It was a dirty job, but the instructions were clear. No professional assassins or criminals; no ex-soldiers, either. He had to recruit “normal guys” who had never murdered anyone. “Well-trained mercenaries can always sell you out,” his boss warned him while they were taking an early-morning jog in the park. The weather was cold and rainy, and the two men were perfectly alone. “I want you to find some hotheaded fools. Tell them whatever you want; tell them they’ll be part of our hit squad, keeping the city free of scum. That’s going to boost their morale. And don’t pay them too much. We might need them again at a later date.”
The boss wanted no fuckups. The guns needed to be clean and well greased. The bullets were to be handled with gloves only. The hit man had to approach his victim from behind. “There’s no place for heroics here. This job is a bitch. Two shots in the back, then a ‘verification’ shot in the head. And no running afterward. It’s important that your man walks calmly away from the scene, even in the presence of a hundred witnesses. He could be certain that nobody’s dumb enough to give him chase.”
Georgi Stoev listened carefully to Poli Pantev as he went over the instructions, detail by detail. In the last couple of years, Pantev had asked Stoev to execute all sorts of grisly orders, but nothing as gruesome as this. He was flattered that his boss, one of the kingpins of SIC (Security Insurance Company), a Bulgarian insurance racket, was entrusting him with a job at once so intimate and dangerous. To be like his favorite gangster, Luca Brasi, Don Vito Corleone’s ruthless and loyal top button man, had been his longtime dream. The Godfather–both Francis Ford Coppola’s movie and Mario Puzo’s book–was a sacred text for a whole generation of Bulgarian gangsters, and Stoev was no exception. He was happy to be given the chance to become a fiction character. It was an offer, one might say, that he couldn’t refuse.
As it happens, there is no unassailable proof of whether Georgi Stoev organized any contract killings, or if the conversations with Pantev he relayed so faithfully years later in interviews and a wildly popular series of autobiographical books published in Bulgaria were instead the product of his rowdy imagination and unquenchable longing for fame. One fact, though, is beyond dispute, having been processed by death’s uncomplicated bureaucracy. On April 7, 2008, in the middle of the day, at one of the busiest hubs in the capital city, Sofia, Georgi Stoev received two shots in the back, then a “verification” shot to the head. The two hit men walked calmly away in the presence of hundreds of witnesses. Nobody was dumb enough to give them chase.
The history of organized crime in Bulgaria is, among other things, the story of Georgi Stoev. The tale can be said to begin on November 10, 1989, when Todor Zhivkov, the country’s dictator, was peacefully swept from power by his own party apparatus, effectively ending forty-five years of ignoble Communist rule. Democratic reforms were soon introduced, and Bulgaria’s economy moved toward rapid liberalization. Rigorous media censorship disappeared; political dissidents and “enemies of the people” stopped disappearing. A freely elected parliament voted on a new constitution that broke the monopoly of state power, established electoral pluralism and guaranteed the rights of all citizens. Waving the blue flags of the Union of Democratic Forces (the political opposition) and raising victory signs, people marched daily through the streets of Sofia, bubbling with excitement at their newfound liberty. It was a scene worthy of CNN coverage.