Seen lately in NYC subway tunnels – graffiti in brilliant green paint “Inkling Lives”.
I understand, through a series of coded messages, that you have moved your Rook to Queen’s Rook 5. I took the necessary precautions and had your tailor’s mistress in Panama kidnapped. Perhaps you will relinquish your headstrong ambition to create a seki with double ko and consider releasing one of my informants. Perhaps not. My bid is 2 No Trump.
Prison was interesting. I’m sorry they let the old man dry into jerky. These clerical types can never admit their errors and we all suffer. Blankingworth was a good sort, for an embezzler, although it must be said that some of the more advanced murderers in our section were considering assassinating him just to relieve the boredom. He may not have come out of it that badly, all in all. Depends on your definition of “that badly”.
One complaint: the interrogators you had sent to my cell were not up to your usual standards. They gave me the wrong mixture and I went insane for a week. That’s just money down the drain, old man. I know you’re partial to Albanians, but the quality has suffered.
On the other hand, I must thank you for employing such a charming and devious wench in your financial office. She dug a lovely tunnel and she, I, and the contents of most of your Austrian accounts are enjoying the sun here in Durban. Come down. I think the sharks would love to see you again. They missed you last time you were here, curse them.
I must go. Your money won’t spend itself, I’m afraid.
Bishop to King’s Knight 2,
Dear Mr. Cartographimera-Sythe,
It is with some measure of embarrassment that I pen this note to you. Well type this note to you. You know what I mean.
It seems there has been a sort of an administrative error over in our internment division. It’s really nothing to worry about, a simple case of mislaid files. Somehow the file of one A. Inkling was placed in with the B’s, I’m not quite sure how it could have happened. However the matter has been put to rights and I can assure you that our files are now once again in tip-top shape.
Of course there is still a small discrepancy that will require your earnest and diligent attention: after a routine inspection we found that our internment occupancy no longer matched our exacting files, per-se. To be specific we found a Mr. Brian Blankingworth in what was believed to be an empty chamber in the “I” division. Unfortunately due to the oversight, no meals or exercise breaks were provided for Herr Blankingworth, much to his displeasure. Well we can only assumed that he was displeased as it turns out this oversight was made some 8 months ago and the good Blankingworth ceased to express any mood or emotion after the first fortnight. Needless to say this does not concern you, my old friend, but you see we have to put our files straight, and as best we can see from our now remedied files, room 26 in the “B” wing, once thought to be the well-attended room of the late Blankingworth should in fact, have been housing the aforementioned A. Inkling. As of this morning B-26 was without occupant and I’m certain that the Assistant Director to the Internment Supervisor’s Records Clerk will be quite upset to hear that his favorite cribbage partner is no longer expected for their afternoon cribbing.
With Fond Memories,
Junior Assistant Director to the Filing Secretary
Don’t be alarmed, Anders Inkling is not dead. That is to say there have been no recent reliable reports of his death. In point of fact Mr. Inkling dies with some frequency. Declarations of his untimely undoing surface with clock-like regularity in the tabloids, the financial press, and the odd police blotter. Yet to date, the genial Mr. Inkling has shown a remarkable tendency to show up. Inkling sightings occur at all the right parties, all the important fashion events, and he seldom misses an opening bell at any of the major exchanges. All this regardless of the most studied declarations put forth by an increasingly longish line of nonplussed medical examiners. To say that the man is resilient is akin to saying that Manute Bol’s stature is a smidge above average.
The truly odd thing is the fact that a man of such singular appearance and peripatetic vitality is so often mistaken for a corpse. Although in defense of coroners across the globe, the majority of the suspected ex-Inklings tend to turn up with a dearth of distinguishing marks (some with a dearth of attached limbs), yet these carcasses (one can hardly call them anything else) are always accompanied by an overwhelmingly persuasive array of evidence confirming the identity of the victim. Or so it would seem, until the next film premiere where Anders will certainly appear, squiring a small cadre of supermodels.
