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 The value of information

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Posts : 2467
Join date : 2010-10-09
Location : London, England

PostSubject: The value of information   Mon Jan 17, 2011 1:59 am

(ooc: This started life as a piece of writing I did a while back for another purpose. Can't remember if any of you have seen it before, but I liked it so wanted to use it here. The ending is different now to fit with the narrative I am telling)

It was a cold, biting, and unforgiving wind, the sort of wind which carries with it the promise of winter’s darkest acts still to come. Maybe there was snow in the air with it as well. That wouldn’t surprise him. The first snow of the year had fallen weeks ago, and a wicked cold front had heaped layer upon layer onto the dim streets. More would inevitably follow before Christmas, and then well into the New Year. Several blankets would yet add to the thick grey slush which squelched wetly under his feet as he stamped them to keep warm.

He reached up, tugging the collar of a worn and aged overcoat tighter around his neck, pulling the scarf into the grimy wrinkles of his skin. As he did so, his body wracked with a deep cough that erupted from his chest and forced its way into his throat. For several seconds he gasped for air, his vision swimming as the cough made his eyes water. Then it subsided, and he wiped his eyes on the back of his sleeve. Damn this weather, and damn the fact he was getting to old to be out in it.

But the wind didn’t cease. It coursed around the rickety bus shelter under which he was standing, whistling with malevolent discontent as it licked around the metal before brushing over him like icy fingers. He thrust his gloved hands back into his pockets, trying to shrug the cold out his aching bones.

Across the street, he could see the inviting warmth of a coffee shop, and he looked on covetously as those inside lifted steaming mugs to their contented faces. He didn’t drink coffee often, had in fact never much cared for the taste, but right now a cup would be good; anything which brought relief from the cold would be good. However, he couldn’t go over for a cup. He’d already checked the timetable – as much of it as he could see through a film of graffiti – and the bus was due in a few minutes. He didn’t want to miss it. Besides, he doubted they would actually let him in the place.

The hand came out of the pocket, and scratched at the grizzly grey stubble which coated the bottom half of his face. It hadn’t seen a razor in days, or for that matter a bar of soap. He didn’t care, and there was nobody much in his life who was likely to either, so why bother?

He was spared further musings as the lumbering shape of the bus came into view around the far corner, its weak headlights cutting a yellow arc through the dimly lit streets, and its archaic engine wheezing in protest at the ill-treatment it was receiving from a disinterested driver. Its wheels and sides caked in mud and grime, and its progress slowed to a bumpy crawl, it resembled more a large animal in its death throws than a meaningful contribution to public transport.

The bus came to a stop in front of him with a hiss of airbrakes and a clattering of misfiring engine, and the door opened. A young man got off, and then he climbed aboard, fishing into his pocket for the small collection of coins to pay his fare. The driver was fat, his chin covering the collar of a shirt of cheap cotton, and a jacket which must have fitted him once in his younger and slimmer days. He was gruff, seemingly annoyed that such a passenger would dare invade his bus, and he pressed the button to dispense the ticket with nothing more than an aggravated grunt. As the old man looked around the interior of the vehicle, he wondered what the driver had to be worried about. The seats were wipe clean vinyl, which over the years had cracked and split in several places, their metal backings giving way to rust which was prompted by the cold wet weather. The floor was of a material indistinguishable from the years of accumulated grime which had built up on it, and a couple of the overhead bulbs to light the interior were missing. It was disgusting, but it was at least marginally warmer than standing on the pavement.

Only three other passengers were aboard: a thin woman sat near the front, clutching a shopping bag to her chest and eyeing him suspiciously as though he were a potential thief for whatever precious cargo she was carrying. A young couple sat half way back, ignoring everyone else to share the headphones of some portable music player which was turned up just loud enough to spill tinny but muted background noise around the bus.

He walked to the back of the vehicle and slumped down on the seat as it lurched away from the stop. From an inside pocket he pulled a small leather-clad hip flask and unscrewed the lid. Lifting it to cracked lips, he poured a healthy slug of cheap vodka into his mouth. It was harsh, burning, and as he swallowed it caught in his throat and once again he was wracked with coughs that shook his frame. He wasn’t a well man, but had not seen a doctor in many years. These days it was too expensive, and they all told him the same thing anyway – the drink was killing him. It had been doing so for 20 years, so he reasoned it was too late to do anything about it now anyway.

The bus made its way down the streets and he looked through the dirt covering the windows onto streets which were thick with doubt and depression. Faceless concrete blocks where paint peeled from every wall and plywood fronted many storefront windows; their faded signs hanging limply.

Welcome to Moscow.

He preferred it in the old days, before the curtain fell. This decay was the real legacy of modern Russia. A few miles away the tourists flocked to Red Square, and young urbanite Russians spent their weekends eating American hamburgers in McDonalds. They shopped in expensive stores with designer names, and gave everyone the impression that Russia was thriving.

