While They Sleep

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 17 (v.1) - Rock And Roll All Night

Submitted: March 31, 2016

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Submitted: March 31, 2016



When the airplane touched down in Moscow, it was mid-summer, 1986.  I was 23 years old.  I had been posing as my deceased friend, Ivan Andreyevsky, for 5 years.  As I walked out of the terminal and boarded the bus, everything I owned was in a suitcase.  I had no idea what I would do for the rest of my life.

I had money in my wallet, and in an account at Gosbank.  I would not go hungry.  I asked the bus driver about an inexpensive hostel.  When we stopped, he pointed down a side street and said, “Half a block on the left.”

The room at the hostel had bunks for 6 people and reminded me of a military barracks.  Only without rules or officers.  The people I shared the space with were usually tourists or unemployed Russians.  I didn’t have much to say to them.  During the day, I spent most of my time in nearby Kuzminskiy Park.  It was an oasis of wilderness in the middle of the gigantic city.  The visitors tended to stay near the trails.  I found the places others didn’t go.  I could be by myself, surrounded by trees, after a short walk from the hostel.

It was a time of upheaval in the Soviet Union.  Mikhail Gorbachov had taken control of the Communist Party the year before.  The concept of glasnost, or openness, was emerging.  Everyone knew big changes were coming.  It had already starting, under the surface, and down the back alleys. 

After a few weeks in Moscow, I had become a regular at a bar near the hostel.  The idea that young people would be allowed to listen to western music in public was brand new.  The place got busy on the weekends.  Late at night, the customers got drunker and rowdier.

When I stepped backwards in the crowded bar and bumped into some drunk, I knew right away he was looking for a fight.  He accused me of trying to steal his wallet.  He did not realize, the time he spent running his mouth allowed me to think through several scenarios.  I was ready when it was time to act.

He took a swing at my head.  I was in that zone where everything moves in slow motion.  I saw the punch coming and ducked to the right.  My eyes were locked on his jaw.  His head jerked sharply when my fist made contact and he fell forward, into me.  He was out cold.  I caught him and let him down to the ground.  He began twitching.  I could tell he was about to vomit.  I rolled him up on his side to make sure he didn’t choke on it. 

That was the moment it occurred to me. I really was done with killing.  An angry drunk had just taken a swing at me, and now I was playing his nurse.  Quite a change from my behavior over the past 5 years.

When he came to, I convinced him it was time to go home.  I don’t think he realized I was the one who knocked him out.  I hailed a taxi, gave the driver some money, and helped the man crawl into the back seat.  I returned and found a spot at the bar.

A man walked up to me after I sat down.  He said, “I saw how you handled the drunk.  That was impressive.  If you are looking for a job, I know of one that would be perfect for you.”

My first reaction was to brush the man off.  Dealing with the drunk was more than enough social interaction for the moment.  “I’m not looking for a job.”

“Well, I won’t quit that easy.  Just don’t hit me.  Can I buy you a drink?  I promise I’ll go away if I haven’t changed your mind by the time you finish it.”

The man’s banter reminded me of Emil.  I let him buy me the drink.  He shook my hand and introduced himself.

“My name is Viktor Ovechkin.  I am in charge of security for Semak Enterprises.  We host large entertainment venues in various locations in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Our customers refer to our endeavors as raves.”

“Those are illegal.  I’m not interested in anything that will bring me trouble.”

“Technically, they are illegal, yes.  But times have changed and only the rules have not kept up.  We have the full cooperation of the police department.  You will see.  They will be there, keeping an eye on the place.  Occasionally, things get out of hand.  Boys will be boys.  That is why I want you to work for me.  You have a nose for trouble, and you can solve a problem with a minimum of mess.  I like that.”

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m so confident you will enjoy this job, I am going to pay you, right now, in advance for the first night’s work.  If I never see you again, I will write it off as my mistake.”

He laid a stack of rubles on the table, and wrote an address and a phone number on a slip of paper.

“Be there at 6pm Friday night.  Call if you have any questions.”

