Part 39: Strange Bedfellows
Chapter 39 - Strange Bedfellows
Having decided to pursue destroying the Konstantino Cartel for ideological (and logical) reasons, the Novistranan Coalition had found a strong voice in Josef Nasarov's public criticism and Vladislav Korolev's whistle-blowing facts. Konstantino's faction was nearly broken in Berezina, but the man himself felt little threat as his business connections were above what he considered to be petty politics.
What it would take to bring him down to earth would be to remove one of his right hand men in a show of ideological betrayal. Piotr Prokofiev had been having trouble handling Rostislav Petrov after taking him out of the Secret Police jails, and while he didn't remove the priest from his inner circle out of malice, Prokofiev was finding it harder to control him due to his overbearing religious presence. It was setting everyone on edge, and it was best to send Petrov back to fighting corruption on his own. However, this would have some unintended consequences.
With Petrov gone, Prokofiev targeted the secretive businessman Vikenti Anisimov and sought to bring down Konstantino once and for all. However, Vasily Karasov was still watching and acting to maintain whatever power he could...
* * *
Piotr Prokofiev's Diary - Hundred-thirty-fifth Entry: 20/04/1996
After some thought and poring over the dossiers we've collected on Konstantino's lieutenants, I think it would be prudent to chase after Vikenti Anisimov. The parts about him being secretive and a member of a secret society worry me, seeing as he may have mixed loyalties and a conflict of interest. Still, if we're going to be taking over the Novistranan Stock Exchange, it would be prudent having a man who knows he ins and outs of business doing our bidding for the revolution, especially one that can take out Konstantino.
I've had it with Father Petrov, at any rate. The man is just not going to work out for us in the long run. His interests lie with the Church and the Church alone, and he's starting to rile up the others. I really don't want Boris to flip out on us like he did with Lavanov back in Pugachev, especially not now that he's got his own Alpha Squad to order around. Petrov has to go his own way, and Anisimov, wealthy bourgeois enabler he may be, would be a suitable addition to our cause with a little preemptive control.
I think a bribe or persuasion is out of the question with Anisimov. He's too wealthy to care for a new deal, and thinks far too highly of money to worry about the plight of the common people. This time, I will have to rely on my knowledge of his secret society and blackmail him into supporting us. It may be a touch extreme and won't engender any loyalty, but by this point I'm past caring. He is the key to breaking apart Konstantino's empire, and he will serve us as long as I know of his secret connections.
* * *
"Father Petrov, everyone, I need to speak with you," Prokofiev called out as he exited his personal office, entering the work area of their headquarters. It was still early in the morning, but they had all shown up roughly at the same time after going home the night before. Tresori Vilnov was scheduled to return sometime before noon, and Prokofiev wanted to deal with Petrov before hearing any admonishments from his mentor.
"Yes, Brother?" prompted Petrov, standing at attention and setting his Bible aside.
"Father, I never like doing this," began Prokofiev, "but it's time for you and the Coalition to go their separate ways."
"Wait, what? Hold on a second, Mr. Prokofiev!" interrupted Maxim Nazerov, stepping up to Prokofiev. "Comrade Petrov has been nothing but loyal for us throughout, and he's been a great help throughout our struggle!"
"Yeah, Piotr, this is kind of out from left field," admitted Josef Nasarov, dismissing one of his union men and walking to his blood brother.
"I know, I know," said Prokofiev, raising his hands up, "but I've been doing a lot of thinking, and if we're going to take out Konstantino and take over the Stock Exchange, we'll need one of Konstantino's men with knowledge of the system on our side."
"We can learn it!" protested Petrov hotly. "I do not like relying on material wealth to free the people, but you've made the decision and we'll follow through with it!"
Prokofiev shook his head. "That's not the only reason why I'm dismissing you, Father," he lamented. "Look, you're a great man with good intentions for rooting out corruption in the Church, and your influence on the people is envious. However..."
"However what, Brother?"
"Your experiences in the Secret Police penitentiary has changed you, Father, and not for the best," Prokofiev said after a few moments. "You talk openly of killing and of getting Churnyeav or Nazerov to forge the necessary contacts to remove our opponents. That is not something I expected from a man of the cloth, even one so intense as yourself. You're a bad influence on Churnyeav, especially, and I can't support another rift forming between him and a member of my inner circle."
"Sir, with all due respect, he did push me to become more useful," Boris Churnyeav stepped in to the priest's defense. "I'd also rather have to deal with the priest than with any money-chasing scumbag."
