Part 36: Against the Clock
Chapter 36 - Against the Clock
Karasov had made his move, as soft as it may have been for a man of his reputation. By publicly arresting Rostislav Petrov, a respected and well-known priest in many influential circles, he threw the Novistranan Coalition's inner circle for a loop and cast fear into many of their supporters.
Operation "Liberate the People" was not only targeted against Prokofiev's lieutenants: it also expanded to a wide-reaching net throughout Novistrana that saw many arrested and imprisoned, with no way for the Coalition to help them until after the revolution had concluded. The arrests drove many into hiding as Karasov carefully leaked stories of police brutality and other atrocities in the jails, even if some were fabrications. The Coalition had no time to spare: they were racing against Karasov's Secret Police to rescue Petrov and prevent the arrest of another inner circle member...
* * *
Prokofiev had watched the news and caught glimpses of newspaper stands on the way to Lobachevsky Park, and they were not comforting. Secret policemen were arresting people left and right throughout Novistrana, from union leaders to businessmen, and Berezina was no exception. The Secret Police was targeting anyone that was considered a supporter of the Novistranan Coalition and enabled them in any way, shape or form.
He had stopped at local shop to meet with a contact that could pass along some bribery gifts for the police officers on duty, but when he entered the store, he had found it raided and empty. Prokofiev left, shaken. Karasov was working fast. How much did he know?
While in the district, Prokofiev dared to glance at the people he walked past. They all had their eyes cast downward, clearly afraid of making eye contact. The night seemed threatening and people scurried like mice, quickly walking to and fro. Soldiers on patrol seemed to be in a state of high alert, casually scanning left and right with their weapons ready to fire at a moment's notice.
This sort of surveillance and fear had not been present in a long time.
Unconsciously mimicking the other late-night citizens on the street, Prokofiev kept his head down and stopped for nothing until he had reached his destination: the police station of Lobachevsky Park. It appeared to be understaffed, as there were no cops on their beat around the street or even a single cop car parked on the road. Without delay Prokofiev marched straight inside.
The inside of the police station was just as deserted as the outside. A stocky, matronly-looking single officer sat at the front desk, monitoring the dispatcher and following activity on her radio. Prokofiev approached hesitantly, and the cop looked up, frowing at the interruption.
"Help you?" she asked, irritated.
"Umm... yes, I want to check the files for arrests made today," Prokofiev risked, thinking it was best he was just honest about it. If he failed, he could find another way.
"Haw haw haw haw!" the pudgy officer laughed heartily. "Arrests made today? Sonny, the files are a mess right now. Haven't you been following the news?"
"Y-yes, I have," Prokofiev replied. "Is there no way I can-"
"If you want to help us complete the filing, we'll pay you," the officer interrupted, still laughing. "We haven't had this many arrests in a long while. Hey, Victor! VICTOR ALEXANDROVICH! Come here now!"
Answering to the booming call, a thin, pale-faced man appeared behind the matriarch, his eyes wide but looking incredibly fatigued. Prokofiev guessed the man to be aged around seventy, but something in his step made him out to be around thirty or so. He looked like he suffered from a serious aging problem.
"What is it, Natalia?" the man asked in a quiet voice that quavered weakly like he looked. "I'm busy typing up the arrest records."
"This 'ere boy wants to check up on today's arrests," the female officer waved a large hand in Prokofiev's direction. "Be a dear and help him, won't you?"
"Very well, follow me, sir," the tired clerk called Prokofiev over, then looked at the woman's back. "You don't have to shout, you know."
"Only making sure you're still alive on me," Natalia said dismissively, returning to her work.
"You'll have to excuse my fellow officer, she's quite the boisterous one," Alexandrovich said, leading Prokofiev around mountains of paperwork and desks overflowing with memos and reports. "I thought she would have been more focused, especially today..."
"I don't want to keep you from your work," Prokofiev said, looking around at all of the files and dossiers stacked everywhere. He didn't envy the police, that was for sure. "I just want to check up on a particular arrest and move on."
