Contingency Plan – Chapter 3 – Total and Utter Betrayal
Updated: Apr 5
It has been a long time since I lived in an ordinary residential structure and I have to say I am very uncomfortable in this one. I don’t mean to sound elitist or Lord-Fauntleroyish; after all, I lived in a residential house until the age of seven.¹ After that, I was enrolled in the Academy. And my teenage years were spent as a guest of the organization on the peninsula. I digress. My point is that I am no stranger to austere living conditions. I am perfectly comfortable keeping a low profile in a Brazilian favela or a Chinese hutong. I’ve spent more time living in a yurt than most Mongolians! In my line of work, one must frequently put safety ahead of luxury. Yet, despite the mental and emotional flexibility resulting from my genetics, upbringing, and career experience, something about the trailer Yuri found to establish my safehouse² failed to meet my standards.
Perhaps the reason I found my accommodations so off-putting was that the few things Yuri got right somehow made the things he got wrong even worse. I had been clear, perhaps a little too clear, when I explained to Yuri that the most effective safehouse is one that provides a sense of familiarity and continuity when things have gone desperately wrong. At that point in my conversation with Yuri, I opened a second bottle of Domaine Leroy Corton-Renardes and attempted to convey to him how Burgundy’s unusually wet summer of 2007 imparted a depth and intensity to this vintage that I found most comforting. When I stumbled out of the car, in the darkness and pouring rain, not having eaten in 36 hours, caked in mud up to mid-thigh and wearing only one shoe, I lurched into a trailer whose kitchen contained no food or drink, save a floor-to-ceiling wine rack containing two dozen bottles of Domaine Leroy Corton-Renardes.
Perhaps another reason for the irritability I experienced upon exploration of my house of safety was my discovery that the only clothing left for me was a closet containing nothing but two-dozen identical charcoal grey Gieves & Hawkes single-breasted two-button jacket suits and what must have been two months of the entire output of the David Balzaic shoemaking operation. I wonder if Yuri recognized the fact that most gentlemen of my age and station tend to wear underwear. If so, he failed to act on that recognition when establishing my safehouse wardrobe.
I also wonder if Yuri had the capacity to imagine the cultural dissonance created by a man who wears nothing but Gieves & Hawkes suits and David Balzaic shoes living in an Appalachian trailer park. As with the wine, I can trace this lapse of Yuri’s back to a conversation I had with him in which I implored him to adopt a sense of style, as I had, while patiently showed him the quality of the material and workmanship behind the Gieves & Hawkes suite and David Balzaic shoes I happened to be wearing.
Perhaps these slight miscommunications about my safehouse requirements were the reason for my dark and foul mood that evening. Perhaps, it was instead Yuri’s TOTAL AND UTTER BETRAYAL that cast a shadow on my usually upbeat outlook. The discovery of Yuri’s betrayal occurred shortly after I smashed a twelve-square-foot hole in the wall of the master bathroom with the lug wrench from the car. I didn’t smash the hole out of anger or even from the effects of having my entire caloric intake of the day supplied by two bottles of rare and expensive Pinot Noir. Although I certainly was angry at this point, I smashed the hole in the wall solely to verify that Yuri managed to satisfy the most crucial and important requirement of my safehouse. I smiled with relief as I ripped away the last section of drywall. When I saw the carbon fiber box wedged between the studs, I knew everything was going to be okay. I was very, very wrong.
I lifted the carbon fiber box out of the hole I created in the wall and lugged it to the kitchen. It was very heavy, and I was again forced to engage my larynx to produce grunting noises reflecting the exertion necessary to haul 1600 troy ounces from the master bedroom to the kitchen counter.
Actually, had the container actually contained the 1600 troy ounces of precious metal that it was supposed to, I probably would not have been able to carry it. The struggle of the past nine days had taken its toll and my physical strength was ebbing. That I could manage to carry the box to the counter was my first clue that I had been betrayed. The ultimate proof of betrayal was clear as soon as I opened the box. It was supposed to contain four solid gold bars, refined and cast into London Good delivery form. The box did indeed contain four bars of metal that appeared to be pure gold. But it was immediately obvious they were not London Good delivery bars.
First of all, they were perfectly rectangular, like bricks. They did not have the mandated undercut that gives standard gold delivery bars their characteristic pyramidal appearance. More importantly, the bars on my kitchen counter had featureless surfaces - there were no marks of the assayer documenting the fineness of the gold. Since all the gold in my vault was in the form of London Good standard bars, validated by assay and stamped with their level of measured purity, I knew Yuri had debased my gold by realloying it with some other metal.
A few more minutes’ investigation with the lug wrench clarified things further: Yuri had done a very poor job debasing my gold with copper. I happen to know a few things about debasing gold. If you recast a small amount of gold around a tungsten core, you can create a very convincing forgery that requires drilling or careful density analysis to uncover. Yuri, however, had simply re-alloyed my gold with copper and cast it into blocks. At least he bothered to blanch the bars in acid to remove the copper from the outer layer of metal.³ At a glance, the bars appeared to be pure gold. But a blow from the lug wrench uncovered the truth. The deep gouge from the wrench showed that just under the surface, the metal took on a coppery color that betrayed its true character. Based on the color, I estimated that my gold bars contained only sixty percent gold. Yuri must have managed to abscond with the remaining forty percent.
Why didn’t Yuri just steal one or two of my gold bars? Why didn’t he steal all of them? Perhaps he was afraid that I would come to Harlan’s Creek to inspect the safehouse (as I should have done!) Perhaps he’s just an idiot.
No matter what Yuri’s thought process, this development called for a profoundly fundamental change of my plans. With some finesse and minor forgery of identification, one can walk into a major bank in a large city and deposit a validated London Good delivery bar. The gold can be exchanged for currency, allowing the depositor to, for example, take up residence in a place far away from Harlan’s Creek, Virginia. One cannot, however, walk into a bank with an irregularly shaped chunk of debased mystery metal and expect to have an outcome that would be considered successful.
I opened a third bottle of Domaine Leroy Corton-Renardes and drank it while glumly staring at Yuri’s amateurish attempt at metallurgy. My plan for when things didn’t go as planned was not going as planned.
¹ Just to be completely clear, I grew up in a manor house, parts of which were very-much like a standard residence
² Or should I say, safetrailer?
³ I was slightly relieved to find Yuri had taken this extra step to try to deceive me. I was seriously beginning to question my judgment attributing to the young Russian any potential whatsoever as an international criminal