Part 16: Political Exposure
Chapter 16: Political Exposure
Piotr Prokofiev exposed Feydor Stepanov's and Leonid Karyakin's secrets to the media during the committee's deliberation over the three chosen mayoral candidates. The committee, shocked by the finds, removed both from their ballots, effectively leaving only Grigorii Antonov in place to take the position of Mayor of Pugachev. Prokofiev told Antonov that he knew his secret, but was keeping it under wraps as long as Antonov was friendly to the Novistranan Coalition's cause.
The new mayor readily agreed, promising that as his first mayoral move the charity trust would take place with full fanfare and media attention. However, before that could happen, Antonov asked Prokofiev to give a rally in front of City Hall to leave a solid impression in the minds of the committee and vote him in swiftly...
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Sixty-fourth Entry: 18/03/1996
It seems that the choice for mayor had been made from me all along. The political situation here in Pugachev is unstable and the real authority in Novistrana comes from the police and the military. Josef and Churnyeav were right when they said that having a retired, respected cop in City Hall would mean getting the police on our side: considering that the previous mayor was trying to sabotage us using the law, turning the law back on our opponents makes sense. Grigorii Antonov must be made our puppet.
I cannot forgive what Antonov has done, but if I must make my movement a reality, I may someday have to cover up a murder of my own. I cannot believe I just wrote that. Perhaps Pugachev is changing me for the worst, my idealism quickly being replaced by a cynical compromiser. And yet... Karasov will not hesitate to murder again. He has no ethical or legal boundaries to his power, or in his desire to remain a tyrant. If I must, then I shall have to yield the tools of power in any way I can. After all, those with the will survive...
But part of me thinks that this way of thinking may spell disaster for us. Josef and Father Baturin's ways have been just as legitimate as my own, playing to the people's desire for change in a peaceful manner rather than in giving them weapons and throwing them at the government, as Churnyeav would wish it. Could a voice for all Novistranans be my own? Is justice for the people more important than survival? These questions plague me as I move with the very bourgeoisie I have spent the last ten years avoiding.
I cannot turn back now, though. Grigorii Antonov is going to be mayor, so I must expose Karyakin and Stepanov tonight and tomorrow morning. Lavanov's friends at the Pugachev Post should be able to throw on the proper level of media frenzy that the mayoral committee will feast on.
* * *
: So what's the verdict, Mr. Prokofiev?
: We're going with Grigorii Antonov.
: Excellent choice, sir.
: Bah! Whatever, we'll get something for our trouble anyway.
: I pray that he one day repents for what he has done.
: OK, Piotr. I'm not happy to support him, but we'll do what we have to.
: Lavanov, you've got friends with the Pugachev Post. I need you to prepare a team of reporters to visit Stepanov's and Karyakin's homes tonight and tomorrow morning. We're going to drop the evidence off with your men and let them ambush the two candidates at their homes.
: That's below the belt, sir...
: That's the way we do it in the biz, jarhead! Trap 'em in a corner and let them throw out whatever comes to their minds first.
: Oh, and what would that be, punk?
: Often, nothing! The truth can be a pretty big club to swing at them. You can actually see the gears in their heads turning in the vain hope of finding some plausible lie to throw out! It's hilarious.
: Whatever, Lavanov. Can you get us a set of journalists or not?
: Oh yes, taskmaster. Leave it all up to your old comrade Lavanov. Here, take my work number. When you see Stepanov and Karyakin roaming around in their homes, just call me and I'll let my vultures do the rest.
: While I don't like your tactics, I can't say they're innocent men.
: Don't worry, Father. They've brought it on themselves.
: Thank you for your input, everyone. All right Lavanov, gather your men. They're going to be publishing a double exposé for tomorrow's afternoon papers.
* * *
Prokofiev reached for his cell phone and began dialing Lavanov's number. He had been following Stepanov after he left his galleries for the night and was now outside Stepanov's home in the Mir Estate. The forger had barely closed the door behind him when Prokofiev made his move.
"Yeah, Lavanov?" Prokofiev asked after the satirist picked up the line. "Send in your men."
"Sounding a bit like that jarhead Churnyeav, aren't we?" joked the satirist.
"Stepanov just got home," Prokofiev said impatiently. "I want to see him out here and eaten alive."
"Oh, you'll love this feeding frenzy," Lavanov chuckled. "Hold tight. My guys are already on their way."
"Thanks," Prokofiev said, hanging up.
