Deceive a clever wife and you will have a weasel in your lodge.
— Tilok proverb
Baptiste found himself frequenting the lab where Benoit spent her days away from jail. He admitted to himself that she was probably becoming a dangerous habit. Without re ally planning to, he was telling her every facet of the investi gation. In return she spoke openly of her knowledge about Grace Technologies and Devan Gaudet.
After having left her two hours ago, she had just called him on his cell phone. She needed to see him right away. Benoit was allowed visitors and had recently seen a staff member of le Senat, according to the log in the lobby. Baptiste was more than a little curious.
“If we want to move ahead, we need to do something radical,” she began.
“We are. I have a man inside with the American, Sam, and I’m after Georges Raval. We found his aunt Chloe. She’s a good start.”
“That won’t do it. You’ll muddle around forever.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
“We need to contact Gaudet, make a deal directly, and then I need to go to the United States and see Raval. He will see me. He won’t see you. It’s the only way to do it quickly.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Baptiste scoffed.
“Maybe. Maybe you need to open yours. See what the ad miral thinks.”
“I don’t want the admiral involved.”
“Look, he doesn’t need to know about our financial arrangements. But think about what we have to accomplish: we need to broker a deal between Gaudet and the French government to buy everything. That means getting the Chape rone technology from Raval and putting it into a Swiss escrow. Plus we need to get the molecule from Bowden and put that in the same escrow. Lastly I’ll buy from Gaudet all the Grace Technologies lab notes he stole. But we have a se rious time problem. Gaudet’s going to attack the U.S., and he isn’t waiting for us. Do you see how the admiral could facil itate much of this?” Benoit challenged.
“He’ll never let you leave France.”
“You’ve yet to ask him.”
Baptiste was still processing the details of her plan. “Even assuming you could convince Raval to give up the technology process, why the hell would we then run it through Gaudet and pay him anything?”
“First, because Gaudet already has the technology. It may be our only way, depending on whether I can find Georges. Second, your idea of how to make money is far too danger ous and it’s stupid. Selling it to a foreign government? Yourself? I will tell you what works. The French government buys from Gaudet and Gaudet gives you a cash kickback. Likewise Raval. Gaudet is a criminal so he is our shield. Believe me, you don’t want the government throwing you in jail. I can attest to its unpleasantness. Do you understand?”
“How do you work with a man like Gaudet?”
“The Swiss escrow’s the key. By agreement, the government pays directly into that account. By agreement, you get your cut, Gaudet his. Gaudet doesn’t actually touch the cash originally, so depending on him to pay you is not an issue.”
“I don’t see why Gaudet needs us at all in this scheme,” Baptiste grumbled.
“He needs me and I need the French government. I can deliver Raval and probably Bowden. There is no time for Gaudet to try to find Raval and either persuade him with money or torture, so without me there is a great probability that Gaudet will fail to deliver a sellable product to the gov ernment of France. Without me France will have a hard time knowing whether they have the real goods. I am only inter ested in a pardon-not money, so I am the glue that holds this deal together. It’s that simple.”
Baptiste merely nodded, still absorbing the structure of her proposal.
“You know what we do next? If we learn when Gaudet plans to launch his operation, this Cordyceps attack, then we use the money to sell the world markets short by buying short- term put options just before Cordyceps is launched. We take positions in London, Japan, and not much in the U.S. Use twenty different brokers. The leverage will be incredible. We don’t even need much of Gaudet’s cut to make money, you see. Say two and a half percent on two hundred million or five mil lion. It isn’t enough money that Gaudet will want to double- cross you, and with a properly set up Swiss escrow it would be nearly impossible to cheat you anyway. The market after Cordyceps will turn the five million into more than fifty million on highly leveraged accounts. This is all if we learn the precise date. I don’t even care about the money myself. You take as much as you want; I get my pardon from the French government for brokering the deal with Gaudet. Got it?”
Baptiste sat stunned and somewhat reluctant to admit that it was brilliant. It seemed to involve very low risk.
“Why does Raval cooperate?” He was fishing for any loopholes or flaws.
“To get certain money now. You have said many times, and the lawyers have said, that Grace owned the technology. Raval can’t capitalize on it because the French government now owns the assets of Grace. So why shouldn’t he want cash? I am his friend and I can persuade him.”
“And what about Bowden? How do you get him to coop erate on the Chaperone molecule?”
“Bowden will deal with the first legitimate entity with a sound plan. That’s from what I know of the man. He’s in business to help the Amazon. Show him how to do that and he’ll play ball.”
“Even if you can do all this-which seems impossible- the admiral will never allow you out of jail. It would be his neck. And he will never go for the kickback. He would have us all arrested.”
“I will take care of convincing the admiral to let me go to America.”
“The greater glory of France. My plan is the only plan that has a chance. Let’s face it. You are getting nowhere.” She was very sure of herself.
