Where's the Scam?
by John D. Boyden

"The more we realize our minuteness and our impotence in the face of cosmic forces, the more amazing becomes what human beings have achieved." - Bertrand Russell

" Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."- Proverbs 16:8

"If it works, don't fix it." -Anonymous

****

Introduction

It was black. Everything screamed absence, absence of light, absence of life. It was a void of nothingness, empty, unforgiving, and cold. Warmth did not exist. Perhaps nothing truly existed. And perhaps it did. For, somehow a man stood in that void... a fleeting flair of presence, for sure. Standing alone, invisible in the darkness, surrounded by a pristine mess of emptiness. This place of nothingness existed, a paradox of nothingness somehow filled with something. With it all, feelings were radiating from somewhere: want, frustration, anguish, desire, love, and hate were all present. Where did they come from? The feelings were overwhelmed by a sense of impatient waiting. Waiting for the man? Waiting for...

"Who are you?" I asked my voice echoing, shaking, yet filling the darkness.

"You will find out." came back like a mocking echo of my own voice.

I shivered in the darkness, imagining a warm room, fire, whiskey, and a comfortable chair…

****

Chapter 1

Home at Lumley Castle

The room was spacious, early 19th century. The chair was indeed quite comfortable as I sat before the raging fire, sipping from the bonded whiskey and watching the flames crackle around the three large logs in the stone fireplace. It appeared that I was in an old English castle, dreaming or not. The chair was new leather, stuffed, luxurious, and eased my poor cold bones, while the icy night lurked outside my windows. My windows? I looked around, taking in the wall to wall bookshelves filled with leather volumes. The large cherry wood desk with the glass top dominated to my left and a rather large ladder on wheels rose high on my right. Both were antiques. The desk had a high back black leather chair behind it and faced two lightweight visitor chairs that did not look any too comfortable. They had no armrests and only small flat cushions. However, beside where I was sitting were four more of the large over stuffed, comfortable chairs. All were facing the delightful warm blaze of the fireplace, two on each side of me. Ah this is the life.

I jerked slightly when she entered the room, calling my name from the doorway located left of the fireplace. "Charlie?" She interrupted my wandering wonder, the satisfaction of silence, and the crackling fire. Somehow as I looked, I didn't mind. Statuesque, she stood there calling to me from the door. Her voice was firm and clear, "Charlie, dinner is waiting. Our guests will arrive in an hour for the meeting. Now," she warned, don't forget those documents we need to review."

I turned and studied her. One hand resting against the door jam, her auburn hair sleek and long, running freely down her back. I couldn't see how far down it went. Her blue eyes were quizzical, shining with both depth and humor, her eyebrows raised in an expectant question... Ah, those blue eyes. Yes, she was well worth the study.

I nodded and smiled. "Yes, dear. They are lying on my desk." I gestured towards the desk with my left hand and only part of me was unsurprised to discover that there actually was a stack of papers lying on the desk, beside the computer. Dear? Papers? Who is she? Where did those come from? I continued to look at her, burying the awe I felt. She wore a designer gown that sparkled with sequins and jewels against a deep burgundy background of curves and lush places any guy worth his salt would love to explore.

"What's for dinner, love?" Love?

"Frederick has outdone himself tonight," she smiled. Her lips quirked with a touch of satisfaction. "We have roast duck l'orange and an amazing variety of sides. When I asked him about it, he blushed and said he had a glorious day of planning and playing in the kitchen..."

I laughed, a full, joyous sound, echoing her satisfaction. "Good, I look forward to it. Would you please have Miriam call everyone together?" Miriam? Dear? Love? How do I know these people? Who are they?

"Sure, no problem. Is this going to be one of those nights?"

"Yes," I chuckled ruefully certain. "I suspect that it will indeed be one of those nights." I sat a moment more, rose, gathered up the papers from the desk and returned to stand in front of my favorite chair, looking at her looking at me.

"Is everything all right?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

You seem…distracted."

I laughed. "Got me in one. I'll be all right."

As she turned from the door, I saw that her wonderful long hair was flowing deliciously down to her also beautiful butt. Smiling, I turned from her to sit again. Just for a moment more to enjoy the fireplace. Part of me knew exactly where this was headed. Another part of me kept saying "what?" over and over again. Bemusement, wonder, and awe fought with puzzlement. Puzzlement won.

I reluctantly got up again and strolled out of the den, turned right into the hall and stopped before the large mirror and table. It was a stylish gold gilt mirror at least five feet high, and three feet wide. I saw black serious eyes, a full beard, and a full head of hair. All of that somehow surprised me. The roman family nose protruded above lips that quirked with humor and concern. Family nose!? The Edwardian suit somehow fitted my 5'10" athletic frame like it was made for me. "It was," the same voice said. I watch as my image jumped a bit. I tried to pretend to be unconcerned. I looked closely, I judged myself to be in my early thirties. "Thirty-two," a voice quietly whispered in my ear. I looked around. Of course, no one was there. "Don't worry about it." I didn't. I set that puzzle aside with all the others for later. Perhaps with the brandy…"Perhaps." I hurried along the stone patterned floor to the dining room, suddenly feeling time pressure, as well as wondering if I was going crazy. The long deeply grained oak table sat like a flat monolith awaiting worshippers. The damask tablecloth covering the table gleamed in sharp white. The ancient family place settings were neatly arranged for the 20 people who would be joining Sarah and I for this evening's meal. Family? More and more puzzles to think about! I knew we only had an hour for dinner, then the stage would be set for the meeting, and what was to follow. The servants were bringing in platters of food and setting them on the huge buffet table to the right of the table. It did indeed look like a scrumptious feed. Then the worshippers began to arrive.

They trickled in. My secretary, Avram, was first, glancing at me with a grin of expectation, receiving my nod in return. Sarah's personal secretary, Miriam followed closely, with a mischievous quirk to her lips and hips.

"Thanks Miriam for hollering at everyone."

"Sure boss."

George, Fred, Urik, Nigel, François, Mindy, Jenna, Jade, and the bubbly Jadzia quickly followed. Their various conversations filled the room with pleasant chatter.

The cooking staff, a multi-task group, if ever there was one, continued to bring in the food. There was pretty little Linda carrying that huge bowl of mashed potatoes. She was also a secretary and researcher. Argus, the second cook, was bringing in the fourth duck. He was an excellent pickpocket and second story man. Wing-ho was hauling in the salad niçoise, his talents ranged from languages to a wide range of unsavory contact in the East. Rupert brought in the two trays of hors d'oeuvre, something to do when he wasn't working on software and hacking. Derek brought the steaming, buttered vegetables I so dearly loved. Derek was an astonishing forger. How in the hell…"Relax, " the voice said. I obeyed. All doubts and questions evaporated. My mouth was watering. It was time to eat.

As we sat down, I noticed that Abdul was missing. I asked Jadzia to go get him. "Tell Abdul to put the system on surveillance and get his butt down here." Jadzia grinned, nodded, and bounced out the door. François came in and sat down with an expression of sublime satisfaction. His small rare smile said it all.

Abdul followed Jadzia into the room. At 6'7", Abdul was an enormous man. He weighed 350 pounds, was fit and yet somehow, a computer geek. I wondered, as usual, how did he keep fit! Then I realized, also as usual, he might be brainy, but he was head of security and with a past littered with quasi-legal physical experiences. He looked grumpy, his mouth down turned, as he eyed me sourly.

"Surveillance is set, and our five guards should be enough, but I really hate to take the time. If anything happens..." He glowered at me as he protested.

"I understand," I laughed easily. "You will certainly not be blamed, if anything happens." I reassured him as best I could, knowing nothing I could say would work. I mused over that one again for the umpteenth time. How could anyone so smart and so able have so many self-protective needs?

Abdul sat down, my wife and I looked at each other, she nodded, and I said grace for us all.

Wife?

"Set it all aside for now," the voice interjected as it soothed.

Ok

All doubts were gone again, my mind was clear.

We proceeded to serve ourselves and we all ate with gusto. It was indeed a glorious feast. The compliments to the cook and his helper rolled trippingly off the tongues of all those present, often within the incomprehensible garbled noises of those speaking with their mouths full. François and Argus both responded to the praise with glowing smiles and sparkling eyes. François even blushed. It was a nice rosy hue. I smiled behind my linen dinner napkin as I wiped off some over zealous mashed potatoes. I watched closely the various short exchanges around the table. People were nervous, knowing it was almost show time. But then, so was I. Above all we were performers. Sadly, our time frame was too tight to do justice to such a glorious dinner, but that's life. We took 37 minutes from our final meeting preparations to gobble down a wonderful meal that should have been savored for hours, and that was seven minutes more than planned.

Looking at the clock, I rang the glass bell beside my plate. Everybody looked up, the conversations stopped. I grinned, "Let's get started. It's almost showtime."

So we returned to the serious business of discussing our new clients and the performance. We had reviewed, rehearsed, planned, re-planned, and practiced quite a bit. Nonetheless, last minute changes and problems do happen. New problems do get identified at the last moment. We are professionals, so we ran through the checklist one last time.

Everything seemed to be right. Then, of course, Jadzia tossed in one of her patented "what ifs..." and we discussed it for a few minutes. The potential gaff, and it was a big one, was disposed of neatly, thanks to a suggestion by François and we moved to stage one. As planned everyone was at his or her designated position within three minutes. The house smelled lovely from all the food and that fragrance would linger in the air just long enough. Sometimes, it is fun to stage the setting.

I returned to the study, looking carefully all around as I slowly moved to sit in front of the fire, once again resting in that comfortable chair, smoking my pipe. I smoke a pipe? And then all the past mental conversations rushed in. The questions piled one on top of another. The thoughts drifted through my mind as the smoke from my pipe lazily wandered towards the ceiling. My trained mind began to explore them. "NOT NOW!" Then the checklist was in my mind, clear and fixed, as if someone else wanted me to focus too. I reached for the brandy...

I found myself adrift in the blackness and a stern voice was telling me "FOCUS!" I mumbled a weak but shocked "Ok," and found myself seated once again before the fire trying to comprehend what had just happened. This was getting damned confusing. It was clear that an adventure was in the making. What kind? I wondered. Something weird was happening, and I was getting angry. The voice had sounded like my own, only a bit stronger than I ever speak. I am by nature, a quiet, gentle spoken man who avoids confrontations, well most times, if I must be strictly honest. "Later," the voice promised. I knew I could trust that. He had never let me down. With confidence, I focused, as I puffed semi-contentedly on my pipe. I was enjoying the mixed odors of apple and cherry. I clinically reviewed the checklist one last time before our performance began. I laughed as I thought about the short-term effects we expected and the long-term gains that could-no, would- accrue… if things went anywhere close to the plan. I shuddered, as those deep insidious, negative thoughts slid like slimy worms out of nowhere into my mind. Ah those "what ifs...." So many things could go wrong, so many things... I braced myself with the thought that nothing is ever easy.

Knowing that this was to be a battle of wills and planning did not seem to ease my thoughts as much as it should. While I recognized that my confidence level was not close to anything like a peak. There was a bottom sense that this would work. However my performance had to be at a peak. No doubts could be allowed, once our play began. I could not and would not allow them. Fortunately, I do tend to rise to occasions, and indeed, this was THE occasion! Billions… The brandy remained untouched. "Later," echoed in my mind with a fading visual smile. I shook my head. This was getting to be too much like Alice in Wonderland. Strangely, there was no anger remaining.

The doorbell rang. It was a tinkling sound that fell then rose with the preprogrammed notes of the fifth symphony by Beethoven. A rather nice, if plebeian touch, I thought. Glad they used more than the first five notes. My adrenaline kicked in, as it usually does before a show.

Lumley Castle dates back to the 14th century. It was built in 1389 first as a manor house. In 1392 it was converted into a castle, the basis of what we have now. In 1972 it was a falling down disaster and made a major change, once again. This time it became a hotel. Magnificently restored, this castle offered us an amazing blend of ancient history and modern convenience, subdued lighting and oh my, those fantastic hidden corridors and rooms, which enhanced and entranced. They provided the delectably desired atmosphere that pervades our now beloved castle: secrets within secrets. Just like us.

We found Chester-le-Street, County Durham to be a wonderful locale too. Although it has proven to be a tad nippy, come winter. This castle, we actually purchased it some years ago, resides amid the gently rolling hills of Durham in Northeastern England. Lumley castle is indeed a lovely property. We bought it from the third investment group that had been running it as a hotel. In fact that is how we discovered it. We had a mining business in Ferryhill three years ago, and while looking around for a nice place to stay, we happened upon this fantastic site. We immediately understood what it could provide for us. The castle offered a proper atmosphere of awe and a perfect setting for any number of intrigues. We already had several in the planning stages. This was a gift. With the features of a Norman Castle, over eight centuries old and with more than 60 sleeping rooms, banquet rooms, restaurants, meeting rooms, it was a serendipitous find.

George caught the door, with that classic British manner that I could see in my mind's eye. As I listened to the mumbled exchanges, hearing the words scripted in that deep, lovely, sonorous voice, I smiled. George had the sound of an old servant to royalty. There was just that gentle touch of formal disdain, suggesting that no one could really be worthy to enter. The hint of frost and distance almost made me chuckle. Ah, I thought. The games afoot! Rather trite, but then truth often is. I am an actor, after all.

George came to the half-open den door, "The guests have arrived, sir." The voice gently carried the suggestion that he really wanted to show them to the servant's entrance and be done with this. "Excellent George," I spoke my lines carefully. "Please show them into the formal meeting room, serve them as they desire and advise them that I will be with them in a few moments." I said this in a rather haughty tone. I carefully injected it with the underlying steel of one who simply will be obeyed in all respects. Incidentally, I spoke just loud enough so my guests could also hear my response.

