Miami – Tuesday, Feb. 18, 7:00 a.m. EST
Liberated from the morning traffic congestion on Biscayne Boulevard, Theo van Torenmaas sped along MacArthur Causeway to his emergency meeting in Miami Beach. The top on his sports car was down. Driving into the rising sun, he wore aviator sunglasses to protect his light blue eyes and a white baseball hat on his pink bald head, which burned easily. His Swiss watch and gold necklace glittered in the morning light.
On his left, the palm trees in the median flew by. Mansions with docks lined the edges of Hibiscus and Palm Islands. Glorified sandbars, he thought. On his right, the Main Channel of the Port of Miami lurked practically level with the road, as if it might rise up and bleed over onto the highway with the next rain. Cruise ships waited for passengers along the pier. Behind them, the real icons of adventure—cranes, ships and cargo containers—formed a backdrop to one of the busiest ports in North America.
When the street light ahead turned yellow, Torenmaas gunned it, blowing past tourists in a mid-size sedan. No matter how many times he heard it, the V8 gave him a thrill. Soon, the highway arched upward over Meloy Channel, the final body of water before the barrier island that formed Miami Beach. Torenmaas peered into the marina below the bridge and admired his yacht, the “Angelfish.” At 250 feet, she represented the maximum vessel-length allowed, a jewel in the marina’s crown.
Five minutes later, Torenmaas slid into the garage of his Art Deco townhome in South Beach, a crash pad near the hotspots—for times when he didn’t want the seclusion of Key Biscayne. Listed on the National Historic Register, the place had been retrofitted with the latest fortifications and electronics, while maintaining period charm and authenticity. Torenmaas parked, jumped out and surveyed the beach clothes and bathing suits in the gear room. He kept his white polo and khaki shorts on, but switched from loafers to flip flops. He grabbed a beach towel hanging on a hook, threw it over his shoulder and marched out the side door, heading east on South Pointe Drive.
The neighborhood was still sleepy—no hip hop blaring, no partiers pulsing at the beach club. He passed a trailer that would sell tropical smoothies and gourmet tacos, starting in a couple of hours. The air smelled of salt water.
Where the road dead-ended, a thicket of sea grapes, native grasses and yucca blocked the view of the ocean. Cars were forced to U-turn, but pedestrians could trudge through the dunes to the water’s edge, or walk along a promenade. Torenmaas chose the paved path. Soon enough, the boardwalk reached its southernmost point and dumped him onto the white sand for a few hundred yards. The Atlantic Ocean came into full view—clear and turquoise, like the Caribbean Sea. South Pointe Park Pier jutted out, demarcating the entrance to the man-made channel known as Government Cut, and a container ship headed out to sea, right there next to the public park and the tourist beach.
Slogging through the sand toward the pier, Torenmaas spotted a skinny, black-haired man with creamy skin wearing white pants, a short-sleeved light blue buttoned shirt and a straw Havana Fedora. The man was eyeing two women as they jogged by.
Torenmaas walked up to him and said, “What’s the matter, jackass? Been stood up?”
“Theo! I didn’t recognize you at first. You’re, uh, tan. And you’ve gained…weight!” he laughed.
“You look like one of those wealthy Germans seeking a ‘single lady’.”
“Ever the joker,” Torenmaas said, shaking the man’s hand.
It was true that Torenmaas had put on some kilos, but Jimmy Lin knew full well that Torenmaas was Dutch, not German, and that Dutch people despised being mistaken for their prominent neighbors. Most people couldn’t tell Torenmaas’ origins, but a “d” sound when there was an English “th,” and a “g” that came out like a cough gave him away to the attuned listener.
“You are as slim and trim as ever,” Torenmaas added.
“Healthier than you!” Lin replied, smacking Torenmaas on the shoulder. “Good to see you in person.”
Torenmaas smiled with his mouth closed, like a perturbed parent. “Listen, Jimmy, let’s not discuss this on the beach. We can talk at my place. Better creature comforts. Better beverages. I could make you a cafecito.”
