Undermoney: A Novel

Undermoney: A Novel

by Jay Newman
Undermoney: A Novel

Undermoney: A Novel

by Jay Newman

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Overview

From a seasoned global finance insider comes “a gripping thriller that takes you into the world of New York hedge funds, Russian money launderers, and DC power politics [that] makes you feel like you’re actually there” (Bill Browder, author of Red Notice).

When a US airdrop of billions of dollars disappears in the desert sands of Syria, only a small group of military operatives knows its ultimate destination or why it has been stolen. Their goal is no less than the restoration of America’s geopolitical dominance on the global stage. Essential to this scheme are Greta Webb, a sophisticated CIA operative who is an expert on dark money, not to mention lethally skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and Elias Vicker, the damaged, dangerous soul who runs the world’s largest hedge fund.

To achieve its goals, the group must form dangerous alliances. One is with the hidden family that manages the largest private pool of capital that has ever existed. Another is with Fyodor Volk, the ruthless founder of Russia’s most successful private military company, a mercenary with ties to Vladimir Putin. Volk has his eye on Greta. She would be wise to avoid him but cannot.

Arcing from Manhattan’s finest apartments to Washington, DC, from Middle Eastern war zones to private European bank vaults, Undermoney follows the Americans as they are enmeshed in the world of dark money and confront ever-increasing danger. Ultimately, they must decide whether their objectives are worth the cost of sacrificing not just a few but potentially many human lives. “Unexpectedly timely” (The New Yorker),Undermoney is a “wildly entertaining peek behind the curtain of American politics, financial skullduggery, and high-stakes global conflict” (Nelson DeMille).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982156046
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/25/2022
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: eBook
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 314,941
File size: 16 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

Jay Newman has worked in the field of international finance as a trader, investment banker, and investor for forty years. During most of that time, he focused on investments in the defaulted debt of sovereign nations in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. Undermoney is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: The Pierre Hotel, New York City In a world of excess, nothing exceeded expectations like Elias Vicker’s Fire Rites of Beltane, the legendary stag party he held every year on the first Tuesday of May, just as spring buds were bursting into the brightness of just-opened leaves, lending midtown streets a transitory illusion of innocence. For years, the hedge fund centibillionaire, dubbed by Forbes New York’s richest man and by the New York Post its most odious clown, had taken over The Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue to cultivate a couple hundred carefully curated denizens of the hedge fund, finance, and political elite. To avoid an uproar, Vicker went to extraordinary lengths to make sure that the details of the party, as well as its guest list, remained closely guarded secrets. It was the perfect Elias Vicker event: no expense spared, perhaps defiant of the prevailing mood, but, really, just tone deaf. If someone took offense, Vicker seemed incapable of understanding why he should care. Nonetheless, grandees who should have known better showed up every year. Not simply to be part of the bacchanal, but, particularly after memories of the pandemic had faded, to be seen, to be chosen, to be part of the elect. They knew better, but, somehow, when the summons came, they couldn’t help themselves. Not being there seemed a greater risk.

The fifteen public rooms of the hotel had been transformed to make them feel like deep woods, part of a Celtic ritual, celebrating life, fertility, and the power—and danger—of fire. Hundreds of trees had been trucked in to cover every wall and ceiling. The rooms, the halls, even the elevators, felt like clearings in a dense forest. Embedded in the foliage were dozens of forest nymphs wearing nothing but body paint. Only their eyes moved. The whites of their scleras—in sharp contrast to the sylvan tones of the brown and green body paint that covered their skin—followed the flow of millionaires, billionaires, and covetous politicians, promising, posturing, and pandering.

Under the sure hand of his majordomo, Pete Stryker, Vicker quietly invited the finalists from international beauty pageants that consistently attracted the most alluring women on earth: Slovenian Beauties, Magyar Stars, Miss Teen Poland, Miss Ukraine, Caucausus Debs, Girls of the Russian Steppes. The girls were treated to two weeks of theater, fashion shows, ballet, educational programs, and dinners with men that Vicker sought to cultivate and compromise. Given that the girls were housed at a Times Square tourist hotel, packed five to a room, and given a measly five hundred dollars a day, they soon figured out that, if they wanted to eat at Le Bilboquet and shop at Bergdorf’s, they needed friends.

