Once Upon a Time in Russia (3 page)

BOOK: Once Upon a Time in Russia
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If anything, this explosion was the mildest of the three. There had been surprisingly few casualties, considering the size of the bomb, and the brazen location and timing of the detonation—the middle of the afternoon, just a few doors down from the Logovaz Club.

“He's one lucky bastard,” Davny said, finally giving up on the strip of leather. The young agent moved next to Litvinenko, likewise
scanning the crime scene in front of them. “Burns to his hands and face, some shrapnel wounds, but other than that, nothing serious.”

“His driver wasn't quite as lucky,” Litvinenko noted.

The man's head had been sheared right off by a chunk of the Opel's trunk. The force of the explosion had been severe; aside from the mangled Mercedes, at least five other cars had been utterly destroyed, along with the fruit stand and eight stories of windows of an office building across the street. Amazingly, only six pedestrians had been injured, and only the decapitated driver had left the scene in a body bag.

Well, two body bags.

Davny was right, Berezovsky had been damn lucky. The burns would heal, the shrapnel would be removed. According to Litvinenko's higher-ups, the auto mogul was planning on heading to a sanitarium in Switzerland to recoup and recover. LogoVAZ had already released a statement to the press about the attack, which Litvinenko had read on the ride over to the crime scene:

“There are simply very powerful forces in this society which seek to hinder the creation of civilized business and the revival of the economy. And they will use barbarian, criminal methods to get what they want. It is hard to fight.”

Succinct, accurate—and more than a little hypocritical.
Civilized business.
Three years of FSB work investigating organized crime, three years before that working under the Third Chief Directorate of the KGB, the main security service of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991: Litvinenko had become an expert on the way business was usually conducted in his home country, and
was about the last word he would have chosen to describe what he'd seen. Then again, the security services—not to mention the military bureaucracy, and, hell, the entire goddamn government—weren't
exactly bastions of virtue, and never had been. The KGB, the pre-Gorbachev Soviet machinery—at least back then, you knew what to expect. You kept your head down, did what you were supposed to do, and usually you came out okay. Now? Often, Litvinenko felt as lost as the youngest of his underlings.

In his opinion, the FSB was a shadow of its precursor. Certainly, if his dwindling paycheck was any indication, the “revival of the economy” was going a lot better for the “civilized businessmen” blowing each other up in Mercedes limousines than for the men charged with keeping tabs on the mayhem.

Litvinenko knew that many of his colleagues had been taking things into their own hands—moonlighting for companies and wealthy businessmen, heading up security organizations, using their specific skills to take part in the new economy. Technically, it was illegal, and an agent could get fired—or even arrested—for taking part in after-hours corporate work. But usually, the higher-ups looked the other way. For the most part, turning a blind eye to indiscretions had become a way of life for the bureaucrats who were, themselves, trying to navigate through a world that now seemed constantly in flux. It was only under very special circumstances that the people in power focused their attention on any one individual or incident. Usually, that sort of focus could only mean trouble—for everyone involved.

Litvinenko concentrated on the scene in front of him, shifting his gaze outward from the center—the mangled limousine, hunched forward like a dying jungle beast on two broken axles, surrounded by a lake of broken glass and melted asphalt—to the outer rings of the shock wave, nearly twenty yards in every direction. Across the scene, he counted at least a dozen investigators, working their way through the rubble with plastic evidence bags and shiny forceps.

Davny waved a gloved hand.

“All this because someone tried to murder a car salesman.”

This time, Litvinenko laughed. He didn't know if his young charge was serious or not, but Boris Berezovsky was obviously much more than a car salesman. The very fact that Litvinenko had been dragged out here in the middle of the night to personally take part in the investigation was evidence of that. Although Litvinenko was hazy on the details, he had heard that the request for special attention had come all the way from the top. Apparently, this Berezovsky had some sort of connection to Yeltsin himself. Litvinenko hadn't asked any questions when the assignment had come down, and he certainly wouldn't have gotten any answers from his direct superiors at the FSB.

“It isn't murder when you blow up an entire street to try to kill one man.”

“So that's what happened here?” Davny asked. “An assassination attempt?”

