Chapter Nine: Lietuvēns
There would be no honours for Epsilon. No eulogies would be read. There would be no coffin solemnly lowered into the ground in the presence of his family and lifelong friends. There would be no tombstone to mark his final resting place. Epsilon’s death would have to be kept secret. Delta and Alpha wrapped Epsilon’s lifeless body in a large Latvian flag and placed him in a simple wooden crate before burying him in a shallow grave in the middle of Ķemeru Nacionālais parks, somewhere north-west of Kaļķis.
Each of the remaining Prometheans vowed they would one day return to exhume his body so he could be buried properly, with honour. Today was not that day.
Alpha and the others had worked furiously to try to keep Epsilon alive, but three 9mm bullet wounds to his torso, including one that ripped through his right lung, guaranteed that Epsilon was never going to recover. It wouldn’t have made any difference if they’d been able to take him to a hospital. He would have died in hospital anyway. Epsilon had fought a brave fight in a dangerous battle against the forces of corruption and – what can I say? – his number came up.
For a fleeting moment, I saw his spirit leave his body. I even had a chance to ask him if he thought it was all worth it. He replied “Absolutely yes. It was worth it.” With that, his spirit vanished into an abyss to which a demon such as myself has no access.
The remaining eight Prometheans strengthened their resolve to continue their fight against the criminal oligarchs in Latvia. They knew that Epsilon wouldn’t have wanted them to quit. Epsilon would have wanted them to continue what they set out to achieve.
The loss of their loyal friend and brother-in-arms was the tragic price that had to be paid in order to get Slapjums. They were now determined that Slapjums would serve his purpose.
Alpha placed two red roses upon the mound of dirt that covered Epsilon’s humble grave.
“Rest in peace, Anšlavs Karulis.”
Anšlavs Karulis died at 27 years of age.
Slapjums could hear the sound of a leaky tap dripping, with the tinkle of each drop reverberating in his ears. He was sitting strapped to a wooden chair, his hands and feet duct taped firmly to the chair’s arms and legs, with a blindfold covering his eyes. His forehead was also duct taped to the high back of the chair. He was gagged and completely immobilised.
Slapjums had no way of knowing where he was. Shortly after he had been abducted by Team 1, they drove him into a wooded area near Lāčupes kapi on the western side of the Daugava River. There, while still blindfolded, they pushed him out of the car and made him stand on his feet and spin around continuously until he was in a state of mind-numbing vertigo, collapsing onto the ground. They drove the vehicle around him in circles a few times before taking him back on board. Then, turning more circles in the vehicle, they drove off. Slapjums had no way of knowing what direction he was traveling in.
They took a very convoluted path to their destination. Upon arrival, they made Slapjums spin around on the spot again, as an added precaution, before dragging him to the entrance to the basement below an abandoned building where they’d commence their interrogations. Slapjums had no idea where he was, or how far he was from his home. He had lost all sense of direction, distance, and time. He felt as if several hours had elapsed since his abduction, but he couldn’t say exactly how many hours had passed. The only thing he knew was, he was deep underground in a place where he could hear no sounds but the dripping of a tap and the voice of his interrogator.
Unknown hands removed his blindfold and gag. Slapjums saw, once again, men wearing balaclavas. All were silent, except for one, who spoke with a noticeable Russian accent.
“Ainārs Slapjums, we meet again.”
Slapjums remained silent with fear.
“It’s okay, Mr Slapjums. I’m not expecting that you’d remember me. I’m happy to keep it that way. But I will never forget you. You were so young at the time, yet you were given so much. What a pity you have abused the gifts of the Latvian State!”
Slapjums could not recognise the voice. He stared intently into the hostile eyes that glared at him through the narrow opening of a black balaclava, desperate to recognise what he saw, but those eyes engendered only a sense of fear of the unknown. They did not evoke any memories.
“Please relax, Mr Slapjums. We aren’t going to inflict any pain upon you. I only need to ask you some important questions. If you answer correctly, I promise to kill you in the most humane way possible. You will be permitted to swallow some tablets containing a benzodiazepine drug called flunitrazepam. It’s a hypnotic drug, sometimes known as the “date rape drug”. But you need not worry. Nobody here is seeking sexual gratification. You will keep your dignity intact. After a couple of these tablets, you will lull into a wonderful sense of euphoria before falling asleep. Then I’ll put a .4 calibre Glock semi-automatic to your head and pull the trigger. You won’t feel a thing.