The hungry beauty queens roamed the hotel, scantily clad, each wearing a gold Cartier bracelet discreetly engraved with a number. Nothing spoken or required, and, well, there was not much to be said about what happened between consenting adults. The fantasy that Vicker created was so compelling that it was almost as if a fog had settled over them all, the minds of his guests clouded not so much by tequila as by a more toxic brew. The combination of otherwise unattainable beauty, proximity to Vicker’s enormous wealth and power, and a distorted sense of community with other aggressive men caused them to swat away any moral impulse. Succumbing to a collective delusion, his guests became willing to indulge the inexcusable, to thumb their noses at behavior that could easily immolate them on a pyre of public humiliation and well-deserved damnation.

Within that miasma, Pete worked the room, placing an arm around socially inhibited quant geniuses, whispering morsels of gossip in the ears of influential senators, and smoothing the feathers of hedge fund guys whom Vicker had pissed off. At every step, he introduced his sometimes charming, sometimes reticent boss casually, but purposefully. Senior bankers, political pundits, and erstwhile competitors were, none too subtly, encouraged to join forces with Elias Vicker rather than pick a fight. To a man, they knew full well that Vicker’s fund—Industrial Strategies—dwarfed the $500 billion sovereign wealth funds generally considered to be the lions of the money jungle. And he liked nothing better than to unleash the dogs of law on anyone who got in his way. In the face of Vicker’s legion of combative attorneys, only the very richest and most ruthless adversaries could hope for a fair fight.

“Senator Conway.” Pete sidled up to Senate Majority Leader Frank Conway of Tennessee, a jowly potentate who ruled the center-right with an iron hand. “Do you have everything you need?”

Conway looked around as lissome elves slid through the crowd ferrying flutes of champagne and trays of blinis topped with Beluga caviar. “You’ve really stocked the pond this year, son,” Conway purred, in his soft drawl.

Pete registered the barest reaction. He prided himself on knowing what made people tick, particularly powerful men like Conway who required elaborate care and feeding. Considering the range of perversions that he made it his business to know, the majority leader was plain vanilla: stock tips, sweetheart real estate deals, and pretty girls. Pete handed the senator a key card for the Presidential Suite, more than five thousand square feet, comprising the entire thirty-ninth floor.

“You have the best room in the house.” Pete held out a small bag containing numbered poker chips, each one matching the number on a bracelet. Conway gave Pete his famously lascivious grin. “It’s always fun matching the chip to the girl. But, listen up, Pete. Come see me real soon. We’ve got a real problem. Rachel can’t hold off those pinkos in her cabinet much longer. They want to tax you hedge fund boys out of existence, and they’re convinced they have the votes.”

There was no greater proof of the strides women had made over the decades than the fact that a reassuring nonentity like Rachel Bridges had ascended to the White House. Nothing in the energetic seventy-five-year-old’s biography said “first woman president.” She’d burned no bras, broken no barriers, shattered no glass ceilings. Her appeal was that, in a time of turmoil, she liked to keep things just as they were. Or as close to it as possible. She wore bright headbands and approached politics as if her main responsibility was to make sure everyone was comfortable and well-behaved. Even though she’d been in the Senate for more than forty years, no one had a clear idea what she stood for, and no one much minded. She was kind and calm. In the moment, that was what mattered. As the country hovered on the edge of chaos, culture war grievances regularly erupting into spasms of violence and lunacy, she projected the comforting illusion that there were no differences that couldn’t be resolved with a gin and tonic and a handwritten thank-you note. The right didn’t completely hate her. The left viewed her with suspicion, obsessively parsing her every word and gesture for proof she was about to sell them out. The millions in the middle clung to the anxious hope that she could keep things from spinning out of control. It seemed like the best that anyone could hope for.

As president, she’d proven to be adept at delivering difficult news to the American people with empathy and a certain resigned good sense, whether it was downplaying the impact of strict new pronoun regulations that had passed Congress after a bitter fight, or apologizing for the FBI’s botched raid on the Baker County Oathkeepers compound in Eastern Oregon, where thirty-eight people died, half of them children and young mothers. As president, Bridges didn’t actually want to soak the rich, but, shrugging her shoulders almost apologetically, claimed she didn’t have much choice. Her increasingly restive party demanded it, as much for retribution as for revenue.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get her. My oppo guys are on her twenty-four/seven.”

Conway looked disappointed.

“I keep telling you. It’s that son of hers. That funny business with the Indian casinos. You nail that down, and we’ve got both of ’em. But it’ll be expensive. Vicker and his buddies are going to have to dig deep.”