I heard our guests shuffle into the meeting room, accessible from my den by the door on the left. The door was centered to the left of the fireplace. Both were built within the four wall wrap-around bookcase which rose to the ceiling. The collection was filled with the classics, and other volumes. I rose, rather reluctantly, and gathered up the necessary papers for this...meeting. I sauntered over to the bookcase by the door, and gazed at titles for a few minutes. I had read many of them. I cleared my mind and focused, as I prepared for my entrance. Entrances and exits are very important to people like me. We need to convey just the right set of expectations, a stylish presentation, a spark to the senses, all the while creating and maintaining that proper atmosphere as well as our dignity, …and control, of course We must have control. We crafted it ever so carefully, over weeks of planning, to maintain and exert that control.

I clicked the panel next to the closed door, punched the button and surveyed the screen that appeared. Everyone was in place. I saw the seven chairs arrayed around the fireplace in the meeting room. The fire was cheerful and hopefully sent a relaxing message to my guests. All the guests sat quietly with glasses in their hands. No one was talking. Everyone was gazing around the room or at the fireplace. This was their first visit here. We had met at other locations several times. None of my "guests" were drinking coffee, which resided in a silver coffee pot located beside the wet bar. Neither were there any tea drinkers. A shame.

I opened the door and stepped through.

The group turned or looked up as one to look at me. Adan Rix was the self-appointed ringleader of this er... billionaire's club. They had asked my assistance on a rather dicey matter. He appeared younger than his 58 years. An excellent surgeon and scoundrel, I thought, recalling his dossier. The matter in question will become clearer as we go on. I would simply hate to disclose too much, too soon. The group included, sitting somewhat on edge from left to right, José Arguentos de Silva y Ortullo, Jason Smythers Havingstone IV, Lord Haverford, Gerald Michele Sans-Sou, Xui Han Fu, and one retired US Senator Albert Sissal, and of course Adam Rix.

They waited with ill-concealed impatience. I looked around the group nodding a greeting to all, before I spoke. "I trust everyone is comfortable and you do have what you desire?" Several mumbled, "yes, thanks" and the others nodded their agreement. I went to the bar and poured myself a nice fresh cup of coffee, black, straight and true. I took my seat, in the center, noting that the setting, style, and differences had served my guests as clearly my own. I sipped gently while I wondered if the first wrinkle to the plan might be an early first, but expected attempt, to wrest control of the meeting from my hands. I was most gratified that such efforts were to be delayed until later. I knew Adan would try. I set my cup down.

"All right, gentlemen, let's get started. Avram, distribute the folders please," I said mildly. Avram silently appeared from the den with seven folders, handing one to each man present. He put the last one on the table in front of me. I left mine closed. "If you turn to page one, you can see," I began…

***

Chapter 2

An interlude

Angelo Pulamoni sat in the upper tower watching the meeting room telecast in silence, a lingering smile on his countenance. Angelo is a tall, thin, almost cadaverous man. His age seems indeterminate, although with silver hair and eyebrows against a swarthy Sicilian face, he is striking. His black eyes can be bland…or scary. They can sparkle with warmth too. He swirled his Napoleon in the cut glass brandy snifter, after pouring a half glass from the decanter. His eyes never left the screen, even as he poured. An errant thought crossed his mind. How DID they get the sound so clear? I can hear their breathing. He chuckled. And, he contemplated with joy, we have this little tête a tête all nicely recorded for posterity…and it will provide such gain.

He recalled one of his favorite writers, Pope, as he focused on the images on the 72 inch RCA flat screen.

"Of all the causes that conspire to blind

Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools."

"Yes," he told Kofu and Glynnis, "We certainly have the right people." He sat back to look closely at all the characters in this play, he was directing. As he watched, he recalled the valuable details in their dossiers-both the players and the marks.

"These clients are all men of means and ability, " pointed out Kofu. "They are used to being in charge and getting their way. "

"Yes, they are," agreed Angelo, his silver hair shifting with a firm agreement he shared with his two compatriots.

"So far Charlie is leading them down the rose path like a gentle shepherd guiding his flock home, added Glynnis, lightly dusting cookie crumbs from her frock. "It looks like this will be easier than we feared."

"Early times, Glyniss, early times." Angelo nodded at each, "Yes, soon it will become apparent that this meeting is not going to go the way that some of our guests may have expected." The others nodded in agreement.

"The end result should remain most unexpected and rather entertaining, "Kofu grinned.

"Exactly, Kofu, Angelo looked at him with a steely glint. "If they even come to suspect…"

"They won't you know, " Glynnis interrupted. "They are all too greedy. Although, the Chinese gentleman may be the one to watch."

"I agree" Glynnis, Kofu said quietly. "Fu worries me."

"Yes, he is a bit of a wild card," Angelo confirmed.

These three all knew that there would be satisfactory resolution for all. It just depended on viewpoints. However, Angelo snorted to himself, they won't feel at all satisfied with the final results. Although, he chuckled, they will certainly feel satisfied for a long while. And they will pay. Yes, indeed they will pay in more ways than one.

***

I waited patiently until they all were on page one, then proceeded. "Here you see on page one, the original proposal that you six brought to us. I believe you are all quite familiar with that. So keeping in mind the goals you proposed, the succeeding pages outline in detail how we shall achieve it for you. There are breakdown sections detailing the steps and resources we have determined are necessary to the success of this endeavor. Allow me take you through them, one step at a time. I will ask you to be patient. If there are any questions, ask after each section. Please do hold any interruptions to a minimum. Are we clear? Two of the group politely responded, "yes sir." The other four just nodded. Adan looked at me sideways with that little smile as he nodded. I smiled back, knowing that I was definitely going to have problems with him, and sometime soon. Well… plan A never works, so why should I expect this time to be different.

We continued. As we reviewed the plan, which called for the theft or acquisition of a number of masterpieces from several museums and locales around the world. These gentlemen were all wealthy collectors who had long ago determined the art of the world belonged to them. That the art just had not been promptly turned over to them, as they desired, was simply an oversight, mere details. Each was interested in different kinds of art, but did appreciate most of the art forms. They had come to us, because of our growing reputation and expertise. Actually we recruited them into coming to us. Perhaps I should explain that a bit…

Our group is rather specialized. We have cultivated an extensive expertise in the arts, identifying, locating and obtaining material objects, including works of art for our clientele. Often we do it legally. Usually, if illegally, we have protections in place. We have a long and successful record of er evading the authorities in the few exceptions we found ourselves. We evade their laws and attentions, that is. We are envied in a number of the shadier parts of the world. Under these names and our umbrella organization, we have never been arrested. We have our own creative form of magic to do this and we keep that a carefully guarded secret.

For example, through careful connivance, we have actually reacquired the complete, original library of Lumley castle, which is now openly ensconced in the den. We have even added a large number of volumes to it. The original Lumley Library had once been the largest gift, and one of the most important donations, to the Old Royal Library before it was given to the nation by George II to serve as the basis of the British Library system. In fact, and it does get rather complicated, Lumley acquired much of Cranmer's Library and Nonesuch Palace itself from his father-in-law, Henry. The Earl of Arundel, in his turn received them from Queen Mary. Lord Lumley and his wife Lady Jane then added substantially to it. Lumley held many portraits and other famous art, which we also acquired. Now, Lord Lumley, already possessing the fine collections of books and pictures here at Lumley Castle, inherited an additional 400 or so titles that Arundel had gathered. The signatures and stamps of Arundel and both of the Lumleys still grace many of the volumes in our collection. Sadly, there are a few reproductions, albeit expensive ones. Very expensive reproductions. And the British Library is also convinced that they have the originals. The library, the largest private library of the Elizabethan period, contained 3,000 books and 400 manuscripts. That library, and ours, is strong in historical volumes of science and medicine. We have since increased and updated the library with historically important and other rare tomes of interest. In addition we have expanded into the sciences with both modern and historical research that has proved to have a positive impact for our business interests. Our modern research section includes many sources that have allowed our teams to flourish. Much of the most vital current research is stored elsewhere, as it is consulted daily.

Chapter 3

Plan A

I finished reviewing the multiple steps of our general plans with our gentlemen callers, then referred each "buyer" to their specific intrigue which had been carefully developed to suit their individual quirks, needs, and desires. That planning was located at the back of each buyer's booklet. Adan gave a tight, doubting smile as he flipped through the back of his booklet. I knew he would not be impressed. Results were the only thing that gave him any pause. In truth, that was true for each of our clients. Plans were just something to look at. He, and most of the group, had been scammed and deceived too often in the past. Most of our guests were old hands at experiencing efforts to con them. Yet, each was therefore even more susceptible. You cannot con someone who just says no, repeatedly. Fortunately most people have wants, and really do mean yes, even when they say no. Target the right wants, present the right options, and you have a sucker. Of course in the business world, it is just called a deal. It does depend what you get in return.

Even so, this presentation was only formulated to show a few items, those most easily checked, and the most easily identifiable and thus, verifiable problems. The same was true of the alternative delivery options, recommendations, etc. With the vital sales focus, this was designed toward clearly showing them how we might deliver the goods to each buyer, given their different locations and specific needs to preserve privacy, security, and safety.

It did look complete and reasonable. It was supposed to look that way. And of course, our plan celebrated how nicely and cleverly our customers would safely receive their stolen or acquired goods for their own entertainment. The presentation was quite lovely, including those three-dimensional holographic pictures of the objects d'art, their current location, and brief descriptions of the security features that we would need to overcome. This nice personal touch was, of course, cheerfully followed by a discrete bill for 250 Million lbs., Sterling, due from each buyer. I smiled to myself in anticipation. I knew there would be challenges, questions, and quibbles. The desire for money creates those. I waited to see if we had planned correctly. The moment to close the sale had arrived. Would it work? Plan A was still in play. Could it actually work? Would the alternate planning have to be brought to bear? Two of the men immediately pulled out their checkbooks and pens. I winced internally. Amateurs! One man sat unnaturally quiet and still, a dreamy smile reposing on his face.

The next to the last man reached under his seat and pulled out his briefcase. That looked really promising. He had it on his lap and was opening it… Then, Adan unfurled his six-foot length to lithely rise from his chair, and calmly, yet deliberately, state, "I'll pay on delivery."

It was the kind of marvelous performance I had expected. We had gotten through the entire proposal with only an occasional skeptical look from Adan. No quibbles, no disputes, no what ifs. The pure professional in me rejoiced at the excellence of his timing and delivery. The two checkbook rookies quickly put their pen and checks back in their pocket. Two clicks announced the closing of the briefcase, and presumably that long anticipated, beautiful pile of cash or bonds. The dreamy eyed man just continued his uninterrupted dream and paid no attention. I wondered where he might be. Naturally, everyone else looked at Adan and then they stared at me to see what I would say…what I would do. Plan A had failed as expected. On to Plan B.

Chapter 4

The Pony Before the Cart

"I'm sorry, Adan, I said with simple sadness. "That won’t be possible. However as a gesture of good will, we do have one of the items, that without the money, we can only show to you." I called to Avram. He came, a perfect Johnny-on-the- spot.

"Yes Sir?"

"Bring me the Cellini, please."

"Certainly sir."

With in moments I was holding the small uncompleted chalice originally intended for Clement VII. It rested lightly in my hands. Although considered lost to the ages, rumors of its existence had come to our attention. That was all we needed.

"Here, Adan. Please look this over. I believe this was one of the pieces you desired, if we could find it." Adan was stunned. He looked blankly at the Cellini, then, visibly, the full steam of his avarice took hold and he reached out with shaking hands. I carefully placed the statue in his hands, clasping both of his around it. The others looked on in awe and burgeoning hope. They had no doubts of what they were seeing. The daydreamer, however, continued to ignore everything. I would have to make sure that he was the last to leave, especially if there were any problems with the others. Adan gingerly sat the statue down carefully and with reverence on the table. He just stared at the object. After two minutes of silence, he slowly reached into his briefcase and pulled out a magnifying glass. I noticed that there were bonds in the briefcase too, but continued to gaze at Adan with my most concerned expression, letting none of the jubilation show. I have practiced that expression time and time again. I think it is nearly perfect now.

Adan looked up after his examination. He was jubilant, euphoric even. "Yes," he crowed excitedly, "Yes! I must have it!"

"No problem," I replied generously. "We just need your first 250 million lbs. Sterling…you know, the deposit."

"Excellent, no problem" he enthused, opening his briefcase. "I expect bearer bonds will be acceptable?"

"Yes," I drawled, "they should do very well."

Chapter 5

Researching

In our research in the two years and six months building to this meeting, we had discovered quite a lot about our target artists, the art world, and, especially, our potential buyers. Background is important in any…endeavor. But when amateur art lovers have too much money, think they own the world's art, are individually and collectively dangerous, or merely not at all shy about using their power, it is important to have the details. The fact is that we planned to collect as much money as possible from each. That fact meant we needed to become experts. So experts we became.

We began by analyzing resources. Later that was supplemented by searches on the web, our own Lumley library, the city library, and even the book stores. We took a long studious look and decided that it was both inefficient and time consuming. Besides that it wasn't much fun. While work is accepted as something that has to be done, often it is possible to do it in more efficient and entertaining ways. We found our solution by identifying experts in the various fields and pulling each final selection into a weekend conference of his or her own. We designed our first conferences to cover a six-month period, then turned it over to an advertising firm and actually made some money. Now that was fun, and it led to another legitimate business activity. It is amazing what you can do when you have the resources. The weekend workshops were designed to appeal to writers, artists and historians, as well as fans. Each retreat emphasized aspects for each target group and provided a wealth of opportunities to sell. During each session we sold video packages, individual videos of the weekend, panel videos, related research, movies, etc. the BETA, VHS and DVDs sold well. We also had audio tapes, books, magazine subscriptions, additional weekends, other conferences, materials promoting our castle, the translation market, etc. etc. Everything was available on our website too. We did not miss a trick. We raked in a modest 15% commission on everything that wasn't ours. In some cases we purchased the materials. Because all the reproductions, videos, meals and the castle were ours, the project pulled in a most satisfying 47% net profit.