Of course the grim reaper is not the only spectre that Mr. Inkling has demonstrated a flair for avoiding; he is also highly accomplished in the art of paparazzi dodging. Apart from a global army of customs agents, there are none known to have seen an unclouded photo of the man. The visage of the scion of Wall Street, the scourge of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, is immediately recognizable, yet inexplicably undocumented.
My Dear Ms. Pettigrew,
It can no longer be doubted. Yes, the sudden influx of chartered accountants setting up shop in Paris, London, Tokyo, Prague, L.A., and New York was an early warning sign that should have been heeded, but alas, it was all too easily and ironically dismissed as a statistical anomaly. Tsk, tsk. I’m afraid there will have to be several adjustments and a journal entry in the ledger. So be it. However, today, when 14 global suppliers of bicycle tubing all announce product shortages for the coming quarter, one can only conclude that Anders Inkling is orchestrating a return.
I can only advise one course of action: hiding. There is simply no time to counter with field MBAs. Campus recruiting is down. Our online training courses have been allowed to lie fallow leaving our ranks woefully depleted. Even our most lethal economists are outflanked. Such is the siren’s song of complacency: even we, the most vigilant, are caught napping after five years of quiet on the frontier. The gossip, the rumors – Inkling’s a ghost, Inkling’s dead, Inkling’s retired, Inkling lost it all in a ponzi scheme. Blithering ninnies! We’ve been caught resting on our collective heels while Inkling’s accountants leap nimbly hither and yon.
Inkling is playing his first card and your best chance, your only chance, is to mobilize the stenographers. That’s right, the stenographers. There is no point in arguing. There methods are violent and antiquated, yes, but effective, and more importantly, violent. Once set out on a task they operate autonomously, and relentlessly. Set loose in the wild they MAY succeed in creating enough mayhem to misdirect his attention long enough to allow you to escape. It’s a fool’s hope, how could they succeed? How many are even left? Six? Seven? Oh where are the secretarial pools of my youth? But succeed they must! You can’t be caught, you must escape!
Escape, yes. Was I not clear on that point? Well let me endeavor to be crystalline: FLEE! RUN! Hide! Dodge! Evade! Go underground! Duck! Cover! Tuck and roll! It’s your only chance to survive long enough to recover the valise. It is the only thing he fears. Even now his daring is boundless. Even here in this office building, this steel and glass citadel that is my fortress, even here he launches his nefarious ploys with all his sneering contempt. Inkling’s junior ad execs have infiltrated my mail room staff. I spotted their clumsy stapling on an inter-office memo this afternoon. Lucky for me Inkling’s ad team never could handle a stapler properly, always insisting on stapling at creative angles relative to the plane of the paper – arguing that the dynamic tension of an oblique staple was “just the thing” to tip the signal-to-noise ratio of inter-office demographics. Poppycock, paper clips are “just the thing,” but the point is moot: They are in.
The escape chute under my Herman Miller office chair has grown snug in the five years since I had it installed, but I congratulate myself on my foresight nonetheless. If we meet again it will be under darker circumstances. Mobilize the stenographers! I beg you! If not for yourself, if not for the safety of the valise, then think of me and what we once meant to each other.
My Dear Anaconda,
So, you thought you could trick me by sending an email to my email address. You must be reading Game Theory again, Old Man, taking the direct approach. My only question is where to begin. Literally, that is my question. Is the part of the story at the top of the blog the latest entry or is it at the bottom of the blog?
The story at the top seems to have so many unanswered questions to it, but then I always was a slow reader. One is loathe to begin yet another plot line – at our age.
And yet I feel we shall. Our “partnership” has been quiet too long. East Asia is finished. Russia has gone cold. The Middle East is for the amateurs now. But Europe…once again Europe is crawling with thieves, and that’s just the way we like it, isn’t it Anaconda?
