CHAPTER EIGHT - THE LANNINGTON
Dubai, 18 February 2001.
She breezed into Vermouth's office in her usual style, hair flowing, dressed in an understated grey shalwar kameez. He was on the phone, so she sat on the beige sofa facing him. Nathan had wanted to report in as soon as the contracts were signed with Brewster. She had dissuaded him: they were not to be precocious, no one was expecting results that fast, anything could go wrong, they would wait for the funds to flow.
That was a month ago. She had checked in with Nathan periodically to keep him calm, and to make sure "Bill Robinson" had not called him. Last week the partnership contracts had hit $5 billion, so a report was due. Vermouth had been eyeing her as he spoke on the phone. She looked confident as ever. Why had she come unannounced? he wondered. Now he finished his call and hung up.
"Zenap, hello. This is a surprise. The type of surprise I like, of course."
"You're wondering why I'm here, Julian. I can see that. Well, I thought that you would like to report in to Suleiman, that your grand plan has upped anchor and is well underway."
"It has, Zenap? Fill me in."
"Brewster, he's cloud cuckoo, the financial officer's a very smart crook, and they brought in a fixer whom we well and truly fixed. Nathan and Ferdie played their parts to a tee. Net, net: Friday introduction, Monday negotiation, Tuesday signing. But I thought you'd only want Suleiman to know once the funds flow. Take a guess."
"Well, this is new, they'll want to feel their way. Two fifty million."
"They are desperate, Julian."
"OK, half a billion, no, seven fifty."
"Julian, I know you always overestimate my talents, but I did have Nathan and Ferdie with me this time. I'll give you a clue. Round numbers."
"So it's not that much. OK. Four hundred."
"Julian, I can't take the suspense of waiting to see your face - five billion, as in half way up the scale of single digit billions."
"You're very expressive, Julian."
"You know what this means?"
"I do. This one could go up tenfold, and we'll clone it every bit as well as Dolly the sheep. We'll have a whole flock of them. Where is Suleiman, Julian?"
"I though you always knew."
"Me? You must be joking. He only ever calls me. I don't even have his number." She responded.
"Zenap, I think it's lunchtime. By the time we get back we'll have an appointment set up to see Suleiman, my guess is the day after tomorrow. You and me."
"And Nathan," she added, which actually suited Vermouth rather well.
The truth is that you never really know where it's going to come from Vermouth thought. He still did not trust Zenap an inch, but she had validated his grand plan, and on what a scale. He had thought he was smart, but what about her! It's like the pioneer nuclear physicist Nils Bohr saying during the second world war from his home in Copenhagen: Zenap, my pal Heisenberg just dropped by from Nazi Germany, where he's heading up this bomb programme. He came up with this funny idea, "the uncertainty principle". Two days later she comes back with this device and says: Oh, Nils, that principle thing you came up with the other day. Take a look at this device here. I don't know what you want to call it. I was thinking of something like "atomic bomb". I reckon it has potential to effect a few changes around the world. Incredible he thought. This really was the scale of magnitude in economic terms.
Vermouth's thoughts turned to his growing concerns about the powder trade: too many leaks; too heavily policed. He felt they could afford to get out of it. But for Suleiman it seemed to be a sacred cow, traditional family business. His reaction had been straightforward as ever: the only trade he knew of which was less risky and offered higher returns was organised crime, and they were not nor would become criminals, they were traders. Suleiman truly believed that attempts to restrict the narcotics trade by western governments, which just a couple of generations before had cashed in selling opium to China, were a temporary blip in the history of mankind, to be ridiculed by future generations, and were, no doubt, motivated by vested economic interest and not social concern. Vermouth had never found the appropriate moment to obtain Suleiman's view on trading nerve gas or anthrax, but he could guess what it would be.
With Zenap's Constexo coup, this was the time to broach the issue again. They were on the verge of shifting economic value on a scale not seen since the oil shock, or so it seemed in Vermouth' mind. Why should they do anything that could jeopardise this opportunity? And the powder trade did. Vermouth's own point of view was simple: he had tolerated the business while it was expedient; now he would like to stay out of jail.
They would meet Suleiman on Tuesday in London.
London, 20 February 2001.
January had been relatively slow for me, which is what we expect most years. It always seems to take a while for momentum to build in the new budget year. True there had been a fair amount of activity on the energy mandate, but that was mostly account openings, funds transfers, all things for the operations people rather than for me. Settled into my routine, I did not really have any qualms any more about what Ferdie had told me in the briefing at the end of last year in Sri Lanka.
The fees were rolling in and I, Frank Chardonnay, was riding high, to the continued chagrin of my Illustrious Leader. I was even getting cavalier about skipping the Monday meetings, which had never done anyone any good anyway. I was in constant contact with Danny, of course, on the mechanics of the whole thing, but not much else was going on as far as I could see. In the meantime I had upgraded my mountain bike to include hydraulic disc brakes, as well as full suspension, and had got into the habit of going out before breakfast most weekdays.
