When life looks like Easy Street
there is danger at your door.
Grateful Dead “Uncle John’s Band”
My name is Sergey Pavlovich. On the web a lot of people know me as PoliceDog, panther, Fallen Angel, diplomaticos. American authorities claim I’ve stolen $36 million. What would you do with that kind of money? Would millions of dollars make your life special, vibrant, and happy? Would you dare to make your craziest dream come true? I was spending my money sometimes really stupidly and sometimes exceptionally clever. The most beautiful way to part ways with some cash is, of course, to spend it on women. However, the way that brings you the most joy and also possibly the most “right” one is to become a Santa Claus. To make your gravely ill friend healthy again by paying for his surgery in Germany. To buy your mum a new car, and a computer and a scooter for your nephew. To send your girlfriend’s mum on a dreamy trip to the ocean. To send your ex’s mum to the ocean as well. To lend money knowing you’ll never get it back. It’s always nicer to grant someone else’s wish rather than your own… I will just say it: it’s cool being Santa. Laying on a plank bed and staring at the shabby ceiling for 15 hours a day is not cool at all. But here I am, doing just that… And while I’m at it, I couldn’t care less that I’ve been arrested and placed in a room with 13 other inmates where I can get locked up for years to come. I’m not afraid. Believe it or not.
I guess at that moment my brain safely evacuated me from the situation I found myself in. I couldn’t see or hear anything around me. I didn’t see the grey ceiling in front of me, I saw something very different instead: Dmitry is looking out of the window, Kate is silently cutting bread at the table, Fidel is telling a joke and trying to take a boar’s head off the wall… The door swings open and that cop walks in, accompanied by another four in civilian clothes… “Good evening…” That’s it… I’ve been re-watching that moment in my head over and over again, “Good evening…” What does it mean? In fact, what does any of this mean, what am I doing here?! I mean, “a thief belongs in jail” and all that, I get it, but I’ve been so careful… I was a super careful Santa!
There are basically two options left: first – I’ve made a mistake, after all. Second – someone has kindly handed me over. I had a lump in my throat. If someone has betrayed me, it could only be a very close person. Which would mean… No, it can’t be. I would close my eyes and try to remember the last deals, clients, dumps, PIN codes… Where could have I messed up? The more time I spent under the grey ceiling, the more I believed I’d been betrayed. Like Agatha Christie with her locked room mysteries, I suspected everyone. And it was indeed a locked room story. It all began with one – the country house where we first met the officer with his “Good evening.” And here I was in a locked room again, trying to figure out how it all came to this.
We were in Lipen, a village 100 km away from Minsk. Our country house was the last one on its street. Right behind it started an endless forest with wild boars and foxes, the forest my grandfather looked after as a forester all his life. It was my girlfriend Kate’s house. At that point we had already moved to the capital, but we still lived between it and Lipen all the time. God I loved that country house…
Two things seemed strange. First, why did they have to arrest me after I left Minsk and turn it into a field operation? I wasn’t trying to hide. They could have come to my place in Minsk and handcuffed me all the same. It would’ve been way easier. They may have wanted to arrest me while I was relaxed, drinking with friends. Then they should have acted sooner, two days earlier we were celebrating anniversary of DumpsMarket, my website. Serious carders arrived from all over former USSR and other places. As the founder of DumpsMarket, I was the birthday boy. Alcohol was flowing like water, hookers were dancing on the tables… Had the cops attended that party, they would have been in for a nice surprise. However, they were somehow uninterested in our criminal Sabbath. Which leads me to, they didn’t know anything, and the information they had on me came very, very suddenly.
The next thing that kept bothering me, that day, September 16th 2004, I was in Lipen with a small group of friends. We didn’t discuss where we were going over the phone, all I said was “out of town.” I didn’t explain how to get there either – we simply left Minsk in a few cars, and reached the place in an hour. I had only just bought a new Mercedes and took immense pleasure in driving down Belarusian roads that were occasionally almost as good as German autobahns.
“Senior Lieutenant ***, show your papers, please! Sergey Alexandrovich, you were going over the speed limit… Drive safely, Sergey Alexandrovich!”
If only that lieutenant, that stopped me for going over the speed limit knew, that my phone was being tapped or that I was being watched, he might have reconsidered taking that $20. But it wasn’t about him anymore. Maybe, someone had said the address over the phone after all, and the task force dashed to Mogilev region. Or had they actually been following us all the way from Minsk?.. Oh, to hell with it! Finding out my whereabouts was probably the easiest thing the cops had to do, knowing their opportunities. It’s still strange, though…
Now to the guests. The heroes of my locked room detective story.
