Pearl of Great Price
By Michael Jones
I was belly to the bar when my Opposite Number sidled up and ordered vodka. I spoke to my birdbath-sized martini and recited name, rank and serial number. He didn’t laugh.
I am an executive at the World Bank in Brussels: a real banker and a fake alcoholic. I never spill a glass, but move slowly to grasp it. I speak loudly sometimes, enunciating but not sluring. I stand slowly, but don’t stagger. Subtlety sells chronic inebriation. By some quirk I can’t get drunk, though my liver may kill me someday. It would be my sacrifice for God and Country. Let others tipple and spill their guts. I glean intelligence from foes and friends. East meets West in financial Belgium.
I recognized Vladimir Sikorsky from photographs. Like me he was a spy without diplomatic cover: barefoot. People in the clandestine service have counterparts: opposite numbers. We know each other’s faces and dossiers but we never meet. Macy’s does not tell Gimbels.
“We call you the Gray Ghost,” he said. He rolled the R.
“Goodbye,” I said and endeavored to rise.
“Drop the act,” he said. “You’re sober as a judge.
“I want to swim the Volga.,” he said, “and I bear gifts.” Jargon for defection and information. He put a memory stick on the bar, covering it with his palm.
Was this a bona fide offer or cheese for a trap? His teeth were straight and gleaming white. His smile was feral, the reason for his cryptonym: Grins. He adjusted an Armani tie as he stood.
“I will pray at the Cathedral tomorrow.” Did he spell that p-r-a-y or p-r-e-y? “An hour before closing.”
He was rushing us. Not good. Eighteen hours for Forensics to examine the document and for Analysis to investigate its contents. I’d be debriefing all-night. No sleep for anybody.
I sat next to Grins, incense in my nostrils. “What do you have and what do you want?” I asked.
“I have pearls of great price: five thumb drives. You get one every month. For each pearl, $100,000 deposited in the Caymans. For the last thumb drive give me a passport, birth certificate and Boston driver’s license in addition.”
“And a Ferrari, right?”
“Listen, trust but verify. You have a month to look over the data. What’s to lose?
“One hundred grand,” I said, slipping the drive into my pocket.
He was right. The thumb drive was a pearl of great price… five-hundred gigs of buried treasure. I never learned the contents, of course. Need-to-know.
Grins didn’t show up for the exchange a month later. He also missed our backup rendezvous. Through channels, the Gendarmerie informed us that a financier had been found dead. His name was flagged for notification to C.I.A. I viewed the body to make sure, the smell of rot an assault. Vladamir Sikorsky had a twenty-two caliber slug in his brain and his beautiful teeth were knocked out. I wonder how we will get our money back?