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  • The First Billion
  • Written by Christopher Reich
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The First Billion

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Written by Christopher ReichAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Christopher Reich


List Price: $7.99


On Sale: August 20, 2002
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33432-3
Published by : Delacorte Press Bantam Dell
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Christopher Reich electrified readers with Numbered Account and The Runner, his first two international thrillers. Now the New York Times bestselling author whose work has been called “gripping” (Chicago Tribune), “chilling” (The Denver Post), “wonderful” (The New York Times Book Review), ratchets up the stakes in an ingeniously plotted story of nerve-jangling intrigue and hot-wired suspense. Using today’s cutthroat global economy as a backdrop, The First Billion explodes into a breakneck tale of betrayal, revenge, and redemption...

John “Jett” Gavallan is a former fighter pilot, now the high-flying CEO of Black Jet Securities, an investment firm that earned its first billion before the techno dream crashed and burned. Poised for an offering crucial to his company’s survival, Gavallan is banking on the riskiest gamble of his dazzling career. In exactly six days, he will take Mercury Broadband, Russia’s leading media company, public on the New York Stock Exchange. But rumors of fraud have suddenly surfaced that could send the deal south. Gavallan makes a preemptive strike by dispatching his number-two man--fellow Desert Storm fighter pilot Grafton Byrnes--to Moscow to penetrate the shadowy Russian multinational. When Byrnes fails to return, Gavallan fears the worst. But
the truth is even more diabolical than he can imagine.

Plunging into a desperate search for his best friend, the renegade top gun is suddenly fighting a different kind of war, where there is no safe harbor and no one he can trust. Not Konstantin Kirov, the elusive head of Mercury Broadband who may not be what he seems. Not the bankers and traders Gavallan does business with every day. Not the exotic beauty who has told him all her deepest secrets--except one. Suddenly Jett finds himself trapped in a conspiracy that could shatter the delicate balance between nations--and plunge the global economy into chaos. Hunted by the F.B.I. and a band of elite killers, Jett races from Palm Beach to Zurich to Moscow in a desperate search for answers. But for this brave ex-commando haunted by visions of war, the truth comes at a terrible price. With Mercury rising and the hours ticking down, he is moving closer to a place where murder and revenge are the currency of choice...and where the first billion is the ultimate insider secret--and the deadliest obsession of all.

With breakneck plotting, stunning realism, and a sense of danger that keeps the heart racing, The First Billion is a knockout of a novel that will linger long after the final shocking twist is revealed.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter 1

“You are millionaire?” she asked.

“Me?” Grafton Byrnes pointed a finger at his chest. “No. I’m afraid not.”

“Yes,” she insisted, adding a coy smile. “You are millionaire. I can tell. You have nice suit. Beautiful tie. You are confident. It is clear. You are millionaire.”

Byrnes unglued his eyes from the leggy blond who’d taken a seat at the bar next to him and looked around the room. The place was called Metelitsa, and it was a restaurant, nightclub, and casino rolled into one, located on the Novy Arbat in the center of Moscow. Red curtains blocked out the summer evening’s glare. White tablecloths, smoked mirrors, and croupiers in black ties lent the room a touch of class. But one sniff told Byrnes different: the smoke, the perfume, the heady mix of expensive liquor and easy morals. He could recognize a cathouse by scent alone.

“I’m successful,” he said, curtly. “Nothing special.”

“You are very successful, I think. Yes, a millionaire.” She pronounced the word, mee-lone-air, and her Slavic accent and grave delivery lent the word a patina of its foregone luster. “You would like to buy me drink?”

“Sure,” he said, before he could ask himself what he was getting himself into. “What’ll you have?”

“Vodka. On rocks with twist of orange.”

“Coming right up.”

Byrnes was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his eyes off the woman next to him. To call her gorgeous would have been an injustice. She was no more than twenty-one, with white blond hair, satin blue eyes, and the kind of pouty lips that his ex-wife called “bee-stung” and that no amount of collagen injections could reproduce. Her dress was black, short, and tight; her nails were lacquered a rich maroon. But it was her bearing that Byrnes found irresistible: the inquisitive tilt of the head, the brazen posture, the adventurous twinkle to the eyes that seemed to say, “Dare me, I’ll try anything.” In short, she was every middle-aged divorcees idea of a fitting companion.

“Bartender!” As Byrnes shifted on his seat to get the barkeep’s attention, he inadvertently nudged the man next to him. “Izvinitye,” he said, offering a smile. Excuse me.

