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31 October 2019

Valhalla: Chapter Four


Lansky and McKee shook hands, McKee towering over the group. 

“So you’re Denis Menkov? Victor’s told me the story. He outlived me by quite a few years; I was killed by a hedge fund manager because he wanted revenge for the fact that I outsmarted him over a copper market scam. And then you had Victor killed over the aluminium business. Doesn’t make the metals trade seem too attractive, does it?” He looked at Koch, still standing there. “I don’t think we’ve met?”

“No, my name’s Alex Koch. I used to be the man in charge of Metal-Exx in Russia. Then I made a perfectly sound, honest business proposition to Victor, and this man” - he pointed at Menkov - “hi-jacked me outside a hotel in Hamburg, took me to the river, shot me and dumped my body in the freezing water. No double-crossing, or scamming or scheming by me. I was just an inconvenience. These people” - he pointed at Menkov - “him, his associates and bosses, they believe they can do anything they want, anything at all, if it will further their grab for yet more wealth or influence. Just imagine for a moment that Victor and I had concluded our deal. Would it really have made any difference to you? Actually, in the end, a few years later, you did something very similar yourselves. You didn’t need to murder me, and you didn’t need to have Victor killed, in the long run; even by your own lights, it wasn’t necessary. It was just the easiest way out.” He paused for a moment. “Think of that: Victor and I are dead just because it seemed like a good idea at the time to you and Ansonov.”

“No,” said Menkov. “I played it as I saw it at the time, by our rules. I’m not responsible for the lawlessness in my country at that time. You’re talking about a complete clash of cultures, a totally different world view. But, let’s not forget, you weren’t so innocent. You’d had the old President in your pocket for years. I don’t recall Metal-Exx ever getting too worried about what happened under the old regime. Sure, Alex, you didn’t pull the trigger, just like Victor didn’t, but - just like him - you turned a blind eye often enough.”

Well, dear reader, we can leave them to that discussion of actual and implied guilt - if you like theological debate, Menkov is right about one thing: what is the relative morality of sins of commission versus those of omission? But as we step back from their argument, we can just catch the sound of Leonard Cohen singing in the background:

“Like any dealer he was watching for the card

That is so high and wild

He’ll never need to deal another” 

Is that what it’s about? Is it that they lose their balance, or morality, because they are so fixated on securing the one deal that will guarantee them for ever? The one shot, the big one that will assure their wealth and their place forever in the pantheon of traders? In fact, is that what we all do, except that we are less (or more, since we’re still alive) good at it? Perhaps our characters here are in fact like a bunch of latter-day Icaruses (Icari?), either not understanding the full potential impact of what they are trying to do, or really bad at choosing the type of wax to stick feathers together.. 

But no, I don’t think so. For most traders of metals it’s an honest, necessary and decent business. Those we have been watching here have pushed beyond the boundaries we would have expected in search of disproportionate wealth and influence. It’s been fun writing about them, on and off, for the last few years, but before finally leaving them in their eternal Valhalla, their lives (probably not the right word, in the circumstances….) irrevocably bound together as they rehash their endless debate and their games of celestial spoof, there is one other character who has something to say.


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