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.

The Russian Oligarch Affair, Chapter One (Part 4)


Andromeda, like many other people, was walking. But most of them, working their way along the ancient streets of London towards the City, were anything but the elite. Walking was cheap, and from Stepney is was an easier commute than the overcrowded trains from the outer reaches of suburbia. It cost nothing, and you got wet when it rained, and you were not tied by anything to a particular workplace, which was good because the bosses felt no respect for you.
Nobody talked, or read a newspaper, or played games on a tablet computer. In the bustling crowds you were along with your thoughts. Like Andromeda they wore sensible shoes, and walked steadily, and if the weather forecast had been bad they wore something practical and weatherproof over their office-worker uniform that had come off the peg at Asda.
You walked whatever the weather and whatever the time of day, and you worked unpaid overtime or got dismissed for inadequate enthusiasm. You came home tired and had to choose between discovering what was happening and getting enough sleep.
Andromeda didn’t have those worries, but she looked pretty low-class. She wore her Army Union combat jacket, and while the camouflage pattern was different, and the badges meant something if you could read them, it looks like the army surplus of the lowest class of worker.
The well dressed man on the train she could hear passing overhead as she went under the railway and onto Cable Street might think he was responsible for huge risks, but she had risked everything, and playing in the ultimate high-stakes game, amongst the mountains of the old North-West Frontier. Her father and grandfather had done the same, and they had come back alive because they loaded the dice. There was going to be a meeting later, with one of those Russian billionaires who seemed to want to buy England, and it was going to be different.
They hadn’t been to Eton, and they were old enough to have grown up in the Soviet Union, been conscripted, and been in the right place to make a fortune when State Communism collapsed. It all meant that they had to be hard men.
And they likely knew people like them, in the government of the new Russia, and if billions of dollars had vanished from the Winter Olympics, they likely knew exactly where it had gone. London was nothing like Afghanistan, but she was a troubleshooter for Stepney Estates, and she would not hesitate if the troubleshooting needed live ammunition.
Though that was not a good answer for the streets of London.

Stepney Estates owned an office block close to the bragging platform they called Canary Wharf, and if you wanted to see Money Launderers, you could easily spot the logo of one world-spanning bank which had managed to survive the mistake of getting caught. She could stand at her office window with a pair of binoculars, and what the crowd streaming into the DLR station on the far side of the old dock, and she knew she was seeing crooks.
She knew she was seeing a lot of people who ignored their suspicions for the chance to come back to work the next day.
“I would,” she announced to Lydia Walton, “Go back to the Spontoon Islands and volunteer to shoot somebody, if this week got to be the usual.”
“Boris Golitsin isn’t that bad, surely.”
Andromeda transferred her Fairbairn-Sykes from the sleeve-pocket of her combat jacket to the scabbard under her skirt. “I am sick of hearing about hard-working people as an excuse. That bastard wants to treat us like mushrooms.”
“So why did you come here?”
“Gunny is family, and he’s on our side. You know he’s different. Would you run out on him?”
“If somebody went after my family…” Lydia stopped. “If I told him what was happening, I suppose he would tell you, and you would be leaving London one step ahead of the law.”
Andromeda nodded. “If it ever gets that bad, I can expect to spend the rest of my days on a tropical beach, selling ‘kiss me quick’ hats to tourists.”
“That almost sounds like fun.”
“If things turned that bad, they’d have my DNA on file. I would be on the watch-lists of every country in the world.”
Lydia nodded. “You tell me that, and I can see it happening, but they say they’re hunting terrorists, and they hardly seem to find any.”
“I admit I have worked with better people.” Andromeda walked across the room to her desk. “I swear you find better information with a Google search than that mob can get from tapping every phone on the planet.”
“You have to ask the right questions.” Lydia set a folder on the desk. “That’s the latest briefing on Golitsin.” Another folder. “And that is the final results on what the simulation team came up with. The Quants are scared.”

