Editor: Read Chapter II here.
Yaroslav nearly spilt his coffee when the pretty newsreader on TV announced the attacks in Mumbai. He was at breakfast with his wife and fourteen-year old son who was in his school uniform. His wife worked nights at a café, a job she had been forced to take after the shuttering of the automobile factory that used to employ her, and was all set to crash into bed once their son left for school.
Ever since he returned from India after training that motley group of men in using firearms and planting bombs, Yaroslav had been glued to the television, waiting for something to happen in that distant land.
He knew that he ought to call Yuri first, but didn’t. Instead, he quickly finished his bowl of kasha, gulped down his coffee and left the flat, carrying a small cloth bag which he took out from under the mattress where it had been hidden. His best friend from the army lived close by and was at home when Yaroslav knocked. Sergei had lost his right arm in Afghanistan and the fall of the Soviet Union had forced him to work for the local crime boss, a job which called for administrative skill and loyalty, both of which Sergei continued to exhibit, even after twenty odd years at the job.
Sergei opened the door and turned around to pick up the glass of kvass which he had been forced to put down when the bell rang.
‘The men I trained, they’ve blown up a building in Mumbai,’ Yaroslav announced.
Sergei frowned and switched on the TV as Yaroslav plonked himself on a sofa, the cloth bag on his lap. Rossiya 1 was showing a documentary on the lives of ethnic Russians living in Tajikistan and was no good, but they had better luck with Rossiya 24 where a newscaster had just started a news bulletin. The blowing up of the Garden of Eden had not received much publicity outside India, but when the ‘under construction’ building at Kandivli East was also blown up later that day, anti-terrorism experts all over the world sat up and took notice.
The two men watched and listened intently as the details were read out, accompanied by visuals from the scene shot by a NDTV crew and shared with a number of broadcasters across the world.
‘You sure this is your boys’ handiwork?’ Sergei asked when the news reader moved on to something else.
‘Has to be. The timing’s just right and this is one of the things I trained the bastards to do.’ Yaroslav got up, walked over to the table at the end of the room and lifted the large Kvass jug which caused a small splash inside.
‘Glass?’ Yaroslav muttered.
‘In there.’ Sergei nodded in the direction of the kitchen.
Yaroslav grunted and walked over to the kitchen, but came back empty handed, shaking his head.
‘You’ll find one in the sink,’ Sergei said with a cheeky grin.
Yaroslav muttered under his breath and went to the kitchen again. Within a minute, he returned with a clean glass and poured himself some kvass, which he started to sip.
‘I just didn’t expect them to do all this in Mumbai. I thought they would, they would put their training to use in some remote village’
‘Like hell you didn’t. These days, every terrorist needs publicity. The more high-profile the target, the better it is. What’s the point of fighting if no one sees you fighting?’
‘True, but they turned out to be a much nastier bunch than I thought they would be. When we started the training, they were a bunch of clueless idiots, but when we finished two months later, they had changed. They had become a team. They had a goal, though they wouldn’t tell me what it was. Then they killed one of their own men for wanting to desert, though I don’t think that boy was deserting. He had actually asked for permission to leave and Tarun just got him killed. Just like that. They became killers after that. A nasty bunch, I’d say.’
‘Good for us, isn’t it?’ Sergei asked. ‘The stuff you got back will now be in demand.’
‘I guess,’ Yaroslav grudgingly conceded.
‘What did they do with the guy they killed?’
‘Tarun put half the men in the firing squad which executed Janak. The other half had to dig a grave and bury him. Everyone became tainted, blood on their hands,’ Yaroslav said, remembering the details.
‘Take it easy old chap. Here, have some more kvass. Does your pen drive have a photo of the guy who deserted?’
‘He did not desert. One night, just before the training concluded, he went to Tarun and asked for permission to leave, saying he didn’t want to kill anyone. Tarun immediately turned around and called him a “deserter”.’
‘Never mind that, did you get any pictures of this Janak?’
‘I did,’ Yaroslav sighed.
‘The Indians will have fun looking for him, when he’s lying buried somewhere.’
Yuri had insisted that he record photos of the men he was training and bring it back with him, along with names and descriptions.
‘That bastard will sell it to the FSB and give you ten percent,’ Sergei had snorted when Yaroslav told him about what he had been asked to do. Sergei came up with another idea instead. The FSB was Russian’s internal security service and could be expected to pass on the information to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service.