As Pete tried to break away, Conway bore down on him, raising an index finger, poking him in the chest. “I’ve been looking for your buddy Ben Corn. I thought I told you to make sure he showed up tonight. Cost me a lot to get that boy on the finance committee. He needs to be out here bowing and scraping. Pretty boy thinks he’s above it all.”

Notwithstanding the efforts that Pete made to build a veil of secrecy around Vicker’s annual bacchanal, there was no way Ben Corn would risk showing up—or that Pete would let him.

“His daughter had a dance recital, Senator. You know he wanted to be here.”

Conway snorted. “I don’t know that, Pete. But what I do know is that he’s making mistakes all over. This business about canceling aircraft carriers is bad enough. You know what else he did? Just the other day, he went out to the Pentagon and told a roomful of admirals the entire U.S. Navy is obsolete. You think they like hearing that? From an army guy?” He wagged a long pink finger in front of Pete’s face. “You better rein your boy in.”

Conway shook his white mane. “Dance recital my ass.”

He gave Pete’s arm a friendly squeeze. “You know what I always say, son. Can’t trust a man who won’t commit at least two of the deadly sins right before your very eyes.”

It was no secret to Pete that Ben’s carefully cultivated public image of piety—his Boy Scout act—rubbed Conway the wrong way. Just as Conway was gearing up for another rant, an elf approached. “Oh hello, little lady.” The senior senator grabbed a glass from her tray, and then turned back to Pete. “We can talk about this later, I’ve got to attend to some business.”

To his relief, the senator drifted off. Chances are, Pete thought, he won’t even remember the conversation. As he headed to the bar to get himself another glass of Badoit, he bumped into a bear of a man in a chalk-stripe suit and looked up to see the flushed, rubbery face of Jason Renton, the Wall Street columnist for Roundelay magazine, a venerable glossy that had been reinvented as a purveyor of high-end gossip and score-settling hatchet jobs masquerading as investigative journalism. A one-time high-flying bond trader whose career had spun out in a tornado of cocaine, six-figure bills at Scores, and a misguided bet, shorting puts on gold futures, Renton had gone through rehab; written a best-selling memoir, Snorting Bull: Confessions of a Wall Street Wildman; and reinvented himself as a droll truth-teller spilling the secrets of the temple. He had brought down venerable brokerage firms and exposed all manner of insider trading and Ponzi schemes. But he was hardly the fearless journalistic predator he made himself out to be. In fact, Pete thought of Renton as one of the most useful people in his bulging contact list. Because as much as Renton wanted to strike back at the world that had written him off, what he really wanted was its attention. Whenever Pete needed to bring someone down a notch or two, all he had to do was wind Renton up, point him in the right direction, and, a few times a year, fly a courier down to Panama City to deposit a cashier’s check into his numbered bank account.

“Thanks for the invite, Pete.”

“You know this evening is closed to the ‘press.’” Pete said with mock seriousness.

“No worries. I left my notebook at home. I’m here to observe these strange creatures in their natural habitat—and maybe live like them for a few hours. Helps me understand them better.”

“Well, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your sacrifice.” Pete craned his neck, checking the room. “I noticed that you called this afternoon. Sorry I didn’t get back.”

“It was nothing really. The column I’m working on just crashed and burned in fact-checking. These young kids. So serious. They’re now telling me I have to record everything—is it my fault that I get my best stuff on private jets? It’s a real problem. All you get is engine noise.”

“Remind me never to invite you on Elias’s plane again.” Pete enjoyed sparring with Renton. He was one of the few people he dealt with who knew their place.

“Anyway, I have a deadline in two days and no column. I’m collecting the private newsletters that guys like Elias send to investors. I want to write about them. I know that I can’t quote from them without permission, yada, yada, yada, but all the guys I’ve approached so far—Citadel, Two Sigma, Baupost, Pershing Square—have given me the go-ahead. Think the E-man would be okay with it? His are really interesting.”

“Yeah, I don’t see why not. Elias is really proud of those letters.”

Right then, Pete noticed a striking young man—early thirties he guessed, European, blond, model handsome—emerge from a copse of spotlit birch trees and knife his way through the pillowy buzz. Every year, a few crashers managed to slip past security, and were quickly evicted. But this guy was ignoring the elves and the champagne, and heading straight for Pete. Probably best for a reporter, even one Pete owned, not to see this. Pete fished a numbered poker chip from his pocket.

