Bangkok – Monday, Feb. 24, 7:30 a.m. local time (7:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 23 in DC)
Despite the warm breeze, Mr. Gold shuddered as he waited on bench number twenty-three near the lake in King Rama IX Botanical Garden. Morning joggers trotted down the sandy paths. The spire of the park’s central pavilion glimmered in the distance, and by all accounts the weather was perfect. Nevertheless, Mr. Gold broke out in a cold sweat. He lowered the brim on his baseball hat and stared at the pages of his book, a history of the U.S. Federal Reserve, but he couldn’t concentrate. Recent events reverberated inside his head—and no matter what he did, he could not cast Giovanni Salazar out.
Eventually, Mr. Diamond came jogging toward him in purple athletic shorts and a UCSB T-shirt. Nearly 80, his body was grizzled and gaunt, but also surprisingly spry. He sported a greasy, white-grey comb-over.
“Mr. Gold! What a coincidence!” Mr. Diamond said, popping up and down in front of the bench.
“If I can make it around this park, you can too,” he taunted. “What are you doing?”
“Excuse me, Mr. Diamond. I apologize, but I am a bit under the weather today. Maybe the flu,” Mr. Gold replied. “Or I would have. Now, you are in great shape. You look so young.”
“Thank you,” he said, sitting down. “Beautiful morning. Swan boats are nice for the children.”
“Yes, wonderful,” Mr. Gold affirmed, according to the code.
“Now,” Mr. Diamond said, fixing his piercing black eyes on the boats. “We must discuss your failure. You have made a serious error in judgment.”
“If you would permit me to say so, Mr. Diamond, I still believe in Mr. Salazar,” Mr. Gold interjected. “Mr. Salazar will complete the mission. I have dispatched him to Washington to salvage the operation, and he is approaching Ms. Poole’s friend to finish the job.”
“I am not talking about Mr. Salazar. I am referring to the rogue agent. You did not anticipate his action against Ms. Poole.”
“No, I did not anticipate that,” Mr. Gold said, biting his lip. His insides seethed, and he employed all his energy to appear placid. His inner dialogue screamed: I didn’t anticipate that! But neither did anybody else, apparently! How was I supposed to know? Weren’t you bigshots supposed to take care of that? Weren’t you monitoring every last shred of data? It wasn’t my fault. “I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Diamond,” he offered in an even tone. “But I’ve done everything you asked me to do, and I remain your loyal servant.” I can’t believe I’m the scapegoat! How will this affect my family? What can I do but grovel?
“Your development of Mr. Salazar was too slow. In turn, Ms. Poole was allowed to take too much time. This gave the rogue agent a chance to discover her intentions,” he said, shrugging.
“Unfortunately, your failure has landed us in this precarious position. She is dead, and the rogue agent is pulling the strings. It is unacceptable.”
“It is unacceptable,” Mr. Gold repeated.
“We cannot allow this to develop any further,” Mr. Diamond said, facing his underling directly.
“Your Mr. Salazar has two days to rectify this situation, and the exposé must be published right away.” Mr. Diamond looked back at the swan boats.
“I understand,” Mr. Gold stated. “Right away.”
“Otherwise, we institute Plan B. It is a much less desirable way to put an end to this, Mr. Gold. The risk of exposure is high. Keeping a low profile is a far superior method. However, a direct intervention may become necessary. For both of our sakes, Mr. Gold, Mr. Salazar better come through, or more than your reputation will be on the line.”
Mr. Gold nodded, sweat pouring down his temples.
Mr. Diamond stood up and with a bony hand he slapped Mr. Gold on his shoulder, American style. “Take it easy,” he said and jogged off.
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