Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chapter 6 - Paris - Fast Money and French Ladies

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.”

“About what?”

“An 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.”

“Angela? Why?”

“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

Leaving his office, Édouard walked along the esplanade towards Le Bistro de la Banque, a place popular with the banking and business crowd. Coming up to the restaurant, he walked down several steps to the garden terrace and through thick double-glass doors and into the welcome coolness of the air conditioned dining room. July 2015 was a scorcher in Paris.

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.

Data Mining

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 05 - Frankfurt - Fast Money and French Ladies

Chapter 5. Frankfurt

Sophie was ushered into the office of the President of the European Central Bank. She was nonplussed to see Jürgen Kretschmer standing to one side. This was supposed to be a private meeting, she thought. Mario Draghi came around from behind the desk with a big smile on his face and a welcoming hand and arm.

“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.


In a corner office with a sweeping view of Frankfurt sat Jens Weidmann behind a large desk. Jens was president of Deutsche Bundesbank, the German central bank. Jürgen sat across and said, “Jens, Mario is simply asking for a little quiet this week as they keep a minimum amount of euros flowing into the Greek ATMs.”

“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.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Chapter 04. Athens - Fast Money and French Ladies

Chapter 4. Athens 

Jack Hawkins stood at the top of the steps leading down into the bar and lounge of the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens; he had just arrived that afternoon and hoped to snoop out some bargain basement investments as the Greek economy tanked in the current crisis. Jack was in his sixties with a thick thatch of gray hair and the bluff and hearty manner of the British banker he had once been. He was dressed in a white linen suit, white shirt, and narrow striped tie. On his head he wore a white panama hat, on his feet were woven-straw loafers from another era. He was a figure out of a Graham Greene novel, a modern day Our Man in Athens, an image out of Empire.

He carried his stick with an emerald top which he tapped impatiently against his left palm as he surveyed the room. Wonder where all the senior men are? he thought. Then he spied a face he recognized sitting among a circle of younger men sitting dejected over their cocktails. He walked over and approached the young man.

“Hi, here’s a face I recognize…can’t quite put a name to it…but you were an intern back in London…oh a bit over ten years ago I believe…”

“Right, Gramps…before the meltdown…” said the young man in a crisp Eton accent, his eyes lighting up in recognition of the older man. “My name’s James…hedge fund is the game…” and his voice faltered and he said, “or used to be.”

Jack let the Gramps nickname slide by; he’d been called worse in these distant climes. There wasn’t a buoyant face in the youthful crowd.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Not at all Gramps…everything else is going wrong today…”

Jack looked around the circle of depressed young men, their razor cut hair, the sleek suits, the ties now all askew. “All of you must be long Greece,” Jack said with a hearty chuckle.

They looked daggers at him. One said, “Isn’t everyone?”

“Well, no,” replied Jack.

“Who are you?” another young man asked.

“I’m Jack Hawkins of Bermuda Triangle, Ltd.”

“Oh yeah, you guys scored big in the 2012 bailout,” said another young man.

“We did rather well…”

“Then you got out…before the Syriza guys came to power…”

“Well, yes we did…”

Another young man enthusiastically entered the conversation. “I remember Bermuda Triangle…that was the hedge fund that had all of their emails read by the NSA…their email server hub in Majorca went transparent. I read ‘em all in the Snowden files.” The young man looked directly at Jack and said, “Didn’t know you had so much influence with British diplomats…”

“It was a tad overstated,” said Jack. “Just some old school stuff…you know, comparing the stripes on our ties…”

“And now?” asked James.

“We’ve a rather light footprint in Greece.”

“So why are you here?”

“Thought we’d nose around and see if any interesting deals pop up.”

“Yeah, up out of the wreckage,” chimed in another voice sarcastically.

“You a vulture capital fund?” asked another young man accusingly.

“We’ve always got our eye out for a favorably priced distress situation.”

“Well, your lucky day. Distress is all around you.”

Another young man pointed to Jack’s woven-straw loafers and exclaimed, “Look. Like out of a very old movie.”

Another young man asked James, “You knew him where? What’s the story?”

“I was an intern in London. He was a senior banker then. Remember how back in the olden days they used experience to make loans, not computers.” James looked at Jack and then back at the other young man and said, “He was rumored to have judgment.”

Jack smiled benignly. Then he asked the group collectively, “So you guys are long? What are some of the vehicles?”

“You mean in addition to the bonds?”


“Well, banks for one. BankAthens…”


“Of course,” said Jack, all jocular good humor.

“And the ferry boat company,” said another.

“Some construction and energy companies…you know capitalize on building the new Greece…the one coming with the third bailout package…”

“The water company…”

“The water company?” asked Jack, truly puzzled.

“Yeah, they were going to privatize it…then the Marxists showed up…”

“Well, after next Sunday’s referendum…maybe there’ll be a change in governments…a new start…” said Jack sympathetically.

“We need regime change…” said another.

“My brother works for the State Department. He says they do it all the time,” another young man said.

“Yeah, maybe they’ll help,” said another hopefully.

Another young man swung his head back and forth in the negative, “Naw, Obama will never go for it. After getting caught eavesdropping on Angela’s cell phone…changing one of her governments would be going too far…”

“Well, you’re on the right track,” said Jack. “When I was young, the British ambassador would just go out in his garden at night and have a whispered conversation with someone wearing a trench coat and a fedora, and presto, the government would get changed…”

“Yeah, don’t think that’ll work anymore. I hear the guys in Scotland almost changed the government in London.”

Another young man chipped in. “But I think Gramps is onto something. The senior partners at home get Congress to do whatever they tell them. We should communicate back to headquarters and ask them how they do it. Then we could do it here.”

“Probably use lobbyists.”

“Well, we could ask the senior partners to parachute one in to us.”

Just then Jack’s iPhone started to vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and swiped the screen while telling his new companions, “Excuse me. Just one moment.”

Jack listened. It was Geneva. Dieter was speaking…it was almost like code. Jack’s brow furrowed as he listened to the words… “big long position in Greek bonds…major positions in Greek banks…stocks…” and then to his surprise, “the Athens water company…billions”

One of the young men, obvious concern on his face, leaned over and asked Jack, “Is that a blood pressure app on your phone, Gramps? You’re white as a sheet.”

“Just word from Geneva…we’re a little more long in Greece than I thought,” he mumbled.

The young man named Jones looked at him and mouthed the words, “Long?”

Jack nodded with a hollow look.


“Yes…” croaked Jack, disbelief across his face.

Another young man hailed the waiter and said, “Gramps needs a martini.”

“Make it a double,” said James looking at Jack like a concerned doctor.

“Okay, Gramps, welcome to the club. Welcome to the Hotel California, Athens branch. You can enter but never leave. The money stays behind.”

The waiter brought Jack his martini. He brought the glass swiftly up to his lips and took a long sip. Then he set the glass down. “There now.”

“What do we do now, Gramps?”

“We need to work the regime change angle. A new government that will strike a new deal with Europe.”

“And get the money flowing,” said James.

“But we don’t even have a lobbyist,” said another voice.

“We’ll use theirs.”


“Tomorrow, I’ve got some ideas for tomorrow morning and then in the afternoon we’ll visit the bankers.”

“But the banks are closed tomorrow, Gramps.”

“Precisely. We’ll meet them out at the Club. That’s where they’ll be. It’s up on a hill outside of town overlooking Athens. Beautiful. I remember it well.”

One of the young men ruminated with a sense of wonder. “Of course. Those are our banks. We own them. They should work with us.”

“Have you ever seen a capital city where the bankers don’t know how to own the legislature,” said Jack with an avuncular laugh.

“What bank did you work for in London, Gramps?”


“Yeah, good…I like that…they came back from the dead…”

Just then two scruffy looking dudes in levis and stained shirts showed up and plopped down in chairs.

