A large part of the plot in The Omega Sanction involves the mysterious bank vault of Reinhart Benson International, buried deep below the City of London. The secret contained in this vault provides much of the conflict in the book and the problems for my main protagonist, Benjamin Drummond. You may be wondering where this idea came from?
Sage advice to new authors is to write what they know. As it happens, I know quite a bit about bank vaults and what’s stored in them. One of my first jobs in the City of London was for a relatively new bank created from the ashes of a much older bank. The older bank – which I won’t name for legal reasons – went under when they made some dodgy loans. The bank was sold for one pound to the Bank of England, who in turn sold it to a big international bank who wanted it for its precious metals trading: that's Gold, Silver Platinum and Palladium to you and me. The new bank that was formed traded under its own name as a subsidiary of the bigger, international bank.
I will always remember the interview. It was with the charismatic and relatively young MD of the new bank. He was all over the financial press at the time, portrayed as some maverick trader of precious metals. You have to remember that, back then, I was a rookie programmer straight out of programming school. The ink had barely dried on my Computer Sciences Diploma. This was my first job in the City and I’d never met a maverick trader (I’d never met a regular trader).
The interview was at 7:00 a.m. I know, but the market opened at 7:30 a.m. and I had just thirty minutes to make an impression. This is something how the interview went:
“I hear you’re a gun of a programmer,” said the MD.
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
“What do you know about gold bullion.”
“Nothing at all.”
Over the coming months, the MD made sure I knew everything I needed to know about gold bullion and how it’s bought and sold on the international market. The first thing he wanted to impress upon me was that it was a physical business.
Let me explain. Much of the city deals in abstract financial instruments - paper to you and me. You never get to see the items you trade. Not so with precious metals. It’s a physical product: you have to weigh it, store it, move it and keep it safe. Which brings me to the bank vault.
The Bank Vaults Beneath London Store Secrets More Precious Than Gold
I was taken to a secret location in the City. I can’t tell you where exactly. It’s a secret. I was made to walk across an empty room and through a door on the other side. I’d just been weighed. We took a small elevator down into the depths. We were, in fact, below the level of the Thames. We emerged in another small room with a large steel door on one side. The door was unlocked and we entered the vault.
There were alcoves all around the room and in these alcoves were bricks of gold bullion, piled one atop the other. If you’ve never seen a bar of pure gold, it’s an unbelievable sight. It seems to emit a warm yellow glow.
“Pick up a bar - with one hand,” said the MD.
I looked at the bar and thought easy. But when I tried to pick it up, I realised how incredibly heavy gold is. A Good Delivery Bar of gold bullion – the ones that banks move around - weighs on average 12.7 kg.
I then noticed a small alcove at the far end of the vault. It too was piled with bars of gold bullion. On top of the pile was a small wooden box, decorated with a strange script.
“What’s in the box,” I asked.
“Oh that. One of our clients wanted it stored here,” replied the MD.
“But what’s inside?”
We left the vault and, needless to say, my weight had remained unchanged. To this day I’ve always wondered what was in that box.