The man looked Byrnes up and down, then rose from his stool. He was six four, about two twenty, with a Marine’s crew cut and a neck the size of a fire hydrant. He had a buddy next to him who looked like he’d fallen out of the same tree. Byrnes had been warned about guys like this. “Flat tops,” they were called. Enforcers for the Russian mafiya, or more politely, point men for the Russian business elite.

Be careful, Byrnes’s best friend had told him. Moscow isn’t Paris or Zurich or Rome. It may look like a European city, but it’s not. You’re in Russia. The whole country is in the shithouse. Two percent of the people are making a fortune and the rest don’t have a pot to piss in. It’s dangerous over there.

“Excuse me,” the Russian replied, in decent English. “I hope I not disturb you and pretty lady.”

“No,” said Byrnes. “My fault. Again, I’m sorry. Let me buy you a drink. We’ll call it even.”

“No need,” said the Russian, with grating politeness. “Have nice evening.” He made a show of adjusting his blazer and retook his place. Only a blind man would have missed the nickel-plated revolver nestled beneath his arm, a .357 Colt Python with a pearl handle, if Byrnes wasn’t mistaken.

Turning back to the girl, Byrnes found a round of drinks on the counter. Okay, he said to himself, let’s start over again. And raising his glass, “Na Strovye.”

“Na Strovye.” She took a sip, then leaned forward and gave him a lingering kiss on the cheek. “My name is Svetlana.”

“I’m Graf,” he said, knocking back the entire drink. “Good to know you.”

“You speak Russian. Why you not tell me so before?”

“Nemnogo,” he said. Just a little. The Air Force would be proud of him for having remembered as much as he did. He also knew how to say, “I am an officer,” “My serial number is . . . ,” and a few choice obscenities.

“I no like Russian men,” Svetlana confided in his ear. “So arrogant.”

“Me neither,” he complained. “So big.”

She laughed. “Tell me, Graf, why you are in Moscow?”

“Business,” he answered.

“Beez-ness? What do you do?”

Byrnes shrugged, looking away. “Nothing interesting. Just some routine stuff.”

His response couldn’t have been further from the truth. He’d arrived earlier that afternoon on an emergency visit. All very hush-hush. Forty-eight hours in country to check out the operating equipment of Mercury Broadband, a multinational Internet service and content provider his company was set to bring public in a week’s time. Questions had surfaced regarding the firm’s Moscow network operations center, namely, whether it owned all the physical assets it claimed to: routers, switches, servers, and the like. He was to find the facility, verify that it contained equipment necessary to provide broadband services to its publicized customer base of two hundred thousand people, and report back.

The IPO, or initial public offering, of shares in the company was valued at two billion dollars, and nothing less than his firm’s continued existence depended on what he discovered. A green light meant seventy million dollars in fees, a guarantee of fee-related business from Mercury down the road, and a rescue from impending insolvency.

Shelving the offering meant death, defined either as massive layoffs, the sale of the firm to a larger house, or in the worst case, shuttering up the shop and putting a “Gone Fishing” sign in the window. Permanently.

“And what you do for business?” she asked.

“Investment banking. Stocks. Bonds. Like Wall Street, you know?”

“So, I am right,” she announced proudly, dropping a hand onto his leg and allowing it to linger there. “You are millionaire.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe not. Anyway, it’s not polite to talk about money.”

“I think you are wrong. Money is sexy,” she said, winking. “Aphrodisiac, I think.”

He ordered another drink, and when it came he took a greedy sip. He was getting that warm, fuzzy feeling, and liking it. From his perch at the bar, he overlooked a parquet dance floor and a small casino with slot machines and a half dozen gaming tables. A few flat tops had staked out positions at the craps pit. They were dressed to a man in snazzy black suits, open collars, and gold chains. Crisp American greenbacks were exchanged for stacks of blue and silver chips. No one was playing with less than five thousand dollars. Dice tumbled across the green baize tables. Raucous voices lofted across the room, spirited, cajoling, violent. The staccato shouts had a serrated edge and lent the place an aggressive buzz. At five past nine on a Tuesday night, the joint was beginning to jump.

“And why, Graf, you come to Metelitsa?” Svetlana’s hand had moved higher on his leg. A single finger danced along the crease of his trousers. “To see me, maybe? See Svetlana?”

She was staring at him, the magnetic blue eyes commanding him nearer. Her lips parted, and he saw a moist band of pink flashing behind the dazzling teeth. He could taste her warm, expectant breath. The scent of her hair, lilac and rosewater, drifted over him . . . enticing him . . . seducing him.