"Who are you looking for?" sighed Alexandrovich, taking a seat at a desk that had fewer stacks than others. "It may take me a little time to dig up the papers."
"Rostislav Petrov," Prokofiev answered, and saw as Alexandrovich began digging through a filing cabinet. His spirits had been lifting: it seemed the police were way too worried with all the work than with asking for ID. However, when the filing clerk took out a folder, he paused. Prokofiev swallowed.
"Petrov was arrested by the Secret Police," Alexandrovich said, his big eyes turning to look over Prokofiev searchingly. "Who are you?"
Prokofiev was about to snatch the folder from Alexandrovich's hands and knock him out when the clerk just visibly slumped, defeated.
"Never mind, never mind," he said with a groan, handing the files to Prokofiev. "I don't care if you're Vasily Karasov or Alexei Konstantino or whatever. I just want to go to bed. I don't want more work to worry about."
"Uh... thanks," Prokofiev said, stunned. Had it been really that easy?
"Don't mention it. Just bring it back when you're done," Alexandrovich said, straining himself to get back to work. Prokofiev sat at a nearby table, quickly scanning through the files.
It seemed that Petrov had been just one of many planned arrests by the Secret Police dealing with the Coalition's inner circle. The file referred to Operation "Liberate the People", and when Prokofiev risked asking Alexandrovich for details, the clerk just handed him a memo and told him to let him get back to work. This operation, it seemed, was a mass arrest edict passed by Karasov himself. The series of arrests were intended to suppress all those that may have been involved with the embarrassment caused to Karasov. Namely, the national strike.
Flipping back through Petrov's files and comparing the memo to the priest's arrest documentations, he found a revelation that made his blood run cold: Tresori Vilnov was next on the Secret Police's arrest record, and they were going to raid his home the following night.
Prokofiev handed the files back to the clerk without saying a word, and quickly walked out of the police station before the female officer asked for any identification.
* * *
: I have bad news and worse news.
: God damn it. Let's have the good news first, Piotr.
: Well, the bad news is that Petrov is not the first man to be arrested, and he won't be the last, either. Karasov has already ordered the next man to be arrested.
: You, Tresori.
: What? Me?
: I think you've been a thorn in his side for far too long, and he's finally gotten the muscle to root you out, especially since you've been helping me. I know you managed to stay hidden for ten years, but believe me, after what I saw tonight out there, Karasov could find you in a day.
: ...So what do I do?
: They plan to raid your home by tomorrow night, but they could target you sooner. Go home tonight and get your important things out of there. I'll call you later tonight when you're packing with a safe house in mind, but you'll have to meet me in person so I can give you a few things.
: All right, my student... I never thought I would be the next on the list.
: You aren't the last, either.
: Those were the bad news? What are the worse ones!?
: The worse news is that Petrov's arrest is not the only one they are making with regards to the Coalition. The Secret Police has been sweeping the country for anyone in any way related to us. Chances are they're finding people who know about us and who could give us away.
: Fuck! What do we do?
: There's nothing we can do, Josef. Not yet. Right now, Tresori has to go into hiding, and the rest of you have to start looking for a new home. Do so discreetly, though. The army and the police are out in force. We have to act fast, though. We're racing against the clock, and we have no time to waste.
: Sir, can't we make them stop searching for us?
: That came to mind. If we can find out who's in charge of the arrests, I could try and convince them to let Petrov go and make them stop this witch hunt.
: Can I help in any way? I don't want to go to jail, but I don't want to keep Comrade Petrov there any longer, either.
: Here's the plan. Josef, you're far too high-profile to ask any questions, especially after the strike. Churnyeav, Nazerov, you two have experience remaining underground and asking around for things for your job, respectively. We are going to investigate the adjacent districts to Victory Square to root any information we can from them.
: Sir, I'll take the Pasternak Enterprise Park. I can push some of the more weak-willed guys to tell me the truth.
: Comrade, I have quite a few constituents in the Petropavlosk Estate. I'll look around there.
: Then that leaves me with the Gagarin Fields. Just as well: it's got quite a sizable union population for a wealthy district, and they can help me find some answers.
: What do I do?