"Don't get the wrong idea, I'm not releasing you because I find you difficult to deal with," Prokofiev said, mostly lying through his teeth. "I just think your quest to clean up corruption in the Holy Church is not something that should be politicized with revolutionary activity, Father. Mudslinging would tarnish your reputation and your goals."
Prokofiev had been pulling that one out of thin air and expected a cynical retort, but it actually made sense to his lieutenants. Petrov paused at hearing the idea, then slowly started nodding, understanding where Prokofiev was coming from. Despite his keen observation skills, it seemed he developed strong tunnel-vision whenever the Church was involved.
"Very well, Brother," Petrov said at last, drawing himself up with dignity. "I had been having my doubts about serving a man who does not follow the Lord, but despite your adversity to Him, your heart seems to be in the right place."
Prokofiev breathed out his tension. Looks like he bought it.
"It appears our partnership is at an end, comrade," Nazerov was the first to say his farewells, shaking the priest's hand and then hugging him. "We won't forget about you."
"Do not worry, Brother, I will not forget about you, either."
Nasarov was next, firmly grasping and pumping Petrov's hand two times. "Your services for the people and the workers have been exceptional, Father. Pray for us."
"I want to see a new Novistrana, Brother. You'll get your prayers," Petrov replied warmly. "Keep an eye on Brother Prokofiev for me, won't you?"
"Always have," smirked Nasarov, letting the priest go so Churnyeav could have the final say. The soldier stopped in front of the priest and gave him his traditional salute.
"We may have not agreed on a number of things, sir, but you have opened my eyes to what it is I must do," Churnyeav said. "Your sacrifice for us will live on, I guarantee it."
"Just make sure Brother Prokofiev understands that sometimes, freedom isn't free," warned the priest, bowing to Churnyeav slightly. Churnyeav nodded and left Petrov to continue his plans.
After a few minutes, Petrov had gathered all of his things, and after one final farewell, he prepared to leave.
"I can put you in a safe house for a while," Prokofiev quietly said to the priest, pulling him aside before he left. "Chances are you may be pursued by Karasov despite having left us."
"The sentiment is appreciated, Brother, but I will make a public annoucement regarding leaving you," Petrov said after some thought and putting down his bags. "I will leave Berezina as soon as possible and then continue my quest anew."
"Are you sure?" cautioned Prokofiev, not liking how Petrov seemed indifferent to his own safety. "Karasov won't care if you're with us or not. You have participated in the strike."
"The Lord will protect me, Brother," Petrov replied with certainty. "Not even Karasov can stop the Lord's work."
Having said his piece, Petrov picked up his possessions and left the headquarters, but Prokofiev sat uneasy, wondering if he'd made the right decision.
* * *
: You should not have tried to do that to me, Goshnov.
: *cough* S-sir... please, please...
: You should not have tried to go behind my back.
*Sound of a bone breaking.*
: AaaaAAAAAAAAAaaahahahahahhh! Ahhh! Aaaaaaahhhh!
: I know it was Prokofiev that paid you off.
: AahhhhaahhhhAAAAhhhh... Gaahhh... Aahnnnggggh...
: And now, you suffer the price of treason.
*Sound of a bone breaking.*
: Oh don't tell me that you're getting upset. We helped each other learn the... subtleties of this activity.
: Y-yes, but... I knew Goshnov personally.
: Then let this be a lesson to you. This is the punishment for betrayal.
: I... Of course.
: Oh, damn it, looks like he's out again. Doctor!
: See to it that he wakes up again as soon as possible.
: Yes sir!
: In the meantime, Barankov, let's take a break.
: As you wish, sir.
: Now that Goshnov is not in the Secret Police anymore, I am transfering all of his work to you.
: Don't worry, just the one mission of recapturing Rostislav Petrov, and continuing to pursue the Coalition.
: Yes sir.
: I want Petrov captured, understand?
: Yes sir.
: Good. I trust you'll do a better job that Goshnov here.
: I will, sir.
: Excellent. Here, try out this quiche. It tastes exceptionally good in these occasions.
: T-thank you, sir.
* * *
It hadn't been easy to get in touch with Vikenti Anisimov. The man was secretive and rarely seen by anyone other than his closest business associates. Even Konstantino had some problems getting a face-to-face meeting with him despite having strong ties to his business empire. After all, it was Anisimov's connections with his secret society that he took as most important. Prokofiev had no idea how to even begin getting around to meeting him.