But Sergei knew the truth; that below the surface, the country was as much a crumbling ruin as the statues of Stalin and Lenin that used to occupy the parks and gardens. Russia was a country divided; with glitterati at the top growing richer while his people grew poorer. Let those tourists come here to the suburbs of the city; walk into the tenement buildings in which he lived. Tell him then that we are thriving, that we are prosperous. The New Russian dream was still the stuff of nightmares here.

It was at times like this that he could justify his actions, his life. It was at these times that he felt no sense of guilt. In weaker moments he would torment himself, tell himself that it was wrong and that it went against all he had promised he stood for all those years ago. He would feel a great weight pushing down on him; the weight that he had betrayed his country.

He took another hit of the vodka. This time it didn’t jar so much, it didn’t burn. Instead, it warmed, though whether it was actually the drink or the warmth of indignation he wasn’t sure.

But then his country had already betrayed him. It had already turned its back on his oath, on his loyalty. 35 years he had served. He’d joined the army as a mere boy, recruited from his village to serve the better purpose of the Soviet Union. He’d been an idealist then, still believing in a better future under the red umbrella. But idealism dies quickly with experience of the real world - with experience of death.

From the army he’d been recruited to a dark wing of the KGB. Not the public side which operated in view of the world, but one much deeper into the political underbelly of the regime. He’d done things which would never be admitted, never come to light. In Chechnya for example….

He caught himself. He wouldn’t think about that. Another hit of the vodka would blot out the memory.

He had watched as the curtain fell, pretended to be enthusiastic for the end of an existence he held dear. But he had never questioned, never opposed. He has maintained a faith in his superiors. He had kept silent and done as he was told as he watched the things he had been taught all his life were evil invaded his beloved motherland. He watched as the West raped and pillaged all that he had fought his entire life for. Even in 1991, when Colonel-General Vladimir Kryuchkov had used KGB resources to mount the attempted coup against Gorbachev, he had remained loyal to the government, to the country, to the ideals – even if he himself spent every day questioning them by then.

And then there had been that night in the bar. That fool who was looking for a fight, and who had found one with him when he had a belly full of vodka. The fool had died on the street, his blood staining the concrete. OK, Sergei was drunk when it happened, maybe if he was sober he would have had more control, but even so, it was not his fault. But they had come for HIM, they had dared to come for him – men who he had commanded. He had been questioned like a common criminal, confronted over his drinking. He had been shamed and fired in disgrace. HIM. His loyalty had meant nothing, his service, his silence over the things he had done. They had taken his life and told him it wasn’t worth a thing.

Was it any wonder he felt no loyalty now ? Was it any wonder what he had sunk to ?

It had started simply. Conversations in bars, a few drinks passed here and there, a few tips on where his former FSB colleagues might and might not look for certain things. It was harmless, petty, the sort of thing which didn’t really do any harm. These were mere thugs and low-life criminals, mostly under the radar anyway. It was easy to ignore, to write off.

But he had a lot more to give, a lot more he knew. There was a lot more damage he could do those who had turned their backs on him. And as the bitterness of their rejection grew, as the conversations grew deeper, so more came out. Moscow was littered with graves, and as the saying went, he literally knew where the bodies were buried. One by one, Captain Sergei Entimov was unearthing them.

He was brought back from his recollections as the bus hissed to a stop beside a brick apartment building. The young couple were rising from the seat in front of him and didn’t even give him a second glance as they stepped into the cold night air, huddling together from a mixture of a need to share warmth, and simple youthful lust. He was jealous, but he was also bitter. He could remember a time when his mere presence used to strike terror into the young people of his city. As a KGB officer he was respected, even feared. Now, now he was just another badly clothed old man who they regarded with pity. He hated them for it. He hated them ALL for it.

The bus was one stop away from his apartment building now, a mere couple of minutes. He pulled the wool cap from his head and scratched oily grey hair, before replacing it on his head. The hip flask was nearly empty, and he took one last long pull to finish it as the bus turned into his street. It pulled to a halt in the middle of a large puddle, sending icy water slushing onto the pavement. Sergei hauled himself to the front and half slid down the steps onto the damp street, recoiling and shivering as the cold wind once again bit into his skin. There was definitely snow in the air now.

He walked across to the wooden door and pulled at the handle, wrenching it open across the tiled floor and sending more specs of the peeling blue paint falling toward the ground. The single light tube in the hallway was flickering, casting the area and the bare green walls in bizarre shadows and garish glows. He pulled himself up the staircase, passing apartments on both sides, all of which had metal grates over the front doors, and behind a couple of which he could hear the muffled noise of a radio. No-one here knew each other; no-one cared what happened behind those doors. He had lived here for three years and only knew 4 other people in the entire building. It was a good place to be alone.