Yours as ever,
I can only conclude by your lack of reply that either (a) you failed
to receive the original, or (b) the shock of seeing the original was
simply too much for your frail constitution and you were struck down
by a grave case of hysterical blindness. In the case of the former
please send some immediate sign of your health and well-being so that
Mrs. Hergapenshoennersveltenkrauss can cease her incessant
handwringing. In the case of the latter, well then this missive is a
bit moot, isn’t it?
The Morningstar Arms is an unremarkable yet pleasant hotel in the more fashionable end of London’s SoHo district. A typical boutique operation it typically catered to modestly budgeted tourists – the kind that visit a city year after year and would never dream of wasting their money on anything so high hat as a Ritz or Hyatt. Brown suits, gray dresses, tan macks, sensible shoes these were the dress of the day. Billowing yellow silk, high heels and a pleasant waft of “Joy” were to say the least attention getting. So were the eyes and the crisp and business-like manner of the woman who had invaded the sleepy lobby at 3:30pm, when Roger was working the desk. She signed the register, Katherine Arlington, and said she was visiting from Dover, but Roger was from Dover and he knew the accent wasn’t quite right – Bristol maybe or ______. It didn’t matter – this one had come a long way from where she started and there wasn’t much use in quarreling about just where that past had been.
She wanted a room, which had surprised Roger almost as much as her sudden entrance. Women like this simply didn’t stay at the Morningstar Arms – at least he had never seen one, in twenty one years of working there. He thought maybe she wanted directions or her car had a flat or she had her purse pinched by some Soho thug. The thought that she would be a guest simply had never occurred to him.
She asked for a room facing the street, he gave her the key for 4C, she let her fingers linger lightly atop his hand as she grasped the key then she deliberately walked past the elevator and took the stairs. Roger never saw her or anyone like her ever again, but that night he felt good.
The room was simple and dressed in brown just like the lobby clerk
Svetlana awoke on a cool damp floor of concrete. Head ringing. A dull ache in her upper thigh. Slightly nauseous. Disoriented. She took comfort in the latter. It meant the machine was through with its business, its awful business, and once again Svetlana was surfacing, regaining control. This perhaps was a misleading conceit, for the machine was no less a part of Svetlana than any other murky bit of her psychology. The difference was that the machine was a created thing – an entity shoved somewhere between her id and her ego by her sponsors back in the days before her first assignment.
She had been merely 17, without family, without a home, without options. She had a name, but it didn’t matter, it would be forgotten. She had killed a man. He deserved it, as much as any man could deserve to have a car door closed three or four times on his head, but justice was not always the priority in the cold, dirty Kiev neighborhood where a bleeding scared girl had learned the street life. The man’s name matters little now, but at the time it was of some minor importance in the local government. Certainly it was more important than the truth or the future of a yet-to-be-Svetlana who was not yet of importance to anyone. The little girl from Kiev was on a countdown and she knew it.
The count went all the way down to fourteen. Fourteen days remaining until her eighteenth birthday. Fourteen days to rot in a freezing stone and iron cage until her turn came up on the executioner’s schedule. Fourteen days left to live when she found herself taking a second life. The dyke guard deserved it, as much as any sadistic government-pensioned rapist deserves to be kicked and kicked and kicked in the throat, and bureaucracy being what it is, the incident ironically bought Svetlana three more months to develop walking pneumonia before she would be eligible for “re-scheduling”. The truth was the guard had underestimated Svetlana’s resistance (later, a common and often lethal mistake), and well, Svetlana had managed to land a first lucky kick after having bitten through a hefty chunk of the big bitch’s cartilage. Luckier than Svetlana realized, the kick and its lethal effect had caught the attention of a sponsor. Of course she didn’t know it at the time. For the next three months things in the cage were rather quiet, except for the coughing and the periodic beatings. On the day of her re-scheduling she went quietly, and that was that. — Of course she didn’t expect to wake up in heaven. She didn’t really expect to wake up at all. But here she was in heaven: A clean warm room, with a clean smell, cleaner than anyplace she could remember, anyplace she could imagine. She noticed a woman sitting at the foot of the bed. The woman was clean and bright in immaculate starched white. The woman seemed to be smiling. The little no-longer-dirty girl smiled. She felt safe. Heaven was safe. She didn’t notice the restraints; she just faded back into the dark.