“Yes . . . I mean, no . . . I mean . . .” Byrnes didn’t know what he wanted to say. He wasn’t sure whether it was the vodka or just Svetlana, but suddenly he was decidedly tipsy. He was having trouble focusing, too. Placing a hand on the bar, he stood up unsteadily, bumping once more into the thug next to him.

“Watch it!” barked the linebacker.

You’re in Russia. It’s dangerous over there.

“Sorry, sorry.” Byrnes raised his hands defensively. He turned toward Svetlana. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.” He mumbled the words “rest room” and “freshen up.”

“I help you,” she said, resting a hand on his waist. “We go upstairs together. I show you way.”

“No, no. I’m all right, really. Where do I go?”

“Up. To right side.” She pointed the way, then wrapped her arms around him. “You no leave Svetlana?”

Suddenly, she didn’t look so much the unapproachable Russian ice princess as an insecure twenty-year-old frightened she might lose her evening’s pay.

“No,” he said. “I no leave Svetlana.” Jesus, now he was even talking like her. “I come right back.”

He set off to the rest room, lurching along the bar before recovering his sea legs and guiding himself up the stairs. Inside the john, he turned the tap on full and took turns slapping cold water on his face and taking deep breaths. A minute passed and he began to feel better. That was some vodka he was drinking. Two doubles and he was on his ass. He promised himself he’d have a word with the hotel concierge, tell him he had something different in mind when asking about a place where a gentleman could get a few drinks and some dinner.

Laying both hands on the sink, he took a close look at himself in the mirror. “Come on, kid,” he whispered. “Snap out of it.”

Staring back was a vital, handsome father of two teenage sons gracefully approaching middle age. Strands of silver streaked a generous head of black hair. Fatigue shadowed his flinty eyes. His bold, clefted chin, the brunt of a thousand jokes, evidenced a slight but noticeable sag. Squinting, he wondered what had happened to the gallant airman who had flown his nation’s fighters in two armed conflicts, the able pilot who had deadstick-landed a flamed-out F-15 and bailed out over open ocean after he’d lost his hydraulics.

“Still here,” tolled a fighting voice deep within him. “Just get lost once in a while.”

“You are a huckleberry,” he said aloud, angered by his lack of self-restraint. “Your little lady friend probably had your drink spiked. Five’ll get you ten her big buddy is waiting downstairs at this very instant to give you his best regards. You came to do a job, not fuck around. Get thyself out of here. Now!”

Five minutes later, Grafton Byrnes left the rest room. His tie was straightened, if a little wet. His jacket was buttoned. His wooziness had faded, replaced by a whopping headache and an ironclad desire to get as far from the premises as possible. Walking to the head of the stairs, he glanced down at the bar. Svetlana was deep in conversation with the two bullies who’d been sitting next to him.

Idiot! he thought. It really was a put-up job.

Spinning on his heel, he headed to the dining room. An illuminated sign along the far wall read “Exit.” He snaked through the tables, bumping into diners, slowing only to offer an apology. Reaching the emergency exit, he threw open the door and found himself standing at the top of a fire escape. He put a tentative foot on the rusted landing. The entire structure swayed and groaned. The thing had been built before Stalin had even thought of the words “five-year plan.”

Retreat. Go to plan B.

But even as he turned to reenter the building, the door slammed shut. There was no handle or doorknob to gain entry.

Byrnes swallowed hard, a bolt of unease creasing his shoulders. He wasn’t sure if he was frightened or exhilarated, but a moment later he was attacking the fire escape. Rung by rung, he descended the rickety structure, his steps cautious but not unsure. Six flights of stairs took him down three floors, and when he reached the ground he stood stock still, amazed the thing had actually held together.

He was still dusting the rust off his hands when the emergency exit flung open and his favorite flat top emerged onto the landing, six floors above. “Allo, Graf,” the Russian called. “Stop. I want to talk. You owe Tatiana money.”

Tatiana? What happened to Svetlana?

It took Byrnes less than a second to decide to get the hell out of there. He might owe Svetlana, or Tatiana, or whatever her real name was, an apology for his sudden departure, but he certainly didn’t owe her any money. And even if he did, he didn’t want to give it to her pimp. Somehow he didn’t peg the guy as a believer in win-win negotiation.

