Menkov was in a bit of a daze as he followed his guide. To start with, finding out he was dead had been a bit of a shock. All he remembered was sitting on the jet with Ansonov explaining to him the reason for their incognito trip to Ukraine. Then, he was suddenly in this place, listening to the guide wittering about politicians, philosophers, traders and so on. Surely it was all a dream?
Then he looked beyond the guide, who turned with a half wave and retreated, and saw a real blast from the past. Staring straight at him was man with blond hair and gold-rimmed glasses; the suit was smart, the tie colourful and the gaze unwavering. Menkov couldn’t remember all those he had despatched into the hereafter, but he hadn’t forgotten Alex Koch. Unfortunately for the latter, he had been caught up in the very early days of the aluminium industry scheme, and the last time Menkov had seen him had been in January 1995, when he had put the gun to his head on a bridge in Hamburg and blown his brains out. No ill will; Koch had just been unfortunate collateral damage as he had tried to squeeze his group - Metal-Exx - into the deal the Russians were building. But Menkov had never expected to come face-to-face with him again.
Koch walked towards him, unsmiling. “Well,” he began, “Denis Menkov. I didn’t know who you were at the time. I guessed - just before you pulled the trigger - that you were just some Russian hood, working for one of the gangsters. Since I’ve been here, though, I’ve learned a bit more, from others who knew you. You were - still are, I guess - Yuri Ansonov’s man. So when he made the big time, after the old President shot himself, you moved up with him. Now you’re the biggest thing in aluminium. Well, I say ‘are’, but since you’re here, maybe ‘were’ is more appropriate.”
He paused, looking hard into the Russian’s eyes. “I didn’t want to die, you know. I had a wife and two young children. I was a businessman, not one of your gangsters. Sure, Metal-Exx was an aggressive company, and we played the game hard; but we stuck with the rules. We didn’t kill people just because they had a different approach to business. That evening in Hamburg, when you shot me, I had just made a proposal to Victor Lansky about a co-operation between Russo-European and Metal-Exx. That proposal was a legitimate business deal. But it didn’t suit the scheming ambitions of your boss Ansonov, so I had to die, my wife and children had to lose their husband and father. Was it worth it, the killing, just for some aluminium smelters?”
Menkov was silent. Koch continued. “And it wasn’t only me, was it? Come with me; there’s somebody else I’d like to introduce you to.”
Menkov was feeling a tad queasy as he followed Koch through the throng of people. The idea that what he had done in the past could ever revisit him was one that had never entered his head. Koch had paused, waiting for him to catch up; just in front of him, Menkov saw whom they were going to meet. Half a head shorter than the Austrian, dressed equally smartly but a tad more flashily: Victor Lansky. Well, he told himself, in that one he hadn’t actually pulled the trigger.
Unlike Koch, Lansky had a smile on his face as he greeted Menkov.
“Denis, I guess deep down I’d been expecting to see you here at some point. Eventually you were going to fall off the carousel. I understand your friend - or boss - or both - Ansonov made it here at the same time. I suppose that’s some kind of symmetry.”
Lansky shook his head, and looked thoughtfully at the other man. “Why, Denis? What made killing people worthwhile? What was so important that lives were worth so little? We were almost friends, you know. At least, we knew each there well. Do you remember an afternoon skiing in Courchevel? A then a conversation in a bar in Meribel, when you told me a bit more about the Malenkovs and what you guys were doing in the aluminium industry? You seemed like a straight ex-civil servant then. You didn’t talk about how it would lead to killing people - including me.”
“Mmm. That’s all very well, Victor, you were indeed one of the victims. But don’t play the innocent with me.” He gestured towards Koch. “You knew what had happened to him. If not in two words, you would have had to be seriously stupid not to have guessed that he didn’t die by accident. And, remember, Oleg Malenkov had specifically told you not to try and set up the deal you and Koch discussed that evening in Hamburg. You’re not squeaky clean, Victor. You watched that battle at the rail junction in the middle of Siberia. You didn’t say anything then; you wanted the money too.”
Lansky nodded. “Well, yes, it’s true I kept quiet about things where I had strong suspicions that all was not well. But that’s not the same as putting a gun to Koch’s head, or hiring a bunch of Chechen thugs to shoot me on my yacht.”
“Hey, you’ve been here longer than me, but don’t let’s get into a Jesuitical discussion about sins of commission or omission. You knew things like that were going on, and you closed your eyes. You wanted the money, we wanted the money and the control. We’re not that different, Victor, however much you may like to play the innocent victim.”
“No”, said Lansky, “that’s absolutely not so. Maybe I was prepared to gamble with money, even with industries. But you - and Ansonov, and the others - you gambled with lives. I never swapped a life for another billion dollars. It’s not just an intellectual or theological discussion; ask Koch’s wife and children if it was just one of those things.”
Menkov shook his head. “No, no, don’t play that game. It wasn’t just business at that time - remember, they called it the ‘aluminium wars’. People get hurt in wars, and the spoils go to the winners. So we did what we had to do to make sure we were the winners.”
As he finished speaking, a tall, well-built man with a slightly stooping gait approached the group. Victor Lansky glanced at him, then smiled. “Ah, here’s someone else who ended up on the wrong side of the game, just like I did. Mack McKee, come over and meet the man who had me killed - and, I suspect plenty of others. He’s new here - he was just vapourised this morning by a SAM over Ukraine.”
Read Chapter Four tomorrow!!!