Chapter Six: Lietuvēns
“I am Peter Furneaux, foreign correspondent in Ventspils, Latvia reporting for Reuters World News”
“I’m standing not more the 30 metres from the home of Latvian businessman, Aivars Lipšitzs, watching chaotic scenes evolve. As I look behind myself, I see paramedics attending to one of the many security guards that patrol the Lipšitzs residence, who seems to have sustained several cuts and abrasions to his chest and arms, said to be caused by flying fragments of glass. Only a matter of eleven minutes ago, this normally tranquil area of the city was the scene of heavy gunfire that was reported to be raining in from all directions. Right now, we are seeing large numbers of police on scene and I have just been informed that more police are proceeding from Kuldīga and Liepāja to provide operational support to their colleagues here in Ventspils.”
“This is the second armed attack on the home of Aivars Lipšitzs this week. Only a matter of three nights ago, local residents had reported what sounded like over twenty gun shots being fired at the plush mansion, which caused extensive damage to glass and the exterior brickwork, as well as several vehicles, and with some shots inflicting damage to the mansion’s interior.”
“Tonight, the attack was even more aggressive, resulting in two vehicles bursting into flames after bullets fired by unknown gunmen hit the fuel tanks. Although there are no reports of anybody being seriously injured or killed, the shock and distress caused to security personnel working here was evident on their faces. I have been told by a local resident that nothing like this has been witnessed here in the past.”
“Police had speculated that the attack that occurred three days ago might have been the work of an organised crime gang. So far, detectives have been reluctant to confirm whether or not they have any suspects and state that investigations are ongoing.”
“Meanwhile, Mr Lipšitzs, who is normally known for his high public visibility in Ventspils, has been uncharacteristically reticent towards the media, declining all requests for interviews. A spokesman for Lipšitzs simply stated that they are working with police to uncover the culprits behind this ‘terrorist-style’ attack.”
“As heavily armed police are cordoning off the scene of the attack… wait… there is another report coming in…”
“… I’ve just been informed that shots have been fired into Lipšitzs’ office, too. There are reports that three men armed with what appeard to be military-style assault rifles were seen running down a street not far from the businessman’s office where they disappeared into a wooded area.”
“I’ve just sighted a helicopter passing over the centre of town and I can see a floodlight shining down into an area… I can’t quite make out the area… wait…”
“… It appears that security personnel have been directed to leave the area as police are taking up positions around the manor. I will be reporting live from the scene of the attack as more information comes to light.”
“I am Peter Furneaux for Reuters World News, in Ventspils, Latvia.”
Ninety-three kilometres away, in the quiet town of Skrunda, the old locksmith switched off his television, while sporting a grin that stretched from ear to ear. He poured himself another glass of Russian Standard vodka and munched on a pickle while giggling quietly to himself. He was slightly tipsy.
“Look what’s coming your way, Valērijs! Pack up your treasures and hide!”
His giggle turned into roaring laughter that could be heard beyond the walls of his humble cottage in Skrunda.
A little later, in a clandestine location deep in one of Latvia’s forests…
ALPHA: “Whew, that was close! How did your team go, Beta?”
BETA: “Yeah, we were in and out. No problems.”
ALPHA: “Thanks for that. Good work. I think we need to take stock of a few lessons learned tonight. But for the grace of God, this came close to being an armed clash with the police. We got away this time, but next time we’re going to have to plan our withdrawal a lot better.”
GAMMA: “Sorry guys, but I’m not sure there’s going to be a ‘next time’. I’ve just heard on the radio that the Lipšitzs mansion is going under 24 hour a day police protection. Old man Lipšitzs won’t need any security guards anymore, he’s got the cops to do it for him now.
GAMMA: “And I’m not willing to kill police officers. Don’t even ask me.”
ETA: “I’m sorry to say this, Alpha, but I’m with Gamma. We can’t do armed attacks on police. Security officers are a different matter. As you say, Alpha, they’re just hired thugs working for a gangster. They know what they’ve got themselves into, and the stupid pricks can quit anytime they like. But police work for the nation. They’re following orders that they must obey. Like them or hate them, we can’t assassinate men and women in the service of the nation who are just following orders from higher up. That’s not who we are.”
ALPHA: “Okay, don’t get excited. I wasn’t going to ask anybody to murder police officers in the first place. Alright, we’ve got a problem, haven’t we? We’re going to have to think this one through.
