The Russian Oligarch Affair, Chapter One (final part)


Boris Golitsin was a bear and that was the only similarity Andromeda had seen between him and her father. Smallwolf Baginski had been skinny, for a bear, and somebody she had trusted for more reasons that just because he was her father. If he had ended up in Valhalla, as he had believed he would, Ragnarök was not going to be what was expected. Smallwolf had been, like his father before him, a Sergeant of the Landing Force, and the Landing Force trained and fought to win.
He had never been flabby. Even when he was deadly serious, he had never been dour. He was the man you wanted around when there was trouble.
Andromeda was more like him than she realised.
Golitsin had not made a pass at her, but the way he watched her was discomforting. And there were times when she wondered if he even heard what she was saying. If he had been ruthless it had been a ruthlessness that did not take risks. It had been a ruthlessness without rejoicing in achievement. And, while Stepney Estates could supply what he wanted, she was beginning to wonder just what he planned to use them for.
Some office blocks had Executive Dining Rooms, but not this one. It was, Hugh had once told her, somewhat like the way the Army fed itself in the field everyone getting the same food, Gonville Todd queuing with everyone else and if something was going wrong, he would hear about it. Golitsin was uncomfortable and Andromeda liked that. It would give her an edge.
She didn’t touch the wine. The catering crew knew her, and the coffee they had brewed for her was made to suit her tastes. They knew what she had done at Davos, and it had been for people like them. They reckoned she was worth the effort.
Golitisin’s meal was only a matter of professional pride.
Her mug was most particularly hers, oversized, and bearing the Landing Force badge, and not the official one. She loaded up with a refill when she finished, and she noticed that Golitsin seemed bemused by the way that everyone did their own clear up, even the big boss. Maybe he didn’t notice the chance it gave for a private comversation.
“Has he made an offer yet?”
“Just the sort of logistics he wants, nothing about why or how much.” She asked for her refill. “I think he sees me as beneath him.”
Gunny smirked for a moment. “I imagine he might.”
“He hasn’t a chance.”
“Try not to kill him too much, my dear.”
“Did he really arrange to have you and Mother mugged?”
“The loathsome chap who tried was Bulgarian, No evidence, but the Bulgars did a lot of dirty work for the KGB. Golitsin was Sixth Directorate, which was…
“…economic warfare, officially counter-intelligence.” Andromeda grinned. “Spying on industry is a great way to line up some good deals for after you quit your government job.”
“He was keeping their secrets for them, my dear.”
“And I am sure he is adequately paid for that.”
“You’re being cynical.”
Andromeda shrugged, and picked up her mug of coffee. “I am an anarchist. I have a theory of mind that says sane people help each other, and I am a protector. Not like that silly American novel, not some weird mutation driven by exotic chemistry or the bite of a radioactive spider, but I do what I do because I believe it is right. I think you’re just a better liar than I am.”
“Age and experience.” Gonville Todd winked. “It depends what he thinks you are.”
“Most likely, a victim.”
“He will get a shock.”

The Boardroom was designed to impress. Gonville Bellman had gained a certain reputation for taste from the design of Stepney House, and the boardroom had the same sense of practically applied good taste. It signalled, to those with the mental tools to notice, that Stepney Estates was run by somebody who could do whatever they wanted, and chose carefully.
And it was not a room which favoured any person, or suggested that somebody was in charge. Andromeda settled in a chair which was comfortable for her tail and sipped at her coffee. Her iPhone, fresh-rooted that morning, and as secure as any personal mechanism could be, seemed quiescent. She looked safe, in herself and towards others.
Gonville introduced the others to Golitsin. There was her oldest brother, Ranulf Baginski, her cousins, Roberta and Charlie Bellman, Robert Thorneycroft, and Maurice Oxford. She paid attention to how Golitsin reacted. There was a difference in how he looked at Roberta. One which didn’t surprise her.
It was Maurice Oxford who dropped the bombshell. Right from the start he had been playing up his accent, but Andromeda had no trouble stripping away the Mancunian veneer.
“We will have no problem with delivery, but we do not recommend you put the Server Farm in Luxembourg. The EU Commission is instituting proceedings to harmonise their very low tax rate on electronic delivery of goods. Our assessments are that you will be unable to sustain your pricing model.”
Andromeda picked up the ball. “What this means for us is that our investment in hardware and the increasingly expensive local workforce will not be repaid. Your business model depends on winning a price war with Amazon, and we are not willing to extend you credit for that purpose.”
“We have the money,” said Golitsin. “I declare to you that I can personally supply up to one billion Euro for this purpose. In addition, we are making provisions to get a revenue stream from sales of advertising space within the ebooks. You appreciate that this is in confidence.”
“Of course,” said Gonville.
“Amazon,” said Maurice, “reported UK sales of over seven billion pounds. Somewhere over 10 billion Euro, depending on exchange rates. I doubt that your billion will be enough. They have a reputation that allows them to lose money.”
“I can guarantee one billion Euro. I have assurances of more that would be made available at need.” Golitsin smiled.
Gonville looked back at him, and there was something in his smile that Andromeda recognised. She had seen it in newsreel footage of her Grandfather, a long time ago when he had sailed into the Spontoons lagoon with a ship recovered from pirates. It was the sort of smile that you could image being smiled by Drake, and any number of near-pirates.
It was a smile which scared her, because she knew when she had smiled it. And Golitsin was not bragging.
She could guess where the money was coming from, and he wasn’t trying to launder it. He was going to lose it.
It was not a way of fighting she was used to, but she could recall instances from history, history that was encompassed by her Uncle’s lifetime. The Russians would spend a million men to defeat a few hundred thousand, but they knew their losses would be replaced.
Golitsin was no Stalin.
Andromeda half-closed her eyes, and sipped cooling coffee, and wondered if she had been mistaken about a Mad Queen. She had seen it, spent a lifetime with the Soviet Union as a threat, had an idea of what drove them. And it was the same for her Uncle.
She wondered what the weather was like in Valhalla.