‘Victor in Trouble’ Excerpt: The Yacht
Ruslan Bebchuk looked down at the glimmering blue of the Mediterranean Sea, as the private Gulfstream touched down at the Aeroport du Golfe du Saint-Tropez in the South of France. Nikolai Surikov, the head of Russia’s prized RosGaz energy company, had sent the jet to Moscow when he learned that Bebchuk, President Darko Vlastov’s emissary, hoped to meet with him. After the jet taxied to a stop next to an exclusive, private terminal, Bebchuk transferred to a helicopter that would bring him to his final destination.
Bebchuk did not anticipate a tense discussion with Surikov. Like most of his wealthy counterparts, the oligarch understood his role in the delicate ecosystem in which he existed as one of the wealthiest men on the planet. He knew that he might be called on at any time to serve Mother Russia, to act as an extension of the normal levers of state power. This was the implicit trade-off he made in order to be able to continue plundering the state-owned RosGaz.
The helicopter lifted off, blowing the tall umbrella pines sideways. Bebchuk surveyed the palatial homes along the coast and the mega yachts dotting the sea below. Russia may be a great place for someone like Surikov to make money, Bebchuk remarked, but when it came to investing and spending money, he and his contemporaries were stolid supporters of the West. How could they trust any Russian institution to keep their money safe? After all, look at everything they had managed to steal.
The helicopter slowed to a hover over a yacht. It was massive. Bebchuk counted four deck levels. A crew of young men was tucking two jet skis into a compartment on the side of one of the lower decks. What looked like a sophisticated radar system rotated on top of the yacht, and Bebchuk noted several men dressed all in black looking outward from various lookouts. He assumed they were Surikov’s security team. The helicopter lowered to the helipad on the yacht’s top deck, its trajectory perfectly aligned to avoid any contact between its circling blades and the boat’s radar equipment. A young woman holding a clipboard stood on the side of the helipad, oblivious to the wind swirling around her. She stepped forward to greet Bebchuk as he descended from the helicopter.
“Welcome aboard Mine’s Bigger, Mr. Bebchuk.” She wore a smart red skirt and a crisp, white polo shirt—collar up—with “Mine’s Bigger” embroidered in red capital letters over the breast. Despite the wind from the helicopter, her hair was immaculate. “Mr. Surikov is pleased to host you. Would you like to hydrate after your long trip?” She held out a bottle of ice cold, thrice-purified mineral water from a glacier stream in Iceland. “We just had it flown in today.”
Bebchuk took the bottle and nodded a thank you as the helicopter blades slowed to a stop.
“You have some time before Mr. Surikov can see you. I will show you to your cabin.” She led him toward a spiral staircase with a gold handrail and they went down to the main deck. “Mine’s Bigger is the world’s largest privately-owned superyacht,” the woman said, as she ushered Bebchuk toward a large sliding door.
Bebchuk already knew this factoid. Surikov had made no secret of his dream to hold the title of owner of the world’s largest yacht. He thought he had fulfilled that dream five years ago when he built a 538-foot motor yacht that he named Belonging, to signify his rightful place among an exclusive subset of the world’s richest people. Belonging featured a wood-carved mermaid at the bow in the likeness of Surikov’s mistress. The three-level ship could entertain eighteen guests with a crew of forty-seven. But within two months of christening her—a celebrity-filled event that featured a private concert by the hot Russian DJ Faber-Jay—a Silicon Valley tech mogul unveiled his mega yacht, Unicorn, which was three feet longer than Belonging. Surikov was livid and immediately commissioned a new yacht. Mine’s Bigger, at 590-feet, made the other yachts look like dinghies, and Surikov felt confident the added length would limpen the competition for several years.
The glass door slid open and they walked into an air-conditioned living room with two half-circle, white leather couches. A bowl of fresh fruit was perfectly centered on a low table between them. A photograph of Surikov shaking hands with President Vlastov hung on the wall. Next to it was a photo of Surikov stroking a rare albino giraffe. In the distance was a large, wrought iron gate with gold letters weaved into it spelling “Zoorikov.” At the end of a long corridor, the young woman clicked open the door to Bebchuk’s cabin. He glanced in and saw a king-size bed, atop which were several towels rolled and folded to look like swans.
“Mr. Surikov has asked we do everything to make you comfortable, Mr. Bebchuk. Shall I make an appointment for you at the spa? It features a steam room infused with incense derived from lapislyptus, a rare orchid found on a single mountain peak in Nepal that blooms only two days a year. Its powers include increased stamina and libido. Perhaps a visit before tonight’s social activities in the disco?”
Excerpted from Victor in Trouble by Alex Finley. Copyright © 2022 by Alex Finley. Excerpted with permission by Alex Finley.