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Newton’s Third Apple

AST Publishing house, April 2012
The novel «Newton’s Third Apple» is about an elite English criminal lawyer at the top of his game, Matthew Darcy, who shuffles cases, people and relationships on the cutting edge. Once he meets Russian Barbara, a client with a complicated story, he enters a whole new world, infused with international conspiracies, intrigue and romance. Faced with the behind-the-scene conspiracy of Western secret services against Russia, is he in too deep?

Matthew stepped out from the Grace’s house into a street before eight. It was a clear and bright September morning, light transculent clouds literally hovering in a pale blue skies over London. He turned around the corner, waiting for the first black cab to come across. In the cab he was going through his mail, when the cell buzzed. 

“Matt, it’s Jeremy. How’re you doing, mate?”

“Fine, thanks, terribly busy, but that’s normal. And you?”

“Not too bad, thanks. Look, Martin asked me to help a lady, but I can’t, may I sent her to you?”

“No way, I already have more than I can chew”. 

“Matt, this is a special matter. I would have really done it myself, but I have to leave to the continent tomorrow”.

“Jeremy, you know that in your DLA the fat corporate business subsidizes criminal lawyers like yourself. We are a humble criminal boutique, we have to sweat ourselves. I’m already handling more cases than I should, to be honest.”

“She came from Martin, and I can’t direct her to a nobody. You are the best, we know this”.

“I have no time for yet another client, trust me”.

“Matt, she is Russian, she in involved into something really ugly. There is an international dimension to this. It is entirely your cup of tea. Martin knows her for years, and she’s smart. She is a subject of internal corporate inquiry, she just need your advice, not a big deal! No interviews at the police stations, no trips to prison, no court hearings. You are in Top-10 and you are charming. By the way, d’you know who is doing her inquiry?  Your best friend, Shubert!”

“No! Why have they brought a lawyer from Washington, particularly Shubert, an FBI prosecutor to do a corporate inquiry? What on earth has she done? Embezzled billions and screwed the bank’s financials?”

“How would I know. Martin also doesn’t. Shall I take it, that you’ve agreed?”

 “All right, you’ve talked me in”.

Matthew called the number received from Jeremy, left a message and turned to his mails. By lunch time, when he had almost forgotten about it, a woman called. In fluent English, but in a scattered and confusion fashion she tried to explain her situation, which looked trivial. A woman was a nuisance for her bank, and they threw her to the wolves. Has it be really criminal, they would not get their own hands dirty, but pass it on to the police straight away. So, they have made it an ethical inquiry, but nonetheless brought Shubert.  It was getting interesting. 

Towards seven the reception called to say that he had a visitor. Matthew took his yellow pad and went to a meeting room. A disheveled woman about fifty, mournful expression on her face. Matthew saw such an expression about six times a year over the last two decades. The woman was drinking tea, her belongings scattered all over the office. A typical Russian, one of those hundreds who wander with their endless bags through Harrods: Matthew noted that that her bag was, of course, Louis Vuitton, and her coat, thrown sloppily over a chair with one sleeve turned inside out, showed a Dolce&Gabbana label. It’s amazing, how much Russians like paying totally insane money for these brands and as a result all wear identical uniform – from a distance of two hundred yards you can see that it’s a Russian.  Matthew moved away these unnecessary thought and got tuned to a professional and cordial talk.  

“Well, Barbara, you look like you’ve managed this for today. Good. Now tell me everything what you would like me know.”

Matthew listed attentively to the woman’s halting story, about the events of the last twenty four hours of her life, missing  her emotional judgments on deaf ears, making notes, putting questions, asking for further clarifications. The woman was nervous and seemed to be trying to explain something, which she believed he might have not understood. Matthew believed that he had not yet understood only Shubert’s presence in the picture, the rest was a trivia.  He would find the explanation later, now he had to structure this never-ending confusing story and to give the woman some support and help her to turn on her brains, if she had any. Maybe she was smart as Jeremy said relying on someone else’s words, but Matthew had not yet seen this for himself.  Anyway, it did not matter. He learned to work with different clients, with brains, without them… Once he had agreed to work with a client, he had to work.   