GAMMA: I hate to be the wet blanket, but we can’t do any more attacks on Lipšitzs and there’s no realistic way to abduct him while he’s being surrounded by police. I think we might have to put operations on hold for now until we can think of another way to tackle this situation.
DELTA: “Just throwing up an idea here: if we did a few attacks on Valērijs Kapustins, do you think he’d end up getting 24 hour police protection, too?”
GAMMA: “You can bank on it. If Lipšitzs is getting it, Kapustins would get it, too.”
DELTA: “So is that final, Alpha? No more sniper attacks on Lipšitzs”.
ALPHA: “Sorry, Delta. We just didn’t call this one, did we?”
DELTA: “The oligarchs always seem to win, don’t they?”
Alpha remained silent.
DELTA: “Well, what can I say? It was fun for a while, wasn’t it? I guess we were all kind of dreaming, just a little, weren’t we? Nine men… one team that was going to single-handedly save Latvia… it felt good for a while, didn’t it?”
ALPHA: “Yes, it did.”
DELTA: “Look, I know we might never get what we came for. I can face that. I guess that’s just the way it is here in Latvia. The whole system is designed to protect the criminal barons. But that inhuman ogre, Valērijs Kapustins, really destroyed my family, and he’s hurt so many people. I want to go to Jūrmala, empty some ammunition into his house, give him a fright, and then he can go under police protection like Lipšitzs. I just want Kapustins to know after all these years that somebody came calling for him, just like I once threatened in a letter to one of his friends. Look, if you guys don’t want to do it, I won’t think badly of any of you. You’ve all done some great things up until now. But would anybody object to me taking some weapons and ammunition and doing my own attack on his villa in Jūrmala? You guys are welcome to sit this one out. I’ll be alright on my own.”
ALPHA: “Delta, if you’re going to do this attack on Kapustins, you’re going to need to tie me to a tree to stop me from coming with you.
BETA: “You’re going to need another tree to tie me to.”
GAMMA: “I hope you have plenty of spare rope, Delta, because because that’s three guys you’re going to have to tie up.”
EPSILON, ZETA, ETA, THETA, and IOTA: “Count us in.”
ALPHA: “So, we’ll do this attack on Kapustins, then I guess we’ll return to our normal lives. Come on, let’s pack up our gear and head back to Skrunda. We’ll have a few drinks.”
LIETUVĒNS: Oh, isn’t that sad? Nine little soldiers all in a row, crying into their hankies, planning one last shoot-out before taking their bats and balls and going home to their mothers. Doesn’t it bring a tear to your eye when the heroes appear to be defeated? Of course, they could just be pragmatic and murder those police officers guarding Lipšitzs, then they’d be able to retrieve their prize. But that’s not who they are. How very touching!
So who the hell is this “old locksmith” in Skrunda who is taking such a passionate interest in the exploits of our sad little soldiers? Well, we already know that he’s a neighbour of Epsilon and he accidentally saw and heard an little more that he was supposed to, on that night when the boys arrived back from Poland with a pile of weapons and equipment. He seems to take a particular delight in the idea that Valērijs Kapustins might be next on the menu, but one would have to wonder why. Maybe Kapustins defaulted on paying one of the locksmith’s invoices?
I’m just teasing you. I know exactly who this old locksmith is. I know him very well. I’ve been watching him closely since the late 1980s. He may be a humble retired locksmith in the sleepy township of Skrunda, but this aging gentleman who likes his vodka hasn’t always been a locksmith. Being a locksmith was only his second choice in life. There was a time when he lived a very different life.
Our friend the locksmith isn’t even from Latvia. To be precise, he’s from Ukraine, although he doesn’t identify as Ukrainian. He was born in the city of Kharkiv, in what used to be the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, to a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father. His mother was a librarian at the Kharkiv Korolenko State Scientific Library, and his father was a highly respected Soviet political scientist who had received high state honours for his military service in the Red Army during Stalin’s advance on Germany.
As a young man, the locksmith studied electrical engineering at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR before being posted to Leningrad for a very specific purpose. He excelled at that purpose, winning the praise of the Leningrad elite, and promotions to higher offices came quickly for him.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I now formally introduce you to “the locksmith”: Mr Kostya Rodionov, formely Major Kostya Rodionov of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, popularly known to all and sundry as the KGB.
Unbeknownst to our little tin soldiers, KGB Agent Kostya Rodionov was about to organise a little meeting with them. I’ll bet you can’t wait to hear how that was going to pan out.
(to be continued Thursday 2nd August, 2018)