Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Great Kirkus Review on my novel Fast Money and French Ladies -- "fast-paced with an intriguing plot ... an enjoyable novel ..."
BOOK REVIEW -- KIRKUS REVIEWS
A fictional account of the Greek financial crisis.
In this novel, Myers (Betrayal in Europe, 2015) blends wholly made-up characters—financial wizards Jim Schiller, Jack Hawkins, and James Smith; behind-the-scenes fixer Sophie d’Auverne—with fictional versions of the European leaders who were in the headlines as Greece struggled to meet its financial obligations and maintain its place in the European Union in 2015. (Those officials include Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, Mario Draghi, and Alexis Tsipras.)
Sophie jets from one financial capital to another helping to arrange a deal that will head off financial chaos, while her fiance, Jim, sets out on his own damage-control mission after realizing that his hedge fund has gotten involved in risky Greek investments. Jack and James decide to bring the monarchy back to Greece, regardless of the elected government’s preferences, and everyone is spying on everyone else, hoping for an edge. In the end, a deal is reached, the financiers continue to make money, and reporters continue to pay more attention to Yanis Varoufakis’ motorcycle than to his country’s financial policies. Sophie, the story’s core, is always ready with a snappy comeback (“That’s my helicopter. Yours is the little one out on the horizon”) or a politically astute move. Balancing her professional obligations with keeping her teenage daughter in line and living up to her aristocratic family’s standards, she always remains thoroughly French.
The other characters are people who use terms like “Grexit” in casual conversation, and their stories will appeal to readers who are similarly devoted to the machinations that surround global finance. Those same readers, however, may find the repeated explanations of the novel’s real-life characters (“mentioning the powerful German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, the number-two politician in Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition government”; “referring to Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister with the rock star reputation”; “referring to Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund”) superfluous.
Yet the novel is fast-paced, with an intriguing plot (even for those who already know the outcome), and Myers demonstrates that a financial story can be a thriller even without a single drawn gun or weapon of mass destruction.
An enjoyable novel based on a piece of recent economic history
Monday, December 28, 2015
European diplomat Sophie maneuvers to save Europe from crisis created by Greek financial collapse.
With such a topical and current storyline, this book is bound to appeal to a wide range of readers, from those interested in the financial and political worlds to those who just enjoy a good satire of the world we live in today.
—Eve, CreateSpace Editor in her editorial review
Back Cover – June 2015 – The Greek prime minister calls for a referendum to reject the harsh austerity terms demanded by the European Union for a bailout of the crushed Greek economy. The EU cuts off the banks and Greeks line up at the ATMs to grab all the cash they can. Massive street demonstrations in Athens protest the “Fourth Reich” being imposed from Berlin.
Deputy European finance commissioner Sophie d’Auverne rushes to Berlin to meet with top German leaders. Meanwhile her American boyfriend Jim returns to Geneva to find that his hedge fund suddenly went long billions in Greek bonds due to a rogue computer program.
Sophie embarks on a week of hidden diplomacy culminating in a grand compromise at an all-night summit meeting in Brussels. Unknown to her, Jim’s hedge fund has a spy high in the French government tipping Jim to market-moving developments.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
Chapter 8. Avenue Victor HugoJuly 4, Saturday. In a large apartment situated above Avenue Victor Hugo in Paris’s fashionable sixteenth arrondisement, three generations of women of the d’Auverne family gathered for family business among the antiques of the Belle Époque dining room.
“Now, before Jim and Pascal arrive, I want to talk with you, Sophie,” said her mother Martine.
“Oui, maman,” replied Sophie in her most demure little girl voice. She took a seat across from her mother at the dinner table.
“You, too,” said Martine to her granddaughter Marie Hélène. “You’re also involved.”
“Oui, grand-mère,” said Marie Hélène trying to sound adult as she dutifully sat down. Didn’t want another talking to about Greek lifeguards, though that was still high on her and Delphine’s list of forbidden pleasures to be dreamed about for the summer. They so didn’t want to show up at lycée in the fall with only little girl stories—nursery rhymes so to speak—to talk about, wannabe stuff when possibly real adventures beckoned.
“Now, I’ve been to my lawyer, Sophie,” said Martine. “He assures me I have the right to disclaim my succession to the title la vicomtesse. I simply have to disclaim title to the Normandy property, le vicomté,”mentioning the fief that was the land behind the title. “And I surely don’t want to live in that drafty old chateau; besides, the title to la maison has been in your name since you were born. Your grandfather saw to that.”
“I do not dispute your right to disclaim the surrounding properties,” said Sophie, referring to those few hectares that still comprised le vicomté surrounding the village of Auverne. “I’ve just asked that you do not do it now. I cannot succeed to le vicomté at this time and be known as la vicomtesse. My political foes would crucify me in the court of public opinion.”
“It could go to Marie Hélène,” said Martine.
“Well, yes. But it can’t go to her until she reaches the age of consent,” said Sophie firmly. “That’s the code.”
“Maybe we could move up the age of consent,” said Marie Hélène with a tone of tentative hopefulness.
Her mother and grandmother turned and drilled her with hard looks. She slunk down in her chair under the withering stares. “Just joking,” she said weakly.
“Not to be joked about,” said Martine.
“Mother,” said Sophie softening her tone, “I do want to walk in my grandmother’s footsteps…and in the footsteps of all les vicomtesses…I know that’s my destiny…just not now.”
“Well, I’m not of the blood…you and Marie Hélène are,” said Martine. “I always feel out of place.”
“How can you,” cried Sophie. “You are a mother, a creator of the blood…if it was just Auvernes marrying Auvernes it would have turned into a family of imbeciles generations ago…the entire vibrancy of the family comes from those who marry into it.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true…otherwise it would look like the French cabinet,” said Martine with a sarcastic laugh.
“They come by their imbecility through democratic means,” said Sophie. “It is a very legitimate form of imbecility.”
“If you say so, dear,” said Martine. “Sure makes opportunities for your paramour Jim. It’s like he takes billions from the cribs of babies.”
“What Jim does is harder than it looks,” said Sophie. “I will eventually stand down, mother, you know that. I’m never going to be what Jack calls a ‘low flying jimmy’ sitting on the back benches of some parliament.”
“Just what are you interested in?” her mother asked.
“There are only a few portfolios that interest me,” replied Sophie. “Ministries where I can help shape the future of Europe.”
“Not in the French government?” asked her mother.
“Lord no,” said Sophie. “The action has moved on. They’re mostly moving small pieces of cheese around on the chess board in Paris.” Sophie looked at Marie Hélène and said, “Except at the finance ministry where Pascal’s father works. The new economics minister Emmanuel Macron is launching an ambitious program of reform. President Hollande’s support for the reform is the boldest policy move of his presidency, one of the boldest since the De Gaulle era.
“A Socialist?” asked Martine skeptically.
“Yes, truly unusual,” replied Sophie.
“Why?” asked Martine.
“It’s probably Hollande’s only chance to get reelected in 2017; he has to put people back to work,” said Sophie. She added, “We should all listen attentively to see if Pascal has anything to say.”
“Pascal might say something important?” asked Marie Hélène, somewhat disbelieving.
“Yes, he might,” said Sophie.
The maid came in and said, “Jim and Pascal are in the drawing room.”