“Varya — is this the right way to call you? — you’ve got in a serious situation, and it’s important that you understand it very well. What you’ve described is typical Shubert. I’ve dealt with him a couple of times on other cases. He is an investigator, a prosecutor. He was having not an interview, as you very clearly pointed out, but a cross-examination. He was trying to confuse you, to elicit controversial statements, to turn anything you say against you. That’s what he’d been doing all his life, that’s all what he knows how to do. I am very surprised that your bank has invited him. There must be some background, some inner story, but we should not get distracted and think about it now, we will have time to think about it once again, when we look through all facts together from the very start. You need to understand that the start was not yesterday, when you received his letter, but much earlier, maybe even before this person, — Matthew looked in his notes — Serikov wrote his complain. We don’t know yet, where the start is, and we will have to think about this as well. The most important now is for you to understand that Shubert looks eagerly for any facts, any words or notes, which look incriminatory. That’s what he is focused on. For instance, this question about — Matthew  looked in his yellow pad again — the man, in whose flat you stayed. This is a typical easy question, which he asks after your statement that you object to the way he handles the inquiry. Shubert believes that when you hear this question, you will want to answer it, in order to bring down the tension caused by your statement. Because you are a reasonable person and still hope to establish understanding with Shubert, that’s exactly what you do, and it could not be different. You don’t have anything to hide, the question is a straightforward one. So far! You did not have a lawyer by your side, who knows Shubert’s or any other prosecutor’s interrogation technique. Shubert grabs your words, twists them around, gets you confused, pretends that you are making confusing statements, omitting details and hiding something. He waits until you get totally confused, and then asks you another question, which he considers to be a “difficult” one. If you don’t want to answer, bingo! That’s where he has to look. Hey, just a minute ago you were willing to talk about your friend! This shows him that he’s found a soft spot, and he should focus on it.” 

“I see”.

“I am not trying to scare you. It’s a serious, nonetheless a typical situation. It is unusual for you, which could not be different, but for me it’s stereotypical.  If you decide that you want me to represent you, we will work together with it, and we’ll manage it.”

Matthew knew that at this point of the meeting, some clients start talking about money, saying that they have to think, to compare him, Matthew, to other lawyers. It happened not too often, but when it did, it really annoyed him, because it showed the client’s thickness. First, he should have find out before coming here, whether he wants him, Matthew Darcy, or just a lawyer. Second, he could have checked the market and learn that his rates were not outrageous. Finally, he could have understood that in a criminal case there is only a narrow timing for putting together your defense, and losing time going from one lawyer to another is a plain stupidity, because you are choosing not a bag, but a person, whom you trust a great deal of responsibility for your fate. Judging by the woman’s extinct eyes, shopping was not on her agenda. She said:

“I want you to represent me. People whom I know and trust have recommended you. You responded immediately.  I have no energy or willingness to look for a different lawyer.”

“All right. In this case, let’s discuss how to handle this so-called inquiry to its end. You were put in a position, which is worse than a position of an a person alleged in a criminal offense. You have already grasped well the natural law concept.  All internal inquiries are based on the same approach: a subject of an inquiry should be presented with a fact or a story, which looks incriminating and is given an opportunity to give his explanations. You were put under a cross-examination, which is a technique applicable to an alleged criminal. It is even considered unethical to apply it to suspects at an early stage of an investigation.  But alleged people have the right to a defense, which protects them from the prosecutor’s pressure or intimidation. But you were denied even this right. Very interesting”.

“Yes, that’s what it was.  I like that it interests you”.

“Oh, an irony!”, Matthew thought, writing in his pad without showing his client that he had heard this understatement. Out loud he said instead:

“You made of mistakes today. Willingly or not, you allowed Shubert to involve you into a discussion on substance matters, however, with changing rules and with full presumption of your guilt. This was a serious mistake, and if I were by your side, I would not have let it happen. Even if we met yesterday, I would either advised you not to go there at all, or, at least, equipped you better, and a lot would have been different today. But this does not mean anything now. Did you tell them, as I asked you, that tomorrow you would want to start later?”