The Russian Oligarch Affair, Chapter One (Part three)


Andromeda’s neck ached, tension mostly. The old lady who had just left might once have been an informal baby-sitter for her Uncle and her Mother, while there had been a discreet meeting of those who happened to be parents, but there was no way that she could ever be just an old friend of the family.
It must, she reflected, be bad enough if you were part of that family, whatever else you were able to do. Olympic equestrian, or flying a rescue helicopter, however much it depended on you own ability, people would see you as part of that family. Well, she had her own version of that, but enough of her family had reputations built on what they had done, rather than what they had inherited, that she could cope with it. She rubbed at her neck again.
Her Uncle looked tired as he came up the staircase towards her. He looked at her, and smiled slightly. “It seems almost too simple. Simple ideas always have complicated details, even when they work.”
She nodded back. “I think we have to be involved in some of the dodgy stuff.”
“It would be hard not to be, but Hugh is right. The logistics needed to handle that amount of money would be insane. Your young man should go far.”
“My young man?”
The smile turned into a grin. “He is his own man, of course, just like your father. And he wouldn’t be where he was if he was a neer-do-well.” Her Uncle looked back down the stairs. “It’s an uncomfortable thought, that somebody you have known for so long is resorting to a conspiracy theory. Remember to get your phone sanitised.”
Andromeda nodded. “My father used to put a fresh magazine in his pistol every morning, give the feed spring a chance to rest.” She chuckled. “I can’t legally carry a gun, but |I make sure my iPhone is loaded with clean code, and that’s maybe just as illegal. I wouldn’t call myself a hacker.”
“You grew up with computers. I did not.” He shrugged. “But I am not stupid. Don’t write off us old folks.”
He seemed to be walking a little bit more easily as she watched him go up the next flight of stairs. He had insisted the house had elevators when it was built. He had only used them the year he had broken his leg.
Her neck was feeling a little better now. She headed for her room.

Breakfast was traditional, and would not have been out of place a century before. Maybe the modern servings were smaller. Most people didn’t need the energy, no longer walking so much and having central heating. Andromeda was not so idle. Neither was Hugh, and he could be so energetic.
He was far better groomed when he entered than he had been when Andromeda had last seen him, and his scent was rather different too. You could hardly say anything was secret, but she didn’t really care. The household staff liked him, even without her obvious, and enthusiastic, approval. He managed to fit in and, oh boy, didn’t he fit in well.
“You young people should remember to get some sleep.”
Nobody replied. Dakin set down the coffee pot and enquired if Mr. Powell desired his usual breakfast. Mr. Powell indicated that an extra rasher of bacon would be appreciated.
Andromeda buttered another round of toast. “Hugh, I do not believe that story about the planeload of money at Sheremetyevo.”
He nodded. “It sounds like a plot for a cheap movie. I remember at Sandhurst…” He reached for the coffee pot and launched into a long story about a fellow cadet who had obviously been watching the wrong movie on the night before an exercise. Andromeda listened carefully: she had been trained by the Army Union, and then selected for the Landing Force, and the style was different. But not so different where it mattered. “…but I was the one who got the bollocking even though my plan worked. I wasn’t in control, they said.”
It was a new story to her. “That’s a fair point,” she murmured. “Do you think your platoon could make it work?”
He grinned. “The last time I was on exercise, I sat down in the middle of my briefing, told them a sniper had just blown my brains out, they should get on with things, and then I started reading a book.” He shrugged. “They did OK. The book wasn’t so good.”
“Sheremetyevo,” prompted Gonville Bellman.
“A plane left twenty billion Euro there, in cash, and the consignee has never turned up to collect. You know what you can buy with that much money, or what you need to sell. I figured around two hundred million tons of crude oil.”
“That’s a lot.”
“Yes,” agreed Gonville. “Very rough figures, but call it six hundred tanker movements. Or about 40% of total annual oil tanker shipments.”
“I expect the con game is looking for a mark too dumb to add up the figures.” Andromeda murmured her thanks to Dakin and attacked her breakfast. “I wonder what we will not be looking at while we hunt a money laundering operation big enough to own a government.”