The Book - A Sunny Day.

Chapter 1.1, Moscow, 2008

It's the first week of proper spring in Moscow. I find myself daydreaming, admiring the sunshine in my office's window. I am 20, blond, longhaired, tall and thin, wearing a custom-tailored grey suit with a salmon pink shirt. Next to me is our press secretary Damon, in his cheap suit, rocking a goatee and smoking a menthol. Opposite us are four bulky, middle-aged men tatted up, with buzz cuts, all clad in Burberry. They introduced themselves as Alex the Sergeant, Roman the Barbarian, Anton the Killer and Igor the Rotten.

"Oi, chief," a man interrupts my daze. He's the youngest of the pack at roughly 37.

"Pardon me," I reply, "I was just admiring the weather. What did you say?"

"2000 rubles for the season pass, and we fill your arena with our boys."

"2500 is the best I can do, Sergeant," I counteroffer. "It's a 60% discount already. Don't you get greedy on me now."

He grins and shakes his head before looking back at his pals - they feign indignation. It sure works on our Press Secretary, a junior member of their org. He is so nervous I can almost smell his fear. I look back at them with a calm half-smile, slightly amused.

"Hey, boss," he continues after a pause for effect. "I'm only trying to help you here; I bet you don't want your fans angry with your club? Angry fans cost more to handle than what we're asking for."

Alex 'the Sergeant' is young but sharp as a tack; despite being half his age at 20 years old myself, he uses words like 'chief' and 'boss' to boost my ego while also mocking me subtly. He is the one responsible for the change in fashion of our ultras. They used to rock Adidas and Reebok mostly, but he'd been importing actual English hooligan garb for the last decade and made a ton of money on it. I know what makes him tick.

"Well, then, why don't we boost your commission significantly?" I suggest smoothly. "Say we go from 5% to 15%, off-the-books? That should incentivise you, distinguished gentlemen, enough to maintain the friendly spirit of the fans, right?"

His surprise lasts only briefly before it morphs into raucous laughter, setting off a round among his crew. Our Press Secretary joins timidly, too.

"You're shrewd, young fella!" The sergeant exclaims once they've calmed down again. "Who would have guessed, eh? Looks like you got yourself a deal!"

"I'll have our lawyers draft up an agreement then." I reply, "Damon will write a press release and handle your 'bumps' monthly."

Damon, the Press Secretary, gulps nervously, setting off another round of laughter as they leave.

I love dealing with the fan club representatives; the Russian ultras scene always drew inspiration from the Brits but took it a step too far. While British fans mostly enjoyed a drunken rumble after matches, Russian ultras trained together in MMA gyms, worked out tactics for attacking their foes and had tons of melee weapons at their disposal. They even sent out scouts before matches to follow opposing crews.

These guys are called 'the brotherhood' and number in the thousands. Whenever there's a derby in our arena, we must pay the city police to send ten times the usual force. We forgot once, and the fight went on for an hour after the match, with 26 people hospitalised. We were lucky nobody got killed.

With the deal closed, I look at my watch. It's lunchtime, and I still need to get to the university before the day's end. I recently transferred to Moscow State University, and now I need to make up a bunch of missing credits. Suddenly, my phone rings.

"Yes, Dad?"

"Come by the office, would you?"

"Sure, I'll be there in 40 minutes."

I walk out of the office and cannot contain my smile when I see my Grigio Titanio 2004 Ferrari 575 Maranello in the sun. Its burgundy interior welcomes me inside on this sunny spring day. I just got the car de-winterised the night before, and my grin makes my cheeks hurt as I start the engine and roll out into the streets of my hometown - Moscow of the 2008 vintage. It's a city of unlimited opportunities and ultimate capitalistic freedom. If you have the cash, nothing can stop you except someone with more money. I plan to retire before I am thirty with a billion-dollar exit. My father hopes I raise my ambitions, but that number seems reasonable to me.

When given absolute freedom, people often don't recognise it immediately and remain bound by old habits. They still live inside their little boxes of what's allowed and what is frowned upon. One must wear crocodile leather and heavily branded clothing in your exotic car. One must show up to all the expensive restaurants with a high-maintenance girl to show that he can afford raining cash. One must put their fancy car key on the table in a restaurant. I remember a guy who had his Cayenne stolen a year ago and still put the Porsche key on the table every time he went out. I detest this kind of lameness, though.

Let me present you with my ten-step pro guide to owning a Ferrari:

1. Ride it like you stole it. Your car is fully insured for an amount exceeding its value by about twenty per cent, so there is no better exit strategy than ripping it to pieces in a street race.