A deep breath and Byrnes was off, running down the alley as fast as his Bally loafers would carry him. He didn’t look back to see if the mafiya goon was following him, the angry creaking of the fire escape told him all he needed to know on that account. The sky was a pale blue, softening to azure. A crescent moon hung in the sky. The air smelled of fried potatoes and automobile exhaust. Rounding the corner of Metelitsa, he hightailed it through the parking lot toward the street. The Novy Arbat had been built in the early sixties as Khrushchev’s answer to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Four lanes of traffic flowed in either direction, lined by a succession of nondescript offices and run-down apartment buildings, the kind where air conditioners dripped coolant from jury-rigged perches and half the windows were caked with grime. Maybe the Bowery, carped Byrnes, but Fifth? No way.

Reaching the street, he stuck his hand up in the air. “Taxi!”

It was a Russian tradition for ordinary drivers to offer their services as taxis in exchange for a few dollars, marks, or francs. In a heartbeat, a red Lada had pulled over and Byrnes was in the passenger seat.

“Hotel Baltschug,” he said, then a second later, “No, wait.” Digging his hand into his pockets, he found the address of the network operations center he was supposed to visit. If this was Russia, he wanted to get the hell out of it as quickly as possible. He checked the sky again. Plenty of light remained to get his job done. Finish tonight and he could catch the first plane out in the morning. He’d be back in San Francisco at four and in the office by five. Plowing through his E-mails would never be so much fun.

“You know Rudenev Ulitsa?”

“Rudenev?” The driver appeared confused, then it came to him. “Rudenev! Da. Da.” He was a small man, near sixty, with a Tatar’s eyes and a hairline that started about an inch above his eyebrows. Living proof the Mongols had reached the gates of Moscow.

“Rudenev Ulitsa 99,” Byrnes said, yanking a hundred-dollar bill out of his wallet and handing it to the man. “And hurry!”

Five seconds later, the Lada was barreling down the center lane of the Novy Arbat. Byrnes looked over his shoulder out the back window. Late-evening traffic had already closed in around the car. For a moment, he was able to glimpse the parking lot in front of Metelitsa. A long line of cars were pulled up to the valet. Men and women ambled toward the entrance. He saw no sign of his newest friend.

“Rudenev. How long?”

The driver held up a finger. “One hour.”

Byrnes sat lower in his seat, catching his breath.

He knew it had been a lousy idea to come to Russia.

From the Hardcover edition.
Christopher Reich|Author Q&A

About Christopher Reich

Christopher Reich - The First Billion

Photo © Katja Reich

Christopher Reich is the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Deception, Numbered Account and The Patriot’s Club, which won the International Thriller Writers Award for best novel in 2006.  He lives in California with his family.

Author Q&A


Q:You’ve written two thrillers that break open a fairly covert world—in NUMBERED ACCOUNT it is the world of private Swiss banking and in THE FIRST BILLION it is the high-stakes business of bringing a company public. How do you assess what information to present to the reading public in order to tease their interest, and what to “embellish” for the sake of page-turning plotting?

A: Any business where on a daily basis men and women stand to gain or lose millions of dollars_sometimes in just minutes_is, by definition interesting. Nowhere is the tension higher than in the IPO game. IPO stands for initial public offering. Bringing a company public is a long process and involves many different parts of an investment bank. You could write a whole book about the process itself, but I don’t know if it would be a thriller. The exciting part comes at the beginning_winning the business_and at the end_taking the deal to market. In between is the hard part, the grunt work that fills most I-bankers’s days: due diligence, number crunching, road shows, etc. In THE FIRST BILLION I keep to the exciting parts.

Q:Tell us about THE FIRST BILLION: Was this novel inspired by a true event? A trend? Or something you see in the future?

A:In fact, THE FIRST BILLION was inspired not by any goings on in the stock market but by a paper I read about the disastrous state of the Russian KGB, the equivalent to our CIA. During the 1990s, the once vaunted spy agency suffered from devastating budget cuts and fell on very hard times. Simply put, they had no money. No longer could they fly agents around the world on commercial aircraft. Federal Express canceled their account for nonpayment. At their headquarters outside Moscow they had no photo paper to develop microfilm. The list goes on. All I could think was “My God, these guys must be angry. They must desperately want to get back on the playing field.”

That, along with my interest in the wild and woolly world of the Russian oligarchs, the group of 10 to15 businessmen who have taken control of more than half the Russian economy, set the story in motion. The more I read about these guys, the more I knew there was a great thriller to be written.

Q:What is the impact of technology on the global market? What is the impact on a writer such as yourself? Has the process changed since you first put pen to paper on your debut novel, NUMBERED ACCOUNT?

A:Quite simply, technology has made the world move faster, mostly through the increased speed of communications or information transfer. It has also created a whole class of information spectators. There are people who live their lives on the Internet, viewing others’ actions as a proxy for their own, a kind of vicarious cyberexistence. The world has become a much smaller place. Too small, by my reckoning. But there is no going back. I still wonder, though, whether we’re getting that much more done, or if knowing so much makes us happier or not. Still, I wouldn’t trade my PC for a paper and quill for anything!

