Notes of a Terrorist* (*Freedom Fighter), chapter 4

A few minutes of knocking at the gate and shouting «Is anybody here?» didn’t bring any result. Somehow, I did not want to go inside by myself—first, the doggy wasn’t looking friendly, and second, who knows what’s there. And who. Perhaps I should call back and tell the good news of my arrival. I pulled the phone out of my pocket, dialed… «There is not enough money on your account…» Wonderful. As always, just in time. I knocked again. Zero response, but the dog barked a couple of times without much enthusiasm. Mmmm… Maybe the taxi driver dropped me at the wrong place? And what am I supposed to do? I walked around the fence to the left. There were some gardens. I returned. Still no one. The doggy barked from time to time. Fuck. I heard a noise and looked around. A young boy on a bicycle was coming to the gate.

«Hi!” I said as friendly as I could imitate. “You live here?»

«Hello!” Politely replied the young generation. “I do. You’re here to see my Pa?”

I did confirm his bold assumption. The kid entered the yard and disappeared behind the house. A few minutes later, a man in his fifties came out, strong, with a rough but intelligent face.

«Good afternoon! I’m Alexander. How was your trip?»

I introduced myself and reported that everything was okay. We passed behind the house; there was a large garden, almost half a hectare. Then I saw another man, moving toward me with a cheerful smile and a hayfork in his hands. Looking around forty, about my height, but two times wider than me, with a bushy beard. Apparently, another “fisherman.” But what the hell did he need the hayfork for? Not for me, I hope. Dima, burly, bearded, charismatic, brutal appearance, father of five, a handyman, a former college professor and a staunch Russian conservative, came from one of the national autonomous republics[1] on the Volga,[2] where he had a small software company.

Dima and I quickly found some common topics for conversation, as we had with our hosts (Alexander, his wife Irina and three young children). The guys brought me up to date. The situation on «the Strip»[3] was as follows: along the borderline stretched government strongholds, the Ukes[4] were coming out with their mobile units patrolling the border and making ambushes at known routes, where people and supplies were crossing the Strip. The situation was made easier for them by the fact that the border passes, though just a little, the river Derkul. So, a couple of days ago, a few kilometers south a group of volunteers passing over the ford was fired at from the thicket as soon as they came ashore. The result was two wounded, but fortunately, everyone was able to get back. Also, the Ukes were still afraid to bombard the Russian territory. Armed groups of Novorossiyan militias operated at the border area more or less freely, because the Ukrainian Border Guards were scared of real fighting and tried by all means not to notice the militias. If it was impossible not to notice, they came in force, asking the Ukrainian National Guard for armored vehicles to support them. In such cases, the militias dispersed into the thicket, or pulled back to the south, towards the city of Lugansk. The area to the west of the border for a few dozen kilometers was a zone unstably controlled by the militias. The settlements there were mainly pro-rebel, with small garrisons of a few people, dozens at best, that were local activists. In case of an approach of large government forces (and the Ukes didn’t dare to go in small units), these garrisons were dispersed to the thicket and neighboring villages. The enemy came into a town, raised a U-flag at the town hall, and then moved on. The militia returned, burned the bicolor,[5] hanged the tricolor[6]/the Imperial[7]/ the Mandylion[8]/the LNRka[9] (depending on what was at hand), and everything returned to normal. At the same time both sides moved almost freely on the roads, organizing checkpoints where they pleased. The farther to the north, the weaker the militia’s presence became, and the stronger the influence of Kiev was. A system of smuggling stayed afloat through the dedicated work of volunteers from the local residents on both sides of the Strip, and it was quite organized. Preparation of troops and supplies for the Rebellion in the territory of the Russian Federation, scouting of the routes, transportation to Lugansk—the level which had been reached by the self-organization of common people was inspiring respect. Large groups of volunteers (20 or more people, mostly Cossack already with light weapons) just crossed the border where they saw fit, frightening the U-border guards and managing to escape to the territory controlled by the militia before the arrival of the National Guard with the heavy armor. On the Russian side of the Strip, the Russian Border Guard brought some difficulties. Though the cops were local, and almost without exception turned a blind eye to the perturbations in the border area, among the «green caps»[10] was a lot of scum, trying to put the brakes on the Rebellion in any way possible. However, the majority of them were normal people.

