Continued from last week…
Synopsis: In her search for her missing husband, Fawn has found that a stolen file on him is for sale in the Thieves Emporium. Gathering all the information she can on it, as well as other files like it that are also for sale, she asks a friend (Nairobi) who runs an Internet news blogging site to find out whatever she can on where they came from.
Fawn sat alone at a small table in the play area, her back to a corner. Scraps from two Happy Meals fought for space with her wheels. In her field of view, but no longer the main object of her attention, her twins did their best to wear out the play-set.
Concentrating on her wheels, she typed.
Fawn: What's encrypted chat?
Nairobi: It's what we're doing. Just the two of us.
Fawn: I know that. Why not just a chat?
Nairobi: A private chat, which is the alternative, can be monitored by the chat house. An encrypted chat tunnels communications so they can only be monitored by the participants of the chat.
Fawn: You don't trust this chat house?
Nairobi: Badlands rule #666: Never trust anyone you don't have to.
Fawn: Right. OK. What did you think of the list?
Nairobi: Why do you think this chat's encrypted? Where'd you get it?
Fawn: And which paper did you say you worked for?
Nairobi: OK, I deserved that. Share?
Nairobi: That's a bit much.
After a pause, the answer came back:
Nairobi: OK. Now give.
Fawn: I got it from a snitch. Caper Oleander.
Nairobi: Where'd he get it?
Fawn: No, your turn.
Nairobi: I've managed to pick up the names of six protesters that have disappeared after being seen in FEMA camps.
Fawn: Any on this list?
Nairobi: All of them.
Fawn: Where'd you get their names?
Nairobi: Your turn.
Fawn: I was looking for someone for a friend. Oleander was selling files on him.
Nairobi: Was he selling files on all the names on this list?
Nairobi: How did you get the list?
Fawn: I just asked for it.
Nairobi: Damn. I need a new snitch house. How much does he want for the files?
Fawn told her.
Nairobi: Damn again.
Fawn: It's a lot of money?
Nairobi: It would set Donald Trump back.
Fawn: Any chance we could find a buyer?
Nairobi: What did he tell you about the names on the list?
Fawn: That they all disappeared from a FEMA camp.
Nairobi: One camp? He said "a" camp?
Nairobi: Is your friend's friend on this list?
Fawn: Sorry, that's on a Need-It-Now basis only.
Nairobi: You mean Need-To-Know. Need-It-Now means something else.
Fawn: Right. I knew that. Just a typo. What's next, partner?
Nairobi: Partner? Was your friend's friend on this list? Partner?
Fawn: OK. Yes.
Nairobi: Thank you.
Fawn: What's next?
Nairobi: We get a good snitch house to talk for us.
* * *
Fawn and Nairobi* set up an encrypted chat with Nobu Bara, owner of the KISS'N TELL Snitch House.
Bara: Bad news. Caper Oleander says the information is no longer available.
Nairobi: He took it off the market?
Bara: Well, actually, he claimed it was never there, said he knew nothing about it.
Fawn: I got the list from him.
Bara: I know, I know. We keep a running record of everything offered for snitch. A history, actually. We have his listings.
Fawn: All of them?
Bara: Yes. Files on everyone on your list were offered for sale.
Nairobi: And he just pulled them? All 2,192 listings?
Nairobi: And he claims he never offered them?
Bara: At first, yes. When I showed him our records, he changed his tune. Admitted they were listed, but no more.
Fawn: Did you tell him we wanted to make an offer?
Bara: No good. Perhaps he doesn't believe you have the money.
Nairobi: What if we escrow the funds with you?
Bara: That might change his mind. But it's a considerable amount of money. Your reps aren't that fat. Where will you get it?
Nairobi: Thank you, Mr. Bara. We will be in touch.
* * *
"OK, Sandra. What do you want?" asked Luke Abbas.
His ex-wife just smiled back. She rarely missed an opportunity to squeeze him. Why should this be any different? He and his son had been planning these outings for over three months. The Subway Series. The Yankees vs. the Mets. And he had box tickets for the two of them, purchased through his company. Now, when they were about to go to the third game, she said Samuel had to do homework.
So now he stood on his old doorstep, double-parked while she put the squeeze on him. Just like old times. Fortunately, she hadn't noticed that his car was a rental, one that he got using a false driver's license.
"Please. I'll get a ticket. What do you want?"
She liked to draw these things out, savor the authority she had over him thanks to the court's one-sided custody decision. A long pause emphasized her position, then she said, "The washer and dryer are worn out." Shamelessly, she spit the words out. The child support and alimony weren't adequate for her and her boy toy. She wanted more. She always had.
"All right. Now can he come?"
"Soon as I see the cash."
"Please, Sandra, we'll be late for the game."
Actually, that wasn't true. He had planned the day's schedule with an ample allowance for delays. There was too much riding on some hard deadlines for him to have done otherwise.
