The Third Man (A Thin Man Story)

Dateline Singapore. Friday, 16:25:

The Thin Man met the accountants for an early drink at the Alligator Pear as promised. They drank Mojitos, a ridiculous drink that is invariably watered down. The Thin Man had a vodka and soda, a safe choice ahead of what could be a long night.

The mood of the men swung between giddy and glum. One of them was on an app, choosing an escort for later on. The men advised him on his choice with the surgical precision of serious professionals. The Thin Man hoped that he could be as precise in his own operation tonight.

“Did you folks get wristbands yet?” a waiter in his early 20s asked. They hadn’t, so they did. Yes, the event security is poor, but to be fair they all looked the part of party goers. And so they were. All going to the party.

The party must have been paid for weeks ago because all the stops were turned out. A full bar, lobster tails, sushi, fondue, steak tartare, champagne. Sometimes the best way to look prosperous is to look prosperous. The guests were high in no time. The future was unwritten, terrifying. All they had was tonight.

Nursing only his second vodka and soda, the Thin Man scoped out the scene. Anderson was not present, nor was Rink. The highest ranking Green Grouper seemed to be a regional vice-president called Lewis. It was he that gave the toast, “to a glorious future, the Green Group!” Salut. Lewis was in his early 40s, too young and too on the spot. The Thin Man needed someone older, someone with less to lose.

The Cigar Smokers:

Outside on the pool deck a group of three men had lit up cigars. This was surely against regulations, however a payment must have passed under the table, either that or tonight was one of those nights were regulations just weren’t in effect. Regulations are like that, even in Singapore. They are human created and human maintained. Or, in this case, not.

Cigar smokers, mused the Thin Man. Cigar smokers tend toward the genial and the venial. Toward the cynical and the amoral. Toward the reckless and the egotistical. In that moment, he loved cigar smokers. Cigar smokers were excellent. The only problem was he might have to have one too.

He approaches the group a little gingerly. The move here is a little different than cozying up to the accountants. There he wanted to be taken in as a peer and forgotten about. Here, his role is of the acolyte, the younger man. Now which one is our mark? Individual one appears in his mid-sixties, and sports a brown jacket that is at least three years past its prime. His feet are shuffling an alcoholics’ shuffle. No thank you. Individual two is in his 50s dressed in a tux. Hair slicked back with pomade, a little glassy eyed. A greaser who got lucky. No.

The third man, however, is of a different type. Also in his 60s, he wears a pale red sweater over a tieless pink shirt. He is handsome for his age, white hair adding a touch of distinction. He is slightly overweight but in a way that suggests ease not sloth. The Thin Man cages a cigar from brown jacket, lights it, and stares into the middle distance. A few puffs later he casually turns to the man in the red sweater.

“Jack,” he says, “quite a view eh?”

“Marcus,” says the man, “view of the end of the world if you ask me.”

“The company? The rumors?”

“Rumors? Boy, ain’t no rumors about it. We’ve got a ringside seat on the Titanic.” His laugh was actually merry. The Thin Man was elated, an emotion he subsumed into wide-eyed curiosity. He willed himself to look 10 years younger, like we said, an acolyte.

“I heard Rink is making his move by Monday,” said the Thin Man. He had heard no such thing, it just made sense in context.

“Made his move already. Anderson is bleeding like a stuck pig. Rink will announce the coup on Monday at the latest. The wires may have it before then.”

The Thin Man was getting warm. He gently turned to face Marcus, cutting off communication lines with the other men. Drink in his right, he stretched his left arm out part way as if he was about to put his arm around the older man. But not quite. It’s all in the mechanics. Marcus took a few steps away from the edge of the pool and toward a padded bench for two.

“Can I get you another drink, sir?” asked the Thin Man.

“You sit with me boy,” said Marcus. “Drinks are his job.” He gestured to the young waiter. “Two Gibsons, and make ’em strong.” They sat, and the Thin Man channeled “boy.”

“So Rink will really pull it off eh? That should get us right back on track.” Fishing.

