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Moscow Forth and Back

Moscow Forth and Back

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Moscow Forth and Back

391 pagine
6 ore
Feb 1, 2021


Dark clouds are gathering over a major Swiss bank in 2005. A conspiracy has been set in motion, planned by the IRS of the USA, supported by agents of the CIA. Jules Lederer learns about it by chance and begins to fight it. Does he stand a chance against the powerful secret service and their mole? Why are the powerful people in the big bank not interested in the matter? An unequal battle unfolds over several years.
We fast-forward a bit and accompany the patchwork Lederer family to Moscow in June 2008. Jules, the swiss problem solver, his beautiful etiopian wife Alabina, their adopted philipino son Chufe and their newobrn daughter Alina. Jules have received an invitation from Vladimir Sokolov, a Russian oligarch and former client of Jules. It is the first travel abroad for the young familiy.
We jump a little further right after that, to October 2008, where we see Jules sitting alone at home, without his wife Alabima, without their newborn daughter Alina. What happened in the intervening months?
While the noose tightens ever tighter around the major Swiss bank, we move in Russia step by step and equally from June and October 2008 towards the all-decisive, terrible moment.

Feb 1, 2021

Informazioni sull'autore

Kendran Brooks is the pseudonym of a Swiss author. He writes adventure novels and short stories. Born in Switzerland, he grew up in Switzerland, enjoyed his education in Switzerland, worked almost exclusively in Switzerland and still lives in Switzerland today. First a businessman, then an accounting expert, he became self-employed as a management consultant in information technology, working for various international corporations. A few years ago, he retired from professional life and turned to writing. Now in his fifties, he is plagued by the usual ailments. Thinning hair, waist fat and galloping curmudgeonliness. He took his motto for life from the novel The Country Doctor by Honoré de Balzac: »Talking about useful things costs me no more than talking about superfluous stuff.«

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Anteprima del libro

Moscow Forth and Back - Kendran Brooks

Kendran Brooks

Moscow forth and back

Second Adventure of Family Lederer


First Edition (in German) as eBook 2008

Revised Version 2021

Copyright © Kendran Brooks

Cover picture: Fotolia, New York, USA

Cover: Kendran Brooks

London, Spring 2005

And what do you want for it?

Forty thousand pounds.

Forty thousand? All right. I'll see if it can be done. Call me in two days, please. To this number.

The elegantly dressed, perhaps fifty-year-old man with the thin moustache and the still full, dark blond-grey hair pushed a small card across the grey-black speckled tabletop. Across from him sat a somewhat hulking man with bitter, tired features. Each of his surely numerous worries had left their mark on it. He took the card, gave it a cursory glance, and slipped it into the breast pocket of his greasy-looking imitation leather coat. Then he rose from his chair at the small, round table in the McDonald's in Piccadilly Circus. He groaned softly and you could see from his stiff movements that although he might only be sixty or a little older, he had been painfully feeling his slow but inexorable physical decay for years. The shaggy, greyish-yellow fringe of hair around his bald head gave the merely average-sized but corpulent man the unkempt appearance of a dosser. His dark brown, stained mackintosh did its best to reinforce this impression. The man appeared average through and through. In a group of people, one would hardly have consciously noticed him. And even those who stood near him and looked him straight in the eye would forget him after a few minutes.

In front of the entrance door, the man pushed up the collar of his coat. It had become chilly on this March evening and the damp air all the more unpleasant. He turned to the right, walking away with slow, tired steps towards Leicester Square. After a few seconds, he disappeared among the hundreds of tourists and Friday night partygoers.

A thoughtful Henry Huxley, master of a Masonic lodge and good friend of Jules Lederer, remained in the McDonald's. Yes, he would call the Swiss tonight about this matter. Doyle Muller had so far been a reliable seller of information to him, also a skilful trader who could estimate the market value of his goods quite accurately and never asked for exorbitant prices. Why shouldn't an ageing MI6 official also earn a little extra money for the years after his retirement? State pensions were not that lavish.


Hello Jules, long time no see.

Henry's joy was not feigned, for Jules had indeed not visited London for several weeks. The two had met eight years ago when they uncovered a plot against the British Minister of Defence. Since those days, Henry and Jules knew that they could completely rely on each other in any situation and a deep friendship bound them together.

Constantly on the lookout for mysteries to unravel, the physically quite different men shared one and the same spirit of exploration. In their hearts, they were true explorers and adventurers who also took calculated risks if they proved unavoidable for the clarification of a question.