"Your bank has a branch just down the street."
"A thousand should do it."
Without a word, he turned and walked quickly back to the car. Half an hour later, he handed her the money. She counted it, then called inside to their son.
"Samuel, honey, I've changed my mind. Hurry up, your father's waiting."
The boy came out of the door at a run. He must have been waiting just inside, ready for a sprint to the car as soon as the word came that he could go. Luke quickly followed. Seconds later, they turned the corner at the end of the street.
Later, after they had merged into the expressway traffic, Luke looked at his young son and said, in mock seriousness, "I have bad news."
This was a game they often played, had been for the past year. Samuel would know the news was never bad. When his father used this tone, things always got better, never worse. But how could they get better than this? Box seats for the third game, with the Mets ahead 2-0. If the Mets won, it would decide the series. It couldn't get better than this.
But it did.
"You know how we've always talked about going deep sea fishing?"
"Well, I just won two plane tickets to Cozumel."
"Mexico? Where banditos live?" Samuel was very big on westerns.
"They go deep-sea fishing there?"
"Yep. Best in the world."
Cowboys and deep-sea fishing. What could be better? His father was so lucky.
"Want to go?"
That got an even bigger smile and an eyeball-jarring nod.
"When?" Samuel asked.
"Well, that's the bad news. The flight's this afternoon."
"But we're going to the game."
"Yep. That's the bad news. We can't do both.
"Can't you change the tickets?"
"Wow. Which we gonna do?"
"That's up to you. I promised you the game. I won't renege if you still want to go."
"Do I have to decide now?"
"Yep. Afraid so."
Samuel scrunched up his face in thought. And Luke's heart skipped a beat. This would be much tougher if the boy made the wrong choice. Perhaps he could help it along a bit.
"The Mexico trip is for two weeks. You'd have to miss school for two weeks."
That decided it. A grin as wide as the Hudson flashed across the boy's face. "Mexico!" he yelled.
Forty-five minutes later they stood in front of Aero Mexico's first class counter. While still in the car, he had explained another game to his son. They were going to pretend to be banditos on the lam. Fake names and everything, just for fun. Samuel understood. He would play along.
Luke handed the clerk two badlands passports. Samuel's had his correct first name and the last name of Sandra's boy toy. His said he was that boy toy. With luck the name choice would cause some embarrassment, especially since he didn't think the punk's papers were quite in order.
Both passports looked genuine. Any errors were too small to be detected by anyone unless that person was both suspicious and well trained in fraudulent ID detection. Neither passport had a database record to support it, but since the ticket agent did not have access to the Department of State Passport Database, that would not be an issue. Luke stated, correctly, that Samuel was his son. The common last name on the two passports confirmed his claim, thus giving him the right to take the child out of the country. On the scale sat their luggage, just barely under the allowed weight limit.
Had the agent taken the time to grill Samuel, the boy would probably have slipped up and revealed his real name. There was, however, a line of other first class passengers who wanted to board the aircraft. Delaying them with excessive questions was not in the ticket agent's best interest. So, within minutes of presenting his documents and luggage, Luke and Samuel had their boarding passes and were moving through security.
One hour later, just before boarding the aircraft, Luke called his ex to tell her that his car wouldn't start. They would be delayed getting back from the game as they would have to wait for a tow truck.
Seven hours later, they missed their connection to Cancun. Instead, using another pair of badlands passports issued under different names, Luke and Samuel flew out of Mexico City for South America.
* * *
Buying cheap is easier to do if the owner has an incentive to sell. If you want to buy a dry cleaning business, have a buddy rough up the owner's wife. The principle is obvious. And it works for gold as well as dry cleaners.
To say Arnold Wilson Parker had considerable influence with the IRS would be an understatement. Oh, he paid all his taxes. In fact, he even paid a little more than he had to. After all, he had 'bribed' the legislators who passed the tax laws to give him all the loopholes he needed, so why not pay a little more than that? It was good PR.
No, the area in which he most appreciated his influence was in the field of other people's taxes. Not any one person. That would be too easily noticed. No, he influenced policy. The way the IRS dealt with everyone, so no claim of favoritism could ever be made against him or his minions in the IRS.
Today, he changed the tax policy on gold. It was already punitive, of course. At the moment, anyone making a profit from the sale of gold would have to pay the highest tax rate and forgo any capital gains protection. Those rules had been instituted to discourage the ownership of that metal. But they didn't seem enough any more.
So, beginning today, all owners of gold would have to declare their metal holdings every year beginning with this year's filings. If they didn't make any profits on sales this year or the next, they wouldn't have to pay any taxes, but any failure to declare those holdings would result in total confiscation if their holdings ever came to the attention of the IRS.