But when Vilnov returned from his safe house stay, disposing of Prokofiev's disguise kit and returning a lot of the money he'd received back, the old revolutionary explained he knew a few men who could get the answers. Prokofiev spent about fifteen minutes explaining to his old mentor his plan, the results, and of removing Petrov. Vilnov had taken it all quite well and didn't question Prokofiev's orders, but expressed concern for Petrov, as well as the headquarters.
However, there was no time to discuss these details, and Vilnov went right away to finding the dirt on Anisimov. His findings were as good as his word, for Leo Orlev, the go-to guy Vilnov relied on, had the information ready for consumption a day later. Prokofiev suspected that Orlov, despite his ties to his mentor, was also a member of the Red Matryoshka, the elite secret society Anisimov was rumored to be a part of.
With the information in hand, Prokofiev had managed to enter in contact with Anisimov, threatening him with a meeting or the information that Anisimov wanted to keep secret would be leaked. Prokofiev had no idea what information this was or whether Anisimov actually wanted anything hidden in the first place, but he kept the threats vague enough that Anisimov readily agreed. With the meeting ready to take place in the early afternoon, Prokofiev spent all of the lead-up time researching Anisimov's contacts and whatever he knew, with Vilnov's and Orlov's help. Eventually, he had enough to go on that a blackmail attempt would be something that wasn't laughable.
Now, in a small alleyway of Lobachevsky Park nestled between the Ministry of Ministries and the Foreign Office, Prokofiev waited to meet the secretive businessman in person. He fingered the photographic evidence in his pocket lightly, just to make sure they were there one more time. Satisfied he had everything, Prokofiev returned to waiting.
Soon enough, a black limousine bearing the Konstantino Industries flag pulled up on the street, and out stepped a bald, middle-aged man whose eyes pulsated with knowledge and keenness, but who also seemed to be in good shape. Clearly, being a hermit of business kept Vikenti Anisimov with little leisure time to spend on anything but his health. Prokofiev drew closer to the shadows of the alley, watchful, and Anisimov quickly sent the limousine on its way before walking straight for the alley. He caught Prokofiev's eye soon enough and continued to march purposefully.
The two men stood measuring each other up, and Prokofiev was happy to see that Anisimov remained silent and prompting, knowing who was in charge of this conversation. Prokofiev also figured that his presence helped: he had been busy working on his intimidation and presence, and when trying to blackmail someone, being fearsome always helped.
"You must be Vikenti Anisimov," began Prokofiev. "My name is Piotr Prokofiev. Have you heard of me?"
Anisimov didn't reply right away. He glanced over Prokofiev critically, not hesitant to reply, but cautious, measuring. He had an air of seriousness to him, reminding Prokofiev of a greedy, business-like Churnyeav but without displaying any emotion other than annoyance.
"Yes," Anisimov replied at last. He had a practiced voice, the kind that could encompass being friendly but at the same time coercive and threatening. The kind of voice a business mogul would need to keep his flunkies in line. "You are the leader of the Novistranan Coalition."
"Good, and you're with Konstantino and his cartel," prompted Prokofiev.
"That I am."
"That means you know I'm planning to scuttle his business empire."
"You're not much to talk, are you?"
"Only enough for people like you," answered Anisimov, crossing his arms. "What do you want with me?"
"Fair enough," muttered Prokofiev, then spoke up. "Mr. Vikenti Anisimov, I want you to drop your connections with Konstantino and join the Novistranan Coalition."
For a moment, Anisimov's constantly frowning face turned to surprise, then he actually began to laugh, something he rarely did.
"You want me to join you?" Anisimov said, back to his serious self after he'd gotten the laughter out of him. "Why should I do that?"
"For a number of reasons," pressed Prokofiev, wanting to gain some of Anisimov's trust before drawing the ace up his sleeve. "You're intelligent and have business acumen. We're taking over the Stock Exchange, Konstantino is necessary to help us out..."
"And you need me to convince Konstantino to help you," completed Anisimov, unimpressed.
"That's right," Prokofiev said. "You're in an unique position to do exactly that."
"Sorry, no," Anisimov growled, getting upset with Prokofiev but barely registering a change in his expression. "I don't care what you claim to have on me. I would never help communist scum like you-"
"And neither would the Red Matryoshka?" interrupted Prokofiev.