“Great, the journalists are here,” said James. “What’s the latest scoop?”

“You tell us,” said one bedraggled scribe. “We’ve been getting the runaround all day. You ever try to talk with that finance minister?” The other journalist eyed Jack and asked, “Who’s the old guy?”

“My name is Jack Hawkings. I’m the head of the Overseas Investment Association here in Athens. Be respectful. We’re starting a major initiative tomorrow morning. Then a press conference,” said Jack as he baited the hook.

“We are?” asked one of hedgies. But the journalists’ ears had perked up. A new angle, the international investment community. Tomorrow’s story will write itself—lead with a little Pablum from a trade association. Easy work.

“Yes, I’m meeting with the British ambassador tomorrow morning. Then we’re holding a press conference just outside the embassy.” Jack looked around at the hedgies and said, “You’re all expected to attend.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” said James. “This sounds like something right out of the old Barclays.”

British embassy

“Sir, there’s a Mister Jack Hawkins in the foyer to meet with you. Said it’s quite urgent.”

“There is!” exclaimed the ambassador, sputtering, “That man is in my embassy?”

“Yes sir,” said the aide. “He says it will only take a minute.”

“Okay, but only a minute.” He eyed the aide to see if he was as gullible as his announcement suggested. Didn’t he know a mountebank when he saw one?

The ambassador followed the aide down the stairs from the residential apartments to the huge foyer just inside from the massive timbered door, built in the past to hold back the most unruly of Athenian mobs.

“Nice to see you again, Sir John,” said Jack with jocular familiarity.

“Can’t say the same for you,” scowled the ambassador in reply, suddenly wondering where he’d placed his wallet.

“Well old school ties and all that,” said Jack as he fingered his striped rep tie.

“Hear the alumni committee overlooked sending you an invitation to the last class reunion,” said the ambassador fingering his own striped tie with a certain look of regret.

“Minor oversight, I dare say. Barclays didn’t forward it on.”

“Yes I’d heard that the proper authorities had straightened out Barclays. Sharp practices, they said.”

“Water under the London Bridge. I’m here on behalf of my associates in the Overseas Investors Association here in Athens. Wanted to make sure that Her Majesty’s Government still supported fair treatment of British investments overseas?”

“Harumph,” said the ambassador as he hoisted his girth up in a sign that a statement of implacable certitude was soon to issue. “Daresay there isn’t a million pounds sterling within a hundred kilometers of the Greek border. What do we care?”

“Understand,” agreeably said Jack.

“Do you,” said the ambassador, boring in. “Let me explain,” a sense of triumph spreading across his face, “Greece is Brussels’ problem. This is one problem we don’t even have to exit!”

“That’s all I wanted to hear,” said Jack. “I’ll not be keeping you, Sir John. See you at the next reunion.”

The ambassador’s face went bleak as he watched Jack head towards the door, now held open by a formally attired usher. Something was entirely too easy here.

The ambassador mumbled to the aide, “Keep an eye on the potted palms outside. See that he doesn’t auction them off.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m going to go upstairs and make some telephone calls.”

Press Conference

Outside, Jack walked through the massive front gate and stood on the sidewalk. All the hedgies were there, dark suited and hiding their curiosity behind sleek sunglasses. Journalists and camera crews surrounded the gate to the embassy in a semicircle. Passing Greek pedestrians crowded around to see what the foreigners were up to.

Jack waved and then put his hands out to quiet the humdrum down. As the crowd turned silent he said, “I’ve just spoken with the ambassador. He is highly reassuring. Her Majesty’s Government stands broadly behind the principles of the Overseas Investors Association. There will not be any exit from the government’s commitment to sterling investments.”

A journalist moved to ask a question and Jack put him off with an upraised palm and said, “I’ll take the press’s questions in just a few moments.”

Jack continued, “As many of you know, our own Prince Phillip is a member of the Greek Royal House…”

“The Greek Royal House?” stammered a journalist. “There is one?”

“Yessiree,” said Jack. “The Pretender is…”

“Pretender? Is there going to a restoration of the monarchy?” asked another reporter, smelling an extraordinary scoop about to unfold.

“It hasn’t been ruled out,” said Jack

“Wow…this will be the story of the day…we better take off,” said one of the journalists, turning on his heel and racing down the street screaming, “Where’s there an Internet connection?”

The television correspondents lined up for favorable shots with the embassy in the background while cameramen vied for position. News producers coached the correspondents on dramatic leads to introduce their reports to the folks back home; the news teams were racing to make the New York evening newscasts.

Jack stood there smiling like the Cheshire cat. He turned to James, “We’ve got the Big Mo.”

“Now what?” asked James.

“The bankers this afternoon.” The plan was unfolding.

One of the hedgies pulled up in a rented convertible with driver. “Let me give you a lift back to the hotel, Gramps. We can go past the demonstration. They’re marching towards the parliament building. See what the natives are up to.”

“Yes, good idea,” said Jack as he and James got in the back seat.


The car edged through the thronging crowd. Up ahead was a large demonstration. Big red flags on poles were everywhere. The Greek Communist party was enjoying a resurgence. The police line was holding them back.

“Can you stop the car just behind the police line?” asked Jack.

“Sure,” said the driver.

“Do you think you can get a loud hailer from the police captain?” asked Jack to the driver.

“For a hundred euros, sure.”

James whipped a hundred euro note out of his wallet. The driver parked the car just behind the police line, walked over to a police captain and haggled over borrowing the electric megaphone, passed the captain the hundred euro note, and brought it back.

Jack stepped out of the car, took the megaphone from the driver, and said to the other hedgies, “Let’s see how good their English is?” Jack jumped on the hood of the car.

The driver jumped up beside him and said, “Let me translate.”

“Good idea.” Jack shouted into the megaphone, “Comrades!”

The translator leaned over and shouted the translation through the megaphone. Many of the demonstrators stopped and looked over towards the man in the white suit standing on top of the car.

“Comrades, don’t look to Moscow, look to London!”

People in the crowd looked at each other with puzzled glances. No Moscow? London?

“London is the last free capital in Europe not dominated by the euro tyranny directed by Brussels and Berlin!”

“And Frankfurt,” shouted a demonstrator in the crowd. “Frankfurt controls the ATMs! Freedom to the ATMs!”

The crowd started to look interested. Yes, London was not in the eurozone.

“Why is London still free?” shouted Jack.

The crowd stood stock still, mesmerized by the question.

“It is not because our government is strong. Our prime minister, like your prime minister, is a mere boy. They can’t stand up to Angela!”

Yes, the crowd thought, mere boys cannot stand up to the dominatrix in Berlin.

“What stands between the government in London and the euro lords in Brussels is the Queen. The Queen of England keeps Great Britain free of euro domination. Her powerful shield of sovereignty.”

The crowd cheered, the red flags pumped up and down on their staffs, people clapped and shouted, “Vive la reine.”

The translator shouted into Jack’s ear, “That’s the phrase they see in the French movies.” Jack smiled. Any queen in a storm.

“So, let me speak to you,” shouted Jack. “As a leading Monarchist-Leninist, I say—we must bring the monarchy back—to protect the free people of Greece from the tyranny of Brussels.”

“Vive le monarchy!” shouted the crowd. Others yelled, “The Englishman speaks the truth.”

“Petition the parliament,” shouted Jack through the megaphone.

“To the parliament,” shouted the crowd and surged forward down the street towards the parliament building.

Jack climbed down off the hood of the car and got back in and said to James, “Let’s get back to the hotel and then on to the bankers.”

The Club

The taxis swung into the parking lot in front of the whitewashed club house, the faded tiles on the roof a soft red in the afternoon sunlight. A doorman rushed out to block the entrance—so many unwanted guests these days. Jack alighted and with air of authority approached the doorman, “We’re from the Overseas Investors Associations. We’re here to meet the chairman of BankAthens and EuroGreece bank. I believe we’re expected.”

