Viking Bay, page 7
“The new Woody Allen.”
“Woody’s a whiny little wimp,” Kay said.
“He’s a genius,” Jessica said.
“Yeah, right, a genius who . . . Aw, forget it. You just make sure you’re home at a decent hour. You got school tomorrow.” Kay knew that was a totally unnecessary thing to say to her overachiever daughter. What she’d really wanted to say was: You come right back after that show, young lady, because if that boy knocks you up, I’m going to shoot him.
KAY CLEANED UP the kitchen, then unlocked her briefcase and pulled out the background material Anna Mercer had given her on Ara Khan.
The Callahan Group had done a lot of research on Ara, had looked at every record they could find, and talked to over thirty people who had known her. The picture that emerged during Ara’s high school and college years was: normal girl, even normal Western girl.
Ara wasn’t religious—she never attended a mosque while she was abroad, nor had anyone ever seen her praying—and she appeared to like the things that most young girls liked: fashion, movies, music, and boys. While attending high school in France, she’d been chaperoned by teachers at the school she attended but was able to travel extensively throughout Europe. She skied in the Alps every year, and when she went to the beaches on the Costa del Sol, she wore a bikini. Although she socialized with boys her own age, there was no evidence the Group could find that she’d ever had a lover while in France. Nor was there any evidence that she’d been particularly close to anyone, male or female, while in Europe.
Things changed in college, primarily due to her roommate at NYU—Carolyn Harris. Carolyn, as Callahan had said, was a bit of a wild thing. She partied a lot and dated a lot—meaning she slept around a lot—got drunk fairly often, occasionally did a little recreational dope, and in general seemed to go through life having a good time while managing to maintain a C average at NYU.
She introduced Ara to New York: shopping, after-hours clubs, booze, and men. Harris’s wealthy Connecticut family also appeared to have adopted Ara, as she spent a lot of weekends and holidays at their estate in Connecticut. Carolyn Harris’s mother told one of Callahan’s investigators that she thought of Ara as a daughter and as a sister to Carolyn.
Ara, either due to her background or just plain common sense, was more restrained than Carolyn Harris. It appeared that quite often Ara was the one who managed to get Harris safely back to the dorm after Harris had imbibed too much. In college, Ara had sexual relationships with at least two men. She dated one of them—a now-married stockbroker in Boston—most of her sophomore year. The second man she dated for only four months but slept with him. Kay had no idea how Callahan’s investigators had obtained this information. Also, unlike Harris, Ara was a serious student and had almost a straight-A average. She didn’t join any campus organizations but frequently attended lectures on political topics when lecturers appeared in New York.
Kay had to admit that she was beginning to develop a grudging admiration for Ara’s father, Sahid Khan. He may have been a corrupt thug, but in a country where women were often married off at the age of thirteen, where schools teaching girls were bombed by the Taliban, where women were expected to be completely subservient to men and hide their bodies in burkas, Sahid Khan had sent his daughter out into the world to become a sophisticated, highly educated young woman.
When Ara returned to Afghanistan at the age of twenty-four, things changed. Dramatically. She put aside the clothes she wore in college and dressed as most modern Afghan businesswomen do—in long modest dresses and with a scarf covering her hair. She didn’t wear a burka or a veil. She immersed herself in her father’s business of governing Ghazni Province and, as Callahan had told Kay, assumed the role of his chief advisor. She wasn’t dating anyone, although a member of the French Embassy in Kabul—a young man from a good Parisian family who had known Ara in high school—would show up every so often for dinner at the Khans’ house, but they were never allowed to be alone together. Kay felt sorry for Ara Khan. It sounded as if she was leading an incredibly drab, stressful existence for a young woman of twenty-six.
She wondered if Ara had any dreams of her own.
The final item in the file was a copy of a 2010 article from the New York Times written by a guy named James Risen. The article discussed the vast mineral deposits that existed in Afghanistan and the difficulties associated with extracting those minerals. According to Risen, the Taliban might very well attempt to gain control of the minerals or, because of the rampant corruption in the central government, a few well-connected oligarchs could gain control. The article noted that Afghanistan had mining laws that had never been tested and how “endless fights” could erupt between the central government in Kabul and the leaders in the mineral-rich provinces.
The thing Kay found most interesting in the article was that the Chinese had been caught trying to bribe the Afghan minister of mines with thirty million dollars to gain control of copper mining. So it appeared that what Callahan was trying to do had been tried before—and there was a lot of dangerous competition.
11 | Alpha knocked on Finley’s apartment door in Brooklyn, not concerned that it was almost midnight. Finley would be awake; Finley was almost always awake.
Alpha had found Rodger Finley in a database at the Pentagon, did some preliminary research, and then hired an agency in New York to fill out his profile. He had double doctorates in math and computer science, the math degree alone making him a weirdo. In every high school algebra class there is maybe one kid in the entire class who thinks imaginary numbers make sense—and Finley would have been that kid.