The hamlet of Ivanovka stretched along the east bank of the Derkul. On the opposite side was the slightly larger village of Sosnovoe. Residents of both villages were related to one another; during Soviet times, this agglomeration was generally regarded as a single entity. There was a small border post at Sosnovoe, and in the woods behind it camped a company of the National Guard with several tanks, IFVs[11] and mortars. Plus, there were rumors that there was a small detachment of SSU[12] special forces arranging outings to the woods (mainly the Ukes didn’t take the risk of going there), but it wasn’t known for sure. The bridge over the Derkul was wrapped with barbed wire and blocked with concrete blocks by the Ukes, without anybody passing through it, even locals. I wonder who tossed this idea to the Ukes. The man, of course, was deeply sympathetic to the Rebellion, because it was the best way to persuade the locals to support the militia. A favorite pastime of kids on the west bank was trolling the U-warriors with cries of «Allahu Akbar!»[13] a phrase the Ukes were really afraid of. Apparently, they were imagining how the evil Chechens would cut their heads off.

Alexander said that in the evening another «fisherman» was coming, and then he would coordinate with the volunteers on the other side about the transition and delivery to Lugansk. After a hearty lunch, Dima and I helped Alexander clean up the freshly cut grass, then splashed in the Derkul, peering with some anxiety into the woods on the opposite bank. The SSU special forces managed to remain undetected.

Later in the afternoon the third «fisherman» came, named Konstantin (or simply Kostya). His appearance caused Alexander some noticeable tension because the newcomer didn’t look more than eighteen years old. However, Kostya, apparently already accustomed to such reactions from others, with a decisive gesture drew the proof from the pocket of a thick leg and presented it. His passport, I mean. Twenty-three years old. Nobody could believe it. He came from Komi[14] and had already served in the army (unlike Dima), and made a living doing something in IT that I’d never heard of. Dima, after exchanging a few words with Kostya in their IT-speak, confirmed that he understood the topic. Well, OK then.

Alexander told us before going to bed that there wouldn’t be anything at night, because, according to his relatives from the other side, the Ukes got some NVDs[15] and we don’t have any.

“So,” he said, “you can rest easy until the morning!” and so we did. In the morning, barely having had time to eliminate the eggs and sausage, we saw a van drive into the yard, from which three bodies in camouflage cheerfully jumped.

«Don’t get nervous, they’re Cossacks,» the master of the house reassured us, noticing our stress. We came up to meet them. The guys turned out to be Kuban Cossacks,[16] engaged in the organization of supplies and volunteers in Novorossiya. At that time they were bringing medicines and bandages, purchased from money collected in Krasnodar.[17] There were also all sorts of homemade pickles, jams and smoked meat, sent by loving wives and mothers of those who were already fighting. The Kubans said that there was some Uke activity on their usual smuggling route, so they asked us to take their stuff with us to Lugansk. Of course, we agreed.

After their departure there was nothing special to do, so we just sat in the room that was given to us by Alexander, and communicated on all sorts of topics. Fortunately, the guys were interesting and intelligent collocutors. Kostya’s political views were also nationalist and racist, perhaps even more radical and consistent than mine were. At least, it somehow never occurred to me to choose girls based on the correctness of the shape of their skulls. Well, everybody has a right to have his own opinion, and personal life is called personal because its personal, and everyone knows best himself how to build it.

In the midst of a fierce (but respectful) discussion of the impact of the Great Geographical Discoveries during the decline of the Ottoman Empire, with a schematic, but reasoned analysis of alternative development scenarios, Alexander entered the room, looking a little worried.

«So, guys, sit here for now, do not go out into the yard, do not peer through the windows. There are border guards arriving, someone snitched on us. I’ll take care of them, just sit quietly.»

Of course, we immediately and unanimously stared out the windows, trying not to rustle the curtains. Three cars entered the yard—the Cossacks’ minivan (already known to us), a local cop’s sedan and a Border Guard’s jeep, and the yard suddenly seemed filled with people. The shaggy dog ​​wisely decided not to aggravate the situation, and hid in its doghouse. The border guards, judging by their gestures, apparently were pressuring Alexander and the Cossacks, and they were shouting back. The cops’ whole appearance was broadcasting to the environment that they did not want to be there, so they stood on the sidelines, not participating in the general debate. The Cossacks called someone, then shoved the phone to the guards (or, rather, to the eldest of them). He listened to the distant interlocutors, nodded, spread his hands in the universal gesture of «I understand everything, but duty is duty» and disconnected, and continued giving Alexander and the Kubans a hard time. In the end, Alexander, obviously extremely irritated, opened the door of the shed, where the Cossacks’ stuff was stacked, and, judging by the gestures, said to the guard’s chief something like «You want to take them away, then do so, but there will be consequences!» The guards looked into the barn, pulled out a pair of trunks, opened them and reviewed the contents, followed by another five minutes of wrangling, but in a gradually easing manner. Finally, the Cossacks brought the trunks back to the barn, everybody piled into their cars and the column left Alexander’s yard.