The three Auverne women got up and went into the drawing room, Marie Hélène first, then Sophie, followed by Martine. Jim and Pascal rose to meet the ladies. Sophie walked over and shook Pascal’s hand and then introduced him to Martine, “My mother, Martine d’Auverne.”
“Yes, my father spoke of you,” said Pascal. “He said you were the new la vicom…”
Martine held her hand up to stop Pascal with the stern injunction: “My name is Martine d’Auverne. Anything else is superfluous.”
“My mother uses no titles from the previous centuries,” explained Sophie with a laugh.
“I’m sorry,” said Pascal.
“You, of course, wouldn’t know that,” said Sophie with a forgiving smile. Changing the subject, she continued, “However, I do have the new memoir written by grand-mère and I promised your father a copy.” She went over to a book case and took a book from a stack of new books and brought it over. “But before I give it to you, let’s get a vicomtesse to sign it.” She beckoned Marie Hélène and said, “Please sign the book la vicomtesse and below the title your name Marie Hélène d’Auverne.”
“Oui, maman.” She sat down on the sofa and signed the book and handed it back to her mother.
Sophie gave the book to Pascal. “Here you go.”
Pascal said, “Thank you. I’ll give it to my father when I get home.” He set the book aside.
Martine asked Pascal, “You’re beginning lycée in the fall, I’m told. Please tell me about it.”
Marie Hélène stepped forward to listen.
Sophie took her leave and walked over to Jim and wrapped an arm around his and blew a kiss towards his ear.
“Finally,” she said.
“How long will you be in Paris?” he asked.
“Tonight,” she replied. “With you.”
“When do you have to leave?”
“I have to be in Brussels tomorrow night. Once the returns from the Greek referendum come in, strategy meetings will be quickly formed to decide on the next steps.”
“What might they involve?”
“You know I can’t tell you. It would give you an unfair advantage over the other speculators…”
“Investors,” corrected Jim with a laugh.
“But I can tell you the process…lots and lots of meetings…”
“Yes,” said Jim. “We track them closely.”
“I saw your partner Jürgen…”
“Yes, in Frankfurt,” said Jim.
“Yes, Jürgen and I found ourselves in the same high policy circles speaking with the same high officials…”
“So I gathered, but I he has told us little if anything…secret emissary work he says.”
“Yes, but when we were in the office of a high official talking the high policy Jürgen’s phone rang…I believe the ringtone said Geneva…and he excused himself and went to a far corner of the office…his face went pale…his eyes registered utter amazement…”
“I believe your hedge fund may be long in Greece in a very substantial way…”
“Jack’s in Athens working it all out,” said Jim.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” said Sophie, mocking one of Jack’s favorite phrases.
“There are grounds for optimism…”
“Well, that’s it then. With Jack in Athens, your investments are in safe hands.” She laughed at his attempt to suppress a pained expression.
“Well, if Europe gets out of it…so will we…with a big profit,” said Jim.
“Yes, I know. You are like the cat that always lands on its feet,” said Sophie, both warmly and knowingly. She walked over to the bookcase and got another of the new books and brought it back and gave it to Jim. “Here’s grand-mère’s memoir. It’s just published and this copy is for you.”
Jim sat down and held the book in his lap, looking at the title, La Mémoire de la vicomtesse Inès d’Auverne 1920-2015. Then he opened the book and looked at the picture in the frontispiece. It was a beautiful wedding picture of Inès and her husband Thierry d’Auverne taken in the spring of 1939, that last spring before the beginning of the war. The couple was standing before the altar in the stone Romanesque church in the village of Auverne surrounded by wreaths and bouquets of flowers, tall candelabras in the background. The ancient wooden crucifix looked down from the stone wall behind. Tapestries hung from the walls, contemporaries of the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
Jim turned to the back of the book and another picture in the same Romanesque church. The dark stones, the burning candles on high candelabra, the dark mahogany casket, the French tricolor on top, the small wreaths of flowers on the floor, and the three women standing on the steps in front of the casket in descending order by generation, all in long black dresses with the discreet white collars, the black veils falling from black pillbox hats over their faces, graceful somber apparitions of grief at the passing of Inès d’Auverne.
He remembered the scene well. The funeral took place this past January. He had sat in the pew and watched the funeral ceremony unfold in its time honored fashion, a vivid reminder to an American how anchored the French were to the Church, the land, the village, the family. Outside in the churchyard were the graves of generations of vicomtes and vicomtesses. They had all stood there in the gray drizzle as the casket was lowered away and the women each tossed a handful of dirt into the grave.
He had looked out across the churchyard and over the rolling fields to the English Channel in the distance. You could sense the great invasion that had landed on its shores over seventy years ago. In your mind, you could also imagine the long ships pulling away from the coast carrying the Normans across the Channel for their great victory over the Saxons almost a thousand years ago. It was a place of timeless valor.
He thumbed through the book looking for what was him its most insightful passage. He had first read the passage several years before when perusing the handwritten manuscript in its leather-bound covers in the upstairs library of the chateau. He found the passage and read:
In time of crisis, the cream rises. Great events call the talented from their youth to positions of great authority to master the challenges threatening failure from every quarter. I understood the power of the ambitious young aspiring to the pinnacles of power. If there were no vigor in the bed chamber, how could there be robustness of character in the cabinet room? My entire experience cried out—it was not possible.
Just then his recollection was broken as the maid announced that dinner was served in the dining room. He stood up and went into the dining room and was pointed to a chair across from Marie Hélène and Pascal. Martine sat at the head of the table, Sophie at the other end. The maid brought in some appetizers and set them down. She set down a bottle of white wine in an ice bucket and left.
“Pascal, would you be so kind as to pour the wine,” asked Martine.
Pascal stood up and pulled the bottle of wine from the bucket and skillfully wrapped a large napkin around the bottle and then walked around the table pouring wine in each glass. Jim observed that he filled his and Marie Hélène’s glass with half portions.
“Thank you, Pascal,” said Martine. She raised her glass as did the others and she said, “A votre santé.” Everyone took a sip and set their glasses down.
“Pascal, I believe your father is now working for the economics minister, M. Macron,” said Sophie, mentioning Emmanuel Macron, the young thirty-something economics adviser to Hollande and former investment banker from the Rothschild & Cie Banque.
“Yes, he is,” replied Pascal. “In a policy planning group.”
“Part of the group which designed la loi Macron?” asked Sophie, mentioning the major structural reform law of the highly rigid French labor law recently pushed through the legislative process by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and President Hollande using the president’s decree powers in the spring of 2015.
“I better not say,” said Pascal looking down at the table cloth.
Sophie laughed. “Very well.” She looked around the table and added, “I used to work with his father Étienne when I was at the Matignon. A superb financial specialist.” The Matignon is the palace on the Left Bank housing the offices and residence of the prime minister.
“Well, I must say,” said Martine, “in this regard, Hollande has accomplished something that Sarkozy was never able to do. France needs to change or it will be left behind.”
“Yes, there was possibly too much talk and too little action during the Sarkozy years,” said Sophie.
“Bling, bling,” chimed in Marie Hélène, reciting the shorthand phrase used to describe the former president’s superficiality. “My favorite political slogan.”
Sophie looked at her affectionately and continued, “Just looking back, of course.” Sophie had been closer to Prime Minister Francois Fillon than President Sarkozy since Sarkozy did not delve deeply into economic policy, not to put too fine a point on it.
“My father has been very excited to work with M. Macron,” said Pascal. “He told me it was an example of analysis driving policy, not politics.”
