Alex, as a mutual acquaintance once put it, is a force of nature. He’s neither moral nor immoral. He can be either a strong friend or a very dangerous man. And so I wasn’t entirely pleased to be hearing from him after twenty years. Most of the world presumed him to be dead over those years – there were gruesome stories in the news – but old spooks love their disappearing acts, and I was fairly sure his “death” was just that.
I spent some time considering the risks of meeting with a guy who used to kill for the government. But Alex is old now, at least in his seventies, and he hated his old employers: they railroaded him and stuck him in jail for several years. Beside, if he really wanted to kill me, he wouldn’t contact me first, he’d just get some intel from whoever was paying him and strike from the shadows.
Still, I set up the meet on territory I controlled, which meant Jay’s Bar. More than that, I stopped in a few days prior and discussed it with Michele. He reminded me of the revolver he keeps within reach.
And so I setup the meet and made my way over to Jay’s (carefully) at the specified time.
I barely recognized Alex as he rolled through the door in a wheelchair. I guess all the years of dangerous living caught up with him. I greeted him, we ordered a couple of drinks, and we moved over to a quiet table for some conversation.
“I was surprised to hear from you,” was my opening comment. “I didn’t really believe you were dead, but I didn’t expect to hear from you either.”
“Well,” he said with his characteristic frankness, “I’m lonely. I was in your town for a couple of days and everyone else who could understand my life is either dead, won’t talk to me, or too goofy to have a serious conversation with. ”
“I’m sorry, Alex.”
He nodded, our drinks arrived and we each took a swig. I decided to get the conversation going.
“So, of all the crazy things going on this year, what interests you?”
He smiled. “Probably your dead countryman and his girlfriend.”
“Ah, Epstein and Maxwell… did you ever have business with them?”
“No. I knew someone had taken over the kiddie porn blackmail, but I didn’t know it was them.”
He waited for me to confirm I understood his reference, which I did, unfortunately. It’s the kind of story that makes you feel tainted as you drive home.
“Yeah, I know… You’re new in Washington, you’re invited to a party, you wake up in a back room and find a picture stuffed in your pocket… it’s of you and a ten year-old naked together.”
“Right. They used poor but pretty kids that they kidnapped. But after that King guy got caught, and with all the stuff Gunderson published, they had to close it down. That’s when they brought your countryman in.”
I really didn’t like the “countryman” reference. Almost every Jew on the planet wishes Epstein had been anything but. Still, it wasn’t worth fighting over.
“A smart sociopath who wanted to play in the big game?” I asked.
“Yeah, something like that. A math whiz; the New York money guys brought him in. He and the Maxwell girl combined and took over her father’s money operations.”
“That and the pedophile thing.”
“No,” he said, “not pedophile. That was the change Epstein made.”
“What do you mean? They were using underage girls.”
“From their point of view, Epstein was a humanitarian.” My mind reeled for a couple of seconds. “These weren’t kidnapped kids, like it was before. These were gullible and desperate teenage girls from poor and messed-up families. They weren’t forced; they were seduced.”
I had to admit that he had at least half a point. The whole thing was still horrid, and in a way it made me feel more sorry for the girls, but I still wanted to get to the other side of the conversation. I was starting to feel dirty.
“Okay, fair enough, but what about the money operation?”
“Well,” he said, “that’s what they’re really afraid of. If the Chinese or Russians or several others find out what they were doing, a whole lot of operations will have to roll-up, and fast. That’s why they killed Epstein. I’ sure this Maxwell woman made arrangements before coming in, but they’d like to kill her too. If they can remove her, the whole thing becomes a lawsuit between estates, and that can be handled.”
“A friendly judge settles it quickly and quietly?”
“Yes. Then the records are tucked away and a tragic fire destroys the lawyer’s storage room a few years later.”
I nodded, having seen that scenario before.
“Unfortunately for them, too many of the yokels are paying attention to this, and so maybe she’ll catch cancer in a year or two.”
I was feeling a bit less dirty, but not all that much. But I did come up with an idea.
“So, this guy was trying to play Sidney Reilly?” I asked. (Reilly was called “The Ace of Spies,” and pulled off deals that people are still trying to untangle.)
At that he laughed. “Yeah, I’m sure of that much. He wanted to be smarter than all of the operators. He probably was, but he pushed too far, and didn’t do anything about that reporter in Miami.”
At that point I had enough nastiness and didn’t want to get into killing reporters.
“He toggled between the Americans, the Brits and the Israelis?” I asked.
“Yeah. And bad for you, whatever’s exposed on this will probably will trace back to Israel; they’re the low man on the totem pole.”
“Great… just what we need.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, “it gives the crazies one more reason to hate you.”
“Yeah,” I groaned back. Then I excused myself to the bathroom and asked if he wanted another drink. I’ll give you the rest of the conversation next time.
* As I’ve noted before, the stories I set in Jay’s Bar are fictional, although based upon real people and events.