The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 25

“How much, sir?”


“That is high.”

“It is low. You would pay sixty-five if I insisted. Tell your boss that I do not bargain. Tell him sixty dollars an ounce.”

“How much gold, sir?”

“Six hundred pounds.”

“Six hundred pounds sterling?”

“Six hundred pounds of gold,” I said.

He did not wink, he did not blink, he remained wholly inscrutable. He left, he returned. “Sixty dollars an ounce is acceptable,” he said.

“May I meet your boss?”

“If you will come with me.”

I went to a very modern office in a very modern downtown building. A Chinese in a London suit sat across the desk from me and worked out the details with me. I was a very difficult bargainer at first. After the fun and games in Turkey I had given up trusting anyone. But we worked out the arrangements. Several of the Swiss banks maintained major branches in Beirut. I need only open an account in one of them, a numbered account, and the Chinese would deposit funds in my account equal to sixty dollars an ounce for my total consignment of gold. His company had a warehouse where we would have sufficient privacy. I drove the car there, and several of his employees unloaded the gold from the car according to my directions. It was all weighed and tallied before my eyes. I have been unable to decide whether or not the scales were dishonest. On the one hand, the gold merchant seems to have been exceptionally honest, ethical, and scrupulous. But, at the same time, any man’s honesty seems apt to bend when the stakes reach sufficient height.

It made no difference. He could cheat me an ounce on the pound, and it would still make no difference. Because the gold weighed out at five hundred seventy-three pounds and four ounces troy weight or 6,880 troy ounces.

“I will allow an average of.900 fine for the gold,” he told me. “It is coin gold. Some is finer, some not so fine. Some no doubt is counterfeit. Neither of us has the time to check each piece, is it not so? It will be checked before it is sold, and my firm will either gain or lose depending upon the assay. If you insist, we will assay it before paying you, but it would force you to remain in Beirut for another week at the very least. For this reason-”

“Your terms are satisfactory,” I said.

“You wish payment in Swiss francs?”

“Will the bank accept dollar deposits?”

“Of course.”

“Is it convenient for you to pay in dollars?”

“Of course.”

“I would prefer dollars.”

“Of course.”

The rest was mechanics. I fully expected someone to attempt to cheat me out of the whole bundle, but no one did. We went to the Beirut offices of the Bank Leu. I opened a numbered account and received a very involved explanation of the precise manner in which the numbered accounts operated. No one, I was assured, would ever know of the existence of the account or the balance in it without my express permission. No government on earth could obtain such information. I and only I could make withdrawals from the account. I would, however, be paid no interest. He wanted me to realize that I would be paid no interest.

That, I said, was quite all right with me.

We concluded the transaction. The Chinese merchant took all the gold away-he would eventually realize approximately fifty percent over and above expenses on his investment. I did not begrudge him the profit. The bank would also make out handsomely, carrying a huge account and paying no interest on it. I did not begrudge the bank their gain, either.

I had on deposit precisely $371,520.

I took a hundred dollars of this incredible sum in cash. I went back to my excellent hotel. In the clothing shop downstairs I bought a suit of clothes, a shirt, a suit of underwear, a pair of socks, and a pair of shoes. I added a tie, cuff links, and a belt. I went upstairs and bathed and dressed and had a huge and excellent dinner in the hotel restaurant.

There was only one thing left to do. After dinner, and after I had spent about an hour resting as completely as possible on my most comfortable bed, I left the hotel and took a taxi a few blocks farther down the street. I got out of the cab in front of the American Embassy. It was late in the afternoon, almost time for the Embassy to close for the day.

I walked up the steps. The late afternoon sun was hot. I opened the door and stepped into the utter luxury of genuine American air-conditioning. It made me more honestly homesick than I could have imagined possible.

A young man sat behind a large desk in the hallway. I stood in front of his desk for several minutes before he raised his neat head from the pile of papers in front of him.

He asked if he could help me.

“I hope so,” I said. “You see, I’ve lost my passport.”

“Oh, have you?” He rolled his eyes, signaling his great irritation at stupid tourists who lost their passports.

“I suppose this happens rather often,” I said.

“Too often. Far too often, to be frank. The absolute importance of keeping one’s passport handy…”

I let him go on for quite a while. It was not an unpleasant lecture. I wish I could remember all of it.

Finally he found the appropriate form, poised a pen, and looked up at me.

“I don’t suppose you remember the number?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“No, naturally you don’t. It never occurs to anyone to jot down their passport number. Not sufficiently important.” He sniffed. “Your name?”

I paused, perhaps for dramatic effect.