And, beginning today, gold could not be taken out of the country without an IRS letter stating that all taxes had been paid on any 'unrealized' profits made on the metal. Any attempt to do so without a letter would result in confiscation of the metal, just as it already did if an attempt to take out more than $3,000 worth is made without informing the Census Bureau (of all people) ahead of time that it was going to be 'exported.'
Also, beginning this year, the tax rate on profits from the sale of gold would be raised from the current 28% to 50%. Of course, capital gains exemptions would still not be allowed.
Finally, today the IRS would announce that a 'hoarding' tax would be placed on all gold owned by U.S. citizens and residents beginning in two years. Any gold held after that date would be taxed at a rate of 10% per year on the market value of the metal.
Hey. You. Mr. Dry Cleaner. I only roughed up your wife this time. But two years from now, I'm going to really hurt her. You sure you don't want to sell?
* * *
"So why do they call you 'Butterfly Killer'?" asked FBI Special Agent Daniel Shelton.
They were sitting at their favorite booth in Shelton's favorite bar, though Joshua Weidemeyer had to admit that the nipples were growing on him. But, now, this question. It was not one Weidemeyer appreciated. And, though Shelton couldn't see it in the dim light, the question brought a look of annoyance to the other man's face.
"Because of Weidemeyer's Admiral."
"A butterfly. Discovered by my great-great grandfather. You can see them stuck on pins all over the world. So, I got the name 'Butterfly Killer'." And thought I had shaken it.
"Your great-great grandfather was a butterfly collector?"
"He collected butterflies; you collect old coins. I guess it runs in the family, right?"
That got a weak smile along with another nod.
"Hey, at least you're related to someone famous. Should I start calling you Butterfly Killer?"
The look FBI Special Agent Shelton got back was very clear and very negative.
"OK, OK. Forget I mentioned it. I will, I promise."
"I've been trying to shake the name since high school. I thought I had succeeded."
"You came pretty close. As far as I can tell, almost no one remembers it. And you have my word. I've forgotten it already. Honest."
"Thank you," said Weidemeyer, now with a genuine smile.
"There is something I've been meaning to ask you, though. Why don't you just catch your counterfeiters through their bank accounts?"
"Because" Weidemeyer said, "they don't use banks to transfer their money."
"Through the mails, for one thing. Get their scrip through a re-mailer. Same when they send gold back."
"Wait. Don't they send back cash?" asked the FBI man.
"If you had access to undetectable counterfeit currency, would you accept banknotes as payment for anything?"
"Yeah, OK. So why don't you just have all the mails inspected?"
"All inspections go through manual scanners. That takes manpower. We don't have the people to check more than one piece in every thousand."
"You catching them when they pass it?"
"How? Merchants can't recognize the bogus before the passer leaves. The stuff's too good. It even gets by us unless the serial numbers haven't been issued yet."
"F**king hell. They're that good?" asked Shelton.
"You've given the banks the issued serial numbers?"
"What? Why not? They could be looking, too."
"One bank employee on the take and the counterfeiters would have it, too."
"Then no more duplicate numbers?"
"Right. And no more detections. Period."
"How many passers your people caught?" pushed Shelton.
"I told you. None."
"Yeah, none!" replied Weidemeyer with growing annoyance. "The only guys we've ever caught were nabbed through postal inspections, something that almost never happens with the current inspection rates.
"Hell, we can't even tell which merchants send bogus to the banks. About all we know is which banks send them to us. Without knowing who the merchant is, we can't even get a description."
Shelton lapsed into silence to give his friend a chance to calm down. After a short period, he asked "How you going to deal with this?"
That was a question for which Weidemeyer had no good answer. "We had planned a new currency issue," he began. "In fact, it should have been out by now, but the RFIDs don't work."
"Tag the money?"
"Put an RFID in each bill and a reader in every post office. Any money, either real or perfect counterfeit, will trip the detector."
"Great. Why didn't you do it?"
"First, getting a tag into the paper. Anything you put in a bill has to be soft and flexible or it causes a wear point. Destroys the bill. We found a way around that, though.
"But we can't solve the interference problem. Stack bills together, the RFID antennas sit on top of each other. That causes interference, so none of them work. We can find a single bill just fine, but a stack slips through."
"Any idea when you'll have a fix?"
With a sigh, Weidemeyer shook his head.
* See the Appendices for character backgrounds and technical terms.
The Daily Bell has appreciated Max Hernandez's contribution of the first 13 episodes of his excellent book, Thieves Emporium. To continue reading – which we encourage (it gets even better!) – please purchase a copy, available in inexpensive digital formats.
Previous installments of Thieves Emporium are available here: Introduction/Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12.
Thieves Emporium is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle and in epub format from Smashwords or Nook. Max Hernandez welcomes comments and feedback and can be reached at MaxHernandez@protonmail.ch.
© 2012-2015 Max Hernandez. Reprinted with permission.