Prokofiev put the phone away and leaned against a nearby lamppost. A minute later, a van stopped down the street and a group of reporters leaped out. They all mobbed in front of Stepanov's house as Prokofiev watched appreciatively.
"Mr. Stepanov! Mr. Stepanov!" the reporters began to shout after they got their equipment ready. "Care to say a few words for the Post? Mr. Stepanov!"
The reporters continued to shout and scream, taking photos of the home and drawing in a curious audience from the street.
Soon enough the man himself exited the house, still wearing his work clothes. The bulbs on the cameras began to flash madly, and Stepanov's eyes widened in fear. What did the press want?
"Mr. Stepanov! Can you tell us about the allegations that you're a forger?" one of the reporters shouted.
"Oh shit," whispered the forger, walking forward as if hypnotized to the reporters instead of running back to his house and locking the door. "Shit, shit, shit!"
"Is it true?" one of the reporters asked, shoving a microphone right into the artist's face. "How will this affect your running for mayor?"
"I-I have no idea w-where you got this ridiculous idea from!" Stepanov stammered to that reporter, but before he could continue further a second journalist stepped in with a notepad.
"Franklin DeMott admitted that you run a forging operation in the back of your galleries. Is that true?"
"DeMott? What?" Stepanov began dumbly, then shook his head clear of the dizzying flashes of the cameras and began to try damage control. "D-DeMott is a troubled young man, h-he has no idea what he's talking about, and he doesn't-"
"What about the photos he took?" a third reporter interrupted, shoving a copy of the photos in front of the mayoral candidate.
"T-those are elaborate fakes! Really!" pleaded Stepanov, his mind racing and panicked. "I don't have any such operation in the back of my gallery..."
"But he has signed a confession and is willing to admit it to the police and the press," the third reporter replied, now holding up a copy of Lavanov's form. "He even admits he was taking part in the forging."
"I... I..." Stepanov stammered again, unable to form a sentence. Another flurry of camera flashes blurred his vision. "I... I haven't done anything..."
"We've already heard that the committee has gotten this same evidence," a fourth reporter stepped in. "They are also reviewing the evidence. How do you think this affects your chances to become mayor?"
"I... No comment, no comment!" Stepanov broke suddenly, turning around and walking back inside his home as calmly as he could, followed by more shouts and questions from the reporters and the bright bulbs of cameras.
"Mr. Stepanov! Wait, Mr. Stepanov!" they called vainly, but already the businessman had closed and locked the door behind him.
"Oh well, show's over, guys," one of the reporters said to his friends. "Get yourselves a nap and get ready to jump on Karyakin's house tomorrow."
"This is a great scoop!" a young reporter babbled excitedly as they began to walk away. "Who found all of this?"
"It was Lavanov," his older mentor said. "That goddamn funny-man finds everything."
Prokofiev chuckled. Once again, he had to hand it to the satirist: he knew what he was doing.
* * *
A few birds chirped in the rays of the early morning in the Udalsova Precinct. Prokofiev allowed himself to take a deep breath, then laughed in self-satisfaction as he took out his phone and called up Lavanov once again. By his timing, the priest was just getting ready to leave home for the day.
"Lavanov," Prokofiev said when the dial tone broke off, "you know what to do."
"You got it, taskmaster," Lavanov replied before hanging up.
Prokofiev put away the phone, watching the reporters in the van nearby leap out like a pack of rabid dogs who had just smelled fresh meat. For a fleeting moment, Prokofiev thought he saw a mad hunger in their eyes beyond just wanting to expose the sordid truth. They were actually looking forward to do as much damage as possible.
The revolutionary saw no problem with that.
Just as Karyakin opened the door, wishing farewell to his wife and children, the reporters swarmed him with questions and camera flashes.
"Mr. Karyakin! Mr. Karyakin! Can we have a moment of your time?" they shouted, startling the priest. From his home's window, his wife and children watched, curious as to the reason of the noise.
"Y-yes? What can I do for you?" Karyakin asked the reporters, walking up to them as they continued to snap photos. He figured they were here to interview him about his chances, or to give a few words regarding his latest sermon, or maybe-
"Mr. Karyakin, what do you say to these accusations of adultery with a local prostitute?" shouted one of the reporters, shattering his dream-state. He felt his testicles shrink into his belly and his throat dry.
