Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Madrid, Spain
11:47 PM

Mike stared at the pile of paper on the table between them.  His eyes felt raw from the strain of too little sleep and too much coffee.  He pushed away from the table, stood and walked to the window.
“Angus, we've been here …” he pushed aside the outer drapes. “Hell, I don’t know how long it's been since we flew down from Guernsey.”  He turned and tossed the sheaf of financial documents he had been holding into the air.
“I know, Lad, I can’t find anything” -- Angus indicated his own stack of papers -- “that IDs who was behind your …” he drifted off.  Mike knew he was trying to spare him the memory of being water-boarded.
Angus continued.  “I felt certain we’d find some trace, an inkling, a lead if we came here and beat the bush.”  He paused, then restarted. “Listen to me, I'm talking in clichés.  I must be past tired.”  A self-deprecating chuckle punctuated the statement.
Mike turned back to him and laughed too.  “Lets see, ‘time to throw in the towel,’ ‘no use beating a dead horse’ …”
Angus howled and quipped back, “No, no, how about … wild … goose chases!” and exploded into laughter.  Mike doubled up and joined him. The trite sayings were so bad, so predictable -- but so maddeningly true.
They laughed until they hurt. Then each wiped more than one comic tear off his cheek and they slowly came back to the moment. 
Mike spoke first.  “Still, Angus, we don’t have anything to go on.  Nothing.”
“I know, Lad.  I fear we’re done here.”  In the short time Mike had known Angus he had yet to see him so dejected.  His craggy face was more deeply lined, his eyes recessed with shadows.
“We don’t always win, boss.”
Angus didn't respond.  Mike knew that failure had not crossed Angus’ path much -- if at all -- before.  It was hard to face.  They sat in quiet, each lost to his own thoughts as they faced the sober facts.
Angus toyed with a pencil atop the papers; he spun it one way, then another. Then he began to speak almost to himself.  “I don’t think one man or one organization is taking down the world with this financial mess.  I thought we could come here and find such a shade.  It would be nice if it were so. Easier.”
A taxi's horn blared on the street beneath their hotel suite.  City lights played across the sheer drapes.
Angus stopped the pencil and held it aloft.  “However, I do think there are many men, many organizations, that see advantage to crashing the system.  Each, in its parasitic manner, is accelerating the process.”
Angus stood with the pencil in hand.  He walked to the window Mike had just stood before, pushed aside the sheers and looked out. 
“A hedge fund manager looks at the coming apocalypse and wonders only how to make more coin.  After all he is playing with other people’s money – heads he wins, tails they lose.  He bets using shadowy derivatives against a struggling debtor nation’s currency and debt.  That bet adds information to the process and trading program algorithms whir. In a blink, massive sums slosh across the wire.  In that instant a country’s economy is under attack.”  With every point he made Angus tapped the pencil’s eraser against the window.
“The hedge fund manager makes his quick profit, the powers convene and announce another stop-gap, and each iteration sends the people of that nation further into debt.”  He snapped the pencil  – an explosion that surprised Mike and made him jump.
“It is leading us back to serfdom, Michael.”  Angus concluded slowly and softly.
Mike contemplated the logic and nodded as he realized the trajectory of the system and its consequences.  They sat and stood, frozen with the implications of it all, each saddened at the thought.  Each felt his way through the coming blight.  Mike exhaled long and slow.
The phone shattered the silence, startling them from their reverie.   Angus recovered first, strode across the room and grabbed the handset.
“What was that?  Hold on.” He beckoned to Mike to bring him paper and a fresh instrument to write with.
“Okay, repeat that slowly.”  He scrawled awkwardly as he cradle the phone beneath his chin.
“Tomorrow.  A.m. or p.m.?  A.m.”  Mile peered around his friend's shoulder but Angus’ handwriting was too poor to cipher.
“When is that, ZULU?  Got it.”  Mike could hear a deep Iberian-accented voice but couldn't make out what it was saying.
“Porto.  Yes.  Yes.  No.  Yes.”  Mike looked at Angus with raised eyebrows.
“I’ll need kit.”  Angus glanced at his watch.  He listened to the deep voice for a while.
“Yes, we just have time.  Are you sure you can get that?”
“Bugger all that is expensive!  Yes.  Yes, I know it's short notice, but …” Angus caught himself, let out his breath and resumed: “We’ll have this discussion later.  Are you sure you can get it?  Right.  Yes, I know how to get the money to you, you fucking pirate.”   Angus made that sound like fooking and Mike smiled.
“Alright, and … you had better be on time or you know what’ll happen – are we clear?”  Angus tone chilled Mike.
“See you then.” Angus hung up.
Mike waited and watched.  Angus stood stone still.  Then he glanced over at Mike, “Pack your kit, Laddie.  We leave in five minutes.”
Mike smiled.  “Fook me,” and went to his room with Angus' laughter behind him.

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