Anisimov froze, feeling a chill run down his spine. "How do you know about that?"
"I know a lot about the people that need knowing about," sneered Prokofiev. "You're one of them."
Before Anisimov could continue, Prokofiev produced the evidence from his pocket one at a time. Anisimov's annoyed expression flashed to one of fear, and while he quickly tried to recast his face back to stone, the damage was done. Prokofiev gave a little satisfied smile: he had trapped the man in his web.
"Are these pictures familiar?" asked Prokofiev, calmly flipping through a number of pictures regarding Anisimov's secret meetings with a number of Red Matryoshka members. Prokofiev didn't care about who they were and didn't care after finding out their details, but clearly, they were important enough for Anisimov.
"Where did you find those?" Anisimov asked with a surprisingly calm tone, but Prokofiev could see beads of sweat forming on his brow.
"Let's just say that your secret society isn't so secret as you'd like," Prokofiev concluded, putting the photos back in his pocket. Anisimov wilted a little, clearly ensnared. "You will sever all business ties with Konstantino, help us in taking over the Stock Exchange, and tell me how we can destroy his business empire. In return, your secret remains safe and you even get a place in the new Novistrana I envision."
"You drive a hard bargain," Anisimov delayed, holding back his emotions and pretending this was just one big business deal. Years of living in the shadows actually helped him quite a bit with this. "...If I do as you ask and Konstantino falls, will you let me go my own way?"
"No," was all Prokofiev said. Anisimov stared at him with a flash of anger, but there was also fear and compliance in his stare. He took a staggering breath, then sighed just as shakily.
"Very well," Anisimov said, looking down and nodding his head slightly in submission. "I agree to your terms."
"I'm glad you could see where I was coming from with his," smiled Prokofiev with his tiger's grin. Despite his best efforts, Anisimov shivered. "Please call back that limousine of yours and give me a ride back home. I'll get you acquainted with your new business partners."
I picked up a new action for Prokofiev after he gained another level: "Blackmail", a strong recruit action that works off of your Presence stat against the target's Control stat. I thought Headhunt, Persuade, or Bribe (which I don't have) would be too weak to work right away on Anisimov without weakening him, and besides, I didn't want to upgrade any of my existing actions, either. So I went with the best choice I had in gameplay and in narrative: obtaining one of the final tiers of recruitment to force this Skull and Bones man into helping us!
* * *
Prokofiev entered the headquarters with Anisimov in tow, and the secretive man glanced about and took in everything he could. He was duly impressed with the operation Prokofiev had set up: there were men and women staffing a number of phones and tables, researching and keeping in contact with a number of cells. If he didn't know that he was entering the headquarters of an underground faction planning on an overthrow, this could have passed for a busy financial office.
"Attention please!" shouted Prokofiev at the door, getting everyone's eyes on him. "I need to speak to my inner circle immediately!"
Prokofiev's four lieutenants were already getting up and moving to the side room near the back, where two guards stood gruffly and kept out the common supporters out of the inner sanctum. Saluting the four men as they walked in and then Prokofiev when he got nearby, they then frowned their eyes suspiciously at the clearly business-like Anisimov, who returned their stare with a stony face of his own.
"He's with me, and he's one of my newest lieutenants," explained Prokofiev to the guards, who readily nodded and stepped aside, giving Anisimov proper space. Prokofiev turned to Anisimov, whispering, "Don't worry, they're loyal to a fault."
"I can see that," Anisimov nodded, following Prokofiev in the inner sanctum which was much more chaotic than the main floor outside. The inner sanctum was divided into six sections, and Prokofiev had not enforced any laws regarding each one's appearance: each lieutenant had set up things according to their own way, and it gave the room a sort of anarchic appearance that contradictorily fell in with the Coalition's message of order.
"Comrades," announced Prokofiev to his fellow revolutionaries as he stepped aside and brought Anisimov forward, "this is Vikenti Anisimov, previously of the Konstantino Cartel. He is now with us."
Nazerov and Vilnov were the only two men who moved forward to greet Anisimov. Nasarov and Churnyeav, both leery of men of wealth, hung back and eyed him over in a mixture of hostility and suspicion.
"Welcome to the Novistranan Coalition's inner ranks, my comrade," Vilnov began warmly, gently shaking Anisimov's hand. "My name is Tresori Vilnov."