"E-excuse me?" Karyakin asked, dazed. "H-how did you know-"
"So it is true!" the same reporter shouted, startling Karyakin and driving the priest into full panic. "We received photos of you going around and visiting a regular girl from Madam Rose's, a certain 'Miss Meow', is that right?"
"T-that's..." the priest gulped, going red in the face and opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish. Inside the house, Mrs. Karyakin shielded her children's ears and pulled them away from the window, tears welling in her eyes.
"Why did you sleep with Miss Meow, Mr. Karyakin?" pushed another reporter, glee lighting up his face. "What did you make her do with you?"
"Or what did you do for her?" asked another, shoving his microphone forward.
"I've... enough!" snapped Karyakin, beginning to wheel around and march back inside before he flew into a rage.
"What about the accusations that you've been forging Biblical manuscripts and selling them on the black market?" the first reporter shouted at Karyakin's back. The priest stopped at his door and turned around again, pale as a ghost.
"Is it true? Is it true?" pushed the younger reporter.
Shaking his head in disbelief and with his mouth hanging open, Karyakin bumped against the closed door behind him. He rapidly opened it, jumped inside, and locked the door.
"Where did you hear that one?" asked the younger reporter of his mentor.
"Rumor began circulating the Post last night, people thought he was into the forging business with Stepanov," the older reporter clued in as they walked away and entered their van. "Lavanov told us about it. Still, did you see his face? Hell, both of the accusations must be true! Print up both!"
Prokofiev stood where he was, his mind racing. He suddenly frowned and reached for his cell phone, dialing Lavanov's number.
"You listen to me, you gutless fuck," snapped Prokofiev when Lavanov picked up. "Get your sorry ass to headquarters before I let Churnyeav make mincemeat out of you."
Before Lavanov could reply, Prokofiev had hung up and was already stuffing the cell phone in his jacket.
* * *
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Prokofiev demanded, shoving Lavanov onto a chair.
"Hey, what did I do now?" demanded the satirist, getting off the chair and pressing the afternoon edition of the Pugachev Post into Prokofiev's hands. "Isn't this stuff on the front page good enough?"
"Karyakin did not go around forging manuscripts, you piece of shit!" Prokofiev shouted, throwing the papers aside. "He was cheating on his wife!"
"Oh please, Prokofiev, did you really think that just a little adultery would send Karyakin out of the race?" Lavanov asked, rolling his eyes.
"He's a fucking priest!" Prokofiev exclaimed, punching the table. "He's supposed to be pure and perfect in everything! The hypocrisy alone would have done it!"
"Wrong, taskmaster," Lavanov said coolly. "This is Pugachev, remember? Almost everyone in power here has a regular in the brothels."
"Bullshit! You did not need to do that!"
"So what? What do you think he's going to say to the committee?" Lavanov put on a pathetic, mewling face. "'Oh, I didn't forge those manuscripts, but I did have sex out of wedlock'! Give me a break. Hey what the fu-"
Prokofiev had moved forward and picked up Lavanov off the ground by his jacket, roughly shoving him against the wall. The slam caused rest of the inner circle to finally see what was going on.
"Listen to me, you rich little piece of shit," hissed the revolutionary, enraged. "I do not pay you to disobey me, especially not when we're in the middle of a political maneuver!"
Lavanov squirmed against the firm grip, his feet trying to touch the ground in vain. "P-put me down, damn it!"
"Mr. Prokofiev, stop!" Baturin shouted, horrified. "What's going on?"
"This bastard's pinned another crime on Karyakin!" answered Prokofiev, still staring into Lavanov's eyes.
"I knew it!" growled Churnyeav, cracking his knuckles. "He's trying to sabotage us! Let me at him!"
"Wait, hold on a sec, Piotr! Put him down!" Nasarov stepped forward, placing a strong hand on Prokofiev's shoulder.
"Mr. Prokofiev, please!"
After a few tense seconds, Prokofiev roughly dropped Lavanov to the ground. Baturin ran forward to see if he was all right.
"You listen to me, Lavanov, and listen good," Prokofiev said with angry breaths. "I don't care if you act smart and play the intelligent know-it-all. I don't care if you go spinning up lies to attack the Red Mafiya or the other factions. I don't care how you do your job. But I do care when you put our movement in jeopardy, understand? I care when you try to spin up a bigger lie and make our efforts backfire. I care when you disobey a direct order! Do you understand me?"
Lavanov coughed weakly, staring up at Prokofiev. "Y-yes..."