2. Go sideways everywhere you can. You have a five-year warranty on your car, and if you break the rear differential power-sliding every day, Ferrari will change it for free, along with the whole gearbox. They will also congratulate you on being the second person in the world to have achieved that after me.

3. Never back down from a race. Who cares that your opponent in a fully-caged Japanese shitbox is a samurai who is not afraid to die to beat you. Guess what, neither are you, and with deeper pockets, you can afford to blast by police in a way he would not dare.

4. If you are doing over 250 kph, police can neither catch up to you nor register your speed with their radars and by the time they react, you are already gone.

5. Don't ask for her number if a cute girl in an expensive car lines up with you at a traffic light. Race her and destroy her. You need to show her who the daddy is on the road.

6. When you pick her up in your Ferrari, she wears that haute couture dress; don't take her to a Michelin restaurant. Take her to that greasy food truck that sells the best shawarma in town. She will remember that date much longer than any money you throw at her. And if she is upset - tell her with a sad face that Moscow doesn't have any Michelin restaurants, unfortunately.

7. A Ferrari wheelbase is the same width as the Moscow tram lines, so whenever you see a tram line - that is your dedicated lane nobody can get on. Just be sure not to be like my old security guy, who once honked and flashed at an oncoming tram to move the fuck over.

8. Ferrari's suspension is incredible for off-roading. So, if there is a traffic jam on the highway, use that side of the road to your advantage. Better yet, blast the middle grass full tilt and show them who's boss.

9. Every traffic jam is an opportunity for a burnout. If you are not going through at least three sets of rear tires per set of front ones – you're doing it wrong.

10. Street race every night. Make a name for yourself. Wealth comes and goes, and the friendships forged in the near-death scenarios stay for life. That should get you going.=

I get out of traffic and hit the Yauza embankment. Each side is a one-way road; with constant turns and twists, it feels like a racetrack. There isn't a corner of this vast city where I don't have a memory. One bank of the river is a military hospital, where I once spent a month fixing my nose after an altercation with a bunch of wannabes at the club. They were brought into the hospital to tell me how sorry they were. It was a gift from my father's new security chief; he felt it was what I wanted. I remember the intensity of my attackers' fear as they mumbled their excuses. I cut it short: "No biggie, guys, stand up. Next time, don't jump a drunk guy as a crowd for fucking someones wife, when they never even met the girl before," I told them before turning to the new chief of security: "Hey, Paul, make sure they get home with no injuries, will you?" It was not what he expected to hear; he looked back at me with distaste and judgement, sniffing for weakness. I looked back at him over the bloody clown rag covering my nose. "Of course," he said. "Load them up, boys."

A stunning view of one of the Seven Sisters on Kotelnicheskaya embankment snaps me out of that recollection and throws me into a night in "Leto", one of the OG Moscow night venues that used to be right under it. It was impossible to get into; the infamous Pasha Face Control was manning the door there in his prime. That night, I danced on the table in the five thousand dollar VIP booth and fell through the curtains to the adjacent booth. I remember the slow motion of my fall, as I was preparing to smash the bottles of champagne and vodka that somebody else had been enjoying and preparing for a fight when I noticed that it was the crew I knew, a bunch of older dudes I used to play Counter-Strike with and a bunch of models. Right after the crash, when the angry faces looked down on me, I pulled out a 500 euro note and shouted, "Tomorrow, 1v5 in NetLand, here's my bet I whoop your asses." The anger changed to recognition and then to laughter. I fucked one of their models in our booth an hour later while my mate got his skull smashed in by two random hungry gastarbeiters from one of the Stans on his way to the morning tube. They took sixty dollars from him, and he spent the next three months in hospital.

Promises of violence and sexual tension always hang over Moscow. Those are the constant factors at play wherever you go. I am passing the Kremlin now, doing around 100 miles an hour and thinking about the time I went to the New Years play in Kremlin Palace as a child and how much awe I felt and then the Prodigy concert in 1998 that had close to half a million people in front of it and how progressive it had felt. Today, I feel just a bit annoyed by the weakness of the man in the office and his backward ways, his caste of oprichnina with their police lights on German limousines and Lesha "Psycho" from the art group "War" that makes fun of them running over the roofs of their cars as they are waiting to enter Kremlin wearing a blue plastic bucket on his head.

I also remember that cunt of my classmate, who happens to be the son of our president's childhood friend. He and his Chechen friends were so impressed by my Ferrari that he felt the need to approach me. I could sense his jealousy for the car, but more importantly, for where it placed me in the school hierarchy – on the level with him. "Your father must be an important man?" he probed. "Just an honest businessman who dreamt of a Ferrari as a little boy," I responded. "Surely, you could have any car you like." "Well, I would like to have yours." he snarled, and his Chechen crew started hooting. "I wouldn't hold my breath for it if I were you", I snapped and left with a massive burnout, trying to suppress the profound danger of his final statement.