We attacked Alexander with questions immediately after he got back. I hadn’t heard such whole palette of the obscene profanity of the great and mighty Russian language before, but this time he used it. He told us that on the way back, the Cossacks had been caught by an outfit of border guards led by a captain, a known asshole who found some kind of perverse pleasure in inserting sticks into the wheels of the volunteer movement. As a result, the Kubans called their comrades from the Don Cossacks,[18] who called sympathizers that held good positions in the Rostov regional administration. They, in turn, made contact with the bosses of the fucking captain, and those bosses (since the captain himself stubbornly refused to hear the voice of reason and heed his conscience) ordered him to let the Cossacks be. The bastard promised the Kubans some troubles for violation of the border zone. And why did his mother produce such a creature instead of a normal human being?

After sunset, Alexander’s wife made a huge supper, and soon came a village priest (and, incidentally, one of the eldest sons of our gracious host) with his wife and a lot of beer and dried fish of great quality, so the evening was a pleasant one. During the evening, by the way, it turned out that Kostya does not drink alcohol. Well, anyway, he’s still a good guy.

In the morning our regiment arrived. The fourth volunteer came, Leonid (Lenya) from Saint Petersburg.[19] A very specific person, so to speak. In a good way. A very religious man, 25-28 years old, vegetarian, teetotaler/non-smoker (by the way, a curious detail—all four of us were non-smokers), in St. Petersburg he worked as a freight forwarder. He had not served in the army, and was not particularly eager for battle, because had quite pacifist beliefs. Leonid was hoping to find an opportunity to benefit by any peaceful means. However, weapons were not categorically rejected—if there were no other way, then he would be ready to shoot. With his bright red hair and green shirt, he seemed to me to be associated with the Emerald Isle,[20] so I suggested that, if possible, he could claim to be a volunteer from Ireland, which was good for PR. He was willing to learn a few phrases in English but, after discussing the proposal, it was decided that it was much more rational to simply spout incoherent nonsense and pass it off as Irish; anyway nobody knows it, including the Irishmen themselves.

Meanwhile, in line with the historical practice of the past six thousand years, the idle troops began “fermenting.” The next two days passed in anticipation of inactivity. On the state of affairs of the Strip the information was disappointing—the U-forces gradually increased their activity, and a safe window for our passage did not appear. We discussed for some time the idea of returning to Rostov and look for other channels, but after some reflection, we gave it up. I was rescued from boredom by reading Alexander’s books. And not in the sense of «books from the library of Alexander» but in the sense of «books written by Alexander.» Yes, our hospitable host (descended, by the way, from an old and respected Cossack family) turned out to be a writer, and a good one. I read with great interest his stories devoted mainly to the life of the Don Cossacks in the twentieth century. Dima also liked them. Remembering about two other guys, I tried (not entirely unsuccessfully) to entertain them with a story from Africa. It is trivial by the standards of the Black Continent, but somebody unfamiliar with its realities could find it quite exotic.

This epic story began about three years ago in the Mecca of Geoproctology—the Republic of Sierra Leone. An investor from 1/6 of the globe,[21] having clearly perceived too seriously his readings in childhood, decided to make a quick buck by buying gold from the naive natives and then reselling it in the United Arab Emirates and other places worthy of a thermonuclear bomb. To this end, the company “Horns and Hoofs, LG Ltd.” was founded, an office and housing were rented for the purchasing agents, a car was bought, all necessary licenses were obtained, and with the same or even less forethought, some more funds were spent (a total of about $100K). Then the investor departed to his homeland, leaving two agents to perform their functional duties. The idea was that the guys had to get off their asses and go into the bush, to buy gold at reasonable prices from local prospectors. However, as you know (at least I do), in the bush there is no booze (or it goes for the price of helium-3), no food (suitable for white men), no women (who are not too scary to copulate with), no electricity—in short, there is nothing good there. But there is malaria, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, Lassa fever, mosquitoes, snakes, all kinds of insects, cops dripping saliva when seeing a white man, and just guys who can kill you without any hesitation for 100 bucks, and not suffer any later remorse. Our agents, that being not their first year in Africa, were all well aware of it. Therefore, by virtue of all the aforementioned, they made a resolute decision to sit in a comfortable air-conditioned office in Freetown (where there are women, booze and sometimes even electricity), waiting until through a chain of at least five intermediaries the gold from the bush would reach them. Of course, the whole thing then went from «possibly profitable» to «definitely unprofitable.» Well, that was the investors problem, not theirs.