Sophie laughed and said, “Yes, of course. But the ultimate politics—French presidential politics—plays a major role. If there is no improvement in employment in France—if people do not go back to work—the president will have a very difficult reelection battle in 2017.”
“Yes, I agree,” said Marine. “I greatly respect M. Macron’s background. He was an investment banker at Rothschild. As you know, now and again when I was working with my husband at Banque d’Auverne, we did some good business with the Rothschild bank. Always a profitable undertaking,” she said mentioning the family bank.
“Yes, the bank,” scowled Marie Hélène and turned to Pascal and explained: “If I don’t do well in school and don’t get into a grande ecole, then I have to go work at the bank. Boredom central.”
“It’s hardly punishment,” said Martine. “Your grandfather and I greatly liked the experience.”
“It’s not like being a runway model or something glamorous,” said Marie Hélène with a downcast look at all this grind-it-out, diploma-by-diploma distinction being piled high on her future by the expectations of her mother and grandmother.
“Well, M. Macron was a respected young investment banker,” said Sophie looking at Jim, “and then he decided to move onto something more socially significant in government.”
“I enjoy wallowing around in the greed of the private markets,” said Jim, putting his nose up in the air while looking at Marie Hélène and saying, “We can spend our declining years skateboarding in Monaco, dropouts from family expectations.”
“Can I water ski with the princess?” asked Marie Hélène with genuine enthusiasm. “She gets all the cool guys.”
“Anything’s possible from the vantage point of a skateboard,” said Jim with lofty words of advice from the adult world.
“Well, I’ll take greed over glamor,” said Martine. “That what puts a family into a chateau.”
“There will be a warm fire in the hearth when you get back from the public wars,” said Jim as he lifted his glass towards Sophie. “Courtesy of Anglo-Saxon greed.”
“Merci,” she replied. “I’ll park my skateboard in the foyer.”
The group continued chatting and bantering through dinner.
Friday, August 28, 2015
Chapter 7. Moscow
The energy minister sat in his chair with his back to the window, which was filled with the stark silhouette of the Kremlin just across the square. He was in a sour mood. He’d just come back from President Putin’s office. His two underlings cringed in their chairs across from the desk, cowering lapdogs waiting for the next snarl.
“The president expressed his displeasure …with me…his most loyal ally…he asks, where is the money from the Europeans? Of course you can’t tell him the truth…buried in the steppes of the Ukraine…I tried to change the subject by saying that the Chinese gas deal was one of the biggest in history…and he says ‘Yes, money for my successor.’”
“That’s true,” said one of the underlings, “my comrade at the central bank says the foreign exchange reserves are plummeting.”
“Yes, that sank the pipeline deal to Bulgaria,” said the energy minister with anger in his voice. “One of my great accomplishments…so much potential…so few bribes…the Bulgarians squeaked when they left the conference room…”
“There will be more opportunities in the future,” said the other underling. “In fact, the Greek energy minister is outside waiting for our meeting.”
“Again?” said the energy minister. “Doesn’t he ever go away?”
“He has a deep commitment to Communist ideals,” said the underling.
“And no cash,” said the energy minister. He recalled the last visit to Moscow by Lafazanis and the young Alexis Tsipras—a mere boy, thought the energy minister—when they wanted a ten billion euro loan from Russia. As if dogs were going to start flying.
“Possibly we will discuss financing today?” said the underling. Trying to put a helpful tone to his comment, he added, “Possibly some financing from the Europeans…”
The energy minister scowled at him like he was idiot child. “The Europeans?” he asked.
“Uh huh, shall I get the Greek minister?” said the underling trying to slide away from the harsh glare of disapproval. It all rolled downhill in modern Russia, thought the underling, starting from President Putin.
“Show him in,” said the energy minister and he stood up as one of the underlings went to the door and opened it. The Greek energy minister Panayotis Lafazanis, dark haired and lightly bearded, came through the door and shook hands all around. He took a seat across from the Russian energy minister.
“We have a great opportunity to liberate Greece from the capitalist tyranny imposed from Berlin and Brussels,” said Lafazanis, opening with a burst of enthusiasm.
“How would it work?” asked the energy minister, wariness crossing his face.
“Russia would simply reroute the Bulgarian pipeline across the Black Sea to Turkey and then on to Greece,” said the Greek energy minister. “Here, I have a complete proposal,” and the Greek handed a document across to the Russian, who in turn pushed it over to one of the underlings.
“Costs?” asked the Russian minister.
“About two billion euros,” said the Greek.
“Reasonable,” said the Russian noncommittally.
“I can guarantee the Public Power Corporation of Greece will take a lot of the gas. It holds a near-monopoly of the Greek electricity market.” Lafazanis was the utilities’ long-time political patron; he controlled the utility workers’ union.
“Let’s say I initial the proposal today,” said the Russian energy minister, “pending securing the financing, of course. Where do we go from here?”
“Well, first, once the deal is signed off, Greece would like a five billion prepayment of gas transit fees,” said the Greek minister excitedly as he watched the Russian nod in understanding approval.
“Yes, that would be a small price to pay,” said the Russian. “That would put Russia in a strong position in the South Europe energy market.”
“Unlock the market,” said the Greek. “But there is a much larger opportunity…”
“A larger opportunity?” asked the Russian.
“Yes, as you know, the Greek people are voting on a referendum this Sunday…”
“Yes, but my understanding—correct me if I’m wrong—is that Europe says it’s a vote to leave the euro.”
“Yes, exactly…and the Greek people are posed to give the referendum overwhelming support and vote against more austerity from Brussels and Berlin…my faction of the Syriza party—the Left Platform—will then be able to create a government that will lead Greece out of the euro and back to the drachma and we can reassert state control over the economy…where it belongs.”
“President Putin would never allow me to comment on anything political, but wouldn’t there be large costs involved in rejecting a European bailout package?”
“That is the beauty of the moment,” said Lafazanis. “With only five to ten billion in backing from President Putin, we could put the Grexit plan in effect…possibly beginning in as little as two weeks’ time.”
“Yes, an interesting proposal,” said the energy minister. “Many in Moscow have long admired your personal devotion to Marxist principles against the Brussels neoliberalism and the mercantile orthodoxy of Berlin. The president has expressed that to me personally.”
“When we get word from Moscow,” said Lafazanis, “we of the Left will lead a government that will move on the Greek central bank and financial institutions…mobilize the hidden wealth of Greece for the benefit of the Greek people.”
“I will personally take your proposal to President Putin,” said the energy minister as he stood up and shook the Greek energy minister’s hand. “My aides will show you the way out.”
The Russian energy minister sat back down and gnawed on his knuckles. Soon his aides came back in and sat down.
“Maybe President Putin is trying to trick me,” said the energy minister, deeply conflicted, openly troubled. The underlings had never before seen him like this—indecisive.
“If I so much as whispered a hint of approval at the Greek proposal, he might see me as a fool,” said the energy minister, truly anxious. “After the bollixing up of the Ukrainian gas situation…”
The two underlings sat silent.
“And I know what President Putin will say,” said the energy minister, coming to a realization of the proper course of action, “sell gas for cash—or come back dead on your checkbook.”
“Yes, the foreign cash reserves,” said one of the underlings, echoing the obvious.