: Josef, I want you to go back to your underground work of graffiti, or send out subtle men you trust to do canvassing in your name. I can't risk getting you jailed, too.
: *sigh* All right, Piotr.
: Hmm. The sooner I get into a safe house, the better. I'll be going now.
: Sir, this is war, now. I hope you know.
: I know, Boris. I know.
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-twenty-eighth Entry: 17/04/1996
My dear mentor Tresori is next to be arrested! I must do what I can to help him go underground... well, more underground than he is now, anyway. Considering how quickly the Secret Police is working, it would be foolish to keep him or any other of my men at headquarters, just on the off-chance Karasov stumbles upon it. It is impossible to move everyone's home or place them in safe houses in such a short time. Right now, I have to focus on keeping Tresori out of Karasov's cross-hairs and put a moratorium on any public appearances by my other lieutenants.
However, it's not enough to simply move people around. We cannot do it forever, and Karasov will eventually find us. If we can apply enough pressure on a certain chief in the Secret Police, then we may be able to persuade him to free Father Petrov and stop harassing us. I don't know what kind of pressure we could apply... but even a Secret Police officer can look the other way with a bribe.
My goal now is twofold: hide Tresori first, and investigate the areas around Victory Square. If we ask enough, we should get whispers as to who to target. Then, I can go about persuading them to let Petrov go.
* * *
The following night, Prokofiev was checking his watch nervously as he stood in front of the safe house he had prepared for Vilnov.
It was early in the night, but according to the files he had read yesterday, this would be the time Vilnov would have been arrested by the Secret Police. He looked around, but didn't catch sight of his mentor for the planned time. He waited, getting more anxious with each passing minute, until he finally saw the familiar silhouette of his old teacher.
"Tresori, what kept you?" Prokofiev asked in a hiss, leaning forward to keep his voice down. "I've been waiting for nearly ten minutes now!"
"I'm sorry, my student, I had to take care of a few loose ends," Vilnov answered, just as nervous. "There were people I needed to keep quiet about my plans."
"You couldn't do this earlier?"
"I was busy all day today doing exactly as you asked and getting my things in here," replied Vilnov, clearly upset. "Piotr, I'm sorry for being late, but this wouldn't have happened if you just did as I said!"
"I... Okay, okay, fine," Prokofiev said, dropping the subject. He didn't like to admit it, but Vilnov had been right. No, he also found it extremely frustrating. Prokofiev had jeopardized his movement because he wanted to celebrate before the revolution was over. No rest for the wicked, though.
"Don't worry, this was not your fault," Vilnov said, softer now, knowing Prokofiev well enough to read him. "I had not expected Karasov to act so rashly, myself. This is him lashing out, Piotr. We're getting to him."
"But we got one of our new recruits in jail!" protested Prokofiev.
"That couldn't be helped. Now all we can do is get him out while protecting ourselves," Vilnov said patiently. "I do not like being the next target or having to stay out of the loop for the next few days, but if it means giving Karasov's men the run-around, then I'll do it."
"All right," nodded Prokofiev, feeling a little better. "I managed to secure this building almost at the last minute. Thankfully, the people who rent it out are very good supporters of ours. Their daughter was jailed for trying to expand the Teacher's Union."
"He is a monster, and these people deserve peace of mind," Vilnov stated with glaring eyes. "We must succeed, Piotr, for all Novistranans."
"That we will, Tresori," Prokofiev replied, feeling his teacher's passion for justice emanating from the man. He deserved better than to be cooped into a safe house, but this was a necessity.
"Am I to be in here all the time?" asked Vilnov, looking at the house.
"No, Prokofiev said, taking out a small brown package. "I managed to make a disguise kit for you. You're well-known for your bald head. This contains a wig and some make-up to help you look younger."
At hearing this, Vilnov laughed. "I am quite proud of my head, Piotr..."
"Sometimes a little extreme makeover is needed when the heat is on," shrugged Prokofiev as Vilnov took the kit. "This should allow you to move unimpeded... but don't stray too far. You're not meant to be seen walking out here."