Litvinenko gently kicked with his leather boot at a piece of singed wood from the destroyed fruit stand.

“What happened here, comrade, is Mr. Berezovsky's roof fell in.”

Davny looked at him, then finally nodded, because he understood. Litvinenko wasn't talking about the fruit stand.

literally, roof—was a uniquely Russian concept. Originally, the term had its roots in the world of organized crime; gangsters were only as powerful as their “roof”—the person or organization that protected them in case things went awry. The form of protection a “roof” might offer could be physical, economic, political, or even personal; although the concept was often loaded with the threat of real violence, the most effective forms of krysha never had to resort to guns and bombs. An implication of threat was often far more chilling than when pressure was applied.

In the realm of business, the concept of krysha—a protective roof—was no different. The Red Directors who had at first inherited the newly privatized companies of the ex-Soviet regime had, some might argue, the ultimate roof—a government that would protect them as long as they stayed in favor. Private businessmen—men like Berezovsky—needed a different sort of roof to protect them as they chased their ambitions. Increasingly, these businessmen were turning to the very organizations that had coined the term, with varying results.

“Chechens?” Davny asked. “Russians? Georgians?”

Litvinenko shrugged. Of course, it could have been either. All three territories had extensive networks of organized crime. All of them had a reputation for being particularly vicious and violent; but for the right price, there were plenty of gangs willing to take up the cause of “civilized business.”

Lately there had been a rash of business-related incidents: numerous gun battles in city streets, shootouts in restaurants and office buildings. Even a case of chemical poisoning, involving the toxic heavy metal cadmium, placed on the rim of a banker's coffee cup. And now, apparently, car bombs.

Litvinenko had no idea who Boris Berezovsky had pissed off to get himself on someone's shit list, but he was certain that the crime scene in front of them was the result of a business disagreement. Someone was testing the strength of Berezovsky's roof. From the files Litvinenko's superiors had given him on the way over to the site, he knew that Berezovsky had an associate, a partner in his LogoVAZ corporation, a Georgian strongman named Badri Patarkatsishvili, who, if not connected to the types of people who could provide a roof for a growing business, could talk the sort of language such people would understand. But it was obvious that Berezovsky
and his Georgian strongman didn't have access to the kind of roof that kept you safe forever.

“Whoever it was, I think they got their point across.”

Litvinenko kicked at the heat-darkened pavement beneath his boots. He wasn't concerned with keeping the crime scene pristine; he knew full well that he wasn't going to find any answers picking through the smoldering dirt. Besides, he wasn't entirely certain he wanted answers, no matter how connected this Berezovsky might be.
Look too hard
, he thought to himself,
and you ran the risk of finding something

In the world he was living in now, wasn't it better to simply turn a blind eye?

He exhaled, thinking about his beautiful ballroom dancer. Then his gaze shifted back to the mangled Mercedes limousine.

What sort of life could a man like him make for himself in this new Russia?

What sort of roof did


November 1994,

42 Kosygin Street,

Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills), Moscow

the towel was moving fast, steam coming off his thick, bare shoulders in violent plumes as his pawlike feet left wet prints on the hardwood floor. He was surprisingly agile for a man his size. Two steps behind him, Berezovsky was breathing hard trying to keep up. It wasn't until the gargantuan finally slowed in front of a bank of lockers in a quiet corner of the dressing room, that Berezovsky could be certain that the man was even listening to him.

Berezovsky had been engaged in a one-sided conversation with the man's back for most of the morning, traveling through half the Presidential Club along the way—from the tennis courts to the steam room, past the movie theater and the dining room, even through the showers. Well aware of the absurd spectacle they cut on their journey through the club, and not merely because of the difference in their sizes, Berezovsky could hear the whispers of the politicians and dignitaries they had passed along the way; the bandages on his arms and head were hard to ignore, and he knew that the boldest of the club's
members had even begun referring to him as Smoky. But to Berezovsky, it wasn't an insult; he wore his burns as a badge.