“Keep an eye on the Greeks,” said the minister returning to his customary decisiveness. “If the Greeks stay in the euro, possibly we could squeeze some cash out of a Greek bank, get them to finance a pipeline,” and the energy minister turned towards one of the underlings and smiled, “like you suggested.”
The underling basked in this rare and unexpected praise.
“Otherwise,” said the energy minister with disdain, “they’re just anchovies drying in the sun.”
Jack, with James in tow, was ushered into the office of the central committee of the Syriza political party in Athens along with Costas. A slogan over the top of the portal to the meeting room said “Ever onward to victory – Ché Guevara.” On the wall were colored poster prints of Lenin, Stalin, and the iconic beret-wearing Guevara poster. Crossed red flags adorned another wall. Red posters with black clenched fists and faces upturned to the sky shouting “Power to the People” in multiple languages graced another wall. Soft strains of L’Internationale hummed from ceiling speakers.
James looked around in wonder. He couldn’t wait to get back to London and tell his colleagues about this visit; it was like time traveling back to 1957, he thought. Jack had told him they would be visiting aging radicals from the revolutionary Left. Jack had dismissed them as “low flying jimmies,” a leftover term from the era of Margaret Thatcher to describe Scottish Labor MPs languishing away on the back benches.
An elderly Greek with long stringy gray hair stood up. He held his hand out to Costas, the banker, and said sardonically, “Ah, the paymaster has arrived.”
Jack leaned over and whispered to James, “Costas pays the rent on the headquarters.”
“You’re having a good week,” said Costas to the aging Leftist.
“And Sunday we will win the referendum. Democracy will speak. We in the Left Faction will be vindicated.”
“Yes, the referendum is on our minds,” said Costas. “Petros, I want you to meet my British banker friend and his associate.” He introduced the two Englishmen.
“Ah, the imperialists come crawling on their knees to the tribunes of the people,” said Petros.
“Petros is the grand old man of the Left Faction of Syriza,” said Costas.
“The Greek people will speak Sunday in the referendum,” said Petros. “Then Europe will see a proud people assert their rights…democracy will again walk the streets of Athens…”
“Well, what we would like to see is a proud people get their money out of the ATMs next week,” said Jack as he shook Petros’ hand.
Petros looked over at a young woman hovering nearby and asked, “Tea for our guests, please.” He turned back to Jack and said, “Yes, but this morning even the IMF said that Greece’s foreign debt must be restructured…the Troika is broken…the capitalist front is cracking.” A slow smile came over Petros’ face; he’d never thought he’d live to see the day.
“We fully agree,” said Jack.
“What he means,” said Costas, “is that it’s other people’s money that will get restructured.”
“Not exactly,” countered Jack. “All that debt is just paper held by the big international agencies in Brussels and Washington. It’s hardly money at all—it’s the stuff of bureaucratic make believe.”
“Except when the German führer uses it as a club,” said Petros. Debt was the new concentration camp of the Fourth Reich.
“Point taken,” agreed Jack. “But the immediate problem is to put money into the Greek ATM machines next week.”
“Yes, well I can see…after the capitulation, the Greek government will have to dictate appropriate terms to the Eurogroup,” said Petros.
“That’s the spirit,” said Jack. “We think Syriza should broaden its coalition into a truly National Front.”
“Yes, a Popular Front…establish true unity of the working classes,” said Petros, nostalgia starting to put a dreamy look in his eyes.
“Yes, establish the people’s agenda and then throw the Europeans a couple of bones on tax and pension reforms,” added Jack. “That will bring additional money for true reform.”
“Pensions?” asked Petros with a suspicious eye. “The widows…the orphans…”
“You can always backtrack later,” said Jack.
“That’s true,” said Petros with a deeply thoughtful look. “As the Chinese Comrades say, if the cat catches mice, who cares what color it is.”
“Chairman Deng, I believe,” said Jack.
“For an imperialist,” said Petros to Costas, “he’s a pretty good fellow traveler.”
“We’ll see if his check clears the bank next week,” said Costas gravely. He looked at Jack and bore in. “Right? English.”
“Absolutely. We stand ready next week after the referendum to put the strong and loud voice of the Overseas Investment Association behind the proposals of the Greek government for the third bailout.”
“We’d rather eat ashes than cave to the German jack boots,” said Petros. Costas winced. “Besides there are alternatives…comrades in Moscow and China who stand ready to invest in the New Greece.”
“But probably not sixty billion euros worth,” said Jack. “Our contacts with the Chinese say they are very skeptical about what they call Greece’s Golden Begging Bowl…they respect strength, not supplication…they are deeply imbued with the sacrifices of the Long March…”
“Golden Begging Bowl?” asked Petros with a hurt look on his face. “They say that about us?”
“Yes,” replied Jack and he leaned over and said in a loud whisper to Petros, “We have an important Chinese contact on our committee, sort of an ex officio member.”
Petros’ eyes went wide. “You do?”
“Yes, one of the men building the new port facilities at Piraeus…a billion for one…a billion for the second…You know, Bulldozer Yan of China Construction Group.”
“Bulldozer Yan is with you?” asked Petros. “Very Silk Road.”
“Yes, part of the team that wants to turn Piraeus into the next Rotterdam, make it the biggest container port in the Mediterranean.”
“Yes, I know the projects,” said Petros’ eagerly, the two biggest construction projects in Greece in years with the promise of more to come. Union members were getting steady work.
“Well, your energy minister is stiffing the Chinese on their bid for the Greek electricity grid…and the overall port facility management concession has been frozen…and Bulldozer Yan’s new contracts are on hold…not good…”
“We can’t give up all the crown jewels to foreigners…even fellow Communists…”
“Yes, well Bulldozer Yan told us the Chinese are very disappointed in the lack of solidarity shown by Syriza to Chinese development projects.”
“Worse,” added James. “You’ve derailed the Chinese takeover of the national electricity distributor Admie. Not good. That’s where new money comes from.”
“Repudiating the cave-ins and giveaways by the Moderates was part of the Syriza program,” said Petros. “We won the election.”
“But you’re losing the economic war,” said Jack.
“You know what happens if you get pushed out of the euro?” said James.
“We go back to the drachma and liberate the Greek people,” said Petros, but doubt had crept into his voice.
“Yes, and the Chinese will be waiting for you,” said Jack.
“To help?” asked Petros, a ray of forlorn hopefulness in his voice.
“To buy,” said Jack firmly. “They think the drachma is play money. The Chinese have lined up the financing so that when Greece exits the euro the Chinese can come in and buy up the choice properties at a big discount…the day after Grexit he says cash will be king…The Chinese have geared up a bank…”
“Yes, I’ve heard the Chinese have a new bank,” said Petros, trying to put the confusing pieces together in his head.
“And that new bank is all Chinese. That means no namby pamby meddling from the Americans in the new bank,” added Jack. “All Chinese.”
Petros gulped. He remembered talking with the Greek negotiators about the port contracts; the Chinese had not left a crumb on the table, they had said. The union representing the workers on the construction projects came away empty handed…very hard...tougher than the Germans…much lower wages…
“Yes, I can see his point of view…but Comrade Putin…” mumbled Petros.