“You’ve been a good boy this year, pal.” Pete slapped it into Renton’s hand. “Don’t tell anyone where you got this.”

“Can I help you?” Pete gently took the man by the elbow and maneuvered him behind a table that held an ice sculpture of a satyr mounting a forest nymph from behind. Whatever this man was doing here, he dressed the part: Anderson & Sheppard suit, Belgian shoes, Charvet tie. Pete used to think the obsession with high-end tailoring was just a foppish affectation of the very wealthy. But after being around Elias Vicker for a few years, he realized it was the opposite. A $20,000 bespoke suit was not clothing. It was armor. It sent a message that you were ready for things to get bloody.

“Mr. Stryker, apologies for the intrusion. Sven Rask.” The young man extended a hand.

Stuck-up British accent, thought Pete, reeks of entitlement. Eurotrash probably. But there was a hardness to his eyes that Pete found disconcerting.

“Mr. Rask. This is a very private party. May I ask how you got in?”

The man ignored his question while maintaining eye contact. “I do not intend to stay, Mr. Stryker, but I represent one of Mr. Vicker’s largest investors. My principal has a matter of some urgency to discuss with him.”

“Here’s my card.” Pete reached into his pocket. “Call anytime. Feel free to grab a glass of champagne on your way out.”

Rask, acting as if he did not even notice the proffered card, impatiently scanned the room. Whoever this asshole is, thought Pete, the last thing we need is a scene.

“Is that him?” The stranger pointed to an elegantly dressed man, late fifties, fit, six feet tall, with a thick, precisely styled mane, standing against the far wall, hunched over an iPhone, oblivious to the hubbub.

“Yes, it is, but Mr. Vicker appears to be attending to some important business.”

“I understand that you are doing your job, but I must insist.” As Rask strode off, Pete rushed nervously behind him.

Elias Vicker looked up as they approached and gave the intruder his trademark look, a blank, only slightly aggressive scowl that, in the lexicon of Vicker’s body language, passed for friendly. Or, at least, not openly hostile. “Elias, I’d like to introduce you to Sven Rask. He says he represents one of our investors.”

“Oh, now they’re our investors.” He looked up. “Who’s this?”

Rask gave Vicker the barest nod and handed him a small calling card that read, simply: STICHTING ESKANDARFOND. Vicker tried to pocket it before Pete could see it, but, with years of experience in reading upside down on other peoples’ desks, he managed a glimpse. Vicker raised his hand to crack a few knuckles, then shooed Pete away.

“Mr. Vicker.” Rask spoke through his stiff upper lip. “We have a matter of some urgency. Wennerström sent me.”

“Rask? Don’t recognize the name. Have we met somewhere?” Vicker, spooked, tried his best to sound curt and imperious.

“No, sir, and please, call me Sven. I really cannot apologize enough for dropping in without an appointment.” Rask enunciated, as if explaining something complicated to a tourist. “But, given the time pressure, Wennerström asked me to approach you soonest.”

“Then please come by my office tomorrow.”

Vicker stepped away brusquely. Whoever this Rask was, he was out of line. For years, there had been wild speculation about how Vicker had gotten his start—about who his original investors had been, and who his biggest investors were now. The answer, then and now, was Stichting Eskandarfond, SEF, a secretive, stateless investment fund that had been collecting assets since its founding in the 1600s by Amsterdam traders who pioneered the use of opaque legal structures to hide fortunes made moving slaves from Africa and tea from Ceylon. Even within Vicker’s own firm, the relationship was treated like a state secret. Any dealings with SEF were shrouded by complex offshore corporate structures and trusts—no meetings, no calls, no emails, no memos. All communication with his silent investors came through his mentor, Lorenzo Gonzaga, vice chairman at Allard Frères et Cie and the man who had made the original introduction decades before. Until that moment, Vicker had never met anyone from SEF. Nor had he been terribly curious. Lorenzo saw to whatever caretaking they required.

Before Vicker could turn his back, the interloper wrapped a large hand around his forearm. Rask squeezed tightly. “I thought it more discreet to avoid your office. We are partners in a little project in the Berlin office with your nephew Oscar, and Oscar has become... shall we say... difficult.”

Partners? Oscar? Vicker willed himself to think hard, and fast.