I started to protest, but Viktor was quite charismatic.  He was aggressive, yet non-threatening.  I was beginning to like him.  I shrugged and said, “I don’t have any plans for Friday.  I’ll give it a try.”

The building was a warehouse that had been emptied out and turned into a gigantic dance hall.  I stood at the door, behind the man taking the money, and kept my eye out for trouble.  The people entering the building looked like they were there to have good time.  But you never know what will happen after the alcohol starts to flow.

They did all sorts of drugs I’d never seen before.  I’d been around alcohol and tobacco.  I smoked marijuana once, a lifetime ago in Anchorage, behind the skating rink.  I wasn’t prepared for what I saw that night.  Words cannot describe what you will see at a rave.

Ecstasy was the drug of choice, but the air was heavy with marijuana.  All kinds of pills I did not recognize were being passed around and swallowed.  A few people had enough money to afford cocaine.  And of course, there was plenty of alcohol and tobacco.

The music was absurdly loud, and it all sounded the same to me.  Techno-pop with a fast, throbbing beat.  That was the first time I had seen glow sticks.  Everyone was holding or wearing them.  Sticks, bracelets, rings.  Some of the kids were tossing them back and forth, others juggled with them.  The dimly lit building was filled with the many colors of the glow sticks, and the sound of the pounding music.

It was something new, and I didn’t have anything better to do, so I decided to take the job.

Viktor was right about the police.  They were there, they saw everything.  They drew a line around the building and kept the rave from spilling into the street.  Inside, they let the party go on.  There was a lot of money being made.  The cover charge, plus selling the alcohol, cigarettes, and the glow sticks.  Later I would learn that the drug dealers who operated inside the rave all paid a cut to Mr. Semak.

The economy was in the dumps.  What we paid each of the policemen at an event was probably two or three weeks’ worth of pay.  Nobody thought of it in terms of bribery.  Just a fee for a service. 

The customers had fun, Semak made money, the police could buy new shoes for their children.  Everybody got something out of the deal.  Inevitably, as the evening wore on, somebody would get out of hand.  There is one in every crowd.  Sometimes more than one.

Mostly it was pretty tame stuff.  Two guys get in a fight over a girl, or a drug deal.  Punches are thrown. Typically, one guy was getting beat up by the other when I got there.  Usually they would stop when I yelled at them.  If that didn’t work, a good jab in the ribs with my baton would get their attention.  Often, I would see the fighters later, talking to each other as if nothing had happened.

There were a few incidents where things got ugly.  Not everyone is cut out for drugs and alcohol.  Some people get happy.  Some get quiet.  Some get stupid.  Some got introduced to my wooden stick.

Some people have an inner demon, or they simply lack the instinct for survival.  I did my best not to kill any of those folks.  If a stomach poke or a thigh rap wasn’t enough, a head shot would quickly end their evening.  I became an expert at wielding a baton.

I stayed pretty calm during most of that.  Those kids were amateurs compared to me and the men I had associated with in the Army.  I never once felt threatened.  One time though, I did lose my cool.

Unlike most of the violence, this happened at the beginning of the evening.  It was the middle of summer and the sun was just setting.  I was at the front door as usual.  I heard the man shouting.  I looked up just in time to see him slap the woman.  She began crying.  He punched her hard, in the face.  She fell to the ground, blood spurting from her nose.

I don’t know why I reacted so strongly.  The woman might have made me think of Zaya’s wife, dead and bloody, on the ground in Darkhan-Uul.  Maybe her long, red hair reminded me of Irina.  Maybe it was nothing more than outrage at seeing a defenseless woman get beat up by an asshole.  The reason didn’t matter.  When I saw the slap, I was over the handrail and running as fast as I could in that direction. 

He had time to punch her, and laugh for a moment while she laid on the ground, crying.  By the time he saw me in his peripheral vision, it was too late.  I had a full head of steam.  I put my shoulder down and hit him in the belly.  I heard the breath gush out of his lungs as he hit the ground.  I was on top of him.

I got in a mount position.  I pinned his arms to his side with my legs.  I began hitting him in the face with my fists.  He was unconscious by the third punch.