Alas, instead of naive Black Africans, the asshole of the Universe turned out to be populated by devious negroеs who treacherously did not want to exchange golden nuggets for glass beads. After making a couple of deals and earning approximately minus 10% on the investment, the investor still hadn’t given up the idea of making quick money. So, he went to a location further away from the top 10 of World Geoproctologic Rating, Uganda, where it is rumored that gold was one and a half times cheaper than in Sierra Leone. (Our agents, meanwhile, continued their imitation of creative activity in Freetown.) There is actually some gold in Uganda, but not enough. A lot less of it than is exported from there. The trick is that gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which is actually not democratic or a republic) goes out into the world through Uganda. This state (DRC) is unique in its squalor, unfortunately even by the standards of Africa (I highly recommend reading a little about its history). In particular, the glorious state institutions of the republic are so effective that people and natives equally prefer to haul natural resources smuggled across several borders, if only not to interact with these same authorities. They smuggle them in Uganda also, where they are bought by the Arabs/Jews/Armenians/Indians and carried back to their lairs. After scouting the area for contacts and information, our investor came to the great city of Kampala and looked at the spots with cheap gold, where he met an Armenian (deeply rooted in the area) and was treated kindly in every way, through the hordes of generals/colonels/high-ranking officials. So, in general, he liked Kampala much more than Freetown. In this regard, it was decided to start moving in the direction of Uganda, gradually shifting the focus of the business. For this reason “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.” was again founded, an office and housing were rented for the purchasing agents, a car was bought, all necessary licenses were obtained, and with the same or even less foresight, some more funds were spent. Déjà vu (only here, the investments amounted not to $100K but almost $250K). The Armenian became a partner in the company and was responsible for the resolution of all kinds of administrative/legal(criminal) problems.

Then a normal (for African standards, of course) business process started. The company had existed for a while, people were getting salaries, bribes were paid to solve different problems, and they were solved. There was only one problem that had not been solved—in six months, not a single gold purchase was made. The reasons were different each time—the shipment didn’t arrive, the sellers were afraid of something, some scammers tried to push their shit instead of gold, in the midst of the negotiations the police appeared (of course, the issue was solved, but the deal somehow thwarted), etc., etc… During the six months, more than $50K went down the drain, and there wasn’t even a whiff of gold. Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, there was gold and no problem buying it, except one—a steady loss on each deal. After thinking about the unfairness of life, the investor made a willful decision—»You want something done right, do it yourself!»—and flew to Kampala.

After his arrival in the great city of Kampala, he lit a fire under his subordinates’ appropriate places, and appealed to the conscience and greed of the partners. The result was again an excellent pastime, seeing cheap gold (or rather people who likely have it), meetings with the generals/colonels/Deputy Ministers, and other fraud getting used to the situation. After some time, the main factor was found to overcome the difficulties—the deliveries of democratically-republican-Congolese gold had been going on for years and decades by long-established channels, and nobody would share an already existing channel with a newcomer. Honed over the years of battles for loot, our brave entrepreneurs quickly developed a recipe for the victory of communism successful business management—creating their own channel!

Well, it’s easier to say than to do. Of course, no one was going to wash gold in the Congolese jungle-covered mountains in the cross machine gun fire of gangs of tailed thugs democratic opposition groups and crazy butchers representatives of the legitimate authorities. The idea of ​​getting direct access to this difficult trade of the serial suicides brave miners also looked quite utopian. Well, there are no such fortresses which a donkey laden with cash wouldn’t be able to take. To be specific, the Armenian found access to the Afro people who had been buying the precious metal directly in hell the Democratic Republic of Congo from the miners. When making contact, another couple of dozen K was spent on hospitality and encouragement of loyal government employees. After lengthy negotiations in good restaurants, the following plan of action was developed:

  1. The Afro people would undertake to bring back from the DRC 20kg of gold dust of a purity of at least 22 karats and sell it to “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.” for 300,000 bucks.
  2. For purchase and running costs, there would be an advance in the amount of $50K.
  3. As a pledge, a representative of the Congolese Afro people would remain in Kampala in captivity visiting “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.”
  4. In parallel with the delivery of gold from the DRC, the Armenian would prepare legal documents for further miraculous transformation of the Congolese into a money tree Ugandans

So it went (to a point). The investor, who had not yet lost his critical thinking been poisoned by the ups and downs of Russian business, suggested putting the guest in chains (or at least keeping him under lock and key at all times), but was subjected to comradely criticism from the standpoint of morality and political expediency.

