The Book - Safety Third.

Chapter 1.3, Moscow, late 2008.

Sometimes, I get this feeling, this itch at the back of my consciousness. This hushed voice whispers, "The good times are over, matey". I can't help my introspection. No matter how much I work, study or drink, there is no escaping from all these faint voices in my head. I sense them, no matter how desensitised I am. So, I was not surprised to get a call from our security chief this morning. He asked me to come in and said it was paramount. I sensed something was coming. I just recovered today from my birthday bash. I knew it was the last big party, so I gave it everything. It was no big deal compared to what my peers tend to do. I rented an expat financier's bar - the Wall Street bar — every capital city has one, with a Bloomberg terminal and a poker room. I invited a small group of those I care about, 70 or 80 people max, booked a popular hip-hop band, arranged poker for those who play and a couple of DJs. Nothing crazy. The flashbacks are worth it. 

Here's me discovering that the $3000 I allocated to open bar orders ran out in 40 minutes. That is extra to all the prepaid champagne, wines and most popular cocktails that should have lasted the whole night for those who wanted something peculiar. Bamboozled, I talked to the manager, who showed me that somebody ordered a few rounds of the most expensive whisky. I walk into the poker room and see two guys I barely tolerate. They are arguing about whether I instructed the waiter to lie to them while serving the basic cheap whisky. They are finishing their fifth $600 round, and they can't tell. I am enraged at myself for inviting them and ashamed of their pettiness. I channel this anger to let them know how cheap they must be, not to be able to tell the difference between the malts. I finish my speech with "fucking amateurs" and instruct the manager to extend the open bar for another 3k and only serve these two the cheapest whisky they have no matter what they order.

Here's my ex coming in with her entourage. She carries a weird box with no top on it. I smell trouble. I look inside, and it's a couple of Pomeranian pups. "I named one Patsy and the other Special," she says. I am horrified. I detest these tiny dogs with all my heart. The only thing I hate more is the people who carry them around. They are glorified rats, unfit to hold the title of “dog”, let alone to be the descendants of wolves. I look at her and realise it's her happily ever after gift. She hopes this fixes everything and we go back to normal. These are our new kids. I look at her with as much coldness as I can muster. "I can not accept them. I am sorry." She looks heartbroken and mutters something like, "I understand." I walk away. I down three drinks in a row before I start to see again, her girlfriend is on my arm, telling me I should reconsider. I force a smile. It can wait until tomorrow. Everything can wait.

After that, it becomes blurrier and blurrier. Here is the hip-hop band arriving five hours late. They are offended by me halving their pay. My friends are close to beating the crap out of them, and it slowly dawns on the celebrities that their status can not protect them here. I can, and I do. They go on stage. It's 3 am, and those who remain are wasted beyond humanity, but we all sing along for the next half an hour. Here I am, packing everyone in my car and driving to the nightclub. Here I am, realising my Vertu got stolen. Here I am, running into a girl I fancy and taking her home. Here's my ex with her sister and two poms, wasted, at my place, shouting "Surprise!"

I shove the girl I brought home into the hallway. Here is me waking up in the back of my car in my garage with that girl four hours later. She is barely 18, and it's all an adventure to her, a spy game, and I feel like death. Here's the hangover soup in a local beer garden and coming back to my senses. Here's me realising I've spent all the money on this party. I have to ask her to pay for our lunch cause I haven't got a penny left.

With these memories rolling through my head, I smile as I enter our chief of security's office. 

"Sit down", he says. Pulls out a black backpack. "This is your go-bag."

"My what?"

"Your go-bag. For when shit hits the fan." He tosses the contents on the table.

"There's your passport with a Schengen visa. There's an internal passport with a different name if you need to cross into Belarus quietly. 5000 USD, 10,000 euros and 200,000 rubles. A satellite phone, a set of walkie-talkies, a power bank. Black jeans, black T-shirt, pair of hiking shoes, two changes of underwear. Flashlight, multi-tool, protein bars, water."

"No gun?"

"Do you know how to use one?"


"I didn't think you would. Your father hates weapons. It is only natural you would, too. Money works better than weapons. Do not spend a penny until it's go time. You are to carry this with you at all times."

"What happened?"

"Nothing in particular. A bunch of usual things, but your father's spider-sense tells him shit is about to go down. You start with a new security next week."

"Damn. But why now?"