Henry Huxley was the typical Briton, always a little distinguished, polite but reserved, friendly but rarely cordial. One would have estimated him to be fifty years old, though his thick hair and youthful flashing eyes made him appear rather younger. Only the fine fan of wrinkles around the corners of his eyes, the deep vertical furrow in the middle of his chin and the somewhat sagging skin at the base of his neck indicated his true age, which might have been a good ten years higher. He was slim and tall, around one ninety, but did not look gangly at all, but wiry like an English officer in Hindustan at the end of the nineteenth century. Yes, one could very well imagine this man as the commander of a battalion of scouts operating successfully behind enemy lines. For anyone who looked into Henry's blue-green eyes recognised in them his knowledge of many tried and tested skills and an alert, agile mind that could quickly recognise and analyse any situation and use it for its own purposes.

Jules Lederer was dark-haired and had brown eyes, teddy bear eyes, as more than one of his changing girlfriends would agree. His face was attractive, even if his nose seemed rather too wide for his face and his mouth a little too narrow. His lips were full and had that curve that shows sensuality and lust for life in equal measure. The taut skin around his chin and neck, which seemed to stretch over his cheekbones, gave him a strikingly masculine, almost ascetic, but in any case, very athletic appearance. Even under the well-cut suit jacket, not only a trained eye could discern a rich play of upper arm and shoulder muscles when he moved. One would have guessed the merely average-sized, youthful-looking man to be in his mid to late thirties. But he was probably a few years older.

Hello Henry, the pleasure is all mine. You have something for me, you told me on the phone last night?

Yes, maybe even something big. An MI6 operative named Doyle Muller, who has provided me with useful information several times, has offered me a tape recording. It is said to be a recording of a telephone conversation between an agent of the CIA and a banker from Zurich. The conversation is said to have taken place three years ago and its contents are most interesting, Muller assured me. I thought you might find this interesting.

Have you listened to it yet?

No. Muller said the content of the conversation was so explosive that he wanted to see forty thousand pounds first. That's his price for listening a single time. He won't give up the tape itself.

Forty thousand? Just for listening? Sounds interesting. Is this Muller trustworthy?

Henry scratched his chin, the thumbnail of his right hand scraping along the vertical crevice as if to deepen the notch.

Yes, I think the information on the tape is worth the money asked. He has never bluffed me or tried to pull the wool over my eyes.

And which banker are we talking about?

Muller didn't tell me that. But he assured me it was one of the top shots in Switzerland.

Jules hesitated only briefly.

All right, Henry. Put me in touch with this Muller, please. I'll meet with him as soon as possible.

Henry's face twisted into a broad smile and his eyes began to sparkle. Jules and he would once again go hunting together.


Jules had also stayed at the traditional The Montague on this visit to London, not because of its proximity to Russel Square Gardens, but because of the hotel's basement rooms. Through them, one could reach an outbuilding. There, a hatch led into the city's sewage system. In the days of air raids during the Second World War, some houses in the area had been equipped with this convenient means of escape. Jules used the underground sewer system to get into an apartment building two blocks away. He had rented a basement flat there a year ago under a false name and had been using it for his own purposes ever since.

Ever since he had given the police the necessary clues to solve the Jenny affair involving Defence Minister Brown a few years ago, Scotland Yard had him shadowed around the clock on all his subsequent visits to the capital. This was probably to prevent him from stumbling into another politically explosive matter for the English crown. But that morning Jules wanted to escape his guards in the car in front of the hotel for a few hours. He had an important appointment.

His basement flat contained some unsightly second-hand furniture, as passers-by could see from outside despite the rather blind windowpanes. But in the bathroom, there was a new, highly professional dressing table with bright spotlights and a whole row of small drawers.

From one of the fans, Jules picked up a fake nose that he had had made to fit his face at Charles Fox's in Covent Garden. It sat perfectly on his own and after he had concealed the edges with a little make-up, it looked exceedingly real with its small, fine, reddish-bluish veins. It gave him a certain coarseness, despite his otherwise narrow and fine-cut face. Jules stuck a false, puffy lip beard with unevenly cut dark hair under his nose. This made him a less well-groomed appearance in his late forties. He also smeared some gel into his hair, which made it appear greasy and sticky. He changed his jogging suit and training shoes from the hotel into too large, washed-out, and worn jeans, well-worn sneakers. A baggy black wool jumper completed his attire. Together with the stained Chelsea scarf, he transformed into a physically spent, grumpy-looking factory worker and football fan from the Eastend of London. Once again, the thousands of surveillance cameras in the British capital would follow him wherever he went but would hardly identify him as Jules Lederer.