When she finally met her sponsor the restraints were gone, so were the I.V.s, the attendants, the tutors, and the name, court records and identity of a little Kiev orphan. She met her sponsor and his peers in a spare but tidy conference room. They wore suits. She wore a paper robe. She felt tingly, and there was something else. They told her about sponsorship. They explained a few rather harsh realities about the program. She didn’t mind. They told her about the thing inside her thoughts that they put there to help her. She was grateful – heaven might be behind her, but she was alive, she was warm, she had a purpose, and she had her new family, her first family, her sponsors. She felt something for them, some ambiguous feeling that eluded her when she tried to concentrate on it. She did know she was grateful for the gifts they had given her. She had a new name and a new thing inside her, which she knew would always protect her, because that’s what it was there to do. The new thing didn’t have a name then, it didn’t yet need one. It wasn’t until she wrote her first report when she needed to describe the experience and put into words a detailed explanation of exactly why she was still alive when three large, athletic men were dead, it was then when she first called it the machine. It was her first report, just a week after her sponsors had placed her in Dubrovnik. She had not even been given her first assignment yet, but as she quickly learned sometimes in this line of work your assignment finds you.
Svetlana shrugged off the disoriented feeling and disoriented memories in her usual way, by taking inventory: bruised thigh, broken nail on left hand, a throbbing welt above the left temple, a cooling corpse on the ground in front of her. No rips in her clothing that she could see, but a few stains – hardly noticeable in the dark material. A cut on her right arm, not deep but bleeding. She picked up the ghurka knife lying across the floor from the cooling body and cut a swatch of yellow silk to make a bandage. There was yellow silk everywhere. A turban had unfurled after a painful spasm had thrown it off its wearer’s head. Miraculously, there had been little blood. She pulled the small brooch out of the Sikh’s neck and very carefully avoided the business end of the pin. She cut another long swatch of silk and used the brooch to fashion an over-the-shoulder wrap to distract from and camouflage the bright yellow bandage. The machine had left her a message, something the Sikh had said while under the effects of the trace of an exotic chemical that had coated the brooch’s pin. Something that the Sikh had apparently refused to tell while the machine had methodically broken both of his legs, his left arm and four of the fingers on his left hand. Svetlana was grateful for the machine and how it took over when things needed to be done. It was always efficient, always economical, but it had no mercy. Svetlana was glad she didn’t need to watch what the machine was doing, or hear the sound of the bones cracking, the screams, the pleas. The machine had insulated her from the noise and from the remorse.
Svetlana unfastened the handcuffs binding the Sikh’s bruised right wrist to a pipe and placed them along with the ghurka in her purse. Inventory told her there was still a hammer and a vise-grip pliers to add to the collection. The machine had left her an address and a name and though she would have preferred to stay a while longer to tidy things up properly, Svetlana knew addresses and names have a short shelf life in this business. She would have to do the quick and dirty – she took off her right earring and placed it in the corpse’s mouth and clamped the stiffening hands over the orifice. Speak no evil.
Across the street and seven flights up the Kalmyk was taking a biological break. One of the pitfalls of working alone was the inevitability of biology. Had she been at her post behind the high-powered binoculars she might have seen the attractive woman with the bold yellow wrap emerge from the building across the street. She certainly would have noticed the strange way she pulled off her left earring and dropped it on the ground and crushed it into the asphalt with a single stomp of her heel. What the Kalmyk did notice, even from her current immodest perch was the sound of the blast that occurred exactly five seconds after a stomping boot had activated a tiny transmitter. The Sikh was gone, and would be very hard to identify. And for the Kalmyk, now flying solo, a new chase had begun.
L. C. Hessel probably had the last decent hotel room in Seoul. On the battle field he would sleep anywhere. In the Falkland Islands it was under a dead sheep for two days. On a job he never took anything less than a suite.