“Balls boy. Back on track! Anderson siphoned so much money out of the company that Rink will have to go hat in hand to Company X. Won’t have a choice.”

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The Thin Man on Assignment, Part II

Read The Thin Man on Assignment, Part I here: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/11/15/the-thin-man-on-assignment

Dateline Singapore, 17:08.

Groups of male drinkers are highly permeable. Groups of female drinkers are also basically permeable, however, for various reasons that you will be aware of, somewhat less so than their more devolved counterparts. With these truisms in mind, the Thin Man prepared his cover.

He selects the largest of the group, ruddy complexion running to seed through a noxious combination of hotel living, corporate ineptitude, and nature, and opens with the most anodyne possible comment. “That’s a tough one,” he says extending his hand. “I’m Jack from marketing, over here from London. You wouldn’t believe what happened to me today.”

The men give him a quick once over. This is more than enough. “You wouldn’t believe what happened to US today” says the big man. “Jesus what a day.” He sits down and “Jack” is established. Just like that.

=====

Three hours later and the Thin Man has learned the following:

i) “Bill” is Bill Wetherington, Head of Accounting for the Green Group Asia. Aristocratic name, upper-middle class title, garden variety courage.

ii) The drinkers are also in accounting.

iii) Green Group is under internal pressure based on intensifying rumors of shady financial action at the very top. The current CEO, Anderson, is being challenged by a new board member, Rink. The rumors are rampant yet unproven, and the three men know relatively little about what is going on.

iv) Bill’s absence means that the men have no one to take their cue from re their stance on the firm’s political climate. Predictably they have been drinking for days. They are easy marks, too easy, but they don’t know enough. The Thin Man will have to attend the party tomorrow and scout an insider.

v) The men drank whisky alternated with beers and the occasional shot, tequila or vodka, which always came with roars of achievement and slaps on the back. The Thin Man gave himself to the role; he slapped back.

Eventually one of the men did circle back to Jack’s role in the firm. The Thin Man kept it vague, of course, claiming to be a kind of internal consultant and using a lot of words. A small amount of information communicated verbosely is a sure recipe for boredom and soon enough the men moved back to their own woes. It was a quarter after midnight when the Thin Man had heard enough and he bid them goodnight. By this time they were fast friends, and had agreed to meet for a pre-event drink the best day. The event space is pre-permeated; the reception folks don’t stand a chance.

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The Thin Man on Assignment

1DBD4BFF-E32B-4584-B058-469BDD270CC4The cry of a peacock, flies buzz in my head/ ceiling fan’s broken, there’s a heat in my bed/ street band playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Bob Dylan

Dateline Singapore, late fall during the 100 year anniversary of the end of the Great War

This little country, such an unlikely success story, such a strange winding of forces. The Thin Man has been on land for two weeks and his sea legs have mostly subsided. His stomach is still in limbo; years of gruel below the waves have seen to that.

Now there is nothing more that the Thin Man wanted after washing up here earlier in the season then a long weekend. Say, five years. Five years in the hammock, five years frolicing with the lovely ladies at the bar with the occasional flyer over in Macau. Five years out of the swim of modern capitalism, if you can even call it that. Five years clean. That was the dream. Twelve days in and the Thin Man was looking for work, the money gone in a haze of long days and longer nights. Wine, women, song, and a speedboat ride or two will add up quick. C’est La Vie partner. That’s what comes from burning holes up to heaven, in the words of the bard.

The Thin Man is a gamer, and is constitutionally unable to categorize situations as problems. No problemo senor, no worries mate. Instead, he has a few issues. The first being, he is barely employable. It turns out that a few decades on the ocean floor running the house game prepares him for casino work, underground games, and giving blood. That’s about it; he wants no part of card games and giving blood makes him nauseous. Also, he has a limited quantity. So, he asked around, kept his ear to the wind. A shipmate turned him onto a broker of services of sorts, the kind of individual who specializes in assisting upstanding institutions with their shining mission statements and their CSR campaigns navigate the grey areas of competition and market position. The broker, like all of his kind, couldn’t give a shit who he was pimping as long as he got his 8% commision. It was he that took the Thin Man’s data points and turned them into a resume which accentuated the high stakes, low reference point nature of his previous work. A bite came back within 36 hours. The broker knew his lane, apparently.