- Kate – my girlfriend (actually, she’s Kate no. 2, but here as the owner of the country house she’ll be no. 1)
- Dmitry Burak, a.k.a Graph – my brother and my best friend. We are not only blood related, we’ve been through a lot together. Despite the fact we are cousins by blood, I grew up thinking of him as of my real brother, so that’s what I call him. I keep no secrets from my brother. He’s my right hand.
- Sergey Storchak, a.k.a. Fidel – he came over all the way from his home in Odessa for the DumpsMarket anniversary and sort of just stayed here. I guess, he liked it here. Fidel’s birthday is on September 17th. That’s what we were celebrating. Fidel is one of our key partners. I don’t trust him much, so Dmitry’s the one working with him.
- Ilya Saprykin, a.k.a. Postal, 23. A clever Jewish boy. He worked with us and was informed about a lot of what was going on. Before meeting me he was mostly doing little cash outs here and there.
Postal could have sold me out. He had more than enough information to do that… And how could I forget he arrived to the country house separately from everyone else! He broke off at the last moment, said he had stuff to do in Minsk… We left for Lipen without him. And only two hours later, when the sauna and kebabs were ready and waiting, Ilya’s navy-blue BMW drove into the front yard.
A glamorous blonde walked out of the car. I think, her name was also Kate. “So that’s what kept him in Minsk,” I thought, eyeing the girl with curiosity. Jesus, why am I thinking about it now?! The blonde was definitely not a cop, there are simply no cops that hot. Let’s move on…
- Saprykin’s girlfriend, Kate the blonde.
- Kirill Kalashnikov, a.k.a. Kaiser. Kaiser was only 17. He wasn’t from here. He worked with us, but he lived in Yekaterinburg, Russia. He arrived to Minsk for my forum’s anniversary and, just like Fidel, decided to stay for the party in Lipen.
I remember guys taking guns and going to the back yard to shoot cans. I joined and was a better shot than others. It was really exciting. I was jumping on tires dug into the ground around the flower beds, and falling like an idiot. I guess I was high on fresh air. Dmitry fired a shot, and I pretended to be wounded. I toddled a few meters away and fell on the ground. My fingers found the place where the bullet went in and pressed the throbbing gush of blood. I could feel my heart beat even through the jacket. Clouds were floating high in the sky. Air was so transparent in autumn, would be a shame to die under the skies that beautiful. To lie on the golden yellow leaves and slowly turn cold. Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s dooooor…, I remembered the dying sheriff’s song from a very popular German movie. I closed my eyes, I wasn’t there anymore. Maybe, I should have died then. But they didn’t let me. First, a blast of Euphoria by Calvin Klein, then warm wet lips. When I opened my eyes, the sky was already gone. Kate’s face covered everything. Huge tender eyes. Their single look is enough to make your heart stop beating.
“Do you love me?”
“I love Kate. Are you Kate?”
The world became alive and safe again, like a painting.
No, Kate wouldn’t betray me. Although she had her reasons. I cheated on her, I didn’t love her, I… as if that wasn’t enough! When the men in uniform came, she was the only one that remained calm. Upon hearing “Good evening!” she came close towards them,
“Hello. What’s the matter?”
“Police. Whose house is this?”
And for some reason in a calm tone she repeated our address and her father’s full name. That calmed me down. It sounded like we thought they didn’t see the house number in the dark and knocked on a wrong door. As if they were actually going to the tractor driver across the street or to our neighbor to buy some fresh milk… And we had neither milk nor moonshine alcohol. Have a good one, guys! But the cops weren’t going to leave.
“Did you shoot? Neighbors complained about shooting,” the only officer that was wearing a uniform explained the reason of their visit. For some reason, he was holding a gun.
“We were shooting cans. With an air gun,” Kate began in the same relaxed reasonable tone, but Ilya interrupted and jabbered,
“I can go to my car to show you the air guns. You know we don’t need a license for them, right?”
What a hysterical idiot! A kid would know you don’t need a license for a stupid air gun, I bet the cops would know it too. Meanwhile, the officers seemed to grow tired of putting up a performance. Before I could blink, one of the “men in black” walked up to me and handcuffed me. The others were told to remain in the room.
Dmitry looked frightened. He was sitting on the window sill and looking at me as if asking, what should we do now? I have always been the older brother, despite being born three months later.
Nah, Dmitry isn’t a traitor. He’d sooner cut his own hand off. We were tightly connected in everything we were doing. Someone has sold us both out. At least, Dmitry wasn’t cuffed. The last time I saw my brother was at the Minsk City Police Department. We were questioned separately. The door opened accidentally – Dmitry was sitting in the office opposite. He waved at me, as if saying, “It’s gonna be alright.” I noticed his fingers were covered in black paint, just like mine. Dmitry definitely had no reasons whatsoever to hand me over…
Or did he? The thought that came into my head, made me sick. Pretrial detention center’s ceiling started to reel, I started seeing circles. Are these tears? I tried to hold myself together: I mustn’t become paranoid. Another voice in my head said, “But you can’t let any details slip! Things happen, consider everything.” I closed my eyes tight and started remembering.