The very fact that he had survived the car bombing five months ago marked him as special. By all accounts, he should have died. The explosion that had destroyed his car and killed his driver should have cooked him like a potato wrapped in foil. The FSB agent in charge of the investigation—Alexander “Sasha” Litvinenko, a man Berezovsky found surprisingly sincere—had told him that he actually owed his life to the incompetence of his poor decapitated former employee. His driver had forgotten to lock the car doors when he'd pulled away from the curb; otherwise, Berezovsky would never have gotten out of that burning vehicle.

Berezovsky had spent ten days on his back in a Swiss sanitarium, recovering from his burns and contemplating his place in the world. By the end of his stay, he had come to an important decision: simply being a businessman in modern Russia was no longer enough. In Russia, the walls didn't hold up the roof; the roof kept the walls from falling in. Without a strong roof, no matter how lavish your house, it would eventually come down.

Which was why, now, almost six months later, he had been spending nearly every day at the Presidential Club. The sprawling complex—Boris Yeltsin's pride and joy, which he had modeled after a sporting resort he had once visited in the Urals—was much more than an adult playground. From the steam rooms to the indoor tennis courts, these were the true halls of power in the Yeltsin administration. You wanted to get something done, you didn't go to the Kremlin—you grabbed a tennis racket and booked a court.

Berezovsky continued the monologue he'd been engaged in for the better part of the morning. As the large man in front of him traded his towel for a tailored white shirt and gray slacks, he said,
“So, you see, it makes sense from a political perspective. It truly isn't about the money.”

The man rolled his eyes as he went to work on the buttons of his shirt.

“Boris, I'm not a fool. With you, it is always about the money.”

Berezovsky smiled, though there was a bitter taste in his mouth. He knew what Alexander Vasilyevich Korzhakov really thought of him; not dislike, exactly, but pity. To Korzhakov, Berezovsky was a weak little man covered in bandages, a glorified car salesman. But Berezovsky also knew that, as much as Korzhakov pitied and ridiculed him, he couldn't ignore him.

Berezovsky was the only businessman who was an official member of the Presidential Club, and he had been invited to join just days after the assassination attempt, his burns still visible on his arms and face.

“Eventually, yes,” Berezovsky conceded. “There will be money. But that's beside the point.”

Korzhakov laughed. “So you are going to run a TV station?”

It did sound crazy set out in the open, so succinctly; he had built his fortune in cars. But now it wasn't simply a fortune he was after. The changes he intended to make in his life meant he needed to branch into businesses that would give him power as well as cash. And for days now, he had been pummeling Korzhakov with his most recent inspiration.

“Me? I'm a car salesman. But I'm certain that together, we can find someone who knows how to work a television camera.”

Korzhakov grunted, but Berezovsky could see the calculations beginning behind the man's eyes. Berezovsky did not consider Korzhakov his intellectual equal, not by a long shot; but the man had a certain animal intelligence that Berezovsky had to admire. His current
status was evidence enough. If the rumors were true, Korzhakov was more than just an access point into the Yeltsin government. The president's health had been fading for quite some time, and the vacuum of power was at least partially being filled by the slab of a man pulling on his pants in front of Berezovsky.

The simplest description of Alexander Korzhakov was that he was Boris Yeltsin's bodyguard. Since 1987, when he'd left his post in the KGB—forcibly retired, if some reports were to be believed, for his “liberal” leanings—he had been protecting Yeltsin, running a well-armed security team that now numbered in the hundreds. He had been by Yeltsin's side for no fewer than two coup attempts—and he knew exactly how close Yeltsin's government had come to falling. In 1991, when hard-line Communists with tanks had attempted to retake Moscow, it was Yeltsin who had climbed atop one of the tanks, like a white-haired beacon of freedom, rallying the people behind him; but it was Korzhakov who had helped the already ailing president onto the iron vehicle, climbing right up beside him for all the photographers to see. And in 1993, when Yeltsin had ordered the storming of the Russian White House to protect the fledgling government from the right-wing politicians who had been trying to forcibly turn back the clock to Communism, Korzhakov had again been by the president's side. This time it was Yeltsin who had controlled the tanks: parking them in the center of the city, firing at the government building until it was reduced to rubble.

BOOK: Once Upon a Time in Russia
10.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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