Authors: Michael Beres
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Political, #General
Nadia’s hand squeezing hers kept Lena awake and wondering why she remembered so little of her childhood. Although Nadia was nearly her age, Lena thought of Nadia as her child. This helped her forget about Leonid in motel rooms wearing his idiotic red baseball cap while they had sex. It also helped her forget the peninsula’s remoteness, its helpless cripples, and the years as a sex slave somewhere in Israel, where men did not even undress when they fucked her. Instead of thinking of these things, Lena began recalling events she had completely forgotten.
A word flew in like a bird from the distant past and landed on her nose, making her giggle. A word overheard by a little girl. The word was “brainwashed,” whispered by adults during Soviet times. She remembered imagining brains plucked from skulls like oysters, put into in an old washing machine, and run through the cylinders of the wringer like so much laundry.
When the sound and smell of the old wringer washing machine came back to Lena, she recalled an old woman’s face, wrinkled and sad until turning to her. The face smiling its wrinkles away as the woman hugged her and whispered, “Lena, Lena, Lena,” into her ear. And then, as she held Nadia’s hand, a name flew into the window over the heads of the drugged.
In the main cabin, the evening conversation between Pyotr and Vasily had again turned to argument. Pyotr asked Vasily if he was giving orders without consulting him. Pyotr had seen news of a new female clinic bombing in north Podil and accused Vasily of going above his head. This resulted in a long tirade from Vasily.
“We are not the only ones against abortion,” said Vasily, pacing the room. “You yourself said if abortion were ethical, the best we could do for our Chernobyl orphans is put them out of their misery. Obviously, we have not done this! Ours is a rough business. Some residents have run away, yet you do nothing! When he discovers we are in the Zone, a boy named Alek, recently rescued from child pimps, swims for it and is washed down the river! Instead of assuring new residents we are in a safe part of the Zone, you do nothing! Ivan and Leonid wear goon squad baseball caps stolen at a Kiev market! Ivan uses Soviet Army tactics, obviously preparing his own
on the other side of the reservoir, and you do nothing!”
When Pyotr did not respond, Vasily calmed somewhat but continued. “We overexpose ourselves, Pyotr. Too many boy soldiers sent off the peninsula opens up the possibility of someone being caught who cannot hold his tongue. Creating an army of boys never works.”
“Vasily, if they are caught, they’ve been trained to be loyal. The recent incident in Kiev proves it. Rather than risk saying anything, our own Leonid made the supreme sacrifice.”
“You can’t be certain everyone would do the same. Some of those off the peninsula have also been spending time with Ivan.”
“Exactly what does Ivan have that you do not have, Vasily? Speak calmly. I will listen.”
Vasily had been pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. Now he joined Pyotr on the sofa. Both of them sat forward, tension showing in their clenched fists.
“All right,” said Vasily. “I recall the early days when I was a recruiter. I brought girls here so they could be sent along the trafficking trails. I also recall your change of heart, taking in the Chernobyl orphans no one wanted. Instead of sending girls down the trafficking trails, we took them off the streets of Kiev and kept them here. We not only gave them a home; we gave them purpose. I am one of the few who has shared the bad times and the good times. But now I believe we have entered a new phase. In the outside world, we would be labeled terrorists.”
Pyotr’s forced calm disappeared. He glared at Vasily, raising his voice. “If you’ve lost faith in me, why don’t you join La Strada? They need warm bodies to sit in useless meetings!”
“You don’t understand!” shouted Vasily. “It’s not the compound I object to … or even the burnings and bombings!”
Pyotr stood, then walked toward the door shaking his head. “So what is your objection?”
Vasily stood. “I’ve repeated it again and again. I am not complaining about Ivan’s physical muscles; I complain about muscles in his head. Why is it so impossible for you to believe Ivan has started his own organization? He’s an Army officer with soldiers beneath him. During the day, it seems innocent enough, Ivan as role model. But at night … Look at me, Pyotr! Listen! At night, he and his so-called men leave the peninsula, apparently with the blessing of the SBU guards and the use of their fastest inflatable boats. They bring back girls off the streets of Slavutich and Chernigov. They are gone one or two days, and you are not even aware of it! They bring the girls to the other side of the peninsula, drug the shit out of them, and take turns. The girls do not stay for long. Ivan is in the process of once again setting up a trafficking network. His boy soldiers have become recruiters, promising jobs, taking away papers, and finally shipping them off the peninsula, down the Balkan Trail. Ivan is trafficking with help from Russian Mafia contacts!”
Pyotr waved a clenched fist toward the ceiling. “You are insane, Vasily! I have ordered Ivan to maintain a group of guards, and this he does! If he needs a prostitute from the street now and then, so be it!”
“But some of them are very young,” said Vasily.
“They have chosen their destiny,” said Pyotr, more calmly. “When a prostitute is taken from the street, who can object except the pimp? Should we have consideration for the pimp and bring him along and give him a cabin on the peninsula? We have chosen to help those forced into sexual slavery. You planned the rescue of the children from the Romanian Carpathians. There is a distinction, Vasily. We rescue children kidnapped and forced into slavery. Females, or males, who choose prostitution, we do not rescue. It is as simple as that. As for the female clinics … over the years, I have had a change of heart. We no longer live under Communism. Killing the unborn no longer provides for the common good. Even the Russian president calls for more children. Killing someone who has killed balances the scale, and at the same time deflects attention from us. We rescue future rescuers! It is a circle of life!”