So the Congolese Afro people got $50K in advance and departed for home. Since the supply of the investor’s available cash had been largely exhausted, and the confidence in the ability of the Ugandan subordinates to commit any meaningful action undermined, the following organizational and financial solutions were made. From the funds of “Horns and Hoofs, SL Ltd.” $300K was seized (which was approximately 100% of the capital of said company), and in addition, one (of the two) agents from Freetown was relocated to Kampala to provide methodological and practical assistance in the deal of the century.

The process went on as usual. Booze was drunk, food was eaten, Afro ladies were copulated with. And, for sure, money was spent. Gold, however, still didn’t want to be bought, despite the arrival of the agent from Sierra Leone, but nobody paid too much attention to that, being in the pleasant languor of the upcoming arrival of 20kg of gold from the DRC. The Armenian was preparing the miraculous transformation of smuggled Congolese gold to honestly-mined Ugandan one, and the process was also eating money. The pledge, in the person of the Kampala representative of the Congolese Afro people, lived quietly in the house of the glorious firm “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.” and even was fed from time to time.

Then some news from the DRC came up. According to the Afro people, everything was well, except they needed $50K more. The reason was simple—there was more shooting in the Democratic (!!!) Republic (!!!) of Congo than usual, so to do what was planned they needed more money (for money triumphs over evil, even in Africa, although not always). The investor not being quite such a naive person, took the Armenian by the nostrils politely asked the Armenian «What the fuck is going on?!» The Armenian (which, you recall, organized the whole glorious anabasis for gold in Inca Zululand the DRC) spent some time on calls to the DRC with the same urgent question («What the fuck is going on?!»). As it turned out after the talks, the Afro people from a reserve of alternative forms of intelligence organized by the King of Belgium[22] were ready to bring not 20kg of gold dust, but all 50. But to do so they wanted not $300K but $800K. The former terms of the transaction weren’t good enough for them anymore. They said it was too great a risk (the DRC was experiencing another mini-genocide), and so they would not put their lives at stake for $300K but only for $800K. And, of course, they could not return the $50K because it had already been spent. “We’ll return it someday if we have the money, sure. The pledge? You can make a barbecue out of him, we don’t care.” The investor scratched his head, consulted with his partners in the Homeland, and said that it was possible to get 50kg for $700K, but he wouldn’t give the money in advance any more, but only upon receipt of the gold. As a result of threats, promises, quarrels, reconciliations and calculations, the following plan was developed:

  1. Some of the Armenian’s tribesmen in the DRC would meet with the Afro people and verify that they have 50kg of gold dust.
  2. “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.” would send another $30K to the Afro people for their expenses smuggling 50kg of the above-mentioned gold dust by a complex route through the three borders (the DRC/Rwanda, Rwanda/Tanzania and Tanzania/Uganda) to Kampala. The previous plan for crossing the Congolese-Ugandan border was dropped due to the fact that in the area the Lord’s Resistance Army had been revived, whose troops, consisting of teens 12-14 years old, were catching strangers and sacrificing them for the sake of the Good by various inhumane ways.
  3. The Armenian, meanwhile, would prepare the documents for the miraculous transformation of smuggled Congolese gold into honestly-mined Ugandan gold, adjusted for the increased volume.
  4. Upon arrival in Kampala, the Afro people, after inspection of the gold, would receive $750,000 USD. Excluding the $80,000, of course.

So it went (to a point). One of the Armenian’s tribesmen in the DRC met with the Afro people, confirmed that they had 50kg of gold dust, $30K traveled from the God-forsaken place into the God-cursed one, and the shipment went on its dangerous journey. Meanwhile, life in Kampala continued on its previous course—booze/Afro women/attempts to buy gold.

After a week or two, the Afro people got in touch again: “Everything is OK, there’s just one problem: the shipment is stuck in Rwandan customs, and the Rwandans are not people you want to fuck with. Again cursing, again the nerves, again «What the fuck is going on?!» Again, some of the Armenian’s tribesmen in Rwanda confirmed that the situation was difficult indeed. The Afro people were sending more and more panic messages, due to the well-known national pastime of the Rwandans: to dig a ditch, fill it with old tires and set them on fire, and then bring to the ditch a group of people and force them to push each other into the fire. The winner receives a prize—he will be just hacked with machetes. However, given the amount of gold dust, it was possible that the happy Rwandans would show some humanity and all the Congolese would be mercifully hacked. In short, 10 more K solved the problem, and the festival of national traditions did not take place.