Researching: Benvenuto Cellini

Our Cellini expert came out of London. Dr. Dexter Smythe was an ascetic, balding septuagenarian with an impressive list of academic and business credentials. He had just sold his art gallery and was settling into retirement, writing his autobiography.

His textbook, Cellini-The Master, is used in many classrooms and had hit the bestseller list in America. He actually did a series on educational TV too, and was well known. We had to schedule two weekends, due to the demand. An excellent teacher, he began his lecture using a slide show. He clicked through photos, artistic renderings, and comparisons of the past and present. It was fascinating. His presentation maintained a warm, friendly, excited air that sucked in the audience with his enthusiasm and energy.

"Benvenuto Cellini lived from 1500-1562. He was an Italian Sculptor, Soldier, Goldsmith, Musician, and Painter of the Renaissance. "

I was the one designated to watch the performance for this first weekend. Sarah and Avram had other tasks. None of us escaped unscathed, we all did have to do some reading. The others would watch a video or two.

Benvenuto was born in Florence. His family were originally landowners in the Val d'Ambra, but had lived in Firenze-Florence Italy, if you don't know Italian-for three generations. In many places they would have been viewed as newcomers... His father, Giovanni Cellini, was a musician who made musical instruments. He was always tinkering with ideas. Giovanni married Maria Lisabetta Granacci. It was eighteen years before they had any children."

He went on to describe the daily life of Italy in the 1500s in a way that made it real and immediate. We came to see how Giovanni worked, how he and his family dined and lived. The excitement of a new baby, the second, the third, the dangers, the worries of the time all came alive. It was a delightful way to research. We joined our retreat members in learning a great deal. I suspect we studied more, though because of our goal.

This was a special day for the team, because we also had our first small sales of items. We had deliberated for months and decided to start small and work our way into the larger markets. Avram handled the sales and Abdul the deliveries. As a result there were quite a few interruptions for me during the program. I had encouraged them to come to me, if they had any doubts or concerns. They weren't really necessary, but everybody felt better if I smiled nodded and agreed, and pretended to be in control. This was after all our first real use of what we call "The Plan." So I did. It was important to have several practice efforts to build confidence, test the plan and develop market confidence. Miriam came up to me to tell me the news.

"Boss, Sheckly wants to pay with a personal check."

"The full amount?"

"Yes."

I grinned at her concerned expression. "…And what does the plan say?"

"It says to avoid personal checks in any dubious transaction."

"Is this a dubious transaction? Is Sheckly someone to worry about? Is there anything illegal here?"

"No sir."

"Then what should Av, pardon me, Lord Beakly, do?

"Accept the check?"

"Exactly, well done Miriam." I patted her on the shoulder and gave her my most satisfied smile.

She beamed and rushed off.

"Benvenuto, ("Welcome" in Italian) was their third child and destined for the same profession as his father. However as often happens when a father has those carefully planned future plans for a child, the child becomes disobedient. Giovanni was no exception. In fact, Giovanni blocked Benevuto's inclination for design and metal work several times. It was not effective, as you know. When Benvenuto Cellini reached the mature age of fifteen-that was nearly adult then." He described how we have in our modern day extended childhood through education, as compared to the need to survive and become productive in those earlier times. He noted the modern exceptions of third world countries where children are still facing that kind of survival existence in sweatshops, through begging, prostitution and other titillating nuances to culture. He added the plight of the poor everywhere, before returning to Benevuto.

"His youthful desires finally overwhelmed his father. And so, his father reluctantly allowed him to apprentice to the goldsmith, Antonio di Sandro, known as Marcone." Pictures and a brief history of Marcone, followed.

During that section Derek came up to me for the fifth time. It was unusual for him to do work that was legal and would not "bring him to the attention of the authorities," so I soothed him once again.

" Charlie, you're sure that this is legal?"

"Yes, Derek. Your certified letter attests to the object being a copy of the original, correct."

"Yes, but…"

"Nothing to worry about. The buyer asked for a near exact reproduction, you made it. He has accepted it"

Derek obviously wanted to add more so I let him. "What else is worrying you, Derek?"

"I've never sold a legal reproduction."

"I know Derek. This is indeed something new for you. You are a legitimate businessman." I put my hand on his shoulder. "No more worrying about the coppers." He looked at me uncertainly. "You did sign it under Leonardo's name, didn't you? I knew that he had. "Well, yes."

"Good then. Off with you to the accountant for your check." As he started to turn, I added, "congratulations on your first legal artwork…. and a great job on ' The Last Supper.' "

"Thanks, Charlie." He looked really grateful as he left. Once again, I was pleased that they were coming to me with their concerns and questions. This would pay off with big dividends later.

"Benevuto had already attracted unpleasant notice in Florence, which undoubtedly encouraged the apprenticeship. However, after another fight with companions, he was banished for six months to Siena, where he went to work for Francesco Castoro, another goldsmith."

Dexter went on to tell about the process of goldsmithing, the typical day, the heat, politics and problems of a typical goldsmithing business in the Renaissance, before continuing with his tale. I listened intently.

"Cellini next moved to Bologna, where he became an accomplished flute-player and made rather good progress in the art of goldsmithing." Here he diverged into the music of the period, while slides and tapes of music renderings played in the background.

"After visiting Pisa, and twice resettling -though briefly- in Florence, he jumped off to Rome, at the tender, but adult age of nineteen. His first attempt there was a silver casket, followed by some silver candlesticks and a vase for the bishop of Salamanca. This vase." Dexter Pointed to the slide on the screen, "brought him to the notice of Pope Clement VII." Again there was a slide and several insights and comments on Clement's history. "One of Benevuto's celebrated works, the gold medallion of "Leda and the Swan" — the head and torso of Leda cut in hard stone — executed for the Gonfaloniere Gabbriello Cesarino is still residing in the Vienna museum." Here we saw slides of the medallion, pictures of the museum, and heard a bit of history on Cesarino. Dexter had an excellent collection of slides, a superb command of the history and the mesmerizing skills of a master presenter.

"He also took time for his music. His flute playing actually led to an appointment as one of the pope's court-musicians.

In the Renaissance, people did have to be good at many things. The changes in leaders, the conquests, the violence of the times required it. It was a necessity to prosper. Benevuto also had his moments. In an attack upon Rome by the constable de Bourbon, the style, his bravery, and his willingness to fight, Cellini proved to be of some service to the pontiff."

Professor Smythe laughed at this point, confiding, "Of course, we do then have to believe his own unbiased accounts of those events. It is possible-even probable- he was embellishing…at least slightly. Most likely he was making much of little. According to his account, he shot and killed the Bourbon. And later he also killed Philibert, prince of Orange. Bold people, artists."

I laughed with the crowd. People were much the same as they had been in the Renaissance. They are just as self-serving, venal, corrupt and all the other words- both good and bad- we use to describe our ancestors. The major change is in technology. Technology I going to change the economies, lifestyles, dreams and thoughts of our descendants. It is changing our lives daily.

The third interruption was a bit more serious, and I put it off until lunch, scheduling that meeting with a dissatisfied customer, Avram and Sarah. Utrillo Gomez, who worked for José Arguentos de Silva y Ortullo, was refusing an item. Since we had Ortullo on our list for one of our future sales, this looked critical. But, I had to stay, Dexter was getting to the good stuff and the information would help shape questions for tonight's meeting with Dexter.

"At any rate, Benevuto's efforts did lead to reconciliation with the Florentine magistrates and his own return to Florence. Once home he devoted his time to the execution of medals. His most famous are 'Hercules and the Nemean Lion', in gold repoussé work, and 'Atlas supporting the Sphere', in what is called chased gold. Chased gold is hand decoration on the front surface usually by indenting to raise the design, without cutting into it as is done in engraving. Repoussé is a combination. The tracing of the design on the front of the piece using liners or tracers and then raising the relief by pushing from the back of the metal using different punches, and finally ending up working the details on the front of the piece, which is chasing. Curiously, both are making their own renaissance in our modern day." He paused seeing that peoples were beginning to fade. "We will continue after lunch, which they tell me is in the main dining room."

The applause for professor Smythe was tremendous. At this point, we made a few housing cleaning and listened to comments from the attendees as they headed toward the dining room. We received positive comments all day, and merchandise sales were brisk in the half-hour before the lecture recommenced and the hour after it concluded, before lunch.

I took my lunch break in the private dining room with Avram and Sarah and Utrillo Gomez. They were waiting for me, and were just finishing. It looked like my lunch would be delayed. I ordered a brandy, for appearances. "Señor Gomez, I regret the unfortunate delay in meeting with you, and I hope that we can resolve the concerns you bring us."

"You had better just keep this fake," he said.

I looked at Avram with the question framed by my eyebrows.

"The provenance is in your safe Charlie, your personal safe."

"Ah," I grimaced, "my error." I had forgotten to give Av the documents. There were no excuses. We could not allow those kinds of mistakes later. I would have Sarah add that to the checklist, along with asking our customers to bring any experts they trusted to verify future sales.

"Please excuse me Señor Gomez, I'm sure we can take care of that rapidly. Would you also like to have an expert to attest to the truth of the documents?"

"Not one of yours," he snarled.

I handed him my cell phone. "Is there anyone you would like to call?" I spoke in my most soothing, confident voice.

He looked nonplused, not expecting me to offer that option.

"Yes, thank you." He dialed, speaking in Spanish. I casually looked over Gomez's right shoulder at Wing Ho, sitting at the table behind him. He smiled and nodded. Had the call been of concern, he would have gotten up and left the table. I waited politely.

Gomez looked much calmer. " I have contacted our expert. She will arrive in 30 minutes."

"I'm glad to hear that. Let's adjourn to the Den. I'll meet you there with the documentation. Av, I turned my head to Lord Beakly, Would you bring the item?" He nodded with a relieved smile.

I left to get the documentation.

We met in the den, reviewed the documentation and waited for the expert to arrive. I was not surprised to see Ysleta Tinatoro arrive. She was José Arguentos de Silva y Ortullo's number 2 and an expert on the item. She looked over the documentation, studied the item and pronounced it "acceptable."

The deal was concluded satisfactorily and we had our second sale. I hurried back to Dexter Smythe's presentation, arriving just as he was starting. I would have to wait until dinner to eat.

" Atlas supporting the Sphere was where we left things before lunch," he began. "That Atlas" gesturing to the slide behind him, "would later fall into the grasping hands of Francis I." A lengthy diversion of slides and a nicely presented history of Francis 1 followed, before returning to Cellini. He had slides and verbal images for everything. The presentation reminded me of a world history teacher who had drawn such vivid verbal pictures of daily Roman life that I had watched the scenes unfold in my mind as he spoke from his notes.

"From Florence he traveled to the court of the Duke of Mantua, back to Florence and once again to Rome. In Rome he began working on jewelry, then making dies for private medals and even creating for the papal mint. In 1529 he avenged his brother's death. Afterwards he fled to Naples, to evade the consequences of a dustup with a wounded notary Ser Benedetto. All in all it is typical Italian history. Honors came and went. Travel was frequent. So were the dangers of travel.

During a war with Siena, Cellini received an appointment to improve and strengthen the defences of Florence. While treated harshly by his ducal patrons, he did gain admiration from his fellow citizens through the magnificent works he produced. He died in his beloved home city of Florence in 1571, He was unmarried and had no legitimate children. Cellini was buried with all the pomp and circumstance he might have desired. He left a widowed sister and her six daughters, as well as a good number of friends and enemies.

His art too, he left behind for the rest of us. Here we see 'Perseus with the Head of Medusa,' completed between 1545-54, it is in the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence. Cellini executed several pieces of sculpture on a grand scale. Most precious is this bronze group of 'Perseus holding the head of Medusa'. It was first suggested by Duke Cosimo I de Medici. This Perseus is so full of his fire-look at the lines. See his genius-look closely at the details. This piece shows the grandeur of a terrible beauty. It is so typical and yet one of the most unforgettable monuments of the Italian Renaissance. So much power, so much beauty. I confess," Smythe chuckled, wiping his forehead, "I love the Renaissance.

Simply casting this great work caused Cellini untold troubles and anxiety." Smythe brought the process to life as he painted the pictures of heat, fire, melting metal, long hours and hard days for our understanding. "The completion drew great reviews from all parts of Italy. The original relief from the foot of the pedestal — Perseus and Andromeda — is in the Bargello, and was replaced by a cast.

The third sale that day went well. It was also sold as a reproduction. A simple declaration, the notarized statement sufficed. We were trying out some new technology.

Among his works of art not already mentioned is a colossal Mars for a fountain at Fontainebleau and the bronzes of the doorway. Many pieces have been reported as lost or destroyed. There are coins for the Papal and Florentine states, a Jupiter in silver of life size, and a bronze bust of Bindo Altoviti. These we know exist. His works of decorative art are not quiet. They are not merely respectful.

Those works of art still in existence today are, " Professor Smythe listed them as the images appeared behind him: "

  1. The celebrated saltcellar made for Francis I at Vienna.
  2. A medallion of Clement VII in commemoration of the peace between the Christian princes, 1530, with a bust of the pope on the reverse and a figure of Peace setting fire to a heap of arms in front of the temple of Janus, signed with the artist's name.
  3. A medal of Francis I with this portrait also signed by Benevuto.
  4. A medal of Cardinal Pietro Bembo.
  5. A forty-soldi medal with a bust of Alessandro de Medici, first duke of Florence, on one side and standing figures of the saints Cosma and Damian on the other, cast in 1535.
  6. Several other plaques are attributed to him, 'Jupiter crushing the Giants', 'Fight between Perseus and Phinaeus', a Dog, etc. Some are clearly his, some only possibly created by him.