“We have a partner. Figgy Meeks. We got him into Sam’s camp. We have to pay Figgy a share.”
“That’s fine as long as it comes out of your end. Why should that bother me?”
Not for the first time Baptiste felt like a child talking to Benoit.
“You can deal with him, can’t you?” she asked.
“I think so. He’s in deep shit. He killed one of Sam’s peo ple. Although it was an accident, I doubt whether Sam would understand. So I have leverage, if need be.”
“Good. I thought you would. Now listen closely. I will tell you how to send a message from me to Gaudet. I guarantee you that once he gets it, he will contact you.”
Devan Gaudet walked into the lobby of Globe Publishing as if he belonged there.
The man at the security desk stopped him and asked for ED. He showed his passport. “Here to see?”
“Just a moment.”
Randall Crest oversaw sales to independent bookstores and to the large distributors.
“Mr. Crest doesn’t answer. The girl says he’s on vaca tion.”
“Try Osterling, head of sales.”
A pause followed while he tried the other number, fol lowed by an explanation, presumably to Osterling.
“Mr. Osterling wasn’t expecting you and can only see you for a few minutes.”
“That will be fine.”
“Ninth floor. He’ll meet you in the lobby there.”
Once inside, Gaudet did not go to the ninth floor. Instead, he went to the seventh and inquired as to the whereabouts of Sherry Montgomery and went straight to her desk.
“I have a meeting with Gene Osterling on the ninth re garding promotion of Michael Bowden’s new title to the independents. I’m Mr. Bowden’s private publicist. We’ll need to get Michael on the line. I know he’s only temporarily here in New York, and I’m afraid I’ve misplaced his number here.”
Sherry looked troubled.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” Gaudet said. “Gene’s waiting up on the ninth. Probably pacing.”
“Well,” she said, “all I have is this number. Let’s see it’s…” She went to a large calendar book. “You know, I just need to check this with Rebecca. We don’t usually give things out. But if Gene Osterling…” Sherry looked tentatively at Rebecca Toussant’s open door and the empty desk. “She’s got someone with her.” Obviously the office was large and had a separate seating area within.
As Sherry walked to the door, Gaudet flipped open her calendar book. He flipped back a day and found Michael Bowden’s name and the phone number. He flipped the calen dar shut at about the same time Sherry stopped to look back at him. A look of some concern crossed her brow as she hur ried back to her desk.
“I know this is important, but I’m afraid I can’t allow you poking around my desk. I need permission to give you the number.”
“I am most sorry. I don’t want to put you out or cause you to do something you’re unsure of. I’ll just call my housekeeper. She can probably find the note. Don’t worry about it.”
Gaudet left and took the elevator to the ninth, where he met the gray-haired Osterling.
“I’m afraid I’ve just had an emergency call. Your cohort Randall is off on vacation anyway, so let me just not disturb you and be off. I will get hold of Mr. Crest when he returns.” Osterling looked slightly nonplussed, probably wondering why he had to wait around in the lobby for ten minutes just to hear this, but he obviously wanted to get back to work more than he wanted to ask questions.
Outside on the sidewalk Gaudet dialed the number for Bowden. It turned out to be a bed-and-breakfast. The propri etor had never heard of Michael Bowden or anyone named Sam, but they were booked with a large party.
Gaudet smiled. This might turn out to be easier than he had thought.
Gaudet hobbled into the bed-and-breakfast establish ment, appearing bent by arthritis or scoliosis of the spine, his face designed to look time-worn and yet nondescript.
“I’m looking for my grandson,” he said to a young woman who appeared to be the official greeter. “He’s due here with a sizable group, anytime.”
“His name would be-“
“Oh, he’s a fine boy. If you’ve seen him once, you’ll never forget him. He’s French like me, but without the accent.”
“I’m sorry, I need a name.”
“Yes, of course. It’s Dupre but it’s a large party and he wouldn’t have made the reservation.”
“I’m sorry, without the correct name…”
“Of course. Of course. I’ll return. In the meantime I won der if I might use your bathroom.”
She showed him to a room down the first-floor hall, where he installed himself long enough to pull out a small remote microphone. Once he had it in his palm, he waited an appropriate time, flushed the toilet, and emerged. She had disappeared for the moment, so he moved quickly down the hall and stuck the microphone under the desk that held the sign-in book.
Gaudet turned, tottered out into the street, and was gone.
Michael rode through New York in a hired car with Sam, Anna, Yodo, and Grady. He wanted to see the area where the World Trade Center had once stood. They had arrived only the day prior and things were still new to Michael. Sam had protested getting Anna close to Michael, but she was a woman of means and willpower and she would not be de terred. Michael never seemed to deny another soul an adven ture and really did not argue with Anna risking her life to ride around town with the Gaudet “bait” if that was her choice. Michael used Grady’s cell phone to make his daily call to Professor Richard Lyman about his journals. There was silence and the tension was palpable as he placed the call.