“Yes, we start at eleven”.

“Excellent. In this case I suggest that we meet at eight. I will read my notes overnight, we’ll go once again through the facts and you’ll be confident and fully prepared to face Shubert. Does this sound like a plan?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“We will work it out. You did really well today. What I’ve said to you, might not be very sweet, but I need you to fully understand the logic of this investigation. Majority of people would have done by far more serious mistakes in your situation. You did not let them scare you, and this is essential. Now you have to have a good rest, you will need a lot of strength, it’s going to be a long exercise, and that’s how you ought to take it. There are no reasons to panic, no reasons at all. Varya, do you hear me? Well then, see you at eight. It is not too early for you, or is it?”

Matthew asked this question out of politeness, automatically. Had he offered the woman to drink tea in his office and talk through the night, she would have been only glad. She was scared. But Matthew saw that she was scared much less that at the beginning, there was even something live in her eyes. Maybe she was smart, who knows. 

“Have you told anyone about this yet?”

“Except for Martin, no. Of course, my staff have some understanding of what’s going on”.

“Have you talked to your family? Do you have a husband? Children?”

“I have. No, I haven’t told them anything yet”.

“May I ask you that you tell this at least to your husband?”

“Why? He can’t help me with this. Why worry him for no reason?” 

“It’s not a matter of worrying him. Shubert may call him, take him by surprise and elicit some evidence against you. Contrary to you, your husband has no obligations to the bank, and Shubert is nobody for him. You have to explain him that whatever he says, even the most innocent thing, would be turned against you”.

“All right.”

“Very good. I guess, we’ve done for the day”, Matthew gave the woman a nice smile. They got up and he walked her to the elevator. He held out his hand: “Varya, it was nice meeting you”. 

Varya took the tube to her place, wandered around the flat for a while, plucking up the courage to speak to Ivan.  He was still living in the world which she was going to explode in a minute.  She dialed Washington, having bottomed up a shot of tequila. “Van’, just don’t panic, okay?” — for the third time he lived through the latest twenty-four hours of her life. Surprisingly, Ivan  took the news manly and evenly, saying only “My poor little darling…” Varya was not sure, whether he had really conceived the scope of the catastrophe, but even if he had not, it were even better. Let him realize it with the passage of time. Matthew had helped her to safeguard him — and herself — from mistakes, the rest was not that important for the time being.  

The next morning she pulled out of the closet the first dress in the  sight, gathered hair in a ponytail — she had neither time, nor energy for a blow-dry, — threw a raincoat over her shoulders and took the tube to Chancery lane.

“Good morning, Varya”, in the morning Matthew looked to her older than the other night and, probably, more bossy. She was anxious to listen to him, to grasp at his words as a straw. 

Matthew looked at his client. Compared to the previous night, Varya looked more collected, but more of a gray mouse.  An odd brown cashmere sleeveless dress with a white blouse underneath looking like a school uniform, a plain ponytail, on a chair — white Burburry raincoat, another uniform item of Russians. No style, no appeal. At least, not a total goof. 

“I am convinced that you must not say anything more, there’s not upside to this.  There’s little doubt that Shubert’s report is going to be negative and accusatory. I think that it’s already drafted, by the way. The only objective of a second day of the “interview” is to elicit your confession, and whatever you say, he would interpret as such. Since you said yesterday that you don’t want to answer his questions further, unless he presented you with a specifics, he would, most likely, go for some sort of a provocation. He needs to demoralize you and make you speak again without thinking, out of complete frustration. What time is it? Already nine?  Could you call your office and see, if there is any news? Don’t touch your mobile, call from my landline. 

“Irina, how are you doing?”