His apartment was on the fourth floor, but he stopped on the third when a voice called out in his native Russian

“Sergei ? is that you ?”

Sergei grunted, he didn’t really want to stop. He wanted to get to his apartment so he could hide what he was carrying. However, Mikhail’s voice was insistent.

“That is you. It’s open, come on. Come in”

Sergei pushed the door and it gave way with a squeak of protest on rusty hinges. The hallway was dark, the bulb missing. Mikhail had moved in three months ago, and for the first few weeks had pretty much kept to himself. They had exchanged the odd good morning, but little more. However, in recent weeks Sergei had learnt of the man’s interest in two things he himself was an enthusiast of – vodka, and chess. The young man was a good player, not at Sergei’s level, but a reasonable opponent, and they had shared a game and a bottle on several occasions. Clearly he wanted a game now.

As he walked down the corridor toward the small kitchen, Sergei tripped over a bag on the floor. He braced his hand against the wall to prevent himself from falling.

“You ought to get these damn lights fixed” he commented, gruffly.

“Yes, my friend, I will in time” Mikhail called from the kitchen. “Come in, sit yourself down”.

Sergei entered the kitchen to find Mikhail at the counter. The man was in his late 20s, slim of build, with short blonde hair. He was dressed in cheap work pants and a baggy shirt, and appeared to be even more destitute than most of the other inmates of the apartment block.

Sergei stood in the doorway “I’m sorry, Mikhail, I can’t stay long, I have…..”

The young man turned. In his hand he was holding a fresh bottle of vodka. It was good stuff, several steps above the gut rot they usually shared. Mikhail smiled.

“Come on my friend, surely you can make time for this?” he turned back to the counter.

The older man smiled. Mikhail was not his equal in drinking either, and that was a good brand. He started to remove his cap “I suppose, if we can be quick”

Sergei didn’t even notice Mikhail move until it was too late. Even if he had seen the gun there was nothing he could have done about it. It was small, light, and with the silencer fitted made almost no noise as it fired. The bullet took much less than a second to tear across the small and grimy kitchen. It struck Sergei in his left eye, ripping through his skull and opening a hole the size of a tennis ball in the back of his cranium. Pieces of his skull struck the white tiles on the kitchen wall with a wet splat, followed by a fine spray of his blood over the yellowing tiles. Captain Sergei Entimov, formerly of the KGB and FSB, was dead before he even hit the floor.

Mikhail looked down at his handiwork dispassionately

“Oh, I am always quick” he replied.

He bent down and tore open the dead man’s coat, reaching into his jacket pocket to extract a thin envelope. Taking a moment to check it, he stepped over the body and into the bedroom.

From under the bed Mikhail extracted a laptop computer case, before opening the wardrobe door to reveal an immaculate grey suit. A few moments later he walked back into the kitchen looking quick different from his impoverished self. Taking the bottle of vodka, he poured it extravagantly over the dead man’s body, leaving just enough for a trail which lead to the front door of the apartment. It was rented under the assumed name of an alias he no longer used, and no-one knew him here, but it would buy him some time and add to the confusion. He fished a lighter from his pocket, and touched the flame to the vodka, watching the blue trail sweep along the hallway and catch onto the body.

With a satisfied smile, Mikhail shut the door.

Thirty seconds later, he walked out the front door of the apartment building and stepped into the Mercedes S Class that was waiting for him. As it pulled away, he extracted a cell phone and placed a call. After several rings, it was answered.


“This is Damon – I’m calling to say I have what you need”

“Any problems ?”

“No, none, it went as expected. He….”

“I don’t need to know the details. I want the information and you said you could provide it. How you get it is your business. No questions asked on either side. That was the arrangement and I expect you to stick to it. Now, when can my contact in Bucharest expect the envelope ?”

“It will be with you tomorrow”

“Well done, Damon. Your money is being transferred now. This concludes our business?”

“It does. Thank you, good evening”

The other end of the line went dead. Damon sat back in the car as it whisked into the Moscow night.

At the same instant, in an opulent ranch house in Montana, as far removed from the cold and grime of a Moscow suburb as it was possible to be, a large figure dropped a slim mobile phone to the floor, and brought his boot down on it, crushing it to useless smithereens.

The figure then stood from the wingback chair he was sitting in, and walked to the desk in the corner of the study. He paused a moment, looking at the computer screen, before a smile spread across his face. He shut down a file which clearly showed a picture of Captain Sergei Entimov. He then flicked across to a second open panel, in which sat an automated banking connection. He moved the mouse to click on the button marked “Confirm” and the shut down that panel too.

In the reflection on the monitor, crystal blue eyes shone

Finally he raised the glass of whisky on the desk to his lips.

“Here’s to Shand Holdings’ further expansion into Russia!”

I'm not climbing to the top of the mountain. I am the damn mountain!
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