Prokofiev reached into his pocket, taking out a wad of bills. Vilnov's eyebrows went up quizzingly.
"This is to buy groceries, or to keep any snoopers away from the place," explained Prokofiev, handing Vilnov the roubles. "Use whatever you need and keep the rest."
"Where did you get all of this money?" Vilnov asked, looking over the bills before putting them in his pocket.
"Courtesy of Ekaterine and a few of our friends in Pugachev," answered Prokofiev with a grin. "That's all I could get on such short notice, though."
"Don't worry, I won't be buying any Atamans with this," Vilnov grinned. "Is there anything else I need to know?"
"Keep your head down, and for God's sake, wait for me to contact you before you get out of here," Prokofiev ordered, "I will contact you in code. You'll know it when you see it."
"I will, huh?"
"Yeah. Don't worry, like I said, you'll know it when you see it."
"All right, I trust you, Piotr."
"Glad to hear it, Tresori," grinned Prokofiev, shaking Vilnov's hand. "You're a brave man and an inspiration to many. I don't know what we'd do if we lost you."
"I'm getting up there in age, but I'll keep your words in mind," Vilnov said with a self-deprecating smile. "Now go, my student. I can take care of things from here."
Prokofiev left Vilnov, who turned around at the doorway to look at the neighborhood around him. Poltova Manor was Alexashenko's Army territory, but the President had been attacking it quite strongly recently. He'd need to keep out of trouble.
With that sigh of the elderly, Vilnov entered the building. "I'm getting too old for this."
* * *
: Ah, Mr. Barankov. I trust Miss Daneliya kept you polite company while I finished business here?
: She did, yes sir.
: Good. Now then, you said you had to see me urgently. What is it?
: Sir. Um, we couldn't find Tresori Vilnov, sir.
: Excuse me, I think I have a terrible ringing in my ear. What did you say?
: Sir! We couldn't find Tresori Vilnov...
: Are you telling me that you couldn't find a bald, wanted subversive with a tendency to fall ill and who was seen on national TV distributing leaflets to thousands of people?
: Sir, I-
: God damn it, Barankov! I put you in charge this operation, and gave you good men to do it with! Where is that fucking writer? Why is he not in jail right fucking now?
: Sir, he-
: Look into my eyes and tell me exactly how you managed to fuck this one up!
: Sir... Mr. Karasov... Tresori Vilnov had been taken away from his home, sir.
: You told me you found out where he lived yesterday afternoon! Why didn't you pick him up then?
: We had to prepare the paperwo-
: I don't give a shit about the paperwork, Barankov! I wanted him arrested and humiliated, and you're telling me you had to do things by the fucking book? Do you have any idea what you're making me look like?
: But sir, he wouldn't have known we were coming! Someone found out he was going to be arrested and moved him!
: How do you know that?
: Sir, his apartment looked like it had been raided, but not in our way, sir. I think he was warned.
: You "think"? I don't pay you to think, Barankov, I pay you to act! I made you the head of the Secret Police because you could find anyone and anything! And you let the big one slip away like a fucking imbecile!
: Sir, I'll redouble my efforts, sir! I'll let Goshnov know that we're directing more manpower to the Novistranan Coalition, sir!
: Do it! And do not fucking fail me again, do you hear me?
: Y-yes, sir!
* * *
"I was just asking you to help me!"
Nazerov stood rooted to the spot, phone in hand and listening intently to the voice on the other end.
"No, no, listen to me, listen to-" But before he could continue, Nazerov ended getting a dial tone. He put his phone away calmly, then erupted. "Fucking hell! What is the matter with people nowadays?"
He began to walk towards the tenements across the street, feeling like crap for having spent the entire morning asking questions and getting nowhere.
Prokofiev and Churnyeav had called in earlier to tell him they had found nothing, either. The two had no better luck than he had, but were expecting that a politician like him could find answers. Sadly, he could not, and that made him very frustatred like he had been back in the steel mills. He didn't like the feeling of it.
He stopped at the intersection, mulling over his work and their objectives. They had managed to hide Vilnov, yes, but how long could they keep up this game of cat and mouse? Looking up and sighing, he was just about ready to call it quits when a woman suddenly slid up next to him, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and looking a little like a detective. She looked up at him coyly.