“Varvara Vasilievna, I’m texting you asking to call me”, Irina talked very nervously, despite her usual stamina. “Our office was raided over the night. They’ve turned everything inside out, took all the computers, only down from ripped pillows is missing.  Books, files, papers – all’s over the floor. I asked the IT people, what’s going on, and they said to me nonchalantly: “Ah, there was a search in your office. Don’t worry, we bring you the computers about lunch time, we just need to copy all your hard-drives.” I asked that, what this was in relation to, and they, again quite casually, said: “There’s investigation going against your office…” Can you believe it?”, Irina was trying to hold on, but Varya heard that she was at her limit.  Matthew grinned:

“I expected something like this. You and your office were on vacation for the whole August, Shubert could searched you office every night, if he wanted. Now, he needed this performance. It’s such a standard provocation.  Well, everything has its bright side. You will now go there and tell him…”

“I wrote this down.”

“I guess, you’d finish early today”, Matthew looked in his diary. “Let’s meet around five”.

As the day before, he walked Varya to the elevator again.

Varya opened the door to her investigation cell. Shubert and his adjutant were standing by the window, the skinny mouse-girl was sitting at the table, staring in her laptop. 

“Let’s continue. It is eleven-o-five, and we continue the interview with the head of the Russian office, Varvara…”,  Shubert  was addressing the microphone on the table. “Before our break yesterday, we asked you several questions and gave you time to think them over.  Now we are waiting for answers”.

“I thought your questions over and checked my notes in order to give as full and truthfull answers as possible. I have these answers. However, I learned about at significant escalation in your investigation during this night. Without my presence or even knowledge you made a search, took the computers, having paralyzed functioning of our office and aiming at demoralizing my staff, who came in the office in the morning to face empty desks and chaos of papers on the floor. I made several statements yesterday that I consider your “interview” being not objective, prejudiced and based on presumption of guilt.  It is aimed at eliciting from me statements which you will interpret as incriminatory. Therefore, I have to state: I deny any violation of the Code of Ethics safe my mistake of not disclosing on the Disclosure Forms of my offshore company, while fully disclosing its material assets, including family properties, investments in the projects owned jointly with my son, rental income and debts.  For this mistake I owe an apology to the bank management and my Russian authorities. The Compliance Service could have, if there were any concerns about my personal finance, asked me for whatever clarifications over the years of my service at the bank. You are not authorized to review my private finances, since they are not related to my bank service. I deny any other possible violation of the Code of Ethic.  I trust that this statement stay on records.  I cannot prove the absence of violations, because you have failed to present my any of them. This alone is a fundamental breach of the principles of any internal administrative inquiry. In this respect, guided by my own interest, by those of my colleagues and my Russian authorities, I refuse to answer any of your further questions”.

“This is not in your interests”, Shubert went into his own speech.  Varya was writing it down. He again proposed to continue discussion. His adjutant asked a simple and neutral question. She wrote it down and looked at him”.

“Can you answer this simple question?”, asked Shubert.

“I can, but I have told you that I am not answering any questions”

Shubert and his adjutant exchanged glances and left the room. Varya and the skinny mouse-girl kept sitting on opposite sides of the table in silence. The girl’s face was motionless, she did not regarded Varya as a person. Varya was not longer scared, Matthew had helped her, and she was not alone anymore. In about ten minutes the two men returned, took  their seats and, as if nothing, asked her a new question. Varya wrote it down. 

“Are you going to answer this one?”

“No”.

“You don’t have an answer, I see. The next question…” 

They struggled with her for another half hour.  Shortly after twelve, having recorded a nasty wrap-up statement, they declared the end of the interview and one after another shook hands with her. Varya wished them a safe flight home. 

The mess in her office was more or less sorted out, her staff sit at their desks, working with papers.  “Shall we all go for a nice lunch?”, asked Varya. 

After lunch she told her mates that she had to go on some errands. She fancied just to have a quiet walk through the streets.  She now could afford a luxury of just having a stroll on a sunny warm September afternoon, she did not need to rush to her papers, reports and memos to Moscow.  She ought to think about her new life.  At five in the afternoon she entered a corner building on Chancery lane to see Matthew.