“Doesn’t have any money,” said Jack. “That’s why the South Stream Project through Bulgaria collapsed last year…it’s very expensive to liberate the eastern provinces of the Ukraine from German economic imperialism and still do all the pipelines…and with the capitalist sanctions…”
“Yes, that’s true…the Germans are heartless plunderers…we learned that in the war…”
“Now, if you were to decide to go with Comrade Putin—I’m sure he’s all for solidarity on mutually beneficial terms, but the Ukraine crisis has interrupted the march of progress…foreign exchange reserves are in short supply—“
Petros’ expression fell. Yes, the energy minister had come back yet again from Moscow empty handed. The Russians had expressed interest…“pending financing,” they said…
“We might be able to help with some international financing,” said Jack. “My associate here…”
“Let me introduce myself. James Smith, sir. I’m with River Bridge Capital…City of London…”
“He’s a spy for British Petroleum,” said Petros almost in a shout. “Trying to cram the Azeri pipeline down our throats.” Petros glared at Costas as if he were a traitor for bringing these foreigners into the sanctum. The Azeri pipeline was a Brussels-approved pipeline to bring Azerbaijan gas through Turkey and across Greece to Italy. Brussels wanted to diversify energy sources away from Russia. The Greek energy minister’s efforts to try to do something with Russia was a major annoyance, a bad faith card being played in the geopolitical poker game by what Brussels regarded as Greek amateurs.
“No, sir,” said James. “Our only investments are with the bank headed by Costas and his associates.”
“First they take over the banks, then the pipelines,” sneered Petros.
“The possible problem, Petros,” said Costas, “is if there is no third bailout, there may be no banks to take over.”
“We have plans for that…you’ll see,” said Petros. “We will mobilize the hidden wealth of Greece…for the people…the international comrades will come to our assistance…”
Jack looked at James and shrugged his shoulders. Something else was going on with the Left Faction.
“Next week,” said Costas ominously, “we all must be prepared to discuss hard choices…”
“New money,” added Jack.
“Sources of financing must be identified,” warned Costas. He looked at Petros and added, “For the pensions…the finance ministry tells me that one-half the funds come from international credit…”
“And,” said Jack, “it would be a lot easier if Greece were still in the euro…but if required we could do dollars or pounds…whatever works for you…possibly our commissions will be more generous than Comrade Putin’s…”
Costas looked at Jack with sharp appreciation—he had said the right words at the right time. The Englishman knew how to grease a wheel.
“Yes, I can see. I have a lot to discuss with the Old Comrades on the central committee,” said Petros wanting to end the conversation; he was afraid he’d said too much already. The foreigners were tricky.
“Your recommendation would be key. The prime minister values your counsel,” said Costas.
“Yes, Alexis is such a good boy, I’m sure he will be reasonable,” said Petros. He looked at Jack earnestly. “The commissions, you say?”
“Cold cash in the Cypriot bank of your choice.”
“Yes, sometimes pragmatism must yield to…” Petros’ voice trailed off.
The visitors departed. Out of the balcony, the young woman watched them leave. She texted her boyfriend at the Russian embassy: Brit SIS agent and BP rep bribed Petros into supporting bailout and the Azeri pipeline.
The Russian was on to Moscow in minutes. He remembered the original message from the energy ministry in Moscow, so detailed, so farsighted. How had Moscow seen all of this so clearly? He wondered.
Jack and James sat at a far table in the back corner of the lounge at La Grande Bretagne. The waiter set cold beers down on the table. James dived right into his and then set the glass down. He looked at Jack and asked, “What do you think?”
“Watch the pensions, not the pipelines,” said Jack. “Untold wealth from the pipelines is an illusion, though I’m not sure the Syriza Leftists know that. They’re in a time warp.”
“Why the pensions?”
“Because the Europeans can always use the pensions to get any government in Athens to go along with whatever the final deal is. No Greek government can destitute grandma.”
“I see,” said James. “But it might cost more than I thought to buy over all the old revolutionaries.”
“Possibly not so much,” said Jack. “We just have to splinter Syriza. It’s divide and conquer. Didn’t you learn anything in business school?”
“Just some case studies on light influence buying…coopting regulatory agencies…stuff like that,” said James.
“Don’t worry. We splinter the radicals and the moderates will band with the other political parties and deliver the majority—they all want to stay in the euro. They gave that away at the beginning of the negotiation last January.”
“But it’s looking like we’re going to lose on the referendum on Sunday,” said James. “We’ll have crowds throwing flowers on Monday…the government in disarray on Tuesday…and revolution on the streets on Wednesday…you’ll need that queen on Thursday, Friday for sure…the bankers will insist.”
“Understand,” said Jack and he peered at his iPhone as he scrolled down the list of contacts.
“Here we go,” he exclaimed. “La duchesse. Zizi Lambrino.” He looked at James and said, “Look it up.”
James quickly Googled the name and read through the Wikipedia listing. “Doesn’t do us any good. She’s long dead.”
“It’s the just the beginning of a long story, my boy,” replied Jack. “The original Zizi was the daughter of General Constantin Lambrino of an old and distinguished Byzantine imperial family when she met and fell in love with Prince Carol during the Great War. They eloped and were married in the Orthodox Cathedral in Odessa, the Ukraine. Later the king compelled the annulment of the marriage but not before a son Mircea Carol was born. Prince Carol, later king, and the Romanian government continued to support mother and son in French exile forever after. Responsibility was acknowledged.”
“So, how does your Zizi Lambrino fit in?” asked James, now intrigued by this Balkan royal intrigue as he took another sip of beer.
“General Constantin Lambrino also had a son and he arranged a ducal title for his son to go with the family’s vast estates. But in the late 1930s, the family—ardent traditionalists--was compelled to flee before the black tide of fascism, finally settling in Monaco after an odyssey across the troubled landscapes of the Balkans at war—never a pretty sight. There the duc used the last of the ducal jewels to purchase a beautiful Belle Époque property while he went to work as a croupier at the casino. His son, the cousin of the original Zizi Lambrino, went to work as a clerk at a Lebanese bank and worked his way to great prominence in certain banking circles; he knew the secret ways of exile communities, the hidden façades behind which lie expatriate wealth.”
“And Zizi?” eagerly asked James, now hooked.
“She is the granddaughter of the bank clerk. Her father also rose to international prominence in banking circles.”
“And she is where today?”
“She is a leading real estate broker in Monaco; she’s on the Rolodex of every LLC lawyer in every tax haven in the world.”
“And how do you know her?”
“When I was first with Barclays International…and in those days there was a lot of restless money out there in what had once been the empire…and it couldn’t go home again…individuals of sharp discernment started to settle in Monaco…and sometimes the money would stay in a distant affiliate of Barclays and we would write a fully secured mortgage on a Monaco property…”
“A mirror financing,” said James.
“Exactly,” said Jack. “South African gold mining shares…for the sunny vistas of real estate overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean.”
“That’s when I met Zizi. Dark, vivacious, could sell a camel to an Arab…simply extraordinary.”
“Why do you think she will want to come to Athens to be Queen of Greece?”
“It’ll only be for a couple of days…and she’ll do me the favor…we have flats in the same beautiful old Belle Époque building in La Condamine section of Monaco…away from the high rises…deep in the past century…on those streets in the spring twilight…the grace of the past comes back.”
“And la duchesse? The title?”
“An honorific that goes with the eldest daughter of the eldest son of the late great-grandfather Constantin…but she’s a blood relative of a woman who was once married to the crown prince of Romania who later became king of Romania…and remember that marriage was in the Orthodox Cathedral in Odessa…we’re looking at an Orthodox throne in Athens.”
“Still sounds kind of distant,” said James.
