Chapter 9 — A Machiavellian Approach
Helping old ladies across the road is all well and good, but when you have to deal with people of influence, a Machiavellian approach works better.
— Peter Finn, Managing Editor Chicago Tribune
“What?” Fergie asked.
“How—” The visitor started.
“… did I know who you are?” I finished for the man whom I had correctly identified as Mr. Cherusci
“I’ve seen you before.” I replied with a mischievous grin.
His face went absolutely white; a little too white, I thought to myself. “What? Where?” He asked.
“Not in person of course.” I smiled. “It was a TED talk; you were giving a lecture on the responsibility of wealth. I thought that you were a bit optimistic in your opinions on the innate goodness of the human nature, but I agreed with most of your points.”
“Ah yes, right, TED.” He forced a smile. “So you have no idea why I wish to hire you?”
“I think that it’s important that we discuss terms before we discuss any of the salient points of your investigation. After all, you are not protected by the client confidentiality agreement until you are in fact a client.” I said with a grin which would have made sharks cringe.
“My fee is five hundred dollars a day, American, plus expenses.” Fergie added helpfully.
“I can pay that, and there will be a substantial bonus if you carry out the commission successfully.” Fergie pulled a form out of the filing cabinet and pushed it across the desk to Cherusci. “Sign this, and we can get started.” Cherusci glanced over the form with a practiced eye, pulled a fountain pen out of the inside pocket of his suit coat, and signed the form.
“Alright Mr. Cherusci, what seems to be the problem?” Fergie asked as he checked the signature and date. Cherusci sat back in his chair and gestured with the fountain pen. “As a diversified investor, I have interests in many companies, both here in Canada and across the world. Among those companies is CBW. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen the news about the break in at their labs.” And just like that all the pieces snapped together in my mind: the flamboyant manner in which he walked, the precise hand gestures, the manic eyes. I had seen Cherusci recently, and it wasn’t at conference on social responsibility either. “You’re the man in the mask.” I said. “The others at CBW wanted to be recognized because to them it was a political statement. But you, you, wanted something else and were just along to make sure things didn’t get out of control.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” Cherusci said getting to his feet and stabbing his pen back into his pocket.
“Look, don’t bother denying it. I saw the security tape, it’s you alright. Now if you want us to find whatever it was that was stolen, you’re going to need to give us your complete cooperation. We’ll need to know everything about your associates; and since your associates are the ones that raided CBW, we will need to know your connection to them.”
“Nick.” Fergie turned to me. “I think that this is a matter for the police.”
“Oh, I agree with that one hundred percent.” Momentum is everything when running an angle with only half the facts, so I was speaking a mile a minute. “Unless he wants the police to find out about his involvement, he’s going to need to quadruple the daily fee.”
“That’s blackmail!” Cherusci shouted angrily.
“It’s only blackmail if it’s true.” I pointed out. “Otherwise it’s just slander.”
“Alright then, it’s slander.” He said his face rapidly transitioning from deathly pallor to pure red-blooded anger.
“Seriously, Nick, what evidence do you have?” I think it was at this point Fergie remembered we were talking about blackmailing one of the most powerful men in Canada.
“Work with me here, if you were the one in the video you would have been in the lab, right?” I pressed.
“I said to work with me. Now if you were in the lab, you would have been exposed to low levels of a very specific wavelength of radiation as you passed through the decon airlock. And, traces of that radiation will remain in a person’s hair and clothing for up to forty-eight hours after exposure.” I was just making this up as I went, borrowing from 24, Fringe, Mission Impossible and a few other less than reliable scientific sources. But, I doubted that a glorified accountant like Cherusci would know that; and at this point, I had nothing to lose by bluffing. “So, let me take a hair sample and have it tested. You and I both know that it will conclusively prove that you were indeed at the CBW complex last night. Besides, if this was a legitimate enterprise, you would have involved the police already. So, quit bluffing and tell me the truth. Remember, you are protected by this confidentiality agreement.” I tapped the piece of paper.
Cherusci must have been very desperate for help, or dumber than his financial stature would have indicated, either way he bought my ruse. “I’ve had a dream ever since I was younger.” He stared at the ceiling.
“Yeah me too, I wanted to be an astronaut. But that doesn’t explain why you’d need a private eye.”
“Yes, well, my dream was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.”
“That’s a worthy ambition, but it usually requires doing something impressive and world altering, in a good way.” I pointed out.
“Exactly, I am a very wealthy man, but wealth will not buy you a Nobel Prize.” Which I thought put it on a very short list of things that wealth wouldn’t buy.
“So, I had an idea. One of my construction companies was involved in building the CBW facility. I learned what it was designed to do. It was a terrible disaster, just waiting to happen.”
“You didn’t?” I said, realizing exactly where this was going.
“I figured that since I practically built the place, it would be easy to infiltrate. All I needed were some accomplices whom I could hang the entire affair on.”
“And, that’s when you decided to involve the ARQ.”