Cellini also scribbled his autobiography beginning his tale in Florence in 1558. This racy treatment presents his loves, likes, hatreds and passions in glowing detail. Cellini glories in the sumptuous and the exquisite in art. His self-applause and self-assertion, running now and again into that impossible-to-believe ream make this one of the most fascinating books in existence I've read. Cellini tells us of the strange adventures and devout complacency with which he achieved homicide and became a hero in his own mind, anyway. I laughed at the legion of devils which he and a conjurer evoked in the Coliseum, the marvelous halo of light which he found surrounding his head at dawn and the twilight after his Roman imprisonment. His supernatural visions and angelic protection and his being poisoned twice were all fascinating. I hope some of you will join in reading and enjoying this wonderful artist. Thomas Roscoe has translated this autobiography into English. Cellini also wrote treatises on the goldsmith's art, on sculpture, and on design. Published versions are all available and on sale outside, along with my little book, Cellini-The Master. Thank you for your kind attention."

 

The applause was thunderous.

In our private meeting with Dexter later that evening, we discussed those important works that have perished in as much detail as possible. He had photos of some important artistic drawings, paragraphs of research details and we made copies of them all. Important pieces had been destroyed or had simply disappeared over the years. Or so the experts firmly believed, and had informed the world. Some we could find and did. For example, the uncompleted chalice intended for Clement VII, we acquired. A gold cover for a prayer book was lost. It was a gift from Pope Paul III to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Both are described in his autobiography. The large silver statues of Jupiter, Vulcan, and Mars were wrought for Francis I during his Paris stay. There were so many: A bust of Julius Caesar. A silver cup for the cardinal of Ferrara. A gold "button", or morse, made by Cellini for the cape of Clement VII. The completion of the morse is also graphically described in his autobiography. Pope Pius VI sacrificed this button, with many other priceless specimens of the goldsmith's art. It was offered to pay the indemnity of 30,000,000 francs demanded by Napoleon after the campaign against the States of the Church in 1797. We did some checking with our own staff experts and found that we can "recover" more of them, if the need is there…or the price is right. Our cost will be minimal.

According to the terms of that treaty, the pope was permitted to pay one-third in plate and jewels. There are three watercolor drawings by F. Bertoli of Cellini's splendid morse, in the print room of the British Museum. The obverse and reverse, as well as the rim, are drawn full size. The precious stones are set within. The drawing includes a diamond considered the second largest in the world, in Cellini's time. These pictures will allow us to add nicely to our collection, if the need arises. It is a buyers market.

 

I followed Adan's counting of the bearer bonds with a hidden secret glee. Catch the leader and the others will fall in line. Indeed they did. That is what happened. Plan C would not be needed, this time. Adan left immediately after that exchange, calling his driver and followed discretely by our security team. We spare no expense to keep our customers happy. Later, we will approach it differently. The others watched and made their own decisions. Sure they did. Adan had decided for all of them with the exception of the dreamy eyed man.

Chapter 6

José, A Dangerous Spaniard

 

José was next. José Arguentos de Silva y Ortullo is a Spanish billionaire land baron owning 20 percent of Madrid, heavily invested in Argentina, Brazil and the US, through the usual number of multi-tiered corporations. Van Gogh fascinates him and he wants a certain Picasso, although he hates the entire history of the person and most of his art. José's father, Francisco, fought with the Nazis as one of the liaison trainees during the German practicum for World War II. He was a pilot, and eventually became a businessman who served the escaping Nazis well and profitably. That gave the family fortune a jump-start. Pater flew at Guernica. The painting Picasso made of Guernica is one of the most powerful pieces to come out of Spain. But that power was uninteresting to José. The sentimental value is the strong interest.

José was brought up with wealth, education, and long term planning by his father. His mother taught him warmth, social skills, and the power of silence. His Father taught him to be ruthless in the pursuit of success. He combines them all, gracefully. José studied at Harvard for his MBA and then earned his Doctorate in Marketing Trends. While he was still in University, he created six corporations that are still profitable today. It is and was an amazing success story. A couple of his businesses are similar to some of the fanciful businesses of the late 19th century, such as that one that sold airplanes, before they were invented! He created the first companies in cryogenics, DNA Mapping & Pharmacology, spaceflight bookings, Internet names, Selling degrees on the Internet, and interplanetary real estate.

His Planetary Investments Inc., sells land on the sun of all places as well other star and planet locations. And he has some other intriguing operations as you might expect. He has art houses, auction houses, Real estate corporations, science research groups, and others. The list is endless. By the way, You can still buy a patch of molten sky on or above the sun for only 10 quid. You get a lovely framed certificate, a land title ready for filing, and loads of promotional mailings that make you shake your head several times a month. For extra cash you can also purchase T-shirts, sweaters, moon rocks, etc. Your individual title may be processed whenever land office opens that can record it. Legality is another issue. Two people run that office out of another of José's major corporations and it continues to bring in a profit annually. PT Barnum always said, "A sucker is born every minute." Sometimes it can be fun to be a sucker.

Avram gave me one for Christmas a few years ago. I laugh a little every time I look at it. I got even with Avram, though. I purchased Avram his ordination papers. I discovered later, by happenstance, that that is also one of José's groups. We did have to do some in-depth research on this wily character. Avram was enchanted with the certificate. He blushed and then blessed me. When I am feeling particularly in the mood I call him Reverend Avram.

José is a small man at 5' 8" with the red hair you often find in Spain. His warm coffee eyes and generous lips smile a little too often. He has mastered the art of lying with his eyes. They don't ever remain cold like some peoples' eyes do. With José, the eyes do not mirror the soul. However he does like kids and dogs, so he can't be all bad. He has 10 of each. Wives are another story. He has married 8 briefly, about 10 months each. He prefers his servants and now shops in Asia for women.

Chapter 7

Researching: Van Gogh and Picasso

Sarah, Avram and I gathered together to review our research on van Gogh, and our plan for José.

After we all had grabbed coffee and croissants, I opened the meeting.

"I cannot stress how dangerous José is." I looked soberly at them both, concerned. He is one of the three that can literally blow us out of the project.

Avram nodded.

Sarah smiled." You're right Charlie, but you are wrong too."

"How so?" I leaned forward intrigued. She provided hooks better than anyone else. The entire sales approach had been her concept.

"Sarah jabbed her thumb towards her laptop, and offered us a crooked grin. "All our research shows us that José doesn't really run his businesses anymore, and hasn't for the past three years. He relies almost totally on three people... Garbana, Ysleta and Utrillo."

We were all on the same page, and I raised my eyebrow in a so what's your point gesture.

She grinned back at me. "The only things we can verify that he does do, is meet weekly with those three and chase art and women. From the taps we know that Ysleta is the only one 'connected' and he handles any problems that develop anywhere in the organization. So that's where you are right, Charlie. If we come to his attention as a problem, the situation could get become serious." She paused. Avram lounged back in his chair, the tension gone from his face. He was ahead of me.

"Now, if we keep José happy and satisfied there will be no problem." She sat back, liking her simple solution.

"I can see your point. Yes, we realized quickly that we needed to keep Ysleta out of our little adventure." I laughed at how she had set me up for that one. She was a research psychologist and such a charming quick wit. "However, we all know Plan A rarely works." I offered.

"True, but all the variations take in diversions for Ysleta."

"That's true," I conceded. " Let's get on with this."

"Ok, José told us from the beginning that van Gogh and Picasso were his favorites. One of our keys is he only sold one painting during his lifetime.

I nodded. "Yes, we have all read some of the same basics."

Avram interjected, "Let me save us some time. Here." He handed out a 20 page highlighted biographical sketches of van Gogh, Picasso and 40 pages on José.

Sarah took her copy, and continued without looking at it. " José's focus is on the art, and not being deceived, or robbed. Although he worries a lot about scams, we have an excellent chance to remain no threat and therefore should be safe."

"In this business, there is no safety, Sarah. Only degrees of success or failure."

"We will succeed," affirmed Avram.

"With a little help from our friends," added Sarah.

We three smiled at each other, glad for the mutual support. We continued to chat as we listened to Av read. Each of us had interjections for Avram to add to the final version we used to develop our little play. We all enjoyed the break and the camaraderie.

"Vincent van Gogh, born on March 30, 1853, died: Suicide on July 29, 1890.

Van Gogh produced all of his work completing some 900 paintings and 1100 drawings during only a 10-year span before yielding to bipolar mental illness. Yes, he committed suicide. His fame grew rapidly after his death especially following a showing of 71 of van Gogh's paintings in Paris on March 17, 1901. Only 11 years after his death, People had trouble pronouncing his name. Properly done, the name rhymes with loch, but it is also pronounced 'goph', 'go' and 'goe'."

"A good basic start Av. Please add to the top of Jose's bio the canvases he wants. Naturally José wants the big sales, so add," I read from my notes: "Irises, Portrait of Doctor…Oh, and José wants The Potato Eaters painted in 1885, and Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard. And of course that is the final Van Gogh painting José wants. Might as well ad Guernica too"

Avram made the necessary additions on his laptop then continued to read.

"Van Gogh's influence on expressionism, fauvism, and early abstraction was enormous, and may be seen in many other aspects of 20th-century art. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is dedicated to his work and that of his contemporaries. The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo is located in The Netherlands, and rather nice collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings. Several Van Gogh paintings rank among the most expensive paintings in the world. On March 30, 1987 Van Gogh's painting Irises was sold for a record $53.9 million at Southeby's, New York. On May 15, 1990 his Portrait of Doctor Gachet was sold for $82.5 million at Christie's."

"Charlie what's fauvism?" Sarah asked. "I missed that day in art class."

I cracked up. "We all missed days in art class." It was a short-lived concept, about 10 years, I think. The movement came out of the post impressionism and Pointillism, you remember those little dots?"

Sarah chuckled, "yes."

I guess Matisse is the best artist I can use to explain. He helped develop the style after finding Pointillism too confining. It became a forerunner for expressionism. It is considered a more expressive and somehow freer style of painting. They were not tied to any natural use of color. It is often applied straight from the paint tube in an aggressive, wild beast kind of way.

"Oh yes, fauvre is French for wild beast!"

"Exactly, Sarah. Exaggeration is a key. I think that is the meaning of free that he was looking for," I mused.

"I like Matisse"

"So do I, but he lost my interest when he moved toward cubism."

Avram laughed, "I guess that makes it unanimous!"

Av went on, laughing in spurts.

"Vincent was born in Zundert, The Netherlands. His father was a Protestant minister. Vincent found religion appealing and would be drawn to it later in his life. His sister described him as a serious and introspective child.

At age 16 Vincent worked for an art dealer, Goupil & Co., in The Hague. His four years younger brother Theo shared a life long friendship and joined the company later. Their friendship is documented in the letters they sent each other. These letters were preserved and published in 1914. They provide the insights so many write about as they explore the life of the painter. The letters show Picasso as a talented writer with a sharp mind. Theo supported Vincent financially throughout his life."

Sarah soberly noted, "Mental illness truly destroys life."

Avram replied, "So many people are screwed up, it is amazing that anything works.

I agreed adding, "That is why we have to research our eccentric billionaires and their wants so very carefully. If we don't know, we may end up the ones being screwed! And each one of these guys has more than one screw loose."

"Or we could end up very dead," Avram added quietly.

We all paused and looked at each other. We all shifted uncomfortably in our chairs. We had accepted the seriousness of our venture at the very beginning, but it was probably good to remind ourselves of the price we could pay. I think each of us resolved to get it right. I know I did. We went back to the work at hand.

"In 1873, his firm transferred him first to London, then to Paris. Religion became more and more a part of his focus. In 1876 lack of motivation led to losing his job at Goupil. A teaching assistant position in Ramsgate near London was a stopgap before he returned to Amsterdam to study theology in 1877.

Yet he quit that in 1878 and became a lay preacher in Borinage, Belgium, a poor mining region. He preached deep down in the mines expressing concern for the plight of the workers. He lost that job after 6 months but continued to serve without pay."

"Yes, I remember. It was here he began to draw those charcoal sketches?" Sarah asked.

"That's right," Avram grinned.

"In 1880 his brother Theo suggested Vincent paint seriously. For only a brief period Vincent actually studied painting with Anton Mauve at The Hague. Vincent and Anton soon split over artistic differences. Some of the influences from The Hague School of painting would remain obvious in Vincent's work: the played with light and the style of his brush strokes. His color usage, the dark tones would set him apart from his teacher, creating at least part of his unique style.

He had trouble keeping friends didn't he? I asked.

"Yes, but his family seemed to care deeply," Av responded.

"In 1881 Vincent asked his widowed cousin Kee Vos, to marry him. She rejected him. Later he would move in with a prostitute, Sien Hoornik and her children. He even considered marrying her, although his father frantically fought against it and even his beloved brother Theo fought the idea. They ended up separating to the heartfelt relief of the Gogh family."

Van Gogh concentrated on the rural paintings and a focus on peasants. Impressed and influenced by Jean François Millet, he seemed to enjoy this time. He would move around a lot. He traveled to the Dutch province Drenthe, Nuenen, and then North Brabant, all within The Netherlands. In North Brabant, he painted The Potato Eaters in 1885. This painting is in The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam." Av looked up and added, "for now."

"It was the winter of 1885-1886 when Van Gogh attended an art academy in Antwerp, Belgium. Professor Eugène Siberdt dismissed him after only a few months. For many artists, training academies were too limiting. Van Gogh did explore Japanese art during this period and he began collecting it eagerly. It was the bright colours, use of canvas space and the role lines played that dew his attention and affection. The Japanese style would influence him in many ways. Van Gogh completed a few paintings in the Japanese style. In fact some of the portraits he painted are have a Japanese art background."

Avram looked up at us and cheerfully added, "surprisingly none of our art collectors seem to be interested in Japanese art. We may have to focus on Japan next time around."