"I can't hear the maggot!" Churnyeav said, a desire to beat the satirist in his voice. "Can I beat it out of him?"
"Yes, I hear you!" Lavanov said angrily to the soldier.
"Get your ass up and go back to work," Prokofiev growled, helping Lavanov to his feet. "If I catch you doing this shit again, I am going to rip you in half!"
"Try it," Lavanov said, still cool. "Touch me again like that and I'll move on on my own, taking everything I've learned with me."
"You snake," hissed Churnyeav. "How dare you?"
"Make no mistake, you pay well, but I did not sign up to be tossed around like a rag doll," sneered the satirist, brushing off his jacket. "I'll do as you ask without any extra touches, but do that again and you will be sorry."
"Fine," Prokofiev snarled. "Now get out of my face." Lavanov walked to his room nonchalantly and locked the door behind him.
"Did you have to do that?" Baturin asked, finally losing his patience with the visionary. "He didn't need to be thrown up against the wall!"
"Yes he did, Father," disagreed Prokofiev. "I know Karyakin deserved what he got, but the way Lavanov handled it, we would probably have fucked up our entire plan."
"Calm down, Piotr," Nasarov said, trying to bring his friend back to normal. "From what Lavanov said, he may have had a point."
Prokofiev whirled on his friend. "Josef, don't try to defend him!"
"Yeah, Nasarov!" agreed Churnyeav, then turned to Prokofiev. "Sir, can I go and give Lavanov a once-over, please?"
"No, Churnyeav," Prokofiev replied, pinching the bridge of his nose and frowning heavily, trying to calm down. "He's learned his lesson. But next time, yes, you're going to jump him."
"What do we do about Lavanov?" asked Nasarov cautiously.
"Leave him doing what he does and keep his next paycheck ready," Prokofiev replied after a few moments. "If we're going to keep him around us, then we should keep our end of the bargain, as much as I hate it."
"All right, Piotr."
"Well..." ventured Baturin, "I guess we can put Antonov on the mayor's seat, now..."
"I'll go speak to him now. I'll call and let you know what's going on," Prokofiev said. "Make sure Lavanov doesn't try to run out of here."
"You got it, sir," Churnyeav replied loyally, saluting. Baturin just shook his head and Nasarov grumbled. Prokofiev left the headquarters, trying to calm down.
"Hmph," Prokofiev muttered to himself thoughtfully as he hailed a cab to reach Antonov's café. "He's got brains and guts, but can't think ahead to save his life."
Nasarov, looking at Lavanov's room back in headquarters, frowned thoughtfully. "At least he was doing what he could to really kick Karyakin off of the race."
"The faithful would abandon him quickly," disagreed Baturin. "I do not like taking the path of lies."
"We need to do what we can, Father," Nasarov said, moving back to his room. "United we are strong."
"Hmm..." Baturin hummed. "I wonder about that sometimes..."
* * *
: Ah, Mr. Prokofiev, I'm happy you could make it. Please, take a seat.
: Thank you, Mr. Antonov.
: So, I hear that you were the one that got that forger and the priest out of the race.
: That's right. I found their... reasons for trying to keep quiet.
: Ah hah. Well, I think that-
: I also found your reason, Mr. Antonov.
: Here's the deal, comrade. You're all but assured to make it to the mayor's chair. I'm happy to let you go ahead and take it for yourself.
: ...And what do you want in return?
: I want you to help the Novistranan Coalition. We're going to take over Pugachev, with or without your help. However, if we're going to eventually move on to Berezina, I would need a friend in City Hall.
: Berezina? Are you thinking of...?
: Yes. We're targeting Karasov.
: You're crazy!
: The Red Mafiya, the Konstantino Cartel, and Organized Anarchy are all swarming around Pugachev like pests. This city's in ruins, but nobody knows it yet. Give me and my men a chance to make it better for everyone, and you'll reap all the benefits.
: So you want me to be your friend?
: That's right. We're holding a charity trust soon, and we're going to need all the help we can get. We would also appreciate a little help against the other factions, you see...
: ...All right, Mr. Prokofiev. I'll do what I can to help you and your cause.
: Good, comrade. Rest assured, you'll never need to worry about what you've done, ever again.
: I... thank you.
: I know there are smaller candidates nipping at your feet and trying the committee's favor.
: Yes. Look, if it gets out that you've been poking around Stepanov's or Karyakin's personal lives, my public image is going to suffer. I suggest you do something to show support for my candidacy and take people's attention away from those other two.
