Valley Of Shadows – Snippet 01

The Valley of Shadows

John Ringo and Mike Massa


The decline of our shared cultural literacy means that we live with many sayings whose origins aren’t widely remembered, even where documentation is easy to find. Good examples are legion–especially with regard to sayings rooted in the British maritime tradition. Some sayings go further back, far enough that even in the original Greek or Latin, there are disagreements on the finer points as to what the ancients really meant.

One such saying revolved around the rarity of salt.

For all that early civilizations often bordered salt water, pure concentrated mineral salt was rare. Prior to the advent of canning and refrigeration, salt was also critical for food preparation and preservation. Poorly preserved food meant poisoning or death. The inability to safely store food could mean famine. Salt was so valuable that during the Phoenician period it was accepted as currency, alongside gold and silver, remaining precious into the Roman era. Moving this salt required good roads and reliable soldiers. A network of special roads was built to secure and rapidly move salt into the Roman Empire. Guarded and often built by Roman soldiers, the Via Salarium drew its name from the trade it carried: salt. Pliny the Elder recorded in his work The Natural History that Roman soldiers were often paid in salt, giving rise to the term that we use today, “salary.” The financial resources used by a commander to operate his military forces in a given theater of operations, whether he was garrisoning or expanding territory, were known as Salarium. They included both specie and salt, and these were used to pay for the business costs of the units under the general’s control.

As with any business venture (and war was Rome’s most profitable business), there were always problems. Sometimes soldiers found that they were serving under a dishonest, politically optimistic or just plain idiot of a general (See: The Battle of Cannae). But whether legionnaire, centurion or tribune, once you joined the legio, you agreed to follow all orders and remain loyal to your commanders for the duration of the campaign, whether successful or disastrous. You were being paid to do the job to the best of your ability even unto death. Soldiers might rationalize their desire to be somewhere else, or working for someone else, but if you “took the salt,” you were committed, come hell or high water.

A legionnaire who stood by his commitment and honored the bargain was said to be “worth his salt.” That legionnaire placed his honor, in the form of his commitment to his word, above all other considerations.

Today, soldiers who transition to civilian life bring with them concepts about personal honor and commitment which though not unknown outside the ranks, are not as common as they are inside the military. They tend to take the matter of promises to their employer and to themselves very seriously. Accepting “the salt” is still a thing, and seeing a veteran “stick” with a firm even when things start to slide is pretty common.

What does it take to make him reconsider?


They took care to periodically lock a school child’s bicycle to a post along the executive’s predictable commute route. After a while, the careful security sweep along the route simply noted it as an expected, unremarkable part of the environment. Then the attackers hid the bomb in a knapsack hung on the back of the bike.

The explosively formed projectile was triggered by an infrared detection beam that counted past the lead security car, which in response to threats had been added to the detail a week earlier. The charge calculation took into account the armor placement on the hardened Mercedes sedan and successfully penetrated just below the thickest protective belt, perfectly breaching the rear passenger compartment. The blast threw the car off course, starting a fire that would eventually consume the vehicle. Not that it mattered.

The terrorists knew their target. They calculated the timing to a hair. Their patient, thorough intelligence knew all about the escort vehicles and the Mercedes’s armor. Alfred Herrhausen, then the Chief Executive of Deutsche Bank A.G., died on the scene from blast and fragmentation wounds created by a bomb exquisitely tailored just for him.

It didn’t matter whether the bomb belonged to the last active terror cell of the Red Army Faction striking against a hated symbol of capitalism or to the East German Stasi trying to delay national reunification or to some other attacker. The shockwaves that Herrhausen’s death sent not just throughout Germany, but through the banking industry in general, were severe. Banks had long known that everybody wanted what they held–but a sophisticated bomb attack using infrared trigger beams and explosively formed penetrators and backed by painstaking research was beyond their ken. Rather suddenly, the traditional answer to filling banking security leadership roles with retired cops didn’t seem like quite enough. The 1989 attack that killed Herrhausen had another victim. The old school of financial services security died that day too. Its death just took a little while longer to register.

Bankers have money and brains, and can apply both in their own self-interest when appropriately motivated. The best bankers learn to make their decisions ahead of any curve. So it was that, upon learning that the chairman of one of the largest banks had been killed despite the strongest precautions then in existence, the boards of the top investment banks considered alternatives in security. Shortly afterward, their recruiters received new orders.

Options weren’t deep, but only a few years before, the British Special Air Service, or SAS, commandos had led the recapture of the Falkland Islands. Later, some Iraqi commandos made the professional acquaintance of those same gentlemen during a “dinner party” at the Iranian Embassy in London. Soon after that, the U.S. and U.K. Special Operations units were getting publicity during Desert Storm.

The time seemed right to do a little poaching, banker style.

They didn’t know just how well it was going to pay off.