A baton poked me in the back and someone was yelling at me.  That brought me out of my rage.  It was one of the policemen.  I got up.  A few minutes later, an ambulance carried the man to the hospital.  Nothing was ever said about the incident.  Too much money was changing hands, in an otherwise disastrous economy.  Nobody wanted to upset the apple cart.

Viktor gradually gave me more responsibilities as I got to know the business.  It wasn’t that complicated.  By the end of the first year, I was in charge of an entire venue.  I would still man the front door.  I had learned I could often pick out the troublemakers.  I would point them out to the rest of the security team.  They would keep an eye on them and intervene before things got out of hand.  That kept problems to a minimum. 

Before each event, I would make sure the venue was properly supplied and staffed.  After the bulk of the customers had entered, I made sure the money got taken care of.  Gosbank was the only financial institution in the Soviet Union.  By the law of the land, everything Mr. Semak did was illegal.  To maximize privacy, his way of protecting money did not involve the bank.  Myself and two armed guards dropped the money off at a designated location downtown.  Where it went after that, I did not know.  Except for the part that came back as my pay.

After four years, I was in charge of the entire St. Petersburg operation.  I reported directly to Mr. Semak and hardly saw Viktor any more.  I was making what I considered a ridiculous salary.  But I began to realize, I wasn’t having fun like I used to.  Sitting in meetings, talking on the phone, and babysitting money were not on my list of hobbies.

The only part of the job I enjoyed was manning the front door.  The rest of the time, I was too busy being an administrator to be a part of the action.

I was no Irina, but I had become a psychiatrist of sorts, studying people at the door.  Reading the faces and non-verbal communication of the people as they paid the cover charge. 

When the man made eye contact with me, I read his expression clearly.  He was telling me, “I know you.”  But I did not recognize him.  Perhaps I had run across him in the Army.  He was smiling, there was nothing threatening about him.  He entered the building and I tagged it as a false positive.  My instincts were not 100% accurate.

The party usually took around two hours to get started.After that, there were not as many new customers and I turned the door over to someone else.  I would make a quick pass through the club, to get a feel for how things were going, then gather up the receipts.  That night, I heard someone say “Ivan, please, come join us for a drink!”  It was the man who had recognized me earlier.  I wasn’t in the mood for socializing, but I was in charge.  It wouldn’t do to have a Semak manager be rude to the customers.I walked over to his table.

I said, “You have me at a disadvantage.  Have we met before?”  He chuckled, and pointed his finger at his forehead.  He said, “Look closely.”

I could make out the faint outline of a scar below his hairline.  I said, “Okay, but what does that mean to me?”

He said, “Ten years ago, in northeast Siberia, I was climbing up a mountain.  Chasing after you.  You hit me in the forehead with a rock.  I only got a glimpse of you before you knocked me unconscious.  I think that burned the memory of your face permanently into my brain.”

“But do not worry.  I am not mad at you.  In fact, it may have been the best thing that ever happened to me.  Let me introduce myself.  I am Stanislav Zimin, this is my wife, Sabina.”

I shook hands with the man and his wife.  She was quite attractive. 

He said, “Please sit down and let me buy you a drink.” 

Public relations is a part of the job when you get into management.  Plus, I was thirsty.  I sat down.

“First, let me tell you how I met my wife.  After I healed from being assaulted by you, my mates would tease me about the episode whenever they could.  One night, we were on leave, in a bar in Irkutsk.  My friend insisted on telling the waitress the whole story.  How I let some skinny kid get the better of me and knock me out.  She must have felt sorry for me.  She listened to every word.  A year later, she said yes when I asked her to marry me.  Now we have three children.”

“So, I have to ask, how did you end up with such a boring job?  I’m sure you are making good money.  How would you like to make even more, and have a chance to get back out in the field, in Siberia?  My employer runs a mining operation.  He needs people to provide security for our truck convoys.  When was the last time you slept under the stars?”

A number of job offers had come my way in the past few years.  I had never considered any of them, they would have been much like my current position.  He was right, I was bored.  What my new friend was describing caught my attention.  I slowly drank my beer and listened to Stanislav’s proposal.

© Copyright 2018 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.


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