People who get advanced degrees in mathematics used to seek employment primarily with universities so they could spend all day playing with numbers and no one would demand that the playing result in something useful. Some went to work for places like the NSA where they needed math wizards to break codes—code breaking was very math- and computer-intensive—and others went to work for high-tech companies. The companies would stick the geeks down in a basement lab just hoping they’d come up with something that would turn a profit. All they could do was hope, because nobody could really communicate with them and they had a tendency to work on whatever interested them.
These days, however, the place where a lot of math freaks ended up was Wall Street. These people are known as quants—an unattractive abbreviation for “quantitative analysts”—although quant better captures the personality and often the appearance of those who bear the title. Wall Street firms use their quants to develop programs containing algorithms that can buy and sell stocks and commodities in nanoseconds. The Wall Street guys aren’t smart enough to understand the algorithms—all they understand is that if you can buy and sell at the speed of light, you can make millions. Some people still remember May 6, 2010: the day the Dow dropped a thousand points because one of those algorithms had a little glitch in it.
And that’s where Rodger Finley ended up—as a quant on Wall Street.
Fortunately—for Alpha, that is—Finley was arrested when he was seventeen; by then he was already a junior in college. He was arrested because he’d hacked his way into a DOD database, which was why they had a file on him at the Pentagon. Finley did it just because it seemed like a fun thing to do. His arrest didn’t result in a conviction, however; it resulted instead in an immediate job offer from the NSA after he graduated. But then a silver-tongued recruiter lured Finley to Goldman Sachs.
Finley made a small fortune at Goldman Sachs—the quants were well paid—but he didn’t make anywhere near the salary of the big boys at the top. Then one day he stopped showing up for work. He’d become bored making money for Goldman Sachs. Goldman fired him after they hadn’t seen him for a couple of months, and when they did, they pointed out the noncompete clause in a contract he hadn’t bothered to read and which kept him from going to work for another Wall Street firm for two years.
FINLEY FINALLY OPENED the door after Alpha banged on it with a fist for almost two minutes. Finley was six-foot-one and skinny, looking like he weighed maybe a hundred thirty pounds. His nose was barely long enough to provide a perch for heavy, black-framed glasses, and greasy dark hair hung down to his shoulders. When he’d worked for Goldman, Finley had always worn his hair short, but Alpha didn’t think he’d changed his hairstyle; Finley was just too preoccupied with doing whatever people like him did to go to a barber. He was barefoot—his toenails needed to be severely clipped—and dressed in gray sweatpants and a black Star Trek T-shirt. The T-shirt said Live Long and Prosper.
Alpha considered the T-shirt a good omen: Living long and prospering was the plan.
“Who are you? What do you want? I’m busy,” Finley said.
“I have a job for you, Rodger, one that pays very well.”
“I don’t need a job. Go away.”
“Rodger, you were fired by Goldman Sachs almost two years ago and you haven’t drawn a paycheck since then. You have nineteen thousand dollars left in your bank account and your rent and utilities add up to twenty-seven hundred dollars a month. I don’t know what you pay for food.”
“How do you know how much . . .”
“In six months, you’re going to be completely broke.”
Alpha could tell Finley was actually shocked to hear how little money he had left. All his bills were paid by automatic withdrawals from a checking account, and apparently Finley hadn’t been paying any attention to how much money was going out. But instead of admitting that he was on his way to homelessness, he said, “Hey, if I need a job, I’ll find one.”
“But that’s my point, Rodger: You don’t need to find one. I’m willing to pay you two million dollars if you can do what I need you to do.”
“I’m glad to see that I’ve finally gotten your attention. But I’m not going to stand out here in the hall talking to you.”
Finley hesitated. “Fine, come in, but I’m not promising anything.”
Finley’s living room looked like a cross between a video arcade and a launch control room at NASA. There were three large-screen TVs and the controllers for various video games sat on the floor, cords and cables running in every direction. The floor looked like a snake convention. On tables around the room were computers and monitors and dozens of gadgets with blinking lights, and Alpha had no idea what half the equipment did. In the middle of all the clutter was a red La-Z-Boy recliner, more or less centered between the television sets.
Finley pulled over a chair on rollers that was near all the computers and gestured for Alpha to take a seat. He plopped down in the La-Z-Boy, sitting sideways, his skinny legs dangling over the arm of the chair.
“So what’s the job?” he said.
Alpha told him—and then set the hook. “The problem, even as bright as you’re supposed to be, is that I’m not sure you can do it. I’m not sure anyone can.” Alpha knew that for Finley the challenge was more important than the money.
“Is that right?” Finley said, displaying the ego and arrogance he was known for.
“Yes. And the computers involved have the best security systems available today.”
“I can do it,” Finley said.
“Well, I doubt it. But if you can prove to me that you can, and if the operation is successful, your cut will be two million. Then you can sit in this loft for the next decade doing whatever it is you do.”
“I can do it,” Finley said again. His fingers were twitching now, as if he were already tapping on a keyboard.
“Anyway, that’s the hard part of the job. After we have the money, I’m going to want you to route it to several bank accounts and no one must be able to trace it.”
“That’s easy, too,” Finley said.
