his favourite Latvian beer, Valmiermuižas alus, admired the very pretty girls who work behind the bar, and contemplated his future. Ten years of serving in the Legion hadn’t quenched his ferocity. He wasn’t finished with Kapustins. He wanted blood. Little did he realise at that time, he was about to have a date with Destiny.
Delta was being watched.
As he looked across the front bar, he sighted an old familiar face. The face was ten years older now, but he’d have known that face anywhere. It was a Captain from the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Company. It was very apparent that the Captain recognised him, too. Delta feared he was about to be arrested under warrant for deserting the Latvian Army.
“You don’t have to worry, my friend” the Captain called out, “I’m not interested in your past”.
The two men shook hands, Delta bought the Captain a beer, and they chatted for a while about old times in Ādaži. Delta told the Captain he’d been working as a security officer in Verona, Italy for the past decade. Upon making that remark, the Captain’s face betrayed his skepticism.
“Verona, you say? I find it a little surprising that the Italian police weren’t able to locate you in a small place like Verona. If they’d looked a little harder, I think you would have been arrested and returned to Latvia to face charges ten years ago. You were very lucky!”
Delta replied with a nervous laugh, “Well, you know me. Always keeping a low profile.”
“A loooow profile” the Captain repeated, making a fun of Delta’s explanation. “I don’t think you succeeded at all at keeping a low profile while you were away.”
“Sorry, I don’t get what you mean” said Delta, pretending to look confused. Acting was never his strong point in the high school drama productions.
The Captain’s face was now deadly serious as he locked eyes with Delta. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
“Sorry… you’ve lost me. What are we talking about?” as Delta tried to maintain an innocent face. There would be no Academy Awards for this performance.
“Before I resigned my commission as a Captain in the Latvian Army, some members of the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Company were deployed to a United Nations operation… a United Nations operation in the Central African Republic. I was with a small group of my troops when we came under heavy fire from a large group of rebels in the town of Paoua. We could have been killed, except for a certain little elf serving with French forces who became the only reason I am still here today, sitting here having a beer with you. I never actually found out exactly who that little elf really was. I only knew of him by his nom de guerre. It was strange, but something made me feel that I recognised him from somewhere.”
Delta was absolutely caught with this pants down. He was speechless and completely did not know how to reply.
“It was you, wasn’t it?”
Delta thrusted his face into his hands and exhaled. “No, it wasn’t me. I think you have me confused with somebody else and… I mean… I was living in Verona and what would I be doing in Africa? … and… and… um… yeah, you’ve caught me. I’m sorry, I wasn’t in Verona the whole time…”
“Don’t say another word, Caporal Chef Emmanual Cochet. The next one hundred beers are on me”, said the Captain.
The two men sat at the bar talking for a long time. Delta came fully clean about his life in Corsica, the Middle East, and Africa. He talked about the impact that Valērijs Kapustins had had on his family, and he was unable to conceal his sadness and outrage.
“You’re not alone” the Captain said reassuringly. “While you were away, I, too, became a victim of one of those godless pricks that have this country by the national testicles. There’s a certain gentleman in Ventspils… I use the term ‘gentleman’ very loosely… who needs to be taught what is right and what is wrong, and that it’s not nice to trample all over little people while pretending to be a hero of the little people.”
“I think I know who you’re talking about” said Delta.
“I think you do know who I’m talking about. And given that we are both talking about the same person, and I do think we are talking about the same person, I have a proposal that you might interest you. We could even invite your friend, Valērijs Kapustins, to the party.”
The Captain had already worked out that Delta would be a magnificent candidate for some plans that he had.
“I’ve started to put together a little team who will be committed to a very special project to deal with the likes of Kapustins and his robber-baron mate in Ventspils. Would you be interested in joining us? Our team is using a codename: ‘The Prometheans’. Allow me to properly introduce myself. My codename is ‘Alpha’ and this is what we’re going to do…”
And that is how Delta became Delta. From that time on, Delta now had a grand purpose. He was starting to feel better already. Now, wait until you hear what Alpha, Delta, and the rest of the Prometheans were planning to do. It’s a hoot from go to whoa.
(to be continued, Friday 22nd June)