"Greetings," Anisimov said, darting his eyes from Vilnov to the two tough-looking men at the back of the room. His expression remained unchanged, but Vilnov didn't seem to care for Anisimov's cold manner. He had, after all, just been strongarmed into helping them, but that didn't mean Vilnov couldn't be polite.
"I am Maxim Nazerov," the politician introduced himself. "I work with Parliament as one of Berezina's councilors."
"Yes, I know of you," was all Anisimov said as he shook Nazerov's hand, putting off the politician.
Nazerov turned to Prokofiev. "He don't talk much, does he?" Prokofiev just shrugged.
As Churnyeav and Nasarov continued to hang back critically, Anisimov did not bother even introducing himself to them. He turned to Prokofiev. "So where do I sit?"
"Here," Prokofiev said, turning to an area which had been obviously cleared out recently. A single hooked-up computer and a few notepads and pens were the only things on the tables. "Set up to whatever manner best suits you. I care about results, not appearances."
Prokofiev, Vilnov, and Nazerov began to prepare their activities for the night, leaving Anisimov to his devices. Without the attention of the others, Churnyeav and Nasarov flanked Anisimov, who had sensed them coming and just sat still on his chair.
"So you're the Konstantino fellow," growled Churnyeav. "If I wasn't supposed to be working with you, I'd clobber you here and now."
"I bet you would," was all Anisimov said before shifting slightly in his seat to hear Nasarov better. "And you?"
"Let's just say I wish your kind worked in the factories for a year before anything else," sneered Nasarov. "Name's Josef Nasarov, but I'm not your comrade."
"As you wish, Nasarov," was all Anisimov said before facing ahead again. "You two must excuse me. I need to get to work."
Churnyeav bent to hiss in Anisimov's ear, but the businessman didn't even bat an eye or flinch away when he felt the veteran's head right next to his. "I'll be watching you, rich-boy. Churnyeav the Ironman never, ever stops watching."
"Thank you for the warning," Anisimov said coldly, and then went silent. Churnyeav was upset that he hadn't intimidated the businessman and was ready to get physical, but Nasarov was already pulling him back.
"Don't worry about him, comrade," Nasarov said with a knowing sneer. "He's not worth the effort."
"Yeah, you're right," spat Churnyeav in Anisimov's direction. "Asshole's just a goddamn bean counter."
The two left Anisimov, who, now alone and unfazed, calmly began to prepare his workspace.
* * *
The Novistranan National Archive - CIA Agent CENSORED 's Daily Report to Langley: 21/04/1996
Prokofiev has gotten rid of the priest Petrov and roped in the businessman Vikenti Anisimov into helping the Coalition. Anisimov is an enigma. We know little of him as it is despite his many contracts in heavy industry, but we know he's a part of the CENSORED . According to the files, it's quite a wide-reaching secret society in Eastern Europe, and Anisimov must be one of their higher-ranking members. We don't know if Prokofiev is that aware of this yet, but chances are that he knows. Otherwise, Anisimov would have no reason for joining him and his faction.
Unfortunately, Petrov has been captured by the Secret Police again. He was also caught trying to leave Berezina, like Samael Goshnov. Berezina is a cage, sirs, and while some people may enter, no one can leave. This is a big problem: if Petrov gives up the location of our old headquarters, then Prokofiev's movement will be stopped and chances are they'll find out about the CENSORED . We won't be able to CENSORED any longer. I am requesting permission to act on this if Prokofiev does not. He has come farthest to overthrowing Karasov.
* * *
"Barankov, you had better have some good news for me," Karasov told his secret policeman, sitting back on his chair and looking quite irritated. "I had to cancel a meeting with the Finance Minister to talk to you."
"Oh, these are good news, all right, sir," Anton Barankov, the de facto head of the Secret Police said with an air of self-satisfaction. "We have found and arrested Rostislav Petrov again."
Karasov's irritability dissipated. His grin was subtle, then began to widen. "Where did you find him?"
"Caught him at the bus terminal, sir," Barankov proudly reported. "He was leaving for Ekaterine to join the Church of Novistrana sect there to work on anti-Church corruption. Swore up and down he had left the Coalition, and I don't think he was lying, either."
"Ah, so he was kicked out, eh?"
"That's what he told us, sir. He was 'let go' so he could get back to his anti-corruption work."
Karasov began to chuckle quietly. Barankov did not join in, preferring to sit contently at a job well done. But then, Karasov's laughter turned to a guffaw, and then his entire office was reverbating with an evil, megalomaniacal timbre. He would have some fun tomorrow.