It turned out the job wasn’t that easy. It took Finley almost three weeks, and during that time he slept no more than two hours a night. By the time he finished, he’d lost ten pounds he couldn’t afford to lose, and the next time Alpha saw him he had this weird look in his eyes, like some wacko-mystic in a state of religious ecstasy. But he succeeded.
Step one was complete.
12 | Kay returned to the Callahan Group’s K Street headquarters the next day and began working with Anna Mercer, Sylvia Sorenson, and Eli Dolan on the pitch she’d be giving to Ara Khan.
Sylvia’s role was to make sure that Kay had a basic understanding of Afghan law as it applied to mining and mineral rights. Kay didn’t have to know all the legal ins and outs. She just had to know enough that if Ara said that what Callahan wanted to do couldn’t be done legally, Kay would be able to say: Well, I think it can because . . . Kay was also surprised that when Sylvia talked about the law, she didn’t act like the shy introvert Kay had met in Callahan’s conference room. She was very articulate and very sure of herself. She even snapped once at Eli when he disagreed with something she said.
The biggest surprise to Kay, however, was Anna Mercer. Sylvia was good with facts, and so was Eli. Eli was able to tell her how the mining operation would be accomplished, how much money could be made, and what would be needed in terms of infrastructure. But Mercer was better at selling: how to present information in the most compelling way, how to frame arguments in a manner that would be best suited to Ara Khan’s personality. Mercer would pretend to be Ara and would toss out the kind of questions and objections she expected Ara to make, and then would coach Kay on how to respond. Mercer may not have been the most likable person Kay had ever known, but she was very bright.
While having martinis with Eli the night before, Kay had not only learned about the Swiss connection, she’d also learned more about the people she worked with. When she’d asked him about himself and his coworkers, he said he’d be happy to tell her everything that was already a matter of public record but couldn’t say anything about what they had done for Callahan.
She found out that what Callahan had told her about his background the first time Kay met him was true. He’d graduated from Notre Dame’s ROTC program and, thanks to some family connections and a lot of luck, ended up spending two years at the Pentagon as a lackey on the staff of an assistant secretary of defense. The assistant secretary took note of him, and after he moved to the CIA, and after Callahan completed his military obligation, Callahan joined him at Langley. Callahan then spent the next twenty years at the CIA, and while he was there, he was engaged in covert operations and mission planning and had the opportunity to mingle with various luminaries at the White House and the Pentagon. He quit the CIA, moving back to the Pentagon to work for the secretary of defense for a couple of years, then over to the White House as a deputy to the president’s national security advisor, where he apparently impressed George W. Bush.
Sylvia’s story was somewhat similar to Callahan’s in that she also began her career in the military, in her case the navy. According to Eli, Sylvia had been raised in an Appalachian coal-mining hamlet and had been dirt poor—like barely-able-to-afford-shoes poor. She enlisted with the navy after graduating from high school and fortunately the navy recognized her intelligence, sent her to college, then law school. It took her ten years to become an officer and lawyer, and then she was obligated to give the navy ten more years of her life. “She was a JAG lawyer,” Eli said, “and held the rank of commander. Callahan met her when she was stationed at the Pentagon.”
“She doesn’t seem like the type that would work for Callahan,” Kay had said.
“Sylvia’s incredibly bright,” Eli said. “She doesn’t have the personality to be a litigator, but no one knows the law like her and nobody can learn the law faster than her. And she’s not a field agent—
“Yeah, but why would she work for Callahan? Why didn’t she just stay in the navy or sign on with a normal law firm?”
“She works for Callahan because he pays her extremely well. She’s making three times as much as she was making as a navy commander and she probably knows she’d never make partner in a big firm. And she needs the money because of her mother. Her mom, who’s been living with her for almost a decade, has had every disease known to man and it’s cost Sylvia a bundle to pay for her medications and nurses to take care of her.”
“What about Mercer?” Kay had asked.
Anna Mercer, Eli said, began her career in the State Department, then moved over to the CIA looking for adventure, and someplace along the way attached herself to Callahan’s coattails. She followed along behind Callahan as his assistant when he moved over to the Pentagon, and then came with him when he formed the Callahan Group.
“Anna’s a bit bitter, however,” Dolan said.
“Why’s that?” Kay had asked.
“Because she’s figured out that she’s never going to be anything more than Callahan’s number two, and now that bothers her. She thought at some point someone would recognize that she was just as capable as Callahan, if not more so, and she’d be given a job where she wasn’t a deputy to anyone. She’s mentioned to me several times that if she’d stayed on at State when Hillary was there, she’s positive that Hillary would have been impressed with her and, with Hillary’s backing, she could have been the next secretary. Or something.”
“And how about you?”
“My story’s pretty typical, too,” Eli said. “I got the usual Harvard MBA . . .”
He said this like every third person on the planet had one.
“. . . hired on at Goldman, did quite well there, then when Hank Paulson and a bunch of other Goldman people went down to Treasury to help out after the financial meltdown, I tagged along. After Treasury, I spent a little time over at the OMB, and working there . . .”