Slapjums was quivering with panic. He glanced out of the corner of his eyes at the white elongated pills sitting on a bench next to his interrogator. He didn’t hear Alpha whispering to Delta in the background:
“They’re Vitamin E tablets. He bought them at Vitamins.lv on Matīsa iela last night.”
Delta smirked as he restrained a giggle.
The interrogator resumed his talk with Slapjums.
“It’s such a shame I have to use a Glock to kill you. Austrian garbage. That’s what I get for associating with pro-Western people. I would rather have used my Makarov, just for old time’s sake. Oh, I forgot to mention something to you, Mr Slapjums. Your Hollywood career begins very soon. I need to make a video of you to show to some of your friends. I’m going to insert a hyperdermic syringe into your left eyeball and inject 1250 micrograms of high-grade petroleum. But don’t worry, we will give your eye a local anaesthetic first so it won’t be painful. Of course, the audience won’t know about the anaesthetic, so it would be very helpful to us if you could scream and cry a lot, so it looks convincing to your friend Valērijs Kapustins.”
Slapjums was in a state of sheer desperation.
“Slapjums, let’s commence some rehearsals. I need to hear you scream as loud as you can.”
Slapjums spoke for the first time.
“What’s this all about? What can I do for you? Please, I will do anything I can to assist you.”
“That doesn’t sound like screaming, Mr Slapjums. I want to hear screaming” replied the interrogator.
As Slapjums’ tormentor reached for a large pair of bolt cutters and began to remove Slapjums’ shoes and socks, Slapjums started screaming at the top of his lungs.
“That’s what we want to hear! But I think you could do a little better. Try to scream louder, and please sound more distressed when you do it. Also, shake your body as vigorously as you can, as if you were trying to escape from your seat.”
Slapjums screamed his brains out, wailing, and rattling in his seat.
“You see! You are an acting talent after all. No need for me to remove your toes with bolt cutters. Besides, I was never fan of the Stanislavski school of method acting, so I’m pleased to see you can deliver a nice, naturalistic performance without having to live the part. Now, show me more screaming so that we can get you into character for the video.”
With Slapjums just about ripping his own vocal chords apart out of dire fear of the bolt cutters, Alpha started setting up a video camera on a tripod and some flood lights.
RĪDZENE HOTEL, Reimersa iela, Rīga. A little earlier that evening.
After being patted down by armed security personnel, Sanita walked into the plush Presidential Suite to meet with Valērijs Kapustins.
“Welcome, welcome Miss Sanita! It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Always a pleasure for me, too, Mr Kapustins!”
“Please, Sanita, do call me Valera…”
Sanita took a seat next to Kapustins before continuing.
“Mr Kapustins, I understand you have concerns about the structure of the proposed contract.”
“No, Sanita. The structure appears to be fine at this stage. My concern is about enforcement of the contract. I’m sure you understand that I am a man of my word and I expect that Neptune Pluto Limited can assure me that Atlantium Marine Resorts IBC will honour their side of the deal, too.”
“Of course” said Sanita.
“Sanita, I want to make it perfectly clear to you that I have complete faith in you. I’m sad to say that not everybody has been as trustworthy as you and your colleagues. Last year, I was involved in a deal with a Kazakhstan company who wanted to set up a large theme park here in Rīga. No sooner had I prepared to make an agreement with them, I found out they were going to take my investment capital and funnel it into a bank account in the Turks and Caicos Islands. For a while, I thought I might have been forced to demonstrate to them what I do to people who try to defraud me. In the end, I didn’t have to. Somebody else did that for me.”
Sanita maintained her poker face.
“Oh? And what was that, Mr Kapustins?”
“I have over 150 former intelligence officers at my disposal. They informed me that somebody mysteriously burnt down the Kazakh company’s head office in Aktau and that the company’s Chief Financial Officer had his left hand amputated using a ripsaw. The Kazakh police never located any suspects.”