Nine months ago… New Year’s Day… January 1st, 2004 at the same country house, I wake up in one bed with Kate for the first time. We have accidentally hooked up. And I feel awkward. Because Kate was my brother’s girlfriend for many years. They have recently broken up, I don’t know why. I don’t know how serious things are between them either. Kate is asleep next to me, naked… Now that I’m sober I’m ashamed to be lying next to her. I’m getting up quietly not to wake her up. I step on something… A bra! What an asshole! As if there weren’t enough girls around. I also had a girlfriend in Kiev. A few, in fact. I go downstairs, I need to be alone. Of course, I run into Dmitry, doing the dishes.
“You got any cigarettes?” I ask my brother.
“Ran out. Let me get you some coffee. Are you hungry? I can reheat chicken with potatoes.”
“Jesus, Dmitry, it’s 8 a.m.! And you’re doing the dishes. And offer to reheat some chicken. I’m not hungry in the least, just tell me, how sane are you?”
“I don’t mind doing that for you…”
He sat opposite and gave me such a kind and open smile, that I couldn’t hold myself and blurted out,
“I’ve slept with Kate. What should I do?”
“With your Kate? Are you back together?”
“No, with your Kate. I was drunk… No, it’s not that… I actually like her.”
“Well, she is nice. You know that.”
That sounded like a blessing. Also, Dmitry smiled again. The feeling of guilt that was suffocating me, dissolved. Instead I was excited and anticipating future flirting. I was thinking to myself, it’s good to have a brother. And that men’s friendship exists. That morning I ended up having some chicken, some coffee with sweetened milk and even managed to find a battered pack of Marlboro behind the stove. We were sitting in the kitchen with Dmitry, laughing, remembering our childhood, school, listening to Deep Purple… I always see people the way I want to see them. Maybe he was really hurt that morning, but chose to hide it? Then there might have been other things he chose to hide from me…
The officers expressed their desire to look around the house. Not to search it, but to look around, because you need the prosecutor’s permission for a proper search. Saprykin started swirling nervously around the room, acting like a liberal protester that was going to report oppression to the authorities. Postal could have been the snitch… And his behavior could have been an act to distract and show everyone the way he’d “have it his way with the cops.” Later he lost his confidence and was sitting there sad, biting his nails. His girlfriend seemed to have more composure. Like a prostitute held by the police, she was watching everything with an air of confidence and even a smile. Maybe, she was even enjoying the show, understanding she was just a spectator. Jumping ahead of myself, I can say she’ll have her chance to be in our shoes. Andrey Malyshev, her step father, the director of Fiat and Alfa-Romea dealerships, will be charged with failure to pay customs taxes, flee Belarus and put on the international wanted list.
Fidel was smoking silently. It was hard to read his mind. He might have been thinking, “What a great present from my Belarusian friends…”
Kaiser was blinking often with fear. In his face you could read, “I’ll tell you everything, just let me leave Belarus.”
I had thought about a possible arrest multiple times to frighten myself. It’s the same as imagining mum has died, and feeling sorry for yourself. The line you’re too afraid to look over, and it’s nice to know you can pinch yourself at any time and make the nightmare go away. But that day everything was real. And I have to admit, I was afraid. My brain felt like it’d been shut down. I sat down and tried to imagine that it was all just a dream. The feeling of handcuffs on my wrists brought me straight back to reality. Suddenly I felt the smell of Euphoria. Kate was looking at me.
“Bunny, can you hear me? Listen. We don’t know what’s going to happen to you. The only thing you can do now is eat. Because when will be the next time…” Kate’s eyes started to water. “You know…”
That night I was almost force-fed rice with meat, kebabs, salad. Kate hid a piece of bread in my jacket pocket. I was watching her, surprised how quickly she took to the role of a convict’s wife.
They found the “plastic”.
Do you want to know what’s it like – to be at the pretrial detention center for the first time?
First, you get to the holding cell. Then the common cell. Minsk pretrial smells of sour cabbage. You won’t find a smell like that at any changing room at any gym. You’ll be willing to pay any money to get out of there.
I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. At night I was delirious instead of dreaming. Even in my dreams I was looking for a way out, I tried to wrap my head around what’d happened. What should I tell the detectives? How can I pass a note with important directions to people outside? Five days went by like that. On September, 21st I exhausted myself into falling asleep. I slipped away into the darkness, where there was no smell of cabbage, gray walls and numb despair…
 Knocking on Heaven’s Doors by Thomas Young, starring Til Shvaiger as the lead part. – Editor’s note.