“You have me at a disadvantage. If I knew more, I could speak with Oscar. Then we could have a constructive meeting.” Vicker knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help cracking his knuckles methodically. He tried to pull away, but Rask held on. Vicker looked around to see if anyone had noticed.

“Mr. Vicker, there is time pressure.” Rask squeezed even tighter. Vicker’s hand was now numb. “Your nephew committed to open a letter of credit in support of a transaction in which my principals are investors. Unersättlich Vereinsbank—UVB—has still not issued the letter.”

“But there’s nothing we can do tonight is there? It’s three in the morning in Berlin.”

“With respect, my principal insists. He’s outside. He does not like to be kept waiting.”

Vicker hesitated.

“Perhaps we should call Wennerström.” Rask reached for his phone. Vicker was stunned. Wennerström ran SEF. Gonzaga had always told him to be happy that he didn’t have to deal with Wennerström’s people directly.

“Fine.” Vicker felt tightness in his chest. He needed space and air, and would say anything to get out from under Rask’s grip. “Let me speak to a couple of people. I’ll be with you shortly.”

“Perhaps I did not make myself clear.” Rask, holding on to Vicker’s arm just as tightly, turned Vicker’s wrist sharply enough that he almost lost his balance. “Shall we?”

Vicker, not wanting to risk an awkward scene, complied. Rask led him to a blacked-out Suburban parked directly in front of the hotel on East Sixty-First Street. He opened the back-seat door for Vicker and climbed in after him. The limo had been kitted out with four facing swivel chairs. Inside, an elegantly dressed, wizened man, with a nose that seemed as if it had been honed to a sharp edge, waited for him. In the front sat two silent hulks, ex-Israeli commandos, Vicker guessed. Top of the line, not your average pudgy ex-cops.

“Mr. Vicker, may I introduce Dottore Ferdinando.”

Ferdinando extended the firm, slightly calloused hand of a sportsman, making Vicker self-conscious about his own doughy palm. The Suburban began to move.

“But before we start. Mr. Vicker, may I have your phone please?”

One of the front-seat bodyguards turned around, eyeing Vicker like a lazy pachyderm. Vicker reached into his jacket pocket and handed over his phone. Rask dropped the phone into a Faraday bag, which blocked all signals, including GPS tracking.

“Forgive what must seem a rather abrupt introduction,” Ferdinando began, speaking softly in the stiff-lipped RP accent characteristic of English royals, public school boys, bad American actors, and almost no one else.

“Dottore,” Vicker advanced, giving the man his honorific. “As I suggested to your colleague, I have no idea—meaning no disrespect—who you are and whether you are an investor in my fund, much less whether we are partners in some project involving my nephew. I agreed to step into your... parlor because Mr. Rask invoked the name of one of my largest investors, but shouldn’t we simply schedule a daylight meeting?”

Ferdinando sank back into his chair, elbows on the armrests, fingertips together and drawn to his lips. “Fair points, Mr. Vicker. Very fair points, but Eskandarfond has its own way of doing things.”

Vicker receded into himself, trying to make sense of the turn his night had taken. He was embarrassed to think how little he knew about SEF, even though SEF’s investment in Industrial Strategies amounted to more than half of the firm’s total value. SEF was rumored to control a couple of trillion dollars. Some said even more. Gonzaga had told Vicker never to ask: to simply be grateful that SEF had put him in business—and kept him in business. What he did know was that he alone managed almost $300 billion of their money—so their total assets were probably much, much greater. There was, by design, no way to find out. A stichting was an ancient legal fiction—neither a company nor a trust, nor a foundation, nor a partnership, neither visible nor completely invisible. Very like a church—an entity with no obvious owner, self-perpetuating, unregulated, with no public management structure. A giant cloud of money that seeped into everything, financing everything, controlling vast industrial empires, and, for all he knew, entire countries. Nearly the stuff of myth or legend, but with the capacity, as Vicker was discovering, to materialize from the abstract miasma of finance into corporeal form, malevolent when provoked.

“Ah. Judging from your expression, you have understood how unusual SEF is.”

“Of course, Dottore Ferdinando, I’m quite aware that SEF has its own ways of doing things. This is just... well, completely unorthodox.”

Vicker tried to imagine what it sounded like to be accommodating and contrite, while feeling frightened, sick, deflated, his anger rising—but with no place to vent it. Inside the safety of the elaborate bubble he’d constructed around his daily life, he reveled in what he saw as his toughness, his capacity for brutality, and his penchant for humiliating others. The briefest sneer flickered across Ferdinando’s upper lip. The Suburban continued moving slowly south and west on dark Manhattan streets.