“Let me check,” said the doorman, eyeing the visitors warily. Salesman had been knocking at the door to the Club all week trying to sell islands to distinguished members who thought they already owned all the islands. He soon returned and from the entrance waved them forward, saying, “This way gentlemen. On the patio. They received the ambassador’s call that you were coming.”

“Very thoughtful of the ambassador,” said Jack as he fingered his striped tie.

The hedgies looked at one another—impressed. Maybe Jack had more grease in a country that was starting to look like it needed a lot of oiling to get anything done.

Jack and the other hedgies walked in and down past the sparkling blue waters of the swimming pool towards a large patio overlooking Athens below. Two distinguished looking gray-haired men in their sixties in dark glasses stood by a table and watched the visitors approach.

“I’m Jack Hawkins,” said Jack by way of introduction.

“Yes, we saw you on TV,” said one of the men, nodding towards a big screen TV in the shade beside the patio bar.

“We’re part of the Overseas Investors Association,” said Jack.

“So what?” said one of the bankers. He looked at his friend, “What do you think, Dimitrios?”

Dimitrios shrugged.

“Well, many of our members have substantial investments in your banks’ common stock,” said Jack agreeably. Didn’t want to put any threats crudely.

“So what?” said Dimitrios. He turned back to the other banker, “You tell ‘em, Costas.”

Costas said, “That and a twenty euro bill will get you a cab ride back to Athens.”

James stepped forwards and politely said, with just an edge of investor impatience, “Sir, possibly you don’t understand. We have majority control of your stock.”

“Possibly you don’t understand,” mimicked Dimitrios as he mocked James. “Another Anglo Saxon is going to tell us about the Magna Carta.”

“Just papers blowing in the wind,” said Costas.

“And rule of the law,” said Dimitrios with a disdainful shrug.

“Us, who have slaughtered the Ottoman legions…raped the sultan’s youngest daughters…impaled the Moslems on spear points…in answer to the eternal law…” continued Costas like a Greek chorus.

“And the Anglo Saxon wants to talk to us about the paper law…” spat out Dimitrios with the contempt of the East for the West.

“Yes,” stammered James, “I see…just paper blowing in the wind…” He stepped back.

Jack took a step forward and said soothingly, “Now, now. Let’s all have a drink and find the common ground.” He waved at a waiter, who came over. Jack pulled out a hundred euro note and said, “What are we all having?”

“Cinzano,” said Dimitrios. He looked at Costas and gave a what-the-hell shrug and sat down.

“Cinzano all around,” said Jack to the barman.

“We’re listening, English,” said Dimitrios.

“There’s a good lad,” said Jack with jocular familiarity as he sat down and the other hedgies dragged up chairs and sat in a circle around the table where the two bankers sat with Jack.

“We’re concerned about our investments,” said Jack. “The wrong government, bank nationalizations…”

“Bank nationalizations?” said the two Greeks in unison, a sense of shock seeping into their voices. Where’d that come from?

“Those were red flags at the Communist street demonstration today.”

“Yes…” said Dimitrios. Not that he’d worried; they’d been paying off the Communists for decades. Watching the TV, he had simply found the British banker standing on the car hood shouting at Communist demonstrators truly entertaining.

“But we have…how do you say…acquired great influence in the Syriza party,” said Costas.

“But what happens if the Communist claque wins out over the moderate side?” said Jack.

“So, some Communists in the cabinet,” said Costas, not tipping his hand.

“Well, if that triggers the Olive Revolution…” said Jack.

“The Olive Revolution?” said Dimitrios, an edge of uncertainty in his voice.

“Yes, speaking with the SIS liaison this morning at the embassy,” said Jack in a lowered voice, “I presume the ambassador put you in the picture…”

The two bankers looked at each other. Picture? Olive Revolution?

“Well, yes, the ambassador mentioned many things…what do you propose?” asked Dimitrios.

“We need to get some of the old Marxists on our side to help form a government that will negotiate for a third bailout and stay in the euro. The right Communists in the cabinet might just be the ticket…”

“How do we do that?”

“You explain how thoroughly you’re screwing the capitalists in Germany and elsewhere.”

“Well, there’s truth in that,” said Costas. “But that’s not enough. They’re tough old birds.”

“Well, just tell them the international investors insist that the banks form advisory committees to advise on community development…some generous retainers might be available…”

“Yes, that would work…and warn off the other ministries…”

“Yes,” said Jack. “The best cooperation is always paid for.”

“Yes, an old Greek proverb,” said Costas. “We can arrange for you to meet, English, with some of old Marxists of the Syriza party…before the referendum…you will be able to see that it will not be easy…”

“Easy?” asked Dimitrios, perplexity spreading across his face. “What happens if you lose the referendum on Sunday?”

“That’s why we need to line up the support now. No matter which way the election goes on Sunday, we need a coalition government to form on Monday that will negotiate on Tuesday.”

“And Tsipras?”

“He likes his new house. He’ll blow with the wind.”

“They all do,” said Costa. He turned to Dimitrios and said, “The Englishman is smarter than he looks.”

“Then talks on Tuesday with the Europe,” said Jack.

“And on Wednesday your investments soar in value,” said Costas.

“That’s the hope,” said Jack.

“But if you’re wrong and the Germans push Greece out of the euro on Wednesday, then what, English?” asked Dimitrios.

“The Europeans want a deal. We deliver in Athens, they’ll deliver in Frankfurt and Brussels.”

“Okay, we’ll help, English,” said Costas.

Dimitrios took a long pull on his Cinzano and said, “English, we watch television, too. If things go badly on Wednesday, you better pull a Queen of Greece out of your bag of tricks on Thursday!”

“Or we’ll all be Red on Friday,” said Costas.

“A cousin of Prince Phillip at least,” said Jack with a broad smile. “We won’t keep you gentlemen longer,” he said as he stood up.

“The last king of Greece was a nephew of the Kaiser,” said Costas. “Not good. Let’s not repeat…can’t we get a princess from Monaco?”

“You’re smarter than you look, Costas!” said Jack with a wave.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chapter 3- Geneva - Fast Money and French Ladies: The Greek Crisis 2015

Chapter 3. Geneva

On Sunday morning, Jim stood outside the Geneva airport terminal on the curb waiting for a limo to pick him up, his head throbbing from too much scotch and too little aspirin. “Oh, no,” he mumbled to himself as he saw Dieter approach in his Kubel Kar with the Afrika Corp palm tree stenciled on the side. Jim could see emblazoned across the front of Dieter’s tee shirt the words “Asylum for Snowden,” referring to the renegade security spy and good friend of Dieter’s. Just what was Dieter softening him up for?

The thought flashed across Jim’s mind that possibly this was worse than he had imagined—although how much worse could it get than to be long a couple of billion euros in Greece? Next weekend Greece was scheduled to hold a referendum on rejecting the latest bailout proposal from the European Union. In short, would Greek voters give a mighty heave and pull down the pillars of the European monetary temple?

More immediate, just where was Bermuda Triangle? He’d updated his iPad every time the little executive jet had landed—Bermuda, the Azores, Lisbon—each update worse than the previous. When they ran out of scotch, the flight attendant said, “I didn’t know this was going to be a two bottle flight?”

“Jim, hop in,” Dieter shouted as he swerved the bathtub-shaped vehicle into the curb. “Enjoy your flight?”

“Not exactly. Ran out of scotch, then aspirin.”

“Uh, huh. Well, we have a complete briefing set up for you back in the office.”

“What happened?”

“We came in one morning and the algorithm was chirping away, expecting a reward…”

“I thought we had it cordoned off?”