"I just follow the orders, you know that. But between me and you, things are getting ugly all around. We may be going back in time to the wild 90s. Not a time I miss."

"And what's with the new security?"

"Proper, Tier 1 guys. Active duty police officers, plainclothes men. Unlike your past guys, they will mostly be unnoticed."

"There goes my short-lived freedom. Now don't bullshit me, what provoked this?"

"We have received credible intel that one of our opponents plans to set you up. They want to plant some drugs on you and get you behind bars as a means of pressuring your father."

I walk out of his office feeling relieved. It finally makes sense. I have seen signs internally. There has been a constant shortage of funds for the last few months. I run our family assets outside of Russia, and they require continuous funding. Planes, yachts, berths, flats, cars - they don't come cheap. Every month there are payments, large payments that need to be there on time. Salaries of our captain and crew, mortgage on flats in London and Berlin, yacht maintenance, hangars for jets, jet fuel, jet management, car maintenance, our racing team salaries and budget. There isn't a month where I don't need to wire half a million dollars somewhere. In the last few months, I started having trouble obtaining the funds from my father's treasury. This financial crisis is beginning to reach us, no matter what they say on state TV. 

I sit in my car with a heavy feeling. Violence is a language one learns early in Russia. I got my first lesson from my kindergarten nanny. She was not impressed by me wetting the bed during my naps. Her way of discipline was throwing me into various articles of furniture in the room. I was crying, and it seemed only to drive her more mad. I understood there was no point in crying. My parents never shied away from corporal punishment, and I knew the pain of the leather belt from an early age. However, that was nothing compared to battles in my yard and school. By age 7, I had had three concussions. Twice from falling down and once from a guy who threw a metal book stand into the back of my head. I was sick at home for three days, then returned to school and returned the favour to him in the same fashion. We were constantly fighting in school. I was small, but that made me a great rider in Centaurs - a game we used to play. I would climb on the back of my bigger mate, Sarge, and we would run around smashing the other Centaurs to the ground.

My first serious injury happened when I was about 11 years old. An altercation in a summer camp with a girl who hated my guts ended up in me losing a part of my middle finger. I had surgery in a gnarly village hospital nearby. A drunk surgeon sewed up what was left of it with no anaesthesia. I was crying obscenities from the top of my lungs. My pain was instantly quashed when my father picked me up the next day. He was in a new BMW 528i, his first import, a steep upgrade from a tricked-out Lada. 

In the next couple of years, I was beaten up, robbed, and scammed. We moved a lot, making things more challenging, as fighting was a right of passage in each new neighbourhood. I was short and thin for my age and constantly getting jumped on. I learned not to show I was hurt, to continue insulting my attackers, and never to back down. It mainly worked; the kids eventually laid off when they realised they couldn't break me. The final straw happened shortly after my father bought our first apartment in a nice residential area. I was 14. Next to us was the "Duma" house, an apartment block with enhanced security where many legislators lived with their families. I started hanging out in the yard, playing football and making friends cautiously. 

One day, I was returning home when I saw a group of slightly older kids not far from my door. I didn't know them, but it was early in the day with the sun shining bright, so I paid little attention. As I entered the first door of our porch and pulled my keys out to open the electronic lock into the building, they ran in behind me, knocked the keys out of my hands and pulled out a bunch of strike-ball guns. With hoots and screams, they started shooting at me in this tiny space, and I was covering my face with one hand while trying to call for help through the intercom. They kept fucking with my free hand and trying to pry open my second arm to shoot in my face. I was afraid and angry, fighting back with my legs and receiving kicks and pellets back. It must have lasted less than a minute before some stranger came out of the door and scared them away, but it felt like hours for me.

This attack shook me. It was unjust, done by a group of people I didn't know for no reason other than their hunger for violence. They wanted to hurt a guy they didn't know purely out of a sadistic impulse. When I told this story to my father, he got so upset he decided that the time had come for me to get a security guy and learn how to defend myself. That's how I got my first security detail. My guard's name was Nick, who was in his late 20s. He worked as a driver in my father's bank, had some army background and lived in a small town almost 100km outside Moscow. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we would go to a shitty Soviet gym and practise ARB (a Soviet martial art). I got very good at roll landings and various flips but sucked at fighting. It didn't matter. From then on, I had a guy with me, so my chances of action dropped significantly.