“Mr Kapustins, I sensed from the very beginning that you were an old softie! I know exactly where you’re coming from. You would want to avoid undue conflict as much as possible. I understand. Atlantium Marine Resorts IBC has a major shareholder in Singapore called Nanyang-Pandan Private Developments Limited. That company is owned indirectly via Singaporean nominees by an investor in Taipei who is known only as Qiao Lingxin. Of course, that’s unlikely to be his real name. They also call him “The Tiger of Taipei”. I remember a time in recent months when somebody tried to rip him off. As it happens, he has a large team of former shaolin kung fu monks who left the monastery to work for him in his personal security detail. They captured The Tiger’s enemy, chained him to a metal rack, and inserted a Chinese New Year sparkler into his urethra and ignited it. That man now has to urinate through a special tube inserted directly into his bladder. I’m so glad that The Tiger’s kung fu experts will never have to do battle with your intelligence agents. There would be a lot of sizzled penises for you to contend with. Of course, it would never come to that, would it Mr Kapustins?”
“Of course not, Sanita. We are both above such folly! Though, I’m not convinced that Qiao Lingxin’s kung fu team would be so effective against my intelligence agents, who are armed with state-of-the-art 3D-printed firearms with laser designators. My agents are also backed up by a team of reconnaissance experts who could poison those kung fu monks with tetrodotoxin ampules inserted into their Cantonese fried rice.”
Sanita replied “That’s never going to happen, Mr Kapustins. Your reconnaissance experts wouldn’t be able to get close enough to The Tiger’s kung fu monks to be able to do that. Besides, Qiao Lingxin could deploy drone-inserted funnel web spiders that he imported from Australia into your agents’ living quarters. He breeds them in a large arachnidarium that he owns in southern Taiwan. Your agents would not even see the spiders coming because they’d be too busy dodging the Africanised killer bee attack that he would be simultaneously deployed into their quarters.”
And so, this conversation raged on. You see, it’s impossible to enforce corruption via written contracts. It’s not as if either party could take the other party to court if one of them was to renege on a deal. In order to enforce corruption, you need thugs. Lots of them. Both participants in a toxic deal need to know that they can enforce the deal by means of implied threats of brutal acts of thuggery. Otherwise, how would corruption be possible?
After telling Kapustins the tale of a former shaolin monk called Xun Ju, who once kidnapped an auditor and forced him to drink a vial of nitrogylcerine before throwing him from the window of the Shangri La Suite on the 35th storey of the exclusive Aquamarine Nimbus Hotel in Tong Jiang City, Sanita explained that nobody has ever given The Tiger of Taipei a negative audit opinion since. From where I was observing, it looked as if Kapustins had a lot of respect for that. Shortly afterwards, Sanita left the Rīdzene Hotel and went home. Meanwhile, Valērijs Kapustins sat up late that night as he surfed the internet for information about killer bees, funnel web spiders, and shaolin monks. He pondered whether he could leverage The Tiger of Taipei to use his monks against Aivars Lipšitzs.
Somewhere in the distance, Kapustins heard the sound of an explosion.
“I am Peter Furneaux, foreign correspondent in Rīga, Latvia reporting for Reuters World News”
“Chaotic scenes on Jēkaba iela, here in the heart of Rīga’s popular Old Town, have erupted in the wake of a large explosion that has ripped through the office of Latvian business tycoon, Valērijs Kapustins.”
“Latvia has recently been buzzing with rumours of a bitter feud between Kapustins and well-known Ventspils magnate, Aivars Lipšitzs, although that is not to suggest that this bomb blast is in any way related to that.”
“Two unexplained armed attacks on the home and office of Aivars Lipšitzs and a subsequent armed attack on the Jūrmala home of Valērijs Kapustins have recently been followed by an explosion and gun fight outside the home of Ainārs Slapjums in the Art Nouveau district of central Rīga. At this point in time, the whereabouts of Slapjums remains unknown.”
“Allegations in the Latvian media that a team of hired mercenaries from Russia may have had complicity in some of the attacks has led some commentators to speculate that a violent blood war has erupted among Latvia’s infamous oligarchs. So far, none of the businessmen have been available for comment. An insider advised us on a condition of anonymity that another high profile oligarch, Andris Šķiņķis, has gone into hiding in the wake of the Slapjums Bombing.”
“Is this a Battle of the Oligarchs? For now, there is only speculation. We will keep you updated as we receive further information.”
“I am Peter Furneaux for Reuters World News, in Rīga, Latvia.”