Sergei had learned a few tricks since he started working for the local mafia don. He had managed to get hold of software which would allow Yaroslav to edit the faces of the men in the photographs he had surreptitiously taken. Random Indian eyes, noses, lips and foreheads taken from videos on YouTube replaced those of Tarun and others. The written report contained false names taken from a website for Indian baby names and inaccurate physical descriptions of the men he had trained. In other words, the photos and the report which Yaroslav gave Yuri on his return, which in turn Yuri forwarded to the FSB, were useless, and even misleading.
The undoctored photos and the correct report were in a pen drive which Yaroslav had in his cloth bag. They would now be worth a lot of money if they were offered to the right person in India. To add fizz to the bargain they were offering, they also had a GPS Tracker. Just before Yaroslav left India, he had gifted Tarun with a ruler, which could be taken apart to form two knives, each of which had a chip embedded inside, which would be tracked with the GPS Tracker that was also inside Yaroslav’s cloth bag.
Sergei sat back and whistled. ‘We better get this right. If we blow this, it’s the gulag.’
‘Half the money is yours Sergei,’ Yaroslav reminded his friend, who only shrugged.
‘The money won’t be of much use if the GRU bastards find out what we have been up to. Let’s think this through. As soon as Yuri got your email with the doctored photos, he must have passed it on to the FSB, right?’
‘And the FSB would have given it to the GRU.’
‘Yes. They don’t like the SVR.’ The SVR was strictly speaking the successor to the First Chief Directorate of the KGB and ought to have had total monopoly on all Russian foreign operations. However, in post-Soviet Russia, the GRU was nearly six times bigger than the SVR and had many more operatives outside Russia.
‘So, we go to the SVR and tell them that we have the real thing, and ask them if they want to buy it from us?’ Sergei asked.
‘Exactly. But we don’t tell anyone about the knife.’
‘Why don’t you want to sell the real photos and the GPS information at the same time?’
‘Let them run about with the photos and when they draw a blank, we’ll offer them the GPS Tracker,’ Yaroslav suggested.
‘What if they find the men with just those photos? We’ll be left holding that GPS Tracker. That was a very expensive knife I gave you, remember!’
‘Okay then, we’ll sell them both together. We take the Indians’ money and…’
‘And when the FSB and the GRU find out what we have been up to, and they are bound to, sooner or later, they will chop off our balls!’ Sergei muttered.
‘Won’t your Chief protect us?’
‘He may be able to, but then he will have to spend some money to make sure there is no witch hunt for either of us.’
‘Sure, and we’ll share whatever we make out of this.’
‘My dear friend Yaroslav, I am a bachelor. I don’t need the money, but I will do this for you. Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not too late to throw that pen drive and tracker into the Volga and to delete those emails.’ Sergei looked serious.
‘No Sergei, I want to do it. I have thought it over.’
‘Okay listen. The GRU will sell those doctored photos and that stupid report to the Indians. The Indians will run around and try to trace the men in those photos and will find zilch. When the Indians are really desperate, the SVR will strike a deal with them and give them the real stuff – the real photos, the accurate report and the GPS Tracker for the chip embedded in that knife.’
Sergei shook his head at the cloth bag containing the pen drive and GPS Tracker which lay by Yaroslav’s side, on the sofa. ‘As soon as I get my money, I will run away somewhere. Hopefully to America!’
‘You don’t want to go to India? We could work out a deal with the Indians to let you live in India.’
Both men laughed at the joke and then Yaroslav grew serious again. ‘I’m tired of Russia. I am tired of this city. I can’t wait to go away somewhere.’
‘Come on, you can’t be tired of Gorky. This is our city.’ Like many people of their generation, both Sergei and Yaroslav referred to Nizhny Novogrod by its Soviet-era name, Gorky.
‘I’m tired of everything. Even Gorky. Can’t wait to leave. Do you think we can get around ten million roubles, after expenses? That’s five million each.’
‘Five million roubles will be a little less than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. You’ll definitely need that if you want to go to America with your wife and son.’
‘Will I get it?’
Sergei gently picked up the cloth bag from the sofa and put it inside a nearby drawer.
‘Let’s try, okay? Leave this with me and you make sure your emails are clean, and everything’s deleted, okay. They’ll come to talk to you soon, you know that, don’t you?’
‘I know. I better get going.’
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
© Delhi Defence Review. Reproducing this content in full without permission is prohibited.