Cherusci was now cheerfully spilling what he saw as a brilliant caper. “Yes, I did a lot of research. The ARQ were the perfect candidates. They had the lengthy diatribes against capitalist corruption, but it also appeared that they were nonviolent. The only ‘terrorist’ act they had committed was a graffiti campaign in Montreal.
“I approached them as a wealthy businessman. I told them that in spite of my wealth I believed in their cause and wanted to give back to the oppressed proletariat. Once they were interested, I told them that I could help them recover a bargaining chip which would allow them to achieve any political goal which they desired.”
“Did they know who you were?”
“No, I remained anonymous.” I doubted this had worked. I had been able to identify Cherusci in less than an hour, but I kept this misgiving to myself as he continued recounting his tale. “My plan was to help them capture the virus, making sure that no one was hurt in the process. Once they had control of the virus, they would announce to the world that they were prepared to wage apocalyptic war against humanity. At this point, I would step in and offer to negotiate as an uninterested third party.
“They would take me hostage during the process of the negotiations. At which point, I would buy them off, secretly of course. They would each receive several million in numbered Swiss accounts. The public story would be that, while a hostage, I convinced them to relinquish their violent ways. Nobody would know of the payoffs. I would be a hero who averted the annihilation of all life on the planet. It was a win-win situation.”
I stared at him in shock. “What went wrong? No, wait, let me guess. You tried explaining phase two after you gave them the virus! You explained the part where they retire millionaires, only to discover that they were true believers; and that if they can’t live in their Marxist utopia, they want to make sure the rest of the world burns in hell.”
“Yeah, something like that.” He admitted.
“Mr. Cherusci, you’re an idiot!”
“I am not accustomed to being spoken to in such a manner!” The statement was so trite, so condescending, I wanted to slap him out of his pretend world of puppy dogs and rainbows. I did not resort to physical violence.
“Well get used to it. After this stunt you’re well on your way to qualifying for a Darwin Award.”
“A Darwin Award: Given every year to the person who most benefits the human gene pool by removing himself from it, posthumously awarded of course. Only, you aren’t pulling yourself out, you’re pulling the rest of the bleeding world in with you.”
“Mr. Cherusci.” Fergie decided that he had heard enough. “I believe what my associate is trying to say, is that you have put us in a very difficult situation. The law is very clear on this point. You are guilty of aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy. It is our duty to turn you over to the authorities.”
“Scrap that!” I said quickly. “I see only two options here, one blackmail him and move to a beach in Florida, sipping mai tais until the ARQ releases the first horseman of the apocalypse. Or, we can try to stop them.”
“What?” Fergie was not thrilled with the two choices I presented.
“Look, if we turn him over to the police, nothing good will happen; he hires a lawyer and refuses to talk. By the time the trial’s done, we’ll all be pushing daisies.”
“So, you just want me to ignore what he’s done?”
“Can you give us a moment?” I asked Arminius as I spun Fergie away. “We are the only ones who can stop this before it gets out of hand. And if we play our cards right, we walk away as heroes, very rich heroes.”
“Ok?” He said, still sounding unconvinced.
“I turned back to Cherusci. “Here are the terms, 5000 dollars a day, US, plus all expenses…”
“What? I could buy a police lieutenant for that price.” like a true Canadian, he pronounced the word Leftenant.
In my experience, police lieutenants were actually cheaper than that, but I wasn’t about to quibble. “Look at the bright side, if it takes us more than five days to recover your package, we’ll all be dead. Then you won’t have to pay us.”
I am not really sure if he bought that or not, but it’s at that point I became an official member of a criminal conspiracy to deny pertinent information to the government’s ongoing investigation. I stood up and began clearing boxes of case files off Fergie’s conference table. I looked over my shoulder and continued speaking to Cherusci. “Alright, what can you tell us about your terrorist friends?” I asked.
“They are not my friends.” Cherusci said bitterly. “They threw me out the back of a moving van.”
“I assume that was after they found out you weren’t a true believer?” I said with a sardonic grin.
“Something like that. Anyway, I only ever met two of them.”
“The ones in the lab?” Fergie clarified.
“Yes, Pierre Noire, and Patrick Flannigan. I met with them several times, always in locations which I selected. They said they had a secure base, but I wanted our meetings in locations which I could control. We were going to regroup at their base after the lab operation to plan the next stage.”
“Alright, what can you tell us about this base of operations?” I asked Cherusci as I sat down at the head of the table.
“I don’t know. Like I said, they tossed me out of the back of a moving van long before we reached the rendezvous.”
“Clarification question, was this a moving van, or a van used for moving?”
“What?” He looked at me like I was insane.
“Was it a van in motion that you were thrown out of, or a van used for moving?” I asked again.
“Both, as a matter of fact. But I don’t see what relevance this has to our case.”
“It doesn’t necessarily; I am just trying to clear up your unclear adjectival reference.”