Q:You’ve said in the past that your writing heroes are authors as diverse as Crichton, Demille, Franklin W. Dixon and especially John le Carré. Why these? And are you ready to reveal any new names you admire? What are you reading right now?

A:There are so many wonderful authors; it’s not a question of finding them but of finding the time to read them all. Recently, I’ve been drawn to Irwin Shaw, author The Young Lions and Rich Man, Poor Man. Great stories, great insight into the human condition, vivid prose. Le Carré is and always will be my favorite author. Simply put, a genius and one with a giving heart. Anton Myrer is an author of those big, juicy epics that I love. Once an Eagle is a masterpiece. But who is better at that than James Clavell? Taipan, Sh_gun, Noble House. Page-turners at their finest! The list of contemporary authors who I rush out to buy is shorter: Martin Cruz Smith, Nelson DeMille, Thomas Harris, Scott Turow. Right now I’m reading The Big Breach by Richard Tomlinson, the memoirs of a former MI6 agent, who spent a year in jail for trying to get the book published. It’s a great read_very informative about the kind of training a spy gets these days. Next up, though, is something fun: The Emperor of Ocean Park.

Q:Do you find the process of preparing to write has changed now that you have three very successful yet different suspense novels under your belt?

A:There are four phases to writing a book. Coming up with the idea. Outlining the story. Writing the book. Then re-writing it. Experience has sharpened the skills needed during each phase. Coming up with the idea is the most fun. And rewriting it is where you earn your money. But you still have to spend eight hours a day trying to get the right words onto the page. There is no substitute for working. Elmore Leonard said easy reading means hard writing. Boy, is that the truth.

Q:The company featured in THE FIRST BILLION is a media/communications company making its way onto the global stage. Was there a reason you picked a media/communications company? Do you see the role of major corporations and major corporate executives changing in our ever-more-intimate world economy?

A:I chose the media industry because more than any other single sector, it has the power to affect our daily lives. Everybody watches TV, goes online, reads magazines, and listens to the radio on a daily basis. Think about your life without media. There’s a big hole, right? Personally, I find that a shame. I do not own a television. As a father of two young girls, I don’t have the time or the inclination. Anyway, media is a good area to write about. It’s sure a lot sexier than meat products.

Q:How about some insider knowledge: What is the next book we can expect from Christopher Reich?

A:The new book is presently titled BLOOD MONEY, and it deals with our government’s efforts to root out terrorist financing. The story concerns an elite team of financial investigators, members of the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Team, (FTAT), and their quest to hunt down a shadowy figure known as “the Director” before he can perpetrate a terrorist act on American soil. I drew a lot of the story from my research into the area. The work being done in Washington, and in concert with our allies, is as fascinating as it is urgent. Stop the money and you stop the acts. But first you have to find the money, and it’s not as easy as you might think. On the plus side, our government has earmarked a lot of money to the task. I was in D.C. earlier this year and had the honor of meeting professionals at the Financial Crime Enforcement Network, Customs, the IRS, and the Treasury Department. I’ll tell you one thing: I wouldn’t want to be the bad guys. Make no mistake; we are going to nail them.

From the Hardcover edition.



Praise for Christopher Reich

The First Billion

“Engrossing … destined a big readership in the summer’s waning days.”
 --The Wall Street Journal

"There has been no shortage of writers aspiring to be the John Grisham of Wall Street ... Reich deserves the Grisham mantle."
--The New York Times

“Reich deftly blends Wall Street and bullet-dodging … a fast-paced financial thriller.”
--USA Today.

The Runner

“Extremely entertaining...the pace is relentless.”
--Daily News (New York)

“This is thriller-writing on the grand scale.”
--The Denver Post

“A wonderful novel, a sophisticated story of conspiracy, treachery
and political intrigue.”
--Nelson DeMille

--The Wall Street Journal

Numbered Account

“Smart and sophisticated...Wonderfully credible.”
--The New York Times

“Chilling detail, suspense and intrigue.”
--The Denver Post

--Chicago Tribune

“Fascinating...the tension crackles.”

“Fast-paced... compelling, rich with intrigue and suspense.”
--San Francisco Chronicle

From the Hardcover edition.

  • The First Billion by Christopher Reich
  • July 29, 2003
  • Fiction - Thrillers
  • Dell
  • $7.99
  • 9780440234692

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