“We are not constrained by the social mores or the orthodoxies of others, Mr. Vicker. However, what is unorthodox is that a board member such as myself would find it necessary to meet one of our managers.”

“What can I do?” Vicker capitulated.

Ferdinando nodded toward his younger associate.

“Your nephew, Oscar, has been financing an operation, a European used-car business.” Rask consulted a tablet on his lap. “Providing trade finance through a letter of credit intended to be issued by UVB and guaranteed by your firm.”

“I’ve never even heard about this, and I’m certain that I’ve never heard of this Unersättlich Vereinsbank.” Vicker frowned, truly perplexed. “What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that we have sixty-eight acres of used cars—seventeen thousand five hundred of them—sitting at the docks in Durres, the port outside Tirana, Albania. Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha—NYK—has a six-hundred-fifty-eight-foot Panamax car carrier anchored in the harbor waiting to load. Oscar pulled the credit support yesterday, and he won’t answer our calls.” Rask looked up, squarely at Vicker. “The demurrage runs two million dollars a day. That’s the problem.” Delaying a ship cost money, demurrage was the penalty rate.

“Financing car shipments? We’re not in that business.”

“Mr. Vicker,” Ferdinando interrupted, irritated, “this is the sixth cargo that Oscar has financed for us. Each one worth three hundred million dollars. It’s been very lucrative for him.”

“The sixth shipment? What are you paying us?”

Ferdinando looked at Rask.

“Thirty million per letter of credit?”

“Give or take.”

“No one pays that kind of money for a ninety-day loan,” Vicker snapped. Rask raised a cautionary hand. “Mr. Vicker, I am certain that you did not mean to impugn Dottore Ferdinando’s veracity. Perhaps the simplest idea is to get Oscar on the phone.”

“Gentlemen.” Vicker, snide now, eyed the door release, even as the truck kept moving. “It’s three a.m. in Berlin. Let’s get together again tomorrow morning. It’s been real.” He reached for the door latch and pulled. Nothing happened. Trapped. Vicker couldn’t resist cracking his knuckles. Was that a smirk on Ferdinando’s face?

Silence in the car, which Rask broke.

“Oscar is enjoying himself at The KitKatKlub right now. My people tell me that his nose has been getting quite the workout.”

Jesus Christ, thought Vicker. Who are these people?

Rask retrieved Vicker’s phone, and five rings later, Oscar’s voice boomed from the van’s speakers over the sounds of thumping bass, clinking glasses, and women laughing in the background.

“Uncle Elias, it’s the middle of the night here, what’s up?”

“Oscar, I’m visiting with a few—four—gentlemen who seem a bit miffed about a trade that seems to have gone sideways. Something to do with a Unersättlich Vereinsbank letter of credit and a guarantee from Industrial Strategies?”

The background noise receded a bit. Oscar must have moved out of the fray.

“Oscar. I need you to tell me a story, and use all these words: Unersättlich Vereinsbank, letter of credit, seventeen thousand used cars, Albania, our partners in the trade.”

“Uncle Elias—”

“Oscar, don’t fucking ‘Uncle Elias’ me.”

“Am I on a speakerphone? Is someone there with you?”

“Oscar, the goddamn story. Now.

“Okay. Okay. About eighteen months ago, a British banker, a friend of my friend, Percy Kirkham, approached me at my club. He told me that our investor, SEF, suggested he be in touch. Said he had a Russian client, some guy named Volk, engaged in sourcing used cars in Europe for export to Tunisia, Jordan, Vietnam, South Africa—all over. They needed someone to guarantee an evergreen letter of credit so that Unersättlich Vereinsbank could advance funds to the seller while the ships were in transit. We would provide the guarantee with the cars as collateral, and UVB would issue the LC. Our partners were offering to pay ten percent of the nominal amount—thirty million dollars—for paper that would only be outstanding for sixty to ninety days. Unbelievable rate of return on an annualized basis.”

“Unbelievable. Exactly. In other words, too good to be true! You never asked where’s the hair on this? You never thought that it couldn’t be that simple? And, Oscar, I don’t recall ever hearing about this trade. Where is it booked?”

Silence on the line.

“Oscar?”