The Swiss man put the money he had brought with him into an old plastic bag from Tesco and then made the short walk to Holborn tube station. It had drizzled that morning and the streets were still damp. Only slowly did the pavements fill with people and the sky above them seemed to be just waiting for enough victims to accumulate for another downpour.

He overtook two old women who were walking carefully on the sometimes slippery pavement in front of him. One of them said to the other, It's a disgrace the way our Prince Charles treats Camilla, don't you think?, to which the other said, Why should he treat her better than Diana? Charles is a gentleman through and through in his own way. His dogs and horses are more important to him than his family.

The two women cackled away in a discordant canon.

Just before the entrance to the station, Jules passed two bobbies whose eyes briefly brushed him before they fixed on a homeless man sitting on a dry spot on the ground under a canopy with his back against the wall of the building. He seemed confused or drunk or both at the same time.

Jules arrived at Liverpool Station at half past nine and headed straight for the meeting point as arranged.

Hi, Jules, Henry's voice addressed him from the side. His friend had set up behind an unfolded newspaper and was discreetly surveying the station concourse, any pursuers you still need to shake off?

Hi, Henry. No, everything's okay.

"Then please go to the toilets. Muller is in the third cubicle from the right. To recognise him, whistle The Rain in Spain from My Fair Lady."

Jules sat down in the fourth cabin from the right, closed the door and whistled softly the first bars of The Rain in Spain. Then he slid the plastic bag with the forty thousand pounds under the wall into the next cabin.

He heard the money being picked up on the other side and a quick rummage in the bag. Then a coarse hand with broad, hairy fingers and scruffy nails slid a pair of headphones under the wall. Jules grabbed it and put it on. A crackling sound told him that a cassette player was being switched on the other side.

Good afternoon Mr. Waffle, it's me, Jules heard a voice speaking broad American English, probably a Texan, did you enjoy our little demonstration with your daughter? Were we finally able to convince you that you should support our cause with all your might?

On the other side, first heavy breathing and then a laboriously suppressed swearing could be heard. But then an angry voice rumbled out, its nervous, almost hysterical staccato betraying its owner's insecurity.

You fucking bastard. What did I ever do to you to make you threaten my family?

But Mr Waffle. It's not about what you have done so far, but about what we want you to do for us in the future. You recklessly rejected my first, quite friendly offer, so that we felt compelled to do a little more convincing. And? How are things now? Has the kidnapping of the little girl finally made you realise that you don't stand a chance against us? This time you were able to hold your daughter safe and sound after only three hours. The next time a member of your family will die if you do not finally do what we demand of you. I hope we understand each other, Mr Waffle. I explained our deal to you in detail a week ago. Start implementing it. Or do you want to see one of your loved ones dead before you become reasonable?

The American's voice sounded almost bored at his last words, which made his threat even more terrible. He seemed to basically not care what Waffle chose.

The banker at the other end of the line audibly struggled for composure. Then his contrite voice could be heard softly: Yes, you damned pig, yes, I'll do what you ask of me. But it won't be that easy. The investment strategy of my bank is not decided by me alone. There are committees and, of course, the board of directors as the highest authority. Without the consent of all these bodies, I can't implement your plan at all, and whether I can convince my colleagues, I highly doubt.

Don't worry about that, Mr Waffle. You are not alone, because we naturally have other decision-makers from your bank in our hands, as well as two of the board members. The riskier investment strategy we have worked out will be waved through the committees without much dissent. Trust us.

And what is the point of all this? Why do you want to harm my employer? Are you working on behalf of an American hedge fund? Is this about a speculation against my bank?

But Mr Waffle. You think much too short. But our motives should not interest you further. Just one more thing to say goodbye. We will, of course, keep a close eye on you and your every move. As long as you follow our plan, nothing will happen to you or your family. However, should you deviate in any way, we will strike without further warning. Are you aware of that?

For a moment there was silence on the other side.

Yes, I have realised that in the past few days, came the answer quietly.

