On the 3rd of March 2018, on the same day that Russia would reelect Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, journalist Illya Kholodov from Novayeta Gazetta disappeared. He was last seen saying goodbye to his wife as he headed to the nearest voting polls, to watch out for any irregularities. Screaming was heard in the neighborhood and a speeding car.
One day day before his disappearance, Illya’s was visited by his old childhood friend Konstantin. Konstantin was deeply connected, a man who has long disappeared among the Russian elites. Normally he would never show up in this neighborhood, but her he was, in front of his door in his thousand dollar suit with his silver Lexus parked outside.
Konstantin’s bodyguard waited outside as Illya invited him in. Illya offered him tea and as he was boiling up the water, Konstantin pretended to admire this small and humble apartment. He noticed a display case where inside it, lay a series of old pictures, from faded color to black-and-white. These pictures dated back from World War 2 to Stalin’s reign of terror.
They sat down for tea. Konstantin asked where his wife was and Illya told him she was at her job- as one of the editors of Novayeta Gazetta, Konstantin then went straight to the point.
”All you gotta do is survey the place and say that nothing was out of the ordinary. That’s all. You write down that everything was square and that you didn’t see any irregularities.”
”But what if I do see irregularities.”
”That’s the thing, even if you do see something you don’t see something.”
”Why bother? Nobody is going to believe.”
”The right people will.”
”If I do that I will forever lose the respect of my colleagues. I’m sorry I can’t do it.”
”Who cares about their respect? I’ve something better than respect: a nice big envelop every month, for a whole. Every month you’ll have more money than you’ll make in a year. That’s better than respect.”
”You’re fucking kidding right? You know me. I’d said no to big fat envelopes for years now. If I cared about money I wouldn’t be fucking be here. Why would I change my mind today?”
”Look I set this up for you. My superiors had other ideas with you but I changed their mind, don’t make me look like an asshole here. You made it difficult for us in the past but you didn’t cause us enough aggravation to get really angry. Now it’s different.”
”How is it different?”
”The people are more restless than ever. The big guy is worried. Things need to look a little more clean now…”
”It’s not going to look clean you know that.”
”It won’t if people start looking. But we need to make sure it’s not overly transparent. If people gotta look for corruption, it’s not really there. It needs to shine for it to be real. If it don’t shine, it ain’t real.”
”Why do you need me anyway Konstantin. It doesn’t matter if this district votes against him. You’ll have enough votes. Even if he doesn’t get enough votes he’s still gonna win. Even if I say the whole thing is a giant rip-off, it doesn’t matter. You don’t fucking need me to do anything.”
”Exactly, that’s right. Even if you don’t comply things will turn out just the same. That’s why you are gonna do as your told. Cos you don’t wanna get hurt for something that isn’t gonna make a difference in your life.”
”It ain’t me Konstantin, I’m sorry.”
”You’re making an awful lotta noise lately. We can’t have that right now. You know there were a lot of people aiming for you but I held them back. If it wasn’t for me, we might not even have this conversation.”
”So I should be grateful is that it?”
”All you dopes should be grateful. We could make you guys disappear of the fucking earth. You know you don’t exactly contribute anything to this country? You’re just costing us money. And you don’t fuck with the money. There is nothing in this world that’s stronger than money. And for what? You’re just hurting yourself. All you’re doing is costing us money and wasting our time. We have wasted so many times on you fucking dopes. We’ve made it clear, we’ve made countless examples of you guys but you never fucking listen. You just don’t fucking get it.”
”The Russian people deserve better…”
”Oh grow the fuck up! How many times do we have to repeat this dance? How many bodies does it fucking take? Nothing is going to change. This is how it’s always going to be. Look at our history. Something is deeply wrong with the soul of this country. We own this country’s soul. We’ve had a chance to do penitence after the fall of Soviet-union. Yet we still fucked-up. Now it’s our time to burn.”
Konstantin got up and he buttoned his jacket he said, ”you were already pushing it last election and we let it slide. We ain’t gonna let it slide this time Illya. Just confirm to me that you will do as your told. If I go back and tell them you said no, I can’t protect you anymore.”
Illya sight and considered it, but as he looked to the left, he saw his father’s picture inside the display case. He remembered how he died, he remembered how hard he worked, he remembered how little time he spend with him. He then made his decision.
”I’m going to do my job. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Konstantin looked at him mournfully and then shook his head. As Konstantin headed for the door, Illya got up and yelled after him: ”you know what my father used to say? It’s better to die for a beautiful dream than to live in a nightmare.”
Konstantin gave him one last look and then walked out the door. He hadn’t even touched his tea.
The case of Illya Kholodov’s disappearance would forever be unsolved. One day, after six months of investigation, the wife of Kholodov visited the police department again and accused them all of corruption. She screamed that blood was on their hands, she said that God would judge them in the next world. Even though she was a woman in her fifties, it took three young police-officers to carry her out of the building.
The case-officer who was supposedly working on the disappointed of Illya Kholodov- though had long given up after certain people told him to stop looking- went home early that day and when he got home, he locked himself in the bathroom and weeped. Through his tears he asked God the same question over and over again: ”what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do?”
Illya would become just another faceless figure. Another number on the long list of missing journalists. The hope is that perhaps, if the numbers are high enough, the people will rise up and demand change. If the numbers are high enough. If the numbers will continue to mean something. Maybe after six more years.