The foreign bankers that had left this dusty city cold during the crisis were back now, like so many cell-phoned fruit flies. No doubt some of these bankers belonged to Pirenzi. Whether they knew it or not was another matter. Men of action, they probably fancied themselves. Real men of action don’t run around like hysterics buying twenty-dollar glasses of whiskey for each other. Real men of real action know that you wait and wait and then it happens so fast you can barely see it. Hessel was waiting for a man of action – a Ghurka. A strapping Nepalese lad, he was a bit unpredictable, but then that’s why the regiment had suggested that he use his talents elsewhere. He had. Hessel first used him on the recommendation of a South African gentleman.
For the moment there was no mission. Pirenzi had simply thrust a plane ticket at him after the “no report”. Hessel was smart enough not to quiz him about the arrangements. On the back he found the number of a bank account. It had quite a large balance and that worried Hessel. He called the Ghurka in case the situation got “wet”.
There was a knock on the door and Hessel drew his gun and picked up his bulletproof vest. He slipped his arm through the straps and, holding it like a shield, laid it against the door. He cocked his gun and held it just behind the edge of the door, pointing at whoever was on the other side. It was the masseuse. Hessel shook his head and said in Korean “a half hour, thirty minutes more.” She bowed and walked on. The flight from Katmandu was a bitch, late as usual, and he knew the Ghurka would appreciate a massage (or the masseuse herself) and a bottle of Japanese whiskey. Awful stuff but the Ghurka loved it.
Funny, he always had to get drunk the first day away from Nepal. Maybe he was a different man when he was in those mountains and he needed an anesthetic to ease the transition. He was a brute at this altitude, that’s for sure. Hessel laughed to himself.
There was another knock at the door. Maybe the self-same brute? He went through the same gun-and-vest procedure. No, the masseuse again. For an instant he noticed an odd look in her eyes and then he experienced the same sort of surprise as someone who steps over a log in a forest only to feel two burning pinpricks in his leg with something rattling in the dead leaves at the side of the path. A man’s left pinkie was caught between the hammer of his pistol and the cartridge he had instinctively tried to fire. He tried to force the door closed but the man had wedged the dazed masseuse into the doorframe. There was no use anyway. The hand that gripped his revolver, a left hand still impassive despite Hessel’s struggle, had all the fingers the same length – a unique deformity. On the now-bleeding pinkie there was a ring with a platinum dragon set in gold. If K. K. B. Bang had wanted to kill Hessel this time, Hessel would be dead.
“Please Old Man, there’s no reason to bruise a perfectly good masseuse.” Hessel maintained his weight against the door. The masseuse was starting to look a little purple from the pressure.
“Quite right, Bang. You wouldn’t consider letting go of my gun, would you Old Boy? Your finger seems to be caught and I wouldn’t want to have to bite it off.”
“Well” Bang laughed “I would, but those American revolvers do make such frightful sound when they go off.” Hessel relented and broke off the struggle. He backed up, edging towards the bedroom.
“Tell me, Bang, how did you know it was an American revolver?” Bang was bent over the prostrate woman. He turned to Hessel and gave him a disapproving glance.
“Old Man, we both know a nine-millimeter is simply useless for shooting through the doors of better hotels-….” He was patting the Korean woman on the cheek who began to move now and make some noises “…there there, Dear, you’ll feel better,” turning back to Hessel he continued “…and, since you always buy retail-” He gave Hessel another disapproving glance “-I mean *really* Old Man I know you’re a soldier but couldn’t you get something decent made for yourself?” Hessel laughed “….still, if you’re going to use .357 Magnum even you wouldn’t buy *Brazilian*, I trust.” Hessel smiled at him and Bang looked down at the Brazilian Taurus revolver in his hand. Bang thumbed the hammer off his pinkie and laid it on the floor with some disgust. He looked back at Hessel “I mean *really*. You *must* be slipping.”
Hessel went behind the bar. He eyed the two Galil assault rifles stacked there but decided against the direct approach. He’d let Bang tell his story. “It must be this town. Drink, Bang? How about some Japanese whiskey?”