“This is the sixth revolver. The first three shipments are closed, two are on the water. They’re booked as short-term overcollateralized corporate commercial paper in our Emerging Markets ledger.”

“Last I looked, you can’t sign for more than ten million dollars without me.”

“I booked them as back-to-back transactions with UVB, so the risk-weighted exposure was only three percent of the nominal amount of the letter of credit.”

“So, you lent three hundred million against used cars, but booked it as a loan of nine million. Do I have that right?” Vicker snarled. “And if two ships are still in transit, that means we’re exposed for six hundred million. Before this ‘sixth’ transaction?”

“Uncle Elias, all three earlier trades went fine. We made ninety million bucks. With no risk.”

“No risk? Really, Oscar? Then why am I sitting in the back of a black SUV, missing my own party, with a kindly old gentleman telling me there is a problem?”

“It’s just this new compliance guy at UVB. He wanted to make a due diligence trip with me to look at the collateral. I figured he just wanted a boondoggle, so I rented a jet and flew him to Albania—like Albania is anything close to a boondoggle. I figured that compliance stooges don’t get out much and take what they can get, especially a couple of legs on a private jet.”

“Why would the bank start due diligence now, if you’ve done this trade five times?”

“I booked this one in my personal account,” Oscar answered, sheepish, nearly inaudible. Ferdinando barely blinked. The Suburban turned onto the West Side Highway.

“And?”

“When we got to Tirana, we were met by this guy Turhan Krasniqi, a tatted Albanian in a leather jacket.”

“Tatted?”

“Covered in tattoos—knuckles, face, neck. Anyway, he was nice enough, spoke decent English, showed us the cars—all late models, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Ferrari mostly. Barely used by the look of them. But the UVB guy got freaked because most still had their license plates—Dutch, German, French, Italian. He sent scans of random plates to his head office, they all came back as stolen. Then he googled the name ‘Krasniqi,’ and it turned out Turhan is a brother of Saimir and Bruno Krasniqi, who are in jail in the U.S. for robbery, arson, kidnapping, murder, trafficking narcotics, weapons possession—”

“More to the point, the bank discontinued the trade.”

“Yes,” Oscar whispered.

“Allow me to summarize: Some guy comes up to you in a bar, offers a deal that’s too good to be true, and neither you nor the bank do any due diligence. You use my cash to backstop the trade, then you decide to cheat me and Industrial Strategies by trying to make it a personal trade involving this criminal mafia, and I get accosted by some folks who, from the sound of it, have a right to be angry, even if they are crooks.”

Rask muted Vicker’s phone.

“Mr. Vicker,” he said softly. “We need the transaction funded by ten a.m. GMT.”

Vicker nodded, grim, and motioned for Rask to open the mic.

“Oscar, you need to fund the damn trade with cash, in full, ASAP. By ten a.m. your time.”

“Uncle E, it’s not so simple, UVB is freaked.”

“I don’t care if we have to write a check for the whole three hundred million. If this isn’t done by ten a.m. GMT, I will personally call the Bundespolizei and BaFin and tell them that you and Unersättlich Vereinsbank were complicit in financing a gang of Albanian thieves and that you, you piece of shit, and your piece of shit banker buddy tried to defraud me and IS. Got it?”

“Yessir,” replied Oscar, sarcastic.

Rask clicked off. The Suburban had come to a stop at the West Thirtieth Street heliport. The rotor of a Sikorsky S-92 turned slowly.

“Gentlemen, are we now square?” Vicker asked.

“Progress, Mr. Vicker, progress,” Ferdinando replied.

“Sven and I will be leaving you now. Our colleagues will keep you company, until the funds are released. Feel free to select drinks and snacks from the mini-fridge. Arrivederci, Mr. Vicker.” Ferdinando and Rask climbed out onto the tarmac and boarded the chopper without a backward glance.

As the bird spun away, the Suburban started to move, beginning what would be a long nighttime crawl down I-95. For hours, as the van moved steadily south, Vicker alternately berated Oscar and cajoled bankers in New York and Berlin he roused from their beds. By the time dawn broke the funds had been moved. A depleted Vicker nodded off in his seat, but, just to be sure, one of the minders injected a chemical assist. When Vicker finally awakened from that deep, nearly comatose sleep, he found that he had been deposited, indecorously, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., two hundred twenty-five miles south of New York City.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Undermoney includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Moving from the desert sands of Syria to the finest apartments in Manhattan, from Washington, D.C., to the private bank vaults of Europe, Undermoney follows a group of American patriots as they are enmeshed in a world of dark money and confront ever-increasing danger. Ultimately, they must decide whether their objectives are worth the cost of sacrificing not just a few but potentially many, many human lives.