“The algorithm hopped right over the firewall during the night…and by the time we got it back…”

“Yes, frisky little algorithm,” Jim said. “Can’t we unwind any of these positions?”

“We’re in, I’m afraid.”


“The algorithm says to stay with the positions; it’s sure a bailout is coming.”

“Sounds rearview mirror to me,” said Jim glumly.

“We’re doing deep analysis,” said Dieter reassuringly. “Really drilling down. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

The Rubber Room

Arriving at Bermuda Triangle’s offices in downtown Geneva, Jim got off the elevator followed by Dieter and they walked down to the big padded door open to the computer room. The padding kept intrusive microwaves from spying on their highly proprietary trading techniques. Above the door was the hand-drawn sign saying “The Rubber Room: Home of the Alpha Dogs,” alpha being the shorthand Wall Street lingo for above average investment returns. If a hedge fund couldn’t earn alpha, it had no reason to exist.

For Bermuda Triangle, Jim wondered where the alpha had gone—and would it ever return? Jim and Dieter went inside and saw a lithesome olive-skinned young woman sitting at the triple-computer console in front of vast LCD screens lining the walls. “Hi, Anouk,” said Jim. “What do we have?” He eyed Anouk’s tee shirt emblazoned with “Remember Valérie,” undoubtedly a reference to Valérie Trierweiler, the former mistress of President Hollande of France. Trierweiler was the latest sympathy object of worldwide feminism.

“Still the same,” said Anouk. “The algorithm says go long Greek everything.”

“Anouk has been going over the code all day…looking for a hidden loop…an unknown cutout…anything...” said Dieter. “We’ve run every conceivable diagnostic on the algorithm…they all come up empty…”

“Strange,” said Jim. “An algorithm designed to minimize risk and it jumps the fence and makes a bet-the-house call on Greece…the shakiest proposition since the Iraq invasion,” and Jim made an involuntary shudder at that dark thought—the descent into an endless negative loop.

“We’re going through its risk-reward subroutines,” said Dieter. “We’ll find an answer.”

“Okay,” said Jim.

“Oh, while Dieter was picking you up at the airport,” said Anouk, “a message came from the Bistro. Said there was a napkin.” The Bistro was their favorite lunch place down the street. Three years ago during the last Greek crisis their secret source in a big French bank tipped them off by sending messages on cocktail napkins to the Bistro in Geneva.

“A napkin?” said Jim incredulously. “That’s from the top floor of Crédit Générale in Paris,” referring to one of the largest banks in France.

“I picked it up,” said Anouk.

“What does it say?” asked Dieter with incredible eagerness. A way out?

Anouk pulled the napkin out of her handbag and read, “Go long Greek banks…wait for the lows.”

“Cryptic,” said Jim. “Where and when will we see the lows?”

“I know,” said Dieter. “I’ll have the algorithm watch the trading of the Paris banks…and all their shady affiliates…we’ll be looking for a little front running by the insiders…and we have a new program monitoring the Twittersphere,” he added mentioning the ubiquitous short messages broadcast across electronic space by Twitter.

“Good idea,” said Jim. “Wonder where he’s getting his information? He’s UMP—“

“They’re Les Republicans, now,” said Anouk.

“I stand corrected,” said Jim. “But Alain’s not a Socialist. How would he know what’s going on in the Élysée Palace,” asked Jim mentioning the official residence of the French president. Alain Renier, their hidden source from whence the napkins came, worked just down the hallway from the chairman of Crédit Générale as director of policy planning. Before that, Alain held high positions in the French finance ministry during the last conservative administration under Nicholas Sarkozy.

“He probably has an usher on the payroll,” said Anouk.

Jim looked at her with open-eyed amazement and exclaimed: “How did such a smart girl wind up with him,” and Jim nodded at Dieter. Dieter beamed. Anouk had been the flight attendant on Bermuda Triangle’s executive jet back when it could afford an executive jet. Then she became a computer data analyst with Dieter. A trip together to a worldwide hacker convention put romance in their relationship. The doe-eyed French beauty with the Moroccan background had the gift, everyone admitted. It was that or let her waste her talents being a runway model in Paris.

“Here’s what I want you to do, Anouk,” said Jim, following up. “I want you to contact Édouard Soisson at Strategic Intelligence International in Paris. He was Sophie’s business partner when she was a consultant there…back before she was elected to the European Parliament. Have Soisson check it out.”

“Will do,” said Anouk.

“You better go to Paris in person,” said Jim. “We don’t want a whisper of this on a telephone line.”

“Great, I can catch up on my shopping,” said Anouk, bright-eyed with expectation.

“Okay. Other business?” asked Jim. “Where’s Jack?”

“Jack’s in Athens looking for bargain deals in the collapse,” said Dieter, referring to Jack Hawkins, their British partner.

“Well, you better call him and tell him some of those collapsing buildings belong to us.”

“Will do,” said Dieter.

“And Jürgen?” said Jim, referring to their German partner.

“He’s in Frankfurt. Mario Draghi has asked him to intercede with Bundesbank and see if they’ll soften their position on Greece,” replied Dieter. “The ECB needs some room to deal.”

“Melt the iceberg,” said Jim with a smile. Jürgen was exceptionally tough minded; he thought the top German bankers at Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank were marshmallows for having bought all those Greek bonds in the first place during the run up to the 2008 financial crisis. And he didn’t cry any crocodile tears for poor supervision by the Bundesbank; he had long suspected the central bank wanted the euro project to fail so Germany could go back to the beloved Deutsche Mark.

“Yeah, they’re pretty rigid…even for Germans,” said Dieter with a shrug, unselfconscious of his own nationality.

“Give Jürgen a heads up, too,” said Jim. “I’m going home and take a shower.” As Jim started to walk out, he turned around said, “If we can’t maneuver our way out of this, our worst nightmare might come true…”

“What’s that?” said Anouk with genuine concern.

“Wind up as a long-term investor…” said Jim, shaking his head in disbelief at such a dismal prospect. “I’m going to my flat. Call me if anything comes up.”

Sunday Night

“Okay, what’s up,” said Jim as he sat down in the big armchair in front of Dieter’s triple-screen computer console. He had received Anouk’s telephone call a half hour before rousing him from a deep sleep, a reverie of gentle blue waves breaking on the white Laguna Beach sand, small clouds gliding across the blue sky of his mind. The telephone call broke through like lightning on a gray, cloud-strewn day. He had raced over to the Bermuda Triangle offices.

Jim looked up at the big LCD screens on the fall, a news ticker with flashing messages racing across the screen. The Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras was going to address the Greek nation on TV. “What do you think, Dieter?”

“The Twittersphere says the European Central Bank is freezing the level of emergency loans being supplied to Greek banks,” said Dieter.

“No more cash for the Greek ATMs,” added Anouk.

“That means capital controls for sure,” said Jim.

“Here it comes,” said Dieter as he pointed to one of the big LCD screens. The Greek prime minister came on the TV screen while an English-language translation started to scroll across the bottom of the screen.

They all watched as the message that Greek banks would be closed through the following weekend when the referendum would be held scrolled across the screen.

“That will make for a very long week for the average Greek,” said Jim.

Words flashed across the screen that the Athens stock exchange would also be closed.

“Understandable,” said Jim. “Avoid needless chaos.”

Then they watched as the prime minister assured Greek citizens that their bank deposits were safe.

“How do you tell when the Greek prime minister is lying,” said Dieter with a grin. “When his lips are moving.”

“I think Angela Merkel has already discovered that,” said Jim. “I can’t get Sophie to tell me, but the body language says that lack of personal truthfulness in one-on-one conversations has been a problem.”

“Here comes the bottomline—ATM withdrawals are limited to sixty euros a day per depositor,” said Dieter.

“What about tomorrow’s markets?” asked Jim.

