ESSAY: Getting Ahead at Work by Killing Your Boss

One June morning, a murderer rang the doorbell of general director Gennady Lobov's apartment. Opening the door, Lobov's 80-year-old mother-in-law called her son-in-law from the bathroom. "Some Volkov is here to see you," she said.

"Volkov?" asked Lobov, wrapped in a towel and peering through the crack in the door, which was still chained. "What do you want?"

A gunshot cracked in response. Lobov fell to the floor and died. Detectives investigated the director's life. They found that his factory, which used to be military, had made a difficult transition into the civilian sector. People were fired. Those who left made noise. Lobov had conflicts with his deputies. But none of those who wished Lobov ill were considered to be serious threats to his life.

It fell to Lobov's deputy, Yury Izusin, to take up the director's job. One November morning, Izusin bumped into a tall long-haired man standing in front of the factory. The stranger smiled and said, "Your name is Yury. You live at 103 Kholzunov Street, apartment 58. You have two children, and your older daughter in a student. Right?" Izusin, dumfounded, confirmed the facts and looked his interlocutor over. Is he looking for work, Izusin thought, or is this some kind of blackmail?

"You wouldn't treat me to a cup of coffee, would you?" the stranger continued. "I barely got any sleep at all last night thinking about your fate. We don't want Lobov's lot to befall you."

Izusin led him in. His guest smoked expensive cigarettes and looked around Izusin's office with a sneer. The guest continued to barehis soul. He had been hired to kill Izusin. In fact, his liquidation had been scheduled for a week earlier. It hadn't come off, the guest said, because he preferred to smooth out conflicts with discussion.

"But who's the conflict with?" asked Izusin.

"With those who - following Lobov's policies - you plan to fire. I am offering you a chance to stay among the living. But to do that, you have to pay me and leave the factory. Either that, or you can simply get out of town for a couple of weeks, and I can report back and say I did the job," said the stranger.

The stranger continued to chat over coffee. "I used to be a boss once," he confessed. But he was vague about the line he'd been in. "It's too bad. It all went up in smoke," he said. Either he'd gone bankrupt, thought Lobov, or his business had really burned down. They struck an agreement: Izusin would disappear for a time and would pay the stranger when he returned. At the factory the announcement was out that Izusin was leaving his post. He left town quickly. Guards were posted at his apartment. A bodyguard accompanied his daughter to school. Wiretaps were placed on the phones of all the people investigators thought might be involved. But the investigation hit the skids.

Detective Emiliya Kraikina was summoned. She was legendary in Voronezh. "I latched on to what this visitor said about things 'going up in smoke'" said Kraikina. Apparently, a company named Umelets had burned to the ground not long ago. Among the firm's owners was one Yury Orlov.

He was summoned for questioning. He was tall with long hair. "We were talking," said Kraikina, "and I just felt it was him." When Izusin returned to Voronezh he picked Orlov out of a lineup. He was also identified by Lobov's mother-in-law.

Orlov was taken into custody. During interrogations he philosophized. "Man is a gun in the hands of fate," he said. "He doesn't decide anything."

Kraikina asked, "But how does man decide nothing if you had a choice that morning - to shoot or not shoot Lobov?"

"I didn't plan to kill him," said Orlov. "I wanted to pass our ultimatum on to him. But he reached back behind the door, and I thought he was going for a pistol."

"And who wrote this ultimatum?" asked Kraikina.

Orlov told her: Albert Kazmin, who was Lobov's vice director at the plant. Kazmin had been on his way to becoming the director. But Lobov got in the way by asking him to resign. soon thereafter Lobov was dead. But the director's job fell to Izusin. Tapes of Kazmin's from this time recorded several calls from a man with a deep voice. The owner of the voice called from various pay phones to remind Kazmin of some promise. Kazmin tried to justify himself. "I'm not the director," he said. "I can't put you on the payroll."

Kraikina figured out what he meant. Besides paying him for the murder, Kazmin had also promised Orlov a job at the factory.

Kazmin had hired Orlov - for the other job - right off the street. They had known each other for a long time. Kazmin's factory often sold Orlov's firm baking tins. One day they met at the bus stop. Orlov told Kazmin about how his firm had burned down and asked him for a job. Kazmin said "I'll hire you, but first I can only take you on for one job." And he asked Orlov to kill Lobov.

Kazmin knew Orlov had done jail time for robbery. But murder? Orlov couldn't do it. Scaring someone. Suggesting he leave town. That was possible. Kazmin said he would think about it, and they parted ways.

They got together a few days later and considered what to say to Lobov. Orlov had a pistol. He planned to use it to shoot a hole in Lobov's floor to scare him. Kazmin gave him a bit of advice.

"Lobov's got a gun himself," he said. "Make sure he doesn't put any holes in you."

When Orlov turned up at Lobov's apartment with his gun in his gym bag, the thought of the director's pistol was on his mind. Orlov saw through the crack of the door that Lobov was holding his arm at an odd angle and decided it was time to draw. He pulled the trigger. Only during questioning did Orlov learn that Lobov didn't even own a pistol. It was Kazmin's calculated lie. Kazmin was arrested and confessed. He said that "circumstance" had forced him into a life of crime. He was fighting for his career. He wasn't guilty of anything, he said. It's just the times we live in.

If only this situation were unique. Contract hits for the advancement of one's career are an everyday occurrence in Russia. A Moscow lawyer who just finished trying another contract murder case told me that "there is a civil war going on among a small circle of people. They are after power, possessions, whatever. Let it continue so long as it doesn't spill out of the circle."

So if it is a "civil war," where are the front lines? In managers' offices? In the entry ways to apartment buildings? Or in the head of a worker who considers how far his career will advance if he bumps off his boss?

Igor Gamayunov writes for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.