“Distance is in the eye of the beholder,” said Jack rubbing his hands together. “Let me give Zizi a call.” He looked at the contacts on his phone screen and double tapped a number.
“Hello, Zizi? How are you? It’s Jack. Can we chat for a minute? I have an opportunity that might prove lucrative for you.”
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Chapter 6. Paris
Anouk walked into the office of Strategic Intelligence International, a large consultancy headquartered in the La Défense business section west of Paris. She stood in front of the reception desk and the young woman asked, “Oui, Mademoiselle?”
“Monsieur Édouard Soisson, please. I have an appointment.”
“Who should I say is calling?”
“Madame Anouk Scholich,” said Anouk.
“Oui, madame,” said the receptionist as she buzzed Soisson.
Presently he came through the door and walked up to Anouk and held out his hands and said, “So nice to see you again, Anouk. Follow me.”
They entered a corner conference room with a sweeping view of the central esplanade of La Défense. A vast walkway ran down between the rows of skyscrapers to the Seine River. A bridge across the river and in the distance the Avenue de la Grande Armée traversing the posh neighborhoods of west Paris led to the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the rising slope. Anouk’s gaze swept up the avenue, taking in the magnificence.
“Grand, isn’t it?” said Édouard.
“Yes, it is,” said Anouk.
“What can I do for you today?”
“Stop… Édouard, please…I am one of Sophie d’Auverne’s oldest colleagues.”
“Yes, Édouard. Jim asked me to come to Paris—he doesn’t want the matter discussed over the telephone or other electronic means—and ask you to undertake another investigation.”
“Yes, about what?”
“Well, I suppose it is really a continuation of the last one. We received a napkin in Geneva from Alain Renier asking to reactivate his account and go long on Greek bank stocks when they reach the lows…”
“When is that?”
“That is part of the enigma…we don’t know what the lows might be or when we might reach them.”
“That sounds more like work for your husband Dieter than me.”
“Yes, that is true. But Jim feels Alain must have inside information from very high up…”
“Yes, that makes sense.”
“But Renier was UMP, presently called the Republicans,” said Anouk. “He is not a Socialist.”
“Well, he is undoubtedly well connected at the finance ministry…”
“Jim feels this is higher up…that Alain would have to have someone inside the Élysée Palace…close to President Hollande…near the Socialist finance mafia that really runs things…”
“Yes, I see the problem…they’re a closed-mouth group over there.”
“I suggested, more as a joke,” said Anouk with a certain bashfulness, “that possibly he knew an usher.”
“Yes, the huissiers,” said Édouard with a flash of insight crossing his mind, “that would work well for someone like Renier…the insiders wouldn’t even know there was an inside tipster in their midst…the perfect insider crime, so to speak…”
“Yes, so Jim thought of you. He said you were the only one who could crack the devious schemes of Alain Renier.”
“Me?” said Soisson with a laugh. “He compliments me.”
“He would like you to undertake the investigation.”
“Does Sophie know about this?”
“Of course not. We don’t tell her about our operations. We do not want to compromise her positon. She has important official duties.”
“Yes, she does…I know she’s a Republican, but in her duties as deputy finance commissioner at Brussels she nevertheless works closely with the Socialist finance mafia—they’re everywhere in Paris and Brussels.”
“Yes, I know, although why she holds that appointment has sort of mystified me.”
“Angela insisted on her appointment.”
“Why? Probably so she and Christine will know what is going on in the minds of Hollande’s finance advisers.”
“Well, I can’t imagine Jim wanting to spy on Sophie…”
“Or me actually doing it,” said Édouard. “But we can find out where Renier is getting his information. We can be sure he is not getting it from Sophie.”
“Yes, that’s reassuring,” said Anouk, greatly relieved.
“Okay,” said Jack, standing up. “I’ll undertake the investigation.” He walked Anouk out to the lobby and said he’d be in touch “by secure means.”
He walked back down the hall and into Strategic Intelligence’s computer center and sat down with an analyst. “Let’s do a little research, Jean-Paul.”
“What do you need?” asked the young analyst.
“Let’s pull together an image portfolio of all the ushers at the Élysée Palace. They all ought to show up on public photographs we have in our memory banks at one time or another.”
“Of course, we have the building thoroughly information mapped,” said Jean-Paul. He tapped at his keyboard and wiggled the mouse and clicked here and there. Images started to parade across the screen. He typed in some more commands and singled out the black-suited, formally attired ushers at their duties, sometimes front and center to welcome guests, more often hovering in the background.
Édouard sat and watched, contemplating his next investigative step. Presently Jean-Paul assembled a portfolio of ushers and said, “I think this is the line-up of all presently employed ushers at the Élysée.”
“Excellent,” said Édouard. “Can you put them on my phone?”
“Of course,” replied Jean-Paul.
Édouard stood up and went back to his office and opened a file; he wanted to review the last case involving Alain Renier and the napkins. It had occurred during the 2012 Greek bond crisis. At the time, Renier was working at Crédit Générale after having held high finance ministry positions during the administration of President Sarkozy. He had close contacts at the European Central Bank and Bundesbank and other important European financial institutions.
Renier was using inside information to buy or short Greek bonds and other stocks in a secret account he had arranged with Bermuda Triangle, the Geneva-based hedge fund. At about the same time Jim Schiller, the head of Bermuda Triangle, had retained Strategic Intelligence International to provide high-level political advice. Sophie was handling the account. Shortly thereafter he—Édouard—had uncovered the secret channel between Renier and Geneva.
Renier communicated with Geneva using handwritten messages on cocktail napkins delivered through the maître d’ at a local restaurant—crucially no electronic record. Édouard had discovered the communications link since the maître d’ was a long-time source.
The year after the 2012 Greek bond escapade—a big win for both Renier and Bermuda Triangle—the Bermuda encrypted email server hub in Majorca went transparent to the NSA, the gigantic American intelligence agency, and the year after that all those intercepted Bermuda Triangle emails went public through Wikileaks. Fortunately, the napkin correspondence was all on paper in the bottom of a file drawer in the Bermuda Triangle headquarters and Renier’s coup was preserved in its immaculate secrecy. Édouard always felt that Renier knew that the Americans were reading everything in sight…he was very cagey.
Once Édouard had discovered the napkin link, he had of course immediately put Sophie in the picture. As Strategic Intelligence’s engagement with Bermuda Triangle continued, Sophie became ever more enamored with Jim Schiller, the head of Bermuda Triangle.
Édouard smiled to himself. Classic Sophie: she liked men where she knew more about them than they knew about her. And she always knew a lot about Jim Schiller. Édouard wondered what Schiller knew; Sophie was unusually inscrutable under her warm and outgoing demeanor.
Le Bistro de la Banque
It would be later in the afternoon before the after-work crowd showed up, so the room was nearly vacant. Over in the corner sat Pierre working at his papers; he was the maître d’ that Édouard had worked so successfully with on the last napkin case.
“Hello, Pierre,” said Édouard as he sat down. “How’s it going?”
“Well,” replied Pierre. “I thought you’d be here…the napkin.”
“Yes, I got word about a napkin arriving in Geneva.”
“And you want to know what?” asked Pierre, driving straight to the point.
“Do you see our friend Alain Renier here with anyone new, possibly someone from outside the district?”
“Well, yes,” said Pierre. “Sometimes in the early morning or the late afternoon he meets with a dark-suited, tall rather nervous individual.”