Dieter punched his keyboard and the Monday morning future prices flashed on the big screens.

“The euro is okay,” said Jim as he scanned the screen.

“Wow, look at that,” said Anouk, “the Greek 17s are pegged to yield 38 percent.” The Greek bond with a coupon rate of 3.8 percent maturing in August 2017 was one of the principal bellwether bonds still trading in international markets.

“We’re in that?” asked Jim.

“No, it’s too small a float. The algorithm doesn’t do small change.”

“Always nice to play god with something else’s money,” said Jim. “Well, thanks for small favors.”

“We’ve got major positons in the outlying maturities.”

“Look at that,” said Anouk, “the algorithm says to buy—it’s really blinking!”

“Dieter, you have to seriously debug that subroutine…wherever it’s hiding…” said Jim with a sigh.

“Will do, boss,” said Dieter.

“I’m going back to bed. Tomorrow will be a big day. This week will be a long week,” said Jim with a shrug.

“And Sophie?” asked Anouk.

“She’s up in the B-sphere, you know, the bureauscratisphere…communicating between all those little boxes at the top of the European Union organization chart,” said Jim. “Unlikely I’ll see much of her this week.”

“The Twittersphere said a high level French emissary was in Washington speaking with the IMF,” said Dieter.

“That was her,” said Jim. “The invisible emissary.”

Monday, July 6, 2015

Chapter 2. Berlin - Fast Money and French Ladies

by Paul A. Myers    All rights reserved.

Chapter 2. Berlin.

Chapter 2. Berlin

Sophie walked into the ultra-modern, glistening all-white reception room escorted by a dark-suited security agent. A receptionist stood and said, “This way, Madame d’Auverne. She’s expecting you.”

The door was opened and Sophie walked into the glass-walled corner office the size of a volley ball court occupied by the German chancellor. Angela Merkel stood and came around the desk and held out both of her hands to Sophie and bussed her on the cheeks. “So nice of you to come on such short notice, Sophie.”

“My pleasure, Madam Chancellor,” said Sophie as she looked around. Outside the tall plate glass windows the skyline of the new Berlin rose in the distance, the economic heart of Central Europe.

The chancellor pointed to a waiting chair and said to the receptionist, “That will be all.” She walked around her long desk and sat down.

“Before you go over and talk to Wolfgang,” she said mentioning Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, “I wanted to put a perspective on events as they stand this Sunday morning. Undoubtedly they’ll be different Monday morning and every day this week. We don’t want to over react. The press will be looking for inflammatory statements.”

“Yes, we must carefully modulate our public statements.”

The chancellor looked off into the distance and then continued, “So flexibility remains a key. A golden rule is that in tough negotiations hard positions are to be avoided.”

“Agreed. We should also always use time to our advantage,” said Sophie. She shared with the chancellor a sense of patience, a willingness to let events play out until a favorable opening presented itself.

The chancellor turned to the big issue. “The geopolitical concerns are momentous. We can’t afford to have failed state on Europe’s doorstep.”

“Yes, it would be an onramp for hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees into Europe. That would put Marine Le Pen into the final round of the next French presidential election.”

Merkel sadly nodded at this portentous thought. Moving on, the chancellor said, “As you know, I fully believe that if the euro fails then Europe fails.”

“All of us feel that way,” said Sophie.

The chancellor frowned as she summarized her dilemma: “Now the question becomes is it better to pay almost any price to keep Greece in the euro or would it be letter to let them go?”

“Yes, I understand the problem,” said Sophie. “But Greece keeps changing its positions. We’re aiming at a moving target.”

“An erratic target,” said Merkel, a tinge of frustration in her voice.

“Yes,” said Sophie. “But that movement may give us the room to maneuver in clever and unexpected ways.”

The chancellor nodded in agreement with this insight. Capitalizing on this type of situation was why Sophie held the diplomatic portfolio she did. Sophie was always looking at the other party’s brief; she was never locked into her own. The chancellor continued, “Alexis Tsipras thoroughly surprised us with his announcement about a holding referendum in Greece next weekend on the bailout package. We had no advance word,” she said mentioning the Greek prime minister.

The chancellor pulled over a copy of the New York Times and read, “Mr. Tsipras tossed a grenade.” She put the paper back down on her desk and looked at Sophie glumly.

Sophie mentally winced at the word “grenade” and then said, “He doesn’t seem to see the boundaries…or the courtesies…”

Merkel nodded and added, “And that finance minister,” she said referring to Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister. She shook her head in wonder.

Yes, thought Sophie. Varoufakis looked and acted like a runaway from a garage band. She kept her thoughts to herself.

“If the Greek prime minister would have just signed, we could’ve got past this round,” said the chancellor sadly. “Debt relief and less austerity could have been handled later—out of the public eye.”

“Yes, he burned up the backroom that a deal could have been negotiated in,” said Sophie.

Changing the subject, Merkel asked, “You spoke with Christine?” She was referring to Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund.

“Yes, I was at their headquarters in Washington Friday. They’re all on board.”

“Thank you. Christine is a great consolation to Wolfgang. She is one of the few who speaks in a clear voice.”

“Yes, she is the solid wall in front of which we maneuver,” said Sophie with a sure eye on the coming negotiating arena.

“Yes, if we leave it to Brussels, there will be muddle…” and the chancellor made a pained expression, “and confusion. Wolfgang knows that.”

“I’m on my way to speak to Wolfgang. Any special instructions?”

“He should keep his public utterances muffled this week; we’ll let Brussels deliver the message.”

“That will be out of character,” said Sophie with a smile thinking about the plain-spoken finance minister. The chancellor made a light smirk.

“Let’s stay flexible,” said Merkel. “We have to be ready to discuss anything.” She thought for a moment and added, “Nevertheless, for now our public position is that everyone has to follow the same rules in the euro.”

She paused and then considered her words carefully. “Events…events…it is possible events in the coming days will bring a new government to power in Athens.”

Sophie nodded. That was one exit out of the crisis. But it was also something Jim would call a “lucky bounce,” and he was pretty clear that is not the way to play the game.

The chancellor stood up and walked around the desk and took Sophie’s hands in hers. “I was sorry to hear about the passing of your grandmother.”

“Grandmère lived a long and adventurous life,” replied Sophie. Sophie’s grandmother, la vicomtesse Inès d’Auverne, had died the previous winter at a great age in the family’s chateau in Normandy. Her grandmother, like her fifty or sixty predecessors stretching back centuries—les vicomtesses—had written an engaging tell-all memoir about her exploits in the halls of power in Europe and in the boudoirs of the leading men of the day. The series of memoirs—all renowned for their intimate frankness and sharp political insight—were the centerpieces in many rare book collections around the world.

“Yes, I read the memoir of her mother—fascinating insights about the years between the wars. I trust we will get to read her memoir in due time?”

“It will be out soon. I will see you get one of the first copies.”

The chancellor smiled. “Yes, I would like to read about the woman who put a smile on Der Alte’s face,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, referring to the legendary postwar German chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

“Soon,” said Sophie beaming.

The chancellor walked her over to the door.

The Air Ministry

Outside, the security agent escorted Sophie to a shiny black Mercedes limousine. The security agent said to the driver, “The Air Ministry. Finance minister’s office.” The Air Ministry was the nickname of what had once been the largest office building in Berlin, the headquarters building built in 1935-36 to house Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe organization. It had miraculously survived the destruction of World War II and forty-five years as an office building housing the Communist ministries in East Berlin, a stolid bastion to a Marxist society symbolizing East Germany’s commitment to non-movement. It was now home to the mighty German finance ministry and associated agencies.

As the limousine pulled to a stop in front of the mammoth boxlike building with all the charm of an American penitentiary a uniformed sentry came forward and opened the door. Sophie got out and was escorted up the flight of steps. At the door, a well-presented aide met her and said, “This way. The minister is waiting for you.”

