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.
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July 28, 2003
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Excerpt from The First Billion by Christopher Reich
"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."