“A finance type?”
“No, not by his tailoring…possibly something in the government, but not a fonctionnaire…”
“Possibly an usher at the Élysée Palace?”
“Yes, that would be a perfect fit,” said Pierre, excited at once again playing this game with Édouard of guessing the individual from his or her tailoring.
“Here, let me show you some photos,” and Édouard and he pulled out his iPhone, called up the camera roll, and handed it over to Pierre. “See anyone familiar?”
Pierre started to scroll through the photos and then stopped and exclaimed, “Yes, here he is. This is the man who sees Alain.”
Édouard noted the number of the photo. “When do they meet?”
“Like I said, Renier sees him either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I think the guy works a night shift. They whisper. The man looks around suspiciously. They stop talking as soon as I or any of the waiters approach.”
“We never see anything change hands. Just conversation.”
Édouard reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the bistro’s distinctive coasters. “Here, Pierre, use this coaster. It has a small chip embedded inside which can record their conversation. We’ll find out what the usher is telling Alain.”
“Is it about President Hollande and his mistresses?” asked Pierre eagerly.
“Somehow at the end of the day…that might be part of it,” said Édouard reflectively. He graciously added, “That’s a good insight, Pierre. I’ll have to keep it in mind…this may be about more than just money…”
“It almost always is,” said Pierre with bright eyes. “The money…the women…and with the Élysée there would be the catnip of power…irresistible…”
Édouard slid two envelopes across the table and said, “We’ll stay in touch.” He stood up and went back to his office.
Arriving back at Strategic Intelligence International, Édouard went to the computer room and approached the analyst. “Jean-Paul, got our man. Time for some deep data mining.” He went and sat down in front of the large screens with Jean-Paul.
“What do we have? This one, you say,” said Jean-Paul and he pulled the usher’s profile up on the screen. The two men scanned the information.
“Nothing unusual here,” said Édouard. “Let’s search very wide…we’re looking for a motive possibly beyond just money…”
“To start, let’s look for all known or possible family relationships,” said Jean-Paul and he set the search routines loose. The two men sat and watched the screen flash up the information…parents…brothers and sisters…aunts…uncles…cousins…”
“Look for distant cousins,” said Édouard. The computer ground on.
“There’s what you’re looking for,” said Jean-Paul and he pointed to the name Valérie Treweiler.
“A distant cousin of the usher,” said Jean-Paul.
“Yes, perfect, she’s President Hollande’s former mistress…the one he dumped for the younger movie star…that’ll put the Medici poison in the morning tea…” said Édouard.
“Yes, dumped right out of the Élysée,” said Jean-Paul. “But, hey, Julie Gayet has the beauty to sink a thousand political careers…” added Jean-Paul with an approving tone about the actress.
“Well, if career-wrecking is her game, she’s starting at the top, that’s for sure,” said Édouard. “Let’s keep going…search for associations.”
Jean-Paul moved the mouse and the computer again took off.
After several minutes, Jean-Paul said, “Mining deep.”
“There…a name…Ségolène Royal,” said Jean-Paul.
“Yes, the long-time companion of President Hollande and mother of their four children together.” Royal has been the Socialist party’s candidate for President of the Republic in the 2007 election; she had lost to Nicolas Sarkozy.
“What’s her current position?” asked Édouard.
“She’s minister of ecology and also president of the Poitou-Charentes Regional Council,” and Jean-Paul eyed the screen, “and on the board of a public investment bank.”
“What’s the connection with our friend?”
“He gets cultural grants to do research from the investment bank, the Banque Publique d’Investissement. She’s the vice-chair.”
“So the retainer. What do you think?”
“Completely political normal…water the flowers, so to speak. Possibly she’s just keeping tabs on Hollande,” said Jean-Paul. “They have a complicated relationship.”
“He likes complicated relationships,” said Édouard.
“What information does the usher give Renier that is so valuable?” asked Jean-Paul.
“I don’t know. He’s told Bermuda Triangle to be ready to go long Greek bank stocks, but he hasn’t pulled the trigger,” said Édouard.
“Let’s frame a decision matrix,” said Jean-Paul and moved the mouse again. New information flashed on the screen. “There, an investor would want to buy Greek bank stocks just in advance of word that a European bailout of Greece has been adopted.”
“Yes, I could have probably guessed that,” said Édouard. “But in today’s Europe, how would you know who has made the decision and when?”
“The matrix says that the decision will be made by Berlin,” said Jean-Paul. “But look there,” and he pointed to the screen in amazement, “Paris will have a large input and shape the decision. Berlin will not want to go against Paris.”
“So when you know what Hollande is thinking and when, then you know when to go long Greek bank stocks,” said Édouard.
“But who knows what Hollande is thinking?” exclaimed Jean-Paul, seeing the complexity of the situation.
“Obviously not the women in his life,” cracked Édouard, drawing on years of experience with the French finance police.
Jean-Paul laughed and asked, “But what is Renier looking for? What’s the tipoff?”
“Possibly he doesn’t know exactly,” said Édouard. “But he’ll be looking for a change in optimism in Hollande’s face, some backslapping after meeting with the finance minister…some outward emotional tipoff that a decision has been reached.”
He also had other thoughts which he kept to himself. There might be one woman who might penetrate that maze, see through the decision fog that surrounded President Hollande. And interestingly enough, Sophie d’Auverne seemed to be sitting in the middle of the communications link between Berlin, Brussels, and Paris, right at the heart of the decision matrix. Would she add Athens to this list?
Then Édouard turned deeply thoughtful. Did Jim Schiller even guess? Or was it love with the American? He’d been told puppy love stayed with Americans long into adult life. And then Édouard had always figured Schiller for something of a one-trick pony; good at playing the investment game of long-short but rather clueless at the subtler games of life at which Sophie excelled.
The financial future of a continent was at stake. Bermuda Triangle would just be making money, maybe lots of it—but at the end of the day incidental. But Édouard knew Sophie d’Auverne. She would be playing with the big stakes.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Chapter 5. Frankfurt
“So nice you could come, Sophie,” said the courtly Italian. “You know Jürgen, I believe?” He guided her into a waiting chair.
“Yes, he’s a partner in my significant other’s hedge fund, Bermuda Triangle.”
“Yes, I read all about them in the Snowden Papers. An amusing group of fellows,” said Mario.
Sophie frowned. Thank God the emails had referred to her by a code name; otherwise her cover would have been blown for all political time, she thought. She smiled at Jürgen and said, “Nice to see you, Jürgen.” He gave a dour nod.
“I’ve asked Jürgen to open up an informal backchannel to the Bundesbank…we may need some flexibility in the days ahead…”
“Yes, Jürgen knows the back corridors of Frankfurt,” said Sophie. Draghi was sending the right emissary: fight pessimism by sending a good pessimist, she thought. Jürgen could darken a room.
“Now, now, let’s all sit down and hear what you have to say about Berlin,” said Mario.
“Manage the crisis this week…wait upon the results of the referendum…” Sophie summarized.
“Probably doesn’t matter this week.” said Mario. “We’re keeping a small flow of euros going into the Greek ATMs until after the referendum.”
“Do they know how much?” asked Sophie.
“No,” said Mario. “It’s ambiguous.”
“Umm,” hummed Sophie, seeing the wisdom of the approach. A little drip torture.