Sophie followed the aide down the hallways listening to her heels tap on the hard polished surface. Presently she was ushered into a spacious office with bookcases and comfortable seating. Schäuble was sitting behind the desk and looked up. “Good morning, Sophie. Have a seat.”

He finished with some papers and set them aside. Then he wheeled and turned and with strong arms and broad shoulders pushed his wheelchair in a graceful arc around the desk and came out and parked near a bookcase. Schäuble had had his spinal cord severed by an assassin’s bullet in the early 1990s just after the German reunification.

“It’s about Greece?” he asked to start the conversation off.

“Yes, what else?”

“Seen Angela?”

“Yes, I’ve just come from there. Her main concern is winding up with a failed state on Europe’s doorstep.”

“Yes, I understand. But can we survive with a failed state inside the euro?” said the uncompromising finance minister.

“You know I believe that is a good question,” said Sophie.

“Close integration—the key to the eurozone having a better future—depends on tough rules,” lectured Schäuble.

“Yes, but we have to place Greece somewhere in the maze of rules.”

“You know I believe in a multi-speed European Union,” said Schäuble. “I have sympathy for British prime minister Cameron’s position where there is a circle of countries outside the euro that preserve greater sovereign rights.”

“Yes, I understand,” said Sophie. “The inner core integrates rapidly while the other countries go slower.”

“Exactly. And Germany leads this inner core…” said Schäuble. “Either way we go with Greece, it will be expensive. Possibly it would be better to smooth their way to the outside…with Great Britain.”

“Yes, Great Britain would be of great use in such a situation,” said Sophie as she chewed over this idea in her head. “Interesting possibilities,” she mused.

“If that opportunity were to present itself…” said Schäuble.

“I would of course be on the lookout…” said Sophie as Schäuble smiled.

Changing subjects, Schäuble asked, “Christine? You’ve seen her?”

“I saw her Friday in Washington.”

“Yes,” he drawled with a saturnine smile. He knew the women folk were going to soften him up. “So Athens?”

“Yes, the announcement of the referendum came as a bit of a surprise.”

Schäuble rocked the wheelchair this way and that, moving the right wheel forward and left wheel back. “A bit of a surprise…I was at the Eurogroup meeting,” he said mentioning the powerful policy group of eurozone finance ministers. “Not a word was spoken.”

“Well, Vanoufakis was there, not Tsipras,” said Sophie.

At the sound of the name Vanoufakis, Schäuble pushed hard on both wheels and did a wheelie, bringing the footpads up a foot off the floor. Sophie could all but see steam coming out of the finance minister’s ears. She stood up and walked over, afraid that he might tip over.

“Relax,” he said. “I’m good at this. I get a lot of practice.”

She smiled and stepped back and sat down. Boys will be boys. She watched as he expertly balanced the wheel chair and wiggled it this way and that, finally bringing the front wheels back down onto the floor with a light thud.

“What’s Draghi doing?” he asked, mentioning Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank.

“He’s slowly cutting the supply of cash. The ATMs are limited to sixty euros a day per customer.”

“That horse is out of the barn. The ECB has pumped almost ninety billion euros into Greek banks just since February. While we’ve been talking, they’ve been…”

“Yes…for now…”

“You don’t know, Sophie. I’ve got to take the phone calls from Weidmann,” he said, mentioning Jens Weidmann, head of the Bundesbank, Germany’s powerful central bank.

“I can sympathize with your commiserations…”

“He goes on and on about the monetizaton of debt, reminding me that it is against the laws…”

“Possibly he is fighting the last war…”

“It’s all about 1923 I’m afraid,” said Schäuble, mentioning the great inflation of 1923 which scared the German psyche for generations.

Moving on, Sophie said, “The chancellor says that any agreement must pass muster with the finance ministers…only they can say yes.”

“And the chancellor only wants the finance ministers to speak collectively, not individually,” he said with a knowing smile. He knew—stay quiet.

“I believe that was part of the message I was supposed to deliver.”

Schäuble laughed. Schäuble knew better than to ask who had actually decided on the overall strategy. That was Sophie’s job—to go around telling mortals like him that “they” had decided upon such and such.

“And the chancellor has been clear that she isn’t hearing any more appeals from Athens,” said Sophie.

“So Angela isn’t taking Athens’ phone calls,” said Schäuble dryly. The goddess that doesn’t answer her telephone. “So there’s no way those guys can get a ‘Yes’ out of her.”

“Not for now,” agreed Sophie.

“And she’s also the only person who can say ‘No’ and she can’t be reached,” said Schäuble with a brittle laugh.

“That’s our approach for this week—the Greeks have to go over to the finance ministers’ door if the answer is ‘yes’ and somewhere else—vague we might say—if they want to deliver a ‘no.’ They can only find one door—the one we want them to go through.”

“Who is going to be the public face this week?”

“It has been decided to let Juncker and Tusk present the public positions of the European Union,” said Sophie, referring to Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council.

“So much for the public,” said Schäuble. “What do the knowledgeable observers think?”

“Possibly events will bring regime change in Athens. A new government that can negotiate.”

“And who might push the regime change? Only the Americans are dumb enough to try to directly engineer regime change—and their record…Iran…Iraq…”

“There’s a lot of outside money invested in Greece. When the previous Greek government was making progress, the international players went for the upside…a lot of Greek politicians like money…”

“Yes, they can be bought…as long as it is someone else’s money…the old game…the hedge funds make billions…and the German taxpayer writes off tens of billions…some strudel that is…”

“Eventually some form of debt cancellation…disguised of course,” ventured Sophie. “Christine mentioned that.”

“Yes, more extend and pretend. It probably can’t be helped,” said the dour finance minister. He held his hands to the side of his head in mock exasperation and said, “Too much reality is bad for my delusions.”

Sophie laughed.

“In conclusion,” the finance minister said, “remember Grexit is not only about dealing with one weak member, but also about strengthening the rest of the club.”

“Yes, a better future is nonnegotiable,” said Sophie.

“Well said by Europe’s best negotiator,” said Schäuble with a laugh.

Sophie demurely said, “Thank you.”

Schäuble slowly wheeled around, a light smile of expectation on his face, and directly faced Sophie. “Enough about that. Tell me some more about your grandmother. I’ve read most of the memoirs of les vicomtesses from the past couple of centuries. Great insights. Those memoirs plus Thucydides and a good biography of Bismarck and you’ve got a grip on international politics. Is your grandmother’s memoir about to come out?”

“Soon. I’ll get you one of the first copies.”

Schäuble relaxed and mused, “Great, what you’ve already told me is fascinating. Too bad De Gaulle was such a straight arrow…that would have made interesting reading…”

“Yes, that’s what grandmère said with a bright eye and sly smile…an interesting time missed…”

Schäuble laughed for the first time that morning, and probably the last time that week.

Sophie stood up and walked over and patted Schäuble on the shoulder and said, “Wolfgang, you’re rock in a sea of indecision. Please give me regards to Ingeborg. At one of these conferences we can all have dinner again.”

“We’d love that, Sophie.”

Sophie turned and walked over to the doorway and out of the building.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Chapter 1 of Fast Money and French Ladies - the Greek Crisis 2015 - a satirical novel

I am going to publish draft chapters in "real time" from my new satirical novel "Fast Money and French Ladies" about the 2015 Greek financial crisis. This is a sequel to my 2013 novel "Greek Bonds and French Ladies" and features the same set of fictional characters as they face new challenges in the present crisis.

Below is the Title Page and Chapter 1.

Fast Money and 

French Ladies:

Greek Crisis 2015

A chapter-by-chapter work-in-progress of a satirical novel


Paul A. Myers

Ebook edition being published by chapters on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter and other electronic media

Published and produced by Paul A. Myers Books

Copyright © Paul A. Myers 2015

All rights reserved.