Matthew went one floor down to the meeting area and was surprised to see that his new client had again subtly changed. Varya looked younger, her outfit, which looked so odd in the morning, gave her now a look of a pretty school-girl, rather than a gray mouse. No traces of that disheveled new-Russian woman with shopping bags, who burst in his office the day before. “Not even close to fifty, early forties, not more”, he thought. Looking into her cribs and sighing from as a student at an exam, the new client told him about the rest of her interview. 

“I can imagine how furious Shubert was. It’s not like questioning people in custody”, Matthew laughed. “Varya, I suggest that now we should start to put everything in a system. Tell me in chronological order all events and fact that you believe Shubert were looking at.”

“I will, but there is something else. After my guys returned to the office after our lunch, Shubert summoned each of them separately for questioning”

“Do you mean that they are also subjects of his inquiry?”

“Nope”.

“But that’s another violation! Your bank is doing monstrous things. How did your guys take it?”

“Quite normal, they are good. It was, though, pointless and unnecessary. Shubert questioned them about my personal finance, about my company, and what would they know about it? He was not interested in our work”. 

“All right, that’s clear. Let’s go back. Could you give me an general picture of the bank structure, how it operates, tell me about your responsibilities, your reporting lines to Russia and within the bank?” There were loads of questions, all of them simple. Varya was surprised to be explaining such basics, which she’d been taking for granted. Matthew wanted to understand all norms, regulations of the bank, to be able to put in a coherent framework all facts related to the investigation. They worked until late in the evening. 

“I will go to Moscow on Sunday”.

“Right. Have you informed your supervisors already?”

“I’ve sent them a fax letter. Just a couple of paragraphs”.

“Right. Whom d’u plan to see in Moscow, I mean…”

They talked for another hour. Matthew made a few more steps towards understanding her work-related world. They agreed that she would call him from Moscow on Monday night.

Varya spent in Moscow three days. Needless to say that her counterparts were shocked. She decided not to go to the very top: there was no clear picture yet, and she was not able to give her big bosses the bottom-line and to propose steps forward.  She discussed the details of her interview, Shubert’s breach of all possible procedures with the people of her level and left it for them to inform the bosses. She also went to see a couple of businessmen, whom she respected the most: it would be better, if they learn from her about the whole thing.  She was getting used to the new reality, and felt if not confident, then at least sensible. Talks with her colleague helped her to assess the situation deeper and better, and all agreed that the worst thing was the reputational damage to her government, and she was, one way or another, the cause of it. 

Varya showed up at Matthew’s the next day after her return to London. 

“You look good. Have you recovered at least a bit? How were your meetings? Tell me, whatever you can and want to tell, the more I know, the better. It is very important for me to understand the mindset and the attitude of Moscow, because their position would play the most important role in the way we should be dealing with Shubert’s report later”. 

They worked again for more than two hours. Varya tried not to think about the bill she was going to get from Matthew at the end of the month.  All of this could not be worse, but there was nothing what she could change about it. 

“Let’s do some planning of the next week. What time shall we pencil in on Monday? Shall we say, late afternoon?”

“After five p.m. I am always flexible”

“So, five it is. Can you request all transaction record from Switzerland, please and put down a write-up for me about the purpose of each of the transactions? That’s your homework for the weekend”.

“Shubert did not ask me about any of them. He would not deal with this issue in his report”.

“Be sure, he would. He did not ask you, because he would not be able to get your account data and check it.  First, you ay be sure that he will allege you in lobbying Russian clients and accumulated received bribes in Switzerland...”

“Matt, this would be defamatory! There is no evidence to this! You said, “first”, sorry, I’ve interrupted you, what is “the second?”

“Second, we need to do this work, in case this internal investigation turns into a criminal one.”

“Are you joking? This can’t happen!”

“Let’s hope it does not. Take me right, I am not saying that this is what’s going to happen or even likely to happen.  I’m saying that we can’t exclude this.  Shubert has lots of connections with the investigating authorities and the police in Britain and in other countries. The bank management, if it chooses to, would know how to approach them as well. They don’t seem to have motives to do this, but I need to be equipped with good understanding of the relevant facts.”