"Can I, uh, help you with something?" Nazerov asked, flattered by the attention of the woman. She looked down again, only a sly smile peeking out from the rim of her hat.
"A little bird told me you're trying to find a certain Secret Police Chief, aren't you?"
Nazerov was stunned for a moment, incredulous at the question. "How did you-"
"A man named Samael Goshnov is who you should be looking after," the woman continued, still smiling and looking down like a monk. "He can become quite pliant when large amounts of money are placed in his hands."
"Samael Goshnov?" Nazerov repeated, confused. "Who are you?"
"Here, take this," the woman said by way of an answer, handing the puzzled Nazerov a folder. "Give it to Prokofiev and he'll know what to do."
Nazerov opened the file and began to look over it, and what he found amazed him. There was a photo, documents pertaining to his arrest record, a dossier on his abilities... everything was precise and meticulous. Nazerov began asking, "Where did you-"
But his words died away when he looked up and saw that the woman was gone. He looked around, but there was no trace of her anywhere. He looked down again at the folder, and reached for his phone, dialing a number.
"Prokofiev?" he said as the revolutionary picked up. "I think I got something."
* * *
Novistranan Coalition Dossier - Samael Goshnov: Police
Goshnov is a high-ranking officer in the Secret Police. Dazzlingly intelligent and hugely charismatic, his boyish good looks attract a fair amount of attention from the ladies.
* * *
Prokofiev struggled to carry the heavy briefcase he had with him. He was by no means weak, but it had been a while since he had lugged around something this heavy for any period of time.
He had managed, through the mysterious gift Nazerov had received, to get in direct contact with Samael Goshnov of the Secret Police. The two men agreed to meet at a bench in Victory Square to conduct a little trade off the books. Goshnov at first was reluctant and even paranoid about having his private number leaked, but eventually was won over by the promise of a sweet deal. Moreover, he could always just order a sniper to keep things in order in case anything went bad.
Prokofiev was immensely worried by Nazerov's description of the woman and how she had just handed him the dossier on Goshnov. She was probably the same one who had gifted him the headquarters. Was the West trying to manipulate their revolution in any more ways than this? They certainly had helped them hide, and now to find out who to talk to, but were they controlling them in any other way?
He couldn't keep himself worried about this any more, though. He had already been paranoid enough with Karasov breathing down his neck, and he'd spent the entire drive and walk over to Victory Square simultaneously worrying about getting arrested or shot by one of Goshnov's men, whether the CIA or whatever was watching, and whether Vilnov and Petrov were safe. Now, he had to get into his best behavior to convince Goshnov to let the Novistranan Coalition be.
A man was already sitting at the planned meeting bench, and when Prokofiev got closer, he recognized him as Goshnov. When he approached, Goshnov made no move to get up, clearly enjoying having the upper hand. Hopefully things would change during the conversation.
Prokofiev slid the briefcase next to the free side of the bench as he took a seat. The two men said nothing to each other for a bit.
"So, you're Piotr Prokofiev of the Novistranan Coalition," Goshnov finally said, turning to look at Prokofiev.
"Samael Goshnov, I presume?"
"Yep," Goshnov said, looking forward again. "Tell me exactly how you got my number."
"I wouldn't know, myself," Prokofiev replied, and quickly decided to deflect the attention to the briefcase next to him. "I called you here to discuss a little bit of business. Completely confidential, of course."
"Clearly," Goshnov said, peering around Prokofiev to take a look at the briefcase. His expression remained professional and emotionless. "And what kind of business are we discussing tonight?"
"The word is that you can be a very... amicable person when someone makes a suitable gift to you. Hold on," Prokofiev added, putting his hand up to interrupt Goshnov before he could speak, "I'm just saying... I've prepared a nice gift to give to a friend."
"A friend, hm?" Goshnov said, interested and letting a little greed shine through his professional visage. "And would you consider me your... friend?"
"Good friends always deserve a nice gift," smiled Prokofiev knowingly, "but friends have to do favors to their friends in return."