For them, people like me and my father are trouble. They do not understand us. Nobody is allowed to drive a Ferrari at nineteen. You can give your kid a million-dollar tricked-out Mercedes, but you do not buy one of the exotics unless you are one of the oligarchs. It's too much of a statement. Since Khodorkovsky challenged those government officials who attacked his opulence in 2002 to look at themselves, there has been a clear unspoken rule in society of what is allowed. My father earned his real money later, so he missed his lesson and bought four Ferraris as soon as he could afford one. His internal little boy demanded it. That little boy also likes to share with those he loves, so I got one of those four as a teenager.

On New Arbat, I remember all the time I'd spent missing classes there, afterparties at the Sunrise restaurant and the LAN cafe under it. I also remember seeing an old buddy of mine on the sidewalk the first time I drove this car. I pulled down my window and called out to him: "Tom! Tom!" He looked at the traffic and couldn't figure out where to look. In disbelief, he bent over to look into the Ferrari and stared at me for a while, putting the image together. A dark thought visibly crossed his face. "Fuck off", he said, turned around and walked away. Oh well. At least he was being honest.

As I turn before the Arbat Bridge, images fly through my head. That M3 who did not slow down after our race and the traffic cop who ran in front of him to his untimely death, my horror at his body flying into the air and the relief I felt realising I did slow down, and it wasn't me who hit him. All the shisha we smoked in White Cafe with all the mindless socialites who fill the restaurants of my town. The million-dollar deals they discussed all the time, trying to find a buyer for a hundred metric tons of lumber per week, a seller for ten thousand litres of biodegradable jet fuel, a refinery for twenty thousand barrels of Iranian oil per month or a customer who needed twenty million dollars worth of old North Korean wons. Nothing came out of those talks, but there was always a story of a guy they knew who arranged a shipment of six million single-use razor blades into the biggest retail chain and made so much money he now lives in Monaco on a boat, so they all kept blabbing.

Passing behind the White House, I suddenly feel really good. This is my neighbourhood. I grew up here, and every corner is lined with memories. Infiniti Club around the corner is where I first started hanging out five years ago. They would not let my bodyguard in, and I had my first glimpses of true freedom. First clashes with the police around here, that growing feeling of being untouchable. The shisha cafe where I'd spent countless hours hanging out with my first love. The market in front of it, where my gran-gran used to beg for money with me as a child, claiming my father was a victim of the Afghan war. The second McDonald's in Russia, where I made my first money, trafficking french fries into school and a Kurdish house behind it, in front of which I got robbed on my third run. The karate section from which I got kicked out for pulling the pants down of my fellow five-year-olds. The Moscow Zoo, where I set weekly dates with fans of that celebrity dude after my friends leaked my mobile as his. The Irish bar where I would go if I wanted to take home a wasted expat girl.

Finally, I roll into the courtyard of my father's bank and park next to his red Ferrari 599. The cars look out of place against the backdrop of the Stalin-era residential neighbourhood. They are the only giveaway that the understated building in this regular courtyard is a central hub for decision-making in the vast empire of my father. Every time I walk through the security checkpoint, I feel proud knowing how hard my father worked to reach this point. He was a rascal from a poor family growing up here and now owns a building in our neighbourhood. Not just this one; he owns a bunch.

The bank occupies the first three floors of the building, and our IT company inhabits the top two floors. My thoughts are elsewhere as I go to my father's offices. It's been a month since his birthday, and I still haven't gotten him his gift. Preoccupied, I stroll past his three secretaries and into his office against their warnings.

The mood in the room is tense. One large sofa is occupied by Paul - our Chief of Security, who also doubles as the President of our sports team. He is an enormously obese man, pushing 200 kilos, and he had clearly been drinking since early morning. In the armchair beside him sits a rather upset hockey team director, Mick, the project manager in charge. In the armchair on the other side is one of my father's top executives, Sarge, who has expressed interest in taking over the hockey team management on many occasions. He looks very cross. Their brooding moods contrast seriously with the blue aquarium wall behind them. Once again, I mentally send a note of admiration to our Italian architect. Indeed he had conflicts like this one in mind dissipated by the peacefulness of the floating fuckers. This time, the tropical fish seem to have little effect. I come over to the men and shake each hand.

My father, who's been busy ignoring the scene while tinkering with some new gadget at his desk, notices my entrance and smiles.

"Oh hey there, son. Could you sit with me? I need your help with this thing."

"What is it, dad?"

"It's the new Ulysse Nardin smartphone. I can't figure out how to make it work."

"You bought that expensive piece of crap?"

"Look how cool it is! It has the auto-winding thing in the back, like the watches!"