“My God, man, if-”
“Joking, Bang Old Top, only joking. Why not a brandy?”
“Might be the thing, ta. I know what you mean about this town, frightful place – the dust.”
“Indeed.” Hessel poured two snifters.
“I say Old Man between my nerve strike and your pushing on that bloody door we’ve practically squeezed the life out of this poor girl. Come help me lay her on the bed.”
“I was going to let the Ghurka do that.”
“Oh my, *listen* Old Man..” He cast his eyes heavenward and picked up the girl as easily as if he was picking up a puppy “…if you’re simply going to be *common* then…”
“Forget it, Bang, put her in there and come have a drink.” Hessel watched Bang as he carried the girl into the second bedroom. At 6′2″, wearing the Italian suits and expensive shoes he favored (he liked to go dancing between murders), Bang should have been more imposing, but that was his gift. He never made a clear impression on one. Well muscled, he had to be, but he gave neither the impression of fitness nor stoutness. His face was neither European nor Asian. On a job, he could be that Spanish businessman you saw talking on the telephone, the Russian construction worker twenty floors up or the Mongolian cab driver waiting in the lobby reading a newspaper. He never caught your eye the first time and for most of the people he dealt with there was no second glance. Hessel wasn’t going to ask Bang how he had become an Englishman. You didn’t ask as psychopath like Bang where he got his personality-of-the-month. Hessel sipped the Calvados and let the sharp sweetness fill his senses.
K. K. B. Bang was a rare and dangerous hybrid: a true man of action who did not wait. He was a shark cruising through the world’s waters and whether it was the capitalist carrion men like these bankers buzzed over or something with a little more wiggle to it, that didn’t matter to Bang so long as it was more – always more. In that bedroom, right now, he was equally likely to be wooing a Dutch heiress on the telephone, buying a controlling interest in a skyscraper complex or ravishing that poor masseuse. He might be taking aim at a hapless dignitary out the window. If he had his cell phone he might be doing all four simultaneously, for that matter. He had at least two offices that Hessel knew about where the secretaries and stenographers were as nervous as cats. They knew that when Mr. Bang arrived from Zurich there was no telling what the valise in his gloved hand might contain. It could be a bundle of highly-denominated deutschemarks, a non-disclosure agreement, some vintage 78’s of tango music for his collection, a black mamba snake for his other collection, or a human spleen for someone else’s collection.
Hessel would hear him out and then they would probably try to kill each other – again.
In London, the team was getting ready for a flight. In fact, Anders Inkling would never have pulled that cute taxi driver stunt himself if he hadn’t been about to leave. Inkling had known the Sikh would turn eventually and he knew it was happening when the big Indian had dragged the Countess into the limo and left the unconscious Gen-Tze. That didn’t worry him. Tereshkova was always going to have a back-up plan. Inkling had the Countess now and he would deal with the Sikh soon – harshly. Mary Kwan, the Korean who favored the bright suits, had a pretty good line on him already. Inkling was glad he had promoted her to senior account executive. What bothered him was that the Kalmyk had disappeared. Reviewing the tapes he saw her get in the limo with the Sikh and then the car had stopped, but out of the camera shot. She could have gotten out, the Sikh could have killed her or anything in between. Neither her actions nor her reasons were clear to Inkling at this time. It didn’t do his nerves any good to have her out there. It didn’t do his heart any good either. Inkling knew he was lost. Despite the constant anesthesia of intellect, vast ambition and cold-blooded violence, Inkling was in love with Anna the Kalmyk. He would get out of the city before that killed him.
They were headed to Korea – a former Buddhist monastery in the mountains that Inkling had converted into a retreat. He was to be in East Asia on business anyway, a thought that made him smile with the irony of the situation. In this new world where capital flowed like lymph across the globe and swallowed market inefficiency, financial institutions constantly morphed into new entities. It was in this new world that Anders Inkling found that he was now not only Count Pirenzi’s most bitter enemy, he was also his accountant.