The new crackling sound revealed the end of the tape. Jules pulled the receiver from his head and slid it under the wall. Then he plucked some paper from the roll, flushed the toilet, and thoughtfully left the cabin.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The invitation from Vladimir Sokolow had arrived last autumn when Alabima was heavily pregnant and they could not possibly travel. The birth of their daughter Alina three weeks later went off without a hitch and the little girl has grown up splendidly ever since. This summer, there was actually nothing more to be said against a visit from Jules' former client. That's why the Lederer family from La Tour-de-Peilz, situated on the beautiful Lake Geneva, started packing their suitcases that morning.

Have you stowed my washing things yet?, Chufu called down into the living hall from his room on the first floor. Jules stood among a loose pile of suitcases and looked around frantically.

Yeah, I think so. You put it with your gym stuff, didn't you?

To the gym stuff? No. My sports stuff is still up here on the bed. But the washing stuff is already gone. But another question: Do you have an empty suitcase left for me?

Another suitcase, Chufu?, Jules' voice betrayed a rapidly swelling desperation, what do you need it for? I think you misunderstood us. We're not moving, we're just going on a fortnight's holiday in Moscow, and Jules added in a biting tone, so you can leave your winter clothes and ski boots here.

Like most people who owned little in childhood, her seventeen-year-old adopted son tended to hoard anything and everything he could get his hands on. It had taken months to break him of the habit of stockpiling edibles in his room. He was always picking up chocolate and other sweets from the cupboards in the kitchen and hiding them in the chest of drawers under his underwear or in the cupboard between his shoes. For a rainy day, he had always said with a shrug and an innocent smile on his lips.

Now he would have liked to take his mini stereo and PlayStation with him on holiday, probably together with his collection of old Herman comics. Jules was about to shout out a biting remark in this regard when his wife Alabima stepped out of the living room into the hallway with little Alina in her arms.

My God, Jules. You men are also slobs. You should just get your stuff ready to go. Is that so hard? I wonder how you used to be able to pack your bags all by yourself when you were a bachelor?

It's all Chufu's fault, Jules tried to deflect, he'd even pack the dirty laundry from the basket if I only let him.

Not true at all, it sounded from the first floor. The son-man had foolishly heard his adoptive father's reply, Jules is playing the great organiser here, but can't get anything done himself and barely leaves me room in the suitcases for the essentials. I'll have to walk around Moscow naked.

Jules shrugged his shoulders in surrender and whispered to his wife, Worse than any diva, whereupon Alabima held him out her daughter over two large hard-sided suitcases.

Give your stressed father a big kiss, princess.

Little Alina smiled radiantly at him, even seemed to grin cheekily across both cheeks, as if she had understood exactly how much Jules felt overwhelmed with the travel preparations.

The Swiss had to laugh out loud when he recognised the sly expression on his daughter's sweet little face. Then he quickly leaned over to her and first pressed a smacking kiss to Alina's cheek, but then embraced his wife's shoulder with his arm and pulled her a little closer to him. They kissed passionately for a long time while their daughter watched them with astonishment on her face.

If I didn't have you two, he puffed happily.

And what about me?

Chufu stood at the top of the landing, both arms packed with T-shirts, tracksuit bottoms and a pair of sneakers on top, grinning down at them.

Well, come and get your kiss then, Jules shouted up in mock annoyance, to which his adopted son only pursed his lips in disdain, stepped to the railing and opened his arms, shouting, Watch out for a grenate.

Somewhere the guy had picked up that stupid phrase from the Swiss military that you have to shout out when you pull off a practice grenade and throw it into the field. His sports clothes, however, fell down quite compactly and landed precisely on the blue cloth suitcase, which was already lying well filled on the ground.

Jules became angry.

I see. You want to put them in there, your things, in this suitcase here? he called up, upset, all right, my boy, no problem. I'll be happy to stuff your things in there too, and Jules ripped the zip open a bit and began to squeeze the training shoes in through the narrow slit.

Alabima watched him shaking her head and said with a pitying smile, do you actually know that you are hopelessly messing up your own laundry right now?

Jules paused, startled, opened the lid of the suitcase all the way, looked closer and straight at his formerly smoothly ironed vests and T-shirts, which were now lying scrambled together inside.

Bum...mer, he said meekly, I'm sorry, darling.

Get a grip on yourselves, you childish people, Alabima exclaimed sternly, work together according to plan and forget your constant teasing. The taxi will pick us up in half an hour. The countdown is on for you.

Oh dear, Jules thought to himself, so that's how it was. His wife was already aiming for supreme command of the Lederer family's first four-man expedition abroad. Well, maybe that was for the best.