In the meantime, while the cargo is traveling from Rwanda to Tanzania, let’s shift the focus of our attention to Kampala for the time being. The investor, due to the exhausted cash reserves and the refusal or reluctance of his partners to replenish it, told the Armenian that there wouldn’t be any more money, but only the original $300K, minus what was already received by Afro people. The Armenian, of course, got very angry, and the Afro people, who were just crossing the Rwandan-Tanzanian border, and requesting the next $10,000 for the settlement with Tanzanian customs and other law enforcement of that not particularly remarkable country, got even more angry. Again cursing, again the nerves, again «What the fuck is going on?!» As a result of threats, promises, quarrels, reconciliations and calculations, the following plan was developed:

  1. 10 more K would be sent to the Afro people to settle the customs formalities.
  2. On arrival in Kampala, after checking the gold, the Afro people would get $200K in their greedy hands. Then, under the guarantee of the Armenian that they wouldn’t be cheated, they would pass the 50kg of gold dust to “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.”
  3. Representatives of “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.” in a week’s time would take the gold to Dubai in the company of one representative of the Afro people.
  4. Upon the sale of the gold, the Afro people would receive the remaining amount.

So it went (to a point). The next $10K went to the country of Kilimanjaro,[23] the tickets to Dubai were booked and documents for the export of the gold (after its miraculous conversion) were prepared. The investor, although being very tired of Africa, took heart: if earlier the most likely candidate for being cheated had been him (and he understood this well), now the Armenian and Afro people should be feeling some fear. It remained only to cross the last of three borders…

The denouement was approaching. 50kg of gold dust steadily plowed through the Tanzanian savanna, every day closer to the coveted border with Uganda. The great city of Kampala, in which the fruitless attempts to buy at least something golden were finally discontinued, and even the Afro women, due to the general nervousness of the situation, got some respite. However, the rate of consumption of alcoholic beverages did not decrease, rather the contrary, again because of the nervousness of the actors involved.

So, during all of that, a message came from Tanzania. The Afro people had gotten into a conflict with the guys who privatized the Tanzanian-Ugandan border, in connection with which the smuggling of the long-awaited gold became impossible. However, claiming themselves to be honest people, they said they would keep to the deal. “Just come to Tanzania, pay the agreed $200K minus expenses and get your gold, and then everything else according to the plan.” Obviously, all of that did not cause an attack of enthusiasm in the owners of “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.”, but rather stirred suspicions against the Afro people and each other. However, it was necessary to do something. The Armenian found access to the Tanzanian and Ugandan customs officials, and for the next $10+$10K, an agreement was reached to cross the border with the box, and nobody would look inside. The guarantors of “not looking inside” were some high-ranking mutual friends of the Armenian and the Ugandan-Tanzanian border guards. The documentation for the miraculous transformation of smuggled Congolese gold into honestly-mined Ugandan gold was already prepared, as well as documents for its export to the land of sheikhs and emirs.

In order to implement their plans, the investor, the Armenian, the agent (the one from Freetown), the pledge and a couple of hired local cops (for protection) went to a Ugandan town on the shores of Lake Victoria. There the investor, the Armenian and the agent boarded the ferry and left for Tanzania with the money, while the others were waiting for their happy return with the prey. Also, the cops kept an eye on the pledge to prevent him from escaping.

Upon arrival in Tanzania, some local guards were hired from a local security agency, and then, finally, there was a meeting with the Congolese Afro people and the presentation of the greatly-desired gold. To the surprise of our heroes, the Congolese presented not gold dust, but ready-made gold bars. They explained that «it was easier to transport it this way.» After a brief period of mutual recriminations, it was decided to test it, for what else they could do—grinding the bars back into dust did not seem rational. The agent performed some tests, and then issued a positive opinion, the Afro people received the coveted $200,000 (minus expenses) and disappeared in an unknown direction (which of their representatives in Dubai would be the pledge had been agreed on beforehand). The gold was stuck in a special box that, in turn, was sealed from every possible angle with special tape, and deposited with a security agency (the ferry was leaving the next morning).