"There will be a next time? Sarah looked at him her eyes opened wide.

"No, Sarah, Av is just teasing."

Av pointed at Sarah with his index finger and laughed. After he got himself back under control, he returned to reading.

"Van Gogh went to Paris in the spring of 1886. He moved in with his brother Theo on Montmartre. He met the painters here. He came to know Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Emile Bernard and of course, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Impressionism now assaulted his interests and liking its use of light and colour he began to employ it. Pointillism- with all those many small dots are applied to the canvas to blend into rich colours only in the eye of the distant viewer-grabbed his fancy. This technique impacted Van Gogh's own style. Van Gogh is regarded as a post-impressionist, rather than an impressionist. He just made it all part of his own unique style.

In 1888, Van Gogh left Paris and went to Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France. He loved the local landscape and had hopes to create an art colony. He created a celebrated series of yellow sunflower paintings to decorate a yellow house. Of all the artists he met in Paris only Paul Gauguin, of the synthetism approach- simplified colour schemes and forms- followed Van Gogh. Their mutual admiration led to Gauguin painting van Gogh painting sunflowers. As now seems characteristic of the fiery Van Gogh, their time together ended in a quarrel with Gauguin leaving in December of 1888. It was after the argument that Van Gogh suffered a mental breakdown and cut off part of his left ear. He gave that ear to a prostitute friend, who was likely less than enthusiastic."

"It is so sad that his illness could not have had proper treatment. The man felt such failure in his life. He was such a genius, and he deserved better."

I smiled warmly at Sarah. Her eyes glistened with the unshed tears. One of the many things I loved about her was the depth of compassion she had for people. She once told me she went into Psychology to heal the world. She said it took her two years to discover the world would not be healed, and that you could only plant seeds and hope they would take root. Avram looked disgusted, shaking his head, he read on.

"Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard, painted in 1888, is on display in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, Russia." Now he looked up, grinned and added "for now."

I couldn't help myself. I laughed again. Oh yes, this meeting was a very good idea.

Sarah joined me the laughter shifting her mood. Av looked as pleased.

"But… Van Gogh's history continued, as did his painting. He changed from painting those Pointillism dots turning to small stripes. The depression, in 1889, led Van Gogh to self-admit himself into the psychiatric center at Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint Remy de Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, France. Here the clinic and its garden became his painting focus. Here his pencil strokes changed again, turning into spiral curves.

In May 1890 Vincent went to Dr. Paul Gachet, after leaving the clinic. In Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he was closer to his brother Theo, who had recently married. Gachet had treated several artists before. Van Gogh created his only etching: a portrait of the same melancholic doctor Gachet. His depression got worse and on July 27 of the same year, at 37, after a frantic spurt of painting, van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He died two days later, with Theo at his side. "La tristesse durera toujours" according to his brother Theo. "The sadness will last forever" was the last thing he ever said. Theo buried Van Gogh at the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise. Theo was later buried right next to him."

I listened to Av's last words, thinking how Theo must have loved his brother.

Av sat back with a roll of his shoulders. "I'm done."

"Gachet was a quack."

Av and I laughed.

"Ok, he was one of the better ones of his time, but they were all quacks."

"Ah, Sarah," I rubbed her right hand gently. It is only somewhat better now."

"True, " she agreed.

"Let's go eat, " Av licked his lips, looking hopeful.

"All right, " I glanced at my Rolex, saw it was nearly 1:00. "Sounds good to me."

"Oh you two, " Sarah said in disgust. Eat sleep and play. That's all you two do!"

"What's wrong with that?" I asked, my most innocent expression plastered on my face.

Sarah giggled, "Ok, food. We can finish this after lunch."

9. Researching Picasso

After a nice restful lunch we returned to discuss Picasso and Jose. None of us were fond of Picasso, although I did like a little piece called Don Quixote. That effort was marketed and sold as a numbered Lithograph. Strangely-and Jose was a bit strange- the only Picasso that he wanted was Guernica. He explained that he only wanted it for sentimental reasons. It would serve as a memory of his father. His father had flown a German fighter there during the war, helping the Germans eliminate the Republicans. And, so it came to be, this famous painting came to have a sentimental value, representing everything his father had fought against. Jose clearly explained to us that he found irony in the wrong-headed, weak-kneed, liberal interpretation of the event by Picasso.


Picasso was a prolific artist. He was born in 1881 and over his life created an incredible 22,000 works of art before he dying in 1973. He used several mediums: ceramics, graphic arts, mosaics, stage design, and sculpture. It was his 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon that introduced the beginnings of cubism, analytic cubism. This radical departure from the artistic ideas prior ages changed the face of modern art. After the analytic cubism, his forms became larger and more representational. He replaced earlier, more subdued compositions with flat, bright decorative patterns. The cubist works done by Picasso firmly established that a work of art may exist beyond any attempt to represent reality.

Our goal was Guernica. The Spanish government commissioned Picasso to create a mural for Spain’s pavilion at an international exposition in Paris in 1937. Picasso procrastinated until hearing of the bombed Spanish town of Guernica. The Nazis used their new airplanes to see how effective they might be. From their point of view it was a training exercise. The Germans used Spain as a testing ground for their forces and to support the Spanish general Francisco Franco in his plot to overthrow the Spanish republic. It succeeded. Guernica (1937, Prado, Madrid) was Picasso's response and condemnation of that historical event.

Our guest speaker, art professor, Georges Rubyond, from the Cubist Center in Madrid, explained the picture to us. "This canvass is presented in Black and White to present the stark contrast of good versus evil. Picasso has transfigured it due to his personal fascination with the theme of bull fighting. Please note, at the extreme left is the bull, which symbolizes brutality and darkness, and that is according to Picasso. At the center, the horse wounded by a spear clearly represents the Spanish people. Now, at the center…there on top, the exploding light bulb refers to air warfare and the evil coming from above. It is putting out the light of reason, of thought, of ideas... You see these corpses and the other dying figures? They fill out the foreground. There is a woman with a dead child at the left, a dead warrior with a broken sword right there. See the flower sprouting at the center? Now look at the weeping woman and the figure falling through a burning building at the right. The distortion of these figures elucidates the wretched inhumanity of the event. So that he could suggest the screaming of the horse and of the mother with the dead child, Picasso has evolved their tongues into sharp daggers. Please look here now. In the upper center, a tormented female figure holds an oil lamp to bring light upon the scene symbolizing the light of truth in revealing the brutality of this event to the outside world."

I thought of war, Picasso, and José.

Chapter 10: The Brit

Then came Jason Smythers Havingstone IV, Lord Haverford, is your classic movie Brit. Pompous, reserved, a ruler of pomp and circumstance, with a deep growly voice. One of those cautious voices of reason. He is tall, at 6' 3", with an ascetic build and features. He reminds me of Basil Rathbone and those charming American Sherlock Holmes movies. Of course the real person is one very selfish, avaricious, nasty, and is even more corrupt than our Frenchman. His is inherited wealth, tied to the investments of the Queen Mother. He is always buying pre-Columbian art. It is his one true, honest passion. He is fortunate to have wealth. If he were a poor man, he would be dead. He may end up that way sooner than he expects anyway. Jason has his clubs, art auctions and a secret vault, larger than many houses, where he spends the majority of his time. His secondary passion is the annual rape and murder. Having him out of the public eye does not hurt the Royals at all. Soon we would be providing additional incentives to keep him out of the public eye.

Keeping Jason busy has allowed the Royals to cultivate the son. As such, the family has prospered nicely. His father was a bit of a dear, and well loved at court. The current Lord Haverford is never invited, except at the most formal occasions requiring an invitation be proffered. The royal family is looking forward to this gentleman's demise with unseemly relish. His son, Arthur, Sir Arthur, was a success at Eton and Cambridge, making the Olympic team and actually winning a medal. He currently is serving at Her Majesty's pleasure in MI5. The Royal family has him over to many functions.

The crown jewels were his thing. It was a combination of greed, revenge and thinking small. We encouraged it. I liked the fact that everything was in one accessible place. This would be a relatively easy production number for our team. We expected to get more from him later on the pre-Columbian art scene.

Chapter 11

Frenchie

Third was the frenchie. There always seems to be a Frenchman somewhere in the mix, somehow. Ours is Gerald Michele Sans-Soiu. He grew up in Marseilles as a street orphan, learning the numbers racket before moving into international import-exporting, theft and drugs. He is a dapper, greasy looking fat man with shiny black hair, watery blue eyes and the kind of sweet watchful temperament better suited to a cobra. At first glance he seems like the type of bartender you might confide in about serious matters. He has used that well developed persona most successfully to develop his spectacular information for sale business. The CIA, Mossad, MI6, and many others regularly seek him out for his links in the Middle East and Asia.

Recently he has moved into Arms sales and Transportation, as he has rapidly developed Mexican and Colombian ties. This is one very dangerous individual. Never turn your back on this one. Of course that is a basic truth for all six of these wealthy, highly respected individuals. They have all proved that having loads of money truly makes a big difference. Gerald has killed or caused to be imprisoned around 200 rivals that we have identified...so far. Our research is always ongoing. Sans- Soiu has no record of ever being charged with a crime and he also appears to be a long-time favorite of the French President.

Immediately after visiting Lumley Castle for the first time, he began exploring purchasing a castle in France. We recommended, for a slight finder's fee, the Castle d'Amboise in the Loire Valley of France. It was on our own finalist list for consideration, but the location was a bit too crowded for our needs.

He bought it three days later. He did us one better though, purchasing both the castle and Chateau Belle Roche at the same time. This was a comfortable, fully restored, 1667 historic mansion with estate buildings, Le Pavilion, Maison de Leonardo, and L'Ecure, They offer majestic views of the Loire waterfront, classic French gardens, some mysterious caves. The caves have winding paths and those beloved secret entrances, along with many secret and not-so- secret tunnels. Chateau Belle Roche is a mere five block walk from the village of Amboise and the Renaissance Castle d'Amboise, his other proud purchase. We would meet there later, to conduct additional business.

 

Chapter 12: American Riches

Next came The American. Of course we have our obligatory American. Albert is one of those rich conceited idiots who have given Americans such a bad name around the world for years. Albert is our very own American politician. We had tried to recruit a South American Dictator and a Canadian Industrialist. Unfortunately, neither had the necessary cash flow, although we thought they did at first. The interest was there. But not the cash. So, we were stuck with the American. Retired Senator Albert Sissal, of the Montgomery, Alabama Sissals is an idiot. He is, granted, both a rich and famous-capital I- Idiot, but there you have him in the essential nutshell. At well over 150 stone, (300 lbs.) and 5'6" he is a beached whale scrounging for food. This man invented avarice, and the 3000 ways to cover it up with a genteel manner and an amazing aura of innocence. I really do have to learn that one!

His family were slaveholders in pre Civil War Alabama, and that sense of ownership prevails in both his personal and business attitudes today, although most quietly as a background noise for his intrigues. The Sissals moved reluctantly and grudgingly from slave owning to mercantile and industry. We think that may have had to do with the early American lack of any union movement and the fact that the Sissals could then continue to treat their workers like slaves.

Through sheer luck they have avoided all of the sweat shop problems other modern Americans have been caught with. In fact through their corporation efforts, they actually have a rather good reputation at providing fair benefits. That will change. What has yet to be discovered is the Retirement funds that will disappear when the business collapses. That event is being programmed for 2009. There are a number of scheduled assassinations and accidents there that will make the Valentine's Day Massacre of the 1930's look like a London society tea party. The man is a monster.

13. Researching Diamonds are for Now

Diamonds are for Now

Chapter 14: Dream A little Dream

And finally-the last of our six- the dreamer. We did keep him for last. Xui Han Fu, a Chinese Drug Lord operating out Malaysia is a very quiet, dreamy character who seems to be on the way to retirement. He is a small wiry character with small, undistinguished features that would make it difficult to ever find him in a crowd of Chinese. He has close-cropped black hair, stands around 5'4". He appears ageless, though his birth certificate and passport both claim he is 76. He clearly partakes of his product, although is careful about doing so. He speaks in a quiet melodious voice with an impeccable, cultured Manchester accent. He tells us that this was probably due to a charming lady that his family hired in India. His education is worldly, and I personally like him a great deal. I have yet to find a topic where he does not provide interesting, relevant information. I can not tell you how very rare of a find that is for me. We suspect he also has numerous ties to Chinese Intelligence services.

 

One by one we collected 250 million from each. Oh, it wasn't all tea and crumpets. We had to play with wiring instructions for our two check casher innocents. Neither had thought to use certified checks, believing in their own invincibility. Certified, funds held, we could have washed. Taking personal checks for 250 million is just plain stupid. Even Cashier checks can be a problem these days. It is sad what is happening to the Banking profession. Our dreamer had no problem, being a banker, among several other notable professions. He completed the wire transfer from our office on our laptop, wiping the logs with his own disk. We were a little disappointed, as we had hoped our simple little background program might record every little detail… but the banker's security wiper program did the job quite nicely.

 

The other man with the briefcase was a dream He did have bonds, glorious bearer bonds. It was a delight to behold. We checked the bonds carefully, of course. Abdul gave us a quick "verified, no problem" in only 10 minutes. Those tiny ear phones we use make for wonderful quiet checking. He was watching us on the security monitors. All left with one item, each, in their possession. Our clients were satisfied. There would be a lot of bloody damn hard work before we were done. We hoped there would be no blood.

Chapter 15: Playtime

It was now Saturday. We decided this was our day of rest, likely the last one for quite some time. We immediately split into several cars going in different directions. I drove up A690, Switch Street, north until we found A1 (M) then, kept driving. We stopped whenever the mood struck us… The money had all been deposited and had been moved around fast, frequently, and in much smaller packages until only Abdul and myself knew the many accounts where it was resting until we needed it. The possibilities of using the countryside to hide us were delicious, but unnecessary. We were just cruising to see if anyone was following us, and looking for any other indicators of problems. There were none…this time.