At your command, oh my general, Jules replied loudly, standing playfully at attention, and saluting briskly, laughing amusedly at Alabima.

Stand at ease, soldier Lederer, and continue to work swiftly. Private Chufu will certainly assist you energetically if you ask him nicely.

She smiled smugly at him and Jules thought inevitably at that moment, you little beast.

I heard that, soldier, was her response to his expression.

And why are you making Chufu a private and I am just a common soldier?

Before Alabima could answer, it already resounded down from above: Private has to be earned through hard, determined work and unparalleled obedience to the cadre, soldier Lederer. If you continue to try, in a few years you may yet become a useful member of our association. Keep trying hard and do your best.

Jules scrunched up a curse on his lips while Alabima disappeared back into the living room with her daughter, laughing softly.

Of course, they finished packing in time. But when the Mercedes minibus of the taxi company turned into the forecourt of their villa, Jules looked at his wife in complete amazement.

Couldn't get any bigger than that, could you, darling?

Well, three hard cases, the blue cloth case, three bags and the pram. Should I have ordered a Smart car, darling? she said mockingly, "the smart woman builds ahead when she has to travel with two male slobs like you.


When they arrived at the airport, they packed their things onto two trolleys. Chufu took one, Jules the other. His stepson and he got on like most of the time without exchanging a word. As if on command, they suddenly ran off and towards the Swiss check-in counters. It was the eternal competition of the two. Who would reach the destination first and triumph over the other? Chufu narrowly won this time because Jules had to dodge an elderly woman with her damn suitcase trolley. The woman came from the left and clearly took the right of way from him, which his son coldly took advantage of, elegantly avoiding the near collision and reaching the check-in counter first.

Of course, Chufu bawled out his victory unduly loudly and patted his thighs contentedly. And Jules, to the laughter of his adopted son, also earned the pitying look of the woman behind the first-class check-in counter.

Father and son then had to wait for Alabima for quite some time. She approached leisurely, with Alina in her arms and the tickets and passports in her handbag. Twenty seconds was a hell of a long time to stand idly in front of a counter person and be exposed to her gaze.

When the luggage was finally checked in, the customs check cleared, the shopping mall was gone and her flight was called, Jules breathed a sigh of relief for the first time that morning. Her holiday could begin.


You've told me little about the Sokolows so far. As usual, you're making a big secret of your past. You know them from before, you said?

Alabima had leaned over the wide back of her seat in the first class of the Airbus 320 to Jules and routinely pushed Alina the just lost dummy back between her daughter's smacking lips. Chufu sat behind the three of them and amused himself with the electronic entertainment programme on board the modern aircraft. Next to him sat an attractive woman in her mid-twenties with long blonde hair. Chufu kept furtively eyeing her from the side. At the age of seventeen, he had long been receptive to female charms, even if the woman seemed rather too old for him. After all, she was already showing the first fine lines around the corners of her mouth. But her perfume beguiled him with its subtle musky scent overlaid with strong citrus. He kept diverting his eyes from his electronic game and towards her.

Her light make-up was flawless, he noted admiringly. The glowing red lips seemed to have been carved out with a chisel, so sharp were the edges. Chufu unconsciously sighed slightly, whereupon the young woman turned her mischievous face to him briefly and smiled mockingly at him.

She knew very well her effect on younger and older male semesters. Chufu promptly blushed and went back to the game of chess he had long since lost to the computer. Hopefully, the blonde next to him would not notice. He quickly ended the game and started a new one.

Yes. I did a job for Vladimir Sokolow nine years ago, Jules said quietly, turning to Alabima. She saw in his eyes the deep seriousness and the images that brought back the memory of the case.

What was it about?

You know I don't like to talk about my work from the past and I don't want to burden you with it. But I think you have a right to know more in this case. Vladimir Sokolow was in trouble with a local criminal organisation at the time. They were trying to extort protection money from some of his businesses. He had hired me to put a stop to that.

A criminal organisation? Like the Russian mafia?

Alabima's voice sounded worried.

Not the mafia, just a few rash but extremely brutal boys who overestimated themselves and thought they could set up their own business in Moscow.

And you solved this problem for Sokolow?

Yes, I did. Actually, the army did the work for us. I remember some of the generals from my first time in Russia, you know, back when Yeltsin was able to swing into power after the August coup ended and replaced Gorbachev. I spoke to one of those generals about the bandits and he ordered an anti-terrorist exercise a little later in the building where the gangsters' headquarters were. In the course of this, the soldiers came across the extensive arsenal of weapons and in the ensuing fierce firefight, all the members of the gang were shot dead. Three soldiers also lost their lives.