“I don’t need a beverage. Besides, the wind and surf will kill any attempt to record our conversation—by you or anyone else.”
“Tiny microphones and cameras are everywhere now, my friend. Satellites. Drones. You can’t hide in the public sphere anymore.”
“My team has examined this area. Where the waves roll in, it is very difficult to record.”
“So be it. You have always been quirky, Jimmy. I acquiesce in the interest of old times, but our next rendezvous will be according to my specifications.”
“We’ll see about that.”
Discussing local real estate, they eased their way toward the water’s edge. The jogger-yoga-health-nut crowd was circulating full-throttle, and a few early birds were lying in the sun. In some quarters, the two mismatched men might have seemed odd, but amid the global mix in Miami all year round, nobody looked twice as they sauntered together along the waterline.
Once they passed the first life-guard station, Lin changed the subject. “What’s this all about, Theo?”
“Do you need me to spell it out?”
“Why don’t you review the order?”
“Fine,” Torenmaas said, rattling off every item in Lin’s shipment.
“Alright,” Lin said, nodding. “It’s already in your possession?”
“Jimmy, you know I don’t keep perishables in my facilities until the last minute.”
“Not even among the coffee beans or the sugar?”
“Everything will remain in safekeeping until loading.”
“And delivery?” Lin asked.
“Same as it ever was. My friends at the port here in Miami sign off on the departure; your friends at the port there oversee the arrival. Everyone is handsomely rewarded. A four-way win,” he said. “Let’s get to my concerns.”
“You will have your money, Theo,” Lin assured him.
“That’s not it.”
“Even for you, the financing on this deal is unorthodox.”
“What’s not to like? The final payment will be in US dollars. We priced-in the forex fees and hedged against exchange rate shocks.”
Torenmaas studied the hotels and condos stretching north up the coast as far as the eye could see. “We’ve always worked well together, Jimmy. You are no fool, and I know you believe this scheme is airtight. But I don’t agree.”
“You don’t need to worry about the baht taking a nosedive.”
“I don’t give a shit about the value of the baht, Jimmy.”
“So what the hell is your problem?”
“It’s not the payment per se. It’s the origin of the money. Where is the buyer originating the funds? Normally, I am happy to feign ignorance. It protects us. But usually I can read between the lines, and it comforts me.”
“The buyer has connections in the international development community, aid agencies, NGOs. He’s ‘reallocating’, as it were.”
“A ‘reallocation’ I could have guessed. But why are you comfortable with this vague source? It’s easier to deal with the Russians!”
“You’re being paranoid, Theo.”
“I’m asking again. Who the hell is financing the buyer?”
“What difference does it make? Why should this be any different from any of our other clients?”
“Because it is. Our deals have always followed a certain pattern, a straightforward duplicity, if you will: We source and prepare goods for shipping. We transport, deliver and negotiate. We utilize holding companies and secure offshore accounts at the best private banks.”
“It’s good, Theo. This Thai bank meets our standards. It’s not on the Interpol watch list. They can handle the volume without triggering safeguards.”
“What about that shit show, Global Transparency? Maybe it’s a trap.”
“You’re having second thoughts,” Lin said, straight-faced.
“Be serious for a minute. I want to conduct this business as much as you do, Jimmy, but only if it’s not going to screw everything else up. We don’t need this anymore. We’re getting too old.”
“I hear you. I wouldn’t mind some time on the Angelfish, and that’s precisely the point. This deal will secure you and me forever, Theo.”
“That’s what the old guys always say, Jimmy, right before they’re locked up or blown to bits,” Torenmaas said, facing the Atlantic. The surf crashed.
“My people have been all over this bank. Cybersecurity checks out. All the usual routing transfers and diversions will be in place, and the payments made incrementally. None of the transactions will trip the triggers. And I have a half dozen contacts inside Thailand who can help us out, if anybody gets too curious. Let me deal with this, Theo,” Lin reiterated. “It’s all under control.”
Copyright © by Wolf Bahren. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher with “permission requests” in the subject line at email@example.com. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.