“Oh, come now,” he said. He was really incredibly snotty. “Now, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your name as well?”

“My name is Evan Michael Tanner,” I said. “If you’ve forgotten it, I don’t think you have much of a future with the State Department. I suggest you get off your ass and tell your boss the name of the stupid tourist who’s been taking up your time. Evan Michael Tanner. You go tell him Evan Michael Tanner is here, and you see what he says.”

But he remembered the name. It was delicious to watch his face mold itself into one expression after another. He reached for a buzzer and rang for the guards. We waited for them to come for me.

It didn’t get at all rough until they got me back to Washington. The guards kept me under surveillance until the snotty kid could report to someone higher up, and eventually some men more important than he came to interrogate me. They assured themselves that I was really Evan Tanner, found out that I was, and conducted me to a windowless room on the second floor. A guard made sure that I was not carrying a weapon. I was not. Then two of them stood in front of me while I sat in a swivel chair.

“There’s a report that you had the British plans,” one said.

“I do.”

“You have them with you?”


“At this moment?”


“Care to turn them over?”

“If you’ll show me CIA identification.”

“I’m not CIA.”

“Then get someone who is.”

They got someone who was, and I solemnly took off my jacket, unbuttoned my shirt, loosened my undershirt, and came up with the packet of papers the tall man had passed on to me in Dublin. The CIA man checked them out.

One of the State Department men asked if everything was there.

“I don’t know,” the CIA man said. “I have to use a phone.”

He went away. I sat with the two men. They offered me cigarettes, and I said I didn’t smoke and finally I remembered to tuck in my shirt and button it up and put the jacket on again.

The CIA man came back and said that as far as he could tell everything was there.

“I don’t know how the guard missed it. He frisked him for a gun.”

“Well, it wasn’t a gun,” the CIA man said.

“Still, he should have found it.”

“Forget it.” The CIA man turned to me. “Of course, those could have been copied,” he said.


“Were they?”


“Why the hell did you come here, Tanner? I don’t get it. Who are you working for?”

I didn’t say anything.

“What do you expect, a pat on the head and a ticket home? Did you know that you started six international incidents all by yourself?”

“I know.”

“I was just on the phone to Washington. They want you sent there in a private plane under a quadruple guard. Today, they said. We can’t get hold of a private plane today.”

“When, then?”

“Christ, I don’t know. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow morning. Who knows? Tanner, you honest to God amaze me, you really do. How in hell did you wind up in Beirut? I wish I knew more about you. I know you’re hotter than a grenade with the pin out and I know part of where you’ve been, but I don’t know the rest of it. Why don’t you tell me about it?”


“They’ll ask the same questions in Washington. Make it easy for me. Brighten my day.”

“I can’t.”

“Did you really start a revolution?”

I didn’t answer that or any of the other questions he asked me. The whole business was very frustrating for him. He knew that I would be sent to CIA headquarters in Washington and that he would never find out the answers to any of his questions. The agency might keep him busy, but evidently he didn’t often run into anything as exciting as me and he was all curiosity, and I wasn’t helping him a bit.

They eventually locked me into the room with a double guard. The guards were decent enough fellows. The three of us played hearts. I won about seventy cents, but I refused to take the money. It didn’t seem right, somehow. After a few hours the CIA man came back with a few other men, and they handcuffed me rather elaborately and drove me to the Beirut airport. There was a smallish jet waiting at the runway. They loaded me into it along with four guards and the CIA man, and we took off for Washington.

No one had brought anything to read. Anyway, with the handcuffs on I couldn’t have turned the pages. It was a very boring trip.

Chapter 18

The jail cell in the basement of CIA headquarters in Washington was far more comfortable than the dank dark room in Istanbul. It was well lighted and very clean. There was a bed, a small dresser, and a shelf of paperback books. The books were mostly spy novels, I discovered. This struck me as very funny at first, but after I’d read them one after the other as one day followed another I lost sight of the humor of it all. It began to get to me after a while. I read the same spy novel twice and didn’t realize it until I was within twenty pages of the end.

The meals were good. Actually, there was no single dish that was as good as the pilaff I had had in Istanbul, but there was a great deal of variety in the cooking, and I’m sure the diet was more nutritious than toast and pilaff and pilaff. The only aspect of the two weeks I spent there that became absolutely unbearable was the endless routine of questioning. It went on and on, and they seemed determined to keep it up forever. It was the complete reverse of Istanbul-there I had been ignored, left entirely alone for days on end, and here I was questioned morning and noon and night, questioned endlessly, and over and over, until I was certain that the next session would be the one to break me.

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