Yesterday I had expected things to hot up at last. There was a major meeting that took place at the Lannington Hotel overlooking Hyde Park. I have to say this hotel ranks among the classiest of places in London. I entered the foyer and was ushered by a bellboy through to my designated meeting room. As I was led down a flight of stairs at the back of the foyer, I spotted Suleiman drinking coffee, sitting in a raised area towards the rear. They showed me into a large room in the basement, where there was a crowd of people I had never seen before. They were invited in and out of the adjoining room in a bustle of activity.
Ferdie came through a few times. He greeted me, Frank, cordially the first time, but after that he seemed to be rushed off his feet. It was an amazing room with a glass ceiling, so that you had natural light, even though you were in the basement, and you could watch the clouds sweeping across the sky. This may not sound like a banker-like activity, watching clouds, but quite frankly, they kept me waiting for two hours until well into lunchtime, and then when they did call me in, I had just ten minutes to brief them on the subject of my activities over the last two months. Half an hour later Ferdie came out and told me I would not be needed any more. Somehow it was as if I had turned up at the wrong meeting; as if something else were going on.
In the Lannington's Trafalgar Room, Vermouth joined the lawyers and accountants who had put together the Constexo partnerships. He beckoned Ferdie over.
"Ferdie, I just saw Frank Chardonnay on my way through. Get that creep out of here. We don't want him meddling in anything. I don't trust him, or anyone who's dumb enough to stay more than ten years with his outfit. I know we have to use that screwball but let's minimise it, right?"
"Sure, boss." Ferdie disappeared and was back in a couple of minutes.
Vermouth was not a participant in this meeting. He was just making a quick supervisory gesture to keep all these highly paid professionals in line before he and Ferdie joined Suleiman.
When they went in to Suleiman, he was already seated with Vanesh and Zenap.
"You wanted to tell them, Julian, so shoot." Suleiman commanded.
"My position is simple. We've got to get out of the traditional business. Our new enterprise has such incredible potential that we can't, mustn't, jeopardise it. Ferdie is the man who knows the structure. I thought his presentation to you yesterday was fantastic. Thank you, Ferdie. You got it down to a tee. We've come so far since the Singapore meeting last December. It's decision time and it's self-evident. This London meeting has proved it. We should exit powder and shift down a gear on pretties. "
"Jamal needs charity money now, not next year. This is our biggest year yet." Vanesh cut in, as usual, totally to the point. "Our friends are becoming very ambitious."
"Then give our friends the sixty million balance that we have sitting there." Vermouth proposed.
"I can't. I can't get the funds transferred out," Vanesh retorted. "They're stuck, pending, shall we say, cleaning."
This comment interested Zenap. Last month she had made an arrangement with a bent banker in the Cayman Islands that would allow them to launder one major sum of money in one big bite. Surely this could be it. Vanesh did not know she had arranged things with the banker, because she had routed it through Suleiman to Vanesh. So why was Vanesh not using the opportunity? What was he waiting for? This could be very interesting. There is something here, she thought. I must keep an eye on our good solid chief financial officer, Vanesh, and she decided a little discreet snooping was in order.
The discussion continued, and it became clear that Vermouth was developing a real concern for his personal well-being, and that was what was motivating his desire to get out of the narcotics business. Suleiman was disappointed that personal concerns were being put ahead of business issues, but he did not show it. Vermouth was not getting support from the others, so the outcome was clear. Normally Suleiman would have guillotined a discussion like this, but he determined instead to let Vermouth, for whom he had always had a soft spot, get it off his chest. After some time they moved on to the energy deals.
"I see these as a kind of bridge for us," Vermouth said, retaining the theme that they should move on, breaking free of their more traditional business activities. "It takes us exactly to where we need to be in the financial markets. Let's say, acting as financial engineers rather than as traders. We did a great thing bringing in my old bank. Frank Chardonnay is smart but totally malleable. He does whatever we tell him, never asks questions, and his bank doesn't have a clue either, so we have been able to set up mechanisms to move our money, which we could never have managed otherwise. During the course of this year, the "charities" are going to be huge beneficiaries. I think this is what you were driving at in Singapore back in December, Vanesh."
"Do we want to bring Chardonnay in to give us a report," asked Suleiman.
"I sent him off", Ferdie said. "Basically, he carries out instructions. Since I put the fear of God into him at the Colombo meeting, he'd do anything I ask, right down to pulling a Champagne bottle out of my rectum, if it got stuck up there the wrong way round."
"Can we meet for a drink afterwards, Ferdie," Zenap asked, to a round of laughter.
The meeting ended on a very upbeat note. From Suleiman's point of view, they had achieved all they needed with the energy projects. This enabled them to channel revenues flowing from the "powders" and the "pretties", drug smuggling and jewellery smuggling and trading. As to Vermouth's grand project, Suleiman supported it but had a residual concern that it could backfire, that they may be getting in way above their heads. He closed the meeting. He did not foresee any need to meet before the next quarterly Board meeting. If there were a need to meet, then they should do it informally in the first week of April. He had taken a chalet in the French Alps for skiing.