We all pulled into our pre-planned parking places within 30 minutes of the schedule. When we met in front of the restaurant, I told them that all reports coming in suggested we were clean. There was no surveillance.

We stopped for a lovely celebration dinner in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The meal consisted of several specialties and the requisite bubbly. After all, we were working stiffs looking to live in the lavish style to which we highly desired to acclimate. It looked to us like it might just work this time. We had been so very close before, but one thing or another always made escape the higher need. Survival to play again is rather more necessary than ultimate goals of success and celebration. We went inside, and took up our reservation. The maitre-D, beamed at Avram. "It is good to see you again Lord Beakly."

"Of course, Angus. Delighted to see you too. I miss this old place."

Angus led us upstairs to the private rooms, settled us with menus and nodded his way out. We began on a self-congratulatory note.

"Ah Avram, you were magnificent"

"Charlie, you carried it off like the master you are."

Abdul laughed.

"You two are such a mutual admiration society, you should get married."

"What Sarah? Already trying to get rid of me, dear?"

Av and I looked at each other and laughed heartily.

She batted her eyes. "I wouldn't want to stand in the way of true love."

The three of us had trouble holding the laughter down to reasonable levels.

"If we did," I conjectured, "I would soon have to file for divorce for incompatibility. Av is a great partner, but I just don't want him to try to have my babies. I guess I'm from the old school."

"Well, I would have to agree Charlie," Avram commented with a glint in his eye. "I just cannot see babies anywhere in my future. Alas, divorced before we are married. Truly a sad state of affairs."

The waiter came in at that point. We ordered a lavish dinner and built some more memories.

Add more here.

With that we all broke up again and called for the check, departed, and located our scheduled lodgings for the night.

Chapter 13: Another Day, Another Plan

Work never ends. They say a woman's work is never done. Unfortunately, I couldn't dump this work back on my wife, she was busy enough. So, I spent several more hours on the Internet and the phone making all the necessary arrangements for the following week.

Sarah was busy on her wireless computer initiating a series of transfers that would separate the funds into smaller varying amounts that would be broken down even more as part of washing the various funds received. Each step began as a simple email that initiated other stored emails, resulting eventually in instructions being made to Banks. Just as the complex task of breaking down the funds would take time. The process of putting them back together in an accessible and usable form would take more time. Sarah would be working on this little project for two weeks. Slowly we would piece those funds back together in other sets of accounts. Abdul had set up the complicated process to protect our funds from the tracking efforts of various private and public organizations, including Interpol. Sarah executed it. This would be done a total of four times through the magic of electronic communication.

I got about half of my arrangements scheduled before collapsing next to Sarah about 3 AM. Most had already been tentatively set, but we did have to firm them up, change a few and replan one from the beginning. That one was going to be a royal headache. There was the likely more danger there than any other one we had developed. Well, that new plan and that other one that seemed to be working like damask silk. The plans least likely to succeed are those with no problems and those that never seem to go right. Our contact in Russia had been arrested for another crime. He looked like he would not become available to us within the time span needed. I had to call Angelo on that one. He agreed to meet with Abdul and myself tomorrow at the castle. That situation was going to take a lot of work. Likely I would end up flying into Moscow to work out new arrangements. Hopefully the artifacts necessarily pre-prepared and ready to go, still existed, and were accessible. If not, replanning would become the easy part.

We had been working in separate teams for a number of years. Although there were only twenty-five of us based at the castle, we were a full team. We still had another 25 auxiliary personnel in the field. It is hard to put together a team like that. It becomes an organization, with all the inherent problems that organizations are heir to. I suppose most in our line of work would consider us successful. We didn't. We were not going to be satisfied with a modest score. We wanted to make the all time biggest score in history. Each of us was looking towards having the kind of money where, coupled with reasonable behavior, it creates the patina of automatic respectability, and as secure a life as only big money can provide.

Avram and I often changed roles as the need arose. We both did servility with panache. The others also served in multiple roles as the need arose. It had been a great life to this point. We had a life full of high adventure and low comedy, filled with minor successes and humbling defeats. They say you cannot con a con artist, but we are the likeliest to be conned. There is only one kind of person who cannot be conned. That is someone who doesn't want something. How can you make someone want something when they really don't care? Yes, you can argue that the telly does it daily by creating wants and needs, but rarely does someone who doesn't care pay any attention to those. It just doesn't happen.

The celebration was fun. It would be our last one until we collected our final payments and disappeared. However we all agreed then and there that we had indeed earned it. It was like winning the lotto. 1.25 Billion pounds in one day. Lordy what a day! It would become one of those memories for old age and the fireplace, regardless of what came next. Common sense and necessity would bring us back to ground…tomorrow.

Chapter 14: At the Club

I arose refreshed, feeling like everything was right. A niggling voice quietly leered in my ear "remember Murphy, he does a lot of work to maintain those laws…" I sighed. So true, so true! Whatever can go wrong will. My own credo is well founded in whatever cannot go wrong will. I call that the corollary to Murphy's law. Avram chuckled and said it is easier just to say, "it will all go wrong, all the time so plan for it." I cannot disagree. In fact I do my best to do exactly that. That is why there are nearly 50 of us involved in this caper and not just five. However in any bureaucracy there are problems and with 50 of us… we qualify as an organizational bureaucracy. Within bureaucracies, there is that tendency for someone to get stuck in a situation he or she is unprepared to handle. We all just hope it won't happen to us. I keep trying to insure it doesn't happen to any of us.

We went to breakfast at the club together. Clubs are nice, quiet, respectable, and discreet. They are great places to meet. Likewise, in our business, they are the right places to meet the right people. For those wanting money, the right people are those that have the money, ergo Clubs are an excellent resource. QED. Quo ergo demostratum Ah my old math professor from Oxford would have been proud of that logic.

I went to Oxford?

Yes, and graduated near the top of your class.

What the hell am I doing here then?

Making money. Saving the world. Little things…

I shook my head, finished my coffee in a more somber mood. I looked over at Abdul, Avram and George. They were all finishing up too. The excesses of last night were now history. They all seemed to recognize, as did I, that today meant work, serious work. We grinned sheepishly at one another, finished our breakfasts and then headed for the auto. It was a short but brisk walk to the parking garage. We walked it in silence, wrapped up in our own individual thoughts. The rental cars had been turned in and another selected. Once we got in the car and headed home to Lumley, we started to become dedicated employees once again. We were after all, experienced professionals. As far as the trip back. Well, it was definitely a longer journey back to the old castle. It was a trip made in silence, except for Avram seeking out the BBC and any news he could find. Sarah and I held hands several times. I felt that delightful breath of fresh air as we drove up the driveway. So far I feel that way every time I come here. Sadly, I know that sense of delight and wonderment may end. The castle is magnificent, standing bold and tall against the gray sky. The turrets are now all in good repair, the ivy climbing up the walls. Just looking at all that ancient history, full of blood and treachery, faith and forgiveness, fills my soul.

Chapter 15: The Trio Meet

Discussion: Abdul, Charlie and Angelo Pulamoni.

Chapter 16: Early Morning At The Castle

It was break of day. The sun rose dimly amid the gray-blue of the sky. There was a chill in the air, as Charlie looked out over the ramparts of the castle, sipping his morning coffee. The blend of arabica and colombian was his original, and he marketed it through three different companies with good success. It was also his favorite blend: "A rich yet mellow blend with the hint of darkness and the light aroma of woodruff." Read the ads. Charlie stopped wondering where that had come from.

I own coffee factories?

No silly, you buy from others, re-package and re-market several products. You have 230 employees in five different companies

Shocked, Charlie looked up I'm in business too?

Of course

Who are you?

The voice held a tinge of laughter, as it sounded from the void. The time is coming when you will know everything, it just is not now. Be patient!

I'm getting tired of this.

I know and understand that too. Let's do it this way. You have a long flight to Moscow coming up. By the time you reach Moscow, everything will be explained clearly. Will that work?

All right. At least now I have an expectation.

Warm, friendly chuckling faded to silence.

Charlie found himself now prowling one of the many secret passageways within the castle. This one wound its way behind the den, meeting room and dining room before descending into the bowls of the castle. The passageways remained dusty with the dirt of centuries. The cleaning ladies didn't come here. The walls were bare stone mostly with scattered sections that had one or two removed blocks of stone for viewing, or, in others, wooden panels for entrances...and exits. The flooring varied from stone to some newly added carpet to help silence the passage of anyone wandering by high traffic areas.

He noted the high tech recording devices spread out to capture sound and video in this passageway. The web cameras feed directly to the main frame computer for digital recording and, of course, to the closed circuit TVs and the monitoring booth with 126 screens. Many different high traffic areas of the castle were covered. All the guest rooms were most thoroughly covered. This set up made the White House tape bank from the Nixon years look amateur. Selected tapes were stored off site in a vault for future use. The system was used, but only with carefully selected targets. When a sale came up the background setting was changed so the receiver would never know where it was recorded. The results would never be used in a court of law.

Charlie absentmindedly found himself checking he feeds and the wall monitors in the passageway. Everything seemed to be in working order. He took the winding stone stairway down to the wine cellar. He could have exited at ten different locations or several other passageways, but went all the way down. Quickly checking the monitors for sound and video measurements. He could tell there was no sound and no one had even been recorded going downstairs within the past 10 hours. He pressed a stud and a half section bank of wine racks in the commercial section quietly pushed away from the wall allowing Charlie to enter the owners' wine cellar. The floor was solid, shining oak, polished to a glistening shine. This entire cellar was empty of people. The quiet was sublime. There were meeting rooms here too. He searched for a few minutes, grabbed a bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape '68 and climbed the stairs toward the den. As he climbed the stairs, he ran his hand along the solid banisters of a beautiful ash so delicately inlaid with various designs and lightly stained. He loved the Castle. The hotel people had gorgeously retrofitted it and only strategic touches were needed when they had purchased it. The hotel people had added only limited security video/voice for their needs. Charlie chuckled. The hotel people would be fascinated by the additional security. He made a mental note to check with the corporate security division.

Carrying the bottle into the den, by the normal route, he strolled over to the wet bar, found the wine opener, and began the anticipatory process of opening the bottle. First, he positioned the corkscrew in the middle of the cork. Then with careful, deft twists, he spun the edge downward until he could see it edge beneath the cork stopper. At that point, he began to gently pull it until it was at the lip. He wiggled it from there, finally pulling it free. He set the cork aside, pulled out a Waterford crystal wineglass and went over to the desk for a few minutes to let the wine breathe. He sat, relaxed and scanned the paper for about 10 minutes, allowing the wine time. The headlines of the International Times noted an art theft here and there with no real details given, beyond the usual "authorities are investigating available leads."

And that is all they will be doing for the next several years unless someone messes up very badly.

I guess I do have to remind you. "Everything that cannot go wrong will"

Does it have to?

No. It is just a warning.

I'll keep it in mind.

Good. See that you do!

Charlie looked at his watch, nodded and leisurely walked over to the wine, sniffing first the cork, then the bottle. It appeared to be a good bottle. But then with the high tech refrigeration of the cellar, maintaining temperature and humidity at the desired 50 degrees and 40% humidity, it would. [lol RESEARCH]

He poured the rich dark wine into the Waterford, gently, slowly, with tender care to the half -way point, swirled it gently, sniffed, sighed and sipped.

Ahhh what lovely stuff.

Yes, indeed. A fine wine can be better than human company!

Charlie smiled. So true. So very true.

Are you ready for today's meeting? The new investors?

No! Where did I miss that one?

Mmmm I think you had better talk to Sarah and Avram.

Ok. And just when I thought I was getting a handle on things…too.

Charlie rubbed his mustache absentmindedly, picked up the phone, dialed Avram's extension, which would transfer to his cell phone or even to the castle specific walkie-talkies, if he was out and about the grounds.

This tech is getting ridiculous, he thought bemusedly. It took a few rings before Avram answered.

"Yes, Charlie?"

"Can you and Sarah join me in the den?"

"Certainly"

"Excellent. I have a lovely Chateau du Pape waiting. Bring the details on today's meeting, please."

"You got it! See you in ten. I am in the town, will have to contact Sarah, then join you both."

"That will work very nicely. Thank you."

No problem, bye"

Charlie hung up the phone, wondering what he would be doing next. He noted that there were a few meetings written on his calendar. Today it only said "more investors." It was in his handwriting too. He wondered when he had written it. Tomorrow, it noted an early morning conference call with Spritz & Carl, chase down the Anasazi, Board meeting in Rome, Dinner with Karen, La Avanti 9 PM. It began t look like things were getting busy. He turned the page. Meeting upstairs 7 PM, was the only item. The next day, Thursday noted "shopping" with a smiley face. What's with that? He scanned the rest of the month. After seven days the calendar was blank. It looked like whatever he was doing would end soon. The last entry only said "party!"

Sarah entered the room first. She was a vision of loveliness. The long hair was just fantastic, Charlie decided. Her outfit was fantastic. Everything about her was fantastic. The pearl gray frock was certainly a designer one. The dress was stunning in its simplicity; the lines flattered what did not need flattering. Her smiling face and sheaf of notes indicated they had a lot to cover. Avram was only two steps behind her. Avram was dressed in a classic double-breasted suit, with a British striped college tie, white shirt and handkerchief in the suit coat pocket. He looked very secretarial and official. I indicated the chairs, inquired about wine, poured them both a glass, and sat behind the desk.

Ok guys, what's on the agenda for today?

Avram smiled and gestured to Sarah with his left thumb, while swirling the wine gently in this right hand.

He savored the color and bouquet of the wine, before tasting. Sarah just tipped the glass up and drained the wine. "Nice stuff": she laughed, knowingly blowing the regal effect of her clothing and coiffeur. Both men chuckled, nodded in agreement and continued enjoying the wine. She poured another glass, sipping genteelly this time, and settled back into the ornate leather chair sighing in delighted contentment.

