Episode 73: Idea Laundering
Kostamo stops by Rolf’s and picks up Lana for coffee. She follows his new blue Ford Ranger out the drive, and parks her Volvo at the narrows, and then gets in with him. What do you think? He asks her. I like the rims, she tells him smiling. I meant the interior. It needs a couple kid seats in back, she tells him, elbowing him gently. They drive in silence for awhile. It’s not easy finding someone, Lana. When you get to be my age, there are only used cars and cars nobody wants. We need to get you a new pair of glasses, Lana replies. Have you ever heard the story Acres of Diamonds? He shakes his head no. Africa. Before World War One. The diamond rush is on. A farmer gets caught up in the mania and sells his freeholding and goes prospecting. He ends up disillusioned and broke and kills himself. They say he drowned. The man who had bought the farm from him found some pretty rocks in the creek that flowed through the property. He put them on his mantle and they sat there for years. A visitor saw them one evening and examined them. You guessed it. Diamonds in the rough. The biggest ever found. Turned out the whole creek was full of diamonds. Open your eyes, Mortimer.
He gives her his Cheshire cat grin. Africa. So I should find a black woman? He teases her. Why not? It worked for Moses. There is only one human race. We all descended from the same parents, Adam and Eve, around 6,300 years ago. He starts laughing. Lana, you’re great. What’s your take on online dating services? Creepy. He laughs some more. You’ve got the carnal trifecta: looks, means, and personality, Mortimer. You’d be a catch for any woman. They drive in silence. It rides quiet, Lana notes, nodding her approval of his truck.
They go inside the coffee shop and sit down. I’m spooked, Mortimer. Bettina called me yesterday morning…one question I could have written off as innocuous, but two? And if that is bugged, what else? My Volvo, obviously, but what about Bettina’s Mustang? Kostamo rubs the stubble on his chin. Can you get me the Highlander for a couple hours? Rolf and Tom are going to play a game of moonlight golf when Simon gets back from Israel. He and I are caddying. I can call you with the when and where, if that works. Kostamo nods. Thank you. What do you want me to do with the device? I want it. I’m going to put it next to my toilet, Lana says angrily. Other customers look over at the hysterical laughter coming from Kostamo.
How did the handoff to Raul go? It went bad, Kostamo admits. Lana stares at him. He wouldn’t agree to talk with me in private after, and he refused to accept the letter. He must have thought it was from me. Then everyone demanded to know what it contained. The short of it, Lana, is that it was read aloud in its entirety. Lana groans and brings her hands up to the sides of her head. I’m sorry, Lana. I could have handled that better, Kostamo admits. It’s on me, Lana says softly. I’m off my game, Mortimer. I should have known what an awkward position I was putting you in. It was a beautiful letter, Lana. In a way, I’m glad it was read aloud. We were all the better for having heard it. And every man there came away with a deep respect for you. Any reaction? Kostamo shakes his head no. Lana looks down and sighs.
How’s the traffic now that everyone knows where Rolf lives? Kostamo asks. The little sign is working…my mother’s idea, by the way. Most people back out when they see it. A few leave notes on my car, requesting an appointment. Any drones? No. What about neighborhood kids doing a sneak and peak? Lana shakes her head no. Too device obsessed, chubby faces glued to glowing screens. So what do you do for the whole day? I’m not a prisoner. If I need to go somewhere, I leave my car and call an Uber. I’ve started working with a strength and conditioning coach over at LSU. She’s teaching me how to stretch and some different calisthenics that I can do on the road. How much? She’s worth it, Lana replies, not answering.
Mortimer, this may sound selfish, but I’m actually grateful for the break and the alone time. I feel bad for getting paid, so I don’t bill Rolf that many hours. Although if I didn’t get paid, I’d probably resent it. Kostamo nods. Makes sense. While we’re on the subject, I’m actually not sleeping that well either, Kostamo admits. When was the last time you replaced your mattress? Lana asks. I could try that, I suppose. Any recommendations? I got mine from Sam’s Club, Lana admits. My mother told me what to get. Want me to check with her? Sure. So this personal trainer of yours, tell me more about her…
A Private Airstrip in Mexico
When are you performing again? Tia asks Ramon when he gets into the SUV with her. We’re going to open for As I Lay Dying this Friday. Sounds like you might have to close for them too, Tia says, and Ramon throws back his head with laughter and claps his hands twice. He catches his breath. So, how is my brother? Samantha tells me that Lana wrote him a letter. Tia looks surprised. I didn’t see anything in the mail from the States. She said it was very short: “I grieve”. Bettina told her. Tia sighs. I didn’t know how she felt about Raul until I stopped over at her apartment to deliver the news. Don’t give up hope, Tia. Samantha talked to her uncle. He wants this Levi to have his chance with her, that’s all. And if I thought he actually had a chance, I’d kill him.