“Ok, we’re going to need something, anything, which can help us pinpoint their base.” Fergie may not have been sanguine about our involvement; but he was a levelheaded investigator who saw that my ongoing baiting of his client wasn’t going to be good for FBI’s bottom line.
“I’ve only got one clue.” Cherusci said, holding up a small plastic case about the size of a matchbook. “One of the men dropped this in the lab. I think it fell out of his pocket when he was reaching for his gun. I didn’t want to leave any evidence behind, so I picked it up.”
I took the case from his hand. It was a silver plastic square slightly larger than a poker chip. It had “DIS-1” printed on it in large white letters. Off to the side was a stylized M and the inscription “mirion”
“Do you have any idea what this is?” I asked as I set my laptop on the table.
“No, like I said it was potential evidence, and I wanted the break-in to be as clean as possible.”
I opened up the laptop and ran a quick search for DIS-1. I didn’t like what I saw. I added “mirion” and liked those results even less. “You’re sure this came from one of the terrorists?”
“No chance it was just a piece of lab equipment lying on the floor?”
“I already told you what I saw. What do you think I am? An idiot?”
“Well, you provided the terrorists with an earth eviscerating virus, so I think I have the right to question your judgement.”
“What is it?” Fergie asked.
“It’s a radiation dosimeter.” I answered.
“What?” Fergie asked quizzically.
“It’s a radiation dosimeter. It allows someone to determine whether or not they’ve been fatally irradiated.”
“I know what it is.” Fergie sounded exasperated. “I want to know why they have one.”
“Oh my God!” Cherusci said, his face going pale. “They are building a nuclear weapon.”
“I seriously doubt that.” I replied. “If they were capable of building a bomb, they hardly would need your virus.”
“Ok, what are the possibilities? Who uses radiation badges? Eh?”
“Doctors, nuke techs, medical researchers… that’s all I can think of.” I said.
“Ok, we have their names, and I think we can safely assume that none of them are any of the above. So, the only reason they would carry these, is that they were somewhere where they feared radiation exposure. So,” Fergie concluded. “We need to know where they’ve been in the last few months.”
“Yes, and how do you plan to do that?” Arminius asked.
“We have two clues.” I took over. “One: their names… With that we can search their credit card records. We can figure out where they’ve been spending money. That will give us a general location. Two… We can look for a potential source of radiation in that region. The radiation source is where they’ll be.”
“How can you know that?” Cherusci asked. He wasn’t buying into my brilliant plan. “Besides, you can’t just waltz in and ask for those records. They are confidential; it would take a court order to get them. Trust me, I owned a company that manufactured credit card readers.”
“Really?” Fergie seemed intrigued with the history of Cherusci’s corporate empire.
“They had a big factory in the US, it was in a little town called Terrapin Creek. Ever heard of the place?”
I blanched. “The name might have crossed my path, but I couldn’t say for sure. There are so many small towns in the US.” I wasn’t about to tell him, I probably knew more about the Terrapin Creek factory than he did.
“It was in the news nine months ago. There was this doctor, he wrote conspiracy theory stuff. Crazy beyond belief, he basically said, aliens were responsible for the death of JFK.” Arminius warmed to his subject
“Crazy.” I just smiled, and decided that it would be best if I didn’t speak.
“So, the guy goes off the deep end… completely loses his mind. He burns his house to the ground, and then disappears.” Arminius snapped his fingers. “His credit card shows up in Terrapin Creek, Wisconsin, three weeks later. The next night, he burns El Rey Industries, that’s my company, to the ground. He kills himself in the process. That little stunt cost me a billion dollars in sales every year.”
“When I heard that story, I was shocked. I didn’t think a neuroid would have the technical know-how to pull off a caper like that.” Fergie said. He knew nothing of my involvement in Terrapin Creek, and I really wanted it to stay that way, especially with Cherusci in the room.
“What’s a neuroid?” Arminius asked.
“It means neurotic-paranoid. Some newspaper reporter, kay something, coined the term during her investigation.” Fergie explained helpfully.
“Sounds like an accurate description.” I said forgetting my short lived vow of silence. “Based on what you tell me about the guy, of course.”
“From the research she did, I think you can safely assume this guy was a few knives short of a set, if you know what I mean.” Fergie finished.
Since that was, more or less, the opinion which I held of Telmar; I decided to steer the subject back toward the important topic, i.e. tracing down the terrorists’ credit cards. “I know someone who can get me the access to all of the records we need.”
“It’s illegal.” Arminius said defiantly.
“Well, you certainly didn’t allow that to stop you from providing planet altering weapons to Marxist wackos.” I shot back.
“Your plan?” Fergie asked, trying to infuse a sense of peace into the room.
“I need to go to Chicago.”
“I thought you left the country because the Delaneys put a price on your head?”
“What?” Arminius hadn’t known about my underworld connections.
“I took care of that; repaid that which I owed and all that good stuff, we’re square.”
“Can’t you just call?” Fergie asked.
“It wouldn’t be the same. Trust me; my contact is very particular about these kinds of things.”