After a brief hello and virtually no pleasantries, Michael popped the question. It looked to Sam like Michael’s heart was sinking to his feet and so he knew the answer even be fore Michael reported that there was no package and no communication from Peru or anywhere else in South America. The professor took the number of the cell phone in case any thing changed.
After a time of disappointed silence Sam decided to try and improve the mood.
“New York must seem strange after the Amazon.”
“The people all seem to wear black shoes-like boots but with low tops. The buildings remind me of giant ant heaps. There’s a sign for everything-almost as though no one has their own thoughts. The place is crawling with people.”
Sam was amused at the virginal quality of Michael’s observations. He had now figured out, by listening to Michael or getting information from Big Brain, that Michael had left the United States when he was almost twelve. When he was six years old, his parents divorced and he moved from the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca to Humboldt County, California, where he lived with his mother. Sam marveled at the coincidence-so close to the Tiloks. Humboldt County was not a place visited by many, about 250 miles as the crow flies north of San Francisco, in redwood country. It was green and peaceful with many more trees than people, mountains pushed up against the sea with creeks in every furrow, and wild lands for miles and miles.
When Michael was nine, his mother died and he returned to Ithaca to live with his father. From talking with Michael, Sam had discerned that most of Michael’s memories of the Finger Lakes region were indistinct, as though earlier memories were crowded out of his mind by Amazonia. For an eleven-year-old boy the culture shock of the deep jungle must have been incredible.
Michael gaped at the sheer number and enormity of the buildings, the volume of vertical concrete and brick placed on more concrete and steel.
“Amazing, huh?” Grady said.
“If there is some evolutionary advantage to all of this, it escapes me. Unlike the ants or the bees, it seems to me that all this jamming-people-together in buildings would in crease danger to the individual. The benefits of commerce obviously outweigh the hazards.”
“We Americans are in a frenzy to do something. When we don’t know what to do, we work. I guess this is the re sult,” Sam said.
Michael found the Gramercy Park bed-and-breakfast oddly cluttered with knickknacks seemingly placed with great care. There were cookies and tea, silver urns, hushed silence-or at most half-whispered tones-and fabrics that all seemed to sleep. The place offered little for a man accus tomed to trekking in the jungle, fishing catfish for dinner, and having a good chew of coca before hitting the ham mock.
He did notice an unusual brightness in Grady’s eyes when she looked at him. He couldn’t recall ever seeing a woman with a better body. But he was confused at her relationship with Sam. (Robert had explained that his nickname was Sam and Michael was only now getting used to the new name.) He was also bewildered now that he had seen Sam with Anna. Obviously, Michael’s place was in the Amazon and a woman like Grady would not last there, so any alliance would probably be temporary and he wasn’t sure how she might feel about a short-term romance. Much less himself. He still was not over the shock of losing Eden and then Marita.
Still, Grady was long-legged and blond, with a narrow waist and high, firm bust. Her eyes shone with such a striking shade of azure that Michael wondered if it was some modern contrivance. But it was her glances, and her strong Slavic face, the high cheekbones, and especially the expressive lips, neither full nor thin, that piqued his desire. From the moment he had seen her in the jungle, he had concluded that she was an astonishment as females go. Even when he was half sick, he had wanted to grab her and plaster his lips to hers. He suspected that this uncommon rage to copulate was due in part to all the carnage he had just left-a coping mechanism that would enable the mind to let go of the pain and depression of death.
The desire remained in him here, but he kept it behind a controlled and seemingly placid exterior. Michael determined that in the fashion of a civilized man, this desire was best ignored, at least for the moment.
After Sam advised the proprietor that they wished to ex tend their stay, they made their way upstairs. Anna went with Sam, although Michael understood that she was staying at her own apartment. At the second floor Sam paused and gathered them around. They stood in a mezzaninelike area the size of the parlor with a well-furnished library. Behind a balustrade, which made a large oval around the staircase, were the doors to various rooms. Fresh flowers stood under a gilt-framed mirror.
“I’d suggest you stay around here. Let people come to you.”
Michael appreciated Sam’s concern but bridled at it just the same. “I have no problem with your bodyguards if they have the courage to go with me. But I will do my work. And that is the end of the discussion.”
“But, Michael, we talked…” Grady began.
“I said I would be careful. That is all I said.” He paused. “I don’t mean to be rude.”
She nodded and turned toward her room.
As Michael entered his, he turned and his eyes found Grady’s across the way. It pleased him to see her eyes search ing for his. They both closed their doors in a slow, synchro nous movement, accompanied by an unmistakable smile. But he hadn’t missed the worry behind the smile.