Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shantage by N

It had been a grim day.

Not the grimmest of days: those were the days when Maior Viktor Borisovitch Korolev made his monthly tour of inspection of the Vice Squad, and heaped bile and chauvinistic venom into Zina's head, when he took the unrelenting piss out of her for being the youngest Leitenant in the Moscow Police Investigation Bureau and for being that most reviled of creatures ... a woman.

But, grim nevertheless.

Grim because her landlord was making unpleasant noises about her being late with the rent.

Grim because her thirteen-year-old Lada had refused to start that morning, and had refused to do so with a loud and very expensive sounding bang.

And especially grim because Kapitan Yuri Gromov--her boss--had allocated this stupid nothing of a case to her. Zina hated anything to do with shantage--blackmail--in her opinion it was a seedy and a low-rent sort of crime.

And to compound this misery, the victim in this case was an arrogant, bitchy air-head.

Zina had known immediately that the woman would be trouble. For the Kapitan to allocate Zina (the only female in the squad) to handle the woman, when the woman in question was young, blonde, big-breasted and short-skirted, when normally the chance to interview such a beauty would have sparked a melee of testosterone-driven squabbling amongst the male Investigators in the Operations Room, signalled only one thing: the beauty in question was such a cow that none of the men wanted to have anything to do with her.

In a vain attempt to make herself more comfortable, Zina adjusted herself on the beaten up wooden chair that had been her constant companion and her constant irritant since she'd joined the Vice Squad two months before. This done, she desperately tried to kindle some enthusiasm for what the woman was saying. She looked up and studied the woman, who sat on the rickety visitor's chair across Zina's scarred desk, watched her as she theatrically twisted a tear sodden handkerchief in her perfectly manicured hands.

But it was no use, despite all her training, all her professionalism, Zina had done that most un-police womanly of things when she'd first met Irina Romanovna Petrova: she'd detested her.

Why? Because in Zina's opinion, Irina Romanovna was a minki. She belonged to the class of new-Russians who had pilfered, purloined, and cheated their way to vast fortunes when the old Communist Russia had fallen, and now thought only of how best to flaunt their ill-gotten gains. And minkis were the worst of the females of this specie: they were women so desperate to display their wealth that they wore their mink coats even on the hottest of days--just as Irina Romanovna was doing now--hence the appellation: minkis.

With a very audible sigh, Zina tried to tune out her contempt and listen to what this stupid, useless, over-dressed woman was actually saying in her whining, winging, affected little-girl voice.

"...I am so very worried that if I don't do something soon, then these ... incidents might become more frequent, and if my husband were to find out..."

Yes, thought Zina, that's what's at the bottom of this little visit. Something's threatening the gravy train, something is threatening to cut this brainless bimbo off from the endless supply of cash provided by hubby: that's why you've come running to the police. That's why I've got to listen to this drivel.

"Perhaps, Irina Romanovna," she began as equitably as she was able, "you could begin at the beginning. When did you receive the first of these notes?"

"Is there anywhere we could discuss this more ... privately?" asked Irina, looking anxiously around the cramped dingy office and at the three other police officers working there, three other police officers who were unsuccessfully trying to hide their eavesdropping. "It is a little sensitive..."

Welcome, Irina Romanovna Petrova, to the realities of modern Russia, thought Zina, a modern Russia where money is spent on show but precious little on the necessities; welcome to how the other ninety-nine percent of the population spend their lives, eking out an existence whilst useless parasites like you...

She stopped herself, this attitude was counter-productive. Better to be fiercely efficient and get rid of this idiot woman as quickly as possible than to sit here mentally abusing her. "I'm sorry, Irina Romanovna," Zina said, trying to put a hint of authentic concern in her voice, "unfortunately the Investigation Bureau doesn't run to private interview rooms. But believe me, everyone in this room is a trained professional and will treat your interview with total discretion." Zina wondered if her nose was growing Pinocchio-like as she uttered those words, "I was asking when you first started to receive these blackmail demands?"

"Well, I really think that for people like me, there should be better facilities. And I also think that I should be being interviewed by somebody of a higher rank..."

Thank you, God, thought Zina as an escape from this torture opened before her, "Well, if you're unhappy, perhaps I could arrange an interview with my Kapitan who could allocate another Investigator..."

"Is he that big fat man I saw earlier?"

"Kapitan Gromov is ... sizeable, certainly."

"Well, I don't want to speak to that piece of govno again. I spoke to him before I saw you, and he was almost insulting."

Zina spread her hands in mock despair. "Then there is nothing more I can do. If you want a new Investigator allocated to your case, then unfortunately you must apply to Kapitan Gromov."

For long seconds Irina Romanovna said nothing, her gaze flicking over to Zina and then back to her hankie. Eventually she made a decision. "Oh, I suppose, you'll have to do. But I really think..."

Zina was getting fed up with what this silly woman thought. "I asked when you first received a blackmail note?"

"Three weeks ago," Irina Romanovna snapped.

"Did you keep the message?"

Irina Romanovna delved into her blue quilted Dior power bag, carelessly emptying it of perfumes (the delicious smell of Chanel No. 5 wafted irritatingly over Zina's desk), cosmetics (all by Lanvin, and all far, far beyond the stretch of Zina's miniscule pay check), MP3 player, bottle of water, the latest model of cell phone sheathed in a bejewelled case, crocodile-skin credit card holder and car keys (with a Mercedes fob; not for Irina Romanovna the joys of antiquated Russian automotive excellence that Zina had to endure) until finally she produced a crumpled piece of paper, which she handed carelessly to Zina.

Normally Zina would have followed correct police procedure and only handled evidence--which, of course, the piece of paper was--with her hands encased in disposable plastic gloves, but as the note had been at the bottom of Irina Romanovna's handbag for three weeks, this seemed excessively cautious. Zina read the note:

I saw what you did at your husband's fiftieth birthday party, and now you can see it on the CD-R I enclose.

You are a naughty woman!

I will send a copy to your husband unless you go to Room 427 at the Hotel Kosmos tonight. You may wear only a dress and a pair of shoes: nothing else. For one hour, you will do whatever is asked of you, no matter how extreme. During that time you will use the name "Lara".

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