By that age, I was a pro at corrupting my chaperones. My driver lied on my behalf constantly; my headmaster allowed me to skip whole subjects in exchange for representing our school at various competitions. My most prized achievement was my swimming coach, who would go out with me for a cigarette break halfway through practice. It took very little time and effort to corrupt Nick. For the next few years, he became my older mate, who was always around. We drank together, partied together and whored together like there was no tomorrow. When I got a bit older and started going out, I had to become his stylist so we would be allowed into nightclubs. 

At some point, my life got too intense for one person to be able to keep up, so Nick's friend Joe joined us on an alternating shift schedule. They each made around 800 USD per month, which was good money where they lived. Nick loved to show off, so he would go back to his hometown once a month, party like an animal for a few days, spend most of the money in one go and disappear for the rest of the month. Joe had a wife and a young son. He also had a gambling problem. Each time he got his salary, he would gamble it away the same day in the slot machines. Then, they would hide for the rest of the month, surviving on dumplings and instant ramen in the corporate flat close to our house, which we rented for them. They would borrow money from me at the end of the month to make ends meet and listen to my lectures on financial responsibility, only to repeat the cycle repeatedly. Nick and Joe were typical Tier 3 goons, eliminating only the most basic street-level threats.

Eventually, my father's firm grew enough for him to contract a new security firm. One of the things they offered was surveillance. He wanted to test it and couldn't come up with a target, so he chose me. The report I read a week later was the funniest glimpse into the life of a spoiled brat I had ever read. I hope one day I can somehow find that file again. "Subject arrived at university at 11 am, two hours after class started. At 11:15, subject walked out from uni with two girls, bummed a cigarette from his guard and went into a nearby restaurant. He ordered beer and was swearing loudly. The girls were laughing." That three-day surveillance window coincided with Halloween, so I raged all weekend, which was also caught in CORPO-speak. "Subject, dressed like a doctor with three nurses, went into a nightclub, leaving his security detail outside. After the club, they got into the car and stopped at a 24-hour store nearby. The subject walked out with a few bottles of champagne, shook and popped one open, hitting the surveillance vehicle with the plastic cork. Subject yelled "Fuck you" at the surveillance personnel, laughed and jumped into his car, which sped off into a near collision with a bus and a cement truck." This last sentence was what ended Nick's and Joe's careers. My father laughed at all the rest, but shitty driving skills and near death as a result was no joke to him.

In a couple of weeks, I got an upgraded Tier 2 team. The new guys were both ex-police special forces with deployments in Chechnya. The younger was a lieutenant, while the older was a full colonel. They carried guns, worked 2-2 shifts and eventually requested a third guy to have a 2-4 schedule, as I lived intensely with practically no sleep between studying, partying and working. They were keeping up stoically, being professionally rigid and trying to keep me in check. My father insisted on them keeping me company when travelling around Russia, but after a couple of runs to St. Petersburg with them, I gave up on internal tourism.

The only time I got in trouble with them was when I drunkenly ordered a colonel to beat up an afterparty door guy, who would not let us in as we had no money to pay the entrance fee — the next day, my father showed me his resignation letter, grilled me for acting both disrespectfully and like a peasant. I had little to disagree with. He sent me to seek forgiveness from the colonel, a deed that was way beyond my self-consciousness. This ordeal reminded me of a simple fact I'd forgotten. My security was actually my father's security, and with that memory refreshed, I quickly grew tired and resentful of them.

The colonel could not forgive me either, so soon enough, he was cycled out to a different department. The new guy who came to work with me got a nickname - Parktronic. I had just gotten my driving licence at that point, but I couldn't park for shit, so I would drive somewhere, drop the car in the middle of Arbat, in the asshole lane, and let him deal with the parking. He was a decent guy who had trouble expressing himself while agitated. I had my first fender-bender with him by my side. I dropped a cigarette in my lap while slowly rolling in a traffic jam, and as I hastily tried to pick it up, he started making random, excited noises. I thought he was emotionally involved in my struggle to save my Dolce & Gabbana jeans and the Range Rover leather, but he forgot the word "stop" and tried to get my attention to the road. About five seconds later, we bumped into an old S-class. A few weeks later, he was dropping me and my friend off at the airport, and he forgot to put the car in park mode before leaving to open the trunk. The vehicle rolled forward, and he ran after it. He jumped in and placed it in park exactly when the rear wheel rolled onto my friend's foot. My friend started shouting, and this guy panicked and couldn't understand what was happening. I had to get him out of the car to move it a bit to release my mate. That was Parktronic's last day of work. On return from that holiday, I convinced my father that I was perfectly safe and got rid of security altogether. I was left entirely alone for the first time in my life. It was a sweet couple of years, but they were now ending.