: Hmm... I've got an idea. How would a large rally outside City Hall sound?
: That's perfect. It's big, it's flashy, and it causes a huge impact. Do it!
: I'll organize it right away. I've got other things to handle.
: All right. Is there anything I can do?
: Yes. Get some of the committee members to pay attention to the courtyard today.
*Prokofiev takes out a phone, dials a number.*
: Josef? Get our other comrades together and put out the word: I'm holding a rally outside City Hall. Send whoever we can there, got it? All right.
*Prokofiev hangs up.*
: So the rally will take place?
: Yes. Thank you for your time, Mr. Antonov. I will be waiting for your help once you're elected.
: Of course, of course...
* * *
The Novistranan National Archive - Video of Piotr Prokofiev's Pugachev Mayoral Support Rally: 19/03/1996
*Footage of Piotr Prokofiev walking to the City Hall's courtyard where an excited crowd awaits.*
"U-nion! U-nion! U-nion!"
*Prokofiev's approach sets off the crowd, he waves to them as he takes the podium.*
"My friends, my comrades, my fellow Novistranans of Pugachev!"
*The crowd cheers wildly, waving placards.*
"Today, I am not here to tell you how we shall overcome our oppressors or march to Berezina with cries for revolution. Today, I am not here to win your support or convince you of our shared cause."
"No, today I am here to prove to the skeptics, to those that call us anarchists and outlaws, that the Novistranan Coalition is more than a faction! Today I am here to prove we respect Novistrana's laws of democracy, freedom, and liberty! Today, I am here to voice my support for Grigorii Antonov, a candidate running for Mayor of Pugachev!
"This city mourns the death of Mayor Luzhkov, despite his many faults. He was a man trapped in the game of corruption and crime, and the city was dragged down with him when he attempted to play the game of mafias and underground gangs. But now, today, I am here to tell you, and to everyone in City Hall, that the Coalition has said 'enough' to dirty politics and to black secrets!"
*The crowd cheers.*
"Grigorii Antonov is a respected policeman and detective who has retired with full honors and a clean record. While loyal to Karasov, he was loyal because it was in his nature and because he wished to serve the city of Pugachev, not because of the whims of a dictator! Comrade Antonov is many things, but here is what he is not!"
"He is not a man who forges great works of art and fleeces the bourgeois rich of this country, bilking them for all they are worth in a show of greed! He is not a man that brings disrepute to museums and to the memories of our great Novistranan masters of art!"
*The crowd boos.*
"Antonov is not a man who preaches morality and family values to turn people to God, while at the same time reneging on those values to commit adultery with a prostitute! He is not a man that holds a standard for others while committing hypocrisy and ignoring those standards for himself!"
*The crowd boos.*
"Comrade Antonov has no secrets and no reasons to hide from the truth! He deserves the mayor's chair for his loyalty, his honesty, and his commitment to serve and protect the people of Pugachev! He understands the need to help the poor with our charity trust!"
*The crowd cheers.*
"While Pugachev does not have a system of free elections for the people to choose their leaders, it does have a committee in charge of such matters. I urge the members of this committee to listen to me and to consider what I have said! Ignore my plans and ideals of revolution, ignore my desire to march onto Berezina! Instead, listen to my words and realize that what I say is true! Grigorii Antonov, and no other man, deserves to be mayor of Pugachev! He is the one that the people deserve, and the one that will make Pugachev a great city once more! Thank you!"
*The crowd cheers wildly as Prokofiev waves goodbye and steps off the podium.*
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Sixty-fifth Entry: 19/03/1996
The rally was a great success. I heard that members of the committee were watching from the crowd and from the windows up in City Hall, and according to Antonov, we've done him a great favor. He says he can't wait to repay us, and that because of our support, he's the favorite of the committee to win. He was smart not to talk about our shared little secret in his memo to me.
As for that moron Lavanov... I knew he'd cause trouble sooner or later. He's already back to his old self, pretending nothing happened. I guess I'm not the first one that reprimanded him, but he probably won't run out on us or pull any of that shit anymore. He has simple pleasures, so I just have to treat him a little bit like a dog: if I continue to reward him for his proper work, he won't have any reason to abandon us.
* * *
We got a bug, that while in gameplay terms means nothing, it certainly shows Elixir Studios didn't proofread their docs. Karyakin's "crime" that you discover in your investigations doesn't match the newspaper headlines. Good thing we have Lavanov to twist the narrative.