Alabima looked at her husband in horror.

That's terrible.

Jules looked at her guiltily.

Believe me, I am really not proud of this solution, definitely not. But it was a nasty gang that tried to bite off a piece of the blackmailer's cake with all their might. With two bomb attacks against Sokolow's facilities, they wanted to make him compliant. More than half a dozen innocent people died. Someone simply had to put an end to this madness.

And the police could not take action against these gangsters?

Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple in Russia at the time, and it probably still isn't today. There are different interest groups that reach out from politics, to the economy, to the secret service, the army, and the police, to the mafia and other crime syndicates. After perestroika, a struggle for distribution of economic goods had broken out all over Russia at all levels of society, a struggle that has even intensified since energy prices exploded two years ago. Think of the arrest of former Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He was convicted of tax evasion, forcibly expropriated and is now serving an eight-year prison sentence merely for supporting pro-Western parties in Russia and daring to oppose Putin and denounce rampant corruption.

And to such a dangerous country you take us?

Alabima's voice resonated with serious concern.

Oh, we're just four tourists from the West, like many millions of others who flock to Moscow every year. My mission for Sokolow was also almost ten years ago. No one there still remembers me.

At least the Sokolows still do, as their invitation to us proves, his wife said sceptically, and maybe others do too? What kind of person is this Vladimir Sokolow anyway?

He is an oligarch of the first hour, one who earned his first billions already in the early nineties.

His first billions? I thought Russia was still a communist state back then. How can someone scrape together billions?

Sokolow once told me in detail. At that time, it must have been ridiculously easy for a determined man to make a large fortune. Through his good connections to the party headquarters, he was able to bribe some administrative officials. Thus, he obtained import licences for various technical devices from the West. In the early 1980s, for example, he started buying up fax machines on a large scale in Europe and the USA. You have to know, at that time fax machines were something quite new. They revolutionised communication between companies, maybe not as much as the internet with its emails a few years later, but still tremendously. Because suddenly you could exchange detailed information or conclude contracts within minutes, which had previously taken many days. In Russia at that time, fax machines were scarce and in great demand. But most companies did not have the necessary import permits, nor did they have Western foreign currency. Sokolow knew this, of course, and that's why he accepted payment in kind for the machines, mainly scrap metal.

Scrap? How can you earn billions with scrap?

It all depends on the quantity. At that time, a fax machine cost him about a thousand American dollars to buy. He then sold the machines for, say, sixty tonnes of first-class steel scrap or twenty tonnes of aluminium scrap. You certainly know that poor economic coordination in the centrally run Soviet empire led to ruinous blunders. But in this vast country there were and are so many natural resources that there was never any need to worry about waste. The resulting scrap metal was therefore not recycled at all, as it was in the West. For decades, only new steel and aluminium were produced, while the discarded vehicles and machines piled up in huge scrap yards. Sixty tonnes of scrap steel or twenty tonnes of aluminium had an equivalent value of about five thousand dollars in the West at that time. So Sokolow bought a fax machine for a thousand and sold it for five thousand. Not a bad deal when you think that in a few years the Soviet Union needed hundreds of thousands of these machines. And a little later, the fax was followed by many millions of personal computers. Sokolow made his money like hay all these years without the slightest economic risk.

Alabima looked at her husband in disbelief.

Millions of computers?

Don't forget, the economy of the Soviet Union at that time was divided into tens of thousands of collective farms with millions of individual enterprises. The demand for modern office equipment and later, after the opening of the borders to the West, also for high-quality office furniture, was simply gigantic. I myself experienced how delivery times for office furniture in Europe rose from four to twelve weeks in the mid-1990s, because most of the production was sold off to the Eastern Bloc at fantasy prices. The Soviet Union's scrap trade with the West reached such enormous proportions in those years that prices collapsed by half worldwide. Iron ore mines and steelworks all over Europe were put under severe financial pressure for years and had to reduce their production or even close down. The fact that steel prices worldwide have risen again in the last ten years is less due to unbroken demand than to the Soviet Union's dissolved scrap storage facilities, which are now empty. There is no cheap supply and prices can finally rise again. But Sokolow and other oligarchs had their billions in the dry long ago.

Jules looked at Alabima's forehead. She was trying to imagine all this, how Russia was plundered in a few

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