"Of course, don't we all?" Goshnov said lightheartedly, returning a smile at last. "What could a friend like me do for you?"
"You're one of the Secret Police chiefs, aren't you?" asked Prokofiev. "You arrested Rostislav Petrov, a priest?"
"Yes, I did, and I oversaw that one personally," replied Goshnov, unapologetic. "He was the first to go."
"I also assume that you're in charge of tracking members of the Novistranan Coalition down?"
"I am," Goshnov admitted, then frowned again. "I was put into this mission by Vasily Karasov himself, in person."
"Then there's quite a bit of danger for you helping me," Prokofiev said, scratching his head.
"That's right," replied Goshnov, looking down at the ground. "Any, ah, gift, would have to be quite sufficient to cover any... costs."
"Well, good, because this covers it, and then some," replied Prokofiev, patting the briefcase at his side.
"How much?" Goshnov asked, eying the large briefcase from the corner of his eyes and now entirely willing to hear Prokofiev out.
"Enough to cover Petrov being released from jail... and for you to stop looking into our faction's affairs."
"That's not gonna be cheap," smiled Goshnov greedily, rubbing his hands. "Let me see it."
Without hesitation, Prokofiev took the briefcase and opened it, showing it off to the police chief. Goshnov practically drooled at seeing all those stacks of money, crisp roubles and even American dollars lining the entire briefcase. Every inch of it was perfectly fitted with money. He tried to do a mental calculation, but he figured there was at least NR250000 in there. Where did revolutionaries like this get that sort of money?
"Will it do?" Prokofiev asked, snapping the briefcase shut and putting it back at his side.
"Oh, it will do very, very nicely," Goshnov replied genially, thinking about everything he could buy with the contents of that briefcase. "I think we have ourselves a deal... friend."
Prokofiev shook Goshnov's gloved hand firmly, two partners with a concluded business transaction. Prokofiev got up and stretched, glancing at his watch and leaving the briefcase behind.
"Don't forget, Petrov goes free, and you stop looking into the Novistranan Coalition," Prokofiev said to Goshnov, but facing away from him and looking up from his watch.
"I know the deal, Prokofiev. Give me until tomorrow afternoon to get everything in order," Goshnov replied, also looking away. "He'll be ready for pick-up at noon."
"Then goodbye, Goshnov. Nice doing business with you."
Prokofiev walked off as Goshnov slid over the seats and picked up the briefcase. Man, it was heavy! If it really all just bricks of cash, then he would do exactly as he was asked. Karasov was fierce, but Goshnov enjoyed the finer things in life... and none of them involved Karasov in any way.
As the two men walked away, Prokofiev stopped for a moment to take out a phone. He dialed straight to the headquarters.
"Josef? Let Churnyeav and Nazerov know Petrov goes free tomorrow afternoon. Book me a limo to pick him up with. Oh, and we won't get any more trouble from the Secret Police, either."
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-thirty-first Entry: 18/04/1996
My arguments seem to have convinced Goshnov. The huge briefcase full of money I gave him probably helped too.
Goshnov not only told me that he is arranging for Rostislav Petrov to be released tomorrow afternoon, but also that he will stop any further investigation on our faction. He needs the morning to prepare the necessary paperwork, as well as to freeze arrests or scouting in the areas my lieutenants live in.
This is a huge load off of my shoulders, and for the rest of my men, as well. I told the others of Goshnov's promises, but only Nazerov seemed to take him at his word. Nasarov and Churnyeav, being closer to the workers like myself, were cautious and pessimistic, but if there is one thing I learned in these past two months, it's that people tend to be very loyal when a large amount of money changes hands. I know Lavanov would be proud of me right now, the greedy bastard.
Still, everyone is in high spirits now that we've contacted Goshnov successfully and managed to hide Tresori from the Secret Police. I must make arrangements to pick up Petrov and make his homecoming as welcoming as possible. If I manage to bring him back and Goshnov remains true to his word about stopping the investigation on us, then we'll be ready to take Vilnov out of the safe house and resume our revolution...