"The meeting this afternoon is with a new customer. It looks like we are breaking into the government market now."

"Yes," Avram added enthusiastically, our new information service will be a nice paying proposition and should pay some additional security dividends."

"Angelo said we would," Charlie mused. " It's just happening faster than I expected."

"Not a problem, sweetie." Sarah's eyes sparkled. The team is ready, the security sound, and Abdul is actually happy!"

I laughed. "Its worth it just for that alone, though I'll believe that when I see it."

I sipped the wine, savoring the moment. "Do you have the file, Sarah?"

"Certainly, You have to be prepared." She handed me a file with about 25 pages.

I quickly scanned it.

Avram reinforced my quick evaluation. "All the basics are there. We vetted the customer and her request."

"Looks good," I nodded. "I like the profitability aspect and the fact that we can resell data."

There were still two hours to prepare for the meeting this afternoon, and none of the group felt rushed. Sitting with good company and enjoying the sybaritic satisfaction of a good wine was all that any of them desired at this point of the morning. This afternoon would be for business.

The Kitchen

François moved comfortably around the expansive kitchen. The kitchen was all wood, porcelain and stainless steel. It blended the old with the new in a state of the art look and feel. It was all any devoted cook could desire. Every new useful tech item was available, in the next room or by a quick phone call. The Hotel management, the previous owners, had loaded the kitchen with all the classic needs met. There were more than a few items that were used for show and special presentations. Presentation was important for any business, especially restaurants. A quality presentation made simple fare into quality. Superior food and recipes coupled with a quality presentation led to a five star rating.

Today's lunch was going to be a nice surprise. François soaked the beans overnight, and would put them on to cook at precisely 10 am. The meat was specially ground from prime rib and smelled perfect in its current raw state. François gathered up the spices and vegetables he would need. He snatched them as his eyes found them, then returned to gather the others. The fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and chive, fresh garlic and green onions all jumped to hand. He had to search for the peppers. He found them, their names subdivided, under peppers. He was delighted that they still had jalepeños and jabañeros flown in from Mexico, he was also pleased there were the three kinds of beans he needed: small red beans, black beans, and light red kidney beans. He paused looking carefully at each of these ingredients. He well knew that freshly picked ingredients were one hallmark of excellence. At the same time he mused, powder works very well and reduces both cost and preparation time in many cases. Setting those fresh vegetables to the side, he opened the huge handcrafted cabinet and ran his finger down the alphabetically organized dry spice cabinet. He quickly removed the spices he would need, one by one, and placed them upon the counter beside the cooking cauldron. In the pantry there was a small white refrigerator for fresh spices. He refreshed his memory of what was there.

He smiled at the shining pans and looked forward to the expressions of the rest of the group when they dug into the Chili. It was going to be both fun and comic. He looked over to the large 20 gallon cooking pot that would hold the milder version of this wonderful cold day food. Not everyone would like the fiery brew he was putting together. But all would taste that first… He chuckled as he cooked. Ah what fun life can be.

Outside, far beyond the entrance and to the right of the driveway, one of the gardeners was thinking, as he trimmed the bushes around the house. Fifty thousand dollars just to sneak someone into the house. I wonder…He smiled to himself as he continued trimming.

Chapter 18: The Grounds

The head groundskeeper looked over the gardens and grounds from high in the castle turret. He could see most of his staff busy keeping the schedule. The 150 acre grounds were as immaculate as any staff of 10 gardeners could make it. Every task was on a schedule and the place had never looked better. These guys are much more open handed than the hotel was. He pulled up his binoculars and looked down at Pietro Bonari, his most recent hire. Bonari looked tough and efficient. Not a wasted movement. He even made a picture of grace as he moved down the line of bushes next to the house. There was something just not quite right about that one. He had the proper credentials, the right references, and follow-up phone calls all supported that. Benny Greenleaf shook his leonine head. "I just cannot pinpoint it…yet. I'll figure it out," he mumbled to himself. Benny looked out over the several gardens, the long verdant expanse of grass, trees and flowers. Benny was 61, but he still had a full, if graying, head of hair that gently lapped over his collar. His tanned lined face served as a backdrop for piercing hooded, green eyes over a beak of a nose. He had begun gardening years ago, working for his father and also his grandfather after World War 2 in North Carolina. He had not felt so satisfied or complete since his very first gardening job, what was it…thirty-two years ago. Time just keeps moving on… he nodded to himself, as he began the long trip down the stairs to the personnel office... each level of the stairs had been gone over by experts, repaired, replaced or just cleaned, as needed for safety or aesthetic reasons. The stone floor was polished, yet held the steps well. It felt firm and solid as he descended. The railing was old in places and repaired in others. The bars on the openings that were big enough to crawl out of were newer. He glanced out of each one as he passed them on his trip down. Through several he could see his workers, giving a full day of effort in maintaining the beauty of the manse.

Benny wandered over to see Abdul. In the personnel office he filled out the request, chatted with Abdul briefly.

"Dangnabit," he shook his head, "I'm gonna have to take time to do emails tonight, or first thing tomorrow." He sighed heavily, "I was hoping just getting rid of the junk, would keep me free for a couple of days!" Abdul laughed warmly, "Not to be!"

Benny smiled. "I know a little bit about that. I have correspondence with gardeners around the world. We often trade secrets. Schedules, training ideas and gardening hints and supply notes."

Abdul nodded distracted. Abdul had listened carefully and reviewed the request. A phone call had interrupted. His computer had just beeped and his secretary then came in with a load of letters. Abdul looked up from the request understanding what Benny needed. "Thank you for bringing this to our attention, we should have results within a week."

Benny laughed to himself as he returned to his office. A most satisfying morning.

 

Chapter 19: The Science Side

Our factory was located on a secluded island purchased for the privacy and security that it alone could provide. We were fortunate that we had started with a small independent scientific Institute. The entire plan would have been a non-starter otherwise. The institute, L'institute physique des technologies scientifique Suisse du Braun, or simply Braun Institute, was of Swiss origin with untraceable ownership. It was one of several multi-national holding companies held by others in a forest of holding companies designed to give researchers headaches. Braun had one lab designated for our use, the vingt-deu, lab 22, had a single focus, the creation or duplication of whatever we needed. The lab could draw on all the company resources, and remained secret within the organization, itself. We were scheduled to go public in only three years with our outstanding research discoveries that would effectively change the world. The complicated business structure would be vastly simplified when it was sold to a small group of investors. The timing was based on careful research, some psychi-chotic predictions and the current state of world affairs. The release date changed every year. We thoroughly expected that one of these years, the small committee would release a one word statement saying, "now." The current forecast, the three year date, was set when the US declared war on terrorism in 2003 and invaded Iraq. We felt the fewer terrorists available, the better. Since the programs initial success on September 11, 2001, the first release was expected in 60 days. More reliable heads dominated, since the technology was barely tested. The sounds of war and world government possibilities also stirred the pot, resulting in an immediate rescheduling. We wanted a lot of success practice, testing and success before we presented it to the world. Lots of hints and suggestive possibilities. Introduce some of the movers and shakers in the institute. Located between Lausanne, Switzerland and Geneva, France?

The Science Adventure

Braun was exploring many possibilities based on quantum mechanics, nanotechnology and science fiction. They looked and evaluated time travel, cloning, and multiple other esoteric uses of the science side. Many of the researchers were star wars and star trek fans. The two technologies provided the first glimpse of what could be done.

Tea with Lemon

Charlie goes to Russia. OMG a ton more research!

The Russian Mafia buys in

 

 

New York, New York

In New York, it was a bright sunny day. Even the pollution seemed to be resting. "The Big Apple" This term became a common one when Morning Telegraph reporter, John J. Fitz Gerald, made use of it during the 1920s while writing about the city's racetracks. He may have stolen it from African American stable hands in New Orleans in 1921. The term was popularized among African American jazz musicians in the 1930s, who came to regard New York, and particularly Harlem, as the capital city of jazz The modern use of the phrase comes from the publicity campaign developed in 1971 by the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He passed by Central Park on his way in that morning, diversionary routes for security purposes. Central Park is 843 acres and one of the world’s most famous parks and known least for its green spaces. Yet the park has 590 species of shrubs, 815 species of perennial and alpine plants, lakes, freshwater ponds, pools, meadows, small rock outcroppings, grassy hills and forest. There are a great many birds, a wildlife center and the Tsch Children’s Zoo. There are the model boat pond, a pleasant carousel and, of all things, a Castle, tucked into this amazing park.

The office was modern. Glass and steel. And high in the sky, too, on the eightieth floor of XXXX. Salizar rubbed his tweed professor suit with his hands, took out his pipe and began to fill it. He paused, searching his pockets for his lighter. He found it where it was supposed to be, on his desk, beside the ashtray. He leaned back in his chair and began to suck the flame into his pipe. After it was going nicely, he learned forward and began to scan his notes lying in front of him on the desk. There was a knock on the office door.

Salizar looked up. "Come in."

He covered his notes with a folder as Sharri came in. She looked serious.

"Here. This just came over the wire."

Sal looked at the fax... "Looks as if someone…"

"Yes," Sharri stated flatly. "There is much more going on than the authorities have put together."

Sal nodded. He reached for the phone.

"Wait, you really should read my summary, the second page first."

Sal read it. Sharri stood there waiting, twisting her raven black hair around her index finger with little patience, though she knew there was nothing more she could do until he finished. The white silk blouse and the black pearl necklace resting there set off her satin black Dior suit.

Sal looked up smiling. "Good job of pulling this together succinctly! This is an outstanding summary of a diverse set of really strange activities."

"Thank you. It wasn't easy."

"I know. So many different sources contributed to the report. It is difficult to separate them out. Just getting the confirmations from the dubious sources involved so many people, computers and hours. The president will be impressed."

"The president, but...but..."

"Yeah, you didn't know. Shush. He touched her lips with one finger, smiling up at her shocked shining, eager eyes.

"This information is vital. It may even affect national security, I cannot be sure…You can speak now, " he guffawed.

"The president…he will read this report?"

"Yup. He'll read your exact words, see your name and ask me 'who the hell wrote this?' And I'll tell him."

She looked at Sal in awe, repeating "the president...

Sal picked up the phone and dialed the extension. It was picked up, on the first ring. It was only a mechanical device.

"Yes?" The well modulated recorded voice said.

"SACRED." Sal stated.

"One moment" replied the voice, as the computer checked and cross-checked data.

After a moments pause, the computer added, "I'll put you through."

"Hello, Strather here."

"Sal, We have a go on SACRED."

"Let's meet"

"Fine. 30 minutes?"

"That will work."

"I'm bringing the researcher"

"Clearances? Is the researcher cleared that high?

"Mmm slight problem… I think." He made another quiet comment.

"All right, I'll upgrade her."

A laugh was all that was heard followed by a click, as the phone receiver was calmly set back down in the cradle.

Sal made another call, going through a long string of formalities. He sighed in relief when he hung up. He got up went to the copier and ran the two pages off, then pointed to the red books stacked on his desk. "Here, Sharri you take five, I'll take five. Place the two pages in front."

Sharri nodded, glad to have something easy to do.

In a few moments it was done. Sal turned to Sharri, and told her, "Grab your coat."

Sal got up went to the closet, grabbed his overcoat, put it back, turned to Sharri and said "I'm good to go. You ready?"

Sharri watched as Sal picked up the ten 200 page research reports, nodded and they left the office.

Sal closed the door, locked it, set the silent alarm and they went downstairs on the elevator. The ride was smooth as always, and they exited in the subterranean garage, grabbed the brown company Ford Escort and headed out to the embassy, along embassy row. They arrived without incident. The ride up gave Sal time to explain to Sharri, just who they were meeting, and could have provided a couple of minutes for her to collect herself. He didn't explain. She would be stunned. She was moving into far higher circles than she could have expected this early in her chosen career.

As they entered the building they checked in at security, went through two additional checks, then were finally directed toward an express elevator with one button for the top floor. Sal gestured with a smile and the bemused Sharri pushed it. They arrived at the seventy-sixth floor in 10 seconds. Both felt a bit out of sorts as the elevator rushed to a stop. They looked a little grim and a touch green to each other, forcing smiles. They exited to discover another guard point. After passing the courtesies there, it was grand entrance time. Sharri preceded Sal, and her eyes grew wide. Sitting at the long aged oak meeting table were The President of the United States, The Secretaries of State and Defense and the Directors of the CIA and FBI.

"Welcome Ms. Reese," said POTUS, "Good to see you Sal."

"Mr. President, gentlemen," Sharri replied, looking only a little bit like a stunned gawker.

Sal grinned, "Hi George, guys" and grabbed Sharri's elbow to hold her up. He guided her to an open chair and sat down beside her.

"This is Sharri Reese, our newest addition. You have all read her file?" He looked around at the nods. "Good then I will avoid the usual introductions. Sharri knows each of you from her work on Capitol Hill, though you have not formally met her before."

Sal handed out copies of the report to each man.

"What she has here today is going to create some waves and change how we have been approaching SACRED."

****

A New Beginning

Eight years ago…

October, London East Side

Charlie wandered out of the bar. He was pretty drunk, he knew. Life just wasn't going as planned. His job was gone, his wife and children dead, and that son of a bitch riding high. Oh Sarah…Life wasn't even close to fair. After all that effort to end up a damn victim. He shook his head in disgust. What to do? What to do? It ate at him like a cancerous acid, turning his stomach. He stumbled past the ally, was almost past it when he heard,

"Cut the shit and give me your damn money"

Ok, of course. Just stay calm, there is no need to be violent

"Oh yeah?" Mean laughter followed. "Why not?"