UNDISCLOSED BASEMENT, somewhere in Latvia.
The interrogator’s right hand, dressed in beautiful shiny black leather gloves, brought a hypodermic syringe up to Slapjums’ left eyeball.
“Just a little shot of anaesthetic to prevent you from feeling any pain, Mr Slapjums.”
Slapjums was hysterical as he bucked and writhed in his chair. In an instant, he vomited. A mixture of gastric juices and diced carrots sprayed down his shirt and onto his interrogator’s lab coat.
“Damn you, Mr Slapjums! Now we are going to have to clean you up.”
“I could make you into a very rich man!” Slapjums howled as he sobbed uncontrollably.
“How can you do that, my vomity friend?”
“I can deposit a lot of money into your bank account… any bank account… just give me the details and I can do it for you. Please, just let me out of here! I don’t know who you are, so I can’t tell the police about you. You’d be safe. And rich!”
“Mr Slapjums, I’m not here to rob you of your money. Besides, if a large amount of money lands in my bank account, the authorities will notice that straight away.”
“I can arrange an offshore account for you. It would be linked to a shell company in another country. Your name would never come up.”
“Is that what you do, Mr Slapjums? Do you hide all your stolen money in foreign places while your fellow citizens struggle to pay for a loaf of rye bread on their menial salaries?”
“You would be rich beyond your wildest dreams. Nobody would have to know. Please, I will do anything. I’ll give you ten million euros!”
“Twenty million euros!” demanded the interrogator.
“Twenty million. It’s a deal! I will give you the twenty million!” sobbed Slapjums.
“I’m sorry” replied the interrogator, “I was just kidding! I’m not interested in your money, Mr Slapjums. I want something worth more than your twenty million euro pittance. I want you to give me Valērijs Kapustins.”
“I don’t know where he is” replied Slapjums.
“Let’s forget this anaesthetic, shall we? I think we’ll just inject the petrol into your eyeball right now.”
With that, the interrogator changed syringes. He picked up a second syringe that contained a pale pink liquid and moved it up to Slapjums’ eyeball.
Slapjums started screaming.
“Please!!! I know where Kapustins is!”
And so, Slapjums provided the interrogator with full details of where Valērijs Kapustins was hiding. In return, the interrogator put away the syringes, and the white tablets. They moved Slapjums into another room where they freed his hands so he could dine on some cream of chicken soup with bread rolls, while being guarded at gun point.
Of course, the interrogator was never going to harm Slapjums. But this was the most fun that Kostya Rodionov had enjoyed since leaving the KGB in 1991.
A convoy of three armoured limosines made its way along a winding narrow road. Kapustins was inside one vehicle with his driver while some of his security personnel were in the other vehicles. He had received a phone call from Ainārs Slapjums, who explained to him that he was in hiding because he believed that Aivars Lipšitzs was trying to kill him. Slapjums told Kapustins that he wanted to meet him at Jaunpils Pils, a medieval manor nestled near a lush forest on the edge of the tiny township of Jaunpils. Nobody would expect a pair of men of their high standing to turn up at such a location.
As the convoy approached Jaunpils, four explosions went off simultaneously. Plastic explosive wrapped around the trunks of four large pines sent the huge trees crashing to the ground, obstructing the road in front of the convoy and behind. The vehicles could not go anywhere.
As security personnel alighted from the vehicles with their firearms drawn, six M26 fragmentation grenades positioned along the road had their pins pulled via strong twine as the Prometheans lay prone in shallow shell-scrapes to avoid the shrapnel that blasted in all directions as the grenades detonated with a series of thumps that shattered the tranquility of the night. A 5.56mm Heckler & Koch G36 Assault Rifle emptied one twenty-round magazine, and there was silence.
Alpha and Delta ran across the road and poured petrol onto the car in which Kapustins was sitting. Fearing that he’d die in a torturous inferno, Kapustins leapt out of the car as Alpha smashed him across the knees with the butt of his G36. Kapustins fell to the ground, as Delta started to tie him up with ropes.
They dragged Kapustins into a waiting vehicle and sped off.
Delta took a photo of his dearly departed sister from his wallet. Looking at the photo of her, he whispered under his breath “Elena, at last, we’ve got the bastard.”
(to be continued Sunday 23rd September, 2018)