I am meeting my new security guy, Dimitri, for the first time — average height, average build, no marks or tattoos, aged between 30 and 50. He speaks quietly and politely rocks a square haircut. He is the kind of guy you'd instantly forget after looking at him. I feel uneasy about him, but I can't quite put my finger on it. There are no apparent signs, but I feel sure he is armed and dangerous. All my past security guys had nicknames. Nicknames that my friends gave them within days of their deployment. Nicknames that were fitting, that stuck. Somehow, I know that Dimitri will never get a nickname.

I just picked him up from their police unit, and we are headed to the office in my Porsche Cayenne. It's a beast of an SUV, the fastest first generation Cayenne in Moscow and the loudest. Looks absolutely stock, with small wheels and fat tires in cherry metallic. But boy, its looks are as deceptive as Dimitri's. It runs a quarter mile in the mid-12s, which is as fast as my Ferrari, and I can control it sideways like a race car. My tires were destroyed because of that, and today, I am caught off guard by the season’s first snow, which suddenly hits. We are speeding on Pyatnitskaya, approaching the Obvodny channel embankment. The traffic lights start blinking, and I floor the gas to make it through. As we are crossing the first embankment on yellow, it dawns on me that the lights on the other side of the short bridge are synchronised. The bridge has a steep crest, behind which I am now certain some cars have already stopped at the red light.

I press the brake, and nothing happens. My 2.5-ton pig of a car is sliding on all four wheels with no change in velocity. I notice the other embankment is starting to move on the green light, and I press my horn so that they hear what's coming and hopefully stop to give me space. As we fly over the crest, I see that three of four lanes in front of me are packed with cars stopped at the light, and the only lane open on the right has a nasty high stone bank next to it and is closest to the cars about to cross the embankment in front of us. Without conscious thought, I spin my steering wheel one way and then the other while braking, sending the car right first and sliding left sideways, aiming for the gap. I am still holding my honk, and the vehicles on the embankment notice me and stop. I realise I am going too wide and about to hit the stone wall, so I step on the gas, and my engine revs up loudly. I know there's fire shooting from the back of my exhaust. I clear the gap and slide out loudly with gunshot sounds of my engine hitting the rev limiter. I make a super wide arch around what I realise is a policeman standing in the middle of the wide tarmac field in his usual spot. He is so surprised by the stunt he is witnessing he just stands there with his mouth open and looks at my car. At last, I find a grip and swing back into the Bolotnaya square slightly sideways without letting go of gas.

I finally got the car right, made a couple of quiet turns, and hit a traffic jam in front of the Big Stone Bridge. I look at Dimitri. He is holding the handle over the window with an iron grip; he is pale, and his nostrils are flaring. He looks dead straight and doesn't say a word. I crank the window, light up a cigarette with shaky hands and laugh nervously. "I had it all under control, Dimitri, don't worry." He finally looks at me and pops a crooked half-smile. "I see", he says. His eyes are dead cold, and behind his mask, finally I catch what's so unnerving about the guy. He is not afraid of death but in a different way to myself. I am 21, and I feel immortal. Death has nothing to do with me, and no amount of dead friends can change that. I take risks because I am ultimately ignorant of the matter. He detests my ignorance at that moment because he knows precisely what death is. For a brief moment, I see a glimpse of how deep this man's knowledge of violence is. It is his craft, his profession, and it has left a mark on him. 

The significance of this change finally dawned on me. For the first time in my life, my father has hired someone whose job is not to protect me from myself but from an actual threat. On cue with this thought, we reach the apex of the Big Stone Bridge, and I see the Kremlin's crimson towers. I have just turned 21. I have a go-bag in the trunk and an armed mercenary by my side. I guess that's how it feels to become an adult in this damned town. I feel the anger rising, and I floor the accelerator once again. Whatever the future holds, let it fucking come.

Thank you for reading.

The demons possessing me demand I tell this story. I am but an obedient servant that hopes to escape their prison one day, hence why I am writing this book. Every comment you make here makes my daily punishment lighter, so please - be generous.

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