Cast of Fictional Characters


Jim Schiller—the American managing partner of Bermuda Triangle Ltd., a hedge fund based in Geneva, Switzerland

Jack Hawkins—the British partner of Bermuda Triangle Ltd.

Jürgen Kretschmer—the German partner of Bermuda Triangle Ltd.

Dieter—the German computer geek for Bermuda Triangle Ltd.

Édouard Soissons—an investigator for Strategic Intelligence International, a Paris-based international consultancy

Alain Renier—a former French finance ministry official and expert on banking now employed by a big French bank

French Ladies
Sophie d’Auverne—a former high official at the French finance ministry and  consultant for Strategic Intelligence International, a Paris-based international consultancy. Now she is a member of the European Parliament and a Deputy Commissioner of Finance in the European Commission, but in reality she is a high level envoy shuttling between top European policy makers.

Inès d’Auverne—grand-mère, the elderly grandmother of Sophie who has recently died

Martine d’Auverne—mother of Sophie and widow of Inès’s only son, Jean-Pierre

Marie-Hélène d’Auverne—daughter of Sophie and about fourteen years old

This novel is a work of fiction and a product of imagination. The principal characters are fictional; actual persons are public personages and are used in a fictional way.

Chapter 1. Laguna Beach 

Jim Schiller sat on the couch nursing a weak gin-and-tonic and watched the big screen TV affixed to the wall across the room. Next to him sat his paramour Sophie d’Auverne furiously texting on her iPhone. Up on the screen, Greek citizens stood in long lines outside banks in Athens waiting to withdraw money from the ATM machines. The camera focused on euro notes ejecting out of the dispensers with a grinding whirl and being snatched up by eager hands and stuffed into empty purses and wallets. Other customers standing behind roughly pushed the recipients out of the way as soon as the machines stopping whirring. The next-in-line elbowed their way up to the machines, shouting “My turn!”

“That’s your money pouring out of those machines,” said Jim with a laugh as he looked at Sophie. “All Frankfurt, all day long.”

“You’re not in?” she asked, referring to Bermuda Triangle, the Geneva-based hedge fund of which Jim was the managing partner.

“Naw. We’re net zero exposure to Greece. Wouldn’t have left Geneva if I hadn’t drained all the risks out of our positions. No siree, Bob!”

She crinkled her nose at him. “Of course not, particularly after the money you lost this spring.”

“Now no reason to rub it in, Sophie,” he replied. She was right. They got caught on the wrong side of the Swiss franc revaluation; how was he to know that the Swiss would bow to inevitable fundamentals and let the Swiss franc float. Most politicians, when confronted with facing the fundamentals or going over the cliff, opt for the cliff.

“Well if the Swiss would have been more European…”

She gritted her teeth and said, “I’m European.”

“Point made,” he said with an air of minor triumph.

“And Denmark,” Sophie waspishly added.

Jim winced. The Danish kroner had taken off like a bird on flight, driven by strong fundamentals of what was regarded as the most competitive economy in the world. He and his partners thought it was a sure deal. How’d he know that all the little blond people would come out of their gingerbread houses and stuff it to a phalanx of international speculators. “How was I to know that the governor of the Danish central bank had a strong backbone and indomitable will?”

“Who settled Normandy?”

“The Norsemen.”

“Where’d they come from?” She sat there and twirled some strands of flaxen hair between forefinger and thumb while looking at him like a school teacher pondering a slow child. He hadn’t noticed the strands of flaxen hair in the sea of auburn waves before.

“Denmark?” said Jim in a slow, hesitant voice. She nodded affirmatively. Sophie’s family chateau was in Normandy. Had been in the family for centuries.

Putting her finger over the mouthpiece, she said, “Keep this up and you’ll be down in the Cayman Islands dodging taxes with that other wannabe.”

Jim winced again. Sophie had flown in yesterday for a quick weekend together before returning to the financial wars of Europe. She had made a confidential presentation to the International Monetary Fund in Washington the day before on the Greek currency crisis. Jim was hoping to stay in Laguna Beach the entire week, touch base with some of the west coast investors who were getting a little tetchy over lack of return on their investments. Same old story. “We could get that with Vanguard and not worry about you chocolate makers in Europe overbaking the cake,” they would say as they munched brownies laced with marijuana, adding, “It’s medicinal.” Everything was medicinal on the west coast. Jim would start to explain and they’d interrupt, “And that guy Dieter. Got him under control?” Dieter was their resident computer genius. Admittedly he needed special handling or he’d be in the running to be the next Greek finance minister if he got loose.

“Let me go outside and ponder Denmark for a while,” said Jim as he stood up and walked out onto the long deck overlooking the beach below and the blue Pacific ocean stretching into the distance. Sophie kept texting, sometimes in German, sometimes in French.

Jim leaned against the rail at the far end of the deck. Suddenly, he spotted his neighbor on the next deck. He started waving his arms. “Hey, Mister Bond King, how’s it going?”

Over on the other deck, the flailing arms of the what had once been a pretty polished New York investment banker caught the eye of the neighborhood billionaire, the world renowned Bond King. He lifted his arm up with god-like majesty, palm down, and chanted, with sage-like gravity, “I’m long on the good.”

“You’re the money market,” said Jim with adolescent enthusiasm.

“Not anymore,” solemnly intoned the Bond King.

“You don’t have all the power?”

“Today, I’m a prophet without honor.”

“Well, you sure used to intimidate those guys in Washington D.C.”

“No more. Today, they listen to false gods.”

“False gods?”

“Lesser gods that practice the false rituals of quantitative easing…portfolio indexing and other dark arts…”

“Why’s that?”

“They placed a high priestess on the throne, the sorceress with the silver bobbed hair.”

“What’s her program?”

“She promises an endless dawn…a world with no nightfall…”

“Well, hey that’s all above my pay grade. Do you have any recommendations on where I could put a couple of billion in not-so-patient capital?”

“Yes, we recommend Liechtenstein convertible subordinated mortgage-backed collateral bonds…that’s where all the New York bonus money goes.”

“How do they work?”

“Interest payable semiannually into your Dubai savings account. Guaranteed free of all tax reporting.”

“You sure on the tax angle?”

“Mitt assures me it’s true.”

“The Dweeb would know. He’s never seen a tax he couldn’t dodge...or a draft…”

“Yes, he assures me the transaction is as white as the Patriarch’s gown.”

“Well, thanks for the tip. My Dubai investors will love it.”

“May prosperity flow through your portfolios,” said the Bond King and he slipped away through the sliding glass doors behind him, bored with a golden sunset he couldn’t own.

Just then Jim’s cell phone started to vibrate in the pocket of his Levis. He pulled it out and swiped his finger across the glass surface and put it on speaker.

“Jim Schiller here.” Sophie came out and stood next to him, absently texting a message here and there.

“One moment, Geneva,” said an operator. Sophie looked at him with interest.

Jim stood still, a frown crossing his face. They knew he wasn’t to be disturbed unless it was something important.

“Yes…our investment position has changed…” he mumbled while repeating the words.

Sophie watched and then her cell phone rang with a voice call. She picked it up as she walked away from Jim, speaking into the mouthpiece, “Yes, Christine…”

Back across the deck Jim listened with consternation, repeating the words, “Dieter’s algorithm got away from him…took a bad hop…we’re long a billion in Greek bonds…and in deep on Greek bank stocks…”

Jim walked across the deck and into the living room and stared with unblinking comprehension at the TV screen, the Greek customers lined up at the ATM machines, his ATM machines...

“That’s us?” he mumbled.

Sophie followed him in and watched Jim stare at the TV with a wide smile on her face. She finished off her conversation, “Yes, I know…sooth the raging beast…Angela insists…fine, Christine, I’m ready to go…” She hung up and went into the other room.