“Matthew, this cannot happen, tell me, please, that you’re exaggerating things”.

“Varya, it is not likely, but as your lawyer, I ought to foresee the worst-case scenario”.

“Matt, but the police should have reasons to get involved.  What are they going to look at? At a vague complain, which Shubert tell us about, and never presented? At his own speculations, which could never have any ground, because there is no ground, it does not exist! Nobody paid me money. Even if somebody says something different, it would be just another defamation, a lie.  There is not a single fact, that can be taken as a starting point”.

“More than that that, there don’t seem to be a motive.  Why would your bank want a scandal?  But, as they say, let's hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.  You ought to know that even this is not the end of the world.  We would manage it, if — and I hope not — something like this happens”.

“Matt, you have just…. Well, it’s emotions, sorry… You know, there is something else I have to tell you….”

“Tell me anything you believe I should know. Anything may turn to be relevant”. 

“Matt, you know… Well, …, I have a friend…”

“A friend…”

“Yes. I am quite close with one man, he’s from Germany, works here as a representative of his company. I met him in a business conference…, and...  I do not know, if this is relevant….”

Matthew raised his eyes from the papers for the first time in this conversation and looked at Varya with clear interest. A school-girl in a brown dress looked at him directly, her eyes wide open, slightly embarrassed. How big her eyes were. He had only now noticed it….

“I don’t know, if it’s relevant, but I’ve made a note of this.”

“I’m going to see him tonight.  I don’t know… should I tell him?”

Мatthew looked at her again with an interest, which was only in his eyes. The face was imperturbably calm:

“Varya, I am unable to give an advice. Do you trust this person?”

“I don’t know anymore, whom I trust”, Varya’s eyes seemed to be turning wet.

“So, you’ve answered your question. Then, don’t tell.”

Varya left Matthew’s office and headed to the tube. She took the Northern line, which lead not to her place, but to Belsize park, where Rolf lived.  She could not decide, how to handle this.

Book reviews
Reader comments
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Samvel Ovetisyan, a widely known in narrow circles connoiseur of the fine and the beauty
«It looks like Elena has set a new theme in contemporary literature – about global Russians, although I hate this word. More precisely – about mobile Russians who have turned in the world citizens, went beyond the limits of their native culture and yet remain its part»
Book reviews
.
Reader comments
Samvel Ovetisyan, a widely known in narrow circles connoiseur of the fine and the beauty
«It looks like Elena has set a new theme in contemporary literature – about global Russians, although I hate this word. More precisely – about mobile Russians who have turned in the world citizens, went beyond the limits of their native culture and yet remain its part»
Half-life

Half-life

VECHE, December 2014
The novel “Half-life” (2014) is already appreciated by the reader, who perceive it to be a story about “Gone with the Wind. From Tambov to Long-Island”. All names are real, and all characters are fictional. Very unorthodox and provocative story. The characters inhabiting this unorthodox novel by the Russian-American author Elena Kotova are real, actual people, some of whom have been well-known in the past (Commissar Ordzhonikidze, composer Khachaturian, violinist Oistrakh, US Ambassador to the Soviet Union W. A. Harriman), and are well-known in the present (Mayor Luzhkov, tycoons Khodorkovsky and Gusinsky, Central Bank chair Gerashchenko). We begin the story on the first day of the twentieth century in the city of Tambov, where a noble family is raising seven brothers and sisters; and we end the story on the first day of the twenty-first century, among the skyscrapers of New York, home to two distant fifth-generation cousins of the same family who barely know each other. In between these two moments in time we live through unexpected twists of fate, we settle into the warmth of family routine, we suffer through internal family conflicts and external tragedies, we witness how the family copes with the inevitable half-lifes of each generation, which divide the family into the “before” and the “after”. Many questions haunt us throughout the novel, and the one which is the most poignant to the contemporary reader is how does this family's story, begun in the idyllic setting of a noble life in provincial Tambov, end on the shores of the New World. The new book by Elena Kotova is indeed the novel of the century, a courageous work of art built around real-life events and people.