She had coffee with Kostamo this morning. Our people said that she had him laughing so hard that he had to leave the table and go to the restroom. His days are numbered, Tia. She nods solemnly and they ride in silence the rest of the way to the hacienda.
Forgive me, Don Ramon, for not being there to welcome you back in person. Raul says with his head lowered when he gets back to the hacienda. There was a discipline problem that I needed to handle personally. Ramon throws an arm around his shoulders. It’s good to see you again, brother. Samantha and I want you to know that this Levi situation will fizzle out. Joy comes in the morning. Thank you, Don Ramon. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to clean up before dinner, Raul says somberly.
Tia tells me that the trains are running on time. Ramon tells Raul, when he comes into the kitchen. Ramon adds a dash of ground pepper to the fajitas on the stovetop. Are there any matters that need my attention? The indemnity to The Jew. While we certainly have the means to pay it in a lump sum, I propose that we just pay the vig. That’s $2MM a month, Ramon says frowning. Why Raul? Tia asks. The Jew doesn’t know that we invested and made a killing from the event. He wishes us bare cupboards, so he can be generous and forgive the principal as a wedding gift. I believe that to be his hidden agenda. Ramon looks over at Tia. She shakes her head no. I agree with Tia. Pay him and let the matter be closed. I’ll see to it, Don Ramon. Anything else? No. Good, let’s eat.
Raul, Bettina told Samantha that Lana was writing you a letter. I don’t mean to intrude, but I didn’t see it come in the mail. Did you happen to get it? He nods. I handled it poorly, he admits. When we talked over the most recent Syndicate meeting, I left something out, he tells Tia. What happened? Ramon asks. Kostamo informed the Executive Committee that he tracked down the Chechen, but that someone had already gotten there first. Evidence of torture. The complex such a charnel house that Kostamo blew it up, ostensibly to avoid any blowback to his country, which would have been blamed. Tia believes Kostamo extracted what he wanted to know from the Chechen, but I take him at his word. I think it was the Jew. Explain, Ramon says.
From Samantha’s knowledge of Syndicate meetings, I knew there was a mole. Then the one-off transaction between Kostamo and The Jew went off too well. It’s hard for me to believe that he would let Kostamo walk away with such a win. So my hypothesis is that The Jew greenlit the Chechen to take out Kostamo. When he failed, he had to cover his tracks, and cleaned out the Chechen’s accounts for his troubles.
Ramon nods. And he makes amends to Lana by arranging the surgery. It scans brother. I didn’t share what happened next with you, Tia. I hope you’ll understand why. After the meeting, Kostamo asked for a word with me in private. I said no. Then everyone stopped as he pulled an envelope from his pocket and offered it to me. I refused to accept it. The Italian demanded to see it, and Kostamo protested that it was a private correspondence and not Syndicate business. Deluca said that they’d be the judge of that, and everyone sat back down. Kostamo wasn’t happy, and reluctantly handed the letter over to the Italian, who opened it and read it. Then took his glasses off, said “this is awkward” and suggested a private conference with just the three of us. The others wouldn’t stand for that. Then he asked Kostamo if he knew its contents, and he replied that he was just the messenger. The others told him to read it, but he folded it back up and put it back in the envelope and put his glasses back on. And told us that it was from Lana Radley, and he wouldn’t read it aloud, but that the jist was that The Jew was dictating terms to one of the members of the Executive Committee, and that was unacceptable. Deluca took it upon himself to read it aloud, in its entirety. The letter is undated, he said, then folded it back up and the envelope was handed down to me. Kostamo moved for an immediate adjournment, and everyone got up and left. The Italian was very apologetic. He even sent me a note afterwards with some kind words. Ramon nods at this detail.
Tia clasps his hand. You couldn’t have known, Raul, she tells him softly. It’s priceless, Raul says. It’s the most valuable thing I possess. I’d be proud to share it with you both.