"Does it work?"

"No, but it should. It's this Android bullshit I don't get. Could you help?"

"Let me take a look."

My internal critic shuts up in a minute, and the curious boy takes over. The phone is stuck on the loading screen for some reason. I try a few key combos when rebooting and eventually get it into the bootloader mode. "Ok, Pops, let's see if the great Swiss watch manufacturer published this junk's firmware online." I pull out my laptop and start getting lost in my research.

The brooding corner of the office is getting animated. Sarge speaks up.

"Boss, so what do you think?"

"About what?"

"About our problem, boss."

"What problem is that, Sarge?"

"The problem I outlined, boss"

"I don't speak corporate, Sarge. Can you repeat in layman's terms?"

"Well, the problem is that fat piece of shit who you call the club president is only interested in the money that they skim off of the team's budget with his cocksucker mate, the director here."

That statement hangs in the air, which suddenly becomes as thick as a liquid.

"You shameless motherfucker." Paul grunts slowly in response.

I look up and witness Paul will his enormous body into standing. Thin Sarge is up, too. Paul remembers his youth as a boxer, takes a stance and swings at Sarge. Too bad he is old and slow. Sarge dodges easily, and the swing's momentum takes Paul crashing into the metal coffee table that shrieks under him, glasses and cups breaking. Sarge is onto him, lands a sucker punch, shouting:

"Come on, fat fag, show me your boxing!"

"I am going to kill you, fucker!" Paul shouts while getting up. He changes strategy, moving slowly ahead. Sarge uses his long arms to land blows on Paul, who is trying to corner him.

Mick is screaming protests "Stop guys, what the hell, stop it."

I am on my feet, freaking out over the unexpected violence, and my father is just sitting there mesmerised with his mouth open. Suddenly, the door bursts open, and the security guys run in, handguns drawn. My father shouts, "Calm, calm, it's all good, just a misunderstanding among friends. Put those away, break them apart." Two security guys grab Paul's hands and drag him away from Sarge, who raises his arms in a gesture of peace. His face is red, but he looks proud.

Paul has blood on his face, perhaps from his encounter with the coffee table. "Mick, why don't you help Paul clean up and ensure he is okay? The boys will help you. If he doesn't need any medical assistance, please take him home. He needs to sleep," my father says. "Sarge, why don't you take a moment to cool down? We will talk later."

"Okay, boss. It was self-defence, though."

"Sure, sure, don't worry about it."

Everyone takes off. The secretaries swarm the office with their lamentations. My father's laughter calms them down. They clean up the mess, put the furniture back in place, and remove the broken glass. My heart is pounding still. I was not ready for such an escalation.

"Brave fucker, that Sarge. He got a few punches in. I did not expect that from him at all", my father laughs.

"What the fuck was that?" I respond.

"First fight in this office. I'm glad the aquarium is OK. It's in line with what you were saying, son?"

"Yeah, they're all stealing, Dad. On every level of the club and stadium operation. From cleaners up to the director. I just kicked out a team of youth coaches who took bribes to take weaker kids on the teams, but it's not even a dent in the problem."

"Well, you're not the only one who notices."

"But I told you we should fire everyone and start from scratch."

"Who would work though? You need to learn that the scorched earth policy never works."

"Well, your way is certainly more entertaining."

He laughs. "Did you see that sneaky sucker punch? Man, I didn't know Sarge had it in him."

I hand him his phone: "Take this shit to the dealer. I fixed the loading issue, and it works. However, the back mechanism does not. It's a known issue that only they can fix."

"Thank you, son. I'll see you later."

"Your gadget addiction is my perpetual torment. Oh, and about your present, you'll have to wait a bit longer. And I might need more money."

"No problem. Talk to Arcady."

"I will. See you, Dad."

I pause for a moment. I have an uneasy feeling about the fight I just witnessed. It feels like something irreparable happened, like some veil of inevitable success came down and behind it were the gates of hell, way closer than I could imagine. Don't get me wrong, I have seen fights before, much more brutal fights. This one felt different, though. The stated intention hinted at a dark causal current behind it. It's a feeling perhaps akin to one that a savannah tiger feels at the beginning of a dry season. Like the times of opulence are coming to an end.

I look at my father to see if he shares my heavy feelings. He is lost in his new toy.

This post is a work of fiction ,based on a true story. It is part of a bi-weekly publication, "a fall from grace". Take a glimpse behind the iron curtain into the world of Russian extreme wealth, power and the true cost of it all. You can find previous posts using #thelxbook hash tag.

Subscribe to never miss a new post.

Collect this post to permanently own it.
Svoboda Blues logo
Subscribe to Svoboda Blues and never miss a post.