In May of 2009 Johnnie Z called me in New York and asked, “How would you like to go to Russia; Kiev, Petersburg, and Moscow.”
“Why?” Johnny Z was a good friend, but he wasn’t financing a tour of l’Hermitage Palace and the Kremlin.
“I have business in Russia.” The Palm Beach millionaire installed cell phone towers in other countries.
“My off-shore partners owe me $500,000.”
“That’s a lot of money. I had $10 in my pocket.
“I want you to go over there and ask them for the money.”
“Why me?” The previous summer I had taken care of his crazy Airedale. Pom Pom was a refugee from a Riviera Beach crack house. The local police force said that she was a danger to the community. They weren’t wrong, but that summer thunderstorms cured her madness.
“I sent my people.” His company was filled with young go-getters. “And they came up with nothing.”
“And you think I can do better?”
“I’ll pay you $4000 plus expenses.”
“Russia?” My voice was filled with hesitation. “I don’t know Russia.”
I had stopped there for a change of flights at the aeroport in 1994.
“You worked with zeks at nightclubs.” He was referring to the Continental in 1982.
“That was a long time ago.” Zeks were criminals.
“$5000 and expenses.” He was upping the money.
“Count me in.” I rented easy and hung up to leave his people to arrange flights and hotels.
My New York friends thought that I would get killed by the zeks.
“No one is killing me.”
“How can you be sure?” AP, my good friend and landlord, asked, as he drove me to JFK.
“Because I have a plan.” I had a family in Thailand. They needed the money.
I flew to Kiev. No one was at the offices. I drank in a small bar and the next morning left the Don River city for Petersburg, where I was met by a friend.
Sev had played in AQUARIUM. They were huge in 80s. I loved THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MIRROR GLASS.
We showed up at the internet company.
The security sported Uzis. They belonged to the Systema. Some looked like old members of Spetsnaz and they had funny smiles. Funny in a not ha-ha way and the owner asked, “Where your bodyguards?”
“I don’t need a bodyguard with him?”
“Him?” The owner laughed and his crew laughed too. They had killed hundreds in Afghanistan.
“Yes, him.” I pointed to Sev. He had a long white beard.
I told him.
His men repeated the question.
“Is there a problem?” I shrugged, because a nod would have given them too much information.
“No problem, would Sev give us an autograph?”
“If you’re nice.”
Sev wasn’t the leader of the band, but he was part of its soul.
“Vodka.” The owner called out to his staff.
He led Sev into the garden. He was purer than me.
“Nothing for me.”
“I understand.” I drank a lot. The owner wired money to Florida and I called Johnny Z from the office.
“You got some money.”
“How did you do it?”
“Friends know friends.”
“Which means what?”
“If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” Rich people have no friends.
I didn’t bother to explain.
Sev and I went back to his place in the old city. He played one song from MUSIC OF PUBLIC TOILETS on cello.
It was worth the entire trip.
I also didn’t tell Johnnie Z that.
Like all rich people he was only after money, then again so was I.