The man from Company X introduced himself as Alejandro, and Alejandro came bearing work. “What sort of work,” asked the Thin Man. Alejandro’s smile was thin as a razor. “The best kind, the kind where you get in and out.”

“I deal cards,” replied the Thin Man, “I’m not a safecracker.

Alejandro’s smile widened fractionally. “Of course not. We are a respectable company with a 400 year history. This work is simple. The company is in negotiations around a merger with Green Group Ltd. They are playing hardball and we need to know their real intentions.”

“Basically you want to know if they are bluffing?”

“Precisely. And who better than an operator such as yourself to find this out?”

“And what do I have to go on?”

“The Green Group will be having a party at the Swissotel downtown tomorrow night. There will be 200 guests. You will infiltrate the party and get the lowdown. That is what you British say yes, “the lowdown.”

The Thin Man was not British but it didn’t matter. “Yes, that’s right. OK, book me a room on the club floor. I’ll need a new suit, a haircut, and a cell phone. How’s $500 a day for expenses and $20,000 for the job?”

Alejandro eyed him carefully. “What about the broker?”

“That’s your end,” said the Thin Man. My end is $20,000.”

“Deal. Don’t fuck up.”

“I don’t intend to.” And with that the conversation was over. The Thin Man had acquitted himself well, but only by the grace of god. Several things were running through his mind;

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Azerbaijan, 1990. Part I

14F05E5B-56BC-4624-AB18-F05B2E729E12So you think you can tell/ heaven from hell?

Pink Floyd

INTRODUCING MITCHELL GREY

March 7th, 1990. Mitchell Grey waits at a make-shift roadblock on the Iranian side of the Iranian/ Azerbaijani border at Astara. The Azerbaijani populace has been on a 40 day general strike since a desperate and cornered Gorbachev ordered a crackdown on the citizens of Baku. Nerves on the border are stretched thin, to say the least. Grey takes his time, keeps his head down. He turned 30 in November, a mid-Sagittarius, born adventurer. Not that he’d had much choice. Of course, Grey is no more his name than it is yours, unless that is your name happens to be Grey.

Four or five people, all men, are processed and it is Grey’s turn. He turns over his passport for inspection. The customs officer looks it over, gingerly as if it might be edged with arsenic. “What is your profession?” he asks, in perfectly good English. “Engineer,” replies Grey. He had settled on this option after much thought. Grey stands 5 foot 10, with clipped hair, three-day stubble, and work boots. He is operating on a $1500 advance paid three weeks ago in Milan by his handler whom he had met for 10 minutes. Precious little remains, and Grey is in no position, no mood to pretty himself up for the Astara crossing. He does not look like a businessman or financier, and is not about to take the risk of trying. Nor does he look like a writer, despite the capaciousness of that particular category. He looks like what he is, a hand for hire, a mercenary. Engineers are scientists, more or less, and he hoped that at least a patina of respect would be accorded his proffered status.

“Engineer of what? You are here to steal our oil, yes.” Not a question. The border guard gives Grey a look somewhere between a sneer and a smirk. A game player, thought Grey, a patriot perhaps, but a game player first. This is usable information. Grey takes a low deep breath and forced himself to relax. “A structural engineer. I specialize in basements and aqueducts,” he replies. Grey hoped that the word “aqueduct” would escape the guard and that he would tire of the game soon. However the young man was not such an easy mark.

“Basements,” said the guard, with heavy sarcastic emphasis. He turns to the man to his right, an older man, long past fed up with the conversation. “You have business in our country about basements?” It was time for Grey to fall back on the cover story. “I am not here on business. I am meeting an elderly couple in the countryside. They are passionate hunters, and we will be hunting your famous Caucasian snowcock. As well as of course quail and pheasant.”

“So you are on holiday,” askes the guard. “Holiday, now, after the brutal crackdown of the Russians, you are here to shoot birds on holiday.”

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