“A quiet week for us,” added Mario. “And afterwards…some fireworks…”
“Wolfgang wants to move ahead with more euro integration. Following banking union, he wants joint institutions, including a permanent administration and a eurozone parliament,” said Sophie.
“The ECB really wants that, too,” said Mario. “We can’t carry the whole load.”
“I’ve known Wolfgang for a long time,” said Jürgen, “he makes plans. He is a thinker about Europe’s future, how to strengthen the eurozone…that’s simply something Angela doesn’t do.”
“Yes, the great irony,” said Sophie, “Wolfgang is really the face of the new Europe.”
“And you’re his beautiful muse, Sophie,” said Mario with the smooth Mediterranean charm cultivated in his years at Goldman Sachs.
Just then the iPhone vibrated in Jürgen’s pocket. He pulled it out and said, “Excuse me.” He got up and walked to the far end of the spacious office. He started to listen. His brow furrowed.
Nothing unusual about that, thought Sophie. Jürgen’s brow always furrowed.
“Ja,” said Jürgen into the phone and punched the screen and put it back into his pocket. He walked back over and said, “I must confess that I should exit this conversation or I might find myself in a conflict of interest. Embarrassing. I’ll get it sorted out.”
Sophie gave him a riveting look. Did Bermuda Triangle take a position on Greece? She looked at Jürgen again and noticed the pained look. Yes, she was right. Dieter had jumped the tracks.
“Fine, Jürgen,” said Mario. He looked at his watch. “Why don’t you accompany us down the hall? I have a press conference and then I can finish up with Sophie later.”
“I can’t be seen with the press,” said Sophie.
“I understand,” said Mario. “But we all can all tie up a few loose ends in the hallway for a while on the way—it’s a long ways across the building.”
The three got up and walked out the door; Mario’s press aide joined them, and then the four started down the hall way leading to a briefing room. As the four were walking down the hallway accompanied by two security aides, Sophie suddenly saw videos ahead and journalists with red press IDs around their neck.
“Oh, no,” she gasped and wheeled in front of Jürgen, bumped him hard , turned him around, and started to push him down the hallway, saying in a low shout, “Run.” They two of them took off down the hallway.
One of the journalists yelled, “There they are.” He grabbed his cameraman and started off at a dog trot down the hallway after Sophie and Jürgen.
Another journalist turned on Draghi and asked accusingly, “Who is she?”
“Oh, just a lady friend,” said the bemused and debonair Draghi as his press aide blanched.
“It’s another Valérie Trierweiler,” screamed the journalist, referring to the once scorned former mistress of French President Hollande.
“No, Julia Gayet,” shouted another journalist, mentioning the current mistress of the French president.
The two journalists roughly pushed past Draghi’s two security aides and started running after the other two journalists, with a horde of journalists and cameramen following en masse.
Draghi watched with open-mouthed amazement as the press pack barreled down the hallway, screaming and shouting, “The mistress…the story of the year…Pulitzer Prize time…” Draghi pulled his press aide over by the arm and said, “We have to remember this public relations ploy for the next crisis.”
Sophie ran down the hallway pushing Jürgen in front of her and screaming in his ear, “Faster, Jürgen, they’re gaining.”
Suddenly from around the corner came a squad of a half dozen blue-uniformed security police pulling out their batons and tugging down their plastic visors. The squad was running full-throttle forward, boots thundering on the marble floors. They rushed past Sophie and Jürgen and piled into the oncoming journalists shouting, “Back you ruffians…down you brutes…” as they shoved offending camera lenses towards the ceiling and grabbed reporters by the collar. Shouts went up from the security police in a half dozen languages, “Stop, arretez, verboeten…” The security police commiserated with one another as they slowly mastered the situation: “Worse than the football hooligans, I dare say.” The police herded the press pack back down the hall towards where Draghi and his press aide were standing.
Sheepishly the journalists assembled in a semi-circle around Draghi, the security police in an even wider circle standing behind them, tapping their batons into black- gloved hands.
Like the professor he had once been, Draghi began, “Now, about the ATMS in Greece…”
In a far corner of the executive suites of the ECB, Jürgen and Sophie stopped and caught their breath. “This secret emissary stuff is more arduous than I thought,” said Jürgen. “Do you do this often, Sophie?”
“Yes, but usually through a back corridor to a small conference room. It’s important not to be recognizable to the press…or they speculate.”
“Yes, well as Mario said, I’m off to the Bundesbank to see Jens Weidmann. And you?”
“I’m simply keeping communications channels open this week. Paris, Brussels, and Berlin are not all on the same page…I’m smoothing things over,” said Sophie.
Jürgen laughed and said, “Yes, a few pot holes on the road to ‘ever closer union,’” referring to the key goal of the European Union founding treaty.
“More than that. This crisis has the feel of something different…something more ominous,” said Sophie. She looked at him with a face drained of her characteristic optimism.
Jürgen’s expression fell. For Sophie to say something like that was serious—it screamed inflection point in Dieter-talk, he thought. “I’m on my way to the Bundesbank…I’ll scout out the atmospherics.”
“Let me know,” said Sophie and she took off down the hall.
“It’s all lost money,” said Weidmann with a hopeless tone to his voice, a bleak look on his face.
“Time is working for the eurozone, Jens. Each day that goes by on the sixty euro diet reminds the average Greek citizen what the future might look like.”
“And each day the average German citizen stews in the angst that another fifty or sixty billion euros is going down the euro drain,” adding in a voice dripping disdain, “for that euro trash…”
“The decision on whether Greece stays or exits the euro is a political decision…to be taken at the highest political level…Mario understands this to his fingertips…it is not the time for the banks to get in front of the political level…your bank or his…”
“Jürgen, we’ve been friends a long time, and I want to tell you…this is not the Bundesbank sending messages to Berlin…some of us hard money guys looking in the rear view mirror pressuring the political leaders…”
“What are you driving at?” asked Jürgen catching the different tone in Jens’ voice.
“The political leadership…in the chancellery…in the ministries…and in the Bundestag…is pressuring the bank to deliver the message.”
“The bank is being pressured?” asked Jürgen, a look of perplexity crossing his face at this unexpected news.
“Yes, from the highest levels…the politicians are pushing the Bundesbank…hard. I’ve never seen the politicians so angry…so resolute…so implacable…”
“Well, nevertheless my understanding is the ECB will hold steady…”
“Yes, but when it comes time to deal, Jürgen, you better tell Mario that it will not be easy…some people are going to get pushed to the wall…”
“Yes, there has been an erosion of trust,” said Jürgen thoughtfully.
“Trust?” spat out Weidmann. “I’d say out-and-out lying to Angela’s face…”
“Oh, huh,” said Jürgen with a gulp. “I see your point. That bad?”
“Worse. Deliver the message,” said Jens with a sigh of resignation.
“Consider it done,” said Jürgen as he got up to leave.
“And not just to Mario. Tell your friend Sophie, too.”
“Sophie?” said Jürgen with surprise.
“Yes, Sophie d’Auverne. We overlapped at the University of Paris…and were interns together at the Banque de France…she had the political gift even then,” said Jens, who had spent several years of his graduate studies in France. “Back before you and I met at the IMF.”
“Yes, I’ll try and get in touch with her,” said Jürgen.
“You do that,” said Jens with a knowing smile.
Outside in the hallway Jürgen walked down to a small lounge area overlooking the river. He texted Sophie: “Jens says you’re right—will be very tough.” She’ll decode the message, he thought.