Pyotr reached out and held Vasily’s shoulders. “Do you understand now?”
Vasily nodded. “Yes, I believe I do understand.”
Vasily had left Pyotr’s cabin, dazed by Pyotr’s insane logic. Did Pyotr really believe these things? Had he gone mad? Had the SBU’s guarantee of safety from radiation on the peninsula been a false guarantee? And what about his mention of the Russian president?
Vasily walked to the other side of the peninsula along the familiar paths. When he arrived at the group of cabins near his own, he heard the shouts and the thumping of feet on floorboards he had heard for several nights. The sounds came from the bunkhouse Ivan had begun using as a nightly meeting place. Vasily walked up to the door and opened it.
The scene inside made Vasily feel as though he would vomit. A half dozen boy soldiers stood naked except for red baseball caps. The young men were soaked in sweat, some had erections, some were flaccid, two of them held barbells in their hands. Ivan stood behind the young men in his green Soviet Army trench coat, also wearing one of the red baseball caps stolen from a Kiev market. As the young men moved aside, Vasily saw two girls, perhaps sixteen, sprawled naked on blankets spread on the floor. They smiled toward Vasily drunkenly. One of them had a bloody lip. Clothing was piled on the bunks. Two vodka bottles had rolled beneath Ivan’s weight-lifting bench pushed against the wall; another vodka bottle was being passed amongst the young men.
The inside of the cabin was hot, cool night air from the open door causing steam to rise from the sweaty bodies and from Ivan’s face. The smells of flesh and vodka combined to create a tarnished-metal smell. Vasily saw an insane smile growing on Ivan’s face.
Vasily stepped backwards, slammed the door, and ran to his cabin. He unlocked the chest containing the Geiger counters for monitoring peninsula radiation. But the chest also contained his AK-47. He took out the rifle, unfolded the stock, and went outside. But as he stared at the bunkhouse in the distance, he could not imagine shooting anyone. Instead of returning to the bunkhouse, he went back into his cabin, locked the door, and sat with the rifle across his lap. Perhaps escape was the answer. He could cross to the left bank and disappear into the woods. He could return to Kiev and the world off the peninsula, which now did not seem quite as insane as it once had. Once off the peninsula, perhaps he could spread the word … but where?
In the loft of his cabin, Pyotr undressed and sat on the edge of the bed in the dark, staring at the rectangular patch of stars at his window. Without their knowing it, tonight had been Pyotr’s test between Vasily and Ivan. And now, to have lost the faith of Vasily saddened Pyotr. Physically and mentally, Ivan would make a stronger assistant than Vasily. The younger men and women brought to the compound by Ivan would become the new soldiers.
As Pyotr thought of rejuvenation for his compound, he began to formulate other plans. He would call SBU Deputy Anatoly Lyashko and put pressure on him to have his special agents dispose of Janos Nagy and Mariya Nemeth. He would call Father Vladimir Ivanovich Rogoza and convince him to increase his verbal attacks on traffickers, pornographers, and abortionists.
Pyotr lay down in bed and closed his eyes. For the first time in many nights, he felt at peace. The proud Russian family line of Pyotr Alexeyevich Andropov would live on.
The classified SBU fixed station and cellular report indicated that, during the previous week, Janos Nagy had made calls to a Kharkiv number, his office, his client Mariya Nemeth, his US friend Lazlo Horvath, Kiev militia headquarters, the militia Darnytsya office, and many local numbers. Of the local numbers, some were video stores and the rest were private residences.
Yuri Smirnov sat in his office, his eyes burning from hours of scanning the report on his computer, looking for patterns. The latest calls were made the previous day. Smirnov had one of his investigators call some of the numbers, and now this additional report listed numbers, names, and addresses followed by a brief statement which read as follows: “These are parents of children missing from one to eleven years. Eva Polenkaya, who lives in the Palace Apartments, is chairwoman of their group. She petitions officials for help in finding these children. She is a member of the La Strada anti-trafficking NGO. The Kharkiv number is a kiosk cell phone recently purchased. Most calls from Janos Nagy’s cell phone originated at Mariya Nemeth’s apartment and on various highways surrounding Kiev. Several recent calls emerged from a remote tower near a traveler’s camp between Highways M-04 and E-95 south of the city.”
Smirnov’s interest in Janos Nagy’s calls was heightened when Janos Nagy and his client Mariya Nemeth disappeared Sunday night. Smirnov needed to prepare himself for the inevitable call upstairs to his boss, Anatoly Lyashko. He would give Lyashko details of the disappearance and new information concerning parents of missing children. He would also tell Lyashko about yesterday’s visit to his office by Mikhail Juliano of Opus Dei. What he would not tell Lyashko were his own suspicions. Speaking of these suspicions was out of the question, because Lyashko was obviously keeping something from him.