Early the next morning all three of them drove to the security agency’s office, checked the integrity of the seals on the box, and signed for departing to the port. Tanzanian border guards and customs were negotiated without too much trouble, with the inevitable (in Africa) “Give me something,” not exceeding reasonable limits.

Proudly seated on the deck and looking at the lakeside expanse in search of crocodiles, one of them (probably the agent, but the information is contradictory) said, «Guys, let’s open the box, inside the car, so no one will see, and check if everything is OK there.» «Why not?» agreed the others, and so they did open the box, and saw all the same golden bricks. Sighing with relief, the future millionaires got out a few bars, enjoying the soothing weight. «Hmmm …» the agent said, closely examining the ingot. «???” the Armenian and the investor responded trying to catch their hearts before they jump out. «Wait a moment…» the agent muttered, frantically pulling out his tools, and checked out a few bars. «?!?!?!» the rest weren’t able to keep calm. «Damn, it’s not gold!!!» the specialist confirmed.

This was followed by a scene of recriminations in scam/dupe/stupidity, promises to deal with the companions to the fullest extent of the law/imagination, figuring out who owes what to whom and whose fault everything what happened was, etc. I think the passion you can imagine yourselves.

Arriving in Uganda, the former (now, perhaps you could call them that) partners met a new surprise—the Ugandan custom officials made poker faces and opened the box, at the mention of any prior agreement making terrified eyes and whispering «We are under supervision!» However, the hypothetical supervision did not prevent the brave border guards from asking for $50K. «It’s not for us, it’s for the supervisors, otherwise they will confiscate everything!» After hearing from the enraged adventurers an offer to shove the «gold» and the «supervisors» between their lower brain hemispheres, the jittery (like most of the locals) custom officers guessed that something had gone wrong. So they preferred not to aggravate the situation and let the box pass (probably realizing that it was just the smell of gold in it; they were quite experienced and could most likely determine that by eye and by touch).

Throwing the pledge into a minibus and promising him a short, but painful life, our heroes launched toward home to determine the guilty ones. However, at the gates of the house they were met by the police, who told the former associates that the pledge turned out to be a malicious offender who was wanted in three countries, so they were arresting him. «Oh, what’s in that box, can we see? Well, the thing is, you’re in the same car with a known criminal, so who knows what might be there… We can’t, did you say? Well, then we are all going to the station, and there everything will be clear. No need to call Colonel X, he is aware of the situation. Well, so, we are taking the offender’s box with us? Wonderful! Have a nice day…» Two hours later the cops came back very angry, and with a search warrant for the house (the search, of course, turned up nothing). Rescued from being taken to the police station «to clarify the circumstances that contributed to…» by the help of friends in high places called by the Armenian, the former companions began to decide what to do next. As expected, it was useless and without making any common decision they once again quarreled, and then went to bed.

The following day, the rats started fleeing the sinking ship—meaning, one of the staff of “Horns and Hoofs, UG Ltd.”, a native of Armenia but long living in Africa, sensibly decided that “Bolivar cannot carry double,”[24] withdrew from the bank account all the rest of the money (which amounted to $20K) and disappeared.

The investor started be taken for questioning by the police on a daily basis, answering what he knew about the smuggling of gold and why a famous criminal lived in his house. His passport was taken from him, to eliminate the flight risk. After a couple of weeks, the investor bought his passport back for $2K and left the inhospitable African soil forever.

The story seemed to be enough to distract the team from overly bold ideas like «go by ourselves,» at least for some time. The news, unfortunately, once again talked about the concentration of some sort of formidable teams of the Russian army along the border, and that our great and glorious asshole President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t hesitate to use force to stop the Ukrainians from committing a genocide. Well, and some other nonsense from the arsenal of the servants of His Darkness. However, this dull propaganda has a certain effect, I’m forced to admit. The guys seriously began to fear that while we sat there, the Russian Army would enter Ukraine in force, and we would miss all the fun. To my shame, I have to admit that it was contagious. Though in my mind I knew that the likelihood of such a development was about zero, or maybe even less, but the heart, the heart … as one of the people most hated by me wrote, «One cannot live in society and be free of society.»[25] But then, Alexander’s words «Get ready, twenty minutes to go,» were met with boisterous cheers (silent, of course, due to the secretiveness).