Jim hardly paid attention to her departure; he just stared at the TV screen and the unfolding financial panic in Athens.

“Yes, I can leave right away,” he said into the iPhone. “Really? Right here, off the deck?” With the phone still glued to his ear, Jim walked over and got his laptop case, walked into the bedroom passing Sophie as she went the other way, carrying a small suitcase while her iPad poked out of her big Longchamps handbag. That handbag meant she was combat loaded, ready to go.

“Got to go,” she said chirpily.

“Me, too,” he said desultorily. He threw some clothes into a bag and walked back out, still in a daze, and over to the railing alongside the deck and stared out across the ocean towards Catalina Island. He could see a helicopter coming straight towards him.

“That helicopter?” he said into the iPhone. “They’re going to winch me right up off the deck?”

He listened some more. “Yeah, I got my laptop. And a change of underwear. Some socks. You say the helo’s taking me to the airport. The Gulfstream will be waiting. I’ll be in Geneva in the morning.”

He looked at the helicopter rapidly approaching. The telephone line went dead. He put the phone back in his jeans’ pocket. He put the big strap of his laptop over his shoulder and across his chest. Going Ranger style, he thought.

Sophie came over and stood in front of him looking at the approaching helicopter and then she turned and said, “That’s my helicopter. Yours is the little one out on the horizon,” and she pointed to another helicopter approaching about five miles out.

Jim looked up at the approaching helicopter and saw a blue plastic pennant emblazoned with the gold stars of the European Union attached to the front skid of the helicopter. “I’ll be damned.”

The helicopter hovered over the deck and lowered down a basket. Sophie opened the gate, stepped in, fastened the straps, and bolted the gate shut. She looked up and waved at the crew chief like a veteran commando and the basket rapidly ascended. She called out below to Jim, “I’ll be in Berlin, then Frankfurt.” The basket was pulled into the rear cabin area and the helicopter banked and raced away up the beach towards John Wayne airport and a waiting European Union executive jet.

Jim stood on the deck and watched the next helicopter approach. Kind of a dinky little thing, he thought. The crew chief lowered the bucket from the helicopter. The pilot, all long hair and a big Poncho Villa mustache, gave him a good natured wave with a big cigar and an encouraging smile.

Jim got into the basket, snapped the harness closed, and looked up and waved okay. The crew chief winched him up and pulled him in.

“Your lucky day,” shouted the crew chief.

“How so?”

“We were just heading for Mexico when we got the call to pick you up.”


“Yeah, you know, doing stuff.”

“Kind of loud,” said Jim, pointing up to the turbine engine rattling away as if it were pining for an overhaul.

“Yeah, war surplus.”

“Which war?”

“Take your pick. Strap in, we’re off into the wild blue yonder.” The helicopter banked and raced up the beach heading for John Wayne Airport and a waiting Gulfstream.

Executive Jet 

The helicopter crew chief held Sophie’s hand as she hopped out of the aircraft and walked briskly over to the waiting executive jet emblazoned with the European Union flag, the circle of gold stars on the bright blue background. She walked up the steps and was greeted at the top by the cabin steward. The crew chief handed her luggage up and waved goodbye. Her chief of staff—dark suit, white shirt, narrow tie—stood just inside holding a portfolio of briefing papers. “I have the most recent reports from Brussels.”

“Good,” she said as she walked forward and took her place in an oversized seat. Her aide sat directly across and opened the book. “Just give me a summary, please,” she said pleasantly. “I’ll probably be out-of-date by the time when we land.”

“Yes,” said the aide. “Monsieur Moscovici wanted you to have the latest information before arriving at Berlin.”

“Yes, Pierre is always thoughtful,” she said, mentioning her nominal superior, Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs on the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch. Moscovici was previously French finance minister in President François Hollande’s Socialist Government. After major electoral losses, Hollande kicked Moscovici upstairs to the EU so he could showcase a major cabinet change—lots of show, little change.

“But before you start, let me sit back and relax for a minute, collect my thoughts.”

The cabin steward brought a glass of lemonade. She sipped the drink and leaned back in the seat. Sophie was a member of the French opposition party, the center-right UMP party, now renamed the Les Republicans by its resurgent political leader Nicholas Sarkozy. She smiled while she recalled Sarkozy, a towering ego on platform shoes who at least saw himself as resurgent. Three-quarters of the French hoped he’d go away.

When Hollande arranged for Moscovici to be named European finance minister, German chancellor Angela Merkel had insisted that Sophie be appointed his deputy. Hard for Hollande to resist the appointment of another French national to an important post. But he now knew where the power would reside. Mario Draghi had heartedly concurred in her appointment, saying “At least someone I can talk to.”

Sophie had a clear understanding of the division of duties between her and Pierre. He was in charge of monitoring the Stability and Growth Pact, the set of rules on deficits and debt that all members were supposed to follow. That was a small lawn to mow in Brussels. Like most EU ministerial portfolios, it was long on title and short on authority. Supposedly when a country wandered outside the crosswalk, Pierre would blow his whistle and point to the offender.

In contrast, Sophie worked on behind-the-scenes negotiations with leading politicians and policy makers in those troublesome situations where countries were clearly outside the bright lines and heading towards crisis. These were the kind of talks the top European leaders didn’t want to read about in the morning papers over coffee.

The aide said to Sophie, “Pierre, of course, has some sympathy for the Greek position.”

Yes, thought Sophie. Socialist to socialist. “We all do,” soothed Sophie.

“Tomorrow in Berlin will be a big day,” said the aide. “Possibly the beginning of a soft compromise.”

Yes, the favorite ending for any initiative from the French president, thought Sophie. Well, that was the message the aide had been instructed to deliver. She got it. She made a nod to the aide.

“Nevertheless, the first order of business in Berlin is to sooth the raging frustrations and massage the concerns of Wolfgang,” she said with a sigh, mentioning the powerful German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, the number two politician in Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition government.

Sophie also understood that the only French politician to profit from the Greek crisis would be Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right party Le Front Nationale. Hollande was just looking for a cheap way out of the crisis—preferably on the German dime. Angela understood that; the German chancellor was a master at throwing small bones to Paris. Let Hollande dally with his girlfriends went the thinking.


The little Gulfstream sat on the edge of the runway. Jim walked over towards it, leaving the helicopter behind. He looked down the runway and up into the sky and saw in the distance Sophie’s jumbo Falcon jet make a smooth banking turn and head for Berlin. He walked over and up the steps, dipped his head to get inside and stayed hunched down as he walked forward. A pleasant attendant came forward smiling, a logo emblazoned “Air Temps, Inc” across her breast. “Welcome,” said the hostess. “Captain Smith will be our pilot today. First Officer Jones assisting. Let me say to you that all of us from Air Temps, Inc welcome you.”

“Who’s Air Temps, Inc?”

“We staff most of the rent-a-jets flying out of Southern California. This little baby is a timeshare.”

“Little dinky plane. Can it get all the way to Geneva?”

Captain Smith stepped forward and said, “Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll just hip hop across that ol’ ocean, gassing up as we go! You ever been to the Azores?”

The attendant said, “Here’s some papers we’re supposed to give you. Your most recent emails I believe.”

“Thank you,” he said as he sat down in a big comfortable seat. “Scotch and water if you got it?”

“No problem. Your man Dieter booked you for the Bargain Buffet Service with all the little extras included. I stopped by Trader Joe’s on my way over.”

“Great.” He shuffled through the papers. He had asked one question into the telephone back at Laguna. What went wrong with the algorithm?

He found the latest email. Dieter said they didn’t know what went wrong with the algorithm. An effect with no cause? Strange?

The plane roared down the runway. Jim leaned back in the seat and sipped his drink.