From global finance insider Jay Newman, Undermoney is an electrifying thriller that tells the story of a group former U.S. military members who work to take over the world’s largest “dark money” operation and ensure the presidential election of their preferred candidate, Senator Ben Corn—a result that would allow the group to implement their own foreign policy and fundamentally restructure American society.

Essential to this scheme are Greta Webb, a sophisticated CIA operative who is an expert on dark money, and Elias Vicker, a damaged, borderline psychopathic centibillionaire (and the richest man in New York) who runs the world’s largest hedge fund. The group must also form dangerous alliances with shadowy figures—some of whom work behind the scenes to manipulate world events. One such person is Fyodor Volk, the ruthless founder of Russia’s most successful private mercenary army, with close ties to Vladimir Putin. Another is the hidden family that manages the largest private pool of capital that has ever existed.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Author Jay Newman coined the term “undermoney” to describe the global dark pools of ill-gotten money that control people and events, often casting the final and deciding vote. How are people altering events via undermoney in the novel?

2. War and global conflict are two of the driving themes of Undermoney. Early in the book, Major Hank Arnold identifies money as being an integral part of a “new kind of war” (page 2). In the context of the novel, what is this new kind of war and who are its participants?

3. Money plays a number of different roles in Undermoney. It is fuel for corruption, a symbol of greed, and, according to Fyodor Volk, the dangerous Russian paramilitary leader, a noose. Given that the book takes place in our geopolitical present, consider the roles of undermoney in the real world. What are they? How have they shifted throughout history?

4. We encounter different brands and household names in this novel. Pay attention to them and make a list of the ones you recognize. Are the brands connected in any way? If so, what are the things or events connecting them?

5. The characters in Undermoney are cultured and sophisticated but brutal. With this in mind, is there anything we can glean about the interplay between art and violence, both within the context of the book and in real life?

6. Another way to think about question five is by tracking the emphasis placed on the characters’ fashion choices. How does this affect your reading of the characters? What do these choices say about them, about how they view themselves, and about how they want to be viewed by others?

7. The characters in Undermoney have complex and cynical views of the world. Why is this? How do their views change throughout the course of the novel?

8. Psychological profiling, therapy, and mental illness are also recurring themes, especially for Elias Vicker, but they are potentially relevant for all the characters. Discuss the behavioral tendencies and pathologies of different actors in the narrative and how they reinforce or prey upon each other. Reflect on your own experiences managing your mental health or navigating treatments. Discuss as well how big data enterprises thrive on building and maintaining psychological profiles of ordinary consumers.

9. Greta Webb is embroiled in many of the novel’s most difficult (not to mention dangerous) situations. How does she cope with the lethal reality of her job? How would you? Why is she emotionally resilient?

10. Several difficult and secretive conversations about money take place in this novel. Identify some of them and discuss why these topics have to be kept in the dark.

11. Discuss the multiple points of view in Undermoney. How do they affect your interpretation of the book’s events?

12. Undermoney starts in the desert sands of Syria, moves to a party in New York, then Washington, D.C., followed by Latvia, the French countryside, etc. Consider the fact that these disparate locations are all connected in some surprising (or secretive) ways in the novel. Is this a coincidence? What are some locations that you’ve been to, or know about, that are also connected in secret and surprising ways?

13. Who do you feel most sympathetic to in this novel, and why? Furthermore: What is it that makes these characters (many of whom are far removed from “civilian life”) sympathetic to you as a reader?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Draw parallels between the events of the novel and events that have occurred in recent history. Discuss these connections.

2. Elias Vicker, when he is introduced to us, is described as both “New York’s richest man” and also “its most odious clown” (page 15). Discuss with your group people in the real world who are similar to Vicker, keeping in mind the immense amount of political and financial power he holds. Do people like these exist, in your opinion? Why or why not?

3. Return to the three definitions of undermoney that serve as the book’s epigraph. Which one do you believe connects most to your interpretation of the novel’s themes?

4. Expand on the definition of undermoney that resonates with you most. Try to write the Wikipedia article about it, using what you know of the book and contemporary events.

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