I quickly threw my things into a backpack. There was a residual moment’s hesitation: to take or not to take my passport with me (three days with this decision, in the end I decided to take). Loaded with ours and the Cossack’s stuff, we deepened into the forest along the river. The ford was about a kilometer to the south. Lenya, fucking bastard, was making so much noise it could be heard in the entire forest, including the opposite bank. I had kind of taken him under my wing, still not sure how that happened, so I had to remind him all the time that we were not here on a walk. We undressed to the waist and crossed the river. Our eyes were rummaging through the forest on the west bank, the thought knocking inside the head «And what if there is an ambush, and now they will begin shooting?!?» Landfall, dressing. So far, everything was quiet. Maybe they were waiting until we were away from the river? Alexander gestured, “Follow me, don’t make any noise.” We went deep into the forest. Damn, why are you not looking under your feet?!?! With difficulty I overcame the desire to give Lenya a cuff. In a whisper I explained what an asshole he was. The undergrowth was thick and thorny, our bags were hindering us, sweat was trickling. Hell, no weapons, and if the Ukes came out now we couldn’t do anything. After entering some long-abandoned field, we went down the path among the tall weeds. I looked back—a man about my age in hunting camouflage was catching up with us in light, quick steps. When and whence he had come, none of us had noticed. There was a second of fear—but he had no weapons, only binoculars in his hand; hence, he wasn’t a Uke. Quite the partisans we are, aren’t we? If any Uke with a gun had been in his place, all of us would’ve been dead already. A hail went down the chain ahead to Alexander. He stopped; the “hunter» came up to him and hugged him. Whew, he’s one of our own. The «hunter» was leading the column now. Five more minutes, and we came to a shelter between the trees, with an old rusty «loaf»[26] there. From it climbed the driver, a fat man in civvies, about 50. He introduced himself as «Uncle Sasha.» A wide—not fat, but wide—well-built man stepped out from behind the trees, a little younger than the driver, in camouflage, holding a gun.

«Papa!» He shook everyone’s hand, then eyed Kostya closer. «And how…» he began.

«It’s OK, he is twenty-one, I already checked,» soothed Alexander. Our northerner looked on with a tired and condescending expression, as if saying silently «Why the hell are you annoying me about my age, can’t you envy me in silence?» A final hug with Alexander, loading into the «loaf,» and a short briefing from Papa: «If the shelling starts, drop to the floor; if the car stops, jump out, bend down, and run into the thicket.» The “hunter» jumped in after us, Papa sat shotgun, and we started off.


[1] A type of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation. Usually it represent areas of non-Russian ethnicity, although there are several republics with Russian majority. The indigenous ethnic group of a republic that gives it its name is referred to as the «titular nationality». The republics have some privileges comparing to the usual federal subjects, and inside it the «titular nationality» has some privileges comparing to the Russians.

[2] Volga is the main river of the Western part of Russia, some kind of “Russian Mississippi”

[3] Slang: the border of the country in war (comes from the time of the war in Afghanistan (1979-1989)

[4] An ethnic slur for Ukrainians

[5] Slang: the flag of Ukraine (dark blue and yellow)

[6] Slang: the flag of the Russian Federation (white, dark blue and red)

[7] Slang: the flag of the Russian Empire (black, yellow and white)

[8] An Orthodox symbol of Jesus Christ

[9] Slang: the flag of Luhansk People’s Republic (blue, dark blue and red)

[10] Slang: the border guards in post-Soviet countries

[11] Infantry fighting vehicle

[12] The Security Service of Ukraine is Ukraine’s main government security agency

[13] Due to their own propaganda, a lot of Ukrainian believed (and some of them still do) that the Donbass war is not against the locals, but against the hordes of barbaric pro-Russian Chechens, that came out of nowhere and started killing for no reason

[14] The Komi Republic is a federal subject of the Russian Federation. It’s a huge, but sparsely populated northern area

[15] Night vision device

[16] Kuban Cossacks are Cossacks who live in the Kuban region of South Russia

[17] Krasnodar is the main city of the Kuban region

[18] The Don Cossacks are a large Cossack community in Southern Russia and the Donbass region

[19] Saint Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, located at the coast of the Baltic Sea (Northern-Western Russia)

[20] The poetic name for Ireland

[21] A nickname for the territory of the former Soviet Union

[22] The area that is now occupied by the DRC was originally the personal possession of the Belgian King Leopold II. Perhaps the only example where the white colonization of the African countries did not benefit the local residents

[23] Mount Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, «Kibo,» «Mawenzi,» and «Shira,» is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa.

[24] A phrase from O. Henry’s short story “Roads We Take”

[25] Vladimir Lenin was a communist revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as the first head of the Soviet government

[26] Slang: An UAZ-452 off-road van


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