Bangkok – Friday, Feb. 21, 6:30 p.m. local time (6:30 a.m. EST in DC`)
Giovanni finished packing and called his car service for a ride to the airport. The flight through Tokyo didn’t leave until late. Earlier in the day, he had informed his employees he needed to fly to the States at sudden notice to court a heavy-hitting client, who would simply not be satisfied without a face-to-face meeting. The cover story, which reflected the reality of his company, Cutting Edge Forex, was plausible.
Giovanni picked up his decanter and drained what remained of the vodka into his other tumbler. The broken one from the previous day still lay on the floor in a pile of shards with the picture-frame glass. He didn’t care. Evy’s face haunted him. He saw her holding the tumbler up to her lips, licking the edge of the glass, and smiling.
Once more, he sat down on the couch, opened the laptop and scrolled through his files. He clicked on another video that he’d made for Mr. Gold. They were in a restaurant again. This time the angle showed both of their faces from the side.
“The embezzled funds flow directly into the pockets of the arms manufacturers and dealers. The weapons end up with the rebels,” Giovanni said.
“And these rebel groups want the weapons for what?” Evy asked.
“Venture a guess.”
Evy tipped her head to the left. “Could have to do with the drug trade, the poppies—or the competition for natural resources—natural gas, minerals, gems. Maybe timber,” she said, pausing. “But in this case, there’s something more. Control, probably. It’s not only about the goose that lays the golden eggs, is it? You’re talking about sovereignty.”
“I can see why Charles recommended you,” Giovanni said.
“But why do you care? I mean, what does the CIA care if some region claims more control in that part of the world? Maybe that’s even good for the US—it surely would piss off China.”
Giovanni winced. “No, aggravating China is never good. And instability in the region would be detrimental all around,” he said.
Giovanni remembered trying to sound professorial.
“Getting back to the Bank,” Evy continued. “Who is in charge of the transfers? I mean, this ‘funneling’ can’t happen all by itself. Is Channarong in on it?”
“The corruption is widespread, which brings me to another reason why we need you, in particular, why you are the critical actor.”
“I am the critical actor,” Evy repeated.
“Yes, you are critical.”
“Evy, forgive me—but you are ‘low’ enough that we know you are not involved, and yet ‘high’ enough that you have access to the people and the material. You are intelligent and knowledgeable. You work for an economist in the division, and you know the other people too. You are perfect for this contract.”
“Why not ask Channarong’s assistant, my friend Sara? She’s in a position to do this too.”
“Your psychological profile fits for us. But there are other reasons too. Your boss isn’t in the limelight, so you are under the radar.”
Watching himself with her, Giovanni almost smiled. He had admired her thoughtfulness.
“How did you figure this out?” she asked.
“Good question. We have a team focusing on international financial crimes and money laundering, and in the course of its regular operations, it detected irregular money flows. We looked into it further, and discovered this. It would have been close to impossible for the legal and accounting auditors at the Bank to pick them up. The routing is sophisticated, but the concept is not: It’s a shell game.”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ve heard of the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers, and so on?”
“You know how it is. The rich and famous, corrupt and not, they use these mechanisms—offshore accounts, tax havens, holding companies, private equity funds. Sometimes, they are within the letter of the law. Other times, loopholes are…exploited, shall we say.”
As she finished her champagne, the waiter placed red wine glasses down on the table and poured the Syrah. She picked up her glass and swirled the wine. The legs reflected the light.
“In France, they call those the tears of the wine,” he said.
“Sounds better than legs,” she replied, allowing her stare at him to linger.
He proposed a toast to Evy’s future. She clinked his glass and drank slowly.
Giovanni recalled his tactics from that precise moment, which he had sensed was pivotal: She needs space to make up her mind. If I push too hard, she will never help. Though battling both sexism and racism, she has still managed to earn impeccable credentials. Nevertheless, she remains underappreciated in her job, so recognition of her intelligence and professional worth will be highly satisfying. She is motivated by “doing the right thing.” She doesn’t care about her own debt, but she wants to relieve her parents of financial woes. He had calculated when to recap.
“Evy,” he said. “With your Ivy League debts paid off, you wouldn’t be beholden to this paycheck. You wouldn’t be stuck in a windowless interior space at a giant bureaucracy in DC. And you wouldn’t be a financial burden to your parents. You would be free, free to take any social justice warrior job you wanted—and the best part is, you would get all this for telling the truth.”
“OK,” she said. “I’ll do it.”
When the video ended, Giovanni sat staring at the blue screen. He had been thrilled, when she had accepted the contract—a mixture of pride at his spycraft and intense arousal. That dinner had marked the start of their affair as well. Sex was all part of the game. Mr. Gold had told him in no uncertain terms to exploit that angle to their benefit. And Giovanni had assumed that part would be easy—success in the bedroom was hardly new to him. His own feelings had never entered the calculus.
Now, Giovanni’s mind whirled like a carousel again—Mr. Gold’s instructions, images of Evy, mundane logistics—around and around. He walked over to the windows and looked down. People were skittering about, scavenging materials at the enormous demolition site of an old embassy compound. So far below, the figures looked tiny, but he could see they were wearing gloves and masks to protect against the toxins and dust. Some had wheelbarrows. They had apparently driven there in a van, which they were loading. Did they find scrap metal or something else? What could they earn? They seemed so far away, so different, and yet
Giovanni wondered the same thing about all of them. Were they the masters of their own fate or pawns in a game?
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