"You're making the score," the other voice soothed with no hint of desperation. "You picked the mark, and here's the money."

"Well, mebbe I just don't like your looks," the laughter took on an edge of hysteria.

Angelo wiped his bloody lip, looked into the eyes of his attacker and saw death.

The man stuffed the wallet and watch into his coat pocket watching his victim with malicious pleasure. Its such fun to play with these damn rich fools, but nowhere as satisfying as cutting them He brought up the knife

"Hey," a drunken voice from the front of the alley broke in, "What's going on?"

The attacker half-turned toward the voice, and Angelo reacted. Quickly tossing his cane up through his right hand, until he grasped it well down the handle, he swung the cane with as much power as he could bring to it. The fancy silver headed cane slashed through the air, the handle's sharp edge smashing into the side of the killer's head. The man collapsed.

"Nothing now," Angelo responded, relief evident in his voice. "Thanks for hollering." Angelo checked the man. He was dead. Good, this one was nasty…something good for the world.

Charlie stumbled, staggering into the mouth of the ally, sagging against the wall near some trashcans. As he slid down the wall, he muttered "good, good."

Swiftly Angelo retrieved his wallet and watch, frisked the man, found a wallet which he added to his pocket. He took the switchblade, added that and paused. He took out his handkerchief, wiped the head of the cane, studied it a moment more, wiped it again with a little smile of satisfaction. He set it down propping it against a large box and calmly adjusted his tie, brushed his coat with his hands, picked up the cane and walked out of the alley. As he passed the stranger who had saved his life, he stopped. He looked over the man passed out against the wall, debated a moment, shrugged and reached over shaking him.

"Huh? Wha?" Charlie brushed at the hands shaking him, still out of it.

"Come on, old boy. You need to get up. Here, let me help you." Powerful hands pulled him to his feet.

"Ok, ok. Gimme a moment, huh?"

"Certainly" Angelo chuckled. He made sure that the man was standing, put his left hand around Charlie's waist and moved slowly out of the ally. Angelo gently moved him forward. They staggered together through the dark streets. The low fog was nor bad for October. Angelo guided him toward the Hotel. Conversation was useless at this point. Truly timing is everything. The mugger, if he was a mugger, wasn't giving me any openings. They arrived at the Stratford in just a few minutes. Angelo got the man upstairs, put him to bed and went to the phone. First he called Glynnis.

"Hello? Yawned a sultry voice.

"Glynnis?"

"Yes", Glynnis started to wake up. "Angelo? Is something wrong?"

"Nothing to worry about, but I need you to make some calls."

"Of course. What do you need?"

Angelo fumbled the wallet. I need you to get me all you can on Charlie Payton from Chicago." He gave her the driver's license and social security numbers.

"All right." Glynnis looked at the clock beside her bed. She calculated times and smiled. "I can have that for you in about 6 hours I think. I'll call you at the hotel?"

"That would be wonderful. Thanks."

"Do you want me to messenger the faxes?"

"No, if he looks clean, bring them over. If he looks dirty, call me."

"All right. Do you want to do a…?"

"Yes, but I'll handle that from here."

"Talk to you in the morning, one way or the other. Do try to get some sleep, won't you?"

Angelo chuckled. "Why should tonight be different from any other night? There are things to be done. I'll sleep later."

There was a slight petulance in the responding giggle from Glynnis

Angelo hung up after she did.

He dragged his tired body from the chair, opened up his suitcase and pulled out a small device. It was about 4 inches by 6 inches, black and had an indented pad in the middle. He turned it on, set it on the bed and then went to his laptop sitting on the desk. Angelo turned that on. While he was there, he flipped the switch to the small printer. Opening the computer case, he took out a silver cord that was tied with a black wire. He unwrapped it and took just another moment to string the wire to connect the two devices. He saw that the computer was now online and nodded in satisfaction, and then went back to the bed. He looked down at the disheveled drunk and wondered what his story would be. I'll know soon enough. He picked up the right hand and pressed the fingers to the black box, scanning each one until he heard a beep.

Angelo returned to the phone and made several more calls. The doctor showed up an hour later. He examined Angelo, stitching the knife cut on his arm, applying ointment to the small slice on his neck. He gave Angelo a set of antibiotics and the usual twice daily, for 10 days instructions. The he checked out the sleeping drunk. "I'd have to do a more thorough check up to give you more than impressions."

"That's fine Richard. I just need what you can tell me."

"All right. I'll skip some details you can get from his identification, like Caucasian male, late twenties. This man is a drunk. His clothes stink. I would guess he has worn them…probably three days constantly. He's even been sleeping in them. He has given up on bathing, shaving and hair cuts. He may have even given up on eating and could be living out of a bottle. Physically, he hasn't been at it too long. I would guess a month of serious drinking. He is just starting this life style. He appears a little run down, sleeps only when he passes out, but is at least reasonably healthy so far. Another six months and he will be a wreck or dead."

Angelo smiled at the doctor. "Thanks for the confirmation, Richard. Just add it to our account."

"Of course, Angelo. Anything else?"

"No, that will do for now. Can you schedule him for a checkup?"

I believe so. Call my office and schedule a time. I'll work him in, if I have to do that. Charlene knows you, so just tell her it is a special."

"Thanks again Richard. Give my love to Emily."

"I certainly will. She misses you. We both do."

****

Charlie's Story

I'm no perfect person. And anyone who comes across that they are is a liar, deceiver and has very effectively crafted an image. People are just people. Everywhere in the world that are just that, no more. They may have money, power, weapons, skills or advisors who run their lives. There are people in this world who see me as stupid, naïve, dangerous, criminal, evil, a bad influence, vain and worse. They do not know who I am, but then they do. And so I am. I am all those terrible things because is their reality. My reality is different. I became aware of these discrepancies as a teen and turned to acting. I realized I had to identify how people saw other people and craft my image. It took years. I discovered that you can only do so much. Over a short period of time, you can convince people that you are whatever you want to be. People are gullible and want to believe. Over the long haul-say a life-it doesn't matter what you do, people will believe whatever they choose. Look at Ed Muskie who lost a presidency because he was filmed and publicized as crying. The reality doesn't matter. One image can supersede a lifetime of effort. Look at Howard Dean, one time appearing like he was yelling cost him a presidency. Then of course there are actual deeds that can come out into the press. It is a kind of world view, I guess. People have to be perfect or present themselves that way. It doesn't work. As I studied the matter at Oxford, I found that people have their own secret agendas. Those agendas color how they see the world. Those who want to believe, will. Those who don't want to believe are nearly impossible to convince. However, there is a way. It doesn't work for long, but it will buy you entrée. It's simple. You find ways to give them what they want. You tap into their needs, wants, dreams, hopes or fears. Then you can become anyone, anything, and make your move. T that point, timing becomes everything. Politicians use it every day. They time the release of speeches, news releases, public events, and reports. The only wild card is "other news." On slow days they make the news. They craft it and create history. On bad days they are lost in the news. Such is public life.

People want to use you, abuse you and lose you. Politicians and those people we call movers and shakers know this and use it to their advantage. So did I, until Sarah and my son died. After that I didn't care. I thumbed my nose at the world and myself. I took to the bottle and tried very hard to forget everything. I just couldn't get past the pain. No, I didn't want to get past the pain. I held it close, I wallowed in it and blamed the world for it. That is something entirely different. However pain-real or imagined- is the basis of survival. It is also the mental basis for mental illness, crime, and progress. People respond to pain differently. They give in to it, they fight it, they run from it, or they use it to achieve goals. Pain drives our world. And we choose our response to it. All of the negative emotions and actions come from pain: fear and anger are the place all evil springs from to attack our world. Each person is an island. There are over six billion inner worlds on our earth. No one really knows what reality is. People live in their fantasies and beliefs venturing out, now and then, to touch upon other worlds. To touch upon other realities. The game is figuring out what rules you have to follow, which ones you have to appear to follow, and what rules you can ignore. People often only appear to lie. It is an appearance because they are presenting their reality, their beliefs, their hard earned truths to a different reality. The Seven deadlies: Pride, envy, lust gluttony, anger, greed and sloth all come from pain. They are merely responses. They are also the springboard for every intentional evil that we experience.

As a child I was considered nice, thoughtful, bright, helpful and capable. It took me years to figure out why. Capable was the easy one. If I had an assignment or job, I got it done. That is all it takes. For the others, I discovered that if I saw a need and filled it I was thoughtful and helpful. If I did things for people without expecting a quid pro quo, I was nice.

I also found out how to be interfering, a smart-ass, "above himself", a danger and a threat too. By giving people what the needed, but did not want. I learned how to use that too, by the time I started graduate school. Give people what they want and you are great. So I did. It wasn't very satisfying at times. It created conflicts because too often people wanted different conflicting emotions, perspectives or things. Like images, you cannot be all things to all people for very long. That lie gets discovered very fast. Limited contact will allow that lie to flourish. We judge people by our own personal contact. Therefore it follows if all those contacts are scripted, staged, and managed you can become whoever you want to be. Now you know my reality.

 

"Charlie, What would you do with a million dollars?" Angelo speared a piece of broccoli and began to chew it. The question was laid on the table. I looked at him, astonished, wondering where the hell this conversation was going. "Well, if you asked me last week, I would have said drink myself to death at a great hotel."

"Yes, I imagine you would have." He looked over the Sevres place settings at his club, black eyes glinting, "What about today?"

"Today I would say, "make some money."

"Why?"

"I feel like I have just come out of a bad dream. My response to having my life shattered by death was inexcusable, understandable, but inexcusable."

"There is more you are not saying."

"Yes, " I sighed, "there is."

"Come on lad, tell me."

"All right, " I gave in. I guess it was the people pleaser need in me. "I discovered that the man who ran down my wife and child was a very rich medical doctor who managed to adjust history, so he was the injured party. I felt helpless. Everybody told me there was nothing to be done, just bury them and get on with life."

"That's not bad advice. Too often there is nothing reasonable that can be done."

I looked hard at Angelo. "I don't want reasonable. I want justice."

He quirked a graying eyebrow at me. " Is it justice or revenge?"

"Same difference, " I replied.

"How would you do it?"

I laughed, bitterly, looking down at my plate. "I don't have a single idea. There is just a satisfying picture of him dead."

Angelo nodded, seemingly changing the subject. "How would you make money?"

"I think I would start a business and expand."

"Go on"

I gave him a puzzled look. "Ok, mid you, I'm just thinking out loud, I don't have a plan." I leaned back in my chair and looked at the incredible chandelier in the center of the dining room, my gaze shifting to some other world. Somewhere out of my dreams the plan formed. "I would build an interconnected business structure that would provide services, help people, coordinate other services, sell dreams and ways to make them real."

"Ah Charlie, you do have a dream!"

"Yes," I smiled shyly. "I do."

"How would you do it? What kinds of businesses, I mean."

I would start with a company that is failing. It doesn't matter where or what, as long as it has possibility." I paused, thinking hard. By possibility, I man able to expand, increase a market, and grow large. Then I would start a consulting business, as the second step. The third step would be to provide a careful plan to sell and market, adding to the scams you see everywhere, the one key needed for real success. I would begin by controlling the ventures myself, at least on paper, and owning either part or all under other names."

"And what would you add?"

"The people, the advisors," I explained carefully, " to make it happen. You see most people have to learn how to be successful. There are just too many games in the world. The average businessman only makes 4 decisions out of 10 correctly, but he chooses the important four decisions without error. The failed businessman doesn't see what is important. He or she may make 9 out of 10 decisions correctly, but misses on the one that leads to failure. Then, there are those people out there with the skills, but neither the attitude, backing, nor creativity to make it happen in their lives…" I looked up. Those are the people I would target." Angelo was watching me with interest and a big smile on his face.

"What would come next?"

How the hell did he know there was more? "I would set up an investment company, completely separate, and at the time I started my first business. It would have two points of focus, to find failing companies for takeover and to make money on the world markets."

"And then?" he prodded.

"I would set up a holding company to control everything from soup to nuts. That would be mine, and it would expand over time to provide me the power to get the son of a bitch who killed my wife and child."

Do you begin to understand what I mean by secret agendas? I had absolutely no idea that part of me held this grand devious psychotic plan to achieve…justice.

Angelo nodded again, his slightly graying hair shifting with the movement. "I see. How long do you think it would take you to achieve all this?"

"Six years, " I replied without hesitation. I was surprised that I was certain of the timeline. Damn, my subconscious must be one hell of a planner.

 

If ever you want to see who people really are give them one million dollars and watch what they do.

That's what Angelo did to me.

 

 

It was a test. I guess I passed it, because we have been together ever since.

Death Comes to Visit

Last year

Chicago

We were ready for the big time. This was to be our first multi-millions sale. So far we had been working up the ladder to the big time. We had moved from thousands to hundreds of thousands to a million. This sale represented ten million dollars. We were concerned because while dealing with several unsavory types, this was our first known mobster. Up to now, we had played the experts, sold amazing stuff-reproductions- cheaply. Now we were marketing it as the real stuff to a private collector. We liked the robbing the hood image. Given the danger, we had to be extra careful. Selling this item could get someone killed. Therefore we approached it with more research and planning. Our sale was to Jimmy "Big Daddy" James, a black mobster from Chi town. He was into drugs, prostitution, numbers, and all the usual stereotypical stuff. James was a stout man, affecting the Jamaican pattern of speech, dreadlocks and always meeting us with three bodyguards and an insolent manner. The close of the sale was set for midnight at a mansion we had rented for the purpose of our Chicago operation.

Avram held Sarah tenderly in his arms. She was sobbing. "How could it go so wrong?"

"I don't know, Sarah. He looked at her helplessly. "We blew it. We completely blew it and Charlie paid the price."

They were standing in the office of the rented mansion on XXX street. Charlie was sprawled on the floor with four bullet holes in his chest and blood everywhere. There was no doubt that he was dead.